Friday, July 16, 2010

A fig poultice, a sundial, and the Temple

Today concludes our week of extracts from Isaiah the prophet
as part of the Church’s Liturgy to provide the theological
background for the destruction of the Kingdoms of
Israel and Judah.

It is still a time of religious renewal
with the succession of Hezekiah as king of Judah,
after his corrupt father, King Ahaz.
For Hezekiah’s efforts, the destruction of Jerusalem will not
be carried out by the Assyrians
(the Assyrians had already incurred the wrath of God for their
greed and violence – last Wednesday’s First Reading from Is 10).

In today’s First Reading, (Is 38:1-6. 21-22. 7-8; also 2 Kings 20:7),
“Hezekiah fell ill and was at the point of death”
He “turns his face to the wall” and prays.
(His prayer and song of woe is written as a canticle in
the Responsorial Psalm, taken from Is 38).
God hears his prayer
and sends Isaiah to Hezekiah with a three-fold message:
"I will cure you:
in three days’ time you shall go up to the Temple of the Lord.
I will add fifteen years to your life.
I will save you from the hands of the king of Assyria,
I will protect this city.”

How is Hezekiah cured?

“Bring a fig poultice. Apply it to the ulcer and he will recover,”
says Isaiah.

Herein lies the first message for us today.

I went searching for info on “a fig poultice.”
“Fig poultice: Heat figs for 3 minutes, cut open, and apply to infected sores. It will bring them to a head” ;
“Fig poultices are …great for a number of conditions including abscess of the teeth and gums, boils, carbuncles, warts, blisters, ulcers, abnormal growths, scar tissue, and more” ).
Like Naaman, the commander of the army of the king of Syria at the time of Elijah, being asked to simply bathe 7 times in the River Jordan to cure his leprosy, so a simple “applying the fig poultice to the ulcer” cures Hezekiah sufficiently to prevent death and give him an extra 15 years of life!
God blessed this simple natural remedy,
and it healed King Hezekiah completely!

Our first message for today is that
the solution to our sufferings, our uncontrollable anger, hatred,
and refusal to forgive and be reconciled,
is as simple as applying a fig poultice.

But what does that mean in the Isaiah context?

An example is from Amy Harvison ( ). When her friend, Karla, applied this text from Isaiah to her own situation of suffering, Amy writes: “Suffering comes, she cries out, Father speaks mercy and grace to her heart, she praises, then He provides the poultice. Then she finds healing. The circumstance and struggle may not change or go away, but the healing comes when she exalts Him in her praise and finds herself trusting in His faithfulness and sovereignty and love. It is the same thing Father has been teaching her for a while - simply praise Him. When she lifts her hands to praise and turns her face toward Him, His healing comes. Relief comes. Joy comes. Perspective comes. Trust comes. And the struggles don't seem so big - they are simple boils that can be healed with a fig poultice.”
What a revelation! What wisdom!

Applying the message to us today,
we could claim that “a fig poultice” is tantamount to
the Word of God!
Apply that Word, LIVE that Word, and there is healing:
* to those who always judge others to condemn them,
like the Pharisees in the Gospel
– apply a fig poultice!
Apply God’s “judgement”: God judges to rescue them.
No wonder Hezekiah is cured, plus given 15 more years to live!
We must go out to rescue others!
Give them more time to “live.”
* to those who are judged to the point of condemnation
– apply a fig poultice of God’s Word, and begin again to live
as God wants you to live.
* to those of you who cant forgive and refuse to reconcile
– find justice by applying the fig poultice to your soul!
* to those of you needing forgiveness and receive none
– experience reconciliation by applying the fig poultice
to your soul!

The key for this appeal lies in today’s Gospel (Mt 12:1-8):
“What I want is mercy not sacrifice….”

But let’s first focus on a second message from today’s Readings. Below is a stained-glass window in Canterbury Cathedral depicting a sick Hezekiah, with Isaiah’s left hand pointing to a sundial, originally constructed by Hezekiah’s father, Ahaz, together with a red ball for the sun, above the sundial.

Hezekiah asks for a sign that proves Isaiah’s message is true.
Isaiah replies:
“Look, I shall make the shadow cast by the declining sun
go back ten steps on the steps of Ahaz.”
And “the sun went back the ten steps by which it had declined.”

Biblical scholars interpret “the steps of Ahaz” as a sundial, used to measure time in the ancient world, and hence “10 steps” means “10 degrees” or an hour and a half. Some have thought that there was a flight of steps leading to the royal palace of Ahaz, the father of Hezekiah, on the top of which was placed an obelisk, and that the steps served to measure the shadow of the sun which was thrown upon them. The Hebrew for "degrees" in the original, however, is MA`ALOTH, which can mean "steps", as in a staircase. Did the sun move? Did the earth move relative to the sun? Did a cloud refract the rays of the sun and give the impression that the sun “went back ten steps”? What of the influence at the time of a summer solstice on the latitude of Jerusalem (
Whatever explanation is accepted, it was one of many miraculous signs from God, through a prophet, to turn the people back to God and to strengthen their faith …

Jesus’ “sundial” in the Gospel (Mt 12:1-8) “goes back” more than “ten steps” in the “declining sun” of the Pharisees’ consciousness!
Twice Jesus refers to the Temple:
at the time of David, when the king and his soldiers
went into the Holy of Holies to eat “sacred bread”
reserved for the priests alone;
and the time of the writing of the Torah, the Law,
when it exempted priests serving in the Temple from sinning
when they broke the Sabbath.
Jesus retorts:
“Now here, I tell you, is something greater than the Temple.”
And furthermore, when it comes to Sabbath laws,
“the Son of Man is master of the Sabbath.”
Jesus points out exactly what the present “sundial” skipped
in the consciousness of His adversaries:
“What I want is mercy not sacrifice….”
Like Hezekiah,
the adversaries of Jesus need a simple remedy of “a fig poultice”
to heal their hardened hearts.

The second message for today involves our own “sundial.”
Ahaz’s sundial, so significant for Hezekiah in the First Reading,
invites us to go back in time:
are we guilty of the same sin of the Pharisees
in the Gospel Reading?
If we want healing in our own lives,
and a chance to start living again like Hezekiah extra 15 years,
we need the sundial of time to remind us
what God wants first:
“What I want is mercy not sacrifice….”
Oh we sacrifice: we go to church, we give up time for prayer
and duties, and we “put ourselves out” for God and God’s Church.
Is it lip-service,
when basically what God really wants is “mercy”?
I might “go to Church” often,
but I could be guilty of ignoring my immediate neighbour
who needs mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation.
This Word of God today is
God making the sun “go back ten steps”
so you can start again to LIVE His Word
and bring “mercy not sacrifice” into a situation.

May the Readings of today
about “a fig poultice, a sundial, and the Temple”
inspire us all to LIVE God’s Word
and begin again to be healed by healing others.

Be blessed.


figs: ;
Canterbury Cathedral stained-glass window: ]