Monday, March 29, 2010

Here Is My Chosen One, Who Shall Bring Forth Justice To The Nations.

Monday of Holy Week
Reading I
Isaiah 42:1-7
Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
Upon whom I have put my Spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations,
Not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
A bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
Until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching.

Thus says God, the LORD,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spreads out the earth with its crops,
Who gives breath to its people
and spirit to those who walk on it:
I, the LORD, have called you
for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations,
To open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.
“The Suffering Servant represents the finest qualities of Israel and her great leaders. In today's song he is a ‘chosen one’ like Moses, David, and all Israel. As the Servant, he fulfils the role of Davidic king and prophet.”

Today we have the first of four songs of the servant of Yahweh from Isaiah. It is a beautiful description of a mysterious servant of God which the Church has long realised applies so aptly to Jesus.

The passage today is taken from the ‘Book of Consolation’, or Second Isaiah (chapters 40-55). It speaks of Israel as a ‘Servant of Yahweh’, chosen, set apart, to act as God’s witness before the nations. But the four ‘Songs of the Servant of Yahweh’ (42:1-9; 49:1-6; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12) present a mysterious ‘servant’ who in some ways is like the servant-Israel of the other passages. In today’s passage, however, he is distinguished from the servant-Israel and shown to have other qualities which show him as a particular individual.

Called by Yahweh while still in his mother’s womb, ‘formed’ by him, filled with his spirit, the servant is a ‘disciple’ and Yahweh has opened his ears, so that, by establishing justice on earth, he may instruct mankind, sort them and judge them by his word. He performs his task gently and without display, even appears to fail in it. He accepts outrage and contempt; he does not succumb because Yahweh sustains him.

“Here is my servant.” Yahweh is speaking. He designates and consecrates the Servant. In the royal terminology of the ancient Near East “servant” could mean something like “trusted envoy” or “confidential representative”.

Jesus, too, called himself a ‘servant’ - “The Son of Man did not come to be served; he came to serve and to give his life to redeem many people” (Mark 10:45). He gave a dramatic example when he knelt down and washed his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper (John 13:1-17).

He will not only ‘gather’ Israel but he will be the light of the nations everywhere. The New Testament, cf. Luke 4:17-21 sees Jesus as this servant: in his person the attributes of the King-Messiah, Son of David, are united with those of the suffering servant.

In the previous chapter King Cyrus of Persia had been introduced as delivering Israel from captivity in Babylon but the Servant would deliver the whole world from the prison of sin.

The passage speaks of gentleness and non-violence, a message so necessary for our time. Gentle, but not weak or passive.

* “He does not cry out or raise his voice.” He is a bringer of harmony and peace, not of noise and turmoil.
* “He does not break the crushed reed or snuff the faltering wick.” He does not exploit the weak in a false show of power but empowers through bringing healing and wholeness to the frail and the weak. Just what Jesus did in his mission to the people. 
*“He will not grow faint, he will not be crushed, until true justice is established on earth.” In his gentleness and compassion, there is no weakness. There is a great inner strength but a total rejection of violence. A passage which Matthew quotes in his gospel (Matthew 12:18-21). 
*“The coasts and islands are awaiting for his instruction.” Indicating the lands of the Mediterranean and, by implication, the pagan lands lying beyond Israel. The Servant has a mission to all, not just to some.

Then comes the special call made by Yahweh to the Servant:

*“I have called you in saving justice”, similar to the call made earlier to King Cyrus, who will deliver the Jews from their Babylonian exile and allow them to return home.
*“I have taken you by the hand and formed you.” In Hebrew the same term is used in the creation story of Genesis to describe Yahweh ‘forming’, ‘modelling’ the body of the first man. Jesus, of course, is the New Adam. 
*"I have made you a covenant of the people and light to the nations…” Jesus as Messiah will inaugurate the New Covenant by his suffering and death, a covenant now embracing peoples everywhere. We will see that more clearly when we read more of the Suffering Servant during Holy Week.

This Servant has been called by God the creator of all things to do God’s work and carry out his will. He will be “a light of the nations” and will “open the eyes of the blind, free captives from prison and those who live in darkness from the dungeon”. Originally this referred to release from the prison of the Babylonian exile but it also indicates the hope of liberation for every person from all spiritual and moral bondage.

