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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 (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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3rd APRIL, BIBLE READING (EXODUS 32:7-14)

DO NOT BRING THIS DISASTER ON YOUR PEOPLE.

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Go down now, because your people whom you brought out of Egypt have apostasised. They have been quick to leave the way I marked out for them; they have made a themselves a calf of molten metal and have worshipped it and offered it sacrifice. ‘Here is your God, Israel,’ they have cried, ‘who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’” The Lord said to Moses, “I can see how headstrong these people are! Leave me, now, my wrath shall blaze out against them and devour them; of you, however, I will make a great nation.”

But Moses pleaded with the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your wrath blaze against this people of yours whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with arm outstretched and mighty hand? Why let the Egyptians say, ‘Ah, it was in treachery that he brought them out, to do them to death in the mountains and wipe them off the face of the earth’? Leave your burning wrath; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, your servants to whom by your own self you swore and made this promise: I will make your offspring as many as the stars of heaven, and all this land which I promised I will give to your descendants, and it shall be their heritage for ever.” So the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had
threatened.

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

 

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6th MARCH, BIBLE READING (DEUTERONOMY 30:15-20)

SEE, I SET BEFORE YOU TODAY A BLESSING AND A CURSE.

Moses said to the people: “See, today I set before you life and prosperity, death and disaster. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I enjoin on you today, if you love the Lord your God and follow his ways, if you keep his commandments, his laws, his customs, you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to make your own. But if your heart strays, if you refuse to listen, if you let yourself be drawn into other gods and serving them, I tell you today, you will most certainly perish; you will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today: I set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live, in the love of the Lord your God, obeying his voice, clinging to him; for in this your life consists, and on this depends your long stay in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob he would give them.”

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

 

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“OUT OF ORDER” – THE PHARISEES’ VERDICT ON THE BEGINNING OF JESUS CHRIST’S GALILEAN MINISTRY

THE ARREST OF JOHN THE BAPTIST WAS A RELIEF TO THE PHARISEES

“After Herod the tetrarch had imprisoned John the Baptist Jesus departed from Judea and set out for Galilee. St John seems to hint that Jesus left Judea because of the opposition of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were, in their own minds, the official representatives of the holiness of Israel. The preaching of John the Baptist was probably regarded by them as out of order. The arrest and imprisonment of John was a relief to them. But, as they learned, the preaching of Jesus was becoming even more popular and He was attracting even more disciples than had John. In order to avoid their enmity Jesus left Judea.

‘LIVING WATER’

Jesus returned to Galilee through Samaria. At the Samaritan town of Sichar Jesus announced Himself to the Samaritans as the Messias, the Christ. He was sitting at the well of Jacob when a Samaritan woman drew near to fetch water. Jesus asked her for some water to drink. Because of the bitter enmity between the Jews and the Samaritans the woman was surprised at the request. When she inquired how it was that a Jew stooped to ask a Samaritan for water Jesus told her that if she but knew Who He was she would ask Him for water and He would give her living water, a fountain of water springing up into life everlasting. Jesus, of course, referred to the new life of holiness which He could give her.

A NEW LIFE OF HOLINESS

The woman was sceptical. But Jesus overcame her scepticism by revealing to her the secret of her life. This revelation of her secret led her to accept Jesus as a prophet. But loyalty to her own religion and nation made her propose a problem. “Our fathers,” she said, “worshipped on this mountain, but you say that at Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship” (John 4:20).

‘THE HOUR IS COMING, AND IS NOW HERE…’

Jesus replied to her: “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father also seeks such to worship him. God is spirit, and they who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:21-24).

‘THIS IS IN TRUTH THE SAVIOUR OF THE WORLD’

The woman was still not convinced and so she attempted to put the problem aside by appealing to a higher authority. “I know,” she said, “that Messias is coming (who is called Christ), and when he comes he will tell us all things.” But Jesus replied, “I who speak with thee am he” (John 4:25-26). Thus simply did Jesus proclaim Himself to be the Messias, the Anointed One sent by God to bring salvation to the world. The woman believed Him and brought her fellow-townsmen to meet Him. Many of the inhabitants of Sichar accepted Jesus as the Messias, saying, “We know that this is in truth the Saviour of the world” (John 4:42).

