This Sunday's Gospel

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

1/1/2018 – Mary the Mother of God (Monday)
1/7/2018 – Epiphany

1/14/2018 – Sunday 2
1/14/2018 – Epiphany 2
1/21/2018 – Sunday 3/Epiphany 3
1/28/2018 – Sunday 4/Epiphany 4

2/4/2018 – Sunday 5/Epiphany 5
2/11/2018 – Sunday 6
2/11/2018 – Epiphany 6 (Last Sunday)


January 1 – Mary the Mother of God / Holy Name of Jesus [ABC]

When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus . . .
Luke 2: 16-21

THE WORD:

In the Roman church, today’s solemnity is the oldest feast of Mary in the Church, honoring her by her first and primary title, “Mother of God.”

Jesus is given the name Yeshua – “The Lord saves.”  The rite of circumcision unites Mary’s child with the chosen people and makes him an heir to the promises God made to Abraham –promises to be fulfilled in the Child himself.

HOMILY POINTS:

Today we honor Mary under her most ancient title Theotokos, “bearer of God”:  In accepting her role as mother of the Messiah, she becomes the first disciple of her Son, the first to embrace his Gospel of hope, compassion and reconciliation.

As Mary, the young unmarried pregnant girl, believes and trusts in the incredible thing that she is to be a part of, even the most ordinary of us can believe in our parts in the drama, too.

The God who makes all things new in Christ enables us to make this truly a new year for each one of us -- a time for renewal and re-creation in the love of God, a time for making this year a year of peace in our lives and homes, a time for making this new year truly a “year of our Lord.”

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January 7 – Epiphany [ABC]

Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem; “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?  We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”
Matthew 2: 1-12

THE WORD:

The story of the astrologers and the star of Bethlehem are unique to Matthew’s Gospel.  Note that Matthew neither calls them kings nor does he give their names nor reports where they came from – in fact, Matthew never even specifies the number of magi (because three gifts are presented to the Child, it has been a tradition since the fifth century to picture “three wise men”).  In stripping away the romantic layers that have been added to the story, Matthew’s point can be better understood.

A great many First Testament ideas and images are presented in this story.  The star, for example, is reminiscent of Balaam’s prophecy that “a star shall advance from Jacob” (Numbers 24: 17).  Many of the details in Matthew’s story about the child Jesus parallel the story of the child Moses and the Exodus.

Matthew’s story also provides a preview of what is to come.  First, the reactions of the various parties to the birth of Jesus parallel the effects Jesus’ teaching will have on those who hear it.  Herod reacts with anger and hostility to the Jesus of the poor who comes to overturn the powerful and rich.  The chief priests and scribes greet the news with haughty indifference toward the Jesus who comes to give new life and meaning to the rituals and laws of the scribes.  But the magi – non-believers in the eyes of Israel – possess the humility of faith and the openness of mind and heart to seek and welcome the Jesus who will institute the Second Covenant between God and the New Israel.

Secondly, the gifts of the astrologers indicate the principal dimensions of Jesus’ mission:

HOMILY POINTS:

Epiphany calls is to a new vision of the world that sees beyond the walls and borders we have created and to walk by the light which has dawned for all of humankind, a light by which we are able to recognize all men and women as our brothers and sisters under the loving providence of God, the Father of all.

The magi’s following of the star is a journey of faith, a constant search for meaning, for purpose, for the things of God that each one of us experiences in the course of our own lives.

What we read and watch and listen to in search of wealth, fame and power are the “stars” we follow.  The journey of the magi in Matthew's Gospel puts our own "stargazing" in perspective, calling us to fix our search on the “star” of God’s justice, peace and compassion.

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January 14 – Second Sunday of the Year [B]

John was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”  The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.
One of the two was Andrew, who found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah.”
John 1: 35-42

THE WORD:

A new beginning and a sacred invitation mark today’s Gospel.

In John’s proclamation of Jesus as the “Lamb of God,” the age of the prophets ends and the era of the Messiah begins.

Jesus’ invitation to Andrew to “Come and see” so moves Andrew that he invites his brother Simon Peter to “come and see” for himself.  This is the first of three episodes in John’s Gospel in which Andrew introduces someone to Christ:  Andrew brings to Jesus the lad with the five barley loaves and a couple of dried fish (John 6: 8-9) and it is Andrew who asks Jesus to meet the Greeks who have requested, “Sir, we would like to meet Jesus.” (John 12: 22)

HOMILY POINTS:

Throughout human history, despite our rejection of God and obtuseness to his ways, God never ceases to call us back to him, to “come and see.” 

