Scripture in Depth
Reading I: Zechariah 9:9-10
The provision of hospitality by the Shunammite woman for the prophet Elisha is one of the more engaging episodes of the Old Testament. The caption to the reading fails to indicate the evident reason for its selection this Sunday. Clearly it was chosen because it illustrates the dominical saying in the gospel: “He who receives a prophet because he is a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward.”
What the historian of the Book of Kings means when he speaks of a “holy man of God” is shown by the other woman's reaction to Elisha's predecessor, Elijah, after he had restored her son to life: “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth” (1 Kgs 17:24).
In other words, to be a holy man of God in the Old Testament does not signalize mystical achievement but means to be the bearer of God's word—a word that is “truth,” that is, not that it passes the test of doctrinal orthodoxy, but that it effects what it says on the plane of history. Similarly, Elisha is a holy man of God, not because of the achievements of his piety, but because he, like his predecessor, was entrusted to proclaim to his generation the effective word of Y(HWH).
Responsorial Psalm: 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14
The same selection of verses from Psalm 145 is used on the thirty-first Sunday of the year in series C. If it was not chosen here as a general psalm of praise, it must have been selected as a response to the challenge in the first reading:
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! … Lo, your king comes to you,” which is taken up in the words “I will extol thee, my God and King.”
This would mean transferring to Christ what, in the Old Testament, is addressed to Y(HWH), but there is ample New Testament precedent for such procedure.
Reading II: Romans 8:9, 11-13
It is important to know what Paul means by “flesh” and “spirit.” The New English Bible has perpetuated the misunderstanding of flesh as “lower nature.”
It is not lower nature (a Greek rather than a biblical concept), but unredeemed nature, which includes what the Greeks would have called the higher nature (hence Paul can speak of the “mind of the flesh”).
The whole person, with the so-called higher nature as well as the lower, stands in need of redemption. Also, “body” does not mean body as opposed to soul, but the whole person, subject to sin and death, yet open to the possibility of redemption.
“Lower nature” would suggest that there is a part of our nature that is beyond redemption, just as “higher nature” suggests that there is a part of us that does not need redemption.
Gospel: Matthew 11:25-30
The first half of this reading, through verse 27, is also found in Luke and apparently comes from the common source shared by both evangelists. It is, therefore, a quite early tradition and is sometimes called “the Synoptic thunderbolt from the Johannine sky.”
It looks so different from most of the synoptic material and is highly reminiscent of the discourses and the prayers of the Fourth Gospel, especially the theme of the mutual knowledge of the Father and the Son.
It is probably best understood as a liturgical fragment celebrating the knowledge of God that has come through Jesus Christ, and is a halfway house toward the development of the Johannine discourses.
But it is deeply rooted in our Lord’s self-understanding, as registered by his use of the word Abba for his Father. This betokens a unique relationship that he invites others to share through his word.
The second part of the reading is peculiar to Matthew. It echoes the invitation of wisdom found in Sirach 51:23-26 and is also found in a shorter (and perhaps earlier) form in the Gospel of Thomas: “Jesus said: Come to me, for easy is my yoke and my Lordship is gentle, and you shall find repose for yourselves.”
It is another liturgical fragment. In it, Jesus is represented as the mouthpiece of the Wisdom of God. This is an early type of church christology, that again has its roots in the self-understanding of Jesus who acted as the definitive spokesperson of Wisdom.
Reginald H. Fuller
**From Saint Louis University