31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 30

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The first reading is difficult to understand, taken out of context. The author wants to draw a contrast between God’s providence for his people on their journey to the Promised Land and the afflictions imposed on their enemies. We’re not supposed to moralize, but just concentrate on one side of this equation. “You have mercy on all,” the reading insists, “and you overlook people’s sins.” 
In the gospel, we find Jesus acting in precisely this way in his encounter with the tax collector, Zacchaeus. Jesus has mercy on Zacchaeus and seems to overlook his sins.
From our second reading we can conclude that there is a lot going on in the Greek city of Thesalonica. This passage is taken from Paul’s second letter to this community, early in his ministry. Paul is trying to counteract the pagan influences that are causing so much confusion and anxiety among the people. One of these misconceptions, possibly communicated in a forged letter purported to be from Paul, speaks of the imminent second coming of Christ. Paul is writing to calm the disturbance and reassure the congregation of the authentic truths of Christian belief.
—Walter Modrys SJ

This Sunday’s readings can be found on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time, October 16

Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Our first reading and the gospel passage reinforce one another. But the two settings couldn’t be more different.
In the first reading, the people of Israel are on their journey to the Promised Land. Moses needs God’s help to defeat one of Israel’s implacable enemies. But he also needs the help of others. It’s a powerful symbol that calling upon God does not preclude our reliance on the community of faith to support our prayers.
In the gospel, we meet a poor widow. In the bible, a widow almost always symbolizes a powerless person. The harsh economic realities of the time made the symbolism obvious to all. Jesus tells the story of such a widow, whose only chance for survival is to appeal to a power that is utterly beyond her influence or control. She can rely only on her unrelenting persistence. For Jesus, her behavior stands as a symbol for the role of faith in approaching God when we pray for what we need. Jesus contrasts the unjust judge with the compassion of a loving God towards us.
Our second reading is a beautiful reminder of the central place of Sacred Scripture in our life of faith. Proclaiming the Word God is a fundamental duty that must characterize everything the Church does and the way we spend our own efforts in our place in the world.
—Walter Modrys SJ

This Sunday’s readings can be found on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 2

Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Habakkuk was a biblical prophet who lived about 600 BC. His writings in the bible consist of just three short chapters, written for the most part in poetic form. If you read his prophetic words, you would think he was describing our contemporary world.
For Habakkuk, the world was falling apart, going to pieces. He rightly foresaw that his nation of Israel was on the verge of utter defeat before the onslaught of the powerful Babylonian empire. And he couldn’t understand how God could allow that to happen to his own people. 
So it’s the problem of faith that deeply troubles Habakkuk.
How long, O Lord?  I cry for help
but you do not listen!
I cry out to you, “Violence!”
But you do not intervene.
So how does Habakkuk meet the problem of believing in an all-powerful God in the face of approaching catastrophe?
In today’s gospel, Jesus responds to this challenge when he insists on the power of faith. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus claims that faith can move mountains. Luke’s image is just as striking to anyone who knows the colossal size of a mulberry tree which in those days was so common in the Mideastern environment.
In the second reading, Timothy encourages his audience to put all their confidence in this power of faith and trust. So the three readings this Sunday all fit together under that unifying theme of the power of faith. The outlier, if you will, is the rather obscure parable that is included in the gospel.
—Walter Modrys SJ 

This Sunday’s readings can be found on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 11

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Our first reading is part of the story about Israel in the desert after escaping from slavery in Egypt. At this point in the Exodus account, not much is known about the God of Israel beyond his role as a liberating God. And so, the loyalty of the people is easily compromised as they experience the hardship of the desert and the uncertainty of their future. They naturally appeal to the more familiar pagan gods. These gods are less demanding and can magically work miracles. One needs merely to bow down and worship such a god that appears like a golden calf—not a bellowing voice from the mountaintop that only Moses can approach.
Later in the bible, this kind of silly idolatry will be laughed to scorn and all its foolishness revealed.
But through the pleading of Moses, God turns this act of betrayal into an occasion of grace. The people must learn that the true God who liberated them is so unlike the false pagan gods. For the God of Israel is also the God of Mercy, a lesson Jesus, too, teaches in today’s gospel and that we have to continually learn every time we fail in our relationship with God.
The second reading fits in with our other two readings. The First Letter to Timothy was probably not written by Paul himself, but by one of Paul’s companions who knew well Paul’s deepest sentiments. So we hear about Paul’s sense of unworthiness—especially as a minister of the gospel—and at the same time his supreme confidence in God’s patience and mercy. Boldly, Paul claims his experience can serve as an example for all believers—for all of us.
—Walter Modrys SJ

This Sunday’s readings can be found on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.

23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, September 4

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Book of Wisdom, from which our first reading is taken, is more philosophical than any other biblical writing. As the name suggests, the book centers on our need for wisdom. But wisdom in the Bible is not primarily some intellectual gift or the ability to reason brilliantly. Rather, wisdom is the ability to perceive God’s true self and to discern God’s will in all the circumstances of human life.
In today’s gospel Jesus implicitly appeals to wisdom as the attribute most needed by his disciples to discern their true vocation. Luke positions this teaching of Jesus within the travelogue, the story of Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem leading up to the passion account. The tension is mounting as Jesus and his followers approach ever more closely the climax of the gospel. Jesus uses this occasion to admonish his disciples. “If you sign up for this duty,” Jesus warns in so many words, “you should think twice about what you’re committing yourself to.”
For us, Jesus’ words capture the challenge we face as his disciples. Indeed, living in our world as a disciple committed to Jesus brings innumerable challenges.
The middle reading is an extensive excerpt from what is the shortest book in all of the bible: Paul’s one page letter to a friend of his named Philemon. The letter concerns a young man named Onesimus, a runaway slave who has escaped from Philemon and sought solace and safety with Paul. When we read the letter today, we have to make many adjustments to accommodate the customs and laws of Paul’s day. Paul pleads with Philemon to accept Onesimus back into his service without penalty, what constitutes a remarkable act of generosity for the time. Listen to Paul’s reasoning as he tries to motivate Philemon to rise to the occasion. Paul was no respecter of the lines of division in his society. Onesimus, Paul concedes, has run afoul of the law, but the greater truth is he is no longer a slave but a brother. And Paul wants Philemon to treat him that way.
—Walter Modrys SJ

This Sunday’s readings can be found on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.