Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings

FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN

ORDINARY TIME,

JULY 16

Amos 7:12-15; Psalm 85;

Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13

Scholars consider the Book of Amos the earliest work of the written prophets.

He was a "southerner," someone who lived in Judah in the 8th century B.C. This is an important point because this week’s reading places Amos in the north.

Apparently the prophet traveled to Bethel, one of the two great temples of God located in the prosperous Northern Kingdom of Israel.

We can only surmise whatever happened when Amos arrived. Nevertheless, we learn several important things about Amos that have relevance for us today.

First, Amos says that he was not a professional prophet. Rather, the text implies that Amos was an itinerant farmhand who worked whenever and wherever he could. Cast against this somewhat ordinary background is God’s startling command to Amos to prophesy to the people of Israel.

We can tell from Amos’ response to the priest Amaziah that he was not exactly enthusiastic about this divine directive. Certainly he had other things to do than this kind of thing. Life was hard enough. Yet God’s command was too irresistible to ignore, and Amos made the arduous trip to Bethel to convey God’s displeasure with the way the Israelites were worshiping him. We can understand Amos’ reluctance. Who would want to travel all that way to deliver a message that he knew would not be well received?

The reading from the Gospel of Mark continues the theme of dispatch. Jesus, the Son of God, sends out his own prophets. Unlike Amos, who was to disclose God’s ire, the Twelve had a much more hope-filled message: Repent and believe in the Good News. Salvation is at hand.

Jesus even provided his apostles with the means to confirm the authenticity of his message. Like the prophets of old, the Twelve would drive out demons and cure the sick. And also like the prophets of old, the Twelve would be rejected by many.

When taken together these two readings give us much guidance about how we are to live in Christ today. First they tell us that we, as Christians, are all called by God to be his prophets. We have an obligation to share the message of Christ’s salvation with all of those around us. This is what being Christian truly means. It is not a secret that we keep just for ourselves. It is a gift that is meant to be shared.

Yet, as with Amos, God does not expect us to become professional prophets and to permanently forsake our occupations. What he does expect, however, is a full-time commitment to him and his way of life as revealed in Christ. Thus, as he dispatched the Twelve, so Christ sends us out every day to witness to his redemption.

According to Mark, we learn that this is not going to be an easy job. We will be rebuffed, ignored and even rebuked. But we are told not to dwell on this rejection. That would only be discouraging. When we are summarily dismissed, we must dust our feet off and move on.

This does not mean that we are never to return to these people. On the contrary, he expects us to be there for them just as he is here for us. Through our constant concern for others through Christ, they may come to recognize him in us. This is what prophecy is all about; bringing Christ to everyone.

In the week ahead let us strengthen our role as God’s prophets. What have we done recently to share him with others? We may find that we have missed opportunities because we were too busy, too embarrassed or just too timid. The idea not is not to let these chances slip away again. These do not have to be grand moments full of flourish and fanfare. More often they are the small moments that involve no more than a brief comment about Christ or a word or two of affirmation. The challenge for us is to link these small moments more closely with Christ. Once we are able to integrate him more fully into these instants so will others be more able to recognize him in us.

Kitz is an associate professor of Scripture at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary and a member of Cure of Ars Parish in Shrewsbury. Her e-mail address is kitz@kenrick.edu.

Sunday Scripture readings

SECOND SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME

JANUARY 16

Isaiah 49:3, 5-6; Psalm 40;

1 Corinthians 1:1-3; John 1:29-34

Two women were approaching each other as they were walking. One thought she recognized the other and said: "You look like Helen Green." The other answered, "That may be so, but I look worse in yellow."

The green vestments we wear today are a sign of life and hope and indicate that we have entered the first section of Ordinary Time this year 2005. It’s a time when we celebrate the life of the Church and our hope that we shall become the people God wants us to be.

Today’s readings reflect on our work as God’s people. What is that mission? It is as Isaiah mentions in the first reading — to share the work of Jesus, the Suffering Servant of the Lord who is called to bring Israel back to the Lord and to draw the Gentiles to God.

The second reading tells us that we are called to be a holy people. The Gospel speaks of Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. We share in that mission and at each Mass we recall those words just before Communion when the priest says: "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world."

The first reading is part of the Old Testament book of Isaiah called the Songs of the Suffering Servant. The prophet sees a servant whom God would raise up to rescue His people by taking to Himself the sins and sufferings of the world and heals all. And the Servant triumphs. He is God’s Chosen One to bring God’s light and truth to all people. This is the mission of Jesus and this is our mission as Christians, Jesus’ people.

Jesus’ response to His Father must be our response: "Here am I, Lord. I come to do Your will."

