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REFLECTIONS

TWENTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

The story of the Canaanite woman has been characterized in different ways.  Kenneth Bailey in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes states: “This story is often viewed as a troubling embarrassment.  A sincere foreign woman seeks help from Jesus.  At first he ignores her.  He then appears to exhibit racism and insensitivity to her suffering as he insults her in public.”

p. 217  Donald Senior in The Gospel of Matthew states, “The story of the Canaanite woman is a remarkable text . . . ”

p. 130   Catholic Worker, Jeff Dietrich,  titles his reflection in the Agitator, “Exorcising the Demons from Jesus.” 

In my opinion Dietrich gives the story an exaggerated interpretation.  “She (Canaanite woman) has exorcised Jesus and transformed the entire kingdom project.  If it had not been for the Canaanite woman, there would have been no second wilderness feeding to the Gentiles.  Because of her, the liberating message of the Kingdom would include not just the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but all of the lost sheep, all of the expendable victims of empire . . . Henceforth there would be no more unclean people, no expendables, no dogs, no excuse for treating anyone as less than human.  The legacy of the Canaanite woman continues to this day.”   But Dietrich also  makes some insightful interpretations.
           
Bailey’s exploration of the Canaanite woman stresses that a critical component in both the parables of Jesus and the dramatic stories about him is the ever-present community.  He states that Jesus pretends indifference.  By ignoring the woman’s desperate cries he appears to endorse views toward women with which the disciples were comfortable.  “The text can be understood as follows: Jesus is irritated by the disciples’ attitudes regarding women and Gentiles.”  This view is in conflict with that of Don Senior and Dietrich.  Senior sees Jesus himself emphatically resisting the extension of his mission to the Gentiles.  Dietrich sees Jesus as downright rude to the woman and rejecting her plea in a most uncompassionate manner.   His interpretation is: Jesus “here shows himself to be filled with the same demons of nationalism and patriarchy that he had just criticized in the religious authorities.”  In the quick retort of the woman Dietrich sees Jesus stopped in his tracks, knocked over so to speak.  “In a single instant she has exorcised from Jesus, the demons of nationalism, religious righteousness, segregation, and patriarchy.  Just as he restored the Gerasene demoniac to his right mind, she has restored Jesus to his right mind.”

In the third chapter of Mark’s Gospel vs. 21 we read, “When his (JESUS’)relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” So to me it is not an exaggerated interpretation to have the Canaanite woman restoring Jesus to his right mind.  This story is clearly dealing with sexism (not talking to a woman), nationalism and racism  (dealing with a Gentile  outsider) and patriarchy (superiority of males).  In this story Jesus overcomes the ethnic, cultural, political, gender, and religious barriers humans have created.  It is clearly a powerful story of the compassion of the  boundary breaking Jesus for the woman, her daughter and the disciples.

It seems to me our challenge is to find ourselves in this story.  Is the Canaanite woman or some other woman working to exorcise some demon in me?   What are my prejudices that are blocking me from seeing all people as children of God?
       
Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

 

NINETEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

 
Today we hear two contrasting images of God coming to
people.  In the first reading we hear of God coming to Elijah not in the
wind, earthquake or fire.  God comes in the tiny whispering sound.  In
the Gospel we hear the account of Jesus coming to the Apostles walking
on the water.  In this passage we encounter the first of three special
additions of Matthew's Gospel concerning the Apostle Peter.  1) Peter
comes to Jesus on the water. (14:28-31)  2) We will hear the second
special section in two weeks.  Peter is called the "rock" and given the
power of the keys (16:13-20).  3) Peter is consulted by Jesus about the
paying of the temple tax and is then instructed to take the shekel and
"give it to them for me and for you" (17:24-27).
 
The divine power of Jesus is stressed in his walking upon the
water.  The book of Job describes God (Job 9:8) "He alone stretches out
the heavens and treads upon the crests of the sea."  There are many
references to God being the one who opened the way through the waters to
the freedom in the Exodus.

Jesus words to the frightened disciples echo the words naming God in
the book of Exodus.  "Get hold of yourselves. It is I.  Do not be
afraid."

