Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings


twenty-fifth sunday


in ordinary time,


september 22


Isaiah 55:6-9; Psalm 145;


Philippians 1:20-24, 27; Matthew 20:1-16

OUR GOOD NEWS: We are puzzled but grateful that God is not "fair."

Today's parable surely ranks among the most puzzling and disturbing in the Gospels. Through it Jesus taught that God is not fair and doesn't play by the rules. He challenged the idea of our earning a higher place in the Kingdom through heroic moral living and selfless service of Church and neighbor. Warning! This parable can be dangerous to our religious convictions!

In Palestine, grapes ripen under the hot summer sun and must be gathered quickly before rains begin in late September. The "workmen" were no street-corner loungers but men who hired themselves out by the day to interested employers. Like poor peasants of all times and places, these lived on the edge of starvation, desperate for the day's wage to provide basic necessities for themselves and their families.

Increasing pressure to get in his harvest caused the landowner to augment his work force as the day wore on. Those showing up later in the "marketplace," an informal hiring hall, doubtless had been looking elsewhere. These waited out the workday rather than returning to a worried wife and hungry children, hoping against hope.

Jesus' story contrasts two groups: those hired at 6 a.m., working 12 hours in the blazing sun and brutal sirocco (desert wind); and others who labored only an hour in the cool of early evening. The denarius given was the acceptable going rate - a "full day's pay." Those hired early were content - until latecomers received the same. No fair! The mature response would be to share the good fortune of fellow laborers at this landowner's rare generosity. Their greedy reaction resembles children fighting over someone getting a bigger cookie, or employees resentful of lazy, inefficient associates drawing equal pay.

Originally, Jesus may have directed this parable to critics of his association with outcasts. Through him, God generously offered salvation to all Jews, not just pious observants. Later, when the story circulated orally in the early Church, the concluding sentence ("last shall be first") applied to Israel's rejection and pagan acceptance of Christian Good News about Jesus. For his part, Matthew placed the parable immediately following Peter's proud claim that Jesus' disciples had left everything to follow him. This evangelist thus made explicit another meaning of "last shall be first." There are no seniority privileges in the Church. Leaders and members of longstanding, careful observance must guard against presumption and unseemly familiarity. A gift must never be mistaken for what is owed, nor God held to our imperfect standards of distributive justice (what is deserved).

Genuine Christian holiness, Jesus teaches here, is revealed in a willingness to serve others to the neglect of personal advantage, even spiritual advantage. We contribute to Christ's cause in equal measure whether active or confined, in health or in sickness, disabled or aged. Today's first reading agrees: God's ultimate plan for the fulfillment of his creation is not always understandable or consonant with our ideas of what is right and fair.

Sunday Scripture Readings

THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT

DECEMBER 11

Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11;

Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54;

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

In the Old Testament the breath with which God speaks His word is so powerful it becomes the Spirit. The Spirit participates in creation (Genesis 1:2). It invigorates judges (Judges 6: 34; 11:29) and kings (1 Samuel 10:6; 16:13). It enlivens dead bones (Ezekiel 37:5-6). It inspires prophets (Isaiah 61:1; Ezekiel 11:5; 37:1).

The time in which Isaiah wrote was difficult. The Babylonian government had fallen to the Persians. The future was uncertain for the Judeans living there. After 70 years they longed for home, the familiarity of Jerusalem and the security of the temple. Above all, they longed for God whom they felt had abandoned them in a foreign country.Had He forsaken them in Nippur?No, says Isaiah. Set aside all anxiety, for the time of release has come. The Spirit is at work once again.

Isaiah’s Spirit is a Spirit of liberation, freedom and deliverance. It speaks words of assurance to the exiles in Babylon that God is about to act.He will renew and re-create the nation of Israel in a new Exodus. He will lead them back through the wilderness to Jerusalem.

