Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings


sixteenth sunday


in ordinary time,


July 21


Wisdom 12:13, 16-19; Psalm 86;


Romans 8:26-27; Matthew 13:24-43

OUR GOOD NEWS: The greatest of Good News - what God is really like.

"There is no god beside you who have the care of all, that you need show you have not unjustly condemned" (first reading). No superior power holds God accountable for his world governance. But instead of license to tyrannize, lack of accountability permits a characteristically unique brand of "justice." Precisely because possessing unchallenged might, God is neither threatened nor overreacts when creatures disobey. He's free to respond with a marvelously forgiving attitude, "judging with clemency and much lenience" rather than strictly "by the book." But God is no patsy. Those who have experienced his power as Creator, world Ruler and Redeemer, yet ignore his claims and react with "insolence" (temerity, effrontery), can expect painful confrontation.

Like Father, like sons. We his Chosen People, "chips off the old block," imitate God, who teaches by powerful example that "the just person must also be kind-hearted." Generally speaking, gentleness rather than severity leads others to repentance and reform of life. Today's Old Testament selection anticipates Jesus' command (Gospel) to forgive as we have been forgiven, returning loving concern rather than giving others what they deserve. In sum, God's omnipotence allows him to be marvelously "unjust," giving good things when we deserve punishment. This doesn't square with our characterization of a harsh and punitive God.

We find the same message in our Gospel. When first told, this story probably served as ammunition in Jesus' running controversy with the Pharisaic-minded. These were quick to separate the pious from ungodly on the basis of external observance, and faulted Jesus for associating with "sinners." But God alone knows who belongs where. Only he judges, and only at the end. Instead of lashing out with swift vengeance, God prefers to let things run their course, bringing good out of evil.

"The mustard seed is the smallest seed of all, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants." That appearances often deceive and humble beginnings belie eventual triumph, are the point of two inserted "kingdom parables." Mere specks of dust grow to sturdy plants 10 or more feet tall? A tiny piece of yeast secretly, silently leavening 40 to 45 pounds of flour - enough to stock a chain of supermarkets?

God is a "laid-back" judge who patiently awaits the triumph of good. Since we can't really know who are sinners and who are just persons in this life, Jesus commands a healthy non-judgmentality and warns the God-fearing against presumption. Matthew appended a reflection on the paradox of Jesus teaching through parables. Through willful human resistance what should enlighten becomes opaque. Matthew warns fellow Christians and us: Only those willing to be taught can understand. Finally, today's psalm agrees with the readings, emphasizing the Old Testament God's non-punitive response to sinners who approach him in repentance. "You judge with clemency, and with much lenience you govern us."

Sunday Scripture readings

SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER APRIL 15

Acts of the Apostles 5:12-16; Psalm 118;

Revelation 1:9-11a; 12-13; 17-19;

John 20:19-31

"Seeing is believing!"

That common expression seems to express the sentiments of an often-cynical world in which individuals can decide on their own what is true.

Yet we know that seeing does not always mean believing. The Christian response is the very opposite, that "believing is seeing." This is the hopeful and yet challenging message of the Scripture readings for this second Sunday of Easter.

The Gospel passage is well known and used every year on this Sunday. It begins in the evening of that first day of the week. That Easter happened on the "first" day can be an allusion to the first day of creation. Christ’s resurrection marks a new beginning for us all.

Yet here we see the apostles locked up in fear. The stories they had heard were unsettling. What had happened to the body of Jesus? What was going to happen to them?

Now Jesus himself stands in their midst. He can break through any locked door or heart. His message is "shalom," not only as a common greeting but as the new way of living he was now inaugurating for them and us. He showed them his wounds.

Even though they represented the effects of sin, his message is that of his victory through forgiveness. Then Jesus "breathes" his Spirit upon the apostles, who represent the Church, just as God breathed life into the first man and woman. This breath of the Spirit now empowers the Church, in the person of the apostles, to reconcile the world as he did.

But Thomas is not with them. Where was he? Perhaps he was too frightened to be with the other apostles. Or possibly he was trying to figure things out on his own.

And even when the rest testify that they have seen Jesus alive, he still cannot believe. In a sense Thomas could be from Missouri for his response to the apostles is "show me."

A week later Jesus is once again in their midst. Thomas now can see that Jesus is truly alive. The Gospel writer is stating that one can only see the risen Lord in the midst of the Church. Faith is never merely a private affair but always mediated through the community.

And while we might be tempted to judge Thomas harshly, if we are honest, he represents all of us who struggle with believing and seeing. Jesus does not condemn Thomas but invites him to probe his wounded hands and side. Thomas then utters that great exclamation of faith that is even more than the other apostles: "My Lord and my God."

Jesus takes this moment to praise the even greater faith of those who have "not seen and have believed." Thomas’s doubt reminds us of how difficult it is to put one’s trust in the word of others.

And yet while we may not have experienced the risen Lord as Thomas and the apostles did, our faith allows us to see him. In the passage from Acts the people saw the "signs and wonders" done by the apostles in the name of Jesus. And they believed the power of God as they brought their sick to Peter so that his very shadow might "fall on" them.

