23rd Sunday of Ordinary time, cycle C

4th September 2016

The first reading is from the Book of Wisdom (9:13-18), which is not in the Hebrew Bible and is known to us only in Greek. It is generally only accepted as canonical by Catholics. It may well have originated in Egypt, a centre of intellectual excellence, and like other wisdom writings is attributed to Solomon, though it probably dates from the century just before Christ. Chapter 9 begins with a prayer for wisdom that elaborates on the prayer recorded in the First book of Kings which is more closely associated with Solomon himself. Our reading is the concluding summary of the second section of the poetic prayer. It indicates the tension between the body and the soul, reflecting the Greek understanding of the human make-up. It ends attributing wisdom to the very spirit of the Lord.

The second reading is from Paul’s personal letter to Philemon (9-17) and as such is a unique piece of writing in the New Testament. It is the third shortest book in the Bible and only has 317 words in it. At the time of writing Paul is an old man in prison for his work, but he refers to himself as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, for he is so bound to Him in his work and his life that it seems that he has no freedom. Paul has with him a helper, Onesimus, whom he has introduced to Christianity and whom he therefore calls his son. He is writing to Philemon who is another successful convert of his and leads the local church in his household. Onesimus had been a servant to Philemon and Paul offers to return him, and hopes that Philemon will treat him as a brother, a fellow Christian. Interestingly, Paul deliberately doesn’t ‘pull rank’ on Philemon, but asks him gently if there can be reconciliation. No-one is really in authority over another.

Today’s gospel reading (Luke 14:25-33) emphasises again the journey that Jesus is making towards His fulfillment in Jerusalem. The crowd is now a large number of people, excited and attracted by many of Jesus’ words and especially by the cures that He has performed – it is all too optimistic and enthusiastic; but Jesus knew that He was heading for a confrontation in which He would not surrender his cause and mission, but would face the dire consequences. He tries to warn the crowd about this; those following him were not as committed to changing the world, but thought only of joy, success and even victory. The reports of what Jesus has to say show up the problems of translation. Matthew knew the Aramaic language that Jesus spoke and so the translation in his gospel captures what Jesus meant (Matthew 10:37); but Luke does what we would call a ‘Google translation,’ namely a literal and word for word one (“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother… ), not realising that the Aramaic could not express “loving less” except with a word which literally means ‘hating.’ We must follow Jesus before all else!

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