Friday, February 5, 2010

Blessed Be God My Salvation!

Friday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Reading I
Sirach 47:2-11

Like the choice fat of the sacred offerings,
so was David in Israel.
He made sport of lions as though they were kids,
and of bears, like lambs of the flock.
As a youth he slew the giant
and wiped out the people’s disgrace,
When his hand let fly the slingstone
that crushed the pride of Goliath.
Since he called upon the Most High God,
who gave strength to his right arm
To defeat the skilled warrior
and raise up the might of his people,
Therefore the women sang his praises,
and ascribed to him tens of thousands
and praised him when they blessed the Lord.
When he assumed the royal crown, he battled
and subdued the enemy on every side.
He destroyed the hostile Philistines
and shattered their power till our own day.
With his every deed he offered thanks
to God Most High, in words of praise.
With his whole being he loved his Maker
and daily had his praises sung;
He set singers before the altar and by their voices
he made sweet melodies,
He added beauty to the feasts
and solemnized the seasons of each year
So that when the Holy Name was praised,
before daybreak the sanctuary would resound.
The Lord forgave him his sins
and exalted his strength forever;
He conferred on him the rights of royalty
and established his throne in Israel.
Our final reading about David comes from the poetic Book of Sirach which contains a lengthy section (chapters 44-50) praising the great figures of Israel’s history.

Here we have Sirach’s eulogy of David which in poetic language recalls the highlights of his life.

He was a person set apart, in the way that in a sacrifice the fat is set apart from the rest of the flesh offering. From his youth, he stood out “playing with lions as though with young goats and with bears as though with lambs of the flock”.

He was still a boy when he took on the Philistine giant, Goliath, and brought him down with one shot from his sling, thus relieving his people of their shame. Because of this he won the enthusiastic support of the people. “They gave him credit for ten thousand”, in contrast to Saul who, they said, only killed his thousands.

He was regularly victorious against their enemy, the Philistines and crushed their “horn”, that is, their power.

At the same time, he constantly gave glory and praise to his Lord. David is famous in the Old Testament as a maker and performer of music. The Psalms have been attributed to him although, of course, he could not have written them all as their composition extends over a long period of time.

He created liturgies so that feasts could be celebrated with fitting splendor “causing the Lord’s holy name to be praised and the sanctuary to resound from dawn”.

The deeply sinful parts of his life are summed up in one short sentence: "The Lord forgave him his sins." And he was totally rehabilitated: "[The Lord] exalted his strength forever."

It is right to concentrate on a person’s virtues and achievements and especially their relationship with God and their fellow-men. That is what Sirach does here.

Unfortunately, the words of Mark Antony about Caesar in Shakespeare’s play are often true : "The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones." But a Latin tag is more to be followed: De mortuis nil nisi bonum (Say nothing but good about those who have died).

Yet, what makes many of the saints become saints is precisely how sin was turned to good in their lives. We can think of Paul, Augustine, Ignatius Loyola among many others.

+++ +++ +++ +++
Psalm 18

Blessed be God my salvation!
God’s way is unerring,
the promise of the LORD is fire-tried;
he is a shield to all who take refuge in him.
Blessed be God my salvation!
The LORD live! And blessed be my Rock!
Extolled be God my savior.
Therefore will I proclaim you, O LORD, among the nations,
and I will sing praise to your name.
Blessed be God my salvation!
You who gave great victories to your king
and showed kindness to your anointed,
to David and his posterity forever.
Blessed be God my salvation!
+++ +++ +++ +++

Mark 6:14-29

King Herod heard about Jesus,
for his fame had become widespread,
and people were saying,
“John the Baptist has been raised from the dead;
that is why mighty powers are at work in him.”
Others were saying, “He is Elijah”;
still others, “He is a prophet like any of the prophets.”
But when Herod learned of it, he said,
“It is John whom I beheaded. He has been raised up.”

Herod was the one
who had John arrested and bound in prison
on account of Herodias,
the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married.
John had said to Herod,
“It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”
Herodias harbored a grudge against him
and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so.
Herod feared John, knowing him to be
a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody.
When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed,
yet he liked to listen to him.
Herodias had an opportunity one day
when Herod, on his birthday,
gave a banquet for his courtiers,
his military officers, and the leading men of Galilee.
His own daughter came in and performed a dance
that delighted Herod and his guests.

