This Sunday's Gospel

Exegetical notes and homily themes to get you started this weekend:

3/18/18 – Lent 5
3/25/18 – Passion (Palm) Sunday

3/29/18 – Holy Thursday
3/30/18 – Good Friday
3/31/18 – The Easter Vigil
4/1/18 – Easter Sunday

4/8/18 – Easter 2
4/15/18 – Easter 3
4/22/18 – Easter 4
4/29/18 – Easter 5

5/6/18 – Easter 6
5/10/15 – Ascension
5/13/15 – Easter 7
5/20/15 – Pentecost

March 18 – Fifth Sunday of Lent [B]

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
John 12: 20-33


Today’s Gospel is a pivotal moment in John’s narrative.  Jesus’ words about the “coming” of his “hour” mark the end of John's “Book of Signs” and prefaces of “The Book of Glory” -- the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.

The Passover is about to begin; many Jews (including some Greek Jews) have arrived in Jerusalem for the festival.  Meanwhile, Jesus’ conflict with the Jewish establishment has reached the crisis stage.  The events of Holy Week are now in motion.  Jesus obediently accepts his fate and is prepared for the outcome.

Jesus compares his “glorification” to a grain of wheat that is buried and dies to itself in order to produce the potential life within it.  The sacrifice and harvest of the grain of wheat are the fate and glory of anyone who would be Jesus' disciple.  The “voice” heard from the sky expresses the unity of Jesus’ purpose and God’s will.


To become the people God calls us to be, to live our lives in the joy of God’s love, begins by our “dying” to our doubts and fears, “dying” to our self-centered wants and needs, “dying” to our immaturity and prejudices.

The risk of being hurt is the price of love.  That is the challenge of the grain of wheat: only by loving is love returned, only by reaching out and trying do we learn and grow, only by giving to others do we receive, only by dying do we rise to new life.

The Gospel of the grain of wheat is Christ's assurance to us of the great things we can do and the powerful miracles we can work in letting go of our prejudices, fears and ambitions in order to imitate the compassion and love of the crucified Jesus, the Servant Redeemer.

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March 25 – Sunday of the Lord’s Passion: Palm Sunday [B]


The Blessing and Procession of Palms:  Mark 11: 1-10 or John 12: 12-16

Mark’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is the most subdued version of the event in Scripture.  The donkey plays a central role in the Mark's story – Mark relates with surprising detail how the disciples found the donkey colt as Jesus told them.

It was the custom for pilgrims to enter Jerusalem on foot.  Only great kings and rulers would “ride” into the city, and usually on great steeds and horses.  Jesus, the King of the New Jerusalem, chooses to ride into the city – not on a majestic stallion but on the back of a young beast of burden.  By being led through the city on the back of a lowly, servile donkey, Jesus comes as a King whose rule is not about being served but centered in generous and selfless service to others; his kingdom is not built on might but on compassion.  The little donkey Jesus mounts mirrors how the prophet Zechariah foretold this scene five centuries before:  “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!  See, your king comes to you, triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey . . . ”

In John’s shorter account, Jesus is enthusiastically welcomed as the Messiah-King by the crowds, many of whom had seen or heard about Jesus' raising of Lazarus.  John makes specific reference to Zechariah’s prophecy that the Messiah-king will enter the city seated on “a donkey's colt.”

The Celebration of the Eucharist – The Passion:  Mark 14: 1 – 15: 47

Jesus’ entry into the holy city and his “cleansing” of the temple with the demand that it be a “house of prayer for all people” will bring his clash with the ruling class to a head.  In his account of the Passion, Mark portrays the anguish of Jesus who has been totally abandoned by friends and disciples.  Mark’s Jesus is resigned to his fate.  He makes no response to Judas when he betrays him nor to Pilate during his interrogation (and Pilate makes no effort to save him, as the procurator does in the other three Gospels).  As he does throughout his Gospel, Mark pointedly portrays the utter of failure of the disciples to provide any assistance or support to Jesus or to even understand what is happening.  The “last” disciple who flees naked into the night when Jesus is arrested is a powerful symbol in Mark’s Gospel of the disciples who left family and friends behind to follow Jesus now leave everything behind to get away from him.

Reading 1:  Isaiah 50: 4-7

Reading 1 is taken from Deutero-Isaiah's “Servant songs,” the prophet's foretelling of the “servant of God” who will come to redeem Israel.  In this third song, Isaiah portrays the servant as a devoted teacher of God's Word who is ridiculed and abused by those who are threatened by his teaching.

