Friday, April 11, 2008

Salvation History- Part One (CCC 50-73)

Catechism Class Six

Now God, who is Divine Mercy, knew this rupture between mankind and Himself would happen, and the Church was prefigured in many ways throughout history. God knew that His covenant of love with Adam would be broken, and He already had a plan for reconciliation. This process of God calling humanity back to Himself is called salvation history. As was stated before, God did not abandon His creation, but sustains it and has even physically entered into its history. The history of salvation, which recounts the words and marvels of God, what He has done, continues to do and will do in the future, is organized in reference to and converges upon Jesus Christ. The events in the Old Testament by which God progressively prepared mankind for the Gospel, the life of Jesus, who brings Revelation to completion, and the history of the Church provide the structure of all salvation history of which creation and eschatology are its beginning and its end.

In the Garden, in a passage known as the proto-evangelium, upon the Fall, God told the serpent who had tempted Eve that her offspring would strike at his head (Gen. 3:15), thereby foreshadowing the deliverance of mankind by Jesus Christ, who would demonstrate the serious nature of sin, and the high cost of redemption, by taking man’s sins upon Himself and dying on the Cross.

Later, during a time of great evil, the righteous Noah and his family were granted salvation by obeying God’s instruction to build an ark. Thus, through one man, the whole family of the faithful were saved from death and destruction at the end of the world.

Following the Fall and expulsion of man from the Garden, mankind began to lose knowledge of God. So, an initial stage for the plan of redemption was to establish a relationship with a specific people and develop them so that they could learn to know God and live according to his will of love and truth. In progressive fashion over time, God revealed Himself to a greater and greater degree while also forming covenants with certain people.

After forming a covenant with Noah, God established the great covenant with Abraham to set apart a people to be His own. To show that He was not merely the god of a particular place, as was believed to be the case by the polytheists of the time, but that He is the One God who is Lord everywhere, God told Abraham (then called Abram) to leave his home in Ur (present day southern Iraq) and go to a far land, Canaan (present day Israel), which would be given to him and his descendents. To demonstrate this covenant with Abraham and his descendents, the sign of the covenant, circumcision, was made on the instrument of procreation. Through these chosen people, God would bring salvation to all mankind. But Abraham (and we) needed to fully understand the gravity of the situation, and he needed prove (to himself) that he had total faith in the Lord, even to the point of being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac. But, as we shall see, it was not Abraham's son who was to be sacrificed.

The covenant was renewed with Jacob, also called Israel. When Jacob’s son Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, and Joseph was then unjustly thrown into prison, God demonstrated His providence by bringing good out of evil. Joseph was later freed from prison and given a powerful position in Egypt, where he was able to save his family from famine. Thus, one innocent man suffered to bring life to God’s people.

In time, though, they fell into slavery, so God revealed Himself to Moses, who would lead them out of bondage in Egypt, and they were saved from death by the blood of the Passover lamb, just as we are led out of the bondage of sin and death by the Paschal Lamb, who is Jesus Christ. And to help them know what He had already written on their hearts, God gave them the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Law, reduced to physical written form and kept within the Ark of the Covenant. But still, the people chose to wander in the desert, and that has been the history of man throughout the ages. Nevertheless, God continued to protect His people, even providing them manna and water by which to survive.

Eventually, the people settled in Canaan, to be ruled for a period by military leaders known as “judges.” When they desired a king, God sent the prophet Samuel to anoint Saul, who was succeeded by David. God established a covenant with David, saying that his descendent (the Messiah) would reign as King forever. David’s son Solomon built the first Temple in Jerusalem, but the kingdom was soon thereafter divided in two.

Meanwhile, various enemies and invaders threatened Israel, just as the Canaanites and Philistines had done previously. The Assyrians, Babylonians, and Macedonians all imposed their military might upon Israel. The land was conquered, many people were carried off into slavery and exile, and outsiders moved in, resulting in intermarriage amongst those who stayed behind. Eventually, however, the people would be restored.

This cycle of events occurred over and over in the history of the people of Israel – The people would rebel by falling into sin and God would allow them to suffer the consequences, such as by being conquered by their enemies. The people then cry out to God for mercy and forgiveness, so the Lord has compassion and forgives. Despite their repeated infidelities, God did not abandon them, but remained ever faithful to His people, so as to continue to prepare them for salvation.

During the unfaithful times, prophets arose, and God in various ways called the people to return to Him. During exile in Babylon, the messianic prophecies of Isaiah told of a suffering servant who would endure pain, hardship, and even death for the sake of the people. The prophets Jeremiah and Joel also told of God establishing a New Covenant with Israel, which would fulfill and exceed the old covenant, and would include the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon mankind.

Upon the return from the Babylonian exile, the people of Israel found their land heavily influenced by Greeks and other foreigners. In time, those foreigners included the Romans, who conquered the area they called Palestine and installed Herod to rule as king.

It was then that God chose to bring salvation history to its culmination. A simple and humble girl was conceived immaculately, without the stain of that Original Sin. This young girl, Mary, was like a new Eve, and said “yes, let it be done” to her as God willed, when it was announced to her that she would bear the Savior (Lk.1:26-45). And just as the first Eve was formed out of the first Adam, so Jesus, Son of God and the new Adam, was formed out of the new Eve, flesh of her flesh, bone of her bone.

God literally merged into mankind, becoming small, defenseless, and vulnerable while dwelling within Mary’s womb, in the most intimate of relationships. To be sure, to show that such an intimate relationship was not meant to be Mary's alone, to show that all the faithful are called to intimately receive Him into our own bodies, the newborn Jesus was placed in a manger. As with the straw that was food for the animals, so too Jesus is shown to be food for us.

And Mary, the handmaid of the Lord, by becoming His mother, became our mother too, and the Mother of the Church. As our Mother, like at Cana when the wine ran out, Mary is sensitive and attentive to our needs, and she intercedes and asks her Son to provide for us. (Jn. 2:1-5)

The preparation of mankind for the coming of the Redeemer was completed by John the Baptist, the last and greatest of the prophets. The long period of expectancy was over. The Christ was at hand.


No comments: