This Sunday's Gospel

Exegetical notes and homily themes to get you started this weekend:

12/1/19 – Advent 1
12/8/19 – Advent 2
12/15/19 – Advent 3
12/22/19 – Advent 4

12/25/19 – Christmas
12/29/19 – Holy Family (Roman lect.)
12/29/19 – Christmas 1 (Common lect.)

1/1/20 – Mary the Mother of God
1/5/20 – Epiphany
1/12/20 – Baptism of the Lord

1/19/20 – Sunday 2 / Epiphany 2
1/26/20 – Sunday 3 / Epiphany 3


December 1 – First Sunday of Advent [A]

“Stay awake!  For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.”
Matthew 24: 37-44

THE WORD:

Today’s Advent Gospel is a “wake up” call:

HOMILY POINTS:

These first days of Advent confront us with the reality that this life of ours is indeed limited, that the moments we are given in this experience of life are precious and few, that death is a reality that we all inevitably face.

Advent calls us to “stay awake” and not sleep through the opportunities life gives us to discover God and the things of God, to “watch,” to pay attention to the signs of God’s unmistakable presence in our lives.

Our lives are a constant Advent of waiting: waiting to become, to realize, to complete, to restore.  Though such waiting can be agonizing, frustrating, and terrifying, Advent is about waiting in hope, anticipating the good that is possible and purpose that can be fulfilled in the dawning of God’s Christ.  Advent “waiting” is not passive, disengaged waiting for we don’t know what but waiting that anticipates and makes possible now for what is to come.   

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December 8 – Second Sunday of Advent [A]

John the Baptist appeared, preaching the desert:  “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Matthew 3: 1-12

THE WORD:

In today’s Gospel, John the Baptizer makes his appearance this Advent season, preaching a baptism of repentance and conversion of life.

Matthew’s details about John’s appearance are intended to recall the austere dress of the great prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1: 8).  The Jews believed that Elijah would return from heaven to announce the long-awaited restoration of Israel as God’s kingdom.  For Matthew, this expectation is fulfilled in John the Baptizer.  Through the figure of the Baptizer, the evangelist makes the “Old” Testament touch the “New.”

Matthew reports that John strikes a responsive chord in the people who have come from throughout the region to hear him at the Jordan River.  He has strong words for the Pharisees and Sadducees who step up for his baptism but have no intention of embracing the spirit of conversion and renewal to make their own lives ready for the Messiah who comes.

In proclaiming the Messiah’s “baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire,” John employs the image of a “winnowing-fan.”  A “winnowing-fan” was a flat, wooden, shovel-like tool, used to toss grain into the air.  The heavier grain fell to the ground and chaff was blown away.  In the same way, John says, the Messiah will come to gather the “remnant” of Israel and destroy the Godless.

HOMILY POINTS:

In our own baptisms, we take on the role of prophet of Christ: to “proclaim” in our ministries, in our compassion and our kindness, in our commitment to what is right that Jesus the Messiah has come.

John’s message calls us to “live” our baptisms every day of our lives, growing in the “knowledge of the Lord” (Isaiah 11: 9) and living as “wheat” rather than lifeless straw (Matthew 3: 12).

Advent is the season for realizing Isaiah’s vision of the “peaceable” kingdom: for seeking common ground, for recognizing the humanity we all share and building upon our common interests, values and dreams.

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December 15 – Third Sunday of Advent [A]

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.”
Matthew 11: 2-11

THE WORD:

The picture of John the Baptizer in today’s Gospel is quite different from last Sunday’s thundering, charismatic figure preaching to the crowds along the Jordan.  John has been imprisoned by Herod for publicly denouncing the king's incestuous marriage to Herodias.  Left to waste away in prison, John knew that his end was near.  John had staked his life on proclaiming the coming of the Messiah, and his witness will soon cost him his life.  Like any human being, John had to wonder if he had been deluding himself.  John and the people of Judaism had been expecting a much different kind of Messiah than the gentle, humble Worker of wonders from Nazareth.  And so, John sends friends to ask Jesus if he is, in fact, the long-awaited Messiah.

