Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings


third sunday of easter,


April 14


Acts 2:22-28; Psalm 16;


1 Peter 1:17-21; Luke 24:13-35

OUR GOOD NEWS: The risen Lord remains present among us through prayer and Eucharist.

The focus of Peter's proclamation (first reading) was Jesus in his humanity: "a man singled out by God" whose miracles were performed by God, and whom God "raised to life again." This approach is a matter of emphasis on Jesus' humanity - so-called Low Christology - rather than denial of Jesus' divinity. The Son's divine nature gave him no unfair advantage, for Jesus' genuine humanity was undiluted by divine privilege. Everything he did glorified the Father rather than himself.

Astoundingly, although fully accredited as a "man of God" and his career a matter of public record, Jesus was nevertheless rejected and crucified by his own people, with cooperation from pagan Romans. But this appalling crime didn't herald the triumph of evil. Even in putting Jesus to death the people only carried out what God had already determined must take place, and indeed had foretold through his prophets! No other biblical text so forcibly emphasizes this paradox of divine predestination and human free will.

The second half of today's first reading illustrates from prophecy (see today's psalm text) that Jesus fulfills messianic expectation. With God as his "right-hand man" Jesus can only rejoice, confident of vindication. Although a mortal being, weak and frail, in contrast to the eternal, powerful God, the Messiah could not be allowed to languish in death. Through his life and especially through his death Jesus showed himself the kind of person who had to rise into fullness of life!

We follow Peter's lead in further applying today's psalm to Jesus. The speaker professes complete, ongoing dedication to and trust in God. Like Old Testament priests he was called to attend and minister before the Lord, having no other "portion" or inheritance (Dt 10:8-9). Totally obedient to the divine will, the psalmist rejoiced even through lonely, sleepless nights because of God's presence and support ("at right hand").

Rich rewards for confidence are further developed in the two final stanzas. Present pains of spirit and body cannot dampen our trust in God. Life-threatening disease or violence, even death itself, are at best temporary hindrances to "fullness of life and joy." Like Jesus, each of us accepts unavoidable suffering and death as the necessary first stages in the Paschal (Passover) mystery, leading to eternal happiness with the Father.

As always, the Bible, including the Old Testament, guides our prayerful reflection on life's experiences. It interprets the deeper meaning of events, particularly suffering and loss. In dealing with his Son, God reveals his strategy for us, too. Pain and problems should deepen rather than diminish our trust in him. Thus they prepare us to receive the incomparable gift of eternal life. "You show me the path to life, abounding joy in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever" (psalm).

Sunday Scripture Readings

THIRTIETH SUNDAY OF

ORDINARY TIME,

OCTOBER 29

Jeremiah 31: 709; Psalm 126;

Hebrews 5:1-6; Mark 10: 46-52

A blind man and his seeing-eye dog wandered into a department store. They went about halfway down one aisle and then the man wrapped his arms around the dog’s chest, lifted the animal up as high as he could and then proceeded to turn around in circles.

A clerk came and asked: "May I help you, sir?"
The blind man replied, "No, thank you. I’m just looking around."

The example of Bartimaeus, the blind man in today’s Gospel, gives us the attitude we should have in opening our hearts to God’s grace. The first reading, from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, tells how in 732 B.C. the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed and its people sent into exile. A century later, Jeremiah tells the exiles that they will be restored in joy to their homeland. Their exile was punishment for their lack of faith and trust in God.

Jesus’ healing of the blind man shows what should be happening in the faith of his followers. The blind man shows us how to ask for things in prayer. First, we must not be too proud to ask for what we need. Our cynical society today says, "Why bother to pray? Either God already knows what you need or else God really doesn’t care." But when Bartimaeus found out that Jesus was nearby, he not only asked but shouted out, "Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me."

Secondly, we must be insistent when we ask Jesus for something. When the crowd tried to silence the blind man, he just shouted all the louder: "Son of David, have pity on me." Insistence is a sign of persevering faith. Unfortunately today, most of us think we should only have to ask once and, by golly, we better get what we asked for. But we are spoiled. The truth is that we don’t really appreciate what we get that easily.

We must ask for what we truly need, not just for what we want or would like. And, we must be realistic about our needs. When Jesus asked him, "What do you want me to do for you?" Bartimaeus knew exactly what he wanted, so he asked exactly for what he really needed:

"Great teacher, I want to be able to see." When his request was answered, he immediately showed his gratitude to Jesus.

