Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings


FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER,


MAY 18



Acts 9:26-31; Psalm 22;


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

OUR GOOD NEWS: The Church, community of diversity-in-unity, nurturing mother and life-line connecting us to Christ.

"Little children, let us love in deed and in truth and not merely talk about it." This opening sentence to our second reading is generally misunderstood as an attack on hypocrisy - phony religionists who prattle about neighbor love while hurting or neglecting one another. Rather, the author criticizes pious Christians comfortable with their (our) pet hatreds and indifferent uncaring, as though such attitudes were accepting behavior for those saved by Christ. "Show the truth of love in deeds!"

Nor does Jesus advocate scrupulosity or encourage unhealthy guilt feelings. Everyone fails in living the sinless life to which we are called. "Peace" comes not from turning inward upon our imperfect selves but from focusing on God who knows us through and through and yet freely forgives us. Welcome Good News! God guarantees salvation to those who remain faithful within the Church, the community of love, even against accusations of one's heart. In fact, our lives are filled with concrete acts of caring - toward children and parents, relatives and neighbors, those we work with and for - so many who touch our lives, if only momentarily. And yet we worry whether we really love God as much as we ought!

"His commandment is this: We are to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and are to love one another as He commanded us." A noted scholar suggested that this verse best summarizes the essence of Christianity, and another sees it as attacking extreme positions currently threatening the Church. Belief in Jesus is really faith in God His Father, who took the initiative by sending His Son. What we do comes after what God has already done, our neighbor-love continuing and extending God's love on a horizontal level. This verse thus refutes three extremes of ideological "right" and "left": (1) dogmatic conservatism, which makes creedal orthodoxy the only criterion, (2) fideism in which all that matters is "accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior," and (3) liberalism, which reduces Christianity to living peacefully with others.

Concluding sentences address two further ancient and modern distortions of Christianity. First, to "keep (God's) commandments" demands far more than narrowly legalistic focus on rules and regulations. We are called to a transformed style of life flowing from mutual, intimate union of God and individual believers. We "abide" - are and remain "in Him"; He abides with - stays and works in, is constantly present and joined to - us.

Secondly, personal assurance of salvation doesn't depend on intense religious experience (being "born again") or dramatic charismatic expressions among believers (speaking in tongues, healing, handling of poisonous snakes). We are saved because we are members of Christ the community gifted with God's "Spirit," the Spirit's presence corroborated by genuine loving concern for each other. We neither need nor expect religious "feelings" since God works quietly and unspectacularly for our salvation.

Sunday Scripture Readings


twenty-ninth sunday


in ordinary time,


october 21


Exodus 17:8-13; Psalm 121;


2 Timothy 3:14-42; Luke 18:1-8

OUR GOOD NEWS: We ought to pray diligently, with firm confidence in God.

Today's first reading describes Israel's early life-or-death struggle with neighboring Amalekites, brutally aggressive enemies of God's people. The story centers on God, for he rather than Joshua or Moses defeated them. After Joshua gathered an army for self-defense, Moses took his stand on a nearby hill, a preferred place for a divine encounter, as God's official representative ("the staff of God," his badge of office).

Moses' gesture of "upraised hands" should not be interpreted merely as prayer of intercession by a human mediator, or as psychological support urging the Israelite solders to victory. His hands raised throughout the battle pointed away from the human to the divine realm, publicly acknowledging God's direct intervention, who personally fought to deliver his people. Thus, contrary to appearances it was not the soldiers' bravery or Moses' influence but God who delivered. "Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other." Moses' inability even to maintain his posture unassisted further emphasized human frailty in comparison to divine power.

Luke's colorful story (in the Gospel) generates misunderstanding, as though by incessantly pestering God our prayers will always be answered. Look again at the opening sentence: "Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary." Jesus didn't commit God to serve as our fairy godmother, but only insisted on perseverance in the face of seemingly hopeless situations.

The parable concludes with the judge's favorable decision, nevertheless not yet acted upon, and so the widow remained unaware of his change of heart. The point of Jesus' teaching is that, even when lacking encouraging signs, we must continue unflagging in our petitions. God will answer our prayers, but in his own way and time. This story teaches the eventual triumph of God's kingdom, however impossible it may seem. We ought not pray in expectation of immediate success but to reconcile ourselves to God's loving but mysterious will.

