First Reading Commentary
The prophet Isaiah calls us to conversion, to seek the Lord wholeheartedly for He is loving and merciful. The first part of this Reading focuses on the initial movement into conversion; that is to say, the momentous decision to accept God’s gracious invitation. The second part kind of draws us into the Bosom of our Lord to console us with the incomprehensible truth that what follows will not be a bed of roses; for it is one thing to hear that God’s thoughts and ways are not like ours, but for most of humanity it is a lifelong journey to come to terms with and fully accept God’s ways because to the logical and rational mind God’s ways often do not appear to be all that logical or well-ordered.
To prayerfully enter into the Old Testament, in many ways, is to enter into the interior life of Jesus. We hear these words at every Mass after the proclamation of the Readings: “The Word of the Lord.” It is not the word of Isaiah or another prophet; they are instruments of the thoughts, ways and words which flow from the Heart of God, the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Thus, in this particular Reading we enter into the interior life of Jesus which focuses on our search for Him.
In His own prayer, in a mysterious Communion of Love with His Father, He contemplates how He may be found, how He can always be near for us because His love for us is immeasurable.
Recall in the Gospel when Jesus was twelve years of age and was missing for three days, and when Saint Joseph and our Savior’s Blessed Mother found Him, He was in the temple sitting with the doctors of the Mosaic Law, listening to them and asking questions. Jesus’ explanation to His parents was in the form of a question: “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49). Interesting that the words “I must be” seems a bit casual when comparing it to the Greek text which translates as “it is binding”. Thus for Jesus it is binding for Him that He is near and may be found, as we search for Him. And that Gospel passage tells us where He may be found: in the temple. For Catholics, Jesus can always be found in our parishes, our church buildings, our chapels – He waits for us in the Tabernacle, or in the Monstrance. And while there, certainly we desire to dump our extra baggage onto Jesus, but we should also try to enter into a sacred silence, listening to Him, because His ways and His thoughts are far above ours.
We can also find in the words “Seek the Lord while He may be found,” Saint Mark’s account of Simon finding Jesus in a deserted place at prayer, and Simon telling our Lord: “Everyone is looking for You” (Mark 1:37). Upon hearing this Jesus went into the synagogues of the villages to teach His people. Again, Jesus is waiting for us in our house of worship. It’s as if He was found at prayer to teach us to do the same, and then He teaches from His Father’s house as if to show us that there He waits for us.
Of course, our Lord has no limits, thus there are no limits to how He may be found. He is always close to us by His indwelling. Recall the words of Saint Paul: “God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are” (1 Corinthians 3:17). And Jesus Himself teaches us of our very serious responsibility in that His house shall be called a house of prayer, and sin makes it a den of thieves (cf. Mark 11:17).
Second Reading Commentary
What Saint Paul describes here is a life totally committed to Jesus Christ. And because of his submissiveness to the Lord he is resigned to either a life remaining in the flesh or death.
Fascinating that Saint Paul writes about Christ being “magnified” in his body. Our Blessed Mother proclaimed that her soul “magnifies” the Lord (cf. Luke 1:46). In both verses of the Greek text the transliterated word “megaluno” is used which means “to make great” or “magnify”. It’s kind of fun to speculate how our Blessed Mother and Saint Paul both ended up expressing a way of showing God’s greatness through their individual selves by using the same word. Did our Blessed Mother and Saint Paul have a discussion; or perhaps Saint Luke and Saint Paul, as Luke’s Gospel is sometimes referred to as the Marian Gospel? There are a handful of possibilities as to how this came about besides the obvious: the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
To live for Jesus is to have a life that is “worthy of the Gospel of Christ” which is fruitful not only for oneself but also in giving witness to others. To die is to enter into eternal life and receive our Redeemer’s reward.
Interestingly, while we strive to live a Gospel life in this world, to do so is to die to this world; while the end of natural life delivers us into eternal life. Dying to the world, however, doesn’t mean turning one’s back on it. As disciples of Jesus Christ we know that the ways of the world are at odds with God; thus, a disciple does his/her part to transform the world by allowing the grace of God to work through His instrument of grace.
We could magnify our Lord in our soul and body in the most literal sense: to enlarge. That is, by faithfully living the Gospel life, Jesus in us becomes more visible to others; or as Saint John the Baptist said: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
There’s something not quite right with any brand of Christianity that thinks we’re competing against each other; for Jesus showed us when He was tempted by the devil in the desert that our battle is not with flesh and blood. We are the body of Christ helping each other towards that goal which eye has not seen and ear has not heard. No one who sprains an ankle hopes it never will heal because that would take something away from their quality of life; and nothing hurts the quality of the spiritual life more than sin. Thus, ideally, we are connected as a body of people helping each other and praying for each other.
The times of nine o’clock, noon, three o’clock and five o’clock is a more comprehensible, modern way of expressing the ancient text versions which translate respectively as the third, sixth, ninth and eleventh hours. This was the ancient world’s way of telling time in which six o’clock in the morning was considered the first hour.
These terms as they apply to this Gospel, however, really have very little to do with the time of day. It has more to do with a time in life in relation to conversion. A conversion or reversion is a common experience in the life of a high percentage of us. Very few who are raised to love the Lord avoid going through some sort of a rebellious or indifferent period in their life. And really, if our goal is to have a special, closer union with our Lord, then conversion is a reality for all of us and a daily process.
If it were possible to somehow peak through the windows of heaven it might be a shock to see who’s actually there – and who’s not. But for Christians, anyone’s conversion is cause for rejoicing regardless of what time in life the conversion occurred.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads: “The economy of law and grace turns men’s hearts away from avarice and envy. It initiates them into desire for the Sovereign God; it instructs them in the desires of the Holy Spirit Who satisfies man’s heart” (
CCC 2541). One does not have more of a claim to heaven
because they’ve been faithful to Christ since their childhood years as opposed
to one who finally obeyed the call in their twilight years. Truth be told, no one has a claim to heaven;
it is God’s gift to us. The accusation
of injustice or unfairness is also delineated in the parable of the prodigal
son (cf. Luke 15:11-32).
The final verse: “The last will be first, and the first will be last” paradoxically implies a violent contrast but that meaning should be expunged from it. The proper implication is that the first and the last which translate as long and brief service to our Lord actually blend and harmonize in the Eyes of God because He is indifferent to that distinction because there are no limits to His mercy.