Monday, February 6, 2023

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time A


 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time A

Readings: Sirach 15:15‑20  1 Corinthians 2:6‑10  

Matthew 5:17‑37

            “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.  I have come, not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matt 5:17).  In today's Gospel Matthew presents Jesus as the final interpreter of God's revelation in the law and the prophets.  Let us confidently commit ourselves to follow Jesus' commands by praying the refrain of our responsorial psalm: "Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!" (Ps 119:1b).

            In the first reading Sirach is arguing against those who hold for a determinism that said  humans have no free will and that God forces some people into sin (Sirach 15:11‑12).  Against this position which would undermine any sense of responsibility for one's actions, Sirach asserts that humans are free to choose either life or death:  “If you choose you can keep the command-ments,/ they will save you . . ./ Before man are life and death,/ whichever he chooses shall be given him.”  Sirach concludes his exhortation by insisting that, although God's immense wisdom sees and understands all, "No one does he (God) command to act unjustly,/ to none does he give license to sin”.

            Our second reading from 1 Corinthians continues Paul's explication of the paradox of the cross of Christ.  His tone in this section is ironic and sarcastic.  Paul’s opponents at Corinth claim to have an elite status in the Christian community because of their superior "wisdom" which makes them spiritually “mature."  Paul uses their own language to ridicule their understanding of Christianity as belonging to "this age" which is "passing away."  The real "mysterious" and "hidden" wisdom of God is the cross of Christ which is completely incomprehensible to those who embrace Christianity out of a desire for worldly wisdom and status.  Paul reminds the Corinthians that this is a wisdom which "none of the rulers of this age knew for, if they had known it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory."

            For the next two Sundays the Gospel readings will be from  the section of Matthew's Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus  fulfills "the law and the prophets" by giving an authoritative  interpretation of six commandments in the Jewish Torah (Matt 5:17‑48). Each instance is introduced by slight variants of the same formula: “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors. . . But I say to you . . .”   With God-like authority Jesus states the commands first spoken by God on Mount Sinai and then gives them their final meaning.  These six examples are meant to be illustrative rather than exhaustive.  They give us a glimpse of how we are to live in the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus warns his disciples that they are called to a higher righteousness than that of the legalistic scribes and Pharisees (Matt 5:20; see Matthew 23).

            Jesus fulfills the command against murder (Ex 20:13; Deut 5:17) by affirming it but then adding to its demands in a way which goes to the root cause of the sin. "But I say to you, who-ever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, `Raqa' ("empty‑headed"), will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, `You fool,' will be liable to fiery Gehenna." For Jesus' followers, all acts of anger and abusive behavior toward human beings are equally serious.  Jesus then gives two parables as conclusions that follow from these demands.  First of all, reconciliation with the brother takes precedence over liturgical ritual.  "Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything 

 against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother . . ."

Secondly, he urges his disciples to settle any judicial disputes before they come into the courts.   

            Likewise, Jesus affirms the command prohibiting adultery (Ex 20:14; Deut 5:18) and goes on to condemn the interior attitude which leads to the act. "But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart." A woman's dignity is so sacred that it is not to be violated even by the lustful intentions of men.  The sayings about the "right eye" and "right hand" which follow are hyperboles which stress removing the cause of sin so as not to risk losing the whole of one's life in Gehenna. 

            Jesus' interpretations of the commands allowing divorce and oaths actually overturn the old law.  Rather than allowing men to dismiss women with "a bill of divorce" for the slightest of reasons (see Deuteronomy 24), Jesus declares: ". . . whoever divorces his wife-- unless the marriage is unlawful-- causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."  In the context of the Judaism of Jesus and Matthew’s day, this command protected women's rights against the arbitrary actions of their husbands.  

Finally, Jesus' command prohibiting the use of oaths and vows which were allowed in Jewish law (see Ex 20:7; Lev 19:12; Num 30:3; Deut 23:22) is designed to protect the name of the all truthful God from being brought into our petty human affairs where we all too often lie and cheat.  We humans are not to imagine that God is at our beck and call to witness our oaths and vows.  Rather, we are to aim at truthfulness and honesty in our dealings with others. "But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. . . . Let your `Yes' mean `Yes,' and your `No' mean `No.' Anything more is from the evil one."     

