The ABC of Sunday Matters

The ABC of Sunday Matters: Reflections on the Lectionary Readings for Year A, B, and C

Mark A O’Brien
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: ATF (Australia) Ltd.
Pages: 577
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt163t8rs
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  • Book Info
    The ABC of Sunday Matters
    Book Description:

    This book provides reflections on the Sunday Bible readings in the Roman Catholic Lectionary for Years A, B, and C of the liturgical cycle. They previously appeared in separate volumes of Sunday Matters published by ATF Theology in the Dominican Series. They have now been combined in this single volume, colour coded for easier use, and with a revised general introduction and introduction to the Gospel of Matthew. Like the previous volumes, this one is intended to assist those preparing homilies and those with a desire to understand a little more deeply the readings used in the Sunday liturgy. Mark O’Brien OP is a member of the Australian Province of the Dominican Order, also known as the Order of Preachers (OP). He entered the Order in 1967 and studied theology in Dominican houses of study in Canberra and Dublin. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1973 and completed post-graduate studies at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome, in 1976. He taught Old Testament studies at Yarra Theological Union, Melbourne, from 1977 and completed a doctorate in Theology at the Melbourne College of Divinity in 1987, now the MCD University of Divinity. He is the author of The Deuteronomic History Hypothesis: A Reassessment and has co-authored several books on the Old Testament with Antony F Campbell SJ. He is currently Dean of Studies for his Province and lectures in Old Testament studies at Catholic Theological College and Yarra Theological Union, both colleges of the MCD University of Divinity. ‘How can we listen to ancient wisdom and make this part of our own story as we try to live deeply spiritual lives in the midst of a busy twenty-first century culture? Mark O’Brien’s reflections on the Sunday readings can help us hear and understand how these words nourished the Jewish people and the early Christians in their time, and how they have the potential to nourish us today. He brings to these reflections years of scholarship and, equally important, years of his own faith-filled pondering of these texts and wrestling with the God who constantly catches us by surprise. O’Brien takes the risk of sharing the questions the Scriptures put to him, and this invites us into our own dialogue with these rich, challenging and often puzzling texts. These reflections will be a great help for anyone wanting to reflect on the Word of Scripture either for personal use or for assistance in preparing a homily.’ Mary Coloe PBVM Yarra Theological Union, a member college of the MCD University of Divinity, Melbourne

    eISBN: 978-1-922239-45-7
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-xii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xx)

    Sunday matters or should matter to Christians. It is the Lord’s day and so the most important day of the week, a time for us to acknowledge God as the source, centre and goal of our lives. Because Sunday is important there are important matters to consider on this day, such as making time for prayer, worship and reflection on the Word of God. But there are also many other matters that now vie for our time and attention on Sunday: sport, shopping, TV, travel, etc. Deciding what to do on Sunday and other major days of the Christian calendar...

  4. YEAR A
    • Introduction to the Gospel of Matthew
      (pp. A1-A4)

      Each of the four Gospels provides a somewhat diferent (and limited) angle on Jesus; as the author of John 21:25 points out ‘There were many other things that Jesus did; if all were written down, the world itself, I suppose, would not hold all the books that would have to be written’. Even though Matthew is listed as the first Gospel it is now generally thought to be later than the Gospel of Mark and to have drawn on it and other source material to compose a much longer and somewhat diferent version. A similar theory applies to the Gospel...

    • First Sunday of Advent Isaiah 2:1–5; Romans 13:11–14; Matthew 24:37–44
      (pp. A5-A6)

      As we begin a new liturgical year the church gives us a gospel that talks about the end, or at least the end of this earthly age. This may initially appear a little surprising but there is a reason for it: if we reflect on the end of things a bit we may be better prepared to launch into the new liturgical year and be more confident about the future. In other words it is likely there is more to this talk about our end than initially meets the eye and our readings should help us see something of it....

    • Second Sunday of Advent Isaiah 11:1–10; Romans 15:4–9; Matthew 3:1–12
      (pp. A7-A8)

      I wonder how we would react if a person got up in church and spoke—as a new message—those words from Isaiah in the first reading. Would we welcome it or require an implementation ‘time–line’ beforehand? And what if a figure like John the Baptist appeared—again for the first time—dressed in strange clothes and shouting at us about the urgent need to repent as he does in today’s gospel reading. Would we listen or insist first on a decent dress code for speakers in church? Is it because we are so familiar with these passages that...

    • Third Sunday of Advent Isaiah 35:1–6, 10; James 5:7–10; Matthew 11:2–11
      (pp. A9-A10)

      Prophets and prophecy are the focus in this Sunday’s readings: they begin with a prophecy from the book of Isaiah, the letter of James holds prophets up as an example of patience, and in the reading from Matthew Jesus responds to the troubled enquiry from John the Baptist. Prophets were in a vulnerable situation in society, particularly when they proclaimed future judgment or salvation. They had nothing to rely on except their conviction that they had been called to proclaim a message. Those who proclaimed God’s judgment on a sinful people shortly before the exile could appeal to it as...

    • Fourth Sunday of Advent Isaiah 7:10–14; Romans 1:1–7; Matthew 1:18–25
      (pp. A11-A12)

      One of the more comforting aspects of our faith is that the gospels link Jesus via Joseph to the dodgy Davidic dynasty. You only have to open the books of Kings and read some stories about the Davidic monarchy to realise how many of its members are censured or condemned and how few are praised. In our reading from Isaiah we are given a glimpse of king Ahaz who, according to 2 Kings 16: 2—4 was a bad lad indeed. As the verses preceding our Isaiah reading tell it, Ahaz is under siege from a northern coalition of Israel...

    • Christmas (Midnight) Midnight Mass: Isaiah 9:1–7; Titus 2:1–14; Luke 2:1–14
      (pp. A13-A14)

      It is appropriate that Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus gets pride of place in the readings for Christmas—at both the midnight and dawn masses. It is the most detailed account and is fascinating for the contrast it draws between our world and God’s. Luke begins with the census decreed by Caesar Augustus and how the chain of command in the vast Roman bureaucracy operates to implement the emperor’s word. It works its way out from the centre through ‘officials’ to the boundaries of the empire. One has the impression that Luke understands the Roman world pretty well...

    • Christmas Vigil Mass: Isaiah 62:1–5; Acts 13:16–17, 22–25; Matthew 1:1–25 or Matthew 1:18–25 Dawn Mass: Isaiah 62:11–12; Titus 3:4–7 Luke 2:15–20 Mass During the Day: Isaiah 52:7–10; Hebrews 1:1–6; John 1:1–18
      (pp. A15-A17)

      One of the most striking features of the readings for Christmas is how differently the gospels describe the ‘advent’ of Jesus. Matthew prefaces his account with a genealogy that reaches back to Israel’s father in faith, Abraham and culminates in Joseph, descendant of the house of David and betrothed to Mary. Luke sets his account of the birth of Jesus in the context of a census of ‘the whole world’ decreed by the Roman emperor. The prologue to John’s Gospel portrays Jesus as the coming into the world of the heavenly, creative word of God. Each of the gospel accounts...

    • Holy Family(Sunday after Christmas) Sirach 3:2–6, 12–14; Colossians 3:12–21; Matthew 2:13–15, 19–23
      (pp. A19-A20)

      This reading from Matthew’s Gospel concludes what we may call the story of the ‘Holy Family’. There is a brief reference to Jesus’ mother and brothers at the end of chapter 12 but, significantly, their request to see Jesus prompts him to describe the new family of discipleship that he has been sent to form. When we look a little more closely at Matthew’s cryptic account of Jesus’ birth and childhood what stands out is the series of fulfilments of Old Testament prophecies. As scholars have pointed out these combine with the opening genealogy to portray Jesus not only as...

    • Mary Mother of God Numbers 6:22–27; Galatians 4:4–7; Luke 2:16–21
      (pp. A21-A22)

      The famous blessing in Numbers that Aaron and his sons are to pronounce over the people of Israel celebrates the greatest boundary ‘violation’ that the Old Testament could conceive: God dwelling on earth among the people. It is a big moment and the Old Testament provides a long prelude to it.

      The Bible begins with a story of boundary violation; Adam and Eve wanting to transcend the human condition and be like God. Paradoxically, this boundary violation creates a barrier between them and God from whom they now hide. Just before the flood story, there is in Genesis 6:1–4...

    • The Epiphany Isaiah 60:1–6; Ephesians 3:2–3, 5–6; Matthew 2:1–12
      (pp. A23-A24)

      Most of us have had the experience of cruising along on our chosen path of life when, somewhat unexpectedly, a person appears whose presence we sense may have massive implications for our life. Do we welcome this person as someone from whom we can learn and hopefully change, or do we see him or her as a rival whose potential influence needs to be countered or eliminated in some way? The more we see ourselves as like a ‘king’ or ‘queen’ in our domain, the more we may feel we have to gain from the newcomer—or lose.

      The contrast...

    • Baptism of the Lord Isaiah 42:1–4, 6–7a; Acts 10:34–38; Matthew 3:13–17
      (pp. A25-A26)

      Two key elements of the Bible’s portrayal of God are transcendence and immanence. Only an utterly transcendent God can also be completely immanent, reaching anyone at any time anywhere. By the same token, a God who is completely immanent, totally present to me at this moment, must also be completely transcendent, otherwise a fake god. The feast of the Baptism of Jesus celebrates the immanent side with a vengeance, so much so that Matthew’s account (as do the other evangelists’ accounts in different ways) hastens at strategic points to signal Jesus’ transcendence. It would seem that the tradition about Jesus’...

    • First Sunday of Lent Genesis 2:7–9; 3:1–7; Romans 5:12–19 or 5:12, 17–19; Matthews 4:1–11
      (pp. A27-A29)

      That first reading from Genesis is about us, that we are all suckers for the advertising blurb in one way or another, all enslaved in some way to the seduction of sin. The season of Lent reminds us of this, painfully at times, but also offers the promise of liberation from our enslavement. In reading the ‘Garden Story’ I follow the modern view that it is about humanity as such; it reflects the mythical way of philosophising via storytelling before the advent of the philosophical treatise. The story form offers more flexibility in some ways than formal argument; as well...

    • Second Sunday of Lent Genesis 12:1–4; 2 Timothy 1:8–10; Matthew 17:1–9
      (pp. A31-A33)

      The transfiguration is a dramatic scene and its context in Matthew’s Gospel is suitably dramatic; a telling one for the season of Lent (Mark’s context is similar, Luke’s somewhat different). It is preceded by Peter’s confession of faith and Jesus’ subsequent rebuke ‘Get behind me, Satan’ when Peter tries to dissuade Jesus from his purpose. Jesus then instructs the disciples about the nature of discipleship—it involves taking up one’s cross and losing one’s life. There is a sense of urgency and finality about the decision to follow Jesus because, as he goes on to say, the ‘Son of Man’...

    • Third Sunday of Lent Exodus 17:3–7; Romans 5:1–2, 5–8; John 4:5–42 or 4:5–15, 19–26, 39, 40–42
      (pp. A35-A36)

      One of the challenges of life is maintaining the right distinction between what I would call boundaries and barriers. As we know to our regret in the church, we need to respect appropriate boundaries so that mature and enduring relationships between men and women, laity and clergy, adults and children may $ ourish. But there are barriers that impede the formation of relationships and which should be removed. Our readings this Sunday deal with two key ones. The reading from Exodus tackles the barrier that is ‘erected’ when trust ‘breaks down’. The reading from John’s Gospel tackles the barrier of...

    • Fourth Sunday of Lent 1 Samuel 16:1, 6–7, 10–13; Ephesians 5:8–14; John 9:1–41 or 9:1, 6–9, 13–17, 34–38
      (pp. A37-A38)

      The first half of John’s Gospel has been well named by scholars as the ‘book of signs’. Within chapters 2—12 Jesus works a number of signs that call for faith and challenge those who think they have faith. Our story of the man born blind is a particularly important and intriguing ‘sign’. Jesus says of him that ‘he was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him’. He then cures him and he becomes, in the words of some of the Pharisees, one of the ‘signs like these’. But his transformation from physical blindness...

    • Fifth Sunday of Lent Ezekiel 37:12–14; Romans 8:8–11; John 11:1–45 or 11:3–7, 17, 20–27, 33–45
      (pp. A39-A40)

      A number of themes in John’s Gospel converge in the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and all we can do here is highlight some of them. Whichever way you look at this story it provides plenty of material for a homily.

      This is the last sign or work in what many scholars call the ‘book of signs’ in the gospel (1:19—12:50), the sign above all that points to Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection in the ‘ book of glory’ (13:1—20:31). In the preceding chapter, Jesus presents himself as the good shepherd who lays down his...

    • Palm Sunday of the Passion Isaiah 50:4–7; Philippians 2:6–11; Matthew 26:14–27:66 or 27:11–54
      (pp. A41-A43)

      Matthew’s account of Jesus’ passion and death is marked at strategic points by references to the fulfillment of the Scriptures. This is in keeping with the rest of the gospel, in particular the account of Jesus’ birth with which the gospel begins. The account commences with the report that Judas betrayed him for thirty pieces of silver: when Judas returns the money later, prompting the priests to buy the potter’s field, we learn that this is in fulfillment of a prophecy in the book of Jeremiah. Jesus foretells that his disciples will abandon him, again in fulfillment of the Scriptures....

    • Thursday in Holy Week Exodus 12:1–8, 11–14; 1 Corinthians 11:23–26; John 13:1–15
      (pp. A45-A46)

      Feet may not have all that much symbolic value in our contemporary culture and liturgy; we tend to focus on hands (joined in prayer), lips (singing praise), ears (hearing the word), and so on. But feet were a highly valued symbol of royal and divine power in ancient times. A victorious leader would tread on the prone bodies of his enemies (Josh 10:24); the ark of the covenant evoked the footstool on which the enthroned Lord of hosts rested ‘his feet’; the fleet of foot messenger was crucial for getting messages to their destination (for example, news of the outcome...

    • Good Friday Isaiah 52:13—53:12; Hebrews 4:14–16; 5:7–9; John 18:1—19:42
      (pp. A47-A49)

      The Jewish authorities may have seen Jesus’ execution as the elimination of a messianic fraud, while the Romans probably saw it as an opportunity to remove a potential troublemaker. However, the resurrection of Jesus and the linking of this with his whole life and ministry rendered any such explanations of his death completely false for the church community. To answer the question why did he die the way he did, they turned to the two great ideas or images of God that course through the Bible: the just judge who is rightly intolerant of evil and the merciful lover who...

    • Easter Genesis 1:1—2:2 or 1:1, 26–31; Genesis 22:1–18; Exodus 14:15—15:1; Isaiah 54:5–14; Isaiah 55:1–11; Baruch 3:9–15, 3:32—4:4; Ezekiel 36:16–17a, 18–28 Romans 6:3–11; Matthew 28:1–10
      (pp. A51-A53)

      As one listens to the series of Old Testament readings during the Easter vigil, one could be forgiven for thinking that God has an almighty ego. When Abraham passes God’s ‘test’ of detachment from his son Isaac, God does not say ‘blessed are you Abraham’ but ‘now I know you fear God’. According to the reading from Exodus, the whole purpose of the deliverance at the sea is that the Egyptians and Israel ‘will learn that I am the Lord’. There is no let up in the subsequent readings either. According to the two passages from Isaiah, the Lord is...

