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THE BIBLE STORY OF THE SACRIFICE OF ABRAHAM, OUR FATHER IN FAITH (GENESIS 22:1-18)

The faith and obedience of Abraham is proved in his readiness to sacrifice his [only, long-longed for] son Isaac. He is stayed from the act by an angel.

After these things, God tempted [1] Abraham, and said to him: Abraham, Abraham. And he answered: Here I am.

He said to him: Take thy only begotten son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and go into the land of vision: and there thou shalt offer him for an holocaust upon one of the mountains which I will shew thee.

So Abraham rising up in the night, saddled his ass: and took with him two young men, and Isaac his son: and when he had cut wood for the holocaust he went his way to the place which God had commanded him.

And on the third day, lifting up his eyes, he saw the place afar off.

And he said to the young men: Stay you here with the ass: I and the boy will go with speed as far as yonder, and after we have worshipped, will return to you.

And he took the wood for the holocaust, and laid it upon Isaac his son: and he himself carried in his hands fire and a sword. And as they two went on together;

Isaac said to his father: My father. And he answered: What wilt thou, son?

Behold, saith he, fire and wood: where is the victim for the holocaust?

And Abraham said: God will provide himself a victim for an holocaust, my son. So they went on together.

And they came to the place which God had shewn him, where he built an altar, and laid the wood in order upon it: and when he had bound Isaac his son, he laid him on the altar upon the pile of wood.

And he put forth his hand and took the sword, to sacrifice his son.

And behold an angel of the Lord from heaven called to him, saying: Abraham, Abraham. And he answered: Here I am.

And he said to him: Lay not thy hand upon the boy, neither do thou any thing to him: now I know that thou fearest God, and hast not spared thy only begotten son for my sake.

Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw behind his back a ram amongst the briers sticking fast by the horns, which he took and offered for a holocaust instead of his son.

And he called the name of that place, The Lord seeth. Whereupon even to this day it is said: In the mountain the Lord will see.

And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, saying:

By my own self have I sworn, saith the Lord: because thou hast done this thing, and hast not spared thy only begotten son for my sake:

I will bless thee, and I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand that is by the sea shore: thy seed shall possess the gates of their enemies.

And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast obeyed my voice.

[1] Chap. 22. Ver. 1. “God tempted”, &c. God “tempteth no man to evil”, James 1.13; but by trial and experiment maketh known to the world, and to ourselves, what we are, as here by this trial the singular faith and obedience of Abraham was made manifest.

 

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TODAY’S BIBLE READING (GALATIANS 4:22-24, 26-27, 31-5:1)

(Week 28 of the year: Monday)

WE ARE THE CHILDREN, NOT OF THE SLAVE-GIRL, BUT OF THE FREE-BORN WIFE.

For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, and the other by a free woman.

But he who was of the bondwoman, was born according to the flesh: but he of the free woman, was by promise.

Which things are said by an allegory. For these are the two testaments. The one from mount Sina, engendering unto bondage; which is Agar.

But that Jerusalem, which is above, is free: which is our mother.

For it is written: Rejoice, thou barren, that bearest not: break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for many are the children of the desolate, more than of her that hath a husband.

So then, brethren, we are not the children of the bondwoman, but of the free: by the freedom wherewith Christ has made us free.

Stand fast, and be not held again under the yoke of bondage.

V. The word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.

 
 

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TODAY’S BIBLE READING (GALATIANS 3:22-29)

(Week 27 of the year: Saturday)

YOU ARE ALL SONS OF GOD THROUGH FAITH.

But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise, by the faith of Jesus Christ, might be given to them that believe.

But before the faith came, we were kept under the law shut up, unto that faith which was to be revealed.

Wherefore the law was our pedagogue in Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

But after the faith is come, we are no longer under a pedagogue.

For you are all the children of God by faith, in Christ Jesus.

For as many of you have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ.

There is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

And if you be Christ’s, then are you the seed of Abraham, heirs according to the promise.

V. The word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.

 
 

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TODAY’S BIBLE READING (GALATIANS 3:7-14)

(Week 27 of the year: Friday)

THOSE WHO RELY ON FAITH RECEIVE THE SAME BLESSING AS ABRAHAM, THE MAN OF FAITH.

Know ye therefore, that they who are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.

And the scripture, foreseeing, that God justifieth the Gentiles by faith, told unto Abraham before: In thee shall all nations be blessed.

Therefore they that are of faith, shall be blessed with faithful Abraham.

For as many as are of the works of the law, are under a curse. For it is written: Cursed is every one, that abideth not in all things, which are written in the book of the law to do them.

