Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings

THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER,

APRIL 25

Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 30;

Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19

OUR GOOD NEWS: The risen Lord summons and empowers His Church to joyful praise of God, through faithful, worldwide witness that inevitably includes suffering and persecution.

Peter, whom Jesus had called to be a "fisher of men," was fishing in his boat with other disciples (a total of seven, number of fulfillment and perfection — see the seven divine titles of Jesus, second reading). Since without Jesus we can do nothing (Jn 15:5), merely human effort succeeded in catching nothing.

Then suddenly the risen Lord was with them, giving instructions and the support of his presence. By faithfully obeying, the disciples enjoyed astonishing success. So too the Church, Peter’s barque, is empowered to fulfill her missionary charge. Evangelism is divine rather than human achievement and conditioned upon intimate, obedient union with the Lord present and ruling in her midst.

This story has something to say about the extent of the Church’s missionary outreach, but also what should be the constant concern of her internal pastoral ministry. "In spite of the great number of sizable fish — 153 of them! — the net was not torn." "One, holy, catholic and apostolic" implies a truly universal community but also assumes wide diversity. The Church experiences centrifugal pressures. She is impelled outward, to worldwide mission, but must also labor to preserve her unity amid inevitable pulling and pushing.

Another theme of today’s Gospel surfaces in the emphatic eucharistic overtones. Jesus remains with His followers, empowering their efforts as they cast their net according to their calling (evangelization). His presence also enables the many to become one (ministry within the community). We encounter Jesus in His Church through a regular event that celebrates our oneness and makes it grow. Technical verbs used — Jesus "took the bread and gave it to them" — allude to that great sacrament by which we anticipate the Messianic (heavenly) banquet, and through which we become reconciled with God and one another. (This latter grace is ritually acted out during the exchange of peace just before Communion.)

Finally, Jesus commissioned Peter with pastoral authority over His Church. Earlier, Peter insisted on following Jesus even to laying down his life for him, but Jesus had replied by predicting a threefold denial at cockcrow (see Jn 13:37-38). Two of these betrayals had taken place beside a charcoal fire (see Jn 18:18). Now, again at dawn and again by a charcoal fire, Peter the straying sheep returned to his Shepherd with a threefold profession of love, in a solemn ceremony of investiture as leader of the Church/flock. Every disciple seeks to imitate the Master, but Peter was especially privileged, summoned to "follow" Jesus even to sharing the same fate of martyrdom.

Sunday Scripture Readings


SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT,


DECEMBER 8


Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 85;


2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8

OUR GOOD NEWS: We are all John the Baptist's successors, through word and example hastening Christ's return that will bring a new and perfect world.

The prophet (first reading) sketches an imaginative scene: God enthroned in his heavenly palace surrounded by lesser gods (angels). He commissions his courtiers with a task for Jerusalem, His Chosen People. These had proved unfaithful, forsaking the protection of God's covenanted love. Having lost everything they now languished in exile, slaves to pagan foreign masters and their alien gods. No matter! God returns good for our evil! Heavenly messengers should comfort rather than continue punishment. We can only console each other in loss, but God's "comfort" heals and restores. Human words fail to convince the despondent, but God's prophetic word can speak tenderly (persuasively).

In strict justice it simply wasn't true that Israel "had fulfilled her term of bondage (meted out by divine Judge), her penalty discharged, having received double measure for her sins." In fact, she only got what she richly deserved. Such exaggeration revealed a gentle, caring God eager to forgive, looking for excuses to bless rather than punish.

The scene shifts as God implements His "comforting" through this self-effacing prophet-herald. "Listen! Someone is calling out!" The One who centuries earlier led His people out of Egyptian slavery, across the terrible Sinai desert and into the Promised Land would now outdo Himself in a second and more astonishing exodus. Work gangs would be sent ahead, preparing the road to His majesty's comfort and convenience. For God's royal progress, whole "valleys" and even "mountains" would be leveled!

