Friday, July 17, 2015

He Withdrew

Saturday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Since the dough they had brought out of Egypt was not leavened, they baked it into unleavened loaves. They had rushed out of Egypt and had no opportunity even to prepare food for the journey…This was a night of vigil for the LORD, as he led them out of the land of Egypt; so on this same night all the children of Israel must keep a vigil for the LORD throughout their generations.  Exodus 12:39,42

When Jesus realized this, he withdrew from that place. Many people followed him, and he cured them all, but he warned them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through Isaiah the prophet.  Matthew 12:15-17

“Blessed are You, Lord our God, Master of the universe, Who sanctifies us with his commandments and commanded us to dwell in the sukkah.”

The readings today united the Hebrew Bible with the New Testament through stories of runaways.

First, we have the children of Israel fleeing the land of Egypt on the order of the Pharaoh to get out of town.  After being enslaved for 430 years they began an Exodus from which emerged the Jewish holiday of Succoth/Sukkot.  Then, in the Good News, we encounter Jesus fleeing his native land as the Pharisees hatch a plot to kill him. 

Maybe the song for today should be “Born to Run.”  Tramps like us, baby we were born to run.  The flight from Egypt and the flight from Nazareth epitomize the lack of creature comforts for the life of the prophet.  They did not even have time to bake a proper loaf of bread.  While the temporal king has all the cushions and tassels and robes and crowns, the true prophet has no place to lay his head. 

Succoth remains a major Jewish festival (usually in late September or early October).  This year it will be marked from September 27, 2015 - nightfall October 4, 2015.  The days commemorate the shelters and shacks that the Israelites used during their 40-year Exodus in the wilderness after leaving the comfortable enslavement of Egypt.  These days, Jewish families will build small structures in their yard as a reminder of the flight from Egypt.  They will withdraw from the comforts of their homes to live in Sukkot, eating and sleeping there as a reminder of the Exodus.   

At the end of this joyful festival, the final prayer ends, “Next year in Jerusalem!”  How ironic that for Jesus, his joy of flight turned to tears of crucifixion when he fulfilled that prayer and was executed in the Holy City.

The festival also is known as the Feast of the Booths or the Feast of the Tabernacles.  It also is marked in every Catholic Church to this day with a booth where Jesus lives…the Tabernacle on the altar. 

The Bible is chock full of stories of other homelessness and wandering. Two of the biggest stories about Mary and Joseph are journey stories.  First, the young couple took a journey from home in Nazareth to the census in Bethlehem.  We know what happened there in the barn-turned-shelter.  Then from Bethlehem, the young family fled – ironically – back to Egypt until Jesus could have his own New Exodus home.  Yet even among his own kin, Jesus was never safe.  Someone or something was always gaining on him from the devil in the desert to Herod.

Isaiah explains the Jesus is not a fighter.  He withdraws from fights.  ”He will not contend or cry out, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory. And in his name the Gentiles will hope.” (Matthew 12:19-21 or Isaiah 42:1-4)

The real meaning here is NOT the journey.  NOT the flight.  But that through it all, Jesus continued to pursue his ministry.  “Many people followed him, and he cured them all.” 

How persistent would you be in your mission?  When you face opposition, do you fold up your tents and go home?  Or to you stick to your position and defend it against all opponents?  Will you “rough it” in the deserted place for the Lord? 

How sturdy is the home of your body and mind and spirit that you are building where the Lord can live? 

Coming Attractions:  Jesus actually instructs us to go away on our own Exodus to a deserted place.  Tune in tomorrow for that lesson!

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