Bible Blog 179

This blog follows the daily bible readings of the Catholic Church

Reading 1,  2 Kings 19:9b-11, 14-21, 31-35a, 36

10 Sennacherib again sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying, ‘Tell Hezekiah king of Judah this, “Do not let your God on whom you are relying deceive you with the promise: Jerusalem will not fall into the king of Assyria’s clutches. 11 You have learnt by now what the kings of Assyria have done to all the other countries, devoting them to destruction. Are you likely to be saved?”

Israeli captives from Sennacherib's slab. The bible accurately represents his arrogance

14 Hezekiah took the letter from the messengers’ hands and read it; he then went up to the Temple and spread it out before the Lord. 15 Hezekiah said this prayer in the presence of the Lord, ‘Lord of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned on the winged creatures, you alone are God of all the kingdoms of the world, you made heaven and earth. 16 Give ear and listen; open your eyes, Lord, and see! Hear the words of Sennacherib, who has sent to insult the living God. 17 It is true, Lord, that the kings of Assyria have destroyed the nations, 18 they have thrown their gods on the fire, for these were not gods but human artefacts — wood and stone — and hence they have destroyed them. 19 But now, Lord our God, save us from his clutches, I beg you, and let all the kingdoms of the world know that you alone are God.’

20 Isaiah son of Amoz then sent the following message to Hezekiah, ‘The Lord, God of Israel, says this, “I have heard the prayer which you have addressed to me about Sennacherib king of Assyria.” 21 Here is the pronouncement which the Lord has made about him: “She despises you, she scorns you, the virgin daughter of Zion; she tosses her head at you, the daughter of Jerusalem! 31 for a remnant will issue from Jerusalem, and survivors from Mount Zion. The Lord of host’s jealous love will accomplish this. 32 “This, then, is what the Lord says about the king of Assyria: “He will not enter this city, will shoot no arrow at it, confront it with no shield, throw up no earthwork against it. 33 By the road by which he came, by that he will return; he will not enter this city, declares the Lord. 34 I shall protect this city and save it for my sake and my servant David’s sake.” ‘

35 That same night the angel of the Lord went out and struck down a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. In the early morning when it was time to get up, there they lay, so many corpses. 36 Sennacherib struck camp and left; he returned home and stayed in Nineveh.

Hezekiah is a model of the faithful king. He trusts in Israel’s God and obeys the Law. In this case, we are told, his prayer is heard, and Sennacherib departs, leaving men dead from disease. Even the historians, however, cannot disguise the fact that Hezekiah suffers terrible illness, and has to live with the prophecy that the kingdom will eventually be destroyed and only a remnant will escape. The historians liked to offer a clear model of God’s reward and punishment, but in Hezekiah’s case they struggle with contradictions. Yes, sometimes the faithful in their weakness are rescued from the hands of the powerful, but not always. We see in the books of Kings the limits of a theology which tells us that faithfulness to God is always rewarded and unfaithfulness always punished.

Gospel, Matthew 7: 12-14

animal swine are great-human swine are the problem

11.Jesus said, ‘Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls in front of pigs, or they may trample them and then turn on you and tear you to pieces. 12 ‘So always treat others as you would like t,hem to treat you; that is the Law and the Prophets. 13 ‘Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to destruction is wide and spacious, and many take it; 14 but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Sometimes the Gospel writers give us teachings of Jesus which seem unconnected. These verses are an example of this.

v.11 is an interesting command to maintain the integrity of holy things by refusing to cheapen them, or allow unholy people to think that they can easily “purchased”. Much popular religion disobeys this command. If religion is easy, it has lost its meaning. Jesus words are unexpectedly stern but they are also realistic: if shallow people are allowed a place in religious communities, they will react violently to those who stand by religious truth.

v.12  is a positive statement of the “golden rule” which was already current in Judaism at least in its negative form (Don’t treat others etc..). Jesus used the wisdom of his religion.

v.13, 14 sets out the image of the narrow gate of the kingdom of God. This picks up the theme of v 11. True religion is not easy, but requires discipline. Certainly Jesus described his discipline as easy, that is, not burdensome and cumbersome like that of the Pharisees, but he never pretended it was not the way of the cross. The image of the narrow gate invites reflection from those who advocate a church without walls. If there are no walls, who needs a gate?

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