Wednesday, July 28, 2010

O God, You Are My Stronghold, My Refuge On The Day Of Distress.

Wednesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
Jeremiah 15:10, 16-21
Woe to me, mother, that you gave me birth!
a man of strife and contention to all the land!
I neither borrow nor lend,
yet all curse me.
When I found your words, I devoured them;
they became my joy and the happiness of my heart,
Because I bore your name,
O LORD, God of hosts.
I did not sit celebrating
in the circle of merrymakers;
Under the weight of your hand I sat alone
because you filled me with indignation.
Why is my pain continuous,
my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?
You have indeed become for me a treacherous brook,
whose waters do not abide!
Thus the LORD answered me:
If you repent, so that I restore you,
in my presence you shall stand;
If you bring forth the precious without the vile,
you shall be my mouthpiece.
Then it shall be they who turn to you,
and you shall not turn to them;
And I will make you toward this people
a solid wall of brass.
Though they fight against you,
they shall not prevail,
For I am with you,
to deliver and rescue you, says the LORD.
I will free you from the hand of the wicked,
and rescue you from the grasp of the violent.
The call of Jeremiah is renewed. We have today the third of Jeremiah’s so-called “confessions”, in which he bares his soul to God. It includes two responses from the Lord, of which part of one is included in today’s reading.

Jeremiah is experiencing a spiritual crisis half-way through his ministry and is feeling very sorry for himself. Here, God, far from issuing sympathetic noises, tells him to get his act together and to stop his orgy of self-pity. He calls Jeremiah back to a new conversion and renews, in almost the same words, the commands and promises of the prophet’s original call.

(For a helpful picture of Jeremiah and his difficulties, see the Introduction to the Prophets in the New Jerusalem Bible.)

The tone is set by the opening words: “Woe is me!” The reason for Jeremiah’s moaning is that he has become, as a prophet, a source of strife and dissension. He regrets that his mother gave birth to him to have to face such problems in his prophetic calling. He sees himself merely as a source of strife and division everywhere.

“I have neither lent nor borrowed,” he says and yet he has all this trouble, everyone is against him. We know how lending or borrowing money can be a serious source of friction and even violence between lenders and borrowers.

“Your anger is very slow” he complains to God. The people causing him so much trouble are those he is accusing of being unfaithful and disobedient to God but they are being allowed to get away with it. Where is God’s protection for his prophet?

“Realise that I suffer insult for your sake,” he says in case his God is not aware of what he is going through and who is the real cause of his troubles. It does not make sense because he has been so faithful to God and his Law. “When your words came, I devoured them: your word was my delight and the joy of my heart.” He had made God’s word and God’s law his very own; he had assimilated them into his very being. For he had been called in Yahweh’s name; he belonged to Yahweh in a special way.

He never had anything to do with “scoffers”, the rich and the arrogant who felt they were above any law, including God’s. They were those who mocked at and rejected the message he brought. Under God’s constraint, he “held himself aloof” in the sense that he never married and he had few friends because “with [God's] hand” on him he felt that that was part of his calling. Part of his loneliness was his distancing himself with indignation at the sins of Judah. The prophet’s lot can be a lonely one.

Why, then, does he have to suffer such continuous pain from a wound that will not heal? “Do you mean for me to be a deceptive stream with inconstant waters?” God has become for him a treacherous brook, whose waters are inconstant. Jeremiah here, with a hint of sarcasm, accuses God of being undependable, in contrast to the Lord’s own earlier description of himself as a “spring of living water”. In Jeremiah 2:13 Yahweh had said: “My people have forsaken me, the source of living waters” (see Thursday of Week 16).

Yahweh then replies to Jeremiah’s “confession”. The Lord commands Jeremiah to repent, then encourages him and renews his call. If Jeremiah is willing to return then God will happily take him back into his service. But there is a condition. He must speak “noble, not despicable” thoughts, like those he has just been uttering. Only then can he truly act as the “mouth” or spokesperson of God. Those negatives thoughts will come back to him but he must not go back to them.

If he follows the Lord’s command, then the Lord guarantees that he will be strong enough to face any opposition. “I will make you a bronze wall fortified against this people.” But there is no promise that life will be any easier. On the contrary, “they will fight against you but they will not overcome you”. Why? “Because I am with you to save you and deliver you.” A solemn pledge - “it is the Lord who speaks”.

Persecution and rejection is almost inevitable for anyone who takes a prophetic stance in the Church or outside it. The prophet, by his or her calling, calls into question the conventional wisdom of a society or church.

It is the role of the prophet not so much to tell the future as to point out the direction in which the community should be going, what it should be doing and what it should not be doing, and what the consequences of its actions are likely to be.

Sometimes the prophet, in order to be heard, may speak in very clear and blunt language. This is not likely to enhance his popularity with those who become the object of his attacks or criticisms.

Jesus told us to love unconditionally and to forgive for ever but he never, never said that we would be loved in return. On the contrary, he said that among the ‘blessed’ would be included those who suffered persecution for the sake of the Gospel.

Jeremiah does not seem to have understood this fully. He felt that because of his loyalty to God he should have been protected by God and respected by the people. He told God this in no uncertain terms. In reply he was told that, as a prophet, he would continue to be scorned and rejected but that he would be given the strength to carry on. We cannot expect anything different.*
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Psalm 59
God is my refuge on the day of distress.
Rescue me from my enemies, O my God;
from my adversaries defend me.
Rescue me from evildoers;
from bloodthirsty men save me.
God is my refuge on the day of distress.
For behold, they lie in wait for my life;
mighty men come together against me,
Not for any offense or sin of mine, O LORD.
God is my refuge on the day of distress.
O my strength! for you I watch;
for you, O God, are my stronghold,
As for my God, may his mercy go before me;
may he show me the fall of my foes.
God is my refuge on the day of distress.
But I will sing of your strength
and revel at dawn in your mercy;
You have been my stronghold,
my refuge in the day of distress.
God is my refuge on the day of distress.
O my strength! your praise will I sing;
for you, O God, are my stronghold,
my merciful God!
God is my refuge on the day of distress.
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Matthew 13:44-46
Jesus said to his disciples:
"The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field,
which a person finds and hides again,
and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Again, the Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant
searching for fine pearls.
When he finds a pearl of great price,
he goes and sells all that he has and buys it."
Today we read the 5th and 6th parables which have basically the same message but with some difference in emphasis.

In the first, a man unexpectedly discovers treasure in a field and quickly puts it back again. In ancient times it was common to hide treasure in the ground since there were no banks as we know them. There were, however, “bankers”, people who could handle money, probably closer to what we would call moneylenders. (Remember the parable of the talents where the man who hid his talent was told he should have deposited it with a banker so that it could earn interest. Instead, he did what someone in this parable had done - buried it in a field.)

The finder then goes and quietly buys the field, selling everything he has in order to do so; the treasure is now his.

In the second parable, a jewel merchant comes across a magnificent pearl. Again, he sells all the lesser pearls he already has in order to gain possession of it.

These, Jesus says, are images of the Kingdom. There is a significant difference between them. In the first parable, the man comes on the treasure purely by accident. He was not looking for anything like that. He just came across it while working in someone else’s field. That is the way that Christ can come into some people’s lives. They are living their lives with a greater or lesser degree of happiness and satisfaction and then, out of the blue, they are brought face to face with the Christian message. It can happen in so many ways and has been described in many accounts of conversion. The effect is to turn their whole life around.

In the second case, the man is looking for something. He has a very definite goal in mind - the perfect pearl. Similarly, a person can be looking for real meaning in their life. They may have tried many things already with only partial satisfaction. Then they come across the Gospel of Jesus and they know that here is the answer they have been looking for. Everything else is abandoned as they focus entirely on following the Way of Jesus. They know that this is it.

Once we truly understand what it really means to live under the Lordship of God, once we have a full understanding of the vision of life that Jesus proposes, then everything else pales into insignificance. And, whatever enticements may come our way, we know that there is no other way to go. Jesus is the Way. Jesus is Truth and Jesus is Life. We would not exchange his Way for anything.*

The Irish Jesuits

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