Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings

FOURTH SUNDAY OF

ORDINARY TIME

January 30

Zephaniah 2:3,3:12-13;

Psalm 146;

1 Corinthians 1:26-31;

Matthew 5:1-12

The famous artist and painter Picasso was refurnishing his home. To make clear to the cabinetmaker just what he wanted, he took a piece of scrap paper and sketched what he had in mind.
Finishing the drawing, Picasso asked: "What do you figure it will cost?" The clever craftsman answered: "No charge. Just sign the sketch."

Talent and genius can make many things valuable, but most of the time it is according to worldly standards. The values of the world are wealth, influence or power, education and social status. Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel, called the Beatitudes, turn this kind of thinking upside down.

The first reading urges us to seek justice and humility, the uprightness of God. God’s perfections must shine in our lives. In the seventh century B.C., God’s people had become corrupt and pagan. The Temple was desecrated by the worship of pagan gods; materialism ruled the hearts of all.

The book of Zephaniah speaks of the "day of the Lord’s anger," which will be a day of punishment for those who worship and live the values of the world. But God will save the "remnant," a few significant people who have been faithful to Him. These are the people who have no influence, are poor in this world, and are humble and must rely entirely on God. That is what "poor in spirit" means.

Greek philosophy taught that "matter" is evil and only "spirit" is good. The Greeks considered all suffering to be evil. To them, it was foolish and unthinkable that God should have become man and absolute nonsense that the Son of God should die on a cross. It was stupidity that the "spirit" should again be imprisoned in the material body in the Resurrection.

People who are worldly wise and sophisticated have a hard time accepting the basic mysteries of faith. Real faith can only come when a person empties himself of all philosophical prejudices and accepts the cross and Resurrection. St. Paul does not condemn all learning, but only that kind which becomes an obstacle to faith.

Jesus’ Beatitudes in the Gospel give us a new way of looking at life. The world values wealth and influence, yet Jesus says: "Blessed are the poor in spirit." The world wants pleasure at all times at any cost. Jesus says that mourning for one’s sins is a blessing. The world praises pride and self-fulfillment; Jesus praises the meek. The world honors those who get to the top by any means; Jesus honors those who seek justice in all things.

Casual sex has become common in our culture; Jesus proclaims that the pure of heart will see God. Our natural inclination is to get even and seek vengeance against those who have harmed us. Jesus proclaims that the merciful will receive mercy. The world shrinks from pain or suffering; Jesus tells us we are blessed if we suffer for His sake.

So in every way, the values of Jesus are just the opposite of what the world holds dear. That’s why we have to struggle with God’s help to follow His values and not those of the world.

In the second reading, Paul rebukes those who brag about their roots and talents. A follower of Christ can boast only in God and the cross of Christ. The Beatitudes, then, describe the meaning of our life in Christ, the process by which we come to be His followers and disciples and the rewards for following that process. Indeed, "blessed" means "happy" — God’s kind of happiness which lasts forever.

Prayer for the week: Lord, I believe that You are the Way, the Truth and the Life. Strengthen me to turn away from the way of life of affluence which would separate me from you, and from the distorted image into which prestige can lead me and from the living death of indifference to the poor all of which is the fruit of pride. Amen.

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY

IN ORDINARY TIME,

AUGUST 3

Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15; Psalm 78;

Ephesians 4:17, 20-24; John 6:24-35

OUR GOOD NEWS:Jesus explains the mystery that is the Eucharist.

In last Sunday’s Gospel reading, we heard how Jesus miraculously fed a vast crowd who eagerly sought Him out. Their question, "When did you come here?," expressed puzzlement and surprise. They couldn’t understand how Jesus crossed the lake, unaware of His walking over stormy waters to join the disciples in their boat. But Jesus remained undeceived by the crowd’s enthusiastic attention, which was selfishly centered on the free food He had provided. Instead of yielding to discouragement, Jesus adapted His teaching to their less-than-ideal attitude, with words full of double meanings characteristic of discourses in John’s Gospel.

