3rd Sunday of Easter

April 30, 2017
Luke 24:13-35

Background:

Execution by crucifixion was reserved for the most contemptuous of criminals. The early disciples were disappointed and humiliated by the fact that Jesus was crucified. Last Sunday’s gospel also suggests that they were afraid for their own safety. It should be no surprise that some of the disciples gathered behind the locked doors and still others fled the situation. Emmaus was a Roman Spa, a place of physical comfort.

The two that were on the road to Emmaus might have been any of many pilgrims who had been to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover and were now returning home. But Luke tells us that these two were disciples. There is some reason to suspect that they were husband and wife. Missionary couples like Aguila and Priscilla were known among the early Christian community (Acts 18:2). John’s gospel mentions the wife of Clopas (possibly Cleopas) at the foot of the cross with Jesus’ mother and Mary of Magdala (John 19:25). Another reason to think they were a couple is that their invitation of hospitality toward Jesus, at the end of the text, seems to have been made together.

   When Jesus joined them, he appeared to them to be a fellow pilgrim returning from the Passover celebration. They were surprised by the fact that he seemed to be unaware of Jesus’ crucifixion. The two disciples explained the events of the crucifixion, and of that Sunday morning, as they knew them. They were aware that some of the women had reported the empty tomb, and that an angel told them that Jesus was alive. Others had verified that the tomb was empty, and they did not find Jesus, nor, apparently, did they find the angel who had appeared to the women. The two also revealed that they were among Jesus’ followers, and that they had hoped that he might be the awaited savior. They told all of this to a person who appeared to be a total stranger! At the same time they are heading out of Jerusalem, away of the other disciples to the Roman Spa City of Emmaus.

  From their perspective, this stranger seemed to be able to reinterpret their religious traditions in such a way that the events of Jesus’ death were the fulfillment of their tradition. Even with this new understanding their tradition they were continuing their journey to Emmaus and unware that the person walking with them was the risen Jesus. They will not rediscover their hope and faith in Jesus as the Messiah until Jesus accepts their invitation to joined them and brakes bread with them. The formula of verse 30 is same as that of the Last supper (Luke 22:19), “Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.’”

Reflection Questions:

  1. Have you faced a life situation that was dreadful or out of control? How do you respond?
  2. Have you ever had sense that God was walking with you? Did have that awareness during that period of your life or later?
  3. Have you ever come to awareness that you had been prevented from recognizing God’s presence in your life? What were some of the things that prevented you form recognizing God’s presence?
  4. On the road, the two disciples told Jesus not only what had happened in Jerusalem, but also how these events had impacted them personally. How easy is it for you to share with others your doubts, fears and disappointments?
  5. What do you think is the emotional state of the two disciples who are on the way to Emmaus? Why would Jesus want to come to these two disciples?
  6. The disciples did not recognized Jesus until the breaking of the bread. Has your participation in the Eucharist brought you to a new awareness of your relationship to God, the church or creation?

 

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

2nd Sunday of Easter – Divine Mercy Sunday

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas By: Hendrick ter Brugghen

April 23, 2017
John 20:19-31

 

Background:

Most Westerners have become accustomed to a world of visible information. Educators know that some people learn best when information is presented visually. Some people take pride in wanting to see for themselves–Missouri is known as the “show me state.” However, in the culture in which Jesus lived, many people did not possess the visual capabilities that we take for granted. In order to maintain some sense of privacy in their culture, deception and secrecy were parts of daily survival. Children were used to spying on neighbors, and locked doors were presumed to be hiding covert activity. In this culture, everyone developed a healthy suspicion and doubt about the truthfulness of others. The way people dealt with discerning the truthfulness of a person’s account was to have numerous and notable witnesses.

Unlike the synoptic gospels, John’s gospel does not contain a Last Supper/Passover account. Instead, John precedes the passion and death of Jesus with a farewell address. As part of this address Jesus says, “My peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. You heard me tell you, ‘I am going away and I will come back to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father; for the Father is greater than I.” (John 14:27-28) Later in that discourse Jesus again addresses the disciples, “you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you. On that day you will not question me about anything.” (John 16:22-23a) In the text for this Sunday, John describes how Jesus has fulfilled what he said in that farewell address.

