Sundays in July and August 2017
Robert Draper

The Letter to the Romans

The Letter to the Romans is undoubtedly the key theological writing of Paul, and the history of its exposition encompasses key developments by the great theologians of the western Church Ð notably Augustine, Abelard, Luther and Calvin. For that reason it carries both a demand to be explored, and a warning to the reader to step warily. The section we will be hearing over the next several weeks touches on the Christian life which is rooted in the Spirit and is therefore the cause of hope and a positive invitation to acknowledge the destiny of the believer; and then there follows a later part of the letter dealing with the special place of Israel in God's plan, as Paul tackles the relationship of the pagans to Israel. If one ponders Paul's words in this part of the letter one can only be deeply unsettled to contemplate the history of Christian anti-Semitism.



Sunday 2 July
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

2 Kings 4.8-11, 14-16
Psalm 88
Romans 6.3-4, 8-11
Matthew 10.37-42

In today's passage from Romans, Paul gives a very succinct account of the Christian faith in the Resurrection of Jesus, as being the means, through baptism, of the resurrection of those who believe in him. Such would most certainly not be the faith of Elisha and the people of his time. For them future hope was always tied up in the reality of offspring; those descendants who would ensure that there would be a record of them and therefore a future for them. By giving the woman of Shunem a son through the prophet, God ensures her destiny. The passage of Jesus' teaching from Matthew's Gospel offers a radical alternative vision. In a very challenging passage - challenging both traditional understanding, and also in offering a very challenging style of life - Jesus ties future promise and hope directly onto present practice. The future destiny of each disciple is directly related to living each day in response to the gospel. The first part of Jesus' teaching is deliberately a call to renunciation, but the second part is a promise of the benefits of fidelity. The reward promised the one who welcomes a prophet is an allusion to the Elisha story in the first reading, but the greatest consolation is the assurance that in encountering his disciples Ð that is those who seek to follow Jesus' teaching - Christ himself is encountered. The Lord himself is truly with those who carry the gospel and seek to live it out.

Sunday 9 July
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Zechariah 9.9-10
Psalm 144
Romans 8.9-13
Matthew 11.25-30

Today's first reading and gospel echo a common theme of paradox. The learned and the clever are not the ones to whom things of the kingdom have been revealed - that is rather to 'mere children'. And it is to those who labour and are overburdened that rest is promised. It seems that we constantly need reminding that the ways of the kingdom are different from the ways of the world. That is why the king comes riding a humble donkey even though he is victorious and will banish chariots and horses - the might of the Empires that closed Israel in on every side. The ways of God are different, but nonetheless effective for their purpose. This is not some meek and mild teaching - a sort of 'spiritual' interpretation of life. We need to note that when Paul talks of spiritual in the Letter to the Romans, he is not advocating some detached quiescence; for Paul the Spirit is always the power of God. Although the Christian understanding of the Trinity took many centuries to become defined, Paul is quite clearly not referring here to some vague presence - the way so often the word 'spiritual' is used in contemporary culture. For Paul - and the Christian tradition - 'spiritual' is always about the presence of the Spirit of Christ which is a living presence in the faithful, and the Spirit is always the source of the Resurrection of Jesus and the life offered to those who acknowledge him. As the Church came to articulate later - spiritual is the personal indwelling of God, because it is always the Holy Spirit who is the source of Christian living.

Sunday 16 July
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 55.10-11
Psalm 64
Romans 8.18-23
Matthew 13.1-23

We often use the phrase 'I see what you mean' when we are not talking about physical sight, but understanding. Similarly we can say to someone 'I hear what you are saying' meaning that we have understood the issue they raise, not just that the sound of their voice entered our ears. What matters is that act of insight, of it entering fully into our consciousness, of some concept becoming our own. That is why Jesus teaches in parables: it is not enough to simply hear the words, or even being able to repeat them accurately. The teaching of the kingdom has to enter into the recipient and effect a change. Parables need to be pondered and they need the gift of the insight which can often be the product of faith. The parables we will hear over the next few weeks as we proceed through Jesus' teaching in Matthew's Gospel are invitations to faith Ð not just clever stories. Through pondering and through prayer the parables can become a powerful insight into the ways of God and a challenge to the way the disciple understands and acts. In considering today's Parable of the Sower and the seed, it is important to note that it is the condition of the soil which determines the results of the seeds being sown. The sowing is extravagant Ð there is plenty of seed so it can be scattered everywhere - but it can only take root and flourish where the soil is prepared and cultivated. Sometimes people comment on the amount and length of the Scripture readings at Mass - God's word is abundant, but it will be received and produce fruit only where the hearer is fertile soil and receptive to it. The reading from the prophet Isaiah offers a further brief insight.  The rain is not managed and controlled by the farmer, and yet it brings forth the harvest; but it is only by working with the weather and responding carefully to it that the farmer can produce the best results. Similarly the Word of God is not managed and controlled by the hearers, but those who produce the harvest will be those who are ready to receive it for what it is - God's word that will indeed carry out what it was sent to do.

