Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings

THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT

DECEMBER 11

Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11;

Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54;

Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

In the Old Testament the breath with which God speaks His word is so powerful it becomes the Spirit. The Spirit participates in creation (Genesis 1:2). It invigorates judges (Judges 6: 34; 11:29) and kings (1 Samuel 10:6; 16:13). It enlivens dead bones (Ezekiel 37:5-6). It inspires prophets (Isaiah 61:1; Ezekiel 11:5; 37:1).

The time in which Isaiah wrote was difficult. The Babylonian government had fallen to the Persians. The future was uncertain for the Judeans living there. After 70 years they longed for home, the familiarity of Jerusalem and the security of the temple. Above all, they longed for God whom they felt had abandoned them in a foreign country.Had He forsaken them in Nippur?No, says Isaiah. Set aside all anxiety, for the time of release has come. The Spirit is at work once again.

Isaiah’s Spirit is a Spirit of liberation, freedom and deliverance. It speaks words of assurance to the exiles in Babylon that God is about to act.He will renew and re-create the nation of Israel in a new Exodus. He will lead them back through the wilderness to Jerusalem.

There, this great and powerful God will re-establish a personal relationship with Judea.As in the days of David and Solomon, He will dwell among His people in his temple.Once again He will be with them, near them, among them.He will be open and available to them in ways that harken back to the Davidic kingdom.

John the Baptist (Gospel) experiences God in much the same way as Isaiah. He too is in the Spirit. He too is inspired.As one who is inspired he knows how to live his life according to God’s intended purpose. For being in the Spirit is living by the Spirit. For John this meant living in the wilderness, eating the fruit of locust trees and embracing his role as herald to the Messiah. It also meant that he baptize in anticipation of Christ’s coming. He knows that without it the people will not be ready for the radical new way God will be among them.God will no longer linger in a musty, dark temple obscured by the smoke of frankincense and dim oil lamps.He can no longer be contained in a mere building. Now He will be in His Son. Now He will move and live and eat and drink among His people in Jesus Christ. For in Christ also rests His Spirit.

Even though the people of Jerusalem are curious about John, they do not go out to meet him themselves.

Rather they send their religious elite, the priests, Levites and Pharisees. Clearly the people recognize that John is special, but in what way?Is he the Christ?Who knows?It is probably best to leave it to the experts to figure out.

This week let us imagine going out to John in the wilderness ourselves. The day may be hot, the road dusty and the throng restive but let us go anyway.How then will we react when he invites us to step forward to be baptized? Perhaps we will advert our eyes and step aside, uncomfortable with the thought. Maybe we are not truly prepared for the Christ. Have we been entirely generous? Have we worked to be as honest as possible? Are we genuinely content with our lot in life?

If we are deficient in any one of these areas, then they will only weigh us down. They will continue to distract us from the Christ. For not being generous, not being honest and not being content requires a lot of work, the wrong kind of work. Striving to set these obstacles aside will prepare us better for Christ’s coming and the indwelling of God’s Spirit in the temples of our bodies.Only then will we be renewed in the wilderness. Only then will we be truly (in Spiritu) and ready for the Christ.

Kitz is associate professor of Scripture at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in Shrewsbury.

Sunday Scripture Readings

SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER,

MAY 16

Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Psalm 67;

Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23; John 14:23-29

OUR GOOD NEWS: The Holy Spirit, working in the Church, brings us to intimate union with the Father through the Son.

Future verbs in the opening sentence of today’s Gospel — "My Father will love him; We will come to him and make our dwelling place with him always" — do not refer to heavenly life after death but to Christian existence here and now, after Jesus’ resurrection. This intimate faith-union between ourselves and God is no mystical experience limited to a few contemplatives but accessible to all with the right dispositions: "love" for Jesus expressed through careful obedience ("keeping My word"). St. Paul similarly wrote of life "in Christ"; and insisted that, as a result of baptism, our bodies replace the temple Holy of Holies as God’s own "dwelling place." "Heaven" comes to us in our ordinary, everyday living!

