Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. The Book of Isaiah starts off with a bang. “Trample my courts no more! Bring no more worthless offerings; your incense is loathsome to me ... Your hands are full of blood!” I guess we are pretty slow learners. It took another 800 years till Jesus patiently explained: “Whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink ... will surely not lose his reward.” Churchgoer? Parish council? Choir member? Daily communicant? Our faith should overflow in a fountain of mercy. Rule No. 1: “Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.” There is no Rule No. 2. You teach us, O Lord: to those who go the right way, I will show the salvation of God!
Tuesday, July 17, 2018 Is 7:1-9; Mt 11:20-24
This shall not stand, it shall not be! War! To hear Isaiah tell it, you’d almost think God enjoys it. “Two stumps of smoldering brands,” a couple foreign kings besetting Israel, are about to get their comeuppance. Such language is our human metaphor for the mystery of God’s love for the chosen people. But even Jesus is strong when his own people are deaf to his message: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!” The pagans of Tyre and Sidon would have repented immediately in “sackcloth and ashes” if they had witnessed Jesus’ miracles. If we could only really know the Lord, whose wash of mercy carries us through the fires and trials of life, we too might find ourselves on Mount Zion, the home of hope. Your holy mountain, O Lord, fairest of heights, is the joy of all the earth!
Wednesday, July 18, 2018 Is 10:5-7, 13b-16; Mt 11:25-27
Will the axe boast against the one who hews with it? Isaiah has terrible news: God needs to discipline “an impious nation,” namely, Israel, and the chosen axe for the beat-down is the insufferably arrogant Assyria, who in turn will collapse and fall “like the kindling of fire,” once the job is finished. Such a mess! No wonder Jesus takes refuge in his Father’s gracious will that reveals God’s goodness to the childlike instead of the fake news of “the wise and the learned.” Let’s just be attentive and grateful, not trying to second-guess the Scriptures as if we were the only ones with access to the truth. Jesus really wishes to reveal the Father to us. So can you see God? O Lord, you will not cast off your people, nor abandon your inheritance!
Thursday, July 19, 2018 Is 26:7-9, 12, 16-19; Mt 11:28-30
O Lord, you mete out peace to us, for it is you who have accomplished all we have done. Now that Isaiah has cleared the debris of Israel’s infidelity, he is ready to start making some promises. After all, “Your name and your title, O Lord, are the desire of our souls.” So, “the dead shall live, their corpses shall rise.” Jesus eagerly picks up the theme: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” We find our way through the tough times, scraping ourselves off the floor sometimes, no sign of God anywhere. And then at last comes “a dew of light,” refreshing our hope and making “easy” the yoke Jesus invites us to share with him. You have regarded the prayer of the destitute, O Lord, and not despised our prayer.
Friday, July 20, 2018 Is 38:1-6, 21-22, 7-8; Mt 12:1-8
Thus says the Lord: Put your house in order! The prose of this passage from Isaiah, unlike the verse of other sections, seems to suggest mundane concerns. Thus, we have the reference to “a poultice of figs to be taken and applied to the boil” bothering King Hezekiah. Even so, the Lord has seen the king’s tears and promises to answer his prayer for Assyria’s defeat, moving the sun’s shadow backward 10 steps on the temple stairs. So miracles can happen anywhere. Jesus affirms the same truth when he defends the apostles snacking on grains in a field they’re passing through. The Pharisees are outraged at this affront. Jesus replies serenely, “The Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath .” God in a wheat field. How about that! Yours is the life of my spirit, O Lord!
Saturday, July 21, 2018 Mi 2:1-5; Mt 12:14-21
Woe to those who plan iniquity! Today the church turns to us to Micah to warn us and intensify our resolve: “Behold, I am planning against this race an evil from which you shall not withdraw your necks.” Of course, he means Israel, but dare we think that we don’t deserve the same judgment? Pope Francis says God’s name is mercy. Matthew offers another, sweeter passage in Isaiah to update the scorching of Micah’s approach: “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen: he will not contend or cry out; a bruised reed he will not break; a smoldering wick he will not quench.” That servant, Matthew declares, is Jesus, who rescued Matthew from his own iniquity as a tax collector for Rome. You do see, O Lord, for you behold misery and sorrow, taking them in your hands.
