Sunday Scripture: Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time (YEAR C)

"Thy word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path." Ps 119:105

Welcome to this, the forty-eighth of my reflections on the theology of the Sunday readings at Mass.

I have undertaken this project, regularly posting background information on the readings at Sunday Mass as part of my own prayer life. I have found it helps me to do a little study before I go to Mass about the readings, what the theme of the week is, how it follows on from the previous week's readings and what is being said.

In sharing this, I hope to help you too get more from the Bible and Sunday Scripture readings. Perhaps it might give you confidence in the value and legitimacy of the Bible, or perhaps it might inspire you to pray the Divine Office or investigate the weekly readings for yourself.

I see this as very clearly part of what the Church teaches about the Bible:
This heaven-sent treasure Holy Church considers as the most precious source of doctrine on faith and morals. No wonder herefore that, as she received it intact from the hands of the Apostles, so she kept it with all care, defended it from every false and perverse interpretation and used it diligently as an instrument for securing the eternal salvation of souls, as almost countless documents in every age strikingly bear witness. ~Divino Afflante Spiritu
When fideism said that we should turn away from science and study and rely on the Bible for exactly what it is, in a literal sense, the Church said "no", we have nothing to fear from a proper understanding of Scripture and thus we were encouraged to delve ever deeper into the treasure chest of sacred Scripture to see what riches we could find there.

If you want to know how these posts came about, please read my first post in this series here.

I would like to think this regular blog would be a great help to anyone who reads at Mass, to enable them to foster a deeper understanding of the message they are trying to impart to the congregation.

There are several different ways to read this post. I would suggest the first thing to do is to look at the relevant readings. You might then want to look at the specific commentary for a particular reading. I post the same summary of the featured Biblical books each week, but at the end, under the subheading this week, you will usually find some commentary specific to each week. At the end I post a passage which attempts to draw all the readings together and understand the message.

My reflections are not definitive, but based on my study and perhaps authenticated by careful reference to the Biblical Commentaries and books I list at the bottom each week.

This Sunday the theme for the readings might be summed up as:

Jesus The Suffering Servant.

Grant, O Lord, 
that we may always revere and love your holy name,
for you never deprive of your guidance
those you set firm on the foundation of your love..
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.

This week's readings are:
  • First Reading: Zechariah 12:10-11; 13:1..
  • Psalm 62: 2-6, 8-9; Response: v. 2 . 
  • Second Reading: Galatians 3:26-29.
  • Gospel: Luke 9:18-24.
First, a short preliminary survey of each of the books.

I will post the same, or similar prelims week on week, for each book as we encounter them, although I may add a little detail specific to each week's readings.

Zechariah is a book we haven't looked at before in this series of blog posts. Zechariah (meaning "YHWH remembers", or "YHWH has remembered") was a prophet, a contemporary of Haggai (as we learn from Ez 5:1; 6:14) in a post-exilic world after the fall of Jerusalem in 587/6 BC. Hag 2:3 suggests that Haggai was one of the old men who had seen the Temple before the fall of Jerusalem sixty years earlier.

Many scholars consider that Zechariah's visionary works (1-8) were influenced by Ezekiel, with his blending of ceremony and vision. Zechariah is specific about dating his writing (520-518 BC). The prophet's visions in chapters 1-6 consider the theological premise of the return from exile. Chapters 7–8 address the quality of life God wants his renewed people to enjoy, containing many encouraging promises to them. Chapters 9-14 comprise two "oracles" of the future.

Zechariah shows a wider range of theological and religious interest than his contemporary, Haggai, which is concerned almost completely with the rebuilding of the Temple. Although he begins with the anger of YHWH (1:2) and does return to it from time to time (1:15; 18-21, against the nations; 5:1-4; 7:11-14), it would be unfair to characterise the work as being all about the brooding figure of an angry God. To the contrary in fact, the message of YHWH is described as 'gracious and comforting' (1:13) and, at the very beginning of the book (1:3), an invitation to repentance is presented to the people by a God who is eager to have His people return to Him so that again He might be generous in their regard. The generosity of His mercy and forgiveness can be seen in the passages which speak of the restoration and glorious future of Jerusalem.

