Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings




Exodus 17:8-13; Psalm 121;

2 Timothy 3:14-42; Luke 18:1-8

OUR GOOD NEWS: We ought to pray diligently, with firm confidence in God.

Today’s first reading describes Israel’s early life-or-death struggle with neighboring Amalekites, brutally aggressive enemies of God’s people. The story centers on God, for He rather than Joshua or Moses defeated them. After Joshua gathered an army for self-defense, Moses took his stand on a nearby hill, a preferred place for a divine encounter, as God’s official representative ("the staff of God," his badge of office).
Moses’ gesture of "upraised hands" should not be interpreted merely as a prayer of intercession by a human mediator, or as psychological support urging the Israelite soldiers to victory. His hands raised throughout the battle pointed away from the human to the divine realm, publicly acknowledging the direct intervention of God, who personally fought to deliver His people.

Thus, contrary to appearances, it was not the soldiers’ bravery or Moses’ influence but God who delivered. "Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other." Moses’ inability even to maintain his posture unassisted further emphasized human frailty in comparison to divine power.

Luke’s colorful story (in the Gospel) generates misunderstanding, as though by incessantly pestering God our prayers will always be answered. Look again at the opening sentence: Jesus told his disciples "a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary." Jesus didn’t commit God to serve as our fairy godmother, but only insisted on perseverance in the face of seemingly hopeless situations.

The parable concludes with the judge’s favorable decision, nevertheless not yet acted upon, and so the widow remained unaware of his change of heart. The point of Jesus’ teaching is that, even when lacking encouraging signs, we must continue unflagging in our petitions. God will answer our prayers, but in His own way and time. This story teaches the eventual triumph of God’s kingdom, however impossible it may seem.

We ought not pray in expectation of immediate success but to reconcile ourselves to God’s loving but mysterious will.

Sunday Scripture Readings



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

1 John 2:1-5; Luke 24:35-48

OUR GOOD NEWS: The risen Lord, who fulfilled Old Testament promises, challenges and empowers our deeper faith commitment.

"Peter said to the people..." Careful reading uncovers two "layers" in Peter's early proclamation of the Easter Good News (first reading). Today's passage is important, first, for discovering how the faith was presented to Jews in the earliest days. In having Peter begin with reference to "... the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers," Luke was careful to put Jesus in His original context as a Jew.

By identifying Jesus as the Lord's "servant," He is acclaimed as last and greatest in a long line of Old Testament figures beginning with Abraham. In particular, Jesus fulfilled Isaiah's mysterious Suffering Servant, who combined unswerving fidelity and obedience toward God with extreme suffering and rejection from his own people.

The Messiah, whom Jews rejected, God fully vindicated ("glorified") as ideal Israelite, authentic "Holy and Just One." Paradoxically, these nominal believers forced the hand of Gentile authorities by preferring a "murderer" (Barabbas), killing their "leader (author) to life," a second Moses commissioned to complete the people's liberation and intimacy with God. Jesus succeeded where Moses ultimately failed.

In addition to preserving the flavor of primitive Christology, Luke anachronistically inserted his own (later) themes into Peter's address. Pro-Gentile sympathies minimized Pilate's guilt (he was "ready to release him") for what in fact could only have been Roman execution by crucifixion. Luke typically went further, having Peter address his Jewish audience with a title ("my brothers") reserved for fellow Christians. Their ignorance of the fuller picture explained why God offered a second chance to turn from sinful resistance and toward Him in humble obedience. Also specifically Lucan are emphasis on fulfillment of Scripture and the apostles' role as official "witness" to the Good News they proclaimed. Peter is a model for us in our preaching and catechizing, combining new and old while challenging with gentleness. This sensitivity to alienated sinners encourages repentance and faith commitment.

This empowering challenge is reflected in today's psalm. In time of need we cry out for deliverance by a God who is "just" - who vindicates our right rather than condemns us, who upholds our just cause. Present confidence is grounded in His having regularly done so in the past, although we can make no claim upon His help - asking "pity" rather than our due. The psalmist then proclaims to others, including oppressors, God's providential concern for the person careful to live out a special covenant relationship with God and others - meaning of "faithful one." Toward such, the sovereign Lord turns His face, offering "the light of His countenance" - favor and love resulting in personal presence and attention. But witness to divine care includes challenge: Those longing for blessing must dispose themselves through God-fearing lives. For us, each day's difficulties are made bearable because of a profound "security" flowing from God's constant divine presence.

