Sunday Scripture: Nineteenth 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-fifth of my reflections on the theology of the Sunday readings at Mass. I have been on holiday for a couple of weeks and while I pre-prepared my weekly posts, a lack of wifi availability made it difficult to post them (rather frustratingly). In any case, I have decided to post them retrospectively for anyone who is interested, and since they are quite a bit of work!

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 Sermon on the Mount by Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-90)

Praying to the Father.


Almighty ever-living God, whom taught by the Holy Spirit,

we dare to call our Father,
bring, we pray, to perfection in our hearts the spirit of adoption as your sons and daughters,
that we may merit to enter into the inheritance which you have promised.
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: Wisdom 18: 6-9.
  • Psalm 32: 1, 12, 18-20, 22; Response: v. 12. 
  • Second Reading: Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19.
  • Gospel: Luke 12: 32-48.
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 Wisdom: is one of my favourite books of the Bible (I say that a lot on this blog, don't I?!). It speaks more directly to modern people that The Law or The Prophets because it is preoccupied with the experience of life common to all.

The book was written about a hundred years before the coming of Christ. Its author, whose name is not known to us, was a member of the Jewish community at Alexandria, in Egypt. He wrote in Greek, in a style patterned on that of Hebrew verse. At times he speaks in the person of Solomon (see Wis 6:22-9:18; cf. 1 Kgs 3:4-15; 5:9-14), placing his teachings on the lips of the wise king of Hebrew tradition in order to emphasise their value. His profound knowledge of the earlier Old Testament writings is reflected in almost every line of the book, and marks him, like Ben Sira, as an outstanding representative of religious devotion and learning among the sages of postexilic Judaism. He stands in the tradition of Ben Sira as a theologian who demonstrates how faith illuminates understanding to provide the most truthful, profound, and comprehensive vision of reality.

The primary purpose of the sacred author was as a apologia for Jewish students and intellectuals who were abandoning their faith as they embraced Hellenistic philosophy and religion. His work demonstrates how Judaism surpasses Greek systems of thought as the ultimate embodiment of wisdom in the world. He challenges the self-indulgent agnosticism of the Epicureans (cf. 1:16-2:9); and he implies that the biblical revelation of wisdom already contains the nest insights of Stoicism and Platonism (cf. 7:22-26; 8:7). Furthermore, his book represents a vehement polemic against the popular Hellenistic mystery cults that were alluring fashion-sensitive Jews away from the synagogue. Pastoral concern motivated him to provide a chastising analysis of idolatry (13:1-15:19) designed to win back those of his people who had begun partaking in the rites of Isis and Dionysius (cf. 12:5; 14:22-31).

The Book of Wisdom addresses big questions. It asks a question which resonates with so many of us today: How is it possible for a God of justice to allow His righteous ones to suffer at the hands of the godless who enjoy prosperity and comfort? It provides a two-fold response to this dilemma based on the premise that earthly evaluations are erroneous because they take no account of God's eternal Kingdom. First, God's judgement will reverse the present order of fortunes. even in the present moment, the cynicism of the godless produces despair, which they try to escape by practising debauchery and oppression (2:1-5, 6-9, 10-20). However, in the end, they will behold the vindication of the righteous even as they themselves disintegrate into the void of eternal death (2:21-24; 3:10-12; 4:20-5:14; 5:17-23). The righteous, by contrast, will experience eternal peace in God's presence in His Kingdom (3:1-9; 5:15-16).

Secondly, the sufferings of the righteous prepare them for eternal life. Such texts as the Confessions of Jeremiah (e.g. 11:18-12:6), the Song of the Suffering Servant (Is 52:13-53:12) and the psalm of the innocent in anguish (Ps 22) inspired the author of Wisdom to perceive that God identifies Himself most closely with the righteous one whom the world despises (2:10-20). "The upright man is God's son"; he can "boast...of having God for his father" (2:16-20; cf. 16:10, 26; 18:4, 13). If physical death should overtake the youth who obeys the Lord, it acts more as a servant than as an adversary insofar as it rescues him from the peril of evil and brings him into the safety of God's eternal embrace (4:7-19). The first-person confession of the adversaries in the Song of the Suffering Servant (Is 53:1-10) echoes in the words of the godless who acknowledge the victory of the righteous whom they had afflicted (Wis 4:20-5:14).

In summary, the book of Wisdom stands in the tradition of Daniel and 2 Maccabees insofar as it proclaims a life after death as God's reward for the righteous individual, especially the one who suffers persecution and martyrdom (Wis 3:1-9; 4:7-19; 5:15-16; cf. Dan 12:1-2; 2 Mac 7:11, 23, 36). However the book of Wisdom incorporates a Hellenistic dimension into the biblical tradition by describing life beyond the grave in terms of immortality of the soul rather than in terms of resurrection from the dead.

This weekThe Book of Wisdom reminds us how God has always revealed Himself in history, calling humanity into friendship with Himself out of love. One of the most tenable examples of this for the Jewish people has always been the Exodus story. We see this recounted in today's first reading, albeit from a quintessentially Alexandrian perspective. The reading refers to the celebration of the Paschal meal and the Patriarchs. The time when this book was written is important, as it helps us understand the sense of continuity and the proximity to Christ and to ourselves in our contemporary situation. The importance of the Paschal meal is also very interesting in the context of Eucharist; how this huge event has been important through all the history of salvation, and now is interwoven into the source and summit of the Mass.

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 theme of the psalm this week is the Lord of Creation: the God of our People. It speaks of the great joy of being chosen and set aside by God. But those who are close to God also understand that He can "rescue their souls from death", relationship with God relates directly to our future destiny in the Kingdom of Our Father.

St. Paul's Letter to the Hebrews claims to be a “word of exhortation” (13:22) and lacks the formal features common to a letter of the time; an introduction by the sender to the recipients and an opening word of thanksgiving. Rather, it reads somewhat like a homily, its literary rhythm alternating back and forth between doctrinal exposition and moral exhortation in the same way any oral preaching tends to.Hebrews follows a carefully planned literary structure expressed with a rhetorical finesse unmatched in other writings of the New Testament. The work is equally unique in its subject matter, drawing on a extensive and sophisticated use of the Old Testament in comparison with the New, with particular emphasis on priestly and sacrificial issues. No New Testament writing reflects more deeply on the priesthood of Jesus Christ, and none gives more attention or puts more emphasis on covenant theology.

This week: The reading begins on the theme of faith. Examples of enduring faith are marshaled from the traditions of the patriarchs. The beginning and end of this section of Hebrews (11:1-39f) put this patriarchal faith (and our faith) in the eschatalogical dimension specified by the beginning and end of another section (10:1, 15-18): the values of the Old Testament look forward to something not yet attained, but in the New Testament age between Christ's first coming and His return in the Parousia those realities toward which the patriarchs looked in faith are already attained, though not yet perfectly on earth. The exegesis of the patriarchal traditions is midrashic in tone. Historical facts are reported and then contemplated in such a way that valid insights which transcend the historical details are placed upon them. The definition of faith in Hebrews is a description one based on metaphor, and it is 'existential' rather than 'essential', i.e. it is concerned not with article of faith which must be believed, with God as the formal object of faith, or with components of intellect and will and grace which go into the making of an act of faith, but with the assurance which suffering, persecuted Christians have that faith is a guarantee of the unseen realities in which they hope, the celestial homeland which they are approaching (11:6, 14). Indeed the definition's existential approach here blends faith and hope into one another, but faith stands out as the basis for hope, 'The assurance (hypostasis) of things hoped for': hypostasis here has not the meaning 'substance, nature' it has in 1:3 but rather '(objective) assurance' or 'guarantee', a sense it often bears in the LXX and in various Hellenistic writers of NT times (Polybius, Diodorus Siculus, Josephus) as well as in Hebrews 3:14, where, however, the context specifies it differently. For Hebrews readers, who we can assume had a good familiarity with colloquial Hellenistic usage, the definition would have particular resonances: faith would be that by which they already had a title of possession to the things they hoped for (an idea theologically clarified by 6:5; 10:1), so that if they kept their faith they would have an unshakeable assurance, based on God's own promise (10:36; 6:17-20), of those things when the time of their earthly trials arrived.
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 weekHow beautiful that in this week's Gospel, Jesus teaches us how to pray. Luke recounts His instruction in the context of His own prayer, thereby involving us all in Jesus' own prayer; the interior dialogue of triune love. By following His instruction, He draws our human hardships deep into the very heart of God. In this way, we can also see that the words of the Our Father are signposts to deeper interior prayer. They present us with a basic direction for our being, and they aim to configure each one of us to the image of the Son. This Gospel story then, is not a mere prescription for messaging heaven, it constitutes a training programme which will form our being and train us in the inner attitude of Jesus (Phil 2:5).

Drawing them all together...

One of the most profound insights we can draw from the Scripture this week is about our relationship with God. When you consider the utter transcendence of YHWH as held by Jews to this day, to the extent that His mighty name is unutterable, how shocking must Jesus's instruction to the disciples have been to call God "Abba", literally, "Daddy". Linking this with our first reading, we can see the effects of real discipleship and the incredible consistency of Scripture through both Testaments. Abraham's intercession for the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah demonstrates God's loving patience and justice. The psalm speaks to us of the affirmation of faith wrought by a deep relationship with God in prayer: "I thank you Lord with all my heart, you have heard the words of my mouth,".

We are connected to God through Baptism. This sacrament confers on us a new dignity as sharers in Jesus' divine Sonship. We have been forgiven and have the promise of glorious new life.


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