Tag Archives: Philippians

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1st Reading: Isaiah 25: 6 – 10

This passage is known as the “Isaiah Apocalypse”.  Isaiah looks ahead to the last age and the end of all time.  This piece, written after the exile, describes the reconstruction that will take place after the destruction of the earth and all its people.  This destruction is a result of the sin of the people.  But all is not lost.  God can turn the tables, change his course, and refrain from striking the mighty blow.  The feast is a sign that he will do it.  He will restore the city on the mountain (Jerusalem).  He will restore ALL people.  This passage is particularly noteworthy as it is the earliest expression in the scriptures that God intends to conquer death.  The banquet is a sign that joy (the wine) will reign triumphant over anguish (the veil over the people).  The early church believed the eucharist to be the eschatological banquet here on earth while they were awaiting the glorious banquet in heaven (Birmingham, W&W, p. 538).  Consider who is present, seen and unseen, at this banquet with you at the Lord’s Table.  This is often a reading at funerals.

Isaiah’s security lies in the covenant with God, not in covenants with Egypt or other nations.  The mysterious power of faith maintains:  God alone is true protection.  Such power will not collapse in the hour of disaster…never must a calamity shake Israel’s trust (The Prophets, A. Heschel, p. 73).  Do you hear it?  Think about the state of our country and the world today…does this give you comfort?

2ND Reading – Philippians 4: 12-14, 19-20

This is probably a part of the ‘letter A’ (This Letter to the Philippians is most likely made up of 3 or 4 letters) which is a thank you note that Paul was writing while in prison in Ephesus. Paul seems to see his apostolic call as a call to accept not only the good things that are a part of this life of service, but also the difficulties and hardships — what he would call the cross.  Because the Philippians are uniting themselves with Paul, he sees that as their willingness to share his hardships.  (Celebration, Oct. 10, 1999; “Scripture  in Depth”  http://liturgy.slu.edu.)

We have all had times when we lived paycheck-to-paycheck and other times when we could afford the big vacation.  Throughout all of these times, where was God for you?

There is a freedom in Paul’s words.  St. Ignatius says, “We should use God’s gifts of creation however they help us in achieving the end for which we were created, and we ought to rid ourselves of whatever gets in the way of our purpose.  In order to do this we must make ourselves indifferent to all creation, to the extent that we do not desire health more than sickness, riches more than poverty, honor more than dishonor, a long life more than a short life, or anything at all in and of itself.  We should desire and choose only what helps us attain the end for which we were created,”(Retreat in the Real World, p26).

The Gospel: Matthew 22: 1-14

Isaiah’s feast is on top of the mountain; the Psalm places it in a pasture (23); the Gospel banquet is a wedding feast and celebration.  Compare to Luke 14:16-24 which scholars say may be the older version.  It leaves out the verse on burning the city.

William Barclay says these verses form not one parable, but two, and they should be read separately to gain the most insight (Verses 1-10 and 11-14). He says we should be impressed in these stories with the unwillingness of the guests to come and to celebrate together AND the repeated patience and invitations of the king.

Here are other ideas he says to consider:

  1. God’s invitation is an invitation to joy, to love, to new life  — a wedding!
  2. The things that get in our way of responding to God’s invitation are usually not bad things in themselves. The excuses that were offered were about daily life and normal business affairs. Yet this parable can be a warning:  WE CAN BE SO BUSY MAKING A LIVINGTHAT WE FAIL TO MAKE A LIFE!

God’s love and life extended to us (GRACE) is a free gift – a surprisingly wonderful gift. We need to be open to God’s surprises and, like all gifts, it must be opened and used – God wants our response and our participation.

The second part of the Gospel parable is concerned with the wedding clothes. What do you think the clothes mean? Clothes were considered a sign of the real person – the outward sign of our essential character. For example, 1 Peter 5:5 says to “clothe yourselves with humility.” ((from Kittel’s  Theological Dictionary of the New Testament). This parable of Matthew makes clear that God’s call requires a response: a changed life. We do not need to have the garment of God’s grace to be invited; it is freely given. But it does mean that we need to put it on if we wish to stay and participate. (Word and Worship Workbook, Year A, p.539-541; The Cultural World of Jesus, 149)

Eduard Schweizer ( The Good News According to Matthew, 420-422) says that the last line about the called and the chosen concerns how we respond to God’s invitation: to be ‘called’ means that we take up the initial invitation – to be ‘chosen’ means to preserve in that call to the end. What is meant therefore is that we who are called by God must not look on this call as something that is ours by right; we must live it anew each day (choose) trying always to put on the Lord Jesus.

From The Word into Life, Cycle A:

These scriptures challenge us to face the fact that we often like to insulate ourselves and isolate ourselves from others.  We choose not to become involved.