YHWH is presented as a transcendent God, who is accessible to man through the ministry of angels (cf. 1:9, 19 and 1-6 passim), and whose demands, in the matter of right and wrong, are absolute. The opening verses of the book (1:2-6) leave no doubt about the cause of YHWH's anger: it is the people's failure to to keep His commandments (1:6) and to obey the warnings of the prophets (1:4). The specific elements of prophetic teaching which were neglected are pinpointed by quotations (cf. 7:9-10) and Zechariah returns frequently to the moral demands which must be met if progress is to be made, whether in regard to the rebuilding of the Temple (6:15), the effectiveness of the priesthood (3:7), or in the renewal of the city (8:14-17). If Israel has sinned, there follows the inevitable cycle demanded by God's justice and love, of punishment, repentance and return (1:2-6; 5:1-4; 8:2 etc).

This weekRepentance and Regeneration. First off, we have a text that clearly develops the Trinitarian understanding of God. Victory in the eschatalogical conflict is followed  by an outpouring of the Spirit, which proceeds from YHWH and is thus, in some sense at least, His Spirit. It is more narrowly defined by 'compassion' and 'supplication'. YHWH's gift of the Spirit results in changed attitudes; the people of Jerusalem now share YHWH's own attitude towards their former conduct, and mourn particularly for one who suffered from their misdeeds. The one who is 'pierced' and who, if not YHWH Himself, certainly represents Him and carries out the work of YHWH (which provoked opposition, since the lament for his death coincided with a return to YHWH's way of thinking). Even after His death, one is left with the impression that people looked to Him expectantly, hoping to receive some benefit. These features lead one to think of the Servant in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Finally, Purification follows on repentance and is the dominant idea in the last verse. The abundant waters which are a feature of other texts describing eschatalogical blessings ( e.g. Ezek 47:1ff; Is 44:3;, cf Jn 7:38f; 19:34) may also be in mind.
So basically, in this short Old Testament passage, we have Father Son and Holy Spirit.

Psalms is the Bible's manual of inspired song and prayer. The collection of 150 Psalms represents the culmination of a long tradition that extends across almost the full span of the history of ancient Israel, from the Exodus (c. 1280 B.C.) until the last centuries of the Old Testament era (c. 200 B.C.). In Hebrew the canon of the Bible is called the TNK or Tanakh, which consists of Torah (teaching), Nevi'im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (writings)—thus TaNaKh. Psalms makes up the first of the writings in the Hebrew text. One of the most powerful things we know about the Psalms is that this is how Jesus Himself prayed.

This week: the Psalm seems to echo those oft' quoted words of St. Augustine:
...for you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you (cf. CCC 30)
It is a delicate and beautiful work which expresses our longing for God and expresses our frustration at God's transcendence; our deep longing for the face of God.

St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians I absolutely love Galatians as, when I was studying Paul, it formed part of a most memorable lecture which involved reading the Epistle from start to finish. The idea was that this was the way it was written to be read, not in the snippet form we digest it in through the lectionary. The letter is fascinating; it literally teems with impassioned fervour unequaled in any other Pauline letter. It reveals an embattled Paul in a fierce struggle to preserve his own Apostolic credentials, the Gospel that he preached, and of course the spiritual health of Galatian communities that he had founded a few years earlier. It contains some of Paul's most bold and impetuous theological reasoning, reasoning that he seems to have adjusted somewhat in context and tone in his letter to the Roman Christians, perhaps in order to better win the argument?

In Galatians we get a glimpse of Paul in a mode of impulsive reflex, assembling theological arguments to influence the corporate and personal life of the Galatian Christians in a situation that deeply disturbed him. As a consequence of Paul's ministry among them, the Galatians had profound experiences of the Spirit (2:3-5) that instilled in them a hardy sense of Christian identity that continued for some time (5:7). At some point Pail left and later received news that a group of Jewish Christian evangelists had influenced the Galatian communities, advocating a gospel that differed considerably from his own. Paul makes it clear that these are 'trouble-makers' or 'agitators' (1:7; 5:10).

Fundamentally, Paul writes this letter to defend his Gospel and to dissuade the Galatians from receiving circumcision, which, along with the ceremonial laws of the Old Covenant, were being preached as indispensable requirements for salvation by these trouble-makers (5:2-12; 6:12-13). Although these 'Judaizers' professed to be Christian, they asserted Paul's gospel of "faith working through love" (5:6) was incomplete without the ritual observances of the Mosaic Law.

Paul's response is a vigorous defense of the Gospel (1:11-2:10) and a sophisticated explanation of how the New Covenant inaugurated by Christ dispenses with the ceremonies of the Old (chapters 3-4). In Paul's view, to add circumcision and other Mosaic requirements to the gospel is to exchange freedom in Christ for spiritual slavery (2:4; 5:1). Stern warnings punctuate his writing as Paul appeals to the Galatians to distance themselves from the Judaizers and to disregard their propaganda.

