Sabbath after Sabbath

In the Acts of the Apostles (13:26-30), Paul speaks of his Jewish background. To us Jews did God send forth a “message of salvation.”  This announcement was not sent to everyone in the beginning. Why not? We know that, in Deuteronomy, the Jews are called “chosen” not because of anything they did on their part but solely because God loved them. The whole Old Testament seems often to be made up of an unlovable, “stiff-necked” people whom God loves in spite of their rejections, continuous faults, and complaints.

If this reason sounds to us arbitrary, it is no different from any other real love. We cannot really give a list of “reasons” why we love someone, whether he be the best or the “least,” as the Jews were said to be. When the last reason is given, it won’t be persuasive to most others but only to us. Still, something loveable is found in every human being. That is the very definition of his initial creation in the Godhead.  Love has its purposes. They will be carried out even if we do not cooperate..

God obviously had something in mind in choosing these tribes we now know as the Jews of classical times. It had to do with “salvation” that is, with what ultimately we are about in this world. Actually, our real individual origin, not just of Jews, is not in this world at all. Evidently, the Jews across the ages from Abraham and Moses would be given sufficient signs whereby they could recognize the working out of this divine purpose. When the time came, they were supposed to see, not reject, this purpose in its embodiment.

Luke can thus say that “the inhabitants of Jerusalem and their rulers failed to recognize Him.” This failure is stated as a fact. It was possible to miss the signs or not to heed them. They were supposed to be able to “recognize” someone. But they didn’t. This failure to recognize, however, did not mean that someone was not sent by God. Evidently, what God had in mind, as it were, was to be worked out whether Christ was recognized or not by the Jews of New Testament times. Here Paul emphasizes the “inhabitants of Jerusalem and their rulers.” The workings of God’s plan would occur in due time and place, at a high point in the Hebrew liturgy. These inhabitants and rulers would be expected to recognize Him. That is why they had the Scriptures. But they might not want to or be able to.

In the drama of the Passion, the Trial, and the Crucifixion, we see that, along with Pilate’s legal authority, many inhabitants and rulers condemned Him. They did not see who He was. In any case, their very condemning Him “fulfilled the words of the prophets which we (Jews) read Sabbath after Sabbath.” Thus, the prophets are speaking about something that will happen. Signs of its happening will be given and manifest. Yet, He will be delivered up to death.

Luke now adds that “they found no guilt in him that was worthy of death.” The implication here is clearly that they went ahead ahead anyhow in violation of both Jewish and Roman law. Pilate, as we know, was reluctant. He also “found no guilt in Him.” But he was ‘begged” to have Christ “executed.” It is a messy affair.

Luke next adds that “once they had brought all that had been written of Him,” He was taken down from the Cross and buried. Luke writes of these events in retrospect. In trying to make sense of what happened, the Apostles returned to the Jewish scriptures. They found sufficient evidence to convince them that these events had been foretold. The New Testament, in many ways, is an account of how the Apostles, after the event, went back to the Scriptures to make sense of the whole business.

The final words in this Luke’s passage are simply that, in spite of all these happenings, including the death of Christ, “God raised Him from the dead.” This last, most startling event was also found in the Scripture which were read by all of them “Sabbath after Sabbath.” It implies that we can hear something again and again and yet miss its meaning, miss seeing what was intended when it happens before our very eyes. We remain free not to recognize it when it happens, in spite of the evidence. The Apostles themselves, of course, were ‘slow” to figure out what was occurring. Peter even said that those who were responsible for Christ’s death did not know what they were doing, at least did not know that He was the one sent by the Father into the world and raised Him from the dead for its “salvation.”

Rev. James V. Schall, S.J.

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Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., taught political science at Georgetown University for many years. His recent books include The Mind That Is Catholic from Catholic University of America Press; Remembering Belloc from St. Augustine Press; and Reasonable Pleasures from Ignatius Press. His newest books are A Line Through the Human Heart: On Sinning and Being Forgiven (2016) and the forthcoming On the Principles of Taxing Beer and Other Brief Philosophical Essays (2017). His most recent book is Catholicism and Intelligence (Emmaus Road, 2017).

  • John Key

    Thank you father for a wonderful reflection as we begin the Triduum.

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