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

This Sunday's Mass readings conclude a four-week meditation on the Eucharist. 

The 12 apostles in today's Gospel are asked to make a choice -- either to believe and accept the new covenant He offers in His body and blood, or return to their former ways of life. 

Their choice is prefigured by the decision Joshua asks the 12 tribes to make in today's First Reading. 

Joshua gathers them at Shechem -- where God first appeared to their father Abraham, promising to make his descendants a great nation in a new land (see Genesis 12:1-9). And he issues a blunt challenge -- either renew their covenant with God or serve the alien gods of the surrounding nations.

We too are being asked today to decide whom we will serve. For four weeks we have been presented in the liturgy with the mystery of the Eucharist -- a daily miracle far greater than those performed by God in bringing the Israelites out of the land of Egypt. 

He has promised us a new homeland, eternal life, and offered us bread from heaven to strengthen us on our journey. He has told us that unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood we will have no life in us. 

It is a hard saying, as many murmur in today's Gospel. Yet He has given us the words of eternal life. 

We must believe, as Peter says today, that He is the Holy One of God, who handed himself over for us, gave His flesh for the life of the world. 

As we hear in today's Epistle, Jesus did this that we might be sanctified, made holy, through the water and word of baptism by which we enter into His new covenant. Through the Eucharist, He nourishes and cherishes us, making us His own flesh and blood, as husband and wife become one flesh. 

Let us renew our covenant today, approaching the altar with confidence that, as we sing in today's Psalm, the Lord will redeem the lives of His servants.

Direct download: B_21_Ordinary.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 11:14am EDT

On this great feast, we praise God who has taken the sinless Virgin Mary, body and soul, into His glory. The celebration is from the ancient Church, and the reality it celebrates is embedded in our readings.

In our first, from Revelation, we find God’s temple in heaven opened and the Ark of the Covenant revealed. The most sacred item in Israel’s history, the Ark had been missing since the Temple’s destruction in 586 B.C. Thus, John reports some startling news. Even more startling is his revelation that the sacred vessel is now a woman, who is mother of the royal Son of David, the Messiah.

Of this woman, then, we sing to God as the ancient Israelites sang: “The queen stands at your right hand, arrayed in gold.” In the court of King Solomon, we glimpse Israel’s traditional arrangement: Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, takes her place at the king’s right hand (see 1 Kings 2:19).

At her Assumption, as we see in Revelation, the queen once again takes her place at the right hand of the Son of David.

Our second reading shows us why this is fitting: “in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order.” What is implicit in St. Paul’s statement is revealed in Revelation. The consummation of Christ’s work has begun, as is proper, with the Assumption of the queen-mother.

John’s Apocalypse shows also the fulfillment of our Gospel reading. There, Mary, pregnant with Jesus, retraces the steps of David as he brought the Ark to Jerusalem (see 2 Samuel 6). Mary “arose and went” into the hill country, just as David “arose and went” to that region. Upon Mary’s arrival, Elizabeth is awestruck, just as David was before the Ark. The encounter causes the baby John to leap with excitement, as David leapt before the Ark. And Mary stayed in the “house of Zechariah” for “three months,” as the Ark remained in the “house of Obed-edom” for the same period.

Mary is the vessel of God’s presence, and she is queen-mother. She reigns now in splendor with Jesus in the heavenly Jerusalem.

Direct download: Breaking_The_Bread_August_15.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 6:53pm EDT

The Wisdom of God has prepared a feast, we hear in today's First Reading.

 We must become like children (see Matthew 18:3-4) to hear and accept this invitation. For in every Eucharist, it is the folly of the cross that is represented and renewed.

 To the world, it is foolishness to believe that the crucified Jesus rose from the dead. And for many, as for the crowds in today's Gospel, it is foolishness -- maybe even madness -- to believe that Jesus can give us His flesh to eat.

 Yet Jesus repeats himself with gathering intensity in the Gospel today. Notice the repetition of the words "eat" and "drink," and "my flesh" and "my blood." To heighten the unbelievable realism of what Jesus asks us to believe, John in these verses uses, not the ordinary Greek word for eating, but a cruder term, once reserved to describe the "munching" of feeding animals.

 The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom (see 1 Corinthians 1:18-25). In His foolish love, He chooses to save those who believe that His flesh is true food, His blood, true drink.

 Fear of the Lord, the desire to live by His will, is the beginning of true wisdom, Paul says in today's Epistle (see Proverbs 9:10). And as we sing in today's Psalm, those who fear Him shall not want for any good thing.

Again today in the liturgy, we are called to renew our faith in the Eucharist, to forsake the foolishness of believing only what we can see with our eyes.

 We approach, then, not only an altar prepared with bread and wine, but the feast of Wisdom, the banquet of heaven -- in which God our savior renews His everlasting covenant and promises to destroy death forever (see Isaiah 25:6-9).

 Let us make the most of our days, as Paul says, always, in the Eucharist, giving thanks to God for everything in the name of Jesus, the bread that came down from heaven. 