As we begin Holy Week we are reminded that this work of God’s servant, which we also are, has to go on through us. We are not here this week just to be spectators, even grateful spectators. We are to be part of the work which the Paschal Mystery inaugurated. We, too, are to be servants, ready, if necessary, to suffer as Jesus did for the sake of our brothers and sisters.
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Psalm 27
The Lord is my light and my salvation.
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom should I fear?
The LORD is my life’s refuge;
of whom should I be afraid?
The Lord is my light and my salvation.
When evildoers come at me
to devour my flesh,
My foes and my enemies
themselves stumble and fall.
The Lord is my light and my salvation.
Though an army encamp against me,
my heart will not fear;
Though war be waged upon me,
even then will I trust.
The Lord is my light and my salvation.
I believe that I shall see the bounty of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD with courage;
be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD.
The Lord is my light and my salvation.
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John 12:1-11
Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany,
where Lazarus was,
whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served,
while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him.
Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil
made from genuine aromatic nard
and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair;
the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples,
and the one who would betray him, said,
“Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages
and given to the poor?”
He said this not because he cared about the poor
but because he was a thief and held the money bag
and used to steal the contributions.
So Jesus said, “Leave her alone.
Let her keep this for the day of my burial.
You always have the poor with you,
but you do not always have me.”

The large crowd of the Jews found out that he was there
and came, not only because of him,
but also to see Lazarus,
whom he had raised from the dead.
And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too,
because many of the Jews were turning away
and believing in Jesus because of him.
Today’s Gospel serves as a prelude to the Passion of Jesus.

Jesus is back in the house of his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, recently brought back from the dead. Perhaps these are his last moments of companionship before the horrors that are to come. True to character, Martha is the active hostess. Mary, the contemplative, brings in a jar of an expensive perfumed unguent and pours it all over the feet of Jesus, filling the house with its fragrance. It is a sign of great love and echoes what the “sinful” woman in Luke’s gospel also did. This account is probably the same as that described in Mark 14:3-9 and Matthew 26:6-13 but is distinct from the story of the woman in Luke 7:36-50.

While the “Beloved Disciple” is a nameless character in John’s gospel, he can be matched by this beloved disciple.

Judas, the spiritually blind materialist, only sees what he regards as terrible waste. Hypocritically he suggests the money would have been better spent helping the poor. John suggests Judas was more interested in getting the money for himself than sharing it with those in need.

Jesus sees an altogether different meaning in Mary’s action. He sees the tremendous love behind the action and interprets it as a symbolical anointing for his burial. Dying as a common criminal, Jesus would normally not have been anointed. (And, in fact, he was not anointed after his burial; when the women went to do the act on Sunday morning, Jesus was already risen.)

“You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me.” This is not to be understood any cynical way. The poor cannot be truly loved except in God and in Jesus.

“As often as you do it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do it to me.” Only those who truly love God (whatever name they call him) are able truly to love the poor and all those in need. And vice versa. Also, in Jewish tradition there was disagreement as to whether giving alms to the poor or burying the dead (which would include anointing) was the greater act of mercy. Those in favour of burial thought it an essential condition for sharing in the final resurrection.

Finally, we are told Lazarus’ own life is in danger as well as Jesus’. Lazarus is seen as the living sign of Jesus’ divine power and so they both must be wiped out. Many of the Church’s martyrs died for the same reason. The word ‘martyr’ means ‘witness’, witnessing to the truth, love and power of Christ.

Am I willing to be a martyr-witness for Christ, to stand beside him on the cross as he is mocked and insulted? This is the week for me to find the answer to that question.


Sarah in the tent said...

“You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me.”

Perhaps this is also a prophetic warning directed personally at Judas Iscariot. By stealing the contributions he is robbing the poor, who will be there to accuse him at the Judgement. Judas is turning away from Jesus, so Our Lord lets him know that, if he continues on this path, he will certainly lose Him completely.

The poor are always with us. If we treat them justly, perhaps they will be witnesses in our favour at the Judgement. If we treat them unjustly, they will bear witness against us. We cannot opt out of our relationship with the poor.

Our Lord promised to be with us always ('And look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.') but we, like Judas, can turn away from him.

We, like Judas, can become so fixated on money that we reject God and exploit the poor.

Anonymous said...

"The shepherd spends much time alone with his sheep in the desert solitudes; and his reed pipe, a frail little instruments of two reed bound together, hollowed out and with holes on the side, helps to pass the hours cheerfully. He learns to play many little tunes on it. It is very easily broken and if it falls and is crushed by a careless foot, its music is stilled. It is of almost no value, a new one could easily be made and the bruised pipe left by the wayside to rot.

But the shepherd appears to have a sentimental feeling about it; he will not let it go, not at all. He picks up the crushed reed, and so tenderly repairs it, binding up its broken parts, until once more he draws from it the music he dearly loves.

What a picture of the sinner, bruised and broken by sin, of no apparent value, lying by the wayside; and then God's love and concern and His desire to restore the broken life.

Here in this Scripture we see a little clay lamp, with its wick floating in an hour's supply of olive oil. The oil has burned out, the wick smokes. We would probably say "Throw it out, get a fresh wick; this one smokes and it is of no value." But the owner does not agree to that, "The old will do, all that is needed is oil, then the wick will burn as brightly as ever."

That is what God does, with His grace - restores when the light is almost out."

Read this today, from an interesting little book picked up at a thrift store...just thought I'd share Fr JohnL.