Paul Schlachter
lector preparation

26th Sunday of Year B

Welcome to Lector Works

Below you will find:

A series of thoughts about the lectionary readings of the day, as an oral proclamation within the church’s public prayer, and how the writer would want to have them declared and received effectively.

Three elements are always identified:

1. the climax of the reading
2. the contact point of the reading with our assembly
3. one special challenge the reading poses for the seasoned lector

You will not find:

1. The complete text from the lectionary (only notable selections)
2. A critical study of the biblical texts and their history (I assume them)
3. A general list of suggestions for the homilist (we are all capable of that)
4. A guide to pronunciation (we already prepare the unfamiliar names)

Paul J. Schlachter has participated in the lector ministry for 50 years.  He lives in Miami, Florida.

Numbers 11, 25-29

by Paul Schlachter
  • Climax: Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!  What a glorious prayer, and indeed what an agenda for our evangelization work!
  • Message for our assembly: Are we ready to accept the presence of God in our neighbors with us today, even in those we do not get along with?
  • I will challenge myself: To acclaim the words of Moses in full agreement.  I want to see a little of the charismatic gift in this assembly, because I believe in a God who does not give sparingly.

First Reading’s Thoughts

  • The Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to Moses.  I hear an ancient passage that sounds foreign to us today.  How can I imagine the scene to myself, so that my listeners will accompany me through the story to the truth it reveals?
  • Taking some of the spirit that was on Moses, he bestowed it on the seventy elders.  The people have journeyed from Egypt and are hungry.  God seems far away and their need for food immense.  Moses himself wonders what can be done.  Quail are about to appear in abundance, and the people must see that they do not come by accident; no, God is acting on their behalf.  The presence of the spirit speaking is the sign.
  • My first impulse was to read the story as a kind of political event of passing on authority.  But this spirit is not passed on; rather, it is received by the elders.  As the spirit came to rest on them, they prophesied.  They are praying, not leading.  It is sounding more and more like the first Pentecost.  God is in charge, not Moses or anyone else.  Now I intend to read it in the context of a prayer meeting, more softly and intensely, to indicate the action of God in them.
  • The connection with today’s Gospel becomes evident in the rest of the passage, in which Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.  These two elders were not present at the general meeting and so their authorization is placed in doubt.  I can connect this flow of events very easily to our own experience as church, in which God speaks among the people in unexpected ways.
  • Joshua is, as Moses tells him, jealous for my sake.  Authority in other words is supposed to pass through the patriarch to everyone else.  But God had other intentions.  That is what the author writes: The spirit came to rest on them also.  I imagine the young man as he whispers the news to Moses, and Joshua who gives his advice privately and instinctively, more out of propriety than of alarm, as if to say: Well, I think you should stop them.

James 5, 1-6

by Paul Schlachter
  • Central sentence: You have “stored up treasure for the last days”?  It makes sense only if the elder is quoting his audience and ready to refute them.  The change in punctuation shows how I want it to sound: Have you really?  And at whose expense?
  • Central point: Accumulation of wealth in itself is offensive to God and has no place in the kingdom or in the last days.
  • The message for our assembly: We are all quite aware of the material conveniences that we still do not possess.  My assembly qualifies hands down.
  • I will challenge myself: To allow for some shock effect, but to remember that I am quoting from the Bible and not giving today’s homily.

Second Reading’s Thoughts

  • Come now, you rich.  Steve Rose’s protest hymn comes back to me, though Steve’s lyrics admonish while the apostle’s words threaten.
  • If I were ever to let our assembly overhear a reading, this is it.  Now is not the time to establish eye contact with anyone present, but to settle on a vague space out there, where each will hear and apply the teaching.  John Paul II spoke most resolutely on this theme, as have so many saints through the centuries and numerous national bishops’ conferences.
  • That does not mean that I will downplay the message!  The early churches fell prey to materialist ways of living, but we as true children of our age have carried the game of possessions to new heights.  You have stored up treasure for the last days.  The elder reminds the churches of another life where the comfortable today will face impending miseries.
  • I hear many examples of decay: rotted awaymoth eatencorrodeddevour your flesh.  The elder intended to shock his readers, just as those today who produce videos about drug addiction and AIDS.  I don’t have to overdo this or sound like a hellfire preacher to get his point across.
  • The passage concludes with a second accusation.  Not only have the wealthy offended God by attending excessively to material gain, but they have also wronged others in the process.  That wealth did not come cleanly.  You withheld wages from the workers who harvested your fields.  You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous one.  The singular ‘righteous one’ sounds like Jesus to my ears.

