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Ordinary Time 16 (C)
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Readings for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

1. Genesis 18, 1-10

  • The passage is one of my favorites, because it blends the best of human hospitality with the surpassing favor of God.  The Lord appeared to Abraham: not just showing up but blessing!  I notice that it starts with the interpretation, and then begins the story on the human plane: by the terebinth of Mamre.
  • While the day was growing hot.  It may be no accident that in the northern hemisphere we read these words in mid-summer.  They will stick to our skin, especially if we seek shade under a simple roof as he did.  It is the lazy time of day, and my reading will reflect this.
  • Looking up, Abraham saw three men standing nearby.  He is caught by surprise by their arrival, and I can capture some of that sudden arrival.  I shall read a little quicker from this point to imitate Abraham’s swing into action.
  • On the one hand Abraham acts as the gracious host.  He speaks to the guests in a deferential tone.  If I may ask you this favor, please do not go on past your servant.  For they must have been resting under the broad, massive tree. 
  • And then again he shows his authority as head of the household, ordering his wife in ways that half our assembly would sympathize with.  Quick, three measures of fine flour!  Knead it and make rolls.  He works as well, running to the herd and getting some curds and milk.  But let me not give the impression that the meal was prepared in thirty seconds, or that they finished it as quickly.  I return to a slower pace while they ate under the tree. 
  • Sarah will then have a son.  On the other hand God replies with even greater generosity.  Mere human guests would at least have prayed for the abundance of Abraham’s household, perhaps in the words of the psalm: “May your children be like olive shoots around your table.”  But God has the ability to make prayers become reality.  I shall repeat the sense of assured climax in my voice, even of command, so that Sarah has no trouble hearing the words there in the tent.
  • Central point: As we say today, God is present wherever we give of ourselves and care for each other.
  • Message for our assembly: How generously do we welcome the stranger among us?  To the ancients, an approaching stranger represented a god in disguise.
  • I will challenge myself: To make a prayer into a command, and then to command my listeners to take their best hopes and turn them into reality.

2. Colossians 1, 25-28

  • I find here long and run-on sentences typical of the apostle’s style.  The thoughts are very much like his.  I cannot cut through the words as if through a young softwood tree, because we are in the presence of aged hardwood.  Take my time.
  • Now I rejoice – in my sufferings for your sake.  The pause comes after “rejoice” and not after “sufferings.”  It marks the difference between a servant and a masochist.  The apostle did not seek hardship for its own sake.
  • In my flesh I am filling up – what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.  Our quotable for the week should sound pretentious in the mouth of a Christian.  What could possibly be missing in the sufferings of Christ?  The apostle does not explain himself, but others have tried through the centuries.
  • God’s stewardship given to me to bring to completion the word of God.  Once again it should sound pretentious, since this was the mission of Jesus, so to speak.  Paul was nothing if not bold in speech. 
  • His holy ones, to whom God chose to make known – the riches of the glory of this mystery (among the Gentiles).  I need to study and rehearse this phrase until I understand the underlying sense.  The “holy ones” are those who have received the good news, including ourselves.  God is the one who “makes known.”  And we in turn receive God’s revelation in Christ, in the midst of the modern world.  The punctuation I have added is meant not to be followed exactly but to remind me to convey effectively to the congregation their mission to the world.
  • Climax: Christ in you, the hope for glory.  It sounds like a slogan that sums up the life of the Christian, a mantra we could pin on our mirror or our desktop.  Can I read it so that my listeners pick up on the idea?
  • The message for our assembly: Are we aware of the dignity of our status alongside Jesus, witnessing with him unto suffering?
  • I will challenge myself: To repeat to the assembly the intense joy with which the apostle dictated these words, not as an empty boast but as a confident challenge.

Gospel. Luke 10, 38-42

  • Luke is telling about Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem.  This time a woman named Martha welcomed him.  Today we are free of tension, and I can read with empathy toward all the characters.
  • The story is clearly a parable about ministries, as bequeathed to us from the early church.  The sister listening to him speak is contrasted with the sister burdened with much serving. 
  • Martha, Martha.  When Luke has Jesus repeat a name, as elsewhere (“Simon” or “Saul”), he shows that the person being addressed is to pay attention to something of great importance.  Under no circumstances am I to say both of them in the same tone.  I might, for example, say the first “Martha” a little louder, as if to alert her, and the second very affectionately.  Jesus does not rebuke her but rather reminds her about God.  Let me rehearse until I find the right combination.
  • Climax: Mary has chosen the better part.  The literal translation we hear today is also the version with which we are most familiar.  I emphasize “better.”
  • Message for our assembly: With our many forms of outward service we may put too much emphasis on action.  Few of the post-conciliar movements are dedicated to listening to God in Christ, to contemplation.
  • I will challenge myself: Not to garble the words by rushing through this short passage, but to speak with confidence of Jesus’ priorities.

From Word to Eucharist: The mass is above all a time of prayer “in the words our Savior gave us.”  Whether we pray in the language of our everyday conversation or in a language preserved from another bygone era, let us be drawn into the Savior’s words and be one with him.

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