Bonny and I each shared a ~42 year old memory when we looked at the scripture readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter (May 1, 2016). We remember our joy when we heard this spiritual at the baptism of a baby girl. We had been afraid that this girl would not be born alive. The lyrics are based on the second reading for the sixth Sunday (Rev 21:10-14, 22-23):
The angel took me in spirit to a great, high mountain
and showed me the holy city Jerusalem
with twelve gates where twelve angels were stationed
Yesterday morning, we had each - separately - sat down to look at the lectionary readings for the coming Sunday. We both had the same memory. I was surprised when we talked about it. We had a reminder of a time of hope.
As I read the news this morning and see many reasons to lose hope, I’m reminded that history will end in the City and that all are welcome. You can come from any point on the compass, north, east, west or south and be welcome.
The scripture readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter (April 24, 2016) tell us of the beginnings of the Church (Acts 14:21-17), give us hope for the future (Rev 21:1-5), and charge us to live a life of love for one another (Jn 13:34-35). In the second reading, John writes:
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more."
When we look at the world as it is today we can fall into despair over our attempts to save the environment through political process. We work for the day when the “former heaven and earth” will pass away and be replaced by a “new heaven and earth.”
We express this hope each Sunday when we recite the Nicene Creed which ends with these words:
“...I look forward to the the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen”
We all find hope in looking forward to the resurrection of the dead. Most of us miss the significance of the ending phrase “the life of the world to come.” We can draw strength from this. We look forward to the day when the entire world will be restored.
The scripture readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter (April 17, 2016) ask us to grasp two contradictory images at the same time. In the second reading we will hear:
“……. For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7:17)
In the gospel (Jn 10:27-30) we hear that Jesus is the good shepherd.
Jesus proclaimed himself to be a Shepherd then offered himself as a sacrificial lamb, recalling the used of sacrificial lambs when the Israelites escaped from Egypt. Having been sacrificed, He is now “the Lamb …in the center of the throne.”
We have a Shepherd who was once one of us. We get into the dizzying language of paradox. Christ dwells within us. When we act as sheep, He is Shepherding himself.
As we read this, we don’t like being compared to sheep. Yet, like sheep we are sometimes frozen by fear into indecision. We need to hear His voice in order to know where to go. The good news is that He understands our fear: He was once one of us and shared in that fear. He had his own Shepherd for as he said:“…The Father and I are one.” (Jn 27:30)
The gospel for the third Sunday of Lent (February 28, 2016) poses a question often asked, especially after a disaster or accident: Did the victim deserve that fate? Was it foolishness or punishment for misdeeds? How can God allow such sufferings? A catastrophic earthquake in Portugal spawned a wide ranging debate, giving rise to the philosophical term theodicy. It is interesting to look at how Jesus answers the question when it is posed to him:
Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. Jesus said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” Luke 13:1-5
My reading of this is that they did not get an answer. The eighteen people may have been sinners - or they may just have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. What Jesus does tell the Galileans is that they should stop taking stock of other's behavior and, instead, take their own inventory. He follows this with a story about a fig tree that was not producing fruit. The gardener pleads that the tree should be given time. "..it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down."
The lesson, it seems to me, is clear. Rather that seeking to see where others have gone wrong, we need to focus on producing fruit in our own lives.
In the first reading (Dt. 26:4-10) Moses instructs the people, telling them that what happened to their father Abraham also happened to them:
“…Then you shall declare before the Lord, your God,
‘My father was a wandering Aramean
who went down to Egypt with a small household
and lived there as an alien.
But there he became a nation
great, strong, and numerous.
When the Egyptians maltreated and oppressed us,
imposing hard labor upon us,
we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers,…”
Moses is telling the people that, as they pray (making their declaration) they should visualize themselves as re-enactors. They should see what happened to their ancestors as actually happening to them as well.
The gospel for Sunday is Luke’s story of the temptation in the desert. (Lk 4:13). In this case, Jesus is not just re-enacting our temptations by the “three p’s - power, pleasure and possessions.” He is taking our place and answering the prayer of our ancestors to bring us out of oppression and slavery.
When we listen to the scriptures, we should treat them as more than lessons to be learned. We should visualize ourselves as part of the story and be aware that God is speaking to us as the words are proclaimed.
For the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (February 7, 2016) the scripture readings tell of God’s call and our reluctant response. In the first reading (Is 6:1-8) we hear txt Isiah is convinced that he cannot respond:
Then I said, “Woe is me, I am doomed!
For I am a man of unclean lips,
living among a people of unclean lips;
yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
It is only after an angel touches his mouth with an ember and says:
“See, now that this has touched your lips,
your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.”
that Isiah is able to respond, saying “send me!”
In the gospel (Lk 5:1-11) Peter sees that Jesus can provide a massive catch of fish, even though they had “worked all night and caught nothing.” Like Isaiah Peter, well aware of his own shortcomings, responds:
“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
After the admonition to “Be not afraid” Peter, James and John “..left everything and followed him.”
