This Sunday's Gospel

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

3/7/21 – Lent 3
3/14/21 – Lent 4
3/21/21 – Lent 5
3/28/21 – Passion (Palm) Sunday

4/1/21 – Holy Thursday
4/2/21 – Good Friday
4/3/21 – The Easter Vigil
4/4/21 – Easter Sunday

4/11/21 – Easter 2
4/18/21 – Easter 3
4/25/21 – Easter 4


March 7 – 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. 

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March 14 – 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:                          

Like Nicodemus, we are all seekers and Christ has assured us of his company on our journey; like Nicodemus, we find ourselves coming to Jesus in the middle of our darkest nights, seeking hope and consolation, direction and comfort — and Jesus neither rejects us nor admonishes us, but welcomes us.  We discover the God that Nicodemus discovers: a God of light who transforms our despair into hope; a God of wisdom who enables us to re-create our Good Friday deaths into Easter resurrections; a God of compassion who heals our broken spirits into hearts made whole. 

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.

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March 21 – 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.

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March 28 – Sunday of the Lord’s Passion: Palm Sunday [B]

THE WORD:

The Blessing and Procession of Palms:  Mark 11: 1-10 orJohn 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 restored as 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 or 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 emboldened 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.

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April 1 – Holy Thursday [ABC]

“If I, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet.”
John 13: 1-15
This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the LORD, as a perpetual institution.
Exodus 12: 1-8, 11-14
As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.
1 Corinthians 11: 23-26

THE WORD:

The central event of John’s Gospel account of the Last Supper is the mandatum – from the Latin word for “commandment,” from which comes the traditional title for this evening, Maundy Thursday.  At the Passover seder on the night before he died, Jesus establishes a new Passover to celebrate God's covenant with the new Israel.  The special character of this second covenant is the mandatum of the washing of the feet: to love one another as we have been loved by Christ.

The writer of the Fourth Gospel makes no mention of the establishment of the Eucharist in his account of the Last Supper.  Chapters 14, 15 and 16 recount Jesus’ last instructions to his disciples, concluding with his “high priestly prayer” in chapter 17.  The Johannine theology of the Eucharist is detailed in the “bread of life” discourse following the multiplication of the loaves and fish at Passover – chapter 6 of John’s Gospel.

Tonight’s first reading recounts the origin and ritual of the feast of Passover, the Jewish celebration of God’s breaking the chains of the Israelites’ slavery in Egypt and leading them to their own land, establishing a covenant with them and making of them his own beloved people.

The deep divisions in the Corinthian community have led to abuses and misunderstandings concerning the “breaking of the bread.”  In addressing these problems and articulating the proper spirit in which to approach the Lord’s Supper, Paul provides us with the earliest written account of the institution of the Eucharist, the Passover of the new covenant (this evening's second reading).  If we fail to embrace the spirit of love and servanthood in which the gift of the Eucharist is given to us, then “Eucharist” becomes a judgment against us.

HOMILY POINTS:

The Eucharist, instituted this night, comes at a price all must be willing to pay:  We must become what we have received; we must become, for others, Christ the healer, Christ the compassionate and selfless brother, Christ the humble “washer of feet.”

Jesus, who revealed the wonders of God in stories about mustard seeds, fishing nets and ungrateful children, on this last night of his life – as we know life – leaves his small band of disciples his most beautiful parable:  As I have washed your feet like a slave, so you must wash the feet of each other and serve one another.  As I have loved you without limit or condition, so you must love one another without limit or condition.  As I am about to suffer and die for you, so you must suffer and, if necessary, die for one another.  Tonight’s “parable” is so simple, but its lesson is so central to what being a real disciple of Christ is all about.  When inspired by the love of Christ, the smallest act of service done for another takes on extraordinary dimensions. 

