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Proper 27, Year A, November 9, 2014

First reading, Wisdom 6:12-16

Our Liturgical Setting: Our year-long trek through Matthew's gospel nears its end. Today's gospel passage is from the section where Jesus talks in parables about his coming again, and bringing human history to its climax. It's almost the end of the liturgical year. The wise are prepared. Interestingly, Jesus' parable has five well-prepared, wise women, and the first reading personifies wisdom as a woman.

The Historical Situation: In many of our readings, we hear from prophets and historians addressing Jews concentrated in their rather exclusive homeland. The Book of Wisdom was written in a different situation. Its audience was the dispersed Jews living in the cosmopolitan city Alexandria, in Egypt, around 100 B.C.E. (For more on Alexandria and its Jewish residents, click here.) The author wanted his fellow Jews to embrace wisdom, by which he meant faithful adherence to their ancestral religion in their somewhat hostile environment.

The "Psychological" Situation: You know how much a man enjoys the attentions of an attractive woman. If you're a man, you enjoy such attention or you would if it were offered. If you're a woman, you've made wry observations* about men who seek it, subtly or not. The author of Wisdom is wise about this aspect of human nature. To "sell" his notion of wisdom, he personifies it as a woman "resplendent and unfading," eager "to make herself known in anticipation of [her suitors'] desire," who "graciously appears to them" everywhere. Who wouldn't relish the company of such a woman?

Proclaiming It: Before preparing your oral interpretation, read the passage to yourself again with the above interpretation in mind. Take a moment to appreciate the brilliance of the author's tactic. Then resolve to proclaim it in a way that makes your listeners want wisdom as much as man has always wanted woman.

Note that the word "wisdom" appears only one time, at the very beginning of the NRSV text. So listeners who let their minds wander even a moment, then come back to attention, will be puzzled by the pronouns in your proclamation. "Who is this 'she' the lector talking about?" they'll ask themselves. "Mary? Ruth? Bathsheba? Dorothy Day? I'm missing something here." Well, give them a hint by pausing extra long before you start, commanding their attention. Then say the word "Wisdom" clearly and emphatically.

Second Reading, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

The Historical Situation: First Thessalonians is the earliest of Paul's letters that we still have. When he wrote it, the contemporary Christians, including Paul, expected Jesus to come again in glory quite soon, certainly within their own lifetimes. These paragraphs address a troublesome point: will the few Christians who die in this short period somehow miss out on the benefits of Jesus' return. Paul says no (although he doesn't say it simply), because what God has wrought in the death and resurrection of Jesus is powerful enough to save even those already "fallen asleep."

Proclaiming It: Be sure to read with plenty of contrasting tones of voice, to help the listeners distinguish what Paul promises to those already dead and what lies in store for those still living. Remember that your listeners probably don't know what you just read; even though they sing every Sunday, "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again," that hope is unlikely to inform their hearing of the reading. So give them a little help.

For more on how the Thessalonians prepared for Jesus' early return, see the passage next Sunday, the last before the feast of Christ the King. Today's passage, by the way, is the source of the teaching about "the Rapture," so popular in some Christian circles and the premise of the "Left Behind" novels. The Greek expression translated "[we] will be caught up" is, in the Latin Vulgate, "rapiemur." That verb's past participle is "raptus." Of course, Rapture-theory proponents overlook the fact that Paul eventually stopped hoping for Jesus' quick return. By the time the Apostle wrote Romans, he believed the world's Jews would become Christians before the Lord would return.

* For another wry observation about this human foible, by no less than Albert Einstein, click here.

Several other commentaries on these passages. All are thoughtful, all quite readable, from the scholarly to the popular.
Links may be incomplete more than a few weeks before the "due date."
Lutheran pastor and college teacher Dan Nelson's notes for a study group. Dan explains the texts verse-by-verse, and sometimes word-by-word, with cross-references to other Bible passages. Especially useful if you're puzzled about the meaning of a word or phrase in the readings.
On today's page, the reading from Wisdom is an alternative, after a passage from Amos.
Father Roger Karban's 1999 syndicated column about these readings,

The 2002 column of Jesuit Father Francis X. Cleary, From the site of the Saint Louis Review, treating the gospel passage. (Log in using 0026437 and 63137.)
The Text This Week; links to Lectionaries of many churches, homilies, art works, movies touching scriptural themes, and other resources on the week's scripture

The Lectionary selections in the frame at the left, if any, are there for your convenience. The publishers of the page in that frame have no connection, except for membership in the one Body of Christ, with the publisher of this page. Likewise the publishers of the pages on the links above.

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Last modified: October 6, 2014