20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 20, 2017
Matthew 15:21-28

Background:

Last’s week’s gospel ended with the disciples giving Jesus homage. They had witnessed Jesus walking on water, rescuing Peter from the raging sea, and finally calming the chaos of the mighty winds. When their boat finally landed at Gennesaret, the people recognized Jesus and they brought the sick for him to cure. The Pharisees and Scribes from Jerusalem questioned Jesus as to why his disciples did not respect the tradition of washing before meals. Jesus responded by questioning their breaking of the commands of God by excusing someone from the obligation to care for a parent if they would declare that the money needed was instead dedicated to God. Jesus quotes the great prophet Isaiah to support his case. Then Jesus publicly humiliates them by turning his attention to the crowd that had gathered and offering them an instruction about what it is that really defiles a person. His instruction is only one verse, “It is not what enters one’s mouth that defiles that person; but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one.” (Matthew 15:11) The disciples approach Jesus to make him aware that he has offended the Pharisees and Scribes. Jesus disregards their concerns and continues calling them blind guides, and he goes on to explain his teaching on what it is that really defiles a person.

It is with that instruction on what truly defiles a person that Matthew begins his account of Jesus’ entrance to the pagan territory of Tyre and Sidon, and then he has the encounter with the Canaanite woman that is the gospel text for this week.

Mark also recounts Jesus’ traveling to this region and his encounter with this woman. (Mark 7:24-30) In Mark’s account of the encounter, the woman is described as Syro-Phoenician, not a Canaanite. Mark’s account omits part of the dialogue that Matthew has included in verses 22-24. Mark does not include Jesus’ praise for the woman’s faith that Matthew includes in verse 28. But Mark includes a statement from Jesus that the children of Israel must be fed first. The difference in their accounts is that Mark adds to his account that the woman went home and found that her daughter had been healed. Scholars believe that Matthew had access to Mark’s gospel, and some believe he also had access to another older account as well.

If we focus on Matthew’s text, the first verse indicates that Jesus entered the pagan territory of Tyre and Sidon without any indication that he was compelled to do so. His actions are a contradiction of his own instruction to the disciples when he sent them on their mission to the lost sheep of Israel. “Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town.” (Matthew 10:5b) The understanding of the day viewed the border between Jewish and Gentile territory as being set by God, to separate God’s holy land, given to the people of Israel, from the pagan territory. The woman that Jesus encounters is described as a Canaanite. This description was rarely used at this point in history. It recalls the tribes that were occupying the land before the Jews gained control of the area. The Canaanites were one of the primary enemies of the Israelites. Besides being a pagan and one of the most hated enemies of God’s people, she was also an unescorted woman in a strictly gender divided society. All of these factors make Jesus’ contact with her a threat to his honor.

Jesus breaks with what was traditionally understood as sacred norms of behavior, enters the pagan lands, and encounters this mother whose daughter is possessed by a demon. She calls him “Son of David,” and asks that Jesus have pity and mercy on her. The request for mercy is a request to honor a debt that is owed. By calling Jesus “Son of David,” she is placing him in the line of King David and asking him to act according to David’s reputation of being a compassionate ruler. Even when she is ignored and insulted she continues to treat Jesus with respect and honor. Matthew does not tell us what is motivating the woman, but she seems to touch Jesus in a way that leads him to both cure the daughter and remark about the faith of the woman. There is no indication in the text that Jesus had gone there with the intention of extending the blessings of God’s healing to non-Jews. The opening part of the dialogue seems to indicate that he had no intention of doing so. Yet that is what happened.

Matthew’s account places more focus on the woman and the fact that she was a Canaanite, among the enemies of Israel, outside the covenant of Israel. As such, Jesus’ interaction with her is breaching serious boundaries. The catalyst for this encounter was the faith of this woman. “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” What had been a barrier between Jesus and this woman has become the bridge connecting them.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Do you recall an experience when you were called a name?
  2. Have you ever been the object of discrimination?
  3. Have you ever felt pressure to act with discrimination towards another?
  4. Why would Jesus even go into the region of Tyre and Sidon and risk such an encounter?
  5. Can you envision this scene as it unfolds? Where does it take place? Who is in the crowd? What is the mood of the crowd, of the disciples, of the woman, and of Jesus as the scene unfolds? What is your mood as the scene unfolds?
  6. What are some of the reasons that would justify Jesus’ initial response to this woman? Have you ever been asked to send away someone who was in need?
  7. What is it that connects Jesus and this woman?
  8. Have you ever felt like you were being ignored or sent away by God?
  9. Why would Matthew include this encounter in his gospel?
  10. How is God speaking to you in this text? How will you respond?