This is an allusion to both the Spirit overshadowing Mary at the Annunciation and the cloud that enveloped the apostles at the Transfiguration.

Believing in God’s power enables us to see him beyond the limits of our history and experience. Just as John in the Book of Revelation, we are called to see beyond the present to what shall be in the future — that is, Jesus who reveals himself as "the first and the last," once dead but alive forever, and "holding the keys to death."

We Catholics see the risen Christ uniquely in the sacraments. In these the Church guarantees that Jesus is present and active for us. This is especially true in the Sacrament of Reconciliation — a sacrament that has special meaning on this very Sunday — where Christ offers us merciful healing from our sins.

And it is most notably seen in the Eucharist in which we come into contact with the risen body of Jesus as true food and true drink.

Thus believing is seeing God working in ever-surprising ways. This is the radical message of Easter. Even as we may sometimes struggle as Thomas did, in the end our only response must be his: "My Lord and my God!"

Father Heier is pastor of All Saints Church in University City and director of the Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairsfor the St. Louis Archdiocese.

Sunday Scripture Readings

TWENTY-EIGHTH SUNDAY

IN ORDINARY TIME,

OCTOBER 9

Isaiah 25:6-10; Psalm 23;

Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20;

Matthew 22:1-14 or 1-10

A woman who went to confession absent-mindedly began reciting the table prayer instead of the ritual for confession.

The opening of confession goes: "Bless me Father for I have sinned " Instead the woman said: "Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts "

There was a chuckle from the priest behind the screen and he said, "If I’d known you were coming, I’d have baked a cake."

Today’s readings show the infinite generosity of God in sending us a wondrous invitation to the eternal banquet of salvation. This is not something we can pay for or merit. It awaits only our decision: "Yes, I’ll come." "No, I’m unavailable."

Throughout the Bible, God’s relationship with human beings is compared to a marriage covenant and the wedding banquet of the Messiah and His bride. In the Old Testament, God is the groom and His people the bride. In the New Testament Christ is the groom, His church is the bride.

Seven hundred years before Christ, the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, pictured such a banquet as we see in the first reading — food and gourmet wine. All are rejoicing, fear is banished and death is destroyed.
Salvation and joy are celebrated. It is the absolute end of sadness, sickness, suffering and death. All are invited and will be welcome if they are God’s friends.
The response psalm, the famous Good Shepherd psalm, echoes this: "You spread the table before me You anoint my head with oil my cup overflows."

Everyone is free to accept God’s invitation to this eternal banquet of heaven. If we accept, we must fulfill the necessary conditions, which include loving faithfulness to Christ, His Church and its teachings. The man in the Gospel banquet who did not have on a wedding garment had no excuse because the host supplied the garments at the door. The garment for the wedding banquet of heaven is grace — and God supplies grace to us if we renounce our sins and accept His gift.

Jesus urged people to decide for God’s kingdom. He wanted them to rush to become a part of it. Over and over Jesus said, "Don’t wait or you’ll be left out. Hurry. Decide."

If we accept the invitation and decide in favor of God’s kingdom, we begin to fulfill the conditions at the daily or weekly Eucharist and by our love of God and love of neighbor as ourselves, by forgiving one another or if we have hurt another, by accepting their forgiveness; we also need to use the powers God gave us according to His commandments, treating one another with justice and mercy.

This decision to accept God’s invitation is not done in a particular moment and is never a once-and-for-all event, but it is a lifelong process. In the second reading, St. Paul tells us that at this banquet, "God will supply your needs fully in a way worthy of His magnificent riches in Christ Jesus."

We need to give ourselves fully to God. The Mass is our best opportunity for doing that and acknowledging God’s lordship over our lives. Father Emetic Lawrence, OSB, in his book "The Holy Way," writes that the main point of today’s readings is that we see the Mass as God’s greatest gift to us. It is the greatest gift because it is Jesus Himself whom God gives.

According to Father Lawrence, the Mass tells us clearly that God is all loving and that each of us is worth loving, worth Jesus’ giving up His life and dying for us. The Mass, more than anything else, says Father Lawrence, tells us of our great worth in the eyes of God and of Jesus, God’s Son. Many people, however, tend to downgrade themselves and so have to be reminded often of God’s intense and infinitely loving concern for us.

Again, Father Lawrence writes that we go to the banquet of the Lord because the Lord invites us, because the Lord loves us, because we need to be assured of that divine love, and we need to be reminded of countless others who also are very much worth being loved by the Lord and by us.

Father Charles E. Miller, CM, in his book, "Sunday Preaching," tells us that a wedding banquet is celebrated only once, immediately after the wedding ceremony, but that our union with God is so important we celebrate it every time we go to Mass we should understand that in our search for love and happiness, we are searching for God."

As we celebrate the Eucharist, we need to rejoice and be glad that Jesus has saved us. And when we die, Jesus will lead us to live in the house of His Father "all the days of our lives," after being purified, if that is necessary. There the great wedding supper, the union of love with God in heaven, will last forever.

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT

MARCH 28

Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126;

Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11

OUR GOOD NEWS: Praise and gratitude to the "exodus" God for all He has done, is doing, and for His promises of bless-ings yet to come — all in Christ Jesus.

