St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology

Readings: 

Acts 10:34, 37-43
Psalms 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23
Colossians 3:1-4
John 20:1-9

The tomb was empty. In the early morning darkness of that first Easter, there was only confusion for Mary Magdalene and the other disciples. But as the daylight spread, they saw the dawning of a new creation.

At first they didn't understand the Scripture, today's Gospel tells us. We don't know which precise Scripture texts they were supposed to understand. Perhaps it was the sign of Jonah, who rose from the belly of the great fish after three days (see Jonah 1:17). Or maybe Hosea's prophecy of Israel's restoration from exile (see Hosea 6:2). Perhaps it was the psalmist who rejoiced that God had not abandoned him to the nether world (see Psalm 16:9-10).

Whichever Scripture it was, as the disciples bent down into the tomb, they saw and they believed. What did they see? Burial shrouds in an empty tomb. The stone removed from the tomb. Seven times in nine verses we hear that word - "tomb."

What did they believe? That God had done what Jesus said He would do - raised Him up on the third day (see Mark 9:31; 10:34).

What they saw and believed, they bore witness to, as today's First Reading tells us. Peter's speech is a summary of the gospels - from Jesus' baptism in the Jordan to His hanging on a tree (see Deuteronomy 21:22-23), to His rising from the dead.

We are children of the apostles, born into the new world of their witness. Our lives are now "hidden with Christ in God," as today's Epistle says. Like them, we gather in the morning on the first day of the week - to celebrate the Eucharist, the feast of the empty tomb.

We rejoice that the stones have been rolled away from our tombs, too. Each of us can shout, as we do in today's Psalm: "I shall not die, but live." They saw and believed. And we await the day they promised would come - when we, too, "will appear with Him in glory." 

Direct download: B_Easter.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 3:48pm EST

Readings: 

Isaiah 50:4-7
Psalms 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24
Philippians 2:6-11
Mark 14:1-15:47

Crowned with thorns, our Lord is lifted up on the cross, where He dies as "King of the Jews." Notice how many times He is called "king" in today's Gospel - mostly in scorn and mockery.

As we hear the long accounts of His passion, at every turn we must remind ourselves - He suffered this cruel and unusual violence, for us.

He is the Suffering Servant foretold by Isaiah in today's First Reading. He reenacts the agony described in today's Psalm, and even dies with the first words of that Psalm on His lips (see Psalm 22:1).

Listen carefully for the echoes of this Psalm throughout today's Gospel - as Jesus is beaten, His hands and feet are pierced; as His enemies gamble for His clothes, wagging their heads, mocking His faith in God's love, His faith that God will deliver Him.

Are we that much different from our Lord's tormenters? Often, don't we deny that He is king, refusing to obey His only commands that we love Him and one another? Don't we render Him mock tribute, pay Him lip-service with our half-hearted devotions?

In the dark noon of Calvary, the veil in Jerusalem's temple was torn. It was a sign that by His death Jesus destroyed forever the barrier separating us from the presence of God.

He was God and yet humbled himself to come among us, we're reminded in today's Epistle. And despite our repeated failures, our frailty, Jesus still humbles himself to come to us, offering us His body and blood in the Eucharist.

His enemies never understood: His kingship isn't of this world (see John 18:36). He wants to write His law, His rule of life on our hearts and minds.

As we enter Holy Week, let us once more resolve to give Him dominion in our lives. Let us take up the cross He gives to us - and confess with all our hearts, minds, and strength, that truly this is the Son of God.

Direct download: B_Passion_Sunday.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 10:26pm EST

Readings: 

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalms 51:3-4, 12-13, 14-15
Hebrews 5:7-9
John 12:20-33

Our readings today are filled with anticipation. The days are coming, Jeremiah prophesies in today's First Reading. The hour has come, Jesus says in the Gospel. The new covenant that God promised to Jeremiah is made in the "hour" of Jesus - in His death, resurrection, and ascension to the Father's right hand.

The prophets said this new covenant would return Israel's exiled tribes from the ends of the world (see Jeremiah 31:1,3-4,7-8). Jesus too predicted His passion would gather the dispersed children of God (see John 11:52). But today He promises to draw to himself, not only Israelites, but all men and women.

The new covenant is more than a political or national restoration. As we sing in today's Psalm, it is a universal spiritual restoration. In the "hour" of Jesus, sinners in every nation can return to the Father - to be washed of their guilt and given new hearts to love and serve Him.

In predicting He will be "lifted up," Jesus isn't describing only His coming crucifixion (see John 3:14-15). Isaiah used the same word to tell how the Messiah, after suffering for Israel's sins, would be raised high and greatly exalted (see Isaiah 52:3). Elsewhere the term describes how kings are elevated above their subjects (see 1 Maccabees 8:13).

Troubled in His agony, Jesus didn't pray to be saved. Instead, as we hear in today's Epistle, He offered himself to the Father on the cross - as a living prayer and supplication. For this, God gave Him dominion over heaven and earth (see Acts 2:33; Philippians 2:9).

Where He has gone we can follow - if we let Him lead us. To follow Jesus means hating our lives of sin and selfishness. It means trusting in the Father's will, the law He has written in our hearts.