    • Second Sunday of Easter Acts 2:42–47; 1 Peter 1:3–9; John 20:19–31
      (pp. A55-A56)

      The text from Acts portrays the peace and harmony of the early post–Easter community; a reality that lasts, one might say, only a few verses. Pretty soon there are persecutions, problems within the community (the episode of Ananias and Sapphira), the debate over the Gentiles, and so on. The passage from 1 Peter reflects something of this at times painful growth of the early church, of having ‘to bear being plagued by all sorts of trials’. As we read these texts in our post–Easter setting, it is important to keep the passage from Acts in mind. By describing...

    • Third Sunday of Easter Acts 2:14, 22–28; 1 Peter 1:17–21 Luke 24:13–35
      (pp. A57-A58)

      The hope of the two men on the road to Emmaus was that Jesus would set Israel free. Luke does not specify just what freedom they had in mind but more than likely it was about Israel’s freedom from the Roman yoke, leading to the reestablishment of the Israelite state. But the freedom that Jesus brings is something at once more particular and more universal. It is freedom from the yoke of sin that troubles everyone, whether Jew or Gentile, and that turns us into oppressors driven by fear of the other. In order to be free, we need to...

    • Fourth Sunday of Easter Acts 2:14, 36–41; 1 Peter 2:20–25; John 10:1–10
      (pp. A59-A61)

      The first part of John’s Gospel in today’s readings is a pretty complex parable with a number of players: there are the thieves and brigands, the shepherd, the gatekeeper, the sheep, the stranger(s). Then there is the gate of the sheepfold. The subsequent explanation of the parable, triggered by the disciples’ failure to understand, springs a surprise by focusing on something unexpected—the gate—before moving to the focus that we were probably expecting—the shepherd. The shift to the shepherd is signaled in the last verse of our reading (‘I have come’) and is developed more fully in verses...

    • Fifth Sunday of Easter Acts 6:1–7; 1 Peter 2:4–9 John 14:1–12
      (pp. A63-A65)

      The building industry should be happy this Sunday (and last Sunday as well); metaphors drawn from their world are to the fore—stones, houses, rooms, etc. All metaphors are limited and although these ones evoke powerful impressions of home, security and permanence, they can appear static, lacking dynamism. The letter of 1 Peter is well aware of this and speaks of ‘living stones’ in the process of being built into a ‘spiritual house’. Construction is going on all the time. A building needs sure foundations and the letter claims that it has the best because Christ is the corner stone....

    • Sixth Sunday of Easter Acts 8:5–8, 14–17; 1 Peter 3:15–18; John 14:15–21
      (pp. A67-A68)

      If last Sunday’s Gospel reading from John (14:1–12) emphasises the need to trust/have faith in Jesus, this Sunday’s reading emphasises love. The promise of an advocate/paraclete completes the well–known trio of faith, hope and love. These are the three virtues or values by which I believe all human beings find meaning in their lives, whether they are theists or atheists (an atheist believes there is no god and so has faith). Christianity claims that believers are infused with these ‘theological virtues’ and, according to the principle that grace perfects nature, they inform and perfect human faith, hope and...

    • Ascension of the Lord Acts 1:1–11; Ephesians 1:17–23; Matthew 28:16–20
      (pp. A69-A70)

      It is a pervasive feature of biblical texts that God’s way of saving us from our destructive ways is to work through human beings. Hence God chose the people of Israel and certain people within Israel. According to their own witness in the Old Testament, the people of Israel stumbled badly at times but kept their faith in the God who had chosen them and lived in hope that ‘in that day’ their God would bring his saving purpose to fulfillment.

      For Christians this theme reaches its climax in Jesus who sets out to save us by forming a new...

    • Pentecost Sunday Acts 2:1–11; 1 Corinthians 12:3–7, 12–13; John 20:19–23
      (pp. A71-A72)

      The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles has had, and continues to have, a powerful influence on our understanding of the feast of Pentecost. In particular, two images—which Luke presents as similes—tend to attract our attention, the mighty wind and the tongues of fire. But note how circumspect Luke’s description is: he says ‘they heard what sounded like a powerful wind’, and saw something ‘that seemed like tongues of fire’. It catches nicely the sense of something tangible, able to be experienced, but mysterious and ultimately indescribable. The reading from John’s Gospel tells how Jesus breathed...

    • Trinity Sunday Exodus 34:4–6, 8–9; 2 Corinthians 13:11–13; John 3:16–18
      (pp. A75-A76)

      The feast of the Trinity draws the three preceding feasts together. The Resurrection focuses on the Father as the life–giving one, the Ascension on Jesus as the vindicated and exalted one, Pentecost on the Holy Spirit as the empowering one. The readings for year A of this feast prompt us to reflect on how the Trinity comes to be revealed in the Bible and the challenge that this presents for us who believe it. Thus, the first reading takes us back to a foundational episode in the story of Israel—the apostasy of the golden calf. But this episode...

    • Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) Deuteronomy 8:2–3, 14–16; 1 Corinthians 10:16–17; John 6:51–58
      (pp. A77-A78)

      There is a famous Capuchin ‘church of the bones’ on the equally famous Via Veneto in Rome. As you emerge from walking through the gallery of neatly piled bones of the deceased—who desired to be buried for a time in a piece of the holy land that had been brought there—there is a message from the other side of the grave. I hope that I render the Italian reasonably accurately as ‘what you are, we once were; what we are you one day will be’. While it may sound a bit macabre—or brutally honest and realistic—I...

    • Second Sunday of the Year Isaiah 49: 3, 5–6; 1 Corinthians 1:1–3; John 1:29–34
      (pp. A79-A80)

      The first Sunday of the year celebrates the baptism of Jesus; this Sunday we move from the baptism to the mission of the one baptised—in John the Baptist’s words Jesus is the lamb of God ‘who takes away the sin of the world’. John then gives an account of his own ‘mission’—it was to proclaim that someone greater than he was coming and that he would baptise with the Holy Spirit. Twice John says ‘I did not know him myself’; it was only via the heavenly voice that he was able ‘to see’ and bear witness about Jesus....

    • Third sunday of the Year Isaiah 8:23—9:31; 1 Corinthians 1:10–13, 17; Matthew 4:12–23 or 4:12–17
      (pp. A81-A82)

      Jesus’ first words in Matthew’s Gospel as he commences his mission echo exactly those of John the Baptist in 3:2; ‘repent for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand’. The use of the term ‘heaven’ is recognised as a Matthean substitution for the divine name: hence it is the equivalent of saying ‘ the kingdom of God’. There is continuity and development between the preaching of John and Jesus: Jesus is the one who incarnates the divine words proclaimed by John.

      Matthew’s account of the commencement of Jesus’ mission is preceded by a report that he settled in Capernaum...

    • Fourth Sunday of the Year Zephaniah 2:3, 3:12–13; 1 Corinthians 1:26–31; Matthew 5:1–12
      (pp. A83-A85)

      In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus begins his ministry by proclaiming, like John the Baptist, that the kingdom of heaven ‘is close at hand’ (3:2; 4:17). He gathers his first group of disciples and his fame as a preacher and healer spreads. Crowds gather, he goes up the mountain—an echo of Moses in Exodus—and begins to teach his disciples and the crowds about the kingdom of heaven. In relation to this, it is significant that in Jesus’ discourse on the beatitudes the first and last of those formulated in the third person are followed by the statement ‘theirs is the...

    • Fifth Sunday of the Year Isaiah 58:7–10; 1 Corinthians 2:1–5; Matthew 5:13–16
      (pp. A87-A88)

      Jesus’ description of his listeners as salt and light are preceded by his proclamation of the beatitudes that commence the famous ‘sermon on the mount’. The message presumably is that if you live the beatitudes then you ‘are the salt of the earth’, you ‘are the light of the world’. As we know, when you put salt into something it permeates the whole thing and changes its flavour, transforming it from being, say, bland to delightful. Similarly when you switch on a light in a room it illuminates the whole room. So Jesus is saying that the person who lives...

    • Sixth Sunday of the Year Ecclesiasticus 15:15–20; 1 Corinthians 2:6–10; Matthew 5:17–37
      (pp. A89-A90)

      One can imagine that Jesus’ teaching on the mount about the blessed life would have raised questions, and some hackles, among the Jewish authorities. How does this teaching relate to their commitment to the Torah, both the written Torah and the oral Torah that became enshrined in the Mishnah? Given that the gospels were written in the latter part of the first century, one could also imagine that Paul’s preaching on the Law would have generated considerable debate and some hostility among Jewish Christians, who maintained their commitment to the Torah. Our readings for today outline some important principles about...

    • Seventh Sunday of the Year Leviticus 19:1–2, 17–18; 1 Corinthians 3:16–23; Matthew 5:38–48
      (pp. A91-A92)

      In last Sunday’s gospel reading, Jesus selects a number of law cases to show how his teaching is an integral part of his overall mission to complete or fulfil the Law and the Prophets. Wherever you have law cases you have the issue of punishment: one follows the other as night follow day. Hence, in this Sunday’s reading, which follows immediately on last Sunday’s in the gospel, Jesus challenges his listeners to rethink their understanding of punishment. This will in turn help in their rethinking of the law. Instead of speaking about punishment for crimes committed perhaps we should speak...

    • Eighth Sunday of the Year Isaiah 49:14–15; 1 Corinthians 4:1–5; Matthew 6:24–34
      (pp. A93-A94)

      We have three powerful images of God as food for thought in our readings for this Sunday. We will take them in the order they appear. The prophecy from Isaiah portrays God as mother to reassure listeners and readers of God’s unconditional commitment to Israel: and this on two counts. The first is that God’s commitment does not weaken or fail. Occasionally even mothers abandon or forget their children but God doesn’t. The second is that God’s closeness to Israel is even more intense and intimate than that between a mother and the baby at her breast. If you want...

    • Ninth Sunday of the Year Deuteronomy 11:18, 26–28; Romans 3:21–25, 28; Matthew 7:21–27
      (pp. A95-A96)

      Jesus says that the person who will enter the kingdom of heaven is the one ‘who does the will of my Father in heaven’. The question is, what is the will of the Father and how do I know the will of the Father in my life? Jesus’ statement comes towards the end of Matthew’s sermon on the mount and one might well appeal to the contents of the sermon as spelling out the will of the Father. In a sense this is true but the sermon is a limited combination of some general instructions and specific laws. An example...

    • Tenth Sunday of the Year Hosea 6:3–6; Romans 4:18–25; Matthew 9:9–13
      (pp. A97-A98)

      If we take the initial lines of the reading from Hosea that quote the people, they look like a genuine expression of faith, hope and love; those three key virtues or values by which human beings live. There is the faith commitment to God (‘Let us set ourselves to know the Lord’), there is the sure hope of God’s gracious response (‘that he will come is as certain as the dawn’); all this is a genuine expression of love, surely. Yet the following verses mock the people by contrasting their love (like a bit of morning fog, like dew which...

    • Eleventh Sunday of the Year Exodus 19:2–6; Romans 5:6–11; Matthew 9:36—10:8
      (pp. A99-A100)

      We all love peak or privileged experiences. We believe they have a profound impact on us and can radically change the way we live. But there are two issues that we need to take into account when we reflect on peak experiences—especially when they concern our relationship with God.

      The first is what constitutes a peak or privileged experience of God? The second is how do we know that it has really, radically changed us? The reading from Exodus provides some food for thought. The people have experienced liberation from slavery in Egypt and now they are invited into...

    • Twelfth Sunday of the Year Jeremiah 20:10–13; Romans 5:12–15; Matthew 10:26–33
      (pp. A101-A103)

      The famous passage from the letter to the Romans lends weight to the old saying that ‘the more things change the more they seem the same’. Paul, like his contemporaries in the Jewish world, thought of Adam and Eve as a historical couple, just as they thought the sun circled the earth and that humans and animals had lived together from the beginning of creation. The impact of science and critical analysis of ancient texts means that we no longer think that way. The danger is that we may think we are smarter than folk of ancient times, that their...

    • Thirteenth Sunday of the Year 2 Kings 4:8–11, 14–16; Romans 6:3–4, 8–11; Matthew 10:37–42
      (pp. A105-A106)

      Jesus says in the gospel passage that ‘Anyone who welcomes a prophet because he is a prophet will have a prophet’s reward’. The same goes for a holy man. The question is, what reward does a prophet or holy man bring and is not Jesus the prophet and holy man par excellence? Well, if we follow the lead of today’s gospel it is certainly not the kind of reward that many would have in mind. You welcome Jesus home to your family and he immediately takes centre stage. At least he does not impose himself but invites or challenges; he...

    • Fourteenth Sunday of the Year Zechariah 9:9–10; Romans 8:9, 11–13; Matthew 11:25–30
      (pp. A107-A108)

      If we can, we like to be in control of things and even other people. It has become almost an obsession in our modern highly individualistic societies where I must plan my life and have it all unfold according to plan, even if this may involve trumping the plans of others. But, this is just healthy competition, is it not? Rich nations spend enormous amounts of money and effort bending nature to their will and bending other human beings to their will. A theme that runs through the Bible is that the more we try to take control of our...

    • Fifteenth Sunday of the Year Isaiah 55:10–11; Romans 8:18–23; Matthew 13:1–23 or 13:1–9
      (pp. A109-A111)

      We have two views about the word of God in this Sunday’s readings; one that emphasises the transcendence and power of God’s word, the other that emphasises its immanence, its presence in human beings. The reading from Isaiah proclaims that the word that issues from God’s mouth always achieves what God wills it to achieve; its purpose cannot be thwarted. And what is its purpose? The text employs the simile of life giving rain and snow to assert that God’s purpose, as revealed via his word, is to give life and nourishment. Given the setting of the so– called ‘Second...

    • Sixteenth Sunday of the Year Wisdom 12:13, 16–19; Romans 8:26–27; Matthew 13:24–43 or 13:24–30
      (pp. A113-A114)

      This Sunday’s reading from Matthew contains parables two, three and four of the series of seven that begins with the parable of the sower (see previous Sunday). What binds these three parables together is the theme of the kingdom of heaven (this is widely thought to be Matthew’s pious way of referring to the presence of God). Whenever I read this series of three parables I cannot help imagining a scene in which Jesus tells a story—which is what a parable basically is. The actual telling of the parable may have been much longer than the textual version we...

    • Seventeenth Sunday of the Year 1 Kings 3:5, 7–12; Romans 8:28–30; Matthew 13:44–52 or 13:44–46
      (pp. A115-A117)

      We can apply the same kind of interpretation to this Sunday’s group of three parables as to last Sunday’s three. The two groups of three are separated by Jesus’ explanation to the disciples of the parable of the wheat and the darnel. As noted earlier, the parable of the sower makes up a series of seven parables overall in this section of the gospel.

