Weekday Gospel Reflection

Monday in the Second Week of Lent

Luke 6:36-38 - World English Bible

Jesus said to his disciples:

36 "Therefore be merciful,even as your Father is also merciful.
37 Don't judge, and you won't be judged.
Don't condemn, and you won't be condemned.
Set free, and you will be set free.

38 "Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be given to you. For with the same measure you measure it will be measured back to you."

After Luke's version of the Beatitudes and several verses on loving one's enemies, Jesus taught his followers on the virtue of mercy with two images: the lenient judge and the one apportioning grain. God, the lenient judge, showed mercy on the accused Christian and acquitted him. The Christian should do the same: be merciful, withhold judgment and set others free from their guilt. God was also like the one who rationed grain from the harvest, pouring it into the crease of the tunic that the receiver made with his hands and arms. The one who apportioned the grain was beyond generous, even wasteful with an overflowing gift. If God was so generous with his mercy, shouldn't the Christian do the same?

How much mercy did you show others this week?

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Tuesday in the Second Week of Lent

Matthew 23:1-12 - World English Bible

1 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to his disciples, 2 saying, "The scribes and the Pharisees sat on Moses' seat. 3 All things therefore whatever they tell you to observe, observe and do, but don't do their works; for they say, and don't do. 4 For they bind heavy burdens that are grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not lift a finger to help them. 5 But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad, enlarge the fringes of their garments, 6 and love the place of honor at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, 7 the salutations in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi, Rabbi' by men. 8 But don't you be called ‘Rabbi,' for one is your teacher, the Christ, and all of you are brothers. 9 Call no man on the earth your father, for one is your Father, he who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called masters, for one is your master, the Christ. 11 But he who is greatest among you will be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted."

Do as I say, not as I do. Jesus charged the Pharisees with this attitude. In Matthew's gospel, the Lord spoke in extremes to clarify his position from that of his religious adversaries; like many of his time, he painted his enemies as caricatures. Not every Pharisee accentuated his dress or climbed the social ladder or strut his ego in public for effect, only to bask in the glory of his title (23:7-8). It was true that the Pharisees and scribes were experts in the Law and their rulings held sway even among the Jewish Christians in Matthew's audience; after all, they sat in the "seat of Moses," the leader's chair found at the head of the congregation in the synagogue. But, Jesus' critique ran deeper than words contradicted by actions. He wanted his community to be marked by humility. No one should seek ambition for its own sake, but be willing to serve. Titles like "Teacher" or "Father" (not only a title denoting family ties, but a recognition of social prominence) or "Sir" ("Lord" in the polite sense) were just that, titles. Leadership gave them substance. And, for Jesus, leadership was rooted in service and example. Do as I say, because I am willing to do it.

How have you led with humility and by example?

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Wednesday in the Second Week of Lent

Matthew 20:17-28 - World English Bible

17 As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, 18 "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to mock, to scourge, and to crucify; and the third day he will be raised up."

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, kneeling and asking a certain thing of him. 21 He said to her, "What do you want?"

She said to him, "Command that these, my two sons, may sit, one on your right hand, and one on your left hand, in your Kingdom."

22 But Jesus answered, "You don't know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?"

They said to him, "We are able."

23 He said to them, "You will indeed drink my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with, but to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it is for whom it has been prepared by my Father."

24 When the ten heard it, they were indignant with the two brothers.

25 But Jesus summoned them, and said, "You know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you, but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. 27 Whoever desires to be first among you shall be your bond servant, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

What does it mean to lead? Jesus implicitly asked that question in this passage from Matthew's gospel. The narrative was a variation on the request of James and John found in Mark 10:35-45, but, this time, their mother asked the question: "Let my sons sit on your right and your left when you enter your kingdom." Since these positions were the second and third most powerful seats in a kingdom (the equivalent of the prime minister and the ranking general), their request angered the other disciples. They considered it audacious and unfair. The Lord used the question as a teachable moment to answer the question of leadership, using his ministry, indeed his own life, as an example.

For Jesus, leadership meant service, even to the point of death. Glory could only come through suffering, resurrection only through death. The moral, stated at the beginning (20:18-19) and the end of the passage (20:26-28), stood in stark contrast with the Machiavellian view (20:25). One does not grasp at leadership (the mother's request in 20:21); one gives to lead (Jesus' answer in 20:22-23). Notice his answer had sacramental overtones. One drank from the cup Christ drank in the Eucharist; one was immersed in the baptism the Lord would suffer. In other words, Christian worship celebrated and emulated the leadership of the Lord. For Christians, the sacraments answer the question: what does it mean to lead?

Does your worship inspire your leadership?

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Thursday in the Second Week of Lent

Luke 16:19-31 - World English Bible

Jesus said:

19 "Now there was a certain rich man, and he was clothed in purple and fine linen, living in luxury every day. 20 A certain beggar, named Lazarus, was laid at his gate, full of sores, 21 and desiring to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table. Yes, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The beggar died, and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died, and was buried. 23 In Hades, he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far off, and Lazarus at his bosom. 24 He cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue! For I am in anguish in this flame.'

25 "But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you, in your lifetime, received your good things, and Lazarus, in the same way, bad things. But now here he is comforted and you are in anguish. 26 Besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, that those who want to pass from here to you are not able, and that no one may cross over from there to us.'

27 "He said, ‘I ask you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house; 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, so they won't also come into this place of torment.'

29 "But Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.'

30 "He said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.'

31 "He said to him, ‘If they don't listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rises from the dead.'"

