A reading from the Book of Exodus
The first reading in today’s Mass is part of a much longer process in which God established and refined his covenant with Israel. Although this passage is about the relationship God formed with Israel in antiquity, it is relevant for us because we, too, have a covenant with God. We notice in this passage that while God makes extravagant promises to Israel, he also sets a condition: “Therefore, if you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my special possession, dearer to me than all other people, though all the earth is mine.” Yes, covenant is a two-way street. Like the Jewish people, we are expected to hold up our end of our relationship with a patient, merciful, and forgiving God by keeping his commandments and, in our “new covenant,” by living in keeping with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Psalm 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20)
Psalm 100:1-2, 3, 5)
The psalm, as psalms often do, calls on us to be joyful in our relationship with God. We have reason to be joyful. God did not create us and set us a drift in an unforgiving world. No, God chose to accompany us throughout our lives, to save us from the consequences of sin and death through his Son, Jesus Christ, and to live in our hearts in his Holy Spirit, ready to guide our choices and decisions. Sing joyfully to the Lord, indeed.
A reading from St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians
Many of the psalms remind us that although God got angry at Israel’s infidelity he ultimately forgave the people’s transgressions and reasserted his love for them. St. Paul reminds the Christians in Rome, and us, that the God of the psalms saved us through his Son, Jesus Christ, who willingly died for us in spite of our frailties. We have that guarantee: If we go to God in penance, God will forgive us.
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew
Reading scripture can be a fulfilling experience if we imagine that the messages were meant for people in antiquity, but the experience is more challenging when we are conscious that the word of God is also directed at us. The gospel passage in today’s liturgy is a seminal example: The author writes that Jesus told his disciples to pray that God would “send out laborers for his harvest,” and then Jesus himself dispatched the 12 apostles to proclaim the kingdom of God to the people of Israel.
Jesus knew the apostles weren’t going to live forever; he intended them to be only the first wave of “laborers” to carry on the mission, at first to Israel and ultimately to “all nations.” Each of us is baptized into that same mission, and each of us should reflect on how we carry it out each day. We, like the apostles, are commissioned to bring Jesus into the world through our acts of hospitality, generosity, and justice and, through that work, to attract people to intimacy with Jesus and his Church.
Painting: "The Exhortation to the Apostles," by James Tissot (between 1886 and 1894), Brooklyn Museum. Public Domain.
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
Charles Paolino is managing editor at RENEW International and a permanent deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.