Isiah 6 is movingly phrased in the hymn ”here i am lord, send me”. As I listen to it, my reaction into be similar to Isiah’s and Peters. When I hear the words, “Whom shall I send?” I respond: “send somebody else.”
The text is not an injunction to respond every time. There may be valid reason for our reluctance to respond. We need to listen carefully to the lyrics:
Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if You lead me.
I will hold Your people in my heart.
The key phrases are italicized. We need to ask, “Is it I Lord?” It is possible that the call is directed to somebody else and we should not respond. It is also possible that the we could respond, but that we are not in fact being led - that this is something that we think we should do but that we are fooling ourselves. If, after reflecting, we find that we are the one being called and that the Lord will lead us, helping us through our shortcomings, then our answer should be, “I will go, Lord.?
As we listen to the first reading (from Nehemiah 8) we should listen to it knowing that Jesus had heard the same scripture when he was in the assembly. In Nehemiah we hear that Ezra began to read from the law:
“Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that had been made for the occasion. He opened the scroll so that all the people might see it ….. Ezra read plainly from the book of the law of God, interpreting it so that all could understand what was read.”
In the gospel (Lk1:1-4; 4:14-21) we hear that Jesus came to Nazareth, went into the synagogue and began to read to the assembly:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.m He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,…
In applying to himself this passage from Isaiah 61, Jesus was, in a sense, giving an inaugural address for his ministry. Strong, almost violent disagreement followed. If we read further in Luke 4, we will see that some people spoke highly of him. Others challenged him to do in his home town of Nazareth as he had done elsewhere. He returned the challenge, giving examples from Hebrew scripture and saying:
“no prophet is accepted in his own native place.”
They threw him out of town.
This conflict of interpretations will be repeated in our Sunday readings throughout the year.
The scriptures for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Jan. 17, 2016) are filled with images of overflowing love. In the gospel (Jn 2:1-11) we hear the story of the wedding feast at Cana. Jesus, reduces the wedding couple from being embarrassed by a shortage of wine. His gift is extravagant - over 100 gallons of good wine. In this we can see an image of God’s love overflowing for us.
The wedding imagery in the first reading (Is 62:1-5) is challenging. We are given a picture of a God who is personally and passionately in love with us:
For the LORD delights in you and makes your land his spouse. As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.
The picture of God delighting in us is challenging. How, we ask, can God rejoice in us when we are filled with shortcomings and character defects?
Isaiah is also extravagant in its image of forgiveness. When we go back a few chapters in Isaiah we see that Jerusalem had a history of betrayals and infidelity. In wedding imagery, Jerusalem was an unfaithful spouse. Yet, as Jerusalem returns to the Lord, Isaiah paints it this way:
"No more shall you be called “Forsaken,” nor your land called “Desolate,” But you shall be called “My Delight is in her,” and your land “Espoused.”
We need to reflect on this at length. Even with our flaws, God rejoices in us as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride. Once we accept this, everything will be easy.
Our second reading (Acts 10:34-38) starts after the meeting between the Roman Centurion Cornelius and Peter. Acts 10:22 tells us that Cornelius was an “upright and God-fearing man, respected by the whole Jewish nation…” Even so, Cornelius was an officer of the occupying and hated Roman Army. Cornelius addressed Peter, acknowledging that it was unlawful for a Jewish man even to associate with or visit a Gentile. In the face of this animosity and fear of foreign nations Acts tells us Peter’s response:
“In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.”
In 2016 we’re in the midst of bitter political controversy on the treatment of foreign nations and refugees from foreign nations. I’m not sure what the correct policy should be. I am sure that whatever it is, we must remember that “God shows no partiality.” Not to our nation or to any other.
When we focus each week on the scripture readings for Mass, we can easily miss the sequence from one week to the next. Advent is a four week period in which we experience a time of waiting and preparation for the birth of Jesus. Here are the links for each of the four Sundays and an extract from each gospel.
….“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”… (Lk 3:4-6)
On the Third Sunday of Advent (12/13/15) John the Baptist gives some answers to the crowds who ask “What should we do?” in preparation:
“…..Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.”….(Lk 3-11)
The situation is urgent, for as John says “..one mighter than I is coming.”
Then, on the Fourth Sunday of Advent (11/20/15) we step back to the time when Mary, pregnant, visits Elizabeth who will be the mother of John the Baptist. Elizabeth asks:
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.” (Lk 1”42-43)
The connection between John and Jesus is established from their beginnings.
The gospel extracts above are meant to show how the scripture readings from one Sunday are related to the ones that follow and precede. There are three readings on each Sunday: the first is from the Old Testament; the second is from one of the letters; and the third is the gospel. After the first reading one of psalms is sung. Each reading is related to a central theme established in the gospel. The full scope of Advent becomes clear after reflection on all of the texts for each of the four Sundays. Follow the links for these readings.’’