Weekly readings July/August 2017

Weekdays in July and August 2017
Nicholas King SJ

Saturday 1 July

Genesis 18.1-15
Luke 1.46-50, 53-55
Matthew 8.5-17

One of the things that we have to get right in our journey of discipleship is the question of how you treat other human beings. Today's readings offer the glimpse of a way ahead. In the first reading, Abraham (in good oriental fashion) treats his three guests as bringing him a privilege, by the mere fact of coming to him at all, and rushes around like a youngster to give them appropriate hospitality, with water and bread and the fatted calf. Now it turns out that they are indeed bringing him a privilege, namely the unlikely arrival of a son; and they are, as it turns out, the presence of God to him. But Abraham was not to know that, and so we are invited to admire his hospitable energy towards these mysterious strangers. The psalm for today is a selection from Mary's Magnificat, which is all about the way God deals with the poor and the humble. In the gospel, finally, we encounter Jesus dealing with a centurion, the Gentile representative of the classes of oppression, who shows more faith in Jesus than any of his fellow-Israelites; and his son (or slave) is given the gift of healing. What unexpected person are you going to meet today, and how do you propose to treat them?

Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Monday 3 July
St Thomas, Apostle

Ephesians 2.19-22
Psalm 117.1-2
John 20.24-29

Today we celebrate the feast of Thomas the Apostle, notorious for his doubting, but also for his generosity ('let us go and die with him', he says when Jesus goes off to look after Lazarus). The first reading, from Ephesians, is a lovely one, indicating our relationship to apostles like Thomas: 'you are fellow-citizens of the saints... built up on the foundation of the apostles...and with Christ Jesus as the corner-stone'. And the psalm for today invites us to join all the Gentiles in praising God. But obeying this call does not mean that we are perfect, any more than the original apostles were perfect. The story from today's gospel is the familiar one of Thomas refusing to believe the gloating remarks of his fellow-apostles that 'we've seen the Lord!', and making the crude demand to 'see the mark of the nails in his hands and throw my finger into the mark of the nails, and throw my hand into his side'. Then it happens, and Jesus appears and invites Thomas to do precisely those unattractive things, and we applaud as he goes way beyond the evidence in his awestruck confession 'my Lord and my God'. Then we purr as Jesus refers him to us 'congratulations to those who have not seen and yet have believed'.

Tuesday 4 July
St Elizabeth of Portugal

Genesis 19.15-29
Psalm 26.2-3, 9-12
Matthew 8.23-27

It is God's way to be ready to rescue us from whatever threatens us; but we do not always believe that. We see something of this in both of today's readings. In the first reading, the two angels rescue Lot and his family (except his wife, who made the mistake of looking back, and became a pillar of salt) from the destruction visited upon Sodom and Gomorrah for their breach of the laws of hospitality. In the gospel, it is the disciples who get rescued, after 'a great shaking in the sea' which threatened the boat in which they were sailing, and Jesus appeared to be asleep. Effortlessly, Jesus gives orders 'to the winds and the sea', which leaves the disciples asking, 'What kind of person is this that even the winds and the sea obey him?' What is your answer to that question today?

Wednesday 5 July
St Anthony Zaccaria

Genesis 21.5, 8-20
Psalm 34.7-8,10-13
Matthew 8.28-34

Our God can be very uncomfortable (or is it we who cause the discomfort?) In today's first reading, Abraham has had a son given to him at the age of 100; but his wife Sarah doesn't want to see Isaac playing with the slave-girl's son, so Hagar and Ishmael have to be exiled to the desert, where God rescues the boy and his mother with a water-well. The gospel today is Matthew's version of the story of the two Gadarene demoniacs, from whom Jesus expels their unclean spirits into the herd of pigs; they then rush down the nearest cliffs and die of drowning. The local inhabitants, instead of applauding this remarkable healing, feel sympathy for the swine, and ask Jesus to get out of their territory. What is your attitude to the presence of God in your life?

Thursday 6 July
St Maria Goretti

Genesis 22.1-19
Psalm 115.1-6, 8-9
Matthew 9.1-8

Today's first reading is perhaps the most chilling story of the entire Bible, God's command to Abraham to sacrifice his cherished son Isaac. When you find a text that challenges you, it is important not to give in to the temptation to dismiss it, but to sit with it, and ask the Lord what is going on. Did Abraham, for example, misunderstand what God was saying to him? Or should we take seriously the fact that after asking 'where is the lamb for a burnt offering?', Isaac never again speaks to his father? And what of his mother? The next thing that she does is to die; is that significant? Or are we to do what Christians have done down the ages and see in this story the foreshadowing of the death of Jesus? Allow God to speak to you from somewhere below the surface of the text. The gospel is not properly to be called 'chilling', except for the instinctive opposition of 'some of the scribes', who accuse Jesus of blasphemy for claiming that the paralytic's sins are forgiving. Certainly, like the first reading, the gospel has a powerful ending as the paralytic obediently 'went back to his home', presumably carrying the mattress that he had been lying upon. Either way, our reaction must be that of the crowds, who 'glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings'.

Friday 7 July

Genesis 23.1-4, 19; 24.1-8, 62-67
Psalm 106.1-5
Matthew 9.9-13

God is active in our lives, whether we notice it or not; and we see in today's readings something of how this works out. In today's first reading, Sarah, Abraham's wife dies and Abraham buys a place to bury her; and then, God still hard at work, he finds a wife for his son Isaac, to console him for the loss of his mother, and makes his servant understand God's plan, that he is not to take Isaac back to the place from which God had led him out. The story ends happily; but it is a near thing, and you might do well to read the whole of Genesis chapter 24 to see how God was at work. In the gospel we read of the very unexpected calling of the tax collector Matthew (whom Mark and Luke call 'Levi'). We also read of the shocked reaction of religious people to Jesus' terrible choice of friends. They have to be told to find out what is meant by one of the favourite quotations of the Gospel of Matthew 'It is mercy I desire - not sacrifice'. What might these readings be saying to you today?

Saturday 8 July

Genesis 27.1-5, 15-29
Psalm 135.1-6
Matthew 9.14-17

God does not always operate in the way that we might expect. Today's first reading is the story of how that inveterate trickster Jacob (though this time at his mother's instigation) manages to steal the blessing that his father had destined for his son, and of Esau's consequent sadness. And yet God can, as the saying goes, write straight with these crooked lines. In the gospel reading, likewise, Jesus is found to be very shocking indeed because he and his disciples do not seem to observe the very proper and ancient Jewish religious discipline of fasting; Jesus' response is that with his coming we are living in a completely new world, one that he likens to a 'marriage-feast'. Our fasting happens only when the bridegroom is taken away. And that will come,
of course.

Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Monday 10 July

Genesis 28.10-22
Psalm 91.1-4, 14-15
Matthew 9.18-26

We are not in charge; and we are not God. That is the lesson that Jacob has to learn in today's first reading, the dream of 'Jacob's ladder', when he hears the voice of God: 'I am the Lord your God, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Jacob'. He exclaims, as we often must, 'the Lord is in this place Ð and I did not know it'. In the gospel, Matthew tells a double story, somewhat abbreviated from the version that he found in Mark's gospel. In Mark it was a synagogue-ruler, and he had a name, 'Jairus'; but in Matthew it is a nameless 'ruler' who asks for help. In Mark she was not dead, whereas here she 'has just died'. Then this story briefly gives way to that of the woman 'with a 12-year haemorrhage', and Matthew omits the jeering of Jesus' disciples when he asks, 'Who touched me?' In both stories she is 'saved', and then we come back to the ruler's daughter; the ritual mourning is going on at home, and effortlessly 'the little girl was raised up' at the touch of Jesus' hand. It is not how we would have told the story; but God is in charge, and we are not God.

Tuesday 11 July
St Benedict

Genesis 32.22-32
Psalm 17.1-3, 6-8, 15
Matthew 9.32-38

Today our Benedictine brothers and sisters are celebrating the feast of their great founder, while the rest of us continue with the readings from Genesis and Matthew. The Genesis story, in the middle of Jacob's tricky negotiation to restore peace with his brother Esau, is the extraordinary tale of Jacob wrestling all night, apparently with God, and as a result being given the new name of 'Israel'. Our task today may be to listen out for the presence of God and the new understanding that this can give of the meaning of our life. The gospel is a kind of summary, with Jesus expelling demons, and the crowds marvelling, but the religious authorities claiming to know better: 'it is by the ruler of the demons that he expels demons', they claim. Then Mathew offers us a broad-brush picture of Jesus' activity: teaching and proclaiming in 'towns and villages', and 'curing every disease and every sickness', and always 'gutted' when he saw the crowds, and making the point that there are not enough workers in the harvest. Are we sufficiently alive to the mystery that today's readings offer? If not, does St Benedict's contemplative approach offer a way ahead?

Wednesday 12 July

Genesis 41.55-57; 42.5-7, 17-24
Psalm 33.2-3, 10-11, 18-19
Matthew 10.1-7

One of the ways in which Jews and Christians explore the mystery of God is by telling stories, which enable us to glimpse God at work. Today's first reading is a part of the extraordinary story of Joseph, which runs from chapter 37 of Genesis to chapter 48, with a brief dart at the equally striking story of Tamar and Judah (and you could do a lot worse than look at all those chapters tonight). In our part of the story, God is still working things out, but Joseph is playing power-games, and we are curious to see how things will work out, as Simeon is taken off to prison. Today's gospel is the missioning of the Twelve, whose names are given to us; they are told (mysteriously enough, given what will happen later), not to preach to 'GentilesÉor Samaritans', but 'rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel', with the all-important message that 'the Kingdom of the heavens has drawn near'. This is a story which has yet to come to its end. Where is God at work in your story?

Thursday 13 July
St Henry

Genesis 44.18-21, 23-29; 45.1-5
Psalm 105.16-21
Matthew 10.7-15

What happens when God is at work? Quite extraordinary things, according to the readings selected for today. In the first reading, the Joseph story is reaching its climax, with Joseph revealing himself to the brothers who had sold him into slavery after contemplating murdering him. Very strikingly, instead of taking it out on them, he tells them that, 'God has sent me here before you, to preserve life'. That story is echoed in the psalm for today, and again there is the notion of Joseph being 'sent'. Then 'sending' is what happens to the Twelve in today's gospel, when they are given their mission. Their task is to signal the arrival of God's Kingdom by curing the sick, raising the dead, making lepers clean, and expelling demons. And all this at no charge! They are to travel light; and they are not to expect that everyone will welcome them with applause. What happens when God is at work in your life?

Friday 14 July
St Camillus de Lellis

Genesis 46.1-7, 28-30
Psalm 37.3-4, 18-19, 27-28, 39-40
Matthew 10.16-23

Today's first reading offers us the happy ending of the Joseph-story, which we have been following for the last few days, when Jacob and his son are reunited, and Israel goes down into Egypt. This of course sets up the narrative for the long and painful business of Israel's liberation from Egypt. But that is another story, and we shall have to wait some generations for Moses to be God's emissary in that task. Meanwhile Jacob sings his Nunc Dimittis on being reunited with his long-lost son. It is a story that could have worked out in all sorts of different ways; but God was running the show. And that is the key point in today's gospel reading; the Twelve are being sent on their own mission, and are warned that it is going to be tricky: 'like sheep in the midst of wolves', and full of betrayal to Sanhedrins and flogging in synagogues, and trials before procurators and emperors, and hatred from everybody. But all the time they must know that God is in charge: 'you will not finish the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes'. How is your mission going to work out?

Saturday 15 July
St Bonaventure

Genesis 49.29-32; 50.15-26
Psalm 105.1-4, 6-7
Matthew 10.24-33

God works through our stories, and with a divine neatness today we end the story of Jacob and that of Joseph. Jacob gives instructions about his burial, with his father and grandfather, and then dies and is properly and happily embalmed. Not all is well with his sons, however, as the older brothers are still embarrassed by their awareness of what they had done to Joseph, selling him into slavery, even though it has all worked out so well. So they did what anyone might do and invented a message from the grave, in order not to be punished by their newly powerful brother. That same brother has now taken on the role of eldest son, and we hear him offer a farewell message to his brothers before he in turn dies, predicting the return from Egypt to Israel. But there is still some way to go before that. In the meantime we listen to Jesus instructing the Twelve about their mission. They (we, of course) must expect to be treated as badly as Jesus was; but (like Jesus) their task is to keep their eyes on the one whom Jesus called 'Father', and to proclaim Jesus before human beings, rather than (as we might be tempted to do) deny him. And what are you ready to do today?

Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Monday 17 July

Exodus 1.8-14, 22
Psalm 124
Matthew 10.34-11.1

No one said it would be easy; and that is what our readings for today tell us. In the first reading we start to get the outline of what life was like in Egypt, under a Pharaoh 'who did not know Joseph': oppression and forced labour and eventually a command to murder the male children by drowning them in the Nile. In the gospel for today, Jesus is letting the twelve know about what their mission is going to be like: 'not peace but the sword', with family quarrels and taking up the cross, as well as people who refuse to accept Jesus' emissaries. Having delivered himself of this rather depressing warning, Jesus 'went away from there to teach and preach in their cities'. Why would you bother? Only if you are convinced that this is the way that God is marking out for you. This is our story; and we shall be following the next few chapters of Exodus to see how God is telling the story and leading us towards freedom. For several weeks to come we shall be following Matthew's telling of the same story, to give us courage in our mission.

Tuesday 18 July

Exodus 2.1-15
Psalm 69.3, 14, 30-31, 33-34
Matthew 11.20-24

When Moses was given his mission, he was (it is always useful to remember) a murderer on the run. We shall hear tomorrow what his mission was; but for today we are invited to watch in admiration as God makes use of the daughter of Pharaoh to rescue him from the death by drowning that Pharaoh had commanded. The good daughter then (all unwittingly) invites Moses' mother to be his nurse. Then the narrative takes us rapidly through his childhood and adolescence, and the moment when he defends his people by killing an Egyptian oppressor. For this he is not for a moment thanked by his compatriots, and finds himself in flight from justice. In the gospel it is Jewish cities (Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum) that are under attack, from Jesus, because they were not as open to God's project as Gentile towns like Tyre and Sidon and Sodom. Today our task is to discern how God is at work where we are.

Wednesday 19 July

Exodus 3.1-6, 9-12
Psalm 103.1-4, 6-7
Matthew 11.25-27

How do you know that God is at work in your life? You listen out for what God is doing. That is what happens to Moses (a murderer on the run, remember, and looking after his wife's father's sheep) in today's first reading, when he encounters the burning bush, and discovers that he is speaking to God, 'the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob'. Very properly, Moses hides his face, and takes off his shoes, because he is getting close to God. But then he is given his mission: 'I have seen the affliction of my people in Egypt...I shall send you to Pharaoh that you may bring [them] out of Egypt'. Then Moses makes the first of his excuses for not doing what God asks: 'Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh?' But God is not interested: 'I shall be with you'. In the gospel, Jesus tells us how we are to know: 'you have hidden these things from the wise and clever and revealed them to infants...everything is handed over to me by my Father'. And what is God doing in your life today?

Thursday 20 July
St Apollinaris

Exodus 3.13-20
Psalm 105.1-5, 8-9, 24-27
Matthew 11.28-30

The extraordinary thing about the Jewish and Christian outlook on life is the intimacy to which the God who made the infinite galaxies invites us. In today's first readings, Moses offers his second argument against doing what God wants ('Excuse me please, but what shall I say is your name?'). For this objection he is rewarded with a gift of remarkable intimacy, 'I AM WHO I AM' (there are several possible translations of this Hebrew phrase, but that one will do), and a promise that he will indeed lead Israel out of slavery. The same intimacy is there in the gospel also, as Jesus offers us the lovely invitation, 'Come to me all you who labour and are burdened; and I shall give you rest'. There is a beautiful intimacy here. And one other thing: when Jesus says 'my yoke is gentle', that word in Greek would have sounded like the name 'Christ', which gives a whole new angle on the intimacy of Jesus' invitation to us.

Friday 21 July
St Lawrence of Brindisi

Exodus 11.10-12.14
Psalm 116.12-13, 15-18
Matthew 12.1-8

The key to a sane life is to have gratitude to God. That is the tone of the psalm for today: 'What shall I give back to the Lord for his goodness to me?' That is the tone also of the Passover, whose institution we hear about in today's first reading, the memory of Israel's God setting them free from their slavery: 'this day shall be for you a remembrance day; and you shall keep it as a feast for the Lord'. That is what the Pharisees, Jesus' opponents in today's gospel reading, failed to grasp, for they complained about the behaviour of Jesus' disciples, putting their action of plucking grains of wheat because they were hungry, not into the category of preserving life, but into that of breaking Sabbath. Jesus gives them some brilliant counter-examples from Scripture, and concludes triumphantly with the devastating line that, 'the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath'. They (and we) have to recognise with gratitude the gift of God, here and now.

Saturday 22 July
St Mary Magdalene

Song of Songs 3.1-4
Psalm 63.2-6, 8-9
2 Corinthians 5.14-17
John 20.1-2, 11-18

One of the important elements in our religious experience is that of longing. At the very deepest level of our being it is God that we long for, and nothing else will do. Today's celebration of Mary Magdalen presents her precisely as one who longs. The first reading is from the lovely collection of erotic poetry that we call the Song of Songs, and expresses this longing in terms of human love, a girl longing for her beloved. The same passionate longing for God is there in the psalm for today: 'O God, you are my God, I long for you, like a dry weary land with no water'. You get the same notion in the second reading: 'the love of Christ holds us fast', Paul says, because 'one man died for everybody'. In today's gospel the love is expressed, first by running (which is slightly unusual in Scripture, you must admit), as Mary sprints to tell the disciples about the empty tomb, and then by tears. She tells the angels about her longing: 'They have taken my Lord, and I don't know where they have put him'. Then the object of her longing is there, but she does not recognise him, thinks that this is a passing gardener, who might have stolen the body. Until, that is, she is addressed by name ('Mary'), and realises that something has happened that is way beyond her longings, and is drawn to address him in return by the familiar title of 'Rabbouni'. So she is able to go back to the disciples and say that all their deepest longings have been met: 'I have seen the Lord'. What is your deepest longing, today?

Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Monday 24 July
St Sharbel Makhluf

Exodus 14.5-18
Exodus 15.1-6
Matthew 12.38-42

Can God let us down? The children of Israel in today's first reading clearly think so, for they are loud in their denunciation of Moses and God, accusing them of genocide, because Pharaoh is chasing them down with his state-of-the-art cavalry. Moses has to remain calm, and the Egyptians (and the weak-minded Israelites) will come to know that 'I am the Lord'. Our responsorial for today is the ancient song that Exodus places on the lips of the children of Israel after their successful crossing of the Red Sea, exulting in God's power for good to his people. In the gospel for today, Jesus' opponents demand a 'sign', and are offered nothing better than the 'sign of the prophet Jonah'. You may remember that Jonah was decidedly of the opinion that God could let him down, so much so that he caught the next boat going in precisely the opposite direction to that which God wanted him to take. Here the sign is that Jonah had 'three days and three nights in the belly of the whale'. And that is the sign: the Son of Man will spend 'three days and three nights in the heart of the earth'. And God proved incapable of letting him down. Can God let you down?

