This Sunday's Gospel

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

10/7/18 – Sunday 27 / Pentecost 20
10/14/18 – Sunday 28 / Pentecost 21
10/21/18 – Sunday 29 / Pentecost 22
10/28/18 – Sunday 30 / Pentecost 23

11/4/18 – Sunday 31 / Pentecost 24
11/11/18 – Sunday 32 / Pentecost 25
11/18/18 – Sunday 33  [Roman lectionary]
11/18/18 – Pentecost 26  [Common lectionary]
11/25/18 – Christ the King / Last Sunday after Pentecost


October 7 – 27th Sunday of the Year / 20th Sunday after Pentecost [PROPER 22]

“Because of the hardness of your hearts [Moses] wrote this commandment.  But
from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.  For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.  So they are no longer two but one flesh.”
“Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”
Mark 10: 2-16

THE WORD:

The question of divorce was among the most divisive issues in Jewish society.  The Book of Deuteronomy (24: 1) stipulated that a husband could divorce his wife for “some indecency.” Interpretations of exactly what constituted “indecency” varied greatly, ranging from adultery to accidentally burning the evening meal.  Further, the wife was regarded under the Law as the husband’s chattel, with neither legal right to protection nor recourse to seeking a divorce on her own.  In Biblical times, there was little appreciation of love and commitment in marriage –
marriages were always arranged in the husband’s favor, the husband could divorce his wife for just about any reason, the woman was treated little better than property.  Divorce, then, was tragically common among the Jews of Jesus’ time.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus cites the Genesis account of the creation of man and woman (today’s first reading) to emphasize that husband and wife are equal partners in the covenant of marriage (“the two become one body”).  The language of Genesis indicates that the Creator intends for the marriage union to possess the same special covenantal nature as God’s covenant with Israel.  Jesus again appeals to the spiritof the Law rather than arguing legalities:  It is the nature of their marriage covenant that husband and wife owe to one another total and complete love and mutual respect in sharing responsibility for making their marriage succeed.

Today’s Gospel reading also includes Mark’s story of Jesus’ welcoming the little children.  Again, Jesus holds up the model of a child’s simplicity and humility as the model for the servant-disciple.

HOMILY POINTS:

Jesus appeals to his followers to embrace the Spirit of love that is the basis of God’s “law” – that we are called to act out a sense of the compassion and justice of God rather than fulfilling legalisms and detached rituals.

Marriage is more than a legal contract between two “parties” but a sacrament – a living sign of God’s presence and grace in our midst, the manifestation of the love of God, a love that knows neither condition nor limit in its ability to give and forgive.

A child’s marvelous sense of wonder, inquisitiveness and simplicity that deflates adult “logic” and the “conventional wisdom” and make us look at the essence of our actions and our beliefs model for us how to respond in faith to Jesus' call to discipleship.

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October 14 – 28th Sunday of the Year / 21st Sunday after Pentecost [PROPER 23]

Jesus, looking at the rich young man, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing.  Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”  At that statement, his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
Mark 10: 17-30

THE WORD:

The young rich man in today’s Gospel is one of the most sympathetic characters in the Jesus story.  Clearly, Jesus’ teachings and healings have touched something in him, but his enthusiasm outdistances his commitment.  Assuring Jesus that he has kept the “you shall NOTS” of the Law, Jesus confronts the rich young man with the “you SHALLS” of the reign of God:  “Go and sell what you have and give it to the poor.”

And, as Mark describes it, the man’s face fell and “he went away sad.”  He can’t bring himself to do it.  His faith is not strong enough to give up the treasure he possesses for the “treasure in heaven.”  The young man walks away, sad certainly, and perhaps feeling even somewhat disillusioned that his hero Jesus is not what he thought and hoped he would be.

Then Jesus, speaking to his disciples, turns another Jewish belief upside down.  Popular Jewish morality was simple: prosperity was a sign that one had found favor with God.  There was a definite “respectability” to being perceived as wealthy and rich (how little things have changed).  Great wealth, Jesus points out, is actually a hindrance to heaven:  Rich people tend to look at things in terms of price, of value, of the “bottom line.”  Jesus preaches detachment from things in order to become completely attached to the life and love of God.

Throughout the Gospel, Jesus points to the inadequacy of viewing religion as a series of codes and laws.  The young man was no different than his contemporaries in seeing one’s relationship with God as based on a series of negatives (“you shall not”).  Discipleship is not based on NOT doing and avoiding but on DOING and acting in the love of God.  Jesus calls us not to follow a code of conduct but, rather, to embrace the Spirit that gives meaning and purpose to the great commandment.

HOMILY POINTS:                  

To be a person of faith demands not simply a matter of avoiding what is bad (“you shall NOT”) but the much harder work of seeking out and embracing what is of God: mercy, justice, compassion, reconciliation (“you SHALL”).

Today’s Gospel challenges us to consider how we use wealth and the power it has in our lives.  Wealth should enable us to live life to the fullest; but too often what we have can weigh us down, preventing us from moving on with our lives — the prosperity that should enable our journey becomes more important than the journey itself. 

Wealth is seductive: what we consume can consume us – we can be swallowed up in our pursuit of wealth, prestige and power, becoming immune to the joy of the human experience.  Whatever we possess that inhibits us from embracing the love of God to the fullest is a curse, not a blessing.

Wealth should enable us to live life to the full, but too often what we have can weigh us down, preventing us from moving on with our lives — the prosperity that should enable our journey becomes more important than the journey itself. 

Jesus asks everything of us as the cost of being his disciple — but Jesus asks only what we have, not what we don’t have.  Each one of us possesses talents and resources, skills and assets that we have been given by God for the work of making the kingdom of God a reality in the here and now.  

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October 21 – 29th Sunday of the Year / 22nd Sunday after Pentecost  [PROPER 24]

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and asked, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.”  Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking.  Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized . . . ?
“You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt.  But it shall not be so among you.  Rather, whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.”
Mark 10: 35-45

THE WORD:

In the Gospel reading a few weeks ago (just a chapter ago in Mark’s Gospel), Jesus admonished his disciples for their pointless argument among themselves as to who was the most important.  James and John apparently did not get the message. 

In today's Gospel account, the two sons of Zebedee – who, with Peter, make up Jesus’ inner circle – ask for the places of honor and influence when Jesus begins his reign.  James and John proclaim their willingness to “drink the cup” of suffering and share in the “bath” or “baptism” of pain Jesus will experience (the Greek word used is baptizein, meaning to immerse oneself in an event or situation).  Jesus finally tells them that the assigning of such honors is the prerogative of God the Father.

Most readers share the other disciples’ indignation at the incredible nerve of James and John to make such a request (Matthew, in his Gospel, casts the two brothers in a better light by having their mother make the request -- Matthew 20: 20.)  Jesus calls the disciples together to try again to make them understand that he calls them to greatness through service.  Jesus’ admonition to them is almost a pleading:  If you really understand me and what I am about, if you really want to be my disciple, if you really seek to be worthy of my name, then you must see the world differently and respond to its challenges with a very different set of values.  The world may try to justify vengeance rather than forgiveness, to glorify self-preservation over selflessness, to insist on preserving the system and convention for the sake of compassion and justice – but it cannot be that way with you.

HOMILY POINTS:

To be an authentic disciple of Jesus means to put ourselves in the humble, demanding role of servant to others, to intentionally seek the happiness and fulfillment of those we love regardless of the cost to ourselves.

Jesus’ admonition “It shall not be so among you” is perhaps the greatest challenge of the Gospel, calling us not to accept “business as usual,” not to accept injustice and estrangement as “the way things are,” not to justify our flexible morals and ethics with the mantra “everybody does it.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus poses the challenge:  Can you drink the cup I will drink?  Can you immerse yourself in my baptism?  Our first inclination is to say, No, Lord, we can’t.  It’s more than we can do.  What Jesus asks us to take on is not easy: his life of humble service, his emptying himself of his own needs and wants for the sake of others.  But there is also a promise here: that if we resolve to try to imitate Jesus’ compassion, if we seek what is right and good and just, if we are motivated by generosity of heart, then the grace of God’s wisdom and strength will be ours, the Spirit of God’s compassion and mercy will be upon us.  

Discipleship calls us to a sense of gratitude for what we have received from God and a commitment to servanthood, putting the lives God has given to us to the service of others, in imitation of his Christ. 

Authentic faith is centered in humility – humility that begins with valuing life as a gift from God, a gift we have received only through God’s mysterious love, not through anything we have done to deserve it. 

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October 28 – 30th Sunday of the Year / 23rd Sunday after Pentecost [PROPER 25] 

Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging.  “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me . . . !”
“Master, I want to see.”
Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”      
Mark 10: 46-52

THE WORD:

Mark’s story of the blind Bartimaeus, which takes place just before Jesus’ Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem, is as much a “call” story as a healing story.  For Mark, Bartimaeus is model of faith.  The blind beggar calls out to Jesus using the Messianic title “Son of David.”  He first asks, not for his sight, but for compassion:  He understands that this Jesus operates out of a spirit of love and compassion for humanity and places his faith in that spirit.  Ironically, the blind Bartimaeus “sees” in Jesus the spirit of compassionate service that, until now, his "seeing" disciples have been unable to comprehend.

HOMILY POINTS:

As Bartimaeus realizes, Christ comes to heal our spiritual and moral blindness and open our eyes to recognize the Spirit of God in every person and to discern the way of God in all things; he opens our eyes as well as hearts and spirits to new images of a world made whole by the grace of God, of lives transformed by the love of God.

