St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology

Readings:

Ezekiel 33:7-9
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9
Romans 13:8-10
Matthew 18:15-20

As Ezekiel is appointed watchman over the house of Israel in today's first Reading, so Jesus in the Gospel today establishes His disciples as guardians of the new Israel of God, the Church (see Galatians 6:16).

He also puts in place procedures for dealing with sin and breaches of the faith, building on s of discipline prescribed by Moses for Israel (see Leviticus 19:17-20; Deuteronomy 19:13). The heads of the new Israel, however, receive extraordinary powers - similar to those given to Peter (see Matthew 16:19). They have the power to bind and loose, to forgive sins and to reconcile sinners in His name (see John 20:21-23).

But the powers He gives the apostles and their successors depends on their communion with Him. As Ezekiel is only to teach what he hears God saying, the disciples are to gather in His name and to pray and seek the will of our heavenly Father.

But today's readings are more than a lesson in Church order. They also suggest how we're to deal with those who trespass against us, a theme that we'll hear in next week's readings as well.

Notice that both the Gospel and the First Reading presume that believers have a duty to correct sinners in our midst. Ezekiel is even told that he will be held accountable for their souls if he fails to speak out and try to correct them.

This is the love that Paul in today's Epistle says we owe to our neighbors. To love our neighbors as ourselves is to be vitally concerned for their salvation. We must make every effort, as Jesus says, to win our brothers and sisters back, to turn them from the false paths.

We should never correct out of anger, or a desire to punish. Instead our message must be that of today's Psalm - urging sinner to hear God's voice, not to harden their hearts, and to remember that He is the one who made us, and the rock of our salvation. 

Direct download: A_23_Ordinary.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 3:34pm EDT

Readings:

Jeremiah 20:7-9
Psalm 63:2-6, 8-9
Romans 12:1-2
Matthew 16:21-27


Today's First Reading catches the prophet Jeremiah in a moment of weakness. His intimate lamentation contains some of the strongest language of doubt found in the Bible. Following God's call, he feels abandoned. Preaching His Word has brought him only derision and reproach.

But God does not deceive - and Jeremiah knows this. He tests the just (see Jeremiah 20:11-12), and disciplines His children through their sufferings and trials (see Hebrews 12:5-7).

What Jeremiah learns, Jesus states explicitly in today's Gospel. To follow Him is to take up a cross, to deny yourself - your priorities, preferences, and comforts. It is to be willing to give it all up, even life itself, for the sake of His gospel. As Paul says in today's Epistle, we have to join ourselves to the passion of Christ, to offer our bodies - our whole beings - as living sacrifices to God.

By His cross, Jesus has shown us what Israel's sacrifices of animals were meant to teach - that we owe to God all that we have.

God's kindness is a greater good than life itself, as we sing in today's Psalm. The only thanks we can offer is our spiritual worship - to give our lives to the service of His will (see Hebrews 10:3-11; Psalm 50:14,23).

Peter doesn't yet get this in today's Gospel. As it was for Jeremiah, the cross is a stumbling block for Peter (see 1 Corinthians 1:23). This too is our natural temptation - to refuse to believe that our sufferings play a necessary part in God's plan.

That's how people think, Jesus tells us today. But we are called to the renewal of our minds - to think as God thinks, to will what He wills.

In the Mass, we once again offer ourselves as perfect and pleasing sacrifices of praise (see Hebrews 13:15). We bless Him as we live, confident that we will find our lives in losing them, that with the riches of His banquet, our souls will be satisfied.

Direct download: A_22_Ordinary.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 2:10pm EDT

Readings:

Isaiah 22:15, 19-23

Psalm 138:1-3, 6, 8

Romans 11:33-36

Matthew 16:13-20 

"Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!" Paul exclaims in today's Epistle. Today's Psalm, too, takes up the triumphant note of joy and thanksgiving. Why? Because in the Gospel, the heavenly Father reveals the mystery of His kingdom to Peter. 

With Peter, we rejoice that Jesus is the anointed son promised to David, the one prophesied to build God's temple and reign over an everlasting kingdom (see 2 Samuel 7). 

What Jesus calls "my Church" is the kingdom promised to David's son(see Isaiah 9:1-7). As we hear in today's First Reading, Isaiah foretold that the keys to David's kingdom would be given to a new master, who would rule as father to God's people. 

Jesus, the root and offspring of David, alone holds the kingdom's keys (see Revelation 1:18; 3:7; 22:16). In giving those keys to Peter, Jesus fulfills that prophecy, establishing Peter - and all who succeed him - as holy father of His Church. 

