FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
READINGS FOR THE DAY
CYCLE A: Isaiah 55. 10 – 11; Psalm 65. 10 - 14; Romans 8. 18 – 23; Matthew 13. 1 – 23.
CYCLE B: Amos 7. 12 – 15; Psalm 85. 9 – 14; Ephesians 1. 3 - 14; Mark 6. 7 – 13.
CYCLE C: Deuteronomy 30. 10 – 14; Psalm 69. 14 – 17, 30 – 7; Colossians 1. 15 – 20; Luke 10. 25 – 37.
OBSERVING GOD’S WORD
The word is very nigh unto you, in your mouth, and in your heart, that you may do it.
In cycle C the time has come for the Israelites to cross over the Jordan to the Promised Land after their many years of wandering in the wilderness. Before making that crossing Moses reminded them that keeping God’s word was not difficult or mysterious. Indeed it dwelt within their hearts and minds. Paul would take this quotation in his letter to the Romans and applied it to faith in preaching that Jesus is Lord (10. 6 – 10). When Jesus responded to the question posed by the lawyer, what he must do to inherit life in the gospel reading for cycle C, he said, “What do you find in the Law?” Without any hesitation the lawyer answered that he must love God with all his heart and mind and soul, and his neighbour as himself (Deut. 6. 5, Lev. 19. 18). Although the Law made it clear of the last duty, the Pharisees found exceptions to this. Hence Jesus in the parable showed that one’s neighbour was any one in need, irrespective of race or class. Therefore as Christians we never have any choice of who is my neighbour.
In the gospel reading for cycle A in the parable of the soil, seed and sower, when our Lord explained its meaning privately to the disciples, He made it clear that the various sowing and harvesting represented the various applying of the word of God in one’s life. When we apply our Lord’s answer to any parochial situation, the seed scattered along the path are those who never listen to the Word in Church and never pick up their bible to re-read, and so it is very easy for those to be led astray by false teaching. The seed thrown on rocky ground are those who enjoy listening to the Word of God but never reflect on it and so in times of trials they fall away. The seed which grew up amongst the thorns are those who become excited for awhile about learning more about the Word of God by going to a bible study but then that becomes arduous and they forsake this for some worldly pleasure. Then the seed that fell into good soil and was watered by the rain from heaven to provide bread are those who really want to know the Word of God and who thirst to learn more about its value for their own lives and prayer time. These are the one who bear the fruits of the kingdom in their lives, and endeavour to help others also to discover the richness of God’s word for His people. Indeed Paul tells us if there is any suffering in doing God’s work, it is nothing when compared with the glories of the life to come.
In the cycle B reading we have the sending out of the Twelve by Jesus as disciples to take no thought for themselves but simply to proclaim the message of the kingdom and to manifest those signs of God’s kingdom such as exorcising and healing. However according to the Marcan account these Twelve never understood Christ’s teaching or indeed who He is – for that we have to wait until after the death of Christ from the lips of the centurion. So for this evangelist their harvest would have been minimal. Indeed C. S. Lewis suggested that if we want to produce wheat, we have to “go deeper than the surface” and “be ploughed up and resown”. The Ephesian letter makes it clear that we have been privileged to have heard the good news of our salvation and have believed it. Let that belief dig deep under the topsoil so it will always be there whenever we re-plough. The Old Testament reading from Amos describes the rebuke that the prophet Amos received from Amaziah, the prophet at the royal shrine at Bethel, not to continue his prophesying here but rather to return to his home in Judah. Amos assured him, he is only a prophet because the Lord has called him from his shepherding him.
Gracious Lord, let your Word be like a lantern that illuminates my path each day. Amen.
MONDAY OF FIFTEENTH WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
READINGS FOR THE DAY
YEAR I: Exodus 1. 8 – 14, 22; Psalm 124.
YEAR II: Isaiah 1. 10 – 17; Psalm 50. 8 – 9, 16 – 17, 21, 23.
THE COMMON GOSPEL: Matthew 10. 34 – 11. 1.
The Egyptians made their [Hebrews’] lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field.
For the next three weeks we read at daily Mass the Book of Exodus, intricately linked with Moses and his leading God’s people into the Promised Land. Before we begin reading the account of this journey it is important to remember that it was not written by eyewitnesses but rather by different traditions attempting to make sense of what Yahweh had done for His people long after the events described had happened. The first tradition is the “J” source, the Yahwist tradition, written at the height of Israel’s empire in the time of King Solomon (10th century, B. C.), and with its colourful language is the basic narrative as it undoubtedly includes the oral traditions associated with the past. The second tradition is the “E” source, the Elohist tradition, that emerged in the time of the prophets such as Hosea and Amos in the Northern Kingdom in the eighth century B. C. In line with the prophetic messages it highlights the forsaking of the covenant that the Israelites had made with their God at Sinai. The last source is “P”, the Priestly tradition that is written after the Israelites had been in exile in the sixth century B. C. far away from their home, that Promised Land. “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” became important to the exiles. It is this source that emphasises the liturgical and legal aspects of Israel’s life as they formulated what set them apart from other peoples. So all the ritualistic observances we find in Exodus basically come from the Priestly source. Such ritual as circumcision was a means of manifesting that Yahweh had made a special covenant with them and no one else. This is the beginning of particularism in Jewish history, and reaction to this narrow concept is seen in biblical stories such as Jonah.
Today’s reading begins with that famous line, “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” Usually when we read that line our minds immediately race ahead to the exodus from Egypt by the Hebrews with Pharaoh in hot pursuit. This would mark the beginning of salvific history for God’s people. However that statement condenses something like four hundred years of history, if the Joseph saga is historical. Some scholars think this is not so, and that this saga became a bridge to connect the patriarchal period in Canaan with how the Hebrews came to be in Egypt.
