Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Sirach, one of those books classified by scholars collectively as the Wisdom literature, provides this weekend’s first Scriptural reading.
The Wisdom literature began when devout Jews and conscientious Jewish parents realized that, amid the pagan societies to which they had emigrated, they needed to convince their children of the worth of the ancient Hebrew religion.
Since the paganism amid which they lived had Greek origins and therefore human reasoning was elevated almost to the status of the divine, the authors of this literature sought to persuade audiences that the Hebrew religion in itself was the summit of human logic.
The Book of Sirach was composed when Greek mythology was the accepted way of thought. This mythology presented gods and goddesses who on occasion were selfish, petty, and outright cruel; powerful but hardly endearing.
By contrast, Sirach offers a picture of the God of Hebrew revelation as far above the tawdry shortcomings and schemes of humans.
God does not bargain. He is supremely just. God could be nothing else.
The Second Epistle to Timothy provides the second reading. Timothy was one of Paul’s disciples. Paul taught him the deep meaning of the Gospel and guided him in the process of spiritual development. Paul also ordained him a bishop.
In this reading, Paul encourages Timothy to be true to the Lord. The great apostle offers himself as an example. He has been imprisoned and mistreated for Christ. His way has been rocky and uphill, but he always has remained loyal.
St. Luke’s Gospel supplies the final reading. Jesus presents the smug and boastful as being foolish. By contrast, a humble and unassuming man is the model of wisdom.
The reading makes two points. First, it teaches that those who have heartfelt love for God will endure. Gaudy outward appearances mean nothing. Good works are to be praised, but good works must rise from sincere faith and love.
Second, the reading echoes what already has been said in the first reading. God is perfectly just.
Human nature blurs our vision. We may see in our good words more than they are. To be truly good, they must spring from a humble faith, prompted by the knowledge that we are good only because God guides us and strengthens us.
Anyone who seeks an end other than God, as the Pharisee sought other ends in the story told by Luke, chase after phantoms. The humble man in the Gospel story was truly wise. His wisdom caused him to be humble. He received the reward. He succeeded. He achieved.
The Book of Sirach suggests an age and a condition very long ago but quite like circumstances met in life today or in any day. Humans always exaggerate their ability. It is a byproduct of original sin.
Despite contradictions and missteps among humans, the fact remains that God alone is almighty and truly wise. God alone is the model of perfection. God alone provides the only reward. God is everything.
Humility is an essential Christian virtue. It is not a denial of who and what we are. Rather, it expresses the deepest insight of who and what we are. It sees us as we are, but its very frankness unsettles us so often.
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