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Ordinary Time 8 (B)
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Readings for the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

 

1. Hosea 2, 16-17 and 21-22

  • I hear talk of reconciliation for two covenant loves.  We have learned one the hard way, from our ‘better or worse’ experience as spouses.  God reveals the other to us, in an earnest search after the chosen people.  In the background I hear the theme from Hosea, the tender song born in Weston Priory that I have come to identify with this prophet.  I will let it flood my consciousness as I read.
  • I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart.  The prophet was betrayed by his spouse, and in like manner God is abandoned by the chosen people.  Today God speaks through me, proposing a way to reconciliation.  Since today’s reading introduces the plan immediately, I need to start with the same expansive and inviting voice that I hear in I will lead her.  If love is true, we will not be crushed when we see it fail, but work all the harder to restore it. 
  • She shall respond there as in the days of her youth.  There is a certain innocence, or purity of purpose, in any beginning.  The prophet is speaking of the noviazgo and honeymoon when both lovers think as one, but above all the covenant between God and Israel.  The words remind us that the hope of renewal, expressed here, springs from the people’s initial acceptance of the covenant.
  • I will espouse you to me forever, in fidelity.  Our own living of married love and our life together as church are inspired by God’s promise of eternal fidelity.  The reading is about both of these promises, the covenant between marriage partners and the covenant of God with the people.  And this is not just a single reconciliation in history.  It is meant to be repeated, as we are doing today.  True love brings a constant rededication.
  • Climax: I will espouse you to me forever.  Not ‘until death!’  As Tony and Maria sang in West Side Story, ‘Even death won’t part us now.’
  • Message for our assembly: If we have ever loved another person deeply, we can identify with this passage, one of only two from Hosea that we hear on the Lord’s Day.  Our faith prompts us to know the Lord as intimately as we do our spouse. 
  • I will challenge myself: To be bold in using the words God speaks about the covenant, and to pledge my own lifelong commitment to it.

 

2. II Corinthians 3, 1-6

  • I hear of credentials in this reading.  As someone without them (as the institution considers), it is easy for me to identify with the apostle.  The Corinthians looked for letters of recommendation, just as dioceses and parishes do today. 
  • Where did he prove the worthiness of his ministry?  You are our letter, written on our hearts by the Spirit of the living God.  The words of Jeremiah come to his mind: Written on tablets that are hearts of flesh.  I will be careful to say on our hearts, not ‘in’ them.
  • The apostle looks not to names and titles upon a resumé but to the achievements of this church to which he has ministered.  A coach is judged by what happens on the court, by the maturity of her players and the titles they have won.  And in like manner the apostle will not take credit for anything as coming from us. 
  • I undergo the same challenge to my ministry, and I know how it is validated: Our qualification comes from God.  How would the Corinthians, or my listeners, know this?  The force of my own voice may help them discern how God commends his chosen instruments. 
  • Now how would I or anyone else demonstrate these credentials?  How do we prove we are qualified by God as ministers of a new covenant? 
  • The Spirit gives life.  I have taken this phrase as my motto, as I look for ways to transcend the typed text and invoke the God present with us today.  At the same time I avoid overwhelming the text and the proclamation, so that the Spirit who is present to the entire church can work new wonders in the church.
  • Climax: I hear two.  One is spoken in exclamation, raising debate to a loftier plane: You are our letter.  I’ll release all the force of these four simple words after a dozen or more repetitions.  The second, at the end of the passage, sets new priorities for Corinth and for lectors: The Spirit gives life.
  • The message for our assembly: We depend so much on appointments from bishops for the validation of the church in all its spiritual gifts.  We need to learn again that the Holy Spirit blows where it will, calling up new witnesses every day.
  • I will challenge myself: To speak boldly from the same point as the apostle, letting my uncredentialed gift speak for itself as I challenge my own church.

 

Gospel. Mark 2, 18-22

  • I hear two stories today, one about a wedding party and another about what could happen at a wedding party: new wine and old wineskins. 
  • The stories sound old and people will dismiss them as old, unless I rivet their attention.  But how to relate them to our life as a church?
  • For a moment I am the best man, and in that spirit I address Jesus the bridegroom at the wedding party, offering this toast: We shall not fast while the bridegroom is with us.  All of us present celebrate Jesus the bridegroom, and we are well aware that we will fast when the bridegroom is taken away from us.  Of course, this is no ordinary marriage feast, but the definitive feast in the end time that never ends. 
  • I present the piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak, and I tell the assembly that we need to adapt to the change, or else the tear gets worse.  This is the greatest rebuttal I can imagine to the argument presented by those now in control of the institution: that our life together over the last half century can be summarized as an unbroken continuity and that the institution with its prerogatives remains basically in place.  The signs of the times, even if they be displeasing to some, cannot be denied.  If they are, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are ruined.  That is not Bible theory any more; our eyes and ears note it happening.
  • Climax: New wine is poured into fresh wineskins.  Once I have made my point, I will pause a while so that everyone can absorb the wisdom of Jesus.
  • Message for our assembly: We have all been to wedding receptions, and so we know what Jesus is talking about.  Weddings are a celebration of something new.
  • I will challenge myself: To insist on the need for renovation, for rejuvenation, that our entire assembly become like fresh wineskins.

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