Supposing there is some truth to this saga, that period of prestige under Joseph had passed long ago, and the Hebrews lived with other aliens in the delta region of the mighty Nile River. These sand dwellers were despised by the Egyptians. Towards the beginning of the thirteenth century B. C. the Nineteenth Dynasty began it rule of Egypt. This would be a time of expansion and of great building projects, under Seti I and Ramses II its greatest Pharaoh. Two great cities built were Pithon and Raamses in the eastern section of the delta, the land of Goshen, where the Hebrew children lived. They became part of the labour gangs and their task was to make bricks for the building projects. The biblical account highlights how these people were maltreated and forced into servitude by the officials. Yet despite all the deprivations the Hebrews managed to make their quota of bricks and multiply.
As Pharaoh is the symbol of slavery for the Israelites from which Yahweh will rescue, the tradition has Pharaoh in desperation calling for the death of all male Hebrew children. So the stage is set to see how these descendants of the great patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will make out. Later on of course the Israelites saw the work of God here in freeing His people from Egypt and leading them into the land He had promised Abraham.
In the Christian tradition the bondage of the Israelites has been seen as a precursor of that great deliverance from the slavery of sin and law through Christ. Paul championed this in his great advocacy of freedom in Christ. In Romans he stressed that in our Christian living if we only keep a rule or law simply because we have been told to observe it, then we have missed the whole point of being set free in the One whose service is perfect freedom. We are indeed still living in slavery and making bricks. A tyrannical oppression is still ours. But thanks be to God Christ has overcome all of that for us if we simply say “yes” to Him each morning.
THE COMMON GOSPEL
A CAUSE OF DIVISION
I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
Today’s reading finishes Jesus’ teaching on the cost of discipleship. Sometimes our Lord’s teaching seems to be contradictory. Perhaps we have been conditioned by the image of Jesus on Palm Sunday riding on an ass/donkey as a symbol of peace, His telling Peter to sheath his sword when he struck out at His arrest and Jesus’ own demeanour at His trial that we gloss over some of His other teachings. This is what we find today. “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” What does Jesus possibly mean? The sword, I think, is a metaphor for division. It is a division that many Christians have known when they become truly committed to the Lord, even if the rest of the family is nominally Christian. There is a wide gulf, like a sword that cuts off sharing so much of the richness of life in the love of Christ and the power of the Spirit. “A daughter set against her mother,” for example, speaks of that kind of separation. It is indeed painful like a sword piercing one’s very soul.
This warning about division hearkens back to the words of Micah when he spoke of a son dishonouring his father, a daughter rising up against her mother and where one’s enemies are in one’s own home at a time when there was so much unfaithfulness to Yahweh (Mic. 7. 6). Faithfulness must always be first to God. Jesus would say when His mother and family came to visit Him a little later in this gospel, that those who did the will of my Father in heaven are “my brother, and sister, and mother” (12. 49). So it is the family united in Jesus that is the most important unit in life, even though this may be costly, such as the cross was for our dear Lord.
The second half of the reading outlines the rewards of discipleship, and these will always outweigh the cost. It is interesting the order in this gospel, and probably it reflects the community of Christians in Antioch. We know from Acts that prophets were prominent in those early days of Christianity, along with teachers. Then there are the righteous ones. These were already know from The Sermon on the Mount who will inherit the kingdom, and last of all are those “little ones” who work inconspicuously doing little things such as giving “a cup of cold water” but add up to be many things in the eyes of the Lord.
These are they who have always laboured in the Lord’s vineyard, never seeking any reward for their labours. These are the saints we commemorate on All Saints’ Day who have gone to rest from their labours, knowing that they have worked faithfully in the Lord’s vineyard.
What of us in today’s vineyard? Perhaps the work involved may seem overwhelmingly daunting. There is too much to do; the weeds are choking the wheat, seemingly to destroy the crop and harvest. The secret is not to be overwhelmed by it all but to take just a little patch at a time as we do in regards to our own garden. If we are sensible we blinker ourselves to much of it, and just concentrate on a small area at a time. When that has been accomplished then we move on to another small section and so on. That I think is what is meant here about “rewards”. Little by little by the way we live, by our concerns for others, by our prayers for others and above all for our love for Jesus we make progress in glorifying our God by the way we live. Surely this is all the reward we need.
One final thought, note the very tidy ending by the evangelist to Jesus’ teaching on discipleship. “After Jesus had given these instructions he went to another place to teach and preach.”
Gracious God, grant me the grace to persevere as a worker in your vineyard. Amen.
TUESDAY OF FIFTEENTH WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
READINGS FOR THE DAY
YEAR I: Exodus 2. 1 – 15; Psalm 69. 3, 14, 30 – 1.
YEAR II: Isaiah 7. 1 – 9; Psalm 48. 2 – 8.
THE COMMON GOSPEL: Matthew 11. 20 – 4.
THE BASKET IN THE BULLRUSHES
When she could no longer hide him, she took a papyrus basket, daubed it with bitumen and pitch, and putting the child into it, placed it among the reeds on the river bank.
Ask any Sunday School child what is one of his/her favourite biblical stories, and invariably it will include the discovery of the baby Moses in the bulrush basket in the Nile River by Pharaoh’s daughter. Probably in the telling of the story there is a meshing of different folk-lore surrounding the birth of Moses and the scourge of the Hebrew children.
Missing from yesterday’s reading was Pharaoh’s order to the Hebrew midwives to slay all the new born males but they decided to obey God rather than man. Thus much to Pharaoh’s chagrin the Hebrew population grew. Thwarted by these women, Pharaoh issued another order for the drowning of all boys. In today’s reading we see how another woman thwarted Pharaoh’s plan, or as later tradition would have seen it, God’s hand in saving his champion Moses.
