Nicodemus and Jesus on a Rooftop, Henry O. Tanner, 1899, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
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Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the First Reading
Fourth Sunday of Lent
2 Chronicles 36:14–16, 19–23
March 14, 2021
This week, we have the option of choosing the readings from Cycle A, Sam 16, which will be read at the 11:15 AM Mass or 2d Chronicles 36 from cycle B, which will be read at the 9AM Mass. 1 Sam 16 was discussed last year (my commentary on it last year is available online).
The books of Chronicles are often considered an afterthought. They cover the same materials as the books of Samuel or Kings and are most characterized by seemingly endless genealogies. If quoted at all it is usually for information about David or Solomon not found anywhere else. Yet we ignore Chronicles at our peril. It would be like ignoring the gospel of Mark because there is more to found in Matthew or Luke. Chronicles was written to address the situation of its time and place.
The time was about 400 to 350 BC, the place was the newly restored Jerusalem. As noted in the last section of today’s reading, which is the conclusion of Chronicles, King Cyrus of Persia had conquered the Babylonians. His colonization policy was different from the Babylonians. The Babylonians transported the leadership from a conquered territory and brought them to Babylon to supplement the civil service. They were the educated elite and too valuable to kill. The Persians also saw their importance but wanted to use them as their viceroys in their native lands. Cyrus offered the elite in Babylon the opportunity to return and administer the country in his name. As an incentive, he would rebuild the temple in Jerusalem and allow the people to worship.
The exile for these leaders was not prison. They were treated quite well, and it was hard to get them to leave. The book of the second prophet to use the name Isaiah was written as propaganda to get people to take up his offer. Most did not. It was too comfortable in Babylon.
An interesting historical side bar is that Babylon became a center of Jewish learning and even after its abandonment, there remained a significant and vital Jewish community in Iraq. During his recent visit to Iraq, the Pope wanted to include Jewish leaders at an interfaith gathering but the entire community was now so small that it did not have a leader. This would have been inconceivable a few years ago.
As anyone who has dealt with the bureaucracy of the DOB or landmarks commission in New York would understand the building did not go as planned. The situations confronted in the books of Ezra and Nehimiah would be familiar to many homeowners. The author of Chronicles, like the third person to use the name Isaiah, and the prophets Haggai and Zecharia ask themselves what were they really doing, was it worth it, and what do they do now?
The author assumes that his readers have read the previously written histories 1st and 2nd Samuel and 1st and 2nd Kings. They were most likely written during the establishment of restored Jerusalem and reflect those interests. The Chronicler now must interpret what has happened. We first notice the emphasis on David and Solomon. This is counter-intuitive at best. No king of Judah has reigned for over two centuries and it is unlikely that one ever will again. Why this emphasis on the King?
The chronicler is an institutionalist. He knows that his people will need strong institutions to survive as a captive people. The most important of these is the temple and its worship. He thus goes into exhaustive detail about worship during the reign of David and Solomon and most particularly the building of the temple under Solomon. The LORD had chosen them for this important task, and they fulfilled it. He certainly held that Moses was a great man, and that the exodus was important, but it is the covenant with David that was key to the history of the people. David was faithful to the Lord and the convent and thus the monarchy will have succeeded in its function if the people continue the worship which seals it.
Another difference between Chronicles and the books of Samuel and Kings is the emphasis on worship. Worship kept the society together before the exile now it was the only thing.
The other histories reflect what we have many times called Deuteronomic history: when kings did not observe the law, they set into motion a wave of destruction. For the chronicles, it was more immediate. Even a good king like Josiah died, because he did not listen to the word of God. Most amazing is his treatment of King Manasseh. Manasseh was the great evil king in the other history. Yet the Chronicler shows him repenting of his sins, cleaning the land of idols, and being rewarded by being freed from the Assarians.
He did evil in the sight of the LORD,(2 Ch 33:2)
following the abominable practices of the nations
whom the LORD had cleared out of the way of the Israelites.
He is even accused of sacrificing his children to a pagan god. (Ch 33:6) He is captured and begins to repent:
In this distress, he began(2 Ch 33:12–13)
to appease the LORD, his God.
He humbled himself abjectly
before the God of his fathers
and prayed to him.
The LORD let himself be won over:
he heard his prayer and restored him
to his kingdom in Jerusalem.
Then Manasseh understood that
the LORD is indeed God
In the next verses he destroys idols and returns to true worship
We read today:
Likewise, all the princes of Judah,(2 Ch 36:14)
the priests and the people added infidelity to infidelity,
practicing all the abominations of the nations and
polluting the LORD’S temple
which he had consecrated in Jerusalem.
Early and often did the LORD,(2 Ch 36:15)
the God of their fathers,
send his messengers to them,
for he had compassion on his people
and his dwelling place.
Note the emphasis on the temple and that is for their own sins, their own lack of responsiveness at that time and place that they are punished. He reminds his people that the temple is again rebuilt, and God is among them, no matter what they did or did not do in the past they will be judged by how they worship and what they do now.
As we in St Charles rebuild our own temple, we must remember that its purpose is worship, most importantly, the sacrifice of the Mass. The privilege of worshipping God is for our benefit. It makes us who God wants us to be. We do not know what will emerge after the pandemic, but it will be God-centered only if it is worship-based.