1st Reading – Isaiah 61: 1-2, 10-11
Some scholars suggest that this prophet may have delivered this uplifting message to his people while standing among the ruins that had once been Jerusalem. With these words of hope, they could begin to rebuild their city – and their lives. It was the ‘year of favor’ from the Lord. A ‘Year of Favor’, or a Jubilee Year, was a time of social reconciliation and economic restitution according to Leviticus 25: 9-19, 23-55. The land was to rest without planted crops. The poor could eat freely of whatever ‘wild crops’ grew. Property that had been once seized, borrowed, or rented was to be returned to its rightful owner. Slaves were to be set free. All debts were to either be remitted or forgiven. For such was the favor and forgiveness that Israel had experienced at God’s hand. (Celebration, December 15, 2002) When you experience and know this kind of joy, you want to DO something about it.
Henri Nouwen reflecting on joy in Here and Now:
Joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing – sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death – can take that love away…Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. It is a choice based on the knowledge that we belong to God and have found in God our refuge and our safety…Joy does not depend on the ups and downs of the circumstances of our lives. Joy is based on the spiritual knowledge that, while the world in which we live is shrouded in darkness, God has overcome the world…God’s light is more real than all the darkness.
2nd Reading – 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24
As we wait with joy and hope for the many ways the Christ will come and does come, we are called to be faithful – and faith-filled – living with a trust in the amazing love of our God. Paul is trying to encourage three ways of living that are important: prayer-living, discerning-awareness, and wholesome-holiness. These three ways will help us to experience Christ in our lives no matter the circumstances. Let us not ‘quench the Spirit’ of Life and Love that is offered to us. This is a Christmas gift worth opening and using! (Celebration, December 15, 2002)
In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy…Love wholeheartedly, be surprised, give thanks and praise-then you will discover the fullness of your life. ~ Br. David Steindl-Rast
The Gospel – John 1: 6-8, 19-28
Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering,
There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in. ~Leonard Cohen
Maybe John the Baptist saw the crack, and helps us see the light coming through it.
This gospel may seem out place with the other two readings. We have been prepared with joy and hope; we have been encouraged with positive words and messages. But John’s message in this gospel is filled with negations: “I am not the Messiah, not Elijah, nor the Prophet . . .” He knew himself to be the “voice of one crying in the desert.” Yet, in that solitary truth and task he found joy. There is comfort and assurance in knowing who we are and what our calling is. There is joy in knowing how to look for the “one who is to come.” John is incomplete by himself: so are we! Let us with John be expectant in the midst of a desert – looking for light in the midst of darkness. Even a tiny flicker of light can dispel the darkest gloom. Maybe then we will be free to discover the many and various ways the Lord Jesus Christ comes into our lives. (Living with Christ, December, 2011, p. 123)
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 . . .”
The Gospel — John 9: 1-41
In John’s gospel ‘miracle stories’ are never simple and are never called miracles. They are SIGNS that reveal Jesus. What do you make of this sign or teaching? What do you make of the mud/saliva paste?
e.e.cummings wrote a poem on spring; he called it ‘mud-luscious.’
Jesus spits – he mixes this part of himself with the clay of the earth. (Spit, saliva, in Jesus’ day was thought to have healing properties; it actually does.) He then smears (the Greek word used means anointing) the man’s eyes with this paste and tells him to go and wash. Ordinary, even crude, elements become ways for Jesus to work. This is the essence of our sacraments.
From Celebrations, March 10, 2002:
We are to be like this mud-paste; Jesus mixes into our ‘earthiness’ the healing substance of himself. We are to be people molded by Christ’s truth, transformed by his words. As this ‘mud-paste’ we are to be helping to ‘heal’ the world by being in it: we are ointment not pipelines. We help others to see Jesus more by how we are and how we live then by what we pass along.
The word Siloam means ‘Sent’ – so does the word apostle. Sacraments are ‘signs’ – rituals – that send us forth; every Mass also ends with a sending forth . . . What does it mean to you to be sent?
The story is about the struggle to see –what does this mean? Have you ever struggled to see?
At first, the blind man only knew Jesus as a man, then as a prophet; at the end he calls him, Lord – a beautiful growth in faith . . .What did knowing Jesus as Lord ‘cost’ the man? What does it cost you?
From Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu :
The original story in this gospel might have simply been about how a man was born blind and was healed by Jesus. This story was then later expanded due to the suffering and needs of the community for which John was writing. He was taking an experience of Jesus and applying it to the present situation. Isn’t that how the Spirit of the Risen Lord usually works? So John’s gospel has a trial and expulsion from the synagogue of Jewish converts to Christianity. This did not happen in Jesus’ day, but it did happen to those of John’s community. For this community to live through this very difficult time, Jesus must be seen and accepted as the true Light of the World that can help them overcome the darkness in which they were living. The washing in the pool of Siloam also suggests a further connection with baptism since the early Church often called baptism an ‘illumination” (photismos).
(Also, from Celebration, March 10, 2002)
From John Foley, S.J. “Spirituality of the Readings,” http://liturgy.slu.edu :
Why is this reading presented during Lent? Because it is pointing to the even greater healing that Easter offers us. We need to prepare for this. Jesus himself will suffer from the blindness of the world and will die because of the blindness of evil. Jesus will descend into the unseeing darkness of mortality, death, and by doing this he will show that love – God’s love –is stronger than death. By his death the world can be healed of its hatred, fear, insecurity; it can finally, once and for all, be assured of God’s love and power to bring good out of even the worst of evils. For, it is the crucified One who is the Risen One. We need to admit that we are like this blind man; we cannot see very well. Our eyes need to be opened. Due to Jesus, we can begin to glimpse and trust God’s answer to blindness, suffering, and sin.
Martin Luther Kin Jr. says, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Helen Keller was blind and deaf. Her teacher Anne Sullivan signed the word ‘water’ as she pumped from the well. It was in that moment that Helen had comprehension that words stood for things. She says, “She (Sullivan) awakened in me a long forgotten memory…the realization of that word…the touch of the water called my soul to life…she brought me into the light again.”
Some thought from Henri Nouwen in Here and Now:
. “…pain can be embraced, not out of a desire to suffer, but in the knowledge that something new will be born in the pain, “ (p. 47)
“What really counts is our willingness to let the immense sufferings of our brothers and sisters free us from all arrogance and from all judgments and condemnations and give us a heart as gentle and humble as the heart of Jesus, “ (p. 78).
1st Reading – Isaiah 58:7-10
This is from 2nd Isaiah, written after the Babylonian Exile. Jerusalem had been destroyed, so this is meant to be encouraging. Right before this section, Isaiah spoke of fasting and how it shouldn’t be done in a showy way. This is misdirected; use that energy to help the poor and those less fortunate. Spirituality that is other-centered shines like a beacon in the midst of the darkness (Birmingham, W&W, p. 380). Isn’t it true that when the chips are down, it helps to reach out to others who may be worse off than you? Are we a community that is like a beacon? How could we be better?
2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 1-5
Don’t we sometimes think we are the ones that have it right, that there is only one way to solve a problem – and it’s yours? True human wisdom is pure gift from God (One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit!). Who could ever look for God’s wisdom and power within an instrument of capital punishment and torture? Yet that was exactly what Paul was demanding that followers of Christ do if they wished to know true, divine wisdom. Paul proclaimed the power of the cross (p. 381).
The Gospel – Matthew 5:13-16
When Jesus called his disciples the salt of the earth, it was the highest compliment. Salt was highly valued:
- It stood for purity (its whiteness).
- It was a common preservative. It kept things from going bad (preserves from corruption). Do you know someone who makes it easy for you to be good?
- It gives flavor. A Christian should be full of vigor and life! Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers, (Barclay on the Gospel of Matthew, Vol I, p. 119-121).
Jesus called himself a light to the world, so here he is complimenting the disciples again by referring to them as he would himself. We do not produce our own light but reflect the light of Christ. Lamps in those days were like a bowl filled with oil and the wick floating in it. It was hard to rekindle a lamp, so when it was not on the lampstand, it would be protected under a bushel basket, (p. 122-124). The light’s purpose is to shine. We are meant to shine too!
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)
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)
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 to follow Jesus. They probably went out during the day with Jesus to the surrounding areas returning to their families at night or after short intervals, even returning to 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 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, Word and Worship Workbook for Year A, 363,364)