Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings


twelfth sunday


in ordinary time,


June 23


Jeremiah 20:10-13; Psalm 69;


Romans 5:12-15; Matthew 10:26-33

OUR GOOD NEWS: How to find peace in our daily lives - trust God!

One of life's many mysteries is why persons who do only good and never evil are often despised, hated, even destroyed. This was pre-eminently Jeremiah's experience as seemingly the only just person in Jerusalem. An idealistic prophet who loved and tried to care for his people, who stood apart from the community with its inevitable compromises and selfishness, Jeremiah nevertheless aroused the hostility of his fellow citizens and even of his family. "All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail, and take our vengeance upon him." At times we may share his experience, not only unappreciated but even misjudged and opposed while seeking the good of others.

"But the Lord is with me." A sudden change of temperament moves Jeremiah from discouragement to trust in God, who had promised always to deliver him. One day all surely will be made right. Jeremiah then cried out, "Let me witness the vengeance you take on them!" This sounds, well, unChristian and out of character for a selfless person dedicated to his people. But since Jeremiah, like his countrymen, didn't know of afterlife, justice required tangible and unmistakable retribution now. But the prophet was less concerned with personal vindication and more focused on the honor and reputation of God, a vindication which Jeremiah expected one day to witness. "In their failure they will be put to utter shame, to lasting, unforgettable confusion." God will not be mocked by evildoers!

In today's Gospel, after predicting future opposition and persecution (last Sunday's passage), Jesus encouraged his disciples to stand firm. Three times they are urged, "Do not fear!" "Do not be afraid!" Instead of shrinking from their task, they are to proclaim the Gospel boldly, just as Jeremiah was assured of God's protection. And truth will eventually triumph: "Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed." Jesus' command, "do not be afraid of anything," seems an impossible ideal, given the stresses of modern life. We remind ourselves that anxiety is a sin when it is a manifestation of pride. Anxiety is the illusion of control. To be free from attempts to make others do things our way, we need only let go, and let God.

Until Jesus' resurrection and formal commissioning in the final verses of Matthew's Gospel, private and exclusive instruction reserved for the apostles would be proclaimed openly. Here Christianity distances itself from other contemporary religions, which jealously guarded their teachings. "What you hear in private, proclaim from the housetops." Secret revelations reserved for the chosen few are utterly foreign to our faith. Jesus intends that the Good News first proclaimed by him is destined to be heard and shared with everyone.

Sunday Scripture readings

SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT,

MARCH 4

Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke

9:28-36

The Old Testament tells about the prophet Elisha finding himself surrounded one morning by enemy troops (2 Kings 6:15). They wanted to kidnap him, because Elisha had been giving intelligence information to the king of Israel.

Seeing their desperate plight, Elisha’s servant panicked. "Do not be afraid," Elisha told him, "for those who are with us are more than those who are with them."

How could the servant believe that? He and Elisha were alone, their situation was hopeless. So Elisha prayed: "O Lord, open his eyes, that he may see."

The story continues: "And the Lord opened the eyes of the servant, so that he saw the mountainside filled with horses and fiery chariots around Elisha." With the protection of these heavenly warriors, God’s angels, Elisha had an easy victory over his enemies that day.

At the start of today’s Gospel, the friends of Jesus are likewise afraid. Shortly before, Jesus has told them: "The Son of Man must ... endure many sufferings, be rejected and be put to death" (Luke 9:22). How shocked the disciples must have been. Jesus was evidently not the messiah they expected — a powerful figure who would free their country from its Roman rulers and restore the kingdom to Israel. Should we bail out now, they wondered, before it’s too late?

At this point Jesus did what Elisha did. He went up a mountain to pray, taking with him Peter and the brothers James and John. As he prayed, these friends of Jesus saw something they have never seen before. This friend of theirs, whom they knew as a man like themselves, was for a few shining moments utterly unlike them. He was clothed in heavenly glory, and "his face changed in appearance and his clothing ... dazzling white." They heard a voice from heaven proclaiming that this man Jesus was more than human: "This is my chosen Son; listen to him."

It’s true, after all, they realized. Jesus was truly God’s anointed servant, the long-awaited Messiah. Those few moments of glory on the mountain gave them courage not to bail out but to listen to Jesus, and to follow him all the way to the suffering and death in Jerusalem that he had so recently predicted. No matter what happened now, they were sure of one thing: God was on the side of Jesus; final victory would be his.

All of us are fearful at times. Things don’t always go the way they’re supposed to. Perhaps it is marital stress. Maybe we see a son or daughter making life choices that can bring that young person only grief and misery. We may be experiencing some terrible injustice.