This gospel text is composed of two almost identical appearances of the risen Lord. Both appearances take place on the first day of the week. Both times the disciples are gathered, the doors are locked, Jesus appears in their midst, he greets them with the greeting of peace, and he shows them the wounds of the crucifixion. The repetition of these details draws attention to the ways the two appearances are different. First is the absence of Thomas in the first appearance. When he is told by the others that Jesus has appeared to them, he refuses to accept their word as creditable witnesses of the truth of their testimony. If the others have seen the risen Jesus, he will not believe unless he can not only see but touch the wounds. This leads to the second difference in the two accounts–the fact that Thomas is invited by Jesus to touch the wounds of the crucifixion. Another difference is found in the kind of response the disciples and Thomas have to the presence of the risen Christ before them. In the first visit, they are filled with joy. In the second appearance, Thomas responds with a statement of faith in Jesus as his Lord and his God.  The last difference is in the way the appearance impacts those beyond the event itself. In the first incident, Jesus commissions the disciples to be instruments of God’s forgiveness. In the second appearance, Jesus describes those who believe, without the unique experience of Thomas and these disciples, as blessed.

Thomas’ objection to believing the testimony of the apostles would be familiar to many in the early Church for whom John is writing. John’s gospel was the last to be written. Many of those who were now hearing of Jesus had not had a personal experience of Jesus. In fact, even many of those who were now teaching had probably not experienced the Jesus of history either. How could anyone be expected to believe in Jesus if they had no experience of Jesus or the resurrection? The experience of Thomas is one of the ways John is responding to such questions. Thomas first gives voice to their objection. But when he finally comes to faith, it is not because he has seen or even touched the wounds of Jesus, even though he has now had the opportunity. He is brought to faith by accepting the word of Jesus to him, the invitation, and that Jesus desired to seek him out so that he not remain in ignorance.

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. Do you presume that most people speak truthfully?
  2. Do you recall an incident when others doubted your truthfulness?
  3. Jesus enters the room where the disciples are gathered and greets them with “Peace be with you.” Who are the people who have brought peace into your life?
  4. Do you bring peace into the life of others?
  5. The gospel text says that Jesus showed the disciples his hands and his side, and that the disciples rejoiced when they saw him. It seems to be implied that they rejoiced to see the signs of his passion. How do you make sense of this?
  6. Are there places in your own life where you find meaning and even joy in what you have suffered?
  7. What are some of the things Thomas might have been thinking when he heard the others tell him of Jesus’ appearance to them?
  8. How do you think the disciples felt when Thomas told them that he not only did not believe them, but that he would never believe unless he touched the wounds of Jesus?
  9. Are you surprised that Thomas was still with them a week later when Jesus returned? What do you think that week was like for Thomas, for Peter, and for the other disciples?
  10. How would the Church have been different if Peter had insisted that Thomas either accept their testimony and believe, or separate himself from the group?
  11. How many times in the gospels do people seek to touch Jesus? How many times does Jesus seek to touch another?
  12. How might the church be different without both of these two stories of Jesus coming to the disciples in the midst of their fears and doubts?

 

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

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

April 9, 2017
Matthew 26:14-27:66

Background:

The earliest Christian accounts of the death of Jesus are Paul’s simple and direct statements. “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared to Kephas, then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once …” (1 Corinthians 15:3-6) Paul’s statement may seem rather stark compared to Matthew’s passion narrative. Paul’s emphasis is clearly on the resurrection. Crucifixion was reserved for the worst scoundrels and was an embarrassment to the early disciples. It took many years of reflection for the Christian community to make sense of it. Matthew’s community was largely Jewish. They turned to the Hebrew Scriptures that spoke of fulfillment, especially Psalms 22 and 69, and texts from the great prophet Isaiah. (Italics have been added to the gospel text above to highlight those places where Matthew tells his readers that the event fulfills what was written about the Messiah.) Mark’s passion is similar to Matthew’s in focus. Luke and John focus much more on the discourse of Jesus throughout the events. John’s account does not even include a Last Supper narrative, but instead a kind of farewell address that contains instructions for the disciples and a deep, personal prayer.

The manner of Jesus’ death raised difficult questions for the early Christian Community. How could God’s anointed be treated so shamefully? Could God not have done something to prevent this from happening? If God could have done something, why did God not do something to prevent Jesus’ crucifixion? Jesus’ death was a scandal that most Jews could not accept as the way God would chose to act. To seriously consider Jesus as the long-awaited messiah was extremely difficult.

One of the ways Matthew deals with these questions is to make it clear that Jesus, who is the faithful servant of God, had been falsely accused. In the opening verses of today’s text, Jesus’ own disciple, Judas, receives payment to hand Jesus over. Judas next appears accompanied by a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, and he betrays Jesus with a kiss. (Matthew 26:47-50) The third and last time Judas is mentioned, he is back with the chief priests seeking to correct his obvious mistake. When the chief priests refuse to cooperate with his change of heart, Judas hangs himself. Note that the money paid to Judas was blood money, and therefore could not be returned to the temple treasury. (Matthew 27:3-8) The three times that Judas appears in Matthew’s passion highlight the fact that Jesus was falsely accused, showing that there were no valid accusations of any crime, let alone any crime that would merit crucifixion.

Another way that Matthew deals with the questions that arise from Jesus’ crucifixion is to portray him as the one who is completely in control of the situation. Jesus knows what is going to happen beforehand. He predicts that (1) the disciples will go into the crowded city of Jerusalem and find a man who had prepared a room for him and the disciples to celebrate the Passover (Matthew 26:18-19), (2) one of his disciples will betray him (Matthew 26:21), and (3) Peter will deny him (Matthew 26:31). Jesus is also in control of his actions in the way he responds to people in roles of authority and power. Caiaphas, Herod and Pilate all appear to be driven by the situation. At times they even appear to be appealing to Jesus for some insight to make sense of the situation. Matthew also draws on the manly virtue of the day: that of bearing one’s fate in life without complaint. The only hint of complaint comes while Jesus is in prayer in the garden. But, Jesus prays that events unfold according to God’s will and not his own. (Matthew 26:39-42) As the passion narrative unfolds, Matthew reminds his community of references to their sacred tradition that suggest these events are unfolding as they were intended by God.

Matthew’s passion does not portray Jesus’ death as the targeted fate of a naive radical holy man. Rather, Jesus is like every innocent and persecuted Hebrew who has experienced persecution, injustice and misunderstanding. He is one like them. Jesus has taken the very worst treatment upon himself, and he has been totally faithful and completely innocent. The resurrection was a demonstration, once and for all, of the power of God to overcome all evil in the world.

Perhaps the struggle of the Hebrew people to accept Jesus as the Messiah is not so very different from our own. How could a loving God expect his beloved to endure such a painful and humiliating form of death? One problem with this type of question is that it seems to reflect only the perspective of Jesus being a human being. From the perspective of Jesus as God, the question might be asked: what is God revealing to us about his relationship with a world that is composed of people like the disciples, Peter, Judas, Caiaphas, Pilate, and Herod…?

Reflection Questions:

  1. What is your attitude toward suffering and humiliation?
  2. Have you ever taken on suffering or humiliation in order to be true to yourself or to a value you hold deeply?
  3. Have you ever abandoned your values in order to avoid suffering or humiliation? 
  4. When you experience pain or suffering, do you find that your attention and focus turn inward on yourself and your pain? Does it also make you aware of the suffering of others?
  5. In the gospel text, both Judas and Peter betrayed Jesus and regretted their actions later. What is the difference in the way that each of them dealt with their sorrow? 
  6. Have you ever wept because of your awareness of your sinfulness?
  7. When Jesus prays that he be spared of the ordeal before him, what is he revealing to you about the nature of his relationship to the Father, and the Father’s relationship to Jesus?
  8. What is Jesus revealing to us about his relationship to the Father when he cries out on the cross? What is the Father revealing to you about the Father’s relationship to Jesus?
  9. Where is God in these moments?
  10. What role does a spirituality that includes surrender to God’s will have in your life? Do you think you will experience blessings without accepting discipline?
  11. As you reflect on this gospel text, what are some of the parts that stand out for you today? What would you like to say to God about what God seems to be saying 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.

5th Sunday of Lent

The Raising of Lazarus
Mattia Preti, 1650s, oil on canvas
Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

April 2, 2017
John 11:1-45

Background:

This text is one of the most important texts for the Christian community. It is also one of longest texts that the Church uses for a Sunday gospel. (Only the passion accounts are longer.)

