Sunday, February 27, 2011

Don't Worry, Be Happy: The Readings for the 8th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me;
my LORD has forgotten me.”
Can a mother forget her infant,
be without tenderness for the child of her womb?
Even should she forget,
I will never forget you. (Isaiah 49:14-15)

Today’s first reading is from the second half of Isaiah (40-66), which is, for the most part, one long word of comfort to Israel concerning the glories of the coming age.  In this passage, “Zion” is urged to take comfort in the fact that the Lord has not forgotten her.  Zion was the location in Jerusalem of the royal palace and government of the Kingdom of David.  (If you want to see it live, come with me in May to Jerusalem).  The Kingdom of David is, according to Raymond Brown ...

... the closest type of the Church in the Old Testament.  “Zion” in Isaiah is often used by metonymy to refer to the entire Kingdom of David.  The apostles understood “Zion” in the Psalms and in the Prophets as a reference to the Church, which is the the Kingdom of Jesus, Son of David.  Thus we read in Hebrews:

You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem .... to the Church of the Firstborn ... (Heb 12:22-23)

Holy Mother Church wishes us, her children, to see ourselves at the Zion whom God wishes to comfort this Lord’s Day.

Responsorial Psalm
R. (6a) Rest in God alone, my soul.
Only in God is my soul at rest;
from him comes my salvation.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold; I shall not be disturbed at all. (Ps 62:2-9) ...

In the responsorial Psalm, King David urges us, the subjects of his Kingdom, not to put our trust in any physical protection or material defense, but in God alone.  This is ironic, because David built up the walls of Jerusalem and her defeneses, and his son Solomon even more so (see Eilat Mazur’s excavations here).  Despite this, David realized ultimately the only true protection and defense comes from God, not stone walls.

Brothers and sisters:
Thus should one regard us: as servants of Christ
and stewards of the mysteries of God.
Now it is of course required of stewards
that they be found trustworthy.
It does not concern me in the least
that I be judged by you or any human tribunal;
I do not even pass judgment on myself;
I am not conscious of anything against me,
but I do not thereby stand acquitted;
the one who judges me is the Lord.
Therefore do not make any judgment before the appointed time,
until the Lord comes,
for he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness
and will manifest the motives of our hearts,
and then everyone will receive praise from God. (
1 Cor 4:1-5)

In the Second Reading, Paul tactfully defends his role, and that of his co-workers, as “servants of the Anointed One (that is, the King, the Son of David)” and “stewards of the mysteries of God.”  We had a discussion on this blog earlier in the week about Church government.  Paul here insists, in humility, on the authority he has as apostle, a viceroy in the Kingdom of Heaven brought to earth by the Son of David.  While he knows he is to be held accountable for his leadership of the Church, he knows and insists that his ultimate accountability is to God alone, who will “manifest the motives of our hearts.”

Jesus said to his disciples:
“No one can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and mammon.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life ...
Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.
They do not work or spin.
But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor
was clothed like one of them ....
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given you besides .... (Matt 6:24-34)

In the Gospel Reading, Jesus continues to instruct us in the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven. 

The Kingdom of Heaven is the theme of the entire Sermon on the Mount, from the first beatitude (“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”) until the final conclusion (“Those who do these words ... are like a wise man who built his house on the rock”), which is an allusion to King Solomon, who ruled over the proto-type of the Kingdom of Heaven.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus makes clear that the Kingdom of Heaven is not characterized by external wealth and the acquisition of material goods.  Ironically, throughout the Old Testament, the acquisition of wealth tended to lead to the undoing of the Kingdom of David, as the people of Jerusalem grew proud and turned away from dependence on the LORD.  This is a constant theme of the Prophets, especially Isaiah and Jeremiah.

The “finest hours” of the Kingdom of David occured when King and people humbled themselves in total dependence on God (see Isaiah 37; 2 Chronicles 20:5-30).  The lifestyle prescribed for kingdom citizens in today’s Gospel is just that.  We must absent ourselves from the “rat race” that characterizes the rest of our culture, and make our priority not the acquisition of wealth and status, but the development of the “righteousness” of the Kingdom of God, which can probably be summarized by the virtues of the beatitudes: poverty of spirit, contrition, meekness, desire for holiness, mercy/forgiveness, purity of heart, peacefulness, and acceptance of persecution.

And, of course, we can't conclude this reflection without a reference to my second favorite song from the eighties:


Anonymous said...

Speaking of types: the mother of the Messiah is called, alternatively, Jerusalem and Israel in Rabbinic writings. It gives a new light on Jesus' words in Luke 13:34-35.

emily said...

Thank you for this!

John Bergsma said...

@Nick: thanks for that insight.
@Emily: You're welcome!

Unknown said...

I'm curious to know what your first favorite song from the eighties is...

Unknown said...

your references citing 1 Samuel should be 2 Samuel

John Bergsma said...

@Amy: Club Noveau's remake of Bill Wither's Lean On Me

@rfurman74: thanks for catching the typo