In the account of Moses’ birth there are ironies, not lost on later generations, especially in the exilic period. Pharaoh has decreed that all Hebrew males to be drowned. Moses’ mother obeys in the sense that she placed her son in the bulrushes at the river, but the water will bring life not death for her son. Pharaoh who wanted death and demands hardships for the Hebrews will unwittingly save the life of the one who will lead his people to rise up against his oppression. God will use Pharaoh’s daughter to do for Moses, what Yahweh will later do for the Hebrews. Just as she heard the cry of the babe in the basket amidst the rushes so Yahweh will hear the cry of the Hebrew slaves.
It is also interesting to note that the Hebrew word used for “basket” is the same as used for “ark” in the Noah story. That ark was the means of salvation for Noah and his family, and became the symbol of God making a covenant with mankind. Now another covenant will be made. Moses whose name means “one who draws out”, will indeed be drawn out of the water in order to draw out his people from Egypt.
The other story as part of today’s reading is that of Moses as an adult. There is not anything at all recorded about his education and how he lived in Pharaoh’s household. Yet he must have been free to come and go as he is able to visit his own people and witnessed how they were being treated. On one such visit he saw an Egyptian striking one of his own people whom he killed. The next day he returned and found Hebrew fighting Hebrew, and intervened, only to discover that his killing yesterday had been witnessed. Furthermore Pharaoh also had heard of the killing.
Despite his courage and a sense of justice Moses panicked and fled, hoping that time will heal and forget. Many of us can identify with Moses in this scene. We can be courageous for the Lord in so many ways, but when we are challenged with a threat to our reputation or even our lives, isn’t our reaction similar to that of Moses? We want to flee, crawl into a corner and become inconspicuous but there may not be a Midian to which we can flee. That is probably a good thing as not anything is achieved by running away as Moses would also learn. If the Lord wants to use us He will hound and hound. Better to face the music there and then or more correctly face the Lord and seek what He wants us to do in this situation. It may mean being very humble and contrite, and seeking forgiveness in that particular situation. The Lord’s way is generally not the same as ours. That is why we always have to rely on the Spirit being our continual guest and spokesman. And as we know, that only happens when we invite His presence to abide in us. Just as Pharaoh’s daughter took Moses home with her, so we too must take our Saviour with us wherever we go so He can always dwell within us.
THE COMMON GOSPEL
WOE TO CHORAZIN, BETHSAIDA AND CAPERNAUM
‘Woe unto you, Chorazin! Woe unto you, Bethsaida … And you, Capernaum, which is exalted unto heaven, shall be brought down to hell.’
In today’s reading Jesus’ re-visiting those towns along the sea of Galilee was interrupted by John’s disciples coming from his prison to enquire whether Jesus was truly the Messiah and His respective remarks about his cousin (Mat. 11. 2 – 19).
What were these towns or more likely villages that Jesus revisited? The three, Chorazin, Bethsaida (the home of Andrew, Peter and Philip) and Capernaum were all in walking distance of each other and they all had witnessed “mighty deeds” performed by Jesus but with little sign of response from the inhabitants (actually this evangelist does not record any miracles in the first two of the villages). “This generation” should have repented of their sins. So great were their sins that our Lord compared them unfavourably with those two Gentile cities of Tyre and Sidon that were denounced by the prophets of old for their sins and thereby would be punished (Isa. Ch. 23, Ezek. Chs. 26 and 28). The inference is that even these sinful cities would have responded to Jesus’ miracles in a similar way that Nineveh responded to Jonah’s message when they repented of their evil ways by putting on sackcloth and ashes (Jon. 3. 6).
However sinful these two villages were, Capernaum was even more damned as this was Jesus’ own city, His stamping ground, where He had preached and healed people such as the paralytic, the centurion’s servant and Peter’s mother-in-law (Matt. 8. 5 – 17, 9. 1 – 8). The disparaging remarks about this town echoed those words of Isaiah about Babylon:
You said in your heart, I will ascend to heaven;
Above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far north;
I will make my self like the Most High.
But you are brought down to Sheol,
to the depths of the Pit (Isa.14. 13 – 15).
Capernaum is thus worse than Sodom, the by-word for all depravity (Gen. Ch. 19). Jesus lamented for the people in these villages, “woe to you”. It sounded like a death sentence to them, but actually it is they who have sentenced themselves by rejecting the opportunity to repent and hear the word of God that will heal their souls.
Is Jesus saying “woe to us” too? Is He lamenting for us who have become sluggish in our commitment to Him? Today’s reading is a good wake up call to examine our lives, motives, and commitments of which the bottom line is, do we really love God and our brothers and sisters by putting them before ourselves all the time? Ideally we should hear Jesus saying to us at the end of each day, “Woe unto you” if we have not. It would make us more careful about our self-examination of the day, noting more carefully where we have sinned not only by commission but also by omission. For example, by speaking more kindly, taking over that meal to a neighbour, praying more ardently for the overcoming of the “woes” of this world, manifesting more joy in our daily routine, taking more care in digesting our bible reading and focusing more on hearing the Lord.
Whatever stage we are at in our pilgrimage to the heavenly Jerusalem we all need to take Jesus’ “woe” to heart and inwardly digest it.
The following lines from George Herbert make a sensible rule of life.
Who keeps no guard upon himself, is slack, And rots to nothing at the next great thaw. Man is a shop of rules, a well truss'd pack, Whose every parcel under-writes a law. Lose not thy self, nor give thy humours way: God gave them to thee under lock and key.
If you do not have a rule of life, I suggest that you do. It is just so helpful for those times when we do not feel like doing or praying what we should.
Heavenly Father, let me always hear, “this is the way, walk ye in it”. Amen.
WEDNESDAY OF FIFTEENTH WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
READINGS FOR THE DAY
YEAR I: Exodus 3. 1 – 6, 9 – 12; Psalm 103. 1 – 4, 6 – 7.
YEAR II: Isaiah 10. 5 – 7, 13 – 16; Psalm 94. 5 – 10, 14 – 15.
THE COMMON GOSPEL: Matthew 11. 25 – 7.
THE BURNING BUSH
And Moses said, ‘I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.’
Yesterday we left Moses fleeing for his life and heading for Midian, far away from his people in the delta region in Egypt. The land of Midian was situated between the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea, and therefore near to Mt. Sinai (Horeb). The opening verse of today’s reading, “Moses was keeping the flock of Jethro (Reuel), his father-in-law, the priest of Midian” accounts for a number of years in Moses’ life, perhaps something like forty years. During this time Moses had married Zipporah, and was obviously living with his in-laws. Meanwhile Seti the king of Egypt had died and was succeeded by Ramses II.
However the focus for our reading today is God who takes the initiative in redirecting Moses’ life. He has heard the plea of His people in Egypt and now He is about to act. However He, the potter needs the clay. That clay he found in Moses, but as we know He had to remould and reshape it many times before this clay became His designed work.
Let us imagine the scene with Moses out there in the desert; his sheep trying to find a blade of grass; and perhaps jumping over one another at a wadi under the watchful eye of Moses. What were his thoughts as he pastured the sheep near Mt. Sinai/Horeb? Did he ever spare a thought for those who had brought him up? And what of his people now separated by miles and miles of sand? Whatever his thoughts as his sheep grazed, his daily routine was suddenly changed with a phenomenon he had never seen before in his life - a bush burning out in this desolate land - yet the fire was not consuming the bush. How strange, Moses must have thought, how absolutely strange! I must draw closer to observe this phenomenon!
As he approached, a voice cries out, warning not to come any closer. It was the Almighty, this time in fire. This will be the way He will present Himself later on to Moses and the Hebrews. Thus we have a foretaste of that journey that Moses will make leading his flock across the desert to Sinai. Yahweh calls out to Moses who answers as little Samuel will years later, “here I am.” Neither knew what that would involve but Moses was not left waiting long, as Yahweh thundered that He is the God of his forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The first lesson Moses learnt about his God, is that He is holy and where He is, is sacred ground. Hence Moses was instructed to take off his shoes, what Muslims still do before entering a mosque. We, Christians are often not as polite to God these days as so many treat God’s house not any differently from a supermarket. In the presence of such holiness Moses covered his face, presumably God’s presence was more overwhelming than the midday sun as he listened to Yahweh’s message. God is calling Moses to do His work just as years later he will call Gideon, Isaiah and Jeremiah and others to continue that work. God wants Moses to be His spokesman on behalf of His people to ask Pharaoh for him to lead them out of Egypt.
Moses’ reaction was similar to what we do often. No, I can’t do that! Who am I? There are a lot more people who can do a better job. O not me, please! Next time we find ourselves uttering these words or something similar, let us remember Moses’ words, and more importantly to recall, Yahweh’s reply, “I shall be with you.” Like Moses we tend not to hear those last words. We forget that if God wants us to do something for Him He will give us the strength and ability to do it. But still we want to imitate Moses even more by continuing with an arm’s length of excuses. Yet God cannot be fobbed off as we might a friend. Jonah discovered that as well as Moses too. Better be like the son who said he would not go into the field than the one who said he would and did not (Matt. 21. 28 – 31). God needs us as much today as He needed Moses to deliver His people from slavery. Perhaps if we spent more time before the burning bush and soaking in God’s holiness we would learn that He wants us to imitate that holiness in our own lives so that others may imitate what they see in us. God is still calling His people from His holy mount. “Be holy as I am holy” gives us much to ponder on today.
THE COMMON GOSPEL
ALL THINGS ENTRUSTED TO THE SON
All things have been entrusted to me by the Father.
The evangelist in our very short reading for today has overtones of the Johannine tradition which explicitly teaches the union of the Father and the Son. To know the Father one has to know the Son, but in knowing the Son one knows the Father. It begins with the Son praising His Father, not unlike two of my favourite people in Scripture, Tobias and Ben Sira did. The former before his marriage to Sara, prayed, “Blessed are you, O god of our fathers, and blessed is thy holy and gracious name for ever; let the heavens bless thee, and all thy creatures” (Tob. 8. 5.). The prayer of Ben Sira began, “I will thank thee, O Lord and King, and praise thee, O God my Saviour: I do give praise unto thy name” (Sir/Eccl. 51. 2). In the Qumran Thanksgiving Psalms (Hodayot) there are also similar intimate opening lines, “I thank Thee, O Lord because Thou has put me at a source of flowing streams in dry ground” and “I thank thee O Lord, for Thou hast enlightened my face for Thy covenant.”
One of the most comforting aspects of our Christian faith is that the Father has handed over all things to the Son. That means we have as our judge not the Father but the Son who has been one of us and has taken His manhood back to heaven. So we shall be judged by one who knows what it is to be a human being, to be tempted in all aspects of life but has not yielded to those temptations. However the time of the Son judging this world is only known by the Father.
An underlying theme in our reading is belief or unbelief; even election or reprobation that suggests that belief is not entirely in our hands. God disposes this gift to whom He will. So in Jesus’ life time, the kingdom of God is hidden from some. Those some are no doubt the ones who think they know it all such as some of the Pharisees and the unrepentant. Thus it is only to the humble and lowly who know their reliance on God can experience the fruits of the kingdom. In his letter to the Romans, Paul said something similar, “he has mercy upon whomever he wills, and he hardens the heart of whomever he wills” (9. 18).
As Christians we know we are separated from the rest of the world when we were baptised, but in that baptism Christians received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Later on Christians are further strengthened by the Holy Spirit at Confirmation. Yet, what is often forgotten is that Spirit is the source of all life, and if we seek the Holy Spirit to come into our lives daily He will. Furthermore if we ask for the gifts of the Spirit He will grant them. One of those gifts is faith or belief. As Paul rightly pointed out without the Holy Spirit we cannot do anything.
Perhaps another way of looking at our reading for today would be to learn that we cannot believe, pray or do anything in our own strength. But we can through the Holy Spirit. That Spirit will open up for us the secrets of the kingdom. Not only should we pray for ourselves to have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, but that the same Spirit will so live in others not only giving life but also giving the gifts of the Spirit as listed by Paul in Galatians, “love, joy, peace, faith, long suffering, goodness, gentleness, meekness and temperance”. Of those there is no such like Paul adds (5. 22 – 3). Let us believe him and meditate on these gifts often.
Heavenly Father, the source of all knowledge, grant me through your Spirit this gift that enables me to believe and enjoy you. Amen.
THURSDAY OF FIFTEENTH WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
READINGS FOR THE DAY
YEAR I: Exodus 3. 13 – 20; Psalm 105. 1, 5, 8 – 9, 24 – 7.
YEAR II: Isaiah 26. 7 – 9, 12, 16 – 19; Psalm 102. 13 – 21.
THE COMMON GOSPEL: Matthew 11. 28 – 9.
I AM WHO I AM
God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am, and thus you will say to the Israelites, I AM has sent me to you.’
Moses had just had an unforgettable experience, perhaps comparable to that of Paul when he first saw the risen Lord many years later. Both would have been shaken and terrified by those respective experiences. So it is not surprising that in today’s reading we find a Moses coming to terms with what God has asked him to do. In a somewhat confused state of mind, Moses questions Yahweh. When I travel back to the Israelites, what am I going to say to them? Will they listen to me? Who am I to say has sent me?
The editor emphasised how important it was to know the name of one’s God, but in this case YHWH (the sacred Tetragrammaton) has been a bit of a riddle for an accurate translation. The root verb means “to be” and so we have an immediate sense of vitality and life and so it could mean “He who is” or “I will be who I will be” or “I shall be there as I am.” However I think most of us have known it as translated in the bible, “I AM”, and especially as this is what Jesus called Himself on the night of His arrest, and those who had come to arrest Him all fell back at the utterance of God’s name (Jn. 18. 5). One of the important aspects that “I AM” gives, is a sense of mystery and holy fear, as well as of man never being too familiar with Him. It also has an element of freedom that God is never static. Of course this is what we see later on in Judah’s history in the prophesying of Jeremiah when He decides to make a new covenant, not one on stone, but in the hearts of men and women (Jer. 31. 33).
Yahweh also told Moses to tell the Israelites that He is the God of their patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So when this aspect is combined with the former, perhaps a suitable translation would be, “your God who is always present, is with my people”. I am the One who has been with you in the past, am with you now in the present and shall be with you in the future.
In due course Yahweh will use Moses to inculcate the significance of His name and presence amongst these Hebrews who are still in slavery. Although His will is to free them, nevertheless He wants His power to be manifested before the most powerful man on earth, Ramses II, and for him to know that he is not all powerful. This sets the stage for the various plagues that will be inflicted on king and people throughout the land but simultaneously manifesting the wondrous works of God so aptly summarised in our psalm for today:
O give thanks unto the Lord, and call upon his name: tell the people what things he has done.
O let your songs be of him, and praise him: and let your talking be of all his wondrous works.
Rejoice in his holy name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord.
Remember the marvellous works that he has done: his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth,
O ye seed of Abraham his servant: ye children of Jacob his chosen.
He is the Lord our God: his judgments are in all the world.
Before the reading for tomorrow important parts have been omitted. Included in those omissions are Moses’ doubts. For example, suppose when I return the Israelites will not listen to my message. YHWH squashed this doubt too by questioning Moses, what do you hold in your hand? He replied “a staff”. “Throw it on the ground,” directed the Lord. A miracle happened. The staff became a snake, and when he picked it up by the tail it returned to its former object. This would be one of the signs that Yahweh would use to show His power and Moses as His servant. Still not confident in performing God’s work, Moses pleaded that he was not eloquent. Again God rejected this because he had an eloquent brother, Aaron, who could speak my messages to Pharaoh.
Moses thus set out for Egypt after fare-welling Jethro and was met by Aaron in the desert. Together they travelled to the Hebrew settlement as Moses imparted all that God had told him about delivering his countrymen from slavery. On their arrival the Hebrew believed Moses’ words and expressed that belief in worship. We should also remember that when we worship, we simply give God His worth. This is something that we do each day by the way we live as well as those times when we come together liturgically. Giving God his worth should always be foremost in our minds and hearts.
THE COMMON GOSPEL
COME UNTO ME
Come unto me, all you who are burdened and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For me, and I am sure for so many Christians these two verses are very favourites. Perhaps you are like me that you find yourself using these frequently under different circumstances. The first verse brings relief and comfort when we are overwhelmed by problems and a busy life. It pulls us up abruptly, to stop, ponder and know that Jesus has already carried our burden, and any burden we think we still have must be brought to the foot of the cross, knowing that He has picked it up. Don’t ever go back for it. That is always the temptation and by going back it will continue to haunt. Instead believe in Jesus, that gift we were talking about yesterday.
There are of course so many bundles Satan wants us to carry around with us such as our wounded pride, our disappointment in making progress on a project, our unforgiving response to being offended or our resentment of not being able to use our talents.
Yet it is this second verse I find myself repeating over and over again, for that holds the key of being a faithful soul to the Lord, “learn of me”, learn from my example, be humble, that key to obedience as Benedict noted in his Rule. Although from that example is gentleness and lowliness, there is also strength of proclaiming God’s kingdom and defeating the works of darkness in this world. These two verses are reminiscent too of Wisdom Literature. For example in Sirach Wisdom invites all the unlearned and oppressed to come to her (51. 23ff) and “let your soul rejoice in his mercy and be not ashamed of his praise” (51. 21 – 30).
Of course in the context of this reading, probably the evangelist had in mind the comparison between the “yoke” of the Law, especially all those extra laws devised by the Pharisees to keep and the “yoke” Christ offers to those who believe in Him. His law is not at all complicated but summed up in, “You shall love God with all your heart, mind and soul and your neighbour as yourself.” I guess it could be argued it is easier to keep the written laws than those that demand one’s freedom. Paul would argue later on it is the Law that makes us slaves, slaves to sin, but in Christ we have been set free and made righteous through the cross as he explained over and over in his letter to the Galatians.
Paul of course is correct. To live in Christ and with Christ is freedom. It is the only service where there is “perfect freedom” as we pray in a well known prayer. To live without Him is to be like the oxen that are yoked to do burdensome work. That is what our lives become without Christ. We see it in so many avenues of daily life where people are weighed down with mortgages and other financial commitments because they think that possessing more is the secret of a happy life. Poor fools, if only they knew they are driving themselves further and further away from the source of happiness which is to be free of wanting to possess any more than we need for our daily sustenance. That is, I think, is the heart of Jesus’ saying, “learn of me”. Let us listen to His voice and be prepared to forsake all unnecessary worldly possessions, never to be the same again so that we grown in stature as we learn of our Saviour and for His will to be done in us.
Gracious God, through your Son, I never need to carry any burdens with me. Help me to believe and live simply in you whose service is perfect freedom. Amen.
FRIDAY OF FIFTEENTH WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
READINGS FOR THE DAY
YEAR I: Exodus 11. 10 – 12. 14; Psalm 116. 12 – 13, 15 – 18.
YEAR II: Isaiah 38. 1 – 6, 21 – 2, 38. 7 - 8; Isaiah 39, 10 – 12, 16.
THE COMMON GOSPEL: Matthew 12. 1 – 8.
THE PASSING OVER OF THE LORD
When I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.
Exodus 12. 13.
Moses and Aaron did what Yahweh commanded them to do. They went to Pharaoh and asked him to let the Israelites go in order to keep their spring festival of offering up a goat or lamb to the Lord in the desert. Given the previous timidity of Moses, there is boldness in their request, but Pharaoh is unrelenting. Why should he be bothered about these insignificant people worshipping a strange god? What was important for him was to maintain the working programme schedule – a week off work would not do. Pharaoh’s heart was indeed hardened, not only would he not let the Israelites go, he increased the burden of maintaining their quota of bricks without issuing straw and hence forcing the Hebrews to find their own. This added another burdensome task upon their shoulders, making it impossible for the quota to be met.
A series of blames occur for this situation, ending up with blaming Yahweh himself, followed by more conversations between Moses and Yahweh, Moses and Aaron and Pharaoh until Yahweh sent the various plagues upon Egypt to change Ramses’ heart. This is where today’s reading begins, the slaying of the first born in the land, irrespective of class or beast.
However the Israelite families will be spared this loss, but for the angel of death to separate their homes from those of the Egyptians, they must smear the lintel posts with blood – not any blood but that from the slain unblemished lamb of goat that will be roasted that evening. Moses and Aaron gave explicit instructions for the keeping of the Passover festival, which will later be associated with this night, the night of deliverance from death and the oppression from slavery under Pharaoh. Later generations would have the youngest child present at Seder ask the question, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” The head of the household then explains that this is the night that Yahweh passed through the land of Egypt slaying all the first-born of man and beast, as “I will judge, for I am God.” On this night the meal was eaten in haste to escape from the might of Pharaoh.
The Hallel psalms (113- 118) that were sung by the pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem years later to celebrate Passover express Yahweh’s divine intervention in Egypt. “Praise the Lord, you servants: O praise the name of the Lord. Blessed be the name of the Lord: from this time forth for evermore. … Who is like unto the Lord our God, … He takes up the simple out of the dust: … That he may set him with the princes” (Ps. 113. 1 – 6).
The ritual of the Passover as it became celebrated over the centuries has a timelessness about it. It symbolises the redemption for the Israelites as it commemorated what YHWH had done and continues to do for His people. As we might gather there is more than a similarity with the celebration of the Eucharist. Paul told us as did Jesus Himself, “do this in remembrance of me” until I come again. What this means is that we recall those events of the past into the present and make them real once again, what we call anamnesis. We can never re-enact Calvary or the exodus but we recall them and their significance to Christians and Jews respectfully in their salvific acts. Of course as Christians we see Jesus as the unblemished lamb that is slain for all, and in that sense there is no more exodus story as we have been led out of bondage into a life of freedom. That is something Passover cannot give. It is simply a recalling, but in our recalling we know that it is the means of our salvation and eternal life. This is something we should be conscious of, every time we attend Mass.
THE COMMON GOSPEL
LORD OF THE SABBATH
Jesus went on the Sabbath day through the corn; … for the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.
Our reading for today introduces us to conflict, so dire, between Jesus and the Pharisees over the observance of the Sabbath that in tomorrow’s reading we have these Pharisees plotting to kill the Son of Man.
In yesterday’s reading Jesus was advocating that in Him each soul could rest and not be burdened at all. We know that He is the fulfiller of the Law. In the Commandments and in the Christian tradition the Sabbath (our Sunday) has been a day of rest from work in order to worship God and to perform works of mercy. The Pharisees in their interpretation of the Torah forbade any work at all on the Sabbath. In the Shabbath (7. 2) there are thirty-nine tasks forbidden, including reaping on this day. According to the Law walking through a grain-field and plucking the kernels were allowed by hand, but never with a sickle (Deut. 23. 54). So the action of the disciples was allowable but not on the Sabbath. Furthermore the children of Israel had to prepare what they were to eat and drink on the Sabbath the day before.
