Holy Spirit

ACTA COMMENTARY LECTIONARY

 

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
Year of Luke

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READINGS

A reading from the prophet Isaiah 62:1-5

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 96:1-3. 7-10. R/. v. 3

A reading from the first letter of St Paul to the Corinthians
12:4-11

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 2:1-11

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The scrolls of the Bible that were used by the authors who wrote all that we find in the New Testament, were written in Greek. But the original texts of the Old Testament were written in Hebrew, with some few chapters written in Aramaic. The very earliest writings found in the Jewish Bible were written about one thousand years before Jesus was born. Some came a little more than one hundred years before his birth. The Hebrew language died out under the pressures of exile and invasion as the spoken language of the people of ancient Israel and was replaced by Aramaic, the international language of the Middle East. It is still spoken today by some people in Syria and Iraq and used as the liturgical language by Christians there. Aramaic was the language spoken by Jesus and his fellow countrymen. Greek would have been used among business classes and, with the Roman occupation, Latin was heard. Remember the inscription Pilate caused to be placed above the head of Jesus (John 19:19-20).

The frequent invasions of the lands of the Middle East have left their mark on the languages of peoples who dwelt in them. The conquest by Alexander the Great (356 - 323 B.C.) left its mark, not only in the dominance of his generals in the region after his death but on their cultures and languages. Greek became the international language from the Tiber to the Tigris.

In the centuries before the Second Vatican Council (1963 - 1965), in the churches which make up the Latin Church, Latin was the language in which Mass and the other sacraments were celebrated. Few people knew Latin and people, if they could afford them, had missals that provided a translation. Many people said the Rosary. There was no participation in what the priest was doing or saying. The same happened in the synagogue in Nazareth. The sacred Scriptures were written in Hebrew while the people spoke Aramaic. Aramaic translations, called Targums, were provided and so everyone had an opportunity of hearing the word of God in the language they spoke. Remember, that manuscripts were very expensive and places like Nazareth could not afford a building for regular synagogue worshippers

There were, as we know well, Jewish communities scattered all over the Middle East, as far east as Persia (Iran) and as far as Rome in the west. There was a particularly successful Jewish colony in Alexandria, the second largest city in the Roman Empire. That community wished to impress itself on the predominant sophisticated Greek culture that prevailed again from the banks of the Tiber to the banks of the Tigris. The Jews of Alexandria set about translating their Scriptures into Greek, not only to facilitate their own community in Greek-speaking Alexandria, but to advertise their noble traditions and culture among the cosmopolitan mix that prevailed throughout the Middle East. The result was a translation that became known as the Septuagint.

Septuagint

The story goes that the Alexandrian Jewish community asked the Jerusalem religious authorities to send scholars who could set about translating the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. Seventy-two were dispatched and each scholar lived in his own cell. When each completed the task and emerged his cell - low and behold! - all had translated the Bible in the exact same words. Since 72 scholars were engaged the translation became known as the Septuagint, the Greek word for seventy. That is the story. What really happened was more complex.

According to one ancient account, Ptolemy II whose name was Philadelphus (285 - 246 B.C.) hired 72 Jewish scholars to translate the Hebrew Bible into Greek. This is also a legend with little supporting evidence but it provides a reasonable account. Over a considerable period of time, between 300 and 200 B.C., most of the books of the Jewish Scriptures were translated into Greek. Various editions were produced and revisions were made. There was no single translation that won unique approval. The text of the Septuagint that is the standard edition used by scholars today differs in many ways from the Hebrew Bible. For example, the Book of Jeremiah is much shorter than that found in our Old Testament. The Book of Joshua, on the other hand, is longer in the Septuagint than the edition found in the Hebrew Bible and in our English Bibles. The Psalms and the Book of Proverbs differ in some ways from the standard Jewish and Christian Bibles.

Why is all this important? The reason is that the Greek Septuagint, not the Hebrew Bible, was used by those who wrote all that we find in the New Testament. This means that when, for example, our Gospels quote from the ancient prophets, they are quoting from the Greek text of the Septuagint. Every single quotation and references in each of the 27 pieces of writing in the New Testament comes from editions of the Septuagint. Does this make a difference or give rise to problems? An example will illustrate the point. The Hebrew text of Isaiah 7:14, is accurately translated into English as,

Behold, the young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

But when St Matthew 1:23 quotes this text, what we find is this:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel.

