Monthly Archives: January, 2022

Commentary on 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Opening Prayer from Psalm 71…

R:  I will sing of your salvation.
In you, O LORD, I take refuge;

let me never be put to shame.
In your justice rescue me, and deliver me;

incline your ear to me, and save me.  R
Be my rock of refuge,
a stronghold to give me safety,

for you are my rock and my fortress.
O my God, rescue me from the hand of the wicked. R

For you are my hope, O Lord;

my trust, O God, from my youth.
On you I depend from birth;

from my mother’s womb you are my strength. R
My mouth shall declare your justice,
day by day your salvation.
O God, you have taught me from my youth,
and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds. R

1st Reading – Jeremiah 1: 4-5, 17-19

Jeremiah is the Rodney Dangerfield of prophets, the man who invented the tradition that a prophet doesn’t “get any respect” in his own country.  Jeremiah, during his long career as a prophet in Judah, faced a mob that demanded he be put to death; was whipped and put in stocks (20:2); was beaten and thrown into prison for ‘a long time’ (37:15); was thrown into a cistern with mud up to his armpits and left to starve (38:6); and was kept under house arrest (39:15).  After the fall of Jerusalem, he wound up in Egypt where, according to tradition, his

own people stoned him to death. Jeremiah did not walk around with a smile button on his shirt.  “Woe to me, mother, that you gave me birth!”  (15:10)  Yet he carried out his mission with intensity.  He always moved from anger and reproach to hope (US Catholic, Kenneth Guentert).  Compare this with our upcoming Gospel reading.  How might you move from anger to hope with the troubles in your life?

During Jeremiah’s ministry of 45 years, the world changed dramatically. When he began, Assyria was still the world’s greatest power (Northern and Southern Kingdoms have separated), but by the time he died in exile in Egypt, Babylon stood supreme (Boadt, L.  Reading the Old Testament, p. 363).  When there is division and chaos, it is often hard to be sure of what the right course of action is…Jeremiah had his work cut out for him!

2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 12: 31- 13: 13

Re-read this passage replacing the word “love’ for ‘God’.  How does it change for you?

From M. Birmingham, W&W, p. 355:  Paul’s community was experiencing internal strife and division.  Some people (gnostics: matter bad/spirit good, Jesus not really human so no real suffering or physical resurrection), glorifying in their own manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit, had set themselves apart as the spiritual elite.  Because of their self-righteous, emotional, and overt display of charisms, Paul wrote to them to remind them that God was the Giver of gifts and no one had reason to boast.  Paul asserted that the gifts were for the uplifting of the community, not for personal edification.  The gifts meant nothing if love was absent.  He asserts that self-giving love toward one another should be the response of every member of the community.  This passage is often read and preached during nuptial celebrations, but it has an ecclesial importance.  The church is a community of love.  How can we be better at this, and in the current state of pandemic?

The Gospel: Luke 4:21-30

Jesus shocks and surprises the people of his hometown of Nazareth; has God ever surprised – shocked you?  How does this gospel strike you? – challenge you?

Jesus, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, challenged people with an alternative to the reality of their lives.  Jesus was certainly not a politician, as we see here in this passage. The good news that Jesus came to share is always good and always new, but not always comfortable.  It would seem that Jesus would have been wiser to have quit while he was ahead.  Rather, he pushed on to an inclusive message that ‘forced’ choices that were disturbing. That is what prophets do.  This hometown crowd is angered to hear that Jesus will share blessings and wonders with others – even Gentiles.  Apparently, they took this ‘good news’ for others as bad news for themselves.             (Living Liturgy, p. 50 – 51)

From John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context”:
Remember: no one in Jesus’ culture was expected to improve on the lot of the parents. One was expected to safeguard the family’s honor. In today’s reading Jesus is seen by others in his village to be stepping shamefully beyond his family boundaries. Then Jesus seems to rub salt into the wound by his insulting behavior — preaching in his hometown and healing elsewhere. He does not minister to his own – but they have heard of him doing things in Capernaum, a place that was noted for having many Gentiles – people who were not of his own kind. To direct his healing activities to such a place rather than his own hometown and blood relatives was to transgress very seriously against family honor. Honor in the Mediterranean world was a matter of life and death

