Sunday, February 28, 2010

Womb of the Wilderness

     Lucifer and his angels rebelled against God when they saw a great sign in the heavens and were given to understand that God would become Incarnate through this Woman and that the greatest of angels would have to worship and serve God Incarnate as a lowly man.  Not only would he have to worship God Incarnate, he would also have to serve this Woman would be Queen of Heaven and of Earth by what the sign portended.  In addition the mystery was revealed to Lucifer that through the Incarnation, the weaker and inferior human creatures would be given a share in the very Life of God Himself. 

"Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a Woman, clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and with a crown of twelve stars on her head.  She was pregnant, and in labor, crying aloud in the pangs of childbirth.  Then a second sign appeared in the sky a huge red dragon which had seven heads and ten horns and each of the seven heads was crowned with a coronet.  Its tail dragged a third of the stars from the sky and dropped them to the earth, and the dragon stopped in front of the woman as she was giving birth to the child so he could devour it as soon as it was born from its mother.  The woman brought forth a male child into the world, the son who was to rule all the nations with an iron scepter, and the child was taken straight up to God and to his throne, while the woman escaped into the wilderness, where God had made a place of safety ready...And now war broke out in heaven, when Michael with his angels attacked the dragon.  The dragon fought back with his angels, but they were defeated and driven out of heaven.  The great dragon, the ancient serpent, known as the devil or Satan, who had deceived all the world, was hurled down to the earth and his angels with him... but for you earth and sea, trouble is coming-- because the devil has gone down to you in a rage because he knows his time is short.  As the devil found himself thrown down to the earth, he sprang in pursuit of the woman, the mother of the male child, but she was given a huge pair of eagle's wings to fly away from the serpent into the wilderness...Then the dragon was enraged with the woman and went away to make war on the rest of her children, that is all who obey God's commandments and bear witness for Jesus" (Rev. 12: 1-14,17).

     Adam and Eve sinned against God in the garden of Eden giving into the temptation of Satan.  They ate the forbidden fruit and brought spiritual and physical death on them and their descendants.

"I will put emnity between you and the Woman, your offspring and her offspring. He will crush your head, and you will strike at his heel" (Gen. 3:15b).

"So the Lord God expelled him from the garden of Eden, to till the soil from which he had been taken. He banished the man, and in front of the garden of Eden he posted the cherubs, and the flame of a flashing sword to guard the way to the tree of life" (Gen. 3:23-24).

     The pangs of birth and the struggle for power with her husband were given to the woman. The struggle to survive and tilling of a soil which would yield thistle and thorn against his efforts to bring about a fruitful harvest were given to the man. But when God cursed the serpent, he also blessed humanity promising a Redeemer.

"Yet God did make man imperishable, he made him in the image of his own nature; it was the devil's envy that brought death into the world, as those who are his partners will discover" (Wis. 2:23-24).

     Adam's descendants were fruitful and multiplied filling the earth, with sin and death accompanying them every step of the way. Through covenants with Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; God began calling a people apart for himself. The descendants of Jacob were brought to Egypt through Joseph. After many years the Egyptians began to fear the Hebrews and they enslaved them. They were so afraid of them that the male child of every Hebrew was killed save one named Moses who was hidden from harm. He was raised as part of the Pharoah's own household. After killing an Egyptian task master for maltreating a Hebrew slave, Moses escaped to the wilderness of Midian where God called to him. God revealed his name to Moses and sent him back to bring the slaves of Egypt in the freedom of being God's people.

"God led the people by a roundabout way of the wilderness to the Sea of Reeds...The Lord went before them, by day in the form of a pillar of cloud to show them the way, and by night in the form of a pillar of fire to give them light, thus they could continue their march by day and by night" (Ex. 13:21-22).

    God took this stiff-necked people to be his own and through many trials in the wilderness, he made this people his own; making a covenant with them that he would never break. They complained against God and Moses several times. God took bitter water and made it sweet. God gave them manna--bread from heaven. Just as the serpent first tempted Adam and Eve with food, so it is the first thing that the Hebrews were tempted with and also the first thing Jesus is tempted with in the Gospel of Matthew. Does there seem to be a modus operandi here?

"Then Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, after which he was very hungry,..." (Mt. 4:1-2a).
"Immediately afterward the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness and he remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild beasts and the angels looked after him" (Mk. 1:12-13). 

"Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit through the wilderness, being tempted there by the devil for forty days. During that time he ate nothing and at the end he was hungry" (Lk 4:1-2).
     Mark is silent about the temptations that Jesus underwent, but the Greek word 'ekballei' Mark uses is translated at drove or thrust force. After his baptism Christ is driven by the Spirit to begin his mission as redeemer and save what was lost by facing the ancient serpent. He is tempted to use his power to fill his own belly which would make him an enemy of the Cross (Phil 3:18) which he was born to take up. He is also tempted to adore Satan and receive power from Satan over all the kingdoms of the earth. Jesus rebukes him saying that the Lord God alone shall be worshiped. The angel Gabriel had told Mary that Jesus would sit on the throne of his father David forever. He is the Lamb of God who was found worthy to receive glory, laud, honor and power forever by God the Father. The fatherhood of Satan, a liar and murderer from the beginning (Jn 8:44) is rejected by Christ. Jesus was lastly tempted to put God to the test and cast himself off the top of the temple to see if the angels would really bear him up lest he dash his foot against a stone. Jesus quoted Deut 6:16 to Satan and said "You shall not temp the Lord your God." This referred back to the day when the people of Israel were departing the Wilderness of Sin and had no water and they wondered aloud if God was truly among them. God gave them water from the Rock to drink (Ex 17).