Sunday Scripture Readings

thirty-first sunday

in ordinary time,

november 4

Wisdom 11:22, 12:1; Psalm 145;

2 Thessalonians 1:11, 2:1, Luke 19:1-10

OUR GOOD NEWS:Jesus uses his "secret weapon" for converting hardened sinners.

Zacchaeus headed a group of toll collectors in the lucrative Jericho area, a major customs collection center for goods entering Palestine from the east. For this reason, and because his type didn't scruple to charge whatever they could get away with, he was "a wealthy man." Zacchaeus would have been hated and shunned by fellow Jews as one who profited by exploiting his own people on behalf of pagan oppressors. A redundant expression focuses our attention on his name, ironic but also prophetic: "by name he called Zacchaeus ('righteous one')."

Unexplained is the reason why "he tried to see Jesus, which one he was" in the crowd. Was it idle curiosity, or because of Jesus' reputation as friend to disreputable Jews like himself? Unconcerned with maintaining dignity, perhaps wishing to remain hidden from view, Zacchaeus chose an oak-like tree with thick evergreen leaves, which was easy to climb. Through prophetic clairvoyance Jesus spotted and recognized by name this notorious sinner and immediately changed his own plans. He who had only been "passing through was suddenly obligated ("must") to "stay the night." The Savior had some saving to do, and the time was ripe ("this day"). Zacchaeus did exactly as commanded: "Hurry down!" - "and he hurried down."

Instantly the repentant toll collector responded with spontaneous, relieved joy, while a low muttering of complaint rippled through the crowd of God-fearing bystanders. They were scandalized at Jesus' unconditional acceptance of a godless sinner. This sort must be brought to their senses by public condemnation and ostracism, whereas Jesus' insistence on becoming his house guest implied his approval of the host's lifestyle. Jesus successfully employed his secret weapon for converting sinners. No scolding, no recitation of rules henceforth to be obeyed, no insistence on penitential acts, including restitution, as preconditions for forgiveness. Jesus offered only straightforward love and a sincere desire for friendship.

But wanting to "see" Jesus and letting oneself be loved by him can cost a pretty penny. Formally and in the presence of witnesses Zacchaeus showed the immediate effects of a change of heart (repentance). He who had willingly traded fellowship with God and respect of fellow Jews for money (and lots of it) now promptly gave it all away. Fifty percent of the gross to the poor! "And wherever I have defrauded I hereby commit myself to 400 percent restitution." Both arrangements exceeded contemporary Rabbinic norms, which recommended 20 percent for charity, and restitution plus 20 percent for money illegally acquired. All this came freely, spontaneously, effortlessly. Salvation was easily worth the cost! Relieved of his sinful burden and restored to friendship with God, Zacchaeus "welcomed him joyfully" to a memorable celebration.

Sunday Scripture Readings



1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34;

Ephesians 4:30-5:2; John 6:41-51

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Federal Highway Act. This law, signed by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956, established our nation’s commitment to the modern interstate highway system.

How easily we can take for granted the roads that make our travel so much easier. But that does not stop most of us from getting weary on those long trips across the country. That is why most states have established rest areas at strategic points on most of our highways.

Some are but simple places to pull over and rest, but others can provide food, fuel and even travel aids.

As we journey through life we too need rest areas, especially when we experience the burdens that inevitably occur. Such was the case with the prophet Elijah in the first reading. He felt that his service to God was a failure, so much so that he rushed into the desert to die.

But just when he was about to fall into a desperate sleep, the Lord provided for him food and drink not once, but twice. And even more Elijah learned the valuable lesson that God’s work must continue.

Energized by this simple meal, the prophet was able to walk 40 days and nights. The symbolism of this number reminds us of the journey of God’s people through the desert where they too had to periodically stop and be fed, not only with food, but also by the hard lessons that God needed to share.

