Second Sunday of Advent

December 10, 2017
Mark 1:1-8

 

Background:

Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark’s gospel does not begin with a genealogy. Such a genealogy would explain why this carpenter from a small town of Nazareth is worthy of a proclamation, a gospel.  In Jesus’ day a proclamation was about the birth of a royal son or a military victory. When Mark’s first verse is “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” the people of the day would ask, “Who is this Jesus Christ?” The phrase “son of” would be understood to mean “having the qualities of.” Jesus is being proclaimed as having the qualities of God. Therefore, his birth must be proclaimed.

After the proclamation, Mark quotes the great prophet Isaiah, and he also draws on and reworks the prophet Malachi: “Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me… And suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek, and the messenger of the covenant whom you desire. Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. Lo, I will send you Elijah, the prophet, before the day of the LORD comes, the great and terrible day…” (Malachi 3:1, 23). Mark introduces John as the one who prepares for the coming of Jesus. When the people of Israel were freed from Egyptian slavery, they were first led by God into the desert before they entered the promised land. This exodus experience becomes the model of liberation and encounter with God by which the Jews understand God working in and throughout their history. Mark draws on this understanding in presenting John the Baptist, the one in the desert who was preparing the way for one who has the qualities of God.

Unlike the Essenes, who practiced a ritual of washing that was meant only for those of their community, John’s baptism is for everyone. The extent to which people respond to John indicates the spiritual hunger of the people. They may have gone to see the man who was clothed in camel hair and ate locusts. But they responded to his message by being baptized and by committing to making changes in their lives. They were committing themselves to live a more faithful relationship to God. No doubt the approaching “day of the Lord,” with its judgment and its time when debts would be forgiven, would have motivated some. Unlike the Essenes, who became an isolated ascetical desert community who also waited for the day of the Lord, John’s message was focused on people returning to their families and their communities with a renewed dedication to their relationship with God.

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. Who are the people who have called you to live more deeply your relationship with God?
  2. What have been your experiences of being in a personal or spiritual desert or emotional desert?
  3. How do you experience waiting in your life? Is the experience of waiting different now than it was ten years ago??
  4. Where do you experience hope?
  5. John preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Why was that attractive to so many people of this day?
  6. Can you take some time to talk to God about your desire to have him come into your life in a fuller and more meaningful way, or about what keeps you from entering fully into that desire, or about some other aspect of your relationship with God that arises from this gospel?

 

 

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

1st Sunday of Advent

Reapers, Noonday Rest 1865 John Linnell 1792-1882

December 3, 2017
Mark 13:33-37

 

Background:

With the first Sunday of Advent, a new liturgical year begins. During this liturgical year, most of the gospels will be drawn from the Gospel of Mark. Because Mark is the shortest of the gospels, some texts will also come from the Gospel of John. Drawing on John’s Gospel during this liturgical year helps the church have a fuller appreciation of John’s Gospel, which is generally only used during Lent and Eastertide.  This year, only the first two Sundays of Advent will have gospels from Mark’s Gospel.

The gospel texts for Advent reflect a longing for the presence of God, and they invite each person to be in touch with their own longing for God’s presence. In the time of Jesus, people lived primarily in the present. Jesus exhorted his followers not to “worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will have worries of its own, Today’s troubles are enough for today.” (Matthew 6:34) Their instruments for measuring time were less sophisticated and less accurate. Daily life and survival demanded that people pay attention to the tasks at hand. Suggesting that people look toward the future, even the near future, required a significant shift in thinking. Mark’s emphasis on the need to be vigilant for the time when the Master will return would have been strange for Jesus and for the people of the day.

The word “servant” in the text would probably be more accurately translated as “slave.” While slaves were a common part of the social fabric of Jesus’ time, they did not endure the type of slavery that many assume when they hear the word. Slaves in this culture were considered integral members of the household. Also, women and children could be sold into slavery in order to pay off a family debt. Slaves who were part of a Christian house were cautioned against taking advantage of that fact that they were “brothers” or “sisters” of their masters. The Jews with whom Jesus lived would have also understood themselves as being slaves of God. Because God had freed them from their slavery to the Egyptians, God had become their new Master.

