Reflection on the Readings at Mass for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C. The Liturgical Sense of the Scriptures Podcast, by Catholic Author and Theologian David L. Gray. READINGS: Wisdom 18:6-9 (First Reading), Hebrews 11:1-2; 8-12 (Second Reading), Luke 12:32-48 (Gospel Reading)
The Liturgical Teaching on the Participative Nature in our Life with Christ
In today’s first reading for the nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – C Cycle, we jump into the eighteenth chapter of the book of the Wisdom of Solomon. From chapter eleven to chapter eighteen, what the author of the book of Wisdom did was recount in detail the method and means by which God saved His People of Israel and punished the Egyptians. In the final verse of the book of Wisdom, the author exclaims why we always place our faith and trust in God, saying, “For in everything, O Lord, you have exalted and glorified your people; and you have not neglected to help them at all times and in all places” (19:22). Today’s reading from 18:6-9 recount the tenth and final plague – the death of the firstborn sons of Egypt. This was the plague that finally broke Pharaoh and gave him motive to let God’s People go, just as God promised it would. Because this work of God would deliver the Israelites from their yoke of bondage for which they prayed so long for, it would also be the only plague of the ten that God would call the Israelites to participate in by doing something themselves. With every other plague the Israelites just sat back and marveled at the hand of God, but now, for their delivery to be secure and for their firstborn sons not to also be struck down, each household had to put the blood of their sacrificed lamb on their doorpost and then celebrate the rite of Passover together (Cf. Exodus 12). For, while the Word of God was bringing death to the Egyptians firstborn sons, “. . . in secret the holy children of the good were offering sacrifice and putting into effect with one accord the divine institution” that today was call the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
The second reading from the book of Hebrews begins with a well-known definition of what faith is; “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. Because of it the ancients were well attested” (11:1-2). Then in verses 8-12, the text narrates in detail how one of the ancients, Abraham’s, faith was very well attested. At every turn that Abraham placed this faith and trust in God, God blessed him abundantly. Like today’s first reading, this one as well connects the blessings of faith with cooperative sacrifice in saying, “By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac descendants shall bear your name.” He reasoned that God was able to raise men even from the dead, and he received Isaac back as a symbol.”
In the Gospel of Luke this Sunday, Jesus’ continues His instruction on why we need not be anxious for anything. In this section He gives various lessons on the proper disposition of His faithful. Anxiety is an unnatural internal concern because it causes the eyes that were created to look outward, to contort themselves to turn inward and look at self. This is an unnatural and disordered orientation of being; for, we were not created for self; our eyes look and our limbs extend outward because we were created for other. This why Jesus said to His disciples, “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.” Then He goes on give them examples of how to be free of worldly attachments and how to care about being a good servant; “like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.”
It is interesting that it is the first Pope, Peter who asks the question, “Lord, is this parable meant for us for everyone?” Because Jesus’ answer does sound like it is most especially directed at the one whom Christ Jesus would build His Church on; saying, “Who, then, is the faithful and prudent steward who the master will put in charge of his servants to distribute the food allowance at the proper time?” Is not the Pope in charge of the servants; is not the Pope ultimately in charge of the distribution of the food allowance; the daily bread; the Holy Eucharist at the proper time?” Reading the rest of the parable, you come away with the great degree of faith, trust, and sacrifice that is required of being a servant in the master’s house. Perhaps that is the loss we experience in our Church today. Has the steward of the master’s house loss faith that the master will return and have begun beating the servants; is this why too many of our priests and bishop become drunk on power? It is true today as it was in Egypt; the faithful need not be anxious because “For in everything, O Lord, you have exalted and glorified your people; and you have not neglected to help them at all times and in all places”. The same God that delivered the Israelites from their adversaries will also deliver His People from the evil dictatorship present in the Church today. It is true, the “servant who knew his master’s will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely; and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating shall be beaten only lightly. Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”
Together, these readings at the Holy Mass this Sunday sing of the most important thing to know about Catholic theology and also a central teaching of the liturgy of the memorial sacrifice; that is, our life in Christ is participatory, or as the author of 2 Peter wrote, those who escape the corruption of the world through Christ “participate in the divine nature,” or as Saint Augustine wrote in Sermo 169, “The God who created you without your cooperation, will not save you without your cooperation.”
Everything we are called to do during the liturgy is in union with this central teaching that goes all the way back to the night of the Exodus from Egypt. This is why we stand, sit, knell, pray, and confess – stand, sit knell, pray, and confess – over and over again – throughout the Mass and throughout the centuries, in union with all the faithful, because God is calling us to participate and cooperate in our delivery. “The God who created you without your cooperation, will not save you without your cooperation.”
Catholics have been accused of believing that our works will save us. Such ideas as that show a very ignorant, myopic, and lazy understanding of faith in God. God was going to strike down the firstborn of the Egyptians no matter what. Similarly, Jesus was going to sacrifice His life on the Cross no matter what. Those were not our works that saved us, rather, they were God’s work that saved us and that we have been given the call and the grace to participate in – in memorial, down through the centuries. On the contrary, it is God’s work alone that saved us, and it is our cooperation and participation His work that sanctifies us. Most uniquely this cooperation and participation occurs through the Mass where we encounter the real and tangible presence of the God in whom we place all of our faith and all of our trust.
This is just one way how the readings at Mass this Sunday connect to the liturgy and how the liturgy is forming us how to live our lives in the world. Be in the world what you have received through the liturgy.