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THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MANKIND AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE: CITIZENS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD

PREPARING THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN

“In Galilee Jesus announced to the people that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. He invited them to repent of their sins that they might enter the kingdom. He insinuated that He was the Messiah by assuming the title ‘Son of Man,’ and by claiming to be the ‘Lord of the Sabbath.’ He also claimed the divine power to forgive the sins of men. He authenticated these claims by the miraculous cures He worked. The nature of His teaching and His claims and the miracles which accompanied them excited the admiration of the people. Some, such as Peter and Andrew, James, John and Nathanael, attached themselves to Him as disciples. But the Pharisees refused to accept Him or His claims and resolved to do away with Him.

THE CHOICE OF HIS TWELVE APOSTLES SHOWS JESUS CHRIST’S INTENTION OF EXTENDING AND BROADENING HIS WORK ON EARTH

Despite their opposition Jesus continued His work to establish the kingdom of heaven. Some time after the crystalisation of the opposition of the Pharisees to Him He took the first definitive measures to ensure the continuation and the extension of His work on earth. He went up a mountain and prayed to God. Then He summoned His disciples and from them He chose twelve Apostles to assist Him in His work. As St Mark says:

‘… he appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them forth to preach. To them he gave power to cure sicknesses and to cast out devils. There were Simon, to whom he gave the name Peter, and James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James (these he surnamed Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); and Andrew, and Philip and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alpheus, and Thaddeus, and Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him’ (Mark 3:14-19).

The choice of the twelve Apostles is an important event in the Galilean ministry of Jesus. It shows, first of all, His intention to broaden the field of His work. He chooses them so that they also may preach the kingdom of heaven, and preach it in power, for He gives them the power to work miracles. They will bring His message and power to those to whom He Himself will not personally appear.

THE ROLE OF THE APOSTLES

Secondly, by choosing only twelve out of His followers, and by giving only to those twelve the power to preach the kingdom, Jesus Himself establishes a distinction of function and authority among His disciples. Some will be only His disciples; by their belief in Him and by their repentance they will enter the kingdom with Him and enjoy its blessings. But others – the twelve Apostles – will not only enter the kingdom with Him to enjoy its blessings, they will also share in His own power to establish the kingdom, to rule it, to preach its doctrines and to disperse its blessings.

Lastly, it is interesting to note that Jesus chose twelve Apostles. No doubt He chose twelve in remembrance of the fact that God’s blessings were promised to the twelve tribes of Israel. In this way He relates the founding of the kingdom of heaven to the original promises made by God to Israel.

THE BEAUTIFUL SERMON ON THE MOUNT

Shortly after the choice of the twelve Apostles Jesus ascended a mountain again and delivered to His disciples, and perhaps to some of the crowd that followed Him the beautiful Sermon on the Mount. The high moral and spiritual tone of this sermon has retained the admiration of all men down to the present time. It is well to remember though, that the sermon does not contain the whole message of Jesus. In it He does not, for example, speak of the nature of His Church nor of the doctrine of Redemption. These and other doctrines He will speak of later. In the Sermon on the Mount He is content to describe to His disciples the moral climate of the Kingdom of Heaven, its identity with and its perfecting the Old Law delivered to the world through Moses and the Prophets.

Jesus begins His sermon with the Beatitudes:

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 5:3-10).

THE SPIRITUAL ATTRIBUTES AND BLESSINGS OF THE MEMBERS OF THE KINGDOM

In these Beatitudes Jesus describes both the spiritual attributes of the members of the kingdom of heaven and the blessings which God gives them both in this present world and in the world to come, in this present time and in eternity. The members of the kingdom, the disciples of Christ, must be ‘poor in spirit,’ ‘meek,’ that is, they must be men who turn to God alone for relief from the woes of this world. They are men who mourn their sufferings, but who hope for consolation in union with the sufferings of the Messias. They are men who hunger and thirst for justice, that is, holiness. They are men who extend mercy to all, who live in union with God in purity of heart, who seek to bring peace to the troubled world of men, who suffer persecution for the sake of Christ, the Son of Man.

The men who possess these spiritual qualities will be members of the kingdom of heaven: ‘theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ They will inherit the Messianic blessings. To them will be given purity of heart, real holiness. In eternity they shall be called the children of God and they will see God face to face.

