Saturday, June 19, 2010

Seek First The Kingdom Of God, And His Righteousness. Do Not Worry About Tomorrow; Tomorrow Will Take Care Of Itself.

Saturday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
2 Chronicles 24:17-25
After the death of Jehoiada,
the princes of Judah came
and paid homage to King Joash,
and the king then listened to them.
They forsook the temple of the LORD,
the God of their fathers,
and began to serve the sacred poles and the idols;
and because of this crime of theirs,
wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem.
Although prophets were sent
to them to convert them to the LORD,
the people would not listen to their warnings.
Then the Spirit of God possessed Zechariah,
son of Jehoiada the priest.
He took his stand above the people and said to them:
“God says,
‘Why are you transgressing the LORD’s commands,
so that you cannot prosper?
Because you have abandoned the LORD,
he has abandoned you.’”
But they conspired against him,
and at the king’s order they stoned him to death
in the court of the LORD’s temple.
Thus King Joash was unmindful
of the devotion shown him
by Jehoiada, Zechariah’s father,
and slew his son.
And as Zechariah was dying, he said,
“May the LORD see and avenge.”

At the turn of the year a force of Arameans
came up against Joash.
They invaded Judah and Jerusalem,
did away with all the princes of the people,
and sent all their spoil to the king of Damascus.
Though the Aramean force came with few men,
the Lord surrendered a very large force into their power,
because Judah had abandoned
the LORD, the God of their fathers.
So punishment was meted out to Joash.
After the Arameans had departed from him,
leaving him in grievous suffering,
his servants conspired against him
because of the murder
of the son of Jehoiada the priest.
He was buried in the City of David,
but not in the tombs of the kings.
“We turn today to Second Chronicles for a further unhappy episode in the history of Judah. The zealous high priest Zechariah, son of the same Jehoiada who had saved King Joash, is murdered in the Temple area. Jesus referred to this sad story (Matthew 23:31).” (Vatican II Missal)

Our reading is taken from the Second Book of Chronicles but, chronologically, it follows on the events of yesterday’s reading where we saw the young Joash, who had been rescued from certain death at the hands of his murderous grandmother, Athalia, and made king through the instrumentation of Jehoiada, the high priest. Sadly however, as happens so often in these accounts, treachery again takes over.

When Jehoiada died, officials began to work on King Joash who listened to what they had to say.

As a result, the people of Judah began to abandon worship in the Temple and turned to various forms of idolatry. As a result “wrath [i.e. God's anger] came upon Judah and Jerusalem” - the southern kingdom and its capital. The Hebrew word for ‘abandon’ or ‘forsake’ is repeated three times in the passage, indicating the reason for the divine punishment which follows. There are many similar examples in other parts of the Old Testament.

When prophets were sent to bring them back to their senses and to God’s ways, the people refused to listen. Their rejection of these prophets was a rejection of Yahweh himself and thus sowing the seeds of the destruction to follow.

Then Zechariah, the son of the former high priest Jehoiada, was inspired to call the people back to the worship of Yahweh. “Because you have abandoned the Lord, he has abandoned you,” he told them. But instead of listening to his appeals, they plotted against him and, at the orders of the king, stoned him to death right there in the Lord’s Temple. A terrible sacrilege had taken place.

The blame is laid fairly and squarely on King Joash. It was an extraordinary act of ingratitude to the son of the man who had rescued the king as a young child from the same fate. As he died, Zechariah cried out, “The Lord sees and he will avenge.” The cry is a contrast to the words of Jesus on the cross and of Stephen before his martyrdom. In the Old Testament justice is often achieved through vengeance, violence met with violence. In the New Testament, violence is not the way.

This cruel death is referred to indirectly by Jesus: Speaking to the Pharisees, Jesus says “You testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murder the prophets” (Matthew 23:31).

The retribution was not long in coming. A year later an army of Aramaeans attacked King Joash and executed his officials, perhaps those very ones who had led him and the people astray to the worship of idols.