Tuesday 25 July
St James the Apostle

2 Corinthians 4.7-15
Psalm 126
Matthew 20.20-28

Today we celebrate one of the two sons of Zebedee, who were so important in Jesus' ministry, though, as we shall see, they did not always understand him. In today's first reading, Paul is trying to explain that his near-death experience does not mean that after all he is not a real apostle, but actually vindicates his claim, because 'the excess of God's power' is what counts, not anything that a particular apostle might be able to do. So apostles like Paul and James (not to mention you and me) can indeed be described as bearing 'this treasure in vessels of clay', so that 'grace...may overflow, to the glory of God'. In the gospel, the 'vessels of clay' include Mrs Zebedee (whereas when Mark told the story, it was James and John, not their mother, who wanted to climb the ecclesial ladder and sit on Jesus' right and left in his kingdom), to whom Matthew makes amends by placing her at the foot of the Cross when Jesus dies. The two boys are so keen to get to the top that they eagerly assent to the idea of 'drinking Jesus' cup'; and the rest of the disciples have so failed to understand Jesus that they get cross with the two brothers, because they got their bid in first. Jesus has to remind them and us that our task is not to 'be served', but to serve and give our lives for many. How do you feel about this idea?

Wednesday 26 July
Ss Joachim and Anne

Exodus 16.1-5, 9-15
Psalm 78.18-19, 23-28
Matthew 13.1-9

The reason for celebrating the parents of Our Lady ('St Annie, St Annie, God's holy Granny', as the ditty runs) is to remind us that she was a good Jewish girl. And in today's first reading we see good Jewish males complaining about God and about Moses, because they would much rather be back under oppression in Egypt than dying of starvation in the desert. Today's psalm, which Joachim and Anne may have taught their daughter, likewise meditates on Israel's complaints, and on how God responded by giving them more than enough to eat. In the gospel, we start the long chapter of Jesus' parables, which he delivers from his floating pulpit, no doubt so that the sound would carry better across the still waters of the lake. The first of these parables is that of the sower going out to sow (a familiar sight in Jesus' Galilee) and putting the seed on all sorts of variably promising ground (four different types of soil, by my account). Do you detect your own picture in these readings?

Thursday 27 July

Exodus 19.1-2, 9-11, 16-20
Daniel 3.52-56
Matthew 13.10-17

Today comes an important moment in the journey of the Israelites towards freedom, when God, dwelling in a 'thick cloud', summons Moses up into Mount Sinai, while the people tremble. The responsorial comes from a hymn that is not to be found in the Hebrew or Aramaic portions of Daniel, but only in the Greek; but we should be poorer without its insistence on God being blessed above all creation: 'blessed are you in the Temple of your glory...on the throne of your kingdom'. The gospel for today approaches the mystery of why Jesus speaks in parables; and the answer is that most people 'see without seeing and hear without listening or understanding', whereas Jesus' disciples are 'given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven'. Whose side are you on today?

Friday 28 July
St Victor

Exodus 20.1-17
Psalm 19.8-11
Matthew 13.18-23

Today's first reading invites us to look on while Moses is given the Ten Commandments, which some scholars describe as 'a manifesto for a free society'. One feature of it that we might notice and reflect upon is that the weight of the commandments is on how we are to behave towards the great God who has brought Israel out of Egypt; the subsequent instructions about how to behave towards other people are quite rapidly dismissed. The point is that above all we have to get God right; and that is something that is well-known to the poet who wrote today's psalm ('the Law of the Lord is perfect; it revives the soul'). The gospel gives an explanation of the parable of the sower, in terms of different kinds of soil representing different kinds of reception of God's word. Our task is to be the kind of person who 'hears and understands God's message, who then bears fruit'. Are you bearing fruit today?

Saturday 29 July
St Martha

1 John 4.7-16
Psalm 34.2-11
John 11.19-27

Today we celebrate the feast of St Martha, who, you may remember, got so very cross with her sister on one famous occasion (you can read about it in Luke 10); but it is better, perhaps to see her story as one of love. That is what the Church suggests by the choice of first reading for today, from 1 John, which is always about love: today's reading uses that word, as noun, adjective and verb no less than 16 times, by my reckoning. In today's gospel, we see how that love worked out. Jesus 'loved' Martha and Mary and Lazarus, we are told and (mysteriously) 'he therefore remained two days after the sisters had summoned him'. When he arrives, Martha is the first person to greet him, with the reproachful words, 'Lord Ð if you had been here, my brother would not have died'. On the other hand, she knows and loves Jesus, and is able to express her confidence that 'whatever you ask God for, God will give you'. This turns out to be a platform for further theology, for Martha expresses her faith in Lazarus' ultimate resurrection, and Jesus takes her far deeper into the mystery: 'I AM the Resurrection and the Life', and then Martha goes far beyond what she has heard and makes the statement that 'I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the One Coming into the World'. That is what love can do.

Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

Monday 31 July
St Ignatius Loyola

Exodus 32.15-24, 30-34
Psalm 106.19-23
Matthew 13.31-35

Today is the feast of the founder of the Jesuits, and that body will be thinking its own thoughts, while the rest of us continue with Exodus and Matthew. In the first reading, we are invited to reflect on the aftermath of the absurd episode of the Golden Calf, when Moses comes down the mountain and in his anger shatters the tablets of the Ten Commandments (written by God himself, remember), and Moses and God work out what is to be done. The psalm for today reflects on the episode, and in particular the happy aspect of it that Moses stood up for the people against God. In the gospel we continue Matthew's chapter of parables, with two stories that suggest to us the small-but-powerful work of God in our world, that of the mustard-seed, and that of the woman putting leaven into her bread (God the baker-woman, so to say). Is God powerfully at work in your life?

Tuesday 1 August
St Alphonsus Liguori

Exodus 33.7-11; 34.5-9, 28
Psalm 103. 6-13
Matthew 13.36-43

Today we remember the distinguished founder of the Redemptorist order, just as we continue our meditation on the unfortunate consequences of Israel's worship of the Golden Calf, God speaking face to face with Moses, and revealing his title (one that St Alphonsus, that distinguished moral theologian, would wish us to remember): 'The Lord, the Lord, a God of mercy and grace, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and integrity'. Then Moses takes down the Ten Commandments (which he had earlier shattered in his anger), and order is restored, thanks to God's graciousness. Today's psalm likewise meditates on these events; and then the gospel offers Jesus' explanation of the parable of the tares in the wheat, which had been uttered earlier in the chapter. The central idea here is that God is in charge, and we must expect to live with the 'children of the evil one', but at the end the time will come when 'the just shall shine out like the sun in the Kingdom of the Heavens'. There is something to look forward to.

