1st Sunday of Lent – Year A

Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, after which he was very hungry, and the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to turn into loaves.’ But he replied,

‘Scripture says: Man does not live on bread alone,  but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’

The devil then took him to the holy city and made him stand on the parapet of the Temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down; for scripture says:

He will put you in his angels’ charge, and they will support you on their hands in case you hurt your foot against a stone.’ Jesus said to him,

‘Scripture also says: You must not put the Lord your God to the test.’

Next, taking him to a very high mountain, the devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. ‘I will give you all these’, he said, ‘if you fall at my feet and worship me.’ Then Jesus replied,

‘Be off, Satan! For scripture says: You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone.’

Then the devil left him, and angels appeared and looked after him.

Mt 4:1-11

Jesus’ forty days in the desert (Mt 4:1-11; Lk 4:1-13) provides the Scriptural foundation for the Liturgical Season of Lent, a time of penance and great spiritual renewal. Just as Jesus took time to prepare himself for the beginning of his public ministry we use Lent as a form of penitential preparation for the great celebration of Easter. Central to this preparation is that we “repent, and believe the Good News”, i.e. we have a conversion of heart.

Amidst the busyness of our lives it is paramount that we slow down to recognise the need for such a conversion. All too frequently we are oblivious to our shortcomings and the impact that they have on others; we are often unaware that God has been “forgotten” by us, and our relationship with him neglected. Lent is not only a time of penance and preparation, it is a time of prayer, a time to “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Jesus’ time in the desert models this for us. He sought aloneness to reflect, to pray, to be with his Father, and to prepare for the events ahead of him. In itself this paralleled Moses’ forty days in the wilderness (Deut 9:9), a time of fasting, and of preparing to receive God’s revelation in the Ten Commandments. Throughout the Scriptures, we are constantly reminded of the centrality of prayer to spiritual renewal.

Just as Jesus’ 40 days in the desert served as a preparation for his mission, ministry and suffering, it serves as a model for the way in which our Lenten journey can be a time of spiritual renewal and preparation for true Christian discipleship.

Anthony Cleary,
Director, Mission & Identity

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A

Jesus said to his disciples: I tell you, if your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees , you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.

‘You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not kill; and if anyone does kill he must answer for it before the court. But I say this to you: anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court.

’You have learnt how it was said: You must not commit adultery. But I say this to you: if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

‘Again, you have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not break your oath, but must fulfil your oaths to the Lord. But I say this to you: do not swear at all. All you need say is “Yes” if you mean yes, “No” if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the evil one.’

Mt 5:20-22. 27-28. 33-34. 37

 

The commandments and practices of our faith lead us to God. We cannot dismiss these righteous teachings. But even before we live them, we must live out Jesus’ commandment to love.

Jesus asks even more of us than God asked of the Hebrew people. Every act of worship needs to be preceded or followed by acts of justice and reconciliation with our families, work colleagues and neighbours, or our worship and laws are worthless.

Justice is what love looks like in public. Our thoughts and our words are often the way we break God’s law of love. Jesus did not abolish the Law, but he introduced a completely new way of thinking. He did not abolish or change the Law, but went far beyond its requirements. For Jesus, just to keep the Law externally is not enough.

To be a disciple of Christ, the foundation of our lives must go deeper – to a mutual love. To keep the Law without love is like having a body without a soul. Keeping the letter of the Law of God and of the Church is not the same as being a good disciple of Jesus.”If your virtue goes no deeper than the Scribes and the Pharisees, then you will never enter the Kingdom of God,” Jesus says today.

Being in relationship with each other is what is most important. Jesus teaches us that we must live from the heart. Jesus understands human nature and leads us first in love and second in obedience to the law. In the end, God’s law is love.

Anthony Cleary
Director, Mission & Identity

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A

Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up the hill. There he sat down and was joined by his disciples. Then he began to speak. This is what he taught them:

‘How happy are the poor in spirit:
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Happy the gentle:
they shall have the earth for their heritage.
Happy those who mourn:
they shall be comforted.
Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right:
they shall be satisfied.
Happy the merciful:
they shall have mercy shown them.
Happy the pure in heart:
they shall see God.
Happy the peacemakers:
they shall be called sons of God.
Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right:
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.’

Mt 5:1-12

One of the most widely recognised Gospel passages is the Beatitudes, more commonly known as the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ great teaching discourse parallels with Luke’s Sermon on the Plain (6:20-26), set by the Sea of Galilee. Matthew’s account takes place on a mountain so as to reinforce Jesus as the new Moses, a recurring theme of the Gospel. Unlike Moses who ascends the mountain to receive the law from Yahweh (Ex: 19-20), Jesus is the giver of the new law and he is the source of the new Covenant.

Matthew inserted this discourse to call for an authentic interpretation of the spirit of the Law of Moses. Rather than observing Mosaic Law through blind practice and shallow piety, as was the case with the Scribes and Pharisees, Jesus preached that true righteousness is found by living out the Beatitudes. The word for ‘Blessed’ in Greek is Makarios, which denotes one’s righteousness before God.

The Beatitudes are a set of blessings which bring true happiness, many of them drawn from the Old Testament (Isaiah and Psalms). This is in keeping with Matthew’s Gospel on the whole, which quotes the Hebrew Scriptures some forty one times. The Beatitudes follow a distinctive pattern and logic. Each blessing builds upon the one before it; the beatitude of spiritual poverty is thus the foundation for all of them. According to St Augustine, the first seven beatitudes correspond to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (Is 11:2), while the eighth beatitude summarises the first seven.