Yet, our God is a God of relationship. God refuses to be left alone!  The royal wedding feast is a symbol of God’s love and union with his creation, and it is open to everyone. Parties are an apt image for Christian involvement.  They force us to think of relationships.  They move us to create an atmosphere of festivity.  They remind us of the centrality of community.  But whom shall we invite to our parties?  We generally think of all those ‘nice’ people who will return the favor by inviting us to their homes.  Today’s liturgy suggests that we expand our vision and look especially to those who are hurting.  Will we attempt to wipe away tears, as Yahweh does in the first reading?  Will we try to offer protection to the harassed, as Yahweh does in the responsorial psalm?  Will we seek to provide hope for outsiders, as the king does in the gospel?  We know people who belong in these categories.  The challenge is to act upon this awareness and send out the invitations.

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27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1ST READING – ISAIAH 5:1-7

Isaiah realized that God cares for us His people like a precious vine: He cultivates us, cares for us, prunes us, nurtures us, waters us and removes the stones from our hearts.  He expects us to grow, to bloom, to produce a good harvest.

Those darn Israelites never seem to get it right.  Can you relate?  Do you ever feel like you try so hard and yet can’t seem to get it together?  Sometimes children work hard on an assignment and end up crumpling it up because of their frustration.  We hear the frustration in God’s voice through Isaiah.  This harsh love language can be difficult because of the strong emotion.  But in the end, God stays with the Israelites through their trials.

Some thoughts from Harold Kushner in How Good Do We Have to Be?:  “…if we cannot love imperfect people, if we cannot forgive them for their exasperating faults, we will condemn ourselves to a life of loneliness, because imperfect people are the only kind we will ever find,” (p. 111).  “Being human can never mean being perfect, but it should always mean struggling to be as good as we can and never letting our failures be a reason for giving up the struggle,” (p. 174).

2ND READING – PHILIPPIANS 4: 6-9

Paul encouraged his Philippian brothers and sisters and urged tenacity in prayer.  Worry drains us of energy and hope.  Not that he was suggesting a Pollyannaish approach to life either.  Paul knew how hard life was.  There was a large military presence in the area, and the Gentile Christians also had a difficult time dealing with the Jewish Christians.  “What is the right thing to do?” was a constant question.  So Paul says pray, and peace will be given.  Do you experience this in your prayer life?  Even if there is no answer, prayer reminds us of God’s constant presence, and there is solace in that.   Paul also says hold fast to Jesus’ teachings.  Hold on to what is true.  There is peace in that too.  Do you experience this?

THE GOSPEL – MATTHEW 21: 33-43

From John Pilch’s The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle A:

The tenant farmers are frustrated, desperate and driven to violence.  They beat and kill the first 2 delegations from the owner.  When the owner’s son shows up, they miscalculate and presume that the owner is dead.  Believing the son to be the sole surviving heir, they kill him in hope of gaining the vineyard for themselves.  The plan is stupid and illegal, but they are driven by their otherwise hopeless situation (Have you even done something “stupid” because of desperation?).  The owner is very much alive.  The owner must act.  Compare this vineyard story to the one in Isaiah.  There are no tenant farmers in Isaiah; God destroyed the vineyard itself.  In Matthew, the tenant farmers are destroyed and the vineyard given to others.  It is a problem of leadership.  The tenant farmers (and Jesus may have been calling out the chief priests and Pharisees) must be replaced because they have not born fruit.  So leadership will be transferred to others (us?) who will produce proper fruit (p. 145 – 147).

This parable ends with an image of a cornerstone.  This picture is from Psalm 118:22:  “The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner.”  Originally the psalmist meant this as a picture of the nation of Israel.  But Jesus is the foundation stone on which everything is built, and the corner stone which holds everything together.   It may be that people reject Christ, but they will yet find that the Christ whom they rejected is the most important person in the world, (Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series:  Mathew Vol 2, p. 264-5).  Jesus is all about seeking relationship and bringing goodness to fruition.  At what lengths will you go to seek relationship with Jesus and bring good to fruition?

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1st Reading; Ezekiel 18: 25-28

Ezekiel is among the first people of Israel that the Babylonians take captive in 597 B.C. He is well known for his insistence upon individual responsibility for sin. Children are not responsible for what the previous generation did. We are free to turn from wickedness to good at any time; we will then be judged by the new life that we have begun. (Sunday by Sunday, Sept. 25, 2005, vol. 14, #54; “Scripture in Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu)

Ezekiel speaks of metanoia, from the Greek meaning a change of mind.  Even the term, “turning away” gives the feeling of a physical change of direction.  This is not only about our sinful ways.  Believing in God is life-changing.  It is “an interior transformation that comes about when God’s Spirit breaks into our lives with the Good News that God loves us unconditionally,” (Catholic Update on The Sacrament of Reconciliation, 1986).  What is our response to this unconditional love?

2nd Reading: Philippians 2: 1-11

William Barclay makes this important point: Paul is never just interested in intellectual speculation and/or theological guess work. To Paul theology and action are always bound together. Any system of thought must necessarily become a way of life. The purpose of these thoughts on Jesus’ humanity and divinity was to persuade the Philippians to live a life in which disunity, discord, and arrogance had no place. Jesus did not desire to dominate people, but to serve them. So we as followers must have the same desire. And, in the end, the humble service that Christ lived won for him greater glory, even if the glory was not the goal. Jesus gains our hearts not by blasting us with power, but by showing us an irresistible, faithful love. (William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 37-39)

“Emptied himself” suggests humility.  Humility was a big part of what St. Teresa of Avila wrote about in her Interior Castle.  She says, “As I see it, we shall never succeed in knowing ourselves unless we seek to know God:  let us think of His greatness and then come back to our own baseness; by looking at His purity we shall see our foulness; by meditating upon His humility, we shall see how far we are from being humble,” (p. 38).  She goes on to say, “If, then, you sometimes fall, do not lose heart, or cease striving to make progress, for even out of your fall God will bring good,” (p. 51).  Hope connects with love!