FALLEN MAN’S NATURE LEFT TO ITS OWN DEVICES TENDS TO SEEK SECURITY RATHER THAN HOLINESS

In the Beatitudes Jesus simply but strongly shows the contrast between the conception of life of fallen man and the new idea of life which He has come to realise in the kingdom of heaven.

Fallen man, betrayed by his own weaknesses and misled by the devil, tends to find security and happiness by relying on force and power. He puts his faith in wealth and domination, rather than in God. He seeks security rather than holiness. He chafes under poverty, distress or suffering. He will not forgive injuries or extend mercy to the erring. Insecure in such happiness as he may find, he is ever at odds with his neighbours. Afraid of pain and loss, he will compromise with truth and principle for the sake of comfort.

IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN MAN’S ESTIMATE OF VALUES IS CHANGED

But in the kingdom of heaven which Jesus is to establish, man, with God’s help, will change his estimate of values. He will no longer be so passionately, so desperately concerned with the pleasures, the wealth, the power of this world. He will raise his eyes on high and seek the holiness, the justice of God. To gain this great blessing he will rely not on his own strength but on the power and the love of God. Trusting in God he will hope for his own ultimate redemption. Buoyed up by this consoling hope he will accept his own sufferings, the penalty of sin, and will extend mercy and peace to his fellow sufferers in the general torment of mankind. Firm in this hope he will suffer persecution, even unto death of his mortal body, for the sake of attaining union with God in justice and holiness.

UNION WITH GOD IN JUSTICE AND HOLINESS

After the solemn announcement of the Beatitudes Jesus addresses His disciples more directly and tells them that they are the recipients of these blessings, and through them these same blessings will be given to the world.

‘You are the salt of the earth,’ He tells them. ‘You are the light of the world … so let your light shine before men in order that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven’ (Matthew 5:13, 14, 16).

‘I HAVE NOT COME TO DESTROY, BUT TO FULFIL’

Following this admonition to the disciples Jesus goes on to explain the relation between the Law of His kingdom and the Old Law of Moses and the Prophets.

‘Do not think,’ He says, ‘that I have come to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For amen I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or one tittle shall be lost from the Law till all things have been accomplished’ (Matthew 5:17-18).

Since Jesus Himself in the rest of the sermon will make some changes in the Old Law, and since His Apostles will later abrogate many of the detailed and minute prescriptions of the Mosaic Law, this statement of Jesus is not easy to understand. Fortunately He Himself provides the clues to His real meaning.

A HIGHER PLANE OF MORALITY

In the first place, we notice that the changes which Jesus Himself institutes are not so much an abrogation of the Mosaic Law as they are an extension of it, or rather an elevation of it to a higher plane of morality. Thus Jesus tells His disciples that not only is murder wrong but even anger against or contempt for one’s fellow man.

CHARITY IS THE FOUNDATION

It is quite clear also that the foundation of the changes made by Jesus is love or charity.

‘You have heard,’ He says, ‘that it was said, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and shalt hate thy enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute you and calumniate you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, who makes his sun to rise on the good and the evil, and sends rain on the just and the unjust’ (Matthew 5:43, 45).

Men are to love one another as God loves them, loving both friends and enemies, both good and evil, the just and the unjust. In this way, men, as Jesus says to His disciples, ‘are to be perfect, even as (their) heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matthew 5:48).

WHAT IS THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE LAW OF MOSES AND THE LAW OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN?

The bond of continuity or identity between the Mosaic Law and the new Law of the kingdom of heaven is love, the love of God for men and the love of men for God and for their fellowmen in God. Jesus will say later that the two great commandments of the Old Law are the commands to love God and to love one’s neighbour, and He will explain that one’s neighbour is every fellow human being. Even here in the Sermon on the Mount He sums up the Old Law in the Golden Rule:

‘Therefore all things whatever you would that men should do to you, even so do you also to them; for this is the Law and the Prophets’ (Matthew 7:12).

And this Golden Rule is a law of love, for it commands men to love one another with the wholehearted love they give themselves.

When Jesus says, then, that He has not come to destroy the Mosaic Law but to fulfil it, He means that He will not revoke the essential meaning of that Law, the law of love. But He will fulfil it by extending the scope or the object of love and by deepening the quality of love. In His kingdom men must love God and all other men, and in this way Jesus makes all men the object of Christian love.

Moreover Jesus deepens the quality of love by insisting that it is concerned not only with external actions but also with the inner man, with the heart and the mind of man. So he castigates not only the actual adulterer, but even those who look with lust at another human being (Matthew 5:27-28).