Tonight is about reliving a memory: the memory of Jesus, the Christ, who begins on this night, for our sakes, his great “passing over” from death to life.  At this table, in the cenacle of our own church, the memory of Jesus becomes a living reality.  Jesus speaks to us again and again in the pages of the Gospel book, in the basin, pitcher and towel, in the Eucharistic bread and wine.  The memory we relive tonight and tomorrow and the next day re-creates us, identifies us, makes us who we are as human beings who love, who care, who heal, who forgive, who lift up.

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April 2 – Good Friday [ABC]

When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished.”  And bowing his head, he handed over his spirit.
John 18: 1 – 19: 42

THE WORD:

John’s profoundly theological Passion account portrays a Jesus who is very much aware of what is happening to him.  His eloquent self-assurance unnerves the high priest and intimidates Pilate, who shuttles back and forth among the various parties involved, desperately trying to avoid condemning this innocent holy man to death.  Hanging on the cross, Jesus entrusts his mother to his beloved disciple, thus leaving behind the core of a believing community.  He does not cry out the psalm of the abandoned (Psalm 22); rather, his final words are words of decision and completion:  “It is finished.”  The crucifixion of Jesus, as recounted by John, is not a tragic end but the beginning of victory, the lifting up of the Perfect Lamb to God for the salvation of humankind.

HOMILY POINTS:

Today, Jesus teaches us through his own broken body.  As a Church, as a community of faith, we are the body of Christ – but a broken body.  We minister as broken people to broken people.  The suffering, the alienated, the unaccepted, the rejected, the troubled, the confused are all part of this broken body of Christ.  In God’s unfathomable love, the broken body of Christ is forever transformed into the full and whole life of the Risen Christ.

As Jesus’ cross becomes a means of transforming death into life, we are called on this Good Friday to use the crosses that we shoulder in our lives as vehicles for “resurrection” in the Jerusalems and Golgothas of our own time and place.

Jesus is crucified every day in the betrayals, condemnations, and crosses taken up and endured by the poor, the sorrowing, the sick, the grieving and the dying – but the “goodness" of Good Friday gives us reason to hope, reason to carry on, reason to rejoice.  By the grace of the Risen Christ we can transform our crucifixions into victories of Easter resurrection. 

Today, “truth” stands in front of us in the figure of the humiliated Jesus, the suffering Jesus, the ridiculed Jesus, the crucified Jesus.  Right in front of us is the truth about a God who loves us to a degree we cannot begin to fathom; a God who refuses to give up or reject or destroy his beloved creation – a creation that has hardly lived up to its promise; a God who humbles himself to become one of us in order to make us like him, to realize that we have been created in his image, created by his very breath blown into our hearts.

God calls us on this Good Friday to a second Exodus journey, marked in the slaying of his Son, the Lamb, who becomes for us the new Passover seder — today is our exodus from the slavery of sin to the freedom of compassion and forgiveness, our “passover” from this life to the life of God.

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April 3 – The Easter Vigil [B]

“Do not be amazed!  You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified.  He has been raised; he is not here.  Behold the place where they laid him.”
Mark 16: 1-7

The WORD:

In Mark’s Good Friday account, Jesus was buried quickly because sundown was approaching and the Sabbath was about to begin.  The three faithful women come to complete the ritual anointings that had to be omitted two nights before. 

The problem confronting Mary Magdalene, Mary and Salome in Mark’s Gospel was not a minor one.  This was no little rock!  Tombs in Gospel times were large caves in which several bodies could be laid.  The entrance to these caves would then be closed off with a large, flat, round stone fitted into a track dug into the ground.  But the three faithful women will not be deterred by a stone.  They were focused on their task: to properly and compassionately complete the burial of their slain friend and teacher. 

They are not prepared for what they find.

A “young man” proclaims to the terrified women in Mark’s Easter Gospel that all that God has promised and all that Jesus taught has been fulfilled.  Easter morning is the dawning of a new day of hope for a re-created humanity.

