Thursday, July 8, 2010

As You Go, Make This Proclamation: "The Kingdom Of Heaven Is At Hand!"

Thursday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
Hosea 11:1-4, 8c-9
Thus says the LORD:
When Israel was a child I loved him,
out of Egypt I called my son.
The more I called them,
the farther they went from me,
Sacrificing to the Baals
and burning incense to idols.
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
who took them in my arms;
I drew them with human cords,
with bands of love;
I fostered them like one
who raises an infant to his cheeks;
Yet, though I stooped to feed my child,
they did not know that I was their healer.

My heart is overwhelmed,
my pity is stirred.
I will not give vent to my blazing anger,
I will not destroy Ephraim again;
For I am God and not man,
the Holy One present among you;
I will not let the flames consume you.
This lovely chapter on the relationship between Yahweh and Israel corresponds to 2:4-25, part of which we read on Monday, though here Israel is not the beloved, unfaithful wife, but rather the child ungrateful for all the love he has received.

“When Israel was a child, I loved him.” For Hosea the beginnings of Israel’s history begins with dark days of slavery in Egypt and the liberation of the Exodus. As we saw before, he sees the long journey through the desert as a golden age in Israel’s relations with Yahweh. He does not seem to know or ignores some of the great incidents of the earlier patriarchal period.
The imagery, too, as mentioned, changes from Israel as the unfaithful spouse to that of the ungrateful child. And that “childhood” is seen as beginning with the liberation from Egypt.
“Out of Egypt I called my son”, is the loving expression of that liberation. It is used by Matthew (2:15) in his gospel as a foretelling of Jesus returning from the flight into Egypt back to Galilee.

But it is a call that is now being spurned more and more. “The more I called them the farther they went from me.” (Incidentally, is there an image of this in the parable of the Prodigal Son?) Instead, they sacrificed to Baals and burned incense to idols. These are seen as acts of total ingratitude. For “it was I who taught Ephraim [another name for the Northern Kingdom, Israel] to walk” in the Lord’s way. It was Yahweh who took Israel lovingly in his arms. It would be difficult to find a more tender image of Yahweh in the whole of the Hebrew Testament.

“I drew them with human cords, with bands of love” indicates a truly intimate and loving relationship. Yahweh does not force them as one leading draft animals but draws them to himself with gentleness and affection. “I fostered them, i.e. the people of Israel-Ephraim, like one who raises an infant to his cheeks.” Could one find a more gentle and touching image, picture a more tender scene of love between father and child?

In spite of that, “though I stooped to feed my child, they did not know I was their healer”, that I was the One - and not the Baals - who made them whole, who fulfilled the deepest needs of their lives. The tender love of the father is spurned and brushed aside.

In other passages of the Old Testament where God’s reaching out to his people is spurned, the response of the prophet is to speak of Yahweh’s rage, anger, vengeance and the threat of terrible punishment. Here God’s reaction is shown as altogether different.

“How could I give you up, O Ephraim; deliver you up, O Israel?” How could Yahweh treat Israel, his beloved child, with the fate of Admah and Zeboiim, two cities which were destroyed with Sodom and Gomorrah (mentioned in Deuteronomy 29:22)?

On the contrary, his “heart is overwhelmed, [his] pity is stirred”. Yahweh is angry with his child but he will not destroy him again. The reaction is less of anger than one of grief and of compassion for a people who do not know the significance of what they are doing.

And the reason is very clear: “For I am God and not man.” Although Israel has revealed the unreliability of the human character, God will not be untrue to the love he has shown toward Israel. Israel will be chastised but not destroyed. Yahweh is “the Holy One present among you”. He will not stoop to human ways of reacting. This is a breakthrough in Old Testament thinking; something quite new.

It is normal for us humans to hit back when we are rejected, humiliated and insulted. We call it being “only human”. And it is understandable to project our ways of behaviour on God. But our God is not “only human”. He transcends our tendency to react emotionally. He rather sees the weakness and the blindness of the one who rejects and insults. God does not need to defend himself or his good name. Nothing can change that. He thinks only of the one who is showing hurt in trying to hurt another.

We can see this demonstrated so clearly in the whole life of Jesus, who is “the Holy One present among us” and most clearly in his Passion. He it was he who told us to “turn the other cheek” and to pray for our enemies and those out to destroy us and who showed us the way by his own example. We are called to go beyond being merely “human”, that is, yielding blindly to our feelings and to operate out of a deeper level of understanding and from a position of inner security which does not need to hit back or to lower oneself to the level of the attacker.

Today’s passage should be an inspiration for us to try to become more and more like our God, with the help of the example of Jesus’ life. It is this frame of mind that Jesus urges on us when he says: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) or as it is put in Luke’s gospel: “Be compassionate as your heavenly Father is compassionate” (Luke 6:36).

