Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings


pentecost, may 19


Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104;


1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23

OUR GOOD NEWS: Free at last!

For Luke, the Holy Spirit's coming into the life of Jesus' first followers (Pen-tecost) ranks with the Son's coming into human history (Christmas). Indeed, only through the Spirit's continuing presence and power in the Church can we understand the meaning of Jesus' birth, public ministry and death. Luke didn't intend his account of the first Pentecost to be an objective description. He preferred tableau-like interpretation, carefully staged and artistically arranged scenes revealing implications of the event for the Church in subsequent ages.

According to the first reading, without Jesus' presence the disciples were, literally and symbolically, "locked up." Into this situation the Lord "comes." His word, repeated for emphasis, is "peace." More than cessation of strife or inner calmness of spirit, his gift of peace announces success following struggle, victory snatched from defeat. Proclamation is accompanied by gesture offered in proof. The Lord's body, formerly mangled by vicious enemies, is now risen into glory. Truly occasion for us to rejoice!

After bringing reassurance and reconciliation, Jesus confers the Spirit, the vehicle of his abiding presence in the Church, rather than a poor substitute during his absence. Instead of religious experience to be savored privately, this gift unlocked doors and sent newly emboldened disciples out as agents of reconciliation rather than condemnation. "Forgiveness of sins" means more than release from guilt. The Church brings liberation from all evils that burden and enslave men and women, young and old, in every time and place and culture. Humanity's deepest desire is to live fully and happily in intimacy with God and our fellow creatures. Now we no longer remain frustrated, without hope. Jesus' messengers offer the way out, but those rejecting his unique opportunity thereby allow themselves to be definitively "bound" under evil's power.

Today's feast marks the world's hope. We Christians - everyone of us - are empowered and obliged to proclaim good news of the Spirit's power to free humankind from everything that degrades and enslaves. The Church's constant mission is to save the world, not condemn it!

The story of the first Pentecost is followed in Acts by other "comings of the Holy Spirit" - upon pagans before being baptized by Peter, after Paul's baptism of Ephesian converts. Indeed, the Church's story includes a series of Pentecosts, with people in every time and place similarly empowered to preach by word and example Good News about Jesus.

Sunday Scripture Readings

FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY,

JANUARY 7

Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72;

Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12

Who were these "magi from the east" — also called "the Wise Men." To their contemporaries they were crackpots who were not playing with a full deck. But the Wise Men were searchers.

They were willing to abandon routine, to set out on what seemed a madcap search, following a star. People are searching today for answers to life’s mysteries.If this is God’s world, people ask, why does he permit so much injustice and suffering? Is death simply the end? Or is there life beyond death?

Sometimes it seems there is no end to life’s questions, problems and mysteries. When we are tempted to fear that there are no real answers to our questions, the Wise Men can help us. Like us, they were searchers.
But they were more. They were discoverers.

They continued their search despite all discouragements. In the end they were rewarded. They found the one they were looking for. When the Wise Men finally arrived at the end of their journey, "they were overjoyed."

The one whom they encountered as a baby would speak about this joy three decades later. He would tell of the shepherd’s joy at finding his lost sheep; of the woman’s joy at finding her lost coin; the joy of the dealer in precious stones finding in the bazaar one day a pearl so flawless that it made all he had seen up to then seem cheap baubles by comparison; the joy of the day laborer at discovering in his employer’s field an unsuspected treasure that would change his life.

For all these people the joy of discovery was purchased at the price of lengthy searching. Even the laborer accidentally finding the treasure buried in the field he was plowing had behind him years of grinding toil. The Wise Men’s joy was purchased at the price of perseverance in the face of much discouragement and the scorn of those who thought them mad.

Our own search for answers to life’s mysteries is — whether we know it or not — a search for the one the Wise Men found. We think the search is all ours. In reality, God is already searching for us. The one who led the Wise Men by a star leads us onward by the powerful attraction of his love, shining in the face of his Son, Jesus Christ.

For us, as for the Wise Men at the end of their search, great joy awaits: the overwhelming joy of knowing that we have been found by the one who, all along, was searching for us, though we never realized it at the time. The Wise Men’s search, and their joy in discovering the one they sought, encourages us. But the Wise Men were not only searchers and discoverers — they were worshippers.