 

 

The reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

François Boucher, Saint Peter Attempting to Walk on Water, 1766

August 13, 2017
Matthew 14:22-33

 

Background:

The events that Matthew records leading up to this gospel text are: the death of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:3-12) and the feeding of five thousand (Matthew 14:13-21). Verses 22-23 suggest that the disciples boarded the boat, the crowds were dispersed, and Jesus then climbed further up the mountain to spend most of the night in prayer.

The text itself appears to be a fairly simple unfolding of events, but consider that there may be more here than a simple unfolding of events. Matthew records only two other occasions where Jesus goes off by himself to pray. The first is just a few verses earlier (Matthew 14:13-14), when Jesus learned of the death of his cousin, John the Baptist. “When Jesus heard of it, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns. When he disembarked and saw the vast crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them and he cured their sick.” (Matthew 14:13-14). The other time comes at the end of his life, when he leaves his disciples to go into the garden of Gethsemane to pray. (Matthew 26:36-46).

Each of the four situations described in today’s text is a very brief description of a much richer experience of what is taking place beneath the words. While Jesus spends most of the night alone in prayer, the disciples are out in the boat, probably fishing. The taxes for a fishing permit were high and kept the average fisherman in debt. It would be unlikely that a successful fisherman would pass up the opportunity for a night of fishing. The Sea of Galilee, also known as Lake Gennesaret, is well known for its sudden and severe storms. Verse 25 says that Jesus appeared on the water during the fourth watch. The fourth watch is from 3:00 AM to 6:00 AM. When Jesus comes to them, the disciples have been out on the water fishing presumably most of the night. It is also possible that they have battling against the storm winds most of that time. First light would permit one to see objects on the sea, but not in detail. Also, in the world of the disciples, it is impossible for anyone to walk on water. So when they see Jesus coming toward them on the water, it is reasonable that they would presume that it is a ghost.

Jesus, walking on the stormy water, presents himself as one who is greater than the mighty evil forces of chaos that threatened the existence of people of the day. Water was a symbol of life because it was needed to sustain life. At the same time, it was feared because of the destruction that occurred when rivers and lakes raged out of control. By walking on the water, Jesus is demonstrating that he has the power to subdue the chaos of the water, and to subdue the fear of the disciples in the boat, who think that Jesus may be a ghost. Jesus comes to establish peace in creation, both on the stormy waters and in the hearts of those who are in the boat.

Peter may have been reassured and felt confident by the reassuring words of Jesus, or perhaps he was uncertain it was truly Jesus who approached on the water. Either way, Peter asks that Jesus order him to come to him on the water. And so it is ordered. Peter begins to walk, but when his attention shifts to how powerful the chaos seems to be about him, he begins to sink. Peter calls out for help, and immediately the hand of Jesus is extended to lift him from peril and bring him to safety and peace.

 

The last two verses describe the scene in the boat. Jesus and Peter join the disciples who apparently have witnessed all of this while they themselves were still being tossed about on a violent sea. After Jesus and Peter join them, the sea, the wind, and the water are calm, and the disciples pay Jesus homage by stating, “Truly, you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:33b)

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. What is your experience of water, both as life-giving and as a force of destruction?
  2. Have you ever been physically exhausted and feared for your life? How did that circumstance affect your ability to act rationally?
  3. Have you ever felt like you need to be alone with God?
  4. Why would Peter want to get out of the boat and walk toward Jesus?
  5. Have you ever been willing to leave your present situation in order to pursue some new opportunity, relationship, or life situation?
  6. How does fear affect your relationships with others and with God?
  7. Have there been times when your relationship with God vacillated between fear and confidence? How did that shifting back and forth affect your overall relationship with God?
  8. Who in this gospel text do you most identify with? Can you take some time to talk to God about your relationship with God as you reflect on this text?

 

The reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

Feast of the Transfiguration

August 6, 2017
Matthew 17:1-9

Background

The gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent is always from one of the gospel texts that recount the Transfiguration of Jesus, either Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-8, or Luke 9:28-36. In addition, in the years when the Feast of the Transfiguration (August 6) falls on a Sunday, its liturgy replaces that Sunday’s Ordinary Time liturgy. The fact that all three synoptic gospels recount the Transfiguration signals how important this event was for the early Christians.

Throughout his gospel Matthew presents Jesus as a Moses-like figure. Here, like Moses, Jesus goes “up a high mountain” and encounters the presence of God. Both the face of Moses and the face of Jesus become radiant, and the presence of God comes from a cloud. “As Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the commandments in his hands, he did not know that the skin of his face had become radiant while he conversed with the Lord.” (Exodus 35:29) In addition to the face of Jesus becoming white, his garments too “became white as light.”

The presence of each of the other figures in the account helps point to the superiority of Jesus. Jesus is seen conversing with Moses and Elijah. These two men represent the two pillars of the Jewish faith, the law and the prophets. By speaking with them, Matthew’s Gospel hints, Jesus is an equal to each of them. But as Matthew unfolds the event, it is only about Jesus that the voice from heaven speaks, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” At the end of the event, Jesus is left alone with his disciples to descend down the mountain. In a different way, the presence of Peter, James, and John signals the single importance of Jesus. First, their presence gives witness to the reality of the event. In addition, their response is the familiar response of humans when they recognize that they are in the presence of God: awe and fear. At first Peter suggests that they build tents so that they can stay in this place. Then, when they hear the voice of God, they fall to the ground in fear. Jesus responds to them like he will after the resurrection, with gentle presence, and by urging them not to be afraid.

Matthew will use similar images later in his account of the resurrection. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary will go to the tomb and encounter an angel who will roll back the stone. “His appearance was like lighting and his clothing was white as snow. The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men. Then the angel said to the women in reply, ‘Do not be afraid!’” (Matthew 28:3-5a) Matthew’s community would also recognize, in the white garment, the robe they put on after they were baptized.

In Matthew’s gospel, no one doubts whether Jesus has the power to heal and cast out evil spirits. However, Jesus is confronted about the source of that power. In Nazareth, after Jesus taught in the synagogue, Matthew says the people wondered, “Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds?” (13:54) The chief priests and the elders asked Jesus “By what authority are you doing these things?” (Matthew 21:23) Moreover, Matthew records that some even accused Jesus of being in allegiance with the devil. “But the Pharisees said, ‘He drives out demons by the prince of demons.’” (Matthew 9:34)

When Matthew recorded the baptism of Jesus by John, he told his community “the heavens were opened [for him], and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove [and] coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’ Here, the words God speaks are almost identical. Now the voice of God seems to be addressed to the disciples, with the instruction that they are to “listen to him.” Jesus is not Moses who needs to go up the mountain to receive the teaching of God and then communicate it to Israel. The disciples go up the mountain to hear God say to them that Jesus himself has the favor of God, and they are to follow his instruction. Jesus will instruct them by leading them down the mountain and on to Jerusalem.

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. Have you ever felt like you were in the presence of God is some special way? What was your response to that realization?
  2. By the time the gospels were written, the early Christians had been waiting for Jesus’ return for decades. Is there any hope that you have prayed for, for decades, that still seems to have gone unanswered?
  3. Are you aware of ways that God has been present anew after long periods of faithful waiting?
  4. How significant would have been Jesus’ relationship with the people of his home town, and the elders and chief priests and the Pharisees? How do you think Jesus would have felt when these people doubted his motives for healing and casting out evil spirits?
  5. How are golden anniversary celebrations different from weddings, retirement celebrations different from the celebration of getting one’s first real job, and religious jubilees different from first professions?
  6. The disciples are described as wanting to stay right where they were. Have you ever been in a place where you wanted to stay right where you were, in a job, in a relationship, or in your spiritual life? What happened?
  7. Can you take some time with God to talk about your life situation right now, including your hopes and your fears?

 

The reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 30, 2017
Matthew 13:44-52

Background:

This week’s Gospel text, along with the text from the two previous weeks, has given the reader the opportunity to reflect on a block of Jesus’ parables that take up almost the entire 13th chapter of Mathew’s Gospel. All of these parables were addressed to the crowds that came to hear Jesus’ teaching. However, the explanation of the meaning of the parables was reserved for the disciples.

