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Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 15, 2023
Duke Ellington and Mahalia Jackson

Today’s Invitation

Today, we invite you to explore Psalm 23 through the music of the American Civil Rights movement, with Duke Ellington, Mahalia Jackson, and Marian Anderson.

Commentary by Amy Shaw

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading 1

Isaiah 25:6-10

On this mountain,
YHWH Omnipotent will prepare for all peoples
a banquet of rich food, a banquet of fine wines,
food rich and succulent, and fine, aged wines.
On this mountain, YHWH will remove
the mourning veil covering all peoples,
and the shroud covering all nations,
destroying all death forever.
YHWH will wipe away
the tears from every cheek,
and take away the shame of YHWH’s people on earth,
wherever they live.
YHWH has spoken.
On that day it will be said,
“This is Our God,
this is the One for whose liberation we waited,
YHWH is the One in whom we hoped.
We rejoice exultantly in our deliverance,
for the hand of YHWH rests on this mountain.”

Responsorial Psalm

Psalm 23

Response: I will dwell in Your house for years to come.

Adonai, You are my shepherd; I have no wants. / In verdant pastures You give me repose;
Beside restful waters You lead me; / You refresh my soul.
R: I will dwell in Your house for years to come.

You guide me in right paths / for Your Name’s sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley / I fear no evil; for You are at my side
With Your rod and Your staff / that give me courage.
R: I will dwell in Your house for years to come.

You spread the table before me / in the sight of my foes;
You anoint my head with oil; / my cup overflows.
R: I will dwell in Your house for years to come.

Only goodness and kindness follow me / all the days of my life;
And I will dwell in Your house / for years to come.
R: I will dwell in Your house for years to come.

Reading 2

Philippians 4:12-14,19-20

I know what it is to be brought low,
and I know what it is to have plenty.
I have learned the secret:
whether on a full stomach or an empty one,
in poverty or plenty,
I can do all things through the One who gives me strength.

Still, it was kind of you to want to share in my hardships.
In return, our God will fulfill all your needs in Christ Jesus,
as lavishly as only God can.
All glory to Our God and Creator for unending ages!


Matthew 22:1-14

Then Jesus spoke to them again in parables.
He said, “The kindom of heaven is like this:
there was a ruler who prepared a feast for the wedding of the family’s heir;
but when the ruler sent out workers to summon the invited guests, they wouldn’t come.
The ruler sent other workers, telling them to say to the guests,
‘I have prepared this feast for you.
My oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready;
come to the wedding.’
But they took no notice; one went off to his farm, another to her business,
and the rest seized the workers, attacked them brutally and killed them.
The ruler was furious, and dispatched troops who destroyed those murderers and burned their town.

“Then the ruler said to the workers,
‘The wedding feast is ready, but the guests I invited do not deserve the honor.
Go out to the crossroads in the town and invite everyone you can find.’
The workers went out into the streets and collected everyone they met,
good and bad alike, until the hall was filled with guests.

“The ruler, however, came in to see the company at table,
and noticed one guest who was not dressed for a wedding.
‘My friend,’ said the ruler, ‘why are you here without a wedding garment?’
But the guest was silent.
Then the ruler said to the attendants, ‘Bind this guest hand and foot,
and throw the individual out into the darkness,
where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“Many are called, but few are chosen.”

The Inclusive Lectionary © 2022 FutureChurch. All rights reserved. 

The inclusive language psalms:
Leach, Maureen, O.S.F. and Schreck, Nancy, O.S.F., Psalms Anew: A Non-sexist Edition
(Dubuque, IA: The Sisters of St. Francis, 1984).
Used with permission.



Black, Brown, and Beige

Among this week’s readings, we find one of scripture’s most well-known hymns, Psalm 23. One of many psalms attributed to David, it has been set to music by composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach and Franz Schubert, and even referenced in popular songs like the Grateful Dead’s “Alabama Getaway” and Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise.” One musical setting of particular significance is prolific jazz composer Duke Ellington’s groundbreaking, three-movement suite “Black, Brown and Beige,” first performed at Carnegie Hall in 1943 and later released, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, as an album featuring the renowned gospel singer and activist Mahalia Jackson. This 1958 recording featured Jackson singing “Come Sunday,” which would become a jazz standard and an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement, and a powerful rendition of Psalm 23. As it turns out, Ellington’s suggestion that Jackson improvise this famous psalm was crucial to the success of their collaboration and to the creation of these timeless spiritual hymns. So, let’s explore in more detail this important chapter in the long story of a familiar psalm.