The young man instructs the three women to go and tell the disciples “and Peter” what has happened.  Remember that throughout his Gospel, Mark has made a point of the disciples’ constant failure to understand and grasp the meanings of the Servant-Messiah’s words and actions.  Mark’s singling out of Peter indicates the new life of forgiveness and reconciliation that Peter – who denied the condemned Jesus three days before – will receive from the Risen Christ.  That same resurrection experience is offered to every disciple of every place and time.

HOMILY POINTS:

While the Easter mystery does not deny the reality of suffering and pain, it does proclaim reason for hope in the human condition.  The empty tomb of Christ trumpets the ultimate Alleluia: that love, compassion, generosity, humility and selflessness will ultimately triumph over hatred, bigotry, prejudice, despair, greed and death. 

The Risen Christ is present to us in the faithful witness of every good person who shares the good news of the to bring resurrection into this life of ours: to rise above life’s sufferings and pain to give love and life to others, to renew and re-create our relationships with others, to proclaim the Gospel of the empty tomb.

When it comes to living our faith, we often find “stones” in our way.  The “stones” may be the fear of ridicule or humiliation, social conventions, the quest for profit and power.  Christ's resurrection is the complete victory of reconciliation, love, humility and selflessness over the “tombs” of despair, hatred and greed.  In our Easter celebration of the women’s discovery of the rolled-backed stone we come to realize that such stones in our own lives are obstacles only if we let them.

Easter is the morning of God’s second creation.  Death is no longer the ultimate finality but the ultimate beginning.  The Christ who taught forgiveness, who pleaded for reconciliation, who handed himself over to his executioners for the sake of justice and mercy, has been raised up by God.  We leave behind in the grave our sinfulness, our dark side, our selfishness, our pettiness -- the evil that mars God's first creation.

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April 4 – Easter Sunday [ABC]

[NOTE:  The Gospel from the Easter Vigil may be read on Easter Sunday.]

On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.  So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.”
John 20: 1-9

THE WORD:

John’s Easter Gospel says nothing of earthquakes or angels.  His account begins before daybreak. 

It was believed that the spirit of the deceased hovered around the tomb for three days after burial; Mary Magdalene was therefore following the Jewish custom of visiting the tomb during this three-day period.  Discovering that the stone has been moved away, Mary Magdalene runs to tell Peter and the others.  Peter and the “other disciple” race to get there and look inside. 

Note the different reactions of the three:  Mary Magdalene fears that someone has “taken” Jesus' body; Peter does not know what to make of the news; but the “other” disciple – the model of faithful discernment in John's Gospel – immediately understands what has taken place.  So great are the disciple's love and depth of faith that all of the strange remarks and dark references of Jesus now become clear to him.

HOMILY POINTS:

While the Easter mystery does not deny the reality of suffering and pain, it does proclaim reason for hope in the human condition.  The empty tomb of Christ trumpets the ultimate Alleluia: that love, compassion, generosity, humility and selflessness will ultimately triumph over hatred, bigotry, prejudice, despair, greed and death.  The Easter miracle enables us, even in the most difficult and desperate of times, to live our lives in hopeful certainty of the fulfillment of the resurrection at the end of our life's journey.

The Risen Christ is present to us in the faithful witness of every good person who shares the good news of the to bring resurrection into this life of ours: to rise above life’s sufferings and pain to give love and life to others, to renew and re-create our relationships with others, to proclaim the Gospel of the empty tomb.

The empty tomb of Easter morning is God’s vindication of his Son’s life among us: that no tomb can contain the mercy and hope of God.  The Christ who challenged us to love one another is risen and walks among us!  All that he taught – compassion, love, forgiveness, reconciliation, sincerity, selflessness for the sake of others – is vindicated and affirmed if he is truly risen.  The empty tomb should not only console us and elate us, it should challenge us to embrace the life of the Gospel.  With Easter faith, we can awaken the promise of the empty tomb in every place and moment we encounter on our journey through this life.

