1st Reading: Isaiah 8: 23- 9: 3
Rather than trusting in God’s light, Israel and Judah (the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom of the Hebrew people) tried to live by their own ‘light’ – their own self-important ways. It brought darkness and destruction to both. The prophet is looking for an ideal king to lead his people. Kings were seen as being ‘adopted’ by God and a sign of God’s presence with his people. King Ahaz of Judah did not live up to his calling. He had made an agreement with Assyria against the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The prophet looked to a new king, Hezekiah, to be a ‘savior king’. These hopes were not realized. Hezekiah eventually became a disappointment, too. (Celebration, Jan.1999)
The great light that Isaiah is speaking of is the revelation of God’s love beyond Israel to even the Gentiles. It is the day when God’s love becomes real for those who are without a religious tendency, to those who are toughened by despair, to those who think hope is nothing but a day dream. But this light does not come by way of some paranormal experience – it can come only by way of ordinary people open to and filled with God’s extraordinary love. This love can come to our world today only if you and I bring it, with God’s help. (Exploring the Sunday Readings, January, 1999)
Thomas Aquinas said hope is a special desire that has a special object. That object must be clearly good, apparent, in the future, difficult to get and yet possible. So to have hope is to have faith. If faith is a gift of God, how are you open to receiving it? How does it give you hope and dispel your darkness?
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:10 – 13, 17
This letter of Paul’s was probably written about 54-55, A.D. It is really not the ‘first letter’ since Paul writes of a previous letter in 1 Cor. 5: 9. Remember in the early church Paul’s letters were treasured and circulated, but not really organized until around 90 AD. So some were lost and others then were put out of order. The ideas and their importance are still valid. (Barclay, The Letter to the Corinthians, 4-6)
Cephas was the Jewish version of Peter’s name. His ‘group’ was probably made up of the more Jewish Christians who still held tightly to Jewish traditions and law. Apollos was an educated man from Alexandria whose learning and Greek influence made him more attractive to the Gentile Christians and those with greater education. Paul reminds them that these differences should not lead to division. That it is Christ Jesus we must look to for the light – the truth –the insights we need. A preacher’s ‘job’ is just to lead us to Jesus. It is in the cross of Christ that we find the absolute assurance of God’s love – there is the fullness of wisdom in no other place. It seemed there were not serious doctrinal differences here in Corinth, but cliques and factions. The word for united is usually used when two hostile parties reach an agreement. In Mark 1:19 and Matthew 4:21 the same word is used to describe the mending of torn fishing nets. Keep this in mind when you read the gospel. (Celebration, January 1999 & 2005)
Do you think having no divisions among us is realistic? It is our diversity that makes us the body of Christ. But there lies the answer…diversity doesn’t have to mean division. Donald Cozzens in his book Faith that Dares to Speak talks about contemplative conversation. “Both conversion and conversation are cognates of converse – to turn around, to turn toward another. Understood as a noun, converse includes the meaning of free and honest interchange of ideas, dreams, hopes – and yes, fear….We move too quickly to shrill argument and righteous declarations rather than turning first to silence that prompts openness of heart and nudges the soul toward the place where conversion of intellect and imagination occur…Contemplative conversation, conversation that emerges from silence and prayer, on the other hand, possesses a one and humility that disarms defensive postures of rectitude. There is a freshness, a lightness of spirit present when this kind of conversation is entered into,” (p. 110-111).
The Gospel– Matthew 4: 12 – 23
Here we see Jesus setting up his home in Capernaum. His old life at Nazareth was over and done; it was clean cut, a momentous decision. The village was on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. This lake was and is a large inland lake that is 680 ft. below sea level. It has quite a warm climate and is surrounded by phenomenally fertile land that was, thus, quite densely populated. It is considered to be one of the loveliest lakes in the world. “Seen from any point of the surrounding heights it is a fine sheet of water – a burnished mirror set in a framework of rounded hills and rugged mountains.” In Jesus’ time it was thick with fishing boats. This is probably not the first time that these men have met Jesus. Some of them may have been disciples of John. They had known and talked with Jesus; they had heard him preach. Now these fishermen were being invited to “throw in their lot with him.” These were ordinary, sort of middle-class men – certainly not poverty stricken – nor were they men to be easily fooled or impressed. And, as fishermen they may have had just the qualities Jesus needed in his disciples: men of patience, perseverance, courage, cleverness, with the ability to ‘fit the bait to the right fish’, to stay out of the way, and to know how to recognize the right moment for action.
(William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1 77-79)
Joseph Fitzmyer, a New Testament scholar, notes how strange this metaphor of ‘catching people like fish’ seems to be. The mission of the disciples was to bring them to salvation (fullness of health). Yet, what fishermen do to fish is far from salutary! He points out, though, that the Greek term that Jesus used to say that they would be ‘catchers or netters’ of humanity could literally be translated as “you will be taking them alive.” The strange metaphor then comes to mean that those ‘caught’ or ‘netted’ by Peter and the others would be saved from death and gathered into God’s Kingdom. (Celebrations, Feb. 1998)
Other interesting ‘fish’ facts: A fish was an early symbol of Christianity because the letters of the Greek word for fish are I-C-H-T-H-U-S. These are the same letters that begin the Greek words for “JESUS CHRIST, GOD’S SON, SAVIOR” (IESOUS CHRISTOS THEOU HUIOS SOTER)
The early Christians also hung an anchor on the doors of the houses where they would gather to celebrate Eucharist because it resembled a cross. This secret symbol identified their ‘house churches.’