The Gospel: Matthew 21: 28 – 32

Parables can shock us as they can lay bare the truth with great simplicity. We cannot really argue with a parable; we must either accept it or reject it. It is a challenge, but it is also an invitation. Mary Birmingham says that “Living in the reign of God demands that I acknowledge my sinfulness, my reluctance to serve God, and forge ahead anyway.” (M. Birmingham, W&W, Yr.A, 525, 527)

In Jesus’ culture the son who answered yes to his father even though he did not go to work would have been considered the honorable son. His reply was respectful; it was what the father wanted to hear. Obedience was important, but the honorable appearance was more important. Notice: Jesus did not ask which son behaved honorably. He asked: “Which of the two did the will of the father?” Jesus’ own honor is being questioned by the chief priests and elders. But Jesus rubs salt into their wounds with this very counter-cultural parable and its challenge. They recognize this challenge: 1) Jesus is making them family with harlots and tax collectors (sons of the same Father) and 2) the chief priests and elders are the ones who may behave honorably, but they are not the ones who are always seeking to do the will of their Father. They care more about appearing to be honorable than about truly being about the good that God wants.(John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context,” http://liturgy.slu.edu)

Sometimes we can love humanity with great conviction, but find it extraordinarily difficult to love people in particular. For most of us, God is not the problem. The problem is those humans that God created, especially the creeps who don’t seem to deserve to take up our time and patience. When people draw near, they bring trouble. Yet, as Paul was emphasizing in his passage, it is our very relationships to each other that embody our relationship to God. Paul says we will only find joy and peace when we die to ourselves: an unwelcome prospect. Too often we want love, but not its cost. Love is more than logic and practical advice. It is a risk of the ego, an emptying of the self, a desire to serve rather than be served. This is at the heart of the Good News: first, God loved us with utter graciousness; second, we are called to love others with this graciousness. We jabber of love, but the living of it is a great shaking down of our pretense. Love in dreams can be easy; the reality of it can be a dreadful assault . . . (“The Word Embodied”, http://liturgy.slu.edu)

2nd Sunday of Advent, cycle C

The 1st Reading – Baruch 5: 1-9

This short, prophetic book was claimed to be from the hand of the famous secretary of Jeremiah, but theologians think it was more likely written later (between third and first century BC) as a work of encouragement to those Jews being forced to adopt Greek ways  (Reading the Old Testament, Boadt, 502-503).

A mitre, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is a headdress worn by archbishops, bishops and abbots.  It is also a joint between 2 pieces of wood to form a corner.  A cornerstone, in particular, is a stone at the base that binds 2 walls.  The cornerstone must be strong and secure for the integrity of the building.  God is in your corner!  Do you wear God like a mitre, to advance secure in God’s glory? 

The Greek word for justice more closely means doing what is right.  If we try to do what is right, we will display God’s glory and splendor.  What does that mean to you?  Think deeply about that question.  Doing what we feel is right within us is what is right with God.  This is what brings joy and mercy into the world.  What wonderful thoughts to have this Advent!

The 2nd Reading — The Letter to the Philippians 1: 4-6, 8-11

Paul had established this church in about 50AD (the first Christian church on European soil).  It was one of Paul’s favorite churches.  Paul was in prison (probably in Rome) when Epaphroditus, an old friend from Philippi, arrived bearing more gifts from this church.  Unfortunately, Epaphroditus became very sick.  Later, he recovered and Paul was anxious for him to return home so that those who are worried about him will be relieved.  Paul sent this letter with him.  Despite the hardship and imprisonment, Paul’s letter is full of thanksgiving and joy, a very personal letter filled with strong emotions. (Serendipity, p. 375)

This is a love letter.  Paul’s love for the people of Philippi is bursting in his words, and he wants that love he has for them to have an effect.  Love is powerful!  It moves people.  It changes us.  It makes us want goodness.  And since God is love, of course it makes sense that love transcends and transforms all that is.  When has someone’s love transformed you?  When has it opened your eyes to something?  How does love make a difference?

The Gospel – Luke 3: 1-6

Have you ever celebrated the sacrament of reconciliation privately?  Most people admit that they are nervous on arrival but relieved afterwards…like a weight has been lifted.  There is a freedom in knowing that God comes to us where we are.  God takes us “AS IS”.  Sometimes you may see items on sale “AS IS” and that usually means they are damaged goods or less than adequate.  God makes us ready for to be full price again!  And God’s love is the same no matter what condition we are in.  We are beloved, which is what John the Baptist proclaimed LOUDLY!

