Monthly Archives: October 2014

October 19, 2014 (Year A Proper 24) Celtic Meditation

Matthew 22:15-22

In today’s gospel, the Jewish religious leaders have moved from hearing Jesus’ answer to their question about his authority to teach and act prophetically to actively attempting to undermine his authority.

Two groups within the Jewish community who were normally at odds with each other, the Pharisees and the Herodians, worked together to try to entrap Jesus in his teaching. As church, in what ways are we working together with enemies of the church in order to bypass the reality of Jesus’ authority?

In the introduction to the question the Pharisees and Herodians ask Jesus, they laid out the parameters for his answer.[1] They attempted to set limits on Jesus, to box him into either siding with the Pharisees and to enrage the Herodians (don’t pay taxes) or side with the Herodians and enrage the Pharisees (pay taxes). As church, how do we attempt to set limits on how God can respond to our needs or questions?

Jesus answered in such a way that amazed both the Pharisees and the Herodians. He refused to separate life into secular and sacred. What might it look like for us, as church, to live in the tension of giving to the state what is the states’ and to God what is God’s?

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[1] David  T. Owen-Ball, “Rabbinic Rhetoric and the Tribute Passage (MT. 22:15-22; MK. 12:13-17; LK 20:20-26), Novum Testamentum 35 (1): 1-14

October 12, 2014 (Year A Proper 23) Celtic Meditation

This is the third parable that Jesus gave in answer to the Jewish religious leaders’ question about the source of his authority.  We heard about three sets of guests in this parable.[1]

The first set of guests had the invitation in hand yet chooses to not go to the feast.  They refused to go to this important state event, exposing their loyalties, which was not to the king.[2] Some even respond to the reminder to come to the feast by violence.  The king responds to their violence with judgment.  In what ways do we, as church, put our own agenda before the mission God has given us?

The second set of guests includes those who are called, regardless of whether they are good or bad, and they go to the banquet.  They, unexpectedly, get to go to the big event of the kingdom, the Son of the King’s wedding feast.[3]   What practices do we, as church, need to do, or do differently, in order to respond more fully to the great mercy that God has offered to us through Jesus?

The last person mentioned in this parable is frightening to think about.  Both the good and the bad were brought into the wedding hall.  But because this man did not have on the proper wedding clothes, he was cast out of the feast into a place worse than where he came from.  To wear wedding clothes is to participate in the joy of the wedding; street clothes just won’t do.[4] The others invited at the last hour demonstrated their acceptance of the authority of the king and his son’s by how they dressed.[5]   God has set the table and invited us, good and bad, to feast with him in honor of his Son.  What does it look like for us, as church, to recognize Jesus’ authority and more fully enter into our place as God’s guests at the feast?

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[1] This parable continues in the three-fold pattern of an invitation from a person in authority with the need for those who are invited to respond in obedience, a refusal of the invitation or lack of obedience to the responsibility, resulting in either judgment or mercy, depending upon the response of those who receive the invitation (J. Lyle Story, “All is Now Ready: An Exegesis of ‘The Great Banquet’ (Luke 14:15-24) and ‘The Marriage Feast’ (Matthew 22:1-14,” American Theological Inquiry 2/2 (2009): 67-79.)

[2] Richard Bauckham, “The Parable of the Royal Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14) and the Parable of the Lame and the Blind Man (Apocryphon of Ezekiel),” Journal of Biblical Literature 15/3 (1996): 471-488.

[3] “The king’s son’s wedding cannot be canceled. Nor can it go ahead without guests. On this occasion, as on no other, it is essential that the banqueting hall be full.” Bauckham, 485.

[4] Bauckham, 485. The issue in the parable is not clothing, but disposition.

[5] Bauckham, 486.

October 5, 2014 (Year A Proper 22) Celtic Meditation

Matthew 21:33-46

This is the second parable in Jesus’ reply to the Jewish religious leaders question concerning the source of his authority. While Jesus openly challenged the attitude of the religious leaders of his day in this reading, the Spirit uses Jesus’ words to speak to us today, also.

In the parable, the tenants were given a task: to tend the landowner’s vineyard while he was away. The tenants refused to acknowledge who they were: tenants. They did not want to acknowledge that the fruit of the vineyard belonged to the landowner. They didn’t accept the authority of the landowner.   Their lack of respect of the landowner’s authority is reflected in their response to those who came in the name of the landowner: they abused and even killed the landowner’s servants who came in the landowner’s name. In what ways do we, as church, act as if we are the final authority, the landowners, rather than tenants of God’s vineyard?

In the parable, the goal of the tenants is to produce fruit for the owner of the vineyard. The last person the landowner sends is his son. The tenants decide to kill the son so that they can own the vineyard with all its fruit. When do we, as church, deny Jesus’ authority by choosing to focus on the fruit of our labor rather than paying attention to how out labor fits into God’s larger work in the world?

