Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings

Twenty-sixth Sunday in ordinary time, September 26

Amos 6:1, 4-7; Psalm 146;
1 Timothy 6:11-17; Luke 16:19-31

OUR GOOD NEWS: We must heed the awesome danger and responsibility of affluence.
Thus says the Lord the God of hosts: "Woe to the complacent in Zion!" God’s Word through Amos, earliest of the prophets, was spoken more than 2,750 years ago, but its relevance for us Americans could not be more immediate and disturbing. Divine condemnation is pronounced upon mindless, selfish consumerism. Amos’ original audience would have protested in self-justification (and we along with them?). They were only enjoying what they had earned or inherited. What’s wrong with having a good time when you can afford it?

In today’s first reading Amos depicted the life of selfish, irresponsible affluence with unusual concreteness. In ancient times party-goers reclined upon "couches," here described as plush ornamented with precious ivory inlays. Guests lay "sprawled" in a stupor from overeating and drunkenness. Only the finest gourmet meats (lamb and veal) were served. They consumed wine by the gallon instead of the cup, and wasted large sums on beauty aids and body care ("best oils"). Feasting called for music, but their drunken "howling to the music of the harp" and boisterous "improvising" were more bedlam than entertainment.

The biblical tradition doesn’t oppose enjoying the good things of life, and Jesus was condemned by the straight-laced pious for being "a glutton and a drunkard" (Luke 7:34). But through His prophet God here denounced unjustified extravagance, an immersion in pleasure-seeking that distracts the prosperous from thinking about the injustice involved, since their revelry had been paid for through exploitation and oppression of the poorer classes. Amos concluded with terrible divine judgment against well-off citizens of the northern kingdom of Israel (Samaria). Those pacesetters who insisted on the "first" ("best") body creams would be "the first to go into exile" and slavery. The orgies of the "sprawlers" would be "sprawled" ("done away with"). "Suppressed is the spree of the sprawlers!"

Amos’ appalling prophecy came true within a generation when Assyria captured and destroyed the northern kingdom. Eventually his words were carried south and applied to the surviving kingdom of Judah. "Woe to the complacent in Zion (Jerusalem)!" Judah’s upper classes should have heeded the lesson, but instead of being "made ill by the collapse of Joseph (Israel)," they repeated the northern kingdom’s folly, bringing destruction and exile upon themselves through the Babylonian army.

Jesus (Gospel) challenges us with His disturbing story of an anonymous rich man’s gruesome fate. His sin was commission — selfish conspicuous consumption — but mainly omission, what he didn’t do. He wasn’t moved — hardly noticed — the suffering and want of Lazarus at his door. Jesus calls us to awareness of, and practical concern for, the world’s needy.

This Scripture reflection is reprinted from the Sept. 28, 2001, Review because Father Cleary is recovering from an illness.

Sunday Scripture Readings


SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER,


APRIL 27


Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 118;


1 John 5:1:3-6; John 20:19-31

OUR GOOD NEWS: We express our wholehearted faith in God through mutual, caring love for fellow human beings.

In the first reading, Luke interrupted his narrative of the earliest Church to summarize, for our edification and example, life in the earliest stage of Church history. "The community of believers thought the same things and wanted the same things" - literally, "were of one heart" (center of intellectual activity) "and of one mind" (seat of will). This description should apply to the Church community in our own time no less than then.

Luke then described an attitude toward personal property rather than canonized any economic system (free-enterprise capitalism, socialism). "They all shared with one another everything they had": while continuing to possess personal belongings. "No one said, 'What I own belongs just to me.'"

This passage offers an ideal to be striven for rather than a fond memory of a once-model past. Moreover, it allows for living the command of practical love of neighbor within various economic and cultural systems. Recent popes have made it clear that the Church favors no one system over others, even-handedly criticizing social injustices in socialist and capitalist countries. American Christians assist the poor, sick, aged and unemployed through tax revenues as well as collections under Church and other private auspices for specific needs. Luke asks: What else must be done to measure up? How can we draw upon secular skills and unevenly distributed resources to care for the world's needy?

A second theme running through today's first reading concerned the proper role of authority within the Christian community. "With great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus." Divine grace worked within the apostles, enabling their preaching; and also within hearers, empowering a wholehearted response of selfless generosity. "Great respect paid" leaders thus flowed from God's grace, rather than merited by personal managerial skills. On the other hand, authority structures exclusively served the common good, in this case organizing the distribution of money intended for all in need.

In the second reading, a baptismal theme introduced in Lenten readings continues through succeeding Sundays. By this rite we Christians are literally reborn, becoming God's children while professing faith "that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah)."

This is the proper context for love of neighbor enjoined in today's first reading, something different from non-Christian humanistic social concern grounded upon the "dignity of humankind." Others are actually or potentially "God's children," with reverence for the dignity of God as found in all fellow human beings. "Like parent, like child." It also follows that obedience to divine commands never permits escape from responsibility for one another: "We love God's children whenever we love God and obey His commandments."

This selection takes issue with modern disinterest concerning credal orthodoxy - the notion that details of personal belief don't matter. A vibrant faith life is possible only within a community whose personal and corporate existence has been molded by solid doctrine grounded in authentic Christian tradition.

Sunday Scripture Readings


fourth sunday of lent,


march 10


1 Samuel 16:1, 6-7, 10-13; Psalm 23;


Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

OUR GOOD NEWS: We prepare now for Easter baptismal renewal and recommitment - like the anonymous blind man, we seek the Light of Truth.

"Master, who has sinned, this man or his parent?" Today's Gospel passage, a closely knit and highly artistic story, begins with the disciples' insensitive question reflecting common belief that every illness was due to someone's sin. "Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him." In disagreeing, Jesus simply meant that this case offered an opportunity to show God's power at work in himself, for such was the purpose of his earthly mission. Jesus' use of popular or "home" remedies doesn't diminish the miraculous nature but relates the cure directly to himself. These elements moreover have baptismal connotations: anointing, washing, even spittle (in older ritual practice). Through such everyday symbols God's light confronts and vanquishes darkness.

The main body of this story traces gradual development, under pressure of interrogation, of faith by the formerly blind man who now had seen the light. With careful precision the young person initially identified his benefactor as "the man called Jesus" - overheard but not verified because still blind. When asked for an explanation by religious leaders he rightly concluded that "he is a prophet," a person used by God to mediate divine power. Then, further growth: Jesus must be more, uniquely a "man from God" because of unparalleled miraculous powers. Finally, expelled from the religious community, forsaken by parents as well as all townspeople but sought out by Jesus, he professed full Christian faith in his Lordship.

This story also details progressive unfaith in those refusing to see. At first some accepted that a miracle had been performed, a few coming close to believing. But at the second interrogation they doubted a cure and put the parents under oath in hope of discrediting their son's testimony. Frustrated, the Pharisees could only disqualify him as a thoroughgoing sinner incapable of trustworthy witness. In the end, they hardened into self-righteousness, convinced of their position. No longer capable of examining the evidence honestly, theirs was a state of "guilt" by reason of prior opportunity deliberately rejected.

Today's Gospel teaches us that faith must be accepted when offered, but that rejection can permanently disqualify. Faith moreover can come at a terrible price, even of family rejection and social alienation. Tragically, Jesus' loving concern to bring light into a darkened world translated into a blessing and curse. "He came into this world to divide it." Jesus' offer of the gift of light summons each of us to personal decision, thus dividing humankind into those who accept and those who reject. His mission of bringing universal salvation includes uncovering - making explicit and visible - the self-condemning sin of final unbelief.

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!

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