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Scripture Commentary 3rd Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle C

1st Reading: Nehemiah 8: 2-6, 8-10

On God’s Word from Celebration, Jan 2004:

The Word reveals not only God’s goodness and love but also the failures and sinfulness of the one who listens.  The Word of God can teach us who we are–if we dare to look into it as if looking into a mirror, humbly and without deceit.  Is this what Israel experienced as Ezra read the Word?  Perhaps.  Nevertheless, the scribe did not permit the people to wallow in regret.  Rather, he encouraged them to dwell not on their sinful selves but on the redeeming and liberating Word of God . . . to replace their regret with rejoicing, celebrating with great hope.

The Book of Nehemiah is about the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the exile.  Nehemiah was a competent administrator who was sent by the Persian Emperor as governor of Judah to help rebuild the country. Ezra was a priest and scribe, who worked to rehabilitate the returned Jewish exiles in a religious sense.  Ezra is called the ‘Father of Judaism’ because of his work of gathering together the Jewish Scriptures and applying God’s Word and Law to every aspect of daily living.  The ‘splendor of Solomon and his Temple’ were no more. But when they had managed to finish the walls of the city which gave them a renewed sense of security and hope, a celebration was proclaimed. The Jews were no longer a political power, but they could become a people of God’s Word. “There are no stands made of bronze, no carved cherubim, no golden altar or lamp stands (1Kings 7). In stead, there was a wooden platform made hastily for the occasion (v. 4). Then, a rather poor, but living people stood together with hands raised, listening to God’s Word, and shouting, Amen, Amen! Raising of their hands was a sign of need and dependency along with the bowing as humble adoration.

This reading took place near Jerusalem’s entrance called the Water Gate since it was near the Spring of Gihon. Isaiah had promised that the people “will draw water at the fountain of salvation” (Is. 12:3) Sirach (24:28-31) saw the Word of God as an immense sea from which a “rivulet” will flow that will “water my plants”, and drench my flower garden pouring out instruction like prophecy and bestowing “it on generations to come.”

(Share the Word, January 25, 1998, and John Pilch, The Cultural World of the Prophets, 30-31)  How does all of this touch you?

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 12: 12-30

Many Greek writers were fascinated by the body during Paul’s time, especially Plato.  Plato had pointed out that we do not say, My finger has a pain,” we say, “I have a pain.”  There is an I , a personality, which gives unity to the many and varying parts of the body.  What the I is to the body, Christ is to the Church.  It is in him that all the diverse parts find their unity, “  (Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series on Corinthians, p. 113).

Central Message:  We all have purpose, and we need each other to live this out.

“Good work is a way of living…it is unifying and healing…it defines us as we are; not too good to work with our bodies, but too good to work poorly or joylessly or selfishly or alone.”  Wendell Barry

“Let the beauty we love be what we do.  There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”  Jalal Al-din Rumi

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”  Frederick Buechner

The Gospel: Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21

If you were sitting in that synagogue, seeing Jesus take the scroll and read this familiar passage from Isaiah…and then hear Jesus say that he fulfills this reading as messiah…what would you be thinking?  How would you react?

From Origen of Alexandra, an early Church writer:

If scripture is true, it was not only to the Jewish community of his own time that Jesus spoke. He still speaks to us assembled here today – and not only to us, but to other communities also. We too must fix our eyes on Jesus. Whenever we direct our inward gaze toward wisdom and truth and the Good News of God’s Son, then our eyes are fixed on Jesus.  (“Thoughts from the Early Church” http://liturgy.slu.edu)

Jesus feels called to help renew and ‘rebuild’ God’s People; he feels God has anointed him to show forth God’s presence and power in the everyday lives of those present. He wants to ‘comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable’. He knows that God’s Word can be life-changing and life-giving. He uses a passage from his Scriptures, the Book of Isaiah.  But he is also by his very preaching and proclamation stepping beyond what his fellow villagers in Nazareth would have expected. He is a carpenter and the son of a carpenter. They think they know him. We will read the ‘rest of the story’ next week at Luke 4:22-30.

(John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context,” http://liturgy.slu.edu)

Remember last week Jesus was still growing into his ministry.  He is doing a good job!

