Sunday Scripture: Eleventh 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 forty-seventh of my reflections on the theology of the Sunday readings at Mass.

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 Extravagant Love of Christ.

Collect:
O God, strength of those who hope in you,
graciously hear our pleas,
and, since without you mortal frailty can do nothing,
grant us the help of your grace,
that in following your commands
we may please you by our resolve and our deeds.
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: 2 Samuel 12:7-10, 13.
  • Psalm 311-2, 5, 7, 11; Response: cf. v. 5 . 
  • Second Reading: Galatians 2:16, 19-21.
  • Gospel: Luke 7:36-8:3.
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 Second Book of Samuel is part of the greatest biographical work in the Hebrew Bible. Together with the First Book of Samuel, it offers an intimate, sometimes firsthand, portrayal of three chosen leaders: Samuel, Saul, and David. They describe events of their lives in such a way as to bare their souls. The events are almost always interpersonal encounters that unmask hidden dimensions of the personalities involved. The books of Samuel teach us that we shape our innermost character by the way we relate to one another. However, the greatest burden of our lives is not other people but ourselves. Our most painful experience is having to confront the darkness within us, which our contacts with others bring to light. Ultimately, the great figures in the books of Samuel do not deal with one another as much as with God.

The text heightens our sensitivity to the fact that every period of solitude, every meeting with another person, and every moment of decision are points when God encounters us personally and challenges us to grow in faith and in knowledge of Him. Furthermore, the books of Samuel demonstrate that our knowledge of God is solely personal, that is, we do not know Him from our head (where we seek control) but from the inner depths of our heart and spirit (where we pray and listen to God's Word).

This weekthe reading begins with "The Lord the God of Israel says this..." which is the standard way of introducing the prophetic oracle. It's repeated at v. 11 and this suggests an an extension to the original oracle dealing with the abortive putsch of Absalom (16:22) signalised by the appropriation of his father's harem. Both the spontaneous indignation of David at hearing Nathan's story and his immediate repentance show us at once the kind of man he was. his attitude to religious observance to which he brought a sincerity and spontaneity which many found disconcerting is well illustrated in the eating of the Showbread (1 Sm 21:4) his dancing before the Ark (2 Sm 6) and his refusal to continue fasting and mourning after the death of his child (22-23). The great Psalm 51 (50) is, according to the rubric, attached to this moment in David's career. Nathan's prophecy develops out of a play on words. Instead of David's building the a wooden "house" (the Temple), the Lord will make of David an "everlasting house" (a royal dependance). The Lord's adoption of David's son as His own will resound through the Temple at the enthronement ceremony of each successive king (2 Sm 7:14; cf Ps 2:7).

I can't help but push forward a little with the reading this week in the hope it will provide some stunning context. Nathan's prophecy is a pinnacle of revelation as a fulfilment of the past and a promise for the future. The Lord's covenant with David brings to a climax the series of covenants He made in the Pentateuch, first with Noah (Gn 9:1-17), then with Abraham (Gn 17:1-27), and finally with all Israel at Mount Sinai (Ex 19:1-24:11; cf. 34:1-28). We recall that the Israelites renewed the Sinai covenant throughout their history in the land (Jgs 2:6-3:6). Now, in the covenant with David, His covenant is unconditional. The Davidic covenant is one of promise that guarantees fulfilment solely because God is faithful. As for Abraham so for David, the Lord's promise focuses on a descendant that will become a source of life for all His people.

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 constitutes an acknowledgement of sin. The psalmist likely associates suffering with sin, so that when the sin is removed, the pain will be removed as well. Of course for the Christian reader the principal feature is the acknowledgement of sin in v. 5 "Forgive, Lord, the guilt of my sin." The Psalm seems to tie together the other readings, illustrating our need to examine our consciences when we are in pain. The first step to resolving our discomfort is to acknowledge where we have gone wrong, to accept our culpability, to confess our sin and beg for reconciliation, to atone and make every effort not to sin again.

St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians I absolutely love Galatians as, when I was studying Paul, it formed part of a most memorable lecture which involved reading the Epistle from start to finish. The idea was that this was the way it was written to be read, not in the snippet form we digest it in through the lectionary. The letter is fascinating; it literally teems with impassioned fervour unequaled in any other Pauline letter. It reveals an embattled Paul in a fierce struggle to preserve his own Apostolic credentials, the Gospel that he preached, and of course the spiritual health of Galatian communities that he had founded a few years earlier. It contains some of Paul's most bold and impetuous theological reasoning, reasoning that he seems to have adjusted somewhat in context and tone in his letter to the Roman Christians, perhaps in order to better win the argument?

