Commentary

Matthew’s Beatitudes

Today’s scriptures underline the upside-down nature of life in God’s kingdom. The prophet Micah proclaims that the only sacrifice God wants is justice. Paul insists that God’s foolishness and weakness are more powerful than worldly wisdom and strength. In the Beatitudes, Jesus describes true happiness in a way of life that runs contrary to ordinary human expectations.

The Gospel probes contrasts with the Beatitutes. Matthew gathers the teaching of Jesus into five great discourses and balances them with narratives of Jesus’ deeds. Today’s reading is the first of a series drawn from the first discourse, the Sermon on the Mount.

The “blessed” in the Old Testament are those who receive an earthly fulfillment—of prosperity, offspring and long life. In later Jewish writing, the blessings belong to those who will enter the final age of salvation. Jesus offers these future blessings now, for the kingdom is present in him.

The first four beatitudes reflect attitudes that climax with an unceasing hunger for a right relationship with God—both personally and communally. The second four reflect the actions and lifestyles of those who hunger in this way. In verse 10, Jesus teaches that those who live the Beatitudes will face persecution, for this way is contrary to all that the world espouses.

Jesus spoke these words to a crowd of peasants, a tattered bunch, probably not even knowing what they were searching for. They lacked an understanding of their plight. Jesus offered them another view of their aching unhappiness, a hidden dimension beyond their misery.

Jesus assured them that they were holy. He corrected the misconception that salvation must be earned and that earthly prosperity was a sign of divine favor. He reversed “top down” notions of religion, where sanctity filtered from the religious hierarchy to the common folk. He praised the kind of ordinary sanctity that Salvadoran theologian Jon Sobrino called, “in the God of the lowly, the greater God.”

Those whom the world would consider miserable are in Jesus’ eyes most happy. They have seen through the false promises of wealth and the fragility of human relationships. Knowing that all illusions must fail, they seek security in God. Those who mourn are blessed for several reasons: because they have loved deeply, and because God will comfort them.

Lectionary, Epiphany 4, Jan 29, 2023

I.Theme –   The Way of Life –  the Beatitutes

 

The lectionary readings are here  or individually: 

1.  Old Testament – Micah 6:1-8
2.  Psalm- Psalm 15
3.  Epistle – 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
4.  Gospel – Matthew 5:1-12 

The readings this week are like a mission statement – what should we do. The setting is important for the Old Testament and the Gospel – the Mountains. That’s traditionally where God is , a place of learning, a place where justice is fostered

The prophet Micah speaks to a people who have been led astray by other gods and by leaders who have failed to look to God’s ways. Micah declares that all of creation is listening; the mountains are acting as a jury in which the people and God come together with their conflict. Micah calls upon the people to set aside the religious practices of the peoples around them, which include giving of the harvest, burnt offerings, even one’s own firstborn child—and instead do what the Lord requires: to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God.

Psalm 15 speaks of those who will abide with God: the ones who practice God’s ways of righteousness and justice, who live out of honesty and give out of their hearts. This psalm is a song of preparation, for those to come before God, they must live into God’s ways.

1 Corinthians 1:18-31 continues Paul’s discourse to the Corinthian church

Proclaiming Christ crucified is the message that should unite the Corinthians—above all else, they follow a Savior who died for them. Corinth is a divided place – it was a diverse group, comprising slaves, freemen, Jews, Greeks, and others.

Paul now wants to show them how their faith distinguishes them from others, or how their faith has changed their orientation within their own tribe or family.  For Paul it is all about knowing – “how do we know God, how to we apprehend God?”  Paul surmises that the Jews have knowledge about God through the Law, and that the Greeks attempt to know God through philosophical dialogues.  Into this sophisticated world, Paul inserts an embarrassing and even upsetting notion – that the cross (stumbling block and foolishness) is the real wisdom of God. 

The focus this week will be on the Beatitudes.

Read more about the lectionary.

Lectionary, Jan. 22, 2023 – Epiphany 3, Year A

I.Theme –   Call to service with a call for unity

 

The Calling of the Apostles Peter and Andrew" – Duccio de Buoninsegna (1308-1311)

The lectionary readings are here  or individually: 

1. Isaiah 9:1-4- Isaiah

2.  Psalm- Psalm 27:1, 5-13 Page 617

3.  Epistle – 1 Corinthians 1:10-18

4.  Gospel – Matthew 4:12-23 

Isaiah provides the foretelling of Christ even at a time of defect.