THE SALVATION BROUGHT BY JESUS IS WITHIN THE DIVINE PLAN ANNOUNCED TO ABRAHAM, ISAAC AND JACOB

This incident at Jacob’s well is interesting for several reasons. It is the first declaration made by Jesus Himself of His Messiahship. Secondly, it marks the first acceptance of Jesus as the Messias by people who were not members of the Chosen Race. In this way it is a foreshadowing of the acceptance of Jesus by the Gentile world, and so it is a beginning of the fulfilment of the words of Jesus: ‘The hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” Jesus is announcing the extension of salvation to the whole world. Thirdly, it is also possible that the incident foreshadows the ultimate rejection of Jesus by the Jews, for St John tells us that Jesus left Judea to return to Galilee because ‘a prophet receives no honour in his own country’ (John 4:44). Fourthly, Jesus here reveals the basic spiritual nature of the kingdom He has come to establish as the Messias. True worshippers, He says, will worship God in spirit and in truth. The material worship at the Temple of Jerusalem will give way to a more spiritual worship. Lastly, and with an importance of its own, Jesus insists that ‘salvation is from the Jews.’ Even though it is to be extended to all the world and even though it may be rejected by the Chosen People themselves, nevertheless salvation comes to the world from the Jews. In this way the salvation brought by Jesus is found to be within the divine plan announced so long ago to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

THE POWER OF JESUS IS NOT LIMITED BY SPACE OR TIME

After a stay of two days in Samaria Jesus reentered Galilee. At Cana He was approached by a royal official whose son was lying sick at Capernaum. In response to his request Jesus cured his son of fever. Since Jesus was at Cana and the boy was lying ill at Capharnaum, the cure was worked at a distance. The power of Jesus, it is clear, is not bound by the limitations of space or time. As a result of this miraculous cure the official and his whole household came to believe in Jesus.

‘TODAY THIS SCRIPTURE HAS BEEN FULFILLED’

The fame of the miracles of Jesus spread throughout Galilee and Jesus was welcomed to preach in the synagogues throughout the region. In the synagogue of Nazareth, His own home town, Jesus spoke to the people of the prophecy made by Isaias: ‘The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me; to bring good news to the poor he has sent me, to proclaim to the captives release and sight to the blind; to set at liberty the oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of recompense.’ After reading this prophecy to the people Jesus said to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’ (Luke 4:18-19, 21). Since Isaias was referring to the blessings of Messianic times, Jesus was declaring to the people of Nazareth that these blessings were to be found in His own Person.

HE WAS TEACHING AS ONE HAVING AUTHORITY

During this stay in Galilee Jesus seems to have chosen Capharnaum as the centre of His ministry. It is at Capharnaum that the people were astonished at His teaching and recognised that He was teaching as one having authority, and not as the Scribes and Pharisees. It is at Capharnaum that He worked many miracles. There He drove devils from the bodies of many; there He healed the mother-in-law of Simon Peter; there He cured many people afflicted with various diseases. St Matthew tells us that Jesus worked these wonderful cures so that the words of Isaias might be fulfilled: ‘He himself took up our infirmities, and bore the burden of our ills’ (Matthew 8:17).

THE GOOD NEWS OF THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD

The news of His miracles spread abroad throughout Galilee and many people desired to hear Him preach. Jesus satisfied their desires by going in the neighbouring towns and villages to preach the good news of the establishment of the Kingdom of God.