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

be-wise

1st Reading — Wisdom 7: 7-11

The author of this book lived in Alexandria, the major Mediterranean port city in Egypt.  He wrote his work in Greek for the large Greek-speaking Jewish community there, shortly after the beginning of Roman rule in 28 BC.  He probably taught in one of the many synagogues in the city, and his book demonstrates the profound knowledge he possessed of both Jewish and Greek culture and learning.  The author shows that one can be open to Greek ways and still remain a faithful Jew, (Ceresko, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 327).  Solomon was seen as the model of Wisdom and was also remembered for building the magnificent temple.  This book was written with his name as sort of an ‘honorary’ author.  (Preaching Resources, Oct. 15, 2006)

What is it to be wise?  Name a person you know or have heard about who seems wise to you.  What attributes does this person exhibit that help you to understand what wisdom is?

2nd Reading — Hebrews 4: 12-13

What does the image of this two-edged sword say to you?  Is it empowering, frightening, encouraging?  How do you think the Word of God is living and active today?

This hymn-like tribute to the Word of God (imagine it being sung) invites us – urges us – into transformation.  Mary Birmingham says (W&W, B):

The Word comforts those who turn to its counsel.  Like a sword it penetrates the dark recesses of the human soul.  It pierces the lies and the denial and exposes them to the truth.  The Word judges the heart.  The word ‘judge’ comes from the Greek word kritikis that means crisis.  A crisis is a time for a decision — for judgment.  The Word of God uncovers the hidden secrets and questionable motives in our hearts and invites transformation.

From William Barclay, The Letter to the Hebrew, p.40:

The Greek phrases that make up the last part of this section about being “exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account” may have various interpretations. One is that the word was used in wrestling for seizing an opponent in such a way that he could not move or escape. It may be telling us that we may escape God for awhile, but then God grips us in such a way that we cannot help meeting him face to face as we are. It also refers to the fact that God sees us to the heart – to our inner most being. In the end we must stop running from our selves – and from God.  Remember always: God sees with love.

The Gospel –Mark 10: 17-30:

Most of us Christians cannot walk away from everything tomorrow. But all of us are called to personal assessment. The more God grows in our lives, the more simply and generously we can live. When we allow God to fill our hearts and minds, there is less room for ‘more things.’ What stands between God and us? Let us pray for wisdom and use God’s Word as a sharp sword that cuts through the ‘nonsense’ that sometimes surrounds us and deadens us.  (Faley, Footprints on the Mountain, p.662)

From John Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, 148-150 and http://liturgy.slu.edu :

The journey is mentioned at the beginning. This is the journey to Jerusalem and eventually to the cross… What do you think of the way that the man compliments Jesus? Are compliments sometimes given so that they can be returned? Or do they imply that the person is so arrogant that they would think highly of us if we compliment them?  This was often the case in Jesus’ culture and times.  John Pilch also notes that whenever the word “rich” appears in the Bible it is better to substitute the word “greedy.” At this time the ‘greedy rich’ land owners had 98% of the wealth even though they were only 1% or 2% of the population.  They surrounded themselves with those who could supply their every want including honor and prestige. Jesus is also challenging how they (and we) view family. For this young man to sell all would have meant untying himself from family, home and land. Jesus’ challenge was one that would seem like social suicide, but in the end it would lead to more family, real treasure, and full life: The KingdomIn your life today, how would you view such a challenge?

An interesting comment from Living Liturgy, 2003, p. 227:

The procession [at Mass] with the bread and wine is symbolic of our own journey from life to eternal life when we will stand at the messianic banquet ‘in the age to come.’  The bread and wine are symbolic of ourselves, just as the bread and wine are substantially changed into the real Body and Blood of Christ, so we are transformed into more perfect members of that Body.  Finally, when the gifts of the community include food, necessities, and money for the poor this is wonderfully symbolic of our willingness to “give to the poor” and taking Jesus invitation to follow him quite seriously. It is a concrete way for us to show our willingness not to be possessed by our riches but to give of ourselves, emptying ourselves to better follow Jesus with an undivided heart.