3 themes found in Luke’s Gospel

  1. World Affirmation:  God loves creation; God values and works in human culture and activities.
  2. The Great Reversal:  The gospel challenges the status quo, affirming those who have been rejected and abused.
  3. Universal Salvation:  Human values are reversed, not for punishing the wicked, but for saving the lost, poor, sick, downtrodden. (taken from The Gospel of Luke, Luke Timothy Johnson, p.21-23)

How does this help our understanding of this passage today?

In a dark space?  I’m on it.  –God

By Kris Rooney

Picture this.  14th Century Norwich, England.  There is war with France.  The Black Death is raging.  It was a disease that had no symptoms and no treatment; you could be healthy in the morning and die by nightfall.  Crops were not producing, so there was starvation which then led to the Peasants’ Revolt.  The church was a mess, including selling indulgences and the Great Schism.  Pretty much everything that could be wrong, was wrong.  Enter Julian of Norwich.

We don’t even know if this is her real name.  She was a woman in that time that lived as an anchoress, which means she lived in a small room built off of a church (St. Julian’s Church) and didn’t leave.  People would come to her for spiritual direction.  She could look out at the world and into church for Mass.  She devoted much of her time to prayer.  There is much debate whether she was a nun or a lay woman, if she was a widow and/or a grieving mother.  At some point she took deathly ill and had revelations of God, which she wrote about in a book.  She is the first woman to ever write a book in English.  So what did she write about, with hell breaking loose all around her?

God’s love.  You may know her to have said, “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”  But check out some of these other phrases she wrote…

“Our soul is so deep-rooted in God, and so endlessly treasured.”

“God wants us always to be strong in love and peaceful and restful as He is towards us, and He wants us to be for ourselves and for our fellow Christians, what He is for us.

“No place is so dark or so painful that God has not been there before us and stays there with us; that there is no evil so bad that He will not turn it to good.”

“The best prayer is to rest in the goodness of God, knowing that that goodness can reach right down to the lowest depths of our needs.”

These beautiful truths resonate even more powerfully knowing that they were written in the worst of times, don’t they?  They really help me, which is what drew me to share them with you too.

My take-away?  That God is telling Julian and all of us:  In a dark place?  I’m on it.

(If you want to read more, look for Sheila Upjohn’s In Search of Julian of Norwich which is where I learned most of this.)

Commentary on 2nd Sunday in ordinary Time, Cycle C

1st Reading – Isaiah 62: 1-5

This passage comes from the latter portion of the book of the prophet Isaiah, often referred to as Trito-Isaiah or Third Isaiah because it is believed to have been written by a different author than chapters 1-39 and chapters 40-55.  No longer are the people exiled in a foreign land.  They have returned home to Jerusalem  (Workbook for Lectors, p. 49).  This is a song!  God rejoices over the restoration of Jerusalem, his people.  When in exile, there was influence of other gods and sinful ways.  Now that many of His people have returned, all things shall be made new again!  How does this speak to you in your life?  What outside influences challenge you in your relationship with God?  Have you ever had a time when, in spite of these challenges, you could not be silenced?  God delights in you!  Sometimes it is hard to wrap our heads around a love this big…

But when?  But how?  By a still newer act of God.  These poignant lines (and in the chapters thereafter) speak volumes about the griefs, the pains, and the dashed hopes of the jews of those days.  Further, God will always be available to answer the covenant people, (Wm. Holladay, Long Ago God Spoke, p. 216).  Let’s break open what it is to have a covenant with one another:

  1. Each party enters consciously into a personal relationship.
  2. This personal relationship is one of mutual claims; one cannot coerce the other.
  3. This non-coercive relationship parallels family life (i.e. husband and wife in this passage).
  4. God enters into this with a people (a community), not an individual.
  5. God INITIATES this.
  6. God CHOOSES this.
  7. They (God and God’s people) are separate, but partners.
  8. Not everything God’s people do is pleasing to God.
  9. God has expectations of God’s people.
  10. God is king  (p. 28 – 30).

