Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Proverbs provides this weekend’s first reading. This book was composed when 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. Indeed, much of the Eastern Mediterranean world at that time had been conquered by Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.), 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 influence most often brought ideas that were contrary to traditional Hebrew theology. Committed Jews had to struggle to keep their theology alive, and they especially struggled to relay their tradition to oncoming generations.
Proverbs was written as a part of this effort. Along with other books of the Hebrew Scriptures, Proverbs attempted to blend human logic with Hebrew theology; to say 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 makes reference to the fact that marriages under the Greek arrangement were usually contrived.
Quite disturbing for Jews was the fact that wives were not much better than servants, even slaves. The concept of love, freely and gladly exchanged between spouses, was not expected, by any means, in Greek life.
Proverbs basically tried to elevate the Jewish notion of human dignity, a dignity that included women as well as men.
St. Paul’s First Epistle 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 the evil and vindicate the good. Paul had to remind 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, in essence, also appears in Mark.
The story builds on the same theme as that given in First Thessalonians. The present order will end one day. Every human will die. No one can predict exactly when natural death will come.
Life suddenly and unexpectedly can change life, as Americans realized after Dec. 7, 1941, when Japan bombed Hawaii; 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 the uncertainty of life, as well as the certainty of the end of life.
God has given 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 ignore the fact that there are uncertainties in life. We must live as good disciples.
Soon, the Church will conclude its year of 2017. 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 lesson 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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