      The previous group of parables emphasises the presence and initiative of God that is the foundational principle of the kingdom of heaven. Once this principle has been taught, the group of parables in this Sunday’s reading...

    • Eighteenth Sunday of the Year Isaiah 55:1–3; Romans 8:35, 37–39; Matthew 14:13–21
      (pp. A119-A120)

      Both Matthew and Mark’s Gospels have two accounts of the miracle of the loaves and fish. In the first account of each, there are five loaves, in the second seven. What is fascinating about the accounts in both Gospels is that there is no recorded comment from the people about where all the food comes from. Rather different to the stories of Jesus healing sick people and casting out demons: often these are followed by a comment from the onlookers about who Jesus is and where he comes from. Why the difference? Is it because the feeding stories deal with...

    • Nineteenth Sunday of the Year 1 Kings 19:9, 11–13; Romans 9:1–5; Matthew 14:22–33
      (pp. A121-A122)

      We all hanker for that definitive experience of God that will lift us out of the rut of our daily lives, clarify the direction we should take for the future and resolve those pressing and seemingly insoluble questions. There is nothing wrong with this; both the Old Testament and New Testament contain stories of those who encounter God, are freed from sin or sickness and find new purpose in their lives. Also, our desire is no doubt fueled in part by the promise of heaven. But, our readings for this Sunday sound a counter theme that we need to take...

    • Twentieth Sunday of the Year Isaiah 56:1, 6–7; Romans 11:13–15, 29–32; Matthew 15:21–28
      (pp. A123-A124)

      We ‘insiders’, the members of the church, the chosen people, tend to think our role and the role of the church is to reach ‘outsiders’ and convert them. Up to a point this is true but it can lead us to make some dangerous assumptions about ourselves as the insiders as well as the outsiders. We are the givers they are the receivers. Our readings for this Sunday, in my view, reverse the direction. Outsiders are portrayed as the privileged ones who, in God’s scheme of things, have something important to offer the insiders. It provides a challenge and healthy...

    • Twenty First Sunday of the Year Isaiah 22:15, 19–23; Romans 11:33–36; Matthew 16:13–20
      (pp. A125-A126)

      As I read the famous passage from Matthew’s Gospel, there are seven statements that Jesus makes in reply to Peter’s confession that ‘you are the Christ, the son of the living God’. And within the context of the Bible seven is a perfect number. Each statement says something not only about Peter and his role but also about the church—hence about ourselves The first statement is the proclamation that ‘you are a happy man’. One might have expected Jesus to say, ‘you are right’ or ‘you have spoken the truth’. No doubt this element is there but the use...

    • Twenty Second Sunday of the Year 2 Kings 4:42–44; Ephesians 4:1–6; John 6:1–15
      (pp. A127-A128)

      As noted in the reflections for the previous Sunday, Peter goes from being the foundational rock of the church to Satan in one gospel scene. Perhaps he thought that as the rock he had a ‘mandate’ as we say to take charge of Jesus’ life and mission, to do what was best for him. Jesus’ rebuke is sharp and clear but he nevertheless takes Peter up the mountain of the transfiguration with James and John. Jesus does not give up on the ones he chooses, despite their blunders.

      Jesus’ commitment to Peter and the disciples is demonstrated in the way...

    • Twenty Third Sunday of the Year Ezekiel 33:7–9; Romans 13:8–10; Matthew 18:15–20
      (pp. A129-A130)

      Everything that we humans do or say operates within a context. Without a context within which we can relate and assess things we would be completely lost—as many of us feel when we first arrive in a foreign country where the language and cultural context is quite different to ours. If we take on (for example, children in a family) or are assigned responsibilities (for example, being appointed a parish priest), we need to know the context in which these responsibilities operate. Another way of putting this might be to say that where there are responsibilities there are rights...

    • Twenty Fourth Sunday of the Year Ecclesiasticus 27:30—28:7; Romans 14:7–9; Matthew 18:21–35
      (pp. A131-A133)

      Our readings tackle the relationship between a duo that is foundational for our lives: justice and mercy/forgiveness. According to the Bible we cannot have one without the other and we would not need either if there was no sin. As far as I can tell we will not need justice and mercy in heaven because we will finally be graced to love as God loves. Like the other virtues such as faith, hope, courage, etc, justice and mercy will be perfected in perfect love.

      Justice is needed to rectify our injustice towards our neighbour and even ourselves in this life;...

    • Twenty Fifth Sunday of the Year Isaiah 55:6–9; Philippians 1:20–24, 27; Matthew 20:1–16
      (pp. A135-A137)

      A clue to how one might read this Sunday’s Gospel passage from Matthew lies in the final sentence: ‘Thus the last will be first and the first, last’. As a comment on the parable that Jesus has just told, it implies that God will overturn human expectations and rankings—something that we all indulge in at one time or other. What is interesting is that this comment effectively repeats the one that Jesus makes at the end of the preceding chapter. When Peter asks him what ‘we’ who have left everything will get Jesus assures the twelve that they will...

    • Twenty Sixth Sunday of the Year Ezekiel 18:25–28; Philippians 2:1–11 or 2:1–5; Matthew 21:28–32
      (pp. A139-A141)

      We like to think that we are adaptable, open to change and ready to make it, the most innovative people in history. Maybe. I tend to think that we are pretty much the same as people throughout history. Like them we resist change unless it is on our terms and to our advantage. There lies the rub. What kind of change is really to our advantage? We need to have a critical or informed attitude about change. After all, change of itself is not necessarily a good thing. Our readings for this Sunday provide food for thought on what kind...

    • Twenty Seventh Sunday of the Year Isaiah 5:1–7; Philippians 4:6–9; Matthew 21:33–43
      (pp. A143-A145)

      The texts from Isaiah and Matthew show how an inspired mind can take the common rustic image of a vineyard and turn it into a powerful prophetic message. In Isaiah, the poetic account of how God planted a vineyard, cared for it and did everything for it is effectively a review of God’s dealings with his people. There is nothing particularly new in this; it is a common enough ploy in prophetic preaching, designed to defend the justice and goodness of God in comparison to the evils committed by God’s people. God cannot be blamed for the evils in society....

    • Twenty Eighth Sunday of the Year Isaiah 25:6–10; Philippians 4:12–14, 19–20; Matthew 22:1–14 or 22:1–10
      (pp. A147-A148)

      The biblical tradition liked the image of a great feast to communicate something of its conviction about the ultimate purpose of God. The passage from Isaiah paints a portrait of the final festal banquet around two key notions of God: the utterly transcendent one who is also the utterly immanent one. Only the utterly transcendent one can prepare a banquet for all peoples that is utterly lavish and generous. Only the utterly transcendent God can remove the mourning veil covering all peoples of every time and place. By the same token, only the utterly immanent God can personally wipe away...

    • Twenty Ninth Sunday of the Year Isaiah 45:1, 4–6; 1 Thessalonians 1:1–5; Matthew 22:15–21
      (pp. A149-A150)

      Our readings for this Sunday provide an opportunity to reflect on something that is central to our faith—the Word of God. Each reading offers an angle on the mystery of the word of God and each angle challenges and surprises. The surprising thing about the reading from Isaiah is that the Word of God is addressed to the Persian conqueror Cyrus, the ultimate outsider. Even though Cyrus does not know the God of Israel, this is no barrier. God calls him personally by name as he called Moses and gives him the title of Messiah or anointed one, the...

    • Thirtieth Sunday of the Year Exodus 22:20–26; 1 Thessalonians 1:5–10; Matthew 22:34–40
      (pp. A151-A153)

      Jesus’ reply to the Sadducees in today’s Gospel from Matthew draws together two separate commands in the Old Testament Torah. The command to love God occurs in Deuteronomy 6:5 and is part of the famous ‘shema’ (hear O Israel!) prayer that is recited in the synagogue every Sabbath. The command to love one’s neighbour is in Leviticus 19:18. This pithy Gospel from Matthew packs a lot of punch. Three reactions or questions spring to mind (for a start). Why does God command us to love? We speak of ‘falling in love’; do you ever hear our governments commanding people to...

    • Thirty First Sunday of the Year Malachi 1:14–2:2, 8–10; 1 Thessalonians 2:7–9, 13; Matthew 23:1–12
      (pp. A155-A157)

      We all need authority in our lives and these readings can help us get some things right about it and how it should be exercised. Our English word comes from the Latinauctoritas—source or origin. An ‘auctor’ or author begins or originates something. The reason we all need authority is at base very simple: we are not the originators of our lives and, generally, we do not end them. As well as this, we have to rely on authorities (auctores) for our life’s journey: we are limited human beings and cannot monitor or assess all the phenomena of a...

    • Thirty Second Sunday of the Year Wisdom 6:12–16; 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18; Matthew 25:1–13
      (pp. A159-A160)

      There are a number of passages in the gospels in which Jesus exhorts the disciples to ‘stay awake’ because he will come at an hour they do not expect. The lectionary selects a number of these passages for the Sundays leading up to the end of the liturgical year. Reflection upon them in their respective contexts shows—to me at least—that they are not all to be understood in the same sense. The call to ‘stay awake’ can take on different shades of meaning depending on context and I comment on the other occurrences in their respective contexts. Like...

    • Thirty Third Sunday of the Year Proverbs 31:10–13, 19–20, 30–31; 1 Thessalonians 5:1–6; Matthew 25:14–30 or 25:14–15, 19–20
      (pp. A161-A163)

      As I have noted before, parables are powerful but like all literary forms, they are limited. Every form or way of communicating provides us with an opportunity to be creative but imposes certain limitations. Parables tend to highlight one or two points and that is their power: they focus the mind. But once one shifts to a broader focus, gaps can start to appear that require explanation. That is why I think parables in the gospel are often presented in a collection or series in which one bounces o "another. The preceding parable in Matthew 25 is about the bridesmaids...

    • Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King Ezekiel 34:11–12, 15–17; 1 Corinthians 15:20–26, 28; Matthew 25:31–46
      (pp. A165-A168)

      The famous ‘last judgment’ picture painted by our text from Matthew evokes, and probably draws on, the grandeur of an ancient Near Eastern royal court. The sovereign, accompanied by a mightily impressive retinue, summons the vassal states (all the nations are assembled) to report on their conduct. On such occasions, as in our own times, the representatives of the nations have carefully prepared reports that will not only flatter their sovereign but also enhance their own standing. But, as we have found in the Bible, expectations tend to get turned upside down. Instead of being summoned to give their reports...

  5. Extras For Year A
    • Year 2014 Presentation of the Lord (2 February for 4th Sunday of the Year A, 2014; Malachi 3:1–4; Hebrews 2:14–18; Luke 2:22–40).
      (pp. A171-A172)

      Our reading from Luke’s Gospel portrays Mary and Joseph going to the temple to do what the law required every Jewish couple who had a son as first born to do, namely, to consecrate or dedicate him to God and then to ‘receive’ him back from God via a sacrificial offering. In the case of Mary and Joseph who were poor people, a pair of birds sufficed. Such simple rituals, like our own, would have been a common sight in Jerusalem and no doubt, like us, the people of those days tended to take them for granted. But this ritual...

    • Ss Peter and Paul, Apostles (29 June for 13th Sunday of the Year A, 2014; Acts 12:1–11; 2 Timothy 4:6–8, 17–18; Matthew 16:13–19)
      (pp. A173-A174)

      In a way it is a pity that the readings for this feast do not contain Paul’s memorable account in his letter to the Galatians of his clash with Peter—how he confronted him over his duplicitous attitude to circumcision. One senses two quite different characters in conflct and, when you think about them a bit, perhaps not the kind that a modern employment agency would engage for the crucial job of getting the fledgling Christian church off the ground.

      A comforting feature of the New Testament portrayals of Peter and Paul is that being a saint doesn’t necessarily mean...

    • Triumph of the Holy Cross (14 September for 24th Sunday of the Year A, 2014; Numbers 21:4–9; Philippians 2:6–11; John 3:13–17)
      (pp. A175-A176)

      The story of the fiery serpents in Numbers is a strange one; hence it exerts a certain fascination on readers who try to fathom its meaning. However, if we take a lead from its use in the Gospel of John, there is one meaning that I think we can justifiably give it—what is repulsive and death dealing from a human point of view, can with God’s power and grace become life giving and something that we look up to. So the people in the Numbers story are told to look at the bronze serpent that Moses made and put...

    • Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (02 November for 31st Sunday of the Year A, 2014; Readings from Masses for the Dead)
      (pp. A177-A179)

      All Souls Day’ as this used to be called was, for me as a boy, quite a fun day and rather satisfying. We got out of some school, marched across town to the church and vied with one another in the number of times we could duck in and out of the church and recite the required prayers to get another soul out of purgatory. It was a friendly competition with, we believed, a good outcome, however naïve our theology. Its new name, ‘the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed’ looks like one of those titles where the authors have...

    • Dedication of the Lateran Basilica (9 November for 32nd Sunday of the Year A, 2014; Ezekiel 47:1–2, 8–9; 1 Corinthians 3:9–11, 16–17; John 2:13–22)
      (pp. A181-A182)

      When you walk into a massive basilica like St John Lateran’s in Rome, you can’t help but feel the contrast between something that has endured for hundreds of years (although this one was rebuilt several times) and the tiny ephemeral human being. One feels insignificant—is the building designed to create this impression? No, no! I can hear the Italian guide saying; it is designed to evoke the glory of God, not to demean human beings. Fair enough but this only heightens my sense of insignificance in contrast to the grandeur and glory of God. Of what worth are we?...

    • Year 2017 Transfiguration (06 August for 18th Sunday of the Year A; Daniel 7:9–10, 13–14; 2 Peter 1:16–19; Matthew 17:1–9)
      (pp. A183-A186)

      When you are continually disappointed despite your best efforts, or when people keep telling you that you are a nobody and a failure, it can be hard to keep your spirits up, to look beyond the ever decreasing world in which you live. The amazing thing about a book like Daniel (anomdeplumeof an anonymous author) is that although it was written at a time of great trial and suffering for the Jewish people it nevertheless confidently asserts the ultimate triumph of God’s purpose, a purpose that will transform all nations, even those that oppress Israel. Here...

  6. Select Bibliography
    (pp. A187-A188)
  7. Biblical Index
    (pp. A189-A194)
  8. Subject Index
    (pp. A195-A198)
  9. YEAR B
    • Introduction to the Gospel of Mark (for Year B)
      (pp. B1-B3)

      The Gospel of Mark is the shortest and, in the opinion of many, the earliest, even though it is customarily listed second after Matthew. It is thought to have been composed in the 70’s CE by a disciple of Peter and may have originated in Rome. It is also thought to have provided the basis for Matthew and Luke’s more expansive versions. Its style is crisp to the point of being cryptic; its author is adept at constructing powerful scenes with an economy of words.

      In order to get some grasp of a whole such as a Gospel we need...

