This Sunday's Gospel

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

7/5/2020 – Sunday 14 / Pentecost 5
7/12/2020 – Sunday 15 / Pentecost 6
7/19/2020 – Sunday 16 / Pentecost 7
7/26/2020 – Sunday 17 / Pentecost 8

8/2/2020 – Sunday 18 / Pentecost 9  
8/9/2020 – Sunday 19 / Pentecost 10
8/16/2017 – Sunday 20 / Pentecost 11
8/23/2020 – Sunday 21 / Pentecost 12
8/30/2020 – Sunday 22 / Pentecost 13

July 5 – 14th Sunday of the Year / Fifth Sunday after Pentecost A [Proper 9A]

“ . . . although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones . . .
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart . . . ”
Matthew 11: 25-30


Rarely outside of John’s Gospel is Jesus’ intimacy with the Father so clearly portrayed as in today’s Gospel from Matthew.  Jesus offers a hymn of praise to his Father, the holy Creator of all who deeply loves his creation as a father loves his children.  The great love of God for all of humanity is revealed in the love of his Son, the Messiah.

Religion as a “yoke” was exactly how Jesus' Jewish listeners saw the Law.  They saw their faith as a burden, a submission to a set of endless rules and regulations dictating every dimension of their lives.  But Jesus describes his “yoke” as “easy.”  The Greek word used here that we translate as “easy” more accurately means “fitting well.”  In Palestine, ox yokes were custom-made of wood, cut and measured to fit a particular animal.  Jesus is proposing here a radical change in attitude regarding faith:  Our relationship with God is not based on how meticulously we keep a certain set of rules and regulations (a direct challenge to the long-held view of the scribes and Pharisees) but in the depth of our love of God, reflected in our love of others.  Our relationship with God is not based on subjugation and weariness but on hope and joy.

There is also an important political dimension to these verses.  Matthew’s Gospel was written a short time after the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 A.D. by the soldier-emperor Vespasian.  For both the Jewish and the new Christian communities, it was a time of painful introspection:  Would Israel’s hope for the political restoration of the Jewish state ever be realized?   While orthodox Jews maintained unwavering fidelity to their people, language and sense of nationalism, the Christian “cult” saw their ultimate destiny not in the political restoration of Israel but in the coming of the reign of God – a reign that embraces not just Jews but all men and women, even Israel's most despised enemies.  Jewish suspicion of the Christian community was growing as the new group became more and more disaffected by the Jewish political agenda.  Jesus’ words on gentleness and humility set off sparks between loyal Jews and Christians who were abandoning the cause.


When Christ calls his disciples to embrace the simple faith of “little ones,” he is not saying that our approach to faith should be “dumbed down” to the level of children.  Christ is calling us, instead, to embrace a faith that is centered in the “simple” but profound love, compassion and hope of God: love that is not compromised by self-interest and rationalization; compassion that is not measured but offered totally and unreservedly, completely and without limit or condition; hope that is centered in gratitude for the many ways God’s presence is revealed in our midst.  It is an approach to faith that is not compromised by “adult” complexities and complications but embraced with “child-like” directness and optimism. 

To love one another as God has loved us, to serve one another as Christ the Savior serves God’s people, is a “yoke” that is “easy” (“fitting well”) in calling us to love as we are, using whatever gifts God has given us to give voice to our faith; a yoke that is “light” in its sense of joy and the fulfillment and meaning it gives our lives.

Today’s Gospel calls us to embrace Jesus’ spirit of humility: recognizing that before God we are all debtors, that we have done nothing to deserve the life we have been given, that we are owed nothing from God or life.  Humility is to realize how blessed we have been by God through no merit of our own, and to respond to such goodness with a constant sense of gratefulness, realizing that every breath we take is a gift from a Creator whose love knows neither limit nor condition.  

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July 12 – 15th Sunday of the Year / Sixth Sunday after Pentecost A [Proper 10A]

The parable of the sower: 
“Blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear . . .
“The seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”
Matthew 13: 1-2


Chapter 13 of Matthew’s Gospel is the evangelist’s collection of Jesus’ parables.  The word “parable”comes from the Greek word parabole, which means putting two things side by side in order to confront or compare them.  And that is exactly how Jesus uses parables:  He places a simile from life or nature against the abstract idea of the reign of God.  The comparison challenges the hearer to consider ideas and possibilities greater and larger than those to which they might be accustomed. 

