by Clint Schnekloth
Apocrypha Reading: Wisdom 1:16—2:1, 12-22
For Sunday, Sept. 23, 2012: Year B – Ordinary 25
Inevitably if you preach on this text, someone is going to ask how Wisdom came to be a part of the lectionary. That’s a good question, and opens up all kinds of opportunities to discuss the function of the canon, and the relationship between non-canonical texts and the overall witness of the Scriptural canon.
Developments in the canon illustrate theological developments, and this text from Wisdom is a case in point.
Using the Apocrypha
A couple of hints: first, the Reformation perspective on the Apocrypha was, essentially, that although the apocrypha is not properly a part of the biblical canon, and therefore not Scripture, it is still, in another sense, edifying. There is space within Christian worship to read other texts than Scripture, so even communities that do not hold the apocrypha central can still be edified by periodic reading of it in public worship.
Second, this particular text offers insights into a transition in biblical thought worth retaining. It is a breakthrough in biblical thought dealing with the gift of immortality (a gift of God to the righteous).
Life After Death a Novel Concept
Not all readers of Scripture notice that the concept of life after death develops throughout Scripture and isn’t implicit in the earlier texts. Where people are after death according to the Old Testament is a topic of some complexity, but certainly they aren’t offered immortal life with God, nor is there a firm concept of resurrection. Until Wisdom that is.
Wisdom starts out with the older view, “No one has been known to return from Hades” (2:1). But by chapter three, “the souls of the righteous are in the hands of God… their hope is full of immortality” (3:1, 4). A Sunday sitting with these texts from Wisdom, then, is an opportunity to clarify what Christians mean in their confession of “the resurrection of the dead” as it compares to soul sleep, Hades, Platonic immortality, and all the other various promises out there relative to life after life after death.
There is a Righteous One Who Was Raised
All of that being said, there is really just one reason why the lectionary compilers selected this text. It compares the unrighteous, who summoned death (1:16), to the righteous one who overcomes death (2:12-22). This is a Jesus text before there was a Jesus. It sounds like a Hellenistic version of Isaiah. “He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord” (2:13).
The Hardest Question
It is fairly clear why those who constructed the Revised Common Lectionary chose this particular section of Wisdom to be read in public worship. It is another example of a text that points forward to Christ. What place does the apocrypha have in our proclamation?
Clint Schnekloth is the Lead Pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Fayetteville, Arkansas. He has written extensively for Augsburg Fortress, including the Seasonal Essays for Sundays and Seasons and the baptismal resource Washed and Welcome. Clint blogs at http://lutheranconfessions.blogspot.com.