Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Lord Hears The Cry of the Poor


When I woke up today, the first thing I saw on the news was that we could very possibly enter into a war with North Korea, and this could very well involve nuclear weapons:
The top American general in South Korea said Wednesday that self-restraint was all that kept the United States and South Korea from going to war with North Korea, as the South’s defense minister indicated that the North’s first intercontinental ballistic missile had the potential to reach Hawaii.  
News like this does not exactly put a bounce in my step. Our world lives on the edge, and we never know when it is going to tip so far over there is no going back. But for those who trust in the Lord, who have experienced the peace that surpasses all understanding which comes from being the recipient of His great love and mercy, even news of a potential nuclear war does not disturb our inner peace.


One thing that never fails to uplift and inspire me are the daily Mass readings, and today is a great example of that. The theme of today's readings is "God hears the cry of the poor." The first reading, from Genesis 21, involves the story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael. We are told that Abraham was 100 years old when his son, Isaac, his promised heir, was born. Sarah herself was in her 90's. This truly was a great miracle and, as we are told, "Abraham held a great feast."

But there was a problem. When God first announced to Abraham that he was going to have a son in his old age, Sarah didn't believe it because she was long past menopause and no longer able to conceive. So she took matters into her own hands and gave Hagar, her handmaid, to Abraham and told him to have a child by her. To preserve peace in the family, and possibly having his own doubts about Sarah being able to bear a child, Abraham complied with Sarah's wishes, and Abraham conceived by Hagar a son who was named Ishmael.

Once Ishmael was born, Sarah immediately regretted her decision and hated both him and his mother, Hagar. Nothing ever works out when we decide we know better than God.

But finally, about 13 years later, Sarah did miraculously conceive a son, Isaac. Now she wanted Hagar and Ishmael banished from her sight. She didn't care what happened to them, probably preferring that they die. However, Ishmael was still Abraham's son, whom he loved very much. God put Abraham's mind at ease and told him to listen to Sarah to send the mother and child away. Because Ishmael was Abraham's son, God promised that his descendants would become a great nation.
 
The next morning Abraham entrusted Hagar and Ishmael to God and sent them into the desert, giving them only a little water and bread.


Of course, this didn't last long, and Hagar, losing all hope, put Ishmael under a bush and went to a place where she could not see him because she didn't want to watch her son die.  But we are told:
God's messenger called to Hagar from heaven:"What is the matter, Hagar? Don't be afraid; God has heard the boy's cry in this plight of his. Arise, lift up the boy and hold him by the hand; for I will make of him a great nation."Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. She went and filled the skin with water, and then let the boy drink.
Ishmael was not a part of God's original plan.  Ishmael was born because Sarah did not believe that the Lord could follow through on his promise.  But God has such great mercy that He could not turn away from this innocent boy and his mother who were alone with no one to care for them.  We are told in the last verse of the reading:  "God was with the boy as he grew up."

Of course, this did not take away from the suffering that has plagued the entire world because of Sarah's faithlessness. Ishmael is the father of the Arabs, who have been at war with Isaac's descendants for thousands of years, and this conflict continues to this day, putting all of humanity in constant danger.

We praise God for his great love and mercy to the poor, represented by Hagar and Ishmael, in the responsorial psalm:
R. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
When the poor one called out, the LORD heard,and from all his distress he saved him.The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.
R. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
Fear the LORD, you his holy ones, for nought is lacking to those who fear him. The great grow poor and hungry; but those who seek the LORD want for no good thing.
R. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
Come, children, hear me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. Which of you desires life,and takes delight in prosperous days?
R. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
We too must never shut our ears to the cries of the poor. It doesn't matter if they are our enemy and want us dead. We must always respond to those in need. God will only hear us as we hear others. That has been the message of Pope Francis in reaching out to Muslim refugees. Pope Francis is following his Savior, Jesus Christ, and we should be doing the same.



The Gospel reading is taken from Matthew 8, the story of Christ casting out demons into a herd of swine. Like every Gospel story, this is interesting on many different levels. First, Jesus was in a Gentile area, most probably Greek. He would have been condemned for being in a Gentile area by the religious elite of his day, who would consider all of these people unclean. This obviously had no effect on our Lord, who never looked at any human being as unclean.   

As Jesus was walking, two possessed men came up to him. The scriptures tell us these possessed men "were so savage that no one could travel by that road." Talk about being in the wrong part of town! Now we see that Jesus had also seemingly putting his life at risk with these possessed men.    

We are given further information about this area in that we are told the two possessed men came from the "tombs" to meet Jesus meaning that this is where the dead were buried, making it even more unclean.  None of this seems to have phased Our Lord in the least.  The demons possessing these men could not contain themselves and cried out, "What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the appointed time?"


This is another interesting sidepoint. I have heard more than one Bible "scholar" declare that Jesus did not know who He was, that He didn't know He was the Son of God, the Savior of the world. Well, as my husband has often said, all anyone had to do was ask a demon. The demons knew exactly who Jesus was. And Jesus certainly didn't contradict them in any way, so it can only be assumed that He also knew who He was. I have often wondered, too, if Jesus didn't know who He was, then how did He know He had to die for mankind (Mark 8:31)?   Scholars are sometimes too smart for their own good.

Back to our story.  We are told that there was a herd of swine a short distance away, further emphasizing that Jesus was among Gentiles.  
The demons pleaded with him, "If you drive us out, send us into the herd of swine." And he said to them, "Go then!" They came out and entered the swine, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea where they drowned.
This is an amazing passage because here we see that Jesus extends his mercy even to demons.  He acquiesces to their request not to be just cast out into darkness but to be allowed to enter the swine.  Of course, it didn't do much good because the swine all killed themselves by drowning, but nonetheless,  Jesus showed mercy even to the demons.

But what drove Jesus in the first place to come to such a desolate and forsaken area, a place undoubtedly condemned by the religious leaders of his day in which no self respecting Jew would ever be seen, and to seemingly put his life at risk by going among violent men who ordinarily attacked anyone they saw?

Just like with Hagar and Ishmael, Jesus heard the cry of the poor.  Like Hagar and Ishmael, these men had been completely abandoned by society, left to fend for themselves, to live and die on their own with no help from anyone.  But Our Lord never abandons anyone, and He most especially comes to rescue those who have no one else.  As Mother Teresa so often told us, if we want to find Jesus, we must look to the poor and abandoned of society.


The reaction of the people to Jesus casting out the demons is, sadly, far too often the reaction of many today to living the Gospel.  After the demons entered the pigs, and the pigs drowned, the swineherd ran into the town to tell the people what had happened?  Did the people rejoice that the possessed men had been freed from their possession, and that they could now function in society once again? Not hardly.
The swineherds ran away, and when they came to the town they reported everything, including what had happened to the demoniacs. Thereupon the whole town came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him they begged him to leave their district.
Far too many seem to want Jesus to "leave their district" rather than heed his call to respond to the poor and abandoned of society. We don't want to become "unclean" by being around sinners and people we don't like. We just want to condemn them and just keep them at arm's length. But Our Lord never turned anyone away. And if we want to be with Him in His Kingdom, we must follow His lead.



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