Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings

The king's refusal was only pretend piety; for he preferred to depend upon himself and his quite inadequate resources.

A sign nevertheless would be given, a seemingly ordinary occurrence since children are born daily. But the birth of this child will be different. In a culture where name determined destiny, "Immanuel" signified what he would accomplish - "God is with us." Having done his part, the Lord leaves the rest to humans. Depending on our response, accepting or rejecting this sign, the divine presence comes with blessing or condemnation. We too block the Messiah's coming into our lives by refusing to trust God, presuming that we could do better, more concerned for our welfare than he is. Isaiah invites us to look for hidden signs of God's love in ordinary, everyday events.

Today's Gospel explains how Jesus was both virginally conceived and born as a son (descendant) of King David. It focuses on Joseph, himself a "son of David" through whom Jesus was inserted into the Davidic royal line. Joseph's righteousness included loyalty and kindness. The just person is merciful, as God is merciful. Trials are opportunities for growth in grace, not signs of divine displeasure! "Have no fear! It is by the Holy Spirit that she has conceived this child."

Let us imitate Joseph, whose goodness made Christmas possible.

Sunday Scripture Readings


MAY 21

Acts 10: 25-26, 34-35, 44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 4:7-10;

John 15:9-17

A parish mothers’ discussion club had turned to the topic of relationships with their children.

Among the members was a mother of eight. Someone asked her: "How do you divide your love among so many children?" Without a moment’s hesitation she responded, "You don’t divide. You multiply!"

Today’s liturgy expresses the deepest theological mystery, which can easily be passed over because it is expressed so simply in so few words. The expression, "God is love," can be reflected on all the days of one’s life and its full meaning never even approached.

Most of us believe in God, but just what is this love which is the very essence of God? According to Peter Kreeft in his book, "The God Who Loves You" (published by Ignatius Press), the Greeks had four different words for love.

"Eros" is the lowest form of love. It means desire. "The clearest case of eros is sexual desire. But an artist’s love of beauty is also eros. The artist’s love is a need, a desire. It comes from the appetites. It is not a choice. We undergo it rather than freely create it. It’s like a wave that washes over it."

A second Greek word for love is "storge," which means affection. "Affection is a spontaneous feeling of fondness for someone or something. It can be an emotional attachment for someone or something that develops over time. It might be triggered by seeing an old friend or finding a prized keepsake."

A third Greek word for love is "philia," meaning friendship. This is free choice rather than animal or feelings. Philadelphia comes from philia. It means the city of brotherly love.

There was another Greek word for love — "agape" — meaning love in general. Kreeft writes that when the radically new reality that was Christ the God-man and his love came into the world, Christians needed a new word for this new kind of love. So agape means much more than eros, or storge or even philia.

Agape means the shatteringly new and unmistakable kind of love seen in Christ and Christians. Agape means a free chioice that need not be reciprocated. Jesus loved his enemies, even his crucifiers, and prayed to his Father to forgive them. Agape goes out to everybody in particular, to our actual, concrete "neighbor," one person at a time.

Agape is more than a desire or feeling. Feelings come to us. Agape comes from us. Feelings are passive and receptive. agape is active and creative. Feelings are instinctive while agape is chosen. We are not responsible for our feelings because we cannot help how we feel. But we are responsible for our agape or lack of it because our choice to love comes not from wind, weather, digestion, good vibrations, heredity or environment, but from our own heart, the center of our being.

Feelings cannot be commanded. But God commands us to love. Jesus had many different feelings for many different people: Peter, John, Mary Magdalen, his mother, Judas, Pilate and the Pharisees. But Jesus loved them all.

In the second reading, St. John says that God is love. And in today’s Gospel, Jesus says that "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. ... This I command you: Love one another."

In the first reading, St. Peter, after baptizing Cornelius, the first non-Jew, says that God’s love is for everyone. God shows no partiality. The man of any nation who fears God and acts uprightly is acceptable to him."

