Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Third Sunday of Lent 2019

Our Lenten journey continues!  We offer a Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM for your prayer. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection March 24 2019 Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photos: Warhawk Catholic Campus Ministry Center Chapel, Whitewater, Wisconsin.

LUKE 13:1-9

At that time some people who were present there told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. He said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!

Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them–do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”

And he told them this parable: “There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not, you can cut it down.'”

BACKGROUND

The description of the two tragic events in this Sunday’s gospel is unique to Luke. They also reveal a basic understanding of people of his day, namely that bad things happen to people as punishment for their transgressions.

There are also some elements in the text that may not be immediately apparent to the contemporary reader. Pilate’s deed reported here is not substantiated by history, but it is in keeping with his reputation, and therefore there is no reason to doubt that it did occur. Pilate was a representative of an occupying foreign government that was greatly disliked. Galilee was known as a center of political animosity toward Rome. To have people murdered while they were in the midst of the ritual of offering sacrifice, thereby mingling their blood with the blood of the animals being sacrificed, would be disgusting, but not out of character for Pilate. If Jesus had remained silent when confronted with this rumor, he would lose credibility with the people. If he spoke out against Pilate, he would be seen as an anarchist.

The other incident mentioned in the text is that some innocent people had a portion of the temple wall collapse on them. The location would have been near the pool of Siloam. Historical records cannot authenticate this incident either. In both incidents, there is a presumption that the tragedy occurred as a punishment for some sin of the victims. Jesus turns these two incidents into a warning that all need to be prepared for the unexpected: Be aware of your own sinfulness and turn toward God before some unexpected event comes upon you.

Then Jesus tells a parable that focuses on the compassionate mercy of God. Luke’s community would see themselves in the parable. The people of Israel were often portrayed as the vineyard of Yahweh. The fig tree planted within the orchard would represent the leader of the people. Fig trees usually bear fruit ten months of the year. When first planted, their fruit is not picked for three years while the tree matures. The fruit of the fourth year is given in sacrifice to God. Since this is the third year the owner has come looking for fruit from this tree, it is presumed to be in its seventh year. The tenant farmer is suggesting that the tree be given an additional year to mature, in hope that it will begin to produce figs. In this culture, everything is believed to be in limited supply, even the nutrients of the earth. To suggest that an unproductive tree be given additional care and nurturing would seem extravagant, and perhaps even wasteful, to the people of the day.

Jesus makes his point about the abundance of God’s mercy with a bit of humor. The gardener who has suggested nurturing the tree with more fertilizer would be using only one kind of fertilizer, manure. The unproductive tree would be understood to represent the religious and civil elite of the day, who are not taking their responsibilities seriously but instead are living well off the fruits of the labors of others. A common person in the crowd would delight in the thought of a gardener liberally spreading manure around the base of this fig tree.

REFLECTION QUESTIONS

1. When I hear of tragic deaths of innocent people, I find myself…
2. When I hear the explanations being offered for why these things have happened, I find myself…
3. When I think of the tragedies that have taken place in my own life, I…
4. If Jesus would have asked me what the gardener should do with barren fig tree, I would have suggested…
5. The gardener’s suggestion that the tree be watered and fertilized for yet another year makes me aware…
6. Can you recall a time when you became aware of your own sinfulness and desire for repentance?
7. Have you ever doubted the mercy of God for yourself?
8. Can you take some time now to talk to God honestly about your need for forgiveness, your fear that you are not truly forgiven for some past sinfulness, or your gratitude for God’s forgiveness?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Second Week of Lent 2019

As we begin the sacred time of Lent, we offer a Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM for your prayer. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection March 17 2019 Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photos: St. Philips Parish, Green Bay, Wisconsin; St. Rita prayer board, Holy Family Convent, Manitowoc, Wisconsin

Luke 9:28b-36

Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.

Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But he did not know what he was saying. While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.

Background

Luke places his account of the Transfiguration after Jesus’ first prediction of his future rejection by the elders, scribes and chief priests. (Luke 9:22) After this prediction, Jesus tells the disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me…” (Luke 9:23) Luke states that it was about eight days after Jesus had given this teaching that he took Peter, John, and James up the mountain where the transfiguration took place.

