Monday of Week 25 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Proverbs 3:27-34

Today we return to the Old Testament and begin reading from some of the so-called “Wisdom” books. This week we will be reading selections from Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

The books consist of a series of “wise sayings” emanating from the educated and leading class of the Jewish people in the period following the return from exile in Babylon. These books are quite different in style from the prophets and tend to deal with the behaviour of individuals and close relationships and right thinking. They have relatively little to say about abuses against injustice which are a major concern of the prophets we were reading in recent weeks.

The book of Proverbs is a collection of moral and religious instruction given to young Jews by learned teachers. “Proverbs is the most typical example of a ‘wisdom’ book in the Old Testament (compare Job, Ecclesiastes), with its emphasis on moral probity based on religion, its teaching that reward and punishment follow in this life, its appeal to the lessons of experience rather than to revelation, and its brief but significant exploration of the nature of wisdom and of wis­dom’s relation to God.”

Today’s reading touches on the relations with the neighbour. In the Old Testament, ‘neighbour’ originally referred to a person who was close to one in some way as a friend or associate. In general it included those who shared one’s culture and religion. However, in Proverbs it has the wider meaning as expressed by the term ‘fellow-man’.

We are in the first stage of broadening the concept of those to whom we owe love and respect. Jesus will give the word a universal meaning with his parable of the Good Samaritan and the injunction to love all, including enemies.

Today, Proverbs says we ought to extend help to any brother or sister whenever they are in genuine need. Later, we read in the First Letter of John: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?… Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (3:17-18). Again, we read in the Letter of James: “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm and eat your fill’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what good is that?” (2:15-16).

At the same time, we are told never to make evil plans against another unsuspecting person. We should not pick a quarrel with someone who has done nothing against us.

In general, we are never to imitate people of violence. The apparent prosperity of violent people and other enemies of God’s people was always seen as a threat to their fidelity to Yahweh. Later, it would even become a serious theological problem. So, Jeremiah asks the Lord: “Why does the way of the godless prosper, why do all the treacherous live lives of contentment?” (12:1) Or Job: “Why do the wicked survive, grow old, become mighty in power?” Questions we can be tempted to ask in our own day.

However, immoral behaviour is something which can never be condoned by God. God abhors pagan practices and all forms of moral abuse. On the other hand, Yahweh takes the upright into his confidence, “with the upright is his friendship”. All of this we can find spelt out much more clearly in the Gospel and the rest of the New Testament. Jesus at the Last Supper will tell his disciples that they are his friends (John 15:15).

“God’s curse lies on the house of the wicked person but the home of the good person is blessed.” The arrogant will get their comeuppance but God’s grace flows into the heart of the humble.

It is important that we do not read these words as indicating a vindictive God who clobbers the wrongdoers and rewards the good. God has no need to intervene directly. A life that is objectively and subjectively evil may bring wealth, material success, and power but it is most unlikely to bring the more precious gifts of inner peace and harmony between God and one’s brothers and sisters.

On the other hand, the truly good person, even though his life on the surface may seem to be one of hardship, experiences a peace and strength that no adversity can take away.

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