There, this great and powerful God will re-establish a personal relationship with Judea.As in the days of David and Solomon, He will dwell among His people in his temple.Once again He will be with them, near them, among them.He will be open and available to them in ways that harken back to the Davidic kingdom.

John the Baptist (Gospel) experiences God in much the same way as Isaiah. He too is in the Spirit. He too is inspired.As one who is inspired he knows how to live his life according to God’s intended purpose. For being in the Spirit is living by the Spirit. For John this meant living in the wilderness, eating the fruit of locust trees and embracing his role as herald to the Messiah. It also meant that he baptize in anticipation of Christ’s coming. He knows that without it the people will not be ready for the radical new way God will be among them.God will no longer linger in a musty, dark temple obscured by the smoke of frankincense and dim oil lamps.He can no longer be contained in a mere building. Now He will be in His Son. Now He will move and live and eat and drink among His people in Jesus Christ. For in Christ also rests His Spirit.

Even though the people of Jerusalem are curious about John, they do not go out to meet him themselves.

Rather they send their religious elite, the priests, Levites and Pharisees. Clearly the people recognize that John is special, but in what way?Is he the Christ?Who knows?It is probably best to leave it to the experts to figure out.

This week let us imagine going out to John in the wilderness ourselves. The day may be hot, the road dusty and the throng restive but let us go anyway.How then will we react when he invites us to step forward to be baptized? Perhaps we will advert our eyes and step aside, uncomfortable with the thought. Maybe we are not truly prepared for the Christ. Have we been entirely generous? Have we worked to be as honest as possible? Are we genuinely content with our lot in life?

If we are deficient in any one of these areas, then they will only weigh us down. They will continue to distract us from the Christ. For not being generous, not being honest and not being content requires a lot of work, the wrong kind of work. Striving to set these obstacles aside will prepare us better for Christ’s coming and the indwelling of God’s Spirit in the temples of our bodies.Only then will we be renewed in the wilderness. Only then will we be truly (in Spiritu) and ready for the Christ.

Kitz is associate professor of Scripture at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in Shrewsbury.

Sunday Scripture Readings

SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER,

MAY 16

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

Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23; John 14:23-29

OUR GOOD NEWS: The Holy Spirit, working in the Church, brings us to intimate union with the Father through the Son.

Future verbs in the opening sentence of today’s Gospel — "My Father will love him; We will come to him and make our dwelling place with him always" — do not refer to heavenly life after death but to Christian existence here and now, after Jesus’ resurrection. This intimate faith-union between ourselves and God is no mystical experience limited to a few contemplatives but accessible to all with the right dispositions: "love" for Jesus expressed through careful obedience ("keeping My word"). St. Paul similarly wrote of life "in Christ"; and insisted that, as a result of baptism, our bodies replace the temple Holy of Holies as God’s own "dwelling place." "Heaven" comes to us in our ordinary, everyday living!

This intimate presence of Father and Son in each of us believers is not contradicted by Jesus’ promise of "the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in My name," for the other two Divine Persons remain inseparable from the Spirit. Not surprisingly, Jesus promised this "Helper" at the Last Supper, with His own suffering and death imminent. As His disciples, we share His adversary relation to "the world," the technical term for humankind in opposition to God. The Spirit builds upon rather than replaces Jesus’ earthly mission (to "teach and remind").

All the lasting effects of Jesus’ death and resurrection are summed up in His parting gift of "shalom." "Peace be with you," like the modern "have a nice day," normally serves as a polite but ineffective hello or goodbye. "The world gives peace" ineffectually by saying the words; Jesus gives peace — fullness of life and happiness — by making it happen. Like the disciples at the Last Supper about to witness Jesus’ own rejection and death, we too must anticipate difficulties and trials in our own lives. Like them, we are invited to "rejoice" in the loss of Jesus’ physical presence because only in going can He come and abide through His incomparable gift of the Spirit, mediator of the Divine Presence within us and enabler of perseverance in faithful obedience.

