Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings

FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT,

DECEMBER 24

Micah 5:1-4; Psalm 80;

Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45

Today’s first reading tells us that after the conquest of Canaan, the Ephrathah clan of the tribe of Judah settled in Bethlehem. It is from these people that the Savior will come. This is the clearest prophecy of the birthplace of Jesus.

The second reading tells us that Jesus came on earth to do the will of his Father in heaven. In offering himself as our Savior, Jesus did away with the need of traditional sacrifices because he himself is the eternal sacrifice, made once and for all.

The Gospel speaks of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s salute to Mary’s divine motherhood and Mary’s beautiful pronouncement, the Magnificat. Christmas is at hand and God has taken on human life.

Advent closes with its focus on Mary. By her consent Christ comes among us. The old world has ended and a new world has begun. Mary, who has surrendered herself to the will of God, now becomes the new Eve and the mother of humanity.

CHRISTMAS

DECEMBER 25

Vigil: Isaiah 62: 1-5; Psalm 89; Acts 13:16-17, 22-25; Matthew 1:1-25.

Midnight Mass: Isaiah 9:1-6; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14.

Mass at dawn: Isaiah 62:11-12; Psalm 97; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:15-20.

Mass during the day: Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18.

Consolidating these four sets of readings, we get a good summary of what happened at Christmas.

"While all was in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, Your almighty word, O Lord, came down from heaven from Your royal throne" (Wisdom 18:14-15). Jesus, the Word of God, becomes flesh.
Today is born to us a Savior.

In the first readings, from out of the darkness, Isaiah sees a great light and deliverance for his people when a child is born, a son is given. Christ has come to make a holy, redeemed people. How beautiful and welcome is he who brings this good news.

In the second readings, emphasizing Jesus as the light, Paul tells us that in the birth of Jesus, the grace of God has come to make us ready for his coming in glory. While in the past, God spoke to people through signs and prophets, now he speaks to us through his own Son — the word made flesh. He came to each of us when we were born in him in baptism.

From the Gospel readings, Matthew gives us the human geneology of Jesus and the call of God to Joseph to wed Mary, who as a virgin has conceived a Son and called him Emmanuel, which means "God is with us."

Then St. Luke gives us the ever-beautiful story of the birth of Jesus in the midst of the darkness of night in Bethlehem. The good news — "Today is born to you a Savior" — is given by the angels to the shepherds, who quickly go over to Bethlehem to "see this thing that has come to pass."

What a staggering condescension of God. St. John writes that he who is the eternal and almighty Word of God, he who made the universe — the heavens and the earth — becomes man to save us. The Church invites us to reflect with Mary on the great mystery. With Mary we are invited to bring God’s light to today’s world. It is a mission that never ceases and which continually finds new forms of expression.

On Christmas we celebrate the birthday of Jesus. We usually give others gifts on their birthdays. But what can we give Jesus, who is God? What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I’d give him a lamb. If I were a wise man, I’d give him some gold. But what can I give him, poor as I am?

I know how to do my part. I’ll give him my heart. Happy birthday, Jesus.

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

TWELFTH SUNDAY

OF ORDINARY TIME,

June 19

Jeremiah 20:10-13;

Psalm 69; Romans 5:12-15;

Matthew 10: 26-33

Six-year-old Jimmy was unusually afraid of the dark. One evening, when his mother asked him to bring in the mop from the back porch, Jimmy whined: "It’s too dark out there."

His mother tried to explain that there was nothing in the dark to be afraid of. "Besides," she said, "you know that Jesus is everywhere, even in the dark. Why, He’s on the back porch."

Very carefully Jimmy opened the door just enough to put his hand out and make this trembling request: "Jesus, please hand me the mop."

Fear is the result of Adam’s original sin. Most of us are plagued at one time or another with some kind of fear — fear of sickness and death, fear of germs, fear of loud noises, fear of elevators, fear of losing a game.

And we can think of so many situations in life where our response to Christ is feeble and half-hearted.

Because of the fear of being laughed at, being out of fashion or regarded as weaklings, we often fail to stand up for what we know to be just and right in our hearts.
Maybe there is a danger of losing friends by going to church, refusing to curse or gossip or saying no to drink or drugs.

For evil to triumph, all that is required is that good people remain silent. The pressure in the face of temptation to abandon the principles of our Catholic faith because of the smirks, sneers and ridicule of others is a daily challenge to our loyalty to Jesus and His Church and His teaching. All we have to do is to look back to the election last November and the issues of abortion, contraception, euthanasia, etc.

