Reflecting on Colossians for Easter Sunday

From Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, by Dennis Hamm SJ, commenting on Colossians 3:1-4.

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As in Philippians, where Paul speaks of “God’s upward calling” and “our citizenship . . . in heaven” (3:14, 20), his exhortation here to seek what is above, where “your life is hidden with Christ in God,” is not so much about location as orientation. Since Christians have truly died and been raised with Christ in baptism, the concerns of this world can no longer dominate their attention.

This does not mean being so otherworldly that you’re no earthly good, but just the opposite: relating to others with the purity and selflessness that come from knowing Christ’s victory and sovereignty over all things. Just as Paul spoke of Christians’ having left the world without denying their flesh-and-blood existence on earth (2:20), so here he reminds them to orient their daily lives toward union with their exalted and risen head, Christ.

This is similar to his words in Eph 2:6, about our being seated with Christ in the heavenly places. For the only time in this letter, he uses that habits-of-the-heart word he used ten times in Philippians: Think of (phroneō). Keeping in mind that Christ is seated at the right hand of God, the place of highest sovereignty, is the best possible perspective for handling affairs on earth.

Further, Paul says, your life is hidden with Christ in God—that is, the divine glory already present and at work within you is for the time being invisible. This heavenly orientation of our earthly lives will eventually be heavenly in the literal sense at Christ’s parousia, or second coming, when you too will appear with him in glory. The contrasting orientations Paul speaks of here, heavenly versus earthly, are the same as those he expresses in Galatians as walking in the Spirit versus doing the works of the flesh (Gal 5:13–26).

© 2013 Dennis Hamm SJ and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Matthew for Palm Sunday

From The Gospel of Matthew, by Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, commenting on Matthew 21:1-11

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As they near the end of their procession into Jerusalem, the crowds also fittingly recite words from Ps 118:25–26, a pilgrimage hymn typically chanted on the way to the temple for the major feasts. Hosanna is a Greek transliteration of a Hebrew word meaning “Save us,” which became an expression of praise in liturgical worship. The blessing on the one who comes in the name of the Lord was customarily invoked on pilgrims coming to the temple, but here in reference to Jesus it takes on christological significance. Jesus is the one who, coming in the Lord’s name, represents God and acts on his behalf (see 23:39).

The city’s cold response to Jesus’ arrival stands in contrast to the crowds accompanying him. As at Christ’s birth, when “all Jerusalem” was “greatly troubled” by news of a new “king of the Jews” (2:2–3), so now the whole city was shaken by the uproar surrounding Jesus’ regal procession into the city. The way the pilgrims acclaimed Jesus as king would have been troubling for the Roman authorities in Jerusalem, who would see any rival king to Caesar as a threat.

The priestly leaders of the temple also would have been alarmed by a man from Galilee claiming to be king, since they would have seen this popular leader from the north as a threat to their own positions of influence in Jerusalem.

Consequently, instead of rejoicing in the king’s arrival (as Zech 9:9 exhorted them to do), the Jerusalem inhabitants question Jesus’ worthiness to receive such a royal welcome: Who is this? they ask. The crowds (probably consisting of many Galilean Passover pilgrims) emphasize that Jesus is one of their own, not a Judean. He is Jesus of Nazareth (not Jerusalem), a city in Galilee (not Judea).

© 2010 Curtis Mitch, Edward Sri, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Ephesians for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

From Ephesians by Peter S. Williamson, reflecting on Ephesians 5:8-14

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Paul explains why his readers should not be partners in evil—For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. As in chapter 2 and in 4:17–24, Paul recalls the stark contrast between his readers’ past and present conditions. In Paul’s letters, “darkness” usually refers to ignorance and spiritual or moral evil, and “light” refers to true knowledge and spiritual and moral goodness.

The Ephesians previously belonged to the darkness and were under Satan’s rule (2:1–3), the kingdom opposed to God (Col 1:13). But now they have become light “in the Lord” because they are united to Jesus, in whom truth (4:21) and divine life are found.

The fact that they have become light has implications for their conduct: Live as children of light. He repeats the catchword “walk” (NAB: “†live”) for the fourth time. “Children of light” is a †Semitic expression used by Jesus to refer to people who belong to God (Luke 16:8; John 12:36). Paul accents the fruit of their lives: for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. Children of light manifest the kind of spiritual and moral goodness that everyone recognizes.

To clarify further how his readers should live, Paul adds, Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Other versions catch the nuance of the Greek verb dokimazō better: “Try to discern” (ESV). Paul is encouraging them to reflect on what Jesus wants. Christian moral conduct is not merely spelled out for us in a set of instructions like the law of Moses. Yes, there are basic standards, like the Ten Commandments, the instructions of Eph 4:25–31 and 5:3–5, and the law of love (Rom 13:8–9; Gal 5:14). But in the many situations of life, we must discern what concretely is pleasing to the Lord. Paul does not say it explicitly here, but the indwelling Spirit of Jesus makes this discernment possible (Rom 8:2–14; Gal 5:16–23).

© 2009 Peter S. Williamson and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Matthew for the Second Sunday of Lent

From The Gospel of Matthew, by Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, commenting on Matthew 17:1-9

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Similar to Christ’s baptism, the transfiguration scene bears witness to the Trinity with the voice of the heavenly Father, the radiance of Jesus the Son, and the glory of the Spirit—signified this time not by a dove but by the cloud (3:16–17). The voice from the cloud repeats verbatim the words of the Father to Jesus at his baptism (3:7): This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.

But now these words are directed to the three disciples, to confirm their faith in Jesus’ messianic identity in the face of his approaching crucifixion, recently revealed to them (16:16–17, 21).

Also different from the baptism scene is the command to the apostles—listen to him. This recalls the promise of a prophet like Moses, to whom the people are to listen (Deut 18:15, 19), and continues the emphasis in the Gospel on Jesus’ authoritative teaching (5:21–22 passim; 7:24–27; 28:20). This divine command to listen to Jesus reinforces his words in the preceding scenes, which were about his death and resurrection and about the disciples taking up their crosses and following him (16:21, 24–28).

Upon hearing the heavenly voice, the disciples were very much afraid, like the fearful Israelites at Sinai when they heard God’s voice (Exod 20:18–21). In fear and awe, the disciples fell prostrate. When they raise their eyes again, Moses and Elijah have disappeared; Jesus alone remains to complete the work of redemption that those two Old Testament figures foreshadowed.

© 2010 Curtis Mitch, Edward Sri, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Matthew for the First Sunday of Lent

From The Gospel of Matthew, by Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, commenting on Matthew 4:1-11

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The third temptation brings Jesus to the summit of a very high mountain. The purpose is to give him a panoramic vision of all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence. This time the devil’s mask comes off. Insinuation has proven ineffective, as has quoting from Scripture. Now the foul ambitions of the demon are laid open to view.

Peering out at the great empires of the world, the devil says: “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” In essence, Jesus is being offered a shortcut to achieving his messianic objectives. Kingly power and international glory can be his without any humiliation or torment. In exchange, Satan wants nothing less from Jesus than a brazen act of apostasy and idolatry. Jesus has refused the offer to serve himself rather than his mission from the Father and has declined the challenge to test the Father’s goodwill. Now he is asked to repudiate the Father altogether by surrendering himself to the lordship of Satan, the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31).

Still, Jesus remains unmoved. He responds, “Get away, Satan!” and drives the devil off with the words of Deut 6:13: “The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.” The context of the quotation is instructive, for it prohibits the worship of “other gods” (Deut 6:14). Bowing before Satan would be just such an act of idolatry, and Jesus will have no part of it.

In the end, Jesus has proven himself the loyal Son of God. Neither the pangs of hunger nor the prospect of worldwide kingship have been able to bend his will away from the Father’s.

© 2010 Curtis Mitch, Edward Sri, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on I Corinthians for the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on I Corinthians 3:16-23

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Not wanting to speak for the other ministers (Peter or Apollos; see 1:12) but suggesting they would probably feel the same way, Paul first addresses those who would judge him. Your judgment, he says, does not concern me in the least.