But that in the law no man is justified with God, it is manifest: because the just man liveth by faith.

But the law is not of faith: but, He that doth those things, shall live in them.

Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written: Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:

That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Christ Jesus: that we may receive the promise of the Spirit by faith.

V. The word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.

 
 

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THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD

THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MANKIND AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE: THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD

“A BAND OF FAITHFUL FOLLOWERS

For some time Jesus had been instructing His Apostles and disciples, seeking to lead them to a proper understanding of His own identity and of the nature of His mission and kingdom. Although His compassionate heart had induced Him to heal the sick when the occasion presented itself, still for the most part He had been living in Galilee as quietly as possible. Knowing already that His people, as a whole, were to reject Him, He had been content to spend His chief effort in the task of building up for Himself a band of faithful followers.

‘NO ONE DOES A THING IN SECRET IF HE WANTS TO BE PUBLICLY KNOWN’

But the Feast of Tabernacles was approaching and many pious Jews were going to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. Some of the relatives of Jesus – cousins perhaps – urged him to go to Jerusalem. Having seen or heard of His miracles, they were in some doubt about His true identity. Perhaps He was the Messias, they reasoned, but if He were, He should go up to Jerusalem, the very centre of Judaism, and there make some magnificent display of His power and so draw men to Himself.

‘Leave here,’ they said to Him, ‘and go into Judea that Thy disciples also may see the works that Thou dost; for no one does a thing in secret if he wants to be publicly known. If thou dost these things, manifest thyself to the world.’ (John 7:3-4)

This reasoned request shows that even some of the relatives of Jesus had no true understanding of His mission in this world. They were somewhat impressed by the magnificence of His powers, but they failed to grasp the meaning of His doctrine of repentance and of the spiritual nature of His kingdom.

JESUS REFUSED TO CATER TO THIS MISUNDERSTANDING OF HIS ROLE IN HUMAN HISTORY

Jesus refused to cater to this misunderstanding of His role in human history.

‘My time has not yet come,’ He replied to His relatives, ‘but your time is always at hand. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I bear witness concerning it, that its works are evil. As for you, go up to the feast, but I do not go up to this feast, for my time is not yet fulfilled’ (John 7:6-8).

He did not mean that He would not go to Jerusalem for the feast. He meant that He would not go up to Jerusalem in the manner requested by them. He would not go up to Jerusalem to score a political triumph or start a political movement to make the Jews a great nation politically. But He did go to Jerusalem privately, in His own way, to proclaim once again His message of deliverance from sin.

HIS MESSAGE OF DELIVERANCE FROM SIN

His appearance at the feast did not go unnoticed. Opinion about Him was divided. Some thought Him a good man, but others considered Him a seducer of the people. It was still remembered that on His last visit to Jerusalem He had been attacked by the leaders of the people because He had healed a man on the Sabbath day. For this reason – because He seemed to them to be advocating the destruction of the Law of Moses – the leaders had determined to have Him put to death.

THE LEADERS HAD DETERMINED TO HAVE HIM PUT TO DEATH

One day, about the middle of the feast, Jesus went up into the Temple to teach. In His discussion with the crowd He brought up again this old grievance which the leaders held against Him. The Law of Moses, He reminded them, required them to circumcise a man even on the Sabbath. Why then did they object when He cured a man on the Sabbath? They should judge, not by appearances but by truth.

JUDGE NOT BY APPEARANCES BUT BY TRUTH

The crowd still remained divided in its opinion of Jesus. Some still regarded Him as a seducer; others thought He might be the Christ, the Messias. Word of His teaching reached the Pharisees and they sent attendants to seize Him.

‘RIVERS OF LIVING WATER’

On the last day of the feast Jesus, addressing the crowd, said, ‘If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture says, ‘From within him there shall flow rivers of living water'” (John 7:37-38).

These words also, which Jesus spoke of the coming of the Holy Spirit into the world, caused the people to dispute with one another about His identity. The turmoil was so great and the uncertainty so extreme that the attendants sent by the Pharisees dared not arrest Jesus.

‘I AM THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD’

In spite of the opposition which His teaching aroused, Jesus continued to make His claim.

‘I am the light of the world,’ He said, “He who follows me does not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12).