Jesus not only was teaching his disciples on the way, but he was showing them the way, and leading them toward it.

Which commandments are missing?  Did Jesus forget them?  Hardly…the 1st 4 commandments are that there is only 1 God, don’t worship anyone or anything else, don’t use God’s name in vain and the Sabbath is holy.  Why do you think he omits them?  They all have to do with worshipping God.  Perhaps Jesus knew this man already practiced these things.

Notice how Jesus tells him to GO and sell his things, then COME and follow me.  Jesus usually calls and sends in a single movement.  He almost never sends without first calling a person explicitly.  Yet in this case, the man is sent away to do something before he is called to follow Christ.  Why do you think that is?  Do you think his wealth has anything to do with it?  (Gittins, Encountering Jesus, p. 74-75)

Scripture Commentary for 3rd Sunday of Easter, cycle A

hearts burning

1st Reading – The Acts of the Apostles 2: 14, 22-23

Peter does in this passage what Jesus did in the gospel. He uses Scripture to shed light on God’s saving plan that has been unfolding in their midst. The speech is trying to motivate the hearers to repentance and conversion. (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, 294-296)

This really takes place after Pentecost in ‘Luke’s story’.This is an example of typical early Christian preaching. There are 4 parts to the early ‘kerygma’ or ‘creed’:

  1. Jesus was a man sent by God.
  2. Jesus was a man empowered by God to overcome evil.
  3. Jesus was a man who was betrayed, who suffered and died.
  4. Jesus was then raised and vindicated by God.

This ‘sermon’ is given here by Peter, now transformed by the Spirit of Risen Christ.  Peter who slept in the garden and then denied Jesus in fear now proclaims the same Jesus with joy and power. Here is the power of Jesus’ Resurrection!  Peter challenges all of us to be so transformed.

The early Christians turned to their Scriptures, just as we do, to help them understand the happenings in their lives.  Here Peter uses Psalm 16, and so it was chosen to be the psalm for this Sunday (our closing prayer).   Notice how it is about Jesus – and about us.

It was impossible for Jesus to be held in captivity by death; this is what Peter declares to his listeners. Christ could not be held by death because in his cross he had overcome it. Death – theologically, at least – is our ultimate separation from God the source of life. Jesus was not held by death because of some abstract quality of divinity; it was his complete obedience to the will of God (trusting, listening obedience) that kept him more convinced always of God’s love than the evil and suffering around him. It was not some magic act due to his divine powers. It was this trust and obedience that overcame human alienation and separation from God (what is meant by sin and death). (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

2nd Reading – 1 Peter 1: 17-21

The great Easter truth is not that we live newly after death . . .But that we are to be new, here and now, by the power of the resurrection;  not so much that we are to live forever, as that we are to live nobly now because we are to live forever. (Phillip Brooks)

In this passage we have to be careful not to take the language of ‘ransom’ and ‘blood’ too literally. The language is somewhat crude and cultic, but it is meant to speak of the liberation that we as Christians have as we come to understand the meaning and consequence of Jesus’ death. His blood speaks of Jesus’ total surrender and trust to his Father’s will and life. In this trust Jesus found the way through death to eternal life with his Father and our God. There is fear here on this side of the grave. But, like Jesus, let us surround our fears with trust in the God who loves us and has ultimate power over death. (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

From Richard Rohr: “We can’t see love, but we can see what happens to someone who is loved – the power and gentleness of those who let themselves be loved by Jesus, endless life, welling up within . . . “

The Gospel – Luke 24: 13 – 35

Each time we gather for Eucharist we experience this Emmaus story. It is a ‘pattern’ for Eucharist and for conversion. We share the story of Jesus.  We invite the stranger, invoke a blessing, and share a meal. In this breaking of the bread our eyes are opened; our hearts come alive with a new fire. Here on this side of the grave and eternity, we can know Jesus; we can experience his presence. Our hearts can burn with the insight and encounter that comes to us from our Lord, a reality we can trust. (Celebration, April, 2005)

The early church had to express and reflect on their encounter with the Risen Jesus. Certainly for all of us, too, life is a journey, full of joy and newness, grief and doubt.  Like all people on a journey, these early followers were living a time of transition: they needed to learn to live the Paschal Mystery – the mystery of new life through death. After Jesus’ death, he did not get his ‘old life’ back. His resurrection was about receiving a new life – a richer life that was never going to end again in death. This is our salvation, too. With Jesus, we journey from the tragedy of Jesus’ death and absence in the empty tomb to his presence in and with them in a powerful, new way.  (R. Rolheiser, The Holy Longing, 142-150)

Notice how Jesus’ use of scripture helps them to understand and see the present reality in a new way.  Jesus points out to them the sacred pattern of a prophet. God’s purpose and plan must be realized – made real and apparent – in an unruly world. By not annihilating such a world – nor robbing it of its power of decision and action – God’s prophets and servants are faced with the suffering that such a world causes. Since the world does not easily submit to God’s Word and plan, Jesus had to follow the pattern of all great prophets: work against evil and injustice; then be willing to face hardship, even rejection and death. Jesus helped these two followers to remember the past effectively — with help from the scriptures, Jesus helped them to bring the truth to the present and apply it to the future.  This is what Jesus offers us at each Eucharist.           (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, 294-296)

From Henri Nouwen in his book With Burning Hearts, pp. 30-41, 60-66:

Yes, we must mourn our losses…  To grieve is to allow our losses to tear apart feelings of security and safety and lead us to the painful truth of our brokenness… Our grief makes us experience the abyss of our own life in which nothing is settled, clear, or obvious, but everything is constantly shifting and changing… But in the midst of all this pain, there is a strange, shocking, yet very surprising voice… “Blessed are those who mourn… there is a blessing hidden in our grief… in the midst of our tears, a gift is hidden… the question is whether our losses lead to resentment or to gratitude… The great mystery we celebrate in the Eucharist… is precisely that through mourning our losses we come to know life as a gift. The beauty and preciousness of life is intimately linked with its fragility and mortality… I still remember… “It is only the broken soil that can receive the water and make the seed grow and bear fruit.”  We must take the brokenness of our lives and place it under the blessing of God’s love. We need to lift our little stories up into God’s great story… the great temptation of our lives is to deny our chosen-ness, our belovedness, and so to be trapped in the worries of our daily lives. We not only need to see the manure that covers the soil, but the fruits on the trees that sprung from it.

Notice that at the moment of ‘open-eyed’ recognition of Jesus, he vanishes from their sight. Luke’s point is clear: from that time on, the disciples would meet Jesus, know him, be fed and taught by him at every Eucharistic encounter. And in a sense their ‘vision’ is so improved that they find it no problem to journey back to Jerusalem at night – full of joy and energy. (Celebration, April 2005)

These two disciples are leaving their faith community. They do not even place much credence in the ‘women’s testimony’ concerning the empty tomb. In fact, it seems that it is this very testimony that motivates them to leave. They are hitting the road, deep in confusion. Yet, Jesus joins them. This story is sort of a metaphor about how God deals with someone who has gone away; perhaps it is also an image of how we are to deal with each other in our unbelief.  It is a story of paradoxes – of faith and crisis, of distance and closeness, of seeing and blindness, of light and darkness. Sometimes it is only as we look back – when we ponder and reflect – that we realize that God’s presence and closeness was real. And so, present with him at the table, they finally recognize the gift of the presence that was there all along, walking away, talking away, wondering why, telling their woe, hearing his story once again. Maybe their sense of loss, their longing for hope, was hope. Maybe even their desire to believe was believing — even their longing to love was love. Maybe the God-we-find-in-Jesus can see all the way through to our broken hearts and clouded minds. It happened back then on the road – it can and will happen to us also on our road of life if we but welcome his presence.  (John Kavanaugh, S.J. “The Word Engaged” http://litrugy.slu.edu )

From Henri Nouwen in his book With Burning Hearts, pp. 95- 97:

For communion with Jesus means becoming like him . . . And Communion creates community. Christ, living in them, brought them together in a new way. The Spirit of the risen Christ, which entered them through the eating of the bread and drinking of the cup, not only helped them recognize Christ himself but also each other . . . the God living in us helps us recognize the God in our fellow humans . . . this new body is fashioned by the Spirit of love. It manifests itself in very concrete ways: in forgiveness, reconciliation, mutual support, outreach to people in need, solidarity with all who suffer . . .