Sunday 23 July
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wisdom 12.13, 16-19
Psalm 85
Romans 8.26-27
Matthew 13.24-43

The juxtaposition of the reading from Wisdom with its emphasis on mercy and repentance and the Gospel today suggests that the theme the compilers of the Lectionary have noted is that of judgement, and judgement that can be deferred. The Parable of the Wheat and the darnel insists on the reality of judgement - and the promise that the darnel will be burnt gives it a strong note of seriousness. Yet the reading from Wisdom insists that the judge - whilst truly just - is also one who offers leniency; so does the psalm that follows it. The Christian teaching on judgement cannot be ignored or set aside, but it also insists that we acknowledge that the one who does judge is not some cold impersonal bureaucrat, but the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, and our knowledge of the Father is revealed in the life and action of the Son. Further solace is offered today from the Letter to the Romans. Although a very brief section it is well worth a lot of reflection. Human weakness is a given - the ability of humankind to live blamelessly is impossible, even the ability to approach God is impossible without the grace that comes to us through the gift of the Spirit, and that is abundant.

Sunday 30 July
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 3.5, 7-12
Psalm 118
Romans 8.28-30
Matthew 13.44-52

An important key to the Gospel is offered by the selected first reading from the first book of Kings. It is Solomon's great prayer for Wisdom. The young king approaches God and does not ask for the presumed gifts he might need as king - power, long life, success over enemies, glory. He asks for wisdom, for the ability to discern and understand. That is deemed by God as being truly astute and so Solomon becomes the great wise king. When faced with the great number of parables that Matthew gives us in this part of his Gospel - three more today - we can only enter into them if we follow Solomon and seek wisdom. Anyone could make a quick superficial judgement about the 'meaning' of each parable, but that would actually defeat the intention of Jesus in giving us so many and such varied images of the kingdom. Parables are to be pondered, to be reflected on. Wisdom is the process of using experience and knowledge to interpret what is presented in line with the understanding that comes from faith. Human experience is an essential part of the process - that is why so many parables present ordinary and homely images. They are not intellectual puzzles but experiences to be interpreted in the light of faith.

An important aspect of wisdom is that it is a collective process - it is not that each individual has to start with a blank sheet and work everything out personally. The wisdom sought is the wisdom of the community that has pondered across the generations - hence the section of the Hebrew Scriptures known as the Wisdom Literature has perennial value. That is why the image of the householder bringing out things both old and new is a fascinating one and an encouraging one. For a generation that has come to appreciate so much the great insights of John Henry Newman it is worth recalling that his great work was rooted in his researching the early Fathers of the Church. It was in the exploring of that ancient wisdom that so much of his great work originated. That is why the Church constantly seeks to hold on to what it has received, but also present it for the current generation in terms of the culture and insights that are newly available. Fidelity is neither simply holding on to the past, nor in seeking to find new insights; it is the work of wisdom in discerning and presenting as a faithful disciple of the kingdom.

