Branching Out Blog

"Hear the Word!" by Bill Ayres: First Sunday of Lent

Posted by Bill Ayres on Feb 17, 2024 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Genesis

(Chapter 9:8-15)

The term covenant is essential to understanding God’s relationship with Israel. It means a promise made by God to the people. This is the first covenant between God and his people—a promise to spare future generations from a devastating flood like the one that occurred in Noah’s time. This is all pre-history. There is no historical record, but it is a powerful story in which God makes a broad all-inclusive promise that includes protection of “every living creature.” A whole series of promises follow to Abraham, Moses, David, and Isaiah, each of which calls on the people to repent and be faithful to their promise. This leads to the New Covenant in Jesus Christ which you and I live today.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 24)

“Your ways O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.” If we keep our promise, our covenant with God we will live in truth and love. Of course none of us does that perfectly, but part of God’s promise to us is forgiveness, beyond any we can imagine.

A reading from the First Letter of Peter

(Chapter 3:18-22)

As we read about the persecution and martyrdom of Christians around the world, including priest seized in Nigeria and Ukraine, let us pray for them and all those throughout the world who die through hatred and violence. And let us remember the martyrdom of Jesus that Paul talks about here as he tells us, “Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit.” May we continue to remember and honor all who have followed the New Covenant of Jesus and given their lives in his service. May they rejoice forever as they are brought to new life in the Spirit as Jesus was.

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Mark

(Chapter 1:12-15)

The Jewish people wandered in the desert for 40 years after they were liberated from Egypt through God’s covenant. Jesus goes into the desert and is tempted for 40 days as he prays about his role in bringing a New Covenant of Good News to all people. He came to proclaim the reign of God, not in some future time but now. The Gospel, the Good News, is now, for us. We are loved now, as we are, not as perfect beings in another life. Now is the time to hear the Good News, but we need to take the time during Lent to hear it again, to relish it, to appreciate what it really means to us. Jesus went into the desert for 40 days to reflect on who he was and what he was called to do. What about us? Can we take a little time this Lent to consider the gifts we have been given, to be truly thankful for all God has given us, and consider our continuing role as people of the New Covenant? What is God calling us to do in our families, our work, our communities, and our parish? Our lives can go by so fast. There are so many obligations and tasks every day and so many distractions that keep us from reflecting on the Good News in which we live. How can we find our own desert place from time to time this Lent to awaken the power of the Good News in us and around us?

 ✝️

Image: Temptation of Jesus in the Wilderness, William Hole (1908). 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. The passage regarding the wedding garment is from The New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC All Rights Reserved.

 Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Topics: Bill Ayres, first sunday of Lent

"Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres: First Sunday in Lent

Posted by Bill Ayres on Feb 25, 2023 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Genesis

(Chapter 2:7-9, 3:1-7)

No one knows when the Book of Genesis was written, but biblical scholars calculate that it was sometime after the Jewish people came back from the Babylonian Exile in the sixth century B.C. and people questioned why God had allowed them to experience such prolonged misery.

This story of Adam and Eve is obviously an allegory, but it provides answers to two of life’s most important questions. Why are we not immortal; why do we all have to die? And, is there not some super wisdom that can protect us from making wrong decisions that might lead to death or ruin?

The authors answer these questions by telling a two-part story. First, “The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.” The authors wanted their listeners or readers to know that God is the creator of all that exists, and that everything God has created is good. It was important to begin the story in a positive vein for a people who had just been through the hell of the Babylonian Exile and for people who might experience similar horrors.

The story then turns dark. “The serpent asked the woman, ‘Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?’” The woman answers, “It is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat or even touch it, lest you die’ …. But the serpent said to the woman: ‘You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil.” Of course, we know that the woman gives in to the serpent, eats some fruit, and then gives some to the man, Adam.

The authors answer both those seminal questions. We do not have immortality, because the woman and man disobeyed God, and there is no super wisdom to prevent us from wrong decisions and sin. Like Adam and Eve, we enjoy free will, and also like them, we are responsible for the choices we make.

 Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17)

“Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.” Let us ask for God’s forgiveness for any time we may have discriminated against another person, at any time, for any reason.

A reading St. Paul's Letter to the Romans

(Chapter 5:12-19)

Paul traces the root of sin to Adam and forgiveness of sin to Jesus Christ. “But death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin after the pattern of the trespass of Adam…. But the gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one, the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.” Notice the word “gift.” It is one of the most important words in our faith. Our life itself is a gift. Our faith is a gift. God’s unconditional love is a gift. We did not earn any of it.

For centuries, people have asked the question, “How can I get to heaven?” The answer is that we can’t do it ourselves. We need to accept the gift of life, of God’s unconditional love, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, our life partner, within our souls. It is all gift from our merciful Father who never stops loving us. Please share the gift with those you love and especially those you may find hard to love.

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 4:1-11)

This is the story of one man’s battle with evil temptations. Notice who leads him and stays with him throughout: “At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” Jesus fasts 40 days and 40 nights, and he is hungry and vulnerable. “The tempter approached and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” That was the first temptation, physical hunger.

Most of us have not experienced that kind of extreme hunger, but think of the millions of our brothers and sisters all over the world who live with hunger every day. Jesus responds, “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” Then the devil ups the ante to life itself and tells Jesus that he should throw himself down from the parapet of the temple. Then, finally, he shows Jesus “all the kingdoms of this world in their magnificence, and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you.’ … Jesus said to him, ‘Go away Satan.’”

That covers all the temptations that you and I might experienceall sorts of hungers, lack of trust in God, and desire for power. Jesus faced them all, and he is with us in all of our temptations. We live in the mystery of God’s mercy and our life partner, the Holy Spirit, lives within us.

  

 ✝️

Painting: Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness, James Tissot (1836-1902), 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.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Topics: first sunday of Lent, Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, The Holy Spirit accompanies us

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: First Sunday of Lent

Posted by Bill Ayres on Mar 5, 2022 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Deuteronomy

(Chapter 26:4-10)

This reading celebrates the deliverance of Israel from the slavery of Egypt and the 40 years wandering in the desert. Moses reminds the people that it was God who brought them out of Egypt “with his strong hand and outstretched arm” and gave them “this land flowing with milk and honey.” Moses tells them that their ancestral father, Abraham, “was a wandering Aramean” but now the people will have to wander no longer, all because God is with them. So worshipers, in thanksgiving, are to bring to the altar, as sacrifice, “the first fruits of the products of the soil.”

Now, thousands of years later, our Jewish brethren celebrate the feast of Sukkot (pronounced sue-coat), the Feast of the Harvest or the Feast of Booths, to recall the tents the people lived in while in the dessert.

Today, let us pray for our sisters and brothers in Ukraine that the Lord may deliver them from their oppressors.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 91)

“Be with me O Lord, when I am in trouble.” God is always with us, but too often we are not aware of his presence, except when we are in trouble.

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Topics: Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, first sunday of Lent, RENEW International, Temptation of Christ

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: First Sunday of Lent

Posted by Bill Ayres on Feb 21, 2021 10:12:16 AM

A reading from the book of Genesis

(Chapter 9:8-15)

The term covenant is essential to understanding God’s relationship with Israel. It means a promise made by God to the people. This is the first covenant between God and his people—a promise to spare future generations from a devastating flood like the one that occurred in Noah’s time. This is all pre-history. There is no historical record, but it is a powerful story in which God makes a broad all-inclusive promise that includes protection of “every living creature.” A whole series of promises follow to Abraham, Moses, David, and Isaiah, each of which calls on the people to repent and be faithful to their promise. This leads to the New Covenant in Jesus Christ which you and I live today.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 24)

“Your ways O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.” If we keep our promise, our covenant with God we will live in truth and love. Of course none of us does that perfectly, but part of God’s promise to us is forgiveness, beyond any we can imagine.

Read More

Topics: Lent, Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, first sunday of Lent, New Covenant

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