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

Readings:
Isaiah 35:1-6,10
Psalm 146:6-10
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

John questions Jesus from prison in today's Gospel - for his disciples' sake and for ours.

He knows that Jesus is doing "the works of the Messiah," foretold in today's First Reading and Psalm. But John wants his disciples - and us - to know that the Judge is at the gate, that in Jesus our God has come to save us.

The Liturgy of Advent takes us out into the desert to see and hear the marvelous works and words of God - the lame leaping like a stag, the dead raised, the good news preached to the poor (see Isaiah 29:18-20; 61:1-2).

The Liturgy does this to give us courage, to strengthen our feeble hands and make firm our weak knees. Our hearts can easily become frightened and weighed down by the hardships we face. We can lose patience in our sufferings as we await the coming of the Lord.

As James advises in today's Epistle, we should take as our example the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

Jesus also points us to a prophet - holding up John as a model. John knew that life was more than food, the body more than clothing. He sought the kingdom of God first, confident that God would provide (see Matthew 6:25-34). John did not complain. He did not lose faith. Even in chains in his prison cell, he was still sending his disciples - and us - to our Savior.

We come to Him again now in the Eucharist. Already He has caused the desert to bloom, the burning sands to become springs of living water. He has opened our ears to hear the words of the sacred book, freed our tongue to fill the air with songs of thanksgiving (see Isaiah 30:18).

Once bowed down, captives to sin and death, we have been ransomed and returned to His Kingdom, crowned with everlasting joy. Raised up we now stand before His altar to meet the One who is to come: "Here is your God."

 

Direct download: A_Advent_3_17.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 10:08am EDT

Readings:
Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17
Romans 15:4-9
Matthew 3:1-12

"The kingdom of heaven is at hand," John proclaims. And the Liturgy today paints us a vivid portrait of our new king and the shape of the kingdom He has come to bring.

The Lord whom John prepares the way for in today's Gospel is the righteous king prophesied in today's First Reading and Psalm. He is the king's son, the son of David - a shoot from the root of Jesse, David's father (see Ruth 4:17).

He will be the Messiah, anointed with the Holy Spirit (see 2 Samuel 23:1; 1 Kings 1:39; Psalm 2:2), endowed with the seven gifts of the Spirit - wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord.

He will rule with justice, saving the poor from the ruthless and wicked. His rule will be not only over Israel - but will extend from sea to sea, to the ends of the earth. He will be a light, a signal to all nations. And they will seek Him and pay Him homage.

In Him, all the tribes of the earth will find blessing. The covenant promise to Abraham (see Genesis 12:3), renewed in God's oath to David (see Psalm 89:4,28), will be fulfilled in His dynasty. And His name will be blessed forever.

In Christ, God confirms His oath to Israel's patriarchs, Paul tells us in today's Epistle. But no longer are God's promises reserved solely for the children of Abraham. The Gentiles, too, will glorify God for His mercy. Once strangers, in Christ they will be included in "the covenants of promise" (see Ephesians 2:12).

John delivers this same message in the Gospel. Once God's chosen people were hewn from the rock of Abraham (see Isaiah 51:1-2). Now, God will raise up living stones (see 1 Peter 2:5) - children of Abraham born not of flesh and blood but of the Spirit.

This is the meaning of the fiery baptism He brings - making us royal heirs of the kingdom of heaven, the Church.

Direct download: A_Advent_2_17.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 11:18am EDT

Readings:


Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122:1-9
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:37-44 (see also "The Gospel of Fulfillment")

Jesus exaggerates in today's Gospel when He claims not to know the day or the hour when He will come again.

He occasionally makes such overstatements to drive home a point we might otherwise miss (see Matthew 5:34; 23:9; Luke 14:26).

His point here is that the exact "hour" is not important. What is crucial is that we not postpone our repentance, that we be ready for Him - spiritually and morally - when He comes. For He will surely come, He tells us - like a thief in the night, like the flood in the time of Noah.

In today's Epistle, Paul too compares the present age to a time of advancing darkness and night.

Though we sit in the darkness, overshadowed by death, we have seen arise the great light of our Lord who has come into our midst (see Matthew 4:16; John 1:9; 8:12). He is the true light, the life of the world. And His light continues to shine in His Church, the new Jerusalem promised by Isaiah in today's First Reading.

In the Church, all nations stream to the God of Jacob, to worship and seek wisdom in the House of David. From the Church goes forth His word of instruction, the light of the Lord - that all might walk in His paths toward that eternal day when night will be no more (see Revelation 22:5).

