Monday, July 19, 2010

This Is What The LORD Asks Of You: Act Justly, Love Tenderly, And Walk Humbly With Your God.

Monday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
Micah 6:1-4, 6-8
Hear what the LORD says:
Arise, present your plea before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice!
Hear, O mountains, the plea of the LORD,
pay attention, O foundations of the earth!
For the LORD has a plea against his people,
and he enters into trial with Israel.

O my people, what have I done to you,
or how have I wearied you? Answer me!
For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
from the place of slavery I released you;
and I sent before you Moses,
Aaron, and Miriam.

With what shall I come before the LORD,
and bow before God most high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with myriad streams of oil?
Shall I give my first-born for my crime,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
You have been told, O man, what is good,
and what the LORD requires of you:
Only to do the right and to love goodness,
and to walk humbly with your God.
We have a rather unusual reading today but one that is full of love and tenderness. The scene is that of a courtroom and of people on trial. The Lord lodges a legal complaint against Judah. Those on trial are God’s people and he is their judge. The witnesses are the surrounding mountains and hills.

There are three distinct parts:
1, the evidence against God’s people. The Lord summons the people to listen to his accusation and to prepare their defence against the charges that follow. The Lord speaks poignantly in reminding the people of his gracious acts in their behalf.
2, their response in which they ask what compensation they need to pay for their sins.
3, God, through the mouth of his prophet, tells them what he expects.

1, The people are called on to stand up and face their judge and the mountains and hills are told to listen as witnesses to the judge’s accusations against his people in Judah. In both the Hebrew and Christian Testaments, mountains are holy places where God likes to commune with his people e.g. Sinai, Nebo, Zion, Carmel as well as the mountains of the Sermon on the Mount and the transfiguration of Jesus on Tabor. They are the impassive, unchanging witnesses through time of the great covenants God made with his people.

The evidence against the people is all the wrongs they have done and their total ingratitude for all that God has done for them. In the verses immediately following today’s reading, some of these wrongs are listed. They include:
- Rich men full of violence
- People speaking falsehoods
- False weights and measures designed to cheat buyers
- Imitating the semi-paganism of the Northern Kingdom with its corrupt worship and social injustice.

“O my people, what have I done to you?” cries Yahweh, that they should respond to his love in this way. And he reminds them of how he rescued them from the slavery of Egypt under the leadership of Moses, Aaron and Miriam and brought them to the Promised Land.

The words here form the basis for the lamentations (the Improperia) used in the Good Friday liturgy to call us to repentance for our sinful ingratitude to God’s love in our lives. “My people, what have I done to you, how have I been a burden to you?” asks the Lord. The plea is softened by the address “My people”, expressing sorrow rather than anger.

2, The people respond by asking what they should do to make recompense. What gifts should they bring into God’s presence to appease him? They suggest both lawful and forbidden sacrifices. Does Yahweh God want holocausts of young calves? Does he want offerings of thousands of rams and torrents of oil? Does he want them to give up their first-born sons as penitential compensation for their sins and offences? (Yahweh would never demand human sacrifice as some of the other religions did. It shows how religiously confused the people are.)

3, God, through his prophet, rejects all of these. He does not want to be appeased; he does not need to be appeased. He is above all that. What he does want, what gives him the greatest happiness is to see a deep inner conversion on the part of his people, a radical changing of their ways. This will make him happy because therein lies their own happiness too. He wants a religion of merely external ritual to be replaced with a religion of the spirit, as expressed in the prophets - justice justice (Amos), love (Hosea), humility before God (Isaiah).
So the reading ends with one of the most lovely sentences in the whole of the Bible, one which perhaps we have heard quoted but never knew where it came from.

This is what the Lord asks of you:
only this, to act justly,
to love tenderly,
and to walk humbly with your God.

Everything is contained there. It covers both the teaching of the Old and the New Testaments on how we should behave. If we can live like this, our lives will be perfect:
- to treat others with justice, in deep respect to give to each one what is their right and their due,
- to be filled with love: both agape and philia, and
- to be deeply united in prayer with our God.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 50
To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
"Gather my faithful ones before me,
those who have made a covenant with me by sacrifice."
And the heavens proclaim his justice;
for God himself is the judge.
To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
"Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you,
for your burnt offerings are before me always.
I take from your house no bullock,
no goats out of your fold."
To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
"Why do you recite my statutes,
and profess my covenant with your mouth,
Though you hate discipline
and cast my words behind you?"
To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
"When you do these things, shall I be deaf to it?
Or do you think that I am like yourself?
I will correct you by drawing them up before your eyes.
He that offers praise as a sacrifice glorifies me;
and to him that goes the right way
I will show the salvation of God."
To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
+++    +++    +++    +++ 
Matthew 12:38-42

Some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Jesus,
"Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you."
He said to them in reply,
"An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign,
but no sign will be given it
except the sign of Jonah the prophet.
Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale
three days and three nights,
so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth
three days and three nights.
At the judgment, the men of Nineveh
will arise with this generation and condemn it,
because they repented at the preaching of Jonah;
and there is something greater than Jonah here.
At the judgment the queen of the south
will arise with this generation and condemn it,
because she came from the ends of the earth
to hear the wisdom of Solomon;
and there is something greater than Solomon here."
Today’s passage follows two others, which we have not read. In the first Jesus is accused of doing what he does by the power of Satan. An accusation which he easily shows is self-contradictory and makes no sense. In the second he says that a tree that is rotten inside cannot produce good fruit. Goodness comes from a person’s interior. The words are directed at his accusers whom he more than once accuses of being hypocrites: pious and law-abiding on the outside and full of malice inside.

It is these same people who approach him today. It is difficult to know their mood as they ask Jesus for a sign. Is it a genuine request for Jesus to indicate the source of his authority and power or is it a hostile demand for Jesus to present his credentials?

In response, Jesus first says that “it is an evil and unfaithful (literally, ‘adulterous’) generation that asks for a sign”. Yes, evil and unfaithful, because for anyone with an open mind, Jesus has been giving nothing but signs ever since he began his public life. The ordinary people have been full of praise and amazement at what Jesus is doing and say that “God has visited his people”. But these leaders, blinded by their own prejudice, are even saying that the teaching, exorcisms and healings of Jesus are the work of Satan.

In addition to all this they are going to get an unmistakable sign of who Jesus really is. They will be given the “sign of Jonah”. Just as Jonah spent three days buried in the belly of the sea monster so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and nights. This is a clear reference to Jesus’ resurrection - the conclusive sign of his identity and power.

Mention of Jonah leads Jesus to say that the people of Niniveh who repented after hearing Jonah will fare better at the last judgment than the people that Jesus is speaking with. And Jesus is of far more significance than Jonah.

Similarly, the Queen of the South, that is, the Queen of Sheba, who came from a far distance to hear the wisdom of Solomon will fare better than the unbelieving listeners to Jesus, who is greater by far than Solomon.

We, too, have the privilege of listening to Jesus and we know the sign of his resurrection. Is it not possible that there are many people around us who, not knowing Jesus but following the guidance of their consciences, will find themselves going before us into the Kingdom? Complacency is probably one of our biggest temptations. “I am good enough; I observe the basic requirements of my religion.” Is that all that Jesus expects of me?

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