Paul is not concerned by what people think of him. If he is concerned, as he has been for more than three chapters now, about the way they are comparing ministers, it is for the sake of the unity of the community and not because he sets any value on such judgments. I do not even pass judgment on myself. Paul is using judgment in two senses here: as the judgment of his conscience and as the judgment of the relative value of himself and the other ministers. As far as conscience is concerned, he is not conscious of anything against himself.

Although his conscience is clear, he does not judge himself acquitted, since anyone may have faults that he cannot see (Ps 19:13). He leaves that judgment to the Lord. So both for himself and in comparison with others, Paul refuses to judge.

His listeners should follow his example and not pass judgment on the relative value of the ministers. The Lord will do that at the appointed time: when the Lord comes. “There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known” (Luke 12:2). Even the greatest works of ministry done without love avail nothing (1 Cor 13:1–3), but that is for the Lord to judge, when he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts.

Note that in saying then everyone will receive praise from God, Paul does not anticipate condemnation of any of these particular ministers (Peter, Apollos, or himself), only the relative degree of praise they will receive according to the value of the ministry they have performed, as in 3:10–14.

© 2011 George T. Montague and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on I Corinthians for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

From First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on I Corinthians 3:16-23

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[C]oncluding that no one should boast about human beings (the different ministers), he suddenly adds his own theological insight: Everything belongs to you, he begins, applying this first to the ministers, Paul or Apollos or Cephas. The Apostle here reverses the logic of the Corinthians. They had said that they belong to one or the other minister, as if that gives them their identity, their importance. Not so, says Paul. The ministers belong to you—all of them. The ministers belong to the people, not the people to the ministers. The ministers are servants, not captains of competitive teams. And they are servants of everyone.

That is clear enough. But Paul had said everything, not everyone belongs to you. And now he goes on to list those things as the world or life or death, or the present or the future: all belong to you. What does he mean by this, and what does this have to do with the problem of rivalries? When one feels the need to boost one’s ego, one grasps at things that will give one the sense of importance, such as whose coattails do I claim to ride on?

But Paul senses that the grasping for identification with one leader over another is symptomatic of a much deeper human compulsion to possess, to pad one’s security with ownership of things, even of persons like Paul, Apollos, and Peter. Paul wants to convince his people that belonging to Christ has set them free from those compulsions if they will but claim that belonging. This is similar to Jesus’ teaching that those who seek first the kingdom of God will attain everything else besides (Matt 6:33).

© 2011 George T. Montague and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on I Corinthians for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on I Corinthians 2:6-10

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Paul insists on the basic and incompatible difference of this wisdom from a wisdom of this age and that of the rulers of this age. In the light of verse 8, the rulers of this age are those who crucified Jesus, the leaders of both the Jews and the pagans, conceived here as instruments of Satan, the “prince of this world” (John 12:31 NIV). Worldly wisdom, in the light of what God has done, has proved itself bankrupt.

This explains the emphatic position of the word “God” in the next verse—God’s wisdom, not man’s, is what we speak. And God’s wisdom is now no longer to be read merely in the open book of creation; his mysterious wisdom has now become accessible. The word “mystery,” derived from a word meaning “to close,” particularly in the sense of closing the lips, means something secret, or as our text specifies, hidden. This wisdom, as Chrysostom observed, is called a mystery and hidden not because it is now secret but because it can be known only by the revelation God has made (Luke 8:10; Col 1:26–27), because it is attainable only through faith and is beyond all expectation (1 Cor 15:51).

Paul uses mysterion not in the Greek sense, in which the mystery is attainable only by the select few, but in the Jewish sense, in which the mystery is God’s plan for his people, his secret counsel, to which the prophets are given access and which they communicate to his people. In calling Christ the mystery, Paul gives the word a meaning far removed from Greek esoteric practice, for it is something to be shared with the entire world. Yet as Chrysostom likewise observed, “Though everywhere preached, it is still a mystery,” for it exceeds the dimensions of human thought.

Hence Paul will later describe the mystery in terms of richness and plenitude, as the source of endless growth in knowledge on the part of the believer (Eph 3:18–19; Col 1:26–27; 2:2–3). To speak this wisdom is to share a Spirit-inspired insight into the faith, something of which every faith-filled Christian should be capable.

© 2011 George T. Montague and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

New Release: Acts of the Apostles

Cover ArtIn this addition to the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, William Kurz offers a close reading and explanation of the entire narrative of Acts, grounded in the original Greek but keyed to the NABRE for liturgical use.

This volume, like each in the series, relates Scripture to life, is faithfully Catholic, and is supplemented by features designed to help readers understand the Bible more deeply and use it more effectively.

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“William Kurz, an accomplished biblical scholar, has a written a commentary on Acts that is up to date on current critical scholarship yet accessible to a wide audience of readers. Throughout the commentary one can see Kurz’s clear understanding of the relationship of Acts to the first volume by the same author, the Gospel of Luke. Kurz is always positive in dealing with problem areas of the text. This work will be especially valuable for study groups, college students, and preachers of the Word.” – Terence J. Keegan, OP, Providence College

“In this volume, Kurz provides students and pastors a rare combination of careful scholarship and pastoral insight. Kurz writes as a seasoned Lukan scholar–a pioneer in narrative criticism–and implores the Church to extend Luke’s vision concerning ‘all that Jesus began to do and teach . . . to the ends of the earth.’” – Martin Mittelstadt, Evangel University

“Kurz sees the Acts narrative not just as a coherent story about the past–our Church’s earliest moments of evangelistic mission–but also as a mirror the contemporary Church may peer into to see its deepest identity manifested within the stories of the major figures led by God to advance the Church’s mission to the ‘ends of the earth.’ It is a great service to provide a commentary that is technically pristine, theologically alert, and pastorally sensitive.” – Stephen Miletic, Franciscan University of Steubenville

“In this book, Kurz provides necessary historical and cultural background while reading the text within the Church’s tradition. He writes with the mind of a scholar and the heart of a pastor, all in an accessible style.” – Martin C. Albl, Presentation College

“William Kurz combines the best of contemporary scholarship with the riches of tradition. His commentary is the fruit of a lifetime of work on Luke-Acts.” – Jeremy Holmes, Wyoming Catholic College

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William S. Kurz, SJ (PhD, Yale University), is professor of New Testament at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he has taught for more than thirty-five years. He is the author of numerous books, including Reading Luke-Acts: Dynamics of Biblical Narrative.

For more information on Acts of the Apostles, click here.

Reflecting on I Corinthians for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on I Corinthians 2:1-5

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The same divine paradox, shown in the content of the preaching (1:18–25) and in the social position of the hearers (1:26–31), applies equally well to the preacher from whom they first heard the good news. This good news did not demand but rather forbade pretentious speech and this-worldly wisdom, because the gospel has no need of it, any more than a golden statue would need to be decorated with crepe paper. As the mystery of God (2:1), it bears its own power.

In our language “mystery” often means something unsolved. In Paul’s day the Greek word was often used in referring to the “mystery religions,” which kept their rituals secret, and thus it bore the notion of secrecy. For Paul, the gospel is the secret of God’s heart, but it is a secret now revealed and proclaimed by the Apostle.

In saying I resolved, it appears that Paul made a conscious decision to avoid the “continuity” method of introducing the gospel and went unabashedly for “discontinuity”—an emphasis on how the cross is different from mere human expectations, reasoning, and posturing. Paul has called the cross a stumbling block, or scandal (1:23). That scandal was Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

While this repeats the content of the message already discussed above, the emphasis here is on Paul’s decision to know nothing else among them. The Corinthians did not need more rhetorical bells and whistles, and Paul would not entertain them with such. He will later speak about knowing the risen Christ (15:8) and the power of his resurrection (Phil 3:10). But the Risen One is also the Crucified One.

© 2011 George T. Montague and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.