St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology

Readings: 

Wisdom 11:22-12
1 Psalm 145:1-2, 8-11, 13-14
2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2
Luke 19:1-10

Our Lord is a lover of souls, the Liturgy shows us today. As we sing in today's Psalm, He is slow to anger and compassionate towards all that He has made.

In His mercy, our First Reading tells us, He overlooks our sins and ignorance, giving us space that we might repent and not perish in our sinfulness (see Wisdom 12:10; 2 Peter 3:9).

In Jesus, He has become the Savior of His children, coming himself to save the lost (see Isaiah 63:8-9; Ezekiel 34:16).

In the figure of Zacchaeus in today's Gospel, we have a portrait of a lost soul. He is a tax collector, by profession a "sinner" excluded from Israel's religious life. Not only that, he is a "chief tax collector." Worse still, he is a rich man who has apparently gained his living by fraud.

But Zacchaeus' faith brings salvation to his house. He expresses his faith in his fervent desire to "see" Jesus, even humbling himself to climb a tree just to watch Him pass by. While those of loftier religious stature react to Jesus with grumbling, Zacchaeus receives Him with joy.

Zacchaeus is not like the other rich men Jesus meets or tells stories about (see Luke 12:16-21; 16:19-31; 18:18-25). He repents, vowing to pay restitution to those he has cheated and to give half of his money to the poor.

By his humility he is exalted, made worthy to welcome the Lord into his house. By his faith, he is justified, made a descendant of Abraham (see Romans 4:16-17).

As He did last week, Jesus is again using a tax collector to show us the faith and humility we need to obtain salvation.

We are also called to seek Jesus daily with repentant hearts. And we should make our own Paul's prayer in today's Epistle: that God might make us worthy of His calling, that by our lives we might give glory to the name of Jesus. 

Direct download: C_31_Ordinary.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 3:52pm EDT

Readings:

Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18
Psalm 34:2-3,17-19, 23
2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18
Luke 18:9-14

Jesus draws a blunt picture in today's Gospel.

The Pharisee's prayer is almost a parody of the thanksgiving psalms (see for example Psalms 30,118). Instead of praising God for His mighty works, the Pharisee congratulates himself for his own deeds, which he presents to God in some detail.

The tax collector stands at a distance, too ashamed even to raise his eyes to God (see Ezra 9:6). He prays with a humble and contrite heart (see Psalm 51:19). He knows that before God no one is righteous, no one has cause to boast (see Roman 3:10; 4:2).

We see in the Liturgy today one of Scripture's abiding themes - that God "knows no favorites," as today's First Reading tells us (see 2 Chronicles 19:7; Acts 10:34-35; Romans 2:11).

God cannot be bribed (see Deuteronomy 10:17). We cannot curry favor with Him or impress Him - even with our good deeds or our faithful observance of religious duties such as tithing and fasting.

If we try to exalt ourselves before the Lord, as the Pharisee does, we will be brought low (see Luke 1:52).

This should be a warning to us - not to take pride in our piety, not to slip into the self-righteousness of thinking that we're better than others, that we're "not like the rest of sinful humanity."

If we clothe ourselves with humility (see 1 Peter 5:5-6) - recognize that all of us are sinners in need of His mercy - we will be exalted (see Proverbs 29:33).

The prayer of the lowly, the humble, pierces the clouds. Paul testifies to this in today's Epistle, as He thanks the Lord for giving him strength during his imprisonment.

Paul tells us what the Psalmist sings today - that the Lord redeems the lives of His humble servants.

We too must serve Him willingly. And He will hear us in our distress, deliver us from evil, and bring us safely to His heavenly kingdom. 

Direct download: C_30_Ordinary.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 5:06pm EDT

Today is the memorial of St. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch at the end of the first century.  In this interview, Patristics scholar and St. Paul Center vice president, Mike Aquilina, discusses the life and legacy of this important early witness to the faith of the Apostles.

