Oracles were at the heart of the mission of the prophets. Simply put, an oracle is a message from God, spoken by the prophet. In the Old Testament we find 3 major types of oracles, oracles of judgement, warnings and admonitions, and oracles of salvation. Some oracles of judgement are against Israel’s enemies, ‘oracles against the nations’. Some are judgement upon Israel or Judah. In either case, the die is cast. Admonitions warn about the consequence of the failure to repent, and call for repentance; the disaster can be avoided.
Pope Francis has made “The joy of the Gospel” a commonplace expression. But don’t think this is an innovation! The Old Testament does have genealogies, battles, mayhem, detailed laws and even more detailed descriptions for constructing the Tabernacle, all of which can make for hard reading. Yet along with the prose, there is a wealth of poetry. Not only the psalms, but the prophetic books too have an abundance of spiritual nourishment that is easily accessible, poems filled with hope and joy. The prophets had amazingly sharp vision.
The book of Jeremiah is a complex one, poetic oracles and prose woven together. Quite likely, various collections of oracles were compiled over time. The first chapters often highlight the covenant between God and the people of Israel and Judah, their failure to live the covenant, and the likely fall of the kingdom as a result. The last three chapters are filled with hope, hence the name often used, ‘the book of consolation’. God will do a new thing. From the wreck caused by sin, God will raise up a new leader, who will restore God’s people.
Ordinarily in Hebrew, ‘son of man’, simply means an individual human being. In Ezekiel, God often calls the prophet ‘son of man’. Perhaps it is to distinguish him from the various creatures of his visions, perhaps to point out that when you take an ordinary human being, and add God’s call and the power of the Spirit, amazing things can happen. By the time Daniel is written, the term is beginning to take on additional meanings. It could be a representative of the nation Israel, but also something more.
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.