Saturday, July 10, 2010

I Heard The Voice Of The Lord Saying: "Whom Shall I Send?" "Lord, Here I Am; Send Me."

Saturday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
Isaiah 6:1-8
In the year King Uzziah died,
I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne,
with the train of his garment filling the temple.
Seraphim were stationed above;
each of them had six wings:
with two they veiled their faces,
with two they veiled their feet,
and with two they hovered aloft.

They cried one to the other,
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts!
All the earth is filled with his glory!"
At the sound of that cry,
the frame of the door shook
and the house was filled with smoke.

Then I said, "Woe is me, I am doomed!
For I am a man of unclean lips,
living among a people of unclean lips;
yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"
Then one of the seraphim flew to me,
holding an ember
that he had taken with tongs from the altar.
He touched my mouth with it and said,
"See, now that this has touched your lips,
your wickedness is removed, your sin purged."

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
"Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?"
"Here I am," I said; "send me!"
On the last day of this week we begin readings from the prophet Isaiah and they will continue until Friday of next week inclusive.

Isaiah was one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament who appeared at a critical period in the history of Israel. The Northern Kingdom (also called Israel, Ephraim or Samaria) had collapsed under attacks from the Assyrians, then Sennacherib laid siege to Jerusalem in the Southern Kingdom (Judah). Previous to this, in the year 742 BC, when Uzziah, king of Judah died, Isaiah was called to be a prophet in the Temple of Jerusalem. His mission covered three periods during the reigns of Kings Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah.

The Book of Isaiah, as we have it in our Bibles today, is divided into three parts:

The first part (chapters 1-39) are attributed to Isaiah and some of his disciples;

The second part (chapters 40-55), also known as Deutero-Isaiah (Second Isaiah) are thought to have been written by an anonymous poet who wrote much later, towards the end of the exile in Babylon. The passages from Isaiah we read in Holy Week, e.g. about the Suffering Servant, come from this part.

The third part (chapters 55-66) consists of oracles from a later period and composed by disciples who wrote in the spirit of Isaiah.
We will just be taking selected passages from the first part. Other parts of Isaiah are read at other times of the year, especially during Advent and Lent.

But before we start at the beginning of the book, in chapter 1, on Monday, we read today Isaiah’s solemn call by God to be a prophet. This is not recorded until chapter 6 where it fittingly introduces the “Book of Immanuel”, which consists of a series of oracles relating to the war between Syria and Ephraim (the Northern Israelite Kingdom).

Isaiah’s commission as a prophet probably preceded his preaching ministry but the account was postponed to serve as a climax to the opening series of oracles and to provide a warrant for the shocking announcements of judgement they contain. The people had mocked the “Holy One of Israel” (5:19), and now Yahweh has commissioned Isaiah to call them to account. This passage is generally accepted as being a truly majestic piece of high literary quality.
The experience took place in the year King Uzziah died. This happened in the year 740, at the end of an 11-year reign. Uzziah, also known as Azariah, had been a good and powerful king. But when he insisted on burning incense in the temple, he was struck with leprosy (or some other chronic skin ailment) which lasted till his death.

Isaiah begins by saying that he saw the Lord on a high and lofty throne. It is understood to be an internal vision which probably took place in the Temple, though it could refer to the heavenly temple. The train of the Lord’s robe, a long, flowing garment almost filled the holy place. This was the sanctuary, the Hekal, the chamber leading into the Debir or ‘Holy of Holies’.

Looking down on God’s throne are six-winged seraphim. Isaiah is the first to introduce these beings to the Hebrew Testament. The Hebrew root underlying the word means “burn”, perhaps indicating their purity as God’s ministers. They may also correspond to the cherubs on the Ark of the Covenant. With one pair of wings they cover their faces in reverence so that they will not look directly at God; with another pair they modestly veil their feet and this is understood to refer euphemistically to their sexual organs; with the third pair they remained hovered in flight, indicating their eagerness to be in God’s service.
They all sing in chorus, “Holy, holy, holy, All the earth is filled with his glory”. Words which have been transposed into our Eucharistic liturgy. The triple “Holy” emphasises the unique holiness of God, whose outer manifestation is his glory. It is a favourite epithet of Isaiah who frequently refers to God as “the Holy One of Israel”. This divine sanctity requires man himself to be sanctified i.e. separated from everything profane, purified from sin, sharing in the ‘justice’ of God. “Full of his glory”: elsewhere in the Hebrew Testament the worldwide glory of God is linked with his miraculous signs:

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous deeds.
And blessed forever be his glorious name;
may the whole earth be filled with his glory.
Amen. Amen. (Psalm 72:18-19)

As they sing, the doorframe shakes and the building is filled with smoke, a sure sign of God’s presence, reminiscent of Mount Sinai in the past and of Pentecost later on. And as the power of God’s voice terrified the Israelites at Mount Sinai, when the mountain was covered with smoke, so Isaiah is understandably overcome with fear and trepidation.

“Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Fully aware of his sinfulness, he has come face to face with Yahweh. It was universally believed by the Israelites that anyone who saw God face to face would immediately die. “No man sees me and still lives,” says Exodus (33:20). Jacob was a privileged exception when he struggled with the angel at Peniel: “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared” (Genesis 32:31). As was Moses: “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another” (Exodus 33:11). The Transfiguration, in which Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus, was a similar theophany (Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:2-36).

