Tag Archives: Sirach

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle A

1st Reading; Sirach 15: 15-20

Sirach is the longest of the wisdom books with 51 chapters.  It is a mixture of proverbs and lengthy essays on major themes grouped together.  It was written between 190 and 175 BC.  For many centuries it was thought to be only in Greek in the Septuagint.  But a partial copy of the Hebrew original was found at the end of the last century hidden in a synagogue storeroom in Cairo, and another when archaeologists excavated Masada in Palestine in 1964.  A few fragments also turned up at Qumran in 1947.  Despite this evidence, it was never accepted into Jewish canon because it was not from the time of Ezra or before (Reading the Old Testament, Boadt, p. 487).  It is in the Catholic Bible but not the Protestant.

Sirach speaks of the choices we make in life and how we must trust in God when we make them.  This will help us choose what is good and life-giving for us.  We must have an openness to the working of God in our life.  In Ignatian spirituality, we must look at the “pushes” and the “pulls”.  Do you feel pushed to do something – I should do this, I should do that – out of a sense of crushing and lifeless obligation or a desire to please?  Or do you feel pulled, like a gentle invitation in love?  God pulls not pushes  (The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, Fr. James Martin, p. 329).

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 2: 6 – 10

Paul is talking about the meaning of the cross in salvation history.  The ‘mystery’ is that the crucified One is the Lord of glory. Many Corinthians thought otherwise. For them, the Cross was an unfortunate past event, the less said the better. All that mattered to them now was the risen Christ. He was now spirit, and as such, he could convey to them ‘secret wisdom’. Paul is using their terms in an ironic way, sort of turning them upside down to help them see where true wisdom is. By refusing to recognize the Lord of glory in the crucified One, they were in a sense aligning themselves with Pontius Pilate and Herod (the rulers of the day) who also did not recognize the One they were crucifying. Such blindness leads to horrible evil.

Why is God’s wisdom mysterious and hidden?  What does this mean for us?

We like to twist and turn reality in order to suit our opinions, don’t we?  It makes it easier for us swallow it.  We all do it, and sometimes it is completely innocent.  But life doesn’t work that way.  There are lots of times in our life when we have to trust that we don’t have to have it all figured up and wrapped with a bow.  There is mystery.  It doesn’t mean we have to blindly accept…we can still wonder and wrestle with reality…but we can sit with the tension and know that God is sitting with us.

The Gospel: Matthew 5: 17 – 37

Now let’s take this gospel in parts to see what value and meaning we can gather:

First, what did Jesus mean by the law and its importance:

Jesus seems to say that the law is so sacred that not even the smallest detail (something as small as an apostrophe) should be discarded or ignored. Yet, again and again Jesus broke what some Jews called the law: handwashings, healing on the Sabbath, picking grain to eat on the Sabbath etc. In Jesus’ time it was popular to call the ‘scribal law’ the law along with the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. Scribes were people who made it their business to reduce the great principles of the Law into thousands upon thousands of rules and regulations. God’s Law was to rest on the Sabbath. They, however, spent hours arguing about whether it was work on the Sabbath to move a lamp from one table to another, if one could bandage a wound with or without salve, or could one lift a child? Their religion was a legalism of petty rules and regulations. Jesus was highly critical of this. What Jesus was upholding here was the real meaning of God’s Law: to mold our lives on the positive commandment to love. Love that is filled with respect, reverence and compassion is the permanent stuff of our relationship to God and to our fellow humans. Our righteousness in this way must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. This law of love to fill our hearts and minds; it must be our sole motivation. We need to be people of gratitude that God has first loved us – and then people who generously give of that love to others. (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1, p.126-131)

Second, Jesus then gives examples of the kind of law and righteousness he means – that the law of love must penetrate to our hearts, our core. The only way to safety and security in society is not to even desire what is wrong. It also shows us just how much we need God’s help in this. We need God to transform us to be able to live up to this standard of love. For example Jesus says that any one angry with a brother is liable to judgment. The word that is used for this anger is an anger over which a person broods and will not let go of –an anger that broods, that will not forget, that seeks revenge. It is an anger that insults and shows contempt. Raka meant an imbecile; a word of one who despises another with an arrogant contempt. This type of anger leads to a hurt that is like a murder; we can ‘kill’ a person’s spirit and take his good name and reputation away from him or her. This makes us liable to fiery Gehenna, a garbage dump where rot burns and pollutes. (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1, p.136-141)