Reading 2:  Philippians 2: 6-11

In his letter to the Christian community at Philippi (in northeastern Greece), Paul quotes what many scholars believe is an early Christian hymn (Reading 2).  As Christ totally and unselfishly "emptied himself" to accept crucifixion for our sakes, so we must "empty" ourselves for others.


There is a certain incongruity about today’s Palm Sunday liturgy.  We begin with a sense of celebration: we carry palm branches and echo the Hosannas (from the Hebrew “God save [us]”) shouted by the people of Jerusalem as Jesus enters the city.  But the Passion story confronts us with the cruelty, injustice and selfishness that lead to the crucifixion of Jesus.  We welcome the Christ of victory, the Christ of Palm Sunday – but we turn away from the Christ of suffering and of the poor, the Christ of Good Friday.  These branches of palm are symbols of that incongruity that often exists between the faith we profess on our lips and the faith we profess in our lives.

In his account of the Passion, Mark portrays a Jesus who has been totally abandoned by his disciples and friends.  There is no one to defend him, to support him, to speak for him.  He endures such a cruel and unjust death alone.  Yet, amid the darkness, a light glimmers:  The prophecy of a new temple “not made by human hands” is fulfilled in the shreds of the temple curtain; a pagan centurion confesses his new-found realization that this crucified Jesus is indeed the “Son of God”; and a member of the Sanhedrin, Joseph of Arimathea, is embolden to break with his fellow councilors and request of Pilate the body of Jesus.  The Passion of Jesus should be a reason for hope and a moment of grace for all us as we seek the reign of God in our own lives – however lonely and painful our search may be.

The Gospel calls us to take on what Paul calls the “attitude of Christ Jesus” (Reading 1) in his passion and death: to “empty” ourselves of our own interests, fears and needs for the sake of others; to realize how our actions affect them and how our moral and ethical decisions impact the common good; to reach out to heal the hurt and comfort the despairing around us despite our own betrayal; to carry on, with joy and in hope, despite rejection, humiliation and suffering. 

In our remembering the events of Holy Week, Jesus will turn our world and its value system upside down: true authority is found in dedicated service and generosity to others; greatness is centered in humility; the just and loving will be exalted by God in God's time. 

Today’s liturgy confronts us with the reality of the cross of Christ: by the cross, we are reconciled to God; by the cross, our lives are transformed in the perfect love of Christ; by the cross, Jesus’ spirit of humility and compassion become a force of hope and re-creation for our desperate world.

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March 29 – Holy Thursday [ABC]

“If I, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet.”
John 13: 1-15
This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the LORD, as a perpetual institution.
Exodus 12: 1-8, 11-14
As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.
1 Corinthians 11: 23-26


The centerpiece of John’s Gospel account of the Last Supper is the mandatum – from the Latin word for “commandment,” from which comes the traditional title for this evening, Maundy Thursday.  At the Passover seder, the night before he died, Jesus established a new Passover to celebrate God's covenant with the new Israel.  The special character of this second covenant is the mandatum of the washing of the feet – to love one another as we have been loved by Christ.

(John makes no mention of the establishment of the Eucharist in his account of the Last Supper.  Chapters 14, 15 and 16 recount Jesus’ last instructions to his disciples, followed by his “high priestly prayer” in chapter 17.  The Johannine theology of the Eucharist is detailed in the “bread of life” discourse following the multiplication of the loaves and fish at Passover, in chapter 6 of his Gospel.)

Tonight’s first reading recounts the origin and ritual of the feast of Passover, the Jewish celebration of God's breaking the chains of the Israelites’ slavery in Egypt and leading them to their own land, establishing a covenant with them and making of them his own beloved people.

The deep divisions in the Corinthian community have led to abuses and misunderstandings concerning the “breaking of the bread.”  In addressing these problems and articulating the proper spirit in which to approach the Lord’s Supper, Paul provides us with the earliest written account of the institution of the Eucharist, the Passover of the new covenant (this evening's second reading).  If we fail to embrace the spirit of love and servanthood in which the gift of the Eucharist is given to us, then “Eucharist” becomes a judgment against us.


The Eucharist, instituted this night, comes at a price all must be willing to pay:  We must become what we have received – we must become, for others, Christ the healer, Christ the compassionate and selfless brother, Christ the humble “washer of feet.”

