Sunday readings January/February 2019

Sundays in January and February 2019
Robert Draper

The Lectionary of the Church, in a very careful and deliberate way, presents a wide and rich selection of passages from the sacred scriptures for the celebration of the Sunday Liturgy for God’s people to savour and ponder. The choice invites the reader to reflect on the Liturgical seasons, the teaching of the Church and the insights of the individual inspired writers as well as giving the listener the chance to use these readings to help interpret the ‘signs of the times’ in the contemporary world. Underlying these aspects of the word of God is always the assumption that the word is given to us to be a challenge – a call to those who hear it to a more faithful living of the Christian message.

During this period of the Church’s year we move from the final part of the celebration of the Incarnation through the ordinary weeks of the year listening to the Gospel of Luke and the weighty first letter of Paul to the Corinthians, both of which offer important themes for reflection.

The author is a parish priest in Dorset and a Vicar General of the Diocese of Plymouth.

Sunday 6 January
Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

Isaiah 60.1-6
Psalm 71
Ephesians 3.2-3a, 5-6
Matthew 2.1-12

This year over the next three weeks we have the presentation of the three great Epiphanies of Christ in the Christian tradition. An epiphany is a sudden and dramatic revelation from God: the arrival of the wise men at Bethlehem, the Baptism by John, and the wedding feast at Cana are all clear indications of precisely who Jesus is, even before he begins his ministry and the Paschal Mystery. Nonetheless, the revelation is only vouchsafed to those who have the eyes of faith. It is ironic that the Magi go to Herod for help to find the infant king of the Jews – because Herod will try to destroy him once he knows of his existence. The Magi go to Herod because they have seen the sign, but need help interpreting it. Herod and his courtiers are versed in the scriptures and so can guide the wise men, but their knowledge does not help them because although they can interpret the sign, they lack the faith to act. The sign alone is not enough, the interpretation alone produces no results, what is needed is the revelation, an understanding and then decisive action. So it still is for those who would follow the Lord. The signs are plentiful for those who have eyes, the interpretation is offered through the scriptures and tradition, but the resolution to act is always needed.

Sunday 13 January
The Baptism of the Lord

Isaiah 42.1-4, 6-7
Psalm 28
Acts 10.34-38
Luke 3.15-16, 21-22

There are optional readings for cycle C of the Lectionary alongside the account of the Baptism in Luke’s gospel; but the readings proposed as normative do have the advantage of presenting the Baptism very much as an Epiphany to reinforce the message of last week’s readings. The passage from Isaiah – part of the so-called ‘Suffering Servant’ texts – presents a messianic figure who is chosen and called and commissioned to bring salvation to both Jew and Gentile. It is this Universalist aspect that makes this passage so appropriate for the season. As Peter reveals to Cornelius in the reading from Acts: ‘God does not have favourites, but anybody . . . who fears God and does what is right, is acceptable to him.’ Like the other two ‘Epiphanies’ – that to the pagan Magi and at the wedding feast at Cana – the Baptism of the Lord offers a dramatic and public revelation of who Jesus is: ‘You are my Son, the Beloved.’ Christ’s baptism is not for the forgiveness of sin, of course, as the Church’s baptism is, it is a proclamation of the identity of Christ. But all Christian baptism also shares that – it is a public revelation that the baptised is now a beloved child, and that is the identity that matters. That is why Christian baptism should always be as public and visible as possible – it is a revelation of the true identity: a beloved daughter or son on whom God’s favour rests – and that identity does not depend on anything other than God’s choosing. That, of course, carries with it the commissioning that Isaiah makes explicit – to open eyes and free those who are captive. That work, which is the work of Christ the Beloved Son, is carried out through the many beloved sons and daughters who make up the body of the baptised.

