Sunday Scripture: Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (YEAR C)

"Thy word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path." Ps 119:105

Welcome to this, the fifty-first of my reflections on the theology of the Sunday readings at Mass. It's been a manic week, with lots going on at work and Mike involved in a stage production of Oliver in Hornchurch. This has left me with very little time to work on my reflection this week.

I have undertaken this project, regularly posting background information on the readings at Sunday Mass as part of my own prayer life. I have found it helps me to do a little study before I go to Mass about the readings, what the theme of the week is, how it follows on from the previous week's readings and what is being said.

In sharing this, I hope to help you too get more from the Bible and Sunday Scripture readings. Perhaps it might give you confidence in the value and legitimacy of the Bible, or perhaps it might inspire you to pray the Divine Office or investigate the weekly readings for yourself.

I see this as very clearly part of what the Church teaches about the Bible:
This heaven-sent treasure Holy Church considers as the most precious source of doctrine on faith and morals. No wonder herefore that, as she received it intact from the hands of the Apostles, so she kept it with all care, defended it from every false and perverse interpretation and used it diligently as an instrument for securing the eternal salvation of souls, as almost countless documents in every age strikingly bear witness. ~Divino Afflante Spiritu
When fideism said that we should turn away from science and study and rely on the Bible for exactly what it is, in a literal sense, the Church said "no", we have nothing to fear from a proper understanding of Scripture and thus we were encouraged to delve ever deeper into the treasure chest of sacred Scripture to see what riches we could find there.

If you want to know how these posts came about, please read my first post in this series here.

I would like to think this regular blog would be a great help to anyone who reads at Mass, to enable them to foster a deeper understanding of the message they are trying to impart to the congregation.

There are several different ways to read this post. I would suggest the first thing to do is to look at the relevant readings. You might then want to look at the specific commentary for a particular reading. I post the same summary of the featured Biblical books each week, but at the end, under the subheading this week, you will usually find some commentary specific to each week. At the end I post a passage which attempts to draw all the readings together and understand the message.

My reflections are not definitive, but based on my study and perhaps authenticated by careful reference to the Biblical Commentaries and books I list at the bottom each week.

This Sunday the theme for the readings might be summed up as:

The Good Samaritan by Aimé Morot (1880) shows the Good Samaritan taking the injured man to the inn.

The Words of Life.

O God, who show the light of your truth to those who go astray,
so that they may return to the right path,
give all who for the faith they profess are accounted Christians the grace to reject whatever is contrary to the name of Christ and to strive after all that does it honour.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.

This week's readings are:
  • First Reading: Deuteronomy 30: 10-14.
  • Psalm 68: 14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36-37; Response: cf. v. 33. 
  • Second Reading: Colossians 1:15-20.
  • Gospel: Luke 10: 25-37.
First, a short preliminary survey of each of the books.

I will post the same, or similar prelims week on week, for each book as we encounter them, although I may add a little detail specific to each week's readings.

The Book of Deuteronomy bears the title Haddebharim in Hebrew meaning 'the words' (1:1) and indicating the book's central contents: three long speeches by Moses (1:1-4:43; 4:44-26:19; & 27-34) to prepare Israel for the conquest and inhabitance of the promised land. The speeches address the people in an "I—You" language of person-to-person discourse. It is existential; it puts us on the spot by challenging us to enter into covenant with the LORD now.

Deuteronomy is the last will and testament of Moses. His speeches in the first four sections follow the outline of a covenant renewal programme, beginning with a historical prologue recounting God's faithfulness to the Israelites throughout their wilderness journey (1:1-4:43) followed by a presentation of the general laws of the covenant (4:44-26:19), and the specific precepts deriving from the laws (12:1-26:19), concluding the speeches with the rites of the covenant renewal at Moab. The final section of the book brings to a conclusion the Pentateuch as a whole by communication Moses' last words and account of his death (31:1-34:12)
This week: Michael Duggan, STB, SSL, summarises Deuteronomy as being about Covenant and the love of God in his book The Consuming Fire. He understands it as a programme for the renewal of the Covenant, complete with all the necessary rites, including the reading of the ordinances, the call for the peoples's response, the inscribing of the Law, the declaration of blessings and curses, and the solemn depositing of the Law alongside the ark of the Covenant (4:44-26:19; 27:1-28:46; 31:9-13, 24-27).

We see how in this week's reading, Moses is telling the people that the Word of God is very near to them, discernible in the gift of the Law He has revealed to them. Their own proximity to God depends on their careful adherence to the Law. It is in uniting their actions to those prescribed for them by God they attain a true freedom, a freedom for excellence. When Moses says " the book of this Law..." (30:10), he is referring to the book of Deuteronomy itself. The Law is not esoteric knowledge requiring that a chosen intermediary like Enoch, ascend to heaven in order to communicate it. It is recited in the Covenant festival, and God has now put the disposition to obey it in the heart (cf. Jer 31:33; Ezek 36:26-27).