The gospels contain three accounts of Jesus restoring life to the dead. Both Mark and Luke describe the healing of Jairus’ daughter. (Mark 5:22-24, 35-43 and Luke 8:41-42, 49-56) Jairus comes to Jesus while his daughter is still sick and asks Jesus to come and heal her. While they are speaking, the news of death of the young girl arrives. Jesus ignores those who bring the news, as well as those who have already begun to gather to mourn the young girl’s death. He restores the girl to health. The second account of Jesus raising someone to life is only recorded in Luke (7:12-17). In this incident, a widow is leaving the town of Nain to bury her only son who had died sometime during that very day. Jesus encounters the woman and is moved by the situation; he stops the procession and restores life to the woman’s son. Luke does not say how long the man had been dead, but he has certainly been dead longer than Jairus’ daughter. In today’s text, Lazarus has been dead for four days, and the presumption is that the body has already started to decompose to the point that there will be stench if the tomb is unsealed. John wants his community to know the raising of Lazarus is not like the others that are recorded in Mark and Luke. Here Jesus is reinserting the life force back into a body that has stopped functioning.

Another way that John points to the significance of this event is in the way the religious leaders react to what has taken place. In the other gospels, the timing of when the leaders plot ways to kill Jesus is after he goes into the temple and overturns the tables of those selling coins and animals used for making offerings. But in John’s gospel, the Pharisees and high priests come to that decision after Lazarus is raised. The seven verses following the gospel text are:

“But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, ‘What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone, all will believe in him and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation.’ But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.’ He did not say this on his own, but since he was high priest for that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So, from that day on they planned to kill him.” (John 11:46-53)

Lastly, the importance of this text is indicated by the very questions that John states within the text itself and places on the lips of Martha and Mary:

  • Why did Lazarus have to die?
  • If Jesus has the power to cast out demons and cure a man who was born blind, could he not have done something for Lazarus and for all who believe?
  • Why did Jesus have to ascend to heaven and abandon the Christian community?

Both Martha and Mary believed that if Jesus had been there, he would have had the power to do something to prevent Lazarus’ death. (11:21 and 11:32) Both of them, like John’s community, are struggling to understand their faith in Jesus and their experience of death of members of their community who believed that Jesus was the messiah. They struggled to reconcile their faith in Jesus, and what they believed that would mean for them, against their lived experience.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Jesus first speaks of Lazarus as being asleep, rather than saying directly to the disciples that Lazarus had died. Do you ever feel like God is deliberately vague? Does that affect your relationship with God?
  2. The disciples try to deter Jesus from going to Martha and Mary by reminding him that the Jews had recently tried to stone him. How many times in the gospels to recall people trying to kill Jesus? What does this reference to people trying to stone Jesus suggest to you?
  3. When Thomas says to the others, “Let us also go to die with him,” what does it say to you?
  4. Both Martha and Mary say the same thing to Jesus when they encounter him. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” What do you hear each one of them saying to Jesus by this statement? How are they saying the same thing? How might their statements be different, given what you know about each them from the gospel?
  5. Have you ever felt like Martha and Mary; that if God wanted to, God could have prevented a death of a friend or some other terrible thing from happening?
  6. Have you started to think about your own death? Do you have any questions or fears about death, dying, and life after death?
  7. What, in this gospel, seems to strike home with you? Why?
  8. Jesus approaches Jerusalem, the tomb of Lazarus, and his own death with a confidence that is different than those around him. Have you known people who approached their own death with an attitude that is similar to that of Jesus’? Do you know how they were able to develop this kind of attitude?
  9. As you listen to this Gospel text, what do you hear God saying to you? Do you find yourself responding with gratitude, questions, or something entirely different? Can you talk to God about what is taking place within you?

 

 

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

4th Sunday of Lent

March 26, 2017
John 9:1-41

Background:
Being blind is usually associated with one’s inability to see the physical world. The culture in which Jesus lived understood blindness in much broader terms. For example, Luke’s Gospel states that Jesus restored many who were blind. (Luke 7:12) But the Gospel itself only records one instance of curing a physically bind person. However, there are many accounts in Luke and Acts where people refused to see/understand, and there also many times when people chose to come to a new understanding, to see things in a new way.

In this text from John’s Gospel, it is not the healing of a man who has been blind from birth that is the real focus of the text. John describes that incident in the first seven verses. The majority of the text is devoted to those who are trying to make sense of what has happened. Even the man’s neighbors are confused about what has taken place. Some can not even believe that he was really the same person.

Therefore, the text is really about the confusion and the struggle to understand what has taken place, and its meaning. The man himself knows what took place, but he struggles with what it means. The Pharisees struggle to understand both what actually took place, and also what it means. First, they question the man himself, and ask how it is that he is now able to see. Then they question if he was actually born blind. Nowhere in text does anyone question whether the blind man has been healed. The struggle is about what this event means for people. The Pharisees focus on the fact that the healing took place on the Sabbath. In their understanding, to heal is work, which was forbidden on the Sabbath. To them, this means Jesus must not be from God, because no one from God would work on a Sabbath, and Jesus did, so he must be a sinner. Once they come to this conclusion, they look for ways to support their position. In contrast, the man himself struggles with who this is that has brought him sight. In the beginning of the text he only knows him as the man, Jesus (verse 11). Eventually he comes to look on Jesus as a prophet (verse 17). At the end of the text he sees Jesus as the “Son of Man” (verse 36).