The challenge of the call to discipleship/prophecy is to discern and respond to that call within our own lives, in the context of our own experiences.  

Jesus calls us to “come and see”: to realize the presence of God in the goodness and generosity around us; and to follow him: to focus our attention on the needs of others rather than our own wants, to find purpose in bringing joy into the lives of others rather than in the pursuit of the things the world deems as important. 

To be an authentic disciple of Jesus means to look at the world with a vision of hope, to recognize the dignity of every human being as a son and daughter of God, to joyfully take on the challenge of bringing justice and peace into our own Jerusalems and Nazareths.

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January 14 – Second Sunday after the Epiphany [B]

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.  Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
John 1: 43-51

THE WORD:

After the beautiful Prologue to his Gospel, the evangelist John recounts a series of brief scenes that serve as an introduction to his “Book of Signs.”  In the course of four days, Jesus organizes his ministry in a series of encounters with John the Baptist (day one and two), Andrew and Simon (day three), and, in today’s reading, Philip and Nathanael (day four).  Each of these encounters provides a testimonial to the divinity of this Jesus: Lamb of God, Messiah, Son of God, King of Israel.  The evangelist seeks to impress this Christology in the minds of his readers as he begins his narrative.

In today’s pericope, Philip, who has been called by Jesus, approaches Nathanael.  Nathanael provides a bit of vinegar to the story with his caustic remark, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Nathanael’s gibe (probably reflecting the rivalry typical between towns and regions) might also be included by John as a preview of the later rejection of Jesus by the Jewish establishment because of his origins. 

Nathanael also serves as the model of the “true Israelite,” part of the “remnant” who have faithfully awaited the fulfillment of God’s reign in the coming of the Messiah and now see that hope fulfilled in Jesus.

(Some scholars believe that Nathanael continued in Jesus’ company as one of the Twelve.  They suggest, though there is no conclusive evidence, that Nathanael is the apostle identified as “Bartholomew” in several New Testament lists of the apostles because Bartholomew’s name follows that of Philip.)

HOMILY POINTS:

God can be found in the most unexpected of places.  God is present in the poverty of our Bethlehems, in the emptiness of our Nazareths, in the turmoil of our Bethsaidas. 

Whatever Nathanael-like skepticism, biases and judgments we possess are shattered in Christ who comes to proclaim God’s reign of justice and peace. 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus invites the first disciples – and us – to “come and see” beyond our own safe little worlds and to realize the good things that we have shut out of our lives, to break out of the cycle of emptiness that impoverishes our spirits and hearts. 

Often to our surprise, God seeks us out from the isolation of our fig trees and invites to come and realize a life transformed in his Christ.

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January 21 – Third Sunday of the Year [B] /Third Sunday after Epiphany [B]

Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news about God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea.  “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.”
Mark 1: 14-20

THE WORD:

The day of the Messiah has dawned; but newness demands change: a “turning away” (the original meaning of the word repentance) from business as usual and a complete trust in the life and love of God.  Simon and Andrew’s “abandoning” of their nets and James' and John’s “abandoning” of their father in today's Gospel illustrate the total trust and commitment Jesus demands of those who would be his disciples.

HOMILY POINTS:

Jesus began his ministry by calling simple fishermen to be his most trusted friends.  Although the Twelve were hardly scholars or men wise in the ways of the world, Jesus saw beyond their gruff simplicity to call forth from them faith, sincerity and integrity.  As Mark’s Gospel unfolds each Sunday this year, the first disciples will misunderstand Jesus (if not miss the point entirely), desert him and even deny and betray him. 

To follow Christ means “abandoning our nets” of self-interest to embrace the needs of others; Jesus calls us to follow him along the difficult path of humility and selflessness.  If we are going to realize his call to be “fishers of men,” we have to be willing to cast our nets into waters that are deep and turbulent, waters we do not know, waters that threaten the safety and security of our small boats. 

But Jesus entrusts to them, for all of humankind, the proclamation of his Gospel.  We, too, are called by Christ to be his “fishers,” to help one another discover the love of God in our midst.

The Gospel is about possibilities:  Christ came to show us how it is possible to love life to the fullest, if we dare to make forgiveness, reconciliation and selfless charity the center of our lives. 

