Tag Archives: Romans

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle A

1st Reading – Isaiah 55: 10-11

In this ‘biblical world’ rain is precious. The total rainfall averages 20-24 inches (Mobile, Alabama, gets about 65 inches.) Certainly then rain was eagerly awaited as a vitally necessary commodity. It was seen as a ‘gift of God.’  Isaiah saw the idea of rain as a far greater reality, as an image of the loving, creative, redeeming Word of God whose utterances could transform even the most hardened heart. The rain of grace could soften and bring life. (Celebration, July 14, 2002)  We must be open to receive this grace so that it can transform our life.  How do you know and feel this to be true in your life?

Thomas Merton had no religion growing up.  His father was an artist that travelled extensively, although a spiritual man.  His mother was a Quaker who died when he was still little.  He lived for himself, had fun…yet little nudgings from God would occur in him.  He finally made a decision to go to a Catholic church, he began spiritual reading, spoke to Catholics about their faith and before you know it-he wanted to be baptized into the faith.  It was only a couple years after that he wanted to become a priest.  In his book, The Seven Storey Mountain, he speaks of the peace that came over him as he got to know the Lord.  This is ‘giving seed to the one who sows’.  Not that we should all become priests, but what is it that God is planting in YOU?

2nd Reading – Romans 8: 18-23

Paul is not a ‘pie-in-the-sky-when-we-die’ kind of guy. On the contrary, Paul regarded the struggles of Christian living as productive, necessary and inherent part of the process whereby we are saved and even all creation is transformed. We are a part of the struggle, but we are also people of hope who live with a joy-filled anticipation of the fullness of life to come. Even in the world of nature we see transformation and struggle as part of the whole process: Butterflies strain to use their new wings as they emerge from their tomb-like cocoons. Salmon swim incredibly long distances in order to spawn and bring forth life. Seeds must crack open and trust the ‘earth-grave’ around them to sprout forth with growth. (Celebration, July 14, 2002)  Brene Brown says hope is a function of struggle.

“Hope is realistic…Hope simply does its thing, like that spider in the corner of my bookshelf.  She will make a new web again and again, as often as my feather duster swooshes it away – without self-pity, without self-congratulations, without expectations, without fear…On my level the stakes are higher.  But I bow to that spider,”  said by Brother David Steindl-Rast.  To learn a little more about this hope and being open to the unimaginable, watch this 6 minute clip of him:   Spirituality for the Future series.

The Gospel – Matthew 13: 1-23

When we hear this parable, we often focus on ourselves as the various types of soil. Are we rocky, hard soil? Are we choked by the weeds of our life? How do we become good soil, receptive to God’s planting and bountiful care? Things to think about . . .

  • What if we focus on ourselves as the sower?  As the seed?
  • Parables are certainly open-ended. They invite us to sit with mystery awhile – to allow time for its secrets and power to penetrate our minds and hearts. Isn’t it true that sometimes we are not sure we have much – or even that there isn’t much there? As Louie Armstrong said once: “There are some people that if they don’t know, you can’t tell ‘em.”  Perhaps, Jesus was trying to say something similar:  “To anyone who has, more will be given . . . from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”  (Exploring the Sunday Readings, July, 2011, & Living Liturgy, Year A, 2002, p. 197)
  • Imagine! Our God is willing to put up with a 75% failure rate! This parable certainly asserts that the kingdom will not be found by those who are afraid to waste – to ‘waste’ their time, energy, and love. God’s reign is fostered not by carefulness but by openhandedness – not by scrupulously measuring but by generously giving – not by the small gesture of micro-management but by large motion which allows seed to fly from our hands and to land where it will. If we give freely and love generously, a lot of our effort will be wasted. But the few things that do work will more than compensate for our losses. The harvest is worth the waste! God assures us. Jesus promises us that the growing seed will produce a harvest of 30, 60, and a 100 fold.  (Living w/ Christ, 7/11, p. 4-5)
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12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle A