"The Father is greater than I" does not deny Jesus’ full divinity. It affirms the Son as the faithful "Other" who fully lives out and communicates the Father’s will rather than His own.

In sum, today’s Gospel shows how Christian living is grounded in paradox. First, Jesus is more intimately present now, in His Church, than He had been during earthly life. Second, we are called to profound joy and peace, while assured that suffering and every sort of diminishment characterizes authentic Christian living. Third, the Trinitarian Mystery lies at the heart of revelation. The Father can be encountered in His fullness only though the Son, and the Son is revealed only through the Spirit. The intimate bond of love joining the Trinity of persons into one Godhead is graciously opened up to include us!

Sunday Scripture Readings


HOLY FAMILY, DECEMBER 29


Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalm 128;


Colossians 3:12-21; Luke 2:22-40

OUR GOOD NEWS: We're called to holiness in everyday living.

"Happy are those who fear the Lord and walk in His ways." Today's psalm celebrating daily life reminds us that as God-fearing persons we should find fulfillment in the ordinary and everyday: in work, family and community. "For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork; happy shall you be, and favored." Putting in a day's work is our privilege as well as obligation. Biblical thought disagrees with a modern attitude that the good life is to be found exclusively in leisure. That is why Church teaching insists on everyone's right to meaningful employment.

"Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the recesses of your home; your children like olive plants around your table." "Vine" and "olive" are biblical symbols for the good life, wine delighting the heart and oil healing life's hurts. The psalmist thus invites us to personal and family self-examination. Is our home a place for genuine intimacy, the primary source of joy and refreshment for all members? By extension, our parish should be a home to people of every age and state in life, a center radiating God's blessings both to members and to the larger community.

More broadly understood, the opening line of today's psalm (also used as the responsorial verse) extends the range of application to embrace those living alone - the unmarried, widowed and divorced. "Those who fear the Lord" include all faithful members of local churches (parishes). These show reverence and awe toward God during private and liturgical prayer, but also through community involvement, serving and sharing with the needy. Such concern mediates God's blessing, because individual good fortune ultimately depends on community prosperity.

"The Lord sets a father in honor over his children, a mother's authority he confirms over her sons." The obligation to lifelong honoring of both parents is divinely mandated rather than merely social custom. Significantly, this inalienable right is independent of personal behavior. The psalmist doesn't limit our obligation to worthy or good parents - however different our "honoring" should be.

Sunday Scripture Readings

FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT (LAETARE),

MARCH 26

Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23; Psalm 137;

Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21

On this middle Sunday of the penitential season of Lent, the readings tell us to rejoice.

Why? This touching story from Msgr. Arthur Tonne’s book, "Five Minute Homilies On the Sunday Gospels," may give us the answer.

Msgr. Tonne writes that one of the best known poems in the English language is "The Hound of Heaven" by Francis Thompson, who tried to run away from God. Thompson compares God to a hound dog chasing a soul. It is really the story of Thompson’s own life.

As a boy, he wanted to become a priest, but his father enrolled him in medical school instead. He developed a drug habit that almost wrecked his mind and body. He became a beggar in the slums, earning a living by shining shoes, selling matches and holding horses.

Through the kindness of Mr. and Mrs. Wilfred Maynell, who recognized his talent and inner goodness, he was caught by God’s love. How he tried to run away from God’s love, how God "hunted" him, how divine love caught up with him are the themes of his poem "The Hound of Heaven."

While today’s first reading tells the story of Jerusalem’s destruction, it also talks of God’s power and loving mercy and how God raised up Jerusalem and gave it new life.

St. Paul was much more direct in the second reading: "God ... is rich in mercy." In his kindness and loving mercy, God gave us at our baptism a share in his own divine life that we call grace, and he adopted each of us as his own children capable of doing good deeds because Jesus is able to live right within our souls.