Let us react less in brittle anger and touchiness and reach out more in compassion to those who can only relate out of fear and insecurity of which their abusive language or anger is a symptom.*

+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 80
Let us see your face, Lord, and we shall be saved.
O shepherd of Israel, hearken.
From your throne upon the cherubim, shine forth.
Rouse your power.
Let us see your face, Lord, and we shall be saved.
Once again, O LORD of hosts,
look down from heaven, and see:
Take care of this vine,
and protect what your right hand has planted,
the son of man whom you yourself made strong.
Let us see your face, Lord, and we shall be saved.
+++     +++    +++    +++
Matthew 10:7-15
Jesus said to his Apostles:
"As you go, make this proclamation:
'The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.'
Cure the sick, raise the dead,
cleanse the lepers, drive out demons.
Without cost you have received;
without cost you are to give.
Do not take gold or silver
or copper for your belts;
no sack for the journey,
or a second tunic,
or sandals, or walking stick.
The laborer deserves his keep.
Whatever town or village you enter,
look for a worthy person in it,
and stay there until you leave.
As you enter a house, wish it peace.
If the house is worthy,
let your peace come upon it;
if not, let your peace return to you.
Whoever will not receive you
or listen to your words
go outside that house or town
and shake the dust from your feet.
Amen, I say to you,
it will be more tolerable
for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah
on the day of judgment
than for that town."
We continue the apostolic discourse of Jesus to his disciples.

Jesus now instructs them on what they are to say and do. They are to proclaim that the kingship of God is close at hand. This, of course, is true because of the presence and work of Jesus. Jesus is himself the very embodiment of the Kingdom, he is the ultimate Kingdom person. The kingship of God is fully present in him. But it will also be present in the Twelve who will do the same things that Jesus is doing: curing the sick, raising the dead, healing lepers, liberating people from evil spirits. Later, we will see the apostles doing all these things in the Acts of the Apostles and the Church continues to do these things.

Today, all of us are called to proclaim the kingship, the lordship of God by our words, actions and lifestyle. The Church is still called to bring healing into people’s lives. We may not raise people literally from the dead; but there many who are virtually dead, though physically alive, and who need to be brought back to a fully human life.

Most of our societies today do not have lepers but we have, in every society, people who are marginalised and pushed out to the fringes. They need to be reintegrated.

There may be people in some places who are genuinely in the possession of evil spirits but there are far more who are in the grip of more mundane demons such as nicotine, alcohol and other drugs, who are caught up in the materialism, consumerism, hedonism and sexism of our time. They too need to be liberated.

Yes, there is a lot of work to be done - each one of us in our own way and in accordance with our gifts and life situation.

Jesus also tells his disciples to travel light. They are not to charge for their service. They are not to find their security in the possession of material things, especially money. To increase their freedom, they should go around with the absolute minimum. In our lives, possessions and our concern about them can be very inhibiting.

Of course, what Jesus does expect is that each person working for the Kingdom has his needs looked after by those he serves. This is where his security lies: in being sure of a place to sleep and food to eat. In return, the missionary brings the Lord’s peace to any home that offers hospitality. This is a vision of a society which is hard to find in our own day, although it is lived in varying degrees of commitment by religious in the Catholic Church and by some followers of other religions like Hinduism and Buddhism.

Mother Teresa’s Sisters come pretty close to the Gospel vision as do the Little Sisters/Brothers of Charles de Foucauld. And that is really the meaning of the second half of today’s passage. Mother Teresa once said: “I do own things but they do not own me.” That is where she differed from so many of us.

Jesus expects that the missionary to find a place to stay wherever he goes. And, once he finds one, he should stay there; he is not to be moving around looking for more desirable conditions. On the other hand, Jesus has hard words for those who refuse hospitality to his messengers. Shaking the dust from one’s feet was symbolical. The dust of any Gentile country was regarded as unclean. By implication so was the dust of an inhospitable home. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah will get off more lightly. (In the Middle East hospitality has always been important. Unfortunately, in our security-conscious urban Western world, it does not flourish. Largely, because of those unnecessary possessions which Jesus would liberate us from.)

There are two things for us to reflect on today:

First, where is our security? Are we burdened down by the things we own? Are we owned by them? How free are we to live a fully Christian life as envisioned by the Gospel? How free are we to do the things that Jesus says we should be doing: bringing healing and wholeness into people’s lives?

Secondly, what kind of hospitality do we give to those - whoever they are - who are generously doing the Lord’s work? Or, if they are not Christians and are doing the work of the Kingdom?*

The Irish Jesuits

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

'As you enter a house, wish it peace. If the house is worthy,
let your peace come upon it;
if not, let your peace return to you.'

I wonder if the Jews at the time used the greeting 'shalom' in the same way as Muslims today use 'salaam'. It can only be said to another Muslim - not an infidel, heretic or apostate. Pakistan enshrines in law which groups are excluded from the 'salaam'. Ahmadi Muslims are one such group.

I think it would be a good thing and much less divisive if Muslims followed Jesus' teaching on wishing peace: wish peace freely in the confidence that it will benefit you, at least!

I wonder how much peaceful cohabitation we owe to this teaching, without realizing it?