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January 28 – Fourth Sunday of the Year [B] / Fourth Sunday after Epiphany [B]

The people were astonished at Jesus’ teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes:  “What is this?  A new teaching with authority.  He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”
Mark 1: 21-28

THE WORD:   

For the poor Jews of Jesus’ time, the scribes were the voices of authority, the final arbiters of the Law in which God had revealed himself.  Their interpretation of the Law was considered absolute.

“Demons” are encountered several times in Mark’s Gospel.  Anything that the people of Jesus’ time could not understand or explain, such as disease, mental illness or bizarre or criminal behavior, were considered the physical manifestations of the evil one – “demons” or “unclean spirits.”

Both demons and scribes are silenced in today’s Gospel.  Jesus’ casting out the unclean spirit from the man possessed silences the voices of the demons that plague humanity.  In his compassionate outreach to the poor and sick, Jesus “silences” the scribes by redefining the community’s understanding of authority:  whereas the “authority” of the scribes’ words is based solely on their perceived status and learnedness, the authority of Jesus is born of compassion, peace and justice.  The casting out of the demons and his curing of the sick who come to him are but manifestations of the power and grace of his words.

Note that the people of the Bible viewed miracles differently than we do.  While we, in our high technology, scientific approach to the world, dismiss miracles as some kind of disruption or “overriding” of the laws of nature, the contemporaries of Jesus saw miracles as signs of God's immediate activity in his creation.  While we ask, How could this happen? they asked. Who is responsible?  Their answer was always the same: the God of all creation.  Those who witnessed Jesus' healings, then, saw them as God directly touching their lives.

HOMILY POINTS:

True authority is propelled by persuasion, not coercion; effective leadership is a matter of articulating a shared goal rather than warning of the consequences of failure. 

Jesus’ “authority” inspires rather than enforces, lifts up rather than controls; he sees his call to “lead” as a trust, as a responsibility to serve others by revealing the God who calls us to compassion and mercy for the sake of his kingdom of peace, instead of a God of judgment and vengeance.  Authority comes not from power to enforce but from the ability to inspire. 

The “unclean spirit” that Jesus casts out of the poor man in today’s Gospel serves as a symbol of the voice of evil that sometimes speaks within us – the voice of revenge, self-centeredness, self-righteousness, greed, anger. 

We can be “possessed” by “demons” who discourage us and plague us with fear when we consider the unpopular position that we know is right and just; or the “demon” of rationalization that falsely justifies actions – or inactions – we know in our heart of hearts is contrary to the spirit of the Gospel.  The compassionate Jesus of the today’s Gospel speaks to those "unclean spirits" as well, offering us the grace and courage to cast them out of our minds and hearts forever.

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February 4 – Fifth Sunday of the Year [B] / Fifth Sunday after Epiphany [B]

Rising very early before dawn, Jesus left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. 
Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.”
Jesus told them, “Let us go to the nearby villages that I preach there also.  For this purpose I have come . . . ”
Jesus cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him.
Mark 1: 29-39

THE WORD:

Throughout his Gospel, Mark portrays Jesus as somewhat uncomfortable with his growing renown as a miracle worker.  He clearly values time away from the crows to be alone to pray – even though that time is cut short by the needs of those around him.

Jesus works miracles not out of any need of his own for the adulation of the masses but out of an extraordinary sense of compassion, a deep love for his brothers and sisters, especially those in crisis or pain.  The miracles he works are not to solicit acclaim for himself but to awaken faith and trust in the Word of God, to restore in humankind God's vision of a world united as brothers and sisters under his providence (“that is what I have come to do”).  Jesus’ compassion for those who come to him breaks down stereotypes and defenses that divide, segregate and marginalize people; his ministry is not to restore bodies to health but to restore spirits to wholeness.

HOMILY POINTS:

The word Gospel means “good news.”  It is a story that ends not in death but life; it is centered not in humiliating sorrow but in liberating joy; it does not demand blind adherence to laws and rituals but invites us to welcome the Spirit of compassion and love into our lives.  The Gospel of Jesus is about the re-creation and transformation that are possible through reconciliation, justice, mercy and community.

Like Jesus’ rising before dawn and going to a deserted place, we too need that “deserted,” “out of the way” place to re-connect with God, to rediscover God’s presence in our life, to find within ourselves again a sense of gratitude for the blessings of that presence.

Jesus does not perform miracles to dazzle the crowds and glory in their acclaim but to awaken his hearers’ faith and trust in the word of God, to restore all of humanity to God's vision of one world in which all men and women love and respect one another as brothers and sisters under the Father's loving providence. 

