This Sunday's Gospel

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

8/6/2017 – Transfiguration [ROMAN lectionary]
8/6/2017 – Pentecost 9 [COMMON lectionary]
8/13/2017 – Sunday 19 / Pentecost 10
8/20/2017 – Sunday 20 / Pentecost 11
8/27/2017 – Sunday 21 / Pentecost 12

9/3/2017 – Sunday 22 / Pentecost 13
9/10/2017 – Sunday 23 / Pentecost 14 
9/17/2014 – Sunday 24 / Pentecost 15
9/24/2014 – Sunday 25 / Pentecost 16

August 6– Transfiguration of the Lord

[Jesus] was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.
Matthew 17: 1-9


Today’s Solemnity of the Transfiguration celebrates the extraordinary transformation of Jesus witnessed Gospel, Peter, James and John on (tradition says) Mount Tabor. 

Matthew’s account (which takes place six days after Jesus’ first prediction of his passion and his first instructions on the call to discipleship) is filled with images from the First Testament: the voice in the cloud which repeats Isaiah’s “Servant” proclamation, the appearance of Moses and Elijah, the dazzling white garments of Jesus. 

Matthew’s primary interest is the disciple’s reaction to the event: their awe at this spectacular vision will soon wither into fear at the deeper meaning of the transfiguration – a meaning that they do not yet grasp.  As the disciples will later understand, the transfiguration is a powerful sign that the events ahead of them in Jerusalem are indeed the Father’s will.


The use of the Greek word “transfiguration” indicates that what the disciples saw in Jesus on Mount Tabor was a divinity that shone from within him.  That same divinity – the sacred character of God in whose image we have been created – dwells within each one of us, enabling us to “transfigure” our lives in the life of God.

Christ calls all who would be his disciples to “transfigure” our lives and our world in the love of God, to “transfigure” despair into hope, sadness into joy, anguish into healing, estrangement into community.

Peter’s suggestion that three booths be built to memorialize this extraordinary vision receives no response from Jesus. The transfigured Jesus asks more of us than memorials of wood and stone – he seeks to be a living presence that illuminates and transforms human hearts.

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August 6 – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost A  [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. 

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.

Christ calls us to become a Eucharistic people: to become the Eucharist we have received.

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August 13 – 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 20 – 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 very important to 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.  Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman illuminates our own vision 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 27 – 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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September 3 – 22nd Sunday of the Year A / 13th Sunday after Pentecost A  [PROPER 17]

“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.

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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September 10 – 23rd Sunday of the Year A / 14th Sunday after Pentecost A  [PROPER 18]

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone . . . If he does not listen, take two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’  If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church . . .
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.”
Matthew 18: 15-20


Chapter 18 of Matthew’s Gospel is a collection of Jesus’ sayings on the practical challenges facing the Christian community, including status-seeking, scandal, division and, the topic of today's reading, conflict.

Today’s Gospel reading sounds more like regulations devised by an ecclesiastical committee than a discourse by Jesus (this chapter has been called the “church-order discourse” of Jesus). But the real point of Jesus’ exhortation is that we must never tolerate any breech of personal relationship between us and another member of the Christian community.  At each stage of the process – personal discussion, discussion before witnesses, discussion before the whole community – the goal is to win the erring Christian back to the community (the three-step process of reconciliation outlined by Jesus here corresponds to the procedure of the Qumran community).

Jesus’ exhortation closes with a promise of God's presence in the midst of every community, regardless of size, bound together by faith.


Today’s Gospel outlines a process of reconciliation among divided members of a community.  Jesus calls his hearers to seek honesty and sincerity in all relationships, to put aside self-interest, anger and wounded pride, and take the first step in healing the rifts that destroy the sense of love that binds family and friends, church and community – the love of Christ is the "debt" that binds us to one another.

In the “rules” and “procedures” for bringing sinners back to the community he lays out in today’s Gospel, Jesus calls us to build communities that are inclusive, not exclusive: to bring the lost back, not out of pride or zealousness, but out of “the debt that binds us to love one another.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of the “church” — not the institutional capital ‘C’ Church, but the lower-case ‘c’ church that is you and I, human beings who struggle to follow Jesus.  That is the important lesson of today’s Gospel: the ability of individuals who come together as disciples, inspired by the Gospel Jesus, to accomplish great works of compassion, reconciliation, healing and justice. 

Today’s exhortation by Jesus is designed to help us create and maintain households of love and forgiveness and communities of reconciliation and peace, where even the smallest and youngest and least able to contribute are as welcomed and honored as we would welcome and honor Christ himself.  Christ promises that whenever we gather in his name, he is in our midst.  Sometimes it requires an extra sharp and focused vision of faith to realize and recognize Christ with us, but he is always there.  Christ’s presence should move us, inspire us, transform us into a community of disciples and witnesses of his resurrection.    