In Galatians we get a glimpse of Paul in a mode of impulsive reflex, assembling theological arguments to influence the corporate and personal life of the Galatian Christians in a situation that deeply disturbed him. As a consequence of Paul's ministry among them, the Galatians had profound experiences of the Spirit (2:3-5) that instilled in them a hardy sense of Christian identity that continued for some time (5:7). At some point Pail left and later received news that a group of Jewish Christian evangelists had influenced the Galatian communities, advocating a gospel that differed considerably from his own. Paul makes it clear that these are 'trouble-makers' or 'agitators' (1:7; 5:10).

Fundamentally, Paul writes this letter to defend his Gospel and to dissuade the Galatians from receiving circumcision, which, along with the ceremonial laws of the Old Covenant, were being preached as indispensable requirements for salvation by these trouble-makers (5:2-12; 6:12-13). Although these 'Judaizers' professed to be Christian, they asserted Paul's gospel of "faith working through love" (5:6) was incomplete without the ritual observances of the Mosaic Law.

Paul's response is a vigorous defence of the Gospel (1:11-2:10) and a sophisticated explanation of how the New Covenant inaugurated by Christ dispenses with the ceremonies of the Old (chapters 3-4). In Paul's view, to add circumcision and other Mosaic requirements to the gospel is to exchange freedom in Christ for spiritual slavery (2:4; 5:1). Stern warnings punctuate his writing as Paul appeals to the Galatians to distance themselves from the Judaizers and to disregard their propaganda.

This week: We can begin by considering the Second Reading in the light of the First. The Good News consists in the fact that God has set us free from concupiscence through the power of Christ's Cross applied to our lives. Now, we can clothe ourselves in the nature illustrated by the young David. he is the one whose desires conform to the Lord's own heart as he refuses to harm his adversary and, instead, consistently chooses to revere him (1 Sm 13:14; 24:1-23; 26:1-25; cf. Mt 5:43-48; Lk 6:27-36).
In Christ, we have put on the new self in union with our brothers and sisters in the Church so that, by responding to the indwelling Spirit, we can be renewed in the spirit of our minds "in the uprightness and holiness of the truth" (Eph 4:23-24). Consider how God, in Christ, works this marvelous exchange in us, replacing the character of the old Saul with that of the young David, as in the First Reading today. Paul describes this as the reality of God's activity in the life of every Christian when he says "I have been crucified with Christ and yet I am alive, yet it is no longer I, but Christ living in me. The life that I am now living, subject to the limitation of human nature, I am living in faith, faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal 2:19-20). Paul reasons that if the Mosaic Law had been sufficient all along to remove sin, establish us in righteousness, and bring us into God's family, then the Cross would have been completely unnecessary (3:21). The Law can neither remit sin nor triumph over eternal death nor free those held captive because of sin. Christ died to provide those things that the Law could not.

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 weekLuke adeptly narrates, in the context of of eating at the table of Simon the Pharisee, a beautiful story involving a penitent sinful woman who weeps over and anoints Jesus' feet. The host and dinner guests knew the woman's reputation (7:37), although her sins are not specified for the reader (7:39). Is this the same woman as in Mark 14:3-9 and Matthew 26:6-13, and that of the anointing of Jesus' feet by Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, in John 12:1-8?. Another question that arises is whether the woman is forgiven because she loved much or whether she loved much because she had already been forgiven. Either meaning, or indeed, both, would fit Luke's stress on God's forgiveness in Christ and a loving response. Her anointing of Jesus is an expression of her courage and contrition, as she extends the already extravagant customs of Eastern hospitality (7:44-46; Gen 18:4-5). Here the parable (7:41-43) seems to address one of our questions, as it illustrates that the woman's love was the effect of her forgiveness, not the cause of it (CCC 2712).

Drawing them all together...
This week we confront an issue which is difficult in a modern context and has fallen somewhat out of fashion. Despite this, I think it constitutes one of the central issues of our faith. I am, of course referring to the reality of sin, and how to deal with it. Every Mass begins with a confession, an acknowledgement of our sinfulness in order to prepare ourselves to approach God, who is sinless, perfect, changeless and completely just. We also pray for forgiveness for ourselves and the ability to forgive others in the "Our Father". This is intimately bound up with how we view our reception of the Lord and His power to change us. Almost all religions centre around the problem of expiation: they arise out of man's knowledge of his guilt before God and signify the attempt to remove this feeling of guilt, to surmount the guilt through conciliatory actions offered up to God. The expiatory activity by which men hope to conciliate with the Divinity and to put him in a gracious mood stands at the heart of the history of religion.