His Church, too, is the new house of God - the spiritual temple founded on the "rock" of Peter, and built up out of the living stones of individual believers (see 1 Peter 2:5). 

Abraham was called "the rock" from which the children of Israel were hewn (see Isaiah 51:1-2). And Peter becomes the rock from which God raises up new children of God (see Matthew 3:9).

The word Jesus uses - "church" (ekklesia in Greek) - was used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for the "assembly" of God's children after the exodus (see Deuteronomy 18:16; 31:30).

His Church is the "assembly of the firstborn" (see Hebrews 12:23; Exodus 4:23-24), established by Jesus' exodus (see Luke 9:31). Like the Israelites, we are baptized in water, led by the Rock, and fed with spiritual food (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-5). 

Gathered at His altar, in the presence of angels, we sing His praise and give thanks to His holy name.

Direct download: A_21_Ordinary.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT

Readings:

Isaiah 56:1, 6-7
Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8
Romans 11:13-15, 29-32
Matthew 15:21-28

Most of us are the foreigners, the non-Israelites, about whom today's First Reading prophesies.

Coming to worship the God of Israel, we stand in the line of faith epitomized by the Canaanite woman in today's Gospel. Calling to Jesus as Lord and Son of David, this foreigner shows her great faith in God's covenant with Israel.

Jesus tests her faith three times. He refuses to answer her cry. Then, He tells her His mission is only to Israelites. Finally, he uses "dog," an epithet used to disparage non-Israelites (see Matthew 7:6). Yet she persists, believing that He alone offers salvation.

In this family drama, we see fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy and the promise we sing of in today's Psalm. In Jesus, God makes known among all the nations His way and His salvation (see John 14:6).

At the start of salvation history, God called Abraham (see Genesis 12:2). He chose his offspring, Israel, from all the nations on the face of the earth, to build His covenant kingdom (see Deuteronomy 7:6-8; Isaiah 41:8).

In God's plan, Abraham was to be the father of many nations (see Romans 4:16-17). Israel was to be the firstborn of a worldwide family of God, made up of all who believe what the Canaanite professes - that Jesus is Lord (see Exodus 4:22-23; Romans 5:13-24).

Jesus came first to restore the kingdom to Israel (see Acts 1:6; 13:46). But His ultimate mission was the reconciliation of the world, as Paul declares in today's Epistle.

In the Mass we join all peoples in doing Him homage. As Isaiah foretold, we come to His holy mountain, the heavenly Jerusalem, to offer sacrifice at His altar (see Hebrews 12:22-24,28). With the Canaanite, we take our place at the Master's table, to be fed as His children.

Direct download: A_20_Ordinary.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 4:18pm EDT

Readings:

1 Kings 19:9, 11-13
Psalm 85:9-14
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:22-33

How do we find God in the storms and struggles of our lives, in the trials we encounter in trying to do His will?

God commands Elijah in today's First Reading to stand on the mountain and await His passing by. And in the Gospel, Jesus makes the disciples set out across the waters to meet Him.

In each case, the Lord makes himself present amid frightening tumult - heavy winds and high waves, fire and earthquakes.

Elijah hides his face. Perhaps he remembers Moses, who met God on the same mountain, also amid fire, thunder, and smoke (see Deuteronomy 4:10-15; Exodus 19:17-19). God told Moses no one could see His face and live, and He sheltered Moses in the hollow of a rock, as He shelters Elijah in a cave (see Exodus 33:18-23).

The disciples, likewise, are too terrified to look on the face of God. Today's Gospel is a revelation of Jesus' divine identity. Only God treads across the crest of the sea (see Job 9:8) and rules the raging waters (see Psalm 89:9-10). And the words of assurance that Jesus speaks - "It is I" - are those God used to identify himself to Moses (see Exodus 3:14; Isaiah 43:10).

Even Peter is too overcome by fear to imitate his Lord. His fears, Jesus tells him, are a sign of his lack of faith. And so it often is with us. Our fears make us doubt, make it hard to see His glory dwelling in our midst.

Yet, we should know, as we sing in today's Psalm, that His salvation is near to those who hope in Him. By faith we should know, as Paul asserts in today's Epistle, that we are heirs to the promises made to His children, Israel.

We must trust that He whispers to us in the trials of our lives - that He who has called us to walk along the way of His steps, will save us whenever we begin to sink.

Direct download: A_19_Ordinary.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 4:24pm EDT

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