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

Readings:
Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29
Psalm 68:4-7,10-11
Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24
Luke 14:1, 7-14

We come to the wedding banquet of heaven by way of humility and charity. This is the fatherly instruction we hear in today's First Reading, and the message of today's Gospel.

Jesus is not talking simply about good table manners. He is revealing the way of the kingdom, in which the one who would be greatest would be the servant of all (see Luke 22:24-27).


This is the way He showed us, humbling Himself to come among us as a man (see Philippians 2:5-8), as one who serves, as the bearer of glad tidings to the poor (see Luke 4:18).

This is the way, too, that the Father has shown us down through the ages - filling the hungry, sending the rich away empty, lifting up the lowly, pulling down the proud (see Luke 1:52-53).

We again call to mind the Exodus in today's Psalm - how in His goodness the Lord led the Israelites from imprisonment to prosperity, rained down bread from heaven, made them His inheritance, becoming a "Father of orphans."

We now too have gained a share of His inheritance. We are to live humbly, knowing we are are not worthy to receive from His table (see Luke 6:7; 15:21). We are to give alms, remembering we were ransomed from sin by the price of His blood (see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

The Lord promises that if we are humble we will be exalted and find favor with God; that if we are kind to those who can never repay us, we will atone for sins, and find blessing in the resurrection of the righteous.

We anticipate the fulfillment of those promises in every Eucharist, today's Epistle tells us. In the Mass, we enter the festal gathering of the angels and the firstborn children of God, the liturgy of the heavenly Jerusalem in which Jesus is the high priest, the King who calls us to come up higher (see Proverbs 25:6-7).

 

Direct download: C_22_Ordinary_16.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 11:53am EDT

 

Readings:

Isaiah 66:18-21

Psalm 117:1, 2

Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13

Luke 13:22-30

Jesus doesn't answer the question put to Him in this Sunday’s Gospel. It profits us nothing to speculate on how many will be saved. What we need to know is what He tells us today - how to enter into salvation and how urgent it is to strive now, before the Master closes the door.

Jesus is "the narrow gate," the only way of salvation, the path by which all must travel to enter the kingdom of the Father (see John 14:6).

In Jesus, God has come - as He promises in this week’s First Reading - to gather nations of every language, to reveal to them His glory.

Eating and drinking with them, teaching in their streets, Jesus in the Gospel is slowly making His way to Jerusalem. There, Isaiah's vision will be fulfilled: On the holy mountain He will be lifted up (see John 3:14), will draw to Himself bretheren from among all the nations - to worship in the heavenly Jerusalem, to glorify Him for His kindness, as we sing in Sunday’s Psalm.

In God's plan, the kingdom was proclaimed first to the Israelites and last to the Gentiles (see Romans 1:16; Acts 3:25-26), who in the Church have come from the earth's four corners to make up the new people of God (see Isaiah 43:5-6; Psalm 107:2-3).

Many however will lose their place at the heavenly table, Jesus warns. Refusing to accept His narrow way they will weaken, render themselves unknown to the Father (see Isaiah 63:15-16).

We don't want to be numbered among those of drooping hands and weak knees (see Isaiah 35:3). So we must strive for that narrow gate, a way of hardship and suffering - the way of the beloved Son.

As this week’s Epistle reminds us, by our trials we know we are truly God's sons and daughters. We are being disciplined by our afflictions, strengthened to walk that straight and narrow path - that we may enter the gate, take our place at the banquet of the righteous.

Direct download: C_21_Ordinary_16.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 11:33am EDT

Readings:

Jeremiah 38:4–6, 8–10
Psalm 40:2–4, 18

Hebrews 12:1–4
Luke 12:49–53

Our God is a consuming fire, the Scriptures tell us (see Hebrews 12:29; Deuteronomy 4:24).

And in this week’s Gospel, Jesus uses the image of fire to describe the demands of discipleship.

The fire he has come to cast on the earth is the fire that he wants to blaze in each of  our hearts. He made us from the dust of the earth (see Genesis 2:7), and filled us with the fire of the Holy Spirit in baptism (see Luke 3:16).

We were baptized into his death (see Romans 6:3). This is the baptism our Lord speaks of in the Gospel this week. The baptism with which He must be baptized is His passion and death, by which He accomplished our redemption and sent forth the fire of the Spirit on the earth (see Acts 2:3). 

