Tag Archives: 1 Corinthians

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle B

1st Reading – Jonah 3: 1-5, 10

This is a story about Jonah the prophet.  God told Jonah to bring about the redemption of Ninevah, to which Jonah ran in the opposite direction toward the sea  (How often do WE run away from where God may be leading us?).  The sea became stormy and the sailors thought Jonah was bringing God’s wrath to them, so he sacrificed himself and was swallowed by a huge fish.  After 3 days, God had mercy and Jonah eventually through twists and turns went to Ninevah to do what God had said.

This story can help us ponder how we listen to God in our own lives. Is following God’s will always placid and without ambiguity? When we pray, do we really pray to know God‘s will or do we ask God to do our will? (John Foley, S.J., “Spirituality of the Readings, http://liturgy,slu.edu )

Some psychologists say that we mature not by always having everything ‘together’ and ‘successful’ – whatever that means – but we often “grow by falling apart.” Jonah’s story is sort of a parable about this ‘disintegration.’ Sometimes it is in the darkness, in the ashes, in the failures and frustrations that we journey to full maturity. In scripture this is often imaged in ‘desert or wilderness’ experiences.’ — or in Jonah’s case, the belly of a whale. Like Jonah we can find ourselves carried to some place we’d rather not go. Our successes bring us glory, while our pain, with God’s help, brings us character and compassion. Pain can mellow and enlarge our heart and our soul. The best wines are aged in cracked, old barrels. Our natural instinct, though, is to get out of the darkness and tension as quickly as possible – it is not easy to trust that God’s love can be with us in such dire circumstances. We are too often afraid to suffer, to let it do its purifying work. Yet, when we find ourselves in this ‘dark night’ we can come to know what it means to let our faith in God’s love carry us. We can care rather than cure. We can support and trust the process. We can reflect, think, pray, and talk about the situation with trusted friends and mentors. We do not need to move against the process, but find ways to relax and be comforted right in the middle of it. (Ron Rolheiser, “In Exile” http://liturgy,slu.edu )

2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 7: 29 – 31

This is a very early letter of Paul’s. The expectation at this time was that Jesus was coming back very soon – that his life, death and resurrection had ushered in the ‘end-times.’ This belief empowered the early Christians including Paul to eagerly share the good news of Jesus Christ.

“The world as we know it is passing away” – Paul wanted us to think about the priorities that fill our lives and preoccupy our minds.  Richard Rohr talk about this a lot, the idea that we NOTICE what we are feeling and doing as a way of seeing how God works in our life.  We don’t need to be so attached to the emotion.  We can wonder about our responses, a little like Paul is telling the Corinthians to do. Rohr says, “Wondering is a word connoting at least three things:  standing in disbelief, standing in the question itself and standing in awe before something.  Try letting all three ‘standings’ remain open inside of you…whenever we can appreciate the goodness and value of something, while still knowing its limitations and failures, this also marks the beginning of wisdom and nondual consciousness,” (The Naked Now, p. 46, 106).  It is allowing the tension…to live without resolution.  When we open ourselves in this way, God has an easier time entering in and causing something new to happen.  Have you experienced this?

The Gospel – Mark 1: 14 – 20

Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes in her essay, “We Were Made for Times Like These”, “When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.”  Simon, Andrew, James and John are all safely keeping to their boats, but Jesus calls them out.  They go.  What would your response be…to stay safe or to go out?

Joseph Fitzmyer, a New Testament scholar, notes how strange this metaphor of ‘catching people like fish’ seems to be. The mission of the disciples was to bring people to salvation (fullness of health). Yet, fishermen eat fish, not save them!  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)

After his baptism, Jesus may have stayed around John and his followers for awhile. After John’s arrest, it seemed that Jesus began setting up his home in Capernaum. His old life at Nazareth was over and done; it was a clean cut, momentous decision. The village was on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. This lake was and is a large inland lake that is 680 ft. below sea level. It has quite a warm climate and is surrounded by phenomenally fertile land that was quite densely populated. It is considered to be one of the loveliest lakes in the world. “Seen from any point of the surrounding heights it is a fine sheet of water – a burnished mirror set in a framework of rounded hills and rugged mountains.” In Jesus’ time it was thick with fishing boats.  This is probably not the first time that these men have met Jesus.  Some of them may have been disciples of John. They had known and talked with Jesus; they had heard him preach. Now these fishermen were being invited to “throw in their lot with him.”  These were ordinary, sort of middle-class men – certainly not poverty stricken – nor were they men to be easily fooled or impressed. As fishermen they may have had just the qualities Jesus needed in his disciples: men of patience, perseverance, courage, cleverness, with the ability to ‘fit the bait to the right fish’, to stay out of the way, and to know how to recognize the right moment for action.  (William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1 77-79)

The invitation is also open-ended.  Jesus does not tell Peter and Andrew how they will “fish for people.”  No, Jesus’ call is – like many calls – appealing but also confusing…There are many ways of being called.  Many people think that being called means hearing voices.  Or they feel that since they have never had a knocked-me-off-my-feet spiritual experience that they have not been called.  But often being called can be more subtle, manifesting itself as a strong desire, a fierce attraction, or even an impulse to leave something behind,”  (Fr. J. Martin’s Jesus:  A Pilgrimage, p. 134, 141).

The leaving of everything to follow Jesus was the way the gospel writers expressed the need of disciples to make Jesus the priority in life. These fishermen were no longer just fishermen anymore once they began to follow Jesus. They probably went out during the day with Jesus to the surrounding areas returning to their families at night or after short intervals, even returning to fishing when necessary. Their total response to Jesus is meant to be an example to all of us as to where our priorities should lie. With Christ as the center of their lives, it was now more important to go out to ‘catch’ the suffering sea of humanity. This humanity was in need of God’s love, God’s kingdom and presence in their lives. What they have to offer others in Jesus’ name was not just good news; it was great news! It still is and we still have the same calling.   (M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year A, 363,364)

Martin Luther King responded profoundly to God’s call of justice with great hope, faith, and love – even in the midst of violence and hatred: “If you lose hope, somehow you lose vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be . . . so today, I still have a dream.”

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2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1st Reading – Samuel 3: 3b — 10, 19

Samuel was the last of the judges and the first of the prophets –A time of transition . . .This is a ‘classic’ story about discerning God’s call in our lives.  What steps do you see in this story about discernment?  Have you ever experienced God calling?  How have you experienced any “twists and turns’ in this calling?

Some people who have experienced the twists and turns of God’s calls:

Moses              Jeremiah          Mary                Paul                 Francis of Assisi          St. Teresa of Calcutta            Thomas Merton                       Martin Luther King                 all of us ?!