The people’s preoccupation centered on "perishable food" that maintains physical life one day at a time. Jesus offered a unique opportunity for getting a new "food" which, when eaten, confers transformed fullness of life, a gift whose effects last forever! This is what they — and we — ought to strive after. The gift that God freely confers through Jesus perverse humanity would rather earn through personal effort. The crowd thus raised the question of "works" (plural), inquiring about religious duties whose observance wins divine approval. Jesus countered that God expected only one "work" (singular), thoroughgoing "faith" commitment to his Son. Sinful human nature prefers prideful noninvolvement, willing to do (works) but refusing to believe (trust and confidence in Jesus rather than oneself).

"So that we can put faith in you, what sign are you going to perform for us to see?" This time the crowd correctly understood Jesus’ demand for faith commitment but continued in their sinful hardheartedness by insisting on the very proof He had just provided. They refused to acknowledge the multiplied barley loaves as God’s miraculous feeding, like manna provided their ancestors through Moses during their desert sojourn. But fulfillment implies more than repetition. Jesus went on with a profound interpretation of the symbolic feeding. Manna came "from heaven," an earthly food given by God to his hungry people. Not barley loaves but Jesus himself is "real, heavenly bread." Uniquely, this otherworldly sustenance confers eternal (rather than passing) "life" upon the whole "world" (instead of Israelites in the desert).

Sunday Scripture Readings


twenty-fourth sunday


in ordinary time,


september 16


Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14; Psalm 51;


1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32

OUR GOOD NEWS: We rejoice in God's limitless forgiveness.

In Jesus' day tax (toll) collectors enjoyed a deserved reputation for dishonesty and extortion. Those engaged in such work were condemned as immoral for unscrupulously abusing their authority to pocket what they overcharged. Toll collectors were lumped together with "sinners," Jews who openly flouted religious laws. Today's Gospel includes the third time in Luke that Jesus was charged with encouraging loose morals through accepting and associating with such fringe groups.

Jesus defended his behavior with three parable-stories, each dealing with what is "lost." The first two come from everyday experiences of the peasant classes, one reflecting the male and the other the female workaday world. Sheep are foolish, vulnerable animals requiring constant concern. Finding a lost sheep who nibbled its way apart from the flock was all in a day's work. Especially important is the shepherd's reaction upon finding a stray. He "rejoices" rather than gets angry, giving the vagrant a free ride on his shoulders instead of a scolding or punishment. The woman's lost silver coin represents a laborer's daily wage. Precisely because her savings were meager, she responded with grim determination, diligently raking the straw flooring in her dimly lit, one-room house, anxiously searching for a telltale glint. There it is! What a relief! Otherwise a day would come with nothing to eat. We admire her unfeigned simplicity in "calling together her friends and neighbors." '"Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost!'"

Today's third parable is Jesus' longest, and takes place among the enviable super-rich. Read earlier this year on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, it urges us to repentance. Now, in context of stories about lost sheep and a lost coin, it proclaims the marvelously forgiving love of God. The Father is accepting and forgiving almost to a fault. He doesn't stand on dignity or demand respect, shows no anger or resentment at the cold insensitivity of both sons. He asked only that they let him love them and accept each other. Truly, news almost too good to be true! God responds with joyful forgiveness and acceptance rather than rejecting us sinners or making us pay.

Paul is held up as a prototype for all of us, sinners called to faith in Christ (second reading). With gratitude he gave thanks for his conversion experience on Damascus Road, when the risen Lord graciously "strengthened, considered trustworthy and appointed to his service" him who formerly blasphemed, persecuted and bullied the Church. Paul becomes an example for each of us. With Paul, we conclude by praising "the king of ages, incorruptible, the only God!"

Sunday Scripture Readings

SOLEMNITY OF CHRIST THE KING,

NOVEMBER 26

Daniel 7:13-14; Psalm 93;

Revelation 1: 5-8; John 18:33-37

When the movie "The King Of Kings" was being produced in Spain, the rumor was that the producer was insisting that the plot be kept secret.

So a London reporter telephoned the press agent for the movie who admitted that the producer did want to keep the plot secret. "For your information," declared the reporter, "I know a book that gives the entire plot. It’s called the New Testament."