The Hebrew word means “a young woman” (alma), married or of marriageable age. It does not mean “virgin”. But in the Septuagint the Greek text has parthenos, and that means a “virgin”. However, it is clear that Matthew means to refer to Mary, the mother Jesus, as a virgin. What we need to understand is that quotations from the New Testament are not always accurate representations of the text of the Hebrew Jewish Scriptures. Most quotations in the New Testament come from Isaiah, the Book of Psalms, and the Book of Deuteronomy. These are the bread and butter of our Gospels and of much else besides.

As we embark on the Year of Luke we will constantly meet quotations and references to the Old Testament. We must realise that the people who wrote the New Testament regarded the Septuagint as the inspired word of God, though, strictly speaking, that is not the case. As ever in approaching “God’s holy words” we must tread carefully.

 

A reading from the prophet Isaiah 62:1-5

For Zion's sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem's sake I will not be quiet,
until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,
and her salvation as a burning torch.
The nations shall see your righteousness,
and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your sons marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.
The word of the Lord.

The passage proclaimed today is from the third section of the Book of Isaiah. This part of the Book of Isaiah comes from the time the exiles in Babylon have returned and are trying to rebuild all that had been lost. The loss was not only of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. The faith of the people was sorely tested and, indeed, for many driven into foreign lands, was lost:

How can we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?
Psalm 137:4

So the bedraggled returnees need to be reminded that God is still their God and that their welfare is the Lord’s concern. Past glory will return and the nations will see a restoration of all that was lost. There is a renewed step to the people’s faith that God will not rest,

… until he establishes Jerusalem
and makes her a praise in the earth.
Isaiah 62:7

The first reading in our Sunday lectionary is often meant to resonate with the reading from the Gospel of the day. The image of water turning to wine is an image of transformation. Isaiah’s text speaks of a hope that God will transform a defeated people whose watchwords were “Forsaken”, and “Desolate”. The hope is that a people of renewed faith will wear “a crown of beauty”. Indeed, the Lord will be married to the land of Israel:

and your land “Married”;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.

And in a verse that follows today’s excerpt,

as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.
Psalm 62:5

The Wedding at Cana in Galilee, to which Jesus had been invited, brings to earth all the hopes and dreams so earnestly prayed for in the poetry of Isaiah.

 

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 96:1-3. 7-10. R/. v. 3

 

R/. Declare the wonders of the Lord
among all the peoples.

Oh sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Sing to the Lord, bless his name. R/.

Tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvellous works among all the peoples! R/.

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name. R/.

Worship the Lord in the splendour of holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth!
Say among the nations, “The Lord is King!

He will judge the peoples with equity.

R/. Declare the wonders of the Lord
among all the peoples.

The word “Lord” occurs eleven times in this call to the people to worship. The Lord is the Lord of the earth and the Lord’s glory must be proclaimed to the earth’s four corners. For the whole world must know the glory that is the Lord’s and all the peoples of the earth must ascribe what glory creation mirrors to be the very glory of God. Everyone must acknowledge “the glory of his name”.

The “name” is a short-hand throughout the Bible for God’s Presence. When Christians bless themselves, they are invoking the Presence of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To bless oneself is to acknowledge that in God’s Presence all we do will be well done, done with the help of God. Yes, as the psalmist says to us today, we must tremble in the Lord’s Presence. But we must acknowledge that “In his Temple”, in his Presence, we are embraced by the Lord’s strength and splendour.

Two points of clarification. First, the eleven occurrences of “Lord” in our prayer for the day is in Hebrew eleven instances of YHWH (pronounced Yahweh in English though it should not be pronounced). Of course, Jewish people never utter the name of God and when they come to pray or to read the word they read and pray Adonai. Most Christians down through the ages have refrained from speaking the name YHWH. In English it is always translated as Lord, and written with capital letters when referring to God. Jesus is called “Lord” and written that way to acknowledge his “place” in the Blessed Trinity, while at the same time recognising his humanity.

