Sunday Scriptures — OT A 15, Jul. 16, 2017

I’m back to work after neglecting the blog for a while.

 

 

This past Sunday’s readings include the first of the “Parables of the Kingdom” in chapter 13 of the gospel of Matthew. This parable, like the next few, has an agricultural theme, and the first reading uses related imagery. These images are used to tell us of God’s word.

 

The first reading — Isaiah 55:10:11 — uses the metaphor of rain to illustrate the action of the word of God, which will accomplish God’s will. We can think of God’s word at creation: when God says, in Genesis, let something be or happen, it is created or happens. When the prophet announces God’s word, we can be sure that God will cause his will to be done. We also should think of the opening of the gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,. … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1, 14) Jesus, the Word of God, accomplished the purpose for which the Father sent him into the world — the salvation of the world, the establishment of the Kingdom of God.

 

The responsorial psalm — verses of Psalm 65 with a refrain based on the gospel — has us reflect on the action of rain as described by Isaiah in the light of the bountiful harvest which good soil produces.

 

The second reading — Romans 8:18-23 — is part of a series of selections from Romans continuing over several Sundays. It tells us of fallen creation’s need for the redemption brought by Jesus. We share in that need. Of course, by the time Paul wrote, Jesus had done the work of redemption, but it was not, and still is not, brought to complete fruition in people or the other elements of creation. There will be a new heaven and a new earth, the Book of Revelation assures us, in which all creation will be raised from its fallen state along with human beings. This will happen when Jesus returns at the end of time.

 

The gospel — Matthew 13:1-23 — gives the parable of the sower and the seed. Then there is a discussion of the reason for Jesus’ use of parables, followed by an interpretation of the parable. The seed is the word of the Kingdom, the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. In Isaiah, we heard that God’s word accomplishes his purpose. Here we learn that God accomplishes his purpose through us, as seed needs soil. Some people can fail to further God’s purpose. We are not passive. We can refuse the grace which would enable us to further the kingdom, or we can accept the word and provide a “multiplier effect” for the word sown in us and thus be instruments for the accomplishment of God’s will.

If we haven’t rejected the word, it is important that we not lose sight of its centrality to our existence. We mustn’t let created things draw us away from doing God’s will for us, because it is in doing God’s will that we give the witness to our faith which can draw others toward God’s Kingdom and help to make them good soil.

The basic thought in the explanation of why Jesus speaks in parables is that some people refuse to listen to the word of God. It is their choice to be hard, unreceptive ground. For them, no presentation of God’s word will matter, but for those who are open to God’s word, the parables bring a better understanding than a dry, theological treatise.

 

When we believe the word of God and conform our lives to the teachings of scripture, we become fruitful in accomplishing God’s purpose of establishing his kingdom among us.

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Sunday Scriptures — Sixth Sunday of Easter A, May 21, 2017

As Eastertide enters its last two weeks, the readings turn our attention toward the Holy Spirit.

The first reading — Acts 8:5-8, 14-17 — tells of the reception of the gospel in Samaria. Philip was one of the seven who were appointed to “wait on tables” to insure equity in the daily distribution, as we heard in last week’s first reading. In chapters 6 and 7 we hear of Stephen’s works, preaching, trial, and martyrdom. Now another deacon is preaching the gospel. Despite the reason behind their selection for ministry (with an installation which has marks of ordination), they cannot refrain from proclaiming the gospel.

Stephen’s activity was in Jerusalem, but Philip goes to Samaria. Up to this point, we have only heard of the Church in Jerusalem — the work and preaching of the Apostles there and the opposition from the Sanhedrin, culminating with the martyrdom of Stephen. Philip is the first to proclaim the gospel outside Jewish territory. The Church had to verify that this extension of the faith into foreign territory was authentic.

The apostles’ prayer brings the Holy Spirit manifestly upon the Samaritans. Although Baptism brings the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which Jesus promises, there was with Jesus and the early Church an empowering anointing by the Holy Spirit which believers received. We can see this as corresponding to Confirmation.

