Thursday, June 10, 2010

Go First And Be Reconciled With Your Brother; Then, Come And Offer Your Gift At The Altar.

Thursday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
1 Kings 18:41-46
Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink,
for there is the sound of a heavy rain.”
So Ahab went up to eat and drink,
while Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel,
crouched down to the earth,
and put his head between his knees.
“Climb up and look out to sea,”
he directed his servant,
who went up and looked,
but reported, “There is nothing.”
Seven times he said, “Go, look again!”
And the seventh time the youth reported,
“There is a cloud as small as a man’s hand
rising from the sea.”
Elijah said, “Go and say to Ahab,
‘Harness up and leave the mountain
before the rain stops you.’”
In a trice the sky grew dark with clouds and wind,
and a heavy rain fell.
Ahab mounted his chariot and made for Jezreel.
But the hand of the LORD was on Elijah,
who girded up his clothing and ran before Ahab
as far as the approaches to Jezreel.
Today’s reading follows immediately on yesterday’s dramatic account of the contest between Elijah and the priests of Baal. It completes the proof of Yahweh’s uniqueness and power over the impotent Baal.

God has answered Elijah’s prayer by raining fire on the sacrificial victims drenched in water. Now the rain itself comes and the drought is over. And it is clearly the work of Yahweh.

It is described in a lovely scene marvellous in its delicacy and the whole episode is magnificently expressed in music in Felix Mendelssohn’s oratorio “Elijah”.

First, Elijah tells King Ahab to go back to his palace to eat and drink. A fast had been in effect to prepare for the sacrifice, which we read about yesterday, and to hasten the coming of the rain. Already the sound of the rain can be heard by the prophet.

While Ahab went to eat, Elijah went to the summit of Mt Carmel and began to prostrate himself in prayer. His first prayer against the priests of Baal had been answered. Now he prayed for the drought, the punishment of God for the people’s idolatry, to be brought to an end.

He then tells his servant to look westwards out to sea. “There is nothing,” reports the boy. He is told to go back seven times and on the seventh time he says: “There is a cloud, small as a man’s hand, rising from the sea”, that is, from the west. (Mount Carmel looks down on the Mediterranean.) In the Scriptures the number seven is symbolic of completeness and wholeness. The number plays a significant role in both Matthew’s and John’s gospels.

Immediately the servant is told to warn the king. The king is to harness his chariot and get home before he is stopped by the heavy rain. Immediately, the sky grows dark and ominous and the rain begins to come down in torrents. Ahab, riding in his chariot, makes at once for Jezreel, which then served as an alternative capital for the kings of Israel (the Northern Kingdom). Elijah, given winged feet by God, is able to outrun the chariot and reaches the outskirts of Jezreel first.

The scene again is symbolic: Elijah, God’s prophet, runs ahead. He is followed by his king, Ahab, in his chariot, while the Lord himself riding the thunderclouds comes bringing the rain the people had been deprived of because of their sin. This dramatic scene, with the Lord’s prophet running before the king and the Lord himself racing behind him riding his mighty thundercloud chariot, served as a powerful appeal to Ahab to break once for all with the now discredited Baal and henceforth to rule as the servant of the Lord. In the whole story, it is Elijah who leads the way to God, while Ahab, who is supposed to be God’s representative for his people, lags behind.

Let us today thank God for the sun and rain, which, as Jesus reminds us in the Gospel, are the signs of his even-handed love for every single person. A love he urges us also to show. Let us, too, put aside all the false gods in whom we place so much trust. In my own case, I might try to identify which are the gods I tend to follow.
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Psalm 65
It is right to praise you in Zion, O God.
You have visited the land and watered it;
greatly have you enriched it.
God’s watercourses are filled;
you have prepared the grain.
It is right to praise you in Zion, O God.
Thus have you prepared the land:
drenching its furrows, breaking up its clods,
Softening it with showers,
blessing its yield.
It is right to praise you in Zion, O God.
You have crowned the year with your bounty,
and your paths overflow with a rich harvest;
The untilled meadows overflow with it,
and rejoicing clothes the hills.
It is right to praise you in Zion, O God.
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Matthew 5: 20-26
Jesus said to his disciples:
“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses
that of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill; and whoever kills
will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother
will be liable to judgment,
and whoever says to his brother,
‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin,
and whoever says, ‘You fool,’
will be liable to fiery Gehenna.
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar,
and there recall that your brother
has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar,
go first and be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift.
Settle with your opponent quickly
while on the way to court with him.
Otherwise your opponent
will hand you over to the judge,
and the judge will hand you over to the guard,
and you will be thrown into prison.
Amen, I say to you,
you will not be released
until you have paid the last penny.”
Sermon on the Mount (continued):

What Jesus means by saying that he has not come to abolish the old Law but to transcend it is made clear by six examples that he gives of how a number of Old Testament sayings are to be understood by his followers. In fact, he says that if we wish to be his followers and do his work we must move forward to the deeper level of understanding he proposes.

“Unless your virtue goes deeper and greatly surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the Kingdom.” It is clear from what we see of the Scribes and Pharisees in the gospels that for them religious virtue consisted in the most exact external observance of every detail of Jewish Law. The more perfect the observance of the letter of the Law, the closer one was to God. Jesus challenged that understanding and it led to serious confrontations with the religious leadership. Of course, the way of the Scribes and Pharisees has its attractions. It is a much easier way to measure one’s obedience to God. And one finds the same among other religions today, including, for instance, Christians and Muslims. Among Christians (including Catholics) today, one finds that there are many who are very anxious to know whether a certain action “is a sin” or not. On the other hand, such an approach leads in many cases to scrupulosity and fear, finding sin even in minutiae. God becomes a menacing shadow ready to strike at the smallest wrongdoing.

Speaking of the Jewish law, the first example Jesus gives is of the commandment: “You must not kill” (Exodus 20:13). Jesus’ understanding of this commandment goes far beyond the actual killing of another person. He extends it even to anger and abusive language. And anger can often be totally locked inside and invisible to an outsider. “Whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement, and whoever says to his brother ‘Raqa’ (empty-headed nitwit), will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says ‘You fool’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.” In other words, Jesus excludes any kind of violent behaviour towards a brother or sister, either in action, or word, or even thought.

He also links our interpersonal behaviour to our relationship to God. It is no good, then, piously bringing our offering to the altar in the temple and presenting it to God while we are - through our own fault - in conflict with a brother or sister. We cannot separate our relationship with God and with that of a brother/sister. This will be spelt out in other parts of the Gospel. Before we make our offering, we must first be reconciled with our offended brother/sister and only then, after the injury has been healed, make our offering. Jesus also recommends early reconciliation if only to avoid greater troubles later on. It is not worth going to jail simply out of hatred or anger towards another.

All this is very relevant to us. Whenever we celebrate the Eucharist we should recall what Jesus says in this text and are invited to put it into practice. Before we make our offering of the bread and wine, we are invited, at the beginning of the Eucharist, to confess our sins to God and to the gathered community: “I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned…” How often do we really think about what we are saying at this time?

Again, before sharing with others in the Body and Blood of the Lord, we pray: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who offend us.” And we are also invited to make a sign of peace with all those around us. For how can we share in the Body and Blood of the Lord if we are at enmity with a brother or sister who is a member of that same Body? But again, so often this is often just an empty gesture, like a nod of the head, with very little real meaning and, for the most part, made to someone we do not even know. Let us put the meaning back into what can so easily degenerate into a meaningless ritual.

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

It's as if Jesus is comparing the altar to a court of law where God judges the sacrifice (or case) by judging the heart of the one who brings it.