The fire has been set, but it is not yet blazing. We are called to enter deeper into the consuming love of God. We must examine our consciences and our actions, submitting ourselves to the revealing fire of God’s Word (see 1 Corinthians 3:13).

In our struggle against sin, we have not yet resisted to the point of shedding our own blood, Paul tells us in this week’s Epistle. We have not undergone the suffering that Jeremiah suffers in the First Reading this week. 

But this is what true discipleship requires. To be a disciple is to be inflamed with the love of the God. It is to have an unquenchable desire for holiness and zeal for the salvation of our brothers and sisters.

Being His disciple does not bring peace in the false way that the world proclaims peace (see Jeremiah 8:11). It means division and hardship. It may bring us to conflict with our own flesh and blood.

But Christ is our peace (see Ephesians 2:14). By his cross, he has lifted us up from the mire of sin and death—as he will rescue the prophet Jeremiah (see Jeremiah 38:10).

And as we sing in the Psalm this week, we trust in our deliverer.

Direct download: C_20_Ordinary_16.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 10:21am EDT

 

Readings:

Wisdom 18:6-9

Psalm 33:1,12,18-22

Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19

Luke 12:35-40

We are born of the faith of our fathers, descending from a great cloud of witnesses whose faith is attested to on every page of Scripture (see Hebrews 12:1). We have been made His people, chosen for His own inheritance, as we sing in this Sunday’s Psalm.

The Liturgy this week sings the praises of our fathers, recalling the defining moments in our "family history." In the Epistle, we remember the calling of Abraham; in the First Reading we relive the night of the Exodus and the summons of the holy children of Israel.

Our fathers, we are told, trusted in the Word of God, put their faith in His oaths, convinced that what He promised, He would do.

None of them lived to see His promises made good. For it was not until Christ and His Church that Abraham's descendants were made as countless as the stars and sands (see Galatians 3:16-17,29). It was not until His Last Supper and the Eucharist that "the sacrifice...the divine institution" of that first Passover was truly fulfilled.

And we now too await the final fulfillment of what God has promised us in Christ. As Jesus tells us in this week’s Gospel, we should live with our loins girded - as the Israelites tightened their belts, cinched up their long robes and ate their Passover standing, vigilant and ready to do His will (see Exodus 12:11; 2 Kings 4:29).

The Lord will come at an hour we do not expect - will knock on our door (see Revelation 3:20), inviting us to the wedding feast in the better homeland, the heavenly one that our fathers saw from afar, and which we begin to taste in each Eucharist.

As they did, we can wait with "sure knowledge," His Word like a lamp lighting our path (see Psalm 119:105). Our God is faithful and if we wait in faith, hope in His kindness, and love as we have been loved, we will receive His promised blessing, be delivered from death.

Direct download: C_19_Ordinary_16.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 11:21am EDT

Readings:

Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23

Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9

Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11

Luke 12:13-21

Trust in God - as the Rock of our salvation, as the Lord who made us His chosen people, as our shepherd and guide. This should be the mark of our following of Jesus.

Like the Israelites we recall in this week's Psalm, we have made an exodus, passing through the waters of Baptism, freeing us from our bondage to sin. We too are on a pilgrimage to a promised homeland, the Lord in our midst, feeding us heavenly bread, giving us living waters to drink (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-4).

We must take care to guard against the folly that befell the Israelites, that led them to quarrel and test God's goodness at Meribah and Massah.

We can harden our hearts in ways more subtle but no less ruinous. We can put our trust in possessions, squabble over earthly inheritances, kid ourselves that what we have we deserve, store up treasures and think they'll afford us security, rest.

All this is "vanity of vanities," a false and deadly way of living, as this week's First Reading tells us.

This is the greed that Jesus warns against in this week's Gospel. The rich man's anxiety and toil expose his lack of faith in God's care and provision. That's why Paul calls greed "idolatry" in the Epistle this week. Mistaking having for being, possession for existence, we forget that God is the giver of all that we have, we exalt the things we can make or buy over our Maker (see Romans 1:25).

Jesus calls the rich man a "fool" - a word used in the Old Testament for someone who rebels against God or has forgotten Him (see Psalm 14:1).

We should treasure most the new life we have been given in Christ and seek what is above, the promised inheritance of heaven. We have to see all things in the light of eternity, mindful that He who gives us the breath of life could at any moment - this night even - demand it back from us.