In fact, here is an interesting piece of information from Jesus’ time:

“The fires of Gehenna” had become a metaphor for divine judgment on evil.  The inferno was actually the city refuse dump located southwest of Jerusalem.  It was a gehinnom that some of Judah’s kings engaged in the heinous practice of burning their children as sacrifices (see 2 Chronicles 28:3; Jeremiah 7:31; 32:35).  Condemned by Jeremiah and King Josiah, the valley was used, thereafter, as a site for rubbish. (Celebration, February 14, 1999)

The third point to consider is that when we come before to pray or to bring gifts to the altar to the Lord we must consider not only our relationship with God but also our relationship with others. A breach between a human and God could not be healed until the breach between humans was healed. Jesus emphasizes this: one cannot be right with God until we are right with each other. (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1, p.136-141)

Then Jesus deals with lust – looking at and thinking about another person as an object (not a person) of pleasure, an object to be used. Jesus is not talking about what is normal human instinct, human nature. He is talking about lust, where a person uses his eyes and thoughts to stimulate wrong desire – a desire to use someone even if it destroys their personhood and value. If we allow such desire to grow in us the most innocent people and things can become ‘used’ and abused. Jesus is vehement here using hyperbole (extravagant exaggeration, a very common teaching tool in this culture) to get his point across. When something is deadly, destructive – surgery is needed. In other words, to let such evil grow in us is worse that losing an eye or a hand. For such evil leads us into a garbage heap of burning refuse: Gehenna!

(Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1, p. 147-148)

Jesus then warns of the abuse of divorce. Ideally, Jews abhorred divorce. Marriage was seen as holy and as fulfilling God’s positive commandment to be fruitful. But by Jesus’ time the practice itself had fallen far short of this ideal and women were the victims of this abuse. In both the Jewish and especially the Greek culture of the day, women were at the absolute disposal of the males, her father and then her husband. She had no legal rights at all. A woman could be divorced with or without her will. All that had to be done was to hand a degree of divorce to the woman in the presence of two witnesses. The reason was to be for some indecency which could be serious – or just that she put too much salt in the food, or she spoke disrespectfully, or she was troublesome, or unattractive. Because of the ease of divorce at this time, basic family structure was threatened. (Wm. Barclay, the Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1, p.150-153)

Jesus was for loving and caring relationships. This we must keep in mind. He was not for upholding abuse or condoning it. As disciples we must go that extra mile to repair fractured relationships and live according to God’s plan of love and life. Here is a caution to note: While this teaching points out God’s will for unity and love, there are times when a marriage is no longer real – or because someone is incapable of such a relationship – it never was a marriage. While every effort should be made to redeem fractured marriages, some must be acknowledged as beyond repair. In such cases divorce may be not only the lesser of two evils from the point of view of God’s ultimate will which is love, but also a positive step. (M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, Year A, p. 391.

The last section of this gospel deals with our ‘public’ behavior. “Oath-taking” had greatly deteriorated into misuse in Jesus’ day.  Some resorted to frivolous swearing, by constantly ‘taking oaths’: “by my life…”  “May such and such happen to me if…” Still others used evasive swearing to avoid the truth.  According to this questionable practice, oaths which contained the name of God were considered binding and were rigidly kept; oaths that did not mention God were not considered binding and were easily changed.  Jesus advocated simple integrity in speech. (Celebration, February 14, 1999)

As Jesus’ disciples we need to live in such a way that falsehood and infidelity in our families and workplaces is eliminated. The Law of love is the only thing that works.

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle C

Reading #1:  Sirach35: 12-14, 16-18

Jesus Ben Sirach lived and wrote around 180 BC.  He was an educated man whose main writing concerns were reflection on the Torah and practical suggestions for upright living.  To live uprightly is to live up to the covenantal relationship one has with God – hesedHesed assumes a reciprocity and requires that love of one another flow out of love of God, (W&W, Birmingham, p.  510).  Hesed is difficult to translate. No single word in English captures its meanings. Translators use words like “kindness,” “loving-kindness,” “mercy,” “loyalty.” Perhaps “loyal love” is close.  Hesed is one of the richest, most powerful words in the Old Testament. It reflects the loyal love that people committed to the God of the Bible should have for one another. It is not a “mood.”  Hesed is not primarily something people “feel.”  It is something people DO for other people who have no claim on them (www.discovertheword.org).  What does this mean to you?

