16 August, 2017. Wednesday, Week 19

Saint Stephen of Hungary

1st Reading: Deuteronomy 34:1-12

The great Moses dies within sight of the Promised Land

Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain–that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees–as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants;’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of morning for Moses was ended. Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses.

Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.

Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20

Fraternal accountability within the Christian family

Jesus said to his disciples: “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”


A keen sense of responsibility

Moses died on the far side of the Jordan but God’s presence remains with his people. Matthew affirms how Jesus is with the church community, even of two or three gathered in his name. The passing of Moses is among the most memorable passages in the Bible It has pathos, because the great Liberator catches a glimpse of the beautiful Promised Land, but could not even set foot into the River Jordan. But it is magnificent too, because Moses remains devoted to his people to the bitter end. The place of his tomb was lost; Moses died as he lived, in a face to face contact with God. Therefore, no prophet has arisen in Israel like Moses.

We are offered a portrait of God’s people in which evil and virtue, death and life, loss and hope exist side by side. A proud perfectionist cannot be fully at home within this people of God, but neither can a person without ideals and hopes. A community has its best moments when the goodness and virtue of each challenges the selfishness that is also there. Individually and collectively we are a combination of the good and the bad. We need one another, so that goodness in one challenges the evil in another, while the different goodness in this other acts as a purifying agent on the former.

Jesus makes clear that none of us can belong to him independently of other believers. Some problems can be settled quickly between the individuals concerned; others are more difficult and require someone outside the immediate circle to intervene in the cause of peace. The witness of the church again is given in a community way, not on the word of a single person but on that of “two or three witnesses.” Jesus also wants us to pray within the communion of the church. Otherwise even our best moments can degenerate into mere individualism. In contrast, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

American President Harry Truman had a card on his desk in the White House declaring in bold capitals THE BUCK STOPS HERE!, “The buck stops here.” This message would fit in any office where people are “their brother’s keepers.” But nowhere would it fit better nowadays than on the kitchen mantelpiece, with its simple words to rouse our conscience. For people with others in their care, the main task is not be to be popular but to be of help. And we help most by accepting our responsibility.

He is always with us

Jewish tradition said that when two pious Jews sat together to discuss the words of the Jewish law, the divine presence was with them. In today’s gospel, Jesus is presented as making a related but different claim. He declares that where two or three are gathered in his name, he himself is there in their midst. Jesus, in Matthew’s gospel, is Emmanuel, God-with-us. He himself is the divine presence among us. When his followers gather in his name, on account of him, he is with them as Emmanuel, God-with-us. Taking Jesus at his word, only two followers are necessary to ensure the divine presence with us, Emmanuel.

When we gather in the Lord’s name to prayer, whether it is the prayer of the Eucharist or some other form of prayer, the Lord is there. We don’t have to enter into the Lord’s presence on such occasions, we are already in it. We only have to become aware of the one who is present among us. That is why attentiveness, awareness, is always at the heart of prayer, especially communal prayer. {MH}

Saint Stephen of Hungary

Stephen (975 1038 AD), was the first King of Hungary from 1000 to his death in 1038. He was the first member of his family to become a Christian, after marrying the devout Gisela of Bavaria. He established one archbishopric, six bishoprics and three Benedictine monasteries, and encouraged the spread of Christianity, partly by force. Hungary, which enjoyed a long period of peace during his reign, became a preferred route for pilgrims travelling from Western Europe to the Holy Land. He was canonized in 1083.


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