Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings

SIXTEENTH SUNDAY

IN ORDINARY TIME,

JULY 18

Genesis 18:1-10; Psalm 15;

Colossians 1:24-28; Luke 10:38-42

OUR GOOD NEWS: We welcome God, who comes as a Visitor into our lives.

As father of all believers, Abraham’s experiences and privileges become ours too. People long remember the day a famous Visitor dropped in. God paid Abraham a visit, and like any thoughtful guest, bought His host a present — his heart’s desire (first reading).

Like every sensible Arab in desert areas Abraham patiently waited out the oppressive midday heat by sitting in the shade of his tent entrance. Suddenly, with no warning and as though appearing from nowhere, three strangers "stood before him" in the shimmering glare. Always the model gentleman, Abraham "rushed to greet them" with utmost courtesy and formality, "bowing to the ground." We already know the nature of his visitors, but Abraham did not and politely refrained from inquiries. By having him speak to his visitors now as one person and now as three, the storyteller doesn’t let us forget the secret we share with him.

Abraham courteously but firmly insisted upon providing hospitality. His modest offer — "a little water and a piece of bread " — is belied by feverish and lavish preparations. Grinding and baking are women’s work, but 10 loaves for each guest? Men do the butchering, so he’s off again with further orders — an entire calf? The food was enough to feed a football team. Finally, the host busied himself preparing drinks and serving at the banquet, standing beside his guests to attend all their needs.

Abraham had been richly blessed with possessions by God, but the one thing he most wanted, a son to carry on the blessing and give final and lasting meaning to his own life, had thus far been denied. Toward the end of the meal the guests, having inquired about his wife, announced what could be taken as only a polite wish uttered in sympathy. But the host had gradually come to understand the true identity of his visitors, and what God promises is as good as done. Far more important than his generous, gracious hospitality is Abraham’s faith in the divine promise, however humanly
impossible for this elderly couple.

Human generosity is only a pale reflection of God’s; rather than remain alone and aloof, He comes into our lives and homes as a guest to enjoy our hospitality (in the person of those we serve), and to bring us our deepest desires. Abraham, acknowledged as founding Father by Judaism, Christianity and Islam, sets an example of unselfconscious generosity, politeness and deference to others, especially strangers.

In today’s Gospel, the Lord again came for dinner, invited by "Martha" ("lady" or "mistress" of the house and hostess). Receiving Jesus into our homes implies willingness to be challenged in our sinful lifestyle by Gospel demands — here, selfless rather than self-centered service of others.

Sunday Scripture Readings


SEVENTH SUNDAY


IN ORDINARY TIME,


FEBRUARY 23


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


2 Corinthians 1:18-22; Mark 2:1-12

OUR GOOD NEWS: God-with-us - what he does, how we're expected to respond.

"Remember not the events of the past." Truly, remarkable! Israelites were regularly reminded to pray in gratitude for previous favors, focusing on the past. They were acutely aware of, and grateful for, God's spectacular liberation of their ancestors from Egyptian slavery centuries earlier. But now, Isaiah (first reading) prophesied a revolution in Jewish spirituality. Now, no longer were they to celebrate past favors but live in an awareness of God's future mighty works. This event would be no less than a second and even more spectacular deliverance out of foreign slavery, followed by a return to their own land.

"You did not call on me ... You grew weary of me; you burdened me with your sins." God then reminded the people - and us - that his largess comes in spite of sin, even when unrepented. His extraordinary blessing is in no way deserved or earned. "It is I, I who wipe out, for my own sake, your offenses; your sins I remember no more." We rejoice in our God who doesn't "make us pay," doesn't "give us what we deserve." This is the good news of Calvary: the Son of God takes suffering upon himself rather than inflicts it on us.

"Lord, heal my soul, for I have sinned against you." Today's psalm fills in what is absent in our first selection, namely, a confession of sin and appeal for forgiveness.