1st Reading: Jeremiah 20: 10-13

The “Confession of Jeremiah” reflects the interior dialogue of a prophet who gave his life as an authentic witness to God.  Jeremiah suffered at the hands of his own colleagues.  He was in great turmoil because he believed God ill-equipped him for his mission.  He felt inadequate – that he was not up to the impossible task at hand.  He felt duped and angry.  Yet he knew that God had called him to the prophetic life.  He was confident that the Lord remains faithful to those who are faithful to him.  We are all invited into Jeremiah’s trusting hymn of grateful praise   (Birmingham, W&W for Yr A, p. 429).

Jeremiah turns to God in prayer when he is overwhelmed and full of emotion, as most prophets do.  Margaret Guenther in The Practice of Prayer says, “I enjoy listening to prophets when they say I like to hear (that is, when their target is someone other than me), but I prefer to tune them out when they threaten my comfort.  Prophets can expect to be unpopular, to be opposed and even killed if they persist in their candor,”  (p. 36).  Consider the 2 men who were killed in Portland, OR when they tried to stop an anti-Muslim rant.  Their deaths saved the lives of the 2 women being bullied.  They are modern day prophets for us in their actions.

Who are our persecutors?  Does God give us strength in times of struggle?  How do you feel the Lord with you?  What helps us persist in trusting the Lord?

2nd Reading: Romans 5: 12-15

When trying to understand Paul here, it is important to understand the Jewish notion of “corporate personality” – sort of like our modern idea of an ecosystem in which everything in that system is mutually interdependent. Paul is talking about the social effects of evil – death coming to all of us as we have sinned “in Adam.”  This does not mean that Adam introduced into human life a hereditary trait that is henceforth transmitted biologically. It is more that we have all sinned in Adam because we have all sinned like Adam. Adam is that insecure, false, needy self that we are all like without Christ.

Death is also not to be seen in some crude mechanical way as a punishment for sin. The awful death that Paul is talking about is separation from God; such separation is sin, a turning away from the very source of life.  Physical death is a biological inevitability in an imperfect world – but it is also the final revelation of our utter aloneness before the forces of life and death. Without Christ, we are hopeless.  But Paul is reassuring us that God’s grace is much greater than our sin, our separation. With faith in Christ, we can overcome the chasm . . .

From Celebration, June, 2002 and R. Fuller, “Scripture in Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu.

Sin can come in through a very small door – a moment of vanity, a selfish choice, an avoidance of compassion. It doesn’t take much energy. Sin can seem so easy; the failure to love can be ‘second nature’ to us – but it is our ‘false nature.’ Our first nature is to love and be loved. We can become insensitive, insecure, walking around in a fog of self-centeredness. But Jesus offers us another way – another door – a door wide enough to bring in love and life. Sin may give us many excuses to say no, but love makes us yearn to say yes. (Exploring the Sunday Readings,  June, 1999)

The Gospel: Matthew 10: 26-33

In Matthew 10: 16, Jesus says, “I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves.” Jesus knew that the way of discipleship is and was a very countercultural way of life. Yet, in today’s passage he also assures us of God’s loving concern with every aspect of our being – even the hairs on our heads. The problem may be with us. We hold records of everything that can and does go wrong with our frail mortality. We cling to our insecurity and worry, instead of living fully a life of faith and hope. But when we begin to speak the truth of God’s love, its certainty grows in us. When we act on this truth, we are brought into Christ’s marvelous light.