Monday, January 30, 2023

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time A

 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time A

Readings: Isaiah 58:7‑10   1 Corinthians 2:1‑5   Matthew 5:13‑20

"You are the salt of the earth. . . . You are the light of the world."  Jesus' challenge to his disciples in today's Gospel is also addressed to us who live in a culture that is as "flat" and "blind" as was the world of Jesus' own day.  As we struggle to be faithful to Jesus' commission, let us pray with confidence the refrain of this Sunday's responsorial psalm: "The just man is a light in darkness to the upright" (Ps 112:4a).

The Isaiah reading was spoken in the dark days immediately after the return of the Babylonian exiles to Jerusalem when they found their city and temple in ruins.  Instead of caring for the poor and homeless, many selfishly pursued their own business, while conducting meaningless fasts which the prophet describes in the lines preceding our reading. “Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits,/ and drive all your laborers,/ yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting,/ striking with wicked claw” (Isa 58:3‑4). In God's name, the prophet demands: “This, rather, is the fasting that I wish./ Release those bound unjustly,/ untie the thongs of the yoke,/ set free the oppressed,/ break every yoke. Share your bread with the hungry,/ shelter the oppressed and the homeless;/ clothe the naked when you see them,/ and do not turn your back on your own” (Isa 58:6‑7). Only after Israel rectifies the injustices in its midst will it be healed and become a light for a darkened world (58:8). 

The second reading continues Paul's attack on the worldly factionalism among the Corinthians.  He reminds them that his initial preaching of the gospel was not done "with sublimity of words or wisdom."  Rather, he spoke only of "Jesus Christ, and him crucified."  As befits a message about a crucified Messiah, he came to them "in weakness and fear, and much trembling."  For Paul, the success of the Christian gospel does not depend upon the preacher's gift for "persuasive words of wisdom," like some worldly sophist, but on "a demonstration of Spirit and power" working through weak human instruments who reflect the message of the cross in their own lives.  The cross is God's "mysterious" and "hidden" wisdom which "the rulers of this age" cannot understand, as is proven by their crucifying "the Lord of glory." 

The Gospel continues last Sunday's reading which ended with the beatitude for those persecuted for the sake of the gospel (Matt 5:11‑12).  Now Jesus uses two striking metaphors to alert his disciples to the importance of their role in the world.  They are to be "the salt of the earth" and "the light of the world."   Salt was important in Jesus' world as both a spice and a preservative.  Both qualities apply to the disciples' task.  They must both challenge the world with Jesus' teachings and preserve the deepest meaning of God's Torah (see Matthew 10, 18, 28).  But Jesus ends with a threat of judgment. “But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?  It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Strictly speaking, salt cannot lose its taste, but in Judaism it can become unclean when tainted with too many impurities, and then it has to be thrown out.  The disciples are warned that, despite their call, they may lose all if they are unfaithful in time of persecution.  

The light image is based on the tradition in the first reading from Isaiah.  A traditional Jewish hope was that Israel and the city of Jerusalem would become "a light for the nations" by manifesting God's justice (see Isa 2:1‑5; 42:1‑9).  Notice that although the disciples' "good deeds" are to be like "a city set on a mountain top" and a light “set on a lamp stand where it gives light to all in the house," they are not to draw attention to themselves, but to bring the nations to God. “Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matt 5:16).

Monday, January 23, 2023

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time A

Monica Welch (Dovetaillink)

 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time A

Readings: Zephaniah 2:3;3:12‑13    1 Corinthians 1:26‑31      Matthew 5:1‑12

"Blessed are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of heaven is theirs!" (Matt 5:3)   This acclamation is both the refrain for this Sunday's responsorial psalm and the opening line of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel reading.  For those of us who may be desperately aware of our spiritual and economic poverty and the need for God's justice, Jesus' words are "good news."  We are assured of God's special care and blessing.  For those of us who are smugly comfortable with the worldly status quo, Jesus' words are a stern rebuke.  We are challenged to hear again the revolutionary message of the kingdom Jesus preaches.