Secondly, the word “glory” occurs three times in this psalm. What was done at the wedding revealed the glory of Jesus. The glory of the Lord, according to the psalm, is known through “his marvellous works”. What is the meaning of “glory” and what does its revelation tell us about God and about Jesus? What does Cana tell us?

 

A reading from the first letter of St Paul to the Corinthians
12:4-11

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
The word of the Lord.

St Paul’s first letter to Corinthian Christians will form the second reading at Mass for this and the next six Sundays. It is, therefore, important to ensure that we come to know the mind of Paul and what drove him to proclaim the gospel of God.

St Paul’s letters to the Christian communities in and around the city of Corinth are among the most important in the New Testament. They reveal so much of the theology that informed the pastoral care of the great apostle. What did he think he was doing by drawing people into the Christian movement? What understanding of God, what understanding of Jesus, and what understanding of the Spirit motivated him to journey through Asia Minor, through Greece, and finally on to Rome? Why did this deeply religious and observant Jew come to believe that God had sought him out, a deadly foe of the Christian enterprise, to be its most committed apostle?

Paul explains his calling in an angry letter that reveals how God called him to the service that was to define his life in unexpected ways:

For I would have you know, brothers and sisters, that
the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone …
Galatians 1:11-16

Paul did not convert from being a devout Jew to become a devout Christian. If by conversion we mean moving from one faith to another, then Paul never walked that path. He was a learned Jew, a passionate believer in the vocation God had given to his people, and he was violently opposed to anything that would deny what was revealed in the Scriptures he knew so well.

What happened to Paul was that he became convinced that Jesus was not a destroyer of Judaism but rather that in Jesus God had revealed what was the destiny of Judaism. It was to be a light to the whole world. What God revealed in Jesus was not only the destiny of Judaism but the destiny of humanity. For Paul to be a Jew, to remain faithful to the Judaism he learned at his mother’s knee and at the feet of learned scholars, it was necessary to embrace Jesus the Jew and to see in him God’s hand saving the whole of humanity:

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. I Corinthians 1:21-25

Paul understood that the death of Jesus was the solemn sign of God’s commitment to the future of the world. It was the final act of God’s emptying himself into our world for the sake of humanity’s well-being. Throughout the whole Jewish story, told in their Scriptures, more and more God immersed himself in the pain of humanity. St John’s Gospel expresses simply what Paul understood profoundly: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son (John 3:16). Paul realised that in order to be a Jew fully committed to God’s design for humanity’s safety, he had to join those who understood what God was doing in the world. In the letter to the little Christian community he loved more than any other, the great apostle quotes one of the very earliest of Christian hymns to tell the story:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in
Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not count equality with God
a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself,
by taking the form of a servant,
being born in the likeness of men.

And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient
to the point of death,
even death on a cross.

Therefore God has highly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth
and under the earth,
and every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

There is a Greek word kenosis, not found in the Bible, but that expresses the heart of the matter as Paul understood what Jesus was and Jesus is. The word means “the process of emptying”. Paul understood that the Son of God by becoming a human being had taken on the ultimate fate of all people and died. He died on a cross in total obedience to the weakness that all flesh is heir to. And this for Paul was why his preaching can be summed in his own phrase: we preach Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23). That was what was written on his tee shirt.

As we listen to Paul today and over the coming weeks we will begin to fathom the depths of God’s love. We will see Paul forming little groups of people and shaping them into proclaimers of what they have learned from him about God’s ways. For Paul knew that the Spirit that was in Jesus, the Holy Spirit, was the same Spirit that enlivened everyone who came to believe.

So in today’s reading we learn that every gift of the Spirit is given to be of service to the community and through the community to the world. The Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit, God himself are extravagant in giving gifts. But they are given for a good purpose. The list of gifts is long:

Wisdom
Knowledge
Faith
Healing
Working of miracles
Prophecy
Discernment
Speaking in tongues
Interpretation of tongues.