Wednesday 2 August
St Eusebius of Vercelli
St Peter Julian Eymard

Exodus 34.29-35
Psalm 99.5-7, 9
Matthew 13.44-46

The knowledge of God is a gift more precious than anything that we can imagine. In today's first reading, this idea is powerfully depicted by the fact that Moses' face is shining, after his conversation with God, in a way that his compatriots could not cope with, and 'they were afraid to come near him', so that he had to put a veil on his face, each time that he spoke to the Lord. The psalm for today picks up this idea with its final acclamation: 'Extol the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain'. The idea is expressed slightly differently in the two parables that make up today's gospel, the preciousness of the knowledge of God intimated by the idea of the 'treasure buried in the field' which is worth selling all you possess in order to gain it; and likewise the 'pearl of great price' for which a man 'went off and sold everything he had and bought it'. How highly do you value the knowledge of God?

Thursday 3 August

Exodus 40.16-21, 34-38
Psalm 84.3-6, 8, 11
Matthew 13.47-53

Where does God live? In the most unexpected of places, it would appear. In today's first reading, we are given an account of the construction of the tabernacle, where God lived, on the journey through the desert; and God is powerfully there, so that Moses 'could not enter the tent of meeting', and so the Lord was with them all the time. The psalm for today knows all about where God lives: 'happy are those who live in your house', the poet sings. Then in the gospel, we hear the end of the parable-discourse in Matthew's gospel, and we discover that the Kingdom of the heavens is like a fishing net that catches good fish and bad, and the bad fish are rejected only at the end. More important, however, is the discovery that the 'scribe discipled in the Kingdom of the heavens' (and here, we fancy, Matthew may be doing some autobiography), 'brings out of his treasure-chest new things and old things'. Which of these does God prefer? God lives exactly where God chooses to live; and it is his choice, not ours.

Friday 4 August
St John Vianney

Leviticus 23.1, 4-11, 15-16; 27.34-37
Psalm 81. 3-6, 10-11
Matthew 13.54-58

On this holy day of the greatest of French parish priests, the first reading invites us to the feasts which represent the coming-together of the People of God for its great occasions. Our religion is not to be an individualist, solitary affair, but something that we do in community; and that is something that today's psalmist did not need to be taught: 'the full moon', and the 'feast day' are times when we are to remember what God has done for his people, and how the people have too often neglected their God. That is the mystery that we are invited to contemplate in today's gospel, as we watch Jesus teaching a hostile audience in the synagogue, where he instinctively would go, every Sabbath day. Sadly, to his audience he was just 'the boy next door', rather than God's beloved son, so they ask, angrily, 'Where did he get this wisdom and these miracles?' Jesus responds (and we, as People of God, must listen ruefully), 'no prophet is dishonoured, except in his ancestral town and in his own home'. How are we to come together as part of the people of God?

Saturday 5 August
Dedication of the Basilica of St Mary Major

Revelation 21.1-5
Judith 13.18-19
Luke 11.27-28

We celebrate today the dedication of the 4th Century Basilica of St Mary Major, or 'Our Lady of the Snows', as it is sometimes charmingly known. The first reading is the utterly lovely vision of the new world that God in Jesus is bringing to replace the messy one that our sinful choices have created: 'new heaven and new earth', and the powerful picture of 'the holy city, new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride made up for her husband, and God's voice singing of 'the tent of God with human beings: God shall pitch his tent with them, and they shall be his peoples ...and God will wipe every tear from their eyes. And death shall be no more...Look - I am making everything new'. Then the gospel offers another, quite different, picture of the new world, in the shape of the woman who congratulates Jesus' mother: 'happy the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked'. But Jesus redefines the notion of happiness; and we shall do well to listen to him: 'happy are those who hear God's word and keep it'! Is there a challenge here for you today?

Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Monday 7 August
Ss Sixtus and companions
St Cajetan

Numbers 11.4-15
Psalm 81.12-17
Matthew 14.22-36

Have you ever got fed up with God? If so, you are in good company, for look at Moses in today's first reading. The people of God, whom Moses has brought out of Egypt, are in complaint mode once more, and allegedly longing to get back to all those lovely meals that they used to have in the 'good old days' in the land of oppression, instead of the rather boring manna that God has given them. So Moses takes their complaints to God, and adds a few of his own: 'Why have you dealt badly with your servant?', and asks to die. The psalm meditates on that and puts it into context, God saying 'the people did not listen to my voice', and it expresses God's longing to give us all that we want: 'I would feed you with finest wheat, satisfy you with honey from the rock'. The gospel offers the same drama, with Jesus walking on the water, while the disciples are struggling with the waves and a contrary wind. But when he approaches, they are terrified, and convinced that he is 'a ghost'. Jesus reassures them that 'It's me', but then Peter spoils it all by demanding to be given orders to walk on the water. That duly happens, and Peter then realises what he has done and starts to sink. Effortlessly, Jesus rescues him, and they get back into the boat, and they gather in worship (something we have to learn again and again, I fear) and say, 'Truly you are Son of God'. Then Jesus resumes his healing mission. Are you fed up with God today? And do these readings help you?

Tuesday 8 August
St Dominic

Numbers 12.1-13
Psalm 51.3-7, 12-13
Matthew 15.1-2, 10-14

Today we greet our Dominican brothers and sisters who are celebrating the feast of their great founder. In the readings on offer, the religious professionals do something that the Dominican order would never do, and that is to complain about a lack of rigour in observing the religious rules. In the first reading Moses' sister and brother are apparently making a bid for power, and criticising their brother's choice of life-partner. They get their come-uppance, at all events, and Miriam (but for some reason not Aaron) catches leprosy, from which Moses prays for her to be healed. The psalm is the song attributed to David after his adulterous and ultimately murderous encounter with Bathsheba: 'against you alone have I sinned', and then he asks, 'Create a clean heart in me', a prayer that we might make our own today. In the gospel, the complaint is from the professional religious classes, Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem, about Jesus' disciples and their failure to go in for proper washing before eating. Jesus answers them with the important observation that 'it is not what comes into a person, but what comes out of the mouth, that makes them unclean'. When the disciples worry because the Pharisees have been 'scandalised', Jesus dismisses them as 'blind guides for the blind'. Could this be said of us?