How does this help our understanding of this reading?

2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 12:4-11

From Mary Birmingham, W&W Workbook for Year C, p. 343:  Written about 52-53AD, this letter is one of the earliest pieces of Christian writing.  Paul had preached and ministered in Corinth for about 18 months.  Corinth was a Greek city filled with diversity and harsh divisions:  the very wealthy, the very poor and slaves – a cauldron of religious philosophies, doctrines and intellectual pursuits  (not unlike today!).  This community was under great pressure in such an environment.  Paul’s concern was with those who were emphasizing ‘spiritual gifts’ such as ‘praying in tongues’ with a great deal of self-righteous zeal.  Paul was insisting that true spiritual gifts were given for the benefit of the WHOLE community –not for personal advancement and ‘showing off.’  Can you relate to this?  What are your gifts and how do you share them?

From Introducing the Practice of Ministry by K. Cahalan (p. 24-28)

Richard Fragomeni says we “live in a baptismal mode,” we are always being baptized into the dynamic movement between death and life, sin and reconciliation, evil and justice, the old and the new.  By living in baptismal mode, we hope to discern what our calling is in this life, our vocation.  How do we live this way? 

  • How you live  (how you spend your days, what are your commitments)
  • What you do  (in what ways do you serve God and your community)
  • Who you are  (what is your sense of self in the context of your relationships and life)   

The Gospel – John 2: 1-11

From Workbook for Lectors, p. 51:  At the wedding feast at Cana, we see the 1st of 7 signs in the Gospel according to John.  There is no other parallel in the synoptic accounts.  This sign, turning water into ’good wine’, has obvious connections to the sacrificial meal of abundant feeding we know as the Eucharist.  Notice that Jesus does not do anything that causes the water to change into wine; rather, his words coupled with the obedient actions of the servers yield the amazing transformation. 

There is an invitation to a feast.  Words are said.  Jesus’ action turns water into wine.  The choice wine is given out. The disciples take the next step on their faith journey.  This is what we practice every Sunday! 

From Preaching Resources, Jan 2001 & 2007:  The 6 large water jugs were used for purification rites – these were ritual ablutions required before and after meals.  They held about 120 gallons. By turning this specific water into an almost embarrassing abundance of choice wine, John’s gospel is declaring the messianic era of salvation has indeed come in Jesus.  This old way of purification is to be replaced with a faith relationship with Jesus – baptism and following Jesus’ teachings – becoming disciples –‘doing whatever he tells you’ – is the true way to the fullness of life, the salvation that God offers us in Christ.  Mary, the model disciple, will not be seen again in this gospel until we find her under the cross – the time and place of Jesus’ full revelation and glory.

From Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of John, Vol 1, p. 105:  When John told this story he was remembering what life with Jesus was like; and he said, “Wherever Jesus went and whenever he came into life it was like water turning into wine.”  This story is John saying to us“If you want the new exhilaration, become a follower of Jesus Christ, and there will come a change in your life which will be like water turning into wine.”  

Baptism of the Lord, Cycle C

1st Reading:  Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11

This reading from second Isaiah announces the end of the Babylonian exile and the return of the Israelites to their homeland.  Those out in the desert are being called back (Faley, Footprints on the Mountain, p. 21).  God makes it very clear that he wants every obstacle between God and God’s people to be taken away so that nothing keeps us apart.  God wants to be fully in relationship with us.  God wants to be with us in our journey, as hard as it may be.  The path is paved with love.  Richard Rohr says… Only when we are eager to love can we see love and goodness in the world around us. We must ourselves remain in peace, and then we will find peace over there. Remain in beauty, and we will honor beauty everywhere.  How does this challenge you?