"For heaven’s sake," begged the press agent, "don’t tell the producer."

Of course, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is the greatest story of all time. And on this last Sunday of the Church year, we celebrate the solemnity of Christ the King. All of the Sundays and feasts of the past year have been leading up to this.

Very few countries today use the title king; rather the head of state is called chancellor, premier, president, prime minister, etc. We do speak of Burger King, king-sized beds, the kingpin in bowling, king crab and king salmon. There are kings in a deck of cards and a king piece in chess. We have the king’s English.

But the only place where the word king has a very deep meaning is in the Bible. King and the related words of kingdom and kingship appear more than 3,450 times in the Bible. So in today’s Gospel when Pilate asks Jesus, "Are you the king of the Jews?" and Jesus speaks of "my kingdom," these words have deep roots in biblical tradition.

Unfortunately, the many kings of Israel were not very good people, and Jesus was unwilling to walk this royal road of renegades. He made it plain to his disciples who were having dreams of grandeur that he was not going to be a king of might and majesty with a retinue of fanatical followers.

Rather, as Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for man." After working the miracles of loaves and fish, when Jesus knew that the crowd would try to carry him off to make him king, he withdrew to the mountain alone.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus clearly disassociates his kingdom from worldly realms where power, prestige and popularity are first and foremost. He will wear not a crown of gold but one woven of thorns. Instead of applauding, people will strike and buffet him.

Voices that should have praised him will cry out, "Crucify him," and his throne will be a crude, cruel cross. His last kingly words will be, "It is finished." So Jesus is a different kind of king than this world is used to seeing.

In the first reading, Daniel sees his king ruling over all peoples, for all time, by the power of God the father. The second reading, from the Book of Revelation, presents a hymn of praise of Jesus Christ who won his kingship through his death and by his death redeemed us and made us a royal nation in the service of his Father. The preface tells us the kind of kingdom Jesus has: "A kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace."

Today’s readings show the choice each of us has. We can approach Jesus in faith and remain with him through his passion by accepting suffering and the crosses in our own lives, or we can be indifferent to him. A great deal depends on which way we go.

Today’s celebration calls us to make room for Christ in our hearts by following his example of living even if we are not perfect. Jesus is there to help us. But we need to ask his help in our everyday prayers because he will not force himself on us.

He alone is our way to heaven. That is the way the truth and the life of his kingship.

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

PENTECOST SUNDAY,

MAY 15

Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104;

1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13;

John 20:19-23;

Pentecost is a Greek word meaning 50. For the Jews, it was 50 days after Passover when they commemorated God’s giving of His law to Moses sealing His covenant with His people at Mount Sinai some 1,300 years before Christ.

And so there were many visitors from other lands in the city. On this 50th day after the Resurrection of Jesus, as we bring the Easter season to a close, we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to seal the covenant God has made with us through Jesus, His Son. Christ means the Anointed One. The Father has set His seal on Christ and through Christ He seals us first in baptism and then in confirmation and the other sacraments.

We know that the dove is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. And we also know that the Holy Spirit is the most difficult person of the Holy Trinity to understand. So perhaps we can smile at the answer of the elderly Japanese convert to the faith when he was asked what he thought of the Holy Trinity. He said, "Honorable Father, very nice; honorable Son, very nice; honorable Bird, very difficult."

Because it is difficult to understand the Holy Spirit, we try to get to know Him by what He does for us. First of all, He is the Spirit of order and life. The Hebrew word for spirit is ruah, which also means breath and wind. At the creation, God breathed on the waters bringing order out of chaos. Then God breathed life into man. Jesus breathed on His apostles in giving them the Holy Spirit as we heard in the Gospel. So the Holy Spirit is the life-breath of man, the life-breath of the Church and the God-life within each of us.

He is the Spirit of forgiveness. On the first Easter night as Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to His apostles, He also gave them the power of forgiving sins in His name. So the Holy Spirit reconciles people with God and people with each other. He helps us forgive those who offend us.

He is the Spirit of unity. At the tower of Babel, man’s language became confused and humans could no longer understand one another. The Spirit came in tongues of fire and reversed that confusion of Babel.

