This Sunday's Gospel

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

1/9/22 – Baptism of the Lord

1/16/22 – Sunday 2 / Epiphany 2
1/23/22 – Sunday 3 / Epiphany 3
1/30/22 – Sunday 4 / Epiphany 4

2/6/2022 – Sunday 5/ Epiphany 5
2/13/2022 – Sunday 6 / Epiphany 6  
2/20/2022 – Sunday 7 / Epiphany 7
2/27/2022 – Sunday 8
2/27/2022 – Epiphany 8 (Last Sunday)


January 9 – Baptism of the Lord [C]

After Jesus was baptized, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.   And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Luke 3: 15-16, 21-22

THE WORD:

Today’s Gospel is the final event of the Epiphany: Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan River by John.  The Christmas season “officially” (liturgically) comes to an end today at the banks of the Jordan.  Jesus is no longer the child in a Bethlehem manger but the adult Redeemer making his way to Jerusalem.  The good news spoken by the angels continues to unfold; the most wondrous part of the Christ story is yet to be revealed.  Today, the same Spirit that “anoints” the Messiah for his mission us to be about the work of Christmas in this new year: to seek out and find the lost, to heal the hurting, to feed the hungry, to free the imprisoned, to rebuild nations, to bring peace to all peoples everywhere.

Luke presents Jesus as the last person to be baptized by John, bringing John’s ministry to completion.  Luke describes the scene with many images from the First Testament:

Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan becomes the moment of God's “anointing” of his Messiah (the word Messiah means “anointed”) for the work he is about to do.

HOMILY POINTS:

Baptism is more than just a “naming” ceremony but an ongoing process of becoming the people of faith that God calls us to be.

In baptism, we claim the name of “Christian” and embrace all that that holy name means: to live for others rather than for ourselves, in imitation of Christ. 

Our baptisms made each one of us the “servant” of today's readings: to bring forth in our world the justice, reconciliation and enlightenment of Christ, the “beloved Son” and “favor” of God.

In baptism, the same Spirit of compassion, justice and peace that “descends” upon Jesus at his baptism by John descends and rests upon us, compelling us to take on the work of the Gospel.
 
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January 16 – Second Sunday of the Year [C] / Second Sunday after Epiphany [C]

At a wedding feast in Cana, Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water . . . Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.”
John 2: 1-11

THE WORD:

Today’s Gospel is John’s account of Jesus’ first great “sign”: the transformation of water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana.  For the churches of the East, the miracle at Cana is the fourth great event of their celebration of the Lord’s Epiphany or manifestation to the world (the first three: his birth at Bethlehem, the adoration of the magi and his baptism at the Jordan by John).
   
Cana evokes two important Scriptural symbols that point to the Messiahship of Jesus:
   
First, wine in abundance was considered a sign for Israel of the Messianic age to come (one example is Isaiah 54: 5-14, Reading 4 for the Easter Vigil).  The water in the six large stone jars used for the ritual washings mandated by the first covenant law is transformed by Jesus into Messianic wine, prefiguring the new covenant to be sealed in Jesus' blood (which we celebrate in the wine of the Eucharist).
   
Second, the limitless love of God for his people is described throughout Scripture in terms of marriage.  Today's first reading from Isaiah is a beautiful example of this tradition.  It is the strongest (yet still far from perfect) image we have to understand the depth of God's love for his holy people.
   
The evangelist John pulls together these two power Messianic symbols of wine and marriage together to introduce the public ministry of Jesus, the promised Messiah and bridegroom.
   
A final note:  In verse 4 of today's Gospel, Jesus is not as brusque toward his mother as he sounds to us in the English translation of the text.  The address “Woman” was a common courteous form of address in Jesus' time.  We do not have in modern English an equivalent of this idiomatic expression.

HOMILY POINTS:

The love of God is manifested at its most powerful in the love between husband and wife, in marriages that are sacraments, in marriages in which Christ is the always-present Wedding Guest. 

As ministers of the marriage sacrament, husbands and wives, in their love for one another, mirror for all of us the great love of God in our midst.

At Cana, Jesus offers for the first time the “new wine” of Gospel hope and re-creation.  We, too, are called to see our world with eyes of faith in order that we might bring the possibilities of such hope – hope that transforms hurt into reconciliation, despair into confidence, alienation into community.