Zephaniah's prophecy was spoken in the early years of King Josiah's reign (640‑609 B.C.) when the king was attempting to purify Judah from deep seated idolatry and the neglect of the social justice demanded by the Torah.  The prophet was convinced that the nation of Judah and its surrounding neighbors were about to be annihilated "on the day of the Lord's anger."  According to Zephaniah, only a remnant "who have observed his (the Lord's) law" will be sheltered on judgment day.  This faithful remnant are instructed to "seek the Lord" by living justly and humbly in a time of injustice and pride.  The reading concludes with an assurance that the Lord will bless the humble remnant who takes refuge in him by doing and speaking no wrong.  "They shall pasture and couch their flocks with none to disturb them."      

The reading from 1 Corinthians continues Paul's argument that the existence of rival groups in the Corinthian community is contrary to the nature of the Christian gospel.   Last week, we heard Paul assert that the gospel is foolishness by worldly standards.  God's saving power has been revealed in worldly weakness: the cross on which Jesus, the Messiah, was crucified.  For Paul, the mystery of this paradox extends into the life of the Christian community. Those who have responded to the good news of salvation through Jesus' cross are not the philosophically wise, nor the powerful.

                                    Not many of you were wise by human standards;

                                    not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 

                                    Rather, God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong . . .

Because God has saved us through Christ despite our weakness, Paul concludes that there is no place for worldly boasting in the Christian community.  The only proper response to God's grace is to offer him grateful praise, or in Paul's words, to "boast in the Lord." 

                                    It is due to him (God) that you are in Christ Jesus,

                                    who became for us wisdom from God, as well as righteousness,

                                    sanctification, and redemption, so that, as it is written,

                                    “Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.”

Jesus' proclamation of the beatitudes (exclamations of congratulation) in today’s Gospel completes today's theme of God's concern for the lowly who pursue justice.  The beatitudes are the beginning of Matthew's Sermon on the Mount which we will be reading for the next six weeks of Ordinary Time.  Jesus announces the prophetic fulfillment of the law and prophets (Matthew 5‑7).  The setting and tone are solemn and apocalyptic.  Jesus goes up a mountainside, a place of revelation like Sinai in Exodus where Moses and Israel first received the Law.  Seating himself in the traditional position of a teacher, he majestically proclaims the fulfillment of the law. 

Jesus begins with the joyful announcement of God's present and future blessing upon the ’anawim, "the meek, humble" who acknowledge their total dependence upon God for their justice and vindication.  The "poor in spirit," the "mourning," and those "who hunger and thirst for justice" refer to the same people: the weak who suffer from injustice.  They are blessed because of God's special care for them.  Three of the beatitudes are more active: showing mercy, being single‑hearted and making peace.   Their meaning will be fleshed out in Jesus' teachings on forgiveness, fulfillment of the law's commandments, and love of the enemy (see Matt 5:17‑46).  The twofold blessing on the persecuted reflects the experience of martyrdom in the early Church.  All of the beatitudes mirror the Matthew’s Jesus, the  truly blessed one, who both embodies the joy the kingdom brings and also obediently trusts his Father to the point of suffering  death for the sake of the kingdom (see Matt 10:24‑42; 11:25‑30).

Monday, January 16, 2023

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time A

David Lindsley, artist

 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time A

Readings: Isaiah 8:23‑9:3  1 Corinthians 1:10‑13,17 

 Matthew 4:12‑23

In today's Gospel Matthew presents the beginning of Jesus' public proclamation of the kingdom of heaven as the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy of "a great light" arising for "a people living in darkness."   As we hear the beginning of Jesus' preaching in Galilee, let us identify with the first apostles‑‑ Peter, Andrew, James, and John‑‑ by responding whole‑heartedly to the demands of God's kingdom with the refrain of the responsorial psalm: "The Lord is my light and my salvation" (Ps 27:1a). 

The Isaiah reading is the opening section of a messianic oracle which describes the Lord's deliverance of Israel from the Assyrian armies.  At first, the Lord had "degraded the land of  Zebulun and the land of Naphtali" by allowing Assyria under  Tiglath‑pileser III to take captives and territory from those  tribes, but now "he has glorified the seaward road, the land west  of the Jordan, the District of the Gentiles" through a mighty deliverance of his people from the Assyria imperialists.  The prophet goes on to praise the Lord for his victory.      

                                    The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;

                                    Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.