To the story as told by Mark, Matthew adds the story of Peter. 
Peter the consistent spokesman for the disciples in this Gospel, asks to
duplicate Jesus' own dominance over the chaos of the sea.  He is able to
do what Jesus does. But as Matthew will do throughout the Gospel, he
likes to pair the disciples' glory with their flaws.  Peter frightened
by the power of nature begins to doubt the power of Jesus and begins to
sink. His response is the best instinctive response of the believer:
"Lord save me."  "Jesus at once stretched out his hand and caught him."
There is a promise implicit in this reaching out of Jesus.  Jesus is the
one ready to grant the prayer of the community who recognizes him as
Lord.  Only after taking Peter by the hand does Jesus rebuke him with the
words, "How little faith you have.  Why did you falter?"  With these
words we have Matthew's description of the disciples.  "Men of little
faith."  He uses this expression five times of the disciples.  For
Matthew the disciple in this life is always caught between faith and
doubt.  The disciples attitude is yes...but...

At the end of the story according to Mark's version the disciples
are completely lacking in understanding or faith.  Mark adds, "but their
hearts were hardened." But for Matthew, that boat crew images his own
church: buffeted, frightened, but clinging to belief, "men of little
faith". The Matthean disciples (those in the boat: church) bow down in
adoration and profess Jesus' divine sonship. This profession of faith
anticipates Peter's profession at Caesarea Philippi which we will hear
in two weeks.
 

Lessons:

1) Jesus comes to us at unexpected times and in unexpected ways.

2) Jesus is the one who has the power over the chaos and
evil that the storm represents in the disciples lives and ours.
                  
3) Jesus invites us to come to him. We are like Peter.
                  
4) Jesus is available and wants to give us a helping hand. 
                  
5) Like Peter we must cry out to the Lord, Lord Save me.
                  
6) We like Peter are people of some faith that are
challenged to grow from being of "little faith."
                  
7) Sometimes in reaction to the miraculous presence of
Jesus we are like the disciples in Mark, lacking understanding and
faith.          

8) Hopefully we will grow like the disciples in Matthew to
adore and worship Jesus as the Son of God.

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

TRANSFIGURATION

The Gospel writers Matthew, Mark and Luke each included the event of the Transfiguration in their Gospel. Each of these three Evangelists personalizes their account.  I will explore this a bit later in the commentary.

The Transfiguration event has a prominent place in our present Catholic Lectionary.  Each year the Second Sunday of Lent features the Transfiguration account of one of the three Evangelists.  August 6th each year is the day on which it is celebrated.  This year August 6th falls on a Sunday and the readings for the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time are replaced by the readings for the feast of the Transfiguration.

In 1517 Cardinal Giulio de'Medici commissioned Raphael to paint the Transfiguration.  As the copy of the painting below reveals, Raphael chose the account from Mark's Gospel as his inspiration.
 
  

The composition of the Transfiguration is divided into two distinct parts: the Miracle of the Possessed Boy on a lower level; and the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor, in the background. The transfigured Christ floats in an aura of light and clouds above the hill, accompanied by Moses and Elijah. Below, on the ground, are his disciples. Some are dazzled by the light of glory, others are in prayer. The gestures of the crowd beholding at the miracle link the two parts together: the raised hands of the crowd converge toward the figure of Christ. This was the last painting of Raphael's brief life. On 6 April 1520, precisely 37 years after he was born, Raphael died in Rome, the city that he had helped make the most important centre of art and culture that had ever existed.

The Gospel passage for today's celebration is taken from Matthew's Gospel. Matthew is the only one of the three to describe this experience as a "vision".  When Matthew describes what happened to Jesus he says, "His face became as dazzling as the sun."  This specific description of what happened to Jesus is only in Matthew.  Matthew is conscious that we read in Exodus 34:29 "As Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the commandments in his hands; he did not know that the skin of his face had become radiant while he conversed with the Lord. Verse 33 reads "he put a veil over his face."  And in the vision of Daniel (10:6) the heavenly person is described, "his face shone like lightning."

