This Sunday's Gospel

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

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

2/14/18 – Ash Wednesday
2/18/18 – Lent 1
2/25/18 — Lent 2 (Roman lectionary)
2/25/18 — Lent 2 (Common lectionary)

3/4/18 – Lent 3
3/11/18 – Lent 4
3/18/18 – Lent 5
3/25/18 – Passion (Palm) Sunday


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. 

Return to top


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.  

Return to top


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.

Return to top


February 14 – Ash Wednesday [ABC]

“Your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”
Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18
Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart . . .
Joel 2: 12-18
We implore you, in Christ’s name, be reconciled to God.
2 Corinthians 5: 20 - 6:2

THE WORD:

The readings for this first day of the Lenten journey to Easter call us to turn.

In Hebrew, the word for repentance is to turn, like the turning of the earth to the sun at this time of year, like the turning of soil before spring planting.  The Lenten journey that begins on this Ash Wednesday calls us to repentance – to turn away from those things that separate us from God and re-turn to the Lord.

In today’s Gospel, from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs his listeners on the Christian attitude and disposition toward prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  Such acts are meaningful only if they are outward manifestations of the essential turningthat has taken place within our hearts.

Around 400 B.C., a terrible invasion of locusts ravaged Judah.  The prophet Joel saw this catastrophe as a symbol of the coming “Day of the Lord.”   The prophet summoned the people to repent, to turn to the Lord with fasting, prayer and works of charity.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul alternates between anger and compassion, between frustration and affection in defending his authority and mandate as an apostle in the face of attack by some members of the Corinthian community.  In today’s second reading, the apostle appeals for reconciliation among the members of the community, for a re-turn to the one faith shared by the entire Church.

HOMILY POINTS:

As the earth will “turn” toward the sun in the weeks ahead transforming the dark and cold of winter into the light and warmth of spring, so these ashes mark the beginning of a Lenten transformation of our souls and spirits.

The Spirit who called Jesus to the wilderness calls us, as well, to a forty-day “desert experience,” a time to peacefully and quietly renew and re-create our relationship with God, that he might become the center of our lives in every season.

Return to top


February 18 – First Sunday of Lent [B]

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for 40 days, tempted by Satan.
Mark 1: 12-15

THE WORD:

Every liturgical year, the Lenten season begins in the wilderness.  Mark’s brief account of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness takes place immediately after Jesus’ baptism.  “Driven by the Spirit,” Jesus' going to the desert is an act of obedience to the Father.  This is a time for contemplation and discernment regarding the tremendous task before him.

The word Satan comes from the Hebrew word for adversary.  Satan serves as the “adversary” of God, advocating those values that contradict and oppose the love and mercy of God.  Mark's portrait of Jesus in the desert is one of a Messiah coming to terms with the paradox of the human condition.

Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee proclaiming “fulfillment” – God’s long-awaited promised Messiah has come.

HOMILY POINTS:

These 40 days of Lent are the Spirit’s call to us to a “desert experience,” to re-connect with God, to dare to wonder if our lives are all they could and should be. 

Lent calls us away from business as usual (the real motivation behind giving up one’s favorite confection or past time) in order to decide, in the depths of our hearts where God speaks to each one of us, what it means to be a person of faith, what values we want our lives to stand for, what path we want our lives to take on our journey to God and Easter resurrection.

As Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness to discern what God was calling him to do with the next part of his life, Spirit calls us to our own “wilderness experience” to confront the hard choices we must make in our lives – choices between the values of God and the far lesser things of the world that can isolate us, hurt others and diminish God’s creation. 

Return to top


February 25 – Second Sunday of Lent [B] (ROMAN lectionary)

Jesus was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white . . . Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus.
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:

The use of the Greek word transfiguration indicates that what the disciples saw in Jesus on Mount Tabor was a divinity that shone from within him.  This Lenten season is a time for each of us to experience such a “transfiguration” within ourselves -- that the life of God within us may shine forth in lives dedicated to compassion, justice and reconciliation.

