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ACTA  

 

LECTIONARY COMMENTARY



Twenty-Second  Sunday in Ordinary  Time

Year C 

Year of Luke

Download >>> 22nd Sunday of the Year C

 

READINGS

 

A reading from the book of Ecclesiasticus      3:17-20. 28-29

 

Responsorial Psalm             Psalm 68:4-7. 10-11. R/. cf. v.11 

 

A reading from the letter to the Hebrews     12:18-19. 22-24

   

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke   14:1. 7-14    

 

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A reading from the book of Ecclesiasticus      3:17-20. 28-29

 

My son,

              Perform your tasks in meekness;

       then you will be beloved by those whom God accepts.

     The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself;

     so you will find favour in the sight of the Lord.

               For great is the might of the Lord;

                   he is glorified by the humble.

 

            The affliction of the proud has no healing,

         for a plant of wickedness has taken root in him.

The mind of the intelligent man will ponder a parable,

          and the attentive ear is a wise man’s desire.

The word of the Lord.

 

The Book of Ecclesiasticus is one of the books in a category called “apocrypha”, that is, according to its Greek meaning, books that have been “hidden away”.  Since the Reformation a number of books that had previously been regarded as belonging to Scripture were removed from the Protestant Bible. Yet they were regarded as been of sufficient importance and interest to be printed in modern Bibles in a separate section denoting their non-scriptural status.  Their downgrading has usually been due to the fact that most of these books were not written in Hebrew or, if they were, no Hebrew copy has survived, and they were not part of the Hebrew Bible. They all survive in the Greek editions. Catholics and Orthodox Christians have always included most of the “Apocrypha” in their Bibles. 

    The best known of these works among Catholics are, I think, Tobit, Judith, the Greek edition of Esther, The Wisdom of Solomon, I and II Maccabees and Ecclesiasticus or The Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach, from which today’s second reading is taken..

    The Latin Vulgate, the translation made by St Jerome, (in a revised edition) is still the official Bible of the Catholic Church.  The Book of Jesus ben Sirach is called Ecclesiasticus in the Vulgate, meaning “Church book”, a name that reveals nothing as to its content.  The author was the grandson of a man called Sira and this grandson translated the edition that we have today from Hebrew into Greek. The book ends with a seeming autobiography of Ben Sira which suggests that the author was a teacher who offered his wisdom to the young people of Jerusalem in the period just before the Maccabean revolt that began around 164 B.C.

 

    Advice to the young

 

Advice to the young is a feature of Jewish “wisdom” literature, as it was in similar works throughout the whole of the Middle East from Egypt to Mesopotamia.  The perspective of Wisdom writings was international, universalist, and pragmatic. There were no boundaries and no exceptions to the instinct that wisdom produces a rounded personality that expressed itself in upright living.  The basis of such an honourable life is, as ever, humility. To find favour in the sight of God and of the world one must humble oneself. The truly wise do not seek to go beyond their capacity, for hubris, an exaggerated belief in one’s own abilities, will fare badly.  The cautious sage advises the young not to meddle in matters that are beyond their capacity to understand. Everyone must realise that calamity befalls the proud. 

                    

Responsorial Psalm             Psalm 68:4-7. 10-11. R/. cf. v.11 

 

R/.    In your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.

 

The righteous shall be glad;

they shall exult before God;

they shall be jubilant with joy!

                Sing to God, sing praises to his name.            R/.

 

Father of the fatherless and protector of widows

is God in his holy habitation.

 God settles the solitary in a home;

                  he leads out the prisoners to prosperity.        R/.

Rain in abundance, O God, you shed abroad;

you restored your inheritance as it languished;

 your flock found a dwelling in it;

in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.

 

R/.    In your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.

 

Notice that the words “God” and “Lord” both occur throughout this psalm. It sometimes can be enlightening to realise that, in our English translations, when we read “Lord” this is a conventional way of indicating that the original Hebrew text has the holy name “Yahweh”.  It occurs 6828 times in the Hebrew Bible. But since this is not pronounced, the practice in English is to use “Lord”.

    When our Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible, was translated into Greek about two hundred and fifty years before Jesus was born, there was not Greek word to translate “Yahweh” since its meaning was unknown.   So the translators settled on Κúριος, Kyrios (as in Kyrie, eleison), which was the word used to address a supreme ruler or emperor. In English the word “lord” was/is used for people in supreme authority. It became the word used to translate the Holy Name.   Pope Benedict XVI asked that Catholics refrain from using the name Yahweh in reading or singing, a name so sacred to Jewish people that it is never pronounced. When it occurs in the Bible reading it is read as Adonai. 

