St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology (sunday bible reflections)

Readings:

Acts 1:15-17, 20-26

Psalms 103:1-2, 11-12, 19-20

1 John 4:11-16

 John 17:11-19

 Today’s First Reading begins by giving us a time-frame—the events take place during the days between Christ’s ascension and Pentecost. We’re at the same point in our liturgical year. On Thursday we celebrated His being taken up in glory, and next Sunday we will celebrate His sending of the Spirit upon the Church.

 Jesus’ prayer in the Gospel today also captures the mood of departure and the anticipation. He is telling us today how it will be when He is no longer in the world.

 By His ascension, the Lord has established His throne in heaven, as we sing in today’s Psalm. His kingdom is His Church, which continues His mission on earth.

 Jesus fashioned His kingdom as a new Jerusalem, and a new house of David (see Psalm 122:4-5; Revelation 21:9-14). He entrusted this kingdom to His twelve apostles, who were to preside at the Eucharistic table, and to rule with Him over the restored twelve tribes of Israel (see Luke 22:29-30).

 The twelve apostles symbolize the twelve tribes and hence the fulfillment of God’s plan for Israel (see Galatians 6:16).That’s why it is crucial to replace Judas—so that the Church in its fullness receives the Spirit at Pentecost.

 Peter’s leadership of the apostles is another key element of the Church as it is depicted today. Notice that Peter is unquestionably in control, interpreting the Scriptures, deciding a course of action, even defining the nature of the apostolic ministry.

 No one has ever seen God, as we hear in today’s Epistle. Yet, through the Church founded on His apostles, the witnesses to the resurrection, the world will come to know and believe in God’s love, that He sent His Son to be our savior.

 Through the Church, Jesus’ pledge still comes to us—that if we love, God will remain with us in our trials and protects us from the evil one. By His word of truth He will help us grow in holiness, the perfection of love.    

Direct download: B_7_Easter.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT

Readings:

Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48

Psalm 98:1-4

1 John 4:7-10

John 15:9-17

 God is love, and He revealed that love in sending His only Son to be a sacrificial offering for our sins.

 In these words from today’s Epistle, we should hear an echo of the story of Abraham’s offering of Isaac at the dawn of salvation history. Because Abraham obeyed God’s command and did not with-hold his only beloved son, God promised that Abraham’s descendants, the children of Israel, would be the source of blessing for all nations (see Genesis 22:16-18).

We see that promise coming to fulfillment in today’s First Reading. God pours out His Spirit upon the Gentiles, the non-Israelites, as they listen to the word of Peter’s preaching. Notice they receive the same gifts received by the devout Jews who heard Peter’s preaching at Pentecost—the Spirit comes to rest upon them and they speak in tongues, glorifying God (see Acts 2:5-11).

 In his love today, God reveals that His salvation embraces the house of Israel and peoples of all nations. Not by circumcision or blood relation to Abraham, but by faith in the Word of Christ, sealed in the sacrament of baptism, peoples are to be made children of Abraham, heirs to God’s covenants of promise (see Galatians 3:7-9; Ephesians 2:12).

 This is the wondrous work of God that we sing of in today’s Psalm. It is the work of the Church, the good fruit that Jesus chooses and appoints His apostles for in today’s Gospel.

 As Peter raises up Cornelius today, the Church continues to lift all eyes to Christ, the only one in whose name they can find salvation.

 In the Church, each of us has been begotten by the love of God. But the Scriptures today reveal that this divine gift brings with it a command and a duty. We are to love one another as we have been loved. We are to lay down our lives in giving ourselves to others—that they too might find friendship with Christ, and new life through Him    

Direct download: B_6_Easter.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT

Readings:

Acts 9:26-31

Psalm 22:26-28, 30-321

John 3:18-24

John 15:1-8

 In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that He is the true vine that God intended Israel to be—the source of divine life and wisdom for the nations (see Sirach 24:17-24).

 In baptism, each of us was joined to Him by the Holy Spirit. As a branch grows from a tree, our souls are to draw life from Him, nourished by His word and the Eucharist.

 Paul in today’s First Reading seeks to be grafted onto the visible expression of Christ the true vine—His Church. Once the chief persecutor of the Church, he encounters initial resistance and suspicion. But he is known by his fruits, by his powerful witness to the Lord working in his life (see Matthew 7:16-20).

 We too are commanded today to bear good fruits as His disciples, so that our lives give glory to God. Like Paul’s life, our lives must bear witness to His goodness.

 Jesus cautions us, however, that if we’re bearing fruit, we can expect that God will ‘prune’ us—as a gardener trims and cuts back a plant so that it will grow stronger and bear even more fruit. He is teaching us today how to look at our sufferings and trials with the eyes of faith. We need to see our struggles as pruning, by which we are being disciplined and trained so that we can grow in holiness and bear fruits of righteousness (see Hebrews 12:4-11).

 We need to always remain rooted in Him, as today’s Epistle tells us. We remain in Him by keeping His commandment of love, by pondering His words, letting them dwell richly in us (see Colossians 3:16), and by always seeking to do what pleases Him. In everything we must be guided by humility, remembering that apart from Him we can do nothing.

 As we sing in today’s Psalm, we must fulfill our vows, turning to the Lord in worship, proclaiming his praises, until all families come to know His justice in their lives.    

Direct download: B_5_Easter.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT

Readings:

Acts 4:8-12

Psalm 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 29

1 John 3:1-2

John 10:11-18

 Jesus, in today’s Gospel, says that He is the good shepherd the prophets had promised to Israel.