JESUS CALLS THE APOSTLES

It was during one of these preaching journeys that Jesus definitely called four fishermen to be His associates in the work of saving men. At Lake Genesareth He saw Simon and Andrew fishing. They had laboured all night and had caught nothing. Jesus entered their boat and preached to the crowd on the shore. After He had finished He asked Simon to launch into the deep and let down the nets. Simon felt that the effort was useless, but at the words of Jesus he let down the nets. At once they were filled with so great a catch of fish that Simon had to enlist the aid of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, to get all the fish to land. Simon was frightened at the miracle and besought Jesus to leave him, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’ (Luke 5:8). But Jesus instead called Simon, Andrew, James and John to follow Him, saying, ‘Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’ (Matthew 4:19). Immediately they left their boats and followed Jesus. These four fishermen, then, were no longer simply believers in Jesus; they had become, at the call of Jesus Himself, fishers of men, that is, they were to assist Jesus in the work of enrolling men in the Kingdom of God.

THE CLEANSING OF THE LEPER

In some unnamed town in Galilee at the time Jesus worked one of His most marvellous cures. A leper came to Him and said, ‘Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean’ (Luke 5:12). Jesus stretched forth His hand, touched the leper and said, “I will; be thou made clean’ (Luke 5:13). Immediately the leper was cured. Jesus asked him to tell no one of this miracle, but the leper could not contain himself and his joy and wonder. He published abroad the great act of mercy and power extended to himself by Jesus. This increased the fame of Jesus and the admiration of the people for Him.

THE SUSPICION OF THE PHARISEES

The growing fame and popularity of Jesus excited the suspicion of the Pharisees. The Scribes and the Pharisees of Galilee – and even some from Judea and Jerusalem itself – began to observe the activities of Jesus at close hand. It was not long before they found grounds sufficient to their narrow mentalities to object to the words and deeds of Jesus.

‘THY SINS ARE FORGIVEN THEE’

Jesus had returned to Capharnaum after a trip to the neighbouring towns. When the report spread abroad that He was at home, four men brought to Him a paralytic. So great was the crowd gathered to listen to Jesus that they had to lower the sick man down to Jesus through a hole in the roof of the house. Jesus was deeply touched at this manifestation of faith. But, instead of curing the man of his paralysis at once, He said to him, ‘Take courage, son; thy sins are forgiven thee’ (Matthew 9:2).

The Scribes and Pharisees seized upon this as evidence that Jesus was over-reaching Himself. ‘Who is this man who speaks blasphemies?’ they asked. ‘Who can forgive sins, but God only?’ Jesus rose to the challenge. ‘Why are you arguing in your hearts?’ He asked. ‘Which is easier, to say ‘Thy sins are forgiven thee,’ or to say ‘Arise and walk.’ But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins – he said to the paralytic – I say to thee, arise, take up thy pallet and go into thy house’ (Luke 5:22-24).

The paralytic man arose, took up his pallet and returned to his house. The Scribes and Pharisees were defeated and the crowd glorified God for giving such power to men. The cure of the paralytic proved that Jesus did possess the power He claimed, the power, the divine power to forgive sin.

JESUS IS EATING AND DRINKING WITH SINNERS

This striking manifestation of divine power was not accepted by the Scribes and Pharisees. Their continued their efforts to discredit Jesus in the eyes of the people. The next incident occurred when Jesus chose a publican named Levi to be one of His associates. Levi, or Matthew (as we know Him), was a tax collector. As such he would be unpopular with people generally, and suspected of being dishonest. But when he was called by Jesus, he gave up his position as a publican or tax-collector and followed Jesus. To celebrate his call to enter the Kingdom of God Levi gave a great feast and invited other publicans to attend. The Pharisees protested to the disciples of Jesus, ‘Why do you eat with publicans and sinners?’ (Luke 5:30). Or, as Matthew and Mark tell the story: ‘Why does your master eat and drink with publicans and sinners?’ (Matthew 9:11; Mark 2:16).

THE PHARISEES WERE TRYING TO DISCREDIT JESUS IN THE EYES OF THE PEOPLE

The Pharisees were trying to discredit Jesus by pointing out that He lived familiarly with sinners. The Pharisees themselves would not enter into such contact with men whom they regarded as legally or ritually unclean. Jesus replied to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a physician, but they who are sick. I have not come to call the just, but sinners to repentance’ (Luke 5:31-32).