Psalms is the Bible's manual of inspired song and prayer. The collection of 150 Psalms represents the culmination of a long tradition that extends across almost the full span of the history of ancient Israel, from the Exodus (c. 1280 B.C.) until the last centuries of the Old Testament era (c. 200 B.C.). In Hebrew the canon of the Bible is called the TNK or Tanakh, which consists of Torah (teaching), Nevi'im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (writings)—thus TaNaKh. Psalms makes up the first of the writings in the Hebrew text. One of the most powerful things we know about the Psalms is that this is how Jesus Himself prayed.

This week: the Psalm this week is a poem about alienation, and bearing it for God's sake. It has a very personal feel to it, but the mention of the Temple (v 10) and Zion (v 36) may give it a congregational sense. It is a lament and an acknowledgement of sin. A plea for forgiveness, acknowledging guilt before God. It speaks of the fact that in the darkest times in our lives, when we feel utterly lost and abandoned, we can always turn to god and He will comfort us.

St. Paul's Letter to the Colossians addresses a unique situation in the early Church and its theology is equally unique, concerned with stressing two main themes against errors reported about the Church in Colossae (2:4, 8, 16, 18-22). Paul stresses the supremacy of Christ and the completeness of Christians in Christ. One of the main areas of study with regard to this epistle has been the attempt to identify the opponents who were misleading the community in Colossae. According to the epistle itself, the false teaching is a philosophy and an empty receipt (2:8), a human tradition (2:8); it concerns the elemental spirits of the universe (2:8) and angels (2:18); it demands the observance of food regulations and festivals, new moons, and sabbath (2:14, 16, 20, 21); and it encourages ascetic practices. Since the opponents are charged with "not holding fast to the head," the error must have arisen within the believing community. Jewish and Hellenic influences seem to be interwoven in what can be inferred of the error. A complex syncretism that incorporates features of Judaism, Paganism, Christianity, magic, astrology, and mystery religions forms the cultural background of the letter and consequently it may be impossible to identify the opponents in Colossae with any particular group.

This week: the whole of this week's reading in its entirety has long been recognised as an independent unit that has the character of a primitive Christian hymn. It displays differences in language, style and thought from the rest of Colossians and from the undisputed Pauline letters. This suggests that this hymnic section was not composed by the author of the letter but rather that it was, for the most part, traditional material adapted by the author to serve the instructional purposes of the letter.
The form of the hymn is redolent of Old Testament poetry which personifies God's "Wisdom" as the divine architect of heaven and earth (see Prov 8:22-31; Wis 7:22-28). This speaks of Christ's preexistence from eternity and His active role as Creator. Paul also associates Christ with "Wisdom" in Col 2:3 and 1 Cor 1:24, 30. The Catechism teaches us:
Because God creates through wisdom, his creation is ordered: "You have arranged all things by measure and number and weight." The universe, created in and by the eternal Word, the "image of the invisible God", is destined for and addressed to man, himself created in the "image of God" and called to a personal relationship with God. Our human understanding, which shares in the light of the divine intellect, can understand what God tells us by means of his creation, though not without great effort and only in a spirit of humility and respect before the Creator and his work. Because creation comes forth from God's goodness, it shares in that goodness - "And God saw that it was good. . . very good"- for God willed creation as a gift addressed to man, an inheritance destined for and entrusted to him. On many occasions the Church has had to defend the goodness of creation, including that of the physical world. — CCC 299
The Gospel According to St. LukeLuke is not only a theologian; he is also a consummate literary artist with a mind that is tuned to the aesthetic. Luke begins his Gospel with a clearly stated aim: “to draw up an account of the events that have happened”. Luke’s Gospel is the longest of the four Gospels, this despite the fact that it only represents half the Lucan writings; Luke’s Gospel was originally joined to Acts as part of a two-volume work. This is evident in the Gospel itself, which frequently looks forward to Acts and Paul’s mission.

The biblical scholar Raymond Brown deduces that the Gospel was written for Church communities in Greece and Syria. These were areas affected by Paul’s mission either directly, or indirectly. Lucan thought and proclivities can be detected in the extent to which the author changes the Marcan material, which makes up about thirty-five percent of Luke. Luke certainly improves Mark’s Greek, bettering the grammar, syntax and vocabulary, as evidenced in 4:1, 31 and 38. Luke alters the Latinism kēnsos (= census) in 20:22 from Mark 12:14 and substituting the more exact “craftiness- treachery” for “hypocrisy” in Mark 12:15 .