IN THE KINGDOM THERE IS NO HUMAN PRAISE FOR PIETY – IT GOES WITHOUT SAY

Jesus also emphasises the purity of the love which He demands in His kingdom by contrasting the piety demanded of His disciples with the piety of the Pharisees. The Scribes and the Pharisees perform works of piety ostentatiously so that they may be well regarded by men. When they give alms to the poor, they call it to everyone’s attention. When they fast, they disfigure their faces and look gloomy so that all may know they are fasting. On the contrary the disciples of Jesus are not to parade their virtues before the crowd, nor to seek the praise of men for their piety. They are to do good for the sake of God alone, and God will give them their true reward. They are to pray often, for prayer is powerful. God will answer their prayers. They are not to judge others; judgement is reserved to God. Their love of God must be a real, an effective love; it must be a love which produces works of virtue. ‘Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of my Father in heaven shall enter the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 7:21).

A TRUE INTERIOR LOVE

The primary message of the Sermon on the Mount is the message of love. Jesus accepts what His Father had revealed to mankind through Moses and the Prophets, the law of love. Men are to love not only their friends but also their enemies, not only their fellow countrymen but also all men.

The true child of God loves all men. And this love must be a true interior love, proceeding from the innermost heart of man, a love as strong as his love for himself. Moreover it must be a love patterned after God’s love for men, complete, sovereign and impartial. As such it will go far beyond the demands of the old Mosaic Law. It will rule not only the external actions of a man but also his innermost thoughts and desires. It will be a total, a dedicated love. In this present world it will be a disinterested love, seeking no present reward for men.

JESUS CHRIST’S MESSAGE IS STARTLING

When Jesus had finished preaching this message of love, this foundation of His kingdom, as St Matthew tells us, ‘the crowds were astonished at his teaching; for he was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their Scribes and Pharisees’ (Matthew 7:28).

It was clear to the crowd that had followed Jesus that there was something new and strange about the preaching of Jesus. Not only was His message new and startling but He had deliberately emphasised the difference between His preaching and the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees. The latter spoke as theologians, appealing to the authority of other theologians or to the authority of their ancient scriptures. But Jesus dared to speak in His own name and, in His own name, to make changes in the Pharisaic interpretations of the law.

Though the crowds did not fully realise it, Jesus was speaking to them as the Christ, the Messias, instituting the Kingdom of God. He spoke as the Lawgiver, establishing the new law of grace which would be the foundation of the Kingdom of God.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

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THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MANKIND AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE: MOSES AND THE COVENANT

“THE MAKING OF THIS CONTRACT WITH GOD WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT FREE DECISION MADE BY THE CHILDREN OF ABRAHAM SINCE ABRAHAM HIMSELF FIRST ANSWERED THE CALL OF GOD IN CHALDEA.”

“After their miraculous escape from the Egyptians the Israelites wandered in the desert and the wilderness for three months. At Mount Sinai God and the Israelites made a covenant or agreement binding upon both of them.

YOU SHALL BE TO ME A HOLY NATION

The agreement was made in the midst of wonderful signs which proved to the Israelites the reality of God’s presence among them. God spoke to Moses from the mountaintop: ‘Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: You have seen what I have done to the Egyptians, how I carried you upon the wings of eagles, and have taken you to myself. If therefore you will hear my voice, and keep my covenant, you shall be my peculiar possession above all people: for all the earth is mine. And you shall be to me a priestly kingdom, and a holy nation. These are the words thou shalt speak to the children of Israel.’ (Exodus 19:3-6).

Moses delivered God’s message to the people and they replied: ‘All that the Lord has spoken, we will do’ (Exodus 19:8). When Moses told God that the Israelites were willing to become God’s people, God commanded the people to sanctify themselves and prepare for the coming of the Lord on the third day.

FIRE AND SMOKE

On the third day the Lord came to Sinai to speak to Moses in the hearing of the people. ‘And when Moses had brought them forth to meet God from the place of the camp, they stood at the bottom of the mount. And all Mount Sinai was on smoke: because the Lord was come down upon it in fire, and the smoke arose from it as out of a furnace. And all the mount was terrible. And the sound of the trumpet grew by degrees louder and louder, and was drawn out to a greater length; Moses spoke, and God answered him. And the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, in the very top of the mount: and he called Moses unto the top thereof. And when he was gone up thither, He said to him: Go down, and charge the people: lest they should have a mind to pass the limits to see the Lord, and a very great multitude of them should perish. The priests also that come to the Lord, let them be sanctified; lest he strike them.

