8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

1ST READING — SIRACH 27: 4-7

“Better to be silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”  Abraham Lincoln

Sirach is one of those books that you will not find in a Protestant Bible, except in the Apocrypha, because it was written in Greek.  Ben Sira as author identifies himself as “Jesus son of Eleazar son of Sirach of Jerusalem” (50:27b) and operated a school for young Jewish men.  His grandson was responsible (c.132BC) for the Greek translation which made its way into the Septuagint, the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures used by Catholics.  Ben Sira was influenced by many cultures, but he is most concerned with Jewish theology and morality.  This is wisdom literature, so the book is primarily snippets of advice and wise adages and no formal structure.  Biblical scholars have tried to divide the text into related segments with a prologue and conclusion to give us the Book of Sirach that we have today (“The Timeless Wisdom of Sirach” in Scripture from Scratch, 8/2004)

Despite it being written well over 2000 years ago, much of Ben Sira’s wisdom holds true today.  How does it speak to you?

2ND  READING — 1CORINTHIANS 15: 54-58

Wherein lies the fear of death?  Partly it comes from fear of the unknown.  But still more it comes from the sense of sin.  If we felt that we could meet God easily then to die would be only, as Peter Pan said, a great adventure.  But where does that sense of sin come from?  It comes from a sense of being under the law.  So long as we see in God only the law of righteousness, we will be in the position of a criminal before the bar with no hope of acquittal.  This is precisely what Jesus came to abolish.  He came to tell us that God is not law, but love, that we go out, not to a judge, but to a Father who awaits his children coming home.  Because of that Jesus gave us the victory over death, its fear banished in the wonder of God’s love  (Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 160).

This is good news as we enter Lent!  How does this resonate with you?  This is a deep wisdom from Paul, who originally was a great stickler of the law and radically shifted over time after meeting the risen Christ.  When he says “be steadfast…your labor is not in vain”, it is coming from his own experience.

THE GOSPEL — LUKE 6: 39-45

Disciple = one capable of learning

Rotten fruit = rotten tree / Good fruit = healthy tree

Jesus, like all good teachers, uses humor to make a point –What is the wisdom of Jesus’ humor here?

In classical and Hellenistic Greek, the word “hypocrite” meant “interpreter”, “expounder”, “orator”, even “stage actor”.  In theater, this is an award-winning skill, but not so much for life.  Whom can you trust?  Jesus is imploring his audience in the Sermon on the Plain to practice self-examination and authenticity to improve themselves before attempting to help others improve.  Otherwise, they are just acting!  (Pilch’s The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle C, p. 41).

To us this reads like a disconnected series of separate sayings.  Maybe Luke is collecting together sayings of Jesus which were spoken on different occasions and is giving us a kind of compendium of rules for life and living (not unlike Ben Sira).  Or, this may be an instance of the Jewish method of preaching called Charaz, meaning “stringing beads”.  The Rabbis held that the preacher must never linger more than a few moments on any topic but, in order to maintain interest, must move quickly from one topic to another  (Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 79).

Considering the acts of clergy sexual abuse (see Pell case from Australia) and how it has been handled in the past, Jesus words are very relevant in our church today.  Our church leaders have not always been authentic as Jesus teaches us all to be.  How should we move forward?  Just something for reflection, not necessarily for debate.

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