Delving Deeper Into the “5th Gospel”
“Eating and drinking don't make friendships - such friendship even robbers and murderers have. But if we are friends, if we truly care for one another, let us help one another spiritually. Let us hinder those things that lead our friends away to hell.” ~ St. John Chrysostom
TRIVIA QUESTION: Other than the Psalms, which Old Testament Book is most often quoted in the New Testament?
Genesis you say? Actually, the book that represents the correct answer is quoted 20 more times than this seminal book, with 55 references as opposed to 35 for the first book of the Old Testament.
Jeremiah maybe...? After all, the teachings of “The Weeping Prophet” are vast and profound, seemingly splashed about the pages of the New Testament liberally. In reality, the book I have in mind is referenced 11 times more than Jeremiah, which surprisingly enough is only referenced 5 times in New Testament Scripture.
The answer is the Book of Isaiah, authored by a man of whom the great Saint Jerome once remarked “should be remembered more so as an evangelist than a prophet.” Isaiah’s ability to paint his vision of hope using the broad and beautiful strokes of lush, vibrant and vivid imagery is the envy of every writer, and his evangelical flare is on display in full force in today’s 1st Reading (Isaiah 30:19-21, 23-26):
“The Lord will give you the bread you need and the water for which you thirst. No longer will your Teacher hide himself,” he proclaims, a foreshadowing of the Eucharist, to be made visible in the tangible gifts of bread and wine, the latter mixed with the water which flowed from the side of Christ in the final moments of his sacrificial love made manifest on the cross.
It is in the waning words of this passage however ~ Verse 26 ~ wherein our eternal hope resides, a message that goes beyond even that of the Eucharist, our vital nourishment for the earthly journey. “On the day the Lord binds up the wounds of his people, he will heal the bruises left by his blows.”
Holy Mass at our Church this morning was celebrated for a parishioner ~ a Daily Communicant and RCIA Sponsor as well ~ who was recently diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer. The faithful who gathered to celebrate the Mass for her did so not knowing when the Lord will bind the wounds of his handmaiden. We do know however that He will.
Against the backdrop of eternity, that’s a show of faith rooted in the promise of everlasting life. That which happens to us here is insignificant; heavenly glory is what matters. It’s all that matters. It is attained through our Savior Jesus Christ.
Those on hand this morning took to heart the message of Saint Ambrose, Bishop & Doctor of our Church, whose Feast Day we celebrate today, who once said “do not desert a friend in time of need, nor forsake them or fail them. For friendship is the support of life. It is a better thing to save souls for the Lord than to save treasures. He who sent forth his Apostles without gold had not need of gold to form his church. The church possesses gold, not to hoard, but to scatter abroad to come to the aid of the unfortunate.”
Works of charity, genuine acts of repentance, the Rosary, the Book of Isaiah, that which many Jewish Scholars have dubbed the “5th Gospel” for the fullness and richness of its teachings. These represent the true gold of our church, these virtues and gifts which, when unleashed in abundant charity, when “poured out like a libation” to borrow a phrase from Saint Paul, present her in all her glory, the true and radiant Bride of Christ.
“The Harvest is abundant but the laborers are few” Jesus laments in today’s Gospel (Matthew 9:35-10:1, 5-8). Isn’t it interesting that Saint Ambrose, one of the 1st four doctors of the church, a man who as legend had it had a small swarm of bees form in his mouth as a young boy, symbolic of the sweetness of the words he would go on to utter in the name of God, is instead best known for being the spiritual advisor of both Saint Monica and Saint Augustine? It was his evangelism, his willingness to forgo popularity and likability and instead tell Saint Augustine that the life he was living was not genuine, not in accordance with God’s teachings and therefore in no way, shape or form in accordance with God’s will. No Saint Ambrose, no Saint Augustine.
Will your witness trigger the faith journey of the next Saint Augustine? What might seem impossible to us is all in a day’s work for God. But God relies on us to take the first step, to cooperate with him in the work of salvation. To whom much is given, much is expected. With the Advent prophet . . . or should I say the Advent evangelist Isaiah serving as our role model, let’s all agree to look at Advent as an opportunity to bring Christ to others. The time is now and the stakes have never been higher. For as Saint Vincent de Paul once said “it is absolutely necessary, both for our advancement and the salvation of others, to follow always and in all things the beautiful light of faith.”