THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
READINGS FOR THE DAY
CYCLE A: Proverbs 31. 10 – 13, 19 – 20, 30 – 1; Psalm 128. 1 - 5; I Thessalonians 5. 1 – 6; Matthew 25. 14 – 30.
CYCLE B: Daniel 12. 1 – 3; Psalm 16. 5, 8 – 11; Hebrews 10. 11 – 14, 18; Mark 13. 24 – 32.
CYCLE C: Malachi 3. 19 – 20; Psalm 98. 5 – 9; II Thessalonians 3. 7 – 12; Luke 21. 5 – 19.
THE CONSUMMATION OF THE KINGDOM
Then shall they see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.
As the second last Sunday of the Christian Year it is fitting to have readings that direct our thoughts to the end-time and Christ’s coming to claim His kingdom for His Father. The Marcan reading in cycle B uses the fig tree metaphorically to usher in the parousia. When that time comes for the Son of man to return there will also be other signs such as the sky darkening the earth. But of that Day of Judgment only the Father knows when the archangel Michael will be there to welcome those who have been faithful and wing them as it were to heaven. Here they will shine brightly for evermore with Christ who is the one true High Priest when He offered up once for all the one true perfect sacrifice.
In cycle C the last words in the Old Testament from the reading of Malachi warn us that those days will come when the Lord will separate the righteous from the wicked as He comes “to rule the earth”. In this beautiful image the righteous will be bathed and lifted up in those healing rays from the Sun of righteousness.
The Lucan gospel in cycle C has Jesus foretelling of the destruction of the temple before his prophetic announcements in typical apocalyptic language of what would happen towards the end. After all these dreadful events such as famine and pestilence, reminiscent of the Hebrew time in Egypt, there will be deliverance, that age long theme of Israel’s history.
The Second Thessalonian letter, not written by Paul, for this Sunday sounds very much like Paul in the beginning with its emphasis on making one’s way and not relying on hand-outs. Then it makes an extraordinary claim, not Pauline, that if the hungry needed food they had to work for it. None who is idle, this letter claims, can come to the meal table. So what of those who cannot work? Those who cannot find work? Those who are laid off? Surely these were problems in those times too. I wonder what Paul would have said about this statement! I am sure he would advise the local Christian community to come to the aid of the party.
We are given a beautiful description of the perfect wife in the Old Testament lesson in cycle A. What according to Proverbs makes the perfect wife, a find that is above “the price of pearls”? Throughout this book a good wife has been an important theme and now it concludes with singing her praises in the city gate for her wisdom, diligence and prudence.
God expects us to work hard in His kingdom as seen in the parable of The Talents that is the gospel reading from Matthew for cycle A. Those gifts God has given to us we are expected to use to good effect, not to bury and discard them. Each of us has been given a gift that no one else has. This we are supposed to use to promote God’s kingdom. We are not expected to be like the person in today’s gospel who buried his talent and did not do anything to increase its value. He hoped he would be pardon for procrastinating and not causing any ripples but he failed to realise what God’s work is all about. We have to be active in the way that God wants us to be. I don’t think excuses will be accepted if we do not do our part in promoting the kingdom.
Finally in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians we return to the parousia. The end will come quickly, as quickly as a thief strikes at night or a woman with her labour pangs. Yet we are children of the light not of the darkness and so we know that we must stay awake and watch, that theme we had in last week’s reading from this gospel of the Ten Virgins awaiting for the arrival of the bridegroom. With Advent beginning in two weeks’ time we shall hear a lot more about the importance of watching and waiting in our pilgrimage to the heavenly Jerusalem.
Heavenly Father, help me to live in such a way that I am prepared for that unexpected moment of death or the coming of your Son. Amen.
MONDAY OF THIRTY-THIRD WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
READINGS FOR THE DAY
YEAR I: I Maccabees 1. 10 – 15, 41 – 3, 54 – 7, 62 - 4; Psalm 119. 53, 61, 134, 150, 155, 158.
YEAR II: Revelations 1. 1 – 4, 2. 1 – 5; Psalm 1. 1 – 4, 6.
THE COMMON GOSPEL: Luke 18. 35 – 43.
THE TME OF THE MACCABEES
The king sent messengers with letters to Jerusalem and to the cities of Judah ordering them to follow customs foreign to their land. …On the fifteenth day of the month Chislev, in the year one hundred and forty-five, the king erected the horrible abomination, upon the altar of holocausts, and in the surrounding cities of Judah they built pagan altars.
This week our readings focus on that period in Judah’s history (second century B. C.) that was particularly Hellenistic as illustrated in the first and second books of Maccabees. The first book although written in Hebrew now survives only in Greek as does the second. Both relate to the uprising of those Jews who resisted the enforcement of the Hellenist religion and culture on their lives. The second book is far more idealistic as it concentrates essentially on the role of Judas and highlights the martyrs under the Hellenist rulers and the role of the temple while the first is a more accurate historical account of the period of the revolt and how after many years of fighting the Jews eventually won its independence from a foreign control in 142 B.C.
At the end of the war the only Maccabean son left was Simon who was also High Priest. Under him and John Hyrcanus the kingdom regained those borders not dissimilar to those in the time of Solomon. However by the time these two books came to be written somewhere around the beginning of the first century the kingdom again drifted towards Hellenisation as seen in the name of the successor to John Hyrcanus, Alexander Jannaeus. What would Mattathias Maccabeus have thought about that! After fighting to uphold the Jewish religion a descendant would succumb to what they fought against! It had all come full circle.
