A Penitent Blogger

Mindful of my imperfections, seeking to know Truth more deeply and to live Love more fully.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus? Quem patronum rogaturus? Cum vix iustus sit securus?
Recordare, Iesu pie, Quod sum causa tuae viae: Ne me perdas illa die...

Friday, August 11, 2006

Woe to the bloody city

Once again, today's readings are topical and challenging.

The first reading (Nahum 2:1, 3; 3:1-3, 6-7) starts happily...

See, upon the mountains there advances
the bearer of good news,
announcing peace!

But the last verses are brutal in their imagery and their impact.

Woe to the bloody city, all lies,
full of plunder, whose looting never stops!

The crack of the whip,
the rumbling sounds of wheels;
horses a-gallop,
chariots bounding,
Cavalry charging,
the flame of the sword,
the flash of the spear,
the many slain, the heaping corpses,
the endless bodies to stumble upon!

I will cast filth upon you,
disgrace you and put you to shame;
Till everyone who sees you runs from you, saying,
"Nineveh is destroyed; who can pity her?
Where can one find any to console her?"

(Nineveh, of course, was the capital of an ancient empire centered in what is now Iraq.)

In these days of war and terror, the images in these verses resonate tragically and there are some people who might point to a particular city or a particular ideology as being the modern fulfillment of this prophecy.

It is always risky, of course, to tie Scripture to one's geopolitics: to think automatically that we and our friends are the Chosen People and our opponent is the bloody city full of lies.

Ultimately, this passage reminds us that no matter how awesome and fearful earthly power may be, whether we are the victims or the victors, God's power is even greater.

This message is reinforced by the verses from which today's Responsorial is taken: most especially Deuteronomy 32:39 (slightly truncated in the Lectionary).

Learn then that I, I alone, am God,
and there is no god besides me.

It is I who bring both death and life,
I who inflict wounds and heal them,
and from my hand there is no rescue.

Victim or victorious, fearful or confident, we are all in the hands of God, whose ways may sometimes seem depressingly unfathomable, but who is himself infinitely merciful and inescapably just.

Yet we cannot be passive. We must fulfill our responsibilities as people in society, as members of families, as fellow human beings and - most importantly - as people of faith.

We must also remember the truest road to peace: laid before us in today's Gospel (Matthew 16:24-28).

Whoever wishes to come after me
must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.

For whoever wishes to save his life
will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake
will find it.

What profit would there be
for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life?

Or what can one give in exchange for his life?

For the Son of Man will come
with his angels in his Father's glory,
and then he will repay each
according to his conduct.