Holy Spirit

ACTA  LECTIONARY COMMENTARY

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Year C 

Year of Luke

Download >>> Eighteenth Sunday of the Year C

READINGS

 

A reading from the book of Ecclesiastes             1:2; 2:21-23

 

Responsorial Psalm              Psalm 90:3-6. 12-14. 17. R/. v.1 

A reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Colossians  

3:1-5. 9-11   

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke  12:13-21   

 

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All modern Bibles (and even some very ancient ones) have a Table of Contents at the beginning, enabling people to find their way around.  In the ancient world public announcements and decrees and the like were chiselled in stone. More extensive writings were written on copper, on leather, on clay and there were wax “notebooks” for ephemeral exchanges.  Long pieces of writing came to be written on scrolls made from a variety of materials. Animal skins and plants were used to produce writing surfaces. These were turned into scrolls. But these were not convenient for storage in libraries, government offices, or in households that could afford such expensive objects.  Around the time of Jesus the codex or book form came into being. It proved of inestimable value for the creation of collections of writings, for, for example, storing the letters of St Paul or spreading copies of Gospels around a rapidly increasing number of Christian communities. Obviously it was much easier to carry a book around than a haversack full of scrolls.  The invention of the codex or book greatly helped the emergence of the New Testament as a collection of writings that formed the heart of Christian witness in the world. Indeed, the word “bible” comes from the Greek word “byblos” refers to Egyptian papyrus and to its fibres from which a kind of paper and even ropes were made. It came to mean a “book”, and eventually “the book” the Bible.

   The formation of divisions in the Hebrew Bible and in the Christian New Testament took some considerable time to evolve.  It could not have happened until there was fairly unanimous agreement on how the books were to be ordered. It took centuries to come up with what you will find if you turn to the Table of Contents in the opening pages of your Bible.  Unfortunately you will find that Catholic editions have more books in the Old Testament section than are to be found in the Hebrew Bible or in the very distinguished King James Bible, the Authorised Bible (AV) issued with the authority of King James I in 1611 to be read in the parish churches of England.  It has fewer books than the Catholic edition that emerged in 1609.

    This may not appear to be of any great significance to your average Catholic who has not been encouraged or enabled to read the Bible and has little acquaintance with its contents.  But in fact it is a matter of considerable importance.  

 

    The Hebrew Bible

 

The books in the Hebrew Bible are divided into three sections, not in a haphazard way, but in a way that underlines the purpose of each section.  The first section is,

 

           TORAH

                      Genesis

                       Exodus

                       Leviticus

                       Numbers

                       Deuteronomy

 

These are the most important books for Jewish faith.  They contain the purposes for which God chose the people of Israel, the way of life ordained by God to ensure that this people were forever to remain holy, as God is holy.  These books determine what it means to be a Jew and why.

    The second section contains the books of the prophets and this section is very different from the way Christians divide the book order found in the Hebrew Bible:

 

      PROPHETS

                       Joshua                            Obadiah

                       Judges                            Jonah

                      I and II Samuel               Micah

                      I and II  Kings             Nahum

                      Isaiah                             Habakkuk

                      Jeremiah                         Zephaniah

                      Ezekiel                           Haggai

                      Hosea                             Zechariah

                      Joel                                 Malachi

                      Amos

The prophets have been called the conscience of Israel. In the earlier accounts of the kings the prophets present a variety of men and women who were supposed to live all that Torah demanded and mostly fail to do so. In these books we meet the saints and the sinners.  We meet a whole nation of people who are supposed to be a light to the nations but seldom manage to be so. In the prophetical books from Isaiah onwards we encounter a medley of prophets who decry the failure of the people to be as God commands, prophets who catalogue the wrath of God as God attempts to make a people fit for purpose.  The prophets insist that justice, God’s justice, must be done, the poor cared for, and the stranger welcomed. The prophets try to make an unholy people holy. They sketch in glorious poetry and in plain speaking a future that will be filled with shalom, peace, on earth as it is in heaven.

 

      WRITINGS

                      Psalms                         Qohelet (Ecclesiastes)

                      Proverbs                       Esther

                      Job                               Daniel

                      Song of Songs               Ezra

                      Ruth                             Nehemiah

                      Lamentations                I and II Chronicles 

 

These are a miscellaneous collection of books whose common theme is wisdom.  There is the wisdom of prayer, the wisdom gathered through the ages, the wisdom of sorrow and joy, the wisdom of remembering, and the wisdom required for good parenting. These writings are where you learn every day things that turn out to be recipe for living a good and successful life both in the public and privates demesnes.

 

        APOCRYPHA

                             Tobit

                             Judith

                             Baruch

                             Wisdom

                             Ecclesiasticus

                             I and II Maccabees



These books, whose title means “hidden writings” are to be found in bibles belonging to Christians of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.  Christians of the Reformation traditions follow the list of books in the Hebrew Bible. For the most part the Apocrypha did not originate in the Hebrew language and for that reason were regarded with suspicion.  Orthodox and Catholic traditions regard them as authentic of Scripture. Most modern Protestant English Bibles include these books, not as Scripture, but as works that should be honoured as useful adjuncts to the Bible.  The Church of England liturgy contains some readings from these books.

 

    The New Testament

 

It took at least two hundred years of testing and selecting before Christians in the eastern churches came to agree that certain writings were to be preserved and regards as Holy Scriptures and to form what came to be known as the New Testament.  The Hebrew Bible was the Bible of all first Christian churches for it was regarded as the story of God’s creation of a holy people to be the light of the world. Christians came to believe that Jesus was that light in all its fullness. The Jewish people were called to be holy and that witness bore fruit when the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us.  It is not possible to know or to appreciate that light if we do not understand the single thread of God’s purpose that runs through the Hebrew Bible and is the life-line of all we have treasured in the New Testament. The witness of Jewish faith continues to shed light on the faith of Christians. Together we are chosen witnesses to the glory of God.

    Our New Testament began to grow with churches sharing the letters of Paul and binding them together to facilitate circulation.  Other letters from writers who spoke to Christian concerns, advised on matters of contention, and who supported churches with wisdom were shared among the churches.  Then, over a period of, say, fifty years, writers produced writings that came to be known as Gospels. The authors of these were understood to be Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, though to this day we know very little about who these people might be.  However, what they wrote has become the very bedrock of Christian faith. They are universally regarded as the Holy Gospels. That is why they are always the first four books in the New Testament.

    St Paul’s Letters come next, not in the order they were written but from the longest (Romans) to the shortest (Philemon).  There is still much debate as to which letters Paul wrote, what letters were written by his disciples, and what he certainly did not write though even the Council of Trent thought that he did (the letter to Hebrew Christians).  The New Testament order of books is as follows:

 

                    GOSPELS

                                   Matthew

                                   Mark

                                   Luke   [and The Acts}

                                   John

                                               

                     LETTERS

                                  Romans                    I Thessalonians

                                  I Corinthians            II Thessalonians

                                  II Corinthians              Philemon

                                  Galatians                  I Timothy

                                  Ephesians                 II Timothy          

                                  Philippians                   Titus

                                  Colossians                    Hebrews

 

                                                     James

                                                   I Peter

                                                  II Peter

                                                    I John

                                                   II John

                                                  III John

                                                      Jude

                   

                                     The APOCALYPSE of John

 

We can with reasonable safety believe that all the writings of the New Testament were produced within one hundred years of the death of Jesus.  Whereas the books of the Hebrew Bible are about a people, we might say that the books of the New Testament are about a person. All of them spring from the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth.  The people Jesus inspired came to be known as Christians and their faith as Christianity, names that are derived from the person of Christ Jesus. The New Testament is a running commentary of the faith, loves, and hopes of a people dedicated to the Lord Jesus.  With the exception of Luke’s two writings, all of the material that makes up our New Testament was written by Jews. All of them were written in Greek, not the language of Jesus, nor the first language of any of its writers, again with the exception of Luke. That means that all of these books were translating Jesus into a new language, a new culture, a new time, and to many new places.  None of them were written for us; none of them were written in our language, nor for our time, or our place. In every way Jesus comes to us in translation and we are called further to translate what we have come to understand about “the man called Jesus” to the people of our time and our place.                       

