Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 24

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jeremiah the Prophet had to deliver a terribly pessimistic message, foretelling the tragedy of defeat and the doom of the nation. But because it was the Lord’s message and the Lord would never totally abandon his people, an irrepressible note of hope comes through as well. Today’s passage from Jeremiah is precisely that, the glimpse of salvation and redemption. Jeremiah’s vision harks back to the time in Jewish history when the people under the heel of Assyrian military might, exiled in a foreign land, were returned home through a merciful divine intervention. 
This first reading anticipates today’s gospel. For weeks we have been listening to Mark recount how Jesus foretells his own passion and death. As with Jeremiah, Jesus’ message is rejected. But not entirely. The most unlikely person comes forward to break the pall of discouragement by enthusiastically joining Jesus on his journey to the cross.
Continuing our reading of the Letter to the Hebrews, we come upon one of the most profound statements about Jesus in the New Testament—his role as the new high priest, chosen by God his Father, to bring us all into the redemptive love of God
—Walter Modrys SJ

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

Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 10

Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

King Solomon, the son of King David, is one of the most famous characters in the Old Testament. His greatest claim to fame, in addition to building the first Jewish Temple, comes from his response to an extraordinary offer God made to him in a dream: “Ask for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” Solomon, to his everlasting credit, asks a gift that we find surprising. He asks for wisdom, to discern the difference between right and wrong.
This story serves as background for the Book of Wisdom, the Old Testament book devoted to singing the praises of the divine gift of wisdom. We hear Solomon’s poetic description of the precious quality and exquisite beauty of wisdom, which explains why he asked for wisdom above all else.
Wisdom in the Bible doesn’t mean just human intelligence or knowledge. Rather, wisdom is the spiritual insight into the mystery of God and how God is working in the world through his love. Many commentators think that Old Testament Wisdom is a forerunner of our belief in the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Blessed Trinity. 
Today’s first reading, from the book of Wisdom, offers a parallel to the incident in the gospel where someone is offered an opportunity similar to Solomon’s choice. But the gospel story doesn’t end with the same happy ending—and gives us something to ponder in our own life.
The second reading is a beautiful description of the power of God’s word. We all stand responsible before God’s word and accountable to the way we receive it. It’s deeply effecting imagery.
—Walter Modrys SJ

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

Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time, September 19

Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Ordinary TIme

Today’s gospel takes us to the very heart of Mark’s gospel: the section in which Jesus predicts his own approaching passion and death and undertakes the seemingly impossible task of motivating the disciples to follow him. It is a tale, therefore, of opposition, both from the hostile adversaries of Jesus, but also from his own closest supporters.
The first reading has been chosen to give us an insight into today’s gospel. There’s a long biblical tradition about the rejection of the true prophets. The gospel writers saw this long tradition culminating in Jesus’ own experience.
The Wisdom passage offers a chilling description of what motivates the opponents of the true prophets and, most of all, what motivates Jesus’ enemies. The human heart can close itself totally against God’s grace and dedicate itself to crushing the cause of justice in the world. The wicked explicitly target “the just one” of whom Jesus is the prime example.
Our responsorial psalm is the response of the just one to the threats of the wicked. We know that Jesus, as a pious Jew, himself prayed the psalms. We can imagine Jesus praying this psalm in the moments—like those described in today’s gospel—when he was most in need of his Father’s strength and support.
The second reading is a continuation of the Letter of James. In today’s passage, James offers an insightful overview of the horrible conflicts—many of them violent—that constantly plague our world. What is the root cause of such turmoil and chaos, and how can we find a remedy? There is wisdom here that we should all take to heart.
—Walter Modrys SJ

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

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 12

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today’s first reading is familiar to us. It serves also as the first reading on Passion—or as it’s popularly called, Palm—Sunday in Holy Week. Right after we hold up palms to celebrate Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the liturgy dramatically changes mood—from joyful jubilation to the solemn grief of the Passion story. On Palm Sunday, this reading marks that transition from victory celebration to tragic grieving.
But why in the middle of September are we reading a passage from Isaiah that belongs in Holy Week?
The reading is excerpted from the “Suffering Servant Songs,” a set of Old Testament poems from Isaiah about the redemptive power of suffering. The New Testament writers frequently quoted from these Old Testament passages to describe Jesus’ suffering and death. Indeed, they may have adjusted some of their descriptions in Jesus’ passion story to fit the Old Testament passages, just to make sure we get the connection.
Why are we talking now about Jesus’ passion and the Old Testament background? Because in today’s gospel, Mark begins the toughest part of his story: how the disciples had to muster the courage to accompany Jesus on his journey to the cross. Sadly, in Mark’s gospel they never succeed in this struggle to embrace the cross. Mark is very negative in his portrait of the disciples. So Mark’s storyline is rather shocking and hard to take because Mark seems to imply that we are a lot like the disciples—reluctant to follow Jesus.
In the second reading, we continue with the letter of James. Some commentators think this New Testament letter was written to counteract some of the influence of St. Paul—or, more precisely, some of the ways people were misconstruing Paul’s thought. In the shorthand version, the argument is all about the competition between “faith” and “works.” 
Paul sided with faith. Faith in Jesus is more important than the observance of the law, which he termed “works.”
But James sides with works. Works are the actions that put faith into practice, and that’s an essential part of true faith.
Maybe it’s best for us to skip the verbal niceties by admitting that faith and works should go together. True faith motivates our actions to follow Jesus. It’s good for us to hear both Paul and James.
—Walter Modrys SJ

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

Twenty Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, August 29

August 29, 2021

The biblical Book of Deuteronomy revolves around a single dramatic picture: Moses standing up before the whole people of Israel solemnly assembled before him to present to them the Law of God. They are in the desert, having escaped from slavery in Egypt, and their long journey to the Promised Land is finally coming to an end. Their future is opening up to a glorious new life of freedom and prosperity.
But it is a dangerous time, too. Opportunities can be transformed into temptations. Gratitude can degenerate into self-indulgence. And a guaranteed victory can lead to over-confidence and a betrayal of the Covenant. God knows they do not need a stricter law—that’s a mistranslation of the Hebrew word. They need what the Bible calls TORAH, better translated as teaching. They need instruction on how to live in the new land, what values to embrace, how to ward off the pitfalls and contradictions that can lead them astray. They need the wisdom that only God can provide and that Moses as the great prophet of Israel will impart.
The gospels tend to associate Jesus with the Old Testament figure of Moses. For us, Jesus, too, is a lawgiver, but in a special way, like Moses. To impart God’s law, Jesus had first to correct the misguided notion of law that was so prevalent in his day and such an obstacle to his ministry.
Today’s gospel recounts a typical legal dispute in Jesus’ ministry. Understand that the argument is not about hygiene or modern sanitary practices. It’s all about religious ritual observances—as Mark explains to his Gentile readers. An obvious question emerges from the incident: Why doesn’t Jesus simply conform to the requirement instead of making such a fuss?
Regarding the second reading, beginning today and for the next four weeks or so the second reading will be taken from the Letter of James. This New Testament book focuses on one main idea, introduced in the passage selected for today. There’s a popular saying that captures this meaning: “Walk the walk.” Or as James put it two thousand years ago: “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.” The Letter of James applies that lesson specifically to social justice: Help the poor. Don’t just talk about it. It’s a challenging message that we will hear today and during the coming Sundays.
—Walter Modrys SJ

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