Mark 9, 38-48

by Paul Schlachter
  • Climax: Cut it off.  I like it not because I would follow it literally, but because it sets off an urgent alarm about the life to which we all are headed.  Enter into lifeenter into the kingdom of God.  In that respect it echoes the warnings in James.
  • Message for our assembly: Do we take these urgent warnings seriously?  Are we planning more carefully for our retirement than for our entry into new life?
  • I will challenge myself: To make my eye contact with the congregation only in the first half of the reading.

Gospel’s Thoughts

  • Today’s reading includes two passages from Mark.  The first has much in common with the first reading.  A disciple told Jesus: We tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.  I might repeat John’s words innocently, as someone acting in some ignorance who really believes he did the right thing.
  • Jesus offers in reply some wisdom that could be heeded by all who, from the very top of the institution, insist on defining our church exclusively, contrasting it with those who are not members.  I will speak his reply in a magnanimous tone: Whoever is not against us is for us.  Jesus is not rebuking the disciple but elevating his thoughts to a higher plane.  He really means anyone; so will I.
  • The second set of teachings applies to all of us in our family lives as well as our life as church.  Whoever causes one of these little ones to sin  It sounds to me like an early child protection rule.  I will repeat the harsh punishment harshly.
  • If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  Yes, all folk cultures are prone to exaggeration.  On the other hand, we urbanized folks grasp the urgency of the first two words: cut it!  If someone has a smoking, drinking, sex or drug addiction, we know that a total break from the vicious behavior is necessary.  A recent dramatization of this came in the hit movie Ray Could I speak the words ‘cut it’ more sharply, so that my listeners get the point?
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Lisa St. Romaine

Lisa’s Videos

Lisa is a lector at her Catholic parish in Kansas. VIEW HER BIO

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Gregory Warnusz

Lector’s Notes

A website for the prepared lector (and listener) since 1999. Greg’s notes tends to focus on popularizing the historical-critical scholarship about the origins of the scriptures.

26th Sunday of Year B

Numbers 11:25-29

by Gregory Warnusz

The people of God have always needed to be organized, and they have complained when the organization doesn’t serve them well. That’s the context of today’s first reading, where God gives the leader Moses some extra help. Moses doesn’t mind that the help is somewhat hard to manage.


The Situation Within the Situation: At the outer level, Numbers was written after the Exile, in the 6th century B.C.E., by Jewish priests hoping to put the broken nation back together, and keep it faithful to God. Faithfulness to God, in the minds of these priests, meant strict monotheism, attention to ritual detail, and keeping the moral requirements of the more ancient Law. Their method was to retell the story of the Exodus, from the 12th century B.C.E., with emphasis on the issues they deemed important in the present.

The inner level of Numbers, chapter 11, has two stories of God’s responses to the continuing complaints of the wandering Israelites. One response is enclosed within the other. The people had complained earlier about their hunger, and God had given them manna. Now they’re lamenting the absence of meat from their diet, comparing the manna unfavorably to the variety of foods they had while enslaved in Egypt.

Interestingly, the Lord’s first response is to bolster Moses with some helpers. He tells Moses to gather seventy elders. The Lord promises to “take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them. Then they will bear the burden of [leading] the people with you.”

Then, before fulfilling that promise, the Lord disposes of the people’s complaint with delicious sarcasm:

“To the people, however, you [Moses] shall say: Sanctify yourselves for tomorrow, when you shall have meat to eat. For in the hearing of the LORD you have cried, ‘Would that we had meat for food! Oh, how well off we were in Egypt!’ Therefore the LORD will give you meat for food, and you will eat it, not for one day, or two days, or five, or ten, or twenty days, but for a whole month-until it comes out of your very nostrils and becomes loathsome to you. For you have spurned the LORD who is in your midst, and in his presence you have wailed, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?'”

Then follows the passage that is our Sunday reading, just a small part of the whole, but a fragment that finds an echo in today’s gospel.

