32nd cycle C

The first reading is from the second book called Maccabees named after Judas Maccabeus and written during the second century BC.  It begins with letters to the Jews in Egypt, followed by a preface stating that this is a summary of a five volume work written about the experiences of the Jews in Egypt under foreign rulers.  The Jews stood out with their distinctive religion and its practices, so the pagan rulers tried to force them to conform to their pagan rituals and diet (especially eating pork).  The chapter we read from, relates the martyrdom of seven sons and their mother, but our reading (to avoid too horrific material perhaps) only tells us of three of them.  The passage is of interest because of what it shows of the belief these Jews had at that time.  They clearly believed in there being only one God, but also, and as a new idea, God’s creating everything out of nothing; also they believed in heaven as a reward for the righteous – who obeyed the Law – and that their suffering in this life would make up for their many faults.  And this is a development of Jewish thinking that also shows up at the time and in the place where Jesus grew up and lived.  The expectation of an afterlife with God appears also in the response to the Psalm that follows the reading. But calling someone an accursed wretch is not really appropriate.

We read from the ending of a Letter from Paul to the Thessalonians. About the year 50 AD (when the Emperor Claudius banished Jews from Rome), Paul, together with Silvanus and Timothy went to Thessalonica to preach about Jesus; that is the Timothy to whom letters were addressed which are in the New Testament.  The Jews there were not interested and so they preached to ‘God-fearing’ non-Jews, and were welcomed into the house of one called Jason.  But because of trouble from the Jews these first missionaries had to leave.  Later Timothy had revisited the Thessalonian converts but they were still troubled by the Jews.  However, Paul had heard that they thought the End of the world was coming (after all the troubles they were in) and some had even given up on caring about this life, and this prompted him to write this second letter to them from which we read today, though in our extract he is just encouraging them to follow what he previously taught them.

In today’s gospel the Sadducees try to make fun of the belief in life after death.  They don’t have this belief and they only recognise the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch) as sacred scripture.  They argue from the rule in Deuteronomy that if a married brother dies, his brother must marry the wife so as to produce an heir for the dead brother.  Jesus, like the Pharisees, believes in the afterlife and the reward of the just.  In the reply He contrasts this life with the risen life in which the higher state of immortality, marriage does not apply for all are children of God and inheritance of this life is gained for them; Luke elaborates this reply more than Matthew and Mark who have the same story.

See Jeffs Jottings – Life in heaven

31st cycle C

The first reading is from the book Wisdom (11:22-12:3). This book was written less than a century before the birth of Jesus. It came from someone in the Jewish community in Alexandria in Egypt. Jews at the time where not just in the promised land and we’re quite aware of the ways of thinking in the wider community about life, gods and associated mysteries. The book of Wisdom is in Greek and its ideas are a development of earlier Jewish ideas, absorbing more contemporary notions from this wider community in which they lived. And so wisdom is very important; it is used by them to refer God. Himself and their idea of life now extended to even life after death which is not certainly previously by Jews. Our reading exemplifies the literary quality of the thoughts poetically expressed in a theology of the relationship of God with the failings of humanity and the development of creation.
The second reading is from 2 Thess 1:11-2:2. The two letters to the Thessalonians are the first surviving documents about Jesus that we have – the oldest writings in the New Testament – prior to the gospels that tell of the life of Jesus. Paul was a learned Rabbi in the Jewish community living away from the Jewish enclave in the Roman empire. The story in Acts of him being quite against Jews becoming followers of Jesus is quite reliable. However, this learned man later became a Christian and worked mostly in Roman communities making converts of Jews but especially of Gentiles. He had established a community in Thessalonica but the Jewish synagogue there was not receptive of his message that God was happy with Gentiles, so a mainly Gentile community of followers of Jesus was established away from the synagogue. However after he moved on from his short stay there, he wants and needs to writes to them from prison. It seems from the text we have that he may have given them a wrong idea of God’s present to them even now and this being the time of the fulfilment of God’s plan for creation. Some of them had given up their regular work and way of life and were just waiting for the End-time to come. And someone may have encouraged them with this view. So Paul has to tell them to get back to regular life – as good followers of Jesus – the final End has not yet come. We are reminded by this that Christianity is constantly developing an understanding of life and creation, and we should be warned not to be so certain of what are basically mysteries – a danger the church has always suffered from.

The gospel of Luke that we have been hearing from over many weeks, has a distinctive focus on the reach of Jesus’ concern and dealings – most noticeably Jesus dealings with women. In today’s reading (19:1-10) Luke has this story not elsewhere in the NT, of Jesus’ attitude to a local taxman, who, the story tells us, was small but curious about Jesus. Luke portrays Jesus’ attitude to this man as nothing short of pro-active – “hurry down for I must come to your house tonight.” This tale, assuming it was not purely fiction, would have come to Luke indirectly from some such tale that may have be told again and again, but which either had not come to the attention of the earlier gospel writers or they didn’t consider it worth re-telling. We have to think what it tells us about Jesus that should affect us in some way – as gospel (good news).