Matthew tells us that in the joy of discovery, "they prostrated themselves and did him homage. They opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh" — the most precious things they possessed. The end of the search, then, is neither the discovery nor the joy. When at last you have found the one who all along has been searching for you, everything is transformed. The only fitting response is worship.

To worship means to forget ourselves. It means entrusting ourselves to the one who is greater than our greatest thought and higher than our most lofty imagining and yet who is present in the humblest and smallest and weakest of his creatures, as he was present in the infant at Bethlehem. Worship is the highest form of prayer there is.

The Wise Men are our fellow travelers on life’s pilgrimage. Wise is everyone who is willing to break with routine to search for answers to life’s mysteries, who refuses to admit that life is meaningless but continues to search for answers and meaning despite all discouragements. Yes, wise are all those who persevere in this search until it ends in joy — and joy gives way to worship.

The Wise Men are ourselves, in God’s plan and according to God’s will. One thing alone can prevent the accomplishment of God’s plan for our lives: our own deliberate and final "no."

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

THIRTEENTH SUNDAY

OF ORDINARY TIME,

JUNE 26

2 Kings 4:8-11, 14-16; Psalm 89; Romans 6:3-4, 8-11;

Matthew10:37-42

The front door of Murphy’s house was badly warped, causing the door to jam now and then. To pry it open the family kept a hatchet handy. One day the door bell rang. Mr. Murphy himself peeked out through the curtains then shouted in a voice that could be heard through three doors: "Quick, Timmy. It’s the pastor. Get the hatchet."

While it’s true that when the pastor gives the sermon, the people in church are a captive audience; yet today’s first and third reading speak about receiving a "holy man." A holy man in the Bible does not signal a man’s mystical experiences with God but simply refers to those who bring God’s word to others, namely preachers. Of course, Christians have a right to expect that the minister of God’s word is trained in explaining the Scripture so that he will not just air his own opinions but will declare God’s word as it is in Scripture.

On the other hand, those who hear the preacher also have a responsibility. They should be aware that they should not look for an eloquent speech but a clear and honest explanation of the Bible. Neither should the people in the seats expect the preacher always to be the "nice guy" who is always trying to please everyone. The preacher has a serious duty to apply the Biblical message to the lives of those who are listening to him.

The first reading tells how about 800 years before Christ, a woman made welcome Elisha, a prophet who succeeded Elijah. And as a reward God sent her a son. Later verses tell how this son died and was brought back to life by Elisha.

The Gospel tells how Jesus expects total dedication by His apostles and successors to their calling. And, secondly, it tells how the Lord Jesus expects His messengers to be accepted by the people.

In the second reading, St. Paul says that in baptism each of us died to sin and was reborn in Christ. For St. Paul, baptism is not just a mere symbol, but a triumph of faith by which the Christian is expected to live free from sin and live a life of faith which he or she receives from parents and those who preach God’s word.

So, we are to welcome those who preach God’s word to us whether we like what they preach or not. And Jesus says, "Anyone who receives a prophet or a ‘holy man’ will be rewarded." The main message the prophet or preacher is to give sounds rather contradictory: The way to Christ is by suffering and self-denial. It is by losing our life so that we find it. In other words, giving our lives totally to Christ in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. This teaching is contrary to all the world’s values but it goes right to the very heart of Christ’s message. Our relationships with others must be that of giving and not always taking.

Giving a word of forgiveness when someone hurts or offends you; giving a listening ear to someone who needs understanding; lending a helping hand, if possible, to someone carrying a heavy burden; accepting people with all their warts and faults as they are. What is expected of the individual person, God also expects of his people as a family, community and nation.

As we look forward to celebrating on July 4 our independence as a nation, it would be well for us to know and make our own the words inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty and speak them to Jesus: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the tempest-tossed, to Me." This is the kind of welcome Jesus expects of all His followers to extend to others. "Whatever you do to the least of My people, you do to Me."

(For related reading, see "The Holy Way," by Emeric Lawrence, OSB, Liturgical Press, and "The Sunday Readings," by Albert J. Nevins, MM, Our Sunday Visitor.)

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

SECOND SUNDAY IN

ORDINARY TIME

JANUARY 18

Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 96;

1 Corinthians 12:4-11; John 2:1-12

OUR GOOD NEWS: God invites us to his wedding banquet, celebrating our "marriage" to him through Jesus.

