Tuesday, July 6, 2010

"The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send laborers for his harvest."

Tuesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
Hosea 8:4-7, 11-13
Thus says the LORD:
They made kings in Israel, but not by my authority;
they established princes, but without my approval.
With their silver and gold they made
idols for themselves, to their own destruction.
Cast away your calf, O Samaria!
my wrath is kindled against them;
How long will they be unable to attain
innocence in Israel?
The work of an artisan,
no god at all,
Destined for the flames —
such is the calf of Samaria!

When they sow the wind,
they shall reap the whirlwind;
The stalk of grain that forms no ear
can yield no flour;
Even if it could,
strangers would swallow it.

When Ephraim made many altars to expiate sin,
his altars became occasions of sin.
Though I write for him my many ordinances,
they are considered as a stranger's.
Though they offer sacrifice,
immolate flesh and eat it,
the LORD is not pleased with them.
He shall still remember their guilt
and punish their sins;
they shall return to Egypt.
Hosea is in a very different mood today from yesterday. He makes a scathing attack on the idolatrous practices of the Northern Kingdom (referred to here also as ‘Israel‘, ‘Samaria’ and ‘Ephraim’), when they set up kings without the Lord’s approval.

This passage refers to the dynastic upheavals of Israel’s declining days. Between the death of Jeroboam II and the fall of Samaria to the Assyrians, a matter of some 25 years, there were four separate dynasties on the throne and as many murdered kings. In fact, after Jeroboam II there were five kings in 13 years and three of them took power violently. They were certainly not God’s choice.

Worse still, they melted down their silver and gold to make false gods, a move that could only bring the downfall of the people. “Cast away, your calf, O Samaria!”. Jeroboam I (930-909 BC) had set up golden calves in the shrines of Bethel and Dan and told the people, “These are your gods”. “But not your God,” says Hosea. “Get rid of them!” is the Lord’s command.

The prophet then quotes a proverb that we still hear today: “When they sow the wind, they will reap the whirlwind.” One evil leads to something much worse. And another: “The stalk of grain that forms no ear can yield no flour.” Another familiar proverb about the results of doing evil. In the Hebrew there is a play on the similar-sounding words for ‘stalk’ and ‘flour’.

Israel sowed the wind of idolatry and reaped the whirlwind of Assyria. And, even if it did produce flour, it would be devoured by the stranger, namely, the Assyrians. Israel will be swallowed up and, among the nations, become of no value. The idolatry of the people, their turning their backs to their God in favour of idols will lead to the disaster of the Assyrian invasion and their deportation into exile.

They made many altars to appease Baal but only committed even greater sins in doing so.

Meanwhile the very ordinances of God are seen now as something foreign. They go through the motions of offering sacrifices and eating the victims as a sign of participation and unity but God knows their hearts are far from him. Some of the sacrifices were partly eaten by the offerer and priests as a sign of the sacrifice’s union with the god. There was no such union, of course, nor could there be with man-made idols.

God is mindful of their guilt because of their idolatrous practices and recourse to impotent gods. They shall be punished by “returning to Egypt”. To go back to Egypt was to go back into foreign bondage as was the case before the Exodus. Now the slavery and bondage is under the Assyrian ruler who will carry them off into exile.

We might ask ourselves two questions today, arising out of these readings:  

How sincere is my offering of myself to God and to Jesus when I celebrate the Eucharist? Is my daily life truly an expression of what I am doing in the church?

Secondly, what are the gods in my life? And do they impede service of my Creator God?*
+++    +++    +++    +++   
Psalm 115
The house of Israel trusts in the Lord.
Our God is in heaven;
whatever he wills, he does.
Their idols are silver and gold,
the handiwork of men.
The house of Israel trusts in the Lord.
They have mouths but speak not;
they have eyes but see not;
They have ears but hear not;
they have noses but smell not.
The house of Israel trusts in the Lord.
They have hands but feel not;
they have feet but walk not.
Their makers shall be like them,
everyone that trusts in them.
The house of Israel trusts in the Lord.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Matthew 9:32-38
A demoniac who could not speak
was brought to Jesus,
and when the demon was driven out
the mute man spoke.
The crowds were amazed and said,
"Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel."
But the Pharisees said,
"He drives out demons by the prince of demons."

