Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings

BIRTH OF JOHN THE BAPTIST,

JUNE 24

Isaiah 49:1-6; Psalm 139; Acts 13:22-26; Luke 1:57-66, 80

OUR GOOD NEWS: Like John the Baptist, Isaiah’s suffering servant, and Jesus, we are called to serve God through faithful failure, while maintain-ing peace of soul.

John came last in a long line of Old Testament prophets and "servants" of God, each of whom contributed toward preparing Israel — and indirectly the whole world — for her Messiah. Our first selection traces John the Baptist’s Old Testament roots to Isaiah’s mysterious "suffering servant" (see first reading). Who was this figure? Partly to be identified with Israel as a corporate unity and called to mediate salvation to Gentile nations, this servant also was apparently an anonymous individual divinely empowered to serve both the Chosen People and all humankind. Let the Good News of his commissioning be proclaimed worldwide ("coast lands . . . distant peoples")!

Like his predecessor prophet Jeremiah, this servant lived in total dedication ("called from birth . . . from his mother’s womb"). His words and witness were compared to weapons in the hand of a warrior God, thus emphasizing effectiveness combined with an intimate union as a divine instrument. But it was an ambiguous service, "concealed" and "hidden." "He made of me a sharp-edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm. He made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me" (first reading).

"Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength . . . " Judged by human standards, the servant failed in his mission; like all other prophets similarly called, Israel was not "brought back to" her God through his labors. No matter! Surprisingly, the reward for faithful but unsuccessful service would be a new and breathtaking assignment. "I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth."

Today we honor John the Baptist, who in succession to the suffering servant experienced imprisonment and martyrdom as a reward for prophetic truth telling. John in turn foreshadowed Jesus and his fate of total rejection and crucifixion, but in each case God worked through faithful failure to achieve his desire to save everyone. We, too, can be called to fail, through no fault of our own. The story of the servant, of John and of Jesus reassure us that, in Paul’s memorable words, "all things work together unto good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose" (Rom 8:28). We selflessly, humbly do our best as we understand it — struggling to make a good marriage, raise our children properly, give ourselves to our work and our many other duties. Whatever happens — and the examples of the servant, John and Jesus warn us to expect undeserved frustration and rejection — God will empower us with an inner tranquility. God does the deciding and the doing; we need only remain steadfast, uncomplaining instruments.

Our second reading presents Paul’s understanding of John the Baptist’s role within salvation history. "In proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all Israel," the prophet John summoned the people to a radical reform of life. Especially relevant for us is his call for social justice, following Amos and Micah and anticipating the modern Church’s stress on justice.

Sunday Scripture Readings


Solemnity of our Lord


Jesus Christ the King,


November 24


Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; Psalm 23;


1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28; Matthew 25:31-46

OUR GOOD NEWS: Christ, King of all human beings, commands us to mutual caring.

Jesus' description of end-time judgment is intended not as a detailed scenario of what will happen but as instruction on how to live our lives now. The suffering and humiliated earthly Son of Man now reigns within his Church, but apparently absent from history. His future return is described in standard Old Testament apocalyptic imagery: "glory" (divinity made visible), "escorting angels, royal throne, (assembly of) all nations." Final judgment, elsewhere always reserved to God, will be exercised by Christ.

Surprisingly absent are customary bizarre descriptions and fantastic speculations about rewards and punishment. Jesus likewise omits standard norms for salvation or condemnation, such as membership in the chosen race, fidelity to Mosaic law, or martyrdom in holy wars against unbelievers. He will consult no Book of Life (computer printout?) to tabulate merits and deviations. Instead, separation will be child's play, as simple as a shepherd's evening sorting of mixed flock. Anyone can tell "sheep" from "goats"!

The list of deeds for which "sheep" will be rewarded are repeated, litany-like, four times for emphasis and solemnity. Isaiah 61:1-2 predicted reversal of such troubles in the messianic age, a passage Jesus proclaimed fulfilled in his own mission (Lk 4:18). Nevertheless, hunger, poverty, refugees and the barbaric criminal justice system which plagued the ancient world also make the daily TV news. He who during earthly life associated with public sinners now identifies in risen but distant glory with every sort of human misery, present to be encountered and served in all who suffer. Note too that these mediators of Christ are significantly not identified as Christians, or as sinless, God-fearing and "deserving."

Recent scholarship tends to agree on the universal dimension of this passage. Jesus will return as cosmic Lord to judge all humankind, pagans as well as Christians. Those who never heard the Good News will be saved or condemned for how they reacted to Christ hidden among them in the needy. Every single person without exception is offered salvation through Jesus and will appear before him for final judgment. Agnostics and atheists will be judged for what they did to ameliorate suffering. Any love or service we would like to show Jesus can be performed by meeting needs of neighbors and distant foreigners.

Firm faith in Christ as sovereign Lord and vigilant hope of his end-time return must be expressed through active, gracious and determined concern for the real welfare of all human beings, without exception.

