Reflections on the Daily Readings

January 22 - 28, 2017
The Season of Ordinary Time - The Third Week.
Readings: Sunday Cycle A; Weekday Cycle I.
Divine Office - Psalter Week III.

Sunday 22:          The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 8:23-9:3; Psalm 26; 1Corinthians 1:10-13, 17; Matthew 4:12-23.
Our first reading from the prophet Isaiah refers to a time after the northern kingdoms of Zebulun and Naphtali had been overrun by the Assyrians. The people lived under the yoke, bar and rod of the oppressor but a new leader would arise who would remove these from the people and restore their freedom. Isaiah speaks of joy, gladness and rejoicing and of how a great light has shone on the land that was shrouded in darkness. This is what Jesus Christ came to bring to the people of God who believe in him: liberation from that which oppressed them.
Today we begin the cycle of readings from St Matthew’s Gospel which will continue throughout the Sundays of Ordinary Time for this year. In today’s passage we see that John the Baptist has been arrested and this will lead to his execution. Now Jesus begins his preaching in earnest and we are reminded that John had said that he would decline while the one to come after him would increase. Jesus also settles in Capernaum – a place which was both Jewish and Gentile in population – probably because it was further away from the centre of Roman rule and would allow the Lord more time and opportunity to gather his followers and preach his message. For Matthew, this fulfils the text of the prophet Isaiah which we read in the first reading. Jesus is the light of the peoples and, in settling in Capernaum, the light for Jew and Gentile alike. In the second half of the passage we see Jesus calling his first disciples: Peter and Andrew, James and John. All four are fishermen and all four are working with nets. Jesus calls them and immediately they leave everything and follow him which suggests that perhaps they have known him already and may have heard his preaching. In any case, their response is a radical one and causes a major change in their lives. We too are called to make a radical change in our lives because of our faith in Jesus Christ and for the sake of our future in the kingdom. The nets the men were mending could refer to the entanglements of life, those things which make life difficult for ourselves and others. Their leaving their nets and following Jesus could refer, therefore, to their new way of living, of living a better way of life in keeping with the Gospel of Life. In our day, too, the Lord brings liberation from all that oppresses us and keeps us separated from the love of God which knows no bounds.
In the second reading from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we see Paul admonishing the people for their lack of unity. It appears that the community has divided into different groups who each declare themselves for a different preacher, demonstrating that they prefer certain styles or messages. Paul is clear that there is only one Christ and one Gospel and that they must remain one in their faith and practice. There may be many great orators to show us the way but it is not them that we are to follow but the Christ about whom they preach.

Monday 23:         Of the Third Week in Ordinary Time
Hebrews 9:15, 24-28; Psalm 97; Mark 3:22-30
In our first reading from the letter to the Hebrews we are told that Christ offered himself for our sins. In Christ’s time the high priest made offerings in the sanctuary time after time to redeem the people, but Christ only had to do this once: he suffered only once for our sins. The next time Christ appears on earth it will be to bring the reward of salvation to the faithful and not to deal with sin, which has already been dealt with by Christ. In our Gospel text we see that Jesus has been casting out unclean spirits. The scribes believed that this was because he himself was Beelzebul – the prince of devils. But he tells them that if this were so then Satan would come to an end for a divided kingdom could never last. Christ can cast out spirits because he is greater than they and his authority is everlasting.

Tuesday 24:         Memorial of St Francis de Sales, Bishop & Doctor of the Church*
Hebrews 10:1-10; Psalm 39; Mark 3:31-35
We again read from Hebrews and about the Law of the Torah, which the Jews obeyed, but which did not win them life for they had to make sin offerings regularly. However, the law of Christ’s Gospel will win us life because we have been reconciled with God. If we live by the will of Christ then there will be no need for sin offerings because we will not sin. Today’s Gospel text is quite short and yet very profound. Jesus’ family come looking for him and those with him tell him this. In reply he tells them that those about him are his mother and brothers and sisters. Those who hear his message and follow it, obeying the commandment of love and avoiding sin, are the true family of Christ.

Wednesday 25:   Feast of the Conversion of St Paul, Apostle*
Acts 22:3-16 or Acts 9:1-22; Psalm 116; Mark 16:15-18
St Paul had been the great persecutor of the early followers of Jesus and had put many of them to death. Today we celebrate his conversion and the readings show how he has changed and become one of the greatest preachers in the Church. In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles we hear Paul himself speak of his former life as a persecutor of Christianity and of his calling by Christ himself. The alternative reading from Acts gives a second telling of the event from a historical perspective. What is important in both accounts is that as Christ appeared to the Eleven in today’s gospel and sent them out to spread the news of the Kingdom, so too Paul has been commissioned by Christ for that same task. We are asked to convert daily to the Gospel and to take its message to others following the example of St Paul and in fulfilment of our own baptismal promises. Our gospel text is a post-resurrection encounter between Christ and the Eleven in which he commissions them to out to the ‘whole world; proclaim the Good News’.

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity concludes today.