The hours that are mentioned in the parable–evening, midnight, cockcrow, and morning– were the hours of watch for the Roman soldiers. Palestinians would have used first, second, and third watch.  They were the times when it was dark and people were most vulnerable to attack from an enemy. Jesus is exhorting his disciples to be like soldiers, standing guard against any attempt from an evil enemy who might try to take advantage of the vulnerability of those who are asleep. By remaining vigilant, the disciple remains strong to protect the relationship with the Master.

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. Who greets you when you return from a long absence? How would you characterize your experience?
  2. When in your life have you been most watchful?
  3. What is your experience of being entrusted with responsibility in the absence of another? Does that responsibility feel different for you than your own responsibilities?
  4. Do you know people who are so busy with the tasks of the day that they do not have time or energy to think about the future?
  5. How would the Season of Advent be different if the Church focus moved from us, who are waiting for Jesus’ return, to God, who is waiting for the fullness of God to be present in our lives?
  6. What happens within you as the Church enters the season of Advent this year? How is it the same as previous years, and how is it different?
  7. Jesus exhorts his followers to be watchful, alert, and awake. What are the different ways this exhortation might be meant?
  8. In what way do you need to hear Jesus’ exhortation to be watchful, alert, and awake at this point in your life journey?
  9. Can you talk to God about the place in your own life where you need to hear the words of Jesus in today’s gospel, about your efforts to be watchful, or about some other aspect of your life that you need to bring to God?

 

 

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

Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus, Christ the King

November 26, 2017
Matthew 25:31-46

 

Background:

The last Sunday of the Liturgical Year is always the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus, Christ the King. The gospels for last two Sundays have been preparing us for this text, which is an image of the end time when all will come before God. The parable of the ten virgins waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom encouraged the Christian community to remain vigilant. The parable of the master who gave his three servants talents to use while he was absent asks the Christian community to recognize that they have been richly blessed beyond their wildest dreams and to reflect on how they have used those blessings.

Equally important to what has gone before this gospel text is what follows in Matthew’s gospel. From this point forward, the final events of Jesus’ life will be described. Matthew begins the next chapter “When Jesus finished all these words, he said to his disciples, ‘You know that in two days’ time it will be Passover, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.’ Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and they consulted together to arrest Jesus by treachery and put him to death. But they said, ‘not during the festival, that there may not be a riot among the people,” (Matthew 26:1-5) The next thing Matthew describes is the anointing of Jesus’ head with costly perfumed oil. Jesus remarks that this had been done in preparation for his burial. As Matthew unfolds the events of Jesus’ passion and death, the vision of Christ as King stands in stark contrast to the events that will follow. There is a contradiction between who Jesus really is and the events of his last days. That contradiction can help the disciples live faithfully with the contradictions in their own lives.

The image of a shepherd separating sheep and goats would be familiar to people in Matthew’s community. Sheep and goats were the first animals to be domesticated. During the day they were pastured together. At night the sheep could be left outside but goats needed to be brought inside to protect them from the cold. Sheep, when slaughtered, seemed to accept their fate and did not cry out. This was looked upon as a manly quality to be able to endure the hardships of life without complaint.

The “sheep” are gathered on the favored right side because they are more valuable. The criteria for being on the right or the left are not prayer, ritual observance, belief, or even outstanding generosity or compassion. Being counted among the favored requires that one has provided the most basic of human needs for another: food, water, clothing, and visiting the sick and imprisoned. Even though both the blessed and the accursed did not recognize Jesus, he identifies himself with the “least brothers.”

Earlier in the gospel, Jesus states that those who receive his disciples as they go about preaching will be rewarded. “And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple–amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42) There is also a sense in Matthew that those who come in the name of God come with the authority of the one who sends them. “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” (Matthew 10:40) Here, the text suggests that caring for the needs of the little ones or choosing to ignore their need is taken, by Christ, as a sign of one’s acceptance/rejection of His Kingdom.