Monday, July 23, 2018 Mi 6:1-4, 6-8; Mt 12:38-42
Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God. Israel’s problem with sin and injustice is illuminated through a conversation with the Lord. Israel repeatedly barters the conditions of paying for their sins — on their terms. When God calls for a change of heart, Israel substitutes dramatic rites and sacrifices. When that doesn’t work, Israel offers even more elaborate oblations. They hear the Lord’s message, but attempt external offerings, even lavish gifts or gestures, to avoid internal transformation. The Lord stands firm, however. No ritual or offering is an appropriate stand in for justice, mercy and humility. God doesn’t seek a grand show but asks us to enter into authentic relationships with him and others. That’s one reason this verse is often used to promote social justice. We serve God and neighbor best when our actions are genuine, modest and loving. God of justice and mercy, change our hearts.
Tuesday, July 24, 2018 Mi 7:14-15, 18-20; Mt 12:46-50
Who does not persist in anger forever, but delights rather in clemency... We often hear images in the Hebrew Scripture of a wrath-filled God. While this portrait is legitimate and often warranted, it’s not how God truly desires to enter into relationship with us. Isaiah and his contemporary Micah tend to play good cop/bad cop with this concept. Isaiah often highlights the destruction of Israel and Judah for ignoring God’s precepts while Micah, here, emphasizes the gentle shepherd who performs wonderful acts for our deliverance, fervently desiring to remove our guilt. He encourages us to be confident of God’s compassion. The ancient promises are as relevant to us as they were to our ancestors. Our prayers have and continue to be answered. Both prophets have valid points; we often deserve to be chastised, but we can nevertheless delight that our merciful God would rather pardon our sins. Gentle Father, thank you for your incomparable patience and forgiveness.
Wednesday, July 25, 2018 2 Cor 4:7-15; Mt 20:20-28 Saint James, apostle
We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. Whether ornate or functional, intended for display or everyday use, all clay jars have some similarities. They’re the intentional creation and design of a potter who deliberately takes raw clay and molds it for a specific purpose. Glazed and painted exteriors can veil what’s housed inside — often in ancient times valuable documents or rolled up scrolls. Our own physical being, formed from clay, is delicate and fleeting, and likewise houses a great treasure. We’re simple, functional vessels crafted for the potter’s use. Our shape and design, despite the pressure to conform to certain images of beauty, aren’t that significant, yet God considers each of us a valuable, one-of-a-kind masterpiece. And when others take the time to look inside, we earthen vessels have no greater purpose than to pour out the Master’s greatness. Heavenly Creator, mold me into whatever design is most pleasing to you.
Thursday, July 26, 2018 Jer 2:1-3, 7-8, 12-13; Mt 13:10-17 Saints Joachim and Anne, parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary
But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. It’s easy to get frustrated when we believe we’ve clearly explained something and others just don’t understand. When something that seems obvious to us eludes others, we cannot fathom the disconnection. Restating the point is fruitless; it remains incomprehensible. Differing perceptions or judgments and varying levels of sympathetic awareness or tolerance affect how or if we make the desired connection. People choose to block certain messages or messengers for valid or stubborn reasons. When we make conscious choices not to see or hear because something challenges our preferences or biases, we resist opportunities for growth and truth. This doesn’t allow us to be fickle or to believe everything we hear. Rather, it’s a reminder to be alert. The Lord speaks uniquely to us. Look and listen! All knowing Lord, free me from distraction and help me to focus on what you want me to see, hear and do in this moment.
Friday, July 27, 2018 Jer 3:14-17; Mt 13:18-23
Hear the parable of the sower. In the parable of the sower, we often reflect on the ground conditions in which the seed tries to take root and grow. It’s a familiar and effective image — good growing conditions produce good fruit. But we cannot overlook another significant factor — the presence and influence of evil in our lives, both individually and collectively. Jesus specifically cautions about the evil one who comes to steal what’s sown in the heart. Earthly temptations and apathy certainly affect how we nurture the word of God and affect the fertility of the ground in our hearts. In today’s world it is strikingly evident that a particularly great evil lurks in the growing hopelessness that many feel in society’s response to violence, discrimination, abuses of power and disregard for human rights and dignity. We must recognize the stealthy role of evil in such attitudes and work to sow and cultivate God’s love. Creator God, help me to root out the attitudes and influences that keep me from growth.
