Short background notes based on the New Jerome Biblical Commentary (NJBC) and the footnotes of the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB), primarily meant for this parish. Not intended as instant sermonettes, simply starting points for a brief explanation of the readings at weekday Mass. Disagreement may be more useful. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Leviticus 19. 1f, 11 – 18
This passage comes nearly half-way through a long section known since the 19th century as the Law of Holiness. Almost hidden by the collection of precepts is the key expression, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (v 18). It is clear from the context that this refers to fellow-Israelites. Whether a neighbour is to be interpreted in this narrow sense or in the broader was not settled. The interpretation of Our Lord, of course, is clear.
Matthew 25. 31 – 46
Although this is commonly referred to as the parable of the sheep and the goats, the only part of it which is a parable is the reference to the sheep and the goats; the rest of the passage is apocalyptic.
While St Paul teaches the covenant of unconditional divine commitment, this passage represents the covenant as it is presented by Deuteronomy, involving the response of human obligation (NJBC). Because of this, some have questioned whether it came from Our Lord or from an early Jewish-Christian community. (The other synoptics do not use it.) Either way, it is addressed to Christians, and identifies discipleship as care of the needy.
Isaiah 55. 10f
These two verses come in the context of Isaiah’s call to accept God’s covenant. God’s word is personified as active, coming down and achieving the divine will. The passage provides a vivid background for the Gospel teaching on prayer.
Matthew 6. 7 – 15
An expansion of Luke’s version which is more likely to be original. De Caussade cited the businessman with a family whose spiritual life consisted solely of saying the Our Father once a day, slowly. That was what God wanted of him, and he delivered, which put him as near to the vision of God as the nuns who spent the entire day praying, said DC.
Jonah 3. 1 – 10
The power of Jonah’s preaching. Preaching to the Gentiles was a shade questionable in the Jewish tradition; far more appealing was the time in the belly of the whale, picked up by Matthew and ignored by Luke.
Luke 11. 29 – 32
Luke insists on hearing and keeping God’s word proclaimed by Jesus (NJBC). The real sign here is Our Lord’s preaching.
Esther 4. 17 (check odd numbering in NJB)
The power of prayer.
Matthew 7. 7 – 12
The perennial question of how prayer is answered. For St Luke the answer is that God gives his Holy Spirit; this may be Luke’s way of spiritualising Our Lord’s promise in case it is taken in too materialistic a way. What Our Lord insists on is the need to pray: given that underlying all Christian prayer is “Thy will be done”, the specific result of prayer is not necessarily what is asked for, but it will ultimately be for our good.
The golden rule was well known but often in its negative form (the “Silver rule”): Do not do to another what you would not have done to yourself. The positive form … is considerably more demanding (NJBC).
Ezekiel 18. 21 – 28
The background is Ezekiel’s strong interest in individual responsibility. He is writing for the exiles who now have to take the Torah on without having a territory or even a community that can collectively be held responsible for practising the Law (NJBC).
Matthew 5. 20 – 26
The basic principle is in keeping with the prophets: ethics has priority over worship. The Pharisees too followed this principle but lost the picture through over-regulation. The sin of anger is particularly important because of the place of reconciliation in the Gospel. The first reading is relevant because anger can be an invisible, private matter.
Deuteronomy 26. 16 – 19
This is the end of Deut chs 12 to 26, the Deuteronomic Code, basically the Law discovered in the Temple under Josiah, intended to replace the old Code of the Covenant.
Matthew 5. 43 – 48
The NJB mentions that the Qumran scrolls show a detestation of sinners which amounts almost to hatred. There is of course nothing in the Law which enjoins hatred of enemies.
Loving one’s enemy is given here not as disinterested idealism but a means of winning him or her over.
Be perfect …… Deut 18.13 gives “blameless”, Levi 19.2 has “holy” and Luke 6.36 “merciful.” Greek thought held that perfection was conforming to the divine ideal; Qumran refers to it as complete observation of the Law; Luke emphasises covenant fidelity and steadfast love. Any or all of these characteristics could be in Matthew’s use of the word (NJBC).
Daniel 9. 4 – 10
The community begging for forgiveness.
Luke 6. 36 – 38
From the sermon on the plain following the choosing of the Twelve. This passage is from a section which Luke addresses to the community, with the emphasis on sharing possessions. “Forgive” in this context is a misleading translation, as the Greek has an economic force (NJBC): releasing from debt.
Isaiah 1. 10, 16 – 20
The passage omitted from this reading refers to sacrifices. Worship without the practice of justice is hypocritical.
Matthew 23 . 1 – 12
Although today’s Gospel reading contains warnings against various titles and the consequent assertions of influence, it concludes with a warning against the assumption of power and rank. In v 43 Matthew does in fact commend other titles that were in use among the Jews: prophets, wise men, scribes.
The exercise of authority, of course, has its own problems. Our Lord cuts through all this, even the issues of justice, and focuses on the new order of rank in his kingdom, in which humility, for lack of a better word, is paramount. Mark 10.45 is key to this.
Jeremiah 18. 18 – 20
Presumably this section is chosen to fit the end of today’s Gospel reading.
Matthew 20. 17 – 28
“For many”: the Hebrew word ….. contrasts the enormous crowd of the redeemed with the one Redeemer: it does not imply that the number of the redeemed is limited (JBC). To be remembered in the context of the modified translation of the words of consecration.
Jeremiah 17. 5 – 10
From a slice of Wisdom literature, without any particular relevance to this part of Jeremiah.
Luke 16. 19 – 31
Dives and Lazarus. The emphasis is on looking after the poor, rather than reward and punishment, let alone the reference to rising from the dead, let alone the matter of wealth and poverty. The punch line is still the obligation towards Lazarus.
Genesis 37. 3f, 12f, 17 – 28
The Joseph stories are notable for the lack of divine intervention; God works through people’s sins.
Matthew 23. 33 – 43, 45 – 46
Parable of the vineyard. Not properly a parable but an allegory in which every element has it s equivalent in reality.
Micah 7. 14f, 18 – 20
From the up-beat end of Micah, looking forward to the restoration of Israel.
Luke 15. 1 – 3, 11 – 32
Parable of the prodigal son. The usual focus is on the return of the prodigal, but the end is equally important – the problem of self-righteousness and the acceptance of sinners – which is the context of the parable.