Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings

TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY OF

ORDINARY TIME,

SEPTEMBER 10

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.

Sunday Scripture Readings

FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT,

MARCH 13

Ezekiel 37: 12-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:8-11; John 11: 1-45

Here’s a little limerick poem that might help us begin our thoughts on today’s readings: There once was a pious young priest, who lived almost wholly on yeast. He said: "It is plain we must all rise again, and I wanted to get started at least."

Today’s message is about death and resurrection and centers around three of Jesus’ statements in the Gospel as He raises Lazarus from the dead.

First of all, when the disciples misunderstood Jesus’ earlier comment: "Our beloved Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going to wake him," they thought He had been talking about regular sleep. So Jesus very plainly says: "Lazarus has died."

Jesus was not afraid to call a spade a spade. Death is simply the opposite end of birth and both birth and death are realistic and inevitable parts of life.

Then Jesus follows that by pointing out very clearly that the tunnel of death is the only road to resurrection; there is no detour, no short cut, no way to get around the fact that what Jesus said of Lazarus, "Lazarus has died," will one day be said of each one of us. So, Lent is the perfect time for us to think and pray seriously about this basic fact of life — that we will not get out of this world alive. We all will have to die.

The second statement of Jesus is this as He speaks of Himself: "I am the resurrection and the life." These words were meant to take all the dread out of death.

They are meant to be the source of our hope that life does not stop at a sign that says "dead end." These words are the assurance that life is changed, not taken away.

In the second reading, St. Paul says it this way: "If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you."

And Paul was echoing what Ezekiel had said in the first reading some 800 years earlier: "O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them ... I will put my spirit in you that you may live."

Death is simply no match for God’s spirit of life that dwells in each of us.

In Jesus’ words that He is the resurrection and the life, He is giving us a gilt-edged guarantee that we will all take one giant step beyond Lazarus’ spectacular resurrection to our own resurrection. Lazarus was given only an extension of his earthly life. He would have to die again, be buried again and have to wait then until the general resurrection. But our intimate union with the risen Jesus through our baptism and other sacraments means that even though we will physically die, in spirit we shall still live in Jesus and eventually our spirit will be reunited with our bodies and rise from the dead hopefully to enjoy everlasting life and happiness.

The third special statement of Jesus is comprised of these stirring words: "Lazarus, come out. Untie him and let him go." Jesus says these same words to each one of us. He calls, He commands that we come out of the dark, dreary dungeon of our sinful habits, our fears and frustration. We are not meant to live in a grave or tomb.

We were made to live in a world that Jesus has come to save.

Nor are we meant to be chained and held captive by anything or anyone that would restrict our freedom as God’s children. We are born free, and we must live free — free from sin and evil — free to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength — free to love others as we love ourselves.

The "Catechism of the Catholic Church" says: "Christ will raise us up on the last day; but it is also true that in a certain way, we have already risen with Christ. For by the power of the Holy Spirit, Christian life is already now on earth a participation in the death and resurrection of Christ" (CCC no. 1002)

Through baptism and the other sacraments, we are united with the one risen Jesus just as the head is united to the body, so Jesus is our indelible claim to our own resurrection.

Lazarus may have been brought back to life here on earth, but he is no where as lucky and as blessed as we are. For we have the privilege of receiving Jesus’ risen Body and Blood when we receive Holy Communion. With Jesus’ continued help, we won’t have to go through death twice as Lazarus did.

Prayer for the week: Father, help us to be like Christ your Son, who loved the world and died for our salvation. Inspire us by His love and guide us by His example. Amen (David Knight: "Living God’s Word").

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

EXALTATION OF THE HOLY CROSS,

SEPTEMBER 14

Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 78;
Philippians 2:6-11; John 3:13-17

OUR GOOD NEWS: The Cross — Sign of God’s triumphant forgiving love, offering eternal life instead of deserved punish-ment.

The story of Israel already in its earliest years revealed a contrast between God — loving, giving and forgiving — and the people — selfish, disobedient and ungrateful. The latter had been a motley group of slaves in Egypt, suddenly and spectacularly liberated by divine power, miraculously guided and protected through desert and hostile countries into a land of their own. Today’s first reading is of special significance because it recounts the last in a long line of infidelities during 40 years of wandering, before entry into their land. Thus, this was the most shameful of apostasies and also very dangerous. Israel was being decimated at the very moment she was about to realize God’s final and greatest gift.

"With their patience worn out by the journey, the people complained against God and Moses. ‘Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water?’" The people were forever given to complaining and whining; now they throw an absurd and quite unjustified temper tantrum. Complaints are prudently directed against Moses, but in reality it is God whom they blame. Their protests, when examined carefully, constitute formal acts of unfaith. In fact, the Lord had brought them out of Egypt to live in their own land, not die in the desert. True enough, there is no food or water in this desert, a situation for which God regularly compensated through miraculous acts.

"In punishment the Lord sent among the people saraph serpents, which bit the people so that many of them died." Though severe, divine punishment was an expression of love rather than judgment, a needed discipline to bring the people to their senses.

"Moses prayed for the people, and the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a saraph and lift it up on a pole, and if anyone who has been bitten looks at it, he will recover.’" The bronze serpent (saraph) was no talisman. Magic is a human attempt to control and force the hand of divine or demonic powers; here, by contrast, the object had been chosen by God and made under His instruction. To look upon it was an act of faith that compensated for faithless complaining, a trusting appeal to a forgiving rather than condemning Lord when all human remedies proved worthless.

This ancient story helps us understand Jesus’ death and Resurrection. "The Son of Man came down from heaven in order to be lifted up." Looking upon Jesus crucified bestows fullness of life, an act of faith imperfectly anticipated through trusting acceptance of healing from a fatal snakebite. But the Cross must not be taken in isolation from the Resurrection and exaltation. Through it, the Son of Man was lifted up — returned and ascended — to heaven. Like Jesus, we are only "lifted up" to glory through being "lifted up" in patient endurance that is God’s will for us.

Sunday Scripture Readings


pentecost, may 19


Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104;


1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23

OUR GOOD NEWS: Free at last!

For Luke, the Holy Spirit's coming into the life of Jesus' first followers (Pen-tecost) ranks with the Son's coming into human history (Christmas). Indeed, only through the Spirit's continuing presence and power in the Church can we understand the meaning of Jesus' birth, public ministry and death. Luke didn't intend his account of the first Pentecost to be an objective description. He preferred tableau-like interpretation, carefully staged and artistically arranged scenes revealing implications of the event for the Church in subsequent ages.

According to the first reading, without Jesus' presence the disciples were, literally and symbolically, "locked up." Into this situation the Lord "comes." His word, repeated for emphasis, is "peace." More than cessation of strife or inner calmness of spirit, his gift of peace announces success following struggle, victory snatched from defeat. Proclamation is accompanied by gesture offered in proof. The Lord's body, formerly mangled by vicious enemies, is now risen into glory. Truly occasion for us to rejoice!

After bringing reassurance and reconciliation, Jesus confers the Spirit, the vehicle of his abiding presence in the Church, rather than a poor substitute during his absence. Instead of religious experience to be savored privately, this gift unlocked doors and sent newly emboldened disciples out as agents of reconciliation rather than condemnation. "Forgiveness of sins" means more than release from guilt. The Church brings liberation from all evils that burden and enslave men and women, young and old, in every time and place and culture. Humanity's deepest desire is to live fully and happily in intimacy with God and our fellow creatures. Now we no longer remain frustrated, without hope. Jesus' messengers offer the way out, but those rejecting his unique opportunity thereby allow themselves to be definitively "bound" under evil's power.

Today's feast marks the world's hope. We Christians - everyone of us - are empowered and obliged to proclaim good news of the Spirit's power to free humankind from everything that degrades and enslaves. The Church's constant mission is to save the world, not condemn it!

The story of the first Pentecost is followed in Acts by other "comings of the Holy Spirit" - upon pagans before being baptized by Peter, after Paul's baptism of Ephesian converts. Indeed, the Church's story includes a series of Pentecosts, with people in every time and place similarly empowered to preach by word and example Good News about Jesus.

Sunday Scripture Readings

FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY,

JANUARY 7

Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72;

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

Who were these "magi from the east" — also called "the Wise Men." To their contemporaries they were crackpots who were not playing with a full deck. But the Wise Men were searchers.

They were willing to abandon routine, to set out on what seemed a madcap search, following a star. People are searching today for answers to life’s mysteries.If this is God’s world, people ask, why does he permit so much injustice and suffering? Is death simply the end? Or is there life beyond death?

Sometimes it seems there is no end to life’s questions, problems and mysteries. When we are tempted to fear that there are no real answers to our questions, the Wise Men can help us. Like us, they were searchers.
But they were more. They were discoverers.

They continued their search despite all discouragements. In the end they were rewarded. They found the one they were looking for. When the Wise Men finally arrived at the end of their journey, "they were overjoyed."

The one whom they encountered as a baby would speak about this joy three decades later. He would tell of the shepherd’s joy at finding his lost sheep; of the woman’s joy at finding her lost coin; the joy of the dealer in precious stones finding in the bazaar one day a pearl so flawless that it made all he had seen up to then seem cheap baubles by comparison; the joy of the day laborer at discovering in his employer’s field an unsuspected treasure that would change his life.

For all these people the joy of discovery was purchased at the price of lengthy searching. Even the laborer accidentally finding the treasure buried in the field he was plowing had behind him years of grinding toil. The Wise Men’s joy was purchased at the price of perseverance in the face of much discouragement and the scorn of those who thought them mad.

Our own search for answers to life’s mysteries is — whether we know it or not — a search for the one the Wise Men found. We think the search is all ours. In reality, God is already searching for us. The one who led the Wise Men by a star leads us onward by the powerful attraction of his love, shining in the face of his Son, Jesus Christ.

For us, as for the Wise Men at the end of their search, great joy awaits: the overwhelming joy of knowing that we have been found by the one who, all along, was searching for us, though we never realized it at the time. The Wise Men’s search, and their joy in discovering the one they sought, encourages us. But the Wise Men were not only searchers and discoverers — they were worshippers.

Matthew tells us that in the joy of discovery, "they prostrated themselves and did him homage. They opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh" — the most precious things they possessed. The end of the search, then, is neither the discovery nor the joy. When at last you have found the one who all along has been searching for you, everything is transformed. The only fitting response is worship.

To worship means to forget ourselves. It means entrusting ourselves to the one who is greater than our greatest thought and higher than our most lofty imagining and yet who is present in the humblest and smallest and weakest of his creatures, as he was present in the infant at Bethlehem. Worship is the highest form of prayer there is.

The Wise Men are our fellow travelers on life’s pilgrimage. Wise is everyone who is willing to break with routine to search for answers to life’s mysteries, who refuses to admit that life is meaningless but continues to search for answers and meaning despite all discouragements. Yes, wise are all those who persevere in this search until it ends in joy — and joy gives way to worship.

The Wise Men are ourselves, in God’s plan and according to God’s will. One thing alone can prevent the accomplishment of God’s plan for our lives: our own deliberate and final "no."

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

THIRTEENTH SUNDAY

OF ORDINARY TIME,

JUNE 26

2 Kings 4:8-11, 14-16; Psalm 89; Romans 6:3-4, 8-11;

Matthew10:37-42

The front door of Murphy’s house was badly warped, causing the door to jam now and then. To pry it open the family kept a hatchet handy. One day the door bell rang. Mr. Murphy himself peeked out through the curtains then shouted in a voice that could be heard through three doors: "Quick, Timmy. It’s the pastor. Get the hatchet."

While it’s true that when the pastor gives the sermon, the people in church are a captive audience; yet today’s first and third reading speak about receiving a "holy man." A holy man in the Bible does not signal a man’s mystical experiences with God but simply refers to those who bring God’s word to others, namely preachers. Of course, Christians have a right to expect that the minister of God’s word is trained in explaining the Scripture so that he will not just air his own opinions but will declare God’s word as it is in Scripture.

On the other hand, those who hear the preacher also have a responsibility. They should be aware that they should not look for an eloquent speech but a clear and honest explanation of the Bible. Neither should the people in the seats expect the preacher always to be the "nice guy" who is always trying to please everyone. The preacher has a serious duty to apply the Biblical message to the lives of those who are listening to him.

The first reading tells how about 800 years before Christ, a woman made welcome Elisha, a prophet who succeeded Elijah. And as a reward God sent her a son. Later verses tell how this son died and was brought back to life by Elisha.

The Gospel tells how Jesus expects total dedication by His apostles and successors to their calling. And, secondly, it tells how the Lord Jesus expects His messengers to be accepted by the people.

In the second reading, St. Paul says that in baptism each of us died to sin and was reborn in Christ. For St. Paul, baptism is not just a mere symbol, but a triumph of faith by which the Christian is expected to live free from sin and live a life of faith which he or she receives from parents and those who preach God’s word.

So, we are to welcome those who preach God’s word to us whether we like what they preach or not. And Jesus says, "Anyone who receives a prophet or a ‘holy man’ will be rewarded." The main message the prophet or preacher is to give sounds rather contradictory: The way to Christ is by suffering and self-denial. It is by losing our life so that we find it. In other words, giving our lives totally to Christ in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. This teaching is contrary to all the world’s values but it goes right to the very heart of Christ’s message. Our relationships with others must be that of giving and not always taking.

Giving a word of forgiveness when someone hurts or offends you; giving a listening ear to someone who needs understanding; lending a helping hand, if possible, to someone carrying a heavy burden; accepting people with all their warts and faults as they are. What is expected of the individual person, God also expects of his people as a family, community and nation.

As we look forward to celebrating on July 4 our independence as a nation, it would be well for us to know and make our own the words inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty and speak them to Jesus: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the tempest-tossed, to Me." This is the kind of welcome Jesus expects of all His followers to extend to others. "Whatever you do to the least of My people, you do to Me."

(For related reading, see "The Holy Way," by Emeric Lawrence, OSB, Liturgical Press, and "The Sunday Readings," by Albert J. Nevins, MM, Our Sunday Visitor.)

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

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