28th June 2015
The book of Wisdom is thought to come from the Jewish intellectual setting of Alexandria in Egypt. It was written in the Greek language and was not part of the Jewish Hebrew Bible. For this reason it is not part of most Christian Bibles yet Roman Catholics have it as part of their Old Testament; it was written only about 50 years before the birth of Christ and is classed in a group of books called deutero-canonical (roughly meaning of secondary value). It shows the influence of its origin in two ways; firstly its literary quality is very systematically and attractively structured with sections and subsections with definite numbers of poetic lines; and secondly though it draws on the earlier books of the Bible, it deals with issues that arise from the philosophical thinking in the Greek culture at that time. This approach is somewhat parallel to that of the Vatican II document Gaudium et spes (The Church in the Modern World), but the author’s purpose may also be to oppose those Jews who had taken on the secular and worldly style and aims of life common among many citizens of Alexandria at the time. Our reading today comes from two separate sections (chapters 1:13-15 and 2:23-24) but both are parts of the first six chapters in praise of wisdom. Firstly God’s Spirit organises creation wisely and we should live accordingly for we are made for life in a world that is basically good. The second section is based on the Greek belief in a real life after death (unlike that of most of the Hebrew Bible) and so we should not live selfishly which is the work of the devil bringing the fear of death into the world; indeed in the book of Genesis, death was seen as a punishment by God for sin.
The second reading, as you can see by the reference (2 Cor 8:7, 9, 13-15), has some of the sentences missed out in between the three groups that the five verses are in. Despite this arrangement it doesn’t make bad sense as an enchanting appeal for a donation from a richer group towards another to bring about some equality. Yet we might be more interested in the whole section (Chapter 8:1-15) and in learning something about the early churches in the third quarter of the first century AD. In the Corinthian Church two groups are significant; one comprises converts from the Jewish religion who do not want to abandon the religious beliefs and practices that they were familiar with and think that all Christians should be like them; the other group are influenced by and enthusiastic for modern thinking and their new Christian religious beliefs and practices. But, surprisingly, the two are in some sort of agreement in their opposition to Paul; the Judaizers (as they are called) disliked Paul’s disregard for some Jewish rules – about food for example; and the more sophisticated and self-assured group were disappointed with his easy-going and non-dogmatic attitude to beliefs and practices. He sees this tentative unity as an opening and so praises them highly for many virtues and invites them to make a donation for the less well-off Christians in Macedonia from where he writes.
The gospel is from Mark (chapter 5:21-43). The permitted shorted reading leaves out verses 25 to 34, (the cure of the woman with an issue of blood), and presents us with the story of the raising of Jairus’ daughter. Two things stand out in this story; that Jesus raised the twelve year old who was considered dead, and that he asked the few people with him to tell no one what had happened. Christians believe that death is not the end of life, but a dramatic development of the life of Christ which they share even here and now. As to the call to keep this all hush-hush, it clearly was not adhered to; it is quite likely that Mark puts this in many of his accounts, because he couldn’t imagine how any Jew wouldn’t have become a Christian if he had known all the miracles that Jesus did. Jairus, as elected president of the local synagogue, would have been a respected person and like the majority of Jews scornful of upstart and fake but popular preachers even working miracles – and Jesus came under that heading. But when his daughter is on the point of death he steps out of his social position and even begs Jesus for help.