Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Whoever Does The Will Of My Heavenly Father Is My Brother, And Sister, And Mother.

Tuesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
Micah 7:14-15, 18-20
Shepherd your people with your staff,
the flock of your inheritance,
That dwells apart in a woodland,
in the midst of Carmel.
Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead,
as in the days of old;
As in the days when you came from the land of Egypt,
show us wonderful signs.

Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt
and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance;
Who does not persist in anger forever,
but delights rather in clemency,
And will again have compassion on us,
treading underfoot our guilt?
You will cast into the depths of the sea
all our sins;
You will show faithfulness to Jacob,
and grace to Abraham,
As you have sworn to our fathers
from days of old.
Today’s third and final selection from Micah consists of a lovely prayer from a people aware of their great needs which only God can remedy. The prophet begs God to lead his people to richer pastures, for the people of Israel are his very inheritance.

Right now “they live in a forest with meadow land all around”. Literally the prophet says they are living “in the midst of a garden”. The idea is that the nation is living isolated in a land that is unproductive, in the sense that they are living in a situation of desolation and hardship after their return to Jerusalem from their exile in Babylon.

They now long for the days when they could pasture in Bashan and Gilead, for the days when they came up out of Egypt and were the witnesses to all God’s wonders on their behalf. And, as in the days after they left Egypt, they long for more wonderful signs of Yahweh’s love and power.

The prophet then appeals to God’s very nature to come to their aid. “What God can compare with you?” This prayer is a psalm of which similar examples occur in the prophetic writings. He is not the kind of god that others believe in, a god who instils terror and fear. This God takes faults away and pardons crime. This God is not a vindictive God who does not cherish anger for ever but delights in showing mercy and compassion.

Micah begs his God to have pity on his people in spite of all that they have done. “Tread down our faults, to the bottom of the sea throw all our sins.” He appeals to God to remember and to implement the covenants of old that were made with Abraham and Jacob, covenants of faithfulness and mercy.

Perhaps we, too, feel now or have felt at other times that our lives were being lived in a kind of desert. We ask God to lead us to richer pastures where we can experience joy and peace. We, too, know that we have a God beyond compare, made known to us through the life and death of Jesus. Through Jesus, he has given us a new life in a new covenant. We, too, beg our God to wipe out all our sins and help us to turn totally to him in love and fidelity.*
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Psalm 85
Lord, show us your mercy and love.
You have favored, O LORD, your land;
you have brought back the captives of Jacob.
You have forgiven the guilt of your people;
you have covered all their sins.
You have withdrawn all your wrath;
you have revoked your burning anger.
Lord, show us your mercy and love.
Restore us, O God our savior,
and abandon your displeasure against us.
Will you be ever angry with us,
prolonging your anger to all generations?
Lord, show us your mercy and love.
Will you not instead give us life;
and shall not your people rejoice in you?
Show us, O LORD, your kindness,
and grant us your salvation.
Lord, show us your mercy and love.
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Matthew 12:46-50
While Jesus was speaking to the crowds,
his mother and his brothers appeared outside,
wishing to speak with him.
Someone told him,
"Your mother and your brothers are standing outside,
asking to speak with you."
But he said in reply to the one who told him,
"Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?"
And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said,
"Here are my mother and my brothers.
For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father
is my brother, and sister, and mother."
Just before we enter the third great discourse which are on the parables of the Kingdom, we have today’s short passage on who really belong to Jesus.

As Jesus was speaking to the crowds, someone told him, "Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, asking to speak with you." Matthew does not say what they wanted to say, but we know from another context that they were embarrassed by what he was doing, probably because of the way he was earning the displeasure of the authorities. In later times, many who opted to follow Christ have been a source of embarrassment and displeasure to their families, especially in situations where being Christian or Catholic was a violation of state law or religious affiliation.

When Jesus is told they are looking for him he stretches out his hands to his followers and says that they are his “mother and brothers”. And then he defines how one becomes one of his brothers and sisters: “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother."

It is significant that Jesus’ own blood relatives are spoken of as being “outside”; Jesus’ disciples, those who really listen to him, are those who are “inside”. This is not to say that Jesus is rejecting his family; to do so would be to contradict his own teaching of loving all unconditionally. But he uses the situation to make a very important point: namely, that relationship to Jesus is based on one thing only, total commitment through Jesus to the Father.

To be a Christian, a disciple, is to enter into this new relationship with God and with others. All other bonds, including those of blood, take a second place or are to be understood in the light of this bonding to God first of all and above all.

It would be wrong to conclude that Jesus was rejecting his own mother here. Yet what he says applies to her as much as to anyone else. Mary is measured by her commitment to the Father and the Son, who is also her Son. That commitment was clearly made when she accepted to be the mother of Jesus, “Let it happen to me according to your word.” It was a commitment that was still being kept as she stood in grief at the foot of her Son’s cross. Mary was certainly on the “inside”.

Let us ask her today that we, too, may always be ‘insiders’.*

The Irish Jesuits

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