Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings

TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY

OF ORDINARY TIME,

AUGUST 21

Isaiah 22:15, 19-23; Psalm 138;

Romans 11: 33-36; Matthew 16:13-20.

The first-grade religion teacher wasn’t getting much response from her pupils. "Doesn’t anyone know who Peter was?" she asked.

A small voice from the rear of the room piped up: "Wasn’t he a wabbit?"

Not only was this Peter not a rabbit, but he was a human being whom Jesus appointed as head of His Church.

"The Catechism of the Catholic Church" says: "The Lord made Simon alone, whom He named Peter, the ‘rock’ of His Church. He gave him the keys of His Church, and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock.

The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the other Apostles united to its head. This pastoral office of Peter and the other Apostles belongs to the Church’s very foundation and is continued by the bishops today under the primacy of the pope" (No. 881).

In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks His Apostles. "Who do you say that I am?" Peter proclaims his faith in Jesus as Messiah and Son of the living God, and this confession of faith is anchored not in himself but in Jesus as Messiah and Lord. Peter knows that faith must guide him and the Church Jesus will build on him.

Jesus also asks us: "Who do you say that I am?"

Peter’s response came out of his personal experience of knowing Jesus for three years. He heard Jesus preach, saw His compassion and forgiveness and His power over life and death. As with Peter, so our answer must come from our personal experience of Jesus, of knowing Him and not just knowing about Him, and from our deep, loving faith in Him. Is this possible?

Not in the very same way it was to Peter. But living some 2,000 years later we do have the Gospels that bring Jesus to us. We do have the Church and the Eucharist and the rest of the sacraments through which Jesus touches and acts through us and in us. We have public and private prayer, all of which can help us absorb His values and make them our own.

Each person experiences Jesus in a slightly different way. The late Cardinal Leo Joseph Suenens, answering Jesus’ question, "Who do you say that I am?" responded typically and beautifully: "Christ is now; He is past, present and future. Little by little He becomes the very breathing of my soul."

The pope, bishop of Rome, is one of the most important people who helps us experience Jesus.

Today Pope Benedict XVI is the voice of Christ. God’s wisdom, which St. Paul refers to in the second reading, is safeguarded and interpreted by Christ’s Church presided over by Peter and his successors.

Today’s first reading is a prophecy of the placing of the key of the House of David on the shoulder of the new master of the house. This points to Jesus’ giving the keys of His Kingdom to Peter.

From his chair in Rome, Peter today speaks through Pope Benedict XVI words of faith to guide and strengthen us in our belief. So while thanking God for giving us the pope as a source of rock-like certainty in life’s religious journey here on earth, let us answer Jesus question: "Who do you say that I am?" from our personal experience and loving faith in Him, "You are Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of the living God."

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

By Father Francis X. Cleary, SJ

First Sunday of Lent,
February 29

Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Psalm 91;
Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13

OUR GOOD NEWS: Salvation through faith for all humankind — "Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."

Luke considered Jesus’ temptation as the final episode by which Jesus was prepared for His public ministry, and so it is well suited for the beginning of Lent. "The desert" recalls a place of intimate communion with God (present in cloud and fire to guide the Israelites during 40 years of wandering), but also the abode of wild beasts and demons — the beginning of Israel’s apostasy.
Jesus, however, had been "filled with the Holy Spirit" since His baptism, and consequently gave Himself completely to its guidance ("led by the Spirit"). The Spirit’s leading as well as the devil’s temptations extended throughout the 40 days of fasting. The devil began with logic rather than skepticism — "if" means "granted that" or "presuming" He was "the Son of God." The first temptation seemed modest enough, only one stone into a single loaf of bread. But Jesus unmasked and dismissed this seduction through a quotation from Deuteronomy 8:3.

The Israelites had yearned for Egyptian fleshpots, but instead were miraculously fed by God with manna and quail. Human need has salvific potential. It can demonstrate one’s utter dependence upon God alone, who has His own way of giving and supporting life. Jesus refused to use His power for personal interest and apart from the Father’s intentions.

