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.’’
As we listen scripture readings for Sunday Mass during the year, we listen to the life of Christ as it unfolds in the gospel. (This year mainly through Luke.) Since we are in the beginning of the year, on the Second Sunday of Advent (December 6, 2015), the scripture readings are filled with anticipation and preparation. We will hear John the Baptist telling us: “Prepare; make the winding roads straight and the rough ways smooth.”
We are preparing for a shining moment. It is not just the birth of a baby; it is the birth of a King and the beginning of a very different kind of kingdom.
This call to make the rough roads smooth applies to us both as individuals and as a community. We tend, IMO, to interpret John the Baptist as urging us to look in our own hearts and seek to remove any barriers to the coming of the Lord. While we need to do this we also must recognize John the Baptist was speaking to the Israelites as a people. We hear the ideal in Paul’s letter to the Phillipians.
that your love may increase ever more and more
in knowledge and every kind of perception,
to discern what is of value,
so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
filled with the fruit of righteousness
that comes through Jesus Christ
for the glory and praise of God.
If we do this as communities of believers, we will soon find ourselves shining forth as a city, state, and nation.
The scripture readings for the First Sunday of Advent (Nov 29, 2015) are identical to those from 2012.Preparations are almost done and family celebration begins at 4:30 PM. Since the lectionary repeats Sunday scripture readings every three years. I'm recycling my refections from 2012.
Happy New (liturgical) Year. The year begins on the First Sunday of Advent (December 2nd). It starts a new cycle of scripture readings. This year the gospel readings will be drawn primarily from Luke.
This Sunday we will hear scriptures looking in two directions. We prepare to celebrate an event which took place in the past - the Birth of Christ. At the same time, we look forward to a second coming. Jeremiah (33:14-16) Promises that
"In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety."
The gospel reading is from Luke 21. Scripture scholars tell us this was written in the context of the Roman destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. The language is apocalyptic and frightening - as indeed the destruction was.
While the second coming may not happen in this precise context, we can be sure that it will be dramatic and a surprise. The message for this Sunday is: be awake, prepared, hopeful and a little nervous.
The liturgical year ends with scriptures about Christ as the king and the nature of the coming kingdom. Since the lectionary follows a three year cycle, I’m providing links to what I wrote in 2014, 2013 and 2012. These are three different looks at the same question. I’d love to hear your comments. (Go here for the readings for this Sunday (Nov. 22, 2015)
It (the feast) was placed on the calendar in 1931 by Pope Pius the 11th. He wanted to counter the tendency of many people to see their political parties as identical or superior to God’s Kingdom. This tendency is still with us, especially among political progressives and Tea Party members. We need to remember John 18:36-38
From C.S. Lewis: “Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.
The scripture readings for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Nov.15, 2015) call to mind our modern concerns about living in a hostile culture. Stories of Starbucks coffee cups and the "Christmas wars" fill social media as evidence of a cultural hostility to Christians. IMO, Christian displays of indignation at media portrayals is self-defeating. We need a different attitude towards the culture in which we find ourselves. Three years ago we had the same readings for the 33rd Sunday I suggested a different attitude. Here is my reflection from November 18, 2012
Not There Yet, What Now?
November 18, 2012
We come to the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Nov 18). Next Sunday will end the liturgical year on the Feast of Christ the King. This week the readings focus on end times, a subject that brings forth extensive discussion among scholars and theologians. I will leave this alone, instead offering some words to my many friends who are convinced that the past election was a disaster for our country. We have all heard the complaints: 1) the culture is degraded - it is - 2) fiscal disaster awaits our country; 3) we are in a hostile world. Christian conservatives have much reason to be worried. They ask: How are we to live when we are in Enemy-occupied territory, as C.S. Lewis, put it.
Scripture scholars tell us that the earliest Christians lived - and wrote - in the expectation that the end times would come within their lifetime. As time went by, they began to ask how they were to live if the end times would be far in the future. In short: "No, we are not there yet. What do we do now?"
Rather that exploring Lewis, I'd like to focus on another metaphor: living in exile. In 587 the Babylonians conquered Israel and deported many to live in Babylon as slaves under an alien god. Their entire identity and way of worship lost, the Jews wondered: "What now? How are we to live in exile? They got an answer in a letter from the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 29:4-13):
"4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 8 Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.
10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
It is time to set aside the animosities of the political campaign. Some of those helped conservatives delude themselves into believing that the election was close, even when Romney never had a better than 40% chance of winning. If, as Jeremiah advised, we can pray for the country to prosper, we too will prosper. Yes, we do need to resist the "prophets and diviners" who will promise prosperity but lead us to chasing prosperity as an idol. But before that we need to pray for our country and work for its well being. We need to do this with all our hearts.