 

Reflection Questions

  1. Try to imagine the scene as Matthew describes it in the first two verses of the text: The Son of Man in glory, all the angels are present, the throne, and every person of every nation is assembled. Pretend for a few minutes that you have the means to commission a group of artists to capture this scene on a large wall. What would you tell your artists that you wanted included in the image?
  2. When you think of the people that you encounter in a normal day, how and why does your notice of them change?
  3. Who are the “least” in your world?
  4. Why is it that both those who are called “blessed” and those who are called “accursed” did not recognize the Lord in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, or the naked?
  5. “… Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” What kind of relationship does God seem to have with those who are thirsty, hungry, naked, and strangers?
  6. Do you ever read the Catholic Church social encyclicals, or the lives of people who have made a difference to the poor?
  7. Why do you think the Church has selected this text for the feast of Christ the King?
  8. Can you talk to God about how you feel about this parable as an image of the coming of Jesus in glory, about a God who separates some from others, or about a God who seems to not be recognizable even to the “blessed”?

 

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

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Willem de Poorters The Parable of The Talents or Minas

November 19, 2017
Matthew 25:14-30

Background:

In the parable that is our text for this Sunday, the Master is going on a long journey and giving each of his servants an unbelievable sum of money. A talent was the equivalent of 6,000 denarii and one denarius was the usual daily wage. Even the servant who received one talent has received an enormous amount of money. The difference in the amount each has received is not the issue. The Master has placed a great amount of trust in each of the servants. The first two servants are very industrious and have found ways to double the master’s wealth. The last, however, has protected the master’s wealth out of fear, but returns it in full. He has not used what was given him so that it would increase.

When Jesus was telling the original parable, those who were hearing it would have been peasants who had little or no wealth. For them, a person who had so much wealth that he could have divided it among three servants would have been scandalous. It would have been presumed that the wealth was gotten by depriving others, or if not, the master should have used his wealth to expand his reputation by sponsoring others in the community who had little. But instead, this one expects that the servants return what has been entrusted to them, with a profit. For the average person to whom Jesus told the parables, this story makes little or no sense. The parable only works as a story about something other than material wealth.

The 25th chapter of Matthew consists of three parables about the coming of the reign of God. The first parable is the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) that was the gospel text last Sunday. The second parable is of the generous master who shares his wealth with his servants (Matthew 25:14-30); it is the gospel text for this Sunday. The last parable is that of the final judgment, when Jesus separates the sheep from the goats according to how they have treated the least among them (Matthew 25:31-46.) This parable will be the text for next Sunday, the feast of Christ the King. Matthew begins the 26th chapter with Jesus speaking to his disciples of his approaching betrayal and death. “When Jesus had finished all these words, he said to his disciples, ‘You know that in two days’ time it will be Passover, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.’” (Matthew 26:1-2) By the end of the 26th chapter Jesus is arrested, and Peter has denied him three times. It will be helpful to understand these parables in light of their context in Matthew’s gospel, and in light of how the early Christians reflected on them to shed light on their own relationship to God.

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. What talents and gifts has God given to you?
  2. Are there times when you are more aware of the talents and gifts of others than of your own? What is happening around and within you during those times?
  3. How is the attitude of the first two servants toward their master different from that of the last servant? Of the two different attitudes, which seems to be closer to the one you seem to live most of your life?
  4. What kind of temptations might arise because the master is a long time in returning?
  5. Do you value your faith relationship with God as a gift to you? What do you do to protect that gift, nurture it, and foster its development?
  6. Do you think God expects you to develop and share with others the gifts that you have been given?
  7. When do you experience God’s invitation to “come share your Master’s joy?”
  8. When do you experience God’s saying that you are a “wicked, lazy servant?”
  9. Can you take some time to talk to God about how you feel about the gifts that you have been given, how you experience God’s desire for you, or what you hear God saying to you in this gospel?

 

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

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Shannon, Charles Haslewood; The Wise and Foolish Virgins; Herbert Art Gallery Museum

 

November 12, 2017
Matthew 25:1-13

Background:

The parable of the ten virgins is told with an understanding of the typical wedding of the day in mind. At the time when this parable was being told by Jesus, and retold by the early Christians, and finally recorded as part of the gospels, a wedding usually unfolded in stages. The marriage was arranged by the families, often while the children were still young. With the betrothal, the couple was technically married, but each continued to live with their own families. When all the financial matters were worked out between the two families, the groom then went to take the bride into his home, to consummate the wedding and for them to begin to live as husband and wife. This is when the celebration began. The virgins in the gospel were most likely part of the bridal procession, waiting for the arrival of the groom and standing as witnesses to the consummation of the marriage.