This reading can be a difficult one, because many of us still have mountains and valleys despite our prayers to level them.  Perhaps Gerald May can help us in his writing on coping, “I have come to hate that word, because to cope with something you have to separate yourself from it.  You make it your antagonist, your enemy.  Like management, coping is a taming word, sometimes even a warfare word.  Wild, untamed emotions are full of life-spirit, vibrant with the energy of being.  They don’t have to be acted out, but neither do they need to be tamed.  They are part of our inner wilderness; they can be just what they are.  God save me from coping.  God, help me join, not separate.  Help me be with and in, not apart from.  Show me the way to savoring, not controlling.  Dear God, hear my prayer:  make me forever copeless,” (The Wisdom of Wilderness, p. xiii – xiv).  This is a new insight!  Maybe the mountains and valleys are still there but feel leveled because God accompanies us.  What do you think?

2nd Reading:  Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7

Titus is considered one of the pastoral letters of Paul (along with 1 & 2 Timothy) because it is addressed to an individual who is overseeing a congregation.  Many interpreters think this letter is pseudepigraphical, or written in the likeness of Paul rather than by Paul himself.  Or perhaps some of the letter was written by Paul but then expanded upon by an admirer.  Rather than argue the point that thousands of theologians have not resolved, let us focus on what we can learn from the text.  Titus is mentioned in Galatians and 2 Corinthians, and he was one of the first Gentiles to be attracted to the Christian faith  (Gal 2:1-3; 2 Cor 7:6-8, 13-15).  (Introducing the New Testament, p. 400-404).  From Galatians, we learn that Titus was converted by Paul and brought to the Jerusalem meeting in AD 49 to demonstrate how genuine a Christian an uncircumcised Gentile could be.  Titus carried one of Paul’s letters from Ephesus to Corinth which brought about a diplomatic reconciliation.  This letter assumes that Paul has been in Crete with Titus and then left him there to correct anything that was still defective, (R. Brown’s An Introduction to the New Testament, p. 640-641). 

There is a hymnic description of salvation and baptism in 3:  4 – 7 that is called a ‘sure and faithful saying’ and that may involve earlier traditions.  Many of the ideas therein (freely by grace, renewal, bath) are Pauline or deuteroPauline, but rebirth is not used elsewhere by Paul.  In Judaism, birth from a Jewish parent made one a member of God’s chosen people, (Brown, p. 650).  Drawing from this truth, baptism makes all of us chosen and “heirs in hope of eternal life”.  How does YOUR baptism affect your daily living?  What phrases in this passage help you think about this?   

Gospel:  Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

We might wonder why it was necessary for Jesus to receive baptism.  We know that John certainly considered himself unworthy to perform the act, but Jesus insisted that he be baptized along with the rest of the people on the banks of the Jordan River.  Through this baptism Jesus was able to link his ministry with John’s proclamation.  Jesus is no longer just the carpenter’s son in Nazareth  (The Word into Life, cycle C, p.22)

This is a moment of Trinity.  Jesus being baptized with the Holy Spirit descending and the Father speaking His words of love…all come together to transform this moment of baptism as sacred.

What kind of human experience was this in which Jesus hears a voice from heaven speaking to him?  Scholars note that it is an experience in an altered state of consciousness or an experience of alternate reality.  On average, 90% of the world’s cultures regularly have such experiences and find them useful and meaningful in their cultural context  (Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, cycle C, p. 20). 

It is interesting to note that right after this section of Luke is a genealogy of Jesus.  Right after the Father proclaims that Jesus is His Son, this genealogy cites one “son of” after another until it ends as Jesus being identified as son of Adam, son of God  (Pilch, 20).

All of this speaks to the heart.  “God looking into the dripping face of Jesus and seeing the whole big picture of creation and life and heavenly hosts and the throne of heaven.  God looking at Jesus and seeing it all – glory and honor and power and might.  God watching as Jesus came up from his knees and seeing justice and kindness and compassion breaking forth like the dawn.  God seeing in Jesus the very plan of salvation radiant in its entire splendor.  God wrapping the soaking wet Jesus in the warmth of the Holy Spirit, knowing that the magnificence of God’s own mercy is shining back at that moment, glistening in the water of baptism,”  (Hungry, and You Fed Me, Rev. Dr. David A. Davis, p. 45).  What speaks to you?