Saturday, July 28, 2018 Jer 7:1-11; Mt 13:24-30
Has this house which bears my name become in your eyes a den of thieves? Jeremiah warns of putting our trust in false prophets and deceitful words. The people feel secure simply going through the motions of devotion without seeking true holiness. They believe their pious gestures of temple service provide protection from harm, but they put their trust merely in the material fortress that the building can provide. No sacred space, object or action, however, has any real value or lasting protection when we’re not in right relationship with the Lord. If our heart is divided, then even his dwelling place offers little refuge. If we think we can ignore the Lord’s pleas to change our ways, it doesn’t matter where we seek sanctuary. We proceed at the risk of our own loss; we build a shelter on a faulty foundation that’s destined to topple at the first sign of trouble. Help me, all knowing Lord, to live in a way that invites you to remain in me always.
Monday, July 30, 2018 Jer 13:1-11/Mt 13:31-35
You have forgotten God who gave you birth.The story we hear of Jeremiah and his buried loincloth is God’s way of telling Israel that they have forgotten their beginnings, forgotten all that God has done for them, and have ceased to be grateful and godly. Jesus tells two kingdom parables each illustrating the same point — the small, even unimpressive, beginnings and the extraordinary expansion into something worthy. We proud people seem to err in one of two ways. Either we forget that we, too, were once (choose all that apply) poor, refugees, immigrants, dependent on the kindness of others. Or we extoll our humble beginnings and act as if all that we have now is due to the virtue of our ancestors or ourselves, perhaps forgetting what we took from others or just our plain, dumb luck. Both ways lead to a lack of gratitude, an eventual failure of compassion, and godlessness. There but for the grace of God … Gracious God, remind us of our debt to you and to others and keep us humble that we may be patient and generous with those on our path.
Tuesday, July 31, 2018 Jer 14:17-22; Mt 13:36-43 Saint Ignatius of Loyola, priest
We wait for peace, to no avail; for a time of healing, but terror comes instead. Today we remember Ignatius of Loyola, priest, theologian, spiritual director, founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), and spiritual ancestor of Pope Francis. The Jesuits were my first teachers in the faith, and to them I attribute what ability I have to think and to pray, not that I am any great shakes at either. I cannot read the Scriptures without that Ignatian practice of putting myself in the story, imagining those around me, noticing what role I’m playing, observing my reactions. It’s a powerful way to encounter the word and sometimes overwhelming. Today I find myself caught up with Jeremiah as he weeps over his beloved homeland. He sees, he counsels, he warns, but he is ineffective and so he suffers with the people he is trying to save. There are Jeremiahs in our world. Thank God for them. For the glory of your name, O Lord, deliver us. The story we hear of Jeremiah and his buried loincloth is God’s way of telling Israel that they have forgotten their beginnings, forgotten all that God has done for them, and have ceased to be grateful and godly. Jesus tells two kingdom parables each illustrating the same point — the small, even unimpressive, beginnings and the extraordinary expansion into something worthy. We proud people seem to err in one of two ways. Either we forget that we, too, were once (choose all that apply) poor, refugees, immigrants, dependent on the kindness of others. Or we extoll our humble beginnings and act as if all that we have now is due to the virtue of our ancestors or ourselves, perhaps forgetting what we took from others or just our plain, dumb luck. Both ways lead to a lack of gratitude, an eventual failure of compassion, and godlessness. There but for the grace of God … Gracious God, remind us of our debt to you and to others and keep us humble that we may be patient and generous with those on our path.
Daily Bread Authors from Celebration
Paige Byrne Shortal, longtime contributor to Celebration, serves as coordinator and editor for the Daily Bread writers.
Miguel Dulick lives in a mountain village in Honduras, Central America. Originally from St. Louis, he holds degrees from St. Louis University and Weston School of Theology, Boston.
Mary Joshi lives in Moncton, NB, Canada. Raised Catholic and married to a Hindu, Mary helps coordinate the RCIA for her parish unit and is a reflection writer for the parish bulletin. She holds degrees in history, English and deaf education.
Jeanne Lischer grew up in St. Louis and Ghana, West Africa, where her parents were missionaries. She is a graduate of United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, was ordained in 1990 in the United Church of Christ, and is currently the pastor for two rural congregations in Missouri.
Patricia Russell graduated from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich., with degrees in English and secondary education
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