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September 17 – 24th Sunday of the Year A / 14th Sunday after Pentecost A  [PROPER 19]

The parable of the unforgiving debtor:
“’Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’
“So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives one another from your heart.”
Matthew 18: 21-35


The cutting edge of Jesus’ teaching on love is that nothing is unforgivable nor should there be limits to forgiveness. 

It is ironic that Peter should ask the question about forgiveness that introduces the parable of the merciless steward, since Peter himself will be so generously forgiven by Jesus for his denial of Jesus on Good Friday.  It was common rabbinical teaching that one must forgive another three times; the fourth time, the offender was not to be forgiven.  Perhaps Peter was anticipating Jesus’ response to his question by suggesting seven rather than the conventional three times; but Jesus responds that there should be no limit to the number of times we must be ready to forgive those who wrong us (“seventy times seven times”), just as there is no limit to the Father’s forgiveness of us. 

As the king in the parable withdraws his forgiveness of his servant because of the servant’s failure to forgive another, so will God withdraw his forgiveness of the unforgiving and merciless among us.  God's forgiveness is not entirely unconditional: if we do not share it, we will lose it.


Forgiveness can only be given out of love and, therefore, demands sacrifice on the part of the forgiver.  To forgive as God forgives means to intentionally act to purge the evil that exists between us and those who harm us, to take the first, second and last steps toward bridging divisions, to work ceaselessly to mend broken relationships and to welcome and accept the forgiven back into our lives unconditionally, totally and joyfully. 

Forgiveness begins with empathy: being able to see a situation from the perspective of the other.  As the story of the unforgiving servant makes clear, such empathy is not easy: it means overcoming our own anger and outrage at the hurt we have suffered and focusing our concern, instead, on the person who wronged us; such empathy means possessing the humility to face the hurt we have inflicted on others as a result of our insensitivity and self-centeredness.  

Before our merciful Father in heaven, every one of us is an insolvent debtor – but the great mystery of our faith is that God continues to love us, continues to call us back to him, continues to seek not retribution but reconciliation with us.  All God asks of us is that we forgive one another as he forgives us, to help one another back up when we stumble just as God lifts us back up.

The Risen Christ calls us to seek reconciliation that transforms and re-creates: forgiveness that is joyfully offered and humbly but confidently sought; forgiveness that transforms the estranged and separated into family and community; forgiveness that overcomes our own anger and outrage at the injustice waged against us and focuses on healing the relationship with the person who wronged us and ruptured that relationship.  Christ-like reconciliation also means possessing the humility to face the hurt we have inflicted on others as a result of our insensitivity and self-centeredness.

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September 24 – 25th Sunday of the Year A / 16th Sunday after Pentecost A  [PROPER 20]

The parable of the generous vineyard owner:  “Are you envious because I am generous?  Thus the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Matthew 20: 1-16


The parable of the generous vineyard owner (which appears only in Matthew’s Gospel) is the first of several parables and exhortations challenging the Pharisees and scribes and those who criticized Jesus for preaching to tax collectors and sinners.

Jesus makes two points in this parable:

First, the parable speaks of the primacy of compassion and mercy in the kingdom of God.  The employer (God) responds to those who have worked all day that he has been just in paying them the agreed-upon wage; they have no grievance if he chooses to be generous to others.  God's goodness and mercy transcends the narrow and limited laws and logic of human justice; it is not the amount of service given but the attitude of love and generosity behind that service.

The parable also illustrates the universality of the new Church.  The contracted workers, Israel, will be joined by the new “migrant workers,” the Gentiles, who will share equally in the joy of the kingdom of God.


Today’s Gospel strikes at our tendency to judge everything and everyone in terms of how it affects me.  How someone else benefits or is lifted up doesn’t matter — my hurt feelings trump their joy.  Christ calls us to embrace the vision of the generous vineyard owner: to rejoice in the good fortune of others and their being enabled to realize their dreams, instead of lamenting our own losses and slights. 

We have our scales, yardsticks, actuary tables and market indices to measure what is just and what is not; but God is generous, loving and forgiving with an extravagance that sometimes offends our sense of justice and fair play.

Christ calls us to look beyond labels like “tax collector” and “prostitute” and seek out and lift up the holiness and goodness that reside in every person who is, like each one of us, a child of God.  The parable of the generous vineyard owner invites us to embrace the vision of God that enables us to welcome everyone to the work of the harvest, to rejoice in God’s blessings to all, to help one another reap the bounty of God’s vineyard. 

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