24 September. Saturday, Week 25
1st Reading: Qohelet 11:9,12:8
A wise man’s lament about the encroachments of old age.
Rejoice, young man, while you are young, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Follow the inclination of your heart and the desire of your eyes, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. Banish anxiety from your mind,
and put away pain from your body; for youth and the dawn of life are vanity. Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come,
and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no pleasure in them;”
before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return with the rain;
in the day when the guards of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the women who grind cease working because they are few, and those who look through the windows see dimly;
when the doors on the street are shut, and the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low;
when one is afraid of heights, and terrors are in the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails;
because all must go to their eternal home, and the mourners will go about the streets;
before the silver cord is snapped, and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel broken at the cistern,
and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher; all is vanity.
Gospel: Luke 9:43-45
-Jesus warns the disciples of his impending death.
All the crowd were astounded at the greatness of God. While everyone was amazed at all that he was doing, he said to his disciples, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.” But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was concealed from them, so that they could not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.
Contemplating the future
Qohelet or Ecclesiastes first seems upbeat about life when he writes, “Rejoice, young man, while you are young, and let your heart be glad in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart, the vision of your eyes.” Then he turns away from his glowing portrait of the young and begins to paint his extraordinary vignette of old age and death. We cannot help but think of lonely old people, sitting all day long with their silent companions, staring into space: the sun is darkened; the grinders are idle; they who look through the window grow blind; all the singing maidens are silenced. We need these words lest we forget the aged and the dying. One day we too will join their ranks and we need to be told that such is the stuff of inspiration. Even while he experiences the “vanity of vanities” in his latter years, the preacher knows that God is ever present.
And Jesus is always there, with the lonely and the dying. He prepared himself and his disciples for the difficult time. His words were clear, “the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of men.” If the disciples failed to understand this warning, it was because they were unwilling to believe their ears. For this reason they would not question him about it, lest Jesus reinforce what they thought he said. He repeated the warning as he drew closer to Jerusalem. Hope for the resurrection grew out of the reality of death. He had a vision of the future to support the bleakness of life and arrive at life’s eternal possibilities. Qohelet or Ecclesiastes has not the last word, regarding the future.
Conflict, Passion Predictions and Discipleship
All four Gospels contain references to animosity toward Jesus in the course of his ministry. This conflict is generally confined to verbal disagreements about interpretation of the Mosaic Law and religious practice. But many of his healings occur on the Sabbath, thus highlighting his appeal to a different tradition. Jesus’ actions of healing on that holy day seem more inspired by the Deuteronomic tradition which sees the Sabbath in terms of the liberation of God’s people from Egyptian slavery (Deut. 5:15). In his Sabbath miracles, Jesus freed men and women from the burdens of physical illness, like the “daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years” (Luke 13:16).
They portray Jesus referring to a future time when others will take aggressive actions against him, culminating in his death. Like many people aware of enemies with strong feelings against them, Jesus may well have had quite premonitions of impending harm or assassination. Death threats are not so uncommon in every age when people with power consider other persons an obstacle to one’s own cherished plans.
However, the references to his future suffering and violent death in the Gospels also include something unique, namely, the clear statement that he would be raised from the dead. The inclusion of this element means that these texts would be more accurately called “passion and resurrection” predictions. This distinctive element leads many scholars to doubt the historical veracity of the predictions in general. They may voice some thoughts or words from the historical ministry of Jesus, but also reflect the subsequent profession of faith in Jesus by the early Church after his resurrection.
Despite many differences between Mark, Matthew and Luke, the parallels of the predictions found in the Synoptics underline the relationship between Jesus’ death and faithful discipleship. Matthew and Luke add significant amounts of traditional material, which make their Gospels relatively twice as long as Mark. However, the Markan section of passion predictions, sacrificial admonitions to the disciples, and the closing statement on the service rendered by the Son of Man exhibits a significant degree of unity throughout all three synoptics.
See fuller treatment of this theme in the online essay “Passion Predictions” by Paul Zilonka, C.P.