This Sunday's Gospel

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

9/1/19 – Sunday 22 / Pentecost 12
9/8/19 – Sunday 23 / Pentecost 13
9/15/19 – Sunday 24 / Pentecost 14
9/22/19 – Sunday 25 / Pentecost 15
9/29/19 – Sunday 26 / Pentecost 16

10/6/19 – Sunday 27 / Pentecost 17
10/13/19 – Sunday 28 / Pentecost 18
10/20/19 – Sunday 29 / Pentecost 19
10/27/19 – Sunday 30 / Pentecost 20


September 1 – 22nd Sunday of the Year [C] / 12th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 17C]

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted . . .
“When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.
Luke 14: 1, 7-14

THE WORD:

Gospel humility (a key theme of Luke’s Gospel) is not a religious sado-masochism motivated by self-hatred or obsequiousness.  As taught by Christ, humility is an awareness of who we are before God; of our constant need for God and our dependence on God for everything; of the limitlessness of God’s love and forgiveness.  The Jesus of the Gospel, “who, though in the form of God, humbled himself . . . accepting even death on the cross” is the perfect model of the humble servant of God.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls us to embrace the attitude of seeking out the “lowest places” at table for the sake of others, promising that at the banquet of heaven God will exalt such humility.  In teaching us to invite to our tables “those who cannot repay you,” Jesus challenges us to imitate the love of God: doing what is right, good and just for the joy of doing so, not out of a sense of duty, self-interest or the need to feel superior or in control.

HOMILY POINTS:

Humility is the virtue of suspending our own wants and needs in order to consciously seek God in all people and experiences.  True humility is centered in the things of God – love, compassion, mercy, selflessness, tolerance and forgiveness.

The spirit of humility as taught by Jesus is not the diminishing of one’s self but the realization that we share with every human being the sacred dignity of being made in the image and likeness of God.  To be humble as Christ teaches humility is to see one another as God sees us and to rejoice in being ministers to them in their joys and struggles.

The “lowest place” Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel is more a matter of attitude than location, a question of generosity rather than place setting:  Jesus asks us to see one another from the perspective of Gospel humility that realizes that we are not the center of all things but part of a much larger world and to embrace a spirit of Gospel-centered gratitude for all the blessings we have received, not because of anything we have done to deserve them, but only because of the complete and unconditional love of God for us.  

God’s banquet table includes places of honor for every poor, hurting, confused soul.  At the Gospel banquet table, we are both guests and servers: We welcome and are welcomed as children of the same God and Father; as sons and daughters of God, we share equally in the bounty of this table; as brothers and sisters in Christ, we are responsible for the protection and maintenance of the vineyard given to us by our loving Father.  

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September 8 – 23rd Sunday of the Year [C] / 13th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 18C]

The parables of the tower and the king preparing for war: 
“Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple . . . Anyone who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”
Luke 14: 25-33

THE WORD:

Today’s Gospel is the beginning of a treatise, unique to Luke’s Gospel, on the nature and demands of discipleship.

Jesus’ sobering words in today’s Gospel are meant to make us fully aware of the cost of discipleship before we embrace something we are not prepared for.  The gift of grace comes at the price of the same cross awaiting Jesus in Jerusalem.

Some translations of today’s Gospel ascribe rather harsh words to Jesus: in some texts, Jesus speaks of “turning one’s back” on family; in other translations, the verb “hate” is used.  A more precise translation of the idiom here is whoever prefers the love of family or self to Christ cannot be his follower.

The images of the unfinished tower and the king poorly prepared for battle illustrate the frustration and ultimate failure of the disciple who does not give himself/herself totally to the Gospel.  When a follower of Jesus begins to hold anything back in imitating Christ, discipleship becomes a charade.

HOMILY NOTES:

Jesus calls us to seek reconciliation rather than dominance, to love and forgive without limit or condition, to give totally and completely regardless of the cost or sacrifice.  Such is the cross Jesus asks us to take up.

As the tower builder and the king preparing for war discover, our days are limited – too limited to squander on obsessing about things at the expense of our relationships with family and friends.  Jesus challenges us to live every moment of our lives as a time for preparation and “planning” for much greater and lasting things than this world of ours offers.

Often, we refuse to “let go” of things that are making our lives so much less than we want them to be.  The gifts of God can only be grasped with the open hands of humility and prayer; the grasping hands of materialism and self-centeredness condemn us to a life of emptiness.

We tend to think of the crosses we bear as disorders, complications, disappointments – even people – we are forced to endure.  But, in reality, God lays upon our shoulders crosses – talents, abilities, skills, gifts – that can be sources of hope, of joy, of discovery, of life, of resurrection — for ourselves and others.   

