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

B. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day: Modern Ireland in search of identity. Will it be humanism or Christianity?

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

First Reading (1 Kings 17:10-16). The widow made a little scone from her meal and brought it to Elijah. This is one of the biblical stories about the prophet Elijah. He lived in the northern kingdom of Israel, whose king Ahab had married the pagan Jezebel. Israel was the land of the true God Yahweh, the God of Israel. Jezebel’s god was Baal, the god of her homeland Sidon. She was keen in introducing the cult of her god Baal into Israel. The attempts of Jezebel and Ahab were strongly opposed by God’s prophet Elijah. The stories about Elijah in the Books of Kings stress opposition to Jezebel and Ahab and God’s miraculous protection of his prophet as he flees from their persecution. In the present narrative we are told how Elijah is commanded by God to go into the pagan land of Sidon, the land of the god Baal. There God will miraculously provide for his welfare. We should not be distracted in seeking to fill in background information on this narrative, for instance how the widow knew who Elijah was and such like. Baal was believed to be the god of fertility. As Elijah has brought drought on Israel, the land in which Jezebel would like to have her god Baal reign, so now there is also drought in Baal’s own land of Sidon. The central point of this story is that Elijah has conversation with the pagan widow, who accedes to his request to provide him with some food and drink, as he promises her that the drought will soon end. The narrative tells us that his promise, or prophecy, was fulfilled. As message of the passage is that the God of Israel also holds sway over territories believed the reserve of the pagan god Baal. This particular reading is chosen for today’s liturgy to go with the Gospel passage which mentions widows.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 145). My soul give praise to the Lord.

Second Reading (Hebrews 9:24-28). Christ offers himself only once to take the faults of many on himself. This passage continues the author’s presentation of Christ as the true high priest. The writer uses as his background information with which his readers would have been familiar, regarding the Jewish Temple liturgy and the Old Testament on which this was based. The Jerusalem Temple was believed to have as its model the tabernacle of the desert wanderings. The desert tabernacle, for its part, was believed to have been made in keeping with a heavenly model, revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. Moses is represented as having been told by God (Exodus 26:30; 25:40): “See that you make them (that is the tabernacle and its furnishings) according to the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain”. The real sanctuary, then, was the heavenly one. That into which the Jewish high priest entered once a year, and every year, to offer sacrifice with the blood of animals, was only a man-made copy of this. Christ the true High Priest, through his own death and blood, had entered the true heavenly sanctuary, there at the Father’s right hand making intercession for humanity. The text lays stress on the “once for all” nature of Christ’s work. He seems to explain this by reference to an individual’s death. It occurs just once, and with it the person enters into another realm of being. The text ends with a reference to judgment after death, and mention of the end of time. In one sense the end of time has come with Christ’s death and resurrection. Christ at his first coming died for the remission of sin. His second coming will have a different purpose: to reward with salvation believers in him.

Gospel (Mark 12:38-44). The poor widow has put in more than all.The scribes, who were lawyers, not copyists or scriveners, had an honoured and respected place in Jewish history. They could read and write, were learned in the Law of Moses, and possibly in civil law as well. They combined in themselves the roles of lawyers and theologians. They held an important role in Jewish society at many levels, including the supreme council. As specialists in the Law of Moses they were probably zealots for this law, and while not necessarily members of the Pharisees many of them would have shared the Pharisaic outlook. In Mark’s Gospel (as in the others), apart from the scribe whom Jesus said was not far from the kingdom of heaven, they are viewed negatively. During Jesus’ final Jerusalem ministry they are linked with the chief priests and elders as opponents of Jesus. Jesus’ denunciation of the scribes is given in greater detail in Luke (20:45-47) and Matthew (23:1-7, with the Pharisees). Jesus condemns their ostentatiousness, in dress, desire for recognition in the market places, synagogues, banquets. They are accused of dishonesty with regard to the property/estates (households) of widows, possibly getting exorbitant payment for legal advice. Their ostentatiousness in their lengthy prayers is also condemned, something Jesus has spoken on during his public life.

            The second section compares the quiet devotional contribution of a poor widow with the ostentatious gifts of the rich. The “treasury” in the Temple may have been a central place for giving donations. More probably in Mark it refers to one of the collection receptacles. According to a Jewish Law treatise, in the Temple sanctuary there were thirteen trumpet-shaped chests, each one labelled for its different purpose (donations for bird offerings etc.). The heavy coins of the rich would easily be heard as they descended down these trumpet-shaped chests. The poor widow put in two of the smallest coins (in older translations called “two mites”) then in circulation, calculated as the value of one sixtieth part of a denarius’s, the lowest daily wage. Jesus observes the dignity and beauty of a noble act, no matter how small if viewed by ordinary human standards. The widow’s mite has supported many good causes down the centuries.

The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day: Modern Ireland in search of identity. Will it be humanism or Christianity?

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus warned his followers to beware of some prominent teachers of that day – the scribes. They were a danger to the coming of God’s kingdom. His warning tells believers of all times to be alert to the dangers of their own age.

            One can hardly fail to notice that in recent months, in fact in recent years, there have been calls to Irish people, in particular to the younger generation, to discuss and articulate their vision for Ireland of the future. The call comes from sections of the media, from politicians and public figures, some of high standing. There are calls for a national, a public ethic. Sometimes such calls are of a neutral nature. On a number of occasions they represent a call for a secular, even humanistic, Ireland and national ethic.

            It seems clear from this there is, and will be, reflection on what kind of Ireland the people of Ireland want, what the prevailing vision will be. In the past the vision came from a predominantly practising Catholic population. The situation has now changed dramatically. While some 84% of the population of the Irish Republic may have entered themselves in the recent census form as Roman Catholic, it is beyond doubt that many are ill-informed of the Christian vision of society as put before us in the New Testament, a vision that became a reality by the practice of the faith and access to the sacraments.

            We have now reached a position that calls for reflection on how best respond to the present situation and move forward from there. The words addressed the author of the First Letter of Peter to the Christians under pressure in the mid-first century merit reflection: “Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an accounting of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15-16). This requires that believers are fairly well informed on the truths of their faith.   The present situation is a matter of concern for bishops, parishes, parish councils, lay groups and organizations and others to take stock of the situation and to see how best a knowledge of the doctrines of our faith and of Christian morality can be conveyed to all concerned.

            This will be no easy task. The political, secular and even humanist call for a new vision of Ireland is being addressed to the young. How get the younger generation in Ireland enthused about Christ and this Christian vision of life is no simple matter. It is a point that merits deep consideration. All of us can pray that this awakening to the dangers involved will be a success. We can pray that God will raise up men and women of literary ability who can become possessed of this vision and put their message across in a language suitable to our time and culture.

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