24thcycle C

The first reading is one of the significant incidents in the tale of the exodus – the going out from slavery in Egypt towards the promised land.  At this point in the story (Exodus 32:7-17) Moses has gone up the nearby mount Sinai and received the Ten Commandments from God; but he had been away forty days and during this time the people had forgotten this unknown God of Moses and remembered the golden calf worshipped in Egypt: an abandonment of the true god who brought them out of slavery.  The account describes this depravity in terms of the wrath of God.  But most interestingly, Moses intercedes with God on their behalf and reminds Him of the promises made to Abraham and his descendants, and that these are the people due for this promise.  This story was kept alive in the people’s tradition because it was a pattern of betrayal and return that was repeated in their lives as a race and as individuals, and the Psalm chosen to follow this reading indicates this.

1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are called the Pastoral.  They may well incorporate words from personal letters that Paul wrote, but study of the linguistic style indicates that they are from a different hand.  They are nonetheless accepted as part of the New testament and give us some indication of Christian thinking in the late part of the first century.  The extract we read today (1 Timothy 1:12-17)shows how the pattern of Paul’s life matched that of Israel in general; he was a Jew who opposed the Way of Jesus, but God loved him and brought him round to doing good and even playing an important part in the spread of Christianity.  The passage includes a ‘trustworthy saying’ as do the other Pastoral letters, and ends with what is called a doxology –  a paean of praise to the glory of God, to which the response is ‘Amen’ (‘hear,hear’).

The gospel (Chapter 15 of Luke) has parables told by Jesus in response to criticism by the Pharisees of His sympathetic contact with tax collectors and sinners, both groups who in one way or another were not observing the strict rules for Jewish life.   The lost and found sheep and the parallel one about a coin are respectively about a man and a woman.  Luke seems to have been sympathetic to women more than the other gospel writers.  The point that these two stories make is about the pro-active relationship of God to the sinner – He goes out looking for them.  In the light of the purpose of these in Luke’s gospel, the celebration of friends and neighbours when the lost is found, is very significant; why wont the Pharisees be glad about the work of Jesus?  But these two parables are followed in Luke by the most well-known parable called the parable of the Prodigal Son, though if ‘prodigal’ means ‘generously lavish’ it is the father who has this generosity which represents God’s attitude to sinners.  In the context of Pharisaic complaints about Jesus, the second part of the parable about the attitude of the elder son is quite significant; he doesn’t even acknowledge him as brother, but refers to him as ‘your son.’  This elder son has worked hard at home but has not really shown love to his father.  The whole is a beautifully crafted and challenging story.

 

See Jeffs Jottings – Good News for us all

23rd Cycle C

The first reading is from the Book of Wisdom (9:13-18), which is not in the Hebrew Bible and is known to us only in Greek. It is generally only accepted as canonical by Catholics. It may well have originated in Egypt, a centre of intellectual excellence, and like other wisdom writings is attributed to Solomon, though it probably dates from the century just before Christ. Chapter 9 begins with a prayer for wisdom that elaborates on the prayer recorded in the First book of Kings which is more closely associated with Solomon himself. Our reading is the concluding summary of the second section of the poetic prayer. It indicates the tension between the body and the soul, reflecting the Greek understanding at that time of the human make-up which has since dominated church thinking particularly through Thomas Aquinas of the 13th century. The poem ends attributing wisdom to the very spirit of the Lord.

The second reading is from Paul’s personal letter to Philemon(9-17) and as such is a unique piece of writing in the New Testament. It is the third shortest book in the Bible and only has 317 words in it. At the time of writing Paul is an old man in prison for his work, but he refers to himself as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, for he is so bound to Him in his work and his life that it seems that he has no freedom. Paul has with him a helper, Onesimus, whom he has introduced to Christianity and whom he therefore calls his son. He is writing to Philemon who is another successful convert of his and leads the local church in his household. Onesimus had been a servant to Philemon and Paul offers to return him, and hopes that Philemon will treat him as a brother, a fellow Christian. Interestingly, Paul deliberately doesn’t ‘pull rank’ on Philemon, but asks him gently if there can be reconciliation. No-one is really in authority over another.