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September 15 – 24th Sunday of the Year [C] / 14th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 19C]

“Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep . . . because I have found the coin that I lost . . . because your brother was lost and has been found.”
Luke 15: 1-32

THE WORD:

The three “parables of the lost” in chapter 15 are unique to Luke’s Gospel.  Luke wrote his Gospel at a time when the Christian community was embroiled in a great controversy: many Jewish Christians were indignant that Gentiles should be welcomed into the Church without first embracing the traditions and laws of Judaism.

In these three parables, we enter God’s world: God communicates the depth of his love in his unconditional and complete forgiveness; his mercy breaks through and demolishes all human restrictions.  The Pharisees could not imagine a God who actually sought out men and women, a God who is more merciful in his judgments than we are, a God who never gives up hope for a sinner.

Today's Gospel reading of chapter 15 includes three parables:
The parable of the lost sheep:  Shepherding demanded toughness and courage – it was not a job for the weak and fearful.  Responsible for every sheep in his charge, a shepherd was expected to fight off everything from wild animals to armed poachers.  Shepherds often had to negotiate the rugged terrain of the wilderness to rescue a lost sheep.  Like the responsible shepherd, God does whatever is necessary to seek out and bring back to his loving providence every lost soul.
The parable of the lost coin:  Finding a small silver coin in a dark, dusty, dirt-floored Judean house was nearly impossible, but so great was the value of any coin to the poor that a woman would turn her poor hovel inside out in search of such a lost treasure.  So great is the value of every soul in the sight of God that he, too, goes to whatever lengths necessary to find and bring back the lost.
The parable of prodigal son:  This is probably the most inaccurately titled story in all of literature.  Jesus’ tale is really about the great love of the prodigal’s father, who forgives his son and joyfully welcomes him home even before the son can bring himself to ask.  The father’s joy stands in sharp contrast to the prodigal son’s brother, who cannot even bring himself to call the prodigal his “brother” – in confronting his father, he angrily refers to the brother as “this son of yours.”  But the father is a model of joyful reconciliation that Jesus calls his disciples to seek in all relationships.

What is striking in the three stories is the joy experienced by the shepherd who finds the lost lamb, the woman who recovers the missing coin, the father who welcomes home his wayward son. 

HOMILY POINTS:

The most extraordinary element of Jesus’ teaching is the revelation of a God who loves each and every one of us uniquely and individually, as a parent loves his/her most beloved child.  God’s love for us is eternally forgiving, constantly inviting, never limited or conditional. 

Our God is a God of inclusion – yet we sometimes make him a God of exclusion, excluding from our own presence those we deem as unworthy or unfaithful to be included among “God’s people.”

To forgive as Christ forgives is impossible to do on our own:  It calls for a spirit of humility, a generosity, a spirit of compassion that is beyond most of us.  But we are not called by Christ to create forgiveness on our own.  God has already forgiven, we are being asked to participate in God’s gift of forgiveness that surrounds every one of us.

Grace is the experience of God’s complete and unconditional love in our lives.  Sometimes we experience grace in the support and love of generous family and friends — and sometimes we are the agents of such grace, giving and doing whatever is necessary for the good of another, refusing to give up our search to find the lost and bring back those from whom we have been separated

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September 22 – 25th Sunday of the Year [C] / 15th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 20C]

The parable of the shrewd manager: 
“The children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light . . .
“No servant can serve two masters.  He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and mammon.”
Luke 16: 1-13

THE WORD:

The parable of the shrewd business manager is one of the most difficult parables of Jesus to grasp.  At first reading, it appears that Jesus is condoning extortion and larceny.  But Jesus admires not the manager’s lack of scruples but his decisiveness and ingenuity in taking control of his situation.  We admire those who use their intelligence, charm and pluck to get ahead in this world.  Jesus’ parable challenges us to be as eager and as ingenious for the sake of God’s reign, to be as ready and willing to use our time and money to accomplish great things in terms of the Gospel as we are to secure our own security and enjoyment.  Jesus appeals to the “children of light” to be as enterprising and resourceful in pursuit of reign of God as this steward is in making a place of himself in this world.  We must restore money as the means to an end and not as the end itself; we are only stewards of our Master's property.

HOMILY POINTS:

Like the shrewd manager and his demanding master, we can become so obsessed with the pursuit of wealth and the manipulation of power that we seem to give up a piece of our humanity in the process.  Christ calls us to something far greater: to use that same dedication of energy, ability and efficiency to make the reign of God a reality in our own time and place.

Sometimes we let the things we possess possess us, demanding our time and attention at the expense of the people we love.  The danger of owning things is forgetting that the value is not in the thing itself but in that thing’s enabling us to save time and make our life easier so that we can concentrate on the more important values that the gift of life offers us.  