Jesus’ hearers expected God’s kingdom to be the restoration of Israel to great political and economic power; the Messiah would be a great warrior-king who would lead Israel to this triumph.  Jesus’ parables subtly and delicately led people, without crushing or disillusioning them, to rethink their concept of God’s kingdom.

In Palestine, sowing was done before the plowing.  Seed was not carefully or precisely placed in the ground.  The farmer scattered the seed in all directions, knowing that, even though much will be wasted, enough will be sown in good earth to ensure a harvest nonetheless.  The parable of the sower (which appears in all three synoptic gospels) teaches that the seed’s fruitfulness (God's word) depends on the soil’s openness (the willingness of the human heart to embrace it).


The parable of the sower challenges us to see how deeply the word of God has taken root in our lives, how central God is to the very fabric of our day-to-day existence. 

Christ invites his followers to embrace the faith of the sower: to trust and believe that our simplest acts of kindness and forgiveness, our humblest offer of help to anyone in need, our giving of only a few minutes to listen to the plight of another soul may be the seeds that fall “on good soil” and yields an abundant harvest.

Jesus challenges us in the parable of the sower to be both sower and seed: to sow seeds of encouragement, joy and reconciliation regardless of the “ground” on which it is scattered, and to imitate the seed’s total giving of self that becomes the harvest of Gospel justice and mercy.      

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July 19 – 16th Sunday of the Year / Seventh Sunday after Pentecost A [Proper 11A]

“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field.  While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat . . .
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed . . . the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants . . .
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.”
Matthew 13: 24-43


Matthew’s Gospel has been called the “Gospel of the Kingdom,” containing some 51 references to the kingdom or reign of God.  Three of Jesus’ “kingdom” parables make up today's Gospel:

The parable of the wheat and the weeds:  God’s kingdom will be “harvested” from among the good that exists side-by-side with the bad.  Palestinian farmers were plagued by tares
weeds that were very difficult to distinguish from good grain.  The two would often grow together and become so intertwined that it was impossible to separate them without ripping both weed and plant from the ground.  Jesus teaches his impatient followers that the Lord of the harvest is more concerned with the growth of the wheat than with the elimination of the weeds.  The time for separation and burning will come in God's own time; our concern should be that of our own faithfulness.

The parable of the mustard seed:  The smallest and humblest are enabled by the Holy Spirit to do great things in the kingdom of God.  From small and humble beginnings, God’s kingdom will grow.

The parable of the yeast:  A small amount of yeast mixed with three measures of flour can make enough bread to feed over a hundred.  In the same way, God’s reign is a powerful albeit unseen force.
Matthew’s Gospel was written some 50 years after Jesus’ death and 15 years after the destruction of Jerusalem.  By this time, it is clear to the community of Christians that Jesus is not going to be accepted by all of Israel as the Messiah.  In citing these parables, the writer of Matthew encouraged the largely Jewish Christian community to see itself as the legitimate heir to God's promises to Israel.  They were the “good wheat” existing side by side with the “weeds” that would destroy it, the small mustard seed that would give rise to the great and mighty tree of the Church, the small amount of yeast that would become bread for the world.


“The wheat and weeds”:  We often approach religion as a deadly serious business; we lose the spirit of joy and the sense of hope that are part of the promise of the Risen Christ.  We become so concerned about pulling out the weeds that we forget to harvest the grain; we become so focused on the evil and abuses that surround us and “threaten” us that we fail to realize and celebrate the healing and life-giving presence of God in our very midst; we become so intent in upbraiding and punishing sinners that our own lives become mired in gloom and despair.  The task of judging sinners belongs to God; to us belongs the work of compassion and reconciliation.

When we hear Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds, we first think of good people (the wheat) and bad people (the weeds) coexisting in an imperfect world until the coming of God’s kingdom.  But every individual possesses something of both the “good” wheat and “evil” weed.  Every one of us possesses the ability to do compassionate and just things out of love — but there exists within us the same ability to do destructive things out of selfishness and greed.  Discipleship recognizes that struggle existing within each one of us but also embraces the hope that, in seeking to imitate Christ’s spirit of loving servanthood, we may be “wheat” for a world that is often choking in “weeds.”  

