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
Week 22 cycle 1
MONDAY 31st August
1 Thessalonians 4. 13 – 18
The most obvious evidence for the earliness of this letter. Paul does not go into the nature of death, but presumably is faced with the fact of Thessalonian Christians dying and the need for hope.
Luke 4. 16 – 30
An extraordinary contrast between admiration at the beginning and rejection at the end of today’s reading. Probably two traditions put together to depict Our Lord’s mission of grace and the rejection by his people.
That Jesus’ ministry began in Galilee is significant. Galilee did not have the religious cachet of Jerusalem: worth remembering when it is easy to dwell on the godlessness of modern Britain.
TUESDAY 1st September
1 Thessalonians 5. 1 – 6, 9 – 11
The end of this reading is St Paul’s teaching in a nutshell: life through the risen life of Christ who died for us. To a large extent Paul dismisses the anxieties about time which God is outside.
Luke 4. 31 – 37
The dominant purpose of the miracles of healing in Luke is also the purpose of his ministry: to liberate those who are oppressed by the powers of evil. The lectionary’s “spoke sharply” is “rebuked” in NJB and explained by NJBC as “commanded” and “denotes the pronouncement of a commanding word whereby God or his spokesman brings evil powers into submission.”
WEDNESDAY 2nd September
Colossians 1. 1 – 8
Broadly, a quite traditional opening which names the sender and the recipients and the relation between them. But there is also the reference to faith and charity, the cause and the requirement for Christian discipleship, and hope, which refers to the future. The themes of faith, hope and charity are developed later.
Luke 4. 38 – 44
The cure of Simon’s mother has the same tone as yesterday’s reading. That exorcism was in the synagogue; today’s is in a private house – the power of God is exercised in the sacred and the secular worlds. And it is exercised by the power of the word, rather than by the laying on of hands.
THURSDAY 3rd September (St Gregory the Great)
Colossians1. 9 – 14
Although yesterday’s reading referred to hope, which refers to the future, one major characteristic of this letter is the writer sees salvation here and now as the result of faith and baptism. God has already “transferred us to the kingdom of the Son that he loves…”
Luke 5. 1 – 11
Various incidents, combined by Luke: the catch of fish coming from the post-resurrection account in John 21. (Apart from here, “Simon Peter” occurs only here and Matthew 16.16, but in John it is used 17 times.)
Previous responses to Our Lord’s teaching have been mixed. The first apostles respond whole-heartedly to Our Lord’s word.
FRIDAY 4th September
Colossians 1. 15 – 20
Probably a hymn that the writer has adapted for the purposes of the letter. “Thrones, ruling forces, sovereignties, powers” were the expressions that came from a highly developed belief in angelic powers (good and bad), and which may have been a problem for the Christians of Colossi. Was Christ no more than one more element of this way of thinking?
(Modern equivalents of these angelic powers may be taken as any allegedly unquestionable ideology about politics or economics, for example.)
The hymn refers to Christ as existing from the beginning. There was already a late Jewish tradition of Wisdom as the creative power of God which Christians took as applying to Christ. The hymn also refers to Christ as the source of everything that exists and the cohesive power of God that keeps the world together, and finally as the purpose and end of everything.
This hymn is a compressed and powerful creed which focuses on the divine purpose for our world and everything in it.
Luke 5. 33 – 39
The lectionary omits two miracles of healing, the man with the skin-disease and the paralytic (whose sins Our Lord forgave.) Both break boundaries. Then Levi, a spiritual rather than outcast, is called. Today’s reading gives the reason: Our Lord is the bridegroom (O.T. symbol for God in relation to his people, and the new wine is a symbol of life triumphing over death.
The remark about the old wine being good either refers to people preferring the old wine of the Law (NJB), to suggest that the sabbath, the Law and the prophets need not be rejected
SATURDAY 5th September
Colossians 1. 21 – 23
The writer applies yesterday’s hymn to the Creator and redeemer to the faithful of Colossi who hold on to their faith in the Gospel of Christ which gives them hope, a sense of God’s purpose.
Luke 6. 1 – 5
The Lord of the Sabbath. Our Lord not simply an arbiter of Sabbath disputes but Lord (kurios); and so the Law is also subordinate to him. Important today when the uncommitted claim to prefer the teaching of Jesus to the other elements of the Gospel, without, it would seem, being aware of the authority of Our Lord.
