28 July, Thursday of Week 17
Exod 40:16ff. The tabernacle, with the ark, the ten commandments and the golden propitiatory, is consecrated and God’s glory settles there.
Matt 13:47ff. Jesus compares the reign of God to a net that draws good and useless fish from the sea and to a storeroom with new and old objects.
Today we conclude the Book of Exodus, as important to the Old Testament as are the gospels to the New. We also conclude another of the major sections in Matthew’s gospel, on the reign or kingdom of God (Matthew 11:2–13:53). In these readings we find God’s merciful way of starting over again. In Exodus we read of new stages in the journey of God’s people into the future. Matthew’s gospel does not stop with the fearful scene of the final judgment, with the wicked hurled into the fiery furnace. Another final parable is appended about the storeroom full of new things as well as the old.
As we meditate on this final chapter of Exodus, we find that it was composed after Solomon had built the magnificent Jerusalem temple. The details here reflect the dedication ceremony as told in 1 Kings 8. The history of Israel had advanced many stages from the wilderness days of Moses to the sophisticated and centralized capital of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel in Solomon’s time. Solomon was completing an extraordinary revolution in Israelite life. The final chapter of Exodus places a stamp of divine approval on the change; it was thoroughly in accord with Moses’ spirit. The cloud by day and the fiery glow by night ratified each step along the way with God’s sacred presence.
Biblical religion always had a forward vision about it. It never consecrated a past golden age but moved onwards towards its messianic age. Along the way it took monumental leaps forward. These changes were required at times by cultural or national crises, like the Philistine threat which was overcome by the unification of the people in a twelve-tribe, one capital, one temple system under David and Solomon. Other changes were required to renew and purify the people, as was the case when Jeremiah proposed the prophetic symbol of the potter: Whenever the object which the potter was making turned out badly in his hand, he tried again, making of the clay another object of whatever sort he pleased.
God is the divine potter and asks, “Can I not do to you, house of Israel, as this potter has done?” There is continuity. The clay is the same and the potter is the same, just as the ark carried memories of Moses. Yet all these transitions are difficult. They can seem as drastic and cruel as the gospel parable of the dragnet with worthwhile fishes and useless ones. In the fierce ordeal, some are hurled into the fiery furnace. Yet, this is not the end of Jesus’ sermon. He adds one final parable – the storeroom from which “the head of the household… can bring… the new and the old.”
At all transitional moments, in our personal life as in church or national existence, we need to be courageous to suffer through the change, and clearsighted to recognize the will of God and even his glorious presence in the new stage along the way, safeguarding tradition and genuine continuity with the past.
First Reading: Exodus 40:16-21, 34-38
Moses did everything just as the Lord had commanded him. In the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, the tabernacle was set up. Moses set up the tabernacle; he laid its bases, and set up its frames, and put in its poles, and raised up its pillars; and he spread the tent over the tabernacle, and put the covering of the tent over it; as the Lord had commanded Moses. He took the covenant and put it into the ark, and put the poles on the ark, and set the mercy seat above the ark; and he brought the ark into the tabernacle, and set up the curtain for screening, and screened the ark of the covenant; as the Lord had commanded Moses.
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Whenever the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, the Israelites would set out on each stage of their journey; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, before the eyes of all the house of Israel at each stage of their journey.
Gospel: Matthew 13:47-53
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place.