The first book opens with a brief account of how Judæa became Hellenised. After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. his kingdom was divided into three. Palestine found itself sandwiched between the Ptolemies in Egypt and the Seleucids in Syria. Up until 198 B.C. the Jews were ruled by the Ptolemy family that introduced some Hellenisation to the country but the practice of the Jewish religion was unhindered. All that changed when the Seleucids under Antiochus III annexed Palestine to its territory after defeating the Ptomelies in 198 B.C. This ruler began further Hellenisation that was completed by his son Antiochus Epiphanes IV when he became king in 176 B. C.
The author vividly described those measures taken to Hellenise the Jews including placing the “abomination” in the temple and removing all the sacred vessels and treasures from the sanctuary. As the king insisted on uniformity throughout his kingdom he wrote to all city officials for Hellenistic observances and appointed inspectors to enforce them throughout the various cities of Judah. Persecution and death followed when Jews tried to stay faithful to the Covenant. For example, those women who continued to have their children circumcised and those who observed kosher were all slaughtered.
The climax of forcing Jews to accept pagan ways came when a priest named Mattahias was told that he had to offer sacrifices to Zeus in the temple. His reply was, “God forbid that we should forsake the law and the commandments.” Upon saying these words he spied a fellow Jew about to offer sacrifice to this god that angered him so much that he slew him and the Greek official who gave the order. As one would expect there were reprisals but Mattahias and his family fled to the hills where they prepared for open rebellion against Antiochus Epiphanes IV.
Thus Civil War broke out in 167 B.C. led by what we know as the Maccabean family or as they were later known as the Hasmoneans. This is the name used in the time of our Lord, especially in their claim to be the legitimate High Priests. This in itself broke with the tradition that priests came from Aaron and the tribe of Levi, and it had its own repercussion, resulting in a rival community setting itself up in Qumran.
So we are in for an exciting read this week but one of immense courage by many Jews who faced death bravely rather than to be unfaithful to their monotheistic God who had always been faithful to them. We could well imitate their courage in our witness to the secular world in which we live.
THE COMMON GOSPEL
THE BLIND BEGGAR
As Jesus drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging, … And he cried, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’
In today’s reading our Lord is nearing the end of his journey to Jerusalem that started out from Galilee a few chapters back in 9. 51. As it is nearing Passover time Jesus and His disciples have met up with other pilgrims on their way to the holy city somewhere on the road into Jericho. This city was prosperous and so accentuates the poverty of the blind beggar, the wing-stage character in today’s reading. As the party neared the city this blind beggar on the roadside heard the chattering of the pilgrims approaching. Instinctively he calls out to learn who was passing by. The answer is good news for him, it is Jesus of Nazareth.
Here was his chance! So Bartimæus, as the Marcan tradition named him, yelled out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those leading the pilgrimage party tried to shut him up, but the blind beggar was not going to be stopped so easily. After all had he not waited for such a moment? He cried out even louder to the “Son of David” He is heard! This messiah title rarely appears in Luke and so it is even more meaningful on the lips of this outcast.
Although the Lucan version is not as dramatic as the Marcan one where Bartimaeus flings his cloak aside to come to Jesus, nevertheless it is a marvellous encounter of faith. Obviously some members of the multitude would have to co-operate and lead him to Jesus. Perhaps they wondered, what was his sin to cause blindness? Our Lord thought differently and asked him what he wanted. Immediately addressing Him he blurted out, “Lord to have my sight.” And he might have wanted to add, to be able to see people and animals and flowers and grass and everything again. Our Lord does not do anything tangible such as making spittle but simply commands him to see and he does. Why was it so easily performed? There was not any conditions attached at all such as faith or repentance. Obviously, Jesus recognised the faith of this child of Abraham who knew the Lord would heal Him.
Our Lord was right! Immediately after receiving his sight he became a disciple and joined the pilgrims going to Jerusalem. No more begging for him. He had better things to do with his voice. Pilgrims sang their pilgrimage psalms (121 – 134) as they approach Jerusalem but Bartimæus began glorifying God immediately for his healing and one can imagine that for the rest of the trip to Jerusalem he praised God loudly.
Bartimæus is one of the real characters of the Gospels with whom we can easily identify, and hopefully imitate. Yet his faith and belief are even more remarkable when juxtaposed with firstly that of the disciples who do not recognise Jesus as the Messiah (Lk. 18. 34) and secondly with the rich ruler who wanted to inherit eternal life but could not do the one thing Jesus asked him so he could have this. That was to go and sell all his possessions and give to the poor. His riches were more important to him than his salvation (Lk.18. 18 – 24). He would never experience the richness that Bartimæus had for the rest of his life in knowing the Christ. I imagine the latter as being one of the early Christians who helped to pass on the stories of Jesus. The evangelist of the Marcan Gospel must have known him to give such a rich account of his character. We should be thankful for that so we can imitate his enthusiasm.
TUESDAY OF THIRTY-THIRD WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
READINGS FOR THE DAY
YEAR I: II Maccabees 6. 18 – 31; Psalm 3. 2 – 7.
YEAR II: Revelations 3. 1 – 6, 14 – 22; Psalm 15. 2 – 5.
THE COMMON GOSPEL: Luke 19. 1 – 10.
Preferring a glorious death to a life of defilement, Eleazar spat out the meat, and went forward of his own accord to the instrument of torture, as men ought to do who have the courage to reject the food which is unlawful to taste even for love of life.