Sunday 6 August
The Transfiguration of the Lord

Daniel 7.9-10, 13-14
Psalm 96
2Peter 1.16-19
Matthew 17.1-9

We hear the Gospel of the Transfiguration every year on the second Sunday of Lent, which always gives it the specific context as part of the preparation for the celebration of Easter; so it is interesting to hear it in today's context - the regular Sunday Liturgy of the Community. The second reading presents the writer as one who was present at the actual event, one who heard the words and saw the sight. In an obvious sense that is a unique witness, and yet the reality of Christian faith is that all believers can recognise the reality of such an experience. Whilst it is true that Christianity is an 'historical religion' in that it is rooted in actual historical events, people and records, it is also true that it is rooted in the living presence of the Risen Lord in the lives of the faithful. Christians do not believe an historic account of Jesus' teaching in the way one might believe the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle or the war diaries of a combatant. The word 'gospel' is not limited to four literacy constructs of the first century; it is 'good news' which is always current and always a personal invitation to the hearer. And the invitation is to encounter the living God; it is, as it were, to find oneself on the mountain and see the Lord and hear the words of the Father. Many - perhaps most - Christians would acknowledge a moment, or moments of Transfiguration when they would claim to have encountered the living God and been called to listen to the Beloved Son. The witness of the records, the testimony of the Tradition, the profession of the community of faith are all essential elements of the Christian endeavour, but so too is the individual's personal encounter with the Lord - the reality of Transfiguration which makes a reality of what is ultimately faith - encountering the Living God.

Sunday 13 August
Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 19.9, 11-13
Psalm 84
Romans 9.1-5
Matthew 14.22-33

There is such an obvious passion in this section of Paul's Letter to the Romans and that challenges any Christian anti-Semitism. It is strange to read that and reflect on how Christians have so often responded in a completely contrary way to the people of the earlier covenants. It is always important to remind ourselves of such texts in a world where so many social, political and economic forces can encourage hostile prejudice.

The first reading and the Gospel both focus on the same theme - that the massive forces of nature are under the control of the God who has care for his people. The reading from the first book of Kings is a marvellous piece of drama: the sheer might and power of the natural world are the effect of God, but do not reveal him. God chooses to reveal his real self in the gentle breeze, and the invitation to God's people is to seek him there. Peter receives a personal invitation: 'Come'. Like so often in the Gospel Peter is portrayed as the one who responds to Jesus and the signs he works, but like here, he is portrayed as one whose faith is inadequate. It is surely not insignificant that the one who is always numbered first among the apostles, the one who is named 'rock', the one who takes the lead after Pentecost is so often portrayed in this way, as one whose faith lets him down. Elijah, before his encounter with the Lord on Mount Horeb, had crawled under a furze bush in the desert and wished for death. The Scriptures are offered not as stories of super-heroes who can manage through their own strength, but rather are offered as examples of weak human beings with whom all can identify, who are enabled by God to respond to the invitation to be disciples. That is always the lesson which is offered to those who hear.

Sunday 20 August
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 56.1, 6-7
Psalm 66
Romans 11.13-15, 29-32
Matthew 15.21-28

The idea of being a chosen people carries with it the implication that all other people are not chosen. So the Scriptures from the very beginning had a very strong element of exclusivity and indicated that God's people should be separated from other peoples culturally, socially and ritually. That idea was taken up by the early Church, using the same language (1Peter 2, 9 Cf Exod. 19.6). But with that idea of exclusivity it was always acknowledged from the beginning that God could look with favour on other peoples. Isaiah has several passages to this effect apart from the striking one given today (e.g. 2.3; 62.2.) As last week's section from the Letter to the Romans expressed so strongly, Paul is desperate to bring his fellow Jews to Christ and can even argue that bringing in pagans is also a means to that end. The gospel passage can come across as presenting a harsh Jesus, but in fact the fierceness of his argument makes the point that such an exclusive view of the chosen people is now redundant - the issue is not to do with ethnicity but with faith. The idea that the Church has a duty to carry the gospel to all people is now well-established in Christian understanding as a principle. Perhaps today's readings can invite us to reflect how in practice the community accepts and welcomes those who present different cultures and origins, but share the same faith Ð that is always a challenge and no more so than in a multi-cultural society.