“Mustard seed”:  All of us, at some time, are called to be “mustard seeds,” to do the small, thankless things that are necessary to bring a sense of wholeness and fulfillment to our homes and communities.  From such “mustard seeds” is yielded a great harvest of peace and reconciliation.

“Yeast”:  In baptism, we accept God's call to be “yeast,” to be the bread of compassion, justice and forgiveness to a world which is desperately hungry in its despair and hopelessness. 

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July 26 – 17th Sunday of the Year / Eighth Sunday after Pentecost A [Proper 12A]

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells what he has and buys that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls.  When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells what he has and buys it.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind.  When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down and put what is good into buckets . . . ”
 Matthew 13: 44-52


The first two parables in today’s Gospel – the parables of the buried treasure and the pearl – are lessons in the total attachmentto Christ and detachment from the things of the world demanded of the disciple in order to make the reign of God a reality. 

The parable of the dragnet is similar in theme to last week’s parable of the wheat and weeds.  Again, Matthew makes the point that the kingdom of God is neither an instant happening nor a static event, but a dynamic movement toward completion and fulfillment which Jesus set into motion.


The “treasures” and “pearls” of lasting value are the things of God: the love of family and friends, the support of community, the sense of fulfillment from serving and giving for the sake of others.  In order to attain such treasure, we must take the risk of the speculator and “sell off” our own interests, ambitions and agendas in order to free ourselves to embrace the lasting values of the compassion, love and reconciliation of God.

The Gospel “pearl” of great price transcends logic, efficiency, and self-interest; and the Gospel “treasure” is the joy and wholeness one experiences in imitating the humble compassion and forgiveness of Christ.  

In the parable of the dragnet, Jesus calls us to embrace the vision of God that seeks out the good and nurturing, the right and just in all things amid the “junk” of life.

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August 2 – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost A / Ninth Sunday after Pentecost  [Proper 13A]

Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself . . .
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, Jesus said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.
Matthew 14: 13-21


The multiplication of the loaves and fish is the only one of Jesus’ miracles recorded in all four Gospels.  The early Christian community especially cherished this story because they saw this wonder as anticipating the Eucharist and the final banquet in the kingdom of God.  This miracle also has strong roots in the First Testament: For the peoples of both the First and New Testament, the image of a great banquet was an important visualization of the reign of God: the gifts of the land were unmistakable signs of their God’s great Providence; the Messiah’s coming was often portrayed as a great banquet with choice food and wines; the miracle of the loaves and fishes is a clear affirmation in God's providence.  Just as the merciful God feeds the wandering Israelites with manna in the desert, Jesus, “his heart moved with pity,” feeds the crowds who have come to hear him.

In Matthew’s account, Jesus acts out of his great compassion on the crowds.  First, he challenges the disciples to give what they have – five loaves and two fish.  Then he performs the four-fold action that prefigures the Eucharist: Jesus takes, blesses, breaks and gives the bread and fish to the assembled multitude, making of them a community of the Lord's banquet.


Given the many demands on our time and the expectations of work and school, we need to make time for that “out of that way”: quiet deserts and sacred time where and when we can escape the clamor of the marketplace and the tyranny of our calendars to experience the peace of being alone with God, to listen to the voice of God in the quiet of our hearts, to know the joy of doing simple, humble things for others.  

More astounding than Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand is Jesus’ transforming them into a community, a community who becomes one in their need, one in the bread they share, one in the love of Christ who has brought them together.  Christ calls us to become a Eucharistic people: to become the Eucharist we have received. 

We, too, can perform wonders in our own time and place by imitating the four “Eucharistic verbs” of Jesus: to take humbly and generously from what we have been given by God, to bless by offering it to others in God’s love, to break from our own needs and interests for the sake of others, to give with joy-filled gratitude to the God who has blessed us with so much

The bread of the Eucharist, which we share together in charity and faith, is a prelude to the great banquet of the next world to which our loving Father invites us.

The “fragments” that disciples gather are not to be lost; they are part of the miracle.  We are all part of the body of Christ: there are no useless scraps, no wasted fragments: every one of us is a child of God, part of the body of Christ that is blessed, broken and shared at this table.  We are only whole when every piece, ever fragment, is gathered.  