Let us pray (Psalm 16  The Message Version): 

1-2 Keep me safe, O God,
I’ve run for dear life to you.
I say to God, “Be my Lord!”
Without you, nothing makes sense.

And these God-chosen lives all around—
what splendid friends they make!

Don’t just go shopping for a god.
Gods are not for sale.
I swear I’ll never treat god-names
like brand-names.

5-6 My choice is you, God, first and only.
And now I find I’m your choice!
You set me up with a house and yard.
And then you made me your heir!

7-8 The wise counsel God gives when I’m awake
is confirmed by my sleeping heart.
Day and night I’ll stick with God;
I’ve got a good thing going and I’m not letting go.

9-10 I’m happy from the inside out,
and from the outside in, I’m firmly formed.
You canceled my ticket to hell—
that’s not my destination!

11 Now you’ve got my feet on the life path,
all radiant from the shining of your face.
Ever since you took my hand,
I’m on the right way.

Scripture Commentary for Upcoming Sunday Readings: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle C

Moses arms out

1st  Reading — Exodus 17: 8-13

Amalek incurred God’s wrath for attacking the Israelites when they were faint and weary on their journey out of Egypt. (Just before this passage is the section where God provides food as manna, and drink as water from a rock.)  Amalek had set upon the most vulnerable and weak, the stragglers who were too exhausted to keep up with the rest.  Amalek did not fear (respect) God.  His sin is not unlike that of the corrupt judge who “feared neither God nor humans” who we will hear in the Gospel.

Picture Moses: he is sitting on a rock holding up the staff of God with his tired and aching arms supported by fellow believers. This is not meant to be seen as magic or ritual superstition. It is symbolic of the powerful presence of God in our midst. Remember also, that Joshua, who’s name in Latin is Jesus, is the one who defends the people against the aggressors.  Who supports you in prayer?

*Another thing to keep in mind when we read passages from scripture that seem primitive, even grisly – even the most shocking texts from the Bible are given for our instruction. Sometimes the instruction is more about human nature than that of God’s nature.  We need to remember that the ‘inspired truth’ in scripture is the overall meaning that God intended to communicate. In the Noah story, for example, Noah listens to God’s words; he, thus, finds safety and life even in the midst of great difficulties. Sin and evil can flood over us and drown us. But in the end, God with his ‘rainbow covenant’ pledges to always be for life. This is the God that Noah worships.   (This Sunday’s Scripture, Twenty-Third Publications. 10/21/01)

2nd Reading:  2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:2

Do you have a favorite verse or phrase that you find helpful – hopeful – faith-filled?

This reading reminds us that as long as we are laboring at faith, faith is winning. We just need to stay at the task, living with trust in God’s love and doing as God would have us do —  when it is easy and convenient — and when it is not. (John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Engaged,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

Henri Nouwen says, “Often I have found myself saying:  ‘The Gospel that I read this morning was just what I needed today!’  This was much more than a wonderful coincidence.  What, in fact, was taking place was not that a Gospel text helped me with a concrete problem, but that the many Gospel passages that I had been contemplating were gradually giving me new eyes and new ears to see and hear what was happening in the world.  It wasn’t that the Gospel proved useful for my many worries but that the Gospel proved the uselessness of my worries and so refocused my whole attention.”  Here and Now, p. 127

The Gospel – Luke 18: 1-8

This judge is obviously corrupt – nothing like God.  God throughout the Hebrew Scriptures speaks on behalf of the oppressed and the widowed.  The word ‘widow’ in Hebrew, admanah, means unable to speak, a silent one. Chera, meaning forsaken or empty, was also often applied to a widow. The prophets always challenged the people and leaders to care for the widow and orphan, those without power. See Isaiah 1:23; 10:2; Malachi 3:5; Jeremiah 49:11; Psalm 68:6; James 1:27.  (J. Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context,” http://liturgy.slu.edu)

Luke’s gospel is often called the gospel of prayer.  What does prayer have to do with faith?