‘And Moses said to the Lord: The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai: for thou didst charge, and command, saying: Set limits about the mount, and sanctify it. And the Lord said to him: Go, get thee down. And thou shalt come up, thou and Aaron with thee; but let not the priests and the people pass the limits, nor come up to the Lord, lest He kill them. And Moses went down to the people and told them all.

THE 10 COMMANDMENTS

‘And the Lord spoke all these words: I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me. Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth. Thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them. I am the Lord thy God, mighty, jealous, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me. And showing mercy unto thousands to them that love me and keep my commandments. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that shall take the name of the Lord his God in vain. Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day. Six days shalt thou labour, and shalt do all thy works. But on the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: thou shalt do no work on it, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy beast, nor the stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them, and rested on the seventh day: therefore the Lord blessed the seventh day and sanctified it.

‘Honour thy father and thy mother, that thou mayest be long-lived upon the land which the Lord thy God will give thee.

‘Thou shalt not kill.

‘Thou shalt not commit adultery.

‘Thou shalt not steal.

‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house; neither shalt thou desire his wife, nor his servant, nor his handmaid, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is his.

‘And all the people saw the voices and the flames, and the sound of the trumpet, and the mount smoking: and being terrified and struck with fear, they stood afar off, saying to Moses: Speak thou to us and we will hear. Let not the Lord speak to us, lest we die’ (Exodus 19:17 – 20:19).

AN ATMOSPHERE OF WONDER AND FEAR

To impress the Israelites with the solemnity of the contract they were making with Him, God manifested His presence by lightning and thunder and black clouds. To convince them of His holiness and power they were forbidden to ascend the mountain.

This encounter of the Israelites with God at Sinai is one of the most awe-inspiring in the history of man. On this occasion not only does God speak to the prophet Moses but He speaks in the hearing of all the people, and the people are so struck with fear at hearing the voice of God sounding clear over the thunder and the trumpets that they beseech God to speak to them directly no longer.

In this atmosphere of wonder and fear God proclaimed His Ten Commandments. By accepting these Commandments the Israelites bound themselves to worship only the one true God and to abstain from idolatry, the worship of images. Moses ratified the contract between God and the people by sprinkling the blood of sacrificed beasts on the altar and on the people. The contract was sealed, as it were, in blood.

THEY FREELY CHOSE GOD

The making of this contract with God was the most important free decision made by the children of Abraham since Abraham himself first answered the call of God in Chaldea. By it they became God’s chosen and favoured people, a priestly kingdom through which and in which the one true God would be properly worshipped, a priestly kingdom through which salvation would come to the world. It is significant that this solemn ratified covenant was not made until Israel had become a numerous people, a nation, and that it was made by the free decisions of all the people. In the garden of paradise Adam and Eve, misled by the devil, freely deserted God. At Mount Sinai the Israelites, under the inspired leadership of Moses, freely chose God, the one true God Who had freely chosen them.

THE MOSAIC LAW

In addition to the Ten Commandments Moses also gave the people other laws which were intended to make practical the general moral principles contained in the Decalog [the 10 Commandments].

It has been noticed by historians that many of the prescriptions found in the Mosaic Law resemble laws found in the codes of other Oriental peoples, especially the Babylonians and the Egyptians. It is possible that Moses incorporated in this code laws which came down to the people from some older code. But the important thing about the Mosaic code is that it is all placed in the framework of the Ten Commandments. This gives it a quality of uniqueness which is found in no other ancient code of laws.

INHERENT MONOTHEISM

The most striking characteristic of the Mosaic Law is its inherent monotheism. The Israelites are to worship no other God but Jahweh, the one true God. They are to avoid the polytheistic and idolatrous practices of other nations. It is true that the Israelites will need a long time and many severe divine chastisements to rid their minds of the idea that other divinities exist besides Jahweh. But in the end the monotheism of the Decalog will triumph and the people will recognise the existence of no God but Jahweh. Through the Israelites the knowledge of the existence of the one true God will be restored to the human race.