The third and final scene in Isaiah's imaginative prophecy would take place a thousand miles from Babylonia and the Israelite exiles. Judah's capital city Jerusalem, like a watchman from a hilltop perch, catches sight of her returning children and joyfully heralds "glad tidings" to the whole country: "Here is your God!" God's glory, His privileged self-revelation of might and power, would be manifested in His people on pilgrimage back into the Land of Promise. "He comes with power" - but also "like a shepherd": gentle, peaceful, caring and considerate of the weaker members in His retinue.

This great Advent reading reminds us that God's self-revelation to the whole world occurs not in spectacular inbreakings that awe the bystanders and disturb the natural order but through His all-too-frail Church. In our journey out of sin and into His saving Kingdom, we too witness to the greatest of God's mighty acts and the supreme expression of His saving love.

We hear elsewhere in Isaiah of human infidelity deserving only God's punishment. Instead, here we hear of the greatest of miracles, revealing to one another and to expectant unbelievers God's marvelously accepting love toward those undeserving of forgiveness and blessings.

Sunday Scripture Readings

FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT, MARCH 5

Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm 25;

1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15

Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, which we hear about in today’s Gospel passage from Mark, immediately follow Jesus’ baptism. The same Spirit which descended on him now drives Jesus "out into the desert."

Jesus was experiencing one of life’s basic laws. Every ascent to the spiritual heights is followed by a descent into the dark valley. We long to live on life’s mountaintops, where we can sense God’s nearness and the reality of the spiritual world. It cannot be. It would not be good for us if such a thing were possible.

Even Jesus could not remain on the heights. The great spiritual experience of his baptism was followed at once by those 40 days in the desert, "tempted by Satan," as Mark writes. We live by faith, not by sight.

Faith may start on the mountaintop of some great spiritual experience.But faith is deepened and strengthened in those times in every life when God is silent and seems to be absent — in the desert.

Jesus’ 40 days in the desert remind us of the 40 years when God’s people wandered in the desert after their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Over those four decades many who had experienced that miraculous deliverance died. And those who remained had ample opportunity to wonder if it really happened or was an illusion.Sick and tired of their desert existence, many of the people longed for a return to "the good old days" in Egypt.

Jesus’ 40 days in the desert were similar. He had ample opportunity to doubt the reality of his great spiritual experience at Jordan. Had the Spirit really descended on him like a dove? Had he really heard that voice from heaven proclaiming him "my beloved Son" (Mark 1:11)?Or was it all an illusion?Doubts such as these about his vocation and life’s work were surely part of that tempting by Satan of which we hear in today’s Gospel.

Confronting those doubts was what gave Jesus his spiritual power. It was those 40 days in the desert that enabled him to invite rough fisherman to become "fishers of men" — and have them obey him on the spot. It was in the desert, "tempted by Satan (and) among wild beasts" that Jesus became the man who later taught with authority and astounded his listeners.

If you want to make something of the one life God has given you and want to achieve something beyond the ordinary, you must spend time in the desert.Show me someone who has left a mark on the world — an artist, thinker, writer, soldier, entrepreneur, explorer, scientist, prophet, priest — and I will show you someone who has spent time in the desert.

Silence, solitude, grinding toil, weeks — perhaps years — of being in the desert of loneliness, of frustration and seeming failure, where each successive glimpse of the cool refreshing waters of achievement and success turns out to be a mirage: That is the experience of all great women and men.

A television film about Mother Teresa showed her sitting on an airplane, writing postcards. An off-screen voice asked, "Mother, where do you get your energy?"Her reply was unforgettable. "We begin every day with him, and we end every day with him. That is the most beautiful thing."

Are you beginning and ending the day with Jesus Christ? Perhaps you have grown slack.All of us do from time to time. Resolve this Lent to begin again.

Between now and Easter make time and space in your life for Jesus, not just at the beginning of the day and at the end, when you are tired and no longer able to concentrate.Decide to give Jesus time during the day.

Turn off the radio and TV. As you drive your car, or stand in the checkout line while shopping, during your lunch hour at work: Turn to God, be silent, pray the rosary, read a few verses of Scripture.

Or just be still. Lift up your heart and mind with a few words, or none at all, to the source of your being, to your savior, your Lord, your best friend.

