Reflection for March 24, Cycle C

In today’s Gospel passage Jesus refers to two situations in which people died unexpectedly. He insists to his listeners that the people who died were not more deserving of death than anyone else. Rather, they were simply the victims of bad luck. Jesus then uses those events to warn his hearers that they themselves must turn to God now, today, because they don’t know when something terrible might happen to them. He says, “If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”

Wait a minute. First Jesus said those people who died weren’t any more deserving of death than his hearers, but then he implies that those people perished because they had not repented. Plus, aren’t we all going to die whether we repent or not?

The contradiction really bothered me until it occurred to me that Jesus might have been warning us against taking the afterlife, or more precisely, God’s kingdom for granted. By “perish” Jesus might have meant lose our place in God’s kingdom. In this case, he’s warning us that we will suddenly and quite unexpectedly find ourselves excluded from God’s reign unless we begin, right this moment, to turn back to God. Even if we’re prepared for it, death is likely to come as a bit of a shock. There’s no reason for the afterlife to be a bigger and far worse surprise.

Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: March 24 – Cycle C (usccb.org)

Click here for my questions and commentary: Study Guide for March 24 – Cycle C

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Study Guides for March 31, Fourth Sunday of Lent (Cycles A & C)

NOTE: Below is material for two sets of readings. If your parish has people preparing to be baptized at the Easter Vigil, then you will probably hear the readings for Cycle A. If not, then scroll down to the material for Cycle C.

Cycle A: Click here for a link to the readings: March 31 (usccb.org) – Cycle A

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To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel passage click here: Study Guide for March 31 – Cycle A

Cycle C: Click here for a link to the readings: March 31 (usccb.org) – Cycle C

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To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel passage click here: Study Guide for March 31 – Cycle C

Reflection for March 17, Second Sunday of Lent

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Will it really matter if I take that extra time to pray? Will it really matter if I put some coins in my CRS Rice Bowl? Because we’re still fairly new to our Lenten disciplines, we don’t clearly see what value they have, and that makes it easier for us to turn aside from them. We don’t know what sort of Easter we could have if we persevere.

Neither Abraham nor Peter knew what would happen if they believed in and followed God. As we hear in our first reading, Abraham was assured by God that he would have innumerable descendants who would inhabit a rich and fertile land. Abraham, old and childless at the time, couldn’t envision such a future. When God manifests himself to Abraham in darkness and in fire, God’s presence is so palpably holy that Abraham is overwhelmed to the point of terror. When Peter suddenly beholds Jesus in a dazzling, radiant form speaking with none other than Moses and Elijah, he wonders if the climactic moment of Jesus’ life has come. But the vision dissolves, leaving Peter to puzzle over what will happen next.

Abraham and Peter could neither anticipate nor control God. Both became part of a future that they could not have imagined. Like them, we cannot envision where we might be going. Like them, we are sometimes puzzled, dubious, and even afraid. Like them, we are led into a future that is far richer than any we would shape for ourselves. Our Lenten disciplines are one way that God leads us slow step by slow step into this unimagined but glorious future.

Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: March 17 (usccb.org)

Click here for my questions and commentary: Study Guide for March 17

Study Guides for March 24, Third Sunday of Lent (Cycles A & C)

NOTE: Below is material for two sets of readings. If your parish has people preparing to be baptized at the Easter Vigil, then you will probably hear the readings for Cycle A. If not, then scroll down to the material for Cycle C.

Cycle A: Click here for a link to the readings: March 24 (usccb.org) – Cycle A

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To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel click here: Study Guide for March 24 – Cycle A

Cycle C: Click here for a link to the readings: March 24 (usccb.org) – Cycle C

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To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel click here: Study Guide for March 24 – Cycle C

Reflection for March 10, First Sunday of Lent

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What temptations await us in the desert? When we try to pray, work, or serve, what devils appear?

Today we hear how Jesus went to the desert to prepare for the start of his ministry. He prayed, discerned, and fasted for days, after which, our evangelist astutely notes, “he was hungry.” Shouldn’t Jesus, the Son of God, be allowed a bite to eat? Not if he conjures up bread through his own power; not if he feeds himself. His ministry is to feed others. But it’s such a long and difficult ministry, and not everyone will believe his words; why not cut to the chase and accept an offer to rule all the kingdoms of the world without all that suffering and rejection? Because those kingdoms are a mirage that will vanish when snatched at. No, no — he is the Son of God; God wouldn’t let him suffer. Jesus could prove this if he wanted to…

Each of these temptations seems somewhat reasonable: eating when hungry, skipping crucifixion, wanting evidence of God’s love. They appear as little oases in the desert. But Jesus was too devoted to God and God’s reign to try to drink from them. He knew that if he did, he would fill himself with sand and sink into the empty, barren land from which the mirages emerged. As we begin our Lenten season, we call to mind the devilish mirages that shimmer tantalizingly before us. We call upon Christ to help us distinguish water from sand. And we bow down before God and only God, even if it means being a little hungry, a little challenged, and a little unsure of where this God is leading us.

Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: March 10 (usccb.org)

Click here for my questions and commentary: Study Guide for March 10

Study Guide for March 17, Second Sunday of Lent

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: March 17 (usccb.org)

Sample Commentary on Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18

The people of Abram’s era didn’t believe in an afterlife. The only way to “live” after death was by having children, who would remember and honor their ancestors. Children were so important that the inability to have them was often looked upon as a curse.

Every family also needed land to sustain themselves and any flocks or herds they had. The larger the family, the more land they needed. God promises Abram a region of land that is as vast as his descendants will be. 

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel, click here: Study Guide for March 17, Second Sunday of Lent

Reflection for March 3, Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Actions speak louder than words.” Although there is truth to this maxim, it does not mean that our words are insignificant. The author of our first reading points out that our words reveal who we are. First he notes that what we say in a crisis is especially revealing, like the words that might pop out of our mouths if we drop something on our foot or in the heat of an argument. The author goes on, however, to insist that whatever we say, no matter the context, reflects who we are. 

The author’s insistence on the significance of speech is deeply biblical. In the first story of creation in the book of Genesis, God brings everything into existence through the power of his word. This word reveals who God is. God brings forth life where there is nothing. God also reveals himself through his prophets who speak his word to his people. That word sometimes reveals God’s anger or sorrow. At other times, that word reveals God’s consolation and peace. This prophetic word, coming as it does from God, also transforms people’s situations, sometimes slowly, sometimes suddenly.

What do our words reveal about us, and what impact do they have? If I could look back at a transcript of my day, I know I would want to edit my remarks. There would be things I wish I had not said, things I wish I had said, and a few things that would now make no sense to me. There would be moments I wish I had sounded wiser or kinder or more sympathetic. Certainly, there are times when the right words simply eluded me, but at other times, the failure was in my own heart. Jesus echoes the wisdom of our first reading when he tells us, “From the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.” As I look at the transcript of what I said and didn’t say, I am looking at a transcript of my heart. My heart is what needs to be edited. Only when I begin revising what is in my heart, with the guidance of God’s transforming word, will I be able to speak life-giving words to others.

Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: March 3 (usccb.org)

Click here for my questions and commentary: Study Guide for March 3

Study Guide for March 10, First Sunday of Lent

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: March 10 (usccb.org)

Sample Commentary on Deuteronomy 26:4-10

Harvesting the gift

Moses is speaking to the Israelites who are about to move into Canaan, the land God had promised to Abraham years ago. Moses says that once they settle in this region, they must always offer the first produce that they harvest.

The priest served in a place designated for religious worship until the Temple could be built. He represented God. By offering these first fruits to the priest, the Israelites symbolically thanked God for the gift of land.

Moses tells the Israelites to bring their produce in baskets. They shouldn’t sell their produce and make a donation. Monetary gifts often feel less connected to us than a gift we have physically labored over.

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel passage click here: Study Guide for March 10

Reflection for February 24, Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

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There is a scene in the movie Blood Diamond in which the three lead characters are walking through the jungle when they are abruptly stopped by a small group of well armed and angry looking men. Tensions rapidly escalate as each side tries to determine if the other group is an enemy. Then, to the consternation of her two friends and the bafflement of the armed men, one of the lead characters, a photo journalist who is unarmed, steps between the two groups, smiles, and asks if she can take everyone’s picture. The scene offers some much needed comic relief, but it also gives us an example of how to uphold Jesus’ teaching that we hear in today’s Gospel passage. By stepping into the midst of this dangerous, tense scene and then pointing a camera instead of a gun, the photo journalist changes the narrative. No one is shot, everyone lowers their guns, and the two groups realize that they are not enemies. 

When Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek or to walk the extra mile, he’s inviting us to change the narrative. If someone abruptly cuts us off on the interstate, for example, instead of honking the horn, making a rude gesture, or tailgating the person for several miles, we could simply back off and give that person some space. We might even construct a short narrative about that person. As my step-father would say, “Well, maybe there’s an emergency.” You might be thinking like I was, “There’s no emergency!” or to go back to Jesus’ examples, “You have no right to hit me, or to make me walk the extra mile!” These very human responses, however, don’t change the narrative. They maintain the tension, the anger, and the separation between two people or two groups. 

When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, he doesn’t mean that we should allow other people to take advantage of us or push us around. Instead, Jesus wants us to respond to an unkindness or even an injustice in a way that makes the other person stop, step back, and take a close look at his or her initial action. Sometimes our attempt succeeds and we move toward understanding and reconciliation. We know from experience, however, that sometimes the other person will remain unmoved. Jesus knows that it isn’t easy to try to change the narrative. He also knows that when we try, we will not always succeed. During his Passion and crucifixion, no one seemed to change at all as Jesus responded without violence, anger or even resentment. The crucifixion of Jesus is the boldest, the most compelling, the most formidable image we have of a person trying to change the narrative. The crucifixion is an image of powerlessness, of subjection, of holy surrender in the face of evil behavior. The image provokes us to pause, take a step back, and reconsider our behavior. We look at the image of the crucifixion and ask ourselves if we really want to put people on crosses. Do we really want to be the cause of someone’s pain or anguish or grief? Do we really want to further the tension, injustice, and violence in our world? Or do we instead, like our Lord, want to find whatever way we can to change the narrative?

Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Feb. 24 (usccb.org)

Click here for my questions and commentary: Study Guide for Feb. 24

Study Guide for March 3, Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: March 3 (usccb.org)

Sample Commentary on Luke 6:39-45

Today we hear more of Jesus’ teaching. Some of what Jesus says could be classified as wise sayings or moral exhortation, which was familiar to people of that era, both Jews and Gentiles. Parts of today’s passage are meaningful all by themselves, but Luke has arranged Jesus’ sayings and parables in a way that reinforces certain points.  Jesus previously told us that we should make God’s love the standard of our own behavior. Now he points out how we might be more in need of God’s patience and mercy than we realize. 

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel passage click here: Study Guide for March 3