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 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.

Return to top


February 25 – Second Sunday of Lent [B] (COMMON lectionary)

“Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering . . . He said these things quite openly.  And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.  [But] he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan!  For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things . . . ”
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Mark 8: 31-38

THE WORD:

Throughout his Gospel, Mark portrays a Jesus who is constantly misunderstood by family and friends.  The Gospel appointed for today in the common lectionary is a case-in-point.  Jesus tells his disciples that his ministry will end in suffering and death in Jerusalem.  Peter takes Jesus aside and admonishes him for speaking such a gruesome message.  Jesus reacts with surprising sharpness to Peter’s rebuke.  The hard reality for Peter and his companions (including us) to accept is that cross is central to Jesus’ Messiahship – and must be a part of every follower’s acceptance of Jesus’ call to discipleship.  To be part of the new life of Christ’s resurrection in the life to come requires dying to our own needs and wants in the present. 

HOMILY POINTS:

Sometimes a cross may be a particular burden, but our crosses can also be a strength or ability that we can use to bring Easter hope into the life of another.  Discipleship is the challenge of transforming our crosses into vehicles of resurrection.

Jesus’ strong rebuke of Peter challenges all of us who would be Jesus’ disciples:  What crosses are we willing to take up, what sacrifices are we prepared to make, for the sake of the values and beliefs we hold dear? 

While we naturally seek to avoid what is painful and stressful, it is in failure that we learn; it is suffering that we find healing; it is in the crosses we take up that we re-create our lives in the joy and hope of the resurrection.

Return to top


March 4 – Third Sunday of Lent [B]

Jesus made a whip out of cords and drove the money changers out of the temple area and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”
John 2: 13-25

THE WORD:

The temple is the focus of today’s Gospel.  Whereas the Synoptic Gospels place Jesus’ cleansing of the temple immediately after his Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem, John places the event early in his Gospel, following Jesus’ first sign at Cana.  While the Synoptics recount only one climactic journey to Jerusalem, the Jesus of John’s Gospel makes several trips to the holy city.

Pilgrims to the temple were expected to make a donation for the maintenance of the edifice.  Because Roman currency was considered “unclean,” Jewish visitors had to change their money into Jewish currency before making their temple gift.  Moneychangers, whose tables lined the outer courts of the temple, charged exorbitant fees for their service.

Visiting worshipers who wished to have a sacrifice offered on the temple altar would sometimes have to pay 15 to 20 times the market rate for animals purchased inside the temple.  Vendors could count on the cooperation of the official temple “inspectors” who, as a matter of course, would reject animals brought in from outside the temple as “unclean” or “imperfect.”

Jesus’ angry toppling of the vendors’ booths and tables is a condemnation of the injustice and exploitation of the faithful in the name of God.  So empty and meaningless has their worship become that God will establish a new “temple” in the resurrected body of the Christ.

Of course, the leaders and people do not appreciate the deeper meaning of Jesus’ words, nor did the people who witnessed his miracles understand the true nature of his Messianic mission.  John’s closing observations in this reading point to the fact that the full meaning of many of Jesus’ words and acts were understood only later, in the light of his resurrection.

HOMILY POINTS:

In the temple precincts of our lives are “money changers” and connivers – fear, ambition, addictions, selfishness, prejudice – that distort the meaning of our lives and debase our relationships with God and with one another. 

Lent is a time to invite the “angry” Jesus of today’s Gospel into our lives to drive out those things that make our lives less than what God created them to be.  To raise one’s voice against injustice, to stand up before the powerful on behalf of the weak, to demand accountability of those who exploit and abuse others for their own gain is to imitate the “holy” anger of Christ.

Our late winter yearning for the newness, freshness, warmth and light of spring mirrors Jesus’ angry expulsion of the merchants from the temple.  Christ comes to bring newness to humankind, to bring a springtime of hope to a people who have lived too long in a winter of alienation and despair. 