The rich variety of gifts are given for service. There is a Greek word koinōnia (pronounced coy-no-nee-a). It occurs 19 times in the New Testament, and 13 times in the seven authentic letters of Paul. It means “the state of possessing things in common”, “a communion of purpose”, “a sharing of purpose”, “ a togetherness in community”. Paul uses the word to impress on his little parishes that there is no “church” where there is no common purpose, no togetherness of enterprise, no recognition that everyone has gifts that can and must be placed at the service of all. Paul had no conception of “them and us”. All are one in Christ.

 

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you”.
Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
The Gospel of the Lord.

The Lectionary Gospel readings for the Year of Luke concentrate, in the main, on the journey of Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem. Like most great stories that enlighten our world, Luke’s is a journey story. But it is not a geographical story with mileage and signposts guiding the path of Jesus. Nor is it chronological in the sense that one day follows the next. It is rather “a journey for the whole Church and for the individual Christian”. We are invited to walk with Jesus and to learn from his journey how as Christians we must walk our way through the world.

The account of the events surrounding the baptism of Jesus (last Sunday) continued to reveal who Jesus was and what he was called to do. This Sunday which jumps into John’s Gospel, is meant to continue the exploration of who Jesus is before we set out with Luke to accompany him on his way to Jerusalem.

A Wedding

A number of matters need clarification. The characters in the story in the order of appearance are,
The mother of Jesus
Jesus
His disciples
Servants
The master of the revels.

Three of the people on stage have speaking parts and contribute significantly to the story. However, though the disciples are present they have no lines to speak. But they are very important for what they witness causes them “to believe in him”. Readers and hearers must align themselves with the disciples and expect to be informed, challenged and changed.

The servants do what servants do: seen and not heard. But we must watch the mother of Jesus, Jesus himself, and the master of the wedding reception.

There is no great emphasis on the fact that the occasion of this feast is a wedding. But we need to examine each of the three chief participants.

Woman

The first thing to notice is that the mother of Jesus is not called Mary. She is the first character introduced as “the mother of Jesus” and that is what she remains throughout, twice named ‘the mother of Jesus” and once “his mother”. Jesus addresses his mother as “Woman”. Nowhere in all Greek literature do we find a son addressing his mother as “Woman” and in the most basic of terms. He calls his mother “Gynai”, the basic gynaecological term. It is not polite. But when we notice a pattern in John’s Gospel a very important truth comes to light.

First, remember the wonderful Samaritan woman at the well, to whom Jesus speaks so profoundly and with gentle respect. Yet at the crucial point in their theological exchanges, Jesus says,

Woman,
believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.
John 4:21

When Jesus spoke from the cross, addressing his mother, he said,

Woman, behold, your son.
John 19:26

When the angels come to explain the empty tomb, they address Mary Magdalene,

Woman, why are you weeping?
John 20:13

Surprisingly, Jesus when he comes to her at first he addresses her in the same words:

Woman, why are you weeping?
John 20:15

What is revealed in these peculiar incidents is that the address to these women introduce moments of profound revelation and what John emphasises is that these revelations are made to a woman. Women are central to key moments in John’s Gospel. First, it is the mother of Jesus who initiates the central action in the Cana story, that very action that was “the first of his signs”, a sign that “manifested his glory”, and caused his disciples to believe in him.

The Samaritan woman story is important in many ways, not only in the Gospel but in the early days when the gospel was preached to Samaritans against all religious and social imperatives. Jesus reveals to this amazing woman the nature of true worship of the Father, - not worship in the Jerusalem Temple, nor on the Samaritan Mount Gerazim, - but in spirit and in truth.

It is Mary Magdalene who stands before the empty tomb weeping. It is this woman who is told that that is not a place for tears. The tomb is empty because he is risen.

To address his mother as “Woman” at Cana and Calvary is to emphasise that this woman births him into his public ministry and is there at the end to witness the completion of a life lived totally for God.

So the address “Woman” is certainly on the face of it unmannerly, to say the least. But it underlines the fact that Jesus and the Gospel of John place women at the heart of the Christian story. John’s Gospel is the “theological Gospel” as tradition sometimes expresses it, to explain why it differs so much from Mark, Matthew and Luke. The ‘place’ of women in this Gospel is theological, that is to say, their witness is necessary to articulate the revelation at the heart of the exercise. The Word became flesh is the truth of this Gospel and the women are witnesses to that truth. It is a witness that cannot be gainsaid and must not be denied.