See Jeffs Jottings – Why, why, why

30th cycle C

The first reading is from a wisdom book (Sirach 35:12-18 passim). The prologue to it was written by someone in Egypt after 132 BC, who was translating into Greek a Hebrew book of his grandfather (whose name was Jesus). The book presented the thrust of the teachings of the Bible about the Law and the wise way to live. Manuscripts of parts of the Hebrew book itself have been found but it is not part of the Hebrew Old Testament. Despite the book’s enthusiasm for the Law, in our passage it speaks of a God who treats all people fairly; it quite poetically depicts God as particularly drawn to the poor, orphans and widows, like a Judge who responds quickly to prayers after judging what is asked for and what is right. The same thoughts are expressed repeatedly in the Psalm that follows this reading.
In the second reading we have some words from the second letter to Timothy which seem to genuinely come from Paul himself. He is clearly at the end of his tether and near the end of his life. He speaks of the sacrifice of his life as a libation – a drink poured out as an offering to a deity. He uses his favourite metaphors for life – a race, a competition. Some of his friends seem to have abandoned him at the difficult times of his trial or when he was in prison. He is willing to forgive, and trusts that God will reward him with entry into the heavenly kingdom. It seems from the use of “we” in Luke’s book The Acts of the Apostles that Luke was often a close and loyal friend to Paul.

In the gospel Jesus tells a hard hitting story. We need to realise that the Pharisees are generally depicted in the New Testament as being self-righteous; they are externally good living if judged by the religious laws that they keep and the public worship which they offer, and this was frowned on by the followers of Jesus. Yet the Pharisees were clearly not all like this, but it is typical of human attitudes to make inaccurate generalisations. However, in the parable we do have such a self-righteous, fictitious character. The other person in the parable is the tax collector. The Romans controlled the country but, perhaps because of difficulties for themselves, they had local Jewish people to collect the taxes for them; people who knew the language and those they were dealing with; they were perhaps glad of a job that was protected by the occupying forces; it is thought that they were expected to collect more than was actually required to provide a salary for their work. Obviously they were not liked by everyone else, but Jesus, as was his custom, did not follow this attitude – he had invited Matthew as one of his followers although he was a tax collector. And in this parable the humble and self-effacing tax collector has the role of an example for us all.

See Jeffs Jottings – Praise

29th cycle C

The first reading is a story from the Book of Exodus, telling the tale of one of the many incidents from that epic journey of escape from slavery in Egypt, through many ups and downs until the entry into the promised land.  The whole book was put together from various collections of stories that had been passed down through at least four or five centuries of retelling.  The point of the whole and of each individual story, in general terms, is to say something about God and ‘the people of the Book’ and the relationship between the two; to teach people about their responsibility towards God and about His attitude towards them.  The details in this tale about warfare and the rod of Moses, if taken literally, say nothing we would regard as true about the relationship between God and people; it was this rod that seemed to clear the sea for the people to cross  when escaping the Pharaoh’s army, and this rod that produced water in the wilderness.  But we get closer to the point of the story’s transmission and survival in our sacred Scriptures, if we see its significance for us today; it reminds us that the power of God is in everything, though we usually think of various sacred objects as reminding us of this.

In the second reading we hear how we should interpret the word of God that has been passed down to us. This is a message to the early Christians, especially the leaders, about how to make use of the traditions that have been passed down about Jesus and those contained in the Old Testament (since the New Testament books were only just being written and this second letter to Timothy will be one of them). It is the word of God that needs to be applied to how we conduct ourselves, and the leaders must persist in helping to make this relevant to the people in their ordinary lives.

In today’s gospel we hear from the next chapter after last week’s text. Luke records this simple parable of a pragmatic and secular minded judge, who will give a rightful hearing to the poorest of individuals if he is pestered enough by them. And this is told to encourage persistence in prayer to God. There is a note of urgency at the end of the excerpt because there is still the feeling that the final days of the world are drawing near – and if not for the world at least for any individual. In the flow of Luke’s gospel, Jesus and his disciples are approaching Jerusalem and what will be the final days for Jesus, though the disciples scarcely realise this but Jesus, who realises it, urges them to keep faith.