Direct download: B_20_Ordinary.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 4:06pm EDT

Sometimes we feel like Elijah in today's First Reading. We want to lie down and die, keenly aware of our failures, that we seem to be getting no better at doing what God wants of us.

We can be tempted to despair, as the prophet was on his forty-day journey in the desert. We can be tempted to "murmur" against God, as the Israelites did during their forty years in the desert (see Exodus 16:2,7,8; 1 Corinthians 10:10). 

The Gospel today uses the same word, "murmur," to describe the crowds, who reenact Israel's hardheartedness in the desert. 

Jesus tells them that prophecies are being fulfilled in Him, that they are being taught by God. But they can't believe it. They can only see His flesh, that He is the "son" of Joseph and Mary. 

Yet if we believe, if we seek Him in our distress, He will deliver us from our fears, as we sing in today's Psalm. 

At the altar in every Eucharist, the angel of the Lord, the Lord himself (see Exodus 3:1-2), touches us. He commands us to take and eat His flesh given for the life of the world (see Matthew 26:26). 

This taste of the heavenly gift (see Hebrews 6:4-5) comes to us with a renewed command -- to get up and continue on the journey we began in baptism, to the mountain of God, the kingdom of heaven. 

He will give us the bread of life, the strength and grace we need -- as He fed our spiritual ancestors in the wilderness and Elijah in the desert.

So let us stop grieving the Spirit of God, as Paul says in today's Epistle, in another reference to Israel in the desert (see Isaiah 63:10). 

Let us say to God as Elijah did, "Take my life." Not in the sense of wanting to die. But in giving ourselves as a sacrificial offering -- loving Him as He has loved us, on the cross and in the Eucharist. 

Direct download: B_19_Ordinary.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 4:52pm EDT

Readings: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 | Psalm 97:1-2, 5-6, 9 | 2 Peter 1:16-19 | Mark 9:2-10

High on the holy mountain in today's Gospel, the true identity of Jesus is fully revealed in His transfiguration.

Standing between Moses and the prophet Elijah, Jesus is the bridge that joins the Law of Moses to the prophets and psalms (see Luke 24:24-27). As Moses did, Jesus climbs a mountain with three named friends and beholds God's glory in a cloud (see Exodus 24:1,9,15). As Elijah did, He hears God's voice on the mountain (see 1 Kings 19:8-19).

Elijah was prophesied to return as the herald of the messiah and the Lord's new covenant (see Malachi 3:1,23-24). Jesus is revealed today as that messiah. By His death and resurrection, which He intimates today to the apostles, He makes a new covenant with all creation.

The majestic voice declares Jesus to be God's own beloved Son, in whom the Father is well pleased (see Psalm 2:7). God here gives us a glimpse of His inner life. In the cloud of the Holy Spirit, the Father reveals His love for the Son, and invites us to share in that love, as His beloved sons and daughters.

Shadowed by the clouds of heaven, His clothes dazzling white, Jesus is the Son of Man whom Daniel foresees being enthroned in today's First Reading.

He is the king, the Lord of all the earth, as we sing in today's Psalm. But is He truly the Lord of our hearts and minds?

The last word God speaks from heaven today is a command -- "Listen to Him" (see Deuteronomy 18:15-19). The word of the Lord should be like a lamp shining in the darkness of our days, as Peter tells us in today's First Reading.

How well are we listening? Do we attend to His word each day?

Let us today rededicate ourselves to listening. Let us hear Him as the word of life, the bright morning star of divine life waiting to arise in our hearts (see Revelation 2:28; 22:16).

Direct download: B_Transfiguration.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 10:27am EDT

The journey of discipleship is a life-long exodus from the slavery of sin and death to the holiness of truth in Mount Zion, the promised land of eternal life.

The road can get rough. And when it does, we can be tempted to complain like the Israelites in this week’s First Reading. 

We have to see these times of hardship as a test of what is in our hearts, a call to trust God more and to purify the motives for our faith (Deuteronomy 8:2–3).

As Paul reminds us in this week’s Epistle, we must leave behind our old self-deceptions and desires and live according to the likeness of God in which we are made. 

Jesus tells the crowd in this week’s Gospel that they are following him for the wrong reasons. They seek him because he filled their bellies. The Israelites, too, were content to follow God so long as there was plenty of food. 

Food is the most obvious of signs—because it is the most basic of our human needs.  We need our daily bread to live. But we cannot live by this bread alone. We need the bread of eternal life that preserves those who believe in him (Wisdom 16:20, 26). 

The manna in the wilderness, like the bread Jesus multiplied for the crowd, was a sign of God’s Providence—that we should trust that he will provide. 

These signs pointed to their fulfillment in the Eucharist, the abundant bread of angels we sing about in this week’s Psalm.

This is the food that God longs to give us. This is the bread we should be seeking. But too often we don’t ask for this bread. Instead we seek the perishable stuff of our every day wants and anxieties. In our weakness we think these things are what we really need. 

We have to trust God more. If we seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, all these things will be ours as well (Matthew 6:33).

Direct download: B_18_Ordinary.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 2:14pm EDT

Today's liturgy brings together several strands of Old Testament expectation to reveal Jesus as Israel's promised Messiah and king, the Lord who comes to feed His people.

