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Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B, February 26, 2006

First reading, Hosea 2:16b-17b, 21-22

The Historical Situation: Hosea was married to an unfaithful woman. He was also a member of a tribe whose leaders were unfaithful to their God. Hosea used the tragic difficulties of his marriage to illustrate his prophecies about the tragic sinfulness of Israel. Sometimes he mixes his two concerns so closely that it's hard to tell if he's talking about his marriage or his people's religion.

In today's verses, he recalls the time when the Lord had led the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt into the desert. That was a kind of courtship, when the Lord re-introduced himself to the Hebrews, who had more or less forgotten their ancestral religion while enslaved. Hosea speaks with great tenderness and hope. He thus portrays God as hoping, wistfully, that his beloved will be wooed successfully.

Proclaiming It: The congregation listening to you, the lector, will probably know none of this background. How are you going to make clear to them, at least a little, the drama they're hearing?

Second Reading, 2 Corinthians 3:1b-6

The Historical Situation: Saint Paul had founded the Christian community at Corinth, then left for further missionary work. Corinth was a doubly dangerous place to leave a newborn religious community: it was Greek and a seaport. It didn't take long for wild ideas to sweep through the community, causing division and turmoil. Some challenged Paul's authority as an apostle. Today's lines from Paul's second letter to this congregation respond to that.

Letters of recommendation are an old institution, as we can see here. Paul says he needs no paper letter, for the community life of the Corinthians is that letter. Ragged though it is at times, that community shows that Paul's work among them had been empowered by the Spirit. Thus the "letter" is the converted hearts of the Corinthians.

The second paragraph is Paul's disclaimer. It wasn't his own talent or effort that converted the Corinthians, it was the spirit of God. In this paragraph, the word "letter" has a different meaning. It refers to "the letter of the law," the code of legal prescriptions that Jews thought they had to keep to stay on the good side of God. Paul himself had tried to live that way, but realized that no human can keep the law so well as to deserve God's love. The Spirit gives life and love as an undeserved gift, not as a reward for good behavior. Trying to keep the letter of the law keeps one focused on oneself, filling one with deadly frustration. Admitting one's helplessness about keeping the letter of the law opens one to the saving Spirit. That's what's new about the new covenant.

Proclaiming It: This is all quite hard to make clear to a congregation, no matter how careful your proclamation as lector. Read it slowly, emphasizing the contrasts. Hope that the preacher in your parish explains it in the homily.

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."
Lutheran pastor and college teacher Dan Nelson's notes for a study group

"The Word" column by Diane Bergant, C.S.A., from America magazine, March, 2003

Father Frank Cleary's column from the Saint Louis Review.

Columns by Father Roger Karban covering these readings:
2003 column

second column, probably from 2000

The Text This Week; links to homilies, art works, movies and other resources on the week's scripture themes Saint Louis University's excellent Sunday liturgy site.

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.

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Last modified: Sun Feb 26 06:03:34 CST 2006