Author: eezell3

December 3 – First Sunday of Advent

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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.

Too proud

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

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Reflection for November 19

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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.

November 26 – Solemnity of Christ the King

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Nov. 26, 2017 (usccb.org)

Sample Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28

Firstfruits

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

Reflection for November 12

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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.

November 19 – Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Nov. 19, 2017 (usccb.org)

Sample Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6

Any second now

Some Christians in Thessalonica thought Christ would return at any moment.  Their preoccupation with this issue had begun to distract the whole community. Paul insists that no one knows when Christ will return.

“Peace and security”

Although people shouldn’t get preoccupied by this issue, they shouldn’t dismiss it, either. In the past people have thought nothing would happen, and they were overwhelmed by sudden changes, not all of them good.

Until then

Rather than get worked up about when Christ will return, Paul urges the Thessalonians to reflect on the moral implications of that belief. Until Christ returns to drive sin out of every corner of creation, his followers must work to drive sin out of their own lives.

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the second reading and the Gospel click here: Nov. 19 – Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflection for November 5

As Jesus vehemently denounces the scribes and Pharisees, he warns his followers not to follow the example of these hypocritical, self-promoting leaders. He doesn’t want the community he’s forming to fracture into different groups in which some members claim superiority over others. Jesus is adamant that his followers treat one another with the utmost humility.

Today we regard Jesus as our example to follow. He alone is our master. It’s startling, then, to hear St. Paul speak of himself as a model to imitate. In his letter to the Thessalonians he notes how he did manual labor alongside the Christians instead of expecting the community to provide for his material needs, which would have been customary at that time. Paul thus implies that his behavior is a model of Christian discipleship. In his letter to the Philippians, he goes so far as to tell them, “Join with others in being imitators of me…” Paul so perfectly devoted himself to Christ that he could confidently make such statements. He could be a living example of how to follow Jesus.

We, too, must be examples of Christ for people today. The tricky thing is to be people worth imitating without thinking that we’re worthy of imitation. Some people effortlessly model Christ-like behavior while not once holding their heads high. Others of us find ourselves in the impossible situation of striving to model the gospel unselfconsciously. We want to be truly Christ-like, but the moment we presume we’re setting a good example of Christian behavior is probably the moment we’re no longer setting a good example.

The knack for walking this fine line will come to us slowly. It will come with practice and lots of humble confession. Until then the best way to deal with the conundrum is probably to take the gospel seriously, but not ourselves.

November 12 – Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Nov. 12, 2017 (usccb.org)

Sample Discussion Questions on Matthew 25:1-13

Reading closely

  1. What is the mood among the ten women?
  2. What all might they talk about?
  3. Why do you think five of the women thought to bring extra oil? Would you have?
  4. Why might the groom have been delayed?
  5. Was it wrong for the women to sleep?
  6. Would you have stayed and waited?
  7. When does the groom arrive?
  8. How do the women react to the news that the groom has arrived?
  9. How do you think they felt?
  10. Would you have shared your oil?
  11. How would you feel if you had to go buy oil?
  12. How would you feel if you were among those who went into the feast with the groom?
  13. If you returned to find the door locked, how would you have felt?
  14. Why do you think the groom doesn’t recognize the five women?
  15. What does this parable teach you about God’s kingdom?

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel click here: Nov. 12 – Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflection for October 29

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Jesus tells us to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We might think our neighbors include family members, friends, people in our faith community, people in our geographic area. We may think of the people we choose to be around, to hang out with. We might suppose that our neighbors are our fellow citizens.

Then we recall a commandment of Jesus given much earlier in Matthew’s Gospel: “love your enemies” (Mt 5:43-44). Jesus widens the circle of people we are to count as our neighbors. He makes the circle so wide that it breaks and dissolves until there is no longer a boundary, no longer a line separating our neighbors from everyone else. Jesus invites us — he commands us — to love beyond our boundaries, to love as God loves, to love everyone regardless of their status or behavior or appearance.

Therefore, the notion that we should put our nation first even if doing so harms or impoverishes others is not a Christian notion. A world view that puts us in competition with other peoples of the world, that pits us against them, is not a gospel-centered world view. The belief that we must maximize our gains at the cost of others is not the way to follow our suffering and risen Lord.

No nation is first in God’s eyes. No nation is first — unless there’s a nation out there made up entirely of refugees, widows, orphans, the poor, the destitute, the abused, the abandoned. If there were such a nation of vulnerable, fragile people out there, that would be the nation God would put first. After all, the people God put first centuries ago were the homeless slaves of mighty Egypt.

The instinct to be first is strong in us. Perhaps it is a holdover from our distant past, a deeply rooted instinct that enabled us to survive. But this instinct to be first, to have, to own, to possess at the expense of others and at the expense of our planet, is not the way of Christ. On the contrary, it is sinful, hurtful, and deadly.

Our Lord Jesus frees us from the hellish snares of trying to be first. He also teaches us to envision a world without boundaries, and he empowers us to love as God loves. We can accept what he offers us without fear, without worrying about whatever we’re clinging to because our salvation does not come at the cost of another’s. We don’t have to compete for a place in God’s kingdom. We don’t have to compete for God’s love. These are gifts God offers freely to everyone. If we persist in thinking that we should put ourselves first we will lose these infinite gifts forever.

November 5 – Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Nov. 5, 2017 (usccb.org)

Sample Questions and Commentary on Matthew 23:1-12

Reading closely

  1. Where do you think the scribes and Pharisees are while Jesus says all this?
  2. Do the scribes and Pharisees seem right to have taken their authoritative role?
  3. What are some things that the leaders might be saying but not doing?
  4. How might the people have felt burdened by their religious tradition?
  5. How do imagine the scribes and Pharisees acting?
  6. How would such people act today?
  7. What vision of teacher/father/master does Jesus offer in contrast to that of the leaders?
  8. How might the crowds and the disciples have reacted to Jesus’ words?
  9. How might the scribes and Pharisees have reacted?

Sitting on Moses’ seat

After a series of confrontations with Jewish leaders, Jesus sharply criticizes them. The tension between these leaders and Jesus may reflect the conflict that came years later when St. Matthew was writing this Gospel. After the Romans invaded Jerusalem in 70 AD, Judaism struggled to survive. Both Christians and Pharisees presented themselves as following the true path to God.

Scribes and Pharisees

The scribes form part of the learned class. They would have been well-versed in scripture. The Pharisees seem to have been Jewish laymen who were trying to fulfill the Jewish law while living in changing times. These religious elites had assumed an authoritative role over their fellow Jews (v.2).

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel click here: Nov. 5 – Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflection for October 22

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During an Advent season years ago, someone asked my young cousin what he would give the baby Jesus. After a sober pause, my cousin said, “A necktie.” Had Jesus been presented with such a gift, our Lord and Savior might have been quite the trend-setter.

Of course, Jesus didn’t need a necktie. He didn’t need coins, either. When Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s,” he had to borrow an imperial coin in order to make his point. I’d bet all the coins in the world that Jesus didn’t have a denarius to his name.

Today Jesus tells us, “Use coins, wear ties, whatever. At the end of the day, though, do you have something you can give to God? Something like courage, humility, compassion, or patience? God doesn’t have much use for the rest of it.”

Like his father, Jesus had no use for ties, coins, shoes, cars, houses… He left this world as he came into it: utterly and completely naked. He understood that God wanted what couldn’t be worn or worn out, used up or spent, bought or paid for. Such things aren’t, after all, from God in the first place. Instead, Jesus gave his love and his hope and his vision of God’s perfect kingdom. God was rather happy about that. We’re invited to give the same. We’re invited to give ourselves.

Buying a necktie would be so much easier.