Wednesday 9 August
St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Hosea 2.16, 17, 21-22
Psalm 45.11-12, 14-17
Matthew 25.1-13

Today we recall the memory of Edith Stein, a convert from Judaism, who became a Carmelite, was killed on this day in 1942, and is now a patroness of Europe. It is very appropriate that the first reading is from Hosea, using the bridal imagery that is so beloved of the Old Testament prophets: 'I shall allure her, bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her'. The same bridal imagery is in the psalm today, the second half of a song written for a king of Judah on the occasion of his marriage. This part of it is addressed to the bride, who seems to be rather in two minds about her forthcoming marriage, but is reassured that 'the king will desire your beauty Ð bow down to him since he is your lord'. Whether that would have cheered her up may be a moot point. The gospel again invites us to think of a marriage, and this time it is the story of the five wise and five foolish bridesmaids, and the need to be ready for the bridegroom's arrival. And our task? Along with the courageous Sr Teresa Benedicta, we have to 'stay awake - for you do not know the day or the hour'.

Thursday 10 August
St Lawrence

2 Corinthians 9.6-10
Psalm 112.1-2, 5-9
John 12.24-26

Today we celebrate the martyrdom of Lawrence, in Rome in the middle of the third century CE, with those two splendid legends (alas they may be no more than that; but they ought to be true) about his encounter with the Roman authorities. You remember the tales: that when ordered to produce the treasures of the Church he lined up the poor, and that when he was being burnt to death he cheerfully said 'I'm done on this side - you can turn me over'. Whether these happened or not, it shows a sense of what really matters in life, putting both death and material riches into perspective. That is the message of the readings chosen for the feast. In the first reading, Paul is trying to persuade the Corinthians, who had lots of money but deep pockets, to be generous to the church in Jerusalem, by reminding them of God's generosity 'who did not spare his own Son', and that 'God loves a cheerful giver' (Lawrence was certainly that). Today's gospel comes from the moment in John gospel when Jesus realises clearly for the first time that death is knocking at the door, and offers the parable of the 'seed that falls into the ground', and shows how a grasp of the things that really matter gives him (and so us) a serene composure when life seems to be coming to an end: 'where I am, there my servant will be'. St Lawrence is a good model for us today.

Friday 11 August
St Clare

Deuteronomy 4.32-40
Psalm 77.12-16, 21
Matthew 16.24-28

It is an awkward privilege to be chosen for membership of the people of God; sometimes we think 'why me?' And that is a good question, whether we ask it in gratitude for the unmerited privilege, or feel the awkwardness of the uncomfortable implications. In today's first reading, the people of Israel, trembling on the bank of Jordan, and their entry into the Holy Land, are invited to see what a privilege it is: 'did anything so great ever happen before? Did any 'god' take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation?' And it is all a love-story: 'for love of your ancestors he...personally led you out of Egypt by his great power.' The key thing is that 'the Lord is God in the heavens above and on earth below - and there is no other'. The gospel is more aware of the awkwardness: 'if anyone wants to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me'. It is not easy, but once we understand what it is all about, there is no other way to go. And St Clare, whom we remember today, understood both the awkwardness and the privilege of being a disciple.

Saturday 12 August
St Jane Frances de Chantal
Blessed Isidore Bakanja

Deuteronomy 6.4-13
Psalm 18.2-4, 47-51
Matthew 17.14-20

Today's first reading is the 'Shema' ('Hear, O Israel'), which good Jews pray twice a day, the command to love God alone, and to remember that God has brought us to where we are: 'do not forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt'. That is of immense importance to us, if we are to give our lives any kind of context. The deepest reality of those lives is the truth about God. And something of that is the message of the gospel for today, as Jesus' disciples have failed to cure a boy who is possessed. Jesus immediately heals him, and the disciples have to be told where they got it wrong; it was because of 'your little faith: if you have faith the size of a grain of mustard, you will say to this mountain 'move from here to there', and it will move Ð and nothing is going to be impossible for you'. Our task today? To place God right at the centre of our lives.

Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Monday 14 August
St Maximilian Kolbe

Deuteronomy 10.12-22
Psalm 147.12-15, 19-20
Matthew 17.22-27

It is a love-story, this new life of ours; that was something that was well known to Maximilian Kolbe, whose feast we celebrate today. He gave his life in Auschwitz on this day 76 years ago, to save a complete stranger from death. The author of our first reading knew this well: 'What does the Lord your God ask of you, but...to love and serve the Lord your God?' And it follows from this that 'you must befriend the immigrant, for you were immigrants yourselves in the land of Egypt'. Jesus puts it into context in today's gospel, as for the second time he predicts his passion: 'the Son of Man is going to be handed over into the hands of human beings, and they will kill him.' But then we hear more of the story, the all-important tailpiece (which we hardly ever notice) that 'on the third day he will be raised'. After that we have the mysterious tale of Peter being enabled to pay the Temple tax for himself and Jesus, by catching the fish with the coin in its mouth. God is in charge of this love story, and we shall do well to remember it.

Tuesday 15 August
The Assumption of Our Lady

Revelation 11.19; 12.1-6
Psalm 45.10-12, 16
1 Corinthians 15.20-27
Luke 1.39-56

Today we celebrate the feast that reminds us that Jesus' mother must have shared his victory over death (as one day, too, shall we). The first reading offers us the splendid picture of the 'Ark of the Covenant', which Christians have learned to read as Our Lady, the 'great sign in heaven', of the woman giving birth, threatened by the fiery-red dragon, who bears 'a male son' and then flees 'into the desert where she has a place prepared for her from God'. At that point we know that all will be well. The psalm is the song sung to encourage the nervous bride of the king of Judah to 'forget your people and your father's house'. The second reading is from Paul's reiteration of the central doctrine of Christianity, that of the Resurrection, reversing the bad mistakes that human beings have made, and conquering 'Death, the last enemy'. It is the Catholic belief that Our Lady made no such bad decisions; and as we hear the gospel, we watch in awe as she bravely takes on the immense task that God asks of her, and finally responds to the angel's invitation with the powerful words, 'behold - the Lord's slave-girl; let it happen to me according to your word'.

Wednesday 16 August
St Stephen of Hungary

Deuteronomy 34.1-12
Psalm 66.1-3,5,8, 16-17
Matthew 18.15-20

Today's first reading is the end of Deuteronomy, when Moses, not permitted to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, is given a glimpse of what it will be like, from West to East and South to North; and there, on the wrong side of the River Jordan, he dies, and is buried by God (though no one knows where). And Joshua takes over the leadership. Not that leadership in the People of God is an easy thing. Moses knows that well, and Joshua is shortly to find out; and in today's gospel we learn what we have to do if 'your brother or sister commits a sin against you'. The answer is that you must have it out with them, one on one, then with witnesses, then before the entire church. If that still does not work then (rather alarmingly) 'let that person be to you like a Gentile or a tax-collector'. However all is not lost, because Jesus is always with us, because 'where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in the middle of them'. We may need to remember that, today.

