Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Do To Others What You Would Have Them Do To You. This is the Law And The Prophets.

Tuesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
2 Kings 19:9b-11, 14-21, 31-35a, 36
Sennacherib, king of Assyria,
sent envoys to Hezekiah with this message:
“Thus shall you say to Hezekiah, king of Judah:
‘Do not let your God on whom you rely deceive you
by saying that Jerusalem will not be handed over
to the king of Assyria.
You have heard what the kings of Assyria have done
to all other countries: they doomed them!
Will you, then, be saved?’”

Hezekiah took the letter
from the hand of the messengers and read it;
then he went up to the temple of the LORD,
and spreading it out before him,
he prayed in the LORD’s presence:
“O LORD, God of Israel, enthroned upon the cherubim!
You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth.
You have made the heavens and the earth.
Incline your ear, O LORD, and listen!
Open your eyes, O LORD, and see!
Hear the words of Sennacherib
which he sent to taunt the living God.
Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria
have laid waste the nations and their lands,
and cast their gods into the fire;
they destroyed them because they were not gods,
but the work of human hands, wood and stone.
Therefore, O LORD, our God,
save us from the power of this man,
that all the kingdoms of the earth may know
that you alone, O LORD, are God.”

Then Isaiah, son of Amoz, sent this message to Hezekiah:
“Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel,
in answer to your prayer for help
against Sennacherib, king of Assyria:
I have listened!
This is the word the LORD has spoken concerning him:

“‘She despises you, laughs you to scorn,
the virgin daughter Zion!
Behind you she wags her head,
daughter Jerusalem.

“‘For out of Jerusalem shall come a remnant,
and from Mount Zion, survivors.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts shall do this.’

“Therefore, thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria:
‘He shall not reach this city, nor shoot an arrow at it,
nor come before it with a shield,
nor cast up siege-works against it.
He shall return by the same way he came,
without entering the city, says the LORD.
I will shield and save this city for my own sake,
and for the sake of my servant David.’”

That night the angel of the LORD went forth and struck down
one hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp.
So Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, broke camp,
and went back home to Nineveh.
Having overcome the Northern Kingdom, the Assyrians now turn their attention to the Southern Kingdom of Judah and Jerusalem. What happens is almost the exact reverse of yesterday’s reading.

The famous Sennacherib, the one who “came down like a wolf on the fold”, is now the Assyrian king. He sends a letter to Hezekiah, king of the Southern Kingdom, demanding surrender. There is no use, says Sennacherib, their appealing to their God. All other countries have fallen before the Assyrian juggernaut; why should Judah be the exception?

Hezekiah has only one option - to pray to his God for help. He calls on his God who alone is God over all the kingdoms of the earth and has made them all. True, says the king, the Assyrians have carried all before them. They laid nations to waste and tossed their gods into the fire. They could do this for these gods were just human artefacts of wood and stone.

But Hezekiah’s and Judah’s God is different. “Save us from the power of this man, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God,” the king prays.

At this point Isaiah, the prophet, intervenes with a long (verses 21-31) oracular message from God (and, except for its final verse, not included in today‘s reading). Part of it is addressed to Sennacherib and the second part to Judah. It is a mocking statement directed against the Assyrians and guaranteeing that, no matter what happens, “out of Jerusalem shall come a remnant”.

Isaiah interprets this as saying that Sennacherib will not reach Jerusalem; he will not attack it nor be able to institute a siege against its walls. “He shall return by the same way he came without entering the city.” The city will remain safe from attack. “I will shield and save this city for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”

And that very night 185,000 of the Assyrian army were mysteriously struck down and Sennacherib had no option but to return to his capital at Niniveh. What seems to have happened is that the Assyrian army was struck down by some virulent infection or plague which swept through it like a forest fire. Soon after his return, we are told in the following verse that, while worshipping in the temple of his god Nisroch, Sennacherib was assassinated by two of his sons who then fled into Ararat. Another son took over the throne. A further example of what happens to those who attack God’s people.

Here, as yesterday, we see that things do not happen by accident. The destruction of the Assyrian army may be attributed to purely natural causes but the eyes of faith see there God’s protecting hand for his people and especially for the city of David to which he had made so many promises. Nevertheless, Jerusalem will not remain unscathed. It will be, as Isaiah foretells today, not utterly destroyed but reduced to a remnant. From that remnant will come a descendant of David.