This coming week we are reminded that an essential part of this mission is prayer and work for unity of all Christians. Jan. 18-25 is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. At the Last Supper, Jesus prayed fervently that all of His followers would be one in Him as He is in the Father.

While we cannot ordinarily share Communion, there are things we do share with other Christians — we call on the name of Jesus as Lord. We share the Sacrament of Baptism and with some denominations the Sacrament of Matrimony. We share most of the Bible with other Christians. We share prayer and good works. We share God’s divine life of grace.

But we have much more to do. Together we Catholics and other Christians must work toward complete communion with each other and we must work and pray that those people who are not Christian but believe in God may be one with us as well as for the conversion of those who do not believe in God.

I think that there is going to be a great coming together of all God’s people before the end of the world, but God wants to bring this about as an answer to the prayer and works of His people. Each one of us has a part in this quest for unity with Christ in making Him a light to all nations.

Another essential work of the light of Christ is to pray and work for respect for all life — from conception to natural death. Saturday, Jan. 22, is the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize abortion, which also is leading to euthanasia and suicide. We must pray and offer our sufferings and trials so that all people will see that God’s commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," refers to all human life from conception to natural death.

David Knight, in his book, "Living God’s Word," has the following suggestions:

The stance we must take toward the enemies of our country is not to kill them, but to come to agreement with them through peaceful means. The stance we take toward criminals is to forgive them even though they may deserve civil punishment. We should help to rehabilitate them. The stance we take toward those who sin in any way — and specifically against us — is not to condemn but again to forgive and convert them.

We are not to seek revenge but to heal and help those who threaten us to do us wrong.

Like Jesus, we are on this earth to offer ourselves in love, God’s kind of love. We are to be one with the Lamb of God.

Prayer for the week: Lord, at every Eucharist you are presented to us as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. As I receive you in Communion, transform my heart so that I may endure all things with love to reverse the sin of the world. Amen.

(Prayer is from David Knight’s book, "Living God’s Word 2.")

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

FIFTEENTH SUNDAY

IN ORDINARY TIME,

JULY 13

Amos 7:12-15; Psalm 85;

Ephesians 1:3-10; Mark 6:7-13

OUR GOOD NEWS: We are all called to a mutual prophetic ministry that summons and empowers others.

In four brief verses of our first reading we encounter a classic confrontation between two professedly religious persons holding diametrically opposed views on religion. The prophet Amos had lived contentedly in rural Tekoa, a southern country gentleman tending cattle and orchards. Unexpectedly, God called him to prophecy in the northern kingdom of Israel. Amos responded promptly, leaving home, family and occupation to journey north. There he urgently preached individual and national repentance in the face of imminent divine judgment. Amaziah, by contrast, enjoyed high ecclesiastical office as priest-in-charge of Bethel, a major religious shrine serving the northern kingdom.

The brief dialogue in this selection reveals each person’s true character. Amaziah rudely ordered his adversary out of the country. He used the term "visionary," an outmoded way to describe prophets known for eccentric behavior rather than lofty message. Amos, he presumed, prophesied solely for the money — "Make your living in your own country, not here!" With unconscious candor he identified the sanctuary as belonging to, and serving the interests of, the king rather than God. In his narrow-minded, secularists’ view, God’s urgent appeal to escape destruction by practicing social justice was perverted into human words of sedition and treason.

Amos’ honest response revealed his deep religious commitment. Prophet neither by trade nor training nor even choice, he nonetheless permitted himself to be totally mastered by God’s imperious will. The Lord "took" him forcibly from his accustomed lifestyle, commanding this ordinary person to speak in His name without preparation, ministering to "my people Israel."

Applying this reading to our own situation, we note, first, that prophets include all who speak on behalf of God, making His will concrete and specific (for example, parent to child, but also child to parent). Rather than self-serving as a means to power and money, prophetically serving God and His Church at times can be painfully demanding, calling for personal sacrifice including reputation. Moreover, God is often most effective working through reluctant prophets.

In contrast to the prophet’s spurned denunciation, today’s psalm represents a prophetic oracle (pronouncement) that comforts rather than summons to repentance, a word eagerly accepted rather than rejected. Moreover, this prophetic word not only commands but also inspires, empowering our answering obedience. It emphasizes that true peace, happiness and harmony come from doing everything God’s way. "Near indeed is His salvation to those who fear Him, glory dwelling in our land."

The second stanza develops the effects of divine "glory" in our midst, visible blessings bringing happiness to individual and community. God is personified as servant-messengers. "Kindness" (persistent graciousness) and "truth" (abiding goodness) bump into each other on our streets, in our neighborhood. "Justice" and "peace," the way things ought to be, greet each other with a "kiss" (our handshake). How fortunate are we to live where goodness "springs up" from the ground like flowers, "look(s) down" like bright sunlight!