The Pharisees objected that His claim was unsubstantiated. He offered nothing but His own word about Himself. Jesus replied that His witness to Himself was acceptable because He knew the truth, He knew from whence He came and whither He would go. He meant that He knew that He had come forth from God the Father and would return to God the Father. And so He said to them that His word was not alone, but was reinforced by the word of His Father in Heaven. To which word of His Father does He refer? To His Father’s word at His baptism or transfiguration? To the prophetic words spoken through the Father’s inspiration and found in the Sacred Scriptures of the Chosen People? To the miracles which He Himself worked through the power of His Father? Jesus does not say, but He has already pointed to these indications of His Father’s testimony to Himself.

‘YOU KNOW NEITHER ME NOR MY FATHER’

The Pharisees refused to accept the staggering truth that Jesus was indeed the Son of God and therefore equal to God. ‘Where is thy father?’ they asked, meaning no doubt, where is Thy human father. Jesus answered, ‘You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would then know my Father also’ (Kohn 8:19).

In spite of the opposition of the Pharisees Jesus continued to make His claim to be the Son of God, the equal of God in divinity. ‘I go,’ He said to them, meaning that He would return to His Father in Heaven, ‘and you will seek me, and in your sin you will die. Where I go you cannot come’ (John 8:21).

The Jews misunderstood Him – or at least pretended to misunderstand Him – and asked did he mean to commit suicide. Jesus told them that they did not understand Him because they were blinded by their sins and their worldliness. ‘You are from below,’ He said, ‘I am from above. You are of this world, I am not of this world. Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am he, you will die in your sins’ (John 8:23-24).

‘I AM HE’

Now in the Aramaic tongue which Jesus was speaking, the words ‘I am he’ would mean to the Jews that Jesus was claiming to be God. Since He appeared to be a man this claim seemed to many of them to be blasphemous. They asked Him, ‘Who art thou?’ Jesus was discouraged by their lack of belief, but He condescended to reiterate His claim.

‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that of myself I do nothing; but even as the Father has taught me, I speak these things. And he who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, because I do always the things that are pleasing to him’ (John 8:28-29).

‘THE TRUTH SHALL MAKE YOU FREE’

Some of the crowd believed in Him and to them He said, ‘If you abide in my word, you shall be my disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’ (John 8:31-32).

To abide in the word of Jesus is not simply to believe in His divinity; it is also to keep His word, that is, to live by the message of repentance and deliverance which Jesus brings to all men, to live according to the light and the life which Jesus gives to men. To live by the light and the life which Jesus gives is to be freed from sin, and thus, through living the truth, to be free.

FREEDOM THROUGH LIVING THE TRUTH

But some of those listening refused to accept the truth of Jesus and so they objected that they were children of Abraham and, as such, they were not slaves to anyone, that is, they worshipped the one true God and were not enslaved to any false gods.

Jesus pointed out to them that the freedom of which He spoke was freedom from sin.

‘Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. But the slave does not abide in the house forever; the son abides there forever. If therefore the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are the children of Abraham; but you seek to kill me because my word takes no hold among you. I speak what I have seen with the Father; and you do what you have seen with your father’ (John 8:34-38).

THE JEWS MUST ACCEPT JESUS, THE SON OF GOD, AS THEIR SALVATION

The freedom of which Jesus speaks is freedom from sin. As children of Abraham, and Jesus recognises that the Jews are physically children of Abraham – perhaps even spiritually his children because they believe in the God of Abraham and reject false gods – and hence they ought to be free. But they are slaves to sin, and hence not really free. Because they are sinners they refuse to accept Jesus as the Son of God. But only the Son of God, Who resides in the bosom of God forever, can give true freedom from sin. To be truly free from sin the Jews must accept Jesus, the Son of God, as their salvation. By refusing to accept Him they remain slaves to sin and their true father is not Abraham but the devil.

CHILDREN OF ABRAHAM?

The Jews reply that they have but one father, God. Jesus replies that they do not understand His words because they are children of the devil, who was a liar from the beginning. If God were really the Father of these unbelieving Jews – that is, if they really acknowledged God as their Father, if they really sought the holiness of God – then they would love Jesus and they would accept Him and His word. But because they are sinners and so slaves to the devil, the father of lies, they will not accept the truth which Jesus brings to them. Jesus then appeals to His own holiness, His own sinlessness, as a testimony of the truth of which He speaks.

‘Which of you can convict me of sin? If I speak the truth, why do you not believe me?’ Then He gives the reason for their unbelief: ‘He who is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear is that you are not of God’ (John 8:46-47).

