Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Take Courage, It Is I; Do Not Be Afraid.

Tuesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading 1
Jeremiah 30:1-2, 12-15, 18-22
The following message came to Jeremiah from the LORD:
For thus says the LORD, the God of Israel:
Write all the words I have spoken to you in a book.

For thus says the LORD:
Incurable is your wound,
grievous your bruise;
There is none to plead your cause,
no remedy for your running sore,
no healing for you.
All your lovers have forgotten you,
they do not seek you.
I struck you as an enemy would strike,
punished you cruelly;
Why cry out over your wound?
your pain is without relief.
Because of your great guilt,
your numerous sins,
I have done this to you.

Thus says the LORD:
See! I will restore the tents of Jacob,
his dwellings I will pity;
City shall be rebuilt upon hill,
and palace restored as it was.
From them will resound songs of praise,
the laughter of happy men.
I will make them not few, but many;
they will not be tiny, for I will glorify them.
His sons shall be as of old,
his assembly before me shall stand firm;
I will punish all his oppressors.
His leader shall be one of his own,
and his rulers shall come from his kin.
When I summon him, he shall approach me;
how else should one take the deadly risk
of approaching me? says the LORD.
You shall be my people,
and I will be your God.
The reading is in three parts: a brief introduction (verses 1-2); the sufferings of Judah are deserved (12-15); better times are on the way (18-22).

After so many dire predictions of terrible things going to happen, a note of hope creeps into Jeremiah’s words with the promise of recovery (albeit not too soon) of the kingdoms.

Today’s reading comes from the beginning of what is often known as Jeremiah’s “Book of Consolation”. It speaks of the ultimate restoration of both Israel (the Northern Kingdom, centred on Samaria) and Judah (the Southern Kingdom, centred on Jerusalem). The passage seems to date from the year 587 BC, just one year before Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and its people carried off into exile to Babylon.

The Jerusalem Bible says the greater part of the Book (30:1-31:22) was written between the reform of 622 BC and the death of King Josiah in 609 BC. It is written almost entirely in poetry. The decline of Assyria had allowed King Josiah to undertake the re-conquest of Samaria and Galilee. This gave rise to the hope that the exiles of 721 BC might return to a restored kingdom of David. The section is the longest sustained passage in Jeremiah concerned with the future hope of the people of God.

Yahweh still loves the Israel of the Northern Kingdom; he will bring the exiles back to their homes; religious unity will be restored with Zion as its centre. Later this promise of return was extended to Judah, the Southern Kingdom, conquered and exiled in its turn. Subsequent oracles associate Judah with Israel, thus giving the ‘Book of Consolation’ its final, messianic scope: Israel and Judah will unite to serve ‘Yahweh their God and David their king’. This gathering of scattered Israel becomes a major theme of the exilic and post-exilic prophets. It is a dream which inspires Jews to this day.

The readings for today, tomorrow and Thursday, all taken from chapters 30 and 31, express this hope for a better future.

The passage begins by the prophet being told by God to write down the message so that future generations may know the predictions of better times to come.

The opening words of the Lord, in the reading, however, begin on a negative note. Jeremiah once again reminds the people of Judah that their many sufferings were the consequences of their own actions. “Your wound is incurable, your injustice past healing… no medicine to make you well again…” “All your lovers have forgotten you”, namely, those nations, especially Egypt, on which Judah depended for support against the Babylonians.

However, they must realise that all of this suffering was deserved. “Why bother to complain about your wound?… So great is your guilt, so many your sins, that I have done all this to you.” Assyria and Babylon were merely instruments to teach Judah better ways.

“Because of your guilt,
your numerous sins,
I have done this to you.”

But new times are coming. The tents and dwellings of Jacob, referring to Judah’s cities and palaces, will be restored. The city of Jerusalem will be rebuilt on its ruins. The Hebrew word for ‘ruins’, tel(l) refers to a mound of ruins resulting from the accumulation of debris of years or centuries on which successive towns were built. (Archaeologists in this part of the world often find a town built on several layers of previous structures.)

Instead of the cries of suffering now heard, “there will come thanksgiving and shouts of joy, the laughter of happy people”. The population will increase and things will be as they were in the good days of the past.

They will be ruled by one of their own and not by a governor appointed by the conquering power, Assyria or Babylon. And this ruler, chosen from among God’s own people, will have free access to the Lord’s presence. The Pentateuch tells us that unauthorised approaches into God’s presence were punishable by death. This ruler will be one fully acknowledged by Yahweh. While not immediately intended here, Jesus Christ will be the one who will ultimately fulfil this promise in a very special way.

And the passage ends with the great covenant statement: “You shall be my people and I will be your God.” That was always true but both the people of Israel and of Judah had violated their side of the pact by their immorality and idolatry.

The days of restoration will not only mean a putting back of the old structures but a renewing of the close bond between God and his people.

The passage is full of hope, the hope that knows that, no matter how bad things get, truth, goodness and justice will prevail in the long run. Our own lives must always be based on such a hope.

