Friday, June 18, 2010

Where Your Treasure Is, There Also Will Your Heart Be.

Friday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
2 Kings 11:1-4, 9-18, 20
When Athaliah, the mother of Ahaziah,
saw that her son was dead,
she began to kill off the whole royal family.
But Jehosheba, daughter of King Jehoram
and sister of Ahaziah,
took Joash, his son, and spirited him away, along with his nurse,
from the bedroom where the princes were about to be slain.
She concealed him from Athaliah, and so he did not die.
For six years he remained hidden in the temple of the LORD,
while Athaliah ruled the land.

But in the seventh year,
Jehoiada summoned the captains of the Carians
and of the guards.
He had them come to him in the temple of the LORD,
exacted from them a sworn commitment,
and then showed them the king’s son.

The captains did just as Jehoiada the priest commanded.
Each one with his men,
both those going on duty for the sabbath
and those going off duty that week,
came to Jehoiada the priest.
He gave the captains King David’s spears and shields,
which were in the temple of the LORD.
And the guards, with drawn weapons,
lined up from the southern
to the northern limit of the enclosure,
surrounding the altar and the temple on the king’s behalf.
Then Jehoiada led out the king’s son
and put the crown and the insignia upon him.
They proclaimed him king and anointed him,
clapping their hands and shouting, “Long live the king!”

Athaliah heard the noise made by the people,
and appeared before them in the temple of the LORD.
When she saw the king standing by the pillar,
as was the custom,
and the captains and trumpeters near him,
with all the people of the land
rejoicing and blowing trumpets,
she tore her garments and cried out,
“Treason, treason!”
Then Jehoiada the priest instructed the captains
in command of the force:
“Bring her outside through the ranks.
If anyone follows her,” he added,
“let him die by the sword.”
He had given orders that she
should not be slain in the temple of the LORD.
She was led out forcibly
to the horse gate of the royal palace,
where she was put to death.

Then Jehoiada made a covenant
between the LORD as one party
and the king and the people as the other,
by which they would be the LORD’s people;
and another covenant,
between the king and the people.
Thereupon all the people of the land
went to the temple of Baal
and demolished it.
They shattered its altars and images completely,
and slew Mattan, the priest of Baal, before the altars.
Jehoiada appointed a detachment
for the temple of the LORD.
All the people of the land rejoiced
and the city was quiet,
now that Athaliah had been slain with the sword
at the royal palace.
“We read one of the most shameful episodes in the history of Judah. Around 837 BC the wicked queen mother Athaliah seized power. The high priest Jehoiada led a revolution, put the young Davidic King Joash on the throne and renewed the covenant with God.” (Vatican II Missal)

If we thought Queen Jezebel was bad, we are hardly ready to read about Queen Athalia. She was a daughter of King Ahab but Jezebel was probably not her mother. Her influence on King Jehoram, her late husband, paralleled that of Jezebel on King Ahab.

When her son, King Ahaziah died at the young age of 22, she immediately moved to have all his children, that is, her grandchildren done away with so as to secure the throne of Judah (the southern kingdom) for herself. The royal family had already been reduced to a mere remnant. Jehoram, her late husband and the father of Ahaziah, had already killed all his brothers when he succeeded his father Jehoshaphat on the throne. King Jehu had slain another 42 members of the royal house of Judah, perhaps including many of the sons of Jehoram’s brothers. To top it all, the brothers of Ahaziah had been killed by raiding Arabs.

In the eyes of the author, this attempt to completely destroy the house of David was an attack on God’s redemptive plan - a plan that centred on the Messiah, which the Davidic covenant had promised and which depended on the continuation of the Davidic line to become a reality.

However, as we are told today, a sister of King Ahaziah managed to save one of the princes, Joash, and hid him first in the servants’ sleeping quarters together with his nurse. This would indicate that the child was not more than a year old and not yet weaned. There he remained in hiding while Athalia took over as ruler of the kingdom. This woman, Jehosheba, was the wife of Jehoiada the high priest, who will soon appear in the story, and it explains how she was able to keep Joash hidden in the Temple for six years.

Not surprisingly, Athalia in time became the object of a palace coup organised by the high priest Jehoiada. It happened in the seventh year of her rule. He made a pact with the captains of the mercenary soldiers who served as the palace guard. The Carians were mercenary soldiers from Caria in southwest Asia Minor who served as royal bodyguards. After both those on and off duty had sworn their commitment, they are secretly shown the young prince. They are then given detailed instructions on how to protect him.

They got together their men and were given weapons which David had captured in a former battle. David had probably taken the spears and gold shields as plunder in his battle with Hadadezer and then dedicated them to the Lord (see 2 Samuel 8:7-11). This would explain why there were weapons in the Temple. They then surrounded the altar and the Temple. Joash, the king’ son, was brought out, anointed as king by Jehoiada and given some of the royal insignia. He was then acclaimed by the people gathered in the Temple for the Sabbath. “Long live the king!” they cried. This was clearly an act of rebellion and a coup d’etat.

