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

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

Readings:

Zech 12:10-11; 13:1

Ps 62:2-6. 8-9 r. 2

Gal 3:26-29

Luke 9:18-24

In this Sunday's readings we hear the voice of the Prophet Zechariah as he delivers difficult oracles from God. The people have returned from exile. Now back in Jerusalem, they face the arduous work of rebuilding the Temple. Zechariah acknowledges their hardships and foresees more obstacles.

But their grief has a purpose. It is a remedy, a penance to heal them -- "a fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness."

Thus purified, the people will be ready to receive the Messiah and usher in a new creation. God promises to "pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and petition." So that no one should mistake the identity of the Messiah when He comes, God says through Zechariah: "they shall look on him whom they have thrust through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only son … a first-born." That prophecy could be fulfilled in no other than Jesus, the Word made Flesh, the Only-Begotten Son of God, the Crucified.

The day of the Messiah indeed came, with an outpouring of the Spirit. Yet it was a saving event not only for Jerusalem, but for all people. Both Jews and Gentiles could become "children of God," in St. Paul's stunning phrase. Now, “There is neither Jew nor Greek … slave nor free … male and female …  if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendant, heirs according to the promise.”

In light of these readings, Sunday's Gospel is poignant. Jesus asks his closest friends, " who do you say that I am?" Peter replies, "The Messiah of God." Jesus then reveals to them, as Zechariah had foretold, that the Messiah must be "thrust through" and killed and mourned before the Spirit would come forth on Pentecost.

The day has indeed come. Yet still we long for its fullness, and so we pray to God in the Psalm: "for you I long! For you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts, Like a land parched, lifeless, and without water."

Direct download: C_12_Ordinary_16.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 10:15am EDT

 

Readings:

2 Samuel 12: 7–10, 13

Psalm 32: 1–2, 5,7,11

Galatians 2:16, 19–21

Luke 7:36–50

In this Sunday’s readings we are like the fallen king, David, and the woman who weeps at Jesus’ feet.

Like David, the Lord has rescued us from sin and death, anointed us with His Spirit in baptism and in confirmation. He has made us heirs of His promise to the children of Israel.

And like David, and like the woman in the Gospel, we fall into sin. Our crimes may not be as grave as David’s (see 2 Samuel 11:1–26) or as “many” as that woman’s (see Luke 7:47).

But we often squander the great gift of salvation we’ve been given. Often we fail to live up to the great calling of being sons and daughters of God.

The good news of today’s readings, the good news of Jesus Christ, is that we can return to God in the sacrament of confession. Each of us can repeat Paul’s wondrous words in this week’s Epistle: “The Son of God has loved me and given himself up for me.”

Our faith will save us, as Jesus tells the woman today. Our faith that no matter how many our sins, or how serious, if we come to him in true sorrow and repentance we will hear his words of forgiveness. Like David. Like the woman in the Gospel this Sunday.

We hear David’s heartfelt confession in the First Reading. The Psalmist, too, confesses his sins to God. And we hear our Lord’s tender words of mercy and pardon in the Gospel.

By His word of healing and his promise of peace, He makes it possible for us to join Him at the banquet table of the Eucharist.

We can’t be like the Pharisee in the Gospel. We should never disdain the sinner or doubt the Lord’s power to convert even the worst of sinners.

Instead, we should pledge today to better imitate that sinful woman. In gratitude for the debt we’ve been forgiven, let us promise to live by faith and for God alone. Like her, let us devote our lives to serving Him with great love.

 

Direct download: C_11_Ordinary_16.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 11:00am EDT

 

Readings:

1 Kings 17-17-24

Psalms 30: 2,4-6,11-13

Gal 1:11-19

Luke 7:11-17 

Jesus in today’s Gospel meets a funeral procession coming out of the gates of the town of Nain.  Unlike when he raised Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5) or Lazarus (John 11), no one requests his assistance.  Moved by compassion for the widow who had lost her only son, Jesus steps forward and, laying his hand on the bier, commands him to arise.

The onlookers were reminded of the story of Elijah in the first reading who raised the dead child of the widow of Zarephath and “gave him [back] to his mother.”  They proclaimed that “a great prophet has arisen in our midst.”

Jesus of course is more than a prophet; he is the ruler over life and death.  In the Mosaic law, contact with a dead body renders an Israelite unclean for a week (Numbers 19:11-19).  Jesus’ touch and word reverses that; instead of being defiled by contact with death, he gave life.