The actual transfiguration takes place while the disciples are “overcome by sleep.” The event as described by Luke has two distinct parts. The first is a description of the transfiguration of Jesus. The text states that Jesus took Peter, James and John up the mountain to pray. Neither Matthew (Matthew 17:1-8) nor Mark (Mark 9:2-8) mention that Jesus is going up the mountain to pray. Luke relates this to his community as an experience of Jesus in prayer. It is Jesus who is changed, interiorly and exteriorly. The text states that his face was changed, and his clothing became dazzling white. But this prayer experience does not include Peter, James and John. Verse 32 states that they were overcome by sleep.

The second part of the description includes the disciples, but it no longer refers to them as Peter, James, and John. Now it is Peter and his companions, reflecting Peter’s role in the rest of the event. He recognizes the unique blessing of the experience and suggests that they build tents so that Jesus, Moses, and Elijah can stay, and the experience can continue. Lest Peter misunderstand what is taking place, they are embraced by the dark cloud of God’s presence, and God states clearly that Jesus is God’s Son. Then when the cloud lifts, Jesus is standing there alone. Jesus is not a prophet like Moses and Elijah, but he only is God’s Son.

Reflection Questions

1. So far, this lent has been…
2. If a friend asked me to accompany them for a day of climbing, I would likely respond…
3. When I am praying, I have noticed…
4. What do you think was going through the minds of the disciples during the eight days after Jesus’ prediction of his own rejection and death, and telling them that they, too, must be willing to take up their cross if they are going to be his follower?
5. The gospel text describes a dark cloud appearing and coming over the disciples. That experience of the disciples reminded me…
6. If I were to put myself in the shoes of Peter, James, or John coming down the mountain that day, I…
7. Why do you think the Church has chosen to give us this gospel text for our reflection as we begin the second week of Lent?
8. Can you take some time to talk with God honestly about your experience of God’s presence in your own journey or this lent, or some other thought that arises within you from this gospel?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: First Sunday of Lent 2019

As we begin the sacred time of Lent, we offer a Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM for your prayer. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection March 10 2019. Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photos: Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis

Luke 4:1-13

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'”

Then he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. The devil said to him, “I shall give to you all this power and their glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me.” Jesus said to him in reply, “It is written: ‘You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.'”

Then he led him to Jerusalem, made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and: ‘With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.'” Jesus said to him in reply, “It also says, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.'”

When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.

Background

Luke ends his description of the Baptism of Jesus with the voice of God proclaiming: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22) At the time of Jesus, people believed that such a statement would have been heard throughout the spirit world. It was their understanding that numerous evil spirits roamed about creating havoc on human beings. The first verses of the Book of Job contain a dialogue between Satan and God that illustrates the thinking of the ancient peoples regarding the role of evil spirits in their world:

“One day, when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, Satan also came among them. And the Lord said to Satan, “Whence do you come?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “From roaming the earth and patrolling it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job, and that there is no one on earth like him, blameless and upright, fearing God and avoiding evil?” But Satan answered the Lord and said, “Is it for nothing that Job is God-fearing? Have you not surrounded him and his family and all that he has with your protection? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his livestock are spread over the land. But now put forth your hand and touch anything that he has, and surely he will blaspheme you to your face.” (Job 1:6-11)

These ancient people would expect that the evil spirits would respond to God’s statement of confidence and delight in Jesus with a challenge, to see if Jesus proves to truly be the person that God has claimed.

The temptations themselves can be seen as an attempt to get Jesus to use power — personal, social, and religious — in a way that would align him with the elite and powerful of the day. Rejecting the use of power aligns Jesus with the peasants. Luke is setting the stage for the rest of Jesus’ ministry through the choices that Jesus makes. Unlike the Jewish people who went into the wilderness and repeatedly complained and abandoned their relationship with Yahweh, Jesus remains faithful. He is the “one more powerful” that John spoke of. “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.” (Luke 3:16) Luke ends his account of Jesus’ temptation with the suggestion that the tempter left Jesus but will look for another opportunity to return. That opportunity will come at the crucifixion.

Reflection Questions

1. When you think of your own periods of hardships…
2. Are there people that you admire for how they have dealt with hardships in their lives?
3. If you were to consider that it was the Holy Spirit who was leading you into a place of temptation…
4. Because Jesus dealt with temptations…
5. Why do you think we begin every Lent with a gospel reading that focuses on Jesus being tempted?
6. As I enter this season of Lent, I expect…
7. Can you take some time now to talk with God about the difficult periods in your life, your attitude of entering another Lenten season, or some other concern that arose from this gospel text?

Franciscan Sisters Begin Season of Lent

One with all Christians, Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity begin Lent, a season of growth centered in the person of Jesus. May the Lord bless you!