Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Let My Prayer Come Before You, LORD; Incline Your Ear To My Cry For Help.

Tuesday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
Job 3:1-3, 11-17, 20-23
Job opened his mouth and cursed his day.
Job spoke out and said:

Perish the day on which I was born,
the night when they said, "The child is a boy!"

Why did I not perish at birth,
come forth from the womb and expire?
Or why was I not buried away like an untimely birth,
like babes that have never seen the light?
Wherefore did the knees receive me?
or why did I suck at the breasts?

For then I should have lain down and been tranquil;
had I slept, I should then have been at rest
With kings and counselors of the earth
who built where now there are ruins
Or with princes who had gold
and filled their houses with silver.

There the wicked cease from troubling,
there the weary are at rest.

Why is light given to the toilers,
and life to the bitter in spirit?
They wait for death and it comes not;
they search for it rather than for hidden treasures,
Rejoice in it exultingly,
and are glad when they reach the grave:
Those whose path is hidden from them,
and whom God has hemmed in!
The Dialogue begins: Job now curses the day of his birth but not God.

As Job was there in misery and desolation, his family and all his property wiped out, his body covered with ulcers as he sat in an ashpit, he is scolded by his wife who urges him to curse the God who brought them to this state. He replies in a phrase which underlies the whole book: “If we take happiness from God’s hand, must we not take sorrow too?” 

Job is then is joined by three friends: Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar who come to console him. They were appalled by his appearance; as far they were concerned, he was dead.

For seven days and seven nights they all sat together in total silence. Then Job broke the silence and uttered the words we have in today’s reading. He curses the day he was born and the night he was conceived. “Perish the day on which I was born! The night when they said, ‘The child is a boy’.” The birth of a boy would normally be good news; it would mean the continuation of the family line. But Job is now alone – his whole family wiped out. There is nothing to live for.

There now comes a series of rhetorical questions:

     If he was to be born, why did he not die soon after birth?
     Why was there a mother there to hold and suckle him?

Otherwise he would now be with the dead, “lying in peace” in the company of kings and princes in their magnificent tombs, crammed with all kinds of treasure (like the kings of Ur or the Egyptian pharaohs).

Or at least why did he not enter the world of the still-born to join those “unborn babes that never see the light” in that place where prisoners suffer no more, where high and low are all one and the slave is free of his master?

“Down there” (in Sheol) even the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest. Sheol, a word of unknown origin, indicates the deepest parts of the earth. It is the place where the dead, both virtuous and wicked alike are, leading a colourless existence where there is no praise of God. The belief in rewards and punishments after death and of bodily resurrection only came very late in the Old Testament period (cf. 2 Maccabees 12:38ff).

Why allow a man to grow up and suffer like this? Why give life to those who long for a death that never comes, “who hunt for it more than buried treasure”?Why make this gift of light to a man who does not see his way, whom God baulks on every side?”

Job can see no future for himself. A life like this is not worth living. He longs for the liberation of death and curses the day of his birth.

We ourselves may have somewhat similar experiences and surely we know of others who have gone through terrible inner and outer pain. People who wonder where a loving God can fit into such a situation. Today, there are strong inclinations to arrange an early termination of such an existence. Not a few take the way of suicide while others resort to “euthanasia”. They are very sensitive issues which need to be dealt with through compassion and understanding.

Although Job regrets now that he was born, he never contemplates suicide. And, of course, later on, when his fortunes change again for the better, his words in today’s reading will be set aside.

We, too, must always live in hope. Some of our pains and sufferings are of a temporary nature and will go away. Others, such as terminal illness, we know cannot be taken away. Yet, here too, as experience has shown many times, total acceptance and inner peace is possible. And so many good things can come from pain. In my pain, I may experience the deep sympathy and compassion of people who might otherwise ignore me. My pain can help me to understand much better the pain of others and bring a healing compassion to their situation. A world totally free of pain could become a place of total selfishness and self-indulgence.
+++    +++    +++    +++   
Psalm 88
Let my prayer come before you, Lord.
O LORD, my God, by day I cry out;
at night I clamor in your presence.
Let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my call for help.
Let my prayer come before you, Lord.
For my soul is surfeited with troubles
and my life draws near to the nether world.
I am numbered with those who go down into the pit;
I am a man without strength.
Let my prayer come before you, Lord.
My couch is among the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
Whom you remember no longer
and who are cut off from your care.
Let my prayer come before you, Lord.
You have plunged me into the bottom of the pit,
into the dark abyss.
Upon me your wrath lies heavy,
and with all your billows you overwhelm me.
Let my prayer come before you, Lord.
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Luke 9:51-56
When the days for Jesus to be taken up were fulfilled,
he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem,
and he sent messengers ahead of him.
On the way they entered a Samaritan village
to prepare for his reception there,
but they would not welcome him
because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem.
When the disciples James and John saw this they asked,
"Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven
to consume them?"
Jesus turned and rebuked them,
and they journeyed to another village.
We come today to a distinct turning point in Luke’s gospel. It is marked by the opening words of today’s passage: “When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.” The ‘taking up’ or the ‘assumption’ of Jesus refers to his passion and death leading to resurrection and ascension. It corresponds to the ‘glory’ that John speaks of and for whom the crucifixion is a ‘lifting up’ into ‘glory’.

