14th Sunday of the Year
Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, rebels who have rebelled against me. (Ez. 2:3) He was amazed at their lack of faith. (Mark: 6:6)
The most interesting perspective with which to view the Old Testament is to see in these divinely inspired books 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 all mankind, a love that ultimately addresses mankind’s rebellious heart and constantly failing love in order to offer us salvation.
What love story ever invented by man can even begin to compare with this astonishing love affair between God and his human family, which begins in the Garden of Eden and is wonderfully revealed in the special love that God has for His chosen people, Israel. I say “His people,” because God literally formed the people of Israel from one aged man, Abram, whose wife Sarah was childless and barren in her old age. God not only established and formed this people, but He mysteriously espoused Himself to Israel in an unbreakable bond of love, which the this chosen people of God could never hope to match but could only receive as a totally unmerited gift and blessing from its Father, the Creator.
Only from the side of God was this “love affair” absolutely faithful and pure, and His divine love generates a history that stuns the human heart by both its beauty and its absolute fidelity. However, on the side of Israel, their love was anything but faithful and beautiful at times, 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 at times an embarrassing record of this privileged people’s repeated failures to respond with anything like God’s absolute fidelity and devotedness.
Throughout her long, sacred history, Israel is found terribly wanting, a 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 and her complete unworthiness of God’s special attentions and special love. And Yet God always continues to love her, and her failure to respond only serves all the more to reveal the wonder of this unfailing love of God for His people, indeed, a reflection of his unfailing love for the whole of mankind whom he will redeem through Israel. Even when the Son of God comes and is rejected by his own nation, God never ceases to love Israel with a special love, and why? He does so because of the Patriarchs and Prophets and the holy anawim, the little ones, who at least individually have returned His love so beautifully.
Thus, the love of God for Israel is unending because, like God, this love is truly everlasting. and in the end, as Paul assures us in his Letter to the Romans, God will reestablish Israel in a 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. Paul exalts in that knowledge.
Moreover, this great love affair obviously does not end with the transition to the New Testament and the final covenant. Jesus is the ultimate gift of that divine love for mankind, and in Him at last men will be able to return a faithful and pure love to the Bridegroom, and through Him to His Father.
But if the love of God for the first Israel is a continuing affair in the New Israel, so also is the unfortunate history of the infidelity of the People of God, which now can be seen in the unfaithfulness of many Christians who by their baptism belong to the New Israel of God. The transformation of the Old Covenant with the First Israel into the New and Eternal Covenant with the New Israel is ultimately accomplished 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 same love and fidelity, because God’s very own love is now present in the hearts of the faithful. The perfect response of mankind has now been accomplished precisely in Jesus Christ, who is Himself the New Israel, and who responded with this absolute fidelity and love on the Cross. But He did so in our name, and did so in order that we in turn might come to this same perfection of love in Him.
The Church, the New Israel, has now become the spotless Bride of Christ, the Bride who can at last return with absolute fidelity and devotion the love of Her Bridegroom, and thus she can return this perfect love to The Father of the Bridegroom, since They are truly one. But she has all her power to love only from and in Jesus Christ, her founder, her Bridegroom, and her Head. In Christ, and in the New Eve, Mary, the original Israel finally gave that absolutely perfect response of love that Israel had failed to give all through her long history.
Thus, we can say that in Christ there is established and formed the new and eternal Israel of God. Participating, however imperfectly, in the perfection of the Bride is to be the destiny and privilege of all his members. Still, this imperfect participation of ours in the perfection of love always has its true source in the Bridegroom Himself, who enables each of us to participate in the absolute fidelity of the faithful and spotless Bride in as much as we can.
Mary alone among the members of Christ experienced this grace of perfect love in this world, and thus she became the archetype of the whole church, our model and the sign of our hope for perfection. We Christians, though we can often be much more like the Israel of old than the new Spotless Bride, the New Israel, we nonetheless possess the hope of one day sharing perfectly in that Spotless Bride, precisely because we have access and are destined to have full access to the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.
So we might say that we Christians live between the era of the original spouse and the ultimate era of the 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 Bridegroom. True, we are at times unfaithful, in lesser and greater ways, but we are nonetheless true members of the new and Spotless Bride, for we belong to her in spite of our sins by the grace of our Baptism which incorporated us into Christ. Like Paul in today’s second reading, we know we are weak, and we know we fail, but we do so no longer as outsiders, but as members of Christ, unworthy as we are of His gift, yet his members nonetheless, and we absolutely believe that His healing and life-giving grace can transform us, and, if we but cooperate, His grace will change us into creatures of light, eternally faithful, pure lovers of God.
One day this unending love story will reach its ultimate perfection, when the old Israel, at last, is shown the same mercy that God has shown to us, who are as unworthy, perhaps even more unworthy than her, 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 her true, her true destiny, her purpose, in God’s only begotten Son, and will 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 of mankind whom she has always represented. Then will the Kingdom at last be complete, and the Bride at last will be made perfect in her faithful love, in all her members.