These last days of June are precious moments to reflect the wonders of the ancient Church. Today’s feast displays the wisdom of Irenaeus who was born in Asia Minor and who grew to be the founder of the rich French heritage of Catholicism. His place in the history of the Fathers of the Church is privileged. He is a student of saint Polycarp who was a bishop and martyr. Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John and thus, through him, the contact with the apostolic times of the original companions of Jesus is identified. Irenaeus is a keystone for the historical Jesus and the origins of the primitive Christian Church. He was destined to become a bridge between East and West. His family apparently paved the way for the preaching of the Gospel in the city of Lyons, France. He is the first Bishop of that city. He lived for about 70 years, only to die a martyr for the Kingdom of God.
Today’s first reading is the climax of the historical and ideological reflection upon the politics of Judea. Despite the warnings delivered to them, the rulers of Israel chose to ignore the preaching of the prophets. Jehoiachin is judged by history as something of a spoiled teenager. Because of the consistency of royal rebellion by his forefathers, he fails to listen to the dire threat that his reign will be brief. The invasion of Jerusalem by the all powerful king of Babylon is happy to destroy the temple of God. The narrative here is not about the Hebrew king; it is about the status of the temple which had been profaned by neglect. The conclusion of this passage records the arrest and exile of all those who serviced the temple, either as maintenance staff or as defenders. Sometimes these people who were arrested and led into Babylon served both roles. The temple is no longer the focus of purity for the identification of Israel’s people. Their destiny from the days of Moses was to worship God according to the dictates of his own disclosure of himself from the days of Sinai. Each day that the sanctuary of the temple commanded the behavior of those who were God’s children, he in turn maintained the covenant by protecting his own. Now the covenant is irrevocably tarnished. The sadness of this piece of history reveals that the king of Babylon makes his own choice. Jehoiachin and the line of kings is neutered by Mattaniah who was able to rule under the name of Zedekiah. This unfortunate royal was no better than his predecessors and his fall from grace was absolute. This presents a warning to all of history: God will not be mocked!
The Gospel for today presents Jesus’ own teaching regarding membership in his Father’s Kingdom. Discipleship is not the gift that is guaranteed by calling out to God. It requires the presentation of a sincere heart by deeds that are consistent with Christian identity. Christian deeds are theological subjects of the Christian moral life. Pope John Paul II in an early ecumenical address stated that the moral life and the life of faith are so intimately united that it is impossible to separate them.
This Gospel prepares the Church for reflection on tomorrow’s feast of Saints Peter and Paul at Rome. By their preaching and their discipleship of Jesus they endow Church history with that image of stability required by God which is identified with the Church at Rome. Jesus gave the choice – build on rock or build on sand. So important is this image that Jesus, in turn, changed Peter’s identity to Cephas, the Rock. The image brought a response from the crowd. They wondered at his teaching, a reflection on today’s feast of Saint Irenaeus. He brings each Christian back to the vocation to be stable.
- Father Jerome Vereb, C.P.