29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
The Word This Week
Everyone on this earth belongs to God. All are made in his image. Therefore it is right that all men and women, ‘from the rising to the setting of the sun’, should know the God to whom they belong. The only desire of our God is that all should know and love him, and find in him the fulfilment that they seek. Even a pagan king like Cyrus is used to further this knowledge of God - just as Jesus uses Caesar’s head to make the point again: all belong to God, and the mission of all who acknowledge that belonging is to help others to find it. This is exactly what we see Paul, Silvanus and Timothy doing, as they write to the people of Thessalonica, to whom they carried the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Notes for Readers
First Reading: Isaiah 45:1.4-6.
A bit of background: the people of Israel had been carried into exile in Babylon in the year 587 B.C., and had settled there; then, in 539 B.C., the armies of the Persian King, Cyrus, entered Babylon, defeating the Babylonian armies. A year later, in 538 B.C., Cyrus issued a decree, stating that the Israelites could leave Babylon to return to their own land. This they did, starting the rebuilding of the Temple (which had been destroyed) the year after. This reading describes the choice of Cyrus, the Persian King, as the means through which God frees his people. The reason for this is so that the knowledge of the Lord can spread throughout the world. All this background is not apparent from the reading, so your listeners will be labouring under a disadvantage (unless a brief introduction is given). The main point of the reading, and the one to strive to get across, comes in the last three lines, which explain that this person called Cyrus, even though he doesn’t know the Lord, is the Lord’s chosen instrument, who will increase the knowledge of God ‘from the rising to the setting of the sun’ (from East to West). To increase your understanding of the meaning of the reading, look closely at the Psalm, a hymn about uniting all the nations of the earth under God.
Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5.
The beginning of a new letter: after a traditional, formal greeting, Paul launches into an affirmation of the people of Thessalonica; note the list of their three virtues: ‘shown your faith in action, worked for love and persevered through hope’ - be careful to keep the meaning through this list. Also note the idea in the last paragraph about how the people received the word of God as something more than words - this comes up again in a fortnight - which perhaps helps the reader to understand what she or he is doing: not reading words, but conveying ‘power and the Holy Spirit and utter conviction.’