This Sunday's Gospel

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

6/4/2017 – Pentecost

6/11/2017 – Holy Trinity
6/18/2017 – Body and Blood of Christ [ROMAN lectionary]
6/18/2017 – Pentecost 2 [COMMON lectionary] 
6/25/2017 – Sunday 12 / Pentecost 3

7/2/2017 – Sunday 13 / Pentecost 4 
7/9/2017 – Sunday 14 / Pentecost 5
7/16/2017 – Sunday 15 / Pentecost 6
7/23/2017 – Sunday 16 / Pentecost 7
7/30/2017 – Sunday 17 / Pentecost 8

 


June 4 – 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

THE WORD:

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.”

HOMILY POINTS:

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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June 11 – The Holy Trinity [A]

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son . . . for God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him.”
John 3: 16-18

THE WORD:

As Ordinary Time resumes, two “solemnities of the Lord” are celebrated on the next two Sundays.  Today’s celebration of the Trinity originated in France in the eighth century and was adopted by the universal Church in 1334.  The solemnity focuses on the essence of our faith: the revelation of God as Creator, God’s re-creation of humankind in Jesus the Redeemer, the fullness of the love of God poured out on us in the Sustainer Spirit.

Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, comes under the cover of darkness to meet the remarkable rabbi he has heard so much about.  In their exchange in today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of the need to be reborn “from above” and of the great love of God who gives the world his own Son, not to condemn humankind but to save it.

HOMILY POINTS:  

Today we celebrate the essence of our faith manifested in our lives: the loving providence of the Creator who continually invites us back to him; the selfless servanthood of the Redeemer who “emptied” himself to become like us in order that we might become like him; the joyful love of the Spirit that is the unique unity of the Father and Son.

As revealed to us by Jesus, our God is a God not of endings but beginnings; a God who does not demand the payment of debts but who constantly offers unconditional and unlimited chances to begin again; a God who does not take satisfaction in our failures but rejoices in lifting us up from our brokenness, despair and estrangement from him and from one another. 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus challenges Nicodemus to move beyond old, incomplete and “childlike” images of God in order to grow toward a more complete, “adult” faith that recognizes the God who works and moves from his Spirit of unfathomable love; the God who constantly takes the initiative to be reconciled with us, despite our failings; the God who is not removed from his creation but constantly present in every act of love and compassion and forgiveness.

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June 18 – The Body and Blood of the Lord [A]

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”
John 3: 16-18

THE WORD:

Today’s celebration of the Body and Blood of the Lord originated in the Diocese of Liege in 1246 as the feast of Corpus Christi.  In the reforms of Vatican II, the Corpus Christi festival was joined with the feast of the Precious Blood (July 1) to become the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord.  We celebrate today Christ’s gift of the Eucharist, the source and summit of our life together as the Church.

In the “bread of life” discourse in John’s Gospel, Jesus’ revelations concerning his Messianic ministry take on a Eucharistic theme.  The image of Jesus as “bread from heaven” echoes two dimensions of the same First Testament image: the wisdom of God's Law nourishing all who accept it and God's blessing of manna to feed the journeying Israelites.

HOMILY POINTS:

The gift of the Eucharist comes with an important “string” is attached: it must be shared.  In sharing the body of Christ, we become the body of Christ.  If we partake of the “one bread” (Reading 2), then we must be willing to become Eucharist for others -- to make the love of Christ real for all.

Our coming to the table of the Eucharist is even more than just reliving the memory of Christ’s great sacrifice for our redemption -- in sharing the Eucharist we re-enter the inexplicable love of God who gives us eternal life in his Son, the Risen Christ.

In celebrating the Eucharist, we make our parish family’s table the Lord’s own table, a place of reconciliation and compassion.

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June 18 – Second Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 6A]

“Jesus sent out these twelve after instructing them thus, “ . . . As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons.  Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”
Matthew 9: 35 – 10: 8

THE WORD:

Today’s Gospel serves as a narrative transition from Matthew’s recounting of Jesus’ miracles and works of wonder (chapters 8 and 9) to Jesus’ missionary discourse (chapters 10 and 11). 

The missionary dimension of discipleship is centered in two images: the “sheep without a shepherd” and harvest in need of laborers.  Having established his identity as God’s Christ in his work as a healer, Jesus now commissions the Twelve and his Church to heal hearts and souls in a ministry of reconciliation:

“cure the sick” – bring back to God those who are alienated, those who are lost, those who are weak (the Greek word used in the text of today’s Gospel asthenes means “weak”);

“raise the dead” – lift up those hopelessly and helplessly dead because of sin, who are blind and deaf to the grace of God, who are entombed by poverty, racism and violence;

“cleanse lepers” – bring back the sons and daughters of God who are rejected or estranged from the human family;

“drive out demons” – liberate those enslaved by sin and evil.

HOMILY THEMES:

Jesus compassion for the “shepherdless” calls us to bring to the lost, forgotten and marginalized (those Pope Francis calls those on the “periphery”).  Today’s Gospel reaffirms our responsibility as disciples of Jesus to welcome rather than condemn, to lift up rather than judge those who have not heard the voice of the shepherd, to seek reconciliation with those from whom we are estranged or separated for whatever reason.

