Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Lectionary: 249

Some in the crowd who heard these words of Jesus said, "This is truly the Prophet." Others said, "This is the Christ."

"The conclusion of Deuteronomy returns to the promise and gives it a surprising twist that takes it far beyond the institution of prophecy. In so doing, it gives the figure of the prophet its true meaning. "And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses," we read, "whom the Lord knew face to face" (Deuteronomy 34:10). A curious melancholy hangs over the conclusion of the fifth book of Moses. The promise concerning "a prophet like me" has not yet been fulfilled. And it now becomes clear that these words do not refer simply to the institution of prophecy, which in fact already existed, but to something different and far greater: the announcement of a new Moses. It had become evident that taking possession of the land of Palestine did not constitute the people's entry into salvation; that Israel was still awaiting its real liberation; that an even more radical kind of exodus was necessary, one that called for a new Moses." (from Jesus of Nazareth, by Pope Benedict XVI, page 3)

With this paragraph the Holy Father described not only the "curious melancholy" that hangs over the entire Old Testament, he pointed to the ecstatic joy of the New Testament. It is a promised joy, one not yet fully realized; but nonetheless real for those who believe in the resurrection of our "new Moses." 

There is plenty of joyful expectation in both Testaments of the Bible, but its focus is the Son of Mary. It is a rising expectation, a rising, eager anticipation of the joy that is about to appear. It begins with the vague promise of Genesis 3: 15, which the Church has read through the Septuagint and Vulgate translations, as the promise of One who would crush the serpent's head. It is promise visualized in Revelations 12:9. (We could not suppose this Genesis passage is nothing more than a mundane observation of why many people loathe snakes. There is surely more to it than that!) 

But, I must confess, for a dour person like myself, questions remain. As a VA hospital chaplain, I occasionally must sit face to face with Veterans who witnessed, suffered and perpetrated terrible crimes. Also, born after World War II I cannot ignore the atrocities of the Shoah, or the almost innumerable genocides since the beginning of the 20th century. Can one still believe in God? 

Ever since I began to preach as a deacon in 1974, I have been confronted with the murder of the Holy Innocents on the fourth day of Christmas, and again on the feast of Epiphany. Saint Matthew recalls the ancient suffering -- ever ancient, ever new -- of the People of the Promise with his recollection of Jeremiah;
A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more.”
Can the escape of the Infant Jesus into Egypt answer the sobbing and loud lamentation of Bethlehem's families? 

Saint Francis of Assisi speaks to me now. He knew war as a soldier and POW; he saw unspeakable atrocities during his adventure in Egypt; and yet he believed in the Son of God. 

He saw, felt and wept over the horror of the killing of the Son of God. He knew that blasphemous sacrilege as a crime beyond all crimes. "Love is not loved!" he wept inconsolably. How was it possible that human beings -- using the mechanisms of man-made laws -- would kill the Most High Lord God of Heaven and Earth? How was it possible that the Almighty God would suffer such humiliation -- except in complete, self-abandoning love for our pathetic human race? A race that is, while undeniably pathetic, also arrogant, vicious and irrational, utterly undeserving of mercy and yet -- by God's grace -- beautiful in God's sight. 

Francis systematically and persistently explored the mercy of God as he pursued the life of poverty. Refusing any provision for tomorrow, preferring to live like the birds of the air who gather no grain into barns, he discovered the superabundant goodness of God even when he was desperately hungry, shivering under a wintry night or sweltering in a hot summer day with its flies and biting gnats. His joy abounded at the thought of Jesus, born in Bethlehem and resurrected on Easter. "You are good, all good, supreme good!" he shouted, regardless of his own discomfort. 

Our faith tells us that "Rachel" has been consoled by the death and resurrection of Jesus, that the Savior has made atonement even for the genocides of recent centuries. Only God's suffering could attain such atonement; a mere human being's death might appeal to the romantic but on the scale of horror it would weigh nothing. 

Our Christian faith assures us the melancholy of Deuteronomy has been filled with overflowing joy by the coming of the New Moses. 

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.