A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

Archive for October, 2014

Who belongs to my “group”?

Over the years we have become aware that the United  States has become a hodge-podge of various ethnic groups.  Whether we are riding public transportation or grocery shopping, it is not unusual to hear many languages spoken, many of which we don’t understand.  It seems as if the foreigner has taken over, and we ourselves have become stangers in a strange land.  As with their languages, so with their cultural expressions.  They are hard to understand.  How are we supposed to react?

In the first reading,  from the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Exodus 22:22-26),  there is a proposal suggested by God on how to deal with outsiders–as well as other “rejects” from society.

The timeline framework  for the reading is not long after Israel and God have established a bi-lateral covenant relationship on Mt. Sinai.  It is, above all, a covenant of mutual obligation where God and Israel commit themselves based on the “If-Then” proposal.  That is to say, God says to Israel, through the mediatorship of Moses, “Now, therefore, IF you obey my voice and keep my covenant, (THEN) you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples….”  (Exodus 19:5)  Though the “then” is not stated in the text it is presupposed in the intent of the statement.

YHWH would be Israel’s God if the people were to keep the laws which soon followed after the establishment of the covenant.  Today’s biblical reading mentions some of these laws, which treat in some parts with “outsiders,” namely, aliens, widows and orphans, and debtors.  They are called “outsiders” because they don’t fit the prescribed requirements for membership in Israelite society.

Today’s first reading deals with aliens, widows, orphans, and debtors.  First, the “aliens.”  God reminds the Israelites that they themselves were “aliens” in the land of Egypt.  In the midst of their suffering the people cried out to God for help and he heard their cry and delivered them.  Should anyone cry out to God for help, especially the outsider, God will hear the cry and help.

Second, “widows” and “orphans.”  These were considered powerless because they did not not have the protection of a husband or father–a requisite in those days.  It would be up to the community to care for them.

Third, the “debtors.”  The idea behind the law as expressed in this reading, was that one was not to shame the debtor by demanding exorbitant requests.  Otherwise, this would lead to slavery.  “Fairness” should be the operating principle.

The above ideas from the day’s readings can have application in our lives.  When people borrow money or other items from us, it would be well to remember that in the beginning God created all of humanity in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27).  In a real sense this makes us brothers and sisters with the rest of humanity so that we belong to a worldwide family.  One should treat family with great dignity which means being fair and just and not shame them.

In addition, widows, orphans, and other outsiders (for example, debtors) are also included in our worldwide family, so taking care of them becomes part of our responsibility.  Our Baptism reminds  us of that responsibility. God’s motivation for caring for these people was one of compassion.  That should be our motivation as well.

Consequently, we won’t have to think about ourselves and others as being members of different “groups,” but, rather, think of them and us as “family” — operating out of a motive of compassion.

What is your “favorite” banquet?

I’ve noticed that in movies which focus on Thanksgiving and Christmas the basic underlying motif seems to be the dinner.  The celebratory meal has often meant that on festive occasions the dinner is a time for compassion, understanding, and further binding of family relationships if there has been a breach.  Most often the process works, but not always.  But the attempt is made.

The first reading (Isaiah 25:6-10) for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time is about a banquet. It is often referred to as the “eschatological banquet” which means that it is a promise that things will go well for the Israelites if they keep their covenant promises made at Sinai.

Throughout the Bible, we note that the banquet becomes a principal  image for people to gather together and attempt to resolve  contentious issues within the context of appetizing food.  What is curious about the banquet in today’s reading is the tripartite context that can have meaning for us today.  I speak of:  Mountain; All peoples; and the Lord as a loving father.

First, the idea of  “mountain.”  In biblical imagery, the mountain becomes the meeting place between heaven and earth.  In this reading the “mountain” refers to Mount Zion (Jerusalem) as the focal religious and social locus of Israelite belief.  We note that in the perusal of the Bible, one becomes aware that the “mountain” means that something significant is about to take place.  For example, Mount Sinai (covenant between God and the Israelites); Mount of the Transfiguration (some apostles witness the humanity/divinity of Jesus); Mount Calvary (the death of Jesus results in the Resurrection indicating the power of life over death.)  On this mountain (Jerusalem) the celebratory banquet will take place.

Second, the phrase “all peoples” occurs in this reading as reflective of the reality that at the “end time” the Israelites will not be the only ones to share in the “eschatological banquet.”  There is a sense of openness to others who are not part of the “chosen.”

Thirdly, “the Lord as a loving father.”  The prophet presents the Lord as a loving father.  He will provide those at the banquet with rich food and choice wines.  He will do other things to provide hope to those at the banquet so that the banquet will be a moving experience.  This kind of behavior strongly suggests a loving parent.

