Wednesday, June 23, 2010

By Their Fruits You Shall Know Them.

Wednesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
2 Kings 22:8-13; 23:1-3
The high priest Hilkiah informed the scribe Shaphan,
“I have found the book of the law in the temple of the LORD.”
Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, who read it.
Then the scribe Shaphan went to the king and reported,
“Your servants have smelted down the metals
available in the temple
and have consigned them to the master workmen
in the temple of the LORD.”
The scribe Shaphan also informed the king
that the priest Hilkiah had given him a book,
and then read it aloud to the king.
When the king heard the contents of the book of the law,
he tore his garments and issued this command
to Hilkiah the priest,
Ahikam, son of Shaphan,
Achbor, son of Micaiah, the scribe Shaphan,
and the king’s servant Asaiah:
“Go, consult the LORD for me, for the people, for all Judah,
about the stipulations of this book that has been found,
for the anger of the LORD has been set
furiously ablaze against us,
because our fathers did not obey the stipulations of this book,
nor fulfill our written obligations.”

The king then had all the elders of Judah
and of Jerusalem summoned together before him.
The king went up to the temple of the LORD
with all the men of Judah
and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem:
priests, prophets, and all the people, small and great.
He had the entire contents of the book of the covenant
that had been found in the temple of the LORD,
read out to them.
Standing by the column, the king made
a covenant before the LORD
that they would follow him
and observe his ordinances, statutes and decrees
with their whole hearts and souls,
thus reviving the terms of the covenant
which were written in this book.
And all the people stood as participants in the covenant.
In today’s reading we have moved about 100 years on from yesterday. King Josiah is now on the throne of the southern kingdom of Judah.

Hilkiah, the high priest, tells Shaphan, an expert in the Scriptures, that he has found the “book of the law” in the Temple. “This ‘Book of the Law’,” comments the Jerusalem Bible, “is certainly Deuteronomy or, to be precise, its legislative portion, the main statutes of which form the guiding principles of the subsequent reform. It was the sacred law of the Temple of Jerusalem, hidden or lost or at least completely forgotten during the reign of the impious Manasseh.” However, other interpreters think it may refer to the entire Pentateuch (the books attributed to Moses which are also the first five books of the Old Testament).

Shaphan in turn brought the scroll to the king and read it out to him. When the king heard the contents, he tore his garments. He realised just how much the statutes of God’s law had been neglected and violated. He now understood how the misfortunes of the people were the signs of God’s anger “furiously set ablaze against us”. Perhaps the covenant curses of Leviticus 26 and/or Deuteronomy 28, climaxing with the threat of exile, were the statements that especially disturbed Josiah. We can contrast Josiah’s reaction with that of Jehoiakim to the words of the scroll written by Jeremiah (see Jeremiah 36:24). On that occasion, Jehoiakim treated the text with contempt and burnt it passage by passage as it was read to him by the prophet Baruch. Needless to say, he paid a high price for his arrogance.

Josiah then gave instructions to a number of important people to consult the Lord on what was laid down in these writings on behalf of himself, the people and all of Judah. Among them were Hilkiah, the priest already mentioned, Ahikam and Acbor. Ahikam was the father of Gedaliah and later appointed governor of Judah by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. He was also the protector of Jeremiah when his life was threatened during the reign of Jehoiakam (see Jeremiah 26:24). Acbor’s son, Elnathan, is mentioned in chapter 24.

These people, together with some others, went to consult a prophetess in Jerusalem called Huldah. She confirmed that the terrible threats on those who had broken the law and worshipped idols would be carried out as foretold. However, King Josiah would be spared this fate because, after hearing the contents of the document, he had expressed deep repentance and grief and rent his garments. He would go to his grave in peace and would not live to see the awful punishments that would be visited on Jerusalem. (These particular details are omitted in our reading.)

The whole population, including priests and prophets, is then gathered together to have the whole “book of the covenant” read to them. This was another name for the book of Deuteronomy which claimed to be the code of the covenant of the people with Yahweh (Deuteronomy 5:3; 28:69). Whatever else the scroll contained, it clearly included the covenant curses of Leviticus 26 and/or Deuteronomy 28.