A reading from the book of Ecclesiastes             1:2; 2:21-23

 

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,

 vanity of vanities! All is vanity!

 

So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labours under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.

The word of the Lord.

 

Qohelet 

 

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,

 vanity of vanities! All is vanity!

Merest breath, said Qohelet,

Merest breath!  All is mere breath.

 

Scholars cannot be sure of the meaning of the name/qualification of the writer of this book. If we could, we might begin to understand what it is all about with greater certainty.  The ancient Greek Septuagint version names the work “Ecclesiastes”, a name that seems to mean “one who assembles”. This may suggest that a teacher has assembled an audience of philosophical-minded folk to set out his view of the world.  Or it may mean that he is, in his writing, assembling a coherent collection of saying that witness to one conclusion: everything in God’s creation is absurd, a mere “herding the wind”.

    The word “qohelet” appears seven times in the book (1:1; 1:2; 1:12; 7:27; 12:8; 12:9; 12:10) and nowhere else in the Hebrew Scriptures. Whether it is a name of a person or a job description, the name is attached to the book in the Hebrew Bible.  Most scholars today give it its enigmatic Hebrew name rather than that given to the work by the Septuagint, the ancient Jewish translation of their holy books.

    What is certain is that the meaning of the word “vanity” in modern English usage is not at all what is meant in the English of the King James Version or its many children.  It bears no relation to Thackeray’s Vanity Fair.  It does not mean self-glorification, narcissism, dandyism, or inordinate pride.  In the Hebrew mind of Qohelet, the word means futility, pointlessness, emptiness, even, and perhaps in his understanding, absurdity.  For the book clearly insists that everything and every human endeavour is an utter absurdity.  Qohelet, preacher and teacher, claims that life is an absurdity and that to eat, drink, and be merry are the wise options in an absurd world. What then is such a book doing in the Bible?

    Today’s reading from the Book of Qohelet is edited to provide a contrast of some kind with the parable of the man who invested in bigger barns.  But, even in tapering the first reading in some way to act as a parallel to the parable, it is difficult to see where the comparison lies. For the absurdity identified by Qohelet is that no matter how much the wise man toils while the fool lies in idleness, they both come to the same end.  It may help if we allow Qohelet to make his case. This is his argument:

 

The wise man has eyes in his head, and the fool goes in darkness.  Yet I, too, knew that a single fate befalls them all.  And I said in my heart, “Like the fate of the fool, it will befall me, too, and so why have I become so wise?”  And I said in my heart that this, to, is mere breath (vanity, absurdity).  For there is no remembrance of the wise, as with the fool, forever. Since in the days to come, all will be forgotten.  Yes, the wise dies like the fool! And I hated life, for all that was done under the sun was evil to me, for all is mere breath (vanity) and herding the wind.  And I hated all the things got from my toil that I had toiled under the sun, that I should leave it to a man who will come after me.  And who knows whether he will be wise or a fool, and he will have power over all that was got from my toil for which I toiled and grew wise under the sun. This, too, is mere breath (vanity).  And I turned round to make my heart despair over all the toil that I had toiled under the sun.  For there is a man whose toil is in wisdom and knowledge, and skill, and to a man who did not toil for it he will give away his share.  This, too, is mere breath (vanity) and a grievous evil.  For what does a man have from all his toil and from his heart’s care that he toils under the sun? For all his days are pain, and worry is his business.  At night, as well, his heart does not rest. This, too, is mere breath (vanity).  There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and sate himself with good things through his toil.  This, too, have I seen, for it is from God’s hand.  For who will eat and who will feel, save me?  For to the man who seems good before Him, He has given wisdom and knowledge and merriment, but to the offender He has given the business of amassing and taking in to give to him  who seems good before God.  This, too, is mere breath and herding the wind.