Jesus sends the messengers back to John to report all they have seen Jesus do, fulfilling the prophecies of Isaiah and the prophets of old.  While praising John for his faithful witness to the Messiah, Jesus tells his followers that great things will come to all who become prophets of the reign of God.

HOMILY POINTS:

Advent/Christmas is the season of hope:  The birth of Christ restores our dreams for “blossoming deserts” (Reading 1) and new harvests, for renewed relationships with God and with one another.

The Christ of Christmas comes to heal the divisions among families and friends, to re-create our world in the mercy and justice of the Messiah, to renew our lives in the joy and hope of the God of unimaginably endless love.

John's question, Are you the Messiah?, confronts us with the apparent silence of God in our secular, amoral society.  We must come to recognize the Messiah in the humble, merciful, liberating person of Jesus, the healer and reconciler.

The question Jesus pose – What did you go out to the desert to see? – challenges us to take on the hard and never-ending Advent work of conversion and re-creation, of rediscoveringwhat we want are lives to be for and about.

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December 22 – Fourth Sunday of Advent [A]

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary into your home.  For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.”
Matthew 1: 18-24

THE WORD:

The last week of Advent shifts our focus from the promise of the Messiah to the fulfillment of that promise in the events surrounding Jesus' birth.

Today’s Gospel is Matthew’s version of Jesus’ birth at Bethlehem.  This is not Luke’s familiar story of a child born in a Bethlehem stable, but that of a young unmarried woman suddenly finding herself pregnant and her very hurt and confused husband wondering what to do.  In Gospel times, marriage was agreed upon by the groom and the bride’s parents almost immediately after the age of puberty; but the girl continued to live with her parents after the wedding until the husband was able to support her in his home or that of his parents.  During that interim period, marital intercourse was not permissible.  Yet Mary is found to be with child.

Joseph, an observant but compassionate Jew, does not wish to subject Mary to the full fury of Jewish law, so he plans to divorce her “quietly.”  But in images reminiscent of the First Testament “annunciations” of Isaac and Samuel, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream and reveals that this child is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.  Because of his complete faith and trust in God’s promise, Joseph acknowledges the child and names him Jesus (“Savior”) and becomes, in the eyes of the Law, the legal father of Jesus.  Thus, Jesus, through Joseph, is born a descendent of David.

Matthew’s point in his infancy narrative is that Jesus is the Emmanuel promised of old – Isaiah’s prophecy has finally been fulfilled in Jesus: the virgin has given birth to a son, one who is a descendent of David’s house (through Joseph).  Jesus is truly Emmanuel“God is with us.”

HOMILY POINTS:

In Christ, the Spirit of God who inspired the prophets to preach, who enabled the nation of Israel to enter into the covenant with Yahweh, intervenes and sanctifies all of human history.

The “mystery” of the Incarnation is not that God could become one of us – the inexplicable part is how and why God could love humankind enough to humble himself to take on the human condition and walk with us, talk with us, die for us.

We have reason to rejoice and to hope, for in our midst dawns Emmanuel“God with us.”

Joseph, the “just” and “upright” man, is a model of compassion, forgiveness and faith for all of us who are moms and dads, children, brothers and sisters.

God’s coming depends on “Josephs” – men and women of humility, selflessness and openness of heart and spirit – to welcome him and embrace his presence in our midst.

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December 25 – Christmas: The Nativity of the Lord [ABC]

THE WORD:

MASS OF THE VIGIL
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.”
Matthew 1: 1-25 [18-25]

For Matthew, the story of Jesus begins with the promise to Abraham – that Jesus is the ultimate and perfect fulfillment of the Law and Prophets.  So Matthew begins his Gospel with “a family record” of Jesus, tracing the infant's birth from Abraham (highlighting his Jewish identity) and David (his Messiahship).  The historical accuracy of Matthew’s list is dubious; but that is not the point.  Matthew’s genealogy celebrates this Jesus as the fulfillment of a world that God envisioned from the first moment of creation – a world created in the justice and peace that is the very nature of its Creator.

