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

Readings:

Micah 5:1-4  |   Psalm 80:2-3,15-16,18-19  |   Hebrews 5:5-10  |  Luke 1:39-45

On this last Sunday before Christmas, the Church's Liturgy reveals the true identity of our Redeemer:
He is, as today's First Reading says, the "ruler...whose origin is from...ancient times." He will come from Bethlehem, where David was born of Jesse the Ephrathite and anointed king (see Ruth 4:11-17; 1 Samuel 16:1-13; 17:1; Matthew 2:6).

God promised that an heir of David would reign on his throne forever (see 2 Samuel 7:12-13; Psalm 89; Psalm 132:11-12).

Jesus is that heir, the One the prophets promised would restore the scattered tribes of Israel into a new kingdom (see Isaiah 9:5-6; Ezekiel 34:23-25,30; 37:35). He is "the shepherd of Israel," sung of in today's Psalm. From His throne in heaven, He has "come to save us."

Today's Epistle tells us that He is both the Son of David and the only "begotten" Son of God, come "in the flesh" (see also Psalm 2:7). He is also our "high priest," from the mold of the mysterious Melchisedek, "priest of God Most High," who blessed Abraham at the dawn of salvation history (see Psalm 110:4; Genesis 14:18-20).

All this is recognized by John when he leaps for joy in his mother's womb. Elizabeth, too, is filled with joy and the Holy Spirit. She recognizes that in Mary "the mother of my Lord" has come to her. We hear in her words another echo of the Psalm quoted in today's Epistle (see Psalm 2:7). Elizabeth blesses Mary for her faith that God's Word would be fulfilled in her.

Mary marks the fulfillment not only of the angel's promise to her, but of all God's promises down through history. Mary is the one they await in today's First Reading - "she who is to give birth." She will give birth this week, at Christmas. And the fruit of her womb should bring us joy - she is the mother of our Lord.

Direct download: C_4_Advent.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 3:34pm EST

Readings:

Zephaniah 3:14-18   Isaiah 12:2-6    Philippians 4:4-7    Luke 3:10-18

The people in today's Gospel are "filled with expectation." They believe John the Baptist might be the Messiah they've been waiting for. Three times we hear their question: "What then should we do?"

The Messiah's coming requires every man and woman to choose - to "repent" or not. That's John's message and it will be Jesus' too (see Luke 3:3; 5:32; 24:47).

"Repentance" translates a Greek word, metanoia (literally, "change of mind"). In the Scriptures, repentance is presented as a two-fold "turning" - away from sin (see Ezekiel 3:19; 18:30) and toward God (see Sirach 17:20-21; Hosea 6:1).

This "turning" is more than attitude adjustment. It means a radical life-change. It requires "good fruits as evidence of your repentance" (see Luke 3:8). That's why John tells the crowds, soldiers and tax collectors they must prove their faith through works of charity, honesty and social justice.

In today's Liturgy, each of us is being called to stand in that crowd and hear the "good news" of John's call to repentance. We should examine our lives, ask from our hearts as they did: "What should we do?" Our repentance should spring, not from our fear of coming wrath (see Luke 3:7-9), but from a joyful sense of the nearness of our saving God.

This theme resounds through today's readings: "Rejoice!...The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all," we hear in today's Epistle. In today's Responsorial, we hear again the call to be joyful, unafraid at the Lord's coming among us.

In today's First Reading, we hear echoes of the angel's Annunciation to Mary. The prophet's words are very close to the angel's greeting (compare Luke 1:28-31). Mary is the Daughter Zion - the favored one of God, told not to fear but to rejoice that the Lord is with her, "a mighty Savior."

She is the cause of our joy. For in her draws near the Messiah, as John had promised: "One mightier than I is coming." 

Direct download: C_3_Advent.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 4:45pm EST

Readings:

Baruch 5:1-9   Psalm 126:1-6   Philippians 1:4-6,8-11   Luke 3:1-6

Today's Psalm paints a dream-like scene - a road filled with liberated captives heading home to Zion (Jerusalem), mouths filled with laughter, tongues rejoicing.

It's a glorious picture from Israel's past, a "new exodus," the deliverance from exile in Babylon. It's being recalled in a moment of obvious uncertainty and anxiety. But the psalmist isn't waxing nostalgic.

Remembering "the Lord has done great things" in the past, he is making an act of faith and hope - that God will come to Israel in its present need, that He'll do even greater things in the future.