Today’s reading comes from the second book of Maccabees. Like T.S. Eliot’s play, Murder in the Cathedral, its theme is martyrdom. It tells therefore of one of the Jewish martyrs, the old scribe, Eleazar who refused to ear pork during the enforcement of Hellenisation upon pious Jews under Antiochus Epiphanes IV. At the beginning of this chapter the author had outlined the desecration of the temple when the Greek God Zeus was placed in the sanctuary and the debauchery and revelry that followed. Under Antiochus no Jew was allowed to keep the Sabbath or any of their traditional feasts such as Passover, women could not circumcise their boys and on the king’s birthday they were commanded to take part in the festival of Dionysus and to make the appropriate sacrifices wherever they lived.
After listing all of these atrocities the author begged the reader to understand that these “chastisements” were not for the “ruin” but for the “correction” of the nation by their merciful God. True to the classical understanding of Judaism, the author declared that God disciplines His children but He never abandons them.
This brings us to the account of the martyrdom of Eleazar who would become one of the heroes for faithful Jews. What may seem in some eyes a trivial thing to do, to swallow a piece of pork this pious priest knew in his own heart to do so was to act against Yahweh’s law. Thus in this second book of Maccabees, Eleazar is showing resisting Hellenisation, just as Mattahias had in the first book.
As I read this account I could not help notice the similarities between Eleazar’s response and many centuries later that of Sir Thomas More. Both have their closest friends suggesting ways out to acknowledge what the authorities want but both choose their own integrity and preferred martyrdom for their beliefs. Just as Sir Thomas would years later not acknowledge Henry VIII as the Supreme Governor of the Church in England, so Eleazar to Hellenisation. Thus Eleazar, as did More, acted “in a noble manner, worthy of his years” and to “be loyal to the holy laws given by God.” Hence he would not substitute another kind of meat to eat as an example to younger people. He knew that it was more preferable to die now than to have a few more years of life living in shame and then to have to face God’s judgment. Hence he went immediately to his execution and under the blows he felt not the suffering of the body but the joy in his soul through his devotion to God. Thus his death was “an unforgettable example of virtue” not only for the young but also for the whole nation.
Eleazar’s example as well as that of Sir Thomas More years later is a great encouragement to us all in showing that integrity of one’s being is far more important than bowing to the wishes of others. To lose one’s integrity is to lose one’s soul. It also cheats God of what He wants for each of His children, that is, to be the unique person He has created. Perhaps if we pondered more on the fact that each of us has a unique gift to offer to the good Lord then we would strive to live in tune with the Holy Spirit that will unleash those gifts. If only each baptised person could try to do this what an incredible better world it would be for all mankind. It begins with you, just as it did with Eleazar in protesting against Hellenisation for his people.
THE COMMON GOSPEL
When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchæus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’
Today’s reading has the Lucan artistry at its best, and therefore like some of the parables peculiar to this gospel such as the Good Samaritan we remember the story well, but perhaps the meaning not so well. Probably the first thing that comes to mind when we think of Zacchæus was that he “was small of stature” and he had to climb a sycamore tree to be able to see Jesus as He passed by. Luke also referred to him as “a chief tax collector”. Immediately we envisage that he would have been an outcast and despised by his fellow citizens. Being the “chief” tax collectors meant that he would be responsible directly to the Roman government for fiscal revenues of a particular region. If he failed in payment he and his family could end up in slavery, a mere puppet to Roman power.
However being the “chief tax collector” meant he would have had others under him to collect the appropriate taxes. These would have bidden for such employment and therefore would be very much expected to do their work. Normally someone in Zacchæus’ position would be very wealthy, another reason for hatred towards such officials. How wealthy and therefore how dishonest this chief official was we don’t know. However by referring to him as “a chief tax collector” Luke was either implying that he is very wealthy or by implication an outcast. Above that in this evangelist’s eyes he was important as he is an example of one whom Jesus came to save.
Whatever was the state of Zacchæus’ soul, he is portrayed as ardently desiring to see Jesus. Perhaps it was a good thing that he was short and had to climb a tree because he would have risked his life by trying to push through a crowd. Anyway high up in the sycamore tree he would have had a panoramic view of Jesus’ procession into Jericho. I have always wondered, was Zacchæus amazed beyond belief when his name came floating through the air from the Lord? But not only that, Jesus wanted to spend the day with him. The onlookers too were amazed. How could this be? This man who has exacted more than he should from his fellow citizens is being welcomed like the lost sheep.
Being with Jesus, Zacchæus recognised something he had never known – love and compassion. These stirred an earnest need for salvation within him. To begin that process he promised to be honest in his business and to share his wealth with the poor. Salvation had surely come to this descendant of Abraham.
What does this story teach us? Perhaps we need to be a Zacchæus and to climb a tree in order to get a better look of Christ. Then we shall see who He really is and may be like Zacchæus accept our Lord's request to dine with Him. But will we also be like this little man and hurry home to welcome Him? Will the message of the Gospel penetrate through the way we live once we have welcomed Him in our homes and hearts? Christ always throws the onus back on us. We have to respond; we have to decide for Him; we have to choose to live with Him. We have to turn the handle of the door to let Him in. Once we have done that there should be no turning back. We have a job to do, just as Zacchæus had, once salvation has come to our house.
Gracious Father, let me welcome your Son into my home and joyfully sup with Him. Amen.
22nd NOVEMBER – MEMORIAL OF ST. CECILIA, MARTYR
READINGS FOR THE DAY
Hosea 2. 16 – 17, 21 – 22; Psalm 45. 11 – 12, 14 – 17; Matthew 25. 1 – 13.
I will betroth you to myself with faithfulness, and you will come to know the Lord.
