Weekday Gospel Reflection

Monday in the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 5:38-42 - World English Bible

Jesus told his followers:

38 "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' 39 But I tell you, don't resist him who is evil; but whoever strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 If anyone sues you to take away your coat, let him have your cloak also. 41 Whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks you, and don't turn away him who desires to borrow from you."

In Matthew 5:33-37, Jesus addressed the disciple's relationship with God; one should take care in vows made to the divine. In this passage, he spoke to the followers' relationships with others; he addressed the law of reciprocity (Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, Deuteronomy 19:21). This law meant to limit the response of the aggrieved over an insult or injury he suffered. In this way, ever escalating feuds could be avoided and social order maintained. But, there was a problem with this law of reciprocity; who knew what measure of justice was equitable? The victim could go before the judge for a ruling, but could the injured party trust the fairness of the judge? The law was fine in principle but difficult in practice. How could one keep this duty from the Law?

Jesus proposed passivity as an answer. If the disciple does not resist evil, he has upheld the Law. The person who insults with a slap to the face, the thief, the imperial soldier who had the right under Roman law to compel a non-citizen into service for one mile, even the one who wants to borrow, all these people should not be resisted. For the Jewish Christian who still keep the Law, suffering was a means to uphold the duty of the Torah.

How do you react to the slights and insults you receive?

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Tuesday in the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 5:43-48 - World English Bible

Jesus taught his followers:

43 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Don't even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you only greet your friends, what more do you do than others? Don't even the tax collectors do the same? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect."

What does it mean to be perfect? To most of us, it means achieving an ideal state. Moral perfection means a life of virtue, an ongoing and consistent flow of ethical actions that revealed a strong character. But what does it mean to love perfectly? Jesus taught love meant universal charity.

The proverb the Lord quoted combined Leviticus 19:18 ("Love your neighbor...") with a sentiment found in writings like the Qumran Manual of Discipline Ix, 21-26 ("...hate your enemy."). Popular attitudes qualified the notion of love, reducing it to nationalism. Love your fellow citizen but hate the foreigner. Jesus, however, commanded universal human charity based upon divine compassion. The Christian should return insult with kindness, persecution with magnanimity, simply because YHWH, the only true deity, treated everyone the same. Then, he compared the actions of the sinner with that commanded by the proverb; if there was no difference between the two, how could the Jew claim to be morally superior to the sinner or Gentile? The only possible way to seek any sense of exclusivity, any claim of moral superiority, was to treat others the way God treated everyone.

To be perfect as YHWH was to love as the Lord loved, unconditionally.

How do you balance your patriotism with your commitment to Christian love?

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Wednesday in the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18 - World English Bible

Jesus told his disciples:

1 "Be careful that you don't do your charitable giving before men, to be seen by them, or else you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 Therefore when you do merciful deeds, don't sound a trumpet before yourself, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may get glory from men. Most certainly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you do merciful deeds, don't let your left hand know what your right hand does, 4 so that your merciful deeds may be in secret, then your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

5 "When you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Most certainly, I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But you, when you pray, enter into your inner room, and having shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

16 "Moreover when you fast, don't be like the hypocrites, with sad faces. For they disfigure their faces, that they may be seen by men to be fasting. Most certainly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face; 18 so that you are not seen by men to be fasting, but by your Father who is in secret, and your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you."

In Matthew 6, Jesus taught his followers about the three spiritual practices that have become the pillars of Lent: almsgiving, prayer and fasting. In typical fashion for this gospel, he compared the way the Pharisees performed these practices with the way his followers should, and he painted the comparison with a broad brush. He portrayed the Pharisees as arrogant and vain, while his disciples should be humble and discrete. Of course, not all Pharisees were so self-absorbed and proud and it was impossible for early Christians to perform such practices in a way no one would notice.

Pharisees, especially in urban settings and the Diaspora, led the people by example. Their dress and behavior set the standard for Jews to follow. As such, they defined Judaism for their fellow countrymen and for the Gentiles. They were to inspire their followers in ways that fulfilled Leviticus 19:18, "Love your neighbor as yourself," especially in giving assistance to the poor and the widow. Since they were distinctive in look and action, they were easy targets for caricature.

Jesus portrayed the leadership style of the his followers not in distinction with dress and behavior but in humility. He wanted them to give alms in a way friends would not notice ("left hand" and "right" were analogies for those closest to the giver). He taught that humility pleased God more than leading by example. In the same manner, he insisted on discretion for the practices of prayer and fasting.

We might not always to be able to give to the poor, pray or fast without being seen, but we can get on with our spiritual practices without creating a show for others. Example is important, but style counts, too.

How do you perform your spiritual practices?