The people of Israel rejoice "as at the harvest" or “when dividing spoils," because the Lord has smashed "the yoke that burdened them,/ the pole on their shoulder,/ and the rod of  their taskmaster . . . as on the day of Midian" (cf. Judges 6-7). 

In the second reading from the beginning of 1 Corinthians, Paul is combating the problem of factionalism.  The Corinthian community has divided into groups claiming allegiance to Paul, Apollos (another apostle from Alexandria in Egypt), Cephas (Peter), and Christ.   For Paul such division is rooted in a misunderstanding of the gospel message.  The Christian gospel is not the "wisdom" of a particular Christian preacher.  In fact, by the standards of philosophical wisdom, the gospel is “folly” because its content is the cross, i.e., the message about Jesus, a crucified Messiah.   Paul asks the Corinthians, who seem to be allied to the apostle who had baptized them, "Is Christ divided?  Was it Paul who was crucified for you?  Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”   He then reminds them of the difference between the worldly wisdom of philosophy and the power of the cross.

                                    For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the

                                    gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence,

                                    so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.

Matthew's account of the beginning of Jesus' preaching proclaims that a new age has dawned when the light of salvation is manifest to the whole world.  John's arrest serves as a kind of signal for Jesus to begin his mission.  After first withdrawing from the desert of Judea to Galilee, Jesus leaves his home town of Nazareth and takes up residence in Capernaum, a small fishing village on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee.  Despite the apparent obscurity of this place in contrast to the capital and temple city of Jerusalem, Matthew understands Jesus' Galilean ministry as the ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah's ancient prophecy.

                                    "Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali 

                                    the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, heathen Galilee:

                                    a people living in darkness 

                                    has seen a great light. 

                                    On those who inhabit a land overshadowed by death,

                                    light has arisen." 

Jesus' initial preaching is exactly the same as John's:  “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (cf. Matt 3:2).  The term “kingdom of heaven” is Matthew's reverent paraphrase for "kingdom of God."  It does not mean heaven in the sense of a disembodied afterlife with God, but rather it refers to the arrival of God's kingdom of justice and peace within this world, as will be evident in Jesus' preaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5‑7).

In contrast to John whose mission was limited to preaching repentance and baptizing in the desert of Judea (Matthew 3), Jesus begins a more public and universal mission by calling common fisherman to leave their nets and become “fishers of men” (see Jer 16:11).  Eventually their mission will extend to all the nations (see Matt 28:16‑20).  This universality is anticipated in Jesus' initial tour through the whole of Galilee which Matthew summarizes in the following way.       

                        He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues,

                        proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every

                        disease and illness among the people.

Monday, January 9, 2023

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time A

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time A

Readings: Isaiah 49:3,5‑6  1 Corinthians 1:1‑3  John 1:29‑34

In these Sundays of Ordinary Time between the Christmas season and Lent, the Church presents us with the demands of our Christian vocation.  We are called to be a holy people who, like John the Baptist in the Gospel, give testimony to the presence of Jesus in our midst.  Let us open ourselves to the rigors of that call as we sing the refrain of this Sunday's responsorial psalm: "Here am I, Lord;/ I come to do your will" (Ps 40:8a and 9a).

            In the first reading the prophet Second Isaiah speaks of Israel's vocation in the language of a prophetic call.  Influenced by the humiliation of the nation's exile in Babylon, Second Isaiah envisions a new task for Israel; it is to be God's "servant" (`ebed).  Speaking as if he is servant, Israel, the prophet gives a first person report of Israel's coming to a new understanding of its vocation.  Not only is Israel called to repent of its sins in exile and be gathered to the Lord, but now it is to be "a light to the nations" by witnessing to the Lord's powerful action in bringing the nation home from exile. “The Lord said to me: you are my servant,/ Israel, through whom I show my glory./ Now the Lord has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb,/ that Jacob may be brought back to him/ and Israel gathered to him;/ . . . It is too little . . . for you to be my servant,/ to raise up the tribes of Jacob,/ . . . I will make you a light to the nations,/ that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” 