The king then, as the Lord’s representative, renewed the covenant of God with his people, promising to observe “with their whole hearts and souls” all its requirements. As he did so, he stood “by the column”, that is, one of the two bronze pillars in the portico of the Temple. Josiah fulfilled the role of one mediating a covenant between God and his people just as Moses, Joshua, Samuel and King Jehoiada had done before him.

The people then pledged themselves to obey the covenant. It is likely that some sort of ratification rite was performed, in which the people participated and pledged by oath to be loyal to their covenant obligations. Whether this was done symbolically or verbally is not said.

It is good for us, too, regularly to go through the New Testament and especially the Gospel and renew the promises we made in our Baptism. We might ask ourselves, too, how much real attention we give to the Word of God proclaimed to us at every Eucharist in which we participate. And we might seriously consider spending some time each day reading and studying the Scripture. A careful reading of the Gospel will often reveal to us just how far we have strayed from the call of Jesus to be his disciples.*
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 119
Teach me the way of your decrees, O Lord.
Instruct me, O LORD, in the way of your statutes,
that I may exactly observe them
Teach me the way of your decrees, O Lord.
Give me discernment, that I may observe your law
and keep it with all my heart.
Teach me the way of your decrees, O Lord.
Lead me in the path of your commands,
for in it I delight.
Teach me the way of your decrees, O Lord.
Incline my heart to your decrees
and not to gain.
Teach me the way of your decrees, O Lord.
Turn away my eyes from seeing what is vain:
by your way give me life.
Teach me the way of your decrees, O Lord.
Behold, I long for your precepts;
in your justice give me life.
Teach me the way of your decrees, O Lord.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Matthew 7:15-20
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Beware of false prophets,
who come to you in sheep’s clothing,
but underneath are ravenous wolves.
By their fruits you will know them.
Do people pick grapes from thornbushes,
or figs from thistles?
Just so, every good tree bears good fruit,
and a rotten tree bears bad fruit.
A good tree cannot bear bad fruit,
nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit.
Every tree that does not bear good fruit
will be cut down
and thrown into the fire.
So by their fruits you will know them.”
Sermon on the Mount (continued):
Our reading contains a warning which must have been very relevant in the early Church but has not lost its meaning in our own day.

Prophets who are wolves in sheep’s clothing. On the outside, they seem to have the image of Jesus, his gentleness and love, but in fact they are religious predators, using people for their own ends. There have been unfortunate examples of this in some so-called ‘televangelists’ who, in the name of the Lord Jesus, ripped off countless numbers of trusting people, many of them elderly and not well off, by making them pledge large sums money they could not afford.

How can you recognise them? By their ‘fruits’, by the way they behave and not just by what they say or the claims they make. It is not that difficult to separate the genuine from the false. As Jesus says, it is not possible for a bad tree to consistently produce good fruit nor for a genuinely good tree to produce bad fruit. Very often we have to admit that we try to make a good impression on people and we often try to hide from others what we believe to be our weaknesses.

Integrity and transparency are precious qualities to be found in any person and they are not easy to achieve. Most of us wear masks of some kind. Most of us can identify with the title of John Powell’s book - ‘Why Am I Afraid To Tell You Who I Am?’ In fact, people can often identify more easily with a person whose faults are admitted. They feel that they are dealing with the real person and not a phoney. This can apply very much to pastors and other religious leaders.

Jesus is calling on us today to be really genuine people. Take care of the inside and the outside will take care of itself.*

The Irish Jesuits

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

I'm struggling to keep the garden under control at the moment, so fruit/thorn bushes are much in my mind!

The bramble starts off as an inoffensive little weed, but unless it is dealt with promptly it will kill my puny red currants. The fruit tree will become a bundle of dead sticks supporting a well defended bramble.

Dealing with false prophets should be like regular weeding: unsentimental and paying careful attention to the (scriptural) roots of the fruit tree.

I am also aware that I can be a false prophet to myself. In fact, this concern is one of the reasons I follow your blog. I don't want to become a dead tree surrounded by impenetrable brambles!