Sunday Scripture Readings



Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11;

(Psalm) Luke 1:46-50, 53-54;

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

OUR GOOD NEWS: We rejoice in our right relationship with God that Jesus has made permanent. In today's second reading, Paul exploded with concern for his Christian community which he had founded in the Greek city of Thessalonika. In a staccato-like series of admonitions he urged improvement where they (we?) have already distinguished themselves. "Be joyful always!" In secular usage, "joy" can't be commanded, since it depends upon outside circumstances ultimately beyond one's control - for example, health, friends, meaningful employment. But as a religious term "joy" designates our reaction to a right relationship with God which, thanks to Jesus, has become permanent and unchanging. If we focus on Good News, on what's really important, we'll "always wear a happy face," "sing out our happy song." "Pray without ceasing" ("never give up prayer"): not continually reciting words (we've got work to do!) but constantly feeling the need of turning to God, whether or not in crisis. "Be thankful to God in all circumstances," whatever happens. In sum, the heart of Christian ethics - how we are to behave - consists in lives of quiet but incessant joy, prayer and thanksgiving. "God's will in Christ Jesus" empowers us rather than eliminates human effort. Paul also urges us to remain open to growth and newness, however disturbing or threatening to our superficial peace of mind. "Do not despise prophecies": "prophecies" are not predictions of future events but practical, concrete applications of God's will in our daily behavior. God's prophetic "spirit" can speak to us through daily Bible reading, teachers, parents and spouses, our children and their friends, even strangers and unbelievers. But we mustn't be naively uncritical. Paul urges us to "test all of these messages to see if they're right, really do come from God." His summary advice involves a play on words. "Hold fast (put into practice) everything that is good; hold off from doing anything which is evil." Paul concluded with a solemn invocation on behalf of us his audience. He first prayed that God, ultimate source and giver of shalom (total material but especially spiritual well-being) "make us like Himself in every way" ("perfect holiness"). He then further specified this petition, begging that every aspect of human existence may belong completely to God: "spirit" (our inner person who thinks and worships), "soul" (life in its outward manifestations), and "body" (our human nature with its inherent weaknesses). Christ's final coming will be the supreme test, when only those of us empowered by divine saving grace can win through to eternal victory. But because the same reliable God is at work for us in the meantime, from now until Final Judgment, we can trust His effective power to deliver on His marvelous promises of our salvation. In sum, the second reading's Good News is that we find enduring joy through constant growth in holiness, aided by others who prophetically mediate God's will, and sustained by divine grace we can always count on. We can do it!

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