In this parable we learn about Jesus’ authority. Jesus is the son of the landowner. We also learn about Jesus’ authority through the analogy of the cornerstone. The purpose of a cornerstone is to be the beginning and foundation of a building. This cornerstone that the builders, some of the Jewish religious leaders, rejected is powerful: those who reject it are crushed or broken.   How can we, as church, remember who we are, whose we are, and whose vineyard we are tending in order to more fully live into Jesus’ authority?

September 28, 2014 (Year A Proper 21) Celtic Meditation

Matthew 21:23-32

In today’s gospel, the Jewish religious leaders are concerned about the source of Jesus’ authority to teach.  These leaders know that if the prophet or teacher is speaking on God’s behalf, then that prophet’s or teacher’s message is trustworthy and should be acted upon.  According to Jewish literature, there are four ways of responding to authority.[1]  We see two of these options in the parable.

First we see a way of responding to authority in which one first rejects the authority but later reconsiders and obeys the teaching.  The first son in the parable said “no” but then reconsidered and did what he was told to do.  This possible response calls us to humility:  when have we, as church, at first rejected God’s authority and command, but later changed and lived accordingly?

The second way of responding to authority is to seem to accept the authority but not really accept it as binding.  The second son in the parable said “yes” but then did not do what he was told to do.  This possible response asks us to be honest with ourselves:  in what ways do we, as church, say that we respect Jesus’ authority but don’t live it out with our actions?

The other two ways of responding to authority were being lived by the people that Jesus either speaks to or about after the parable. The third way of responding to authority is seen in the religious leaders:  They have shown by their answer and their lives that they do not accept Jesus’ authority.  They are consistent in their “no” to Jesus in word and action. But the fourth way of responding to authority is seen in the lives of the people whom the religious leaders consider to be outside the boundaries of the community.  They are consistent in their spoken and lived out “yes” to Jesus’ authority and, as a result, are living in right relationship with God.  This possible response calls us to look outside our gathering.  Who do we, as this community of the church, marginalize even though they say “yes” to Jesus’ authority and live into this “yes”?  How can we offer these Christians hospitality?

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[1] See Wendell E. Langley, SJ, “The Parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32) against Its Semitic and Rabbinic Backdrop,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 58/2 (1996): 228-243.

September 21, 2014 (Year A Proper 20) Celtic Meditation

Matthew 20:1-16

In this vision of the kingdom of heaven, our expectations about hierarchy within the kingdom are challenged. The day workers are hired at different times and then receive their pay in the reverse order of when they are hired – those hired last are given their wages first. The last are first. Those hired later in the day had not negotiated for a wage and must have been delighted to get the standard wage for an entire day’s work.   These workers received generosity from the landowner – they received what they needed, regardless of the hours of labor. What necessary things have we, as church, received even though we have not earned it?

The surprise that causes discontent among those hired first is that they received only what they had been promised, nothing less, but nothing more. They were discontent because others, who had not worked as long as they had, received the same wage. Who do we, as church, consider to be late-comers to the kingdom and how do we treat them?

In Jesus’ description of the kingdom, everyone receives what they need for that day, but some consider this to be unfair. In what ways do we, as church, need to better practice this vision of community life that is characterized by acceptance of God’s generosity to others in order to better reflect the reality of the kingdom of heaven?

September 14, 2014 (Year A Proper 19) Celtic Meditation

Matthew 18:21-35

The last few weeks we have had a series of lessons from Jesus about community life:  about binding and loosing.  Being loosed to love and serve and also being bound by our knowledge of who Jesus is.  Today we heard more about binding and loosing – about stifling life by binding through a lack of forgiveness and about the potential of living a fuller life by loosing through forgiveness.

At the beginning his metaphor about the kingdom of heaven, Jesus tells us about a man who was forgiven much — the amount of debt that he was forgiven was more than he could ever earn.  By being forgiven by the one whom he owed, the man was given not only his life back, but the life of his family.  Think of a time when you were in desperate need of forgiveness and received it.  How did this forgiveness affect your relationship with the one who forgave you?

In the metaphor, the man who had been loosed from debt did not live a life of forgiveness.  While he had been forgiven so much, he was not willing to forgive someone who owes him a relatively small amount.  He bound his fellow servant, his brother, by not forgiving the debt. How, as church, are we not living the reality of the kingdom of heaven life – who are we, as a people who know what it means to be forgiven, binding and stifling?

In the metaphor, the other people go to the king, the forgiving lord, and explain that their fellow servant is not living according to the lord’s way of being in right relationship.  These other servants are living according to the way Jesus described last week – they are actively seeking peace within community.  As church, how can we better live lives that are defined by the mercy that God has already shown us?

September 7, 2014 (Year A Proper 18) Celtic Meditation

Matthew 18:15-20

In this passage, we hear about Jesus’ distinctive view of what the church should look like and how we should live together.   We all face temptations to sin – to not live lives focused on loving God and loving each other well.   Because of our desire to go our own way rather than the way of peace and love, Jesus is concerned lest our sins cause us to no longer experience church as life-sustaining community.   The church is called to be a place of shalom – of peace that passes all understanding; of wholeness and completeness; of cooperation, trust, and respect among us.  Jesus calls us to be reconciled to one another so that no one is lost.

