This Sunday's Gospel

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

7/4/21 – Sunday 14 / Pentecost 6 [B]
7/11/21 – Sunday 15 [B]
7/11/21 – Pentecost 7 [B]
7/18/21 – Sunday 16 / Pentecost 8 [B]
7/25/21 – Sunday 17 / Pentecost 9 [B]

8/1/21 – Sunday 18 / Pentecost 10
8/8/21 – Sunday 19 / Pentecost 11
8/15/21 – Assumption of Mary
8/15/21 – Pentecost 12
8/22/21 – Sunday 21 / Pentecost 13
8/29/21 – Sunday 22 / Pentecost 14


July 4 – 14th Sunday of the Year B/ Sixth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 9B]

“Where did this man get all this?  What kind of wisdom has been given to him?  What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands!  Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary . . . ?”
Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.”
Mark 6: 1-6

THE WORD:

Mark begins a new theme in his Gospel with today’s pericope: the blindness of people to the power and authority of Jesus.  The people of Jesus’ own hometown reject his message.  They consider Jesus too much “one of them” to be taken seriously.  They are too obsessed with superficialities – occupation, ancestry, origins – to realize God present in their midst and to be affected by that presence.

HOMILY POINTS:

The authority that Jesus’ hearers sense in him is an authority and wisdom that transcends office or title or economic power; it is an authority rooted in wisdom that comes from experience and a lived commitment to do what is right and just.

Jesus’ authority is not derived from his ability to manipulate the fears, suspicions, apathy or ignorance of the community is leads but from the spirit of mercy, justice and compassion he is able to call forth from them.  

Like the people of Jesus’ hometown, we often fail to realize the presence of God in our very midst.  God dwells in our midst in the simplest acts of kindness, in the humblest efforts of compassion for others, in the singular attempts to secure the justice and peace of God in hidden and forgotten places. 

In Baptism, we take on the role of prophet – “one who proclaims.”  To be a prophet, to “proclaim” the Word we have heard, can result in our being ostracized, ridiculed, rejected and isolated.  But genuine faith never falters in the conviction that the justice of God will triumph over injustice, that his mercy will triumph over hatred, that his light will triumph over the darkness of sin and death.

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July 11 – 15th Sunday of the Year B

Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits.  He instructed them to take nothing for their journey but a walking stick –
no food, no sack, no money in their belts.
Mark 6: 7-13

THE WORD:

In today’s Gospel, the Twelve – each of whom has been called personally by Jesus – are given the title of apostle – “one who is sent.”  These unlikely candidates for such a task are carefully prepared and taught by Jesus for this moment.  They undertake their first preaching and healing tour depending only on God for their inspiration and on the charity of others for their needs – remember that hospitality was considered a sacred responsibility in the east: it was not up to the stranger to seek hospitality but up to the prospective host to offer it.

HOMILY POINTS:

Like the Twelve’s journey through the region of Galilee, our lives are journeys to the reign of God.  Each step of the journey can be a moment of grace, of encounter with the holy, of rebirth and transformation, of healing. 

God calls all of us to the vocation of prophet (“one who proclaims”) and disciple (“one who follows, one who comprehends”).  Like God’s call to the Amoses and Ezekiels, to the Peters and Andrews of Scripture, ours is a call to proclaim our faith in our places of work, study and play, to follow Christ in his vision of justice, peace and reconciliation.

Jesus instructs his missioners to “travel light”: to focus on the journey and the ministry with which they have been entrusted, not with accumulating wealth, status and power, to leave behind our own interests and expectations and fears to experience God’s grace and peace in the wisdom and insight of God’s daughters and sons we meet along the way. 

In our hospitality and welcome to those who come to our doors, we joyfully profess our faith in Christ, the Servant of God, and our hope to realize his vision of one human family under the loving providence of the Father.

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July 11 – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 10B]

The death of John the Baptizer:  Herod had sent men who arrested John, bound him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because Herod had married her.  For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife.”
Mark 6: 14-29

THE WORD:

This is, outside the account of Jesus’ own death, the most horrific stories in the Gospels.

Between Jesus’ sending off the Twelve on their first missionary journey and their return, Mark inserts the story of John the Baptizer’s death.  At first, this narrative seems out of place, but the account of John’s death serves as an important benchmark for understanding the meaning of discipleship and the resurrection.

The works that Jesus and the Twelve are performing have reached the ears of King Herod himself.  Rumors have been circulating that the Baptizer has been raised from the dead.  Mark recounts the details of John’s martyrdom and burial in make clear that a new chapter of human history begins in Jesus, that God has set in motion a re-creation of humanity in his Son, that the long-awaited but little understood reign of God has begun.  John is the precursor of the Christ event, not the event himself.