Return to top


March 11 – Fourth Sunday of Lent [B]

“God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him . . . ”
John 3: 14-21

THE WORD:

Nicodemus is a Pharisee, a member of the ruling Sanhedrin.  Like so many others who heard Jesus, he is fascinated by this Worker of wonders.  So as not to attract undue attention, he arranges to meet Jesus at night.

In their meeting, Jesus tries to make Nicodemus understand the mission of the Messiah in a new light:

HOMILY POINTS:                          

In the Gospels, Jesus reveals a God of life and restoration, a God who seeks not our punishment or humiliation but our healing and reconciliation with Him and with one another.

Too often, we approach faith as a series of “thou shalt nots” – religion is equated with guilt, spirituality with that nagging little conscience in the depths of our souls that serves as a safety valve to stop us from becoming the wicked people we know we are capable of becoming.  Jesus challenges such a limited concept of faith: God is not a cosmic tyrant that revels in seeing us suffer; God has revealed himself as the loving Father of a perfect creation that has made itself imperfect in so many ways through sin. 

Despite our rejection of the ways of God, our demeaning of the values of God, God continues to call us and seek us out.  God loves his creation too much to write it off or condemn it; instead, God raises up his Son as a new light to illuminate our hearts, to make us see things as God sees them, to share God's hope for humanity's redemption.

Return to top


March 18 – Fifth Sunday of Lent [B]

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
John 12: 20-33

THE WORD:

Today’s Gospel is a pivotal moment in John’s narrative.  Jesus’ words about the “coming” of his “hour” mark the end of John's “Book of Signs” and prefaces of “The Book of Glory” -- the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.

The Passover is about to begin; many Jews (including some Greek Jews) have arrived in Jerusalem for the festival.  Meanwhile, Jesus’ conflict with the Jewish establishment has reached the crisis stage.  The events of Holy Week are now in motion.  Jesus obediently accepts his fate and is prepared for the outcome.

Jesus compares his “glorification” to a grain of wheat that is buried and dies to itself in order to produce the potential life within it.  The sacrifice and harvest of the grain of wheat are the fate and glory of anyone who would be Jesus' disciple.  The “voice” heard from the sky expresses the unity of Jesus’ purpose and God’s will.

HOMILY POINTS:

To become the people God calls us to be, to live our lives in the joy of God’s love, begins by our “dying” to our doubts and fears, “dying” to our self-centered wants and needs, “dying” to our immaturity and prejudices.

The risk of being hurt is the price of love.  That is the challenge of the grain of wheat: only by loving is love returned, only by reaching out and trying do we learn and grow, only by giving to others do we receive, only by dying do we rise to new life.

The Gospel of the grain of wheat is Christ's assurance to us of the great things we can do and the powerful miracles we can work in letting go of our prejudices, fears and ambitions in order to imitate the compassion and love of the crucified Jesus, the Servant Redeemer.

Return to top


March 25 – Sunday of the Lord’s Passion: Palm Sunday [B]

THE WORD:

The Blessing and Procession of Palms:  Mark 11: 1-10 or John 12: 12-16

Mark’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is the most subdued version of the event in Scripture.  The donkey plays a central role in the Mark's story – Mark relates with surprising detail how the disciples found the donkey colt as Jesus told them.

It was the custom for pilgrims to enter Jerusalem on foot.  Only great kings and rulers would “ride” into the city, and usually on great steeds and horses.  Jesus, the King of the New Jerusalem, chooses to ride into the city – not on a majestic stallion but on the back of a young beast of burden.  By being led through the city on the back of a lowly, servile donkey, Jesus comes as a King whose rule is not about being served but centered in generous and selfless service to others; his kingdom is not built on might but on compassion.  The little donkey Jesus mounts mirrors how the prophet Zechariah foretold this scene five centuries before:  “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!  See, your king comes to you, triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey . . . ”

In John’s shorter account, Jesus is enthusiastically welcomed as the Messiah-King by the crowds, many of whom had seen or heard about Jesus' raising of Lazarus.  John makes specific reference to Zechariah’s prophecy that the Messiah-king will enter the city seated on “a donkey's colt.”