Today’s gospel reading (Luke 14:25-33) emphasises again the journey that Jesus is making towards His fulfillment in Jerusalem. The crowd is now a large number of people excited and attracted by many of Jesus’ words and especially by the cures that He has performed – it is all too optimistic and enthusiastic; but Jesus knew that He was heading for a confrontation in which He would not surrender his cause and mission, but would face the dire consequences. He tries to warn the crowd about this; those following him were not as committed to changing the world, but thought only of joy, success and even victory. The reports of what Jesus has to say show up the problems of translation. Matthew knew the Aramaic language that Jesus spoke and so the translation in his gospel captures what Jesus meant (Matthew 10:37); but Luke does what we would call a ‘Google translation,’ namely a literal and word for word one (“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother… ), not realising that the Aramaic could not express “loving less” except with a word which literally means ‘hating.’ We must follow Jesus before all else!

 

See Jeffs Jottings  – Wisdom not rules.

22nd Sunday of Cycle C

The first reading is from Ecclesiasticus (3:17-29 passim) also called the Book of Sirach.  The Wisdom of (ben) Sirach is also sometimes called the Wisdom of Jesus, son of Sirach; it is what is called a deutero-canonical book because its status as part of the canon (or official collection) of Scripture was not recognised by Jews resident in Israel; though Sirach was used by Jewish scholars and is included in the early Greek version of the Jewish Bible (the Septuagint) and it is included in Catholic bibles.  This wisdom about how to live good lives pleasing to God is expressed so beautifully and simply in our reading.  This proverbial wisdom speaks to us even today in our different situations.

The second reading from Hebrews (12:18-24 passim) really sets one thinking about how we view God and our response to Him.  The author refers to how the Jews at first encountered God; it was a frightening experience of fire and terror; He was a mighty and powerful God and they were His people.  But the author then wants to tell them to leave this behind because as followers of the Way of Jesus they now should see God differently; now they are approaching heaven, the ideal Jerusalem, where God’s Son, Jesus, has set up a new covenant – a new relationship with God – and the unbelievable is possible.

The gospel we have for today (Luke 14:7-14) is introduced with verse 1: “On a Sabbath Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully.”  Meals were an important social occasion for the host; at a meal he could make friends with the most influential people and show off the grandeur of his living; for those invited (travelling on the Sabbath) it was an opportunity to become closer to influential people and so progress in one’s standing in society.

Jesus challenges them, pointing out how they will break a Sabbath law when it suits THEM and they are constantly looking for ways to promote themselves.  Of course, they could come to the meal and take a lowly position in the hope of being promoted but Jesus would point out that their motive is still self-promotion.  C.S. Lewis wisely once said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”  Jesus challenges religious authority to practise true humility and make those on the margins their priority. The challenge remains as fresh now as it was then.

Jesus’ parable is about our relationship with God and the religious way we should live; because of our humility we should not expect reward although we believe in the grace of God.  So here, as in the passage from Hebrews in the second reading, the message is about the contrast between one way of life and the way it should be for Christians, whose righteousness comes from God and for whom self-righteousness, as of the Pharisees, is not the way forward: you cannot deserve or earn salvation and God’s love.

See Jeffs Jottings – You have come to God!