Sunday Scripture Readings

TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY

OF ORDINARY TIME,

SEPTEMBER 3

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8;

Psalm 15;

James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27;

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

An elderly monk, Father Benedict, was returning on foot to his monastery. With him was a young novice, Brother Ardens.

At a dip in the road filled with water, they found a beautiful young girl afraid to proceed, lest her long dress be soiled.

"Come, dear," Father Benedict said."I'll carry you." He picked the girl up in his arms and carried her across. She thanked him, and the two monks walked on in silence.

Back in the monastery, Brother Ardens said: "Monks are supposed to keep away from women. How could you pick up that girl in your arms?"

"Dear Brother Ardens," the older monk replied, "I put that girl down as soon as we reached dry ground. You have carried her in your thoughts right into the monastery."

The young novice was like the Pharisees in today’s Gospel reading: zealous, and determined to see all the rules carefully observed. The novice never realized that this could mean failing in something even more important: helping someone in need.

Two of today’s readings are about rules.In the first reading Moses tells the people "not to add to God’s law or subtract from it." He also tells them that the Ten Commandments are a privilege and a gift. "What great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?"

The commandments are not a fence to hem us in. They are 10 signposts pointing the way to fulfillment and happiness.

In the Gospel reading Jesus accuses the Pharisees of perverting God’s law. "You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition." The Pharisees were not bad people. They were deeply religious.

Religious people (and that means us) can pervert God’s law in the two ways: by adding to it, or by subtracting from it. Those who subtract from the law are concerned only with fulfilling their "minimum obligation." They are always asking: "Do I have to?"
That is a child’s question, not an adult’s.

Catholics who go through life asking, "Do I have to?" know all their minimum obligations by heart. They even know how late they can come to Sunday Mass and how early they can leave and still have it "count." There is one thing, however, which these minimum-obligation Catholics do not know: joy. Why?

People who concentrate on minimum obligations are living with God on the fringe of their lives. As long as we keep God on the fringe, he will always be a threat to us. God will always be trying to move into the center. Show me a person whose religion is a source of joy, and I will show you someone whose life is centered on God.

That is how Jesus lived. Jesus never asked, "How much do I have to do for God?" He asked instead, "How much can I do?" Jesus was like a person in love. No one in love ever asks, when it is a question of doing something for the beloved, "Do I have to?" People in love are continually looking for new ways to express their love through generosity and self-sacrifice.

What about Moses’ other warning: not to add to God’s law? We add to God’s law when we think that by going beyond our minimum obligation we can accumulate brownie points which God is bound to honor. Extra-credit Catholics forget that God never owes us anything. It’s the other way round. We owe him everything. "When you have done everything you have been commanded to do," Jesus says (and which of us has?), "say, ‘We are useless servants. We have done no more than our duty’" (Luke 17:10).

God’s love and our salvation are not things we can earn. They are God’s free gift. God bestows these gifts on us not because we are good enough, but because he is so good that he wants to share his love with us. God’s law is not the list of rules that we must first obey before God will love us and bless us. God’s law is, rather, the description of our grateful response to the love and blessing which God has already bestowed on us out of sheer generosity.

Does this mean that there is no "just reward" for those who do try to obey God’s law? Of course not.God’s reward for faithful service is certain. The people who are most richly rewarded, however, are those who never stop to reckon up their reward because they are so keenly aware of how far short they still fall of God’s standard.

To experience God’s generosity we must stand before God with empty hands. Then we shall experience the joy of Mary, who in her greatest hour, when she learned — astonished, fearful and confused — that she was to be the mother of God’s Son, responded with words which the Church repeats in its public prayer every evening: "The hungry he has given every good thing, while the rich he has sent empty away" (Luke 1:53).

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT,

MARCH 6

1 Samuel 16:6-7,10-13; Psalm 23;

Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

A blind man and his seeing-eye dog wandered into a department store and halfway down an aisle. He wrapped his arms around the dog’s chest, lifted the animal up as high as he could then proceeded to turn around in circles. A clerk came up and asked, "May I help you sir?" The blind man replied: "No, thank you. I’m just looking around."