At this point we have now come to the end of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and we move on to a new section – the journey to Jerusalem which ends at chapters 18:27 where we find Jesus in Jerusalem. The opening corresponds to Mark 10:1 where Jesus is seen entering Judea to preach there and which John more specifically describes as a journey to Jerusalem during the time of the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:1-10)

But Luke diverges from Mark’s story with very different material. He now follows Matthew’s source as well as using material of his own. The section consists almost entirely of teachings of Jesus to his disciples. It is all loosely organised within the framework of Jesus making his way to Jerusalem. The section we are entering is a time of preparation for the disciples for their future role as Messengers of the Kingdom.

Jerusalem is the place where it is all going to happen – the ‘exodus’ of Jesus, including his suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension leading to the passing on of his mission to his disciples with the coming down of the Spirit of the Father and Jesus on the disciples. And it will be from Jerusalem that the new Church will be established and from Jerusalem it will spread gradually throughout the whole Mediterranean area until it reaches the empire’s capital in Rome and from there to the ends of the earth.

As he set out, Jesus sent some messengers ahead to announce his coming. In order to go directly from Galilee to Judea, where the city of Jerusalem was situated, they would have had to pass through Samaria. Samaritans were particularly hostile to Jews, especially when they were on their way to a Jewish festival in Jerusalem (as Jesus and his disciples seemed to be doing). It would take at least three days to cross Samaria and the Samaritans were refusing the disciples overnight shelter. Because of this situation, Jewish pilgrims and travellers often avoided confrontation by going down the east bank of the Jordan River. There is an irony here that, when the first Christians were persecuted in Jerusalem, they took refuge in Samaria which became one of the first places to accept the Gospel. (Very likely, the evangelist is aware of the irony when telling this story.)

Faced with this hostility, the brothers James and John, whom we described yesterday as hotheads, suggested that fire from heaven be called down to burn them up. Their threat is reminiscent of the fire that Elijah brought down on the emissaries of an idolatrous king. They were indignant that their Master, the Messiah, should be treated in this way. There is a parallel here between Jesus’ negative reception in his home town of Galilee with his rejection by the people of Samaria.

But Jesus distances himself from those disciples and gives them a scolding. This was not Jesus’ way. Instead, they went off to another village where they hoped to find a better welcome. As we see in other parts of the Gospel, Jesus does not normally go out of his way to court trouble. On the other hand, he will not hesitate to speak his mind or do what he believes is right, even if certain kinds of people take offence at it.

It is never Jesus’ way to destroy his enemies. We will see that clearly after he reaches Jerusalem where far worse things are done to him. Jesus’ purpose always is to change people who are against him, to defuse their hostility and help them to see things in a better way. It is something we could try to do more often. It is not at all the “softy’s” approach. On the contrary, it requires great inner strength and security.

The Irish Jesuits

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

Curse God and die/Bless God and die

How does one 'curse God to His face', as Satan promised Job would? We can rant about as much as we like down here on earth, but it's hardly cursing Him to His face. Suicide, however, could be seen as just that - the gift of life tossed back in the Giver's face.

In the Douay Rheims version, Job's wife urges him to BLESS God and die, and I have read elsewhere that this is what the Hebrew actually says! The idea of blessing God as one chooses death seems very pagan to us. People would nobly fall on their swords rather than bring dishonour on the family gods, or even submit to human sacrifice in a fug of holy awe. We also see something of this today in the suicide bomber who cries 'God is Great' at the moment of detonation - he blesses God and dies. Job's wife's assault on her husband's integrity might therefore be seen as a call to 'do the honourable thing' - after all, it may even be the will of the gods, who knows?

I see Job's integrity in the way he resisted the easy/honorable way out. His knowledge of God's will - which surpassed everyone else's and made Him God's best servant - was just good enough to stop him. It gave him a heroic patience. He may have said a lot of things he later regretted, but he did not do that final thing. In the end, instead of cursing God to His face as Satan predicted, Job actually sees Him, speaks with Him, and is able to apologise for his words and repent.

If I were in Job's position and a smiling doctor turned up with a large syringe of something soporific, I would be very tempted to 'bless God and die'. But in a detached way I think of suicide as the exact opposite of blessing God. Would I have sufficient knowledge of God, like Job, to continue suffering? What a mixed blessing! Is that even truly my heart's desire?

It's interesting to consider Our Lord's refusal to persecute the Samaritans in the light of God's lack of qualms about persecuting poor Job! Job was persecuted BECAUSE he was the best servant of God, with the best knowledge of His will at the time - and this rationale can even be extended to Jesus' own suffering. It's almost as though the Samaritans avoided punishment simply BECAUSE they were such useless, ignorant servants - they could not even serve the purposes of a messianic miracle!

Would I really rather be in Job's position, or that of these useless Samaritans?