Sunday Scripture Readings

SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME,

FEBRUARY 19

Isaiah 43:18-19, 21-22, 24b-25; Psalm 41;

2 Corinthians 1:18-22;

Mark 2:1-12

The author of this section of the Book of Isaiah first reading is traditionally referred to as Second Isaiah. We believe he lived during the Babylonian captivity, the period after the fall of Jerusalem when most of Judah’s intelligentsia lived in the suburban center of Nippur.

Jerusalem was but a faint memory for most of the Judahites living there. Life was hard so far away from home. Nevertheless, this prophet knew something was about to happen. The Neo-Babylonian Empire was on its last legs.Persia, under the leadership of the charismatic Cyrus, was knocking at the door.

Second Isaiah sensed that the end of the captivity was near and this could only mean one thing. God had finally absolved them of their sins.The chance to return to Jerusalem, once no more than a dim hope, now seemed possible.

Through the prophet, God counsels the people not to dwell on the past.Let it go.Don’t obsess over it anymore.Now God is about to do something refreshing and restorative.A new dawn comes.He will reform His people.He will lead them on a second Exodus through the wilderness and wastelands back to Judah, back to Jerusalem.

Why can He do this? Because He has forgiven their offenses.All their failings are now forgotten and a new beginning is in store.By allowing them to go back to Jerusalem, God demonstrates His mercy and benevolence.In return He expects faithfulness and praise from His fully "renewed" people.

The Gospel reading from Mark builds on this theme of forgiveness but in a way that may seem odd to us.What does being a paralytic have to do with sin?Certainly he cannot be faulted for the way he was born or the accident he may have suffered.

In the world of ancient Israel and Judea the effects of sin were viewed differently. People at that time believed that any ailment or deformity was caused by iniquity.Misfortunes happened because God was angry with them and withdrew His heavenly protection that sustained life.Such divine abandonment subsequently allowed all sorts of illnesses to occur which accelerated the inevitable passage to death.

People during this period also believed that, if left unenforced, the punishment for sin could be inherited and passed from one generation to another. This view attempted to explain those occasions when a particularly sinful person could live a full and complete life without any perceived form of divine castigation.Since this did not seem quite right, they developed the following rationale: While an offender may have escaped punishment for his sins during his lifetime, it would be his children or his children’s children who would finally feel the effects of the parent’s misdeeds and suffer the consequences of God’s correction.
It could well be that Mark’s paralytic may have been a descendant of such a person. Yet we cannot know whether this is certain.

All of this means that for Jesus, the Son of God, to forgive the paralytic of his sins, He had to heal his paralysis too. This was the only way His audience in Capernaum would recognize divine forgiveness. For to forgive sin was to also cure disease.Today, of course, we know differently. Illness or incapacity has nothing to do with the effects of sin.We also recognize that we are individually responsible before God for every one of our offenses.

This week let us take time to review an occasion when we were not able to readily forgive someone for an offense against us. It need not be a recent incident. In fact such an assessment may require us to revisit an old grudge. In doing so it may even bring up some old, unresolved feelings.

Let us face our grudges, for the time has come to fully and completely let any resentment go.Say a rosary and set it all aside.Forgive others as God forgave the Jews in Babylon. Forgive others as Jesus, His Son, forgave the paralytic. Forgive others in the same way we know that God has forgiven us by sending His Son to die for our sins.
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

NINETEENTH SUNDAY

IN ORDINARY TIME,

AUGUST 8

Wisdom 18:6-9; Psalm 33;

Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19; Luke 12:32-48

OUR GOOD NEWS: Jesus expects daily fidelity and dedication to our responsibilities but also a certain initiative and creativity.

Are we prepared for the Son of Man’s coming? "Be alert!" may seem an odd summation of the Christian lifestyle. In fact, it represents an ongoing application of Jesus’ summons to repentance now. There is no getting ready — always be ready! Like Abraham and Sarah (second reading), we must be able to move out and move on, not bogged down in false securities of the status quo, capable of functioning comfortably and efficiently without having all the answers and even without knowing precisely where we’re going.

"Watching" demands open-mindedness, a sense of further possibilities, with the present never having the last word. It calls for a creative atmosphere of tentativeness, an openness to newness and willingness to change. The reward for remaining "wide-awake" is breathtaking — encouraging revelation about the God we are to serve. He will "slave for (us) His slaves," in imitation of our faithful service!

This section concludes with a related and complementary parable with two applications concerning household servants. "It will go well with those servants whom the master finds wide awake on his return." The expected punishment would be a public flogging leaving the culprit struggling for life. This portion encourages faithful service with promise of reward, in context of the masters’ delay. The parable also stresses a sudden and unexpected arrival, warning us against unreadiness.

Today’s Gospel selection goes on to address the burdens of responsibility in the Christian community.

"Peter said, do you intend this parable for us Lord, or do you mean it for the whole world?" Jesus responded with a third parable that rejected this disjunction by applying it to "all, but especially you" who are servant-leaders. A slave had been given temporary supervision over his fellow slaves during the master’s absence. The latter’s return will find the dedicated steward faithful to his task, and rewarded by advancement to permanent control of the whole estate.

