December 3, 2015
Sister Maria Catherine, OP
It is rare to hear anything from Baruch’s short six chapters, but for this Sunday’s readings we get an interesting excerpt. Echoing Isaiah 55-66, Baruch carefully traces Israel’s infidelity, and the curses and promises associated with the covenant throughout his short treatise. According to the minor prophet, their unfaithfulness stems from idol worship and neglecting the commandments.
In one of Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s theological exegeses on scripture, called “Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics,” he traces the theme of glory throughout the Old Testament. Von Balthasar defines the Hebrew word “kabod” to illustrate what he means by glory - “resplendent and thus appearing [as]’weightiness’ or might of being.” In this statement, he captures the transcendent, incorporeal sense of God’s nature. Despite the fact that God is unknowable in his essence, this definition also describes the density of his greatness and authority.
Surprisingly, glory (kabod) is mentioned eight times in Baruch. Six of those eight times occur in Chapter 5, from this weekend’s Mass readings. The minor prophet is describing the contrast between the people’s suffering from disobedience with the clarity and splendor of returning to their commitment to God. Watch for this as you read it.
Von Balthasar connects the Lord’s revelation of his glory with his covenant with the chosen people of Israel. The Hebrew word “berith,” or covenant, denotes more than just a juridical agreement between two parties, he says. Von Balthasar claims that the covenant relationship the Israelites enjoy with God is unique. Because God’s essence is completely beyond a finite creature’s understanding, there is no basis for an agreement governing exchanges between two equal parties; no such commonality exists. His “weightiness or might of being” wants to possess the Israelites as a people, personally and juridically. Consequently, this “berith” has deeper rewards (“a place of breadth and freedom in God”) and deeper consequences (“crushing servitude”) for the Israelites. Israel’s obligation is to respond in love and obedience to the commandments that God gives. Period.
The Jews’ history demonstrates both his glory and his faithfulness to the covenant. How beautiful that God who is so unfathomable pursues each of us to reveal this glory to us personally. His glory, his being, is what heals the breach of the Hebrews’ (and our) unfaithfulness. God heals them with this very self, and promises his glory, his very self, to them. It’s striking that the Israelites respond immediately to the Lord’s call to return to him, “rejoicing that they are remembered by God.” His covenant pledges his trustworthiness that he will “order that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low... so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.” His tenderness and care for the Israelites, expose his faithfulness even amidst their infidelity.
Another way God manifests his “weightiness or might of being” is by drawing them all together. When the Israelites went astray worshipping other gods and abandoning the commandments, their punishment is a double humiliation: They are conquered by barbarian nations and separated from one another. Now the prophet promises, “God will bring them back to you, carried in glory, as on a royal throne.”
What does this mean in the light of Christ? Luke’s gospel answers this question. That once, “every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low,” Christ will gather us around the manger to heal us with himself and to ready us for glory; his and ours.
Sister Maria Catherine, OP, is a perpetually professed member of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. She is fresh from teaching high school English in San Francisco, and is pursuing her master’s in theology at Ave Maria University in Florida.