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January 23 – Third Sunday of the Year [C]  / Third Sunday after Epiphany [C]

Jesus unrolled the scroll and found the message where it was written:  “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me . . . ”
Jesus said to them, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Luke 1: 1-4; 4: 14-21

THE WORD:

Luke, the author of this year’s cycle of Gospel readings, is a “second generation” Christian.  Greek by birth and physician by profession, he was a traveling companion of Paul, through whom he met Mark and perhaps Peter himself.  He writes his Gospel mainly for Gentiles like himself: for Luke, this Jesus fulfills not only Jewish dreams but every people's hopes for wholeness and holiness.
   
Luke’s Gospel reflects a scientist’s precision in locating dates, places and people; but Luke's Gospel also exhibits an interest in people rather than ideas.  His account celebrates the compassion of Jesus for the outcasts and “second class citizens” of Jewish society, including and especially women.
   
Luke begins his Gospel in the classic Greek historical style by personally (he is the only one of the four evangelists who ever refers to himself in the first person) assuring his readers (addressed in the singular “Theophilus,” Greek for “friend of God”) of the historical accuracy and theological authenticity of the research he has gathered to assemble this story.
   
According to Luke’s account, Jesus begins his teaching ministry in Galilee.  Galilee – a name which comes from the Hebrew word for circle – was a great agricultural region encircled by non-Jewish nations and cultures, thereby earning a reputation for being the most progressive and least conservative area of Palestine.  A teacher with a “new” message such as this Rabbi Jesus would be expected to receive a favorable hearing in the openness of Galilean society.
   
Jesus returns to his hometown, the Galilean city of Nazareth.  Nazareth was a city of great importance in Israel’s history and economy, located on the major routes to Jerusalem, Alexandria and Damascus.  In the Nazareth synagogue (the places where local Jewish communities outside of Jerusalem would gather for teaching and prayer), Jesus announces, using the words of the prophet Isaiah, the fulfillment of God's promise of a Messiah for Israel.

HOMILY POINTS:

Today we hear in the opening words of Luke’s Gospel his reason for compiling his Gospel.  He writes for Theophilus “so that [you] may see how reliable the instruction you have received.”  This story of Jesus who comes to “proclaim glad tidings to the poor . . . to announce a year of favor from the Lord” should make a profound difference in the lives of all who hear it.  In his humanity, Jesus reveals a God who is approachable and present to us in all that is good and right and loving around us.

While Israel longed for a Messiah who would lead them to victory and vindication, Jesus the Messiah comes with a much different message of humility, reconciliation, compassion and forgiveness.  The “good news” of the Gospel calls to become rather than to shun, to lift up rather than condemn, to seek the humble of way servanthood rather than the satisfaction of self-righteousness.

In the Father’s Son, Isaiah’s vision of a world transformed and reconciled in God’s peace and justice is fulfilled; in God’s Christ, God re-creates us and our world in the light of grace and the spirit of compassion.  In baptism, we take on the work of “fulfilling” Isaiah’s vision of healing, justice and reconcilliation in our own “civilizations.”

Isaiah’s vision read by Jesus in today’s Gospel includes us: We make Isaiah’s vision a reality in our own Nazareths in every act of hope we make happen, in every kindness prompted by God’s grace.  As witnesses of Christ’s resurrection, as baptized disciples of his church, we inherit the Spirit’s call to “bring glad tidings” and “proclaim the Lord’s favor” to the poor, the imprisoned, the blind, the oppressed and the helpless.  

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January 30 – Fourth Sunday of the Year [C]  / Fourth Sunday after Epiphany [C]

“Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place.”
Luke 4: 21-20

THE WORD:

There is a cost to being a prophet; to proclaim what is right, just and good can be a lonely, isolating experience.

Today’s Gospel continues last Sunday’s account of Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue at Nazareth.  After proclaiming the fulfillment of Isaiah’s vision of the Messiah (last Sunday’s Gospel), Jesus sits down – the posture assumed by one is about to teach – and begins by explaining in no uncertain terms that he cannot perform any healings or miracles there because of their lack of faith.  He teaches that the Messiah does not come for Nazareth alone but for every race, culture and nation of every place and age.
   
His explanation is met with indignation and anger.  Many Jews of the time were so convinced that they were God's own people that they despised everyone else.  They could not accept Jesus’ idea that others – Gentiles! – were as loved by God as they were.  Jesus is forced to leave his hometown.

HOMILY POINTS:

Standing up for what is right, speaking out for such things as ethics and justice, are the call of the prophet. To speak – and to listen – as prophets demands the courage and conviction to risk isolation, ridicule and persecution for sake of the justice and mercy of God.

God continues to raise up parents and teachers, preachers and ministers, friends and classmates to help us realize our own call to be prophets of God’s word, to embrace God’s grace enabling us to transform our own Nazareth into God’s dwelling place. 

