Tuesday, July 27, 2010

O God, You Are Our Only Hope. For The Glory Of Your Name, O LORD, Deliver Us!

Tuesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
Jeremiah 14:17-22
Let my eyes stream with tears
day and night, without rest,
Over the great destruction which overwhelms
the virgin daughter of my people,
over her incurable wound.
If I walk out into the field,
look! those slain by the sword;
If I enter the city,
look! those consumed by hunger.
Even the prophet and the priest
forage in a land they know not.

Have you cast Judah off completely?
Is Zion loathsome to you?
Why have you struck us a blow
that cannot be healed?
We wait for peace, to no avail;
for a time of healing, but terror comes instead.
We recognize, O LORD, our wickedness,
the guilt of our fathers;
that we have sinned against you.
For your name's sake spurn us not,
disgrace not the throne of your glory;
remember your covenant with us, and break it not.
Among the nations' idols is there any that gives rain?
Or can the mere heavens send showers?
Is it not you alone, O LORD,
our God, to whom we look?
You alone have done all these things.
This passage was written during a period of death and famine in Jerusalem preceding the Babylonian captivity in 587 BC. It is also a response to Yahweh’s anger against false prophets who are raising expectations among the people that they are not going to experience “sword, famine and pestilence”. In fact, they are going to experience all these things. Jeremiah, as a true prophet, will not raise such expectations but, however unpopular his words, warn them of what is coming - and why. This won’t make him very popular; real prophets seldom are.

As written, however, today’s passage is another lovely reading today full of compassion and tenderness. There is no anger in God’s words today against his people. Rather he is presented as deeply upset over their sufferings.

“Tears flood my eyes… since a crushing blow falls on the daughter of my people.” The ‘daughter’ is Jerusalem. Everywhere God sees people in the countryside killed by the sword and in the city sick with hunger. Even the prophets and priests, who would normally be supported by the people, are reduced to foraging for food “in a land they know not”. All are at their wits’ end.

Jeremiah then expresses his own distress at what is happening and wonders what the Lord is doing about it. “Have you rejected Judah altogether?… Why have you struck us down without hope of cure?”

It is the cry of a people deep in despair at their never-ending sufferings.

“We were hoping for peace - no good came of it!
We wait for a time of healing - but terror comes instead!”

At the same time, the prophet acknowledges that his people are in no way innocent. They have brought their own tribulations on themselves. “We do confess our wickedness… we have indeed sinned against you.”

But he reminds the Lord that they are his own people and, for his own Name’s sake, he prays that they not be rejected. “Remember your covenant with us and break it not.” Their suffering and shame somehow reduces the glory of their God, especially in the eyes of Gentiles. Who could honour a God who allows his people to suffer in this way?

But it takes two to make a covenant and its observance depends on both sides keeping their promise. He is their God but they are his people and must show it by their behaviour. This they have miserably failed to do.

The prophet concludes by appealing to the unique power of their God. “Can any of the pagan Nothings make it rain? Can the heavens produce showers?” We remember the challenge that Elijah made to the priests of Baal about breaking a drought. Only Yahweh could bring the longed-for rain.
“Oh, our God, you are our only hope,
since it is you who do all this.”

We see here, on the one side, the picture of the tender God who cares so deeply for his people. This was all so graphically illustrated by the life of Jesus, our God incarnate. We must never forget it.

On the other side, during times of tragedy, pain, loss or distress it is easy for us to wonder if our God really does care that he allows such terrible things to happen to us or to our loved ones. But it is precisely at such times we need to be aware of the closeness of God’s love to us. His love for us was most clearly shown as Jesus hung dying in terribly agony and shame on the Cross.

“God did not spare his own Son” and Jesus himself cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The words died on his lips and were followed by total acceptance when he said, “It is finished” and he surrendered his life into his Father’s hands. That was the moment of supreme love, the moment of new life and glory.*
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 79
For the glory of your name, O Lord, deliver us.
Remember not against us the iniquities of the past;
may your compassion quickly come to us,
for we are brought very low.
For the glory of your name, O Lord, deliver us.
Help us, O God our savior,
because of the glory of your name;
Deliver us and pardon our sins
for your name's sake.
For the glory of your name, O Lord, deliver us.
Let the prisoners' sighing come before you;
with your great power free those doomed to death.
Then we, your people and the sheep of your pasture,
will give thanks to you forever;
through all generations we will declare your praise.
For the glory of your name, O Lord, deliver us.
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Matthew 13:36-43
Jesus dismissed the crowds and went into the house.
His disciples approached him and said,
"Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field."
He said in reply, "He who sows good seed is the Son of Man,
the field is the world, the good seed the children of the Kingdom.
The weeds are the children of the Evil One,
and the enemy who sows them is the Devil.
The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire,
so will it be at the end of the age.
The Son of Man will send his angels,
and they will collect out of his Kingdom
all who cause others to sin and all evildoers.
They will throw them into the fiery furnace,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
Then the righteous will shine like the sun
in the Kingdom of their Father.
Whoever has ears ought to hear."
Today we have an interpretation of the parable of the wheat and the weeds or darnel. It begins by telling us that Jesus left the crowds and went to “the house”. This is the nameless place where Jesus is at home with his disciples. As we suggested earlier, it is the place for the ‘insiders’, those who are close to Jesus in the sense of following him and accepting his way and is a symbol of where communities of Christians gathered in the early Church. Here Jesus is alone with his own disciples, away from the crowd.

His disciples ask for an explanation of the parable about the wheat and the weeds. Likely enough, what follows is less the actual words of Jesus than a reflection of the early Christian community applying the parable to their own situation. The parable, which basically makes one point, is now turned into an allegory where each part has a symbolic meaning of its own.

The sower is Jesus himself;
the field is the world;
the good seed represents the subjects of the Kingdom;
the darnel, the subjects of the evil one;
the enemy who sowed the weeds, the devil;
the harvest is the end of the world;
the reapers are the angels.

Whereas in the original parable the emphasis seems to be more on the necessary and unavoidable coexistence of good and bad within the Christian community, the emphasis here is more on what will happen at the end: the punishment of the wicked and the reward of the good.

Let us pray that we may be found among the good seed of the Kingdom. We do that by opening ourselves fully to Jesus our King and Lord and following the way he asks us to follow.*

The Irish Jesuits

1 comment:

RICH said...

To forage in a land that I know not. To be a loose ends and yet not to lose heart. May we find strength and consolation in today's readings to remain true to the Gospel. Thank you, Father John.