Follow Jesus’ invitation to join him in the desert, to "Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while" (Mark 6:31). When you do that, you will discover Jesus’ desert secret:

"They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles’ wings; they will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint." (Isaiah 40:31).

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

Sunday Scripture readings

TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY

IN ORDINARY TIME,

AUGUST 22

Isaiah 66:18-21; Psalm 117;

Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; Luke 13:22-30

OUR GOOD NEWS: God invites everyone into His Kingdom, but we must want to come.

Our first reading constitutes the high point of Isaiah’s teaching about God’s purpose of universal salvation. Pagan nations are to be treated exactly like the Chosen People. In earlier prophetic texts, God was "He who comes to gather" Israelites dispersed in exile and to judge their pagan oppressors. Now we hear that "I come to gather nations of every language."

Israelite pilgrims regularly journeyed to Jerusalem, where they encountered God’s "glory," His presence in sovereign power, through Word (Scripture) and cultic acts. Now the world’s non-Jews "shall come and see My glory." Lest they miss the way, God "will set a sign among them" — send messengers to bring in peoples from the four corners of the Mediterranean world ("Tarshish," etc.), and from the utmost limits of human habitation ("distant coastlands"). These missionaries will be directed to pagan fugitives who have survived the world’s attempt to live autonomously, without knowing (acknowledging and obeying) the true God. This is the earliest biblical reference to the "foreign missions" and exactly corresponds to the apostolic charge given the early Church.

Amazing Good News! As the Old Testament period drew to an end, we might expect increased threats of richly deserved world judgment and annihilation for Gentiles, enemies of God’s people. Instead, Israel was to open its arms and receive them as brothers and sisters, sharing with pagans its uniquely privileged relationship with God.

But Judaism must not be ignored or slighted. The nations’ first cultic act as converts would be to "bring an offering" to the Lord, not the usual cereal offering to be sacrificed in the Temple but Jews exiled throughout the world. These had been cruelly driven from their land by pagans; now their descendants will lead them back with great ceremony and honor.

This quasi-priestly act of reconciliation, by which Gentiles express repentance and Jews extend forgiveness, is rewarded with the former being admitted into the ranks of sacred temple personnel. By being allowed to join the innermost circles of priests and Levites, a privilege heretofore reserved for Jews of impeccable descent, pagans are assured full equality in God’s final-age community of the saved.

Today’s first reading thus ranks with the most important texts of the entire Bible and addresses modern concerns. God does not play favorites, nor does He punish the guilty, but loves everyone, even the least worthy. Vatican II summons us to lay aside deeply ingrained anti-Semitic prejudice and instead to show "mutual understanding and respect" toward Jews. We also are taught that worldwide foreign missions are a permanent, essential mark of the Church.

Another rich and relevant text is today’s second reading. We are to respond to suffering with healthy grief, refusing to let it alienate us from God, looking for some meaning and purpose without demanding the full answer, finding solace in carrying on with our responsibilities.

Sunday Scripture Readings


FOURTH SUNDAY LENT,


MARCH 30


2 Chronicles 36:14-17, 19-23; Psalm 137;


Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21

OUR GOOD NEWS: Mid-Lenten repentance means turning from half- to whole-hearted living of the Kingdom, already ours because of Jesus' death and resurrection.

Awareness that sin alienates from God and from his blessings (first reading) requires qualification because of what Jesus did and does for us. Divine "favor" longed for in Old Testament times has twofold significance for us Christians. On the one hand it's something we already enjoy. Once "dead in sin," at our baptism we "have been saved - an act completed in the past (Greek perfect participle). We are already "brought to (eternal) life," already ("raised up, and even now) given a place in the heavens." As Lord of history, God is interested in saving, not punishing, making everything - human sinfulness, the rise and fall of nations and peoples - serve His redemptive needs.

During Lent we don't relive an "exile" of abandonment by God. Quite the opposite! Salvation isn't something we do - we don't make reparation for sin, satisfying demands of divine justice, placating anger. It comes as purest gift or grace from our God who is "rich in mercy" - quite unexpected, undeserved, unearned. In this sense Easter is a past event for Jesus as well as for us. It is not His triumph merely but ours as well, and right now.