The Gospel answers the question of the character of this ministry and what got it started. 

John the Baptist’s  death was the spark that caused the ministry to begin. It was necessary to emphasize in this beginning that Jesus’ ministry is aligned with God’s purpose as it is revealed in the Scriptures.   

When the news comes to him about John’s arrest, he makes a different choice,  by withdrawing to Galilee, where he calls his first disciples, preaches the Sermon on the Mount, begins his ministry of healing, and teaches what it means to be the Messiah who is "God with us." 

Unlike the Gospel of John, Matthew does not identify Jesus as the light of the world. Nonetheless, the prophecy from Isaiah makes clear that Jesus’ return to Galilee will be the occasion for those who sit in darkness to see "a great light" (Matthew 4:16-17). No doubt Jesus’ ministry of teaching and healing is the basis for that light.

Jesus calls people as they are, from where they are, being who they are.  At the same time, however, as the gospel narrative proceeds, readers learn that it is the followers of Jesus who bear his light in the world by their own (collective) way of life. In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells the people, "You (plural) are the light of the world,. . . Let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:14-16). Jesus’ proclamation that the realm (kingdom) of heaven has come near is the first flicker of a light that will grow and burn among his followers until they are able to “proclaim [it] from the housetops” (Matthew 10:27).

Those first disciples, for their part, might have preferred to keep their jobs, to remain with their families, to stay with the life that they knew. When they see Jesus and hear his words to them, they make a different choice, however; they take a risk, step out in faith, leave behind that which is comfortable and secure. They choose to follow Jesus. 

Paul 25 years after Christ wants the message of Christ to come through despite division in Corinth. Christ name was synonomous with the Church. There was some fragmentation. The Corinthians were putting certain leaders into a place that really belonged only to God. In that sense they were becoming ‘cult figures’. Jesus role needs to be restored. 

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Lectionary – Second Sunday after Epiphany

I.Theme –   Call and response to service

 

“Jesus and John” – Hagia Sophia, Istanbul 532

The lectionary readings are here  or individually:

1.  Isaiah 49:1-7 – Isaiah

2.  Psalm- Psalm 40:1-12

3.  Epistle – 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

4.  Gospel – John 1:29-42

Isaiah is there to call  Israel back to God. He identifies himself as chosen before he was born (like Jeremiah, Paul and John the Baptist) and even named (like Jesus). At the first level, in vv. 8-13 God invites the exiles to return from Babylon But note also “a time of favor” (v. 8) and “a day of salvation”: these terms speak of the end times. God saves both now and in the era to come. 

In the Psalm, God has snatched a human being out of the realm of death and has given life back to him. This is the origin of this thanksgiving. But this thanksgiving is not ‘a return,’ a human answer or ‘offering’…— Yahweh has put the song of thanksgiving into the mouth of the singer which begets new obedience.” The self-recognition or self-discovery in the Psalm is an experience every Christian faces.

Paul is called to be an “apostle”, one sent out by Christ to perform a special mission to the Corinthians.  God has strengthened them through their telling of the good news.  He has called them into “fellowship”, union with other believers which is union with Christ. It will be Christ who will really put them on a firm footing when he comes and God is the one we need to rely on ultimately. God is the one who really constitutes the community as a community of Christ, a Christian community. It began with God through Paul and it ends with God.

Jesus was baptized last week and now he is ready to get started in his ministry. He needs some helpers.

In the Gospel, those who are called gradually accept the identity of the one who calls them. With that goes whatever service the Lord calls us to.

There are three themes in the passage: John’s witness to Jesus, Jesus’ epiphany and identification, the call to discipleship. In this passage, Andrew and Peter are called to be disciples.

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Lectionary Epiphany 1 – The Baptism of our Lord

I.Theme –  The Promise of Christ and the revelation of the Trinity 

 “Epiphany”

This is the Sunday for the Baptism of the Lord. It takes us back first to Isaiah.

Isaiahs foreshadows the role Jesus will play. Isaiah promises justice and places the eventual Jesus in God’s sphere. “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight, I have bestowed my spirit upon him.”  Like God he is to be “light to the nations” and to look after the downtrodden (bring out the prisoners from the dungeon) and those that suffer handicaps (eyes that are blind). There are new things to be declared.a 

The Psalm speaks on the role of God noting God’s supremacy, glory,strength and even with a powerful voice that ultimately gives peace to the people. The power of God is particularly evident in nature (waters, trees, the wilderness) . The Psalmist, speaking of God’s covenant with David to be fulfilled in the messianic promise (Psalm 29), is told that he will be named as God’s “first born – highest among the kings of the earth.”

With Isaiah, this story shares the theme of God’s concern for all humankind being impartial, and not limited to the Jews.

The New Testament readings bring Jesus to this mix. Peter is visiting Cornelius in the Epistle, an officer of the occupying Roman army and already a believer in God. Peter breaks Jewish law by visiting a Gentile. The story in Acts 10:34-43 tells of the missionary zeal of the early church in bringing this Good News of the Messiah, the King of Kings and servant King – not only to the household of Israel but to the Gentile world as well. The conversion of Cornelius marks an important turning point in which the Holy Spirit has broken through with a clear new direction, and Peter preaches to this Gentile convert of how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power.” 

With the Gospel, it shares the theme of Baptism. “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. The reading is a capsule summary of Jesus meanings.  

Jesus baptism by John is to “fulfill all righteousness.”  Jesus baptism in Matthew shows his continuity with God’s will seen in the Old Testament: the coming of the “Spirit of God” (v. 16), an Old Testament term, shows he is the Messiah; the words spoken by the heavenly “voice” (v. 17) are much like Isaiah 42:1: Jesus is the agent of God who will suffer for others – not the kind of Messiah people expected.  

Christ’s baptism in the Jordan was “theophany,” a manifestation of God to the world, because it was the beginning of our Lord’s public ministry. It was also a “theophany” in that the world was granted a revelation of the Holy Trinity. All three Persons were made manifest together: the Father testified from on high to the divine Sonship of Jesus; the Son received His Father’s testimony; and the Spirit was seen in the form of a dove, descending from the Father and resting upon the Son.

The lectionary readings are here  or individually:

Old Testament – Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm – Psalm 29
Epistle –Acts 10:34-43
Gospel – Matthew 3:13-17 


Read more about the Sunday lectionary

The Epiphany Readings

The Epiphany readings are about travel, journey and ultimately sharing Christ’s light. But it is not easy as the opponents of Christ are present. Link to the readings:

  • Isaiah 60:1-6
  • Psalm 72:1-7,10-14
  • Ephesians 3:1-12
  • Matthew 2:1-12
  •  

    Epiphany means “appearance of the Lord.” In the East, where it started, this feast was instituted not to recall the Magi, but the birth of Jesus, the Christmas, the appearance of the light. In the West—where Christmas was celebrated on December 25—it was received in the fourth century and became the feast of the “manifestation of the light of the Lord” to the Gentiles and the universal call to all people to salvation in Christ. Magi reveal the truth of John 1:9 – the true of God, coming into the world, enlightens all creation and every person. Every child is an incarnation of our beloved Savior.

    The light image is significant. The word used for the “East” in the Gospel , “anatolai (plural)/anatole (singular)”, really means “the rising,” that is, the rising of the sun (our word “orient” comes from a Latin word with the same meaning: oriens). The word “anatole” would have had a number of resonances for the first Greek-speaking, Jewish-Christian hearers of Matthew’s story.

    First, the rising of the sun in the East readily suggests the imagery of light, which is often associated with salvation in the Bible. The Old Testament reading for the day (Isaiah 60:1-6), to which the magi story clearly alludes (see especially verses 5-6), begins with the words, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”

    Isaiah’s vision of salvation, the light of the Lord shined, includes a pilgrimage of the nations, who will come to Israel’s light, to worship the God of Israel, bringing their gifts. With the story of the Magi, Matthew is telling us that this prophecy is fulfilled: guided by the light of the Messiah, the Gentiles (represented by the Magi) make their way to Jerusalem, to bring gold, frankincense and myrrh. The popular piety applied to each of these gifts a symbolic meaning: gold indicates the recognition of Jesus as king, incense represents the adoration in front of his divinity, myrrh recalls his humanity—this fragrant resin will be remembered during the passion (Mk 15:23; Jn 19:39).

    Even the story of the mounts was not invented for nothing. It is still the first reading today that speaks to us of “a troop of camels and dromedaries” that come from the East (Is 60:6). Unlike the shepherds who contemplated and rejoiced in front of the salvation that the Lord had revealed to them, the magi prostrated themselves in worship (v. 11). Their gesture recalls the court’s ceremony—the prostration and kissing of the feet of the king—or kissing the ground before the image of the deity. The pagans have therefore recognized as their king and their God, the child of Bethlehem and offered him their gifts.

    Read about the scripture appointed for Epiphany

    Matthew’s Gospel for Advent 4 – Christmas is disruptive

    From Trinity Episcopal, NY – Summerlee Staten

    “The Dream of St. Joseph” – Anton Raphael Mengs 1773/1774

    Matthew 1:18-25

    “Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

    “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.


    In Sunday’s Gospel, Matthew considers an annunciation. Unlike the other Gospels, which focus on the announcement of Jesus’s impending birth to Mary, Matthew wonders how the news must have landed for Joseph, Jesus’s earthly father.

    Joseph probably had traditional aspirations for his married life. He must have been looking forward to a new chapter with Mary — the children they would raise together and the life they would build in Nazareth. But when he is told that Mary is expecting, Joseph does not get what he is expecting. His carefully laid plans are disrupted by a God who has bigger ideas. His life, like Mary’s, will never be the same — and now he will have to rely on a deeper trust in God.

    In his refusal to dismiss Mary, Joseph exhibits stalwart compassion. Because he is a “righteous man,” he is guided by kindness and is willing to relinquish his expectations, and maybe even his dreams of a particular kind of married life, to a deeper vision.

    It is Joseph, Matthew says, who “named” Jesus, a name that means salvation. And yet, he surely could not have known the full implications of Jesus’s arrival — not in his own life, nor for the life of the world.

    The annunciation to Joseph reminds us that Christmas is disruptive. Jesus’s arrival in the world and in our lives destabilizes our plans for a perfectly planned life and asks us to accept the interruption of God into time — into the messiness of human life.

    Arts and Faith, Advent 4, Year A —

    In these last days of Advent, daylight is short, the weather is cold, and we are weary of the stress and hustle and bustle of preparing for the holidays. In The Dream of Saint Joseph by Anton Raphael Mengs (1773), we meet the sleeping Joseph, who dozes off at his workbench. He is worn out, like we might be these days. His sleep is heavy with the burden of heartbreak and hard decisions, his dreams haunted by the fading hope of a life and family that might not be. His cloak and dark garments weigh on his shoulders as if to symbolize his burden.

    Into his dark and heavy sleep enters the light of an angel. The angel illuminates the scene with a lightness to her whole being—an image to balance Joseph’s burden. She is light, she is hope, she is assurance, she is direction, and she is purpose. Her finger points boldly into the darkest corner of the scene as if to say: This, your deepest and darkest fear and worry, is where the Good News of Jesus Christ will meet you. Do not be afraid.

    For Joseph, his greatest burden will become his greatest blessing. His dream is a consolation to us all in these darkest days of the year, whether we experience the darkness externally or internally. The light of Christ will shine to dispel the darkness—where in your life do you yearn for it most?

    Mary’s Song – the “Magnificat”

    From Songs in Waiting

    The Song of Mary – The Magnificat

    Luke 1:46-55

    “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,

    “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
    for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

    “From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
    the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.

    “He has mercy on those who fear him *
    in every generation.

    “He has shown the strength of his arm, *
    he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

    “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
    and has lifted up the lowly.

    “He has filled the hungry with good things, *
    and the rich he has sent away empty.

    “He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
    for he has remembered his promise of mercy,

    “The promise he made to our fathers, *
    to Abraham and his children for ever.”


