Ask your presider to tell your listeners (or tell them yourself):

Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time, January 29, 2017

Before the first reading:

At a time when Jerusalem was led by insolent and unholy princes, prophets and priests, Zephaniah (pronounced: zef uh NI uh) says they'll be destroyed in a dramatic "Day of the Lord's Vengeance," but a remnant of humble people will be spared.

After the psalm, before the second reading:

Ancient Corinth was a sophisticated Greek seaport, with competition among many religions and philosophies. There was competition within the Christian community, too. One of many ways Paul corrects that is to remind the Christians of their humble roots.

Before the gospel acclamation:

Matthew's gospel portrays Jesus as a new Moses. Today he ascends a mountain to deliver his new law. We'll hear parts of the Sermon on the Mount for five Sundays.

First Reading, Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13

The Liturgical Setting: As usual, the first reading prepares the assembly to hear the day's gospel, Matthew 5:1-12a, which you should read now. Now read the Zephaniah (pronounced: zef uh NI uh) passage and notice the "slant" that it puts on the gospel. There's a remnant, a "moral minority" whom both Jesus and Zephaniah address. They speak as if they know their message will be lost on the powerful, the self-important people intent on dominating others. They want their listeners not to choose the path of arrogance, not even to pine for power, but "seek justice ... seek humility, ... do no wrong, ... speak no lies" (Zephaniah), and to "thirst for righteousness, ... [be] merciful [and be] peacemakers" (Jesus).

The Historical Background: The lector should know about the others, to whom the prophet contrasts his humble audience. Zephaniah prophesied in Jerusalem during a time when many in that city were faithless and corrupt. Note how he rails against them in the first verses of Chapter 3:

On such as these, Zephaniah insists there will come The Day of the Lord, a time of terrible vengeance. This is the "day of the Lord's anger" against which the modest remnant may be sheltered.

Proclaiming It: The first sentence (2:3) of today's passage is rather disjointed from the remaining verses (3:12-13). Indeed, in the first verse the speaker is the prophet, and in the rest the speaker is the Lord. If your congregation doesn't use the twenty-second introductions above, you might help your listeners cope with this by making this preliminary statement about the reading's context:

Most of the book of the prophet Zephaniah is about a terrible day of vengeance which the Lord will wreak upon idolaters and the unfaithful. But this passage describes a "remnant," a humble and just minority who will receive not vengeance but security.

As lector, feel free to assume the persona of Zephaniah, or even of the Lord whose mouthpiece Zephaniah was, as you choose your tone of voice and method of delivery. From what you read above, you know that the Lord and the prophet were outraged at the behavior of the corrupt. So they were all the more grateful for the goodness of the remnant. (Indeed, the otherwise foreboding book ends on a note of confidence.) That gratitude (tinged with hope because no human's goodness comes with a lifetime warranty), should infuse your proclamation.

Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

The Historical Background: Two things about the situation in Corinth made it necessary for Paul to remind the Christians there of their humble station (this week's passage) and of his own humble, though apostolic and authoritative, status (next Sunday's passage):

Proclaiming It: Print a copy of this reading from your computer, or take the missallette you've cribbed from church, or use your bible if you're willing to mark it up. What you should mark, as you prepare to proclaim this aloud, are the many contrasts that Paul makes: Paul's point is that his audience is always in the former, humbler group, yet they enjoy the spiritual gifts, and the knowledge of God's plan revealed in Christ. These benefits are not due to their own merit, but to God's gracious, undeserved favor. That's what the lector should try to communicate. Sum it up by pausing between the clauses of

"Whoever boasts, [.... pause ....] should boast in the Lord."


Links to other smart commentaries on this week's readings

Credit for the picture at the top:

A painting for children of the Sermon on the Mount, by Gisele Bauche of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada; used with the artist's permission. Click here for her website. Then, to see more of her work, click  Gallery . A larger version of this image is in a section of the Gallery called  Children's Art .

Lector's Notes should be easily readable on any device, including small-screen ones like cell phones and tablets. This is among the first of a few hundred pages to be converted to a responsive format (responsive to the kind of screen you are using). So when you're not serving as lector, and you arrive at church and mute your cell phone, you can brief yourself on the readings you're about to hear. Format conversion is a work-in-progress and will be so until maybe April of 2018.

This page updated November 29, 2016