For the ungodly said, reasoning with themselves, but not aright, ‘Our life is short and tedious, and in the death of a man there is no remedy: neither was there any man known to have returned from the grave. For we are born at all adventure: and we shall be hereafter as though we had never been: for the breath in our nostrils is as smoke, and a little spark in the moving of our heart: Which being extinguished, our body shall be turned into ashes, and our spirit shall vanish as the soft air, and our name shall be forgotten in time, and no man shall have our works in remembrance, and our life shall pass away as the trace of a cloud, and shall be dispersed as a mist, that is driven away with the beams of the sun, and overcome with the heat thereof.
To paraphrase: The ungodly say, thinking wrongly, “Our life is short and tedious, and there is no avoiding death; neither has anyone come back from the grave. We are born as an accident, and when we are gone it will be as though we had never existed. Our breath is like smoke, and the beating of our heart like a spark, which when it goes out our body will turn to ashes and our spirit vanish. Our name will be forgotten, no one will remember us, and our life will float away like a cloud, like a mist evaporated by the sun.”
This week’s column is a little different. While going through the Old Testament reading from yesterday’s lectionary I was struck by how closely the words apply to our world in the present day. What makes it different is the source of the reading: it is the book of Wisdom. It is one of the “deuterocanonical books” which the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches view as part of the Bible but Protestants do not, so it is not found in Protestant Bibles at all.
The canons of the ICCEC state: “With regard to those several works commonly referred to as the Apocrypha or Deutero-Canonical Books, we further reaffirm the position, that while beneficial for education and teaching, they are not considered part of the Canon of Holy Scripture. They may, therefore, be read in public worship, but not used to establish dogma or doctrine.” In other words, they are not to be used to determine what the Church believes, but can be helpful in understanding the faith.
Here are some additional portions from yesterday’s passage that sound very much like the voice of the world in our day:
Since our life is a mist that evaporates, and there is no life after death:
v. 6-8: Come on therefore, let us enjoy the good things that are present: and let us speedily use the creatures like as in youth. Let us fill ourselves with costly wine and ointments: and let no flower of the spring pass by us: Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds, before they be withered.
Let us enjoy life and use everything we can put our hands on before they, too, vanish.
v. 10-11: Let us oppress the poor righteous man, let us not spare the widow, nor reverence the ancient gray hairs of the aged. Let our strength be the law of justice: for that which is feeble is found to be nothing worth.
Let us take advantage of the poor, the widow, the elderly. Let the strong rule the weak, for they are no longer worth anything.
v. 12-15: Therefore let us lie in wait for the righteous; because he is not for our turn, and he is clean contrary to our doings: he upbraideth us with our offending the law, and objecteth to our infamy the transgressings of our education. He professeth to have the knowledge of God: and he calleth himself the child of the Lord. He was made to reprove our thoughts. He is grievous unto us even to behold: for his life is not like other men’s, his ways are of another fashion.
Let us attack the righteous, for his ways make us look bad in comparison. He objects to our evil behavior, and claims to be a child of God. We can’t bear to even look at him because he is so different!
Do you ever feel like some of the people around you – the world, the media – look at Christians this way? Have you ever felt that someone looked at you this way?
If so, don’t be surprised. As we saw in the readings this past Sunday, Jesus was put to death not because of anything He had done wrong: He had broken no laws, had never hurt anyone; in fact He did just the opposite, going from town to town and healing most of the people He met. With very few exceptions He spoke the truth softly and with love … yet He was crucified simply because some of the people didn’t like what He was saying. He was too different; He made the religious leaders look bad.
We are called to be like Jesus. It can be very intimidating, but we must be bold to speak the truth in love just as Jesus did. Those who party today because they might die tomorrow need the Lord. They might judge you or resent you, but they need to know that Jesus loves them and died for them. Pray for them, and let Jesus touch them through you.
Word of God: speak! Non nobis Domine+
by: Father Dana Jackson