Jesus gives us instructions in this reading on how to love one another well in order to be reconciled.  As church, what sins among our gathered community do we need to confess so that we can work together toward reconciliation?

We heard week before last about binding and loosing; Jesus’ words in this reading bring additional clarity to this idea of binding and loosing within the context of what it means to be church.  What do we, as church, need to bind and loose on earth and in heaven in order for reconciliation to be made real among us?

Jesus said that where two or three are gathered in his name, he will be among them.  What do we, as church, need to be doing in order to more fully live into this reality – that Jesus is here with us when we are gathered in his name?

August 31, 2014 (Year A Proper 17) Celtic Meditation

Matthew 16:21-28

Last week, we heard about Peter making the good confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  And we heard Jesus say that this knowledge – knowing who Jesus is — is a gift from God the Father.  But this isn’t the whole of what it means to know who Jesus is, and the knowledge that Jesus was going to suffer and was choosing to suffer, was hard for Peter to wrap his head and his heart around.  Peter responded, probably with the very best of intentions, by taking Jesus off to the side and trying to change his mind.  Jesus’ response must have stung – coming face to face with reality, knowing that you have to go through terrible, horrible, painful things before coming to a glorious end is hard.

Like Peter, we have been given the gift of knowing who Jesus is.  And, like Peter, we need to listen to Jesus to hear what the divine plan is so that we can sort it out from our own human desires.  What human things do we, as Church, set our mind on when we should be setting our mind on divine things?

Jesus told Peter to get behind him –the proper place for a disciple is to be behind the master in order to follow in the master’s footsteps.  Jesus then told all the disciples that they needed to deny themselves, to lose their lives, in order to find life.  The disciples’ identity is to be centered upon the life of Jesus.  What are we, as Church, being called to die to in order to fully live into our life as Church?

Lest we focus too much on the hard news, Jesus doesn’t just speak about his death.  Jesus also speaks about his resurrection and coming again in glory.   He promises that his kingdom will be established.  How will keeping in mind that “Jesus will come in his kingdom” help us, as Church, to take up our crosses, die to ourselves, and, through this, find life?

August 24, 2014 (Year A Proper 16) Celtic Meditation

Matthew 16:13-20

Last week we heard about the Canaanite woman with the demon possessed daughter who knew Jesus as the Son of David. Through her faith, which included being persistent in crying out in need, her daughter was healed in a way that restored her to community. Between that snapshot of Jesus’ life and that which we just heard, Jesus has healed more marginalized people and restored them to community life. In compassion he blessed a small amount of food and 4000 shared a meal together. He challenged his disciples to understand that healing and restoration is about more than just physically having food. Now we hear Jesus asking his disciples who the people say he is, and who they say that he is. How we talk about Jesus matters to Jesus; who we say Jesus is informs how we live our lives.

When Simon answered that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, Jesus gave him a new name, Peter, and said that Peter’s ability to say who Jesus is, is a gift from God. When we are baptized, we receive a new name: we are Christians. Why is it important for us as Church to know and be able to say who Jesus is?

Much theological conversation and controversy has gone on about who or what the “rock” upon which Jesus builds the church is and who does the binding and loosing. But without controversy is the statement that Death itself cannot prevail against Jesus’ church. This Jesus who died for us on the cross and was raised from the dead now gives himself to us in the bread and the wine of the eucharist. How then, are we as Church, bound by this realization that Jesus is the Son of the Living God?

We live in the time after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, after the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost and Peter’s tongue was loosened to publically declare who Jesus is – the “don’t tell” command has been lifted. How does realizing that Jesus is the Son of the Living God loose us, as Church, to love and serve?

August 17, 2014 (Year A Proper 15) Celtic Meditation

Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

This is a troubling passage in many ways.  At first it appears that Jesus did not listen to the woman’s cries and then there is this odd conversation between Jesus and the woman.

In the first part of this gospel reading, Jesus instructs the disciples that it is not what you eat that makes you unclean, but how you speak and act.  This Canaanite woman does not eat the way that the Jews eat; she is not welcome at their table.

When the Canaanite woman pleaded with Jesus to heal her child, Jesus did not immediately respond.  Instead, we hear the disciples dismiss this woman who is not Jewish, not one of them.   When do we, as Church, need to take time to enter into uncomfortable silence in order to listen to those who are different than us who are crying out in need?

Jesus hears the disciples’ disregard for the woman and seems to answer in a way that agrees with them.  Yet, uncharacteristic of many Jewish leaders, Jesus speaks to the woman, giving her an opportunity to respond back to him.  With whom, as Church, do we need to enter into conversation in order to share table fellowship?

The woman knows who Jesus is:  the Son of David, the Jewish Messiah.  When she responds to Jesus, asking for a share in the fellowship meal, Jesus acknowledges her relationship with him by commending her faith and healing her daughter.  How can we, as Church, help those who know Jesus but are not part of our community grow in their faith in Jesus?