Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Song of Azariah

This mornings first reading is an ancient canticle of praise and hope for God's mercy.  As a young man growing up in a protestant church I had never been aware of these songs.  That is simply because they are no longer in most protestant bibles.  If they are, they are put into a section called the Apocrypha or 'hidden texts.'   Why aren't they there?  When the Jewish reformers began to set down their canon they removed them.   Not because they weren't valuable or beautiful, but simply because of a good old case of semitism.  These were written in Greek, not in Hebrew.   The reformers decided that if it wasn't in Hebrew,  it wasn't from God.  Then when the protestant 'reformation' in the 16th century began they wanted to go back to the roots of the Bible.  The texts they used were not from the Septuagint (the texts that all of the Churches had been using since early Christianity) but rather from the canon set around the second century (shortly after the temple was destroyed.)   So out the window went all the Old Testament texts that were not written in the language of Hebrew.

This first song is such a beautiful testament to faith in God.  It calls out for God's providence and protection as the young men are being thrown into the fire.    One of the most beautiful lines echoes the Psalms (or prefigures): "But with contrite heart and humble spirit let us be received; As though it were burnt offerings of rams and bullocks, or thousands of fat lambs, So let our sacrifice be in your presence today as we follow you unreservedly."  Humility.   Mercy.   Those are not qualities we seem to take note of these days.   To be meek is to be weak according to societies standards.  To be merciful is to be naive.   Yet as Azariah stood in the midst of the burning furnace, he did not try to fight with his own abilities, he did not seek to outwit his attackers or protect himself from the flame.   No, he called on God in humility to show mercy!

In Jesus parable this morning we see what we are called to every time we pray the Our Father.   A servant is forgiven for his debts.   He was about to be sold along with his entire family, all of their possessions and their land!   He begged the king for mercy.  The king was lenient and forgave him his debt. He didn't just give him time to pay it, he forgave the loan in it's entirety.  The servant then went out and found someone who owed him a much smaller amount and demanded it of him.  Instead of mercy the servant threw the man who owed him money into prison.   When the King found out he didn't just cast him into prison but handed him over to the torturers!   "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us."   Another version says "forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors."

2843 Thus the Lord's words on forgiveness, the love that loves to the end, become a living reality. The parable of the merciless servant, which crowns the Lord's teaching on ecclesial communion, ends with these words: "So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart." It is there, in fact, "in the depths of the heart," that everything is bound and loosed. It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession.

Gods mercy calls for us to come before him with humility and repentance.  It also calls us to go forth and exhibit those same qualities of mercy before and to others.  That's hard to do sometimes.  To forgive someone who has hurt us, or even worse, hurt someone we love.   I can't do that on my own.  That's why these songs of the three men in the furnace or so very valuable to me.  They remind me that God is the one who can transform my heart.   Notice it doesn't say forgive with just your lips.  Nor does it say just to make a mental forgiveness.   Jesus says "unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart."  That's a radical forgiveness.. an emotional forgiveness.. a spiritual forgiveness.  That's as the Catechism says allowing the Holy Spirit to transform injury into compassion and hurt into intercession.

982 There is no offense, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive. "There is no one, however wicked and guilty, who may not confidently hope for forgiveness, provided his repentance is honest. Christ who died for all men desires that in his Church the gates of forgiveness should always be open to anyone who turns away from sin.

That's what confession is all about.  It's not some archaic ritual that seeks to embarrass you.  It is a conscious turning of our will to align with the will of God.   It is stepping before the representative of the Church and saying I want to be a part of our community again.   I want to apologize not just to God, but to the entire body of Christ.  That's because sin doesn't just hurt you.  It hurts you relationship with God, and it injures the entire community.   Just saying I am sorry for something I have done to hurt someone, without ever going to them and apologizing directly to their face... is not true repentance.   True repentance requires presence.  Not a note in the mail.  Not a text.  Not a Facebook message, though in some cases that is all we can do these days.   A true apology seeks to look in the eye and say I am sorry.  True repentance has the humility necessary to let our own pride go to the wayside.  Have you done that lately with Jesus and his Church?   Lent is the time, Easter will be upon us before you know it.

His servant and yours,
Brian Mullins

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the readings for Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent: March 21, 2017.