Today is very special for all those who not only love music, but also use it as an instrument to glorify and praise God, the author all harmony. For to-day we honour and give thanks to the life and martyrdom of St. Cecilia, the patroness of musicians. I know this day has always been a favourite of mine, and a good excuse for listening to some of my very favourite pieces of music such as Gounod’s Mass for St. Cecilia’s day and Purcell’s Ode to St. Cecilia based on a text by Nicholas Brady. It is one of the few saints’ days that is marked with various special concerts throughout the world. I often ask myself on this day, if the musicians who are making all this wonderful music have the same conviction to Christ as St. Cecilia had.
Music gives great delight to many, but for Christians it has always had a special place in worship. The Liturgy is supposed to be sung, so are the various Litanies for different occasions as well as the Daily Offices. Such chanting has a “pleasing effects ... which delight all ages” and is “as seasonable in grief as in joy.” It is also “a help to our own devotion” as it stirs up “that very part of man which is most divine” Moreover “in harmony the very image and character even of virtue and vice is perceived [and] the mind delighted with their resemblances,” which in turn often leads to “a love of the things themselves.” Quoting from St. Basil, Richard Hooker added that music in worship strengthens “the meditation of those holy words” and raises “up the hearts of men”.
We are not sure exactly when she lived, but most probably sometime in the late third or early fourth century in Rome. Her patrician parents had Cecilia baptised and so she was brought up as a Christian. Although she had no wish to marry, she was forced into a marriage with Valerius, a pagan. Somehow she was able to convince him to respect her virginity, and eventually persuaded him to become a Christian. She also convinced his brother, Tiburtius, the joys of the Christian life. The two brothers devoted their lives to acts of love, but when they were caught burying the bodies of martyred Christians they were brought before the Roman authorities. Refusing to sacrifice before the gods, they were beheaded at Pagus Triopius, near Rome.
Cecilia had no hesitation in giving her brothers a proper burial, but this act of defiance led to her own arrest, and subsequently the death penalty. Her death was more horrible than theirs as the executioner bungled his job of beheading, and she lingered for three days before finally departing this earthly life. Of course we have to remember that much of this is based on legend; but there is the evidence of a church in the Trastevere, Rome, founded by a Roman matron, called Cecilia.
Cecilia has only been patron of music since the sixteenth century, when with the foundation of the Academy of Music in Rome in 1584, she was chosen as its patroness, based on the evidence of her antiphon taken from her Acts as the organs (at her wedding feast) were playing, Cecilia sung (in her heart) to the Lord, saying, “may my heart remain unsullied, so that I be not confounded.”
Being the patron saint of music, this day enables us to meditate upon the whole sense of harmony that music brings, which should flow over into all the created world, evident in this poem written by John Dryden in the nineteenth century for St. Cecilia’s Day.
From harmony, from heavenly harmony,
This universal frame began:
When nature underneath a heap
Of jarring atoms lay,
And could not heave her head,
The tuneful voice was heard from high
`Arise, ye more than dead.’
Then cold, and hot, and moist, and dry
In order to their stations leap,
And Music’s power obey.
From harmony, from heavenly harmony
Thus universal frame began;
From harmony to harmony
Through all the compass of the notes it ran,
The diapason closing full in man.This day prompts us to lift up our voices in praise to our loving God for His goodness that overflows each day. So let us always make a merry noise to the Lord as a way of being in communion with God throughout the day.
Heavenly Father, on this day honouring St. Cecilia, give me her courage to be faithful to you in all things, and let my songs always praise and thank you. Amen.
WEDNESDAY OF THIRTY-THIRD WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
READINGS FOR THE DAY
YEAR I: II Maccabees 7. 1, 20 – 31; Psalm 17. 1, 5 – 6, 8, 15.
YEAR II: Revelations 4. 1 - 11; Psalm 150.
THE COMMON GOSPEL: Luke 19. 11 – 28.
MARTYRDOMS OF MOTHER AND SONS
‘What do you expect to achieve by questioning us? We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors?
Although our reading for today is an account of yet other martyrdoms for those faithful to Yahweh and His covenant, it is basically a theological argument in favour of martyrdom, despite the gruesome procedure. This particular family would be seen as “perfect” with its seven sons. Let’s look at what each son articulates as they face martyrdom and focus on that rather than how they were martyred for observing the Law, that was more important than life itself.
The first son brought forth for his martyrdom in front of the mother stated that it was better to die than to “transgress the laws of our ancestors.” The second son declared that although you are taking our lives, “the king of the world will raise us up to live again forever.” The third son announced that although the king will dismember his limbs given to him by the Lord, He will restore them, while the fourth insisted that although the king will take his life, God will restore it, something that he, the executor, won’t have. The fifth son boldly proclaimed that his nation will never be forsaken by God but the present king will be tormented by their Lord. The sixth son had no illusion as to why they were suffering from the Hellenist rule. It was because the Jews had sinned against God. But don’t think you will not go unpunished by Yahweh, there will be greater punishment! With the seventh and youngest son, the king tried to persuade him with the prospect of rich rewards if he did not resist. Even the mother was invoked to persuade him and she seemingly went through the motions but as soon as she finished the seventh exclaimed that it was worth dying to uphold the covenant that Moses gave us on Mt. Sinai. We are suffering because of our sins, but God does not chastise us for ever. Hopefully, through the martyrdom of his brothers and himself it will bring an end to the wrath of God. However the king will have to face God’s judgment.
After bravely seeing her seven sons tortured and killed, the mother was brought forth for her execution. As the matriarch she had set the example for her sons and emerged as the champion of this family’s martyrdom. She had brought her sons up to honour the covenant by the way they lived and then how to die. So when she approached her death she would have died joyfully knowing that not only she but every one of her sons had been faithful. They had been the perfect family honouring Yahweh! What an achievement, especially when we put that in the context of family living today.
