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

Archive for July, 2017

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Watch what you say

Sometimes in a moment of anger or frustration, we often say something to another person which can be very hurtful.  As soon as we see the reaction, we realize that we have “crossed the line.”  But it is too late, the deed is done.

How can you take back the awful thing that you have said?  The fact is, we don’t really understand the power of the spoken word.

The first of the biblical readings for the fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time is from the book of the prophet Isaiah (55:10-11).  The reading is only a couple of verses long, but it does say something about the power of the word.

Isaiah draws a distinction between the word when it is spoken and when it is fulfilled–the secondary action is the automatic fulfillment of the first. That is to say,  that when a word is spoken, it will be automatically fulfilled.  For example:

“For as the rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”  (Isaiah 55:10-11 RSV)

The point of comparison (“as,” “so”) is the fulfillment of the spoken word.  As the rain and the snow make the earth fruitful, so the word of God will be completed.  In Isaiah, the Hebrew equivalent of “word” is DABAR, which has the sense of the spoken word which will be fulfilled.  It is an automatic process.

What can we learn from this reading of Isaiah?  First of all, we learn that the word of God has power.  Secondly, we as disciples of Jesus are committed to proclaim (preach, speak) the message of Jesus, which is one of justice, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding.  Fulfillment of the message (“words”) is not just verbal, but comes to completion only by our behavior.

So, it is good to watch what we say.  Because if we believe what we say, only our behavior will be the proof.

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For better or worse

Possibly,  one of the most difficult things a person can do is to commit oneself.  A key example is the willingness of individuals to commit to marriage.  For a while I was  part of a team involved in a process called Engaged Encounter.  One of the goals was to prepare the couple to focus on significance of one of the marriage vows “for better or worse.”

The de facto situation was that after the marriage, problems seemed to develop.  For instance, apparently insoluble problems arose,  such as differences in living together, raising children, the apparent danger of extra-marital relationships.  And the list could go on.

In the Gospel reading for the thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matthew 10:37-42), Jesus, in one of his post-resurrectional appearances, is asking his key disciples to continue to proclaim his message “for better or worse.”  This means, of course, that there is a likelihood that there may be worse times because family and/or friends may get in the way.  Consequently, the commitment to Jesus must be total.

A major part of that totality will be the willingness to “take up the cross.”  It basically means that unpleasant things may come our way and we will have to deal with them.  It may mean martyrdom or it may not.  The challenging aspects, however, will be the seriousness of our commitments to promote justice, manifest compassion, be forgiving, and to treat others with dignity.  If done correctly, that may be a form of martyrdom itself.

In truth, what is Jesus really asking of us as committed disciples?  First of all, that our willingness to pass on his message of justice, compassion, and forgiveness be a total commitment.  Secondly, although we might meet obstacles along the way, sometimes from family and/or friends, nevertheless,  we remain committed to pass on Jesus’ message.  Third, there are people out there who are as committed to Jesus as you and they can be a source of moral support.

Even more important, God has given gifts to all of us.  No one has been cheated.  Genesis reminds us that we were all made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27) so that there is a sense of equality among all of us.  Our task is to find out what those gifts are.  We have them.  All we have to do is discover them.

So, there we have it.  By being totally committed to the sharing of Jesus’ message with others, and by being grateful  for the gifts received, we can become more effective disciples of Jesus “for better…or worse.”

 

 

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