Throughout his gospel, John uses nameless people to represent the Christians of his community. Many in John’s community would have been Jews who were expelled from the synagogue for their belief in Jesus as the Messiah. They were considered blind or misguided by their fellow Jews. This text speaks to them of their experience of coming to believe in Jesus. Jesus was the light of the world and gave true meaning to life.

Reflection Questions:

  1. How do you respond when you encounter someone who is blind? How do you respond when you encounter people who seem to be blind to some truth of their life?
  2. Can you identify the effects of sinfulness in your own life, in your family, and in your community? Have there been times when you were blind to those effects?
  3. Can you also identify the effects of grace in your own life, and in the lives of your family and your community?
  4. At the beginning of the Gospel text, the man is blind, a beggar, and an outcast. At the end of the text, he is still an outcast, and probably still a beggar. What has changed? Is the path of his change giving you insights about how God may be leading you to a fuller relationship with God?
  5. Although Jesus has done something unheard of in his day, restoring the sight of one born blind, this outpouring of compassion and healing leaves room for people to be confused and to wonder about its meaning. What does that say to you about how God desires to be present to us?
  6. Are you aware of areas in your own life where you have been blind? Were there things that you did to hold on to your blindness? What are some things/events that led to you recognize your blindness? Are there people who helped you to recognize your blindness?
  7. What parts of this text do you find appealing? Are there also parts of this text that are disturbing or difficult?
  8. Jesus does not seem to be put off by being the source of confusion; in fact, at the end of the text, he comes forward to the man who has received sight to be present to him in an even more significant way. Are there places where you would like to invite Jesus, to bring his light to your confusion?

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

3rd Sunday of Lent

Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the WellMarch 19, 2017
John 4:5-42

Background:

Among Scripture scholars there is doubt about the historical base for this encounter. There is no evidence in the other three gospels that Jesus ever traveled into Samaria to preach. In fact, as Jesus is sending out the apostles in Matthew, he forbids them to venture into pagan or Samaritan regions. “Jesus sent out these twelve after instructing them thus, ‘Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’” (Matthew 10:5-6) However, there is evidence the apostles themselves went into the Samaritan areas, to proclaim the reign of God and that Jesus was the Messiah. In the Acts of the Apostles, John states that after the stoning of Steven, Philip went to Samaria to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. (Acts 8:5)

The gospel text for today turns on the images of water, faith, light, life and death. It is chosen to help those who are preparing for Baptism at the Easter Vigil, prompting them to reflect on these elements of our faith. The text also helps the rest of the Christian community to reflect on our own faith journey that leads us to accept Baptism, and on our own struggle to live out that faith in our lives.

A key element in the story is the breaking of traditionally accepted norms of behavior. As the woman herself notes, Jesus should not have spoken to an unescorted woman and a Samaritan. But she should not have been at the well in the middle of the day either. In a society that is strictly gender separated, women went to the well in the morning and evening, men went during the day. However, the other women of the town probably did not accept this woman because of her relations with men. It is Jesus who engages her by asking for a drink. He then repeatedly engages her in conversation about issues that men discussed only with other men: politics and religion. As their discussion unfolds, there are several places where Jesus could have broken off their conversation, but he did not. Again, social norms are broken when the woman goes into town to tell others about her encounter with Jesus. The market was the place where men gathered, especially in the middle of the day. Her presence there, and addressing them, would be another break with traditional norms of moral behavior.

Why would Jesus behave in such a way that would cause scandal and jeopardize his credibility? John hints at the answer to that in Jesus’ response to the disciples. In verse 27 the disciples come upon Jesus speaking with the woman. They wonder why he would be talking to her, but they do not ask. Instead, they invite him to eat something. He declines, telling them: “I have food to eat of which you do not know. My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.” Jesus does not need their food because he draws real nourishment from doing the will of the Father. Jesus stopped at this well with his disciples because he was hungry and thirsty. As the text unfolds, his human hunger and thirst led him into a hunger and thirst for the food and drink that is only satisfied by doing God’s will. The journey from human desire to God’s desire is unfolding in both Jesus and the woman.