At that moment, one of the seraphim took a burning ember from the altar and touched Isaiah’s mouth with it, signifying his mandate to speak on Yahweh’s behalf. The live coal is holy because Yahweh has sanctified the altar from which it is taken. Coals of fire were taken inside the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement, when sacrifice was made to atone for sin. Fire, too, is normally associated with Yahweh in the theophanies of Sinai. But that was a destroying fire (”The glory of the Lord was seen as a consuming fire on the mountaintop”); here it is purifying, as in the case of Jesus of whom John the Baptist says: “He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11). Fire too will accompany the Israelites at night as they wander through the desert and tongues of fire will symbolise the presence of the Spirit on Jesus’ disciples.

Now the fiery coal fire removes Isaiah’s sin and makes him fit to be the Lord’s spokesman. “See,” says the seraph, “now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.”

Then follows the question which is also an invitation and a call: “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” To which Isaiah responds at once: “Here I am, send me!”
The readiness of Isaiah recalls the faith of Abraham, Genesis 12:1-4, and is in contrast to the hesitation of Moses, Exodus 4:10-12, and especially of Jeremiah. We think too of the invitation which was given to Mary to be the Mother of the Messiah and the Son of God. Her response was as ready as that of Isaiah: “See the slave girl of the Lord; let it happen to me as you have said.” A ‘Yes’ that was never revoked, even in the most trying times.

Each one of us, too, has been called by God through our baptism and perhaps by some later experiences, although probably not as dramatic as that of Isaiah. The important thing is my response. “Have you said ‘Yes’ yet?” Let me say it today with all my heart: “Lord, here I am; send me.”*
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 93
The Lord is king; he is robed in majesty.
The LORD is king, in splendor robed;
robed is the LORD and girt about with strength.
The Lord is king; he is robed in majesty.
And he has made the world firm,
not to be moved.
Your throne stands firm from of old;
from everlasting you are, O LORD.
The Lord is king; he is robed in majesty.
Your decrees are worthy of trust indeed:
holiness befits your house,
O LORD, for length of days.
The Lord is king; he is robed in majesty.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Matthew 10:24-33
Jesus said to his Apostles:
"No disciple is above his teacher,
no slave above his master.
It is enough for the disciple
that he become like his teacher,
for the slave that he become like his master.
If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul,
how much more those of his household!

"Therefore do not be afraid of them.
Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed,
nor secret that will not be known.
What I say to you in the darkness,
speak in the light;
what you hear whispered,
proclaim on the housetops.
And do not be afraid
of those who kill the body
but cannot kill the soul;
rather, be afraid of the one
who can destroy
both soul and body in Gehenna.
Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin?
Yet not one of them falls to the ground
without your Father's knowledge.
Even all the hairs of your head are counted.
So do not be afraid;
you are worth more than many sparrows.
Everyone who acknowledges me before others
I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.
But whoever denies me before others,
I will deny before my heavenly Father."
We continue Jesus’ apostolic discourse to his apostles and all those who do the work of evangelisation.
a, He reminds them very clearly that they can expect no better treatment than he himself received. “The disciple is not superior to his teacher.” All in all, Christians are to show no surprise at violence and abuse against them. But, at times, it can be hard to understand. However, if they treated the Master and Lord in this way, his followers can expect no better treatment. If the Master is called the Prince of Devils, how much more those of his family! Remember what Jesus had said earlier: “Blessed, fortunate are those who suffer persecution for the sake of the Gospel.”

b, Much of Jesus’ teaching to his disciples was done quietly and away from the crowds. He frequently told both people he cured and demons not to speak about him. Even his disciples were not to reveal his identity as Messiah. People at that stage were not ready and could have misinterpreted the true meaning of his teaching.

Also his message could not be fully understood until he had completed his mission through his passion, death and resurrection. Only that would put his teaching into its proper context.
But, in the course of time, it will be all made public. Later on it will be the duty of his disciples to deliver the message in its entirety and without fear. The Christian community, although it does consist of initiates with a way of life that is not always understood by outsiders, has no secrets. The ‘mysteries’ that Paul and others speak of are truths, previously unknown, which have been revealed. They are not like those of the so-called ‘mystery religions’ of the time or of secretive societies in our own. The message of Christ is to be made known to all in its entirety, even in hostile environments.

c, Some of those who proclaim the Gospel are going to be threatened even with losing their lives, a fact that is testified to by a long list of martyrs (martyr = witness) over the centuries. Jesus is saying that physical death is not the worst thing that can happen to a person. It is a reality we are all going to have to face sooner or later anyway. Far worse than physical death is the “loss of one’s soul”, that is, the death of one’s integrity. There are some values which transcend our physical survival. To betray such a value in order to live a bit longer is to lose one’s soul. Thomas More understood this, so did Oscar Romero and many, many others.

Jesus is telling us that, even though we may, as he himself did, lose our lives, he will be with us. To be unfaithful to our deepest beliefs and convictions is a fate worse than death.*

The Irish Jesuits


Laura Berry said...

Very interesting!

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

Thanks for this post; it touched home. In my experience, today is no different than life centuries ago. When we are willing to be sent, even today, we do get sent. And, oh, my, the interesting things that then occur! I love being sent because I love being trusted to go, and I learn a lot, but I cannot say the experiences are comfortable, easy, or even in some cases, things I even know how to do. But I am grateful that I am allowed to try.