Since the time of the Old Testament prophet Hosea, marriage and the marriage feast served as the standard metaphor for Israel’s intimate covenant relationship with God. Although Israel as the virgin bride quickly became an adulteress through disobedience and infidelity, the Lord remained her faithful but abandoned husband. Today’s first reading transferred the realization of this marriage from the past to End Times. Only then would God’s kingdom of love and obedience be fully established on earth through a final outpouring of divine gracious power. Then, at last, the "Bridegroom will rejoice in his bride" at the everlasting Messianic marriage banquet.

At Cana (Gospel), Jesus proclaimed by a prophetic-symbolic gesture that this long-awaited wedding was at last taking place. What Jewish cult and ritual could never do was brought about through the divine "glory manifested" in Jesus. Only through Jesus is there admission to the Messianic banquet (salvation) that celebrates the perfect union of God and His people (redemption). "The wine (of Judaism) ran out; the good (Final-Age) wine has been kept until now."

Jesus’ "hour" — His Passion, death and exaltation through which God’s Kingdom was established — "had not yet come." The Cana miracle was, therefore, incomplete and only a foreshadowing, only the "beginning" of His signs. Nonetheless, the Final-Age community of the saved, the Church, was already being formed: "His disciples believed in Him."

When the Cana miracle is understood on its own terms and according to the author’s intention, the primary theme is Christ-centered. He presides over the Final-Age banquet which celebrates the full covenant intimacy of God with His people. Secondary themes must be interpreted within this framework. The story addresses Christian marriage insofar as this sacrament symbolizes the union of Christ and his Church. The Eucharist is relevant because, as a sacred banquet, it is the sacramental anticipation of the heavenly banquet. Mary mediates between old and new covenants, summoning "the ministers" (rather than "waiters") to a new ministry as disciples of her Son. She is the Mother of the Church insofar as her presence and service were essential to its formation.

In context of the first reading from Isaiah, today’s psalm epitomized God’s "marvelous deeds" in a new and intimate union, His "marriage" with His people. But this good news is not the only reason calling forth from us a radically "new song" of praise. All peoples, families of all nations, are now invited to join the Chosen People in "giving glory" to the Lord whose special goodness now extends worldwide. The psalm thus verbalizes the Church’s missionary proclamation, summoning the whole world to accept and to acclaim the Lord as their King. Thus, the second reading teaches that we are all called and empowered by the Spirit to serve others in special ways. The Church’s ministries, Paul insisted, are many and varied. Each of us has been given a charism (spiritual gift) empowering our service for the good of the community.

Sunday Scripture Readings


nineteenth sunday


in ordinary time,


August 11


1 Kings 19:9, 11-13; Psalm 85;


Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:22-33

OUR GOOD NEWS: God meets us in adversity; calls us to himself and safety.

Earlier, the prophet Elijah had fearlessly de-nounced Israel's king and queen for disobeying God, raised a widow's dead son, and on Mount Carmel called down fire and rain from heaven - all in the power of God's mighty prophet reverted to a weak human being, fleeing from royal agents seeking his execution. He returned to Mount Horeb (Sinai), where God had appeared to his people and given the Law through Moses, there to hand over his failed life into God's hands.

Instead of welcoming death, Elijah found himself a second Moses, privileged with a direct encounter with the Lord. Israel's God had come to his people in great battles and mighty acts, amid violent spasms of nature. Now the prophet learned something new: The Lord can be found in less spectacular events, such as a "tiny whispering sound" (literally, "sound of thin silence").

Like Moses, Elijah's face must be covered lest he die from directly viewing God. By this gesture of self-preservation he opted to live, persuaded to return to active service. The future for the Chosen People - and our future - lay in Elijah's hands; none other remained to mediate between Israel and her Lord. Lessons for us in today's story include: We can encounter God in humble as well as spectacular events; failure no less than success is our privileged opportunity for growth; finally, the elder Elijah serves as a model for Christian seniors.

Christianity's greatest scandal is the failure of Judaism as a whole to accept Jesus as Messiah. Jesus himself lived as an observant Jew, and the earliest Christians - Mary, the Twelve, the first disciples and later converts - were exclusively Jewish. These continued to keep the Mosaic Law and considered themselves Jews who accepted God's Messiah, not members of a new and rival religion.

