January 3 2016 (C) Second Sunday after the Nativity
A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
Dialogue: God’s Dream/Vision for the human race
Introduction to the readings: All the readings in today’s Mass speak of God’s eternal vision for the human race, made manifest, coming to dwell, in Israel and fully in the mystery of Jesus and his Church.
First Reading (Ecclesiasticus 24:1-2, 8-12). The wisdom of God has pitched her tent among the chosen people. Israel had an ancient Wisdom tradition, in keeping with an Instruction literature of Egypt and Babylonia. In the earlier wisdom tradition of Israel wisdom was a human quality and attainment, such as the art of craftsmen, of scribes and counsellors. Planning was part of this wisdom tradition. Since it had the connotation of craft and craftiness, it was considered something human, and nor predicated of God. In due time the concept of wisdom became personified, and came to be predicated of God. God was also wise and had his plan. In a notable text in the biblical Book of Proverbs personified wisdom sings her own praises. She, as Dame Wisdom, invites the young and impressionable to come to her school, to follow her, in contrast to the allurement of her opponent Dame Folly, who seeks to lead the vulnerable astray and to perdition. She was with the creator God from creation, and her delight is in God’s creation and with the human race. It is not easy determine what precise reality is intended here by wisdom. Some believe the internal meaning of God’s creation is intended, calling out for appropriate response by humanity. One feature of early Jewish wisdom was that it derived its teachings from human experience, not from the Covenant or the Law of Moses. This remains true of the text of the Book of Proverbs in question, dating probably from the post-exilic period, 500 BC or later. Development in the theology of this Wisdom developed over the centuries, and in the text from which this passage is taken Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus), about 180 BC, gives us this magnificent presentation of it. Wisdom again sings her own praises, and in texts omitted in today’s reading, says that she has travelled over the whole earth seeking a resting place, when the Lord said to her to pitch her tend in Jacob, and make Israel her inheritance, in a privileged people, in the Lord’s property. Turns of phrase in this discourse of Wisdom have been noted as foreshadowing Trinitarian theology: Wisdom is closely linked with God yet distinct from him. The depiction of Wisdom has characteristics that will later be applied to the Spirit and the Word (Logos). It seems to have been one of the chief sources of inspiration for the prologue of the Fourth Gospel, read today, in which many of Wisdom’s activities and attributed are ascribed to the Word made flesh. But all this should not distract us from the purpose of this reading in today’s liturgy, which is to stress God’s vision for humanity, expressed by Wisdom coming to dwell with his holy people Israel, and later in person in the Word made flesh that came to dwell, to live, among us.
Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 147). The word was made flesh, and lived among us.
Second Reading (Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18). He determined that we should become his adopted sons through Jesus. These two brief sections from the beginning of Paul’s letter make two distinct points. First we have Paul’s thanksgiving to God (“blessed”) for great gifts conferred on believers. These are heavenly gifts, proper to heaven, given to believers here on earth and to be completed in heaven. Wisdom was with God before the world was created. Another decision of God, in the ongoing revelation of his love for humanity, was also made before the world was created. This was the choice of believers in Christ, a decision to choose them in Christ to live holy lives, to live a life of love in God’s presence, to become God’s adopted children through Jesus Christ. And the purpose of this was to have believers praise God’s goodness (“grace”), a free gift to humanity through Christ.
The second section is a prayer of the Apostle that believers will reflect on the dignity of their calling, of this great mystery of divine grace. It is a deep mystery that requires faith, prayer, and the gift of spiritual wisdom to appreciate. It is deep prayer that God will continually enlighten the minds of believers to Christian hope and all the glory that comes with it.
Gospel (John 1:1-18). The Word was made flesh and lived among us. This reading gives us a clear presentation of the doctrine of the divinity of Christ, the culmination of decades of inspired reflection on the part pf thr Church on the relation of Jesus of Nazareth with his heavenly Father, with God. At Caesarea Philippi Jesus asked his apostles who do they say that he is. Peter, on behalf of the apostles, answers that he is the Christ (the Messiah). Thus according to Mark’s account. Mathew develops this, saying that they believed that he was the Christ, the Son of the living God, to which Jesus replied that this admission could have come not by human ingenuity but by revelation from God. The question with regard to Christ’s relation to the Father (to God) continued after the resurrection and ascension, with the belief that Christ was seated at God’s right hand. Towards the end of the first century this led to formulated belief that Jesus Christ was God. This is clearly expressed in today’s reading and at the end of John’s Gospel, where doubting Thomas confesses to Christ: “My Lord and my God”. To Jesus in his heavenly existence before the incarnation John in this prologue gives the title “the Word”. The Word was there from the beginning, before creation, and was with God, and the Word was God. Using imagery also found in the Jewish Wisdom tradition he can speak of the Word’s activity in creation. He stresses those aspect of the Word’s attributes and activity that have a bearing on his mission as saviour: life and light, leading to the great profession of faith that “the Word was made flesh and lived among us”. His person, his teaching, and all he stood for were the glory he revealed. In the Book of Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus) after the passage read to day, the author almost identified divine Wisdom with the book of the covenant, the law that God commanded Israel. The prologue counters such belief. Only the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
B. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day
Dialogue: God’s Dream/Vision for the human race
Today we understand the evocative power of words concerning a dream. The four simple words “I have a dream” have changed the course of a nation’s social history. We remember Patrick Pearse’s words on the dream that he dreamed in his heart, and his desire that this should come true, with a life in the world of space and time, among the bulks of actual things. Today’s readings invite us to reflect on the dream within God’s heart, and revealed on various occasions, and in an ongoing way in Christ and in the Church. Divine wisdom in a variety ways had addressed humans directly, calling on them to follows the voice of Lady Wisdom and avoid the deceitful calls of Lady Folly. This divine vision has come through Jesus Christ, creator of the universe. In him have come grace and truth.
This is not just any dream. It is a divine dream, and as such a sacramental dream, with the divine power for true believers to have it receive life in the world of time and space, among the bulks of actual things. That is what today’s reading from Ephesians calls on believers to do. But being a sacramental dream, it calls for deep reflection and prayer, for souls filled with a spirit of wisdom and perception of this great mystery.
Our world today has need of a dream, of a new vision. Believers would do well to reflect on the Christian vision, as revealed in Christ, as put before us in today’s readings. How give it life in the actual world is a matter for reflection.