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Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B,
February 1, 2015
Lectionary index # 71

Twenty-second digests for the congregation: Arrange with your liturgy committee to have these brief historical introductions read to the assembly before you do each reading.
Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B, February 1, 2015
Before the first reading:

Ancient people believed a face-to-face encounter with God would be overpowering, even deadly. So they welcomed the idea that a prophet, a single human being, could bear the brunt of that encounter for them. They did not always welcome what the prophet had to report from God.
After the psalm, before the second reading:

Saint Paul continues his teachings about how to be prepared for the imminent return of Jesus in glory. That coming should make people put their priorities in order.
Before the gospel acclamation:

This gospel recalls a time when people questioned Jesus' authority and right to teach, because of his modest origins.

First reading, Deuteronomy 18:15-20 [Jerusalem Bible translation]

The Liturgical Setting: The gospel today depicts Jesus speaking with authority that commands the respect of the people (and, incidentally, of the evil spirits). By juxtaposing these readings, the editors of the Lectionary suggest that Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise God makes through Moses in the first reading.

The Historical and Literary Background: If necessary, let the reader suspend for a moment the sunny assumption that all the Israelites were always devout monotheists. Their literature shows that, while they should have been so, for a long time many were not. Their background and environment urged them to be simply syncretists, that is, people who graft new religious ideas onto existing ones, untroubled by the contradictions. Syncretism let them try to cover all bets in the world of unknown spirits, unforeseeable threats and uncounted possibilities. The god we know as the One God, sometimes called Yahweh in the ancient literature, frankly had to compete for their loyalty over many generations.

In her book A History of God -- The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993, and London: William Heinemann, Ltd.), Karen Armstrong says the book of Deuteronomy comes from a period when some of Judaism's leaders were emphasizing two complementary ideas: the oneness of God and that God's election of this tribe as his Chosen People. I suspect the latter was to make the former more palatable, for Armstrong says of the struggle to become monotheistic: "The God of the prophets was forcing Israelites to sever themselves from the mythical consciousness of the Middle East and go in quite a different direction from the mainstream. In the agony of Jeremiah, we can see what an immense wrench and dislocation this involved. Israel was a tiny enclave of Yahwism surrounded by a pagan world, and Yahweh was also rejected by many of the Israelites themselves. Even the Deuteronomist, whose image of God was less threatening, saw a meeting with Yahweh as an abrasive confrontation: he makes Moses explain to the Israelites, who are appalled by the prospect of unmediated contact with Yahweh, that God will send them a prophet in each generation to bear the brunt of the divine impact." (p. 56)

Proclaiming It: So in the text at hand:

Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 7:32-35 [Jerusalem Bible translation]

The Historical Background: This letter comes from a time when Christians believed that Jesus was about to return in glory, bringing history to its climax. (Many other factors influenced the letter, as we saw last week, but it's the expectation of Jesus' return that governs today's passage.) Paul here urges the presently unmarried to stay that way, for the little time that they all have left, and remain focused on the Lord's coming.

Proclaiming It: Since the Apostle is contrasting states of life and their respective anxieties, use contrasting tones of voice as you move from clause to clause and sentence to sentence. Your listeners should hear the difference between the married and unmarried, between concern for the world and concern for the Lord.

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Several other commentaries on these passages. All are thoughtful, all quite readable, from the scholarly to the popular.
Links may be incomplete more than a few weeks before the "due date."
Lutheran pastor and college teacher Dan Nelson's notes for a study group
Dan covers 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 as second reading.

The Word column from America magazine, the Jesuit weekly.

Father Roger Karban of Belleville, Illinois, USA, writes a newspaper column about every Sunday's readings. Here are his essays for today's passages, from: courtesy of The Evangelist, official publication of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York, or of The Belleville Messenger, of the Diocese of Belleville.

Read all of Father Karban's recent columns here, at the site of FOSIL, the Faithful of Southern Illinois.

The Text This Week; links to homilies, art works, movies and other resources on the week's scripture themes Saint Louis University's excellent Sunday liturgy site.

(Caveat lector. As of December 22, 2014, Lector's Notes' author is speculating about the exact URL of SLU's offering, since it's not yet posted. If you get a 404 Not Found, try here).

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Last modified: December 22, 2014