Already in the desert, Israel had looked to alien gods, enticed by their apparent power. Jesus too was tempted to switch allegiance, to acknowledge someone other than the Father as lord and master, by accepting worldwide dominion from another source. Instead, to this second temptation Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:13, recognizing God as sole and universal king, refusing a spectacular self-manifestation that would conform to popular but misguided expectations from someone sent from God.

The devil’s strategy suffered further exposure in the climactic final scene. Since Jesus twice unmasked his enticements through guidance from Scripture, the adversary counterattacked with not one but two biblical quotations from today’s psalm (verses 11-12). The Israelites demanded water in the desert. The Lord graciously responded with a miracle, but Moses warned against such sinful testing of God. Jesus by contrast refused to demand protection for Himself and His mission.

In each temptation Jesus showed careful obedience to His Father’s will, steadfastly refusing to use the power and authority granted Him as Son of God. During 40 years in the desert, Israel had set a precedent of disobedience ratified by subsequent generations. Jesus symbolically experienced the same testing. His "hunger" rendered Him more vulnerable, but subjection to the "Spirit," along with guidance of Holy Scripture, caused Him to triumph.

The devil then departed, biding his time until he could destroy his enemy through Judas (Lk 22:3). That attack was likewise destined to be thwarted, because it would elicit from Jesus the greatest and most perfect act of fidelity! For us too God permits temptation to test our dependence and obedience. Like Jesus, we rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit and of divine law, found in the Bible and Church teaching.

Sunday Scripture Readings


fifteenth sunday


in ordinary time,


july 15


Deuteronomy 30:10-14; Psalm 69; Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 10:25-37

OUR GOOD NEWS: If a Samaritan could love an enemy, how much the more should we?

"Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" In today's Gospel, a recognized religious authority tested Jesus, an unofficial teacher. His question went to the heart of Jewish religion. What sort of human cooperation is necessary to receive God's free gift of eternal salvation?

"Jesus said to him, 'What is written in the law? How do you recite it?'" Jesus immediately reversed roles so that his questioner's knowledge, rather than his own, was being tested. Further, Jesus hinted at the response expected: "How do you recite it?" Jesus directed the specialist in Mosaic law to that part of the law recited in daily prayer, the "Shema" ("Hear"!). The questioner had known the answer from childhood: absolute, undivided loyalty to God: "with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself."

The scholar of the law's smug sense of superiority had been quickly and rudely shattered. Jesus had quizzed him like an ignorant schoolboy, prompted how to answer, and then given an "A" for reciting a text every Jew memorized as a child. But the scholar's follow-up question, "And who is my neighbor?," to regain control and save face, could not be dismissed so lightly, for Jesus must take a stand on a much-debated issue. "Neighbor" ("one who is near") means a person with whom one has something to do. Hard-line Pharisees lived up to their name - "separated ones" - by shunning all but those carefully observant of the law's 613 regulations. Others limited the term to fellow Jews, excluding pagans and especially heretical Samaritans.

This time Jesus chose to respond by telling a brief story with a clear and obvious point. After being severely mugged by highwaymen, a "man," doubtless Jewish, lay helpless in a lonely, deserted area, looking "half-dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side." The apparent motive was to avoid ritual impurity from contact with a possible corpse. Play it safe! More compassionate behavior might be expected from the "Levite," a subordinate temple minister something like our deacon. But both agreed the victim was no "neighbor" with whom they had anything to do.

If compassion wasn't forthcoming from the clergy, the "Samaritan" would clearly be exempted from feelings of neighborliness toward a hated Jew. And yet, "he was moved to pity at the sight"! After administering first aid, the Samaritan gave up his comfortable seat and led him to the nearest inn. His "two silver coins" purchased first-class service for several days, a down payment for however longer the victim chose to remain. The Samaritan's theology may have been imperfect, but his credit was good!

Once again Jesus had taken control, and once again he posed a question for which there was only one obvious answer. The scholar tried to salvage some self-respect by his vague answer ("the one who . . . ") that avoided praising a despised Samaritan. But even here he couldn't get off. Jesus sent him away with instructions to obey the law of Moses by imitating a hated heretic!