This is what the Advent readings are all about: We recall God's saving deeds - in the history of Israel and in the coming of Jesus. Our remembrance is meant to stir our faith, to fill us with confidence that, as today's Epistle puts it, "the One who began a good work in [us] will continue to complete it" until He comes again in glory.

Each of us, the Liturgy teaches, is like Israel in her exile - led into captivity by our sinfulness, in need of restoration, conversion by the Word of the Holy One (see Baruch 5:5). The lessons of salvation history should teach us that, as God again and again delivered Israel, in His mercy He will free us from our attachments to sin, if we turn to Him in repentance.

That's the message of John, introduced in today's Gospel as the last of the great prophets (compare Jeremiah 1:1-4,11). But John is greater than the prophets (see Luke 7:27). He's preparing the way, not only for a new redemption of Israel, but for the salvation of "all flesh" (see also Acts 28:28).

John quotes Isaiah (40:3) to tell us he's come to build a road home for us, a way out of the wilderness of sin and alienation from God. It's a road we'll follow Jesus down, a journey we'll make, as today's First Reading puts it, "rejoicing that [we're] remembered by God."

Direct download: C_2_Advent.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 4:52pm EST

Every Advent, the Liturgy of the Word gives our sense of time a reorientation. There’s a deliberate tension in the next four weeks’ readings - between promise and fulfillment, expectation and deliverance, between looking forward and looking back.

In today’s First Reading, the prophet Jeremiah focuses our gaze on the promise God made to David, some 1,000 years before Christ. God says through the prophet that He will fulfill this promise by raising up a “just shoot,” a righteous offspring of David, who will rule Israel in justice (see 2 Samuel 7:16; Jeremiah 33:17; Psalm 89:4-5; 27-38).

Today’s Psalm, too, sounds the theme of Israel’s ancient expectation: “Guide me in Your truth and teach Me. For You are God my Savior and for You I will wait all day.”

We look back on Israel’s desire and anticipation knowing that God has already made good on those promises by sending His only Son into the world. Jesus is the “just shoot,” the God and Savior for Whom Israel was waiting.

Knowing that He is a God who keeps His promises lends grave urgency to the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel.

Urging us to keep watch for His return in glory, He draws on Old Testament images of chaos and instability – turmoil in the heavens (see Isaiah 13:11,13; Ezekiel 32:7-8; Joel 2:10); roaring seas (see Isaiah 5:30; 17:12); distress among the nations (see Isaiah 8:22/14:25) and terrified people (see Isaiah 13:6-11).

He evokes the prophet Daniel’s image of the Son of Man coming on a cloud of glory to describe His return as a “theophany,” a manifestation of God (see Daniel 7:13-14).

Many will cower and be literally scared to death. But Jesus says we should greet the end-times with heads raised high, confident that God keeps His promises, that our “redemption is at hand,” that ‘the kingdom of God is near” (see Luke 21:31)

Direct download: C_1_Advent.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 4:42pm EST

What’s the truth Jesus comes to bear witness to in this last Gospel of the Church’s year?

It’s the truth that in Jesus, God keeps the promise He made to David - of an everlasting kingdom, of an heir who would be His Son, “the first born, highest of the kings of the earth” (see 2 Samuel 7:12-16; Psalm 89:27-38).

Today’s Second Reading, taken from the Book of Revelation, quotes these promises and celebrates Jesus as “the faithful witness.” The reading hearkens back to Isaiah’s prophecy that the Messiah would “witness to the peoples” that God is renewing His “everlasting covenant” with David (see Isaiah 55:3-5).

But as Jesus tells Pilate, there’s far more going on here than the restoration of a temporal monarchy. In the Revelation reading, Jesus calls Himself “the Alpha and the Omega,” the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. He’s applying to Himself a description that God uses to describe Himself in the Old Testament - the first and the last, the One Who calls forth all generations (see Isaiah 41:4; 44:6; 48:12).

“He has made the world,” today’s Psalm cries, and His dominion is over all creation (see also John 1:3; Colossians 1:16-17). In the vision of Daniel we hear in today’s First Reading, He comes on “the clouds of heaven” - another sign of His divinity - to be given “glory and kingship” forever over all nations and peoples.

Christ is King and His Kingdom, while not of this world, exists in this world in the Church. We are a royal people. We know we have been loved by Him and freed by His blood and transformed into “a Kingdom, priests for His God and Father” (see also Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9).

As a priestly people, we share in His sacrifice and in His witness to God’s everlasting covenant. We belong to His truth and listen to His voice, waiting for Him to come again amid the clouds.