    • First Sunday of Advent Isaiah 63:16–17; 19; 64:2–7; 1 Corinthians 1:3–9; Mark 13:33–37
      (pp. B5-B6)

      Just when another busy year is drawing to a close and we are looking forward to the holiday season, a chance to get some rest from the busyness of our work, the Church has the cheek to present us with a Sunday Gospel about staying awake. And just when we thought how nice it will be to escape all those workplace inspections, performance indicators and best practice monitoring, Jesus warns us that the master will come at a time we do not expect and he had better not find us asleep!

      If we take this reading literally we are in...

    • Second Sunday of Advent Isaiah 40:1–5, 9–11; 2 Peter 3:8–14; Mark 1:1–8
      (pp. B7-B8)

      The readings for our Second Sunday of Advent are primarily about epiphany, the manifestation of the presence of God in our lives. The reading from Isaiah prophesies how God will come to deliver Israel from exile in Babylon; the first verses of Mark’s Gospel announce God’s messenger John who in turn announces the imminent appearance of Jesus. The passage from the second letter of Peter provides instructions for its readers about how to prepare for ‘the day of the Lord’.

      What is striking is that each reading goes against the grain of what one might expect.

      According to modern critical...

    • Third Sunday of Advent Isaiah 61:1–2, 10–11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16–24; John 1:6–8, 19–28
      (pp. B9-B10)

      Faith, particularly religious faith, is a fragile yet extraordinary phenomenon. A person claims (that is, believes) that he or she has had an experience of God, the claim is proclaimed in word and deed (a manner of life) and others are impressed and accept (that is, believe) the faith claim being made. A new community is formed, a tradition develops, all on the basis of one person’s claim that can never be proved to be true: if it could it would no longer require faith. From the point of view of an outsider this is too fragile a foundation on...

    • Fourth Sunday of Advent 2 Samuel 7:1–5, 8–11, 16; Romans 16:25–27; Luke 1:26–38
      (pp. B11-B12)

      Our reading from Romans claims that all of history is unfolding according to the divine plan, ‘the way the eternal God wants things to be’. And who can gainsay the eternal God? Thus, in our reading from 2 Samuel, David plans to build a house for God. But David’s plan clashes with God’s plans and this is communicated to him via the prophet Nathan. In the Gospel reading, the angel Gabriel interrupts Mary and Joseph’s plans about getting married and raising a family to tell her of God’s plan. As in the case of David, God’s plans must take precedence....

    • Christmas Vigil Mass: Isaiah 62:1–5; Acts 13:16–17, 22–25; Matthew 1:1–25 or Matthew 1:18–25 Midnight Mass: Isaiah 9:1–7; Titus 2:11–14; Luke 2:1–14 Dawn Mass: Isaiah 62:11–12; Titus 3:4–7 Luke 2:15–20 Mass During the Day: Isaiah 52:7–10; Hebrews 1:1–6; John 1:1–18
      (pp. B13-B16)

      The reflection on Luke’s narrative of the nativity for Year A explored how Luke contrasts the way Caesar rules his kingdom with the way God rules God’s kingdom, as manifested in the birth of Christ. Another aspect of this contrast that Luke’s account develops concerns the shaping of history. Luke’s contribution to the New Testament corpus is a two-volume work—Gospel and Acts of the Apostles. The evangelist unfolds his account of the life and ministry of Jesus in the Gospel, and the life and ministry of the Church in Acts, as the fulfillment of God’s purpose in and for...

    • Holy Family (Sunday after Christmas) Ecclesiasticus 3:2–6, 12–14; Colossians 3:12–21; Luke 2:22–40 or 2:22, 39–40
      (pp. B17-B18)

      The emergence of a new family is an important and joyous event in the life of a society, and never more so than in a highly religious society such as Israel was in the time of Jesus. Time-honoured rituals of initiation that Luke records in our Gospel reading marked the occasion; a key element of the ritual for a male child was his consecration in which the parents ‘presented’ or offered him to God. The arrangement of Luke’s account is significant. It begins and ends with references to fulfilling the Torah or law of Moses, to Jerusalem the holy city,...

    • Mary Mother of God Numbers 6:22–27; Galatians 4:4–7; Luke 2:16–21
      (pp. B19-B20)

      The early Christians found themselves in competition with a powerful religion of Egyptian origin, the cult of the goddess Isis and her consort Osiris, and their divine child Horus. Isis was believed to be the mother goddess or bearer of the god (atheotokos). She was the ideal of motherhood, of simplicity and fertility. To counter this with the claim that a simple Jewish girl called Mary is the one who became the virgin mother of God was a bold move and a somewhat risky one. Mary could easily be confused or identified with Isis. The Christian theology of Mary...

    • The Epiphany Isaiah 60:1–6; Ephesians 3:2–3, 5–6; Matthew 2:1–12
      (pp. B21-B22)

      Matthew’s linking of the star to the feast of the Epiphany is a nice touch. In ancient times the appearance of a star was sometimes seen as a sign, an ‘epiphany’ or manifestation of something significant that had happened or was about to happen—the birth of a person of destiny, a cosmic or historic event. This motif is most appropriate for the Incarnation but I think our passage from Matthew is also exploiting another more basic function of stars, and that is navigation. Before the advent of modern guidance systems, people relied on the stars to navigate their way...

    • Baptism of the Lord Isaiah 42:1–4, 6–7 or 55:1–11; Acts 10:34–38 or 1 John 5:1–9; Mark 1:7–11
      (pp. B25-B26)

      The readings for this feast signal a number of important reversals or transformations that are worth highlighting as points of reflection for preaching. The first, and perhaps most obvious, is the transformation that occurs when Jesus undertakes the baptism of John. The people undergo John’s baptism as a sign of repentance; as Mark’s Gospel says, ‘all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptised by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins’. It is a gesture of faith and hope. When Jesus enters the waters of the Jordan however, things change dramatically. As John himself...

    • First Sunday of Lent Genesis 9:8–15; 1 Peter 3:18–22; Mark 1:12–15
      (pp. B27-B28)

      The early chapters of the book of Genesis juxtapose two competing views of the human being. On the one hand, the Bible claims that we alone of earth creatures are in the image and likeness of God. According to Genesis 1:26 God created us to be the wise stewards of creation, ruling over it as God does. Thus, we should be the most life-giving creatures on earth. On the other hand however, the flood story warns that we can become the most dangerous and destructive creatures in creation—not at all in the image and likeness of God. Nevertheless, our...

    • Second Sunday of Lent Genesis 22:1–2, 9, 10–13, 15–18; Romans 8:31–34; Mark 9:2–10
      (pp. B29-B31)

      The readings for the First Sunday of Lent present God’s unconditional commitment to us flawed human beings, to transform us into the divine image and likeness. However, the question inevitably arises as to what such a transformation involves; how can we imagine or think about it taking place? The readings for this Second Sunday provide us with some material to do just that — to think about it. God is a mystery but not a secret because God has nothing to hide; the mystery of God and of our relationship to God continually unfolds.

      The first reading in which Abraham is...

    • Third Sunday of Lent Exodus 20:1–17 or 20:1–3, 7–8, 12–17; 1 Corinthians 1:22–25; John 2:13–25
      (pp. B33-B34)

      We are called to walk the path of discipleship, which at times may seem daunting and obscure, even difficult. But the Bible does not leave us without guidelines to help us on our way—both in the form of laws and stories (examples). The ten commandments provide a concise introduction (and summary) to the laws that accompany the Sinai covenant. What is of particular interest for our reflection is the reasoning that operates in these laws. While there are separate commands about one’s conduct before God and neighbour, they are all designed to secure and manifest one thing—loyalty to...

    • Fourth Sunday of Lent 2 Chronicles 36:14–17, 19–23; Ephesians 2:4–10; John 3:14–21
      (pp. B35-B36)

      Last Sunday’s readings invited us to compare the effects of our sin to the temple that Jesus confronts in John’s Gospel; a market place of competing self interests, resistant to any thought of change, awareness of God banished to the periphery of our lives. This Sunday’s readings provide some graphic descriptions of the effects of sin, both at the national and the individual level.

      What is one of the most dangerous temptations for a nation or community? According to the author of Chronicles, it is the temptation to think that we, the majority, are always right. The reading makes the...

    • Fifth Sunday of Lent Jeremiah 31:31–34; Hebrews 5:7–9; John 12:20–33
      (pp. B37-B38)

      The Scripture passages in the preceding Sundays of Lent have exposed the fractures and divisions that sin causes in human life. We lose touch with God and our neighbour. We become absorbed in ourselves but it is really a false self, a mockery of the real self that we construct and to which we then pay homage. It is insanity masquerading as the most reasonable and profitable thing to do. How can we know our true self without God as the focus of our attention? Without God at the centre of our life we can only have a distorted perception...

    • Palm Sunday of the Passion Isaiah 50:4–7; Philippians 2:6–11; Mark 14:1–15:47 or 15:1–39
      (pp. B39-B41)

      We have been presented with the Gospel’s challenge to make God the centre of our lives because God makes us the centre of divine life by loving us unconditionally. According to the Gospel, this is the relationship that all human beings need (and really desire?) and gives meaning and fulfillment to all other relationships. In the account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem the people seem to be doing exactly this—they are making Jesus the centre of their lives. They throw a great welcome party for him as he enters Jerusalem, the one who ‘comes in the name of the...

    • Thursday in Holy Week Exodus 12:1–8, 11–14; 1 Corinthians 11:23–26; John 13:1–15
      (pp. B43-B44)

      As a celebration of the ‘last supper’ it is appropriate to begin Holy Thursday with the account of Israel’s ‘first supper’, the Passover meal in Exodus. As a meal, all goes well: the Israelites do as God has instructed them through Moses, the destroyer passes over their houses and renders the Egyptians powerless. The powerless Israelites are liberated. It is one the few meals in the Old Testament that has a good outcome. The Bible begins with the story of a meal that goes badly wrong—the eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the...

    • Good Friday Isaiah 52:13–53:12; Hebrews 4:14–16; 5:7–9; John 18:1–19:42 (alternative Mark 14:1–15:47)
      (pp. B45-B47)

      The following reflection is based on John’s Passion Narrative which is the one customarily read on Good Friday of each year of the liturgical cycle. It will be followed by a reflection on Mark’s Passion Narrative, because it is the one for Palm Sunday in Year B.

      There is a fine terracotta ‘Deposition’ in a church in Bologna, just off the main piazza. To one side is Mary Magdalene weeping and rushing to embrace the dead body of Jesus; to the other side is Mary the wife of Clopas, grieving at the sight of a mother with her dead son....

    • The Passion According to Mark
      (pp. B49-B51)

      As noted in the introduction to this volume, Mark’s Gospel is commonly regarded as the earliest and that it provided the basis for the later Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Mark’s account may therefore provide one of the Church’s earliest records and reflections on Jesus’ passion and death. A striking feature of the account is the way it portrays an increasing distance between Jesus and the majority of those around him.

      The meal in Simon the leper’s house sets the scene for what follows (was Simon cured of leprosy or does Mark want readers to understand that Jesus was, typically,...

    • Easter Acts 10:34, 37–43; Colossians 3:1–4 or 1 Corinthians 5:6–8; John 20:1–9 Alternative Gospel: Mark 16:1–7 At an evening Mass, Luke 24:13–35 may be used
      (pp. B53-B55)

      What most accept as the original account of the resurrection in Mark’s Gospel is as stark as its description of the death of Jesus. Some in the early Church apparently thought it needed to be embellished and additions were made that draw in part on the other Synoptic Gospels. These are normally printed in modern translations after the original ending. The original account may appear somewhat truncated and even inadequate in comparison to the much longer accounts in the other synoptic Gospels and John but, within the context of Mark’s Gospel itself, it makes for a rather fitting conclusion.

      Having...

    • Second Sunday of Easter Acts 4:32–35; 1 John 5:1–6; John 20:19–31
      (pp. B57-B58)

      We are so accustomed to the annual round of Christmas—Lent—Easter, etc and they are such a familiar part of our life as Christians that we can forget how challenging it was for the early Church to establish itself. Although the contemporary situation of Christianity as a long established religion in the west is quite different to that of the early Church, our readings for this Sunday provide plenty of food for thought, above all about faith and its role in our life.

      The early Church had to operate in a very competitive world. The Roman empire was a...

    • Third Sunday of Easter Acts 3:13–15, 17–19; 1 John 2:1–5; Luke 24:35–48
      (pp. B59-B60)

      Luke, alone among the Synoptic Gospels, reports that Jesus showed the disciples ‘his hands and his feet’ (John 20:20 reports that Jesus showed them his hands and his side). Within the immediate context of the resurrection appearance, this eases the disciples’ alarm at seeing a ghost, an apparition that signifies (to those who believe in ghosts) that the person in question is very much dead. It is a disturbing manifestation of someone whose proper place is ‘the other side’ of this life. The point of Jesus’ gesture is to show that he who died a violent death on the cross...

    • Fourth Sunday of Easter Acts 4:8–12; 1 John 3:1–2; John 10:11–18
      (pp. B61-B62)

      I argued earlier that a number of the readings during Lent are about the need to make God the centre of our lives rather than ourselves—as modern western culture in particular continually urges us to do. According to the Gospels, our relationship with God won’t work if we see God as a kind of personal assistant; someone on whom I can call when needed to help me achieve my career goals. It is only when we make God the centre of our lives that all other relationships can find their proper place and function. Jesus is the one who...

    • Fifth Sunday of Easter Acts 9:26–31; 1 John 3:18–24; John 15:1–8
      (pp. B65-B67)

      There are two key images of relationship in this Sunday’s readings: the image or metaphor of the vine and branches in the Gospel reading focuses on our relationship with Jesus, the image or metaphor of the household (God as parent, we as children) in the first letter of John focuses more on our relationship with the Father. Each dwells on an important outcome of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

      A number of the resurrection stories in the Gospels tell how the disciples could not see the risen Jesus until he manifested himself or ‘appeared’ to them—the resurrection is...

    • Sixth Sunday of Easter Acts 10:25–26, 34–35, 44–48; 1 John 4:7–10; John 15:9–17
      (pp. B69-B71)

      I was once told that the problem with the Irish—being of Irish descent myself and studying in Ireland at the time—is ‘that you never had thepax romana’. We are still a squabbling tribal people. The ‘pax romana’ (Roman peace) was apparently a policy used by the Roman empire to break down existing tribal allegiances and cement a new allegiance to the state. The many, often wrangling, factions were meant to become an integral part of the empire. The policy was implemented by the good old carrot and stick approach. In our modern world, one could add to...

    • Ascension of the Lord Acts 1:1–11; Ephesians 1:17–23; Mark 16:15–20
      (pp. B73-B74)

      In the Gospel of John, the notions of resurrection, ascension and gift of the Spirit are condensed, as it were, into one act. The risen Jesus says to Mary ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father’. This rising and ascending Lord breathes the Holy Spirit on the disciples. And it all happens on one day of what is a ‘new creation’, the first day of the week, a clear echo of the first verses of Genesis. One might gain the impression that John is singling this ‘day’ out and setting it apart from all other time. In one...

    • Pentecost Sunday Acts 2:1–11; 2 Corinthians 12:3–7, 12–13; John 15:26–27, 16:12–15, or John 20:19–23
      (pp. B75-B77)

      A striking feature of Luke’s account of Pentecost is that the powerful wind and tongues of flame, symbols of divine presence and power that echo Old Testament passages, signal the removal of one of the enduring barriers between human beings—language. Despite the enormous sense of power in wind and flame, the barrier of language is erased in the most benign way; those listening to Peter and the disciples simply realise that they are hearing them in their own language. This must be the dream scenario of every international meeting—no need for multi-lingual translators, microphones or earphones. But God...

    • Trinity Sunday Deuteronomy 4:32–34, 39–40; Romans 8:14–17; Matthew 28:16–20
      (pp. B79-B81)

      The claim of our first reading from Deuteronomy is that a decisive moment in the revelation of God and God’s purpose vis-à-vis humanity occurred at Horeb, the name in deuteronomic literature for the mount of revelation. Until Israel experienced the revelation at Horeb, there had never been ‘a word so majestic, from one end of heaven to the other’. This decisive moment was therefore not just for Israel but also for the whole of humanity (afflicted by a distorted perception of reality that is a key theme of the garden story). There are three elements in this moment of revelation...

    • Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ Exodus 24:3–8; Hebrews 9:11–15; Mark 14:12–16, 22–26
      (pp. B83-B85)

      There are some advantages about modern city life but there are also some disadvantages: there is always a price to pay for what we call progress. A good example is blood. While we now have the convenience and hygiene of supermarket shopping I notice that one rarely & nds the word ‘butcher’ used or displayed in the meat sections of supermarkets. We are so divorced from what happens when an animal is slaughtered that the thought of all that vital blood pouring out or being drained away from a dying animal, slaughtered for our sake, rarely enters our mind. Mass...

    • Second Sunday of the Year 1 Samuel 3:3–10, 19; 1 Corinthians 6:13–15, 17–20; John 1:35–42
      (pp. B87-B88)

      The texts for today begin and end with the theme of vocation: the vocation or call of Samuel to be a prophet in the first reading, the call of Jesus’ disciples in the Gospel reading. The notion of vocation has been part of Christianity for so long, particularly in relation to the priesthood and religious life, we can overlook that it now has a rival in the notion of career. These two notions no doubt share quite a bit of common ground but they are also, I believe, quite distinct. It is inevitable that they will interact and influence one...

    • Third Sunday of the Year Jonah 3:1–5, 10; 1 Corinthians 7:29–31; Mark 1:14–20
      (pp. B89-B90)

      This Sunday the lectionary adds an important element to the notion of vocation that we explored in the readings for the previous Sunday—we are called by God to become partners in building a new world. But, in order to become God’s building partners it is essential that we let go of the world that we have been endeavouring to build ourselves. It is a flawed world that will not build up ourselves or others.

      We can see this in that wonderful, fictional tale that is the book of Jonah. It is at once a provocative and profound meditation on...

    • Fourth Sunday of the Year Deuteronomy 18:15–20; 1 Corinthians 7:32–35; Mark 1:21–28
      (pp. B91-B92)

      One might say the message for today is that, particularly in matters of faith, there is no neutral ground. To put it another way, one cannot be simply a spectator: engagement and decision making is required.

      A favoured theory of recent scholarship is that the book of Deuteronomy was composed as a reform document in the wake of the collapse of the northern kingdom around 721 BCE; only the much smaller state of Judah, the southern kingdom of the Davidic dynasty, remained. To give the book authority, it is composed as an address by the great & gure of Israelite...

    • Fifth Sunday of the Year Job 7:1–4, 6–7; 1 Corinthians 9:16–19, 22–23; Mark 1:29–39
      (pp. B93-B95)

      This Sunday and last Sunday’s Gospel covers what we might call the first day of Jesus’ public ministry, accompanied by his initial band of disciples. Significantly, it is a Sabbath, the Lord’s day. Jesus enters the Capernaum synagogue, preaches and heals a man possessed. Immediately after, he heals Simon’s mother-in-law and then spends the evening at the door of the house, healing many who are sick and possessed. Early the following morning, the disciples find Jesus in a deserted place at prayer and he leads them off to the surrounding towns. What strikes one is how local Jesus’ mission is...

    • Sixth Sunday of the Year Leviticus 13:1–2, 45–46; 1 Corinthians 10:31–11:1; Mark 1:40–45
      (pp. B97-B99)

      Today Mark’s Gospel provides one of those enigmatic passages that can be read in more than one way and creates endless fascination and debate. The first part of the passage that tells how Jesus heals the leper is clear enough. The reading from Leviticus gives us an idea of what leprosy was like and how it was ‘treated’. The term seems to have covered a variety of skin complaints that were thought to be highly contagious. The rules of conduct for a leper were not in principle a sign of heartlessness or cruelty. In a world with few medicines and...

    • Seventh Sunday of the Year Isaiah 43:18–19, 21–22, 24–25; 2 Corinthians 1:18–22; Mark 2:1–12
      (pp. B101-B102)

      The preceding miracle stories in the Gospel of Mark show that Jesus has compassion on those who are a (icted by disease and demonic possession and acts to relieve them of their suffering. But today’s Gospel adds another important reason for the miracles—it is ‘to prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’. The diseased and the possessed become a locus of a crucial divine revelation, a sign to the world that Jesus has come to heal us of something far more destructive than any disease or even demonic possession, and that...

    • Eighth Sunday of the Year Hosea 2:16–17, 21–22; 2 Corinthians 3:1–6; Mark 2:18–22
      (pp. B103-B104)

      Marriage is the key image or metaphor for this Sunday’s readings. In what looks to have been a bold innovation in Israelite theology, the eighth century prophet Hosea invaded the turf of the Canaanite fertility god Baal and stole his theology. The prophet preaches that YHWH not Baal is Israel’s husband and the wedding ceremony and honeymoon had taken place way back in the wilderness. But Israel had forgotten her husband and become a faithless, adulterous wife. She should be divorced. But the prophet, reflecting its seems on his own disastrous marriage, came to the inspired conviction that God would...

    • Ninth Sunday of the Year Deuteronomy 5:12–15; 2 Corinthians 4:6–11; Mark 2:23–3:6
      (pp. B105-B107)

      The Sabbath is not a pressing issue in the modern west. We have our weekends, busy though they may be, and our holidays. Most Christians, I suspect, do not see going to a Sunday liturgy as ‘keeping the Sabbath’. Yet the New Testament focus on it as captured in today’s Gospel is important because of what it says or implies about God and our relationship with God. Jesus’ statement that ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath’ is not in Matthew and Luke. This suggests that it plays a key role in Mark’s Gospel. Whether it...

    • Tenth Sunday of the Year Genesis 3:9–15; 2 Corinthians 4:13–5:1; Mark 3:20–35
      (pp. B109-B110)

      As they say, it’s all about perception and it can be difficult for us human beings to get the right angle on things. In a sense we can never see it all because we are inside our own heads and inside creation. The only person who can offer us the overall true perspective on ourselves and our world is God because, according to faith, God is not part of creation. The Bible’s claim is that it provides something of this divine perspective, as the Vatican II document on Revelation says, that which is ‘for the sake of our salvation’. But...

    • Eleventh Sunday of the Year Ezekiel 17:22–24; 2 Corinthians 5:6–10; Mark 4:26–34
      (pp. B111-B112)

      The reading from Ezekiel is the second part of an extended allegory in which eagles represent the superpowers of his day, presumably Babylon and Egypt, and the twigs and seeds that the eagles pluck up and plant represent the minor players such as the kings of Judah whose fate seems to lie in the hands/claws of the mighty ones. But the way human beings think history is unfolding may be deceptive because, according to the Bible, God is the Lord of history and God’s plans can confound those of any emperor or superpower. The second part of the allegory proclaims...

    • Twelth Sunday of the Year Job 38:1, 8–11; 2 Corinthians 5:14–17; Mark 4:35–41
      (pp. B113-B115)

      I find this Sunday’s Gospel passage one of the most elusive and ambiguous in Mark and for that reason one of the most intriguing. A common interpretation is to see the storm as a manifestation of demonic forces ranged against Jesus. It is argued that Mark may reflect something of the Old Testament notion of creation as order out of chaos, as is evident in the reading from Job. But there is nothing of the demonic in such Old Testament texts. Their heritage was the ancient Near Eastern myths in which unruly elements of creation signaled a struggle between rival...

    • Thirteenth Sunday of the Year Wisdom 1:13–15, 2:23–24; 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13–15; Mark 5:21–43 or 5:21–24, 35–43
      (pp. B117-B118)

      In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus seems caught in the kind of situation that every priest or parent or teacher dreads. Take the priest: he gets a call from a family to go and anoint a relative who is seriously ill; he sets off in a hurry but is sidetracked on the way by another crisis. It takes up his time and he arrives after the sick person has died. The family has been praying and anxiously waiting the priest’s arrival to comfort the sick and dying person but he is too late. One can imagine similar situations with parents, teachers...

    • Fourteenth Sunday of the Year Ezekiel 2:2–5; 2 Corinthians 12:7–10; Mark 6:1–6
      (pp. B119-B121)

      If the preceding Sunday’s readings reveal the faith that sees and hears and leads to salvation, this Sunday’s readings reveal the faith that is blind and deaf and leads to enslavement. A key term or terms in these readings is rebellion and pride. In our modern world, we often celebrate the rebel who bucks the system. If a system, such as a government, becomes bad enough then rebellion and protest can be a good and moral thing to do. But, in the Bible these two terms are generally used in a negative sense and for good reason. They refer primarily...

    • Fifteenth Sunday of the Year Amos 7:12–15; Ephesians 1:3–14 or 1:3–10; Mark 6:7–13
      (pp. B123-B124)

      To the best of our knowledge, Amos preached in the northern kingdom of Israel in the eighth century BCE, sometime before it succumbed to the Assyrians around 721. At the time it was a much more powerful kingdom than Judah and its capital Samaria a much wealthier and grander city than provincial Jerusalem. At the battle of Qarqar a century earlier, a coalition of Palestinian states blocked an early Assyrian advance. The Assyrian records claim that Israel fielded 2,000 chariots at the battle, no puny force. The northern kingdom was able to punch above its weight. When you are an...

    • Sixteenth Sunday of the Year Jeremiah 23:1–6; Ephesians 2:13–18; Mark 6:30–34
      (pp. B125-B126)

      Most organisations these days, and probably also in days or yore, spend a considerable amount of time on mission statements, constructing a prospectus for the future, drawing up ‘the big picture’, identifying priorities. We need these things; they provide a necessary context in which we then try to work out the details of the daily round. As long as the big picture holds together we can bear a certain amount of chaos or disappointment. When it comes to the really big picture however, the welfare and destiny of humanity, it is quite another matter. We can’t get outside our human...

    • Seventeenth Sunday of the Year 2 Kings 4:42–44; Ephesians 4:1–6; John 6:1–15
      (pp. B127-B128)

      This Sunday’s readings invite us to explore further the relationship between our limited individual lives and God’s overall purpose, as was outlined in the readings for the previous Sunday. The little episode about Elisha and the man from Baal-shalishah provides a basic context for our reflections, a kind of model case. The generous farmer is well aware of the limitations of his gift of food; what the prophet requests looks absurd. But God is able to transform the particular gift into something far greater than what the farmer can imagine, yet it is still his gift, the bread and grain...

    • Eighteenth Sunday of the Year Exodus 16:2–4, 12–15; Ephesians 4:17, 20–24; John 6:24–35
      (pp. B129-B130)

      The so-called ‘murmuring in the wilderness’ stories are arresting in the way they pack a lot into what is quite a limited bundle and in their ability to touch the phobias and failures of any generation of readers. As if to try and cram as much as possible into the first example of this kind of story, there is even a rather odd mention of quails, which play no further role in the story. They may be there as a signal that one can tell this kind of story either via the bread or the meat theme (cf the parallel...

    • Nineteenth Sunday of the Year 1 Kings 19:4–8; Ephesians 4:30–5:2; John 6:41–51
      (pp. B131-B132)

      It’s a pity that our first reading does not contain the preceding verse that states Elijah was afraid because the formidable queen Jezebel, devotee of the Tyrian Baal, put out a contract on him. Why so? Because, according to the story, Elijah executed four hundred of her prophets in the wake of his triumph over Baal on Mt Carmel. The text has no command from God about this: does Elijah (as a character in the story) assume that his victory mandates him to do it? The text may be hinting at something important about peak experiences here. Life is about...

    • Twentieth Sunday of the Year Proverbs 9:1–6; Ephesians 5:15–20; John 6:51–58
      (pp. B133-B134)

      The book of Proverbs begins with the author/teacher gradually introducing the pupil (the listener/reader) to Lady Wisdom, the divine source and authority for his teaching. In the reading for today from chapter 9, she is described establishing her school; the pupil is then invited to follow her curriculum in chapters 10–31, at the end of which the pupil graduates. That is, the pupil reaps the benefits of Wisdom’s teaching, which is like being married to the perfect wife (31:10–31). But there is a dangerous rival that the author warns the pupil about—Dame Folly. The uncanny thing about...

    • Twenty First Sunday of the Year Joshua 24:1–2, 15–18; Ephesians 5:21–32; John 6:60–69
      (pp. B135-B136)

      There is a time for talking and there is a time for decision. Our talk can be illuminating and instructive but we can’t cover everything that needs to be said or should be said, and our talk can’t make our decisions for us or make others decide. In the end, we have to consider what we know, interpret our experience and decide what we are going to do. This is the case for discipleship in particular because the Bible’s words are designed to enable us to commit ourselves to God in fruitful relationship. In our first reading, Joshua has delivered...

    • Twenty Second Sunday of the Year Deuteronomy 4:1–2, 6–8; James 1:17–18, 21–22, 27; Mark 7:1–8, 14–15, 21–23
      (pp. B137-B138)

      In the reading from Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people that they must add nothing to the commands that he has passed on to them and take nothing away. The reason for this is that they are ‘ the commandments of the Lord your God’. For Israel to add to or reduce these divine commands would be to imply that they are somehow imperfect. But how can they be so when they come from God and God would not sell Israel short? It would also mean that Israel has assumed divine authority whereas the whole point of the Torah is that...

    • Twenty Third Sunday of the Year Isaiah 35:4–7; James 2:1–5; Mark 7:31–37
      (pp. B139-B140)

      Many, perhaps most, of us would operate with the modern conviction that communication operates primarily via the visual medium. The image is the thing that you need to focus on in order to get your message across. However, a recent research project by an expert in brain scanning has questioned this thesis. According to the newspaper report, he found that the brain responds primarily to sound. If our brains don’t like the advertising jingle or the spoken words accompanying it, we will tend to turn off, even if it is accompanied by a powerful visual image. The ears have it...

