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“JESUS, YOU ARE MY FAMILY”: WHAT MY CRUCIFIX MEANS TO ME

We heard faintly from the lips of a dying religious a few stanzas which she murmured while her tearful eyes were fixed on the crucifix in her hand.

We give them, just as we found them in a book belonging to one of the pious sisters.

They were, without doubt, written for the cloister, but why not bring into families from time to time a little of the calm, peaceful, loving atmosphere of religious houses?

To My Crucifix

Come, let me hold thee to my heart, my hope divine/ Thou blessed sign of heavenly happiness/ Thou whom I hold in live ne’er to resign/ Since the vows I profess.

Yes, let me hold thee close; for art thou not my all?/ Art thou not my treasure till my last hour is near?/ Art thou not of the Spouse, whose image thou dost recall/ The tenderest souvenir?

On thee, on thee alone, my fervent hopes I base/ Than sceptres thou more precious dost appear/ And beyond the empire of the world I place/ My crucifix most dear.

For thou dost take the place of riches and of home/ All that I’ve left thou dost become for me/ My love, my only good, wherever I may roam/ My family ‘this thee.

Beyond the nails and tears naught wish I to possess/ What are the world’s most dazzling favours worth?/ One sigh breathed at thy feet for me doth more express/ than loud songs of mirth.

Thou ne’er wilt leave me when the last hour’s at hand/ My dying glance thy holy face will seek/ For the mute prayer thou sure wilt understand/ I am too weak to speak.

When this poor frame lies motionless and cold/ My rigid fingers still will clasp my all/ When friends have left, thou still thy watch wilt hold/ Beneath my funeral pall.

Ah! yes, come to my heart, thou holy, wondrous sign!/ Speak of my God, whose love is ever high/ May I love Him, and follow, suffer, ne’er repine/ To my last earthly sigh.

– From: Golden Grains, Eighth Edition, H.M. Gill and Son, Dublin, 1889

 

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THE MYSTERY OF THE SUFFERING MESSIAH

JESUS ‘STRICTLY CHARGED HIS DISCIPLES TO TELL NO ONE THAT HE WAS JESUS THE CHRIST’ (Mt 16:20) – WHY?

“Peter had acknowledged openly that Jesus is the Christ [Mt 16:15-19], the Messias. Immediately after this acknowledgement Jesus promised to make Peter the rock on which He would found His kingdom. This remarkable series of events must have brought great joy to the disciples of Jesus. Now at last they knew: Jesus was the long-awaited Messias, the Christ who would rescue His people; Jesus was the Christ Who would establish the kingdom of God on earth, and He had already chosen Peter to be the foundation stone of that kingdom. Surely they must have thought the Kingdom of God is at last at hand; this is the moment when God will begin to bring to pass the triumph of His people in the world.

WHY THIS SECRECY?

But at this moment, when they were confidently expecting Jesus to prepare His triumph as the Christ, He ‘strictly charged his disciples to tell no one that he was Jesus the Christ’ (Matthew 16:20). But why this secrecy? If Jesus is the Christ, why not publish this news abroad as swiftly as possible, from village to village, from town to city, from the plains to the mountain-tops? The sooner God’s Chosen People knew the Christ was come, the sooner would they rally to His banner and expel the hated Roman legions which kept them in subjection.

GOD’S PLAN, AND NOT OF HUMAN DEVISING

The reason which Jesus gave for secrecy must have mystified the disciples even more.

‘The Son of Man,’ He told them, ‘must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and Scribes, and be put to death, and on the third day rise again’ (Luke 9:22).

Could the Messias sent by God to establish the triumph of His people be rejected by the chief spiritual leaders of the people? If the Christ is to suffer and die, where then is His triumph? Jesus, it is true, also said that He would rise from death on the third day, and if that were true, no doubt His resurrection would be a triumphant vindication of His message to men. But such a resurrection was in itself a mysterious thing and, besides, Jesus did not enlighten them at once on the meaning of His resurrection. Peter with his usual impetuousness refused to accept the idea that the Christ would suffer and die.

‘Far be it from thee, O Lord,’ he said, ‘this will never happen to thee’ (Matthew 16:22).

If he had known or been able to recall the mysterious words of Isaias [Isaiah] about the Suffering Servant of Jahweh, if he had the spiritual insight necessary to identify the glorious King-Messias with the Suffering Servant, he might not have been so impetuous. But his mind was still filled with dreams of the glory of the Messias and he could not reconcile this picture of suffering, rejection and death with his dreams. Jesus, however, rebuked him in strong terms:

‘Get behind me, satan, thou art a scandal to me; for thou dost not mind the things of God, but those of men’ (Matthew 16:23).

In God’s plan, mysterious though it may be, the triumphant Christ must also be a rejected, suffering Christ. Peter, preoccupied with visions of an earthly triumph, did not see the depths of the divine plan. The stern rebuke of Jesus reminds him that the plan is God’s and not of human devising.

‘LET HIM DENY HIMSELF, AND TAKE UP HIS CROSS, AND FOLLOW ME’ (Mk 8:34)

Turning from Peter to the rest of His disciples and the crowd, Jesus tells them that all men must follow Him in His suffering if they would be saved. ‘If anyone wishes to come after me,’ He says, ‘let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me’ (Mark 8:34). Of what value are earthly glories in comparison with the salvation of one’s own soul? ‘For what does it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own soul?’ (Mark 8:36). A man must be prepared to lose his earthly life for the sake of Jesus and the gospel of salvation which He brings to men. If he is ashamed of a suffering Messias, ashamed of the words of Jesus, when Jesus returns as the Son of Man to judge all men then Jesus will be ashamed of him. Lest this reference to the last judgement by the Son of Man seem too remote to a people so accustomed to expect a glorious Messias, Jesus goes on to say, ‘Amen I say to you, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death, till they have seen the kingdom of God coming in power’ (Mark 8:39). In these words Jesus foretold what later came to pass, that within thirty or forty years His kingdom had been established throughout the Roman Empire; not a worldly Kingdom, but the Kingdom of God in the hearts of those who had accepted Jesus as the Christ.