By our Baptism we have been made children of the light and day (see Ephesians 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:5-7). It is time we start living like it - throwing off the fruitless works of darkness, the desires of the flesh, and walking by the light of His grace.

The hour is late as we begin a new Advent. Let us begin again in this Eucharist.

As we sing in today's Psalm, let us go rejoicing to the House of the Lord. Let us give thanks to His name, keeping watch for His coming, knowing that our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.

Direct download: A_Advent_1_17.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 10:10am EDT

Readings:
2 Samuel 5:1-3
Psalm 122:1-5
Colossians 1:12-20
Luke 23:35-43

Week by week the Liturgy has been preparing us for the revelation to be made on this, the last Sunday of the Church year.

Jesus, we have been shown, is truly the Chosen One, the Messiah of God, the King of Jews. Ironically, in today's Gospel we hear these names on the lips of those who don't believe in Him - Israel's rulers, the soldiers, a criminal dying alongside Him.

They can only see the scandal of a bloodied figure nailed to a cross. They scorn Him in words and gestures foretold in Israel's Scriptures (see Psalm 22:7-9; 69:21-22; Wisdom 2:18-20). If He is truly King, God will rescue Him, they taunt. But He did not come to save Himself, but to save them - and us.

The good thief shows us how we are to accept the salvation He offers us. He confesses his sins, acknowledges he deserves to die for them. And He calls on the name of Jesus, seeks His mercy and forgiveness.

By his faith he is saved. Jesus "remembers" him - as God has always remembered His people, visiting them with His saving deeds, numbering them among His chosen heirs (see Psalm 106:4-5).

By the blood of His cross, Jesus reveals His Kingship - not in saving His life, but in offering it as a ransom for ours. He transfers us to "the Kingdom of His beloved Son," as today's Epistle tells us.

His Kingdom is the Church, the new Jerusalem and House of David that we sing of in today's Psalm.

By their covenant with David in today's First Reading, Israel's tribes are made one "bone and flesh" with their king. By the new covenant made in His blood, Christ becomes one flesh with the people of His Kingdom - the head of His body, the Church (see Ephesians 5:23-32).

We celebrate and renew this covenant in every Eucharist, giving thanks for our redemption, hoping for the day when we too will be with Him in Paradise.

Direct download: C_Christ_King_16.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 9:50am EDT

Readings:
Malachi 3:19-20
Psalm 98:5-9
2 Thessalonians 3:7-12
Luke 21:5-19

It is the age between our Lord's first coming and His last. We live in the new world begun by His life, death, Resurrection and Ascension, by the sending of His Spirit upon the Church. But we await the day when He will come again in glory.

"Lo, the day is coming," Malachi warns in today's First Reading. The prophets taught Israel to look for the Day of the Lord, when He would gather the nations for judgment (see Zephaniah 3:8; Isaiah 3:9; 2 Peter 3:7).

Jesus anticipates this day in today's Gospel. He cautions us not to be deceived by those claiming "the time has come." Such deception is the background also for today's Epistle (see 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3).

The signs Jesus gives His Apostles seem to already have come to pass in the New Testament. In Acts, the Epistles and Revelation, we read of famines and earthquakes, the Temple's desolation. We read of persecutions - believers imprisoned and put to death, testifying to their faith with wisdom in the Spirit.

These "signs" then, show us the pattern for the Church's life - both in the New Testament and today.

We too live in a world of nations and kingdoms at war. And we should take the Apostles as our "models," as today's Epistle counsels. Like them we must persevere in the face of unbelieving relatives and friends, and forces and authorities hostile to God.

As we do in today's Psalm, we should sing His praises, joyfully proclaim His coming as Lord and King. The Day of the Lord is always a day that has already come and a day still yet to come. It is the "today" of our Liturgy.

The Apostles prayed marana tha - "O Lord come!" (see 1 Corinthians 16:22; Revelation 22:20). In the Eucharist He answers, coming again as the Lord of hosts and the Sun of Justice with its healing rays. It is a mighty sign - and a pledge of that Day to come.

Direct download: C_33_Ordinary_16.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 1:04pm EDT

Readings:
2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14
Psalm 17:1,5-6,8,15
2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5
Luke 20:27-38

With their riddle about seven brothers and a childless widow, the Sadducees in today's Gospel mock the faith for which seven brothers and their mother die in the First Reading.