God knows no favorites.  There are no prayers better than any others.  Sometimes we are afraid to go to God with our small requests.  But Sirach says the one who serves God willingly is heard!  Pope Francis says, “Today amid so much darkness we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others.  To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope, it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds.”  The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds!

 Reading #2: 2 Timothy 4: 6-8, 16-18

Paul’s ‘departure,’ a euphemism for death, uses a Greek word that means to leave, to loosen the bonds or fetters, to relax, to be released from prison – unyoked, free, unfettered. (Celebration, Oct. 1998)  This is often a reading at funerals.

From Celebrations Oct. 2004:

Scholars suggest that the abandonment that is referred to in this reading happened at the end of Paul’s life, during his second imprisonment in Rome under Nero. Even though there was a sizeable Christian community in Rome, no one appeared at Paul’s preliminary hearing to encourage or to defend him. Paul who had brought countless numbers of people to Christ, found himself alone, with no one other than Christ to strengthen and support him. Paul likens his death to a sacrifice or a libation. Libations of wine and oil were done sometimes by Jews, but even more often by Greeks and Romans. Before meals and, at times, in between courses, as well as at religious ceremonies, a goblet of wine was poured out on the ground as a gesture of homage to the gods.

From John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Engaged,” http://liturgy.slu.edu :

Remember, Paul had entered ‘the race’ only after he met the Risen Christ and realized that all his accomplishments were so much rubbish. He gave up the pretense of being a self-made, self-righteous man. In Christ, he learned the freedom and the gift that is God’s grace poured out for us. The mercy of the Lord was his hope, his joy, his faith.

Gospel:  Luke 18:9-14

From John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Engaged,” http://liturgy.slu.edu :

Prayer, most surely, is not about trying to change God’s mind or heart about anything. It is about changing us. And that is why the Pharisee’s prayer is so meaningless. There is nothing in his life to be changed – no empty spaces to be filled up. Remember Mary’s Magnificat: God fills the hungry and the ‘full’

(the rich) go away empty . . .” (Lk. 1:53)  If the cries of the poor are to be heard or the orphan or oppressed are to be cared for, it will not be by some magic changing of God’s mind.  They will be heard and served by concerned people who can recognize their needs and decide how to respond to them.  Prayers can indeed be answered by a God who can ‘get through’ to prayerful people. We need to open a place for God’s entry into our lives.  This is true prayer.

From John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context” http://liturgy.slu.edu :

To strike the breast is a Middle-Eastern gesture that was usually used by women. It was used by men only in extreme anguish, so it is touching that this tax collector uses this gesture.  The closing phrase (“whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted”) is one of those ‘floating sayings.” It occurs also in Lk 14:11, Mt 18:4: 23:12; James 4:6, 10; 1 Peter 5:6. Most of us go through life tallying successes and failures. God’s ways are not like that. With God’s help, we can discover even in our so-called failures examples of divine reversals, a better plan, a more rewarding venture, new life after hitting a dead-end. What looks like a set-back, can be an opportunity for growth. This is the Paschal Mystery: new life from death.

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle C

1st Reading – Sirach 3: 17-18, 20, 28-29

Sirach is the longest of the wisdom books with 51 chapters.  It is a mixture of proverbs and lengthy essays on major themes within the wisdom tradition:  use of speech, self-control, the value of work, etc.  Unlike Proverbs, it tends to group many sayings on the same topic close together.  The author identifies himself (Ben Sira) at the end of chapter 50, but luckily his grandson translated the original into Greek and wrote a preface which helps date the book to 190-175 BC.  It was thought that it was all in Greek but portions were found in Hebrew.  It is not a book accepted in the Jewish canon or the Protestant Bible (Reading the Old Testament, Boadt, p. 486-487).  Think about the passing on of wisdom and faith through the generations.

From Exploring the Sunday Readings, Sept.2, 2007:

Genuine humility has nothing to do with praising others or putting ourselves down. Humus means earth; humility means remembering that we are dust – yet dust that God has taken and breathed into it his very life. When we are humble we are filled with gratitude and are at peace in God’s presence. We can use our talents with great energy; but we do not have to be everything to everyone. Nor, do we have to be noticed, applauded, or extolled. Can you think of an example of when you have had to “eat humble pie”?