In the Gospel, Jesus says: "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna," which was the "garbage dump" of Jerusalem and a symbol of hell because it was always burning.

In the second reading Paul tells us why we shouldn’t fear. He says that if we all share in the sin of one man, Adam, so we all share in the gracious gift of salvation won for us by one man, Jesus. Jesus tells us to expect persecution, expect the Church to be ridiculed for its stand on moral issues. Expect the Holy Father and perhaps bishops and priests to be called old fashioned and out of touch. Jesus foretold this. But He also tells us not to fear, for He and the Father are with us.

Six hundred years before Christ, the prophet Jeremiah (first reading) is threatened with persecution but is not afraid because of his strong belief that the Lord is with him. The history of Christianity bears witness that the Church has always flourished under persecution and suffering, which is also true today. The Church is the healthiest where it is most persecuted.

While in this country most of us have not been physically persecuted, the Church is constantly experiencing persecution — it is being ridiculed, mocked, scourged, bashed; priests are insulted by some of the movies and TV shows, and the pope’s pleas to follow God’s laws are ignored.

How great a role does human respect play in our lives?

So many are afraid to live Christian lives because of the opinion of others. We must be in the world but not of it. When values clash, our Catholic Christian principles must decide our course of action. If we disown Christ by our deeds, He has promised to disown us. We must be confident that God will help us if we remain loyal to Him and His Church.

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

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

EPIPHANY, JANUARY 4

Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72;

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

OUR GOOD NEWS: God’s "secret" was now revealed — Jesus is the light of salvation for the whole world, Gentiles as well as Jews.

The prophet Isaiah (first reading) saw worldwide darkness of despair and hopelessness suddenly broken by a single beam shining on Jerusalem. No ordinary solar brightness this, but the reflection of God’s supernatural "glory," visible manifestation of his invisible majesty. The Lord comes as Israel’s light, by His personal presence bringing salvation. This passage proclaims joy and the promise of life in fullness. Such blessings are no longer restricted to the Chosen People. All the world’s nations are to be guided into God’s saving presence by the divine light reflected from Israel. For Christians, this passage announces that salvation is available through the new Israel, the Church.

"Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters in the arms of their nurses." Isaiah described universal salvation in terms of a vast pilgrimage making its way to Jerusalem from the four corners of the world. With unparalleled joy the whole world "proclaims the praises of the Lord!" At the head of the procession come Israelites, returning home from foreign exile. Even babies in arms will make the trip. All the riches from every land and sea will be transported on the backs of numberless camels, freight carriers of the ancient Near East.

The immense wealth will be used for honoring God in cultic worship. Israel herself would be enriched — restored to its former glory and much more — by a grateful pagan world. "Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall comes bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord." Ephah was a tribe of Midian, a wandering trading people, Sheba a legendary source of wealth. Significantly for today’s feast, these three names are located to the east of Jerusalem.

Isaiah and today’s psalm are fulfilled with the arrival in Jerusalem of certain Magi, pagans possessing occult knowledge. These came "from the east," bearing "gifts of gold and frankincense," to which Matthew added myrrh, another incense resin, to pay homage to Judaism's Messianic king. But fulfillment of Scripture ended when the representatives of the Gentile world made their humble pilgrimage. Instead of feverish joy and justifiable pride, however, Jerusalem responded with consternation. The people refused the good news of the great "glory" now come upon them! Resistance soon developed into two extreme reactions. "The chief priests and scribes" remained uncommitted and indifferent. They had the answers but did nothing about it. King Herod proved true to his unscrupulous principles — he covertly schemed to murder the Child.

Since Jerusalem preferred darkness, the Magi turned directly to God for a guiding light. The "star," therefore, was more than an astrological or astronomical phenomenon. This was the "light" foretold by Isaiah that would focus on Jerusalem, the center which would draw the whole world in its thirst for divine salvation. But sinful rejection caused God to transfer His splendor from the sacred temple-city to "the place where the Child was."

Sunday Scripture Readings


seventeenth sunday


in ordinary time,


July 28


1 Kings 3:5, 7-12; Psalm 119;


Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 13:44-52

OUR GOOD NEWS: No sacrifice is too great for the joy of God's King-dom.