Sunday 27 August
Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 22.19-23
Psalm 137
Romans 11.33-36
Matthew 16.13-20

Shebna's fall is occasioned by his arrogance - he takes his post so much for granted that he orders the construction of a magnificent tomb for himself; such hubris leads to his removal. Eliakim is appointed in his place as Master of the Palace, and the language used of him suggests this is no simple honorific job, but truly a significant role not just for the Palace but for the whole of Jerusalem and Judah. In the Gospel, Peter is similarly given a title and appointment that is not for himself but for the benefit of God's people. In a culture where - for very good reasons - we are very concerned that a proper job description and person specification is prepared for every post and role, it can seem somewhat arbitrary the way God's chosen ones are appointed. In fact it should be more striking that God chooses to use frail weak human beings (think of what else we know of Peter) as significant elements in his plan of salvation for humankind. And the emphasis should be on the choosing - it is not as if the short list for applicants is so poor, it is that God opts to work with the frailty and weakness of humanity. In that sense God takes the idea of incarnation very seriously - as should we. God brings about human salvation and the kingdom through people like Eliakim and Peter - and each of us. In Paul's words that is a key aspect of the riches of the depths of God - and the extraordinary love and dignity that God offers humanity.

Prayers of the faithful
Anthony Towey

Suggested Prayers of the Faithful for July Ð August 2017. Anthony Towey is the Director of the Aquinas Centre at St Mary's University, Twickenham

2 July 2017
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Invitation to Prayer
The readings today remind us of the importance of sharing and simple generosity. In the prayers we offer, we share the cares and concerns of our Church, our world and our people.

Concluding Prayer
Father of Mercy, you have called us to be a generous people in imitation of your Son who gave his life for us. As you heard the cry of Elisha and the widow, grant favour to the prayers of your people which we make, through Christ, our Lord.

9 July 2017
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Invitation to Prayer
In the Gospel, Jesus reminds us that it pleases the Father to hear and grant the prayers of his children. Mindful of His love we approach the throne of grace.

Concluding Prayer
Father, those who labour and are overburdened, those who bear the yoke of suffering, these your people cry to you this day. Graciously grant their prayers and those of all your faithful throughout the world. We ask this through Christ our Lord

16 July 2017
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Invitation to Prayer
As the earth is watered by rain and snow so we are refreshed by the word of God. Confident in the provident goodness of the Lord we present our prayers and needs to our loving Creator.

Concluding Prayer
Father - may the seed of your word find our hearts to be soil of the richest kind and may the prayers that we make yield fruit in abundance. This we ask through Christ our Lord.

23 July 2017
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Invitation to Prayer
Through St Paul we have learned that the Spirit comes to our help in our weakness such that even when our words fail us, our pleas will be heard. Emboldened by this promise we make our prayers in confidence to the Father.

Concluding Prayer
Lord of all, eternal Father, may the prayers we have made be pleasing to you and yield a harvest of loving kindness. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

30 July 2017
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Invitation to Prayer
Brothers and sisters though we stand dishevelled by sin, we are the treasure in the field, sought out and paid for by Christ whose love is the pearl of great price. Confident in the riches of his mercy, we present our prayers and petitions.

Concluding Prayer
Father, whose beauty is both ancient and new, give us a desire to seek your face and the wisdom to know your will. And grant these our prayers, which we make through Christ our Lord.

6 August 2017
Transfiguration

Invitation to Prayer
On this day which celebrates the transforming power of divine love, we approach the Father of light for all our needs and the needs of all

Concluding Prayer
Heavenly Father, on the Holy Mountain you proclaimed your Son 'Beloved'. In this Holy Place we too seek your presence and ask your favour on our prayers which we make through the same Christ our Lord.

13 August 2017
Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Invitation to Prayer
'Mercy and faithfulness have met, justice and peace have embraced' - as we stand now in prayer, may God be merciful towards us, his faithful people.

Concluding Prayer
Heavenly Father, as Elijah was comforted by your voice, as Peter was held in the midst of the storm, may your humble people gathered here be consoled by your presence and walk boldly in faith. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

20 August 2017
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Invitation to Prayer
Lord, on your holy mountain you gather all the peoples of the earth and as we come before you today, we dare to offer you our prayers in faith, hope and love.

Concluding Prayer
Heavenly Father, just as the persistence of a mother's prayer was miraculously answered in the Gospel, so too may the earnest prayers of this assembly be answered through the holy name of your only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

27 August 2017
Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Invitation to Prayer
Lord you have promised your Church the keys of the kingdom. With confidence in your care for her we offer our prayers and petitions.

Concluding Prayer
Loving Father, the Holy Spirit has revealed your Son Jesus to us and blessed the Church with his abiding presence. We rejoice in his saving work and confident in his intercession at your right hand, we make these, our prayers, through the same Christ our Lord.

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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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