Sunday Scriptures — OT C 16 & 17, Jul. 17 & 24, 2016

Sorry: I got way behind in my posting, but I want to say a little about the past two Sundays’ readings before I do what I hope will be a normal post about next Sunday’s.


July 17 — 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

The central theme of the readings seems to be hospitality. The first reading — Genesis 18:1-10a — tells of Abraham extending hospitality to three men (angels or apparitions of God) who approach his tent. He treats them lavishly, and at the end of the passage, one of them promises him that his wife Sarah, will have a son by the same time next year. Hospitality was considered an obligation in that culture. In Christian thought, given the developments in the continuation of the story, the three visitors are seen as an adumbration of the Trinity: God, investigating Sodom and Gomorrah, appears not as one man, but as three. In the gospel — Luke 10:38-42 — Martha busies herself providing lavish hospitality for Jesus. He tells her, in effect, that she’s overdoing it, and that listening to his teaching is better than excessive work.

I see three aspects to the teaching on hospitality. First, we need to offer hospitality to those who need it: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Matthew 24:35 Second, Jesus wants us to receive him, to welcome him, by hearing his teaching and being his disciples. Third, Jesus gives us his hospitality, feeding us his body and blood to give us eternal life in his home.

The second reading — Colossians 1:24-28 — is a dazzling sequence of thoughts about Paul’s work and God’s plan for our salvation. His sufferings (and by implication ours as well) can somehow complete Christ’s for the sake of the Church. God is extending salvation to the Gentiles.

July 24 — 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Today, the theme of the first reading and the gospel is prayer. The gospel — Luke 11:1-13 — presents Jesus’ teaching on prayer. First he gives the Our Father as a model of prayer. Then he presents a parable about persistence in prayer. God wants us to persevere in our prayers. Jesus assures us that our prayers will be answered by God giving us good things. He does not give us the equivalent of a snake when we ask for a fish nor a scorpion instead of the egg we ask for. Specifically, he will give us the Holy Spirit. I’d also note, although it’s only implied in Jesus’ words, that the Father also doesn’t give us bad (for us) things even if we wan them. He’ll give us a fish if we ask for a snake, and an egg when we unwisely want a scorpion. He knows better than we do what it is we really need.

In the first reading — Genesis 18:20-32 — the story of Abraham and his visitors resumes. God reveals his intentions toward Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham’s intercession on their behalf is an example of the importance of prayer. God’s “threats” are better understood as warnings of what will happen if people do not heed what God says. Although the men of the two cities do not reform, Abraham (like Paul last week filling up what is lacking in Christ’s sufferings) through his persistent prayer gains a significant reprieve for them.

The second reading — Colossians 2:12-14 — tells us that baptism makes us sharers in Jesus’ burial and resurrection. It applies Jesus’ saving action to us, so that our sins are cancelled. We now live with his life.