On the other hand, fullness of God's "favor" will only be displayed in the future. Until then, the inevitable incompleteness of union with God demands constant effort at improvement, especially during Lent. Paul wanted one thing clearly understood. Through long years of slavery in Egypt and later in Babylonia, Israel has no claim whatsoever on deliverance by God, only getting what she deserved. But once gifted with the land of promise, "the Chosen People" were expected to demonstrate fidelity through Godlike living. So, too, the Christian community. Having received fulfillment of the promised Kingdom, we responded by "leading the life of good deeds." This is God's will for us and our way of saying thanks.

To a certain extent we Christians are already an Easter people, sharing Jesus' resurrected triumph, enjoying fulfillment of Old Testament promises. We show appreciation and gratitude for this undeserved good fortune through lives of practical concern for others. Note that we don't earn God's forgiveness and love through our own virtuous acts. This singular salvific act was Jesus' alone, and we can only rejoice in His singular blessing. We are good, not in order to earn salvation and be saved. We are good because we have been saved.

Jesus' death and resurrection has become the central moment and turning point in cosmic history, His and His Father's triumph over destructive evil forces. Lent now takes on new urgency, being called from uncommitted unbelief, like Nicodemus, to lives rich with grace-empowered service, "doing the truth" we profess.

Sunday Scripture Readings


second sunday of lent,


february 24


Genesis 12:1-4; Psalm 33;


2 Timothy 1:8-10; Matthew 17:1-9

OUR GOOD NEWS: Jesus' Transfiguration reassures us - "no pain, no gain."

More than most other Gospel events in Jesus' life, the Transfiguration must be received as a mystery inviting extended prayerful reflection. Matthew integrated the Transfiguration into Jesus' ongoing self-revelation. Earlier Jesus had accepted Peter's confession of faith in himself as the Messianic Son of God, but immediately qualified this title of glory with another title, that of weakness - the suffering Son of Man. The same Jesus momentarily suffused with radiant divinity must be "listened to" - and imitated - when teaching the necessity of Calvary before Easter. This is the Paschal Mystery, at the center of Christianity and reflected in universal human experience: without winter no spring, effort must precede success, death the pre-condition of new life.

"Transfigured" means Jesus' visible form was changed to manifest his invisible true self. Radiant "face" and "garments" show that he belonged to the divine or heavenly world, for "light" here is divine glory as manifested to creatures. "Moses," giver of normative Jewish Law, and "Elijah," most spectacular among Israel's prophets, "spoke" with him who fulfills both Law and Prophets (Mt 5:17). In popular belief, Moses as well as Elijah had been taken up to heaven, and one or both were expected to return in the last days. The long-awaited time of fulfillment has at last arrived!

Peter over-confidently took charge, proposing that he personally (without the others' help, as in Mark and Luke) would provide for the needs of these heavenly figures. "Tents" he would set up recalls the portable holy place inhabited by God during Israel's 40 years' wilderness journey. Because theophany transcends normal human experience, the Bible often described it with seemingly contradictory images. God here appears in a perfectly luminous "cloud" totally radiant with divine glory, but also opaque to conceal his presence by "overshadowing" human witnesses. God repeated exactly his revelation at Jesus' baptism (Mt 3:17), while adding the command, "Listen to him!" Peter erred in trying to institutionalize the consoling heavenly vision, thereby bypassing what Jesus had insisted must come before resurrected glory.

Theophany was suitably authenticated by "great fear" falling upon human participants, but Jesus in his earthly form offered reassurance and direction. He who gives life to the dead here raised up his disciples, overcome with anxiety, and empowers their faithful following in difficult days ahead. Such visions are intended to console and increase hope, not provide escape from problems of living in the world. In sum, this revelation of Jesus in Messianic glory before his terrible Holy Week ordeal reassures us that rejection, suffering and death authenticate all who follow him to final vindication. Having willingly accepted our call to holiness while realizing the inevitable conflict involved, we confidently look forward to transformation into the likeness of Christ now glorified. Genuine, worthwhile living comes only at a price!

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