November 7, 2021, 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
The Books of Kings tell of some faithful people, often prophets, and some unfaithful ones, often kings of Israel, and of the consequences of fidelity and of infidelity. This is one of the stories about the prophet Elijah and what his faithfulness let God accomplish through him.
The Hebrews were Jewish converts to Christ who missed some of the features of their old religion, including a sanctuary and sacrifices as ways to fend off God's judgment against them. Today the writer explains how Jesus has made a better once-for-all sacrifice, how he advocates for them in a better sanctuary, and how he replaces judgment with salvation.
Jesus' disputes with the religious authorities of his day continue to heat up. Today he condemns their consumption of the resources of the poor.
Our Liturgical Setting: Today's gospel, Mark 12:38-44, includes the familiar saying in which Jesus contrasts the tithes given by the wealthy with that offered by the poor widow. So today's first reading is an Old Testament story about a very poor widow and a gift requested of her. It's set in a time of drought and famine.
The Historical Situation and Theological Background: The Books of Kings were written well after the events they describe by an author who had this intent: His main interest is in keeping his audience faithful to the Lord. So he tells the story of each of Israel's kings, with emphasis on how the king was or was not faithful. "The faithful prosper; the unfaithful pay for their defections," as the Introduction to 1 Kings in The New American Bible explains. And when the author compares prophets to kings, the prophets are always the more faithful. Our particular passage today is from a collection of stories of miracles wrought by the prophet Elijah, who famously went up against King Ahab and his Queen Jezebel over the issue of worship of the false god Baal.
Your Proclamation: The passage is more than a story, of course; it's a lesson about taking confidence from God's promise announced by the prophet. But you have to tell it like a story if the lesson is to come across. Some pointers:
The Historical Background: The letter to the Hebrews was written for Jewish converts to Christ, in part to help them cope with the loss of the comforts they had enjoyed from the institutions of Judaism, from which they were now excommunicated. The author's logic is to show that Jesus, in our relationship with him, replaces those old institutions, and exceeds them.
In today's passage, the institutions in question are sanctuary, sacrifice, and judgment. In the old covenant, a priest conducted an annual ritual sacrifice in the sanctuary of the Temple, slaughtering a lamb. In the readings lector notes from two weeks ago and from three weeks ago, we saw that Jesus himself replaces the whole class of ancient priests. In today's selection, the earthly sanctuary is made obsolete by the sanctuary that is heaven, where Jesus the priest intercedes for us directly before God. And the repetitive annual sacrifices are likewise replaced by Jesus' once-for-all sacrifice at this, "the end of the ages." The old sacrifices were meant to forestall an unfavorable judgment by God. The new expectation is brighter: "salvation to those who eagerly await him."
Proclaiming It: So the reading is a series of contrasts between what the people have lost and what they now have in Jesus. Now practice making these contrasts audible in your proclamation.
One of the many artworks reproduced on the Wikipedia article about Elijah. The page describes it only as "Elias on Mount Horeb, Greek Orthodox icon." The Greek text in the picture simply says "The Prophet Elias," (the Greek spelling of the prophet's name).
This page updated September 22, 2021