Sunday Scriptures — OT C 15, Jul. 10, 2016

On this Sunday, we hear the parable of the Good Samaritan. It comes as part of a dialogue initiated with a question about what one must do. Our first reading assures us that God’s law (what we must do) is not difficult to know.
The first reading — Deuteronomy 30:10-14 — presents Moses pleading with the people —us — to heed the voice of the Lord expressed for them in the book of the law. But it is not merely a matter of careful adherence to specific commands. It is a matter of returning to the Lord with all one’s heart and all one’s soul — phrases which find their echo in the gospel for today. The law is not remote or arcane. It is already in our hearts, planted there by God. James 1:21 speaks of “the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.” It is a word of which we must be doers, not just hearers.
There are two alternative responsorial psalms. The first — verses of Psalm 69 — tis the prayer of one who is in distress, followed by a promise of help from God. It puts us n the place of the victim in the gospel who is rescued by the Good Samaritan. The second — Psalm 19:8-11 — is praise of God’s law.
The gospel — Luke 10:25-37 — presents a scholar of the law asking Jesus what he must do to be saved. Jesus asks him for his opinion. The scholar gives what seems to have been a commonly held opinion at the time, and Jesus endorses it. It is a matter of loving God with one’s whole being and loving one’s neighbor as oneself. It is worth noting that neither the scholar nor Jesus specifically references the ten commandments, much less the entirety of the specific commands of the law. A slavish obedience to rules done without love, but out of fear, is not what God seeks. When we are animated by love, our specific good deeds will have value. This is also the underlying principle in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel. Mere observance of the commandments is not enough. The spirit behind the commandments must form our actions so that we transcend the commandments.
It may be that the scholar was asking his question in the sense of seeking to kow what was the minimum standard of conduct. His follow-up question, “Who is my neighbor,” can be read as an attempt to establish a limit to the breadth of the love that is commanded. At any rate, Jesus refuses to set any limit. The scholar must follow the example of the Good Samaritan. Given the mutual hostility between Jews and Samaritans, it would have been easy enough for a Samaritan to be unwilling to help a Jew. But this Samaritan loves the Jew as himself, not merely in some theoretical way, but with a love that leads to action. Jesus is saying that all people, without exception, are the neighbors we must love, and if that love is genuine, we will help those we can when they are in distress.
There may be an implication also that there are some rules which love must override. The avoidance of the victim by the priest and the levite may have been because they would incur ritual impurity by touching the victim. But that rule should not have been controlling in such an urgent case of need.
Finally, in the light of the first alternative responsorial psalm, we can see ourselves as the victims in a spiritual sense. We are sinners, in danger of spiritual death if left to ourselves. But Jesus comes to our rescue, taking on our humanity and giving the care we need — namely his own life, on the cross.
The second reading — Colossians 1:15-20 — is the first of several that we will hear from this epistle. It is not intended to have any direct connection with the other two readings, although the emphasis on Jesus’ work as savior does correspond with the interpretation of the gospel which sees him as the Good Samaritan par excellence. We can see much of it reflected in the creed we recite at Sunday Mass.
“[T] image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” —“[T]he Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages.”
[I]n him were created all things in heaven and on earth.” —“[T]hrough him all things were made.”
“He is the head if the body, the church.” — “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.”
“He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.” — “[H]e suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day.”
“[T]hat in all things he himself might be preeminent.” — “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.”
The final lines of the reading recapitulate these passages of the creed, while expanding what it says about Jesus saving work on our behalf.

Sunday Scriptures — OT C 14, Jul. 03, 2016

Today it’s all about mission.

In the gospel — Luke 10:1-12, 17-20 — we hear how Jesus sent out 72 disciples on a mission to prepare people to receive him. He gave them instructions about how to do it in a way that would let nothing impede them, so that they would not have other concerns. But they weren’t to be the only ones. The harvest is great. They must pray for more workers. The need continues. We are sent, and we must pray for even more. We must not let anything impede us.

The proclamation they made and we make is that the kingdom of God is at hand. We proclaim God’s love; we proclaim Jesus as savior. The disciples proclaimed, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” to prepare people to receive Jesus. We also proclaim the kingdom of heaven to prepare people to receive Jesus. We don’t do it the same way the 72 did: we don’t have to go in pairs to Swampscott or Boxford or Rye. We proclaim the kingdom where we are every day, to the people Jesus intends to visit with the grace of salvation. We proclaim it by the witness of our lives. People should be attracted by our way of life. Our Christian life should be something people find attractive. They may know we are Catholics. If not they may ask what motivates us, and we can tell them that it is our faith which inspires us.

They may or may not respond to our proclamation. If not, we must not let it disturb us. We need to be patient and not nag or become nuisances. Jesus comes to them, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, when it is the right time. But we realize that God works through human instruments. For the success of his work, Jesus needed the preparatory work of the disciples, and he needs our preparatory work.


The second reading — Galatians 6:14-18 — gives us some of the content of the proclamation of the kingdom. In his mercy, God sent Jesus. Through his cross, we are redeemed from all that would keep us from God. In Galatians, Paul has been arguing for the sufficiency of Jesus for salvation: it’s not a matter of ritual or our own efforts. We don’t save ourselves. Apart from Jesus, our efforts are meaningless. In Jesus we are a new creation.


The image of Jerusalem in the first reading — Isaiah 66:10-14c — can be a metaphor for the joy of heaven, the completion of the new creation Paul speaks of. In context, the passage is addressed to those who return from the Babylonian captivity, to a devastated Jerusalem. God promises a splendid future, which we understand is still to be fulfilled. For us, as for the 72, the important thing is that our names are written in heaven, not our glory of this life, what we have, our abilities, our accomplishments. These are merely instrumental for our mission.


In the responsorial psalm — Ps 66:1-7, 16, 20 — calls all the earth, including us, to join Jerusalem in praising God for all he does for us, with the crossing of the Red Sea and the Jordan River as examples.


Now we pray the Father to send workers, including us, for the harvest.