What this martyred mother teaches us today is how important it is to teach our children almost from birth what it means to be a Christian. I often think it would be worthwhile to insist that parents and Godparents report to their parish priest or some learned layperson on how they are performing with their instruction to their children. I also wonder how many parish priests realise that these very parents need to be instructed themselves in order to pass on the faith to their children. There is just so much evangelising work to be done. Therefore it is imperative for dedicated Christians to work towards encouraging others to know our dearest Lord and to live in faith with Him by knowing the Scriptures well as this is the foundation for our faith.
THE COMMON GOSPEL
A nobleman gave his servants ten pounds, and said to them, ‘Trade with these till I come.’
This parable of the pounds, our reading for today, was told by Jesus as he approached Jerusalem, but the Lucan version differs from the Matthean account in that there is a sub-theme. After the noblemen gave his servants ten pounds to invest until he returned, Luke added for whatever reason that this nobleman was despised by his fellow citizens and a deputation was sent to denounce him. Whom does he represent? Some scholars think it may represent the Roman government’s choice of Archelaus, son of Herod to rule, against whom the Jews petitioned for removal.
However the main focus on this parable is not how the people felt about the nobleman but about the servant who buried his pound in a napkin rather than investing it. Hence the emphases in telling this parable are on trust and stewardship. Obviously what Jesus was teaching here is that whatever God has given to each person must be used to the utmost. There is no room for squandering or laziness or even fear.
Another teaching from this parable is about God’s magnificence. It is to be proclaimed and exalted above everything else by all creatures. We cannot be like the servant who did nothing at all. What kind of gratitude is that? This servant did not understand what had been given to him and his responsibility to appreciate his gift. He had no vision and trust because he was enslaved by his own fears and intimidations.
Perhaps one of the reasons for Jesus telling this parable as He approached Jerusalem was that he knew what was ahead for Him. Had the disciples learnt enough about who He is to be able to cope with the events ahead? Was he telling them that they lacked the most important ingredient, faith, as represented by this one servant? The other two servants gave their master a profit on his return, manifesting their growth in faith but also being adventurous by launching out into the deep. How different this was from the third servant who simply hid the coin. Such an attitude brings only death. Yet taking the servants overall they represent the disciples before and after the resurrection.
The parable reminds us we all have been given gifts to be used to the glory of God and for the good of all; they certainly have not been given to be hoarded or hidden or even buried. The more we spend the gifts given to us the more they will multiply. As we ponder on to-day's readings we have to ask ourselves, do we firstly recognize the various gifts God has given to us, and secondly do we use them for His service in His world? If we do not utilise what we have, remember the awful punishment inflicted on this ungrateful servant. He was left without anything.
Just as God has given so generously and completely to us in His Son Jesus Christ, we must learn to respond to that generosity over and over again by the way we represent Christ in to-day's world. He needs us to give and share His gifts of love, peace and forgiveness to all those who desperately need it. There is nothing in life that is exclusively mine so that it is wrapped in a napkin. Everything must be shared. The more Christians realise this, the more Christ-like we would live within His world and undoubtedly influence others of Christ’s way of living.
Heavenly Father, you have given me many gifts, help me to use those gifts wisely and fruitfully in promoting your kingdom. Amen.
THURSDAY IN THIRTY-THIRD WEEK OF ORDINARY TIME
READINGS FOR THE DAY
YEAR I: I Maccabees 2. 15 - 29; Psalm 50. 1 – 2, 5 – 6, 14 – 15.
YEAR II: Revelation 5. 1 – 10; Psalm 149. 1 – 6, 9.
THE COMMON GOSPEL: Luke 19. 41 – 4.
Although all the Gentiles in the king’s realm obey Antiochus, so that each forsakes the religion of his fathers and consent to the king’s orders, yet I and my sons and my kinsmen will keep to the covenant of our fathers.
At the beginning of chapter two from which comes today’s reading we are introduced to Mattahias and his five sons, a family of priestly descent. When Mattahias first heard of the sacrileges being committed in Jerusalem he wept bitterly and mourned that such a thing could ever happen in the temple and the holy of holies.
All her adornment has been taken away.
From being free, she has become a slave.
We see our sanctuary and our beauty and our glory laid waste.
And the Gentiles have defiled them!
Why are we still alive (2. 11 – 12)?
Then the inevitable happened. The authorities came to their home city, Modein, to enforce the apostasy. Although Mattahias and his family grouped themselves apart from the Israelites who were listening intently, an official spied Mattahias. He recognised him as an influential leader of the city and approached him as one who could set an example in obeying the king’s order. The officer sadly mistook the courage of Mattahias who was not going to be hoodwinked with rich presents and rewards. Rather this pious Jew loudly proclaimed that he was not going to forsake the religion of his fathers in the slightest degree.
As Mattahias was finishing his declaration of loyalty to the Mosaic Covenant a Jew came forward to offer the required sacrifice demanded by the king. Enraged that a fellow Jew would do such a thing, Mattahias slew him and the officer who was trying to enforce the apostasy. Before leaving he tore down the altar. Such action made the author suggest that Mattahias showed the same zeal for the law as had another priest, Phinehas, in the wilderness (Num. 25. 6 – 15).