 He is the shepherd-prince, the new David--who frees people from bondage to sin and gathers them into one flock, the Church, under a new covenant, made in His blood (see Ezekiel 34:10-13, 23-31).

 His flock includes other sheep, He says, far more than the dispersed children of Israel (see Isaiah 56:8; John 11:52). And He gave His Church the mission of shepherding all peoples to the Father.

 In today’s First Reading, we see the beginnings of that mission in the testimony of Peter, whom the Lord appointed shepherd of His Church (see John 21:15-17).

 Peter tells Israel’s leaders that the Psalm we sing today is a prophecy of their rejection and crucifixion of Christ. He tells the “builders” of Israel’s temple, that God has made the stone they rejected the cornerstone of a new spiritual temple, the Church (see Mark 12:10-13; 1 Peter 2:4-7).

 Through the ministry of the Church, the shepherd still speaks (see Luke 10:16),and forgives sins (see John 20:23), and makes His body and blood present, that all may know Him in the breaking of the bread (see Luke 24:35). It is a mission that will continue until all the world is one flock under the one shepherd.

 In laying down His life and taking it up again, Jesus made it possible for us to know God as He did--as sons and daughters of the Father who loves us. As we hear in today’s Epistle, He calls us His children, as He called Israel His son when He led them out of Egypt and made His covenant with them (see Exodus 4:22-23; Revelation 21:7).

 Today, let us listen for His voice as He speaks to us in the Scriptures, and vow again to be more faithful followers. And let us give thanks for the blessings He bestows from His altar.

Direct download: B_4_Easter.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT

Readings: 

Acts 3:13-15, 17-19
Psalms 4:2, 4, 7-9
1 John 2:1-5
Luke 24:35-48

Jesus in today's Gospel, teaches His apostles how to interpret the Scriptures.

He tells them that all the Scriptures of what we now call the Old Testament refer to Him. He says that all the promises found in the Old Testament have been fulfilled in His passion, death, and resurrection. And He tells them that these Scriptures foretell the mission of the Church - to preach forgiveness of sins to all the nations, beginning at Jersusalem.

In today's First Reading and Epistle, we see the beginnings of that mission. And we see the apostles interpreting the Scriptures as Jesus taught them to.

God has brought to fulfillment what He announced beforehand in all the prophets, Peter preaches. His sermon is shot through with Old Testament images. He evokes Moses and the exodus, in which God revealed himself as the ancestral God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (see Exodus 3:6,15). He identifies Jesus as Isaiah's suffering servant who has been glorified (see Isaiah 52:13).

John, too describes Jesus in Old Testament terms. Alluding to how Israel's priests offered blood sacrifices to atone for the people's sins (see Leviticus 16; Hebrews 9-10), he says that Jesus intercedes for us before God (see Romans 8:34), and that His blood is a sacrificial expiation for the sins of the world (see 1 John 1:7).

Notice that in all three readings, the Scriptures are interpreted to serve and advance the Church's mission - to reveal the truth about Jesus, to bring people to repentance, the wiping away of sins, and the perfection of their love for God.

This is how we, too, should hear the Scriptures. Not to know more "about" Jesus, but to truly know Him personally, and to know His plan for our lives.

In the Scriptures, the light of His face shines upon us, as we sing in today's Psalm. We know the wonders He has done throughout history. And we have the confidence to call to Him, and to know that He hears and answers.
    

Direct download: B_3_Easter.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT

Readings: 

Acts 4:32-35
Psalms 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
1 John 5:1-6
John 20:19-31

Three times in today's Psalm we cry out a victory shout: "His mercy endures forever."

Truly we've known the everlasting love of God, who has come to us as our Savior. By the blood and water that flowed from Jesus' pierced side (see John 19:34), we've been made God's children, as we hear in today's Epistle.

Yet we never met Jesus, never heard Him teach, never saw Him raised from the dead. His saving Word came to us in the Church - through the ministry of the apostles, who in today's Gospel are sent as He was sent.

He was made a life-giving Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 15:45) and He filled His apostles with that Spirit. As we hear in today's First Reading, they bore witness to His resurrection with great power. And through their witness, handed down in the Church through the centuries, their teaching and traditions have reached us (see Acts 2:42).

We encounter Him as the apostles did - in the breaking of the bread on the Lord's day (see Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Revelation 1:10).

There is something liturgical about the way today's Gospel scenes unfold. It's as if John is trying to show us how the risen Lord comes to us in the liturgy and sacraments.

In both scenes it is Sunday night. The doors are bolted tight, yet Jesus mysteriously comes. He greets them with an expression, "Peace be with you," used elsewhere by divine messengers (see Daniel 10:19; Judges 6:23). He shows them signs of His real bodily presence. And on both nights the disciples respond by joyfully receiving Jesus as their "Lord."

Isn't this what happens in the Mass - where our Lord speaks to us in His Word, and gives himself to us in the sacrament of His body and blood?

Let us approach the altar with joy, knowing that every Eucharist is the day the Lord has made - when the victory of Easter is again made wonderful in our eyes. 

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

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: 12:00pm EDT

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: 12:00pm EDT

Readings:
2 Chr 36:14–16, 19–23
Ps 137:1–6
Eph 2:4–10
Jn 3:14–21

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.

Direct download: B_4_Lent.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT

Readings:
Ex 20:1–17
Ps 19:8–11
1 Cor 1:22–25
Jn 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: 12:00pm EDT