The 13th Century was a period of theological flourishing in the Latin Church that remained unparalleled until the 20th Century. The twin intellectual towers of Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure, representing the theological richness of the Dominican and Franciscan voices respectively, dominated the mid-century years at the University of Paris, which was the location of the magisterium of the Church at that time since Pope and bishops turned to the theologians there to work out complicated theological and moral questions for the whole Church. While both men were mystics and men of deep and profound love for God and God’s people, Thomas is most often appreciated for his ability to integrate human reason with faith. Bonaventure, on the other hand, is most appreciated for his ability to bring faith to reason. For Bonaventure the service of articulating faith stood above all other tasks.
Today’s readings invite us to consider faith as intensely and pragmatically as even Bonaventure could wish. The first reading describes a situation where the rightful king, Ahaz, David’s heir, is surrounded by hostile forces including those with the backing of military might from the era’s imperial powers. The prophet Isaiah is instructed to warn Ahaz to have faith in God’s care. He is reminded that God is supporting Israel and Jerusalem cannot come to harm if God’s people remain faithful. We know from other parts of the Old Testament that Ahaz is not very wise or faithful to God desires, but Isaiah is challenging him here to stand fast and engage in battle where all the odds seem to be against him with faith that God will bring the victory so longed for. God will be faithful to divine promises and act on behalf of David’s heir.
The Gospel, likewise, is a challenge to our modern attitudes and lack of practical, every day faith. Matthew tells of a time when Jesus is disgusted with the people of the towns where he has revealed the Reign of God in various “mighty deeds.” The people there are no quicker to listen to God’s desire than those who have not been so gifted by signs. How can the people not repent and believe in God’s real power on earth when they have seen and experienced God’s care in Jesus? Jesus goes so far as to use the example of the “ultimately wicked” cities of Middle Eastern history, Sodom and Gomorrah. Surely if they had had the advantages of the proclamation in word and deed of God’s Reign the way these towns of Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida had, the people of those cities would have repented in sack cloth and ashes and been spared their great destruction. The pagan cities of Tyre and Sidon are apparently the “sin cities” of Jesus’ day and he is warning the people of the Jewish towns that those who face God’s final judgment from the pagan world will have an easier time than the folks of Capernaum because they didn’t have the advantage of hearing and experiencing the good news of God’s compassion.
And what about us? If only we had lived in Israel in Jesus’ time we would have had an easier time being a faithful disciples. Right? Such thinking is a foolish cop-out. We have been given everything that is needful to believe in God’s mercy, to repent and act with faith. If we too fail in the demands of practical faith, of standing firm in trouble, in our time, the woe of Chorazin and Bethsaida will fall – does fall – upon us.
O Lord Jesus May my heart ever hunger after and feed upon Thee, . . . my treasure; in Whom may my mind and my heart be ever fixed and firm and rooted immovably. St. Bonaventure
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