Christ warns his hearers not to trust in wealth for its own sake but to use wealth — whatever form our “wealth” takes — to establish the Father’s kingdom of compassion, reconciliation and justice in our midst.  

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September 29 – 26th Sunday of the Year [C] / 16th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 21C]

“Lying at the rich man's door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.”
Luke 16: 19-31

THE WORD:

The rich man (sometimes known as “Dives”) is not really a bad man, but a self-centered, complacent one.  The rich man’s sin is his remaining oblivious to the plight of Lazarus (a name which means “God’s help”) at his gate and his blind acceptance of the poverty of so many and wealth in the hands of so few like himself as the natural, inevitable order of things.  It was not his wealth that kept him from “Abraham's bosom,” but his untrustworthy stewardship of what he had.

HOMILY POINTS:

Christ calls us to open our eyes to the poor and needy at our own gates and open our hearts to welcome them with compassion and honor.

The rich man of the Gospel and the “worthless rich” of the prophet Amos (today’s first reading) do no understand that the many blessings we have received from God are given for us to share – to share not out of a sense of obligation but as a joyful opportunity to give thanks to God for his many blessings to us.

In our busy-ness, in our need for “me time,” in our pursuit of our own wants and expectations, we become quite adept at shutting the world out, not seeing or hearing the Lazaruses in our lives — and sometimes we are the isolated Lazarus in need of love and support and understanding.   

Amassing large estates and building up profitable stock portfolios are not the stuff that true legacies are made of.  We will be remembered not for what we possess but for what we give; our lasting legacy will be what we contribute to make our world a happier, healthier place.

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October 6 – 27th Sunday of the Year [C] / 17th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 22C]

“If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you . . .
“When you have done all you have been commanded, say ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we are obliged to do.’”

Luke 17: 5-10

THE WORD:

Faith is not something that is won, bought or earned.  Faith only becomes genuine in our lives when we realize in all humility that faith is a gift freely given by God.  The two images in today’s Gospel point to this mystery of faith:

The gift of faith is like the mustard seed, among the tiniest of seeds.  The seed of faith needs to be nurtured or else it will wither and die; but allowed to grow, it yields the greatest of harvests.

In the light of real faith, we realize our total dependence on the providence of God.  To God’s graciousness we owe everything.  We recognize ourselves as God’s “useless servants,” deserving nothing by our own account.  The only adequate response we can make to God's unfathomable and immeasurable goodness is to live lives of joyful gratitude and humble servanthood.

HOMILY POINTS:

Mustard-seed faith enables us to do many more important things than uprooting mulberry trees.  Such faith is the unshakable conviction that every ordinary act of selfless kindness can re-create and transform; that the smallest act of forgiveness can lift up and heal; that the simplest act of compassion, done in faith and trust in God’s providence, can transform our world in the justice and peace of God. 

Faith begins with the gratitude and humility of the servant in today’s Gospel: to realize that the gift of faith requires justice, compassion and forgiveness; to realize, in the light of God’s love, how blessed we have been and to see ourselves and others as brother and sister “servants” at the table of the Father.

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October 13 – 28th Sunday of the Year C / 18th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 23C]

One of the lepers, realizing that he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.  Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not?  Where are the other nine?
Luke 17: 11-19

THE WORD:

The grateful Samaritan leper is another of the great saints of Luke’s Gospel.  Terrified communities would cast out lepers from their midst, leaving them to fend for themselves outside the gates of their cities.  This group of lepers included both Jews (Galileans) and Samaritans – they are so desperate in their plight that the bitter animosity between Jew and Samaritan evaporates in their need to depend on one another.

In sending the lepers off to those who can legally verify a cure rather than curing them outright, Jesus puts the lepers’ faith to the test.  Only one – one of those despised Samaritans – realizes not only that he has been made clean but that he has been touched by God.  His returning to Jesus to give thanks reflects the healing that has taken place within the leper’s soul.  Faith is the recognition of the great love and compassion of God, a recognition that moves us to praise and acts of thanksgiving.

HOMILY POINTS:

Like the leper in today’s Gospel, we realize that we have been cured despite the “illnesses” we face, that our blessings far outweigh our struggles, that we have reason to rejoice and hope despite the sadness and anxieties we must cope with. 

There are still “lepers” among us, people we have consciously or unconsciously cast out of society’s gates by fear, mistrust and self-interest.  They are the lepers – but we suffer the disease.

Faith begins with the practice of gratitude, gratitude that is grounded in the conviction that God has breathed his life into us for no other reason than love so deep we cannot begin to fathom it — and that the only fitting response we can make to such unexplainable and unmerited love is to stand humbly before God in quiet, humble gratitude. 

