Father Andrew Wadsworth offers a short commentary on this week's Sunday Lectionary readings.
To read the relevant Bible passage just click on the reference.
Before reading and reflecting on God's word you might like to use the following prayer:
who hast given us thy word
for a light to shine upon our path:
Grant us so to meditate upon that word
and follow its teaching,
that we may find in it the light that shineth
more and more unto the perfect day:
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity
But the ungodly by their words and deeds summoned death; considering him a friend, they pined away and made a covenant with him, because they are fit to belong to his company. For they reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves, “Short and sorrowful is our life, and there is no remedy when a life comes to its end, and no one has been known to return from Hades.
“Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training. He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord. He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange. We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father. Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; for if the righteous man is God’s child, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with insult and torture, so that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.”
Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray, for their wickedness blinded them, and they did not know the secret purposes of God, nor hoped for the wages of holiness, nor discerned the prize for blameless souls.
The Book of Wisdom was probably composed at Alexandria, and was written in Greek, so it is not included in the Protestant canon of scripture, which includes only the books written in Hebrew. A major theme of the book is the contrast between divine Wisdom and folly. It also includes a wonderful poem in God’s Wisdom, by which he created the world, ‘the reflection of the eternal light, and the image of his goodness.’ In this reading we have the taunts which those who refuse divine Wisdom make against those who embrace Wisdom.
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
The reading from the Letter of James first contrasts quarrelling and ambition, and their evil effects, with the true wisdom which brings peace. Then it goes on to some stern words about prayer which is not heard, ‘because you have prayed for something to indulge your own desires.’ Is it wrong, then, to ask God for what we want? What about ‘Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find’? The problem of unanswered prayers of petition is a difficult one. We do not really believe that we can change God’s mind and intentions by praying. Nevertheless, we express to God our needs and desires, although we are well aware that he know them already. This is what a child does to a loving father, ‘Please, please!’ We even link arms with our mother, Mary, or even our brother and Saviour, Jesus, to increase the persuasive power. But every prayer of petition, just as a child’s prayer to a loving father, contains the hidden text that our Father knows best. The child or the praying Christian can want something desperately, but for true prayer must submit in obedience, sometime puzzled obedience, to the Father. Only so is the prayer an expression of trust and affection.
They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.
And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
After Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah the road to Calvary is staked out by three predictions of the Passion, becoming increasingly explicit. Each time the inability of the disciples to understand and accept the message is stressed. On this occasion they are too shamefaced to ask any further. At each prediction, the same series occurs from Passion to misunderstanding to disciples must share the Cross of Christ.
On this occasion the re-iteration takes the form of putting forward a child to show how the least honoured members of society should be treated. In the modern era we are especially sensitive to the rights of children. This was not the case in the ancient world, perhaps because of the high infant mortality rate: only a small minority of children would reach adulthood. So the child represents the most neglected segment of society, and Jesus chooses the child to stress that all human beings have infinite value, being made in the image of God. All deserve the same respect, love, and care.