The Gospel for Sunday, January 31st, 2016

The Gospel for January 31st, 2016: “The Rejection at Nazareth”

Luke 4: 21-30

He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician cure yourself,’ and say, Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’” And he said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away.
Reflection:

Line 21, which is the first of this passage, is the ending to last week’s gospel where Jesus reveals to the attendants at the synagogue in his home town that He is the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy, that they are in the presence of God Incarnate. This detail is important in understanding the rest of the passage which describes the reaction of the people who witness this momentous revelation from Jesus. After their initial amazement, their next reaction is doubt. How could this man of they have known all His life be the Messiah? They check to make sure they have his identity right by asking, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” Surely, they think, God could not be present in the son of a local carpenter.

To this Jesus responds that, “no prophet is accepted in his own native place” (24). Furthermore he reminds them of the consequences of their lack of faith by referencing the stories of how the prophets Elisha and Elijah took God’s Word elsewhere when they were rejected by Israel (25-27). This incensed the people to lead Jesus to the top of the hill with the intent of hurling Him to His death. Since His ministry was just beginning, Jesus makes them wait to complete their rejection with His death for a later date. He passes through the crowd untouched to go elsewhere with His ministry (28-30).

I think the lesson for us today in this gospel is the risk of missing the presence of God among us in that which is familiar. In the Nazarene Jews’ misguided belief that the Messiah would match the expectations of their limited human imaginations, they could not recognize Him in their midst. They expected a mighty Davidic warrior, not a carpenter’s son.  As the creator of all that exists, God is among us all the time if we can simply look for Him in the small acts of unselfish love and the beauty of His creation that surround us. If we share in His love by treating our acquaintances and neighbors with genuine kindness and compassion, we will experience joy and peace. If instead we fool ourselves into believing God and happiness are out there someplace away from us and reject His call to love that which is right in front of us, we are, like the Nazarene Jews, rejecting our God and are bound to experience the pain of separation from Him. How awful it would be for Him to pass through our midst and go away.

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The Gospel for Sunday, January 24th

Gospel for January 24th, 2016: Excerpted from “The Prologue,” “The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry,” and “The Rejection at Nazareth”

Luke 1: 1-4; Luke 4: 14-21

Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news of him spread throughout the whole region. He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all.

He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Reflection:

By juxtaposing passages from both Chapters 1 and 4 in Luke’s gospel, this reading requires more active inference than passages of the same length that come from the same gospel source. What is the connection between Luke’s introduction where he states his purpose for writing a new gospel and this scene where Jesus enters the synagogue and reads from Isaiah? The structure of today’s reading begs an answer.

Lines 1-4 (Chpt. 1) state Luke’s purpose as “to write it [a new gospel of Jesus’s life] down in an orderly sequence” for his friend, Theophilus, a fellow Christian. He claims his reason is so that Theophilus may “realize the certainty” of the teachings he has received (4). Implicit in this statement is the belief that faith in Jesus as savior will be accepted after contemplation of Jesus’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension. This insight should affect the intensity of our attention for the gospel reading at mass, the climax of the liturgy of the Word, and encourage us to read the Gospels often to combat the seeds of doubt that may be sown as we as wrestle with the contrary wisdom of the world.

This concept is elaborated on with the episode of Jesus reading the Old Testament prophesy in the temple. Isaiah foretells Jesus’s mission “to bring glad tidings to the poor…, to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Luke 4: 18-19). In short, He is announcing His incarnation as Messiah to His people. Furthermore, all the promises of salvation from the passage he states are fulfilled in their hearing. For those present in the synagogue, the fulfillment is Jesus’s arrival in their midst. And yet, like His baptism, the Wedding at Cana, and His sharing of the Last Supper which initiated sacraments of the Church, Jesus is revealing a means for us today to be close to Him as well through scriptural reading. While reading the gospels is instructive, it is much more than that. It is a walk with the Incarnate Word, Jesus. Everything about Jesus’s life described in the gospel is the fulfillment of the promise of a savior. The truth of that promise and the hope it instills takes deep root in us to ward off doubt and fear when we too announce His story wherever and whenever we read or hear His words.

The Gospel for Sunday, January 17th, 2016

The Gospel for January 17th, 2016: “The Wedding at Cana”

John 2: 1-11

There was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” [And] Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it. And when the head waiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from (although the servers who had drawn the water knew), the head waiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.

Reflection:

In John Chapter 1 there is a subtitle, “The Book of Signs.” Although this episode is in Chapter 2, it follows as one of the “signs” of Christ’s divinity and His revelation of the new covenant with Him who the Father has sent. Therefore, I will reflect on three signs I see in this passage that through interpretation speak powerfully to our relationship with Christ.

There is the obvious sign of Jesus’s first public miracle, turning the water into wine. This miracle is a clear testament to His disciples of His divine power as they gradually learn the full identity of this man they chose to follow. On a related note, Mary’s role in prompting Jesus’s miracle suggests her role as our Mother in her ability to advocate on our behalf, as she does for the married couple. Marian devotion is an effective spiritual tool if we embrace it in our daily lives.

The second sign requires deeper interpretation. Although it saves the celebration, the transformation of the water into wine is an interesting first miracle because it does not seem on the surface to contain the same urgency that so many of His miracles dealing with healing and forgiveness do. Let’s face it; wine or no wine, the couple is still married and the purpose of the celebration is complete. However, it is significant that the water pots are for “ceremonial washings,” (6) in other words baptism. Since this episode follows shortly after Jesus’s baptism, the first sign in John’s gospel, it seems more than a coincidence. If we continue this line of thought, the water-to-wine miracle can be read as a sacramental phenomenon. Given that Jesus’s blood is given as wine in the sacrament of communion, the second sign becomes apparent. Jesus is foreshadowing the sacred roles of both baptism and communion in the salvation of His disciples. As His followers, we should never fail to recognize their role in enhancing our relationship with Him.

Finally the third sign I notice can be read in the headwaiter’s comment to the bridegroom, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now” (10). Are we to infer merely that Jesus is an excellent vinter? I don’t think that is a surprising insight, even if he only starts with water. Instead, I think it more helpful to dwell on the surprising timing created by His miracle: contrary to the norm, the best wine is served last. This reminds us the same is true of our lives as Christians in this world. If we are to follow Jesus, then it really is after this life and in eternity that we will experience the best of what our Savior has to offer. This counterintuitive characteristic of salvation, that in the present we sacrifice our own plans and the offerings of the world, with patience and hope for eternal joy with our Lord, is basic to the daily choices we make  as Christians.

Given these signs, what appears as a nifty magic trick at the Wedding in Cana is much more. It is a powerful mystery on which for us to reflect in this gospel. It is the second luminous mystery of the Rosary and a reminder that with Jesus we must look carefully because there is always more than meets the eye at first glance, really more than we can imagine in this life. May we instead rely on prayer and hope and have faith in His promise to us so that we may taste the good wine in the end.

 

 

Gospel for Sunday, January 10th, 2016

Gospel for January 10th, 2016: “The Preaching of John the Baptist” and “The Baptism of Jesus”

Luke 3: 15-16, 21-22

Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah. John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire.

After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. A voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Reflection:

I spent many years as a fallen away Catholic before recognizing the saving grace of my faith in the midst what could be called a mid-life crisis. So there is so much about the Catholic Church I once took for granted that I consider essential now. For me, today’s gospel highlights the sacraments, in particular baptism. I was once guilty of seeing the sacraments more as ritual and tradition than as the sacred gifts they are. These are moments where we as Christians are guaranteed to experience an intense communion with God. He is in our presence, and this is sacred nourishment for life.

Consider the events described by Luke that occurred when Jesus sanctified baptism by seeking this Jewish spiritual cleansing from his preacher cousin, John. “[H]eaven was opened,” “the holy Spirit descended upon him,” and God the Father spoke (21-22). Notice the direct interaction with God is visible in this gospel episode. As Catholics, we can’t afford to miss these life-giving opportunities. Granted, baptism, as well as confirmation, marriage, and holy orders, are once-in-a-lifetime sacraments. However, the eucharist is available daily and reconciliation at least weekly in many parishes. These experiences when sought out frequently arm us against the barrage of temptation to sin we encounter in our daily lives. When we are with Jesus, with feel His love and experience joy. I think about how that joy was replaced by worry and anxiety in the years that I did not seek out the sacraments regularly. It is very easy to think we are too busy for the sacraments. When we fall for that modern trick, we are sentencing ourselves to unhappiness in our separation from Jesus. I look at my former self and ask why? I can only thank Jesus for calling me home so I don’t have to continue to struggle as I did.