In the first reading, the poet-prophet Isaiah begins by recalling the most important single event in Israel’s entire Old Testament history: the miraculous deliverance from Pharaoh’s pursuing army at the Red Sea ... This incident is considered classic and normative throughout the Bible for two reasons.

It was regularly recalled as God’s most spectacular demonstration of His powerful love, and particularly at the moment when His people first placed their faith-trust in Him. The Israelites had successfully escaped from Egypt, only to cower helplessly before Pharaoh’s pursuing powerful army. God intervened to lure the entire force of chariots and horsemen into a path He had made through the Red (or Reed) Sea, then caused the waters to flow back and utterly destroy the enemy.

Amazingly, Isaiah calls to mind this greatest of divine acts on behalf of Israel to introduce a new oracle from God — who commands us to forget all about it! The audience to whom this prophecy was originally directed lived some 700 years after the exodus. Judah had been conquered by enemy troops and her leading people carried off into Babylonian exile. In the midst of despair and hopelessness caused by sinful alienation from God comes a command to hope. The people must no longer dwell nostalgically on the distant past but remember it only to ground their faith in God’s promise of "something new," which He was even now in process of doing.

God planned a second exodus out of slavery and into the promised land, an event even more marvelous than the first exodus under Moses. God will miraculously create a lush, well-watered swath across the desert, through which His people can pass comfortably. As a result, the Lord’s own people can once again carry out their appointed mission of declaring in hymns of worship God’s saving acts in their regard.

The Paschal (Christian "Passover") mystery lies at the heart of creation. Just as Jesus "passed over" to resurrected glory only through terrible suffering and death, the same pattern of newness through loss was the experience of Biblical Israel. This pattern of newness through loss characterizes the life of each Christian and is even discernible in nature — night-day, storm-calm, winter-spring, death-rebirth.

In the Christian context, this passage calls us out of the past into a glorious future, from preoccupation with our own limitations to focusing on God’s greatest-of-all acts of redemption.

We remember all God’s blessings in the past — those experienced individually and also as God’s Chosen People (the Biblical story) — not to dwell nostalgically on times gone by, but to motivate our praise and thanks for His even more marvelous gift of future, final salvation.

We look forward with joy to commemorating Jesus’ death and resurrection, by which we are made into new women and men, called to praise God our Savior.

Sunday Scripture Readings


thirty-third sunday


in ordinary time,


november 17


Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; Psalm 128;


1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; Matthew 25:14-30

OUR GOOD NEWS: Fidelity to duty and to our work involves daily effort and prudent risk-taking.

With insightful impartiality the authors of the Old Testament Book of Proverbs included both sexes in the two extremes, fools and gossips, wise and provident. The author's concluding description of the ideal woman is not, therefore, pro-feminist advocacy but model intended for men as well. "Lady Wisdom" traditionally personified the integrated human being in secular as well as religious dimensions, prized precisely because difficult to come by. Virtues here held up for reflection and emulation include maturity, competence and success, instead of our modern emphasis on "charm and beauty."

By energetically fulfilling her responsibilities with distinction, this ideal wife made of herself a marvelous treasure for her husband and blessing to many others. Such eminently practical life-style concretized her "fear (reverence and service) of the Lord." Love shown in "labors and works" surely deserves acknowledgment and imitation. Today's Gospel parable situates this description of life in the Final-Age. Wholehearted dedication to the responsibilities of Christian living now will earn the Lord's praise at Final Judgment.

Our first reading assures us that the ideal Old Testament woman is no empty-headed sex object but model held for imitation by both women and men. Faithful to daily duties, she cared for those entrusted to her with quiet efficiency. No repressed and degraded slave is she, but an Old Testament steward displaying a wide range of interests and talents which she obviously enjoyed employing. Her practical concern for the poor and needy stands alongside her skillful hard work of making cloth. Cheers for this very modern Israelite who enjoyed her role as hardworking achiever. "Give her a reward of her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates!"

Without a word of advice or instructions, the tycoon in Jesus' Gospel parable handed over surplus capital to subordinates and left town. A "talent" represented payment for 20 years' work. But the third employee found himself in an apparent bind. Least gifted of the trio (assignment of money had been made "according to each one's abilities"), his was the least amount of venture capital ($300,000). It wasn't fair! He decided to avoid risk-taking and show commendable caution with money not his own. After all, explicit orders were never given, and the master would hold him accountable for any loss. His "fear" however masked laziness and inexcusable timidity, earning him his master's rejection and condemnation.

In this parable, instead of advocating cutthroat business practices Jesus taught that there is no "safe" position in life. Christian living is strenuous business involving occasional bold but prudent risk-taking. God expects us to use our every talent for personal growth, community service and religious witness. Paradoxically, the reward for hard work is increased opportunity to serve. "Since you were dependable in a small matter I will put you in charge of larger affairs. Come share your master's joy!"

Sunday Scripture Readings

In 1873 a Belgian priest, born Joseph De Veuster, traveled to a Hawaiian island called Molokai to minister to the victims of the dreaded disease of leprosy.

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