This week: we have a passage which is often misinterpreted in an eisegetic attempt to justify women priests, as expertly demonstrated by Stephen Cottrell, Anglican bishop of Chelmsford here. Paul teaches that  through the Incarnation, Jesus' unification of two natures, human and divine, in a single person, we have begin His kin, His brothers and sisters, and thus we are the children of God. Baptism is the sacrament of faith and the rite of Christian initiation that replaces circumcision (Col 2:11-12) which was the mark of the covenant (cf. Gen 17:11). It cleanses us of sin, joins us with Christ, and makes us righteous children of God (Acts 22:16; Tit 3:5; 1 Pet 3:21; CCC 1226-27). Paul's description of this mystery reflects early liturgical practice where the newly baptised put on a white garment to symbolise their purity in Christ (cf. Rom 13:14; Eph 4:24; CCC 1243, 2348).

The infamous Galatian 3:28 verse refers to the fact that all peoples, irrespective of ethnicity, gender, and social distinctions, are equal candidates for salvation and sonship in Christ (Col 3:11; CCC 791). Christians are the true seed of Abraham and the true heir to the Promise; Christians are the true 'Israel of God'; cf. 6:16 by which Paul refers to 'the Church in general'.

The Gospel According to St. LukeLuke is not only a theologian; he is also a consummate literary artist with a mind that is tuned to the aesthetic. Luke begins his Gospel with a clearly stated aim: “to draw up an account of the events that have happened”. Luke’s Gospel is the longest of the four Gospels, this despite the fact that it only represents half the Lucan writings; Luke’s Gospel was originally joined to Acts as part of a two-volume work. This is evident in the Gospel itself, which frequently looks forward to Acts and Paul’s mission.

The biblical scholar Raymond Brown deduces that the Gospel was written for Church communities in Greece and Syria. These were areas affected by Paul’s mission either directly, or indirectly. Lucan thought and proclivities can be detected in the extent to which the author changes the Marcan material, which makes up about thirty-five percent of Luke. Luke certainly improves Mark’s Greek, bettering the grammar, syntax and vocabulary, as evidenced in 4:1, 31 and 38. Luke alters the Latinism kēnsos (= census) in 20:22 from Mark 12:14 and substituting the more exact “craftiness- treachery” for “hypocrisy” in Mark 12:15 .

Luke also alters the Marcan sequence to accomplish his goals as stated in the prologue: to write carefully and in an orderly manner. For example, he puts Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth at the opening of the Galilean ministry (Luke 4:16-30) rather than after some time had elapsed (Mark 6:1-6), in order to explain why His Galilean ministry was centred at Capernaum.

Christologically, Luke is more reverential about Jesus than Mark and he avoids Marcan passages that might make Jesus seem weak, harsh or emotional (e.g. Mark 10:14 where Jesus is indignant). He also stresses detachment from possessions (Luke 5:11,28), the Twelve are even forbidden to take a staff!

Adrian Hastings, in his book Prophet and Witness in Jerusalem, makes particular capital over Luke’s allusion to the guilt of Jerusalem. Hastings suggests that this is because Jerusalem represented the old, exclusive Israel. Raymond Brown also draws attention to this point in An Introduction to the New Testament, where he asks if Pilate’s triple declaration of Jesus’ innocence represents an attempt to convince Greco-Roman readers that the Jews were totally responsible for the crucifixion. For Hastings, Luke demonstrates a strong affinity for the universality of Christianity and its apostolate to the Gentiles and points out to the Jews that they are the ones who have constantly rejected the messengers of God. Hence it is not surprising if they now find themselves cut off from the new Church and Holy People of God. Hastings states that this demonstrates that Luke was writing so that Christians might understand that Jerusalem had rejected Our Lord and thus had been rejected and was no longer the centre of God’s Church, which had turned to the conversion of the Gentiles. It would seem to me that this idea would have been greatly assisted by the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. Brown however, notes that Acts 4:25-28 clearly blames Pilate and mitigates that this may have been an attempt to persuade Roman officials to deal fairly with Christians. Brown eventually concludes that the description of Jewish leaders resisting the spread of Christianity springs from a desire to explain why Christian preachers and especially Paul turned to the Gentiles.