In the Old Testament, dreams were accepted means of divine communication, especially for rulers seeking God's guidance. God had favored Solomon in choosing him over other, older brothers to succeed their father David as king. In our first reading God appears with a further undeserved, generous offer: "Ask something of me and I will give it to you." The promise to grant one's fondest wish is a familiar fairy tale motif, where the choice usually reflects personal advantage - "long life, riches, defeat of enemies."

Instead, the youthful monarch requested continuation of God's special love and concern shown his father. He selflessly asked for "a heart with skill to listen" - sensitivity in understanding subjects' needs, skillful decision-making, which builds up rather than weakens a just society. Unfortunately, Solomon failed to do his part in living up to the royal ideal. This failure was repeated by subsequent Davidic successors but finally realized in Jesus, the Messiah and universal King. Nevertheless, today's first reading invites us to cultivate Solomon's prayer for a heart - mind and body - attuned to God's word and docile to his desires. Prayer means asking for what God wants to give, what makes us better able to do his will of loving service to others.

The first two Gospel parables illustrate the opportunity as well as challenge of discipleship. In ancient times, frequent unrest (invasion, brigandage) encouraged people to bury money and jewelry in fields. Sometimes unclaimed and forgotten, such treasures awaited lucky finders like our poor farm laborer plowing another's property. Overwhelmed at the possibility of becoming a millionaire, he straightaway disposed of all his meager possessions, however dear and necessary, to purchase the field. Heedless of future complications - Would the owner sell his patrimony? Sue for fraud and deception? - he eagerly gave up everything in a gamble he couldn't refuse.

The parallel parable differs in minor, complementary details: a well-to-do merchant on the lookout for quality pearls, in ancient times considered the most beautiful and valuable of jewels. Chancing upon a rare perfect specimen, he too immediately "sold everything" - merchandise for making a living, souvenirs acquired in travels, his wardrobe and personal objects. Anyone not sharing his peculiar enthusiasm would judge such behavior irresponsible and foolish.

Jesus' point in both parables is obvious. He has come to offer us God's Kingdom, a unique pearl of the greatest price. Genuine disciples are those who respond to this opportunity with joy and selfless commitment, eagerly giving life in the Kingdom top priority.

The third parable is more developed, with a different message. Galilean seine nets were drawn through the water. Only afterward was the catch sorted, with edible, kosher fish going to market. Jesus warns us not to expect perfection in the Church nor presume that active membership automatically guarantees admission into the final-age kingdom.

The concluding saying addresses Christianity's relationship to Judaism, with wider implications for the current tension between old-fashioned and modern. It's not that one or the other is right, or that both are important. The new is old, now made fresh, relevant and exciting.

Sunday Scripture Readings

THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER, April 22

Acts 5: 27-32, 40-41; Psalm 30;
Revelation 5:11-14; John 21: 1-19

A fellow who did a lot of fishing while on this earth knocked at the Pearly Gates. But St. Peter had to tell him, "I’m sorry, no place for you here; you told too many lies in your days on earth."

"Aw, St. Peter," the fisherman argued, "You should understand. You were a fisherman, remember?"

Peter remembered all too well how he lied when he denied he knew Jesus the night before Jesus died. But this weekend’s Gospel shows us Jesus offering Peter total forgiveness and rehabilitation from those lies.

As Peter three times undoes his denial with declarations of love, Jesus assures him that his love, like all true love, will be tested.

Peter doesn’t have to wait very long after Jesus ascended into heaven because he and John are arrested for healing a blind man and preaching in the name of Jesus. They are brought to court, an event pictured in today’s first reading. Here Peter who had three times revoked any and all knowledge of Jesus, now strongly declares his faith in Jesus as the Christ.

Peter proclaims the great necessity of his witness, declaring it as a response to God’s will. Peter stands firm with a keen sense of what’s what and of what must come first. At last, he is worthy of his name Rock, which is what the name Peter means.

The second reading transports us to the foot of God’s heavenly throne. There we discover the One who is worthy of our loyalty and love — the Lamb who is Jesus. Because of his willingness to respond obediently to his Father’s will and sacrifice his safety for us, the Lamb is worthy of our worship and praise.

The message for us this weekend then is that Jesus is worthy of our loyalty, trust and love, our worship and praise. If Peter’s love for Christ was tested, so our love is and will be tested.

True, Jesus’ love for us is a gift. We don’t have to earn it. Even so we do need to live up to that gift, to live it well, to show others that we are worthy of it.

