First Reading: From the Book of Second Kings 19:9-11, 14-21, 31-35, 36
Vrs9 on hearing that Tirhakah king of Cush was on his way to attack him.
Vrs10 Sennacherib again sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying, ‘Tell Hezekiah king of Judah this, “Do not let your God on whom you are relying deceive you with the promise: Jerusalem will not fall into the king of Assyria’s clutches.
Vrs11 You have learnt by now what the kings of Assyria have done to all the other countries, devoting them to destruction. Are you likely to be saved?
Vrs14 Hezekiah took the letter from the messengers’ hands and read it; he then went up to the Temple of Yahweh and spread it out before Yahweh.
Vrs15 Hezekiah said this prayer in the presence of Yahweh, ‘Yahweh Sabaoth, God of Israel, enthroned on the winged creatures, you alone are God of all the kingdoms of the world, you made heaven and earth.
Vrs16 Give ear, Yahweh, and listen; open your eyes, Yahweh, and see! Hear the words of Sennacherib, who has sent to insult the living God.
Vrs17 It is true, Yahweh, that the kings of Assyria have destroyed the nations,
Vrs18 they have thrown their gods on the fire, for these were not gods but human artefacts — wood and stone — and hence they have destroyed them.
Vrs19 But now, Yahweh our God, save us from his clutches, I beg you, and let all the kingdoms of the world know that you alone are God, Yahweh.’
Vrs20 Isaiah son of Amoz then sent the following message to Hezekiah, ‘Yahweh, God of Israel, says this, “I have heard the prayer which you have addressed to me about Sennacherib king of Assyria.”
Vrs21 Here is the pronouncement which Yahweh has made about him: “She despises you, she scorns you, the virgin daughter of Zion; she tosses her head at you, the daughter of Jerusalem!
Vrs31 for a remnant will issue from Jerusalem, and survivors from Mount Zion. Yahweh Sabaoth’s jealous love will accomplish this.
Vrs32 “This, then, is what Yahweh says about the king of Assyria: “He will not enter this city, will shoot no arrow at it, confront it with no shield, throw up no earthwork against it.
Vrs33 By the road by which he came, by that he will return; he will not enter this city, declares Yahweh.
Vrs34 I shall protect this city and save it for my sake and my servant David’s sake.” ‘
Vrs35 That same night the angel of Yahweh went out and struck down a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. In the early morning when it was time to get up, there they lay, so many corpses.
Vrs36 Sennacherib struck camp and left; he returned home and stayed in Nineveh.
Responsorial Psalm: From Psalms 48:2-3, 3-4, 10-11
Vrs2 towering in beauty, the joy of the whole world: Mount Zion in the heart of the north, the settlement of the great king;
Vrs3 God himself among its palaces has proved himself its bulwark.
Vrs4 For look, kings made alliance, together they advanced;
Vrs10 Both your name and your praise, God, are over the whole wide world. Your right hand is full of saving justice,
Vrs11 Mount Zion rejoices, the daughters of Judah delight because of your saving justice.
Gospel Reading: From the Gospel Account of Saint Matthew 7:6, 12-14
Vrs6 ‘Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls in front of pigs, or they may trample them and then turn on you and tear you to pieces.
Vrs12 ‘So always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that is the Law and the Prophets.
Vrs13 ‘Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to destruction is wide and spacious, and many take it;
Vrs14 but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Theme: Do not throw your pearls before swine
What can pearls and narrow gates teach us about God’s truth and holiness? In the ancient world pearls were of very great value and were even considered priceless. They were worn as prized jewels to make a person appear more beautiful and magnificent to behold. Holiness, likewise, is a very precious jewel that radiates the beauty of God’s truth, goodness, and glory. God offers us the precious gift of his holiness so that we may radiate the splendor of his truth and goodness in the way we think, speak, act, and treat others. We can reject or ignore this great gift, or worse yet, we can drag it through the mud of sinful behavior or throw it away completely.
Pearls before dogs and swine
Why does Jesus contrast holiness and pearls with dogs and swine (Matthew 7:6)? Some things don’t seem to mix or go together, like fire and water, heat and ice, sweat and perfume, pure air and poisonous vapors, freshly cleaned clothes and filthy waste. The Talmud, a rabbinic commentary on the Jewish Scriptures, uses a proverbial saying for something which appears incongruous or out of place: an ear-ring in a swine’s snout. Jesus’ expression about “pearls before swine” and “not giving dogs what is holy” is very similar in thought (Matthew 7:6). Jewish law regarded swine as unclean. Wild dogs were also treated as unfit for close human contact, very likely because they were dirty, unkept, lice-infested, and prone to attack or cause trouble.
What is the point of avoiding what is considered unclean? Jesus’ concern here is not with exclusivity or the shunning of others (excluding people from our love, care, and concern for them). His concern is with keeping spiritual and moral purity – the purity of the faith and way of life which has been entrusted to us by an all-holy, all-loving, and all-wise God. The early church referenced this expression with the Eucharist or the Lord’s Table. In the liturgy of the early church, a proclamation was given shortly before communion: Holy things to the holy. The Didache, a first century church manual stated: Let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist except those baptised into the name of the Lord; for, as regards this, the Lord has said, ‘Do not give what is holy to dogs.’ The Lord Jesus invites us to feast at his banquet table, but we must approach worthily.
Jesus summed up the teaching of the Old Testament law and prophets with the expression, So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them (Matthew 7:12) – and in the same breath he raised the moral law to a new level of fulfillment and perfection. God’s law of love requires more than simply avoiding injury or harm to one’s neighbor. Perfect love – a love which is unconditional and which reaches out to all – always seeks the good of others for their sake and gives the best we can offer for their welfare. When we love our neighbors and treat them in the same way we wish to be treated by God, then we fulfill the law and the prophets, namely what God requires of us – loving God with all that we have and are and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
How can we love our neighbor selflessly, with kindness, and genuine concern for their welfare? If we empty our hearts of all that is unkind, unloving, and unforgiving, then there will only be room for kindness, goodness, mercy, and charity. Paul the Apostle reminds us that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). It is the love of God that fuels our unconditional love for others. Are you ready to let the Holy Spirit transform your life with the purifying fire of God’s love?
The narrow gate and way
Jesus used a second illustration of a narrow gate which opens the way that leads to a life of security and happiness (Matthew 7:13-14) to reinforce his lesson about choosing the one true way which leads to peace with God rather than separation and destruction. The Book of Psalms begins with an image of a person who has chosen to follow the way of those who are wise and obedient to God’s word and who refuse to follow the way of those who think and act contrary to God’s law : Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night (Psalm 1:1-2). When a path diverges, such as a fork in the road, each way leads to a different destination. This is especially true when we encounter life’s crossroads where we must make a choice that will affect how we will live our lives. Do the choices you make help you move towards the goal of loving God and obeying his will?
The Lord Jesus gives us freedom to choose which way we will go. Ask him for the wisdom to know which way will lead to life rather than to harm and destruction. See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil… Therefore choose life that you and your descendants may live (Deuteronomy 3:15-20). Choose this day whom you will serve (Joshua 24:15). Behold I set before you the way of life and the way of death(Jeremiah 21:8). If we allow God’s love and wisdom to rule our hearts, then we can trust in his guidance and help to follow his path of love, truth, and holiness.
“Let me love you, my Lord and my God, and see myself as I really am – a pilgrim in this world, a Christian called to respect and love all whose lives I touch, those in authority over me or those under my authority, my friends and my enemies. Help me to conquer anger with gentleness, greed by generosity, apathy by fervor. Help me to forget myself and reach out towards others.” (Prayer attributed to Clement XI of Rome)