Lectionary 139. Scripture: Sept.25: Amos 6:1.4-7. Psalm 146:7, 8-9, 9-10. I Timothy 6:11-16. Luke 16: 19-31:
Amos makes sense to us when it comes to thinking about social justice as seen in the Bible. He immediately comes to mind when it is a question of helping the poor, the widow, and those who are ill and not able to help themselves. He directs his prophetical writings and actions toward the leaders of both parts of the nation. First , he addresses Israel, then Judah; the north and the south. He considers his calling divine for he was simply called himself a herdsman and a trimmer of trees. He chastises those living in luxury while not giving thought to helping those who are without food, clothing or shelter. He speaks for the present time in which he lives not for some future. It belongs to us to listen to his prophetic messages and to put them into action in our present time as he did in his time.
Our Psalm complements in prayer and song what Amos is concerned about. God will help leaders to do the right thing for the poor and neglected if they listen to this prayer. “The theme is that in God alone is an unfailing source of help to be discovered. In contrast to the powerlessness of mortal creatures, the infinite might of God is extolled.” (Soncino Hebrew Psalms, p.470).
I Timothy is a direct call to this disciple named Timothy to live up to his baptismal commitment and the faith in Jesus he has from following the leadership of Paul in his life: integrity is above all necessary for his role as a church leader and administrator. Love, steadfastness, and kindness are attributes of a church leader. Paul is confident that Timothy will live up to what is demanded of him in the Church.
The dramatic and thick descriptive parable of the rich man and the poor man Lazarus is lesson from Jesus about being responsible for our neighbors who are poor and in need. This also is one of the main concerns of Luke as a pastoral theologian and evangelist. The parable is unique to Luke who is concerned about a well to do Church that is inclined to forget others. The opulence of the rich man (who is named Dives or Rich One and Nineveh in a few later manuscripts) is a perfect parallel to our first reading from Amos applied to the time of Jesus as well as that of Luke ( 28 A.D. to 85 A.D.). Lazarus name in Greek is equivalent to Eliezer in Hebrew and means “God is my help” thus tying together the parable with the Psalm. “The expression “bosom of Abraham” alerts us to the final judgment . It is only found in Luke in the New Testament but as D.J.Harrington notes “may derive from the ancient biblical idea of “being gathered into one people” at death (Gen 49:33; Num 27:13; Deut. 32:50; Judg 2:10) . Abraham functions as the “father” of this people ( see also in Luke 1:73; 3:8; 13:16,28; 190:9). Harrington also sees that the parable is reinforced by Luke’s beatitudes and woes. There is a reversal of the order enjoyed by the rich man and that of Lazarus. Perhaps, there may be a real personal friend of Jesus named Lazarus (seen only in John chapter 11) that Luke remembers from the sayings of Jesus in the oral tradition that both John and Luke could have borrowed from. This idea came from Amy Jill Levine, an outstanding Jewish New Testament scholar. This picturesque parable is easy to read and apply to oneself without too much trouble. Enjoy the story and live out its message. Amen.
Source for remarks in final paragraph come from Harrington ( Luke: Sacra Pagina) and Amy Jill Levine A Jewish Annotated New Testament at the respective verses of the parable.
Scripture: Sept 23, Friday: Ecclesiastes 3:1-11. Psalm 144:1-2, 3-4. Luke 9:18-22:
Ecclesiastes (The Preacher or Teacher from the Hebrew word “Qohelet”) gives us the very familiar poetic philosophy of his fourteen contrasting designations of time that all humans spend on earth. A priest friend of mine and confessor wrote that it is good to repeat the word slowly and apply them to our own life experiences. It may strike us differently than our first reading. The original Hebrew author is aware that fourteen is made up of two sevens and thus may indicate the fullness of life experiences in chronological time.
The wisdom of Ecclesiastes is down to earth and practical in all of its dimensions. We see both the good and the bad contrasted; and it maybe a philosophical contrasting that is optimistic and pessimistic. Whoever wrote this did it in the time after the Exile and closer to the time of Alexander the Great, therefore, within it are some Greek philosophical themes and ideas. The vocabulary is quite different in this work and so is its grammar. The passage lives on in a popular song of the twentieth century and almost everyone has heard this song put to modern composition in a unique musical rendition.
The Wisdom of Ecclesiastes is directed more to the individual than to the corporate identity of the People of God. It had to be touched up by another inspired writer to meet the standards of canonization in the Hebrew Bible. Marc Zvi Brettler, a Jewish Scholar of the Hebrew Bible writes: “The three books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job can be examined productively with regard to each other. Also given their international flavor, it is often helpful to read them against other Near Eastern texts, rather than in the light of the Torah or Israelite prophetic texts.” (Brettler, How to Read the Jewish Bible, p. 239-240). Ecclesiastes is worthwhile reading since one of its main themes is happiness for which we all search for. We should see happiness as a “Gift of God” that we look for throughout life. “What makes Ecclesiastes exceptional is the giving of a cultural role to happiness, the “Gift of God” ( Eccl. 3:13; 5:18).” (Bettler). Amen.
