WE PLAYED THE FLUTE FOR YOU, BUT YOU DID NOT DANCE; WE SANG A DIRGE BUT YOU DID NOT MOURN. Our Lord had no high opinion of the generality of the people among whom he lived and taught and carried out the works of his mission. He often felt pity for them and showed it by healings and by speaking to them in language they could understand. But, as we are told, he did not trust himself to them taken as a whole for ‘’he knew what is in man’. Whenever he speaks of ‘this generation’ the tone is invariably critical, even condemnatory. When his apostles asked him why he spoke in obscure teachings to the people Jesus replied rather bitingly: “To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven; to them it is not given. He who has there will be given to him and he will abound; whoever does not have, even the little he possesses will be taken from him. For this reason I speak to them in parables because ‘seeing they see not and hearing they hear not nor do they understand.” He then cites the prophet Isaiah at length (6:10) including the severe stricture: “for the heart of this people is dull, their ears heavy and heir eyes are closed… lest they should be healed.”(Mt 13:13-15). He ends his response by setting his disciples apart from those whom he criticizes: “Happy are your eyes that they see and your ears that they hear.”
Our Lord instructs each of us here today with these words spoken to the apostles. To us it has also been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God through the witness of Jesus’ chosen disciples who in the end proved faithful. How great a gift it is to understand God’s plan of salvation and its realization in the life, teaching, death and resurrection of our Savior! How many have sought to understand the fuller meaning of their situation in life and how it fits into the world and into human history. Jesus himself recognizes what a great benefit the Father confers on those whom he instructs and, in consequence, on this same occasion he goes on to say: “Amen, I tell you that many prophets and just persons have desired to see what you see and have not seen, and to hear what you hear and have not heard.” He could have added that many intelligent philosophers and scientists will labor to understand the workings of creation and the secrets of nature; many learned scholars will search out the plan concealed in the confusing events of history, but these will not discover the truth hidden in what St Paul describes as “the mystery of God’s will that he was pleased to foreordain in the same Christ, in the ordering of the fullness of the worlds, bringing all things together in Christ…” (Eph 1:9,10).
Paul ends his Epistle to the Romans by reminding his readers of the greatness of their call as members of the Church in words that echo those our Lord addressed to his disciples. “To him who is powerful to strengthen you… according to the mystery hidden in silence in past ages but now revealed through the prophetic writings and the command of the eternal God in view of the obedience of faith.” (Rom 16:25f) Jesus withheld himself from many of his generation precisely because they refused this obedience of faith in him and his gospel. What we heard in the reading from the prophet is re-enacted in our hearing today and encourages us to respond with the one gift we have to offer the Lord: our loving faith and trust in his word. Isaiah states the matter in these terms: “I, the Lord your God, teach you what is for your good, and lead you on the way you should go. If you would hearken to my commandments, your prosperity would be like a river and your vindication like the waves of the sea.” Let us live by this conviction and make of our daily life a living out of the mystery of Christ in which we give meaning to the world as God’s plan of redemption unfolds in time. This daily effort to prove faithful to his word is the best manner to prepare during Advent for the birth of our Lord at Christmas.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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