Deeply moved, Paul (second reading) cried out in passionate grief: "How great is my sorrow, how endless the pain in my heart!" Notwithstanding all her privileges and Paul's strenuous apostolic labors, Israel rejected the Good News. Instead of yielding to frustration and resentment, Paul selflessly offered to trade his own election for "my own flesh and blood (kinsmen)," were that possible.

Judaism's uniqueness consists in being the Chosen People. God gave their ancestor Jacob the name "Israel" as a sign of Jacob's special role in the divine plan of salvation. Election means called apart, not for special treatment as pampered favorites but to mediate a universal blessing. Paul listed seven privileges, then concluded with Jesus, the greatest gift of all. Romans 11 insists that God has not rejected the Jews. Privileges once bestowed - whether on them or on us - are never taken back. Paul assuaged his sorrow with spontaneous praise ("blessing") of "God, who rules over all," inviting us to pray and set example for the Jews, like us uniquely blessed.

Sunday Scripture readings

FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, MAY 6

Acts 13:21-27; Psalm 145;

Revelation 21:1-5a; John 13:31-33a, 34-35

Walk down the aisle of any supermarket. Scan the ads on TV. One word recurs in ever fresh combination: "new."

If it isn’t a new look, it’s a new taste, a new feeling, a new formula. During political campaigns candidates promise us a new society, a new frontier, new ideas or at least a new approach.

How many of these promises are fulfilled? Is life a cheat? Is our longing for newness doomed to be forever frustrated? To these nagging questions our second reading returns a ringing and confident No. "The One who sat on the throne said to me, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’"

The Lord who makes all things new does this in many ways. Our second reading speaks about one when it says: "Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race.

He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God."

Deep in every heart there is a longing for a companion, a friend, a lover, who will accept and love us just as we are; who will support us in sorrow, share our joys, help us to rise above failure and injustice; who will be with us always.

When we were little children our parents probably did this for us. Few things are more devastating for a small child than to be suddenly separated from Mommy or Daddy. Across the span of 74 years I can still recall my feeling of panic when, on my first day at school, I found that my mother was gone. I realize now that she wanted to spare me a tearful farewell. At the time, however, I was crushed.

We have all had experiences like that. We carry those childhood hurts into adult life, still afraid that we shall be hurt again; that our efforts at friendship and love will be rebuffed; that we shall be let down, hurt, abandoned by someone we love and trust. When we are, the old wound is reopened and our fear of loneliness is reinforced.

To those oppressed by loneliness the Lord proclaims: "Behold, I make all things new." When no one else understands, there is One who does understand.

When everyone else seems to ignore us, to reject us, to condemn us, there is One who accepts us.

When I cannot find one other person to accept the love I long to give and receive, there is One who does accept, who loved me before I loved him, who loves me more than I can ever love him, who will go on loving me no matter what. His name is Jesus Christ.He is the One who makes all things new.

Jesus knew greater loneliness than we shall ever experience. Today’s Gospel reading opens with the departure of one of Jesus’ closest friends to betray him.

Immediately, however, Jesus speaks not of defeat but of victory: "Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him."

What gave Jesus that breathtaking ability to view betrayal as victory? It was his faith in a God who does indeed make all things new. God fulfilled that promise for his Son, however, not by delivering Jesus from death, but by raising him on the third day to a new life beyond death.

In his resurrection, Jesus experienced the fulfillment of the great promises of our second reading. On Easter, God wiped away all his Son’s tears. In his resurrection, Jesus was raised to a life in which there is "no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away."

For us, as for Jesus on the night of his betrayal, the complete fulfillment of those promises belongs to the future. As St. Paul says in our first reading: "It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God." God’s promise to make all things new means not preservation from hardships, but support amid hardships.

The Lord’s promise to make all things new is a glorious reality — but one that is both present and future. We live at the intersection of the "already" and the "not yet." Already God is with us, supporting us in so many ways: through his holy Word, through the sacraments, through our sisters and brothers. God’s promise of newness begins here and now.

Complete fulfillment of that promise belongs, however, to the "not yet." Only in a future life will God wipe away all tears from our eyes. Only beyond death shall we experience what Jesus experienced in his resurrection: "no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away."

Life is not a cheat. There is One who does make all things new. His name is Jesus Christ. He can make your life new. He will never do this, however, without your consent.

His assurance, "Behold, I make all things new," is certain. One thing alone is uncertain. Do you really want the new life that God is offering you, even now, through his Son Jesus Christ?

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

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