In a similar way, the Gospel passage begins with the "murmuring" of Jesus’ opponents. As he had with their ancestors in the wilderness, God had to respond to their hunger and doubting with food from heaven, that is, the manna. As so often in the Gospels, they object to Jesus because all they can observe is this son of Joseph and can affirm only his human origins. Still Jesus dared to claim that he is the "bread that came down from heaven." In this context Jesus is not so much referring to himself in the Eucharist, as he will later in the passage, but as the very Word of God who teaches.

As the Father will draw us to Jesus so Jesus gives life. This is what he means when our Lord quotes the prophets saying: "They shall all be taught by God."

Listening to God as he teaches us leads to faith. Yet faith is not merely an exercise in intellect, nor is it some secret knowledge for a privileged few. In Christ God invites all of us to learn what we need to know empowering us then to act.

In the Old Testament, the teaching of God was experienced most in the Torah, consisting of the first five books of the Bible. Jewish mystical tradition held that the Torah first existed in heaven and that Moses ascended there to bring it down to earth to teach the people. This becomes the real food that would sustain them for which the manna was but a symbol.

But now Jesus boldly claims that he is "the living bread that came down from heaven," whose teaching will provide the eternal life the Exodus generation could only hope for. And yet what ultimately counts are not only words but deeds.

Thus in the second reading, from Ephesians, there are two unique challenges given to the Christian community. First we should not "grieve the Holy Spirit."

How can we make the Holy Spirit grieve? The Spirit suffers when we, who claim to be sealed in that Spirit, fail to live as we were taught. Hence the passage lists those negative elements of "bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling" ... "along with malice" that must change.

Our lives in community must be then be marked by mutual kindness, compassion, and the very forgiveness that God has shown in Christ.

This leads to the second challenge, that is, to "be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love." All of us, but especially children, imitate what they see. And what do we see in Christ?

Jesus teaches us in that he "loved us and handed himself over for us." Thus in the Gospel Jesus will move the discussion about being the "bread of life" even further as this bread becomes his very flesh. In doing so his example models not just what we should imitate but even more what we literally become: the body of Christ.

Just as we can travel the highways of our country, we often get weary. Sometimes we may even begin murmuring at God, and, like the prophet, may want to say "Enough!" Those rest areas become a necessity both for our safety as well as others on the road. In a sense, going to Mass is like that going to a rest area.
After an often-busy week filled with the stresses of life we need to take time out for God to renew us.

One of the greatest benefits of the liturgical renewal that came about because of Vatican II was the re-emphasis on Sacred Scripture as both proclaimed and preached. In the eucharistic celebration we pause to be fed not only at the table of the altar but also at the table of the Word.

Thus we need to appreciate anew how the Liturgy of the Word is integral to our worship. Here Jesus is the one who speaks to us, teaches us and as is truly the living Word offering us everlasting life. Now that is something worth stopping for.

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

Sunday Scripture readings


February 13

Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7;

Psalm 51; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

The first-grade religion class was putting on a play about the devil tempting our first parents.

The boy and girl playing the part of Adam and Eve did fairly well, but when it came time for the devil’s part, the little fellow became shy and speechless. Little "Eve" waited and waited until finally she blurted out: "Well, come on. Tempt me."

The first reading on this first Sunday of Lent describes the temptation and fall of mankind in the original sin and how in Adam, humans turned their backs on God — an action which is repeated each time we sin seriously.

In the second reading, Paul tells us that just as all people share in the sin of Adam, the redemption won by Jesus is greater. As sin came about through one man, so also grace comes about through the power of the God-man, Jesus Christ, the Second Adam.

As we hear about the temptations Jesus had in the Gospel, we can ask, how do these refer to us? We may never be tempted to command stones to turn into bread as long as we can buy food at the grocery store. Yet we are often tempted to "a quick fix" or an easy way to gratify all of our desires for pleasure at any cost — such as stealing to satisfy our desire for wealth, or the use of abortion or artificial birth control to satisfy our pleasure for sex.