Like the physical healings that he performed, Jesus’ raising people from the dead is a sign of the Messiah’s arrival (Luke 7:22).  But it is more than that; these healings are visible signs of the awakening and liberating of men from the spiritual death caused by sin (see Mark 2:1-12).

The Church Fathers return to this theme again and again.  St. Ambrose writes, “the widow signifies Mother Church, weeping for those who are dead in sin and carried beyond the safety of her gates.  The multitudes looking on will praise the Lord when sinners rise again from death and are restored to their mother.”

When we are dead in sin, it is the outstretched hand and the words of Christ spoken by his priest, that raise us from spiritual death and restore us to the arms of our mother, the Church.  With the Psalmist, then, we can sing “I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.  You brought me up from the nether world; you preserved me from those going down into the pit.

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Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 1:44pm EDT

Readings:

Genesis 14:18-20

Psalm 110:1-4

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Luke 9:11-17

At the dawn of salvation history, God revealed our future in figures. That's what's going on in today's First Reading: A king and high priest comes from Jerusalem (see Psalm 76:3), offering bread and wine to celebrate the victory of God's beloved servant, Abram, over his foes.

By his offering, Melchizedek bestows God's blessings on Abram. He is showing us, too, how one day we will receive God's blessings and in turn "bless God" - how we will give thanks to Him for delivering us from our enemies, sin and death.

As Paul recalls in today's Epistle, Jesus transformed the sign of bread and wine, making it a sign of His body and blood, through which God bestows upon us the blessings of His "new covenant."

Jesus is "the priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek," that God, in today's Psalm, swears will rule from Zion, the new Jerusalem (see Hebrews 6:20-7:3).

By the miracle of loaves and fishes, Jesus in today's Gospel, again prefigures the blessings of the Eucharist.

Notice that He takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to the Twelve. You find the precise order and words in the Last Supper (see Luke 22:19) and in His celebration of the Eucharist on the first Easter night (see Luke 24:30).

The Eucharist fulfills the offering of Melchizedek. It is the daily miracle of the heavenly high priesthood of Jesus

It is a priesthood He conferred upon the Apostles in ordering them to feed the crowd, in filling exactly twelve baskets with leftover bread - in commanding them on the night He was handed over: "Do this in remembrance of Me."

Through His priests He still feeds us in "the deserted place" of our earthly exile.

And by this sign He pledges to us a glory yet to come. For as often as we share in His body and blood. we proclaim His victory over death, until He comes again to make His victory our own.

Direct download: C_Corpus_Christi_16.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 4:13pm EDT

 

Readings:

Proverbs 8:22-31

Psalms 8:4-9

Romans 5:1-5

John 16:12-15

 In today's Liturgy we're swept through time in glorious procession - from before earth and sky were set in place to the coming of the Spirit upon the new creation, the Church.

We begin in the heart of the Trinity, as we listen to the testimony of Wisdom in today's First Reading. Eternally begotten, the first-born of God, He is poured forth from of old in the loving delight of the Father.

Through Him, the heavens were established, the foundations of the earth fixed. From before the beginning, He was with the Father as His "Craftsman," the artisan by which all things were made. And He took special delight, He tells us, in the crowning glory of God's handiwork - the human race, the "sons of men. 

In today's Psalm, He comes down from heaven, is made a little lower than the angels, comes among us as "the Son of Man" (see Hebrews 2:6-10).

All things are put under His feet so that He can restore to humanity the glory for which we were made from the beginning, the glory lost by sin. He tasted death that we might be raised to life in the Trinity, that His name might be made glorious over all the earth.

Through the Son, we have gained grace and access in the Spirit to the Father, as Paul boasts in today's Epistle (see Ephesians 2:18).

The Spirit, the Love of God, has been poured out into our hearts - a Spirit of adoption, making us children of the Father once more (see Romans 8:14-16).

This is the Spirit that Jesus promises in today's Gospel.

His Spirit comes as divine gift and anointing (see 1 John 2:27), to guide us to all truth, to show us "the things that are coming," the things that were meant to be from before all ages - that we will find peace and union in God, will share the life of the Trinity, dwell in God as He dwells in us (see John 14:23; 17:21).

 

Direct download: C_Trinity_16.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 3:37pm EDT