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.
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.
Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18 Psalm 27:1,7-9, 13-14 Philippians 3:17-4:1 Luke 9:28-36 (see also "A 'New' Exodus")
In today's Gospel, we go up to the mountain with Peter, John and James. There we see Jesus "transfigured," speaking with Moses and Elijah about His "exodus."
The Greek word "exodus" means "departure." But the word is chosen deliberately here to stir our remembrance of the Israelites' flight from Egypt.
By His death and resurrection, Jesus will lead a new Exodus - liberating not only Israel but every race and people; not from bondage to Pharaoh, but from slavery to sin and death. He will lead all mankind, not to the territory promised to Abraham in today's First Reading, but to the heavenly commonwealth that Paul describes in today's Epistle.
Moses, the giver of God's law, and the great prophet Elijah, were the only Old Testament figures to hear the voice and see the glory of God atop a mountain (see Exodus 24:15-18; 1 Kings 19:8-18).
Today's scene closely resembles God's revelation to Moses, who also brought along three companions and whose face also shone brilliantly (see Exodus 24:1; 34:29). But when the divine cloud departs in today's Gospel, Moses and Elijah are gone. Only Jesus remains. He has revealed the glory of the Trinity - the voice of the Father, the glorified Son, and the Spirit in the shining cloud.
"Listen to Him,"the Voice tells us from the cloud. If, like Abraham, we put our faith in His words, one day we too will be delivered into "the land of the living" that we sing of in today's Psalm. We will share in His resurrection, as Paul promises, our lowly bodies glorified like His.
In today’s epic Gospel scene, Jesus relives in His flesh the history of Israel.
We’ve already seen that like Israel, Jesus has passed through water, been called God’s beloved Son (see Luke ; Exodus ). Now, as Israel was tested for forty years in the wilderness, Jesus is led into the desert to be tested for forty days and nights (see Exodus ).
He faces the temptations put to Israel: Hungry, He’s tempted to grumble against God for food (see Exodus 16:1-13). As Israel quarreled at Massah, He’s tempted to doubt God’s care (see Exodus 17:1-6). When the Devil asks His homage, He’s tempted to do what Israel did in creating the golden calf (see Exodus 32).
Jesus fights the Devil with the Word of God, three times quoting from Moses’ lecture about the lessons Israel was supposed to learn from its wilderness wanderings (see Deuteronomy 8:3; 6:16; 6:12-15).
Why do we read this story on the first Sunday of Lent? Because like the biblical sign of forty (see Genesis ; Exodus 24:18; 34:28; 1 Kings 19:8; Jonah 3:4), the forty days of Lent are a time of trial and purification.
Lent is to teach us what we hear over and over in today’s readings. “Call upon me, and I will answer,” the Lord promises in today’s Psalm. Paul promises the same thing in today’s Epistle (quoting Deuteronomy 30:14; Isaiah 28:16; Joel ).
This was Israel’s experience, as Moses reminds his people in today’s First Reading: “We cried to the Lord...and He heard.” But each of us is tempted, as Israel was, to forget the great deeds He works in
our lives, to neglect our birthright as His beloved sons and daughters.
Like the litany of remembrance Moses prescribes for Israel, we should see in the Mass a memorial of our salvation, and “bow down in His presence,” offering ourselves in thanksgiving for all He has given us.
Simon Peter, the fisherman, is the first to be called personally by Jesus in Luke’s Gospel.
His calling resembles Isaiah’s commissioning in the First Reading: Confronted with the holiness of the Lord, both Peter and Isaiah are overwhelmed by a sense of their sinfulness and inadequacy. Yet each experiences the Lord’s forgiveness and is sent to preach the good news of His mercy to the world.
No one is “fit to be called an apostle,” Paul recognizes in today’s Epistle. But by “the grace of God,” even a persecutor of the Church—as Paul once was—can be lifted up for the Lord’s service.
In the Old Testament, humanity was unfit for the divine—no man could stand in God’s presence and live (see Exodus 33:20). But in Jesus, we’re made able to speak with Him face-to-face, taste His Word on our tongue.
Today’s scene from Isaiah is recalled in every Mass. Before reading the Gospel, the priest silently asks God to cleanse his lips that he might worthily proclaim His Word.
God’s Word comes to us as it came to Peter, Paul, Isaiah, and today’s Psalmist— as a personal call to leave everything and follow Him, to surrender our weaknesses in order to be filled with His strength.
Simon put out into deep waters even though, as a professional fisherman, he knew it would be foolhardy to expect to catch anything. In humbling himself before the Lord’s command, he was exalted—his nets filled to overflowing; later, as Paul tells us, he will become the first to see the risen Lord.
Jesus has made us worthy to receive Him in the company of angels in God’s holy Temple. On our knees like Peter, with the humility of David in today’s Psalm, we thank Him with all our hearts and join in the unending hymn that Isaiah heard around God’s altar: “Holy, holy, holy....” (see also Revelation 4:8).
Jeremiah 1:4-5,17-19 Psalm 71: 1-6,15-17 1 Corinthians Luke 4:21-30
God's words in today's First Reading point us beyond Jeremiah to Jesus. Like Jeremiah, Jesus was consecrated in the womb and sent as a "prophet to the nations" (see Luke 1:31-33).