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August 9 – 19th Sunday of the Year A / Tenth Sunday after Pentecost A  [Proper 14A]

When the disciples saw [Jesus] walking on the sea they were terrified . . .
When [Peter] saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Matthew 14: 22-33


In Matthew’s Gospel, the storm at Gennesaret and Peter’s walking on the water immediately follows the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.  The depth of Peter’s love for Jesus is not matched by a depth of faith; but Jesus, nonetheless, raises the sinking disciple up from the waters of fear and death.


Throughout the Gospels, Jesus intentionally withdraws from his friends and followers to be alone; but such times are not for “chilling” or “vegging” but for attentive, focused prayer, to be in touch with the rhythm and movement of God. God calls us to our own out-of-the-way places, our own quiet “mountains” to be fully aware of God’s presence in our lives and hearts.

What happens to Peter in today’s Gospel, happens to all of us at one time or another:  We panic.  We don’t trust ourselves to know what the right thing is or our ability to do it.  But, somehow, God reaches out and catches us — if we’re willing to put aside our fears and try to do as Jesus would do, trusting in God’s grace to realize that good.

Jesus promises that in every storm that batters us his hand is extended to us in the hand of those we love and trust; he also calls us to grasp the Peters in our midst who struggle not to be overwhelmed by the waves of fear, doubt and alienation that often threaten to drown all of us.

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August 16 – 20th Sunday of the Year A / 11th Sunday after Pentecost A  [Proper 15A]

Jesus cures the Canaanite woman:  “Lord, even the dogs eat the crumbs from their tables of their masters.”
Matthew 15: 21-28


The story of the Canaanite woman was a marker for the Christians of the predominately Gentile Christian communities.  Jesus’ healing of the daughter of the persistent Canaanite mother became a prophetic model for the relationship between Jewish and Gentile Christians.  The woman is not only a Gentile but also a descendent of the Canaanites, one of Israel’s oldest and most despised enemies.  Despite Jesus’ rebuff of her (equating Gentiles with “dogs,” as Jews referred to anyone who was not a Jew), the woman has the presence of mind to point out that “even dogs are given crumbs and scraps from their masters’ tables.”  She displays both great faith in Jesus (addressing him by the Messianic title of “Son of David”) and great love for her daughter (subjecting herself to possible ridicule and recrimination for approaching Jesus) that should inspire both Jew and Gentile -- and Christian.


Jesus does not see in the Canaanite woman an old enemy; he sees, in her great compassion and love for her sick daughter, a loving mother; he sees, in her courage to come forward in the face of imminent rejection and denunciation, a woman of great faith. 

The Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel seeks what we all seek: to be acknowledged as good, to be respected as a child of God, to be welcomed as a sister and brother to all. 

In honoring the goodness and love of the Canaanite mother (who, as a Canaanite, is despised by Jesus’ hearers), Jesus opens up our perspectives and illuminates our vision, enabling us to see one another as God sees us. 

Most of us would consider ourselves fair-minded and unbiased, neither bigots nor racists; but if we're honest, we would probably recognize times we have treated people as if they were “a little less human” because they did not possess some quality or ingredient we consider imperative.  We underestimate people because they are somehow different; we treat them as inferiors because they don't quite measure up to what we think they should or should not be.  God does not measure his people by our standards but welcomes all who seek him in faith.

Pope Francis often speaks of reaching out to those on the boundaries or “peripheries,” to those who are driven to the margins and edges of society by poverty, violence and illness.  In Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman, we begin to recognize those divisions and chasms between us and others and to go the peripheries and cross those boundaries that are obstacles to realizing God’s kingdom of justice and peace in this time and place of ours.  

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August 23 – 21st Sunday of the Year A / 12th Sunday after Pentecost A  [Proper 16A]

Jesus said to his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” 
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
And Jesus answered him,  “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.  And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church . . . ”
Matthew 16: 13-20


In Matthew’s Gospel, Peter’s confession of faith is a turning point in the ministry of Jesus.  Jesus will now concentrate on preparing his disciples to take on the teaching ministry and leadership of the Church he will establish.

The scene of today’s Gospel, Caesarea Philippi, was the site of temples dedicated to no less than 14 different pagan gods, ranging from the Syrian god Baal to Pan, the Greek god of nature.  In the middle of the city was a great white temple built by Herod and dedicated to the “divinity” of Caesar (hence the name of the city).  In the midst of this marketplace of gods and temples, Jesus first indicates his plans and hopes for his church.

