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Thirty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

The Word This Week

We must be very careful that the real point of today’s first reading is not washed away in genuine concerns over what one can and cannot say about the responsibilities of spouses. This is not, in fact, a recipe for ‘the perfect wife’, but an illustration, from one age, of the virtue of fully employing the talents God gives us. Some things are timeless, such as holding out a hand to the poor, while other talents shift and change. The point is that all of us are gifted in varying ways and degrees: none of us should begrudge anyone else their talents, for fear that we overlook our own. We work wisely and well, looking forward to the master’s return, when we can hand over to him not just what he gave us, but also the fruits that our labours have gained.

Notes for Readers

First Reading: Proverbs 31:10-13.19-20.30-31.

A good word to describe this reading is ‘elegy’: it is a song to a perfection glimpsed in a particular way, at a particular time. It speaks not just of perfection, but also of love, and the blessing of fulfilment and the happiness of a life well-lived. The first line is beautiful in itself: read it meditatively, leaving a pause so that the question hangs in the air for a second. Read quite slowly, because of the poetic language. It would be good to emphasise the eternal virtues: caring for the poor and needy. Also be aware of the depth of truth in the rather throwaway line: ‘Charm is deceitful, and beauty empty.’ Pause just before it, and linger over it. the final line is a wonderful expression of how the way we live our lives is the best advertisement for our faith - get the emphasis right: ‘let her works tell her praises at the city gates.’

Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6.

The sub-theme of the Gospel is the return of the Master at the end of time: coincidentally this reading leads up to it, by reminding us that we do not know when his day will come. But the reading is not about frightening people: Paul is telling his beloved Thessalonians that they have no need to fear, because they are children of the light and the day. Putting our lives in order should wash away fear, so that we can long for the coming of the Lord. There’s a very ‘down-to-earth-ness’ about Paul today: he gives us illustrations of what he means that are very straightforward, especially the almost cynical line ‘It is when people are saying ‘How quiet it is’ that the worst suddenly happens...’  The two paragraphs give us a structure: first the warning, and then the reassurance. Aware of this, let your tone carry these ideas through the words Paul has written - especially bringing out his warmth of affection in the second paragraph.