A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. Reflection & Dialogue: From heaven the risen Christ continues to preach his Gospel.

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23).

What do mortals gain from all the toil? The book of Ecclesiastes, known also by its Hebrew title Qoheleth, belongs to a section of the biblical literature known as “Wisdom Literature”. The early wisdom literature was based on conclusions drawn from reason and human experience, not from revelation, God’s covenant with Israel, or the Law of Moses. It contains much valuable teaching for human living. Sometimes, notably in the book of Job and in Ecclesiastes, it criticizes some of the shortcomings of traditional Jewish religious teaching. Ecclesiastes contains the reflections of a philosopher rather that a testimony of Jewish belief. The author probably wrote during the Greek period, in the third century B.C., aware of Greek philosophical thinking. He has a rather pessimistic approach to life, most of which he considers “vanity”, breath, passing, unsubstantial, but can also give realistic assessments as in the present text on the vain pursuit of riches. His teaching on this, and other matters, can serve as a balance against the use of wealth which is at times necessary. In today’s liturgy it serves as an excellent matching text for the Gospel parable.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 89[90]). O, Lord, you have been our refuge from one generation to the next.

Second Reading (Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11).

You must look for things that are in heaven, where Christ is. The first section of this reading (3:1-4) is chosen as an appropriate text for Easter Sunday when we commemorate the resurrection of Christ and his return in glory to the Father, where he constantly prays that his work on earth through his Church be successful. Christians are united to Christ baptism, and by God’s grace are united with him in heaven. The passage calls on us to think of these consoling truths. It is all in keeping with Christ’s own words: Store up treasure for yourselves in heaven; where your treasure in, there will your hearts be also (see Matthew 6:19-21). No one can serve two masters. Today’s reading is no generic statement without substance. In its context in the Epistle it is preceded by the exhortation: “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as your were taught” (Colossians 2:6-7). The passage read for Easter Sunday continues as follows: When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory”. This will be so provided the life of the faithful on earth is in keeping with their belief in the risen Lord. For this reason the passage in today’s reading reminds us of the demands made by belief in this new life in Christ. This means putting to death everything that belongs to the old “earthly” life, which is not in keeping with the new life in Christ. Paul mentions four sexual practices, and immediately after these greed, which he equated with idolatry, adoring false gods. These belong to the “old nature”. The new nature would belong to the image of its “Creator”, the risen Lord, or possibly the creator God himself. The human person, the entire human race, was created in the image of God. This image, however, was tarnished by sin and sinful ways. That is the “old nature”, to be created anew, as a new nature, in the image of Christ, and thus in the image of God the creator.

The Gospel (Luke 12:13-21).

This hoard yours, whose will it be? In the text immediately preceding this Jesus has been teaching his disciples. Here the request that Jesus get involved in the distribution of family property comes from one in the crowd, not a disciple. Jesus naturally refuses; his mission is otherwise. Jesus is then said to address “them”, probably his disciples, possibly including the crowd. He cautions against avarice, noting its soul-destroying effects. Riches, even if in abundance, are not of themselves enriching. Jesus then illustrates, by telling “them” (disciples; possibly all listeners) a parable or teaching story. It is in the wisdom tradition, as the text from Ecclesiastes of today’s first reading was. Note that in the parable all the rich man is thinking about is himself. The first person “I” occurs many times. The parable ends with the reflection on the consequences of greed. This teaching story is about the question: What is life about? Luke’s answer is: acknowledge God, and lay up treasure in heaven, rather than on earth.

B. Reflection & Dialogue: From heaven the risen Christ continues to preach his Gospel.

Two principles in the interpretation of the scriptures in the Church are: “distanciation” and immediacy. “Distanciation” is recognition of the distance in time, full two thousand years, between the New Testament texts and our own day. They were composed in and for different social circumstances and mindsets, not necessarily compatible with those of our own day. Humanists will regard them just as historical documents. Some believers advance the view that the original texts are so removed from us that the New Testament has no message for our own day. The position of the Catholic Church, and of Christians in general, is quite different. God and Christ speak to us in and through the New Testament. With regard to the ongoing relevance and use of these texts in the Church we should distinguish at least two matters. In doctrinal matters the Church has used the New Testament documents as central and essential in the developing theology on Christ and the blessed Trinity. Fidelity to the contents and implications of the New Testament texts directed Council definitions and Church teaching. In other matters one has to ask whether a given New Testament position represents teaching valid for all times or is historically conditioned, arising from the social conditions and mindset, such as slavery and the role of women. The question whether this is the case will determine discussion on matters of sexual morality.
    These are doctrinal matters, having to do with the mind. Together with these there is an immediacy involved with regard to the place on the Bible and the New Testament in the life of the Church. It is a matter attended to in the Vatican Council in its Constitution on the sacred liturgy (paragraph 7). Just as Christ was sent by the Father so also he sent the apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit. This he did so that they might preach the Gospel to every creature and proclaim that the Son of God by his death and resurrection has freed us from the power of Satan (paragraph 6). To accomplish so great a work Christ is always present in his Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. Among other ways “he is present in his word since it is he himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church”.
    Today’s second reading serves as an excellent background to this Church teaching. The risen Christ, seated at God’s right hand, has from the beginning through the apostles (Paul and others) reminded his followers that their life on earth should show forth the new nature, in keeping with his teaching and that of the Church. Paul instances practices to be avoided, and others to be followed. The Church has continued to do so. Christ is preaching his Gospel at every reading of the Scriptures in the liturgy. Christ can also have his Gospel message activated in various other ways, by charismatic figures such as Saint Francis and poverty, the Pope by calling on all ministers of the Church to avoid career seeking and practice simplicity of life, by making clear that certain points of New Testament teaching and practice called into doubt are not historically conditioned but still valid, and even “definitive”, not open to discussion. The Church’s teaching is not just some human invention. It is a reassertion and continuation of Christ’s message. The centrality of Christ in Christian life should be constantly stressed.

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