21Aug 21 August. Tuesday, Week 20

1st Reading: Ezekiel (28:1-10)

God warns the proud, wealthy seaport metropolis of Tyre

The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, say to the prince of Tyre, Thus says the Lord God: Because your heart is proud and you have said, “I am a god; I sit in the seat of the gods, in the heart of the seas,” yet you are but a mortal, and no god, though you compare your mind with the mind of a god. You are indeed wiser than Daniel; no secret is hidden from you; by your wisdom and your understanding you have amassed wealth for yourself, and have gathered gold and silver into your treasuries. By your great wisdom in trade you have increased your wealth, and your heart has become proud in your wealth.

Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you compare your mind with the mind of a god, therefore, I will bring strangers against you, the most terrible of the nations; they shall draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom and defile your splendour. They shall thrust you down to the Pit, and you shall die a violent death in the heart of the seas. Will you still say, “I am a god,” in the presence of those who kill you, though you are but a mortal, and no god, in the hands of those who wound you? You shall die the death of the uncircumcised by the hand of foreigners; for I have spoken, says the Lord God.

Responsorial (from Deuteronomy 32)

R./: It is I who deal death and give life

I should have made an end of them
and blot out their memory among mankind,
but I feared provocation by the enemy,,
for their adversaries might mistakenly boast. (R./)

‘Our own hand won the victory;
the Lord had nothing to do with it.’
For they are a people devoid of reason,
having no understanding. (R./)

How could one man rout a thousand,
or two men put ten thousand to flight,
Unless it was because their Rock sold them
and the Lord delivered them up? (R./)

Close at hand is the day of their ruin,
and their doom is rushing upon them!
Surely, the Lord shall do justice for his people;
on his servants he shall have pity. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew (19:23-30)

Selfish privilege can destroy us; for the last shall be first

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. ” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

Then Peter said in reply, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

BIBLE

Priveleged places

The provocative phrase “the first will be last, and the last will be first” is one of those paradoxical statements that can surface anywhere. How many times we hear it remarked as comment on the fall from grace of some celebrity, or indeed of some powerful force in politics or in commerce. But we are not called to fatalism or passivity, to await some unforeseen divine intervention to bring down blatant instances of injustice and oppression. Today’s readings prompt a spirit of active faith in the quest of justice.

Ezekiel rages against the wealthy seaport kingdom of Tyre, the epitome of power and worldly success.. Ships went out from Tyre across the Mediterranean, to populate the city of Carthage, among others. The people of Tyre saw themselves as wiser than Daniel, that proverbial wise man of ancient literature who shows up also in ancient, non-biblical documents. By wisdom and know-how Tyre had amassed ist wealth and commerce and felt itself to be godlike. The island City of Tyre survived many assults, so that not even the Assyrians or Babylonians could capture it. Only when Alexander the Great built a huge earthen mole so to connect it with the mainland, was this great city eventually captured. But collapse it did, a Biblical symbol for defeated pride and unavailing wealth. Ezekiel 27-28 is a classic description of Tyre’s downfall, like a ship sinking or a garden of paradise lost through pride. “Faith” survived to write the epitaph of worldly wealth.

With this as background, Jesus’ enigmatic sayings about how wealth can mislead and about the first becoming last, about what seems humanly impossible becoming possible by divine grace, should make more sense. He does not explain the paradox about the last becoming first, but to a person of faith, with instincts and values like Ezekiel, and who practices prayer and fidelity, Jesus’ words summon us to the most active response of faith, trusting that eventually “the last will be first.”


For God, everything is possible

Some of Christ’s phrases are particularly startling, such as in today’s gospel, ‘For people this is impossible, for God everything is possible.’ Something similar is said in Luke’s account of the annunciation where, in response to Mary’s question, ‘How can this be?’ the angel replies, ‘Nothing is impossible with God.’ When the rich young man came to Jesus looking for the path to eternal life but went away sad because he was tied down by what he owned, it raised the question: how can rich people enter into eternal life? It is possible, Jesus declares, but only by grace, because ‘for God everything is possible.’

We can sometimes find ourselves with our backs to the wall. We wonder how we will get through some test, how we will keep going. In such circumstances, the saying in this morning’s gospel can be a great encouragement: ‘for God everything is possible.’ Saint Paul knew the truth of that, and he expressed that truth in his inimitable way. In his letter to the Philippian, he declares, ‘I can do all things through him who gives me strength.’ There are times when we all need to fall back on that conviction.


(Saint Pius X, pope)

Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto (1835 – 1914), from Treviso, Lombardy, was bishop of Rome as pope Pius X 1903-1914. Bitterly opposed to all relativist or “Modernist” theology, he used a Syllabus of Errors to purge the church of liberal theologians. His major, positive achievement was to codify the church’s Canon Law, integrating all its laws into one volume. He promoted a more traditional, devout lifestyle, urged the use of simple language in teaching catechism and his introduction of early and frequent communion became a major hallmark of his papacy.

2 Responses

  1. Brian Fahy

    In the village of Meinstedt in northern Germany the Nazi leader, Heinrich Himmler was captured at war’s end. This man who had put his trust in the Fuhrer and in the power of might to enrich his life with glory and meaning had become a monster of mass murder. Now in Meinstedt, crouching in fear in a shop, he was arrested by a British patrol of soldiers. The soldier who actually laid hands on him to bring an end to his power was Michael Fahy, my father.

    Michael Fahy was an ordinary soldier, who had enlisted in the army to escape the poverty of the pit. He went on to live a happy life and to enjoy his own family. That moment in Meinstedt brought together two mortal men, two human beings – one who thought he was great with power and another who knew he was a simple man.

    Wealth and power of any kind does not make any difference to the truth – we are mortal beings, not gods. But to know that we are children of God and that God loves us is the greatest power and the greatest wealth of all.

  2. Brian Fahy

    I often think of my father’s two uncles, John and Owen, who fought and died in the First World War, one in Flanders and one on the approaches to Jerusalem. Young men in their twenties, they had lost their mother early in life, and spent time in reformatory school, probably as a result of being motherless, and then in the prime of life found themselves fighting in a terrible war and died in their 20s. They left everything behind to answer the call and lost everything in that endeavour.

    What is there for us, Peter asks the Lord. We have left everything to follow you. What will there be for us? Saint Paul tells us that if our hope is for this life only then we are the most foolish of people. Jesus tells us that in the renewal of all things we will share in the glory of Christ himself – Christ who died on a cross and is gloriously risen. Peter would follow that path of the Lord in his own life and death and is now in glory with the Lord.

    The life of wealth and success is very dazzling and tempts us all, and we think it the true measure of things, but these things are not true life. God’s grace and God’s goodness is the life that matters and many people who seem to have lost out in this world will be blessed with glory in the kingdom of heaven.

    We all have to leave things behind and we all experience losses in life but Christ Jesus in his dying and rising is the source of our life and our hope. Let us follow him.