Scripture in Depth
Reading I: Proverbs 9:1-6
This is one of several Old Testament and, for others than Roman Catholics, apocryphal passages that speak of Wisdom’s heavenly banquet. This concept forms part of the background of the discourse on the bread of life in John 6:35-51b (see R. E. Brown on the “sapiential theme in John 6:35-50” in The Gospel According to John, Anchor Bible Commentary, 1:272-273).
It is perhaps a little unfortunate that this reading should be paired off with John 6:51-58 (The Gospel), where the sapiential theme falls into the background somewhat (but see Jn 6:58). On the whole, it would pair off better with the gospel reading of the eighteenth Sunday (Jn 6:24-35), the reference to Wisdom’s wine preparing for the reference to “thirst” in John 6:35.
In the Book of Proverbs, the present passage forms the close of the prologue on Wisdom. Wisdom and Folly each invite their prospective participants to a banquet, and they are free to choose which to accept. Our present reading is Wisdom’s invitation.
Responsorial Psalm: 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
A (longer) selection of verses from Psalm 34 was used last Sunday, but with the same refrain (Webmaster note: the fourth stanza from last week is omitted). As we noted there, this is a wisdom psalm
Reading II: Ephesians 5:15-20
We now reach the second part of the parenesis of Ephesians. Here we have a section that, whether designedly or not, quite aptly fits the first reading and its context, namely, the contrast between Wisdom and Folly.
Folly consists in not “making the most of the time” (literally “buying up the opportunity”) and in drunkenness and debauchery.
This exhortation has an eschatological background: the days are evil and the present age is under the domination of the evil powers, but their time is short (see Rom 13:11-14). Thus again, though less explicitly, the imperative is rooted in an indicative: the powers of evil are being vanquished; therefore, live as children of the new age.
The author is then led to contrast intoxication from wine with Pentecostal ecstasy, which expresses itself here, not in glossolalia, but in the more sober manner of “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs”—one of the earliest pieces of evidence we have of the use of hymns in the early community.
This passage is thought by some to be part of the Haustafel (household code) that follows, for such catechetical patterns are sometimes prefaced by an exhortation to perform one’s duty toward the gods (in the pagan Haustafeln) or to Yhwh (in the Jewish ones).
Gospel: John 6:51-58
Here at last we reach the definitely Eucharistic part of the discourse on the bread of life. We move from bread as such to the flesh and blood of the Son of man. As indicated above on the eighteenth Sunday, we tend to regard these verses as an addition by a redactor who is himself a member of the Johannine school. We suggested that the first part is a meditation on the agape-fellowship meal, and the added part a meditation on the Eucharist proper. The thought moves from the revelation of the incarnate One as the heavenly wisdom to his sacrificial surrender in the death of the cross.
The redactor seeks to balance the one-sidedness of the evangelist’s Eucharistic theology. The evangelist appeared to emphasize the incarnation at the expense of the cross, and the agape-fellowship meal and the proclamation of the word at the expense of the Eucharist. The redactor’s additional material here is derived from the Supper tradition as it had circulated in the Johannine communities (“this is my flesh,” “this is my blood,” “eat,” “drink,” and the indication of the soteriological effects of sacramental eating and drinking).
Reginald H. Fuller
**From Saint Louis University