WHERE DO YOU TAKE REFUGE – IN THE SACRIFICE OF THE HOLY MASS OR IN THE SACRIFICE OF ‘BAAL?’
First Reading: 1 Kings 18:20-39
Responsorial Psalm: Ps. 15(16):1-2,4-5,8,11
Gospel Reading: Matthew 5:17-19
The Gospel according to Matthew has been understood to possess a doctrinal character reflected in the five discourses of Christ. These five discourses correspond to the five books of the Pentateuch. The Sermon on the Mount is the first of Christ’s discourses (see Matthew Chapter 5 – 7). Here, Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God and its demands. He started by preaching the Beatitudes, and consequently, “Salt for the earth” and “Light for the world.” On hearing Christ’s interpretation of the Law in this manner, the people thought he had come to change everything about the Law. However, today’s gospel reflects Christ clarification on the matter: “Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them.” The fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets is rooted in Christ’s mission which culminated in his sacrificial death and resurrection. How could we understand this better?
Our Christian Tradition explains that Moses and Elijah represented the “Law and the Prophets.” Origen was the first to comment that the presence of Moses and Elijah in the ‘Transfiguration event’ represented the Law (referring to the Torah, also called the Pentateuch) and the Prophets (the rest of the Hebrew Bible) respectively. Now, how does Jesus complete the Law and the prophets? Just as Moses ascends Mount Sinai, receives the Law from God and teaches the people, Christ also ascends the mountaintop, interprets and teaches the Law as we see in the “Sermon on the Mount”. This way, the community of Matthew comprehends Christ as the New Moses; that is, the one who has the sole authority to interpret and fulfil the Law; hence, his statement in today’s gospel reading: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.”
How does Christ fulfil the prophets? We must understand that everything the prophets did and taught pointed towards Christ and his redemptive mission. Therefore, in the context of our first reading, we read of the prophet Elijah offering a burnt offering to God; that is, a sacrifice which was wholly consumed by the Lord’s fire; this way, conquering the prophets of Baal who could not do likewise, and proving that Yahweh indeed is the only and true God. This was a prefiguration of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, offered to God in the most perfect manner. Here, Elijah chooses the least favourable conditions for himself. He sprinkles the altar, the wood, and the victim three times with water, making it seem impossible that his offering would ever catch fire. But it is precisely in these unfavourable conditions that God reveals himself. Elijah’s sacrifice does not consist in the destruction of anything, but rather in the sanctification of something. To sanctify a victim means to establish a union between God and it, and through it, between God and those making the offering. This is why it was necessary for fire to come down from heaven. Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, anticipated in the Holy Eucharist perfects (completes) that of Elijah and all other sacrifices. The relationship doesn’t appear immediately, but it is indeed very strong. First of all, we should note that Jesus did not abolish the law of sacrifices, but rather brought it to completion. The prophets and the psalms made it clear that God does not need the blood of sheep and goats. He is even disgusted with such offerings because what he wants is a life faithful to his Law. Thus, Jesus fulfils the Law by offering the perfect sacrifice of his body and blood. He himself is the victim of this sacrifice because he truly died; and his death was transformed into a sacrifice by the Holy Spirit, who is the true fire from heaven that transforms and sanctifies everything. In the second place, we must note that Jesus’ sacrifice occurs in even more adverse/unfavourable conditions than those Elijah encountered. In Jesus case, we are dealing with an unjust condemnation, a crime, and a punishment. Such “circumstances” would seem impossible to “sanctify or “make holy,” but through it, God brings forth good.
Therefore, sin, evil and death have been conquered by Christ who fulfilled the Law by offering up himself for our redemption and reconciling us with the Father through his death and resurrection. Therefore, the question before us remains: “Where do we take refuge – in the Sacrificial death and resurrection of Christ celebrated in every Holy Mass or in the worthless sacrifice of Baal (sin and evil)? In God alone should our souls be at rest and our refuge must solely come from Him. When we seek refuge in evil through our sins, we tend to choose other gods like the prophets of Baal and increase our sorrows, just as today’s psalmist says: “Those who choose other gods increase their sorrows. Never will I offer their offerings of blood. Never will I take their name upon my lips.” Again, drawing inspiration from the Psalmist, the Lord should always be our portion, cup and prize, and we should always keep him ever in our sight in order to stand firm. Dearest friends in Christ, in every Holy Mass, Christ rises victoriously against evil (‘the prophets of Baal’) and sanctifies us with his Eucharistic Sacrifice offered once and for all in order that we might be saved. We pray and ask him to continually fill us with His grace to always seek refuge in Him and find solace and contentment in the saving power of the Eucharist.
© Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Paroquia Nossa Senhora de Fatima, Vila Sabrina, São Paulo, Brazil
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