This Sunday's Gospel

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

8/5/18 – Sunday 18 / Pentecost 11
8/12/18 – Sunday 19 / Pentecost 12
8/19/18 – Sunday 20 / Pentecost 13
8/26/18 – Sunday 21 / Pentecost 14

9/2/18 – Sunday 22 / Pentecost 15
9/9/18 – Sunday 23 / Pentecost 16
9/16/18 – Sunday 24 / Pentecost 17
9/23/18 – Sunday 25 / Pentecost 18
9/30/18 – Sunday 26 / Pentecost 19


August 5 – 18th Sunday of the Year B/ 11th Sunday of the Year B [Proper 13]

“Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life . . . ”
John 6: 24-35

THE WORD:

Several scholars have suggested that Chapter 6 of John's Gospel may have originally been the text of a homily by an early Christian teacher on the Eucharistic action of Jesus.

Jesus is apparently speaking to two groups: those who witnessed the miracle of the loaves (last Sunday's Gospel) and those who did not see the miracle but have heard about it and want to see a similar sign for themselves.  To the former, Jesus tells them that there is something much deeper in this event than “perishable food” being multiplied; the real “food” is the word of God proclaimed, its power and authority manifested in the miracles of the loaves.

To the latter group who seek a sign as the Israelites sought a sign from Moses, Jesus reminds them that it was not Moses himself but God working through Moses that provided their “grumbling” Exodus ancestors with bread in the desert (recalled in today’s first reading from Exodus).  God has given his people new bread for the new covenant — the Risen Christ.

HOMILY POINTS:

A life of true joy and meaning is driven not by “perishable” material things and fleeting experiences but by the “nonperishable” values of God. 

The crowds in today’s first reading from Exodus and Gospel reading from John are typical: the starving Israelites turn on Moses and demand that God do something and the crowds want to make Jesus the Miracle-worker their king but will later have nothing to do with Jesus the Crucified.  Discipleship requires constancy and courage to stand with the suffering Jesus so that, one day, we might stand with the Risen Jesus.

The Eucharist demands more than the opening of our hands to take and our mouths to consume; the Eucharist calls us to open our hearts and spirits, as well, so that we may become what we receive.

Jesus calls us to get beyond our desire for instant gratification and quick fixes and discover the Word of God – “food that endures” – creating and animating our lives and our world

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August 12 – 19th Sunday of the Year B / 12th Sunday after Pentecost B [Proper 14]

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever . . .
“Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me . . . whoever believes has eternal life."
John 6: 41-51

THE WORD:

From time immemorial bread has been the “staff of life,” the basic and most important food in everyone’s diet.  To the “murmuring” Jews (“murmuring” as their ancestors did in the desert), Jesus tries to help them see the deeper meaning of his claim to be “bread come down from heaven.”  Christ is the “bread of heaven” that transcends this experience of life to the life of God.  Christ the bread is the love, justice and compassion of God incarnate; God, our “Father,” is revealed in him.

The operative verbs in today’s Gospel are “believe” and “trust”:  God provides for and sustains our faith in his gift of Jesus the Bread of life in the same way that First Testament wisdom nourished all who paid heed.

HOMILY POINTS:

Manna is the manifestation of God in our midst.  Manna is generosity and kindness, consolation and support, the constant, unconditional love of family and friends.  Manna is food for our own journeys to God.  God sends us manna in many forms every day of our lives; the challenge of faith is to trust in God enough to look for manna, to collect it before it disappears, and to consume it and be consumed by it. 

As Jesus, the “Bread of life,” gave “life” to the world through his selfless compassion and humble servanthood to others, we, too, can give “life to the world” when we look beyond our own needs and security to the good of others, giving not from our treasure but from our poverty, nourishing one another in the love, compassion and selflessness of the Gospel Jesus.  

To receive the Eucharist worthily, we must allow ourselves not only to consume but to be consumed by the life and love of God

To his Jewish hearers, Jesus’ most astounding and revolutionary teaching is that God, Creator and Lord of all life, is our Father: God is not a mysterious cosmic tyrant to be feared but the loving Giver of life whom we can approach in confidence.  The boundaries and differences that separate people are eclipsed by the realization that every man and woman shares the same humanity, becoming one human family under the “Fatherhood” of God.

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August 19 – 20th Sunday of the Year B / 13th Sunday after Pentecost B  [Proper 15]

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”
John 6: 51-58

THE WORD:

Two dimensions of Jewish worship provide the context of today’s Gospel, the fourth part of the “bread of life” discourse in John 6.

When an animal was sacrificed on the temple altar, part of the meat was given to worshipers for a feast with family and friends at which God was honored as the unseen “Guest.”  It was even believed by some that God entered the flesh of the sacrificed animal, so that when people rose from the feast they believed they were literally “God-filled.”

