Tag Archives: lectionary

Daily Reading, Daily Bread

Reading the scriptures daily and on Sundays in the lectionary is one of the great reforms begun by the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council. It’s part of the church’s effort to seek renewal through the Word of God. But it’s going to take us awhile to get used to it.

For one thing, reflection on the daily and Sunday readings is a new way to reflect on our faith.  The scriptures are old and we live in a new world.  Pope Benedict, describing his own search for “the face of God” in scripture said you have to “trust” you will find it there.

We have to trust we will find God and enter God’s presence as we take up this daily discipline. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” God promises to speak today. The daily scriptures are daily bread, and they offer a varied diet. We go from Matthew, preoccupied with the tensions of his church with Pharisaic Judaism,  to Luke preoccupied with an outreach to the gentiles, to the other New Testament writings, each with its own purpose.

Then there are the varied readings from the Old Testament. They can be hard to understand, but the church wisely keeps them side by side with the New Testament. They hold a treasure all their own. We need to understand them better.

We need help to appreciate this daily bread, this varied diet served up. We need people like those people on the cooking shows on television who not only  tell you what to eat but make those strange dishes appetizing and appealing. We need good homilists and good catechists.

We need a “lamp, shining in a dark place.” So we ask: Come, Holy Spirit, fill our hearts with your light.”

The Gospel of Luke

Luke copy

The Feast of St. Luke is October 18th.  If you’re beginning to read the New Testament  Luke’s Gospel is a good place to start;  it’s the longest of the gospels, followed by the Acts of the Apostles, also written by Luke. Together they present a magnificent picture of the life of Jesus, which continues in the life of the church.

Luke’s gospel provides many of the readings for the various liturgical feasts we celebrate yearly in the church, for example most of the stories of Jesus’ early life recalled during the Christmas season.

Luke takes over into his gospel about 65% of Mark’s Gospel, which he modifies for his own purposes. He shares with Matthew’s Gospel material from another source, and he also offers material not found in the other gospels–the infancy narratives, for example. (Luke 1-2).

Like other evangelists, Luke’s  gospel has its own plan. In his commentary on Luke’s gospel, for example, Luke Timothy Johnson speaks of Luke’s positive outlook on the world.

“Luke-Acts is positive toward the world, not only as God’s creation but also as the arena of history and human activity. It is perhaps the least apocalyptic of the NT writings, and the least sectarian. Not only is Luke relatively unconcerned about the end time, his historical narrative bestows value on time itself. Luke is also generally approving of those outside the Christian movement. Outsiders-not counting the Jewish opponents who are not outsiders at all– are generally regarded as reasonable and open-minded, which is a high compliment paid by apologetic literature.” (The Gospel of Luke, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Md. 1991)

Our readings from Luke for the 1st Sunday of Advent (Year C) offer a good example of Luke shaping apocalyptic material to his own purposes. He presents the last days as others do: “signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars and on earth; nations will be in dismay,” but in Luke’s Gospel Jesus says we can stand strong and fearless on that day, if we live each day well in the meantime.

Carry the cross with me each day, Jesus says,  and don’t worry or be anxious. Be vigilant and prayerful each day, the Lord will return on the clouds of heaven. No, we don’t know the day or the hour, but we’ll we ready for the last day if we prepare each day for our redemption.

Isn’t that  good advice for times like ours when enormous problems confront our world and clear solutions and grand designs are nowhere to be found? We can so easily fall into pessimism (a form of spiritual sleep) and lose hope.

We can use Luke’s optimism today.

August is Here

At the start of each month I email members of the Confraternity of the Passion and anyone else who asks a calendar indicating the scripture readings for the Mass and the feast days of the saints we remember that month.

The reason I do is that following the church calendar is an important way to grow in faith.It puts us in touch with the scriptures in our daily lectionary and the wonderful world of the saints.

Reading the daily scriptures together with fellow believers throughout the world develops a common mind, as it were. Fortunately, not just Catholics use the daily lectionary, some Protestant churches use it now too; so more Christians read the same scriptures together through the year.

