October 29 – Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Oct. 29, 2017 (usccb.org)

Sample Questions and Commentary on Exodus 22:20-26

Reading closely

  1. What groups of people get special mention?
  2. In what ways are these people different from other Israelites?
  3. Why does God mention Egypt?
  4. How serious does God sound?
  5. What do these laws reveal about God?
  6. Are these laws challenging?
  7. As people heard these laws, how willing do you think they were to uphold them?

Living the word

  1. Do we have such laws today in our country?
  2. Do we have such laws in our Church?
  3. How do you react to the warning about God’s wrath (v.23)? Why do you think God speaks in this way?

The Sinai Covenant

After freeing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, God made a covenant with them in the Sinai desert. The Ten Commandments are the best known part of the Sinai Covenant.

The laws in this passage protect the weakest members of society.

  • Although the Sinai Covenant was between God and the Israelites, non-Israelites weren’t excluded from it. If foreigners were doing no harm to God’s people, then they were to be treated well. Just because God’s people were mistreated in Egypt doesn’t mean they have the right to mistreat others.
  • Widows and orphans who no longer had the support of male family members had to be protected. If stronger members of the society didn’t help weaker ones, then God wouldn’t protect the strong.

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel click here: Oct. 29 – Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Reflection for October 15

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Several years ago I offered to help staff a large tailgating event. After I had signed up, I received an invitation to a friend’s wedding, scheduled for the same day. I didn’t want to back out of helping with the tailgate, but helping with that event felt like a flimsy reason to skip a friend’s wedding. The two events were in the same town, scheduled a few hours apart. I did some quick calculations.

I helped with the tailgate as long as I could, then I dashed home, washed off the smell of burgers and charcoal briquettes, swapped sneakers and jeans for heels and a dress, and hurriedly drove to the wedding. Although I felt as wind-blown as if I had come straight from the tailgate, I was seated about five minutes before the music began. I had made it, and I looked suitably dressed.

If you had felt compelled to go to both events, I’m guessing you would have dashed home to shower and change, too. None of us would have shown up to our friend’s wedding in smoke-filled clothes with flecks of processed cheese stuck under our fingernails — unlike the man we hear about in today’s Gospel. This man is invited at the last minute to the wedding feast of a king’s son. When the other guests give flimsy excuses for not accepting the invitation, the king invites strangers and street people. None of them have much time to prepare, but they go.

As these ragtag guests make their way to the wedding banquet, I imagine them running their fingers through their hair, tucking their shirts in and flattening out frayed collars, rubbing spit over worn shoes, washing their hands and face with what water they can find. When the somewhat bewildered servants greet them at the door, the guests gratefully don the simple white tunics the servants hand them — all except that man. That man has done nothing to prepare himself for the occasion. He hasn’t tidied his hair or unrolled his sleeves or dusted off his shoes. He ignores the servants entirely. It’s as if he thinks he’s attending a tailgate rather than a royal wedding feast. He’s no more invested in the celebration than the guests who didn’t show up at all. And so the king throws him out, not because the man isn’t dressed properly but because he doesn’t want to be properly dressed.

We know we should be suitably dressed in order to take our seats at a wedding. We’ll make every effort to do so no matter how compressed the time frame. When it comes to changing our lives, however, we seem to think we have plenty of time to prepare. We dawdle, we delay, and we never quite get around to cleaning our fingernails and ducking our heads under water. If we continue this way, we’ll end up looking like that man, and we’ll end up where he did, far from the table of the Lord.

October 22 – Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Oct. 22, 2017 (usccb.org)

Sample Commentary on Matthew 22:15-21

In response

Jesus has delivered three parables of judgment against religious leaders. Now they’re looking for a way either to make him look bad or to get him arrested. The Herodians are probably members of the Jewish aristocracy who were loyal to Herod Antipas, king of Galilee, one of the sons of Herod the Great.

“Teacher”

Jesus’ opponents call him teacher, a bad sign. In Matthew’s Gospel the only people who call Jesus teacher are those who either see him as merely one teacher among many or worse, think he shouldn’t be teaching at all. Matthew makes it clear that Jesus is the true face of God’s teaching and the only one whose teaching and example should rule our lives.

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel click here: Oct. 22 – Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflection for October 8

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As we hear about God’s anger at his poor harvest of grapes, we’d do well to remember what grapes were for. People in the ancient near east didn’t put time and energy into their vineyards so that they had grapes to use as a garnish on their cheese and cracker trays. The grapes were for making wine. Good wine. Fine wine. The kind of wine people want to drink, the kind people roll over their tongues and nod their heads at appreciatively. Good wine enhances a meal. Good wine is poured out for festive occasions, for celebrations. Good wine binds people together in fellowship, joy and thanksgiving.

That’s what God wanted from his grapes: fellowship, joy and thanksgiving. He wanted his people to be a sweet, healthy harvest that would reveal his presence. Instead he got vines full of injustice, selfishness, and even violence, grapes so sour, so unpalatable that he left them to rot and fall apart. God knew that no one would want to drink wine made from such bitter grapes. No nation would want to be grafted onto such mean vines. Anyone looking to be warmed by friendship, cheered by encouragement, or strengthened by a people’s love and support would spit out the taste of such a vinegary community. They’d move on in search of better wine.

Most likely we’re a bit on the sour side. We’ve probably still got lots of growing to do before we’re ready to be harvested. But God is a patient vinedresser. As long as we keep growing — seeking the light, drawing nutrients from the soil, staying tethered to the vine — God will eventually make us into good, fine wine, the kind that binds people in fellowship, joy and thanksgiving, the kind that makes them want to stay together as friends, as family, as one, forever.

October 15 – Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Oct. 15, 2017 (usccb.org)

Sample Commentary on Isaiah 25:6-10a

Fine dining on the mountain

The mountain is Jerusalem, but it also represents Heaven. One day God will transform this holy city and from there, the whole earth. The passage is eschatological: it describes what things will be like in the final age (the eschaton).

Eating together was an important symbolic action for ancient people. A meal shared by different families, tribes, or leaders represented friendship and peace. A big part of God’s promise is an eternal meal or heavenly banquet. In this prophetic vision people from all over the world share this meal of peace.

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel click here: Oct. 15 – Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflection for October 1

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Some of “the chief priests and elders of the (Jewish) people” surely were admirable men, honest and devout, sincerely wishing to do God’s will and guide their fellow Jews well. When Jesus came along saying and doing things that seemed to undermine the Jewish faith, it’s no surprise that they argued with him and tested him. After all, they were learned men, well-versed in scripture and the teachings of those who came before them, whereas Jesus had no such training.

I try to imagine what it would have been like to be one of those good religious leaders. I’m a little rankled that he — that Galilean hick, that son of a woodworker — is getting more people to listen to him than I ever did, but I try to judge him fairly. As I wrestle with the question of whether or not Jesus truly represents God, I’m forced to look at the implication of my conclusions. If Jesus doesn’t speak for God, then how come he’s having such a positive effect on sinners? But if Jesus does speak for God, then what does this mean for me?

If Jesus speaks for God, then I’ve heard enough of his proclamation to know that I have to respond by doing more than merely accepting the conversion of people I consider sinners. I have to do more than love them and welcome them into my home. I have to consider how I might be like them, how I might be more like a sinner than I care to admit. I may think I’m saying yes to God all day long, but when it comes to really doing God’s work, perhaps I’m not doing that at all. Perhaps I’m simply doing what I think is best.

But it’s a big thing, a demanding thing, a rigorous and unending challenge to reorient my life around God, to follow the new way Jesus offers. It would be so much easier to stay as I am, to teach the faith as I understand it, to adhere to God as I have defined him. After all, my intentions are good. I mean well. I’m doing what I think is best. And really, I’m sure I’m right.

October 8 – Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Oct. 8, 2017 (usccb.org)

Sample Questions and Commentary on Isaiah 5:1-7

Reading closely

  1. What care did the friend show toward his vineyard?
  2. What all might the friend be hoping for?
  3. Were his hopes reasonable?
  4. What does the vineyard produce?
  5. Why might this have happened?
  6. What might the friend feel about his harvest?
  7. Why does the prophet ask the people of Jerusalem to judge what’s happened (v.4)?
  8. What will the friend do?
  9. Why does he take this action?
  10. Would other vine-growers have understood the friend’s reaction to his harvest?
  11. How might the people have reacted when the prophet tells them they’re the vineyard?
  12. Why did Isaiah tell this parable?
  13. What kind of grape are you?
  14. What sours you? What makes you sweet?

Yielding to evil

The prophet uses a play on words to explain the difference between the plump, juicy grapes that God wanted and the small, sour grapes he got. God planned for a harvest of justice (mishpat) and righteousness (sedaqah). Instead, the people acted with violence (mispah) and injustice (se’aqah). The outcry in v.7 probably refers to the lament of those who had their land or possessions taken from them by other Israelites who were enriching themselves.

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel click here: Oct. 8 – Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflection for September 24

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If I had been one of the workers in that vineyard whom the landowner hired at dawn, I would totally have resented the fact that he paid everyone the exact same amount at the end of the day. Even when he paid me what we agreed upon, I would still think, “That’s not fair!” I would expect to be paid more. What’s worse, I might even wish that the people who had been hired later in the day had been paid less, which means they might not have had enough food for themselves and their families. Try as I might, I can’t shake that feeling of unfairness, that instinct for proportionality.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.” Clearly! When it comes to love, God has no instinct toward fair play, no sense of proportionality. In God’s kingdom no one is more important than anyone else. Jesus concludes the parable we hear today by saying, “the last will be first, and the first will be last,” by which he means that there is no first or last because all receive equally of God’s love. And God loves everyone equally because God loves everyone completely. No matter how deserving we might think we are of receiving more love than someone else, God does not love some people more than others — God cannot, because God already loves us to the utmost.

I wish I could love people like God does. Instead of noticing who gets paid what, I would think to myself, “I’ll invite those late-arrivals to come eat with me and my family.” Instead of shooting dark looks at the people who were hired later, I would tell them, “Thanks so much for coming; without you we would never have gotten the harvest in.” Instead of grumbling against the landowner, I would hug him and thank him for taking care of us all.

October 1 – Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Oct. 1, 2017 (usccb.org)

Sample Commentary on Matthew 21:28-32

An overview

Jesus has entered Jerusalem, where the religious leaders reject his authority (v.23). In response, Jesus tells three parables, which we’ll hear for the next three Sundays. In each parable God’s kingdom is rejected by those who should have been the first to enter it. God’s kingdom is then filled by those who wondered if they would enter it at all.

A parable of action…

In Mt 7:21-23 Jesus warns people that they can’t simply call him Lord and be saved; they must change how they live. Here he makes that point again. When Jesus comes in glory, he’ll distinguish between those who merely talk about doing what’s right and those who actually do what’s right.

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel click here: Oct. 1 – Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflection for September 17

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Lamech wanted to be the best. He wanted to be the talk of the town. He wanted to be number one. At what, you ask? At revenge. Lamech wanted to dish out the best vengeance around. If someone so much as gave Lamech a paper cut, Lamech would strike that person down into the grave. He warned that he would avenge himself seventy-seven times, a number which represents a lot, a whole lot (Gen 4:23-24).

When Peter asks how many times we have to forgive someone, Jesus tells him a lot, a whole lot. But the parable Jesus tells next isn’t about forgiving someone over and over again. Instead, it’s a parable about being changed. The servant whom the king forgives isn’t changed by the forgiveness he experiences. The servant is like Lamech, still holding a grudge, still angry, still violent. His heart is full of arrogance, contempt, and rage.

There’s a little – or a lot – of Lamech in each of us. Like Peter, we want to know how often we have to forgive someone (or help someone or listen to someone or be patient with someone…). We want to set limits on how often and how much. Jesus changes the question from one of how often and how much to who we are. True disciples of Jesus must not merely forgive people a lot, a whole lot, they must be forgiving people. The hearts of true disciples must mirror the heart of their master.