August 27 – Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: August 27, 2017 (usccb.org)

Commentary on Isaiah 22:19-23

Cabinet shuffle

Shebna and Eliakim are mentioned when King Sennacherib of Assyria invades Jerusalem (2 Kgs 18; Is 36). It’s not clear what Shebna’s failing was. This passage may refer to a reorganization of court officials by the king of Judah.

Master of the palace

Eliakim will be a steward, someone the king trusts to act on his behalf. His family will share in his prestige (v.23).

  • He’ll receive garments associated with his new position (v.21)
  • The key placed on his shoulder may refer to the ceremony by which he’s installed in his new office (v.22)
  • He’ll be a peg that holds things together (v.23)
  • He’ll be as reliable and protective as a father for the king, the king’s family, and all the people of the kingdom (v.21)

House of Judah refers to the tribe of Judah that descended from Abraham. This large tribe settled in southern Israel. King David and his descendants (his house) came from this tribe.

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel click here: August 27 – Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflection for August 20

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After Jesus left the region of Tyre and Sidon…

“Mama, do you think the demon will come back?”

The question so startled her that she dropped the shuttle of her loom onto the dusty ground. “Is that why you’ve been so quiet lately? You’ve been worrying it will come back?”

Her daughter nodded. “Eshbaal says the gods will send the demon back because we don’t go to the temples.”

“What a wicked thing to say!” She jabbed the shuttle into the loom and turned to where her daughter stood in the doorway of their small but clean home. “Who would want to worship a god who sends demons into little girls?”

Her child’s eyes were pools of worry. “But Eshbaal’s father is a priest in the temple of Eshmun. He says we offend the gods by not going.”

“Eshbaal’s father came here, and other priests, priests of Baal himself, and none of them could cast the demon out. When they left, still you suffered. Only the power of the God of Israel freed you from that evil. I will never go to those empty temples again.”

“Will we go to the temple of the God of Israel?”

“There’s only one, and it’s very far.”

Her daughter’s eyes widened. “There’s only one?”

“Yes. One temple for one god, the god of everything. That’s what our people could never accept, that there could be one lord of heaven and earth. I think that’s why Jesus didn’t answer when I first called out to him. He even tried to send me away. He thought that if he saved you, I would run into one of those temples praising Baal and Astarte and every other god but the right one, the only one.”

“Then why did he help us?”

“Because he was sent to do the will of the God of Israel, and God does not leave demons to torment little girls. When he saw how much faith I had in his god, he had faith in me. He believed that I would never forget who had saved my daughter. And I won’t. That’s why I know the demon is never coming back.”

Her daughter turned to peer into the room behind them. Daylight streamed in through the doorway, casting her shadow against the far wall. “How can you be sure?”

Drawing her anxious child back into the daylight, she answered, “Because in the kingdom of the God of Israel, there are no demons.”

Her daughter pondered this. “Are we going to move to this kingdom?”

She smiled. “We don’t have to. It’s come to us.”

August 20 – Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Click here for the Sunday readings: August 20, 2017 (usccb.org)

Discussion Questions and Sample Commentary on Matthew 15:21-28

Reading closely

  1. What might have prompted Jesus to withdraw?
  2. Do you think Jesus is in Gentile territory or only near it?
  3. Why does the woman seek help from a Jew?
  4. Where is the daughter?
  5. What does the woman seem to think of Jesus?
  6. What do you make of Jesus’ initial response?
  7. Do you think any of the disciples want Jesus to heal the woman’s daughter?
  8. Do you think Jesus speaks to the disciples or the woman in v.24?
  9. How does the woman approach Jesus?
  10. How do you think Jesus treats the woman?
  11. How would you describe the woman’s reply?
  12. Why does Jesus heal the woman’s daughter?
  13. What might Jesus have been thinking and feeling during all of this?
  14. What might the woman have thought and felt?
  15. What might the disciples have talked about after this?
  16. In what ways did life change for the daughter?
  17. What might the woman have told her daughter about Jesus?
  18. What insights do you gain from this story?

A Canaanite

Jesus spent most of his ministry in Galilee among poor, rural Jews. Tyre and Sidon are Gentile cities to the northwest of Galilee. It’s not clear if Jesus crossed into the region of these cities or went near them but kept within the borders of Galilee.

As a Canaanite the woman represents not only Gentiles but also the inhabitants of the region into which God led his people after freeing them from slavery in Egypt. Canaanite beliefs were a constant threat to the Israelites’ worship of God.

Want more? To download full discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel click here: August 20 – Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflection for August 13

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By walking across the surface of the stormy sea at night, Jesus reveals that he shares his Father’s power over evil and death. What’s more, Jesus is eager to share this power with others: at Peter’s request, Jesus invites his disciple to join him on the water. When the storm worsens, however, Peter panics and begins sinking. Jesus immediately takes his hand and lifts him to the surface.