The three short parables that comprise the majority of the text for this week are all taken from familiar experiences of common people of the day–a farmer, a merchant, and a fisherman. The first two parables present the kingdom of God as a great treasure that is present, but hidden to the non-observant. This theme was hinted at by Jesus two weeks ago. When the disciples asked Jesus why he taught with parables, he responded: “This is why I speak to them in parables, because ‘they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.’” (Matthew 13:13) The parable about the kingdom being like a fisherman’s drag net is similar to the parable of the farmer who let the weeds grow along with the wheat. In both parables, Jesus says that angels will separate the wicked from the righteous in the final judgment.

From another perspective, the three parables of the Gospel for today present three different ways that people discover the kingdom of God. In the first parable, the farmer finds a treasure in a field, which seems to suggest an unexpected discovery. The farmer responds with joyful enthusiasm that would be considered reckless by his fellow farmers. If the farmer sells everything to buy this field and the field does not produce a good harvest, the farmer is in danger of losing the field and the treasure. In the second parable, the merchant is diligently seeking the great pearl. The response to the discovery is equally enthusiastic as that of the farmer. The last parable is about fishermen who are about the ordinary task of the day–separating the fish from the other objects that the net picked up as it was dragged through the sea. The kingdom is present, but they are unaware of its presence until the very end when they discover what has been caught. Some of the “catch” will be kept and some discarded. This parable seems to echo the theme of the over-generous action of God as was described in the parable of the sower at the start of this chapter. (Matthew 13:1-9) These parables present a picture of God who is at work establishing the kingdom, and bringing people to an awareness of the kingdom through various efforts on their part. The theme that runs through the three parables in today’s text is that God has placed the Kingdom within the reach of common people, those who find the Kingdome realize that it is to be valued above all else, and discovery of the Kingdom brings great joy to those who discover it. 

Reflection Questions:

  1. When you reflect on your life journey, what are some of the things you have desired?
  2. What are some of the things that have brought you a sense of joy?
  3. Are the things that have brought you joy the same things that you have desired?
  4. Have you desired the wrong things?
  5. Have your mistakes at desiring the wrong things led you to a better understanding of what it is you truly desire?
  6. How would you complete the line: “The kingdom of God is like…”
  7. Does your image of God’s Kingdom leave you with a sense of being overjoyed?
  8. What are the things in the last week that have left you with a sense of joy?
  9. Which of the three parables in this text most attracts your attention? How would you like to respond to that fascination?
  10. When you reflect on your desires and how those desires have impacted your life, what would you like to say to God?

 

 

The reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 23, 2017
Matthew 13:24-43

Background:

The gospel text for this Sunday follows directly after the text from last Sunday’s gospel. Last week the first line described Jesus leaving the house and going down by the sea. After Jesus addressed the crowd that had gathered, he dismissed them and returned to the house. (Matthew 13:36) Like the parable of last week, the first two parables of the text for today are about the sowing of seeds. This text concludes with the same admonition which concluded the parable of last week: “Whoever has ears ought to hear.” (Matthew 13:9 and 43b) The repetition of the line indicates its importance. While there are a number of common elements in the parable from last week and those in the text for this week, what stands out is that the last parable is about a woman doing one of the most ordinary kitchen tasks, making bread. In the male-dominated culture in which Jesus lived, Jesus’ effort to include an example that every woman of the day would understand speaks its own message of the Kingdom. Even though the parable itself is short, the fact that its focus is a woman doing an ordinary task of her day would have been noticed by the gender-segregated society of Jesus’ day.

Another cultural aspect is important to appreciating these parables. It is the importance of maintaining one’s status within the community, and the enjoyment that naturally arises when one can make another look foolish. The modern reader may get some insight into what significance such activity played in daily life by reflecting on how often others tried to set Jesus up with a situation where they hoped he would look foolish in the eyes of the crowd who had come to hear him preach.

In the first parable of today’s text, an enemy has come in the night to sow weeds in the midst of his neighbor’s wheat field.  (Matthew 13:25). This enemy may be thought of more of as a neighboring farmer who will enjoy making his fellow farmer look a bit foolish. He will get the attention when others learn how he has made his neighbor look a bit ridiculous when the weeds and the wheat begin to grow. The possibility that an enemy might try to embarrass a fellow farmer by deliberately sowing weeds in another’s field was not just hypothetical.  Further, the farmer who did not try to rectify or retaliate in some fashion would appear even more foolish in the eyes of his neighbors, because he will be thought of as weak and not able to defend his property or his reputation. But as the parable unfolds he turns out to be the wiser of the two. He was wise enough to know that the weeds were not strong enough to choke off his wheat and were able to grow together. At the time for the harvest he has both his wheat harvest and fuel for his fire. For the Christians who will hear this parable through the Gospel, the parable also points to Jesus himself, who, in his passion, is strong enough to endure the wickedness of others without needing to lash out in defense–yet in the end he enjoys the final vindication.