Every one of us, in our struggle to make sense out of life, seeks absolutes by which to guide our decisions, formulae to determine what is fair and good, yardsticks to judge success and failure.  Masters and gurus, saviors and deliverers, parties and movements of every stripe preach to their followers how to secure fortunes but not how to live, how to feel better but not how to cure what afflicts, how to conquer one’s enemies but not how to live lives of justice and peace.  Christ the “shepherd” walks with us on our life’s journey through hurt and change and maturity and wholeness to the dwelling place of God.  

The defining mark of discipleship is the willingness and commitment to bring healing to the broken, comfort to the afflicted, hope to the despairing.  In his first “organizational meeting” of the Twelve, Jesus commissions them to take on the work of healing, restoring, reconciling.  As God humbled himself to become one of us and be part of our lives, we are called to the same humility in order to bring the compassion and forgiveness of God to the poor, the needy, the helplessly and hopelessly “dead,” the alienated, the rejected and the abused. 

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June 25 – 12th Sunday of the Year / Third Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 7A]

“Fear no one.  Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known.  What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.”
Matthew 10: 26-3
3

THE WORD:

In Matthew’s missionary discourse, Jesus instills in his disciples of the need for courage and discernment in their preaching of the Gospel.  The disciple who faithfully proclaims his Gospel can expect to be denounced, ridiculed and abused; but Jesus assures his followers that they have nothing to fear from those who would deprive “the body of life,” for their perseverant and faithful witness to the Gospel will be exalted in the reign of God.

HOMILY THEMES:

In the Gospels, Christ reveals a God who loves us and cares for us and every “strand” of creation.  Sometimes we are called to be the vehicles of God’s love for those desperate to realize that presence in their lives; sometimes we are the recipients of such blessings of forgiveness and compassion.  The providence of God who has “counted . . . all the hairs of your head” manifests itself in the love of family, the comfort of friends, the support of church and community. 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls us beyond our fears and insecurities; he invites us to embrace a spirit of joy and possibility beyond our comfort zone.  Three times in today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples not to be afraid, that we have nothing to fear before God who has proven his love and acceptance of us unreservedly.  Christ calls us in to embrace a vision of hope that is the opposite of fear — hope that matches our uncertainty of the unknown with the certainty of the love of God; hope that can only be found and embraced once we reach beyond our own fears to confront the fears and heal the hurts of others; hope that the Good Fridays of our lives will be transformed into Easter completeness.  

We “disown” Jesus, not only by what we do, but by what we fail to do.  We “deny” Jesus by our silence in the face of injustice, our protecting our own interests at the expense of the common good, our failure to respond to Christ calling us in the cries of the poor, the abused, the desperate and the lost.

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July 2 – 13th Sunday of the Year / Fourth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 8A]

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me . . . and whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me . . .
“And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple – amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”
Matthew 10: 37-42

                                        
THE WORD:

Today’s Gospel is the conclusion of Matthew’s collection of Jesus’ missionary discourses, in which Jesus speaks of the sacrifice demanded of his disciples and the suffering they will endure for their faith.  In today’s pericope, Jesus clearly is not attacking family life; he is warning his disciples of the conflict and misunderstanding they will experience for their proclaiming the word.  To be an authentic disciple of Jesus means embracing the suffering, humility, pain and selflessness of the cross; to be an authentic disciple of Jesus means taking on the often unpopular role of prophet for the sake of the kingdom; to be an authentic disciple of Jesus means welcoming and supporting other disciples who do the work of the Gospel.

HOMILY POINTS:

God calls every one of us to the work of the prophet: to proclaim his presence among his people.  Some are called to be witnesses of God's justice in the midst of profound evil and hatred; others are called to be witnesses of his hope and grace to those in pain and anguish; and many share in the work of the prophet/witness by enabling others to be effective witnesses and ministers of God’s love.  The gift of faith opens our spirits to realize and accept our call to be witnesses of God's love borne on the cross and prophets of the hope of his Son's resurrection.

The most difficult part of imitating Jesus is the cross and what it stands for: unconditional forgiveness, the totally emptying of ourselves of our wants and needs for the sake of another, the spurning of safety and popular convention to do what is right and just.  

To “receive the prophet’s reward” is to seek out every opportunity, to use every talent with which we have been blessed, to devote every resource at our disposal to make the love of God a living reality in every life we touch.

Authentically committed disciples of Jesus possess the vision of faith and determination of hope to use anything — from a cup of cold water to a sign to protect the most helpless of creatures — to make God’s reign of compassion and peace a reality in our time and place. 

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July 9 – 14th Sunday of the Year / Fourth 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

                                                
THE WORD:

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.

HOMILY POINTS:

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 16 – 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: 1-23

THE WORD:

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).

HOMILY POINTS:

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 23 – 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

                                             
THE WORD:

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.

HOMILY POINTS:

“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 30 – 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 WORD:

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.

HOMILY POINTS:

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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