Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings

HOLY FAMILY, DECEMBER 26

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

Colossians 3:12-21;

Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

OUR GOOD NEWS: How we are called to Christian family life.

Like other Old Testament laws, the obligation to honor father and mother touches the entire community, prescribing concerned respect from children as well as adults.

Ben Sira (first reading) mainly addressed young persons still living at home. He reacted against his male-centered culture by insisting upon obedience and reverence for "mother" no less than "father." Such behavior is divinely mandated rather than mere social custom, inalienable right not given or withheld according to preference (the author didn’t limit our obligation to worthy or good parents).

Reflecting the practical nature of his advice, Ben Sira proposed two advantages accruing from honoring one’s parents. First, this can be our way of making up for childhood sins of insensitivity, thoughtlessness and disobedience — it’s how we can "atone for sins."

Second, setting an example for our children serves as a good investment toward one’s old age, an opportunity to "store up riches" of filial love which fulfill God’s promise of a "long life."

The second part of this reading is direct, up-to-date and painful if not guilt-inducing for many of us. Especially in the final years of frail health and advancing senility, parents deserve "consideration" and "kindness" as well as material support. We "grieve" them through callous uncaring, "revile" by concentrating on imperfections.

Ben Sira’s advice needs complementing by an equally biblical injunction to "leave father and mother" at marriage (Genesis 2:24). One’s spouse becomes first priority, children second. Parental respect avoids extremes of over-involvement that shortchanges one’s own family as well as selfish, shameful neglect.

Luke (Gospel) presented Mary and Joseph as pious Jews, carefully attentive to prescriptions of the Mosaic "law" (mentioned three times in the first two sentences). Unusually, Luke emphasized that Joseph as well as Mary underwent ritual purification. Nor did sacrificial legislation favor the rich, for their "two pigeons" were of equal value before God as expensive bullock or sheep. Contrary to normal practice, and like Hannah with her infant son Samuel (1Samuel 1), Mary dedicated Jesus permanently to God’s service instead of buying Him back.

The old man Simeon, paragon of Old Testament piety, proclaimed an end of an age that lived only on hope. Having faithfully watched for and greeted the promised bearer of Final-Age peace, salvation and "light for Gentiles" as well as for Israel, Simeon completed his life assignment as God’s servant and requested dismissal. "Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation."

Simeon further prophesied that Jesus, "set" as cornerstone of salvation for some, would become a stumbling block for those with evil "inmost thoughts." Mary’s "sword" is anguish at her Son’s eventual rejection and crucifixion as well as a personal call for her to lay aside merely maternal claims for committed discipleship. She is blest because she heard and kept God’s Word. (Luke 11:27-28).

EPIPHANY, JANUARY 2

Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72;

Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6;

Matthew 2:1-12

OUR GOOD NEWS: God’s "secret" is finally revealed — Jesus is the Light of salvation for us Gentiles as well as for Jews!

Darkness can be frightening and dangerous, when human activity stops and life threatened by vague, unseen dangers.

Without the sun’s light, all living beings would die and the world would be reduced to uninhabitable desert. "Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you! See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the Lord shines, and over you appears His glory."

Isaiah (first reading) had experienced worldwide darkness of hopelessness and despair, suddenly broken by a beam shining on Jerusalem. No ordinary solar brightness this, but reflection of God’s supernatural "glory," visible manifestation of His invisible majesty. The Lord comes as Israel’s — and our — "light," by His personal presence bringing deliverance from all that impedes fullness of life.

Isaiah then compared universal salvation to a vast pilgrimage making its way to Jerusalem from the four corners of the world, "proclaiming the praises of the Lord." Israelites lead the procession, returning home from foreign exile. Even babies in arms make the trip! All riches from land and sea will be transported on the backs of numberless camels, the 18-wheelers of the ancient Near East.

This immense wealth would be brought to honor God in worship. Moreover, Israel herself would be enriched by a grateful pagan world with "gold and frankincense" — its former glory restored, even enhanced.

Paul (second reading) reminds us of a child exploding with excitement because privy to a happy secret: "the mystery made known to me, but not made known to peoples in other generations." Christianity had burst into a cruel, hate-filled world with the greatest of good news. Now it can be told!

The same blessings of salvation formerly restricted to Jews has graciously been made available to the whole non-Jewish world. All along, God had a "secret plan" which centered on Christ Jesus, a unique point of entrance into the community of the saved open to all peoples.

God’s mystery works like this. Through Baptism, we become so intimately united with Jesus that His privilege as a Jew and member of God’s Chosen People is now shared with us Gentiles. The same promise of overwhelming divine love and blessing, repeatedly made to Israel through her prophets, now becomes our incomparable gift overcoming every barrier of race, color, age, sex, nationality or political allegiance. In Jesus, the promised Messiah-Savior, everything falls into place; now at last we comprehend God’s marvelously generous purpose.

Four prophecies from Isaiah and Psalm 72 were fulfilled in today’s Gospel story about (a) the arrival in Jerusalem of certain pagan wise men (Magi). These came (b) "from the east," proverbial source of wisdom and mystery, (c) bearing "gifts of gold and frankincense" and (d) "paying homage" to Judaism’s Messianic, End-Time King.