Matthew’s version of Jesus birth at Bethlehem follows.  This is not Luke’s familiar story of a child born in a Bethlehem stable that will be read at Mass later tonight – it is the story of a young unmarried woman suddenly finding herself pregnant and her very hurt and confused husband wondering what to do.  In Gospel times, marriage was agreed upon by the groom and the bride’s parents almost immediately after the age of puberty; but the girl continued to live with her parents after the wedding until the husband was able to support her in his home or that of his parents.  During that interim period, marital intercourse was not permissible.  Yet Mary is found to be with child.

Joseph, an observant but compassionate Jew, does not wish to subject Mary to the full fury of Jewish law, so he plans to divorce her “quietly.”  But in images reminiscent of the First Testament “annunciations” of Isaac and Samuel, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream and reveals that this child is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.  Because of his complete faith and trust in God’s promise, Joseph acknowledges the child and names him Jesus (“Savior”) and becomes, in the eyes of the Law, the legal father of Jesus.  Thus, Jesus, through Joseph, is born a descendent of David.

Matthew’s point in his infancy narrative is that Jesus is the Emmanuel promised of old – Isaiah’s prophecy has finally been fulfilled in Jesus: the virgin has given birth to a son, one who is a descendent of David's house (through Joseph).  Jesus is truly Emmanuel “God is with us.”

MASS AT MIDNIGHT
“For today in the city of David a savior has been born to you who is Christ and Lord.”
Luke 2: 1-14

Centuries of hope in God’s promise have come to fulfillment: the Messiah is born!

Luke's account of Jesus’ birth (Gospel) begins by placing the event during the reign of Caesar Augustus.  Augustus, who ruled from 27 B.C.-14 A.D., was honored as “savior” and “god” in ancient Greek inscriptions.  His long reign was hailed as the pax Augusta: a period of peace throughout the vast Roman world.  Luke very deliberately points out that it is during the rule of Augustus, the savior, god and peace-maker, that Jesus the Christ, the long-awaited Savior and Messiah, the Son of God and Prince of Peace, enters human history.

Throughout his Gospel, Luke shows how it is the poor, the lowly, the outcast and the sinner who embraces the preaching of Jesus.  The announcement of the Messiah’s birth to shepherds – who were among the most isolated and despised in the Jewish community – is in keeping with Luke’s theme that the poor are especially blessed of God.

MASS AT DAWN
“Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place which the Lord has made known to us.”
Luke 2: 15-20

Typical of Luke’s Gospel, it is the shepherds of Bethlehem – among the poorest and most disregarded of Jewish society who become the first messengers of the Gospel.

From the Christmas story in Luke’s Gospel, we have a romantic image of shepherds as gentle, peaceful figures.  But that manger scene image is a far cry from the reality:  The shepherds of Biblical times were tough, earthy characters who fearlessly used their clubs to defend their flocks from wolves and other wild animals.  They had even less patience for the pompous scribes and Pharisees who treated them as second and third-class citizens, barring these ill-bred rustics from the synagogue and courts.

And yet it was to shepherds that God first revealed the birth of the Messiah.  The shepherds’ vision on the Bethlehem hillside proclaims to all people of every place and generation that Christ comes for the sake of all of humankind.

MASS DURING THE DAY
And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us . . .
John 1: 1-18

The Gospel for Christmas Day is the beautiful Prologue hymn to John’s Gospel.  With echoes of Genesis 1 (“In the beginning,” “the light shines on in darkness”), John’s prologue exalts Christ as the creative Word of God that comes as the new light to illuminate God's re-creation.

In the original Greek text, the phrase “made his dwelling place among is” is more accurately translated as “pitched his tent or tabernacle.”  The image evokes the Exodus memory of the tent pitched by Israelites for the Ark of the Covenant.  God sets up the tabernacle of the new covenant in the body of the Child of Bethlehem.

HOMILY POINTS:

The humility and selflessness of Jesus that will be the centerpiece of his ministry and mission as the Messiah are first seen in his simple birth among the poor.

The true miracle of Christmas continues to take place in the Bethlehems of our hearts.  In the emptiness of our souls, God forgives us, reassures us, exalts us, elates us, loves us.

Christmas is more than a birth of a child; it is the beginning of the Christ event that will transform and re-create human history, a presence that continues to this day and for all time.

In Jesus, the extraordinary love of God has taken our “flesh” and “made his dwelling among us.”  In his “Word made flesh,” God touches us at the very core of our beings, perfectly expressing his constant and unchanging love.

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December 29 – Holy Family [A]

The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream:  “Rise, take the child and his mother; flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you.”
Matthew 2: 13-15, 19-23

THE WORD:

Matthew’s Gospel continues his story of Jesus’ early years, focusing on the evangelist’s principal theme: that Jesus is the Messiah promised by God long ago.  Matthew portrays the Holy Family as outcasts, refugees in their own country.  Bound together by love and trust in God and in one another, they embark on the dangerous journey to Egypt to flee the insane rage of Herod.  Jesus relives the Exodus experience of Israel: he will come out of Egypt, the land of slavery, to establish a new covenant of liberation for the new Israel.

HOMILY POINTS:

Today’s Feast of the Holy Family calls us to re-discover and celebrate our own families as harbors of forgiveness and understanding and safe places of unconditional love, welcome and acceptance.

The Holy Family is a model for our families as we confront the many tensions and crises that threaten the stability, peace and unity that are the joys of being a family.

Matthew’s Gospel of Mary and Joseph’s escape to Egypt has been lived by countless families in every place and time.  Today’s Feast of the Holy Family confronts us with the struggle of many families to escape the brutality and cruelty of the Herods of our time, seeking a new life in whatever Egypt they can find – and God’s call to us, as their brothers and sisters, to make a place for them where they will find safety, justice and dignity as God’s own.  

Matthew’s Gospel of the Holy Family’s fleeing the murderous wrath of Herod portends what is to come: the Christmas crib is overshadowed by the cross of Holy Week, that this holy birth is the beginning of our rebirth in the resurrection.

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December 29 – Sunday after Christmas [ABC]

And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us . . .
John 1: 1-18

THE WORD:

The Gospel for this first Sunday after Christmas is the beautiful Prologue hymn to John’s Gospel.  With echoes of Genesis 1 (“In the beginning,” “the light shines on in darkness”), the Prologue exalts Christ as the creative Word of God that comes as the new light to illuminate God's re-creation.

In the original Greek text, the phrase “made his dwelling place among is” is more accurately translated as “pitched his tent or tabernacle.”  The image evokes the Exodus memory of the tent pitched by Israelites for the Ark of the Covenant.  God sets up the tabernacle of the new covenant in the body of the Child of Bethlehem.

HOMILY POINTS:

Christmas is more than a birth of a child; it is the beginning of the Christ event that will transform and re-create human history, a presence that continues to this day and for all time.

In Jesus, the extraordinary love of God has taken our “flesh” and “made his dwelling among us.”  In his “Word made flesh,” God touches us at the very core of our beings, perfectly expressing his constant and unchanging love.

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January 1 – Mary the Mother of God / Holy Name of Jesus [ABC]

When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus . . .
Luke 2: 16-21

THE WORD:

In the Roman church, today’s solemnity is the oldest feast of Mary in the Church, honoring her by her first and primary title, “Mother of God.”

Jesus is given the name Yeshua – “The Lord saves.”  The rite of circumcision unites Mary’s child with the chosen people and makes him an heir to the promises God made to Abraham – promises to be fulfilled in the Child himself.

HOMILY POINTS:

Today we honor Mary under her most ancient title – Theotokos, Bearer of God:  In accepting her role as mother of the Messiah, she becomes the first disciple of her Son, the first to embrace his Gospel of hope, compassion and reconciliation.