In Mark’s Gospel, John’s death foreshadows the death of Jesus (just as John’s appearance at the beginning of the Gospel sets the stage for Jesus’ coming on the scene).  As John pays the ultimate price for “speaking truth to power,” Jesus will give his life for the Gospel he has preached.  A similar convergence of fear, cowardice, hatred and manipulation that leads to John's beheading will end in Jesus’ crucifixion.

Not lost in Mark’s narrative is the reality that discipleship/prophecy exacts a heavy price.  But God promises that he will raise up the life of his martyred prophet/disciple in the fullness of his reign.

HOMILY POINTS:

Ridicule, isolation, rejection, even death, can be required of everyone – even us – for taking seriously God's call to be his prophets and the work of discipleship.

We often react to the Baptizers in our midst as Herod does:  We know in our deepest being that they speak wisdom and justice and we desperately want to embrace it in our lives — but when their words become too demanding and too challenging, when they require of us a conversion that is well beyond our comfort zone, when their call subjects us to ridicule or isolation, then we find some way to justify doing away with them.  Authentic faith, belief that means anything, requires the would-be disciple of Jesus to live the Word we have heard and seen, regardless of the cost.

In our own time and place, there are prophets living among us who give their lives for their witness to God’s reconciliation, peace, and justice; they are prophets who speak not in powerful oratory buy in the quiet simplicity of their selfless generosity and service to others. 

Like Herodias, we hold grudges; we keep score; we remember who slights us and we wait for the right moment to get back at them.  The grudges we keep seldom have the tragic consequences of Herodias, who manipulates her own daughter’s charms and her husband’s braggadocio to destroy John the Baptist — but we’ve let our anger divide our families, we’ve refused to surrender our need for vengeance for the sake of reconciliation, we’ve held on to our resentments until we got our satisfaction.   But God’s grace enables us to put aside our disappointments and let go of our anger (however justified) in order to make reconciliation possible, to speak God’s Word of justice, to be the means of peace in our homes and communities.

God’s reign continues to be established in our own Jerusalems and Nazareths because of the prophetic proclamation of the Baptizers and Apostles and all who have taken on, with integrity and conviction, the role of prophet of the God of life and love in our own time and place.

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July 18 – 16th Sunday of the Year B / Eighth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 11B]

“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”
Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for the vast crowd, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.
Mark 6: 30-34

THE WORD:

The apostles return from their first mission of preaching and healing and report to Jesus.  He gathers them in a “deserted” place, but the people find them and keep coming.  Even their attempt to escape by boat to the other side of the lake is foiled once word gets out.

This incident recorded by Mark in today’s Gospel (which precedes his account of the feeding of the multitude) offers two important insights into our Church’s ministry: that the mission of the Church does not spring from mass marketing techniques or publicity strategies but from the Gospel of compassion we seek to live and share, from the authority of our commitment to forgiveness and reconciliation; and that leadership, inspired by the wisdom of God, means not dictating and ruling over others but inspiring, providing for and selflessly caring for those whom we are called to lead.

HOMILY POINTS:

In our heeding those “shepherds” in our society and culture who promise us only the best, who affirm and rationalize our fears, who give us “enemies” to direct our fear and their promise to vanquish them for us, who reduce the complexities of live to simple rules and absolutes, we are the “shepherdless” for whom Jesus’ heart breaks.

In Christ, God has raised up for us a shepherd to guide us in God’s ways of compassion and reconciliation; a shepherd to lead us safely along life’s rough crags and dangerous drop-offs to God’s pasture of peace and fulfillment; a shepherd who helps us clear the obstacles and hurdles of fear and self-interest to live lives centered in what is right and just.

From the clamor of the marketplace and the demands of our calendars and “to do” lists, we need “deserted,” out-of-the-way places be alone with God, to listen to the quiet of our hearts to hear the voice of God. 

The Gospel “deserted place” can be a physical place of quiet and solitude to re-connect with God and the things of God — but the “deserted place” can also be time: a few minutes we set aside to stop, to realize God’s presence in our midst, to feel grateful for God’s grace in the love of family and friends.  We all need “deserted” places to escape the demands and expectations of our over-scheduled lives to hear anew the voice of God in the quiet of our hearts, to realize anew God’s presence in our lives in the love and care of family and friends.   

