Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings


Solemnity of our Lord


Jesus Christ the King,


November 24


Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; Psalm 23;


1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28; Matthew 25:31-46

OUR GOOD NEWS: Christ, King of all human beings, commands us to mutual caring.

Jesus' description of end-time judgment is intended not as a detailed scenario of what will happen but as instruction on how to live our lives now. The suffering and humiliated earthly Son of Man now reigns within his Church, but apparently absent from history. His future return is described in standard Old Testament apocalyptic imagery: "glory" (divinity made visible), "escorting angels, royal throne, (assembly of) all nations." Final judgment, elsewhere always reserved to God, will be exercised by Christ.

Surprisingly absent are customary bizarre descriptions and fantastic speculations about rewards and punishment. Jesus likewise omits standard norms for salvation or condemnation, such as membership in the chosen race, fidelity to Mosaic law, or martyrdom in holy wars against unbelievers. He will consult no Book of Life (computer printout?) to tabulate merits and deviations. Instead, separation will be child's play, as simple as a shepherd's evening sorting of mixed flock. Anyone can tell "sheep" from "goats"!

The list of deeds for which "sheep" will be rewarded are repeated, litany-like, four times for emphasis and solemnity. Isaiah 61:1-2 predicted reversal of such troubles in the messianic age, a passage Jesus proclaimed fulfilled in his own mission (Lk 4:18). Nevertheless, hunger, poverty, refugees and the barbaric criminal justice system which plagued the ancient world also make the daily TV news. He who during earthly life associated with public sinners now identifies in risen but distant glory with every sort of human misery, present to be encountered and served in all who suffer. Note too that these mediators of Christ are significantly not identified as Christians, or as sinless, God-fearing and "deserving."

Recent scholarship tends to agree on the universal dimension of this passage. Jesus will return as cosmic Lord to judge all humankind, pagans as well as Christians. Those who never heard the Good News will be saved or condemned for how they reacted to Christ hidden among them in the needy. Every single person without exception is offered salvation through Jesus and will appear before him for final judgment. Agnostics and atheists will be judged for what they did to ameliorate suffering. Any love or service we would like to show Jesus can be performed by meeting needs of neighbors and distant foreigners.

Firm faith in Christ as sovereign Lord and vigilant hope of his end-time return must be expressed through active, gracious and determined concern for the real welfare of all human beings, without exception.

Sunday Scripture Readings

EIGHTH SUNDAY OF

ORDINARY TIME,

FEBRUARY 26

Hosea 2:16-17, 21-22;

Psalm 103;

2 Corinthians 3:1-6;

Mark 2: 18-22

One day out of the clear blue sky, little Billy asked his mother, "Mom, what do people say when they get married?"

Mother answered: "They promise to love and be kind to each other."

Billy thought for a moment then exclaimed: "You’re not always married, are you Mom?"

In today’s readings, The Lord uses the symbol of a marriage espousal to express God’s relationship to his people and their relationship to him.

The first reading gives a good description of such love.

God is speaking: "I will lead her (Israel, my beloved) into the desert and speak to her heart. She shall respond there as in the days of her youth.

Father Emetic Lawrence, OSB, in his book "The Holy Way," gives us some reflections on this. He says that love has to be expressed; love has to be responded to. God was speaking to Israel then. Today God speaks to us.

The desert into which God leads us so that he can speak to our hearts is Lent, which starts next Wednesday, March 1. God speaks to us always and in all circumstances, but Lent is a very special time when the Word of love is heard in our hearts and, we hope, our hearts will respond. What does God say? "Return to me. Come back. All is forgiven. We can start life all over again together."

Throughout the Bible, God’s relationship to his people is compared to a marriage. God is the groom, his people the bride. In the New Testament, Christ is the groom, his people, the Church, his bride. This relationship must be based on fidelity.

God never failed in fulfilling his part of the marriage. Israel, the bride, often strayed into strange beds of paganism. But the Lord always took her back, forgave her adulteries, never gave up on her. God never gives up on us either, and the desert of Lent is the proof.