     The temptations Christ underwent in wilderness at the end of forty days of fasting shows Christ as the New Moses and the New Elijah. Moses spent forty days and forty nights on the mountain top in Exodus 24. Elijah fasted as he journeyed for forty days and forty nights through the wilderness to Mount Horeb to the Craig of Moses. Jesus is also the King of the Jews, the head of the people Israel who wandered for forty years in the wilderness. As the first born of all creation, he is every man and woman resisting temptation by denying the appetite that the rest of humanity had developed for sin. We were exiled to the spiritual Wilderness of Sin because of our sin. Jesus has led us out of the wilderness into the Promised Land of Salvation by overcoming Satan in every way. He is victorious over the world, the flesh and the devil and gives us by His Holy Spirit, His Blood and Water the power to overcome and cast out the accuser (1 Jn 5:8; Rev. 12:10-11). 

     Just as Jesus overcame Satan, so also to God's glory, Mary conceived without sin overcame him. Whenever and whereever the dragon has sat ready to devour the children of the Woman, she has been among her children nourishing them and teaching them of her firstborn Son. Through the midwifery of the Holy Spirit and Mary's intercessorial midwifery, Jesus Christ has come to be born in each child of the Woman, making them one in Jesus and therefore children of the Father. We are born from a womb of safety in the wilderness prepared for us by God.

     Whether Mary comes in extraordinary means such as at Lourdes, Fatima, or Rwanda to help prepare the people for a time of great suffering, or if she comes in the ordinary way of helping us to ponder the mysteries of the Gospel of the Rosary in our hearts she comes as our Mother. She comes as Mother who will not abandon her children to the dragon. The Woman of promise in Genesis 3 is the Woman crowned with the stars in Revelation 12 who has the head of the serpent and the moon under her feet. Though the dragon wages war on us her children, so we too wage war on him.

May "the God of peace ...soon crush Satan under your feet" (Rom. 16:20).
“For we contend not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, powers, the rulers of the darkness of this age and against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the high places” (Eph 6:12).

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Womb of Untimeliness

It seems that God's timing is always something that catches us off guard.  We get caught up in the cares of life such as what we are to eat, where we will get the money for bills, what we are to wear, etc...  Jesus tell us to seek first the kingdom of God and these things shall be added unto us. 

The prophet Hosea describes how the sin and iniquity of Ephraim was stored up against him.  He says, "The pangs of childbirth come for him, but he is an unwise son, for at the right time he does not present himself at the opening of the womb" (Hs. 13:13).  Ephraim had been making for himself idols and sacrificing children to Baal.  He did not remember that it was God who had been a faithful Redeemer; who had brought him from the land of Egypt.  The people had gotten away from remembering the Lord first in their daily lives.  How often I get away from remembering God first.  The difficulties in life and the increased pangs created by my own sins put me at odds with God.  I am not where God wants me.  God wants me at the opening of the womb of life ready for his light, life, and love to both bring me forth in birth and to be born from me.
Instead I am unable to see what God wants to do in my life because I am as blind, mute, and deaf as the sins and idols I worship.

God goes on to say through Hosea, "Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol?  Shall I redeem them from Death?  O Death, where are plagues?  O Sheol, where is your destruction?  Compassion is hid from my eyes" (Hs. 13:14).  Ephraim's punishment is declared and the hot breath of God shall dry up his springs and his land shall be stripped of its treasure.  Samaria is told that her people will fall by the sword, her children will be dashed to pieces, and her pregnant women ripped open. (Hs. 13:15-16).

The wages of sin is death.  It is more than just physical death, but also spiritual death.  The light, life, and love of God which are in us are aborted by mortal sin.  We are ripped open and the good things that God wants to be born in and through us are dashed to pieces.  We are spiritually slaughtered.  Those in the family and community around us are also hurt by our sins.  However, we are not without hope of salvation.

 There is a Greek Syriac manuscript of  verse 13 which uses the words, "I will be" in place of the word "where".  Rendered that way the passage reads:  "O Death, I will be your plague.  O Sheol, I will be your destruction."

The Greek Orthodox Study Bible quotes St. Jerome in a foot note to this passage as follows: 

"Moreover the Lord liberated everyone, and redeemed them through the suffering of the Cross and the shedding of His blood, when His soul descended into Hades, and He did not experience corruption to His flesh; and He speaks of the death itself as well as Hades: 'I will be your death, O Death!'  For that reason I have died so that you may die through My death.  'I will be your death, O Hades' for you devoured all with your throat."

When Christ descended to hell, he broke the very jaws of death, and when he rose from the dead, he was victorious over the grave.  In the book of Revelation, Jesus refers to himself saying, "Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one: I died, and behold I am alive evermore and I have the keys of Death and Hades" (Rev. 1:17b-18).

The Apostle Paul illustrates Christ's victory over sin and death in telling of his own salvation.

"For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures,
and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.  Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.  For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me (1 Cor. 15:3-11).

Paul calls his conversion an "untimely" birth.  Despite his great sins as a persecutor of Christ and his Church, God had mercy on him and saved him through grace.  God then had a mission for Paul to the Gentiles.  Paul, by grace, was able to present himself at the opening of the womb of God's plan.  God's plan for Saul to be born again as Paul was in God's time (kairos), not his time (chronos). For God, "Now is the acceptable time and now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor: 6:2, Is. 49:8).

Paul goes on to explain the mystery of the resurrection of the dead and how the last enemy to be destroyed will be death (v. 26).   "When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:  'Death is swallowed up in victory.'  'O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?'" (vv. 55-56). 

May we all be wise children ready to present ourselves at the opening of the next womb that God has ready for us.