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July 25 – 17th Sunday of the Year B / Ninth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 12]

“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?”
John 6: 1-15 (16-21)

The WORD:

Today the lectionary interrupts the semi-continuous readings from Mark’s Gospel for a five-week reading of Chapter 6 from the Gospel of John – the “bread of life” discourse of Jesus.

The miracle of the feeding of the multitude with a few loaves and fish is the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels.  This story was cherished by the first Christians for whom the Eucharist was becoming the center of their life together.  Jesus’ actions are indeed “Eucharistic”: bread (and fish) is given, Jesus gives thanks (the word used in the Greek text of Mark's Gospel is eucharisteo), breaks the bread and the community feasts.

HOMILY POINTS:

The multiplication of the loaves and fish did not start with nothing; Jesus was able to feed the crowds because a little boy was willing to share all he had; from his gift, small though it was, Jesus worked a miracle – and a new community of faith was formed as a result. 

We are called by Christ to become the Eucharist we receive at this altar: giving thanks for what we have received by sharing those gifts – our talents, our riches, ourselves – to work our own miracles of creating communities of joyful faith.  

The scene on that grassy plain mirrors the gathering at this table today.  In the miracle of the loaves and fish, Jesus transforms a crowd of all ages, talents, abilities and backgrounds into a community of generosity.  That vision of being a Eucharistic community is re-created each time we gather here. 

Eucharist is possible only when self defers to community, only when serving others is exalted over being served, only when differences dissolve and the common and shared are honored above all else. 

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August 1 – 18th Sunday of the Year / 10th Sunday of the Year [Proper 13]

“Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life . . . ”
John 6: 24-35

THE WORD:

Several scholars have suggested that Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel may have originally been the text of a homily by an early Christian teacher on the Eucharistic action of Jesus.

Jesus is apparently speaking to two groups: those who witnessed the miracle of the loaves (last Sunday’s Gospel) and those who did not see the miracle but have heard about it and want to see a similar sign for themselves.  To the former, Jesus tells them that there is something much deeper in this event than “perishable food” being multiplied; the real “food” is the word of God proclaimed, its power and authority manifested in the miracles of the loaves.

To the latter group who seek a sign as the Israelites sought a sign from Moses, Jesus reminds them that it was not Moses himself but God working through Moses that provided their “grumbling” Exodus ancestors with bread in the desert (recalled in today’s first reading from Exodus).  God has given his people new bread for the new covenant – the Risen Christ.

HOMILY POINTS:

A life of true joy and meaning is driven not by “perishable” material things and fleeting experiences but by the “nonperishable” values of God. 

The crowds in today’s first reading from Exodus and Gospel reading from John are typical: the starving Israelites turn on Moses and demand that God do something and the crowds want to make Jesus the Miracle-worker their king but will later have nothing to do with Jesus the Crucified.  Discipleship requires constancy and courage to stand with the suffering Jesus so that, one day, we might stand with the Risen Jesus.

The Eucharist demands more than the opening of our hands to take and our mouths to consume – the Eucharist calls us to open our hearts and spirits, as well, so that we may become what we receive.

Jesus calls us to get beyond our desire for instant gratification and quick fixes and discover the Word of God – “food that endures” – creating and animating our lives and our world.

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August 8 – 19th Sunday of the Year / 11th Sunday after Pentecost  [Proper 14]

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever . . .
“Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me . . . whoever believes has eternal life."
John 6: 41-51

THE WORD:

From time immemorial bread has been the “staff of life,” the basic and most important food in everyone’s diet.  To the “murmuring” Jews (“murmuring” as their ancestors did in the desert), Jesus tries to help them see the deeper meaning of his claim to be “bread come down from heaven.”  Christ is the “bread of heaven” that transcends this experience of life to the life of God.  Christ the bread is the love, justice and compassion of God incarnate; God, our “Father,” is revealed in him.

The operative verbs in today’s Gospel are “believe” and “trust”:  God provides for and sustains our faith in his gift of Jesus the Bread of life in the same way that First Testament wisdom nourished all who paid heed.

HOMILY POINTS:

Manna is the manifestation of God in our midst.  Manna is generosity and kindness, consolation and support, the constant, unconditional love of family and friends.  Manna is food for our own journeys to God.  God sends us manna in many forms every day of our lives; the challenge of faith is to trust in God enough to look for manna, to collect it before it disappears, and to consume it and be consumed by it. 

As Jesus the “Bread of life” gave “life” to the world through his selfless compassion and humble servanthood to others, we, too, can give “life to the world” when we look beyond our own needs and security to the good of others, giving not from our treasure but from our poverty, nourishing one another in the love, compassion and selflessness of the Gospel Jesus.  

