Reflecting on the Gospel of John for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

From The Gospel of John, by Francis Martin and William Wright, commenting on John 8:1-11:

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The story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53–8:11) has a complicated history. It does not appear in any major Greek copy of John before the sixth century, which is why it appears in brackets in the NABRE, although it does appear in earlier Latin manuscripts. In some Greek manuscripts of John, the story appears in places other than its present location. One manuscript group has the account at the end of the Gospel, after 21:25. In addition, it appears in some manuscripts of the Gospel of Luke, after 21:38. The Greek language in this story differs noticeably from that in the rest of John. These factors suggest that the story did not originate with the rest of the Fourth Gospel. Rather, it resembles conflict stories found in the Synoptics. The Church receives this text as inspired Scripture and proclaims it liturgically on the fifth Sunday of Lent in Year C.

Jesus shows loving-kindness to a person involved in sexual immorality. Many men and women are in a similar situation today. Turning away from such sinful activity can be very difficult. The gentle mercy of Jesus, which is infinitely greater than the worst of our sins, is available to all in the sacrament of reconciliation, through which he pardons all our sins, even the most serious ones. Moreover, Christians who are not involved in such sinful behavior do well to avoid the proud self-righteousness of the woman’s accusers and instead imitate Jesus, not condemning but lovingly summoning the sinner to repent and live a better life.

Pope Francis on Christ’s Mercy:

[This] Gospel presents to us the episode of the adulterous woman ([John] 8:1–11), whom Jesus saves from being condemned to death. Jesus’ attitude is striking: we do not hear words of scorn, we do not hear words of condemnation, but only words of love, of mercy, which are an invitation to conversion. “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again” (v. 11). Ah! Brothers and Sisters, God’s face is the face of a merciful father who is always patient. Have you thought about God’s patience, the patience he has with each one of us? That is his mercy. He always has patience, patience with us, he understands us, he waits for us, he does not tire of forgiving us if we are able to return to him with a contrite heart. (Pope Francis, “Angelus,” March 17, 2013.)

© 2015 Francis Martin, William M. Wright IV, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on 2 Corinthians for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

From Second Corinthians, by Thomas D. Stegman, SJ, commenting on II Corinthians 5:18-21:

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The Sacrament of Reconciliation. For Catholics, the ministry of reconciliation is enacted in a privileged and unsurpassed manner in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In fact, the opening words of the prayer of absolution make the connection explicit: “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself ” (employing words from 2 Cor 5:18–19). Because sin damages our relationship with God and others, it is necessary to seek reconciliation with God and the Church. Penitents confess their sins to a priest or bishop, who is an instrument of God’s merciful love and forgiveness.

The priest or bishop also represents the community, whose witness to Christ and fraternal bonds are weakened by the sin of its members. The words of absolution—which are prayed by the priest or bishop after the penitent’s confession of sins, act of contrition, and resolution to do penance—are extremely powerful, for by means of them God brings about what he intended through the sacrificial death of Christ.

Priests and bishops thus have the awesome privilege and responsibility of continuing the work of Jesus the Good Shepherd. Their demeanor and comportment in the confessional, especially when marked by patience and compassion, can have life-changing consequences. I have found that intimacy with Jesus’ Sacred Heart and recognition of my own sinfulness are essential aids to celebrating this beautiful sacrament.

Ambassadors of Messiah Jesus. Because Christ conferred the power to forgive sins on his apostles (Matt 16:19; John 20:21–23), bishops and priests represent and speak for him in a unique manner, as when celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Nevertheless, by virtue of their baptism and confirmation all Christians participate in the priesthood of Jesus (e.g., Lumen Gentium 30–31) and thereby in his mission. That is, every one of us is called to be an ambassador of Jesus, a person who bears witness to him by living out gospel values, by building up the community of faith, by advocating for justice, and by working for peace.

Christ “willed that . . . his whole Church should be the sign and instrument of the forgiveness and reconciliation that he acquired for us at the price of his blood” (Catechism, 1442). One way that Catholics can participate in the ministry of reconciliation is to frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is only when we appropriate God’s mercy and love in our own lives that we are able to be conduits of that mercy and love for others. Like all his gifts, God’s gift of reconciliation is bestowed on us in order to be shared.

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

Reflecting on 1 Corinthians for the Third Sunday of Lent

From First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on I Corinthians 10:1-4:

Now let us look at each of these elements in turn. The cloud is a classic symbol in the Old Testament for the presence of God. A cloud led the people by day and concealed them at night as they made their way to the Red Sea (Exod 13:21–22; 14:19–20; Ps 105:39). The Lord came down in a cloud over Mount Sinai at the time of sealing the covenant with his people (Exod 19:16; 24:15, 18). When Moses built the tabernacle, the cloud came down and overshadowed it, and “the glory of the Lord filled the Dwelling” (Exod 40:34–35). Paul sees the cloud of the exodus as a prefigurement of the Holy Spirit, whom Christians receive when they are baptized. And as the Israelites crossed the sea to freedom, Christians have escaped the tyranny of sin and death through the waters of baptism.

The expression baptized into Moses would make no sense apart from its parallel “baptized into Christ.” Paul sees the New Testament fulfillment already present in the Old Testament type: it was only in being united to Moses that the people escaped Egypt, just as it is only in being united to Jesus that one is saved (1 Cor 12:13). As the manna was spiritual food in the sense that it was not the product of human hands but a sheer gift from heaven, so the Eucharist is spiritual food, and not only because it is a heavenly gift but also, being the body of Christ, it is the source of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:17; 12:13; 15:45). This typology has furnished the Church with a rich source for theology of the sacraments.

The spiritual drink of which the Israelites partook was the water that flowed from the rock when struck by Moses (Exod 17:1–7; Num 20:2–13). It was spiritual in the sense that it was miraculously provided by God. The fulfillment is in the Holy Spirit, as Paul makes explicit in 12:13: “We were all given to drink of one Spirit.” In this Paul reflects the same theme found in the Gospel of John: “Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (4:14). “ ‘Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says: “Rivers of living water will flow from within him.” ’ He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive” (7:37–39). And most graphically, when the soldier pierced Jesus’ side after his death on the cross, “blood and water flowed out” (19:34).

John’s linking of blood to water may symbolize the Eucharist along with baptism and the Holy Spirit. So it is also possible that the spiritual drink of which Paul speaks may at least hint at the eucharistic blood of Christ. As Chrysostom comments, “The same Person brought them through the sea and you through baptism; and before them set the manna, but before you his body and blood.”

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

Reflecting on Philippians for the Second Sunday of Lent

From Philippians, Colossians, Philemon by Dennis Hamm, SJ, commenting on Philippians 3:17:

Paul’s exhortation to be imitators of me may sound strange to our ears. We are reluctant to present ourselves as moral or religious examples. But in the ancient Greco-Roman world it was a common and acceptable practice for teachers to point to themselves as examples. It is human nature to look for examples to imitate; and teachers know that their role inevitably makes them examples, for better or for worse.

Moreover, we acknowledge this fact in plenty of ways in our own culture: consider the recovering alcoholics who tell their stories to other alcoholics to encourage them, or excercise enthusiasts who speak of the new energy they have gained from an exercise program in order to prompt sluggish friends to join them in the gym.

Paul describes the imitation in a careful way: join with others in being imitators of me, literally, “be co-imitators of me.” Since this word appears nowhere else in the New Testament, nor in Greek literature generally, it seems that Paul has coined it to emphasize imitation as a communal enterprise; they are to collaborate as a church in emulating Paul’s way of life. Indeed, he develops that idea: observe those who thus conduct themselves according to the model you have in us. They are to imitate one another as they follow Paul’s way of imitating

Christ himself. The plural “us” underscores the fact that Paul is not the only model. For example, his cosender Timothy and the Philippians’ emissary Epaphroditus are also to be viewed as models (2:19–30).

 

 

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

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.