Memorial of Saint Irenaeus, Bishop and Martyr

2Kgs 24:8-17; Ps 79:1-5,8,9; Mt 7:21-29
“For your name’s sake”

Did King David know that his prayer in distress would be so vital to one of his unfaithful descendants? Indeed, any king in any age would find exactly what we find in this responsorial psalm. In the words of this psalm we hear the prayer of all who turn to the LORD in the time of anguish and distress, king and commoner alike. No position of power or prestige provides absolute security or protection. Sooner or later we all have nowhere else to turn. Indeed, we can readily pray this psalm of David with him and his son, Jehoiachin. Our sacred places are bound to be invaded by the nations, and they will defile the temple of God and leave it in ruins. Even the corpses of our family and neighbors will serve as food for the birds of heaven and their flesh as food for the beasts of the earth. Indeed, the horror continues as blood is poured out like water, and no one is left to give a proper burial to the dead. Other nations will look on with scorn and derision upon us in our misery. We cry out with all our ancestors and with the saints around the altar of the heavenly kingdom, “O LORD, how long? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealousy burn like a fire?” Indeed our misery seems endless and our distress only increases. How can we protect ourselves from his anger? How can we relieve the fire of his jealousy? The LORD our God is a jealous God. It matters to him when we turn to follow other gods. It matters to the LORD that we become what we worship. When we throw in our lot with those who offer child sacrifice and practice temple prostitution, the LORD does not hold back his wrath. The LORD beholds our twisted desire and our false devotion, and he gives us over to our own pleasures, even though they do not fulfill our deepest desires. This, indeed, is the punishment that we bring onto ourselves; by our own self-deception and self-destructive ways must we suffer. It is the fire of God’s jealousy that purifies our hearts and leads us into ways of truth. Our only help is in God our savior. Our only hope is in his faithfulness. He will deliver us from our own evil ways because of the glory of his name; he will pardon our sins for his name’s sake. So that the Name of the LORD may be hallowed by us and by all the nations, He will not remember the iniquities of the past and his compassion will quickly come to us, when we are brought very low. Indeed, only when we are sick and tired of being sick and tired will we find the only refuge of our life, God our savior. Only the King of Kings can rescue the people who are captured and lead into captivity by the so called king of kings, Nebuchadnezzar. Only the Teacher of the Nations will astonish us with his authority and set our hearts free in the truth. That is the reason we are here at liturgy to seek his wisdom in our exile and the freedom he alone can give us in his body and blood.

King Jehoiachin was only eighteen years old when he began to reign, and he only reigned for three months in Jerusalem before an eight-year siege began. The king of Babylon arrived and took him, his family, his powerful people, his valiant army, and all the wealth of the temple captive. All this suffering and tragedy happened because the king did evil in the sight of the LORD, just as his forebears had done. All this misery and despair occurred just as the prophets of the LORD had foretold. None of this could have been a surprise to Judah; the prophets had warned of just such dire consequences if the people and their king did not walk according to the ways of the covenant. None were left among the Chosen People except the poor and powerless. Just in case these became a problem, the King of Babylon left behind Mattaniah as king and changed his name to Zedekiah so that he and the poor would be under imperial control. Even this sad account of the victory of evil and oppression is not the end of the story. However, it is a necessary memory for us to recall lest we become as negligent and rebellious as our forebears. This destruction and exile was exactly what the people needed to move their hearts to trust in the true King of Kings. Indeed, it takes such a painful learning experience for all of us to wake up to the saving power of God in our hearts and in our history. The one who loves us is faithful to his covenant, and he cannot deny himself. The glory of his name will not be lost in history, even though we may try to loose ourselves from his sovereign claim over us. Indeed, the LORD is King and there is no other.

For two chapters now the evangelist, Saint Matthew, has recounted the teaching of the Lord Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. Now in the conclusion of this New Torah the Lord Jesus warns his disciples that lip service is not enough. Just as their kings and ancestors had spoken promises of loyalty and faithfulness, the disciples of every age can merely put on a good show and never have a change of heart. Religion itself can become the very enemy of the gospel. Empty promises and false devotion is indeed our own worst enemy in every age of the church. We, too, can call out loud and clear, “Lord, Lord.” We, too, can prophesy in his name, even cast out demons, and perform mighty deeds all in his name. However, if we do not learn from the Lord Jesus how do the will of his Father in heaven, we will not know him. We will not receive the abundant blessing of his grace and we will not be saved. His grace is more than undeserved favor. Indeed, it is unmerited and unexpected, but it is also the transforming love of total union with Christ that makes us divine by participation in the divinity of our Lord and Savior. Such is the gospel that liberates us when we build our lives solidly on the rock of faith in Christ. For he is the rock, not formed by human hands, that shatters the dream of the self-acclaimed king of kings. We build our lives on Christ when we listen to all of his teaching, not just the words that make us feel good. Indeed, the teachings of the Messiah King make us wise builders. When we build our house of faith on this solid teaching the rain will fall, the floods will come, and the winds will blow and buffet our house, but it will not fall. No ancient dream of empire or contemporary political philosophy will provide any real security. Our only hope is in the Rock of Salvation, in Christ, who is the rock from which the living water of the Holy Spirit gushes forth. Indeed from the side of this Rock flow blood and water, the Eucharistic wine and the gift of the Spirit that we need as food and refreshment for the journey.