    It is a song that speaks profoundly about being “childlike.” Luke focuses his entire Christmas narrative around the person of Mary, who was probably just a child, a young girl who was per­haps twelve to fourteen years old, as it was customary for Jewish girls to marry just after puberty 

    In this light, the Christmas story is of a child hav­ing The Child 

    When people begin to bring their children to Jesus for his blessing, the disciples send them away, seeing the children as a waste of his precious time. But Jesus rebukes them, saying, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14), He is saying that the deep­est spiritual knowledge, while hidden from the wise and learned, is revealed to children. He even goes so far as to say that in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, we must become like children: “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Jesus often refers to us all as “children of God” 

    The name Magnificat comes from the first word in the Latin Vulgate translation of this song, “magnify” or “glorify.” Most probably a compilation of phrases from the Psalms, various Old Testament prophetic books, and Hannah’s Song in 1 Samuel, the Magnifi­cat has been part of Christian liturgy at least since the time of Saint Benedict in the fifth and sixth centuries. 

    The Magnificat has been recited every day for cen­turies by Christians, chanted by monks, and set to music by composers of every age, perhaps the most famous being Johann Sebastian Bach’s composition, which he wrote for Christmas Day 1725 

    It is on behalf of this baby that majestic buildings like Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris have been constructed and great saints like Francis of Assisi or Mother Teresa have so whole­heartedly dedicated their lives to the service of God and humankind. It is to the glory of the one whose birth we celebrate that Bach composed, El Greco painted, Augustine of Hippo preached, and Pascal wrote, and because Jesus the Christ was born count­less individuals would receive comfort as they went serenely to their martyrdom years after his own death. Knowing all this, it is a deeply moving experi­ence to stand today in Nazareth, in the Church of the Annunciation, the site where it is believed Mary was first confronted by the angel. The lines in the first scene of Shakespeare’s Hamlet seem to say it best: “So hallowed and so gracious is the time.” 

    However, more than just being a song of a child about a child, this song is a call to each of us who de­sire to be followers of Christ, leading us toward be­coming   more   childlike   in   our   responses   and relationship with our Creator. Out of the depth of her joy, Mary sings of the crucial qualities of childlike-ness that the Christ Child, when he became an adult, urged his followers to embrace. 

    Read the rest of Mary

    Advent 3 – Joy

    This candle reflects the joy that comes through Jesus’ arrival, and through the salvation he has gifted us. During this third week of advent, this Sunday celebrates the passage Philippians 4:4-5, its verses extolling readers to “rejoice” for “indeed the Lord is near.”
    This Sunday is traditionally known as “Gaudete” or “Rejoice” Sunday, so called because of the heightened excitement in anticipation for the birth of Christ

    During a time where depression is at an all-time high and people seem to be in the most despair, this candle offers a bright light during a dark time.

    It is also known as the Shepherd Candle to highlight the joy the shepherds experienced when they received the good news about Christ’s birth (Luke 2:8-20). During the middle of the night, the darkest time, the shepherds encountered angels.

    The third candle of Advent has an unusual place. In most advent wreaths, it is the one candle that is a different color, pink, than the others. There is something unique, more spontaneous, and celebratory about the theme of the third week of Advent compared to the others.

    In contrast to purple, pink or rose represents joy and celebration. One of the ancient church’s popes gave a citizen a pink rose on the third Sunday of Lent, symbolizing the moment of joy amidst Lent’s fasting and penance. Therefore, when Catholic priests modeled Advent celebrations on Lent, they wore rose-colored robes and set the third Sunday of December as the time to remember joy. The pink or rose-colored advent candle is lit on that third Sunday.

    It’s also worth noting that more so than the other three Advent themes, joy is something we associate with spontaneous action. Hope, peace, joy, and love are all things that God places in us and should be ongoing attitudes in our lives. However, hope and peace are generally seen as inner qualities that we cultivate by meditating on ideas like God’s provision. Love is something we do, but also something we cultivate and meditate on.

    Joy tends to have a more spontaneous effect. Joy can motivate us to celebrate or worship with glorious abandon (like David did when he danced in front of the ark of the covenant). In that light, it’s appropriate that the advent candle representing joy is a different color, highlighting the different nature of joy compared to the other advent themes.

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