Friday, July 9, 2010

Do Not Worry About What To Say; The Spirit Of The Father Will Be Speaking Through You.

Friday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
Hosea 14:2-10
Thus says the LORD:
Return, O Israel, to the LORD, your God;
you have collapsed through your guilt.
Take with you words,
and return to the LORD;
Say to him, "Forgive all iniquity,
and receive what is good, that we may render
as offerings the bullocks from our stalls.
Assyria will not save us,
nor shall we have horses to mount;
We shall say no more, 'Our god,'
to the work of our hands;
for in you the orphan finds compassion."
I will heal their defection, says the LORD,
I will love them freely;
for my wrath is turned away from them.
I will be like the dew for Israel:
he shall blossom like the lily;
He shall strike root like the Lebanon cedar,
and put forth his shoots.
His splendor shall be like the olive tree
and his fragrance like the Lebanon cedar.
Again they shall dwell in his shade
and raise grain;
They shall blossom like the vine,
and his fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

Ephraim! What more has he to do with idols?
I have humbled him, but I will prosper him.
"I am like a verdant cypress tree" —
because of me you bear fruit!

Let him who is wise understand these things;
let him who is prudent know them.
Straight are the paths of the LORD,
in them the just walk,
but sinners stumble in them.
Our last reading from Hosea is taken from the final verses of the book. It is a call for repentance and reconciliation of Israel with its God. In return Yahweh makes his promises. The prophecy ends on a note of hope, already heard in some of the passages we heard earlier in the week. It is a liturgical prayer expressing sincere repentance, corresponding to 6:1-6 (which we did not read) and is followed by a firm promise of God’s blessing. It is now time for Israel to return to its God for it has collapsed under the weight of its guilt.

“Take with you words”. Not empty words but words full of meaning and sincerity, words begging for forgiveness, words of true repentance. They will ask for their sins to be set aside and they will go back to offering sacrifices to the one, true God. They will pray: “Forgive all iniquity, and receive what is good, that we may render as offerings the bullocks from our stalls.”

No longer will they put their trust in Assyria nor in “riding horses”, namely, by making expedient treaties with countries like Egypt which can do little for them against the might of Assyria. No longer will they address the words ‘Our god’ to something which they have made themselves. They will instead put their trust in Yahweh, for in him “the orphan finds compassion”. By alienating himself, Israel, as Yahweh’s son, had made himself an orphan.

Yahweh will extend his love “freely” to Israel, without any force or compulsion, for his anger has now been turned away from his wayward son, in spite of the way he has behaved. Without their God, what are the people but pure orphans? Yahweh, we might say, was turning the other cheek, as Jesus, his Son, will later tell us to do.

In a lovely phrase Yahweh “will be like the dew for Israel”, not in the sense of something transitory but as something cool and refreshing, giving life to plants so that Israel “shall blossom like the lily”.

In an image unique in the Old Testament, Hosea compares his people to a tree, to the great Lebanon cedar and the splendid olive tree. A reformed Israel will have the fragrance of the cedar. Then, Ephraim-Israel will have no more to do with idols. He will have been punished for his wrongdoing but prosperity is returning.

Again, in another tree simile, “I (the Lord) am like a verdant cypress tree”. The evergreen cypress was seen as a symbol of life. “Because of me, you, Israel, bear fruit.” Words very similar to those spoken by Jesus to his disciples when he compared himself to the vine (cf. John 15:1-7) enabling its branches to bear fruit.

With the final verse of the book, our reading ends with a reflection which is probably a later addition in the style of the Wisdom literature, but no less valuable for all that:

Straight are the ways of the Lord,
in them the just walk,
but sinners stumble in them.

A thought worth reflecting on. For the just ways of the Lord are the ways to life, the only ways to real life. It was a lesson that Israel had to learn at a high price. Later, Jesus, the Word of God, will say, “I am the Way; I am Truth and Life.”

But to the sinner, the call of God, of Jesus and the Gospel is a serious stumbling block. It gets in the way of all he longs to have and do. It is why so often there are people who want to rid the world of God, of Jesus and the Gospel and also of those who are trying to build their lives on these truths.