As he restores to Bartimaeus not only physical sight but a sense of the reality of God’s love for him, Christ comes to restore our “sight” to see God’s sacred presence in our lives, to heal us of our blindness to the sins of selfishness and hatred we too easily explain away.

Our deepest prayer is the cry of the blind Bartimaeus:  “Master, I want to see”: to “see” with the human heart, to perceive in the spirit, to comprehend in the wisdom of God.  

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November 4 – 31st Sunday of the Year / 24th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 26]

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength . . . ’  ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself . . .’  There is no commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12: 28-34

THE WORD:

In today's Gospel, Jesus “synthesizes” his message in the “Great Commandment.”

The Jews knew these two commandments well.  To this day, observant Jews pray twice daily the Shema: to love God “with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength.”  The word shema means “to hear,” and comes from the first words of the prayer, “Hear, O Israel . . .”  The text for the Shema, which is also inscribed in the “mezuzah,” the small container affixed to the door of every Jewish home, is found in Deuteronomy 6: 4-6 (today’s first reading).  While the Torah outlined a Jew’s responsibility to one’s neighbors, Jesus is the first to make of these two a single commandment:  “There is no other commandment greater than these.”  The only way we can adequately celebrate our live for God is in extending that love to our neighbors.

HOMILY POINTS:

To love as God calls us to love demands every fiber of our being: heart, soul, mind, and strength.

It is in our love and compassion for one another that humanity most closely resembles God; it is in our charity and selflessness that we participate in God’s work of creation.

In the two “great commandments” we discover a purpose to our lives much greater than our prejudices, provincialism and parochialism; in them, we find the ultimate meaning and purpose of the gifts of faith and life.

Our rituals and sanctuaries mean nothing before God if they are devoid of the love and compassion Christ calls us to embrace.  It is too easy to be so caught up with externals and rubrics that the essence of our faith slips away from us.

God’s kingdom is realized in every act of compassionate charity and selfless sacrifice, when our humanity most resembles God; it is built of the respect and honor we afford to all God’s sons and daughters, for in our love and care for them, we most sincerely praise God. 

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November 11 – 32nd Sunday of the Year / 25th Sunday after Pentecost [PROPER 27]

“Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets.  They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext recite lengthy prayers.”
“This poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury.  For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty . . . ”
Mark 12: 38-44

THE WORD:

Preaching in the Jerusalem temple days before the Last Supper and his crucifixion, Jesus indicts the scribes for their lavish but empty show of faith.  The scribes, in their haughty and arrogant attitude, are the antithesis of what Jesus wants his disciples to be.

In Jesus’ time, scribes, as the accepted experts of the Law, could serve as trustees of a widow’s estate.  They took a portion of the estate, as their fee.  Obviously, scribes with a reputation for piety were often entrusted with this role.  With their ability to manipulate the interpretations of the Law to their advantage, the system was rife with abuse.

Throughout Scripture, widows were portrayed as the supreme examples of the destitute and powerless (today’s first reading from the 1 Kings is an example).  Jesus again makes a considerable impact on his hearers, then, by lifting up a widow who has nothing as an example of faithful generosity.  Only that which is given not from our abundance but from our own need and poverty – and given totally, completely, humbly and joyfully – is a gift fitting for God.

HOMILY POINTS:

The kingdom of God is realized only in our embracing Christ's spirit of servanthood: servanthood that finds fulfillment and satisfaction in the love, compassion and kindness we can extend to others, that enables us to place the common good and the needs of others above our own wants and narrow interests.

Greatness in the reign of God is not measured by what is in our portfolios, bank accounts or resumes, but by the love in our hearts that directs the use and sharing of those gifts.

The faithful disciple honors the dignity of the servant above the power of the rich, canonizes humility over celebrity and is inspired by the total generosity of the widow rather than the empty gestures of the scribe.

The widow's “reckless” giving from her poverty rather than from her abundance challenges our concept of carefully planned, tax deductible, convenient and painless giving.  Jesus’ concept of charity is centered in the kind of total and unconditional love that makes such sacrificial giving a joy.

In the economy of God, numbers are not the true value of giving: it is what we give from our want, not from our extra, that reflects what we truly value, what good we actually want to accomplish, what we really want our lives and world to be. 

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November 18 – 33rd Sunday of the Year    

“Learn a lesson from the fig tree.  When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near.  In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that the Son of Man is near . . . ”
Mark 13: 24-32

THE WORD:

The first generation of Christians expected Christ to return in their lifetimes.  When their world began to collapse around them under the Roman onslaught of Jerusalem, they wondered in their anguish, When will Jesus return for us?