The man in the Gospel is not only blind, but he also doesn’t have a seeing-eye dog. So Jesus takes pity on him and heals him. The puzzled and amazed townsfolk take the man off to the Pharisees as was the custom just as we would take one off to the doctor. The Pharisees on hearing the story and seeing the man who can now see, doubt the story. It cannot be true, they say, because Jesus doesn’t follow the Sabbath laws — that is to say the Pharisees’ interpretation of those laws.

So the Pharisees drag the parents of the man into this. They say they don’t know anything about this event. The Pharisees hold all the power over these poor people. So lest they be put down, they go back to the man who is beginning to understand their concern. He is bold and coolly suggests that perhaps their questioning indicates that they too might believe in this miracle-worker.

The Pharisees are not amused and they expel the man from the synagogue. Now, two people are outside the mainstream of the righteous — the man born blind who can now see, and Jesus who "disobeyed" the Sabbath laws. Jesus approaches the man a second time and brings forth the faith of the man.

So, the one who now has physical sight sees by the light of faith while the so-called saved and self-proclaimed enlightened ones remain in a darkness they do not want to give up. Of course, this is not primarily a story of physical eyes; it is the story of the heart.

In the first reading, Samuel says that the Lord does not see as we see, but rather He looks into the depths of the heart.

In the second reading, Paul reminds the Ephesians that before their baptism they were in exactly the same position as the man born blind. So Paul urges them and us that since we are now children of the light — the light of Jesus — we must act that way. We must not let spiritual darkness enter our lives again.

When we were baptized we were led from darkness into spiritual light. On Easter we will be asked to renew our baptismal promises. This new kind of vision given us by Jesus in baptism gives us the power to detect the reality of the mystery we are living — namely, the existence of God and that Jesus is God. He lives in our hearts and intervenes in our lives and crosses. We absolutely need Jesus.

Michael Goonan in his book, "Praying the Sunday Psalms," relates this story: A great orator often recited Psalm 23, the Good Shepherd psalm, at public gatherings. When he finished his recitation, the listeners would break into enthusiastic applause. At one such gathering a small boy whose parents had recently died came up and asked to be allowed to recite the psalm. The orator gave permission, though he had qualms about the boy’s lack of training in public speaking.

When the boy finished there was silence and the orator saw tears in the eyes of the listeners. He said, "The people never weep when I recite the psalm; why when this boy recites the psalm do they weep?" "Sir," a voice from the crowd replied, ‘you know the psalm; the boy knows the Shepherd.’"

The Jewish leaders in today’s Gospel knew the Scriptures very well; sadly they did not know the Lord of the Scriptures. They were blind to the presence of God in the good man called Jesus who cured the blind on the Sabbath and went about doing good.

Do we see in Jesus only laws and regulations that make our faith a burden, or do we see in Jesus the immense, intense love that He has for each of us? Do we see in Jesus the mercy, forgiveness, joy, peace, courage and care that our world so badly lacks and needs? Do we see in Jesus the perfect picture of what God is like? And do we see Jesus in other people, especially the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the blind, the naked, the sick etc.?

There is a beautiful prayer attributed to St. Patrick, whom we honor this month: "Christ, my light, illumine and guide me. Christ, my shield, overshadow and cover me. Christ, be under me. Christ, be over me. Christ, be beside me on left hand and right. Christ, be before me, behind me, about me. Christ, this day be within and without me. Christ, the lowly and the meek, Christ the all-powerful, be in the heart of each to whom I speak, in the mouth of each who speaks to me, in all who draw near me, or see me, or hear me." May we learn to live this prayer.

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

EXALTATION OF THE HOLY CROSS,

SEPTEMBER 14

Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 78;
Philippians 2:6-11; John 3:13-17

OUR GOOD NEWS: The Cross — Sign of God’s triumphant forgiving love, offering eternal life instead of deserved punish-ment.