From Living Liturgy, 2004: Salvation – the fullness of life that our God wishes to offer us – is revealed – or shows forth – in our repentance. To repent means to change one’s mind – one’s life. Our work of repentance is about turning ourselves toward God who wishes to embrace us in mercy, forgiveness, and love. Sometimes, mountains of work, or paths of indecision, or valleys of doubt and fear keep us from the Lord’s embrace – the Way of the Lord. It is a reading that seems more like a civil engineer’s road plans. But it is only this God who can give sure direction to our lives. Let God re-engineer our lives. This Advent may we take the time to rest in the security of God’s nearness. (p.6). Then our ‘tense hearts’ can be eased opened to receive Jesus, the true Good News.

Luke takes great care to situate the ministry of John the Baptist and thus Jesus in

the midst of human history. He mentions both secular leaders (Tiberius, Pilate, Herod etc.) and religious authorities (Annas and Caiphas). It is sort of like a “chronological drumroll.” He also chooses to include all of Isaiah’s directives (Isaiah 40:3-5) leading to the universal cry of “and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (God’s universal and pastoral care for all peoples is a major theme of Luke’s gospel and his Acts of the Apostles.) When we dare to try to put someone or some group outside of God’s saving concern, we should remember this theme. This Good News of Jesus Christ is intended to disrupt and disturb us until it enlarges our hearts, enlightens our minds, and unclenches our fists to welcome the truth of God’s love for all human flesh.  (Celebration, Dec.10, 2000)

God breaks into human history through the birth of Jesus.  By the incarnation of the Word, God enters human life, history, the world.  But the Incarnation also makes it possible for us to enter the very life of God.  Through the Incarnation, God became part of our eating and drinking, our sickness, our joy, our delight, our passion, our dying, our death.  But all this is for the purpose of drawing us out of ourselves, away from our own self-preoccupation, self-absorbtion, self-fixation, so as to participate in the divine life  (Altogether Gift, Michael Downey, p. 79).

Letter to the Philippians: Chapters 3 & 4

paul-in-prison

Chapter 3

Paul takes a turn in this chapter and has a somewhat angry voice, calling false teachers dogs and evil-workers.  These teachers were Jewish, and Paul felt they were undoing his work.  We may love dogs, but the connotation was a bad one in Paul’s day.  Nothing could be lower.  And it was by this name that many Jews called Gentiles.  So Paul is throwing this right back at them.  They would be the last to call themselves evil-workers; they kept all the laws well.  But Paul defines righteousness as casting oneself freely upon the grace of God  (Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 54).  How do you identify with this?  Have you ever declared yourself right, and then eaten those words?  What is it to cast yourself freely before God?

Paul’s meeting the risen Christ had a profound impact on him (Who wouldn’t have been!).  He counts everything as rubbish before that.  Have you had profound God moments?  Did they change the course of your life?  Would you count what happened before as garbage?

Reflect on where you are in your spiritual journey, whether you are at the beginning of the race or have reached personal maturity.  James Fowler PhD came up with 6 Stages of Faith.  These are not necessarily linear but one can hop from one to another throughout their life:

  1. Intuitive-Projective Faith (3-7): Imagination runs wild, uninhibited by logic.  It is the first step in self-awareness and learning about social taboos.  No filter.
  2. Mythic-Literal Faith (school age): Interpretations of myth and symbol are literal and one-dimensional.  Everything is black or white.
  3. Sythetic-Conventional Faith (majority of people):  One finds one’s identity by aligning oneself with a certain perspective, and lives directly through this perception with little opportunity to reflect on it critically.  Go with the flow.
  4. Individuative-Reflective Faith (30s-40s):  A stage of angst and struggle regarding identity and belief.  A person looks at him/herself and finds own way in it.  Myths are debunked.  Life is choice.
  5. Conjunctive Faith: It is okay to have paradox and transcendence.  Make room for mystery and the unconscious in order to work through cultural and psychological baggage.  Be open to possibility and wonder.
  6. Universalizing Faith: This is devotion to universalizing compassion despite the cost.  They look beyond themselves and act upon their convictions without seeking self-preservation.

Chapter 4

Paul stresses Christian fellowship (koinonia) in this letter, not only what he feels for the Philippians but what he hopes they feel for each other.  He uses the prefix “syn-“, which means “together with” when attached to a verb.  For example, 4:3 could be translated, “I urge you, my co-companion, to co-assist these women, for they have co-struggled with me in the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers.”  So the emphasis is that we are all in this together, (Powell, Introducing the New Testament, p. 354).  Doesn’t that give us hope?  Doesn’t it make the hard times easier?  It makes the journey a gentler one.

Paul makes us want for better.  He lives in gratitude, which seem to make all the difference.  Despite hardship, there can be a peace because of striving for all that is good and right.  How can we apply this to our life now?