Jesus' "hour" continues in the Eucharist, where we join our sacrifices to His, giving God our lives in reverence and obedience - confident He will raise us up to bear fruits of holiness. 

Direct download: B_5_Lent.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 3:52pm EST

Readings:

2 Chronicles 36:14-17, 19-23
Psalm 137:1-6
Ephesians 2:4-10
John 3:14-21 (see also "Binding Isaac, Crucifying Jesus")

The Sunday readings in Lent have been showing us the high points of salvation history - God's covenant with creation in the time of Noah; His promises to Abraham; the law He gave to Israel at Sinai.

In today's First Reading, we hear of the destruction of the kingdom established by God's final Old Testament covenant - the covenant with David (see 2 Samuel 7; Psalm 89:3).

His chosen people abandoned the law He gave them. For their sins, the temple was destroyed, and they were exiled in Babylon. We hear their sorrow and repentance in the exile lament we sing as today's Psalm.

But we also hear how God, in His mercy, gathered them back, even anointing a pagan king to shepherd them and rebuild the temple (see Isaiah 44:28-45:1,4).

God is rich in mercy, as today's Epistle teaches. He promised that David's kingdom would last forever, that David's son would be His Son and rule all nations (see 2 Samuel 7:14-15; Psalm 2:7-9). In Jesus, God keeps that promise (see Revelation 22:16).

Moses lifted up the serpent as a sign of salvation (see Wisdom 16:6-7; Numbers 21:9). Now Jesus is lifted up on the cross, to draw all people to himself (see John 12:32).

Those who refuse to believe in this sign of the Father's love, condemn themselves - as the Israelites in their infidelity brought judgment upon themselves.

But God did not leave Israel in exile, and He does not want to leave any of us dead in our transgressions. We are God's handiwork, saved to live as His people in the light of His truth.

Midway through this season of repentance, let us again behold the Pierced One (see John 19:37), and rededicate ourselves to living the "good works" that God has prepared us for.

 

Binding Isaac, Crucifying Jesus

In the second and fourth Sundays of Lent (Cycle B), we see an ancient symbolic reading of the Old Testament - Abraham's "binding" of Isaac as a symbol of God's love for the world in giving His only son.

In Genesis 22, Abraham brings his firstborn, his only son, the one he loves, to offer him as a sacrifice. On the third day (see Genesis 22:4), an angel gives him his son back - not dead as expected, but alive. And this sacrificial offering leads God to promise to bless all the nations of the earth.

The New Testament writers read this story as symbolizing the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

In fact, God's praise of Abraham for not withholding His only Son is echoed by Paul (see Romans 8:32) and John (see John 3:16). Hebrews says Abraham believed in the resurrection, and that Isaac's release was a "symbol" of Christ's resurrection (see Hebrews 11:17-19).

Jesus is the true heir promised to Abraham (see Matthew 1:1; Galatians 3:16). Abraham rejoiced at Isaac's birth because he could foresee the day when Christ would be born (see John 8:56). Like Isaac, Christ carried the wood of His sacrifice (see Genesis 22:6; John 19:6).

And by His sacrificial death and resurrection the blessing of Abraham was extended to the nations (see Galatians 3:14; Genesis 22:16-18).
    

Direct download: B_4_Lent.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 3:47pm EST

Readings:

Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19:8-11
1 Corinthians 1:22-25
John 2:13-25

Jesus does not come to destroy the temple, but to fulfill it (see Matthew 5:17) - to reveal its true purpose in God's saving plan.

He is the Lord the prophets said would come - to purify the temple, banish the merchants, and make it a house of prayer for all peoples (see Zechariah 14:21; Malachi 3:1-5; Isaiah 56:7).

The God who made the heavens and the earth, who brought Israel out of slavery, does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands (see Acts 7:48; 2 Samuel 7:5).

Nor does He need offerings of oxen, sheep, or doves (see Psalm 50:7-13).

Notice in today's First Reading that God did not originally command animal sacrifices - only that Israel heed His commandments (see Jeremiah 7:21-23; Amos 5:25).

His law was a gift of divine wisdom, as we sing in today's Psalm. It was a law of love (see Matthew 22:36-40), perfectly expressed in Christ's self-offering on the cross (see John 15:13)

This is the "sign" Jesus offers in the Gospel today - the sign that caused Jewish leaders to stumble, as Paul tells us in the Epistle.

Jesus' body - destroyed on the cross and raised up three days later - is the new and true sanctuary. From the temple of His body, rivers of living water flow, the Spirit of grace that makes each of us a temple (see 1 Corinthians 3:16), and together builds us into a dwelling place of God (see Ephesians 2:22).

In the Eucharist we participate in His offering of His body and blood. This is the worship in Spirit and in truth that the Father desires (see John 4:23-24).

We are to offer praise as our sacrifice (see Psalm 50:14,23). This means imitating Christ - offering our bodies - all our intentions and actions in every circumstance, for the love of God and the love of others (see Hebrews 10:5-7; Romans 12:1; 1 Peter 2:5).

Direct download: B_3_Lent.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 3:33pm EST

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