Daily Homily: King Josiah Made a Covenant Before the Lord

Wednesday of the 12th Week in Ordinary Time, Year Two

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2 Kings 22:8-13; 23:1-3
Psalm 119:33,34,35,36,37,40
Matthew 7:15-20

When Sirach praises the great men of the Bible, he says this about King Josiah (640-609 BC): “The memory of Josiah is like a blending of incense prepared by the art of the perfumer; it is sweet as honey to every mouth, and like music at a banquet of wine. He was led aright in converting the people and took away the abominations of iniquity. He set his heart upon the Lord; in the days of wicked men he strengthened godliness” (Sirach 49:1-3). Except for David, Hezekiah and Josiah, the kings of Judah all sinned greatly (Sirach 49:4).

In the Book of Chronicles, Hezekiah and Josiah are each described as authentic sons of David; each is a new Solomon. Already as a boy, Josiah “began to seek the God of David his father”, and he “walked in the ways of David his father” (2 Chronicles 34:2-3). Josiah is a religious and liturgical reformer: he “is zealous for the temple and the organization of the Levitical ministry and liturgy” (S. Hahn, The Kingdom of God as Liturgical Empire, Baker Academic, 183).

Josiah’s reform and renewal efforts (around 622 BC) are a response to finding the book of the Law in the temple. “He receives this book as the word of God, and it leads him to repentance and to seek prophetic insight and guidance so as to better understand it and order the life of the kingdom by its precepts” (S. Hahn, The Kingdom of God as Liturgical Empire, Baker Academic, 183-184). He renews and reestablishes the covenant and enshrines God’s Law once more as the heart of kingdom spirituality, morality, and community life. Josiah is the only king of Judah to fulfill the threefold injunction of Deuteronomy 6:5: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might”. The author of the second book of Kings, writes: “Before him [Josiah] there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might” (2 Kings 23:25).

Josiah institutes ten reforms measures for Judah and two for the northern kingdom (Bethel and Samaria) (2 Kings 23:4-18). The destruction of the altar at Bethel is noteworthy: “Bethel had been a holy site since the days of Jacob (Genesis 28:10-15; 35:1-4). But under Jeroboam I who established a golden calf there, it had become an idolatrous shrine, and under Jeroboam II it was identified as ‘the king’s sanctuary, and… a temple of the kingdom’ (Amos 7:13). Ancient pedigree notwithstanding, the altar at Bethel was destroyed by Josiah, who also ordered the destruction of all other worship sites in Samaria. In his religious vision for Judah, the Temple in Jerusalem was to be the only place of authorized worship of [the Lord]. This conforms to the prescriptions of Deuteronomy 12” (T. Leclerc, Introduction to the Prophets, Paulist Press, 209).

Zephaniah was one of the prophets who prophesied during the reign of King Josiah and his prophecies can be seen as either anticipating Josiah’s reform efforts (if he prophesied before 622 BC) or supporting them (if he prophesied after 622). The dominant theme of his book is the “Day of the Lord”: God is coming to judge and punish in response to the pervasive sin of Judah and its neighboring cities. Zephaniah’s judgment culminates with the indictment of Jerusalem and, like the prophet Micah, he “indicts the entire ruling establishment for its wrongdoing: the officials, judges, prophets and priests” (T. Leclerc, Introduction to the Prophets, Paulist Press, 215). God, we are told, will seek out and put an end to these evildoers.

Even though the threat of exile and destruction looms over the people, Zephaniah refers to the survival of the remnant of Judah. From this remnant, the people of Judah will be recreated; they will no longer be proud or haughty but rather humble and lowly. They will seek the Lord, “they shall do no wrong and utter no lies, nor shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouths” (Zeph 3:13). God will defeat those who oppress his people and bring his people home and restore their fortunes.

In the Gospel today, Jesus warns his follows to be on guard against false prophets, who claim to speak for God, but actually teach in opposition to the Gospel. They are ravenous wolves dressed like innocent sheep. How can we distinguish false prophets from true teachers? “Jesus tell us to examine their behavior. On the principle that like produces like, we are to evaluate the fruits of their lives. If their actions and their character show forth good things such as grapes and figs, then the prophet is a good and trustworthy tree. However, if the works of the alleged prophet produce prickly thistles or a harvest of bad fruit, then he has blown his cover – the self-styled prophet is really a rotten tree that cannot be trusted” (C. Mitch and E. Sri, The Gospel of Matthew, Baker Academic, 120).

Readers may contact Father Jason Mitchell at mitchelljason2011@gmail.com.

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Jason Mitchell

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