Friday, July 23, 2010

The Lord Will Guard Us As A Shepherd Guards His Flock.

Friday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
Jeremiah 3:14-17
Return, rebellious children, says the LORD,
for I am your Master;
I will take you, one from a city, two from a clan,
and bring you to Zion.
I will appoint over you shepherds after my own heart,
who will shepherd you wisely and prudently.
When you multiply and become fruitful in the land,
says the LORD,
They will in those days no longer say,
"The ark of the covenant of the LORD!"
They will no longer think of it, or remember it,
or miss it, or make another.

At that time they will call Jerusalem the LORD's throne;
there all nations will be gathered together
to honor the name of the LORD at Jerusalem,
and they will walk no longer in their hardhearted wickedness.
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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Jeremiah 31
The Lord will guard us as a shepherd guards his flock
Hear the word of the LORD, O nations,
proclaim it on distant isles, and say:
He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together,
he guards them as a shepherd his flock.
The Lord will guard us as a shepherd guards his flock.
The LORD shall ransom Jacob,
he shall redeem him from the hand of his conqueror.
Shouting, they shall mount the heights of Zion,
they shall come streaming to the LORD's blessings:
The grain, the wine, and the oil, the sheep and the oxen.
The Lord will guard us as a shepherd guards his flock.
Then the virgins shall make merry and dance,
and young men and old as well.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will console and gladden them after their sorrows.
The Lord will guard us as a shepherd guards his flock.
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Matthew 13:18-23
Jesus said to his disciples:
"Hear the parable of the sower.
The seed sown on the path
is the one who hears the word of the Kingdom
without understanding it,
and the Evil One comes and steals away
what was sown in his heart.
The seed sown on rocky ground
is the one who hears the word
and receives it at once with joy.
But he has no root and lasts only for a time.
When some tribulation or persecution
comes because of the word,
he immediately falls away.
The seed sown among thorns
is the one who hears the word,
but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches
choke the word and it bears no fruit.
But the seed sown on rich soil
is the one who hears the word and understands it,
who indeed bears fruit
and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold."
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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