Monthly Archives: February, 2022

Commentary on the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

1ST READING — SIRACH 27: 4-7

“Better to be silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”  Abraham Lincoln

Sirach is one of those books that you will not find in a Protestant Bible, except in the Apocrypha, because it was written in Greek.  Ben Sira as author identifies himself as “Jesus son of Eleazar son of Sirach of Jerusalem” (50:27b) and operated a school for young Jewish men.  His grandson was responsible (c.132BC) for the Greek translation which made its way into the Septuagint, the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures used by Catholics.  Ben Sira was influenced by many cultures, but he is most concerned with Jewish theology and morality.  This is wisdom literature, so the book is primarily snippets of advice and wise adages and no formal structure.  Biblical scholars have tried to divide the text into related segments with a prologue and conclusion to give us the Book of Sirach that we have today (“The Timeless Wisdom of Sirach” in Scripture from Scratch, 8/2004)

Motives of gossip:  a need to hurt someone’s reputation, to communicate something too juicy to keep inside, to be informational (with the potential of being highly personal), or to simply chat about a third person not present (J. Epstein’s Gossip:  The Untrivial Pursuit, p. 30).  Ultimately, gossip can fill a void in us.  It has the ability to make us feel important.  But can gossip ever be good?  “Gossip, as a church activity without malice, may well be, at its best, the moral casuistry of ordinary people, a primary means of congregational bonding, a source of utterly essential moral data about ourselves, an everyday means of investigating communally what it means to be baptized, “  (W. Willimon’s “Heard About the Pastor Who…? Gossip as an Ethical Activity”).  So then how do we know if gossip is good or bad?  We could ask ourselves:

  1. How reasonable is it for me to believe in the truth of what I say?
  2. How damaging is what I say to the reputation of the person I am talking about?
  3. What is the motivation behind it?
  4. Would we say it if the person were here?

2ND  READING — 1CORINTHIANS 15: 54-58

Wherein lies the fear of death?  Partly it comes from fear of the unknown.  But still more it comes from the sense of sin.  If we felt that we could meet God easily then to die would be only, as Peter Pan said, a great adventure.  But where does that sense of sin come from?  It comes from a sense of being under the law.  So long as we see in God only the law of righteousness, we will be in the position of a criminal before the bar with no hope of acquittal.  This is precisely what Jesus came to abolish.  He came to tell us that God is not law, but love, that we go out, not to a judge, but to a Father who awaits his children coming home.  Because of that Jesus gave us the victory over death, its fear banished in the wonder of God’s love  (Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 160).

This is good news as we enter Lent!  This is a deep wisdom from Paul, who originally was a great stickler of the law and radically shifted over time after meeting the risen Christ.  When he says “be steadfast…your labor is not in vain”, it is coming from his own experience.   

THE GOSPEL — LUKE 6: 39-45

In classical and Hellenistic Greek, the word “hypocrite” meant “interpreter”, “expounder”, “orator”, even “stage actor”.  In theater, this is an award-winning skill, but not so much for life.  Whom can you trust?  Jesus is imploring his audience in the Sermon on the Plain to practice self-examination and authenticity to improve themselves before attempting to help others improve.  Otherwise, they are just acting!  (Pilch’s The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle C, p. 41). 

To us this reads like a disconnected series of separate sayings.  Maybe Luke is collecting together sayings of Jesus which were spoken on different occasions and is giving us a kind of compendium of rules for life and living (not unlike Ben Sira).  Or, this may be an instance of the Jewish method of preaching called Charaz, meaning “stringing beads”.  The Rabbis held that the preacher must never linger more than a few moments on any topic but, in order to maintain interest, must move quickly from one topic to another  (Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 79).

Henri Nouwen says we must lift our cups to one another.  Seeing ourselves as we really are, being authentic, being whole, is like holding your own cup.  “Lifting up the cup is an invitation to affirm and celebrate life together.  As we lift up the cup of life and look each other in the eye, we say:  ‘Let’s not be anxious or afraid.  Let’s hold our cup together and greet each other.  Let us not hesitate to acknowledge the reality of our lives and encourage each other to be grateful for the gifts we have received,’” (Can You Drink the Cup?, p. 13, 61-62). 

Let us pray  (thegospelcoalition.org)… 

Dear Lord Jesus,

When I rubbed my irritated eyes this morning, I soon realized

it was not a speck of dust but a rough-hewn board stuck there.

Just because I don’t throw things or scream and yell doesn’t mean I’m not a critical person.

Condescending coolness is just a synonym for clanging cymbals(1 Cor. 13:1).

Have mercy on me, Jesus. You are so forbearing, kind, and gracious.

Have mercy on me, the self-righteous sinner.

