Sunday readings in November/December 2012

Sunday 4 November

Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary time
Deuteronomy 6.2-6; Psalm 17
Hebrews 7.23-28;
Mark 12.28-34

Today's readings give us two of the most profound and most used of all the passages from the two Testaments: The great prayer of Deuteronomy 'Hear O Israel.' And the twin commandment of Jesus " to love God and neighbour. These are a rich diet for reflection by any disciple. However there is also food for reflection elsewhere. The Letter to the Hebrews has been part of the Sunday Liturgy for some weeks, and will continue until the Feast of Christ the King. It does not necessarily easily fit with the other readings Sunday by Sunday, but the insights of its author are well worth exploring. The author of the Letter writes a very carefully argued theological treatise which seeks to demonstrate how in Christ, the former ways have been fulfilled in the per- son of Jesus. The great emphasis is always in the definitive nature of Christ's great act of self-giving in the Pascal Mystery. In contrast to the former dispensation, Jesus brings a once and for all offering. It replaces the innumerable offerings and sacrifices of the former covenant just as the priesthood of Christ replaces the former priesthood. For Christians, all priesthood is related directly and only to the priesthood of Jesus. This is the great insight of the Letter to the Hebrews which helps us understand Chris- tian priesthood, both ordained and baptismal. For both, but in different ways, it is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ. It is because the source of Christian priesthood is Christ himself, that the weak- nesses of individual persons do not impede the grace that flows from the sacramental life of the church " something that both Augustine and Aquinas articulated at great length. At a time in contemporary culture when great questions are being asked about who counts as priest, it is only by returning to the essential role of Christ as THE high priest as the Letter to the Hebrews insists, that our understanding and insight may grow.

Sunday 11 November

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary time
1Kings 17.10-16; Psalm 145
Hebrews 9.24-28
Mark 12.38-44

The presence of reference to widows so often in scripture is a reminder to us that in the ancient world the independent woman did not exist. She was dependent on husband or father, and if widowed became the inheritance of the eldest son. The insecurity of her position explains why the refer- ences to widows always have something of the symbolic element about them " the widow represents all who in society are dependent and vulnerable. Indeed the prohibition of injustice including the cursing of those who took advantage of a widow's helplessness (Dt 27.19) suggest that in practice the exploiting of that vulnerability was a very real issue. The presence of widows in today's readings therefore should not be seen as a simple personal fact about the subject, but as an indication of a whole class of marginalised persons. The example of faith and generosity that both the widow of Sidon (significantly a pagan town) and the widow with two small coins exhibit is a powerful challenge to all who have a secure social standing and secure income " in today's world as well as that of Elijah and Jesus. The positive response to their open-handedness " the bountiful meal and oil and the words of Jesus " is not simply an acknowledgement that their priorities were the right ones, but an affirmation that the consequences of generosity are a super- abundance of God's gifts. Christians will always recognise that generosity is the very nature of God and those who know that will live accordingly " and receive accordingly.

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