Saturday, June 26, 2010

Christ Took Away Our Infirmities, And Bore Our Diseases.

Saturday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
Lamentations 2:2, 10-14, 18-19
The Lord has consumed without pity
all the dwellings of Jacob;
He has torn down in his anger
the fortresses of daughter Judah;
He has brought to the ground in dishonor
her king and her princes.

On the ground in silence sit
the old men of daughter Zion;
They strew dust on their heads
and gird themselves with sackcloth;
The maidens of Jerusalem
bow their heads to the ground.

Worn out from weeping are my eyes,
within me all is in ferment;
My gall is poured out on the ground
because of the downfall
of the daughter of my people,
As child and infant faint away
in the open spaces of the town.

In vain they ask their mothers,
“Where is the grain?”
As they faint away like the wounded
in the streets of the city,
And breathe their last
in their mothers’ arms.

To what can I liken or compare you,
O daughter Jerusalem?
What example can I show you
for your comfort,
virgin daughter Zion?
For great as the sea is your downfall;
who can heal you?

Your prophets had for you
false and specious visions;
They did not lay bare your guilt,
to avert your fate;
They beheld for you in vision
false and misleading portents.

Cry out to the Lord;
moan, O daughter Zion!
Let your tears flow like a torrent
day and night;
Let there be no respite for you,
no repose for your eyes.

Rise up, shrill in the night,
at the beginning of every watch;
Pour out your heart like water
in the presence of the Lord;
Lift up your hands to him
for the lives of your little ones
Who faint from hunger
at the corner of every street.
“The Book of Lamentations contains five poems of sorrow over the destroyed Jerusalem. Written probably by an eyewitness, these words express a poignant grief that the chants of Tenebrae [in Holy Week] put to music.” (Vatican II Missal)

Today’s reading is from the Book of Lamentations. We have come to the end of our readings about the history of the Kings, contained in the two books of Samuel, the two books of Kings and the books of Chronicles. We began with Saul and finished with Zedekiah, a puppet king installed by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar.

Our reading today is taken from chapter 2 which speaks of the Lord’s anger against Zion, that is, Jerusalem. In this chapter the author describes the wretched fate of kings, priests, prophets, elders, children and then, addressing Zion, he reminds her how the false prophets have lied, and urges her to bewail her fate before God.

The passage reflects the bitterness and suffering of the people in Jerusalem undergoing the effects of a terrible siege. The buildings of the city have all been torn down. The king and his family have been humiliated and take into exile. The men of the city, in penitential sackcloth and ashes, sit in silent misery on the ground. The women are bowed down to the ground.

The author, perhaps an eyewitness, is overcome with bitterness as he sees children and babies die of starvation. Piteously they ask their mothers for food. But there is none. Eventually they die in their helpless mothers’ arms.

There are harsh words for false prophets, the propagandists of their day. They denied the reality with idealistic and misleading or specious visions, instead of pointing to the real cause of the people’s sufferings - their infidelity to their God, to the true and the good. Jeremiah frequently denounces false prophets. The word ‘misleading, specious’ in the Hebrew comes from the same root as that underlying the word ‘banish’ in Jeremiah 27:10,15. In other words, the lies of false prophets “mislead” the people and thus lead to “banishment” by the Lord - so they are “banishing” in their effect.

“Cry out to the Lord, O daughter of Zion”, a personification of Jerusalem and its inhabitants. The people indeed have much to weep for, both for their present miseries and the reason for them. Their only remedy is to turn to their God in prayer. “Rise up, shrill in the night, at the beginning of every watch.” There were three watches in every night so the whole night could be spent profitably in prayer.

Let them pour out their hearts like water. That is, let them pour out their hearts in prayer and petition. Let them lift up their hands in supplication especially for the lives of their little ones, the victims of their parents’ wrongdoing.

It is a sober reflection that there are still so many places and times in our contemporary and supposedly technologically ‘sophisticated’ world where people are in similar and even worse circumstances, where children walk around naked and in a daze, so long deprived of food that they do not even know they are hungry.