Jesus chides Peter for doubting, but I think Peter did rather well. I never would have stepped out of the boat. If somehow I ended up on the water, I’d have started sinking for sure, but I wouldn’t have cried out, “Lord, save me!” I’d probably have cussed, gulped water, looked back at the boat, and yelled for a rope. I’d probably forget all about Jesus. I’m impressed that Peter didn’t. Peter was scared by the evil and death swirling beneath him, but he trusted Jesus enough to call to him for help.

The story seems to be telling us that if we only trust in Jesus enough, everything will turn out the way we want. But Peter had given up his family, job, and home in order to follow Jesus. His life was probably not the one he had envisioned for himself. Jesus didn’t save Peter in order to keep him comfortable in Capernaum. Jesus saved Peter because he loved him and wanted him to triumph over evil and death.

Until God’s kingdom comes in its fullness, we will face storms, and those storms will change us. In the midst of these great crises, Jesus doesn’t want us overwhelmed by anger, steeped in sorrow, flailing in fear, or dragged down by despair. He wants us to take our stand on the water, to stride across it as people who are unfailingly loving, patient, kind, good, and holy — no matter how the rough the tempest gets. We may long for the winds to die down, but we know that whatever happens, we are not alone. The one who once called forth light from darkness and vanquished the waters of the abyss is walking with us.

August 13 – Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Click here for the Sunday readings: August 13, 2017 (usccb.org)

Questions and Commentary on 1 Kings 18:9a,11-13a

Imagine that you’re Elijah

  1. Why are you in the cave?
  2. What’s it like in the cave?
  3. What do you feel?
  4. What do you think will happen to you?
  5. What do you expect from God?
  6. How do you react to the wind, earthquake, and fire?
  7. How do you know when God truly manifests himself?
  8. Why do you hide your face?
  9. What do you feel as you stand in the entrance of the cave before the LORD?
  10. How and where should you listen for God?
  11. What other insights does this story offer you?

A reassuring silence

Baal was a storm god. People believed he caused wind and earth-shaking thunder. When the LORD demonstrated his clear superiority to Baal in an earlier contest led by Elijah, some people expected him to assume these powers. However, God is so great that he doesn’t need special effects to signal his presence. God’s word communicates power even if that word is barely audible.

Want more? To download full discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel click here: August 13 – Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflection for August 6

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When Peter, James, and John had their vision of the transfigured Jesus, “they fell prostrate and were very much afraid.” I might have dropped to the ground in worship, too, but I would have been “very much confused.” The barrage of images is so overwhelming that I would have wanted to stay on the mountain simply to figure out what it all meant.

The images and allusions immediately bombard us. We hear that the vision took place “after six days,” which alludes to the Sinai covenant or the Jewish Feast of Booths or both. The mountain links Jesus to Moses and Mount Sinai. Moses and Elijah recall the Jewish law and prophets. Jesus’ dazzling transformation highlights his heavenly nature. The cloud represents God. The voice echoes the words pronounced at Jesus’ baptism. The command “listen to him” recalls God’s promise that a great prophet would emerge from within Israel. The overlapping imagery reveals that Jesus fulfills and even exceeds all that came before him in the history of his people. His path is strange and difficult, but it reveals the way to God.

Yet for all that, this astonishing vision seems to have made no difference: Peter, James, and John still fall asleep while Jesus prays in Gethsemane; they then flee when he is arrested; Peter denies knowing Jesus; and all the disciples vanish and lock themselves away during their master’s crucifixion and entombment. Even in the passage right after their vision of the transfigured Jesus, the disciples can’t cast out a demon because of their “little faith.”

Peter offered to make preparations to stay on the mountain because he thought the moment of fulfillment had arrived. It was now the end of the ages. Then suddenly everything was back to normal. Maybe that’s the real reason we want to stay on the mountain: we don’t want to lose the vision of our glorified Lord, the vision of what’s to come. We cling to the promise of greatness and glory. But if we need this vision ever before us, then Jesus is right to say that we have little faith. People of weak faith want to be dazzled on mountaintops. If we want our faith to grow, we must walk down the mountain into whatever darkness awaits us, just as our Lord descended from his heights to confront all that awaited him.

August 6 – Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

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Click here for the Sunday readings: August 6, 2017 (usccb.org)

Partial Commentary on Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

Beastly nations

In vv.1-8 Daniel describes a vision of four frightening beasts crawling out of the sea. The sea respresents chaos and death. The monsters represent different rulers and nations that oppose God and his kingdom.

The Ancient One

The throne of the Ancient One (God) is a symbol of power and dominion. God rules not merely a single nation but all of heaven and earth. The description of pure divinity is awe-inspiring, even a little frightening.

One like a son of man

In contrast to these evil beasts, Daniel has a vision of a human-like figure who rises up to God, the Ancient One. This non-threatening and recognizable figure represents Israel, the nation through whom God will establish his kingdom and throw down the reign of the beastly nations.

Want more? To download full discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel click here: August 6 – Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

Reflection for July 30

Jesus said to his disciples, “The kingdom of God is like a stockholder with a diversified portfolio. She learns about a young start-up company and sells all her stock in order to buy shares in that one company. Again, the kingdom of God is like a high school senior who finds the one university that’s perfect for him and sends his application form and academic information only to that one school. Again, the kingdom of God is like a newly married couple who find the house of their dreams and sell everything, including their old rusty Volvo and most of their clothes, in order to buy that house.”

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Do you understand these things?” And the disciples replied, “Yes.” And maybe they did understand. But maybe later, when Jesus went off by himself to pray, they got to talking…

One disciple said, “If that company fails, that investor will have nothing! Plus I bet she took a loss, selling all her other stock like that.” Another said, “That senior has got to apply to more schools; he can’t be sure he’ll get accepted. Did he even visit any other schools? What if he doesn’t get enough financial aid?” And still a third one said, “How’s that couple who bought the house gonna get around without a car? And I bet now they can’t afford any furnishings. When they have a baby they won’t even be able to buy a second-hand crib!”

We understand that the people in Jesus’ parables were overjoyed to find the treasures they did. We understand that they were quick to invest all that they had in what they had found. Yet we can’t help thinking they should have been more practical, more cautious, more realistic. We’re so unnerved by the risk and costliness of investing in God’s kingdom that we let moments to enter it slip away from us. If we keep letting those moments go by, however, eventually God’s kingdom will slip away from us forever.

July 30 – Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Click here for the Sunday readings: July 30, 2017 (usccb.org)

Questions and Commentary on Matthew 13:44-46

  1. How do you think each person found the treasure/pearl?
  2. How do you imagine each person reacting to their discovery?
  3. How do you think other people reacted to their investments?
  4. What all does this parable teach about God’s kingdom?
  5. What are you searching for?
  6. How will you know when you’ve found what you’re searching for?
  7. What will you do when you find it?

In the absence of home security systems and banks, farmers hid valuable items in their fields. If their land was invaded or seized and they didn’t have time to dig up their valuables, others might eventually find them and claim them.

Like all good parables, both of these are open to multiple interpretations. Here are just a few.

  • God’s kingdom is the only thing a person should want
  • A person must take immediate action to be part of God’s kingdom
  • People must be willing to give up everything for God’s kingdom, including whatever or whomever seems important or necessary
  • Whether stumbling across God’s kingdom or seeking it, one must act quickly to enter into it

Want more? To download full discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel click here: July 30 – Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflection for July 23

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Let’s suppose that we’re the ones in this Sunday’s parable who go out to our master’s field and discover that there’s way more growing out there than we had planted. We realize someone with a grudge has spread weeds all over the place. We hesitate to pull the weeds up because they’re nearly indistinguishable from the wheat (or wildflowers), and we don’t want to pull out the good with the bad.

Now let’s tweak the parable a little. Suppose that our master is out of town and won’t be back for weeks. What should we do? Some of you are so patient, so kind, so full of hope and love and goodness, that if there were merely one lousy little wheat seedling in an acre full of weeds, you’d leave it. You might even go out to water that little wheat plant, and maybe the weeds, too, because you never know, they might turn out to be good for something. You’ll leave it for the master to decide.

Others of us, however, would get to hacking away at that field with a trowel and then a tiller and then a bulldozer until we had rooted out every last living thing on that whole wide plot of land. The master would come home and there we’d be, beaming with pride beside a carnage of uprooted weeds and wheat and dandelions and his wife’s prize-winning rose bushes.

Those of us who like to wield our trowels should leave the weeds alone. For one thing, we don’t see as God sees, so we can’t be sure that we’re correctly distinguishing the good crop from the bad. But the real danger is the harm we could do to the entire field: when we’re brazen and callous in our handling of those we deem weeds, then the wheat is likely to pull up its own roots in dismay and run off to a different field altogether.

We cannot play the part of the master. We cannot presume to decide who should be part of God’s reign and who ought to be cast out. If we do, then come harvest day we’ll discover that we who wielded our trowels so vigorously were never workers in our master’s field at all. Rather, we’re the weeds. We’d be wise to toss our trowels away before the master takes them from us, digs us up, and ties us into bundles for burning.