AT THIS MOMENT JESUS IS OFFERING TO ALL MEN LIGHT AND LIFE AND FREEDOM FROM SIN

This discussion of Jesus with the Jews is of vital importance, not only to His immediate hearers but to all men. At this moment Jesus is offering to all men light and life and freedom from sin. In a word, He is offering men eternal salvation. This salvation can be grasped by accepting Jesus as the Messias, nay, even more than the Messias, as the very Son of God the Father, equal to God, in fact, God Himself. To those who accept Jesus as the Son of God, as God Himself, there will be given light and life and freedom from sin; they will have the power to abide in the word of Jesus, to live by the light and life which He will give them. But to accept Him they must be of God, that is, they must be men of good will, men ready to give up sin, to live as children, not of the devil but of God. Salvation is freely offered to men by Jesus, but it must be accepted freely, in love.

OF VITAL IMPORTANCE

Those who were unwilling to acccept Jesus retorted that He was a Samaritan and possessed by a devil. Calmly Jesus rejected their accusation: ‘I have not a devil, but I honour my Father, and you dishonour me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is one who seeks and who judges. Amen, amen, I say to you, if anyone keep my word, he will never see death’ (John 8:49-50).

ABRAHAM AND THE GREAT PROPHETS ARE DEAD – HOW THEN CAN JESUS GIVE ETERNAL LIFE?

Unwilling to see that Jesus spoke of eternal spiritual life, the unbelievers in the audience took His words in a purely material sense. Abraham and the great prophets are dead, they remarked. If this great men of God died, how can Jesus give eternal life. Whom does He make Himself? Jesus answered:

‘If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say that he is your God. And you do not know him, but I know him. And if I say that I do not know him, I shall be like you, a liar. But I know him, and I keep his word. Abraham your father rejoiced that he was to see my day. He saw it and was glad.’ The Jews therefore said to Him, ‘Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I am’ (John 8:54-58).

In the face of their unbelief and, almost, of their derision Jesus quietly claims to be God, for He claims to be eternal; before Abraham existed, Jesus was and is, for He is God. In prophetic vision Abraham saw that Jesus was to come to fulfil God’s promises and so he rejoiced.

The people understood the nature of the claim of Jesus. They saw that He was claiming to be God. Unable because of the worldliness and sinfulness of their hearts to accept Him as their God, they chose to regard Him as a blasphemer, and so they took up stones to stone Him to death for the sin of blasphemy. But Jesus his Himself from them and left the Temple.

“I BELIEVE, LORD”

Some time after this Jesus cured a man who had been blind from birth. When the news of this cure reached the Pharisees they investigated the fact thoroughly. They examined the man who had been cured; they questioned his parents; they re-examined the man himself. But they could not disprove the story. They were angry because Jesus had worked this miracle also on the Sabbath day. After their failure to shake the story of the cured man, they turned him out as a sinner.

Later Jesus met him again and said to him, ‘Dost thou believe in the Son of God?’ He answered and said, ‘Who is he, Lord, that I may believe in him?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Thou hast both seen him, and he it is who speaks with thee.’ And he said, ‘I believe, Lord.’ And falling down, he worshipped him (John 9:35-38). (Martin J. Healy, to be continued)

 

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TODAY’S BIBLE READING (1 KINGS 18:41-46)

(Previous reading of Week 10 – 1 Kings 18:20-39)

MAY THIS PEOPLE KNOW THAT YOU, LORD, ARE GOD AND ARE WINNING BACK THEIR HEARTS.

Ahab called all Israel together and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. Elijah stepped out in front of all the people. “How long” he said “do you mean to hobble first on one leg then on the other? If the Lord is God, follow him; if Baal, follow him.” But the people never said a word. Elijah then said to them, “I, I alone, am left as a prophet of the Lord, while the prophets of Baal are four hundred and fifty. Let two bulls be given us; let them choose one for themselves, dismember it and lay it on the wood, but not set fire to it. I in my turn will prepare the other bull, but not set fire to it. You must call on the name of your god, and I shall call on the name of mine; the god who answers with fire, is God indeed.” The people all answered, “Agreed!” Elijah then said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one bull and begin, for there are more of you. Call on the name of your god but light no fire.” They took the bull and prepared it, and from morning to midday they called on the name of Baal. “O Baal, answer us!” they cried, but there was no voice, no answer, as they performed their hobbling dance round the altar they had made. Midday came, and Elijah mocked them. “Call louder,” he said “for he is a god: he is preoccupied or he is busy, or he has gone on a journey; perhaps he is asleep and will wake up.” So they shouted louder and gashed themselves, as their custom was, with swords and spears until the blood flowed down them. Midday passed, and they ranted on until the time the offering is presented; but there was no voice, no answer, no attention given to them.

Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come closer to me,” and all the people came closer to him. He repaired the altar of the Lord which had been broken down. Elijah took twelve stones, corresponding to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, “Israel shall be your name,” and built an altar in the name of the Lord. Round the altar he dug a trench of a size to hold two measures of seed. He then arranged the wood, dismembered the bull, and laid it on the wood. Then he said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the holocaust and on the wood”; this they did. He said, “Do it a second time”; they did it a second time. He said, “Do it a third time”; they did it a third time. The water flowed round the altar and the trench itself was full of water. At the time when the offering was presented, Elijah the prophet stepped forward. “Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel,” he said “let them know today that you are Lord in Israel, and that I am your servant, that I have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, Lord, are God and are winning back their hearts.”

Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the holocaust and wood and licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this they fell on their faces. “The Lord is God,” they cried, “the Lord is God.”

1 Kings 18:41-46

ELIJAH PRAYED AND THE SKY GAVE RAIN.

Elijah said to Ahab, “Go back, eat and drink; for I hear the sound of rain.” While Ahab went back to eat and drink, Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel and bowed down to the earth, putting his face between his knees. “Now go up,” he told his servant “and look out to the sea.” He went up and looked. “There is nothing at all” he said. “Go back seven times” Elijah said. The seventh time, the servant said, “Now there is a cloud, small as a man’s hand, rising from the sea.” Elijah said, “Go and say to Ahab, ‘Harness the chariot and go down before the rain stops you.'” And with that the sky grew dark with cloud and storm, and rain fell in torrents. Ahab mounted his chariot and made for Jezreel. The hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and tucking up his cloak he ran in front of Ahab as far as the outskirts of Jezreel.

V. The word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.

 

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THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MANKIND AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE – “AT LAST THEY KNEW THE MYSTERY OF JESUS”

“‘WITH GREAT JOY’

After the Ascension of Jesus to His Father the Apostles returned to Jerusalem. St Luke tells us that they returned ‘with great joy. And they were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God’ (Luke 24:52-53).

WHY DID THE APOSTLES REJOICE – AFTER ALL, THEY HAD LOST JESUS’ PHYSICAL PRESENCE?

At first sight it seems strange that they should have rejoiced at the departure of Jesus, their Lord and Master, from this world. By His going they had lost the physical presence of their Friend, their Master, indeed, their God. But, they rejoiced, they praised and blessed God. What explains their joy, their praise of God? It must be – what the Gospel story intimates – that in the interval between the Resurrection and the Ascension of Jesus they learned, through the instruction of Jesus Himself, the real meaning of Jesus, the significance of His life, His death, His Resurrection and His Ascension. This new knowledge was so important, so filled with blessing for them and for the world that, in spite of their sadness at the departure of Jesus Himself, they rejoiced and, in turn, praised the God they had known in Him. At last they knew the mystery of Jesus, and they believed in Him, hoped in Him and loved Him. They would spend their lives giving to the world this belief, this hope and this love.

TRANSFORMING THE LIVES OF MEN

What was this new understanding of Jesus which so filled them with joy and with the desire to communicate this joy to the whole world? Since the time of the Apostles innumerable books have been written to explain the mystery which is Jesus. Here we must be content to give the simplest outline of the belief of the Apostles, a belief which was to change the face of the earth, to transform the lives of men.

JESUS IS THE SALVATION WHICH GOD HAD PROMISED TO MANKIND

First of all, we must remember that the Apostles were Jews, members of God’s Chosen People. They saw Jesus against the background of the sacred history of their own people. Thus they saw in Jesus the fulfilment of God’s promises to Israel and, through Israel, to the whole world. In Jesus they saw the salvation which God had promised to mankind.

THE FIRST FRUIT

They knew that Adam, the forefather of all men, had by his sin brought death and disorder to mankind. They remembered that it was the malice of the devil which had led to the sin of Adam. God had promised that sometime the son, the child of woman, would triumph over the devil and sin. In the Resurrection of Jesus they saw the first fruit of that triumph. By the power of God Jesus had risen from death to eternal life with the Father in heaven.

HE WHOM THE NATIONS SHALL OBEY

They knew, too, that when mankind had grown to some maturity in the disordered world which sin had created, when the great empires of Babylonia and Egypt had flourished, bringing civilisation and human culture to the world, then God had chosen Abraham to be the father of God’s Chosen People. He had promised great blessings to Abraham and, through Abraham, to all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:1-3).