And the causes are still the same: the sins of people, the sins of greed and neglect and a failure to see each other as brothers and sisters and to accept responsibility for them. Cain’s question is still being cynically asked: “Am I my brother’s (and sister’s) keeper?”*
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Psalm 74
Lord, forget not the souls of your poor ones.
Why, O God, have you cast us off forever?
Why does your anger smolder
against the sheep of your pasture?
Remember your flock which you built up of old,
the tribe you redeemed as your inheritance,
Mount Zion, where you took up your abode.
Lord, forget not the souls of your poor ones.
Turn your steps toward the utter ruins;
toward all the damage
the enemy has done in the sanctuary.
Your foes roar triumphantly in your shrine;
they have set up their tokens of victory.
They are like men coming up with axes to a clump of trees.
Lord, forget not the souls of your poor ones.
With chisel and hammer
they hack at all the paneling of the sanctuary.
They set your sanctuary on fire;
the place where your name abides
they have razed and profaned.
Lord, forget not the souls of your poor ones.
Look to your covenant,
for the hiding places in the land
and the plains are full of violence.
May the humble not retire in confusion;
may the afflicted and the poor praise your name.
Lord, forget not the souls of your poor ones.
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Matthew 8:5-17
When Jesus entered Capernaum,
a centurion approached him
and appealed to him, saying,
“Lord, my servant is lying at home
paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.”
He said to him, “I will come and cure him.”
The centurion said in reply,
“Lord, I am not worthy
to have you enter under my roof;
only say the word and my servant will be healed.
For I too am a man subject to authority,
with soldiers subject to me.
And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes;
and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes;
and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard this,
he was amazed and said to those following him,
“Amen, I say to you,
in no one in Israel have I found such faith.
I say to you, many will come from the east and the west,
and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven,
but the children of the Kingdom
will be driven out into the outer darkness,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
And Jesus said to the centurion,
“You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you.”
And at that very hour his servant was healed.

Jesus entered the house of Peter,
and saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever.
He touched her hand, the fever left her,
and she rose and waited on him.

When it was evening, they brought him many
who were possessed by demons,
and he drove out the spirits
by a word and cured all the sick,
to fulfill what had been said by Isaiah the prophet:

He took away our infirmities and bore our diseases.
Today we read the second of the 10 miracles of Jesus described by Matthew after the Sermon on the Mount. It is a story also found in Luke and John but, strangely enough, not in Mark.
The significant element in this story is the fact that the person asking for help is a centurion, a soldier and presumably not a Jew. Yet he has this great faith in Jesus. It is a sign of the future role of Gentiles in the originally all-Jewish Christian community.
He asks Jesus to cure a servant who has become paralysed. Jesus immediately responds that he will go and cure him. “No, no,” replies the centurion. “I am not worthy that you should come to my house. Just say the word and my servant will be healed.” (Words very familiar to us from their paraphrase used in the prayers before sharing in Communion.) And he goes on to say that as an army officer, he just has to give commands and they are carried out on the spot. When it comes to healing, he knows that Jesus can do the same.
Jesus is astonished at the faith of this pagan: “Nowhere in Israel have I found faith like this!” And he foretells that this is a sign of what is going to happen in the future when Gentiles from all over the world will enter the Kingdom while many of Jesus’ own people will be left outside. What is more they will become God’s people sharing glory with the Jewish ancestors: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is a sad theme running through the whole of this gospel: the rejection of Jesus by so many of his own people and their self-chosen exclusion from the Kingdom.
The faith that Jesus expects is not an acceptance of religious doctrines. It is rather an act of total trust and surrender by which people commit themselves to the power of God - in this case, the power of God in Jesus. “Christ asks for this faith especially when he works his miracles, which are not so much acts of mercy as signs attesting his mission and witnessing to the kingdom; hence he cannot work miracles unless he finds the faith without which the miracles lose their true significance.” (Jerusalem Bible)
For this reason this faith was not easy to give, especially for many of Jesus’ hearers who could not see the presence of God in Jesus and hence could not commit themselves to him. Even the disciples were slow to believe. We see this especially in Mark’s gospel. But, once present, such a faith can bring about the transformation of a person’s life, as many converts to Christianity can attest.
Turning to the centurion Jesus says, “Go back home; you have believed, so let this be done for you.” The servant was cured at that very moment.
What is clear from this story and from many other healings by Jesus is the crucial element of faith in the one approaching Jesus. It is the only condition necessary - racial origins are irrelevant. Luke will tell us that Jesus was restricted in the help he could give to the people in his home town of Nazareth because they simply did not have faith in him.
Let us pray that we may never lose that gift of faith which has, in the mysterious ways of divine Providence, been given to us. And let us remember that, without that faith, God will be hampered in reaching out his healing love to us.*
The Irish Jesuits

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