As the catechumens prepare for their Baptism, they, too, are being invited to reflect on how human desire has led them to desire deeper things, the things of God. They are being invited to experience, in Jesus, the God who deeply desires to stop and encounter all who are thirsting. We who are baptized into the water of life have already discovered this reality. We now take on penance and sacrifices to again experience our human thirsting, which leads, once more, to the waters of Baptism and to the table of the Eucharist.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What do you imagine noon time in Sychar to be like?
  2. What do you think this woman’s everyday experience of Jewish men would have been like?
  3. When was the last time you were really thirsty? What do you recall about that experience?
  4. What are the things that you thirst/long for?
  5. Have there been times in your life when you have been so engaged that you were unaware of your bodily needs for things like food or sleep?
  6. This woman, an outcast, led others to recognize Jesus and to a new understanding of their relationship with Yahweh. Have you had an experience where someone you looked on as an outcast helped you to see your relationship with God differently?
  7. Later, as John tells of the events of the passion, he will say: “…aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I thirst.” (John 19: 28) How do you hear that statement in light of this text?
  8. What qualities does this woman possess that allowed her to have this dialogue with Jesus?
  9. Where in your experience do encounter a Church willing to set aside social norms in order to encounter its people?

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

2nd Sunday of Lent

March 12, 2017
Matthew 17:1-9

 

Background:

For the first Sunday of Lent, the Church always uses one of the gospel accounts of Jesus being tempted in the desert. In a similar fashion, the second Sunday of Lent always uses one of the accounts of the Transfiguration of Jesus. This year, those accounts come from Matthew’s gospel. Matthew has arranged his account of Jesus’ encounter with the tempter so that for the last temptation, Satan takes Jesus “up to a very high mountain” (Matt 4:8).  Once again, for the transfiguration, Jesus and the disciples are on a very high mountain. This time Jesus is in the company of Moses and Elijah, and it is the voice of God that the disciples hear as they prepare to leave. Matthew has structured his descriptions of Jesus’ temptation and transfiguration so that there are some common themes.

The mountain is a place of special encounter with God, and the connection with Moses and the events of the exodus are the backdrop as Matthew describes the Transfiguration. Matthew describes Jesus by building on the community’s understanding of Moses’ role in relation with Yahweh. But he also wants his audience to know that Jesus is much more than a new Moses. While the faces of both Moses and Jesus became radiant from their encounter with God, it is only Jesus’ garments that also “became white as light.” Matthew not only links the Transfiguration to Jesus’ Baptism, but also to his Passion and Resurrection. When Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go to the tomb, they encounter an angel who is described as appearing like lightning, with clothing as white as snow. (Matt 28:3)

The first response of the disciples at the Transfiguration is a desire to stay in this moment (on the mountain), and then they move to being fearful when God speaks from the cloud. Peter, James, and John are privileged to experience their own “mountaintop encounter” with God. They see Jesus transfigured before them, alongside the greatest prophet (Elijah) and the greatest lawgiver (Moses) of their tradition. Of course they want to stay there! In their mind, what experience of God would be greater than this? But then comes the fear, the response of one who is actually in the presence of God. When the disciples are once again in the grips of fear after the crucifix, Jesus’ response to them then, as it is here, is a reassuring touch, and the words “Do not be afraid.”

“And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid.’ Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” (Matt 28:9-10)

As Matthew ends the Transfiguration account, he links it to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and to the culmination of his ministry. In the closing line of the text, Jesus tells the disciples:

“Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man had been raised from the dead.”

Reflection Questions:

  1. What is your experience of climbing mountains?
  2. Have there been times when you felt like you were in a very special relationship with God? Did that feeling last?
  3. Have you ever experienced fear when you were in God’s presence?
  4. What are some the things that might have been going through the minds of Peter, James, and John as they were climbing up the mountain with Jesus?
  5. What do you think was going through the minds of the disciples as they were coming down the mountain to return to the other disciples and to their journey to Jerusalem?
  6. Do you desire the experience of Transfiguration, or are you content to “wait at the bottom” with the other disciples? How does your answer here find expression in the way you live?
  7. Do you have a vision of what you would like your relationship with God to be like?
  8. As you reflect on this text today, what would you like to say to God about your experience today?

 

 

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

1st Sunday of Lent

March 5, 2017
Matthew 4:1-11

BACKGROUND:

For the past several weeks the gospel readings have dealt with Jesus teaching the disciples what it means to be his followers. As we begin Lent, the Gospel text takes a dramatic shift. The first Sunday of Lent always presents an account of Jesus being directly temped by the devil. The second Sunday of Lent is an account of the Transfiguration. This year the Transfiguration text comes from Matthew 17:1-9. The next three gospel texts will be taken from John’s Gospel: John 4:5-42, the Samaritan woman at the well; John 9:1-41, curing of the man born blind; and John 11:1-45, raising Lazarus. The last Sunday of Lent is Passion Sunday. That gospel will be from Matthew 26:12-27:66.

As Matthew presents the sequence of events of Jesus’ temptation, it follows on Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:13-17). Matthew describes Jesus coming out of the water and “God descending like a dove [and] coming upon him. And a voice comes from the heavens, saying ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’.” (Matt 3:16-17) Matthew then describes Jesus being led by the spirit into the desert to be tempted. The description of Jesus’ temptation is the gospel text for this Sunday.

Matthew’s community assumed the presence of evil in ways that most modern readers might dismiss as naive or even fanatical. They believed that there was an abundance of evil spirits whose main pastime was interacting with humans, sometimes with a surprising blessing, but often with ill intentions. In order to ward off the ill effects of these spirits, people relied on objects and ritual actions and prayers that were believed to have protective powers. This spirit world also enjoyed its own way of communication and being connected, so that whatever happened was in part known by other spirits.  That fact that God had spoken, of Jesus, that this one was his beloved Son with whom he was well pleased would naturally draw a response from others in the spirit world. Other spirits would want to know if Jesus was indeed worthy of such praise, and tempt him in such ways that he might lose his favored status.

With this being their understanding, it is no surprise for the people for whom Matthew is writing, that, following the baptism, Jesus is tempted by the devil. What is surprising is that Jesus does not rely on any of the things that they would have used to protect them from the powers of the spirit world. Even after he has fasted for forty days, and is hungry and vulnerable on many levels, Jesus faces His tempter unaided.

Matthew is also making use of the community’s familiarity with the events of the Exodus from Egypt. All the responses of Jesus to the temptations are quotations from the description of Israel’s wandering in the desert as recorded in Book of Deuteronomy (8:3, 6:16 and 6:13). Jesus’ temptation and the exodus both take place in the desert, the place normally associated with the evil spirits. They would also recognize that Israel spent 40 years in the desert, and Jesus has been fasting in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights. Matthew is building a connection between the experience of their ancestors in faith and the experience of Jesus.

Matthew also rearranges Luke’s account of the temptations so that the last temptation places Jesus on a very high mountain. Mountains were places of revelation, and the story of Moses’ encounter with God on the mountain was familiar to everyone as Matthew describes Jesus’ last encounter. (Next week, Matthew’s gospel will again place Jesus on a high mountain with three of the disciples for the transfiguration. Matthew’s community knew well the tradition that the mountain was the place where God revealed the relationship God desired to have with them as the chosen people.)

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. What is your experience of evil in your own life and in the world around you?
  2. What do you rely on to protect you from the power of evil?
  3. How do you experience occasions of temptation? Have you ever been tempted to do something that you felt was not only sinful but also evil?
  4. What does the kind of temptation that Jesus faced suggest to you?
  5. Jesus is tempted to use his status as beloved Son of God for his own purposes, to ease his hunger, experience God’s protection, and to be treated as one above others. In his rejection of the temptations, he refused to use his status as highly favored Son of God, and instead he demonstrates his choice to be one of us, even in being tempted. What does that say to you?
  6. Why is it that the Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted?
  7. As you reflect on this text, what sense of yourself and your relationship with God come to the fore within you? What would you like to say to God from that awareness?

 

 

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

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 26, 2017
Matthew 6:24-34

Background:

At the time when Jesus lived, it was not uncommon for families to have servants. When the patriarch of the family died, he might leave one servant to two different sons. That servant had to divide his time and allegiance between both sons. This was not an easy task and would make Jesus’ teaching very interesting for the people of the day. When Jesus talks about loving one master and hating the other, he is not speaking of the affectionate kind of love which comes to mind when most westerners hear the word. Jesus would have used the term “love” as an expression of attachment or loyalty.

In the second part of the gospel Jesus also used examples that would relate to both the men and the women who would have heard him teaching. The Aramaic word for birds is masculine, and the work that Jesus refers to with birds in his teaching, sowing, reaping, and gathering would have been the tasks of the men in his day. The word for lilies of the field is feminine, and the tasks Jesus associates with the lilies, spinning and making clothes were the tasks of women of the day. Without embarrassing anyone, Jesus makes his point and he exhorts them to trust in God to care for them, both the men and the women. The vast majority of the people were peasants who lived from day to day. They experienced on a daily basis a God who provided for them, and they also saw many whose basic needs were not provided for. They would have heard Jesus’ words of reassurance and his call to trust in the goodness of God from a much different life experience than many of us do.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Where in your life are you trying to live two different sets of values or expectations?
  2. What are the different groups that expect your loyalty?
  3. Have there been times when you had a strong sense of God’s care for you?
  4. Have you ever chosen to walk with another who was in a stressful period of their life? Why did you make that decision? What happened to you because of that decision?
  5. Have there also been times when you felt a great sense of worry or dread? What helped you to move on past those feelings?
  6. What are the things you that you worry about? What are the things you do not let yourself worry about?
  7. When was the last time you put a problem or situation into God’s hands? What happened?
  8. How do you think the homeless, immigrants, and chronically under-employed hear Jesus’ statement of reassurance?
  9. As you hear this gospel today, what stirs inside of you? How might God be acting in that response? What would you like to say to God as you become aware of your response to this gospel?

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

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 19, 2017
Matthew 5:38-48

Background:

Today’s gospel follows on the text from last week’s Gospel. It is part of the much larger instruction that Jesus gave to his disciples known as the Sermon on the Mount, which began with the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3). The structure of Jesus’ teaching is the same as last week.  He starts with a statement that is familiar from the tradition, and then he elaborates on his understanding of how that teaching should be lived by his disciples.

This group of teachings began with Jesus’ statement: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17) It appears that Jesus is responding to those who questioned his faithfulness to their traditions. His response here, and last week, is that he is not contradicting the tradition that has been handed down, but rather his teaching is a deepening of the attitude that lies beneath that tradition.

The familiar injunction “an eye for eye” that Jesus quotes in verse 38 was not meant as a sanction on revenge, but instead to limit what people who felt wronged or humiliated would do to retaliate.  Jesus’ teaching surpasses just limiting acts of violence. He tells his disciples to replace a spirit of resentment with a spirit of generosity. To appreciate how radical Jesus’ teaching is, it would be helpful to understand the culture of Jesus’ time.

The Jews of the day lived under Roman rule. To go to court with a countryman was an embarrassment because they were submitting to the authority of their occupiers. Jesus makes his point even more dramatic by using a person’s coat and tunic for the matter to be disputed. A person’s coat was not only an essential piece of clothing, but it also served as a blanket or sleeping bag at night. If a person offered a coat when they had nothing else to offer as collateral in a promise, that coat had to be returned before nightfall so that the person had something to keep him warm at night. When Jesus suggests that if someone has the audacity to ask for a person’s tunic, they should give him their coat as well, he implies they would be left standing before them naked, without protection and under the weight of cultural norms that said that you did not behave toward another in this manner. 

The other example Jesus uses in his teaching against retaliation is that of a soldier, who could demand that a citizen carry his armor for a mile. The typical soldier was a fellow Israelite who had sold his services to Rome as a mercenary. He could ask a civilian of the day to carry his heavy pack of armor for one mile, but no more. To carry the armor of a fellow Jew who was now serving Rome was humiliating. Everyone knew that—the mercenary, the person forced into service, and all those who witnessed it. But to then volunteer to carry the pack of armor a second mile throws the system of power and shame out of balance. The soldier loses his ability to bully another, and receives a freely given act of service by a fellow countryman who is treating him with respect and not as a hated mercenary.

On the surface, Jesus may seem to be advocating that his disciples accept passively their fate, even if they find themselves the victim of an injustice by a person or a system. Such a reading of this text proves to be a bit naïve.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Do you have memories of being publicly offended? What kind of feelings arise within you as you think of those incidents?
  2. How seriously do you think Jesus expected his disciples to take these teachings? Is there a difference between seriously and literally?
  3. Why would Jesus instruct his disciples to act in ways that very few if any could succeed in living?
  4. How seriously do you take these teachings? How does that get expressed in the choices you make?
  5. What effect does hardship and suffering have on you? Has hardship and suffering ever led to a transformation within you?
  6. As you hear Jesus’ instruction to his disciples, what feelings arise within you?
  7. If you could pull Jesus aside, what would you like to say to him about his teaching here in this gospel?

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