In Jewish thought, blood was considered the vessel in which life was contained: as blood drained away from a body so did its life.  The Jews, therefore, considered blood sacred, as belonging to God alone.  In animal sacrifices, blood was ritually drained from the carcass and solemnly “sprinkled” upon the altar and the worshipers by the priest as a sign of being touched directly by the “life” of God.

With this understanding, then, John summarizes his theology of the Eucharist, the new Passover banquet (remember that John’s Last Supper account will center around the “mandatum,” the theology of servanthood, rather than the blessing and breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup).  To feast on Jesus the “bread” is to “feast” on the very life of God — to consume the Eucharist is to be consumed by God.

HOMILY POINTS:

In inviting us “to feed on his flesh and drink of my blood,” Jesus invites us to embrace the life of his Father: the life that finds joy in humble servanthood to others; the life that is centered in unconditional, total, sacrificial love; the life that seeks fulfillment not in the standards of this world but in the treasures of the next.

In calling himself the “Bread of Life,” Jesus is talking about much more than food — he’s talking about our self-centeredness and the many forms it takes that has so disordered our world: avarice, greed, bigotry, arrogance. 

In the “bread” of the Eucharist, Jesus shows us how to distinguish the values of God from the values of the marketplace; he instructs us on how to respond to the pressures and challenges of the world with justice and selflessness; he teaches us how to overcome our fears and doubts to become the people of compassion, reconciliation and hope that God created us to be.

In the “bread” he gives us to eat, we become the body of Christ with and for one another; in his “blood” that he gives us to drink, his life of compassion, justice and selflessness flows within us, and we become what we have received: the sacrament of unity, peace and reconciliation.  

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August 26 – 21st Sunday of the Year B / 14th Sunday after Pentecost B [Proper 16]

Simon Peter answered Jesus, “Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”
John 6: 60-69

THE WORD:

Today’s concluding section of the “bread of life” discourse from John's Gospel is a turning point for the disciples of Jesus.  Will they join the ranks of the skeptics, who have dismissed Jesus and his talk of “eating his flesh” or commit themselves to Jesus – and the shadows of the cross that begin to fall?  We can hear the pain in Jesus’ question:  “Do you want to leave me, too?”  Peter’s simple, plaintive answer is the confession of faith voiced by disciples of every age who have come to sense the Spirit of God acting in and re-creating their lives.

HOMILY POINTS:

The true demands of the Gospel are hard to “endure”: the justice and reconciliation required of the faithful disciple runs counter to the conventions of society; the attitude of humble servanthood Jesus asks of us puts us at odds with the “me first/win at all costs” philosophy of our culture.  But, as Peter acknowledges, the words of Jesus are the only way to transform and restore our lives and our world in the life of God.

Hopelessness can easily become a way of life; the sense that God has abandoned us or that God just doesn't exist in our lives can cripple us emotionally and spiritually.  But the faithful disciple understands the reality that God is the only constant source of anything and everything that is good. 

Peter's simple, plaintive answer is a confession of faith in the God of life and resurrection who is not present in the darkness of evil but in the light of goodness that seeks to shatter that darkness.

The faith that Christ comes to reveal is not a “warm fluffy blanket” under which we hide from whatever we find unsettling or painful nor a protective coating designed to ward off every form of sin and evil; faith is a light that illuminates our journey through life’s challenges and obstacles, a lens through which we are able to see God’s grace at work even in the most confusing and difficult times.

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September 2 – 22nd Sunday of the Year / 15th Sunday after Pentecost  [PROPER 17]

“For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come . . . ”
Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

THE WORD:

Today’s Gospel returns to Mark’s story of the Christ event with a confrontation that Mark’s first Christian readers knew all too well.  A contentious debate raged in the early Church as to whether Christians should continue to observe the practices of Judaism.  Jesus challenges the scribes’ insistence that faithfulness to ceremonial washings and other rituals constitutes complete faithfulness to the will of God.  He scandalizes his hearers by proclaiming “nothing that enters a man from outside can make him impure; that which comes out of him, and only that, constitutes impurity.”  It is the good that one does motivated by the spirit of the heart that is important in the eyes of God, not how scrupulously one keeps the laws and rituals mandated by tradition.

Through the centuries of Judaism, the scribes had constructed a rigid maze of definitions, admonitions, principles and laws to explain the Pentateuch (summarized in Moses’ eloquent words to the nation of Israel in today’s first reading).  As a result, the ethics of religion were often buried under a mountain of rules and taboos.  Jesus’ teachings re-focus the canons of Israel on the original covenant based on the wisdom and discernment of the human heart.  Such a challenge widens the growing gulf between Jesus and the Jewish establishment.

HOMILY NOTES:

Faith begins with encountering God in our hearts; our faith is expressed in the good that we do and the praise we offer in the depths of our hearts, not simply in words and rituals performed "outside" of ourselves.