The parables that Jesus tells in this text reveal a God who is imperceptibly at work in ordinary human ways, a God who at the same time is more powerful than any outside effort to thwart God’s intentions. This God’s kingdom is unfolding in the lives of farmers, women, and even Gentiles. (A common symbol for Gentiles was birds that came to nest in the branches of the mustard bush.)

This Sunday, a short form of the gospel text can be used which would only include the first parable (Matt 13:24-30). This option would strengthen a connection to the first reading (Wisdom 12:13, 16-19), but would eliminate the repetition of the line “Whoever has ears ought to hear,” and it would pass over the reality that Jesus made a significant effort to include women in the way he taught and pointed toward the kingdom, even in his very male dominated world.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Do you know people who enjoy playing practical jokes on others?
  2. Have you ever been the focus of someone else’s “practical joke”?
  3. What do you think the ordinary peasants of the day were thinking as they heard Jesus tell these parables?
  4. Who, in our society, might be symbolized by “weeds growing in the midst of the wheat”?
  5. Within you as a person, what values or behaviors might be weeds that are growing among the wheat?
  6. Who today speaks with the wisdom of the farmer who is willing to let the weeds grow with the wheat?
  7. What aspects of your life make you look or feel foolish? How might God be using those things to teach you something you need to understand?
  8. Do you ever feel that the kingdom of God is unfolding too slowly?
  9. Why would Jesus tell parables about the kingdom of God that focused on the experience of the most common of people, including women?
  10. Which of the parables in the gospel text speaks most strongly to you?
  11. What do you hear mostly strongly in this gospel? Can you talk with God about what it is you are hearing in this gospel text?

 

The reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 9, 2017
Matthew 11:25-30

Background:

The first part of this text, verses 25-27, is also found in Luke’s gospel. (Luke 10:21-22) Therefore scholars believe that it comes from an older source that both Luke and Matthew used as they composed their gospels. The style of the text is different than what is found in most of the synoptic gospels. It is more like what is found in John’s gospel. The second part of this text is unique to Matthew.

In Jesus’ day, the rich would become “patrons” of others who were not members of their family. The patron would treat these clients as if they were members of the family. In some cases, the “patron” would use an agent who would act on their behalf to arrange the relationship. This relationship benefited both the patron and the client. The client received the benefits of being included in the patron’s family, which was usually a significantly more prosperous situation, and the patron received the esteem of the community. The client was expected to make the generosity of the patron known. There was no “not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing” here. In Jesus’ culture, esteem or honor was so important that it was considered foolish to have the wealth to become a patron and not do so. That is the point of the parable that Jesus tells of the foolish landowner who had the wealth, but instead of taking on clients, decided to build larger barns so he could store up his wealth and not have to work. (Luke 12:16-20)

Looking at this gospel through the patron/client cultural lens, God the Father is the patron, those who are burdened are the clients, and Jesus is described as the broker/agent for the Father. In the first verse of this gospel text, God is described as “Father, Lord of heaven and earth.” The Father is being described as one who is responsible for bringing all of creation into existence. Verses 26 and 27 describe Jesus as the One the Father has chosen to act as His agent. The Father has sent Jesus to those who “labor and are burdened.” They are invited to take a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light. It is an invitation to a relationship with God, the creator of the universe, who desires to make them part of God’s family and not a slave of some earthly master.

Reflection Questions:

  1. How would you describe your personal prayer?
  2. What happens within you when you praise God?
  3. If you were asked to design a set for a children’s play depicting God in heaven as Lord of creation, what would it look like?
  4. Jesus talks about God as having “hidden these things from the wise and the learned,” yet revealing them to “the childlike.” What do you think he is trying to tell us?
  5. Can you recall occasions in the gospels when Jesus invited those who were burdened to come, and to find rest?
  6. If Jesus has sent us, as the Father has sent him, what is your role to those who are burdened?
  7. How is your relationship with God a yoke? What would you like to say to God about that yoke today?
  8. When was the last time you can recall feeling burdened or worried? Where did you find rest?

