We last had a reading from Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus) on the Feast of the Holy Family, where the title and nature of the book is introduced. Unusually there is a Prologue to the Book (here) which is interesting, and says it was written by his grandfather “So that by becoming familiar also with his book those who love learning might make even greater progress in living according to the law.” It is a wisdom book, drawing on philosophy of Greek influence linked to the regular religious view of the Pharisees; the Scribes were not wanting to ‘corrupt’ their Scriptures with foreign ideas. We read from the 15th chapter out of 51; it is a very long book. While Catholics hear from this book, other Christians who follow the Revised Common Lectionary will have Deuteronomy 30:15-20. In this first reading we hear a section stressing the free choice that we have, to do what is right or what is wrong; the poetry makes it appear very black and white. We shall get our just deserts; but we are encouraged to keep the commandments and trust in God. The responsorial Psalm seems very appropriate to this reading.
In the second reading we have the sequel to what we heard last week. Paul had a good secular education and was a Pharisee who knew the Scriptures well. Now, as a Christian and a leading light at that, he feels it is his vocation to spread the good news beyond the Jewish community to all people; and the church in Corinth exemplifies his achievements. But before going to Corinth, according to Luke in the Acts of the Apostles he tried using his excellent knowledge of contemporary philosophy and thinking, to persuade an audience to turn to his God, but without any great success. Now, writing to the Corinthians, he has realised that the wisdom that Christians experience is overwhelmingly mysterious, but revealed to us in Christ through the Spirit. We have access to this great wonder to enlighten the path we should take in our lives. Paul’s quotation at the end of our reading for today cannot be found in the Jewish Scriptures nor anywhere else; he may be quoting from a popular saying or an version or text of Isaiah 64:4 earlier than we have. What is most to the point is that the revelation comes from God to “those who love Him.”
The gospel reading continues from where we read to last Sunday in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. In the light of what we know of the variations of attitudes in early Christianity to the Jewish Law and the acceptance of Gentiles, this section is interesting. Matthew here seems to propose that what Jesus taught was that the Jewish Law and teachings should not be done away with, but should be fulfilled. He expounds this in two ways; firstly, expressing the principles and clarifying what he means by ‘fulfil’ in this matter, and secondly, by giving examples of the challenging implications of these principles. For belonging to the kingdom of heaven, the teaching of Jesus is explained by Matthew as fulfilling the Law not just by keeping the letter of it as the Scribes and Pharisees do, but by understanding and acting upon the deeper and intensified significance of it. Six examples are used to clarify what is meant, of which we hear the first four. About murder, adultery, divorce and taking oaths. It is interesting that he writes that even the liturgical rule about bringing an offering to the altar must be set aside for the purpose of reconciliation with another person. What he writes about divorce is probably less severe than what we might read in Mark’s gospel. But overall, we might express this reading’s message as, ‘fulfil the heart of the Christian rules for living rather than the letter of them!’
See Jeffs Jottings – Exceed to succeed