How do you see prayer as important?  How do you keep from ‘losing heart’ about problems?

More thoughts from John Pilch:

The word that is translated, ‘strike me’ literally meant to “give a black eye.” It was used also to imply a public shaming. In other words this pestering widow puts the ‘fear of the Lord’ back in this awful judge due to her persistence and public pressure! The point of this story is that if a helpless widow can get what is needed from a shameless judge, how much more can we trust that our ever-loving, honor-sensitive God will be with us to help us.

If you are feeling like your prayers are not being heard, don’t give up.  Don’t despair.  Don’t relent to your fears.  It is in the persistence.  “Perseverance in prayer is more than true grit that will never quit; it is trust in a God who will never abandon or ignore those who entrust themselves to the divine power, care and mercy in prayer.  With this assurance, perseverance in prayer without losing heart becomes not only possible but a permanent practice in the life of the believer.”  (Celebration, 10/21/01)

Scripture Commentary for 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C

take up cross

1st Reading – Wisdom 9: 13-18b

From Word & Worship, Birmingham, p. 465:  It was a popularly held belief that this book was written by Solomon, but scholarship maintain that it was written long after his reign by an anonymous writer.  The most we can ascertain is that the writer was a learned Greek-speaking Jew and probably a teacher, and that he was familiar with Hellenistic philosophy, rhetoric and culture.  A burning issue of those times was how is it that the just suffer and the wicked prosper?  Skepticism and individualism were rampant.

Sound familiar?  It is so hard to discern God’s will for us.  There are no billboards.  We wrestle with what we think is right for us vs. what God may think is right for us.  We also wrestle when bad things happen, and we try to wrap our minds around how that can be.  In the end, the Holy Spirit imparts wisdom to us when we allow Spirit in.  Margaret Silf from Inner Compass (p. 92) says, “God’s will – his desire for me – and my own deepest desire (when I am really living true) are one and the same thing!”  Yet we are so burdened by our “earthen shelter”.  How does this reading speak to you in where you are in your life right now?

2nd Reading – Philemon 9b-10, 12-17

This is the only personal letter of Paul that has survived. Onesimus was a slave who had run away from his master, Philemon, a Christian of Colossae. He had joined Paul in prison and under Paul’s influence Onesimus became Christian. Paul is sending him back as “no longer a slave but a brother.” Paul does not abolish slavery, it is true. That would have been impossible in the ancient world. But, rather,  Paul transforms the relationship between master and slave with faith in Christ Jesus.  (Reginald Fuller, http://liturgy.slu.edu/23OrdC090510 )

In a way, Paul is asking Philemon to forego his legal rights, ownership and cultural understandings in favor of God’s way of wisdom and love. Right in the middle of this Sunday’s readings, this passage is a powerful example of what the 1stReading is saying and what Jesus will be asking of us in the Gospel.

What understandings do you have to overcome in order truly be Jesus’ disciple?  Do you have a friend with whom you can share your heart like Paul and Onesimus?

The Gospel – Luke 14: 25-33

This gospel consists of a string of sayings on the cost of discipleship, followed by two parables to help illustrate what Jesus meant. “Hate’ is a very harsh word. Exaggeration was a common technique for preachers in Jesus’ day; in an oral culture one had to make important points with strength. The original Aramaic (Jesus’ language) might have meant simply to “love less than.” But no matter the translation, the meaning is clear: following Jesus means the surrender of the whole of one’s life. (Reginald Fuller, http://liturgy.slu.edu/23OrdC090510 )  How does this challenging gospel speak to you? Why not talk it over with Jesus?

There is a poem on a wall in the children’s home started by Mother Teresa in Calcutta.

Anyway, Never Give Up!

Discipleship is an unusual undertaking;

The better you become at it,

the more difficult and challenging it will be.

Be a disciple anyway; never give up!

The people you are called to serve may be unlikable,

ungrateful and unimpressed by your dedication.

Love and serve them anyway; never give up!

If you do good, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.

Do good anyway; never give up!

The good you do for Christ will be forgotten tomorrow.