In these simple words Jesus rebuked the pride and the callousness of the Pharisees. Priding themselves on their own purity because they kept scrupulously the many prescriptions of the law as interpreted by the Scribes, they avoided ordinary men who could not keep the same strict observance. In their minds only they were pleasing to God and the blessings of God were not to be extended to others. To this proud attitude Jesus replies that the blessings of God are to be extended to all. Those who are already truly just do not need Him; hence He has come to call sinners to repentance and, to call them successfully, He will go to them directly.

ONE FASTS TO BE CLOSE TO GOD SPIRITUALLY; IF GOD INCARNATE IS RIGHT IN YOUR MIDST, ONE DOESN’T NEED TO FAST WHILST HE IS THUS AROUND

The Pharisees returned to the attack by pointing out that they and the disciples of John the Baptist observed fasts, whereas the disciples of Jesus did not. If Jesus and His disciples were really good Jews, would not they also fast? Jesus answered them, ‘Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and they will fast. And no one puts a patch of raw cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, for the patch tears away from the garment and a worse rent is made. Nor do people pour new wine into old wine-skins, else the skins burst, and the wine is spilt, and the skins are ruined. But they put new wine into fresh skins, and both are saved’ (Matthew 9:15-17).

THINGS HAVE MOVED ON; GOD’S LAW IS BEING FULFILLED BY JESUS CHRIST INAUGURATING THE KINGDOM OF LOVE

This reply of Jesus was hardly satisfactory to the Pharisees. It implied what they were unwilling to accept: that Jesus was someone extraordinary, someone whose mere presence was an occasion for rejoicing rather than fasting. Now the Pharisees were anxious to show that Jesus was someone ordinary, perhaps someone less than ordinary, someone to be shunned rather than followed, an occasion for fasting rather than joy.

THE DEEPER MEANING

Actually Jesus, in veiled terms, is telling them that He will some day be separated from His disciples, and as a result of this separation a new spirit, a new life, will be given to His followers. When He speaks of the separation of the bridegroom from his wedding guests, Jesus refers to His death on the Cross for the salvation of men. When He speaks of the foolishness of putting a fresh patch on an old garment or of pouring fresh patch on an old garment or of pouring fresh wine into old wine-skins, He alludes to the fact that He will establish a new life in God and a new Law. His disciples must not be asked to observe the old Pharisaic observances.

HEALING ON A SABBATH

The next dispute of the Pharisees with Jesus was concerned with the observance of the Sabbath. In the minds of the Pharisees the Sabbath law was very strict. No work of any kind might be done on the Sabbath. On two occasions Jesus did not seem to observe the law as the Pharisees thought it should be kept. Once the disciples of Jesus picked corn on the Sabbath and ate it. On another occasion Jesus worked a miracle on the Sabbath; He cured a man with a withered hand. Both times the Pharisees objected. On the first occasion Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath’ (Luke 6:5). On the second He said to them, ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil? To save a life or to destroy it?’ (Mark 3:4).

THE PHARISEES’ OPPOSITION TO JESUS GREW

These replies infuriated the Pharisees and hardened their opposition to Jesus. As St Matthew tells us, ‘But the Pharisees went out and took counsel against him, how they might do away with him’ (Matthew 12:14). From this time on there is war between the Pharisees and Jesus. They are determined to destroy Him. They see in Him only an enemy of all that they themselves stand for.

The guilt of the Pharisees in rejecting Jesus is something only God can measure. The language of Jesus Himself seems to hint that in His eyes these Pharisees were not guiltless. But, be that as it may, the important thing is to notice that throughout these first encounters with the Pharisees Jesus is manifesting gradually more of His own identity.

JESUS IS REFERRING TO HIS ROLE IN RELATION TO THE WHOLE HUMAN RACE

At least twice He calls Himself Son of Man, thus identifying Himself with the apocalyptic figure spoken of by the prophet Daniel, the Son of Man Who will ultimately come to judge the whole world. He refers to Himself as the ‘bridegroom,’ thus recalling what John the Baptist has already called Him. At the moment the Pharisees probably could not see His deep meaning. But He was referring to His role in relation to the whole human race. He is the bridegroom of all humanity, and through union with Him the bride, all humanity, will be saved. He claims to be the ‘Lord of the Sabbath.’ Now the Sabbath was the Lord’s day, God’s day. By claiming power over the Sabbath Jesus was claiming at least to have some special power from God to do as He pleased with the Sabbath, the day of God. He claimed also to have on earth the power to forgive sins.