Praying together can bring us together, we hope. Praying the scriptures together, which the Catholic church encouraged at the Second Vatican Council, is a step towards Christian unity. Blessed Dominic Barberi, Passionist whose feast is August 26th was especially dedicated to the work of Christian unity.

This month at Mass we continue reading from Matthew’s gospel. With chapter 14, Jesus begins to establish his church, built on Peter, a rock, but a frail man who with the other disciples must follow Jesus to the cross.

The following chapters from Matthew offer an instruction about the nature of the church. Its members must care for each other and forgive those who have offended them. At the same time they’re obliged to correct their fellow Christians, even to the point of separation from the community. (Matthew 18)

During the first few weeks of August we’ll continue reading from the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers about the Jewish exodus from Egypt led by Moses. Then we’ll read about their occupation of Canaan under Joshua and the Judges.

It’s a brutal occupation. Our lectionary softens our exposure to it by limiting what we read about it, but even so, why the violence? Why so many exterminated in the name of God? The scriptures raise questions and cause objections as well as give answers and raise our hopes.

Here’s where good commentaries and wise answers help; otherwise, we lapse into biblical fundamentalism. I’m reading the commentaries from the New American Bible, which recognize we can’t read these books as literal history. There’s a human hand at work in them.

God reveals himself progressively to the human family, which is intent on its own welfare and quick to destroy rather than build. God works in mud. Here’s a quote I like:

“Progressive revelation throughout Israel’s history produced far more lofty ideals, as when the prophets see all the nations embracing faith in Yahweh, being joined to Israel, and living in peace with one another (Is 2:2419:232545:2225Zec 8:2223), and the New Testament teaches us to love even our enemies (Mt 5:4345).” (New American Bible, Commentary)

There’s another way to look at the violence and exterminations found in the Book of Joshua:

“The theological message of the book is unmistakable. God has been faithful to the promise of the land. If Israel relies totally on the Lord for victory; if Israel is united as a people; if the law of herem is kept and no one grows rich from victory in war—then and only then will Israel possess the land.”

We’re a long way from possessing the land. “Your kingdom come.”

 

 

 

 

 

Jacob Wrestling with God

Jacob wrestling

Our lectionary– the collection of readings we use day by day at Mass–concentrates on key stories of the bible, but unfortunately it leaves out a lot. We’re reading two key stories about the Patriarch Jacob from the Book of Exodus this week. Jacob discovers the presence of God on his journey; then he wrestles with an angel.( Genesis 23, 33-43)

The other readings about Jacob from the bible– which our lectionary leaves out– seem far from edifying, however. Jacob and his wife Rachel, Laban and his sons don’t seem to be the most honest people as they strike deals and, by hook or by crook, try to get the best deal they can get. At least to me, they don’t seem like people you want for neighbors or do business with.

Yet, God promises Jacob what he promised Abraham:

“I, the LORD, am the God of your forefather Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you are lying I will give to you and your descendants. These shall be as plentiful as the dust of the earth, and through them you shall spread out east and west, north and south. In you and your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing. Know that I am with you; I will protect you wherever you go, and bring you back to this land. I will never leave you until I have done what I promised you.” (Genesis 22,1 8-28)

Even with those sublime words ringing in his ears, Jacob seems to go back to his wheeling and dealing, as if the most important thing in the world is the extra sheep he’s going to wheedle out of his father in law.

The Old Testament certainly portrays real life. The early Christian scholar Marcion wanted to throw out the Old Testament altogether, because he claimed it wasn’t spiritual enough. God wouldn’t promise such great things to people like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives and relations and slaves.

I suppose that’s one reason for us to keep reading the Old Testament:  God works in real life. “God is a Potter; he works in mud,” the Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis entitled a chapter in one of his books.

Two things commentators note about the stories of Jacob. First, he doesn’t recognize the presence of God until afterwards. “When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he exclaimed, ‘Truly, the LORD is in this spot, although I did not know it!’” That’s an interesting discovery we all can make. God is there and we don’t know he’s there.–except afterwards.