Gratitude is a practice — a way of approaching life — that is grounded in the conviction that God has breathed his life into us for no other reason than love so deep we cannot begin to fathom it, and that the only fitting response we can make to such inexplicable and unmerited love is to stand humbly before God in quiet, humble gratitude. 

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October 20 – 29th Sunday of the Year C / 19th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 24C]

“There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being.  And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary . . . ’”
Luke 18: 1-8

THE WORD:

The judge in Jesus’ parable read today is not one of the Jewish elders but a paid magistrate appointed by the Roman governors.  These magistrates were notoriously corrupt, extorting money from plaintiffs to secure favorable verdicts.  The widow, typically defenseless in such dealings, persists until the judge just wants to be rid of her.

Jesus does not liken God to the unfeeling, insensitive judge but contrasts God to him:  If such persistence will finally move such an unfeeling and corrupt figure will not the God of mercy and love be moved by the cries of his own beloved people?  The parable of the widow and the unjust judge (found only in Luke’s Gospel) calls us to perseverance in prayer – prayer that seeks not to force God’s hand but prayer that opens our hearts and minds to his always available grace.

HOMILY POINTS:

The “persistence” of God’s love for us transcends our own doubts, our distractions, our hurts and disappointments.  We are always embraced in the heart of God, an embrace we experience in the love of others; we are always held in God’s memory, remembered in every moment of forgiveness and healing. 

Today’s Gospel challenges us to see the “persistent widows” in our midst: to recognize their struggles and the gifts they possess that we overlook or discount.  Christ promises that the Father hears the worthy prayer of the Gospel widow in her many guises and that her perseverance in faith will one day be rewarded — and Jesus challenges us to put aside our obliviousness and self-absorption and see her.  In her many guises, she is Christ in our midst.  

Sometimes we are the persistent widow of today’s parable, persevering in seeking what is right and just, trusting in God’s grace in response to our prayer – and sometimes we find ourselves in the role of the judge, who can be the answer to another’s prayer if we stop, listen, and realize that God has given us the means to respond.

We possess a faith that empowers us with hope and discernment, enabling us to persevere despite the injustices and indignities that are so much a part of life.  Jesus assures us that the integrity, commitment to justice and humility we maintain in the face of skepticism, rationalizations and the amoral “conventional wisdom” will one day be exalted by God.

Jesus’ parable of the dishonest judge challenges us to consider how we use whatever power we possess, how we employ the authority entrusted to us by others:  Do we use our power in the service of others?  Do we exercise our authority to create community and to provide for those who are struggling or lost? 
    
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October 27 – 30th Sunday of the Year C / 20th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 25C]

“The tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’”
Luke 18: 9-14

THE WORD:

The Pharisee and the tax collector (or “publican” as he is called in some translations) are images of two extreme religious attitudes.

Pharisees were the “separated ones” who positioned themselves in society as the great keepers of the holy law.  They were held in great esteem by the Jewish community, despite the Pharisees’ haughty condemnation of those they viewed as less than faithful.

Tax collectors were Jews who worked for Rome.  To become a tax collector, one would bid for a certain territory by paying a sum that the government determined that area should yield in taxes.  The tax collector then won the right to collect taxes from the people in that locale in order to recoup his investment and make a considerable profit; as part of the arrangement, tax collectors could count on Roman cooperation to enforce their outrageous charges.  It was a system that was rife with extortion, with little accountability demanded of the tax collectors and no avenues of recourse for the poor they preyed upon.  Tax collectors were despised by Jewish society as thieves and collaborators.

The parable contrasts two very different attitudes of prayer.  The Pharisee approaches God seeking the reward he feels he deserves.  His prayer is really a testimonial to himself for all the good things the Pharisee has done to merit God's grace.  The tax collector, on the other hand, realizes his nothingness before God.  He comes before God seeking his mercy because of the good things God has done for undeserving sinners like himself.  It is the prayer of the humble who come before God with an attitude of humble thanks for God’s unconditional and limitless mercy that is heard and “exalted” before God.

HOMILY POINTS:                

Like the Pharisee in today’s Gospel, we can “use” God to justify our own belief systems and to advance our own idea of what the world should be.  The Christ of compassion and reconciliation calls us to see ourselves as made in God’s image, not to recast God in our image. 

In our own time and place, the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is played out not so much as a lack of humility before God but as a lack of awareness of the needs, hopes and cries for help of those around us.

Attitude and action are the essence of authentic discipleship, not just words and rituals empty of feeling or conviction.  We manifest our love for God not through self-righteous acts of piety but through our love and care for the poor, the needy, the defenseless, the alienated and the rejected.

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