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Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time,
Year A,
August 3, 2014
Lectionary index # 112

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.

Who should announce these before the first and second readings, and before the gospel acclamation? They're not Scripture, nor homiletic, so they shouldn't be delivered from the ambo. They're a modest teaching. So let the presider say them from the chair. Let the lector turn toward the presider and listen.
Print this page, cut it at the blue lines, and give the introduction paragraphs to the person who will speak them.

Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A, August 3, 2014
Before the first reading:

For Judeans about to be released from exile in Babylon, and about to return to a devastated homeland, a prophet speaks words of encouragement.
After the psalm, before the second reading:

Earlier in this letter, Paul has shown that God saves us by unearned grace, out of pure love, without measuring our merits. Now he answers the implied question, "Why are we still suffering?"
Before the gospel acclamation:

Disturbed by the death of John the Baptist, Jesus withdraws. Followers pursue him anyway. Jesus again exceeds the expectations of his close disciples.

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, Isaiah 55:1-3 [Jerusalem Bible translation]

Today's gospel, Matthew 14:13-21, is the familiar story of Jesus feeding a crowd of thousands from a small supply of bread and fish. Read it first, then you'll see the appropriateness of today's first reading.

The Historical Situation: In their original context, these were encouraging words for very discouraged people. Chapters 40-55 of Isaiah record prophecies spoken at the end of the Babylonian captivity of the people of Judah, when they were returning from enslavement far away, to a devastated homeland. The words were meant to give them hope and to keep them from losing faith in God.

Like today's passage, the whole chapter 55 promises both material and spiritual relief. Today we hear of abundant water, grain, milk, wine and bread. We also hear of a renewal of God's covenant with people's great ancestral King David; that's a comforting reminder of good old days. (Just three weeks ago, on the Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, we read verses 10 and 11 from this chapter. They promise that God's word will create spiritual fertility just as today's verses promise fertility of crops and livestock).

The Theological Background: Note the ways the prophet insists repeatedly that poverty is not a barrier to the people's enjoyment of God's bounty: "You who have no money, come." "Come, without paying and without cost." "Why spend ... your wages for what fails to satisfy." To people ashamed of the sins that led them to be exiled in the first place, this is reassurance. It's a subtle way of saying that they don't have to restore themselves or pay their own ransom, but rather God is doing it out of undeserved mercy and love.

Proclaiming It: Sound magnanimous, like a hearty host, proud of his cooking, receiving guests much loved and long awaited. The words themselves demand that.

Pause before the second last sentence ("Come to me heedfully ...") and assume a more solemn tone, because you're switching the emphasis from material abundance to spiritual richness.

Second Reading, Romans 8:35, 37-39 [Jerusalem Bible translation]

The Theological Background: The early chapters of Saint Paul's letter to the Romans are about how to get right with God. The original audience of the letter was divided on this question. Some, while acknowledging the importance of Jesus, insisted that one needed to observe at least some aspects of the (Jewish) Law of Moses. Paul, on the other hand, insisted it was enough to put one's faith in Jesus and let God save us by pure, unearned and undeserved grace. Paul asserted that Gentile converts to Christianity had no obligation to keep any aspect of Jewish law, although Jewish converts could do so if they wished. Paul spends the kernel of the Letter to the Romans proving this with complex and profound theological arguments, to which this summary cannot do justice.

Proclaiming It: Chapter 8 of the letter seems to address the implied question, "Well, if God loves us so much as to save us by unearned grace, why is everything still so difficult? Why are we suffering?" Today's passage is a rousing rhetorical summation of Paul's response, like a lawyer's dramatic closing argument in a hard-fought trial.

Now it's unlikely that your congregation will hear these verses with this sense of context. Our Sunday-by-Sunday selections have been too short and discontinuous to allow this. (Click here for survey of our selections from Romans from the 9th to the 24th Sundays of Ordinary Time, year A.) But at least you know the context. With that knowledge and your own sense of the dramatic, you can proclaim the passage with the vigor that it deserves.

There are two long lists in the passage which you should proclaim carefully, not tediously. In the second, mark the end of the list with a more emphatic tone: ". . . nor height, nor depth, NOR ANY OTHER CREATURE [pause ...] will be able to separate us . . ."

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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."
Lutheran pastor and college teacher Dan Nelson's notes for a study group.
Dan covered the verses of today's Catholic second reading in his Study of last week.
From the heartland of the U.S.A., two priest-columnists, both learned and wise, with a great common touch:

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 the late Father Francis X. Cleary, S.J. (Log in using 0026437 and 63137) from the website of the Saint Louis Review.

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

Most welcome here are Reginald Fuller's commentaries.

(Caveat lector. As of June 27, 2014, we're speculating about the exact future URL of SLU's pages for this Sunday, since they're not yet posted. If you get a 404 Not Found, try here). (SLU keeps its back issues online only about ten weeks.)

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: June 27, 2014