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Thursday in the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 6:7-15 - World English Bible

Jesus said to this disciples:

7 In praying, don't use vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their much speaking. 8 Therefore don't be like them, for your Father knows what things you need, before you ask him. 9 Pray like this: 'Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. 10 Let your Kingdom come. Let your will be done, as in heaven, so on earth. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. 13 Bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen.'"

In Matthew 6, Jesus taught his disciples how to pray. In 6:5 (not here), he warned his followers not to empathize the outward appearance of the act; in 6:7, he urged them not to entreat divine favor through repetitive pronouncement of God's name. Many non-Jews believed the gods only heard their requests through the proper sequence and repetition of prayer; these pagans focused on ritual and style, rather than content. Indeed, they held that use of a deity's name gave them power over that spiritual being. Jesus, of course, rejected that notion. He did not address repetitive prayers such as meditation, however.

Matthew's Our Father is the version of prayer we are familiar with. With the addition of the ending (6:13b, not included in the best manuscripts), the prayer fitted the classic prayer form in Judaism; it began with God, came down to people and returned to God. Besides the prayer's simplicity, it focused on the Kingdom, a coming reality. It praised the name of its king in intimate terms ("Father") and entreated the growth of his reputation and his rule ("your will be done"). It recognized all things came from YHWH ("Give us this day our daily bread."); this verse could also be interpreted as a request for bread the day the Kingdom arrives in the end times and bread within the Kingdom (hence, Eucharisitic overtones). The same tension between present fulfillment and future gift with bread in 6:11 existed with forgiveness in 6:12; would the disciple be forgiven now or at the Final Judgment (or both)? 6:13a clearly referred to the future with testing in the rise of the Evil One and the coming tribulation.

With the rise of Christianity in medieval Europe, the Our Father reshaped the notion of popular attitudes about prayer. Its focus shift from ritual to content, from style to intent. Prayer was not about claiming our power over God, but realizing his power over us.

What do you think about when you pray the Our Father?

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Friday in the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 6:19-23 - World English Bible

Jesus told his followers:

19 "Don't lay up treasures for yourselves on the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves don't break through and steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 "The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!"

After Jesus addressed the spiritual practices of almsgiving, prayer and fasting in Matthew 6, he employed two parables to highlight the attitude of his followers in those practices. In the first saying, he compared the pursuit of reputation as gathering wealth. The arrogant (symbolized by the Pharisee) wanted a high reputation and social stature but what good was such when gossip and shame could quickly destroy such standing? Wasn't righteousness before God (like treasure in heaven) far more important?

Jesus next turned to the eye as a symbol for spirituality. He used it in two ways, as a organ of sight and as a facial clue for others to judge one's character. As a organ of sight, the eye saw the good or the evil the person wished to see. In other words, how the person employed the eye measured their spirituality. Second, the eye was key to revealing that spirituality to others. How does one judge the character of others? Look at their face, especially their eyes, to give a clue. Does the person have "smiling" eyes or does he give the "evil" eye? Does he have "trustworthy" eyes or "shifting" eyes?

In the parables of the treasure and the eye, Jesus shifted the focus of spirituality away from behavior to intent. What a person intended to do was just as important as what he did.

What treasure do you intend to build in heaven today? How do you "see" yourself accomplishing that task?

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Saturday in the Eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time

Matthew 6:24-34 - World English Bible

Jesus told his followers:

24 "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can't serve both God and Mammon. 25 Therefore I tell you, don't be anxious for your life: what you will eat, or what you will drink; nor yet for your body, what you will wear. Isn't life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 See the birds of the sky, that they don't sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns. Your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren't you of much more value than they?

27 "Which of you, by being anxious, can add one moment to his lifespan? 28 Why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They don't toil, neither do they spin, 29 yet I tell you that even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today exists, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, won't he much more clothe you, you of little faith?

31 "Therefore don't be anxious, saying, 'What will we eat?', 'What will we drink?' or, 'With what will we be clothed?' 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first God's Kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore don't be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Each day's own evil is sufficient."

In these verses from Matthew, Jesus indirectly looped back to his teaching on alsmgiving (6:1-4) when he spoke of the importance of money. After all, if a disciple gave freely to the poor, what would he live on? The Lord presented the problem of money as a choice, desire for cash (Mammon) or desire for God. Obviously, he answered the dilemma in the phrase, "Don't worry." God cared for everything in his creation; the disciples stood at the top of divine providence. The alternative to a dependence on the divine led to anxiety and what good was that? It gained the disciple nothing. So, seek the Kingdom and a right relationship with God, then focus on the needs of the day. That would be enough for anyone.

Where is your spiritual focus today, on God or on your own agenda?

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