The core of the Gospel is the revelation that God became what we are so that we can better understand what God is and grasp what God is about: love, forgiveness, compassion, justice, peace.

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February 6 – Fifth Sunday of the Year [C]  / Fifth Sunday after Epiphany [C]

After he had finished speaking to the crowds from Simon’s boat, Jesus said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch . . .
“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”
Luke 5: 1-11

THE WORD:

Commercial fishing has always been a hard way to make a living.  It is hard work, sometimes with little or no reward; it requires a substantial investment of time and money for boat and gear and their maintenance; it entails considerable risk in leaving the safety of homeport for the open sea; it compels crews to work together to bring in the catch.  The work of the prophet/disciple demands that same kind of hard work, risk, personal investment, patience, and sense of community.
   
The best fishing, Peter and his brothers knew, was done at night; little is caught during the heat of the day.  So Peter’s agreeing to lower his nets at Jesus’ urging was, for a fisherman of Peter’s experience, an act of considerable faith.  And as today's Gospel recounts, Peter’s faith is rewarded abundantly.  If the first disciples of Jesus had any special grace at all, it was an openness to Jesus' call and teaching.
   
In Luke’s account, Peter’s reaction is somewhat surprising.  Upon realizing who Jesus is, he cowers away.  In the light of Christ's revelation, Peter recognizes his own unworthiness and humbleness in the sight of God.  But Jesus assures him he has not come to drive sinners from his presence but to bring them back to God – to catch them in “net” of God’s love.
      
HOMILY POINTS:

To be a “catcher of souls” demands possessing enough love to extend ourselves and reach out and “catch” and enough faith that God will give us the grace to make the “grab.”

Jesus challenges us to lower our nets in the “deep water” – to risk our own security and comfort for the sake of the Gospel values of compassion justice and reconciliation.

In the ordinary events of every day we are presented with countless opportunities to uncover the extraordinary love of God in our own times and place.

Many of us suffer from an “inferiority complex” when it comes to God: we are neither saintly enough nor good enough nor wise enough in church protocols to consider ourselves “religious.”  The reality, however, is that God works through men and women who are just like us, however imperfect.

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February 13 – Sixth Sunday of the Year / Sixth Sunday after Epiphany [C]

“Blessed are you who are poor . . . but woe to you who are rich . . . ”
Luke 6: 17, 20-26

THE WORD:

In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks of “Beatitudes,” but in Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, Jesus drops a series of bombshells.  He takes the accepted standards of the times and turns them upside down:  To those who are considered the “haves” of society, Jesus warns “Woe to you!” – wealth and power are not the stuff of the kingdom of God; but to the “have nots,” Jesus says, “Happy and blessed are you” – love, humble selflessness, compassion and generosity are the treasure of God's realm.  Jesus promises his followers poverty, suffering, persecuting and grief -- but their hope in God will be rewarded with perfect and complete joy.  In Luke’s Gospel, the “blessed” are those who see beyond their own needs and wants in the present moment to work for a better future not only for themselves but for others — but “woe” to those, Jesus warns, who seek their own “fill” now with no concern for the future or for others.

This will be a constant theme throughout Luke’s Gospel: Jesus teaches that wealth and power are not the stuff of the reign of God, but humility, selflessness and compassion are the treasures of God’s kingdom. 

HOMILY POINTS:

In the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus challenges us to put aside the “woe” of self-centeredness and embrace the “blessedness” that can only be experienced by seeing ourselves not as the center of the world but as a means for transforming the world for the “blessedness” of all. 

Luke's version of the Beatitudes challenges everything our consumer-oriented society holds dear.  While wealth, power and celebrity are the sought-after prizes of our world, the treasures of God's reign are love, humble selflessness, compassion and generosity.  In freeing ourselves from the pursuit of the things of this world, we liberate ourselves to seek the lasting things of God.
 
To be the among the “blessed” envisioned by Jesus means to put aside our own poverty and hunger and our own positions and reputations to extend the compassion of Jesus to others; to provide, regardless of the cost, safe places for the lost to return, the grieving to mourn, to the wounded to heal.

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February 20 – Seventh Sunday of the Year / Seventh Sunday after Epiphany [C]

“Love your enemies and do good to them, and lend them expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great . . .
“Forgive and you will be forgiven.  Give and gifts will be given to you . . . ”
Luke 6: 27-38

THE WORD:

Continuing his Sermon on the Plain, Jesus again turns upside down another accepted standard of Jewish morality.  The principle of “do to no one what you yourself dislike” (as articulated in Tobit 4: 15) was not enough for those who seek to be God's holy people.  Jesus demands that his disciples “love your enemies.”
   
