"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

BAPTISM OF THE LORD (C) January13, 2019

Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11;Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-38; Mark 1: 7-11

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

A central message in the whole book of Isaiah is that God keeps God’s word. God does not go back on the promises God has made, even when the people have broken their covenant with God. And that’s what they did time after time.

List your favorite and most comforting scriptural passages. On the top of my list would be the one we hear from Isaiah today. It has the tone of a gentle and loving parent speaking to an injured or, in this case, a disloyal child. The prophet is delivering the message to the people who are in Babylonian exile. How did they get there? They were faithfulness to the covenant with God. Therefore, they interpreted their exile as a punishment for their disloyalty to God’s covenant with them. The prophets made it quite clear that they deserved their punishment. But prophets, like Isaiah, also had words of encouragement for those in exile waiting for God to come to help them.

The setting for the passage is the heavenly court. God’s messengers are assembled before God’s throne waiting to receive a message for the people. If we were those messengers what would we expect God to say to the recalcitrant Israelites? Would we have to tell them on God’s behalf, "You’re getting just what you deserve!" Or, "Didn’t I warn you not to betray me with your false gods and alliances with pagan nations?" We tend to say such things to people who have offended, or let us down. And don’t we feel justified when we do?

But, if we were among God’s messengers awaiting a word for the people we would be taken aback by what God has to say to them. "Comfort, give comfort to my people….Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated." Wait a minute! Where is the justice in that! Well, it certainly isn’t human justice, which expects and waits for signs of repentance and promises to make up what debt we are owe, or are owed. No, it’s God’s justice. To put another word on it, it’s God’s mercy – given freely and unearned.

That is the word the messengers are to deliver to the exiles. God’s servants also have physical work to do. They are to make a straight road, fill in every valley and level every mountain. Why? Because God is swiftly coming to help the people and there are to be no obstacles in God’s way. What will God do when God arrives? God will lead the people home from exile, back to their own country.

Thus, Isaiah is restating the central theme: God’s word can be relied on. God will not leave us in exile, or on our own, but is coming to help us. What is God’s disposition toward us? God is a loving, caring and protective shepherd who will carry us in loving arms and lead us home. Bottom line… God has a powerful, mighty arm with which to help the people. It is raised in victory and then lowered in tenderness. The passage does not even emphasize the people’s worthiness, or their sincere prayers. But what is clear is that, in whatever exile we find ourselves, God will see our need, take the initiative and will come to help us.

God did keep the promise God made to Israel through Isaiah: the nation was freed, they returned to their homeland, rebuilt their nation and their Temple. And what else? God is making the same promise to any of us who find ourselves held captive in any way by habit, indifference, discouragement, ignorance, or addiction. As God acted for Israel, God will act for us with a strong arm to deliver us from whatever holds us captive and will then lead us home, like a gentle shepherd.

Isn’t it good news to know how God favors us? We think people favor us because of our talents, looks, intelligence, or hard work. That’s true for how we evaluate one another. But God is infinitely different from us. Doesn’t it cause us surprise and wonder when we hear that, despite what we have done, or deserve, God looks kindly on us and is ready to come to our aid.

In our Isaiah reading we are reminded how much God cares and is concerned for each of us. But not just for us. At our baptism we were called to be prophets. What kind of prophets and what will our message be? Prophets announce God’s justice and, it is plain from today’s reading, when God proclaims justice God is turning a favorable eye towards us.

In our second reading Peter, who held a special place among Jesus’ disciples, has stubbornly come to realize that God is showering favor on the Gentiles. He has arrived at the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, described in Acts as "religious and God-fearing" (10:1). Peter is there as a messenger of God to confirm God’s welcome of non-Jews into the Christian community. He has been sent to confirm God’s love for Cornelius and his household. Peter shares the vision he has received (10:9 ff) with Cornelius. "In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather in every nation whoever fears God and acts uprightly is acceptable to God." There you have it! The message of God in Isaiah and the confirmation of that word through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection – God has shown favor and invited all into God’s household.

Jesus fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy: he is the "strong right hand of the Lord," that has overcome the sin that has caused our exile. He is also the gentle shepherd who welcomes us into this community – a people he is leading safely home to our God.

How shall we messengers of God’s word convey that to our neighbors, classmates, coworkers and the world? We have been baptized with the same Spirit that descended on Jesus at his baptism. We know the favor God has shown us. How shall we, empowered by that same Spirit, shed the light of love, acceptance and compassion on others?

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/011319.cfm

QUOTABLE

In his first letter, in a dazzling intuition, Saint John expresses who God is in three words: "God is love" (1 John 4:8). If we can grasp only those three words, we shall go far, very far.

– Brother Roger of Taize

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.

Isaiah 40:1

Were you aware that last week was National Migration Week?

USCCB Justice for Immigrants writes: "For nearly a half century, the Catholic Church in the United States has celebrated National Migration Week, which is an opportunity for the Church to reflect on the circumstances confronting migrants, including immigrants, refugees, children, and victims and survivors of human trafficking. The theme for National Migration Week 2019, "Building Communities of Welcome" draws attention to the fact that each of our families have a migration story, some recent and others in the distant past. Regardless of where we are and where we came from, we remain part of the human family and are called to live in solidarity with one another." We really need to take more than just a week to reflect on this especially given how we treat migrants is a question of human dignity, one of the primary social teachings of our faith.

Justice for Immigrants continues: "Unfortunately, in our contemporary culture we often fail to encounter migrants as persons, and instead look at them as unknown others, if we even notice them at all. We do not take the time to engage migrants in a meaningful way, as fellow children of God, but remain aloof to their presence and suspicious or fearful of them. . . Let us all take the opportunity to engage migrants as community members, neighbors, and friends."

There are three basic principles of Catholic social teaching on immigration:

The second principle of Catholic social teaching may seem to negate the first principle. However, principles one and two must be understood in the context of principle three. And all Catholic social teaching must be understood in light of the absolute equality of all people and the commitment to the common good. "Give comfort to my people" says our God.

Learn more about "Catholic Social Teaching on Immigration and the Movement of Peoples" at http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/immigration/catholic-teaching-on-immigration-and-the-movement-of-peoples.cfm

---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS

Director of Social Justice Ministries

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC

FAITH BOOK

Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Isaiah reading:

"Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her

that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated."

Reflection:

Isn’t it good news to know how God favors us? Doesn’t it cause us surprise and wonder when we hear that, despite what we have done, or deserve, God looks kindly on us and is ready to come to our aid.

So, we ask ourselves:

POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES

"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."

---Pope Francis

Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/

Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/

DONATIONS

"First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at jboll@opsouth.org

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P., St. Albert Priory, 3150 Vince Hagan Drive, Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation: http://www.PreacherExchanhe.com/donations.htm

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at Jboll@opsouth.org.

3. Our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.org - Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.


Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

Jude Siciliano, OP - Click to send email.

 

St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

frjude@judeop.org

972-438-1626