Direct download: B_Christ_the_King.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 4:21pm EST

In this, the second-to-the-last week of the Church year, Jesus has finally made it to Jerusalem.

Near to His passion and death, He gives us a teaching of hope--telling us how it will be when He returns again in glory.

Today’s Gospel is taken from the end of a long discourse in which He describes tribulations the likes of which haven’t been seen “since the beginning of God’s creation” (see Mark 13:9). He describes what amounts to a dissolution of God’s creation, a “devolution” of the world to its original state of formlessness and void.

First, human community--nations and kingdoms--will break down (see Mark 13:7-8). Then the earth will stop yielding food and begin to shake apart (13:8). Next, the family will be torn apart from within and the last faithful individuals will be persecuted (13:9-13). Finally, the Temple will be desecrated, the earth emptied of God’s presence (13:14).

In today’s reading, God is described putting out the lights that He established in the sky in the very beginning--the sun, the moon and the stars (see also Isaiah 13:10; 34:4). Into this “uncreated” darkness, the Son of Man, in Whom all things were made, will come.

Jesus has already told us that the Son of Man must be humiliated and killed (see Mark 8:31). Here He describes His ultimate victory, using royal-divine images drawn from the Old Testament--clouds, glory, and angels (see Daniel 7:13). He shows Himself to be the fulfillment of all God’s promises to save “the elect,” the faithful remnant (see Isaiah 43:6; Jeremiah 32:37).

As today’s First Reading tells us, this salvation will include will include the bodily resurrection of those who sleep in the dust.

We are to watch for this day, when His enemies are finally made His footstool, as today’s Epistle envisions. We can wait in confidence knowing, as we pray in today’s Psalm, that we will one day delight at His right hand forever.

Direct download: B_33_Ordinary.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 4:17pm EST

We must live by the obedience of faith, a faith that shows itself in works of charity and self-giving (see Galatians 5:6). That’s the lesson of the two widows in today’s liturgy.

The widow in the First Reading isn’t even a Jew, yet she trusts in the word of Elijah and the promise of his Lord. Facing sure starvation, she gives all that she has, her last bit of food—feeding the man of God before herself and her family.

The widow in the Gospel also gives all that she has, offering her last bit of money to support the work of God’s priests in the Temple.

In their self-sacrifice, these widows embody the love that Jesus last week revealed as the heart of the Law and the Gospel. They mirror the Father’s love in giving His only Son, and Christ’s love in sacrificing himself on the cross.

Again in today’s Epistle, we hear Christ described as a new high priest and the suffering servant foretold by Isaiah. On the cross, He made sacrifice once and for all to take away our sin and bring us to salvation (see Isaiah 53:12).

And again we are called to imitate His sacrifice of love in our own lives. We will be judged, not by how much we give—for the scribes and wealthy contribute far more than the widow. Rather, we will be judged by whether our gifts reflect our livelihood, our whole beings, all our heart and soul, mind and strength.

Are we giving all that we can to the Lord—not out of a sense of forced duty, but in a spirit of generosity and love (see 2 Corinthians 9:6-7)? 

Do not be afraid, the man of God tells us today. As we sing in today’s Psalm, the Lord will provide for us, as he sustains the widow.

Today, let us follow the widows’ example, doing what God asks, confident that our jars of flour will not grow empty, nor our jugs of oil run dry.

Direct download: B_32_Ordinary.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 5:18pm EST

ReadingsWisdom 7:7-11  Psalm 90:12-17   Hebrews 4:12-13   Mark 10:17-30

The rich young man in today’s Gospel wanted to know what we all want to know—how to live in this life so that we might live forever in the world to come. He sought what today’s Psalm calls “wisdom of heart.”

He learns that the wisdom he seeks is not a program of works to be performed, or behaviors to be avoided. As Jesus tells him, observing the commandments is essential to walking the path of salvation—but it can only get us so far.

The Wisdom of God is not precepts, but a person—Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Wisdom whose Spirit was granted to Solomon in today’s First Reading. Jesus is the Word of God spoken of in today’s Epistle. And Jesus, as He reveals himself to the rich man today, is God.

In Jesus we encounter Wisdom, the living and effective Word of God. As He does with the rich man today, He looks upon each of us with love. That look of love, that loving gaze, is a personal invitation—to give up everything to follow Him.

Nothing is concealed from His gaze, as we hear in the Epistle. In His fiery eyes, the thoughts of our hearts are exposed, and each of us must render an account of our lives (see Revelation 1:14).