The wedding banquet in the parable is being used as a symbol that God is preparing for the faithful at the end of time. Jesus himself uses the wedding banquet as a symbol of the end time fulfillment. (Matthew 22:1-2, this was the gospel text for October 9.) Another symbol is the fact that they are waiting in darkness, without knowing when their vigil will be ended. Lastly, the separation that occurs between the faithful and foolish bridesmaids can be permanent.

The parable stresses the point that it is their preparedness that separates the wise from the foolish. Both the wise and the foolish have been invited to keep vigil, both have brought their lamps, both have fallen asleep. The only thing that separates them is the fact that the wise have made adequate preparations. When you take note that the wise did not give of their surplus oil to the foolish, this suggests that whatever it is that one must do to be prepared for the coming is not something that one person can do for another. Everyone must make his or her own preparations.

 

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. What did you do to prepare for the last wedding that you attended?
  2. The parable begins by stating “the kingdom of heaven will be like…” When the parable begins this way, do you understand it to be more about the reign of God after Jesus’ return at the end of time, or the reign of God that began with Jesus’ conception as the infant to be born of Mary?
  3. In the parable, all the virgins are said to have fallen asleep. How do you relate to that part of this parable?
  4. When you think about times in your life when you have been awake to God’s presence in your life, can you identify things that have helped you to be awake to God’s presence?
  5. In a similar way, have there been times when you were asleep to the presence of God in your life, and can you identify things within you that have contributed to that lack of awareness?
  6. Do you ever think God might be trying to come into your life in ways or places that you are not expecting?
  7. Can you take some time and talk to God about the unexpected arrival of the bridegroom, or the virgins falling asleep, or some other aspect of the parable that arises within you as you hear this parable?

 

 

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

31st Sunday of Ordinary Time

October 29, 2017
Matthew 22: 34-40

 

Background:

Last week’s gospel reading recounted Jesus dealing with the potentially embarrassing questions of the scribes and the Herodians. This week, a lawyer who is one of the Pharisees takes his turn with a question. Between this Sunday’s gospel text and last week’s text, Matthew recounts the Sadducees approaching Jesus with their attempt to discredit Jesus. The Sadducees did not believe in life after death, so they proposed a situation where a woman was taken as a wife by seven brothers in turn, in order to conceive an heir for the family. The woman and all seven brothers die childless. Their question is, “Whose wife will the woman be in the next life?” (Matthew 22:23-33). All these questions are meant to embarrass and discredit Jesus in the eyes of the people. 

While Jesus is being challenged by Jewish leaders of his day, do not be too quick to judge these leaders unfairly in their attacks. Remember that in Matthew’s gospel it is Jesus himself who started the confrontation with the parables he told. In the parable of the two sons, (Matthew 21:28-32) the Jewish leaders are represented by the first son who said he would go to work in the vineyard, but did not. In the parable about the landowner and the servants, (Matthew 21:33-46) they are presented as the servants who rejected the message, who beat those sent by the landowner to collect his share of the harvest, and who kill his son hoping to gain control of the property. In the parable about the king’s feast, (Matthew 22:1-14) they are the invited guests who refused to attend the wedding banquet.

 

The question that is put to Jesus in this text is not new. The Law included 613 commandments, 365 prohibitions (one for each day of the year), and 268 prescriptions (one for each bone in the human body). Each was considered binding because they were given by God to Moses. It would be unrealistic to expect a person to remember them all. Therefore, it was common to either condense the commandments into a number of summary statements, or to identify the more important commandments. King David has suggested eleven (Ps 15), the great prophet Isaiah proposed six (Isaiah 33:15), the prophet Micah had three (Micah 6:8), and Amos reduced them all to a single one (Amos 5:4). Others dealt with the 613 commandments by classifying some as heavy commandments and others as light. “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord, your God, has commanded you, that you may have a long life and prosperity in the land which the Lord, your God, has given you.” (Deuteronomy 5:16) was considered a heavy commandment. “If, while walking along, you chance upon a bird’s nest with young birds or eggs in it, in any tree or on the ground, and the mother bird is sitting on them, you shall let her go, although you may take her brood away” (Deuteronomy 22:6) was considered a light commandment. The way that Matthew presents the lawyer’s question in the gospel makes it clear that it is part of the effort to discredit him, but the question itself is based in a long tradition of making livable one’s relationship with God, and it was at least in part based in observance of the 613 commandments.

 

Jesus’ response to the lawyer’s questions is not original. The two commandments that Jesus draws on for his response are found in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. The linking of the two commandments can be found in at least one earlier Jewish work. Perhaps what is most radical about Jesus’ response is not apparent until one reflects about Jesus’ ministry and other teachings. It has to do with who Jesus understood to be one’s neighbor. The people that Jesus was addressing would have considered their neighbor to be their family, extended family, neighbors, and fellow Jews. The command to love was a command to be in a relationship that was characterized by loyalty, respect, and care for their welfare. Love described a code of behavior, not an emotional attachment. As Jesus’ ministry unfolds, it is clear that Jesus treats many as his neighbor who would have been considered outsiders by the people of the day. 

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. There are people with whom your lived situation (work, classmates, neighbors, volunteers, etc.) brings you into relationship with. To what extent do you operate with a sense of loyalty and regard for their well being?
  2. Have there been people who tried to discredit your reputation or embarrass you?
  3. Who have been the people in your life who have really tested you? How did you respond to them? How are you a better person for their presence in your life?
  4. If you looked to how Jesus lived his life for examples of how to love your neighbor, what incidents come to mind?
  5. If you look again at Jesus’ life for examples of how he loved God with his whole heart, soul, and mind, what comes to mind?
  6. Lastly, if you looked at Jesus for examples of how to love yourself, what would come to mind?
  7. What stands out for you as you hear Jesus’ summary of the commandments? Where do you feel challenged? Where do you feel encouraged?
  8. When you think of how love of God and love of neighbor are actually lived in your daily life, how are they similar and how are they different?
  9. Can you take some time to talk to God about your desire to love God, your desire to love your neighbor, or your effort to love yourself?

 

 

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

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

October 29, 2017
Matthew 22: 34-40

 

Background:

Last week’s gospel reading recounted Jesus dealing with the potentially embarrassing questions of the scribes and the Herodians. This week, a lawyer who is one of the Pharisees takes his turn with a question. Between this Sunday’s gospel text and last week’s text, Matthew recounts the Sadducees approaching Jesus with their attempt to discredit Jesus. The Sadducees did not believe in life after death, so they proposed a situation where a woman was taken as a wife by seven brothers in turn, in order to conceive an heir for the family. The woman and all seven brothers die childless. Their question is, “Whose wife will the woman be in the next life?” (Matthew 22:23-33). All these questions are meant to embarrass and discredit Jesus in the eyes of the people. 

While Jesus is being challenged by Jewish leaders of his day, do not be too quick to judge these leaders unfairly in their attacks. Remember that in Matthew’s gospel it is Jesus himself who started the confrontation with the parables he told. In the parable of the two sons, (Matthew 21:28-32) the Jewish leaders are represented by the first son who said he would go to work in the vineyard, but did not. In the parable about the landowner and the servants, (Matthew 21:33-46) they are presented as the servants who rejected the message, who beat those sent by the landowner to collect his share of the harvest, and who kill his son hoping to gain control of the property. In the parable about the king’s feast, (Matthew 22:1-14) they are the invited guests who refused to attend the wedding banquet.

