Prior to the beginning of the first reading for September 23rd from the 1st century BCE book, Wisdom of Solomon (1:16-2:1, 12-22), the author has exhorted his listeners to depend on Wisdom, whom he personified as a woman, and recounts her many features and blessings. (Look at last week’s commentary “Unconventional Wisdom” for the background of this book.)
In this reading the author reverses his viewpoint and puts himself in the mind of the ungodly and from that hedonistic, short-sighted and conspiratorial perspective, argues against the innocent.
The ungodly by their words and deeds summoned death; considering him a friend, they pined away and made a covenant with him, because they are fit to belong to his company. For they reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves, “Short and sorrowful is our life, and there is no remedy when a life comes to its end, and no one has been known to return from Hades.
This time the author personifies death as a male and argues that, if we can not see beyond death, that means there is nothing. The logic is that this life is all we have; there is no ultimate justice.
The author returns to the voice of the ungodly. “Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training. He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord. He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange. We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father.
The evil of the ungodly is not purely private. The ungodly turn on any person who follows the ways of Wisdom.
The reading continues, Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; for if the righteous man is God’s child, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with insult and torture, so that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.”
The ungodly do not understand that God’s deliverance is not from death, but through death. The misunderstandings of the ungodly in this passage reflect the same tests that Jesus endured during his passion (Matt 27:49, Mark 15:36)
In the final section of today’s passage the author comments on the foolishness of their reasoning. Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray, for their wickedness blinded them, and they did not know the secret purposes of God, nor hoped for the wages of holiness, nor discerned the prize for blameless souls.
Immediately prior to Sunday’s gospel (Mark 9:30-37) Jesus had taken Peter James and John up the mountain and been transfigured (9:2-8) and had cast out a powerful daemon from a young boy. These events showed great glory and power. They shaped the disciples’ understanding of Jesus as the Messiah.
They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it (that he was the Messiah); for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
The Son of Man is a self-reference by Jesus as well as a link to the glory on the day of the Lord (Mark 13:26). Jesus linked his death with glory.
All the events of the prior days contributed to the disciples’ view of Jesus as the Messiah. Common people were celebrating Jesus as a teacher and healer. Peter, James and John had seen him transfigured. It didn’t make sense that he would be murdered.
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.
Recall that when Peter had misunderstood and rebuked Jesus privately for saying that he would be killed, Jesus had publicly shamed him. The other disciples probably remembered and did not want to be singled out in a similar way because they knew that Jesus would not approve of self-aggrandizement.
He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
Jesus’ paradoxical wisdom must have stung, or at least deflated the disciples hopes of honour and ease.
Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Children did not have rights. They were ‘non-persons’. They had the same status as property, such as oxen or cattle. Yet, by using the phrase, in my name, Jesusidentifies with a child’s low status. In Jesus’ world, even the most apparently insignificant people are important. Far from glory, Jesus invited his disciples to welcome the most insignificant in his name.
- Do you sometimes feel, like the ungodly people in the Wisdom of Solomon, that there is no life after death? How do you weigh the promise of God against the experience of silence from beyond the grave?
- Take time to consider the confusion of Jesus’ disciples to his message that, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” It is understandable that they could not make sense of it, yet they had his word.
- Who are today’s non-persons? Do they beg on the sidewalks or who approach your car at stoplights asking for money? Do they shuffle along, head down, with their faces hidden? Are they the nameless victims of war, human traffickers or natural disasters in some foreign place? How do you respond to them in Jesus’ name?