Direct download: St._Ignatius_of_Antioch.mp3
Category:Fathers of the Church -- posted at: 10:13am EDT

Readings: 

Exodus 17:8-13
Psalm 121:1-8
2 Timothy 3:14-4:2
Luke 18:1-8

The Lord is our guardian, beside us at our right hand, interceding for us in all our spiritual battles.

In today's Psalm we're told to lift our eyes to the mountains, that our help will come from Mount Zion and the Temple - the dwelling of the Lord who made heaven and earth.

Joshua and the Israelites, in today's First Reading, are also told to look to the hilltops. They are to find their help there - through the intercession of Moses - as they defend themselves against their mortal foes, the Amalekites.

Notice the image: Aaron and Hur standing on each side of Moses, holding his weary arms so that he can raise the staff of God above his head. Moses is being shown here as a figure of Jesus, who also climbed a hilltop, and on Mount Calvary stretched out His hands between heaven and earth to intercede for us against the final enemy - sin and death (see 1 Corinthians 15:26).

By the staff of God, Moses bested Israel's enemies (see Exodus 7:8-12;8:1-2), parted the Red Sea (see Exodus 14:16) and brought water from the Rock (see Exodus 17:6).

The Cross of Jesus is the new staff of God, bringing about a new liberation from sin, bringing forth living waters from the body of Christ, the new Temple of God (see John 2:19-21; 7:37-39; 19:34; 1 Corinthians 10:4).

Like the Israelites and the widow in today's Gospel, we face opposition and injustice - at times from godless and pitiless adversaries.

We, too, must lift our eyes to the mountains - to Calvary and the God who will guard us from all evil.

We must pray always and not be wearied by our trials, Jesus tells us today. As Paul exhorts in today's Epistle, we need to remain faithful, to turn to the inspired Scriptures - given by God to train us in righteousness.

We must persist, so that when the Son of Man comes again in kingly power, He will indeed find faith on earth.

Direct download: C_29_Ordinary.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 4:09pm EDT

Readings:

2 Kings 5:14-17
Psalm 98:1-4
2 Timothy 2:8-13
Luke 17:11-19

A foreign leper is cleansed and in thanksgiving returns to offer homage to the God of Israel. We hear this same story in both the First Reading and Gospel today.

There were many lepers in Israel in Elisha's time, but only Naaman the Syrian trusted in God's Word and was cleansed (see Luke 5:12-14). Today's Gospel likewise implies that most of the 10 lepers healed by Jesus were Israelites - but only a foreigner, the Samaritan, returned.

In a dramatic way, we're being shown today how faith has been made the way to salvation, the road by which all nations will join themselves to the Lord, becoming His servants, gathered with the Israelites into one chosen people of God, the Church (see Isaiah 56:3-8). 

Today's Psalm also looks forward to the day when all peoples will see what Naaman sees - that there is no God in all the earth except the God of Israel.

We see this day arriving in today's Gospel. The Samaritan leper is the only person in the New Testament who personally thanks Jesus. The Greek word used to describe his "giving thanks" is the word we translate as "Eucharist."

And these lepers today reveal to us the inner dimensions of the Eucharist and sacramental life.

We, too have been healed by our faith in Jesus. As Naaman's flesh is made again like that of a little child, our souls have been cleansed of sin in the waters of Baptism. We experience this cleansing again and again in the Sacrament of Penance - as we repent our sins, beg and receive mercy from our Master, Jesus.

We return to glorify God in each Mass, to offer ourselves in sacrifice - falling on our knees before our Lord, giving thanks for our salvation.

In this Eucharist, we remember "Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David," Israel's covenant king. And we pray, as Paul does in today's Epistle, to persevere in this faith - that we too may live and reign with Him in eternal glory. 

Direct download: C_28_Ordinary.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 4:14pm EDT

A great talk given by St. Paul Center Senior Fellow Dr. Michael Barber at this year's Fullness of Truth Conference.


1