Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings

thirty-first sunday

in ordinary time,

november 3

Malachi 1:14, 2:2, 8-10; Psalm 131;

1 Thessalonians 2:7-9, 13; Matthew 23:1-12

OUR GOOD NEWS: "Call no one 'Father.'"

Jesus' audience for today's parable uncharacteristically included both un-committed "crowd" and faithful "disciples." His message thus concerns historical Israel as well as the Church. "Pharisees" belonged to a lay group dedicated to careful observance of the Mosaic Law. "Scribes" here designates their scholar-experts. As legitimate successors of Moses, "sitting in his seat," their authoritative teaching about details of Jewish living commanded obedience.

In metaphorical language Jesus accused Israel's religious authorities of imposing heavy obligations difficult to obey. These were based on oral tradition which amplified written (biblical) law. Jesus condemned their lack of compassion, shown in unwillingness to interpret and apply laws in a way that made obedience possible as well as less onerous.

"All their works are preformed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and wear huge tassels. They are fond of places of honor at banquets and the front seats in synagogues, and marks of respect in public." Such childish behavior strikes us as ridiculous and laughable - like circus clown cops with oversized badges and night sticks, like grown-ups playing musical chairs at dinner parties and religious services - insecure men pathetically dependent upon insincere flattery and constant attention.

Jesus however was not amused. As prophetic peacemaker he challenges those who pervert religion into opportunity for personal honor, glory and power (contrast Paul, second reading). Matthew intended Jesus' terse commands threatening judgment for misuse of authority as applying to Christians no less than Pharisees and their followers ("As for you...").

Avoid the title "rabbi." Jesus here forbade three honorific titles from usage in his Church, not from legalistic objections but because they undermine our unique relationship with God and himself. All of us without exception remain lifelong disciple-"learners" under Jesus, our sole normative teacher. No one ever "graduates" to become an autonomous "rabbi" teachings in his or her own name.

"Do not call anyone on earth your father." In its Aramaic form Abba, "Father" expresses Jesus' unique relationship with God, a sacred name that is every believer's privilege to use by right of Baptism. "Avoid being called teachers." Master/teacher applies only to the Messiah, sole spiritual director and guide of our conscience. Leaders should set example of selfless service instead of self-aggrandizement, in imitation of the Servant Jesus who brings us together as God's family.

Those objecting to calling priests "Father" should note that Paul and other early Christian writers thought of themselves as fathers to their congregations and converts (for example, 1 Corinthians 4:14-15; John 2:18).

Sunday Scripture Readings




Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 95;

1 Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28

In a large parish, there was a pastor and three assistant priests. Naturally, the third assistant was low man on the totem pole in more ways than one.

Nevertheless, the ladies of the Altar Society invited him to speak on a complicated theological subject, saying to him, "We want someone with a little authority." So the young priest introduced his talk in this way: "You wanted someone with a little authority. Well, around here, nobody has as little authority as I have."

It was the opposite with Jesus. The Gospel says that He spoke with a special authority, the authority of God. The English word authority comes from the Latin "auctor," which means author. Besides meaning a composer, it also means a creator or an originator.

Jesus’ authority is unlike that of all others. It does not rest on prestige or learning but upon the commission given Him by His Father. When Jesus uses authority,

He does so to author life and re-establish relationships. His words to the man with the unclean spirit do more than drive out evil. They open the man to a restored relationship with God.

When we speak of authority, we also include conscience. One of the greatest faults of Americans in our day is that they don’t want anyone else in authority over them. In the Church, there are those who do not want to obey the pope, bishop or priest. They all want to follow their "conscience."

But they have the wrong idea of conscience. They think that it means following their own feelings, whims and desires regardless of whether it is right or wrong or how it affects others.

In truth, conscience is not a feeling or emotion. It is not our "what everyone else is doing." It is a practical judgment on what is right and what is wrong, especially in the action we are about to do or omit. And this conscience has to be formed.

We are not born with already formed consciences. Although each person is born with a desire to do good and avoid evil, the primary work of our moral life must be to seek to know what is good, that is, to know the truth because conscience first of all is the seeking of moral truth.

