Friday, January 30, 2009

Missing Passages

Part of the fun of following the scheduled mass readings is that you notice when passages are skipped over. For example, on January 18, the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, the first reading was the call of Samuel the prophet. We heard how Samuel was sleeping in the temple when the Lord called him. At first, he thought it was Eli calling him, until Eli realized it was the Lord and told Samuel to answer, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Samuel did so, and grew up with the Lord beside him. The verses that we heard were 1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19.

When I see a verse callout like that, I usually wonder what happens in verses 11-18? In the missing verses, the Lord tells Samuel that Eli and his sons will be punished because Eli is not restraining his sons in their iniquity. The next morning Samuel reluctantly tells Eli everything.

I understand that, for Sunday readings, the first reading complements the Gospel, which on that day was the call of the disciples Andrew and Simon Peter. So in this case, it wasn’t so much that the passage about Eli and his sons was omitted as much as it was that the part about Samuel growing in the presence of the Lord after his prophetic call was added onto the end.

It’s not as clear regarding the weekday mass readings for the Third Week of Ordinary Time, from Hebrews chapter 10. That makes it a lot more interesting. The readings were verses 1-10 on Tuesday, 11-18 on Wednesday, 19-25 on Thursday, and 32-39 on Friday. Wait a second – what happened to 26-31? Let’s have a look:

For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries. A man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Wow! Yikes, even! That’s explosive. It’s only by placing this passage squarely within the rest of the canon of scripture that we can temper the apparent meaning. And I can only suppose that somebody concluded that there was a danger of misinterpreting the passage; therefore, it was not included in the schedule of mass readings.

The Catholic Church teaches that we should use three criteria when interpreting Sacred Scripture. First, we must "be especially attentive to the content and unity of the whole scripture." In other words, a single passage does not stand on its own. It is a part of the whole canon of scripture and must be interpreted in the light of the rest of canon. Second, we must "Read the Scripture within the living Tradition of the whole Church." If your interpretation of a passage leads you to disagree with the infallible teaching of the Magisterium of the Church, then you're not interpreting the passage correctly. This rule requires an understanding of both what the Church teaches and the degree of infallibility that a given teaching enjoys. Finally, when interpreting scripture, we must "be attentive to the analogy of faith." In other words, if two passages seem to contradict each other, you're not interpreting them correctly. See paragraphs 112-114 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

I’d love to know if anybody’s every heard a good sermon or homily addressing Hebrews 10:26-31. I’m almost curious enough to buy the Ignatius Study Bible or the St. Josephs CD Set.

1 comment:

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

This is perhaps one of the cases why there was an Epistle text usually from NT outside Gospels but sometimes (like common of martyrs) from OT (stabunt iusti = Wisdom 5:1-5).

In order to make Samuel fit the Gospel, you had to skip.

Nevertheless, there are composite readings that are valuable.

Orthodox have one for all Marian feast, from two chapters of Gospel.