Fleeing from the city Mattahias shouted out for like-minded Jews to follow him to the mountain. Many did so but not all joined the Maccabees. Some camped out in the desert and became the first martyrs in the civil war. I liken them to the innocent children in Bethlehem who were killed by Herod’s order. When faced by the enemy on the Sabbath they did not return fire for fire. Rather they gave their lives willingly to their God manifesting their love for Him and His purposes for His children. They are my heroes, more so than the Maccabean family, in their affirmation of faith in Yahweh.
However their lives were not given in vain as it made Mattahias realise that if they were going to drive out the Hellenists from Jerusalem they would have to fight. Peaceful means would not suffice. Yet Mattahias would not see much fighting, that would be engineered by his sons, particularly by Judas. Knowing it was time to die he exhorted his sons to be faithful and he recalled some of the great heroes such as Phinehas, Joshua, Elijah, Daniel and the three children saved from the fire. “Children be courageous and strong in keeping the law, for by it you shall be glorified” (2. 64).
What Mattahias and later on his sons upheld as the faithful way to live we saw demonstrated so well in yesterday’s reading by that perfect family. Yet perhaps outshining them are those unnamed martyrs who surrendered peacefully to die rather than to dishonour their religion in today’s reading. We can learn much from their response that has been illustrated in what we know from the prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola, “to give and not to count the cost.”
THE COMMON GOSPEL
LORD OF HEAVEN AND EARTH
For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you.
In the Lucan account of the royal procession into Jerusalem on what we know as Palm Sunday Jesus comes to do what this gospel proclaims in the opening chapter “to redeem his people Israel”. From the Mount of Olives, what a panoramic view Jesus would have had of Jerusalem with the temple dominating the city. Yet these people of Jerusalem were not ready for this fulfilment. Thus as He approached the city He wept again over it as they have ignored the message of salvation (the first time is in Lk. 13. 34 – 5. Later on a church was built, the church of Dominus Flavit, to commemorate the spot where Jesus paused during the procession to weep over the holy city).
From the reading for today it sounds like a description of the events of A.D. 70 when the Romans sacked the city. Did Jesus have foreknowledge of this? As a human being He would not have known exactly what would happen after Him but the author would by the time this gospel was written A.D. c. 85. The author too would have been familiar with those siege scenes as depicted by the prophets, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Jeremiah spent his life in Jerusalem warning of a siege being imposed by the Babylonians because of the people’s unfaithfulness. He warned them that Yahweh had told them via His prophet that they should “hew down her trees” and “cast up a siege mound against Jerusalem” as this city was to be punished. Therefore Jerusalem be warned that I can make you desolate and “an uninhabited land” (Jer. 6. 6 – 7).
Ezekiel too told the people that Yahweh had instructed him to build siege works (Ez. 4. 2). As we know both these prophets spoke truly about Jerusalem as she was besieged and all was destroyed, including the temple, in 586 B.C. by the Babylonians.
What Luke accounted here is exactly what happened. The siege against Jerusalem began in A.D. 66 and the Jews were able to resist the Roman army for four years but starvation and sickness and lack of good leadership eventually saw the demise of the city and temple. The Jewish historian, Josephus, in his account of this war when it was over described the once holy city of Zion as:
And truly, the very view itself was a melancholy thing; for those places which were adorned with trees and pleasant gardens, were now become desolate country every way, and its trees were all cut down. Nor could any foreigner that had formerly seen Judæa and the most beautiful suburbs of the city, and now saw it as a desert, but lament and mourn sadly at so great a change. For the war had laid all signs of beauty quite waste. Nor had anyone who had known the place before, had come on a sudden to it now, would he have known it again. But though he [a foreigner] were at the city itself, yet would he have inquired for it.
When Jesus wept over this city of David He truly suffered for His people just as He had wept over the rich man who could not give up his possessions for the kingdom. A few days later Jesus would have the reverse situation when the women of Jerusalem wept for Him on His way to Calvary. Yet even here, our Lord was more concerned for them and what lay ahead.
In this yet another moving image that Luke gives us of Jesus’ compassion for His people, it unveils also that Jesus wept many times for the folly of those He had come to redeem, even those who are most faithful to His message of love and renewal of life. It may be helpful to read this passage and have this image before us sometimes when we are preparing to go to Confession. If we are truly sorry for hurting Jesus because of our sins then we too shall weep. The early Church Fathers recommended the sacrament of tears, lachrymae. Listening to John Dowland’s Lachrymae or Seven Teares, composed in the early seventeenth century certainly enables one to enter into what this sacrament meant and means.
FRIDAY OF THIRTY-THIRD WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
READINGS FOR THE DAY
YEAR I: I Maccabees 4. 36 – 7, 52 – 9; I Chronicles 29. 10 – 12.
YEAR II: Revelation 10. 8 – 11; Psalm 119. 14, 24, 72, 103, 111, 131.
THE COMMON GOSPEL: Luke 19. 45 – 8.
THE REDEDICATION OF THE TEMPLE
Then Judas and his brothers said, ‘Now that our enemies have been crushed, let us go up to purify the sanctuary and rededicate it.’
After Mattahias was buried in the tomb of his forefathers in Modein, Judas Maccabeus assumed not only family leadership but also that of his people. Under him “He spread abroad the glory of his people” as he and his army fought bravely against the Gentiles. In battle Judas was depicted as another David slaying the mighty leaders. At times when the going was tough or when they were outnumbered or weakened for lack of food and sleep, like Jonathan with David (I Sam. 14.6), he encouraged his men that strength and victory came from the Lord who would not leave them defenceless. In one decisive battle Judas gathered his troops at Mizpah, the site famous in Israel’s early history in the time of the judges and of its first king, Saul. Judas prepared them for battle by prayer, fasting, acts of penitence and seeking directions from “the scroll of the law”, similar to what Samuel had done before the Israelites went into battle against the Philistines (I Sam. 7. 5 – 12).
