Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

By Father Donald Dilger

Sunday Scripture

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

First Reading: Sirach 27:4-7; Response: Psalm 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16; Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:54-58; Gospel: Luke 6:39-45

The full title of Sirach is “The Book of Wisdom of Yeshua ben Eleazar ben Sira (Sirach).” It is also called “Ecclesiasticus,” meaning, “of the church or assembly or to be read in church.” This book is one of five Old Testament documents called Wisdom Books. The others are Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes and the Book of Wisdom. Sirach lived in the late third and early 2nd centuries B.C. (See Sirach 50:29). He was a native of Jerusalem, travelled widely, and studied the Scriptures (Old Testament). He brought his various sources of knowledge together in this volume, which may have served as a text scroll in an academy for young men in Jerusalem. The book contains collections of proverbs, wise sayings and historical references. In it, one encounters a knowledge of nature; skills of scholars and laborers; and rules of conduct to help young people cope with the experience of life. Relationship to God is not excluded, but it is not the main object of Wisdom Literature.

In the Foreword, Sirach’s grandson tells us that it was originally written in Hebrew about 180 B.C. He translated it into Greek between the years 132 and 117 B.C., in Egypt, for Greek-speaking Jews of the Diaspora (dispersion) living throughout the Greek-speaking Mediterranean world. The section from which today’s first reading is taken is a list of topics cast in proverbial sayings that serve as advice to the young. Some of the topics: old men, women, commerce, virtue, secrets, hypocrisy, etc. Our reading today gives four proverbs dealing with speech. When a sieve is shaken, the grain falls through the screen; but the husks remain in it. Thus, our faults become known when we speak. As a heated kiln tests the formed clay of the potter, so a man is tested by his conversation. As the fruit of a tree shows the care it has had, so our speaking reveals our true thoughts. A man should not be praised before he speaks, but only after he has spoken – if deserved. One wonders if St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1566), founder of the Jesuits, had seen this last counsel when he said, “A man should not be praised unless he is far away, or has already fallen asleep in the Lord.” The selection of this reading was determined by the assembling of Jesus’ counsels in today’s gospel.

Psalm 92 responds to the first reading. It is a thanksgiving psalm comparing the fate of those who are grateful to the Lord with the fate of evildoers. It owes its selection for today’s liturgy to a similarity of concepts to those in the first reading – and in the gospel, especially in the use of tree and fruit as symbols. A tree planted in the House of the Lord flourishes like a palm tree. It will be vigorous and sturdy, bearing fruit even in old age. A tribute to productive senior citizens!

The second reading continues St. Paul’s series on the resurrection of the dead in 1 Corinthians 15. This section is a hymn triumphantly celebrating victory over death. What is corruptible puts on incorruptibility. Mortality is clothed with immortality. The hymn cites a quote from Hosea 13:14 with a nod to Isaiah 25:8. Paul’s version: “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” Paul thanks God for the victory over death, which comes through the resurrection of Jesus – and, implicitly, to us. A comparison between Paul’s version and Hosea 13:14 can remind us that New Testament authors quoted Old Testament passages with considerable freedom to fit their own context.

The gospel continues a series of readings taken from Luke’s Sermon on the Plain. The content is quite similar to the content of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mountain. The authors have their own theological reasons for placing these collections of Jesus’ sayings in different settings. Some of the content is similar to Old Testament wisdom literature. This Sunday’s first reading from Sirach is an example. One sees a lot of common senses – a statement of the obvious. Can a blind man serve as guide to a blind man? Won’t they both fall into a pit? Be careful when choosing mentors. Reminiscent of a modern situation: Can a man walk on a street while texting on his phone? Won’t they both fall into a manhole? Next: “No disciple is superior to the teacher, but when fully trained will be like the teacher.” Obviously, some disciples become greater than their teachers, but not if their teacher is Jesus, as is implied here (See John 13:16; 15:20). Matthew makes this saying part of the instructions Jesus gives his disciples before sending them on mission. He interprets as follows: “If they have called the master of the house (meaning Jesus) Beelzebul (lord of dung), how much more will they malign those of his household (the disciples)?” Meaning: a disciple will experience persecution.

Next is hypocrisy: “You see a splinter in your brother’s eye, but remain unaware of a beam of wood in your own eye. Remove yours first, you hypocrite, so you can see well enough to remove your brother’s splinter.” Then the tree metaphor: “A good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree good fruit. A tree is known by its fruit.” This we already encountered in today’s first reading. James 3:11-12 has similar sayings. Apropos might be a German proverb in translation: “The apple does not fall far from its tree.” Psalm 1, the responding psalm two Sundays ago, also uses the tree as a symbol of a good person. Luke feels the need to clarify the tree metaphors and adds, “One does not pick figs from thorn bushes, nor grapes from brambles.” Then, a homiletic application: “A good person, because his heart is full of goodness, produces good. A wicked person, because his heart is full of wickedness, produces evil.” Paul’s listing of the works of the flesh versus the works or fruits of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:16-23 can serve as a detailed commentary on Luke’s homiletic application of the good tree/bad tree metaphor. Although not included in our reading, Luke concludes the Sermon on the Plain with a parable. Those who follow the counsels of this sermon are like a house built on a foundation of rock. Those who do not follow them are like a house built on the ground without a foundation.