DECEMBER 3, 2008- ISAIAH 25:6-10; MATTHEW 15:29-37
ON THIS MOUNTAIN THE LORD WILL DESTROY THE VEIL THAT VEILS ALL PEOPLES. HE WILL DESTROY DEATH FOREVER. When we hear this powerful proclamation from the lips of Isaiah our thoughts readily turn to the passion and resurrection of Jesus. These words of the prophet were in fact fulfilled, in principle, at the time of his death on the cross, when the veil of the temple was torn and access to the holy place of God was opened to all. Like all images used in prophetic language, those employed in the passage we have just heard as from the mouth of the prophet invite our interpretation. The veil that covers the nations, the mountain where the Lord encounters his people, the rich foods and fine wines served at the banquet God himself provides are so many images of realities that impinge upon each of us no less than they were operative in the lives of those living in the days of the prophet. What we discover under the cover of these images depends on the character of our spiritual senses and the grace of the Spirit that gives perception and understanding. Saint Thomas, followed by modern analysts, notes that “each eye perceives differently the object it observes.”
That a veil so covers the nations as to render them blind to their own best interests is obvious to Isaiah. Ignorance is a form of veil that envelopes our human nature from the time of the first sin. Death soon followed the loss of familiar knowledge of God. Recent events in our world go far to persuade us that the state of things remains very much the same today. The entanglements that arise among the nations and lead to destructive responses have broader effects than they ever possessed in the past. Solutions devised by those enlightened with the best knowledge of human science and the wisdom gleaned from study of affairs repeatedly prove inadequate and even ambiguous, leading to unanticipated crises. Current developments in worldwide financial markets as well as the results of the wars being waged today illustrate the limits of human wisdom of leaders of the nations. There is a veil that shrouds the best of mortal reasoning and defeats the well-intentioned policies, even after centuries of enlightened efforts at planning guided by the findings of science.
Death indeed covers every human countenance with a veil of mourning; it envelops every person so that no individual escapes it. As Isaiah well understood, this veil can be removed only the intervention of God himself, and he gives assurance that He will so intervene as to swallow up and absorb (3-" is the word in the Hebrew text) the mourning due to death. That He will in fact act in such a way as to change matters is a certainty for the prophet. When this divine action takes place life for the peoples will assume the character of a festive banquet, the food and drink of best quality being supplied in abundance.
This vision of the future deliverance from the sadness associated with the darkness and bondage due to death that afflict the peoples of the earth was clearly present to Jesus in the course of his active ministry. In today’s Gospel, we are shown his way of initiating this divine intervention. His healings of the people followed by a nourishing meal provided through his direct, miraculous action are intended to show that in his person the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy begins, if in a manner that remains masked for a time. He alone, acting as the Father’s emissary, had the power to absorb the veil of sadness that is death. He accepted to undertake this mission, and in his passion and resurrection carried it out to the end, thus fulfilling this prophecy of Isaiah. This Eucharist celebrates the fulfillment of this great undertaking that offers the fullness of life as symbolized by a rich banquet, and reveals to those who answer his invitation to his banquet, the light of God’s glory that swallows up the darkness of death. G
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger