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

Archive for June, 2017

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” (FDR)

These were comforting words by President Franklin Roosevelt to the people when the US was entering WWII in 1941.  Folks were afraid of what might happen.  The imagination was running loose.  In fact, fear has been one of the  most common experiences all of us have shared.  We are “afraid” of the future for probabilities that might be of harm to us.

One biblical example of fear that comes to mind is the account of the Annunciation.  The angel Gabriel comes to Mary and tells her that she is to be the mother of Jesus.  Wonderful things are said about Jesus.  Early in the greeting, Gabriel tells Mary, “Do not be afraid…”  But she was afraid.  Afraid of what people might think of a pregnant unmarried teenager.  But after the angel’s explanation regarding the fear, Mary accepted the task saying, in effect, “I’ll accept the Lords’ plan for me.”  (Luke 1:26-38)

If we look at the Gospel reading for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matthew 10:26-33) we note that “fear” is  the principal topic of concern.  The post-resurrectional appearance of Jesus to his chosen disciples has him greeting them with the phrase “Fear no one.”  And since Jesus had been crucified for alleged criminal behavior, the disciples preferred to be in hiding for safety’s sake.  Again, the fear was due because of the unknown.  No one knew what the future might bring.

However, Jesus was ready to give his missionary discourse before he was about to return to heaven.  Before his return, Jesus needed someone to carry on his message of justice, compassion, understanding, and  forgiveness.  His disciples would do it, but they had to have faith in both the message and themselves.  Properly proclaiming the message depended on two things.

First.  The disciples have to believe in themselves.  They had to maintain the basic biblical idea that “God is with us.”  (IMMANUEL=Hebrew for “God is with us.”  The seasons of Advent and Christmas remind us of this.)  If this belief is maintained then many things are possible, as we saw above in the case of Mary.  “Belief” conquers “fear.”

Second.  The disciples have to believe in the message.  If others see that the disciples are proclaiming one things and doing another, they may have legitimate  questions about the disciples’ motivation. In order to be believed we have to practice what we preach.

In fact, belief  in the presence of “God with us” together with the belief in the effectiveness of Jesus’ message removes the fear that we may have of whatever may come in the future.

It may be well to remember that at the end of the Sunday Gospel alluded to above, Jesus tells his disciples, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven.  But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”  (Matthew 10:32-33)

What true follower of Jesus can be afraid of this?




Will the circle be unbroken?

You may be among those who remember the old time revival song, “Will the circle be unbroken?”  I remember because I wondered what was meant by the “circle.”  I later realized that it likely meant that something kept going on for what seemed forever.

Well, in a way we have a “circle” which is often referred to as the Liturgical Year.  Annually, we are reminded of the life, death, resurrection, ascension of Jesus and of the continuity of his life and message.

The feast of the Ascension can serve as the midpoint between the life of Jesus on earth and the continuity of his message proclaimed by his disciples.  The gospel of the the feast (Matthew 28:16-20)  may help us summarize its significance.

First of all, the Liturgical Year.  The year begins with the celebration of ADVENT/CHRISTMAS.  The idea is that God becomes human in the person of Jesus Christ  It is the “coming” (which is what Advent means) of Christ to earth.  In fact, there was a Scriptural belief that some day IMMANUEL would come.  (Isaiah 7:14)  “Immanuel” is Hebrew for “God with us.”  Consequently, the idea of “God with us” was a crucial part of the biblical expectation.

Next came the season of LENT/EASTER which was bringing to a finish the life/message of Jesus.  His suffering, death, and resurrection from the dead manifested his power over life and death affirming the strength of his life’s message.  The feast of the ASCENSION tends to become the midpoint between his coming from heaven (“God with us”)  and returning there.  But not before commissioning his disciple to carry on his message.  This commissioning is contained in the day’s gospel.

What follows is the feast of PENTECOST which is the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples empowering them with the grace and fortitude to proclaim Jesus and his message to others.  I prefer to think that a good translation of Holy Spirit is the “creative power of God”  (Hebrew=ruah YHWH).  For example, we see God’s power (ruah) as being creative.  (Gen. 1:1)

Secondly, how is the above summarized in the Gospel for the Ascension?  There are three concepts that are keys to this summary, namely, “mountain”, “commissioning,” and the “Immanuel promise.” (Matt. 28:16-20)

1)-“Mountain” is a frequent biblical image which reflects the union between heaven and earth.  Something special was about to happen there, for example, Mt. Sinai, Sermon on the mount, the Transfiguration, Mt. Calvary.  What is my “mountain” where I can encounter Jesus?

2)-“Commissioning”  means carrying the work imposed on you.  Jesus commissions his disciples to carry on his work of justice, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding.  Do I take my commissioning at my Baptism seriously?

3)-The “Immanuel promise” contains the notion that God is with us at all times.  Does my example give credence and fulfillment to that promise?

Finally, these concepts of finding our “mountain” (encountering Jesus) and taking our “commissioning” seriously (maintaining our Baptismal promises) will help us fulfill the “Immanuel promise” (“God with us”) by means of our example.  This seems to be a good way of keeping the circle (Liturgical Year) unbroken.



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