A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

Archive for August, 2015

What it really means to be called a “wise guy”

Have you ever been called a “wise guy”?   In common parlance  the phrase usually  refers to a person who has “street smarts,”  that is, one who is aware of human behavior that is not part of acceptable social protocol.

But this is not the usual way of being called “wise” when the virtue of wisdom is  bandied about in discussion.  “Wisdom,” in the biblical sense, is much more than having street smarts.  It is about having the ability to make the correct choices when dealing with other people, for example, justice, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness.

In the first reading for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time [Proverbs 9:1-6], we come across the concept of “wisdom,” but  in a rather unusual way.  The values become people.  In the field of literature this is called “personification.”  Human values become anthropomorphic.  Note, for example, the blindfolded lady holding a balancing scale in her hand.  This symbolizes the virtue of “justice” which does not render judgement (the blindfold) until both sides are heard (the balancing scale).

The reading speaks of Lady Wisdom who invites people to a banquet.  Many times in the Bible a meal was often presented as an image of togetherness much as we celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.  The family gathers around the table in ordet to celebrate oneness and hope.

Further on down the chapter [Prov. 9:13-18], we see the contrast to Lady Wisdom who is Lady Folly, also inviting others to a meal.  This is obviously a choice that one who has been invited to such a meal must make.  To choose between the good [Lady Wisdom] or the bad [Lady Folly].

Lady Wisdom offers good food and wine because, as she points out,” Come and eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.  Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” (NRSV)  [Prov. 9:5-6]  Lady Wisdom’s banquet symbolizes the invitation to behave justly and fairly.  The concepts “live” and the “way of insight” were biblical terms indicating proper behavior toward others.

Lady Folly’s invitation has the opposite effect.  The author calls her “foolish” and “ignorant” as she cries out, “You who are simple, turn in here…Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”  [Prov. 9: 16-17]  Most likely, the food that Lay Folly is offering is stolen.  Also, the invitation would often include other pleasures.  In effect,  Lady Wisdom’s banquet offers a good life, while Lady Folly’s food lead’s to trouble.

What does this mean for us?  As in the case above so is the case with us.  A choice must be made.  Will we choose the path of righteousness or the path of destruction?  According to the above imagery, our choice is based on how we deal with temptation, which is the very basis for the choice.

Seeking Wisdom, according to the biblical model, would mean treating others with justice, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness.  This should be the basis of our choice.  The big question, however, will be “How do I do it?” As I constantly search for the answer,  I can actually be called a “wise guy,”  most assuredly in the scriptural meaning.

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Blueberries are not the only super food

Many of us have seen it on the evening news.  Emaciated children and long lines of people waiting for food.  Homes destroyed by earthquakes, tornadoes, or in the cases of Africa and the Middle East–by war.  Presumably the greatest need at the moment is for food.  Once that need is met, likely other reparations will follow.

In the biblical readings for the eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the primary focus seems to be on nourishing food.  (Ex. 16:2-4, 16-18 and John 6:24-35)  In the reading from he book of Exodus, the Israelites are crossing the desert fleeing Egypt.

They have already crossed the sea, but now are complaining about their lack of food.  They tell Moses that at least in Egypt they had something to eat.  The Lord hears their grumbling and sends them manna from heaven.  So, the people have food to eat.  Moses tells them, “…This is the  bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”  (Ex. 16:15)

In the Gospel reading (Jn. 6:24-35), many people are looking for Jesus, find him, and ask him why he seemed to be running away.  Jesus is able to penetrate the actual motivation for this apparent concern when he replies to the people, “…You are looking for me not because you saw signs (of healing) but because of your fill of the loaves.” (Jn. 6:26)  Obviously he was talking of the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish.

Then Jesus comes to his basic point of reference.  “Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you…” (Jn. 6:27)  No doubt this comment must  have resulted in a few raised eyebrows.

What did Jesus mean?  Basically, the context for the answer comes a few verses later in the chapter.  Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  (Jn. 6:35)

That is to say that people who are constantly accompanied by Jesus and believe in his person and ministry, will never be hungry nor thirsty.  How does this happen?  Well, when you are talking about “never” being thirsty nor hungry, in a spiritual sense, you are talking about some kind of super food. And what is this kind of super food?

Especially for us Christians, this kind of super food would be Scripture and the Eucharist since both are quite well known to be very nourishing.

In the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), we find various references to the nourishing word of God.  One of my favorites is from the book of Isaiah.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do      not return there until they have watered the earth, making it        bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to        the eater, so shall my word be that goes our from my mouth;        it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that          which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”       (Is. 55:10-11)

That is to say that just as rain and snow is effective  so is the word of God.  It fulfills what it is supposed to do, namely, be as nourishing as the rain and snow.  So, patient study and reflection of Scripture can be very nourishing.

And for the Eucharist?  Receiving it makes Jesus more present to us than Baptism, because it is a separate Sacrament building upon Baptism which gives us a greater sense of openness to his presence and to the needs of others.

If nutritionists tell us that blueberries are a super food for the body, why can’t Scripture and the Eucharist be a super food for the soul?  Who would not want to be nourished by this super food?

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