21st Sundat Cycle C

The first reading is from the last section of the book of Isaiah (66:18-21). The Jews have returned from captivity in Babylon, and exiles from all-over are returning to Jerusalem; and not just them it says but all nations, people referred to as Gentiles, will be welcomed by God into his Jerusalem. This is an expression of the universality of God’s love; it is for all people whatever religion or nationality they are; this is an idea that was much debated among the Jews and has been among Christians even to this day – but it seems quite clear here in the Old Testament. The psalm that follows the reading in Christian services, with its refrain, “Go out into the world and tell the Good News” continues this theme of the universality of salvation.
The second reading (Hebrews 12:5-13 passim) follows on from last week’s second reading with a reminder to those felt hard ‘done by’ by God; it quotes from the book of Proverbs (3:11f and 4:26). The writer seems to have two parallels for the way God treats us and the way we should react. The first is a parent who must discipline the child to help them to mature; it is an act of love. The second is the physiotherapist prescribing exercises to be done which are often hard to undergo but worth it for the overall good result. Both of these images would be known to the original readers and are understood equally by us today. Though it is a hard lesson to learn when we appear to suffer from our parent or trainer!
In today’s gospel reading (Luke 13:22-30) we are back with Luke’s theme of presenting Jesus as on a journey of preaching and work for the kingdom of God that will climax in Jerusalem with His arrest and execution. But the striking bit is a question from ‘someone’ and the reply. Luke has other sections stimulated by a ‘someone’ (a lawyer/a woman); the person here raises the question which has surfaced again and again in the history of the Jews about the restriction of salvation to a few when there has been a general lapse from devotion to Yahweh, their God. The reply that Luke has Jesus make is a collage from various Christian traditions at that time, both oral and written, about Jesus’ preaching – getting through a narrow door, a house master shutting out people unknown to him, the expectation of the Jews to be saved by ‘their’ man Jesus, the bitterness of the Jews left out while others from across the whole world join the heavenly banquet – finishing with the contrast of the first and the last – thoughts expressed in Matthew and Mark as well. The whole represents the situation Luke has experienced, namely, the first chosen people, the Jews, seem generally not to have accepted Jesus, though hopefully they will in the end, but for now it is the second people, the Gentile Christians, who are the prominent followers of the Way of Jesus.

See Jeffs Jottings on God’s love for everyone.

20th Cycle C

The first reading is verses taken from from Jeremiah. The man of this name was a prophet round about 600 BC, with a very difficult message to deliver but nonetheless a necessary truth. Because the people in general had abandoned their faith and were worshipping false gods, Jeremiah had to say that they would be punished and eventually this was to be their defeat and the capture of many of them and their exile in Babylon. Obviously people were not pleased with this message and Jeremiah was often threatened and sometimes even imprisoned, and all for just doing what God wanted of him – telling them of their forthcoming downfall. Today’s extract is about one such incident. It makes better sense to read from the beginning of the Chapter rather than the extract in the lectionary (verses 4-6 and 8-10), although then one encounters a number of names perhaps difficult to pronounce. The psalm that follows seems appropriate for Jeremiah’s plight.

The second reading from Hebrews (12:1-4) comes after last week’s reading which was about faith, with outlines of examples of Old Testament characters who showed great faith, thinking they realised what God’s will was and set out to make it real. In this week’s reading Jesus is held up as the paragon of faith in the life that He led, but climactically in the manner of His death. Like Jeremiah in the first reading, Jesus’ message may have been shocking to many people – we only have records of it from those who saw the positive side of it; but it must have come across as very disruptive and critical, particularly to the leaders of a society which focused on wealth, power and the externals of living out religion. So He is the prime example for us, the hero who encourages and thus enables us to live our lives of faith.

The gospel we have for today (Luke 12:49-53) follows naturally the previous ones, because of the drastic situation that it talks about using the words fire and baptism to describe these experiences. It may relate to the recorded announcement by the Baptist that Jesus would bring a new baptism of Spirit and fire. The divisions that Jesus is said to foretell in this reading are serious splits within families and between generations; it is not something which we experience or at least not so extremely, as is predicted. For early Christians at the time Luke is writing (about 70 AD) being a Christian was often risky and caused family splits and opposition from one’s society; the words Luke uses here might be influenced by these experiences.

See Jeffs Jottings saying it doesn’t look good.

19th Sunday Cycle C

The first reading is from a section of the book of Wisdom (18:6-9) about the Passover and is a reflection on the history of the Old Testament people and the pattern of God’s dealings with us humans. This Old Testament book was written originally in Greek; it is not considered as part of the canon of Scripture by Protestant Churches but is accepted by the Catholic Church; its status is called deutero-canonical – meaning of secondary canonical status. It reads as though God rewards those who are His people and punishes their enemies. This is how the covenant celebrated in the Passover meal, was generally interpreted by the chosen people. Similar ideas seem to show themselves in the psalm that follows the reading (extracts from Psalm 33).

