Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"Hope does not disappoint": Readings for Sunday's Commemoration of All Souls

This Sunday is the Commemoration of All Souls. The message of the readings, then, is really thus summed up by a line in the Second Reading: "Hope does not disappoint."

I hope these reflections will prove helpful in your own preparation for Sunday. Be sure to leave a note in the comment box. We love hearing from you.

FIRST READING: Wisdom 3:1-9
The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
For if before men, indeed, they be punished,
yet is their hope full of immortality;
chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them
and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them,
and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.
In the time of their visitation they shall shine,
and shall dart about as sparks through stubble;
they shall judge nations and rule over peoples,
and the LORD shall be their King forever.
Those who trust in him shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with him in love:
because grace and mercy are with his holy ones,
and his care is with his elect.
The First Reading is taken from a book that is only found in the Catholic Bible. With that in mind, here's a little on the book of Wisdom of Solomon.

The last page of the Canon Muratori
Wisdom of Solomon. In Catholic tradition, the book is classified among the "Deuterocanonical" books (what Jewish and Protestant writers call "Apocryphal").

The book was clearly regarded by some ancient Greek speaking Jews and is also used by the early Church fathers.[1]

Interestingly, the early Christian canonical list known as the Muratorian fragment (likely written around the eighth century[2]) places it among the New Testament books.

The councils of Rome (382), Hippo (393), and Carthage (397) accepted the book as canonical as among one of the "five books of Solomon".

While it is no proof of canonicity--Paul cites, for example pagan poets--it is worth noting that the book of Wisdom seems to be used by New Testament authors as well (cf. Wis. 13:1-10; 14:12 and Rom. 1:18-25; cf. also Wis. 5:17-21 and Eph. 6:11-17).
While the book is written in Solomon's voice, there are numerous indicators suggest it should be dated to a much later time. This was acknowledged by early fathers such as Jerome (Prologue to the Books of Solomon) and Augustine (City of God 17.20).

Scholars today think the book likely achieved its final form somewhere between 100 B.C. and A.D. 50, making it the last Old Testament book to be written.

The Exodus Motif in Wisdom. The Wisdom of Solomon can be neatly divided into two parts: chapters 1-9 and chapter 10-19.[3] 

In chapters 1-9 the major focus is on comforting those who are being persecuted. In this section death is described as an "exodus" (3:2; 7:6).

In the second half, chapter 10-19, the central idea is God's faithfulness to Israel in the Exodus experience. The climax of the book states: "For in everything, O Lord, thou hast exalted and glorified thy people; and thou hast not neglected to help them at all times and in all places” (19:22).

The second half, therefore, provides a reason for confidence in the promises about life after death in chs. 1-9. God delivered Israel and so God will deliver the souls of the righteous.

Wisdom 3. The First Reading is drawn from chapter 3, which offers those who are being persecuted the consoling promise of peace and reward in the afterlife: The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. . . they are in peace.

Notably, the death of the righteous are here described as sacrificial offerings: as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.

Moreover, the book describes how suffering was, in some way, purifying to the souls of the righteous: "As gold in the furnace, he proved them. . ." The idea that suffering can be a form of divine discipline is also found in Elihu's speeches in Job 32-37.

In addition, the language also points to some future event in which their vindication will be seen by all.
In the time of their visitation they shall shine,and shall dart about as sparks through stubble;they shall judge nations and rule over peoples,and the LORD shall be their King forever.
The language here may point to the hope of the resurrection of the body at the end of time. Indeed, the passage has a certain similarity to Daniel 12:2-3:
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.
The language also sounds like the vision of the final judgment in 1 Enoch 104:2: 
But now you shall shined like the lights of heaven, and you shall be seen;e and the windows of heaven shall be opened for you.
The idea that the righteous will rule over peoples at the final judgment may also be suggested in Daniel 7 where "thrones" are placed in heaven (Dan. 7:9) and "judgment" is given for the saints (Dan. 7:22). Indeed, the idea is also found in the New Testament; Paul even suggests that the righteous will "judge the angels" (cf. Matt. 19:28; 1 Cor. 6:2; Rev. 20:4). The hope is also expressed in the Dead Sea Scrolls (cf. 1QpHab 5:4: "God will execute judgment of the nations by the hand of the elect"). 

R. (1) The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
R. Though I walk in the valley of darkness, I fear no evil, for you are with me.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
R. Though I walk in the valley of darkness, I fear no evil, for you are with me.
He guides me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
with your rod and your staff
that give me courage.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
R. Though I walk in the valley of darkness, I fear no evil, for you are with me.
You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
R. Though I walk in the valley of darkness, I fear no evil, for you are with me.
Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
R. Though I walk in the valley of darkness, I fear no evil, for you are with me.
Psalm 23 is the classic psalm of comfort in the face of death. It is regularly used at Catholic funerals. It is not hard to see why. 

Key here is the language of verse 4. The language of walking in the "valley of darkness" is in Hebrew, literally, the "valley of deep shadow [ṣalmāwet]". 

The term ṣalmāwet is in fact a term that can have the connotation of "death shadow". Indeed, term ṣalmāwet is used in connection with the place of the dead in Job 10:21 and Job 38:17. The old Catholic translation, the Duay Rheims, thus renders the line, "the shadow of death". 

Psalm 23 thus promises that even in the valley of death God is present to his people. 

Of course, Psalm 23 is one of the most familiar psalms in the Psalter. But there is much to its imagery that is often missed. Normally when we write these reflections we only allot a brief amount of space to the psalm. This time a bit more on the psalm is in order.

Literary arrangement. The psalm appears to have a two-part structure: (1) Psalm 23:1–4: The Lord as Shepherd; Psalm 23:5–6: The Lord as gracious host. John Goldingay lays out the structure of the psalm this way:
a The Lord is my shepherd (third person; vv. 1–3)

   b You are my shepherd (second person; v. 4)

   b´ You are my host (second person; v. 5)

 The Lord is my host (third person; v. 6)[4]
Shepherd imagery. Although this goes against the grain, it is important to point out that being a “shepherd” did not always imply that a person had a gentle disposition (cf. 1 Sam 17:34–36).[5]

Indeed, as in Israel, the term was frequently used image for kings in the ancient Near East (e.g., Hammurabi; Cyrus [Isa 44:28]).

It was also used in other cultures for deities.[6]

The duties of a shepherd included defending the flock against aggressors (Ps 80:1–3 [2–4]; Jer 31:10), feeding and watering sheep (Isa 40:11), and find pastures (Jer 9:10 [9]; 23:10; Joel 1:19–20; etc.).

All of these tasks the psalmist attributes to the Lord.

Incidentally, the book of Ezekiel identifies as the Lord as a kind of good shepherd who cares for his flock, while the evil ones (the corrupt leaders of Israel) fail in their task (cf. Ezek. 34:1–31).

The Shepherd’s Tools. The psalm mentions both of the shepherd’s tools. These are worth reflection upon.

The two tools primarily in view here are the rod and the staff.

The rod is a weapon, kept in belt. It was used for striking adversaries of the sheep unto death (Exod. 21:20). Notably, the imagery is also used in connection with the Davidic king in Psalm 2, who defeats his enemies with a rod (cf. Ps 2:9).

The staff brings comfort, but in different ways. The staff could be used by the shepherd to lean upon for support (Zech 8:4). It was also used to keep sheep in order and knock down fruit.

New Exodus Imagery. The imagery of God “shepherding” evokes exodus imagery.[7]Specifically, the Lord “leads” (cf. nāhal) in verse 2, language elsewhere linked with the Exodus.
“Thou hast led in thy steadfast love the people whom thou hast redeemed, thou hast guided [nāhal] them by thy strength to thy holy abode” (Exod 15:13).
The fact that the psalm uses such imagery may point to the hope for a new exodus. In fact, the psalm uses terminology that is explicitly linked with such hopes.

For example, the psalmist speaks of how God brings “comfort”—a term the prophet Isaiah famously used to describe the hope for a New Exodus (Isa 40:31). Likewise, the psalm’s imagery of the Lord feeding his people, evokes Isaiah 49:
“He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms, he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young” (Isa 49:11).
Moreover, new exodus hopes were typically tied to the temple, which was seen as the place Israel would be gathered at in the messianic age (e.g., Isa. 2:2).

In light of the other new exodus themes, it may be significant that the psalm is ultimately ordered to temple climax (cf. v. 6: “I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for years to come.”)

The thanksgiving meal. The fact that the psalm moves from a celebration of the Lord protecting his people to a meal has also caused some scholars to link the psalm to the tôdâ, the thanksgiving sacrifice which stands as the backdrop to other psalms (cf., e.g., the superscription of Ps 100).

Ernest Lucas writes,
“The ‘thanksgiving offering’ was one form of the ‘sacrifice of well-being’ in which only part of the animal was burnt on the altar and the rest cooked and eaten at the sanctuary by the offerer and guest. Such an occasion would be an appropriate one for reciting this psalm, which in its expression of confidence in God is also an implicit expression of thanks.”[8]
In this the psalm may also be evoking new exodus imagery. Of course, the exodus was closely associated with a Passover meal, a celebration ancient Jews closely linked with the thanksgiving sacrifice.

The exodus also famously climaxed with a meal with God at Mt. Sinai (cf. Exod 24:11). As many scholars have noticed, that scene seems to be in the background of messianic banquet prophecies such as that found in Isa. 25:6-8.

In short, the new exodus was typically linked with the idea of a great banquet—a meal like Passover in which God’s people rejoice in celebration at table.

That the psalm uses similar imagery reinforces the possibility that the “thank offering” is in view. Indeed, the thanksgiving sacrifice—which like the Passover, climaxed in a meal—is closely associated with the new exodus (cf., e.g., Jer. 33:11).

Christological reading. In Christian tradition, the psalm has been read as describing Christ, who is presented as the “good shepherd” in Scripture.

Two passages in the New Testament come to mind here, which both explicitly describe Christ as a shepherd.
Now many saw them going, and knew them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns, and got there ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore he saw a great throng, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. (Mark 6:33–34) 
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, 15 as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:11–15).
Sacramental readings. In Christian tradition, the psalm has also been read sacramentally.

St. Thomas Aquinas offers—in addition to a literal reading—such spiritual interpretations in his commentary on Psalm 23.
  • The green pastures the shepherd brings his flock are understood in terms of spiritual food; e.g., eucharist. 
  • The restful waters the shepherd leads his people to are connected to baptism, as is the language of “anointing”. 
  • The language of the preparation of the “table” is also linked to the Eucharistic celebration as is the language of the “cup” that “overflows”. 
The possible use of the thanksgiving meal imagery may also be linked to sacramental theology; the Greek word for "thanksgiving" is "eucharist".

Psalm 23 in the Sunday readings. Psalm 23 refers to the Lord who brings his people out of the “dark valley” (i.e., leading them out of darkness) and gives them restful waters. The imagery, of course, works well with the First Reading and the overall focus of Sunday's feast of "All Souls"; Christ leads the righteous dead to their heavenly "rest".

SECOND READING: Romans 5:5-11
Brothers and sisters:
Hope does not disappoint,
because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
For Christ, while we were still helpless,
died at the appointed time for the ungodly.
Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person,
though perhaps for a good person
one might even find courage to die.
But God proves his love for us
in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
How much more then, since we are now justified by his Blood,
will we be saved through him from the wrath.
Indeed, if, while we were enemies,
we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son,
how much more, once reconciled,
will we be saved by his life.
Not only that,
but we also boast of God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have now received reconciliation.
What value does the death of the righteous have? Christ shows us. Through his death our redemption is accomplished.

Specifically, like the first reading, the death of the righteous, namely, Christ, is described in sacrificial terms. Christ as "justified us by his blood".

The language here harkens back to a statement earlier in Romans:
they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood. . . (Rom. 3:25)
The Greek word used here for "expiation" is hilastērion. This term is used for the "mercy seat", i.e., the top of the ark of the covenant in the Greek Old Testament (LXX). It is here that the sacrificial blood is sprinkled to bring atonement on the Day of Atonement (cf. Lev. 16:15-22). 

The terminology thus points to the idea of a sacrificial atonement. 

Notably, the term is also applied to describe the death of the martyrs in 4 Maccabees: “for they became a ransom for the sin of our nation, and through the blood of these pious ones and their atoning death [kai tou hilastēriou tou thanatou autōn]" (4 Macc. 7:22).

Christ is the martyr par excellence. His death brings the eschatological atonement. 

Of course, believers are called to "imitate Christ" (cf. 1 Cor. 11:2). Thus Paul describes how he himself is being "poured out like a libation" (Phil. 2:17). Believers too should "present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (Rom. 12:1).

Death represents the culmination, then, of a life-long process of learning to become a sacrifice like Christ. 

GOSPEL READING: John 6:37-40
Jesus said to the crowds:
“Everything that the Father gives me will come to me,
and I will not reject anyone who comes to me,
because I came down from heaven not to do my own will
but the will of the one who sent me.
And this is the will of the one who sent me,
that I should not lose anything of what he gave me,
but that I should raise it on the last day.
For this is the will of my Father,
that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him
may have eternal life,
and I shall raise him on the last day.”
The Gospel Reading caps off the lesson of the lectionary selections; for the believer, the death is not the end of the story.

Specifically, Christ reminds us that will "not lose anything of what [the Father] gave to me, but that I should raise it on the last day."

Salvation is accomplished through the Son. Those who are united to the Son will have "eternal life" and be raised on the last day.

It is perfect important here to observe that the larger context of this saying is the famous "Bread of Life" discourse, a sermon undeniably laced with eucharistic echoes. Of course, it is in the eucharistic celebration that we are gathered together in the one body (cf. 1 Cor 10:16).

For Catholics, that also means that we are united to those who have passed from this life, who remain in Christ--our union in Christ is stronger than death! In Christ, then, we look forward to the day when we will be reunited with them in the resurrection.


[1] See, e.g., 1 Clement 27, citing Wis Sol 11:21; 12:12; Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.38.3, alluding to Wis Sol 6:18; Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 5.108.2). Quoted by Augustine over 800x! See David Winston, Wisdom of Solomon (AB 43; New York: Doubleday, 1979), 67.

[2] For an informed discussion, see Andrew Gregory, The Reception of Luke and Acts in the Period Before Irenaeus (WUNT 2/169; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2003), 40-41.

[3] The second half clearly reflects a literary connection with the first half, drawing on similar motifs. See J. M. Reese, Hellenistic Influence on the Book of Wisdom and Its Consequences (AnBib 41; Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1970), 122–52; G. Ziener, Die theologische Begriffssprache im Buche der Weisheit (BBB 11; Bon: Peter Hanstein, 1956), 95–96; Peter Enns, Exodus Retold: Ancient Exegesis of the Departure from Egypt in Wis 10:15–21 and 19:1–9 (HSM; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997) 160–68.

[4] John Goldingay, Psalms (3 vols.; Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006–8), 1:347.

[5] See also Midrash on Psalms 1:327.

[6] See ANET 69, 71, 72, 337, 387–88.

[7] See also Exod. 13:17, 21; 15:13; 32:34; Deut. 32:12; Neh. 9:12; Ps. 77:20 [21]; Ps. 78:14, 15.

[8] Ernest C. Lucas, Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Psalms and Wisdom Literature (vol. 3 of the Old Testament; Downers Grove, 2003), 39.


Susan Moore said...

Thanks for this post!
1.I looked up the Canon Muratori and noticed the Letter to the Hebrews was not listed, I wonder why not?

2.Wow, I’ve been in the Book of Wisdom all day for two days. I’m doing a word study on the element of “Light” (Gen. 1:3-5). I’m far but through with the total study, but at least for this classwork the Book of Wisdom comes in second place in the total number of references to ‘light’ in nounish form (using ‘Owr’ fem. noun Hebrew, or Phos in Greek if no Hebrew available). She also supports revelation of the meaning of that word over time through references to light being imperishable and eternal, and by intimately connecting light with law and justice. Can’t wait till I learn Greek better (or Latin for that matter). It seems like the linguistic meta-language may be a tool to help date writings (in a general sense).

3.Like many, I love Psalm 23. Growing up on a farm I noticed one of the favorite pastimes of livestock would be to lay down in verdant pastures. Napping in cool, thick grass beat relentlessly sinking in a mucky pen every time. And how great is it to be led by restful waters instead of over algae-slick rocks down a steep-sided canyon? Can’t wait for Mass this weekend. I wish the readings were longer, it’s good to hear them instead of reading them all the time.
Thanks for this.

Bruce Zielinski said...

I like how you summed that up Dr. Barber: Hope does not disappoint. The first reading this week is actually one of my favorite quotes from scripture:

"Our our struggle is not with flesh and blood
but with the principalities, with the powers,
with the world rulers of this present darkness,
with the evil spirits in the heavens.
Therefore, put on the armor of God,
that you may be able to resist on the evil day
and, having done everything, to hold your ground."

God takes off our worn out armor and puts on something new. This scripture really does a great job in reminding me that our battle is more than flesh and blood. But a really well summed up point. Thanks for your article.

Anonymous said...

Are you and Dr. Bergsma planning to publish your reflections in book form? Would be great!

Henry said...

Yes I agree! You should publish these articles and make them into a book.