See Jeffs Jottings – Stick at it

28th cycle C

The first reading reminds us how people in the time of the Old Testament lived; there were kings or tribal leaders with nobles under them, they had servants who worked and cared for them, they had their own gods who operated in their territories, miracles and drama were part of their religions and the different small nations were uncertain of each other’s ambitions and motives. The lead up to the first reading is necessary for it to make sense; Naaman was a well-respected leader in a country adjoining Israel, who had leprosy and could find no cure; one of the servants of his wife was from Israel where Elisha was well known as a prophet and man of God; she suggested a visit to him might be helpful. The party set off with plenty of payment and gifts, but Naaman was disappointed when Elisha did nothing dramatic, but merely said go and wash in our river Jordan seven times. He was about to return home disappointed when servants persuaded him to try it all the same. And then we are into today’s reading. Elisha rejects any gift for the miracle and Naaman thinks the god in this land is powerful, so takes some of the land back with him to his own territory.

The second reading is further advice for the leader of a Christian community in the first century of Christianity when persecution was a real likelihood. The central teaching of Paul is reflected in the centrality of the resurrection, though the reference to David is not particularly his, yet he uses it when writing to the Romans. The author is quoting a Christian hymn or poem that refers to dying with Christ, recalling how they thought of Baptism but also alluding to their potential martyrdom; the reference to denying also indicates the threat of persecution. But it ends with comfort because God is faithful whatever, for it is how He is and He cannot deny His Self.

See Jeffs Jottings – Don’t be too sure

28th Gospel

In the gospel we hear the next miracle after last weeks reading from Luke. It is one of those stories found only in Luke’s gospel – the cure of the ten lepers. The Jewish law is recognised by the lepers and by Jesus in that they stand a distance away from contact with others and Jesus tells them to show themselves to the priest (which a leper must do to verify a cure). But the more significant point to the story comes later when they realise that they have been cured; it is only one that returns to thank Jesus and he was a Samaritan, a person treated by Jews as a foreigner. Although they were all cured, it is most noteworthy that it is only the one who acknowledges this and thanks God, who is saved. This puts miracles in their place; a miracle doesn’t save you but your faith does.
Comment

These readings might speak to us when we are going through difficulties or hard times. We must trust in God, do what we should, but most of all thank God for the benefits that we do have. Naaman had to listen to his servants and not give up because there was no dramatic exhibition of a miraculous cure. The early Christian leaders, especially, had to be prepared to suffer for the work they were doing and the beliefs that they had. And like the lepers, we should be prepared to keep the rules as long as we can, but that wont save us; it is God who saves those who are faithful, as He is always reliable

See Jeffs Jottings

27th cycle C

This is the only time on Sundays that we have a reading from Habakkuk. He was a prophet perhaps around the 7th century BC, when the people were troubled by the surrounding more powerful nations. Of the three chapters in the book, we have a few verses from each of the first two (1:2-3, 2:2-4). At first the prophet expresses the heartfelt cry of the people, “How long, O Lord” is all this going on; a feeling common among most peoples at some time or other throughout all periods of human history, especially where there is an idea of a caring deity of some kind. The phrase is also used often in the psalms. But in the verses from chapter 2 that are added into our reading, we hear that God does have a vision of the future – sometime – and so we must hang on and remain loyal because, as it ends, “the upright man lives by his faith;” and this phrase is taken up in St Paul’s way of thinking and in later Christian teaching, where the word ‘faith’ is not just ‘loyalty’ but trusting in Christ and in Christ’s way of selfless service of others. In 1947 an ancient commentary on this book was found in a cave in the Dead Sea area (see the video), it referred the troubles to the invasion of the Romans into their land,

By the time the Second Letter to Timothy was put together from some of Paul’s words and ideas, the organisation of the early churches was beginning to develop as the apostles were growing old and diminishing in numbers. New leaders of the Christian communities were put in place by the laying on of hands; later these would come to be called overseers (in Greek, episkopoi from which we get the word ‘Episcopal’) or in English much later ‘bishops’. In the case of Timothy, he is reminded that as such a leader he must stir up his enthusiasm and must not be timid, but should live with the power of God’s Spirit and with love and self-control; he should continue the pattern of Paul’s ministry, driven by the love of Christ because the church is alive with God’s Spirit – something of the words of the reading must also apply to us..

The gospel begins with a saying to the apostles about faith, which is followed by a parable, awkwardly expressed. We are familiar with the use of the mustard seed as a reference to very small size, and in Matthew’s gospel the seed is linked to the saying of moving mountains (Mt 17:20) but here it is linked to an unfamiliar image (uprooting a tree); we shouldn’t take it literally but grasp what it means. The parable that follows is not easy to understand, it basically says that we are like servants of God, and as such cannot expect reward for doing our duty. This is a correction of a Pharisaic approach to religion which thought that we can earn favours from God by keeping the rules; this attitude has existed in the church from its beginning despite efforts of reformers (including Luther) to rid the church of it.

See Jeffs Jottings – Have faith in your…