The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the lion shall eat straw like the ox, the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain.Those words from the prophet Isaiah are very moving because they promise what is idyllic. But what is that promise based on? Let us listen to him again:
There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.That idyllic prospect was opened up for mankind because Isaiah foretold of a Saviour to come among us, One from and among us. And yet, He Jesus, the Son of God made Man, was not acknowledged by the Chosen People of God, and so His coming could not possibly work any change for those who, in fact, rejected Him; He could only work a change for people if He was allowed, first of all, to make a change in them. That is why we heard the prophet go on to say in the name of the Lord:
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, for the Gentiles shall seek the Root of Jesse.God’s Kingdom of glorious peace will come when the earth, that is, all mankind on earth, is full of the knowledge of the Lord: not knowledge about the Lord, but knowledge of the Lord, the Root of Jesse. Such knowledge is given only to those who seek and persevere in seeking not only for what might be called ‘a working relationship’ of acknowledgement and obedience but also an intimately P/personal relationship of total commitment based on our faith-desire – knowing Him proclaimed to us by Mother Church we desire to love Him whole-heartedly -- and on His infinite goodness and mercy, because all such P/personal knowledge is the result of God’s gracious G/gift (sic), not the result of human endeavour or skill.
In that way knowledge and fear (awesome reverence, respect) of the Lord work in man the changes that enables the promised Lord and Saviour to bring to fulfilment for man the idyllic promise foretold by Isaiah.
In our present-day, post Christian and proudly anti-Christian world, those words of Isaiah they shall not hurt nor destroy are not understood to be the fruit of faith commitment as intended by the Prophet but exclusively as part of an earthly work to be taken in hand by the state-controlled social services, and there are many individuals who want to share in that ‘doing good’. But the promised Saviour could only serve men who had recognized and accepted Him; as I have said, He could only work a change for people if He was allowed, first of all, to make a change in them. And there we have the tragedy of modern God-less, pseudo, holiness: modern ‘spirituality’ rejects all supposedly divisive and discriminatory attitudes in its exclusively earth-bound views, even Creations’ distinction between man and woman is denied as far as is actually, physically and psychologically, possible; good and evil are now understood only as legalistic terminology, ‘good’ being what is socially acceptable and legally approved, ‘evil’ is not indeed admissible as a word, and its alternatives ‘bad, wrong’ are considered to be such only on the basis of man’s legal, decree. There is nothing of a supposed ‘God’ that is active above and beyond mere man.
Jesus Himself had opponents who thought themselves, and were regarded by the Jewish People of God, as ‘holy’ in the God-accepting and God-worshipping sense, but in their human pride they had become skilled at deceiving the people and putting God’s decrees aside for the sake of their own particular traditions, and it was when speaking to those proud Pharisees of His time, men who were jealous of His manifest teaching authority and miraculous powers, that Jesus said with the utmost clarity and decisiveness:
You who are evil know how to give good things to your children ... (Luke 11:13)
In other words, mankind – whether rejecting God’s authority or denying His very being -- is thereby, despite the ‘good works’ they may seem to do, rendered evil, ontologically evil as being cut off from God’s life which is the only authentic life of HOLINESS. Put more simply, dirty water though poured out both generously and abundantly is still dirty water. Our God-rejecting, supposedly good men and women on this earth are only good in human estimation; for, in so far as they reject God’s rule in their lives, they are left subject to the supernatural power of the devil, whose deceits lead them to doing whatever -- under his guidance and impulse -- they may ‘fancy’ in their private lives: abortions (for very good reasons, of course), corruption (riches made easy), revenge, hatred (socially acceptable, even obligatory, at the top level of many cultures), sexual extravaganzas of all sorts, and subject above all to the Devil’s supreme weapon, spiritual Pride, in their publicly apparent and much-appreciated ‘good’ works.
Bearing these things in mind we should, therefore, not be too surprised when -- on turning to the Gospel passage from St. Matthew -- we heard John the Baptist say to certain Pharisees and Sadducees coming to observe his ministering of baptism to very numerous penitents coming to him on Jordan’s banks:
Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
What could have brought the Pharisees and Sadducees together? Little that promised good for John the Baptist, certainly. The Pharisees, the ‘separate ones’ as their name proclaims, lived their lives according to rules derived from their own reading of the Jewish Scriptures, understood and made regulatory in accordance with their own Pharisaic oral traditions. They prided themselves on the minute accuracy of their rules and were much admired by the ordinary people for their rigorous application of those rules. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were traditional priests of the Temple; they were social aristocrats who did not accept the ‘modern’ scriptural understanding nor the unscriptural oral traditions of the Pharisees, neither did they like the fact that the common people were much impressed by the obvious – often begging-to-be-noticed – Pharisaic ‘holiness’ of their ascetic practices. What therefore enabled such naturally opposed factions to unite on this occasion? Surely, only the fact that both regarded John the Baptist with common antipathy!
“Brood of vipers”, indeed, because both were fixed in their ways, and intensely proud and protective of their own chosen positions of power and privilege.
John was not totally dismissive of them but warning them against their Abrahamic, human, pride – ‘We have Abraham as our father’ – and pointing to those coming in crowds for his baptism of repentance he said:
God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
Nevertheless, being mindful of both God’s goodness as well as His power, he urged them to prove themselves true sons of Abraham by:
Bearing fruits worthy of repentance.
As St. Luke tells us, he gave examples of what he meant by those words:
“He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” To the tax collectors he said, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.” Likewise, to the soldiers he said, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”Such were the works immediately accessible to anyone truly wanting and willing to ‘repent’ as St. Matthew tells us John’s initial proclamation required:
John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” For this is He who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.”However, the coming of God’s Kingdom as long foretold by the prophet Isaiah, and then witnessed to by one greater than all those born of woman, the Saviour’s immediate forerunner John the Baptist -- -- and brought into being by the life, death, and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Himself, is not something that can be furthered by merely human endeavour, learning, or skill, for it cannot be acquired, neither can it be won, or deserved; it can only be gratefully received, after having been freely given by God Himself to and through those filled with knowledge of the Personal goodness of the Giver, the Lord Whom they have long lovingly, diligently, and humbly sought at all times, under all circumstances, and above all else.
Today’s reading from the Book of Psalms makes perfectly clear that God is the First and the Last, and will ultimately be shown and known to be All in all, when it tells us:
He will deliver the needy when he cries, the poor also, and him who has no helper. He will spare the poor and needy, and will save the souls of the needy.
His name shall endure forever; His name shall continue as long as the sun. And men shall be blessed in Him; all nations shall call Him blessed.Dear People of God, the Advent proclamation of Mother Church is one of indescribable Beauty and most solemn and saving Truth; our modern, tawdry social Yuletide celebrations will have little that is authentic in them, for Christmas speaks only to those who are expecting and hoping for Jesus to come for them and make a change in them; a Jesus rewarding their faith-desire with an ever-deeper awareness and knowledge of Himself, inflaming their personal and total commitment to His love and to the ever- greater glory of His most holy Name. Jesus alone is our Light of Truth, our Food of Life; He alone is our most-glorious and long-promised, long-awaited, and most ardently prayed-for Saviour; without -- apart from -- Him ‘good works’ are not truly good, and the authentic Christmas celebration of life both earthly and heavenly is non-existent.