Tuesday of week 32 of Ordinary Time – First Reading


Commentary on Wis 2:23-3:9
Here is a lovely and magnificent passage which is often read during requiem Masses and which we also read on November 2, All Souls Day. It speaks about death and immortality and is full of hope.
“God created human beings to be immortal, he made them as an image of his own nature.”
“Let us make man in our own image”, God says in the opening chapter of the Book of Genesis (Gen 1:26). There the meaning was primarily that humanity was given responsibility to manage the rest of creation and to live in truth and love. But here the emphasis is on God’s eternal nature which God intended to share with all human beings.
That immortality was called into question by death which came into the world “through Satan’s envy”, as if to say, that our First Parents were tempted to sin because of Satan’s envy at their sharing in God’s immortality, something he himself had forfeited by his disobedience (cf. Rev 12:9; 20:2). All those who submit themselves to Satan’s deceitful guidance will meet the same fate. “The devil brought death to man from the beginning, and has never based himself on truth; the truth is not in him” (John 8:44). The ‘death’ that Satan brings here is primarily spiritual death, the eternal alienation from God, of which physical death is one of its consequences.
“But the souls of the upright are in the hands of God, and no torment can touch them.”
By contrast, the fate of the ‘upright’, those who are full conformed in every way to the will of God, are under his special protection and “no torment can touch them”.
In practice, when people die – even good people – it does not, on the surface, look like that. “To the unenlightened they appeared to die, their departure was regarded as a disaster, their leaving us like an annihilation”. Even when good and saintly people leave us, it is regarded as a tragedy and a blow not only to us but to them. “What did they do to be taken away like this?”
But, where the truly good are concerned, the reality is quite different. In fact, in death “they are at peace.” It is not only that all negative elements have been removed from their life but that they are in a state of security and total happiness under the protection of and in their intimacy with God. As the Third Eucharistic Prayer reads in speaking of the dead: “There we hope to share in your glory when every tear will be wiped away. On that day we shall see you, our God, as you are.”
Their death seemed like a form of punishment, the denial of the gift of life but, in fact, “their hope was rich with immortality”. For a Christian, faith is coupled with hope, a confident hope of being one day reunited forever with Christ our Lord. That hope is for immortality (in the Greek, athanasia, ’). Strangely, this is the first appearance of the term in this late book of the Old Testament. For the Greeks, it was a familiar term meaning either a remembrance that would never die or immortality of the soul. Here it is clearly used in the second sense and, more specifically, speaks of a blessed immortality in close companionship with God as the reward for a life of uprightness, a life lived according to God’s will. This was the hope of the Psalmist who could not reconcile himself to losing his friendship with God through death: “My heart is glad and my soul rejoices… because you will not abandon my soul to the nether world, nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption” (Ps 16:9-10). In Old Testament times, the fate of all was to be confined forever to this nether world, called Sheol. The author of Wisdom has a much more hope-filled attitude which makes the Psalmist’s prayer a reality for all the upright.
In fact, for the upright the pain of death is only a slight tap on the wrist, compared to the blessings that are in store on the far side. “God was putting them to the test and has proved them worthy to be with him”. Sorrow and pain are the ways in which God tests and purifies the upright. “God chastises those whom he loves.”
“He has tested them like gold in a furnace, and accepted them as a perfect burnt offering.” One can understand how those who do evil come upon bad times. It is more difficult to understand why the good should suffer. But, as the writer says, suffering in the case of the good has a purifying effect. The image is that of the holocaust, in which the victim is completely consumed by fire. And, by being put in fire, all impurities are removed from the newly mined gold. Even Jesus himself, the very Son of God, was so tested and so entered his glory.
“At their time of visitation, they will shine out; as sparks run through the stubble, so will they.”
‘Visitation’ here expresses God’s loving judgement on those who have been faithful to him. (But, later in the book, the same term is used for the punishment of the wicked at God’s final judgement.)
The image of sparks running through the stubble, left over after the cutting of the grain, is used in many biblical passage and symbolises the effects of God’s avenging anger or of Israel’s revenge on its enemies. Here it is used slightly differently, perhaps to mean the participation of the glorified upright in the elimination of evil, preceding the establishing of the kingdom of God, of which they are striking evidence. And so “they will judge nations, rule over peoples, and the Lord will be their king for ever.” Obviously, they will judge the nations not on the same level as God. But their very uprightness will stand in sharp contrast with those who did not follow God’s will in their lives.
Finally, “those who trust in him will understand the truth, those who are faithful will live with him in love.” Those who fully committed themselves in faith and trust to God’s will in their lives will, after death, know that they were indeed walking the way of truth, the way of integrity and wholeness which they have now achieved. They will also “live with God in love”. A life of faith in Christ and his Way is not possible without also being a life of love – love for God, love for others, love for oneself. In death they will truly know and be totally taken up into the God who is Love. This is Heaven!
It is for us, then, to ready ourselves so that our death too will simply be the gateway to perfect happiness and union with God. We make ready for that time by each day seeking and finding God in every person and in every experience.
 

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