Moral truth is not made known by what people say but by the natural law, God’s law and the laws of the Church. The mission of the Church is to make known the truth of God so that people may make right moral judgments.

So, first of all, we must form our conscience by searching for objective moral truth and then we can safely follow our conscience. A person will get to heaven only if he or she follows a conscience which, to the best of that person’s capability, tells him or her objectively what is right and true.

Some people use authority to lord it over others and keep others down. This is wrong. Others use authority to lift people up. This is right and good. This is the kind of power Jesus has and uses.

In the first reading, Moses spoke with the authority that God gave him. He spoke as God’s messenger and prophet. And Moses quoted God as saying: "I will raise up for My people a prophet like you from among their kinsmen and will put My words into His mouth. And if any person will not listen to My words which he speaks in my name, I will make him answer for it."

Jesus is that prophet foretold in the first reading.

Jesus still teaches with authority today. We need to listen for His voice in the Church. He not only teaches us what is right; He also gives us the power to do what is right.

The Lord may ask us to go contrary to accepted practices in our society such as abortion, mercy killing, use of embryonic stem cells or permissive sex. It may seem difficult, but Jesus will always strengthen us and provide for us if we turn to Him.

In the second reading St. Paul sums all of this up by saying: "Devote yourselves entirely to the Lord."

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

Sunday Scripture Readings




1 Kings 19:16, 19-21; Psalm 16;

Galatians 5:1, 13-18; Luke 9:51-62

OUR GOOD NEWS: We must follow Jesus without delay.

For some time, Elijah had served as God’s prophet, empowered by the divine Spirit to proclaim God’s will fearlessly and with great power. Now he is commanded to appoint Elisha as successor. Today’s first reading described Elisha’s call and obedient response. This call came in the midst of work, as earlier for Moses and David (while shepherding sheep), and later the 12 Apostles (fishermen cleaning their nets, toll collector at his post). Elisha was not, in fact, anointed but effectively designed by being touched with the prophetic "cloak" (more precisely, "vestment" or "solemn robe"). A holy person’s clothes were held to carry some of his power — recall the hemorrhaging woman cured by touching Jesus’ garments.

The prophet-designate is willing enough but wants to take leave of his family. Elijah’s brusque reply is enigmatic. The best interpretation seems to be: "Go back" and say farewell because you are now ready for prophecy as a result of the symbolic gesture. In this understanding, Elisha neither vacillates nor temporizes, but responds with a symbolic gesture of his own. Having effectively destroyed his means of livelihood (by slaughtering his oxen), he is henceforth totally dependent upon Elijah for survival. The meal of flesh from the slaughtered oxen is not just a final dinner together with "his people" but a sharing in a sacrificial offering to God. Elisha became an apprentice prophet ("attendant"); in serving Elijah he learns the prophetic trade.

Elisha’s call and response can serve as a model for each of us Christians, while especially suitable for religious vocations: Elisha already had a trade with which he was content; he was suddenly chosen by God for no apparent reason (not more qualified than others) and responded with an irrevocable and thoroughgoing commitment by destroying his oxen, his means of livelihood. By so doing, Elisha was brought into an even closer relationship with his "people" before God, and settled in for a long period of work and study before beginning his ministry.

In the Gospel selection, Jesus set the example of prompt, firm commitment, resolutely following God’s plan even though it meant rejection and suffering. He turned away from inhospitable Samaritans with gentleness (rather than punishment), concerned for their salvation instead of his reputation (calling down God’s vengeful punishment).

In the second half of the Gospel, three would-be followers learn that discipleship means sharing in Jesus’ style of life and mission. The first spontaneously offered unconditional allegiance, but the blunt reaction of Jesus was hardly encouraging. Christian living is risky, sacrificing security even in basic needs. The second person, abruptly commanded to immediate discipleship, was rejected for stalling for time to fulfill a son’s most sacred duty, taking leave of his father.

The third candidate volunteers (like the first), but his added condition evoked Jesus stern command. "Let the (spiritually) dead bury their (physically) dead." Life in the Kingdom comes only to those unflagging in its service. Nothing must get in the way of prompt obedience.

Sunday Scripture Readings



Job 7:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 147;

1 Corinthians 9:6-19, 22-23; Mark 1:29-39

OUR GOOD NEWS: All things work together unto good for those who serve the Lord.