My self-righteousness usually shows up not in trying to merit more of your love,

but in withholding your love from others. The dark irony is that the sins that offend me most in others are the very sins most pronounced in my own life—

a lack of mercy, preoccupation with oneself, a critical spirit…

I wish those were the only ways I don’t love well.

Lord Jesus, As cardiologist and ophthalmologist,

bring your grace and truth to bear in my heart and my eyes.

I want to love as you love and see as you see.

I don’t want people to feel pressure to change when I enter the room,

nor do I want them to feel my indifference and disengagement.

Teach me and lead me in the third way—the way of the gospel.

Since you do call us to help one another with our “specks of sawdust,”

help me be a first responder to the life-giving rebukes of friends;

a humble recipient of the feedback and reproof of those who long for my freedom;

and someone who anticipates, welcomes, and acts on the daily, evenly hourly call to repentance.

So very Amen I pray, in your kind and powerful name.

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

1st Reading:  1 Samuel 26: 7-9, 12-13, 22-23

Some context for today’s reading:  Saul was anointed king by Samuel, and he started out as a good king.  He fights the Philistines back with his army, which is when David enters the scene.  Because the women of Israel seemed to fawn over David more than Saul with the victory, a seed of jealousy was planted in Saul.  Saul tries to kill David, but Saul’s son Jonathan has befriended David and implores him not to.  He doesn’t, but the feelings return.  There are several unsuccessful attempts by Saul.  Yet when David has an opportunity to be rid of Saul, he does not follow through, saying he is God’s anointed.  Saul eventually dies in battle with the Philistines along with his sons, and David is anointed king.

This is a story that helps us look at how we relate to people of whom we disagree, and forgiveness.  Even though David spares Saul, he still taunts Saul’s people with the spear (Those lines are conveniently removed from what we hear in Mass!).  Despite Saul’s off-and-on revenge, he is often remorseful afterwards.  Johann Christoph Arnold wrote Why Forgive?, and he says the following:

“”…those who have been dehumanized need to forgive – to heal on their own, without waiting for apologies.  Forgiveness does not require apologies.  Of course this does not mean simply folding one’s arms and going merrily home, oblivious of ongoing injustices.  It simply means that as one struggles to regain one’s humanity and fights for one’s rights, one can do so without anger, hatred, and bitterness.  To be more specific:  forgiving one’s brutalizers may help them toward becoming more human…A brutalizer will never find true peace until he exorcises his own demons,” (p. 47).

How do Saul and David compare in their manner of forgiveness?   

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 15: 42-49

From Celebration, February, 2007:  Paul is here contrasting Adam, the human that initiates all decay and death, with Christ, who by his resurrection becomes the life-giving Spirit and the initiator of a new order of humanity. Where Adam does not listen to or trust God’s Word, Christ listens to that Word, enfleshes that Word, in his very life and death. The body associated with Adam is mortal and bound to the earth from which it came; but the body associated with the risen Christ is immortal and stamped with his image. What Paul is emphasizing here is the need for transformation. “We shall not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed.” This transformation is moved forward when the mind and heart and spirit of Jesus Christ finds a home in us and thereby empowers us to live, in thought, word, and deed, the challenge of the good news . . . But we are not alone with this challenge – we have a yokemate in Jesus.

N.T. Wright’s Paul, A Biography:  “God’s plan had always been to unite all things in heaven and on earth in Jesus, which meant, from the Jewish point of view, that Jesus was the ultimate Temple, the heaven-and-earth place.  This, already accomplished in his person, was now being implemented through his spirit.  Paul always believed that God’s new creation was coming, perhaps soon…But that the present corrupt and decaying world would one day be rescued from this state of slavery and death and emerge into new life under the glorious rule of God’s people, God’s new humanity – this he never doubted,” (p. 401-402).

The Gospel: Luke 6: 27-38.

From The Holy Longing by Ronald Rolheiser:  On the idea of being church, Rolheiser says it is a common misunderstanding that “church has little or nothing to do with liking each other or finding others with whom we are mutually compatible. The group of disciples that first gathered around Jesus were not individuals who were mutually compatible at all. They came from very different backgrounds and temperaments, had different visions of what Jesus was all about, were jealous of each other and were . . . occasionally furious with each other. They loved each other, in the biblical meaning of that phase, but they did not necessarily like each other… Too often we are disappointed in church because we find there such a diverse and motley collection of persons, some of whom do not like us and whom we would never pick to be our friends . . . To be in apostolic community, church, is not necessarily to be with others with whom we are emotionally, ideologically, and otherwise compatible. Rather it is to stand, shoulder to shoulder and hand in hand, precisely with people who are very different from ourselves and, with them, hear a common word, say a common creed, so as, in that way, to bridge our differences and become a common heart — it is about millions and millions of different kinds of persons transcending their differences so as to become a community beyond temperament, race, ideology, gender, language, and background. (114-115)  What do you think?