THE TRANSFIGURATION

Peter and the disciples did not understand the words of Jesus, but they remained with Him. Six days later Jesus took three of His Apostles, Peter, James and John, and led them up a high mountain. There, perhaps to reassure their faith in Him, He allowed His glory to be manifested to them. His face became radiant and His garments began to shine, white as snow. Then Elias [Elijah] and Moses appeared there and began to talk with Him about His suffering and death at Jerusalem.

‘THIS IS MY BELOVED SON…’ (Mt 17:5)

Now Jesus had already told the Jews that Moses had spoken of Him, and the Jews were expecting Elias to come as the forerunner of the Christ. Their appearance here, then, on the occasion of the transfiguration of Jesus was a sign from heaven that Jesus was the expected Messias. Peter, not quite knowing what he was doing but anxious to keep these heavenly visitors here with the Christ, said,

‘If thou wilt, let us set up three tents here, one for thee, one for Moses, and one for Elias’ (Matthew 17:4).

But just then a radiant cloud enveloped them all in its midst, and they heard the voice of God from heaven saying to them,

‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear him’ (Matthew 17:5).

And looking round they saw no one but Jesus.

THE SIGNIFICANCE

The transfiguration of Jesus on the mountaintop could have been pregnant with meaning for the Apostles. They had accepted Jesus as the Christ, and there on the mountain in the radiant countenance and garments of Jesus they had been allowed to see the glory of the Christ. Moreover, Moses and Elias, two great prophets and heroes of their people, had come to give testimony to the identity of Jesus as the Christ. But the mystery of Jesus still remained, for though He appeared to them in glory, still Moses and Elias spoke to Him of His approaching suffering and death. How could glory and humiliation be reconciled?

And what about Elias? Was he not to be the forerunner of the Christ? Why then did he leave? Why were they asked to listen only to Jesus, God’s beloved Son? Filled with a sense of awe, but still wondering, they asked Jesus about Elias. Jesus replied to them that Elias had already come in the person of John the Baptist. Elias would not come in person; he was only the prototype of John the Baptist. And the Baptist had already been put to death for preaching the gospel of repentance. So also would Jesus, the Son of Man, be put to death.

MANIFESTATION OF DIVINE POWER

On the following day, after they had come down from the mountain, the crowd brought to Jesus a boy who was possessed by a devil. Apparently the father of the boy had asked the disciples of Jesus to expel the demon. But they had failed to do so. Jesus spoke to the father of the boy, saying,

‘If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him who believes’ (Mark 9:22).

The father cried out, ‘I do believe; help my unbelief!’ (Mark 9:23). Thereupon Jesus rebuked the devil and left the boy.

The disciples, who had been unsuccessful in their attempt to relieve the boy, asked Jesus why they had not been able to expel the demon. Jesus told them that it was due to their lack of faith and to the fact that this demon could be cast out only by prayer and fasting.

This further manifestation of divine power must have strengthened the faith of the disciples in Jesus. But Jesus, for His part, cautioned His disciples once again that He must suffer and die and rise again on the third day. But they, believing in Him as they did and faced with these displays of His power, did not understand what He meant.

THE GREATEST IN HIS KINGDOM

Following this miracle Jesus went with His disciples to a house in Capharnaum where He continued instructing them in the nature of His kingdom. While on their way there the disciples had been discussing with one another which of them was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Their discussion of this topic shows that they were still thinking of the kingdom of Jesus as a worldly kingdom. Jesus had already said that He would make Simon Peter the rock of His kingdom [Mt 16:17-19]. Perhaps some of the other Apostles were wondering why he should have been chosen for this honour in preference to someone else. Certainly they were all wondering what position each should occupy.

Jesus took this occasion to teach them that humility would be one of the characteristics of the members of His kingdom. Taking a little child into His arms, He said to them,

‘Unless you turn and become like little children, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whoever, therefore, humbles himself as this little child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such little child for my sake, receives me’ (Matthew 18:3-5).

HUMILITY IS ONE OF THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE MEMBERS OF CHRIST’S KINGDOM

The lesson is given affectionately buy clearly. In the kingdom of Christ the Apostles must be like little children, not priding themselves on position or power, but humbly serving others, ready to see the Christ Himself in all the ‘little’ ones of the world and receiving in love all the ‘little’ ones of the earth as if they were Christ Himself.

‘DO NOT FORBID HIM’

John, still remembering that Jesus had just cast a devil out of a boy, interrupted and said: ‘Master, we saw a man casting out devils in thy name, and we forbade him, because he does not follow with us’ (Luke 9:49).

Jesus replied, ‘Do not forbid him, because there is no one who shall work a miracle in my name, and forthwith be able to speak ill of me. For he who is not against you is for you’ (Mark 9:38-39).

In these words Jesus taught the Apostles the lesson of tolerance. Even though a man might not yet be a member of the kingdom, following openly after Christ and Peter as did the other disciples, if he had enough faith to invoke the name of Jesus to work miracles, he was already on the right road; he would not speak evil of the Christ.

‘FLEE FROM SIN’

After this reply to John Jesus went on to speak of the evils of scandal. Those who give scandal, that is, those who by their words or actions lead others into sin, will be severely punished; it were better for such a one ‘if a great millstone were hung about his neck, and he were thrown into the sea’ (Mark 9:41).

