16th Sunday of Ordinary Time
July 17, 2016
Reginald H. Fuller
Reading I: Genesis 18:1-10a
The annunciation of Isaac’s birth to Abraham has no obvious connection with the thanksgiving for the Christian mystery
in Colossians (Second Reading) or with Martha and Mary in Luke (Gospel).
Perhaps there is a thread linking the revelation of Isaac’s birth to Abraham and the mystery hidden for ages and
generations and now made manifest.
God is a God who acts in history, his actions are constantly new, and accompanying his
actions is the revelation of theft meaning. Action plus revelation of its meaning equals mystery.
Annunciation scenes are a device to disclose the meaning of God’s acts in salvation
history. The birth of a major figure in salvation history (often a birth out
of due course, a supernatural birth) is announced by an angel.
The birth of Isaac
was supernatural, because both Abraham and Sarah were too old to become parents.
This and other similar birth stories (for example, Samson and Samuel) provide
the Old Testament precedent for the annunciation of the birth of Jesus to Joseph
in Matthew, and to Mary in Luke.
For Jesus’ birth is likewise supernatural. In
other words, Jesus is not merely a product of human history but an intervention,
indeed the final eschatological intervention of God in salvation history.
meaning of this history is disclosed to Joseph (“He will save his people
from their sins”) and to Mary (“He will be great, and will be called
the Son of the Most High”).
Responsorial Psalm: 15:2-3, 3-4, 5
This psalm is one
of the “entry psalms” sung as the pilgrims entered
the temple. It describes the character of the person whom
God will accept as a worthy pilgrima person of justice,
sincerity, and integrity.
Abraham was known for his justice, and this psalm serves as a fitting response to the First Reading.
Reading II: Colossians 1:24-28
The letter to the
Colossians is one of the antilegomena that is, a letter
regarded, at least by more radical critics, as deutero-Pauline.
If that is so, the present passage is remarkably close to what
St. Paul would have written, and is the product of a mind thoroughly
impregnated with the thoughts of the Apostle. It interprets
the Apostle’s self-understanding precisely as in Galatians,
1 and 2 Corinthians, and Romans.
Suffering is one of the hallmarks of apostleship. The Apostle fills up what is
lacking in Christ’s afflictions—a bold formulation, which, however, does
not mean that something is lacking in the atoning power of Christ’s death.
clue lies in the undoubted letters of Paul, which present his suffering as an
epiphany, manifestation, or proclamation of Christ’s cross. What is “lacking”
is not the atoning power of the cross but its manifestation in the Church as
As in the undoubted letters, Paul’s gospel is a “mystery” (1
Cor 2:1), the proclamation of a new saving act, a complete novum unheard
of before. For Paul, this mystery has a particular nuance (see Rom 11:25): it
involves admission of the Gentiles to the privileges of the end-time community.
There are also some differences between our passage and the undoubted letters.
In the latter, Paul does not speak of the Church as the body of Christ tout
court but employs that image as a metaphor or simile to express the unity
of the Church amid the diversity of its members.
Also, the undoubted letters
either reject the notion that Christians already here in this time could be “mature”
literally, “perfect”) or use it ironically.
Colossians and Ephesians speak
of perfection as a goal toward which Christians should progress on their earthly
The differences are slight but significant.
The antilegomena presuppose
a later situation in which it is recognized that the Church is here to stay,
to live in history and to produce a Christian culture.
This well-known idyllic scene is placed by Luke immediately after the parable of the Good Samaritan (see last Sunday).
In this position it corrects the activistic impression that might otherwise be deduced from Jesus answer to the lawyer’s question: “Do this, and you will live.”
Activism must spring from hearing the word of God. Most of us would feel that we have to combine Mary and Marthahearing the word of God
and going out into the world in active service.
But we must recognize that some have a primary vocation to be Mary, others to be Martha.
Reginald H. Fuller
Back to the Word
Copyright © 1984
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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), pp. 487-489.
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