Thursday 26:       Memorial of Sts Timothy and Titus, Bishops*
2Timothy 1:1-8; Psalm 95; Luke 10:1-9
In our first reading today from St Paul’s second letter to Timothy we see Paul describe Timothy as someone who was sincere in the faith. Paul is writing to him to encourage him to work to increase his faith, to “fan into a flame the gift which God gave” him. That gift was something powerful with which to spread the faith. That gift has also been given to us and so the example of Timothy and Titus is placed before us as an encouragement to follow their example and the example of the Apostles. Our gospel text from St Luke sees Christ sending out the seventy-two to preach in his name and to bring his healing power to others.

Friday 27:            Of the Third Week in Ordinary Time
Hebrews 10:32-39; Psalm 95; Mark 4:26-34
The Hebrews are reminded in today’s first reading that when they first accepted the Good News they suffered for it, but they got through the suffering. They are told that having come through this suffering they must still remain faithful even when there is nothing to challenge the faith. They must remain faithful for ever. In the Gospel we see that Jesus continues to use parables to teach the people. Today he tells them that the kingdom grows silently and without ceasing, just as seeds grow silently and constantly in the ground. From small beginnings, the kingdom will grow like the mustard seed which, being the smallest of all seeds, grows to be the biggest shrub of all. Both readings challenge us to keep watch over our soul and to strengthen our faith. If we live a life of faith then our own faith will grow and with it the kingdom of God and the faith of those around us.

Saturday 28:        Memorial of St Thomas Aquinas, Priest & Doctor of the Church*
Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19; Psalm – Luke 1:69-75; Mark 4:35-41
Today, the author of the first reading uses the example of Abraham and Sarah to teach us about faith. Abraham was told that he would be the father of a great nation even though Sarah was barren. Sarah too believed that she would give birth because God had said it. They also moved to a different country at God’s command. They did so because they believed and because they believed they were rewarded and the promises made to them were fulfilled. In the Gospel, we see Jesus and the disciples out on the lake when a storm blows up. The disciples, terrified, waken him and he calms the storm, showing that he has power over the forces of nature. Both of our readings today challenge us to live by faith. Because the disciples had weak faith they were terrified in the boat even in the presence of their Saviour. Abraham and Sarah on the other hand, lived by strong faith and received a great reward. We too will be rewarded for living by faith and for helping to strengthen the faith of others.

Memorials this Week:
January 24:          Memorial of St Francis de Sales, Bishop & Doctor of the Church
Francis was born in Savoy in 1567 to a noble family. Having studied law at Padua he gave up the legal profession and was ordained priest in 1593. He was made a bishop only six years later and was Archbishop of Geneva by 1602 – home of John Calvin (who broke from the Roman Catholic Church in 1530 and founded Calvinism). He founded the Visitation Nuns with St Jane Frances de Chantal and was noted for the great way he preached which brought many people back to the Catholic Church following the Reformation. He died at the age of 56 in 1622. He is the patron saint of journalists and other writers.

January 25:          Feast of the Conversion of St Paul the Apostle
Paul (also known by his Jewish name Saul) was born in Tarsus in Cilicia in modern-day Turkey. He was educated and was a Pharisee which meant that he was well acquainted with both the Law and the Scriptures which is evident in his writings. As a faithful Jew he persecuted the early Christians until he was struck down on his way to Damascus to arrest some Christians. In this incident, the Risen Lord appeared to Paul and from then on Paul becomes the greatest champion of the faith and is known as the Apostle to the Gentiles. He met with St Peter and the other Apostles in Jerusalem on a number of occasions and undertook three great missionary journeys to spread the faith. These journeys took him through Palestine but also through Syria, Turkey, Crete, Greece and Malta. During some of these journeys he funded himself through his work as a tent maker. Eventually Paul ends up in Rome where, even under house arrest, he spreads the faith and writes some of the letters found in the New Testament to the churches he had founded on his travels and also to individuals to bolster their faith. These letters also contain Paul’s understanding of who Jesus Christ is and the importance of the death and resurrection of Christ. He was beheaded during the persecutions in the reign of Emperor Nero.

January 26:          Memorial of Sts Timothy & Titus, Bishops
Very little is known about these two saints who were companions and disciples of St Paul who is said to have written three letters to them and which are part of the canon of sacred scripture. Timothy was made bishop of Ephesus while still very young and is said to have been beaten and stoned to death in 97AD for fighting against heathen worship. Titus was made bishop of Crete though he still went on missions for Paul from time to time but always returned to Crete where he eventually died.

January 28:          Memorial of St Thomas Aquinas, Priest & Doctor of the Church
Thomas was born in 1225 and was educated by the Benedictine monks of Monte Cassino before joining the Dominican Order. He spent his life teaching and writing in France and Italy and his two major works – the Summa Contra Gentiles and the Summa Theologica – are still studied today for the quality of their theology and philosophy. He died at the age of 49 while on his way to the second Oecumenical Council of Lyons in 1274. He is the patron saint of universities and schools.

© P. Breen, O.Carm. 2011
The Reflections above are available in printed form in:
Reflections on the Readings for every day of the Church's year.
Patrick J. Breen, O.Carm. Dublin: Columba Press. 2011. ISBN 978 1 85607 732 3.

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