This intimate presence of Father and Son in each of us believers is not contradicted by Jesus’ promise of "the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in My name," for the other two Divine Persons remain inseparable from the Spirit. Not surprisingly, Jesus promised this "Helper" at the Last Supper, with His own suffering and death imminent. As His disciples, we share His adversary relation to "the world," the technical term for humankind in opposition to God. The Spirit builds upon rather than replaces Jesus’ earthly mission (to "teach and remind").

All the lasting effects of Jesus’ death and resurrection are summed up in His parting gift of "shalom." "Peace be with you," like the modern "have a nice day," normally serves as a polite but ineffective hello or goodbye. "The world gives peace" ineffectually by saying the words; Jesus gives peace — fullness of life and happiness — by making it happen. Like the disciples at the Last Supper about to witness Jesus’ own rejection and death, we too must anticipate difficulties and trials in our own lives. Like them, we are invited to "rejoice" in the loss of Jesus’ physical presence because only in going can He come and abide through His incomparable gift of the Spirit, mediator of the Divine Presence within us and enabler of perseverance in faithful obedience.

"The Father is greater than I" does not deny Jesus’ full divinity. It affirms the Son as the faithful "Other" who fully lives out and communicates the Father’s will rather than His own.

In sum, today’s Gospel shows how Christian living is grounded in paradox. First, Jesus is more intimately present now, in His Church, than He had been during earthly life. Second, we are called to profound joy and peace, while assured that suffering and every sort of diminishment characterizes authentic Christian living. Third, the Trinitarian Mystery lies at the heart of revelation. The Father can be encountered in His fullness only though the Son, and the Son is revealed only through the Spirit. The intimate bond of love joining the Trinity of persons into one Godhead is graciously opened up to include us!

Sunday Scripture Readings


HOLY FAMILY, DECEMBER 29


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


Colossians 3:12-21; Luke 2:22-40

OUR GOOD NEWS: We're called to holiness in everyday living.

"Happy are those who fear the Lord and walk in His ways." Today's psalm celebrating daily life reminds us that as God-fearing persons we should find fulfillment in the ordinary and everyday: in work, family and community. "For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork; happy shall you be, and favored." Putting in a day's work is our privilege as well as obligation. Biblical thought disagrees with a modern attitude that the good life is to be found exclusively in leisure. That is why Church teaching insists on everyone's right to meaningful employment.

"Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the recesses of your home; your children like olive plants around your table." "Vine" and "olive" are biblical symbols for the good life, wine delighting the heart and oil healing life's hurts. The psalmist thus invites us to personal and family self-examination. Is our home a place for genuine intimacy, the primary source of joy and refreshment for all members? By extension, our parish should be a home to people of every age and state in life, a center radiating God's blessings both to members and to the larger community.

More broadly understood, the opening line of today's psalm (also used as the responsorial verse) extends the range of application to embrace those living alone - the unmarried, widowed and divorced. "Those who fear the Lord" include all faithful members of local churches (parishes). These show reverence and awe toward God during private and liturgical prayer, but also through community involvement, serving and sharing with the needy. Such concern mediates God's blessing, because individual good fortune ultimately depends on community prosperity.

"The Lord sets a father in honor over his children, a mother's authority he confirms over her sons." The obligation to lifelong honoring of both parents is divinely mandated rather than merely social custom. Significantly, this inalienable right is independent of personal behavior. The psalmist doesn't limit our obligation to worthy or good parents - however different our "honoring" should be.

Sunday Scripture Readings


EPIPHANY, JANUARY 5


Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72;


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

OUR GOOD NEWS: God's "secret" is out! Through his Church, God guides the world to Jesus, who graciously accepts our homage.

