Reflections on the Daily Readings

January 19 - 25, 2020
The Second Week in Orindary Time
Readings: Sunday Cycle A; Weekday Cycle II.
Divine Office - Psalter Week II.

Sunday 19:          The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 49:3, 5-6; Psalm 39; 1Corinthians 1:1-3; John 1:29-34
The first reading from the second section of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah talks about the Lord’s servant being the one to bring salvation to the whole world. The servants referred to are not the entire House of Israel but to those Israelites who have been faithful and kept themselves pure; these servants will help to restore the rest of the nation. The Lord’s true servant will not simply restore the people of Israel, but will be ‘the light of the nations’ to bring all nations and peoples to the one, true God, making it clear that salvation is for all the peoples of the earth. This links in with the gospel where John says that Jesus is that servant.
Today’s gospel passage from St John sees John the Baptist giving Jesus the title, ‘Lamb of God’. The Fourth Gospel doesn’t recount the story of the Lord’s baptism, which the community would have been familiar with and which we celebrated last week, but it introduces this encounter between John and Jesus, though no conversation is recorded. John tells his own followers and those listening that Jesus is the one about whom he himself has been preaching and for whom he has been preparing the people. The reference to the lamb can refer to the Suffering Servant in the writings of the prophet Isaiah or to the lambs which were sacrificed in the Temple to atone for the sins of the people, and which were being sacrificed while Jesus was dying on the Cross. Through his death on the Cross and his resurrection, Jesus has removed the power of sin over us and restored us to full union with God. There is also a strong connection in John’s words and what Jesus will say in later chapters, that they were sent by the same person, and which is further strengthened in John’s words about Jesus receiving the Holy Spirit. John refers to Jesus as the ‘Chosen One of God’ and, because of our baptism and confirmation, we too are the chosen ones of God, chosen to be his sons and daughters and to witness to him as did John the Baptist.
Our second reading for the next seven weeks comes from St Paul’s first letter to the Christian Community in Corinth, which opens with Paul reminding the people that he is an apostle appointed by God. He then goes on to remind the people that they are not the only Christians but belong to a much larger family of believers in Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all people. The readings today challenge us to look at Jesus Christ and who he is for us. Is he an ancient prophet or holy man who said good and wholesome things so long ago and which have some relevance today? Or is he truly our Lord and Saviour who is still present among us and is still watching over us? Do we want his salvation and do we want to live with him in the Kingdom? We are challenged to say, with conviction, the words spoken by John the Baptist, ‘Yes, I have seen and I am the witness that he is the Chosen One of God’.

Monday 20:         Of the Second Week in Ordinary Time
1Samuel 15:16-23; Psalm 49; Mark 2:18-22
We continue our readings from the first Book of Samuel and today we see that Saul – the people’s king who succeeded in driving the Philistines from the central valley – has failed as God predicted that he would. Saul did not listen carefully to the word of God and displeased God in the battle against the Amalekites so now God has rejected him as king. The Psalm takes up God’s displeasure with Saul and says that offerings are not enough – love of the law and word must also accompany sacrifices. In today’s Gospel we see that while others are fasting, Jesus’ disciples are not fasting and this causes trouble with the Pharisees. When asked, Jesus tells them that wedding guests do not fast when the bridegroom is present. We too are called on to love God’s law and to live according to that law but not grudgingly. We too must realise that Christ is always with us in all things.

Tuesday 21:         Memorial of St Agnes, Virgin & Martyr*
1Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 88; Mark 2:23-28
Having rejected Saul as king over his people, God now sends Samuel out to find another king. However, Saul remains as king for the time being as the people were unwilling to lose their first king. Samuel goes to Jesse and from among his sons anoints the boy, David, as king to replace Saul. In so doing, God again shows that he does not judge by the standards of humans but appoints those who appear to be unfit for high office. God’s spirit rests on David who will rule when the right time comes. In the passage from the Gospel we see Jesus again being questioned about the actions of his disciples, this time for picking corn on the Sabbath. In reply he says that “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The Risen Lord has made the Sabbath a holy day, one which unites all Christians. It is a day to celebrate the freedom won for us by Christ’s sacrifice.

Wednesday 22:    Of the Second Week in Ordinary Time
1Samuel 17:32-33, 37, 40-51; Psalm 143; Mark 3:1-6
In our first reading from Samuel we see that Saul’s army has been in battle for some time with the Philistines and have not been able to overcome them. The battle field is not far from Bethlehem and the time is about the eleventh century before Christ. David now arrives and we read the familiar story of how he alone – with very little weaponry – slew Goliath. He is able to do so because God’s favour rests on him but also because he did it in the name of the Lord. The Psalm is in praise of God who helped him in battle. The Gospel reading continues yesterday’s theme of the Sabbath day. Today we see Christ healing a man even though any form of work was prohibited. Even though he was doing good and healing an invalid the Pharisees now seek to silence him permanently.

