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   /   2012 Issues   /   April Issue   /   Lectionary Spirituality



Bruce Janiga

Lectionary Spirituality

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Trinity Sunday to 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

Most Holy Trinity, June 3 [165]

Dt 4:32–34, 39–40
Ps 33:4–5, 6, 9, 18–19, 20, 22
Rom 8:14–17
Mt 28:16–20

Trinity Sunday reminds us that our God is a mystery. We have experienced God as three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. This mystery is something theologians have tried to explain over the millennia, but they have not been completely successful. God is still more than we can comprehend.

In Deuteronomy, just before Moses dies, he exhorts the people to remain faithful to the covenant with the Lord. Their faithfulness should be rooted in an awareness of all the good things God has done for them. Deuteronomy frequently uses the phrase "the Lord, your God" to distinguish him from the gods of the other nations. For Moses and Israel, other nations had gods, but the Israelites are called to an exclusive relationship with the God of their ancestors. Only over the centuries does Israel come to learn that there is no other God.

Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans that because God's Spirit dwells in us, we are children of God and can address God as "Abba, Father." As we are united with Christ in our suffering, so too will we find a share of his glory.

In the Gospel, Jesus sends the 11 apostles out to continue his mission: baptizing, preaching, and making disciples. For Matthew the meeting takes place in Galilee, on a mountain. The mountain location reinforces the Moses imagery, and Galilee is where most of Jesus's public ministry occurred. Empowered by the Spirit, the apostles are able to share in the work of spreading the gospel. They are commanded to baptize "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (v 19). This is the first use of the Trinitarian formula in the Gospel texts.

For reflection: How have I experienced God in my life as mystery? As Father? Son? Holy Spirit? What does it mean to say that in baptism I have a share in God's life?

Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, June 10
(in the United States) [168]

Ex 24:3–8
Ps 116:12–13, 15–16, 17–18
Heb 9:11–15
Mk 14:12–16, 22–26

On the solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus, we focus on God's gift of self to us in the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, Christ is present to his church in a unique way; under the appearances of bread and wine, we are invited to be one with him in communion. United with him, we are called, challenged, and strengthened to become more like him.

In Exodus, as a sign of the covenant the Israelites are sharing with the Lord, Moses makes a sacrifice, sprinkling some of the blood of the sacrifice on the altar and the remainder on the people. This covenant binds the two parties together. The people, having heard "all that the Lord has said" (v 7), agree to live by the commandments. He will be their God and they will be his people. It is a foundational moment for the people of Israel.

The writer of Hebrews writes of how Christ's sacrifice replaces the sacrifices of the prior covenant. Christ's own blood obtains for us "eternal redemption" (v 12); as the perfect sacrifice he offered himself on our behalf in order that "those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance" (v 15).

In the synoptic tradition the Last Supper is remembered as a Passover meal shared by Jesus and his disciples. This connects Jesus's death with the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, whose blood brought about freedom and life for the Israelites. Mark says that Jesus took the bread and wine and after blessing them, shared them with his disciples, identifying them with his body and blood about to be shed. Beginning on Easter Sunday the early church continued to share this meal in fulfillment of Jesus's command to "do this in memory of me." For Catholics, sharing in the gift of the Eucharist identifies us as a people whose lives have been purchased through the blood of the cross.

For reflection: What significance does the Eucharist have for me? Do I allow myself to be taken, blessed, broken, and given in service of the gospel?

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 17 [92]

Ez 17:22–24
Ps 92:2–3, 13–14, 15–16
2 Cor 5:6–10
Mk 4:26–34

The prophet Ezekiel, writing in exile from Babylon, speaks words of comfort and promise to the exiles. God speaks of transplanting a "tender shoot" (v 22) to his mountain. This shoot will "become a majestic cedar" (v 23), a tree known for its strength, and provide a place of refuge. These words offer Israel the hope that they will be restored as a nation and become a source of blessing for others.

Writing to the church at Corinth, Paul reminds us that "we walk by faith" (v 7); our destiny is in the hands of God. Because God has called us, we must strive to live as disciples of Christ as long as we are in this world. We long to be with the Lord, but as long as we are in this world and away from him, let us serve him faithfully.

Jesus's parables often employ agricultural imagery. In today's text we are presented with the parable of the seed that grows in secret. Though we have much better knowledge of the processes of germination and plant growth today, the process remains the same: we plant and the seed slowly comes to life if conditions are agreeable. The growth is gradual and predictable. So it is with the reign of God, Jesus tells us. God's word will produce a harvest, and to the outsider its growth is a mystery. But Jesus has revealed to his disciples that the growth is the consequence of cooperation between God and the believer. If we work with the word of God planted within us, then we will produce a good harvest. The mustard seed, starting out small, is destined to become a mustard plant. The church is called to become a mustard plant, where God's children can find refuge and welcome "in its shade" (v 32).

For Reflection: When have I experienced the hope of the exiles, knowing that in my darkest hour, God is still with me? How have I seen God at work in my spiritual growth and in my service to others?

