Daily Homily: It Is I Who Deal Death and Give Life

Friday of the 18th Week in Ordinary Time, Year Two

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Nahum 2:1,3; 3:1-3, 6-7
Deuteronomy 32:35cd-36ab, 39abcd, 41
Matthew 16:24-28

The prophet Nahum had a vision of the fall of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, an event that occurred in 612 B.C. The capital fell to an alliance of the Medes and Babylonians. The fall of Nineveh will be followed by the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.

The first chapter of Nahum’s prophetic book deals with the revelation of God to Nineveh and to Judah. The Lord is revealed once again as a jealous God, who is slow to anger and who keeps his wrath for those who oppose him (1:2-3). The Lord is sovereign over all creation (1:3-5); he pursues his enemies into darkness, but protects those who take refuge in him (1:6-8). The Assyrians, because they worked against the Lord and his people, will experience God’s wrath. Their lineage and their gods will come to end: «No more shall your name be perpetuated; from the house of your gods I will cut off the graven image and the molten image. I will make your grave, for you are vile» (1:14). By contrast, Judah experiences God’s favor and hear good tidings. During the reign of the good king Josiah, the people of Judah are encourage to keep and celebrate their feasts and fulfill their vows to the Lord. The Lord promises to restore the vine of Jacob and the pride of Israel.

According to Isaiah, the Assyrians were the rod of God’s anger and the staff of God’s fury against the Northern kingdom of Israel (Isaiah 10:5). The king of the Assyrians, however, fell into the sin of pride and thought that he alone was the one who conquered. Because of this, the Lord, Isaiah says, «will punish the arrogant boasting of the king of Assyria» (Isaiah 10:12). For his part, «Nahum wanted his people to realize that the Medes and the Babylonians were acting as agents of the Lord’s judgment when they attacked Nineveh. By contrast to the extinction of Assyria, at one time the most imposing of all nations, Judah continues to survive successive waves of invasion and plunder (2:1)» (M. Duggan, The Consuming Fire, Ignatius Press, 284).

Nahum compares the coming destruction of Nineveh to how the Assyrians treated the Egyptians, when they conquered Thebes in 663 B.C. (Nahum 3:8-15). Nahum’s vision sees the Babylonian army laying siege to Nineveh, yet the victor is not Babylon; the one attaining victory is the Lord of hosts (Nahum 2:13). God is a Mighty Warrior fighting on the side of Judah. What Nahum and the other prophets reveal is that the Lord rules over all kingdoms and people; «their fate is in his hands, no less than the fate of Israel and Judah. […] Whereas Isaiah asserted that God used Assyria to punish his own people, Nahum prophesies that the Lord will use Babylon to punish Assyria. Not only does God use other kingdoms for his purposes with respect to Israel, God uses them to carry out his plans among themselves – true testimony to God’s universal sovereignty» (T. Leclerc, Introduction to the Prophets, Paulist Press, 222).

In the Gospel, Peter has just confessed that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God. However, when Jesus reveals to him that as the Messiah he must suffer and will be killed, Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him. Jesus turns and says to Peter: «Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men» (Matthew 16:23). Peter is the rock when he listens to voice of the Father, but becomes a stumbling block when he listens to the lies of Satan.

Jesus then tells his disciples that not only will he suffer on the Cross, but that they, as his followers, must also carry their own cross. The way of Christ leads to glory, but passes through the Cross. If we renounce our cross and try to hold on to the passing things of this life, we risk losing the gift of eternal life. Throughout his Gospel, Matthew records Jesus’ teaching on this: the kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit (5:3); we are lay up treasure in heaven and not here on earth (6:19-21); we are not to be anxious about our life, for our heavenly Father knows all that we need; we should seek first the kingdom and God’s righteousness and all the things we need shall be ours (6:25-34); the one who loses his life on behalf of Jesus will find life (10:39); finally, the kingdom of heaven is worth selling all we possess in order to obtain it (13:44-45).

Jesus turns the gaze of the Apostles, and our gaze, from the things of earth to the things of heaven. As we look toward heaven, we see that he is the Son of Man who comes with his angels in the glory of the Father. In fact, three of the Apostles will see the glory, dominion and kingship of the Son of man in Jesus’ transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8).

Jesus comes in glory to repay each man according to his conduct. And so, the question put to us today is this: Am I greedily storing up treasure on earth for myself or am I giving to the poor, serving my brothers and sisters, and storing up treasure in heaven? The first way, the way of pride and avarice, leads to death; the second way, the way of the cross and discipleship, leads to life.

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

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Jason Mitchell

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