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Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B, February 8, 2015
Lectionary index # 74

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.

Print this page, cut it at the blue lines, and give the introduction paragraphs to the person who will speak them.

Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B, February 8, 2015
Before the first reading:

The book of Job, uniquely in the Hebrew Scriptures, challenges one of the fundamental tenets of Jewish wisdom, the proposition that if you live a righteous life, God will reward you.
After the psalm, before the second reading:

Ancient Corinth was a sophisticated city where many teachers proclaimed new religious and philosophical ideas. Paul, a stranger to the new Christian community there, has to establish his credentials. The virtues of which he boasts are surprising.
Before the gospel acclamation:

This gospel remembers Jesus healing, driving out demons and preaching. It remembers Jesus' own words giving emphasis to one of those purposes.

First reading, Job 7:1-4, 6-7 [Jerusalem Bible translation]

Our Liturgical Setting: In today's gospel, from our year-long sequence of readings from Mark, all who were sick or demon-possessed came to Jesus for relief. Perhaps their plight prompted this selection of first reading.

The Literary Background: You probably already know the story of Job: A prosperous fellow, he suddenly experiences catastrophic, inexplicable losses of wealth, family and health. Friends try to explain it all as divine punishment for some secret sin, but Job knows better. What he doesn't know is why. He just keeps repeating, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." Today's passage is a short excerpt from one of the long conversations among Job and his "friends."

Scholars agree that it's hard to agree on when and where the book of Job was written. Many of its parts are also exceptionally hard to translate. We classify it as "wisdom literature," along with Psalms and Proverbs. But Job challenges one of the fundamental tenets of Israelite wisdom, the proposition that if you live a righteous life, God will reward you. He faces squarely the problem of the suffering of the innocent, and does not confect a sugar-coated answer.

In the ancient Middle East (and in the modern Middle East, for that matter), one's status among peers was extremely important. To be dishonored was a source of great suffering, and suffering from another source was likely to bring one dishonor. Thus Job's friends jump to the conclusion that some hidden deed meriting dishonor has brought him suffering. Job's comparison of himself to a hireling reveals the importance of honor and shame in this dynamic. In that ancient culture, it was not polite to ask for work. One had to wait and hope that a man of higher status would hire him. (Imagine yourself on the sidewalk outside a day-labor agency, waiting to be sent to a job. Your eyesight is keen, and you recognize an old high-school classmate across the street, looking prosperous with a wool coat and leather briefcase. Wouldn't you turn your face to the wall?) Job's use of the hireling metaphor tells the depths of his shame.

Proclaiming It: Notice the sequence of paired phrases. Let this table illustrate the pairings.

In your proclamation, use pauses and changes of tone to make them sound like related pairs. And try to sound like Job: beaten down but not defeated, completely at a loss for an explanation, but still clinging to faith in the Lord.

Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23 [Jerusalem Bible translation]

The Historical Background: Corinth, while not an Athens, was a center of philosophical and religious ferment; new and bizarre ideas were constantly in the air. Christianity seemed to be at least an ambitious development of old Judaism, if not an entirely new religion, with plenty of yet unanswered questions. In this atmosphere, Paul had to make sure his credentials were convincing. So he spends all of chapter 9 defending his rights as an apostle.

An Important Theological Point: Paul always makes it clear that, of himself, he does not deserve the job. There is no "reason for me to boast." The gospel is greater than the messenger. Both because of this humility, and to make sure that his behavior gives no reason to doubt his message, he tried to exercise his authority modestly, making himself "a slave to all." He offers the gospel "free of charge," that is, without asking for the support he could justly request. (That some modern televangelists take no such pains is reason enough to dismiss them with no further questions asked.) (Later in this letter, Paul will vigorously remind the Corinthians of a similar truth about themselves; though rich in spiritual gifts, they are of themselves unworthy, and should acknowledge the gifts as gifts from a gracious God.)

Proclaiming It: Now you know what's behind Paul's emphatic and argumentative language. He is on fire about the gospel, zealous about his work, certain of his authority and careful about keeping the messenger out of the message. In these verses, he's defending his credibility. Well, make him sound credible by sounding emphatic yourself.

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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 discusses a different first reading.

Archived weekly column of the late Father Francis X. Cleary, S.J. (Log in using 0026437 and 63137.) From the site of the Saint Louis Review.

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 23, 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 23, 2014