Week 23 cycle 1
Colossians 1. 24 – 2. 3
The reference to suffering is specific to St Paul only because of the responsibility given to him as an apostle of the Gospel. Sharing the suffering of Christ is part of the vocation of the Church as a whole: a point which is relevant wherever there is martyrdom.
Luke 6. 6 – 11
Luke has a more moderate attitude to the Pharisees than Mark, who says that after this miracle they planned how to destroy him.
TUESDAY 8th September (Birth of Our Lady)
Micah 4. 1 - 3
The heart of the teaching about Christ in this epistle. For those of us without a sense of the power of the Jewish Law, the religious significance of circumcision is hard to understand and almost impossible to explain in the short space after a weekday Gospel reading.
The nub of it is that left to ourselves we define ourselves by the rules we follow. (The August 2011 riots in Britain scared the establishment by the large numbers of people breaking the rules apparently just for the hell of it: hence the rough justice handed out in the courts.) God, by making himself a complete outsider in the person of the crucified Jesus, has broken through the rule-bound condition of his people (represented by circumcision) and replaced it with his grace which restores our true nature as sons and daughters of God.
“Authorities and ruling forces” refer to the power of the Law. There was a Jewish tradition that angels were present at Sinai when Moses received the Law. (NJB)
Luke 6. 12 – 19
After the rejection by the Pharisees, Our Lord chooses the twelve who are to be the reconstituted Israel. It is something of a peculiarity of Luke that the Twelve are identified with the Apostles, the “sent ones.” But after the resurrection people it is women who are sent to proclaim the resurrection gospel to the apostles.
People came to hear him and be cured of their diseases: recalling his power of healing by his proclamation of God’s power. Which is aimed at by the so-called “healing ministries.” )
WEDNESDAY 9th September
Colossians 3. 1 – 11
It is said that after the Japanese surrender in 1945 several pockets of Japanese who hadn’t heard about it continued to fight. A handy but not perfect analogy for the Christian life: the war is over (baptism) but there are still battles to be fought. Thus the participation received by baptism in the death and resurrection of Christ will be revealed only at the second coming.
Luke 6. 20 – 26
For Luke, the poor are not those struggling financially, but the poor of God, those who acknowledge their need of his salvation. The rich are those who are content with their present existence. A key practical element of the sermon on the plain is sharing possessions, a sign of the common life in the kingdom of God.
THURSDAY 10th September
Colossians 3. 12 – 17
After yesterday’s list of individual vices to be overcome, we have today a list of virtues. One of the vices was the practice of categorising people into groups; the virtues aimed at are communal, characteristics of the Body of Christ.
Luke 6. 27 – 38
Luke is here addressing his own community and would-be disciples, and applying to them yesterday’s gospel reading. It is no longer addressed to the rich, in either sense: it is addressed to all.
FRIDAY 11th September
1 Timothy 1. 1 – 2, 12 – 14
After the introduction, the lectionary omits a passage about the false teachers. The writer (almost certainly not Paul) then presents himself as authentic, referring to his conversion in far more extreme terms than Paul does elsewhere. Paul’s previous “blasphemy” is excused by ignorance. The situation of the false teachers can be linked to the teaching of 1 Peter 4. 17, the principle that judgment begins with the household of God, a reminder of the permanent need for reform in the Church.
Luke 6. 39 – 42
In Luke, these mini-parables are addressed to the disciples; in Matthew, to the Pharisees. For Luke, it is the “poor of God” who are being addressed, the ones who should be sharing their possessions, even with their enemies. Once they have got the message, they will be able to pass it on to others. The speck in the brother’s eye is relevant to those who think their failure in the matter of sharing are minor compared with the failures of others. A key parable for Justice and Peace groups in parishes.
SATURDAY 12th September
1 Timothy 1. 15 – 17
Just as yesterday’s reading made Paul’s previous antipathy to truth more extreme that Paul describes it, so today his claim to primacy is more startling than we find elsewhere. Both yesterday’s and today’s readings emphasise the glory of God.
Luke 6. 43 – 49
The need for conversion for the teaching of the last few days to be effective. “And do not do what I say” – disciples will join the new Israel only if they put into effect Our Lord’s teaching as it has been spelled out, however extreme it may seem.
Weekday Readings Week 24 cycle 1
MONDAY 14th September
1 Timothy 2. 1 – 8
An important passage for many reasons, too many to cover at Mass.
