Sunday Scripture: Eighteenth 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-fourth 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:



Focusing on Jesus.

Collect:

Draw near to your servants, O Lord, and answer their prayers with unceasing kindness,

that, for those who glory in you as their Creator and guide,
you may restore what you have created and keep safe what you have restored.
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: Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23.
  • Psalm 89: 3-6, 12-14, 17; Response: v. 1. 
  • Second Reading: Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11.
  • Gospel: Luke 12:13-21.
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 Ecclesiastes: After fifty-four reflections, it's nice to be confronted with a new book for the first time. This week we meet Ecclesiastes, an Old Testament book of the Wisdom Literature, part of the Ketuvim in the TaNaK. Ecclesiates is a name which is a Latin transliteration of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Koheleth, or Qoheleth, meaning "Gatherer", but traditionally translated as "Teacher" or "Preacher". Perhaps my affection for Qoheleth is born of the fact that he is the biblical skeptic, don't for get the title of my blog! Qoheleth articulates the reflections of ordinary people regarding life & death and the relationship between God and the individual. Qoheleth's skepticism prompted debate over the holiness of his text among rabbis until the end of the first century A.D. Nevertheless, the book of Qoheleth eventually became traditional reading on the third day of the feast of Tabernacles.


There is great parity between Job and Qoheleth as both investigate the question of retribution and reject traditional solutions. There is a profound difference, however; the author of Job was a poet whereas the Qoheleth, the biblical sceptic, is a philosopher who discusses his subject matter with detachment. The work is a collection of the sage’s seminal thoughts and comes complete with an introduction and conclusion (1:2; 12:8) which announces “Sheer futility, Qoheleth says,…everything is futile”.

It seems to me that this book (along with Job to a certain extent), holds great importance, especially in the present day, because it unflinchingly confronts the concerns of many people about faith in a God who can seem distant and remote from our everyday existence. Qoheleth examines everything, weighing it carefully; material things, riches, wisdom, toil, and finds that they are ultimately unable to give meaning to life. He considers life’s vicissitudes and the finality of death and ultimately reaches his most essential insight: happiness is a gift one must receive from God (2:24-26; 3:12-13, 22; 5:17; 8:15; 9:7-8) and he exhorts his students to enjoy life, not in an overindulgent fashion, but seemingly understanding of the importance of hospitality and the communal dimension essential to everyone’s life as expounded in Gaudium et Spes § 25 and taught by Pope Paul VI.


This week: Qoheleth examines an issue as pertinent today as it was in his day. He reflects on whether it is actually worthwhile to worry and toil. All the restless days and sleepless nights seem to lead nowhere except to heighten the sense of frustration and anxiety. It does not seem just for a man who has worked hard to lose all he has achieved to another, a total stranger, who has never worked for it. Everything we earn and store ultimately does nothing to make us happy.

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: This psalm juxtaposes worldly pursuits and Godly pursuits. God is eternal and sees things in a way impossible for us who spring up in the morning and wither and fade by the evening. True wisdom is not found is squandering our short lives trying to acquire material wealth, but in changing our hearts and focusing on pursuing a life lived in God.

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: We continue our study of Colossians and the section slots in perfectly with the other readings. We must focus our thoughts on heaven, where Christ is enthroned at the right hand of the Father, and lift up our minds beyond the concerns of the world (CCC 664, 1003). In verses 5-8, Paul presents us with a sobering list of vices. Paul consistently insists that no one who fails to repent of these sins has any inheritance in heaven (CCC 1852-1853), so go to confession! In 3:11 Paul teaches the same lesson as Galatian 3:28; that Christians belong to a worldwide family where there are no longer any relevant distinctions. The word 'barbarian' here is not used in a pejorative sense, but rather refers to a resident of the Roman Empire who speaks no Greek. A Scythian hails from the tribal people who lived north of the Black Sea.
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 weekJesus continues the lesson in consonance with all the Scripture we have heard today. His position is that it is nothing short of foolhardy to hoard treasure. It merely leads to a self-deception of security which will ultimately be stripped from him by death. The way Jesus puts this
"Fool! This night your soul is required of you and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?"
...is really rather scary!

Drawing them all together...

The Scripture today calls to mind a dichotomy I really struggled with in the Gospel as a young man. It seemed to be saying that one should give away all possessions and follow Christ. But how could one have a family in a modern world and fully commit oneself to Christ? Of course it is perfectly legitimate to focus on work and security, but it is important that we keep perspective and avoid a preoccupation with possessions. This after all is true idolatry, and, as Jesus explains in the Gospel, leads to greed and avarice. Our focus shifts from the good we can benefit from to the sheer gain itself ultimately blinding us to our true destiny with God. Jesus' parable is very similar to the first reading from Ecclesiastes which looks with realism and dispassion at the activities of mankind and takes us down with searing, ironic insight, into the meaning of life, its folly, and unfairness. So what do we do? Well, Jesus tells us to focus on on spiritual values, that is, working to transform our hearts and minds, thus "making us rich in the sight of God."

St. Paul makes the difference between this life and the one which is to come very clear. Our focus should be on Jesus because He is our life.

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).
Jeremias, J. The Parables of Jesus, New York: 1963.
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