To receive the Eucharist worthily, we must allow ourselves not only to consume but to be consumed by the life and love of God.

To his Jewish hearers, Jesus’ most astounding and revolutionary teaching is that God, Creator and Lord of all life, is our Father: God is not a mysterious cosmic tyrant to be feared but the loving Giver of life whom we can approach in confidence.  The boundaries and differences that separate people are eclipsed by the realization that every man and woman shares the same humanity, becoming one human family under the “Fatherhood” of God.

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August 15 – Solemnity of Mary’s Assumption [ABC]

Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, greets Mary:  “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb . . . ”
And Mary said:  “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord . . . He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.”
Luke 1: 39-56

THE WORD:

In the Western church, August 15 is the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, the celebration of Mary’s body as well as soul being “assumed” into heaven; in the Eastern church, today’s feast is called the “Dormition” or “falling asleep” of Mary; in the Lutheran, Episcopal and many other churches, August 15 is the feast of St. Mary the Virgin.

The Gospel for August 15 is Mary’s Magnificat, her song of hope and joy in the Christ she will bear.  The words of the Magnificat should dispel any notion we might hold of Mary as a reserved, diffident figure.  Her canticle is nothing less than a prophetic, cutting-edge declaration of faith in the living, creating love of God.  Her song celebrates God's saving work of the past and anticipates the saving work of the child in her womb.  The Magnificat is the first proclamation of the Gospel of the Christ:  Mary is the “lowly servant” on whom God looks with favor; she mirrors the Good News her Son will proclaim: the Gospel of forgiveness, humble service to one another, justice and, ultimately, resurrection.

HOMILY POINTS:

August 15 is Mary's “Easter” – the fulfillment of the promise of her Son’s resurrection in her own life.  That same promise will be realized in our own lives, when her loving generosity becomes our loving generosity, when her “yes” to God becomes our “yes” to God, when her song of faith and hope becomes our song.

As Mary – an uneducated peasant in a subjugated backwater, an unmarried pregnant teenager – can trust and believe in her role in the great story of our salvation, each one of us can believe in our parts of the story, as well.

Mary embodies the good news of which she sings: the Gospel of forgiveness, humble service to others, justice and, ultimately, resurrection.  She is the “lowly one” whom God has lifted up; she is the “lowly servant” on whom God has looked with favor.  

With Mary, we are called to be disciples and witnesses of the Christ story before us:  As Mary welcomes the Christ child into her life despite its many traumatic complications, we are called to welcome the Christ of compassion and peace into our homes and communities; as she journeys with her son to Jerusalem, we are called to journey with him and take up our crosses; as she cradles the broken body of her son, we are called to hold and support and heal one another in our brokenness and pain; as she realizes the promise of her son’s resurrection at the end of her days, we are called to live in the joyful hope of that same Easter promise will be fulfilled in our lives.

Mary’s song is the first proclamation of the Gospel of the Christ who comes to reveal the reign of God: the blessedness of the humble servant over the proud and conceited; God’s raising of the poor and casting down the mighty; joy in the God who is filled with mercy and love and not judgment and condemnation; hope in the promise of good things for the hungry and poor. 

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August 15 –12th Sunday after Pentecost  [Proper 15]

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”
John 6: 51-58

THE WORD:

Two dimensions of Jewish worship provide the context of today’s Gospel, the fourth part of the “bread of life” discourse in John 6.

When an animal was sacrificed on the temple altar, part of the meat was given to worshipers for a feast with family and friends at which God was honored as the unseen “Guest.”  It was even believed by some that God entered the flesh of the sacrificed animal, so that when people rose from the feast they believed they were literally “God-filled.”

In Jewish thought, blood was considered the vessel in which life was contained: as blood drained away from a body so did its life.  The Jews, therefore, considered blood sacred, as belonging to God alone.  In animal sacrifices, blood was ritually drained from the carcass and solemnly “sprinkled” upon the altar and the worshipers by the priest as a sign of being touched directly by the “life” of God.

With this understanding, then, John summarizes his theology of the Eucharist, the new Passover banquet (remember that John’s Last Supper account will center around the “mandatum,” the theology of servanthood, rather than the blessing and breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup).  To feast on Jesus the “bread” is to “feast” on the very life of God – to consume the Eucharist is to be consumed by God.

HOMILY POINTS:

In inviting us “to feed on his flesh and drink of my blood,” Jesus invites us to embrace the life of his Father: the life that finds joy in humble servanthood to others; the life that is centered in unconditional, total, sacrificial love; the life that seeks fulfillment not in the standards of this world but in the treasures of the next.