The kind of human being we are begins in the values of the heart, the place where God dwells within — but the evil we are capable of, the hurt we inflict on others, the degrading of the world that God created also begins “within,” when God is displaced by selfishness, greed, anger, hatred.

In the hurts, indignities and injustices perpetrated against us, what is often worse than the act itself is what the act does do us as persons: we respond with suspicion, cynicism, self-absorption, anger, vengeance.  To be a disciple of Jesus is not to let those things “outside” us diminish what we are “inside” ourselves, not to let such anger or vengeance displace the things of God in our hearts but to let God’s presence transform the evil that we have encountered into compassion and forgiveness.  

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September 9 – 23rd Sunday of the Year / 16th Sunday of the Year [PROPER 18]

They brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him.  He took him off by himself away from the crowd.  Jesus put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; he then looked up to heaven and groaned, and to him “Ephphatha” – that is “Be opened.”
Mark 7: 31-37

THE WORD:

Ephphatha “Be opened!”

Isaiah’s vision of a Messiah who would come with hope and healing (today’s first reading) is realized in this episode from Mark’s Gospel: the deaf hear, the silent are given voice, the lame “leap like a stag.”  The exhortation Ephphatha! is not only addressed to the man born deaf but to his disciples both then and now who fail to hear and see and speak the presence of God in their very midst.

The Aramaic phrase ephphatha literally means “be released” – Jesus “releases” the man not only from his disability but from his sins, his isolation from the community, his alienation from God.

Jesus’ curing of the deaf man with spittle (which, in Jesus’ time, was considered curative) is an act of re-creation.  God’s reign is present in human history in the extraordinary ministry of Jesus.  Throughout Mark’s Gospel, Jesus insists that his healings be kept quiet in order that his full identity be revealed and understood only in the light of his cross and resurrection.

HOMILY THEMES:

Jesus restores the deaf man’s hearing with the word Ephphatha – “Be opened!”  We, too, can bring healing and life to those who need the support, the affirmation, the sense of loving and being loved that the simple act of listening can give.

In times of grief, despair and failure, we can be “deaf” to the presence of God in the love and compassion of others; or we can become so preoccupied with the noise and clamor of the marketplace that we are unable to hear the voices of those we love and who love us.

Jesus not just cures the man with a fleeting word but, by his touch, he enters into the grit and grime, the struggle and pain of the man’s life and, in doing so, brings hope and healing to the man.

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September 16 – 24th Sunday of the Year / 17th Sunday after Pentecost [PROPER 19]

Along the way Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say I am?”  Peter said to him in reply, “You are the Christ . . . ”
Jesus turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan.  You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
Mark 8: 27-35

THE WORD:

In today’s Gospel, Peter is a model of vacillating faith – a model that mirrors our own reaction to the call to discipleship.

Caesar Philippi was a bazaar of worship places and temples, with altars erected to every concept of the divinity from the gods of Greece to the godhead of Caesar.  Amid this marketplace of gods, Jesus asks Peter and the Twelve, “Who do people say that I am? . . . Who do you say that I am?”  This is a turning point in Mark's Gospel:  Until now, Mark's Jesus has been reluctant to have people believe in him only because of his miracles.  Jesus talks, for the first time in Mark’s Gospel, about dark things ahead: rejection, suffering, death and resurrection (concepts that the disciples are unable to grasp).

In this incident (recorded by all three synoptics), Peter immediately confesses his faith in Jesus as the Messiah – the Messiah of victory and salvation.  But when Jesus begins to speak of a Messiah who will suffer rejection and death, Peter objects.  Peter’s reaction is ours, as well:  We prefer to follow the popular, happy Jesus, the healing and comforting Jesus – but we back away from the suffering, humble, unsettling Jesus of the cross.

HOMILY NOTES:

Every moment we live, every decision and choice we make, every good thing we do is our most revealing and telling response to the question, Who do you say I am?   Our love for family and friends, our commitment to the highest moral and ethical standards, our willingness to take the first step toward reconciliation and forgiveness are, ultimately, our true confession of faith in Jesus Christ as the Love and Word of God incarnate.

Only in “denying ourselves” in order to imitate the servanthood of Christ do we experience the true depth of our faith; only in embracing his compassion and humility in our lives do we enable the Spirit of God to renew and transform our world in God’s life and love.  

We cannot belong to the company of Jesus unless we embrace the Crucified One’s spirit of selfless servanthood; we cannot stand with the Crucified Jesus unless we unconditionally and completely love and forgive others as he did; we cannot hope to share in the victory of the Risen Christ unless we “crucify” our fears, self-consciousness and prejudices that blind us from seeing him in the faces of every human being.

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September 23 – 25th Sunday of the Year / 18th Sunday after Pentecost [PROPER 20]

“If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all . . .
“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”
Mark 9: 30-37

THE WORD:

Different hopes and expectations of the long awaited “age of the Messiah” collide in today's Gospel.