As Mary, the young unmarried pregnant girl, believes and trusts in the incredible thing that she is to be a part of, even the most ordinary of us can believe in our parts in the drama, too.

The God who makes all things new in Christ enables us to make this truly a new year for each one of us – a time for renewal and re-creation in the love of God, a time for making this year a year of peace in our lives and homes, a time for making this new year truly a “year of our Lord.”

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January 5 – Epiphany [ABC]

Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem; “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?  We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”
Matthew 2: 1-12

THE WORD:

The story of the astrologers and the star of Bethlehem are unique to Matthew’s Gospel.  Note that Matthew does not call them kings nor does he give their names nor reports where they came from – in fact, Matthew never even specifies the number of magi (because three gifts are presented to the Child, it has been a tradition since the fifth century to picture “three wise men”).  In stripping away the romantic layers that have been added to the story, Matthew’s point can be better understood.

A great many First Testament ideas and images are presented in this story.  The star, for example, is reminiscent of Balaam’s prophecy that “a star shall advance from Jacob” (Numbers 24: 17).  Many of the details in Matthew’s story about the child Jesus parallel the story of the child Moses and the Exodus.

Matthew’s story also provides a preview of what is to come.  First, the reactions of the various parties to the birth of Jesus parallel the effects Jesus’ teaching will have on those who hear it.  Herod reacts with anger and hostility to the Jesus of the poor who comes to overturn the powerful and rich.  The chief priests and scribes greet the news with haughty indifference toward the Jesus who comes to give new life and meaning to the rituals and laws of the scribes.  But the magi – non-believers in the eyes of Israel – possess the humility of faith and the openness of mind and heart to seek and welcome the Jesus who will institute the Second Covenant between God and the New Israel.

Secondly, the gifts of the astrologers indicate the principal dimensions of Jesus’ mission:

HOMILY POINTS:

Epiphany calls is to a new vision of the world that sees beyond the walls and borders we have created and to walk by the light which has dawned for all of humankind, a light by which we are able to recognize all men and women as our brothers and sisters under the loving providence of God, the Father of all.

The magi’s following of the star is a journey of faith, a constant search for meaning, for purpose, for the things of God that each one of us experiences in the course of our own lives.

What we read and watch and listen to in search of wealth, fame and power are the “stars” we follow.  The journey of the magi in Matthew's Gospel puts our own "stargazing" in perspective, calling us to fix our search on the “star” of God’s justice, peace and compassion.

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January 12 – Baptism of the Lord [A]

After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending on him like a dove and coming upon him.  And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Matthew 3: 13-17

THE WORD:

Today’s Gospel is the final event of the Epiphany event: Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan River by John.

The Baptizer’s refusal at first to baptize Jesus and Jesus’ response to his refusal (a dialogue that appears only in Matthew’s Gospel) speaks to Matthew’s continuing theme of Jesus as the fulfillment of the First Testament prophecies.  Jesus clearly did not need to be baptized.  But his baptism by John is an affirmation that God was with this man Jesus in a very special way – at the Jordan River, Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled: “my favor rests on him.”  Jesus has come to identify with sinners, to bring them forgiveness; hence the propriety of Jesus' acceptance of John’s baptism.

Baptism was a ritual performed by the Jews, usually for those who entered Judaism from another religion.  It was natural that the sin-stained, polluted pagan should be “washed” in baptism, but no Jew could conceive of needing baptism, being born a son of Abraham, one of God’s chosen people and therefore assured of God’s salvation.  But John’s baptism – a baptism affirmed by Jesus – was not one of initiation, but one of reformation, a rejection of sin in one’s own life and acknowledgment of one’s own need for conversion.  In Christ, baptism becomes a sacrament of rebirth, a reception of new life.

In all the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism, all four evangelists use a similar description of the scene at the Jordan when Jesus is baptized by John:  The Spirit of God descended and rested upon him, “hovering” over him like a dove – as the Gospel story unfolds, the Spirit of God’s peace, compassion and love, will be the constant presence dwelling within and flowing forth from the Carpenter from Nazareth.