    “God” is used to translate El, an ancient word for god in neighbouring cultures.  This was often written in the plural Elohim, (occurring about 2,6000 times) as a title of supreme majesty (“the God of gods”).

  Apart from the interesting fact that Lord and God are used interchangeably in celebration of divine victory, the poetic image that is an inspiration for the whole psalm is probably taken from the so-called Song of the Ark quoted in Numbers 10:35-36:

 

Arise, O Lord,

and let your enemies be scattered;

and let those who hate you

flee before you.”

Return, O Lord,

to the ten thousand thousands of Israel.

 

The song envisages the Lord leaving the people of Israel as they journey with Moses to the promised land in order to pursue enemies who seek their destruction.  In the evening the Lord is urged to return, to camp down for the night with the Israel’s teeming myriads. Our Responsorial Psalm—made up of brief quotations from the lengthy psalm—seems to blend with the Psalm in imagining a procession to the Temple.  The Lord God is imagined as leading the procession making its way to the Temple, joyfully singing the praises of the victorious Lord. The rousing song might very well be on our lips as it praises a God who is father to the fatherless, protector of widows, a God who provides homes for the homeless, and freedom for those who are unjustly imprisoned.  Everywhere we beg the good Lord to be a provider for the needy. Whether we want rain in abundance is, I think, a matter for individual negotiation (farmers may not necessarily agree with holiday-makers). 

A reading from the letter to the Hebrews     12:18-19. 22-24

 

For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant. 

The word of the Lord.

 

How many books in our Bible end with a vision of the future, either a future of peace and tranquillity in this life or a vision of the world to come? 

    Last week we heard some of the final verses of the Book of Isaiah, imagining missionaries from Israel going into the whole world to invite the nations to assemble on the hill of Zion in Jerusalem and begin worshipping in the Temple in Jerusalem.  At the end of our Bible we have the author of the Book of Revelation imagining a New Jerusalem:

 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.

Revelation 21:1-2 

 

In the very earliest work to be found in the New Testament, the First Letter to the Thessalonians, Paul includes a fanciful account of how he envisages the second coming of Jesus and the fulfilled destiny of humanity:

 

… the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

I Thessalonians 4:16-18

 

 How fragile this vision is, if you start to take it as more than a flight of the imagination.  If Jesus “descends”, then it means wherever he comes from is “up there”. Will everyone, even Australians, hear “the cry of command”?  What about deaf people? Can spiritual beings such as an archangel really talk? Does God have a trumpet? If God has a trumpet, can God play it?  Is God as good as Louis Armstrong? If we are caught up in the clouds, will we be able to walk on or in the clouds?

    This kind of writing is amazingly imaginative and essentially vague.  But it is dazzlingly clear: we will be with the Lord

    Today the Letter to Hebrew Christians joins the visionaries in painting a picture of what is to come.  As usual these apocalyptic imaginings are pictorially attractive but extravagantly impossible. We will not all fit into Jerusalem, and Mount Zion is a very small hill.  But there is a current running through the vision in Hebrews as in all apocalyptic visions. Their message is simple: the future belongs to God. Not to war, not to death, not to destruction, not to any hell we can imagine: the future belongs to God.  The future is God’s creation and it is God who has determined the destiny of all creation. How attractive to be “where the millions of angels have gathered for a festival”. Glastonbury in the skies?

       

 

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke

14:1. 7-14 

One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully.

    Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honour, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honour, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher. ’ Then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.

The Gospel of the Lord.

 

First, a quotation from an ancient Roman writer, known as Pliny the Younger, to distinguish him from his uncle (Pliny the Elder), born in 61 A.D. and died in 113 A.D.  He was an eminent politician, judge, and an author of a collection of letters that illustrate public and private life in the Roman circles he knew so well. This is what he wrote about a meal to which he was invited:

 

Some very elegant dishes were served up

         to himself (the host) and a few of the company;

         while those which were set before the rest were 

        cheap and paltry.  He had apportioned in small 

    flagons three different sorts of wine.  But you 

    must not suppose it was that the guests might 

           take their choice: on the contrary, that they might

    not choose at all.  One flagon was for himself 

          and me; the second for his friends of lower order,

    (for you must realise that he measures out his 

     friendship according to the degree of quality).  

                 The third flagon was for his own freed-men and mine.

 

There are several meal settings in Luke’s Gospel and they reflect one way or another the kind of social practices that were routine in the society mirrored in Luke’s accounts.  It is worth keeping in mind the meals and imaginary meals that pepper Luke’s Gospel:

 

5:27- 21

After the call of Levi the tax man, he made a great feast for Jesus and a large number of tax collectors and others, every one reclining at table.  Note the hostility of Pharisees and scribes.

 

7:36-50

Invited by a Pharisee, Jesus went to his house and took his place at table.  A woman of the city, uninvited, entered into the proceedings. A parable, a rebuke, and a saving follow. 

 

7:37-54

A Pharisee invites Jesus to dine with him and he went and, again, he reclined at table.  Jesus did not wash before eating. Angry exchanges follow. Insults are bandied about, and threats are made.  

 

9:10-17

Jesus feeds about 5,000 people and twelve baskets of broken pieces were left over.

 

14:1-24

Jesus went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees.  A healing, a warning to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind follow.  The Parable of the Great Banquet is told.

 

15:11-32

A parable is told: A lost son returns and a fatted calf is roasted.  An elder son remains in the field.

 

16:19-31

There was a rich man who feasted sumptuously every day.  There was a poor man at his gate.

 

22:7-23

Reclining at table with his apostles, a cup and broken bread are shared.  A new covenant is sealed and a betrayal is at hand.

 

24:13-35

On the way to Emmaus Scriptures are explained, hearts are warmed, bread is broken and identity recognised.

 

24:36-43

A startled and frightened bunch of people give Jesus a piece of broiled fish.  In return, a meaning is disclosed and witnesses are appointed. 

 

    The Parable of the Wedding Feast

 

Today’s Gospel must be seen in the context of all the meals that are part and parcel of Luke’s Gospel.  The totality of them add up to an extended parable on the meaning of the Breaking of the Bread, in the life of the people who became People of the Way.  At so many of these meals the word is spoken and a way of living prescribed. Healing and saving, rescue and rebuking, sharing and sending, teaching and counselling—these are the business conducted around the table, and not only in Luke’s Gospel.  These are the heart and soul of every occasion when the People of the Way gather around the table.  

    The parable in today’s Gospel is not so much a story as an instruction in Christ-like behaviour.  Everything gets turned on its head:   

 

When invited to a wedding feast …

                                              Go and sit in the lowest place.

Friend, go up higher …

                                  You will be honoured before all.

 

The lesson is plain:

 

Everyone who exalts himself …

                                                will be humbled.

 

The one who humbles himself … 

                                                    will be exalted.

 

What Jesus has done is to teach the ruler of the Pharisees and his guests what they should know. What Jesus is doing is especially painful to these religious folk: he is teaching his grandmother to suck eggs.  For if they were schooled in the wisdom of their ancestors, they would long ago have understood what the man from Nazareth (the back of beyond) is now caustically rubbing in:

 

Do not put yourself forward in the king's presence

or stand in the place of the great,

 for it is better to be told, “Come up here,”

than to be put lower place … 

Proverbs 25:6-7

 

Ouch!  Hoist with your own petard.  Those who are teachers of the faith are found to be ignorant of its teaching.  For it is the one who has humility that is the essence of faith before God that is called “Friend” by the host.

 

    The blessing …

 

Humility is just one side of the Christian coin.  The other side, the side that mints humility in all its glorious splendour is loving care.  Not care of friends or brothers and sisters, or of relatives and rich neighbours. All you have a right to receive in exchange from them is an invite to another party.  No. When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. This will shower blessings upon you and you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.

    There are two points to notice carefully.  In the first place, all these verbs are in the plural.  It is the character of the church, local and universal, that is called upon to be humble, to reach out, and to invite to its table those in most need of God’s merciful care.  Secondly, those who receive of the loving concern that must characterise People of the Way, are in no position to provide any return. But return there will be, a return made by a generous God.  The principle that must inform the lives of a community close to God’s heart is outlined clearly by Jesus:

 

If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.                                                           Luke 6:32-36

 

However there is a surprise in this promise of resurrection to those who are godly in their loving generosity in this world.  It is a statement of St Paul in Luke’s second book, the Book of Acts. Paul was on trial before Felix, the Roman governor at Caesarea.  This is what he said in his defence against Jewish authority figures who sought his condemnation:

 

Knowing that for many years you have been a judge over this nation, I cheerfully make my defence. You can verify that it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem, and they did not find me disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd, either in the Temple or in the synagogues or in the city. Neither can they prove to you what they now bring up against me. But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. 

 

Now there’s a surprise!

 

Joseph O’Hanlon

  

   

 

                                



       







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