Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings




Procession with palms: Luke 19:28-40

At the Mass:

Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22;

Philippians 2:6-11; Luke 22:14-23:56

This Sunday we enter upon a time known as Holy Week or the Great Week.

It begins today with Palm Sunday and the triumphant procession of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem. This en-trance is a prelude to those events which God planned whereby he would exalt Jesus as King and unite him with the people of his kingdom.
After the blessing of palms, we hear Luke’s version of the procession.

During the Mass, Isaiah in the first reading speaks of a suffering servant whom the Church sees as Jesus.

Then St. Paul tells us how Jesus became the Suffering Servant. He humbled himself and took on our human nature so that he could suffer even death on the cross. This year we hear St. Luke’s version of the Passion of Our Lord.

On Holy Thursday evening, already Friday in Jewish reckoning, "Jesus realized the hour had come for him to pass from this world to the Father. He had loved his own in this world and would show his love for them to the end."

On that awesome night of the Last Supper, Jesus was thinking of his final act of love while on this earth — his death on the cross. So that his followers might be able to share in his sacrifice throughout all ages, he instituted the sacrament of his Paschal Mystery — his death and resurrection.

At this supper he would change bread and wine into his Body and Blood and give them to his apostles to eat and drink. He then commanded them to carry on this mystery so he instituted the priesthood making all the apostles priests.

The Church rightly understands that "the sacrifice of the cross and what Jesus did at the Last Supper are one and the same, differing only in the manner of offering." So the Mass is at once a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving — and of reconciliation and expiation.
On Good Friday afternoon Jesus offered the sacrifice of himself on the cross.

On Holy Saturday, Jesus was in the tomb. His burial indicated that his death was real, not a fiction or pretense. Holy Saturday is the day of supreme quiet, the great silence of the liturgy. The liturgy invites us to remain at the tomb of Jesus in peaceful expectation of his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

What happened during that first Holy Week is a reality for us in every Holy Eucharist, the Mass. The message of the cross and Holy Week is very nicely summed up in the following story:

One day Jesus and Satan were having a conversation. Satan had just come from the Garden of Eden, and he was gloating and boasting. "Yes sir, I just caught the world full of people down there. Set me a trap, used bait I knew they couldn’t resist. Got ’em all."

"What are you going to do with them?" Jesus asked.

"Oh, I’ll kill ’em," Satan said, glaring proudly.

"How much do you want for them?" Jesus asked.

"Oh, you don’t want those people. They ain’t no good. Why, you’ll take them and they’ll just hate you and spit on you, curse you and kill you. You don’t want those people."

"How much?" Jesus asked again.

Satan looked at Jesus and sneered. "All your tears and all your blood."

Jesus said, "Done." Then Jesus paid the price. The liturgy is silent until Jesus rises from the dead.

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

Sunday Scripture Readings




Ezekiel 18: 25-28; Psalm 25;

Philippians 2: 1-11; Matthew 21: 28-32

A husband ran a newspaper classified ad saying, "I will not be responsible for any debts contracted by my wife."

The following week he ran a related ad: "I would like to announce that the notice I placed in this paper last week was mistaken. I will be responsible for any debts incurred by my wife. I will start paying as soon as I get out of the hospital."

We will be in worse straits than this man if we refuse to take responsibility for any of our actions before God. However, diseases such as Alzheimer’s, depression, or obsessive compulsive disorder do many times limit how responsible we are.

In the first reading, Ezekiel, the prophet of individual responsibility, says we are not saved or condemned because of our heritage or our family or because we belong to the Church. But we shall be saved if our lives conform to the will of God. How people live their lives determines their final judgment. If a good person turns away from virtue and sins, he shall be punished; if a sinner repent, he shall be saved.

Jesus repeats this theme in the Gospel: The older son talked a good game but did nothing. The younger son’s rhetoric was bad, but in the end, he did the will of the Father. Very likely the sons in the story represent Israel as the older son, and the Gentile world as the younger son.

There is, however, a third son described by St. Paul in the second reading and that is Jesus. In one of the most beautiful Scriptural passages, (long version of the reading) Paul describes the sacrifice of Christ, setting aside His glory as God while retaining His divine nature, and taking on our human nature, becoming a human being like us in everything but sin. And because He did this, God exalted Him above all.

This hints to how as God He knew all things, but as a human He had to grow up and learn just like we do. He had to learn His Jewish religion, how to pray and all the other things growing children must learn.

Paul urges us to have the same attitude as Christ. We are to be one in mind and heart with Jesus and each other. And what is that? Paul professes belief that the Lord is eternal, that He is equal to the Father. He was, by nature, God, and as such He is a distinct person but equal to the Father, and in fact also with the Holy Spirit.

In this second reading, Paul says that He emptied Himself. The word "emptied" translates a Greek word meaning that He made Himself as nothing, or that He became nothing. He took the form of a slave. Imagine God Himself becoming a slave. And yet that is what the words express. Although God, He became completely human. But the emptying and humility did not stop there. He was humbler yet, accepting death, even to death on the cross as a common criminal. Because of this complete emptying and submission to the Father, the Father highly exalted Jesus. While He could not be exalted in His divinity, He was exalted in and through His human nature. He is so glorified that at the name of Jesus, everyone in heaven and earth must bend the knee in adoration and proclaim to His glory, "Jesus Christ is Lord."

The St. Joseph Sunday Missal says that "united in spirit and ideals" should be the goal of all Catholics and Christians. We should avoid formalism as a cover-up for genuine love and commitment. Have an open eye and heart for the real Christian values.

We should be careful in judging others since we do not know how much a failing brother or sister is determined by his or her past; but knowing ourselves we should be realistic and accept full responsibility for what we do and should do. At the same time, the response psalm says: "We call on the Lord to remember His mercies." We remind Him of His compassion and His kindness. Believing and knowing this, with God’s help we can grow into the image of Christ in our own lives. We can take on Christ’s attitude.

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

Sunday Scripture Readings



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

thirty-first sunday

in ordinary time,

november 3

Malachi 1:14, 2:2, 8-10; Psalm 131;

1 Thessalonians 2:7-9, 13; Matthew 23:1-12

OUR GOOD NEWS: "Call no one 'Father.'"

Jesus' audience for today's parable uncharacteristically included both un-committed "crowd" and faithful "disciples." His message thus concerns historical Israel as well as the Church. "Pharisees" belonged to a lay group dedicated to careful observance of the Mosaic Law. "Scribes" here designates their scholar-experts. As legitimate successors of Moses, "sitting in his seat," their authoritative teaching about details of Jewish living commanded obedience.

In metaphorical language Jesus accused Israel's religious authorities of imposing heavy obligations difficult to obey. These were based on oral tradition which amplified written (biblical) law. Jesus condemned their lack of compassion, shown in unwillingness to interpret and apply laws in a way that made obedience possible as well as less onerous.

"All their works are preformed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and wear huge tassels. They are fond of places of honor at banquets and the front seats in synagogues, and marks of respect in public." Such childish behavior strikes us as ridiculous and laughable - like circus clown cops with oversized badges and night sticks, like grown-ups playing musical chairs at dinner parties and religious services - insecure men pathetically dependent upon insincere flattery and constant attention.

Jesus however was not amused. As prophetic peacemaker he challenges those who pervert religion into opportunity for personal honor, glory and power (contrast Paul, second reading). Matthew intended Jesus' terse commands threatening judgment for misuse of authority as applying to Christians no less than Pharisees and their followers ("As for you...").

Avoid the title "rabbi." Jesus here forbade three honorific titles from usage in his Church, not from legalistic objections but because they undermine our unique relationship with God and himself. All of us without exception remain lifelong disciple-"learners" under Jesus, our sole normative teacher. No one ever "graduates" to become an autonomous "rabbi" teachings in his or her own name.

"Do not call anyone on earth your father." In its Aramaic form Abba, "Father" expresses Jesus' unique relationship with God, a sacred name that is every believer's privilege to use by right of Baptism. "Avoid being called teachers." Master/teacher applies only to the Messiah, sole spiritual director and guide of our conscience. Leaders should set example of selfless service instead of self-aggrandizement, in imitation of the Servant Jesus who brings us together as God's family.

Those objecting to calling priests "Father" should note that Paul and other early Christian writers thought of themselves as fathers to their congregations and converts (for example, 1 Corinthians 4:14-15; John 2:18).

Sunday Scripture Readings




Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 95;

1 Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28

In a large parish, there was a pastor and three assistant priests. Naturally, the third assistant was low man on the totem pole in more ways than one.

Nevertheless, the ladies of the Altar Society invited him to speak on a complicated theological subject, saying to him, "We want someone with a little authority." So the young priest introduced his talk in this way: "You wanted someone with a little authority. Well, around here, nobody has as little authority as I have."

It was the opposite with Jesus. The Gospel says that He spoke with a special authority, the authority of God. The English word authority comes from the Latin "auctor," which means author. Besides meaning a composer, it also means a creator or an originator.

Jesus’ authority is unlike that of all others. It does not rest on prestige or learning but upon the commission given Him by His Father. When Jesus uses authority,

He does so to author life and re-establish relationships. His words to the man with the unclean spirit do more than drive out evil. They open the man to a restored relationship with God.

When we speak of authority, we also include conscience. One of the greatest faults of Americans in our day is that they don’t want anyone else in authority over them. In the Church, there are those who do not want to obey the pope, bishop or priest. They all want to follow their "conscience."

But they have the wrong idea of conscience. They think that it means following their own feelings, whims and desires regardless of whether it is right or wrong or how it affects others.

In truth, conscience is not a feeling or emotion. It is not our "what everyone else is doing." It is a practical judgment on what is right and what is wrong, especially in the action we are about to do or omit. And this conscience has to be formed.

We are not born with already formed consciences. Although each person is born with a desire to do good and avoid evil, the primary work of our moral life must be to seek to know what is good, that is, to know the truth because conscience first of all is the seeking of moral truth.

Moral truth is not made known by what people say but by the natural law, God’s law and the laws of the Church. The mission of the Church is to make known the truth of God so that people may make right moral judgments.

So, first of all, we must form our conscience by searching for objective moral truth and then we can safely follow our conscience. A person will get to heaven only if he or she follows a conscience which, to the best of that person’s capability, tells him or her objectively what is right and true.

Some people use authority to lord it over others and keep others down. This is wrong. Others use authority to lift people up. This is right and good. This is the kind of power Jesus has and uses.

In the first reading, Moses spoke with the authority that God gave him. He spoke as God’s messenger and prophet. And Moses quoted God as saying: "I will raise up for My people a prophet like you from among their kinsmen and will put My words into His mouth. And if any person will not listen to My words which he speaks in my name, I will make him answer for it."

Jesus is that prophet foretold in the first reading.

Jesus still teaches with authority today. We need to listen for His voice in the Church. He not only teaches us what is right; He also gives us the power to do what is right.

The Lord may ask us to go contrary to accepted practices in our society such as abortion, mercy killing, use of embryonic stem cells or permissive sex. It may seem difficult, but Jesus will always strengthen us and provide for us if we turn to Him.

In the second reading St. Paul sums all of this up by saying: "Devote yourselves entirely to the Lord."

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

Sunday Scripture Readings




1 Kings 19:16, 19-21; Psalm 16;

Galatians 5:1, 13-18; Luke 9:51-62

OUR GOOD NEWS: We must follow Jesus without delay.

For some time, Elijah had served as God’s prophet, empowered by the divine Spirit to proclaim God’s will fearlessly and with great power. Now he is commanded to appoint Elisha as successor. Today’s first reading described Elisha’s call and obedient response. This call came in the midst of work, as earlier for Moses and David (while shepherding sheep), and later the 12 Apostles (fishermen cleaning their nets, toll collector at his post). Elisha was not, in fact, anointed but effectively designed by being touched with the prophetic "cloak" (more precisely, "vestment" or "solemn robe"). A holy person’s clothes were held to carry some of his power — recall the hemorrhaging woman cured by touching Jesus’ garments.

The prophet-designate is willing enough but wants to take leave of his family. Elijah’s brusque reply is enigmatic. The best interpretation seems to be: "Go back" and say farewell because you are now ready for prophecy as a result of the symbolic gesture. In this understanding, Elisha neither vacillates nor temporizes, but responds with a symbolic gesture of his own. Having effectively destroyed his means of livelihood (by slaughtering his oxen), he is henceforth totally dependent upon Elijah for survival. The meal of flesh from the slaughtered oxen is not just a final dinner together with "his people" but a sharing in a sacrificial offering to God. Elisha became an apprentice prophet ("attendant"); in serving Elijah he learns the prophetic trade.

Elisha’s call and response can serve as a model for each of us Christians, while especially suitable for religious vocations: Elisha already had a trade with which he was content; he was suddenly chosen by God for no apparent reason (not more qualified than others) and responded with an irrevocable and thoroughgoing commitment by destroying his oxen, his means of livelihood. By so doing, Elisha was brought into an even closer relationship with his "people" before God, and settled in for a long period of work and study before beginning his ministry.

In the Gospel selection, Jesus set the example of prompt, firm commitment, resolutely following God’s plan even though it meant rejection and suffering. He turned away from inhospitable Samaritans with gentleness (rather than punishment), concerned for their salvation instead of his reputation (calling down God’s vengeful punishment).

In the second half of the Gospel, three would-be followers learn that discipleship means sharing in Jesus’ style of life and mission. The first spontaneously offered unconditional allegiance, but the blunt reaction of Jesus was hardly encouraging. Christian living is risky, sacrificing security even in basic needs. The second person, abruptly commanded to immediate discipleship, was rejected for stalling for time to fulfill a son’s most sacred duty, taking leave of his father.

The third candidate volunteers (like the first), but his added condition evoked Jesus stern command. "Let the (spiritually) dead bury their (physically) dead." Life in the Kingdom comes only to those unflagging in its service. Nothing must get in the way of prompt obedience.

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