HOMILY POINTS:

In baptism, we claim the name of Christian and embrace all that that holy name means: to live for others rather than for ourselves, in imitation of Christ.

Our baptism made each one of us the “servant” of today’s readings: to bring forth in our world the justice, reconciliation and enlightenment of Christ, the “beloved Son” and “favor” of God.

In baptism, we embrace that same Spirit that “hovers” over us, guiding us in our journey to God.

Liturgically, the Christmas season officially comes to an end with today’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.  Now the same Spirit that “anoints” the Messiah for his mission calls us to be about the work of Christmas in this new year: to seek out and find the lost, to heal the hurting, to feed the hungry, to free the imprisoned, to rebuild families and nations, to bring the peace of God to all peoples everywhere.

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January 19 – Second Sunday of the Year [A] / Second Sunday after Epiphany [A]

John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
John 1: 29-34

THE WORD:

The Fourth Gospel emphasizes John the Baptizer’s role as the bridge between the First and New Testaments; he is the last great prophet who identifies Jesus as the Messiah.  In his vision of the Spirit of God “resting” upon and within Jesus, the Baptizer realizes that this is the chosen Servant of God who has come to inaugurate the Messianic era of forgiveness and reconciliation (today’s first reading, the second of Isaiah's “servant” songs, describes the mission of the servant: to bring Israel back to the Lord and, through her, extend the Lord's salvation to every nation and people on earth).

HOMILY POINTS:

By our baptisms, we are called to be witnesses and prophets of the “Lamb of God” along the Jordan Rivers of our homes, schools and work places.

Christ’s presence among us is a time for new beginnings: an invitation to walk from the shadows of hatred and mistrust to the light of understanding and peace, a chance for healing our brokenness and mending our relationships with one another, a call to be seekers of hope and enablers of reconciliation in our own time and place.

Through our own acts of compassion and generosity, of justice and forgiveness, we proclaim that “the Lamb of God” walks in our midst, that the love and mercy of God has dawned upon us.

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January 26 – Third Sunday of the Year [A] / Third Sunday after Epiphany [A]

Jesus said to Simon and his brother Andrew, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Matthew 4: 12-23

THE WORD:

Galilee is the centerpiece of today’s readings.

In Jesus’ time, Galilee was the most populated and productive region of Palestine.  The great roads of the world passed through Galilee, making it a strategic target for invasion.  White-sailed ships crept up the Mediterranean coast from Alexandria and caravans traveled through the region from Mesopotamia and Egypt.

Galilee, unlike the rest of Palestine, had an international perspective, in touch with many non-Jewish ideas and influences.  Josephus, the Roman historian, wrote of the people of Galilee:  “They were fond of innovation and, by nature, disposed to change and delighted in sedition . . . The Galileans were never destitute of courage . . . They were ever more anxious for honor than for gain.”

In a few lines, Matthew sketches a new beginning in human history: the arrest of John and the end of the First Testament; the beginning of a New Testament in the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus in Galilee and the call of the first disciples from their fishing nets along the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus’ beginning his public ministry in Galilee is, for Matthew, the fulfillment of an ancient oracle concerning the Messiah: that, through the darkness of Galilee’s Assyrian captivity, the “great light” of their deliverance will appear (Reading 1).

HOMILY POINTS:

Like Peter, James and John, we are asked by Jesus to take on the work of discipleship; we are asked to leave our “fishing nets” – our own needs and wants – to follow the example of love and servanthood given to us by Jesus; we are asked to rebuild our lives, homes and cities in the justice and peace that Jesus proclaims.

Jesus calls his disciples of every time and place to be “fishers” of men and women, to use whatever “nets” we possess, in whatever oceans and seas we find ourselves, to catch the falling, rescue the endangered, gather in the lost and forgotten.    

Christ is the light that illuminates our minds and souls with a new vision of the human condition: in the light of Christ, we are able to recognize one another as brothers and sisters, children of the same God; in the light of Christ, we realize our own need for healing and forgiveness and are then able to bring such transformation into our lives and the lives of others.

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