From John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context”:  Luke’s Jesus is directing his words to the elite; only they would have the luxury of two coats. Jesus is asking the elite to behave toward strangers just as they would behave toward members of their own household. He is urging the haves to treat the have-nots as if they were family. He is also speaking against the common cultural trait of stereotyping and generalizing that too often judged (condemned unjustly) by outward appearances. Labels were pasted on others – sinner, tax collector, carpenter, adulteress, Samaritans – as a means of controlling and restricting relationships and interactions.      (http://liturgy.slu.edu)

Commentary on the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C

1st Reading — Isaiah 6: 1-2a, 3-8

King Uzziah, also knows as Azariah, ruled Judah from 783 – 732BC).  The account of his reign can be found in 2 Kings 15:1-7 (Ancient Israel, p. 166).  It seems he died of leprosy, but ruled in a way that pleased the Lord. 

This is a call story.  Isaiah is being called to be a prophet for God.  Whenever there is the presence of smoke, one knows that there is an observable manifestation of God.  His “woe is me” reflected his fear and trembling at having seen the Lord.  Isaiah saw the Lord, repented, and was commissioned by the heavenly court to go and proclaim Yahweh’s word.  He went in peace and assurance  (W&W, Birmingham, p. 359).  How does this speak to you and your call?

2nd Reading -1 Corinthians 15: 1-11

How is Paul like Isaiah?  This is likely the earliest written account of the resurrection.

From Living Liturgy, p. 54:   A theophany or appearance of God always reveals our own sinfulness, but God’s focus is elsewhere – on call and mission.  God sees humans as people, created good, who can respond to God’s invitation.  Once Isaiah is cleansed, he responds eagerly. Once Peter overcomes his fear, he and many others leave everything and follow Jesus.  Paul also overcomes his prejudices and ‘blindness’ once he comes to know the Risen Christ. God can transform us! The astonishing thing about the good news of Jesus Christ is that we are all made worthy simply because God calls. All we need to do is respond with our lives. Even the ordinary can hold the power and presence of God’s love.  “God doesn’t call the qualified.  He qualifies the called.”

From Introducing the New Testament, p. 301:  We don’t know what Paul may have been referring to in saying “one born abnormally”.  There are other times when he says he has a weak bodily presence (2 Corinthians 10:10) and having a thorn in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).  Some say he may have been short (the name Paul comes from Paulus, meaning small).  A 2nd century writing says Paul was congenitally bowlegged.  Tertullian (2nd-3rd century) said he had frequent headaches.  Maybe it was his guilt over persecuting the church, or a speech impediment (2 Corinthians 10:10) or poor eyesight (Galatians 4:15; 6:11) or epilepsy (Acts 9: 3-4).  It may just been simply out of humility, which is certainly the direction he continues to go in the rest of the pericope. 

The Gospel — Luke 5: 1-11

Peter was aware of Jesus’ presence, but he didn’t believe Him at first that they would catch fish in the deeper water.  Once he repented for his doubt, Peter was ready to follow and respond to God’s will for him.  How often do we not follow God’s will in our lives because we don’t think it is possible?  How do we figure this out?  The GOOD NEWS is that God believes in us anyway, despite our failings!  

Peter was a fisherman who worked hard to provide food for others.  Think about when you have fed or shared food with another person. How was God working in this ordinary situation?

Joseph Fitzmyer, a N. T. scholar, notes how strange this metaphor of ‘catching people like fish’ seems to be. The mission of the disciples was to bring them to salvation (fullness of health). Yet, what fishermen do to fish is far from salutary!  He points out, though, that the Greek term that Jesus used to say that they would be ‘catchers or netters’ of humanity could literally be translated as “you will be taking them alive.”  The strange metaphor then comes to mean that those ‘caught’ or ‘netted’ by Peter and the others would be saved from death and gathered into God’s Kingdom.        (Celebrations, Feb. 1998)

There is also meaning in Jesus’ words “put out into the deep water” to lower their nets for a catch (v.4). Those who wish to bring people to God must be willing to venture into the deep, to unfamiliar and unchartered territories.  It is important to go where the people are and draw them to God . . . Celebrations, Feb., 2004

There is the spirit that will make an effort.  If Jesus said it, tired as he was, Peter was prepared to try again.  For most people the disaster of life is that they give up just one effort too soon.  There is the spirit which will attempt what seems hopeless.  The night was past and the night was the time for fishing.  All the circumstances were unfavorable, but Peter says, “Let circumstances be what they may, if you say so, we will try again.”  Too often we wait because the time is not opportune.  If we wait for a perfect set of circumstances we will never begin at all.  If we want a miracle we must take Jesus at his word when he bids us attempt the impossible, (Wm. Barclay’s Daily Study Bible, p. 53-54).