Wisdom 11:22 – 12:2
This Sunday, we will hear from the Book of Wisdom. Like the Book of Sirach that we heard from last week, it is part of the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. The full name is the Wisdom of Solomon in the LXX manuscript; Book of Wisdom in the Vulgate. Most probably originally written in Greek, not Hebrew, somewhere between 100 – 50BC, probably in Alexandria, Egypt, one of the largest centers of the Jewish Diaspora by an anonymous author. He was a devout, Greek-speaking Jew, acquainted with Greek philosophy and culture, probably a native of Alexandria. The author wrote this book to strengthen the faith of his fellow Jews in Alexandria, Egypt, who were living in the midst of pagans who were enthralled by the latest scientific discoveries and the cosmopolitan society of this great city. We can use this reading today as an encouragement for us as we find ourselves living in the midst of people who are enthralled by the latest gadgets and scientific advances and mistakenly think that they are God.
The section that we will be hearing on Sunday is a portion of what was probably a homily on the Exodus. The homily recalls for the Jews in Alexandria that once before, their ancestors suffered in Egypt and the Lord came to their rescue. Just as their ancestors did, they are called to place their trust in God.
This section is possibly the best example of Biblical midrash – i.e., a composition that explains the Scriptures and seeks to make it understandable and meaningful for a later generation. Midrash can take three forms:
- verse-by-verse commentary;
- a homily; or
- a rewritten version of a biblical narrative.
Wisdom 11 – 19 is a midrash in homily form, perhaps a Passover homily. The homily begins with a brief summary of the biblical narrative of Israel’s wanderings in the desert (11:2 – 4). Next, follows a pattern that the homilist detects in the Exodus events: the Israelites benefited by the very things that God used to punish the Egyptians (cf. 11:5; water and animals).
The section we will hear on Sunday (11:22 – 12:2) is an interesting interruption of this presentation. Before reading Sunday’s passage, let’s read 11:1 – 16; 12:23 – 27; 15:18 – 16:4 – it’s all very interesting!
Now, let’s read the passage we will hear on Sunday. It begins with an analogy that is typical of wisdom literature: comparing the almighty, omnipresent God with a grain of sand!
22 Indeed, before you the whole universe is as a grain from a balance, or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.
Grain from a balance: a tiny particle used for weighing on sensitive scales.
23 But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook the sins of men that they may repent.
you have mercy on all, because you can do all things: Even God’s mercy is a sign of his creative power.
24 For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.
25 And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?
26 But you spare all things, because they are yours, O LORD and lover of souls,
you love all things that are… you spare all things, because they are yours: nowhere else in the Old Testament is there such a forceful expression of God’s love for all things or a reason given for it.
1 for your imperishable spirit is in all things!
your imperishable spirit is in all things: this refers to the Spirit of Wisdom (cf. 1:7, 7:24, 8:1) and the breath of life that God breathed into all things (Gn 2:7; Jb 27:3, 33:4, 34:14-15, Ps. 104:29+30). The people of Israel were very aware of the life-giving power of the Spirit of God. Without it, creation would be lifeless.
2 Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little, warn them, and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O LORD!
As is ordinarily the case, our first reading this Sunday prepares us for the Gospel which presents us with a wonderful example of Jesus’ merciful love.
Luke 19:1 – 10
This week, we continue to hear from Luke’s Gospel. Again, the story we will hear – of the tax collector Zacchaeus – is unique to this gospel. As you will read in your footnotes, here we hear about a rich man (Luke 19:2), Zacchaeus, who provides a contrast to the rich man of the parable we hear just a few verses earlier in Luke 18:18-23 who cannot detach himself from his material possessions to become a follower of Jesus. Zacchaeus, according to Luke, exemplifies the proper attitude toward wealth: he promises to give half of his possessions to the poor (Luke 19:8) and consequently is the recipient of salvation (Luke 19:9-10). This story is another example of one of Luke’s themes throughout his writings: God’s particular care for those abandoned or cast out by society. Some scripture scholars think Luke took a brief Marcan pericope (2:14 – 17; Mt 9:9-13) and used it to illustrate four of his themes: Jesus as a dinner guest (v. 5), joy (v. 6), detachment (v. 8) and universal salvation (v. 10). Perhaps, this passage is a parable rather than a recounting of an actual event. Notice that the pericope ends with a statement rather than a recollection of the wonderment of the crowd, as the miracle stories ordinarily do (cf. Lk 4:37, 7:17, 8:39).
1 He came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.
Jericho: a regular rest stop for travelers coming down from Galilee along the Jordan River on their way up to Jerusalem.
2 Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man,
3 was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature.
4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way.
5 When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”
6 And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
7 When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”
8 But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.”
I shall repay it four times over: Zacchaeus is aware of the prescriptions of the Law (cf. Ex. 21:37).
9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.
Jesus said to him: although Jesus is apparently already in the house, he addresses his words to the crowd. Local custom allowed people to enter houses freely. Throughout Luke, when Jesus speaks to an individual, we sense a crowd hovering in the background who hears the message as well.
salvation has come to this house: Jesus brings salvation to the whole household, not just Zacchaeus (cf. Acts 10:44ff).
