Fr. Scott Lewis is an associate professor of New Testament at Regis College, a founding member of the Toronto School of Theology.

He is a past president of the Canadian Catholic Biblical Association.

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Feb. 13 (Sirach 15:15-20; Psalm 119; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10; Matthew 5:17-37)

“It’s not my fault!” Humans are experts at placing blame everywhere but where it belongs. When they do stupid or wicked things it is far easier to find something or someone to blame than to accept responsibility.

But Sirach will have none of this. His work is part of an Old Testament theological tradition scholars call the “two-ways” spirituality. People are presented with two ways — one leads to life and happiness, the other to destruction and death. On Ash Wednesday we begin Lent with a two-ways passage from Deuteronomy. We are always urged to choose the first but sadly, as our world attests, many choose the latter. People blame society, their circumstances, other people, genetics or even God. But Sirach is clear: we always have a choice. All of these other influences are certainly present and they can sometimes be very powerful, but in the end nothing can trump the human will.

Light will flow from an awakened heart

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Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Feb. 6 (Isaiah 58:6-10; Psalm 112; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; Matthew 5:13-16)

What makes a people, society or nation holy or spiritual? For many it is the visible signs of religiosity: crucifixes, churches and places of worship, liturgical celebrations and a privileged place for religious symbols and practices. There is a certain security and comfort in these traditions but often they amount to little more than identity markers and signs of belonging.

Isaiah — as many of the other prophets — questions the manner in which they are used. He makes it crystal clear that the worship of God is properly expressed in justice and compassionate action. He calls for the zealous removal of all forms of economic, social and political bondage that enslaves people. In addition to that he insists on active and hands-on forms of compassion: sharing with the poor and hungry, even to the point of inconvenience and personal sacrifice. Probably the most difficult command is removing the “pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil” — both are things we love to do, especially if we are convinced we are right or morally and spiritually superior.

Our worth comes from God

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Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Jan. 30 (Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13; Psalm 146; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Matthew 5:1-12)

Most people would not view being poor as something desirable but a misfortune to be avoided at all costs. We do not see any particular virtue in having an empty bank account. But the poor — the anawim — are praised in the Old Testament for they are especially close to God and enjoy His favour.

In this context poverty has a far broader definition than mere lack of wealth. The anawim are cut off from the usual avenues of power in society, disenfranchised, and find themselves with only God as their defender and protector. Part of their isolation stems from their refusal to “play the game” by engaging in the cold and crafty machinations of the power struggles that surround them or the culture of lies and deceit that often accompanies it.

Catching souls for God

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Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Jan. 23 (Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17-18; Matthew 4:12-23)

Walking in darkness and thirsting for a great light take on a special meaning during the long winter months. The many coloured lights of the Christmas season are but one attempt to roll back the gloom and compensate for the long hours of darkness.

Thoughts of spring and long summer days are helpful during these months. But there is another kind of darkness: the sense of hopelessness and gloom that occur after a great disaster or tragedy. We can think of wars and natural disasters of our own time. Darkness and the absence of hope are often the daily bread of those whose homes, cities, families and lives have been devastated. Although light, hope and joy are in short supply they top everyone’s wish list.

Take away the sin of the world

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Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Jan. 16 (Isaiah 49:3, 5-6; Psalm 40; 1 Corinthians 1:1-3; John 1:29-34)

What does it mean to be a servant? The word has been tarnished a bit in our own time for it conjures up the images of class and privilege. But in the spiritual sense being a servant means nothing more (or less) than doing the will of God consistently.

The mysterious and nameless Servant that Isaiah portrays is one who has been marked out for this mission from the moment he was conceived. He is addressed as “Israel” in a couple of instances, signifying that his actions and the fate of Israel are inextricably bound. His job is overwhelming: He is to restore and renew the people of Israel, who have been broken and spiritually compromised by the long exile in Babylon. But his mission goes far beyond that. In Isaiah the vision of a universal mission for Israel begins to unfold. Israel’s call from God is on behalf of all humanity. The servant is the model and paradigm for all who seek to love and serve God. It defined the life and ministry of Jesus and it should define the life of all who claim to follow Him. One’s response in faith to God’s call goes far beyond “getting saved” or going to heaven — it is a commitment for service to the world and to humanity. True religion is about service and compassion. Being a servant of God finds its finest expression in being a person for others.

God will reward us in His good plan

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Epiphany (Year A) Jan. 2 (Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12)

Singing a song of hope and a bright future is very difficult when all of the visible evidence paints a different picture. Incredulity and ridicule are often the rewards for the prophetic individual who dares to swim against the current.

All are invited under the canopy of the Father's compassionate grace

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Baptism of the Lord (Year A) Jan. 9 (Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-38; Matthew 3:13-17)

What is a true servant of God like? Many claim to speak and act on God’s behalf but all too often those words and actions do not bring honour to God. There are many times when God could do without human “favours.”

Jesus is a living reality who belongs in our lives

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Holy Family (Year A) Dec. 26 (Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalm 128; Colossians 3:12-21; Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23)

Years ago a Catholic theologian wrote of one of his first lessons in humility and gratitude for his parents. After leaving home for the monastery, his first letters home were filled with a sort of youthful and self-righteous zeal. He related to his father the routine of rising several times in the middle of the night for prayer while the rest of the world slept. His father’s sage response: Son, your mother and I did that with you and your siblings for years!

God is truly with us

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Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year A) Dec. 19 (Isaiah 7:10-14; Psalm 24; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-24)

What kind of sign would we like from God to reassure us when things are tough? King Ahaz wanted one but was afraid to ask. About 730 years BC Jerusalem was besieged by a coalition of Syrians and Israelites from the Northern Kingdom. They were trying to force Ahaz into joining their rebellion against the Assyrians. He was faced with a bitter dilemma: either join their rebellion and risk destruction or submit to Assyria as a vassal state. Definitely a lose-lose choice!

Waiting for the Spirit

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Third Sunday in Advent (Year A) Dec. 12 (Isaiah 35:1-6, 10; Psalm 146; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11)

When water is withdrawn from the land life virtually ceases. We have all seen the pictures of parched devastation in the countries of the sub-Sahara where creeping desert has reclaimed the land. Areas hit by drought in other countries yield only the withered remnants of fruit and grain. But the addition of even a small amount of water can make the desert areas come to life and bloom.

Open our minds

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Second Sunday of Advent (Year A) Dec. 5  (Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12)

How can our messy world be cleaned up and set right? Some form of this question is uppermost in the minds of many people. We long for a world of justice, peace, harmony and compassion but it seems to elude us — many of our efforts not only fail but seem to make matters worse. That pesky and destructive thing called human nature is often the culprit. But there are no quick fixes and no divine figure is going to wave a wand and make the problems go away.