As for the disciples themselves, they must flee from scandal in the actions of others. If they would enter into everlasting life with God, they must flee from sin. On this point the language of Jesus is very strong. If a hand or a foot or an eye should be to them an occasion of sin, He tells them, they must rather cut it off or pluck it out, rather than fall into sin. It is better to enter into life with God maimed or blind rather than to descend into the everlasting fires of hell.

THE SON OF MAN HAS COME INTO THIS WORLD TO SAVE ALL MEN FROM SIN

This thought of the final end of man, either heaven or hell, leads Jesus to emphasise once again the nature of His mission. He has come into this world to save what was lost, that is, all mankind. Speaking again of the ‘little’ ones of the world, He says,

‘See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you, their angels in heaven always behold the face of my Father in heaven. For the Son of Man came to save what is lost. What do you think? If a man have hundred sheep, and one of them stray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the mountains, and go in search of the one that has strayed? And if he happens to find it, amen I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so, it is not the will of your Father in heaven that a single one of these little ones should perish’ (Matthew 13:10-14).

The Son of Man has come into this world to save all men from sin.

THE POWER TO FORGIVE SIN

This in turn leads Jesus on to the thought of the forgiveness of sin. He has already claimed to have the power to forgive sin. If any of your brethren sin, He tells His Apostles, go to him and try to correct him. If he will not listen, then take one or two more with you and try again. If he still will not listen, let the Church speak to him; and if he will not hear the Church, then let him be put out of the Church. Then Jesus speaks the words which give to all His Apostles the power to forgive sin, ‘Amen I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven’ (Matthew 18:18).

In this way Jesus gives to the other Apostles a share in the power which He has already promised to Peter.

The power to forgive sin is a tremendous power indeed, but Jesus goes on to say that the prayer of His kingdom or Church will be able to accomplish anything.

‘I say to you further, that if two of you shall agree on earth about anything at all for which they ask, it shall be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together for my sake, there am I in the midst of them’ (Matthew 18:19-20). Though Jesus speaks only of two or three, He means by those words to speak of His Church. For He is speaking in the context of His discourses to His Apostles on the nature of His kingdom. In that kingdom or Church, of which Peter is to be the head, and in which all the Apostles will possess the power to forgive sins, then whenever the members are gathered together in the name and for the sake of Christ, God in heaven will hear their prayers. The prayer of the Church, that is, of all those who profess allegiance to the Christ under Peter and the Apostles, will be all powerful.

HOW OFTEN SHOULD THEY FORGIVE SOMEBODY THEIR SINS?

Peter, meanwhile, had been intrigued by the question of the forgiveness of sin. How often, he was wondering, should they forgive a man his sins. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Clearly to Peter seven was an upper limit to the forgiveness of sins. But Jesus replied that he must forgive his brother even to seventy times seven, thus intimating that God placed no upper limit on the forgiveness of sins; a man was to be forgiven as often as he would listen to the Church and repent of his sins.

THE PARABLE OF THE UNMERCIFUL SERVANT

To enforce this point Jesus then told the parable of the unmerciful servant. The kingdom of heaven, He said, is like a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. It was discovered that one of his servants, that is, one of his more important ministers, had defrauded him of ten thousand talents, that is, over several million dollars. Since he had not enough money to pay back this enormous debt, the king ordered him, his wife and children to be sold as payment. The minister begged for mercy, and the king not only released him but forgave him the debt. Sin is as enormous in its moral guilt as the sum stolen by the king’s minister was financially great. But God forgives sin as generously as the king forgave his servant.

But the parable does not end here. Jesus goes on to say that the servant who had been forgiven went out and found another servant who owed him an insignificant amount of money. Instead of extending to his fellow servant the kind mercy he has himself received from the king, the unmerciful servant had him thrown into prison until the debt was paid. On hearing of this ungenerous act the king then handed the first servant over to the torturers until the debt was paid. Sternly Jesus points out the lesson: ‘So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if you do not forgive your brothers from your heart’ (Matthew 18:25). As God’s mercy and generosity to sinners is infinite, so also the mercy of His Church must be infinite.

THE MERCY OF GOD’S CHURCH MUST BE INFINITE

If we couple this point with the injunction of Jesus to cast out of the Church the unrepentant sinner, the meaning becomes clear. In the kingdom of heaven, in the Church of the Christ, no one is to be a scandal, a cause of sin to another; no one is to be scandalised, that is, led into sin by another; all must avoid sin to save their souls and enter life everlasting. But if anyone sin, then he must repent; if he repents, the mercy of God is infinite. But if he will not repent, he must be cast out so that his sinfulness will not be a scandal to others. This does not mean that the unrepentant one may never be forgiven. It does mean that he cannot be forgiven or readmitted until he has repented.

JESUS HAD EMPHASISED THE SPIRITUAL NATURE OF HIS KINGDOM

In these discourses with His Apostes Jesus had emphasised the spiritual nature of His kingdom. The goal of His kingdom is entrance into the everlasting life of God. To enter the kingdom men must accept Jesus as the Christ, the Messias, the beloved Son of God. They must believe His words. They must believe in His glory, but they must also believe in His suffering and death and in His resurrection. They must accept the mystery of a Messias Who is both triumphant and humiliated. To remain in His kingdom they must avoid all sin. Peter will be the ruler, the key-bearer of the kingdom, but the Apostles will share in his power under him. Especially will they be able to forgive the sins of men, thus admitting them or, as the case may be, re-admitting them to the Kingdom of God.