In Luke 16, Jesus told the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. In the story, he portrayed both men as cultural caricatures: poor Lazarus, the victim of social inequity, and the rich man, the victor of that inequity. The caricatures of both men stood in stark contrast to cultural outlooks of the day; people despised the beggar and honored the well off. However, many in Luke's readership could identify with Lazarus since over 90% of those living in the Roman Empire were poor, while the five percent who had wealth accumulated it through heavy taxation and graft.

One could understand the condemnation of the self indulgent rich man, but the fate of the poor man was puzzling. Jesus gave no indication the man believed in God or led a moral life; he received his reward simply based upon his destitution. No matter, since the Lord focused upon the plight of the rich man in the rest of the story. Twice the rich man begged "Father" Abraham ('father' denoted a respected social standing, not just a biological relationship). He pleaded for relief, once for himself, once for his family. Notice the attitude of the rich man towards Lazarus even in death; he treated the poor man, not as an equal, but as someone beneath him, like a servant to ordered about. "Have Lazarus come here to cool my tongue." "Send Lazarus to my brothers." Even in death, the rich man did not repent of his self-absorbed character. Abraham defended not only Lazarus from the selfish man, but defended the power of tradition found in Scripture ("Moses and the prophets" refer to the Hebrew texts of the Bible) and the Christian notion of that Scripture fulfilled: the Resurrection.

The moral of the passage is clear. Everyone has what they need to live a faith-filled, moral life. The question is: will they?

How are you like Lazarus in the story? How are you like the rich man? What will you do with that insight?

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Friday in the Second Week of Lent

Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46 - World English Bible

Jesus told the Pharisees:

33 "Hear another parable. There was a man who was a master of a household, who planted a vineyard, set a hedge about it, dug a wine press in it, built a tower, leased it out to farmers, and went into another country. 34 When the season for the fruit came near, he sent his servants to the farmers, to receive his fruit. 35 The farmers took his servants, beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they treated them the same way. 37 But afterward he sent to them his son, saying, ‘They will respect my son.' 38 But the farmers, when they saw the son, said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let's kill him, and seize his inheritance.' 39 So they took him, and threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 When therefore the lord of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those farmers?"

41 They told him, "He will miserably destroy those miserable men, and will lease out the vineyard to other farmers, who will give him the fruit in its season."

42 Jesus said to them, "Did you never read in the Scriptures,

‘The stone which the builders rejected,
the same was made the head of the corner.
This was from the Lord.
It is marvelous in our eyes?'

43 "Therefore I tell you, God's Kingdom will be taken away from you, and will be given to a nation producing its fruit."

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he spoke about them. 46 When they sought to seize him, they feared the multitudes, because they considered him to be a prophet.

In Matthew 21, Jesus condemned the Pharisees with a parable, a Scripture reference and a moral. The parable told the story of tenant farmers, filled with avarice, who stood united against an absentee landlord. The tenant farmer and foreign owner situation was the norm in Palestine at the time of Jesus, and Jews within Judea and Galilee felt Greeks and Romans who settle there deprived the indigenous population of their birthright. The Lord played off any sympathetic feeling the populace may have had for the farmers to advance his belief in universal salvation. Like many parables he told about adversaries, the stories reversed the symbolic roles for the audience; the farmers became evil, while the foreign, absentee landlord was God, his servants were the Prophets, his son was the Lord himself, the vineyard was the Kingdom.

The rhetorical question of the farmers' fate led to the quote from Psalm 118:22-23. The psalm was one of the Hallel hymns (Psalms 113-118) recited by Jews on the major feast days of Passover (see Matthew 26:30, Mark 14:26), Shavuot and Sukkot, as well as Hanakkak and Rosh Chodesh (beginning of the new month). The song was a prayer of praise and thanksgiving, depending upon God even in the midst of a siege around Jerusalem, seeing that siege broken (118:10-14), then, celebrating the victory in a parade outside the walls of the capital (118:19-21). In this context, Judea was the stone spurned by foreign powers, but used by YHWH as a cornerstone to his Kingdom (118:22-23). Jesus, however, flipped the image. Now, the stone referred to a new people (his disciples) who did the will of the Father, producing good fruit. Such was the moral to the story.

Sometimes, common wisdom confuses the right road to God, for it projects human thinking into a situation. It was true in the time of Jesus, it is true today. Knowing the road to the Kingdom requires prayer and discernment, not a poll of popular sentiment.

How have you prayed for guidance on your spiritual path?

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Saturday in the Second Week of Lent

Matthew 5:43-48 - World English Bible

Jesus told the people:

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."

In the fourth volume of his masterful work on the historical Jesus, "The Marginal Jew", John P. Meier compared the teaching of the Lord on loving enemies with the Golden Rule. The later Rule promoted the wisdom of respect based upon reciprocity: "I won't do 'x' to you, if you don't do it to me." This attitude, for example, formed the basis of the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, a pairing best described as MAD ("Mutually Assured Destruction"). People ascribed to the Golden Rule as a means to an end, to advance another motive, like survival or upward social mobility or shaming one's enemies.

To love one's enemies took away any motive, however. Jesus insisted the virtues of charity, hospitality, compassion and empathy as matters of principle, not a means to an end (besides the Kingdom). Sinners lived out the Golden Rule with their family and friends under the umbrella of divine providence. What was the big deal about that? In the end, as Father Meiers implied, the disciple was to love the way God loved him and everyone under the Maker's realm. "Love" for the follower of the Christ was a principle with universal application.

Have you prayed for your enemies this week? Have you blessed them? What happened?

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