When it came to battle after sending home all those who were fainthearted and with obligations (as Moses had also directed), he then organised his army as Moses had for battle (Deut. 20. 5 – 8). After encouraging his men on the morning of battle he reminded them of how Yahweh had delivered their forefathers at the Red Sea when Pharaoh pursued them with his army. He will do the same today. Yahweh did and the Israelites returned singing hymns to glorify God. Yet Jerusalem still was not theirs. A year later Judas had to face Lysias (Hellenist leader) in battle. Again Judas prayed for victory, and Yahweh did for what Judas prayed.
Now we come to the reading for today. After victory Judas and his brother were able to enter the holy city. Their first concern was to purify the temple and rededicate it to Yahweh. This probably took place in c. 164 B.C. which would make it about a year after the battle against Lysias. What would the temple be like when Judas first entered it? It would have been like a typical Canaanite-Syrian sanctuary with lots of idols to be worshipped, encouraged by many of the Jewish priests who had been Hellenised.
Thus one of the first things Judas had to do was to choose priests to purify the temple. One problem for Judas was the altar, as the law forbade the destruction of the altar (Deut. 11. 4). Although the priests tore down the desecrated altar they carefully stored the stones until a prophet would pronounce what should be done with them. Afterwards a new altar was built. Then on the anniversary of the day when the temple had been defiled by Antiochus Epiphanes IV the temple was rededicated by offering up the appropriate sacrifices. It was a day of great joy as all rejoiced with much music and singing. So important was this rededication that the celebration lasted for eight days.
The day of removing the abomination from the sanctuary through Judas’ victory has never been forgotten and became the feast of Hanukkah. One of the traditions now associated with the Dedication is lighting candles on a menorah, a bit like how Christians light the candles on the Advent wreath, beginning with one until all the candles have been lit. Undoubtedly for orthodox Jews this festival is very significant as it recalls a very important part of their history. This history and all history are important from which we all learn but Hanukkah reminds the Jews very specially that the defeat of the Gentiles was through relying on God’s power and through prayer and fasting. The victory was His not Judas just as all miracles in the past were performed by Him not humans. Christians share the Jewish belief that God is in control and only He can change the laws of nature. Hopefully we all believe this.
THE COMMON GOSPEL
THE PLOT AGAINST JESUS
The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people sought to destroy Jesus, but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people hung upon his words.
In the Lucan account, unlike Matthew and Mark, conclude the Palm Sunday procession with Jesus entering the temple. Hence our gospel reading for today, focuses on the cleansing of the temple. However in this gospel there is a much gentler and peaceful account of Jesus’ actions just as there will be in the Passion scenes. There are no animals, no money-changers, no turning over tables or whips. Quoting from Isaiah (56. 7) and Jeremiah (7. 11) Jesus reminds those present, “My house shall be a house of prayer but you have made it a den of thieves.”
Why was our Lord upset? Was it about the buying and selling? After all this was being conducted in that area outside the temple proper, what is known as the Court of the Gentiles or was it about using the temple for anything other than the worship of His Father? It would seem to be the latter. Even the priests of the temple shared in the profits from the trade in the various shops. The temple should not be run as a business just as the Church today should not. Jesus is reminding us too that our place of worship should be holy. It is sacred space.
After his succinct account of the cleansing, Luke immediately informs us that Jesus began to teach in His Father’s house daily. Such teaching drew a large crowd that was not ignored by the chief priests and scribes. However they could have asked themselves, why was Jesus so popular with the people? Perhaps if they had pondered on what our Lord was teaching about the kingdom of God their hearts may have warmed to him too. Instead they became hostile towards Jesus and saw Him as a threat to their power. So they plotted to kill Him. Notice that the Pharisees are missing from this plot. Yet the chief priests were afraid to arrest Him because of the people.
So they adapted various ways of trying to trap our Lord in order to have a legitimate reason for arresting Him. On one of those days when Jesus was teaching, the chief priests and the scribes approached Him with a question, “On what authority do you do these things?” Aware of their malice, our Lord counter questioned, “Tell me whether John’s baptism was from heaven or from men?” That stumped them. To answer “from heaven” meant they accused themselves of not following God’s way and if they replied “from men” they would endure the wrath of the people for they believed John to be a prophet. As they murmured amongst themselves they concurred not to answer the question. Hence Jesus refused to answer directly either but rather He told the parable of the wicked tenant farmers who leased a vineyard.
All those present in the temple, both priests and people would easily recognise the vineyard imagery in connection with God and Israel as illustrated by the prophets of which the best known was the one in Isaiah where obviously the vinedresser is God and when He came to harvest his vineyard there was only wild grapes as it had not been looked after by the tenants (Isa. 5. 1 – 7). In this particular parable when the owner sent a servant to collect the harvest the tenant farmers killed him. Likewise this happened to other servants and lastly his son was sent. Being the heir they killed him, thinking they would inherit the vineyard.
Not only was Jesus accusing the chief priests and scribes of rejecting God’s prophets and now “his Beloved Son” but it was a window into what will happened before the Sanhedrin in a short time. Of course our Lord could not make such a direct attack on these men of authorities and be a free man for too long. That same directness has also cost many Christians their lives down the centuries by standing up for truth. Don’t let us fail when we have to do likewise.
SATURDAY OF THIRTY-THIRD WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
READINGS FOR THE DAY
YEAR I: I Maccabees 6. 1 – 13; Psalm 9. 2 – 4, 6, 16 – 19.