Letter to the Philippians: Chapter 2

paul-in-prison

Paul continues to preach unity among the Philippians.  There must have been something troubling this community for him to worry.  Raymond Brown (Introduction to the New Testament, p. 487-488) points to 3 different troubles:

  1. Later on in Chapter 4, we will see that there is internal dissension among 2 female members of the community, Euodia and Syntyche. We don’t know the nitty gritty, but it sounds like a difference of opinion and perhaps a wanting to be right.  Paul wants everyone to keep their eye on the bigger picture…following Christ and spreading the Gospel!  Can you think of times when you had a difference of opinion and it prevented you from being your own authentic self, or got in the way of the bigger picture?
  2. At the end of chapter 1, Paul mentions opponents. Philippi is a diverse community with people praying to all kinds of gods.  Why do these Christians think they know better?  There is no way to prove who is the “right god”.  Worrying about this only weakens them.  Paul sees there is strength in numbers.  He wants them to hold on to each other in the face of adversity.  When have you worried about various tensions in your life, perhaps giving too much attention to things that weren’t good for you?  Did it help to go to people you care about to stay on track?
  3. Another threat were Jewish Christians who insisted on circumcision. For Paul, hanging on to this Jewish law for the New Way was not the answer.  He is the voice for the Gentiles.  Don’t we all get stuck in doing things the way they have always been done?  It is especially hard when it is something so personal and heartfelt.  Our example is Jesus.

In 2:6-11, we see one of the earliest indications of an understanding of the Incarnation of Christ.  Jesus is in the “form of God”, “in human likeness” and “God greatly exalted him”.  Theologians debate whether Paul was truly speaking of preexistence, that Christ existed (in the form of God) before he became the man of Jesus on earth.  This would not be resolved until the councils of Nicea (325AD) and Chalcedon (451AD).  This passage is often called the “Christ Hymn” because of how poetic it is.  It was probably used as a creed or response in early worship, or maybe it was sung.  Maybe Paul wrote this piece himself or maybe he was quoting something the Philippians would have been familiar with  (Powell, Introducing the New Testament, p. 349-351.

Reflect on some of the other phrases in the hymn…did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.  For the words to be closer to the original Greek, it would be translated as, “Jesus did not think it robbery to be equal with God, something to be snatched at.”  Jesus didn’t have to snatch his equality with God because it was his right, his being.  He didn’t hold it tightly either, keeping it for himself.  He offered it freely to ALL(Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series, p. 36).  This gift of beautiful life is a constant letting go.  We can’t hold on too tightly.  We are meant to give ourselves away, like Jesus did.  Not to be doormats, or be used by others…it is conscious choice.  We find the gift of who we are within ourselves and be that fully, opening ourselves with that intentionality.  We find that the gift comes back to us in abundance!  We “pour out as a libation”, but it only makes more room for God to fill us.

Why must we work out our salvation with “fear and trembling”?  Barclay describes these words as coming from a sense of our own creatureliness and powerlessness to deal with life triumphantly.  It is meant to drive us to SEEK God, not hide from God.  The underlying feeling is a knowing that God is there to help us, that we want to please God.  Salvation is a free gift from God, but we must have eyes to see it and hands to work toward it.  It is God that works in us the desire to be saved.  Any gift has to be received (p. 41-42).

Letter to the Philippians: Overview & Chapter 1

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Philippians:  Overview and Chapter 1

Let us pray…

Glorious Saint Paul, most zealous apostle,
Martyr for the love of Christ,
Give us a deep faith, a steadfast hope,
A burning love for our Lord,
So that we can proclaim with you,
“It is no longer I who live,
But Christ who lives in me.”

Help us to become apostles,
Serving the Church with a pure heart,
Witnesses to her truth and beauty
Amidst the darkness of our days.
With you we praise God our Father:
“To him be the glory, in the Church
And in Christ, now and forever.”  Amen

Overview

Philippians is undoubtedly a letter that Paul actually wrote.  It was on his second missionary journey, about the year 52AD.  He had been urged by the vision of a man in Macedonia to come and help, so he sailed from Alexandrian Troas in Asia Minor.

The story of Paul’s stay in Philippi is told in Acts 16.  Paul is illegally imprisoned because of an encounter with a slave girl with an oracular spirit.  He has to leave the city, but a bond of friendship develops between him and the Philippian community unlike any other (Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 4-6).

Philippi

  • A prominent town in the Roman province of Macedonia
  • The Via Egnatia is the road constructed by the Romans in 2nd Century BC. Paul would have used this road when leaving Philippi to Thessalonica.
  • Agricultural plains and gold mines nearby. On those plains Oct 42 BC Antony and Octavian defeated Brutus and Cassius (slayers of Julius Caesar).  Octavian made Philippi a Roman colony
  • Mimicked Rome in having forums, theaters and coinage inscriptions.
  • Strategic site in all of Europe. There is a range of hills which divides Europe from Asia, east from west and just at Philippi there is a dip into a pass.  That city commands the road (Barclay, p.3)
  • First “church” on European soil, birthplace of Western Christianity (Powell, Introducing the New Testament, p. 346).
  • 100 years later, Polycarp speaks of the firmly rooted faith of the Philippians (Brown, An Intro to the New Testament, p. 484).

