Dec. 22: O King of the Nations
"O King of the nations [Gentiles] and Desired of all, You are the
cornerstone that binds two into one: Come, and save humankind whom
You formed out of clay."
The antiphons before today were heavily Jewish in their Messianic
content and this one begins that way, but then presents a radical
stumbling to Israel's usual position. The Jews were not exactly noted
for rabid ecumenism. Their customary ecumenical stance was, alas,
rather closely akin to that of the Catholic Counter-
Reformation: "Someday they'll all come crawling and groveling to us
on OUR terms." Sadly, the New Israel can, at times, all too closely
resemble the Old in some respects.
No problem for the Jews with "King of nations" (Jer. 10:7) or the
Desired of all, (Hag.2:8) these fit the old pattern comfortably.
There is even a cornerstone tradition in Isaiah 28:16, but "as the
foundation of Sion," not a union with all peoples. The jarring note
is in "the cornerstone that binds the two into one." This is
definitely not the way Israel expected the Gentiles to "wake up and
get with it." This is God Himself being the binder, even part of the
bond, the very cause of unity. This is that perfect union which does
not make those united feel smaller or less, because God Himself is
thrown into the breach of union.
Just as Christ has broken down the walls dividing us from the Father,
so is He also the cause and source of our unity with all humanity.
This is very Pauline, expressed in both Eph.2:14 and Gal.3:29 as
Christ being the peace between Jew and Gentile. That wall, humanly
speaking, between Jew and Gentile was very high. Jews could not eat
with Gentiles, many civil observances of foreign lands were
proscribed for them and their refusal to follow these was a source of
frequent persecution. In Mosaic law, Jewish nationality was conferred
by birth from a Jewish mother. The children of a Jewish man and a non-
Jewish wife would not even be Jews, a fact still true today.
The quote from Galatians has further applications to human
unity: "There is no such thing as Jew and Greek, slave and free, male
and female; for you are all one person in Christ Jesus. But if you
thus belong to Christ, you are the issue of Abraham and so heirs by
promise." Here we see not only the wall dividing Jew and Gentile torn
down, but even the customary way of becoming Jews and heirs to the
promise overthrown. No Jewish male could confer membership in Israel.
It travelled through the mother. Christ makes it clear that He unites
all in a new dispensation, one which supersedes the old. It is
significant that a role limited to women, in an age that scorned
them, is ascribed to Jesus by St. Paul, hardly the greatest fan of
women himself, without so much as a shrug of apology.
The Old Israel cherishes promises and waits for their fulfillment.
The New Israel, in its delight that the Messiah has come, often
forgets that it, too, must wait for the fulfillment of the promise
and that the waiting is terrible, painful frustration. No one can
look at the quote from Galatians and smugly assume that we are there.
Anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, religious hatreds, homophobia,
misogyny and misandry color our world and sometimes even our Church.
Hate crimes fill the news all too often. (Once would be too often...)
We have made a stab at slave and free, but little more than that.
What we miss is that these changes have already been effected,
perfectly, in Christ. The unity, the equality, promises are here:
they are REAL. All that impedes their full realization is just that:
their "real-ization" and discovery in our human hearts. The way to
bring about the promise is to live as if it were already here:
because it is! If every person did that, even to their own personal
cost and detriment, you would see changes in our world and churches
Lastly, there is a reality check that is not too palatable to our
modern ears, the reminder that we were formed out of clay. Several
decades of self-affirming pop psychology in the late 20th century may
have done their work a bit too well in some of us. The Latin "limus"
which is here rather flatteringly rendered as "clay" has the more
common sense of "mud, slime, or mire." Even if we now realize that
the creation of humanity was not a literal case of God making patty-
cake with clay, the message here is quite clear. The most cursory
examination of conscience will reveal how close to our origins we can
often slip. (You potters out there should pardon the pun...)
If this reflection may have inflamed a few, please do not blame Abbot
Lawrence. Most of this was me, after reading Parsch.
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