Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost—29 July AD 2007
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem!  If only you had known in this day, the things that are for your peace.”[1]

NASA: Southeastern Mediterranean Panorama. Sinai Desert at bottom center,

[Ordinary of the Mass]
[English Text]
[Latin Text]

    To understand the scripture reading this morning (particularly the Epistle) you have to know a little about God’s involvement with His people in the Old Testament.  We know that, in the Book of Genesis, God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation.  The book goes on, tracing the descendants of Abraham, through Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.  You will recall that Joseph died in Egypt after a distinguished career in the service of the Egyptian king. “Pharo” as he was called.  But after Joseph’s death, the descendants of Abraham suffered the bad fortune of being reduced to slavery, and would remain in bondage for several hundred years.

    But God was ever mindful of His promise to Abraham, and resolved to lead His people out of Egypt to a land on the other side of the Sinai desert, to the north east, which would be a very prosperous place agriculturally, “flowing with milk and honey.”  God was very good to His people, seeing to their well-being and prosperity—but, in return, they were often unfaithful to God.  There was a constant grumbling as they made the trip across the wilderness.  God provided manna (a sort of bread that seemed to fall from heaven) and quail for them to eat, but many complained about the food.  Some made concubines of the foreign women they met.[3]  Some made a golden calf, which they worshipped as an idol, amid loud music and dancing.[4]  Some planned revolt and were struck down by the Lord.[5]  Saint Paul alludes to God sending serpents to kill many who grumbled against Him.[6]  Some wanted to return to slavery in Egypt, because the food was better there!  They were prepared to abandon freedom for “cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic.”[7]  The forty year trip consisted of one infidelity after another, but God, in His goodness, brought their children into the promised land.

    If this Exodus from Egypt was the primary historical event of the Jewish people, about 700 years later, their exile in Babylon has to be the second most important event.  The Prophets tell us that, once again, God had become enraged by the infidelity of His people:  their disobedience of His Commandments, their mingling with foreign people, and their worshipping of the false gods of the nations.[8]  Ezechiel tells us that God withdrew His divine Presence from the Temple.[9]  The Chaldeans burnt the Temple, destroyed Jerusalem, and carried the people into exile.[10]  Only after seventy years of captivity did Darius, the king of Persia, allow their return and the rebuilding of the Temple.[11]

    A third scourge came in the form of the generals of the dead Alexander the Great, who divided his kingdom and fought back and forth across the promised land, for it was the bridge between north Africa and southern Asia.  The Temple was profaned and fell into disrepair until the Machabees were successful in retaking Jerusalem.[12]  The Jewish festival of Chanukah commemorates the rededication, and the miraculous burning of the sanctuary lamp for eight days on one day’s supply of oil.

    The Temple in which we find our Lord in today’s Gospel was this same (second) Temple, but it had been lavishly re-built, expanded, and furnished by King Herod the Great around 19 BC.[13]  Before entering the Temple, our Lord cried over the city of Jerusalem and predicted its destruction once again.  “They will not leave one stone upon another”—meaning, of course that the city and the Temple would be utterly destroyed—an event which came to pass less than forty years later when the Romans crushed the Jewish rebellion.

    This time the infidelity seems to be two fold.  The most sacred building then in the world had become a place of crass commercialization.  People were buying and selling as though it were a market place.  People were exchanging money as though it were a bank.  “My house is a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.”  “Jerusalem, Jerusalem!  You kill the prophets and stone those that are sent to you.”[14]

    Most importantly, Jesus Christ, the Messiah sent to the Jews, had just made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, to the wild acclamation of the crowds.  “They spread their cloaks upon the road” and waved branches of palm and olive:  “Blessed is He who comes as king, in the name of the Lord!”[15]  This very same crowd would be calling for His crucifixion by the end of the same week.  They would demand the crucifixion of the Son of God as though He were a common thief.  Even before the Romans would destroy the Temple in AD 70, the veil of the Holy of Holies would be torn from the top down, and the sacred Presence would be gone forever.

    What can we learn from these events?  The pattern is awfully clear.  First, God does something great for His people—Second, they turn away from Him to seek their own gratification.  It happened time, and time again.  We would be seriously mistaken, though, to say that this pattern was characteristic only of the people of the Old Testament—as though Catholics had no such faults!  We are the New Jerusalem!

    God seems to be infinitely forgiving, but it would be sinful to continuously presume on His mercy while living a life apart from Him.  There is also a theme of chastisement.  Some “perished at the serpents”;  some were exiled, never to see home again;  some felt the lash of an angry Lord driving them out;  some saw their city utterly destroyed, with “not a stone standing upon a stone” almost literally.

    Very seriously, we ought to consider our own selves in this light.  God has given us the True Faith, and placed us in a land of great prosperity among the nations of the world.  Do we respond with gratitude or with grumbling?  Do we allow God to make us over in His image, or do we seek to conform to the ways of the world?  Are we faithful, or are we unfaithful?

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem!  If only you had known in this day, the things that are for your peace.”


[1]   Gospel: Luke xix:

[3]   Numbers xxv: 1-9.

[4]  Exodus xxxii.

[5]   Numbers xiv.

[6]   Numbers xxi.

[7]   Numbers xi.

[8]   Ezechiel xvi.

[9]   Ezechiel x.

[10]   2 Paralipomenon xxvi.

[11]   Esdras i-iii.

[12]   1 Machabees iv.

[14]   Luke xiii: 34.

[15]   Luke xix.


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