(Exploring the Sunday Readings, June, 1999)

Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969), a professor at the Union Theological Union in New York once wrote:  “Fear imprisons, faith liberates; fear paralyzes, faith empowers; fear disheartens, faith encourages; fear sickens, faith heals; fear makes useless, faith makes serviceable; and most of all, fear put hopelessness at the heart of life, while faith rejoices in its God.”           (Celebration, June, 2002)

Sparrows are what bird-watchers call ‘junk birds’ – birds so plentiful that them seem uninteresting, unworthy of much attention. But Jesus assures us that God cares for such things – and even cares for us unworthy humans. Jesus urges

1st Sunday of Lent, cycle C

Consider how these reading occur in the desert…the quiet, the barren, the emptiness…

1st Reading: Deuteronomy 26: 4-10

One of the greatest gifts the people of Israel have given the world is their assurance that God’s love is active in our lives – even in the negative times – even in our limitations.  How is this reading reminding us of this truth? 

From W&W, Birmingham, 125:

This was part of a liturgy of thanksgiving.  The people offered their prayers and thanks for the first fruits of the harvest.  How might this reading remind you of Eucharist?  First fruits were considered sacred.  Before moving forward in God’s grace, we must first pause to offer up what we have and give thanks.

The exodus proved that God was in relationship with a people.  The desert and God’s plan for Israel were intimately bound together.  Connected with this is the oldest ‘credo’ of ancient Israel.  It is a profession of faith rooted in the saving acts of Yahweh, their God.

  1. Yahweh established the southern kingdom of Judah.
  2. The Lord God delivered Israel out of bondage, forming a people in the desert.
  3. Yahweh gave them possession of the promised land.

2nd Reading: Romans 10: 8-13

Faith needs to be both deep within our hearts AND spoken out loud by our lips.  What did this mean to these early Christians?

To be ‘justified’ means to be in right relationship with God. To trust that our God claims us as his own. This free gift of God’s acceptance is just that – free, un-won, unmerited. In Jesus we find a God who assures us that his justice is filled with love. It is in responding to this love and acceptance – faith – that we find true life and power – a power that can live even beyond our own handicaps and deaths. (John C. Dwyer, The Lost Gospel of Paul, 43+)

Paul’s message is clear:  in order to become transformed, all one needed to do was embrace the message of Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit, then would slowly begin the process of transformation.  Jesus proves this in the Gospel reading!  (W&W, Birmingham, 126)

Paul insisted that Jesus died once and for all people.  It was a complete act of gratuitous, unmerited, unconditional love.  The response to such love can be nothing less than the complete offering of one’s entire life to the God who loves so greatly.  Human beings are justified by faith, not by observance of the law or by their own merits.  It was a difficult message to accept.  Justification through the law was ingrained in the people’s consciousness and history.

This is seen in Vatican II!  “Following the desire and command of Christ, the Church makes a serious effort to present the Gospel to the whole world so that people can share in God’s love.  Everyone who is baptized is charged with this mission.  The Church works and prays diligently with great hope that everyone in the whole world will ultimately join together as the People of God, “  (Vat II in Plain English: The Constitutions, p. 38).

The Gospel: Luke 4:1-13:

Jesus said that “One does not live by bread alone.”  For what do you hunger? How do these things nourish you?

The Greek word for ‘to tempt’ – periazein – means to test more than it means to entice someone to do wrong. How is this meaning important here?  In Jesus’ day, devils were ‘seen’ everywhere. Today, we might understand evil and sickness differently. How can this story of wilderness and devils speak to us today?

Jesus left the desert convinced of three things:

  1. His power is for love; it is not to be used for self-satisfaction.
  2. He is called to serve, not to be served.
  3. He will not bargain with evil, even if it means suffering.

(From Mark Link, S.J. “We Believe in Revelation: Preministry of Jesus,”, 1989, Tabor Publishing)

From Living Liturgy, 2004:

During Lent we can remember that in a desert we are in a place of isolation and desolation where we need like Jesus to be filled with God’s Holy Spirit – we cannot rely on our own means to overcome the problems we face in a desert. Like Jesus, we can find God’s Word to be a source of wisdom and strength. Because of this, Lent can also be a springtime of renewed relationship with God – a time to allow ourselves to be warmed and strengthened by God’s Spirit.

