Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings

Fourth Sunday in ordinary time, February 1

Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19; Psalm 71;
1 Corinthians 12:31, 13:13; Luke 4:21-30

OUR GOOD NEWS: What must we do to please God?
Today’s second reading, the most popular scripture text read at weddings, invites our more thorough examination. This letter was addressed by St. Paul to a young local Church, dazzled by spectacular Spirit (charismatic) gifts with which they had been richly blessed. Paul reminded them — and reminds us — that love is immeasurably superior and the essence of Christian living (the "way").

Without love, speaking in unknown tongues (glossolalia), even in the most mysterious languages, remains mere noise. Equally worthless by comparison are (a) the power to proclaim God’s Word (prophecy) and to master in detail all the mysteries of God’s plan for universal salvation; as well as (b) faith strong enough to perform the most astonishing miracles. Nor can one escape into demanding but loveless service of one’s neighbor or compensate for lack of love with fanatic religious zeal climaxing in a martyr’s horrible death.

The Corinthian audience should have blushed for shame when Paul’s list of what love is and is not was read aloud. And so should we. These constitute the daily sins of Christians in every generation, too often disguised as virtue. There is simply no end (limit) to be placed on love, for it extends always and everywhere to everyone, no matter the degree and duration of others’ unloving behavior.

The reason is that love and love alone essentially characterizes Christian life, whether on earth or in heaven. The Church’s various charisms (spiritual gifts) are necessary means for uniting the hidden God with His Chosen People, but these gifts become obsolete when perfect union is achieved in God’s Kingdom.
Paul’s final words are the most arresting of this challenging passage. Not even the greatest of virtues, faith and hope, can endure without love, which is the driving force and secret of life in time and eternity. Paul’s concern throughout was the unity and harmony of the Corinthian community, called like the rest of us to a "realized eschatology" of divine love lived in the here and now.

To summarize, Paul gave us his concrete answer to what love really means. Hard work, prayer and good works are no substitute for sensitive, gentle love. The true Christian is not the one who works harder or keeps the cleanest house but the most loving.

Prophets (first reading) usually tell people what they need to know but don’t want to hear. Jeremiah’s was an extreme case. Doomed to loneliness as the only Israelite faithful to the Lord, he called in vain for repentance. In his prophetic vocation, which he lived out while encountering rejection and persecution, Jeremiah anticipated Jesus, greatest of all prophets.

Sunday Scripture Readings


By Fr. Francis X. Cleary, SJ


twenty-first sunday


in ordinary time,


august 25


Isaiah 22:19-23; Psalm 138;


Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20

OUR GOOD NEWS: Praise God for his gift of the Church, our firm ground and sure guide.

Prophetic sayings directed against individuals (other than kings) are unusual. In the first reading Isaiah described the installation of a royal official. Significant for today's Gospel is the "key," an iron bar of considerable size proudly carried on his shoulder during state occasions. The bearer had power to grant or deny admittance to the royal presence, a decision beyond appeal. Eliakim would prove himself an able administrator, strong and stable like a peg anchoring a tent to solid ground.

The Gospel describes Matthew's account of a major, crucial stage in Jesus' public life. The location - Caesarea Philippi, a pagan city on the northern border of Israel - has symbolic meaning for the (later) Church, authorized to bring Jesus' offer of salvation into the Gentile world. Jesus' asked, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" His question was natural enough, since his disciples regularly moved among crowds whom Jesus taught.

Various answers expressed a portion of the truth. (1) "John the Baptist" had been Jesus' teacher (Jn 3:26). Forcibly removed from the scene, his proclamation reappeared with Jesus, albeit modified (Kingdom as present, rather than just future reality). (2) "Elijah" was popularly expected to return, proclaiming a new and final period of salvation history when God finally triumphed over evil. (3) "Jeremiah" might have come to mind because Jesus, like this great prophet, encountered increasing hatred and rejection.

"You are the Messiah," Simon Peter answered, "the Son of the living God!" By ordinary standards Jesus was totally un-Messianic, since nationalist Jews expected an anti-Roman freedom fighter. "Son of God," one of the most exalted titles for Jesus, deepened the meaning of "Messiah" and introduced a divine element.

Jesus responded with a "confession" of his own. He first pronounced a beatitude upon Peter, the only disciple in the Gospels to receive a personal blessing. "Blessed are you, Simon son of John!" Next, Peter's insight was formally confirmed as a special revelation from God. "No mere man has revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father." Third, Jesus proceeded to structure his Church. Peter (including his successors) was to be the shelf - or "rock" - upon which the foundation stone (Christ) rests. Finally, Jesus proclaimed Peter's investiture with power as vice regent - administrative deputy rather than ruler in his own right, since Christ remains head of his Church. The "keys" symbolism recalled Eliakim's installation as majordomo in King Hezekiah's palace with authority over the whole kingdom (first reading).

Jesus didn't intend for Peter's authority to be burdensome and arbitrary but reassuring and comforting. We can know what God does and doesn't expect from us in the ever-changing circumstances of daily life. Instead of a hard-and-fast list of do's and don't's, Jesus opted for a personal style of governance entailing flexibility and adaptability, solidly grounded in the tradition while open to newness and change. The Church belongs to Jesus ("my Church"), not to the pope or people. He gives solemn assurance that it will survive external persecution and internal infidelity.