In the 1940’s, Carnegie Hall was a premiere venue for classical music where very few jazz musicians had been given the opportunity to perform. Nonetheless, returning to New York after working in California for several years, and struggling to obtain adequate promotion at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, Duke Ellington set out to compose a jazz symphony for a Carnegie Hall concert. As Ellington put it, it was to be “a tone parallel to the history of the Negro [sic] in America.” Up until this point, Ellington and his orchestra were known primarily for popular hits like “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” “Take the ‘A’ Train,” and “It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing.” While catchy and broadly popular, this type of music was anything but shallow for the bandleader, and it would be a mistake to regard those compositions as less “serious” than his preparations for Carnegie Hall. As Ellington once explained himself, 

“For the music that I wanted to hear, it was a matter of hearing people working; bending over a washtub, humming, or just walking through the street in the dark, whistling; or maybe somebody playing a piano or guitar or something. Or you might hear a cat blowing the blues on a whistle on a train. This is all people’s music. This is the kind of music when you ask them, ‘Say, what was that?’ And they say, ‘Oh, nothing.’”

While “Black, Brown and Beige” would be something very different from Ellington’s usual output, it still possessed that purpose at its core: it was music borne of human suffering, perseverance and love (of God and one another), just as it was music for the people – not only in Carnegie Hall, but in a still segregated New York and in a United States that was still a decade away from Brown v. Board of Education and the Montgomery bus boycott. When the 45 minute-long symphony premiered on January 23, 1943, the sold-out audience included political figures like Eleanor Roosevelt and leading Black artists like the poet Langston Hughes and the contralto Marian Anderson. While this first performance functioned as a fundraiser for Soviet war relief, later that year Ellington would dedicate the piece “to the 700 Negroes [sic] who came from Haiti to save Savannah during the Revolutionary War,” referring to the Chasseurs-Volontaires de Saint-Domingue who besieged the British occupied city in 1779. Ultimately, although the premiere was applauded enthusiastically by its Carnegie Hall audience, initial reviews were mixed, a reaction that, as jazz bassist and composer Christian McBride suggests, probably didn’t surprise Ellington, given the symphony’s subject matter and the exclusive venue.

That, however, was not the end of the story. In 1958, after fifteen years without a recording, Ellington revised “Black, Brown and Beige” in hopes that gospel singer Mahalia Jackson would collaborate with him and his orchestra. And although Jackson, who worked exclusively within a genre that almost never intersected with secular jazz, initially declined, it was Duke’s suggestion that she improvise Psalm 23 that finally brought their monumental collaboration to fruition.

Commentary by Amy Shaw

Amy Shaw is a Catholic Worker in New York. She is currently unemployed.

Engage Catholic Social Teaching

Racial Justice

Let’s go a bit deeper by examining the life of Mahalia Jackson, who, while not Catholic, embodied the best of Catholic Social Teaching’s solidarity. Her fame as a gospel singer was and is unparalleled – so much so that Malcolm X called her “the first Negro [sic] that Negroes made famous.” Fellow singer and activist Harry Belafonte, who passed away earlier this year, called her “the most powerful Black woman in the United States…There wasn’t a single field hand, a single Black worker, a single Black intellectual who did not respond to her.” Her music continues to inspire and sustain listeners, Christian or otherwise, to this day. And as we will see, despite engaging in around 200 gospel performances every year, she also worked intensely for the advancement of civil rights and for the needs of the Black community.

