Catholic Readings

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

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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.

September 24 – Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Sept. 24, 2017 (usccb.org)

Questions on Matthew 20:1-16

Read vv.1-2. Imagine you’re one of the laborers.

  1. What’s it like to work in a vineyard? Is the work easy or hard?
  2. When does your day usually start? When does it usually end?
  3. Do you usually do this kind of work?
  4. How do you feel by the end of the day?
  5. How do you feel when people show up hours later to work alongside you?
  6. What do you expect to be paid?

Read vv.3-9. Imagine you’re hired late in the day. 

  1. Why weren’t you hired earlier?
  2. How does it feel to be hired?
  3. Do you have family responsibilities?
  4. How do the other laborers treat you?
  5. Do all the laborers work at the same pace?
  6. How much do expect to get paid?
  7. What is your opinion of the landowner?

Read vv.10-16. Imagine you’re the landowner. 

  1. Why do you keep hiring people?
  2. Why do you pay everyone the same wage?
  3. What do the people you hired last say to you when you pay them?
  4. How do you feel when the other workers grumble?
  5. Do you make the same choices in the future?
  6. What insights does this parable offer you?

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel click here: Sept. 24 – Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflection for September 10

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Think about what can happen when we don’t say something to a friend who hurt our feelings. The person’s unkindness festers inside us. We can’t shake it, can’t forget about it. We start keeping our distance from the person. Maybe we’re a little mean to them. Maybe we talk about them to others, telling our true friends what a jerk So-and-so is. Maybe we think we’re a better person than they are. And maybe all this time our friend has no idea how we feel, or worse, feels awful but can’t summon the courage to apologize.

Now imagine how that one broken moment affects the larger web of relationships. Some people take sides. They talk about who said what to whom. Rumors spring up until it’s hard to know what the original sin was. Some people want to drop it and move on, but the issue hovers in the air like a bad smell, like garbage someone forgot to empty. Outsiders, people who don’t know any of what’s going on, hold their nose and walk on by. They don’t want to be part of this stinky group.

It’s not only seventh-grade girls who get themselves into these situations: all of us find ourselves caught in such scenarios at one point or another. Jesus, well aware of this human predicament, gives us a procedure for avoiding them. The procedure is intended to heal relationships, restore peace in the community, and make the whole group appealing to outsiders.

The first step in the procedure is simply to tell our friend how hurt we are. Based on typical human behavior, however, you’d think the first step was either to say nothing at all or to tell everyone except our friend how hurt we are. Too often, rather than follow the procedure, we become part of the problem. We become a failed watchman, the person on the walls of the city who doesn’t blow the trumpet at the sight of an enemy’s advance, but who instead stares out angrily, whispering and pointing at the advancing doom. When that grim, approaching army of sin lays siege to our community, everyone will suffer, but it will ultimately be our fault. Our friend will still have sinned, but our own sin will be far greater.

September 17 – Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Sept. 17, 2017 (usccb.org)

Sample Questions and Commentary on Matthew 18:21-35

  1. Do you think the disciples were ever angry at each other?
  2. Place yourself in the parable.
    If you were the master…
  3. Why do you plan to sell your indebted servant and everything connected to him?
  4. Why do you forgive the loan rather than give the servant more time to pay it back?
  5. Do you have any misgivings about forgiving the entire debt?
  6. What do you feel when you hear how the servant treated someone indebted to him?
  7. What do you know will happen to that servant once he goes to the torturers?
    If you were the first servant…
  8. How did you accumulate such a large debt?
  9. What do you think of your master?
  10. How do you feel when your debt is erased?
  11. What all runs through your mind when you attack the man indebted to you?
  12. What does the parable teach you about yourself?
  13. What does the parable reveal about God?

Setting limits

Peter wants rules about how much to forgive. Jesus replies that forgiveness is the rule. Given the teaching right before this one, however, it seems that Jesus is telling us to forgive someone who repents. He also wants us to pray in order to know how to respond to a persistent sinner (vv.19-20).

Lamech

In Genesis 4:23-24 a man (Lamech) declares that if anyone hurts him he will take revenge “seventy-fold,” which means that his revenge is limitless. Jesus stands against such endless vengeance. His followers must be like God, whose mercy is without limit. If we want to be part of God’s kingdom, we must imitate the God who reigns in it.

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel click here: Sept. 17 – Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflection for September 3

When Jesus was in the desert, he withstood the devil’s temptations without a single misstep. We might think that after Jesus commanded Satan to “get away,” he was free to begin his public ministry and to walk with straight, unwavering steps to Jerusalem. Not so. Every time the crowds gathered Jesus faced the temptation to swerve from his path, perhaps by stealing a little glory from his Father or enriching himself by charging for his miraculous services. And then there were the long, tiring days when he may have yearned to head back home to Nazareth and live quietly into old age.

Jesus didn’t succumb to any of those temptations, though they continued to assail him, taking new forms, even the form of his closest follower, Peter. When Jesus tried to prepare his disciples for the cross he would meet in Jerusalem, Peter pulled his master aside and spoke as if Jesus were possessed. Rebuke followed rebuke as Jesus snapped back, “Get behind me, Satan!”

Jesus spoke to Peter as if his disciple were the devil himself, but he didn’t expel Peter from the group. He didn’t strip him of the keys to the kingdom of Heaven and send him packing. Jesus ordered Peter to get behind him, not away from him. After all, Peter was only trying to protect his friend, to keep him safe, because he loved him, and Jesus understood that.

The people who love us want us safe, too. They don’t want us crucified, physically or metaphorically, but there are moments when that is the path we must walk. And there are moments we want to keep someone we love safe when they choose to put their lives at risk for the sake of God’s kingdom. In such moments our Lord calls us to withstand whatever tempts us away from the right path and to fall in line behind each other. By devoting ourselves unswervingly to what is truly just we will ultimately save our lives.

September 10 – Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Sept. 10, 2017 (usccb.org)

Sample Commentary on Ezekiel 33:7-9

Enemies without

Ancient cities had watchmen who would blow a trumpet if they saw an enemy approaching. If people ignored the warning, the city might be conquered, but this wasn’t the watchman’s fault. If a watchman failed to warn people of danger, however, the blame was his.

Enemies within

As watchman, Ezekiel isn’t to look for enemies coming from outside Israel but from within it. When Israel hears the prophet’s warning, the nation should prepare to battle not its enemies but its own sin.

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel click here: Sept. 10 – Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 3 – Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Sept. 3, 2017 (usccb.org)

Sample Commentary on Matthew 16:21-27

What’s a Messiah? 

Last Sunday Jesus told his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah (16:20). Today we learn why. The disciples expect things from the Messiah that don’t match what Jesus has come to do. Jews at that time expected many things from the Messiah. Despite a range of beliefs, no one thought the Messiah would suffer, much less be shamefully and brutally killed.

Although Jesus accepted the title of Messiah, he changed its meaning to include rejection, shame, and hardship. Jesus probably preferred the title Son of Man because it carried fewer pre-conceptions.

Rock turned stumbling block

Jesus called Peter the rock on which he would build the church (16:18). Now this rock is a stumbling block, an obstacle that could trip Jesus up. After calling Jesus Messiah and Son of the living God, Peter rejects the meaning Jesus gives these titles.

Jesus calls Peter Satan. Right before Jesus began his public ministry, Satan tried to lure him down a different path (4:1f.). Now one of Jesus’ closest followers unwittingly tempts Jesus.

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel click here: Sept. 3 – Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflection for August 27

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Who would you trust with your keys (car keys, house keys, work keys)? How about a guy who doesn’t altogether trust you, who gets in your face, abandons you when you’re most in need, and finally denies knowing you? What — he wouldn’t be your first choice?

The disciple Peter fits the above description, yet Jesus entrusted him with “the keys to the kingdom of Heaven.” Jesus charged this floundering disciple with the task of leading a small, young church as it faced new challenges in a changing world. Although Peter became beautifully emboldened by the Spirit after Jesus’ resurrection, there was at least one moment in which he didn’t seem to know whether to open the doors to Heaven or keep them locked. This was the moment Paul turned up to insist that God’s plan of salvation included everyone, not only the Jews. At first Peter hesitated, those keys swinging uncertainly from his hand. After some heated debate, he unlocked the door.

The history of the papacy since then is not a gloriously sinless one. Some popes dropped the keys, some loaned them out, others nearly lost them altogether. Yet for all that, God has not taken those keys away. God has not eliminated the office of the papacy any more than God has withdrawn the Spirit he gave us all at our baptism. God sticks with us. What marvelous, extraordinary hope God has in us. Whatever other doors we knock on, whatever other rooms we enter, God will not lock us out of his kingdom. We need only turn back around and head for the right door. If we stand before it, truly yearning to know and love our Lord, that door will open.

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