Job was famous as a model of a righteous person - God-fearing, moral and generous to the poor and helpless. The book begins with God testing his faithful servant's commitment. Total disaster was allowed to overtake him: children die, wealth evaporates and his body is stricken with loathsome disease. Remaining chapters mainly consist of extended dialogue involving three friends come to "console" him with an orthodox but unrealistic view of suffering. All misery, they insisted, is brought on by personal sin. One need only to repent for God to restore health, wealth and family. With increasing vehemence Job countered that it didn't apply in his case, and he searched vainly for meaning in his senseless suffering.

Today's first reading details the miseries of human existence powerfully described by Job as background for Jesus' welcome work of healing (Gospel). An introductory rhetorical question ("Is not man's life on earth a drudgery?") allows no evading or mitigating of what we all must admit. In varying degrees, sooner or later, each person's life resembles the harsh lot of conscripts in forced labor or hired hands.

Hopelessly trapped in intolerable situations, we react to the "slavery" and unhappiness of the present moment by pining for a future release that never materializes. A field laborer yearns for relief from the scorching sun, held to degrading work for wages that barely keep him alive. No peace even in sleep! Instead, he finds restless, insomniac tossing, waiting for dawn and a return to toil. Life, concluded Job, is like a weaver's shuttle. We're condemned to a constant coming and going that is monotonous, meaningless and abruptly ended when the thread of life, of vain hope for happiness, runs out.

Job of course is right. Left to ourselves and our own resources, humankind cannot escape ultimate meaninglessness. Fleeting joys are obliterated by suffering and inevitable death. We are reassured however that God turns absurdity into purpose. He permits life's hurts to serve His salvific will, preparing us to appreciate and accept His gift of life in fullness. "Praise the Lord who heals the brokenhearted." With today's psalm we profess our firm faith that God answers our cries and with sovereign power and wisdom brings complete healing by undoing sin's effects in our lives.

Jesus' healing of Peter's mother-in-law (Gospel) illustrates how, during Jesus' public life, "house" served as place of rest and a scene for teaching and working wonders. Leaving the scene of an exhausting struggle with an unclean spirit (last week's Gospel), Jesus was immediately informed of the older woman's condition. His curing foreshadowed his "healing" from death of all of us who are committed to Him.

We're edified by the woman's reaction to her miraculous healing. She responded as befits every disciple - called to service, she immediately "waits on them at table," rather than visits her neighbors to share her good news. Her response teaches us an essential lesson, that discipleship means getting involved in selfless service of others.

Sunday Scripture Readings

third sunday in

ordinary time,

january 27

Isaiah 8:23 - 9:3; Psalm 27;

1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17; Matthew 4:12-23

OUR GOOD NEWS: Let us go joyfully to the Light of the World.

"First the Lord degraded the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali . . . " (first reading). The northern portion of Israel inhabited by these two tribes had been conquered by Assyria, a brutal Near Eastern superpower. Nevertheless, rather than evidence of Marduk's power over Yahweh, it was the Lord's own doing ("he degraded") - salutary punishment for Israel's flagrant covenant disloyalty. But the biblical God remains faithful to us who are unfaithful. Isaiah proclaimed his coming to the rescue of this sinful people, using past tense to emphasize certainty of fulfillment. " ... But in the end he has glorified the seaward road." The same sovereign Lord who disciplined his people through pagan armies now determined to raise up a king in David's line, the instrument for rescuing three provinces: "seaward road, land west of the Jordan, the District of the Gentiles."

Isaiah employed violent military imagery to describe northern Israel's deliverance from slavery: victorious soldiers "dividing booty" and "smashing slave-driver's rod." But God doesn't delight in vengeful destruction. Rather than as bloody sword or clenched fist, he comes as "light" in the midst of fear and despair, making everything clear and roads safe. God brings joy for his oppressed people, not revenge against hated Assyria. Most of this passage we heard earlier on Christmas night, when the newly born Jesus was proclaimed our "light." Here it applies to the adult Jesus revealed in his baptism and public life, who fulfills the promise of a light that liberates from sin and brings the joy of God's final-age kingdom.

