The New Israel and the Old

14th Sunday of the Year – B 2012

 

Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you; but you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD.’ And whether they heed or resist (for they are a rebellious house) they shall know that a prophet has been among them.

 

    One interesting way of looking at the Old Testament is to see these divinely inspired books as simply the fascinating account of the history of God’s inexplicable love affair with the chosen people of Israel, a history which is itself an essential and critical chapter in the larger history of God’s unfailing love for man, a love that ultimately conquers mankind’s rebellious heart and constantly failing love.

    What love story ever invented by man can even begin to compare with this astonishing love affair between God and his human family, a love that is unveiled in the special love that God has for His people Israel. I say “His people,” because God literally made Israel, created this people out of one man, Abram, whose wife Sarah was childless and barren. He not only created this people, but He espoused himself to Israel in an unbreakable bond of love which the people of God could never hope to match but could only receive as a totally unmerited gift and blessing from its Creator.

    Only from the side of God was this love affair absolutely faithful and pure, and that unfailing love generates a history that stuns the human heart by its beauty. But from the side of Israel, their love was anything but faithful, for how often did their love grow cold in response to their divine Spouse. The Old Testament, recorded by the inspired writers of Israel itself, is a record of this privileged peoples’ repeated failures to respond with anything like God’s absolute fidelity and devotedness. Throughout this long sacred history, Israel is found terribly wanting, the rebellious spouse who again and again is unfaithful to her ever faithful Spouse. She often plays the harlot rather than the faithful and devoted wife. Indeed Israel’s unfaithfulness to her Creator/Spouse only serves to emphasize all the more the absolutely unmerited position she enjoys in human history, her complete unworthiness of God’s special attentions. And Yet God continues to love her, and her failure to respond only serves all the more to bring out the wonder of this unfailing love of God for His people, which is also a reflection of his unfailing love for the whole of mankind whom he will save through Israel. Even when the Son of God comes and is rejected by his own nation, God does not cease to love Israel.

    Moreover, this love affair does not end with the transition to the New Testament and the final covenant. The love of God for Israel is unedning because His love is truly everlasting, and in the end, as Paul assures us in his Letter to the Romans, God will recall Israel to her chosen place in the New Israel, the Kingdom of Christ, for the conversion of the Gentiles will eventually bring about the conversion of Israel herself, and the restoration of her exalted place among the nations in God’s universal Kingdom.

    But if the love of God for Israel is a continuing affair, so also is the history of the infidelity of the People of God, and this now includes the unfaithfulness of many who by Baptism belong to the New Israel of God. The transformation of the Covenant with the First Israel into the New and Eternal Covenant with the New Israel is ultimately marked by the Grace of Jesus Christ. This grace, to be sure, has at last enabled the human spouse to respond to God’s absolute love and fidelity with the very love and fidelity of God. This response has been accomplished in its perfection precisely in Jesus Christ, who is the New Israel, and who responded with this absolute fidelity and love on the Cross, and who did so in our name, and did so in order that we might come to this same perfection of love in Him.

    The Church then is the spotless Bride, the Bride of absolute fidelity and devotion, but She has all her power precisely in Jesus Christ, her founder and Head. In Christ, and in the New Eve, Mary, the first Israel finally gave that perfect response that she had failed to give for all her long history, and thus in Christ there was established the New and Eternal Israel of God. This perfection of the Bride is to be the inheritance and privilege of all the members, but this perfection of love always has its source in the Bridegroom Himself, who enables each of us to participate in the fidelity of the faithful bride. Mary experienced this grace of perfect love in this world, and thus became the archetype of the whole church, our model and the sign of our hoped for perfection. We Christians, though we are often much more like the Israel of old than the Spotless Bride, the New Israel, nonetheless possess the hope of one day being part of that Spotless Bride, precisely because we are have access to the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.

    We live between the era of the Original spouse and that final Heavenly Kingdom when the whole Church will enjoy the perfect fidelity and the untainted love of Mary, the mother and perfect spiritual spouse of the the Bridegroom. we are at times unfaithful, and the era of the totally new and Spotless bride, to whom we belong in spite of our sins by the grace of our Baptism and incorporation into Christ. Like Paul in today’s second reading, we know we are weak, and we know we fail, but no longer as outsiders, but as members of Christ, unworthy as we are of this gift, his members nonetheless, and we believe that His healing and life-giving grace can transform us, and, if we allow it, His grace will change us into creatures of light, faithful and pure lovers of God.

    One day this unending love story will reach its perfection, after the old Israel at last is shown the same mercy that God has shown to us, who are as unworthy, perhaps even more unworthy to belong to His New Israel. One day, in God’s good time, the veil will be lifted from the first Israel’s eyes, says St. Paul, and she will recognize herself, her destiny, her purpose, in God’s only Son, and allow herself, at last, to be taken up in his saving love, which has never ceased for her, as it has never ceased for the whole human race she represents. Then will the Kingdom be complete, and the Bride at last perfect in her faithful love.

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Categories: Homilies

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