Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings


fourteenth sunday


in ordinary time,


july 8


Isaiah 66: 10-14; Psalm 66;


Galatians 6:14-18; Luke 10:1-12, 17-20

OUR GOOD NEWS: The story of ancient Israel is the story of God and of us, his people.

Our first reading is best appreciated through its historical background. During the centuries of Israelite monarchy, politics and religion overlapped and intertwined. God himself owned the whole land; he ruled as sovereign Lord, while the human king served as administrative deputy. A unique covenant arrangement bound the nation to God so that secular prosperity depended upon religious fidelity. But because the people preferred other gods and irresponsible behavior, a Babylonian army conquered Judah, destroyed the capital city Jerusalem and carried off her leading citizens into exile. Having abandoned God, Israel was necessarily abandoned by him; she only got what she richly deserved.

God however prefers love and forgiveness rather than strict, impersonal justice. Retributive justice - giving others their due - cannot be his final word. Through prophets, God proclaimed restoration and rebirth. Sure enough, the brutal Babylonian empire fell to Cyrus the Persian. Exiles gradually returned and Jerusalem slowly came back to life. For those who had mourned their beloved holy city, this was a time to "rejoice, be glad, exult, exult!" Jerusalem had again become a nurturing mother to her children who would drink greedily and with great delight at her milk-laden breasts. Isaiah then quoted God's solemn promise to spread peace and prosperity over the whole land, like a river overflowing its banks to cover an entire valley. Instead of a wearisome journey marked by loneliness and want, returning exiles would be mothered by Mother Jerusalem - nursed, carried in her arms, lovingly fondled.

Unexpectedly and dramatically, the metaphor of Jerusalem-as-mother shifts. God himself becomes the "mother" who "comforts her son!" For the first time, the Bible dared to speak of God as like a woman. Israel lived like an island within a larger pagan world, where goddesses (and priestesses) encouraged blasphemous concepts of the divinity and sexual excess among worshippers. All the more powerful, therefore, this image of God "as a mother," which reveals a side of his being - passionately loving, gentle, nurturing, comforting.

What does this story mean for us? Like a tender, caring mother, Isaiah's God is a welcome balance to the "masculine" characteristics we often ascribe. Second, the purpose of God's coming into our lives isn't to hassle us or impose unrealistic demands but to bring the joy and peace of the Messianic age in which we are privileged to live. The Church has become our new Jerusalem, mediating blessings of salvation, bringing fullness of life to a despairing humankind.

Sunday Scripture Readings Sunday Scripture Readings

SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME,

FEBRUARY 19

Isaiah 43:18-19, 21-22, 24b-25; Psalm 41;

2 Corinthians 1:18-22;

Mark 2:1-12

The author of this section of the Book of Isaiah first reading is traditionally referred to as Second Isaiah. We believe he lived during the Babylonian captivity, the period after the fall of Jerusalem when most of Judah’s intelligentsia lived in the suburban center of Nippur.

Jerusalem was but a faint memory for most of the Judahites living there. Life was hard so far away from home. Nevertheless, this prophet knew something was about to happen. The Neo-Babylonian Empire was on its last legs.Persia, under the leadership of the charismatic Cyrus, was knocking at the door.

Second Isaiah sensed that the end of the captivity was near and this could only mean one thing. God had finally absolved them of their sins.The chance to return to Jerusalem, once no more than a dim hope, now seemed possible.

Through the prophet, God counsels the people not to dwell on the past.Let it go.Don’t obsess over it anymore.Now God is about to do something refreshing and restorative.A new dawn comes.He will reform His people.He will lead them on a second Exodus through the wilderness and wastelands back to Judah, back to Jerusalem.

Why can He do this? Because He has forgiven their offenses.All their failings are now forgotten and a new beginning is in store.By allowing them to go back to Jerusalem, God demonstrates His mercy and benevolence.In return He expects faithfulness and praise from His fully "renewed" people.

The Gospel reading from Mark builds on this theme of forgiveness but in a way that may seem odd to us.What does being a paralytic have to do with sin?Certainly he cannot be faulted for the way he was born or the accident he may have suffered.

In the world of ancient Israel and Judea the effects of sin were viewed differently. People at that time believed that any ailment or deformity was caused by iniquity.Misfortunes happened because God was angry with them and withdrew His heavenly protection that sustained life.Such divine abandonment subsequently allowed all sorts of illnesses to occur which accelerated the inevitable passage to death.

People during this period also believed that, if left unenforced, the punishment for sin could be inherited and passed from one generation to another. This view attempted to explain those occasions when a particularly sinful person could live a full and complete life without any perceived form of divine castigation.Since this did not seem quite right, they developed the following rationale: While an offender may have escaped punishment for his sins during his lifetime, it would be his children or his children’s children who would finally feel the effects of the parent’s misdeeds and suffer the consequences of God’s correction.
It could well be that Mark’s paralytic may have been a descendant of such a person. Yet we cannot know whether this is certain.