Sunday 20 January
Second Sunday in Ordinary time

Isaiah 62.1-5
Psalm 95
1 Corinthians 12.4-11
John 2.1-11

Apart from the Mass of Christmas morning, it is a long time since we have read from John’s gospel in the Liturgy. When compiling the Lectionary, it was decided that the second Sunday in Ordinary time should always have a gospel of John, the evangelist who states unequivocally: ‘The Word became Flesh’ and so tie the time of the Incarnation into the time of Christ’s ministry. Today’s gospel is the wedding feast at Cana, the third of the great epiphanies revealing who Christ is. John never calls Jesus’ great works ‘miracles’, they are signs, and signs indicate something: ‘This was the first of the signs given by Jesus; it was given at Cana in Galilee. He let his glory be seen and his disciples believed in him.’ The sign he gives is remarkable by its extravagance, not only is there a vast amount of wine, but it is the best wine. But it is a sign that reveals his glory – who he is – and it is given for one purpose only – not to impress, but so that his disciples might believe in him. By giving this sign at a wedding, John wants us to appreciate how Jesus is fulfilling the great marriage covenant motif of the Old Testament – the always faithful God who weds the unfaithful Israel. In this scene Jesus’ address of his mother as ‘woman’ and his insistence that his hour has not come will resonate with John’s Passion account – the fulfilment of the covenant that reconciles the new Israel to God. What John calls ‘signs’ require interpretation, and such an interpretation requires the reader to enter deeply into the Mystery which is Christ, if the full meaning is to become apparent, and Christ is to be known, and his disciples to believe in him.

Sunday 27 January
Third Sunday in Ordinary time

Nehemiah 8.2-6, 8-10
Psalm 18
1 Corinthians 12.12-30
Luke 1.1-4; 4.14-21

The Second Vatican Council decreed that: ‘The treasures of the bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s word.’ (SC 51) That has indeed happened and the faithful gathered for the Eucharist are now fed abundantly from God’s word – or at least the food is put out for them that they might be nourished. In the reading from Nehemiah the response of the crowd of ‘men, women and children old enough to understand’ to God’s word is striking: ‘the people were all in tears as they listened to the words of the Law.’ When Jesus unrolls the scroll of Isaiah in the Gospel for today and speaks the words of the prophet: ‘all eyes in the synagogue were on him.’ While I have no doubt that the desire of the Council has been realised in churches throughout the world, and that good catechesis and liturgical formation has accompanied the development of the greater opening up of God’s word to God’s people; it would be striking if whole congregations at Mass on a Sunday were to burst into tears on hearing God’s words; it would be humbling but exciting if every preacher were to feel all eyes fixed on him as he prepared to break the word that had been read. The Church has been very successful in helping people to appreciate the gift of being nourished by the Eucharist – the recent Eucharistic Congress in Liverpool made a big impact on the lives of many of the faithful – the nourishment from God’s word is also freely available. How exciting it would be if the congregation gathered each Sunday expecting to have their lives changed by hearing the word: and yet that is precisely what is on offer.
As we listen to Paul’s teaching about the Body of Christ – of how each member has a unique and important place – we can recognise that we are invited to live that. When so many people seem to have such low self-esteem, so little feeling of real worth, so little sense of purpose and meaning, how amazing to hear such a teaching which rejects the competition model of life in which so often we find ourselves believing, and insists on the idea of complementarity – each person different, unique and essential for the whole; how that word could transform people.

Sunday 3 February
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary time

Jeremiah 1.4-5, 17-19
Psalm 70
1 Corinthians 12.31-13.13
Luke 4.21-30

Some people seem to relish confrontation – and it can be about almost anything – I suspect we could posit some names in the public arena. Others avoid it at every turn – anything for a quiet life. Jeremiah and Jesus find themselves caught up in confrontation in today’s readings. The first reading is a deliberate call to arms from God to the prophet, and we know from other parts of the book how much Jeremiah disliked that aspect of his ministry, and how much pain it caused him. And yet he persevered to the end. And we don’t need reminding what it cost Jesus to challenge others and proclaim God’s word. Placed between these two readings of confrontation and hostility we have the reading that is so often chosen for the happy union that is marriage. This contradiction is only an apparent one. Paul’s hymn to love seems so right for a wedding because we want love to be the truth of this most important of human relationships, so that it can be the source of joy and fulfilment for the couple. But love is more than that; it has to be the foundation of all human relationships if they are truly to reflect the intention of the creator. Jeremiah can only survive being rejected and thrown in a well because his love of God is strong enough, and can support his love of neighbour. Jesus goes to the cross simply out of love, and commands us to do the same ‘as I have loved you so must you love one another.’ Without love confrontation can only be destructive, when love is present, the negativity can be transformed. For Christians the Passion of Christ is the great sign of God’s love, and it is the means of reconciliation and the transformation of death to life. St Paul gives a description of what love looks like – when any of Christ’s disciples find themselves in a situation of conflict and confrontation that passage is worth pondering. But it is also important to remember that the strength and power needed to challenge in love, is not something we do alone: ‘for I am with you to deliver you: it is the Lord who speaks.’

