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Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time,
Year A, July 13, 2014
Lectionary index # 103

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.

Who should announce these before the first and second readings, and before the gospel acclamation? They're not Scripture, nor homiletic, so they shouldn't be delivered from the ambo. They're a modest teaching. So let the presider say them from the chair. Let the lector turn toward the presider and listen.
Print this page, cut it at the blue lines, and give the introduction paragraphs to the person who will speak them.

Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A, July 13, 2014
Before the first reading:

Exiles struggling to return home to Judea had only the promise of God's word to go on. So the prophet compares God's word to a powerful force well known to this desert people.
After the psalm, before the second reading:

Saint Paul was so enthusiastic about God's work in Christ that he saw it applied not just to human destiny but to all creation.
Before the gospel acclamation:

The earliest Christians wondered by others did not understand and accept the message of Jesus. They recalled a saying of Jesus that gives a partial answer.

To pay for use of the words above, please subtract an equal number of optional words from other places in the liturgy (click here for some suggestions).

Gospel, Matthew 13:1-23 [Jerusalem Bible translation]

Lectors, even if they're not going to read the gospel publicly at mass, should prepare for their service by reading today's gospel, since the first reading prepares the congregation to hear the gospel.

The Theological Background: How recently and how often have you asked, "Why doesn't everybody else see things the way I do? I mean it's so obvious that I'm right, here. What's the matter with these people?" That common human experience is behind today's gospel. The earliest Christians wondered why so many, including some of their relatives and friends, didn't get it about Jesus. Their answer is, frankly, not very satisfying to us fair-minded, democratic people living in the land of the free. (Lector's Notes originate in a country that has long been proud of its fair-minded and democratic ideals.) We expect everybody to have an equal chance to enjoy everything good. But Jesus seems to acquiesce to an arbitrary division between those who understand (and accept) his teaching, and those who reject it. No satisfactory explanation is given, nor does Jesus seem to think explanation is required. Perhaps the best thing we can say is that a lot of water has gone under the cultural bridge since Jesus spoke this parable. In those days, it's possible that few or none believed in personal responsibility for religious choices. So they didn't expect God to grant people equal opportunity. This, of course, is not the last word on the subject; there are gospel passages where our Lord is quite clear about one's responsibility for one's response to him.

The Historical Situation: More important is the last sentence of the gospel, where the yield of some of the seed is a hundredfold, or sixtyfold, or at least thirtyfold. These were astonishing figures when our Lord spoke them, for in those days a yield of sevenfold was considered a bumper crop. The meaning is that the believer who "hears the word and understands it" enjoys and shares a yield of grace incomprehensibly rich, beyond anything the believer could account for on his or her own merits.

First reading, Isaiah 55:10-11 [Jerusalem Bible translation]

The Historical Situation: The prophecies collected in Isaiah, chapters 40-55, are known as the Book of Consolation (also called Second Isaiah or Deutero-Isaiah). Written while exiles were returning from Babylon to Judah, the chapters are meant to comfort dispirited people. There are promises of fertile land and restoration, water for the thirsty, secure defense against enemies, and more.

The Theological Background: Dan Nelson, on the web page cited below, points out the similarity between this last paragraph of Deutero-Isaiah and its first paragraph, "in its description of the change of nature from harsh to fruitful as the result of Yahweh's power and mercy... Yahweh's word is certain and powerful. Like rain and snow that water the earth so that seeds may sprout and grow, God's word will accomplish its purpose to return the exiles back to their homes in peace. Their return shall be an everlasting memorial to the power of Yahweh's word."

So today's passage promises spiritual fertility. We might say it implies that God will make the peoples' religious lives fruitful, as he has done for their land. And it could bespeak a promise that God will make fruitful the work of the prophet, whose job it is, after all, to proclaim God's word. That should be some comfort to the lector, too.

Proclaiming It: Lector, by now you have meditated on the gospel, and perhaps on the hope that your listeners become spiritually fertile for hearing God's word. So it shouldn't be hard to prepare to proclaim the first reading. Just realize it's a single, seventy-word sentence. To make it sound right to the congregation, pause before "so shall my word be." Then punch out each of those five core words slowly and loudly.

Second Reading, Romans 8:18-23 [Jerusalem Bible translation]

The Theological Background: In this passage, sentences about our spiritual distress surround sentences about nature's distress. Rightly does a modern person ask how these belong in the same paragraph. What does Paul mean by creation "eagerly awaiting the redemption of the children of God" and creation being "subject to futility"? Perhaps Paul has a vision more holistic than ours. He might mean that the sin of Adam, which, of course, looms large in the Letter to the Romans, brought corruption not just to humankind but to nature. Genesis 3:14-19 does describe nature turning against the convicted Adam and Eve. For Paul, then, what God is doing for us in Christ is so powerful that it will redeem not just us but the created world, too.

Proclaiming It: If we've interpreted Paul correctly, then he would have written this in an "Oh, wow!" frame of mind. God is reversing all of human and natural history! And we're witnessing, participating and announcing it! The theological subtleties are hard to get across in oral interpretation, and are best left to your assembly's preacher. But Paul's enthusiasm for his subject is something you can convey with your voice. Read this dramatically, emphasizing the glorious freedom of the children of God.

Extra! Each Sunday passage from Romans in context: Click here to see a table summarizing the readings from Romans from the 9th to the 24th Sundays of Ordinary Time, this year.

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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 different readings today, so the link is to the index of all his Studies for liturgical year A. By "Proper" Dan means what Catholics mean by "Ordinary Time." Our enumerations are not synchronized, so Proper12 means OrdinaryTime17, etc.

Archived 2002 column of the late Father Francis X. Cleary, S.J. from the site of the Saint Louis Review. (Log in using 0026437 and 63137.)

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 new liturgy site.

Most welcome here are Reginald Fuller's commentaries.

(Caveat lector. As of May 28, 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).

The Lectionary selections in the frame at the left, if any, are there for your convenience. The publishers of the page in that frame have no connection, except for membership in the one Body of Christ, with the publisher of this page. Likewise the publishers of the pages on the links above.

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Last modified: May 28, 2014