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

1. Isaiah 49, 14 and 15

  • Second Isaiah is the messenger of hope to Israel in exile.  Through him God speaks very intimately to the people.  This reading is among the shortest of the year, but it may be the one my listeners will most remember.
  • Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.”  There must be quiet anguish in these words.  I remember the anguished cry of Psalms 22 and 88.  It is not a question of doubt or a lack of faith.  It is just the unspoken question we have whenever we must wait for an outcome.  Israel waited three generations in exile.  Mount Zion too was bereft of God’s presence.  God did not disappear or die, but was not accessible in the old ways.  What to do?
  • Can a mother forget her infant?  All animals, all humans know the cry of their baby.  Of course they hear it, unless they are impaired in some way.  Because the answer to the prophet’s question is clearly “No!” we begin to answer our previous question.
  • God is compared with a mother, and for that reason becomes a mother here.  Israel is the child of her womb.  My own reading will convey some of a mother’s tenderness.  My wife can sense at a long distance that one of our children is in trouble or suffering.
  • Even should she forget  It is the premise, the condition, which is never fulfilled.  Let my words reflect that, as I emphasize “Even.”  The prophet does not mean to put down mothers, but to defend the otherness of God.  Let me dwell on “I” when I say I will never forget you.
  • Just as Israel’s question emerged from years of waiting in anguish in a strange land, these prophet’s words of consolation will come as a suggestion and will plunge deep within our soul to a place of assurance.  Psalm 42’s refrain catches the mood: “Why are you troubled, my soul?”  And so should my reading.
  • Climax: I will never forget you.  In the scripture, “never” means never.
  • Message for our assembly: Now we know, in the words of the old show song, we “never walk alone.” 
  • I will challenge myself: To help the congregation remember God’s promise, by the way I show my own trust in that promise.

2. I Corinthians 4, 1-5

  • The apostle was putting up a defense of his ministry to this church.  We already knew that several itinerant preachers had visited Corinth besides Paul, and that the one church had begun to break up into so many fan clubs.
  • Could I imagine any televangelist speaking like this in public?  I think that their defense of their minister’s prerogatives would be spirited, and I will do the same.
  • Thus should one regard us: as servants of Christ.  The reading begins with this sentence and sets the tone for all that follows.  For some reason the sects and movements – including early Christianity – have more success keeping to this line in their humble beginnings than when they become fashionable.  Why is that?
  • Stewards of the mysteries of God.  In that sense they are servants of Christ.  They are providers, proveedores, guides, gurus to the inner dimension.  I must make it clear that they lead people to places they could not attain on their own.  In that sense, “stewards” would be the word to ponder over.
  • Stewards must be found trustworthy.  This thought will lead the apostle to digress, but not gratuitously.  Of course, he says, you’re going to appraise me and you have every right to do so.  The clergy crisis arose, just as any authority crisis arises, because we accepted people too easily as our leaders without making the slightest critical appraisal of their work or behavior.
  • It does not concern me in the least  What he means is only that he holds to a different set of performance standards, a more demanding set than that used by the community when they evaluate his work.  And what would that be?  The one who judges me is the Lord.  There is some defiance in his words, but I hear a man who asks for forbearance and no rush to judgment.  I will say it patiently.
  • Therefore, do not make any judgment before the appointed time.  His admonition is very difficult to follow at a time when we are so disappointed with the quality of the leadership selected for us from higher authority, and with this or that minister or group leader.  “Disappointed” may be an understatement, at a time when self-appointed judges continue to report disapproved behavior to higher levels in the church.  Of course I can say it honestly, since God’s standards and the “ways of providence” are at work.  But to wait until the Lord comes?  Let me reflect on the spiritual works of mercy for guidance here.
  • Central point: Judge not the minister by human criteria but by God’s standards.
  • The message for our assembly: In the end, it is God’s cause we are furthering.  Let us get beyond the human differences that gum up the works.  And above all, let us not make up our minds in advance and with malicious intent.
  • I will challenge myself: To make it obvious to my listeners why Paul defends himself, and how we can apply it to the way we live together as church.

Gospel. Matthew 6, 24-34

  • I tell you, do not worry  If we took a survey of key phrases from the Sermon on the Mount, most Christians would answer with this passage.  And rightly so.
  • Is not life more than food?  I would think that the words speak for themselves.  Then I remember that our advertising age bombards us with the opposite message.  I have to reach more deeply, rehearsing until I have the word that will shake us back to our senses.  I refer to the affluent congregation for whom I read, not to those who are starving and malnourished. 
  • Look at the birds in the airthe wild flowers (ah, poor “lilies of the field,” I miss you).  Jesus saw the connection.  We know that it is not a perfect analogy, since many species of birds and wild flowers are endangered today.  I recall Psalm 104, that hymn to all of nature and its dependence on God.
  • Your heavenly father knows that you need them all.  This takes me back to the first reading, where God remembers and provides for us.
  • Climax: Seek first the kingdom.
  • Message for our assembly: Do not worry.  It appears over and over.
  • I will challenge myself: To make the reading speak to at least one person in the congregation, although everyone has heard it often and knows it very well.

From Word to Eucharist: God promises to accompany the people always.  If we are to imitate God, then we are called to accompany one another at communion time and in every hour, just as we are.

 

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