Jesus went around to all the towns and villages,
teaching in their synagogues,
proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom,
and curing every disease and illness.
At the sight of the crowds,
his heart was moved with pity for them
because they were troubled and abandoned,
like sheep without a shepherd.
Then he said to his disciples,
"The harvest is abundant
but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest."
We come today to the end of the section (chapters 8-9) recounting ten miracles of Jesus. The last single miracle described is that of a man whose deafness is arises from his being possessed by a demon. It follows immediately the cure of two blind men, a story which we did not read and which is told again by Matthew in chapter 20. It seems to correspond to the healing of the blind man Bartimaeus in Mark (chapter 10), although there are significant differences.

The man is brought to Jesus by the people. Jesus drives out the demon and the man immediately is able to speak. There is a double reaction. The people are astounded: “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel!” The implications of Jesus’ divine origins are very clear. On the other hand, Pharisees were saying, “It is through the prince of devils that he casts out devils.” Elsewhere Jesus will show the absurd illogicality of that charge.

Stories of blindness, deafness and dumbness in the Gospel always have a deeper meaning. Far more serious than physical blindness, deafness and dumbness are being spiritually blind, deaf and dumb. The Pharisees in the Gospel represent such people and we see it happening in this story. They are blind because they cannot see or do not want to see God at work in Jesus; they are deaf because they do not hear or do not want to understand what he says. And they are also dumb because they cannot speak the words of life that Jesus gives them.

The very same can happen to each one of us. Let us pray today to be able to see clearly, to understand what God says to us and to be able to share it with others.

This section of Matthew concludes with a general description or summary of what Jesus was doing. He was going through all the towns and villages of Galilee; he was teaching in synagogues; he was proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom; and he was healing all kinds of diseases and sickness.

But, behind all that he does, is his deep compassion for the needs of the people. He sees them harassed and dejected, wandering and aimless like sheep without a guiding shepherd - a familiar image in the Old Testament (cf. Ezekiel 34). Then, looking at his disciples, he says, “The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send laborers to his harvest.” Jesus cannot do it all on his own. In fact, he will hardly step outside the boundaries of Palestine. He needs many helpers.

Today, the situation has not changed. The harvest is as big as ever; people are as lost and rudderless as they have ever been in spite of the great strides in knowledge we have made. Where are the labourers? They are not just the bishops, priests, religious brothers and sisters. That is a very narrow concept of labourers. Every single baptised person is called, in some way, to be a harvester, to help people find and experience the truth and love that God gives in Jesus. Every single person, in that sense and it is a very real sense, has a vocation, a call to serve and to build the Kingdom.

What and where and with whom is my vocation?*

The Irish Jesuits

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

'Their makers shall be like them,
everyone that trusts in them.'

This is a terrifying idea. If I fall into idolatry, I become as deaf, dumb, blind, immobile and insensitive as a dead idol. The people in the Northern Kingdom became so blind they could not see the obvious - that their worship had become idolatrous; so deaf that they could not hear Hosea's warnings. The immobility of an idol suggests that they were unable to change their ruinous course - there was no chance of conversion to avoid 'reaping the whirlwind'.

The way today's readings are combined makes me see Christ's healings as showing how God deals with idolatry.

The Pharisees also appear incapable of conversion due to spiritual deafness and blindness. The idol they had built must have been their own self-righteousness within an intricate structure of laws. How difficult to abandon all that - they would have to be prepared to lose their sense of who they were.

There are two harvests in today's readings - the whirlwind and the Kingdom - but one Lord. We need His labourers to free us from our idolatry, save us from the whirlwind and bring us safely into His Kingdom.

So, thank God for you, Father!