In our desert of ‘daily demands’ and pressures we will find new ways to open ourselves to God’s power which will help us to ‘take up the cross’ of daily living as we attempt through acts of kindness, justice, and encouragement to ‘lay down our lives for others.’

Here is a great truth: what we call temptation is not meant to make us sin; it is meant to help us conquer sin. It is not meant to make us bad, but good – not to weaken, but to strengthen, to refine and to purify. Jesus’ time of testing took place in the wilderness, an area between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea called the Devastation. It stretched over 35 miles by 15 miles – a place of yellow sand, of crumbling limestone, of scattered shingle. Contorted strata, warped and twisted ridges, jagged and bare rock ran in all directions. It glowed with daytime sun and heat; it chilled at night with darkness and cold. It was a place of ‘aloneness’ and danger: a testing place. And Jesus was tested right after his baptism – right after the powerful joy of hearing, “You are my Beloved.” His call to react to all of this was the Spirit driving him into this desert. It seems to be sort of a law of life that just as we come to a high point in our lives we can then nose-dive into danger. Also – we should remember that we are often tempted – tested – through our gifts. If we have charm, a gift for words, a vivid imagination – these talents can also lead us to problems: false pride, sensations, lies and excuses. Jesus, too, was tempted to use his powers for ‘showing-off’ in stead of showing forth God – for compromising with evil rather than trusting in his Father’s love. Jesus was tested as we are. Jesus was strengthened to turn away from the path of sensation, self-gratification, and compromise.  As he will ultimately do on the cross at the end of his life, Jesus puts his life into the hands of his Father. (Wm. Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: the Gospel of Matthew, vol.1, p. 62-70)

The Spirit prompted Jesus and provided the scriptures that Jesus needed to combat his enemy.  The word is the weapon but the Spirit engages in the battle  (W&W, Birmingham, 130).  How might scripture be a weapon and the Spirit do battle in your life?

The Most Holy Trinity, cycle B

trinity

Thoughts from Exploring the Sunday Readings, June 2005:

Understanding the Trinity by some feat of mathematics may be out of the question, but it is within our grasp to apprehend the Holy Presence through the power of the indwelling Spirit. To know God, start by making yourself known to God [opening yourself to God in prayer]. The Creator of the universe may seem too awesome for us. The Holy Spirit, as intimate as our next breath, may yet seem too mystical. But Jesus is the one in whom this God is completely present, and still we have been invited to call him friend. He is the one who knows us as one of us: He knew birthdays, hard work, good company, simple meals, and great feasts. He knew irritation, weariness, friendship, family, rejection, and suffering. Jesus is the one who can lead us through all that life has to offer us: there is no place we can go that he has not been.

1st Reading: Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40

From Celebration, June 11, 2006:

Deuteronomy means ‘a second law’ – it is written as if Moses is giving a farewell address to his people before they cross the Jordan river and enter Canaan. It is comprised of both early and late material, some perhaps as early as the 10th century B.C. and some as late as the 7th century B.C. It speaks of a God who not only created all things, but who wishes to also be involved with and care for all that he has brought forth.

How does this reading speak to you about our God?  Do you feel this greatness of God in your life?  Is it fixed in your heart?

2nd Reading: Romans 8: 14-17

Paul here is using Roman law and customs to explain how God wishes to relate to us. According to Roman law, the father’s power over the family was absolute. A son never came of age; he was always under the control of his father. To adopt a son was a major undertaking. It followed a long and exact ritual. But once done, the adopted person belongs forever to the new father. Here are some of the consequences of these legal adoptions:

  • The adoptee gave up all rights in his former family and gained all rights and dignity of a legitimate child in his new family.
  • The adoptee became the legal heir of his new father and even if others are born afterwards, his rights could not be affected.
  • The old life of the adoptee was wiped out and all debts were cancelled.
  • The adoptee was regarded as a new person and a true son/daughter.

(Celebration, June 11, 2006)

What do you find most important in this reading?  How does it feel to know you  are a child of God  (Family!) and able to ENTER INTO this trinity?

