27th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Fruitful by God’s Grace

Photo by James Lee on Unsplash

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 5:1-7
October 4, 2020

This week we read from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. Three prophets used the name Isaiah. We have been looking mostly at the two who spoke during and after the return of the Jews to Jerusalem in the 6th century BC. The Isaiah we will examine today tells us very clearly that he began his ministry in 742 BC within the southern kingdom of Judea. King Uzziah died the year he was called. This is significant. 

Uzziah had reigned for 40 years and had greatly increased the GDP of his kingdom. But he did so by favoring and elite and creating prosperity for some by taking the properties of those not connected to the powerful. This was compounded by his successors who made alliances with Assyria requiring the Judeans to pay vast sums in protection money which the rich managed to avoid further impoverishing the peasants. It is clear why in the very first chapter of Isaiah God says to the people:   Continue reading “27th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Fruitful by God’s Grace”

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Being Fashioned Anew

St. Matthew and the Angel, Rembrandt, c. 1661, Louvre

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the First Reading
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ezekiel 18:25-28
September 27, 2020

We return today to the time of the exile in Babylon. It is, in some ways, the most impressive story in the history of the Jewish People. As we have seen in so many readings during the year, the leaders of the Jews were deported to Babylon from 597 to 587 BC. After the Assyrians defeated the Babylonians in 537 BC, the Jews were invited to return to Jerusalem to become the Assyrian colonial administration. Last week we read from Isaiah who wrote at the beginning of this return, today we read from Ezekiel who was among the very first to go into exile in 597 BC. As with Isaiah, he has much to teach us that is relevant to our time.

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25th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Being God’s Presence Every Day

Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, Johann Christian Brandt, 1769, Akademie der bildenden Künste, Vienna

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the First Reading
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 55:6-9
September 20, 2020

Since Easter we have been examining the Second Readings for Sunday Mass: starting with the First Letter of Peter and then Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We return this week to the First Reading for Mass, which as usual, will be from the First Testament: today Isaiah 55:6-9. For a better understanding however we will need to begin with 55:1.

The church uses Isaiah many times during the year. Grasping Jesus’ mission is impossible without an appreciation of the message of Isaiah. It might be better to say messages because as we have seen so many times before there were three people who used the name Isaiah and although they shared much in common, we can discern differences in emphasis and indeed development. Today is certainly one of those times. Continue reading “25th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Being God’s Presence Every Day”

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Bringing Truth from the Head to the Heart

Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, Claude Vignon, 1629, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Tours

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Romans 14:7-8
September 13, 2020

Paul has given the Romans many important insights into the meaning of Christ and his church. We must however keep in mind that he is as much interested in giving the Romans an insight into himself. He wants their help in several enterprises and his reputation is justifiably complicated. He has proved that he is neither a lawless person nor one seeking to eliminate Judaism. Indeed, he has shown both those born Jews and those born Gentiles that he has their best interest at heart. The Christians of Rome at very least know that their view of the new life offered by Jesus has been immeasurably deepened. Yet, there may be some suspicion about how Paul will behave when he gets to Rome. Will he become involved in their daily church life and what will that mean? They have reason to be concerned.

Although the Acts of the Apostles will not be written for several decades the incidents that it relates will have been known. The Romans would probably have known that Paul and Peter had a major disagreement in Antioch and that the Church was very much disturbed indeed divided by it. This was so serious that it required a council of the leaders in Jerusalem to address it. We find a description of this in Acts 15 but more interestingly Paul’s version in Gal 2 especially 2:11-15. The matter remains unclear, but Peter seems to have been trying to create harmony and that his was disturbed by Paul.

The Roman church was hard to hide and had already experienced persecution. They did not want to expose themselves again to this kind of conflict. Paul today is telling them how he would approach their situation. Continue reading “24th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Bringing Truth from the Head to the Heart”

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – The Faces of Our Brothers and Sisters

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon Shows Pope Francis the Golden Rule mosaic at the UN on September 25, 2015 (UN Photo) (more about this image)

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the 2nd Reading
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Romans 13:8–10

September 6, 2020

For the past few weeks, we have seen Paul as a poet and preacher. He has urged us to “offer our very bodies to God” (Rom. 12 1) and exclaimed “the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God” (Rom. 11:33). These are beautiful and profound statements, but we must remember that they are at the service of Paul’s main intent. He is showing the Roman Church how to live together and how to live in general. As we have seen the Church in Rome was mixed with some born Jews and others born gentiles. They all accepted the Lordship of Jesus but differed on what this meant. Paul has spoken eloquently to them about the meaning of Baptism and Life in the Spirit. This is the basis of harmony; a life well lived together. Yet what about the daily tasks of life? How does one live?

Paul grasped in his very being that accepting the new life Jesus offered was a new way of being human. His expression however has sometimes been, to be kind, imprecise and culturally tone-deaf. He told the Corinthians, a very mixed congregation, that “All things are lawful for me” (1 Cor. 6:12) Those born Jews understood this to mean that they were freed from dietary laws and could eat pork. Some gentile Christians, not understanding the Jewish background, thought they could marry near relations (1 Cor. 5:1-7) Paul needed to clarify this and spent a good deal of time doing this.

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22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time – Embracing Our Connection to God

Conversion of St. Augustine, Fra Angelico, c. 1395-1455, Musée Thomas-Henry

Twenty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
Romans 12:1-2
August 30, 2020

Today’s reading is personally significant for me. It was read at my Ordination Mass and it will be read at my funeral. In my mid-twenties, it awoke a sense that the Sacrifice of the Mass was intimately connected with daily life and that my ministry should be judged by how well I joined the two. The pandemic has made these concerns more pressing and the need to have a truly sacrificial life more necessary. The message here is so profound that I will bring in a guest speaker to help me.

Last week’s reading ended with a resounding call to “Give God Glory.” How is this done? What is necessary for Christian worship? Paul will answer not only as a Jew but as a prophet. The great prophets of Israel recognized that the LORD could be neither bribed nor fooled. Performing rituals exactly or offering flocks of animals in sacrifice are worse than useless if our hearts are not contrite and humbled.

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21st Sunday of Ordinary Time – Responding in Unity and Community

Jesus Giving Peter the Keys

Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time
Romans 11:33-36
August 23, 2020

Several weeks ago when we looked at the ending of Romans 8 we saw that Paul can write individual passages that are so beautiful that we can forget that they are not meant to stand alone but to bring a section of the letter to a conclusion. We see the same today. This week’s passage is also meant to do double duty: conclude Paul’s teaching on the relationship between Jewish and Gentile Christians, Rom 9-11, but also the entire letter that went before. Paul as an artist was up to the task.

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