Thirty-Third Sunday In Ordinary Time
The Book of Proverbs provides this weekend’s first reading. This book was composed when both the Holy Land and the lives of its inhabitants, God’s chosen people, had experienced massive changes as a result of the military conquest of the Holy Land and much of the Eastern Mediterranean world by Alexander the Great (356-323 BC), the young Greek king from Macedonia.
Alexander did not live long enough to enjoy fully the successes of his victorious armies, but his conquests placed Greeks and Greek philosophy at the summit of cultures all across the Middle East.
This Greek influence often brought ideas that were contrary to traditional Hebrew theology. Committed Jews had to struggle to keep regard for their theology alive, and they especially struggled to relay their tradition to oncoming generations among them.
Proverbs was written in this effort. Along with other books of the Hebrew Scriptures, Proverbs attempted to blend human logic with Hebrew theology, to insist that ancient Hebrew beliefs are not illogical. In the Greek mind, human logic was supreme.
The reading from Proverbs, proclaimed by the Church on this weekend, obliquely refers to the fact that marriages under the Greek arrangement usually were contrived. Quite disturbing for Jews was the fact that wives were not much better than servants, even slaves, almost livestock. Genuine love freely and gladly exchanged between spouses, equal in human dignity, was not essential to marriage in Greek thinking. Proverbs tried to promote the Jewish notion of human identity, with a majesty that included women as well as men.
St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians supplies the second reading. In the early days of the Church, the general presumption was that momentarily, very soon, Jesus would return to earth to vanquish evil and vindicate the good. Paul reminded the Christians of Thessalonica that following the Gospel might be a long, tiring and difficult process, as Christ might not appear as quickly as they would like.
For its third and last reading, the Church this weekend presents St. Matthew’s Gospel. The story basically also appears in Mark.
The story builds on the same theme as that given in First Thessalonians. The present order will end one day, albeit not necessarily tomorrow. Every human will die, but no one can predict exactly when natural death will come.
Life suddenly and unexpectedly can change, as Americans realized after Dec. 7, 1941, when Japan bombed Hawaii, or on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists destroyed so many lives, or more recently when hurricanes devastated so many places.
The reading from Matthew counsels Christians to remember this uncertainty of life, as well as the certainty of the end of life.
God gives each Christian skills and talents. He has revealed to them the way to live. He has sent Jesus to them as Redeemer. No one can waste time or ultimately escape the end of earthly life. They must live as good disciples.
Soon, the Church will conclude its year. Its great celebration, and final message, will be the feast of Christ the King — the only answer to every question, worry, and need.
This is fact. One day, at a time unknown, life will change for each of us individually. Our societies also will change.
Jesus has promised one day to return in glory. How and when this return will occur is not known, but the Lord will return.
In the meantime, even as changes suddenly come upon us, God strengthens, guides and redeems us, as Paul assures us in First Thessalonians. In Jesus we have the model of how to live. In Jesus, we truly have life. We are heirs to heaven, but we must respond, committing ourselves without hesitation to the Lord Jesus, Christ the King.
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