Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost—23 September AD 2007
“The Lord said to my Lord, sit thou at my right hand till I make thine enemies thy footstool.”[1]

Ordinary of the Mass
English Text
Latin Text

    We read in the Book pf Genesis that God created Adam and Eve with a number of special gifts;  freedom from pain and disease, freedom from want, and the gathering of knowledge without great effort or difficulty.  But by far the most important gift was the ability for man to know God and converse with Him face to face.  We know that all of these gifts were lost by the human race when Adam sinned.  But we know, as well, that almost immediately, God planned to rectify the situation.  He promised to send a woman whose seed would crush the head of the serpent that represented the devil.[2]

    This promise was passed down to the descendants of Adam and Eve, eventually being written down in the sacred Scripture of the Jewish people.  Over the years, this people called upon God, and He maintained a relationship with them—although nothing as intimate as His relationship with Adam and Eve had been.

    As we read the other Scriptures, we encounter a people who saw God in the world around them:  “In the Sun and moon, the stars of heaven, in every shower and dew, in  the winds, in the fire and heat, the cold and chill, nights and days.  They perceived God in the light and the darkness, in the lightnings and clouds;  in the water creatures, in the birds of the air, and the beasts, wild and tame.”[3]

    They were a people who called upon God for protection from their enemies, and for the an abundance of the good things of the earth:

    “Thou art my protector, and my refuge: my God, in Him will I trust.  For he hath delivered me from the snare of the hunters: and from the sharp word.  He will overshadow thee with his shoulders: and under his wings thou shalt trust. His truth shall compass thee with a shield: thou shalt not be afraid of the terror of the night.”[4]

    “The earth is replete with the fruit of Thy works. Thou raise grass for the cattle, and vegetation for the use of men, producing bread from the earth, and wine to gladden the hearts of men.   So that their faces gleam with oil, and bread fortifies men’s hearts.  Well watered are the trees of the Lord,  the cedars of Lebanon, which He planted;  in them the birds build their nests;  fir trees are the home of the stork.  The high mountains are for wild goats;  the cliffs are a refuge for rock-badgers.”[5]

    It was all well and good that the people thus recognized their dependence on God, but over the centuries they seem to have lost sight of God’s original plan.  Their sights were set, more and more, on the material world of the here and now.  God was good to man, taking care of his needs and driving off his enemies, but when man died, he was no more—he lived only in the memories of his descendents—or at best he was consigned to a dreary existence in a nether world known as “sheol” (לואש), the “abode of the dead”, the “underworld,”  “the common grave of humankind”  or simply,  “the pit.” It was a place beneath the earth, beyond the gates, where both the bad and the good, the slave and king, the pious and wicked, were thought to go at the point of death.[6]

    This emphasis on the here and now was exacerbated by the military difficulties the people faced.  Originally wandering herdsmen, they stumbled into captivity in Egypt, escaped in a forty year desert trek, were conquered by the Babylonians, Assyrians, Persians and Medes, then by the successor kingdoms to Alexander the Great, and finally the Romans.  Their expectation of God was that of a military deliverer.  The Messias, who would crush the head of the serpent, who was mentioned here and there in their Scriptures, was thought of as a great son of David, their most successful military king.  They wanted another slayer of giant Goliaths—they wanted someone to “crush the head” of the Romans, or whoever happened to be their oppressor at the moment.

    The Psalm that our Lord quoted to the Pharisees in the second part of today’s Gospel was long acknowledged to be a Psalm about the Messias.  (There are several “Messianic Psalms”—this one is Psalm 109;  another significant one is Psalm 2.)  Traditionally, King David had been the author of the Psalms, and in keeping with the one quoted, it was acknowledged that the Messias would be one of David’s descendents—a “great-great-grand-son” if you will.  According to the prevailing wisdom, then, he was going to be just a normal man with some great military skills.  This is why so many rejected Christ—in spite of His great power and miracles, even though He was of the House of David—He was distinctly non-military in His approach to almost everything.

    So our Lord showed them how they were misinterpreting this Messianic Psalm.  If King David said, “The Lord said to my Lord,” then the Christ, the Messias to come, would be David’s superior.  He would be far more than just another one of the King’s war-like descendents.  Ultimately many of the people, and many of the nations, would come to realize that the anointed Messias had no military ambitions at all, but that He had come into the world to crush the power of the devil.  He was there not to deliver them from the power of the Romans, but to deliver them from the power of sin.

    Saint Matthew records that “from that day forth no one dared to ask Him any more questions.”  Saint Mark’s account of the same event tells us that “most of the common people liked to hear Him.”[7]  But that did not mean that those in authority were willing to give up their military conception of what the Messias ought to be like.  Indeed, shortly thereafter, in a meeting of the Sanhedrin, the High Priest Caiphas prophesied: “it is expedient for us that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.”[8]  Crushing the devil would just have to “take a back seat” to crushing the Romans.”

    Of course, in retrospect, we know that Jesus was the Messias, and we know that His purpose for entering the world was to restore us to the eternal life of a personal relationship with God.  God still makes the winds blow and puts the fruit on the trees, but our major reason for calling upon Him is the hope of eternity with Him in heaven.  We call upon Him now, and communicate with Him through prayer and the Sacraments in this present life, so that one day we will converse with Him face to face, according to His original plan.

    There is nothing wrong with asking God for the things we need in this world—that is one of the four forms of prayer, and it acknowledges His glory and our dependence on Him.  But the major part of our Christian life must be spent with our eyes looking upwards to heaven and not looking down toward earth.  The Messias has come, and He has crushed the head of the serpent.  It is time for us to get on with the serious business of loving God with our whole heart, and our whole soul, and our whole mind; and our neighbors as our selves.

    God’s plan for us is not the dreary existence of sheol, the underworld, or the pit!  God’s plan for us is the eternal life that begins now and continues with Him, face to face, for all eternity.  The Lord has said so to our Lord!


[1]   Gospel xxii: 34-46, quoting Psalm cix: 1.

[2]   Genesis ii: 15 – iii: 24.

[3]   Cf. daniel iii: 57-88.

[4]   Psalm xc: 2-5.

[5]   Cf. Psalm ciii.

[6]   Cf. Wikipedia, s.v. “Sheol”

[7] Mark xii: 35-37

[8]   John xi: 50.


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