2nd Reading – Hebrews 12: 18-19, 22-24

This reading is highlighting the contrast between the law (Mount Sinai) and the salvation we find in Christ (Mount Zion).  What sense do you make of this reading?

From John Kavanaugh, “The Word Engaged,” http://liturgy.slu.edu:

Some see God as unapproachable as the highest mountain, or an all-consuming fire, or an abyss of impenetrable darkness, or a booming, terrifying voice. But the God we find in Christ is a loving parent, a merciful judge. His mountain is full of life and light and festivity. Come! We will be made whole.

From Exploring the Sunday Readings, Sept.2, 2007:

These two images of God battle for our attention. Is our God fearful, powerful, brooding, and potentially wrathful?   Or, is God approachable, beautiful, and delightful? Do you feel like plugging your ears and closing your eyes before God due to fear? Or, do you find yourself joining in a song of joy and peace in God’s presence? Moses once stood in the presence of God; his face shone with a brilliant light. Yet, the rest of the community nearly died of fright. What we see and experience in the presence of God may have more to do with us than with God. If we are open and trusting in the divine presence, we may be surprised by the joy we find. But if we are closed by fear and self-defensive, self-righteous attitudes, we may find trouble.

The Gospel – Luke 14: 1, 7-14

From John Kavanaugh, “The Word Engaged,” http://liturgy.slu.edu:

Jesus is not offering some lesson in courtly etiquette. He is talking about the real problem of ego-enhancement – self-promotion. Both the guests and host – and us? – have this problem. Elite house parties, in Jesus’ time or in our own, are honored by the best and brightest who attend. But besides this, Jesus is also speaking to people who want to ‘test’ him – even trap him. He is talking to them in the only language they understand, the logic of self-enhancement. He wants them to see that even on their own terms their tactics are self-defeating.

From John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context,” http://liturgy.slu.edu:

In Jesus’ times, meals were very powerful means of communication. They affirmed a person’s role and status in a given community. Luke tells us that Jesus is invited by a leading Pharisee – but also that he is watched closely by the host and his guests. The word that is used for watching implies a very hostile observation. Their apparently honorable invitation may not have been quite so honorable. Jesus responds to this hostility with a story, a parable. Jesus is using their logic to turn their world upside down. Accepting an invitation to dinner came with obligation. Reciprocity was expected. Jesus’ advice to his host was shocking, and perhaps quite insulting and rude.

(A guest was never to tell a host how to be a host!) But Jesus wants to shock them and us into realizing that only God can confer ‘true’ honor. In Jesus we find a God who will personally reward the host who has been gracious to those unable to return such graciousness. Pharisees believed in Resurrection. Having set a trap for Jesus, they find themselves trapped — and their world rather topsy-turvy.

From Joan Chittister’s, Illuminated Life (p. 56):  “I am not everything I could be.  I am not even the fullness of myself, let alone a pinnacle for which my family, my friends, my world, the universe should strive.  I am only me.  I am weak often, struggling always, arrogant sometimes, hiding from myself most of the time, and always in some kind of need.  I cover my limitations with flourish, of course, but down deep, where the soul is forced to confront itself, I know who I really am and what, on the other hand, however fine the image, I really am not.  Then the Rule of Benedict says, we are ready for union with God.”

Our Best Self: Sunday’s Homily by Deacon Tom

Friends, have you noticed how easy it is to contradict things and make fools of ourselves sometimes?  Sometimes things may be funny and sometimes the same things can get us in trouble.  You know things were not much different in Jesus day with the Scribes and Pharisees, they were full of contradictions and self-deceit, convinced that they were the truly holy ones and everyone else were great sinners.  Jesus tells us that if we want to enter the kingdom of heaven, we have to be better than they were.  This week and next as Jesus continues his sermon on the mount he gives us various illustrations of what he means by being better.  Basically, Jesus is trying to show us that holiness goes beyond external behavior.  Holiness must be deep inside of us.  And that which must be deep inside of us, that which makes us truly holy is love: love of God and love of each other.  Certainly the way we behave is important.  God’s commandments tell us that; Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not bear false witness, honor thy father and mother, keep holy the Lord’s day and so on.  Keeping God’s instructions about what we must do or not do will guide us to a better life.  Jesus also wants us to have such love in our hearts that we wouldn’t even want disobey his commandments.  We might be thinking that this is a big order that Jesus gives us and you know it is.  Jesus asks a lot from his followers.  Sirach tells us in today’s first reading that if you choose, you can keep the commandments.  I think we need to add, only with God’s help.  For Jesus said, “without me you can do nothing.”

