Cycle A – DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
Introduction to Matthew
Matthew was writing for a predominantly Jewish audience, and so he occasionally presumes a bit of knowledge about the laws and customs of Judaism that many of us might be unfamiliar with. But it is easy for us to understand his references if we check the footnotes of any standard Bible.
More importantly, the structure of his gospel is not a simple sort of travelogue as we find in Mark and Luke; instead, between his infancy narrative at the beginning and the passion-resurrection story at the end, he groups his material into five “sermons.” His original audience would have grasped that he is imitating the arrangement of the Old Testament where the first five books are grouped together as the Torah, the five books of the Law, that detail the earliest history not just of the creation of humankind but also of the calling and rescue of the Chosen People of Israel. Jesus is thus portrayed as the New Moses and the Christian community as the New Israel.
Introduction to Advent
People often wonder why we hear so little during Advent about the events leading up to Jesus’s birth. The answer is that event is only one of his advents/comings. The first Sunday calls us to ponder how we will greet him when he comes again. The second and third describe how the people of his own day reacted to John the Forerunner who prepared them for his message—and make us ask how we would respond to his coming to us now. What needs to change in our hearts and our lives? The Fourth Sunday tells us that only those with deep faith can help Christ come into the world—often in unexpected ways.
The First Sunday in Advent
Background: “You cannot know the day that your Lord is coming.” In last Sunday’s gospel from Luke the good thief is told by Jesus that on that very day he would be with Jesus in Paradise. This week, as with every year on the First Sunday of Advent, we hear in the gospel part of an “eschatological discourse” on the “last times.” Yet in a way, every day is part of the last times since our choices and lifestyle either build Jesus’s kingdom/reign or they don’t—and that fact will one day be revealed to everybody. “It is time for us to rise from sleep!”
- What darkness within us still resists being brought out into the light of Christ?
- What darkness in our relationships keeps us from sharing the light of Christ?
- What darkness in our church keeps us from revealing Christ’s light to the world in a convincing way?
- The Judge is also the Good Shepherd. When you meet Jesus face to face, what would you like to share with him about yourself and your life?
Practice: “The day is at hand.” What good deed have you been putting off? What kind and compassionate involvement have you been procrastinating about? How will you start making it happen—now!?
The Second Sunday in Advent
Background: The Synoptic Gospels present John the Baptist as the Forerunner of Jesus, as the prophet whose words and deeds were a call to repentance, to accepting that the kingdom/reign of God is right at hand every day. We will all at last be judged by for what we choose day by day. Yet John is only the herald and not the one who can recreate humankind with wisdom, understanding, and counsel, because only Jesus brings the transforming power of the Spirit.
- For what people might Jesus have chosen you to be his herald today? What message has he given you to proclaim—especially in simple and ordinary ways?
- What is keeping you from being a stalwart herald? What needs to change in your life if you are going to proclaim the good news of Jesus’s transforming presence?
- Who in our society especially needs to hear Jesus’s call to change?
- How is the fire of the Holy Spirit slowly changing your life by faithfulness and mercy?
Practice: Every day this week, after you watch the news or read a newspaper or magazine, pause, and pray deep within your heart the following prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in us the fire of your love! Each time as for a specific gift of the Spirt to help you change.
The Third Sunday in Advent
Background: Once again John is pointing out the difference between his ministry and that of Jesus. Both are proclaiming that the kingdom/reign of God is right at hand. But only Jesus can bring radical transformation to the hearts and lives of his disciples. Only he can give us, by baptism, the power of his Spirit.
- How has Jesus already healed and empowered you?
- What within you is making you still resist the Spirit’s transforming power?
- To whom is Jesus sending you to be the messenger of good news and transformation?
- Why is the message of Jesus still not transforming the world?
Practice: Jesus’s message was especially addresses to the poor and vulnerable of this world. As you are busy about getting ready for Christmas, how will you make this holiday a time of happiness for these people in our day?
The Fourth Sunday in Advent
Background: The only way that Jesus could come into this world was by the “obedient faith” of very ordinary people like Mary and Joseph who were willing to do the unexpected when God called them.
- Where in your life have you never thought to look for the presence of Jesus? Why not?
- Which of God’s many calls to you have you been too afraid to answer?
- How has your life and the lives of others been changed when you did answer one of God’s calls?
- What situation in our society dos the church seem still afraid to answer? How might your witness change that?
Practice: A refrain to a popular church song is “Be not afraid: I go before you always. Come, follow me, and I will give you rest.” During your prayer this week ponder this refrain and each day sing it to yourself several times. (This music can be found on YouTube.)