Like the prophets before Him, Jesus too faces hostility. In today's Gospel, the crowd in His hometown synagogue quickly turns on Him, apparently demanding a sign, some proof of divine origins - that He's more than just "the son of Joseph."
The sign He gives them is that of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. From their colorful careers Jesus draws two stories. In each, the prophets bypass "many...in Israel" to bestow God's blessings on non-Israelites who had faith that the prophets were men of God (see 1 Kings 17:1-16; 2 Kings 5:1-14). "None...not one" in Israel was found deserving, Jesus emphasizes.
His point isn't lost on His audience. They know He's likening them to the "many...in Israel" in the days of the prophets. That's why they try to shove Him off the cliff. As He promised to protect Jeremiah, the Lord delivers Jesus from those who would crush Him.
And as were Elijah and Elisha, Jesus is sent to proclaim God's gift of salvation - not exclusively to one nation or people, but to all who realize in faith that from the womb God alone is their hope, their rescuer, their "rock of refuge," as we sing in today's Psalm.
Prophecies, Paul tells us in today's Epistle, are partial and pass away "when the perfect comes." In Jesus, the word of the prophets has been brought to perfection, fulfilled in those who have ears to hear, as He declares in today's Gospel.
Greater than the gifts of faith and hope, Jesus shows us how to love as He loved, to love God as our Father, as One Who formed us in the womb and destined us to hear His saving Word.
This is the salvation, the "mighty works of the Lord," that we, as the Psalmist, are thankful to proclaim daily in the Eucharist.
The meaning of today's Liturgy is subtle and many-layered.
We need background to understand what's happening in today's First Reading.
Babylon having been defeated, King Cyrus of Persia decreed that the exiled Jews could return home to Jerusalem. They rebuilt their ruined temple (see Ezra 6:15-17) and under Nehemiah finished rebuilding the city walls (see Nehemiah 6:15).
The stage was set for the renewal of the covenant and the re-establishment of the Law of Moses as the people's rule of life. That's what's going on in today's First Reading, as Ezra reads and interprets (see Nehemiah 8:8) the Law and the people respond with a great "Amen!"
Israel, as we sing in today's Psalm, is rededicating itself to God and His Law. The scene seems like the Isaiah prophecy that Jesus reads from in today's Gospel.
Read all of Isaiah 61. The "glad tidings" Isaiah brings include these promises: the liberation of prisoners (61:1); the rebuilding of Jerusalem, or Zion (61:3-4; see also Isaiah 60:10); the restoration of Israel as a kingdom of priests (61:6; Exodus 19:6) and the forging of an everlasting covenant (61:8; Isaiah 55:3). It sounds a lot like the First Reading.
Jesus, in turn, declares that Isaiah's prophecy is fulfilled in Him. The Gospel scene, too, recalls the First Reading. Like Ezra, Jesus stands before the people, is handed a scroll, unrolls it, then reads and interprets it (compare Luke 4:16-17,21 and Nehemiah 8:2-6,8-10).
We witness in today's Liturgy the creation of a new people of God. Ezra started reading at dawn of the first day of the Jewish new year (see Leviticus 23:24). Jesus too proclaims a "sabbath," a great year of Jubilee, a deliverance from slavery to sin, a release from the debts we owe to God (see Leviticus 25:10).
The people greeted Ezra "as one man." And, as today's Epistle teaches, in the Spirit the new people of God - the Church - is made "one body" with Him.
"Today is the feast of St. Agnes of Rome, virgin and martyr. I have a special devotion to little Agnes. Both my mom and my eldest daughter are named for her. I visit her relics whenever I’m in Rome. " ~ Mike Aquilina
Listen to Mike Aquilina talks with Bruce & Kris McGregor on Spirit Catholic Radio KVSS about one of his favorite saints.
Recently, Pope Benedict XVI made headlines when he added a new name to the official list of figures given the title "Doctor of the Church": St. Hildegard of Bingen. Who was she? Why did the Holy Father choose to declare her a doctor of the Church at this time?
In this episode of <a href="http://www.thesacredpage.com/" title="The Sacred Page Podcast">The Sacred Page Podcast</a> I am joined with Leroy Huizenga who has done a good deal of work on St. Hildegard. At the Society of Biblical Literature last year, he presented a paper entitled, "St. Hildegard of Bingen's Premodern and Postmodern Paul." In fact, for a fantastic overview of St. Hildegard, <a href="http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2012/10/st-hildegard-of-bingen-doctor-of-the-church" title="see this excellent piece written by Leroy over at First Things">see this excellent piece written by Leroy over at First Things</a>.
As you'll learn here, she fought heretics, but opposed burning them at the stake; she wrote the only surviving medical treatise of her time; she related visions of Christ. . . in short, St. Hildegard was a truly fascinating figure!
Dr. Huizenga is a <a href="http://www.salvationhistory.com/personnel/Dr.+Leroy+Huizenga" title="Senior Fellow of the St. Paul Center">Senior Fellow of the St. Paul Center</a> and a Professor of Scripture at the University of St. Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, where he also serves as the Director of the Christian Leadership Center. To learn more about him and his work check out his <a href="http://www.leroyhuizenga.com/" title="website">website</a>. Also, I'd encourage you to follow him on Twitter: @LHuizenga