Friday, February 12, 2010

I Am The Lord Your God, Hear My Voice

Friday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

Reading I
1 Kings 11:29-32; 12:19

Jeroboam left Jerusalem,
and the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite met him on the road.
The two were alone in the area,
and the prophet was wearing a new cloak.
Ahijah took off his new cloak,
tore it into twelve pieces, and said to Jeroboam:
“Take ten pieces for yourself;
the LORD, the God of Israel, says:
‘I will tear away the kingdom from Solomon’s grasp
and will give you ten of the tribes.
One tribe shall remain to him
for the sake of David my servant,
and of Jerusalem,
the city I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel.’”
Israel went into rebellion against David’s house to this day.
The prophecy made in the time of Solomon is now being carried out. Solomon has died and his son Rehoboam wants to take over the throne. But, as we saw, God was greatly displeased with the idolatrous behaviour of Solomon and would deny the kingdom to his son.

Instead, Jeroboam, a former servant in Solomon’s court will become the ruler and Rehoboam will be rejected by the people. Jeroboam was from Ephraim and, as a resourceful and rich young man who impressed Solomon, he had been put in charge of the whole labor force of the tribe of Joseph.

In today’s reading, as Jeroboam is leaving Jerusalem, he meets with the prophet Ahijah. There are just the two of them present and the prophet is wearing a new cloak. Then, in a highly symbolic gesture, he indicates what is going to happen. (It is not unusual in the Old Testament for prophets to make statements by symbolic actions which are not only meaningful but produce actual results – see Jeremiah 18:11ff.)

Ahijah takes his new cloak and cuts it into twelve pieces. At the same time he tells Jeroboam that the kingdom is being taken from Solomon and ten of the tribes of Israel (each one was named after one of the 12 sons of Jacob) will be given to Jeroboam. They will form what will be known as the Northern Kingdom (or Israel or Ephraim).

The two remaining pieces represent just one tribe left for Solomon’s successor, namely, Judah which had absorbed Simeon. They would become the Southern Kingdom (or Judah). This division in fact goes back to the time of the Judges but under David and Solomon the two territories had become temporarily united. Now they were splitting again – and for good.

The reason that part of Solomon’s kingdom will remain within his family is because of God’s loyalty to David and also for the sake of Jerusalem, which was in the territory of Judah. It was God’s chosen city, the city of David and the place where his earthly presence was symbolised in the Temple.

It is not in our reading but Ahijah goes on to give the reasons why the most of Solomon’s kingdom is being taken from his family and his immediate successor. It was because of Solomon’s worshipping of false gods and departing from the statutes that had been so faithfully observed by his father, David. Nevertheless, Solomon would be allowed to keep his throne up to his death and then one tribe would be given to his son to rule over. And, if Jeroboam is faithful in his service of Yahweh, God will be with him. He will have a lasting dynasty and it will be the kingdom of Israel.

When Solomon heard about this, he regarded Jeroboam as a rebel and a threat to his rule. Jeroboam was forced to flee in exile to the royal court of Egypt where he stayed until the death of Solomon.

This spelt the end of David’s kingdom and it will not be resurrected until the coming of Jesus -- and then, in a very different way.

Today we have to acknowledge that in a way the kingdom of Jesus is divided into many factions, both within the Catholic Church and between many Christian denominations. It is surely not his will as expressed in Jesus’ prayer to his Father at the Last Supper: “That they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23).

Let none of us be a source of division in our own church or parish or in our relations with Christians of other denominations. Let there be for all of us one Lord and one Shepherd.
+++ +++ +++ +++
Psalm 81
I am the Lord, your God: hear my voice.
“There shall be no strange god among you
nor shall you worship any alien god.
I, the LORD, am your God
who led you forth from the land of Egypt.”
I am the Lord, your God: hear my voice.
“My people heard not my voice,
and Israel obeyed me not;
So I gave them up to the hardness of their hearts;
they walked according to their own counsels.”
I am the Lord, your God: hear my voice.
“If only my people would hear me,
and Israel walk in my ways,
Quickly would I humble their enemies;
against their foes I would turn my hand.”
I am the Lord, your God: hear my voice.
+++ +++ +++ +++
Mark 7:31-37

Jesus left the district of Tyre
and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee,
into the district of the Decapolis.
And people brought to him a deaf man
who had a speech impediment
and begged him to lay his hand on him.
He took him off by himself away from the crowd.
He put his finger into the man’s ears
and, spitting, touched his tongue;
then he looked up to heaven and groaned,
and said to him, “Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”)
And immediately the man’s ears were opened,
his speech impediment was removed,
and he spoke plainly.
He ordered them not to tell anyone.
But the more he ordered them not to,
the more they proclaimed it.
They were exceedingly astonished and they said,
“He has done all things well.
He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
Jesus is still in Gentile territory. He has now moved east from the Mediterranean coast to the interior on the east side of the Sea of Galilee in the area of the Decapolis (Greek for "Ten Towns").

A deaf and dumb man is brought to Jesus for healing. He takes the man aside, puts his fingers in the man’s ears, touches his tongue with spittle, looks up to heaven and prays, "Be opened". Immediately the man’s ears are opened, his tongue loosed and he is able speak plainly. As often happens in this gospel, the people who witnessed the miracle are told not to say anything about it to anyone “but the more Jesus insisted, the more widely they published it”.

Their admiration was unbounded. “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak."

As often happens in the Gospel and especially in Mark we have here much more than a miracle story, the healing of a physical ailment. We are approaching a climactic part of this gospel and this passage leads into it. What Jesus does to this man is something that is meant to happen to every one of his followers, including his immediate disciples.

We all need to have our ears opened so that we can hear and understand in its fullness the message of Jesus. In addition to that, once we have heard and understood, the natural consequence is that we go out and speak openly to the world about what we have heard and understood. Both hearing and speaking are inseparable for the Christian disciple.

And so in the older form of the baptismal rite and it still may be used in the current liturgy, the celebrant may touch the ears of the one being baptised and put saliva on the lips. (Saliva was believed to have healing powers. And in this the ancients were right; it is in fact a kind of antibiotic. It is why animals also lick their wounds.) This rite symbolises the grace of the sacrament by which the newly baptised (I speak of an adult) hears and accepts the Word of God and undertakes the responsibility of proclaiming it in word and action.

And, as in today’s story, when we have truly experienced the power of that message and the love of God in our own lives, we cannot but do what that man did – broadcast it far and wide.

Living Space
The Irish Jesuits

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

Ahijah's torn cloak

This reading reminds me of Our Lord's words about repairing an old, torn garment with an old patch, rather than a new one. The torn, new cloak represents the still newish Davidic kingdom. When people heard Our Lord preaching about how to repair an old, torn garment, perhaps in their expectation of the Messiah they would make a similar connection. Maybe Our Lord was making a veiled proclamation of the Kingdom.

The Bible is clearly separated into Old and New, like the garments and wineskins, but the way they shed light on each other makes them profoundly connected.