Structure of Letter

  • Prison letter, possibly from when he was in Rome
  • Divided in 4 parts
    • Thanksgiving
    • Epaphroditus: The Philippians sent him to be a personal servant to Paul, but he got sick and had to go back.  Paul wanted to be sure they knew he wasn’t a quitter and praised him for his work  (while in prison himself!).
    • Encouragement
    • Appeal for Unity
  • At 3:2 there is an extraordinary break in the letter, suggesting the possibility of it being 2 separate letters (some say 3). This may be because of fresh news in Philippi, or simply that it’s a personal letter and those are never logically ordered  (Barclay, p. 7).
  • An upbeat letter, could have been an early Christian hymn. Topics range from friendship, contentment, thanksgiving, peace, joy, unity, spiritual growth, perseverance and the certainty of answered prayer (Powell, p. 343). This community must have been great consolation to Paul to bring up all of these reflections while in prison.

Chapter 1

Greeting and Thanksgiving

In other Pauline letters, Paul has to explain why he is writing or the right he has in writing to them.  Not so with the Philippians because of how well they know each other.  How wonderful to have close spiritual friends!  Do you have any, and what joy do they bring to you?

What of the term slave?  Paul (and Timothy) are bound to Christ Jesus.

Note that Paul calls all of them saints, or holy ones WITH the overseers and ministers.  The Greek for overseer is episkopos, which later came to be a bishop.  The Greek word for minister is diakonoi, which later would be a deacon.  But ALL are holy and called to serve the Lord.

Paul speaks of joy.  The whole point of the letter is I rejoice…do you?  Ask yourself what brings you joy in your faith.  Prayer?  Mass?  Being with others in belief?  Working towards a mission?  Doing what is right?  The person of Jesus?  The free gift of it?  All of this is described in this letter  (Barclay, p. 13-15).

Progress of the Gospel

In Paul’s eyes, all publicity is good publicity!  Whether Christ is preached with bad motives or not, Christ is proclaimed and that is the mission.  The only mission for Paul.  He willingly devotes his life to this man he has never met, except in the risen encounter.  It is the singularity of Paul’s purpose in life that gives him so much passion, hope, courage and strength.  We can learn so much from Paul’s example!

He completely believes and spreads the news of the resurrection.  You can hear his inner conflict that he is at peace with dying because he wants to be in the fullness of God; but, he is happy to stay and help his friends in faith too.  He knows he will help them on the other side of life too.  His conviction is so strong considering how soon this is after Jesus’ death.

Instructions for the Community

In Paul’s mind, oneness in spirit is what holds us strong in our faith.  Paul knows that there will be struggle, but there is also hope in the Lord!  What does this oneness mean?  Richard Rohr uses the term “Oneing,” which he got from Julian of Norwich.  She used this term to describe what was happening between her soul and God, “By myself I am nothing at all, but in general, I AM in the oneing of love.  For it is in this oneing that the life of all people exists,” (Oneing Vol I No I, p. 12).  This oneing can overcome all divisions, dichotomies and dualisms in the world at every level:  personal, relational, social, political, cultural, in inter-religious dialogue and spirituality.  Richard Rohr says it is the unique and central job of healthy religion (re-ligio = to re-ligament!).  What would this oneness look like in your life?  How might it help in your struggles?

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle A

1st Reading: Isaiah 25: 6 – 10

Smell the rich foods.  Imagine the mouth-watering sights and tastes.  This is a feast like no other.  With whom would you want to celebrate this feast?  See their faces.  Hear their voices – their laughter – their stories.  God invites all people to this feast.  God promises that all tears will be wiped away.  God has removed our sins.  God has saved us all.

This passage is particularly noteworthy as it is the earliest expression in the scriptures that God intends to conquer death.  The banquet is a sign that joy (the wine) will reign triumphant over anguish (the veil over the people).  The early church believed the eucharist to be the eschatological banquet here on earth while they were awaiting the glorious banquet in heaven (Birmingham, W&W, p. 538).  Consider who is present, seen and unseen, at this banquet with you at the Lord’s Table.

2ND Reading – Philippians 4: 12-14, 19-20

This is probably a part of the ‘letter A’ (remember this Letter to the Philippians is most likely made up of 3 or 4 letters) which is a thank you note that Paul was writing while in prison in Ephesus. Paul seems to see his call as apostle as a call to accept not only the good things that are a part of this life of service, but also the difficulties and hardships — what he would call the cross.  Because the Philippians are uniting themselves with Paul, he sees that as their willingness to share his hardships.  (Celebration, Oct. 10, 1999; “Scripture  in Depth”  http://liturgy.slu.edu.)

We have all had times when we lived paycheck-to-paycheck and other times when we could afford the big vacation.  Throughout all of these times, where was God for you?

The Gospel: Matthew 22: 1-14

Isaiah’s feast is on top of the mountain; the Psalm places it in a pasture (23); the Gospel banquet is a wedding feast and celebration.  Compare to Luke 14:16-24 which scholars say may be the older version.  It leaves out the verse on burning the city.

William Barclay says these verses form not one parable, but two, and they should be read separately to gain the most insight (Verses 1-10 and 11-14). He says we should be impressed in these stories with the unwillingness of the guests to come and to celebrate together AND the repeated patience and invitations of the king.