Lectionary 454: Scripture: Sept 23: Ecclesiastes 11:19-25:8. Psalm 90: 3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14.17. Luke 9 :43-45:
Our Wisdom readings from Ecclesiastes and Psalm 90 remind us of the fragility of our lives and how fast the years pass by. The Gospel tells us how Jesus warns his disciples about his pending death. They are not able to grasp what he is saying and are afraid to ask him about what he just said to them. This passage thus fits with the theme of the limits of a human life showing us that even Jesus went through this ordeal and died in his early thirties!
Jesus tells them, “The Son of Man (Jesus) must be delivered into the hands of men.” We, like his disciples, are puzzled that he would be betrayed by someone who would be among them. The word delivered also means betrayed in this passage. He would thus be handed over to the Roman soldiers who would crucify him. The disciples’ ears and minds were closed to what he was telling them. They did not perceive what he meant; they were fearful in asking questions about this statement. We find that Jesus alerts them to his sufferings and death on three occasions in each Gospel. Only at the moment of his apprehension by the guards do the disciples begin to realize what is happening and what he meant.
The reading from Ecclesiastes continues to describe what we go through in life from youth till maturity. The writer who is named Qohelet or the one teaching and preaching to an assembly, returns to his opening verses: “Vanity of vanity all things are vanity.” In literature we call this returning to what was said elsewhere forms an inclusion or bookends. This may help us to understand that parts of this work were later redacted and other redactors or authors made references to God which enabled the book to be accepted as God’s inspired word written in our human words. It thus was received into the Jewish canon of inspired books. That would help us to see the ending of the book as an epilogue speaking of God and thus, after much discussion and reflection, Ecclesiastes became a part of the Bible as an inspired work.
Psalm 90 is a wisdom psalm that is infused with divine inspiration and is a balanced approach to what Ecclesiastes is talking about. It tells us how quickly our years go by and encourages each day to be thankful to God. “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart…Fill us at daybreak with your kindness that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days and may the gracious care of the Lord our God be ours.”
May we all pray for this wisdom of heart so that we may find meaning in God’s inspired word which teaches us about life’s meaning and thereby helps us understand what God and Jesus are telling us—even when we do not want to hear it! Amen.
P.S. Do not give up on listening to and reading the Scriptures for they are a life-line to union with God and Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Sometimes they are difficult to understand or they may jar our sensitivities. We are then like the disciples who did not understand Jesus when he hinted of his upcoming death. Sometimes we may feel the readings are harsh or pessimistic; they are then similar to strong medicine that helps us to be strengthened in our faith. Amen.
Lectionary 452. Scripture: Sept.22: Ecclesiastes 1:2-11. Psalm 90: 3-4, 5-6,12-13.14.17:
More wisdom comes our way in today’s first and second reading. The first comes from the “Preacher” (Qohelet or Ecclesiastes). It is a very worldly piece of wisdom literature that has a bit of a negative view of life and seems to say that life is boring. We may want to look at it again and see how you find it after reading a few chapters. It does have a philosophical approach to life which is found characterized in two statements: “Vanity and all is Vanity.” The other expression is “There is nothing new under the sun.” This book had a difficult time getting into the Jewish canon because in its original form there did not seem to be a mention of God within the work. Redaction eventually led an inspired writer to place God within it. Both mystical spirituality and a more critical development in reading the texts of Ecclesiastes helps the reader to appreciate it more and get something from it. “Attempts to find a clear structure in the book have not succeeded, and its tension-filled expression of life’s contradictions gives the book a puzzle-like characteristic….The word “Vanity” in Hebrew is a key word in the book and also means emptiness, useless, breath, or breeze or as a metaphor: “striving after wind to show the transience, futility, and irrationality of life.” (R.C.Van Leuwen).
Psalm 90 consists of many insights into the stages of life looked at from the point of holy wisdom. The wisdom motif of the poem centers on unlimited and eternal nature of God as contrasted with the limited nature of humans whose years are like a sigh, or like flood waters passing by, or even like the short-lived grass that is here today and withers by night time. Mortals last seventy years or if they are strong eighty years. God, however, is eternal and a thousand years are like yesterday in God’s eternity. Summing up the prayerful tone of this psalm is in the verse that reads, “Teach us to count up the days that are ours, and we shall come to the heart of wisdom.” (verse 12).