A somber Jesus speaks cryptically of what awaits him in Jerusalem, while those closest to him argue about their own greatness and status in the Messiah’s reign (that must have been quite a conversation to elicit the strong reaction it did from Jesus!).  The disciples, long resigned to their people’s humiliation and subjugation, dream of a kingdom of power and influence in which ambition is exalted; Jesus explains to them (yet again) that the Messiah’s reign will be a kingdom of spirit and conversion in which humble service to others is exalted.

Jesus articulates the great paradox of discipleship:  Do you wish to be first?  Then become last.  Do you seek to attain greatness?  Then become small.  Do you want to be masters?  Then become the servants of those you wish to rule.

To emphasize the point, Jesus picks up a little child and places the child in the midst of these would-be rulers and influence peddlers.  A child has no influence in the affairs of society nor offers anything to adults in terms of career advancement or prestige enhancement; just the opposite is true: a child needs everything.  To be “great” in the reign of God, Jesus says, one must become the “servant” of the “child,” the poor, the needy, the lost.

HOMILY POINTS:           

For the disciples of Jesus, every child represents the vulnerabilities, fears, and doubts that every one of us experiences in our lives; every child mirrors Jesus’ call to us in baptism to take up his work of reaching out to those overwhelmed by pain, anxiety and hopelessness. 

In their simple joy and wonder of the world they are constantly discovering, in their ready acceptance of our love, in their total dependence on us for their nurturing and growth, children are the ideal teachers of the Spirit of humble servanthood and constant thanksgiving that Jesus asks of those who would be his followers.

To put another’s hopes and dreams ahead of one’s own, to bring forth and affirm the gifts of others for no other reason than the common good, to seek reconciliation at all costs is to be the “servant” Christ speaks of in today's Gospel.

The poorest and neediest, the forgotten and the rejected, the “least” and the “lowliest” – represented by the child in today’s Gospel – are signs of God’s grace in our midst.

“Child-like faith” is never dissuaded or discouraged, never becomes cynical or jaded, never ceases to be amazed and grateful for the many ways God reveals his presence in our lives.  The power of such “simple faith” is its ability to overcome every rationalization, fear, complication and agenda in order to mirror the selflessness of Christ Jesus.

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September 30 – 26th Sunday of the Year / 19th Sunday after Pentecost [PROPER 21]

“Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believes in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”
Mark 9: 38-43, 45, 47-48

THE WORD:

As we have seen throughout Mark’s Gospel, the people of Jesus’ time held great stock in the existence of demons: whatever mental illness or physical infirmity they could not understand was caused by some “demon.”  It was also the belief that a demon could be exorcised if one could invoke the name of a still more powerful spirit to order the evil and unclean spirit out of a person.

John tried to stop someone who seemed to be cashing in on Jesus’ growing reputation as a healer by invoking Jesus' name to cast out a demon.  John’s concern, at first reading, appears to have some merit – but recall the on-going battle among the disciples as to who is the greatest among them.  Jesus responds, therefore, by condemning his followers’ jealousy and intolerance, warning against an elitist view of discipleship that diminishes the good done by those we consider “outsiders.”

Today's Gospel selection includes Jesus’ exhortation that it is better lose one’s limb if it leads one to sin.  Two notes about these final verses:

The “millstone” Jesus speaks of is the large piece of stone that is turned by a pack animal to grind grain.  Drowning a criminal by tying him to one of these large heavy stones was a method of execution in Rome and Palestine.

Gehenna was a vile place in Jewish history.  The young King Ahaz (2 Chronicles 38: 3) practiced child immolation to the “fire god” at Gehenna.  In Jesus’ time, Gehenna, a ravine outside Jerusalem, served as the city’s refuse site.  Gehenna became synonymous with our concept of hell for the Jews.

HOMILY POINTS:

Jesus promises us that even the simplest act of love or kindness – the Gospel “cup of water – will one day be honored by God.  Anyone and everyone in need have a claim on our compassion and charity because they belong to Christ.  In whatever opportunities we have, with whomever we meet and are able to help, may we not hesitate to act in Jesus’ name.  

To share our faith with our children is both a great joy and great responsibility of that faith.  Anyone and everyone in some kind of trouble or need have a claim on our compassion and charity because they are dear to Christ. 

Discipleship begins with a spirit of humble gratitude to God for the gift of our lives that trumps our disappointments, regrets and anger over the things that have not turned out as we hope.

Despite his rather harsh images of “cutting off” and “plucking out,” Jesus calls us to realize that discipleship means letting nothing — nothing! — detach or derail us in our search for the things of God, not allowing the pursuit of prestige, wealth, social status or immediate gratification to desensitize us to the presence of God in our lives or diminish the love of God we cherish in family and friends.
  
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