We most likely will never be tempted to jump off a church tower or tall building without a parachute to gain fame and popularity. But we are tempted in our own ways to be famous for something and perhaps get our name in the "Guinness Book of Records." We have a strong desire to be popular and well-known.

We most likely will never be tempted to accept the ownership of all the kingdoms and nations of the world with their misery, mayhem, mismanagement and strife that would do us no good. But many of us are tempted to want positions of power, and in an election campaign we are not beyond smearing the name of our opponent or lying to win. So the details of today’s Gospel are meant as symbols of the so-called "quick fix" or easy way to our goals.

Lent, from an old English word meaning springtime, is not meant to be a quick fix of our spiritual condition but rather the beginning of the long haul that comprises our following of Jesus day by day, all the while carrying our cross just as Jesus carried His.

As the plants of nature come back to life, the days get longer and the temperatures become warmer, we are exhorted to throw off sin and evil in our lives and open our hearts to Jesus so He can cultivate the seed of His life within our hearts and bring it to bloom. But Jesus’ route to this new life of resurrection is the Way of the Cross, the painful path of rejection, suffering and dying for a people who would not accept the truth that God so loved the world that He sent His own Son to save it.

Today’s Psalm 51 is a prayer indicating our guilt for our sins and begging forgiveness. But it also seeks something more, that God will wash away the evil in our lives and make us a new creation: "A pure heart create for me, O God, put a steadfast spirit within me," as Michael Goonan says in his book, "Praying the Sunday Psalms." The season of Lent, according to Goonan, is an ideal time to seek the forgiveness of the Lord and those we have wronged. Washed clean in the waters of forgiveness, particularly in the Sacrament of Confession, we will be ready to celebrate with great joy Christ’s resurrection at Easter. But we don’t need to ask for temptation as did the "actor" in the first reading.

It will come to us whether we want it or not. But what we need to do is to ask God’s forgiveness for our sins daily.

Prayer for the week: Father, through our observance of Lent, help us to understand the meaning of your Son’s death and resurrection and teach us to reflect on it in our lives. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen. (From "Living God’s Word" by David Knight.)

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

Sunday Scripture Readings




Proverbs 9:1-6; Psalm 34;

Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

OUR GOOD NEWS: Come! Let us eat and drink at the Lord’s table and live forever!

Among the four Gospels, only John’s fails to mention Eucharistic institution at the Last Supper. Today’s selection, the fourth of five excerpts from the Bread of Life Discourse read on successive Sundays, more than compensates for this lack.

"I myself am the living bread come down from heaven." Until this point in John 6, "bread" functioned as a metaphor for Jesus, divine Wisdom/ Torah/ guidance, "living" (life-giving) because it is utterly essential for authentic existence. "Come down from heaven" refers to the incarnation and grounds Jesus’ credentials in His divine origins. Without the Son becoming a human being there is neither sacrament nor salvation. To eat of this bread results in profound at-oneness with the divine Son become man. Reference to the future ("I will give") points to Jesus’ sacrificial death, His "flesh"-self offered once on Calvary and shared at every Eucharistic celebration.

We cannot truly live, Jesus insisted, unless we eat His flesh. Plain sense can’t be ignored: His "flesh" is "real food" and we must "feed" on it — a rather crude Greek verb meaning to "munch" or "gnaw." Equally shocking, we must "drink" the "real drink" that is His "blood" to be raised up on the Last day." Jewish law prohibited as abomination consumption of blood (Gn 9:4; Lv 17:10-16). "The Father who causes others to live sent me, and He has caused me to live." "Eternal life" means every dream come true, complete and lasting happiness satisfying our deepest longings.

John the Evangelist’s audiences misunderstood Jesus, but their stumbling block resulted from willful, sinful refusal to accept life from Him rather than someone else — in their case, the great Moses. "Belief" means commitment, getting involved, but Jesus’ audience was content with "bread" already possessed, the Mosaic Law. Their ancestors ate this "heavenly bread" but "died nonetheless." Jesus is as essential for our resurrected existence as food and drink for earthly life. We desperately desire to possess and be possessed, to embrace and be embraced, in a union far more profound even than marriage and parenthood.

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