Sunday Readings
Commentary

Sunday Readings Commentary

Father Andrew Wadsworth offers a short commentary on this week's Sunday Lectionary readings.

To read the relevant Bible passage just click on the reference.

Before reading and reflecting on God's word you might like to use the following prayer:

O Lord,
who hast given us thy word
for a light to shine upon our path:
Grant us so to meditate upon that word
and follow its teaching,
that we may find in it the light that shineth
more and more unto the perfect day:
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Father Andrew Wadsworth offers a short commentary on this week's Sunday Lectionary readings.

To read the relevant Bible passage just click on the reference.

Before reading and reflecting on God's word you might like to use the following prayer:

O Lord,
who hast given us thy word
for a light to shine upon our path:
Grant us so to meditate upon that word
and follow its teaching,
that we may find in it the light that shineth
more and more unto the perfect day:
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Trinity 2

Thus says the Lord GOD: “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the LORD; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it.”

The task of prophet Ezekiel was to keep up the spirits of the Jews exiled to Babylon. For them it seemed that the Sack of Jerusalem was the end of all hope: they had lost their homes, their king, their Temple and even their covenant with God. Ezekiel was a person of fantastic imagination, not afraid to indulge in wild and daring mimes to force through his message that God was still in charge and still caring for Israel. He mimed the siege of Jerusalem by building a mud-brick model and escaping through the wall. His visions are also daring and inspiring. Perhaps the best-known is the Valley of the Dead Bones, prophesying that Israel will come to life again, and read at our Easter Vigil. The present chapter is a imaginative allegory about a great cedar tree despoiled by two eagles, that is, Israel despoiled by Babylon and Egypt. Our reading is a tailpiece, promising that Israel will again become a great cedar tree, in whose shade the nations will come to take shelter. The gospel parable uses the same figure of a great tree in which all peoples will shelter. The great cedars on the mountains of Lebanon are an awesome and unforgettable sight, stretching far into the sky and wide across the hills, a suitable refuge for great birds.

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Paul uses several different sets of imagery to convey the goal of the Christian life for which he is longing. We know that all imagery is inadequate, but especially such pictures as heaven ‘up there’, in the clouds, playing harps. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul used images of participating in God’s power, incorruptibility and glory, transformed into a new mode of being by the Spirit. In last week’s reading he spoke of the ‘weight of glory’. In today’s reading he speaks of ‘being at home’ with the Lord in contrast to being in exile. Now that we are adopted children of God, to be with the Lord is our natural family home-coming. In the final sentence he envisages also the final judgement when we are laid bare for what we truly are, the frightening but comforting moment when we see ourselves as God sees us, when we can cease putting on an act and keeping up appearances. Before God there is neither need nor possibility of pretence. All masks are stripped off. This too is an aspect of being at home, for there is no pretending before the family. This fills him with courage and optimism on his journey home from exile.

And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it.  He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.

Jesus was a countryman, from the rich agricultural plains of Galilee, where wheat and fruit-trees abounded. It was natural from him to use such imagery for the Kingship of God which he was proclaiming. Today’s gospel-reading offers us two of the many images in Mark’s chapter of parables. What did Jesus want to teach by them? Images can carry many layers of meaning. First, the Seed Growing Secretly. Perhaps Jesus meant that God’s purposes are accomplished in spite of our feeble and fumbling efforts. Perhaps it was a warning that after long waiting the time for decision, the time of harvest had come with Jesus’ own mission. Then the Mustard-Seed: was this a reply to the discouraged disciples – or perhaps Jesus’ critical opponents – that his motley little group of undistinguished peasants, fishermen and tax-collectors would grow into God’s own mighty tree. Perhaps this is a first hint that Jesus’ mission is for all nations, not just for Israel. All nations would come, nest and find a home in its branches. At any rate, both images show that God is in charge, and has great plans which will be fulfilled despite our own inadequacies.

Corpus Christi

And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!’

And Abram gave him one-tenth of everything. Then the king of Sodom said to Abram, ‘Give me the people, but take the goods for yourself.’ But Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I have sworn to the LORD, God Most High, maker of heaven and earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal-thong or anything that is yours, so that you might not say, “I have made Abram rich.” I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me – Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre. Let them take their share.’

Such a short reading contains much for us to reflect upon. The key figure in this passage is Melchizedek, high king of Salem. His name means both KING Melech, of JUSTICE Zedek and of PEACE. He appears from nowhere and is not mentioned again in the book of Genesis. He is referred to in Psalm 110 and in the New Testament in the Letter to Hebrews, chapter 7 verses 1 to 10. He clearly believes there is only one God and as a priest he blesses the Patriarch Abraham which gives him authority and grace. A careful study of the Old Testament reveals how God uses Gentiles, non Jews in his plans and this is an example. The writer to the Hebrews sees in Melchizedek a prefiguring of Jesus because he is not a priest by genealogy, and he is a king. Thus priesthood and kingship are vitally connected. Jesus demonstrates both roles through his crucifixion by sacrificing himself on the cross as the high priest and as King by overcoming death, evil and suffering through the resurrection. The feast of Corpus Christi has all of this at its heart and the symbols of bread and wine in this encounter prefigure the Eucharist which acts as a tangible way to remember and celebrate our salvation in Jesus, King and High Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

Beloved: I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

Paul gives us the story of this meal, which he himself had received from what was already traditional, hardly a dozen years after the Last Supper, well before the Gospels were written .

Jesus himself was the lamb who was to be sacrificed, and his new covenant was sealed, not in blood sprinkled, but in his own blood consumed . It was a ‘memorial’, that is, an effective re-enactment, actually renewing the act of dedication and union . In today’s reading Paul is rebuking the Corinthians for re-enacting this significant moment thoughtlessly, as though it was an ordinary festal meal; they had lost the intention and the seriousness . They were no longer proclaiming the death of Jesus, no longer engaging themselves in the new covenant . It is a dangerous thing to commit oneself to a new covenant sealed by death and leading to new life.

Jesus said to the Jews: ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’

This is the last of the readings from the Bread of Life discourse. It moves on from seeing Christ as the Wisdom of God, who must be accepted and believed, to the sacrament of eating the bread of life. These correspond to the two halves of the Holy Communion, first the service of the Word, Jesus communicates his life giving words to us, and then through the re-enactment of the Last Supper where we are fed with his body and blood in the Eucharistic banquet. We are all so diet-conscious nowadays that it is quite obvious that the food we eat affects us. By eating Christ we are assimilated into him. But, just as, if I am sick, food does me no good and can even harm me, so if I eat Christ sacramentally without wanting to be moulded into him, it does me no good at all. That is why Paul complained that the Corinthians were answerable for the death of Christ. And drinking the blood of Christ? Blood is the sign of life – if there is no blood, there is no life – and God is the Lord of life and death. So if I receive Christ’s blood, I take on his life, his divine life, as the gift of God. That has alarming side-effects: it means I share Christ’s life with other Christians. We all live with the same life’s blood. Do I really share my life, my talents, my goods with others, knowing that I share the same bloodstream?