The Lion of Judah

THE NOW WORD ON MASS READINGS
for December 17th, 2013

Liturgical texts here

 

 

THERE is a powerful moment of drama in one of St. John’s visions in the Book of Revelation. After hearing the Lord chastise the seven churches, warning, exhorting, and preparing them for His coming, [1]cf. Rev 1:7 St. John is shown a scroll with writing on both sides that is sealed with seven seals. When he realizes that “no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth” is able to open and examine it, he begins to weep profusely. But why is St. John weeping over something he hasn’t read yet?

Yesterday, Pope Francis prayed that the Lord would send prophets to the Church. Because without prophecy, he said, the Church is stuck in the present, with no memory of the promises of yesterday, and no hope for the future.

But when there is no spirit of prophecy amongst the people of God, we fall into the trap of clericalism. —POPE FRANCIS, Homily, December 16th, 2013; Vatican Radio; radiovatican.va

Clericalism—the treadmill of merely running the Church day to day to keep the lights on, rather than becoming the Light itself. And this spirit of clericalism is partly what the letters to the seven churches address in the first part of John’s Apocalypse. Jesus warns them:

Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first. Realize how far you have fallen. Repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Rev 4:2-5)

This was also the warning of Benedict XVI shortly after his papal election in 2005:

The judgment announced by the Lord Jesus [in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 21] refers above all to the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70. Yet the threat of judgment also concerns us, the Church in Europe, Europe and the West in general. With this Gospel, the Lord is also crying out to our ears the words that in the Book of Revelation he addresses to the Church of Ephesus: “If you do not repent I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” Light can also be taken away from us and we do well to let this warning ring out with its full seriousness in our hearts, while crying to the Lord: “Help us to repent! Give all of us the grace of true renewal! Do not allow your light in our midst to blow out! Strengthen our faith, our hope and our love, so that we can bear good fruit!”Pope Benedict XVI, Opening Homily, Synod of Bishops, October 2nd, 2005, Rome.

So now we understand why St. John is weeping—he is longing for a prophetic word of hope reassuring that God’s plan of salvation is not failing.

…when clericalism reigns supreme… the words of God are sorely missed, and true believers weep because they cannot find the Lord. —POPE FRANCIS, Homily, December 16th, 2013; Vatican Radio; radiovatican.va

That hope is what lies like a crouching lion in tall grasses in today’s Mass readings. The first reading speaks of the lion who comes out of Judah, “the king of beasts” whom Matthew’s Gospel reveals is fulfilled in Jesus through his genealogy. The author of Genesis insists:

The scepter shall never depart from Judah, or the mace from between his legs.

This Lion will always reign in justice, but most especially, it says in the Psalm, “in his days“:

O God, with your judgment endow the king, and with your justice, the king’s son; He shall govern your people with justice and your afflicted ones with judgment… Justice shall flower in his days, and profound peace, till the moon be no more. May he rule from sea to sea…

Although Jesus has claimed the throne of David and established His eternal kingdom through His death and resurrection, it remains yet for His kingdom to become fully established from “sea to sea.” [2]cf. Matt 24:14 St. John knew of such Old Testament prophecies, of a time of “profound peace” coming when, as he later reveals, the “beast and the false prophet” of injustice would be cast into the lake of fire ushering in a “thousand year” reign of Christ and His saints. [3]cf. Rev 20:1-7 St. Irenaeus and other Church Fathers referred to this reign of peace as “the times of the kingdom” and the “seventh day,” before the eighth and everlasting day of eternity.

But when The Antichrist shall have devastated all things in this world, he will reign for three years and six months, and sit in the temple at Jerusalem; and then the Lord will come from Heaven in the clouds… sending this man and those who follow him into the lake of fire; but bringing in for the righteous the times of the kingdom, that is, the rest, the hallowed seventh day… These are to take place in the times of the kingdom, that is, upon the seventh day… the true Sabbath of the righteous. —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Church Father (140–202 A.D.); Adversus Haereses, Irenaeus of Lyons, V.33.3.4, The Fathers of the Church, CIMA Publishing Co.

But when and how will these prophecies come about? At last, after shedding many tears, St. John hears the calming voice of hope:

“Do not weep. The lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has triumphed, enabling him to open the scroll with its seven seals.” (Rev 5:3)

There is a profound connection between the genealogy of Jesus, “the root of David,” and the coming “Era of Peace” after the seven seals of judgment are opened. From Abraham to Jesus, there are 42 generations. Theologian Dr. Scott Hahn points out that,

Allegorically, Jesus’ 42 total generations signify the 42 encampments of the Israelites between the Exodus and their entry into the Promised Land. —Dr. Scott Hahn, Ignatius Study Bible, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 18

Now, in the New Testament, which is the fulfillment of the Old, Jesus, the Lion of Judah, is leading His people in an exodus out of the “new tyranny” [4]POPE FRANCIS, Evangelii Gaudium, n. 56 of our times to a promised “era of peace.” During this coming flowering of justice and peace, the Psalmist says He will “rule from sea to sea, and… all the nations shall proclaim his happiness.” That is the message of hope for which St. John was weeping and waiting to hear:

“Worthy are you to receive the scroll and to break open its seals, for you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation. You made them a kingdom and priests for our God, and they will reign on earth.” (Rev 5:9-10)

May this consoling hope keep us from weeping as we watch and pray and listen for the roar of the Lion of Judah that will come like a “thief in the night,” putting an end to the reign of the beast.

“And they shall hear My voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd.” May God… shortly bring to fulfillment His prophecy for transforming this consoling vision of the future into a present reality… It is God’s task to bring about this happy hour and to make it known to all… When it does arrive, it will turn out to be a solemn hour, one big with consequences not only for the restoration of the Kingdom of Christ, but for the pacification of… the world. We pray most fervently, and ask others likewise to pray for this much-desired pacification of society. —POPE PIUS XI, Ubi Arcani dei Consilioi “On the Peace of Christ in his Kingdom”, December 23, 1922

We are far from the so-called “end of history”, since the conditions for a sustainable and peaceful development have not yet been adequately articulated and realized. —POPE FRANCIS, Evangelii Gaudium, n. 59

 

RELATED READING:

  • What if there is to be no restoration of the Kingdom? Read: What if…?

 

 

 

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1. cf. Rev 1:7
2. cf. Matt 24:14
3. cf. Rev 20:1-7
4. POPE FRANCIS, Evangelii Gaudium, n. 56
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