We must have the attitude of Solomon, preferring Wisdom to all else, loving Him more than even life itself. This preference, this love, requires a leap of faith. We will be persecuted for this faith, Jesus tells His disciples today. But we must trust in His promise—that all good things will come to us in His company.

What, then, are the “many possessions” that keep us from giving ourselves totally to God? What are we clinging to—material things, comfort zones, relationships? What will it take for us to live fully for Christ’s sake and the sake of the Gospel?

Let us pray for the wisdom to enter into the kingdom of God. With the Psalmist, let us ask Him, “Teach us.”

Direct download: B_28_Ordinary.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 4:36pm EST

In today’s Gospel, the Pharisees try to trap Jesus with a trick question.

 The “lawfulness” of divorce in Israel was never at issue. Moses had long ago allowed it (see Deuteronomy 24:1-4). But Jesus points His enemies back before Moses, to “the beginning,” interpreting the text we hear in today’s First Reading.

 Divorce violates the order of creation, He says. Moses permitted it only as a concession to the people’s “hardness of heart”—their inability to live by God’s covenant Law. But Jesus comes to fulfill the Law, to reveal its true meaning and purpose, and to give people the grace to keep God’s commands.

 Marriage, He reveals, is a sacrament, a divine, life-giving sign. Through the union of husband and wife, God intended to bestow His blessings on the human family—making it fruitful, multiplying it until it filled the earth (see Genesis 1:28).

 That’s why today’s Gospel moves so easily from a debate about marriage to Jesus’ blessing of children. Children are blessings the Father bestows on couples who walk in His ways, as we sing in today’s Psalm.

 Marriage also is a sign of God’s new covenant. As today’s Epistle hints, Jesus is the new Adam—made a little lower than the angels, born of a human family (see Romans 5:14; Psalm 8:5-7). The Church is the new Eve, the “woman” born of Christ’s pierced side as He hung in the sleep of death on the cross (see John 19:34; Revelation 12:1-17).

 Through the union of Christ and the Church as “one flesh,” God’s plan for the world is fulfilled (see Ephesians 5:21-32). Eve was “mother of all the living” (see Genesis 3:20). And in baptism, we are made sons and daughters of the Church, children of the Father, heirs of the eternal glory He intended for the human family in the beginning.

 The challenge for us is to live as children of the kingdom, growing up ever more faithful in our love and devotion to the ways of Christ and the teachings of His Church.  

Direct download: B_27_Ordinary.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 4:43pm EST

ReadingsNumbers 11:25–29  Psalm 19:8,10,12–14  James 5:1–6  Mark 9:38–48

 Today’s Gospel begins with a scene that recalls a similar moment in the history of Israel, the episode recalled in today’s First Reading. The seventy elders who receive God’s Spirit through Moses prefigure the ministry of the apostles.

 Like Joshua in the First Reading, John makes the mistake of presuming that only a select few are inspired and entrusted to carry out God’s plans. The Spirit blows where it wills (see John 3:8), and God desires to bestow His Spirit on all the people of God, in every nation under heaven (see Acts 2:5, 38).

 God can and will work mighty deeds through the most unexpected and unlikely people. All of us are called to perform even our most humble tasks, such as giving a cup of water, for the sake of His name and the cause of His kingdom.

 John believes he is protecting the purity of the Lord’s name. But, really, he’s only guarding his own privilege and status. It’s telling that the apostles want to shut down the ministry of an exorcist. Authority to drive out demons and unclean spirits was one of the specific powers entrusted to the Twelve (see Mark 3:14–15; 6:7, 13).

 Cleanse me from my unknown faults, we pray in today’s Psalm. Often, like Joshua and John, perhaps without noticing it, we cloak our failings and fears under the guise of our desire to defend Christ or the Church. 

 But as Jesus says today, instead of worrying about who is a real Christian and who is not, we should make sure that we ourselves are leading lives worthy of our calling as disciples (see Ephesians 1:4).

 Does the advice we give, or the example of our actions, give scandal—causing others to doubt or lose faith? Do we do what we do with mixed motives instead of seeking only the Father’s will? Are we living, as this Sunday’s Epistle warns, for our own luxury and pleasure, and neglecting our neighbors?

 We need to keep meditating on His Law, as we sing in today’s Psalm. We need to pray for the grace to detect our failings and to overcome them. 

Direct download: B_26_Ordinary.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 6:37pm EST