What were all these claims, these claims so staggering even to the imagination of religious men such as the Pharisees? Were they blashemies, as the Pharisees decided they were? Or were they sober but stupendous truth? Only the remainder of the story can tell us.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

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THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MANKIND AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE: ABRAHAM, ISAAC, JACOB

“In this early history of the Chosen People we see the will of God, man and the devil striving for the souls of men. In the sins of the patriarchs and their children, in the sins of their neighbours we see the weak wills of men and the malevolent will of the devil who seeks to draw men away from God.”

THIS IS PART III OF THE SERIES ON MAN’S SALVATION HISTORY. IT CAN BE READ INDEPENDENTLY FROM PARTS I “ADAM AND EVE” AND PART II “THE PROMISE TO ABRAHAM”, WHICH ARE FOUND ON THIS BLOG.

THE CHOSEN PEOPLE

“God called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees. He chose Abraham to be an instrument in the divine plan for the salvation of all men. To Abraham, in return for faith and obedience, God made great promises. He promised that Abraham would become a great nation, with a land of its own, and through him all nations would be blessed.

The blessings which God promises to Abraham seem to be chiefly the good things of this world: many descendants, enough to form a great nation; land enough to enable himself and his descendants to prosper; kings of his blood to rule in this world; and the extension, through his descendants, of these same blessings to the other nations of the world. The nature of these promises, their apparent worldliness, show clearly the wisdom and mercy, we might even say the tenderness of God in His dealings with men.

GOD’S WISDOM AND MERCY

When God calls Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees it is clear that men have forgotten the one true God. They live in deep and dark ignorance of the existence of the infinite Spirit Who created them to live familiarly with Him. Abraham’s father, Thare, is a polytheist and an idolater. God has to reveal Himself to Abraham.

Ignorant of the very existence of the true God, the men of Abraham’s age were also ignorant of the holiness of God and of the holiness which man, the image of God, is called to practise. Their desires were focussed not so much on the beauties of the spirit as on the pleasures of this world. They thought not of heaven, but of the world. They did not dream of living with God, but rather of riches and possessions and of the children and servants who would bring these things to themselves and their race.

A WORLDY OUTLOOK

Abraham was no different from the men of his own time and place. It is for this reason that God, when He calls Abraham to reawaken in the world the knowledge of the one true God, stoops to the capacities and the dreams of Abraham. In His wisdom God knows how difficult it would be for Abraham to cast away entirely the worldliness which thousands of years of sinfulness had made the ordinary climate of all human thoughts and desires. In His mercy He calls Abraham with the promise of those blessings which He knows will bring forth the faith and obedience which He desires from him. To those who believe in God and His almighty power it is of course obvious that God could have given Abraham so great a gift of divine grace as to enable him at once to rise to the highest ideals of moral perfection. But God did not do so, and in this He shows us His great tenderness, both for Abraham and for all men. Just as God desired the free faith and obedience of Adam, so also He desires the free faith and obedience of Abraham. He will not overwhelm the soul and will of Abraham with His grace and power. He will entice it slowly from the long sleep of worldliness to the dawn of true religious spirituality. And so He promises Abraham, not the halls of heaven, the hush of a mysterious eternity, but the more modest space of and earthly land and kingdom, the rush and the bustle of an earthly nation.

Abraham was faithful and obedient to God, obedient even to the point of almost sacrificing his son Isaac to God. God rewards his loving faith and obedience. He makes Abraham the forefather of many descendants and He begins the work of blessing the whole world through the seed of Abraham. But while the fulfilment of the first blessing – the multiplication of the descendants of Adam – is a work of expansion, the fulfilment of the second blessing – the blessing of the whole world through Abraham – is a work of contradiction.