YEAR II: Revelation 11. 4 – 12; Psalm 144. 1 – 2, 9 – 10.
THE COMMON GOSPEL: Luke 20. 27 – 40.
DEATH OF ANTIOCHUS EPIPHANES
Sick with grief because his designs had failed, Antiochus IV took to his bed. There he remained many days, overwhelmed with sorrow, for he knew he was going to die.
The last reading from the Maccabees depicts the death of the one who caused the sacrilege of the temple by placing the Greek god, Zeus, in its sanctuary. This was the abomination of desolation as described in Daniel (Dan. 12. 11) and to what Jesus referred in His teaching about the signs of the end time. In trying to Hellenise the Jews and exterminate their religion Antiochus Epiphanes IV had seriously underestimated the religious conscience of these chosen people of God as we have seen in the various accounts of martyrdom in this week’s readings.
Antiochus’ death was recorded in both books but the accounts differ. From other historical sources we learn that he died at the end of 164 B.C. This would make it about the time of the rededication of the temple after Judas marched into Jerusalem. However in the reading for today it implies that this Seleucid king only died after he heard about the rededication of the temple. The account in the first book of Maccabees has him dying after his defeat in Elymais where he tried to pillage the city for its wealth. It was after this that word reached him of what had transpired in Jerusalem. Consequently he took to his bed where he was tormented by sleeplessness and anxiety and perhaps sorrow as the reality of what he had inflicted upon the Jews sunk in. Before dying he placed his son, Eupator (meaning someone with a good father), into the hands of his good friend Philip.
When we read the version of his death in the second book of Maccabees Antiochus Epiphanes died in Persepolis where he had attempted to rob the temple and gain control of the city. He was driven out and had to flee to Ecbatana where he learned of what had happened in Jerusalem. His reaction was one of rage and determination for revenge. He ordered a chariot to travel full speed to Jerusalem but as a consequence he is thrown out and brought to a despicable state.
Brought so low with his spirit broken he began to have some understanding as to why he has been racked with so much pain. He made a vow to God and even wrote to the Jews expressing his good wishes “for their health and happiness”. However according to the author there was no mercy from God and he remained what he was a “murderer and a blasphemer”. As II Maccabees described it “he died a miserable death in the mountains of a foreign land.”
Our readings from these two books by different authors with their respective themes of the Jewish religion triumphing over Hellenism are heartening reads for us who live under similar circumstances in our western countries. We may not have “an abomination of desolation” set up in our churches but the secular world has made great intrusions into our Christian faith. Take for example Christmas and Easter, the two main feasts of the Church. Both these have become so secularised that it is hard to find the Christ-child and the risen Lord in the respective celebrations. Unless the Church and particularly Christians do something about this we are surrendering the tenants of our faith to secular interpretation and celebration. That is appalling! I wonder how many write on their Christmass cards’ envelopes, something like this, “Christmass celebrates the birth of the Saviour of the world.” Let us not surrender our Christian heritage to secularism but be as brave as the Maccabean family and others were against Hellenism.
THE COMMON GOSPEL
GOD OF THE LIVING
That the dead are raised to life again is shown by Moses himself in the story of the burning bush, when he calls the Lord `the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob'. God is not God of the dead but of the living; in his sight all are well.
Luke 20. 37 - 8.
In today's gospel reading we continue the confrontation between Jesus and religious leaders. This time it is with the Sadducees, who unlike the Pharisees, did not believe in life after death, that is, in resurrection. Hence they tried rather mockingly to trap our Lord on such teaching by taking as their example of a woman who was wife to seven brothers in turn. They wanted to know which brother would have her as wife in the next life. Our Lord's reply is indeed encouraging to all believers as well as teaching the Sadducees what life after death entailed. It is essentially a spiritual existence where we "are like the angels", living spirits that glorify God unceasingly. Therefore there will be no giving in marriage. Death is but a door through which we pass into a far more glorious life than we ever knew here, but quite different, a life of absolute abundance.
Jesus told us frequently He came to bring life, and not only life as a means of existence but one over-brimming with vitality. His coming has put to an end all kinds of deaths. Apart from physical death, there are our deaths from sin, guilt and frustrations. Nothing man could do, could set him free from such bondage, such was his nature inherited from Adam's sin. Somebody free of sin only could liberate Him. This as we know is in Christ Jesus whose life, death, resurrection and ascension have enabled us to taste life as it is meant to be lived. The psalmist knew about this when he wrote, "O taste and see how gracious the Lord is” (Ps. 34. 8). Those who have believed that our Lord has come to give us abundant life have tasted and known how sweet life is from the gracious Lord. Nevertheless that abundance of life is not something we hope will be ours in heaven, but exists now. "Everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life" we are told in the Johannine tradition (Jn 3. 15).
This reading today should also help us to meditate on heaven too, but trying to see heaven as being Jesus Himself. Hopefully the fourteenth century English mystic, Walton Hilton, will inspire us.
What is heaven to a reasoning soul? Surely, nothing other than Jesus, our God. For if heaven is that which is above all things, then God alone is heaven to a man’s soul, for He alone is superior to the nature of the soul. Therefore if grace enables a soul to perceive the divine nature of Jesus, it sees heaven itself, for it sees God.
Hilton invites us to meditate often on the life of Jesus where His healings and teachings as well as His life reveal His divine nature. Only God’s Son could bring wholeness to people. Yet in being the Lord He is perfect and we know that heaven is that happy home of perfection. So the more we see Jesus now before our eyes in the times we meditate the more we shall have a better understanding of heaven.