Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings



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



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



Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 85;

2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8

OUR GOOD NEWS: We are all John the Baptist's successors, through word and example hastening Christ's return that will bring a new and perfect world.

The prophet (first reading) sketches an imaginative scene: God enthroned in his heavenly palace surrounded by lesser gods (angels). He commissions his courtiers with a task for Jerusalem, His Chosen People. These had proved unfaithful, forsaking the protection of God's covenanted love. Having lost everything they now languished in exile, slaves to pagan foreign masters and their alien gods. No matter! God returns good for our evil! Heavenly messengers should comfort rather than continue punishment. We can only console each other in loss, but God's "comfort" heals and restores. Human words fail to convince the despondent, but God's prophetic word can speak tenderly (persuasively).

In strict justice it simply wasn't true that Israel "had fulfilled her term of bondage (meted out by divine Judge), her penalty discharged, having received double measure for her sins." In fact, she only got what she richly deserved. Such exaggeration revealed a gentle, caring God eager to forgive, looking for excuses to bless rather than punish.

The scene shifts as God implements His "comforting" through this self-effacing prophet-herald. "Listen! Someone is calling out!" The One who centuries earlier led His people out of Egyptian slavery, across the terrible Sinai desert and into the Promised Land would now outdo Himself in a second and more astonishing exodus. Work gangs would be sent ahead, preparing the road to His majesty's comfort and convenience. For God's royal progress, whole "valleys" and even "mountains" would be leveled!

The third and final scene in Isaiah's imaginative prophecy would take place a thousand miles from Babylonia and the Israelite exiles. Judah's capital city Jerusalem, like a watchman from a hilltop perch, catches sight of her returning children and joyfully heralds "glad tidings" to the whole country: "Here is your God!" God's glory, His privileged self-revelation of might and power, would be manifested in His people on pilgrimage back into the Land of Promise. "He comes with power" - but also "like a shepherd": gentle, peaceful, caring and considerate of the weaker members in His retinue.

This great Advent reading reminds us that God's self-revelation to the whole world occurs not in spectacular inbreakings that awe the bystanders and disturb the natural order but through His all-too-frail Church. In our journey out of sin and into His saving Kingdom, we too witness to the greatest of God's mighty acts and the supreme expression of His saving love.

We hear elsewhere in Isaiah of human infidelity deserving only God's punishment. Instead, here we hear of the greatest of miracles, revealing to one another and to expectant unbelievers God's marvelously accepting love toward those undeserving of forgiveness and blessings.

Sunday Scripture Readings


Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18;

Psalm 116; Romans 8:31b-34; Mark 9:2-10

Most students do not like tests.

Whether they be final exams, doctoral defenses or pop quizzes, they require that the student is ready to prove that he or she has studied. Even more they often show the measure of how much one has learned.

The opening words of today’s first reading say it all: "God put Abraham to the test." In a sense this was not a prepared examination but more of an unexpected "pop quiz" in which God asked Abraham to do the unthinkable, offer his beloved son Isaac as a sacrifice.

This was as troubling a story for our ancestors in faith as it is for us. In the preceding chapters of Genesis, the story is told of how God was to fulfill the promise of a son for the elderly Abraham and Sarah. The birth of Isaac offered hope that the covenant God had established with Abraham was true and abiding.

What is truly remarkable is how readily Abraham was willing to act on the divine command, even though it made no sense.But Abraham proved he was a man of faith — he passed the test, and God spared Isaac.

And the measure of that faith would be realized in the divine assurance that he would be blessed abundantly with descendants "as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore ... and in your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing."

In a sense the familiar account of the Transfiguration, as recorded in Mark’s Gospel, is also a story of testing. Here Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a high mountain, and the apostles encounter Jesus as they never have before. Not just do Jesus’ very clothes become dazzling but he is seen speaking with none other than Moses and Elijah who represent the "law and the prophets."

In Mark’s version, Peter — ever the outspoken one — suggests that they pitch three tents for this distinguished trio. What in fact he really wants to do is bask in the moment, for such an experience should never end.

The cloud that overshadows them reflects the biblical notion of God’s presence. God speaks through the cloud and says those words that must echo in the heart of every Christian believer: "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him." Suddenly all they see is Jesus alone with them.

Before this remarkable experience on the mountain, the apostles had encountered Jesus in the ordinary, everyday experience of their lives. Now they had a glimpse of his glory — and his destiny. But God is not served by only remaining in the mystical moment of grace. In the end they saw "only" Jesus, the same Jesus they had known before.

But now the true test was to come: to go down from that mountain and face the journey to Jerusalem, and the cross. It would then be the opportunity to realize God’s promise in a way even Abraham could never have envisioned. As Paul writes (second reading): "He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?"

Lent is a time of testing. But our prayer, penance and charity should not merely be efforts to experience those peak moments of grace. What truly matters is that they lead us back to the mundane, routine, distracting and even messy aspects of life. In fact, they should serve as hopeful reminders that the divine is already present all around us, calling us to conversion. What is required is to have faith, like Abraham, to believe that God’s promise is real despite what seems to be the impossible.

This is what was ultimately accomplished on the cross by the beloved Son to whom we must listen.

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

Sunday Scripture Readings




Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; Psalm 68;

Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24; Luke 14:1, 7-14

OUR GOOD NEWS: We must stay humble to be exalted.