Birth of St. John the Baptist, June 24 [587]

Is 49:1–6
Ps 139:1–3, 13–14, 14–15
Acts 13:22–26
Lk 1:57–66, 80

John the Baptist's birth — six months and a day before Christmas — is a major milestone on the road of salvation history. The Gospels present John as the forerunner of the Messiah. Luke in particular places John and Jesus side by side. The announcements of their births, their nativities, and their being given names are presented alternately — John, then Jesus. But Jesus is always the greater figure.

In Isaiah, the mysterious Servant of the Lord speaks of having been called in the womb by God. Like the prophet Jeremiah, his mission is part of the fabric of his being. It is an awareness of a lifelong mission in service to the Lord. Though frequently frustrated, the Servant is called to speak God's word and to be "a light to the nations" (v 6).

In Acts of the Apostles, Paul is preaching in the synagogue of Antioch in Pisidia. He proclaims that Jesus, a son of David, was sent by God as our savior in fulfillment of his promise. Paul speaks of how John the Baptist prepared people for the coming of Jesus by announcing a call to repentance. Paul's homily in the synagogue serves as an invitation to the people of Antioch to also repent and believe.

The name John means "Yahweh has compassion." This name, given to the child by the angel before he was born, indicates the importance of the child: he will be the one who announces God's good news of the coming of the Messiah, the ultimate act of divine compassion. Like the Servant in Isaiah, John has been designated before his birth for God's mission. The mysterious events surrounding his beginnings in Luke's text indicate that "the hand of the Lord was with him" (v 66), as the evangelist writes. Elizabeth and Zechariah may not fully understand God's plan, but they cooperate with it.

For Reflection: Do I have a sense of having been called by God for a mission? How have I experienced God's compassion in my life and shared it with others? u

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 1 [98]

Wis 1:13–15; 2:23–24
Ps 30:2, 4, 5–6, 11, 12, 13
2 Cor 8:7, 9, 13–15
Mk 5:21–43 or 5:21–24, 35–43

The writer of the Book of Wisdom reflects the theology of his day: "God did not make death" (v 13), he tells us. Rather, God made everything to be good. As for humanity, "God formed [us] to be imperishable" (v 23). It is only through the devil that death comes into the picture. We are called, then, to choose God and the way of life.

In light of a collection being taken up for the needy within the church, Paul appeals to the generosity of the Corinthians by speaking of the example of Jesus, who "though he was rich" (v 9) became poor for the sake of the believers. This kenosis or self-emptying of Christ is to serve as an example for us. Appealing to the example of God's gift of manna in the wilderness (v 15), Paul writes that it is God's will that none should go without, which means "your abundance … should supply their needs" (v 14). God gives generously of his abundance; so must we.

The two miracles in today's Gospel — the healings of Jairus's daughter and the woman with the hemorrhage — exemplify people with great faith. Jairus's daughter "is at the point of death" (v 23), and the woman, who has been suffering for 12 years, has depleted her funds "but only grew worse" (v 26). Yet they both believe that Jesus can do something for them. Both the young girl and the woman are cut off from society: the girl by her illness and the woman because her hemorrhage makes her unclean. In reaching out to Jesus, Jairus and the woman express their faith that he can make them whole, restoring them to the fullness of life. These sicknesses would be seen as the work of the devil in Jesus's day. By healing them Jesus shows that he has power over the devil. The story of Jairus's daughter, complicated by her death, shows that Jesus even has power over death.

For Reflection: How have I shared in the abundance of God's graces? How have I shared that abundance with others? What personal brokenness do I need to bring to the Lord for healing?

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 8 [101]

Ez 2:2–5
Ps 123:1–2, 2, 3–4
2 Cor 12:7–10
Mk 6:1–6

The prophet Ezekiel is sent to a rebellious people. They are "obstinate of heart" (v 4), but still he must speak the words; they must hear them, for the Lord has something to say. When he has spoken, "they shall know that a prophet has been among them" (v 5). Like ancient Israel, sometimes we too know God is speaking to us, but we refuse to listen.

Paul speaks of the mysterious "thorn in the flesh" (v 7) that was given to him to keep him humble. Though tons of ink have been spilled over this passage, no one has conclusively determined what exactly this "thorn" was. But its significance is spelled out by the apostle as he tells us that through it he came to humbly rely on God's grace rather than on his own strength. In our own lives as well, when we are weak, we sometimes experience the strength of God.

Jesus's visit to the synagogue of Nazareth elicits a mixed response from the crowd. For Mark this is true of the reception given to the gospel in his time as well. He tells us that many who heard Jesus "were astonished" (v 2), marveling in the wisdom of his words and mighty deeds. But others are not convinced, and "they took offense at him" (v 3). This response is not unexpected, as Jesus indicates by the proverb he quotes. Their problem is that they know him, and their expectations of him do not allow for him to be a great preacher or miracle worker. So his visit to Nazareth is relatively uneventful because of their lack of faith: "he was not able to perform any mighty deed there" (v 6).

For Reflection: How do I deal with rejection or failure when I am doing God's work? What "keeps me humble"? Do I allow God's grace to overshadow my own weaknesses? ML

Bruce Janiga, a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., teaches Scripture studies at Seton Hall Prep in West Orange, N.J. He is the Sunday assistant at St. Cassian Church in Upper Montclair, N.J.