In our first reading, the prophet Isaiah watches in meditation as dawn breaks over Jerusalem. Surrounding valleys lie shrouded in mist and shadow - "darkness covers the earth" - while in the sky, pale brightness appears. Suddenly, first rays of sun break through, making hilltop city glow like a diamond. "Arise, Jerusalem, rise clothed in light!"

Through infidelity and disobedience God's people had lost everything. They had been led into exile and slavery in faraway pagan Babylon, their beautiful capital city destroyed. The prophet now proclaims good news to fellow Jews, addressed as a young woman personifying Jerusalem and using imagery of dawn's breaking. "Rise up" from weeping and despair! God's saving act, like welcome light driving out threatening darkness, "is surely coming." Salvation means the Lord's presence among his people, like "light" or "glory" (visible manifestation of his divine Being).

God's people, symbolized by Jerusalem, will reflect the Lord's own "splendor," a beacon drawing pagan nations to God through itself. These peoples will come to honor Israel's God in the rebuilt temple. Pagan pilgrims will fittingly arrive bearing rich tribute. First and foremost will come the city's exiled "children" (citizens) - "sons" walking on foot, infant "daughters carried on the hip." Lady Jerusalem's "heart shall throb and overflow" with joy, a mother "radiant" at the return of her children scattered in foreign exile.

The whole earth will be caught up in a grand offering procession or liturgy, the "wealth of nations" flowing toward Jerusalem where the Lord reigns as universal sovereign. Goods normally carried in ships arrive from north and west; everything transported overland will come on camels from south and east - "Midian and Ephah," famous for caravan traders; "Sheba," Arabian trading center dealing in "gold, frankincense" and spices. A veritable flood of gifts for Israel's God will be piled high around His hilltop city!

What the prophet saw in vision would be fulfilled centuries later. Jesus, fullness of God's revelation and "light shining in darkness" (Jn 1:5), welcomed the Magi, ambassadors representing the pagan world, graciously accepting their homage expressed in gifts worthy of royalty and even divinity. These pagans are our models of humility, willing to learn, open to risk and newness, eager rather than hesitant for commitment to Christ. The universal Church fulfills Old Testament predictions of worldwide homage to Israel's God. These Magi lead an "offertory procession" by which all nations acknowledge their Lord, who come as Savior of Gentiles as well as Jews.

Today's psalm celebrates the completion of what King David could only imperfectly foreshadow. Jesus shall bring the whole world joyfully into God's Kingdom while showing particular regard for the needy who can't care for themselves. "For He shall rescue the poor man when he cries out and the afflicted when he has no one to help him. He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor; and lives of the poor He shall save." Once again, we celebrate a feast with special concern for the poor!

Sunday Scripture Readings

FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT,

April 2

Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51;

Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33

A small church in one Irish village was not far from the village pub.

One day as the pastor was looking out the rectory window, he saw Pat, a parishioner, who was not very pious, staggering out of the pub and stumbling into the church.

"Glory be," exclaimed the priest, "Pat is turning over a new leaf." So quietly Father made his way over to the church and found Pat making the Way of the Cross.

But something was strangely wrong. Pat was making the stations of the cross backward —beginning with the 14th and so on.

When Pat finished, the priest told him how happy he was to see him praying. But then Father added: "Pat, you were making the Way of the Cross backward."

Befuddled, Pat thought for a moment then muttered: "I was wondering why our dear Lord was looking healthier and strong as he carried the heavy cross to Calvary."

Be that as it may, the cross was on Jesus’ mind as he spoke the mysterious words in today’s Gospel: "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit."

With these words Jesus proclaimed the paradox of his Father’s plan that death is the source of life. It is a law of sacrifice that one can come to a greater life only by dying to a lesser life.

And, it is exemplified in nature at this time of year: The farmers plant seeds that will become corn and wheat. A seed that does not "die" by being buried in the earth can never grow into something greater.

Like a seed, Jesus had to die and be buried in the earth three days. Then, on Easter Sunday, he pushed through the soil and rose, later ascending to heaven to enjoy the fullness of new life.

