Thursday, August 19, 2010

Pour Clean Water Upon Us, LORD, And Wash Away All Our Sins.

Thursday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
Ezekiel 36:23-28
Thus says the LORD:
I will prove the holiness of my great name,
profaned among the nations,
in whose midst you have profaned it.
Thus the nations shall know that I am the LORD,
says the Lord GOD,
when in their sight I prove my holiness through you.
For I will take you away from among the nations,
gather you from all the foreign lands,
and bring you back to your own land.
I will sprinkle clean water upon you
to cleanse you from all your impurities,
and from all your idols I will cleanse you.
I will give you a new heart
and place a new spirit within you,
taking from your bodies your stony hearts
and giving you natural hearts.
I will put my spirit within you
and make you live by my statutes,
careful to observe my decrees.
You shall live in the land I gave your ancestors;
you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
From an oracle on the mountains of Israel a promise that in the end all will be well.

Through his prophet, God expresses his desire that the holiness of his name become evident among all the peoples of the world. It has been profaned by the unbelieving nations but Israel, too, has profaned it in their presence. They have been very poor witnesses to the holiness of Yahweh.

But now “the nations will know that I am the Lord”. This is the ultimate purpose of God’s plans and it is his will that it will be through Israel that the whole world may come to know and acknowledge the true God. We, too, pray for this every time we say “Holy be your name; your Kingdom come; your will be done on earth as in heaven” in the Lord’s Prayer.

For this to happen God’s people must be taken from their exile among foreign nations and be brought back to their own land. Here the prophet is speaking of the return of the exiles to Jerusalem.

But he will not stop at simply restoring their homeland. There will also be a spiritual renewal. Yahweh will sprinkle clean water on them to remove all their corruption and purify them from all idolatry.

Further, they will be given a new heart and a new spirit. Their heart of stone will be replaced with a heart of warm, beating flesh. “Flesh” in the Old Testament often is a symbol for weakness and in the New Testament it often represents our sinful nature as a force in opposition to the truly spiritual. Here, however, it is contrasted with stone to indicate a warm-blooded, feeling and teachable heart.

“I will put my spirit in you.” This spirit of God is explained by the Jerusalem Bible as follows:

The spirit (breath) of God, which creates and gives life, lays hold on men to endow them with superhuman power. The characteristic of the messianic age is to be an extraordinary outpouring of the spirit on all, endowing them with special graces. But, more mysteriously, for each receiver the spirit will be the principle of an inward renewal making possible a faithful observance of the laws of God; thus the spirit will be the principle inspiring the new covenant; like life-giving water it will nourish fruits of integrity and holiness, which in turn will guarantee the favour and protection of God for man. This effusion of the spirit will be effected through the Messiah who will be the first recipient of it, to be able to accomplish his saving work. (edited)

The active and effective presence of this new spirit will be manifested by the people’s response, by their observance of God’s law, their carrying out of his will in all things. Then the covenant promise will once again be realised: “You shall be my people and I will be your God.”

This, too, is the ultimate goal of the Church as an instrument of the Kingdom, namely, that the holiness of God’s name be acknowledged by peoples everywhere. For that, we in the Church constantly need a new heart, a heart of flesh, and a new spirit. We need this both corporately and individually.

Let us pray that the community of which we are members and each member of it may experience a constant renewal of heart and spirit. Only then can we be effective instruments to proclaim the Good News to all those who thirst for meaning and a vision in their lives.*
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Psalm 51
I will pour clean water on you
and wash away all your sins.
A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.
I will pour clean water on you
and wash away all your sins.
Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners shall return to you.
I will pour clean water on you
and wash away all your sins.
For you are not pleased with sacrifices;
should I offer a burnt offering,
you would not accept it.
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a heart contrite and humbled,
O God, you will not spurn.
I will pour clean water on you
and wash away all your sins.
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Matthew 22:1-14
Jesus again in reply spoke to the chief priests
and the elders of the people in parables saying,
The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who gave a wedding feast for his son.
He dispatched his servants
to summon the invited guests to the feast,
but they refused to come.
A second time he sent other servants, saying,
‘Tell those invited: “Behold, I have prepared my banquet,
my calves and fattened cattle are killed,
and everything is ready; come to the feast.”’
Some ignored the invitation and went away,
one to his farm, another to his business.
The rest laid hold of his servants,
mistreated them, and killed them.
The king was enraged and sent his troops,
destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.
Then the king said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready,
but those who were invited were not worthy to come.
Go out, therefore, into the main roads
and invite to the feast whomever you find.’
The servants went out into the streets
and gathered all they found, bad and good alike,
and the hall was filled with guests.
But when the king came in to meet the guests
he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.
He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it
that you came in here without a wedding garment?’
But he was reduced to silence.
Then the king said to his attendants,
‘Bind his hands and feet,
and cast him into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’
Many are invited, but few are chosen.”
In our readings we have jumped from chapter 20 to chapter 22 and read another Kingdom parable not unrelated to yesterday’s about the workers in the vineyard.

Yesterday it was a question of resentment at God’s generosity to latecomers in his kingdom. Today it is rather sadness over the Jewish leaders’ refusal to accept Jesus as Messiah and Lord. The parable is a kind of potted history and is more like an allegory than a parable.

The king (God) gives a wedding banquet (the happiness of the Messianic age) for his son (Jesus the Messiah). But when he invites people (the Jews) to attend, they refuse to come and make all kinds of excuses. Others actually attack the king’s servants and messengers (the prophets and the early Christian evangelisers).

The king becomes angry and “sent his army to destroy those murderers and burn their city”. Surely a reference to the Roman army under the emperor Titus which sacked and destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70. The Temple, the heart of Judaism, was also destroyed and plundered and has never since been rebuilt. Today an Islamic mosque stands on the site.

Because the invited guests will not come, the servants (the Jewish disciples of Jesus) are instructed to go out and bring in anyone they can find. “They rounded up everyone they met, bad as well as good.” All are called - both the good and sinful.

The climax of the story at first seems somewhat unfair. People have been pulled in from highways and byways and now one is condemned for not wearing a wedding garment! But the parable has in fact moved to the final judgement. In fact, Matthew may be combining what were two original parables into one.

The wedding garment clearly stands for faith and baptism combined with a lived out commitment to the Gospel, something necessary to be accepted into the eternal happiness of the Kingdom.

As Jesus says at the end, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” Many were called and invited to attend the banquet. But more than that was expected of them. They had to answer the call by saying an unqualified Yes to Jesus. Being baptised and having the label ‘Christian’ or ‘Catholic’ is not enough.

We have also to live out in our lives and relationships what we claim to believe in.*

The Irish Jesuits

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Saint John Eudes was born in the diocese of Seez, France in the year 1601.  After his ordination to the priesthood, he spent several years giving missions.  Later, he founded religious institutes dedicated to improving priestly formation, and to encouraging morally endangered women to lead Christian lives.  His mission was to foster the cult of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and to establish "the life and kingdom of Jesus in the soul of christians." 


Sarah in the tent said...

'He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’
But he was reduced to silence.
Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’

At a wedding, the parents of the bride or groom often encounter people they do not know themselves, but who are good friends of their children. Perhaps the guest might have been able to excuse the lack of a wedding garment if he had said: 'I know your son.' The king seems to be expecting him to explain himself satisfactorily somehow, because he calls him 'my friend'.

Maybe this would tie in with the parable of the sheep and the goats - who did not know Jesus in the needy.

Is it significant that the unfortunate guest starts off mute, then is tied hand and foot and cast into darkness - a kind of blindness? It's almost as though the messianic promises go into reverse and become curses.

Fr. John L. Sullivan said...

Sarah, your comment that the parable of the guest who came to the wedding banquet and the parable of the sheep and the goats are "tied in" is on the mark. And so is your conclusion that "It's almost as though the messianic promises go into reverse and become curses."

But the point is that these are parables: stories told by the teacher [Jesus] to the children [his disciples] reminding them to keep their wedding garment clean and ready to wear. Don't be like the bridesmaids whose lamps were out of oil when the groom arrived.

Sarah in the tent said...

Perhaps the 'friend' without a wedding garment could be someone who never had a chance to live a Christian life, because they died in infancy, or something like that. They might only come to know Christ at the point of death, like the good thief. They would have a good reason for no garment. Just knowing the groom would be enough.