Sunday Scripture Readings


fourth sunday of easter,


April 21


Acts 2:14, 36-41; Psalm 23;


1 Peter 2:20-25; John 10:1-10

OUR GOOD NEWS: Watched over by the Good Shepherd, we are called to joy and trust.

Today is our annual "Good Shepherd Sunday." Both Old and New Testaments use the image of shepherd and flock to describe the unique relation of Israel to God and of us as Church to Jesus. A more apt comparison can scarcely be imagined. Ages-long breeding resulted in over-domesticated sheep needing constant care, unable to survive on their own. Especially in traditional societies, sheep and shepherd bonded in an intimate relationship of lifelong mutual dependency. In exchange for diligent oversight, the flock provided from their extras - surplus milk after the lambs had nursed; wool in springtime when no longer needed for warmth. Thus, the shepherd in no way exploited or deprived his sheep, for his well-being flowed from their contented lives.

In today's Gospel, two brief parables about sheep kept in a pen reveal Jesus as a unique means to salvation ("sheepgate") and as a selfless, caring leader who provides protection and life itself ("shepherd"). The passage deliberately imitates Ezekiel 34, where God condemned Israel's false shepherds and promised to take personal charge, leading the people back from exile into his kingdom.

How a person enters a sheepfold indicates his or her relationship with the sheep (first parable). Shepherds often left their small flocks in a common corral guarded by a night watchman ("keeper"). In the morning the shepherd "called out his own," addressing each by pet name. Continuing to talk (or sing) as he strode ahead, the shepherd kept his sheep from going off with another flock, thus uniting behind himself otherwise aimless and disorganized individuals. Rustlers got into the corral by stealth ("thief") or force ("marauder"). But attempts to cajole the sheep into following them frighten rather than reassure, scattering instead of uniting.

Jesus is the Good (efficient, dedicated) Shepherd, but the remaining verses of interpretation focus on him as "gate" who screens out false shepherds, and through whom we must pass to safety and life-sustaining "pasture." His person provides exclusive access to the promised kingdom. He is sole source of empowering grace leading to "life in all its fullness" - living completely and wonderfully, with nothing lacking.

Applications of this passage come easily. Jesus' love and concern for each of us must be accepted with trust and serenity, for he alone is our "shepherd" and no one else deserves our undivided commitment. Only he provides, protects and leads us to true happiness. But Jesus also warns and keeps us from false shepherds whose uncaring seductions destroy us. Like Peter's audience (second reading), at times we can live hopeless lives doomed to destruction and alienated from God - "straying like sheep." The power of Jesus' death effects a miracle of transformation and reconciliation, so that now we enjoy ongoing protection and the rewarding company of the Good Shepherd and Guardian.

Sunday Scripture Readings

THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY OF

ORDINARY TIME,

NOVEMBER 5

Deuteronomy 6:2-6; Psalm 18;

Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 12:28b-34

At the heart of Jesus’ religion were the Ten Commandments.Like all laws, they require interpretation.

If we are to "keep holy" the Sabbath by resting from work, for instance, we need to know what kind of work is forbidden on the Sabbath.

Over time these interpretations became lengthy.So the rabbis vied with one another to formulate a "greatest" law that would sum up everything God commanded.

This search for a summary of the law was behind the question in today’s Gospel about "the first of God’s commandments." In reply Jesus cites the Deuteronomy passage in our first reading. This is the Hebrew prayer "Shemh Isral — Hear, O Israel!" still recited by devout Jews thrice daily.Two things are noteworthy about this text.

First, it presents obedience to God’s law as a response to what God has already done for us.The first phrase, "Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!" refers to the special relationship between God and his people.

This one God, the text is saying, is our God because he has chosen us from all other nations on earth to be his own.The duty to love God is the consequence of God’s prior choice of this people. The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, soul and strength.

Second, the Deuteronomy text cited by Jesus in the Gospel puts love at the heart of religion. "The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God ... "

While the New Testament emphasizes God’s love, he remains a God of law. In the Sermon on the Mount, for instance, Jesus says that he has come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matthew. 5:17). And at the Last Supper he gives his apostles "a new commandment: Love one another" (John 13:34).Both parts of the Bible proclaim the same God.

When Jesus’ questioner says in today’s Gospel that love is better than "all burnt offerings and sacrifices" — better, that is, than formal worship — Jesus tells him: "You are not far from the kingdom of God." With these words Jesus is saying that God’s kingdom is present wherever love is present.

But how can we tell when this love, which is the heart of God’s law, is truly present? Jesus’ answer is clear. The test of our love for God is whether we love our neighbor.(1 John 4:20); And love for our neighbor is genuine only if it means sharing with others the unmerited love that God lavishes on us.This is the love for neighbor which God commands in his law.

