19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Wisdom is the source of the first reading for this weekend. Always standing above any ancient Jewish perception of God and religion was the story of the Exodus, when God guided the Hebrews from Egypt where they had been enslaved.
Moses was God’s instrument.
Very much a part of the story was the people’s homage to God. Even if in secret, as some circumstances developed, they worshipped God, their deliverer.
This book of Scripture, along with the other books of the Wisdom Literature, presents itself as the fruit of human logic, as well as of faith, stressing that there is no conflict between the two.
The second reading for this weekend is from the Epistle to the Hebrews, written for Jewish converts to Christianity who faced the same difficulties as those experienced by pagan converts in the first generations of the Church.
After the Jews’ rebellion against Rome, quashed so brutally by the Romans in A.D. 70, the legal system of the empire was no friendlier to Jews than it was to Christians. Christians were beginning to face persecution because they defied laws requiring worship of the Roman gods and goddesses, including the emperor.
This epistle encouraged and challenged these Jewish converts to Christianity.
The reading is eloquent. It literally sings about the majesty and power of faith. By acknowledging God, and by receiving Jesus, the Son of God, believers affirm the fact that God is, and has been active through the centuries, in human life. Abraham experienced this. God gave Abraham and Abraham’s wife, Sarah, a child. Their prayers were answered. From this child, their son, Isaac, descended the Hebrew people.
St. Luke’s Gospel provides the last reading. It is always important to realize that the Gospels were composed not during the Lord’s time on earth, but decades after Jesus lived and preached. (Biblical scholars think that Luke’s Gospel, based fundamentally upon Mark’s, but using other sources as well, was written around A.D. 80, a half century after Jesus.)
This is no way diminishes the Gospel’s validity, but it says that the Evangelist knew the stresses facing Christians at the time when the Gospel was composed. This would mean the Gospel was composed during the persecution and certainly the struggle between the Gospel and the pagan culture.
The words of Jesus chosen by the Evangelist, and read during this weekend’s Masses, are encouraging. They also warn.
Jesus urges disciples to be prepared. He will take care of them. Surviving on earth is not the ultimate, however. Believers will be vindicated by Jesus in the heavenly kingdom. Jesus is the bridegroom. The wedding banquet is the celebration of love and life in heaven.
Only two things are certain in life, they say, namely death and taxes. People spend much time thinking about taxes, filing returns on time, paying what is due, watching withholding statements and resisting political efforts to raise taxes.
Few people think very much about death, even though death is the fate of every living organism. It is too frightening to consider. It is easy to turn a blind eye.
These readings are blunt and utterly realistic. Death awaits us all.
Aside from final death, we can create for ourselves the living death of despair.
God wills that we live with peace in our hearts now, and that we live forever. He gave us Moses and Abraham. He gave us Jesus, the very Son of God. Jesus will come, to lead us to the wedding banquet.
As the Gospel tells us, as the Hebrews longing for deliverance told us, we must prepare ourselves to go with Jesus by being faithful and by loving God above all. God alone is our security and hope. He has proved it.
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