Jesus “sets up” Peter’s declaration of faith by asking his disciples what people are saying about him.  Many believed that Jesus is the reincarnation of John the Baptizer or the long-awaited return of the prophets Elijah or Jeremiah (Malachi 4: 5-6), whose return would signal the restoration of Israel.  Simon Peter, however, has been given the gift of faith (“flesh and blood has not revealed this to you”) and unequivocally states that Jesus is the Messiah.

Jesus blesses Simon with the new name of “rock” (Kepha in Aramaic, Petros in Greek), indicating that his faith will be the foundation for Jesus’ new Church.  Peter is entrusted with the keys of the kingdom of heaven (an image drawn from Isaiah 22: 15-25, today's first reading) and the mission to bring sins to consciousness and to proclaim to sinners the love and forgiveness of God.


The question Jesus poses to Peter and his disciples is asked of us every minute of every day.  Every decision we make is ultimately a response to the question, Who do you say I am?  Our love for family and friends, our dedication to the cause of justice, our commitment to the highest moral and ethical standards, our taking the first step toward reconciliation and forgiveness, our simplest acts of kindness and charity declare most accurately and effectively our belief in the Gospel Jesus as the Messiah and Redeemer.

Peter is the first of the disciples to grasp the divinity of Christ.  On the faith of Peter “the rock” Christ establishes his Church.  Peter becomes, then, the first stone in the foundation of the Church.  We who are baptized into the faith handed down to us by Peter and the apostles become stones of Christ’s new church; the faith we live and the hope we cherish in the empty tomb of Easter are the foundation of the Church of the Risen One.

The “keys of the kingdom of heaven” are entrusted by Christ not just to the institutional Church but to each one of us.  Christ has given every one of us a “key” to the kingdom: the means to “unlock” the presence of God in our world by our own efforts, however small and hidden, to realize God’s love in our midst.  Our “keys” may be patience and understanding, a talent or skill we possess that we can use to unlock a door or open a pathway enabling us and those we love and care about realize the kingdom of heaven here and now.  

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August 30 – 22nd Sunday of the Year A / 13th Sunday after Pentecost A  [Proper 17A]

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Matthew 16: 21-27


Peter’s confession of faith (last Sunday’s Gospel) begins a new phase of Matthew’s Gospel.  As he makes his way to Jerusalem, Jesus’ teachings will now be addressed primarily to his disciples on the events and work that awaits them in Jerusalem – and beyond.

The hostility between Jesus and the leaders of Judaism is about to reach the crisis stage.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus proclaims unambiguously that his mission as the Messiah includes suffering and death.  Peter is sharply rebuked by Jesus for his seemingly innocent remark that Jesus should be spared such a fate, but Jesus sees Peter’s refusal to accept such a possibility as a “satanic” attempt to deflect the Messiah from his mission of redemption.  To avoid suffering and hardship in order to opt for the easy and safe course is purely human thinking, an obstacle to experiencing the life of the Spirit. Authentic discipleship involves taking on the cross and “denying oneself” – disowning ourselves as the center of our existence and realizing that God is the object and purpose of our lives.

Jesus asks his disciples to detach from the ephemeral and shallow in order to attach to the lasting, fulfilling things of God: compassion, reconciliation, justice. 

The cross that Jesus asks his followers to take up is not a cross that cedes to crucifixion but a cross that is the means to resurrection.  In embracing Jesus’ spirit of humble servanthood and compassion, we take up his cross, not out of a sense of self-loathing or pessimism, but out of a sense of conviction and hope that the demands of the cross will result in the life and love of the Easter promise.

It’s a natural and understandable reaction to avoid whatever is unpleasant, uncomfortable, stressful, hurtful.  In today’s Gospel, Peter simply wants to protect Jesus from the suffering that awaits — but Jesus sharply rebukes Peter for trying to diminish or skirt the cross because it is difficult.  To take up one’s cross is not a “battle” of good over evil but a means for bringing God’s promise of resurrection into our lives and the loves of those we love.   

Christ urges us to “lose” that part of our life that is centered in ephemeral, perishable things so that we may “gain” lives grounded in the love of God: to lose our anger, our disappointment, our need for control in order to find meaning and purpose in doing for others and contributing to the common good.  In “dying” to ourselves we become something greater; in letting go of the temporary and the fleeting we become richer; in the suffering we endure we become stronger, in the failures we experience we become wiser.  

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