Persistence and perseverance

Father John A. Kiley

The ancient Jews, and today’s Jews as well, are certainly God’s chosen people. St. Paul rightly praises the divine selection of the Jews when he writes of his Jewish people, “theirs is the sonship and the glory and the covenants and the law and the worship and the promises; theirs are the fathers and from them is the Christ according to the flesh.” Through Abraham God selected the tiny Jewish population from all the vast societies of the primordial world to be the community through which he would reveal his eternal plan to the nations. Egypt and Babylon and Assyria and Persia were overlooked as God entrusted revelations of his inner self to the nomads Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachael.

In the light of their worldly insignificance, the honors heaped by God the Father on the Jewish people are baffling. And, furthermore, let’s not forget that when it was time for God’s own Son to come into this world, when the day arrived for the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity to take on flesh, Jesus came into this world as a Jew! Jesus was not a scholarly Greek or a worldly Roman; he had no secular credentials. God’s Son was an obscure Jew, in an obscure Jewish town, in an obscure Jewish province. No other nationality or ethnicity has been so honored as to number an actual God, “God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God,” among its sons. God’s largesse toward the Jews is indeed awe-inspiring.

And yet, as one considers God’s choice of the Jewish people as his own select vehicle through which the destiny of the whole human race would be revealed, one might presumptuously and audaciously inquire whether God’s unique adoption of the Jews as his special people was truly worth it for them. No group of people in human society has suffered more than the Jews. In the ancient world, the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, and the Romans subjugated the Jewish people. In later times, the Christian world and the Islamic world certainly did little to benefit the Jewish race. In modern times, pogroms in Czarist Russia and death camps in Nazi Germany inflicted unspeakable sufferings on God’s Chosen people. And so the question might well be asked, “Was Divine Selection worth it?”

Believers must remember that God chose the Jewish people precisely as the vehicle of revelation through which God would disclose to all mankind his plan for history. Similarly, the Jew Jesus Christ came into this world to divulge to all humanity God’s strategy for history. And both the Jewish nation and the individual Jew Jesus Christ suffered shamefully, were rejected broadly, and held in little esteem by the powers that be. Now perhaps this rather grim message is precisely the revelation that God the Father wanted to get across to all believers and to the world at large. As St. Paul would write, “They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” And again, St. Paul would write, “Therefore, my dear friends…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his purpose.” A beneficent God, indeed, a God who is love itself, chooses a path of rejection and suffering both for his people and for his Son. Clearly there has to be a message in this mystery.

As with the Jews and as with Christ, God’s believing people today are challenged both from within and from without. Progressives and traditionalists in both the political and ecclesiastical arenas are clearly at odds with one another. Some view abortion as a woman’s constitutional right; others understand abortion to be a crime against humanity. Some regard marriage simply as companionship; others appreciate marriage as the means by which the human race will continue. Some believe the moment of death can be arbitrarily decided by the individual. Others accept that the moment of death is entirely in God’s hands. The death penalty, climate change, immigration, gun control, capitalism vs. socialism, Latin Mass vs. vernacular Mass, drug use, women’s rights, white privilege and clerical abuse – there is no end to the confrontations the present generation faces. Certainly the people for whom Christ died deserve better than this. Are God’s new people chosen or are they cursed?

Above the front entrance to the former Sacred Heart Church on Park St., in Pawtucket, were inscribed these words from St. John: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” For Jew and Christian alike, God in his mysterious providence has designed a history of trials and ordeals for his chosen people and for his Church. Persistence in the face of suffering and perseverance in basic beliefs were always the saving grace for the Jews. Today, as the Church, the new people of God, faces many challenges, persistence and perseverance must be their recourse, too.