In calling himself the “Bread of Life,” Jesus is talking about much more than food — he’s talking about our self-centeredness and the many forms it takes that has so disordered our world: avarice, greed, bigotry, arrogance. 

In the “bread” of the Eucharist, Jesus shows us how to distinguish the values of God from the values of the marketplace; he instructs us on how to respond to the pressures and challenges of the world with justice and selflessness; he teaches us how to overcome our fears and doubts to become the people of compassion, reconciliation and hope that God created us to be.

In the “bread” he gives us to eat, we become the body of Christ with and for one another; in his “blood” that he gives us to drink, his life of compassion, justice and selflessness flows within us, and we become what we have received: the sacrament of unity, peace and reconciliation.  

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August 22 – 21st Sunday of the Year / 13th Sunday after Pentecost  [Proper 16]

Simon Peter answered Jesus, “Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”
John 6: 60-69

THE WORD:

Today’s concluding section of the “bread of life” discourse from John’s Gospel is a turning point for the disciples of Jesus.  Will they join the ranks of the skeptics who have dismissed Jesus and his talk of “eating his flesh” or will they commit themselves to Jesus – and the shadows of the cross that begin to fall?  We can hear the pain in Jesus’ question:  “Do you want to leave me, too?”  Peter’s simple, plaintive answer is the confession of faith voiced by disciples of every age who have come to sense the Spirit of God acting in and re-creating their lives.

HOMILY POINTS:

The true demands of the Gospel are hard to “endure”: the justice and reconciliation required of the faithful disciple runs counter to the conventions of society; the attitude of humble servanthood Jesus asks of us puts us at odds with the “me first/win at all costs” philosophy of our culture.  But, as Peter acknowledges, the words of Jesus are the only way to transform and restore our lives and our world in the life of God.

Hopelessness can easily become a way of life; the sense that God has abandoned us or that God just doesn't exist in our lives can cripple us emotionally and spiritually.  But the faithful disciple understands the reality that God is the only constant source of anything and everything that is good. 

Peter's simple, plaintive answer is a confession of faith in the God of life and resurrection who is not present in the darkness of evil but in the light of goodness that seeks to shatter that darkness.

The faith that Christ comes to reveal is not a “warm fluffy blanket” under which we hide from whatever we find unsettling or painful nor a protective coating designed to ward off every form of sin and evil; faith is a light that illuminates our journey through life’s challenges and obstacles, a lens through which we are able to see God’s grace at work even in the most confusing and difficult times.

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August 29 – 22nd Sunday of the Year / 14th Sunday after Pentecost  [Proper 17]

“For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come . . . ”
Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

THE WORD:

Today’s Gospel returns to Mark’s narrative of the Jesus story with a confrontation that Mark’s first Christian readers knew all too well.  A contentious debate raged in the early Church as to whether Christians should continue to observe the practices of Judaism.  Jesus challenges the scribes’ insistence that faithfulness to ceremonial washings and other rituals constitutes complete faithfulness to the will of God.  He scandalizes his hearers by proclaiming “nothing that enters a man from outside can make him impure; that which comes out of him, and only that, constitutes impurity.”  It is the good that one does motivated by the spirit of the heart that is important in the eyes of God, not how scrupulously one keeps the laws and rituals mandated by tradition.

Through the centuries of Judaism, the scribes had constructed a rigid maze of definitions, admonitions, principles and laws to explain the Pentateuch (summarized in Moses’ eloquent words to the nation of Israel in today’s first reading).  As a result, the ethics of religion were often buried under a mountain of rules and taboos.  Jesus’ teachings re-focus the canons of Israel on the original covenant based on the wisdom and discernment of the human heart.  Such a challenge widens the growing gulf between Jesus and the Jewish establishment.

HOMILY NOTES:

Faith begins with encountering God in our hearts; our faith is expressed in the good that we do and the praise we offer in the depths of our hearts, not simply in words and rituals performed "outside" of ourselves.

The kind of human being we are begins in the values of the heart, the place where God dwells within — but the evil we are capable of, the hurt we inflict on others, the degrading of the world that God created also begins “within,” when God is displaced by selfishness, greed, anger, hatred.

In the hurts, indignities and injustices perpetrated against us, what is often worse than the act itself is what the act does do us as persons: we respond with suspicion, cynicism, self-absorption, anger, vengeance.  To be a disciple of Jesus is not to let those things “outside” us diminish what we are “inside” ourselves, not to let such anger or vengeance displace the things of God in our hearts but to let God’s presence transform the evil that we have encountered into compassion and forgiveness.  

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