Paul's greeting at the beginning of First Corinthians continues the theme of God's call.  In his salutation Paul stresses both his own call and that of the community at Corinth.   As he often does in his letters, Paul identifies himself by giving his apostolic credentials: "Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God".  His message is never simply his own; it is always related to his mission to be an apostle of the crucified and risen Christ.   "The Church of God that is in Corinth" also has a call based on what Christ has done for it.  Paul addresses the Corinthian Christians with the words:  "you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be a holy with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours."  This is language taken from the Hebrew Scriptures where Israel is called to be "kingdom of priests, a holy nation" (Exod 19:6; see also Lev 19).  As Paul will elaborate in the body of the letter, the Corinthians have been consecrated at a great price, the very blood of the crucified  Christ, which has made the whole community and the individuals who make it up, "the temple of God" and "the  body  of Christ" (see 1 Cor 3:16‑17; 5:12‑20; 11:17‑34; 12:12‑26). As such, they are called to live holy lives of loving consideration for one another (see 1 Corinthians 13).

This Sunday's Gospel is John the Baptist's testimony to Jesus from John's gospel.  The Baptist has the role of the first witness to Jesus' identity as the saving light who has come from God (see John 1:6‑9).  Therefore, when Jesus appears in Bethany across the Jordan, John immediately identifies him with the words: "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  He is the one of whom I said, ‘a man is coming who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.'"

John goes on to speak of his own task “in baptizing with water” in order to make Jesus “known to Israel.”  He admits that at first he did not recognize Jesus, but he testifies that “the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’”  When John sees the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus, he performs his task: “Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.” 

As we meditate on our own Christian vocations, we might humbly take John the Baptist as our model.  He does not proclaim himself or claim any title for himself (see John 1:19‑21).  He is content with the role of pointing to “the one among you whom you do not recognize” (John 1:26).  When the priests and Levites from Jerusalem ask John to identify himself, he simply says:  "I am ‘the voice of one crying out in the desert, "Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as Isaiah   the prophet said." (John 1:23)  

Monday, January 2, 2023

Epiphany A B C

 Epiphany A B C

Readings: Isaiah 60:1‑6   Ephesians 3:2‑3,5‑6  Matthew 2:1‑12

Beginning with the call of Abraham, God's plan for salvation history extends his blessing from Israel to all the nations (Gen 12:1‑3).  Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany, the manifestation of God's salvation to all peoples.  In the words of the responsorial psalm, we pray: "Lord, every nation on earth will adore you" (Ps 72:11).

The Isaiah reading looks forward to the time when nations will walk by the light of God's blessing shed upon Jerusalem.   Speaking to exiles recently returned from Babylon, the prophet  commands them to see their efforts to rebuild Jerusalem's walls and Temple as the beginnings of the epiphany of the Lord's light and glory piercing through the darkness of the whole earth. “Nations shall walk by your light,/ and kings by your shining radiance/. . . . For the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you,/ the wealth of nations shall be brought to you/ . . . All from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense,/ and proclaiming the praises of the Lord”  (Is 60:3,5‑6).

Ephesians announces the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy by proclaiming “that the Gentiles are now coheirs with the Jews, members of the same body and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the preaching of the gospel."  Paul had to fight for the Gentiles’ right to be part of the new Messianic community without the duty of becoming observant Jews.  According to Paul, Jesus' death and resurrection is the saving event, long anticipated by the prophets, which has opened the way for the Gentiles to become members of the people of God.  This good news also calls Christians to a new way of living together in a love, rooted in Christ's own love for us.  Our epiphany prayer for one another should be Paul's. “I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner-self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you may be rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:14‑19). 

Matthew's story of the adoration of the magi foreshadows that the Gentiles will receive the gospel .  Many of the details of the Epiphany story‑‑ the character of Herod, the mysterious star, the magi‑‑ have their background in the traditions of the Old Testament.  

Herod's character is modeled on previous wicked kings who attempt to thwart God's promises, only to bring them to fulfillment.  Like the Pharaoh in versions of the Exodus story, Herod becomes "greatly troubled" by the birth of "the newborn king of the Jews" and attempts to kill the child by ordering the massacre of the infant boys in Bethlehem.  As a result Jesus, as God's son, must descend into Egypt, like his ancestors, and then be called out in fulfillment of Hosea's prophecy: "Out of Egypt I have called my son" (Hos 11:1; Mt 2:13‑23).