Perhaps we are facing a serious illness — our own or that of a loved one. The future looks dark. Is there a God at all, some ask. And if there is, why does he answer my prayers only with silence?

Whatever cross life has brought you, to carry it you must do what Jesus did, and Elisha. Pray, like Elisha: "Lord, open my eyes that I may see." Ask him to show you that those who are with you are greater by far than those against you. With you is the whole host of heaven: God’s angels to guard and protect you in all your ways.

Supporting you are the prayers of the Lord’s mother Mary and all the saints. They too knew suffering, every bit as bitter as any you face, most of them more. They never gave up, though they wanted to do so often. They are praying for you right now.

With you is the Lord himself. He walks with you every step of the way, especially when the road is steep and you are tired, discouraged and so filled with fear and doubt that you don’t think you can take another step.

Yes, and he is waiting for you at the end of life’s road — waiting with joy to welcome you into that place which he has gone ahead to prepare for you, in his Father’s house, which is also yours.

That is the Gospel. That is the good news. Those who are with you are more than those against you. Do not be afraid. Place your hand in the unseen but real hand of God. He is with you now. He remains with you always.

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY OF

ORDINARY TIME,

AUGUST 28

Jeremiah 20:7-9; Psalm 63;

Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27

Little Mary, reporting on her school work, told her mother, "The
religion teacher taught us all about a cross-eyed bear today."

Finding this unusual, the mother asked for more information. "Well, he was cross-eyed, and his name was ‘Gladly’ and we sang a song about him," said Mary.

The mystery wasn’t solved until the teacher, quizzed by mother, explained that the children had been learning a new Lenten hymn: "Gladly the Cross I Would Bear "

That’s what Jesus in today’s Gospel urges His disciples and us to do — "Whoever wishes to come after Me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me."

Even before Christ’s death on the cross became known, the Old Testament saints and prophets had crosses to bear. In the first reading, the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah tells about his cross — his suffering brought about by doing the work of God. Men mock and deride him for his message, and this hurts. Even his desire to spread the Word of God gives him pain.

All the Apostles and the New Testament saints right down to the latest ones to be canonized had crosses to bear. But it was hard at first to understand that this was God’s way. After Jesus foretold this, Peter takes Him aside and assures Him that this will not and must not happen.

Remember, Peter had just proclaimed his faith that Jesus is "the Messiah, the Son of the living God." The Jewish thinking was that the Messiah was to be a political leader who would not suffer; he would free Israel from the dominion of Rome; he would bring instant peace and an end to suffering. But Jesus’ answer to Peter seems rather harsh: "Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to Me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."

Nevertheless we can sympathize with Peter, who voices the human revulsion in the face of pain and suffering. So what are we to make of this rebuff? We need to recall that Matthew’s Gospel was written well after the death and resurrection of Jesus — some 40-50 years after, and Matthew lays out the early Church’s faith in Jesus crucified and triumphant.

The problem of receiving this message is reflected in Peter’s all too human and very sympathetic response. So Matthew has Jesus press home His point. Jesus makes this very clear as He must because when facing an extreme difficulty we tend to look for an easy way out.

As human beings we must learn how to think in God’s way. That’s what St. Paul tells us in the second reading as he asks the Romans and us not to seek to conform to all the wants and ways of this world but to seek instead to be transformed so that we seek God’s will for us. Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

What is God’s will? From Jesus back to Jeremiah and forward to all the great saints we learn that in God’s will is our peace. We see this truth in the prayer of the great St. Augustine that "our hearts are restless until they rest in God." If we want this rest, this heavenly peace, then we must be working to prepare ourselves for it with Jesus’ help. This means taking up our crosses to follow Jesus. The way to heaven is through the cross.

The cross for us includes turning away from sin and turning toward God; turning away from our urges to gossip, lie, steal, curse or use God’s name in vain; turning away from impure desires, actions and lifestyles; turning away from unnatural lifestyles; turning our temptations into a prayer for the person we are tempted against if that is the object of our temptation; asking God’s help to heal us of our evil desires.

We can’t do it alone. That’s why God gave us the sacraments, especially Confession — to confess our sins and receive God’s forgiveness through the absolution of the priest; that’s why we receive Holy Communion so the Lord can dwell in our hearts and help us from within.

God desires deeply to save us, but He’s not going to do it without our cooperation. Salvation is not automatic. It is a gift from God, and we need to prepare to accept that gift. God is not going to force us. May we all work and pray and gladly bear our crosses until we rest in God.

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

Syndicate content