Biblical Readings for each day's Mass,
(for the Liturgical Year 2021)

Monday, July 19, 2021
Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

1st Reading: Exodus 14:5-18

Is it better to be slaves in Egypt than risk death in the desert?

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed toward the people, and they said, "What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?" So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh's horses and chariots, his chariot drivers and his army; they overtook them camped by the sea, by Pihahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.

As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the desert? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, 'Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians'? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert." But Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still."

Then the Lord said to Moses, "Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers."

Responsorial: Exodus 15:1-6

R./: Let us sing to the Lord; he has covered himself in glory

I will sing to the Lord, glorious his triumph!
  Horse and rider he has thrown into the sea!
The Lord is my strength, my song, my salvation.
This is my God and I extol him,
  my father's God and I give him praise. (R./)

The Lord is a warrior! The Lord is his name.
  The chariots of Pharaoh he hurled into the sea,
  the flower of his army is drowned in the sea. (R./)

The deeps hide them; they sank like a stone.
  Your right hand, Lord, glorious in its power,
  your right hand, Lord, has shattered the enemy. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 12:38-42

Foreigners received God's message more than Jesus' own audience

Some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Jesus, "Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you." But he answered them, "An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here!

Daring to trust

How hard it is to really trust in God, when the chips are down and the risk is real. We might feel like the haggard Israelites, who after escaping Egypt were still fearful that God would abandon them in the desert. Unless immediate solutions are available to put them beyond all risk, the refugees put this bitter question to Moses: "Were there no graves in Egypt that you had to bring us out here to die in the desert?" Unless we are determined to reject slavery at all costs, we will not take the risks of faith.

Instinctively we know that some risks unavoidable; they are an ingredient of life. Unless spouses take the risk of commitment "for better or for worse" sooner or later they abandon fidelity to one another. At crucial times, we must summon our faith that God does care when his people are in trouble. The Bible challenges us to sustain that spirit of hopeful faith, even if the fulfillment of our hope is long delayed.

How disappointed Jesus must have felt when people showed interest only in miracles, instead wanting a deeper relationship with God. Already he had shown great kindness and concern for people's needs, but they wanted more than a series of cures or words of wisdom about being poor in spirit or pure of heart. He mentions the Ninevites' response to Jonah and how many of them were converted by his preaching; and the Queen of the Sheba's admiration for the wisdom of Solomon. These foreigners, even the worst of them, repented and were converted. . .and yet "you have a greater than Solomon here."

Unless we take the risk of faith, miracles will prove nothing to us. Then too, Jesus points to the sign of Jonah, "three days and three nights in the belly of the whale." We too must risk going the depths and letting ourselves be as it were "swallowed up" by the will of God and taken wherever God brings us, as happened to Jonah. Then we will experience the sweet reward of long fidelity.

Standing on holy ground

Jesus names two famous figures from the Jewish past, wise king Solomon and the reluctant prophet Jonah. He then calls himself greater than both of them. Jesus not only speaks God's word, he IS the Word of God; Jesus not only has wisdom, he IS the Wisdom of God. In spite of this, many of his contemporaries did not appreciate him. Scribes and Pharisees come to him looking for a sign; they want some spectacular sign before they will take him seriously. What Jesus says to them he says to all of us, "There is something greater than Jonah here; something greater than Solomon here."

Someone greater than all the prophets and wise men of Israel put together is among us, is present to us, present within us. Not only is Jesus greater than Jonah and Solomon; he is greater than anything that might come between us and him. Saint Paul says, "Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." If someone so great is among us, our calling is to become attentive to him, to appreciate that because of his presence we are standing on holy ground..