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Eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A, June 15, 2008

First reading, Exodus 19:2-6a

The Historical Situation: Read the reading first. Then turn to these notes. Remember the political context in which God makes this promise: The people addressed are runaway slaves who have yet to reach a place where they can settle. In terms of earthly power and status, they have nothing and they are nobody. Yet God promises to make them "dearer to me than all other people." When you proclaim this phrase, make it sound as emphatic and remarkable as it is. Your voice should capture the contrast between the Israelites' present status and the promised future.

The Theological Background: And now a note about the religious context in which God makes this promise: All ancient religions assumed that the gods were distant from and indifferent to humans. The best they could hope for was that a few members, their priestly class, could deal with the gods on their behalf. This provided two advantages: the majority of folks could leave the religious struggles to the delegated priestly class, and the priestly class could congratulate itself on its authority in the community. In this reading, God overturns that class distinction. God wants a kingdom of priests, not just a cadre. God expects a whole holy nation, not just a few holy members performing sacral duties for the rest.

Proclaiming It: God is attempting something new here. There was no need for God to start another religion like all the others; people were doing that for themselves all the time. But a religious community in which all the members are to be holy was a stunning innovation. Here again is a place where, by your use of your voice, you can make this revolutionary insight clear. Emphasize the words kingdom and nation in the last sentence.

A Theological Reflection: This teaching was last reiterated for Catholics at Vatican II, in The Constitution on the Church, Chapter 5, The Universal Call to Holiness in the Church, paragraphs 39-42. This is high ground, and hard to hold. We'll always need leaders and servants with special responsibilities. But we forfeit our birthright, the promise God is making in this Scripture passage, if we divide ourselves into the holy and the ordinary. To do so is to settle for the low ground, up from which God first called the Israelites.

Second Reading, Romans 5:6-11

The Theological Background: This reading, too, is full of contrasts that challenge your oral interpretation. Paul's point is that we were quite unworthy of the gift God gave us in Christ. Notice all the expressions of this unworthiness: helpless, ungodly, still sinners, enemies. It's the contrast between our unworthiness and God's gracious generosity that is so remarkable.

In the first reading God wanted Israel to distinguish itself from all other nations by accepting the call to holiness; in this reading Paul distinguishes the gracious God of our Lord Jesus Christ from that common notion of a god who will only give you what you deserve. Indeed, Paul had tried to placate such a god for a long time, until his conversion to Christ. (See, for example, the autobiographical passage Philippians 3:5-11)

Proclaiming It: In Romans, Paul is arguing against Christians who believed they had to keep old Jewish laws in order to be righteous before God. If you study the passage thoroughly and fix its contrasts clearly in your mind, you can proclaim it with an argumentative tone. That would sound just right. After all, you're trying to convince people that God is more gracious and generous than they dare believe. You have to pull out all the stops.

Extra! Each Sunday passage from Romans in context: Click here to see a table summarizing the readings from Romans from the 9th to the 24th Sundays of Ordinary Time, this year.

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 Father Roger Karban's column on these readings from 2002

and his 2005 column

Father Frank Cleary's column about these readings, from 2002.

The Text This Week; links to homilies, art works, movies and other resources on the week's scripture themes Saint Louis University's Center for Liturgy, a most excellent site. This link takes you to six scripture essays. Atop the page, in fine print, is a link to "... Sunday Webiste Home." That page has links to even richer resources.

Most welcome here are Reginald Fuller's commentaries.

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: May 31, 2008