Here are other ideas he says to consider:

  1. God’s invitation is an invitation to joy, to love, to new life — a wedding!
  2. The things that get in our way of responding to God’s invitation are usually not bad things in themselves. The excuses that were offered were about daily life and normal business affairs. Yet this parable can be a warning: WE CAN BE SO BUSY MAKING A LIVINGTHAT WE FAIL TO MAKE A LIFE!

God’s love and life extended to us (GRACE) is a free gift – a surprisingly wonderful gift. We need to be open to God’s surprises and, like all gifts, it must be opened and used – God wants our response and our participation.

From Mary Birmingham in combination with John Pilch:

Jesus –and the early Christians who tried to ‘put on the Lord Jesus’ – were called to live and practice inclusive table fellowship.  This caused many problems, but also became the very heart of what it meant to be Christian. [Even the position of the participants had to be pondered and decided in the light of what Jesus asked of them.  Thus, they decided to stand as servants around the table of Eucharist.] If we come to God’s feast, we must come to participate, to respond, to ‘put on the Lord Jesus’ as the early Christians would say . . . or we will be cast into darkness (an image for a place without God’s love).

The second part of the Gospel parable is concerned with the wedding clothes. What do you think the clothes mean? Clothes were considered a sign of the real person – the outward sign of our essential character. For example, 1 Peter 5:5 says to “clothe yourselves with humility.” ((from Kittel’s  Theological Dictionary of the New Testament). This parable of Matthew makes clear that God’s call requires a response: a changed life. We do not need to have the garment of God’s grace to be invited; it is freely given. But it does mean that we need to put it on if we wish to stay and participate. (Word and Worship Workbook, Year A, p.539-541; The Cultural World of Jesus, 149)

From The Word into Life, Cycle A:

These scriptures challenge us to face the fact that we often like to insulate ourselves and isolate ourselves from others.  We choose not to become involved.

Yet, our God is a God of relationship. God refuses to be left alone!  The royal wedding feast is a symbol of God’s love and union with his creation, and it is open to everyone. Parties are an apt image for Christian involvement.  They force us to think of relationships.  They move us to create an atmosphere of festivity.  They remind us of the centrality of community.  But whom shall we invite to our parties?  We generally think of all those ‘nice’ people who will return the favor by inviting us to their homes.  Today’s liturgy suggests that we expand our vision and look especially to those who are hurting.  Will we attempt to wipe away tears, as Yahweh does in the first reading?  Will we try to offer protection to the harassed, as Yahweh does in the responsorial psalm?  Will we seek to provide hope for outsiders, as the king does in the gospel?  We know people who belong in these categories.  The challenge is to act upon this awareness and send out the invitations.

27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, cycle A

1ST READING – ISAIAH 5:1-7

Isaiah realized that God cares for us His people like a precious vine: He cultivates us, cares for us, prunes us, nurtures us, waters us and removes the stones from our hearts.  He expects us to grow, to bloom, to produce a good harvest.  Why is the Lord angry with His people?

Those darn Israelites never seem to get it right.  Can you relate?  Do you ever feel like you try so hard and yet can’t seem to get it together?  Sometimes children work hard on an assignment and end up crumpling it up because of their frustration.  We hear the frustration in God’s voice through Isaiah.  This harsh love language can be difficult because of the strong emotion.  But in the end, God stays with the Israelites through their trials.

Some thoughts from Harold Kushner in How Good Do We Have to Be?:  “…if we cannot love imperfect people, if we cannot forgive them for their exasperating faults, we will condemn ourselves to a life of loneliness, because imperfect people are the only kind we will ever find,” (p. 111).  “Being human can never mean being perfect, but it should always mean struggling to be as good as we can and never letting our failures be a reason for giving up the struggle,” (p. 174).

2ND READING – PHILIPPIANS 4: 6-9

Paul encouraged his Philippian brothers and sisters and urged tenacity in prayer.  Worry drains us of energy and hope.  Not that he was suggesting a Pollyannaish approach to life either.  Paul knew how hard life was.  There was a large military presence in the area, and the Gentile Christians also had a difficult time dealing with the Jewish Christians.  “What is the right thing to do?” was a constant question.  So Paul says pray, and will peace will be given.  Do you experience this in your prayer life?  Even if there is no answer, prayer reminds us of God’s constant presence, and there is solace in that.   Paul also says hold fast to Jesus’ teachings.  Hold on to what is true.  There is peace in that too.  Do you experience this?

THE GOSPEL – MATTHEW 21: 33-43

From Pheme Perkins’ Hearing the Parables of Jesus:

This parable is a striking image of escalating violence in a situation in which the social and legal structures were clearly too weak to deal with what could and did occur among people.  The people who suffer its consequences are very often not the ones who are responsible for the socio-economic causes of the violence.  The people who suffer from it are those who are close at hand and weak enough to appear vulnerable.  Humans may use violence and vengeance to deal with situations of injustice; God will not.  The tenants must turn around, stop their own illegal violence, and give the owner what he is owed.  One must simply continue to pursue the relationship that should exist between oneself and the other party, hoping that the other party will then step into the role defined by that relationship.  God continually appeals to the people to stand in the proper relationship with him, but he will never compel them to do so (p. 192-194).

