DECEMBER 14, 2004, FEAST OF ST JOHN OF THE CROSS

ZEPH- 3:,1,2,9-13; MT 21:28-32

 I WILL LEAVE IN THE MIDST OF YOU A PEOPLE HUMBLE AND LOWLY WHO SHALL TAKE REFUGE IN THE NAME OF THE LORD: THE REMNANT OF ISRAEL. The prophets of Israel came to have a special appreciation for the disadvantaged. They addressed a consoling message of hope to those who, aware of their need and trusting in their affliction sought refuge in the name of the Lord. This doctrine of the Poor favored by Yahwe was preached from early times.After he realized he was rejected by the people, the greatest of Israel’s prophets, Isaiah, had organized his disciples into a distinct group of disciples, the first of its kind in Israel. He concentrated his efforts on training this small community whom he referred to as the Remnant of the people. The prophets not only predicted the future, they also gave it shape, influencing the direction it took as it unfolded. Zephanaiah carries this development further when he identifies this remnant with the poor who put their hope in the Lord, as we hear in today’s reading, giving a new character and orientation to the movement taken by the people God chose as His own.

These poor are those who in their need seek refuge in the name of the Lord. Still later one of Isaiah’s followers who contributed important passages to the last section of the book of Isaiah, carried on this tradition. He identified God’s favored with the suffering poor, who form the Remnant of Israel. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for Yahweh has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken.” (Isaiah 61.1) Here too, God speaking through the prophet, depicts this humble and lowly people as a flock for which he himself cares: “for they shall feed and lie down, and there shall be none to terrify them.” This preaching was not forgotten; it was transmitted through the centuries by the followers of the prophets. These inspired men lived out the teachings of the earlier prophets and applied them to the new situation they found themselves in as they returned from exile. Many of the psalms were written by their number so that the spirituality of the poor and lowly who tremble at God’s word, who seek him and find refuge in Him became a dominant theme of the psalter. Some of the most affecting of the psalms are the prayerful and confident appleal of the humble whose spirit is crushed by the hardness of life, by the injustice and indifference of the rich. Their prayer is a cry from the depths of misery (Psalm 130); they beseech the Lord to create a clean heart within them (Psalm 51). This spirituality was passed on through the generations following the exile; Mary and Joseph inherited it and lived according to its spirit. It finds its highest expression in the witness and preaching of Jesus. In what seems to have been his first public sermon, the Lord quoted from the book of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for Yahweh has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken.” (Isaiah 61.1) and then, as Luke describes the scene: “‘He rolled up the scroll…Then he began to speak to them, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.’” (Lk 4: 19f) The first beatitude is addressed to this circle of faithful poor of spirit, among whom was numbered, in addition to his mother and earliest disciples, Simeon and Anna who recognized him already as an infant: “Happy are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:3).

Jesus thought of his own circle of disciples as a ‘little flock’ and gives them reassurance that, in spite of their poverty and seeming weakness they had no reason for anxiety for they were the object of the Father’s special concern: “Do not fear, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you a kingdom. (Lk 12:32).” The purest expression of this spirituality of lowliness and trust amidst the need deeply felt by the poor is Jesus on the cross. He has taught us that whoever would follow him and become the friend of God must imitate him in this obedient, trusting surrender to the Father. Let us even now in our daily doings strive after the meekness and humility that are the features of the heart of Christ. Then we might trust ourselves with confidence wholly to God’s loving mercy relying on the merits of Jesus. He became poor and was despised for our sake so that he might make us rich with the eternal love of our Father in heaven.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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