The leaving of everything to follow Jesus was the way the gospel writers expressed the need of disciples to make Jesus the priority in life. These fishermen were no longer just fishermen any more once they began following Jesus. They probably went out during the day with Jesus to the surrounding areas and returned to their families at night or after short intervals, even fishing when necessary. Their total response to Jesus is meant to be an example to all of us as to where our priorities should lie. With Christ as the center of their lives, it was now more important to go out to ‘catch’ the suffering sea of humanity that was so in need of God’s love, God’s kingdom and God’s presence in their lives. What they have to offer others in Jesus’ name is not just good news; it is great news! We have the same calling. (Mary Birmingham, W & W Wkbk Yr A, 363,364)
1st Reading – Isaiah 49: 3, 5-6
This is from Second Isaiah – written during the Babylonian Exile. This servant was to help free these exiled Jews; it was a most difficult assignment. But then, God expands the scope even more. This servant and his people were to be a light to the nations. God’s concerns are not limited to any one race, or ethic group. God’s power to save wishes to expand “to the ends of the earth.” Everything and everybody is to be brought to wholeness and freedom (that is what salvation means). Celebration, Jan. 2002
As Jesus was called to be this servant, this light, so are we called by our baptism to bring the light of God’s love and to ‘put on the Lord Jesus.’ How do you respond to this reading?
This may seem like a ‘big’ order when too often we feel more like a morning fog than the light of Christ. Yet, God chooses us. The more we choose God’s way of love over our usual selfishness and preoccupation, the more the radiance of God shines forth. Prayer connects us to this Source. Exploring the Sunday Readings, Jan 2002
2nd Reading — 1 Corinthians 1:1-3
The next four Sundays we will read from Paul’s letter to the early Christian community in Corinth. This city was a wealthy busy seaport as it had two harbors, one open to Asia and one open to Italy. It was a veritable melting pot of people, cultures and religions. After it was conquered by Rome in 146 BC, it was re-founded as a Roman colony in 44 BC. It had a large Italian population and a sizable Jewish community. It was a place of many shrines to a variety of gods and goddesses. The Corinthian Christians would have been confronted on a daily basis by all of this variety, vivid images, and temptations. Paul was challenged to help them come to know the one God we find in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Celebration, January, 2002
Notice how many times Jesus’ name is said in this short introduction? Right at the beginning of this letter, Paul has Jesus at the forefront. It was a difficult letter dealing with a difficult situation…Paul goes right to the love of Christ to deal with it. Notice Paul calls it the church of God, not the church of Corinth. To Paul, wherever an individual congregation might be, it was a part of the one Church of God. Also notice how he describes a Christian: one that is sanctified in Christ, called to be holy and who calls upon Jesus name. Wm Barclay The Daily Study Bible Series
Who is Sosthenes? A friend of Paul’s and someone who was known in Corinth. It was a common name in those times. Sosthenes is mentioned again in Acts 18:17 but it is unclear if they are the same (In Acts, he is a leader of the synagogue, where here it is not known if he is Jewish or not.). The name means “saving strength”. McKenzie, Dictionary of the Bible and The Jerome Biblical Commentary
The Gospel – John 1: 29-34
John calls Jesus the ‘Lamb of God’ – it is a title with many meanings.
3 meanings in particular are –
Passover Lamb (Exodus 12: 6-13): The Passover Lamb recalls the time in Exodus when the Israelite slaves were told to sacrifice a lamb and apply its blood to the doorpost and lintels of their homes so that death would not touch them. This Passover led to their freedom.
Suffering Servant Lamb (Isaiah 52: 13 – 53: 12): The fourth Suffering Servant song in Isaiah describes a servant who goes like an innocent, oppressed, condemned Lamb to the slaughter – yet from this death comes new life and goodness.
Victorious Lamb (Rev. 5:6; 7:17; 22:1): The glorious Lamb that we find in Revelation is the lamb that has passed through suffering and death and now becomes the source of life-giving water; all humans can be freed by his blood.
We believe that Jesus is this threefold lamb – this lamb who takes away our sin and insecurity giving us new life and peace – alive with God’s grace and set afire with his love for the sake of the world and in service of his word. Celebration, January, 2002
This is a different picture of Jesus’ baptism. We are hearing it through the eyes of John the Baptist, as he was there and witnessing to this miraculous event. You know yourself that you give more credibility to stories that are told as seen vs. stories that are hearsay. He speaks as though he was forewarned of this baptism. Then John the Baptist calls Jesus the Son of God. It is very clear Jesus is center stage. John the Baptist is playing second fiddle. Is Jesus center stage in your life?
During this time of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday it is good to remember his hope and vision for a universal ‘salvation’ for all people. As he chose to live Jesus’ words in a world of difficulties, he, too, has become an example for all of us. Let us recall his words that were delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Monument, August 28, 1963:
“I have a dream that one day . . . the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood . . . I have a dream that one day . . . little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers . . . I have a dream that one day every hill and mountain will be made low . . . and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope . . . this is our faith . . .With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discord of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to struggle together . . .”
This Sunday is Gaudete (Rejoice!) Sunday. What is happening in your life right now that causes you to rejoice? How is Christ present in this?
Isaiah 35: 1 – 6a, 10
How patient are you? Patient enough to wait for the desert to burst into flowers? For shaking hands to be stilled, for weak knees to be strong again? Patient enough to wait for the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to run, the mute to sing? That kind of patience is a divine quality. For most of us, these things are too wonderful to imagine, much less to expect.
