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

Thirty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time, October 30, 2022

Before the first reading:

Alexandria was an ancient university town, where pagans outnumbered Jews and dominated the philosophical debates. A Jewish sage wrote the book of Wisdom to help Jews keep their faith. Here he writes as if addressing God, but he's really explaining to pagans why his God does not always punish evildoers.

After the psalm, before the second reading:

Very early Christians believed Jesus would come again SOON. Some believed he already had come again. They quit their jobs and otherwise acted irresponsibly. Paul corrects them in this letter.

Before the gospel acclamation:

Saint Luke's gospel explains to his Gentile Christian audience how a Jewish religious movement became their own new religion. Today he depicts Jesus, as he travels toward Jerusalem and Calvary, encountering Jewish critics of his generosity toward a sinner.

First Reading, Wisdom 11:22-12:2

Today's gospel, Luke 19:1-10, is about the repentance of a sinner and Jesus' favoring of him. So perhaps the purpose of this first reading is to illuminate that theme.

The Historical Situation: About a century before the birth of Jesus, sophisticated Alexandria in northern Egypt was the site of a famous university and two great libraries. There a learned and faithful Jew assessed the situation for Jews in his city. Many Jews had "assimilated" into the dominant pagan culture. They and native pagans sometimes ridiculed practicing Jews, so our sage wrote a book of Wisdom, to bolster the faith of his friends. (The Church cites this book often in the Lectionary, so this introduction may be familiar to users of Lector's Notes.) Today's passage could be the faithful one's response to one of the great philosophical questions always debated in a college town, "How come there's evil in the world?"

A Literary Consideration: But the sage answers instead the question, "How come God doesn't blot out the evil ones?" And the sage is not addressing skeptics in a coffee-house. He's coaching fellow Jews how to address the skeptics. He's bolstering fellow Jews so they won't be overcome by the arguments of the skeptics. And his method is to write as if he's addressing God, discussing the Israelites' great history with God. Here, specifically, he praises God for not annihilating the Egyptians when liberating the Hebrews from their grasp. (The lectionary takes a liberty and puts the first sentence in the third person.)

Your proclamation: Every sentence gives a new reason why God is merciful. Be sure you understand each one. And say them distinctly, with pauses between them. Note that one in the middle is in the form of a question; give it an inflection that sets it apart from the surrounding declaratives. You're not really telling God anything, you're trying to convince wavering souls that a merciful God is one they can believe in. The lector should sound reverent, prayerful and a bit awe-struck.

Second Reading, 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2

Our Liturgical Situation: The letters to the Thessalonians, the earliest letters we have from Saint Paul, capture a portrait of early Christians who expected Jesus to return in glory soon. We turn to letters of this kind as we wrap up a liturgical year, a year that will conclude in three weeks with the feast of Christ the King. We'll keep reading from this kind of literature for the first two weeks of Advent.

The Historical Setting: Ivan Havener, O.S.B., in The Collegeville Bible Commentary -- Old Testament (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1992), says this about the origin and purpose of 2 Thessalonians:

Second Thessalonians is a pastoral letter which addresses a number of problems that have arisen in a Christian community jolted by the claim that the "day of the Lord" [in this context, Jesus' second coming] has come upon them. Some in this community have reacted in terror, quit work, and are making a general nuisance of themselves to others within the community as they await the full effect of the Lord's coming.

... The author is concerned that the faith itself, as well as individual members of the community, may come into disrepute and disbelief if fanatical doomsday preachers are listened to.

Sentence by Sentence: That explains why the author prays for the addressees that God will fulfill their every honest intention and work of faith (because some were no longer working, using the "day of the Lord" scare as their excuse). The statements also explain the author's prayer that the name of our Lord be glorified (rather than become a source of scandal). (If that's not clear, think how you're embarrassed by money-grubbing televangelists speaking in the name of your Lord, or racists who quote the Bible to justify their prejudices. That's scandal.)

The last sentence is important, but long and complex to read aloud. Stripped of its many qualifying clauses, it says,

With that framework in mind, practice proclaiming the sentence (a paragraph, really), pausing and modulating your tone of voice so that the structure remains clear.


Links to other smart commentaries on this week's readings

Credit for the picture at the top:

Photo of the blossom of an African violet, by Bonnie Miretsky of Tucson, Arizona, U.S.A., a relative of mine. To the best of my knowledge, versions of Bonnie's work in higher resolution can be found only on her facebook page.

This page updated September 1, 2022