The second reading is from the book of Hebrews (Chapter 11, verses 1-19 omitting the examples of Abel, Enoch and Noah). This writing was in the past referred to as Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, but now is generally recognised as by some unknown Christian authority who focused on the Christian impact and interpretation of the events of the Old Testament. As in all the books of the Bible the chapter divisions are a later addition, so that this reading from the beginning of Chapter 11 flows naturally on from the end of the previous chapter. The opening phrase is well-known in the King James version which reads “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The illustrations from the O.T. in our reading give some indication of how the author understood the words. Faith can be taken as a personal response, something subjective, rather than an objective reality. Today, in English translations both objective and subjective interpretations are used. I think the word “realisation” would be good; its dictionary definition has three possibilities: i. the act of becoming fully aware of something; ii. the achievement of something; and iii. the conversion of some asset into something useful.
It is most likely that Jesus would have said something about being prepared for a disaster and disappointment as He sensed that He would be arrested because of popular support for a nationalist interpretation of what He was trying to say about God and religion.  And this popular view was seen as a threat by both religious leaders and secular authorities. We know that after His death and resurrection there was an expectation of the coming of Christ as judge to establish the kingdom on earth and to share a heavenly banquet with the faithful followers. But Luke (12:32-48) has presented this as a warning addressed to the leaders of the church (the stewards). Their need for readiness uses the phrase ‘gird your loins’ which refers to the tying up of their long robes ready for some physical work and in some translations is rendered “see that you are dressed for action.” Behind what Luke writes there is a parable about this need for preparation and readiness.

See Jeffs Jottings saying don’t be too sure.

18th. Sunday C

The first reading is from a book called Ecclesiastes or Qoheleth and neither name is very helpful for us, but it is one of the latest books added to the last section of the Jewish bible, the Christian Old Testament. It is a kind of wisdom literature: the thoughts of someone about life seen as a journey through various different situations but always finding life unsatisfactory. Our reading is mostly from Chapter 2 (verses 21 -23); it is introduced with the well-known phrase ‘vanity of vanities, all things are vanity,’ at the beginning of the book. But this can miss the sense, for nowadays vanity means pride, often pride where there is nothing of which to be proud; the Hebrew word really seems to refer to something that is vaporous or even foggy; and the whole book would bear out this meaning, for the author finds that things that at first appear solid turn out to be nothing but airy-fairy nonsense. The book is attributed to the son of David, Solomon, for he was noted for his wisdom, but it was written about 700 years after him – about 300 before Christ. There was some debate by Jewish scholars about whether it should be seen as a sacred book, but in the end it found its way into the bible. I think it is a very religious attitude to see the contingency and insubstantiality of everything – the futility of whatever one does except (and that’s a big except) for the presence and activity of God in our lives and in all (the good) we do.

The second reading is from the last chapter of Colossians (3:1-11 passim), and this is the fourth Sunday we have read from this letter.  It summarises succinctly the situation we are in and the imperatives that follow from this.  The distinctive feature of the passage may be brought out by examining the structure of the language: there is a putting together of statements of fact with requirements  of behaviour (in more technical language, a transition from indicative verbs to imperative ones, from “is” to “ought”).  Through Christ there is a new situation, humanity is elevated to a new plane of existence; the consequence is that we ought to live differently, there is an imperative for us to live up to this new life – a life with Christ, within God’s life.

The gospel we have for today is peculiar to Luke (12:13-21). It begins with a phrase used several times by Luke, “a man” or sometimes translated “someone” or “a certain man;”   such was the beginning of the parables of the Good Samaritan (which we read three weeks ago) and the one about the Prodigal Son. In Jesus’ time and place, a dispute of a legal, moral or religious question would be brought to a rabbi for a judgment to provide an answer or solution. Jesus was not really a rabbi, but in Luke’s account here this man who had a dispute with is brother over the inheritance, presumable left by a parent, asked Jesus to make a ruling. Jesus wasn’t going to over-reach his authority, but took the opportunity to teach a moral lesson about the relative value of earthly riches compared with the prize of heaven; and so we have the parable of the Rich Man. This is actually the first of five such tales Luke records about a rich man; he is trying to make some point.

 

See Jeffs Jottings on the first reading