Thursday, January 16, 2014

Afternoon meditation: the "Why?" and the wait

Yesterday's first reading: Hannah prays before the Ark of the
Covenant. Eli the priest was the father of the two who fell in
the battle narrated in today's reading.
Detail from the Walters Art Museum, used under the Creative Commons License.
Today's readings convinced me (as if I needed convincing!) that the best way for a Catholic to enter into easy familiarity with the Scriptures is to read them with the Church, day by day, using the Mass readings. Even though they were never intended to "match," the way the Word of God is, most days you can't help but find a connection between the first reading and the Gospel for daily Mass--and in today's lineup, the Responsorial Psalm plays a stupendous role in uniting the two.

The first reading (we're still in 1 Samuel, the pre-history of the kings of Israel), the Philistines have utterly humiliated the Israelite army. The experience is well expressed in the Psalm, which reproaches God: "You have cast us off and put us in disgrace, and you go not forth with our armies. You have let us be driven back by our foes; those who hated us plundered us at will…. Why do you hide your face…?" The problem is, the people in 1 Samuel did not go to God with their reproaches. They simply asked themselves, "Why has the Lord permitted us to be defeated?" And proceeded to take action, commandeering the Ark of the Covenant ("of the Lord of hosts, who is enthroned upon the cherubim," the text adds meaningfully) and bringing it to the battlefield. Where it was taken among the spoils of war by the again victorious Philistines.

In the Gospel, a leper approaches Jesus in the way the Israelite army ought to have approached the Ark: kneeling and begging (much like Hannah in the illustration). I can imagine the words of the Psalm in the leper's heart, too: "You have made us the reproach of our neighbors, the mockery and the scorn of those around us…. Why do you hide your face, forgetting our woe and our oppression? For our souls are bowed down to the dust…" The same complaints, the same "Why?" but with the focus on the "you…you…you." "If you wish to, you can make me clean."

The Israelites took matters into their own hands, quite literally. The leper and the Psalmist seem content to wait for the Lord to "stretch out his hand" (the words of the Gospel echo many of the passages in the Old Testament telling of God working his wonders).

Right now, God is permitting me an occasion for exercising a lot of patience. These readings remind me to keep turning my attention not to the as-yet-unresolved situation, but to the "Lord of hosts, who is enthroned upon the cherubim." When he wills it, he will stretch out his hand to me, too.

What invitation is hidden for you in today's readings?

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