Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, July 23, 2017
For Jews living among sophisticated pagans in Alexandria, the book of Wisdom gave some arguments for defending the faith. This part is about how a truly powerful God does not need to punish or take revenge. The speaker addresses God directly.
Much of the letter to the Romans is about how we cannot earn on our own the approval of God, but God mercifully saves us anyway. The same can be said of how we pray.
Jesus uses three agricultural images to describe the reign of heaven. From modest beginnings come unexpected results.
Our Liturgical Setting: As usual, a lector should start with a reading of the day's gospel passage, Matthew 13:24-43. It contains a few more of Jesus' agricultural parables about the reign of God. The emphases on God's power over evildoers and non-believers, and God's forbearance, underlie the choice of first reading.
The Historical Situation: About a century before the birth of Jesus, a learned and faithful Jew assessed the situation for Jews in the great cosmopolitan city Alexandria in Egypt. Many Jews there had "assimilated" into the dominant pagan culture. They and native pagans sometimes ridiculed practicing Jews, so our sage wrote a book of Wisdom, to bolster the faith of his friends. (The Church cites this book often in the Lectionary, so this introduction may be familiar to users of Lector's Notes.) One of the author's overall goals is to remind his fellow Jews of their ancient heritage, and to emphasize God's providence for these people throughout their history.
Today's verses come from a the section of the book, Wisdom, 11:17-12:27, called "A digression on God's mercy." And it really does digress. But one solid point it makes is that this God (and, it is implied, unlike all other gods) is so powerful and wise that he need not be vengeful and quick to punish. This God can afford to let his enemies live, for they can never prevail, and given time, might repent. That's the admirable God addressed in our passage today.
Proclaiming It: This reading is in the second person, addressed by the speaker to God. That's unusual among our readings. It will catch the congregation unawares, unless you begin your proclamation carefully. Speak the first sentence slowly, emphasizing the words "god" and "you" in the first line. The final clause of the first sentence means "God, you don't have to prove to anyone that what you do is fair."
Our second sentence ("... your mastery over all things makes you lenient to all.") captures most clearly the point of the whole passage (and the whole digression), so state it slowly and clearly. Pause before the final sentence, where the emphasis changes from the power of God to the lessons people should draw from dealing with such a God.
The Theological Background: Like previous selections from Romans, chapter 8, this is about how helpless we are on our own, but how the Spirit of God nevertheless empowers us. Today the subject is prayer, which we can't muster by ourselves, but which the Spirit supplies in our hearts.
Proclaiming It: To prepare to read this, let yourself experience the lesson taught here. That is, ask the Spirit to fill your heart with gratitude.
In your actual proclamation, try to answer the question, "What's one important thing for which we need the help of God's Spirit?" The answer is "How to pray as we ought." Let your listeners hear the accent on "pray." And in the last sentence, show how the Spirit fulfills this need by emphasizing the synonym for "pray," "intercedes."
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.
One of the dreams of the pagan king Nebuchadnezzar, which the Jewish prophet Daniel interpreted for him, according to the book of Daniel, ch. 4. The manuscript with this image was created in Tábara in 10-century Spain, and purchased by the American banking tycoon J.P. Morgan (1867-1943) in 1919. It is now housed in the Morgan Library, New York City, New York, U.S.A., and described in detail here in the Library's web page.
Lector's Notes should be easily readable on any device, including small-screen ones like cell phones and tablets. This is among the first of a few hundred pages to be converted to a responsive format (responsive to the kind of screen you are using). So when you're not serving as lector, and you arrive at church and mute your cell phone, you can brief yourself on the readings you're about to hear. Format conversion is a work-in-progress and will be so until maybe April of 2018.
This page updated June 2, 2017