But the outstanding proof of God’s love for us is expressed by Jesus in the Gospel: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him might not perish but have eternal life."

All this is why we rejoice today. In some churches, the rose-colored vestments are a sign of this rejoicing. Further on, Jesus says: "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him." The "world" here means each of us and all who accept Jesus’ salvation.

Then Jesus speaks about light and darkness on a spiritual level. Light means the way to God the Father in heaven, the gift of salvation which Jesus offers us. Darkness means sin, everlasting death in hell.

Jesus says: " ... the light (meaning himself) came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their deeds were wicked." If we live and act in the light of Jesus, we will be saved because Jesus made atonement for our sins. He reconciled us to God through his sacrificial death on the cross.

Because sin is an offense against God, a divine being, no ordinary being could offer satisfaction to the Father for it. So it was necessary that a person who was both divine and human offer complete satisfaction. That divine person is Jesus who also has a human nature.

So Jesus says to us that the ways of the world form darkness. Don’t choose them. You may have to bear with it, but don’t choose it. "I am here to give you light and joy. I am here to lift the burden and to drive off the dark skies. I have infinite mercy on your sinful condition. Please give me a chance to help you. Choose me."

It is this message that gives us encouragement and joy today. And our celebration provides us with the opportunity to reach out and choose Jesus. In choosing Jesus we will be in his light and share his joy. Rejoice.

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY

IN ORDINARY TIME,

SEPTEMBER 12

Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14; Psalm 51;

1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32

OUR GOOD NEWS: God’s forgiveness is limitless.

Before today’s first selection, Israel had been richly showered with divine blessings. Liberated from degrading slavery in Egypt then miraculously led through a hostile desert to Mount Sinai, the Israelites there entered into a covenant relationship with God as intimate as marriage. Moses then ascended the mountain to received two tablets of the "testimony," specifying Israel’s expected response in this new relationship.

But the people below immediately committed an act of adulterous infidelity by giving their allegiance to fertility gods represented by a "molten calf." The Lord recognized that His people were "stiff-necked,"
incapable of the commitment He had offered them, and

He proposed an annulment. Divine punishment is not so much arbitrarily imposed as a ratification of sinful human rejection. Israel owed her very existence to God; by renouncing Him she chose destruction.

Amazingly, God asked Moses’ permission for the "divorce." In effect, God was allowing Himself to be talked out of it and even hinted at the strongest argument to use. At the same time, God tested Moses like a parent buying off a favorite child; He could replace Abraham as father of a new Chosen People. The primary task of Old Testament priests and prophets was to lead prayers of intercession on behalf of Israel.

The greatness of Moses, intercessor par excellence, is revealed in his willingness to represent the people rather than his own interests.

Moses selflessly bartered for them; instead of excusing or mitigating their sin, he appealed to the divine honor with four arguments. Israel is "your own people," not Moses’ (as God implied in the opening verse). Second, the "great power and mighty hand" exerted in liberation from Egypt would be wasted. More importantly, by destroying those He had delivered, God would bring shame and mockery upon Himself from the Egyptians.

The final and most telling argument picks up on God’s hint, His promise to "make (of Moses) a great nation. Using this very language, God swore in an oath to the forefathers, promising numerous descendants and a land of their own. Israel’s God is nothing if not faithful to His word!

As a result, "God repented" (changed His mind or purpose). Rather than vacillation and weakness, this gives profound insight into God’s nature as loving and caring. God is a dynamic, living person (instead of mechanical, impersonal being) who lovingly, sensitively responds to human needs and situations. Merciful and gracious, in the Old Testament He withheld deserved punishment for any of three reasons: intercession by a mediator (here), repentance of the people (see Jonah 3:9-10) and his own compassionate nature (Judges 2:18; 2 Samuel 24:16).

This reading assures us that God is faithful in spite of our infidelity. No matter how serious our sins, He always wills to forgive. The story also challenges us that changing our minds can be virtuous!

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