Sunday Scripture readings

SIXTH SUNDAY IN EASTER, MAY 13

Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Psalm 67;

Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23; John 14:23-29
alternatives to the second reading and Gospel:

Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20; John 17:20-26

This time of year is one of moving on, especially as students end another academic year or graduate. But before they do, most students have to endure final exams.

The readings for these last Sundays of the Easter season present us with a type of final exam. And this exam is really an open-book test. In preparing for this exam perhaps we might follow the suggestion of the late great monk and mystic Thomas Merton, who said that instead of merely regarding the Bible as a book that answers our questions we would do well to allow the Word of God to question us.

The first question many graduates ask as they leave school is what have they really learned. Our Easter Scriptures pose for us similar thoughts as we ponder the mystery of the risen Jesus within the community called Church. In the first of our Gospel passages from John, Jesus is preparing his Apostles for not only his departure but also their mission to be his in the world.

He expects them not only to love him but also keep his word, even when they seem to be alone and overcome.

He promises an advocate, the Holy Spirit. An advocate means one who stands beside us to speak. Jesus states that the Spirit "will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you." No matter how much we claim to know about God’s enduring presence, there is always more to learn. The first lesson is that we are never alone. That is why with the Spirit comes the ultimate graduation gift, "Shalom." This peace is not necessarily the absence of human conflict but is the deep and abiding fullness of all that God wishes for us.

A practical extension of this is in the alternate Gospel passage that can be used. Here Jesus prays for all those who believe in the message of the Apostles. This is his great prayer for unity: "that they may be one." This unity is based upon the very unity between the Father and the Son. But even more, this unity becomes the very sign "that the world may believe." From the very beginning of the Church, remaining united has been an enduring challenge.

Our reading from the Acts of the Apostles relates how the Church had to come together to deal with the first issue to divide the community, that is, the inclusion of Gentiles without having them undergo circumcision and the Mosaic law. Their pastoral response, born of prayer and listening to the Spirit, preserved the unity Jesus prayed for.

Unfortunately, we know that the prayer that we remain one has not been lived out in the history or practice of the Church. Christians are divided in many serious ways. Thankfully, the modern ecumenical movement that we Catholics officially embraced because of Vatican II has offered all Christians opportunities to realize that despite our differences we remain one in Christ. This is why we need to echo his priestly prayer and recognize that all our brothers and sisters are "gifts" to Jesus as we can be to one another.

A second question often on the minds of graduates is one about where are they going. Many people see the world today in frightening terms and not without good reason. But our two readings from the last book of the Bible, Revelation, offer an alternative worldview. Here John has a vision of a new Jerusalem that literally is "coming down out of heaven from God." This is not a mere spiritual urban renewal project but rather a sign of the very presence of God with and for us.

On its gates were inscribed the names of the 12 tribes of the Israel, reminding us of our ancestors in faith and how we are indebted to them. Beyond this are the foundation stones of the 12 Apostles, who provided the initial witness to the risen Lord.

Two added features are remarkable. First there is no temple in this city. Just as the Jewish temple was considered the very place where God met his people, so now it is fulfilled in God and the Lamb. Even more there is no sun and moon for these have been replaced by the glory of God and the Lamb. What this means is that because of the risen Christ we experience God in an intimacy and brilliance that transforms us beyond anything that we could imagine.

The alternative reading from the final chapter of Revelation offers further hope as well as a challenge. Jesus himself announces that he is coming soon to bring judgment. He expects us to live in and for him. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of all things. And he is the root or branch that looks back to David and his reign yet moves far beyond its Messianic expectations as the true morning star.

Thus those who have graduated in this heavenly process are invited to receive God’s life-giving water by the "Spirit and the Bride." The Holy Spirit and the Church, as bride of Christ, empower us especially through the sacraments. And the good news is that we can realize this not as some far distant pious notion but in the present reality of our daily lives.

Because of the Resurrection of Jesus, the future is now. This is the ultimate lesson for we who have learned and continue to grow to be an Easter people. In joyful expectation we can then join in praying with Christians of all ages who have passed the ultimate test, "Come, Lord Jesus!"

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

FEAST OF CHRIST THE KING,

NOVEMBER 20

Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; Psalm 23;

1 Corinthians 15:20-26,28; Matthew 25:31-46

When Bishop John Sullivan was bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, he once dialed his auxiliary bishop, Bishop George Fitzsimmons, pastor of Christ the King Parish.

When a voice answered, Bishop Sullivan asked, "Is this Christ the King?" Quick as a flash came the answer, "No, this is George, the pastor."

As we bring to an end one Church year and begin a new one, we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, who is the beginning and end of all things. But what kind of king is Jesus?

In our popular imagination, kings and queens represent a time long gone, a remnant maintained in a few countries today or the magical kingdom of Camelot. But Jesus is a different kind of king. His reign does not depend on armies, bombs or missiles but is a kingdom of "truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace" as the preface of today’s Mass says.