THE DIVINE BLESSING PASSES TO ISAAC

As Moses tells us the story of Abraham, Abraham begot children of Sara, his first wife, of Agar, the handmaid of Sara, and of Ceture, the wife he married after the death of Sara. But since the divine blessing passes only to Isaac, the son of Sara, the other children of Abraham appear in the story only for a moment and our attention is concentrated on Isaac.

THE ORIGIN OF TWELVE TRIBES OF ISRAEL

Isaac marries Rebecca, and has two sons, Jacob and Esau. Esau becomes the father of the Edomites, and Jacob becomes Israel, the father of the Israelites, the Chosen People of God. By his two wives, Lia and Rachel, and by their handmaids, Zelpha and Bala, Jacob became the father of twelve sons: Ruben, Simeon, Levi, Juda, Issacher, Zabulon, Benjamin, Dan, Nephtali, Gad, Aser and Joseph. These, in their turn, became the forefathers of the twelve tribes of Israel.

God fulfilled his promise to Abraham; He gave him many descendants and He made Abraham and his children rich in worldly possessions. Of Abraham, at the time when he sojourned in Egypt, Moses says: ‘He had sheep and oxen, and he-asses, and men-servants and maid-servants, and she-asses and camels’ (Genesis 12:16). Of Isaac we read: ‘And the man was enriched, and he went on prospering and increasing, till he became exceedingly great. And he had possessions of sheep and of herds, and a very great family’ (Genesis 26:13-14). Jacob is wealthy enough to send to his brother Esau a gift of ‘two hundred she-goats, twenty he-goats, two hundred ewes, and twenty rams, thirty milk camels with their colts, forty kine, and twenty bulls, twenty she-asses, and ten of their foals’ (Genesis 32:14-15). Joseph, one of the sons of Jacob, becomes ruler over the whole of Egypt. This proved fortunate for the descendants of Abraham. When Jacob and his sons and their families were stricken with the same famine which afflicted Egypt and the adjacent countries, they descended into Egypt where they were well received by Joseph and saved from the famine.

God fulfils His promises. Through His descendants and their possessions Abraham is growing into a great nation. Under God’s providence, however, this movement of expansion is accompanied by a movement of contradiction. God has promised not only to bless Abraham and his descendants, but also to bless the whole of mankind through Abraham: ‘In thee (Abraham) shall all the kindred of the earth be blessed’ (Genesis 12:3). But this blessing is not to descend to mankind through all the descendants of Abraham. The channel through which God’s blessing will come to all men is not the whole race of Abraham but only a certain chosen stock, and even within this chosen stock the channel is constantly narrowing. God changes the name of Abram to Abraham to signify that Abraham is to be the father of many nations (Genesis 17:5). Of the children of Abraham God chooses Isaac to be the bearer of the divine blessing to mankind: ‘…my covenant I will establish with Isaac’ (Genesis 17:21). ‘In Isaac shall thy seed be called’ (Genesis 21:12).

THE DIVINE BLESSING IS PASSED ON TO JACOB

Isaac passes on this divine blessing to his son Jacob (Genesis 27:28-29). God Himself ratifies the choice: ‘I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac. The land, wherein thou sleepest, I will give to thee and to thy seed. And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth: Thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south. And in thee and thy seed all the tribes of the earth shall be blessed’ (Genesis 28:13-14). This blessing Jacob gives only to Juda of his twelve sons: ‘Juda, thee shall thy brethren praise. Thy hands shall be on the necks of thy enemies: the sons of thy father shall bow down to thee. Juda is a lion’s whelp: to the prey, my son, thou art gone up. Resting thou hast couched as a lion, and as a lioness. Who shall rouse him? The sceptre shall not be taken away from Juda, nor a ruler from his thigh, till he come that is to be sent: and he shall be the expectation of nations. Tying his foal to the vineyard, and his ass, O my son, to the vine. He shall wash his robe in wine, and his garment in the blood of the grape. His eyes are more beautiful than wine: and his teeth whiter than milk’ (Genesis 49:8-12).

