Breaking the Word Sundays

Sunday readingsSundays in January and February 2018
Robert Draper

When we read or listen to the Sunday Mass readings it can seem a very passive act. However, that is not how the Lectionary describes it: 'When God shares his word with us, he awaits our response, that is, our listening and our adoring "in spirit and in truth" (John 4.23). The Holy Spirit makes our response effective, so that what we hear in the celebration of the liturgy we carry out in the way we live.' (General Introduction to the Lectionary 6). The following brief reflections are aimed at helping us to enable the word of God to have an impact in our lives and make us into 'doers of the word and not hearers only' (James 1.22). The author is a parish priest in Dorset and a Vicar General of the Diocese of Plymouth.

Sunday 7 January
Epiphany
Isaiah 60.1-6
Psalm 71
Ephesians 3.2-3, 5-6
Matthew 2.1-12

The readings for this feast are always the ones we have today - the gospel account from Matthew and the readings from Isaiah and Ephesians which make explicit the inclusion of 'pagans' in God's covenant. This part of the book of Isaiah is commonly described as Trito-Isaiah - the third section of the great prophetic book. It was written after the exile, when those who returned came back to a deserted land, a ruined city and a long struggle to rebuild the Temple. To write such a powerful and positive prophecy at such a time must have seemed extraordinary with its image of peoples and wealth flooding into what was then a devastated city. That was the great hope that Isaiah held out to people who had faith. In some ways the passage from Ephesians must have seemed equally startling to many who heard it - the idea that those people who were never part of the covenant, people who had never heard of the Law and the prophets were now equally eligible to the same inheritance as the faithful of Israel. What Matthew describes in his (now familiar) story is no less astonishing: exotic figures from the East, gifts of gold and incense and myrrh, and a sign in the stars. When Isaiah, Paul and Matthew were writing, the great vision they offered would have seemed inconceivable - except by faith. As the Church grew and the Scriptures were fixed and pondered, the vision was seen to have been realised. 'The Mystery that has now been revealed' as Paul describes it, would have been seen to have come about. For those who read Isaiah, Paul and Matthew in their time and believed, their hope would have been vindicated, just as today, those who read these passages and acknowledge their truth are still vindicated, and are promised the hope they offer.

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Breaking the Word - Sundays

In the constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the Fathers of Vatican II decreed that: ‘The treasures of the Bible are to be opened up more lavishly so that a richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s word’. (SC.52) The lavish feast of Sacred Scripture at the celebration of the Eucharist is designed to nourish and inspire the faithful. The following reflections on the Sunday readings for the next two months are an attempt to help readers and listeners to both savour and  ponder the selected passages so as to be drawn ever closer to the source of that nourishment. The author is a parish priest in Dorset and Vicar General of the Diocese of Plymouth.

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