2Kgs 17:5-8,13-15a,18; Ps 60:3,4,5,12,13; Mt 7:1-5
Our responsorial psalm for this Mass is painful to pray. It is the prayer of a people who are suffering the consequences of their unfaithfulness to the covenant. Yet, even as they are being taken off into exile, they pray wholeheartedly, “Help us with your right hand, O Lord, and answer us.” This national lament is not completely unfamiliar. We, too, personally and communally, have suffered rejection, brokenness and divine wrath. In the midst of such suffering do we call out “help us” or “rally us?” Indeed our world has been rocked and split wide open; Oh Lord, repair the cracks for it is tottering on the edge of despair. We have felt the hardships and we have drunk stupefying wine to escape the pain. Indeed, we feel the rejection of the LORD Almighty who has not gone forth with our armies. Still we seek the help of other men, and we never turn to God. We have yet to discover that the help of men is worthless. It is in vain that we seek the alliance of other nations to protect us, when it is the LORD who has always guaranteed our safety. In vain we have asked other people to do for us what only the LORD God Almighty can do for us. No idol, national or personal, can take the place of God; all efforts to replace the LORD only lead to disaster. As the first reading explains, all through history the LORD has sent prophets to make clear his will for us, but we have ignored the message. Even the Lord Jesus warns his disciples not to waste time trying to correct other people’s failures when we can’t see even to correct our own. We are often too blind to our needs and deaf to God’s Word. Yet, we dare to cry out in this liturgy, “Help Lord!”
With our modern experience of warfare it is almost impossible for us to imagine our land under siege for three years. Certainly, this sounds like the experience of other nations. Indeed we learn from their experience; those who have had to put up with various terrorist attacks over the years. However, this is not our immediate experience since the days of the so-called “Civil War.” Understanding the deep regret and pain of the Jewish Exile is not that easy for us, but we read in the second Book of Kings a history that needs faith to understand and interpret it. Finally after all those years of siege, the Israelites and their King, Hoshea, are deported to Assyria. The very freedom they enjoyed is now gone, and the land of promise is now just a memory. Such horror must be considered in the light of their covenant with the LORD God. In faith and with hindsight they could admit that this came about because they had sinned against the LORD. They had ignored and denied the God who had brought them up from Egypt that place of slavery. However, their faithfulness is like the early morning dew, by noon it is gone! Although the LORD had warned both Israel and Judah through many prophets, still they would not return to the LORD; they were as stubborn as Pharaoh, King of Egypt, and they were as hard hearted as their ancestors in the desert. This exile for Israel was an experience of the LORD’s great anger. At the depth of anger is hurt. The LORD is hurt and is moved to anger by the kind of self-destruction that his people have embraced. In order to teach them what they cannot learn any other way; he put them out of his sight. Now, only the tribe of Judah is left in the Promised Land, but not for long.
We are all too ready to judge our ancestors; we are very quick to call them failures. It is always too easy to look back and see the failures of others, especially among our faith community. Yet, the unfaithfulness of Israel and Judah are warnings to us. We, too, will suffer the just anger of the LORD. He loves us so much that he will not leave us in our stiff-necked condition; the LORD will not abandon us in our stubbornness of heart. The Lord Jesus summons us to, “Stop judging, that you may not be judged.” Indeed, the measure we have for everyone else is the same measure the LORD has for us. We are not to be so blinded by the wooden beam in our own eyes that we can be of no service to our brother who has a splinter in his eye. The plank in our own eyes can also be called arrogance that so often leads to self-righteousness. An honest plea for help goes a long way to give us the vision we need to really offer loving care to all who have a hard time with splinters.