Lector's Notes

To the home page

of Lector's Notes

Twenty-ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A, October 19, 2014
Lectionary index # 145

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.

Twenty-ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A, October 19, 2014
Before the first reading:

While the Jews were exiled in Babylon, the Persian emperor Cyrus planned to Babylon and liberate the captives there. The Jews would be free to return to Jerusalem. In this passage, the prophet Isaiah declares that Cyrus, even though a pagan, is God's instrument.
After the psalm, before the second reading:

We begin a series of readings from Saint Paul's letter to a church he and his companions had founded. He starts by reminding them that they received not just ideas from him, but from the Holy Spirit: faith, love, hope and power.
Before the gospel acclamation:

Ever careful about honor and status, enemies of Jesus try to embarrass him. Jesus cleverly wins the argument and stakes out higher ground.

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 45:1, 4-6 [Jerusalem Bible translation]

The Historical Situation: While the Jews were exiled in Babylon, the Persian emperor Cyrus began defeating neighboring kingdoms and letting the defeated peoples practice their own religions. Isaiah foresaw Cyrus defeating Babylon and liberating the captives there. The Jews would be free to return to Jerusalem. So in this passage, the prophet declares that Cyrus, even though a pagan, is God's instrument, even God's "Anointed," that is, "Messiah." This was a daring thing to say, and saying so may have cost the prophet dearly. Not that Cyrus cared, but some Jews could not accept the notion. One commentator cites scholars who think this assertion led to the prophet's martyrdom.

(The book of Isaiah is a compilation of the works of at least three persons. The first, whose name we know was Isaiah, prophesied before the Exile; his words are in chapters 1-39. The anonymous prophet whom we call Deutero-Isaiah, or Second Isaiah, spoke the word of God during the exile. Those oracles are gathered in chapters 40-55. These include the famous Suffering Servant poems (see above about the prophet's martyrdom), used by the later writers of our gospels to interpret the mission and sufferings of Jesus. Another anonymous prophet, whom we know as Trito-Isaiah, is responsible for chapters 56-66, about life back in Judah after the Exile.)

Proclaiming It: Read this passage aloud mindful that you are speaking in the voice of Isaiah who is speaking as the voice of God. Imagine how authoritative the prophet tried to sound, telling the conquering emperor who his Real Boss is. That demands a weighty, solemn, commanding tone.

In view of the historical situation described above, and the theological implication described below, the word "anointed" is very interesting. Pronounce this weighty title with some irony, if you can. For Isaiah is giving to a pagan the title reserved for Judah's kings, the likes of David and Solomon, indeed the title that would eventually be reserved for the Messiah (which means "anointed" in Hebrew).

The final emphasis, though, has to be on the sovereignty of God, who can make an unwitting tool of even the most powerful earthly king. Notice the repetion of "I am the LORD, there is no other," and "though you know me not." One does not trifle with this God.

A Theological Reflection: This passage also contains a theological breakthrough, of interest to the Jews if not to Cyrus. To call this pagan "the Lord's anointed" was quite revolutionary. Like other passages from Isaiah we've read lately, it's meant to challenge Judah's parochialism and give them a more universal view of God's concern and of their place in God's plan.

Second Reading, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b [Jerusalem Bible translation]

The Historical Situation: In ancient times, one did not begin a letter with simple words like "Dear friends." Nor did any writer have letterhead stationery. The writer had to name himself and his audience, as if he was giving the letter a title. Only then, if he was a religious authority like Saint Paul, could he say, "grace to you and peace."

Proclaiming It: So pause after that expression and take a breath. And if you wish, title the reading "The beginning of the First Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians."

What was going on among the Christians in Thessalonika that led Saint Paul to write? That unfolds slowly in the selections we'll proclaim over five Sundays. From today's text, it's clear that these people worked hard at being Christians, and that Saint Paul thought that praiseworthy.

A Theological Reflection: Regular lectors might meditate on the last sentence of this reading. There was more faith, hope and charity among the Thessalonians than Paul could credit to his own preaching ("our gospel did not come to you in word alone"). The Holy Spirit was clearly at work.

When modern people hear the word of God from you, they do respond to your eloquence or the lack of it. But much more do they respond to the Spirit at work within them. The Spirit is calling them to greater faith, hope and charity. While the Spirit is doing that, you don't want to model indifference, haste and ignorance. The Spirit doesn't depend on you to get through to the listeners, but should not have to contend with your proclamation, either.

By choosing to meet us in sacramental ways, in human liturgical gatherings, God accepts a certain "handicap" that our frail natures impose on everything we do. Your listeners need and deserve your help in disposing themselves to meet God. So your reading should have all the human qualities--clarity, drama, artistry, authority--appropriate to the occasion. And the occasion is that people have come together to hear the word of God, opening themselves to unpredictable promptings of the Spirit. That's what you are celebrating when you serve as lector.

comments powered by Disqus
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."
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.

Saint Louis University's excellent new liturgy site

Most welcome here are Reginald Fuller's commentaries.

(SLU's offering may not be posted yet. If you get a 404 Not Found, try here).

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 Lectionaries of many churches, homilies, art works, movies touching scriptural themes, and other resources on the week's scripture. Lutheran pastor and college teacher Dan Nelson's notes for a study group. Dan explains the texts verse-by-verse, and sometimes word-by-word, with cross-references to other Bible passages. Especially useful if you're puzzled about the meaning of a word or phrase in the readings.

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.

Return to Lector's notes home page

Send email to the author.

Last modified: August 22, 2014