Qohelet 3:14-26

 

    This may not be the easiest text to grasp in all its detail.  But the point is clear enough. God decides who to favour and who to reject. No explanation is offered to justify God’s choice. Qohelet’s God cannot be depended upon to embrace those who are wise and act righteously.  

    It is wise to ponder Qohelet.  He is not an atheist. Far from it. But he faces the real questions without pious platitudes.  Why do bad things happen to good people? Having read with the greatest of admiration the story of the deep faith of Job, it is prudent to turn to Qohelet.  As the song goes, you can’t have one without the other.     




Responsorial Psalm              Psalm 90:3-6. 12-14. 17. R/. v.1

 

R/.  Lord, you have been our dwelling place

in all generations.

 

You return man to dust

and say, “Return, O children of man!”

 For a thousand years in your sight

are but as yesterday when it is past,

                    or as a watch in the night.                R/.

 

 You sweep them away as with a flood;

 they are like a dream,

like grass that is renewed in the morning:

 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;

               in the evening it fades and withers.          R/.

 

So teach us to number our days

that we may get a heart of wisdom.

 Return, O Lord! 

How long?

                      Have pity on your servants!              R/.     

 

 Satisfy us in the morning

with your steadfast love,

that we may rejoice 

and be glad all our days

Let the favour of the Lord our God be upon us,

and establish the work of our hands.

 

R/.  Lord, you have been our dwelling place

in all generations.

 

This is a unique psalm.  It is the only psalm that is attributed to Moses, the great leader who was God’s instrument in leading a people from slavery to freedom.  Yet the psalm dwells on the eternity of God’s existence in contrast to the finiteness of human existence. Human life is transient and the human being who in the creation story in Genesis was formed from the dust of the earth is destined to return to dust. These themes of the impermanence of human life resonate with both Job and Qohelet.

    Humanity lasts but a day, from morning to evening and our time slips away like fresh grass burnt by the midday sun.  So the prayer turns to the morning of our lives and the prayer begs that “we may gain wisdom of heart”, enough wisdom to ask that God stay his hand and instead fill us with God’s steadfast love.  This alone will give stability to the ephemeral nature of our fleeting existence.

       

A reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Colossians  

3:1-5. 9-11

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

     Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.    

The word of the Lord.

 

Having provided two chapters of teaching on the universal Lordship of Christ, the writer turns to encouragement.  He wishes to persuade “the saints in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ” (1:2), that the glory of Christ in them is hidden for now.  But when Christ is revealed to the world in his Second Coming the glory of their lives will be revealed with him.

    For now, in the time of waiting, they must not be concerned “with things that are on earth”.  This does not mean that we are to have our heads in the clouds. By “things on earth” the writer means all that will take our Lord Jesus away from the centre of our lives.  Christians are not removed from the world. Far from it. Rather by considering “the things that are above”, the things of God, they will fashion their everyday lives, the daily round, in obedience to the life of Christ that is within them.  The old life, life before baptism into the Lord, is now no more. Their former godless existence has died, overcome by the death of Christ. These Colossians are now saints of God; they have received a new life from the creative hand of God for “God has made you alive” in the moment he made Christ alive and raised him from the tomb of death.  The brothers and sisters of Colossae have been re-created with Christ into a new people. Their identity has been changed. Whatever their earthly identity—Jew, Greek, Scythian, circumcised or uncircumcised, slave or free—they are now joined to their Lord who is in heaven. To be sure, our Lord is not yet visible but as we await his second coming, we live in him, to be sure, in a hidden way.  But those who belong to him on earth are truly with him, he in them and they in him.

    Consequently their ways must not be the ways of the world.   The glory that is to come is to be anticipated in a life that declares the old ways to be dead, washed away by the waters of baptism.  We must be dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. If we acknowledge Jesus as Lord, then he must be Lord of what we are and what we do, as he will be Lord of what we are destined to become.