We do this by meeting others where they are in life and loving them for who they are even if we don’t like what they do. We need to love them as Jesus did. Even after Peter’s treachery, Jesus called him and connected with him again and again.

Jesus tested Peter’s love and Peter passed the test. Peter committed himself to serving Jesus’ lambs and sheep, which includes all of us. This is the only answer to Jesus’ great question, "Do you love me?"

In today’s Gospel, Jesus totally restores Peter — makes him a new man and lifts him up to a place of primacy. The same sort of thing occurs whenever we forgive another. Forgiveness always revives self-esteem and always restores the future. It banishes fear of retaliation and fear of one’s own imperfections.

As we continue to celebrate the days of Easter, let’s take time to forgive any past wrong others have committed against us. Let’s offer others restoration and reconciliation.

Our ability and willingness to forgive is the truest test of the love the risen Lord has lavished on each of us. At the Last Supper Jesus commanded his followers that they love one another as he had loved them. Only Jesus can help us to do that — to love as he loves. Don’t be afraid to ask him.

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

THIRTIETH SUNDAY

IN ORDINARY TIME,

OCTOBER 23

Exodus 22:20-26; Psalm 18;

1 Thessalonians 1:5-10; Matthew 22:34-40

Two men were arguing furiously over something and one said to the other: "Listen, Bill, you don’t agree with anything or anybody. I’ll bet you don’t even endorse the Ten Commandments."

To which the other replied: "Well, you make one small change in them and I’ll accept them." "What small change do you want?" asked the first man.

The second man replied: "Just strike out that word ‘not’ all the way through."

Jesus did much better than that. In answer to the lawyer’s question in today’s Gospel, He made the commandments positive. He summed up the first three of the Ten Commandments in the first: "You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul and with all your mind."

And then, He summed up the rest of the Ten Commandments in the second: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself . on these two commandments the whole law is based and the prophets as well." Jesus was the first to put these two Old Testament commands together. They appear in the Old Testament books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus.

Jesus shows that we cannot love God without a practical love of our neighbor, and we cannot truly love our neighbor without first loving God, and we cannot love our neighbor without loving ourselves. What is hurtful to you, you may not do to another. It’s not good to have others lie about us. Then it’s not good to lie about others. It’s not good to have others steal from you, so it’s not good for you to steal from others, and so on through all the commandments.

In the second reading, St. Paul praises his converts in Thessalonia for following the commandments and setting a good example to others.

A great part of the loving is having compassion. This word comes from two Latin words — cum passio, meaning to suffer with. The problem is that so many people do not know how to love themselves as God loves them. See the thousands who hurt themselves by getting drunk often, or taking illegal drugs, or eating too much; the many who are hurt in divorces or by using sex as a plaything and not according to God’s plan; by committing suicide etc.

I cannot be good or do good to others if I cannot be good to myself and love myself properly as God loves me. And I cannot be good to myself and others if I do not love God and believe that He created all of us. And then, He became a human being to show us how to love and be compassionate and live according to His will. Compassionate love is more than an emotion or a feeling. It is an act of our will, a deliberate, intentional choice to respond to the love God has for us that is expressed in service to God through what we do to or for others, especially those in need.

The St. Joseph Sunday Missal says that the first reading introduces and concretizes Jesus’ statement in the Gospel that it is love of God and neighbor on which the whole law is based. And this love of God and neighbor should not be abstract or vague and lacking precision. Aestheticism and vague statements on love do little good for the poor, the stranger, the widow or the orphan. All Christians must heed this.

In the Gospel, Jesus did not define the word "neighbor" but instead turned the Scribe’s question into "Who acted as a neighbor?" Jesus’ compassion urges us to overcome all attempts to achieve success or holiness at the expense of the care we owe our neighbor.

We must not take revenge even at the risk of becoming a victim of hatred, and we must forgive injustice. Dying on the cross, Jesus looked at those whose hatred had put Him there and showed His compassionate love of God by calling on the Father to forgive them.

We are called to share Jesus’ compassion and let Him be compassionate to others through us. Give the other person a break. Refuse to judge others hastily. Put a stop to gossip that hurts others and blackens their good name.

When we act with compassion, we are sharing in Jesus’ power to bring new life. We are loving God by loving our neighbor. Compassion is a strong awareness of another person’s anguish, coupled with the desire and willingness to help remedy that anguish. Being compassionate means being powerful. Compassion is love with muscle — love of God, love of our neighbor, love of ourselves.

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

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