The blessing of all men is to come through Abraham, but through a channel which is continually growing smaller. From Abraham it descends to Isaac, from Isaac to Jacob, from Jacob to Juda, and from Juda it will descend to one individual who is the one ‘that is to be sent… the expectation of nations.’ Jacob’s prophecy about Juda seems to imply that finally the salvation of the world will be brought about by a single descendant of Juda. Through one specific descendant of Juda the divine plan for the reconciliation of man with God will take place.

THE RECONCILIATION WILL TAKE PLACE THROUGH ONE DESCENDANT OF JUDAH

From Abraham to the twelve sons of Jacob and their children, the family of Abraham is growing in numbers and in wealth and power. And hidden in the midst of this growing multitude is the seed of human salvation. The seed of salvation lies cradled in the growing race of Israel.

In the growing race of Israel God is preparing the salvation of the world. But this salvation means the reconciliation of men to God. It means therefore that men who are disobedient to God will become obedient to Him, that men who do not believe in God will come to faith in Him. God said of Abraham: ‘Can I hide from Abraham what I am about to do: Seeing that he shall become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations shall be blessed? For I know that he will command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord, and do judgement and justice: that for Abraham’s sake the Lord may bring to effect all the things he hath spoken unto him’ (Genesis 18:17-19). Through Abraham men will keep the way of the Lord and do judgment and justice. But the obedience which God seeks is a free obedience, the obedience of love, and men have for generations, for thousands of generations, been binding their wills over to the devil and sin.

POLYGAMY AND OTHER SINS ARE RAMPANT

Through Abraham the world of men will be reconciled to God. But the preparation of mankind for this reconciliation will be slow. This is apparent even in the behaviour of Abraham and his immediate posterity. Abraham himself allows the Pharaoh of Egypt to take Sara under the illusion fostered by Abraham, that she is only the sister of Abraham. He is a polygamist, taking Agar to wife while Sara is still alive. Jacob lies to his father Isaac and so steals the divine blessing which Isaac meant to bestow upon Esau. Jacob, too, is a polygamist, taking to wife Lia and her sister Rachel, and their handmaidens, Zelpha and Bala. Dina, the daughter of Jacob, was ravished by Sichem. The sons of Jacob, her brothers, were righteously indignant at this horrible crime, but they wreaked an even more horrible revenge upon the Sichemites. Juda sinned with Thamar, who had been wife to two of his sons and was promised to Sela, his third son. The brothers of Joseph sought to kill him, and finally sold him into captivity to the Madianites.

THE FIRST FAINT GLIMMERING OF THE DIVINE LIGHT RETURNING TO MAN

In the midst of a people as sinful as this, God is preparing the salvation of mankind. In their sins the evil wills of the devil and of men are clearly seen. But we can also see the first faint glimmering of the divine light returning to man. Through Abraham the knowledge of the one true God is returning to the earth. Abraham believes and his faith is reputed to him unto justice. Isaac believes and Jacob and the sons of Jacob. It is not easy to keep this faith alive in the minds and hearts of the people. Jacob has to take measures to destroy idolatry and polytheism among his people: ‘And Jacob having called together all his household, said: Cast away the strange gods that are among you, and be cleansed and change your garments’ (Genesis 35:2).

FAITH AND OBEDIENCE

In this faith Abraham and his descendants are obedient to God. In obedience Abraham leaves Ur and goes to Haran, and then to Egypt, and thence back to Palestine. In obedience to God Abraham circumcises himself and all the males in his household as a sign of the covenant between God and the race of Abraham. In response to God’s command Jacob leaves Mesopotamia, where he had become rich, and returned to Palestine. In fact, so great does the reliance on God of this Chosen People become that Jacob and his sons will not go down into Egypt to escape the ravages of the famine until God assures them that He will protect them and bring them out of Egypt safely in due time. In a world that has forgotten the one true God surely this faith and obedience are already a sign of the mercy of God slowly working out the divine promise of salvation.