The Maccabean martyrs chose death - tortured limb by limb, burned alive - rather than betray God's Law. Their story is given to us in these last weeks of the Church year to strengthen us for endurance - that our feet not falter but remain steadfast on His paths.

The Maccabeans died hoping that the "King of the World" would raise them to live again forever (see 2 Maccabees 14:46).

The Sadducees don't believe in the Resurrection because they can't find it literally taught in the Scriptures. To ridicule this belief they fix on a law that requires a woman to marry her husband's brother if he should die without leaving an heir (see Genesis 38:8; Deuteronomy 25:5).

But God's Law wasn't given to ensure the raising up of descendants to earthly fathers. The Law was given, as Jesus explains, to make us worthy to be "children of God" - sons and daughters born of His Resurrection.

"God our Father," today's Epistle tells us, has given us "everlasting encouragement" in the Resurrection of Christ. Through His grace, we can now direct our hearts to the love of God.

As the Maccabeans suffered for the Old Law, we will have to suffer for our faith in the New Covenant. Yet He will guard us in the shadow of His wing, keep us as the apple of His eye, as we sing in today's Psalm.

The Maccabeans' persecutors marveled at their courage. We too can glorify the Lord in our sufferings and in the daily sacrifices we make.

And we have even greater cause than they for hope. One who has risen from the dead has given us His word - that He is the God of the living, that when we awake from the sleep of death we will behold His face, be content in His presence (see Psalm 76:6; Daniel 12:2).

Direct download: C_32_Ordinary.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 12:12pm EDT


Readings: 
Wisdom 11:22-12

1 Psalm 145:1-2, 8-11, 13-14
2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2
Luke 19:1-10

Our Lord is a lover of souls, the Liturgy shows us today. As we sing in today's Psalm, He is slow to anger and compassionate towards all that He has made.

In His mercy, our First Reading tells us, He overlooks our sins and ignorance, giving us space that we might repent and not perish in our sinfulness (see Wisdom 12:10; 2 Peter 3:9).

In Jesus, He has become the Savior of His children, coming himself to save the lost (see Isaiah 63:8-9; Ezekiel 34:16).

In the figure of Zacchaeus in today's Gospel, we have a portrait of a lost soul. He is a tax collector, by profession a "sinner" excluded from Israel's religious life. Not only that, he is a "chief tax collector." Worse still, he is a rich man who has apparently gained his living by fraud.

But Zacchaeus' faith brings salvation to his house. He expresses his faith in his fervent desire to "see" Jesus, even humbling himself to climb a tree just to watch Him pass by. While those of loftier religious stature react to Jesus with grumbling, Zacchaeus receives Him with joy.

Zacchaeus is not like the other rich men Jesus meets or tells stories about (see Luke 12:16-21; 16:19-31; 18:18-25). He repents, vowing to pay restitution to those he has cheated and to give half of his money to the poor.

By his humility he is exalted, made worthy to welcome the Lord into his house. By his faith, he is justified, made a descendant of Abraham (see Romans 4:16-17).

As He did last week, Jesus is again using a tax collector to show us the faith and humility we need to obtain salvation.

We are also called to seek Jesus daily with repentant hearts. And we should make our own Paul's prayer in today's Epistle: that God might make us worthy of His calling, that by our lives we might give glory to the name of Jesus.

Direct download: C_31_Ordinary_16.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 10:08am EDT

 

Readings:
Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18
Psalm 34:2-3,17-19, 23
2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18
Luke 18:9-14

Jesus draws a blunt picture in today's Gospel.

The Pharisee's prayer is almost a parody of the thanksgiving psalms (see for example Psalms 30,118). Instead of praising God for His mighty works, the Pharisee congratulates himself for his own deeds, which he presents to God in some detail.

The tax collector stands at a distance, too ashamed even to raise his eyes to God (see Ezra 9:6). He prays with a humble and contrite heart (see Psalm 51:19). He knows that before God no one is righteous, no one has cause to boast (see Roman 3:10; 4:2).

We see in the Liturgy today one of Scripture's abiding themes - that God "knows no favorites," as today's First Reading tells us (see 2 Chronicles 19:7; Acts 10:34-35; Romans 2:11).

God cannot be bribed (see Deuteronomy 10:17). We cannot curry favor with Him or impress Him - even with our good deeds or our faithful observance of religious duties such as tithing and fasting.

If we try to exalt ourselves before the Lord, as the Pharisee does, we will be brought low (see Luke 1:52).

