Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Blessed Be God Who Lives Forever!

Reading 1 (Ezra 9:5-9)

Ezra had been fasting, and had torn his cloak and his mantle, as a sign of mourning. Now, at the time of the evening sacrifice he knelt, lifted his hands toward the LORD and began to pray: O my God, I am too embarrassed and ashamed to turn my face to you, because the many wicked deeds are heaped above our heads, and our guilt reaches up to the heavens.

Ezra himself was not disobedient to the mission God had given him. He had not done the things that some of the people had done. But he prayed as if he were the greatest of sinners. He made himself the “scapegoat”, who does penance on behalf of the people, just as , according to the Law of Moses, a yearling lamb taken from either the sheep or the goats, was slaughtered and roasted over an open flame as a substitute sin-offering, a sign of penance, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement in the midst of the festivities of the New Year that begins at the fall equinox. This year Rosh Hashanah was celebrated on September 21-22; Yom Kippur will be September 28.

But now, for a short time, the LORD has shown kindness to his people. He has allowed some of them to return from exile. He has given them security in the holy place. As for the Jews who remain in exile, although they are still slaves, according to the laws of Persia, they have been granted freedom of worship. The LORD has even moved the pagan King Darius not only to allow, but to finance, the rebuilding of the Temple.


Responsorial Psalm

Taken from the Book of Tobit, Chapter 13, this psalm echoes the same themes as the Reading from Ezra, which is why, contrary to custom, it is included here:

R. Blessed be God, who lives forever.

He scourges and then has mercy;
he casts down to the depths of the nether world,
and he brings up from the great abyss.
No one can escape his hand.

Praise him, you children of Israel, before the Gentiles,
for though he has scattered you among them,
he has shown you his greatness even there.
So now consider what he has done for you,
and praise him with full voice.

Bless the Lord of righteousness,
and exalt the King of ages.
In the land of my exile I praise him
and show his power and majesty to a sinful nation.

Bless the Lord, all you his chosen ones,
and may all of you praise his majesty.
Celebrate days of gladness, and give him praise.

R. Blessed be God, who lives forever.

Gospel: Luke 9:1-6

In Chapter 8 of Luke’s gospel, we accompanied Jesus on his journey through the towns and villages of Galilee, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God. Accompanying him were the Twelve and several women who had been cured of disease, or freed from of evil spirits, including Mary Magdalene, from whom seven demons had been released.

At the end of the chapter, Jesus freed a pagan man from the power of demons, and healed a woman who had suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years, and raised the daughter of a synagogue official from her death bed.

In today’s gospel Jesus summoned the Twelve and gave them authority over evil spirits, and power to heal the sick. Those who opposed Jesus were making it more difficult for him, and he knew that his time in Galilee would soon be coming to an end. It is the Twelve who will carry on his mission, even after he has returned to the Father.

His instructions were simple and straightforward. Carry nothing with you for the journey: no walking stick, or satchel, or food, or money, not even a second tunic. Trust the LORD to provide everything necessary. They should stay in the same house where they were first invited. They should not waste time and energy on those who do not make them welcome, but shake the dust from their sandals and move on. “This will be testimony against them” says Jesus to the Twelve.

And so the Twelve set out and went from village to village proclaiming the good news and curing diseases everywhere.

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Jesuit Father Donagh O’Shea, a frequent source of inspiration (and sometimes of text), tells a story: On a train he was seated next to a man with an enormous suitcase, that contained everything he might need during his day away from home: an umbrella in case it rained, sun lotion, if the sun came out – not always the case on a summer’s day in the Emerald Isle. The suitcase was so big it wouldn’t fit in the overhead or under the seat, and it had to be kept in the freight carriage, at the far end of the train, but the man was adamant that he would not move closer to his baggage. During the journey, the man got quite involved in complaints about the problems of the transportation system, and how difficult it was for the ordinary passenger, that he missed his stop, and found himself separated from his suitcase (which, of course, had been removed from the train at the proper stop). His panic knew no bounds! As the train moved on, he was standing on the platform, waving his arms, his face flushed with desperation. He had discovered the meaning of “take nothing for the journey”, but it might be a long time before he would appreciate the lesson learned.