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Scripture In Depth
15th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Year B
July 11, 2021
Reginald H. Fuller

Reading I: Amos 7:12-15

This reading appears to have been chosen to go with the mission of the Twelve in the gospel. Amos is sent to God’s people in Israel (the northern kingdom) as the Twelve were sent to God’s people in Galilee.

The passage places before us two contrasting conceptions of religion—one represented by Amaziah, priest of Bethel, and the other represented by the prophet Amos.

Amaziah thought of religion in “civil” terms. It existed to promote loyalty to the status quo—the royal house and patriotism. Bethel was the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom, a sort of national cathedral.

Amaziah thought of his own role as that of a court chaplain, whose job was to prophesy “smooth things.”

Amos, however, was not a card-carrying member of the prophetic guild (whose members viewed their duties much as Amaziah did his); he was an outsider whom God had called to denounce the government for its injustices and inhuman policies.

We do not get the substance of Amos’ message here, only his basic attitude.

It is to deliver the word of the Lord, not to take the professional line of the court chaplains and spokespersons for an uncritical patriotism.

Responsorial Psalm: 85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14

In commenting on this identical selection on the nineteenth Sunday of the year in series A, we pointed out that the original context of this psalm is uncertain, but that its theology reminds one of Second Isaiah and that its plausible context is the impending return from exile. While suitable for any occasion, it does not appear to have any particular connection with today’s readings.

Reading II: Ephesians 1:3-14 or 1:3-10

The opening thanksgiving of Ephesians (which we regard as Deutero-Pauline) is suggested by Paul’s thanksgiving in 2 Corinthians 1:3ff, and is today widely thought to be made up from a liturgical hymn.

This liturgical material runs through Ephesians 1:14. The shorter version is obtained simply by lopping off the latter portion, which is printed as a separate paragraph in the RSV (and NAB). In the Greek both parts consist of a simple sentence.

The contents suggest that these verses were taken from a baptismal hymn. They speak of (1) the election and predestination of the believer before the creation; (2) the Christ-event; (3) the gnosis conveyed in Christian experience; (4) the definition of gnosis as the cosmic scope of salvation history; (5) the distinction between “we” (Jewish Christians) and “you” (Gentile Christians), and the sealing of the latter with the Holy Spirit in their initiation.

It may reasonably be conjectured that the distinction between Jewish and Gentile Christians has been introduced into the hymn by the author of Ephesians, thus adumbrating his major theme throughout the letter. That theme is the unity of both parties in the one Church.

Thus, the hymn would have concluded with a celebration of the sealing of all the newly baptized. It will be seen that the short form omits an essential part of the hymn.

Gospel: Mark 6:7-13

It was claimed by some of the early form critics that the synoptic missions were creations of the post-Easter community. If this were so, one would have expected Jesus’ charge to reflect the Church’s post-Easter Christological kerygma, whereas in point of fact the terms of their mission in both Mark and Q are exactly those of the earthly Jesus.

Mark does not specify, as Q does, that they were charged to proclaim, as Jesus did, the inbreaking of the kingdom of God, but he implies it in (a) the eschatological haste (no bread, etc.); (b) the warning of possible rejection as Jesus’ message was rejected; (c) the statement that they preached repentance (see Mk 1:14); (d) their performance of exorcisms and healings.

  “We must regard as authentic the commission to act like Jesus himself in proclaiming that God’s kingdom has drawn near and in doing mighty works” (F. Hahn).

It is equally clear that the four forms of the charge (Mark, Q, Matthew, Luke) tended to expand or reduce the original nucleus in accordance with contemporary needs and practices. Thus, in Mark, as we have seen, we find that the reference to proclaiming the kingdom of God has been dropped (Mark knew only a Christological kerygma in his Church), and the reference to exorcism and healing is extended to include a specific mention of oil (see Jas 5:14 for this Church practice).

What function does this charge play in Mark? Mark clearly is very interested in the Twelve. They are sometimes presented in a highly negative way, as blind and unperceptive to the mystery of Jesus and his mission.

Here, however, they are presented in a positive light. They are entrusted with the same message and mission as the Master himself. Clearly, Mark wishes to hold before his Church this twofold possibility. In Mark’s Church the successors of the apostles are simultaneously warned and encouraged.

They may misunderstand Jesus and, in the supreme hour of persecution, fail their Lord, as the disciples forsook him and fled; or they may become true witnesses to the gospel message, as the disciples did briefly in Jesus’ earthly lifetime and as they did for good after the risen One had commissioned them in Galilee (Mk 16:7).

Reginald H. Fuller
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Preaching the Lectionary:
The Word of God for the Church Today

Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Liturgical Press. 1984. (Revised Edition).

Preaching the Lectionary

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