The question that is put to Jesus in this text is not new. The Law included 613 commandments, 365 prohibitions (one for each day of the year), and 268 prescriptions (one for each bone in the human body). Each was considered binding because they were given by God to Moses. It would be unrealistic to expect a person to remember them all. Therefore, it was common to either condense the commandments into a number of summary statements, or to identify the more important commandments. King David has suggested eleven (Ps 15), the great prophet Isaiah proposed six (Isaiah 33:15), the prophet Micah had three (Micah 6:8), and Amos reduced them all to a single one (Amos 5:4). Others dealt with the 613 commandments by classifying some as heavy commandments and others as light. “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord, your God, has commanded you, that you may have a long life and prosperity in the land which the Lord, your God, has given you.” (Deuteronomy 5:16) was considered a heavy commandment. “If, while walking along, you chance upon a bird’s nest with young birds or eggs in it, in any tree or on the ground, and the mother bird is sitting on them, you shall let her go, although you may take her brood away” (Deuteronomy 22:6) was considered a light commandment. The way that Matthew presents the lawyer’s question in the gospel makes it clear that it is part of the effort to discredit him, but the question itself is based in a long tradition of making livable one’s relationship with God, and it was at least in part based in observance of the 613 commandments.

Jesus’ response to the lawyer’s questions is not original. The two commandments that Jesus draws on for his response are found in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. The linking of the two commandments can be found in at least one earlier Jewish work. Perhaps what is most radical about Jesus’ response is not apparent until one reflects about Jesus’ ministry and other teachings. It has to do with who Jesus understood to be one’s neighbor. The people that Jesus was addressing would have considered their neighbor to be their family, extended family, neighbors, and fellow Jews. The command to love was a command to be in a relationship that was characterized by loyalty, respect, and care for their welfare. Love described a code of behavior, not an emotional attachment. As Jesus’ ministry unfolds, it is clear that Jesus treats many as his neighbor who would have been considered outsiders by the people of the day. 

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. There are people with whom your lived situation (work, classmates, neighbors, volunteers, etc.) brings you into relationship with. To what extent do you operate with a sense of loyalty and regard for their well being?
  2. Have there been people who tried to discredit your reputation or embarrass you?
  3. Who have been the people in your life who have really tested you? How did you respond to them? How are you a better person for their presence in your life?
  4. If you looked to how Jesus lived his life for examples of how to love your neighbor, what incidents come to mind?
  5. If you look again at Jesus’ life for examples of how he loved God with his whole heart, soul, and mind, what comes to mind?
  6. Lastly, if you looked at Jesus for examples of how to love yourself, what would come to mind?
  7. What stands out for you as you hear Jesus’ summary of the commandments? Where do you feel challenged? Where do you feel encouraged?
  8. When you think of how love of God and love of neighbor are actually lived in your daily life, how are they similar and how are they different?
  9. Can you take some time to talk to God about your desire to love God, your desire to love your neighbor, or your effort to love yourself?

 

 

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

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 22, 2017
Matthew 22:15-21

Background:

In last week’s gospel Matthew recounts Jesus telling the parable of a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. As the parable unfolds, the king invites the good and the bad from the streets. When the guests are finally assembled, one is found without proper attire. The parable sets up the closing verse, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.” (Matt 22:14) The text for this Sunday’s gospel follows directly after last week’s text.

This Sunday, Matthew tells his readers that the Pharisees joined with the Herodians in an attempt to shame Jesus. The Pharisees did not approve of the Roman rule. Under normal circumstances they would not join with the Herodians, who were loyal to Rome. Among the common people there were some who longed for a rebellion that would overthrow the power of Rome. There were also those who had made peace with the situation, and there were even those who learned how to profit from Roman occupation.

The question before Jesus is based in the struggle between living what the Pharisees would understand as being faithful to God’s ways, or setting aside God’s ways in order to not cause a disturbance with the Roman authority. Because Jesus is a threat to both the Pharisees and the Herodians, they have come together to trap him. They begin by complimenting Jesus, but their goal is to protect their positions of power and authority.

Jesus’ response to them is to first ask to see the coin that is used to pay the tax. By producing the coin, they demonstrate that they are in possession of a coin that has the image of the roman emperor Tiberius, with the inscription “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus, high priest.” The Pharisees would have been offended by hearing Augustus described as divine, and they considered such an image as a form of idolatry. Yet they have joined forces with the Herodians. When Jesus asks them whose image is on the coin and what is the title given, he is making them publicly acknowledge their breach of faithful adherence to the ways of God that they have been preaching. This is not the Jesus who quietly let those slip away who had accused the woman caught in adultery.