The fact that the last half of Acts concentrates on Paul’s career raises the likelihood that Luke-Acts was addressed to the churches descended from the Pauline mission. Talbert concludes his study of Luke-Acts with the finding that the Gospel was indeed motivated by the “churchly situation”; The community was troubled by a concern for the true Christian tradition. Luke writes to aid Christians in these communities in their self-understanding, helping them to know that there was nothing subversive in their origins that should cause them to come into conflict with their Roman rulers.

The Lucan Gospel differs in many ways to Matthew making it seem likely that this Gospel was addressed to a different church (q.v.). The end of Acts attributed to Paul also indicates that the future of the Gospel lies with the Gentiles, which makes the intended audience unlikely to be Jewish Christians. This is corroborated by the way that Luke drops Marcan Aramaic expressions and place-names in his work.

Luke intends to trace the history of God’s plan from the coming of Jesus, to the fulfilment of the mission He gave to His disciples to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth. The earthly ministry of Jesus and all the events before the Ascension are the turning point in human history for Luke.

If this post on Luke sparked your interest, there's a post on the historicity of the Synoptics here.

This week: Deep breath, read, stop, pray, reflect. Hmmmmmm....As this week's Gospel opens, we are treated to an insight we can probably identify with. Jesus asks the Apostles who the crowds are saying He is, and He is clearly a rather enigmatic figure, associated with the prophets of recent memory (e.g. John the Baptist) as well as the great prophets of old (e.g. Elijah). There is no consensus, and so Jesus turns the question on His own followers to see how their experiences have shaped their understanding of Jesus' identity and mission. It is Peter who was enlightened by the Father (Matt 16:17) to see who Jesus really is. The truth revealed, Jesus admonishes the Apostles to keep His true identity to themselves, as it could invite misunderstanding and obscure the spiritual thrust of His mission.

Jesus now predicts His Passion for the first time in Luke (as recounted in Mark 8:31-33) offering further clarification that His mission is neither earthly, nor political, but instead will involve His suffering, death and Resurrection. Luke's account of Jesus' explanation of the costly nature of Christian discipleship, involving much sacrifice and self-denial (14:26, 33) indicates a spiritual interpretation (by the early Christians) of a saying of Jesus which originally pointed to martyrdom (cf Mk 8:34).

Drawing them all together...
Today's readings present us with an experience a bit like that on Good Friday; we look upon the Crucified One, and try to take in the mystery of Jesus' great act of sacrificial love. Even in His earthly ministry, Jesus was regarded as one of the prophets, perhaps Elijah come back to life. Like Elijah and John the Baptist, Jesus teaches His Apostles the paradox of true discipleship: to follow Christ is to take up one's Cross, to suffer grieviously, to experience the depth of human vulnerability, the desolation of loss and death. Christianity does not try to tell us that sadness, grief, pain, and suffering can be mitigated by belief in its doctrines. Rather it embraces those realities and fills them with meaning and purpose. Bound up with the pain and death is the promise of restoration and new life, a rising up. Anyone who loses his life for the Lord will save it, and to follow Jesus through the dark waters of death is to go on to the glory of the Resurrection. For me, this has become a very real challenge through the death of my daughter. It was the Lord who held me and gave life meaning after that tragedy. It was the Lord who restored my hope and helped me to live again.

In our first reading this week we discover how the Prophet Zechariah, speaking to the people returned from exile, had an extraordinary insight about an incredible person, who would come in the future and would be called to suffer for the people. Like Isaiah with his oracles of the Suffering Servant, Zechariah had been shown the mystical vision "the one they have pierced." All who see the suffering one will undergo a process of transformation. The grief of sympathy and the contrition unleashed by his sufferings will open up "a spirit of kindness and prayer" in their hearts. Faithfulness to the Lord and His promises, even in the blackness of despair and the seeming futility of the human condition, will release the power of God's saving promises held out to us throughout salvation history. The things that matter so much to us; race, religion, social standing, gender, are all put into new perspective by the transforming love of Jesus. We are all one in Him, and in the hope of the eternal life He promises, as St. Paul pointed out to the Galatians. We must live as true disciples, living lives which demonstrate how much we really believe it. This is how I coped with losing my child; I kept faith with the promises of the Lord and so He kept faith with me and has always been there for me throughout my own dark night, and has turned my mourning into dancing, my sadness to joy. The Lord assures us of nothing less than everlasting life, and emphasised this glorious truth through the wonderful poetry of the Psalms "So I will bless you all my life, in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul shall be filled as with a banquet, my mouth shall praise you with joy." 


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