How can this reading help us to become more reflective of the “eschatological” banquet?  I’m sure that several ways are possible, but I would suggest utilizing the same tripartite pattern as above.  When we think/hear/read “mountan,”  we should see this as the meeting place with God.  The major question should be, “What/where is my mountain where can I encounter God?”  We know that when and where we find our “mountain” certain things can happen, for example, embracing hope.

Realizing that “all people” would be part of the banquet, should remind us that we have  a baptismal responsibility to be of service to them.  These people would include the marginalized of our society, especially the poor, sick, and those rejected by others.

The ideal banquet for us Christians would most likely occur neither at Thanksgiving nor at Christmas, but at  the Eucharist.  Why?  Because we would be more conscious of the tripartite division that we note in the reading.  Most likely the “mountain” (place of encounter with God) could be the Liturgy of the Word (the biblical readings for the day) or the Liturgy of the Eucharist (an insight into the meaning of what is taking place.)

The concept of “all peoples” would make us aware of the variety of folks present at the Mass, some not in a right relationship with God.  Yet, we are all worshipping as family.

God, as “loving father,” could come across in a couple of ways.  First, as family we would pray/sing the “Our Father” accepting the reality of that appellation and what it signifies.  Secondly, a loving father makes possible the feeding of his children with bread and wine (Eucharist) providing them with nourishment.

My favorite banquet would be the Eucharist at Mass.  What would be yours?




The ABC of Christianity

Before one can understand a meaning for the Gospel of the twenty sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matthew 21:28-32),  one must first see the Gospel reading in its literary context as part of Matt.21.  This would mean seeing Matt. 21:28-32 as being ideologically connected with Matt. 21:12-17 and Matt. 21:23-27.

Matt. 21:12-17 speaks of Jesus cleansing the Temple and healing the infirm, while verses 23-27 question Jesus’ authority. The Gospel (Matt.21:12-17) tells us that Jesus is in the Temple area and Matt. 21:23 informs us that Jesus’ chief adverseries are the chief priests and the elders, who are the reputed authorities in/around the Temple.

When the chief priests and elders see an “outsider” cleansing the Temple and healing the infirm, they obviously ask, “By what authority are you doing these things?”  Jesus counters this question with another question.  “Did the baptism of John come from heaven or was it of human origin?”

The chief priests and the elders realized that they would be trapped by  this question.  If they would have said “heaven” Jesus would surely ask them “Why, then did you not believe him?”  If they would have said “human” the people would have come after them since John was well liked by the people.  Realizing this trap, the chief priests and elders answerd, “We do not know.”  Then Jesus said, “Then neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”  (Cleansing the Temple and healing the infirm)

This adversarial exchange led to this Sunday’s Gospel (Matt. 21:28-32.)  The parable of the man with two sons touches upon the reality of service motivation.  The father asks the first son to go help in the fields.  The son says “No,” but then changes his mind and goes.  Thus his “No” becomes a “Yes.”  The other son is also asked to go to work in the fields.  The son says “Yes.”  But then he changes his mind, and his “Yes” becomes a “No.”  It was the first son, whose “No” became a “Yes,” who did the will of the father.

The principal issue appears to be one of authority facilitated by the proper motivation.    Who has it and why?  The person who does the will of the Father in terms of  being of service to others (the son whose “No” became a “Yes”), and not the person who happens to be in a socially acceptable position of authority guided by traditional policies (the chief priests and elders) is the one who has proper authority.  The motivation of service forms the dividing line between those who have God’s authority and those whose motivation is less than service.

What can we learn from the day’s Gospel reading?  Undoubtedly, many things.  But I would like to suggest what I would call an important lesson,  namely, the ABC of Christianity.

First, the “A.”  It would be authority.  By our Baptism we are given authority not only to be in a close relationship with Jesus, but also the responsibility to be of service to others, namely, by actively reflecting justice, compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and the rest of what we find in the Scriptures.  Jesus’ authority came from God.  So does ours.

Second, the “B.”  This would be belief. If we are to remain properly motivated, then we have to believe in who Jesus is and what he has done.  His legitimate criticism of the chief priests and elders was that they didn’t believe in John the Baptist nor his message.

Third, the “C.”  This is conversion.  The two sons undertook  a conversion experience when they were asked to serve.  For one the “No” became a “Yes.”  And for the other the “Yes” became a “No.”  We often find ourselves in sinful situations, and a conversion experience from non-service to service would be most helpful in becoming a true disciple of Jesus.  This ABC is a start.



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