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

Readings:

Acts 15:1-2, 22-29

Psalm 67:2-3, 5-6, 8

Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23

John 14:23-29

 

The first Church council, the Council of Jerusalem we hear about in today's First Reading, decided the shape of the Church as we know it.

Some Jewish Christians had wanted Gentile converts to be circumcised and obey all the complex ritual and purity laws of the Jews.

The council called this a heresy, again showing us that the Church in the divine plan is meant to be a worldwide family of God, no longer a covenant with just one nation.

Today's Liturgy gives us a profound meditation on the nature and meaning of the Church.

The Church is One, as we see in the First Reading: "the Apostles [bishops] and presbyters [priests], in agreement with the whole Church [laity]."

The Church is Holy, taught and guided by the Spirit that Jesus promises the Apostles in the Gospel.

The Church is Catholic, or universal, making known God's ways of salvation to all peoples, ruling all in equity, as we sing in today's Psalm.

And the Church, as John sees in the Second Reading, is Apostolic - founded on the twelve Apostles of the Lamb.

All these marks of the Church are underscored in the story of the council. 

Notice that everybody, including Paul, looks to "Jerusalem [and] ...the Apostles" to decide the Church's true teaching. The Apostles, too, presume that Christian teachers need a "mandate from us."

And we see the Spirit guiding the Apostles in all truth. Notice how they describe their ruling: "It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us."

Knowing these truths about the Church, our hearts should never be troubled. The Liturgy's message today is that the Church is the Lord's, watched over and guarded by the Advocate, the Holy Spirit sent by the Father in the name of the Son.

This should fill us with confidence, free us to worship with exultation, inspire us to rededicate our lives to His Name - to love Jesus in our keeping of His Word, to rejoice that He and the Father in the Spirit have made their dwelling with us.

 

Direct download: C_6_Easter_16.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 10:15am EDT

Readings:

Acts 14:21-27

Psalm 145:8-13

Revelation 21:1-5

John 13:31-35

By God's goodness and compassion, the doors of His kingdom have been opened to all who have faith, Jew or Gentile.

That's the good news Paul and Barnabas proclaim in today's First Reading. With the coming of the Church - the new Jerusalem John sees in today's Second Reading - God is "making all things new."

In His Church, the "old order" of death is passing away and God for all time is making His dwelling with the human race, so that all peoples "will be His people and God Himself will always be with them." In this the promises made through His prophets are accomplished (see Ezekiel 37:27; Isaiah 25:8; 35:10).

The Church is "the kingdom for all ages" that we sing of in today's Psalm. That's why we see the Apostles, under the guidance of the Spirit, ordaining "presbyters" or priests (see 1 Timothy 4:14; Titus 1:5).

Anointed priests and bishops will be the Apostles' successors, ensuring that the Church's "dominion endures through all generations" (see Philippians 1:1, note that the New American Bible translates episcopois, the Greek word for bishops, as "overseers").

Until the end of time, the Church will declare to the world God's mighty deeds, blessing His holy name and giving Him thanks, singing of the glories of His kingdom.

In His Church, we know ourselves as His "faithful ones," as those Jesus calls "My little children" in today's Gospel. We live by the new law, the "new commandment" that He gave in His final hours.

The love He commands of us is no human love but a supernatural love. We love each other as Jesus loved us in suffering and dying for us. We love in imitation of His love.

This kind of love is only made possible by the Spirit poured into our hearts at Baptism (see Romans 5:5), renewed in the sacrifice His priests offer in every Mass.

By our love we glorify the Father. And by our love all peoples will know that we are His people, that He is our God.

Direct download: C_5_Easter_16.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 11:55am EDT

Readings:

Acts 13:14, 43-52
Psalm 100:1-3, 5

Revelation 7:9,14-17 

John 10:27-30


Israel's mission - to be God's instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth (see Isaiah 49:6) - is fulfilled in the Church.

By the "Word of God" that Paul and Barnabas preach in today's First Reading, a new covenant people is being born, a people who glorify the God of Israel as the Father of them all.

The Church for all generations remains faithful to the grace of God given to the Apostles, continues their saving work.

Through the Church, the peoples of every land hear the Shepherd's voice, and follow Him (see Luke 10:16).

The Good Shepherd of today's Gospel is the enthroned Lamb of today's Second Reading. 
In laying down His life for His flock, the Lamb brought to pass a new Passover (see 1 Corinthians 5:7), by His blood freeing "every nation, race, people and tongue" from bondage to sin and death.

The Church is the "great multitude" John sees in his vision today. God swore to Abraham his descendants would be too numerous to count. And in the Church, as John sees, this promise is fulfilled (compare Revelation 7:9; Genesis 15:5).

The Lamb rules from the throne of God, sheltering His flock, feeding their hunger with His own Body and Blood, leading them to "springs of life-giving waters" that well up to eternal life (see John 4:14).

The Lamb is the eternal Shepherd-King, the son of David foretold by the prophets. His Church is the Kingdom of all Israel that the prophets said would be restored in an everlasting covenant (see Ezekiel 34:23-31; 37:23-28).

It is not a kingdom any tribe or nation can jealously claim as theirs alone. The Shepherd's Word to Israel is addressed now to all lands, calling all to worship and bless His name in the heavenly Temple.

This is the delight of the Gentiles - that we can sing the song that once only Israel could sing, today's joyful Psalm: "He made us, His we are - His people, the flock He tends."

Direct download: C_4_Easter_16.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 11:35am EDT

Readings:

Acts 5:27-32,40-41
Psalm 30:2,4-6,11-13
Revelation 5:11-14
John 21:1-19

 

There are two places in Scripture where the curious detail of a "charcoal fire" is mentioned.

One is in today's Gospel, where the Apostles return from fishing to find bread and fish warming on the fire.

 The other is in the scene in the High Priest's courtyard on Holy Thursday, where Peter and some guards and slaves warm themselves while Jesus is being interrogated inside (see John 18:18).

 At the first fire, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times, as Jesus had predicted (see John 13:38; 18:15-18, 25-27).

 Today's charcoal fire becomes the scene of Peter's repentance, as three times Jesus asks him to make a profession of love. Jesus'  thrice repeated command "feed My sheep" shows that Peter is being appointed as the shepherd of the Lord's entire flock, the head of His Church (see also Luke 22:32).

 Jesus' question: "Do you love me more than these?" is a pointed reminder of Peter's pledge to lay down his life for Jesus, even if the other Apostles might weaken (see John 13:37; Matthew 26:33; Luke 22:33).

 Jesus then explains just what Peter's love and leadership will require, foretelling Peter's death by crucifixion ("you will stretch out your hands").

Before His own death, Jesus had warned the Apostles that they would be hated as He was hated, that they would suffer as He suffered (see Matthew 10:16-19,22; John 15:18-20; 16:2).

We see the beginnings of that persecution in today's First Reading. Flogged as Jesus was, the Apostles nonetheless leave "rejoicing that they have been found worthy to suffer."

Their joy is based on their faith that God will change their "mourning into dancing," as we sing in today's Psalm. By their sufferings, the know, they will be counted worthy to stand in heaven before "the Lamb that was slain," a scene glimpsed in today's Second Reading (see also Revelation 6:9-11).

Direct download: C_3_Easter_16.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 3:03pm EDT

 

Readings:

Acts 5:12-16

Psalm 118:2-4,13-15, 22-24

Revelation 1:9-13,17-19 

John 20:19-31

The prophet Daniel in a vision saw "One like the Son of Man" receive everlasting kingship (see Daniel 7:9-14). John is taken to heaven in today's Second Reading where He sees Daniel's prophecy fulfilled in Jesus, who appears as "One like a Son of Man."

Jesus is clad in the robe of a High Priest (see Exodus 28:4; Wisdom 18:24) and wearing the gold sash of a King (see 1 Maccabees 10:89). He has been exalted by the right hand of the Lord, as we sing in today's Psalm.

His risen body, which the Apostles touch in today's Gospel, has been made a life-giving Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 15:45).

As the Father anointed Him with the Spirit and power (see Acts 10:38), Jesus pours out that Spirit on the Apostles, sending them into the world "as the Father has sent Me."

Jesus "breathes" the Spirit of His divine life into the Apostles - as God blew the "breath of life" into Adam (see Genesis 2:7), as Elijah's prayer returned "the life breath" to the dead child (see 1 Kings 17:21-23), and as the Spirit breathed new life into the slain in the valley of bones (see Ezekiel 37:9-10).

His creative breath unites the Apostles - His Church - to His body, and empowers them to breathe His life into a dying world, to make it a new creation.

In today's Gospel and First Reading, we see the Apostles fulfilling this mission, with powers only God possesses - the power to forgive sins and to work "signs and wonders," a biblical expression only used to describe the mighty works of God (see Exodus 7:3; 11:10; Acts 7:36).

Thomas and the others saw "many other signs" after Jesus was raised from the dead. They saw and they believed.