Today's Gospel describes Jesus' original reception by Jews in Capernaum. The people had gathered not to witness a miracle but to hear Jesus teaching "the word of God." His example models for us a selfless focus on God's will rather than our own personal opinions. The "home" where He taught (Jesus' own residence?) was jam-packed, with no room for even one more hearer. The paralyzed man's four friends, creative in their persistence, carried him up to the roof and proceeded to dig an opening through the dried clay. We pause to picture the resulting mayhem - dirt falling upon Jesus and His audience, choking the air and creating a major disturbance. We who are parents and teachers can only marvel at Jesus' patient acceptance, ignoring the destruction while continuing to speak.

Instead of petulantly complaining at the interruption, Jesus recognized the real meaning of the bearers' effort. It testified to their faith in Him as one who would do something positive for their friend. Jesus first forgave the man's sins, a gesture more miraculous than healing and a sign of the real purpose of His coming among us. When some in the audience silently condemned the apparent blasphemy, He responded with a dramatic curing. "Stand up! ... Now pick up your bed and go home!" The crowd responded properly, "praising God" rather than the Teacher in their midst. So too we must look beyond striking events in our lives and celebrate the deeper meaning of God at work among us.

Sunday Scripture Readings

second sunday in

ordinary time,

january 20

Isaiah 49:3, 5-6; Psalm 40;

1 Corinthians 1:1-3; John 1:29-34

OUR GOOD NEWS: God lovingly chooses Jesus - and us.

All four Gospels record John the Baptist's witness to Jesus, but none more profoundly than John's Gospel (today's selection). Significantly, John ignored the Baptist's baptism of Jesus, stressing instead John's testimony. John was neither Messiah nor Elijah nor the anonymous Prophet popularly expected at End-Times. In contrasting Jesus with the Baptist, this passage recalled and applied four rich Old Testament titles: Jesus as (1) Lamb of God, (2) Pre-existent One, (3) Spirit-bearer and (4) Chosen One.

Describing Jesus as "Lamb of God" revealed who Jesus was and what he would accomplish. He is the Christ, enjoying unique intimacy with and total obedience to the Father. This submissive "Lamb" of God is also the Lamb offered by God. Glorification of the Lamb of God and son of Man would involve suffering as well as exaltation, made possible by Jesus' dual origin as human and divine. Lamb imagery also alludes to the Son's saving activity by suggesting the Old Testament pattern of sacrifice in which lambs figured prominently, especially as a vicarious offering for sin. Temporal allusions further clarify Jesus' role in our salvation. Glorified (past tense) through humiliation (cross) and exaltation (Resurrection), Jesus now "bears away (continuous present) the sin (ongoing condition) of the world." Thus, this title of Lamb as applied to Jesus anticipated his work as Revealer of God and Redeemer of humankind.

John's second designation of Jesus as Pre-existent One represented a reversal of roles, for normally whoever comes first ranks ahead. Only at the baptism of Jesus did John recognized Jesus' true identity and understand the subordinate role of his own baptism. Thus the outline of John's Gospel: By his own ministry ("baptizing with water") and testimony, John mediated this revelation to Israel, whence it would spread to Samaritans (Jn 4:4-42), Greeks (Gentiles) (Jn 12:20) and the world itself (Jn 21: 1-14).

All four Evangelists similarly understood the third title, the gift of the Spirit at Jesus' baptism. It was an act of consecration by which Jesus was installed as royal messiah and suffering Messianic Servant of God in fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecies. The Fourth Gospel adds that the Spirit "came to rest on" Jesus as the Spirit-bearer as well as sin-bearer. He not only carries but confers the Spirit on his followers. The comparison "like a dove" invites our reflection on two well-known Old Testament texts. The Spirit brooding over primeval waters at creation (Gn 1:2) suggests a new creation in Christ. The dove of Noah's ark (Gn 8:8-12) here applied to the waters in which Jesus was baptized, prefiguring crisis followed by healing - salvation through judgment.

John climaxed his witness to Jesus' true identity with the fourth title, "God's Chosen One." John's Gospel thus summarizes the heart of Christian faith, revealing the twofold dimension of Jesus as true human being like all of us, yet true God.

Sunday Scripture Readings

FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER,

MAY 14

Acts 9:26-31; Psalm 22;

1 John 3:18-24; John 15:1-8

"It takes a village to raise a child" is an often repeated and certainly controversial statement.

Still could we not also say that it takes a church to raise a Christian? And yet this too might be debated, especially when so many would prefer to define their faith in terms of personal experience and rugged individualism.

The readings for this weekend’s liturgy undercut these notions completely. The Gospel from John is an excerpt from the priestly discourse of Jesus at the Last Supper. Here he uses the rich biblical image of the vine and the branches.

If Jesus is the "true" vine — a vine that has been cared for by the Father — the very life and sustenance of the branches is realized as they remain united to him as they are to one another. This is obvious in the verb "remain," used in the passage eight times. If there is no connection to the risen life provided by Jesus especially through the sacraments, we shrivel and die.

Thus another expression becomes crucial, that is, to "bear fruit." The ultimate challenge to the vines is that they produce, not of their own accord but as empowered by divine life and love. The Church then becomes the extension of Christ to the world as we live
in Christ and he lives in us intimately.

The second reading from the First Letter of John amplifies what it means to remain in Christ. Christians are to literally not just "love in word or speech but in deed and truth." For most of those who have recently entered the Church at Easter, theirs was not just an intellectual awakening to the truth of Jesus but something prompted by the good example they saw in the Catholics around them. And this then becomes the precious responsibility of all those who disciples of that we "keep his commandments."

For John this means that we first of all "believe." Here he is not speaking of only an intellectual assent but a radical commitment to Jesus as the one who gives life meaning. From that flows the love that we have for one another that allows us to remain together in community as prompted by the Holy Spirit.

And from the beginning of the Church, this process of belief and discernment has been experienced within community. The reading from Acts picks up from the period just after Saul, soon to be Paul, came back to Jerusalem to "join the disciples." Obviously they are skeptical since he had not long before been known as a persecutor of the Church. But with the help of Barnabas (whose very name means "son of consolation") Saul is not only introduced before the apostles as one chosen by the Lord but also begins to boldly witness to the truth of Jesus, risking his very life.

In a very real sense it took the Church to raise Paul, first by the call he received personally from Jesus. That is followed by Paul’s endorsement by a fellow believer Barnabas, and ratification by the apostles and the community of Jerusalem. Jesus, the true vine, touched him and filled him with resurrection faith.

Paul then had to be connected to fellow branches that are the members of the community. From and through and with them Paul would go on to bear much fruit, particularly in his mission to the Gentiles. And this had repercussions for the entire Church as the reading from Acts concludes: "It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord, and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers."

The question is how well are we doing today? A number of years ago, a well known bishop was challenged by a college student as to how and why he should remain in the Church. The bishop simply advised that the student find a regular community to celebrate the Eucharist and volunteer in some social service project for others. After this, the wise bishop explained, the student would understand why being in community is vital to our faith.

Only as we are rooted in the vine and the intimacy Jesus offers can we truly experience the fruit of God’s grace in others and ourselves. The presumption is that children can never truly be reared in isolation from society and that we all share in some responsibility for their nurturing.

How much more then for the children of God!

Father Heier is director of the Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and pastor of All Saints Parish in University City.

Sunday Scripture Readings

THIRTIETH SUNDAY

IN ORDINARY TIME,

OCTOBER 24

Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18; Psalm 34;

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14

OUR GOOD NEWS: The humble pray for the grace to "let go and let God."

Slippery virtue though it is, Jesus (Gospel) unforgettably characterized humility and its opposite in this famous contrast of extremes, addressed to "the humble and proud of it." "Self-righteous who despise everyone else" sadly describes recognizable types in today’s world and Church.

The Pharisee described at prayer in the Temple started off well enough — a sort of there-but-for-the-grace-of-God thanksgiving — but quickly deteriorated into viciousness. He wasn’t the first to confuse prayer with self-satisfied boasting and harsh condemnation of all who think or act differently. He summarily dismissed everyone not his type. Such are identified with the lower classes and their "obvious" sins of stealing, the rackets, sexual immorality.

Amazingly for a professionally religious person, the Pharisee’s idea of spiritual excellence seems limited to extra fasts and a bit more for the collection plate — both of which, as visible externals, would enhance his reputation for holiness.