With every experience of loss, with every sign of illness, with ever hint of age creeping upon us, we become more and more aware of our mortality.  We live on the edge of eternity.  Jesus does not deny the pain and anguish of the end (citing in today’s Gospel reading the graphic images of the prophet Daniel) nor that the earth will indeed pass away.  But the important thing is not when Jesus will come (for we know he will), but our readiness to meet him.

HOMILY POINTS:

The signs of the end times should not frighten us or terrify us into submission before the horrible wrath of God; Jesus urges us, instead, to recognize such “signs” in a spirit of hope and a perspective of faith in God’s providence: to appreciate what a precious gift our limited time on earth is; to realize that every changing world and passing stage, every pain and triumph, are opportunities for growth, maturity and understanding of the transforming presence of God in one another; to embrace change – the passing away of our own “heaven and earth” – as part of our journey to the dwelling place of God.

The unsettling images Jesus articulates in today’s Gospel confronts us with the reality that the things we treasure – our careers, our portfolios, our bodies, our celebrity – will one day be no more and that our separation from them will be bitter.

The “signs” that Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel are all around us; the “fig tree” grows and blossoms in the lives of every one of us.  With eyes and hearts of faith, we can recognize such “signs” of God’s love in our midst.  The Gospel fig tree challenges us to listen beyond mere words, to look deeper than the surface, to realize the presence of God in times and places when and where God seems to be absent.    

Change – sometimes frightening, often traumatic, seldom easy – is part of that journey for all of us.  But when our “heavens and earths” pass away, the promise of the life of God and the values of the Gospel remain constant. 

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November 18 – 25th Sunday after Pentecost [PROPER 28]   

“Do you not see these great buildings?  Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
Mark 13: 1-8

THE WORD:

Chapter 13 in Mark’s Gospel is Jesus’ discourse on the end times. 

The chapter opens with Jesus and his disciples leaving the temple in Jerusalem.  The disciples are in deeply impressed of the magnificent structure, but Jesus prophesies its destruction – as all the things of earth will one day be reduced to ashes and dust in the end times.  Mark’s community immediately hears Jesus’ words as a prediction of the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 A.D.; these first Christians saw its fall as the ultimate sign that the world was about to end and Jesus was about to return.  But Jesus’ discourse here reveals a far greater cataclysm than this singular event.

Warning his followers to beware of false prophets and messianic pretenders claiming to speak for God in times of great anguish and anxiety, Jesus exhorts his disciples to persevere in the turbulent times ahead; their faithfulness in times of such suffering will be beginning of the fulfillment of God’s reign.

HOMILY POINTS:

Christ calls us to embrace, not the things of the body but of the soul, not the things of the world but the things of God: the lasting, eternal treasures of love and mercy, the joy that comes only from selfless giving, the satisfaction that comes from lifting up the hopes and dreams of others. 

Jesus urges us to recognize the “signs” of change with eyes and spirits of faith: to appreciate what a precious gift our limited time on earth is; to realize that every changing world and passing stage, every pain and triumph, are opportunities for growth, maturity and understanding of the transforming presence of God; to embrace change — the passing away of our own “heaven and earth” — as part of our journey to the dwelling place of God.  

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November 25 – Christ the King / Reign of Christ / Last Sunday after Pentecost [PROPER 29]

“For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
John 18: 33-37

THE WORD:

We celebrate the kingship of Jesus with the John’s Gospel account of what is perhaps Jesus’ most humiliating moment: his appearance before Pilate.  It is a strange exchange: Pilate has been blackmailed by the Jewish establishment into executing Jesus for their ends; it is the accused who dominates the meeting and takes on the role of inquisitor; Pilate has no idea what Jesus is talking about when speaks bout “the truth.”

Pilate, a man of no great talent or exceptional competence, was under a great deal of political pressure.  He had needlessly alienated the Jews of Palestine by his cruelty, his insensitivity to their religious customs and his clumsy appropriation of funds from the temple treasury for public projects.  Reports of his undistinguished performance had reached his superiors in Rome.  Jesus proclaims himself ruler of a kingdom built of compassion, humility, love and truth – power that Pilate cannot comprehend in his small, narrow view of the world.

HOMILY POINTS:

We cannot be Christians by default but only by choice; we cannot respond passively to the call to discipleship, only actively can we embrace the spirit of the “kingdom” of God, a kingdom built on compassion, justice and truth.

The kingdom of Jesus is not found in the world’s centers of power but within human hearts; it is built not by deals among the power elite but by compassionate hands; Christ reigns neither by influence nor wealth but by selfless charity and justice.

To be faithful disciples of Christ is to be servants of truth: truth that liberates and renews, truth that gives and sustains life and hope, truth that transcends rationalizations, half-truths and delusions, truth that serves as a looking glass for seeing the world in the intended design of God.

Christ’s reign is realized only in our embracing a vision of humankind as a family made in the image of God, a vision of one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, a vision of the world centered in the spirit of hope and compassion taught by Christ.  

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