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

Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, November 17, 2019

Before the first reading:

In a difficult time for ancient Israel, after their exile in Babylon, some complained that the wicked seem to get away with everything, and that there's no benefit to obeying the Lord. God's messenger Malachi assures them that the evildoers will get their due on the terrible "Day of the Lord."

After the psalm, before the second reading:

Some early Christians expected the Day of the Lord, in the form of the return in glory of the risen Jesus, to occur immediately. So they dropped all their responsibilities and made nuisances of themselves in the community. Paul corrects them, using his own behavior as an example.

Before the gospel acclamation:

At the time of the writing of Luke's gospel, there was already some persecution of the followers of Jesus, and speculation about the end of the world. The evangelist applies some of Jesus' sayings to these concerns.

First Reading, Malachi 3:19-20a

The Historical and Literary Situation: After Judah returned from its exile in Babylon, the people and their leaders did not quickly rise to great levels of virtue. An anonymous prophet, who took the name Malachi (pronounce it MAL uh ki, with a short a in the first syllable, and long i in the third; it's Hebrew for "my messenger"), upbraided them for several abuses, such as religious impiety, cheating and marriage to pagans.

The author frequently uses this three-part structure: he gives an affirmation about God, then repeats an objection that the sinful people might make, then answers that objection.

Today's Verses in Detail:

Your Proclamation: As lector, you can do two things to convey the prophet's words authentically. One is to work up some indignation for your pronouncement of the burning of the wicked. Remember the context: You're not only criticizing the wicked, you're responding to the objection that it's useless to serve God, because the wicked seem to get away with everything. Well, nobody wants the wicked to prosper, not Malachi and not the slackers he's arguing with. Malachi wanted to show them that God really is going to go after the bad guys. Sound passionate about that. Your tone of voice should blaze like an oven.

The other thing you should do is change rhetorical gears abruptly, and speak the last sentence soothingly, since it's about God's comfort of those who do revere him.

Second Reading, 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12

The Historical Situation: Remember that the earliest Christians expected Jesus to come again in glory soon, bringing history to its climax, judging the living and the dead. Some among the Thessalonians responded to this prospect by abandoning their customary work. Saint Paul had never instructed them to do so, especially not by example.

Here he corrects them, appealing first to his own example. (At the end of liturgical year A, we heard Paul do the same thing in another letter to the same congregation. He seems to have wanted to distinguish his ministry and the value of his message from those of other itinerant preachers.)

Your Proclamation: Try to speak this as if you were Saint Paul speaking in person, not by letter. You're talking to people you love, but some of them have, as we say, gone off the deep end. Their spiritual leader needs to sound firm and convincing.


Links to other smart commentaries on this week's readings

Credit for the picture at the top:

The promise of healing rays from a sun of justice, at the end of the reading from Malachi, prompts the choice of this image. It's from this page on the website of the Abbey of Regina Laudis, a convent of Benedictine contemplative women in Bethlehem, Connecticut, U.S.A. "Sun of justice" is one of the titles assigned to the coming Messiah in the prayers known as the "O Antiphons," chanted during Advent in many Christian communities.

This page updated September 15, 2019