A Modestly Proposed Interpretation: What I’ve called the two inner stories seem drafted to fit the outer situation, the priestly writers’ purpose of putting the nation back together after exile. There were complainers in post-exilic Judah, and there were even Jews who voluntarily stayed behind in Babylon when they could have come home. The writers may be comparing them to the ungrateful Israelites of the Exodus. Secondly, there’s a great endorsement of the authority of these priest-scribes in the story of God spreading Moses’ spirit among seventy elders, although that’s undermined by Moses’ wish that all might become prophets.

Pronouncing “prophesy” and its cognate words: The third vowel in the verb “prophesy,” and the third vowel in “prophesied” and “prophesying,” all have a long i sound. They rhyme with “die,” “died” and “dying.”

The noun “prophecy” rhymes with “see.” But this noun does not appear in today’s English lectionary selections (whether Protestant or Catholic, U.S. or world). So if you were to say, “The Spirit prompted Eldad to prophesy, and prompted Medad to deliver a prophecy,” then the words have different sounds.

Proclaiming the Story in Detail: The original audience of this story believed that prophesying was a special gift. God both empowered and compelled some people to speak to others with God’s own authority. That’s no small matter. So they were wary of anyone prophesying without all the right credentials. In this story, two elders missed the prophet-ordination ceremony but prophesied anyway. To object to that seems like nit-picking to us, but it was very troubling to the people among whom it happened. What’s really instructive, though, is the contrast between Joshua’s response to this and Moses’ response.

To proclaim this part of the story correctly, fix in your mind the differences between Joshua and Moses. Joshua is, relative to Moses, a young buck. He knows he’ll inherit authority when Moses finally dies, but now he has only ambition. Moses, on the other hand, speaks from decades of experience. He’s the one whose mother, when he was an infant and the Egyptians were slaughtering Hebrew babies, put him in a basket and set him adrift in a swamp. He’s the one found and adopted by the daughter of the Pharaoh. He’s the one who grew up in Pharaoh’s court and enjoyed power and privilege. He’s the one to whom the Lord spoke from the burning bush. He’s the one who went back to challenge the Pharaoh, and to bring ten plagues upon Egypt. He led the Hebrews out of Egypt through the sea. He received the Covenant from the Lord on Mount Sinai.

Is this Moses going to get upset because two guys named Eldad and Medad were prophesying without a union card? No! Moses has a much grander vision. He wants all the people to prophesy. Moses was way ahead of his time, but not ahead of our time. Your task, as lector, is to make your congregation want to exercise all the gifts God gives them, no matter what their places in any hierarchy. So, by your enthusiastic proclamation, contrasting tones of voice, and emphasis on both occurrences of the word “all,” make your listeners say “Yes!” to Moses’ vision. That’s how you’ll express Moses’ superior wisdom, and the point of this passage.

SOURCE: LectorPrep.org — Used with permission. content provided solely for convenience, and remains on this page for only ONE WEEK. VIsit Greg’s website for archives.

James 5:1-6

by Gregory Warnusz

In the reading from James three weeks ago, the apostle asked the community to treat its poor as well as it treats its rich members. Last week he ordered the members to be honest about their envy. Today he warns of the fatal consequences of greed, both for the greedy and for the community.


The Historical Background: We have introduced the Letter of James in recent Lector’s Notes. Today’s passage is a straightforward moral condemnation of those who enrich themselves by treating others unfairly. In the hardscrabble economy of the ancient Middle East, to withhold a day-laborer’s wage was a terrible injustice, tantamount to murder. So James is merciless in his condemnation of ill-gotten wealth. There’s hardly a more emphatic passage in the New Testament.

Proclaiming It Emphatically: Don’t be afraid to express James’ outrage in your own voice. While the economy has evolved, the moral imperative to treat others fairly is as compelling as ever. If someone among your hearers is guilty as charged here, give the blackguard a chance to hear himself or herself condemned, and be moved to repentance. And even those who don’t cheat others could stand to have their sense of moral outrage sharpened. Neither good thing will happen if your proclamation has only the urgency of the announcement that coffee and donuts will be served after mass.

SOURCE: LectorPrep.org — Used with permission. content provided solely for convenience, and remains on this page for only ONE WEEK. VIsit Greg’s website for archives.

Gregory Warnusz

Hear and Read Sunday’s Scriptures Like a Leader

SOURCE: LectorPrep.org — Used with permission. content provided solely for convenience, and remains on this page for only ONE WEEK. VIsit Greg’s website for archives.

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