BY FATHER DONALD DILGER
Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Wisdom 7:7-11; Response: Psalm 90:12-13, 14-15, 16-17; Second Reading: Hebrews 4:12-13; Gospel: Mark 10:17-30
King Solomon reigned over the tribes of Israel from 961-922 B.C. He succeeded his father David on the throne. He is not mentioned in the Book of Wisdom. His name, however, became attached to it in the title, Wisdom of Solomon, in the Septuagint, a Greek version of the Old Testament. Besides this ancient title attributing the book to Solomon as author, in chapters 7-9 there is a prayer of a king who describes himself in terms reminiscent of a story in I Kings 3:5-12. Solomon had recently become king. The Lord appeared to him in a dream at night, and said to him, “Ask what I shall give you.” Solomon asked for wisdom to govern his people. This pleased the Lord. He replied, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or wealth, but have asked for wisdom to discern what is right, I will grant it . . . .” The Lord was so pleased with Solomon’s humble request that, in addition to wisdom, he granted him more wealth and honor than any other king. Thus, in the prayer of a king in our first reading, we hear this: “I prayed, and the Spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepter and throne, and deemed wealth as nothing compared with her.” The Old Testament personifies wisdom as a woman.
Composition of the Book of Wisdom is dated sometime in mid-first century B.C. By that time, Solomon had been dead for eight centuries. The author of Wisdom is unknown. It was not uncommon in ancient times to attribute a literary work to some famous figure of the past. Good publicity! Whatever his name, the author was a learned Greek-speaking Jew from Alexandria, Egypt. He does not exactly define wisdom. Nor does he adopt an earlier definition of wisdom from Sirach 24:23, “Nothing other than the Book of the Covenant of the Most High God, the Torah that God commanded us.” For Sirach, wisdom is divine revelation. The author of the Book of Wisdom gives some insights about wisdom in chapter seven, “. . . true knowledge of all that exists, the structure of things, alternation of seasons, mental processes, varieties of plants, the medical properties of roots, etc.” This is the mind of a scientist. Because our first reading belittles riches when compared to wisdom, it was selected to accompany the gospel story of a rich man whom Jesus invites to give up his wealth and become his disciple.
Psalm 90 continues the wisdom theme of the first reading in the first verse only. “Teach us to number our days correctly, that we may gain wisdom of heart.” Other selected verses petition the Lord for mercy, “Have pity on your servants.” They ask for a blessing on our daily activities, “Prosper the work of our hands for us.” If the Lord does this, “We will sing for joy.” Our joyful singing will make us forget that the Lord himself afflicted us in the “years when we saw evil.” Not sure the Lord appreciates being blamed for bad times!
Standing by itself outside of context, today’s brief reading from the Letter to the Hebrews would encourage Christians to be nourished by Scripture because “the word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword.” So sharp is that sword that it penetrates to the most secret thoughts of the mind. The author of Hebrews warns, “No creature is concealed from God. Everything is naked and exposed to his eyes, to whom we must render an account.” What were the recipients of the letter thinking or doing to merit this admonition? The author was pleading with them to persevere in the Christian faith, which he calls “a place of rest.” Our reading does not include the author’s advice for help against losing their faith. He encouraged them to turn to “Jesus our high priest, who was tempted in every way that we are, but without sin.”
An emotionally overwrought man ran up to Jesus, knelt in front of him, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life.” Jesus seems unimpressed. His answer has been a cross for interpreters. “Why do you call me good? Only God is good.” This may be part of Mark’s theological plan that Jesus’ divine identity cannot be known until it is revealed at his death to and by a Gentile Roman soldier. St. Hilary of Poitiers (d. 367) thought Jesus was challenging the man’s faith, as in, “Do you really know who and what I am?” The man speaks of inheriting eternal life — a synonym for the kingdom of God. Jesus reveals that if the man truly has faith in him, that faith is revealed through his doing of the Ten Commandments concerned with love of neighbor — no murder, no adultery, no stealing, no lies, no cheating, honoring one’s parents. The Letter of James teaches in 2:17, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” The man says he has always done these commandments. In a remarkable change of attitude, as Mark notes, “Jesus loved him.” He invited him to give his wealth to the poor and become his disciple. The man looks dejected. He sadly walks away unable to give up his wealth.
Jesus said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God.” They are astounded since wealth was often considered a blessing from God. Still clueless, they may have been thinking of an earthly kingdom in which they would rule with Jesus and acquire the wealth that was typical in high political positions. They also knew that Abraham was a very rich man and was given the unusual title, “Friend of God.” See Isaiah 41:8; 2 Chronicles 20:7; James 2:23. In today’s first reading, the wealth of a king was God’s gift. Job, too, was extremely rich. Jesus himself was a guest in the house of a reformed and wealthy tax collector. The disciples ask, “So who can be saved?” Response, “With God all things are possible.” In both Testaments, God is said to love the poor. Like faith, wealth too can be a gift of God, and like faith without works, it is dead. The successful businessman Simon Peter points out that he and the others disciples left all to follow Jesus. “What will we get?” Jesus answers, “Anyone who has given up family or property for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will receive a hundred times more in this life, plus persecution, and eternal life in the age to come.”