We do not have to wait until someone wants to kill us because of our faith and love of Jesus to show our love for others. The Holy Spirit is the power of love that exists between God the Father and Jesus, his Son. That power is ours for the asking. God is love. We are made in his image. So we must have his kind of love, a love that multiplies, not divides.

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

Sunday Scripture Readings




Malachi 3:19-20; Psalm 98;

2 Thessalonians 3:7-12; Luke 21:5-19

OUR GOOD NEWS: Jesus offers practical advice in the face of our end-time anxieties.

"While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings ..."

The Jerusalem temple begun by Herod the Great in 19 B.C. ranked among the world’s legendary eight wonders. Its paved platform covered some 35 acres, the building complex made of huge white stones gleaming like snow on a mountain peak, roofed with gold and silver.

Among the more awesome decorative offerings was a golden vine given by Herod with grape clusters as tall as a man. No expense had been spared to build a sanctuary that would last until the world’s end.

"Jesus said, ‘All that you see here — the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.’" A few short years after its completion (64 A.D.), the temple and entire city of Jerusalem were systematically taken apart stone by stone — Roman vengeance for Jewish insurrection.

The few enormous stones that remain, the so-called "Wailing Wall," were part of the substructure and not of the temple itself. Jesus foresaw and predicted this terrible catastrophe: It will all be torn down.

"See that you not be deceived." Contrary to his audience’s anxious excitement over alleged evidence for imminent judgment, Jesus refused to predict details or provide clues for the coming calamity. War, "earthquake, pestilence and famine" were traditionally personified as the apocalyptic Four Horsemen who will come to announce end-time judgment. In fact, these plagues are regular recurrences throughout the age of the Church.

We ignore all who pretend to speak in His name, falsely interpreting contemporary secular or religious events as final stages toward end times. Such religious fanatics, and the national and international disturbances upon which they base their bogus claims, are inevitable but utterly worthless.

After warning against being misled by all who would predict events announcing the close of the Age, Jesus cautioned against our despairing in the face of wide-ranging opposition and persecution. Arrests would be followed by trial and condemnation in religious (Jewish) and civil (Gentile) courts. Such fate will serve as clear witness on the Day of Judgment to loyal, persevering fidelity.

He also advises that before human tribunals our best defense is honest simplicity rather than carefully prepared, sophisticated legal strategies and oratorical skills. Especially painful will be hatred and persecution within families and among friends.

Jesus concluded with optimistic reassurance that only apparently contradicts His grim picture of the Church’s fate throughout history. Instead of destroying us, persecution and martyrdom will gain us eternal lives. God’s saving purpose will certainly triumph, for contrary to appearances, He remains firmly in control.

Finally, day-by-day endurance rather than isolated acts of heroic virtue is the way to glory. Here is a practical spirituality each of us can live, whatever our current situation.

Sunday Scripture Readings


MAY 25

Acts 10:25-26; 34-35; 44-48; Psalm 98;

1 John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17

OUR GOOD NEWS: Peter witnessed and participated in an unexpected dramatic change in the Church.

In his Acts of the Apostles, Luke devoted a lengthy chapter to Cornelius, of which today's first reading is a synopsis. He followed with further allusions, including a full repetition when Peter reported to the Jerusalem mother Church (Acts 11:1-18). This event served as precedent in Peter's decisive speech at the apostolic council (Acts 15:8-9). Cornelius' conversion thus ranks with Paul's, likewise described in three places (Acts 9, 22 and 26). Selections from this chapter are read yearly at the Baptism of the Lord as well as at Easter.

Such attention reflects Cornelius' role in the Luke-Acts schema as first non-Jew baptized and gifted with the Holy Spirit. The worldwide Gentile mission began with this devout (retired?) "centurion," a company commander in the Roman army of occupation. Lacking explicit guidance from Jesus' remembered teaching and example, the Spirit-guided Church nevertheless passed from exclusively Jewish to dominantly Gentile and western European, a second, though still incomplete stage, toward genuine universality.

Peter's conclusion was thus truly revolutionary. Any and every pagan could be "God-fearing" and "practice righteousness," thus becoming fully "acceptable" to God without circumcision and observance of the Mosaic law! Peter came to this truth slowly and painfully - "I begin to see how true it is" - even though personally prepared by God in vision (standard Old Testament vehicle for revelation). Divine approval followed immediately and dramatically with the "Gentile Pentecost." Cornelius had received Peter with deference due a prophet-messenger of God. Peter's refusal of marks of respect reflected the new situation, when Jewish and Gentile Christians enjoy equality before God.

This story makes several points of lasting significance. Authentic change, at times disturbing, must be expected as part of the Church's ongoing mission. Second, new directions result ultimately from the Holy Spirit's guidance rather than from merely human decisions. Finally, ecclesiastical leadership has the right and obligation to teach and carry out divinely willed new directions.

Today's first reading thus teaches the sometimes painful call to ongoing growth and change under the Spirit's guidance and with approval of leaders. Moreover, the Church's destiny is to become truly universal, where every sort of person is evangelized.

Today's psalm selection directs attention toward God's marvelous kindness in offering salvation to the whole world. Peter's amazement reflected in our first reading indicates how startling this new development was, however foreshadowed in the Old Testament. God's latest among His "wondrous deeds" transcends the vocabulary of existing hymns, requiring "a new song" to acclaim a "deed" exclusively His who alone enjoys such power - "His right hand," "His holy arm."

In the final stanza, the whole world joins Jews, God's original Chosen People, in joyfully recognizing and submitting to His universal authority. Worldwide blessing deserves worldwide gratitude, praise and commitment, suitably expressed in worldwide "song." We praise our Savior-God who refuses to play favorites and to show partiality, committing Himself to the awesome task of saving every person in every conceivable situation.

Sunday Scripture Readings

passion (palm) Sunday,

march 24

Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66

OUR GOOD NEWS: Hail to the King of Glory who triumphs even through death!

Today's first reading helps us understand the mystery of Jesus' life and death. He is the perfect disciple, completely united with the Father, drawing strength from constantly "hearing" - listening to and obeying - God's mysterious will. The anonymous speaker functions as a model prophet, who is called and empowered to "sustain the weary" faithful - us - with God's healing Word.

Such a one so endowed and committed should enjoy assured success, but in our sinful world goodness excites opposition instead of gratitude. Jesus the prophet responded to unbridled hostility with persistent fidelity. From a Semitic point of view punishments were intended to insult and degrade. "Slaps" and "spitting in the face" violated basic human dignity. "Beard" symbolized manhood; "plucking" caused extreme shame, like being stripped naked. "Beating" suggests juridically imposed punishment rather than private persecution. God's representative was thus unjustly arrested, tried and sentenced to flogging for an unspecified crime.

But enabled by divine grace, the victim willingly endured his fate, trusting in God for deliverance rather than lashing out in vengeful anger. As a result, what was intended as "disgrace and shame" would ultimately redound to honor and glory. Here is an accurate Old Testament portrait of Jesus our Savior and of all of us who follow him: like a model disciple, sensitive and open to doing God's will rather than our own, encouraging others in their need, willingly accepting rejection and hurt with no thought of revenge.

No other Old Testament passage than today's psalm so profoundly interprets Jesus' situation and attitude during his Passion. This selection begins with a lament, for the psalmist's world had totally collapsed - or so it seemed. Had his faith in God proved presumptuous? Did the present hopeless situation clearly show him as God's enemy rather than friend? Such was the shattering taunt of enemies surrounding him like ravenous dogs about to devour his flesh, or like looters dividing his personal possessions.