In Matthew’s account when Peter speaks after the appearance of Moses and Elijah he refers to Jesus as Lord.  In Mark Peter refers to Jesus as Rabbi, In Luke as Master.  Peter also portrays a submissive attitude before God for Matthew says, "with your permission..."  After the voice speaks from the cloud Matthew tells us, "When they heard this the disciples fell forward on the ground, overcome with fear." NABR "they fell prostrate and were very much afraid."  These emphases of Matthew turn the picture of Jesus to accent his divine majesty.  At the beginning of Mass we pray "Lord have mercy", we do not pray teacher or rabbi have mercy.

Matthew gives another particular emphasis to the Transfiguration scene as Matthew paints the picture.  Only Matthew informs us, "Jesus came toward them and laying his hand on them, said 'Get up! Do not be afraid." NABR "But Jesus came and touched them saying, 'Rise and do not be afraid.'"  Matthew is careful to portray Jesus in his majesty but also in his tender compassion. Peter would like to stay on this mountain but Jesus goes down from the mountain with the disciples as he also does in Mark.  Following this experience the miracles of Jesus decrease.  Jesus tries mightily to convince his disciples of the kind of Messiah he must be, to give his life for others.

Finally I would like to recall this historical event.


August 6, 1945, a blinding light transfigured the citizens of Hiroshima, Japan. On that day the Catholic Church was celebrating another transfiguration, the transfiguration of Jesus. The anniversary of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima reminds us of the destructive transfiguring power (intelligence at the service of power). The opposite is the creative Transfiguring Power of Life in Jesus (intelligence at the service of love).

We will share moments of transcendence but must return to earth to combat evil. 

Source of reflection--Dave Jackson

SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

 
This Sunday we hear the last three parables of this
parable discourse, Chapter 13.  The parables that we will hear are those
of the treasure, the pearl and the net.  The Gospel passage concludes
with some words about a person learned in the kingdom.
 
 
The first two parables belong to Matthew's special tradition, and
with them he shifts for a moment the emphasis of the chapter.  The
preceding parables have been concerned with the triumphant growth of the
Kingdom in spite of resistance, and with the necessity of patience until
the final judgment.  In these two similar parables Matthew introduces
the themes of (1) overwhelming joy at the unexpected discoveries; (2)
the unparalleled value of the Kingdom of heaven; and (3) the willingness
of the finder to sacrifice all in order to possess the Kingdom.
 
1st parable: treasure:  Here the finder is a person who happens on
the treasure accidentally.  The discovery is accidental.  The parable
stresses that he entered the venture with "joy" and risked everything he
owned in order to acquire the treasure which he had discovered.

Sometimes today an Egyptian village boy will decide to sell his
ancestral plot to buy a taxi.  He hopes to get rich taking tourists
around to see the ancient monuments.  Such decisions cause an uproar in
the village, where land is still the most important thing a peasant can
have.  The common view is that any parting with one's land is courting
disaster.  Imagine Jesus' story on the scale of the village--where no
behavior goes unnoticed or uncommented upon.  The man's action is not
trivial even though he does have the motive of the buried treasure.  To
gain the field, he has had to part with the very substance and security
of his life.   . . .The story presents a striking image of a case in
which a person is willing to really change everything about his life. 
Thus it can be seen as a positive affirmation of the power of the
presence of God to transform our lives.   The man responds to an
unexpected discovery.  That discovery made it possible for him to launch
out beyond the socially ingrained securities of his life.
 

2nd parable: treasure:  Here the finder is a seeker. He has
traveled in search of fine pearls.    In the second parable the man's
joy is not mentioned but he also is willing to sacrifice everything to
purchase the valuable pearl.  One need not consider the joy mentioned in
the first parable secondary.  Both men surrender all they possess for
the prizes they have found.  This story seems to intensify the risk-
taking attitude of the previous story.  The rule of God does not permit
one to "play it safe."
 
Both of these parables cause us to reflect on the cost of
discipleship.  Both sell all that they have to buy the field or the
pearl.  What must we get rid of in order to gain the kingdom?  What is
in the way of our attaining the kingdom?  To think of this in economic
terms is wrong.  We can't buy the kingdom although many people think
they can buy God with promises, sacrifices, or even donations of money.
 
3rd parable:  net:  This parable stresses the final judgment.  In
many ways it is a companion to the parable of the wheat and weeds.   We
have the mixture of the good and bad in the kingdom. We have the 
apocalyptic  language, "End of the world." Angels. The separation
 of the wicked and  the just, the fiery furnace and "wail and grind their teeth."
 
