Sunday 7 July
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
Psalm 65; Galatians 6.14-18
Luke 10.1-12, 17-20
Here we are given encouraging readings for those who, as disciples of Jesus Christ, seek to proclaim the Good News: here we have powerful words of promise and hope from Isaiah and the commissioning and sending out by Jesus of the seventy-two who ‘came back rejoicing’. The first reading from the very end of the writings of Isaiah is unreservedly optimistic, it is an image of flourishing, of joy and fulfillment, and that vision is a vision for those who have faith, because: ‘It is to his servants the Lord will reveal his hand.’ That is the experience of the seventy-two, who are able to proclaim the kingdom and subdue devils in Jesus’ name. Note that Luke is very clear in insisting that they are sent out by the Lord, that it is his commissioning and it is his authority that they have – they are to rely on nothing of their own – no purse, no haversack, no sandals. And it is the same message they proclaim – whether to friendly or unfriendly hearers: ‘The kingdom of God is very near’. Just as it is Jesus who inaugurates the kingdom, so his disciples announce its imminence in their proclamation. That is always the reality for mission: it is the Lord who sends out, it is he who provides, it is he whose authority is pronounced, and it is he who brings about the result. Sometimes perhaps the enthusiasm and perception of those who would be disciples may find that their mission is based elsewhere – either on personal ‘success’ or the maintenance of a structure. The Kingdom is always more than that, as Paul knew well and witnessed to: writing to the Galatians he is quite clear that human ordering is irrelevant, for it is only the Lord who can bring about a new creature through a new creation, the rest is irrelevant.
Sunday 14 July
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The readings given to us today from the book of Deuteronomy and the gospel of Luke are meant to be taken together. The gospel is the parable of the ‘Good’ Samaritan, a story that many who have never heard the gospel proclaimed in church will be familiar with. Moses addresses the people of Israel in the first reading and announces God’s Law to them – but while he appears to be talking of what is ‘written in the Book of the Law’ he makes it clear that this is not about slavishly conforming to written rules and regulations, the ‘ticking boxes’ mentality that can sometimes appear to be what is required of people. ‘No, the Word is very near to you, it is in your mouth and in your heart.’ The real law dwells within the person – for those who choose to discern it. That is the heart of Jesus’ parable too – purity laws and other rules may keep law-abiding people from possible contamination from a dead body, and would certainly avoid contact with Samaritans, let alone the reality of the far more basic human inclination to avoid any awkward situation and its difficult ramifications. But the Samaritan traveller appears to have no concern for any of those – he simply sees need and responds immediately and effectively. He acts from the heart as the Deuteronomy reading has indicated that one should. And Jesus simply invites all who hear to: ‘Go, and do the same yourself.’
Sunday 21 July
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Anyone familiar with the famous icon of the great artist Rublev will picture the scene given in the first reading in a serene and majestic way. However the picture given in the passage from Genesis is actually very much one of human bustle, as Abraham has been caught out by the unexpected arrival. It is the hottest part of the day – so no one should be out and about (perhaps we might think of Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman at midday, another surprising gracious encounter with the divine). The obligation of hospitality demands of Abraham that he offer refreshment to the travellers – he obviously does a lot more than that. As the passage continues after the present section, it becomes clear that Abraham has perceived something special about his guests – he is encountering God in some form, and must act accordingly. It seems in the gospel that Mary has the same instinct and so, similarly, she responds single-mindedly. Many will be irritated by the (apparent) sharp answer that Jesus gives to Martha, who is engaged in the practical work of hospitality. Nonetheless we need not be upset on behalf of the one at work in the kitchen. The invitation of the incident is to develop a sensitivity to perceive the presence of the divine in the unexpected encounter and give the attention which is appropriate – as Abraham and Mary do!
The short passage from St Paul to the Colossians can help underline this truth. Paul reaffirms his total commitment to Christ and all that it costs, and emphasises to his hearers the message he proclaims – in Christ God is accessible to all: ‘The mystery is Christ among you’ – not distant but at hand to those who have eyes to recognise him.
