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

 

1. Wisdom 12, 13, 16-19

  • It’s one of those readings on which I’ll have to spend a lot of time.  I might end up rehearsing it ten or fifteen times until I like what I hear.
  • The sage who wrote Wisdom has a literary style different from ours.  The translators followed the style of the Hebrew original, and that explains the stilted sound of their English version.  Example: this triple negative: You need show you have not unjustly condemned.  I just have to remember: Our mighty God does not act toward people as the high and mighty of this world usually do. 
  • Another strange sounding phrase: the perfection of your power is disbelieved, followed by rebuke temerity.  The point?  Whether people believe in God or not, God will act and everyone will take home a particular lesson.
  • I think I hear something like the words of Job’s comforters.  Well, not completely.  Amid the trumpet blasts of justice I hear the low clear bell of mercy.  Listen with me: the care of all, lenience, clemency, kindness.  It may be like the person who has the power but refuses to use it, relying instead on gentle persuasion.
  • This reading is not a perfect match for the Gospel parable of the wheat and the tares that we will proclaim later.  According to the sage mercy reveals God’s true self, but we fail to perceive this because we fixate on high profile acts of judgment.  According to the parable the reverse is true: mercy for the time being, but the final judgment is decisive!
  • Let me resolve the contradiction like this: God’s mercy is upon the people who render worship and service.  You gave your children good ground for hope.
  • Organizing theme: Everything is in the hands of God.  Start with the first words: There is no God besides you.  Everything else I read follows from this truth.
  • Message for our assembly: Here is a commentary on the one God in whom we believe, the same God revealed in Jesus.  This God is definitely not in our image!
  • I will challenge myself: To read this set of contorted sayings like the prayer to God that it is, in a way that invites my listeners to make the same kind of prayer of admiration when they reflect on God and the image of God in Wisdom. 

 

2. Romans 8, 26-27

  • I continue through the great epistle of the life of grace.  Today I hear the apostle reflecting on the common life of the disciples and especially their group worship: We do not know how to pray as we ought. 
  • It reminds me of the Friends meeting, in which those in attendance await the inspiration of the Spirit.  There they acknowledge that they do not know and do not claim a special revelation. 
  • The apostle makes reference to manifestations of the Spirit: inexpressible groanings.  We may have witnessed these in our church.  I may have prayed during the Prayer of the Faithful something more heartfelt than the worn formula “Lord, hear our prayer.”  Listen again to how it came out of my mouth: Ay, the children!  Yes, peace!  Oh, make us one!  Maranatha!  Inexpressible indeed, and don’t you know that we’ve all been there! 
  • The second sentence explains the first.  God who searches hearts knows what we want to say, and the Spirit moves us in the direction of God: he (the Spirit) intercedes for the holy ones (ourselves).  I will declare these words as if I understood them well, and leave no doubt among my listeners about their meaning. 
  • Message for the assembly: Let us learn from the apostle if the lesson applies to us.  Don’t just think of charismatic assemblies.  Think of any act of goodness, of acknowledgment and reconciliation with our neighbor.  We are petty and self-centered, too often vindictive in our actions.  Let us not take the credit for what the Spirit achieves in us!  As another psalm says, Give yourself the glory!
  • Climax: The Spirit himself intercedes.  We hear it and know that it comes from beyond our humble powers. 
  • I will challenge myself: To take this wonderful gem and polish it once more for my listeners.  When I finish they will know, as they always have, that their groanings are in that deeper language that is God’s mother tongue.

 

Gospel. Matthew 13, 24-43

  • Lots of parables today.  Can I keep up with them all?  Like the seeds being sown in the last couple of weeks, I’ll sow them and let them take root where they will. 
  • The major parable has to do with two sowers, one of good seed and the other, his enemy, who sowed weeds (tares) among the wheat.  There are a lot of slaves who do the hard and dirty work: Sir, look what happened.  And there is the householder, a wise and prudent man: Let them grow together until harvest. 
  • I can build up interest in a story that people have heard many times before, if I pause at the key points: after the enemy has sown the tares, after the slaves put their question about pulling them up, and finally after they collect the weeds and gather the wheat.  Let us all work out a solution to the problem.
  • The two shorter parables are told in a kind of wonder, even though they are about our own lives.  Let me repeat them with that sense of eye-opening amazement I might use when telling a fairy story to children; we usually celebrate mass with many children present.  That mustard seed is the smallest of seeds, and then the largest of plants.  That yeast leavens the whole batch. 
  • Finally I read an interpretation of the first parable.  It is a summary of world history, an apocalypse, a revelation of the way things really are.  At first everything appears to be growing together, perhaps in the sense of the relativism that certain Catholics condemn today: Shall we go and pull them up?  Or perhaps in the sense of the pluralism espoused by other Catholics, that the parable itself encourages: No, let them grow together.  The denouement comes at the end of the age. 
  • Central theme: The kingdom of heaven is like …  That is the opening phrase for all the parables and the key to their interpretation.  Even if we skipped the explanation that Matthew gives us we would still find our way to the meaning.
  • Message for our assembly: It comes at the very end.  Whoever has ears ought to hear.  It is not just Jesus speaking now, but the church today in my voice.
  • I will challenge myself: To bring alive a sense of wonder at these ordinary events in our lives, these signs of the times.  I want my reading of the parables to help my listeners to appropriate them as their own.

Word to Eucharist: Here is a time at which we are short of words.  The Spirit will intervene on our behalf, so Christ promises us.  We may not be able to explain this gathering, in the face of all the absurdity of our world, but we know who we are and we know whom we are meeting.

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