Do I experience my Christian faith as a real liberation and source of joy or is it something that seems to get in the way of what I want?*
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Psalm 51
My mouth will declare your praise.
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.
My mouth will declare your praise.
Behold, you are pleased with sincerity of heart,
and in my inmost being you teach me wisdom.
Cleanse me of sin with hyssop, that I may be purified;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
My mouth will declare your praise.
A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.
My mouth will declare your praise.
Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
My mouth will declare your praise.
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Matthew 10:16-23
Jesus said to his Apostles:
"Behold, I am sending you
like sheep in the midst of wolves;
so be shrewd as serpents
and simple as doves.
But beware of men,
for they will hand you over to courts
and scourge you in their synagogues,
and you will be led
before governors and kings for my sake
as a witness before them and the pagans.
When they hand you over,
do not worry about how you are to speak
or what you are to say.
You will be given at that moment
what you are to say.
For it will not be you who speak
but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Brother will hand over brother to death,
and the father his child;
children will rise up against parents
and have them put to death.
You will be hated by all because of my name,
but whoever endures to the end will be saved.
When they persecute you in one town, flee to another.
Amen, I say to you,
you will not finish the towns of Israel
before the Son of Man comes."
Today’s passage clearly reflects later experiences of the Church as, for instance, described in many parts of the Acts of the Apostles and, of course, in the later history of the Church. Matthew’s gospel was written some 50 years after the death and resurrection of Christ and naturally reflects some experiences of this period. It is both a warning and a description of what has happened and continues to happen to the messengers of the Gospel.

We are sent out like sheep among wolves. We are in a way defenceless because we renounce any use of violence. There are wolves out there eager to destroy us because, despite our message of love, justice and peace, we are seen as a threat to their activities and ambitions.

We are to be clever as snakes and innocent as doves. We are to be as inventive and creative as we can be in dealing with the world; but innocent, not in the sense of being naive but in the sense of being completely free of even any suspicion of wrongdoing. The end does not justify the means!

As has happened so many times and continues to happen, followers of Christ, simply because they are his followers and for no other reason, will be hauled into court, will be the victims of intimidation and torture. This is our opportunity to give witness to Christ and everything that the Gospel stands for.

“When they hand you over” - a favourite Gospel expression: John the Baptist was handed over, Jesus himself was handed over first to the leaders of his people and then to the Romans, his disciples too will be and are handed over and, in every Eucharist, we hear that Jesus in his Body is handed over to us (”this is my Body, which is given up [handed over] for you”).

When we are ‘handed over’ we are not to be anxious what to say. “You will be given what you are to say.” This has been confirmed again and again by people who have been arrested and interrogated. Not only do they know what to say but very often their fear, too, disappears. So that, once released, they simply go back to what they were doing when they were first arrested. (We see this in the Acts of the Apostles.) “You yourselves will not be the speakers; the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you.” The enemies of the Gospel have no ultimate answer to truth, love and justice.

The last words of Jesus are sad because they are true. The following of Christ can break up families. They betray each other, hand each other over. Once baptised, we enter a new family with new obligations. Our commitment to God, to love, to truth, to justice, to freedom transcends obligations that arise from blood. I cannot obey a father who tells me to violate the Gospel; I cannot cooperate with a brother who urges me to do evil. It involves painful choices but the opposite would be, in the long run, worse.

“You will be hated by all on account of me.” It is a saying we can sometimes find difficult to accept. It is difficult to understand that the following of the loving and loveable Jesus can create such hostility and hatred.

“When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next.” We need to be clear that Jesus never tells us to go out of our way to seek persecution or to be hated. On the contrary, we are to make Christianity as attractive as possible. We want people to share our experience of knowing and being loved by Christ. One of the reasons why the Church spread so rapidly throughout the Roman world was precisely because of Christians fleeing from persecution. There comes a time, however, when we can run no further, or when it is clear we have to take a stand and cannot compromise.*

The Irish Jesuits

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

'so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves'

At Delphi a serpent (the python) was supposed to be the source of prophetic wisdom. Perhaps Christ's prophecy of persecution itself can be seen as providing the Apostles with all the serpent wisdom they (and we) will need. Persecution is inevitable but, when it happens (not if!) by being simple as doves they can be true channels of the Holy Spirit. That is why we value Apostolic Succession.

The end of the prophecy ('you will not have gone the round of the towns of Israel before the Son of man comes.') makes the second coming sound very imminent. But it could also imply that they will die with this mission incomplete. Also, John 14:3 shows Jesus promising to return to take the Apostles home to Himself ('after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you to myself').

I think these words of Our Lord's are more than just a piece of advice. Perhaps they are even transformative, like 'receive the Holy Spirit', with the Apostles being made truly both shrewd and simple by them.