This should be a warning to us - not to take pride in our piety, not to slip into the self-righteousness of thinking that we're better than others, that we're "not like the rest of sinful humanity."

If we clothe ourselves with humility (see 1 Peter 5:5-6) - recognize that all of us are sinners in need of His mercy - we will be exalted (see Proverbs 29:33).

The prayer of the lowly, the humble, pierces the clouds. Paul testifies to this in today's Epistle, as He thanks the Lord for giving him strength during his imprisonment.

Paul tells us what the Psalmist sings today - that the Lord redeems the lives of His humble servants.

We too must serve Him willingly. And He will hear us in our distress, deliver us from evil, and bring us safely to His heavenly kingdom.

Direct download: C_30_Ordinary_16.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 10:48am EDT

Readings: 
Exodus 17:8-13
Psalm 121:1-8
2 Timothy 3:14-4:2
Luke 18:1-8

The Lord is our guardian, beside us at our right hand, interceding for us in all our spiritual battles.

In today's Psalm we're told to lift our eyes to the mountains, that our help will come from Mount Zion and the Temple - the dwelling of the Lord who made heaven and earth.

Joshua and the Israelites, in today's First Reading, are also told to look to the hilltops. They are to find their help there - through the intercession of Moses - as they defend themselves against their mortal foes, the Amalekites.

Notice the image: Aaron and Hur standing on each side of Moses, holding his weary arms so that he can raise the staff of God above his head. Moses is being shown here as a figure of Jesus, who also climbed a hilltop, and on Mount Calvary stretched out His hands between heaven and earth to intercede for us against the final enemy - sin and death (see 1 Corinthians 15:26).

By the staff of God, Moses bested Israel's enemies (see Exodus 7:8-12;8:1-2), parted the Red Sea (see Exodus 14:16) and brought water from the Rock (see Exodus 17:6).

The Cross of Jesus is the new staff of God, bringing about a new liberation from sin, bringing forth living waters from the body of Christ, the new Temple of God (see John 2:19-21; 7:37-39; 19:34; 1 Corinthians 10:4).

Like the Israelites and the widow in today's Gospel, we face opposition and injustice - at times from godless and pitiless adversaries.

We, too, must lift our eyes to the mountains - to Calvary and the God who will guard us from all evil.

We must pray always and not be wearied by our trials, Jesus tells us today. As Paul exhorts in today's Epistle, we need to remain faithful, to turn to the inspired Scriptures - given by God to train us in righteousness.

We must persist, so that when the Son of Man comes again in kingly power, He will indeed find faith on earth.

Direct download: C_29_Ordinary_16.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 10:05am EDT

Readings:
2 Kings 5:14-17
Psalm 98:1-4
2 Timothy 2:8-13
Luke 17:11-19

A foreign leper is cleansed and in thanksgiving returns to offer homage to the God of Israel. We hear this same story in both the First Reading and Gospel today.

There were many lepers in Israel in Elisha's time, but only Naaman the Syrian trusted in God's Word and was cleansed (see Luke 5:12-14). Today's Gospel likewise implies that most of the 10 lepers healed by Jesus were Israelites - but only a foreigner, the Samaritan, returned.

In a dramatic way, we're being shown today how faith has been made the way to salvation, the road by which all nations will join themselves to the Lord, becoming His servants, gathered with the Israelites into one chosen people of God, the Church (see Isaiah 56:3-8). 

Today's Psalm also looks forward to the day when all peoples will see what Naaman sees - that there is no God in all the earth except the God of Israel.

We see this day arriving in today's Gospel. The Samaritan leper is the only person in the New Testament who personally thanks Jesus. The Greek word used to describe his "giving thanks" is the word we translate as "Eucharist."

And these lepers today reveal to us the inner dimensions of the Eucharist and sacramental life.

We, too have been healed by our faith in Jesus. As Naaman's flesh is made again like that of a little child, our souls have been cleansed of sin in the waters of Baptism. We experience this cleansing again and again in the Sacrament of Penance - as we repent our sins, beg and receive mercy from our Master, Jesus.

We return to glorify God in each Mass, to offer ourselves in sacrifice - falling on our knees before our Lord, giving thanks for our salvation.

In this Eucharist, we remember "Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David," Israel's covenant king. And we pray, as Paul does in today's Epistle, to persevere in this faith - that we too may live and reign with Him in eternal glory.

Direct download: C_28_Ordinary_16.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 11:32am EDT