Reflecting on Matthew for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Matthew, by Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, commenting on Matthew 14:13-21

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Spectacular though it was, the multiplication of the loaves was not an unprecedented event. Similar miracles involving food appear in the Old Testament.

One thinks of the manna that rained down from heaven to feed the Israelites in the wilderness (Exod 16:4–21). So too Elijah, when he stayed with a poor widow of Zarephath, caused her nearly empty jar of meal and her depleted cruse of oil to supply the household with food throughout an extended famine (1 Kings 17:8–16).

Most relevant here is the miracle of Elijah’s successor, Elisha, who multiplied twenty loaves for one hundred men and still had some left over (2 Kings 4:42–44). Against this background, Christ’s miracle shows that he wields a power even greater than that of the prophets of Israel, for he started with fewer loaves than Elisha and fed a vastly larger crowd!

But the significance of Jesus’ action does not end here. The multiplication of loaves not only draws our minds back to the Old Testament; it also points us forward to the institution of the Eucharist.

Readers familiar with the Last Supper account are not likely to miss the connection between these events, for Matthew recounts them in similar terms. Notice that both events take place at the same time (evening, 14:15; 26:20), and those in attendance assume the same posture (reclining, 14:19; 26:20). Likewise, Jesus performs the same actions with the bread in both instances, and in the same sequence (took, blessed, broke, gave, 14:19; 26:26). Lastly, Jesus hands the broken loaves to the same recipients (the disciples, 14:19; 26:26).

No doubt Matthew considers the multiplication of the loaves an anticipatory sign of the Eucharist to be distributed as communion to the multitudes of God’s people.

© 2010 Curtis Mitch, Edward Sri, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Matthew for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Matthew, by Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, commenting on Matthew 13:44-52

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At the end of the discourse Jesus asks his disciples if they understand all these things, referring to the parables taught that day.

Their affirmative response is significant. Understanding of the parables is precisely what Jesus said the crowds would lack (13:13–15). But truly hearing the word and understanding it is the chief characteristic of the seed that falls on good soil and bears fruit (13:23). Though the disciples still have much to learn, they do at least have an understanding of the kingdom’s mysteries that sets them apart from the crowds (13:10–17) and will make them fruitful in their mission (13:23).

Jesus says the disciples are like a scribe, a scholar of Scripture who was trained in interpreting the law. According to the book of Sirach, a true scribe can “penetrate the subtleties of parables” and be “at home with the obscurities of parables” (Sir 39:2–3 RSV). Unlike the scribes associated with the Pharisees who oppose Christ (12:38), Jesus’ disciples understand the parables. They are the new scribes of the kingdom because they have been instructed (literally, “discipled”) in the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus also says the disciples are like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old. As men who understand the mysteries of the kingdom, they see how Christ’s ministry (“the new”) fulfills the Hebrew Scriptures (“the old”), bringing God’s plan of salvation to its climax. Therefore the disciples are much better interpreters of the Scriptures—and thus better scribes—than the scribes allied with the Pharisees who have rejected Jesus (see 12:38).

© 2010 Curtis Mitch, Edward Sri, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Matthew for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Matthew, by Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, commenting on Matthew 13:24-43

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The parable of the mustard seed builds on the previous one, showing that despite the enemy’s opposition to the kingdom, the harvest will yield tremendous results.

At first, the kingdom does not appear to be very large. It is like a mustard seed, which was proverbially the smallest of all the seeds. From this tiny seed, a great bush emerges. Jesus describes it as becoming so big that birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches—which recalls an Old Testament description of a great kingdom that gathers many nations as a large tree gathers birds who nest on its branches (Ezek 31:2–13; Dan 4:17–18).

In particular, Ezekiel foretold that Israel would gather the nations like a mighty cedar that shelters the birds of the air (Ezek 17:22–24). Jesus uses this parable to show how his kingdom movement, despite its small beginnings, will become like the prophetic large tree gathering birds, fulfilling Israel’s mission to the nations as Ezek 17 foretold.

….Commenting on the Church’s evangelizing efforts, Pope Benedict XVI warned that Catholics today must resist what he calls “the temptation of impatience,” that is, the temptation to insist on “immediately finding great success” and “large numbers.”

He says that immediate, massive growth is not God’s way. “For the Kingdom of God as well as for evangelization, the instrument and vehicle of the Kingdom of God, the parable of the grain of mustard seed, is always valid.”

He goes on to say the new phase of the Church’s evangelizing mission to the secular world will not be “immediately attracting the large masses that have distanced themselves from the Church by using new and more refined methods.” Rather, it will mean “to dare, once again and with the humility of the small grain, to leave up to God the when and how it will grow.”

© 2010 Curtis Mitch, Edward Sri, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Matthew for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Matthew, by Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, commenting on Matthew 13:1-23

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While Jesus occasionally spoke in parables before, here he suddenly addresses the crowds “at length” in parables, giving several in rapid-fire succession. This movement from teaching the crowds primarily in a straightforward manner (Matt 5–7) to a new emphasis on parables (Matt 13) surprises Jesus’ own disciples, who ask, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” (13:10).

For the ancient Jews, a parable was a cryptic saying or story intended to stimulate thought. Parables were sometimes used to communicate God’s judgment on corrupt Israelites for their sins (see 2 Sam 12:1–10; Isa 5:1–7; Ezek 17:2–21; 19:2–19). As we will see, Jesus’ parables in Matt 13 address the indifference of many in Israel to his ministry (Matt 11) and the opposition of the Pharisees who are plotting his death (Matt 12).

When asked about the purpose of his parables, Jesus tells the disciples that knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but it will not be given to those who do not follow him. Those who have been open to Christ’s teachings will perceive even more: To anyone who has, more will be given. But those with closed hearts will be unable to penetrate the mysteries of the kingdom: from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

In the punch line (v. 13) Jesus sums up the reason he now teaches in parables. Many in Israel refuse to receive his message: they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand. In a fulfillment quotation Jesus points to Isa 6:9–10, a text that tells how the prophet is sent by God to call the people to repentance but predicts that few will take the message to heart.

© 2010 Curtis Mitch, Edward Sri, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Matthew for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Matthew, by Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, commenting on Matthew 11:25-30

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Using the form of a Jewish prayer of thanksgiving, Jesus praises the Lord of heaven and earth for the favors he has bestowed on his people (see Tob 10:14). In this case the identity of Jesus as the one who speaks for the Father (10:40), though concealed from the wise and learned of the day, has been revealed to Jesus’ followers, whose open acceptance of him shows them to be childlike in their receptivity to the gospel (18:4).

Thanks to God’s gracious and elective will, these “little ones” (10:42) who form the community of Christian disciples have come to know more about Jesus than the religious scholars who oppose the kingdom of heaven, namely the scribes (9:3) and the Pharisees (9:34). The disciples’ willingness to embrace the mystery of Jesus has nothing to do with their intelligence or level of education; rather, they are recipients of a grace that comes from the Father in heaven (see also 16:17).

The final line of the prayer serves as a revelation to the reader. All things, Jesus says, have been given over to him from the Father. The meaning of this statement is not explained, but looking back over the Matthean storyline thus far, one may surmise that it refers to the divine authority that Jesus wields in the world. He possesses teaching authority that ranks him above Moses (5:21–46); he displays healing authority to cure sicknesses and cast out demons in an instant (4:23; 8:3, 13–17; 9:22); and he is vested with spiritual authority to forgive the sins of others at will (9:1–8).

© 2010 Curtis Mitch, Edward Sri, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Acts for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

From Acts of the Apostles, by William S. Kurz, SJ, commenting on Acts 2:1-11

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The miraculous nature of Peter’s rescue is heightened by the timing of the rescue—on the very night before Herod was to bring him to trial—by the double chains with which the prisoner was secured, by the fact that he was sleeping between two soldiers, and by the presence of the door guards who kept watch on the prison.

Despite these apparently insurmountable obstacles, suddenly the angel of the Lord appeared by him, and a light shone in the cell. The angel awakened Peter by tapping him and ordered, “Get up quickly.” Immediately the chains fell from his wrists. The angel instructed Peter to get dressed and follow him, which Peter did.

In this dramatic scene, Luke adds a touch of humor, which will continue through the account of Peter’s meeting with the church: even as he was being rescued, Peter did not realize that what was happening through the angel was real; he thought he was seeing a vision or dream.

Luke narrates the scene of Peter’s rescue with strong echoes of both God’s deliverance of his people from slavery in Egypt and Jesus’ death and resurrection. The community prays “fervently” (ektenōs) for Peter’s release (Acts 12:5), as Jesus had prayed “so fervently” (ektenesteron) as he was suffering in the garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:44). Peter is awakened, literally, “raised,” from sleep (a common biblical metaphor for death) and commanded to “get up,” literally, “arise,” by an angel appearing in light, which recalls the dazzling clothes of the angels at Jesus’ tomb (Luke 24:4). Peter’s liberation anticipates our own resurrection, our rescue from death on the last day.

© 2013 William S. Kurz, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Logos Upgrade for the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture

Philippians, Colossians, PhilemonActs of the ApostlesTwo new volumes from the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture are now available for preorder on Logos; Acts by William S. Kurz, SJ, and Philippians, Colossians, Philemon by Dennis Hamm, SJ.

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Reflecting on I Corinthians for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

From First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on I Corinthians 10:16-17

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The union effected by the blood and the body of Christ is a participation. This Greek term koinōnia has a richness difficult to express in a single word. The NAB, RSV, and NIV translate it as “participation.” Others translate it “sharing “(NJB, NRSV) or “communion” (JB). In documents contemporary with Paul, koinōnia is a favorite expression for the marital relationship as being the most intimate between human beings.

Depending on the structure of the Greek, it can mean union with a person, as Paul has already in this letter spoken of a koinōnia with the Son of God (1:9), or a common sharing in something, such as in the faith (Philem 6), in sufferings (Phil 3:10), or in a work of service (2 Cor 8:4). Both senses converge in the koinōnia of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 13:13).

The term can also stand for the community created by the sharing. All of these senses can be seen in Paul’s use of the word here. The koinōnia of the Eucharist is (1) a common sharing or participation in the body and blood of Christ; (2) an intimate union with the person of Christ; (3) a “community” brought about by the Eucharist, as will be specified in verse 17.

Is the Eucharist a simple meal, or is it also a sacrificial meal? The separate consecration of cup and bread, one signifying the blood and the other the body, certainly points to sacrifice, since the separation of the animal’s blood from its body was essential to sacrifice. In addition, the comparison of the Eucharist with the pagan sacrifices suggests that Paul is saying, “We have our own sacrifice.”

© 2011 George T. Montague and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on II Corinthians for The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

From Second Corinthians, by Thomas D. Stegman, SJ, commenting on II Corinthians 13:11-13

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At long last, Paul brings the letter to a formal conclusion as he offers a solemn benediction: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the holy Spirit be with all of you.

This closing blessing is particularly striking when compared with Paul’s other concluding blessings. Typically, he ends his letters thus: “The grace of the (or our) Lord Jesus (Christ) be with you.” The additions to this typical benediction in verse 13 are important on the level of theology and the level of Christian life. In terms of theology, the additions serve to remind the Corinthians of the chief theological concerns of the letter. Central to this final blessing is “the love of God.” God’s love for us is such that he holds nothing back from us in order that we might have the fullness of life.

As we just saw at the end of verse 11, God’s love has been manifested in two supreme ways, both of which are signified here. First, God has sent his Son to save us from sin and death (5:18–21). Hence Paul refers to “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” the same phrase he employed in 8:9 to signify Jesus’ self-giving love in becoming human and offering his life on the cross in obedience to the Father’s will. Second, God has bestowed in our hearts the gift of the Holy Spirit (1:22; 3:3) to purify and sanctify us, to make us his holy people (6:16). Hence Paul adds the reference to the Spirit.

In addition to its theological import, the solemn final blessing functions as a bulwark for life in the Church. The phrase “the fellowship (koinōnia) of the Holy Spirit” is, as one commentator aptly notes, “powerfully ambiguous.” It refers to the gift of the Spirit in us whereby each one of us is, literally, in close communion with God.

© 2009 Thomas D. Stegman SJ, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Acts for Pentecost Sunday

From Acts of the Apostles, by William S. Kurz, SJ, commenting on Acts 2:1-11

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The listeners are astounded, because they all understand the Galilean speakers in their respective languages: “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his own native language?”

The countries mentioned cover most of the world that was known to first-century Palestine and symbolize the fact that the Church will embrace the whole world, transcending all barriers of race, class, and nation. They include the regions of Israel’s historic enemies, Mesopotamia (the center of the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires) and Egypt, fulfilling God’s promise that Israel’s oppressors would one day turn and acknowledge the God of Israel as the true God (Ps 87:1–4; Isa 19:22–25)

….The fact that Jews from many different nations all heard the disciples speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God portends that the ancient tragedy of Babel (Gen 11:1–9) is now being reversed. The people at Babel had arrogantly tried to “make a name” for themselves by building a tower to the heavens—symbolizing the human attempt to seek power, wealth, and security without any reference to God. In consequence God confounded the universal human language into many different languages, which made it impossible for them to complete that tower. Instead, they were scattered throughout the world as separate nations, each with its own language.

At Pentecost, the Spirit-given ability of Jesus’ disciples to speak in various languages signifies that God is beginning to overcome human divisions. Now the Spirit has miraculously enabled Jesus’ followers to speak and be understood in many languages from all over the known world. The unifying power of the Spirit will be frequently demonstrated throughout Acts as people who would never before have associated with one another—Jews and Gentiles, slaves and prominent people, the upright and the formerly impious—share a common life of brotherhood and sisterhood in the Church.

© 2013 William S. Kurz, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.