They have been given His life, which continues in the Church's Word and sacraments, so that we who have not seen might inherit His blessings, and "have life in His name."

Direct download: Divine_Mercy_16.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 1:19pm EDT

 

Readings:

Acts 10:34, 37-43

Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23

Colossians 3:1-4

John 20:1-9

Jesus is nowhere visible. Yet today's Gospel tells us that Peter and John "saw and believed."

What did they see? Burial shrouds lying on the floor of an empty tomb. Maybe that convinced them that He hadn't been carted off by grave robbers, who usually stole the expensive burial linens and left the corpses behind.

But notice the repetition of the word "tomb" - seven times in nine verses. They saw the empty tomb and they believed what He had promised: that God would raise Him on the third day.

Chosen to be His "witnesses," today's First Reading tells us, the Apostles were "commissioned...to preach...and testify" to all that they had seen - from His anointing with the Holy Spirit at the Jordan to the empty tomb.

More than their own experience, they were instructed in the mysteries of the divine economy, God's saving plan - to know how "all the prophets bear witness" to Him (see Luke 24:27,44).

Now they could "understand the Scripture," could teach us what He had told them - that He was "the Stone which the builders rejected," that today's Psalm prophesies His Resurrection and exaltation (see Luke 20:17; Matthew 21:42; Acts 4:11).

We are the children of the apostolic witnesses. That is why we still gather early in the morning on the first day of every week to celebrate this feast of the empty tomb, give thanks for "Christ our life," as today's Epistle calls Him.

Baptized into His death and Resurrection, we live the heavenly life of the risen Christ, our lives "hidden with Christ in God." We are now His witnesses, too. But we testify to things we cannot see but only believe; we seek in earthly things what is above.

We live in memory of the Apostles' witness, like them eating and drinking with the risen Lord at the altar. And we wait in hope for what the Apostles told us would come - the day when we too "will appear with Him in glory."

Direct download: C_Easter_16.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 10:05am EDT

 

Readings:

Isaiah 50:4-7

Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24

Philippians 2:6-11

Luke 22:14-23:56

 What is written about Me is coming to fulfillment," Jesus says in today's Gospel (see Luke 22:37).

Indeed, we have reached the climax of the liturgical year, the highest peak of salvation history, when all that has been anticipated and promised is to be fulfilled.

By the close of today's long Gospel, the work of our redemption will have been accomplished, the new covenant will be written in the blood of His broken body hanging on the cross at the place called the Skull.

 In His Passion, Jesus is "counted among the wicked," as Isaiah had foretold (see Isaiah 53:12). He is revealed definitively as the Suffering Servant the prophet announced, the long-awaited Messiah whose words of obedience and faith ring out in today's First Reading and Psalm.

 The taunts and torments we hear in these two readings punctuate the Gospel as Jesus is beaten and mocked (see Luke 22:63-65; 23:10-11,16), as His hands and feet are pierced (see Luke 23:33), as enemies gamble for His clothes ( see Luke 23:34), and as three times they dare Him to prove His divinity by saving Himself from suffering (see Luke 23:35,37,39)

 He remains faithful to God's will to the end, does not turn back in His trial. He gives Himself freely to His torturers, confident that, as He speaks in today's First Reading: "The Lord God is My help...I shall not be put to shame."

Destined to sin and death as children of Adam's disobedience, we have been set free for holiness and life by Christ's perfect obedience to the Father's will (see Romans 5:12-14,17-19; Ephesians 2:2; 5:6).

This is why God greatly exalted Him. This is why we have salvation in His Name. Following His example of humble obedience in the trials and crosses of our lives, we know we will never be forsaken, that one day we too will be with Him in Paradise (see Luke 23:42). Seeing and Believing.

Direct download: C_Passion_16.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 11:42am EDT

Readings:
Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalms 126:1-6
Philippians 3:8-14
John 8:1-11

The Liturgy this Lent has shown us the God of the Exodus. He is a mighty and gracious God, Who out of faithfulness to His covenant has done "great things" for His people, as today's Psalm puts it.
But the "things of long ago," Isaiah tells us in today's First Reading, are nothing compared to the "something new" that He will do in the future.

Today's First Reading and Psalm look back to the marvelous deeds of the Exodus. Both see in the Exodus a pattern and prophecy of the future, when God will restore the fortunes of His people fallen in sin. The readings today look forward to a still greater Exodus, when God will gather in the exiled tribes of Israel which had been scattered to the four winds, the ends of the earth.