Thursday 23:       Of the Second Week in Ordinary Time
1Samuel 18:6-9, 19:1-7; Psalm 55; Mark 3:7-12
In our first reading we see that Saul has now become jealous of David because the boy is now more popular than the king, and so Saul seeks to destroy him. Saul’s own son, Jonathan, however, intercedes on behalf of David and brings reconciliation between Saul and David. Our Gospel tells of the popularity of Jesus everywhere he goes and of his many cures. Whenever he casts out demons he always stops them revealing who he is – his time has not yet come to fully reveal that he is the Son of God, because the people are not ready for that. Like the unclean spirits, we too know that Jesus is the Son of God but do we always acknowledge that as did the unclean spirits?

Friday 24:            Memorial of St Francis de Sales, Bishop & Doctor of the Church*
1Samuel 24:3-21; Psalm 56; Mark 3:13-19
In our first reading today we read that Saul is again looking for David because he has heard rumours that he meant to do the king harm. However, David is in a position to kill Saul but does not take it because Saul is God’s anointed. Instead he turns the occasion into another reconciliation between them. Now Saul acknowledges that David will be king and that the sovereignty will be secure under David. Today’s Gospel shows us Jesus appointing the Twelve who were to be his closest companions and commissioning them to preach in his name and to cure others. As these twelve were commissioned so too are we, as their descendants, and we too are called to proclaim the kingdom of God in our lives by what we do and say in keeping with our baptismal promises to be the Lord’s disciples.

Saturday 25:        Feast of the Conversion of St Paul, Apostle*
Acts 22:3-16 or Acts 9:1-22; Psalm 116; Mark 16:15-18
Today we celebrate the conversion of one of the greatest persecutors of the early Christian Church and the two texts from the Acts of the Apostles recount the moment when the Lord himself appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus. The first account is told by Paul himself and he begins by reminding the people that he was a faithful Jew, and a Pharisee, who persecuted the early Christians.
The second account is told from a historical perspective. It was not unusual for the Jews of the time to have a traditional Jewish name and a Roman equivalent, and so we have Saul and the Roman name of Paul. The key is that the Apostle to the Gentiles now goes by his Roman name showing that he has left his old way of life behind, and has devoted himself completely to the Christian Way. The Psalm takes up the instruction found in our gospel for today.
Our gospel text is a post-resurrection encounter between Jesus and the Eleven, and in the passage he tells them to ‘Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation’. The Lord gives them power and authority and the gift of tongues so that the message may be spread far and wide. That same instruction is given to us in our own day, but we will only be effective in that duty if we ourselves are converted daily to the gospel. As the Lord called Saul to conversion, he is calling us also, though not necessarily as obviously as he called Saul.

The Week of Prayer for Christianity concludes on January 25.

Memorials this Week:
January 21:         Memorial of St Agnes, Virgin & Martyr
Agnes was a girl of about 14 or 15 years of age when she was martyred and buried beside the Via Nomentana in Rome during the final years of the persecutions by the Emperor Diocletian (early fourth century). Near her grave a basilica was erected and a series of large catacombs excavated, which can still be visited today. Nothing definite is known about her martyrdom other than the fact that she died for believing in Jesus Christ. On this day lambs are blessed, whose wool is used to make the palliums for new metropolitan archbishops appointed in the past year.[1]

January 24:         Memorial of St Francis de Sales, Bishop & Doctor of the Church
Francis was born to a noble family in Savoy in north-western Italy in 1567. 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, by 1602, was Archbishop of Geneva, Switzerland, the home of John Calvin (the founder of Calvinism who broke from the Roman Catholic Church in 1530). 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 (in modern-day Syria) 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 ended up in Rome where, even under house arrest, he spread the faith and wrote 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.

[1]    The pallium is a white woollen band embroidered with six black crosses which is worn by the Pope and by metropolitan archbishops. The lambs, the symbol of St Agnes who was martyred in Rome around the year 305, are raised by the Trappist Fathers of the Abbey of the Three Fountains in Rome and the palliums are made from the newly-shorn wool by the sisters of St Cecilia. The blessing traditionally took place in the basilica on Rome’s Via Nomentana which bears the saint’s name and where she is buried. The wool of the lambs is used to make the palliums bestowed on new metropolitan archbishops on 29 June, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles.

© P. Breen, O.Carm. 2011, 2013
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.

And direct from the publishers: Columba Press, Dublin.

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