    • Twenty Fourth Sunday of the Year Isaiah 50:4–9; James 2:14–18; Mark 8:27–35
      (pp. B141-B142)

      Jesus’ question about who people think he is initially sounds very familiar. After all, we all shape our identity and measure ourselves in response to people’s comments and ideas about us. The presence of the other, the one or ones who are different, helps me to discover who I am. But it can go badly wrong. Look at modern celebrities and sporting champions. They can become hypersensitive to what people and the media are thinking and saying about them. In a way they have to be because their careers and their money depend on it. The sad thing is that...

    • Twenty Fifth Sunday of the Year Wisdom 2:12, 17–20; James 3:16–4:3; Mark 9:30–37
      (pp. B143-B144)

      All three readings for this Sunday draw sharp, even brutal, contrasts between good and bad people and how they live. But they do have one thing in common and that is self-interest. All human beings are self-interested; it’s part of our nature, the result of being self-conscious animals. We all want to be perfect and there is nothing wrong with this; after all, when people in the Gospel ask Jesus how to become perfect he doesn’t send them packing with a reprimand. Rather, he tells them that if they want to be perfect then they should follow him and they...

    • Twenty Sixth Sunday of the Year Numbers 11:25–29; James 5:1–6; Mark 9:38–43, 45, 47–48
      (pp. B145-B146)

      It’s always a challenge when an outsider disturbs our carefully constructed and stable world in some way. Today’s readings provide some examples and outline right and wrong ways of responding to them. The first reading from Numbers invites us to look at the motives behind a hostile attitude to the outsider. Moses has complained to God about the burden of ‘bearing’ the people of Israel and so God arranges to take a portion (just a bit) of Moses’ spirit and distribute it among the elders. It will show Moses just how much spirit God has given him to bear his...

    • Twenty Seventh Sunday of the Year Genesis 2:18–24; Hebrews 2:9–11; Mark 10:2–16 or 10:2–12
      (pp. B147-B148)

      The account of the creation of woman in Genesis begins with God’s authoritative pronouncement ‘It is not good that the man should be alone’ and the decision to ‘make him a helpmate’ (more like ‘a helper corresponding to/like him’ in the Hebrew). The subsequent description of the rib being taken from the man and made into a woman might give the impression that the female is of somewhat lesser status than the male. But this seems to be countered by the statement that a man leaves his father and mother and ‘joins himself to his wife’. The Hebrew verb is...

    • Twenty Eighth Sunday of the Year Wisdom 7:7–11; Hebrews 4:12–13; Mark 10:17–30 or 10:17–27
      (pp. B149-B150)

      The disciples, operating with a traditional version of the act-consequence dynamic with which we all operate in varying degrees, find it very difficult to accept that a rich person is not blessed by God. Having the good things of earth must be a consequence of having done good deeds and the person therefore deserves a heavenly reward. But Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man shows that there is another factor that threatens this nexus—attachment. As Jesus points out how hard it is to be detached from one’s riches, Peter moves swiftly to distance himself and the disciples from...

    • Twenty Ninth Sunday of the Year Isaiah 53:10–11; Hebrews 4:14–16; Mark 10:35–45 or 10:42–45
      (pp. B151-B152)

      As noted in the reflections for the previous Sunday, self-interest is part of our make up and an essential part of our Christian vocation—as long as we can get some purchase on what it is that will truly make us perfect. And we are unlikely to be motivated to seek perfection unless we have some worthwhile notion or idea of it. We all operate through ideas and images and these will be stimulated and shaped by the various experiences that we have. As Mark unfolds his Gospel story, we can presume that James and John have witnessed Jesus’ encounter...

    • Thirtieth Sunday of the Year Jeremiah 31:7–9; Hebrews 5:1–6; Mark 10:46–52
      (pp. B155-B156)

      Things must have looked pretty chaotic to the people of Jeremiah’s day as the superpower Babylon rampaged across the ANE, swamping the little kingdom of Judah in its wake. We fear chaos, particularly when we believe in a God who is Lord of creation and history, who gives meaning to our lives. Ancient Israelites no doubt asked where is the meaning in all this, where is our God in all this? Jeremiah and other prophets sought to provide an answer. Although inspired their responses are limited because, like us, they operate within the context of faith. But their words are...

    • Feast of All Saints Revelation 7:2–4, 9–14; 1 John 3:1–3; Matthew 5:1–12
      (pp. B157-B159)

      The book of Revelation’s dramatic picture of the assembled saints in heaven, ‘a huge number, impossible to count’, is a heartening one for us struggling to emulate them. It’s a very fitting way to end the Bible story of humanity but it also calls to mind, for me at least, the rather less than dramatic and triumphant story of how it all began—the garden story of Adam and Eve.

      Comparing one picture of humanity with the other raises all kinds of questions about the nature of human life and how we get from one to the other. The garden...

    • Thirty First Sunday of the Year Deuteronomy 6:2–6; Hebrews 7:23–28; Mark 12:28–34
      (pp. B161-B162)

      The two commandments that Jesus names in reply to the scribe’s question are straight quotations from the Pentateuch or Torah. The origin of the first one, the command to love God, is clear from our first reading. This is the famousshema’ Israelor ‘hear O Israel’ that commences the synagogue service on the Sabbath. In the book of Deuteronomy it comes after the proclamation of the Decalogue in chapter 5 and commences a series of homilies or paranetic exhortations on the necessity of maintaining exclusive devotion to YHWH and rejection of all other gods. Scholars debate whether Deuteronomy is...

    • Thirty Second Sunday of the Year 1 Kings 17:10–16; Hebrews 9:24–28; Mark 12:38–44 or 12:41–44
      (pp. B163-B164)

      When we Christians think of biblical models of vocation and discipleship we instinctively think of the twelve apostles, the accounts of their call and their troubled journeys as disciples of Jesus. How refreshing, different and challenging then to find that today’s readings about vocation and discipleship focus on women rather than men and in particular, non-Christian women.

      The passage from 1 Kings is to a significant degree about the call of a pagan woman to discipleship. It is a pity that our reading does not include some of the preceding verses that provide the context for the exchange between Elijah...

    • Thirty Third Sunday of the Year Daniel 12:1–3; Hebrews 10:11–14, 18; Mark 13:24–32
      (pp. B165-B166)

      It is sometimes said that the Old Testament proclaims a God of war whereas the New Testament proclaims a God of love. That this is nonsense is evident from a glance at the apocalyptic aspects of the New Testament, in the Gospels and in the book of Revelation. In this book in particular, we have a prophecy of the mother of all battles between the forces of good and the forces of evil and, in keeping with a constant promise in the Bible, God and the forces of good are portrayed as victorious. Associated with this final showdown is the...

    • Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King Daniel 7:13–14; Revelation 1:5–8; John 18:33–37
      (pp. B167-B168)

      This feast and the apocalyptic readings that accompany it are not about the establishment of the kingdom of Christ, or his enthronement as king at the end time. As the psalm for today says ‘your throne has stood firm from of old’. For this reason too, Jesus tells Pilate in the Gospel of John that his kingdom is not the kind that can be threatened by evil powers. If it could, then it would not be of divine origin. Jesus does not become a king through his death and resurrection. As he says ‘Iama king’ and so his...

  10. Extras For Year B
    • Birth of John the Baptist (24 June for 12th Sunday of the Year B: Vigil Mass: Jeremiah 1:4–10; 1 Peter 1:8–12; Luke 1:5–17; Mass of the Day: Isaiah 49:1–6; Acts 13:22–26; Luke 1:57–66, 80)
      (pp. B171-B172)

      The celebration of both the vigil and the feast means that the liturgy can combine Luke’s account of the annunciation of the conception and birth of John the Baptist to his father Zechariah, as well as the account of his birth. The annunciation text crafts a portrait of John and his mission that is drawn from a number of Old Testament texts. The requirement that he refrain from wine and strong drink echoes the announcement of the birth of Samson in Judges 13 but may have the more general requirement of Numbers 6 in mind that anyone who ‘separates themselves...

  11. Select Bibliography
    (pp. B173-B174)
  12. Biblical Index
    (pp. B175-B180)
  13. Subject Index
    (pp. B181-B186)
  14. YEAR C
    • Introduction to the Gospel of Luke (for Year C)
      (pp. C1-C6)

      In contrast to the other Evangelists Luke wrote a two–volume work, the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. The first tells the story of Jesus’ life and ministry, the second that of the fledgling church community that he founded. One of Luke’s aims is to show how the life and ministry of Jesus transforms our understanding of time and place, thereby giving authentic meaning and purpose to human life. He presents Jesus as the one who inaugurates the definitive or final era of God’s saving purpose for the world; he fulfils the promises of the Old Testament. In...

    • First Sunday of Advent Jeremiah 33:14–16; 1 Thessalonians 3:12–4:2; Luke 21:25–28, 34–36
      (pp. C7-C8)

      We spend a lot of time and effort in our modern world trying to secure our future. Perhaps because the future is unknown and therefore uncertain we are driven by a desire to inject some certainty into it, to try and ensure that it comes about in a certain way. I study to become qualified, get a job, obtain financially security, raise a family, and reach retirement, hopefully with sufficient security to settle into what the advertisements present as those (almost) endless and happy senior years. The effort to set all this up takes a lot of our time and...

    • Second Sunday of Advent Baruch 5:1–9; Philippians 1:3–6, 8–11; Luke 3:1–6
      (pp. C9-C10)

      The conviction that the future, the fulfilment that God has prepared for us, is assured can be sorely tested at times. Where do we find the wherewithal to continue hoping in the face of ongoing disappointment, to look beyond the limitations of a particular situation, to see hope for the future where perhaps we least expected it? Our readings for the Second Sunday of Advent offer food for thought in each of these areas via three figures—mother Jerusalem, Paul and John the Baptist.

      Baruch was Jeremiah’s faithful scribe and disciple who accurately recorded and passed on his words. Although...

    • Third Sunday of Advent Zephaniah 3:14–18; Philippians 4:4–7; Luke 3:10–18
      (pp. C11-C12)

      The readings for the Second Sunday of Advent began with Baruch’s vision of God bringing ‘mother’ Jerusalem’s children back to her. This Sunday’s reading from Zephaniah speaks of daughter Jerusalem. The normal sequence is from virgin daughter to wife and mother but there may be more than initially meets the eye in this arrangement. Perhaps the Zephaniah reading was selected because it prophesies that the Lord ‘is in your midst’ and ‘will exult over you’ as a spouse exults over his bride. If the Baruch text exhorts believers to ‘watch’ for God coming from the east, the Zephaniah text envisages...

    • Fourth Sunday of Advent Micah 5:1–4; Hebrews 10:5–10; Luke 1:39–44
      (pp. C13-C14)

      In our age of computers and mobile phones, we tend to toss words around with gay abandon, like millionaires tossing away banknotes. Perhaps it’s a way of maintaining a certain distance and freedom amid the welter of words, or a fear of being trapped by them. Things were different in ancient times; words were carefully weighed, particularly written words, because the nexus between word and action was, it seems, much stronger. The Hebrew term for word ‘dabar’ also stands for ‘thing/event’. Of course, writing at that time was expensive (think of the number of sheep skins needed for a biblical...

    • Christmas Isaiah 9:1–7; Titus 2:11–14; Luke 2:1–14
      (pp. C15-C16)

      It is appropriate that Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus gets pride of place in the readings for Christmas—at both the midnight and dawn masses. It is the most detailed account and is fascinating for the contrast it draws between our world and God’s. Luke begins with the census decreed by Caesar Augustus and how the chain of command in the vast Roman bureaucracy operates to implement the emperor’s word. It works its way out from the centre through ‘officials’ to the boundaries of the empire. One has the impression that Luke understands the Roman world pretty well...

    • Holy Family (Sunday after Christmas) Ecclesiasticus 3:2–6, 12–14; Colossians 3:12–21; Luke 2:41–52
      (pp. C19-C20)

      When we think of the Holy Family, we normally have in mind Mary, Joseph and Jesus. But what kind of Holy Family does Luke (and God who inspired him) have in mind in the Gospel for our feast? Jesus disappears and Mary and Joseph eventually find him in the temple busy with his Father’s affairs—and they do not understand what he means. One way of reading Luke is that via this passage he is sending an early signal to the reader that Jesus came to reveal the ‘Holy Family’ of the Father, Son and Spirit and that we are...

    • Mary the Mother of God Numbers 6:22–27; Galatians 4:4–7; Luke 2:16–21
      (pp. C21-C22)

      The famous blessing in Numbers that Aaron and his sons are to pronounce over the people of Israel celebrates the greatest boundary ‘violation’ that the Old Testament could conceive: God dwelling on earth among the people. It’s a big moment and the Old Testament provides a long prelude to it.

      The Bible begins with a story of boundary violation; Adam and Eve wanting to transcend the human condition and be like God. Paradoxically, this boundary violation creates a barrier between them and God from whom they now hide. Same God but now perceived as someone to fear rather than to...

    • The Epiphany Isaiah 60:1–6; Ephesians 3:2–3, 5–6; Matthew 2:1–12
      (pp. C23-C25)

      The Greek term Epiphany means a ‘manifestation’, especially a manifestation of the presence of the Divine in our world. This does not mean that God drops in from time to time, making as it were the occasional visit after creating the whole thing many billions of years ago. God does not inhabit any world because God is creator not a creature. No matter how many billions of universes we may discover God is present to all as creator without being part of any of them; without the creator’s presence they and we would cease to exist. We are the creatures...

    • Baptism of the Lord Isaiah 42:1–4, 6–7; Acts of the Apostles 10:34–38; Luke 3:15–16, 21–22
      (pp. C27-C29)

      If modern commentators on the book of Isaiah are right and today’s reading was formulated during the Babylonian exile of the sixth century BCE then it is an extraordinary text. Where one might expect a prophecy of God’s triumph over the foreign power that has enslaved God’s people, we are introduced to a servant of God who will ‘bring true justice to the nations’. True justice, the justice of God, means peace and promotion of the ‘cause of right’; there will be no clamorous military parades through the streets before cowed onlookers, no smashing of enemies reduced to impotence. Some...

    • First Sunday of Lent Deuteronomy 26:4–10; Romans 10:8–13; Luke 4:1–13
      (pp. C31-C32)

      Paul’s opening line in our second reading for this Sunday provides a nice summary of Scripture: The word, that is the faith we proclaim, is very near to you’. Scripture is a proclamation of faith in words and this means that it is not history in the sense of recording the past, although it will use traditions, stories, songs and some facts from history to proclaim its faith. Each of the Gospels is a proclamation of faith and each employs traditions about Jesus and creates his story in a somewhat different manner. Thus, Mark’s account of the temptation of Jesus...

    • Second Sunday of Lent Genesis 15:5–12, 17–18; Philippians 3:17–4:1; Luke 9:28–36
      (pp. C33-C34)

      We live in an era that hankers for the definitive or peak experience and we can spend a lot of time and money trying to make it happen. In the religious arena, there can be a tendency to think that the people of biblical times had it better than us: after all they were inspired by the Holy Spirit to produce the Bible, and the disciples had the extraordinary good fortune to live with Jesus. If only we could recapture something of their experience—and Lent can be seen as just the time to try and do so. One of...