The wisdom of this psalm makes me thankful for each day of life that I enjoy. Its perspective helps me appreciate life in all its moments and in its fullness, while recognizing how fragile and how quickly life moves on. Very few of us reach the century mark in life, hence, we follow the practical advice of “taking one day at a time.” In so doing we touch a bit of this psalm. Like the psalmist it is wise to ask for God’s blessings and graces each day we awaken. “May the sweetness of the Lord be upon us, to confirm the work we have done.” (NJB, verse 17).
In the Gospel we read of Herod the tetrarch who had murdered John the Baptist. Now he becomes curious about who Jesus really is and is anxious to meet him and see a miracle. He is the opposite of the wise person who follows God’s laws and is content with life’s limitations. Herod wants more and more but never realizes what a just and faithful person enjoys without being curious.
Lectionary 450. Scripture: Tuesday, Sept.20. Proverbs 21: 1-6,10-13. Psalm 119: 1, 27,30,34,35, 44. Luke 8:19-21.
Biblical Wisdom is found within the heart according to Proverbs. We see it mentioned three times within our first reading. The heart is where love is and the righteous person lives by this love and prospers. The one who does not listen to Wisdom is considered foolish and self-centered. Such a person turns his heart away from the poor and from helping others.
Psalm 19 is filled with biblical wisdom and gives us the blueprint for a wisdom that respects the Torah and lives it out throughout life. This Psalm is splendid for following the wisdom of God’s covenant seen in the following words that are found in the Psalm: testimony or witnessing to God’s goodness, precepts which are the or principles of a righteous life, laws or statutes for governing public life, good deeds done to others, rules of conduct in our relationship with others, God’s words as seen in Scripture, recognizing and seeing the promises of God being realized, and , Torah or teaching, directives or commandments and revelation from God. These eight show us the wisdom we should have in our lives and in our relationships with others and with God. Every stanza has one or more of these wisdom statements with the 176 verses of the Psalm. The opening verse is a summary of the entire psalm: “Happy are those whose way is blameless and who walk in the law of the Lord.”
Jesus’ mother and the extended family are said to be wisdom people by the fact that they put into practice the above rules of wisdom. They follow Jesus and want to know the wisdom of his teaching and preaching. They are said to hear God’s word and act upon it.
Luke sees Mary as the woman of wisdom who ponders over the above eight ways of wisdom and lives them out in freedom because she observes and performs them with love. As such she becomes the first and best disciple of the Lord by fulfilling all that God asks of her. “Let it be done to me according to your word.” She is the servant of the Lord, the blessed one among all women, the woman of wisdom, and the faithful disciple of the Lord. We honor her as the Queen of Wisdom who knows God’s commandments and enacts them with love. She is the Wisdom Woman of the Bible. In the few lines we have in today’s Gospel Jesus is extolling her virtues and fidelity in saying: “My mother and my brethren are those who hear the word of God and act upon it.” (see also Luke 1:45 and 2:19, 51).
Our readings spur us on to be wholesome people who live in the presence of God through prayer and good works. Such people are called “just ones, or people of integrity and even holiness which mean the same in the long run. The word righteous is applied to St. Joseph in the first chapter of Matthew. He is a “dikaios” a just and righteous man. The book of Proverbs helps us to understand this through divine practical wisdom given to us in the 31 chapters of this book of wisdom. Its short statements are down to earth and even funny, for example, when it describes the state of drunkenness in the middle of its scroll. It is worthwhile to read Proverbs just for plain enjoyment of its riddles, comparisons, and witty sayings.
Psalm 15 speaks of the righteous on a higher level by emphasizing its importance in prayer and helping us to live out its application to our daily lives. Wholesomeness is again brought to our attention. Positive thinking is always a part of human wisdom. Psalm 15 helps us in our personal and communitarian spirituality, for it puts us into the presence of God as were the people who prayed it while approaching the Temple in the holy city of Jerusalem. The Talmud states that the 613 commandments of the Torah are summarized in this Psalm. It fulfills Leviticus 19:18: “O Adonai (Lord), teach us how to love our neighbor as ourselves.” It is said that David restricted the 613 commandments of the Torah to eleven, and Amos and Habakkuk to one. Our psalm has the same spirit.
Jesus tells us to be lights for the world and not to hide that light under a bushel or table. We follow this advice of Jesus who is the Light and Life of the world. If we do not listen to his words of wisdom we are apt to lose eschatological joy. Jesus prompts us often to listen but this is difficult in a noisy atmosphere or even moreso in our own distractions when appearing to listen to others. We are often too busy with the noise surrounding us while wasting time that could be used for study, prayer, and fulfilling the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
The Scriptures are similar to the wise friends we have in our lives who help us to learn how to listen to God’s voice, our neighbors’, and those in our more intimate circle of family and friends. We can develop our talents by our listening and our silence. Let us seize this day by listening to the Scriptures and to those who treasure them in their hearts. Carpe Diem: Seize the opportunities of this day. Amen.