Thursday 17 August

Joshua 3.7-11, 13-17
Psalm 114.1-6
Matthew 18.21-19.1

In today's first reading we watch Joshua taking over the leadership of the People of God; and it is a very striking beginning; notice that he is crossing the Jordan, which means that this is the solemn entry into the Holy Land for which we have been heading since the Book of Exodus; and impressively the Jordan river halts, to allow the people to cross over, as soon as the priests touch the water, a reminder of that earlier crossing of the Red Sea. The psalm for today is a meditation on that event, when 'the sea saw and fled'. The gospel gives a slightly different angle on leadership, for it starts with Peter asking a slightly incredulous question about how much forgiveness the people of God have to go in for; in return he gets more than he bargained for, in the shape of the story of the 'Unforgiving Servant'. It is a strange story, and perhaps the vast amounts of money involved suggest that it does not take itself all that seriously (think of 'gazillions of pounds'); but very serious indeed is the implication that leaders in the people of God have to start by recognising how much God has forgiven us. What are the readings saying to you today about your role in the Church?

Friday 18 August

Joshua 24.1-13
Psalm 136.1-3, 16-18, 21-22, 24
Matthew 19.3-12

At the heart of the Church is the certainty of the goodness of God. That is the message of today's first reading, where Joshua, preparing to make a covenant between God and his people, reminds them of all that God has done for them and for their ancestors, proclaiming in the name of God that 'I gave you a land which you had not tilled, and cities that you had not built...' The same idea is there in the psalm, a beautiful song of thanksgiving for the generosity of God's creation, and his guidance of the chosen people: 'God's love endures forever'. That is something that Jesus' opponents could not understand, when they ask him a tricky question about divorce. Notice that it is males asking if they can divorce their wives, who in that society had little chance to defend themselves, and, as always, Jesus stands up for the oppressed: 'what God has joined together, let no one separate'. The only question here is: what is our good God saying to us? What is the good Lord saying to you today?

Saturday 19 August
St John Eudes

Joshua 24.14-29
Psalm 16.1-2, 5, 7-8, 11
Matthew 19.13-15

In today's first reading, we are present at Joshua's death-bed; and the leader's final wish for the people is that they will 'serve the Lord'. He warns them that this is a serious matter, 'for he is a holy God, a jealous God', but they are up for it, and promise that 'we shall still serve the Lord'. And as we listen we cry 'Oh no you won't!', because we know that things will not work out all that well in what follows. But they thought that they knew better. And so did the disciples in the gospel for today; they thought that Jesus was much too important to be interested in children; but Jesus tells them, very sharply, 'leave the children alone. Don't stop them coming to me. For of such is the Kingdom of the Heavens'. Do we think that we know all about what God wants? And are we right?

Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

Monday 21 August
St Pius X

Judges 2.11-19
Psalm 106.34-37, 39-40, 43-44
Matthew 19.16-22

We often make the unthinking assumption that we know exactly what God wants us to do. Something of this is detectable in our readings for today. In the first reading, we begin our brief journey through the Book of Judges, and the author establishes a pattern that the narrative is going to follow: Israelites forget all that God has done for them, and serve other 'gods'. God then gets angry with them and they fall into the hands of their enemies. So then God raises up judges for them, and they are rescued from their enemies, but the pattern starts all over again. There is something of this pattern of the people's infidelity and God's punishment in the psalm also: 'God often rescued them, but they continued to rebel'. In the gospel the same arrogance is detectable, in the form of the rich young man who wants to know 'what good thing am I to do in order to have eternal life?' And, sadly, he cannot take it when the answer comes 'If you want to be perfect, off you go and sell your property and give to the poor...and come and follow me'. As with his predecessors in the people of God, that is too much to ask. Do you know what God is asking you to do today?

Tuesday 22 August
The Queenship of Mary

Isaiah 9.2-7
Psalm 113.1-8
Luke 1.26-38

Today, a week after Mary's great feast of the Assumption, we celebrate her 'Queenship'; but the Scriptures teach us that no human being can ever take God's place. Our first reading concentrates on what God has done: 'the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light'. Here it is the celebration of a new child born to the royal family; but Christians read it in reference to Jesus. The psalm likewise puts princes in their place: 'The Lord lifts up the poor from the ash heap and seats them with princes'. And our gospel, the lovely story of the Annunciation is a reminder of how you get to have royal status: you listen to God's challenging demand: 'you are to bear a son...he will be called Son of the Most High'. And how does Mary advance to royal status? She simply says, 'Look - I am the Lord's slave girl'. Let us pray today not to plan to become queens and kings, but simply to assert our royal status by doing whatever God asks of us.

Wednesday 23 August
St Rose of Lima

Judges 9.6-15
Psalm 21.2-7
Matthew 20.1-16

Again and again God upsets our sense of the things that really matter. In today's first reading, we are faced with an attempt to found a royal dynasty. Gideon had done great things for Israel, but refused to become king or to allow his children to build a dynasty. When his son Abimelech ('my father is king') makes a bid for power, his brother Jotham tells the parable of the trees to Israel as a warning: good trees like olive and vine don't want power; only bad trees like the buckthorn will do that. But no one listens to Jotham. And the gospel likewise warns us against making a hierarchy of human beings. It is the challenging story of the workers in the vineyard, where the ones who had worked all day long accuse the owner (who clearly represents God) of unfairness, forgetting that in the terms of the story God is utterly generous; and therefore 'the last shall be first and the first last'.

Thursday 24 August
St Bartholomew

Revelation 21.9-14
Psalm 145.10-13, 17-18
John 1.45-51   

Today we celebrate the feast of the slightly mysterious St Bartholomew. He is mysterious because we do not know anything else about him, beyond his inclusion in lists of the apostles; and many readers identify him with Nathanael, whose calling is mentioned in today's gospel. Perhaps the best thing to do is to see what the readings tell us about apostles like you and me. The first reading offers a beautiful vision of the Bride of the Lamb, the Church, which has the glory of God, and is built on the twelve foundation stones that are the Lamb's twelve apostles. And you and I are invited to remember that our role is that of a foundation stone, without which the Church cannot stand. And what of the gospel? Like many of us, Nathanael starts with the view that 'it cannot possibly be true' (nothing good can come from Nazareth); but then something happens, and the tone changes, when Jesus identifies him as 'an Israelite without guile'. We do not really understand what is going on, but Nathanael does when Jesus says 'I saw you under the fig-tree'. And we draw a deep breath when Nathanael apparently goes way beyond the evidence and says 'Rabbi! You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!' How did he get there? We are not told; but you and I need to be aware that the invitation is for us to tread the same road. Are you ready for this today?