Moreover, through this Chosen People the name of the one true God is becoming known to the other peoples of the region. To rescue his nephew Lot from captivity Abraham made war on Amraphel, the king of Senaar, and Arioch, king of Pontus, and Chodorlahomor, king of the Elamites, and Thadal, king of nations. After his victory Melchisedech, the king of Salem, offers a sacrifice of bread and wine to the God of Abraham. When Abimilech, the king of Gerara, unknowingly took Sara, Abraham’s wife, for himself, God appeared to him and commanded him to give Sara back to Abraham. When Jacob, with his wives, children, servants and flocks, seeks to flee from Laban, his father-in-law, God appears to Laban and commands him not to deal harshly with Jacob. In all these instances at least an intimation of the existence of the one true God was given to other peoples through Abraham and his descendants.

A VERY SLOW BUT SURE PROGRESS TOWARDS GOD’S PURITY AND HOLINESS

But the return of man to God is slow. Both God and man move slowly. Man, at his time, is so far from God that his progress to God is a long road, with many turnings, even some delays or cutbacks. But constantly God is leading man upward from the darkness and ignorance and turmoil of sin and unbridled passions to the purity and holiness which is his birthright as the image of God.

This slowness of the divine plan is strikingly illustrated in the captivity of the children of Abraham in the land of Egypt. A great famine afflicted Egypt and Canaan, the land in which Jacob and his sons and families were dwelling. But in Egypt, Joseph, the son of Jacob who had been sold into slavery by his brothers, had risen to the position of ruler of Egypt under the Pharaoh. Under the divine inspiration he had wisely provided ahead of time for the famine. Egypt was plentifully supplied with food. Under divine guidance Jacob and his sons and their families go down into Egypt. And here they remain several hundred years before God leads them out to seek possession of the land which God has promised them.

The length of their sojourn in Egypt is a proof that God is working slowly to mature them into a nation fit to be the chosen people of God, fit to be the channel through which salvation would come to all the world. First of all, their journey into Egypt is a divine test of their faith. Jacob and his children are reluctant to go into Egypt. But God says to Jacob: ‘Fear not, go down into Egypt, for I will make a great nation of thee there. I will go down with thee thither, and will bring thee back again from thence…’ (Genesis 46:3-4).

Then in Egypt God fulfils his promise to make Israel a great nation. In Egypt through the kindness of Joseph they escape the dangers of the great famine. They are given the land of Gessen for themselves. There ‘the children of Israel increased, and sprung up into multitudes. And growing exceedingly strong they filled the land’ (Exodus 1:7). In the course of time so numerous and strong do they become that the Pharaoh fears them and begins to oppress them ‘lest they multiply’ (Exodus 1:10).

It is legitimate to imagine that their long dwelling in the land of Egypt helped to prepare them for their ultimate conquest and rule of the land promised by God in Palestine. When they went down into Egypt they were semi-nomads, making their livelihood by herding sheep, cattle and goats, and by some agriculture. From the point of view of civilisation and culture they were inferior to the great empires of Babylonia and Egypt which flourished on either side of them. But in Egypt they came into close contact with a flourishing civilisation. From the Egyptians they may well have learned the arts and crafts, from building and sculpture to war and government, which were to help in the making of the Kingdom of God in the Promised Land.

GOD WORKS TOWARDS THE DELIVERANCE OF MEN FROM SIN AND THE DEVIL

In this early history of the Chosen People we see the will of God, man and the devil striving for the ssouls of men. In the sins of the patriarchs and their children, in the sins of their neighbours we see the weak wills of men and the malevolent will of the devil who seeks to draw men away from God. But, in the revelations of God to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob we see God beginning to save man in spite of man’s sinfulness. In the hidden ways in which God is working with mankind, choosing one race to be the channel of salvation, and in fact one of the weaker races of men, in the patience and forbearance which He shows to the weakness of His Chosen People, in the long time He takes to prepare His people for the ultimate deliverance of men from sin and the devil, we see both God’s tenderness with men and the strong and sure way in which He will fulfil His promise to bring men victory over the devil, sin and death.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

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