Do good anyway; never give up!

Honesty, humility and simplicity may make you vulnerable.

Be honest, humble and simple anyway, never give up!

What you spend years building may seem

insignificant in the eyes of others.

Build anyway; never give up!

People really need help but may attack you if you help them.

Help them anyway; never give up!

Give the world the best you have

and you may get kicked in the teeth.

Give the world your best anyway; never give up! 

(From Celebration, September, 2001)

Scripture Commentary for 5th Sunday of Lent

 5th Sunday of Lent, Cycle C

Let us pray [for the courage to follow Christ]…

Father,

Help us to be like Christ your Son,

Who loved the world and died for our salvation.

Inspire us by his love,

Guide us by his example,

Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

One God, for ever and ever.  AMEN

1st Reading — Isaiah 43: 16-21

The author of 2nd Isaiah referred to the Babylonian captivity as similar to the exodus event,  The exiles were awaiting their release in an alien land.  Isaiah is reminding them of how God had saved them in history, and would surely do so again.  Thus, through their remembering, God would continue to be present to them, (Birmingham, W&W, p. 170).  How does this speak to you?      

 

2nd Reading —  Philippians 3: 8-14

Paul was concerned over the philosophies that were threatening to undermine the gospel.  Judaizers and Gnostics were coming at the gospel from 2 different threatening positions.  Judaizers were trying to impost their old legalisms on the new gentiles:  all must be circumcised, all must adhere to strict dietary regulations, etc.  Gnostics, on the other hand, believed that a person was perfectly “just” simply because of baptism; baptism was all that was necessary.  For Paul, justice is only realized through Jesus and oyr faith is his saving power.  Justice, like an unfinished race, was not yet perfected and is still in process  (Birmingham, W&W, p. 171).  How are you still in process?  How might the extremes in your life be smoothed out in Christ?

Notice that we are not called to perfection…we will never get there in this life.  We are called to continue our pursuit in Christ with great hope!  As in Thomas Merton’s prayer, “…the fact that I think that I am following your will does not meanthat I am actually doing so.  But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You.”

The Gospel — John 8: 1-11:

In the eyes of the Jewish law adultery was a serious crime.  Adultery was one of the 3 gravest sins, up there with idolatry and murder.  But the Pharisees and scribes are trying to entrap Jesus.  Instead of answering their question of what to do with the adulterous woman, Jesus writes in the ground.  Why does he doe this?  Wm. Barclay has 4 hypotheses:

  1. He may have wanted to gain time and bring it to God.
  2. He may have been trying to allow time for the Pharisees and scribes to realize the cruelty behind the action.
  3. He may have wanted to hide his face because he felt such shame in their request.  “It may well be that the leering, lustful look on the faces of the scribes and Pharisees, the bleak cruelty in their eyes, the prurient curiosity of the crowd, the shame of the woman, all combined to twist the very heart of Jesus in agony and pity, so that he hid his eyes, “ (Barclay, The Gospel of John Vol. 2, p.3).
  4. An Armenian manuscript translates this passage this way, “He himself, bowing his head, was writing with his finger on the earth to declare their sins; and they were seeing their several sins on the stones, (p.3).

There are still those who regard a position of authority as giving them the right to condemn and the duty to punish.  They think that such authority has given them the right to be moral watch-dogs trained to tear the sinner to pieces; but all true authority is founded on sympathy.  When George Whitefield saw the criminal on the way to the gallows, he uttered the famous sentence:  “There, but for the grace of god, go I, “(p.5).

God uses his authority to love men and women into goodness; to God no person ever becomes a thing.  We must use such authority as we have always to understand and always at least to try to mend the person who has made the mistake; as we will never even begin to do that unless we remember that every man and woman is a person, not a thing (p. 6).  How does this all pertain to you in your life?

 

 Let us pray:

Christ, help us become what we receive:

forgiven, may we forgive.

uncondemned, let us throw down our stones.

Christ, you are God’s constant gift to us, always present, ever-new.

You are the glorious within our hum-drum everyday lives.

You are the water in the desert; a river in the wasteland of our lives.

Let us drink deeply of your presence and quench our thirst. Amen.