Born in New Orleans, Mahalia Jackson’s vocal career began at age 17, when she was suddenly struck by the spirit at church service, unexpectedly bursting into song with a rendition of “Hand Me Down My Silver Trumpet, Gabriel.” A self-taught contralto, she referred to herself during her early career as a “fish and bread” singer, relying mainly on various domestic and factory jobs to support herself financially. From her early days singing on street corners and selling sheet music with Thomas Dorsey (composer of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord”), Jackson began to find a wider audience during the Great Depression, as church attendance rose, and by 1948 was performing at Carnegie Hall herself. Dedicated exclusively to gospel music, Jackson had continually turned down lucrative contracts to sing secular music, including potential engagements at the Apollo Theater and Village Vanguard for $5,000 per week (equivalent to $110,000 today). Instead, she chose to perform at hundreds of churches for free. 

Moving to Chicago during the Great Migration and witnessing the city’s white flight, as well as having her home shot at by angry white residents, Jackson worked tirelessly for civil rights, to provide opportunities to Black youth, and to spread sisterly and brotherly love among her audiences. She always insisted that ushers at her performances seat Black and white attendees together, and if that failed, she would ask the audience to do it themselves. After meeting Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1956, Jackson became one of his greatest comrades, singing in Montgomery in support of the bus boycott, raising funds for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and singing at both the March on Washington and the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, where King delivered his “Give Us The Ballot” speech. She raised money for the United Negro College Fund, often personally paying tuition costs for Black students, and held a rally to raise bail money for Birmingham campaign protesters. When King was assassinated in 1968, Jackson sang “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” at his funeral.


A Contemplative Exercise

As you contemplate the artistic and moral work of these brave artists, I invite you to listen to Mahalia Jackson’s renditions of “Psalm 23,” “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” and “Come Sunday.” Listen closely, in particular, to the words of “Come Sunday” and compare them with the message and the simplicity of Psalm 23. Why do you believe these themes of trust and courage have resonated with so many people for such a long time? What have they meant to you, both in times of comfort and times of struggle?

“Come Sunday”

Lord, Dear Lord of love
God almighty, God up above
Please look down and see my people through

God, Dear God of love
God almighty, God above
Please look down and see my people through

I believe the sun and moon
Will shine up in the sky
When the day is gray
I know it’s just clouds passing by
He’ll give peace and comfort
To every troubled mind
Come Sunday, oh come Sunday
That’s the day

Often we’ll feel weary
But he knows our every care
Go to him in secret
Hе will hear your every prayеr

Lilies of the valley
They neither toil nor spin
And flowers bloom in Spring
And birds sing

Up from dawn till sunset
Man work hard all the day
Come Sunday, oh come Sunday
That’s the day

A Witness

Marian Anderson

Another singer who was central to the Civil Rights struggle of the mid 20th century was contralto Marian Anderson, the first African American singer to perform at the Metropolitan Opera. Having been denied admittance to the Philadelphia Musical Academy due to racism, Anderson nonetheless burst into the musical world by winning a New York Philharmonic singing competition. Subsequently departing to study in Europe, she found tremendous success, even forming a close friendship and collaboration with Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, who composed and rewrote songs especially for her voice, one that conductor Arturo Toscanini regarded as “heard once in a hundred years.”

Returning to the United States, however, Anderson was once again confronted with the country’s vicious racism. Despite becoming an internationally famous singer, she was often turned away from hotels and restaurants while touring. In 1937, for example, she was denied lodging while performing at Princeton University, an incident which led to a close friendship with Albert Einstein, who hosted her then and on many other occasions.

Two years later, in 1939, Anderson was refused permission to perform at Washington, D.C.’s Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the group in disgust and determined to organize a performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial instead. On Easter Sunday, with 75,000 in attendance and millions listening on the radio, Marion Anderson sang before the National Mall. In 1963, she would return here to sing for the March on Washington and become the very first recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.


“The Lord Is My Shepherd” by Eastman Johnson

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Image description: Against a dark background, with a cracked stone and rough floorboard floor, a Black man sits with a book in his lap. He wears a white, loose shirt, dark trousers, and brown shoes.

Painted upon announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, Eastman Johnson’s “The Lord Is My Shepherd” depicts an African American soldier sitting on his Union Army jacket and reading Psalm 23 in his Bible. Along with abolishing slavery, President Lincoln’s executive order authorized formation of the United States Colored Troops.