“Our lives have been shaped not just by one but by many calls from God, and God speaks not just with one voice but with many.” (Celebration, 2000)

From Mary Birmingham:

The Books of Samuel recall a time of transition. From the time of Joshua, Israel had been governed by a loose tribal confederacy. These books tell of the move to one central government that reached its pinnacle in the reigns of David and Solomon. The major figure during this time of political change was Samuel, a late-eleventh-century B.C. voice of the times. The books span the time from Samuel’s birth and childhood through the reign of David and his sons. David is remembered as Israel’s ‘golden age.’ Prior to David’s reign, Israel was suspicious of kings. These books reflect these suspicions. Many preferred the tribal system over the monarchy.  The Books of Samuel reflect these tensions. The first king, Saul (who Samuel anointed), was a great disappointment. David came and was able to unify the tribes and to establish the city of Jerusalem as the capital: it was on the border between the north and the south and, thus, acceptable to both. The high point of these books is Yahweh’s promise to David that his reign would last forever. Israel would remember this promise as a sign of God’s protection during future difficult times.   (Word and Worship Workbook for Year B, 451-451)

Are you familiar with the Lord?  How does God reveal Godself to you?  And where?  Notice God comes to Samuel right where he is-in bed!  Of course, we don’t find out what God says to Samuel in this reading, but God reveals that he is going to punish Eli because his sons blasphemed (1 Samuel 3:11-14).  It may have been left out of the lectionary because the point being made is God calls us to action, and does so where we are.

2nd Reading – I Corinthians 6: 13c-15a, 17-20:

Paul is speaking about what was common in Greek thinking at the time, that the body is separated from the soul.  Because of the separation, if one sinned, that was the body’s fault and not the soul.  So sin away!  Paul is telling them (and us!) that our souls are enfleshed.  We are body AND soul for the Lord.  How does this affect our lives today?  How do you use your whole self for God’s work?

From Exploring the Sunday Readings, Jan. 2000: Paul is trying to help us realize that we are people of Incarnation. Our God took on human flesh, and we encounter God not only – maybe not even primarily – in the hour of prayer, but in the many other hours of encounter with one another. Where we gather, Jesus is. If God is revealed to us in flesh and blood, then what happens to us in the flesh is not insignificant. Our sexuality, our stewardship of our health, our respect and care for life – especially for those who are weak, ill or voiceless – all of this has great importance.

From Ronald Rolheiser’s blog entry, “In Praise of Skin”:  In becoming flesh, God legitimizes skin, praises skin, enters it, honors it, caresses it, and kisses it.  Among all the religions of the world, we stand out because, for us, salvation is never a question of stepping outside of skin, but of having skin itself glorified.  That is why Jesus never preached simple immortality of the soul, but insisted on the resurrection of the body.

The Gospel – John 1:35 – 42

We go right from Epiphany on Sunday, to the Baptism of the Lord on Monday, to Jesus in ministry now.  Jesus grew up and into his calling in a week!

What’s in a name?  Jesus is called the Lamb of God, Rabbi and Messiah in this pericope.  Simon gets the new name of Cephas, or Peter.  Think about the different names you are called, maybe nicknames, terms of endearment, maybe not-so-kind names in traffic!  Names are how we are known to people.  Names make us unique.  Names can sometimes hurt.  Sometimes we have pet names for people.  When your name is remembered by an old friend, it makes you feel good  (and not if it is forgotten).  Jesus always knows your name (like Cheers!).  You are unique, called and special in Jesus’ eyes always.

The title, Lamb of God, has many overtones and shades of meaning. It obviously was an important title for Jesus in John’s community. It contains a rather compact wealth of Christological information. Ray Brown and William Barclay point out the various meanings and images connected with this phrase.

  • Passover Lamb:  By whose blood the Israelite slaves were saved from death (Exodus 12). This was also celebrated by the sacrifice of a lamb every morning and evening in the Temple in Jerusalem.
  • Suffering Servant Lamb:  In whose suffering others would find healing and strength (Isaiah 53:7).
  • Triumphant Lamb:  Whose mission it was to overcome evil and reign over all peoples of the earth (Revelation 7:17, plus it is used 29 times throughout the book).

As Barclay says, this title sums up “the love, the sacrifice, the suffering, and the triumph of Christ.” (Celebration, 2000, and The Gospel of John, Vol. 1, by William Barclay, p. 80-82)

More thoughts from Barclay:

It is John the Baptist that calls Jesus the Lamb of God.  Once again we see him pointing beyond himself.  He must have known very well that to speak to his disciples about Jesus like that was to invite them to leave him and transfer his loyalty to this new and greater teacher; and yet he did it.  There was no jealousy in John.  He had come to attach men and women not to himself but to Christ.  There is no harder task than to take the second place when once the first place was enjoyed.  But as soon as Jesus emerged on the scene John never had any other thought than to send people to him.

Notice that Jesus TURNED to the disciples.  It is God who takes the first step.  And what does he ask?  “What are you looking for?”  What are YOU looking for?  What’s your aim and goal?  What are you trying to get out of life?  Whether you are a young person or retired, this is a question for all of us.

Andrew seems to be the man of introductions, because that is all he ever does in Scripture.  He does so here, in John 6:8-9 when he brings the by with the loaves and fishes to Jesus and in John 12:22 when he brings enquiring Greeks to Jesus.  Like John the Baptist, it must have brought Andrew joy to bring people to Jesus.  And he is often named as Peter’s brother, as if he was second fiddle to Peter.  He seems to be a humble, loyal servant of God.

From Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship for Year B, p. 457:

The readings for this Sunday remind us that “all of salvation history can be summarized as the process in which God is in constant search of human beings.  God is the initiator.  But the invitation must be accepted in faith and in freedom.  It is an invitation to respond.  We are told what that response involves: action.  Today’s gospel is pregnant with action words – see, stay, hear, believe, come, watch.  These verbs evoke the acts, which lead from one’s initial discovery of the Lord to the resolute commitment to follow him in order to be near him . . .

Pentecost Sunday, cycle A

1ST READING: ACTS 2: 1-11

Luke is telling us this Pentecost story in such a way as to remind us of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  John the Baptist had promised that the Messiah would baptize “with the holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3: 16). Here we see that the fire comes in tongues giving courage and meaning and understanding to the gift of speech.  In many ways this story is the reversal of the Babel story in Genesis 11: 1-9. At Babel, sin (self-importance and false pride) had brought confusion and defeat. Now with the power of God’s Holy Spirit we see a new universal outreach characterized by mutual understanding and respect. Also where there was fear and inaction, there is now new energy and boldness that is rooted in faith in the God of Jesus. This Holy Spirit is still available today; we also need this ability to understand each other despite differences. Luke’s writing to encourage us to be open to the ongoing process of transformation that is the Spirit!  (Birmingham, W&W, p. 336; Celebration, May2002)

Every essential step in Acts of how witness was borne to Christ from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth is guided by the Spirit, whose presence becomes obvious at great moments where the human agents would otherwise be hesitant or choose wrongly  (R. Brown, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind, p. 68).  Isn’t this profoundly hopeful and encouraging?

