Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Until Heaven and Earth Pass Away

March 18, 2009

Wednesday of the Third Week in Lent

“However, take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children's children.” Deuteronomy 4:9

“Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” Matthew 5:18


My Lord God. I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that my desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. - Thomas Merton (1915-1968)


Often we like to impose our desired characteristics on God. Upon hearing the words in today’s Gospel, traditional Jews may have felt that Jesus was promising some of the hoped for vindication and vengeance implied in the Hebrew Bible. Not so fast, says Jesus.

“To fulfill the law” may have been heard to mean literal enforcement of Mosaic law to the least detail. That would have pleased Jesus’ audience. However, Jesus adds an interesting twist – “until heaven and earth pass away.” According to the notes in the New American Bible, the “passing away” of heaven and earth is not necessarily the end of the world understood, as in much apocalyptic literature, as the dissolution of the existing universe. The “turning of the ages” comes with the apocalyptic event of Jesus' death and resurrection, and those to whom this gospel is addressed are living in the new and final age, prophesied by Isaiah as the time of “new heavens and a new earth” (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22).

Meanwhile, during Jesus' ministry when he is taking the interior Kingdom of God for a proverbial test drive among ancient Palestine, Jesus’ mission remains within the framework of the law, though with significant anticipation of the age to come. Just as he added nuance to fulfilling the scripture of Isaiah 62, Jesus continues to change everything by adding his own intimate knowledge of the Father to this ministry.

While the people may be disappointed that their long hoped for vindication may not be delivered as they hoped, it is quite clear from the words of God spoken during the Baptism in the desert to the Transfiguration that God wants us to “listen” to his beloved Son Jesus and his way of love.


Just as Jesus passed on the love of His Father and Our Father, we must take responsibility for passing on the way, the truth and the life to our children. Check in with the director of religious education in your parish. Even if you can not volunteer to teach a class full-time, see if there is a way you can help part-time or with a special project.

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