Tue, 26 February 2019
In today’s readings we hear Jesus speaking in Galilee as well as a Jewish sage named Sirach writing in Jerusalem more than a century earlier. The two of them touch upon a single truth: The words that come out of us make known the hidden thoughts within us. Speech reveals the secrets of the heart.
Sirach teaches that speaking is “the test of men” and their character (Sir 27:7). One who is upright will utter words that are truthful and encouraging to others. But one whose heart is cluttered with “refuse” will be exposed, since the “fruit” of his mouth speaks volumes about the “tree” that produces it (Sir 27:6). Sirach also compares the testing of our words to clay fired in a kiln—if properly prepared, a useful vessel emerges; but if the clay is not fully dried, it will break apart in the extreme heat (Sirach 27:5).
In a similar way, Jesus insists that a person speaks “out of the abundance of the heart” (Luke 6:45). He too compares our speech, whether good or bad, to what grows on a tree: “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit” (Luke 6:43).
Both readings urge us to make wholesome speech a habit. After all, much about who we are is brought to light through what we say. But there’s an additional step: The Lord is asking us to look inward, to examine our hearts and fill them with the “good treasure” that God desires.
Why do purity of heart and speech matter so much? Because, as Jesus declares elsewhere: “by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt 12:37). They matter because they help to decide our final judgment, and this is where the Second Reading comes in. Paul reminds us that God will destroy death forever, and if we are to share in this victory and live forever with the Lord, then we must take all steps necessary to give our hearts and lips to what is good.
Mon, 18 February 2019
The story of David and Saul in today’s First Reading functions almost like a parable. Showing mercy to his deadly foe, David gives a concrete example of what Jesus expects to become a way of life for His disciples.
The new law Jesus gives in today’s Gospel would have us all become “Davids”—loving our enemies, doing good to those who would harm us, extending a line of credit to those who won’t ever repay us.
The Old Law required only that the Israelites love their fellow countrymen (see Leviticus 19:18). The new law Jesus brings makes us kin to every man and woman (see also Luke 10:29–36). His kingdom isn’t one of tribe or nationality. It’s a family. As followers of Jesus, we’re to live as He lived among us—as “children of the Most High” (see Luke 6:35; 1:35).
As sons and daughters, we want to walk in the ways of our heavenly Father, to “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Grateful for His mercy, we’re called to forgive others their trespasses because God has forgiven ours.
In the context of today’s liturgy, we’re all “Sauls”—by our sinfulness and pride we make ourselves enemies of God. But we’ve been spared a death we surely deserved to die because God has loved and shown mercy to His enemies, “the ungrateful and the wicked,” as Jesus says.
Jesus showed us this love in His Passion, forgiving His enemies as they stripped Him of cloak and tunic, cursed Him and struck Him on the cheek, condemned Him to death on a cross (see Luke 22:63–65; 23:34). “He redeems your life from destruction,” David reminds us in today’s Psalm.
That’s the promise, too, of today’s Epistle: that we who believe in the “last Adam,” Jesus, will rise from the dead in His image, as today we bear the image of the “first Adam,” who by his sin made God an enemy and brought death into the world (see 1 Corinthians 15:21–22).
Mon, 11 February 2019
The blessings and woes we hear in today’s Gospel mark the perfection of all the wisdom of the Old Testament.
That wisdom is summed up with marvelous symmetry in today’s First Reading and Psalm: Each declares that the righteous—those who hope in the Lord and delight in His Law—will prosper like a tree planted near living waters. The wicked, who put their “trust in human beings,” are cursed to wither and die.
Jesus is saying the same thing in the Gospel. The rich and poor are, for Him, more than members of literal economic classes. Their material state symbolizes their spiritual state.
The rich are “the insolent” of today’s Psalm, boasting of their self-sufficiency, the strength of their flesh, as Jeremiah says in the First Reading. The poor are the humble, who put all their hope and trust in the Lord.
We’ve already seen today’s dramatic imagery of reversal in Mary’s “Magnificat.” There, too, the rich are cast down while the hungry are filled and the lowly exalted (see Luke 1:45–55 also 16:19–31).
That’s the upside-down world of the Gospel: in poverty we gain spiritual treasure unimaginable; in suffering and even dying “on account of the Son of Man,” we find everlasting life.
The promises of the Old Testament were promises of power and prosperity—in the here and now. The promise of the New Covenant is joy and true freedom even amid the misery and toil of this life. But not only that. As Paul says in today’s Epistle, we’re to be pitied if our hope is “for this life only.”
The blessings of God mean that we’ll laugh with the thanksgiving of captives released from exile (see Psalm 126:1–2), feast at the heavenly table of the Lord (see Psalm 107:3–9), “leap for joy” as John the Baptist leapt in his mother’s womb (see Luke 6:23; 1:41, 44), and rise with Christ, “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
Mon, 4 February 2019
Psalm 138:1-5, 7-8
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
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).