Friends, God’s help is available to us through prayer and the sacraments.  But we must be careful not to condemn ourselves when feelings come to us, feelings of anger, laziness, envy, lust, greed, pride or whatever.  We are all human and we all experience those feelings.  The important thing is what we do with these feelings.  Do we dwell on them, hold on to them and allow them to take over our thinking, or do we consider whether they fit with what Jesus would want of us and choose to go in the direction of what we know Jesus would want?  I know we all know what we should be doing and what we shouldn’t be doing.  I know we all make mistakes we all make wrong choices sometimes and that is because we are human.

However if we choose to really allow our hearts to be filled with God’s love we will have absolutely no problem sharing that love with God and our neighbor.

And we always have the wonderful sacraments to help us, especially Reconciliation and the very Body and Blood of Jesus himself.

Our bishop elect Edward Scharfenberger said in his first statement to us, his sheep in the Diocese of Albany “help me to be the best self that I can be.”  What a wonderful statement, “help me to be the best self that I can be.”  Just imagine how much greater our parish would be if we all helped each other to be the best self that we can be. Imagine how much better each of us would be if we helped each other to be the best self we could be.

 

Scripture Commentary for 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle A

1st Reading;  Sirach 15: 15-20

Sirach is the longest of the wisdom books with 51 chapters.  It is a mixture of proverbs and lengthy essays on major themes grouped together.  It was written between 190 and 175 BC.  For many centuries it was thought to be only in Greek in the Septuagint.  But a partial copy of the Hebrew original was found at the end of the last century hidden in a synagogue storeroom in Cairo, and another when archaeologists excavated Masada in Palestine in 1964.  A few fragments also turned up at Qumran in 1947.  Despite this evidence, it was never accepted into Jewish canon because it was not from the time of Ezra or before (Reading the Old Testament, Boadt, p. 487).  It is in the Catholic Bible but not the Protestant.

Sirach speaks of the choices we make in life and how we must trust in God when we make them.  This will help us choose what is good and life-giving for us.  We must have an openness to the working of God in our life.  In Ignatian spirituality, we must look at the “pushes” and the “pulls”.  Do you feel pushed to do something – I should do this, I should do that – out of a sense of crushing and lifeless obligation or a desire to please?  Or do you feel pulled, like a gentle invitation in love?  God pulls not pushes  (The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, Fr. James Martin, p. 329).

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 2: 6 – 10

Paul is talking about the meaning of the cross in salvation history.         The ‘mystery’ is that the crucified One, precisely as the crucified, is the Lord of glory. Many Corinthians thought otherwise. For them, the Cross was an unfortunate past event, the less said the better. All that mattered to them now was the risen Christ. He was now spirit, and as such, he could convey to them ‘secret wisdom’. Paul is using their terms in an ironic way, sort of turning them upside down to help them see where true wisdom is. By refusing to recognize the Lord of glory in the crucified One, they were in a sense aligning themselves with Pontius Pilate and Herod (the rulers of the day) who also did not recognize the One they were crucifying. Such blindness leads to horrible evil.

Why is God’s wisdom mysterious and hidden?  What does this mean for us?

The Gospel: Matthew 5: 17 – 37

Now let’s take this gospel in parts to see what value and meaning we can gather:

First, what did Jesus mean by the law and its importance:

Jesus seems to say that the law is so sacred that not even the smallest detail (something as small as an apostrophe) should be discarded or ignored. Yet, again and again Jesus broke what some Jews called the law: handwashings, healing on the Sabbath, picking grain to eat on the Sabbath etc. In Jesus’ time it was popular to call the ‘scribal law’ the law along with the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. Scribes were people who made it their business to reduce the great principles of the Law into thousands upon thousands of rules and regulations. God’s Law was to rest on the Sabbath. They, however, spent hours arguing about whether it was work on the Sabbath to move a lamp from one table to another, if one could bandage a wound with or without salve, or could one lift a child? Their religion was a legalism of petty rules and regulations. Jesus was highly critical of this. What Jesus was upholding here was the real meaning of God’s Law: to mold our lives on the positive commandment to love. Love that is filled with respect, reverence and compassion is the permanent stuff of our relationship to God and to our fellow humans. Our righteousness in this way must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. This law of love to fill our hearts and minds; it must be our sole motivation. We need to be people of gratitude that God has first loved us – and then people who generously give of that love to others. (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1, p.126-131)

