22 Sept, Thursday of Week 25

Hag 1:1ff. In providing for their own needs, which are never satisfied, the people neglect to build the temple.

Lk 9:7ff. Herod was perplexed about Jesus and became very curious to see him.

Responses to Confusion

People can be faced with economic confusion, as reflected in the prophecy of Haggai; or again their religion may consist of mere curiosity, born of moral confusion, as was the case with Herod the tetrarch. But no situation is hopeless, for the Bible is not the story of sin and hell but of sin and conversion.

“Economic confusion” may not be the best way to pinpoint the scene facing the prophet Haggai. His very name means feastday, quite appropriate for the development within his five short sermons. Haggai began to prophesy around 520 B.C., some nineteen years after the first caravan of Jews returned from exile. Those were long, discouraging years when the great vision of a new people of God collapsed and the returned exiles barely survived from month to month in the relatively barrent hills of Judea. As Haggai describes it: You have sown much, but have brought in little; you have eaten, but have not been satisfied; You have drunk, but have not been exhilarated. Twice he calls on this tired, lethargic people, “Consider your ways.”

The prophet makes one simple demand, “Fetch lumber and build the house” of the Lord. He says it in plain, unadorned Hebrew. All other prophets spoke in poetry with eloquent symbols and parables. Haggai was not going to write high literature in a corner slum or produce the golden poetry of an Isaiah or the wrenching pathos of a Jeremiah. But alone of all the prophets, Haggai lived to see his mission accomplished. In 515 B.C. the temple was completed, as we read last Tuesday : The elders of the Jews continued to make progress in the building, supported by the message of the prophets, and finished the building according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus and Darius (Ezra 6:14).

Haggai reminds us not only to put aside any pompous airs and address the practical side of people’s lives, but also to realize the crucial importance of temple or church and of community and family prayer. Without a strong symbol that we are a people of God, with spiritual and moral aspirations, we easily sink into materialism. Even in our poverty we will still cling to our trinkets and be jealous of others for theirs. Without community or family prayer, we will miss the encouragement to be men and women of prayer. Without prayer we end up saying, what’s the use of it all?

In the book of Qoheleth, Solomon ends his twelfth and last chapter with these words: The last word, when all is heard: fear God and keep his commandments, for this is all for man and woman, because God will bring to judgment every work, with all its hidden qualities, whether good or bad (12:13-14). The end result may not seem like exalted spirituality, yet it is no small accomplishment to shake loose the complacent and begin the work of conversion.

Finally, we have the sad portrait of Herod the Tetrarch, for whom religion was a curiosity, a temporary pill to soothe conscience, a clever way of winning allegiance. It is tragic to think that his wish to see the Nazarene prophet was fulfilled only when for political reasons Pilate sent him the captive Jesus. We are told that “Herod was extremely pleased to see Jesus” (Luke 23:8). Religion, like Jesus, can be used for politics and pleasure, the saddest way to relieve boredom.

First Reading: Hg 1:1-8

In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest: Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.

Then the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: “Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider how you have fared. You have sown much, and harvested little; you eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and you that earn wages earn wages to put them into a bag with holes.

Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider how you have fared. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honoured, says the Lord.

Gospel: Luke 9:7-9

Now Herod the ruler heard about all that had taken place, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the ancient prophets had arisen.

Herod said, “John I beheaded; but who is this about whom I hear such things?” And he tried to see him.

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