The second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews says that accepting this law of dying and rising was not easy for Jesus, who, though divine, was also human like us in every way but sin. It says that Jesus prayed with tears to be saved from death. He would feel the full force of those words in the garden of Gethsemane.

Difficult though it was to embrace death, Jesus was indeed saved from the lasting effects of death in the sense that through his resurrection he overcame those effects.

In the Gospel Jesus said, "And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself." The words "lifted up" have two meanings: lifted up on the cross in death and lifted to life in the resurrection. Jesus wants to draw us to himself to share in his death so that we may also share in his resurrection.

Face death we must. It is inevitable. We cannot escape it, but we can overcome it in union with Jesus. This kind of death, meaning separation from God, will not be everlasting. Jesus is the only way to everlasting salvation. Wherever we go, whatever we do, we will find no answer to the problem of death and sin other than Jesus himself.

In one of the affirmations after the Consecration we pray: "Dying you destroyed our death; rising you restored our life. Lord Jesus, come in glory." In these words, we express our belief that no matter how small or insignificant we may seem, we can grow with Jesus to the fullness of everlasting life.

And in one sense we will be making the Stations of the Cross backward in that we will look back on our sufferings and death with satisfaction, knowing that we did our best to unite our lives with Jesus.

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY

IN ORDINARY TIME,

SEPTEMBER 19

Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 131;

1 Timothy 2:1-8; Luke 16:1-13

OUR GOOD NEWS: Yes, we can take it with us. Proper use of possessions is necessary for our own salvation and as effective witness to unbelievers.

"Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land!" This message of Amos, our earliest writing prophet, sounds uncomfortably modern. In today’s first reading he put words into the mouths of aggressive businessmen, nominally God-fearing and diligent in worship. "When will the new moon be over, you ask, that we may sell our grain?"

Their grumbling about "blue laws" prohibiting sales on Sabbaths and religious holidays ("new moon") suggests that they lived only to make money and found no joy or meaning in pious practices. "We will diminish the ephah, add to the shekel and fix our scales for cheating!" They delighted in dishonest deals, cheating customers by altering the bulk unit used for measuring grain and the weights for weighing silver. Buying the poor for money or "for a pair of sandals" refers to traffic in human beings, men and whole families sold into slavery for nonpayment of trivial debts. Why, they even charged for worthless chaff and dirt mixed with the grain!

Such outspoken condemnation doubtless infuriated Amos’ audience, who would have insisted that everyone did it and that they were only meeting the competition. Why suddenly get upset? But God does not forget. Such sins by which middle and upper classes exploit the poor were bringing sure and inevitable punishment upon the whole country. In fact, within a generation God completely destroyed Israel, the northern kingdom, through Assyrian invasion. Modern popes have echoed the prophet’s condemnation of all who cheat and oppress the powerless. Like Amos, they warn of awesome certain consequences from tolerating injustice at local, national and international levels.

Today’s Gospel parable of the dishonest steward shocks and scandalizes. The dishonest manager created good will for himself through a show of considerable generosity toward his master’s debtors, but at the expense of his master. Still, the owner only lost what he was forbidden to collect in the first place — exorbitant interest, common in those days. Jesus mustn’t be misunderstood. He wasn’t lecturing on business ethics but challenging us: Are we equally willing to muster all our prudence and strength to act decisively and inherit the Kingdom? Worldly people seek worldly rewards with a single-minded dedication that shames us lackadaisical Christians.

In the final section of today’s Gospel two complementary sets of proverbial sayings address the issue of faithful stewardship. God entrusts us with money, as well as talents and other opportunities, in part to determine whether we use them responsibly. These gifts are only a pale reflection of what will be given in the Kingdom, for even there we can expect selfless, total service of one another as our eternal vocation. The second set of sayings asks, more generally, for wholehearted commitment as servants to God, particularly as opposed to our pursuit of worldly riches.

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