But if a false sense of independence led to neglect and abuse of authority, the sudden and unexpected reappearance of the master will result in his being "cut in two" — an exaggerated expression indicating "severe punishment" — and sent to labor with intractable slaves requiring constant and harsh discipline.

Jesus concluded with two general principles emphasizing that responsibility is commensurate with personal endowment and opportunity. Every servant is judged in proportion to knowledge of his master’s will. All must work, but those with more information about

His plans must take the initiative and see that the job is done. Second, gifts are given to be used. God demands more of those of us blessed with greater talents and opportunity. The Church is a community of service, ministering to one another and bringing salvation to the whole world. "When much has been given a person, much will be required."

Sunday Scripture Readings


SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT,


MARCH 16


Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18; Psalm 116;


Romans 8:31-34; Mark 9:2-10

OUR GOOD NEWS: Discipleship (faithfully living our Christian lives) means transfigured existence with Christ now, hidden and incomplete because of present suffering but leading to final glory.

Our first reading, a profoundly moving story, is the common treasure of three great religious traditions, each reverencing Abraham as father: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Here Abraham appears as our common model. "Tested" by God, Abraham responded with prompt obedience: "Ready!" Never has God demanded more of a faithful servant. Narrative emphasis through repetition painfully underscores the old man's unique comfort and joy, now reduced to his extremist pain: "Take your son, your beloved one, Isaac, whom you hold so dear." "Go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you!"

Instead of recoiling in paralyzed horror, begging for a change of heart or stalling for time, Abraham responded at once. He diligently prepared for an act which, if carried out, would rank among the most appalling in any religious culture. The story's opening words however reassure us that God wasn't serious in demanding Isaac's death; it's only a test. Instead of an imperious command, the Hebrew text softens the verb's force: "Take, please/I beg you, your son." And in the nick of time God held back the father's death-dealing blow with impassioned cry repeated in urgency. "Abraham! Abraham!" The Creator and Redeemer loves even more than a doting parent.

Speaking through a heavenly messenger, God solemnly reassured Abraham, irrevocably binding himself under oath. Earlier, a promise to bless Abraham with innumerable descendants through Isaac was sheer grace independent of human merit. Now it depends on obedience carried out in spite of extreme human repugnance. In the concluding divine address, repetition emphasized the connection between human conduct and God's gifts, however undeserved. "Because you acted as you did ... Because you obeyed."

Even more important, the Lenten theme surfaces from the context provided by today's other readings. Later Jewish reflection centered on Isaac rather than Abraham as the story's real "hero." Wordless, unresisting surrender of his own life, allowing his body to be bound and placed upon the sacrificial altar, made Isaac a type or foreshadowing of the Passover (Paschal) Lamb, with atoning power to redeem Israel. Early Christians followed this line of exegesis, making Isaac a Christ figure. Through freely accepted death, a just man brings forgiveness and reconciliation to the whole world. Abraham in turn becomes a type or symbolic representation of God who willingly, although at great price, delivered up his only Son. So great is the Father's love for us!

Sunday Scripture Readings


Holy Family, december 30


Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalm 128;


Colossians 3:12-21; Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

OUR GOOD NEWS: How we are called to Christian family life.

Like other Old Testament laws, the obligation to honor father and mother touches the entire community, prescribing concerned respect from children as well as adults. Ben Sira (first reading) mainly addressed young persons still living at home, insisting upon obedience and reverence for "mother" no less than "father." Such behavior is divinely mandated rather than a mere social custom, an inalienable right not given or withheld according to deserts (the author didn't limit our obligation to worthy or good parents.)

Reflecting the practical nature of his advice, Ben Sira proposed two advantages accruing from honoring one's parents. First, this can be our way of making up for childhood sins of insensitivity, thoughtlessness and disobedience - it's how we can "atone for sins." Second, setting an example for our children serves as a good investment toward one's old age, an opportunity to "store up riches" of filial love which fulfill God's promise of a "long life."

The second part of this reading is direct, up-to-date, and painful if not guilt-inducing for many of us. Especially in the final years of frail health and advancing senility, parents deserve "consideration" and "kindness" as well as material support. We "grieve" them through callous uncaring, "revile" by concentrating on imperfections.

Luke (Gospel) presented Mary and Joseph as pious Jews, carefully attentive to prescriptions of the Mosaic "law" (mentioned three times in the first two sentences.) Unusually, Luke emphasized that Joseph as well as Mary underwent ritual purification. Nor did sacrificial legislation favor the rich, for their "two pigeons" were of equal value before God as expensive bullock or sheep. Contrary to normal practice, and like Hannah with her infant son Samuel (1Sm 1), Mary dedicated Jesus permanently to God's service instead of buying him back.

The old man Simeon, paragon of Old Testament piety, proclaimed the end of an age that lived only on hope. Having faithfully watched for and greeted the promised bearer of final-age peace, salvation and "light for Gentiles" as well as for Israel, Simeon completed his life assignment as God's servant and requested dismissal. "Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation."

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