The responsorial psalm — verses of Psalm 66 — speaks generally of our joy in the goodness of the Lord. Our joy is based on the Resurrection of Jesus, with all it means. The response, extending the call for joy to all the earth, can remind us of the extension of the gospel beyond Judea.
In the second reading — 1 Peter 3:15-18 — there is a “stream of consciousness” which calls us to good conduct of various sorts and concludes with a reminder of Jesus’ saving work. This connects with the theme of the Holy Spirit in two ways. There is an explicit reference to the Spirit’s place in Jesus’ resurrected life. Beyond that, it is the Holy Spirit who empowers us to sanctify Christ, to give respectful explanations of our faith, and to keep our consciences clear by avoiding evil conduct and doing good.
The gospel — John 14:15-21— like last Sunday’s is an excerpt from Jesus’ discourse at the Last Supper. He is looking forward to the time after his ascension. He promises the sending of the Holy Spirit, here called Advocate and Spirit of truth. This promise was first fulfilled at Pentecost, again at Samaria and on other occasions recounted in Acts, and the Holy Spirit continues to be given to believers, to dwell in us.

Jesus then promises that his ascension will not leave us orphans: he will come to us. He will return at the end of time to gather those who love him to himself. It seems there is more to this promise than simply that. We will see him when the world no longer sees him. We see him in the sacrament of his Body and Blood. We see him in another way in the least of his brethren.

Next, Jesus tells us that he is in the Father and in us, and we are in him. Elsewhere he has told us the Father is also in him (John 14:10). Implicitly, then when we are in Jesus, we are also in the Father and the Father is in us — and as Jesus had just said, the Holy Spirit is in us. This reciprocal indwelling of the faithful and the Trinity is the form which our baptismal adoption takes. We participate in the life of God, which is eternal life.

An Italian Salesian daily missal I got many years ago draws this point out in a way that explains why Jesus’ command at 15:12 is not “Love your neighbor,” but “Love one another as I have loved you.” The love which exists among the followers of Jesus is of a higher order that that which can exist with non-believers, since it is a share in the internal love of the Persons of the Trinity. Nevertheless, we are also called to love all our fellow humans. It seems to me that this love is analogous to God’s love. The love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was so great that it “had to” express itself in the creation of a loved universe, including humans with whom the love could be reciprocally shared. God loves all people and wants them to be saved, and the divine love in us must also overflow into to love for all and a desire for them to be saved. This love should motivate us as it motivated Philip’s preaching in Samaria. We should not neglect opportunities to explain the reason for our hope; and our lives — keeping Jesus’ commandments — should reflect God’s goodness.

Sunday Scriptures — Fifth Sunday of Easter A, May 14, 2017

The past three Sundays have given us readings from Acts and 1 Peter. Two of the gospels have been from John and one from Luke. The pattern continues, with some changes of scene.
In past weeks, we’ve been hearing from Peter’s speech to the crowd on Pentecost as recounted in Acts 2. This Sunday’s first reading — Acts 6:1-7 — takes us forward to the situation in which the first deacons were appointed to ensure fairness in “the daily distribution.” In the gospel we will hear Jesus tell us that he is the image of the Father. Here, the deacons become the image of Jesus, who came to serve, not to be served. This passage is an example for us. We too should be images of Jesus, and thus of the Father, by our service to others through performance of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. We should also note that it is a well ordered community that enables attracts others to the faith and experiences growth.
The responsorial psalm — verses of Psalm 33, with v. 22 as the refrain — calls us to trust in God, foreshadowing Jesus’ exhortation to the disciples to have faith in him.
In the second reading — 1 Peter 2:4-9 — we have a metaphor of stones. Christ is a living stone, and we too are to be living stones built into a “spiritual house,” the Church, with Jesus as the foundation. As parts of the Church, we are not inert. Being living stones, we are to be a priesthood, offering sacrifices to God. Of course the most important sacrifice is the one in which we join with the Church as the Church unites with Jesus in offering the sacrifice of Calvary. Beyond that, through Christ we can offer our personal sacrifices to the Father by enduring sufferings and obeying God’s will as we understand it.
The gospel — John 14:1-12 — presents a scene at the Last Supper. First, Jesus promises that he will prepare a place for the disciples (and us) in his Father’s house and he will take us there. He tells Thomas that he is the only way to the Father, the truth, and the (eternal) life. He assures Philip that his identification with the Father is so close that to see him is the same as seeing the Father.

Although Jesus is the sole way to the Father, we are told in Matthew 25:31-46 that explicit faith in him is not required. Works of mercy toward his least brothers are sufficient.

The Father is in Jesus and Jesus in the Father, so that he is the image of the Father. In the same way, the parable of the vine and the branches, John 15:1-10, tells that Jesus is in us and we are in Jesus, which makes us images of him and, by extension, of the Father, which is what imposes on us the duty of loving one another and letting our love overflow in service to our neighbors.