But despite universal abandonment, the psalmist finds peace through simple surrender into God's hands. Quite absent are regretful self-accusations of sinful infidelity, justification for his behavior, hate-filled curses, bitterness and self-pity. After praying that God no longer abandon him the psalmist demonstrated serene confidence in being heard. Nor is this merely private devotion. His restoration to fellowship within the gathered community of believers will powerfully strengthen their faith. Thus the Old Testament explains why Jesus had to die for our salvation, and why God permits suffering in our lives.

Matthew's Passion account continues the revelation of what Christ means for us and what it means to be Church. Today we acclaim as Lord him who entered into universal lordship through death-resurrection, and respond by diligently building up the final-age community of God's Chosen People through worldwide missionary witness. "Truly, this was the Son of God!"

Sunday Scripture Readings




Isaiah 35: 4-7a; Psalm 146: 7, 8-9, 9-10; James 2-1-5;

Mark 7: 31-37

"Can you hear me now?" This has been a popular slogan for a particular cellular phone company in recent years. Usually it would depict a man wandering through various out-of-the-way locations checking his phone connection. Those who use cellular phones (and that seems include most of us) know that one has to be in the right place for the signal to come through clearly.
In a sense "Can you hear me now?" might also be the eternal message of God to human beings throughout history. As Scripture relates again and again, our ears and hearts need to be open to the divine call in the right place and time.

This is dramatically demonstrated in the miracle story related from Mark’s Gospel this weekend. It is unique in the Gospel tradition. Here Jesus is in Gentile territory that remained home to many Jews. The people brought to him a man who was deaf and mute. In the oral culture of the time one was especially disadvantaged if he were deaf. The ability to hear, especially God’s word, symbolized oneness to God.

Jesus brings the man away from the crowd. Possibly he knew that only as one finds the right space away from others that only can God speak. He puts his fingers into the man’s ears and, spitting, touches his tongue with his own saliva. These reflect an intimate contact with the man, not only physically but also spiritually. In a sense this foreshadows the very sacramental action of the Church in which human touch as well as created realities become the means of grace.

Finally Jesus says "Ephphatha," the Aramaic word meaning "be opened."

The fact that Mark, who composed his Gospel in Greek, retains this word in the original language may mean that it conveys a deeper significance. Human beings of themselves cannot hear God. It takes the divine initiative to enable us to discern his call and thus be able to share God’s message.

The people’s reaction to the cure of the deaf man is also striking. Jesus has ordered them to not tell anyone, but they still felt compelled to proclaim it. Why would Jesus desire to keep this event under wraps?

From the context of Mark’s entire Gospel, evangelist’s emphasis is that in Christ the prophetic message heard in the oracle of Isaiah 35 is being fulfilled now.

To the frightened, to the weak, to the blind, as well as to those deaf and mute, "here is your God" acting in a final and decisive way in Christ. But to truly understand him, one must experience his cross and resurrection.

The openness that God offers in Christ should clear our own ears and hearts so that we might utter praise and thanks. The problem is that so often we listen to God’s word as if it comes from the past. Ultimately it is a word that orients us eternally for the future, yet always spoken in the present. In a sense the Gospel is always God’s word made fresh!

And if we are open to what God calls us to do and be, we can never be closed to neither the needs nor the person of others. This is the practical lesson the Letter of James today. Our very worship communities should never make distinctions between the haves and the have-nots. These are attitudes the world may make but our God calls us to put these aside and recognize that we are all poor without his love and mercy that alone make us rich.

Inspired by today’s Gospel passage, there is a beautiful ritual action at the completion of the baptismal ceremony usually for an infant. Here the priest or deacon touches the ears and lips of the newly baptized and prays: "May Jesus soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father." Rooted in the sacraments, this is our personal invitation to be open to vocation-past, present, and future. Here God is asking us, not once, but throughout our lives: "Can you hear me now?"

Father Heier is director of the archdiocesan Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and is pastor of All Saints Parish in University City.

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