Reflection for Wednesday July 10, 2019: 14th Week in Ordinary Time.

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Hamm, Dennis, S.J.
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|THE DESIGN OF HIS HEART|At first, today's readings seem to have little to do with one another. We hear about a few moments in the Joseph story in Genesis; we get a selection of six verses from Psalm 33; and we get a fragment from Matthew's account of the list of the Twelve apostles and part of Jesus' commission of them to announce, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand." And yet, there is plenty here to contemplate and illuminate what it meant for Jesus to send off this very unusual mix of Jewish males to announce that mysterious message. Let me explain.|First, the message: "The kingdom of heaven is at hand." At first, that sounds like Jesus is saying, 'Heaven (the realm of God) is closer than you think.' That would surely be a worthy insight, but a careful study of Matthew's gospel reveals that Matthew's phrase "the kingdom of heaven'' means essentially the same thing as "the kingdom of God" in Mark's Gospel. And there it means not a place but a set of relationships, namely a community of human beings in covenant relationship with their Creator (here, mainly a renewed people of God—Israel—especially as expressed in the church, Israelites and gentiles responding to Jesus' call to participate in the merciful "plan of God"—the salvation and redemption of the whole human family, moving from the renewed people of God gathered in Jerusalem to finally include the rest of the world. The point of Matthew's phrasing, "kingdom of heaven" is not a reluctance to use the word God, but an emphasis that this kingdom has its source in God, in contrast to that other kingdom, the Roman Empire, which posits its authority in the one called Caesar. So, the announcement of the coming of the kingdom of God is the announcement of something even greater than—indeed, far superior to—the kingdom of Rome.|Second, the choice of twelve, potentially incompatible, Jewish males. I say "potentially incompatible" because, for starters, a Cananaean (or Zealot, one of those aiming to mount a violent revolt against Rome) would have nothing to do with a toll collector like Matthew, a Jew who worked for the hated Romans! The fact that they are all males (no women) is not simply a sign that the first-century Mediterranean world was thoroughly patriarchal. Jesus' point in this context is that twelve males mirror the tradition that the people of Israel descended from twelve men, the sons of Jacob. The mixed nature of the group represents the reality that historical Israel has always been a rowdy mix; so too even the renewed Israel that follows. And they are sent, during Jesus' pre-Easter work, only to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel"—and not to gentiles, or even those "heretical" Israelites, the Samaritans—because the first step in Jesus's mission if the renewal of his and their fellow Israelites. The outreach to the wider world will soon follow, after Pentecost.|How do the other readings help us contemplate the meaning of this understanding of the coming of God's empire or reign?  Well, the whole Joseph story in Genesis is about God's providence working even within the 'evil empire' of Egypt. Joseph's leadership as governor, as shown in his grain reserve program, has enabled Egypt to serve the common good of the larger world. Further, the story about Joseph's treatment of his brothers reflects qualities of God's justice and compassion. He confronts the ones who treated him with the terrible injustice of selling him as slave, and yet he has compassion for them once they realize their sinfulness ("turning away from them, he wept").|And how does the responsorial psalm (Ps 33) fit in? Hear again the second half, and notice how it is an actual commentary on the kingdom of God and it even alludes to the Joseph story:|The LORD brings to naught the plans of nations;|he foils the designs of peoples.|But the plan of the LORD stands forever;|the design of his heart, through all generations.|R. Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.|But see, the eyes of the LORD are upon those who fear him,|upon those who hope for his kindness,|To deliver them from death|and preserve them in spite of famine.|R. Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.
University Ministry, Creighton University.
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