The responsorial verse further develops the light metaphor. To paraphrase: "The Lord is the source of my light, he saves me; with him I am as safe as in a fortress. I will never be afraid of anyone. The one thing asked (heart's desire) is opportunity to marvel at the Lord's Goodness, where we ask for his daily guidance." Biblical spirituality is practical and down-to-earth. Instead of contemplating God as a distant divine and unknowable essence, we focus on everyday expressions of his love and concern.

This psalm thus advises us what to do in time of trial: Look back on all God's blessings we have already experienced, drawing strength for patient, firm faith in his continuing guidance and protection. With confidence in God and prayerful encouragement from fellow believers, depression and anxiety turn into courageous acceptance of what cannot be changed. "Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord!"

"From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!'" (Gospel). Jesus formally summoned Israel to a complete turn-around, a radical change in values and behavior, in order to appropriate God's kingdom for itself. The final sentence summarizes Jesus' mission in three verbs. He "taught," revealing what we are to do; he "proclaimed the good news" of what God was doing; he "healed every illness and infirmity" as a sign of present reality, not just future hope.

Sunday Scripture Readings


Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; Psalm 4;

1 John 2:1-5; Luke 14:35-48

A new pastor was visiting the homes of his parishioners. At one house it seemed obvious that someone was at home, but no answer came to his repeated knocks at the door. So he took out one of his name cards and on the back put this reference to the Bible — Revelation 3:20 — and stuck the card to the door.

When the offering was processed the following Sunday, he found that his card had been returned. Added to it was this reference to the Bible: Genesis 3:10. After looking this verse up in his Bible, he broke into gales of laughter.

Revelation 3:20 reads: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock." Genesis 3:10 reads: "I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid and hid for I was naked."

It seems that there are some people who can make the Bible say anything they want. Today’s readings try to help us to know and understand what it really says.

Living in an open society as we do, through the mass media everybody can enter our homes. We owe it to ourselves and others to be informed Catholics. If not, the flood of information which overwhelms us daily will confuse us.

Every Catholic, indeed every Christian, should read the Bible, the diocesan newspaper and good books, and watch TV programs that deal with truth in religion. Ignorance can be culpable and lead to disaster, as the first Scripture reading of today clearly implies.

In that reading, St. Peter says harsh words to the Jewish people. He blames them for killing the holy and just One, the author of life, our Lord Jesus Christ. But he adds quickly, "I know that you acted out of ignorance."

Judging others should be left up to God. But it is clear that ignorance on the part of those who should know is blameworthy and causes harm and disaster. The poorly informed Catholic, though he may hold a degree in Sacred Scripture, is a danger to himself and others.

St. Joseph Sunday Missal says that a person cannot possibly cope with other visions on life, glittering and so much more appealing, if one knows his or her own religion and life only poorly.

St. Joseph Sunday Missal has these thoughts on the other two readings. Knowing a great deal about God and religion does not make one necessarily a good Christian. The greatest theologians were not always the greatest saints. Knowing God must be a religious experience in which you are involved. Love has much to do with it. Jesus says: "If you love me, keep my commandments." St. John says the same thing in the second reading.

St. John says that the person who claims: "I have known God," without keeping his commandments is a liar; in such a one there is no truth. But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him.

In the Gospel, St. Luke says that our Lord opened the minds of the disciples to the understanding of the Scriptures. Experiencing God and his Son Jesus, in meditative and prayerful Bible readings is the clue to Christian renewal. A good help for you would be joining a Bible study club. But the real understanding of the Scriptures requires prayer and meditation because the Lord himself must open your mind and give you insight.

In the Gospel, Jesus calls all of his followers to witness to him — this is part of the work of the entire Church to which we belong. We may not be called on to be martyrs to be put to death for our faith and love of Christ, but we do witness to Jesus whenever we forgive others and accept their forgiveness and encourage others or are patient toward another or when we help others to carry their burdens and act responsibly.

This kind of thing is the heart and soul of witnessing to Jesus in our everyday lives. We don’t have to preach from a pulpit or teach in a classroom. We can do that by the very example of our lives in our thoughts, words and actions and that is what most people are called to do.

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

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