Fire also gives light. And thus Jesus filled with the Spirit is the Light of the World. The Holy Spirit enables this light of Jesus to shine through us, barring any obstacle of sin or evil. The warmth of fire reminds us of the warmth of love in the heart of Jesus for us and the love that must be in our hearts for God and for our fellow humans.

And as the second reading says, the Holy Spirit unites all the baptized and forms us into the living Body of Christ, the Church. He enables us to call Jesus Lord.

The Spirit is called the Paraclete or Advocate. He stands by us when we are accused of sin or evil for which we have been forgiven or which we did not commit. He is also the Comforter who helps us overcome depression, anxiety or worry and accept the peace of Christ. He is the Spirit of peace — thus the symbol of the dove is peace.

He also gives us gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and reverence or respect for the Lord — gifts which transform our daily actions into what we call the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

These are love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faith, mildness and purity. St. Paul urges us to live according to this Spirit.

Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit will teach us everything and help us remember Christ and all that He said and did so that we can bear witness to Christ.

Pentecost is still happening. The Spirit is with us. Be amazed at what we can do with His help.

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

SOLEMNITY OF OUR LORD

JESUS CHRIST THE K ING,

NOVEMBER 23

Daniel 7:13-14; Psalm 93;
Revelation 1:5-8; John 18:33-37

OUR GOOD NEWS:"Come, Lord Jesus!" Christ’s kingship is our present challenge and future hope.
In ancient times, dreams served as accepted means of divine revelation. The prophet Daniel (first reading) learned God’s ultimate purpose for us, his Chosen People, and the future for all races and nations, through a series of "night visions." Today’s selection contrasts with gruesome events described earlier in the chapter. There, four monsters, beasts, symbolic of godless, brutal world empires (Babylonian, Median, Persian and Greek) rose from below, out of chaotic waters. These were subsequently judged — overthrown at once or limit placed on their reign of terror — before the throne of God ("Ancient One"). Now, a ruler-to-be comes in human form ("like a Son of Man"), from above ("on the clouds of heaven"). What the others vainly struggled to get for themselves he is given: "everlasting dominion," absolute and eternal sovereignty over the whole world.

This strange prophecy originally proclaimed the steadfast divine will to preserve Israel, represented in vision symbolically as "a Son of Man." In spite of terrible persecutions by foreign tyrants that temporally frustrated God’s determined redemptive intention, the whole world would one day be united under His rule, mediated through His Chosen People. He first revealed this plan in a promise to Abraham, ancestor of all believers: "All the earth’s communities will find blessing in you" (Gn 12:3). Centuries later, the glorious Davidic empire served as temporary and incomplete foreshadowing of the fulfillment Judaism awaited but never subsequently achieved.

Today Christians gather worldwide to acclaim Jesus "Son (successor) of David" and self-styled "Son of Man" (embodiment of Israel). In and through him God carried out the redemptive plan He was conceived from eternity. Today’s first selection admirably serves as prediction-description, in late Old Testament imagery, of Jesus’ enthronement as universal Lord. "Everlasting dominion, glory and kingship" that will be His at the Second Coming is already acknowledged within the gathered community, His Church.

Most people consider kingship outdated and inconsonant with modern democratic ideals, tolerated only for ceremony and sense of history. Today’s Gospel shows how it continues to apply in Jesus’ case. Alone with Pilate backstage, Jesus asserted His claim as king and explained why and how. In typically Johannine style both talk on different levels using words that admit of more than one meaning.

From the Jewish point of view, a Messianic claim could be false but not in itself criminal offense. Jesus, however, arrogates to Himself the right to sit on God’s own throne, a matter of blasphemy. Religious leaders were also anxious to preserve good relations with the Romans and therefore shared their overlords’ fear of inevitable consequences.

Jesus explained His unique kingship by describing its origin, quality and meaning. It doesn’t denote possession of absolute political power, legitimized by succession or conquest and maintained through struggle against challengers. It is "from above" rather than "of this world." And yet Jesus comes to liberate from every kind of oppression, challenging accepted understanding of rule. Jesus is our kind of King!

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