This parable ends with an image of a cornerstone.  This picture is from Psalm 118:22:  “The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner.”  Originally the psalmist meant this as a picture of the nation of Israel.  But Jesus is the foundation stone on which everything is built, and the corner stone which holds everything together.   It may be that people reject Christ, but they will yet find that the Christ whom they rejected is the most important person in the world, (Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series:  Mathew Vol 2, p. 264-5).  Jesus is all about seeking relationship and bringing goodness to fruition.  At what lengths will you go to to seek relationship with Jesus and bring good to fruition?

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, cycle A

parable two sons

1st Reading; Ezekiel 18: 25-28

Ezekiel is among the first people of Israel that the Babylonians take captive in 597 B.C. He is well known for his insistence upon individual responsibility for sin. Children are not responsible for what the previous generation did. We are free to turn from wickedness to good at any time; we will then be judged by the new life that we have begun. (Sunday by Sunday, Sept. 25, 2005, vol. 14, #54; “Scripture in Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu)

Ezekiel speaks of metanoia, from the Greek meaning a change of mind.  Even the term, “turning away” gives the feeling of a physical change of direction.  This is not only about our sinful ways.  Believing in God is life-changing.  It is “an interior transformation that comes about when God’s Spirit breaks into our lives with the Good News that God loves us unconditionally,” (Catholic Update on The Sacrament of Reconciliation, 1986).  What is our response to this unconditional love?

2nd Reading: Philippians 2: 1-11

William Barclay makes this important point: Paul is never just interested in intellectual speculation and/or theological guess work. To Paul theology and action are always bound together. Any system of thought must necessarily become a way of life. The purpose of these thoughts on Jesus’ humanity and divinity was to persuade the Philippians to live a life in which disunity, discord, and arrogance had no place. Jesus did not desire to dominate people, but to serve them. So we as followers must have the same desire. And, in the end, the humble service that Christ lived won for him greater glory, even if the glory was not the goal. Jesus gains our hearts not by blasting us with power, but by showing us an irresistible, faithful love. His life of self-giving service won for him a new title: Lord. It was a word that meant master or owner. It was used as a title for the Roman Emperors and for the pagan gods. It was also used in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures for Yahweh. So Jesus becomes the one master and God that we are to worship, revere, and imitate – the only safe, life-giving Lord. (William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 37-39)

Why should the Creator take on the cause of a disobedient creation? Why didn’t the Potter just start over? God’s justice is always about God’s love. Love, in the end, does not seek fairness. It seeks expression; it seeks the good of the other; it yearns for life-sharing presence. The Incarnation and the cross of Christ are the ultimate message to us from this God of love. (“Exploring the Sunday Readings”, Sept. 2008)

Humility was a big part of what St. Teresa of Avila wrote about in her Interior Castle.  She says, “As I see it, we shall never succeed in knowing ourselves unless we seek to know God:  let us think of His greatness and then come back to our own baseness; by looking at His purity we shall see our foulness; by meditating upon His humility, we shall see how far we are from being humble,” (p. 38).  She goes on to say, “If, then, you sometimes fall, do not lose heart, or cease striving to make progress, for even out of you fall God will bring good,” (p. 51).  Hope follows love!

The Gospel: Matthew 21: 28 – 32

Parables can shock us as they can lay bare the truth with great simplicity. We cannot really argue with a parable; we must either accept it or reject it. It is a challenge, but it is also an invitation. Mary Birmingham says that “Living in the reign of God demands that I acknowledge my sinfulness, my reluctance to serve God, and forge ahead anyway.” (M. Birmingham, W&W, Yr.A, 525, 527)

In Jesus’ culture the son who answered yes to his father even though he did not go to work would have been considered the honorable son. His reply was respectful; it was what the father wanted to hear. Obedience was important, but the honorable appearance was more important. Notice: Jesus did not ask which son behaved honorably. He asked: “Which of the two did the will of the father?” Jesus’ own honor is being questioned by the chief priests and elders. But Jesus rubs salt into their wounds with this very counter-cultural parable and its challenge. They recognize this challenge: 1) Jesus is making them family with harlots and tax collectors (sons of the same Father) and 2) the chief priests and elders are the ones who may behave honorably, but they are not the ones who are always seeking to do the will of their Father. They care more about appearing to be honorable than about truly being about the good that God wants.(John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context,” http://liturgy.slu.edu)

Sometimes we can love humanity with great conviction, but find it extraordinarily difficult to love people in particular. For most of us, God is not the problem. The problem is those humans that God created, especially the creeps who don’t seem to deserve to take up our time and patience. When people draw near, they bring trouble. Yet, as Paul was emphasizing in his passage, it is our very relationships to each other that embody our relationship to God. Paul says we will only find joy and peace when we die to ourselves: an unwelcome prospect. Too often we want love, but not its cost. Love is more than logic and practical advice. It is a risk of the ego, an emptying of the self, a desire to serve rather than be served. This is at the heart of the Good News: first, God loved us with utter graciousness; second, we are called to love others with this graciousness. We jabber of love, but the living of it is a great shaking down of our pretense. Love in dreams can be easy; the reality of it can be a dreadful assault . . . (“The Word Embodied”, http://liturgy.slu.edu)