Sunday Scriptures — Fourth Sunday of Easter A, May 7, 2017

As I wrote last year, “In all three years of the lectionary cycle, the Fourth Sunday of Easter is “Good Shepherd Sunday.” The opening prayer of the Mass (the same all three years) prays that the flock may follow where the shepherd has led, namely, to heaven. Each year’s gospel is taken from chapter 10 of the Gospel of John, in which Jesus calls himself both the gate of the sheepfold and the good shepherd.: Year A, verses 1-10; Year B, 11-18; and Year C, 27-30. The first two readings do not directly relate to the theme of the sheep and the shepherd. The title of Good Shepherd was popular with early Christians. Images of the shepherd with the sheep on his shoulders (Luke 15:5) were common as depictions of Jesus, and the logo for the current Jubilee Year of Mercy develops the image, substituting a human for the sheep.”

 

The first reading — Acts 2:14a, 36-41 — gives the conclusion of Peter’s address to the people on Pentecost. Peter’s testimony proves persuasive and the hearers come to faith. The first thing for a believer is to be baptized. We learn two things about the effects of baptism. It brings forgiveness of sins and confers the Holy Spirit. Peter follows this with an indication that the salvation Jesus brings extends beyond the people of Israel: it will include Gentiles. The remainder of the Book of Acts will tell the story of the work of the apostles, including Paul, in spreading the gospel to Jews and Gentiles.

 

The responsorial psalm — Ps 23 with the first verse as the refrain — is the Good Shepherd psalm, anticipating the gospel reading.

 

The second reading — 1 Peter 2:20b-25 — tells of Jesus’ patient acceptance of his sufferings and death. This is an example for us: we are called to accept suffering which comes to us as a consequence of our good lives. But more fundamentally, Jesus’ suffering and death, patiently borne, have freed us from our sins — the forgiveness which we receive at baptism, as we heard in the first reading, as well as access to forgiveness of sins committed after baptism. The reading concludes with another foreshadowing of the Good Shepherd theme.

 

The image of the shepherd is familiar from many passages of scripture: King David had been a shepherd; psalms refer to God as shepherd of Israel and the psalmist’s shepherd; Ezekiel tells of God describing himself as a shepherd who judges between sheep, much like the king in Jesus’ parable of the judgment of the nations in Matthew; Jesus tells of the shepherd who seeks the lost sheep. In today’s gospel — John 1:1-10 — there are two images Jesus uses for himself. the shepherd and the gate of the sheepfold. In both of them he makes a contrast with the thieves and robbers. There may be a tendency to ask, “Well, which is it: shepherd or gate?” but these are just different ways of illustrating Jesus’ care for us. Like the shepherd, he leads us to nourishment and safety. Like the gate of the fold where he gathers the sheep for the night, he protects us from thieves and predators — whatever would take us away from our life in God. Jesus promises us abundant life, eternal life, if we listen to his voice and follow him. Implicit in this is the requirement for us to be careful not to be led astray by voices other than his, by the temptations which come from the devil, from elements of culture which are contrary to the gospel, and from our own appetites and propensities which St. Paul calls “the flesh.” But the central message today is one for redemption and eternal life thanks to the saving work of our Good Shepherd.

Sunday Scriptures — Lent A 3 & 4, Mar. 19 & 26, 2017

In the early centuries of Christianity, Baptisms normally took place at Easter, and Lent was the time for the final preparation of the catechumens who were to be baptized that year. Gradually it came to serve as a season for the rest of the faithful to prepare spiritually for their celebration of Easter. Over time, as infant baptism became the most common way for people to enter the Church,the formal catechumenate as the process of preparation for baptism fell out of use. Following the Second Vatican Council, the catechumenate was restored as the means of preparing adults and older children for baptism, and the Mass readings for the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent in Year A in the revised liturgy were chosen for their connection to baptism.

 
On the 3rd Sunday water is a unifying theme in the first reading and the gospel. In the pre-Vatican II liturgy, these readings were assigned to the Friday of the third week of Lent.

The first reading — Exodus 17:3-7 — tells of Moses providing water from a rock in the desert for the thirsty Israelites. This physical water is understood as a type of the water which Jesus promises the Samaritan woman in the gospel — John 4:5-42. The water in the desert sustained physical life. The water Jesus provides sustains eternal life. Water is, in scripture and in at least some Jewish tradition, a symbol of the Holy Spirit. So Jesus is promising the Holy Spirit to those who believe in him. He told Nicodemus that entry into the kingdom of God required being born of water and the Holy Spirit (John 3:5), and at his own baptism the Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove. The offer of the life-giving water to the Samaritan women, and subsequently to her fellow villagers, tells the catechumens and us that this grace of baptism is available to all, not just to the Jews.