2ND READING:  1 CORINTHIANS 12: 3-13

In Corinth, they seemed to feel that ‘spectacular’ gifts such as speaking in strange tongues were more impressive gifts. Those who did not display such wonder-filled gifts were seen as inferior. Paul is trying to help them set their priorities straight. He wants to ground them in the reality that it is Jesus, the crucified one, who is called Lord. The Spirit of this Jesus gives us gifts that are for the good of all. No one gift is to be prized over another – except perhaps love (1 Cor. 13). Through baptism, we are one body – the body of Christ. Through Eucharist we “drink of the one Spirit” — together we are to nourish and build up the entire body that is the very presence of Jesus in the world.  (Birmingham, W&W, p. 336)

The term ‘body’ (soma, in Greek) means the whole person – the whole human being as he lives in relationship with and for others – the way we are REAL for each other.  Paul is using the metaphor in 2 ways:

  1. As a body has different parts yet is one body, so are we.
  2. We, as church, are a living organism: Christ’s body in the world. We derive our life from Jesus; and, it is the way Jesus remains involved in our history, relating to us – to each other.

As we experience and LIVE Jesus’ presence in His Word and Eucharist, we are to BE that presence in the world.  The Spirit is both the source of our unity AND our diversity.  Our hope, our consolation, our strength and challenge is in the Spirit who is God-with-us. (from notes taken from John Dwyer’s talks on this subject)

Martin Luther’s teaching on the priesthood of all believers emphasizes that each Christian has a vocation, a calling, by virtue of their standing or office in the world.  It is through faith, for Luther, that one accepts one’s divinely appointed standing and lives out that faith through the good works of daily life, whether as a cobbler, painter, spouse, or son.  Each of these paths gives glory to God…For work to be a calling means it is recognized as both a gift and a response.  It is more than a desire to do something for others; it is felt as an imperative that I must do this, regardless of how difficult.  In that sense work is experienced as a calling that brings both joy and fulfillment.  (Cahalan, K., Introducing the Practice of Ministry, p. 27).

THE GOSPEL: JOHN 20: 19-23

From The Vatican II Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, (translated by Bill Huebsch, chapter one):

‘This Spirit is a fountain of living water springing up to life eternal! . . .

Working through the ordinary lives of us all,

the Spirit gives the Church everything it needs . . .

Praying through the heart of the faithful and dwelling in us as in a temple,

The Spirit unifies us all in love . . .

Life in this church is sometimes messy because the Church includes everyone

with all their various talents and desires.

We would end up in a mess with all this if we did not have Christ to lead us. . .

Christ wants us to love each other, to endure sorrow with one another,

to share happiness, to forgive each other freely,

all in a family-like lifestyle.

Therefore, whoever leads us as the Church toward a community of love . . .

real love lived out in everyday life, that person speaks for Christ.’

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle A

1st Reading:  Isaiah 49:14-15

One can only imagine Israel’s hopelessness.  There is nothing harder to bear than to have the one you counted on the most desert you in the midst of despair.  Because of what Israel perceived to be God’s non-action in their Babylonian captivity, they felt they had been completely abandoned by their God.  But today’s word of the Lord has spoken.  Human beings are a part of God – the womb of God – never to be forsaken or abandoned.  God always forgives, invites, and tenderly caresses those who are God’s children, God’s own (Birmingham, W&W, p. 403).

Henry David Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”  This is not the life God wants for us!  God’s loving grace is a free gift for us…poured out in abundant supply.  God wants us to know we belong to God, never to be forgotten.  Have you ever felt forsaken?  Can you think of others out there who do?  Bring this to the Lord.

2nd Reading;  I Corinthians 4:1-5

You can almost hear in this reading how Paul is trying to defend himself and who he stands for (who, of course, is Jesus Christ).  He is humbling himself.  He explains that we are meant to be servants and stewards of God, despite not even completely understanding God’s mysteries.  He was not concerned about how he might be judged because he felt his conscience was clear.  His actions were between him and God.

St Augustine of Hippo said in explaining his role as bishop, “For you I am a bishop, but with you I am a Christian.  The first is an office accepted; the second is a gift received.  One is danger; the other is safety.  If I am happier to be redeemed with you than to be placed over you, then I shall, as the Lord commanded, be more fully your servant.”  We have to learn how to sink the roots of servanthood deep into the soil of our character (habits) so that our commitment holds up in the face of life’s inevitable challenges (Phelps, Leading Like Jesus, p. 71)

St. John Neumann reminded us that our conscience is the highest moral indicator.  We are to follow our conscience above all else.  Human beings have the right to act in freedom according to their conscience. They may not be forced to act contrary to their conscience, especially when it comes to religious issues (CCC, #1782).  Faith, prayer, and the word of God enlighten our conscience. “Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a [person]. There s/he is alone with God, whose voice echoes in his/her depths. By conscience, in a wonderful way, that law is made known which is fulfilled in the love of God and one’s neighbor.” (Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World [Gaudium et Spes] ,16).

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 6:  24-34

“No one can serve two masters.”   Soren Kierkegaard reflected on this idea.  He said, “If it is possible that a man can will only one thing then he must will the good,” (A Kierkegaard Anthology, p. 271).  This is a singularity of thought.  This is living authentically.  It is not living with two masters.  It is behaving as true to ourselves as we are able.  Yet even when we fail, we can turn back again.  Kierkegaard continues in hope, “For as the Good is only a single thing, so all ways lead to the Good, even the false ones – when the repentant one follows the same way back…let your heart in truth will only one thing, for therein is the heart’s purity,” (p. 272).   Even when we choose wrong, we can follow our way back to the good.

“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence.  More than that, it is cooperation in violence.”  Thomas Merton

Jesus is not insensitive to the needs of the peasants.  Like all human beings, they were anxious about the basics of life.  Given the subsistence economy in which they lived, the unpredictability of nature, and the voracious taxes they were forced to pay, how could they think of anything but survival?  Jesus’ advice is simple yet cleverly delivered.  Without pointing his finger or naming names, he selects a masculine Aramaic noun (birds, associating men’s work like sowing, reaping, harvesting) and a feminine Aramaic noun (anemones, or lilies of the field, associating women’s work like spinning yarn, making clothes) and urges men and women not to worry.  One must trust in God the heavenly patron who knows our basic needs and will meet them (Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle A, p. 41-42).