Athalia discovered the rebellion too late. She saw the new king “standing by the pillar”. This was apparently one of the two bronze pillars of the portico of the Temple. With him were “all the people of the land”. It is likely that Jehoiada had chosen to stage his coup on a Sabbath during one of the major religious festivals, when many from the kingdom who were loyal to the Lord would be in Jerusalem. Athalia tore her garments and cried “Treason! Treason!”

Jehoiada then gave orders for her arrest. Any of her supporters were to be killed and she was not to be executed within the sacred confines of the Temple. As was the custom, she was put to death outside the city confines, near the ‘horse gate’ of the royal palace.

Jehoiada then had a double covenant made between the Lord and his people and between the new king and the people. It was a renewal of the Mosaic covenant declaring that Israel was Yahweh’s people and the king his vice-gerent. The years of apostasy, involving both the royal house and the people of Judah, necessitated a renewal of allegiance to the Lord at the time of an important new beginning for the southern kingdom.

Finally, the temple to Baal, its altars and images were smashed and Mattan, the priest of Baal, was put to death.
All the “people of the land”, that is, the country people, supported the return to the traditions of David and Yahweh. The city was forced to accept the situation.*
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 132
The Lord has chosen Zion for his dwelling.
The LORD swore to David
a firm promise from which he will not withdraw:
“Your own offspring
I will set upon your throne.”
The Lord has chosen Zion for his dwelling.
“If your sons keep my covenant
and the decrees which I shall teach them,
Their sons, too, forever
shall sit upon your throne.”
The Lord has chosen Zion for his dwelling.
For the LORD has chosen Zion;
he prefers her for his dwelling.
“Zion is my resting place forever;
in her will I dwell, for I prefer her.”
The Lord has chosen Zion for his dwelling.
“In her will I make a horn to sprout forth for David;
I will place a lamp for my anointed.
His enemies I will clothe with shame,
but upon him my crown shall shine.”
The Lord has chosen Zion for his dwelling.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Matthew 6:19-23
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,
where moth and decay destroy,
and thieves break in and steal.
But store up treasures in heaven,
where neither moth nor decay destroys,
nor thieves break in and steal.
For where your treasure is,
there also will your heart be.

“The lamp of the body is the eye.
If your eye is sound,
your whole body will be filled with light;
but if your eye is bad,
your whole body will be in darkness.
And if the light in you is darkness,
how great will the darkness be.”
This short passage contains two related teachings.
The first may seen as a commentary on the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’. It is a teaching about the things which are really valuable, which really count. We live in a highly materialistic world where a very large number of people seem to believe that material wealth is the solution to every problem. There is nothing that money cannot buy, no problem it cannot solve. This belief prevails even though every day it is shown to be false.

Jesus urges us to put our trust and our security in something less perishable, something more lasting. To ‘store up treasure in heaven’ is not just to pile up a whole lot of ‘good works’ which will be to our credit in the next life. That credit too can be very quickly lost. It is much more a question of growing more and more into the kind of person who is steeped in the values and the outlook of the Gospel. It is less a question of doing than of becoming. We also build treasure by what we give away, by sharing with others whatever gifts we have, especially those most in need. “As long as you do it the least of my brothers you do it to me.”
And, as Jesus so wisely says, ‘where your treasure is, there will your heart be also’. Obviously, the question for me to ask today is: Where is my treasure? What do I value most in life? And how do I reveal that in the way I live?

And that brings us to the second part.
“The lamp of the body is the eye.” That is to say, what I see with my inner eye determines everything else about my life. “If your eye, that is, your vision is sound, your whole body, that is, your whole being will be filled with light. But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be all darkness.”

It is that light which we need in order to have a clear vision of what is most valuable in our lives. The person who cannot see beyond money, status, power, or fame is truly in darkness. Life is not about getting these things. Life is about who we are; it is about love and relationships.

Let us pray today for vision and light and to be able to discern what are the real treasures, the most precious things of human living. Our Christian life is above all a vision of life.*

The Irish Jesuits

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

In a book I once read, someone cynically explained that everyone's actions are in pursuit of at least one of three things: money, power and sexual opportunity. Evolutionary scientists reduce this still further, saying the quests for money and power are secondary and merely serve the selfish gene's quest for sexual opportunity. I am very relieved that the religious at least give the lie to this cynicism through their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience!

Our ultimate treasure in Heaven is Christ himself, the pearl without price. If our eye is good, we will focus on that treasure. Sometimes our focus is fuzzy, but a kind of blindness is also possible and we can become like Athaliah, whose eye was so dark it seems to have been completely focussed on power.

Looking at the book of Kings, it seems as though princes were being slaughtered in huge numbers as fast as their fathers could 'get' them 'on' their various wives and concubines. I can't help thinking that monsters like Athaliah are products of such loveless family cultures.