A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

Archive for June, 2016

On the Road

Many of us do quite a bit of traveling.  Sometimes shopping, other times keeping medical appointments,  generally running errands.  We seem to be “on the road” quite a bit.

But it occurred to me recently that we are on another kind of “journey,” a spiritual journey.  Interestingly enough, in the Gospel for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the evangelist Luke (Luke 9:51-62) has Jesus (quite likely from Galilee) “journeying” to Jerusalem.  Curiously enough, Luke tells us that Jesus began his trek toward Jerusalem “with absolute determination.”

Why did Luke think that that motivation was necessary?  Because Jerusalem was considered a city of destiny.  It was the capital of the country.  The famous Temple was there, considered the dwelling place of the Lord.  Jerusalem was a place where big business was transacted.

For Jesus, Jerusalem was also a city of destiny.  It was there that Jesus was to suffer, die, and resurrect from the death, thereby completing his ministry on earth. It was near there that he commissioned his disciples to carry on this work and then returned to heaven from which he came.  The Advent/Christmas seasons remind us that Jesus was God made man (the union of the divine and the human).  It was a journey from  heaven to earth and back to heaven again.

Why was that journey for Jesus so significant?  In the early stages of the trip Jesus passed through a little town in Samaria which did not welcome him at all.  A guess was that the people were familiar with his work and did not appreciate it for whatever reason.  This public dislike was a reminder that some people were not appreciative of Jesus’ ministry.  Here Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem was met with hostility.

Another curious thing about the journey, was that three individuals felt that they could be disciples of Jesus, sight unseen.  The first individual was quite immediate in his desire to be a disciple.  But Jesus wanted to make sure that  his disciples were aware that suffering and rejection were part and parcel of Christian discipleship.  It was not an easy choice to be his disciple.

The second individual was invited by Jesus himself to be a disciple, but the response was in the “yes, but…” category.  That is to say that the potential disciple was not ready to accept the personal invitation of Jesus.  He had other things to do beforehand.

The third potential disciple had both a spontaneity and a multiple series of tasks before saying “yes” to Christian discipleship.  Jesus straightened him out by stating the equivalent of “now or never.”  The choice was to accept the invitation when personally invited by Jesus.

What can we learn from today’s Gospel?  The first thing we learn is that our whole life is a “journey,” as we attempt to proclaim Jesus’ ministry to others, that of justice, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness.  That is to say that whatever we say and do is an example–and we are judged according to our gestures.

We must also be aware that there are people who will challenge us not only for our actions, but also for our motivations.  Suffering is part of Christian discipleship.

The second thing we can learn from today’s Gospel is that though we have taken on the responsibility of service to others because of our Baptism, we must be aware that true Christian discipleship involves suffering.  And when Jesus offers us his call to follow him, preaching/living out his ministry takes prior importance.

In fact, a periodic prayer for us could be:  “O Lord, help me review constantly what it takes to be one of your effective disciples.  Only then will I know that I am definitely on the road to ‘Jerusalem,’ the symbolic place where I come in touch with my commissioning as effective disciple.”

Power points

One of the curious things about the feast of Pentecost is that it becomes a midpoint in the church’s liturgical year.  What does that mean?  Well, the church’s liturgical year is an annual celebration of Jesus’ ministry on earth and of his commissioning his disciples to continue his work.  And the time of Pentecost is generally considered  the time between the living/teaching of Jesus and the disciples continuing the task after Jesus’ Ascension.  Hence, the midpoint.

Think of it this way. The liturgical year is often portrayed as a circle reflecting the annual repetition of the feasts celebrating Jesus life and ministry.

The liturgical year begins with the seasons of Advent and Christmas.  The dominating belief is that God becomes human in the person of Jesus.  Advent means “coming,” so there is that expectation of his arrival.  There is often the reminder of the coming of “Immanuel” which in Hebrew means “God with us.” This “coming”is the initial vertical part of the circle.  The arrival takes place during the Christmas season.  Humility and poverty are two of the lessons offered.  This Advent/Christmas period represents the first part of the circle, namely, the presence of Immanuel (“God with us”).  Jesus (God made man) is expected and he comes, born in Bethlehem of Judea.  The expression of the “Immanuel” promise.

The second part of the liturgical year circle is the first horizontal part, namely. the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  This is celebrated during the Lenten/Easter seasons.  The life/teachings of Jesus provoked reactions which resulted in his suffering, death, and resurrection.  Because of what Jesus required of his disciples, a choice was necessary.  To wit:  Sincerely believe in his life/teachings–or not.  If one were to be a true disciple, one accepted the challenges of discipleship which included the hardships.  This meant that the true disciple had to proclaim the totality of Jesus’ “message” to others.

The third part of the liturgical year circle is the commissioning of the disciples, followed by Jesus’ ascension to heaven.  This is symbolized by the upward ascension of Jesus returning back from where he had originally descended.  The commissioning basically was that the disciples were to proclaim the Jesus life/teaching message to others.  But, with this emphasis.  That the disciples would be empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to give them courage and fortitude to carry on the challenge of discipleship.  This symbolizes the third part of the circle, the direction upward.

The fourth part of the liturgical year cycle is the season called Ordinary Time,  the time in which all the committed disciples of Jesus carry on the ministry of effectively proclaiming Jesus’ life and message.  The actual question is “…for how long will be the reception of the Holy Spirit continue the Jesus ministry?”  Since the answer to the question is “…until the end of time” Ordinary Time continues until the liturgical cycle begins anew.

It seems to me that, given these circumstances,  the feast of Pentecost, which celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit to some disciples, becomes very crucial here.  Why is that so?  I will tell you why by focusing on two questions:  What is the Holy Spirit? and How can I benefit from receiving the Holy Spirit?

What is the Holy Spirit?  After some serious reflection, I decided that a good translation of Holy Spirit would be “the creative power of God.” Rather than struggling through a doctrinal dissertation on the Trinity, it seemed better that some biblical citations would be helpful.  When we read the Genesis account of creation, we note that “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind  (Hebrew: RUAH) from God swept over the face of the waters.” (Gen. 1:2)

Then God spoke “”Let there be…” and there was.  “A coming to be…..” from the creative breath of God.  So when we see the Holy Spirit in the Gospels, we de facto see the “creative power of God” in action.

How can I benefit from the Holy Spirit?  My first official reception of the Holy Spirit was at my Baptism.  Afterwards, I made free choices regarding my  relationship with others.  If I followed my instincts, based on my proper ethical training, I was following the Holy Spirit.  Jesus tells us what he told his disciples when he commissioned them.  “As the Father has sent me, so I send you….Receive the Holy Spirit.”  (John 20:21-23)

Each instinctual decision, based on Jesus’ moral principals, make my choices expressions of the creative power of God.  Or, differently put, they become power points for me.




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