Second, Jesus then gives examples of the kind of law and righteousness he means – that the law of love must penetrate to our hearts, our core. The only way to safety and security in society is not to even desire what is wrong. It also shows us just how much we need God’s help in this. We need God to transform us to be able to live up to this standard of love. For example Jesus says that any one angry with a brother is liable to judgment. The word that is used for this anger is an anger over which a person broods and will not let go of –an anger that broods, that will not forget, that seeks revenge. It is an anger that insults and shows contempt. Raka meant an imbecile; a word of one who despises another with an arrogant contempt. This type of anger leads to a hurt that is like a murder; we can ‘kill’ a person’s spirit and take his good name and reputation away from him or her. This makes us liable to fiery Gehenna, a garbage dump where rot burns and pollutes. (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1, p.136-141)

In fact, here is an interesting piece of information from Jesus’ time:

“The fires of Gehenna” had become a metaphor for divine judgment on evil.  The inferno was actually the city refuse dump located southwest of Jerusalem.  It was a gehinnom that some of Judah’s kings engaged in the heinous practice of burning their children as sacrifices (see 2 Chronicles 28:3; Jeremiah 7:31; 32:35).  Condemned by Jeremiah and King Josiah, the valley was used, thereafter, as a site for rubbish. (Celebration, February 14, 1999)

The third point to consider is that when we come before to pray or to bring gifts to the altar to the Lord we must consider not only our relationship with God but also our relationship with others. A breach between a human and God could not be healed until the breach between humans was healed. Jesus emphasizes this: one cannot be right with God until we are right with each other. (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1, p.136-141)

Then Jesus deals with lust – looking at and thinking about another person as an object (not a person) of pleasure, an object to be used. Jesus is not talking about what is normal human instinct, human nature. He is talking about lust, where a person uses his eyes and thoughts to stimulate wrong desire – a desire to use someone even if it destroys their personhood and value. If we allow such desire to grow in us the most innocent people and things can become ‘used’ and abused. Jesus is vehement here using hyperbole (extravagant exaggeration, a very common teaching tool in this culture) to get his point across. When something is deadly, destructive – surgery is needed. In other words, to let such evil grow in us is worse that losing an eye or a hand. For such evil leads us into a garbage heap of burning refuse: Gehenna!

(Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1, p. 147-148)

Jesus then warns of the abuse of divorce. Ideally, Jews abhorred divorce. Marriage was seen as holy and as fulfilling God’s positive commandment to be fruitful. But by Jesus’ time the practice itself had fallen far short of this ideal and women were the victims of this abuse. In both the Jewish and especially the Greek culture of the day, women were at the absolute disposal of the males, her father and then her husband. She had no legal rights at all. A woman could be divorced with or without her will. All that had to be done was to hand a degree of divorce to the woman in the presence of two witnesses. The reason was to be for some indecency which could be serious – or just that she put too much salt in the food, or she spoke disrespectfully, or she was troublesome, or unattractive. Because of the ease of divorce at this time, basic family structure was threatened. (Wm. Barclay, the Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1, p.150-153)

Jesus was for loving and caring relationships. This we must keep in mind. He was not for upholding abuse or condoning it. As disciples we must go that extra mile to repair fractured relationships and live according to God’s plan of love and life. Here is a caution to note: While this teaching points out God’s will for unity and love, there are times when a marriage is no longer real – or because someone is incapable of such a relationship – it never was a marriage. While every effort should be made to redeem fractured marriages, some must be acknowledged as beyond repair. In such cases divorce may be not only the lesser of two evils from the point of view of God’s ultimate will which is love, but also a positive step. (M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, Year A, p. 391.

The last section of this gospel deals with our ‘public’ behavior. “Oath-taking” had greatly deteriorated into misuse in Jesus’ day.  Some resorted to frivolous swearing, by constantly ‘taking oaths’: “by my life…”  “May such and such happen to me if…” Still others used evasive swearing to avoid the truth.  According to this questionable practice, oaths which contained the name of God were considered binding and were rigidly kept; oaths that did not mention God were not considered binding and were easily changed.  Jesus advocated simple integrity in speech. (Celebration, February 14, 1999)

As Jesus’ disciples we need to live in such a way that falsehood and infidelity in our families and workplaces is eliminated. The Law of love is the only thing that works.