In 2011 this passage is especially relevant for English-speakers because of the insistence of Rome (at the time of writing) that we should revert to “for you and for many” at the consecration of the chalice. In itself, however, it is important because of its stress on the oneness of God which makes him God of the whole of creation.
The witness of Christ to the fulfilment of God’s promise shows him to be our intermediary with God. This witness (in the sense of evidence) is of course his death but it is also his whole life. (“At the appointed time” is plural in the Greek.)
The lectionary then omits the well-known passage about women, much used to pillory Paul as misogynist. Take this passage out of his writings, which seems to be pretty certainly correct, and we are left with references to women as leaders, preachers and teachers.
Luke 7. 1 – 10
We have had Our Lord reaching out to the unclean, and here we have him setting up the new Israel through the call of the Gentile centurion. whose faith in Jesus makes him worthy of the kingdom His work for the Jews and his sympathy for them began what we would now call his “faith journey” and now that is brought to fulfilment.
TUESDAY 15th September
1 Timothy 3. 1 – 13
The requirements for bishops and deacons. It is assumed that bishops are married. The reference to women coming between two instructions about deacons strongly suggests that this is about women deacons.
Luke 7. 11 – 17
The raising to life of the son of the widow of Nain. This is in preparation for the disciples of John who are told to tell him that Jesus raises the dead. Our Lord does not hesitate to touch the dead, another aspect of breaking through the barrier of cultic impurity. Here is Our Lord being a second Elijah who raised the son of the widow of Zarephath.
The lectionary ignores the meeting with the disciples of John the Baptist. and the rejection of John the Baptist by the Pharisees who did not accept baptism from him.
WEDNESDAY 16th September
1 Timothy 3. 14 – 16
God’s household used to be used of Israel but more usually of the Temple. Here it clearly refers to the community of the faithful, a useful enough metaphor as the earliest churches were people’s houses. The last verse is a summary of the faith.
Luke 7. 31 - 35
John the Baptist is not described in this passage as being lower than Jesus in any sense. Those who did not accept him were cutting themselves off. Our Lord comes to be with the gluttons and drunkards of this world; nobody who has faith in him is cut off.
THURSDAY 17th September
1 Timothy 4. 12 – 16
The work of bishops. The Te Deum refers to the prophets. Acts 11.27 sounds as if they told the future, but apparently their main role was the interpretation of the scriptures.
Luke 7. 36 – 50
Jesus at the meal of Simon the Pharisee: the woman who comes in and washes his feet. Today's reading is another example of Our Lord breaking through the barriers between clean and unclean. In fact there is nothing to suggest that the woman's sins were sexual but she was clearly beyond the pale for some reason or other.
THIS PASSAGE NEEDS LOOKING AT AGAIN BECAUSE OF THE EXPRESSION “BECAUSE SHE HAS LOVED MUCH.”
FRIDAY 18th September
1 Timothy 6. 2 – 12
The lectionary omits the reference to slaves and their masters.
The search for God is contrasted here with religious tourism and the habit of questioning not as a search for faith and the vision of God but for its own sake. The writer is aware of the financial interest of teachers who go beyond concern with the Gospel, also to be seen today in some extreme sects and some practitioners of the mind, body and spirit movement. This was a common jibe from philosophers, and the reference to the love of money was also a commonplace of the time. True enough, all the same.
Luke 8. 1 – 3
This passage is unique to Luke. It focuses solely on women, those who accompany Jesus on his journeys. This was quite exceptional in those days. It was known for women to support rabbis in one way or another but travelling with them was something else. Again, one of the women mentioned, Mary of Magdala, is referred to as once upon a time an outsider, because she had seven demons driven out of her, seven being the figure of totality.
The other aspect of this Gospel is the huge mix of God's kingdom, unity between men and women, married and single, healthy and ailing, those with much and those with little.
SATURDAY 19th September
1 Timothy 6. 13 – 16
The end of this reading is a collection of OT references, one of them repeated in the Apocalypse, transposed into Hellenistic language (NJB), emphasising the unknowability of the one God.
Luke 8. 4 - 15
The parable of the sower. Apart from the matter of how we hear the word of God, one aspect of this parable is that the sower apparently sows ineffectually, but then reaps a huge harvest. This is about both the preaching of Christ himself, and the continuation of that preaching in St Luke's community.