Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hear, O LORD, The Sound Of My Call; Have Pity On Me, And Answer Me.

Memorial of Saint Jerome,
priest and doctor of the Church
Reading I
Job 19:21-27
Job said:
Pity me, pity me, O you my friends,
for the hand of God has struck me!
Why do you hound me as though you were divine,
and insatiably prey upon me?

Oh, would that my words were written down!
Would that they were inscribed in a record:
that with an iron chisel and with lead
they were cut in the rock forever!
But as for me, I know that my Vindicator lives,
and that he will at last stand forth upon the dust;
Whom I myself shall see:
my own eyes, not another's, shall behold him,
And from my flesh I shall see God;
my inmost being is consumed with longing.
Job asks his “comforters” for some genuine compassion “for the hand of God has struck me”. His body is covered with sores and his family destroyed. He is not sure yet why this has happened but the words of his friends do not seem to be of much help. “Why do you hound me down, will you never have enough of my flesh?” he asks them. It is bad enough having God do these things to him without their aggravating the situation.

And then, in stark contrast to what goes before and follows after (not in our readings), in the very depths of his misery, Job bursts out in a marvellous statement of faith and hope. It is “probably the best-known and most-loved passage in the book of Job, reaching a high point in Job’s understanding of his own situation and of his relationship to God.” (NIV Bible).

So strongly does he feel about what he is going to say that he would like it to be inscribed in stone so that it would survive his death and endure until the day when his vindication will take place.

“I know that my Avenger lives.” ‘Avenger’ or ‘Vindicator’ translates the Hebrew word goel, a technical term in law. It is frequently used of God as the saviour of his people and the avenger of the oppressed and early rabbis used it of the Messiah. In the Latin translation of St Jerome (the Vulgate) the word is translated ‘Redeemer’. (The word seems analogous to the title given in the New Testament to the Spirit, Paraclete, which means someone who comes to protect you and stand by your side, such as a defence lawyer in court).

Job now in deep faith awaits his God to come and vindicate him before his friends, who have condemned him as a sinner and wrongdoer. The Jerusalem Bible comments:

Job, slandered and condemned by his friends, awaits a Defender who this time is God himself. Job still believes his happiness to be lost for ever and his death to be at hand: when God undertakes to avenge his cause, it will be after his death. Nonetheless Job hopes to witness this and to ‘see’ his vindication. In 14:10-14 he had envisaged the possibility of a temporary shelter in Sheol, and here it would seem that he is counting on a brief return to earthly life to see his vindications accomplished; in this he is prompted by his faith in a God who can bring men back from Sheol. Job’s faith thus momentarily defies mortal horizons in his desperate need for justice; it prepares us for the explicit revelation of bodily resurrection, cf. 2 Maccabees 7:9+.

Job expresses his confidence that ultimately God will vindicate his faithful servants in the face of all false accusations.

Job’s words of faith and hope are probably best known to us in the famous aria from Handel’s oratorio the Messiah, “I know that my Redeemer liveth”, although ‘Redeemer’ or ‘Vindicator’ here, with the hindsight of the New Testament, has a meaning going far beyond what Job is saying.

God is also called here “the Last”, he is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of all things. He will “take his stand” as judge. And that will be the moment of Job’s justification. Job expects to die from the physical afflictions of his body but “after my awaking” God will be close to him and he shall even “look on God”, perhaps returning to earth for a short period.

In spite of his sufferings, he knows in his heart they are not the result of his sin and that his basic innocence and goodness will be finally recognised by his being brought face to face with the one who will vindicate him.

Job’s great hope should be the basis of our faith, too. We too know that our Avenger, our Vindicator, our Redeemer in the person of Jesus Christ lives and that he has gone ahead of us so that we can share with him the life that no one can take from us.*
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 27
R. I believe that I shall see the good things
of the Lord in the land of the living.
Hear, O LORD, the sound of my call;
have pity on me, and answer me.
Of you my heart speaks; you my glance seeks.
R. I believe that I shall see the good things
of the Lord in the land of the living.
Your presence, O LORD, I seek.
Hide not your face from me;
do not in anger repel your servant.
You are my helper: cast me not off.
R. I believe that I shall see the good things
of the Lord in the land of the living.
I believe that I shall see the bounty of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD with courage;
be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD.
R. I believe that I shall see the good things
of the Lord in the land of the living.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Luke 10:1-12
Jesus appointed seventy-two other disciples
whom he sent ahead of him in pairs
to every town and place he intended to visit.
He said to them,
"The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.
Go on your way;
behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.
Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals;
and greet no one along the way.
Into whatever house you enter, first say,
'Peace to this household.'
If a peaceful person lives there,
your peace will rest on him;
but if not, it will return to you.
Stay in the same house
and eat and drink what is offered to you,
for the laborer deserves his payment.
Do not move about from one house to another.
Whatever town you enter and they welcome you,
eat what is set before you,
cure the sick in it and say to them,
'The Kingdom of God is at hand for you.'
Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you,
go out into the streets and say,
'The dust of your town that clings to our feet,
even that we shake off against you.'
Yet know this: the Kingdom of God is at hand.
I tell you,
it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day
than for that town."
Two days ago we saw Jesus firmly setting out for Jerusalem and the accomplishment of his mission. Yesterday we saw how he responded to people who wanted to or were being invited to join his mission. During the coming days we will see Jesus preparing his actual disciples for their work.