This blessing has descended from Abraham to Isaac, from Isaac to Jacob. And Jacob had passed it on to Juda [Judah]. Jacob had promised that the rule over the Chosen People would belong to Juda until ‘he comes to whom it (the sceptre) belongs and to whom the nations shall obey’ (Genesis 49:10).

From the house of Juda then was to come the great ruler of the people of God, a ruler whom even the nations of the world would obey. The prophet Balaam had also foretold that a ‘star’ would rise from Jacob, a sceptre from Israel (Numbers 24:17).

THE LORD ‘BEGOTTEN’ BY GOD

In the tribe of Juda the blessing was given to King David. The prophet Nathan promised to David, ‘Your house and your kingship will exist forever before me; your throne will remain firm forever’ (2 Samuel 7:16).

In the Psalms David himself described the ‘Anointed One,’ the Christ Whom the Chosen People awaited. In Psalms David portrayed the kings and peoples of the earth conspiring against God and His Anointed. But God says to His Anointed, ‘You are my son, today I have begotten you. Petition me and I will give you the nations as an inheritance, the ends of the earth as your possession’ (Psalm 2:7-8).

In Psalm 110 David spoke of a ‘Lord’ Who sits at the right hand of God, Whom God sends forth from Sion to ‘rule in the midst of your enemies.’ This ‘Lord’ is ‘begotten’ by God, and a ‘priest forever, according to the order of Melchisedech.’

MORE PROPHECIES

To Achaz, one of the descendants of David, God had said, ‘Behold, the virgin will conceive and bear a son, and she will call his name Emmanuel’ (Isaias [Isaiah] 7:14). At the time when the armies of Assyria were advancing on Jerusalem Isaias had foretold that this child would be born to the Chosen People. ‘Sovereignty’ would rest upon his shoulders; he would be called ‘Wondrous-Counsellor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace.’ He would sit upon the throne of David and rule his kingdom ‘through righteousness and justice’ (Isaias 9:1-6).

A DESCENDANT OF JESSE

Again Isaias had described the Anointed One of God as a descendant of Jesse, the father of David: ‘A twig will come forth from the stump of Jesse, from his roots a sprig will sprout. The spirit of Jahweh will rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the spirit of counsel and fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Jahweh’ (Isaias 11:1-2). The descendant of Jesse will rule with justice and righteousness.

Both Isaias and Micheas [Micah] had foretold that in the time of the Anointed One of God all the nations of the earth would enter the Kingdom of God. The word of God would go out from Jerusalem to all the world (Isaias 2:2-4; Micheas [Micah] 4:1-3).

Micheas had proclaimed that the promised king would be born at Bethlehem: ‘from you will he come forth to me who will reign over Israel’ (Micheas [Micah] 5:1).

THEY HAD BEEN EXPECTING A POLITICAL MESSIAH

The Apostles, like their contemporary fellow-countrymen, knew that God had promised to bring blessings to them and, through them, to the rest of the world. They knew that the channel of these blessings had been narrowed down by God from Abraham through Isaac, Jacob, Juda and David to some one individual, a descendant of David, who would extend the Kingdom of God to the whole world. They knew that this promised king, this Anointed One of God, would be born of a virgin at Bethlehem.

Thus when they met Jesus and followed Him they were ready to accept Him as the Messias, the Anointed One of God. His doctrines and His miracles enabled them to see in Him the Promised One for Whom they had been waiting.

But, like their countrymen, they had been expecting a royal Messias who would lead them to worldly glory. Hence, when they saw Him refusing to become a temporal king, when they saw Him arrested, tried and put to death like a common criminal, they were bewildered and confused and they lost heart.

EVERYTHING FALLS INTO PLACE

The Resurrection of Jesus, however, and the instructions which He gave them during the forty days He remained with them on earth opened their eyes to the unperceived riches of their own scriptures. After His Resurrection Jesus showed them that they had attended only to the glorious aspects of the Messias they expected. They had ignored the more difficult prophecies about the sufferings and death of the Messias. Jesus recalled to them the words of Isaias about the ‘Servant of Jahweh,’ Who as the Messias would bring blessings to all men, but who would suffer and die. Far from being a man the people might admire, he would be despised. He would take upon Himself the sins of men: He would be bruised and pierced for the sins of men so that men might be saved. He would be led to death like a lamb to the slaughter.

He recalled to them the words of Zacharias [Zechariah]: ‘Behold thy King will come to thee, the just and the saviour. He is poor and riding upon an ass and upon a colt, the foal of an ass’ (Zacharias [Zechariah] 9:9).

