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Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C, July 14, 2013 Lectionary index # 105

Twenty-second digests 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.

Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C, July 14, 2013
Before the first reading:

For a later audience facing various religious choices, this is a story of the ancient Moses. He contrasts the public, accessible, sensible nature of the Law with the mysterious and obscure alternative beliefs of Israel's pagan neighbors
Between psalm and second reading:

Some early Christians believed strongly in complicated hierarchies of angels mediating our relationship with God. Saint Paul insists that Christ is superior to the whole lot.
Before the gospel acclamation:

The gospel, too, is about keeping things simple and straightforward. Where Jesus does the unexpected is in his choice of the hero in the story he tells.

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, Deuteronomy 30:10-14 [Jerusalem Bible translation]

Our Liturgical Setting: In today's gospel, Luke 10:25-37, Jesus delivers the parable of the Good Samaritan, familiar now but revolutionary then. Jesus tells the story in the context of a discussion about the Law, and the discussion about the Law comes in the context of Jesus fateful journey toward Jerusalem and his death. Jesus dared to ask people to go beyond the Law of Moses, and that is one of the things that got him in so much trouble. To prepare us for that lesson, the Church selects from the Hebrew Scriptures a description of the Law that captures its greatness.

The Historical Situation: Though it describes events set in the time of Moses, Deuteronomy was written much later, during the Exile, 587-539 B.C.E. (also known as the Babylonian Captivity). Internal corruption and external pressures had brought the people to the brink of extinction. Kings, priests, prophets, and temple had all failed to hold them together. The writers responded to this crisis by re-interpreting ancient legal traditions, putting them in the mouth of the great lawgiver Moses, in the hope of setting the Jews on a viable course for their future. On the surface, it's a story of origins. In its real purpose, Deuteronomy is about starting over, hoping to get it right and keep it going this time, where "it" is national identity expressed through loyalty to God's law.

The Literary Method: Deuteronomy retells history told in other books, punctuating the narrative with powerful speeches by Moses. Just as Deuteronomy's audience was having a very hard time holding on to faith and identity, so, the book reminds them, it was a struggle for their predecessors, ancient Israelites, to achieve or to maintain their strict belief in the one, true and invisible God. Elements of their past and enticements from pagan neighbors combined to tempt them. (And we're tempted to say, "The more things change, the more they stay the same.") In this passage, Moses's religion is contrasted with the deliberately obscured alternatives that offered themselves to the people. Many purveyors of religion have believed, or at least persuaded others, that true religion is mostly inaccessible, that it can be had only through the mediation of specially selected persons, by acquiring secret knowledge, by performing bizarre rituals or by using hallucinogenic drugs. The Israelites were surrounded by some such believers, and often tempted to join them. Moses wanted to cut through all that. What God wants of you, he says, is written in the book of the law. It's right in front of you. Don't look up in the sky or across the sea. Look into your own hearts. (In post-apostolic times, the Fathers of the Church made a similar point about the gospel. Contrasting Christianity with the mystery religions of their day, they boasted that the gospel was public, and that the Church had nothing to hide, but rather much to proclaim.)

The Lector's Proclamation: This and other ways of distinguishing his people's religion from those of pagan neighbors were points of pride for Moses. When you proclaim his words, sound proud and persuasive. Emphasize the word "this" in "this book of the Law," as if you're showing the evidence in plain sight. That suggests the "lawyer's summation before the jury at the end of a trial" motif for your proclamation.

Second Reading, Colossians 1:15-20 [Jerusalem Bible translation]

The Historical Situation: It seems that, among the early Christians at Colossae, there were people promoting a detailed belief in angels and their mediating role in our relationship with God. (One might say this is a mild case of the cult of the obscure and inaccessible, mentioned above, that goes back to before the time of Moses.) Paul, neither affirming nor denying the existence of these "thrones, dominations, principalities or powers" simply states that Christ is superior to the whole lot. He'll reiterate this throughout the letter, and explain how our salvation comes through Christ alone. But today's passage is only about the superiority of the person of Christ.

The Apostle's Argument Outlined: Here in paraphrase are Paul's assertions about Christ:

Why This Matters: This last point is what takes Paul's theology out of the clouds and plants it firmly in the human reality where even believers suffer and die, hoping for resurrection. No creatures with fierce names like "principalities, dominations and powers" are going to be found sharing human weakness. Nor, for that matter, will the market allow today's pop-culture cherubs ever to appear crucified. You want a divine-human partner in the struggle to know God and be faithful in a hostile world? Never mind angels of either kind. Get Christ.

The Lector's Proclamation: So, as lector, deliver this piece as a polemic. In the sentence "For in him were created ...," emphasize in him and then rattle off the titles of the inferior spirits rapidly and dismissively, as if to say "I don't know how many kinds of these things there are, but they're all way behind Jesus." Bring it back to earth with "He is the head of the body, the church," which to the Colossians meant their earthy and earthly community of believers. Say "preeminent" slowly and carefully, because it's a word your listeners don't hear often.

Your listeners probably won't know the context, but they should know that Paul and you are emphatic and uncompromising about Christ's place in the universe, in all of history, and in your hearts.

A Homily Starter based on these readings

This is a reflection on complexities, natural ones and artificial ones. The people surrounding the ancient Jews created some artificial religious complexities (see above), and the writer(s) of Deuteronomy labored to free their people from these silly burdens. The author of Colossians does the same for an early Christian audience (see above again). Saint Paul did it for the Galatians in the readings we heard a few weeks ago. Today we hear Saint Luke's version of the question put to Jesus, "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" The subtext is that there are hundreds of commandments, and the society had created jobs for various kinds of advisers—and rivals—on how to navigate these complexities. The evangelists concur that Jesus cut through it all with straightforward answers like today's most memorable parable. Even his choice of a Samaritan as the hero of today's parable reflects the artificial complexities that grew up in the religion and politics of the Jews.

In pointing out that these complexities are all artificial, I'm not asserting that everything is simple. It is not. Life in any kind of community is full of natural complexities. It is on these that we should shine the light of the gospel, to these that we should direct our honest discernment and our selfless love. We all bring our wounds and fears, our prejudices and resentments, our rivalries, as well as our virtues, to church. They make things naturally complex. They're the authentic challenge of life in community. We should be honest about them.

There are people who would like us to fret about artificial complexities, too. Those absorb our energy, distract us and fatigue us, so we cannot tackle more substantive issues, and we remain passive. (For example: "Is the translation of the Roman Missal sufficiently reverent?" "We can't allow any bureaucrat to violate the Second Amendment, can we?" "Are we certain that President Obama was not born in Kenya?")

A church community, by its nature, is a safe place to deal with complexities. Here the assumption is that grace and mercy are abundant (unlike the dog-eat-dog outside communities where your gain is always someone else's loss). God is in charge. So we're among friends. So we can be honest about our desires, our offerings to the community, our jealousies, our talents, and our limits. If something from the realm of darkness comes to light, the light will vanquish it. So we're safe. But we should start by simply dismissing the artificial, so we can concentrate on the real complexities.

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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.

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

Here's another year's column by Father Cleary.

Lutheran pastor and college teacher Dan Nelson's notes for a study group
In an undated page labeled Proper 10, Dan covers the same first reading and gospel used in the Catholic lectionary, and Colossians 1:1-14, the verses preceding the second reading treated here.

Saint Louis University's excellent new liturgy site

Most welcome here are Reginald Fuller's commentaries.

(Caveat lector. As of May 26, 2013, 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 Text This Week; links to homilies, art works, movies and other resources on the week's scripture themes

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 26, 2013