Christians must never ignore or reject the legacy of the pre-Christian era. They must respect the People of Israel because God chose them to hold a special place in human history. Salvation is from the Jews. Anti-Semitism has no place in the Christian faith. Just as desecrating holy images would be an affront against God, showing hate to and attacking the People of Israel likewise is an affront against God, as those who do so denigrate those whom God has lifted up and honored.
We must not, of course, deny God’s work with the Gentiles: God is a God over all, not just the People of Israel. God has worked with all the nations, giving each of them their own ways to prepare them for the incarnation. But we must acknowledge that the People of Israel were specially chosen for a mission in the world; they were given a special covenant that allowed them to establish the lineage of the God-man, Jesus Christ. Thus, Christians must never reject the special forms of revelation given to the People of Israel. The faith of Moses, the faith of the People of Israel, is special, and so worthy to be recalled:
By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuse suffered for the Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he looked to the reward (Heb. 11:24-26 RSV).
Moses knew he should follow after God no matter where God should lead, no matter what he must suffer on behalf of God. His faith in God allowed him to believe that there was a good purpose for all that he experienced, and it was this faith which he bequeathed to the People of Israel. While, as history shows, not all of the People of God might have been faithful to the Covenant of Moses, they all learned from and were enriched from the faith of Moses. It inspired a great number of them to follow after God like Moses, to be holy, promoting the Covenant whenever it seemed that the people were being led away from it. The great literature of the People of Israel consistently honored those whose faith was so strong, they would not let anything divert them from doing what they believed God wanted them to do. They knew, whether or not their leaders always lived the faith out properly, that those who did live it were blessed by God and were to be remembered for their holy deeds.
Those who suffered for God were honored by God, and those who are honored by God would be honored by all the People of God. This is not to say suffering should be desired, nor that we should deny the good contained in pleasure, for if we did, we would have to say we should seek to suffer for eternity, denying ourselves of the pleasure of heaven. It is just that if we find ourselves in some conflict which requires us to choose God and suffer as a consequence for following God, or inordinate pleasure, we should refuse such transitory pleasure for the sake of true, eternal happiness. If we are offered the treasures of the world, we should hold them to be nothing in comparison to attaining union with God their creator. However, we should not seek to suffer needlessly, as God does not desire us to suffer; God has eternal beatitude, happiness without end, as our proper end. Likewise, God has given us many things in life for us to enjoy, things which can provide for us temporal happiness, showing that we are not meant to suffer, even in this life, but because of sin, because of the evil which we and others do, we can and will suffer. How we deal with suffering shows to us our true character, just as it did with Moses and many other saints.
We must seek after God, doing what we can to keep ourselves true to God, whether or not anyone else does so. However, we must realize we cannot have God without love, and so we cannot seek after God if we nihilistically deny the world and the people within it. God loves all, and so we must love all. But those who have learned to love, and feel and experience all things in love, have found that with such love, even our suffering can be transformed and made into something of value.
We learn about what is expected of us through the saints, those who came before us, those who loved God so strongly, they endured terrible things for the sake of God. We can also learn from those saints who did not experience such hardships, those who not only experienced great joy in all that they did, but who shared with others their own happiness, bringing a bit of the presence of the kingdom of God to others. Not all the saints suffered from great external hardships; not all saints were attacked by others. But both, those who suffered, and those who did not, had great love, love for God and love for others. It is love which connects them all, and it is love which we should likewise have if we want to be like them. If we focus on love and pay attention to its dictates, we can experience the call of Christ ourselves. Christ calls out to us with this boundless love and asks us to love him in return, to follow him wherever he shall lead us with that love. It takes faith to do so, since we do not know all the twists and turns which shall happen in our lives if we follow after him. Nonetheless, it is our encounter with love which gives us our faith, a faith that allows us to trust in him and believe that in the end, all will indeed be well.
God called Moses, and Moses followed. Moses left a legacy behind which might be difficult for us to interpret and understand in all its details, but a legacy which draws us to God if we pay attention to it and listen to what it is capable of telling us. It is in and through that legacy Jesus was raised up, and it is in and through that legacy Jesus called his apostles to him.
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. And he found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
Philip found Nathanael, and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man,” (Jn. 1:43-51 RSV).
Nathaniel was seen under the fig tree – that is, as one of the People of Israel, one of those connected to God through the Mosaic Covenant. Jesus recognized Nathaniel and knew him to be a good and honorable man, a man without guile, and this was because Nathaniel followed what he knew of God and what God wanted of him through the Mosaic Law.
With Nathaniel, it is clear that the Mosaic Covenant could and did establish holy men and women without guile. Despite their experiences, despite the corruption they saw all around them, they did not turn away from God. They knew that the Covenant was true, and the grace which was given by it was true. They did not let what others did destroy their faith. And so when Jesus came to Nathaniel and called him, telling him that he was seen under the fig tree as a man without guile, Nathaniel understood that Jesus had affirmed him and what he had done to stay true to the faith. Jesus recognized in Nathaniel the fruit of the Mosaic Covenant, that indeed, one should not judge it by corrupt priests and kings, but by the holy men and women of God which it produced.
Those of us who have heard the call of Christ and have become members of the church should follow the example of Nathaniel, to be without guile, to follow after Christ and let the grace of Christ transform us, no matter what we see those around us are doing in the name of the Christian faith. We, too, should follow Christ with a simplicity of heart so that there is no guile in us. We should be pure at heart so that we can see the greatest thing of all, God. If we follow the example of Nathaniel, if we truly listen to and follow the call of God in our hearts, nothing will stop us from attaining the glory of heaven, and we, too, then shall find ourselves joining in the great cloud of witnesses, of those who represent the glory of God to the world.
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