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July 8 - 16, 1998
Third in the week of novenas for justice and peace
Third in the week of novenas for justice and peace
Lectionary readings: Hosea 10:1-3, 7-8, 12 -- Psalm 105 -- Matthew 10:1-7
Hosea prophesied in the northern kingdom of Israel during the last years of Jeroboam II (786-746 BC), just prior to the invasion of the Assyrians and the destruction of the northern kingdom for its sins. It was a time of great material prosperity -- and as is often the case, the people were seduced by their prosperity into forgetting the source of all earthly goods. The more prosperous they became, the more idols they worship. Hosea writes, "The more productive his land, the more sacred pillars he set up."
In verse 4, which isn't in the lectionary reading, Hosea uses a common phrase "While justice grows wild like wormwood in a plowed field" which is to say that the administration of justice has, because of corruption, become an instrument of oppression. There are many references in this book to the problems that the poor are suffering at the hands of the rich during an era of prosperity. In verse seven he says the "king of Samaria shall disappear".
How would we feel if a prophet came to us and said, "The government in Washington will disappear due to the sins of the rich against the poor." We'd say he was a crackpot. How could the government in Washington fall? We are the strongest nation on earth, and besides, God is on OUR side. Which, of course, is exactly what the people of the Kingdom of Israel said.
Hosea's advice, "Sow for yourselves justice, reap the fruit of piety" fell on utterly deaf ears. Thus, "it is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain down justice upon you."
Today Jesus calls the Twelve and gives them authority "over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness." A strange lot they were, hardly what one might have picked out of those who might answer a help wanted ad "Apostles wanted. No pay, long hours, persecution guaranteed, typically an ugly and painful death in a far off land. Will traverse the ends of the earth proclaiming that "the kingdom of heaven is at hand." We had some fishermen, a tax collector, a radical politician and one who would eventually betray the trust extended to him.
This gospel that is to preached is one of radical empowerment of the poor, an in-breaking of goodness and beauty and holiness, the beginning of the understanding that "all the way to heaven is heaven", and that if our eyes and ears and hearts are open, we can see the nascent kingdom all around us, like the first buds of the earliest spring flowers, beautiful to behold and promising greater delights to come.
In obedience to this call, these humble men went to the very edges of the earth, preaching,
teaching, ordaining, planting, building the reign of God in the real-time very-now.
This gospel that is to be preached today is the same Gospel received by this apostles. It has the same world-changing power today that it did back then. It can heal the divisions and injustice that we see in our societies and reveal new visions of hope. It is a source of reconciling love with the power to transcend our human differences and unite all peoples in solidarity.
Hosea's lesson is stark and clear. A society built on injustice will fall, and that includes the high
and mighty civilizations of our era. If we wish to build a better life for our children and
grandchildren and great-grandchildren, then the day-by-day work of evangelism and catechesis
and praxis of justice and peace must be a priority. Lincoln once observed that the nation could
not continue "half slave and half free". Today we must learn that the world cannot continue to be
twenty percent rich and 80 percent poor (would that it was only half and half!). The structures of
sin that encourage the concentration of wealth and economic injustice must be redeemed and
reborn as structures of participation and solidarity and holiness. The message of the Gospel is
equally clear: preach the Gospel, and in the process, overturn the world.
In tender language, Hosea today describes the love of God for his children in terms of maternal love. In this love is a promise -- even though the judgment will come upon them because of their injustice and oppression, they will not be totally cast off. In the midst of their darkest sins, there yet remains a promise of redemption. All will not be lost, God will not forget the covenant. Though Israel turn away again and again, God will always be there when they seek what they have lost.
Today's Gospel continues the "job description" of an apostle. Duties include curing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing lepers, driving out demons. (Establishing clinics, empowering neighborhoods, comforting those suffering from AIDS, being in ministry to street people.) No salary, no charge for services rendered. Don't keep a big bank account, not even a change of clothes, shoes, or a walking stick. (Live simply and in solidarity with the poor.)
Wherever you go, be one with the people there. Do not lord over them. Eat what they eat, live where they live, when in Palestine, be a Palestinian. When in Rome, be a Roman. When in Ethiopia, be an Ethiopian. Yep, gotta believe it, sounds like cross-cultural solidarity to me.
"As you enter a house, wish it peace." Now this is an interesting command. We tend to take it very spiritually, but just as an experiment some time, say "Peace be with you" to everyone you meet in a single day. You will get some interesting looks. This is especially true of clerks in convenience stores and fast food restaurants. It's actually quite fun to do, it doesn't do any harm at all, and there is always the random chance that it might do some good. If the house is not of peace, then their own sins will come back upon them, as they have sown, so will they reap. (I always try to remember the words of Sirach: "Sow not in the furrows of injustice, lest you reap it seven-fold." I think the President should take the oath of office with his hand over that scripture in the Bible.)
So there is hope for the United States and all of the rich countries. It is never too late to turn
back to God, to build houses of peace and justice, to learn to live in solidarity with each other, to
empower participation. Sure, evil and corruption are strong, and Satan and his angels wander
about the earth at war with God, seeking the ruin of souls. But what is all the power of hell
compared to the grace of Christ? If the power of raising the dead and cleansing lepers is within
our grasp, why should we shrink before thoughts of redeeming the structures of sin in our own
era? Is not this what the apostles went out to do? Let us follow their good example.
Hosea is an interesting prophet. One moment he is angry, the next he is tender. One can feel across the centuries the great anguish in his soul as he watched a great nation squander its heritage and birthright on the altars of false gods -- Moloch, Astheroth, Baal -- (Abortion, Prosperity, Power). Return, he cries, O Israel, to the Lord, your God. Do not trust in the strength of any nation. Stop your worship of the almighty dollar. Do not join the game of seeking power at any price, and if you get it, thinking that you've got something important.
Reject these things, and return to the principles of justice outlined in the Law given on Mt. Sinai to Moses and all those delivered from oppression and slavery in Egypt. "In you the orphan finds compassion."
Verse ten may be a later addition, but that takes nothing away from its wisdom or its sacred nature. It bears repeating: "Let him who is wise understand these things; let him who is prudent know them. Straight are the paths of the Lord, in them the just walk, but sinners stumble in them."
Today's Gospel is more of that wonderful job description that is obviously calculated to draw thousands of applicants. You will be like sheep in the midst of wolves. Thanks Jesus, that's real promising. Beware, they are going to beat you in front of the churches. But don't worry, don't hire a lawyer, depend on the Holy Spirit for your words. Everyone is going to hate you, but endurance to the end brings salvation.
In the midst of all this, we are to be wise as serpents and simple as doves, a concept which calls forth meditation and contemplation in search of how this can be lived. Make the best of your circumstances, use the talents and blessings and skills and education God has given you and you have earned. But don't fool yourself into thinking that it is your (my!) smarts that is moving this thing along -- no, it is God, in one of those great mysteries, working in and through us, a simple and basic dependence upon Providence.
Today's Gospel is full of what they call the "hard sayings". But the world is a hard place, and this was as true then as it is now. You could be just walking down the road and come across somebody being crucified. A Roman soldier could compel you to carry your baggage. Only Roman citizens could vote; everybody else was under their sway. Life was short, and for the poor, it was often hardly bearable. In our own era, we may not have many people being crucified along the roadside, but there are inner cities full of crucifixions going on round the clock.
This series of readings in Matthew has to be classified under the "fish or cut bait" rubric. Jesus is not just the Easter Bunny (that is, an archetypical symbol of new birth and springtime). Following his Way is not a matter of pious sentimentalities. It will inevitably bring us into conflict with the Powers That Be, whether it be Roman Authority in ancient Palestine or Corporate Economic Authority in the modern world. But don't worry, God in fact is on our side, and endurance unto the end, whatever it may be, is the operative phrase. Hosea reminds us that God's endurance with us is well nigh infinite. Though we turn away from God a thousand times, a thousand times we may return, even ten thousand.
Never give up, because the story is not complete, the journey is not finished. Whatever
difficulties may be in the way will presently give away to prudence and wisdom and holiness and
reconciliation and love and justice. God said it, I believe it, that settles it.
July 11 TOP
Lectionary readings: Isaiah 6:1-8 -- Psalm 93 -- Matthew 10:24-33
"In the year king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne. . ." With these words, the daily lectionary brings us to a cycle of readings in Isaiah, who was a prophet in the southern kingdom of Judah under the reigns of kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (742 - 687 BC). During this period, the kingdom was caught in the midst of the geopolitics of its day, primarily, Assyria versus Egypt, which was kind of like being caught between a rock and a hard place (sort of like Poland in 1939 with Stalinist Russia on one side and Nazi Germany on the other). Not an easy or comfortable place to be. The northern kingdom of Israel had been utterly destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BC, and Jerusalem itself was threatened by Assyrian armies in 701 BC. Meanwhile, the Egyptians were trying to use Judah as a buffer zone between them and the Assyrians. "Trust us," they said. "We will defend you."
The call of God came to Isaiah in a vision in the Temple, which even at this great distance is awesome to contemplate. The impact of this vision can be seen in the fact that at every Mass we sing or say, in union with the angels and archangels and all the heavenly host, these words that Isaiah heard in this vision: "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts! Heaven and earth are filled with his glory."
Matthew's Gospel is more job description and prophesy about the future of the apostles, and Christians in general, for the next 2000 years at least. The disciple is not above the teacher, what happens to the teacher will happen to the disciple. Yet, we shouldn't be afraid of all this. We should not hide our light but rather display it for all the world to see. What is revealed in darkness, shout from the rooftops -- put it on billboards -- advertise it on the television and radio and in the newspapers and magazines.