His kingdom is not national, but rather crosses all boundaries of class, age, sex, color and religion. It does not oppress but rather lifts and frees people. It is not a geographical or territorial kingdom to be defended but a kingdom in the hearts of people — ordinary people like you and me if our hearts and minds are open to Christ.

Jesus is a shepherd-king, a descendant of David, the shepherd-king. In the first reading, the prophet Ezekiel tells us what a shepherd does for his sheep: he cares for them, protects them, feeds them, heals them and judges or evaluates them. He gathers the sheep from frightening places, offers rest, seeks the lost ones, binds up the injured ones, heals the sick ones.

Jesus is the shepherd who risks His life for His sheep, and then finally gives His life for them.

The second reading reminds us of this. St. Paul says that Christ went before us as the first offering of the whole harvest. He tells us that we are joined with Christ in a union closer and more profound than the union of the parts of our bodies. And because of this union with the risen Christ, we, too, will rise on the last day.

The Gospel is the scene of the last judgment. Jesus, the shepherd-king, judges His people. And the crucial point of that judgment is the identification of Jesus with His followers. What a person does to the least of Jesus’ followers, he does to Jesus for good or for ill.

In our lifetimes we are called to serve and to receive and graciously accept the service of others. We will be called to bind wounds, to lift burdens, to feed the hungry, to satisfy the thirst for God in human hearts. And at one time or another, we will be the wounded, the burdened, the hungry and thirsty. We are called to identify with the compassionate God who reigns and acts like a shepherd.

You may ask, in this concept of king and kingdom, how can such a God condemn anyone to hell? The answer is that God does not condemn anyone to hell. Those people condemn themselves by the choices and actions of their lives. A characteristic of a compassionate God is respect for people’s decisions either to choose or reject Him. We must remember that the kingdom of God is available to everyone who decides to accept it.

Our psalm response today is the "good shepherd psalm," without a doubt the most popular and loved psalm in the Bible. It voices the comfort and consolation that we all seek. It sings of the rest and security we desire, the serenity of the person who knows that he or she is guided and protected by the shepherd-king, Jesus, which has been gained through the hard work of loving God and our neighbor, loving with compassion.

We should be honored to subjects of Jesus, our King and Good Shepherd.

Father Charles E. Miller, CM, in his book, "Sunday Preaching," reminds us that Christ’s kingdom is already present and yet to come. It is present among us in imperfect form, but the way in which we live as faithful people will help to bring it to perfection when Christ will come again in glory, because by our lives we will have proclaimed Christ as our King.

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

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


THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT,


DECEMBER 15


Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11;


(Psalm) Luke 1:46-50, 53-54;


1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

OUR GOOD NEWS: We rejoice in our right relationship with God that Jesus has made permanent.

In today's second reading, Paul exploded with concern for his Christian community which he had founded in the Greek city of Thessalonika. In a staccato-like series of admonitions he urged improvement where they (we?) have already distinguished themselves. "Be joyful always!" In secular usage, "joy" can't be commanded, since it depends upon outside circumstances ultimately beyond one's control - for example, health, friends, meaningful employment. But as a religious term "joy" designates our reaction to a right relationship with God which, thanks to Jesus, has become permanent and unchanging. If we focus on Good News, on what's really important, we'll "always wear a happy face," "sing out our happy song."

"Pray without ceasing" ("never give up prayer"): not continually reciting words (we've got work to do!) but constantly feeling the need of turning to God, whether or not in crisis. "Be thankful to God in all circumstances," whatever happens. In sum, the heart of Christian ethics - how we are to behave - consists in lives of quiet but incessant joy, prayer and thanksgiving. "God's will in Christ Jesus" empowers us rather than eliminates human effort.

Paul also urges us to remain open to growth and newness, however disturbing or threatening to our superficial peace of mind. "Do not despise prophecies": "prophecies" are not predictions of future events but practical, concrete applications of God's will in our daily behavior. God's prophetic "spirit" can speak to us through daily Bible reading, teachers, parents and spouses, our children and their friends, even strangers and unbelievers. But we mustn't be naively uncritical. Paul urges us to "test all of these messages to see if they're right, really do come from God." His summary advice involves a play on words. "Hold fast (put into practice) everything that is good; hold off from doing anything which is evil."

Paul concluded with a solemn invocation on behalf of us his audience. He first prayed that God, ultimate source and giver of shalom (total material but especially spiritual well-being) "make us like Himself in every way" ("perfect holiness"). He then further specified this petition, begging that every aspect of human existence may belong completely to God: "spirit" (our inner person who thinks and worships), "soul" (life in its outward manifestations), and "body" (our human nature with its inherent weaknesses). Christ's final coming will be the supreme test, when only those of us empowered by divine saving grace can win through to eternal victory. But because the same reliable God is at work for us in the meantime, from now until Final Judgment, we can trust His effective power to deliver on His marvelous promises of our salvation.

In sum, the second reading's Good News is that we find enduring joy through constant growth in holiness, aided by others who prophetically mediate God's will, and sustained by divine grace we can always count on. We can do it!

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