Luke also alters the Marcan sequence to accomplish his goals as stated in the prologue: to write carefully and in an orderly manner. For example, he puts Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth at the opening of the Galilean ministry (Luke 4:16-30) rather than after some time had elapsed (Mark 6:1-6), in order to explain why His Galilean ministry was centred at Capernaum.

Christologically, Luke is more reverential about Jesus than Mark and he avoids Marcan passages that might make Jesus seem weak, harsh or emotional (e.g. Mark 10:14 where Jesus is indignant). He also stresses detachment from possessions (Luke 5:11,28), the Twelve are even forbidden to take a staff!

Adrian Hastings, in his book Prophet and Witness in Jerusalem, makes particular capital over Luke’s allusion to the guilt of Jerusalem. Hastings suggests that this is because Jerusalem represented the old, exclusive Israel. Raymond Brown also draws attention to this point in An Introduction to the New Testament, where he asks if Pilate’s triple declaration of Jesus’ innocence represents an attempt to convince Greco-Roman readers that the Jews were totally responsible for the crucifixion. For Hastings, Luke demonstrates a strong affinity for the universality of Christianity and its apostolate to the Gentiles and points out to the Jews that they are the ones who have constantly rejected the messengers of God. Hence it is not surprising if they now find themselves cut off from the new Church and Holy People of God. Hastings states that this demonstrates that Luke was writing so that Christians might understand that Jerusalem had rejected Our Lord and thus had been rejected and was no longer the centre of God’s Church, which had turned to the conversion of the Gentiles. It would seem to me that this idea would have been greatly assisted by the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. Brown however, notes that Acts 4:25-28 clearly blames Pilate and mitigates that this may have been an attempt to persuade Roman officials to deal fairly with Christians. Brown eventually concludes that the description of Jewish leaders resisting the spread of Christianity springs from a desire to explain why Christian preachers and especially Paul turned to the Gentiles.

The fact that the last half of Acts concentrates on Paul’s career raises the likelihood that Luke-Acts was addressed to the churches descended from the Pauline mission. Talbert concludes his study of Luke-Acts with the finding that the Gospel was indeed motivated by the “churchly situation”; The community was troubled by a concern for the true Christian tradition. Luke writes to aid Christians in these communities in their self-understanding, helping them to know that there was nothing subversive in their origins that should cause them to come into conflict with their Roman rulers.

The Lucan Gospel differs in many ways to Matthew making it seem likely that this Gospel was addressed to a different church (q.v.). The end of Acts attributed to Paul also indicates that the future of the Gospel lies with the Gentiles, which makes the intended audience unlikely to be Jewish Christians. This is corroborated by the way that Luke drops Marcan Aramaic expressions and place-names in his work.

Luke intends to trace the history of God’s plan from the coming of Jesus, to the fulfilment of the mission He gave to His disciples to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth. The earthly ministry of Jesus and all the events before the Ascension are the turning point in human history for Luke.

If this post on Luke sparked your interest, there's a post on the historicity of the Synoptics here.

This week: A lawyer—that is an expert interpreter of the Mosaic Law—puts Jesus to the test. He knows how the Bible answers his question, but he wants to see what this prophet without a background in formal biblical study has to say about it. The question is supposed to embarrass Jesus, but He adroitly puts the onus on His questioner. The lawyer tries again, and asks for a definition of 'neighbour'. This is controversial still today. The conventional answer was that your neighbour is a fellow member of your people. A people is a community of solidarity in which everyone bears responsibility for everyone else. Does this then mean that foreigners, those that belong to another people, are not neighbours? Scripture insists on love for foreigners also, as Israel itself had lived as a foreigner in Egypt and Babylon. The controversy was over just where the boundaries were to be drawn. One rabbinic saying ruled that there was no need to regard heretics, informers, and apostates as neighbours. It was also considered that Samaritans, who not long before the time of Jesus (between the years 6 and 9 AD in fact) had defiled the Temple's precincts in Jerusalem by "strewing dead men's bones" during the Passover festival itself, were not neighbours.

Jesus responds with a parable in which He speaks, not only to the lawyer, but also to us. His story makes the divine light of the mystery of God accessible to us by showing us how it shines through in the things of this world and in the realities of our everyday lives. Parables are ultimately an expression of God's hiddenness in the world and that knowledge of God lay claim to the whole person—that such knowledge is one with life itself, and that it cannot exist without "repentance".