When the Pharisees challenge Jesus on the disciples’ action it is clear that the disciples had plucked the ears of the corn because they were hungry, and thus it was the same reason that David stole “the bread of the Presence” in the house of God (I Sam. 21) when Ahimelech was high priest. If David could do such a thing, surely He who is the Son of David could do likewise.
Furthermore according to Leviticus 24. 5 the high priest was to place twelve new loaves on the golden altar each Sabbath that clearly broke Sabbath regulations. Couldn’t the Pharisees see that their interpretation of the Law made their law about the Sabbath more important than even the Temple Law. Moreover if they realised they were in the presence of One who would supersede the Temple and is the fulfiller of the Law would they have heeded that quotation from Hosea, “I desire mercy not sacrifice” (Hos. 6. 6)?
To prove that He is indeed “Lord of the Sabbath” Jesus proceeded into the synagogue that was His custom. Present was a man with a withered hand, and undoubtedly reading Jesus’ thoughts, the Pharisees said to Him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” But Jesus counter-argues by challenging what they would do on the Sabbath if one of their sheep fell into a pit, allowed by the Pharisees’ interpretation of the observance of the Sabbath. Of course they would rescue the animal, and yes they would not be breaking the Law. But wasn’t this splitting hairs – rescue an animal but not heal a human being on the Sabbath? Or put another way one good deed deserves another! When caught in their own web the Pharisees were furious.
How often do we fall into the same trap as the Pharisees? We allow law to be put before people. Paul in his missionary work of preaching saw the consequence of being slaves to the laws. God seeks the true motive of people, what Hosea meant when he spoke of God wanting mercy, not sacrifice. I often think when I have to sit through so much preaching on Sundays about the duties of Catholics, such as being present at Mass on Sundays, wouldn’t our people be so more nourished if they were shown how to read their bible to appreciate the readings of the day, how to get to know our dear Lord through that reading, and how our lives as Christians would be changed in using our readings as a starting point for prayer and changing our lives. Catholics would discover the Son of Man as somebody who is not only Lord of the Sabbath but one who also cares for people by healing and loving. He also showed us how to live in obedience to the will of the Father. That He also wants for us to do with a willing heart; after all our first obedience is to the Father.
Heavenly Father, grant me a heart and mind that loves you for simply for what you are. Amen.
SATURDAY OF FIFTEENTH WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
READINGS FOR THE DAY
YEAR I: Exodus 12. 37 – 42; Psalm 136. 1, 10 – 15, 23 – 4.
YEAR II: Micah 2. 1 – 5; Psalm 10. 1 - 4; 7 – 8, 14.
THE COMMON GOSPEL: Matthew 12. 14 – 21.
This was a night of vigil for the Lord, as he led them out of the land of Egypt; so on this same night all the Israelites must keep a vigil for the Lord throughout their generations.
Yesterday’s reading ended with how the Hebrew children were to spend the night when the Lord passed through the land, killing all the first-born of both men and beast, but sparing Yahweh’s people of such calamity. When Pharaoh saw what happened to his first-born and of his people, he at last relented. Summoning Moses and Aaron, he gave them permission to leave with their flocks and possessions.
So today’s reading describes the beginning of the exodus from the land the Hebrews have come to detest. Leaving in haste from Raamses they were a straggly lot with their bits and pieces from their homes, taking what they could as well as their flocks. Most scholars suggest the number given of them journeying (same figure is given in Numbers 1.21) is much too high. Be that as it may, they made for Succoth, but where is this place? Some scholars think it was close to Raamses, west of the present day Suez Canal, but others think it was further away, on the east coast of the Gulf of Suez. One of the reasons for thinking the latter is that in the next chapter we read, “Then they set out from Succoth and camped in Etham on the edge of the wilderness” (13. 20). Furthermore, the name itself means “to block” or “to shut off”. When travelling along that long stretch of plain along the Gulf of Suez it is wide and flat except for a section of approximately ten miles of hilly terrain, north of modern day Al Tur. By camping here, the Israelites would have been reasonably safe from any pursuit by the Egyptian army.
Wherever they headed for, and how many there were as they fled in haste before Pharaoh changed his mind, it would have been with hearts of thankfulness. Their God had at last delivered them from their misery. Of course we do not know how miserable those conditions were at the time, but in later times, they were seen to be so awful that Yahweh rescued them. Thus began the trek that would take them back into the land of Canaan, but it was this night that came to have so much importance for later Israelites. It would become something of a national identity for Jews wherever they lived in the world, and is illustrated in the closing sentence in our reading, “on this same night all the Israelites must keep a vigil for the Lord throughout their generations.”
Indeed so much has the exodus story become part of the Israelites’ identity, that so many of the psalms have references to this salvific act of God for His people. To have a feel of what this event means we only have to read those Hallel Psalms that I mentioned yesterday. They are also a source of reflection for us too, for we too at times want to say, “I am well pleased: that the Lord hath heard the voice of my prayer; That he has inclined his ear unto me: therefore will I call upon him as long as I live” (Ps. 116. 1 – 2). Like the Hebrew children our hearts are mostly full of thanks and praise as we know His mercy does “endure for ever”, and that “the right hand of the Lord brings mighty things to pass”. Or as another Hallel psalm expresses it, “This is the Lord’s doing: it is marvellous in our eyes” (Ps. 118. 1, 16, 22).
Yes, the more we contemplate on what the Lord has done for us, the more we can appreciate what the exodus has meant for the Jews. Like them we are also being led into a land flowing with milk and honey; where there will be no more weeping, no more sighing, but pure delight. “O taste and see how gracious the Lord is!” We the baptised are making that journey and perhaps there will be times when it is bumpy, but we know “his merciful kindness is ever more and more towards us: and the truth of the Lord endures for ever. Praise the Lord” (Ps. 117).
THE COMMON GOSPEL
JESUS AS THE CHOSEN SERVANT
‘Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.’
Matthew 12. 18.
