Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Dec. 24, 2017 (usccb.org)
Sample Questions and Commentary on Luke 1:26-38
- Who is Mary? How would you describe her?
- Why might Gabriel’s first words to Mary have unsettled her?
- What all does Gabriel declare to Mary?
- Why do you think Mary responds to only part of Gabriel’s announcement?
- What might Mary have thought about the rest of what the angel said?
- What sign does Gabriel offer Mary as proof of his words?
- How does Mary’s final response seem to you?
- What might Mary have thought about after Gabriel left? What might she have felt?
- What time of day do you think it was?
- Who else might have been around?
- How readily do you think Mary shared this experience?
- What does this passage reveal about Mary?
- What might people have thought when they first heard this story?
At the time of Gabriel’s announcement to Mary, Elizabeth is six months pregnant with John the Baptist. Elizabeth and her husband, Zechariah, were past the age of bearing children, but God enabled them to conceive a child. Their story is similar to Abraham and Sarah, Manoah and his wife (Judges 13:2f.), and Hannah and Elkanah (1 Sam 1:1f.).
There are, however, no biblical stories in which a virgin becomes pregnant solely through God’s power. Mary’s conception shows that God intervened in human history in a startling and unique way. A whole new stage of salvation history has begun.
Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel click here: December 24 – Fourth Sunday of Advent
Have you ever flipped to the beginning of a book and read: The beginning of the book about [Main Character]? Probably not, because that’s a silly way to begin a book. There’s no need to state the obvious. Yet when St. Mark tells us, The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ…, we might think he’s referring to the start of his book, his Gospel with a capital G. But it’s unlikely that Mark wasted precious parchment telling us the obvious.
Mark is referring instead to something else: the beginning of the radically new way God became present to us in Jesus. Although Mark wrote this story down on paper, he intended for those who heard it to enter into the story, to encounter the Son of God, and to proclaim that life-saving encounter to others. Whenever and wherever that story of salvation is proclaimed, God’s kingdom, God’s very presence, grows.
It is our turn. We are in the story. Today we place ourselves on the banks of the Jordan as John the Baptist proclaims that a mighty one is coming. Later we will look on in wonder as Jesus gathers followers and as crowds flock to him. We will marvel at his deeds of power. But we will also question who Jesus is and what his ultimate intentions are. And sadly, we will run away from him, first when he is arrested and then a few days later when we find his tomb open and empty.
And then what will we do? One option is to leave the story. We could simply close the book when we reached its last printed page. Or we could carry the story forward. We could lift the words and deeds and death and resurrection of Jesus off of the page. We could hold them in our hearts, place them our lips, and enact them in our lives. We could proclaim that what once had a beginning has no end.
Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Dec. 17, 2017 (usccb.org)
Sample Commentary on John 1:6-8, 19-28
Taking the stand
This Gospel is like a courtroom drama in which Jesus is on trial. At issue is this question: is Jesus the light? People must judge whether Jesus truly brings salvation to a world in darkness. The first witness in this trial is John the Baptist (vv.6-8).
John is interrogated twice in vv.19-28, first by representatives of the Sadducees then by some Pharisees. The Sadducees and probably some Pharisees ultimately reject John’s testimony and reject Jesus himself. They do not recognize the light that’s among them (v.26).
The other three Gospels present John as calling people to repentance. The writer of our fourth Gospel downplayed this aspect of John’s ministry. Since this Gospel reads as one long trial, the Gospel-writer presents John the Baptist as the first witness to take the stand in defense of Jesus. This Gospel shifts our attention from preparation to the one for whom we’re preparing.
Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the second reading and the Gospel click here: December 17 – Third Sunday of Advent
Some days I think that if I were to write a memoir I’d call it “Regrets.” There are stupid things I recall doing — like trying to sneak those tomatoes off my plate and into the trash before my mom caught me — but there are also missed opportunities: opportunities to be kind to someone, to offer support or affirmation, to lend a hand when it was needed. Sometimes such moments pass us by without our knowing it, yet these may be the worst moments of all because they compel us to ask how we missed them. Were we callous? Preoccupied? Asleep?
When Jesus told his followers to watch for his return, he noted that he could come at any time, even in the deep of night when they were most likely to be asleep and caught off-guard. Yet when the dark night of his passion began, his closest friends promptly dozed off as he prayed alone in the garden. In their defense, they had just eaten a big meal, but more than that, when Jesus told his disciples to “watch,” they didn’t know what to watch for. Despite his best efforts to prepare them, they all yearned for a very different outcome than the one they got. By the time they woke up to what was happening, they were too shocked and scared to stand by their friend. It’s not hard to guess the titles they would give their memoirs.
It’s difficult to stay awake and watch without practice, but it’s impossible to recognize what we’re watching for unless we practice. All those things we’re supposed to do — pray, sit in silence, listen, examine our consciences, confess our sins — all these acts prepare us not only to act when the moment comes, they also prepare us to recognize that such a moment has come, to realize that an opportunity to bring about some good is before us. And when we do see and take that opportunity, others who are also watching for the Lord will glimpse him in us.
Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Dec. 10, 2017 (usccb.org)
Sample Commentary on Mark 1:1-8
Standing in the story
By gospel Mark isn’t referring to the book he wrote but to the good news that salvation has come through Jesus. The story of this good news begins with John the Baptist, but it continues with us. The story will end when Christ returns in glory.
Messiah and Son of God
Christ is Greek for anointed one. Messiah is a Hebrew word that means the same thing. In the ancient world people were anointed as a sign that God had chosen them for a special purpose.
Here Mark states plainly that Jesus is God’s chosen one, even God’s Son, but this information is given only to us. People at the beginning of the story struggle to believe in Jesus because he doesn’t fit their messianic expectations.
Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the second reading and the Gospel click here: December 10 – Second Sunday of Advent
The full title of today’s solemnity is the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, which is arguably the grandest sounding solemnity we’ve got. This lofty title, however, might unsettle us a little. We celebrate our democracy, freedom, and autonomy. We’re not so keen about kings, reigns, and dominion. We may be comfortable pledging allegiance, but we’re far less comfortable pledging obedience.
The Gospel reading for this Sunday’s solemnity presents Christ as the supreme monarch who has come to judge all the nations on earth. He uses criteria that are so familiar they no longer surprise us: he asks simply if we helped someone when we had the chance. But now consider that if these are the criteria by which the risen Jesus judges us, then the lord of heaven and earth, the king of the universe has invited the least among us to share his throne.
People who go hungry daily, people without access to safe drinking water, immigrants, refugees, those abducted by human traffickers, people who’ve lost their homes, the physically and mentally ill, people left to rot in our over-crowded prisons — Christ looks at us through their eyes. I imagine him asking them, as we come forward for our divine reckoning, “Do any of you know who this person is?” And perhaps one of them says, “Oh, yes, she guided me through the food pantry” or another vouches, “I do; he came out each week to the penitentiary to work with us.” And then the Son of Man nods and lets us enter his kingdom.
Or perhaps not. Perhaps when Jesus asks if anyone recognizes us there is only silence. Perhaps there is only an exchange of looks, a shrug of shoulders. Perhaps this is what makes us truly uncomfortable: the realization that our admittance to God’s kingdom depends upon our obedience to a judge who commands our allegiance to the jury.
Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Dec. 3, 2017 (usccb.org)
Sample Commentary on 1 Corinthians 1:3-9
A crafty thanksgiving
Most letters of the New Testament era began with a standard greeting and then words of thanks. Paul’s letters follow this structure. Paul uses the greeting and thanksgiving to begin addressing problems and other matters within a particular community.
Many of the Christians in Corinth were proud of their intelligence and spiritual gifts (vv.5-7). They were so proud, however, that they tended to think they had no more to learn and no more ways to grow in their relationship with Jesus. Later in his letter Paul insists that these Christians are a long way from spiritual maturity.
Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the second reading and the Gospel click here: December 3 – First Sunday of Advent
For years I felt sympathy for that third servant who failed to capitalize on the talent his master loaned him. Once when I was a kid I asked my mom if I could carry our money as we walked around a mall. After sternly telling me not to lose the money, she handed me a $10 bill that I carefully folded and tucked inside my pocket. I was horrified when she later asked me for the money and it was nowhere to be found. While it would be several years before my mother entrusted me with such a sum again, she did not cast me into the darkness outside, as the master would his servant.
There is another significant difference between my situation and that of the third servant. I asked to hold the money. I asked for the talent. Although none of the three servants asked for the money, when the master entrusted them each with a portion of his wealth, the first two graciously accepted what he offered. The third servant did not. As I listen now to that third servant’s explanation for his failure to invest the talent, I hear how resentful he sounds. I imagine him tossing the talent back at his master, glad to be rid of it and angry at having to deal with it in the first place.
That third servant had no love for his master. He thought his master was demanding, unfair, and frightening. He felt no gratitude at the opportunity his master gave him. He felt no sense of being empowered or valued. Out of laziness, indifference, anger, or some combination of all three, he buried his chance to prove himself. Moreover, he buried the chance enter into a new relationship with his master. In the end the master cast him into the darkness outside not because he failed to invest the talent but because he didn’t want to be with his master in the first place. We’re left to ask ourselves what our own behavior reveals about where we want to be.
Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Nov. 26, 2017 (usccb.org)
Sample Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28
This passage is part of Paul’s response to Christians who claim that there isn’t a bodily resurrection. After explaining why they’re wrong, Paul goes on to say that Jesus’ resurrection is a promise to all believers that God will also raise them, body and soul, from the dead.
Paul compares Jesus to the portion of the harvest that farmers offered in thanks for what God had given them (v.20). These firstfruits represent the whole harvest just as Christ’s resurrection represents the resurrection of all who believe.
Until the end
Jesus triumphed over sin and death, but both still exist. The risen Jesus continues to fight evil in all its forms. All evil leads to death, which is thus the last force Christ will entirely defeat (vv.24-26).
Once Christ has purged all evil from the world, he’ll lead everyone and all creation in praise of God, his Father (v.28). Then at last God’s world will be as God intended. Nothing will obscure or distract from God’s glory or goodness.
Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the second reading and the Gospel click here: Nov. 26 – Solemnity of Christ the King
I tend to over prepare for things, so I’d probably be among the five wise women who had the foresight to bring extra oil for their lamps. I would also see the risk of sharing my oil when the groom finally showed up, so rather than risk a dark and gloomy wedding reception, I’d agree that the five women who ran out of oil ought to go buy their own. However, when those five women returned, and the groom refused to unlock the door and let them in, I might walk right up to him and point out that those women ran out of oil because he was late — and what kind of person shows up hours late to their own wedding reception? At this point I might find myself on the other side of that door.
Although the groom was late, we don’t know why. Moreover, we can’t blame the groom for the women’s failure to plan ahead. That fault lies with them alone.
Blame is dangerous. Not only does blame prevent us from taking ownership of our failures, it makes it that much more likely that we’ll keep failing. We’re told in the first reading that God’s wisdom readily walks among us, eager to meet us, eager to guide us. If when we meet her we raise a hand and say, “You really ought to be talking to him instead of me,” then we’ll end up locked out of the feast forever.