The man who is stripped of everything and left lying half-dead on the side of the road provides the audience with a strikingly familiar scenario—such assaults were indeed commonplace on the Jericho road, a 17 mile journey eastwards that descends nearly 3,200 feet over rough terrain ideal for bandits and thieves.

The Old Road from Jerusalem to Jericho
The first on the scene are experts on the Law, they know about salvation and are its professional servants, yet they pass by. The Samaritan represents the new standard of holiness, as Ratzinger puts it in Jesus of Nazareth:
He does not ask how far his obligations of solidarity extend. Nor does he ask about the merits required for eternal life. Something else happens: His heart is wrenched open. The Gospel uses the word that in Hebrew had originally referred to to the Mother's womb and maternal care. Seeing this man in such a state is a blow that strikes him "viscerally," touching his soul. "He had compassion"—that is how we translate the text today, diminishing its originally vitality. Struck in his soul by the lightning flash of mercy, he himself now becomes a neighbour, heedless of any question or danger. The burden of the question thus shifts here. The issue is no longer which other person is a neighbour to me or not. The question is about me. I have to become the neighbour, and when I do, the other person counts for men "as myself".

The other dimension I want to share with you on reflecting on this Gospel, is the Patristic one—that is—the way the Fathers of the Church interpreted the parable. They teach us that the road from Jeruslaem to Jericho is an allegory for human history, the man attacked is Adam, attacked by Satan and his legions, stripped of his immortality and left dead in sin. The priest and the Levite passing by represent the Old Covenant and its inability to restore man to new life—the reality that no healing can come from earthly history—its cultures and religions alone. If the Samaritan is every person, the Samaritan can only be Jesus, the foreigner who "pitched His tent amongst us"(Jn 1:14). He pours oil and wine on the wounds of humanity—redolent of the Sacraments—and brings us to the inn, the Church, where he arranges our care and pays a deposit for the cost of that care until his return.

This shows us just two ways we can read this parable (there is of course the literal sense also) to gain a more spiritual understanding of what we are being taught here. Powerful stuff I have to say and one of the most powerful stories Jesus uses to teach us the truth.

Drawing them all together...
Questions, questions, questions this week. And questions which, no doubt, resonate with all of us. "Who is my neighbour?", "What must I do to be saved?", "What does the Law say?". Jesus responds with words, but not merely disembodied entities. Jesus' words are agents of a protagonist, the means to action and creation. Jesus is the ineffable Father's Word, the medium of His creative work, and of His saving action:
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty,but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. —Is 55:11
This leads us to the Christological hymn of Colossians, which reveals the mysteries of Jesus' person: the image of the unseen Father, the creator, the unifier, the head of the Church, the first to be born from the dead, the embodiment of perfection, the reconciler, the bringer of peace. Involvement with Him is involvement in the divine mystery and purposes of creation and redemption. He is life after death, and also the answer to all our questions right now. We ask as did the lawyer "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" The answer Jesus presents is a re-affirmation of the Law; God's revelation of His will for the world (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18). When pressed, Jesus takes an extraordinary step, repeating in miniature the pattern of all His ministry: He shows us the inner heart of truth, deepening our awareness of the point and purpose of the Law. The juxstapostion of the exposition of the Old Testament Law alongside the New Covenantal holiness which constitutes a deepening and a living out of that Covenant in a radical new way. Jesus presents us with a moral and a theological lesson, showing us that love for our neighbour must accompany our love for God and it is the unification of these two principles which allow us to live in God's friendship. Theologically, Jesus demonstrates the surpassing of the Old Covenant by the New. The priest and Levite adhere to israel's purity laws which forbade them from touching corpses of anyone other than family members (Leviticus 21:1-3). They chose to preserve their legal purity and ignore the half dead victim. The Samaritan on the other hand, exemplifies the new standard of holiness, where God no longer requires His people to separate from others, but calls them to extend mercy to everyone in need and exclude no one on the grounds of prejudice, dislike, or even legal uncleanliness as defined by the Torah (CCC 1825, 2247). The Law demands justice and mercy; Jesus gives us the Law of love, with its searching explorations of compassion. It is the same Law, legislated for obdurate human hearts, but revealed as a manifesto of enlightenment and freedom, the freedom to witness to the salvation offered by the one, true God. Moses showed us that this Law is not something beyond our capacity, unattainable, a mystical peak beyond our reach or the goal of some far distant pilgrimage. It resides in every heart open to the working of God's Holy Spirit. Our wretched and sinful human situation is depicted profoundly in the Psalm: "As for me in my poverty and pain..." The needs and questions of our hearts find the answers they crave in prayer, in our dependance on god's loving kindness, our faith in His love and concern. His Law is perfect: It revives the soul and gives true wisdom in life.


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