A shatterer has come up against you. Guard the ramparts; watch the road; gird your loins; collect all your strength.
The shields of his warriors are red; his soldiers are clothed in crimson. The metal on the chariots flashes on the day when he musters them; the chargers prance. Ah! City of bloodshed, utterly deceitful, full of booty, no end to the plunder! The crack of whip and rumble of wheel, galloping horse and bounding chariot! Horsemen charging, flashing sword and glittering spear, piles of dead, heaps of corpses, dead bodies without end, they stumble over the bodies!
I will throw filth at you and treat you with contempt, and make you a spectacle. Then all who see you will shrink from you and say, "Nineveh is devastated; who will bemoan her?" Where shall I seek comforters for you?
It is close, the day of their ruin;
their doom comes at speed.
For the Lord will see his people righted,
he will take pity on his servants.
See now that I, I am He,
and beside me there is no other god.
It is I who deal death and life:
when I have struck it is I who heal.
When I have whetted my flashing sword
I will take up the cause of Right,
I will give my foes as good again,
I will repay those who hate me. (R./)
Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? "For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."
Matthew draws together various sayings of Jesus on true discipleship; while the prophecy of Nahum celebrates the victory of such goodness and fidelity over massive forces of evil.
Nahum, in its three short chapters, equals the best of Hebrew poetry. Its brilliance is evident even in English translation. He celebrates his people's victory over the oppression and cruelty imposed on them by Assyria. We see, hear, feel all at once the terrifying assault on the city walls: the crack of the whip, the rumbling sound of wheels, horses galloping, chariots bounding, cavalry charging, the flame of the sword, the flash of the spear, the many slain, the heaping corpses the endless bodies to stumble on.
After this warlike imagery, we need the sayings of Jesus. Even for us in our sins, death need not mean utter annihilation and oblivion. By obediently following Jesus to death, we will not experience the ultimate death described by the prophet. Ours will be the new, abundant life that Jesus, the Son of God, promised and gives to us. That rich and peaceful existence begins in ourselves and reaches outward. Each act of self-denial can seem restrictive and even destructive of life. Yet if ositive self-denial arises from a religious faith, in response to the will of God and loving concern, if it lays before us the possibilities of the "promised land," if it leads to peace in our homes and relationships, then it opens up for us a whole new field of activity and creative ingenuity.
Jesus often speaks in the language of paradox. One of the most striking paradoxes occurs in today's gospel, when Jesus says, "anyone who wants to save his life will loose it; but anyone who looses his life for my sake will find it." Another way of expressing that is to say, "if we seek ourselves only, we will lose ourselves, whereas if we reach beyond ourselves towards God and towards his Son Jesus we will find our true selves." If we look to ourselves alone and our own needs and preferences, we risk losing ourselves, whereas if we look towards the Lord, which will always mean looking towards others, we will find life in this world and eternal life in the next. Jesus expressed this fundamental paradox of his teaching in another way when he said, "give and it will be given to you." In other words, it is in giving that we receive. Our own experience of life teaches us the truth contained in this paradox. It is when we look beyond ourselves to others, to the Lord present in others, that we experience the Lord's own joy, the Lord's own life, which is a foretaste of the joy and life of the kingdom of heaven.