Jesus, who revealed the wonders of God in stories about mustard seeds, fishing nets and ungrateful children, on this last night of his life – as we know life – leaves his small band of disciples his most beautiful parable:  As I have washed your feet like a slave, so you must wash the feet of each other and serve one another.  As I have loved you without limit or condition, so you must love one another without limit or condition.  As I am about to suffer and die for you, so you must suffer and, if necessary, die for one another.  Tonight’s parable is so simple, but its lesson is so central to what being a real disciple of Christ is all about.  When inspired by the love of Christ, the smallest act of service done for another takes on extraordinary dimensions. 

Tonight is about reliving a memory: the memory of Jesus, the Christ, who begins this night, for our sakes, his great passover from death to life.  At this table, in the cenacle of our own church, the memory of Jesus becomes a living reality.  Jesus speaks to us again and again in the pages of the Gospel book, in the basin, pitcher and towel, in the Eucharistic bread and wine.  The memory we relive tonight and tomorrow and the next day re-creates us, identifies us, makes us who we are as human beings who love, who care, who heal, who forgive, who lift up.

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March 30 – Good Friday [ABC]

When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished.”  And bowing his head, he handed over his spirit.
John 18: 1 – 19: 42


John’s profoundly theological Passion account portrays a Jesus who is very much aware of what is happening to him.  His eloquent self-assurance unnerves the high priest and intimidates Pilate (“You have no power over me”), who shuttles back and forth among the various parties involved, desperately trying to avoid condemning this innocent holy man to death.  Hanging on the cross, Jesus entrusts his mother to his beloved disciple, thus leaving behind the core of a believing community.  He does not cry out the psalm of the abandoned (Psalm 22); rather, his final words are words of decision and completion:  “It is finished.”  The crucifixion of Jesus, as recounted by John, is not a tragic end but the beginning of victory, the lifting up of the Perfect Lamb to God for the salvation of humankind.


Today, Jesus teaches us through his own broken body.  As a Church, as a community of faith, we are the body of Christ – but a broken body.  We minister as broken people to broken people.  The suffering, the alienated, the unaccepted, the rejected, the troubled, the confused are all part of this broken body of Christ.  In God’s unfathomable love, the broken body of Christ is forever transformed into the full and whole life of the Risen Christ.

As Jesus’ cross becomes a means of transforming death into life, we are called on this Good Friday to use the crosses that we shoulder in our lives as vehicles for “resurrection” in the Jerusalems and Golgothas of our own time and place.

Jesus is crucified every day in the betrayals, condemnations, and crosses taken up and endured by the poor, the sorrowing, the sick, the grieving and the dying – but the “goodness" of Good Friday gives us reason to hope, reason to carry on, reason to rejoice.  By the grace of the Risen Christ we can transform our crucifixions into Easter victories. 

Today, “truth” stands in front of us in the figure of the humiliated Jesus, the suffering Jesus, the ridiculed Jesus, the crucified Jesus.  Right in front of us is the truth about a God who loves us to a degree we cannot begin to fathom; a God who refuses to give up or reject or destroy his beloved creation — a creation that has hardly lived up to its promise; a God who humbles himself to become one of us in order to make us like him, to realize that we have been created in his image, created by his very breath blown into our hearts.

This Good Friday is God’s calling us to a second Exodus journey, marked in the slaying of his Son, the Lamb, who becomes for us the new Passover seder — today is our exodus from the slavery of sin to the freedom of compassion and forgiveness, our “passover” from this life to the life of God.

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March 31 – The Easter Vigil [B]

“Do not be amazed!  You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified.  He has been raised; he is not here.  Behold the place where they laid him.”
Mark 16: 1-7


In Mark’s Good Friday account, Jesus was buried quickly because sundown was approaching and the Sabbath was about to begin.  The three faithful women come to complete the ritual anointings that had to be omitted two nights before. 

The problem confronting Mary Magdalene, Mary and Salome in Mark’s Gospel was not a minor one.  This was no little rock!  Tombs in Gospel times were large caves in which several bodies could be laid.  The entrance to these caves would then be closed off with a large, flat, round stone fitted into a track dug into the ground.  But the three faithful women will not be deterred by a stone.  They were focused on their task: to properly and compassionately complete the burial of their slain friend and teacher. 

They are not prepared for what they find.

A “young man” proclaims to the terrified women in Mark’s Easter Gospel that all that God has promised and all that Jesus taught has been fulfilled.  Easter morning is the dawning of a new day of hope for a re-created humanity.