HE WOULD RULE NOT AN EARTHLY KINGDOM BUT THE HEARTS OF MEN

Faced with the risen Jesus, perceiving in His very aliveness the triumph of man over sin and death, the Apostles under His instruction finally saw the true meaning of their own scriptures, the true meaning of God’s promises. The Messias, the Christ, would be a king indeed, but a king in the world of the spirit of man. He would rule, not an earthly kingdom but the hearts of men. He would gain His kingdom, not by military or political conquest but by the sacrifice of Himself on the cross for the salvation of mankind. His triumph would be achieved through humiliation and death. His triumph would not be over the kingdoms of the earth, but over the devil, sin and death. The evils brought into the world by the disobedience of Adam – sin, disease and death, the rule of the devil over the souls of men – these evils would be overcome by the obedience of the Anointed One of God. By his sin Adam had preferred his own advantage to God and so had lost the Kingdom of God for himself and for all his children. By His obedience, and obedience unto death, Jesus had preferred God to His own advantage, to His own human life, and so He had won back for all men the kingdom of God.

The Apostles knew that the sacrifice of Jesus was successful, effective, for they saw with their own eyes that God had given life back to Jesus, had made Him immortal in the flesh and glorious. Thus they were able to reconcile the two apparently contradictory descriptions of the Messias given in the scriptures of their people. The Messias would be a glorious, triumphant king; He would also be a servant, despised and humiliated, put to death by His enemies. In Jesus, in the gloriously risen Jesus, the Apostles saw these contradictions merge with one another, vanish. And the picture of the Messias which emerged from this merging of contradictories was even more glorious than had been their former dreams of worldly glory.

MORE GLORIOUS THAN THEIR DREAMS OF WORLDLY GLORY

For Jesus, Whom they recognised clearly as the Messias, the Christ, was not only man, He was God Himself, the Son of God. In Him they saw God Himself. He had come into this world not to establish simply an earthly kingdom filled with earthly peace and blessing. He had come to give men the far greater blessing of eternal life, the blessing of sharing in the life of God Himself, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Through Him and in Him and with Him they would conquer sin and death and the devil. By His grace they would rise with Him to the Father, to rule gloriously in heaven.

THE MYSTERY OF HUMAN EXISTENCE IS SOLVED

In the mysterious love and providence of God they had been chosen to bring this great blessing of eternal life to the rest of men. They had been chosen to assist the Son of God to establish the Kingdom of God among men. It is no wonder, then, that they returned from witnessing the Ascension of Jesus with hearts filled with joy and thankfulness to God. For them the mystery of human existence had been solved. Man had been bound over to death and the devil through sin. In Jesus sin had been overcome, and with sin death and the devil had been conquered. They rejoiced as men truly reborn, and born now not just to a passing existence here on earth but born to eternal life.

RAISED ABOVE EARTH-BOUND CYCLES

Under the tutelage of the risen Jesus they now saw that all human history up to that time was but a preparation for the coming of Jesus and His work of redemption. Jesus was the centre of all history, the centre which gave meaning to the growing circle of human history.

Without Jesus human life on earth was doomed to the ever-recurring cycles of human history, to repetitive beginnings, flowerings and decay of human civilisations and cultures.

But with Jesus human life could be raised above these earth-bound cycles to the eternal Now of God. God Himself had descended into the world of man, became a man to raise men to God. Without Jesus all men had been doomed after this present life to the eternal boredom, frustration and pain which is hell. Through Jesus it became possible for all men to rise to the perfect satisfaction of all human desires which is life with God in heaven.

WHY DOES THE BIBLE NEED THE OLD TESTAMENT AT ALL?

Because all human history up to that time was but a preparation for the coming of Jesus it was only fitting that previous persons and events foreshadow or prefigure Jesus Himself. Thus the Apostles were able to see even Adam, the first man, as a figure of Jesus. As the first man it was the function of Adam to bind men to God by his obedience. Adam, it is true, failed. But Jesus, the Christ, the First Man of the New Covenant, succeeded.

Abel offered to God an acceptable sacrifice. So did Jesus, in fact, the only sacrifice perfectly acceptable to God and effective of human salvation.

Melchisedech, whose name means ‘king of justice,’ the king of Salem (which means ‘peace’), offered to God a sacrifice of bread and wine. Jesus offered to God at the Last Supper bread and wine which He changed into His own Body and Blood. This was the clean oblation of which the prophet Malachias [Malachi] spoke, the sacrifice which would be offered to God all over the world, from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof. Melchisedech appears in history with no father or mother, no human genealogy. Jesus has no human father; He was born of a virgin. As God He has no mother; for Mary was only the Mother of God in His human nature.

