Saturday, February 25, 2012

Four Hundred Years of Silence

Reposted for new Sky View readers:

From about 500 B.C. to 400 B.C. the last of the Old Testament prophets (arguably the prophet Malachi) spoke the words of God to the Jews; this, of course was before St. John the Baptist raised his voice in the desert. He is considered the very last of the Old Testament prophets. Again, for about four hundred years there were no prophets. God was silent, so it seemed.

During this time, after being dominated by one empire after another (i.e. the Assyrian Empire, then the Babylonian Empire, the Persian Empire, the Greek Empire and then finally the Roman Empire) the Jews has gained national independence for about a hundred years with the Maccabees as their leaders. But in 63 B.C. the Roman Empire, led by Pompey, conquered the Jews and annexed their land. The Roman Empire, unlike previous empires, was not totally oppressive. They didn't deport the Jews to other lands and destroy whole cities like the Assyrian Empire and the Babylonian Empire did. Rome was more willing to see the conquered nations as partners in governance. Still, many Jews, especially the Zealots (Jewish Jihadists, so to speak) burned with hatred for their Roman occupiers.

When the Blessed Virgin was just a young girl it seemed to the Jews that God was forever silent; that all hope had been lost. Unfortunately, borne from centuries of humiliation and despair was the idea that the Messiah would be a political warrior; one that would liberate Judah from the grips of the Roman Empire. Like so many nations throughout world history, nationalism gripped the hearts and minds of the people of God. They had forgotten that their mission was to serve as God's witness to the nations. Indeed, Israel was not to be an end in itself but an instrument used by God to bring his love and wisdom to the gentile people. We may forget but God never forgets his promise.

When the angel Gabriel appeared to the Blessed Virgin Mary in order to ask, in so many words, if she would be the Mother of Messiah, no one could have imagined what God had in mind. More than a political ruler, the Christ would be God in human flesh! As the prophet Ezekiel said, "For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will look after and tend my sheep." That's right! "I myself!" says the Lord. As he did in the Garden of Eden, the Lord would once again walk the earth with his people. And what a joy it was for the people in Palestine. God Incarnate, unlike human judges and political rulers, will judge with justice and equity. He will give the poor, the lowly and the forgotten a fair hearing. As the prophet Isaiah said regarding him, "Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, but he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land's afflicted. He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked." And as for weary searchers of truth and those who despaired of ever knowing God, this same prophet gives hope that these poor souls would be consoled. He said, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone."

Quite often in the life of a believer, the clouds of dreariness will loom and darkness will linger. It would seem, much like the Jews between 400 B.C. and the coming of Christ, that the Lord had forgotten about his people. But just as the suffering God allows can exceed our expectations, so too does his reward. His generosity is never outdone. Just imagine! The Jewish people had been groomed to expect a politician to liberate them from the Romans when in fact the Messiah, as prophecied in the Old Testament, was God himself. It was too little for our Lord to apply politcal remedies to human problems. He was after the very root of what plagued the human soul, namely, sin. And freedom from sin is freedom from Satans dominion; eventually freedom from Satan's dominion tranlates into freedom from family dysfunction, social ills and political oppression. But it all starts with the spiritual order. Everything else follows from this.

God becoming incarnate in the womb of Mary explains her exuberance when she poured forth her Canticle before St. Elizabeth: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior...He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

Having witnessed the plight of Israel, the Blessed Virgin Mary knew that when God is silent nothing seems to go well. For the Jews, it was darkest before the dawn. That is to say, before the coming of Christ the words of the Lord were not spoken through his prophets. It had been quiet for centuries. Consolation and the light of wisdom was wanting. To be sure, God allows darkness in our lives so that after having become acquainted with it, we will not take his mercy, his light and his friendship for granted.