The young man instructs the three women to go and tell the disciples “and Peter” what has happened.  Remember that throughout his Gospel, Mark has made a point of the disciples’ constant failure to understand and grasp the meanings of the Servant-Messiah’s words and actions.  Mark’s singling out of Peter indicates the new life of forgiveness and reconciliation that Peter – who denied the condemned Jesus three days before — will receive from the Risen Christ.  That same resurrection experience is offered to every disciple of every place and time.


While the Easter mystery does not deny the reality of suffering and pain, it does proclaim reason for hope in the human condition.  The empty tomb of Christ trumpets the ultimate Alleluia: that love, compassion, generosity, humility and selflessness will ultimately triumph over hatred, bigotry, prejudice, despair, greed and death. 

The Risen Christ is present to us in the faithful witness of every good person who shares the good news of the to bring resurrection into this life of ours: to rise above life’s sufferings and pain to give love and life to others, to renew and re-create our relationships with others, to proclaim the Gospel of the empty tomb.

When it comes to living our faith, we often find “stones” in our way.  The “stones” may be the fear of ridicule or humiliation, social conventions, the quest for profit and power.  Christ's resurrection is the complete victory of reconciliation, love, humility and selflessness over the “tombs” of despair, hatred and greed.  In our Easter celebration of the women’s discovery of the rolled-backed stone we come to realize that such stones in our own lives are obstacles only if we let them.

Easter is the morning of God’s second creation.  Death is no longer the ultimate finality but the ultimate beginning.  The Christ who taught forgiveness, who pleaded for reconciliation, who handed himself over to his executioners for the sake of justice and mercy, has been raised up by God.  We leave behind in the grave our sinfulness, our dark side, our selfishness, our pettiness — the evil that mars God's first creation.

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April 1 – Easter Sunday [ABC]

[NOTE:  The Gospel from the Easter Vigil may be read on Easter Sunday.]

On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.  So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.”
John 20: 1-9


John’s Easter Gospel says nothing of earthquakes or angels.  His account begins before daybreak.  It was believed that the spirit of the deceased hovered around the tomb for three days after burial; Mary Magdalene was therefore following the Jewish custom of visiting the tomb during this three-day period.  Discovering that the stone has been moved away, Mary Magdalene runs to tell Peter and the others.  Peter and the “other disciple” race to get there and look inside.  Note the different reactions of the three:  Mary Magdalene fears that someone has “taken” Jesus' body; Peter does not know what to make of the news; but the “other” disciple – the model of faithful discernment in John's Gospel –
immediately understands what has taken place.  So great are the disciple's love and depth of faith that all of the strange remarks and dark references of Jesus now become clear to him.


While the Easter mystery does not deny the reality of suffering and pain, it does proclaim reason for hope in the human condition.  The empty tomb of Christ trumpets the ultimate Alleluia: that love, compassion, generosity, humility and selflessness will ultimately triumph over hatred, bigotry, prejudice, despair, greed and death.  The Easter miracle enables us, even in the most difficult and desperate of times, to live our lives in hopeful certainty of the fulfillment of the resurrection at the end of our life's journey.

The Risen Christ is present to us in the faithful witness of every good person who shares the good news of the to bring resurrection into this life of ours: to rise above life’s sufferings and pain to give love and life to others, to renew and re-create our relationships with others, to proclaim the Gospel of the empty tomb.

The empty tomb of Easter morning is God’s vindication of his Son’s life among us: that no tomb can contain the mercy and hope of God.  The Christ who challenged us to love one another is risen and walks among us!  All that he taught – compassion, love, forgiveness, reconciliation, sincerity, selflessness for the sake of others – is vindicated and affirmed if he is truly risen.  The empty tomb should not only console us and elate us, it should challenge us to embrace the life of the Gospel.  With Easter faith, we can awaken the promise of the empty tomb in every place and moment we encounter on our journey through this life.

Easter is about resurrection — not just resuscitation, not just about coming back from the brink, not just about bouncing back from a difficult situation, not just about a near miss when we’ve been spared the worst that can happen.  In fact, the pre-requisite for resurrection is that the worst — devastating loss and death — happens.  And we are changed by the experience.   

