Reading I: Sirach 3:2-7, 12-14
This passage is obviously a commentary on the fifth (fourth)
commandment: Honor thy father and thy mother. It adds the
point that obedience to this commandment atones for sins (vv.
3, 14), an ideal typical of later Judaism.
This latter point
should not be taken with full theological seriousness. The
central message of the New Testament is, of course, that atonement
for sins is through Christ alone.
The point should be taken
merely as an incentive or inducement to obey this commandment,
for in a loose, non-theological sense it may well be said that
love of one’s parents makes up for many sins.
1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28
Here we have another Old Testament reading that provided a model for the narratives
of Jesus’ birth, particularly that in Luke’s Gospel. Samuel’s parents offer him
to YHWH “for ever,” that is, for his whole life.
moderns would object that Samuel had not been consulted and should have been
left to decide
for himself when the time came. Such problems were alien to the ancient world.
parents in any case did not determine the child’s destiny. They offered him for
the service of the temple, but instead the child grew up to be a prophet
who played a major role in the affairs of state.
Like the birth of Jesus, Samuel’s
birth is narrated in the light of his subsequent destiny.
Responsorial Psalm: 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
This wisdom psalm,
with its introductory beatitude (“Blessed is every one
who fears the Lord”) presents the fear of the Lord as
the basis of family, social, and economic prosperity.
On a superficial level, it seems to express a naive, Deuteronomic
confidence that obedience to the law will be an insurance
against disaster, and a conviction that disaster can always
be explained as punishment for disobedience, views seriously
questioned already in the Book of Job.
Yet, there is something to it.
Where there is a wholesome respect for God and his
will, human relationships do stand a better chance of being
well ordered and harmonious. Those who fear the Lord are
not tempted to put themselves in the place of God, to boast
in their personal achievements.
Such persons are therefore freed to love their neighbor and make it easier for the neighbor to love in return.
Responsorial Psalm: 84:2-3, 5-6, 9-10
It is strange that
this familiar psalm has not been used before in the Sunday
Lectionary. It is a psalm with affinities to the songs of
Zion and to the pilgrim psalms, and speaks of the joy of
worship in the temple.
It would appear that it was designed
for use at the autumn festival (Tabernacles). Its date of
origin is sometime during the age of the monarchy (v. 1).
worshiper envies both the birds that live in the temple their
whole lives long, having built their nests in its precincts,
and the priests, whose work keeps them in the temple all
Thus, the psalm serves fittingly as a response
to the reading about Samuel, who was dedicated to the service
of the temple at Shiloh all his life.
Reading II: Colossians 3:12-21 (long form) or 3:12-17 (short form)
This is part of
the “parenesis,” or ethical section, of the letter
to the Colossians. Such exhortations follow a regular pattern
that is widely believed to reproduce the structure of a primitive
The passage begins with a list of virtues, introduced by the imperative “Put
on.” This language reflects the vesting of the candidate as he or she came
up out of the baptismal font. This imperative may be preceded by another, namely, “Put
off,” followed by a list of vices. This recalls the stripping of the candidate
prior to baptism.
Following these general exhortations, there is often, especially in the later
New Testament letters, a “Haustafel,” or household code, listing the
various members of family and society and their respective duties.
Such codes were apparently derived from Stoic teaching via Hellenistic Judaism,
whence they passed into Greek-speaking Christianity. That is why they reflect
the subordinationist ethic of contemporary society (“Wives, be subject”—not
an idea that is likely to appeal to feminists!).
But this subjectionist element,
derived as it is from Stoicism, is not the distinctively Christian element in
the code. That is found in the words “in the Lord”; in the injunction
to husbands to love their wives; in the earlier definition of love as
forgiveness; and in specifying the motivation for forgiveness as Christ’s forgiveness
Here we should be able to find the raw materials for the formulation
of a Christian
ethic for a society that is not organized on a hierarchical, subordinationist
Reading II: 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24
The overall context
of this reading is the schism that has recently taken place
in the Johannine community (see 1 John 2:19; 4:1). Certain
members (we will call them “gnosticizing secessionists”)
have left the community because of their Docetic Christology
and neglect of ethics (see 1 John 4:3; 4:20).
epistler seeks to assure the remaining members of the community
that they, not the secessionists, are children of God. This
is a status that has been conferred upon them by God’s love,
that is, by his act of revelation and redemption in Jesus
The secessionists deny the full reality of that act
and therefore do not share in that new statusthey are not
children of God.