Lectionary 136: Scripture: 25th Sunday, C.: Amos 8:4-7. Psalm 113:1-2,4-6, 7-8. I Timothy 2:1-8. Luke 16: 1-13:
Amos is a prophet of social and individual justice. His words are directly pointed at those who are hurting the poor by their unjust prices. They are anxious for the new moon to end in which no selling is to be done, and are always the first to get back to their unjust trade as soon as the Sabbath is over. Amos upbraids them and specifically mentions their sins against the poor in the examples he provides for their deceitful practices.
Our Psalm is similar in spirit to Mary’s Song (her Magnificat) which is concerned with the “Poor of Yahweh” or the ‘Anawim. They have no one to trust and to depend upon except God who is the guardian of the orphan, the widow, the poor, and marginal people. ( Our Hebrew teacher had us memorize this psalm and I am always glad to see it appear in the liturgy of the day or in Morning Prayer. This led me to memorize Psalm 95 and part of Psalm 143 for Morning Prayers or as the Invitatory for the day).
I Timothy addresses the need for all Christians to pray for those who are in authority. Citing an ancient liturgical creed this is done through the one Mediator of the Christian community, Jesus Christ. What Moses did for the people of God, Israel, Jesus does for the Christians. All prayers are made through him through the Holy Spirit to God, the Father. Most often the prayer of thanksgiving and intercessory prayers are prompted in this Epistle written as pastoral letter to the beloved of Paul, Timothy. Thus the salvation of Jesus is extended to all through prayer and through Jesus Christ the Mediator and Savior.
Parables are often provocative for the listener and for us the readers. They break open only after we mull them over and over again. This one especially is only understood through the background of the first century Judaism and the religious culture of that time. The deceitful servant is not the focus or point of the parable. Making a critical decision in the time of a great crisis is what is praised by the Lord in using this parable. The critical need seems to be concern for those who are poor and indebted to others. The critical decision of the servant is what is praised not his deceitfulness. We know that Luke’s audience consisted of many who were well off in their own homes and families. This Gospel is a social justice Gospel concerned about those who are called under the familiar words,” orphan, widow, and poor of Yahweh”. Luke’s narrative and his placing of the Sayings of Jesus are is to be read in the context of the needs of those who are not well off. This requires some critical thinking and decision making on the part of those who consider themselves Christian. It is Luke who gives us such parables that provoke the reader to be concerned about those who need help because of their poverty. I asked myself, when was the last time I really did some concrete action for a poor person? Above all, I should be alert to the occasion offered me to put this parable into practice. Amen.
Lectionary 448. Scripture: September 17. I Corinthians 15:35-37, 42-49. Psalm 56: 10-12. Luke: 8:4-15:
As I meditated on the passage from I Cor.15, 42-49, I paraphrased my thoughts and made me read the text with faith in its meaning:“Just as we resemble the first human species (Adam-Eve, humans), so we should bear the likeness of Christ Jesus who is risen from the dead and is now with God and the Holy Spirit.” These descriptions that Paul and the other writers of the New Testament use for comparison with what heaven will be are the images that I prefer at this stage of life to what I first learned from poems, or writers reflecting on the afterlife, or even from T.V. and the movies. To touch the transcendent we need to rely on what is said about heaven in the Bible both in the Old and New Testaments.
The holy and inspired words of Jesus, Paul, and the Gospel writers give us the best images of what heaven is all about and gets us away from those images that make heaven quite boring and dull. We take the words of the Lord seriously and through our prayerful meditation and our regular vocal prayers and bring them to a foundation that is real and one not built on sand.
This means that meditating on those texts can help us to develop insights into the afterlife that are in conformity with those who have written about it (Paul, the Evangelists, some of the Prophets and Psalmists). Our Baptismal faith gives us the key to this development that shies away from insipid or immature imaginings that do not bring life to us.
As I pondered over what Paul is telling us in yesterday’s and today’s readings from chapter 15 in the Epistle to the Corinthians led me to sing the Psalm for today keeping the Resurrection and our afterlife with God: “I will walk in the presence of God, with the light of the living.” (Psalm 56:14).
Paul reflects on the resurrection of the body comparing it to the seed put into the ground that dies but becomes eventually something totally new and unforeseen as a plant, a flower, or a bush. The seed in dying in the ground becomes something greater when it breaks forth into something entirely new. Paul also in I Corinthians 2:9 cites Isaiah and writes, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” (64:4 and 52:15, Sirach 1:10).
Jesus, too, shows us how the good seed planted in good soil produces a remarkable gift at harvest time. “The seed are those who hear the word of God in a spirit of openness, retain it, and bear fruit through perseverance”….unto life eternal. In John’s Gospel Jesus says, “Amen, Amen, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24). Amen.