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April 8 – Second Sunday of Easter [B]

“Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.  And when he said this he breathed upon them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit . . . “
Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
John 20: 19-31


The Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter (for all three years of the Lectionary cycle) is Act 2 of John’s Easter drama.
Scene 1 takes place on Easter night.  The terrified disciples are huddled together, realizing that they are marked men because of their association with the criminal Jesus.  The Risen Jesus appears in their midst with his greeting of “peace.”  John clearly has the Genesis story in mind when the evangelist describes Jesus as “breathing” the Holy Spirit on his disciples:  Just as God created man and woman by breathing life into them (Genesis 2: 7), the Risen Christ re-creates humankind by breathing the new life of the Holy Spirit upon the eleven.

In scene 2, the disciples excitedly tell the just-returned Thomas of what they had seen.  Thomas responds to the news with understandable skepticism.  Thomas had expected the cross (see John 11: 16 and 14: 5) – and no more.

The climactic third scene takes place one week later, with Jesus’ second appearance to the assembled community – this time with Thomas present.  He invites Thomas to examine his wounds and to “believe.”  Christ’s blessing in response to Thomas’ profession of faith exalts the faith of every Christian of every age who “believes without seeing”; all Christians who embrace the Spirit of the Risen One possess a faith that is in no way different less than that of the first disciples.  The power of the Resurrection transcends time and place.


We trace our roots as parish and faith communities to Easter night when Jesus “breathed” his spirit of peace and reconciliation upon his frightened disciples, transforming them into the new Church.

The “peace” that Christ gives his new Church is not a passive sense of good feeling or the mere absence of conflict.  Christ’s peace is hard work: the peace of the Easter Christ is to honor one another as children of the same Father in heaven; the peace of the Easter Christ seeks to build bridges and find solutions rather than assigning blame or extracting punishment; the peace of Christ is centered in relationships that are just, ethical and moral. 

The “peace” that the Risen Christ breathes into us at Easter shows us a way out of those tombs in which we bury ourselves; the forgiveness he extends enables us to get beyond the facades we create and the rationalizations we devise to justify them. 

Jesus’ entrusting to the disciples the work of forgiveness is what it means to be the church: to accept one another, to affirm one another, to support one another as God has done for us in the Risen Christ.  What brought the apostles and first Christians together as a community – unity of heart, missionary witness, prayer, reconciliation and healing – no less powerfully binds us to one another as the Church of today.

All of us, at one time or another, experience the doubt and skepticism of Thomas:  While we have heard the good news of Jesus’ empty tomb, all of our fears, problems and sorrows prevent us from realizing it in our own lives.  In raising his beloved Son from the dead, God also raises our spirits to the realization of the totality and limitlessness of his love for us. 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus appears to his disciples and shows them his hands and his side; later he invites the doubting Thomas to touch the marks made by the nails and the gash from the soldier’s lance.  We all have scars from our own Good Fridays that remain despite our small resurrections.  Our “nail marks” remind us that all pain and grief, all ridicule and suffering, all disappointments and anguish, are transformed into healing and peace in the love of God we experience from others and that we extend to them.  Compassion, forgiveness, justice — no matter how clumsily offered — can heal and mend.   

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April 15 – Third Sunday of Easter [B]

The two disciples told the eleven and their companions what had happened on the road to Emmaus, and how Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you . . . These are the words that I spoke to you while I was still with you – that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”
Luke 24: 35-48


Today’s Gospel is the conclusion of Luke’s account of Jesus’ first post-resurrection appearance to his disciples.  The two disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus have returned to Jerusalem to confirm the women’s story of the resurrection.  While they are excitingly telling their story, Jesus appears.

Luke goes to great lengths in his Easter accounts to make clear that the resurrection was not the fantasy of crazy zealots nor is the resurrection story a plot concocted by the disciples who somehow managed to spirit the body of Jesus away (according to Luke’s account, the disciples themselves had not gone near the tomb themselves or even expected any kind of “resurrection”).  In the details he presents here, Luke is countering the arguments forwarded to explain away the resurrection myth.  There can be no mistake:  The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a reality, a reality in which all of the Scriptures find their ultimate fulfillment.

For Luke, the power of Jesus’ resurrection is realized in the way it “opens” one’s heart and mind to understanding the deeper meaning of God’s Word and to fully embracing the Spirit of God.  In our faith and trust in the Risen Christ, we become “witnesses” of the mercy and forgiveness of God.