A descendant of Abraham: as you will read in your footnotes, this literally means, “a son of Abraham.” The tax collector Zacchaeus, whose repentance is attested by his determination to amend his former ways, shows himself to be a true descendant of Abraham, the true heir to the promises of God in the Old Testament. Underlying Luke’s depiction of Zacchaeus as a descendant of Abraham, the father of the Jews (Luke 1:73; 16:22-31), is his recognition of the central place occupied by Israel in the plan of salvation. Jesus doesn’t define Zacchaeus as a sinner but as a descendant of Abraham, clearly identifying him as an Israelite.
10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”
the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost: This verse sums up for Luke his depiction of the role of Jesus as savior in this gospel.
In the first reading, we hear about God’s power displayed in his mercy; in the Gospel, we see an enfleshed example of this as Jesus offers salvation to a public sinner. Notice, Jesus makes it very clear to Zacchaeus that he wants to befriend him; after all, he wants to have dinner with him. In the same way, our Lord longs for us to join him in the heavenly banquet prepared for us by his heavenly Father.
2 Thessalonians 1:11 – 2:2
We hear again from Paul’s letter to the Christians in Thessalonica. Paul arrived in Thessalonica in 50AD. Despite his short stay in Thessalonica, the Christian community thrived and retained a very cordial relationship with Paul. We will be hearing from this letter for the next several weeks.
There is great debate among scripture scholars regarding the authorship of this letter; many today do not believe that it was written by Paul and one of the main arguments they use is the contradiction between 2 Thes 2:3-4, which indicates that certain things need to happen before the Parousia, and 1 Thes 5:1-3, where we see Paul make it very clear that the Parousia will come without any warning. Regardless of its authorship, the letter makes it very clear that the Parousia has not yet arrived and we should continue to be faithful until our Lord returns.
11 To this end, we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith,
12 that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, in accord with the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ.
The grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ: as you will read in the footnote, the Greek can also be translated, “the grace of our God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 We ask you, brothers, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling with him,
with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: As you will read in your footnotes, the Thessalonians have been shaken by a message purported to have come from Paul himself that the day of the Lord is already present. He warns against this deception in eschatology by citing a scenario of events that must first occur (2 Thes 2:3-12) before the end will come. The overall point Paul makes is the need to reject such lies as Satan sends; he also reaffirms the Thessalonians in their calling (2 Thes 2:13-14). They are to uphold what Paul himself has taught (2 Thes 2:15). There is a concluding prayer for their strengthening (2 Thes 2:16-17). As in 2 Thes 1:8-10, the Old Testament provides a good deal of coloring; cf especially Isaiah 14:13-14; 66:15,18-21; Ezekial 28:2-9; Daniel 11:36-37. The contents of 2 Thes 2:3b-8 may come from a previously existing apocalypse. The details have been variously interpreted. An alternative to the possibilities noted below understands that an oracular utterance, supposedly coming from a prophetic spirit (2 Thes 2:2-3a), has so disrupted the community’s thinking that its effects may be compared to those of the mania connected with the worship of the Greek god Dionysus. On this view, the writer seems to allude in 2 Thes 2:6-8 to Dionysiac “seizure,” although, of course, ironically, somewhat as Paul alludes to witchcraft (“an evil eye”) in Gal 3:1 in speaking of the threat to faith posed by those disturbing the Galatians (Gal 1:6-7; 5:10b). On this view of 2 Thes 2:2, the Greek participles katechon (rendered above as what is restraining) and katechon (the one who restrains) are to be translated “the seizing power” in 2 Thes 2:6 and “the seizer” in 2 Thes 2:7. They then allude to a pseudocharismatic force or spirit of Dionysiac character that has suddenly taken hold of the Thessalonian community (see 2 Thes 2:2). The addressees know (2 Thes 2:6) this force or spirit because of the problem it is causing. This pseudocharismatic force or spirit is a kind of anticipation and advance proof of the ultimate, climactic figure (the lawless one or the rebel, 2 Thes 2:3), of which the community has been warned (see the note on 1 Thes 3:3). It is, however, only the beginning of the end that the latter’s manifestation entails; the end is not yet. For in the course of the mystery of lawlessness (2 Thes 2:7), false prophetism, after it ceases in the Thessalonian community, will be manifested in the world at large (2 Thes 2:8-12), where it will also be eliminated in turn by the Lord Jesus.
2 not to be shaken out of your minds suddenly, or to be alarmed either by a “spirit,” or by an oral statement, or by a letter allegedly from us to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand.
“Spirit”: a Spirit-inspired utterance or ecstatic revelation. An oral statement: literally, a “word” or pronouncement, not necessarily of ecstatic origin. A letter allegedly sent by us: possibly a forged letter, so that Paul calls attention in 2 Thes 3:17 to his practice of concluding a genuine letter with a summary note or greeting in his own hand, as at Gal 6:11-18 and elsewhere.
Just like the early Christians, we all wonder when the Lord will return. We’ve all seen people carrying signs warning that the “end is near!” We don’t know when he will return – even Jesus admitted to not knowing when it would happen because it hadn’t been revealed to him by his Father – but, in the meantime, we are called to be like Zacchaeus, eager to follow Jesus and willing to give up anything that keeps us from doing so. And, as we hear in today’s Gospel account, just as Jesus was eager to stay with Zacchaeus, he is eager to stay with us; what a joy that is for us! As I mentioned earlier, God has prepared a place for each of us at his heavenly banquet and Jesus has been sent to lead us there. All we have to do is, like Zacchaeus, to seek him out, repent of our sins and follow him