Q: You’ve just written a book on the lectionary readings, Words Without Alloy. Can you explain why we had the first reading last Sunday (19th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C)?
A: Yes, I can. The second draft of the lectionary had a different passage there, Exodus 12:1-3, 11. That’s the account of the first Passover meal. Moses commanded the people to eat the meal with loins girt, an expression that reappears in the gospel for that Sunday (Luke 12:32-48). The final draft of the lectionary replaced the Exodus reading with one about God’s promise to Abraham (Gen 15:1-6) because it paired with the second reading then assigned to that day (Heb 11:1, 8-12). The first edition removed any pairings between the first two readings during Ordinary Time in favor of pairings between the first reading and the gospel. The notes on the drafts do not explain why, but the first edition of the lectionary switched the first reading to the one we have now (Wisdom 18:6-9). My hunch is that the editors remembered the pairing with Exodus, but thought that Exodus was getting enough treatment, especially during Lent, and that Wisdom was underrepresented so that people may not know how many parts of the Book of Wisdom treat the Passover. The explicit reference to eating with loins girt is gone, which would have made the connection easier to see. In the end, the first reading shows the importance of being ready for freedom, as the gospel shows the importance of being ready for the coming of the Son of Man.