In the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, God reveals in a specific moment of history, in a specific location on earth, the limitless and eternal love the Father has for his people.  God continues to make the miracle of the empty tomb present to us in the caring, compassion and love we receive and give -- the love we have witnessed in the suffering of Christ, a love that is victorious even over death.

In today’s Gospel, the Risen Jesus challenges his disciples – and us – to recall what he taught and what they had witnessed.  The Easter miracle is God’s assurance that love and forgiveness, even in the most difficult situations, are never offered in vain; in learning to cope without losing hope, in learning from the painful realities of life and in accepting the lessons learned in God’s Spirit of humility and patience, we become capable of growth, re-creation, transformation – and resurrection.

Just as the Risen Christ asks the Eleven for “something to eat,” he asks the same of us today in the cries and pleas of the poor and needy among us.  In imitating his humble compassion, we, in turn, discover meaning and purpose that “feed” our own hunger for meaning, for fulfillment, for God in our lives.

Easter faith opens our eyes and hearts to realize God’ hand in every moment of time, transforms our attitudes to realize the need for God’s compassion and forgiveness in every human encounter, lifts up our spirits to hope even in the face of life’s most painful and traumatic moments.

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April 22 – Fourth Sunday of Easter [B]

“I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away . . . 
“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.  So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
John 10: 11-18


Jesus’ figure of the Good Shepherd is not an idyllic, serene image.  Palestinian shepherds were held liable for every single sheep entrusted to their care; “good” shepherds, motivated by a sense of responsibility rather than money, considered it a matter of honor to lay down their lives for the sheep in their charge, taking on every kind of wolf, wild beast and bandit in defense of the flock. 

While the shepherd/sheep metaphor is well-known throughout Scripture, Jesus’ vow to lay down his life for his sheep is something new.  It completes Jesus’ break with the mercenary religious leaders of the Jewish establishment who care little for the flock they have been entrusted to serve.


Christ calls us to the vocation of being “good shepherds”: to seek out and bring back the lost, the scattered and forgotten; to enable people to move beyond their fears and doubts to become fully human; to willingly pay the price for justice and mercy for all members of the “one fold.”

The Gospel image of the Good Shepherd calls us to look beyond our own expectations, needs and fears in order to become “shepherds” of reconciliation, compassion and charity to others. 

To be a disciple of Jesus is not to be simply a “hired hand” who acts only to be rewarded; real followers of Jesus realize that every person of the “one fold” possesses the sacred dignity of being children of God and rejoice in knowing that in serving others we serve God.  In embracing the Gospel attitude of humility and compassion for the sake of others – in “laying down our own lives” for others – our lives will one day be “taken up again” in the Father’s Easter promise.

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April 29 – Fifth Sunday of Easter [B]

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower . . . I am the vine, you are the branches.”
“Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”
John 15: 1-8


From the music of the psalms to the engravings on the temple pediments, vines were a symbol of Yahweh’s many blessings to Israel.  In his Last Supper discourse (from which today’s Gospel is taken), Jesus appropriates the image of the vine to explain his eternal connectedness to his disciples, their connectedness through him to God, and their connectedness to one another.


In Christ, we are “grafted” to God and to one another.  The Risen One calls us to community, to be branches on the same vine, to realize our life in Christ is also life in one another.

We cannot live our faith in a vacuum:  Unless Jesus becomes the center of our lives, the faith we profess is doomed to wither and die in emptiness. 

The Easter season speaks to us of the eternal presence of Christ in our midst, present to us in the Word we have heard and has taken root in our hearts.  Our faithfulness to the call to discipleship demands that we work to enable that Word within us to produce a “yield” of compassion, forgiveness, justice and reconciliation.  In the “fruit” we bear as "branches" of Christ do we glorify God the “vine grower.”

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May 6 – Sixth Sunday of Easter [B]

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.
“I do not call you servants any longer . . . but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from my Father.”
John 15: 9-17


Chapters 13 through 17 of John’s Gospel, Jesus’ Last Supper discourse, might be described as Jesus’ last will and testament to his fledgling church.

Continuing last Sunday’s theme of the vine and branches, Jesus speaks of the love of God as the bonding agent of the new Israel.  The model of love for the faithful disciple – “to love one another as I have loved you” – is extreme, limitless and unconditional.  The love manifested in the Gospel and the resurrection of Christ creates an entirely new relationship between God and humanity.  Again Christ, the obedient Servant Redeemer, is the great “connector” between God and us.