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February 11 – Sixth Sunday of the Year [B]

A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.”  Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it.  Be made clean.”
Mark 1: 40-45

THE WORD:

The cleansing of the leper is a climactic moment in Mark’s Gospel.  By just touching the leper Jesus challenges one of the strictest proscriptions in Jewish society (today’s first reading provides the context for understanding the social and religious revulsion of lepers).

The leper is a one of the heroic characters of Mark’s Gospel (along with such figures as the poor widow who gives her only penny to the temple and the blind Bartimaeus).  The leper places his entire trust in Jesus.  For him, there is no doubt: this Jesus is the Messiah of hope, the Lord of life.  His request for healing is more than a cry for help – it is a profession of faith:  “You can make me clean.”

Jesus’ curing of the leper shocked those who witnessed it.  Jesus did not drive the leper away, as would be the norm (the leper, according to the Mosaic Law, had no right to even address Jesus); instead, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him.  Jesus did not see an unclean leper but a human soul in desperate need. 

Consider what Jesus does after healing the leper.  He sends the cleansed leper to show himself to the priest “and offer for your cure what Moses prescribed.”  This leper’s healing is a message for the Jewish establishment, represented by the priest: that the Messiah has come and is present among you.

HOMILY POINTS:

We often reduce others to “lepers”: those we fear, those who don’t “fit” our image of sophistication and culture, those whose religion or race or class or culture threaten our own.  We exile these lepers to the margins of society outside our gates; we reduce these lepers to simple stereotypes and demeaning labels; we reject these lepers as too “unclean” to be part of our lives and our world.  The Christ who healed lepers comes to perform a much greater miracle – to heal us of our debilitating sense of self that fails to realize the sacred dignity of those we demean as “lepers.”

In today’s Gospel, the leper approaches Jesus with the words, “If you wish, you can make me clean.”  The leper’s challenge is addressed to all of us, who seek to imitate Jesus.  We possess the means and abilities to transform our lives and world – what is required are the desire, the will, the determination to do so: to heal the broken, to restore lepers to wholeness, to reconcile with those from whom we are estranged. 

Jesus works his wonders not to solicit acclaim for himself but to awaken faith in God’s providence, to restore God’s vision of a world where humanity is united as brothers and sisters in the love of God.  Jesus calls us who would be his disciples to let our own “miracles” of charity and mercy, of forgiveness and justice, be “proof” of our committed discipleship to the Gospel and our trust in the God who is the real worker of wonders in our midst.  

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February 11 –Sixth (Last) Sunday after Epiphany [B]

Jesus was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.
Mark 9: 2-10

THE WORD:

Today's Gospel is Mark’s account of the transfiguration of Jesus.  In the event witnessed by Peter, James and John on the mountain, the promise of the first covenant (Moses the great law giver and Elijah the great prophet) converges with the fulfillment of the new covenant (Jesus the Messiah).

Throughout Israel's history, God revealed his presence to Israel in the form of a cloud (for example, the column of cloud that led the Israelites in the desert during the Exodus – Exodus 15).  On the mountain of the transfiguration, God again speaks in the form of a cloud, claiming the transfigured Jesus as his own Son.

Returning down the mountain, Jesus urges the three not to tell of what they had seen, realizing that their vision would confirm the popular misconception of an all-powerful, avenging Messiah.  The mission of Jesus the Messiah means the cross and resurrection, concepts Peter and the others still do not grasp.

HOMILY POINTS:                                      

What the disciples saw in Jesus on the mountain was the divinity – the very life and love of God – that dwelled within him.  That love of God lives within each one of us, as well, calling us beyond our own needs, wants and interests. 

Love that calls us beyond ourselves is transforming.  In the transforming love of Christ the Messiah-Servant, we can “transfigure” despair into hope, sadness into joy, anguish into healing, estrangement into community.

The Jesus of the Gospel comes with a heavy price: the glorious Christ of the Transfiguration will soon become the Crucified Christ of Good Friday.  Accepting the God of blessing is easy, but when that God becomes the God of suffering who asks us to give readily and humbly to others and to forgive one another without limit or condition, then we begin to insulate ourselves from the relationship God invites us to embrace.  In risking the pain and demands of loving one another as Christ has loved us, the divinity we recognize in the Jesus of the Transfiguration becomes for us the eternal life of the Jesus of Easter.

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