Ask your presider to tell your listeners (or tell them yourself):

Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B, January 14, 2024

Before the first reading:

A senior Hebrew priest and his young apprentice have an encounter with God. Even the senior takes a while to understand. The apprentice will become a leader of the nation.

After the psalm, before the second reading:

Ancient Corinth was both a bawdy seaport and a sophisticated center of religious and philosophical debate. To new Christian converts in Corinth, Paul describes a new morality and new reasons for observing it.

Before the gospel acclamation:

The Evangelist John portrays the Baptist John turning over his disciples to Jesus. Jesus has extraordinary insight into the hearts of his new followers.

First Reading, 1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19

The Historical Situation: This book begins a long narrative of what we might call ancient Israel's middle history. Their land is settled and the age of the Exodus is over. Moses, Aaron, and Joshua are gone. The period of rule by Judges had begun at about 1000 BCE. In the first chapter of this book, Samuel is born to a long-barren couple by divine intervention. They dedicated him to God's service in the temple at Shiloh (not the later grand temple to be built by Solomon on Mount Zion in Jerusalem). Young Samuel is an apprentice to the priest Eli.

Proclaiming It: While preparing your proclamation, try telling this story in your own words. Tell it to yourself or someone in your home. You're likely to use far more words than the text itself. Here's the beginning of my version, as compactly as I can write it:

Clear enough? Yes, but you don't have the luxury of rewriting the Bible. You don't have a summary to recite but a terse narrative. The characters are not introduced by description, age or occupation (well, the occupation of the Lord goes without saying). The context is a "temple," but the author just assumes you know what the "ark of God" is (like he assumes you've read chapters 1 and 2, also). This all threatens to be even less clear to contemporary worshipers listening to the story for the first time in at least three years.

So how will you help them out? As always, slow down. Use pauses and different tones of voice to distinguish the three speakers. When you finish the first, "You called me," your listeners should realize that Samuel has mistaken the identity of the one who called him. Put some drama in the speaker's words. The second and third time he runs to Eli, Samuel should sound confused if not exasperated.

Listeners are used to things happening in threes, after which they expect a resolution. So put a significant pause after the third "You called me." Let the tension build for a moment before you say, with relief and understanding in your voice, "Then Eli understood ..."

Also emphasize that the Lord "revealed his presence" in his last call of Samuel.

Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20

The Historical Situation: Suddenly we find ourselves again in the middle of one of Saint Paul's letters to the Corinthians. We saw earlier chapters of this epistle early last year, too. The needs of the Christian community at Corinth were many and complex. So Paul's letters to them are long and complex, and the Lectionary cites them often. (So do Lector's Notes.) Corinth was both a bawdy seaport and a center of intellectual ferment. One would find there all the vices and and all the philosophical posturings that one would expect. It was a difficult place to preach a new doctrine and new morality. Paul had dared to preach both, provoking no little controversy.

The Literary and Liturgical Situation: The editors of the Lectionary have bowdlerized this passage. In the great scheme of things, that may be for the best, although it won't help make worshipers into smarter readers of God's word. The lector, however, should know the context. First Corinthians 6:1-8 says it's most inappropriate for Christians to litigate their disputes in civil courts. And I recommend even more strongly than usual Pastor Dan Nelson's exposition of the chapter.

Proclaiming It: The verses left for you to proclaim offer a compelling idea three times in two ways. That's the notion that our bodies are "for the Lord." The three phrases are:

As lector, I would emphasize those sentences and hope the homilist in my assembly tackles the job of exposing Saint Paul's teaching more fully.

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Links to other smart commentaries on this week's readings

Credit for the picture at the top:

Ancient Corinth had two seaports. This photo shows the one called Kenchrai, with ruins of a temple of the goddess Isis. "But Isis was Egyptian," you say. Yes, but after "the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great and the Hellenization of the Egyptian culture initiated by Ptolemy I Soter, Isis became known as Queen of Heaven. Other Mediterranean goddesses, such as Demeter, Astarte, and Aphrodite, became identified with Isis," says Wikipedia.

See this wikimedia page for larger versions of the picture and 220 smart words on the history.

This page updated January 10, 2024