Scripture Commentary for 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

dove prayer

Let us pray using Psalms 34:1-8…

I will praise the Lord at all times.
I will never stop singing his praises.
Humble people, listen and be happy,
while I brag about the Lord.
Praise the Lord with me.
Let us honor his name.
I went to the Lord for help, and he listened.
He saved me from all that I fear.
If you look to him for help, he will put a smile on your face.
You will have no need to be ashamed.
As a poor, helpless man I prayed to the Lord,
and he heard me.  He saved me from all my troubles.
The Lord’s angel builds a camp around his followers,
and he protects them.
Give the Lord a chance to show you how good he is.
Great blessings belong to those who depend on him!  Amen

Reading #1:  Sirach35: 12-14, 16-18

Jesus Ben Sirach lived and wrote around 180 BC.  He was an educated man whose main writing concerns were reflection on the Torah and practical suggestions for upright living.  To live uprightly is to live up to the covenantal relationship one has with God – hesedHesed assumes a reciprocity and requires that love of one another flow out of love of God, (W&W, Birmingham, p.  510). What does this mean to you?

God knows no favorites.  There are no prayers better than any others.  Sometimes we are afraid to go to God with our small requests.  But Sirach says the one who serves God willingly is heard!  Pope Francis says, “Today amid so much darkness we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others.  To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope, it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds.”  The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds!

 Reading #2: 2 Timothy 4: 6-8, 16-18

Paul’s ‘departure,’ a euphemism for death, uses a Greek word that means to leave, to loosen the bonds or fetters, to relax, to be released from prison – unyoked, free, unfettered. (Celebration, Oct. 1998)

From Celebrations Oct. 2004:

Scholars suggest that the abandonment that is referred to in this reading happened at the end of Paul’s life, during his second imprisonment in Rome under Nero. Even though there was a sizeable Christian community in Rome, no one appeared at Paul’s preliminary hearing to encourage or to defend him. Paul who had brought countless numbers of people to Christ, found himself alone, with no one other than Christ to strengthen and support him. Paul likens his death to a sacrifice or a libation. Libations of wine and oil were done sometimes by Jews, but even more often by Greeks and Romans. Before meals and, at times, in between courses, as well as at religious ceremonies, a goblet of wine was poured out on the ground as a gesture of homage to the gods.

From John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Engaged,” http://liturgy.slu.edu :

Remember, Paul had entered ‘the race’ only after he met the Risen Christ and realized that all his accomplishments were so much rubbish. He gave up the pretense of being a self-made, self-righteous man. In Christ, he learned the freedom and the gift that is God’s grace poured out for us. The mercy of the Lord was his hope, his joy, his faith.

Gospel:  Luke 18:9-14

From John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Engaged,” http://liturgy.slu.edu :

Prayer, most surely, is not about trying to change God’s mind or heart about anything. It is about changing us. And that is why the Pharisee’s prayer is so meaningless. There is nothing in his life to be changed – no empty spaces to be filled up. Remember Mary’s Magnificat: God fills the hungry and the ‘full’

(the rich) go away empty . . .” (Lk. 1:53)  If the cries of the poor are to be heard or the orphan or oppressed are to be cared for, it will not be by some magic changing of God’s mind.  They will be heard and served by concerned people who can recognize their needs and decide how to respond to them.  Prayers can indeed be answered by a God who can ‘get through’ to prayerful people. We need to open a place for God’s entry into our lives.  This is true prayer.

From John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context” http://liturgy.slu.edu :

To strike the breast is a Middle-Eastern gesture that was usually used by women. It was used by men only in extreme anguish, so it is touching that this tax collector uses this gesture.  The closing phrase (“whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted”) is one of those ‘floating sayings.” It occurs also in Lk 14:11, Mt 18:4: 23:12; James 4:6, 10; 1 Peter 5:6. Most of us go through life tallying successes and failures. God’s ways are not like that. With God’s help, we can discover even in our so-called failures examples of divine reversals, a better plan, a more rewarding venture, new life after hitting a dead-end. What looks like a set-back, can be an opportunity for growth. This is the Paschal Mystery: new life from death.