Sunday Scripture Readings

FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT,

DECEMBER 18

2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-11; Psalm 89; Romans 16: 25-27;

Luke 1:26-28

The second-grade religion teacher asked the students: "Now, children, can anyone tell me why there is only one God?"

One small student answered: "There’s only one God because He’s everywhere and there’s no room for another one."

The Lord is with you is one of the possible reflections for this last Sunday of Advent. In the first reading, the prophet Nathan spoke those five one-syllable words to assure King David that it was all right to start planning a more suitable place for God to dwell in than the tent that had been God’s mobile home since the desert journey under Moses.

But God put David’s construction plans on hold for a while and revealed His own blueprint was a house for David — not a house of wood or stone but a line of descendants to David’s monarchy — rightful successors to his kingly throne, and One who would reign forever.

The Lord is with you. A thousand years after David, the angel Gabriel said those same words to Mary to assure her that she was God’s highly favored daughter who would soon conceive and bear a child who would be both her son and God’s Son. God would fulfill the blueprint of King David’s building project. Under the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s own Son would become a human being and be the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. That King is Jesus Christ, whose birthday we are preparing to celebrate.

At Mass, the Church through the priest still says to us: The Lord be with you. The Lord is with us in His living words that we hear in the Scriptures. He is with us in the Eucharist under the appearances of bread and wine. He is with us in every sacrament and our prayers. He is with us through others as we gather to worship Him. And He is with us in our hearts through grace — His divine life which He shares with us.

Who is this Lord? Who is this Messiah? This last week before Christmas, the alleluia verse before the Gospel and in the Liturgy of the Hours, the verse before the Magnificat, contains beautiful titles of the Messiah from the Old Testament — called the O Antiphons. Each verse of the song, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" contains one of those antiphons:

"O Wisdom, of our God Most High, guiding creation with power and love: Come to teach us the path of knowledge. O leader of the house of Israel, giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai: Come to rescue us with your mighty power. O root of Jesse’s stem, sign of God’s love for all His people: Come to save us without delay.

O key of David, opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom: Come and free the prisoners of darkness. O radiant dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: Come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death. O King of all nations and keystone of the Church: Come and save man, whom you formed from the dust. O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law: Come to save us, Lord our God."

These verses seem to sum up all our Advent longing as they paint in vivid terms the wretched conditions of mankind and his need of a savior. Addressing Christ with seven magnificent titles, they beg Him with impatience to come and save His people.

So who is the Lord? He is described by all these beautiful titles and especially Emmanuel-God with us. Our future is God’s, because the Lord is with us always and forever. Christmas is His birthday as a human being.

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

ASCENSION OF THE LORD

MAY 23

Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47;

Ephesians 1:17-23; Luke 24:46-53

OUR GOOD NEWS: Jesus delegates His earthly mission to the Church; He then goes to the Father to send the Holy Spirit and one day return.

The Ascension account (Gospel) begins with Jesus insisting that His death was no unfortunate, although temporary, setback, but the only means to a glorious Resurrection. The Jesus in the Gospel of Luke thus serves as our own model and example, for suffering likewise becomes the vocation of every Christian.

Luke described the Ascension scene twice (first and third readings), intending each to supplement the other. We are invited to look carefully for comparisons and especially contrasts. Distinctive in the Gospel version is, first, that the disciples were commanded to carry on the work Jesus had begun and was now concluding. These persons qualified for the task by having been eyewitnesses — of Jesus’ teaching and example, but especially of His death and Resurrection. Nonetheless, evangelism remains God’s doing rather than human achievement, and so the apostles can only await divine empowerment for their task. Graced by the Holy Spirit, these men and their descendants continue to mediate Jesus’ invitation to repentance.

A second divergence from the account in the Acts of the Apostles is authority for a universal mission. No longer restricted (as it was during Jesus’ public life) to the Jewish people, salvation can now be offered "to (all) the nations."