The story of Israel already in its earliest years revealed a contrast between God — loving, giving and forgiving — and the people — selfish, disobedient and ungrateful. The latter had been a motley group of slaves in Egypt, suddenly and spectacularly liberated by divine power, miraculously guided and protected through desert and hostile countries into a land of their own. Today’s first reading is of special significance because it recounts the last in a long line of infidelities during 40 years of wandering, before entry into their land. Thus, this was the most shameful of apostasies and also very dangerous. Israel was being decimated at the very moment she was about to realize God’s final and greatest gift.

"With their patience worn out by the journey, the people complained against God and Moses. ‘Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water?’" The people were forever given to complaining and whining; now they throw an absurd and quite unjustified temper tantrum. Complaints are prudently directed against Moses, but in reality it is God whom they blame. Their protests, when examined carefully, constitute formal acts of unfaith. In fact, the Lord had brought them out of Egypt to live in their own land, not die in the desert. True enough, there is no food or water in this desert, a situation for which God regularly compensated through miraculous acts.

"In punishment the Lord sent among the people saraph serpents, which bit the people so that many of them died." Though severe, divine punishment was an expression of love rather than judgment, a needed discipline to bring the people to their senses.

"Moses prayed for the people, and the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a saraph and lift it up on a pole, and if anyone who has been bitten looks at it, he will recover.’" The bronze serpent (saraph) was no talisman. Magic is a human attempt to control and force the hand of divine or demonic powers; here, by contrast, the object had been chosen by God and made under His instruction. To look upon it was an act of faith that compensated for faithless complaining, a trusting appeal to a forgiving rather than condemning Lord when all human remedies proved worthless.

This ancient story helps us understand Jesus’ death and Resurrection. "The Son of Man came down from heaven in order to be lifted up." Looking upon Jesus crucified bestows fullness of life, an act of faith imperfectly anticipated through trusting acceptance of healing from a fatal snakebite. But the Cross must not be taken in isolation from the Resurrection and exaltation. Through it, the Son of Man was lifted up — returned and ascended — to heaven. Like Jesus, we are only "lifted up" to glory through being "lifted up" in patient endurance that is God’s will for us.

Sunday Scripture Readings


pentecost, may 19


Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104;


1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23

OUR GOOD NEWS: Free at last!

For Luke, the Holy Spirit's coming into the life of Jesus' first followers (Pen-tecost) ranks with the Son's coming into human history (Christmas). Indeed, only through the Spirit's continuing presence and power in the Church can we understand the meaning of Jesus' birth, public ministry and death. Luke didn't intend his account of the first Pentecost to be an objective description. He preferred tableau-like interpretation, carefully staged and artistically arranged scenes revealing implications of the event for the Church in subsequent ages.

According to the first reading, without Jesus' presence the disciples were, literally and symbolically, "locked up." Into this situation the Lord "comes." His word, repeated for emphasis, is "peace." More than cessation of strife or inner calmness of spirit, his gift of peace announces success following struggle, victory snatched from defeat. Proclamation is accompanied by gesture offered in proof. The Lord's body, formerly mangled by vicious enemies, is now risen into glory. Truly occasion for us to rejoice!

After bringing reassurance and reconciliation, Jesus confers the Spirit, the vehicle of his abiding presence in the Church, rather than a poor substitute during his absence. Instead of religious experience to be savored privately, this gift unlocked doors and sent newly emboldened disciples out as agents of reconciliation rather than condemnation. "Forgiveness of sins" means more than release from guilt. The Church brings liberation from all evils that burden and enslave men and women, young and old, in every time and place and culture. Humanity's deepest desire is to live fully and happily in intimacy with God and our fellow creatures. Now we no longer remain frustrated, without hope. Jesus' messengers offer the way out, but those rejecting his unique opportunity thereby allow themselves to be definitively "bound" under evil's power.

Today's feast marks the world's hope. We Christians - everyone of us - are empowered and obliged to proclaim good news of the Spirit's power to free humankind from everything that degrades and enslaves. The Church's constant mission is to save the world, not condemn it!

The story of the first Pentecost is followed in Acts by other "comings of the Holy Spirit" - upon pagans before being baptized by Peter, after Paul's baptism of Ephesian converts. Indeed, the Church's story includes a series of Pentecosts, with people in every time and place similarly empowered to preach by word and example Good News about Jesus.

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