Although the Aramaean forces were not large in number, they were, by God’s power, able to overcome the much larger army of the Joash and the Judeans for deserting their God. Just as God had helped the small army of Judah against overwhelming odds when the king and people were faithful to him (14:8-9; 20:2,12), so now in their unfaithfulness they are defeated by a much smaller force of invaders.

Joash was treated as, in the thinking of the time, his royal status deserved but they left him a very sick man. Finally, his own officers, the ones perhaps who had helped Jehoiada engineer the coup against Athalia, moved to avenge the death of the high priest’s son Zechariah, and murdered the king in his bed. He was buried in the citadel of David but not in the tombs of the kings.

Once again, sin does not pay.*
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 89
For ever I will maintain my love for my servant.
“I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
I have sworn to David my servant:
Forever will I confirm your posterity
and establish your throne for all generations.”
For ever I will maintain my love for my servant.
“Forever I will maintain my kindness toward him,
and my covenant with him stands firm.
I will make his posterity endure forever
and his throne as the days of heaven.”
For ever I will maintain my love for my servant.
“If his sons forsake my law
and walk not according to my ordinances,
If they violate my statutes
and keep not my commands.”
For ever I will maintain my love for my servant.
“I will punish their crime with a rod
and their guilt with stripes.
Yet my mercy I will not take from him,
nor will I belie my faithfulness.”
For ever I will maintain my love for my servant.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Matthew 6:24-34
Jesus said to his disciples:
“No one can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and mammon.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life,
what you will eat or drink,
or about your body, what you will wear.
Is not life more than food
and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds in the sky;
they do not sow or reap,
they gather nothing into barns,
yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are not you more important than they?
Can any of you by worrying
add a single moment to your life-span?
Why are you anxious about clothes?
Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.
They do not work or spin.
But I tell you that
not even Solomon in all his splendor
was clothed like one of them.
If God so clothes the grass of the field,
which grows today
and is thrown into the oven tomorrow,
will he not much more provide for you,
O you of little faith?
So do not worry and say,
‘What are we to eat?’
or ‘What are we to drink?’
or ‘What are we to wear?’
All these things the pagans seek.
Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
But seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given you besides.
Do not worry about tomorrow;
tomorrow will take care of itself.
Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”
We continue with Jesus’ teaching on our attitude to material and visible things.
We have to make a choice between the vision of life that Jesus offers or a preoccupation with money and possessions. They are not compatible. They involve conflicting goals in life and different visions of what is most important in life. The truly materialistic person may have a veneer of Christian practice but cannot be a really committed Christian and vice versa.
Jesus preaches what St Ignatius Loyola calls ‘indifference’ to material things. Obviously some material things - like food and clothing and shelter - are necessary to daily living. At different times other things will be necessary too.
The attitude of ‘indifference’ is not that one does not care; on the contrary, one cares very much. But one cares to have things and to use things only in so far as they are needed to love and serve God and others for his sake. Jesus urges us to liberate ourselves from worry and anxiety about our body and material things such as food and clothing.
To be concerned about food because right now I am very hungry and do not have any is very different from worrying whether I will have food next month; to be anxious about what is happening when I am in intensive care is very different from wondering how long my health will hold up in the coming years; to be fretting because I have no money to pay my rent with the landlord knocking at the door is very different from wondering whether I will ever be rich.
Worry and anxiety about the future are a waste of time and energy yet we indulge in them so much. We are invited to look at the birds of the air and the flowers in the field. They do nothing except be themselves and God takes care of them. And how beautiful they are! When their time comes they pass away.
We are often so busy regretting the past or worrying about the future that we never get to enjoy life. Enjoyment and happiness are only in the present. Nowhere else. If we keep looking forward or looking back we will never find happiness. And yet it is right here in our grasp at every moment of every day. As Fr Tony de Mello used to say, “You have everything you need right now to be happy.” How our lives would be transformed if only we could really believe that! Because happiness can only be in the NOW. Yesterday’s happiness is gone; tomorrow’s does not exist. If I am not happy now, I never will be.
So, to follow the advice of Jesus today, “Do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself.” God is in the here and now and nowhere else. He is always available.*
The Irish Jesuits

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