Easter is about resurrection — not just resuscitation, not just about coming back from the brink, not just about bouncing back from a difficult situation, not just about a near miss when we’ve been spared the worst that can happen.  In fact, the pre-requisite for resurrection is that the worst — devastating loss and death — happens.  And we are changed by the experience.   

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April 11 – Second Sunday of Easter [B]

“Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.  And when he said this he breathed upon them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit . . . ”
Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
John 20: 19-31

THE WORD:

The Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter (for all three years of the Lectionary cycle) is “act 2” of John’s Easter drama.
   
Scene 1 takes place on Easter night.  The terrified disciples are huddled together, realizing that they are marked men because of their association with the criminal Jesus.  The Risen Jesus appears in their midst with his greeting of “peace.”  John clearly has the Genesis story in mind when the evangelist describes Jesus as “breathing” the Holy Spirit on his disciples:  Just as God created man and woman by breathing life into them (Genesis 2: 7), the Risen Christ re-creates humankind by breathing the new life of the Holy Spirit upon the eleven.

In scene 2, the disciples excitedly tell the just-returned Thomas of what they had seen.  Thomas responds to the news with understandable skepticism.  Thomas had expected the cross (see John 11: 16 and 14: 5) – and no more.

The climactic third scene takes place one week later, with Jesus’ second appearance to the assembled community – this time with Thomas present.  He invites Thomas to examine his wounds and to “believe.”  Christ’s blessing in response to Thomas’ profession of faith exalts the faith of every Christian of every age who “believes without seeing”; all Christians who embrace the Spirit of the Risen One possess a faith that is in no way different less than that of the first disciples.  The power of the Resurrection transcends time and place.

HOMILY POINTS:

We trace our roots as parish and faith communities to Easter night when Jesus “breathed” his spirit of peace and reconciliation upon his frightened disciples, transforming them into the new Church.

The “peace” that Christ gives his new Church is not a passive sense of good feeling or the mere absence of conflict.  Christ’s peace is hard work: the peace of the Easter Christ is to honor one another as children of the same Father in heaven; the peace of the Easter Christ seeks to build bridges and find solutions rather than assigning blame or extracting punishment; the peace of Christ is centered in relationships that are just, ethical and moral. 

Jesus’ entrusting to the disciples the work of forgiveness is what it means to be the church: to accept one another, to affirm one another, to support one another as God has done for us in the Risen Christ.  What brought the apostles and first Christians together as a community – unity of heart, missionary witness, prayer, reconciliation and healing – no less powerfully binds us to one another as the Church of today.

All of us, at one time or another, experience the doubt and skepticism of Thomas:  While we have heard the good news of Jesus’ empty tomb, all of our fears, problems and sorrows prevent us from realizing it in our own lives.  In raising his beloved Son from the dead, God also raises our spirits to the realization of the totality and limitlessness of his love for us. 

In insisting on placing his hands in Jesus’ nailmarks before believing that Jesus had been raised from the dead, Thomas is no different than we are: Thomas wants something he can touch; he wants a tangible sign of Jesus’ resurrection.  After the horrific week since Jesus’ crucifixion, he wants more than a metaphor.  Thomas wants real life, life perfected and re-created by God.  And Jesus acquiesces.  The Crucified Jesus lives again — in us.  Our compassionate presence to one another, our embrace of one another in peace and respect, our commitment to the Gospel work of reconciliation and justice are all tangible signs of Jesus’ resurrection. 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus appears to his disciples and shows them his hands and his side; later he invites the doubting Thomas to touch the marks made by the nails and the gash from the soldier’s lance.  We all have scars from our own Good Fridays that remain despite our small resurrections.  Our “nail marks” remind us that all pain and grief, all ridicule and suffering, all disappointments and anguish, are transformed into healing and peace in the love of God we experience from others and that we extend to them.  Compassion, forgiveness, justice — no matter how clumsily offered — can heal and mend.   