 

Notice the parallels between today's Gospel and First Reading. Both Elisha and Jesus face a crowd of hungry people with only a few "barley" loaves. We hear similar words about how impossible it will be to feed the crowd with so little. And in both the miraculous multiplication of bread satisfies the hungry and leaves food left over.

 

The Elisha story looks back to Moses, the prophet who fed God's people in the wilderness (see Exodus 16). Moses prophesied that God would send a prophet like him (see Deuteronomy 18:15-19). The crowd in today's Gospel, witnessing His miracle, identifies Jesus as that prophet.

 

The Gospel today again shows Jesus to be the Lord, the good shepherd, who makes His people lie down on green grass and spreads a table before them (see Psalm 23:1,5).

 

The miraculous feeding is a sign that God has begun to fulfill His promise, which we sing of in today's Psalm - to give His people food in due season and satisfy their desire (see Psalm 81:17).

 

But Jesus points to the final fulfillment of that promise in the Eucharist. He does the same things He does at the Last Supper - He takes the loaves, pronounces a blessing of thanksgiving (literally, "eucharist"), and gives the bread to the people (see Matthew 26:26). Notice, too, that 12 baskets of bread are left over, one for each of the apostles.

 

These are signs that should point us to the Eucharist - in which the Church founded on the apostles continues to feed us with the living bread of His body.

 

In this Eucharist, we are made one body with the Lord, as we hear in today's Epistle. Let us resolve again, then, to live lives worthy of such a great calling.

Direct download: B_17_Ordinary.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 5:16pm EDT

As the Twelve return from their first missionary journey in today’s Gospel, our readings continue to reflect on the authority and mission of the Church.

Jeremiah says in the First Reading that Israel’s leaders, through godlessness and fanciful teachings, had mislead and scattered God’s people. He promises God will send a shepherd, a king and son of David, to gather the lost sheep and appoint for them new shepherds (see Ezekiel 34:23).

The crowd gathering on the green grass (see Mark 6:39) in today’s Gospel is the start of the remnant that Jeremiah promised would be brought back to the meadow of Israel. The people seem to sense that Jesus is the Lord, the good shepherd (see John 10:11), the king they’ve been waiting for (see Hosea 3:1-5).

Jesus is moved to pity, seeing them as sheep without a shepherd. This phrase was used by Moses to describe Israel’s need for a shepherd to succeed him (see Numbers 27:17). And as Moses appointed Joshua, Jesus appointed the Twelve to continue shepherding His people on earth.

Readings:
Jeremiah 23:1-16
Psalms 23:1-6
Ephesians 2:13-18
Mark 6:30-34

Jesus had said there were other sheep who did not belong to Israel’s fold, but would hear His voice and be joined to the one flock of the one shepherd (see John 10:16). In God’s plan, the Church is to seek out first the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and then to bring all nations into the fold (see Acts 13:36; Romans 1:16).

Paul, too, in today’s Epistle, sees the Church as a new creation, in which those nations who were once far off from God are joined as “one new person” with the children of Israel.

As we sing in today’s Psalm, through the Church, the Lord, our good shepherd, still leads people to the verdant pastures of the kingdom, to the restful waters of baptism; He still anoints with the oil of confirmation, and spreads the Eucharistic table before all people, filling their cups to overflowing.

Direct download: B_16_Ordinary.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 4:11pm EDT

As we’ve walked with the apostles in the Gospels in recent weeks, we’ve witnessed Jesus command the wind and sea, and order a little girl to arise from the dead.

But He seems to meet His match in His hometown of Nazareth. Today’s Gospel is blunt: “He was not able to perform any mighty deed there.”

Why not? Because of the people’s lack of faith. They acknowledged the wisdom of His words, the power of His works. But they refused to recognize Him as a prophet come among them, a messenger sent by God.

All they could see was how much “this man” was like them - a carpenter, the son of their neighbor, Mary, with brothers and sisters.

Of course, Mary was ever-virgin, and had no other children. The Gospel refers to Jesus’ brothers as Paul refers to all Israelites as his brothers, the children of Abraham (see Romans 9:3,7).

That’s the point in today’s Gospel, too. Like the prophet Ezekiel in today’s First Reading, Jesus was sent by God to the rebellious house of Israel, where He found His own brothers and sisters obstinate of heart and in revolt against God. 

The servant is not above the Master (see Matthew 10:24). As His disciples, we too face the mockery and contempt we hear of in today’s Psalm. And isn’t it often hardest to live our faith among those in our own families, those who think they really know us, who define us by the people we used to be - before we chose to walk with Jesus?

As Paul confides in today’s Epistle, insults and hardships are God’s way of teaching us to rely solely on His grace.

Jesus will work no mighty deeds in our lives unless we abandon ourselves to Him in faith. Blessed then are those who take no offense in Him (see Luke 7:23). Instead, we must look upon Him with the eyes of servants - knowing that the son of Mary is also the Lord enthroned in the heavens.

Direct download: B_14_Ordinary.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 9:58am EDT