16th year A

The Book of Wisdom, sometimes called the Wisdom of Solomon, dates from the first century BC, not that long before the time of Christ. It was written in Greek for Greek speaking Jews who were quite numerous in the Jewish quarter of the famous city of Alexandria, then capital of Egypt. This city at that time was famous for its development of culture, science and mathematics (through names like Euclid and Archimedes), but also for its exploration of different ways of life like magic, mystery religions and Stoicism (which we might call new age or humanism). Alexandria was famous as a centre of learning, for its Library of about half a million books, and its teaching Museum. Here was produced the Septuagint (LXX) – the first translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. The Wisdom of Solomon is a book not in the Protestant Bible but Catholics and Episcopalians accept it. In our reading there is a real sense of sin but this is accompanied with a realisation of the infinite power of God to forgive, overcome and counteract the effects of sin; and the lesson we should learn from this is about our own attitude to others. It introduces the notion of the justice of God and presents the thought that because of His greatness God’s justice can include leniency – a supportive message for those living in such a modern and secular society as then in Alexandria and as here today.

We read again this week a little more from this key chapter in Paul’s letter to the Romans. We have a greater exposure to the Universe and to the science of its material composition than Paul had in his day. In the previous verses (8:22-25), he has written of God’s effort in creating and of His help in our hope of overcoming human frailty and becoming what God wants us to be. But here we read that we don’t even know what to hope and pray for, yet God’s Spirit works in us as He does in the whole of creation, and utters the prayer that we cannot express. The Greek word for this way of saying what we ourselves cannot understand is the basis of our word stenography; that meant the use of shorthand to record spoken (dictated) text; but in our technological age, it is also used for the encryption of text within a file (of an image or of video) so that only the intended recipient can read it. The words that the Spirit utters are concealed in the inadequate prayers we make and are understood, accepted and answered by God.

 

This long reading is shortened in many churches by leaving out verses 31-35 which contain two short parables about the mustard seed and the yeast. Without these we have a parable and its explanation. The parable itself (verses 24-30) is about good seed growing up surrounded by weeds; these are not dealt with until the crop is harvested; this is what the kingdom of God is likened to. The weeds, called tares in the older translations, are probably zizania or darnel, which are fairly indistinguishable at first from the wheat among which they grow. This parable is not in the other Gospels in the New Testament, but it probably was developed from a simpler seed parable, as a way to illustrating the admixture in our world and even within Christian communities of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people; and also to say you cannot sort them out in this life, but at the final judgement, then they will be dealt with appropriately by God.

see Jeffs Jottings – Sophie

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