Monday, July 5, 2010

The Lord Is Gracious And Merciful.

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
Hosea 2:16, 17c-18, 21-22
Thus says the LORD:
I will allure her;
I will lead her into the desert
and speak to her heart.
She shall respond there
as in the days of her youth,
when she came up from the land of Egypt.

On that day, says the LORD,
She shall call me "My husband,"
and never again "My baal."
I will espouse you to me forever:
I will espouse you in right and in justice,
in love and in mercy;
I will espouse you in fidelity,
and you shall know the LORD.
Today we begin reading from another prophet - Hosea. Hosea belonged to Israel, the Northern Kingdom, and began his prophetic career in the last years of Jeroboam II (786-746 BC). Some believe that he was a priest, others that he was a cult prophet but the only information on his life comes from this book.

He was a man of great feeling and could go from anger to extreme tenderness. The prophecy is built around his difficult marriage to Gomer and this affected and deepened his teaching. Gomer was guilty of adultery (very humiliating to any husband but especially in those times) and comes to symbolise the sinful Israel. And just as Hosea could not give up his wife in spite of her infidelity so neither could Yahweh abandon Israel who was betrothed to him in spite of her faithlessness and treatment of the poor. There would be punishment but its purpose was to heal and restore the first love.

In fact, it was Hosea who began the tradition of describing the relations between Yahweh and Israel in terms of marriage and this is taken up in the New Testament by Paul and John.

Today’s passage is full of tenderness and a spirit of reconciliation. God speaks to Israel, his chosen people. “I will allure her,” says the Lord speaking of Israel, in the same way that a young man tries to attract the attentions of the young girl on whom he has set his eyes.

He wants to lead his people into the desert for, in the eyes of Hosea, like Amos before him, the years the Israelites spent in the desert were idyllic times when the people had a particularly close relationship with their Lord. Israel was then childlike, knowing nothing of pagan gods, loyal to Yahweh whose presence was manifest in the cloud. (In fact, it was not quite as idyllic as all that but we know how nostalgia, especially nationalistic nostalgia, can romanticise the past.)

Then, says the prophet, Israel will respond as she did in those early days of her existence, “when she came up from the land of Egypt”. Just as Gomer had treated her husband Hosea, so Israel has behaved like an unfaithful wife but now she will come back to Yahweh, her spouse, who, of course, has always been faithful to her.

“On that day, she shall call me ‘My husband’, and never again ‘My baal’.” There is an ironic play on words here. For a long time, the word ‘baal’ which means ‘master’ was applied to husbands and also to God. It had been from ancient times an element in certain proper names, without any idolatrous significance. Yahweh was the ‘master’ to whom the bearer of the name was thus dedicated.

But, after the corrupting influences of the Canaanites, the word ‘Baal’ came to be identified in people’s minds with the Canaanite gods. There was such a vigorous reaction against that worship that this Hebrew word for “master” was no longer be used of the Lord. So verse 19 (not in our reading) says: “Then I will remove from her mouth the names of the Baals [signifying the idols], so that they shall no longer be invoked.”

And then the Lord will take Israel back as his spouse forever. He will adorn his bride with right and justice. “I will espouse you to me forever.” Yahweh takes back his unfaithful wife with the fervour of first love and showers her with spiritual gifts - with right and justice, with love and mercy.

‘Right’ and ‘justice’ are two terms dear to Hosea and are used by him especially to condemn the popular social injustice and corruption of the legal processes. Here they mean right conduct in general.

The primary meaning of the word ‘love’ (hesed) is that of a bond, or contract. When used of human relationships it comes to mean friendship, union, loyalty, especially when these are the outcome of a treaty or formal agreement.

Used of God, the term refers to his faithfulness to his covenant and the kindness he therefore shows his chosen people (in Exodus 34:6). Used by Hosea in the context of married love, the word assumes and from then on retains a still warmer significance: it means the tender love God has for his people and the benefits deriving from it.

But this divine hesed calls for corresponding hesed in man towards Yahweh, consisting of self-giving, loving trust, abandonment, deep affection, ‘piety’, a love (in short) which is a joyful submission to the will of God and an active charity to fellow men.

“I will espouse you in faithfulness and you shall know the Lord.” ‘Know’ here means much more than an intellectual knowing. It implies a deep and intimate relationship of love and unity. God ‘makes himself known’ to man when he engages himself to him by covenant and shows his love (hesed) for him by the benefits he confers. The word ‘know’ is used in the Bible sometimes to express sexual unity as when Mary told the angel that she “did not ‘know’ a man” but it also refers to active acknowledgement of a covenant partner.

Similarly, man ‘knows God’ when he loyally observes God’s covenant, shows gratitude for God’s gifts, and returns love for love. In the wisdom literature ‘knowledge’ in this sense and ‘wisdom’ are practically synonymous. The two words ‘know’ and hesed are closely interlinked.

Passages like this, of course, are laying the ground for the love of God for us which was shown in such a dramatic fashion by Jesus, the Incarnate love of God. The whole of the Gospel is suffused with this love and we are called to be filled with that love which is extended to God, to every single person without exception and also to ourselves.*
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 145
The Lord is gracious and merciful.
Every day will I bless you,
and I will praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the LORD and highly to be praised;
his greatness is unsearchable.
The Lord is gracious and merciful.
Generation after generation praises your works
and proclaims your might.
They speak of the splendor of your glorious majesty
and tell of your wondrous works.
The Lord is gracious and merciful.
They discourse of the power of your terrible deeds
and declare your greatness.
They publish the fame of your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your justice.
The Lord is gracious and merciful.
The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and of great kindness.
The LORD is good to all
and compassionate toward all his works.
The Lord is gracious and merciful.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Matthew 9:18-26
While Jesus was speaking, an official came forward,
knelt down before him, and said,
"My daughter has just died.
But come, lay your hand on her, and she will live."
Jesus rose and followed him, and so did his disciples.
A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years
came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak.
She said to herself,
"If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be cured."
Jesus turned around and saw her, and said,
"Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you."
And from that hour the woman was cured.

