Scripture in Depth

Reading I: Isaiah 49:14-15

Today's selection from Second Isaiah is a song of consolation. Israel has been in exile in Babylon. Zion has felt forsaken by YHWH during those seventy years. But YHWH cannot and will not forget this people. Sooner would a mother forget the child she has borne and nursed. The evangelical poet William Cowper drew on this passage in the verse:

Can a woman's tender care
        Cease toward the child she bear?
Yes, she may forgetful be,
        Yet will I remember thee.

(Unfortunately, this stanza is omitted in both The Hymnal 1940 and The Hymnal 1982.)

This is one of the few examples in the Bible of female imagery used for God—today a welcome corrective to the predominant use of male imagery.

Responsorial Psalm: 62:2-3, 6-7, 8-93

This selection forms three stanzas, of which the first two are almost identical in thought and wording. This psalm is an expression of individual trust in God, matching the message of the gospel.

Note the repetition of  “alone … only … alone” in the first two stanzas. It is a devotional expression of the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.”

The quiet trust of this psalm forms an impressive contrast to the anguished, feverish appeals of so many of the psalms of lament. God alone and no worldly thing or person is worthy of ultimate trust.

Reading II: 1 Corinthians 4:1-5

Behind the divisions in the Corinthian church lay a wrong attitude toward their apostolic leaders. The Corinthians regarded them as exalted personages who had some special mystical religious knowledge (gnosis) that they imparted to those whom they initiated into the Christian faith.

Paul insists that the apostles are nothing in themselves, only servants. The Greek word is hyperetes, not the usual diakonos. It was a common word for the secretary of a religious society. But the Christian servant is a servant primarily of Christ, not just a secretary in the employ of a human society.

The other word that Paul uses for the apostles, namely, “stewards,” suggests that they are the people entrusted with the administration of someone else's property—in this case, God’s.

What exactly are “the mysteries”? The term is commonly interpreted to mean the sacraments, but in the New Testament its usual meaning is secret truths revealed by God, primarily the gospel, though of course that would also include the sacraments.

Paul then takes up the notion of stewardship and develops the theme of fidelity as the steward's primary duty. The Corinthians expected the apostle to show initiative and to exercise personal authority. They were criticizing Paul for not measuring up to their expectations. He did not appear as a successful “divine man,” like the false apostles Paul fulminates against in 1 Corinthians.

When Paul says that he has nothing on his conscience, this must not be generalized. All he means is that he knows he has stooped to emulate the successful divine men or wandering preachers (they were something like the successful television evangelists of our day). Paul is content to await the final evaluation of God on the last day.

Gospel: Matthew 6:24-34

This section of the Sermon on the Mount deals with the disciples’ attitude toward material possessions. It is absent from Luke's Sermon on the Plain (Lk 6) but is found later in Lk 12:22-31, and therefore comes from Q. Matthew is thought to have preserved the wording of Q better, though Luke probably has it in its original sequence in Q.

Verse 24 serves as the title to the whole section. God demands our ultimate allegiance; there can be no other ultimate allegiance, for then God would not be the ultimate.

Anxiety arises from making something other than God our ultimate concern. The ensuing passage instances concern for food, drink, and clothes—the most elementary of human needs. The argument is from the lesser to the greater: “If the birds, the grass, the flowers ... will he not much more ... you?”

Behind the argument rests faith in God as Creator. This faith is not just a matter of subscribing to the doctrine that the universe was originally created by God some thousands or billions of years ago; rather, it is a matter of present, immediate experience. We receive the world from God at this moment and at every moment of our lives as his gift.

Anxiety is the result of listening to the serpent's temptation of Adam and Eve: “you will be like God.” It is attempting to be our own gods, to usurp God's function as Creator.

Reginald H. Fuller

 

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson