Lector's Notes

To the home page

of Lector's Notes

Second Sunday of Lent, Year C, February 24, 2013 Lectionary index # 27C

A digest for the congregation: Arrange with your liturgy committee to have these brief historical introductions read to the assembly before you do each reading.

The presider may speak these before the first and second readings, and before rising for the gospel acclamation. Print this page, cut it at the blue lines, and give the introduction paragraphs to the person who will speak them.


Second Sunday of Lent, February 24, 2013
Before the first reading:

This reading describes a common custom in the ancient Middle East, a covenant ritual between leaders of tribes. But in this case, one participant is God, and the other doesn't yet have a tribe. In this instance of the ritual, the participants are not equals. So only God, invisible but symbolized by fire, does the ritual act.
Between psalm and second reading:

Some early Christians insisted that even Gentile converts to Christ had to keep the laws of Judaism. Paul severely criticizes that view here. He asserts that the changes Christ makes in us really change everything.
Before the gospel acclamation:

In Luke's account of Jesus' transfiguration, the appearance of Moses and Elijah express the continuity of Jesus with his tradition. But the so-called exodus in Jerusalem, meaning Jesus' coming death and resurrection, are without precedent.

To pay for use of the words above, please subtract an equal number of optional words from other places in the liturgy (click here for some suggestions).

First reading, Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18 [Jerusalem Bible translation]

The Literary and Historical Setting: Starting in chapter 12, the book of Genesis gives us the story of Abram (later known as Abraham) depicted as the first person to hear and heed the voice of God. At God's prompting, Abram moved his considerable holdings from the ancient city Ur in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) to a land he knew not (modern Palestine). The one thing Abram wanted but did not have was children. So God's promise in the first paragraph is most welcome.

In the second paragraph, what God promises to Abram is a land for himself and his family. The ritual that follows is strange to us because it's described only in part. It was really a common practice and went like this: Men who wanted to seal a contract would split the carcass of one or more animals, lay the halves on the ground, and to walk between them, saying "May I be so split in half if I fail to keep the agreement we are sealing here." In this instance, the presence of God, who can't physically appear, is symbolized by the smoking pot and flaming torch. These pass between the halves of the animals, but, interestingly, the text does not say that Abram walked between them, as if to say Abram is not an equal partner in the covenant struck here.

A Wry Note on the latest N.A.B. Translation: If you're reading this, you're probably a well-prepared, conscientious lector. So you'll be amused to know how the translation used in Catholic Churches In the U.S.A. had to be dumbed down. This is due, no doubt, to a famous mispronunciation by ill-prepared lectors in the recent past. What is now translated "smoking fire pot" was formerly rendered "smoking brazier." That rather unfamiliar word is easy to mispronounce in a way that suggests something entirely different, and which invariably distracts the listening assembly. After hearing that gaffe, who would remember the edifying story of Abram's faith and God's generous promise? So the translators wisely substituted "fire pot" for "brazier." As Jesus told us in last week's gospel, "Thou shalt not put the Lord, thy God, to the test."

Proclaiming It: In proclaiming this reading, use different tones of voice for the words of God and the words of Abram. Because the images are so odd, concentrate on speaking slowly, more slowly than sounds natural to you (it won't sound unnatural to the congregation). This gives the images time to develop in the minds of your listeners.

Not persuaded to slow down? Put yourself in the place of someone listening to this passage, even someone armed with a missallette. You have to comprehend images like "count the stars," "so shall your descendants be," "credited it to him as an act of righteousness" (What could that clumsy phrase mean to someone hearing it with no introduction?), "split them in two and placed each half opposite the other," and the procession of the torch and fire pot. Such a listener needs all the help the lector can give.

Appreciate the structure here:

Pronunciation notes (Forgive me if these seem patronizing, but you remember what happened when nobody briefed the lector on the pronunciation of "brazier."): Post-factum I told you so: Where I heard this reading proclaimed on March 11, 2001, an unprepared lector mispronounced half of these words. She undoubtedly would have had God appearing in smoky lingerie, had the Lectionary editors not preempted that possibility. She also located the addressees of the second reading on islands in the western Pacific.

Second Reading, Philippians 3:17-4:1 [Jerusalem Bible translation]

The Theological and Historical Setting: Among early Christians in several places there was a controversy about whether one had to keep the old Jewish law in order to be a follower of Christ. Saint Paul argues forcefully here that one does not have to do so. Those who say you do are really "enemies of the cross of Christ," because they're acting as if the death and resurrection of Jesus are not what saves us; rather, they hold that keeping the law is what saves them. In particular, the law required eating kosher food and having males circumcised. The food is what Paul alludes to in ridiculing their devotion to their stomachs, and the circumcision is what he means when he says they glory in their "shame."

Your ProclamationThe first few sentences are complex, so say them slowly. Sound outraged when you describe some as "enemies of the cross of Christ." Sound dismissive of their position when indeed you dismiss it in four terse phrases:

When you make the transition to "But our citizenship is in heaven ...," mark that change with a pause and a change in your tone of voice. And when you tell us to stand firm, tell us firmly.


Comments powered by Disqus

Several other commentaries on these passages. All are thoughtful, all quite readable, from the scholarly to the popular.
Links may be incomplete more than a few weeks before the "due date."
Father Roger Karban of Belleville, Illinois, USA, writes a newspaper column about every Sunday's readings. Here are his essays for today's passages, from: courtesy of The Evangelist, official publication of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York, or of The Belleville Messenger, of the Diocese of Belleville.

Read all of Father Karban's recent columns here, at the site of FOSIL, the Faithful of Southern Illinois.

Lutheran pastor and college teacher Dan Nelson's notes for a study group
Dan's undated page has the heading "Lent 2."

Archived weekly column of Father Francis X. Cleary, S.J. (Log in using 0026437 and 63137)

The Text This Week; links to homilies, art works, movies and other resources on the week's scripture themes Essays on today's readings from six highly qualified authors, courtesy of Saint Louis University's Center for Liturgy.

(Caveat lector. As of December 16, 2012, Lector's Notes' author is speculating about the exact URL of SLU's offering, since it's not yet posted. If you get a 404 Not Found, try here).

The Lectionary selections in the frame at the left, if any, are there for your convenience. The publishers of the page in that frame have no connection, except for membership in the one Body of Christ, with the publisher of this page. Likewise the publishers of the pages on the links above.


Return to Lector's notes home page

Send email to the author.

Last modified: January 15, 2013