INSISTENCE ON SPIRITUAL HOLINESS

Also striking is the insistence of the Decalog on internal or spiritual holiness. The Decalog condemns not only adultery and theft, it condemns even internal thought of adultery and theft. For it says not only ‘Thou shalt not steal’ but also ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house’; not only ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery,’ but also ‘Thou shalt not desire thy neighbour’s wife.’

THROUGH THE ISRAELITES THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE EXISTENCE OF THE ONE TRUE GOD WILL BE RESTORED TO THE HUMAN RACE.

It is clear that the Mosaic Law was intended to bring men back to God, not only externally through the regulation of their outward behaviour but also internally through the purifying of their inmost thoughts and desires. It served thus to preserve them from the polytheism and idolatry of their neighbours and to lead them back to God in purity and holiness. In the field of ethics and holiness it surpasses all previous legislative codes. In this field it represents a divine revelation. It represents God calling man to return to his Father’s house. Through the Mosaic code man is given another chance to be what he was meant to be from the very beginning, a child of God, with his whole life centred in God. Until a new and a higher covenant shall come, the law of Moses is the moral code which binds men to God.

UNTIL A NEW AND A HIGHER COVENANT SHALL COME, THE LAW OF MOSES IS THE MORAL CODE WHICH BINDS MEN TO GOD.

Of course, the mere making of this contract with God did not of itself make the people perfect. The covenant was the means to perfection, the way to perfection. Both God and man would still have to labour to make the code the real expression of perfection in the lives of the people.

THE GOLDEN CALF

This is clearly seen in the regrettable behaviour of the Israelites shortly after the ratification of the covenant. Moses stayed at the summit of Mount Sinai for forty days, conversing with God. Deprived of his leadership for even this short time, the people relapsed into their former ignorant and sinful ways. They induced Aaron, the high priest, to make for them a golden calf which should represent Jahweh. This was in direct disobedience to the commandment that they were not to make any graven image to represent God. It indicated that the people were still influenced by the idolatry of the Babylonians and the Egyptians.

THE WEAKNESS OF MEN DELAYED THE FINAL FRUITION OF THE CONTRACT.

God was angry with them and sent Moses to reprove the people. Moses appealed to God not to destroy the people utterly, and God granted his request. But God knew that He was dealing with a stiff-necked and stubborn people. Through the Israelites God had entered into a contract with mankind. But He knew that He would have to purify men even more before He could save men from their weakness and folly. At Sinai, man through the Israelites entered into a contract with God. But the weakness of men will delay the final fruition of the contract.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

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“O PRECIOUS AND WONDERFUL BANQUET, THAT BRINGS US SALVATION AND CONTAINS ALL SWEETNESS!”

NO ONE CAN FULLY EXPRESS THE SWEETNESS OF THIS SACRAMENT…

“Since it was the will of God’s only-begotten Son that human beings should share in His Divinity, He assumed our nature in order that by becoming human He might make humans gods. Moreover, when He took our flesh He dedicated the whole of its substance to our salvation.

He offered His Body to God the Father on the altar of the cross as a sacrifice for our reconciliation. He shed His Blood for our ransom and purification, so that we might be redeemed from our wretched state of bondage and cleansed from all sin.

But to ensure that the memory of so great a gift would abide with us forever, He left His Body as food and His Blood as drink for the faithful to consume in the form of bread and wine. O precious and wonderful banquet, that brings us salvation and contains all sweetness! Could anything be of more intrinsic value? Under the old law it was the flesh of calves and goats that was offered, but here Christ Himself, the true God, is set before us as our food. What could be more wonderful than this?

NO OTHER SACRAMENT HAS GREATER HEALING POWER

No other Sacrament has greater healing power; through it sins are purged away, virtues are increased, and the soul is enriched with an abundance of every spiritual gift. It is offered in the Church for the living and the dead, so that what was instituted for the salvation of all may benefit all.

Yet, in the end, no one can fully express the sweetness of this Sacrament, in which spiritual delight is tasted at its source, and in which we renew the memory of that surpassing love for us which Christ revealed in His Passion.

It was to impress the vastness of this love more firmly upon the hearts of the faithful that our Lord instituted this Sacrament at the Last Supper. As He was on the point of leaving the world to go to the Father, after celebrating the Passover with His disciples, He left it as a perpetual Memorial of His Passion.

It was the fulfilment of ancient figures and the greatest of all His miracles, while for those who were to experience the sorrow of His departure, it was destined to be a unique and abiding consolation.”
– St Thomas Aquinas

 

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