Friday, July 30, 2010

Lord, In Your Great Love, With Your Constant Help, Answer Me.

Friday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading 1
Jer 26:1-9
In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim,
son of Josiah, king of Judah,
this message came from the LORD:
Thus says the LORD:
Stand in the court of the house of the LORD
and speak to the people of all the cities of Judah
who come to worship in the house of the LORD;
whatever I command you, tell them, and omit nothing.
Perhaps they will listen and turn back,
each from his evil way,
so that I may repent of the evil
I have planned to inflict upon them
for their evil deeds.
Say to them: Thus says the LORD:
If you disobey me,
not living according to the law I placed before you
and not listening to the words of my servants the prophets,
whom I send you constantly though you do not obey them,
I will treat this house like Shiloh,
and make this the city to which all the nations of the earth
shall refer when cursing another.

Now the priests, the prophets, and all the people
heard Jeremiah speak these words in the house of the LORD.
When Jeremiah finished speaking
all that the LORD bade him speak to all the people,
the priests and prophets laid hold of him, crying,
"You must be put to death!
Why do you prophesy in the name of the LORD:
'This house shall be like Shiloh,' and
'This city shall be desolate and deserted'?"
And all the people gathered about Jeremiah
in the house of the LORD.
Today’s reading is in historical or biographical form. Some believe these passages may come from the prophet Baruch. It tells of Jeremiah’s discourse to the people warning them about disasters which will come unless they change their ways. His message will not be well received by the priests and people.

It takes place at the beginning of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah. The Hebrew term indicates rather the beginning of his first official (calendar) year as king, rather than the time of his immediate succession. This places it in the year 609-608 BC.

Jeremiah is told by Yahweh to go to the Temple court, perhaps near what was called the New Gate, and to speak to all those who had come from the surrounding countryside of Judah to worship. He is to say exactly what Yahweh has told him. Through his prophet, Yahweh promises that, if they listen to Jeremiah and change their ways, he will not bring disaster on them.

The Lord’s warning then comes in the clearest language. If each person listens and turns back from their evil ways, the Lord may repent of the evils he planned to inflict on them. On the other hand, if they will not observe the Law and listen to the words of his prophet, the Temple will end up like Shiloh and the city of Jerusalem will become a curse word among the nations of the earth.

Shiloh was an ancient shrine which was now in ruins. The sanctuary there was apparently destroyed by the Philistines. In the first book of Samuel we read: “Israel was smitten, and they fled every man into his tent: and there was a very great slaughter; for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen. And the Ark of God was taken” (1 Samuel 4:10-11). Jerusalem, says Yahweh, will meet the same fate. Not surprisingly, this message did not go down well with those who heard it.

The priests and prophets seized Jeremiah and threatened him with death. The phrase they used described the ultimate penalty for those who seriously violated the law of Moses. The ‘prophets’ here are those false prophets who gave upbeat prophecies putting unrealistic hopes in the people’s minds and glossing over their wrongdoings.

All were horrified and enraged that the Temple should become like Shiloh and the city become deserted. These were absolutely unthinkable ideas. How could God allow such a thing to happen?

But it would and very, very soon. And it would happen again about 40 years after the death of Jesus - never to recover. St Augustine had similar feelings when he saw Rome (for him the centre of the world and its civilisation) fall to the ‘barbarian’ invaders.

Once again we see the dangerous vocation of the prophet. He is blessed with a special insight and he can see where the behaviour of people is leading them. He gives warnings but they fall on deaf ears. Even worse, they are rejected and the prophet is seen as an enemy to be got rid of. But he has no option but to continue speaking out.

What makes the matter more complex is that there will be confusion between true and false prophets and often the beguiling messages of the latter will be listened to. Careful discernment is needed to distinguish the genuine prophet from those who either lull us into complacency or, on the other hand, tell us that “the end of the world is nigh”.*
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Psalm 69
Lord, in your great love, answer me.
Those outnumber the hairs of my head
who hate me without cause.
Too many for my strength
are they who wrongfully are my enemies.
Must I restore what I did not steal?
Lord, in your great love, answer me.
Since for your sake I bear insult,
and shame covers my face.
I have become an outcast to my brothers,
a stranger to my mother's sons,
Because zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who blaspheme you
fall upon me.
Lord, in your great love, answer me.
But I pray to you, O LORD,
for the time of your favor, O God!
In your great kindness answer me
with your constant help.
Lord, in your great love, answer me.
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Matthew 13:54-58
Jesus came to his native place
and taught the people in their synagogue.
They were astonished and said,
"Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds?
Is he not the carpenter's son?
Is not his mother named Mary
and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas?
Are not his sisters all with us?
Where did this man get all this?"
And they took offense at him.
But Jesus said to them,
"A prophet is not without honor except in his native place
and in his own house."
And he did not work many mighty deeds there
because of their lack of faith.
Immediately following the discourse on the parables of the Kingdom, we see Jesus going to his home town of Nazareth. The New American Bible marks this as the beginning of a new section in Matthew’s gospel which it calls ‘Jesus, the Kingdom and the Church’. It ends with chapter 18, which contains the fourth of the five discourses which are distinctive to Matthew.

As was his right, Jesus spent some time teaching in the synagogue at Nazareth. The townspeople were quite amazed to hear the local carpenter’s son speaking as he did. “Where did he get his wisdom and his miraculous powers?” (The New International Version says that the word usually translated ‘carpenter’ could also mean ‘stonemason’.) All his family were well known to the people and they knew he could not have got it from them but they failed to make the next step as to the real origin of what he was saying and doing.

And, in the contrariness of human nature, they were so impressed that they rejected him! He was just too much. A perfect example of familiarity breeding contempt and blinding the eyes to the obvious. And Jesus sadly comments that a prophet can get a hearing everywhere except among his own. Probably all of us have had some experience, directly or indirectly, of this! We Irish, in particular, are well known for our ‘begrudgery’!

It might be helpful for us to see how often and where we ourselves have been guilty of this. How often have we written off what people we know very well, or think we know very well, suggest to us? It is important for us to realise that God can communicate with us through anyone at all and we must never decide in advance who his spokespersons will be.

Finally, we are told that Jesus could not do in Nazareth any of the wonderful things he had done elsewhere “because of their lack of faith”. His hands were tied. Jesus can only help those who are ready to be helped, those who are open to him. How open am I?*

The Irish Jesuits

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