The Pharisees went out and took counsel against Jesus to put him to death.
What a rabble-rouser, this Jesus! Picking grain on the sabbath, and then healing a man with a withered hand—in the synagogue, of all places! How dare he lecture the authorities on “doing good on the sabbath”! Such were the thoughts fomenting among the Pharisees. Buried alive under the letter of the law, their hearts turned stone cold when confronted with their twisted ethic of prioritizing an animal on the sabbath over a human being (Matthew 12:11).
When Jesus realized this, he withdrew from that place.
There was no point in contending or debating. The hearts of the Pharisees were dead set against him. Another word from him would only add kindling to the fire.
Many people followed him, and he cured them all, but he warned them not to make him known.
People were suffering, and so the work of healing and mercy must go on. Jesus acted according to his nature; he could not do otherwise. Love must prevail over all obstacles, even the threat of death. The nature of divine love, however, is unassuming: it acts but seeks no credit. Goodness is as natural, abundant, pervasive, and invisible as the air everyone breathes. What need was there for any special recognition?
This was to fulfill what had been spoken through Isaiah the prophet: Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved in whom I delight; I shall place my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not contend or cry out, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory.
The Spirit-filled servant prophesied by Isaiah flowed as gently as water over hard and sharp rocks, but just as invincibly—smoothing them over time and conquering them by love. Uncontentious and without fanfare, the lamb of God came to lead the weak and frail to victory in the valley of humility.
Jesus was going through a field of grain on the sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “See, your disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the sabbath.”
If the wheat plants in this story could speak, they might shake their heads in wonder and ask, “Who is picking on who?”
As Jesus and his disciples were picking their heads of grain, a bunch of busybody Pharisees with wandering eyes began to pick on the pickers.
A strange scenario! The wheat, for their part, joyfully welcomed the Lord of the sabbath to pick their heads and eat them. That is what they were made for. Never was a greater “honor” bestowed on wheat than to nourish their own Maker, though honor was not in their vocabulary.
The whole field pricked up their wheat ears as Jesus explained: “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry, how he went into the house of God and ate the bread of offering, which neither he nor his companions but only the priests could lawfully eat?”
Silent applause. A glorious day in the history of wheat was being recounted, when the youthful David, the great champion over Goliath and future king of Israel, nourished himself and his companions with the holy bread at the hands of the noble priest Ahimelech (I Samuel 21:1-6).
“Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests serving in the temple violate the sabbath and are innocent?”
Deep silence. How were the Pharisees going to respond to that obvious incongruity in their charge against Jesus? If picking grain on the Sabbath was unlawful, why not the more laborious work of temple sacrifice and ritual?
All of this sounded like nonsense to the wheat, for whom nature was simple and straightforward. When a creature was hungry, it ate. When thirsty, it drank. Every day belonged to the Lord of creation; simply to exist was to give him praise. The rules and regulations of humankind were simply baffling, and not a little unnatural (in the humble opinion of the wheat).
“I say to you, something greater than the temple is here. If you knew what this meant, I desire mercy, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned these innocent men. For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.”
Thunderous silent applause from the acres of wheat surrounding the conversation. Mercy! What a novel idea! Didn’t the humans realize that to be was to be merciful? To live was to love? The wheat knew this and gave thanks continually for the sun and soil, water and air, and the diligent hands of the farmer who nurtured them day after day. The simplest things eluded the most intellectual of creatures.
As Jesus and his disciples departed, the Spirit of the Lord whispered to the wheat, “Today you have nourished your Maker and become his Body and Blood. In days to come you will work with me to divinize his brothers and sisters by feeding them his Body and Blood.”
The wheat entered into a silent alliance with the Spirit but did not consider it an honor. Their obedience was wholly spontaneous and unself-conscious.
Thus says the LORD: Woe to Assyria! My rod in anger, my staff in wrath. Against an impious nation I send him, and against a people under my wrath I order him To seize plunder, carry off loot, and tread them down like the mud of the streets. But this is not what he intends, nor does he have this in mind; Rather, it is in his heart to destroy, to make an end of nations not a few.
These are troubling passages for modern ears. Does God play off the nations like pieces on a chess board? Assyria was described by Isaiah as a “rod” and “staff” in the hand of God to deal justice to the nations. As with Pharaoh, Herod, Caiaphas, Pilate and others, egotistical and private ends reached their finality in a higher, divine purpose: to call nations and persons back to their divine origin and unity.
With great drama and flourish, Isaiah painted a portrait of the imperious ego:
For he says: “By my own power I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I am shrewd. I have moved the boundaries of peoples, their treasures I have pillaged, and, like a giant, I have put down the enthroned. My hand has seized like a nest the riches of nations; As one takes eggs left alone, so I took in all the earth; No one fluttered a wing, or opened a mouth, or chirped!”
When the whole world revolves around the “I,” the ego loses all sense of proportion and balance. Pride distorts inner vision and creates the illusion of power and control.
Will the axe boast against him who hews with it? Will the saw exalt itself above him who wields it? As if a rod could sway him who lifts it, or a staff him who is not wood! Therefore the Lord, the LORD of hosts, will send among his fat ones leanness, And instead of his glory there will be kindling like the kindling of fire.
St. Paul, steeped in the Hebrew Scriptural tradition, similarly used the image of a Potter and clay to describe the Creator-creature relation (Romans 9:20-22).
What about human freedom? Where does that come into play?
Authentic freedom is found only by walking in accordance with divine truth, goodness and beauty. Egotism cages the “I” within itself by a voluntary imprisonment. Enslaved to the passions, the egotist is preeminently unfree. Prideful individuals wreak havoc within and without by failing to align themselves with the laws of reality. Every pull away from the Source is its own punishment. Clashing egos, such as the warring nations in Isaiah, punish one another as the natural consequence of living in illusion.
Those who are moved by the Spirit dwelling within experience life differently: as free persons walking in sync with divine grace. Spiritually awake clay in the hands of the Potter may even derive benefit from the “rods” and “axes” that oppress: “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Heroes like Joseph, the son of Jacob who turned his brothers’ treachery into profit for the entire world, is one of the finest examples in Scripture.
With the simplicity of the dove and the wisdom of the serpent, may we learn how to transform calamities into blessings for others and ourselves.
“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.”
When word came to the house of David that Aram was encamped in Ephraim, the heart of the king and the heart of the people trembled, as the trees of the forest tremble in the wind.
Unless your faith is firm you shall not be firm!
Isaiah advised King Ahaz to put his trust in the Lord alone. His enemies, Rezin and Pekah, were no more than “two stumps of smoldering brands” ready to fizzle out. Ahaz needed to silence his trembling heart, “remain tranquil,” and transform fear into courage. Instead of turning to prayer and faith, Ahaz was tempted to seek the aid of the powerful Assyrians.
With compassion, the prophet brought his son Shear-jashub, whose name meant “A remnant shall return,” as a sign for Ahaz. God cherished Judah and guaranteed a remnant for himself. Ahaz had every reason to hope in divine protection. His enemies were weak, and Ephraim (northern kingdom of Israel) had no more than sixty-five years left before being snuffed out. Isaiah laid the facts before the king.
In God’s dealings with his people, empirical facts and figures seemed to have had limited effect. Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum witnessed some of Jesus’ greatest miracles and prodigies, yet their hearts remained unmoved. Had the wonders been performed in the Gentile cities of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom, Jesus declared, repentance would have followed.
Perhaps the religious status quo had become too comfortable and staid; Jesus met resistance and indifference among the chosen people, especially those in his native Galilee. The freshness and beauty of the person of Christ sometimes had greater impact on foreigners (e.g., the Roman centurion, the Samaritan woman, and the Canaanite woman). The conversion of the Assyrian city of Nineveh was also one of the most successful outcomes in the history of the prophets (Jonah).
King Ahaz had the guidance of the holy prophet Isaiah, a man whose lips were set afire by the seraphim to deliver God’s word. The people of Galilee had the Son of God himself in their very midst, with hundreds of people cured from various diseases.
Conversion of heart is a mystery. Who can understand it?
Hear the word of the LORD, princes of Sodom! Listen to the instruction of our God, people of Gomorrah! What care I for the number of your sacrifices? says the LORD. I have had enough of whole-burnt rams and fat of fatlings; In the blood of calves, lambs and goats I find no pleasure.
When you come in to visit me, who asks these things of you? Trample my courts no more! Bring no more worthless offerings; your incense is loathsome to me. New moon and sabbath, calling of assemblies, octaves with wickedness: these I cannot bear. Your new moons and festivals I detest; they weigh me down, I tire of the load. When you spread out your hands, I close my eyes to you; Though you pray the more, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood! Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.
The prophets obviously never read books like How to Win Friends and Influence People. Addressing Israel by the notorious names of Sodom and Gomorrah could only win friends among the wise and humble. God’s rejection of the people’s “worthless offerings” in Isaiah’s messages were echoed by Samuel, Jeremiah, Hosea and Amos among others, and climaxed with the Son of God himself driving out the money-changers from the temple with a whip of cords (John 2:14-16 and Synoptic Gospels).
If the prophetic tradition was subjected to a modern management effectiveness evaluation, the results would probably not be favorable.
St. Stephen offered this assessment of the prophetic centuries: “Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it” (Acts 7:52-53).
Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and lawyers, “Woe to you! for you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed,” and charged them for all the murders from Abel to Zechariah, “who perished between the altar and the sanctuary” (Luke 11:47-51).
“Your hands are full of blood!” Isaiah cried, “Wash yourselves clean!”
The serial rejection of the prophets clearly signaled the need for a new strategy. Jesus’ New Law of Grace came to replace the worn-out wineskins of external ritual and law, which alone were ineffective to transform and deify persons from the inside out.
Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Jesus’ words fell on deaf ears then and now, but his revolutionary strategy of offering himself upon the altar of the world caused time to stand still at the eternal axis of the Cross. All lines of history past, present and future converged upon this still point of theandric self-emptying.
Centuries of chastisement and castigation availed little, but the love and humility of Jesus Christ opened the gates of Paradise to hardened rebels like the crucified thief beside him, the first of many whose hearts were crushed with sorrow at the selfless love of the Lord.
The Trinitarian self-emptying of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit at the axis of the Cross, planted within the human person, remains the only truly effective strategy for deification.
Thus says the LORD: Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.
In the light of St. John’s Prologue, this colorful, poetic prophecy of Isaiah is suggestive of the Trinitarian presence within creation: the Holy Spirit of life and fertility continually waters the earth, and the efficacious Word proceeding from the mouth of the Father unfailingly fulfills his will. The divine presence permeating all things assumed the entire cosmos and humanity in the Person of the Son, and bestowed upon them the seed of immortality by the grace of the Holy Spirit.
From the smallest quark to the furthest galaxies, all of creation “awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God.” Humankind and the cosmos are not two, but one in spiritual and metaphysical solidarity. The deification of the cosmic, multi-personal Body began at the moment of the Woman’s “Fiat!” on behalf of Adam and his children.
We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
The Greek original for “bodies” is actually singular. Our Body encompasses the universe which is turned as one (uni-versum) towards the Trinity, and our communion personalizes every particle of matter. Nature is not impersonal but bears the stamp and breath of Three Divine Faces shining from within. At the level of matter, the immeasurable cosmos with its billions of light-years dwarfs the human figure, but each and every child of Adam utterly transcends it in person—the hidden “who” begotten in the Father’s Womb in the image of his Son. From the beginning, Adam’s vocation as King of the Universe was to divinize and personalize the universe in his Body. During this time of exile and return, something akin to consciousness—a mysterious desire—continues to radiate from matter in its yearning and groaning for transfiguration.
Christ, King of the Universe, fulfilled Adam’s vocation by crucifying in our Body the primal rebellion and making possible our adoption as children of the Father. However, the task remains for each person to freely respond in grace and be “baptized into his death” (Romans 6:3), dying to ego-separation from the whole and rejoining the One Many communion in the Trinity.
Personal response in the hidden depths of the heart is known only to the Father who knows us better than we know ourselves. The subjective element in receptivity is primary in Jesus’ Parable of the Sower. The Holy Spirit whispers continually within and without both in nature and in divine revelation, but persons are ultimately responsible for tilling a fertile ground for the seed to take root, flourish, and bear fruit. Hidden in the bosom of the Father, we can help one another without conscious awareness. The receptivity of one mysteriously awakens the receptivity of others by virtue of our metaphysical unity. A single good thought or intention sends out an energetic love in synergy with the Spirit more powerful than all the invisible lines of force in electromagnetism.
“The ultimate end of the whole divine economy is the entry of God’s creatures into the perfect unity of the Blessed Trinity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 260).
In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple. Seraphim were stationed above; each of them had six wings: with two they veiled their faces, with two they veiled their feet, and with two they hovered aloft. They cried one to the other, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!” At the sound of that cry, the frame of the door shook and the house was filled with smoke. Then I said, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember that he had taken with tongs from the altar. He touched my mouth with it and said, “See, now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” “Here I am,” I said; “send me!”