    • Third Sunday of Lent Exodus 3:1–8, 13–15, 1 Corinthians 10:1–6, 10–12. Luke 13:1–9
      (pp. C35-C36)

      Our readings for the Third Sunday of Lent bring home the importance of making decisions, and hopefully making the right ones. Having the dignity to make decisions about our life is a mark of freedom and the Bible has a deep respect for this. It invites, challenges and commands, but it never imposes. One reason for this of course is that the Bible is the Word of God and as a lover God never imposes on the beloved—our selves. This would deny our freedom to accept or reject.

      The reading from the Gospel touches on two very topical areas...

    • Fourth Sunday of Lent Joshua 5:9–12; 2 Corinthians 5:17–21; Luke 15:1–3, 11–32
      (pp. C37-C38)

      Last Sunday’s readings offered an opportunity to explore, in a brief way, a major theological topic in the Bible: the God–given freedom to make decisions and the importance of them. This Sunday’s readings, and in particular the classic parable of the prodigal son, offers an opportunity to explore another topic that permeates much of the Old and New Testaments: our distorted perception of reality. The Bible begins with it (almost) in the Garden story: once the couple fall for the serpent’s advertising blurb (eat this and you will be divine) their perception of things becomes distorted: what was seen...

    • Fifth Sunday of Lent Isaiah 43:16–21; Philippians 3:8–14; John 8:1–11
      (pp. C39-C40)

      For a people languishing in exile in Babylon, and elsewhere in the Babylonian Empire, this passage from Isaiah may well have appeared quite outrageous or at least improbable. It promises an imminent deliverance by God that will put the exodus from Egypt (‘a way through the sea’) in the shade. Israelites may be skeptical but, jackals and ostriches, animals that are evidently not easily impressed, will give honour to God! However, the really striking feature of this text for readers of any generation is the reason why God is resolved to deliver ‘my chosen people, whom I formed for myself’....

    • Palm Sunday of the Passion Isaiah 50:4–7; Philippians 2:6–11; Luke 22:14–23:56 or 23:1–49
      (pp. C41-C42)

      The names for this Sunday, Palm or Passion Sunday, as well as the readings, invite us to compare the account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the account of his passion and death. A common interpretation of the arrangement of Luke’s Gospel sees Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as a key stage in a journey that begins in 9:51—‘he set his face to go to Jerusalem’. There is the journey to Jerusalem, the entry into the city and teaching in the temple, and the climax of the journey with Jesus’ death and resurrection. The journey begins with Jesus sending messengers...

    • Holy Thursday Exodus 12:1–8, 11–14; 1 Corinthians 11:23–26; John 13:1–15
      (pp. C43-C44)

      The Eucharist is a powerful symbol of how the extraordinary, the divine, can be present in what looks to be so earthy and ordinary. Holy Thursday provides the prime occasion in the liturgical year to celebrate this.

      The account of the Passover in Exodus provides its own powerful example of the divine in the ordinary and how God makes it extraordinary. Nothing could look more ordinary and innocuous to the outsider than a bunch of slaves eating a simple meal in the ghettoes of a foreign land (here Egypt): this is what slaves do and always have done. But the...

    • Good Friday Isaiah 52:13–53:12; Hebrews 4:14–16; 5:7–9; John 18:1–19:42
      (pp. C45-C47)

      The following reflection is on the Passion Narrative according to John, the one customarily read on Good Friday. A reflection on the Passion Narrative according to Luke, the one for Year C, is provided in the reflections for Palm or Passion Sunday. There is a fine terracotta ‘Deposition’ in a church in Bologna, just off the main piazza. To one side is Mary Magdalene weeping and rushing to embrace the dead body of Jesus; to the other side is Mary the wife of Clopas, grieving at the sight of a mother with her dead son. The foreground has Mary with...

    • Easter Genesis 1:1–2:2 or 1:1, 26–31; Genesis 22:1–18; Exodus 14:15–15:1; Isaiah 54:5–14; Isaiah 55:1–11; Baruch 3:9–15, 32–4:4; Ezekiel 36:16–17a, 18–28 Romans 6:3–11; Luke 24:1–12
      (pp. C49-C51)

      As one listens to the series of Old Testament readings during the Easter vigil, one could be forgiven for thinking that God has an almighty ego. When Abraham passes God’s ‘test’ of detachment from his son Isaac, God does not say ‘blessed are you Abraham’ but ‘now I know you fear God’. According to the reading from Exodus, the whole purpose of the deliverance at the sea is that the Egyptians and Israel ‘will learn that I am the Lord’. There is no let up in the subsequent readings either. According to the two passages from Isaiah, the Lord is...

    • Second Sunday of Easter Acts 5:12–16; Revelation 1:9–13, 17–19; John 20:19–31
      (pp. C53-C54)

      An extraordinary thing about the resurrection of Jesus, so our readings for this Sunday imply, is that although it is nothing less than a revolution in the way one thinks about God, about Jesus, and about our selves, it brings peace. The peace referred to in our readings is not the ‘rest’ that we hope to enjoy in the afterlife but a peace that touches our lives on earth, and it is pretty lively. The resurrection signals a transformation in our lives even now. The key of course is the gift of the Spirit; the sign that Jesus died and...

    • Third Sunday of Easter Acts 5:27–32, 40–41; Revelation 5:11–14; John 21:1–19
      (pp. C55-C56)

      In Christ’s death and resurrection we have been reconciled with God and with one another, and made heirs of the kingdom. This is a key element of our faith but it does not mean that after his ascension Jesus passed the baton to the Holy Spirit and took a well–earned break. His reconciling ‘work’ goes on, as this passage in John’s Gospel reveals. It is a sensitive portrayal of the human and divine in Jesus. We have discovered how important it is for reconciliation that the parties involved ‘revisit’ the past in a way that enables them to identify...

    • Fourth Sunday of Easter Acts 13:14, 43–52; Revelation 7:9, 14–17; John 10:27–30
      (pp. C57-C58)

      After celebrating the joy of Easter in the preceding Sundays, this week’s readings sound a more sombre note. Although the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, tells about the great moments of our salvation it never loses sight of the reality of the human condition ‘in via’, with its triumphs and failures, its loves and hatreds, its hopes and fears.

      In the reading from Acts, Paul and Barnabas are preaching the good news of the resurrection in Antioch and having considerable success. But no pastor likes to see his or her congregation going elsewhere and so the Jews of the...

    • Fifth Sunday of Easter Acts 14:21–27; Revelation 21:1–5; John 13:31–35
      (pp. C59-C60)

      It is initially rather disconcerting that the Gospel reading for this Fifth Sunday of Easter takes us back to the beginning of John’s account of Jesus’ passion and death. The passage begins with the remark that Judah left the last supper gathering— to betray Jesus. A clue is however provided by the words of Jesus that immediately follow and which refer to his glorification and the glorification of the Father. Paradoxically, Judas’s action that will consign Jesus to the grave is the act that commences his glorification—his return to the Father from whom he came. And he returns to...

    • Sixth Sunday of Easter Acts 15:1–2, 22–29; Revelation 21:10–14, 22–23; John 14:23–29
      (pp. C61-C63)

      As our Easter Season approaches Ascension and Pentecost, the liturgy contains a Gospel reading that refers to the Holy Spirit. Appropriately for this pre–Pentecost Sunday, the chosen passage speaks of the Spirit within the larger context of the mission of Jesus and the relationship between Jesus and the Father.

      Our passage is part of Jesus’ farewell discourse at the last supper. But this is a farewell that, in a sense, rewrites much of what one might expect from a farewell discourse. In the customary farewell, and there are a number of examples in the Bible, the leader provides final...

    • Ascension of the Lord Acts 1:1–11; Ephesians 1:17–23; Luke 24:46–53
      (pp. C65-C66)

      The account of Jesus’ ascension plays two important roles in the New Testament and we can see them in these readings. On the one hand it brings the accounts of the resurrection to a conclusion: it is effectively the last resurrection story because the resurrection is about Jesus rising to glory. Once the disciples came to believe that their master had risen from the dead, the resurrection appearances needed to come to an end; to have the ongoing expectation of Jesus appearing on earth would have distracted the disciples and the Church from its mission to preach the Gospel. It...

    • Pentecost Sunday Acts 2:1–11; 1 Corinthians 12:3–7, 12–13; John 20:19–23
      (pp. C67-C68)

      Luke’s setting of the gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts may well have in mind the Jewish tradition of commemorating on the fiftieth day the theophany at Mt. Sinai that heralded the great gift of the Torah (Exodus 19). According to this account God descended in a mighty storm, in fire and smoke, and spoke the words of the covenant. According to Luke’s account in our reading the coming of the Holy Spirit is heralded by a mighty wind and by tongues of fire and it is the apostles who speak about the marvels of God. The Word of...

    • Trinity Sunday Proverbs 8:22–31; Romans 5:1–5; John 16:12–15
      (pp. C69-C70)

      Drawing contrasts can help to sharpen our ideas, and we all work with ideas of God. Try this one from a few thousand years ago. In the beginning a father (heaven) and mother (earth) god begot a brood of divine children to look after the various aspects of creation. But they, jealous of mum and dad’s relaxed life–style, went on strike. Mum and dad put their heads together and came up with the idea of another being to do these menial tasks—the human being. But, to ensure there were no more rebellions, they placed a drum inside human...

    • Body and Blood of Christ Genesis 14:18–20; 1 Corinthians 11:23–26; Luke 9:11–17
      (pp. C71-C72)

      Taken by itself, the famous miracle story of the loaves and fishes does not really point to the Eucharist. It is, along with the extraordinary catch of fish, the healing of people afflicted by disease, another miracle story. The founders and holy men and women of other religions are associated with miracles. When teaching in Pakistan some years ago I was taken to visit one of the ancient city sites in the Punjab and saw nearby a large white-washed tomb of a famous Sufi mystic. Around it were crutches, flowers, gifts and messages of thanks from those who believed his...

    • Second Sunday of the Year Isaiah 62:1–5; 1 Corinthians 12:4–11; John 2:1–12
      (pp. C73-C74)

      There is a lot of talk these days about our rights and responsibilities, and rightly so. We expect to enjoy appropriate rights but we acknowledge that we also need to ensure, as far as possible, that others enjoy these same rights. Rights and responsibilities are crucial in developing the relationship between individual and society, quite a challenge for the modern western world with its emphasis on the individual.

      Another way, a biblical way, of thinking about rights and responsibilities is gifts and commitment. The ‘theological’ value of this terminology is that it reminds us of God’s initiative: we receive appropriate...

    • Third Sunday of the Year Nehemiah 8:2–6, 8–10; 1 Corinthians 12:12–30; Luke 1:1–4; 4:14–21
      (pp. C75-C76)

      There is a wonderful commonality between the first reading from Nehemiah and the Gospel reading from Luke. In both passages, the word of God is addressed to those who are in need, who effectively have nothing. The people to whom Ezra the scribe proclaims the law are the returnees from the Babylonian exile and those who had joined them from the ones left in the land. They had no king, no land to call their own (Judah was a province of Persia), no temple. Yet here they were being ‘given’ the law just as their ancestors had received this great...

    • Fourth Sunday of the Year Jeremiah 1:4–5, 17–19; 1 Corinthians 12:31–13:13; Luke 4:21–30
      (pp. C77-C79)

      In our second reading Paul says that ‘I am going to show you a way that is better than any of them’. The way of love Paul describes is the perfect way because it is God’s way: there is no other way for God to be and act. God is love. Hence, when we love in the way Paul outlines in this famous passage, we are truly in the image and likeness of God. A fortiori therefore, this way of love must be the reason for God calling Jeremiah to be a prophet and for Jesus to commence his public...

    • Fifth Sunday of the Year Isaiah 6:1–8; 1 Corinthians 15:1–11; Luke 5:1–11
      (pp. C81-C82)

      There is no escaping the dominant theme in the readings for this Sunday—vocation. It is interesting that we favour this term whereas our biblical authors might have described vocation, if asked, as ‘God’s call’. Their emphasis is clearly on the divine initiative. But, there is enough evidence in biblical texts to give our more human oriented, individualistic term—my vocation—some currency. Each vocation is unique to each individual.

      The common elements in our readings point to a powerful and enduring theology of vocation in biblical tradition. Each one begins with an encounter with God; for Isaiah it is...

    • Sixth Sunday of the Year Jeremiah 17:5–8; 1 Corinthians 15:12, 16–20; Luke 6:17, 20–26
      (pp. C83-C84)

      If the preceding Sunday’s readings invited us to think about our vocation, our being called by God, this Sunday’s readings invite reflection on some of the consequences. Take the text from Jeremiah for example. It comes immediately after a passage that condemns Judah for sin that ‘is written with an iron pen; with a diamond point’ (17:1). Jeremiah 17:5–8 provides a theological justification for the accusation and the terrible consequences that will follow by appealing to divine authority: God will see to it that the good are rewarded/blessed and the wicked punished/cursed (suffer the consequences of their actions). One...

    • Seventh Sunday of the Year 1 Samuel 26:2, 7–9, 12–13, 22–23; 1 Corinthians 15:45–49; Luke 6:27–38
      (pp. C85-C86)

      As one reads the story of David’s daring infiltration of Saul’s army camp, his reason for doing so is initially not clear. His companion Abishai knows what a warrior normally does to an enemy: ‘let me pin him to the ground’. But David rebukes him, refusing to ‘raise my hand against the Lord’s anointed’ and retires to speak conciliatory rather than hostile words to Saul. David emerges from this episode in their power struggle as the better man. Many commentators argue that there may be more than a dash of self– serving propaganda in this story. Verses 22–24 can...

    • Eighth Sunday of the Year Ecclesiasticus 27:4–7; 1 Corinthians 14:54–58; Luke 6:39–45
      (pp. C87-C88)

      The context for this Sunday’s Gospel is Jesus’ sermon on the plain (not the mountain as in Matthew) addressed to his disciples. Jesus has just completed a teaching on the importance of love and forgiveness and now he provides a series of parables that provide instruction about the relationship between teacher and disciples. His disciples will in due course be commissioned to be the bearers of Jesus’ teaching.

      The first point is that there is no point becoming a disciple of someone who does not know what a teacher should know and who cannot instruct. This is like the blind...

    • Ninth Sunday of the Year 1 Kings 8:41–43; Galatians 1:1–2, 6–10; Luke 7:1–10
      (pp. C89-C90)

      All three readings today are in a way about ourselves, because we are the Gentiles. The reading from 1 Kings is selected from Solomon’s long prayer of dedication for the newly completed temple in Jerusalem. After petitioning God to hear the prayers that Israelites will make, either in or towards the temple depending where they are, in our reading he makes much the same plea for the foreigner. An interesting feature of Solomon’s prayer is that he does not pray for foreigners to become Israelites in order that they may thereby become acceptable to God. The focus of the prayer...

    • Tenth Sunday of the Year 1 Kings 17:17–24; Galatians 1:11–19; Luke 7:11–17
      (pp. C91-C92)

      One might expect the Bible to tell us everything because it is the Word of God, but it doesn’t. In many ways it is a collection of bits and pieces. Even extended narratives about figures such as David and Jesus are highly selective. When you think about it no author, even an inspired one, is able to record a full account of anyone’s life or treat every angle on an issue. There is just too much to absorb; we are limited creatures and have to make selections. In this sense the Bible is simply reflecting the fact that, though inspired,...