Sunday 10 February
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary time

Isaiah 6.1-8
Psalm 137
1 Corinthians 15.1-11
Luke 5.1-11

Last week we heard the summons of Jeremiah appointing him as prophet to speak God’s words against his adversaries. This week we have the call of the great prophet Isaiah. The vision of Isaiah is above all concerned with the holiness of God, and in the face of that Isaiah recognises his utter wretchedness and sinfulness. Time and again in scripture we are presented with the inadequacy of those who are called by God: it is not that God chooses the most holy and able – it is that God makes them holy and able. Isaiah is aware of his unclean lips, which are then touched by a live coal from the altar: ‘your sin is taken away, your iniquity is purged.’ Isaiah is made holy and so is now able to accept the call: ‘Here I am, send me.’ In the Gospel we have something similar, but not set in the splendour and glory of the Temple, but the far more mundane world of a fishing vessel at the side of the lake. Instead of seraphs we have a great catch of fish, and yet it has the same effect. Peter recognises he is the presence of holiness – the holy one of God: ‘Leave me Lord for I am a sinful man.’ But the Lord does not leave him, instead he calls him, and Peter and the brothers leave everything and follow him. In the passage from the first letter to the Corinthians we read today, we have a confession by Paul which also speaks of the unworthiness of those called by God: ‘since I persecuted the church of God, I hardly deserve the name apostle.’ Like Isaiah and Peter, Paul is aware that his ministry is not his own, it is not for his own worthiness that God has called him, nor is it his own strength that enables him to preach: ‘I, or rather the grace of God that is with me, have worked harder than any of the others.’ Disciples today are still called, not because of their holiness, but they are called and made holy, and able to proclaim God’s word through the grace given by God.

Sunday 17 February
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 17.5-8
Psalm 1
1 Corinthians 15.12,16-20
Luke 6.17, 20-26

There is something chilling in the first reading for today and also in the Gospel. We are used to Matthew’s ‘Beatitudes’ and therefore comfortable with them – partly because they are somewhat enigmatic. But Luke’s blessings and woes (‘happy’ and ‘alas’) are very stark. Luke is the Gospel which seems to praise the poor simply because they are poor and condemn the rich simply because they are rich. Of course it is not as simple as that – but – and it is a significant ‘but’ – Luke, throughout his Gospel, implies that the poor and needy have a real advantage because they recognise their need and so are more likely to seek remedy. Jeremiah, when talking of those who trust in ‘man’ – i.e. human strength – offers a further insight: ‘If any good comes, he has no eyes for it.’ It is about seeing things as they truly are – and self-reliance is a sort of blindness. The difficulty for those who are rich / successful / powerful / strong is that they have become used to relying on themselves / their wealth / their power rather than on God. The challenge is therefore simple: on what does the human person rely – themselves or their Creator? If human reliance is on ourselves, then ‘alas’ for us, but if it is ‘on account of the Son of Man’ that we have hope, then indeed we are happy (blessed). Paul offers a related challenge – where does humanity place its hope? If it is simply in this life, then all is lost. But if our hope is in the Risen Lord, then nothing is lost and all is gained.

Sunday 24 February
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Samuel 26.2,7-9,11-13,22-23
Psalm 103
1 Corinthians 15.45-49
Luke 6.27-38

It could be something about contemporary culture, or it could be the way of human beings, but it is very easy to live life as if it is a series of problems to be solved. ‘If I can just deal with this, then everything will be fine.’ That seems to be the way of things, (until the next ‘problem’ comes along). And so when David is fleeing from Saul, and a sudden turn of events seems to offer a quick solution then Abishai wants David to seize it and solve the ‘problem’ of Saul. David rejects the solution, because he recognises that there is a bigger picture here. It is not just a question of dealing with this issue which presents itself now, it is about how does a person live in relation to God and the things of God. Saul is the ‘the Lord’s anointed’ and so to strike him is to put oneself at odds with the Lord.

Luke’s great teaching in the Gospel for today (the ‘Sermon on the Plain’ – equivalent to Matthew’s ‘Sermon on the Mount’) addresses the bigger picture in a formal way. The teaching which Jesus gives is very demanding and is very challenging to the way human beings might be expected to act: ‘Do good to those who hate you’, ‘do not ask your property back from the man who robs you.’ Jesus takes the line that David takes and extends it – if Saul is the Lord’s anointed – then so is everyone. All are cherished and loved by God, and chosen as Saul was. When Jesus invites his disciples to ‘Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate’ he is asking them to see the bigger picture and live it – to see things as God does and live accordingly. That means avoiding any simple ‘short-termism’ or living life as a series of problems which need ‘solving’. It invites his hearers to see life as a whole, where everything is part of a whole – and that includes the life that we call eternal life – where ‘there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down . . . and running over.’