When Jesus arrived at the official's house
and saw the flute players and the crowd
who were making a commotion,
he said, "Go away! The girl is not dead but sleeping."
And they ridiculed him.
When the crowd was put out,
he came and took her by the hand,
and the little girl arose.
And news of this spread throughout all that land.
There is a great contrast in the way Matthew tells this double story compared to Mark.

Matthew strips it down to the bare details. The 20 verses that Mark needs are reduced here to 9. He makes no mention of the large crowd that was following Jesus; only his disciples are present. He concentrates on Jesus and on what Jesus does and says.

A synagogue official approaches Jesus and says that his daughter has just died. He is in fact the head of the synagogue and in Mark and Luke we learn that his name is Jairus. In Mark’s version, the girl is seriously ill and only dies later in the story. “Please come and lay your hand on her and she will come back to life.” It is an extraordinary act of faith in the power of Jesus. Up to this he had not brought anyone back from the dead.

As Jesus and his disciples were on the way to the house, a woman who had suffered from a bleeding problem for 12 years unobtrusively touched the hem of Jesus’ garment. “If only I can touch his cloak, I shall get well.” Again, we are presented with a deep faith and trust in Jesus’ power.

This was really the only way this unfortunate woman could approach Jesus with other people around. Her bleeding was not only a physical ailment. It also involved ritual uncleanness and she was not supposed to be in close contact with people. If they had known, they might have done something terrible to her. Nor, for the same reason, could she approach Jesus openly about her problem, so she quietly touched the hem of his robe. She trusted that that would be enough and she was right.

Jesus, realising she had touched his garment, turned and said kindly, “Courage, daughter! Your faith has made you whole again.” And the bleeding stops instantly.

We now go back to the original story. As Jesus and his disciples approach the house they find a large crowd of mourners, many of them wailing and weeping in the fashion still common in West, South and East Asia. Jesus tells them all to go away. “The little girl is not dead; she is asleep.” At which, the crowd laughed at him. Whether the girl was actually dead or was simply in some kind of death-like coma does not really matter. As far as everyone around was concerned she was dead.

Jesus went into the house, took the girl by the hand and she “arose”. There are overtones of resurrection in the word “arose”.

In both these stories, using the literary device of ‘inclusion’ with one story wrapped inside another, we have a common theme of Jesus as Lord of life. It is Matthew’s way of saying what we read in John: “I am the resurrection and the life.” That life is to be understood in the fullest possible sense involving the physical, social, intellectual and spiritual.

In one story the girl is not only given back her physical life but is restored to the bosom of her family and all that means. In the other story, not only is the woman’s haemorrhage stopped but she can be fully reinstated into normal relationships with the people around her. She is in a very real sense made whole again.

Let us today pray for Jesus to heal us and make us whole, the wholeness that is holiness, the holiness that is wholeness.*

The Irish Jesuits


Sarah in the tent said...

'She shall respond there as in the days of her youth'

The fact that this reading from Hosea is combined with Jesus healing a woman and reviving a girl makes me think about what these miracles might have meant as a sign to the Jews around Him.

The woman is obviously now barren, but her health problems might also have been considered a sign of immorality, like Gomer. If she is like Gomer, she represents Israel and her barrenness and degradation are like those of God's people. Jesus calls her 'daughter' and her story is swept up into the story of someone else's daughter, an innocent young virgin. In a sense, the woman is also Jairus' daughter, because she is a member of the faith community he leads.

Isaiah 7:14 says:
'The young woman is with child and will give birth to a son whom she will call Immanuel.'

This applies to the Blessed Virgin, but perhaps also to Israel and the Church. The woman's bleeding ceases, so she becomes like a girl again, and the girl is raised up to new life. There is a renewal of the faith community when Jairus becomes aware that God is truly with him: Immanuel. Our Lady gave birth to Jesus, but Jairus' daughter may also be seen to have played a role in bringing the Church - His body - to the world.

It's strange that in the nativity narrative, the Virgin is also linked to a barren woman.

The longing for Israel to return to the purity of her youth is expressed in the reading from Hosea.

Does anyone know what Jairus did next?

Fr. John L. Sullivan said...

The story of Jairus’ daughter is found in all three synoptic gospels: Mark 5:21–43, Matthew 9:18–26, Luke 8:40–56. It follows the exorcism at Gerasa of the man tending the pigs. Jairus, a patron of the synagogue, asks Jesus to heal his dying daughter. As they travel to Jairus's house, a sick woman in the crowd touches Jesus' cloak and is healed of her sickness.

Meanwhile the daughter dies, but Jesus continues to the house and brings her back to life, or in his own words, awakens her. In Mark's account, Jesus speaks the Aramaic phrase "Tabitha Koum" (meaning, "Little girl, get up!")
What happened to Jairus and his daughter after the healing? It stands to reason that both of them became disciples, although there is no further mention of them in the gospels, in Acts, or in the epistles. In other words, they are included among the many disciples who are not mentioned by name, and are now among the blessed. That reminds me of what Sister told us when I was in the fifth or sixth grade: “When you are praying, don’t forget that many of your ancestors who have died are now in Heaven. Ask their intercession for you, for your family, and especially for those who most need those prayers, and don’t think of praying for themselves.”