The Gospel: Matthew 28: 16-20

Matthew’s gospel began with the story of Jesus’ birth saying “and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means God is with us.” (1:23). Now with this ending passage, Matthew has Jesus again assuring the disciples who are sent out to all the world (no longer just to fellow Jews) saying: “And behold, I am with you always . . .”

What strikes you most about this gospel?  Isn’t it interesting that the moment the disciples doubted, that’s when Jesus sent them off with work to do?  None of us are completely prepared, but we are sent anyway.  Just as we are.

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle A

Let us pray from Psalm 95…

If today we hear His voice, harden not your hearts.

Come, let us acclaim the rock of our salvation.

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;

Let us joyfully sing psalms to him.

If today we hear His voice, harden not your hearts.

Come, let us bow down in worship,

Let us kneel before the Lord who made us.

For he is our God, and we are the people he shepherds,

The flock he guides.

If today we hear His voice, may we harden not our hearts.

1st Reading: Ezekiel 33: 7-9

Ezekiel understood his role as prophet to be that of watchman who discerns the moral pulse of the culture, and who also watches for and announces to the people any impending disasters.  (Birmingham, W&W Workbook for Year A, 499)  You can hear the weight of responsibility he feels this role, and it challenges us to speak out against what we see is wrong in the world too.  We all do this in our own way.  How have you had to do it in your life?

During the day, some people who lived in a fortified city worked outside the city gates.  So that they could go about their work without worry, a guard stood on the city wall scanning the horizon for any sign of an approaching enemy.  When the watchman spied hostile forces, he gave a signal to the townspeople in the fields.  It was their responsibility to leave their work to return to safety behind the city walls.  Both the watchman and the people had clear responsibilities, (Vawter&Hoppe, Ezekiel:  A New Heart, 148).  Do you have someone that watches over you?  Are you a watchman?

2nd Reading: Romans 13: 8-10

In this pericope, Paul gives us the “how” in handling this social responsibility:  with love. 

Indeed, Paul’s words from 1 Corinthian 13 are very close.  It also aligns well with Jesus’ preaching as we find it in the synoptic gospels, especially passages like Luke 10: 25+ — here Jesus lists love as the essence of the law and tells the story of the Good Samaritan. These words of Paul predate the gospels, of course. His experience of the Risen Lord taught him the same truth that we find later recorded by others in the gospels — a great testimony to the ‘unity’ of mind and heart that comes from knowing Jesus. (M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year A, 500)

The Gospel — Matthew 18: 15-20

Here we see Matthew applying Jesus’ wisdom and advice to his own community and its needs. He is trying to fashion his ‘church’ on the teaching of Jesus.  (Birmingham, 501)

Also remember, Matthew’s community was a highly Jewish/Christian group.  Eduard Schweizer asks us to notice these things in connection with this gospel: In Judaism, at least 10 males must be present for corporate worship. For the disciples of Jesus such rules are no longer needed: even 2 who pray together are heard.  Also, the authority of the community is the authority they gain through prayer. It is assumed, of course, that the community prays according to God’s will as Jesus taught his disciples to do in the Lord’s Prayer (See Mt. 6: 9-13.)  The promise of Jesus’ presence speaks with a strong ‘taste’ of resurrection faith. When we come together in Jesus’ name we come together under Jesus authority and teaching.  It is this presence of love that confers the presence and power of Christ on the community.  Prayer and love are central: “the presence of the God who is unknown has been replaced by the presence of the man who is known, who can be called by name, the presence of Jesus Christ himself. Jesus now takes the place of the Law, as described by this Jewish saying: “When two men sit together and words of the Law are between them, then the presence of God is dwelling among them.”    (The Good News According to Matthew, 374-375)

From John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Embodied,” http://liturgy.slu.edu:

Community life is the great testing ground of faith. St. Teresa of Avila thought that relationships in community were often a greater indication of one’s relationship to God than any heights of mystical prayer. Too often, though, we let problems fester in stead of being confronted and healed. The misdeeds of friends and family are discussed with everyone but the accused. We would too often rather ignore than struggle with conversion. Encountering truth with another person can be daunting – but it can also be the beginning of new life.

