Background: Matthew’s predominantly Jewish audience would have been a bit startled by the three Gentile “wise men” who come to adore the newborn King of the Jews. Yet Second Temple Judaism through the writings of the prophets had inherited a universalist component—as we see today in the reading from Isaiah. In the ancient world Jewish monotheism and moral standards were highly regarded and produced many converts.
But the wise men do not become converts: they return to their own country. As today’s epistle points out, anyone who has faith in Jesus become co-heirs with the Jewish people. All we have to do is leave him our gifts.
- What fences have you put around God’s love? Whom do you think God excludes from grace and mercy?
- When you have felt excluded, whom has God sent you to bring you a sense of love and self-worth?
- Whom does our society or church seem to exclude?
- What gift does God seem to want from you? The frankincense of your worship and prayer? The gold of your treasures? The myrrh of your patience endurance in suffering?
Practice: Once again, each day this week pray St. Ignatius Loyola’s prayer, the Suscipe. “Take, Lord, Receive.”
Baptism of the Lord – alternate readings from Cycle C
Background: In the ancient churches of the eastern Mediterranean world, even today baptism by immersion is still the usual practice. Naked babies and adults still get dipped (the etymology of the word baptism) into a tub of water. The few drops of water drizzled across babies’ foreheads among roman Catholics conceal the profound meaning of this event for believers. The very Spirit who hovered over the waters of creation now comes to recreate human beings into members of Christ/the Messiah, called to live a life of powerful witness by our deeds of love.
- When have you most experienced God’s powerful and transforming love for you?
- How much do you now expect from God? A little or a lot?
- How much do you expect from yourself?
- Where might you find the opportunity to bear a greater witness to the Spirit’s power at work within you?
Practice: A very common prayer in Eastern Christian liturgy begins: “O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of truth,…” Find a copy online, and pray it each day this week.
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Background: Although Ordinary Time begins on the Monday after the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, this Sunday does not resume our reading of Luke. Instead, it adds one more Sunday of additional material about the revelation of who Jesus really is. The oldest Western Christian tradition celebrated three epiphanies: as a baby to the Magi, as a mature man at his baptism, at the beginning of his career with his first miracle at Cana.
This event is situated within the Jewish tradition of describing the covenant between God and the Chosen People as a marriage: as we hear in Isaiah, God “weds” the people, uniting completely with them. As Paul tells us, it is the Spirit who brings about this union by distributing a great diversity of gifts to all. Just as the water becomes wine, so God changes each and all of us into witnesses of transformation by grace.
- When do you feel most united to Christ?
- Which of Paul’s list of gifts has already been revealed within you?
- What gift do you still yearn for? Who has already embodied that gift for you?
- What message of joy do you wish that the church would proclaim in today’s world?
The very Spirit who hovered over the waters of creation now comes to recreate human beings into members of Christ/the Messiah, called to live a life of powerful witness by our deeds of love.
Practice: Our words of love are important since they can bring God’s love to others. Each day this week thank someone for the gift that they have been to your life.
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Background: Back to Luke. Just as the second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, begins with the spirit falling upon the whole community of believers to empower them to go forth on mission so here, in volume one, the gospel, the Spirit, having descended upon Jesus at his baptism, now sends him forth to proclaim the kingdom/reign of God. Just as in Nehemiah’s time the proclamation of God’s word worked powerfully among Jewish believers, so now Jesus’s first sermon in his hometown of Nazareth reveals the power of the Spirit at work within him. Paul reminds us that at our own baptism we each received a gift, and they are all equally important.
- When has your faith in Christ and your awareness of his presence with you brought you joy and a sense of power?
- Last week you reflected upon your gift(s). Whish people appreciate you for those gifts? And which people don’t?
- Which gift of yours have you been hiding? Who might need you to use it?
- How can you, along with your fellow-believers, enable the church to bring freedom and liberation to others?
Practice: Ponder this week what stereotypes you have been using in your relationships with other people. What words of love and reconciliation might set both of you free?
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Background: We are called to believe in Jesus as God’s Messiah because his words and deeds re-echo with the power of God at work among us—not because he is a magician. Moreover, in Luke’s gospel God’s providential care embraces Gentiles as well as Jews. Both messages enrage the people in Jesus’s home town. And so, this passage is a warning to us that self-righteous crusaders are not doing God’s work. People who murder abortion providers, for example, are not pro-life. Paul today shows us how to avoid falling into being self-righteous.
- In a country as divided as America is today, where have you found a caring, liberating voice?
- For whom have you been that kind of voice?
- When have you been misunderstood? What did love prompt you to do in response?
- Where do you think the Spirit is calling you right now in your mission of being a faithful, active disciple?
Practice: Pray this Act of Charity each day this week—thoughtfully.
O my God, I love you above all things with my whole heart and soul because you are all good and worthy of all my love.
I love my neighbor as myself for the love of you.
I forgive all who have injured me and ask pardon of all whom I have injured. Amen.