THEIR FAITH IN HIM PERSEVERED

The Apostles did not comprehend the full meaning of all that Jesus told them. They were still in need of further instruction from Him. In fact they would not reconcile their dream of a triumphant Christ with Jesus’ prophecy of the suffering Christ until after Jesus had suffered and died. But for the moment their faith in Him persevered and so they continued to follow Him, in darkness, it is true, but still in hope.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

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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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24th APRIL, GOSPEL READING (LUKE 24:35-48)

IT IS WRITTEN THAT THE CHRIST WOULD SUFFER AND ON THE THIRD DAY RISE FROM THE DEAD.

The disciples told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised Jesus at the breaking of the bread.

They were still talking about this when Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you!” In a state of alarm and fright, they thought they were seeing a ghost. But he said, “Why are you so agitated, and why are these doubts rising in your hearts? Look at my hands and feet; yes, it is I indeed. Touch me and see for yourselves; a ghost has no flesh and bones as you can see I have.” And as he said this he showed them his hands and feet. Their joy was so great that they still could not believe it, and they stood there dumbfounded; so he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” And they offered him a piece of grilled fish, which he took and ate before their eyes.

Then he told them, “This is what I meant when I said, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets and in the Psalms, has to be fulfilled.” He then opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “So you see how it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this.”

V. The Gospel of the Lord.
R. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

 

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GOOD FRIDAY, BIBLE READING I (ISAIAH 52:13-53:12)

See, my servant will prosper, he shall be lifted up, exalted, rise to great heights. As the crowds were appalled on seeing him – so disfigured did he look that he seemed no longer human – so will the crowds be astonished at him, and kings stand speechless before him; for they shall see something never told and witness something never heard before: “Who could believe what we have heard, and to whom has the power of the Lord been revealed?”

Like a sapling he grew up in front of us, like a root in arid ground. Without beauty, without majesty we saw him, no looks to attract our eyes; a thing despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering, a man to make people screen their faces; he was despised and we took no account of him.

And yet ours were the sufferings he bore, ours the sorrows he carried. But we, we thought of him as someone punished, struck by God, and brought low. Yet he was pierced through for our faults, crushed for our sins. On him lies a punishment that brings us peace, and through his wounds we are healed.

We had all gone astray like sheep, each taking his own way, and the Lord burdened him with the sins of all of us. Harshly dealt with, he bore it humbly, he never opened his mouth, like a lamb that is led to the slaughter-house, like a sheep that is dumb before its shearers never opening its mouth.

By force and by law he was taken; would anyone plead his cause? Yes, he was torn away from the land of the living; for our faults struck down in death. They gave him a grave with the wicked, a tomb with the rich, though he had done no wrong and there had been no perjury in his mouth.

His soul’s anguish over he shall see the light and be content. By his sufferings shall my servant justify many, taking their faults on himself.

Hence I will grant whole hordes for his tribute, he shall divide the spoil with the mighty, for surrendering himself to death and letting himself be taken for a sinner, while he was bearing the faults of many and praying all the time for sinners.

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

 

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16th APRIL, BIBLE READING (ISAIAH 50:4-9)

I DID NOT COVER MY FACE AGAINST INSULT.

The Lord has given me
a disciple’s tongue.
So that I may know how to reply to the wearied
he provides me with speech.
Each morning he wakes me to hear,
to listen like a disciple.
The Lord has opened my ear.

For my part, I made no resistance,
neither did I turn away.
I offered my back to those who struck me,
my cheeks to those who tore at my beard;
I did not cover my face
against insult and spittle.

The Lord comes to my help,
so that I am untouched by the insults.
So, too, I set my face like flint;
I know I shall not be shamed.

My vindicator is here at hand. Does anyone start proceedings against me?
Then let us go to court together.
Who thinks he has a case against me?
Let him approach me.

The Lord is coming to my help,
who dare condemn me?

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

 

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15th APRIL, BIBLE READING (ISAIAH 49:1-6)

I WILL MAKE YOU THE LIGHT OF THE NATIONS SO THAT MY SALVATION MAY REACH TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH.

Islands, listen to me,
pay attention, remotest peoples.
The Lord called me before I was born,
from my mother’s womb he pronounced my name.

He made my mouth a sharp sword,
and hid me in the shadow of his hand.
He made me into a sharpened arrow,
and concealed me in his quiver.

He said to me, “You are my servant (Israel)
in whom I shall be glorified”;
while I was thinking, “I have toiled in vain,
I have exhausted myself for nothing”;

and all the while my cause was with the Lord,
my reward with my God.
I was honoured in the eyes of the Lord,
my God was my strength.

And now the Lord has spoken,
he who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
to gather Israel to him:

“It is not enough for you to be my servant,
to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel;
I will make you the light of the nations
so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

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

 

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14th APRIL, BIBLE READING (ISAIAH 42:1-7)

HE DOES NOT CRY OUT OR SHOUT ALOUD.

Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom my soul delights.
I have endowed him with my spirit
that he may bring true justice to the nations.

He does not cry out or shout aloud,
or make his voice heard in the streets.
He does not break the crushed reed,
nor quench the wavering flame.

Faithfully he brings true justice;
he will neither waver, nor be crushed
until true justice is established on earth,
for the islands are awaiting his law.

Thus says God, the Lord,
he who created the heavens and spread them out,
who gave shape to the earth and what comes from it,
who gave breath to its people
and life to the creatures that move in it;

I, the Lord, have called you to serve the cause of right;
I have taken you by the hand and formed you;
I have appointed you as covenant of the people and light of the nations,

to open the eyes of the blind,
to free captives from prison,
and those who live in darkness from the dungeon.

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

 

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WHERE HAD THE PALM SUNDAY CROWDS DISAPPEARED TO WHEN JESUS WAS SENTENCED TO DEATH?

THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MANKIND AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE:
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED ON PALM SUNDAY?