It is noteworthy that the author, contrary to the practice
of Paul, distinguishes between “Son of God,” a term
that he uses exclusively for Christ as a Christological title,
and “children of God,” a term for the derivative
status of Christians. If this distinction were universally
observed, it would ease the problem that such language causes
for feminists nowadays.
Note how the author, in a manner this time closer to Pauline
usage, preserves the “not yet” of this Christian
status. Our being children of God is a reality, but it is visible
only to faith.
Lacking faith, the world cannot see or observe
it. Only when the final consummation occurs will the Christian
status of divine childhood become visible.
This final consummation
the epistler describes as the appearance, not of Christ, but
of God. It will consist in the beatific vision of God.
The second part of the reading is the tail end of the most
difficult parts of the New Testament. We take the “merciful” as
opposed to the “severe” interpretation (see Raymond
Brown’s commentary ad loc.).
Our own conscience may
accuse us, but God is more merciful than we are with ourselves,
he will forgive us when our consciences accuse us. He will
give us whatever we ask (the context suggests that what is
being asked for is God’s forgiving mercy).
All this is promised
because we—that is, the Johannine community, as opposed to
the secessionists—are doing his will. His will is that we should
believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God (which the secessionists
fail to do, since they deny the flesh of Jesus, the reality
of his incarnation), and love one another (which the secessionists
fail to do, since they do not love their fellow members in
the community). They are cliquish and elitist.
Note here the
Johannine form of the double commandment of love. While it
is through keeping these commandments that we abide in God,
we know that we abide in him only through the Holy Spirit.
Gospel: Luke 2:41-52
The form critics classify this pericope as a “legend.” This does not necessarily mean that the incident is wholly unhistorical,
as indeed Dibelius was careful to point out.
To call it a legend means that its purpose is not historical. There are many similar
stories of the precocious childhood of a great person whose
early life showed signs of coming greatness (for example, in
the life of Buddha or Josephus).
We recognize certain redactional concerns of Luke: the legal piety of Jesus’
home (see Luke 2:21-22), shown in the devout observance of Passover customs;
the effect of these remarkable incidents on Jesus’ mother (see Luke 2:19); and
the emphasis on the human growth of Jesus (see Luke 2:40), though the last point
may be modeled on the childhood of Samuel and may be designed to portray Jesus
as the eschatological prophet. In that case it may even have been a feature of
That the core of the narrative is pre-Lucan is shown by the absence of any hint
of the virginal conception (“his parents,” “your father”).
The answer of the boy Jesus in verse 49, with its reference to God as “my
Father,” seems to reflect the Church’s Christology.
The basic incident, however, is not only pre-Lucan but may well rest upon an authentic memory. And
even the allusion to “my Father” may be pre-Christological, reflecting
Jesus’ growing historical awareness of his unique filial relation with God.
This awareness will then be the basis and presupposition for his later submission
to the Father’s call and the acceptance of his unique eschatological role in
Thus, one hesitates to dismiss this story as entirely without
historical worth, even if in the form-critical sense it should be characterized as a “legend.”
Our real concern must be with the evangelist’s purpose in including this story in his Gospel.
It is evidently part of his picture of Jesus’ family and its devout
adherence to the Jewish law, which provided the environment in which Jesus developed,
as Samuel had developed, so that he could later fulfill his role as the eschatological
prophet and the bringer of redemption to Israel.
Reginald H. Fuller
Copyright © 1984
by The Order of St. Benedict, Inc., Collegeville,
Minnesota. All rights reserved. Used by
permission from The Liturgical Press,
Collegeville, Minnesota 56321
Preaching the Lectionary:
The Word of God for the Church Today
Reginald H. Fuller. The Liturgical Press.
1984 (Revised Edition), pp.
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