The prophecy to the people of God in exile is that they will return home to their land, a thing as impossible to dream of as a blooming desert. Still the message delivered to the door of God’s people is always the same: God will save you. From Egypt, from Babylon, from your sins and yourselves, God will save you. To those who believe, the desert is a garden waiting to awaken. No situation in life is barren, no defeat final. No matter the depth to which we have fallen, God is prepared to raise us up. When our hearts are most frightened, we can lean on this word (Exploring the Sunday Readings, 12/98).
A doctor in Aleppo recently said, “We are under attack. We have the feeling that the whole world has abandoned us, left us here in Aleppo to be killed brutally with no help at all. We can’t defend ourselves. We can’t do anything. We can’t protect our hospitals. We can’t protect our lives. We can’t protect our patients’ lives. We can’t protect our families’ lives. It’s desperate here.” Perhaps these words from Isaiah would comfort him.
What do you make of that word vindication? Vindication is not up to us. We must trust God and wait for God to execute justice for God surely will. It will be in God’s time, not ours (www.patheos.com).
James 5: 7-10
Henri Nouwen says, “What strikes me is that waiting is a period of learning. The longer we wait the more we hear about him for whom we are waiting. As the Advent weeks progress, we hear more and more about the beauty and splendor of the One who is to come. Advent leads to a growing inner stillness and joy allowing us to realize that he doe whom we are waiting has already arrived and speaks to me in the silence of our hearts. Just as a mother feels the child grow in her and is not surprised on the day of the birth but joyfully receives the one she learned to know during her waiting, so Jesus can be born in our lives slowly and steadily and be received as the one we learned to know while waiting.”
Consider how you would finish this sentence: Jesus, I await your coming more fully into my life so that now…
Is this how we make our hearts firm?
Matthew 11: 2 – 11
Why did John question Jesus? Perhaps conditions were so harsh in prison that he began to doubt. Maybe he was growing impatient for something good to happen. Maybe he wondered if it was all worth it. We all have moments of weakness, when we let our thoughts take over and cloud what we know down deep to be true. Jesus assures John by naming the actions done in faith. Like the saying says, actions speak louder than words. John and Jesus had their own followers, but they all had the same goal: salvation!
John had the destiny which sometimes falls to men; he had the task of pointing men to a greatness into which he himself did not enter. It is given to some men to be the signposts of God. They point to a new ideal and a new greatness which others will enter into, but into which they will not come. It is very seldom that any great reformed is the first man to toil for the reform with which his name is connected. Many who went before him glimpsed the glory, often labored for it, and sometimes died for it, (Barclay’s The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 7)
Jesus questions why the people went out to see John. This Advent season, look at what fills your day. Why do you do what you do? Does it bring meaning to your life? Does it bring you closer to God? Are you preparing a way towards Jesus?
1st Reading – Isaiah 2: 1-5
This section is from ‘First Isaiah’ – that part of Isaiah that was written by an 8th century prophet when Assyria was attacking Israel. This was a world in crisis. There are three characteristics emerging from this reading:
- This messianic age will be presided over by a just and God-fearing descendent of David. The shoot coming from the “stump” and “roots” represents the state of the dynasty after the branches (unfaithful kings) have been removed. The ideal king, then is rooted in his earliest forebears.
- This era will be marked by the king’s execution of justice on behalf of his people. Equity and harmony will be re-established.
- There will be a return to the harmony and peace of Eden. Mutually hostile animal species will be able to co-habitate, as it was before sin came to be on the earth (Foley, Footprints on the Mountain, pp. 15-16).
Does it sound a little beyond reach? This Advent, consider living with this unfinished feeling. We know how we wish things would be, and yet we are not there yet. Richard Rohr says, “We need to be reminded that utopia is nonexistent. Utopia, that perfect world in our imagination, is not what we’re waiting for at Christmas. Our task in this world is to live with open hands –with emptiness – so that there’s room for a coming, so that there’s room for something more,” (Catholic Update, Dec 1989).
2nd Reading — Romans (15:4-9):
Christian fellowship should be marked in hope. The Christian is always a realist, but never a pessimist. The Christian hope is not a cheap hope. It is not the immature hope which is optimistic because it does not see the difficulties and has not encountered the experiences of life. The Christian hope has seen everything and endured everything, and still has not despaired, because it believes in God. (Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series on Romans, p. 196)
Paul is really furthering the vision of Isaiah here by encouraging us to see how the ‘peaceable kingdom’ has begun in Jesus, the One who welcomed – even sought out – sinners, the afflicted, the lost. We must continue Jesus’ example. No one is excluded from God’s mercy. (Celebration, Dec. 2004)
The Gospel — Matthew (3: 1-12):
John cries out: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Jesus began His ministry with the very same words in Mt.3: 17.) How do the first two readings prepare us for these words? How is this an Advent message?
What images of desert and mountains and valleys – of Spirit and fire – of axe and root – of good fruit and wheat and chaff – speak most to you?
John’s entire presence preaches repentance. His ‘dress’ of camel’s hair and leather belt is similar to Elijah, another prophet heralding the end times. He resists the mainstream, living in the desert and eating locust and honey. He is not shy…how often have you been in a group and called a brood of vipers?! What John is challenging is that just because paternity makes the Pharisees and Saducees sons of Abraham, that doesn’t mean the kingdom is theirs. It is by their fruit (what they DO) that matters (Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, pp. 4-5).