“The following day Jesus set out for Jerusalem. Hearing that He was at Bethany, a great crowd had come from Jerusalem to meet Him. They were attracted also by the prospect of seeing Lazarus, whom Jesus had brought back to life. The priests and Pharisees, on the other hand, were angry at His growing fame and the admiration of the people for Him. They were strengthened in their resolve to put Him to death. Indeed they were determined also to put Lazarus to death.

JESUS’ ENEMIES WERE ANGRY AT HIS GROWING FAME

It was the intention of Jesus to enter Jerusalem as the Messias. He wished to fulfil the prophecy of Zacharias [Zechariah], who had foretold that the Messias would enter Jerusalem seated upon an ass. Unwilling, perhaps, to endanger His friends at Bethany, He did not ask them for the animal upon which He would enter the Holy City. Instead, when He drew near to Bethpage, He told His disciples to enter the village and to bring to Him the ass and her colt which they would find there.

THE PROPHECY OF ZACHARIAS WAS TO BE FULFILLED

When the disciples returned with the ass and her colt, some of those present spread their cloaks over the colt. Jesus then mounted and started for Jerusalem. The people, apparently accepting Him as the Messiah, did what they could to make His entrance into the city a royal procession. Some spread their cloaks on the ground before Him. Others stripped branches from the trees along the way and spread them on the road before Him. Filled with enthusiasm they shouted, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest!’ (Matthew 21:9).

‘HOSANNA IN THE HIGHEST!’

Some of the Pharisees, who had come to watch Him, objected to the behaviour of the crowd. They would not accept Jesus as the Messias, nor did they wish the people to do so. ‘Master,’ they said to Him, ‘rebuke thy disciples’ (Luke 19:39). But Jesus, knowing that the time had come for Him to accomplish His mission, insisted upon being acclaimed as the Messias. ‘I tell you,’ He said to the Pharisees, ‘that if these keep silence, the stones will cry out’ (Luke 19:40). Up to this moment Jesus had accepted the title of Messias only from His most intimate disciples. But, on this day, the first Palm Sunday, He allowed the people to hail Him as the Son of David, the Messias Who comes in the name of the Lord.

HE IS COMING TO FULFIL GOD’S PLAN FOR THE SALVATION OF MANKIND

The occasion is a solemn one. Jesus, the Messias, the Anointed One of God, is about to enter Jerusalem, God’s Holy City. He is coming to fulfil God’s plan for the salvation of mankind. Though His disciples and the people are hailing Him as a King He alone realises fully that His kingdom is not a temporal, earthly kingdom, but a spiritual and eternal kingdom. And, in spite of His warnings to His disciples, He alone accepts the fact that His kingdom will be established, not by a triumphant revolt against the power of the Roman Empire but by his own suffering and death.

JESUS FORESEES JERUSALEM’S DOOM

Thus, when Jesus comes within sight of Jerusalem He is overwhelmed with sorrow at the thought that God’s Holy City will reject Him, refusing to acknowledge Him as the Messias, as, in fact, the very Son of God. He weeps over the city, and in His anguish He says to it, ‘If thou hadst known, in this thy day, even thou, the things that are for thy peace! But now they are hidden from thy eyes’ (Luke 19:42).

‘SEEKING ONLY WORLDLY GLORY’

Jerusalem will have none of His spiritual kingdom. It will seek only earthly glory. It will waste its strength and its hope in a futile attempt to oust the Romans from Palestine. Foreseeing its doom, Jesus prophesies to it, ‘For days will come upon thee when thy enemies will throw up a rampart about thee and shut thee in on every side, and will dash thee also to the ground and thy children within thee, and will not leave in thee one stone upon another, because thou hast not known the time of thy visitation’ (Luke 19:43-44).

JESUS’ WORDS WERE HEARD BY BOTH JEWS AND REPRESENTATIVES OF THE GENTILES

Jesus then continued on His way to the city. In Jerusalem He went to the Temple. There, towards evening, the people gathered to listen to Him. In view of His triumphal entrance into the city as the Messias, the people were, no doubt, expecting either a miraculous sign of His power or some announcement about His plans. Jesus took the occasion to tell them how His work for mankind was to be accomplished. Some Gentiles were present with the Jews who had come to worship on the feast. Thus the words of Jesus were heard not only by His Chosen People but also by representatives of the Gentile world.

‘UNLESS A GRAIN OF WHEAT FALLS INTO THE GROUND AND DIES…

‘The hour has come,’ He said, ‘for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it brings forth much fruit. He who loves His life, loses it; and he who hates his life in this world, keeps it unto life everlasting. If anyone serves me, let him follow me; and where I am there also shall my servant be. If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him’ (John 12:23-26).

Jesus compares Himself to a grain of wheat. As the grain must die in order to give life to the fruit, so also Jesus must die in order to give life to men. The life of which He speaks is not this present life of the body, but eternal life. Those who prize only the present life of their bodies must inevitably lose that life, and lose, besides, the eternal life with the Father in heaven which Jesus has come to give men. But those who prefer eternal life to the life of the body shall enjoy eternal life with the Father in heaven. Jesus must die to give eternal life to men. Those who would serve Him must follow His example. They, too, must be prepared to give up the life of the body for eternal life.

‘AN ANGEL HAS SPOKEN TO HIM’

Jesus is truly Man. The prospect of death is disturbing to Him. And so He adds, ‘Now my soul is troubled. And what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour! No, this is why I came to this hour. Father, glorify thy name!’ Even though the thought of His own death is naturally repugnant to Him, Jesus will not ask His Father to spare Him. In fact, His whole life has led up to this conclusion. By His death God will glorify His name.