All of this means that for Jesus, the Son of God, to forgive the paralytic of his sins, He had to heal his paralysis too. This was the only way His audience in Capernaum would recognize divine forgiveness. For to forgive sin was to also cure disease.Today, of course, we know differently. Illness or incapacity has nothing to do with the effects of sin.We also recognize that we are individually responsible before God for every one of our offenses.

This week let us take time to review an occasion when we were not able to readily forgive someone for an offense against us. It need not be a recent incident. In fact such an assessment may require us to revisit an old grudge. In doing so it may even bring up some old, unresolved feelings.

Let us face our grudges, for the time has come to fully and completely let any resentment go.Say a rosary and set it all aside.Forgive others as God forgave the Jews in Babylon. Forgive others as Jesus, His Son, forgave the paralytic. Forgive others in the same way we know that God has forgiven us by sending His Son to die for our sins.
Kitz is an associate professor of Scripture at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary and a member of Cure of Ars Parish in Shrewsbury. Her e-mail address is kitz@kenrick.edu.

Sunday Scripture Readings

EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY

IN ORDINARY TIME,

AUGUST 1

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2:21-23;

Psalm 90:3-4, 5, 6, 12-13, 14, 17;

Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11; Luke 12:13-21

OUR GOOD NEWS: What really matters in life.

The anonymous author of today’s first reading, a revered teacher, shares his conclusion about life’s meaning and purpose. But caution! His words may be dangerous to your spiritual expectations! Qoheleth offers strong but healthy medicine with a message especially relevant in our times. The author expressed a ruthlessly honest pessimism about prospects for finding true happiness in this life. He deftly destroyed smug, pat answers, including that of the religiously pious-phony. "Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!"

"Vanity" means emptiness and hot air, and summed up his healthy realism. Riches simply do not bring lasting satisfaction; total dedication to work, "laboring with wisdom and knowledge and skill," results only in ultimate frustration. All the worse when one’s hard-earned property will be squandered by a playboy heir. And what really gets to us is thinking about the troubles associated with wealth and authority, while sleeplessly tossing and turning in bed. "All his days sorrow and grief are his occupation; even at night his mind is not at rest."

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus turned an interruption into opportunity for warning against a fundamental sin opposed to proper discipleship. The petitioner expected Jesus to settle a dispute as an expert in Mosaic law, like other Jewish teachers. Jesus’ term of address — "man," not "friend" — established an aloof distance. He denied possessing authorization both as "judge" between litigants and as "arbiter" to divide their property. He came not as judge in His own right but the means by which God shows how He judges. Reapportioning an inheritance more equitably didn’t address the root problem, for Jesus was not interested in making people law-abiding but in making them good. By His extraordinary behavior, Jesus teaches us that repentance begins with me rather than the other person.

Paul (second reading) began with the fundamental principle of Christian life, symbolized by the ritual of Baptism through immersion. Going down into the waters of death, we have "died" only to "have been raised up," resurrected into new life through life-giving waters. Each Christian duplicates the downward-upward movement of Jesus Christ, dying and then rising "with" Him.

This marvelous gift is also a call, for we must become what we now already are. "Things of the earth" cease to be ultimates; what matters now are the "things above." Buried and risen with Christ, we are called to bring heaven to earth, avoiding destructive behavior and building a Christian community free of prejudice while respecting differences. "There is no Greek (Gentile) or Jew here, foreigner or freeman. Rather, Christ is everything in all of you."

All today’s readings summon us to sober reflection on the evil ramifications of greed: not worth the effort because we can’t take it with us (first reading and Gospel); corrupting our proper relationship to God and opportunity for infidelity leading to loss of salvation (psalm and Gospel); destructive and brutalizing to the human spirit (second reading); a foolish way leading to total and eternal loss (Gospel).

Sunday Scripture Readings


FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT,


MARCH 9


Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm 25;


1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15

OUR GOOD NEWS: God, eager to forgive and forget, invites our Lenten recommitment as his Son's disciples.

What is the purpose of Lent? However important, Lent is not primarily about "repentance" in the sense of fasting, prayer and mortification, but "repentance" in the sense of conversion - change of values, ideals and ambitions. More simply, Lent is time to prepare ourselves for the climactic act of recommitment. Lent focuses on one particular act during Holy Saturday liturgy, our annual solemn renewal of baptismal vows. The whole of Lent is for our getting ready for this crucially important gesture.

Today's psalm is an exquisite penitential prayer that sets a healthy rather than morbid tone for the Lenten observance. We pray as individuals, humbly acknowledging human insufficiency and our radical dependence upon God. Only His will matters; but He must "teach - guide, make known - the ways and paths," the total lifestyle He commands. We need content (information), but especially empowerment (grace) to live as God wants.

Lent is the season for begging God to "remember" and to "forget," each time for our advantage. God's forgiving acceptance and fidelity in sticking to His generous promises are "from of old," unchangeable and reliable (like the rainbow of the first reading.) Our plea for pardon rests exclusively on God's loving nature rather than on human merits. The gathered community enthusiastically shares what it has experienced. God is not only "good" but "upright" - fair and evenhanded toward all creatures but particularly toward us "sinners" who desperately need empowering guidance to repent and return. Such humble persons He instructs in "justice," the way things ought to be, the lifestyle befitting God's people.

"Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth, to those who keep your covenant." This responsorial verse summarizes the entire psalm and can serve as our Lenten motto. On the one hand, all dealings of the Lord with his people are characterized by loyalty to his covenant promises ("love, truth"). But freewill gifts must be accepted - uncooperative children can't attend or enjoy the circus. Without doing our part, living as God wills, all attempts to bless become frustrated. The penitent speaking in this psalm exemplifies a healthy Lenten spirit, realistic humility coexisting with personal dignity and self-respect. A lonely person who still senses God's friendship, his or her personal piety grows through a dialectic of contrite sorrow that opens ever-new vistas revealing God's boundless fidelity and goodness.

We have God's solemn word, ratified ("signed") with His rainbow, never to give us what our sins deserve. God's word to Noah, and Jesus' death, prove He intends all suffering ultimately to serve loving purposes rather than for punishment.

Sunday Scripture Readings

The king's refusal was only pretend piety; for he preferred to depend upon himself and his quite inadequate resources.

A sign nevertheless would be given, a seemingly ordinary occurrence since children are born daily. But the birth of this child will be different. In a culture where name determined destiny, "Immanuel" signified what he would accomplish - "God is with us." Having done his part, the Lord leaves the rest to humans. Depending on our response, accepting or rejecting this sign, the divine presence comes with blessing or condemnation. We too block the Messiah's coming into our lives by refusing to trust God, presuming that we could do better, more concerned for our welfare than he is. Isaiah invites us to look for hidden signs of God's love in ordinary, everyday events.

Today's Gospel explains how Jesus was both virginally conceived and born as a son (descendant) of King David. It focuses on Joseph, himself a "son of David" through whom Jesus was inserted into the Davidic royal line. Joseph's righteousness included loyalty and kindness. The just person is merciful, as God is merciful. Trials are opportunities for growth in grace, not signs of divine displeasure! "Have no fear! It is by the Holy Spirit that she has conceived this child."

Let us imitate Joseph, whose goodness made Christmas possible.

Sunday Scripture Readings

SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER,

MAY 21

Acts 10: 25-26, 34-35, 44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 4:7-10;

John 15:9-17

A parish mothers’ discussion club had turned to the topic of relationships with their children.

Among the members was a mother of eight. Someone asked her: "How do you divide your love among so many children?" Without a moment’s hesitation she responded, "You don’t divide. You multiply!"

Today’s liturgy expresses the deepest theological mystery, which can easily be passed over because it is expressed so simply in so few words. The expression, "God is love," can be reflected on all the days of one’s life and its full meaning never even approached.

Most of us believe in God, but just what is this love which is the very essence of God? According to Peter Kreeft in his book, "The God Who Loves You" (published by Ignatius Press), the Greeks had four different words for love.

"Eros" is the lowest form of love. It means desire. "The clearest case of eros is sexual desire. But an artist’s love of beauty is also eros. The artist’s love is a need, a desire. It comes from the appetites. It is not a choice. We undergo it rather than freely create it. It’s like a wave that washes over it."

A second Greek word for love is "storge," which means affection. "Affection is a spontaneous feeling of fondness for someone or something. It can be an emotional attachment for someone or something that develops over time. It might be triggered by seeing an old friend or finding a prized keepsake."

A third Greek word for love is "philia," meaning friendship. This is free choice rather than animal or feelings. Philadelphia comes from philia. It means the city of brotherly love.

There was another Greek word for love — "agape" — meaning love in general. Kreeft writes that when the radically new reality that was Christ the God-man and his love came into the world, Christians needed a new word for this new kind of love. So agape means much more than eros, or storge or even philia.

Agape means the shatteringly new and unmistakable kind of love seen in Christ and Christians. Agape means a free chioice that need not be reciprocated. Jesus loved his enemies, even his crucifiers, and prayed to his Father to forgive them. Agape goes out to everybody in particular, to our actual, concrete "neighbor," one person at a time.

Agape is more than a desire or feeling. Feelings come to us. Agape comes from us. Feelings are passive and receptive. agape is active and creative. Feelings are instinctive while agape is chosen. We are not responsible for our feelings because we cannot help how we feel. But we are responsible for our agape or lack of it because our choice to love comes not from wind, weather, digestion, good vibrations, heredity or environment, but from our own heart, the center of our being.

Feelings cannot be commanded. But God commands us to love. Jesus had many different feelings for many different people: Peter, John, Mary Magdalen, his mother, Judas, Pilate and the Pharisees. But Jesus loved them all.

In the second reading, St. John says that God is love. And in today’s Gospel, Jesus says that "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. ... This I command you: Love one another."

In the first reading, St. Peter, after baptizing Cornelius, the first non-Jew, says that God’s love is for everyone. God shows no partiality. The man of any nation who fears God and acts uprightly is acceptable to him."

We do not have to wait until someone wants to kill us because of our faith and love of Jesus to show our love for others. The Holy Spirit is the power of love that exists between God the Father and Jesus, his Son. That power is ours for the asking. God is love. We are made in his image. So we must have his kind of love, a love that multiplies, not divides.

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

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