July 17, 2018
by Thomas Quinn
Creighton University's School of Medicine
click here for photo and information about the writer

Tuesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 390

Isaiah 7:1-9
Psalms 48:2-3a, 3b-4, 5-6, 7-8
Matthew 11:20-24

Praying Ordinary Time

Weekly Guide for Daily Prayer

Praying in Times of Crisis

When reading Isaiah, I am often humbled by the barrage of historic names, places, battles, and references to the general unrest and turmoil of the eighth century BC.  I unfortunately mire myself in the details, and after my first reading of the passage, resort to making lists and even maps. Today’s first reading again triggered this response; I do know better.  I spent some time trying to remember or find in the “literature” the answers. I believe that the reading tells us, in summary, that the Kingdom of Israel allied with Aram (Syria) to fight against the great power of the time, Assyria.  To the south was Judah, the site of Jerusalem.   Ahaz was king of Judah, and a descendant of the House of David.  He did not want to join the coalition, since he believed that Judah would be destroyed by the Assyrians in this war.  Israel and Aram, therefore, resolved to attack Judah to keep Judah from entering an agreement with the Assyrians.

As the armies of the Israel/Aram coalition moved closer to Jerusalem, and camped in the territory of Ephraim, the Lord sent Isaiah to tell King Ahaz to, “remain tranquil and do not fear; let not your courage fail.”  The onslaught against Judah, and the coalition itself, “will not stand.”   Unless your faith is firm, you will not be firm.  We are not yet told in this passage whether Ahaz of Judah buckles under the pressure, whether his faith saved his kingdom, or there was yet another outcome.

To understand God’s plan for us, we may need to struggle with his words.  We may even need to put them in historic context to discern their meaning for our own times.  Firm faith always helps us to have the strength to withstand constant attacks, both great and small.  We do not always see the immediate, or obvious, result. “Unless your faith is firm, you shall not be firm.”  Be strong in your faith, and God’s plan for you will be clear.  

The Alleluia could well be applied to the actions of Ahaz as the history of his people, and those of the enormously powerful Assyrian Empire, unfold.  Heed the words of God. “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.”  Listen for his voice today. Will you be able to recognize it? 

The gospel (MT. 11:20-24) is also more cogent if we truly are listening for the voice of God. Jesus reprimands the people of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum (where much of Jesus’ public ministry, including miracles, took place) for not heeding his words, and not living his message.  Jesus shames them by saying that the people of the notoriously sinful cities of Tyre and Sidon would have recognized Jesus and changed their ways.  It is possible that they would have felt more acutely the dire need for salvation when they paused to reflect on their surroundings, and the paths that they had chosen. It seems that it is up to us to identify either with the citizens of Bethsaida, or the citizens of Sidon; neither of them were saved if they did not heed the words of Jesus.  Jesus points out, however, that those who did hear him, yet did not act on his words, would be less likely to fare well on the day of judgement than those who did not hear his words at all.  We have heard the words of Jesus. Are we acting on them?     

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