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?