The Celebration of the Eucharist – The Passion:  Mark 14: 1 – 15: 47

Jesus’ entry into the holy city and his “cleansing” of the temple with the demand that it be a “house of prayer for all people” will bring his clash with the ruling class to a head.  In his account of the Passion, Mark portrays the anguish of Jesus who has been totally abandoned by friends and disciples.  Mark’s Jesus is resigned to his fate.  He makes no response to Judas when he betrays him nor to Pilate during his interrogation (and Pilate makes no effort to save him, as the procurator does in the other three Gospels).  As he does throughout his Gospel, Mark pointedly portrays the utter of failure of the disciples to provide any assistance or support to Jesus or to even understand what is happening.  The “last” disciple who flees naked into the night when Jesus is arrested is a powerful symbol in Mark’s Gospel of the disciples who left family and friends behind to follow Jesus now leave everything behind to get away from him.

Reading 1:  Isaiah 50: 4-7

Reading 1 is taken from Deutero-Isaiah's “Servant songs,” the prophet's foretelling of the “servant of God” who will come to redeem Israel.  In this third song, Isaiah portrays the servant as a devoted teacher of God's Word who is ridiculed and abused by those who are threatened by his teaching.

Reading 2:  Philippians 2: 6-11

In his letter to the Christian community at Philippi (in northeastern Greece), Paul quotes what many scholars believe is an early Christian hymn (Reading 2).  As Christ totally and unselfishly "emptied himself" to accept crucifixion for our sakes, so we must "empty" ourselves for others.

HOMILY POINTS:

There is a certain incongruity about today’s Palm Sunday liturgy.  We begin with a sense of celebration: we carry palm branches and echo the Hosannas (from the Hebrew “God save [us]”) shouted by the people of Jerusalem as Jesus enters the city.  But the Passion story confronts us with the cruelty, injustice and selfishness that lead to the crucifixion of Jesus.  We welcome the Christ of victory, the Christ of Palm Sunday – but we turn away from the Christ of suffering and of the poor, the Christ of Good Friday.  These branches of palm are symbols of that incongruity that often exists between the faith we profess on our lips and the faith we profess in our lives.

In his account of the Passion, Mark portrays a Jesus who has been totally abandoned by his disciples and friends.  There is no one to defend him, to support him, to speak for him.  He endures such a cruel and unjust death alone.  Yet, amid the darkness, a light glimmers:  The prophecy of a new temple “not made by human hands” is fulfilled in the shreds of the temple curtain; a pagan centurion confesses his new-found realization that this crucified Jesus is indeed the “Son of God”; and a member of the Sanhedrin, Joseph of Arimathea, is embolden to break with his fellow councilors and request of Pilate the body of Jesus.  The Passion of Jesus should be a reason for hope and a moment of grace for all us as we seek the reign of God in our own lives – however lonely and painful our search may be.

The Gospel calls us to take on what Paul calls the “attitude of Christ Jesus” (Reading 1) in his passion and death: to “empty” ourselves of our own interests, fears and needs for the sake of others; to realize how our actions affect them and how our moral and ethical decisions impact the common good; to reach out to heal the hurt and comfort the despairing around us despite our own betrayal; to carry on, with joy and in hope, despite rejection, humiliation and suffering. 

In our remembering the events of Holy Week, Jesus will turn our world and its value system upside down: true authority is found in dedicated service and generosity to others; greatness is centered in humility; the just and loving will be exalted by God in God's time. 

Today’s liturgy confronts us with the reality of the cross of Christ: by the cross, we are reconciled to God; by the cross, our lives are transformed in the perfect love of Christ; by the cross, Jesus’ spirit of humility and compassion become a force of hope and re-creation for our desperate world.

Return to top