Reflecting on 1 Corinthians for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on I Corinthians 15:1-11

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After adding his own testimony to the creedal recital, Paul is keenly aware of how his calling differed from that of the others mentioned. He had persecuted the church of God, and that should have made him unfit to be an apostle. But as the First Letter to Timothy will explain, “I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life” (1 Tim 1:16).

God often calls the most unlikely, as he has done with the Corinthians (1 Cor 1:26–31). Not only did Paul not have good works of which he might have boasted (Phil 3:4–6); he also was the worst of sinners for having persecuted Jesus in his members (1 Tim 1:15). Hence he can say it is only by the grace of God that I am what I am. And that grace has continued to work in his life. He first says in a self-effacing way, His grace to me has not been ineffective, but then in a positive way he says he has toiled harder than all of them (the other apostles and evangelists).

He is not holding himself above the others, because whatever he has been able to do has been by the grace of God [that is] with me. After this brief expansion on his own ministry, Paul returns to the point made in 15:1—the one gospel that he handed on to them and they received. The apostolic witness to the resurrection of Jesus is not divided: whether it be I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

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

Reflecting on 1 Corinthians for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on I Corinthians 13:1-8-13:

Often when ministering at weddings where this chapter is proclaimed, I wonder if any of the congregation, even the bride and groom, really know what they just heard. The atmosphere of the celebration is so charged with the charm of romantic, marital love that Paul’s full meaning easily gets lost. I wonder if many are not divinizing romance, as the ancient pagans did, instead of hearing God say he wants to transform it, purify it, ennoble it by incorporating it into Jesus’ own sacrificial love of the Church.

Our culture is intoxicated with recreational sex, which paradoxically deceives in its promises and leads to broken hearts and often unplanned consequences, sometimes tragic. That is certainly a far cry from what Paul is talking about. He is not even talking about the infatuation of emotional love that is often merely the invitation to a more committed relationship. If love does not go beyond emotion, it is not surprising that we hear of people leaving their spouse “because I don’t love you anymore.”

Paul is talking about agapē. That is the love of total self-gift, of which the source and paradigm is Jesus crucified for love of his bride, the Church. There is delight in that love, but it is the delight that one experiences when giving oneself away, the joy of Jesus who loved his own “to the end” (John 13:1). It is a delight experienced in the will, even when there is no emotional residue to it. To love one’s enemies, to forgive and do good to those who have hurt us, does not mean we will automatically feel a warm fuzzy in our heart for them. It does mean that with the grace of God (for agapē is God’s gift rather than our own creation) we transcend feelings and experience the peace of Jesus at the deepest level of our soul.

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

Reflecting on I Corinthians for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

From First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on I Corinthians 12:12-30

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In this section, it is not a matter of some kind of metaphoric “unity in diversity” that could be applied to any group. It is a matter of the kind of unity and diversity that exists in the body of Christ.

It is not a question of how the many can be one but how the One, Christ, can be many. This emerges from Paul’s shorthand at the end of this verse. After saying, As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, he could have said “so also the body of Christ,” meaning the Church. Instead, he says so also Christ, indicating that God’s plan since the resurrection of Jesus is that he be many: the whole Christ, including his members.

Here we strike a vein deeply rooted in Paul’s conversion experience, when the risen Lord asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). The unity of the Church with Jesus is so intimate that whatever Saul did to the least of Jesus’ brothers, he did to Jesus (Matt 25:40). This is indeed a mystery: as we saw in 6:12–20, Paul thinks of the union of Christians with Christ in realistic and, as it were, physical terms.

This becomes evident again here when he says that in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. In our way of thinking today, we would understand this as becoming members of a group, a collectivity like the student body of a school. But in Paul’s mind, if we become one, it is because each of us is joined sacramentally and bodily to the risen body of Christ.

This is clear from the following: (1) Paul’s realistic contrast between union with Christ and union with a prostitute in 6:12–20; (2) the parallelism of “body” here with “Spirit” at the end of the verse (13). If the Spirit is the Holy Spirit, then “body” would normally stand for the individual body of Christ, for it, not the Church, is the source of the Spirit. (3) The participation in the eucharistic body effects the unity of the Church (10:17).

That unity far transcends a tribal or ethnic or class unity. Traditional walls have collapsed as all became one, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons. Through the new experience, these groups found themselves to be brothers and sisters around the eucharistic table. The person of Jesus had now created a new and universal—catholic—community.

 

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

Reflecting on Acts for The Baptism of the Lord

From Acts of the Apostles, by William S. Kurz, SJ, commenting on Acts 10:34-38

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Peter summarizes Christ’s ministry as taking place all over Judea, beginning in Galilee (here Luke seems to treat Galilee as part of the province of Judea). Skipping Jesus’ infancy (Luke 1–2), Peter focuses on Jesus’ public life beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached. Peter uses a shorthand expression that combines John’s preaching of repentance with his ritual act of baptizing people, which together were an indispensable preparation and catalyst for the public ministry of the Messiah. John’s baptism of Jesus, when the Father affirmed him as his beloved Son, was at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry (Luke 3:21–22).

Like Luke’s Gospel (3:22; 4:1), Peter emphasizes that God anointed Jesus . . . with the holy Spirit and power. Although the Spirit was with Jesus from his conception (Luke 1:35), at his baptism the Spirit empowered Jesus’ human nature for his ministry of preaching, healing, and exorcisms, just as the Spirit empowers the Church for ministry in Acts. Fortified by the Spirit and divine power, Jesus went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil.

Peter’s explanation that God was with him emphasizes the presence of the Triune God with and in Jesus’ humanity. Luke’s emphasis on Jesus’ humanity— rather than on his divinity, which John’s Gospel more frequently accentuates— shows that Jesus worked miracles not only as God, as stressed in John, but also as a Spirit-empowered man, who is therefore a model for all his disciples.

This enables Luke and Acts to underline the continuity between wonder-working prophets like Moses and Elijah, the miraculous prophetic ministry of Jesus, and the miracles of his Spirit-empowered followers like Peter, Stephen, and Paul in Acts. Peter and others imitated Jesus’ healings as part of their prophetic witness to God’s saving message; so such works are likewise possible for Spirit-empowered Christian readers of Luke-Acts.

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

Reflecting on Philippians for the Third Sunday of Advent

From Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, by Dennis Hamm, SJ, commenting on Philippians 4:4-7
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Your kindness should be known to all. The “kindness” (epieikes) Paul calls for here is a special kind, which the lexicon describes as “not insisting on every right or letter of law or custom; yielding, gentle, kind, courteous, tolerant.” He may have chosen this rare word as a necessary virtue for the two women leaders mentioned above, as well as for those dealing with them.

In this context, Paul’s statement The Lord is near is not a general truism. In Ps 145:18, a psalm that praises God’s goodness as creator and redeemer, the phrase “You, Lord, are near” expresses confidence that God is responsive to those who call upon him.

Here in Philippians the short assertion that the Lord is near carries the psalm’s resonance but applies it to the one who is specifically honored as Lord in this letter—Jesus the risen Messiah. Since the context of this passage is a call for prayer of petition (v. 6), “near” seems best understood as immediate presence, as in Psalm 145, rather than the temporal imminence of the parousia.

The phrase Have no anxiety at all could provoke the anxious person to respond, “Easy for you to say.” But this is not wishful thinking. Paul reminds his addressees that they have a God whom they can trust to respond to their anxiety and provide for their needs. There is a practical way to address anxiety: in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. “In everything” means in every circumstance—imprisonment, community conflict, harassment from external adversaries. Help is at hand, for the asking.

In urging prayer of petition, Paul insists that it be made with “thanksgiving” (eucharistia)—a reminder that their confidence in God rests on the ways they have already known his power that “began a good work” in them (1:6). The result? The peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

It takes something that transcends human understanding to guard human hearts and minds. And this happens precisely “in Christ Jesus,” that is, in the risen Lord and the messianic community joined to him. Note that Paul is putting in other language Jesus’s teaching at the heart of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:25–34): the remedy for anxiety is not simply emptying the mind of worry but seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matt 6:33). Trusting in God, expressed in prayer within the believing community, leads to peace of mind.

 

© 2013 Dennis Hamm, SJ, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Mark for the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Mark, by Mary Healy, commenting on Mark 13:24-32

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Finally, Jesus comes to the climactic event that will occur after the tribulation already mentioned but in those days, that is, in the same period of unparalleled distress that follows the desolating abomination (see vv. 17, 19–20). Using biblical imagery Jesus describes cosmic upheavals: the sun and moon will be darkened, stars will fall, and the heavenly powers will be shaken. In the prophets such heavenly disturbances symbolize the earth-shattering impact of God’s judgment upon a rebellious city or empire. But what do they signify here?

On one level, Jesus is giving a symbolic portrayal of the fall of Jerusalem and the temple. For the Jews the temple was a microcosm of the universe. Images of the stars and constellations were embroidered on the temple veils; the seven lights of the menorah represented the sun, the moon, and the five known planets. The temple was the center of the universe, the meeting point of heaven and earth. Thus its destruction would be a cataclysm of cosmic proportions. In this sense Jesus’ words were fulfilled in AD 70, when the Roman legions under Titus reduced the temple to charred rubble and permanently ended the old covenant sacrifices.

But Mark hints at other levels of meaning. Jesus’ words were also fulfilled in part at his crucifixion, when the sun was darkened at midday (15:33).18 Mark has already suggested that the temple prefigures the mystery of Jesus himself, the new and definitive dwelling place of God among his people (see on 9:7; 12:10–11). Jesus’ bodily death portends the destruction of the earthly temple, bringing the transition from the former age to the new and final age of salvation history.

Ultimately the imagery of heavenly chaos—a kind of undoing of God’s work of creation (see Gen 1:14–18)—points to the end of the world (see 2 Pet 3:10; Rev 21:1). For Mark these various levels of meaning are closely interconnected. The end time tribulations begin in Jesus’ own passion, which signals the end of the age of the old covenant and ultimately the end of the universe that will follow the final upheavals at the close of history.

 

© 2008 Mary Healy and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Matthew for the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Matthew, by Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, commenting on Matthew 11:28

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Jesus shifts from addressing the Father to addressing the world of potential disciples. Come to me is Jesus’ invitation to all who have toiled and become tired in spirit. He invites them into a personal and rewarding relationship with him.

In the context of Jesus’ ministry, those who are burdened are probably those who are struggling to bear up under the demands of the scribes and Pharisees, who “tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people’s shoulders” (23:4).

The benefit of answering Jesus’ call is spiritual rest. This is more than a promise of everlasting repose in the life to come. It is also a promise of inner peace in this life, the kind of peace that quiets the mind and heart and surpasses human understanding (see Phil 4:7). Of course, the followers of Christ will continue to experience frustration, trials, and suffering, but these burdens become lighter and more bearable with the Lord’s help.

The invitation includes a summons to bear the yoke of Jesus. This is a call to discipleship, to submit oneself to the instruction of the Messiah. Disciples are bidden to learn from Jesus not only by heeding his words but also by imitating his life, which is a perfect incarnation of his words. Only in Christ is the message and the messenger one and the same. He who preaches the importance of being “meek” (5:5) is also he who shows us what it means to be meek (see also 21:5).

Finally, Jesus declares that his yoke is easy, his load is light. In the biblical world, a load-bearing yoke was a curved beam laid across the back of the neck and shoulders with chains or suspension ropes at each end. Peasants used them for hoisting and carrying heavy objects. No doubt this was backbreaking work. Given this background, it is worthwhile to consider why Jesus would speak of his tutelage as an easy yoke. Most likely, it is a creative way of saying that discipleship is not effortless, but neither is it an exhausting burden.

© 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 Solemnity of All Saints

From The Gospel of Matthew, by Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, commenting on Matthew 5:1-12a

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Jesus frames the beatitudes with the same blessing at the beginning and the end of this list—for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (5:3, 10)— “indicating that all the several kinds of blessedness are aspects of the one supreme blessing of possessing the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Though the promises in the central beatitudes (vv. 4–9) are given in the future tense (they will . . .), the fact that the foundational blessing of the kingdom (vv. 3, 10) is given in the present tense (“theirs is the kingdom. . .”) indicates that the happiness envisioned in the beatitudes is not only for the distant future, but also can be experienced to some degree even now, as the kingdom of heaven dawns in Christ’s ministry (4:17).

Jesus’ beatitudes represent a reversal of values, turning the world’s standards for happiness upside down. Many of the people whom the world would consider to be among the most miserable—the poor, the mourning, the meek, the persecuted—Jesus proclaims to be in an advantageous situation, for God looks now with favor on them and assures them of consolation in the future.

Jesus thus challenges his followers to see life from God’s viewpoint, not the world’s. When his followers live by God’s standards, they are truly in a fortunate state in life, no matter what their circumstances may be, for they bring a glimmer of the joy and hope of the heavenly kingdom into the afflictions of the present world.

Ultimately the beatitudes are nothing less than a portrait of Christ’s own life. Matthew depicts Jesus as meek (11:29; 12:15–21; 21:5), merciful (9:27–31; 15:22; 17:14–18; 18:33; 20:29–34), and persecuted (27:27–31, 39–44). As an indirect portrait of Jesus, the beatitudes “display the mystery of Christ himself, and they call us into communion with him.”

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

Reflecting on Mark for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Mark, by Mary Healy, commenting on Mark 10:46-52

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Jesus and his companions arrive at Jericho, an ancient city fifteen miles northeast of Jerusalem, the site of Israel’s first conquest in the holy land (Josh 6). After passing through the city, they are accompanied by a sizable crowd, probably including both Jesus’ followers and pilgrims heading toward Jerusalem for the feast of Passover (Mark 14:1). Every year all Jews in Palestine who were able would travel to the holy city to celebrate Passover (see Luke 2:41), commemorating the exodus from Egypt.

Bartimaeus (Aramaic for son of Timaeus), a blind beggar, is strategically located at the roadside where he can beg for alms from passing pilgrims. In contrast to the festive crowds walking along, he sits, emphasizing his social isolation as a disabled person.

Sensing something unusual, Bartimaeus inquires and is told that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by. He has evidently heard enough about this miracleworking rabbi to stir his faith. Bartimaeus is the only recipient of healing in Mark to address Jesus by name.

This is also the first time in the Gospel that the title son of David has been applied to Jesus. The title literally means a descendant of David (see Matt 1:20), but for the Jews it had much greater meaning as the heir of God’s promises, the Messiah-King who would restore the Davidic monarchy and rule over Israel forever (2 Sam 7:12–16; 1 Chron 17:11–15; Ps 89:21–38; Jer 23:5–6). Moreover, one of the promises associated with the coming of the messiah was the opening of the eyes of the blind (see Isa 29:18; 35:5; Luke 4:18).

Have pity on me is a plea often lifted to God in the Psalms (Ps 6:3; 25:16; 51:3; 86:16). Blind Bartimaeus already sees much more than those around him.

© 2008 Mary Healy and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Mark for the Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Mark, by Mary Healy, commenting on Mark 10:17-30

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Jesus puts his finger on the source of the man’s dissatisfaction. Despite his fidelity to the law, he lacks the one thing necessary (see Luke 10:42). Why does Jesus tell him to sell all that he owns? Perhaps because the man was bound by his possessions and attached to the independence they made possible. They were the earthly treasure that was hindering him from freely receiving the heavenly treasure that was being offered to him.

Jesus wishes to set the man free to follow the true longing of his heart without reserve. And the relinquishment of his possessions is not to be an abstract, isolated act: he is to place himself in solidarity with the poor by giving the proceeds to them.

The Old Testament already recognized that to give alms to the needy is to store up treasure in the sight of God (Tob 4:7–11; Sir 29:8–12). Jesus is asking this man to become as dependent on God’s providence as children, to whom he has just said the kingdom belongs (10:14). He then offers the same invitation he gave his disciples earlier (Mark 1:17; 2:14): Come, follow me. Here is where the first tablet of the Decalogue comes in: it is in giving one’s life unconditionally to Jesus that the covenant obligation to love God is lived out. Jesus is in the place of God.

Tragically, the man cannot bring himself to pay such a high price, even for the “eternal life” that he so passionately seeks. The word for possessions can also be translated “properties” or “estates.” Evidently the man finds his security and comfort in earthly wealth and he is not willing to embrace the self-denial that leads to true wealth. It is a sobering conclusion to the story, the first time that Jesus’ invitation to discipleship has been directly refused.

© 2008 Mary Healy and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.