When Jesus had spoken these words, the voice of His Father in heaven was heard, saying, ‘I have both glorified it; and I will glorify it again’ (John 12:28). Some of those present thought they had heard thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’

Jesus said to them, ‘Not for me did this voice come, but for you’ (John 12:30). Then He told them that God’s judgment of the world was about to be accomplished. ‘Now is the judgment of the world; now will the prince of the world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself’ (John 12:31-32).

THROUGH SIN THE DEVIL HAD BECOME THE PRINCE OF THIS WORLD

Through sin the devil had become the prince of this world. But now judgment was about to be executed against him, and he would be cast out of the world. God’s promise to the devil, and to Adam and Eve, was about to be fulfilled. The seed of the woman, Jesus Himself, was about to crush the devil. And, strangely, He would overcome the devil by His death. Jesus would be lifted up from the earth on a cross, He would be crucified.

JESUS HIMSELF WAS ABOUT TO CRUSH THE DEVIL

The crowd had expected Jesus to announce His plan for their redemption. But they had expected Him to forecast some design to expel the Romans and establish an earthly kingdom among the Chosen People. But, instead of an earthly victory, Jesus spoke of a spiritual victory; instead of the Romans, He spoke of the devil, the evil spirit who ruled the empire of sin and death. Jesus would overcome the empire of sin and death.

JESUS WOULD OVERCOME THE EMPIRE OF SIN AND DEATH

The crowd still clung to its hope for a political Messias. ‘We have heard from the Law,’ they objected, ‘that the Christ abides forever. And how canst thou say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?’ (John 12:34).

THEY HAD FORGOTTEN ISAIAH’S DETAILED AND EXTENSIVE PROPHECY OF THE SUFFERING SERVANT

The idea of a suffering Messias, a dying Messias was not pleasing to them. They had forgotten the Isaian prophecy of the Servant of Jahweh who would die for His people; or they were unable to reconcile this prophecy with their dreams of political liberation and power. And the Son of Man to them was not someone who was lifted up from the earth on a cross but rather a majestic figure who would come to them seated on the clouds of heaven.

Jesus, knowing their blindness, made one more plea for their belief in Himself. ‘Yet a little while the light is among you,’ He said. ‘Walk while you have the light, that darkness may not overtake you. He who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light’ (John 12:35-36).

IF PEOPLE BELIEVED IN HIM THEY WOULD BECOME SONS OF LIGHT

The light of which Jesus spoke was Himself. If they would believe in Him, they would become sons of light, with the power to see in Him the fulfilment of the predictions of their ancient prophets. With the divine light of faith they would see that God’s plan for mankind was accomplished by the death of the Messias.

NOT ACCEPTABLE TO HIS OWN PEOPLE

But the crowd, which had been so enthusiastic earlier in the day, was unwilling to give such faith to Jesus. Disappointed, Jesus left them and retired to Bethany for the night. Jesus had come to Jerusalem to give His life as a ransom for men, as a payment for the penalty of sin. But the prize, freedom from sin, was not acceptable to His own people.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

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932 B.C. – THE PERIOD OF THE TWO KINGDOMS IN THE BIBLE EXPLAINED: II. THE KINGDOM OF JUDAH

(Ten of the tribes revolted against tax and labour burdens imposed since King Solomon during the early part of the reign of his successor Roboam. They elected a former official under Solomon, Jeroboam, as their king. The portion of the old kingdom remaining to Roboam became known as the kingdom of Juda [Judah]. This division of the kingdom took place in the year 932 B.C. – The fate of the Kingdom of Israel from Jeroboam onwards until their captivity by the Assyrians in 721 B.C. is related in Part I, posted immediately before today’s Mass readings on this blog.)

JUDA’S WORSHIP, UNLIKE ISRAEL’S, REMAINED FREE OF GOLDEN CALF STATUES

The tribes of Juda and Benjamin remained loyal to the House of David. They are known as the kingdom of Juda. The kingdom of Juda endured longer than the kingdom of Israel. This was due in part to the fact that their geographical position protected them from the Syrians, the Assyrians and the Egyptians. It may also be due to greater protection from God. The divine protection of Juda was fitting for several reasons. In the first place the kingdom was faithful to the House of David and God had promised that David should rule forever.

In the second place the kingdom was, by and large, more faithful to the worship of Jahewh, the true God. The worship of Jahweh at Jerusalem was not adulterated by the use of a calf-representation of Jahweh as it was at Dan and Bethel in the northern kingdom. The Davidic kings, Asa (913-873 B.C.), Josaphat (873-849 B.C.), Joas (836-797 B.C.), Ezechias (718-689 B.C.) and Josias (639-609 B.C.), all made strenuous efforts to induce the people to worship Jahweh properly at Jerusalem.

In fact, Ezechias trusted so firmly in God that when Jerusalem was threatened by Sennacherib, king of Assyria, he both refused to surrender or to make an alliance with Egypt for his own protection. On the advice of the prophet Isaias Ezechias trusted in God alone. In return God sent a plague or a pestilence to the army of the Assyrians and they withdrew without attacking the city.

NOT WITHOUT FAULT IN THE SIGHT OF GOD

But the House of David and the people of the kingdom of Juda were not without fault in the sight of God. Abia (915-913 B.C.) allied himself with Tab-Rimmon, king of Damascus, against the kingdom of Israel and thus helped to bring about the interference of Syria in the affairs of Israel and Juda.

Josaphat, even though he was an ardent Jahwist, married his son Joram to Athalia, the daughter of Jezabel, Queen of Israel and a militant anti-Jahwist. The Jahwism of Josaphat was thus later overturned by the anti-Jahwism of Athalia when she seized the throne in 842.

Achaz (733-718), when threatened by an anti-Assyrian league formed by Rasin of Damascus and Peqah of Israel, appealed to Tiglath-Pileser III, king of Assyria, instead of trusting in Jahweh. As a result the kingdom of Juda became a vassal of Assyria.