Direct download: C_18_Ordinary_16.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 9:55am EDT

Readings:


Genesis 18:20-32 
Psalm 138:1-3, 6-8
Colossians 2:12-14
Luke 11:1-13

Though we be "but dust and ashes," we can presume to draw near and speak boldly to our Lord, as Abraham dares in this week’s First Reading.

But even Abraham - the friend of God (see Isaiah 41:8), our father in the faith (see Romans 4:12) - did not know the intimacy that we know as children of Abraham, heirs of the blessings promised to his descendants (see Galatians 3:7,29).

The mystery of prayer, as Jesus reveals to His disciples in this week’s Gospel, is the living relationship of beloved sons and daughters with their heavenly Father.  Our prayer is pure gift, made possible by the "good gift" of the Father - the Holy Spirit of His Son. It is the fruit of the New Covenant by which we are made children of God in Christ Jesus (see Galatians 4:6-7; Romans 8:15-16).

Through the Spirit given to us in Baptism, we can cry to Him as our Father - knowing that when we call He will answer.

Jesus teaches His disciples to persist in their prayer, as Abraham persisted in begging God's mercy for the innocent of Sodom and Gomorrah.

For the sake of the one just Man, Jesus, God spared the city of man from destruction (see Jeremiah 5:1; Isaiah 53), "obliterating the bond against us," as Paul says in this week’s Epistle.

On the Cross, Jesus bore the guilt of us all, canceled the debt we owed to God, the death we deserved to die for our transgressions. We pray as ones who have been spared, visited in our affliction, saved from our enemies.

We pray always a prayer of thanksgiving, which is the literal meaning of Eucharist. We have realized the promise of this week’s Psalm: We worship in His holy temple, in the presence of angels, hallowing His name.

In confidence we ask, knowing that we will receive, that He will bring to completion what He has done for us - raising us from the dead, bringing us to everlasting life along with Him.

Direct download: C_17_Ordinary_16.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 1:47pm EDT

Readings:
Genesis 18:1-10
Psalm 15:2-5
Colossians 1:24-28
Luke 10:38-42

God wants to dwell with each of us personally, intimately - as the mysterious guests once visited Abraham's tent, as Jesus once entered the home of Mary and Martha.
By his hospitality in this week’s First Reading, Abraham shows us how we are to welcome the Lord into our lives. His selfless service of his divine guests (see Hebrews 13:1) stands in contrast to the portrait of Martha drawn in this week’s Gospel.
Where Abraham is concerned only for the well-being of his guests, Martha speaks only of herself - "Do you not care that my sister has left me by myself...Tell her to help me." Jesus' gentle rebuke reminds us that we risk missing the divine in the mundane, that we can fall into the trap of believing that God somehow needs to be served by human hands (see Acts 17:25).

Our Lord comes to us, not to be served but to serve (see Matthew 20:28). He gave His life that we might know the one thing we need, the "better part" which is life in the fellowship of God. 

Jesus is the true Son promised today by Abraham's visitors (see Matthew 1:1). In Him, God has made an everlasting covenant for all time, made us blessed descendants of Abraham (see Genesis 17:19,21; Romans 4:16-17, 19-21).

The Church now offers us this covenant, bringing to completion the word of God, the promise of His plan of salvation, what Paul calls "the mystery hidden for ages."

As once He came to Abraham, Mary and Martha, Christ now comes to each of us in Word and Sacrament. As we sing in this week’s Psalm: He will make His dwelling with those who keep His Word and practice justice (see also John 14:23).

If we do these things we will not be anxious or disturbed, will not have our Lord taken from us. We will wait on the Lord, who told Abraham and tells each of us: "I will surely return to you."

Direct download: C_16_Ordinary_16.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 5:00pm EDT

 

Readings:

Deuteronomy 30:10-14

Psalm 69:14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36-37

Colossians 1:15-20

Luke 10:25-37

We are to love God and our neighbor with all the strength of our being, as the scholar of the Law answers Jesus in this week’s Gospel.

This command is nothing remote or mysterious - it's already written in our hearts, in the book of sacred Scripture. "You have only to carry it out," Moses says in this week’s First Reading.

Jesus tells His interrogator the same thing: "Do this and you will live." 

The scholar, however, wants to know where he can draw the line. That's the motive behind his question: "Who is my neighbor?"

In his compassion, the Samaritan in Jesus' parable reveals the boundless mercy of God - who came down to us when we were fallen in sin, close to dead, unable to pick ourselves up.