Let us, too, see the hand of God operating in all the details of our lives - both the joyful and painful - and discern what he is trying to tell us.*
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 48
God upholds his city for ever.
Great is the LORD and wholly to be praised
in the city of our God.
His holy mountain, fairest of heights,
is the joy of all the earth.
God upholds his city for ever.
Mount Zion, “the recesses of the North,”
is the city of the great King.
God is with her castles;
renowned is he as a stronghold.
God upholds his city for ever.
O God, we ponder your mercy
within your temple.
As your name, O God, so also your praise
reaches to the ends of the earth.
Of justice your right hand is full.
God upholds his city for ever.
Matthew 7:6, 12-14
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not give what is holy to dogs,
or throw your pearls before swine,
lest they trample them underfoot,
and turn and tear you to pieces.

“Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.
This is the Law and the Prophets.

“Enter through the narrow gate;
for the gate is wide and the road broad
that leads to destruction,
and those who enter through it are many.
How narrow the gate and constricted
the road that leads to life.
And those who find it are few.”
Sermon on the Mount (continued):
Today’s passage contains three apparently unrelated teachings of Jesus. Verses 7-11 on prayer, which intervene, are omitted. (We need to remind ourselves that the Sermon on the Mount is not a verbatim record of a “sermon” preached by Jesus. It is a highly edited collection of sayings on the general theme of the qualities to be found in a true disciple of Jesus.)

a: “Do not give to dogs what is holy.” That is, consecrated meat from animals sacrificed in the Temple should not be given as food for dogs. We need to remember that for the Jews (as for the Muslims) dogs are unclean animals, so that is an extra reason for not giving them meat consecrated for purposes of divine worship. We may remember the remark of Jesus to the Syro-phoenician woman about not giving the food of children to dogs, a reference to Gentiles who were also thought to be unclean. Or the humiliation of Lazarus in Luke’s parable who was so helpless that he could not prevent dogs licking his sores.

Similarly something as precious as pearls should not be given to pigs, another unclean animal. Again we remember in the parable of the Prodigal Son, how after hitting rock bottom the only job he could find was to feed pigs and he was so hungry he would have eaten the pigs’ food.

In other words, Jesus is advising his followers not indiscriminately to expose their beliefs to all and sundry. While, in one sense, the Christian way is for all there are people who are not ready to hear it and will not just reject it but subject it to ridicule. This would especially apply to certain Christian practices such as the celebration of the Eucharist or other sacraments. We do not accept people into the Catholic community except after a long period of formation and initiation. Faith in Christ is a gift and not everyone receives it at once.

b: The second saying is the famous ‘Golden Rule’, which is not exclusive to Christianity or the Gospel. It is known in other cultures. What might be emphasised here is its being expressed in positive terms. There is also a negative form, ‘Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you’. There is a difference between the two. You can observe the negative maxim by doing nothing at all. The positive can only be observed by doing some good action to others and is therefore much more in line with the general teaching of Jesus.

c: The contrast between the narrow gate and the wide road. To follow the wide road is to do just about anything you feel like doing. It is to follow your likes and dislikes, your instincts and whims wherever they lead you. That is going to include following roads of greed and self-centredness, of lies and deceit, perhaps even of violence and hurt. It is clearly not a way of life.

The narrow gate is not to be narrow-minded. It is rather to be very clearly focused on certain very specific ways of thinking and acting, having one’s life guided by a clear set of truths, principles and values, those truths, principles and values which form the core of the Gospel’s teaching. In other words, the Way of Christ. It is a way that leads to life.

It is a hard road only in the sense that it requires discipline and it is true that relatively few people find it. In the long run it is the easier way because it conforms more to the deepest needs and desires of the human person. (It is important to be aware that the Way of Jesus is not an eccentric choice of lifestyle, one religion among many, but that it is in total harmony with all that human life is meant to be.) But there is no doubt that the wide undisciplined road is the easier one to follow even though in the long run it does not bring happiness.*

The Irish Jesuits


Sarah in the tent said...

These readings make me think of how missionaries tend to work. They first try to lift the people up from poverty, ill health, general ignorance, etc. so that they are fit to receive what is holy. They also show solidarity. Finally, they show through their own lives the 'narrow gate', for others to follow.

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

And...it is, oh, so easy to wander off the narrow path to the wide road. I find myself stumbling back through the weeds between the two to that narrow path periodically. It would be so nice if that wide path did not represent what seems like easy travels!!