It is also important to remember when we read about repenting and judgment that we remember that Scripture is meant, first of all, to call ourselves to conversion. We may be tempted, though, to think it is all right to point the finger at others and even practice retribution ourselves. But it is fundamental to recall that God is the one who does the judging and God alones does the cutting. Final judgment is God’s job; ours is repentance. ( Exploring the Sunday Readings, Dec. 9, 2007)
How can we let this gospel move our hearts this Advent?
1st Reading: Isaiah 66:18-21
From The Word into Life, p. 96: This first reading is taken from that part of the Book of Isaiah called Third Isaiah (chapters 56-66), which was composed by an unknown prophet (or prophets) around 500BC (and possibly later). It proclaims a message of exceptional universalism – the God of Israel loves everyone. First the Gentiles will actually serve as Yahweh’s missionaries; they’ll proclaim Yahweh’s glory in remote regions of Spain, Africa, Greece, and Asia Minor. In the process, “they shall bring all your kindred from all the nations” – those exiled Israelites who have lost hope and those who have forgotten their God – “to my holy mountain.” And some will be called to enter the elite ranks of the priests and to become Levites, or assistants, to the priests. This is indeed a world without prejudice or bias. In what ways do you experience a feeling of unity, of being one with others, in your family, in your work place, in your neighborhoods, in the Church?
2nd Reading; Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13
From Word & Worship, p. 454-455: The discipline spoken of in the text probably referred to prejudices and persecution experienced at the hands of their friends and non-Christian neighbors. Imagine what that must have been like…being teased for your faith, or worse…feeling like an outsider in your own hometown. Even today, as Catholics, we worry about the fate of our Church and why there are dwindling numbers. Wherever and whenever the church suffers in any way, whether that is through serious persecution, dwindling numbers, or apathy, we are to view it as discipline. We are disciplined as a church. This discipline is a sign of God’s love of the church. One cannot help but recall St. Theresa’s complaint: “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, it is no wonder you have so few.”). What obstacles do you find in practicing your faith? How are these obstacles like discipline?
The theology of Hebrews asserts that suffering is to be seen as necessary for growth, not punishment for wrongdoing. Consider exercising, or writing a paper. It is hard work, but good work! Harold Kushner in When Bad Things Happen to Good People says, “Let me suggest that the bad things that happen to us in our lives do not have a meaning when they happen to us. They do not happen for any good reason, which would cause us to accept them willingly. But we can give them a meaning. The question we should be asking is not, ‘Why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this?’ That is really an unanswerable, pointless question. A better question would be, ‘Now that this has happened to me, what am I going to do about it?’ ( p. 136).
Gospel: Luke 13:22-30
From Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, p. 188-189. “Keep on striving to enter…” the word striving is the root word for the English word agony. We must never be complacent; our struggle to follow Jesus is part of an intense encounter. There is no finality for the Christian; no resting on one’s self-righteous laurels. A Christian way is like climbing up a mountain towards a peak which will never be reached in this world…
We cannot live on borrowed goodness – or on who we know, not even if it is ‘rubbing elbows with Jesus.’ Jesus does not want casual acquaintances; he wants disciples. Think about your own friends and how some are closer than others. Sometimes it is hard when you want to be closer to someone than you are, but maybe the other doesn’t want that. Or even people you may always just say hi to but you still don’t remember what their names are! Jesus wants us to strive to be closer than close to him. He always knows our name and knows us intimately. We must respond to his offer.
From St. Anselm, “Thoughts from the Early Church, “ http://liturgy.slu.edu: The kingdom of heaven is God’s gift to us – but he will not give it to anyone who lacks love. Love is the only thing asked for – without it he cannot give it. Love God and other people as you should and then you will deserve what you desire. But you cannot have this love unless you empty your heart of other loves: riches, power, pleasure, honor, and praise. Hate locks doors; only love can open them…
From Hungry, and You Fed Me, p. 215: “Jesus doesn’t seem to have much patience with the question [of who will be saved]…it’s as if Jesus is saying, ‘Just aim for the narrow gate. Assume that you’re all outsiders and try the best that you can. Don’t try to assess who is in and who is out. Don’t even waste your time on all that because you’re not going to be able to figure it out. The last will be first and the first will be last.’ What if we really led our lives in this manner? What if we met each person and had no preconceived notions about who they were, but listened to their stories and understood their human messiness? What if we had a bit of humility and assumed the position of outcasts who are just trying the best that we can?…if we set aside all of the ways in which we determine who is in and who is out, if we begin to relate to one another as mysteries…we would have a very different sort of faith.”
1st Reading – Isaiah 66: 10-14c
From “Working with the Word,” www.liturgy.slu.edu :
This is from the last chapter of the Book of Isaiah. It is written after the Exile when Jerusalem was being rebuilt. This book is in many ways a story of Jerusalem. At times Jerusalem has been a place of unspeakable sin and injustice (for example, 1:21-26; 3: 8-12; 5: 7). Yet, Jerusalem (Zion) also stands for the very center (the “mountain’ – the heights) of the Lord’s glorious sovereignty and rule (2:1-4; 24:23; 27:13; 52: 1-2; 60:14). Even though Jerusalem often fails to live up to the grace that the Lord showers on her, she is still the place the Lord has chosen for divine dwelling. The term ‘Kingdom of God’ that Jesus uses captures many of these aspects of the ideal Jerusalem. This passage uses images that earlier in the book have been used for destruction. The “overflowing torrent” had been the relentless army of Assyria which had ‘punished’ and defeated them (8:7-8; 28:2, 15, 18). Now it is a “torrent” of wealth and prosperity from God: shalom. Before, grass had been an image of what was impermanent and worthless (5:24; 15:6; 30:33; 40:8), but now the flourishing grass is an image of growth, health, and vitality for God’s people. When have you felt such comfort from God?