    • Eleventh Sunday of the Year 2 Samuel 12:7–10, 13; Galatians 2:16, 19–21; Luke 7:36–8:3
      (pp. C93-C95)

      We all know the Gospel injunction ‘do not judge and you will not be judged yourselves’. Yet we can’t help but make judgements; our minds are geared to distinguish between what we think is good and bad. What the Gospel injunction presumably is targeting is the misuse of our faculty of judgement. Our readings for this Sunday provide some timely warnings about how we can judge in the wrong way. The first two readings focus on the way we judge ourselves. We can for example, lose all sense of right or wrong about our actions because of a variety of...

    • Twelfth Sunday of the Year Zechariah 12:10–11; Galatians 3:26–29; Luke 9:18–24
      (pp. C97-C98)

      As they say, it all depends on how we see things and this makes it difficult for us to agree on what we see. Many think that awareness of what we call ‘the subjective factor’ is a contribution of modern philosophical thought. This may well be true but it seems to me that our readings for this Sunday are also dealing with this problem and they do so by claiming that, with God’s help, our perspective on things can change and different people can agree about what they see. In short, the Bible claims to offer God’s perspective on things...

    • Thirteenth Sunday of the Year 1 Kings 19:16, 19–21; Galatians 5:1, 13–18; Luke 9:51–62
      (pp. C99-C100)

      Discipleship appears to be the leading theme of this Sunday’s readings. I detect three elements of discipleship here: there are no doubt more but hopefully these three may provide some food for thought. One element is the impact that the call to discipleship has on our perception of our selves. The second is the impact it has on our idea of God—and we all operate with an idea or ideas of God. The third is the impact it has on our existing relationships.

      Paul warns his Galatian community to be careful about exercising the freedom that comes with faith...

    • Fourteenth Sunday of the Year Isaiah 66:10–14; Galatians 6:14–18; Luke 10:1–12, 17–20
      (pp. C101-C102)

      In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus sends seventy two (some versions have seventy) on the mission. A word to note in the text is ‘others’. This group is different to the twelve who are sent out in similar fashion at the beginning of chapter 9. Luke is the only Evangelist who recounts this second mission and one may presume it is for significant reasons. It is worth looking briefly at the fortunes of the twelve before comparing them with the seventy two. According to 9:6 they preached the Good News and cured diseases everywhere. On their return, Jesus begins to teach...

    • Fifteenth Sunday of the Year Deuteronomy 30:10–14; Colossians 1:15–20; Luke 10:25–27
      (pp. C103-C104)

      According to the book of Deuteronomy, the word of God comes from God to Moses on the mountain, symbolising the meeting point between God and creature, between heaven and earth, then from Moses to the people who hear his words, and then into their mouths and hearts—as expressed in our reading from Deuteronomy. It is what we might call a very incarnational theology of the revealed Word of God: it enters into the core of our being to transform the way we think, speak and act but without impinging on our freedom. Indeed, according to Old Testament theology, the...

    • Sixteenth Sunday of the Year Genesis 18:1–10; Colossians 1:24–28; Luke 10:38–42
      (pp. C107-C108)

      The story of Abraham’s encounter with the three men at the oak of Mamre celebrates that hospitality for which the Middle East is famous, but with a delightful twist to it. Abraham and Sarah act as the generous hosts to three strangers, giving them the best they have to offer. But, as the story unfolds, one of the strangers turns into a very special kind of host with a unique gift, a child for the aged husband and his barren wife. Even though this passage forms a key part of the theme of the promise of an heir in the...

    • Seventeenth Sunday of the Year Genesis 18:20–32; Colossians 2:12–14; Luke 11:1–13
      (pp. C109-C110)

      A significant difference between the two versions of the Lord’s Prayer or Our Father in Luke and Matthew is the way they are introduced. In the Matthean version (6:7–13), Jesus recommends the disciples to ‘pray in this way’ or ‘like this’. The prayer that follows therefore is an instruction about how to pray. In the Lucan version, Jesus tells to disciples to ‘say’ the Lord’s prayer. Hence, the Lord’s Prayer is both a prayer and an instruction or catechesis about how one should pray. What is also significant about the Lord’s Prayer is that, as an instruction, it reveals...

    • Eighteenth Sunday of the Year Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2:21–23; Colossians 3:1–5, 9–11; Luke 12:13–21
      (pp. C111-C113)

      One could say that the author of the book we call Ecclesiastes and which the Hebrew tradition calls Qoheleth (the preacher) is the first sociologist in the biblical period. The book is generally thought to be a late work and probably reflects the impact of Greek thinking. Whatever the case, our author functions rather like a modern scientist, outlining the various experiments he undertook, the results he collated, and the conclusions he drew. Like most of us, he wanted to measure the vagaries of life and gain some knowledge of things so as to plan life. His scientific conclusion is...

    • Nineteenth Sunday of the Year Wisdom 18:6–9; Hebrews 11:1–2, 8–19; Luke 12:32–48
      (pp. C115-C116)

      These readings share the theme of faith/trust but, as St Paul saw in 1 Corinthians, faith, hope and love go together. You can’t have one without the others and while Christianity claims a special kind of faith, hope and love that we call the theological virtues, these are built on values that are common to all humanity. One can see the presence of hope in the reference to ‘the expectation of your people’ in the reading from Wisdom, in the ‘real/better homeland’ in the reading from Hebrews, and the combination of hope and love in Jesus’ statement that ‘where your...

    • Twentieth Sunday of the Year Jeremiah 38:4–6, 8–10; Hebrews 12:1–4; Luke 12:49–53
      (pp. C117-C118)

      In Luke 2:14 the angels proclaim ‘peace on earth’ at the birth of Jesus. The contrast with this Sunday’s Gospel could not be sharper: ‘Do you suppose I am here to bring peace on earth? No I tell you, but rather division’. How to relate them? Luke does not tell us explicitly how to do so but the way his Gospel unfolds presumably supplies some clues. Our passage falls within the section of the Gospel that begins (according to a widespread opinion) with 9:51 where Jesus ‘set his face to go to Jerusalem’, a journey that is marked by increasing...

    • Twenty First Sunday of the Year Isaiah 66:18–21; Hebrews 12:5–7, 11–13; Luke 13:22–30
      (pp. C119-C120)

      Our readings from Isaiah and Luke’s Gospel challenge us to think about our notions of insider and outsider, who is fit for the kingdom of God and who isn’t. The passage from Isaiah, or what many scholars now think is part of a subsequent addition to the book (that is, chapters 56–66), portrays God summoning people of every language and commissioning them to ‘proclaim my glory to the nations’. This could have proved quite a challenge for an Israelite audience, particularly those schooled in the theology of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah that effectively ban marriages with foreigners...

    • Twenty Second Sunday of the Year Ecclesiasticus 3:17–20, 28–29; Hebrews 12:18–19, 22–24; Luke 14:1, 7–14
      (pp. C121-C122)

      Our Gospel reading shows again how vitally interested Jesus is in our self–interest. We are called to love our neighbour as we love ourselves and this presumably means that if we don’t love ourselves then it is going to be pretty difficult to love our neighbour, and of course vice–versa. The trick is getting self–love or self–interest right by not letting it slide into selfishness. Each person needs to discover and acknowledge his or her true self and love that, because God certainly does. Denying the false or sinful self is a vital step on the...

    • Twenty Third Sunday of the Year Wisdom 9:13–18; Philemon 9–10, 12–17; Luke 14:25–33
      (pp. C123-C124)

      One might summarise this Sunday’s Gospel under the heading ‘the cost of discipleship’, but then again, no summary is entirely adequate. From a somewhat different perspective, one could also say it is about ‘the nature of discipleship’. I would suggest that this is the more fundamental thrust of the passage: once one becomes aware of the true nature of Christian discipleship, we also become aware that we are quite unable to pay the membership fee: the ‘cost’ in human terms is beyond us.

      What is the nature of Christian discipleship according to this reading? It has two sides. First, it...

    • Twenty Fourth Sunday of the Year Exodus 32:7–11, 13–14; 1 Timothy 1:12–17; Luke 15:1–32
      (pp. C125-C126)

      When one thinks about it, the exchange between God and Moses in the reading from Exodus is quite extraordinary. Moses is portrayed arguing successfully with God to reconsider; and not just once for it happens again in Numbers 14. Other Old Testament texts, such as 1 Samuel 15:29, claim that God does not reconsider and change, ‘because he is not a mortal’. This, I would think, sits more comfortably with our notion of God. However, the Old Testament did not have modern conventions in mind and if, for the sake of the theological point being made, the story needs God’s...

    • Twenty Fifth Sunday of the Year Amos 8:4–7; 1 Timothy 2:1–8; Luke 16:1–13
      (pp. C129-C130)

      The Bible always surprises me with its ability to surprise. You think you know the text and its meaning; you look at it again, perhaps in another situation and from another angle, in the light of someone’s remark, and it takes on a new meaning. Take the parable of the dodgy steward in today’s Gospel reading for example. Jesus follows the parable with a couple of questions: if you (that includes us) cannot be trusted with money who will trust you with genuine riches; if you cannot be trusted with what is not yours, who will give you what is...

    • Twenty Sixth Sunday of the Year Amos 6:1, 4–7; 1 Timothy 6:11–16; Luke 16:19–31
      (pp. C131-C132)

      As with last Sunday’s reading from Amos the prophet, this one targets the gross social injustice of his day in the capitals of the two rival kingdoms, Samaria of Israel and Jerusalem of Judah. But there is an added element in today’s reading that we can apply to our other readings as well—the ones living the life of luxury do not care about ‘the ruin of Joseph’. They are so absorbed in their luxurious world that the plight of their society does not even register a blip on their radar. Jesus’ parable takes this failing a step further: not...

    • Twenty Seventh Sunday of the Year Habakkuk 1:2–3, 2:2–4; 2 Timothy 1:6–8, 13–14; Luke 17:5–10
      (pp. C133-C134)

      The Gospel passage from Luke comes directly after Jesus’ instruction on how Christians are to forgive others who repent and seek forgiveness. They are to be forgiving ‘seven times a day’ which is a perfect biblical number—in effect it means always. The disciples, clearly shocked by this demand, ask for an increase in faith. Even more challenging is the instruction that follows for them and for us. We should not think that, because we manage to forgive others ‘seven times a day’, this is a sign of personal greatness and that we are thereby elevated to an elite position...

    • Twenty Eighth Sunday of the Year 2 Kings 5:14–17; 2 Timothy 2:8–13; Luke 17:11–19
      (pp. C135-C136)

      The Hebrew word translated as leprosy in the first reading and in the Gospel referred not just to leprosy as we now think of it but to a wide range of skin complaints and even such things as mould on buildings. What linked them together was the sense of an alien intrusion that disfigures. People of ancient times no doubt pitied lepers but they had to be set apart for hygienic reasons: leprosy as then understood was regarded as a highly contagious condition about which little could be done. Hence, to be a leper was rather like being in prison;...

    • Twenty Ninth Sunday of the Year Exodus 17:8–13; 2 Timothy 3:14–4:2; Luke 18:1–8
      (pp. C139-C140)

      The fascinating thing about this Sunday’s readings is that the passage from Second Timothy provides great material for a reflection on the purpose of Scripture, but the other two readings are not the kind I would instinctively select to illustrate that purpose. Blessed be liturgists whose reasons for choosing texts are often quite mysterious but who nevertheless provide some interesting challenges.

      The Scriptures that Second Timothy refers to are of course the Old Testament, most likely in its Greek or Septuagint version; in Timothy’s days there was no New Testament. But a major challenge for the early Church as a...

    • Thirtieth Sunday of the Year Ecclesiasticus 35:12–14, 16–19; 2 Timothy 4:6–8, 16–18; Luke 18:9–14
      (pp. C141-C142)

      If you compare the reading from Second Timothy with the parable in Luke’s Gospel passage, the similarities between Paul’s personal assessment and that of the Pharisee are striking. Both seem to be blowing their own trumpet with considerable gusto, but no one would say that Paul is like the Pharisee. Why is this so? Presumably because we instinctively place the Pauline proclamation within the larger context of what we know about Paul’s career and his frank admission that he was a persecutor of the Church, the worst of sinners and quite unworthy to be called an apostle. It is on...

    • Thirty First Sunday of the Year Wisdom 11:22–12:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:11–2:2; Luke 19:1–10
      (pp. C143-C144)

      This delightful Gospel passage from Luke resonates so well with our modern world and its fascination with celebrities. They enter our lives like visitors from another planet, draw a huge crowd, create a sensation and then disappear as they came. People will swear on a stack of Bibles that the celebrity’s visit is the greatest experience they have ever had and that it has changed their lives forever. Another celebrity jets in a week or so later, draws a huge crowd, creates a sensation and leaves people gushing just as enthusiastically as about the first one. We think it is...

    • Thirty Second Sunday of the Year 2 Maccabees 7:1–2, 9–14; 2 Thessalonians 2:16–3:5; Luke 20:27–38
      (pp. C145-C146)

      There are three main themes that this Sunday’s readings bring to mind; they are all related in some way because they are about how the ‘eye of faith’ shapes our perception of things. Within Catholicism, most of us probably take the doctrine of the resurrection for granted to the extent that we give it little thought—until the day draws near. It is good therefore to have readings from 2 Maccabees and Luke’s Gospel that remind us how mind blowing the notion must initially have been, and how it generated strong reactions for and against. Second Maccabees is a very...

    • Thirty Third Sunday of the Year Malachi 3:19–20; 2 Thessalonians 3:7–12; Luke 21:5–19
      (pp. C147-C149)

      As we near the end of the liturgical year, a selection of readings from apocalyptic literature or readings with apocalyptic themes are offered. This Greek term means ‘to uncover’ or reveal, with the emphasis being on the uncovering or revealing of the final stage or stages of God’s saving plan. A common view is that apocalyptic writing emerged as a response to times of crisis, when faith was sorely tested by evil or uncertainty. In the midst of all signs to the contrary it proclaims (uncovers) the ultimate triumph of the purpose of God and thereby encourages one to maintain...

    • Feast of Christ the King 2 Samuel 5:1–3; Colossians 1:11–20; Luke 23:35–43
      (pp. C151-C152)

      According to ancient Near Eastern thought, for example the Sumerian king list, kingship ‘was lowered from heaven’ and so was part of the very structure of creation. Hence it could not be tampered with (cf the notion of the divine right of kings in European tradition). The Old Testament takes a different line or, one should probably say more accurately, lines. It contains texts that portray monarchy arising as a result of the demand of the people and God’s reluctant permission (1 Samuel 8). The same chapter even has a verse that claims an Israelite king is a rejection of...

  15. Select Bibliography
    (pp. C153-C154)
  16. Biblical Index
    (pp. C155-C160)
  17. Subject Index
    (pp. C161-C165)