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Wednesday – Twenty-fifth week – OT1
Readings: Ezr 9:5-9; Lk 9:1-6.
1/ First Reading: RSV Ezra 9:5 And at the evening sacrifice I rose from my fasting, with my garments and my mantle rent, and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the LORD my God, 6 saying: “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to thee, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. 7 From the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt; and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as at this day. 8 But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant, and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our bondage. 9 For we are bondmen; yet our God has not forsaken us in our bondage, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to grant us some reviving to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us protection in Judea and Jerusalem.
2/ Gospel: RSV Luke 9:1 And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal. 3 And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, or bag, or bread, or money; and do not have two tunics. 4 And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. 5 And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” 6 And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.
I. THEME: We must recognize our sins and God’s immense love.
There are the stubborn who don’t obey God’s teaching, but when they must endure bad consequences, they lay the blame on God that He has no mercy, or justice, etc. By doing so, not only they still have to bear bad results, but also deepen in their sins. If they know how to examine their conscience, they shall recognize their sins and God’s immense love. He always gives them opportunities to return and to rebuild their life.
Today readings intend to help people to recognize their sins and God’s merciful love. In the first reading, the priest Ezra recognized that his sins, the sins of his ancestors and of the contemporary Israelites are the causes of their exiles. He also recognized God’s power and love for him and the Israelites through the changing of hearts of Persian kings so that they issued a decree to set free the Israelites, to let them return to their country to re-establish it and to rebuild the Jerusalem temple. In the Gospel, Jesus trains the apostles, bestows his power on them and sends them out to heal and to preach the Good News. Whoever receives them and believes in Christ shall receive salvation and be healed; whoever doesn’t, shall not receive those things. The apostles shall shake off dust from their sandals as a proof to accuse their stubbornness.
1/ Reading I: God didn’t forsake His people in exile.
1.1/ The Israelites suffered according to their sins: The historical background of the Book of Ezra is the Israelites’ two exiles in Assyria and Babylon. Before the exiles, God continually sent His prophets to forewarn them that the exiles shall happen if they don’t repent and return to God. The two sins which the prophets continually accused them are: First, they turned their back to God and chased after foreign gods. Secondly, they violated justice by wrongly taking the poor’s properties and maltreating them. They didn’t listen to the prophets’ warning but also seize and put them into prison; some prophets were beaten or killed by them. The results of their stubbornness are: God let their enemies, the Assyrians and the Babylonians, completely destroyed both the Northern Kingdom in 721 BC and the Southern Kingdom in 587 BC; brought all people to their countries as slaves and completely destroyed the temple in Jerusalem.
During their exiles, many people still didn’t recognize their sins and blamed on God for letting the enemies maltreating God’s selected people, especially the enemies who committed the same sins like them or even more severe sins. The prophet Ezra didn’t like these people; he recognized the reasons why God let the enemies destroy the Israelites. Today passage expressed his true feeling, as he said, “And at the evening sacrifice I rose from my fasting, with my garments and my mantle rent, and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the Lord my God,saying: “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to thee, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens.”
Not only he recognized his sins, he also recognized the sins of his ancestors and of all the Israelites. He confirmed the punishments which God let them endure are deserved, “From the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt; and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as at this day.”
1.2/ The graces they received from the Persian kings are completely from God’s love.
(1) God has mercy on the Israelites when they are still sinners: Cyrus, the Persian king, issued a decree to liberate the Israelites, to let them return to their country to re-establish it and to rebuild the Jerusalem temple. Not only that, he also provided financial means so that they could quickly rebuild the temple. Ezra recognized God’s hand in this wonderful providence when he wrote, “But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant, and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our bondage.”
(2) God’s merciful love is given to the Israelites through the Gentile kings: From the ancient time to now, there is no king who kindly treats his enemies; but the Persian kings generously treated the Israelites. This fact shows God’s power and love for the Israelites. Only God can convert the king’s heart to do what He wants him to do. The Israelites must be ashamed because a Gentile king who completely obeyed God and do what He wants; while they are God’s selected people, forsook and disobeyed Him to chase after foreign gods. Ezra confessed, “For we are bondmen; yet our God has not forsaken us in our bondage, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to grant us some reviving to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us protection in Judea and Jerusalem.”
2/ Gospel: To hope in God’s strength and to sacrifice for the Gospel.
2.1/ Jesus gives his apostles power and strength: St. Luke reported Jesus’ sending of the Twelve as follows: “He summoned the Twelve and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” Jesus’ mission on earth is to preach, to heal and to train disciples to continue his mission. Before sending them out, Jesus gave them his strength and power so that they might also do what he did to bring people to God. The power over the devil belongs to God’s power; if Jesus doesn’t give, human beings can never conquer the devil. Similarly, as power to heal, not only the apostles but also many priests through all generations were granted by God to heal the sick. In our generation, the famous ones who healed many people are St. Martin de Porres and Padre Pio who had five Jesus’ marks on his body.
2.2/ He sent his disciples to preach the Gospel and to heal the sick with these warnings: “Take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money, and let no one take a second tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there and leave from there. And as for those who do not welcome you, when you leave that town, shake the dust from your feet in testimony against them.” When commanding these words, Jesus wanted three things from them:
(1) Absolutely trust in God: because hired workers are worthy to be rewarded by God and those who received. God can motivate gratitude from those who listen to the Gospel or those who are healed so that these people shall give back to preachers. Many faithful contribute their money to the church weekly, or to help the vocational fund, or to give money for the priests’ tuition and room and board who go back to school, etc.
(2) Sacrifice all for the preaching of the Gospel: When preachers don’t depend too much on material things, they are easy to go anywhere who need to hear the Gospel. But when they depend so much on them, they shall be suffocated by clothing, belongings, housing and car; they aren’t easy to be on the way to preach the Gospel for those who live far away.
(3) To bless those who receive them and to shake the dust from your feet at those who don’t receive them: Whoever welcomes the disciples is to welcome Jesus himself because he is the one who sent them out. Similarly, whoever denies them is to deny Jesus himself. Shaking the dust from their feet is a sign for those who deny them to know they refused to hear the Gospel; and as a consequence, they condemned themselves.
III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:
– God always loves and provides us with many opportunities to listen and to learn the Gospel. We should sincerely welcome and effectively use opportunities when they come.
– If we despise and miss opportunities, we must receive all bad consequences resulting from our indifference. Then, we should not lay the blame on God as the cause of our sufferings.