Nineteenth Sunday In Ordinary Time

By Father Donald Dilger

First Reading: Wisdom 18:6-9; Response: Psalm 33:1, 12, 18-19, 20-22; Second Reading: Hebrews 11:1-2, 18-19; Gospel: Luke 12:32-48

The first reading is from the Book of Wisdom, also called the Wisdom of Solomon. Solomon had been quite dead for more than 800 years at the time of the composition of this book. Either the author or an editor resorted to a common practice — to attribute authorship to a famous figure of the past. Solomon, 961-922, was noted for his wisdom: “Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt. He was wiser than all other men . . . ,” 1 Kings 4:30-31. There was no better way to gain acceptance of a written work than to attribute it to the so-called wisest of all men. It was composed between 100-50 B.C. by an unknown author, probably in Alexandria, Egypt. One of its purposes was to make the multitude of Jews living in Egypt [proud of their faith and traditions].

Their special identity as a people chosen by God is the emphasis in the section from which our first reading is taken. The author should have remembered what the prophet Amos, 740 B.C., said about chosenness, that Israel is not the only people on earth for whom God cares. “Did I not bring up Israel from Egypt and the Philistines from Caphtor (Crete) and the Syrians from Kir?” The best that could be said of Israel as a Chosen People is this, they were chosen for a mission — bring God’s revelation to the rest of humankind. In today’s reading the author is speaking to God. The Lord revealed their coming freedom to be accomplished on the night of the Passover across the Sea of Reeds. The destruction of the Egyptians who pursued them was seen as the glorification of Israel, “In this you glorified us whom you had summoned.” The author notes how the “holy children,” (Israelites), were offering sacrifices in secret, (in their homes), “putting into effect the divine institution,” that is, the regulations for the Passover. A possible connection with today’s gospel is in the words, “Your father is pleased to give you the kingdom.”

The Responsorial Psalm 33 is a hymn of praise to God’s providence. The parts of the Psalm chosen for today’s liturgy exalt the chosenness of Israel as a people. The Lord is the shield of his people. He delivers them from death, preserves them in famine.” The People’s Response four times insists on this special mission of Israel, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he has chosen to be his own.”

That attribution of authorship of Hebrews to St. Paul began with the Church Father Tertullian (died about 240 A.D.), and spread throughout the Western Church. That it was destined for people of Hebrew origin is probably correct. They seem to have been a group of Jewish Christians. The author appeals to
them to persevere in their faith. The content of the letter assumes a thorough acquaintance with the Old Testament. The section our liturgy given us today emphasizes faith. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.” The author reminds them of the faith of Old Testament heroes. Our reading omits all except Abraham. His faith was tested in many ways, but one of the two greatest tests was the promise that he, “as good as dead” (age 99), and Sarah, (age 90), “herself sterile,” would have a son. Abraham might not have appreciated the “good as dead” description, since he generated another family after Sarah died. The second of the greatest tests — God’s demand that Abraham sacrifice his son Isaac, the child of promise, from whom there would be descendants “as numerous as the stars in the sky.” The author assumes that Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and get his son back.

In today’s gospel Luke assembles various sayings and parables in this catch-all chapter 12 of his gospel. Luke did not know this was chapter 12. Chapter numbers and verse numbers were not added until the 13th and 16th centuries respectively. The first part of this gospel calls for trust that the Father “is pleased to give you the kingdom.” That saying may have responded to the fear of persecution by the Roman government. Luke and Christians of the time of his gospel, (the 80s of the first century), were quite aware of the persecution of Christians in Nero’s Rome in the 60s. The second saying is concerned with Christians and wealth. “Sell your belongings and give alms, etc.” That could work if in fact Jesus had returned soon for the final judgment, as Christians of the first Christian century believed. According to Acts of Apostles, this way of life was tried by Christians in Jerusalem. It failed, and they had to be supported by Christians from throughout the Roman Empire. This is one of the reasons for Paul’s great CPC — to relieve “the needs of the saints” in Jerusalem. It ultimately cost him his life.

The rest of today’s gospel presents us with two parables, both with an introduction, and both directed to the final return of Jesus. Parable 1: “Gird your loins and light your lamps.” In ancient times men wore long tunics (supersized shirts) down to the ankles. To “gird one’s loins” meant to gather up the tunic above the knees and tuck the gathered up part into the belt. The meaning was simple, “Get ready for action,” especially in a fight. The first parable ends with a warning, “You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will arrive.” Parable 2: Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?” Jesus responds with a parable about two servants put in charge of their master’s property. The first servant acts according to his master’s wishes, “giving the other servants their food at the proper time.” The second servant decides his master will be gone a long time, beats the other servants, gets drunk, etc. The Master will return unexpectedly and “punish that servant severely.” The answer to Peter’s question: “Yes, that parable was meant for Peter and the leadership of the Christian Community,” and that can be scary.