Second, the commentator for the New American Bible says this about the story of Jacob wrestling in the dark at the river edge with the unknown figure: “The point of the tale seems to be that the ever-striving, ever-grasping Jacob must eventually strive with God to attain full possession of the blessing.”

God engages us and wrestles with us, whether we like it or not, and we will have scars to prove it.

Wherever you go, I will go

The story of Ruth, the Moabite woman, who stays with her mother-in-law after her own husband’s death and devotes herself to the older woman after she returns to her own people, is one of the most beautiful stories of the Old Testament. We read a portion of it today at Mass.

“Do not ask me to forsake you or abandon you,” Ruth says to her, “for wherever you go, I will go, wherever you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God will be my God.”

The Book of Ruth is more than a story of love and loyalty, however. The author of Ruth reminds us over and over that she’s a Moabite, from a people often enemies of the Jews. The tender story is placed among the books of Joshua and Judges which often call for fighting and exterminating foreigners. Be careful, this story says. Your enemies may be better and more loving than you. Don’t demonize outsiders. Admire and imitate what you see.

If we look, stories of love are found everywhere. What’s more, Ruth is among the ancestors of Jesus Christ, whose love extends to all. “Boaz became the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth. Obed became the father of Jesse, the father of David,” Matthew writes, tracing his family roots. (Matthew 1, 5-6)

Like her, he never forsakes or abandons us. We are his people and he is our God.

How to Read the Bible

We’ve been blessed in recent times with a better understanding of the bible, thanks to scholarly studies of the last century or so.  Historians, archeologists, linguists are giving us a clearer picture of these ancient books, their meaning, when they were written, their historical context. New discoveries, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, have increased our knowledge of this book, which is really a library of Christian spirituality.

We know more about the scriptures today than we’ve known for centuries. Our new knowledge helps us to know Jesus Christ better, of course, so shouldn’t we be more acquainted with these readings? Unfortunately, Catholics are still slow to go to the bible for their spiritual nourishment, even though our liturgies have been enriched by readings from scripture since the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

What bible should you read? Visit a book store like Barnes and Noble, go to the section where they’re selling bibles and you’ll find a bewildering collection of editions available today, going back to the old King James version.

The King James Bible is still the most popular bible read in the English-speaking world. For some fundamentalists it’s the only “Word of God.” But the King James version, for all its historical and literary qualities, has serious drawbacks. Since the time it was published in 1611, scores of ancient versions of the bible have been found, earlier than those on which this translation was based, and significant progress in biblical studies has also been made.

Because of this, many new translations of the bible have been published which take advantage of the new biblical resources. There are at least 30 new translations on the market today. In 1989, the New Revised Standard Version, a revision of the highly regarded Revised Standard Version, was published enlisting scholars from the major Christian denominations and authorized by these denominations. A fine translation.

In March 2011, a revised edition of The New American Bible (NABRE) was published. It’s a bible sponsored by the Catholic Church and it provides the readings found in its liturgies.  The last edition published 20 years ago was revised to take account of the new resources.

I like this bible myself for a number of reasons. For one, it’s available online free, so it’s always available if you have a computer, iPad, or iPhone. I appreciate especially the notes and introductory material, which may not be found in other versions of the bible. They are concise, clear and based on the latest scholarly research.

Another bible to take a look at is The Jerusalem Bible.

Catholics and other mainstream Christians hear the scriptures regularly from the lectionary during worship. The lectionary breaks down the books of the bible into parts, but there’s one drawback to reading the bible this way, I believe. We can read these parts in isolation, without enriching our reading with a fuller, more complete view that comes from reading the entire gospel or epistle, or prophet.

This month’s Sunday gospels from the 6th chapter of John, which begins with the miracle of the loaves and the fish, is an example. On the following Sundays we read sections of Jesus’ dialogue with the crowd, which is triggered by this powerful sign. Separated as they are from this key event, the readings can become disconnected from miracle and the overall themes that surround it.

There’s something to reading  from the bible itself, rather than settling for selections in the lectionary.