Ancient Near Eastern wisdom was pagan in origin, and practical rather than formally religious in content. To a large extent it consisted of shrewd advice for ambitious young gentlemen on how to get ahead, how to succeed in business and politics, and how to maintain their privileges as members of the upper class.

Sirach (also known as Ben Sira or Ecclesiasticus) is a later Old Testament book in the wisdom tradition, accepted as canonical by Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians, but not by Protestants. Its secular roots are reflected in today’s selection, which offers solid advice applicable to any aspiring salesperson or management trainee. Be unassuming in conduct, especially with inferiors. Always listen to advice from older superiors, and make their "proverbs" one’s own (e.g., "the customer is always right").

Ancient Israel showed commendable humility in its willingness to learn from pagan neighbors. But she reinterpreted everything in light of the special divine revelation with which the Chosen People had been blessed. Biblical wisdom puts "success philosophy" into a religious context; it is God, rather than the watchful office manager, who matters. Sirach, the teacher and wise man, wanted his students committed and God-fearing Jews, so he emphasized the practical virtues of everyday business and social life. Arrogance hurts sales and hinders advancement, but its religious implications are far more destructive. Such behavior reflects autonomy and self-sufficiency, whereas, in fact, we are quite dependent creatures owing life and talents to a loving God.

Sirach’s teaching included what his audience needed to hear but may have preferred to ignore. "The mind of a sage appreciates proverbs," he concluded. Very well; here’s one to ponder. "Water quenches a flaming fire, and alms atone for sins." Religion means more than prayer and churchgoing. Be practical! Get right with God through genuine and effective concern for His poor!"

We need to heed Sirach’s advice. He emphasized that humility and other virtues can have practical effects, not just obeying God and saving our souls. Genuine selflessness is normally appreciated. Proper moral living includes correct etiquette and politeness.

Jesus’ astute observation in today’s Gospel passage likewise calls for a radical reordering of our priorities, of the principles governing daily life, if we wish to enter His Kingdom. We must "turn" from militant insistence on our "rights," from preoccupation with whatever is to our advantage, from a "50-50" mentality that gives only to receive. Humility means being generous and selfless without the "hook" of selfishness, awaiting the reward for goodness that finally comes from God alone.

Today’s psalm poses practical challenges to our Christian self-understanding. The first and third readings emphasize that sharing with the needy is as important as churchgoing and prayer. We are called to identify with the poor in two ways: by imitating God’s special care for them (almsgiving), and by practicing humility. Moreover, is our personal and community prayer sufficiently praise-filled or excessively petitionary? How vigorous and joyful is our hymn singing?

Sunday Scripture Readings



Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51;

Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33

OUR GOOD NEWS: God makes us loving and faithful!

"The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant ..." (first reading). God's "covenant" resem-bles any contract - marriage, bill of sale - where both parties freely and solemnly bind themselves to stated terms. It differs in being one-sided: God does the giving, Israel only receives. In this contract, God offers special love and everything implied in it - the divine presence to protect and guide, resulting in genuine, lasting peace and prosperity. Like us, Israel had only to accept, to let herself be loved, responding with an answering love that includes essential expressions of fidelity such as trust, dependence and sensitivity toward her Divine Lover.

And yet this was precisely what the Chosen People could not do, nor are we much better. Universal human experience attests such illogical behavior. Sinful humankind resists getting involved. We are threatened by the offer of selfless love because it involves letting go, honestly admitting needs that can't be satisfied with one's own or any other created resources.

Today's prophecy addressed this ultimate obstacle to human salvation, proclaiming God's firm intention as well as ability finally to overcome our stubborn pride. This text functions as a pivotal passage in the complete Bible, not only binding together thematically but furnishing names for its two major divisions ("testament" is Latin for covenant). God's offer remains the same in both Jewish and Christian dispensations. But in Jesus Christ unique divine power comes to enable and support selfless love, offering us a gift that literally cannot be refused. However illogical and even contradictory, God promises to do what we wish we could do with our loved ones. He promises to make us thoroughly loving!

Jeremiah's analogous imagery remains tantalizingly vague, enticing with its indistinctness. God committed Himself to remake His covenant agreement by re-creating each individual member. He would give us an interior "law" replacing the law taught from Mount Sinai, an inner compulsion toward good not acquired by personal effort or practice of virtue through learning or experience. Thus empowered, the whole community becomes a lived paradox, "forced" to love when love by definition must be freely given. Such the grace offered through Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection!

This proclamation of a new covenant reveals God's "secret weapon" for saving us sinners. Instead of commanding what is humanly impossible, or resigning Himself to our ingrained infidelity or depriving us of freedom by forcing obedience, God "makes" us freely love through overpowering grace.

The second reading further specifies this secret weapon God uses for our salvation. The main statement about Jesus' earthly life concerns His uniquely powerful "prayers and (earnest) supplications." The New Testament's description of Jesus' terrible experience in Gethsemane Garden shocks our sensibilities. Only through "loud cries and tears" was Jesus heard by his Father, "because of his reverence" - healthy or "godly fear" that accepted the divine will rather than insisted on its own. In Gethsemane Garden Jesus prayed for deliverance from physical suffering and death - "let this chalice pass from Me." God answered His and our prayer, not with rescue from a premature death but with rescue from eternal death.

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