The responsorial psalm — verses of Psalm 95 — includes a reference to the incident of the water in the desert.

In the second reading — Romans 5:1-2, 7-8 — we find a reference to the three “theological virtues:” faith, hope, and love. Paul reminds us that faith in Jesus has brought us justification and hope of glory because of God’s love for us, made effective in Jesus’ saving death. There is also an allusion to the other readings: Paul says that God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

 
The 4th Sunday has images of light and vision. On the first reading — 1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a — tells of Samuel’s anointing of David as king to replace Saul. Although Jesse’s son Eliab looks like a king to Samuel, God sees the heart, not just outward appearances and chooses David. The anointing of David brings the Holy Spirit powerfully upon him. We too, receive the Spirit at our baptism.

The responsorial psalm — Psalm 23 — attributed to David gives us the image of God as the good shepherd, with its allusion to David’s having been a shepherd.

The second reading — Ephesians 5:8-14 — exhorts us to live in the light. Formerly we were in darkness, but Christ has enlightened us. The final lines, “Awake, O sleeper … and Christ will give you light,” are thought to be from an extremely early baptismal hymn. The light of Christ comes to the catechumens and us through baptism.

The gospel — John 9:1-41 – formerly read on Wednesday of the fourth week of Lent, the day of an important examination of catechumens in early times, tells of Jesus’ cure of a man born blind. He comes into physical light, just as baptism brings spiritual light. We can think of Jesus’ making of clay with the earth and his saliva and putting it on the eyes of the blind man as a sort of “anointing.” The pool of Siloam, where the man washed, in a prefiguring of baptism, was the source of water for libations in the temple on the first seven days of the feast of Sukkot (Tabernacles, or Booths). The healing of the blind man was apparently on the eighth day of the feast, when the water was no longer brought from Siloam to the temple. Perhaps this timing has significance for understanding Jesus as “greater than the temple” (Matthew 12:6). Certainly, the fact that Jesus earlier on that day had promised “rivers of living water” that is the Spirit, flowing from within those who believe in him (John 7:38-39) establishes the baptismal meaning of the healing of the blind man, and recalls the promise to the Samaritan woman of living water.

The blind man has been given light, not just physically, but also spiritually, and he professes his faith in Jesus, whereas Jesus’ opponents among the Pharisees have blinded themselves to the truth about him.

Sunday Scriptures — Lent A 2, Mar. 12, 2017

In the first reading and the gospel we can discern a pattern of call and action which applies to us all, as shown by the second reading.

 
The gospel — Matthew 17:1-9 — gives us Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration. In years B and C we get Mark’s and Luke’s telling. Briefly, the change in Jesus’ appearance gives a preview of his glorification after his resurrection, which is alluded to in the final verse of the pericope. The presence of Moses and Elijah can be seen as illustrating that the law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah) bear witness to, point to Jesus. The voice from the cloud repeats the words from heaven at Jesus’ baptism— he is God’s beloved Son — validating Jesus’ teaching and calling us to obedience. The apostles’ reaction of fear is natural enough.

We have all, no doubt experienced moments in which we have thought, “I wish this could last forever.” For Peter and the others, for whom he is speaking, this is such a moment: it’s good to be here; three tents can make it last. But after the voice comes from the cloud, Jesus is alone. The moment has passed. They must rise and be on their way with him. As at many other points, he tells them not to be afraid. This was one of Pope St. John Paul II’s favorite lines. Whether it’s after the miraculous catch of fish, at his appearance in the upper room after his resurrection, the angelic annunciation appearance of the angel to Mary and Joseph, the hearers have a mission to which they must confidently go. Here, the apostles can’t be content to know Jesus’ glory. They must accompany him to Good Friday and after Easter fulfill the Great Commission to go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel.

 
The first reading — Genesis 12: 1-4a — presents the call of Abram (whose name later becomes Abraham). He is content in his home, with his relatives nearby. But God calls him from the condition which he could have enjoyed for the rest of his life. He must leave it behind and go to an unforeseeable future in an unknown country. In doing so, he will become the ancestor of a great nation which God will bless and which will itself bring blessing to the whole world. Abram obeys and becomes the ancestor of the Jews and the father in faith of Christians.

The responsorial psalm — verses of Psalm 33 with a refrain from verse 22 — encourages us to rely on God’s promised care.

 
The second reading — 2 Timothy 1:8b-10 — opens with an expression of the call that comes to all of us: “Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” More generally, we have been saved and called to holiness through God’s eternal plan brought to completion by Jesus. We can read “the appearance of out savior Christ Jesus” in two ways. Jesus appeared in his Incarnation and through is life here on Earth. In his appearance at the transfiguration Jesus manifests the glory of our immortality as well as his own.

We are called to holiness of life: living as God calls us. We do not know just what that will entail. Young people choose to pursue a career of one sort or another. Often it doesn’t turn out as expected. Older people may be called simply to continue on the path they are already following. Occasionally, some find themselves called to take an entirely new direction in their lives. The future may seem clearer for some of us, but it’s never entirely certain. There are always surprises, great or small. What is important, though is that we seek to do what God calls us to at every stage and in every moment. This will involve hardship, great or small. None of us is promised a perfectly happy life. But we keep alive the knowledge of the glory which will be ours after our resurrection, and this faith sustains us, as it sustained Abram and the apostles.

Sunday Scriptures — Lent A 1, Mar. 5, 2017

The gospel of the First Sunday of Lent gives us an account of Jesus’ experience of being tempted by Satan. This year — Year A — we hear Matthew’s account. In Year B it will be from Mark, and Year C brings Luke’s telling. The first and second readings give a theological context in which to understand the events of the gospel.

The first reading — Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7 — tells briefly of the creation of man and woman and of the Garden of Eden. Then we hear the familiar story of the temptation and fall of Adam and Eve.

The responsorial psalm — verses from Psalm 51, with verse 3a supplying the refrain — can be taken as an expression of Adam and Eve’s mind after the fall, as well as our personal acknowledgment of our sinfulness and plea for forgiveness.

In the second reading — Romans 5:12-19 — St. Paul contrasts Adam and Jesus. Adam’s sin brought condemnation and death to himself and all his descendants. Jesus’ righteous act brings acquittal — forgiveness of sin — to all. Each one’s act affects the whole human race.

The gospel —Matthew 4:1-11 — tells of Jesus’ temptations by Satan. Unlike Adam, Jesus overcomes temptation. He thus becomes the new Adam, who reestablishes humanity in its proper relationship with God, definitively overcoming sin and death through his death on the cross in obedience to the Father and his resurrection.

Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden and sinned, disobeying God, falling to temptation. Jesus was in the desert, hungry, and did not sin but obeyed the Father and resisted temptation. This encourages us to follow through on our lenten disciplines as a way of strengthening ourselves to overcome the temptations the devil will present to us to prefer worldly goods to those of heaven.

Sunday Scriptures — OT A 06, Feb. 12, 2017

If we look for the unifying thread between the first reading and the gospel, we might call it something like “observing the Law.”

 

The first reading — Sirach 15:15-20 — insists that, “If you choose you can keep the commandments.” We have free will. We can’t employ the excuse, “The Devil made me do it.”This year, the weekday Mass first readings are from Genesis. We heard on Monday through Thursday of the creation on the world and of man and woman. On Friday came the story of the fall, and on Saturday, the result, with Adam blaming Eve and Eve blaming the serpent. God does not accept the excuses: all three are guilty and all three suffer the consequences. Similarly, Sirach tells us, we will experience the good or evil consequences of our good or evil choices. God knows what we do.

 

The responsorial psalm — verses of Psalm 119 — praises those who follow the law of the Lord and prays the we will know and obey it fully.

 

In the gospel — Matthew 5:17-37 — Jesus affirms the Law as valid, and tells us that our observance of it must go beyond the literal minimum. We must refrain from anger as well as murder. Of course, there are instances when we react emotionally with anger at evil, but we must not stoke that anger and hold on to it. Instead, we are to forgive and be reconciled with one another. We must refrain from lust as well as adultery. Of course we are attracted by a beautiful person, but we must not let the involuntary attraction turn to lust — which St. John Paul II says occurs when we fail to regard the person as one who has the inviolable dignity of a human person and instead make her/him an object for our own pleasure. Note also that he specifies that adultery includes marrying a divorced person unless the former marriage was invalid. Finally, we must refrain from deceptive speech as well as perjury. We should be fundamentally honest, so that it will not be necessary to put us on oath to be sure we are telling the truth.

Judaism has always regarded the Law as God’s supreme gift to Israel, something not only to be studied and observed, bit something to be joyful about. The giving of the Law proves God’s love for his people. Jesus tells us that we should take it to heart, and when we do, our observance will go beyond a literalist minimum. Our attitude won’t be “How far can I go before I’ve broken a commandment?” but, “How is God asking me to live?”

