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Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A, August 17, 2014
Lectionary index # 118

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.

Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A, August 17, 2014
Before the first reading:

With their exile in Babylon ended, Judeans returned to Jerusalem, expecting to offer sacrifices in the temple on Mount Zion again. Some ethnic boundaries had gotten blurred during the exile, so the prophet has to pronounce on the acceptability of sacrifices by outsiders.
After the psalm, before the second reading:

Saint Paul believes that even though mainline Jews have rejected Jesus, God's faithfulness to ancient promises requires that they eventually convert. He speculates on how that might come about.
Before the gospel acclamation:

This gospel preserves a memory that Jesus himself once held a narrow vision of his mission, and found it challenged by an outsider.

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).

First reading, Isaiah 56:1, 6-7 [Jerusalem Bible translation]

The Historical Situation: Many things were changing for the people of Judah during and after their exile in Babylon, 587-540 B.C.E. The third part of the book of the prophet Isaiah, chapters 56-66, was written for returned exiles, and the left-behind ones whom they rejoined, during the time of the rebuilding of Jerusalem. The experience of the exile had challenged the people's faith to its roots. A specific land and a flourishing population had seemed essential to their covenant with God. By their sins could they have broken the covenant irreparably? How could God restore everything? Clearly things were never going to be the same again, but what would life be like now?

To make things even more interesting, the prophet recorded in Isaiah 56-66, known as Third Isaiah or Trito-Isaiah, expressly reinforces a new element of God's relationship with the people, broached before but little emphasized. God, the prophet now insists, is interested in other nations of people besides the descendants of Abraham. The covenant is offered more widely than the first people of the covenant ever dreamed. Their exclusive claims to chosen status must yield and make room for strangers.

Proclaiming It: Today's passage first gives a general reassurance about God's intention to renew the covenant. If you can, make yourself sound hopeful as you proclaim the first sentence. Then pause. The rest of the reading announces the radical change in the covenant, the welcoming of foreigners. In reading it aloud, you should emphasize the words referring to the newcomers, as the prophet would have in announcing this to the people for the first time. So:

(The place "my holy mountain" means the hill Mount Zion, in the center of Jerusalem, where the temple ("my house") stood.)

Our Liturgical Setting: The Lectionary often chooses passages from this section of Isaiah to prepare us to hear gospel passages like today's, Matthew 15:21-28. The struggle to broaden the covenant was not complete even by the time Jesus came. Jesus himself was ambivalent about it, as today's gospel shows. For a survey of Lectionary references to Isaiah, click here, then click on the letter "I" in the top frame. In a rare congruence, our second readings last Sunday, today, and next Sunday also address the issue. Of course the locus classicus for the narrative of this struggle is The Acts of the Apostles.

Second Reading, Romans 11:13-15, 29-32 [Jerusalem Bible translation]

The Theological Background: As these Notes showed last week, In Romans 9-11 Paul asks how God could apparently renege on the promise made to Abraham, that Abraham's descendants would always be God's chosen people, now that those descendants had rejected Jesus. Paul figures out that it was God's plan all along to allow the Jews to reject Jesus, so that the few Jews who accepted Jesus would be forced to turn to the Gentiles, long the outsiders, and bring them into the covenant. Then the Jews would become jealous and accept Jesus, and God's long secret plan to invite all people into the covenant would be revealed and completed.

By "their rejection is the reconciliation of the world," Paul means the Jews' rejection of Jesus allows the world (the pagans, the Gentiles) to be reconciled to God. By "what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?" he means that the Jews' coming back to God by accepting Christ is tantamount to them receiving life again through the once spiritually dead pagans.

Proclaiming It: Make sure you know the referent of every pronoun in this passage, and that you contrast them properly with tones of voice. Paul ("I") is a Jew speaking to pagans ("you") about the Jews ("my race," "some of them") and so on. Every third-person pronoun here refers to the Jews, and every second-person pronoun to the just-converted Gentiles. Let your listeners hear the differences.

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.

Discovered in 2014, the article at this link places today's gospel in the larger context of all Jesus's disputations with his antagonists. Read why the exchange of insults between Jesus and the Canaanite woman is unique. I highly recommend the article because it summarizes Doctor John J. Pilch's scholarship about honor and shame in ancient (and contemporary) Middle Eastern culture and applies it to the gospel accounts of the works and words of Jesus.

From the heartland of the U.S.A., two priest-columnists, both learned and wise, with a great common touch:

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.

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

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.

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: August 20, 2014