11th October 2015
The first reading is from the Book of Wisdom. We had a reading from this book on the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time and comments there explained something about the book in general and the first 5 chapters in particular. The books that are in the Christian bible are called canonical (from the Greek κανων meaning rule of standard), because they are approved by the Church as giving reliable teaching about God and how we should live. However, non-Catholic Christians generally don’t recognise the Book of Wisdom as belonging to this group, as it was only regarded as special by the Jews living outwith Israel. For this reason it is regarded as of secondary value and is called deutero-canonical. The passage we have today (7:7-11) is all about the gift of true wisdom which Solomon prayed for and from which we learn how true wisdom surpasses many things that might tempt us. The name ‘Sophie’ comes from the Greek for wisdom which is personified as a lady.
The second reading is just two verses from the Book of Hebrews (4:12f). The author of the letter to the Hebrews has taken historical events and theological ideas from the Old Testament and used them to express his religious ideas as a knowledgeable and thoughtful Christian in the first century after Christ. In the unit that is our short reading he begins with the relevance and vitality of the word of God, referring ambiguously between the words of the Hebrew Scriptures that he knows so well and Jesus Christ the very Word of God incarnate into our world: literally “Living indeed (is) the word of God and effective…” This Christ is dynamically challenging to the way of life that we lead: “sharper than any two-edged sword”; not just to the way that we live in this secular society: “penetrating into (the) division of soul and spirit” but also sensitive to the inner thoughts and intentions that we have: “judging of thoughts and heart’s intentions”. And it is to Him that we have to give a report, literally “the word,” thus rounding off this poetic passage with the word word with which he began. The writer must think that the convert Jews whom he addresses are getting lax even by the standard of the Wisdom in their Book of that name; so he speaks of the wise word of God that strikes at their inner attitudes (and seems to find them wanting).
The third reading is a unit from the gospel of Mark (10:17-30) as his account draws towards the final days of Jesus in Jerusalem. He is wanting to focus the reader more on the essential core attitude of being a follower of Christ, telling us how Jesus tries to bring his disciples to some sort of understanding. The unit is not difficult in itself but two points might be noticeable. The man seeking advice from Jesus refers to him as “Good teacher.” We live in a time when there has been some sorting out of the language we might use about God in relation to the three Persons of the Trinity and to the divinity of Christ; so that when Mark writes that Jesus replies “No one is good but God,” we are given cause for pause. Matthew, when copying this story into his gospel avoids this difficulty altogether with “Then someone came to him and said, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good…” (Matthew 19:16f). We are reminded by this that the revelation of the Incarnation and of the Trinity presents us with a mystery that only through the centuries has come to be expressed in what we think of as precise and clear wording. In addition to being reminded of this mystery we might also be surprised by Jesus referring to the disciples as children. It was, we are told, fairly normal for a Jewish teacher to refer to his ‘students’ in this way, but it can also remind us of our relationship with God in Christ, as discples – people not only struggling to understand, but also to follow in the way that we live.