HOMILY ADVENT WEEK 01 03 – Year II
Realized Eschatology and Abundant Grace:
Optional Memorial of St. John Damascene
(Is 25:6-10; Ps 23; Mt 15:29-37)
Did you realize that we are actually to be immersed in realized eschatology?
Christian life is all about both living in the graced reign of God here and now, while being on the way to the fullness of that reign at the end of time.
The first reading from Isaiah, often heard at funerals, is all about the future, theologically known as eschatology. He strains to find words to describe what eternal life with God will be like, resorting to what could be some items on an upscale restaurant menu! But then he adds more serious elements like an end to sin, suffering, sorrow and death.
The very familiar Psalm 23 shifts our focus to the present. The Lord is our shepherd, who shepherds and guides us now; who comforts and protects us now; who frees us from all fear now.
Jesus in the gospel keeps our focus on the present. Where Jesus is, there is not only profound teaching about the ways of God, but all who come to him are healed of their illnesses and diseases. I suspect it was Jesus’ compassion and full attention riveted on each person so impacting their whole person – mind, body, soul and spirit – that they were healed physically.
Then Jesus acts out of compassion for the tired and hungry crowd, and performs a miracle of multiplying loaves and fish to feed them all. What is significant here is the number of loaves – seven – a perfect number, a hint of infinity and eternity. In other words, Jesus does not just multiply loaves of bread – he is the Bread of Life and the source of eternal life right there before their eyes. This adds a touch of divine irony to the question of the naïve disciples: “Where are we to get enough bread in the desert to feed so great a crowd?” They failed to realize in that very desert, they were in the presence of the Bread of Life for the world – there was no need to go anywhere!
The disciples also mention a few fish. I suspect the number of fishes was three – another perfect number for the Hebrew mind. Seven loaves and three fish indicate that heaven, perfection, wholeness, completion, is already present in the person of Jesus Christ. The fact that there were seven baskets of fragments gathered up after the miracle simply adds credence to that thought.
There is more to those baskets of left-overs, however. They symbolize the utter generosity, the extravagant abundance of God’s love and grace poured out over those who come to believe in Jesus as Son of God, Messiah, Lord and Savior. There is no limit to that unconditional mercy, compassion, love and healing power, as evidenced in the numerous healings Jesus had just performed.
In that light, an insight from St. Therese of Lisieux fits well here. I believe she is the one who saw herself as a small container in heaven compared to other great saints, but that was no problem because every container, no matter what size, would be full. That brings to my mind, the importance of contemplative prayer as a way to increase the size of our container while here on earth, so as to receive even more of God’s grace, love and compassion! Whenever we enter into the dark silence of contemplative prayer, we are actually not only soaking up God’s love we are also increasing our capacity to do so!
The message these readings hold out to us is the invitation to put our complete faith and trust in Jesus, to experience eternal life through forgiveness and healing right now, and to look forward in hope for the fullness of eternal life Isaiah strives to share with his hearers.
Today the Church invites us to honor St. John Damascene. John was born into a Christian family in Damascus about 675. After working at the court of the caliph in Damascus, he became a monk and later a priest near Bethlehem. The last of the Greek Fathers of the Church, John was a renowned scholar. One of his best-known works, The Fountain of Wisdom, had a great influence on later theology. He also wrote hymns and homilies in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He died about 750, and was named a Doctor of the Church in 1890.
The psalm proclaims that God prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies. That table is the table of the Eucharist as a foretaste of that eternal banquet table in the kingdom of heaven.
So, let us heed the message of today’s readings – place our trust in Jesus, and live in his kingdom of peace and love as we wait for it to come in fullness, as did St. John Damascene.