Isaac carried the wood to Mount Moriah, where at the command of God he was to be sacrificed. Jesus, at the command of God, His Father, carried the wood of the cross to Calvary, where He was to be sacrificed for the sins of men.

JESUS IS THE CENTRE OF HISTORY

This same correspondence between men and events of the Old Testament with Jesus might be expressed in another way by saying that Jesus summed up or recapitulated in Himself the history of mankind in its relations with God. Of course in Jesus this recapitulation is realised in a perfect way. In Jesus there is no failure to respond to God’s will and in Jesus there is found the fullness of God’s grace, in fact, the very fullness of the Godhead Himself.

ADAM REPRESENTED THE WHOLE HUMAN RACE

In the eyes of God Adam represented the whole human race. His obedience would have brought inconceivable blessings to all men. In God’s eyes Jesus represented the whole human race. His obedience has brought great blessings to all men. The Chosen People were in God’s eyes as His ‘son,’ a son through whom the whole world would be blessed. Jesus is Himself the very Son of God, the Son through Whom mankind is really and fully blessed. The Chosen People, God’s ‘son,’ were exiled in Egypt before they entered for good the Promised Land. Jesus, the Son of God, was exiled in Egypt before He returned to the Promised Land to carry out His redemptive work. The Chosen People, God’s ‘son,’ were saved from destruction in Egypt by the shedding of the blood of a lamb. Jesus is Himself the lamb whose blood washes the world from sin. In the annual Passover celebration the Chosen People were forbidden to break any bones of the lamb through whose blood they were saved. On the Cross at Calvary God saw to it that the bones of Jesus, the true Lamb of God, were not broken. Thus also the realities of the Old Testament prefigure Jesus, and the life and deeds of Jesus sum up the realities of the Old Testament and give them new dimension, new depths of reality; for the Old Testament is but a shadow of Jesus, Jesus Himself is the substance of God’s plans for the salvation of mankind.

All these things the Apostles came to see clearly after the Resurrection of Jesus, either through the tutelage of Jesus Himself before His Ascension or through the light of the Holy Spirit which they received on the day of Pentecost.

THEY SAW THEIR ROLE IN THE PLAN OF GOD

More than this, they saw finally their own role in the plan of God. They saw that they had been chosen by Jesus to bring the blessing of salvation to all men. They were to be instruments of Jesus in establishing the Kingdom of God among men. From Jesus Himself they had received the commission to make disciples (that is, believers in Jesus) in all nations. These disciples were to be initiated into the Kingdom of God by the reception of the Sacrament of Baptism, that washing with water in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, which would expel sin from their souls and introduce therein the divine life which Jesus had won for them by shedding His blood on the Cross. Once saved from sin by Baptism these disciples were to be guided in their moral lives by the instructions, by the commands of the Apostles. From Jesus the Apostles received this threefold power to teach men the truths of salvation, to give men the graces by which they could achieve salvation and to rule the human conduct of men in order to lead them to eternal life. Among the Apostles themselves, even though all shared in this threefold power, Peter had been chosen by Jesus to be the head of the whole kingdom, of the whole Church. In the Kingdom of God Peter was the absolute head, the supreme ruler.

THE LIGHT ON A MOUNTAIN TOP

The Apostles also knew that while the Kingdom of God would be in this world, it would not be of this world. It would be as observable to men as a light on a mountain top. It would have a structure, an organisation. It would make use of perceptible signs to transmit the life of God to men, the signs of baptism, the laying on of hands for the giving of the Spirit, of the Body and Blood of Jesus, of remission of sins, of the anointing of the sick and the dying, of the laying on of hands for the transmission of the powers entrusted to the Apostles by Jesus, of the elevation of marriage as a sign of the unity of the Church. But, as the last phrase indicates, all these would be external signs of an incomparably greater invisible reality, the union of men with God through union with Jesus, the God-Man. Jesus the Christ is the vine through which the divine life is communicated to those men who would be grafted on Him by baptism. The Kingdom of God on earth would be a union of men with Jesus, a spiritual union whereby Jesus would be the source of divine life for those united to Him, Himself the way by which men reach God, the very Truth the grasping of which would make men free, free of sin and free from the downward drag of sinful human history.

Filled with thoughts such as these the Apostles and the disciples of Jesus, one hundred and twenty in number, waited in Jerusalem for the coming of the Spirit of God Whom Jesus had promised to send them.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959 (Headings in capital letters added afterwards.)

 

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