2 August, 2013. Friday of Week 17
Lev 23: passim. Verses from this chapter on the sacred festivals of Pasch, Pentecost, Atonement and Tabernacles.
Mt 13:54ff. The people of Nazareth find Jesus too much to accept. Because of their lack of faith he could work there only a few miracles.
First Reading: Leviticus 23:1, 4-11, 15-16, 27, 34-37
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: These are the appointed festivals of the Lord, the holy convocations, which you shall celebrate at the time appointed for them. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight, there shall be a passover offering to the Lord, and on the fifteenth day of the same month is the festival of unleavened bread to the Lord; seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not work at your occupations. For seven days you shall present the Lord’s offerings by fire; on the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation: you shall not work at your occupations.
The Lord spoke to Moses: Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you and you reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest. He shall raise the sheaf before the Lord, that you may find acceptance; on the day after the sabbath the priest shall raise it.
And from the day after the sabbath, from the day on which you bring the sheaf of the elevation offering, you shall count off seven weeks; they shall be complete. You shall count until the day after the seventh sabbath, fifty days; then you shall present an offering of new grain to the Lord.
Speak to the people of Israel, saying: On the fifteenth day of this seventh month, and lasting seven days, there shall be the festival of booths to the Lord. The first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall not work at your occupations. Seven days you shall present the Lord’s offerings by fire; on the eighth day you shall observe a holy convocation and present the Lord’s offerings by fire; it is a solemn assembly; you shall not work at your occupations.
These are the appointed festivals of the Lord, which you shall celebrate as times of holy convocation, for presenting to the Lord offerings by fire – burnt offerings and grain offerings, sacrifices and drink offerings, each on its proper day.
Gospel: Matthew 13:54-58
He came to his hometown and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honour except in their own country and in their own house.” And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.
Liturgy and Life
We could reflect on the liturgy and our response to it. Cycle I has a portion from Leviticus, perhaps the most obscure or at least the most boring books for Christians. It seems too irrelevant to be of any value for Church life and worship today. Perhaps for this reason, readings from it are used so seldome in the Church year. Still, in its time Leviticus achieved a marvellous synthesis of culture, practices, secular traditions and religious laws and ritual. It was an evolving book so that Mosaic religion never became stale and ineffective. Only hundreds of years after Moses, around 400 B.C., did this book reach its definitive form. Its last great achievement was to absorb the prophetic preaching of Ezekiel and so to be adapted to the postexilic age, quite different from any previous age in their history. Today’s text briefly alludes to their most sacred of all days, later called simply YOMA, “the day” – the Day of Atonement. That day combined a formal liturgy in the temple (Leviticus 16:1-19) with the colourful, popular ceremony of driving out into the desert a scapegoat loaded with all the people’s sins, to be hurled over a precipice to Azazel (16:20-28). Popular religiosity was pleased with this, even if it might not please a more orthodox theology.
What bothered the prophets far more than this weird consigning of sins to Azazel was the discordance between liturgical and secular life. Jeremiah’s call for justice can be read in an enlarged version in Chap. 7, where the social injustices of daily life are said to contaminate the liturgy. Then the priestly managers of the temple turn against Jeremiah, demanding that he be put to death. But he was not looking for their ritual to be abandoned, only that, in the true spirit of Leviticus, they also defend justice and dignity in everyday life, and lead the prayers in such a way that it encouraged people to care for the poor.
Jesus attempted to do just this. He began his ministry at Nazareth by quoting from Isaiah, “He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight for the blind and release for prisoners.” It was his response to the Year of Jubilee, discussed in tomorrow’s reading from Leviticus. Yet Jesus encountered stiff resistance arising from envy in his home town, and as they lacked faith in a generous, compassionate God, he could work very few miracles there. Today one too can reflect on our own approach to liturgy and prayer. Does it touch and reflect my daily life, my home and our contemporary world? Can I accept challenge and change, even miraculous interventions, for the sake of the poor and the helpless? Am I envious of, or delighted with, God’s concern for others?