To some extent what we are invited to become is, in the words of Paul in the second reading, like the new Adam. We are from the earth, but the invitation is to become as the second Adam – modelled on the heavenly man – which is to become: ‘compassionate as your Father is compassionate.’
Prayers of the faithful
Anthony Towey

Suggested Prayers of the Faithful for January and February 2019.
Anthony Towey is the Director of the Aquinas Centre at St Mary’s University, Twickenham

Tuesday 1 January 2019

Mary the Mother of God

Invitation to Prayer: At the beginning of this New Year, we present the needs of ourselves, our Church and our world to the God of our past, present and future.

Concluding Prayer: Father of Mercy, who ennobled humanity through Mary’s motherhood of your Son, grant favour to the prayers and petitions of your people which we make, through Christ, our Lord.

Sunday 6 January 2019

The Epiphany

Invitation to Prayer:
On this wonderful feast which celebrates the revelation of Jesus as light to all nations, we approach the Father of all for the needs of all

Concluding Prayer: Heavenly Father, as the Magi bowed before the Christ child, so we bow in humble prayer before you. Grant your blessing upon our prayers and peace upon our world. We ask this, through Christ our Lord.

Sunday 13 January 2019

The Baptism of the Lord

Invitation to Prayer: The Gospel has reminded us of the witness of John the Baptist to Christ. We now bear witness to the needs of all God’s people as we make our prayers for those gathered here and all his children scattered throughout the world.

Concluding Prayer: Father of Light, look with kindness upon us. May we who have been baptised in the waters of salvation hear your voice calling us your beloved children and clothe us with the gift of your Spirit. Grant these our prayers through Christ our Lord.

Sunday 20 January 2019

Second  Sunday of the Year (C)

Invitation to Prayer: The Prophet Isaiah tells us that the Father rejoices in his people as a bridegroom delights in his bride. Confident in the splendour of God’s love we make our prayers this day.

Concluding Prayer: Father of all, our light and our help, your Son transformed the water of ablution into the wine of jubilee. May our lives be so transformed that we can taste and be the savour of this new day, bringing joy to all those we meet. We make this prayer through Christ our Lord.

Sunday 27 January 2019

Third Sunday of the Year (C)

Invitation to Prayer: Brothers and sisters, just as Jesus stood among the people in the synagogue he is present among us today. Emboldened by this mystery, we count upon his love and mercy as we make our prayers known to the Father.

Concluding Prayer: Father, the proclamation of the Good News in Nazareth by your Son Jesus voices both consolation and challenge. May we be attentive to those whom society has forgotten and through our service speak the Gospel anew in our day. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Sunday 3 February 2019

Fourth Sunday of the Year (C)

Invitation to Prayer: Like Jeremiah, we have been called in love from our mother’s womb to be witnesses. As we intercede for our Church and our world, we entrust our destiny to God as we implore the Father to hear our prayer.

Concluding Prayer: Heavenly Father your Son knew contestation as well as adulation. May we have the strength of your Holy Spirit to carry on in the face of adversity and grant these our prayers, which we make through Christ our Lord.

Sunday 10 February 2019

Fifth Sunday of the Year (C)

Invitation to Prayer: Just as Isaiah stood before the Holy of Holies so we too stand in the court of the divine presence and with faltering words implore God’s help.

Concluding Prayer: Father of Light, look with kindness upon your people who have come together to do your will. May we hear your voice calling us as you called the first disciples. Clothe us with the gift of your Spirit, make us true witnesses to the Gospel and grant the prayers we have made through Christ our Lord.

Sunday 17 February 2019

Sixth Sunday of the Year (C)

Invitation to Prayer: In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of true blessing and calls us to be faithful. In faith we place before the Father our needs and those of all the peoples in our world.
Concluding Prayer: Creator God, may our roots in your love be as deep as a tree by the waterside. May our lives flourish with good deeds, kindness and virtue as we imitate your Son. Grant this and all our prayers which we make through Christ our Lord.

Sunday 24 February 2019

Seventh Sunday of the Year (C)

Invitation to Prayer: Just as David raised the spear of the King as a sign of mercy so we raise our hearts in supplication that the Lord may be merciful to us in our need.

Concluding Prayer: Loving Father, as you call us to be compassionate, be compassionate to us and grant these our prayers which we make through Christ