One of the incredible things about the New Testament is that this situation is almost completely reversed. It is not man who goes to God with a compensatory gift, but God who comes to man, in order to give to him. He restores disturbed right on the initiative of His own power to love, by making unjust man just again, the dead living again, through His creative mercy. His righteousness is grace; it is active active righteousness, which sets crooked man right, that is, bends him straight, makes him correct. Here we stand before the twist that Christianity put into the history of religion. The New Testament does not say that men conciliate God, as we really ought to expect, since, after all, it is they who have failed, not God. It says, on the contrary, that "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself" (2 Cor 5:19). This is truly something new, something unheard of—the starting point of Christian existence and the centre of the New Testament theology of the Cross: God does not wait until the guilty come to be reconciled; He goes to meet them and reconciles them. Here we can see the true direction of the Incarnation, of the Cross: From above to below. The Cross stands as the expression of that foolish love of God's that gives itself away to the point of humiliation in order to save man; it is His approach to us, not the other way around.

The Scripture stories we hear in the Mass this week convey powerful messages. The shocking adultery, murder, deception, and infidelity involved in the story of Bathsheba reminds us of the terrible reality of sin and its devastating consequences. When David acknowledges his sin, and repents, forgiveness helps to change his whole outlook on life, as the Psalm suggests. Sin is a break in our relationship with God. It blocks our ability to know Him in our hearts and the Scripture shows us that we must seek Him out and be reconciled before we can begin to deal with the damage our sin has wrought.

I often say that the Sacrament of Confession is one of the greatest gifts of God to us. Indeed some say that a good, through confession is more powerful than any exorcism. To know that one is forgiven is a wonderful, liberating experience. The famous story of the anointing of Jesus' feet by the sinful woman focuses on many of these issues. Our attitude to the sinner is summed up in Simon's righteous reactions, and he expects Jesus to be repulsed by any person who approaches him dripping with sin and this paradox between what Simon anticipates and how Jesus reacts is the key to understanding this story. Jesus uses a parable to show the truth; God looks at the heart and sets us free by His forgiveness. The woman refuses to let the fact of her sin be the horizon of her life. Christ is there. She goes to Him, drawn by the power of His love, she knows herself to be forgiven, and is enabled to act in love. Jesus acts as if he has always been waiting for her. Forgiveness and the power to love are intimately related. A perception of our own, or legal observance, is what brings pardon for our sins. We can be sure that God's forgiveness is always present, and by taking it into our lives we are changed by it, and thus empowered to love in our turn.

Bibliography:

Baker, K., SJ, Inside the Bible, (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1998).
Barret, C. K., Acts a Shorter Commentary, (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2002).
Boadt, L., Reading the Old Testament, (New York: Paulist Press, 1984).
Brown, R. E., An Introduction to the New Testament, New York, Doubleday, 1997.
Brown, R. et al (Ed) The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, (London: Chapman, 2000).
Cotter, D., Genesis, Collegville: Liturgical Press, 2003.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, New York: Doubleday, 1995.
Dodd, C.H., The Founder of Christianity, (London: Collins, 1978).
Duggan, M., The Consuming Fire, (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1991).
Dunn, James D. G. (Ed) The Cambridge Companion to St. Paul (Cambridge: CUP, 2003).
Fuller, R.C., Johnstone, L., Kearns, C., A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, (London: Nelson, 1969).
Hahn, S., The Lamb's Supper (London: DLT, 1999).
Harrington, W. J., John: Spiritual Theologian (Dublin: The Columbia Press, 2007).
Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament, Second Edition RSV, (San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2001).
Kereszty, R., O. Cist., Jesus Christ—Fundamentals of Christology (New York: Alba, 2010).
Kreeft, P., You Can Understand The Bible, (San Francisco, Ignatius, 2005).
Letellier, R., Sunday & Feastday Sermons Cycles A, B, and C, (New York: St. Pauls, 2011).
Magnificat Monthly Vol. 3, No. 9/ June 2013.
Rahner, K., Encyclopedia of Theology, (St. Pauls, New York, 1975).McKenzie, J.L., Dictionary of the Bible, (New York, Touchstone, 1995).
Ratzinger, J., Introduction to Christianity, (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2004).
Ratzinger, J., Jesus of Nazareth, (Bloomsbury, London, 2007).
Talbert, C.H., Literary Patterns, Theological Themes and the Genre of Luke-Acts, (Montana: SBLMS, 1974).
von Rad, G., Genesis (London: SCM Press, 1961).
von Rad, G., Wisdom in Israel, (SCM Press, Tottenham, U.K., 1993).


Popular posts from this blog

Romans say "Basta!"

The Price of Appeasement

Pope Francis turns Bologna Cathedral into a Dining Hall