Divine mysteries are hidden and veiled; even the seraphim shielded their eyes from the brightness of their glory. The prophet Isaiah received the gift of seared lips and a contrite heart in preparation for his mission. Any words a messenger might use surely fall short of the reality. Words born of silent awe and the fear of the Lord have the power of the Spirit, “piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
Silence is one of the rarest and most precious goods in our busy, distracted world. Yet it is free and available at all times if we make space in our hearts for it. It is the place of encounter with the Father who cares for the least sparrow and has counted every hair on our heads. The songs of praise and thanksgiving of the chirruping birds are often more eloquent than all of our words. Their music invites us to tune in to the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
Thus says the LORD: When Israel was a child I loved him, out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the farther they went from me, Sacrificing to the Baals and burning incense to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, who took them in my arms; I drew them with human cords, with bands of love; I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheeks; Yet, though I stooped to feed my child, they did not know that I was their healer.
From the image of God as husband and lover, Hosea switched colors and began a new portrait of God as parent with both paternal and maternal qualities in this chapter. The personal pronoun for Israel-Ephraim also alternated seamlessly between the singular and the plural, as the people were conceived as both one and many simultaneously. Images, symbols and words were all chips in a mosaic creating an impressionistic montage of a reality beyond finite grasp.
The covenant between God and his child was clearly unequal; an infant cannot repay his or her parents for the gift of life and nurture. Humanity was in a position of total receptivity to God. The divine heart burned with a mother’s love, lacerated as the child of her womb turned constantly away from her cheeks to kiss false gods.
My heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred. I will not give vent to my blazing anger, I will not destroy Ephraim again…
Like the selfless husband who continually redeemed his unfaithful wife, the rejected father transcended the human passion of punitive anger to call back his beloved son with the infinite, divine love that expected nothing in return (agape). For I am God and not man, the Holy One present among you; I will not let the flames consume you.
When the Word became flesh, Hosea’s kaleidoscopic impression received a human form, became the child Israel-Ephraim in the womb of his mother, and grew up to become the lover in pursuit of his beloved. His Body became the nexus between the One Three God and the one many personed humanity, linking heaven and earth as the theandric ladder.
Agape Incarnate taught his brothers the economics of the Trinity: Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.
As the infant Ephraim received divine milk and teaching absolutely free, he was to give to others the spiritual milk of eternal life without expecting payment, for in reality no price can be set between the infinite and the finite. The most a receiver can pay back for his limitless debt was by immolating his entire existence to the Giver of life. On the Cross, the second Adam gave back everything the first Adam stole from the garden and deludedly called “mine”—his body, soul, spirit, mind, heart and will—and threw open the gate to restored personhood: “All mine are thine, and thine are mine” (John 17:10).
Jesus’ Father exemplified the perfection of agape by giving his only-begotten Son away, not only gratis, but even to the point of allowing antagonists to tear him apart and do with him whatever they willed. The Father’s priceless treasure was laid open to vultures and plunderers without self-protecting barriers—a banker’s nightmare.
Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick.
Jesus’ call for radical abandonment to divine providence was revolutionary then and now. An apostle’s treasure was in heaven; he was not to make a profit out of priceless goods that rust and moth can destroy. The Gospel and business did not mix; they were incompatible.
However, life in the body necessarily required food, clothing and shelter. As Peter’s home sheltered Jesus during most of his public ministry, The laborer deserves his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, look for a worthy person in it, and stay there until you leave.
In Talmudic tradition, the rabbi was supported by his village and taught the divine word free of charge. In like manner, the apostle also received support and shelter from generous patrons in his itinerant preaching of the good news.
As you enter a house, wish it peace. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; if not, let your peace return to you. Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words—go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet. Amen, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.”
The last instructions mirrored the mindset in Semitic culture concerning words that can be given and taken back again; blessings mistakenly bestowed were revoked (see William Barclay’s Commentary on Matthew for more details).
After centuries of religious wars and violent controversies continuing even in our own day, the warning of judgment concluding this passage seems to invite a Bible-thumping, aggressive evangelism. However, in the light of the Cross, Jesus could not possibly have encouraged violence in any form. When the Spirit of truth convicts persons of the truth of Jesus Christ, hard-heartedness must either give way to divine mercy or harden even more. Coming to the point of actual conviction is the work of the Holy Spirit; apostles are only sowers of seeds. Human freedom will always be respected.