In addition to the inner circle of the Twelve, we are told today that he appointed another 72 (12×6) and sent them two by two to the places he himself would be visiting. (Only Luke mentions this group.) That is a good description of our Christian role. We are supposed to go first to prepare the ground but then it is Jesus himself who comes to plant the seed of faith.

Jesus then goes on to give an instruction to his disciples. We, too, should be listening to his words:

      a. He first points out that the harvest is great and there are very few labourers, few who are willing to do the harvesting work with Jesus.

This is a text which is often thrown at us during “vocation” campaigns. We tend to hear it as a call for more priests, brothers and nuns. It is that, of course, but when Jesus spoke there were no priests, brothers or nuns. The challenge was being thrown out to all his followers to find more people to join in the harvesting work.

We have to be careful as we listen to these words not to exclude ourselves because we are middle-aged, or married, or already have a career. The words are addressed to all of us and call for some kind of response from every one of us. It is never too late to respond to the call.

     b. Second, Jesus warns his followers that it may not be easy. “I am sending you out as lambs among wolves.” In spite of the message of truth, love, compassion and justice that we bring, it does not mean that we will be received with open arms. On the contrary, we may meet with strong opposition and even persecution. Our message will be seen as threatening. It will be distorted and misunderstood.

      c. The disciple is called on to travel light. Jesus himself “had nowhere to lay his head” and he only had the clothes he wore. So many of us are weighed down by the things we own. Some of us have to protect our property with the latest in security devices. In our search for prosperity and material security we have lost the more precious gift of freedom. They are not to stop to greet people in the sense of carrying on lengthy conversations. Their mission was urgent – there are few labourers for a potentially huge harvest.

      d. They are to be bearers of peace. Peace, shalom, is much more than an absence of violence. It is a deep inner harmony with oneself, with others, with one’s environment, with God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” We could hardly bring a more precious gift to others than this inner peace. It is, in fact, the heart of our Christian message. Faith, hope and love are the keys to peace.

      e. The evangeliser is, first, to stay in the first house that accepts him. He should not be going around looking for better accommodation. At the same time, he is to be provided with shelter and hospitality for “the labourer is worthy of his hire”.

This, it seems, was the way Jesus himself lived. And this was the overall ideal of the Christian community: a network of mutually supporting people sharing their resources with each other and with those in greater need than themselves.

      f. Their work is primarily to heal the sick in the places they go to. ‘Healing’ should be taken in a wider sense of including body, feelings, mind and spirit. And ‘healing’ should also be seen not just as getting rid of a sickness but of making a person whole again. Bringing healing and wholeness into the lives of individuals and communities is of the essence of the Kingdom and at the heart of Jesus’ work and that of his followers. The sign of that wholeness is inner peace. Today it is no different.

And they are to say, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” This is not just a statement they are to throw out. It is the core of Jesus’ message and an explanation of why people are experiencing healing and wholeness coming into their lives. This is the effect of the coming of the kingdom; this is what the coming of the kingdom means. God’s power is penetrating their lives, transforming them and making them whole again.

Luke mentions the kingdom of God more than 30 times; Matthew more than 50 times. Matthew’s is truly a Gospel of the Kingdom.

The term can have a number of meanings:

- the eternal kingship (basileia) of God
- the presence of the kingdom in the person of Jesus; he is the embodiment, the incarnation of the rule of God in himself, an incarnation he wishes to be found in his disciples and the communities they establish.
- the future kingdom in the life that is to come.

In short, the kingdom, the rule of God is intended to be both a present reality as well as a future hope.

g. Finally, if there is any place where they are not received, they are to leave it to its own fate. Even then those people are to know that the kingdom of God is near to them also. There is always the hope that the results of their very rejection of the kingdom will lead to a deeper awareness later on. But by rejecting the messengers of God they have opened themselves to a fate worse than that of Sodom, a city utterly destroyed because of its shameful lack of hospitality to divine visitors. But those hearing the message of Jesus are even more accountable for hearing the message of the Kingdom proclaimed to them and turning their back on it.

Clearly, we cannot literally apply all of these points to our own work on behalf of the Gospel but we need to make the underlying principles and values ours too. It will require some reflection on our part both as individuals and as communities on how we should effectively share the Gospel with those around us and be the harvesters that are so badly needed.

Indeed, let us pray for vocations but let us remember that every single one of us is being called to work in the harvest field and not just some chosen souls who are totally unknown to us.*

The Irish Jesuits

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

'Jesus appointed seventy-two other disciples whom he sent ahead of him in pairs'

That makes 36 pairs. Luke was a doctor, a man of science, so I suppose he was also interested in numbers. The pythagoreans called 6 the first perfect number. Perhaps 36 (6x6) had a special significance to them too.

I imagine Luke would have been very knowledgeable about Euclidean geometry. The circle had long since been divided into 360 degrees (at a time before base 10 came to dominate). 360 is also a fair approximation of the length of a year in days, especially if you measure the year by its lunar months. Today's clocks also use this ancient number base - an hour has 60 minutes and a minute 60 seconds - 3600 seconds in one hour. (Incidentally, I like the way Latin uses the same word - ora - for hour and pray!)

36 is closely identifiable with measurement of both space and time. It occurs to me that these 36 pairs of disciples radiate from Jesus, the divine centre of space and time! I wonder if Luke might have thought like this too, and if that is why the detail struck him.