Can you take time to talk with God about your relationship to God, especially the places where you have felt burdened, and those times when you have felt like God was helping you find rest?

The reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 2, 2017
Matthew 10:37-42

 

Background:

The gospel text for this Sunday is the conclusion of Jesus’ instructions to the twelve before he sends them out to preach to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In the gospels Jesus often draws on the images of sheep and shepherds to illustrate the kind of relationship the religious leaders should have toward the people. Today’s gospel is part of his instructions to his disciples as he sends them to the lost sheep. He is sharing the mission that he has received with them.

The admonition that a disciple must love Jesus more than one’s family would sound even more shocking to Jesus’ contemporaries than it does to people today. Most of us are raised in a way that will prepare us for the day when we will leave home to start our own families. Many today assume that this may include moving to another city or even a different country. For a person to leave one’s family at the time of Jesus was totally unacceptable, and it would likely result in the death of all but the most resourceful. A person’s worth, esteem, honor, and financial support were all based in their family. Those outside the family were viewed with suspicion.

While Jesus’ instruction reminds the disciples of what they are leaving behind, he also tells them what they will receive in exchange. They will go out as representatives of Jesus himself. They are the first ones who have received a prophet, Jesus himself, and they will receive the prophet’s reward. As the simplest act of courtesy, giving a cup of water (or the use of a bathroom) will reap abundant blessing from God, the gift of their sacrifice to proclaim God’s coming will be blessed in the same way. Jesus’ instruction would have made a shocking impact on the early disciples as they prepared to proclaim the coming of God. He reminds them of the dedication required of them and the great blessing being bestowed on them for their willingness to accept this responsibility.

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. Have there been times in your life when you felt worthy? When were these?
  2. Have there been times in your life when you felt unworthy? When were these?
  3. Do you have any meaningful relationships that are always enjoyable, life-giving, and rewarding?
  4. When it comes to your spiritual life and your relationship with God, is it easier for you to see God’s spirit accompanying you in the good times or in the difficult and painful periods of your life?
  5. Do you know people who have given up “normal” family relationships in order to pursue some opportunity or dream?
  6. How did your parents feel about you moving out of their home? How do you think it compared to the time when they left the home of their parents?
  7. What are some of the things that have come between you and members of your family or friends?
  8. Do you think of yourself as one of Jesus’ disciples who have also been sent? How do you hear this instruction from Jesus?
  9. To whom might Jesus be sending you?
  10. Mary, Francis, Clare, and many other saints and ordinary people have grown to discover a love of God that is so strong that they were willing to sacrifice their relationships with family and friends to pursue their relationship with God. Can you imagine that kind of passion in your relationship with God?
  11. Can you talk with God about how you feel about being sent out as one of His disciples?

 

 

The reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher,
OFM. They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

 

 

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)

June 18, 2017
John 6:51-58

Background:

In the opening verse, Jesus identifies himself as the bread from heaven. In the next verse, he states that whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood has life eternal. The fact that the Jews quarreled among themselves at this statement should not be a surprise. The word that Jesus used, translated as “eats” here, would carry a sense of gnawing, as a dog with a bone. Drinking blood was prohibited within the Jewish community. It should not be surprising that some of the Jews who were hearing this questioned his teaching. Questions in John’s gospel usually present an opportunity for Jesus to further explain his teaching.

Jesus explains, “…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” (John 6:51) In case they missed the point, Jesus restates this point three more times (verses 53, 54, and 55). The expression “flesh and blood” was to describe a human person. For those Jesus is addressing, the term “flesh and blood” would also call to mind the animals that were ritually slaughtered as offerings to God–including offerings made throughout the year, but especially those made as part of the Passover observance.  Jesus is describing himself as the lamb that was killed and had its blood drained so that it could be used as a sacrificial offering.  This same connection will be made later in John’s gospel when he places the hour of Jesus’ death at about the time when the lambs were being killed for the Passover observance.

For John’s community, Jesus is their food and drink. Because John’s gospel is the last of the four gospels to be written, those in the community have had more time to reflect on the significance of the Jewish tradition in Jesus’ life and teaching. The experience of God feeding the Jews in the desert is a springboard to help them understand God’s new revelation in Jesus. It is not enough to believe in Jesus, or even to ritually participate in the new customs of the Christian community. They are seeking to understand how God is continuing to nourish with God’s real presence on this new journey.