2nd Reading – Galatians 6: 14-18 (Paul’s closing remarks to this letter)
From John Kavanaugh, “The Word Engaged,” www.liturgy.slu.edu :
In the first reading, God’s love was imaged as a mother’s love, a tender, nursing mother. But Paul shows us just how ‘tough’ a love this is. The cross of Christ reveals God’s undying bond of love with us. Because of this cross, Paul is utterly rooted in trust, the blessed assurance in a God who bears and nourishes us, who wants only our life and flourishing, who would die for love of us. If, with Paul, we truly believe this truth of God’s love, we will find peace and mercy. Paul bore the marks of Jesus on his body: he had scars from his sufferings for the gospel’s sake. But he had gained a peace that was beyond understanding – a peace that let him live a life ‘in Christ’ – in the freedom that last week’s reading had declared was for all who are in Christ Jesus.
From Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” www.liturgy.slu.edu :
Paul ‘glories’ not in the circumcision or any other religious ritual: he glories in the cross. For it is at the cross that we can be transformed, recreated into children of God, trusting and knowing a love that is there to heal and give life, even in the midst of hardship and troubles. The marks of his apostolic sufferings are evidence of his faith in that love. With that faith, nothing can really bother Paul – or us if we learn to let such a faith grow in us.
There is a balance between living a life detached and living life fully immersed in love. Detachment is approaching life freely. You are okay with however things work out. This is hard because we want our own way! And culture encourages decision-making or choosing sides. It is also hard because we love. We want things to work out well for those we love and we cling to what we achieve. But God is here to help us with this balance. This is why Paul says no one will make trouble for him again, because he bears the marks of Christ. It is through Christ that we receive consolation. Can you think of a time when you detached from something, trusted in the Lord and it worked out?
The Gospel – Luke 10: 1-12, 17-20
Only Luke uses this story of Jesus sending out 72 (or 70) to go ‘ahead of him in pairs.” What do you make of this gospel story as Jesus continues his journey to Jerusalem? Do you think any of the appointed were women?
From John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context,” www.liturgy.slu.edu
In Jesus’ culture, goodness to a family member was considered ‘steadfast love.’ Hospitality was something given to strangers, usually by males. Travel was a very dangerous activity. Death was a constant threat once a person left their family village. Jesus is perhaps just uttering a cultural truism when he says that “I am sending you as lambs into the midst of wolves” – strangers among nonrelatives. Thus, hospitality was of vital importance in this culture. Jesus warns them to accept gratefully any hospitality that is offered, but to leave even the dust behind if they are rejected. They were not to be weighed down with disappointment. Remember also that the people at this time ‘saw’ demons everywhere. Today we might not personify evil in the same way. But evil is just as real. And, Jesus can still help us overcome it.
From William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, 137-138:
When Jesus said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightening from Heaven,” it is a difficult phrase to understand. It may mean that he saw evil being overcome by their proclaiming God’s kingdom. But it could also be a warning against pride. The legend was that it was pride that caused Satan to rebel against God; it was Satan’s pride that cast him out of heaven. Jesus may be telling them to be careful of the same pride and overconfidence. They had been given great power, but it was a gift. Our greatest glory is not what we can do, but what God has done for us – ‘our names written in heaven’ – sinners who are saved by God’s free gift of grace.
From Richard Rohr, The Good News According to Luke, 137-142:
Luke’s Jesus sends the disciples out in two’s. By doing so, Luke is telling us that the gospel happens between people – it doesn’t happen in your mind. It is through a sacrificial love – being in right relationship with at least with one other person (the only real ‘test’ of God’s Spirit being present). Only then do we begin to understand ‘salvation.’ Salvation is not antiseptic, unreal and sterile. “Person-to-person is the way the gospel was originally communicated. Person-in-love-with-person, person-respecting-person, person-forgiving-person, person-crying-with-person, person-hugging-person: that’s where the Spirit is so beautifully present . . . Restraint and passion – that is the paradoxical experience of the Holy.” We grow into our ability “to love another in a way that totally gives” ourselves and entrusts ourselves to another while respecting the other person and standing back in honor of them. Jesus is also trying to console them even as he is ‘toughening them up’ for the job. He warns them not to feel defeated when rejected. If they do not accept your peace, it will return to you. If they accept you, then let your presence as another Christ bring God’s goodness to them.
1st Reading: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
This reading from second Isaiah announces the end of the Babylonian exile and the return of the Israelites to their homeland. Those out in the desert are being called back (Faley, Footprints on the Mountain, p. 21). God makes it very clear that he wants every obstacle between God and God’s people to be taken away so that nothing keeps us apart. God wants to be fully in relationship with us. God wants to be with us in our journey, as hard as it may be. The path is paved with love. Richard Rohr says…
2nd Reading: Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7
In Jesus we get to see God’s power and mercy in action in our history at close range. And we need God close, because salvation that is far away can be hard to believe in. We suffer the ache of the particular, being born with this nose, these parents, this ethnicity and address, and no other. We’ve got to make do with certain talents and limitations. We’re stuck with the present generation, and can never return to the past nor fast-forward to the age to come. Hunkered down in time and place can be a terrible poverty when it comes to opportunity. And Jesus reveals to us that God is willing to share our poverty in order to save us from it. No other proof would do but to be here. What are some of the particulars of your life that are especially difficult? How does the revelation of Jesus speak to those? (Exploring the Sunday Readings, Jan. 2004)
Gospel: Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
We might wonder why it was necessary for Jesus to receive baptism. We know that John certainly considered himself unworthy to perform the act, but Jesus insisted that he be baptized along with the rest of the people on the banks of the Jordan River. Through this baptism Jesus was able to link his ministry with John’s proclamation. Jesus is no longer just the carpenter’s son in Nazareth (The Word into Life, cycle C, p.22)
This is a moment of Trinity. Jesus being baptized with the Holy Spirit descending and the Father speaking His words of love…all come together to transform this moment of baptism as sacred.
What kind of human experience was this in which Jesus hears a voice from heaven speaking to him? Scholars note that it is an experience in an altered state of consciousness or an experience of alternate reality. On average, 90% of the world’s cultures regularly have such experiences and find them useful and meaningful in their cultural context (Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, cycle C, p. 20).
It is interesting to note that right after this section of Luke is a genealogy of Jesus. Right after the Father proclaims that Jesus is His Son, this genealogy cites one “son of” after another until it ends as Jesus being identified as son of Adam, son of God (Pilch, 20).
But all of this speaks to the heart. “God looking into the dripping face of Jesus and seeing the whole big picture of creation and life and heavenly hosts and the throne of heaven. God looking at Jesus and seeing it all – glory and honor and power and might. God watching as Jesus came up from his knees and seeing justice and kindness and compassion breaking forth like the dawn. God seeing in Jesus the very plan of salvation radiant in its entire splendor. God wrapping the soaking wet Jesus in the warmth of the Holy Spirit, knowing that the magnificence of God’s own mercy is shining back at that moment, glistening in the water of baptism,” (Hungry, and You Fed Me, Rev. Dr. David A. Davis, p. 45). What speaks to you?
1st Reading – Isaiah 9: 1-6
One can certainly see how the early Christians (who were all Jewish) ‘saw Jesus’ in this passage . . . What line do you most treasure from this poetic passage? What name for the Messiah speaks to you?
Of course, when Isaiah first wrote this passage he was not thinking of Jesus – or of a ‘far-future messiah.’ He was trying to encourage King Ahaz (the weak and unwise king at the time) to be strong and to rely on God’s wisdom and power. He was promising the birth of a son who unlike Ahaz would be faithful, prudent, and far-sighted – and in this way would be Immanuel, God-is-with-us. It seems that Isaiah’s hope never did become reality; this yearning, though, gave rise to the yearning for a true Messiah – one born to bring God’s presence to the people. (Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year C, 77-78)
2nd Reading – Titus 2: 11-14
This letter was written not to a community but to an individual in regards to their pastoral duties. Paul, himself, probably did not write this letter. Most likely a disciple of Paul wrote it hoping to be giving the advice that he felt Paul would have given. In this passage he is simply reminding all that Christ’s coming in time and history [in birth and on a cross] is about our lives right now – and in the ultimate future hope of a second coming in fullness and light. Our task we are told is not to retreat from the world but to be “eager to do what is good” – to let our very lives reflect the goodness of our Lord. (http://liturgy.slu.edu./ChristmasC122509; Birmingham, W and W Wrbk. for Yr C, 77-78)
The Gospel – Luke 2: 1-14
The Infancy Narratives pose difficult problems for those who try to use them to reconstruct some actual history for there are agreements and also discrepancies. (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth”, http://liturgy.slu.edu.) It is more about the truth of God’s entrance into human history through the person of Jesus – born as one of the poor and insignificant, tracing his life to two inconsequential towns (Nazareth and Bethlehem). His power is not about ‘government overthrow’ but about conversion and openness to God’s love. In Jesus, God comes for the outcast, for the despised, and ‘unclean’ – the shepherds. Angels bring messages: God is acting and offering salvation to everyone. The phrase “people of good will” is not meant to be an exclusion – it is meant to refer to all people who because of this birth, are objects of divine favor — all is permeated with God’s life and love and holiness. Luke’s purpose is Christological and ecclesial: Jesus links God’s glory with the humble – those open and listening for the surprising way in which God will break into life – the small and vulnerable and those needing human care and concern. (Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook Year C, 79-80)
From John Foley, S.J. “Spirituality of the Readings” http://liturgy.slu.edu./ChristmasC122509:
The Christmas story urges us to ask: “What does it mean to be fully human?” Since God chose to become human, the whole meaning of Christmas rests on the answer. Is it about all the ‘Martha-like-work’ that the season brings? Is it the ‘family tradition’ of dinners and presents and decorations to which we cling?
But what about those who have no family – or are sick and alone? Jesus’ life, too, had fun and laughter along with the suffering and poverty. Maybe full humanity has to do with loving and being love. Isn’t love the aching desire that lies under all the rest? Don’t we all long for a love that will at last be carried out? A love we can trust? And a love that we might be bold enough to love in return? To be fully human means allowing enough room inside ourselves to let God and others in. It means letting go of all those things we think will save our lives (possessions, honors, importance, bigness), so that we can relate to God and to others. In the busy-ness and noise of this season, we need to find time to listen for the stillness. We may be only inches away from the emptying-out that will let God be born inside of us. Let it be!