One might wonder how being ‘poor in spirit’ or ‘mournful’ or ‘hungering for justice’ will bring happiness or be considered to be a blessing. It is when one cultivates these qualities however i.e. gentleness, mercy, peacefulness that there is a total reliance and dependence on God, and thus ultimate happiness is found.

Anthony Cleary
Director, Mission & Identity

Third Sunday in Ordinary time – Year A

Hearing that John had been arrested Jesus went back to Galilee, and leaving Nazareth he went and settled in Capernaum, a lakeside town on the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali. In this way the prophecy of Isaiah was to be fulfilled:

Land of Zebulun! Land of Naphtali!
Way of the sea on the far side of Jordan,
Galilee of the nations!
The people that lived in darkness
has seen a great light;
on those who dwell in the land and shadow of death
a light has dawned.

From that moment Jesus began his preaching with the message, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’ As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon, who was called Peter, and his brother Andrew; they were making a cast in the lake with their net, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ And they left their nets at once and followed him.

Going on from there he saw another pair of brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John; they were in their boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. At once, leaving the boat and their father, they followed him.

He went round the whole of Galilee teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness among the people.

Mt 4:12-23

Throughout his Gospel, Matthew repeats the verse ‘all of this occurred so that Scripture might be fulfilled.’ This passage, which explores the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, is no different. In leaving his hometown of Nazareth and settling in Capernaum Jesus fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah, who assured the descendants of Zebulun and Naphtali (two of the sons of Jacob i.e. the twelve tribes of Israel) “the people that walked in darkness has seen a great light … you have made their gladness greater … they rejoice in your presence” (Is: 8:23). For Matthew, Jesus’ ministry will be a great light that conquers the darkness of the people who live in a “land of deep shadow”. It will be a light that brings both gladness and joy. It is important to note that Jesus begins his public ministry in Galilee, which retained a significant population of non-Jews. By virtue of his Galilean ministry, Jesus foreshadows his own sending out of the disciples, so that they might go out and preach to all nations, Jew and Gentile alike (28:19-20).

“Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men” is the simple invitation that Jesus extends to his first disciples. Their occupation as fishermen foreshadows their future mission, when Christ will send them to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Peter, the first called, will have a leading role among the Twelve (Acts 1:15; 2:14; 15:7). The disciples immediately respond to Christ’s invitation, leaving their boats and nets to follow him, thus highlighting that Christian discipleship demands a loose attachment to worldly things and a willingness to part with them. This is especially evidenced in Luke’s Gospel (5:28; 12:33; 14:33; 18:22). Those who do give up everything for the sake of the Kingdom will receive in return “a hundred fold” (18:29-30).

The response of Peter and Andrew, James and John is in stark contrast to the rich young man who, because of his attachment to worldly things, was unable to accept Jesus’ invitation to follow him.  True Christian discipleship is challenging. We are often afraid, and the sacrifices are great, but so too are the rewards. We should not be afraid to be called by Christ, or for that matter, caught by Christ. Christ is the ultimate fisher of men. St Cyril of Jerusalem assured early Christians “you now find yourself in the fishing nets of Christ. Let yourselves be caught. Christ wants to capture you not to harm you but to give you life out of death.”

How do you respond to Christ’s invitation “Come, follow me”?

Anthony Cleary,
Director, Mission and Identity

Fourth Sunday of Advent – Year A

This is how Jesus Christ came to be born. His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a man of honour and wanting to spare her publicity, decided to divorce her informally. He had made up his mind to do this when the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfil the words spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son
and they will call him Emmanuel,

a name which means ‘God-is-with-us’. When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took his wife to his home.

Mt 1:18-24

The purpose behind Matthew’s Gospel account is to relate the miraculous nature of Jesus’ birth and how it fulfils venerable prophecy. Matthew’s Gospel opens with the details of Jesus’ genealogy. This passage serves to complete this genealogy and highlight that Jesus truly was a descendant of David. Both Mary and Joseph were from the town of Bethlehem, i.e. the House of David.

According to the common opinion of ancient Fathers and theologians of the Church, Mary and Joseph were espoused as the first stage to being formally married. During the time of espousals, the future husband and wife did not live together and saw each other but rarely; they could, however, have sexual intercourse, and any child conceived during this period was not illegitimate, either in public opinion or before the Law. If any one violated another’s spouse they were regarded as an adulterer.

Tradition tells us that from the very beginning of their espousal Mary and Joseph had agreed to make a vow of perpetual virginity, hence Joseph’s shock at discovering that Mary was with child. According to the Law, Mary was liable to be stoned to death. However, Joseph lacked the necessary two witnesses required under the Law. In any case, Joseph preferred to spare Mary any such indignity.

Joseph received comfort from the Angel of the Lord (Gabriel) that the conception of the child in Mary’s womb was due to the Holy Spirit. This is the so-called ‘virgin birth’, or ‘incarnation’ of the Son of God, is evidenced in verses 18, 20, 23 and 25 in this same chapter. ‘Incarnation’ means ‘to take flesh.’ Matthew goes on to make the point that Jesus’ conception by the Holy Spirit fulfils the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14.

The angel assures Joseph that he can take Mary home as his wife and for the expectant child,  “you must name him Jesus“: The name ‘Jesus’, which in Hebrew was ‘Yeshu’,  means ‘Yahweh saves’, or ‘Salvation of God’ and originates from the name Joshua. Exclusive to Matthew’s Gospel account is the term ‘Emmanuel’ meaning ‘God with us’ a reminder that this event was the fulfillment of Scripture (Isaiah 7:14). O Come Emmanuel.