Friday 25 August
St Louis of France

Ruth 1.1, 3-6, 14-16, 22
Psalm 146.5-10
Matthew 22.34-40

We begin today the briefest possible glimpse of the Book of the Ruth, that most charming of books, brilliantly placed in the Christian version of the Old Testament immediately after some of the more unpleasant tales of the Book of Judges. It is only four chapters long, and you could do a great deal worse than read it tonight. Today's reading is the setting up of the story: a Bethlehemite and his splendid wife, and two wonderful daughters-in-law, one of whom (Ruth) returns to Bethlehem with Naomi, insisting that 'your people shall be my people and your God my God'. We are clearly intended to applaud (and you must read the rest of the book to see why). The gospel for today is the story, told rather differently in Mark's gospel, of the 'lawyer' who wanted to set a trap for Jesus by asking him what was the Number One commandment. This could be tricky, since there were 613 commandments in the Law, but Jesus does not hesitate, and offers not one but two commandments; he answers that 'the whole of the Law and the prophets depends on' loving 'the Lord your God' and 'your neighbour and yourself'. Which, you may say, is what Ruth did in that first reading. And what of you today?

Saturday 26 August

Ruth 2.1-3, 8-11; 4.13-17
Psalm 128.1-5
Matthew 23.1-12

Today's first reading continues and abruptly finishes the lovely story of Ruth (and you really must read all four chapters of that book for yourself). We watch her as she gleans in her kinsman's field, admire Boaz's kindness to her, and cheer as the two of them get married, and become the great-grandparents of King David. But that is another story. For the moment, just watch how God is at work Ð and admire. The gospel for today is rather more challenging, the opening of Jesus' long tirade against the 'scribes and Pharisees'. They are criticised, not for what they say, but for what they do. Could our critics say the same of us who claim authority as religious leaders? Do we 'do all [our] works in order to be a spectacle for human beings'. Could we (and here it gets uncomfortably close to the bone) insist on wearing just the right sort of clothing? Do we like having the correct salutation in public, and being called 'Father'? Perhaps; but anyone who claims to be religious stands in danger of accusations of hypocrisy. And what is the answer? We must remember the all-important teaching that 'you have one 'Father' - the Heavenly one'. 'Anyone who raises themselves up will be brought low', says Jesus, and we should be listening very carefully indeed.

Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

Monday 28 August
St Augustine

1 Thessalonians 1.1-5, 8-10
Psalm 149.1-6, 9
Matthew 23.13-22

Today we start a rapid gallop through what was almost certainly the very first document of our New Testament to be written, and therefore demands our attentive reading. Notice how it begins: Paul is not writing on his own, but with Silvanus and Timothy; so this is a joint effort for those early Christians. And (as always with Paul's letters) notice what he is thanking God for, because that tells us something about what is his concern in the letter: 'the work of faith and the hard word of loving and the persistence in hope' (does this ring bells with you?), and the fact that they can see tangible signs of the gospel up there in Thessalonica, and how they are imitating Paul. And the message, we gather, has travelled all over Greece, about the Resurrection of Jesus and the deliverance from the wrath that is coming. The gospel continues Matthew's 'woes' against the clerical elite, for their failures to open up the Kingdom to everybody, with their casuistry and assumption of power. Is there a challenge here for us today?

Tuesday 29 August
The Martyrdom of
John the Baptist

Jeremiah 1.17-19
Psalm 71.1-6, 15, 17
Mark 6.17-29

Today we celebrate (and, yes, that is indeed the right verb) the killing of John the Baptist. The first reading is from the story of the vocation of that other redoubtable figure, the prophet Jeremiah, who like John the Baptist, has to stand up against the powerful. The psalm for today shows exactly the same confidence in the face of adversity that was asked of John and of Jeremiah (and of you, one of these days). The gospel, of course, is Mark's splendidly-told narrative of the Baptist's death, at the request of Mrs Herod, who has got fed up with John's attack on the validity of her marriage, and of her dancing daughter, not to mention Herod's extravagant (and possibly drunken) promises ('even up to half of my kingdom'!). So John's head is duly produced 'on a dish'; and the gospel silently asks us the question: which side would you rather be on?

Wednesday 30 August

1 Thessalonians 2.9-13
Psalm 139.7-12
Matthew 23.27-32

How are we to live our Christian discipleship? In the full awareness of the unfailing presence of God, and in compassion for human weakness, is the message that today's readings leave with us. In the first reading, Paul is offering the Thessalonians a reminder of how he had behaved with them, 'working day and night so as not to put pressure on any of you...like a father and his children, comforting and consoling you, and giving testimony for you to behave in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.' This is an appropriate model for our own behaviour as we preach the gospel. The psalm carries the all-important reminder that we are constantly under God's attentive gaze: 'where can I hide from your spirit?' The gospel continues Jesus' assault on the 'scribes and Pharisees', the religiously powerful who concentrate on the trivia of the law but are really only 'actors' (the true meaning of the Greek word 'hypocrites'), and who would have been, according to Jesus, just as keen as their ancestors to murder the prophets. Jesus uses the powerful image of 'whitewashed tombs' that 'look good on the outside' but inside have all the corruption of decaying flesh. Is there a message here for us today?

Thursday 31 August

1 Thessalonians 3.7-13
Psalm 90.3-4, 12-14, 17
Matthew 24.42-51

God is always challenging our complacency; we may not like it, but we undoubtedly need it. Paul in our first reading today is challenging the Thessalonians to 'stand firm in the Lord', and emphasising that he is 'praying to see your faces', and asks God to 'direct our path to you'; and he insists (possibly because they were failing in this) that they were to 'overflow in love for one another, as we do for you', so that they may be ready for 'the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints'. Today's gospel also carries its challenge: 'stay awake! For you do not know on what day your Lord is coming'. We must be found living out our instructions on the day of the Lord's arrival, not beating up our fellow-servants, or we may find ourselves 'cut in two', and placed with the 'hypocrites'. What is the challenge for you today?

Text Size

Pastoral Review Subscription

Manage or Renew your Subscription