No day but today

It is rare that the readings in the Lectionary for Sundays in Ordinary Time can all be connected in some concrete form, and for lack of a better word thematized. The two ways we can look at today’s readings would be through the lenses of fidelity and timeliness.

The Gospel for today, Luke 12:32-48, begins with the second part of the discourse, also found in Matthew, about seeking the kingdom and not worrying about possessions. This is the “missing link” between the Gospel passage for today and that of last week, and to understand the context of this discourse, it bears some rereading. However, the point is clear in the portion read today: if one seeks the kingdom, and does not worry about possessions, then there is a call to action: “Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.” Seeking the kingdom ought to be our greatest treasure.

But the reason we do have to seek the kingdom, to see it fulfilled, is because it is our sign of fidelity to a God who has always been faithful. The first reading (Wisdom 18:6-9) is a short excerpt from the discourse celebrating how holy Wisdom has worked in Israel’s history—in this case showing how Israel knew that God’s deliverance in the Passover was waiting for them and that they were ready for it.

(A long digression: to my knowledge, the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament are rarely read on Sundays, and this is one of the few occasions where this is done. The chapter from the Wisdom of Solomon where this passage can be found is also the source of the Christmas Evening Prayer antiphon on the Magnificat in some office books, see v. 15. Also, I think this first lesson is peculiar to the Roman use of the lectionary; an alternative may be found in non-Roman versions but with the same theme. If the Revised Common Lectionary is used, of course, the matter becomes more complicated. I will speak more about it later.)

The second reading features a long excerpt from the discourse in Hebrews 11 on the faith of the forebears of Israel, beginning with verse 2 and its classic description of faith and continuing with an excerpt on the faith of Abraham in God’s future, a future that is unknown. The passage is worth quoting in part:

“All of these died in faith without having received the promises,

but from a distance they saw and greeted them.

They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth,

for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.

If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind,

they would have had opportunity to return.

But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.

Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God;

indeed, he has prepared a city for them.” (v. 13-16, NRSV)

So in the same way, it is a hope that God will be faithful to us that drives our fidelity to God. And in the Gospel passage for today, the time of reckoning, of the fulfillment of the promise, is sooner than we think. It is now.

One of the reasons being “on time” is a problem for certain cultures is partly because there are cultures that do not necessarily run on clock time, but rather on a kind of temporal understanding that is akin to the concept of time we encounter in the Gospel. It is a question of the appropriate time, the right time, what in Greek we call kairos. The kairos, the right time, is an indeterminate time. Hence, Jesus warns us that timeliness for God is beyond our measure of time. The fullness of time, the time of judgment, will happen when God wants it, and it may be when we least expect it.

Augustine somehow got it right when he said that our time is a stretching of the soul—because our time is an imperfect approximation of God’s time. In the same way that we see things as present to us, whether it was or will be chronologically, God’s time is an eternal now. So it should be clear to us why Jesus emphasized the need for vigilance among servants who are faithful in what they do. They know that the future judgment is already coming, and that the future may very well be right now.

When we realize that the future may be now, it may sharpen our senses a bit. The Benedictine tradition speaks of “keeping death daily before one’s eyes” as one of the highest manifestations of humility. The thought that there may not be another chance can keep us in focus. Perhaps it is a challenge to us—no, not perhaps—to be as loving as we could, to be as generous, to be faithful now, knowing that later is always too late.

Or, as that song from Rent famously puts it:

“There’s only now

There’s only here

Give in to love

Or live in fear

No other path

No other way

No day but today.”

****

The Revised Common Lectionary provides, as an option on ferial or ordinary Sundays, the semi-continuous reading of passages from the Old Testament rather than the standard parallel reading. The justification is a wise one: the Old Testament or the Hebrew Bible has to be read as it stands, and it is a gesture to our Jewish brethren who sometimes think that we sometimes force the issue of “fulfillment” in Scripture when we do not need to.

Yet for Christians, rightly or wrongly, the hermeneutical lens through which we read the Bible is precisely the Gospel. This is where the life, teachings, and passion, death, and resurrection of Christ are recorded “in order that [we] may believe.” It is the turning-point in history, and even our near-universal rendering of chronological time, the Common Era, is defined by the Incarnation of Christ. It has therefore been the case that Christians have been reading the Hebrew Bible against the backdrop of the Gospel.

I do think, however, that there is a place for the semi-continuous reading of the Old and New Testaments, and it is in the context of the daily Office, especially among mainline Protestant traditions such as the Anglican or Lutheran ones. Perhaps it is the failure to make the daily office a parochial or public practice, beyond private devotion by a select few, that has necessitated the creation of the RCL with its dual reading scheme.

Tomorrow, I will give a brief recap of my weekend.

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