 

The mother of Jesus

It is the mother of Jesus who notices the embarrassment: They have no wine. This is what I call an indicative imperative. It is a simple statement of fact but actually it is really a command: Do something about it! It is a mother talking to her son but talking to him with an awareness of who he is. His mother is confident that who he is empowers him to act.

The reply of Jesus is a frequent phrase in the Bible and it means “What has that got to do with me or with you?” Jesus is not rebuking his mother for her desire that something needs to be done. Rather he is asserting that “his hour”, the time for his active ministry, for doing the Father’s will, has not yet arrived. However, his mother commands the servants (diakonoi in the Greek text) to “do whatever he tells you”, an order that runs through the whole of John’s Gospel and, indeed, through the whole Christian story.

The “hour” in John’s Gospel particularly refers to the passion, death, and return to the Father. But it is that “hour” that gives power and authority to all that Jesus does and says. His destiny to return to the Father empowers his whole life. That “hour” is always the hour appointed by his Father. The story of the Samaritan woman who meets with Jesus at a well illustrates this insistence in John’s Gospel.

The woman met Jesus “about the sixth hour” (4:6). Many have pointed out that it was in the middle of the day when the heat was at its worst. This notorious sinner could not come to the well in the morning or the evening with the pious women of Sychar. However, the woman was not a sinner but a woman of truth, the very kind of person that Jesus understood. The time of day is mentioned because it is theologically of great importance. For this reason

So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called
The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It about the sixth hour.
John 19:13

The very same hour that saw Pilate sentence Jesus to death is the same hour that he met the woman of Samaria at the well.

There is a very famous hymn entitled Vexilla Regis (Standards of the King) written by Venantius Fortunatus (530-609 A.D.) It was written to be sung in a procession in Poitiers that was accompanying a relic of the true cross that had been acquired by the convent. The hymn used to be sung regularly in Holy Week and on Good Friday when the Blessed Sacrament was carried to the Altar of Repose. A few stanzas were a regular part of the funeral liturgy some of us are old enough to remember. Stanza 10 explains what the Fourth Gospel intended us to understand by repeating “it was about the sixth hour”:

It was me you were seeking out
when, exhausted,
You sat by the well,
Me that you redeemed
when you suffered on the cross.
Do not allow such toil to be in vain.

The meeting at the well in Samaria was under the shadow of the cross. It was the power of that cross that ordained the woman to go and preach to her people and win them for Jesus, the Saviour of the world (4:42).

 

Water and Wine

Water becoming the choicest wine is a symbol of what God gives to the world in his Son. The water is necessary for life but wine is (perhaps) necessary for joy. Certainly, in this story, it is a symbol of the transformation that comes to humanity when his Son pitches his tent amongst us. The master of the revels does not know where the good wine has come from. But those who listen to John’s story can readily identify the source. As one of Paul’s companion’s wrote, God richly provides us with everything to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17).

Glory

In John’s Gospel the “glory” of Jesus is revealed in “the hour”, the death, resurrection, and return to the Father. While separate in our minds, for John these events are one - a going back to the Father so that his Father becomes our Father and the Spirit comes to be our Advocate. The power of the coming of Jesus from the Father and his returning to the Father is, for John, what for Luke the heavenly host sang over the baby swaddled in the manger:

Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace
among those with whom he is pleased!”
Luke 2:14

Words such as “glory”, glorify” and “glorious” occur 24 times in the writings of Luke. We shall meet these words as we travel through his Gospel.

The Disciples

While they play no part in the story apart from being there, the disciples grasp what the sign reveals. Chapter 1 in John is devoted to calling and instructing disciples. Here at Cana in Galilee they see further into who Jesus is and why he has come. Notice how many times the word “followed” occurs in chapter 1. At the wedding they began to believe that they were invited to follow the glory of God, made flesh and dwelling amongst us.

Joseph O’Hanlon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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