The king said to the girl,
“Ask of me whatever you wish
and I will grant it to you.”
He even swore many things to her,
“I will grant you whatever you ask of me,
even to half of my kingdom.”
She went out and said to her mother,
“What shall I ask for?”
Her mother replied, “The head of John the Baptist.”
The girl hurried back to the king’s presence
and made her request,
“I want you to give me at once on a platter
the head of John the Baptist.”
The king was deeply distressed,
but because of his oaths and the guests
he did not wish to break his word to her.
So he promptly dispatched an executioner
with orders to bring back his head.
He went off and beheaded him in the prison.
He brought in the head on a platter
and gave it to the girl.
The girl in turn gave it to her mother.
When his disciples heard about it,
they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

Jesus was now becoming well known over a wide area. There was much speculation as to who he was (a major theme of Mark's gospel). Some were suggesting that he was John the Baptist (who had by this time been executed) come to life again, or that he was the prophet Elijah, who was expected to return just before the coming of the Messiah, or that he was a prophet in his own right, "like the prophets we used to have". We know, of course, that all those speculations were wrong. The answer will emerge very soon.

King Herod, steeped in superstition and full of fear and guilt was convinced that Jesus was a re-incarnation of John the Baptist whom he had beheaded. We then get the story as to how this happened.

Herod Antipas, also known as Herod the Tetrarch, was the son of Herod the Great, who was king when Jesus was born. When the older Herod died his kingdom was divided among his three surviving sons. Archelaus received half of the territory, Herod Antipas became ruler of Galilee and Perea, while Philip was the ruler of the northern territory on the east side of the Jordan. The title ‘Tetrarch’ indicates that he was ruler of one quarter of the whole territory.

It is clear that Herod had great respect for John as he would also have for Jesus later on. The problem arose because of John had denounced Herod’s taking the wife of his half-brother Herod Boethus, as his wife. This was in clear violation of Jewish law. The historian Josephus also says that Herod feared that John, so popular with the people, might instigate a riot against him.

It was this woman, Herodias, who now wanted to be rid of John but could not do so because of Herod's respect for John. Herod had gone as far as arresting John but even when John was in prison, Herod loved to listen to him even though he was puzzled by John’s preaching.

Herodias saw her opportunity when Herod threw a party for his court to celebrate his birthday. She knew her husband's weaknesses. Herodias's daughter was brought in to dance and utterly captivated Herod. Deep in his cups, he made a rash promise. He would give her anything, even half of the territory he governed. Under the prompting of the mother, the girl makes the gruesome request for John's head on a dish.

Herod was aghast but because of his oath and the presence of his guests, he dared not renege on his promise. John was beheaded and the head given to the mother. John's disciples then take the body and give it a decent burial.

We might notice some similarities between this story and the passion of Jesus:

Both Herod and Pilate recognized in John and Jesus respectively people of obvious goodness of life, wisdom and integrity. The hatred of Herodias for John parallels the hatred of the Jewish leaders for Jesus – both called for execution by the ruler (Herod in one case, Pilate in the other). After the deaths of John and Jesus, disciples asked and received permission for a decent burial.

John is the precursor of Jesus not only in announcing the coming of Jesus but also in giving his life for the integrity of his beliefs and in bringing God's message to the people.

We are called to do the same. To prepare the way for Jesus and his message must become an integral part of every Christian’s life. Without our cooperation, without our going ahead of Jesus, his message will not be heard.

Living Space
The Irish Jesuits


Sarah in the tent said...

'With his whole being he loved his Maker.'

This is a beautiful way to praise David. In his psalms, this love is often expressed as love for the Law. When I was reading the story about the King sacrificing the poor man's ewe, I wondered whether the poor man and his ewe referred not only to Uriah and Bathsheba, but also to the young David and the Law, which he had sacrificed to his own transient desires.

The madness of kings

Where does the law come from? Kings are particularly tempted to think it comes from them. Herod saw fit to take Herodias as his wife. Then, having made his own word law, his own word became a trap for him. By seeking to act in accordance with his own will, he ended up doing something against his will. I think the best thing a king can do - for themselves and their people - is try to love the Law of the Lord as David did.

Fr. John L. Sullivan said...

Sarah, you have asked the key question: Where does the law come from? The answer: All law comes from the Creator. The laws of nature, which govern the day and the night, the seasons of the year, the phases of the moon, the stars in the sky, are God's laws. The laws that govern human behavior, determining what is right and what is wrong, are God's laws.

On the other hand, you are right in saying that "Kings are particularly tempted to think it (the law) comes from them." When the prophet Nathan told David the story of the poor man and his ewe, he referred to Uriah and Bathsheba, but at the same time to David's disobedience to God's Law, "which he had sacrificed to his own transient desires."

It is much the same with Herod Antipas. When "Herod saw fit to take Herodias as his wife", he "made his own word law", as you said, and "his own word became a trap for him." Seeking to act in accordance with his will, he did something contrary to the will of God, something against his own good.

The best thing that rulers -- and their people -- can do is to love the Law of the Lord and act accordingly.