William Barclay has these comments: He says that this passage is one of the most difficult passages in Matthew’s entire gospel. It just does not ‘ring true’: it does not sound like Jesus. In fact, it sounds much more like a ‘church committee.’ Certainly, in its present form Jesus could not have told his disciples to take things to the Church for it did not exist yet! Still, it seems equally certain that it does in some way go back to a ‘Jesus teaching.’ If we press behind the text itself, we can find perhaps advice from Jesus like this: If someone does something wrong and harmful, spare no effort to help the sinner to see what is wrong and try to correct it. We must talk lovingly and directly to the one who has wronged us or others. Direct, personal confrontation can be healing and it needs to be private, at least at the beginning. If this does not produce healing and reconciliation, then bring one or two wise, caring people with you. Their objective wisdom may help to bring about good. If that does not work, call on your Christian community with the hope that with prayer, love and fellowship the personal relationship may be righted.

But then we come to the most difficult part. We are told if the person will not repent we are to treat that one like a Gentile or tax-collector. But Jesus never set limits to forgiveness. In fact in the very next passage in Matthew’s gospel (18: 21-35) Peter is told that we must forgive the one who wrongs us as often as necessary: 7 x 70! And, when Jesus ‘deals with’ tax-collectors or Gentiles in the gospels he does so with sympathy, gentleness, and an appreciation of their good qualities. In fact, Matthew for whom this very gospel is named was a tax-collector. Jesus found no one hopeless; neither must we. Maybe Jesus is telling us that even if the stubborn sinner is like a tax-collector or a Gentile, we may still win him over in the end as He did.

Barclay has more insights concerning the ending of this passage that is on prayer. Surely, we can not take literally the idea that if we but have two people agree on something God will have to give it. Nothing but harm can result when we teach people to expect what does not happen. So what is meant?

1st – prayer must never be selfish. We are not to pray only for our own needs; we need to pray as a part of a fellowship open to what is needed around us.

2nd – when prayer is unselfish, God’s answers with what is best for real growth, real goodness.

Furthermore, Jesus is with us whenever faithful hearts meet. He is not a slave to numbers. No matter how few may gather, his loving and powerful presence is there. (The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, p. 187-192)

Kenneth Leech says, “Prayer needs always to be seen within this social context, for there is no such thing as private prayer.  The word private comes from the Latin privatio, which means robbery.  To the Christian, nothing is private, least of all prayer.  God is not private but personal and social, Being in relationship.”  Margaret Guenther adds, “After all, when in the Lord’s Prayer we address God as OUR Father, we are acknowledging that there are other children in the family.”  From The Tree of Life by Steven Chase.

Let us pray:

Lord,

We need you.

We need you to help us be watchful people.

Not to snuff out the sin in the world, not to be accusers-

But to be faithful to what You teach us.

We need each other to do this.  Help us to see that too.

When we are loving to one another, we spread Your love.

And You are in our midst.

Thank you Lord.  AMEN

Scripture Commentary for 2nd Sunday of Advent, cycle A

lion and lamb

1st Reading – Isaiah 2: 1-5

Remember, 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:

  1. 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.
  2. This era will be marked by the king’s execution of justice on behalf of his people.  Equity and harmony will  be re-established.
  3. 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?

Scripture Commentary for 1st Sunday of Advent, cycle A

Advent = 3 comings!  From St. Bernard (1090-1153):

We know that there are three comings of the Lord.  The third lies between the other two.  It is invisible, while the other two are visible.  In the first coming he was seen on earth, dwelling among men [and women]; he himself testifies that they saw him and hated him.  In the final coming “all flesh will see the salvation of our God,” and “they will look on him whom they pierced.”  The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved.  In his first coming our Lord came in the flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty.  Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last.  In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation. 

