“You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice, and you shall serve Him and cleave to Him.” Deuteronomy 13:4 (RSVCE)
“Moreover I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for He has appointed a time for every matter, and for every work.” Ecclesiastes 3:16-17 (RSVCE)
I had plenty of time to think while looking at the hospital ceiling for several weeks since late May 2021. As my old body recovers (now at home) from the ravages of COVID I now have more time to think and pray. For some reason I can’t quite recall a series of thoughts for long. I live in a world of short term memory. As an exercise to keep my braincells working, I try to remember poems, songs, the contents of books I have read, etc. Today I happened to remember a book I read years ago: Antiquities of the Jews, the chronicle written by Flavius Josephus in the first century.
Many have found in that part of the history of Israel a model of the end of the world. Jerusalem was surrounded by Roman troops under Cestius Gallus but Roman politics put an end to the siege in 66 A.D. The inhabitants of Jerusalem woke up one day to see the Romans gone. A miracle of sorts although the city was under siege again in 70 A.D. when Titus Vespasianus returned. That was the end of the revolt against Rome and also the end of the Temple and of the Levitical Priesthood.
The roots of the disgrace that fell upon Israel can be found in the Holy Gospels. I believe it is quite evident but some may not agree with me. The rejection began perhaps with the execution of John the Baptist and progressed with the obvious resistance of certain groups to the message of Jesus of Nazareth. The story presented to us in the Gospels is complex. One can read that story over and over and yet never notice the main threads. I will cover only the main points in here beginning with the main actors:
- The religious parties, the nationalistic zealots, and the Levitical Priesthood
- The civil authorities: mainly the Hasmonean kings (i.e. Herod) and the Roman Empire (represented by Pontius Pilate, Caesar)
- The Christians forming the incipient Church, Mary of Nazareth and most importantly, Jesus Christ Himself.
Keep them in mind as you read on.
The motivations for action of each group are different. The religious parties, zealots, and the priesthood aimed to control the people of Judea. They had different views on almost everything but all of them agreed in one thing: Jesus was not the Messiah they were waiting for. He was not a warrior, a great military leader like Caesar or Alexander of Macedon. They knew the prophets Daniel, Ezekiel, and others had left strong clues about the appearance of the Messiah. They could see that Jesus had come out of nowhere at precisely the right moment. They recognized Jesus’ power to heal, feed multitudes, resurrect the dead, and open the meaning of Scripture even without having any formal education in religious matters. One among their leaders recognized that much. That is recorded in John 3:1-2:
Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.”
The problem many of the religious leaders had with Jesus was his lack of interest in political or military power. One could add to that the fact that the people were being educated in the faith by Jesus, and many were adhering strongly to the man’s seemingly unorthodox religious views. They were divided in two camps. One was “He has to be the Messiah!” and the other was “He is not what we thought the Messiah was going to be!”
The Romans observed the Jesus phenomenon also but their view was not clouded by religious considerations. Today we know that news of the miraculous powers of Jesus reached even the Emperor. The Roman authorities were not concerned about a new religious teacher educating the populace in the ways of peace. They were more interested on keeping an eye on the religious zealots willing to excite the people of Judea against the Roman occupation of their motherland. In a way, the use of the sword is something that would identify the zealots as different from the followers of Christ. Christ himself at Gethsemane teaches Peter not to use the sword but to accept the way God has designed to save the nation.
Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?” (John 18:11)
Every Israelite, every Jew knew that the Messiah was going to be the eternal King of Israel. That had one important implication: His mother was going to be the eternal gebirah, the Queen of Israel forever. This is made evident in Luke 1:39-45
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
Examine the image presented to us in Luke chapter 1: Both women are miraculously pregnant. Mary goes to the mountains of Judah to visit her cousin, married to Zechariah, a Levite serving periodically in the Temple. Notice that both babies are “in the waters” within their respective mother womb. When is the next time the Gospel places John the Baptist and Jesus in the same place? When both of them are standing in the waters of the River Jordan as Jesus is baptized by John. (See Matthew 3:13-17) God is moving the actors of the Passion towards an objective no one has thought of.
The two women meet. Inside the older Elizabeth is a Levite prophet, the greatest of the prophets of Israel, greater than Moses and Elijah because John has the great privilege of properly baptizing the Messiah. (Luke 7:28) The two women represent each an age of Israel. Elizabeth is the age of the Law and the Prophets, the Israel of the Promise. Mary represents the fulfillment of that ancient promise, she is the Church, the realization of the universal destiny of Israel in the Kingdom of God. It is no surprise that the early Christians refrained from mentioning Mary too much in their apostolic letters and other public addresses: they knew what was afoot and protected their Queen both from the Jewish zealots and the Romans.