The Passage ends with a question about the disciples understanding. 
There is an unspoken comparison with the lack of understanding of the
crowds and the Jewish leaders.  "Every scribe who is learned in the
reign of God is like . . . "  This verse is important from several points of
view.  First, in its immediate context, it is a kind of parable that
concludes the chapter of seven other parables.  It is a parable about
making parables, a metaparable that invites the reader/hearer to enter
the parabolic process through creating new parables to add to the ones
just given.  Second, the verse suggests the existence and activity of
Christian scribes in Matthew's church.  Third, the verse has rightly
been taken as the autobiography or pen portrait of the evangelist.  It
would also fit Paul.  "who can bring from his store both the new and the
old." One should notice the telling order of words; contrary to natural
expectations, the "new" is placed before the "old."  Both shed light on
each other, but the defining norm is the new, the fulfillment.   The
ideal is put before us to be this kind of scribe.

This metaparable seems to me to be very much at play during the papacy of Pope Francis.

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

SIXTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

 
This Sunday we continue to hear from the Parable
Discourse of Matthew's Chapter 13.  The structure of this Sunday's
reading is similar to last Sunday's: 1) parables to the crowds, 2)
comment on the reasons for parables, 3) private instruction to the
disciples giving an explanation of the parable of the wheat and darnel.
 
This Sunday we hear three parables of Jesus: wheat and weeds,
mustard seed, and leaven.  In the first of the three we notice that this
time the problem is not the ground on which it falls, but on the kind of
seed and on the distinction between the sowers.  In the second, the size
of the seed is stressed. In the third it is not about seeds used for
planting but about seeds used for food, namely meal.
 
1st parable:  Up until the parousia the church will always be a
mixed bag of good and evil. The advice is tolerance and patience until
God renders his definitive decision.  The householder does not retaliate
against his enemy.  He even uses the weeds as fuel to burn.  Drawing
good out of evil.  The parable concerns the proper attitude toward the
mixed reception accorded to Jesus.             * Confusion will clarify.
 
2nd parable: contrast between the small, unpromising beginnings of
the kingdom and its full, triumphant expansion.  Yet not the
triumphalness of a cedar but a mustard tree.   * Littleness grows.
 
3rd parable: uses a well known symbol in an unusual way.  Yeast or
leaven was for Jews and Christians a symbol of corruption.  Perhaps
because Jesus gathers round him the unclean sinners of the land, he
prefers to use yeast as a symbol of the kingdom which comes in small,
hidden, and perhaps despised beginnings.  The amount of flour is
ridiculously large, another example of hyperbole to stress the vast
success of the kingdom.                        * The hidden be seen.
 
_____________________________________
 
 v. 36 The return of Jesus to the house signals his break with the
crowds and symbolically his break with Israel.  It is a TURNING POINT IN
THE GOSPEL.  It is not an accident that this rupture occurs halfway
through the gospel.  Henceforth Israel will show greater and greater
hostility, and Jesus will turn more and more to his disciples, to devote
himself to their formation.
 
Explanation of the Parable:  While the parable was concerned with the
coexistence of good and evil persons in the Kingdom, the explanation
focuses on the harvesting at the end of time.  In vs. 40-43 the language
is highly apocalyptic, looks to the last judgement: images of end of the
world, harvesting, the fiery furnace, reaping angels and weeping and
gnashing of teeth (intense distress and rage).  It looks forward to the
parable of the separation of the sheep and goats at last judgement. 
This language has the effect of shifting the focus from patient
tolerance in the present to the spectacular events that will constitute
the end of the world.  It is God's business to decide who belongs to the
kingdom.  He will reward the just and cast evildoers into the fiery
furnace.

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

 
Today we arrive at the section of Matthew's Gospel
which is known as the Parable Discourse, chapter 13.  Matthew structures
his gospel around five discourses: Sermon on the Mount, Discipleship,
Parables, Church, End.  For the next three Sundays we will be hearing
from this chapter, the parables (the kingdom in MYSTERY).  Today's
passage has three parts, the parable of the sower, an explanation of the
purpose of the parables, and an explanation of the parable of the sower.
 