Ignatian Spirituality encourages a life of detachment to help us worry less.  Whose kingdom am I serving, my own or God’s  It takes a lot of courage to recognize the truth that we ourselves are not the fixed center of things but rather that we are beings through whom life flows.  But when we do understand and acknowledge this, we discover that our emptiness will lead us more surely to our true purpose than our imagined fullness ever could, because God’s life and grace will flow so much more fully and freely through empty hands  (Silf, Inner Compass, p. 110).

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle A

1st Reading – Leviticus 19: 1-2, 17-18

Leviticus 19 is a miscellaneous collection of laws; some think it might be a more primitive form of the 10 Commandments. The distinctiveness, the separateness of God from the world now calls his people to also be like this. We need to show this by our behavior. This behavior is summed up in the command to love the neighbor. In the OT this neighbor meant a fellow Israelite. Jesus will widen this concept to include even the enemy. (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture In Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu/7OrdA022011/theword_indepth.html )

The word holy means ‘set apart’.  What does that mean to you?  Holiness is a gift that is maximized when we choose good over evil in the various circumstances of our daily lives.  Grace, accepted and celebrated in a life of prayer, gives us the strength to be holy.  It’s hard to think about ourselves as holy.  We often don’t feel worthy to be called that.  How different would be world be if we considered ourselves sacred, by the grace of God?

Richard Rohr in The Divine Dance says, “…it is a risky position to live undefended, in a kind of constant openness to the other – because it would mean others could sometimes actually wound (from vulnus, “wound”…think vulnerability).  But only if we choose to take this risk do we also allow the exact opposite possibility:  the other might also gift you, free you, and even love you.  But it is a felt risk every time.  Every time,” (p. 57).

2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 3: 16-23

Paul tells us that we are the temple of God and God’s Spirit dwells in us; translated that means that God built the human heart ‘with a hole in it.’ We have a built-in openness for others, if we don’t block it with selfishness. We are to let God’s own self in – to let God stretch our stunted outreach to others so that we will truly give out of love. Love wants what is truly best for the other – as God wants what is best for us.  Real love is what we are to offer; real love wants what is healthy, good, life-giving for the other. (Fr. John Foley, S.J. “Spirituality of the Readings” http://liturgy.slu.edu/7OrdA022011/reflections_foley.html )

Pope Francis said, “When the church becomes closed in on itself, it gets sick.  Think of a closed room – a room locked for a year.  When you go in, there is a smell of dampness…The church must go out from herself.  Where?  Towards the existential outskirts.  I prefer a thousand times a church damaged by an accident than a sick church closed in on itself.”  How do we do in this as temples of God?

“First, wherever Spirit succeeds in opening human hearts to the divine, it brings about some kind of personal encounter with the personal God and not just a hazy religious consciousness.  Second, at the horizontal level, the Holy Spirit works against alienation, injustice, and violence to spread solidarity, justice, and peace,” (Gerald O’Collins, The Tripersonal God, p. 169).  In other words, forming a personal relationship with God allows God to dwell in you.  It cannot be contained.

The Gospel – Matthew 5: 38-48

Thoughts from William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, 166-175:

The ‘law of tit for tat’ was in fact the beginning of mercy, a limitation of vengeance. It was meant to stop blood feuds. It was also never a law for an individual to extract vengeance. It was how a judge in a law court must assess punishment and penalty. Even further, this law was never, at least in any even semi-civilized society, carried out literally. Very soon the injury done was assessed at a money value; the value was assigned according to the injury, the pain, the healing needed, the loss of time to work, the indignity. Also, the OT has other sayings concerning enemies that go far more along with Jesus’ ideas: “Do not say, I will do to him as he has done to me.” (Proverbs 24: 29) Yet, Jesus does go further. He actually does away with the very principle of that law; retaliation has no place in the Christian life.

Jesus never asked us to love our enemies in the same way we love our nearest and dearest. The word that is used for love is agape (invincible goodwill) not phila (deep friendship) or storge (family love) or eros (sexual love). With our enemies love is not so much a feeling of the heart as it is a decision of the will. We are called to will ourselves into doing this with God’s grace. It is in fact a victory over that which comes instinctively to the natural person. We are called to have unconquerable goodwill even toward those who hurt us. It is the power to love those whom we do not like and who may not like us. In fact, we can only have this kind of love, agape, when Jesus enables us to conquer our natural tendencies to bitterness and brooding. It does NOT, however, mean that we allow people to do absolutely as they like. No one would say a parent really loves a child if the parent lets the child do anything he likes despite the dangers. If we regard a person with invincible goodwill, it will often mean that discipline, even punishment, might be in order so that the person will learn what is best for themselves and others. The discipline would never be retributive – it must always be aimed at a cure – at recovery – at remedial care. Lastly, Jesus says that we must pray for those who hurt us. We must take ourselves and those who hurt us to God. The surest way of killing bitterness is to pray for the man we are tempted to hate.

Agape is love which is of and from God, whose very nature is love itself. The apostle John affirms this in 1 John 4:8: “God is love.” God does not merely love; God is love itself. Everything God does flows from God’s love. But it is important to remember that God’s love is not a sappy, sentimental love such as we often hear portrayed. God loves because that is God’s nature and the expression of God’s being. God loves the unlovable and the unlovely (us!), not because we deserve to be loved, but because it is God’s nature to love us, and God must be true to God’s nature and character. God’s love is displayed most clearly at the cross, where Christ died for the unworthy creatures who were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), not because we did anything to deserve it, “but God commends His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The object of God’s agape love never does anything to merit God’s love. We are the undeserving recipients upon whom God lavishes that love. God’s love was demonstrated when God sent God’s Son into the world to “seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10) and to provide eternal life to those God sought and saved. He paid the ultimate sacrifice for those He loves.  (Sweet to the Soul on Facebook)  This is our example!

From the On Being Blog, columnist Courtney Martin:

But real love is radical because it cannot be earned or unearned. It is tied to inherent dignity. It is unconquerable because it is dumb in its own way — determined to keep loving no matter what the counter forces, no matter what scarcity small men try to message, no matter what fear they try to sow.  It’s blindly trusting, also positioned as stupid in our overly strategic society. It’s inefficient, a sin in our efficiency-obsessed time.

It is perhaps most clearly understood as maternal. Just as mothers have, from time immemorial, loved without condition, we must now love this nation like mothers. We must parent it into a new maturity. We must not give up on it, no matter what. We must be prepared to be surprised at how beautiful it will be. We must do all this without knowing what form it will take, but knowing that whatever it becomes will be rewarding if it is shaped by fierce, unending, active love.

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle A

1st Reading; Sirach 15: 15-20

Sirach is the longest of the wisdom books with 51 chapters.  It is a mixture of proverbs and lengthy essays on major themes grouped together.  It was written between 190 and 175 BC.  For many centuries it was thought to be only in Greek in the Septuagint.  But a partial copy of the Hebrew original was found at the end of the last century hidden in a synagogue storeroom in Cairo, and another when archaeologists excavated Masada in Palestine in 1964.  A few fragments also turned up at Qumran in 1947.  Despite this evidence, it was never accepted into Jewish canon because it was not from the time of Ezra or before (Reading the Old Testament, Boadt, p. 487).  It is in the Catholic Bible but not the Protestant.

Sirach speaks of the choices we make in life and how we must trust in God when we make them.  This will help us choose what is good and life-giving for us.  We must have an openness to the working of God in our life.  In Ignatian spirituality, we must look at the “pushes” and the “pulls”.  Do you feel pushed to do something – I should do this, I should do that – out of a sense of crushing and lifeless obligation or a desire to please?  Or do you feel pulled, like a gentle invitation in love?  God pulls not pushes  (The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, Fr. James Martin, p. 329).

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 2: 6 – 10

Paul is talking about the meaning of the cross in salvation history.  The ‘mystery’ is that the crucified One is the Lord of glory. Many Corinthians thought otherwise. For them, the Cross was an unfortunate past event, the less said the better. All that mattered to them now was the risen Christ. He was now spirit, and as such, he could convey to them ‘secret wisdom’. Paul is using their terms in an ironic way, sort of turning them upside down to help them see where true wisdom is. By refusing to recognize the Lord of glory in the crucified One, they were in a sense aligning themselves with Pontius Pilate and Herod (the rulers of the day) who also did not recognize the One they were crucifying. Such blindness leads to horrible evil.

Why is God’s wisdom mysterious and hidden?  What does this mean for us?

We like to twist and turn reality in order to suit our opinions, don’t we?  It makes it easier for us swallow it.  We all do it, and sometimes it is completely innocent.  But life doesn’t work that way.  There are lots of times in our life when we have to trust that we don’t have to have it all figured up and wrapped with a bow.  There is mystery.  It doesn’t mean we have to blindly accept…we can still wonder and wrestle with reality…but we can sit with the tension and know that God is sitting with us.

The Gospel: Matthew 5: 17 – 37

Now let’s take this gospel in parts to see what value and meaning we can gather:

First, what did Jesus mean by the law and its importance:

Jesus seems to say that the law is so sacred that not even the smallest detail (something as small as an apostrophe) should be discarded or ignored. Yet, again and again Jesus broke what some Jews called the law: handwashings, healing on the Sabbath, picking grain to eat on the Sabbath etc. In Jesus’ time it was popular to call the ‘scribal law’ the law along with the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. Scribes were people who made it their business to reduce the great principles of the Law into thousands upon thousands of rules and regulations. God’s Law was to rest on the Sabbath. They, however, spent hours arguing about whether it was work on the Sabbath to move a lamp from one table to another, if one could bandage a wound with or without salve, or could one lift a child? Their religion was a legalism of petty rules and regulations. Jesus was highly critical of this. What Jesus was upholding here was the real meaning of God’s Law: to mold our lives on the positive commandment to love. Love that is filled with respect, reverence and compassion is the permanent stuff of our relationship to God and to our fellow humans. Our righteousness in this way must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. This law of love to fill our hearts and minds; it must be our sole motivation. We need to be people of gratitude that God has first loved us – and then people who generously give of that love to others. (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1, p.126-131)

Second, Jesus then gives examples of the kind of law and righteousness he means – that the law of love must penetrate to our hearts, our core. The only way to safety and security in society is not to even desire what is wrong. It also shows us just how much we need God’s help in this. We need God to transform us to be able to live up to this standard of love. For example Jesus says that any one angry with a brother is liable to judgment. The word that is used for this anger is an anger over which a person broods and will not let go of –an anger that broods, that will not forget, that seeks revenge. It is an anger that insults and shows contempt. Raka meant an imbecile; a word of one who despises another with an arrogant contempt. This type of anger leads to a hurt that is like a murder; we can ‘kill’ a person’s spirit and take his good name and reputation away from him or her. This makes us liable to fiery Gehenna, a garbage dump where rot burns and pollutes. (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1, p.136-141)

In fact, here is an interesting piece of information from Jesus’ time:

“The fires of Gehenna” had become a metaphor for divine judgment on evil.  The inferno was actually the city refuse dump located southwest of Jerusalem.  It was a gehinnom that some of Judah’s kings engaged in the heinous practice of burning their children as sacrifices (see 2 Chronicles 28:3; Jeremiah 7:31; 32:35).  Condemned by Jeremiah and King Josiah, the valley was used, thereafter, as a site for rubbish. (Celebration, February 14, 1999)

The third point to consider is that when we come before to pray or to bring gifts to the altar to the Lord we must consider not only our relationship with God but also our relationship with others. A breach between a human and God could not be healed until the breach between humans was healed. Jesus emphasizes this: one cannot be right with God until we are right with each other. (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1, p.136-141)

Then Jesus deals with lust – looking at and thinking about another person as an object (not a person) of pleasure, an object to be used. Jesus is not talking about what is normal human instinct, human nature. He is talking about lust, where a person uses his eyes and thoughts to stimulate wrong desire – a desire to use someone even if it destroys their personhood and value. If we allow such desire to grow in us the most innocent people and things can become ‘used’ and abused. Jesus is vehement here using hyperbole (extravagant exaggeration, a very common teaching tool in this culture) to get his point across. When something is deadly, destructive – surgery is needed. In other words, to let such evil grow in us is worse that losing an eye or a hand. For such evil leads us into a garbage heap of burning refuse: Gehenna!

(Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1, p. 147-148)

Jesus then warns of the abuse of divorce. Ideally, Jews abhorred divorce. Marriage was seen as holy and as fulfilling God’s positive commandment to be fruitful. But by Jesus’ time the practice itself had fallen far short of this ideal and women were the victims of this abuse. In both the Jewish and especially the Greek culture of the day, women were at the absolute disposal of the males, her father and then her husband. She had no legal rights at all. A woman could be divorced with or without her will. All that had to be done was to hand a degree of divorce to the woman in the presence of two witnesses. The reason was to be for some indecency which could be serious – or just that she put too much salt in the food, or she spoke disrespectfully, or she was troublesome, or unattractive. Because of the ease of divorce at this time, basic family structure was threatened. (Wm. Barclay, the Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1, p.150-153)

Jesus was for loving and caring relationships. This we must keep in mind. He was not for upholding abuse or condoning it. As disciples we must go that extra mile to repair fractured relationships and live according to God’s plan of love and life. Here is a caution to note: While this teaching points out God’s will for unity and love, there are times when a marriage is no longer real – or because someone is incapable of such a relationship – it never was a marriage. While every effort should be made to redeem fractured marriages, some must be acknowledged as beyond repair. In such cases divorce may be not only the lesser of two evils from the point of view of God’s ultimate will which is love, but also a positive step. (M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, Year A, p. 391.