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April 18 – Third Sunday of Easter [B]

The two disciples told the eleven and their companions what had happened on the road to Emmaus, and how Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you . . . These are the words that I spoke to you while I was still with you – that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”
Luke 24: 35-48

THE WORD:

Today’s Gospel is the conclusion of Luke’s account of Jesus’ first post-resurrection appearance to his disciples.  The two disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus have returned to Jerusalem to confirm the women’s story of the resurrection.  While they are excitingly telling their story, Jesus appears.

Luke goes to great lengths in his Easter accounts to make clear that the resurrection was not the fantasy of crazy zealots nor is the resurrection story a plot concocted by the disciples who somehow managed to spirit the body of Jesus away (according to Luke’s account, the disciples themselves had not gone near the tomb themselves or even expected any kind of “resurrection”).  In the details he presents here, Luke is countering the arguments forwarded to explain away the resurrection myth.  There can be no mistake:  The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a reality, a reality in which all of the Scriptures find their ultimate fulfillment.

For Luke, the power of Jesus’ resurrection is realized in the way it “opens” one’s heart and mind to understanding the deeper meaning of God’s Word and to fully embracing the Spirit of God.  In our faith and trust in the Risen Christ, we become “witnesses” of the mercy and forgiveness of God.

HOMILY POINTS:

In the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, God reveals in a specific moment of history, in a specific location on earth, the limitless and eternal love the Father has for his people.  God continues to make the miracle of the empty tomb present to us in the caring, compassion and love we receive and give – the love we have witnessed in the suffering of Christ, a love that is victorious even over death.  The Risen One walks among us in family and friends who offer their love to us and receive the love we yearn to give. 

In today’s Gospel, the Risen Jesus challenges his disciples – and us – to recall what he taught and what they had witnessed.  The Easter miracle is God’s assurance that love and forgiveness, even in the most difficult situations, are never offered in vain; in learning to cope without losing hope, in learning from the painful realities of life and in accepting the lessons learned in God’s Spirit of humility and patience, we become capable of growth, re-creation, transformation – and resurrection.

Just as the Risen Christ asks the Eleven for “something to eat,” he asks the same of us today in the cries and pleas of the poor and needy among us.  In imitating his humble compassion, we, in turn, discover meaning and purpose that “feed” our own hunger for meaning, for fulfillment, for God in our lives.

Easter faith opens our eyes and hearts to realize God’ hand in every moment of time, transforms our attitudes to realize the need for God’s compassion and forgiveness in every human encounter, lifts up our spirits to hope even in the face of life’s most painful and traumatic moments.

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April 25 – Fourth Sunday of Easter [B]

“I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away . . . 
“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.  So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
John 10: 11-18

THE WORD:

Jesus’ figure of the good shepherd is not an idyllic, serene image.  Palestinian shepherds were held liable for every single sheep entrusted to their care; “good” shepherds, motivated by a sense of responsibility rather than money, considered it a matter of honor to lay down their lives for the sheep in their charge, taking on every kind of wolf, wild beast and bandit in defense of the flock. 

While the shepherd/sheep metaphor is well-known throughout Scripture, Jesus’ vow to lay down his life for his sheep is something new.  It completes Jesus’ break with the mercenary religious leaders of the Jewish establishment who care little for the flock they have been entrusted to serve.

HOMILY POINT:

Christ calls us to the vocation of being “good shepherds”: to seek out and bring back the lost, the scattered and forgotten; to enable people to move beyond their fears and doubts to become fully human; to willingly pay the price for justice and mercy for all members of the “one fold.”

The Gospel image of the good shepherd calls us to look beyond our own expectations, needs and fears in order to become “shepherds” of reconciliation, compassion and charity to others. 

To be a disciple of Jesus is not to be simply a “hired hand” who acts only to be rewarded; real followers of Jesus realize that every person of the “one fold” possesses the sacred dignity of being children of God and rejoice in knowing that in serving others we serve God.  In embracing the Gospel attitude of humility and compassion for the sake of others – in “laying down our own lives” for others – our lives will one day be “taken up again” in the Father’s Easter promise.

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