Seeing the hostility of the Pharisees towards Him, Jesus left the synagogue but He is followed by many, and those who sought it, were healed as we read today. Yet the Lord of the Sabbath demands them to be silent about it. Why? His hour has not yet come. Matthew then quoted a lengthy passage basically from Deutero-Isaiah 42. 1 – 4 with its suggestive epiphanies. The first is the baptism of Jesus as the “chosen” servant; the next is the transfiguration. This is my “beloved” in whom I am “well pleased”. Thirdly the servant, who in meekness and gentleness, will heal those broken in spirit and body. Furthermore in Him I shall send my Spirit and as the Jews refused to listen to His proclamation His message will thus be taken to the Gentiles. As Paul’s missionary life revealed Jesus Christ became the hope of the Gentile world.
As Paul would also teach, hope is one of the great virtues in the life of a Christian. It is hope of the heavenly Jerusalem that enables many a soul not to despair but to persevere for that complete union with God. Yet while here on our pilgrimage let us ponder as much as humanely possible on God, the source and wonder of all life, even though our words and our songs will always be inadequate. Many, many years ago in the fourth century, Gregory the theologian expressed it like this:
You are above all things
and what other way can we rightly sing of you?
How can words sing your praise
when no word can speak of you?
How can the mind consider you
when no mind can ever grasp you?
You alone are unutterable
from the time you created all things that can be spoken of.
You alone are unknowable
from the time you created all things that can be known.
All things cry out about you
those which speak, and those which cannot speak,
all things honour you
those which think, and those which cannot think.
For there is one longing, one groaning, that all things have for you.
As yet, as Paul also expressed it, we only see darkly, and we only know in part, but when we shall come face to face all shall be revealed (I Cor.13. 12). Thank God for Paul and his receiving the Spirit of the Lord to go to the Gentiles and proclaim Jesus as “my beloved in whom I delight”.
Bountiful and gracious God, grant me to see always glimpses of your wonder, love and beauty that surround me in people and nature. Amen.
22ND JULY - MEMORIAL OF ST. MARY MAGDALEN
READINGS FOR THE DAY
Song of Songs 3. 1 – 4 or II Corinthians 5. 14 – 17; Psalm 63. 2- 6, 8 – 9; John 20. 1 – 2, 11 – 18.
THE APOSTLE TO THE APOSTLES
I will seek him whom my heart loves.
"Mary!” "Rabboni! - those two words are the most momentous exchange of greetings in Scripture. "Do not cling" but "go and tell" - are the two sentences that make the most urgent requests in Scripture. "I go to ascend to my Father and your Father" is the most significant message in Scripture. The bearer of this news was titled, "the Apostle to the Apostles" by the early Fathers. Who is this most significant person? She is the leader of the band of women, who followed Our Lord, and ministered to His various needs out of her own pocket. Mary of Magdala is her name, one of the most faithful, trusted and loving disciples of our Lord in the Gospels. Let us take ourselves to that spring garden on that very first Easter morn, just as the first streaks of pale pink light are illuminating the tomb where Jesus had been laid. Mary and the other women had come with their costly spices and ointments to anoint their dear Master, but alas, not finding Him, had reported this to the disciples who had come and gone. Mary alone stayed at the tomb. What thoughts must have entered her breaking heart! Who has taken Him? Where has He gone? Won't I ever be able to anoint His body in death? If only I could see my dear Lord again? What will I do without my Master, whom I love so ardently?
Her reverie is broken by the angels guarding the tomb, who ask Quid ploras? But she was anxious to keep on seeking whom she had not found through her tears and immense love. Her overwhelming grief is disturbed by a voice in the garden. Whose could it be so early in the day with the same question, Quid ploras? Encouraging, thought Mary, as it must belong to one who knew this garden - of course the gardener himself! He will know, thought Mary, what has happened to my Lord. She anticipates some news, with her question, "please tell me where you have put Him."
Her world is turned upside down, with that two syllable reply, "Mary!" How often must she have heard those two syllables with all shades of expression over the last three years! But this time it is like the crashing of a wave on the shore, the sun rising above the mountains, the colours of a fully fledged rainbow arced across the heavens. Tears of grief give way to tears of joy, and doubts begin to dissipate.
But then her Master rejects her outstretched arms! That next moment after hearing her name must have been the most difficult in all her life. She has just found the One she loves more than anyone else, the whole centre of her adoration, the One for whom she has been searching through her hot bitter tears and to be rejected of her one desire - to embrace her Lord - that abyss of despair must have seen bottomless! But all is changed in a twinkling of an eye. Her Master has chosen her, whom he had once healed of several infirmities, to be His first ambassador to herald the Good News of His resurrection. No wonder Mary Magdalen was held in special affection by the early Church Fathers who always referred to her as "the Apostle to the Apostles".
What do we especially learn from that first Easter morn? Firstly, it is perseverance and endurance. Despite the desertion of all others, Mary would not give up - first at the tomb, and the last to go, until she had achieved her goal. Secondly, she waited for an explanation. Mary did not run away as in a huff when our Lord refused her most ardent desire, but waited and listened to what He said. How often do we run away when rejected or ignored or insulted? One of the hardest tasks of the Christian life is stay and to listen and absorb when people are talking to us. Thirdly, Mary’s greeting of comfort. The good works from Mary's perseverance was to greet her fellow disciples with the best news ever. We too have to be an ambassador of comfort to others despite what we may be enduring at that moment. Fourthly, the love Mary had for her Lord. Mary showed it was - an over brimming love, a selfless love that made her stay in the Easter garden. Nothing would deter her. She showed that to love means to love even when a response or action from another is not what we would like or even welcome. Love is not just a feeling, it is a whole acceptance of another as he or she is.
Heavenly Father, I especially give thanks today for the faithful witness of Mary of Magdala to the resurrection of your Son. Let me imitate her example. Amen.