God's care for us is direct and personal. And that's good, because this Gospel is going to cause division. Satan and his angels will make war on the people of God, not everyone will welcome the prospect of an end to oppression and the commencement of an era of justice. If there was any other way, surely that would have been selected, but we're human beings, God gave us free will, this is the way it must be. The Gospel must be preached, people must freely accept and they have the option of rejection.
Thus, God calls apostles and prophets, and they are many in our own age -- some of them we never really know who they are, but they are there, preaching the Gospel -- occasionally they even use words (!), being salt and leaven, giving water, sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry.
We may not be favored by a tremendous vision such as Isaiah, and we don't have Jesus right here handy to say "Here is the job description go and do this." Yet, don't we actually have a "vision" of sorts? And isn't Jesus present in reality in the Eucharist, in the proclaimed Word, in the gathered Assembly, in the face of the poor and marginalized that we come in contact with? Do we not hear from the Jesus who is among us the call to discipleship and apostleship? Do we not hear the seraphim and archangels sing about the Throne, in a vision of such awesome majesty that the very building shakes? And does not God ask us, "Whom shall I send"?
May we have the grace to reply, in union with Isaiah and Peter and Mary and all the other ancient saints, "Here am I Lord, send me."
Today the Church remembers St. Benedict, founder of monasticism in the western Church,
whose Rule has inspired hundreds of thousands of Benedictine monks and sisters over 1500
years to model the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. May this example of
love, service, and commitment be constantly before us as we continue on the journey of justice
1:15-20 -- Luke 10:25-37
The first reading today comes from Moses final sermon to the people of Israel. After reviewing the commandments of God, he tells them plainly, to heed the voice of the Lord and keep his commandments and statutes. For our purposes, we must remember that the Mosaic Law contained clear and compelling structures that protected the poor from economic exploitation and protected a place for their economic activity. These structures included:
1. Gleaning. Farmers were not to harvest everything in their fields. They were to leave some for the poor to gather.
2. Tithes. Tithes were to be collected and shared with the poor.
3. Various prescriptions regarding widows and orphans. In the society of ancient Israel, people without male defenders were greatly at risk of violence and injustice. Thus, there were many things that were not allowed regarding widows and orphans, including the taking of a widows clothes as a pledge for a debt.
4. Protection for aliens and strangers, who were to be treated as though they were kinsmen.
5. Limitations on economic exploitation, including unjust withholding of wages from laborers, the taking of necessary productive equipment as a pledge for a debt. Every 50 years all land that had been sold had to be returned to the original family of ownership -- this was specifically for the purpose of breaking up concentrations of wealth. In ancient Israel, to be landless was to be poor. When a family had to sell their land, it was a sign of great economic disaster. Thus, one way that God thought proper to deal with this situation was to require that every 50 years all land that had been sold had to be returned to the original family ownership. Every seven years debts were to be relaxed.
6. Commands of generosity to the poor -- loans to them should not require interest, gifts should be made regularly.
Not exactly the neo-liberal or neo-conservative political agenda.
When you read the prophets and they are talking about Israel rejecting God's commandments, in part they are talking about the rejection of these structures.
Today's Gospel is absolute proof that asking Jesus questions could get you in trouble. In this case, a lawyer asks Jesus what he has to do to gain everlasting life. Jesus asks him what the Law says and the lawyer tells him. Jesus agrees, but the lawyer who "wished to justify himself" asked, "And who is my neighbor." We thought you'd never ask.
Jesus proceeds to tell the story of the Good Samaritan, which kind of misses the point because we are far removed from the cultural situation of the day, in which "Samaritan" was about the worst thing you could be from the viewpoint of the Jews in Jerusalem. To retell this in modern idiom, we could say it thusly.
There was a man going down from Kansas City to Dallas who was attacked by robbers who stole all his money and left him for dead. A Catholic priest happened to be going down the same road; he saw what happened but continued on. He was a busy and important man and had other things to take care of. Likewise there was a member of Congress who came the same way; he saw him and went on. But an illegal alien from Mexico who was travelling the same road came on him and was moved to pity. He approached him and dressed his wounds, and took care of him, paying his expenses for medical care and housing.
Or it could be a Russian Communist, or Iraqi citizen, or Iranian mullah, or whoever else is on the "we hate these people" list.
How is this possible? Paul gives us a clue, speaking of God reconciling everything through Jesus, "making peace through the blood of his cross," finding in this apparent defeat and great victory.
So who is your neighbor? Rummage through the old brain and pick out everybody that you just kind of don't like, or maybe even hate. Such is the extreme lesson of this parable. It's always dangerous to ask somebody like Jesus a question. You might get an answer. And it might not be an easy answer.
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