Thursday, July 27, 2017

Friday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

“Landscape with the Parable of the Sower” 
by Pieter Bruegel the Elder,1557


Reading 1: Exodus 20:1-17

Commentary on Ex 20:1-17

In this reading we are given the Exodus version of the delivery of the Ten Commandments by Moses.  The fact that the Decalogue is repeated here and in Deuteronomy indicates the importance of these statutes as a moral code for the people of God. While the division into Ten Commandments is somewhat uncertain, we believe that verses 1-6 constitute one commandment while verse 7 describes two (see also Deuteronomy 5:6-21).

“The chief discrepancies between Exodus and Deuteronomy consist in the humanitarian motivation added in the latter for the observance of the Sabbath precept, and in the reversal of order in Exodus 20:17 and Deuteronomy 5:21. In Exodus, ‘house’ is named first and then ‘wife.’”[4]

CCC: Ex 20:1-17 2056; Ex 20:2-5 2083; Ex 20:2 2061; Ex 20:7 2141; Ex 20:8-10 2167; Ex 20:11 2169; Ex 20:12 2196, 2200, 2214; Ex 20:13 2257; Ex 20:14 2330; Ex 20:15 2400; Ex 20:16 2463, 2504; Ex 20:17 1456, 2513, 2533
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 19:8, 9, 10, 11

R. (John 6:68c) Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.

Commentary on Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 11

Psalm 19 is a hymn of praise. In this passage, we give praise for God’s gift of the Law which guides us in our daily lives. The hymn also extols the virtue of obedience and steadfastness to the Law and its precepts. The passage also reflects the idea that following God’s statutes leads to peace and prosperity.


Commentary on Mt 13:18-23

This passage from St. Matthew is the explanation of the “Parable of the Sower”. This explanation is given to the disciples as St. Matthew’s way of explaining it to his broader audience. It follows Jesus’ earlier response to their question about why he teaches using parables and his lament that many will not see or hear these teachings.

CCC: Mt 13:3-23 1724; Mt 13:22 29

We come back to the Parable of the Sower in St. Matthew’s Gospel, and we should take a closer look.  Jesus is telling his disciples what the parable of the sower means. The first example he uses is the seed that falls upon the path.  He says that represents one who hears about the Kingdom of God but does not understand.  The leap of faith is just too much. 

In our day and age, people who are raised without even the concept of God could be in that same situation.  In this instance, we could also think about children who have been traumatized at a young age.  If their parents were not loving, merciful, and nurturing during their first two years, children have a very difficult time understanding a loving, merciful and nurturing God.

The second instance is when the seed falls on rocky ground.  Jesus tells us that without the deep roots of faith (while faith is a gift, it must also be grown) initial joy gave way to despair as the shallow faith is washed away in tribulation.  We see that frequently in individuals who catch fire without foundation.  Frankly it happens much more frequently in other Christian denominations that do not require the serious commitment of something like the RCIA.  When a person needs to go through 9 months of weekly classes and several interviews, they tend to have a good foundation, deeper roots than the person who attends a prayer services and is “saved,” immediately accepted into the congregation, without needing any discipline of faith.  Just so we don’t get complacent, it also happens to a cradle Catholics who have an adult conversion experience but stopped their formation in the faith in grade school or early high school..

Next, we hear the Lord talk about the seed sown among the thorns.  Some things never change.  What was true in the Lord's day is true in ours.  Many people are exposed to the temptations of our secular world and, without that foundational faith to keep them strong, they also fall prey to   “worldly anxiety and the lure of riches,” and they bear no fruit.  It is this situation that we must all be wary of since that allure is always with us.

But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.

Ah, this is where we all hope to be.  There is, however, one interesting little trap here.  Notice the key phrase: “the one who hears,” that phrase implies that the hearer is actively listening.  Saying, “I have heard” is like saying “I have watered my garden.”  Once we have listened, we must continue to actively listen.  Failing to do that puts us on rocky ground (sorry for that, but it was too obvious.)

Today our prayer is the Ephphatha, paraphrased here. It is the prayer used in baptism while touching the ears and lips on an infant being baptized:

May the Lord open our ears to receive His word,
and our lips to proclaim His praise.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen


[1] The picture is “Landscape with the Parable of the Sower” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder,1557

[4] See Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice Hall, Inc., © 1968 on Exodus 20:1-17, §48

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Thursday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

“Mount Sinai” (Detail) by El Greco, 1588

Readings and Commentary:[3]

In the third month after their departure from the land of Egypt,
on its first day, the children of Israel came to the desert of Sinai.
After the journey from Rephidim to the desert of Sinai,
they pitched camp.

While Israel was encamped here in front of the mountain,
the LORD told Moses,
"I am coming to you in a dense cloud,
so that when the people hear me speaking with you,
they may always have faith in you also."
When Moses, then, had reported to the LORD the response of the people,
the LORD added, "Go to the people
and have them sanctify themselves today and tomorrow.
Make them wash their garments and be ready for the third day;
for on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai
before the eyes of all the people."

On the morning of the third day
there were peals of thunder and lightning,
and a heavy cloud over the mountain,
and a very loud trumpet blast,
so that all the people in the camp trembled.
But Moses led the people out of the camp to meet God,
and they stationed themselves at the foot of the mountain.
Mount Sinai was all wrapped in smoke,
for the LORD came down upon it in fire.
The smoke rose from it as though from a furnace,
and the whole mountain trembled violently.
The trumpet blast grew louder and louder, while Moses was speaking
and God answering him with thunder.