But, of course, as Jeremiah implies, the realisation of our hopes also depends on our active cooperation with doing what God wants. Many of our problems are the results of our failure to live in harmony with the Gospel vision of life.*
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 102
The Lord will build up Zion again,
and appear in all his glory.
The nations shall revere your name, O LORD,
and all the kings of the earth your glory,
When the LORD has rebuilt Zion
and appeared in his glory;
When he has regarded the prayer of the destitute,
and not despised their prayer.
The Lord will build up Zion again,
and appear in all his glory.
Let this be written for the generation to come,
and let his future creatures praise the LORD:
“The LORD looked down from his holy height,
from heaven he beheld the earth,
To hear the groaning of the prisoners,
to release those doomed to die.”
The Lord will build up Zion again,
and appear in all his glory.
The children of your servants shall abide,
and their posterity shall continue in your presence,
That the name of the LORD may be declared on Zion;
and his praise, in Jerusalem,
When the peoples gather together
and the kingdoms, to serve the LORD.
The Lord will build up Zion again,
and appear in all his glory.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Matthew 14:22-36
Jesus made the disciples get into a boat
and precede him to the other side of the sea,
while he dismissed the crowds.
After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.
When it was evening he was there alone.
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore,
was being tossed about by the waves,
for the wind was against it.
During the fourth watch of the night,
he came toward them, walking on the sea.
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea
they were terrified.
“It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.
At once Jesus spoke to them,
“Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter said to him in reply,
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.”
Peter got out of the boat
and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.
But when he saw how strong the wind was
he became frightened;
and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him,
and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
After they got into the boat, the wind died down.
Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying,
“Truly, you are the Son of God.”

After making the crossing, they came to land at Gennesaret.
When the men of that place recognized him,
they sent word to all the surrounding country.
People brought to him all those who were sick
and begged him that they might touch
only the tassel on his cloak,
and as many as touched it were healed.
As soon as the people had been filled with the food that Jesus gave them, Jesus packs his disciples off in the boat to the other side of the lake. He sends the crowds away and then retreats to the mountain to pray all by himself.

We know from John’s account that the people wanted to make him a king. If Jesus wanted to take control of the crowd this was the moment; they were ready to follow enthusiastically. Jesus was indeed their king but not the kind they were expecting. He would draw the crowds to him in a very different way, hanging in shame on a cross.

It looks too as if he did not want his disciples to get any wrong ideas either. They must have been elated at their role in the extraordinary event of feeding more than 5,000 people. So, perhaps with a lot of grumbling, they are sent off even before the excited crowds have dispersed.

As they make their way across the lake in this dark mood, things get even worse. They run into a big storm and their boat is being tossed about like a cork. Then, out of the darkness, between 3 and 6 in the morning hours, they see Jesus approaching them across the water. Far from being delighted, they are terrified out of their wits. Superstitious men that they are, they think it is a ghost. Ghosts were very much a part of their world.

Words of encouragement come across the water: “Take courage! It is I [Greek, ego eimi = I AM]. Do not be afraid.” Jesus gives himself the very name of Yahweh; this is all the reassurance they need. Their God is with them.

Only in Matthew’s account of this story do we have Peter’s reaction. “Lord, if it really is you, tell me to come to you across the water.”


Peter gets out of the boat and goes towards Jesus. It is an act of love and faith/trust. But not quite enough. The power of the wind and waves gets stronger than his desire to be with Jesus. He begins to sink. “Lord, save me!” Jesus lifts him up, “How little faith/trust you have!”

As soon as Jesus and Peter get into the boat, there is a complete calm.

The rest of the disciples are overwhelmed: “Truly, you are the Son of God.”

We have here behind this story an image of the early Church, of which the boat and the disciples are a symbol. The surrounding water is the world and the wind and waves, the forces which threaten the tiny community. Jesus seems to be far away but he is not and he appears in the midst of the storm. Once he steps inside the boat, there is calm, not only because the surrounding storm has stopped but also because of the peace which the awareness of Jesus’ presence gives.

There is an added element in this story in that Peter, the leader of the community, comes hand in hand into the boat with Jesus. In time, the authority of Jesus will be passed over to him.

There is also, of course, in the calming of the storm an indication of Jesus’ real identity, expressed in the awe-filled words of the disciples, “Truly, you are the Son of God”, echoing Jesus’ own statement of “I AM”.

There is a brief epilogue at the end of our passage. The boat reaches the area of Gennesaret. The name refers either to the narrow plain, about four miles long and less than two miles wide on the north-west shore of the Sea of Galilee, north of Magdala, or to a town in the plain. Significantly for the work that Jesus was about to do, the plain was considered a garden land, fertile and well watered.

As soon as Jesus reaches the shore the crowds again gather in huge numbers especially to have their sick cured. So great was their faith that they asked only to touch the fringe of his garment. All those who did so (in faith) were healed.

Jesus had sent away the crowds earlier probably because of the late hour but also perhaps because of the mood of the crowd which was taking on political overtones not wanted by Jesus.

But now they are back to seek from him what he came to give them: healing and wholeness.*

The Irish Jesuits

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

'The Book of Consolation'

There are also prophecies of consolation in Isaiah. This is what Simeon was seeking, and found in the infant Jesus.