In Christ, we are not “slaves” of a distant divine Creator but “friends” of God who hears the prayers and cries made to him in Jesus’ name.  As “friends of God,” we are called to reflect that love to the rest of the world.


This is the commandment that Jesus to us who would be his Church: to love one another as Jesus, God made human, has loved us:  As Christ gave himself for others, we are to imitate his example of service to others; as Christ brought healing and peace into the lives of those he encountered, we are to bring that same healing and peace into the many lives we touch; as Christ revealed to the world a God who loves humanity as a parent loves his children, we are to love one another as brothers and sisters.

Christ transforms creation’s relationship with its Creator.  God is not the distant, aloof, removed architect of the universe; God is not the cruel taskmaster; God is not the unfeeling judge who seeks the destruction of the wicked.  God is creative, reconciling, energizing love -- and Jesus is the perfect expression of that love. 

All that God has done in the first creation of Genesis and the re-creation of Easter has been done out of the limitless, unfathomable love of God.  Such love invites us not to fear God but to accept his “friendship” with God, not to self-loathing at our unworthiness but to grateful joy at what God has done in us.

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May 10 – Ascension of the Lord [B]

[In some U.S. dioceses and Canada: Sunday, May 13]

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses . . . to the end of the earth.”
Acts 1: 1-11
“Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature . . .”
Mark 16: 15-20


Today’s readings include two accounts of Jesus’ return to the Father:

Reading 1 is the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, Luke's “Gospel of the Holy Spirit.”  Jesus’ ascension begins volume 2 of Luke’s work.  The words and images here evoke the First Covenant accounts of the ascension of Elijah (2 Kings 2) and the forty years of the Exodus:  Luke considers the time that the Risen Lord spent with his disciples a sacred time, a “desert experience” for the apostles to prepare them for their new ministry of preaching the Gospel of the resurrection.  (Acts alone places the ascension forty days after Easter; the synoptic Gospels – including, strangely, Luke’s -- specifically place the ascension on the day of Easter; John writes of the “ascension” not as an event but as a new existence with the Father.)

Responding to their question about the restoration of Israel, Jesus discourages his disciples from guessing what cannot be known.  Greater things await them as his “witnesses.”  In the missionary work before them, Christ will be with them in the presence of the Spirit to come.

Scholars call today’s Gospel the “longer ending” of Mark’s text.  In style and substance, these six verses are very unlike Mark; the best guess is that these verses were added sometime in the first century to “complete” Mark’s account to include the tradition of the ascension of Jesus.  Before returning to the Father, Jesus commissions his new church to continue Christ’s presence on earth through their proclamation of the “good news.”


The fledgling Church is not off to a very promising start.  Christ places his Church in the care of a rag-tag collection of fishermen, tax collectors and peasants.  And yet, what began with those eleven has grown and flourished through the centuries to the very walls of our own parish family. 

Jesus’ Ascension is both an ending and a beginning.  The physical appearances of Jesus are at an end; his revelation of the “good news” is complete; the promise of the Messiah is fulfilled.  Now begins the work of the disciples to teach what they have learned and to share what they have witnessed.

The fledgling Church is not off to a very promising start.  Christ places his Church in the care of a rag-tag collection of fishermen, tax collectors and peasants.  And yet, what began with those eleven has grown and flourished through the centuries to the very walls of our own parish family. 

The Church Jesus leaves to the disciples on the mount of the Ascension is rooted not in buildings or wealth or formulas of prayer or systems of theology but in faith nurtured in the human heart, a faith centered in joy and understanding that is empowering and liberating, a faith that gives us the strength and freedom to be authentic and effective witnesses of the Risen One, who is present among us always.

Christ entrusts to his disciples of every time and place the sacred responsibility of teaching others everything he has taught and revealed about the Father: God's limitless love, his unconditional forgiveness and acceptance of every person as his own beloved child and our identity as God's sons and daughters and brothers and sisters to one another.  Christ also calls us to be witnesses of God's presence in our lives: to bring into the lives of others his healing forgiveness and reconciliation with God and one another, to hand on to others the story that has been handed on to us about Jesus and his Gospel of love and compassion.

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May 13 – Seventh Sunday of Easter [B]

“Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one . . .
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
John 17: 11-19


In John’s account of the Last Supper, after his final teachings to his disciples before his passion, Jesus addresses his Father in heaven.  Today’s Gospel is from Chapter 17 of John’s Gospel, the “high priestly prayer” of Jesus in which he prays for his disciples, that they may be united in love, persevere despite the world’s “hatred” of them for the Word that they will proclaim, and be “consecrated” in the “truth.”


The Gospel challenges us to recognize the prejudices, biases and ambitions that exist within each one of us and to realize how they affect our perception of the “truth” and the decisions we make based on that perception.  We are called to uphold, regardless of the cost, the holiness of “truth” – truth that is rooted in the reality of God’s love and in the sacredness of every person as created in the image and life of God.

Jesus call to discipleship demands the courage and integrity to be willing to embrace the “light” of truth – to recognize the hand of God in all things, to embrace the life of God “breathing” in every human interaction, to realize the sacredness of every human being as created in the image and life of God.

The empty tomb of Easter speaks to the simple yet profound truth of God's great love for us.  Christ calls us, his Church, to speak the joy of that truth to a world hungry to hear it.

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May 20 – Pentecost [ABC]

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Acts 2: 1-11
Jesus breathed on them and said:  “Receive the Holy Spirit . . . ”
John 20: 19-23


Pentecost was the Jewish festival of the harvest (also called the Feast of Weeks), celebrated 50 days after Passover, when the first fruits of the corn harvest were offered to the Lord.  A feast of pilgrimage (hence the presence in Jerusalem of so many “devout Jews of every nation”), Pentecost also commemorated Moses’ receiving the Law on Mount Sinai.  For the new Israel, Pentecost becomes the celebration of the Spirit of God’s compassion, peace and forgiveness – the Spirit that transcends the Law and becomes the point of departure for the young Church’s universal mission (the planting of a new harvest?).

In his Acts of the Apostles (Reading 1), Luke invokes the First Testament images of wind and fire in his account of the new Church’s Pentecost:  God frequently revealed his presence in fire (the pillar of fire in the Sinai) and in wind (the wind that sweeps over the earth to make the waters of the Great Flood subside).  The Hebrew word for spirit, ruah, and the Greek word pneuma also refer to the movement of air, not only as wind, but also of life-giving breath (as in God’s creation of man in Genesis 2 and the revivification of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37).  Through his life-giving “breath,” the Lord begins the era of the new Israel on Pentecost.

Today’s Gospel of the first appearance of the Risen Jesus before his ten disciples (remember Thomas is not present) on Easter night is John’s version of the Pentecost event.  In “breathing” the Holy Spirit upon them, Jesus imitates God's act of creation in Genesis.  Just as Adam’s life came from God, so the disciples’ new life of the Spirit comes from Jesus.  In the Resurrection, the Spirit replaces their sense of self-centered fear and confusion with the “peace” of understanding, enthusiasm and joy and shatters all barriers among them to make of them a community of hope and forgiveness.  By Christ’s sending them forth, the disciples become apostles – “those sent.”


The feast of Pentecost celebrates the unseen, immeasurable presence of God in our lives and in our Church – the ruah that animates us to do the work of the Gospel of the Risen One, the ruah that makes God’s will our will, the ruah of God living in us and transforming us so that we might bring his life and love to our broken world.  God “breathes” his Spirit into our souls that we may live in his life and love; God ignites the “fire” of his Spirit within our hearts and minds that we may seek God in all things in order to realize the coming of his reign.

Today we celebrate the gift of God’s Spirit: the Spirit that enables us to love as selflessly and as totally as God loved us enough to become one of us, to die for us and to rise for us; the Spirit that takes us beyond empty legalisms and static measurements of “mine” and “yours” to create a community of compassion, reconciliation and justice centered in “us”; the Spirit that enables us to re-create our world in the peace and mercy of God.

In Jesus' “breathing” upon them the new life of the Spirit, the community of the Resurrection – the Church – takes flight.  That same Spirit continues to “blow” through today’s Church to give life and direction to our mission and ministry to preach the Gospel to every nation, to proclaim the forgiveness and reconciliation in God's name, to baptize all humanity into the life of Jesus' Resurrection.

The Spirit of God enables the Eleven – and us – to do things they could not do their own: to understand the “truth” of God’s great love for his people that is embodied in the Risen Christ, and then to boldly proclaim the Gospel of Christ.  The Spirit empowers us with the grace to do the difficult work of Gospel justice, forgiveness and compassion.

The miracle of Pentecost (Acts 2) is the Spirit’s overcoming the barriers of language and perception to open not only the minds of the Apostles’ hearers but their hearts as well to understanding and embracing the Word of God.

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