Everything begins with God — our praying and praising, our worshiping, our penance and, above all, our morality and our very living is nothing else than our human response to all that God has done for us out of sheer, unmerited love. Father Lawrence says that God is the eternal suitor, forever wooing us, the beloved, never giving up, always taking us back. So maybe it is time for us to stop running off; time to give our consent to God’s deep love for us and to allow ourselves to be swept up into his divine heart.

However, the reality of life has to be faced. Infidelity and divorce abound in our day. Marriage, to be successful, requires a lifetime of hard work and sacrifice on the part of both partners. For many different reasons, husbands or wives stray.

Love is so hard to make, to create, so terribly easy to destroy. Too many partners concentrate on interests other than the beloved. A husband or wife must feel immense pain and grief if their spouse is unfaithful to them.

It would be so hard to forgive and recommit oneself to someone who has been unfaithful. Yet this is what our God does every time we confess our sins and receive his forgiveness. God forgives all our guilt and does not treat us according to our sins. As far as the east is from the west so far does God remove our sins.

Is it unrealistic to think of Lent as a kind of protracted marriage encounter with Jesus, our beloved? We can be frank with him and discuss happenings in our lives that we have difficulty understanding. Most of all we can be frank with ourselves and bring our infidelities, our sins, back into the forefront of our consciousness.

Jesus will speak to our hearts, and he will tell us that no matter how unfaithful we have been, no matter what we have done, he forgives us. He is always eager to take us back into his heart.

As the response psalm says: "The Lord is kind and merciful. He pardons all our iniquities, he heals all of your ills." Let us use this coming Lent to renew our love and fidelity to Christ and His Church. Happy Lent.

Father Smith is a priest of the La Crosse, Wis., Diocese.

Sunday Scripture Readings

ASSUMPTION OF THE VIRGIN MARY,

AUGUST 15

Revelation 11:19; 12:1-6, 10; Psalm 45;

1 Corinthians 15:20-26; Luke 1:39-56

OUR GOOD NEWS: Mary, foremost among all of us who are called to fullness of eternal life.

The New Testament portrays Mary as a remarkable woman of dignity, poise and serenity, both in young womanhood (Annunciation) and in maturity (Calvary). Her quiet prayerfulness underlays a wholehearted faith, trust and single-minded commitment to doing the Lord’s will.

Today’s feast of the Assumption originated in the Eastern Church but soon outstripped in pomp and pageantry other Marian celebrations (purification, Annunciation and her birth). The doctrine professes that Mary, like her Son but unlike other faithful departed, already has achieved fullness of final-age, glorified life in God’s eternal Kingdom. It is our hope and prayer that this miracle of divine grace will one day take effect in us. Mary is the Church; her story is our story.

Today’s Gospel continues Luke’s portrait of Mary as an obedient handmaid of the Lord. Instead of focusing on her own greater privilege she "rose up with eager haste, journeying" selflessly to witness the blessing of pregnancy God had conferred upon the elderly Elizabeth. Visitation became occasion for mutual revelation and hymns of exaltation. First, the unborn John the Baptist, by leaping in the womb, and then Elizabeth acknowledged with joy Mary’s matchless privilege in salvation history as "Mother of my Lord."

Only a woman, and only this one, could be so graced. Mary mediates divine life to us, so that her present glory will one day also be ours.

Mary responded to greetings from the unborn John and Elizabeth by selflessly focusing on God’s greatness in her beautiful hymn, the "Magnificat" ("my whole being praises"). Three divine attributes which she celebrated invite our own prayerful reflection. First, the Mighty One has drawn upon infinite power to redeem us, his people. Second, although holy and exalted far beyond the human sphere, God has graciously chosen to dwell among us, the lowly. Finally, God shows mercy toward all of us willing to acknowledge His sovereignty. Mary’s Assumption thus represents the final flowering of God’s power, holiness and mercy regarding His chosen "servant." Now with her Son at the divine throne, Mary continues to sing her Magnificat through eternity.