Human laws command us to respect others’ rights. Obedience to such laws, however, is impersonal, formal, cold. I can respect your rights without having any human contact with you. Hence the enormous amount of loneliness in our society. Mother Teresa called loneliness "the worst disease of modern times."

There is only one cure for loneliness: love.And the source of all love is God, for, as the first letter of John tells us, "God is love" (1 John 4:16). God’s law can command this love as human laws cannot because at the heart of God’s law is the world’s greatest love: the love of God for all he has made.

As Pope Benedict XVI writes: "Love can be ‘commanded,’ because it has first been given" ("Deus Caritas Est," 14).

We often experience conflict between love for God and love for others.For Jesus, however, there is no conflict. Love for others is the expression and test of our love for God. "As often as you did it for one of my least brothers," Jesus says in his great parable of judgment, "you did it for me" (Matthew 25:40).

Our world is full of schemes for serving people in need. Why do so many of these efforts leave people still hungry, hurt or lonely? Because they are not empowered by the love of God.

All forms of do-goodism without love are cold. Too often they end by depriving those they seek to serve of their human dignity and freedom. There is the explanation for the failure of so many ambitious and well-intentioned schemes for human betterment in our world.

For all these failures despite the enormous amount of goodwill involved there is but one remedy: the unbounded love of God — the love which is a free gift, not a reward for services rendered, the love that will never let us go.

We come Sunday by Sunday to the Lord’s twin tables of word and sacrament to receive this gift.And at the end of each Mass the One who pours out his love on us as a gift sends us out to share this gift with others.

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER,

APRIL 24

Acts 6:1-7; Psalm 33:1;

Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12

Little Betty was going to draw a picture of God. "But no one knows what God looks like," said her mother.

Betty had an answer: "Everybody will know what God looks like when I’m finished."

You are not alone if you have ever asked the question, "What is God like?" Today’s Gospel tells us the apostles asked Jesus the same question: " ... show us the Father and that will be enough for us."

Jesus’ answer was somewhat similar to Betty’s: "Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father."

How true. We have only to contemplate Jesus of Nazareth to know what God looks like, how God acts and as a matter of fact, to know all we need to know about God. So we reflect on Jesus of Nazareth, who had compassion on the deaf, the lame and the blind. He brought a dead girl back to life and returned a dead youth to his widowed mother and summoned his friend Lazarus from the tomb.

What is God like? Think about Jesus, who scolded the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and insincerity but who lifted up the downtrodden, the alienated and the impoverished. See Jesus, the Suffering Servant being put to death out of His love for us and appearing after His resurrection to the very apostles who had abandoned Him in His suffering and death. John was the only one who stayed with Mary and Jesus, her Son as He hung on the cross.

What do we think of God? Michael Goonan in his book, "Praying the Sunday Psalms," gives us some thoughts on this. Running through today’s liturgy is a beautiful theme of trust in God. In the Gospel, the risen Jesus, who is about to depart from His disciples, urges them not to be afraid. "Trust in God still, and trust in Me." He is going to prepare a place for them and for us. He will return to take us to be with Him forever.

St. Peter in the second reading speaks of Christ as the precious cornerstone on which the Christian community is built. We, the living stones who rest trustfully on this cornerstone, will not be disappointed.

This was the experience of the widows mentioned in today’s first reading. The apostles made sure that they received proper care by appointing deacons to look after them.

The response to Psalm 33 takes up this theme of trust. Upright is the word of the Lord, and all his works are trustworthy, sings the psalmist, to which we respond: "Lord, let Your mercy be on us as we place our trust in You."

The early Christians had a deep grasp of God as shown in Jesus. That first reading speaks of the dynamic enthusiasm of the early Christians committed to action as suffering servants in the footsteps of Jesus.

We sense this also in the second reading where Jesus, the cornerstone of our faith, is the source of our life, the life of the soul. He is our way, our truth, and our life as the Gospel said.

To see Jesus with the eyes of faith is to see what God looks like and how God acts. Union with Jesus means union with God. Because Jesus is God, to know Jesus is to know God. To know God and how He acts is to know also how we, His children are to behave and share in the risen life of Christ.

In fact, the question: "What should we look like?" should be able to be answered with the words: "We look like Jesus." If Jesus is living and acting within us, we should be able to say we look like Jesus, we act like Jesus, we love like Jesus, we forgive like Jesus. We look to Jesus to see what God is like, and we should be able to look at ourselves to see what Jesus is like, like us in all things but sin. Can we really and truthfully say that?

Prayer for the week: Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, You have revealed to the nations Your saving power and filled all ages with the words of a new song. Give us voice to sing Your praise throughout this season of joy. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen (from "Living God’s Word," by David Knight).

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

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