August 4, 2017
(St. John Vianney, Priest)
“The fifteenth day of this seventh month is the LORD’s feast of Booths, which shall continue for seven days. On the first day there shall be a sacred assembly, and you shall do no sort of work. For seven days you shall offer an oblation to the LORD, and on the eighth day you shall again hold a sacred assembly and offer an oblation to the LORD.” Lv_23:1,4-11,15-16,27,34b-37
The third Book of the Jewish Pentateuch was called Leviticus, or the Book of the Law. It was this Book that listed all of the rules and regulations that the LORD had spelled out to give the Israelites order and justice in their lives.
And yet, it was not all do’s and don’ts. There were also times of feasting and times of celebration.
Leviticus had designated five special Holy Days to celebrate God’s work among the Israelites. The first of these was the Passover, or Pesach, which commemorated the Exodus of Israel from Egyptian slavery by the Hand of God.
Pesach is where we get the word Paschal from, when we talk about the Paschal Sacrifice or the Paschal Lamb, which we use in reference to the sacrifice of Jesus for our Exodus from sin, and our Salvation.
Fifty days after the Passover, the second Special Holy Day, Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks, which we call Pentecost, celebrates the first harvest of the Jews in thanksgiving for God’s generosity in keeping the Israelites fed. Of course, we know in our faith, that Pentecost is also the day that Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit upon His disciples and upon all of us.
In their seventh month, the Jews celebrated their New Year or Rosh Hashanah, with the blasts of the shofar, or ram’s-horn trumpets, that jolted them from their sleep of sin. This marked the beginning of a 10-day period of repentance in preparation for God’s judgment.
The ten-days culminated in The Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur, when the Jews would be purified from their sins.
Finally, five-days later, they celebrated the Feast of Booths or Succot, which was also called the Feast of Tabernacles. This began a week-long celebration of rejoicing, where the Jews shared meals in little shelters, or sukkahs, made from the branches of trees, that commemorated the 40-years of dwelling in huts in the desert, after their Exodus from Egypt.
Each of the five Holy Days were kept with three promises to God: to do no work, just as on a Sabbath, to make sacrificial offerings to God and to meet in a sacred assembly. Funny, it sounds just like a Mass, doesn’t it!
If you’re interested in learning more about our Jewish roots, there’s a website called hebrew4christians.com that’s easy to follow and has lots of other fun information too.
A good background in the old Jewish customs puts many of the words and activities that we find in the Gospels in a much better perspective. We can understand why the Jewish leaders were so obsessed with the Sabbath rules, because in the Old Testament the very least deviation from those laws was punishable by death.
And from readings like today’s Gospel, we can grasp how it wasn’t just the Pharisees who had a hard time accepting Jesus. Even His own neighbors and friends doubted His authenticity.
Maybe we can argue that it’s just human nature to struggle with change. For those dedicated Jews, it was 1300-years of habit since the time of Moses. It was no wonder the teachings of Jesus were so difficult for them. They were immersed in a culture where noncompliance was addressed with extermination, not forgiveness, and where the “unclean” were isolated with pinched noses, and not healed with open arms.
For us more seasoned Catholics, maybe we too have become just a little too comfortable with our last 50-years of habit, after the Vatican II changes. Or maybe we’re even still a little bitter over those changes. But, you know what, by now, as experienced Christian witnesses, we’ve also come to learn that some things we just have to take on Faith. And that Faith means, that even with the changes, that we may not be totally thrilled with, we still know that Jesus, that the Holy Spirit will continue to inspire and excite our youth to live His teachings and to pass them on, long after we’re gone.
Of that we can be assured!
And we praise the Lord for that assurance!
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