Scripture in Depth
Reading I: Exodus 17:8-13
It is puzzling to find this reading appointed for today. It has no apparent connection with any of ther other readings except on one questionable interpretation. It does not follow in sequence with the first reading of the previous Sunday, nor does it appear to be particularly edifying.
Despite the assurance in the second reading that “all scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching,” the New Testament writers never make use of this incident. Their use of the Old Testament was definitely à la carte (see C. H. Dodd, According to the Scriptures [London: Nisbet, 1952] and B. Lindars, New Testament Apologetic [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961]).
The passage could be given a typological interpretation of Moses holding up his hands in intercessory prayer (see the Jerome Biblical Commentary), but this interpretation is uncertain.
Moses’ action is probably meant to be symbolic, like those of the prophets, which were thought to have potent influence on the course of events (see Peake’s Commentary).
Responsorial Psalm: 121: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
This beautiful psalm of trust in divine protection needs little comment. If we have accepted the intercessory interpretation of the first reading, this psalm forms an excellent response to God’s protection of his Church militant on earth.
In any case, it suggests a reflection on the biblical truth behind the dogma of the “infallibility” of the Church, namely, that God will never finally forsake his Church, however severe his judgment upon it may be from time to time.
His care and protection of the Church is exactly like that shown to the first Israel—never abandoning it, restoring it even after exile.
Reading II: 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2
This reading is taken from those parts of the Pastoral Epistles that register the concern of the subapostolic age to preserve apostolic truth. Of the whole body of the Church’s tradition, Scripture is the most important part.
“The New Testament canon appears not as separate from, or opposed to, the Christian tradition, but rather as an expression of it” (Principles of Church Union, 1966).
One cannot be sure that the “Pastor” (that is, the author or redactor of these letters) meant by “sacred writings” or “scripture” our New Testament as well as the Old Testament. Most likely not, for there is no indication elsewhere in these letters that an embryonic canon of New Testament writings was already in formation.
But certainly, as we read this passage today, it can be legitimately extended to cover both the Old Testament and the New Testament.
While the Pastoral Epistles are in some sense directed to the Church at large, their primary aim is to instruct the Church’s ministers in apostolic succession.
Hence one of the most important duties of the “man of God” (this is a term accorded to Moses in the Old Testament tradition, suggesting a possible link with the first reading) is the study of Scripture.
This was nowhere put so well as by Cranmer in the ordinal of the book of Common Prayer, in the bishop’s exhortation to those about to be ordained to the priesthood:
“And seeing ye cannot by any other means compass the doing of so weighty a work, pertaining to the salvation of man, but with doctrine and exhortation take out of the Holy Scriptures, and with a life agreeable to the same; consider how studious ye ought to be in reading and learning the same Scriptures … and for this self same cause, how ye ought to forsake and set aside, as much as ye may, all worldly cares and studies.”
And a little later in the same exhortation: “ … that by daily reading and weighing the Scriptures, ye may wax riper and stronger in your ministry.”
But, as we observed, the Pastorals are also in some sense directed to the Church at large, and this knowledge of the Scriptures, though especially the business of the clergy, is not exclusively confined to them. It is to be shared with the whole people of God.
Exegesis is the special function of the priest, but it is meant to lead the people also to the exegesis of Scripture, and exegesis that is accomplished not merely in the understanding but in the living of the Christian life.
Gospel: Luke 18:1-8
The story of the unjust judge belongs to a class of parables that feature, not a typical everyday event with a surprising element in it, but a unique occurrence of a striking kind. Such parables are common to, although not confined to, the special Lucan material.
As in the story of the unjust steward (Lk 16:1-9), to which it is akin, the central figure is an unsympathetic character. Not every aspect of his behavior is held up for emulation, but only one particular aspect of it.
Having refused to listen to the woman’s case, the judge eventually yields because of her continual pestering and agrees to hear it. Jesus’ hearers are meant to infer from this aspect of the judge’s behavior that God will indeed intervene and help his Church, even though he seems to forsake it.
By his editorial introduction (Lk 16:1), Luke has shifted our attention away from the judge to the woman, and made her an example of persistent prayer. The Lord’s question at the end, however, makes it clear that the judge is meant to be the central figure.
Reginald H. Fuller
**From Saint Louis University