Thursday, 7 July 2016

Week 14 Thursday (Year 2)

Readings: Hosea 11:1-4, 8e-9; Psalm 80; Matthew 10:7-15

Is there anything original in the teaching of Jesus? The question arises from today's readings. All this week we have been reading the prophet Hosea, prophet of the divine hesed. At the heart of the prophecy is a celebration of God's grace, mercy, compassion, and tenderness. God loves his people, wants to be loved by them, and wants them to share the same love with each other. Today's reading includes what may be the most tender image of God in the Bible: like a father teaching his infant to walk, God reaches down to support Israel, guiding and protecting her with the reins of love. The picture is of the harness used sometimes to support infants as they learn how to walk: this is how solicitous God is with Israel, how delicate and tender.

The gospel reading includes instructions for what the apostles are to lay aside as they set out on their mission. This list of instructions is found also in the Talmud, a collection of Jewish traditions. On entering the Temple, the Jewish man was to leave aside his belt and shoes, his bag and money. Jesus quotes this list, applying it now not to the Jew entering the Temple but to the apostles setting out on their mission.

So what is new with Jesus? Well we can say firstly that he gives us a name for the tender Father, 'Abba'. And he teaches us a prayer, gives us his own words with which to pray to this Father.

We can say also that Jesus makes incarnate - realises - the pictures and images, the promises and anticipations, that we find in the Old Testament. They could remain simply beautiful images and aspirations, but the incarnation of the Word of God, the coming among us of the only Son from the Father means they are real. In Jesus the divine hesed becomes flesh. He is full of grace and truth, St John tells us, full of hesed and emet, the divine faithfulness. These are not simply nice ideas but flesh and blood reality. In Jesus the Father is present among us, we see the face of the hidden Father.

The instructions Jesus quotes to his disciples are all about grace. The Jew entering the Temple leaves everything to one side to show that the relationship with God is not an ordinary business or commercial one, not a relationship like the others we establish in human affairs. The complete trust expressed, the complete dependence on God's goodness, makes it clear that this is a relationship of grace. Freely you have received, freely give, Jesus says to them. It is all about grace.

What Jesus does with this list of instructions about entering the Temple is worthy of long meditation. He teaches us that the whole world is a holy place. Or at least that wherever there are people needing the Word of compassion and grace, there is the divine presence. Wherever the Word of Grace is needed and preached, there is God. Wherever there are people living in faith, hope and love, once again God is there. It is not just in certain places or in certain buildings that God is to be found but wherever grace is at work. True worshippers worship in spirit and truth, Jesus says to the Samaritan woman.

Finally we can say that Jesus in his turn teaches us how to walk. He teaches us the way along which we are to walk. He shares with his disciples his own teaching and saving work. He clearly wants us to grow up, to be the mature and adult children of God, walking the way with Him and participating in His work. We are called to share responsibility in the family of God to which we belong.

A closing thought, requiring another homily. We know too that the way on which Jesus teaches us to walk leads to the cross. Now there is another biblical image, the final revelation, of the divine hesed. Is it beautiful or is it ugly? What is the mystery that explains this particular realisation of the tender love of God for humanity?

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