When the LORD came down to the top of Mount Sinai,
he summoned Moses to the top of the mountain.
Commentary on Ex 19:1-2, 9-11, 16-20b

The story of Moses leading the people out of bondage in Egypt is continued in this passage. God tells Moses what signs he will perform for the people in order that they may be made holy and faithful followers. The imagery given: “I am coming to you in a dense cloud, so that when the people hear me speaking with you,” traditionally represents God coming down from the heavens.

The passage also describes a time of waiting for the Lord to come. “…be ready for the third day,” the same waiting period is used later as the Savior spends three days in the tomb before coming, as true God, to the people. Again the image of heavenly power is expressed in lightning and thunder, fire and smoke, and Moses is summoned the “high place” of Mount Sinai, a clear sign to the people that he goes to be in the presence of God. This episode establishes Moses as God’s emissary.

CCC: Ex 19 751, 2060; Ex 19:16-25 2085
Responsorial Psalm: Daniel 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56

R. (52b) Glory and praise for ever!

"Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our fathers,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever;
And blessed is your holy and glorious name,
praiseworthy and exalted above all for all ages."
R. Glory and praise for ever!

"Blessed are you in the temple of your holy glory,
praiseworthy and glorious above all forever."
R. Glory and praise for ever!

"Blessed are you on the throne of your Kingdom,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever."
R. Glory and praise for ever!

"Blessed are you who look into the depths
from your throne upon the cherubim,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever."
R. Glory and praise for ever!

"Blessed are you in the firmament of heaven,
praiseworthy and glorious forever."
R. Glory and praise for ever!

The Responsorial Psalm is a song of praise to God taken from the Book of Daniel.  This selection is the hymn chanted by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as they stood in the white-hot furnace. (Note: in Daniel 1:7 Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were given the Babylonian names of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.) This section is part of one of the litanies contained in the hymn. In this instance, it is a doxology. “In general this word means a short verse praising God and beginning, as a rule, with the Greek word Doxa.”[4]

The three heroes were being punished by King Nebuchadnezzar for not worshiping a golden idol he had set up.  An angel of God came to them in their plight and kept them from harm, even though the furnace was so hot it burned those who tended it.


The disciples approached Jesus and said,
"Why do you speak to the crowd in parables?"
He said to them in reply,
"Because knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven
has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted.
To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich;
from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
This is why I speak to them in parables, because
they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.
Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:

You shall indeed hear but not understand,
you shall indeed look but never see.
Gross is the heart of this people,
they will hardly hear with their ears,
they have closed their eyes,
lest they see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their hearts and be converted
and I heal them.

"But blessed are your eyes, because they see,
and your ears, because they hear.
Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people
longed to see what you see but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear but did not hear it."
Commentary on Mt 13:10-17

 Following the “Parable of the Sower,” the disciples approach Jesus to ask him why he does not speak more clearly to the people instead of using the parables that some find confusing. His response, recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, is much softer than the same story related in Mark 4:11ff.

“Since a parable is figurative speech that demands reflection for understanding, only those who are prepared to explore its meaning can come to know it. To understand is a gift of God, granted to the disciples but not to the crowds. In Semitic fashion, both the disciples' understanding and the crowd's obtuseness are attributed to God.”[5]

Concluding, Jesus reflects upon Isaiah 6:9-10 in a lament that the people will not understand what he reveals because their hearts are hardened.

CCC: Mt 13:3-23 1724; Mt 13:10-17 787; Mt 13:10-15 546; Mt 13:11 546

The question posed to Jesus by the disciples in the Gospel comes right after he has explained the Parable of the Sower.  They ask him why he uses parables to teach instead of telling them in a straightforward way what he wants them to understand.

We hear in his response what must be a sense of frustration (Jesus being true man would feel that sense as keenly as you and I).  He sees in their hearts the barriers to understanding placed by their traditions and interpretation of God’s revelation to that point.  They were, after all, still operating out of the Hebrew mind-set, shaped by their ancestral view of God’s revealed presence.  Jesus did not come to them as a cloud, accompanied by peals of thunder and earthquakes as the God of their ancestors had come to Moses.

Jesus does not come as expected, in power and majesty, but as a humble teacher, the son of a carpenter, not dressed in fine robes, but appearing quite ordinary.  Because of his “unexpected” means of arrival among them, he needs to explain his mission through stories and analogy.  Those who are open to God’s presence, those who seek him in truth, will see and understand.  The lord laments that there are so few who fall into this category.

We shake our heads and say to ourselves “Oh, those poor deluded people. How could they not see God who walked among them?”  That of course is when we bring ourselves up short.  We too frequently forget that Christ comes to us “unexpectedly.”  He comes in the form of the person begging on the street or languishing in a hospital bed or nursing home.  He teaches us lessons we do not hear and speaks words we do not understand because we seek him in “expected places” only.

The lesson we take away from scripture today is that we must be constantly vigilant, seeking the Lord in unexpected places; listening for his message in places which might have been overlooked.  With fresh ears and eyes, strengthened by sacramental grace let us seek him most vigorously.


[1] The picture is “Mount Sinai” (Detail) by El Greco, 1588
[3] The readings are taken from the New American Bible with the exception of the Psalm and its response which were developed by the International Committee for English in Liturgy (ICEL). This re-publication is not authorized by USCCB and is for private use only.
[5] See NAB footnote on Matthew 13: 10-17