The Ascension itself gets only brief mention in the Gospel. Luke was content to assert the fact while shifting the focus from Jesus to His followers. These He "led out," taking the initiative as their Master, "right to the neighborhood of Bethany," the place from which He had entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to be acclaimed as King. His final gesture, a blessing, anticipated the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost.

The verb implies that Jesus was "taken up to heaven." Elsewhere it was used of sacrifices offered to God, and later becomes the standard for Jesus’ leave-taking ("He left them" permanently), in contrast to His sudden disappearance upon being recognized by the Emmaus-bound disciples (see Luke 24:31). With His Ascension, Jesus concluded His earthly ministry.

The Ascension ranks among Christianity’s foundational doctrines. It serves to join the earthly Jesus to the Christ who is risen, enthroned and destined one day to return. Like the Resurrection and Second Coming, the Ascension is both historical and also transcends our categories of space and time ("Catechism of the Catholic Church" No. 660). The various readings for today’s feast contextualize the event, explaining its meaning and significance for Christian living. The third reading, for example, details how we are to greet the Ascension. Like the first disciples, we must not forget the role of the cross in our lives, while giving ourselves to joy-filled prayer and public witness that bring others to Christ.

Sunday Scripture Readings


EPIPHANY, JANUARY 5


Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72;


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

OUR GOOD NEWS: God's "secret" is out! Through his Church, God guides the world to Jesus, who graciously accepts our homage.

In our first reading, the prophet Isaiah watches in meditation as dawn breaks over Jerusalem. Surrounding valleys lie shrouded in mist and shadow - "darkness covers the earth" - while in the sky, pale brightness appears. Suddenly, first rays of sun break through, making hilltop city glow like a diamond. "Arise, Jerusalem, rise clothed in light!"

Through infidelity and disobedience God's people had lost everything. They had been led into exile and slavery in faraway pagan Babylon, their beautiful capital city destroyed. The prophet now proclaims good news to fellow Jews, addressed as a young woman personifying Jerusalem and using imagery of dawn's breaking. "Rise up" from weeping and despair! God's saving act, like welcome light driving out threatening darkness, "is surely coming." Salvation means the Lord's presence among his people, like "light" or "glory" (visible manifestation of his divine Being).

God's people, symbolized by Jerusalem, will reflect the Lord's own "splendor," a beacon drawing pagan nations to God through itself. These peoples will come to honor Israel's God in the rebuilt temple. Pagan pilgrims will fittingly arrive bearing rich tribute. First and foremost will come the city's exiled "children" (citizens) - "sons" walking on foot, infant "daughters carried on the hip." Lady Jerusalem's "heart shall throb and overflow" with joy, a mother "radiant" at the return of her children scattered in foreign exile.

The whole earth will be caught up in a grand offering procession or liturgy, the "wealth of nations" flowing toward Jerusalem where the Lord reigns as universal sovereign. Goods normally carried in ships arrive from north and west; everything transported overland will come on camels from south and east - "Midian and Ephah," famous for caravan traders; "Sheba," Arabian trading center dealing in "gold, frankincense" and spices. A veritable flood of gifts for Israel's God will be piled high around His hilltop city!

What the prophet saw in vision would be fulfilled centuries later. Jesus, fullness of God's revelation and "light shining in darkness" (Jn 1:5), welcomed the Magi, ambassadors representing the pagan world, graciously accepting their homage expressed in gifts worthy of royalty and even divinity. These pagans are our models of humility, willing to learn, open to risk and newness, eager rather than hesitant for commitment to Christ. The universal Church fulfills Old Testament predictions of worldwide homage to Israel's God. These Magi lead an "offertory procession" by which all nations acknowledge their Lord, who come as Savior of Gentiles as well as Jews.

Today's psalm celebrates the completion of what King David could only imperfectly foreshadow. Jesus shall bring the whole world joyfully into God's Kingdom while showing particular regard for the needy who can't care for themselves. "For He shall rescue the poor man when he cries out and the afflicted when he has no one to help him. He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor; and lives of the poor He shall save." Once again, we celebrate a feast with special concern for the poor!

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