The last section of this gospel deals with our ‘public’ behavior. “Oath-taking” had greatly deteriorated into misuse in Jesus’ day.  Some resorted to frivolous swearing, by constantly ‘taking oaths’: “by my life…”  “May such and such happen to me if…” Still others used evasive swearing to avoid the truth.  According to this questionable practice, oaths which contained the name of God were considered binding and were rigidly kept; oaths that did not mention God were not considered binding and were easily changed.  Jesus advocated simple integrity in speech. (Celebration, February 14, 1999)

As Jesus’ disciples we need to live in such a way that falsehood and infidelity in our families and workplaces is eliminated. The Law of love is the only thing that works.

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Let us pray:

God, our Redeemer,

Oscar Romero taught us

Not to tire of preaching love;

It is the force that will overcome the world.

Help us be lovers in all sense of the word.

Help us be more like You.  AMEN

Archbishop Oscar Romero’s life’s work was to oppose, at great personal risk, the tyrannical repression in El Salvador.  He was a humble man (remember our reading last week on humility?), and yet he spoke out for what he believed was truth.  He directed himself to all the people in El Salvador, people from the left as well as people from the right, people supportive of the guerillas as well as people in the government and the army, people who were being killed as well as their killers, the oppressed as well as the oppressors.  He was killed during Mass by his enemies; he is now a martyr in the eyes of the church.  What he spoke and lived is an example for all of us.  His life exemplifies the readings for this weekend.

1st Reading – Isaiah 58:7-10

This is from 2nd Isaiah, written after the Babylonian Exile.  Jerusalem had been destroyed, but this is meant to be encouraging.  Right before this section, Isaiah spoke of fasting and how it shouldn’t be done in a showy way.  This is misdirected; use that energy to help the poor and those less fortunate.  Spirituality that is other-centered shines like a beacon in the midst of the darkness  (Birmingham, W&W, p. 380).  Are we a community that is like a beacon?  How could we be better?

” We have to try to bring out all that is good in each person and try to develop an atmosphere of trust, not with physical force, as though dealing with irrational beings, but with a moral force that draws out the good that is in everyone…Thus, with all contributing their own interior life, their own responsibility, their own way of being, all can build the beautiful structure of the common good, the good that we construct together and that creates conditions of kindness, of trust, of freedom, of peace.”  Oscar Romero 7/10/1977

2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 1-5

Don’t we sometimes think we are the ones that have it right, that there is only one way to solve a problem – and it’s yours?  True human wisdom is pure gift from God (One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit!).  Who could ever look for God’s wisdom and power within an instrument of capital punishment and torture?  Yet that was exactly what Paul was demanding that followers of Christ do if they wished to know true, divine wisdom.  Paul proclaimed the power of the cross (p. 381).

“God willed to reveal himself and manifest the mystery of his will.  Through Christ and with him through his Spirit humans can attain the Father and share in the nature of God…He wanted to teach us that we must live in continuous converse with him and that we must live by his life, that we must lose ourselves in the beauty, in the sublimity of God, giving him thanks for favors received, begging pardon for our infidelities, praying to him when the limitations of our power clash with the greatness asked of us.  We must learn to understand that we have such a capacity and that God desires to fill up that capacity.”  Oscar Romero 8/13/1978

The Gospel – Matthew 5:13-16

When Jesus called his disciples the salt of the earth, it was the highest compliment.  Salt was highly valued:

  1. It stood for purity (its whiteness).
  2. It was a common preservative.  It kept things from going bad  (preserves from corruption).  Do you know someone who makes it easy for you to be good?
  3. It gives flavor.  A Christian should be full of vigor and life!  Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers, (Barclay on the Gospel of Matthew, Vol I, p. 119-121).

Jesus called himself a light to the world, so here he is complimenting the disciples again by referring to them as he would himself.  We do not produce our own light but reflect the light of Christ.  Lamps in those days were like a bowl filled with oil and the wick floating in it.  It was hard to rekindle a lamp, so when it was not on the lampstand, it would be protected under a bushel basket, (p. 122-124).  The light’s purpose is to shine.  We are meant to shine too!

“To believe, to hope:  this is the Christian’s grace in our time.  When many give up hope, when it seems to them the nation has nowhere to go, as though it were all over, the Christian says:  No, we have not yet begun.  We are still awaiting God’s grace.  With certainty, it is just beginning to be built on this earth…That time will come!  For me, this is the greatest honor in the mission the Lord has entrusted to me:  to be maintaining that hope and that faith in God’s people and to tell them:  People of god, be worthy of that name.”  Oscar Romero 9/2/1979

Oscar Romero said in a homily:  As a Christian, I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I shall rise again in the Salvadoran people.

Let us pray.:

Help us to bring light

into all the darkness of life, spreading hope for a better world,

a world where justice is made real by your children living together

in harmony.

Help us to bring salt

into the blandness of life,

encouraging vitality and joy in living

in a world that dares to hope

for the future that you promise

where all your children will know themselves

loved and valued

and treasured,

created in your image,

bringing you glory forever.

Amen

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle A

1ST Reading — Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13

About the time of Josiah’s crowning (Josiah brought in righteousness and reform), the Book of Zephaniah records for us the voice of reaction against the idolatry practices in Manassah’s years.  Zephaniah was a fiery preacher whose wrath against pagan practices and hatred of Assyria were matched only by his devotion to Yahweh.  In the previous chapter, Zephaniah says God will “search Jerusalem with lamps” (1:12) to find the guilty and punish them drastically, “their blood poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung” (1:17).  (Boadt’s Reading the Old Testament, p. 340-341)  You know that stage we all go through when we are tired of things being wrong and we have this energy toward making things better and right?  It feels like Zephaniah was in that stage and was imploring the people in Jerusalem to be in it with him.

But this energy needs to be brought to the Lord humbly, and Zephaniah is aware of that too.  It can’t just come out of our own egos.  Humility (in Latin humilitas, from the earth) brings a groundedness.  It is allowing God to be our shelter in the storm.  Joan Chittister says, “Humility enables me to stand before the world in aw, to receive its gifts and to learn from its lessons…It is when we cease to be our own god that God can break in,” The Illuminated Life, p. 55-56.How does this sit with you today?

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 1: 26 –31

This early community was for the most part, “a motley assembly which included free people, tradesmen, and slaves, along with a few (not many) people of higher standing.  It was also a mixed group of both Jews and gentiles, males and females.  This diverse character of the early church was one of the most striking features of the Jesus movement.  It was a unique ‘melting pot’ of cultures and classes who professed to accept each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord. This life in Christ was a ‘calling’ from God to care for each other and to complement each other as the united body of Christ in the world. This diversity also created tensions and obstacles that only with God’s grace could they overcome. (Celebration, Jan. 1999, and 2005)

For Paul, boasting in oneself rather than in the Lord is perhaps the supreme sin – or the root of all sin. This was the trouble Paul saw in the Corinthians. They were becoming too sure of themselves – instead of the Lord. They boasted of their own wisdom – or the wisdom of their ‘clique’ or faction. They thought themselves as superior to other people; they had forgotten that to the outside world they would probably be regarded as the ‘dregs of society’ – not wise or successful. They needed to remember that the ground of their ‘salvation’ (fullness of life) is Jesus Christ. So do we.  (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

The Gospel — Matthew 5: 1-12a

The Beatitudes are Jesus’ way of life; they need to be our way also.  These words come at the end of Jesus’ Great Sermon from Matthew’s Gospel, chapters 5-7. This section contains far more than Jesus would ever have said in one sermon. This ‘Sermon on the Mount’ is the essence of Jesus’ teaching, a kind of “epitome of all the sermons that Jesus ever preached.” (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, 84)

Jesus is trying to impart true wisdom, true worth to his ‘disciples’ – those who were listening to learn from him. If we were to make a list of what we want out of life, we might have compiled quite a different list. We look for the ‘good life’ filled with at least some riches and honor and prestige. But riches can tempt me to let what I own substitute for who I am. Admiration can turn my head from being thankful to the One who created me to being overly convinced of my own power and importance. All of these things can create a false identity because they are ‘out there’ – instead of ‘inside’. Within each of us is the gift of who we are called to be – who God created to help bring his love to this world. God loves this real self within each of us. He does not care how we dress or how respected we are. God calls us to be what we really are: persons who are loved and who can love in return. The beatitudes make deep sense. We need to live from this ‘home within’ where God’s presence is ever generating new life and true love. Then we will be blessed – and so will all who know or live with us.(John Foley, S.J., “Spirituality of the Readings” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

Of course, this is all very counter-cultural – back in Jesus’ day and in our day. And so, we will not find all ‘these blessings’ easy ones. But if we are willing to embrace the blessing along with the difficulties – along with the pain and suffering and even persecution involved – then we will find true consolation, true wisdom and, in the end, true blessing –a blest happiness that no one can take away from us. (John Kavanaugh, S.J. “The Word Embodied” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

Another problem – these beatitudes may allow us to think that God wants us poor and abused. But there is a difference between humility and being humiliated. We may meet a lot of people who are poor, powerless, or vulnerable; no one should want to be these things. Sometimes our religious language can get distorted. Being humble is a virtue; humiliating or abusing someone is a sin, a crime. Such crime calls out to God for justice. We need to be part of God’s answer not part of the problem. We should never encourage someone to put up with abuse or humiliation. We may at times find suffering and even persecution as we stand up against such unfair actions, but we are called to hunger and to work for righteousness, for all that is good and just.  (Exploring the Sunday Scriptures, February, 2002)

The Beatitudes are about finding God present and active in our lives now. They are about letting God give us a joy that can shine through tears – a joy that pain and grief cannot overcome. Spend sometime in prayer thanking God for all the ways God is present to you.

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle A

fishers-of-men

1st Reading: Isaiah 8: 23- 9: 3

Rather than trusting in God’s light, Israel and Judah (the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom of the Hebrew people) tried to live by their own ‘light’ – their own self-important ways.  It brought darkness and destruction to both.  The prophet is looking for an ideal king to lead his people. Kings were seen as being ‘adopted’ by God and a sign of God’s presence with his people.   King Ahaz of Judah did not live up to his calling.  He had made an agreement with Assyria against the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  The prophet looked to a new king, Hezekiah, to be a ‘savior king’.  These hopes were not realized.  Hezekiah eventually became a disappointment, too. (Celebration, Jan.1999)

The great light that Isaiah is speaking of is the revelation of God’s love beyond Israel to even the Gentiles. It is the day when God’s love becomes real for those who are without a religious tendency, to those who are toughened by despair, to those who think hope is nothing but a day dream. But this light does not come by way of some paranormal experience – it can come only by way of ordinary people open to and filled with God’s extraordinary love. This love can come to our world today only if you and I bring it, with God’s help. (Exploring the Sunday Readings, January, 1999)

Thomas Aquinas said hope is a special desire that has a special object.  That object must be clearly good, apparent, in the future, difficult to get and yet possible.  So to have hope is to have faith.  If faith is a gift of God, how are you open to receiving it?  How does it give you hope and dispel your darkness?

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:10 – 13, 17

This letter of Paul’s was probably written about 54-55, A.D. It is really not the ‘first letter’ since Paul writes of a previous letter in 1 Cor. 5: 9. Remember in the early church Paul’s letters were treasured and circulated, but not really organized until around 90 AD. So some were lost and others then were put out of order. The ideas and their importance are still valid. (Barclay, The Letter to the Corinthians, 4-6)

Cephas was the Jewish version of Peter’s name. His ‘group’ was probably made up of the more Jewish Christians who still held tightly to Jewish traditions and law. Apollos was an educated man from Alexandria whose learning and Greek influence made him more attractive to the Gentile Christians and those with greater education. Paul reminds them that these differences should not lead to division. That it is Christ Jesus we must look to for the light – the truth –the insights we need. A preacher’s ‘job’ is just to lead us to Jesus. It is in the cross of Christ that we find the absolute assurance of God’s love – there is the fullness of wisdom in no other place. It seemed there were not serious doctrinal differences here in Corinth, but cliques and factions. The word for united is usually used when two hostile parties reach an agreement. In Mark 1:19 and Matthew 4:21 the same word is used to describe the mending of torn fishing nets. Keep this in mind when you read the gospel. (Celebration, January 1999 & 2005)

Do you think having no divisions among us is realistic?  It is our diversity that makes us the body of Christ.  But there lies the answer…diversity doesn’t have to mean division.  Donald Cozzens in his book Faith that Dares to Speak talks about contemplative conversation.  “Both conversion and conversation are cognates of converse – to turn around, to turn toward another.  Understood as a noun, converse includes the meaning of free and honest interchange of ideas, dreams, hopes – and yes, fear….We move too quickly to shrill argument and righteous declarations rather than turning first to silence that prompts openness of heart and nudges the soul toward the place where conversion of intellect and imagination occur…Contemplative conversation, conversation that emerges from silence and prayer, on the other hand, possesses a one and humility that disarms defensive postures of rectitude.  There is a freshness, a lightness of spirit present when this kind of conversation is entered into,” (p. 110-111).

