A Reflection on the Readings for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, August, 28, 2022
Reading I: Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29
Responsorial Psalm: 68:4-5, 6-7, 10-11
Reading II: Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a
Gospel: Luke 14:1, 7-14
Our first reading this week is from the Book of Sirach, which is also known in our scriptures as the Book of Ecclesiasticus. Sirach is one of the seven books not found in the Hebrew Bible and is rejected by most Protestants as well.
The title “Sirach” comes from the author who describes himself as: “Jesus, son of Eleazar, son of Sirach” (50:27), and the title of the book, when originally written in Hebrew, was: “The Wisdom of the Son of Sirach.” The title “Ecclesiasticus” comes from an ancient Latin title: “Liber Ecclesiasticus,” meaning “Church Book,” which comes from the extensive use of this book in the early church in presenting moral teaching to the faithful.
The book was originally written in Hebrew in or around Jerusalem between 200 and 175 B.C. but was translated into Greek by the author’s grandson in 132 B.C., who attached a “foreword” to the book describing why he made the translation. The foreword is interesting reading, so I suggest you take a look at it, but it also provides us with the actual date of the translation.
I think the best way to describe the Book of Sirach is to call it a book of moral teaching which concentrates on praise of the law, the priesthood, divine worship and Jewish tradition. It is a somewhat depressing book to read because of the many references it contains to everything under the sun being “vanity of vanities.” The author admits that God has a divine plan for everyone and everything on earth, but that divine plan is hidden from man who seeks happiness on earth without ever finding it. Therefore, as he does not find happiness, everything on earth is “vanity of vanities.”
Our reading this week comes from chapter 3 and encourages us to the virtue of humility, warning us not to attempt to exalt ourselves by trying to understand things beyond our abilities. God’s divine plan is beyond our abilities to comprehend. Consequently, earthly wisdom should not be man’s goal in life as earthly wisdom may lead to vanity and pride. Man’s goal in life should be spiritual wisdom which only comes through faith and by adhering to God’s law. This reading also reminds us that the wise man has an attentive ear; he listens and learns before he speaks.
Our second reading from Hebrews doesn’t fit the “golden thread” of humility but it makes a couple of important points for our consideration. It opens with: “You have not approached that which could be touched………” and is a reference to “The Great Theophany” (the great manifestation of God) in chapter 19 of Exodus where Moses led the people out to Mt. Sinai which was wrapped in smoke and fire; where Moses spoke to God and God answered with thunder. The people were terrified by the theophany, but Moses went up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments. Hebrews 12 reminds us of that theophany but tells us we are no longer approaching a terrifying mountain of fire; we are approaching Mt. Zion, the city of the living God which we, as Catholics, understand as the church, where the assembly of the firstborn (i.e., the baptized) are enrolled in heaven and the souls of the just are made perfect. There are many references in the New Testament to the “Heavenly Jerusalem;” as a spotless bride prepared for her husband. We, as Catholics, understand that “Heavenly Jerusalem” to be a reference to the church, and as baptized Christians, we are enrolled in that Heavenly Jerusalem, and through the sacraments of the church our souls are being made perfect.
The reference to the souls of the just being made perfect is often used as a reference for the church’s doctrine of Purgatory. In other words, these souls are just but must be made perfect in order to enter paradise. Protestant theology, which does not agree with the doctrine of Purgatory, would ask: “If the souls are just, why do they need purification?” A Catholic answer to that question could be: “As all humanity is stained with sin to one degree or another, and there is some residual sin remaining in most of us even after we have confessed our sins. We may confess today and sin again tomorrow.
As an analogy for the concept of the souls of the just being made perfect; consider a beautiful white garment you may wear but you accidentally spill red wine on that garment. You may wash it and wash it but there is still a slight residual stain that won’t come out. That’s Purgatory, the state of existence where the stain is removed. As nothing sinful can coexist with God, the souls of the just are made perfect in that state of existence we call Purgatory.” But Purgatory may also be seen as existing on earth when we patiently accept the trials and tribulations of this life as part of God’s plan for us. By seeking to purify ourselves of our sins through the sacraments of the church we are in the process of making ourselves just and our souls perfect. The souls of the unjust, however, will be consigned to that state of existence we call Hell.”
Our gospel reading picks up the golden thread of humility through one of Jesus’ parables and a quick reading of this passage will remind us not to seek honor, but to earn it and let others bestow it on us. “The one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” It also reminds us to be attentive to the needs of the poor. When we aid the poor, we do not expect repayment from them but will be rewarded by God for our concern.
“Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.” (James 4:10).
Author: Ric Cross