The new Exodus that Israel waited and hoped for has come in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Like the adulterous woman in today's Gospel, all have been spared by the Lord's compassion. All have heard His words of forgiveness, His urging to repentance, to be sinners no more. Like Paul in today's Epistle, Christ has taken possession of every one, claimed each as a child of our heavenly Father.

In the Church, God has formed a people for Himself to announce His praise, just as Isaiah said He would. And as Isaiah promised, He has given His "chosen people" living waters to drink in the desert wastelands of the world (see John 7:37-39).

But our God is ever a God of the future, not of the past. We are to live with hopeful hearts, "forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead," as Paul tells us. His salvation, Paul says, is power in the present, "the power of His resurrection."

We are to live awaiting a still greater and final Exodus, pursuing "the goal, the prize of God's upward calling," striving in faith to attain the last new thing God promises - "the resurrection of the dead."

Direct download: C_5_Lent_16.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 10:59am EDT

Readings:
Joshua 5:9-12
Psalms 34:2-7
2 Corinthians 5:17-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

In today's First Reading, God forgives "the reproach" of the generations who grumbled against Him after the Exodus. On the threshold of the promised land, Israel can with a clean heart celebrate the Passover, the feast of God's first-born son (see Joshua 5:6-7; Exodus 4:22; 12:12-13).

Reconciliation is also at the heart of the story Jesus tells in today's Gospel. The story of the prodigal son is the story of Israel and of the human race. But it is also the story of every believer.

In Baptism, we're given a divine birthright, made "a new creation," as Paul puts it in today's Epistle. But when we sin, we're like the prodigal, quitting our Father's house, squandering our inheritance in trying to live without Him.

Lost in sin, we cut ourselves off from the grace of sonship lavished upon us in Baptism. It is still possible for us to come to our senses, make our way back to the Father, as the prodigal does.

But only He can remove the reproach, restore the divine sonship we have spurned. Only He can free us from the slavery to sin that causes us - like the prodigal -  to see God not as our Father but as our master, One we serve as slaves.

God wants not slaves but children. Like the father in today's Gospel, He longs to call each of us "My son," to share His life with us, to tell us: "Everything I have is yours."

The Father's words of longing and compassion still come to His prodigal children in the Sacrament of Penance. This is part of what Paul today calls "the ministry of reconciliation" entrusted by Jesus to the Apostles and the Church.

Reconciled like Israel, we take our place at the table of the Eucharist, the homecoming banquet the Father calls for His lost sons, the new Passover we celebrate this side of heaven. We taste the goodness of the Lord, as we sing in today's Psalm, rejoicing that we who were dead are found alive again.

Direct download: C_4_Lent_16.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 2:18pm EDT

Readings:
Exodus 3:1-8,13-15
Psalm 103:1-4, 6-8, 11
1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12
Luke 13:1-9

In the Church, we are made children of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - the God who makes known His name and His ways to Moses in today's First Reading.

Mindful of His covenant with Abraham (see Exodus 2:24), God came down to rescue His people from the slave-drivers of Egypt. Faithful to that same covenant (see Luke 1:54-55, 72-73), He sent Jesus to redeem all lives from destruction, as today's Psalm tells us.

Paul says in today's Epistle that God's saving deeds in the Exodus were written down for the Church, intended as a prelude and foreshadowing of our own Baptism by water, our liberation from sin, our feeding with spiritual food and drink.

Yet the events of the Exodus were also given as a "warning" - that being children of Abraham is no guarantee that we will reach the promised land of our salvation.

At any moment, Jesus warns in today's Gospel, we could perish - not as God's punishment for being "greater sinners" - but because, like the Israelites in the wilderness, we stumble into evil desires, fall into grumbling, forget all His benefits.

Jesus calls us today to "repentance" - not a one-time change of heart, but an ongoing, daily transformation of our lives. We're called to live the life we sing about in today's Psalm - blessing His holy name, giving thanks for His kindness and mercy.

The fig tree in His parable is a familiar Old Testament symbol for Israel (see Jeremiah 8:3; 24:1-10). As the fig tree is given one last season to produce fruit before it is cut down, so too Jesus is giving Israel one final opportunity to bear good fruits as evidence of its repentance (see Luke 3:8).

Lent should be for us like the season of reprieve given to the fig tree, a grace period in which we let "the gardener," Christ, cultivate our hearts, uprooting what chokes the divine life in us, strengthening us to bear fruits that will last into eternity.

Direct download: C_3_Lent_16.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 12:33pm EDT