In time, John’s ministry on earth would end when Herod ordered a soldier to behead him. That marks the beginning of the ministry of Jesus that will move relentlessly towards the Cross of Calvary.
The valley of decision
in the valley of decision!
For the day of the Lord is near
in the valley of decision. (Joel 3:14)
Towards the end of Jesus’ ministry, the religious leaders determined to give the Messiah to the Romans to be crucified. The Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate subjects the innocent man to a terrible punishment. He then presents the bruised and tortured Jesus to the crowd of zealots and religious leaders gathered around the Governor’s fortress. The crowd does several things as the drama unfolds.
- They reject Jesus as their King
- They falsely declare allegiance to Caesar (Tiberius)
- They demand that Barabbas –a zealot enemy of the Roman Empire– be freed instead of Jesus
When they agree vociferously to be under the power Tiberius, they commit apostasy and idolatry. Apostasy because they were the People of the Lord (Yahweh, YHWH) and idolatry because Tiberius Caesar was –under Roman Law– Divo Tiberius, that was for them divine. When they demand the liberation of Barabbas, they reveal the falsehood of their allegiance to Caesar. Jesus had called them “sons of your father the devil” as shown in John 8:44.
You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
Then Pontius Pilate orders the charge of sedition to be written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. The sign was nailed to the Cross right above the Nazarene’s head: Yehuda Ha’Nazarim Wi’Melek Ha’Judaim (notice the initials forming the Tetragrammaton, the Holy Name of God.) That is what still survives in the Catholic Cross, the INRI. In Latin: Iesu Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum: Jesus the Nazarene King of the Jews. No wonder the religious leaders wanted the words changed! They could recognize the Sacred Name in the inscription. That reminded them of their heinous crime! To add to their shock, Pilate responds with one of Jesus’ usual phrases: “Scriptum est!” It is written!
God was truly in the details.
The shadows of Meribah
And the Lord said to Moses that very day, “Ascend this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, opposite Jericho; and view the land of Canaan, which I give to the people of Israel for a possession; and die on the mountain which you ascend, and be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother died in Mount Hor and was gathered to his people; because you broke faith with me in the midst of the people of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin; because you did not believe me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel. For you shall see the land before you; but you shall not go there, into the land which I give to the people of Israel.” (Deuteronomy 32:48-52)
When he erred seriously and offended God, Moses earned a severe punishment: he would see the Promised Land from afar but he would not step on the new territory given to Israel. This can be used to represent prophetically the situation of the people of Judah, most especially of their religious leaders, during the days of the Passion of Christ. The rejection of God’s King and the apostasy that followed was punished in the same way. Just like Moses could not enter the Promised Land, those who rejected Jesus would not enter into the universal destiny of Israel. It is important to remember something so simple and yet so overwhelmingly important: to be a Christian, to be a citizen of God’s Kingdom one has to accept Jesus Christ as King. The Levite Priesthood and the religious leaders and teachers of Israel were offered one precious opportunity to follow the Messiah into this new age of the glorious evangelization of the world. They rejected it. They wanted to be mere warriors like the soldiers of Alexander or Caesar. They never understood the full import of Jesus’ words: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
When the Passion of the Church comes, the three groups will still be there:
- The apostate, counterfeit church rejecting Christ and spiritually fornicating with the powers of this world,
- The power-hungry global revolutionary zealots who feign alliance with the world’s nations while preparing the stage for their extermination,
- The Christians, members of the faithful remnant who wait patiently for Christ’s return and the renewal of the Church.
We read in a sobering article published recently in LifeSite News where an anonymous priest writes:
“Each of us in a sense answers for that, because if you wondered what you would do, then the question is, what are you doing now? Because the mystical body of Christ is undergoing a passion. And if it’s the apocalypse, it will be a crucifixion. Stand with Christ, beneath the cross, through His passion, keep the faith, and pray the rosary.” (Anonymous Priest, LifeSite News, Oct 8, 2021)
Only God knows what kind of dangerous temptations we will be facing in the immediate future. The important thing to remember is not to have fear of death. God will not allow anyone to undergo a trial weak and alone.
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
Think of the sufferings of Christ. He suffered for you. Pray that I will be able to stand firm. I will be praying for you.
A final note. I apologize to all readers for my absence of the last four months. I was hit badly by COVID. I spent nearly one month intubated, another month in the ICU, and yet another month in the Recovery Unit learning to do some basic things all over again. I left the hospital walking (slowly!) and now I am home continuing with my ambulatory treatment that will most likely last well into 2022 if God allows. Please pray for this old sinner, for the nurses, doctors, and other helpers that supported me while battling COVID. In many ways I owed them my life. You can read more about it here. God bless you all.