Departing from Matthew, Mark and Luke, John’s gospel does not have a Last Supper account before his passion and death. Therefore, Jesus’ instruction here about being the Body and Blood that gives eternal life is not tied as directly to Eucharist. It is a much broader and pervasive reality than just Eucharist.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What is your thinking of bread, what memories come to mind when you think of bread?
  2. What memories do you have of wine?
  3. What images come to mind when you think of flesh? What images come to mind when you think of blood?
  4. Have you ever had periods when you did not get enough to eat? How far back would you have to go in your family to note a generation that truly worried about not having enough to eat? How do you think that experience affected them?
  5. Have there been times in your life when you felt a hunger or a thirst that was not about food or drink?
  6. Why would John take the time to note that the Jews quarreled among themselves over Jesus’s teaching?
  7. Are their aspects of God’s relationship with us that you have quarreled about?
  8. What are the things that nourish your soul, and your spirit?
  9. What does this say to you about God’s desire for you?
  10. Can you take some time now or later today to speak to God about what this text is saying to you at this time of your life?

 

 

The reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

The Holy Trinity

June 11, 2017
John 3:16-18

Background:

The first verse (Jn 3:16) of the gospel is among the most familiar texts in the Christian Scriptures. One scripture scholar says that it is “a succinct summary of the whole Gospel…” (Reginald H. Fuller http://www.liturgy.slu.edu/TrinityA061117/theword_indepth.html)

John’s gospel was written much later than the other gospels. Many in John’s community would have been familiar with those gospels. Therefore, John’s gospel could begin with John the Baptist testifying to the greatness of Jesus and then move directly to Jesus’ call of the first disciples without describing any of Jesus’ early teaching or healing ministry. The second chapter of John’s gospel describes the wedding feast at Cana and Jesus expelling from the Temple those selling items to pilgrims desiring to offer a sacrifice. Both of these events would have disturbed the peoples’ understanding of their relationship to God.

The third chapter of John’s gospel begins with Nicodemus, a leading Pharisee of the day, coming to Jesus at night to gain a clearer understanding of Jesus and his teaching. Nicodemus asks Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him. “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (John 3:2-3) Jesus’ response to Nicodemus uses a word that means both again and above, so that when Jesus tells him that one must be born “again” in order to enter the Kingdom of God, Nicodemus is not sure what he means. It is in the context of this conversation with Nicodemus that the present text appears in John’s gospel.

The text states that God gave his only Son to the world so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life. In John’s gospel “the world” is sometimes cast in a positive light, but more often it is cast in a negative light. The early Christians’ experience of the world changed drastically in those years when the texts that became the New Testament were being written. In the years right after the resurrection, the early Christians were part of the Jewish community. They were convinced that Jesus was the long-awaited messiah. They lived by that conviction, and they argued with their contemporaries, but they maintained their status in the community. Gentile conversion to Christianity, some Jewish Christians’ rejection of their new faith, Jews becoming resentful, and eventually excommunication from their synagogues led to a more hostile attitude toward the world. This shift in attitude is also reflected in the New Testament and elsewhere in John’s Gospel.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Complete this sentence. My parents so loved me that they gave me ….
  2. Or if you are a parent yourself, complete this. I so loved my child that I gave her/him …
  3. Can you contemplate what it might have been like for the Father to send the Son to be born into the world?
  4. What comes to mind when you reflect on God’s desire for sending his Son to be born into the world?
  5. Do you see the world primarily as something good, created by God, and a place that reveals the presence of God to you?
  6. What has been your primary experience of the world and society?
  7. Have there been periods in your life when it has been difficult to believe in the goodness of the world, creation, and the people around you? What happens to you when you choose to live out of that attitude?
  8. How is your life different when you live out of a basic reverence, trust, and sense of goodness in others?
  9. God so loved that world that … (How many times could you fill in this sentence?)
  10. The text seems to invite us to contemplate and enter the heart of God. Do you ever pray to know how God feels about you?
  11. What do you think it would be like to see yourself through the eyes and heart of God?

The reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

Pentecost

June 4, 2017
Vigil: John 7:37-39
Day: John 20:19-23

Vigil: John 7:37-39

Background:

This reading is especially appropriate because Pentecost is the last day of the Easter Season. In the early church, this was the day when those who could not be baptized during the Easter Vigil were baptized. Baptisms were not celebrated throughout the year because the importance of joining a community was an essential part of the early Christian understanding of baptism. 

This Gospel text is very short. The feast that is referred to in the first verse is the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths. It was the third and the most favored festival that Jewish men were compelled to attend during the year. During the feast, simple structures were built that reminded the people of their dwellings during their shogun in the desert. The roof was typically covered with branches that would block the sun during the day but could be removed so that one could see the stars at night. The feast was celebrated when most of the harvest had been gathered. Each night the people gathered around an altar waving palm branches, and the priest poured water that was brought from the pool of Siloam, thanking God for the rain that produced the harvest and the water that flowed from the rock into the desert. It was on the last day of this festival that Jesus stood and declared that he was the living water, and invited all to come to him.

Reflection Questions:

  1. How does creation and the events of nature influence your understanding of how God is present to you? Can you point to a particular recent experience?
  2. Have there been times during this Easter Season when you felt connected to the God who has been unfolding and revealing God’s self throughout time?
  3. What is your experience of coming to the last day of a great celebration?
  4. What is your experience of coming to the last day of the Easter Season? Is it any different this year than in other years?
  5. What hopes do you bring to this day?
  6. How is Jesus standing up before you and the assembly saying, “Let anyone who thirsts, come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says; ‘Rivers of living water will flow from him’”?

What would you like to say to God about the living water flowing from you?

 

Day: John 20:19-23

Background:

The second Gospel text for Pentecost is also from John’s Gospel. The text presents a different kind of experience of the Holy Spirit coming upon the disciples than is found in the Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11 (the first reading for Masses during the day). Here in the Gospel, even through the disciples have gathered in fear, they are sent out just as the Father sent Jesus himself. They have real reason to be afraid that those who arrested Jesus, and crucified him, may be plotting to move against them, too. However, the presence of the risen Lord is not impeded by the physical restraint of a locked door, or their fears. The crucified Jesus stands in their midst and greets them with peace. This greeting of peace is also a prayer for health, prosperity, and all good that comes with the end times. Jesus breathes on them the Holy Spirit–an action that mirrors God breathing life into Adam in Genesis. The disciples receive the power to both bind and forgive sins, an expression that names the two extremes but is intended to communicate the full range of power between the two extremes. In John’s Gospel, sin is defined as the refusal to accept Jesus and his teaching. By asking the disciples to be agents of forgiveness, Jesus is commissioning them to be agents to reach out those who have rejected Jesus and his teachings. The text seems to use the energy that is present when two opposites are brought together to describe the new energy that is released by God upon the disciples.

The modern reader may associate the forgiving of sins with the Sacrament of Reconciliation. However, in the early Church, forgiveness of sin was associated with Baptism. The Reconciliation that Jesus is commissioning the disciples to be about is much larger than the personal forgiveness of individual sins. It would seem to be about the kind of reconciliations that Jesus brought to the ten lepers when he told them to go show themselves to the priest so that they could be reinstated in the community, or when he spoke to the woman at the well and the whole community was transformed by her testimony. Forgiving in this sense seems to be about restoring the fullness of the relationship.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Do you lock doors? Do you check to make sure they are locked at night or when you leave?
  2. Are there parts of your life that you keep locked away?
  3. Have you or someone you know well had the experience of being refused forgiveness by a parent or by someone they loved?
  4. Where do you encounter your own fears? Which of your fears are you grateful for? Which of your fears would you like to be free of?  Do you fear God?
  5. In the text, the disciples thought that they had gathered in safety behind locked doors, and they discovered that they were leaving empowered by God to act, even though to do so made them more vulnerable. Has God ever worked that way in your life?
  6. When have you been aware of the Jesus who was standing in your midst? How would you recognize him?
  7. How do you experience the presence of the Holy Spirit in your own life? Have there been times when the Holy Spirit seemed to be present in a dramatic way, and times when the Spirit has been gently present to you… as gently as your own breath?
  8. In the gospel, Jesus breathed on the disciples the breath of life, and told them they had the power to forgive and to bind sins. Can you take some time to talk to God about God’s desire to give this power to his disciples, and to you?

 

The reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.