The Greek word for love used in this text is agape, a sense of benevolence, kindness and charity towards others.   In other words, no matter what a person does to us we will never allow ourselves to seek anything but the highest good for him or her.  The radical love of God that is the mark of the Christian is presented clearly and emphatically here.  In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus calls us not just to passive adherence to the standard of the “Golden Rule,” but to actively seek out the good in everyone, to risk being duped or hurt in our compassion and forgiveness of another.  The completeness and limitlessness of God's own love and mercy for us should be the measure of our love and mercy for one another.

HOMILY POINTS:

In every relationship, in every set of circumstances, the faithful disciple of Jesus seeks to break the cycle of hatred and distrust by taking that often-formidable first step to love, to seek reconciliation above all else.

Seeing beyond hatreds and differences, borders and boundaries, flags and uniforms, languages and cultures, suspicions and unsettled scores is the cutting edge of the Gospel.  The relationship we seek with God we must first seek with one another. 

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February 27 – Eighth Sunday of the Year [C]

“ . . . remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.”
Luke 6: 39-45

THE WORD:

In the conclusion of the “Sermon on the Plain,” Jesus utilizes a style of preaching called charaz – “string beads.”

Luke has edited several of Jesus’ sayings into three “beads”:

“A blind person guid[ing] a blind person”:  Becoming a disciple is a constant process of conversion.  The disciples never “surpasses” his/her instruction; the disciple is never “better” or superior to those he/she brings to God.

“The wooden beam from your eye”:  Jesus calls his disciples not to judge or condemn, but to center one’s following of Jesus in seeking personal conversion and reconciliation with others.

“Every tree is known by its own fruit”:  We cannot speak meaningfully of God with our lips unless God is present in our hearts.  It is the joy and humility of our lives that affirm the power of the Gospel, not prayer formulas we utter or dogmas we articulate.

HOMILY POINTS:

To follow Jesus begins in a spirit of gratitude and humility:  In embracing the spirit of the Gospel, we realize the love of God in our lives and seek to reveal that love to others in our own compassion and care.  Embracing that love does not make us better or superior to others but should instill in us Christ’s humility enabling us to respect and honor everyone as daughters and sons of God, our sisters and brothers in Christ.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus does not say we should ignore the faults or quietly accept the bad behavior of others because we’re no better than they are.  What he does say is that changing such behavior, confronting distrust, challenging destructive behavior begins with the humility to see the “wooden beams” in our own eyes and understand how and why those “beams” formed to distort our own vision and behavior. 

We all have “splinters” — and maybe a “beam” — that obstructs our vision.  Self-centeredness, avarice and ambition can make us blind to the pain we inflict on others and the injustice we perpetuate.  But more often than not, we suffer from a “splinter” of fear that disables our ability to realize the generosity of others.  Those “splinters” can become major obstructions in our failure to express gratitude, in our difficulty to forgive and seek forgiveness, in our hesitancy to speak out for justice and protect the poor and vulnerable,

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February 27 – Eighth (Last) Sunday after Epiphany [C]

While Jesus was praying, his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.  Moses and Elijah appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.
Luke 9: 28-36  
                                          

THE WORD:

In the common lectionary, the gospel of Jesus’ transfiguration on Mount Tabor is read on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the “last” Sunday after Epiphany.

Luke’s account of the transfiguration is filled with First Testament imagery (the voice heard in the cloud, for example) that echoes the Exodus event.  In Luke’s Gospel, the transfiguration takes place after Jesus’ instructions to his followers on the cost of discipleship.  To follow Jesus is an “exodus” through one’s own desert to the Promised Land, through Jerusalem to the empty tomb, through death to life.  In offering to build three booths (or shrines) to honor Jesus, Moses and Elijah, Peter and his sleepy companions do not understand that Jesus' exodus does not end with the glorious vision they have witnessed.  It is only the beginning.

HOMILY THEMES:

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.  The coming 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.

The transfiguration of Jesus is a turning point in the Gospel: the beginning of a new exodus, Jesus’ difficult “Passover” from crucifixion to resurrection.  As his disciples, we, too, are called to experience with Jesus the exodus of Jesus: an exodus that confronts us with the impermanence of this world and our own sinfulness, an exodus from this life to the life of God.

The season of Lent that begins this week calls us to transfiguration – to transform the coldness, sadness and despair around us through the compassion and love of Christ Jesus.

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