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. Can you recall a recent situation when you were being asked to take sides?
  2. Has there been a time when you felt you needed to take a stand against something that was not right?
  3. In the gospel, those who approach Jesus compliment him as a person who is not concerned with anyone’s opinion. Where in the gospels do you see examples of Jesus not being concerned with the opinions of others? Where is he a person who is very much concerned with the opinions of others?
  4. They also say of him that he is not concerned with a person’s status. Where in the gospels do you find examples of Jesus’ disregard of a person’s status? Are there also places where he seems to be very concerned about the status of others?
  5. Jesus says, in verse 21, to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. What is it that does not belong to God?
  6. When you are describing things like the place where you live, the automobile that you use, the shirt that you are wearing, do you use expressions like: my car, my house, my shirt?
  7. Are there places where you are struggling with how to live in a right relationship to the material possessions that have been entrusted to you?
  8. Can you take some time to talk with God about how you use possessions, how the opinions or the status of others affects you, or some other aspect of your living as a child of God in the real world in which you live?

 

 

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

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Rachel Joyce Photography

October 15, 2017
Matthew 22:1-14

 

Background:

This is the third consecutive Sunday gospel where Jesus is addressing the Jewish religious leaders. Two weeks ago, the gospel contained the parable of the two sons who were told by their father to go to work in the vineyard. Jesus concluded the parable by telling the leaders that tax collectors and prostitutes were entering God’s realm before them. (Matthew 21:28-32) The gospel for last week was the parable of the tenants who refused to share the harvest with the landowner. (Matthew 21:23-43) Today’s gospel focuses on the consequences of refusing the invitation to the reign of God. The common theme running through all three is that those who appear to enjoy the favor of God reject their responsibilities/relationship, and others assume the responsibility/relationship in their stead.

Scripture scholars believe that the parable, as told here by Matthew, went through stages of development. The parable that Jesus told was the simple story about being invited to a great banquet and the need to be ready to respond to the invitation whenever it came. The second stage was when the Christian community added elements to the story. The celebration became a wedding feast prepared for his son by a great king. God is the king and the son is Jesus. Some who refused to accept the invitation are those who reject Jesus and his teaching. The last development of the parable happened when the part about the person without a proper garment for the wedding was added. At this stage it reflects a Christian community that now includes Jews and Gentiles, and members who are struggling to remain faithful and others who have become apathetic.

The parable itself reflects a common scenario of the day. Typically, banquets were for the elite of society. People associated at banquets with others of a similar status in the community. When a banquet was being planned, a preliminary invitation was sent to those on the guest list. They checked among their peers to see who was going to attend, and more importantly, who was going to decline the invitation. When the banquet was ready, a second announcement was made for guests to assemble. In the parable, those who are refusing offer flimsy excuses, and others’ refusals are confrontational in the way they treat the agents of the host. The host’s retaliation would be expected. But going to the crossroads or city squares to invite others would not have been unexpected. These squares were the gathering place of the community; people from the elite as well as the lowest parts of society would be there. In today’s parable, they are all invited, and everyone knows that they are all invited. The social distinctions that regulate honor and acceptable relationships are being torn down by this King. A new social order is being established—but it is not without expectations. One must still have a wedding garment.

In the first reading (Is 25:6-10) for this Sunday, the prophet Isaiah uses the image of a great banquet as the culmination of God’s saving activity. It is an image designed to bring hope to those whose lives were filled with great suffering. That reading offers a focus for reflection on the gospel. One suggestion would be to see the kingdom of God as an attitude we are invited to participate in and live in our lives. God’s invitation is for us to live God’s radical generosity, compassion, and forgiveness each day of our lives, with those in our families, in our neighborhoods, and elsewhere in the world. There are those who clearly refuse that invitation, and those who would like to accept it but struggle on all kind of levels. As a church, we are also blessed with those who seem to engage the kingdom in a full and remarkable way. The saints in history and in our communities mentor the rest of us in living the kingdom of God today.