Ronald Rolheiser in The Holy Longing:
Thoughts on Jesus and Incarnation: The Word was made flesh and dwells among us. (John 1: 14) The incarnation is still going on and it is just as real and as radically physical as when Jesus of Nazareth, in the flesh, walked the dirt roads of Palestine (p.76).
God takes on flesh so that every home becomes a church, every child becomes the Christ-child, and all food and drink become a sacrament. God’s many faces are now everywhere, in flesh, tempered and turned down, so that our human eyes can see him. God, in his many-faced face, has become as accessible, and visible, as the nearest water tap” (p. 78). We are the Body of Christ. This is not an exaggeration, or a metaphor . . . The word did not just become flesh and dwell among us – it became flesh and continues to dwell among us (p. 79-80). This is the core of Christian spirituality . . . God’s presence in the world today depends very much upon us. We have to keep God present in the world in the same way as Jesus did . . . The word that he spoke is not heard in our contemporary world unless it is proclaimed by the community . . .As God once acted through Christ, so he now acts through those who are conformed to the image of his Son (p.80). The God who has become incarnate in human flesh is found, first and foremost, not in meditation and monasteries, albeit God is found there, but in our homes (p.100).
Luke’s Birth Story – Notes from William Barclay
The Roman Census — In the Roman Empire, periodic censuses were taken with the double object of assessing taxation and discovering those eligible for compulsory military service. The Jews were exempt from military service so any census would have been only for taxation. In Egypt they have discovered much evidence of these censuses – and that they were taken every 14 years. If that pattern held true, then Jesus’ birth might have been in about 7 or 8 B.C. Quirinius was not governor of Syria until 6 A.D. but he did hold an official post there from 10 -7 B.C. It was also the custom in Egypt to have every man go back to his home origin; it may also have been the case in Israel.
Bethlehem — Nazareth was 80 miles from Bethlehem. (Its name means the ‘place of bread’.) The accommodations for travelers were most primitive. ‘Inns’ were merely a series of stalls opening off a common courtyard. Travelers brought their own food. Since there was little room according to Luke, Mary and Joseph would have stayed in the common courtyard – or perhaps found shelter in a cave, also common around this town. The fact that there was no room for Jesus was symbolic of what would happen to him: rejection would be his fate: the only place where there was room for him was on the cross. He still seeks to enter the crowdedness of our hearts . . .
Swaddling clothes –were the common way to ‘dress’ an infant. They consisted of a square of cloth with a long, bandage-like strip coming off from the corner. The infant would be wrapped in the square and then the long strip was wound round and round about him.
Manger—(R. Brown’s An Adult Christ at Christmas, p. 20) not a sign of poverty but probably meant to evoke God’s complaint against Israel in Isaiah 1:3. “The ox knows its owner and the donkey knows the manger of its lord; but Israel has not known me, and my people have not understood me.” But this has been repealed, because the shepherds find the baby in the manger and praise God.
Shepherds –were despised by orthodox good people of the day. Shepherds were quite unable to keep the details of the ceremonial law; they simply could not observe all the hand-washings and regulations. Their flocks made constant demands on them. They were rough, uncouth, and unclean characters. But these shepherds also served God. Their sheep were the lambs to be one day offered as sacrifice in the temple in Jerusalem just 7 miles away. Luke is certainly comparing their lambs with Jesus, the Lamb of God. The shepherds, the unclean and rough, were invited by angels (God’s messengers) to come.
1st Reading — Isaiah 53: 10-11
This is part of the fourth Suffering Servant Song that is found in Isaiah. One can read all of these Servant Songs at Isaiah 42: 1-7; 49:1-7; 50:4-9; 52:12-53:12. They were written during the time of exile when the nation of Israel was itself the ‘suffering servant’. Its intention was to offer a word of hope and consolation. The early Christian community believed that Jesus was the Suffering Servant; it isn’t certain if Jesus actually saw himself that way, but he could certainly identify with it. How do you identify with this passage? Did you see a light in the tunnel when you have had a moment of suffering?
The word for many according to Jewish scholars referred to gentiles. In later Judaism, the many was understood to mean “all” – everyone, all the nations, all people. The Suffering Servant would save all people. What good news! (Share the Word, 52, and Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, Year B, 686)
From Preaching Resources, Oct. 2006:
God can make sense of chaos. God can bring good out of bad. Hope is only hope when things are hopeless. The Christian view of history is not that goodness overcomes badness, but that goodness survives badness. We learn that from Jesus, God’s own son. God has high hopes for us and for his world. God is tickled to have us in God’s life. The God we find in Jesus promises us that all will be well in the end.
If Jesus came with the sole mission of taking away all pain in this life, then he failed miserably. But perhaps God inspired the Suffering Servant songs precisely to help us understand the sufferings of Jesus and so learn how to cope with our own sufferings – growing in compassion regarding the sufferings of others. (Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.)
2nd Reading — Hebrews 4: 14-16
Here the Suffering Servant is the High Priest. How does this reading give you confidence?
As different as Jesus is from us, he also knows and understands our weaknesses. Like us, he too was tempted, and not only once at the start of his ministry, but throughout his life, just as we are. The difference, of course, is that though tempted “in every way,” he never sinned. The consequences of all this are no less than astounding: we can “confidently” approach “the throne of grace,” that is, the throne of God, because Christ, our brother in the flesh and our Lord in eternity, has thrown wide the gates of access to God’s merciful love, (Workbook for Lectors…255).
