Sunday the Thirty-first

ANTIPHON
Do not abandon me, Lord. My God, do not go away from me! Hurry to help me, Lord, my Savior (Psalm 37:22-23).

RESPONSORIAL PSALM
In you, Lord, I have found my peace. (Psalm 131).

SCRIPTURE EXCERPT
“Have we not all the one father? Has not the one God created us? Why then do we break faith with one another, violating the covenant of our fathers (Malachi 2:10)?”

“As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Messiah. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted (Matthew 23:8-12).”

REFLECTION
The Prophet’s words are blunt, clear and sharp. In an era of Israel’s history when all dimensions of life were beginning anew following the Babylonian Captivity, some destructive attitudes gripped the populace. While the land and especially Jerusalem celebrated an initial burst of enthusiasm for their newly experienced freedom, a malaise took hold and began to infect and to corrupt society as well as worship. Sacrifice was done out of obligation without any concern of its connection to one’s heart. Apathy was the ‘rule’ of the day and those who knew better did little to correct the situation. Even the Temple priests cooperated in the lame and heartless worship that undermined the spiritual life of the covenant. Malachi’s description of the priests as “contemptible and base before all the people (Malachi 2:9)” captured the state of life and worship rendered empty and devoid of power to transform the heart.

What caused such a changed in Israel’s life? While scholars differ on a ‘timeline’ of events in Malachi and Israel’s life following the Babylonian Captivity, it is apparent that the people traded one captivity for another: captivity in Babylon gave way to the captivity of apathy in Jerusalem AND it occurred in a rather short span of time. Sacrifices were impure, worship empty, charity among people gone and corrective instruction silent. The Covenant - with its blessings and stipulations - no longer grounded life and consequently Israel’s life drifted aimlessly from one whim to another.

Once again, the wisdom and insight of Rabbi Abraham Heschel is timely for us in working through the message and dealing with the present demands of discipleship in the Lord Jesus. Heschel often quipped that Israel’s greatest sin in the desert of journey from slavery to freedom was ‘forgetting the great and mighty deeds of the Lord.’ Every time that something went wrong while being lead from Egypt to the Promised Land, Israel’s eyes focused not on the God-Who-Frees but on how are our strength would get us out of this mess. As the various limit situations engulfed Israel and she realized that she did not have the strength to battle or to be freed, a cry sounded and ascended resulting, at the appropriate time, in action from the God Who hears the cry of the poor. In those saving Divine actions, Israel had “to remember” the great and mighty deeds of God. It is important to grasp what it means biblically and theologically “to remember.” The Hebrew zakar and later its Greek counterpart anamnesis, while translated variously “to remember,” mean much more than an intellectual recall of a fact forgotten. When one ‘biblically forgets,’ one experiences a growing disconnect from God, others, the true self and all creation. As the disconnect increases, attitudes of entitlement and individual grandiosity naturally increase. Since one experiences more and more isolation from the true grounding of life, entitlement and grandiosity become more and more entrenched and one becomes increasingly blind, deaf and dumb to life and the actions of others as gift. Biblical remembering then becomes an act of re-joining, re-connected, re-membering oneself to the body or the community. Zakar requires the twofold work of God’s merciful initiative and the humble recognition and sorrow on our part that we have sinned and fractured the body.


One might argue that Israel’s plight as addressed by the Prophet Malachi was forgetting Who made freedom from captivity possible. Yes, human history recorded the benevolent ruler Cyrus and how his defeat of the Babylonians paved the way for Israel’s return home. Yet Israel also knew deep in her religious consciousness that everything fundamentally is made possible by the Hand of God. No matter how liberating or joyous and event may be, when it is not received and celebrated as gift, life will quickly distort. In such an arena, people vie for positions and titles of honor and make their authority felt through oppression. The oppressed become the new oppressors fueled by entitlement and grandiosity. Titles once expressive of service to the community become self-demanded acclamations that do nothing to promote growth but sow seeds of apathy. In such a climate, blessings become a curse and as Malachi saw, we break faith (relationship) with God and each other. Jesus’ admonitions are the community’s necessary antidote for and defense against entitlement and grandiosity. Remember: 1 teacher, 1 Father, and 1 Master. Those who have roles within the community to teach, to father and to guide do so as gift and because she or he is called to do so. The titles shape and form a consciousness of service that is always acted in charitable service for the good of another.

OPENING PRAYER
God of power and mercy,
only with Your help can we offer
You fitting service and praise.
May we live the faith we profess
and trust Your promise of eternal life.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ,
Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You and
the Holy Spirit, One God for ever and ever. Amen.

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