 

St. Paul tells us in the second reading — 1 Corinthians 2:6-10 — that God’s wisdom is far above human wisdom. God’s wisdom is aimed at providing us with a glorified existence far beyond anything we could imagine. Those who love God, as witnessed by their keeping the commandments, will receive what God has prepared — in line with Sirach’s statement that keeping the commandments will save us and trust in God will bring life. Jesus also says that we must follow the Law as he explains it if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Sunday Scriptures — OT A 05, Feb. 05, 2017

Again, this post is late, but better than never I hope. This time I have a pretty good excuse I think: I was away at St. Anselm Abbey in New Hampshire for several days, beginning on Sunday. I’m planning to post about that also when I have time.

We continue to hear readings from the Sermon on the Mount and passages illustrating it. In the gospel passage — Matthew 5:13-16 — Jesus calls his disciples, including us, the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Before exploring those characterizations, let’s note that he doesn’t say we will be salt and light to the world, but that we already are salt and light. For us, it is our baptism which gives us these qualities, which are actually our vocation. Salt enhances the flavor of things and it also preserves them. As Christians, our lives should make the world more pleasant and should inhibit decay and corruption. Light is what enables people to see what exists. We should enable people to see the reality which surrounds them — the truth about the world — even enabling them to see the reality of God, who underlies our existence and actions. Jesus realizes that we can abandon our call to be salt and light and exhorts us not to.

In the first reading —Isaiah 58:7-10 — we hear how we can be light. It is by performing works of mercy, several of which are also commanded by Jesus in his parable of the Judgment of the Nations (Matthew 25:31-46). When we do so, we continue bringing the “great light” which, according the the first reading of two weeks ago, the people who walked in darkness saw with the coming of Jesus. As Jesus says in the gospel, our good works are done so that those who see them will give glory to God. The responsorial psalm — verses of Ps 112 — reinforces the message that good deeds bring light, in this case, for their practitioner.

Finally, the second reading — 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 — tells us that we don’t have to be eloquent like Bishop Sheen or Bishop Barron, we don’t have to be heroic like Mother Teresa. Just as Paul evangelized in weakness, so can we, because our success as salt and light isn’t ultimately dependent on our skill “but on the power of God.” What is required on our part is simply that we not shirk.

Sunday Scriptures — OT A 03 & 04, Jan. 22 & 29, 2017

A very belated post briefly covering the 3rd and 4th Sundays in Ordinary Time.

On the 3rd Sunday, the focus is on the beginning for Jesus’ public ministry. We begin with a passage from Isaiah — Isaiah 8:23-9:3. The second part of it speaks of those in darkness seeing light. That is also appropriately proclaimed at Midnight Mass on Christmas. But the first part, about the people of Galilee as the ones who are being rescued prepares us for Matthew’s account of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry — Matthew 4:12-23. This passage follows that about Jesus’ fasting and temptations, which followed his baptism, which was told of on the 3rd Sunday. Now we hear that in the region about which Isaiah had prophesied, Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, begins to preach the kingdom of God, and as he does so he calls Peter, Andrew, James, and John to be his disciples. They will call people into the kingdom. In each case, their acceptance of the call is immediate. The second reading — 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17 — emphasizes that there is one gospel and, regardless of who preaches it, Jesus is the redeemer.

The message is that Jesus is the focus of ur faith, regardless of who our ecclesiastical leaders are and whose presentation of the gospel we admire. We are challenged to follow Jesus as wholeheartedly as the apostles did and to do our part in leading others to him.

 
We could call the 4th Sunday “Humility Sunday.” In the second reading — 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 — Paul reminds his hearers, including us, that earthly status isn’t important. What matters is that God has chosen us, no matter how insignificant we may be by earthly standards. In the gospel — Matthew 5:1-12a — Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount. He says that we are blessed (or happy, in some translations) when we are not attached to earthly goods, when we are grieved by the evils which beset people, when we are not self-exalting, when we want what is good before God, when we are compassionate toward others by our actions, when our hearts are not divided between God and earthly goods, when we seek to bring reconciliation of conflicts, when we endure ill-treatment for our faith. We look forward to the everlasting happiness of the life to come. When we live the Beatitudes, as Jesus did, we are the people of whom Zephaniah speaks in the first reading — Zephaniah 2:3, 3:12-13. We are the people who enjoy God’s favor.