While it is hard for us to not include an afterlife in our thinking, the idea was not strong in the Old Testament. Most often, life after death was considered to be a diminished state, the deceased becoming ‘shades’ in ‘sheol’, shadows of their former self (as opposed to a glorified body) With Ezekiel there is some notion of a resurrection, but at times the focus was more on the resurrection of the nation than each individual. Daniel is one of the last books written in the Old Testament, and by the time that book was written, the idea of an afterlife had developed quite a bit.
The link between the first reading and the Gospel today is not simply that a widow figures prominently in both scenes. Both widows willingly give all that they had, one to sustain Elijah the prophet, the other to sustain the sacrifices and charitable works of the Temple. In each case, we don’t get the entire story. In the first story, we do hear that the jar of flour and jug of oil don’t run dry. But God’s greatest response to the woman’s trust comes later. When her son, support she would hope to count on in her old age, dies, Elijah restores him to life!
Strange… The Book of Revelation is one of the most challenging to understand of any book in the Bible, yet it has been more widely read and written about than almost any other biblical book! It includes three literary genres: that of an epistle, apocalyptic visions, and prophecy. Similarly, there are at least four major approaches to interpreting the book: the historicist, the preterist, the futurist, and the spiritual (or combinations thereof). Steve Gregg edited a fine book to illustrate those approaches side by side: Revelation: Four Views, A Parallel Commentary.
Jeremiah, second of the Major Prophets, had a tough mission. God called him to bring to the king and the people of Jerusalem a message they did not want to hear – judgement was coming. Taken as a whole, his book and the Book of Lamentations, attributed to him, are dark indeed. But rays of hope and light shine through, as in the prophecy we hear today about the restoration. Why was this passage selected to go with this Sunday’s Gospel? First connection: there is a reference to the blind among those who will be delivered and brought back to the land.
Our first reading this weekend is the 4th Servant Song in Isaiah. Even as Isaiah was wrestling with the crushing affliction of the Babylonian Exile, the Lord inspired him with hope. God helped Isaiah see that, for the descendants of David, losing the throne would ultimately be a path from sin and its consequences to mercy far beyond anything they or the exiles could imagine. Having expected Jesus to enter Jerusalem and re-establish the kingdom, only to then see him condemned and crucified, the disciples searched their scriptures for understanding.
You may not be so familiar with the book of Wisdom, one of the seven Sapiential (wisdom) books of the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament). It was written about 50 years before Christ, probably in Alexandria, and while we Catholics consider it deuterocanonical (second canon) but divinely inspired, it is not in many Protestant Bibles. Regardless, the message we hear today could well sound familiar. It echoes Solomon’s prayer for wisdom when he ascends the throne, found in the book of Kings and in Chronicles.
Children aren’t the only ones who ask questions and want answers. It is part of human nature. Reflecting and positing answers is part of being human too. A key concept in Bible study is etiology: a story that “renders an account” — that is, offers some explanation — of present conditions and circumstances based on past causes. How did the animals get their names? Our first reading posits an answer. Often in the Old Testament, a story will provide an answer to how a place got its name, or where a geological formation came from, like a pillar of salt.
Understandably enough, Joshua has deepest respect for Moses, and is in fact protective of Moses’ prerogatives. His reaction runs this way. If some of the spirit that guided Moses is to be distributed to a group of elders, so they can assist him in ministering to the people, and two men were not present during when the spirit was poured out, too bad. Moses sees it differently. If God wants to pour out the spirit on them as well, excellent.
We Believe. We Belong. We Learn.
Is learning important? Moses sure thought so! “Hear … what I am teaching you to observe, that you may live….” Last weekend it was Peter we heard from: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Here at St. Louis we believe learning is important, and it shows. Over the summer, great effort went in to ensuring that our school will be ready to open its doors, welcoming children from pre-school through 5th grade to the great adventure of learning in a faith-filled, loving environment.