Sunday 28 July
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The readings offered this Sunday can be the occasion for a reflection on prayer – something that is always worthwhile, though seldom easy! In the book of Genesis there is clearly a very easy relationship between Abraham and God, expressed both implicitly and explicitly. This is quite clear again in today’s passage. It is a wonderful picture, as if the author has deliberately portrayed Abraham as some seller in the market place haggling with a prospective buyer – constantly trying to adjust the price in his favour – and what a knock-down price he achieves! As we discover later in Genesis, Abraham’s haggling is in vain for the city cannot be saved, so great is its sin: there are not even ten just men there. Nonetheless we should note that Abraham’s concern and his earnest pleas for God’s mercy on the undeserving – a lesson in prayer that all might take to heart when it is so easy to condemn others with self-righteous indignation! The gospel too is about persevering in prayer – even though we need to make sure we don’t portray God as one who has gone to bed and is loathe to get up for a friend. The really important religious truth behind the parable is clearly laid out in Jesus’ explanation: ‘If you then, who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’ As all the great spiritual writers have emphasised, prayer is an essential part of discipleship, it is about living in trust that God desires our well being - so it is not just about getting results!
Sunday 4 August
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ecclesiastes 1.2, 2.21-23
Colossians 3.1-5, 9-11
There is a very contemporary feel about a lot of the Book of Ecclesiastes. This is very true of the short passage offered for today’s first reading. Scholars debate a great deal about the context of the book and its setting, but no one doubts the relevance of the thrust of much of the book. A lot of
the Wisdom writings reflect the questioning of the old world order under the influences of other cultures on the faith of Israel which occurred at that time. Similarly many in contemporary culture are challenged by ideas and perceptions which come from other worldviews at a time when received and established norms and structures seem undermined. The challenge that can be taken from writings such as Ecclesiastes is that all structures and established ways of seeing things may be questioned and indeed, rejected if they are found wanting. The gospel given for today speaks very powerfully to the contemporary western world where security is presumed to reside in what a person possesses. Jesus speaks in parables, and the wisdom writers often speak in riddles for a very good reason, for in this way they challenge the listener to delve deeper and search where meaning and true security can be found. Discipleship is a constant quest – and no obvious or simple answer will bring that quest to an end, just as no simple adoption of a contemporary world view, and its quest for material security, will prove more than vanity!
In a similar vein, writing to the Colossians Paul demands a radical conversion of them – they are to set their hearts ‘on heavenly things, not on the things that are on the earth.’ It is Christ who is their life – a powerful response to the complaints of the preacher Quoheleth.
The Letter to the Hebrews - for the next four weeks we read from the Letter to the Hebrews, possibly the best constructed and polished writing in Scripture. Written by an unknown author to an unknown community, it develops a very sophisticated theology of Christ the High Priest whose sacrifice makes redundant the former covenant. The author presumes a high level of familiarity with the Hebrew Scriptures. The passages taken for the next few weeks are from the latter part of the Letter where his theological exposition now gives a focus for the living out of the Christian faith in practical terms, encouraging the hearers to maintain fidelity despite adversity and opposition.
Sunday 11 August
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Hebrews 11.1-2, 8-19
One of the reasons that it is asserted that the Letter to the Hebrews is written to a community of Jewish origin is the large scale reference to stories and teaching from the Jewish scriptures. Today’s reading is a typical example. The writer feels quite free to draw an argument from the stories of Abraham and Sarah (and, in the omitted section, as well as after the present section, he gives sketchy references to many other heroes of the Old Testament) because he knows his readers will understand fully. In a way similar to Paul’s argument in Romans chapter 4, the author stresses the way in which Abraham went into the unknown and lived in trust that God would be true to his word; similarly (and unlike Paul) he says something comparable of Sarah – she believed that God would grant her a son despite her age. Hebrews is a very carefully written theological treatise, but not for its own sake – the later chapters especially are offered precisely to encourage the listeners to persevere in fidelity. Abraham and Sarah (and the others) are offered as paradigms of faith – trusting in that which is not seen, but clearly promised. The same is true for the original recipients of this Letter – and for us. The same theme of faith actually informs the other two readings – the strange passage from the Book of Wisdom refers to the Passover celebration at the time of the Exodus – the time when Israel put its trust in God and so received liberation from Egypt. The passage from Luke’s gospel and its call to stay awake with lamps lit waiting for the coming of the Lord of the household is a call for perseverance even when nothing appears to be happening, because discipleship depends, not upon carrying out written commands, but upon trusting in the one who is called Master.