During the reign of Joachim (608-597) the kingdom conspired with other principalities, relying on the aid of Egypt against the Babylonians. As a result, in 597, Nabuchodonosor of Babylonia entered Jerusalem and effected the first deportation of the people to Babylonia. Sedecias, the last king of the dynasty of David, also conspired with the Egyptians against Babylonia. In 586 Nabuchodonosor captured Jerusalem and deported the more important or wealthier people to Babylonia. The kingdom of Juda had perished.

THE KINGDOM OF JUDA, TOO, FAILED BECAUSE OF LACK OF TRUST IN GOD

The kingdom failed first of all because it had not trusted in Jahweh. Instead it had turned to political and military alliances with polytheistic and idolatrous peoples to insure its own political preservation. And the kings, the nobles and the peoples did this in the face of repeated warnings of the prophets of God.

THEY IGNORED THE WARNINGS OF GOD’S PROPHETS

When Achaz was in danger from the kings of Damascus and Israel (Rasin and Peqah), the prophet Isaias counselled him to trust in God alone. But he appealed instead to the Assyrians, even though Isaias threatened that God would let the Babylonians devastate the land.

When Joachim was seeking an alliance with Egypt against Assyria, the prophet Jeremias warned that the people would suffer as much harm through Egypt as through Assyria: ‘And thou shalt be ashamed of Egypt as thou wast ashamed of Assyria’ (Jeremias 2:36). Their miseries, he tells them, are due to the fact that they have deserted their God: ‘Hath not this been done to thee because thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God…?’ (Jeremias 2:17).

DURING MANASSES’ REIGN, THE GODS OF ASSYRIA WERE WORSHIPPED IN JUDA

The concern of the prophets with the problem of alliances with other nations was not so much political as it was religious. As events almost always proved, such alliances led to a deterioration of the religious views and practices of the people. Thus, the alliance of Achaz with the Assyrians led to the introduction of a new altar in the Temple at Jerusalem, an altar modelled after an Assyrian altar which Achaz saw at Damascus when he went there to see Tiglath-Pileser. Achaz even sacrificed his own son in a holocaust, probably made to Moloch, the god of the Ammonites. During the reign of Manasses (689-641), when the kingdom was subject to Assyria, the gods of Assyria were worshipped in the land of Juda.

AN INSIDIOUS WORLDLINESS ATTACKED JUDA’S MORAL AND RELIGIOUS LIFE

But the lack of trust in God and the acceptance of idolatrous elements in the religious practices of the people were only the more striking manifestations of an insidious worldliness which had attacked the moral and religious life of the nation. In the eyes of God. As the prophets so strongly asserted, the people had given up God and the things of God for the pleasures, riches and power of this fallen world.

Thus the prophet Micheas [Micah] complains of the people: ‘And they have coveted fields and taken them by violence, and houses they have forcibly taken away: and oppressed a man and his house, a man and his inheritance.’ Isaias says to the people: ‘Wash yourselves: be clean. Take away the evil of your devices from your eyes. Cease to do perversely. Learn to do well. Seek judgment. Relieve the oppressed. Judge for the fatherless. Defend the widow… The princes are faithless, companions of thieves; they all love bribes, they run after rewards. They judge not for the fatherless: and the widow’s cause cometh not in to them’ (Isaiah 1:16-17, 23).

UNRULY DESIRES FOR WORLDLY THINGS LEAD TO DISTRUST OF GOD

It is easy to see how the unruly desires of the people for possessions, power and influence could lead to a lack of trust in God. The man whose property is threatened will tend to put greater trust in force of arms than he will place in an invisible God. This is especially true if the wealth has been acquired by breaking the law of justice which God has established. The man whose wealth has been gained by sinning against God’s will can hardly look to God to protect him. This is why the prophets reproach the people of Juda for their sins. This is why they call for a return to the Mosaic Law as a means of obtaining God’s mercy.

WHAT MADE THE PEOPLE OF JUDAH TURN TO BAAL AND OTHER IDOLS INSTEAD?

Again, a people enamoured of the pleasures and power of the world will easily tend to admire the gods of nations wealthier or more powerful than themselves. This explains, too, why the Chosen People turned to the worship of Baal and Astarte, of Ishtar and Moloch. The shrewd seeker after fame and wealth will neglect no divinity that might farther or hinder his aims.

At any rate, Juda sinned against God. The prophets pleaded with the people to give up their sins and return to God. But their admonitions were in vain. God therefore announced the destruction of the kingdom of Juda. ‘Be in pain and labour,’ said the prophet Micheas, ‘O daughter of Sion, as a woman that bringeth forth: for now thou shalt go out of the city and shalt dwell in the country and shalt come even to Babylon’ (Micah 4:10).

To King Ezechias Isaias prophesied: ‘Behold the days shall come, that all that is in thy house, and that thy fathers have laid up in store until this day shall be carried away into Babylon: there shall not any thing be left, saith the Lord. And of thy children that issue from thee, whom thou shalt beget, they shall take away: and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon’ (Isaiah 39:6-7).

STILL GOD WILL NOT FORSAKE HIS PEOPLE, SAY THE PROPHETS

But the future history of the people, as seen by the prophets, is not all darkness and despair. God will deliver a remnant, a portion of his people from captivity. ‘Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who are carried by my bowels, are borne up by my womb. Even to your old age I am the same. And to your grey hairs I will carry you. I have made you and I will bear: I will carry you. I have made you and I will bear: I will carry and I will save’ (Isaiah 46:3-4). And again: ‘Come forth out of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans, declare it with the voice of joy: make this to be heard, and speak it out even to the ends of the earth. Say: The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob’ (Isaiah 48:20).