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 (chapters 1-39).  This was a world in crisis. 1st Isaiah uses this powerful poetry to give the people of his time a vision of God’s plan that goes beyond the immediate disasters.  (Celebration, Dec. 2001)

Isaiah has an agenda against injustice, oppression and idolatry.  He implored the people to turn from their wicked ways and return to Yahweh.  Isaiah proclaimed a God who was in control of the whole world, a God who blessed and disciplined those who were in covenant with God.  In spite of Isaiah’s warnings, Israel’s kings did not heed his advice.  They refused to believe the promise that Yahweh would protect and defend their nation.  As a result, Isaiah turned his hopes to a future king who would obey Yahweh.  From this moment, the words of Isaiah inspired hopes of a messiah, a new king in Israel’s future who would better serve God and bring about a full measure of the divine blessing on the land.  The bottom line:  peace is possible only in God (Word & Worship, Birmingham, p. 49-50).

2nd Reading – Romans 13: 11-14

From Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu :

A Christian life is a life of tension, yet a tension that is filled with peace – a darkness that is filled with Christ’s light. Christians stand in the dark with our faces lit by the coming dawn. The early Christians actually lived thinking that Jesus was coming at any minute; we have a longer view of this coming. Yet, we, too, must live with a certainty of his coming that is so strong that his light casts his goodness on all we do.

From Share the Word, Dec. 2001 p. 16:

This passage changed St. Augustine’s life from waste to knowing the wonder of God’s power and love. Augustine as a young man knew orgies and drunkenness and promiscuity quite well. One day he heard a sing-song voice say to him: “Take, read.” His eyes fell upon this passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Augustine let these words touch his heart and mind. These words helped to cut the cords of sin beginning a transformation that would eventually help him to become St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the Church’s greatest pastors and theologians.  He was able to cast off the ‘false self’ (flesh) that had led him to the ways of darkness and death, and  “to put on the Lord Jesus” being enlightened by this “armor of light.”

From Richard Rohr, CD’s: Great Themes of Paul:

When Paul talks of ‘the flesh’ he means all that leads to death; he does not mean sexual activities so much as activities that are destructive of human life and relationships.  Paul sets before us the essential conflict. In this essential conflict, something does have to die – something has to live. Flesh (translated from sarx, not soma) does not just mean body or sex. It is not the body that has to die. It is falsehood – sinful self-interest – the little self – the trapped self: insecure, attention-seeking, needy, fragile, wounded, broken, always looking outside of one’s self. It often ‘causes’ us to do things that are not in our own best interest. We end up treating ourselves and others as objects instead of persons valued and loved by God. The false self – the flesh – which is ruled by sin, has an overwhelming desire to make itself special. Paul would want us to believe (this is the faith that saves us) that in Christ, as a fully alive human being, we are already special and loved by God – so then we can get ‘off the stage’ and live the reality that is God’s love!

The Gospel – Matthew 24: 37-44

From Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship, Year A p.53-54:

Today’s gospel reminds us that Advent calls for a response of faith. Whoever can wake up and be truly present to one’s life, sensing right now how Advent mysteriously lets the inexperience-able God be experienced. So we do not know the hour or day. So what? What difference does it make? What does make a difference is the way we live our lives in hopeful anticipation and quiet presence now. How are we nurturing our relationship with the living God in our midst? Prayer can be our help. This watchfulness and prayer will also help us pay more attention to the needs of others who are suffering or despairing. For we are people of hope and good news – let us reflect the Light bringing the love of God to those around us.

Scripture Commentary for The Most Holy Trinity

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Let us pray this Reflection by Hildegard of Bingen

Good people,

Most royal greening verdancy,

                Rooted in the sun,

        you shine with radiant light.

In this circle of earthly existence

        you shine so finely, it surpasses understanding.

God hugs you.

        You are encircled by the arms

                of the mystery of God.  Amen. 