The Gospel– Matthew 4: 12 – 23

Here we see Jesus setting up his home in Capernaum. His old life at Nazareth was over and done; it was clean cut, a momentous decision. The village was on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. This lake was and is a large inland lake that is 680 ft. below sea level. It has quite a warm climate and is surrounded by phenomenally fertile land that was, thus, quite densely populated. It is considered to be one of the loveliest lakes in the world. “Seen from any point of the surrounding heights it is a fine sheet of water – a burnished mirror set in a framework of rounded hills and rugged mountains.” In Jesus’ time it was thick with fishing boats.  This is probably not the first time that these men have met Jesus.  Some of them may have been disciples of John. They had known and talked with Jesus; they had heard him preach. Now these fishermen were being invited to “throw in their lot with him.”  These were ordinary, sort of middle-class men – certainly not poverty stricken – nor were they men to be easily fooled or impressed. And, as fishermen they may have had just the qualities Jesus needed in his disciples: men of patience, perseverance, courage, cleverness, with the ability to ‘fit the bait to the right fish’, to stay out of the way, and to know how to recognize the right moment for action.

(William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1 77-79)

Joseph Fitzmyer, a New Testament 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)

Other interesting ‘fish’ facts:  A fish was an early symbol of Christianity because the letters of the Greek word for fish are I-C-H-T-H-U-S.  These are the same letters that begin the Greek words for “JESUS CHRIST, GOD’S SON, SAVIOR”  (IESOUS CHRISTOS THEOU HUIOS SOTER)

The early Christians also hung an anchor on the doors of the houses where they would gather to celebrate Eucharist because it resembled a cross.  This secret symbol identified their ‘house churches.’

The leaving of everything to follow Jesus was the way the gospel writers expressed the need of disciples to make Jesus the priority in life. These fishermen were no longer just fishermen any more once they began following Jesus. They probably went out during the day with Jesus to the surrounding areas and returned to their families at night or after short intervals, even fishing when necessary. Their total response to Jesus is meant to be an example to all of us as to where our priorities should lie. With Christ as the center of their lives, it was now more important to go out to ‘catch’ the suffering sea of humanity that was so in need of God’s love, God’s kingdom and God’s presence in their lives. What they have to offer others in Jesus’ name is not just good news; it is great news! We have the same calling. (Mary Birmingham, W & W Wkbk Yr A, 363,364)

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle A

1st Reading – Isaiah 49: 3, 5-6

This is from Second Isaiah – written during the Babylonian Exile.  This servant was to help free these exiled Jews; it was a most difficult assignment.  But then, God expands the scope even more. This servant and his people were to be a light to the nations. God’s concerns are not limited to any one race, or ethic group. God’s power to save wishes to expand “to the ends of the earth.” Everything and everybody is to be brought to wholeness and freedom (that is what salvation means). Celebration, Jan. 2002

As Jesus was called to be this servant, this light, so are we called by our baptism to bring the light of God’s love and to ‘put on the Lord Jesus.’  How do you respond to this reading?

This may seem like a ‘big’ order when too often we feel more like a morning fog than the light of Christ. Yet, God chooses us. The more we choose God’s way of love over our usual selfishness and preoccupation, the more the radiance of God shines forth. Prayer connects us to this Source.  Exploring the Sunday Readings, Jan 2002

2nd Reading — 1 Corinthians 1:1-3

The next four Sundays we will read from Paul’s letter to the early Christian community in Corinth. This city was a wealthy busy seaport as it had two harbors, one open to Asia and one open to Italy.  It was a veritable melting pot of people, cultures and religions. After it was conquered by Rome in 146 BC, it was re-founded as a Roman colony in 44 BC. It had a large Italian population and a sizable Jewish community. It was a place of many shrines to a variety of gods and goddesses. The Corinthian Christians would have been confronted on a daily basis by all of this variety, vivid images, and temptations. Paul was challenged to help them come to know the one God we find in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Celebration, January, 2002

Notice how many times Jesus’ name is said in this short introduction?  Right at the beginning of this letter, Paul has Jesus at the forefront.  It was a difficult letter dealing with a difficult situation…Paul goes right to the love of Christ to deal with it.  Notice Paul calls it the church of God, not the church of Corinth.  To Paul, wherever an individual congregation might be, it was a part of the one Church of God.  Also notice how he describes a Christian:  one that is sanctified in Christ, called to be holy and who calls upon Jesus nameWm Barclay The Daily Study Bible Series

Who is Sosthenes?  A friend of Paul’s and someone who was known in Corinth.  It was a common name in those times.  Sosthenes is mentioned again in Acts 18:17 but it is unclear if they are the same  (In Acts, he is a leader of the synagogue, where here it is not known if he is Jewish or not.).  The name means “saving strength”.  McKenzie, Dictionary of the Bible and  The Jerome Biblical Commentary

The Gospel – John 1: 29-34

John calls Jesus the ‘Lamb of God’ – it is a title with many meanings.

3 meanings in particular are –

Passover Lamb (Exodus 12: 6-13):  The Passover Lamb recalls the time in Exodus when the Israelite slaves were told to sacrifice a lamb and apply its blood to the doorpost and lintels of their homes so that death would not touch them. This Passover led to their freedom.

Suffering Servant Lamb (Isaiah 52: 13 – 53: 12):  The fourth Suffering Servant song in Isaiah describes a servant who goes like an innocent, oppressed, condemned Lamb to the slaughter – yet from this death comes new life and goodness.

Victorious Lamb (Rev. 5:6; 7:17; 22:1):  The glorious Lamb that we find in Revelation is the lamb that has passed through suffering and death and now becomes the source of life-giving water; all humans can be freed by his blood.

We believe that Jesus is this threefold lamb – this lamb who takes away our sin and insecurity giving us new life and peace – alive with God’s grace and set afire with his love for the sake of the world and in service of his word. Celebration, January, 2002

This is a different picture of Jesus’ baptism.  We are hearing it through the eyes of John the Baptist, as he was there and witnessing to this miraculous event.  You know yourself that you give more credibility to stories that are told as seen vs. stories that are hearsay.  He speaks as though he was forewarned of this baptism.  Then John the Baptist calls Jesus the Son of God.  It is very clear Jesus is center stage.  John the Baptist is playing second fiddle.  Is Jesus center stage in your life?

During this time of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday it is good to remember his hope and vision for a universal ‘salvation’ for all people. As he chose to live Jesus’ words in a world of difficulties, he, too, has become an example for all of us. Let us recall his words that were delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Monument, August 28, 1963:

“I have a dream that one day . . . the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood . . . I have a dream that one day . . . little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers . . . I have a dream that one day every hill and mountain will be made low . . . and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope . . . this is our faith . . .With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discord of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to struggle together . . .”