Jeremias sends a word of comfort to those who have been led into captivity in Babylon: ‘When the seventy years shall begin to be accomplished in Babylon, I will visit you, and I will perform my good word in your favour, to bring you again to this place… and I will bring back your captivity, and I will gather you out of all nations, and from all the places to which I have driven you out, saith the Lord; and I will bring you back from the place to which I have caused you to be carried away captive’ (Jeremiah 29:10, 14).

THE PROPHETS FORESEE IN THE FUTURE THE JUST KING FOR ALL, JESUS CHRIST

The prophets foresee not only the return of the people to Jerusalem; they foresee in the distant future the reign of a just king who shall be a descendant of King David. Isaias, when seeking to dissuade Achaz from making an alliance with Tiglath-Pileser, says that God will send a wonderful sign to the House of David: ‘Hear ye, therefore, House of David… Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son: and his name shall be called Emmanuel’ (Isaiah 7:14).

Of this child Isaias also foretells: ‘A child is born to us, and a son is given to us, and the government is upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the World to come, the Prince of Peace. His empire shall be multiplied and there shall be no end of peace. He shall sit upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom: to establish it and strengthen it with judgement and with justice, from henceforth and forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this’ (Isaiah 9:6-7).

Jeremias echoes the same thought: ‘Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, and I will raise up to David a just branch. And a king shall reign, and shall be wise, and shall execute judgement and justice in the earth. In those days shall Juda be saved and Israel shall dwell condfidently: and this is the name that they shall call him: The Lord, Our Just One’ (Jeremiah 23:5-6).

Micheas adds the detail that the just King will be born at Bethlehem of Juda: ‘And thou, Bethlehem Ephrata, art a little one among the thousands of Judah: out of thee shall He come forth unto me that is to be the ruler in Israel: and His going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity’ (Micah 5:2).

HIS BLESSINGS WILL BE EXTENDED TO ALL THE NATIONS OF THE EARTH

Moreover, when this King shall come, His blessings will be extended to all the nations of the earth. ‘And in the last days the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be prepared on the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills: and all nations shall flow into it. And many people shall go, and say: Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord and to the house of the God of Jacob: and He will teach us His ways, and we will walk in His paths. For the law shall come forth from Sion; and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge the Gentiles and rebuke many people: and they shall turn their swords into ploughshares and their spears into sickles. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation: neither shall they be exercised any more to war’ (Isaiah 2:24).

THEY WILL BE CONVERTED FROM SIN AND RETURN TO THE LORD

God’s plan, then, to redeem the world through the people of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, will not fail. Because His people have sinned against Him, He will allow their kingdoms to be destroyed and the people to be led away into captivity. But a remnant of them, a small portion of them, will repent of their sins. The severity of their chastisement will cause them to be converted from sin and to return to the Lord their God. Then, after seventy years of humiliating captivity, they will return to their land.

WHEN JESUS CHRIST COMES, GOD’S PROMISE TO ABRAHAM WILL BE FULFILLED

When, through disastrous defeat and bitter misfortune, they have learned to trust in and worship Jahweh alone, God will send them a King who will restore justice and judgment to the world. They will be able to recognise their true King because in some mysterious way known only to God He will be conceived and born of a virgin of the House of David. He will be born at Bethlehem of Judah.

When the promised King comes, then the word of God to Abraham will be fulfilled: the blessings of God will be extended to all nations through the seed of Abraham.

THE PLAN FOR THE REDEMPTION OF THE HUMAN RACE IS STILL UNFOLDING AT THAT POINT IN TIME

It is clear, then, that the divine plan for the redemption of the human race is still in the process of its mysterious unfolding. In the historic moment of defeat the divine promise still rings clear: God will save men through the seed of Abraham. But first He will mould. To His own requirements a remnant of His people. This remnant will learn the lesson of faithfulness to Himself.

Through humiliation and suffering they will learn the utter emptiness of the false gods of the other nations of the world. Through the failure of their worldly aims they will learn to seek the blessings of God. When, through their dispersal throughout the nations of the world the nations have heard of Jahweh, the true God, then the Just One of God will come to extend the blessings of God to all men.

THE SUFFERING SERVANT

To those who trusted in God this message of the prophets must have been most consoling. But it was accompanied, in the case of the prophet Isaias, with another message which must have been most mysterious to the people of Juda. For Isaias spoke to his compatriots not only of a great King who would save them but also of a mysterious Servant of Jahweh Who would redeem men through his sufferings. The prophecy of the Suffering Servant of Jahweh is found scattered in the Book of Isaias [Isaiah], in chapter 42:1-7; chapter 49:1-9a; chapter 50:4-9, and in chapters 52:13 to 53:12.

A LIKELY CAUSE FOR BEWILDERMENT AMONG THE CHOSEN PEOPLE

[…] This picture of the Servant of Jahweh no doubt caused much bewilderment to the Chosen People. In the first place, they were probably looking for worldly success and power rather than forgiveness of sin. This ambition looked for a powerful king-deliverer rather than the abject figure of the Servant of Jahweh. In the second place they were looking for a deliverer who would make them the rulers of the world. But, according to Isaias, they would reject the Servant of Jahweh and He would become instead the light of the Gentiles.

THE WISDOM OF GOD WILL ULTIMATELY MAKE THINGS CLEAR

It is true that the reference to the tender plant and the root might have recalled to them the ‘root of Jesse’ of whom Isaias had already spoken, the Descendant of David Who would save them. But still, it would have been difficult for them to reconcile the mighty King, the Descendant of David, with the Suffering Servant. […] But to us, who have the benefit of hindsight and the inestimable blessing of faith, we can for the moment rest easy in the thought that the wisdom of God will ultimately make all things clear.”
– Martin J. Healy, 1959

 

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