The first reading for All Saints, (the Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9), was composed in the first or second century BCE in Alexandria. It is a reflection on Solomon rather than a work of his own hand.
At the time the book was written there was a backlash against the Jews in Alexandria and they suffered discrimination. This abuse led some to think that God had abandoned them.
The whole book emphasizes correct understanding of the ways of God, despite the fact that the wicked often seem to prosper while good people suffer. In the previous 300-400 years the Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem and the Davidic monarchy, then Israel was subject to the Persians, then the Greeks who would eventually be replaced by the Romans. Solomon was considered the “high point” of Israel’s history and his days were looked back on fondly.
The prelude to this passage begins in the preceding chapter (Wisdom of Solomon 2:23-24) with a reminder of God’s intent ….for God created us for incorruption and made us in the image of his own nature, but through the devil’s envy, death entered the world and those who belong to his company experience it. (This passage recalls Genesis 1:26, … God created humankind in his image.)
The actual reading for All Saints is:
But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment will ever touch them.
In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
and their departure was thought to be an affliction,
and their going from us to be their destruction;
but they are at peace.
For though in the sight of men they were punished,
their hope is full of immortality.
The author scorns the viewpoint of those who think that the righteous die without earthly rewards by calling them foolish. Next, he offers a different perspective on the trials of those who follow God’s instructions by holding up hope of great reward.
Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good,
because God tested them and found them worthy of himself;
like gold in the furnace he tried them,
and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them.
In the time of their visitation they will shine forth,
and will run like sparks through the stubble.
They will govern nations and rule over peoples,
and the Lord will reign over them for ever.
Those who trust in him will understand truth,
and the faithful will abide with him in love,
because grace and mercy are upon his elect,
and he watches over his holy ones.
The church uses this reading on All Saints because of the discussion of afterlife as a place and time of reward for a life oriented to God. It is also a reminder of God’s promise of ultimate justice.
The reading has a contemporary feel to it. Many current politicians, business and criminal organizations mock ethical behaviour and religion … except when they can exploit it for their own benefit. Self-aggrandizement and Social Darwinism are the prevailing norms. It is natural for us to wonder where is God’s justice.
We see parallels in the history of repudiation of covenantal values to our own days. The short-term success of people who operate exclusively in their own self-interest without reference to truth dismays us. Yet we draw strength from the assurances of the Hebrew Scripture and also from the life of Jesus, who showed us trials and triumph, death and resurrection as in this morning’s gospel about the raising of Lazarus (John 11:32-44).
- When you see politicians being elected based on lies or corporate executives being given large payouts to leave a company after sexual misconduct charges do you wonder about where there is justice? Can you identify with the people of second century BCE to whom the Wisdom of Solomon was addressed?
- Do you know someone who ‘keeps the faith’ despite personal misfortunes or injustices? How do you think of that person… as a victim? Strong? Resilient? Faithful? An inspiration?
- How do you relate to the final verse of this reading: Those who trust in him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his elect, and he watches over his holy ones? Is it wishful thinking? Does it reassure you? Does it give you hope? Is it a promise you trust? Can you base your life on it? All the saints did.