 

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke  12:13-21

 

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops? ’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be? ’ So is the one who lays up for himself and is not rich toward God.

The Gospel of the Lord. 

 

A plain translation of the first sentence of today’s Gospel would be,

 

Someone out of the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother, “Divide with me the inheritance!”

 

    Jesus had dined with a Pharisee and, as usual that led to a confrontation (Luke 11:37-44).  Then a lawyer pops up to defend the Pharisees against the criticisms Jesus was making of them only for Jesus to turn on him with some very angry words about that tribe of shysters (as Luke sees them).  As he left the house of the Pharisee with whom he had been dining, the scribes and the Pharisees continue forcefully to question him and to speak against him.  

    What is clear is that Luke is inventing a setting and filling it with people, especially those he regards as enemies of Jesus.  Notice that all we are told is that he is “going on from there” without any attempt to give precise geographical location. What we do know is that he is heading for Jerusalem (Luke 9:51) and that, on the way, he keeps meeting enemies who plague his every step:   

 

… the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.

Luke 11:53

 

     The setting of today’s Gospel is “while all this was going on” and,

 

… when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one on another, and he began to say to disciples …                                   Luke 12:1

 

Pity anyone trying to write a life-story of Jesus.  We must realise that Gospel writers seem to have selected incidents and put them into contexts that serve their purposes.  Luke seems to be cluttering together examples of incidents that illustrate the growing hostility to Jesus. It is hostility from Pharisees, from scribes, from lawyers, and from individuals who are not in tune with the song Jesus sings.  All of this takes place as thousands of people are thronging around. In the middle of all this he takes time to have some words of warning with his disciples. He assures them of God’s protection when persecution comes. Jesus tells them that he will acknowledge them before the angels of God but he will deny before those same courtiers in heaven those who deny him.  We who know what will happen to these very disciples on the Mount of Olives will have grim forebodings.

  In today’s Gospel amidst all the thousands pressing upon one another, Luke singles out one someone who shouts out a totally unexpected demand that seems to have no connection with what is going.  It’s about his brother who seems to have inherited all the family silver and is giving none of it away. Why should this family squabble concern Jesus?

     Notice that the man roaring above the milling crowds calls Jesus “Teacher”.  All of the incidents in this jumble of incidents are lessons. The readers and hearers of this Gospel must realise that as they follow Jesus on the way to Jerusalem they, too, are the learners. Listening must be done if they are to understand all that will happen in Jerusalem and afterwards when they become disciples.

     The man wants to get Jesus to intervene and settle a family dispute.  But Jesus does what he always does. He turns it on his head. Remember the lawyer who asked “Who is my neighbour?” and was told a parable that insists that “You are the neighbour! Now act as one!”  So the guy who shouts from the crowd is told to watch his step. What is your motive? Are you after the money? Jesus does not examine his bank account. He looks into his heart.

     Life is not meant to be the valued on the basis of possessions.  Using the present for no other purpose than to ensure a comfortable future is not to live a life centred on the expectations of God.  If the future belongs to God, then true wisdom demands more than an accumulation of wealth and possession. The rich man in the parable “thought to himself”, thought only about himself.  Bigger barns will be built and all his harvests and “all my good things” will be stored safely. Then a life of luxury beckons: “I will … eat, drink, and be merry”. But while the man has wiped God and humanity out of his story, God has not wiped the man out of God’s story:

 

Fool! This night your soul is required of you”.

 

Jesus himself draws the obvious lesson from his parable.  The one who amasses treasure for himself and is not rich to God is skating on very thin ice.

      Today’s Gospel might very well be concluded with a WATCH THIS SPACE notice.  For next few Sundays will invite us to consider how we are to make our lives “rich in the sight of God”.  Look out for amazing investment opportunities!

Joseph O’Hanlon







  

 

  

 

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