1st Sunday of Lent – God’s Radical Invitation

Noah’s Thanksoffering, Joseph Anton Koch, c. 1803

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the First Reading
First Sunday of Lent
Genesis 9:8–15
February 21, 2021

The story of Noah and the Ark has been the source of so many movies, children’s toys and stories, and memorable New Yorker cartoons that we can forget that it addresses many serious issues. As we look at this in Lent, we should remember that it is the first time that “covenant” is mentioned in the Bible. A covenant then as now is the way that the LORD wishes to express the kind of relationship he wants with us.

Christian and Jewish scholars agree that covenant is the legal means by which kinship is established between another individual or group. This is not a contract, a mere sharing of goods and services, but a sharing of life.  It usually consists of the stipulation of what this sharing will mean, a sacrifice of an animal, and the swearing of oaths of one or both parties. There is often a visible sign of the covenant and a common meal.

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6th Sunday of Ordinary – Appreciating the Power of God’s Love

Healing of the Lepers at Capernaum, James Tissot, 1886–1894, Brooklyn Museum

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the First Reading
Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Leviticus 13:1–2, 44–46
February 14, 2021

 

Today’s first reading from Leviticus might seem to have little to teach us other than the primitive nature of ancient medicine. It does reflect this but much more as well. Before looking at the passage itself we need to examine three issues: the role of the tribe of Levi, the nature of holiness and what ailments were considered skin diseases.

Although counted among the twelve tribes of Israel, the tribe of Levi was not given land of its own after the conquest of Canaan. This was not a punishment but a reward for their faithfulness and zeal for the Lord and his Law. They earned this honor when Moses had returned to the Hebrews camp to find the people worshipping a golden calf.

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4th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Reminded that We Are Part of God’s Plan

Moses Speaks to the People, James Jacques Joseph Tissot, c. 1896-1902, Jewish Museum of New York

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the First Reading
Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Deuteronomy 18:15–20
January 31, 2021

People who believe in a God wish to have a connection and indeed be in communication with him or her. Religions differ on how, why, and by whom this is accomplished. These are important questions but as we will see today, they rest on the basic understanding of who God is.

Our Scriptures give us information about the people who were to become the Jews from about 1400 BC. Most of the Old Testament that we have today was compiled in its present form by 400 BC. There was much evolution in thought during this time, but there are key ideas and themes that become more prominent as the people’s relationship with God developed.

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3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time – Being Exceptional Without Exception

The Calling of Saint Peter and Saint Andrew, James Tissot, 1886-1894, Brooklyn Museum

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the First Reading
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jonah 3:1–5, 10
January 24, 2021

The book of Jonah is difficult to date with great precision, but scholars suggest that it was written sometime between 300 and 250 BC. This would have been after the conquest of Judea by Alexander the Great in 332 BC and the breakup of his empire after his death in 323 BC. Even the most biblically illiterate person knows of it because of the story of Jonah and the whale, but its message is sublime and one that we may need to ponder now.

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A Call that Will Ring People’s Ears

The Calling of Samuel, Joshua Reynolds, c. 1776

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the First Reading
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Samuel 3:3b-10
January 17, 2021

We know that a moment is important in Jewish History when the LORD calls someone to do his will. We have seen the call of prophets and patriarchs. They know that they will be involved with something big and usually wish to opt out. God however knows who he wants, and no excuses are acceptable.

The situation today is the turn from a clan-based leadership structure to a real monarchy. We examined this a few weeks ago. To briefly review, from roughly 1350 to 1050 BC, the Hebrews were a loose coalition of tribes with similar religious beliefs and a shared dietary code. They desired to be as independent as possible but often needed to unite to fight a common enemy. At this time, they would determine a leader – a war chief – who world organize an army and lead it until they won or lost. This leader was called a judge. This system was like the confederations around them.

Some of these however were developing a more centralized administration which allowed them to maintain a professional army placing the Hebrews at a strategic disadvantage. This would need to change but it would only be a change within their tradition if it were instituted by a holy man called by the LORD. That man was Samuel.

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Baptism of the Lord – Responding to God’s Call

The Baptism of Christ, Grigory Gagarin, c. 1840–1850

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the First Reading
Isaiah 55:1–11
January 10, 2021

Advent / Christmastide is the season of Isaiah as we continue reading the book of Isaiah in all its manifestations. This week, we will examine the conclusion of the writings of Isaiah of Babylon. He addressed the Jewish leaders exiled in Babylon after the final destruction and abandonment of Jerusalem in 586 BC. This was after Babylon itself was conquered in 539 BC by Cyrus, the Assyrian king. Cyrus offered the Jews in Babylon return to Jerusalem if they rebuilt it and functioned as their colonial administration. Isaiah of Babylon—usually called second Isaiah as he was the second person to use this name—is a man of notable talent who provides political commentary, a theology of history, eloquent exhortations to Justice, and much else. Yet we must remember that he is also a propagandist for the LORD. He sought to convince people to take up this invitation and return to Jerusalem and rebuild Jewish life. In this passage today, he reviews his best arguments and reveals a lesson for us in the here and very now.

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Epiphany – Making Justice Our Aim

The Magi Journeying (Les rois mages en voyage), James Tissot, 1886-1894 (Brooklyn Museum)
(About this Image)

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the First Reading
Feast of the Epiphany
Isaiah 60:1–6
January 3, 2021

The first reading for the feast of the Epiphany is standard and doesn’t change every year. You may find previous commentaries for 2019 (Jan. 6, 2019) and 2020 (Jan. 5, 2020). As Isaiah speaks today of light and salvation, it is a perfect selection for Epiphany. It also, as we have seen over the years, contains many images and thoughts which give it a certain complexity. Reviewing it every year reveals what I have learned about the First Testament over the previous year and how it can be applied to our immediate situation.

There are some elements which however are central and constant. Three people used or were given the name Isaiah. A more complete background of the three Isaiahs may be found in the commentary for December 13, 2020. Let us however review the highlights. First Isaiah lived in Jerusalem and was an active prophet between roughly 700 and 695 BC., second Isaiah lived in Babylon after the people had been brought into captivity around 540 BC and third Isaiah had returned to Jerusalem and wrote around 515 BC.

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