Sunday 18 August
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 38.4-6, 8-10
Psalm 39, Hebrews 12.1-4
A very significant element of Catholic ecclesiology is the doctrine of the communion of saints, whereby because Christians all belong to Christ so they therefore belong to one another; and that belonging is not simply limited to the individuals physically present. The veneration of the great saints of the Church has given immeasurable inspiration to countless Christians over the centuries and remains a central element in the practice and devotion of the Church. Something of that is clearly present in the encouragement of the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews. Immediately preceding this section of the Letter, the author has given a vivid picture of the heroes of faith whose stories are recounted in the Old Testament – people who were strong in faith and so able to undergo all sorts of opposition and persecution in their commitment to God. That is the cloud of witnesses on every side who should give such encouragement to believers, who by example inspire them and by their mediation assist them: ‘All the saints on whose constant intercession in your presence we rely for unfailing help’ [Eucharistic Prayer III]. Whilst communion with the saints is an important truth of faith, it may never detract from the utterly central role of Christ: ‘let us not lose sight of Jesus.’ It is only because of their relationship to Christ that saints have a place in Christian teaching, and it is precisely their bond to him which makes that communion with the baptised on earth. Just as the passage from Hebrews ends on a challenge to be faithful to the end, so the readings from Jeremiah and the gospel passage today also have an important focus on the demands of discipleship. Jeremiah constantly finds himself out of favour with the authorities because of the Word of God, and laments his calling (the so-called ‘confessions of Jeremiah’). In the gospel Jesus’ sombre words probably reflect the experience of his early followers as persecution and being thrown out of family and clan were the result of adherence to Christ. It may be sometimes difficult in daily living in the West to remember that in many places and through many eras, those who embrace Christ have regularly suffered severely for it. It is a challenge that the gospel always carries with it as a serious demand, as these readings remind us.
Sunday 25 August
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 66.18-21, Psalm 116
Hebrews 12.5-7, 11-13
We have a dramatic juxtaposition of readings today. In the first reading from the prophet Isaiah, there is a list of exotic alien places from the distant corners of the known world, and the promise that people from them will be gathered to the Lord and proclaim his glory. This Universalist dimension of Isaiah recurs in different parts of the writings attributed to the prophet, who portrays a God who can reach out to aliens and pagans and draw them into his fold – and indeed, the implication is even that from these aliens some will be called to be priests and Levites. The vision is one of God’s mercy stretching out and calling into the eternal banquet people of all races and nations. In the gospel, by contrast, we have those who were most familiar with the ways of the Lord and his presence finding themselves at a loss: ‘we once ate and drank in your company; you taught in our streets.’ This is a real challenge to those who perhaps week by week hear the teaching of the Lord, and who eat and drink in his company at the Eucharist, but who cannot thereby assume they might not hear the dread words: ‘I do not know where you come from.’
The Letter to the Hebrews continues to offer practical guidance in faith to its listeners. The struggles and difficulties that they are encountering because of their faith need to be put in a context; and that context is one of real encouragement. Anything that is happening to them is because they are children of God, and if they are acknowledged as children by God, how can anything else really matter. They are the children whom God loves, and they will bear fruit in peace and goodness because that is the way of God who is the father who loves and cares for his children.