Sunday Scripture Readings


FOURTEENTH SUNDAY


IN ORDINARY TIME,


JULY 6



Ezekiel 2:2-5; Psalm 123;


2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6

OUR GOOD NEWS: We can ignore and reject God's prophets who summon us to repentance.

Paul insisted that apostolic service validates his ministry, not the "extraordinary revelations" to which he only reluctantly admitted. After discussing such mystical gifts, he acknowledged a constant affliction steadily draining his energy. In lieu of symptoms he described effects metaphorically, making a diagnosis impossible. The pain was like something pointed, like a stake, splinter or "thorn in the flesh."

Paul agreed with the New Testament as a whole, that sickness represents an evil intrusion into God's world that must be actively opposed rather than passively accepted. Modern health care was originally "invented" by Christians carrying on the crusade begun by Jesus against suffering. As with Jesus, God doesn't cause pain but permits it for loving though mysterious purposes. Thus, Paul didn't blame God for laying this cross upon him. It was like being buffeted, battered, "beaten" by an "agent (angel-messenger) of Satan," clever and resourceful leader of creation's revolt against its loving Creator. Praying for healing "three times" may suggest completion - "I prayed and prayed and prayed."

Opponents within the Corinthian community presumed that an authentic apostle would be vindicated by heavenly visitation and a miraculous healing. Instead, Paul discovered positive value in his pain. It stopped him getting above himself, brought him down to earth. The great apostle remained a frail, vulnerable, suffering mortal, effectively protected not from suffering but from delusions of grandeur.

God takes our hurts and turns them into occasions for personal growth in selfless love, and/or into redemptive acts enriching the lives of others. Suffering makes for patience, sensitivity and compassion; it compels sensible recording of priorities and elicits appreciation of life's blessings. It also uniquely touches others: suffering establishes credibility, breaks down barriers of suspicion, empowers repentant change of heart, more effectively than exhortation or correction.

Welcome news that God uses us in weakness and not just - or mainly - in the strength of our talents, connections or energies! History vindicates this revelation that "in weakness power reaches perfection."

Paul's conclusion addresses Ezekiel (first reading) and all who serve God without appreciation. Effectiveness follows not only in spite of but because one encounters personal inadequacy, discouragement, misunderstanding, hostility. Otherwise we preach our own gospel that cannot save.

This passage has direct application into our daily lives, however much we resist it. God permits rather than causes suffering. What can't be avoided can become a privileged opportunity for personal growth and serve as the most effective means of changing others, since we are more effective in weakness rather than in strength. Today's Gospel reminds us of the Christian call to prophecy, which includes sharing the fate of Jesus, who knew the pain of failure when trying to help those he cared about.

Sunday Scripture Readings


third sunday of easter,


April 14


Acts 2:22-28; Psalm 16;


1 Peter 1:17-21; Luke 24:13-35

OUR GOOD NEWS: The risen Lord remains present among us through prayer and Eucharist.

The focus of Peter's proclamation (first reading) was Jesus in his humanity: "a man singled out by God" whose miracles were performed by God, and whom God "raised to life again." This approach is a matter of emphasis on Jesus' humanity - so-called Low Christology - rather than denial of Jesus' divinity. The Son's divine nature gave him no unfair advantage, for Jesus' genuine humanity was undiluted by divine privilege. Everything he did glorified the Father rather than himself.

Astoundingly, although fully accredited as a "man of God" and his career a matter of public record, Jesus was nevertheless rejected and crucified by his own people, with cooperation from pagan Romans. But this appalling crime didn't herald the triumph of evil. Even in putting Jesus to death the people only carried out what God had already determined must take place, and indeed had foretold through his prophets! No other biblical text so forcibly emphasizes this paradox of divine predestination and human free will.

The second half of today's first reading illustrates from prophecy (see today's psalm text) that Jesus fulfills messianic expectation. With God as his "right-hand man" Jesus can only rejoice, confident of vindication. Although a mortal being, weak and frail, in contrast to the eternal, powerful God, the Messiah could not be allowed to languish in death. Through his life and especially through his death Jesus showed himself the kind of person who had to rise into fullness of life!

We follow Peter's lead in further applying today's psalm to Jesus. The speaker professes complete, ongoing dedication to and trust in God. Like Old Testament priests he was called to attend and minister before the Lord, having no other "portion" or inheritance (Dt 10:8-9). Totally obedient to the divine will, the psalmist rejoiced even through lonely, sleepless nights because of God's presence and support ("at right hand").

Rich rewards for confidence are further developed in the two final stanzas. Present pains of spirit and body cannot dampen our trust in God. Life-threatening disease or violence, even death itself, are at best temporary hindrances to "fullness of life and joy." Like Jesus, each of us accepts unavoidable suffering and death as the necessary first stages in the Paschal (Passover) mystery, leading to eternal happiness with the Father.

As always, the Bible, including the Old Testament, guides our prayerful reflection on life's experiences. It interprets the deeper meaning of events, particularly suffering and loss. In dealing with his Son, God reveals his strategy for us, too. Pain and problems should deepen rather than diminish our trust in him. Thus they prepare us to receive the incomparable gift of eternal life. "You show me the path to life, abounding joy in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever" (psalm).

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