BEHOLD MY SERVANT WHOM I HAVE CHOSEN , MY BELOVED... THE NATIONS WILL HOPE IN HIM. These words of the prophet Isaiah (42: 1 f.)are cited by St. Matthew just after he records the decision of the Pharisees to put Jesus to death because he repeatedly violated the Sabbath rest. The Evangelist does not explain why he chooses this context in which to present the Lord as God's chosen servant, and set him up as the hope of the nations. Certainly there is a large irony in the fact that just as his enemies decide to do away with him as disobedient to God's law of the Sabbath, he is proclaimed by the inspired writer as the beloved, chosen Servant of the Lord. The same prophet, known as the Second Isaiah, in another passage gave his characterization of God's dealings with the children of men.
My thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not my ways, declares the Lord. . As the heaven are high above the earth, my ways are above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts (55: 8, 9).
The implication of Matthew's text is that if the interpreters of the law were guided by the Spirit of God they would understand that the purpose of the law is love of God and of neighbor. IT IS LOVE I DESIRE, NOT SACRIFICE, said the prophet Hosea, and it was in the service of love that Jesus violated the traditional way of keeping the Sabbath. The religious leaders had erected the law into a system that was absolutized and abstract all too often in its application. The result was, as St. Paul observed, that the law enslaved those who followed it. But its intended function is to prepare people worthy of God through the restoration of human dignity; rather than shackle its subjects it should rather enhance life and show the way that leads to freedom. The law of Moses however, was unable to achieve this aim in practice. Its purpose was fulfilled only with the coming of Christ who perfected the law through his death and resurrection and the gift of the Spirit. This is the connection then between the decision of our Lord's enemies to put him to death and the text of Isaiah that announce Jesus as the beloved of God and the hope of the nations. It is precisely through his humble acceptance of suffering and death that Jesus abrogated the law of sin and death and established the New Law. This law is not exterior to its followers; it is the very Spirit of God himself. Accordingly, it is the law of freedom and love by which God himself lives. Jesus lived the law by this spirit; he gave his life in doing so.
To follow in the path he has traced out we must strive to open our heart to the influence of that same Spirit that Jesus followed and whom he obtained for us at the cost of so much suffering and of life itself. The whole of our Lord's life and death teach us to set our hearts on the will of the Father and to guide our self by the manifestations of his divine plan This requires on our part a fervent faith and assiduous attention to purifying the heart from all selfish pursuits and from the passions that so readily influence our choices. This undertaking is a great labor. To succeed in it we make it the primary task of our endeavors. Thestrength and joy of the Spirit needed for it are available to each of us but only to the extent that we make it our whole purpose to know and carry out his inspirations from a pure heart. Doing this will surely present us with plenty of occasions to take up our cross and follow after Jesus. This alone is the way of love and it leads to freedom, the freedom promised to the children of the kingdom. May the Eucharist we offer this evening obtain for each of us that increase of trust and love we require to devote our best energies to this high purpose all the days of our life.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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