PROPER 17, Aug 28 – Sept 3
The Lord, reports the prophet, is angry with the people. After all the good things he has done for them, they wander away from him. Historians say that apostasy was the major sin of the Jewish tribes before the Exile to Babylon, but he prophets who come after, seldom mention it. The passage was written in verse and appears as verse in the New Revised Standard Version. Some good poetry here. Look at that final metaphor: God is spoken of as living water, suggesting a bubbling and babbling stream; the false gods are spoken of as leaking, drying cisterns. Cisterns were often vast underground basins approached through tunneled stairs. In that dessert world, the loss of their water could be disastrous.
ALTERNATIVE FIRST READING
Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 10:12-18
The author of Ecclesiasticus, was Jesus son of Sirach, and the book is sometimes called “Sirach.” Following a long tradition that sin begins in pride, the lifting of oneself to heights which one has no claim to. He excoriates both the proud king and the proud commoner. He believes in a god of retribution, but not in an afterlife. God rewards a good man by prospering him in this life and his children after his death. But all the dead are banished to the drab underworld of Sheol.
Ecclesiasticus is not to be confused with Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes is canonical, that is, it appears in the authorized Old Testament. Ecclesiasticus, on the other hand, is among the Apocryphal books. These were works written in Greek, not in Hebrew, that some synagogues and early churches thought were sacred. Most appeared in a Greek translation of the Scriptures called the Septuagint made for the large Jewish population of Alexandria, Egypt. In or about 90 CE, the college of Rabbis at the town of Jamnia fixed the canon of the Scriptures (our Old Testament), excluding these book, yet many synagogues and churches continued to treat them as sacred. In 382 CE, the church at Rome sent its best Biblical scholar, Jerome, to the Near East to determine what was what. Jerome collected these Greek texts, decided which were authentic and valuable, brought them back to Rome, and convinced the Roman bishops that they were of great value for instruction, but not for any church doctrine. Since then, the Roman Catholic Church has used them, calling them the “deuterocannonical books,” meaning, books of a second canon. At the Reformation, many of the new Protestant churches rejected them. The Church of England and others accepted them, but printed them separately from the Old and New Testaments under the name The Apocrypha.
This admonition to lead a Christian life needs little explanation. We understand these ancient traditional values, though to the original listeners, they may have been new and sometimes quite surprising. The quoted lines are from Psalm 118. I am puzzled by the final line of our reading, which speaks of the unchangeable nature of Jesus. As theology the idea may be right, but the drama that captures our imagination is that of Jesus the condemned criminal dying shamefully on the cross and then rising transformed and glorious, Christ the King.