On Trinity Sunday we celebrate the very essence of God – and how we experience this essence. And so, by this celebration we hope to come to experience this mystery more deeply within our real and everyday lives. This God of love, truth and life is not a puzzle to be solved, but a mystery to be loved, experienced,  and lived.

From Elizabeth Johnson’s Quest for the Living God, “Trinity: The Living God of Love”:

Christians do not believe in three gods but in one. What is particular to this faith is the belief that this one God has graciously reached out to the world in love in the person of Jesus Christ in order to heal, redeem, and liberate . . .

It lifts up God’s gracious ways active in the world through Jesus Christ and the Spirit, and finds there the fundamental revelation about God’s own being as self-giving communion of love . . .  This is about “an encounter with divine Mystery” . . . experiencing the saving God in a threefold way as beyond them, and with them, and within them . . .

‘Trinity theology’ too often has presented its findings as if they were a literal description of a self-contained Trinity of three divine persons knowing and loving each other. This, of course, is not the case, no such literal description is possible . . .  we must think with humility. Our “God is not two men and a bird” even though artists have often depicted the Trinity this way. This art is a meditation not a photograph. (207-208)

God is love – God lives as this mystery of love. We humans are created in this image. “Knowing God is impossible unless we enter into a life of love and communion with others.” “The church’s identity and mission pivot on this point . . .  Only a community of equal persons related in profound mutuality, pouring out praise of God and care for the world in need, only such a church corresponds to the triune God it purports to serve.”  (223)

“The point is, with the three circling around in a mutual, dynamic movement of love, God is not a static being but a plenitude of self-giving love, a saving mystery that overflows into the world of sin and death to heal, redeem, and liberate.  The whole point of this history of god with the world is to bring the world back into the life of God’s own communion, back into the divine dance of life  (p. 214).

1st Reading – Proverbs 8: 22 – 31

The Book of Proverbs is sort of an ‘Owners manual for the Jewish mind, heart and hands. All the chapters tell the reader about a spirit of right living: a life of discipline, restraint, just judgment, and relational sensitivity. This passage is a poetic presentation of how Wisdom assisted in creation. The goodness of creation and of ourselves is affirmed so that we reverence and use well all of that creation.  Larry Gillick, S.J., http://onlineministries.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistr/053010.html

This passage in the Old Testament is considered typology…a foreshadow or hint of what may be understood further in the New Testament.  Trinity is not a concept that was revealed well in OT, but this is a prefigurement:  the idea that the Father had company in creation.

2nd Reading – Romans 5: 1-5

Paul insists that standing firm in the midst of trials yields to endurance and a firm hope.  For Paul, the assurance that salvation was a free gift for all inclusively was based on his belief in God’s love shown to us through the power of the Holy Spirit.  It was Paul’s firm belief in the triune nature of God that would later be the foundation upon which theologians based the doctrine of Trinity.  For Paul it was the Christian anchor:  hope and endurance come through faith in the Triune God’s transcendent power!  (Birmingham, Word & Worship, p. 554)  How has hope and endurance helped you in the midst of trial?

The Gospel – John 16: 12-15

This passage continues the Farewell Discourse of the Last Supper that Jesus has with his disciples.  Note how gentle Jesus is in not wanting to overwhelm them by only feeding them bits of information that they are able to understand  (Think of how we teach our children!).  “Spirit” in this piece of scripture in Greek is “paraclete”…one who stands by us.  We have a God that stands forever with us.  How does this speak to you?

Let us pray this prayer by Richard Rohr…

God for Us, we call You Father,

God Alongside Us, we call You Jesus,

God Within Us, we call You Holy Spirit.

You are the Eternal Mystery

That enables, enfolds, and enlivens all things,

Even us, and even me.

Every name falls short of your

Goodness and Greatness.

We can only see who You are in what is.

We ask for such perfect seeing.

As it was in the beginning, is now,

and ever shall be.

Amen.