If they would say, “We have no king”— Since they do not fear the LORD, what can the king do for them? (Hosea 10:3)
About three hundred years after the launch of the Kingship Experiment, Hosea published the results: despair and helplessness.
In Samuel’s old age, the elders of Israel had approached him to ask for a king, for “We too must be like all the nations, with a king to rule us, lead us in warfare, and fight our battles” (I Samuel 8:20).
The Israelites were not content with the Lord alone as their king, and desired the imagined splendor and glory of the surrounding nations. The grass looked greener on the other side.
Samuel warned them that they would lose a lot of their freedoms if they abdicated personal responsibility to a ruler. Sons will be taken from them in military drafts; violent wars will be waged; daughters will be taken in servitude as “perfumers, cooks, and bakers;” fields, vineyards and orchards will be confiscated; and heavy taxes will be imposed. “On that day you will cry out because of the king whom you have chosen, but the LORD will not answer you on that day” (I Samuel 8:18).
The will of the people was done because human freedom will not be overstepped by divine force. Samuel’s prophecy came to pass, and Hosea had the unpleasant task of unmasking Israel’s spiritual immaturity in putting their hopes in a human king.
With the coming of the Messiah, an entirely new kind of king appeared in Israel—poor, simple in appearance, compassionate to outcasts and the oppressed, a shepherd among his flock with no palace or even a place to “lay his head” (Matthew 8:20; Luke 9:58). The “army” of this “son of David” consisted of twelve ordinary men, including fishermen and an abominable tax collector. Instead of chariots, war horses and the warrior’s bow (Zechariah 9:10), the new king gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness.
“Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel,” was heard time and again by the descendants of Samuel’s generation (Matthew 9:33). Indeed, the mangled sheep of the house of David had come to expect heavy-handed laws and authoritative control as facts of life.
“The kingdom of God is among you” and “within you” (Luke 17:21), Jesus said, and the human person is a “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19).
The message of Jesus was revolutionary for a culture built around the Jerusalem Temple, the Mosaic Covenant, and reverence for the laws of the rabbinic tradition. Jesus did not come to destroy, but to fulfill the hopes of Israel, though that necessarily meant replacing old cloth and old wineskins. Before sending out the Twelve to the Gentile nations, Israel deserved closure after millennia of waiting for the promises to Abraham and the patriarchs: “Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”
As Samuel obeyed the Lord and gave the people what they wanted (a powerful king), Jesus obeyed his Father and gave the people what they wanted (a crucified king). “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15) echoed the cry of the people to Hosea, “We have no king.” In all these cases, God was rejected and the will of the people was done once again.
The crucial difference now was that the death of Christ resulted in new life for humanity in his resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Holy Spirit into contrite hearts. The kingdom of heaven is already here as a seed of grace planted within. The process of living the Our Father—“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”—is a journey of union with the only-begotten Son on the Cross in his union and communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
A demoniac who could not speak was brought to Jesus, and when the demon was driven out the mute man spoke. The crowds were amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.” But the Pharisees [who could speak] said, “He drives out demons by the prince of demons.”
The bracketed words were inserted to highlight the strange irony in this healing episode. The man diagnosed as mute by a demon had his faculty of speech and communication restored. Spontaneous gratitude for the restoration of a brother was the natural response, but the Pharisees could not care less about him; their hearts were fixated entirely on maligning Jesus.
The Pharisees were not clinically “demon-possessed,” but evil cloaked in righteousness, intelligence, and honor was far more dangerous to Jesus than the obviously deranged type. With pity and compassion, many demoniacs were healed, but only a few religious leaders showed openness to healing and conversion. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea risked unpopularity by standing with Jesus.
Idol makers “have mouths but speak not” and “eyes but see not,” according to the Psalmist (115:5). The physically mute and blind, Jesus healed and forgave, but idolaters who set up their own egos in the place of the Holy Spirit spoke and saw only lies (Matthew 12:32), becoming thereby spiritually mute and blind. “Cast away your calf!” Hosea cried.
Seeing the state of religion in his day, Jesus’ “heart was moved with pity” for the crowds “because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.” He taught his disciples, the first leaders of the Church, to see with his eyes, and feel with his heart, the abundant harvest. May all laborers in the vineyard of the Lord be anointed with divine pity, mercy and love.