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The God Who Speaks: A lesson in holy daring

Thursday, February 13, 2020

By Br Bede Mullens, O.P. | It can seem that there is little rhyme or reason in the way God distributes his blessings, but if we have the courage to ask, we can be confident that we shall receive.

Mass readings: 1 Kings 11:4-13; Mark 7:24-30

Early Christian murals and mosaics often depict on either side two ladies, or two cities: they typically represent Jew and Gentile, Athens (or Rome or Corinth or Carthage…) and Jerusalem. (See the two cities in the bottom left and right hand corner of the 11th century mosaic above, on either side of the row of sheep, from the church of San Clemente in Rome.) The early Church was acutely conscious of itself as a body which was bringing into one two strands of humanity – a people prepared over long ages for the coming of the Messiah, of whom indeed the Messiah was born, and a people that wandered in a groped darkness, more often stumbling than effectively treading.

The Mass readings for today present a similar diptych, but with a moral. See on the one hand Solomon. He is the chosen son of a chosen family out of a chosen people: as far as God’s favour is concerned, one could hardly have expected to receive it more obviously than King Solomon, King in Jerusalem, to whom the Lord appeared twice and gave him the gift of wisdom. By contrast, the Syro-Phoenician lady is an outsider to Israel, a pagan who does not know the God of Israel, a gentile who has no part in his blessings. Our Lord’s response to her solicitation is shocking: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

Solomon, for all his privileges, does exactly what a faithful man of Israel should not: he gives his heart away to foreign women, and ends up worshipping their foreign gods. Despite talk of the heart, there perhaps isn’t even much sexual voracity behind the possession of so many wives and concubines; so often the Israelites turned aside after the fashion of other nations and worshipped foreign gods in the hope of geopolitical security and advancement – Solomon’s wives may be the tokens of treaties and alliances. For all the gifts that he has received from the Lord, he does not really trust in God alone to hold his kingship secure. David had trusted, even shamelessly, even in his many sins, and for David’s sake the Lord will hold his house fast; but Solomon has effectively rejected the Lord’s good things.

“He has filled the hungry with good things; the rich he has sent empty away” – words of the truest woman in all Israel to God’s promises. The Syro-Phoenician lady gives as good as she gets, and is rewarded for her daring: “Yes, sir, and the dogs under the table get to eat from the children’s scraps.” And her daughter was healed. This lady is not unlike the penitent thief who hangs crucified alongside Jesus. Neither has reason to expect anything; both have reasons (whether they can help it or not) to expect to receive nothing from Israel’s God. Both have the pluck to ask, and they both become models for us of the Lord’s good counsel: “Look and you shall find, ask and you shall receive, knock, and the door will be opened to you.”

May God grant us too a holy daring.



Image: Wikimedia Commons

Br Bede Mullens O.P.

Br Bede was born in Enfield and grew up in Essex. He read Literae Humaniores at St Hugh’s College in the University of Oxford. It was in Oxford that he first met the Dominicans, and he joined the Order in 2017 after completing his degree. The writings of Pope Benedict XVI/Joseph Ratzinger greatly influenced his development in the Faith. He retains a wide interest in literature; among religious authors, he particularly admires St Augustine and St John Henry Newman. | bede.mullens@english.op.org

MORE ON: YEAR OF THE WORDGOSPEL REFLECTIONS

The year 2020 has been declared a year to reflect on the importance of the Scriptures in our lives as Christians, coinciding with the 1600 years of the death of St Jerome and the 10th anniversary of Verbum Domini, Pope Benedict XVI's Apostolic Exhortation on the Word of the Lord. Here you can find more information about activities coming up in the dioceses of England and Wales.

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