The special object of the Pharisee’s self-righteous contempt, the tax (toll) collector, should be taken at his own word. "The tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’"

Sinner he certainly was, in partnership with pagans and other desperate people to exploit his fellow Jews. True enough, the Pharisee super-saint comes across as unnecessarily haughty and judgmental, but in condemning him aren’t we being pharisaic? After all, Pharisees were justly famous for keeping all the rules, as tax collectors were for breaking them.

"I tell you, the latter (tax collector) went home justified," but not the Pharisee. Jesus’ own judgment strikes us as appalling and scandalous, a direct contradiction to the religious upbringing of His outraged audience — and us too. A notorious sinner properly recognized himself for what he was and humbly asked forgiveness — but without firm purpose of amendment, without doing or promising anything! The Pharisee was convinced that nothing was wrong with his life, and so he had nothing to be forgiven. In fact, his was the only truly unforgivable sin: blindness to one’s own moral faults, with consequent denial of any real need for God.

Today’s parable illustrates a basic truth which many of us only accept with difficulty. What ultimately matters is the attitude of the heart; justification is always a divine gift, never human achievement. A healthy sense of personal and corporate sinfulness serves as the necessary foundation of authentic Christian living. Only when we distrust our own powers can we rely fully on God’s to save us.

Sunday Scripture Readings


FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER,


MAY 11


Acts 4:8-12; Psalm 118;


1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18

OUR GOOD NEWS: Through the Spirit, our risen Lord continually works within the Church.

Today's first reading marks a new and decisive stage in the unfolding of Luke's story about the early Church: For the first time, there is confrontation with official Judaism. Special needs call for special endowments, so Peter was "filled with the Holy Spirit," empowered for testimony on behalf of Christ before the supreme Jewish leadership. Opening words established the incongruity of his arrest. "If we are being cross-examined" - accused of crime - for an "act of kindness?" What law forbids healing a cripple?

To understand Peter's speech we must ask ourselves three questions. First, what does "salvation" mean? Jesus' saving acts are not limited to forgiveness of sins and other "spiritual" gifts, nor do they take effect only at our death and entrance into the heavenly Kingdom. Luke used the same Greek verb for "saved" and "restored to health." The "saved" cripple shows that salvation bestows fullness of life and happiness originally intended by God. As a result of baptism, we look forward joyfully to the return of our ascended Jesus, bringing deliverance and healing to all creation. Being saved right now means receiving the gift of the Spirit who reveals God's mind; living in a faith community marked by mutual love and care; and being constantly engaged in prayer. We all share the miraculous power that enabled Peter to heal a beggar and courageously witness before hostile public authorities. In sum, salvation means detaching from the hopeless, meaningless lifestyle of unbelievers and having fellowship within the Church.

This leads to our second question. Why is this salvation exclusively found "in Christ?" Luke thought in concrete rather than abstract, mystical categories. Being "in Christ" means being "with it," where the real action is. Far more than dividing world history into B.C. and A.D., Jesus structures the finale of all creation. In Luke's schema we are only one stage from the end-time fulfillment of the kingdom's promises. Those destined for sharing its glory can be found in the community, living between Ascension and Parousia ("Return-Presence") under the Spirit's direction. There is no longer hope in a bright future or one found anywhere else. No longer is salvation mediated through Torah laws and Temple, or pagan worship. Now is the time to escape this perverse, doomed "generation."

A third question leads us to further insight: Why threefold emphasis on salvation in Christ's "name"? Today's story shows faith commitment is grounded in hard evidence. Real power - divine grace - is available to all accepting Jesus' "name," calling upon him for deliverance from a hopelessly doomed "generation."

In sum, this cure of a cripple implies more than a spectacular event evoking awe toward God and reverence for Peter and John. It serves as a Spirit-inspired proclamation to Israel, including her religious leadership, and to us that salvation - complete healing, restoration to fullness of life - is finally available, but only through the "key" man, the "cornerstone." Through Jesus and his Church, God's final, perfect gift can become everyone's possession.

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