How do we hold fast to our confession?
The Gospel — Mark 10: 35-45
From your experience, what is so great about being servant? Where is the good in this?
After James and John argued their point that they should have “special seats” in heaven (Doesn’t it remind you of kids who want to sit in the front seat?), Jesus summons all of his disciples saying, “You know….there are rulers in the world that want power and prestige, and you aren’t them.” In other words, Jesus is gently and lovingly telling them to get over themselves! They must be willing to really drink from the cup.
John Pilch says that in this culture, the head of the family would fill the cups of all at the table. Each one is expected to accept and drink what the head of the family has given. In a type of analogy, God is like this parent and so this cup came to represent the ‘lot’ or reality of our life. Jesus accepts the reality and his call from God to serve others by showing them God’s kingdom, God’s power and love. Jesus’ ‘honor’ will be attained in this way, even when evil tries to stop him. What is your cup? How does this add insight into the ‘sharing of the cup’ at Eucharist? (“Historical Cultural Context” http://liturgy.slu.edu. )
Henri Nouwen opened up this idea even further in his book, Can You Drink the Cup?. He asks, “Can you drink the cup? Can you taste all the sorrows and joys? Can you live your life to the full whatever it will bring?” Drinking the cup of life involves holding, lifting and drinking. It is the full celebration of being human. We must hold our cup and fully claim who we are and what we are called to live. When each of us can hold firm our own cup, with its many sorrows and joys, claiming it as our unique life, then too, can we lift it up for others to see and encourage them to lift up theirs lives as well. Drinking the cup of life says, “This is my life, “ and “I want this to be my life.”
Thoughts from M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbk.,Yr. B, 689:
The word ‘ransom’ in this setting in Hebrew means an offering for sin, an atonement offering. Jesus has paid the universal debt: he has given his life for many to redeem the world.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke out against the Nazis’ unjust and inhuman treatment of Jews in Germany before and during WWII. He was killed by order of Hitler, but his life and words still inspire many. In his reflections on Jesus’ call to service, he lists certain ministries or services that can encourage a holy and wholesome communal life:
- The service of holding one’s tongue so as to prevent undue criticism or domination while allowing the other to grow freely, in God’s image not my own.
- The service of humility that places the honor, opinion and well-being of another before my own.
- The service of listening that does not listen with only half an ear presuming to know already what the other has to say.
- The service of active helpfulness that remembers that nobody is too good for the lowliest service.
- The service of proclaiming by speaking God’s words of compassion and truth even in difficult circumstances.
Only after all these services are in place and available to all can the service of authority be truly exercised. True authority is humble, willing to listen. It is actively helping to ease the burdens of others, while speaking words that give life. (Preaching Resources, October 2000)
1st Reading – Isaiah 50: 5-9a
This passage is also the appointed reading for Palm Sunday. This is the third servant song from Second Isaiah. The people are still in the throes of captivity yet reject the prophet’s message of hope. The exile continues and the people are getting tired of this prophet saying there will be a positive outcome (Birmingham, W&W, 642). Yet he must be heard! Isaiah is adamant that his voice must be heard because God is by his side. What faith. How does this speak to you? When have you felt this boldness to pursue what is right and important to you?
Christians, of course, saw in these songs the picture of Jesus, our Christ.
In fact they were used to help them pray about and understand Jesus’ life, suffering, death, and resurrection. They also contained an inherent challenge for Jesus’ disciples – and for us. (Celebration, Sept. 2006) How do they challenge you?
2nd Reading – James 2: 14-18
This letter is getting down to the brass tacks of our faith. If we have faith, what are we going to do about it? How does this reading inspire and/or challenge you?
There was quite the debate in the early church community about faith and works. Paul often spoke as faith being God’s gift to us, and so many thought Paul was in opposition to James’ letter. But both can work together. “To be Christian means to act upon the Word as our response in love,” (Birmingham, W&W, 643). Who inspires you as someone who balances their faith and works?
The Gospel – Mark 8: 27-35
“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus questions. Jesus in his humanity is revealed in this question. Jesus first asks what others think of him, but then he gets to what he really cares about…what do his friends think of him? Revelation literally means an “unveiling” or “disclosure” of something previously hidden. Jesus is God revealed:
- Revelation is God’s own self-disclosure.
- Revelation points to particular events and particular people through whom God has communicated in decisive ways with humanity.
- Revelation calls for our personal response and appropriation. True knowledge of God is a practical rather than a merely theoretical knowledge.
- Revelation of God is always a disturbing, even shocking event. Look at Jesus! He ate with sinners-this was shocking at the time.
- Revelation transforms the imagination…it stretches out understanding.
Taken from Faith Seeking Understanding by D. Migliore, p. 24 Who is Jesus to you? How does He reveal himself to you in these different ways?
Notice how Jesus speaks openly, but Peter immediately turns defensive. Jesus does not shy away from confrontation. He walks right into it. Jesus is clear about what the future brings for him, and it will mean suffering. But through human weakness, the strength of God abides (Birmingham, W&W, p. 642, 645). Jesus challenges us to find strength in our weakness…to be open when we are hurting and sad. Can you do that? Can you live a life openly like Jesus did?
Jesus: divine AND human? We question this because we are trying to understand who he is. Our love for him makes us WANT to know him. In the end, there will always be some mystery in the knowing. Like with all of us, we may never truly understand and know each other completely. St. Augustine said, “If you have understood, then what you have understood is not God.” But does that stop us from loving anyway?