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Twenty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C,
September 8, 2013
Lectionary index # 129

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.


Twenty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C, September 8, 2013
Before the first reading:

Jews in cosmopolitan Alexandria were assimilating into the dominant pagan culture. A faithful sage uses the pagan style of argument but gives them reasons to keep their ancestral religion.
Between psalm and second reading:

Saint Paul had a friend named Philemon. Paul met his friend's runaway slave in prison, and there instructed and baptized him. Paul sent this note to his friend with the returned slave.
Before the gospel acclamation:

An important theme in Saint Luke's gospel is how to be a disciple, and what that costs. In Luke's literary plan, Jesus says these words while on his way to Jerusalem, where he expects to be crucified.

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, Wisdom 9:13-18b [Jerusalem Bible translation]

The Historical Background--the Place: The book of Wisdom originated in the cosmopolitan city Alexandria, in Egypt. Founded by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C.E., Alexandria was the capital of the Ptolemies during their reign over Egypt, home of two famous libraries containing 700,000 scrolls, and site of a great university. The New Columbia Encyclopedia calls the city "the greatest center of Hellenistic [Greek] and Jewish culture." This is where seventy Jewish scholars translated their scriptures into Greek, producing what came to be called the Septuagint [from the Greek word for "seventy"] version of the Old Testament.

The Historical Background--the People: About a century before the birth of Jesus, a learned and faithful Jew assessed the situation for Jews in this great city. Many Jews 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.) Today's passage could have originated in a coffee house on the edge of the university campus, for it's all about deep theological issues like the ability of the human mind to grasp the ways of God, and how the body and soul interact.

The Lector's Proclamation: To proclaim this properly in your Sunday assembly, plan how you'll contrast, with your tone of voice and carefully timed pauses,
the utterly wise counsels of God versus feeble human wisdom.

This is especially important (and tricky) in the sentence with these opposing clauses:
And scarce do we guess the things on earth,
and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty,
but when things are in heaven, who can search them out?

The last sentence actually addresses God. It means "Who could know your ways, God, unless you had already given that person your wisdom and your spirit?"

Second Reading, Philemon 9-10, 12-17 [Jerusalem Bible translation]

The Very Personal Historical Background: Philemon was a friend of Saint Paul's who had had a runaway slave named Onesimus. (The pronunciations are "Fi LEE mun" with a long i in the first syllable, and "Oh NAY see mus.") The Apostle and the fugitive had met in prison, where Paul instructed and baptized Onesimus ("whose father I have become in my imprisonment"). Paul wrote a note to be brought by the slave on his return to Philemon, and today's Lectionary passage is the gist of that note.

A Theological Reflection: We may be disappointed that Paul did not condemn the institution of slavery outright. But that shouldn't blind us to the revolutionary idea that Paul does insist upon: that the slave-owner must regard Onesimus differently now, as a brother in Christ and so much a mutual friend that Philemon must welcome Onesimus as he would welcome Paul.

The Lector's Proclamation: This message is very personal, but in written form, compounded by translation, it has become very formal. The best way to prepare might be to imagine Paul speaking with Philemon face-to-face. His phrasing would be short and conversational, with pauses as he thought spontaneously about how to make his case.

Notice the different kinds of sentences. There's flattery here ("I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary.") and something we moderns would call manipulation ("So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me."). There's speculation ("Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, ..."). We might label some of this self-aggrandizement, although for a worthy purpose ("I rather urge you out of love, being as I am, Paul, an old man, and now also a prisoner for Christ Jesus."). And there's the enduring theological lesson that makes this passage important to us two millennia later: Philemon is to regard Onesimus, and we are to regard one other, "no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord."

Each of those sentences calls for its own tone of voice, its own pace, its own inflection. I leave it to the reader to finish the analysis of the various types of statements. But however you parse it out, this deserves more than a monotone.


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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.

Saint Louis University's excellent Sunday liturgy site

Most welcome here are Reginald Fuller's commentaries.

(Caveat lector. As of July 29, 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).

Lutheran pastor and college teacher Dan Nelson's notes for a study group
Dan covers Deuteronomy 30:15-20 as first reading
The Text This Week; links to homilies, art works, movies and other resources on the week's scripture themes Archived 2001 column of Father Francis X. Cleary, S.J.

Father Cleary's column from 2004

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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: July 29, 2013