Meet and Greet after each Mass this Sunday, September 16. Join us for coffee and get to know your fellow parishioners.
Media Outreach meeting September 18 at 7 PM at the Rectory. RSVP at [email protected]
Faith Sharing groups forming – sign up sheets at Mass or contact the Rectory at [email protected].
Family Faith Formation – classes for RCIA, completing sacraments, and religious education for children starting. See Fr. Smith after Mass.
First Reading September 16
Twenty Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time
We return today to the same world that we saw last week: Jerusalem after the return of the exiles around 520 BC. A miracle had occurred. Jerusalem and the temple had been destroyed and the leaders brought into exile in Babylon. This should have been the end of the Jewish People. Yet God through the unlikely intermediary of Cyrus Prince of Persia has given them a chance to start again. Enough decided return to the ruins of Jerusalem that they could contemplate reconstruction. Yet they needed a second miracle to know why they were there.
Many seemed to believe that they would be rewarded by God for their faith in the common way of the world: comfort, wealth and power. They were living however Spartan lives in rubble as the employees of a foreign emperor. They asked Isaiah why God has abandoned them. Like their forefathers who left Egypt they began to believe they were better off in captivity.
In the passage immediately before today’s reading God answers them:
Where is the bill of divorce
with which I dismissed your mother?
Or to which of my creditors
have I sold you?
It was for your sins that you were sold,
for your crimes that your mother was dismissed. (Isaiah 50:1)
They were exiled because of their refusal to follow God but there was no bill of divorce or sale to anyone else. They were not abandoned permanently. God did not want to sever His ties with them but to chastise them. Note, however, this is not the past but the present. He is referring to them, not their forbears:
2 Why was no one there when I came?
Why did no one answer when I called?
Is my hand too short to ransom?
Have I not the strength to deliver? (50:2)
He called them to make a new Exodus following him to a new land and they did not follow with their hearts, only their bodies. Note the references to the Exodus in the next line:
Lo, with my rebuke I dry up the sea,
I turn rivers into a desert;
Their fish rot for lack of water,
and die of thirst. 50:3
The next line however marks a change and it is Isaiah who speaks:
4 The Lord GOD has given me
a well-trained tongue,
That I might know how to speak to the weary
a word that will rouse them.
Morning after morning
he opens my ear that I may hear; (50:4)
A better translation for “a well-trained tongue” would be the tongue of a disciple. His responsibly is not to convey information, however true, but to exhort the people to fulfill their tasks. This requires continued effort (Morning after Morning) and is not the message we might first have considered.
A key part of “Second Isaiah” are the four “suffering servant songs” in which he speaks as one who has taken on the burden of his people. This is the third. We will examine them in greater detail in Lent but let us only look at this one by itself.
5 And I have not rebelled,
have not turned back.
6 I gave my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who plucked my beard;
My face I did not shield
from buffets and spitting. (50:5–6)
Voluntary suffering was not common in the Old Testament, but it was not unknown. Jerimiah refers to himself as like a trusting lamb led to the slaughter. (Jer 12:19). This was however before the exile. Isaiah wishes to show them what is expected of them in this new world.
7 The Lord GOD is my help,
therefore I am not disgraced;
I have set my face like flint,
knowing that I shall not be put to shame. (50:7–9)
However unpleasant life may become, he knows that God will never abandon him and dares those who thought him only oppressed to take him to court:
8 He is near who upholds my right;
if anyone wishes to oppose me,
let us appear together.
Who disputes my right?
Let him confront me.
9 See, the Lord GOD is my help;
who will prove me wrong?
Lo, they will all wear out like cloth,
the moth will eat them up. (50:8-9)
In the verse immediately following, he then addresses the people directly:
10 Who among you fears the LORD,
heeds his servant’s voice,
And walks in darkness
without any light,
Trusting in the name of the LORD
and relying on his God? (50:10)
He knows that they do not understand him, that they would be expected to follow God for seemingly no earthly reward does not make sense to them. But it is their role to trust God.
11 All of you kindle flames
and carry about you fiery darts;
Walk by the light of your own fire
and by the flares you have burnt!
This is your fate from my hand:
you shall lie down in a place of pain. (50:10–11)
If they think they are walking by light it is their own and not God’s. Their fate will be pain forever.
There are many statements to the effect that we learn by our successes when young and failures when old. God is teaching the people what he wants them to be mature disciples.
It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant,
to raise up the tribes of Jacob,
and restore the survivors of Israel;
I will make you a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. (Isaiah 49:6)
The Jews were called to lead others to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They would need to learn that the required humility comes by sacrifice and suffering. It is not a lesson we want to live, but as a now deceased professor told me at 20, “wisdom makes a bloody entrance”, which I began to understand at 50 and hope to live at 70.
This is a necessary lesson for us as individuals and I think for the church as well. The prestige and power of the church have been declining for years and the recent cover up scandals will accelerate this trend. This diminishment comes at a bad time for the nation. Msgr. LoPinto and I will preach about the social teachings of the Church during the weeks preceding world day of the poor on Nov 18th. They are a valuable indeed unique way to analyze the world and create productive polices. The actual implementation of these policies through organizations such as Catholic charities allow our teachings to be made tangible. We may have great difficulties being both heard and funded. Nevertheless, the humiliation if embraced in the spirit of Isaiah can be a real purification from the root to the branch,
Next week we will read from the Book of Wisdom (2:12, 17-20) and its author will have some excellent suggestions for us, until then let us remember the words of G. K. Chesterton from his long poem, the “Ballad of the White Horse”. They may be the best commentary ever written on today’s reading:
But the men signed of the cross of Christ
Go gaily in the dark. . .