The star that the magi follow is also associated with an Old Testament story about another king who tried unsuccessfully to frustrate God's plan.  When the Moabite king Balak confronts the Israelites in their march through the wilderness, he summons Balaam, a pagan seer (a magus), to curse them, but he can only pronounce blessing on God's people (see Numbers 22‑24).   Among the blessings is the foreshadowing of a Messiah arising like "a star" out of Jacob. “There shall come a man out of Israel's seed,/ and he shall rule many nations/. . . . I see him, but not now;/ I behold him, but not close;/ a star shall rise from Jacob,/ and a man (scepter) shall come forth from Israel” (Num 24:7,17‑‑partially from Greek Septuagint).      

In contrast to Herod, the magi are sincere Gentiles who cooperate with God's plan and, in fulfillment of the Isaiah text, come to "walk by (Israel's) light."  Although they only have the astrological revelation provided by nature, the magi humbly come to Israel seeking fuller knowledge of where the child is to be born so that they may do him homage.  When they learn from the Scriptures that the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem, they continue their journey, again guided by the star.  And when they see the child with Mary his mother, they respond with joy and in homage offer their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 

Monday, December 26, 2022

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God A B C

 Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God A B C

Readings: Numbers 6:22‑27   Galatians 4:4‑7   Luke 2:16‑21

            Today's feast celebrates the merciful God, whose name has been fully revealed in Jesus, and Mary, the mother of God, who is our model for pondering the mysteries of the Christmas season. As we wish for others the blessings of the Christmas season, let us pray today's psalm: "May God bless us in his mercy" (Ps 67:2a).

            In the Numbers reading the Lord instructs Aaron and his sons in the way they are to bless the children of Israel.  The actual words of the blessing are three parallel poetic lines petitioning the Lord's protection associated with his presence or "face." “The Lord bless you and keep you!/ The Lord let his face shine upon you and be gracious to you!/  The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!” The first half of each line requests the Lord's attentive care, and the second half elaborates its consequence for the individual.  God's blessing culminates in shalom, "peace" or "well‑being," material and spiritual prosperity in all its fullness (see Deut 28:3‑6).      

            In the Galatians’ reading Paul is describing the consequences of belief in Christ through a contrast between the state of Jews and Gentiles before and after his coming.  Until Christ came, both groups were in a state of slavery, but now they have become free children and fully adopted heirs of God's kingdom.  In today's selection Paul is describing the Messiah's liberation of the Jews, like himself, who were living under the law; he therefore uses the first person plural. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law so that we might receive adoption as sons.” The proof of this new status for both Jews and Gentiles is the new, intimate way that they may address God as "Abba, Father!”.  Paul then concludes by reiterating the new status of Christians as fully adopted children and heirs. “So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then also an heir, through God.”          

            The Gospel reading completes Luke's nativity narrative with three scenes.  In the first, the shepherds, most unlikely candidates for God's revelation, become the first apostles of the Christian message.  After deciding to go to David's city to verify the message that the angels have given them, they find "Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger," just as the angels had announced.  They now understand "what had been told them concerning this child," namely that he is destined to be "a Savior . . . the Messiah and Lord."  Not content with keeping this news concealed, they report it to others, and "all who heard of it were astonished."  As the shepherds return, they glorify and praise God "for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told them." 

            In the second scene, Mary's reaction is distinguished from the others.  Luke notes that she "kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart."  The verb is the same one used by Luke to describe Mary’s reaction to Gabriel's initial greeting in the annunciation (1:29) and later of her response in the story of Jesus' remaining behind in the Temple at Passover when he was age twelve (2:51).  It has the sense of intense thought which returns to the subject time and again.  In Luke's theology Mary is a model of discipleship.  She hears God's word, reflects deeply upon it, and then acts in accord with it. 

The concluding scene of today's Gospel narrates the circumcision and naming of the child, as "Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb."  Luke deliberately harkens back to the annunciation where the name "Jesus" ("the Lord saves") was associated with the child's destiny to become the Messiah with his heavenly exaltation after his crucifixion and death (1:31‑33; see Acts 2:22‑36).  At the end of Luke's Gospel, Jesus will commission his disciples to preach forgiveness of sins in this sacred name. "Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins would be preached in his name to all the nations beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things" (Lk 24:46‑48).