Mary illustrated how genuine humility consists in acknowledging God’s blessings rather than denying them from false modesty. She selflessly rejoices in her crucial role in God’s universal plan of salvation. If Jesus constitutes the first fruits of resurrected life offered to us (second reading), Mary represents first fruits of all who are to be saved and glorified through her Son. She shows us that discipleship consists in praising God for what He accomplishes through us rather than our pride and boasting, and in selfless concern for others instead of oneself. Mary also witnesses that outstanding holiness can be lived in the ordinary, everyday life of housekeeping and parenting. A final message: like Mary, we serve God above all just by letting Him love us, letting His love work through ourselves to touch others.

Sunday Scripture Readings


THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT,


MARCH 23


Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19;


1 Corinthians 22-25; John 2:13-25

OUR GOOD NEWS: Jesus teaches non-violence through a seemingly violent act.

Matthew, Mark and Luke concluded Jesus' public life with his cleansing of the temple, interpreted as the crucial event which provoked hostility leading to His death. John however understood it as an incident summarizing Jesus' entire ministry, and therefore shifted the moving story to the beginning.

"In the temple precincts he came upon people engaged in selling oxen, sheep and doves, and others seated changing coins." Selling approved sacrificial animals and exchanging pagan coins with their idolatrous inscriptions were services rendered to pilgrims and controlled by the priests. Jesus' action was accordingly symbolic, recalling Jeremiah's accusation of God's house having become a den of thieves - allowing external religiosity to excuse widespread violations of the commandments (Jeremiah 7:11). And Zechariah had prophesied final-age blessedness and end of commercialism within the temple precincts.

Jesus' act thus fulfilled Jewish expectations of purified temple worship as a sign of Messianic times. But it also exceeded prophecy. By adding the detail that sacrificial animals as well as their vendors were expelled, John had Jesus effectively terminate the entire Jewish worship dispensation. Jesus Himself became the new Temple: unique intersection between God and His people, sole source of divine will (torah) and blessing (cult). A new order of worship centered on Christ's body in its glorified humanity renders animal sacrifice obsolete.

"He drove them all out of the temple area, sheep and oxen alike, and knocked over the money-changers' tables." A careful reading of the text shows that the force employed by Jesus was likewise symbolic rather than real. Contrary to popular paintings of the event, there was no hint of terrible, righteous anger. No one was hurt or incurred property damage. "He made a whip of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, sheep and oxen alike." "Whip" derives from the Latin term of instrument to drive cattle; the text doesn't say it was used against humans. Fragile dove cages weren't overturned, the owners merely warned. "Get them out of here! Stop turning My Father's house into a marketplace!"

Paul (second reading) taught that demand for "signs" could be a sinful dodge to avoid commitment. Nevertheless, the radical nature of Jesus' claims demanded proper authorization, and He obliged with acts fulfilling Scripture as well as miraculous "signs." As a result, many open to God's Word "believed in His name."

Two comments deserve further reflection. First, through symbolic acts as well as teaching, example and miracles, Jesus showed Himself the fulfillment of all Old Testament promises and centered Kingdom living on His own person. Second, properly understood, today's Gospel story doesn't justify the use of force and violence in the service of the good.

Sunday Scripture Readings


epiphany, january 6


Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72;


Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12

OUR GOOD NEWS: God's "secret" is finally revealed - Jesus is the Light of salvation for us Gentiles as well as for Jews!

Darkness can be frightening and dangerous, when human activity stops and life is threatened by vague, unseen dangers. Without the sun's light, all living beings would die and the world be reduced to uninhabitable desert. "Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you! See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the Lord shines, and over you appears his glory." Isaiah (first reading ) had experienced worldwide darkness of hopelessness and despair, suddenly broken by a beam shining on Jerusalem. No ordinary solar brightness this, but a reflection of God's supernatural "glory," a visible manifestation of his invisible majesty. The Lord comes as Israel's - and our - "light," by his personal presence bringing deliverance from all that impedes fullness of life.

Isaiah then compared universal salvation to a vast pilgrimage making its way to Jerusalem from the four corners of the world, "proclaiming the praises of the Lord." Israelites lead the procession, returning home from foreign exile. Even babies in arms make the trip! All riches from land and sea will be transported on the backs of numberless camels, the 18-wheelers of the ancient Near East. This immense wealth would be brought to honor God in worship. Moreover, Israel herself would be enriched by a grateful pagan world with "gold and frankincense" - its former glory restored, even enhanced.

Paul (second reading) reminds us of a child exploding with excitement when privy to a happy secret: "the mystery made known to me, but not made known to peoples in other generations." Christianity had burst into a cruel, hate-filled world with the greatest of good news. Now it can be told! The same blessings of salvation formerly restricted to Jews has graciously been made available to the whole non-Jewish world. All along, God had a "secret plan" which centered on Christ Jesus, the unique point of entrance into the community of the saved open to all peoples.

Sunday Scripture Readings

PENTECOST, JUNE 4

Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104;

1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13

or Galatians 5:16-25;

John 20 19-23

or John 15:26-27, 16:12-15

One Sunday morning Jason decided he would sleep in. His mother was indignant. Storming into his bedroom, she said: "Jason, it’s Sunday. Time to go to church!"

"I don’t want to go," Jason mumbled from under the covers.

"What do you mean you don’t want to go?" his mother retorted. "Now get up and get dressed."

Wide awake now, Jason sat up and said: "I’m not going. And I’ll give you two reasons why. First, I don’t like the people at church. And second, they don’t like me."

"That's ridiculous," his mother replied. "I’ll give you two reasons why you’ve got to go. First, you’re 40 years old. And second, you’re the pastor."

Jason was not too different from Jesus’ apostles after the Ascension. Once Jesus left, however, they found that they had little appetite for proclaiming the Gospel. They knew their fellow Jews didn’t like them — or their message. Like Jason, the apostles preferred to remain in their beds, under the covers, rather than getting up and facing a hostile society.

Aren’t we often like that? We go to church quietly. We receive Jesus into our hearts quietly, listening to his holy Word and receiving his body and blood in Communion. We go home quietly to say our morning and evening prayers quietly.We have a me-and-God religion.

Such a religion falls far short of what Jesus wants for us. Jesus wants us to be his witnesses in an often hostile world. That’s difficult — and scary.If we’re too open and too public about our faith, people may turn their backs on us. They may call us out of touch, old-fashioned, hopelessly unrealistic. Like Jason, we’d rather stay home.

Fortunately, Jason had a mother who woke him and sent him out to do what he had been commissioned to do when he was ordained: to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. The one who did that for Jesus’ frightened apostles was the Holy Spirit. He came to them on this day with "a noise like a strong driving wind," and in "tongues as of fire." That fire warmed their cold hearts. That wind gave them courage to speak in different languages the message Jesus had entrusted to them — a preview of his Church’s work down through history.

That wind is still blowing. That fire is still burning. That we are Catholic Christians in a continent undreamed of by anyone in Jerusalem on the first Pentecost is proof that the fire kindled then was not lit in vain.

It is our task to pass on the flame to others so that they may catch a spark from the fire of God’s love burning within us. Christianity, it has been said, cannot be taught. It must be caught.

As fire burns, it gives light. We are called to be prisms or lenses of God’s light so that it may shine in a dark world. The inner quality of our lives is determining, right now, the brightness, or darkness, of that part of the world in which God has placed us.

The message we have to proclaim is very simple.We are to proclaim, by the quality of our lives, that God is — that he is real; that he is a God of love, who loves each one of us as if, in the whole universe, there were only one person to love; and that he looks for our loving response to his love. We are called to be witnesses to the existence of a world beyond this one: the unseen, spiritual but utterly real world of God, of the angels, of the saints, of our beloved dead — our true homeland.

Does any of that come through in your life? Is the Spirit’s wind blowing in your life?Is his divine fire burning in your heart?If you were arrested tonight for being a Catholic Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?And if mere attendance at Sunday Mass were not enough for conviction, would there be enough evidence then?

Living our faith in its fullness means doing what Paul tells us to do in our second reading (Galatians): "live by the Spirit." If we do that, Paul says, we shall experience what, deep in our hearts, every one of us desires — the Spirit’s fruits: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control."

Joyfully, then, we join at Pentecost in the Church’s age-old prayer: "Come, Holy Spirit!"

Father Hughes is in residence at Christ the King Parish in University City.

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