As we heard the Gospel today we first heard the parable of
the sower, later we heard an explanation of the meaning of the parable. 
The parable is probably close to the words of Jesus, the explanation is
probably the words of Matthew.  We will look at these two parts of the
Gospel separately.  First the parable. Then Matthew's explanation of the
parable. Then we will try to apply the parable to our times and situations.
 
First the Parable.  Matthew takes the parable from Mark's Gospel
with very few changes.  Perhaps the most significant change is that at
the end of the parable Mark's order of fruitfulness is 30, 60, 100. 
Matthew reverses the order 100, 60, 30.

In the parable there is a formal balance and contrast between 3
situations of waste and failure and three situations of gain and
success. There is a certain rhythm established: seed, situation the seed
encounters, outcome.  The seed remains the same throughout.  The
situation the seed encounters changes: path, rocky ground, thorns. In
the first three encounters the seed fails to mature.  There is a
progression in the growth of the seed: 1) the seed falls on the path, no
chance, devoured before it puts roots out; 2) the seed falls on rocky
ground, seems to be growing but withers under the heat of the sun; 3)
the seed falls among the thorns, grows higher, buds but when it is
almost ready. it is choked.  Finally the seed falls on good ground and
yields grain.  In Palestine a good yield was considered to be 10 fold,
7 ½ was average.  The 100, 60, 30 harvest then is not simply bountiful
but truly extraordinary.  The message to the disciples is one of
encouragement to not be faint-hearted or discouraged.  In spite of all
failures, the Kingdom of God comes at last.  And when it comes it comes bountifully. 

After the disappointments and rejections of the previous chapters in
Matthew, this was an important message for the disciples.  It is an
important message for us too.
__________________________________
 
In Matthew's Gospel we do not have the word parable until the 13th
chapter.  This is the third of Matthew's discourses: the Parable
discourse.  Matthew has 7 parables in this section.  He only shares the
parable of the sower and the mustard seed with Mark.
 
In verse 8 Matthew reverses Mark's order of fruitfulness, he starts with
100, 60, 30.  In verse 10 those near to Jesus ask him:  "Why do you
speak to them in parables?"  In Mark they ask for an explanation of the
parable.  In Mark Jesus speaks in parables, in order that the people may
not understand.  In Matthew Jesus speaks to the crowds in parables
because they refused to see and hear or understand his clear message. 
In Matthew, Jesus speaks in parables as a punishment for their non-acceptance.
_________________________________
 
Second, explanation of the parable.  Here the emphasis is on the
different kinds of hearing and what happens after. 
 
Dispositions of those who receive Jesus' preaching:

1) those who never accept the word of the kingdom, hear without understanding.
      Bad soil: lack of understanding, superficial hearing
      Obstacle to belief: evil one

2) those who believe for a while but fall away because of persecution.
      Bad soil: superficiality, initial rootless enthusiasm
      Obstacle to belief: tribulation (setback) or persecution

3) those who believe but in whom the word is choked by worldly anxiety
and the seduction of riches.
      Bad soil: division within oneself.
      Obstacle to belief: worldly cares (anxiety) and desire for wealth
(lure of money, seduction by wealth).

4) those who hear, understand and respond to the word and produce fruit
abundantly.
      Good soil: message of Jesus taken in and yields remarkable results.

 
TRUE DISCIPLE: hear, understand, do (bear fruit, yield).
 
WHAT KIND OF SOIL AM I?
 
Third, application to us.  We have the promise that the kingdom
 of God will prevail over difficulties, even our failures: path, rocky, thorns, good.
What kind of soil am I? do I hear but not understand, do I give up when
trials or difficulties come, do I suffer from anxiety or the attraction
of wealth and riches?  Do I really believe that God is able to change me
from one kind of bad soil to good soil?
   
If we look at a field we notice that the greater part of the field
is the good ground, not the path, the rocky ground or the thorns.  Are
we so focused on the negative in our life and the world that we can't
see the good ground?   The meaning of the parables is not immediately
clear.  Parables are told to engage us, to get us wrestling with what
they mean.  Am I willing to do this work in my life.  What kind of hearer am I?

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson