One of the more frequent Old Testament selections in the funeral Lectionary is this one:
But the souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
For if before people, indeed, they be punished,
yet is their hope full of immortality;
Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them,
and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.
[In the time of their visitation they shall shine,
and shall dart about as sparks through stubble;
They shall judge nations and rule over peoples,
and the Lord shall be their King forever.]
Those who trust in God shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with him in love:
Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones,
and God’s care is with the elect.
Do you have a sense of déjà vu? If you follow this blog carefully, you may note that this reading concludes in the same way as the funeral selection from Wisdom 4. An interesting bit: some versions of the Bible omit Wisdom 4:15–it only appears here at 3:9b. A practical note: a shorter option may be proclaimed by omitting verses 7-8, the bracketed text above.
Some textual observations:
Wisdom 3:1-4:19 is a larger unit within the book that treats three situations that the ancient Israelites would have considered curses: suffering (in today’s passage), childlessness (not exactly an appropriate topic for a funeral), and an early death (Wisdom 4:7-15 is the greater part of that section.
Both this and the other Wisdom reading avoid the author’s discursion on the wicked. It may be that the deceased is generally acknowledged to have skirted the edges of this quality. If so, it may not need to be mentioned.
“Immortality” –get the pronunciation right!–makes its very first appearance in the Bible, at least as a reference to those mortals loyal to God.
Suffering is seen by the Wisdom author not as a sign of God’s displeasure, but as an experience of purification. This is an advance from early Judaism which would attribute the circumstances of life as either a divine endorsement or punishment, depending on good or bad for the person so judged.
A good case might be made for using the full reading, especially given the continuation of the theme of burning and fire in verse 7. “Sparks through stubble” suggests the annual burning of harvested fields. I imagine the contrast between floating bits of burned cellulose and the cut and trampled stalks is the visual image attempted here.
Verse 8 echoes the Psalmist, the notion that the wicked will (eventually) be displaced from their seats of honor, and the poor will be lifted up in glory.
With all these rich possibilities for preaching, it’s no wonder many mourners choose Wisdom 3. The messages align with our faith in God and hope that our deceased loved ones will be taken up into eternal life. Your thoughts?
Does the Book of Wisdom teach that the human soul exists before the body? Are souls alive in heaven who have not been yet born?
I don’t see that in these Lectionary passages. I also don’t think that Judaism would have embraced such a concept.
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we are studying wisdom in our bible at Saint patrick’s church in k.c. mo. thank you for your insights. I was not aware that the above was associated with funerals. i am an Iowegian by birth.
My mom just died at the age 103. She raised us in the Catholic religion and was able to convert my father before he died, although he always attended and participate in the church. I am reading, at the Funeral Mass, a short version of Wisdom, but I had to LOL at the advertisement after this post with the cowboy who is mixing drinks. I think my mom too would have had a laugh too, as she and my dad enjoyed one cocktail every night after they retired. No cocktails before that because they had five children to raise and send to college. May God bless both of them.
May they rest in peace Donna.
We just lost our infant Grandson to a random complication one week before he was due to be born. I have been thinking that the best way to give meaning to his too short life is to react by witnessing our trust in The Lord. Wisdom 3: 1-9 perfectly expresses that truth.
Thank you, oh Lord. We do not understand, but we believe and trust in you.
May your loved ones all rest in peace.
For You are my hope, O Lord GOD; You are my trust from my youth.
By You I have been upheld from birth; You are He who took me out of my mother’s womb. My praise shall be continually of You.
Wisdom chapter 3 1-9 will be read by my daughter, Rhonda @ my brothers funeral 08-09-16….May he and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen
Struggling with how to read aloud “yet is their hope full of immortality: It reads like a question, or is it to be read as a statement?
Read that line as if the “yet” were “still” (which is what is meant – “yet” has more than one meaning, and has a certain deeper confidence (as compared to “still” when used that way).
YET is their HOPE / FULL of im-mor-TAL-i-ty.
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