The nine Sundays of June and July include three key feast days
By Father Joseph Brando
This edition of The East Tennessee Catholic takes us beyond the Easter Season, through the feasts of Pentecost, Holy Trinity, and the Body and Blood of Christ, and right back into Ordinary Time. It’s a great time to start off explaining what this column is attempting to accomplish.
Simply, our task is to take the sacred Scriptures used at Sunday Mass and read them under a series of looking glasses. We examine these passages in their normal biblical context, as they appear isolated, and as they look in relationship with other Scripture passages selected for use in the Liturgy of the Word at Sunday Mass. Such an endeavor widens our outlook and gives us a grander view of the task and accomplishments of those inspired by God to take part in the writing of sacred Scripture.
In this edition we are covering the nine Sundays of June and July. These include three major feast days: Pentecost, Holy Trinity, and Corpus Christi (that is, the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ). And then, we return to Ordinary Time (that is those Sundays that are designated by a number, an ordinal).
The first of these feasts is Pentecost. As feasts go, Pentecost is among the highest ranking. The Church uses this occasion to bring us back to its earliest days of gathering together. Our first scene comes to us from the Acts of the Apostles written by St. Luke. He takes us all the way back to the first public sermon by Peter.
The disciples were in the Upper Room when the Holy Spirit descended on them, and Peter spoke to the crowd of visitors who came to Jerusalem for the Passover holidays from many different countries. This gives us a clue that the place was likely around David’s tomb, which is near where we locate the Upper Room. So, Scripture can help us identify facts to make biblical references more alive.
Today’s Gospel also gives us a realistic taste of what the apostles felt as they met in the Upper Room. Remember, the apostles were not models of bravery on the last days of Holy Week. However, the presence of the risen Christ changed their attitude to that of great joy and deep mutual forgiveness.
The passage chosen for the second reading shows a longer-range view. Paul tells us the result of the Easter event on those disciples. They became one with the risen Christ. On the feast of Holy Trinity, the Church uses Old and New Testament selections to demonstrate the relationship of the two covenants and to compare Judaism with Christianity. The theme of forgiveness that came forth in all its richness after Jesus’ resurrection is demonstrated as being alive at the Passover with Moses.
This theme of perfect forgiveness becomes full blown in the third chapter of John’s Gospel, where the evangelist demonstrates that experiencing forgiveness leads us to believe in eternal life.
The following Sunday celebrates the feast of Corpus Christi or the Body and Blood of Christ. The Scriptures read at Mass begin by introducing the Old Testament memory of the people of Israel being fed for 40 years by manna in the desert. Manna was a promise to His people on which God delivered. They believed and God delivered. The lesson was that God’s people were fed by their faith in God.
So also is it with the people of the New Covenant. In John’s sixth chapter, the place where John highlights Jesus’ gift of the Eucharist, the Lord avows that “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever and the bread I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
Notice how the New Testament readings on this feast blend in so beautifully with the selection from Deuteronomy. The Jews of Jesus’ time argued as to how Jesus can give them His bread to eat. Jesus provides the answer. It comes from the Father. The Father lives forever. So, this bread comes from the Father, and “whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
Now, as we journey deeper into June and cross the threshold of summer, we also cross into Ordinary Time. We no longer find easily developed themes dovetailing into each other. But, there are ideas that do develop, and there is much food for thought.
The Ancient Near East was a tough place to live. Perhaps it was more difficult than it is now. One of the worst times was the time of Jeremiah. “Hear this. Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us denounce him! All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine.” We know times were dangerous then as they are to this day. Having recently come through meditating on Jesus’ suffering and death, we can easily become deathly afraid.
Yet, the message of Christ for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time is, “Fear no one….do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” The underlying message is that God loves us and has the ultimate power to take complete care of us. The Lord wants us to avoid being terrorized. Paul gives us good reason to listen to Christ’s words. Paul reasons that the sin of one man brought death to all and through one man, namely Jesus Christ, one man brought life for all. So, we do not have to worry. Paul’s advice is as good today as it was when he wrote to the Romans.
That sets us up to analyze the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time. It is filled with biblical good news. The woman who invited the prophet Elisha to dine with her and stay at her house was not outdone in hospitality. He saw to it that she is granted a son that she had long hoped for.
Paul writes to the Romans that we receive the gift of life on an even larger scale. When we give ourselves to Christ we have died with Him. Nevertheless, we also know that Christ has already died to sin for once and for all. So, we must consider ourselves dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus. That’s a good example of biblical, New Testament reasoning.
Matthew writes in his Gospel that anyone who does a good deed for a prophet or one of Christ’s disciples will surely not lose his reward. This is not a hidden non-essential passage. Rather, this is of the essence of Jesus’ message to the world. Ask anyone who has responded positively to a religious vocation and felt the joy of totally giving himself or herself to God. For all the problems this life may present, the Lord can offer us eternal joy.
The message for the 14th Sunday is to be found clearly in the middle of Paul’s Letter to the Romans. It’s one of my favorites. “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you.” All we need do is live by the Spirit.
From there, all we need do is take the advice of the prophet Zechariah: “Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem!”
Isn’t it strange to have a divine imperative ordering us to rejoice heartily and shout for joy? That’s what happens when we live by the Spirit. For, we have a God who describes himself as “meek and humble of heart…my yoke is easy and my burden light.” That is the logical result of having a Savior who died for us on the cross.
If you still aren’t sure of what the Scriptures told us the previous week, just look at the Gospel for the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time. Jesus comes across to his people as one who sits down by the sea and tells the people a parable. He is the epitome of gentleness. He tells the people a parable about listening. He longs for us to listen to him. That’s what our God is like. The message of the last few weeks has been the vastness of God’s love for us.
This Sunday’s second reading is from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul writes, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.” Paul also sees that “creation is groaning in labor pains… and not only that but we ourselves…we also groan within ourselves as we await the redemption of our bodies.” Paul thinks that our pains are actually benevolent and will result in a new and joyous birth. We will come out of our bodies redeemed and adopted by the Lord.
On the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, we are exposed to more parables of the kingdom. Once again they remain consistent with what we’ve heard about the nature of God. Our God sows good seed. The enemy sowed the weeds, and our God did not want to risk a good seed’s life by pulling all the weeds. The mustard seed that is likened to the kingdom of heaven is a bush and is nothing like a stately tree. But it still invites birds. The woman had taken a small amount of yeast to mix with an extraordinary amount of wheat flour. The process would take a long time, needing a lot of patience. Put them all together you get the picture of a God who is loving, patient, content, caring, just, and life-giving.
This week we are exposed to Old Testament Wisdom literature. There, the wise man is one who does not unjustly condemn. Many a modern movie has unjust guilty verdicts as a theme. The biblical wise man takes risks and avoids fear. He is both lenient and powerful.
If you would, compare the assets of the late Old Testament ideal with the New Testament. What kind of a wise man would you be or what kind of king would you be?
Finally, we come to the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time. We remain in the parables of the kingdom. There, the kingdom is compared to a treasure found buried in a field, a pearl of great price, a net thrown into the sea and not to be sorted out until the fishermen get to shore. It seems Jesus liked speaking in puzzles.
What would you do… if, as in Jesus’ time, the treasure does not go to a recent buyer of the land, if you could not attain the net worth of the pearl, if there were more fish than you could sell? You need an agile mind to be a wise person. You need to be a Solomon to answer all the questions wisely. That is, if you want to be wise you have to think quickly and thoroughly and benevolently. It’s good to know that our God is the kind of wise king who loves us, cares for us and will always choose to die for us.
Father Brando is retired from the active priesthood in the Diocese of Knoxville.