DECEMBER 2, 2009: ISAIAH 25:6-10; MATTHEW 15: 25-37

 

ON THIS MOUNTAIN THE LORD OF HOSTS WILL PROVIDE A FEAST OF RICH FOOD FOR ALL PEOPLES. Today’s readings display a marvelous coordination of Old Testament prophecy and its realization in the life and ministry of Jesus. The prophecy of a coming time when God himself would provide a feast for all peoples, without discriminating between the poor and rich, the educated and the simple, Jew and Gentile is fulfilled on the mountain-side in Galilee of the Nations. It is at the same place where earlier in his ministry the Lord first preached the basic truths of his message that, in this Gospel, he heals so many who come to him, and ending the day by feeding all who are weary and hungry. In presenting these miraculous events performed in favor of the poor and needy on the same mountainside, Matthew subtly makes a point that transcends our Lord’s role as healer: Jesus is the revealer of truths, commissioned by the Father. He indicates this dimension of these events by adding that, having ascended the mountainside, he seated himself, as it were, taking the posture of the teacher. He speaks by his actions as well as by words; indeed, his very words have all the efficacy of acts so that when he blesses the bread and fish they are multiplied so as to suffice for the needs of all who listen to him.

 

Beginning at the end of the 18th century and continuing to the present, a large expenditure of energy has been directed to a study of the Scriptural text and the styles of composition. This more scientific investigation of the Bible parallels the expanding development of the natural sciences during this same period. Not incidentally, the 18th century witnesses to the increasing influence of physical sciences that followed the spread of Newton’s revolutionary publication on physics, of the work of Linnaeus, the father of botany. Robert Boyle had laid the foundation of the new science of chemistry a few years before. These developments that were part of a larger culture known as the Enlightenment gave rise to an attitude characterized by an exalted confidence in the methods of science. This period of history was came to be designated as the Age of Reason.

 

One of the by-products of the typical mentality of those formed largely by these trends was the attitude that earlier generations were living in the darkness of ignorance. As these trends spread the mentality driving them intensified as the successes of technology seemingly validated the view that the logic of science is the key to the happy life. The Catholic Church was seen as retrograde during this earlier period of modern cultural development, as it continues to be in the teaching of the sacredness of life, its opposition to abortion and euthanasia, as well as its defense of heterosexual marriage. As science and its technological applications advance, however, serious doubts appear as to the wisdom of placing such great trust in the logic of reason alone. The Age of Reason morphed into the Age of the Atom Bomb, and technology has given rise to dire threats to the climate and the ecological health of earth. Similarly Biblical exegesis has more recently become aware that a purely scientific approach to the Bible is likewise ambiguous, and incomplete. There is a higher logic than that of reason; it is the logic of life itself. The two are not contradictory when properly integrated, but just as life itself is more than its forms and operations, so also are the truths of revelation, while including reason extend beyond its limits.

 

Saint Matthew was keenly conscious of this principle and was guided by it as he composed his Gospel. So also was the prophet Isaiah and his followers endowed with an insight that reached father into reality than the linear logic of reason can grasp. There are depths of meaning in the Biblical text that are accessible only to faith; reason can approach them but cannot open the door that gives entry to another world. This is the world to which God alone has the key, as John puts it in the Apocalypse: “In my vision I saw a door open in heaven and heard the same voice speaking to me, a voice like a trumpet saying.’ Come up here; I will show you what is to come in the future.” (4:1) Jesus takes his seat on the mountainside and begins the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah as he heals the crippled and the sick, and nourishes those with life-restoring bread who followed him into the desert places of this world, guided by faith in him as their Savior. We who come to this Eucharist know him who tells us in the Gospel of John that he is the door and the way. In these first days of Advent and at this altar we thank him for revealing these truths to us and ask him to make us worthy to enter by faith through this door that opens into that world where God himself is light and life unending. &                     


Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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