Alas for those who devise wickedness and evil deeds on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in their power. They covet fields, and seize them; houses, and take them away; they oppress householder and house, people and their inheritance.
Therefore thus says the Lord: Now, I am devising against this family an evil from which you cannot remove your necks; and you shall not walk haughtily, for it will be an evil time. On that day they shall take up a taunt song against you, and wail with bitter lamentation, and say, "We are utterly ruined; the Lord alters the inheritance of my people; how he removes it from me! Among our captors he parcels out our fields." Therefore you will have no one to cast the line by lot in the assembly of the Lord.
Why, O Lord, do you stand aloof?
Why hide yourself in times of distress?
Proudly the wicked harass the afflicted,
who are caught in the schemes that others have made. (R./)
For the wicked man glories in his greed,
and the covetous blasphemes and scorns the Lord.
The wicked man boasts, 'He will not punish;
There is no God', such are his thoughts. (R./)
His mouth is full of cursing, guile and deceit;
under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.
He lurks in ambush near the villages;
in hiding he murders the innocent;
his eyes spy upon the unfortunate. (R./)
You do see, for you behold misery and sorrow,
taking them in your hands.
On you the unfortunate man depends;
of the fatherless you are the helper. (R./)
The Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him. When Jesus became aware of this, he departed. Many crowds followed him, and he cured all of them, and he ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah: "Here is my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smouldering wick until he brings justice to victory. And in his name the Gentiles will hope."
To deserve the name of being God's people, called to be his very own, we need to practise kindness, compassion and a healthy humility. Micah saw his people needing deep reform. Instead of sleeping at night, they now "work out evil on their couches" coveting fields and seizing them, cheating others of their inheritance. Land-hungry people were reversing the purpose of the exodus. God's people were meant to live in a homeland where each family passed its property from one generation to the next (Lev 25:3-28). But many were reducing others again to slavery. As punishment, gentiles will seize all the land for themselves. As in other prophecies, we note how foreigners have a role in God's plans.
Matthew quotes Isaiah about the Suffering Servant. The purpose of Jesus is well described by this passage, written during the Babylonian exile. Its message was rejected in his own day, as its attitude towards the gentiles seemed too mild, even hopeful for their salvation. Jesus is described as.. "my servant whom I have chosen, my loved one in whom I delight.. He will not contend nor cry out.. The bruised reed he will not crush.. In his name the gentiles will find hope." If we disregard our neighbour in time of sickness and trouble, we do not deserve the name of Christian, for, like Jesus we are called to cure and heal, quietly, without ostentation. We cannot disregard the outsider without being called to account by God.
As we open our hearts to people of mixed ancestry, according to the example of Jesus, we will be apostles of hope, proclaiming hope, not just for others but also for ourselves. In many ways, others can teach us how to be God's chosen people.
What a contrast in this morning's gospel between those who plot to destroy Jesus and the attitude of Jesus himself who has not come to destroy but to cure and to heal. From early on in his ministry, many were out to bring death to Jesus, whereas Jesus himself was always in the business of bringing life to others, a share in God's own life. This is why St Matthew applies to Jesus a text about God's servant in the book of Isaiah which says, 'he will not break the bruised reed, nor put out the smouldering wick.'
The bruised reed and the smouldering wick refer to those who are broken in body and depressed in spirit. It is very easy to break a bruised reed and put out a smouldering wick. Those who are broken in body or depressed in spirit tend to be very vulnerable. The gospel presents Jesus as one who is sensitive to those who are vulnerable. He can restore the bruised reed and fan into a living flame the smouldering wick. There are times when we need to come before the Lord in our imperfection and vulnerability and ask him to renew and strengthen us. Such a prayer to the Lord could take the form of that wonderful prayer for the Holy Spirit we say on Pentecost Sunday, 'Come thou Father of the poor… Heal our wounds, our strength renew, on our dryness pour thy dew.' When we are touched by the power of Jesus, the Life-giver, we in turn can then become sources of life and healing for others.