Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Kingdom Of Heaven Is At Hand.

Wednesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
Hosea 10:1-3, 7-8, 12
Israel is a luxuriant vine
whose fruit matches its growth.
The more abundant his fruit,
the more altars he built;
The more productive his land,
the more sacred pillars he set up.
Their heart is false,
now they pay for their guilt;
God shall break down their altars
and destroy their sacred pillars.
If they would say,
"We have no king"—
Since they do not fear the LORD,
what can the king do for them?

The king of Samaria shall disappear,
like foam upon the waters.
The high places of Aven shall be destroyed,
the sin of Israel;
thorns and thistles shall overgrow their altars.
Then they shall cry out to the mountains, "Cover us!"
and to the hills, "Fall upon us!"

"Sow for yourselves justice,
reap the fruit of piety;
break up for yourselves a new field,
for it is time to seek the LORD,
till he come and rain down justice upon you."
Like Harold McMillan’s Britain, Israel under Jeroboam II (793-753) “never had it so good”. The Northern Kingdom is called ‘Israel’ after the name of its ancestor and it is described as a “luxuriant vine”, which was a frequent metaphor for Israel.

But, as we so often see happening in our own world, the good life does not result in moral living. Quite the opposite, in fact, is the norm. We have only to look at our own “western” world in North America, Europe and parts of Asia.

“The more abundant his (i.e. Israel’s) fruit, the more altars… the more sacred pillars he set up.” How true! The greater the prosperity, the higher the standard of living, the more idols are erected, things which people use all their energies in worshipping and pursuing.

But the people’s “hearts are false”, their “hearts” are in the wrong place. Their heart is divided between worship of Yahweh and the Baals or hesitating between Egypt and Assyria for their alliances. Israel formally calls on God but it dishonours him through its worship of idols. But God will “break down these altars and destroy these sacred pillars”.

The values of truth, love and justice do not belong in the world of unlimited materialism, consumerism, hedonism, uninhibited sexual indulgence, fashion, status, success, power…

In fact, in so far as they are denials of truth and love and justice they will ultimately collapse because of their inbuilt contradictions for they are essentially opposed to people’s deepest aspirations, aspirations planted in our very being by our Creator.

“If only they would say, ‘We have no king’”, where ‘king’ refers to the idol they have set up to worship. “What can the king do for them?” The prophet’s question is rhetorical and requires no answer.

Little do they realise in the midst of their prosperity that the king of Samaria, namely the calf-idol, is doomed to disappear “like foam upon the waters”. Similarly, the “high places of Aven”, that is, the idolatrous shrine at Bethel, the “sin of Israel”, will meet with destruction and its altars overgrown with weeds.

They will be terrible days indeed when the people will call out for the hills to cover them and fall on them. Cries of utter despair quoted by Jesus when speaking to the women who sympathised with him as he carried his cross to Calvary.Don’t cry for me but for yourselves and your children. For the days are coming when people will say, ‘How lucky are the women who never bore children [normally regarded as a terrible shame]… That will be the time when people will say to the mountains, ‘Fall upon us!’ and to the hills ‘Hide us!’ (Luke 23:28-30), referring to the coming destruction of Jerusalem. It is also cited in Revelation (6:16) in the context of the cosmic upheaval accompanying the coming of the ‘Day of the Lord’.

But there is a way out, if the people change their ways and begin to plant justice, a justice where all share equitably in the resources available and to reap the fruits that come from deeply loving and compassionate hearts. It is time now to plough new furrows in what has up to now been fallow and unproductive ground and go in search of God, becoming instead productive and fruitful. We remember what Jesus said would happen to the vine tree whose branches did not bear fruit.

It is for us to ask ourselves today to what extent we have been carried away by the affluence of our societies and the prevailing values (or lack thereof).

Let us think about ploughing a new field in our own lives and work to produce the fruit that matters, the fruit that lasts. Fruit that not only we ourselves can enjoy but which can be shared with others.*
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Psalm 102
Seek always the face of the Lord.
Sing to him, sing his praise,
proclaim all his wondrous deeds.
Glory in his holy name;
rejoice, O hearts that seek the LORD!
Seek always the face of the Lord.
Look to the LORD in his strength;
seek to serve him constantly.
Recall the wondrous deeds that he has wrought,
his portents, and the judgments he has uttered.
Seek always the face of the Lord.
You descendants of Abraham, his servants,
sons of Jacob, his chosen ones!
He, the LORD, is our God;
throughout the earth his judgments prevail.
Seek always the face of the Lord.
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Matthew 10:1-7
Jesus summoned his Twelve disciples
and gave them authority over unclean spirits
to drive them out,
and to cure every disease and every illness.
The names of the Twelve Apostles are these:
first, Simon called Peter, and his brother Andrew;
James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John;
Philip and Bartholomew,
Thomas and Matthew the tax collector;
James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus;
Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot
who betrayed Jesus.

Jesus sent out these Twelve
after instructing them thus,
"Do not go into pagan territory
or enter a Samaritan town.
Go rather to the lost sheep
of the house of Israel.
As you go, make this proclamation:
'The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.'"
We begin today the second of the five discourses of Jesus which are a unique feature of Matthew’s gospel. It consists of instructions to Jesus’ disciples on how they are to conduct their missionary work and the reactions they can expect in carrying it out.

It begins by the summoning of the inner circle of twelve disciples. Matthew presumes we already know about their formal selection, which he does not recount. (Mark and Luke clearly distinguish the selection from the later missioning.) These twelve disciples are now called apostles.

The two words are distinct in meaning and we should not confuse them. A disciple (Latin discipulus, from discere, to learn) is a follower, someone who learns from a teacher and assimilates that teaching into his own life. An apostle (Greek, apostolos, from apostello - to send forth)  is someone who is sent out on a mission, someone who is deputed to disseminate the teaching of the master to others. In the New Testament a distinction is made between the two. All the gospels, for instance, speak of the Twelve Apostles and Luke mentions 72 Disciples.

However, that does not mean the two roles are mutually exclusive. On the contrary, all of us who are called to be disciples are also expected to be apostles, actively sharing our faith with others. It is very easy for us to see ourselves, ‘ordinary’ Catholics, as disciples and to regard priests and religious as doing the apostolic work of the Church. That would be very wrong. Every one of us called to be a disciple is thereby, in virtue of Baptism and Confirmation, also called to be an apostle.

Applied to the twelve men (yes, they were all men - and thereby hang many disputes!) the word ‘apostle’ does have a special sense. They would become, so to speak, the pillars or foundations on which the new Church would be built, with Peter as their leader. They would have the special role of handing on and interpreting the tradition they had received from Jesus, a role which in turn they handed on to what we now call the bishops, with the pope, as leader and spokesperson.

Later on, Paul would be added to their number and Matthias would be chosen to replace the renegade Judas. In fact, it is interesting to see the mixed bunch of people that Jesus chose. We know next to nothing about most of them but they were for the most part simple people, some of them definitely uneducated and perhaps even illiterate. Judas may well have been the most qualified among them. And yet we see the extraordinary results they produced and the unstoppable movement they set in motion. The only explanation is that it was ultimately the work of God through the Holy Spirit.

The first instructions they are given are to confine their activities to their own people. They are not to go to pagans at this stage or even to the Samaritans. As the heirs to the covenant and as God’s people, the Jews are to be the first to be invited to follow the Messiah and experience his saving power. And their proclamation is the same one that Jesus gave at the outset of his public preaching: “The Kingdom of Heaven [i.e. of God] is at hand.”*

The Irish Jesuits

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