The second reading speaks of Jesus, our High Priest, who knows our weaknesses and our needs. But he wants us to ask for what we need. We want to see just as Bartimaeus did, but what we need is to see Jesus — not only with our physical eyes, but also with the eyes of faith. We want spiritual vision.

But, alas, today, there are so many ways in which we lack spiritual vision; hatred, pride and jealousy can prevent us from seeing goodness in our fellow humans. Never being satisfied with what we have and always wanting more material goods is an indication that we are blinded by greed. We are all victims of some sort of blindness, but to become aware of it and to have the scales removed from our eyes we must continually search and pray for more of Jesus’ light.

Our prayer and trust in Jesus, who is the Light of the world, can dispel such darkness and restore our true spiritual vision. The closer we are to Jesus, the more light there is in our lives. Our constant prayer should be that of the blind man: "Lord, that I may see."

And then we should express our gratitude in words such as those of our psalm response: "The Lord has done great things for us. We are glad indeed."

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 17

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

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

The pastor of a church attended one of his parishes’ social gatherings. Some of the parish members made up the name tags for the group. When they came to his, they decided to play a little trick by labeling his occupation as "hog caller."

When the pastor saw what they had put on his name tag, he replied: "They usually call me the shepherd of the sheep, but I suppose our members know themselves better than I do."

Each year on the fourth Sunday of Easter, the Church presents to us the picture of the risen Jesus as our Good Shepherd and observes religious vocation Sunday. In the Middle East, even among pagan peoples, the king or leader was considered the shepherd of his people. But for Israel, only the Lord could truly be king or shepherd; the earthly king at best was a shepherd representative of the Good Shepherd and at worst an imposter.

Among the Hebrews, sheep were raised for wool and milk, not for meat, so they became almost pets to the shepherd. The shepherd was responsible for leading the sheep to pasture and to water and for protecting the sheep from predators. At night different herds of sheep were kept in the same enclosure and in the morning, the shepherd would call his own sheep and he would lead them out to pasture. They would follow only his voice and none other. The only way to pasture would be through the gate of the enclosure.

The first reading is taken from St. Peter’s first sermon on Pentecost, and he exhorts his listeners who were Jewish people gathered for the harvest feast, to know beyond any doubt that the one they allowed to be crucified is the true shepherd, the Lord and Messiah.

In the second reading, St. Peter asks the people to follow in the shepherd’s footsteps and remember that they have been claimed by Him. Our response Psalm 23, the Good Shepherd Psalm, describes all of the things the Lord does for us, His sheep, providing for our needs. When Jesus proclaims that He is the Good Shepherd, He is placing Himself on a divine level.

The image of the shepherd combines two roles that are often in tension in our society — those of leader and companion. Michael Goonan in his book, "Praying the Sunday Psalms," writes that the shepherd is the one who leads the sheep to restful waters, who guides them along the right path. But the shepherd does not do this from some aloof distance. The shepherd is the companion of the sheep, the one who is with them in all their circumstances, sharing their conditions.

Wherever the sheep are, there too is the shepherd.
The idea of companionship should be a source of great comfort to us all. It is consoling to have someone with us in times of difficulty and illness, and in joyful moments as well. We value companions not so much for what they can do for us but simply for their presence. Just having them with us can take away our fear and transform our situation.

The Church uses this Sunday to encourage vocations, especially to the priesthood. Today, Jesus, the Good Shepherd is represented by the pope, bishops and clergy. We are urged to pray for new vocations to the priesthood and religious life, to encourage such vocations among our families and relatives and to pray for and help those who are now our clergy. Our shepherds cannot serve us well unless they are supported by prayer — their own and the prayers of the people they serve. Last year my diocese of La Crosse, Wis., had no one ordained. This year, we will have two in June, and yet each year we lose a number by death, retirement and taking leave of absence.

Priests and religious can come from any age group but especially from good Catholic families. They don’t just fall out of trees. I remember a family of 12 children in Iowa. One son entered the priesthood and the rest all left home for other careers. When the mother died, the father entered the seminary, was ordained and ended up being assistant to his son. One of those our diocese will have ordained is over age 60.

On this World Day of Prayer for Religious Vocations, begin to pray for your priests instead of criticizing them. Pray for our bishops and the pope and for an increase in such vocations to carry on the work of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

Prayer for the week: God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, though your people walk in the valley of darkness, no evil should they fear, for they follow in faith the call of the Good Shepherd you have sent for their hope and strength. Attune our minds to the sound of His voice and lead our steps in the path He has shown that we may know His strength and enjoy the light of your presence forever. Amen. (from "Living God’s Word" by David Knight.)

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

COMMEMORATION OF ALL THE FAITHFUL DEPARTED

NOVEMBER 2

Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 116;
Romans 6:3-9; John 6:37-40

OUR GOOD NEWS: We remember in serious but lively faith all those who have departed.

The first reading fittingly sets the tone for today’s celebration. While mankind grieves for the dead, God calls us through the prophet Daniel to a future full of hope. In mourning our deceased, we too know "a time unsurpassed in distress," but are reassured that God’s faithful "people shall escape," "to live forever," "like the (eternal, unchangeable) stars forever." It is fitting that we mourn our dead, but more importantly that we celebrate their happy fate in eternity.

"I will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living." The responsorial verse of today’s psalm likewise calls us to faithful perseverance in the midst of trials. We recall our past experiences of a saving God: "I was brought low, and He saved me." We are reassured that "precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His faithful ones," and therefore look forward with confidence rather than backward in gloom.

Today’s second reading is a masterpiece of reassurance in time of trial. Through Baptism, we have been intimately united with Christ Jesus and share His fate. Like Him, we all "were indeed buried with him through baptism into death." Having already "died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him." His eternal happy fate is also ours. "If, then, we have (already!) died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him." St. Paul reminds us that our Baptism was not a momentary liturgical event but profoundly life-changing, a genuine rebirth from mortal existence into eternal life, with Him.

The Gospel explicitly spells our final fate. All is God’s doing — "Everything that the Father gives me will come to me." We don’t earn eternal life by hard work and careful prayer but accept this profound gift freely bestowed. Our life is clearly spelled out: "That everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day." But belief in Christ is no simple matter, no once-a-week public but largely empty affirmation in church. To "believe" in Jesus involves a total change of heart from selfish self-centeredness to a thoroughly committed life in imitation of Him. Only those who "put on Christ," who become identical copies of him in life, death and resurrection, can be saved. This is a daunting challenge which we must undertake.

John’s Gospel powerfully reassures us of God’s universal, non-judgmental love. Jesus says He "will not reject anyone who comes to Me." But here too we are called to profound repentance and renewal if we are to "come" to Christ. And He is our model in selfless obedience to the Father. "I came down from heaven not to do My own will but the will of the One who sent Me."

Sunday Scripture Readings


eleventh sunday


in ordinary time, june 16


Exodus 19:2-6; Psalm 100; Romans 5:6-11; Matthew 9:36-10:8

OUR GOOD NEWS: God is with us in our troubles.

Today's Gospel selection begins by emphasizing the depth of Jesus' love and concern for us. "The heart of Jesus was moved with pity" renders a Greek verb describing a "gut" reaction - "his intestines" were moved by the people's need for spiritual leadership. No indifferent or uncaring Savior, he really feels for us! Aware of his limitations as only one among so many in need, Jesus called and commissioned a group of Twelve followers to carry on his work of healing. For us, "expelling unclean spirits and curing sickness and disease of every kind" suggest a thoroughgoing holistic health care, liberating us from our anxieties and ills, bringing peace to a troubled and alienated world.

"They were lying prostrate from exhaustion, like sheep without a shepherd." The people weren't suffering from overwork but from lives of aimlessness, with each day taken up with particular concerns. They needed the Good News that God was with them in their troubles, ready to help through prayer and reflective discernment. The apt image of shepherd emphasizes that God doesn't do everything for us - sheep had to eat and drink on their own - but only what they couldn't do for themselves, e.g., find pasture and water, defend against aggressors.

"Twelve apostles" appears only once in the New Testament. Instead, they are called "the Twelve," since "apostle" - "one sent" - designates a calling given to many persons. Little is known from the Scriptures themselves about the Twelve, including details of their subsequent ministry and ultimate fate.

It would have been easier for Jesus had he chosen like-minded men with similar temperaments, but he acted otherwise. God doesn't do things our way! For example, how would Matthew, a company man working for the state, relate to revolutionary Simon, "the zealot party member" dedicated to the overthrow of the oppressive government? Another clue concerns Philip and Andrew, alone among the others in bearing Greek names. Did they have trouble fitting in among the more conservative with Hebrew names? Moreover, they seemed to stand somewhat apart temperamentally: gentle and mild, as opposed to James and John, "sons of thunder." That they all got along with each other was itself a sign of God's Kingdom in our midst. (But, we wonder, did Jesus, as in large families nowadays, assign places at table to separate adversaries and avoid a dinnertime uproar?)

The Twelve were commanded to a ministry limited to Palestinian Jews, the "lost sheep of the house of Israel." This temporary arrangement represented the first stage in Christian witness that would eventually reach out to the whole world. Proclamation in word of the Good News - "the Kingdom of God is at hand!" - would be accompanied by concrete evidence of God's Kingdom coming at last into our midst. "Cure the sick, raise the dead, heal the leprous, expel demons!" Suffering and death are the last enemy to be destroyed because they are radically incompatible with the Kingdom, which brings final-age fullness of life conferred by God through Jesus.

Sunday Scripture readings

FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT,

FEBRUARY 25

Deuteronomy 26: 4-10;

Psalm 91;

Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13

A priest in a large city parish was called out in the middle of a windy March night to a sick call just a block from the rectory. The priest decided to walk.

As he passed an alley, a hooded stranger came out, pointed a gun at the priest and said, "Your wallet or your life." As the priest opened his coat, the would-be robber saw the Roman collar and said, "Oh, I’m sorry, Father. You can put your wallet away. I didn’t know you were a priest."

The priest was so happy that his life was spared that he offered the man a cigar. To which the robber answered, "No, thanks, Father. I gave up smoking for Lent."

We laugh at such a story because it is so contradictory. Sinning by robbing and yet giving up something for Lent.

Jesus began his public ministry by spending 40 days in the desert preparing himself (Gospel). There he emptied his bags of temptations, which came with his acceptance of human nature.

First he threw out selfishness and pleasure when the devil tempted him to use his power for himself and his own convenience by turning stone into bread. Next, Jesus threw out the false worship of power and materialism when the devil promised him the power and the glory of the kingdoms of this world if only Jesus would worship the devil.

Finally Jesus emptied his bags of pride and temptations to fame and popularity. The devil tempted Jesus to throw himself off the tower of the temple in a spectacular show of his power. To these temptations Jesus said, "Be gone, Satan ... you shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve." All of these are good examples for us for Lent and for all of our lives.

These same temptations that assailed Christ are presented to each of us in varying forms. Like Jesus, we must recognize these temptations for what they are: the devil trying to draw us away from Jesus and God’s kingdom. We must realize that sin is a reality even when society has thrown out that idea.

There is a war between God and the devil going on, and the battleground is our hearts. This is called spiritual combat. It’s a war without mercy. Every Christian must be thoroughly convinced that his spiritual life can in no way be viewed as the quiet unfolding of an inconsequential life without any problems; rather it must be viewed as the scene of a constant and sometimes painful battle which will not end until death — a struggle against evil, temptation and the sin that is in him.

This combat is inevitable, but is to be understood as an extremely positive reality because, as St. Catherine of Sienna says, "without war there is no peace; without combat there is no victory." And as Father Jacques Philippe writes in his booklet "Searching For And Maintaining Peace," this combat is correctly viewed as the place of our purification, of our spiritual growth, where we learn to know ourselves in our weakness, to know God in his infinite mercy.

However it is not hopeless, because it is the combat of one who struggles with the absolute certitude that the victory is already won, because the Lord is resurrected.

The person does not fight with his own strength but with that of the Lord. And his principle is not a natural firmness of character or human ability, but faith — this total adhesion to Christ which permits him, even in the worst moments to abandon himself with a blind confidence in the one who cannot abandon him.

The first reading reminds the Jews always to give thanks to God for their deliverance from slavery in Egypt by offering God a sacrifice from the first fruits of the harvest. In the second reading St. Paul says that faith is necessary for salvation but must be expressed in external deeds — good deeds, works of mercy, virtuous deeds, loving deeds.

Paul says that "if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. No one who believes in him will be put to shame. Everyone who calls on the Lord will be saved." But again, St. Paul insisted that Christians back up their words with action — words are never enough.

May I suggest a way to deal with temptations, especially if they concern another person. Whether it is a temptation to be envious, jealous, angry at, impurity against in thought, word or deed — make a prayer list just between you and the Lord. And turn those temptations into prayers. Put those you are tempted against on that prayer list and pray for them, maybe every day. Pray for their salvation. And thank God for his blessings on that person.

If you are sincerely praying, you can’t sin at the same time. You may not even know the name of those people. That’s all right. The Lord knows who they are. Someday when you get to heaven, someone may come up to you and say, "thank you for praying for me or offering your suffering for me. I wouldn’t be here if it were not for your prayers."

Won’t that make you rejoice! And after the 40 days of Lent are over, keep on doing that. God will be pleased because you will be helping him save souls. What a good project for Lent.

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

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