Jesus is "the image of the invisible God," this week’s Epistle tells us. In Him, the love of God has come very near to us. By the "blood of His Cross" - by bearing His neighbors' sufferings in His own body, being himself stripped and beaten and left for dead - He saved us from bonds of sin, reconciled us to God and to one another.

Like the Samaritan, He pays the price for us, heals the wounds of sin, pours out on us the oil and wine of the sacraments, entrusts us to the care of His Church, until He comes back for us.

Because His love has known no limits, ours cannot either. We are to love as we have been loved, to do for others what He has done for us - joining all things together in His Body, the Church.

We are to love like the singer of this week’s Psalm - like those whose prayers have been answered, like those whose lives has been saved, who have known the time of His favor, have seen God in His great mercy turn toward us.

This is the love that leads to eternal life, the love Jesus commands today of the scholar, and of each of us - "Go and do likewise."

 

Direct download: C_15_Ordinary_16.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 1:28pm EDT

 

Readings:
Isaiah 66:10-14
Psalm 66:1-7,16,20
Galatians 6:14-18
Luke 10:1-12, 17-20

Jesus has a vision in this week’s Gospel - Satan falling like lightning from the sky, the enemy vanquished by the missionary preaching of His Church.

Sent out by Jesus to begin gathering the nations into the harvest of divine judgment (see Isaiah 27:12-13; Joel 4:13), the 70 are a sign of the continuing mission of the Church.

Carrying out the work of the 70, the Church proclaims the coming of God's kingdom, offers His blessings of peace and mercy to every household on earth - "every town and place He intended to visit."

Our Lord's tone is solemn today. For in the preaching of the Church "the kingdom of God is at hand," the time of decision has come for every person. Those who do not receive His messengers will be doomed like Sodom.

But those who believe will find peace and mercy, protection and nourishment in the bosom of the Church, the Mother Zion we celebrate in this week’s beautiful First Reading, the "Israel of God" Paul blesses in this week’s Epistle.

The Church is a new family of faith (see Galatians 6:10) in which we receive a new name that will endure forever (see Isaiah 66:22), a name written in heaven.

In this week’s Psalm we sing of God's "tremendous deeds among men" throughout salvation history. But of all the works of God, none has been greater than what He has wrought by the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Changing the sea into dry land was but an anticipation and preparation for our passing over, for what Paul calls the "new creation."

And as the exodus generation was protected in a wilderness of serpents and scorpions (see Deuteronomy 8:15), He has given His Church power now over "the full force of the Enemy." Nothing will harm us as we make our way through the wilderness of this world, awaiting the Master of the harvest, awaiting the day when all on earth will shout joyfully to the Lord, sing praise to the glory of His name.

Direct download: C_14_Ordinary_16.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 10:18am EDT

 

 Readings:

1 Kings 19:16-21

Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-11

Galatians 5:1,13-18

Luke 9:51-62

In this week’s First Reading, Elijah's disciple is allowed to kiss his parents goodbye before setting out to follow the prophet's call.

But we are called to follow a greater than Elijah, this week’s Liturgy wants us to know.

In Baptism, we have put on the cloak of Christ, been called to the house of a new Father, been given a new family in the kingdom of God. We have been called to leave behind our past lives and never look back - to follow wherever He leads.

Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind and his disciple was given a double portion of his spirit (see 2 Kings 2:9-15).

Jesus too, the Gospel reminds us, was "taken up" (see Acts 1:2,11,22), and He gave us His Spirit to live by, to guide us in our journey in His kingdom.

As this week’s Epistle tells us, the call of Jesus shatters the yoke of every servitude, sets us free from the rituals of the old Law, shows us the Law's fulfillment in the following of Jesus, in serving one another through love.

His call sets our hands to a new plow, a new task - to be His messengers, sent ahead to prepare all peoples to meet Him and enter into His Kingdom.

Elijah called down fire to consume those who wouldn't accept God (see 2 Kings 1:1-16). But we have a different Spirit with us.

To live by His Spirit is to face opposition and rejection, as the Apostles do in this week’s Gospel. It is to feel like an exile, with no lasting city (see Hebrews 13:14), no place in this world to lay our head or call home.

But we hear the voice of the One we follow in this week’s Psalm (see Acts 2:25-32; 13:35-37). He calls us to make His faith our own - to abide in confidence that He will not abandon us, that He will show us "the path to life," leading us to the fullness of joy in His presence forever.

Direct download: C_13_Ordinary_16.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 9:07am EDT