Turn around

Reflection on the Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Times

By Greg Swiderski

The readings for this Sunday:

Ezekiel 18:25-28
Philippians 2:1-11
Matthew 21:28-32

Salman Rushdie lived under a sentence of death, a fatwa, for 9 years because of his novel, Satanic Verses. Now he is free to travel and speak. He came to Pittsburgh to talk about his latest novel, Shalimar the Clown. Charlee Song of WDUQ interviewed him. He described the Kashmiri Valley in which much of the story evolves as an idyllic place with lush trees, honey bees, saffron; the people there were known for their gentleness. Since 1947 they have been caught in the violent conflict between two states: India and Pakistan. Rushdie, by birth Indian, has familial roots there.

He told Charlee that writing this story was difficult because he knew the people who were caught in this horrific violence. He observed that it does something to the Psyche when your magic space gets broken.

Ezekiel and the other prophets spoke for and to a people who likewise experienced such devastation. Their voices challenged the status quo and denounced the violence perpetrated upon the most vulnerable, the poor and the powerless.

In today's pericope we hear only part of Chapter 18. The prophet needs to proclaim hope. People thought they were prisoners to the sins of generations which had gone before them. They were unable to free themselves from a force bigger than themselves: the sins of the fathers seemed visited upon their children.

Ezekiel says a resounding NO. Each individual is responsible for his or her own choices. This priest and prophet offers an innovation to ethical thinking.

Has Christianity failed?

Reflection on the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Times

By Greg Swiderski

The readings for this Sunday:

Isaiah 55:6-9
Philippians 1:20c-24, 27a
Matthew 20:1-16a

Has Christianity failed? More people living in poverty in this country and the radical cleavage between rich and poor seem indisputable evidence asserting "Yes" to this query. When gospel people say that "the poor you will always have with you" I want to gag. Why don't they quote I Timothy 6: "those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains." (NRSV) There is more, much more.

Peter says the darndest things

Reflection on the Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Times

By Greg Swiderski

The readings for this Sunday:

Sirach 27:30-28:7
Romans 14:7-9
Matthew 18:21-35

The sculpture of St. Peter in the Basilica in Rome is one of the most popular attractions there. He holds two keys and models the gospel which we heard a few weeks ago. Some people even kiss the feet of the famous statute.

However, Matthew's gospel etches a richer, more colorful and humane person.

As we have read about him these weeks he reminds me of the children in Art Linkletter's old program: Kids Say the Darndest Things. Peter acts and asks difficult questions.

He stepped out of the boat and like the Greek of his name, rock, he skips across the deep waters until his fresh child like energy is dissipated by reality: “What the hell am I doing?” we can imagine this man of the world asking himself in utter astonishment. Like the stones we skip across placid lake water, he then begins to sink as any stone would.

When Jesus asks who people say that I am, he responds quickly, clearly: the Anointed One of God!

Ezekiel’s challenge

Reflection on the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Times

By Pat Rampolla

The readings for this Sunday:

Ezekiel 33:7-9
Romans 13:8-10
Matthew 18:15-20

As I reflected on the readings for this Sunday, I was struck by the opening prayer for today’s Liturgy: “Lord Our God, in you, justice and mercy meet”. For me, that phrase set the theme for all the readings and the challenge to live our lives negotiating that delicate balance between justice and mercy.

In the first reading, Ezekiel was called to watch and warn the community about their evil ways. As Rev. Roger Karban says in his commentary on this reading: “The watchman image conveys a picture of someone out in front, ahead of everyone else, in a position to see what others will only see later.” ( If you would like to receive his commentaries, now that they are no longer available in the Pittsburgh Catholic, you can contact Fellowship of southern Illinois Laity, P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL, 62222. They will send you his reflections for a donation.)

Back to the watchman(person) image. Isn’t that what a prophet is supposed to be.? To be out in front, warning, encouraging, challenging us to move out of our comfortable little holes that we have dug so that we don’t have to deal with the “chaos” and “messiness” of the real world. Edwina Gately, in her remarks to the Sisters and Associates of Divine Providence during their Annual Assembly in August, reminded us that God is always there seducing us with wine and fruit and all kinds of goodies to come out of our holes.

Ezekiel was called, as we are, to “be out front” on issues that deeply affect our beloved Church and world. But Ezekiel was reminded, at least according to my reading, not to judge or condemn those who were reluctant to change. That was left up to Yahweh.

Paul issues us a very strong directive that really sums up all the commandments. “Love does no evil to the neighbor.” Aren’t we tempted, especially in these chaotic times(and when has it not been chaotic), to wish evil on our enemies, those we believe are committing evil in God’s name? How does mercy and justice dwell in our hearts?

In the Gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus gives us responsibility for the spiritual well-being of the community. This reinforces Ezekiel’s challenge to be out in front , speaking the truth with love, as we have prayerfully discerned it, in spite of the risks involved.

Questions ...

Reflection on the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Times

By Pen Lytle

The readings for this Sunday

Jeremiah 20:7-9

  • Whether we are called to prophesy or not, we need to grow continually in discernment. How do we discern the voice of God's prophets from those who distort and abuse power? How be still and hear God speak in our hearts?
  • We tend to hear from our limited frame of reference colored by fears and desires. Only the pure of heart hear God's truth. The rest of us tinge it with illusion, thus we may feel duped.

Who do you, personally, today, say I am?

Reflection on the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Times

By Lola Wells

The readings for this Sunday:

Isaiah 22:19-23
Romans 11:33-36
Matthew 16:13-20

Matthew 16:13-20:

13 Jesus went out into the region of Caesarea Philippi and he asked his disciples "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"

14 They replied, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."

15 He said too them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter said in reply,

16 "you are the Christ the Son of the living God."

17 Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.

18 And I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.

19 I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you lose on earth shall be loosed in heaven,"

20 Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.


Matthew, Mark and Luke all include in their Gospels the first part of this passage where Jesus is interested in knowing who others think he is. It is only Matthew who includes the section in which Jesus establishes Peter as the head of what would appear to be a church that has broken its ties with the faith of the Israelites. This passage is used as evidence, dare we say proof text, that Jesus is the direct founder of the Christian religion and the one who established Peter as the head of a church with a hierarchal structure. Matthew wrote his Gospel probably as late as 900A.D.; therefore, he had no personal knowledge of Jesus or the original disciples. He may have been a converted rabbi, i.e., he was concerned for church order, was scholarly, wrote well and gave a softer presentation of the rabbis.

In the New Jerome Biblical Commentary it is proposed that verses 17-19 above provide us with a post-Easter story about leadership in the church. In Gnostic Thomas it is James in Jerusalem, the leader of the Jewish Christians, who is pictured in the key leadership role. The Gentile Christians would have voted Paul into the key leadership spot. Matthew presents Peter as the compromise candidate who could hold both tendencies together in the early church. Matthew is engaging in "ecumenical good sense" when he proposed a compromise candidate for the position. It is sad that Mary Magdalene does not seem to have even been given consideration. Certainly Peter had outstanding qualifications, but so did Mary, and she is the one Jesus chose to be the Apostle to the Apostles. Matthew, however, selects Peter, and in his Gospel he has Jesus select Peter by adding this brief dialogue onto an established and accepted conversation between Jesus and the disciples.

Awaken a fresh perspective

Reflection on the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Times

By Greg Swiderski

The readings for this Sunday:

Isaiah 56:1, 6-7
Romans 11:13-15, 29-32
Matthew 15:21-28

It seems popular to encourage people to think outside the box. This Sunday's gospel presents Jesus acting outside the box. He needs the persistent and even embarrassing probing of a mother to do it. Matthew and Mark tell us that she is a foreigner, a Gentile. True; however, she is also a mother whose daughter is ill. A caring and desperate parent will not take Jesus' insult; she will try anything.

I have been feeling close to desperate as I observe what is happening in our country and the church. I imagine that each of us might have our own list of reasons for such feelings. I have lived most of my life. Like this mother I feel concerned for children and grandchildren who will face demands and challenges.

I try to understand why this is so and what I can do. This past Sunday I heard a segment of On the Media on NPR which gave me some insight.

Peter jumps into the stormy sea

Reflection on the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Times

By Don Rampolla

The readings for this Sunday:

1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:22-33

It’s too easy to assume that it was after jumping that Peter’s faith became weak. But what if Peter’s jump itself indicated weak faith?

Think back to the account of Jesus’ temptation in Chapter 4 of Matthew. “Satan set Him (Jesus) on a pinnacle of the temple and said to Him if you are the Son of God cast yourself down …”. Jesus refused “You shall not tempt the Lord your God”.

Some commentators interpret this passage as indicating that Jesus was refusing to resort to flashy miracles to prove who He was or to increase his following.

Peter on the contrary decided to leap. Could it be that he was still not sure of who Jesus was, and was tempting Jesus --- looking for the kind of flashy miracle that Jesus had refused to work? Of course Jesus does work the miracle of rescuing Peter --- but that’s not what Peter had expected. And despite that miracle Peter’s still weak faith was again manifested after Jesus’ arrest.

So how does this apply to me?

A couple of weeks ago my wife Pat and I were on the peak of Mt. Pisgah (5000 ft) on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. The view was breathtaking I had such mixed emotions --- on the one hand feeling so insignificant, on the other feeling so fortunate to have a part in this magnificent undertaking we call creation. My response to this second feeling was something like “Whooppee God --- I’m glad to be alive”. I’ve had this whoopee response many times during the last 20 years --- but it comes and goes. There are plenty of days when I’m distraught or distressed by what seems like the “daily grind”, and there’s not much whoopee in my response to life. On days like these I’m sure that my whoopee would be restored (at least for the moment) if I saw a falling Jesus caught in midair by angels, or if I could walk on water at Jesus bidding. So in a way I’m looking for a flashy miracle to give me a boost. But if my faith was strong enough I’d be able to see every moment of my life as a whoopee moment --- the opportunity to act in this creation and to receive and respond to God’s love.

Here’s a passing thought about the enormity and excitement of just the earthly part of creation. How many living organisms --- from the slime molds on up --- are working 24/7 to keep this earth alive?

Regarding flashy miracles recall the reading from last Sunday where Isaiah (55:2) says “why spend …. your wages on what does not satisfy?” A thousand years after Isaiah Augustine says “our hearts are restless until they rest in you”. Jesus knew well that flashy miracles will not satisfy a restless heart for very long. So the challenge posed to me by today’s Gospel is to work and pray for a deepening of faith that will enable me to say each and every day, come what may, “Whooppee God, I’m glad to be alive”.