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. Have you received invitations that surprised you?
  2. Have you received invitations that you wanted to decline?
  3. Have you ever been involved in arranging the guest seating so that everyone would be seated with people they would enjoy being with?
  4. What is it about a wedding banquet that makes it a good comparison to the reign of God?
  5. Do you know people who seem to be gifted at inviting and including those who might be considered “odd” or “outsiders”?
  6. Where in your community are the places that people are welcome no matter their social standing, background, or political opinions?
  7. In the parable, with whom do you find it easiest to identify: the king, the king’s son, the invited guests, the king’s servants, the king’s soldiers, those invited later, or the guest without a proper garment?
  8. What elements of a wedding banquet speak to you of the Kingdom of God?
  9. How does this parable speak to you of God’s invitation to you?
  10. Can you take some time to talk with God about God’s invitation to you, how you have been responding to that invitation, or perhaps your desire to carry God’s invitation to others?

 

 

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

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 8, 2017
Matthew 21:33-43

Background:

In last week’s gospel, Jesus told the parable of two sons who were asked to work in their father’s vineyard. This week Jesus addresses a second parable to the leaders of the people. This parable gives the impression that the landowner has personally done the difficult work of setting up the vineyard. The vineyard is the result of the personal toil and care of the landowner, in contrast to a large land baron who would have had laborers do the work of establishing the vineyard. As it appears in the gospel text, it is easy to associate the creator of the vineyard with God, the tenant farmers with the religious and civil leaders of their day, those sent to collect the portion of the harvest due the owner as the prophets, and the Son as Jesus. In this form, the Christian community can see the hand of God working in their being rejected by Jewish civil and religious leaders and the enthusiastic response of the Gentiles. There is much here for prayerful reflection for the contemporary reader of the text.

Scripture scholars give us another source for prayerful reflection here. They believe that as the parable was told by Jesus, it ended with the rejection of the first messengers sent to collect the landowner’s share of the harvest, and it did not contain the personal involvement of the owner in establishing the vineyard. In this form, the parable reflected the lived experience of most of the peasants that Jesus addressed in his daily preaching to the crowds. Scholars believe that small groups of farmers would have been fortunate enough to work land that they actually owned. These would still have to barter for necessities of life and for seed for the next year’s crop. They also paid a variety of taxes, religious tithes, and social responsibilities. A farmer who worked his own land would be left with about 20 percent of the yearly crop to feed his livestock and family. The typical peasant who worked someone else’s land had far less to live on. In the original parable, Jesus identified with the plight of these poor peasants whose everyday life was extremely difficult and who sometimes made foolish decisions in hopes that they could change their life for the better. At this level, the parable also contains a great deal for our reflection.

This rather simple parable as told by Jesus has been reworked by subtracting some elements and adding others.  The early Christians who told the parable as they remembered Jesus’ telling of the story did so in order to find meaning for their lives, their struggles, and their relationship with God. In that effort to find meaning, the story itself changed into the form we find in the gospel text. There is fruit for reflection here too. The parable changed from the original story as told by Jesus to the parable as we find it today in Matthew’s gospel, in an effort to find God speaking to people in the present. This too is part of the revelation of God, and how God worked and is working to speak to us in our day as we pray and reflect on this text.

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. What is your experience of telling and retelling stories of importance to you in your life? Do you ever find new meaning or new details of the story that were not apparent earlier?
  2. Do you find the inconsistence in family stories as a source of inspiration or frustration?
  3. Have you ever been so frustrated by your life situation that you spoke or acted without good judgment?
  4. Have you ever gone away and asked someone to care for your house, garden, or pet? Did they fulfill your expectations?
  5. The landowner in the parable seems to have done the difficult work of planting the vineyard and erecting the structures to protect it, as well as building the wine press. The work of the tenants is to water, prune, and protect the vines from those who might harm them or steal the fruit and, finally, to tend to the harvest. Does the nature of the metaphor itself give you any insight into your role and God’s role in the world?
  6. How does your life reflect that God is the creator and you have been entrusted with care of creation?
  7. Have there ever been times when you acted as if that which has been entrusted to your care belongs to you? Are there also times when your actions express your belief that God is the creator and you are God’s steward?
  8. In the parable, the landowner keeps sending his messengers, and, finally, his own son, to the tenant farmers, even though they are treated cruelly each time. What does it say to you about God’s relationship to you?
  9. Can you talk to God as the Creator and your role as steward, the gift of creation with which God has blessed you, or some other aspect of this parable that is meaningful for you?

 

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