Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, archangels
Reading 1 DN 7:9-10, 13-14
As I watched:
Thrones were set up
and the Ancient One took his throne.
His clothing was bright as snow,
and the hair on his head as white as wool;
His throne was flames of fire,
with wheels of burning fire.
A surging stream of fire
flowed out from where he sat;
Thousands upon thousands were ministering to him,
and myriads upon myriads attended him.
The court was convened, and the books were opened.
As the visions during the night continued, I saw
One like a son of man coming,
on the clouds of heaven;
When he reached the Ancient One
and was presented before him,
He received dominion, glory, and kingship;
nations and peoples of every language serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not be taken away,
his kingship shall not be destroyed.
War broke out in heaven;
Michael and his angels battled against the dragon.
The dragon and its angels fought back,
but they did not prevail
and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.
The huge dragon, the ancient serpent,
who is called the Devil and Satan,
who deceived the whole world,
was thrown down to earth,
and its angels were thrown down with it.
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have salvation and power come,
and the Kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Anointed.
For the accuser of our brothers is cast out,
who accuses them before our God day and night.
They conquered him by the Blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
love for life did not deter them from death.
Therefore, rejoice, you heavens,
and you who dwell in them.”
Responsorial Psalm PS 138:1-2AB, 2CDE-3, 4-5
I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with all my heart,
for you have heard the words of my mouth;
in the presence of the angels I will sing your praise;
I will worship at your holy temple
and give thanks to your name.
R. In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord.
Because of your kindness and your truth;
for you have made great above all things
your name and your promise.
When I called, you answered me;
you built up strength within me.
R. In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord.
All the kings of the earth shall give thanks to you, O LORD,
when they hear the words of your mouth;
And they shall sing of the ways of the LORD:
“Great is the glory of the LORD.”
R. In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord.
Bless the LORD, all you angels,
you ministers, who do his will.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel JN 1:47-51
Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him,
“Here is a true child of Israel.
There is no duplicity in him.”
Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”
Nathanael answered him,
“Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“Do you believe
because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?
You will see greater things than this.”
And he said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you,
you will see heaven opened
and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
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?” (John 1:45-46a)
This verse is from chapter 1 of the Gospel of John. The context is that Jesus has begun calling His disciples, who would become the Apostles a year and a half later. In the previous verses, He had called Andrew and his brother Simon (who shall be called Peter). Now, Philip who was from Bethsaida, went to Cana where Nathanael was from, to tell him the news.
Nathanael’s skepticism rested on the fact of Jesus’ origins, which were from Nazareth, a backwater. So Nathanael’s skepticism revolved around the location, not the Person. Though we often focus on the part of the verse that says “from Nazareth?!” let’s focus on the part before that. Note Nathanael said, “can anything GOOD…” This shows that Nathanael knew of the Messiah and was looking for Him. He knew His appearance would be GOOD. Nathanael believed.
Nathanael had a seeking heart because he truly studied the scriptures. As verse 45 shows, Philip and Nathanael studied the Law, Moses and the Prophets. As for Nathanael’s character, in verse 47 when Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, Jesus said there was no deceit in Nathanael and that he was a true Israelite.
Nathanael was a simple man, indeed from a not much bigger backwater than Nazareth (Cana), in a backwater district, in a time of apostasy. Not many people around him believed the truth. The Samaritans believed a blended religion, the Pharisees believed a works religion, the Sadducees didn’t believe in supernatural resurrection or angels and were against the Pharisees who did, and most regular people were either unknowing, hypocrites, or apathetic. As a matter of fact, Luke 4:33-34 records Jesus at Capernaum teaching at the synagogue. A demon-possessed man in the synagogue cried out when Jesus taught, because of His authority in His proclamation of the truth of God. Jesus cast him out, His first exorcism. Can you imagine a synagogue so devoid of truth that before Jesus’ arrival, the demon inside the man felt so secure he had never cried out before? Demons should never feel comfortable in church!
It was a time of apostasy, God hadn’t spoken in 400 years. He had sent no prophet (until John the Baptist). God had done no miracles. He had been silent.
Synagogues in the small towns had limped along, (with demons in them) the Temple in Jerusalem grew bloated with wares, graft, and hypocrisy thanks to the religious hierarchy.
And yet, among all this, there was faithful Simeon, and Anna, there was Zacharias and Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary, John the Baptist, and the men who would become the Apostles. And there was Nathanael, who was looking for something GOOD (just had a hard time believing it would come from Nazareth, lol).
In this current time of apostasy (when wasn’t the world apostasizing?!) we look at our leaders and sometimes we are greatly disappointed. Just as those regular people of Nathanael’s time were looking at the hypocritical Pharisees, the corrupt Annas or Caiaphas, the arrogant and zealous Saul (later, Paul), the ordinary people must have felt let down by those who were in charge of leading them in the truth just as we are let down by many of our leaders today. There has always been a shepherd problem.
“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:1)
|Jesus and Nathanael
WEIGEL, Johann Christoph 1695, Woodcut. Source
Yet there were simple people in small towns, laboring diligently during the week and on Sabbaths, attending synagogue to learn about the promised Messiah. Who was the first person Philip went to tell the good news that Messiah had been found, the priest in their local synagogue? No! Philip went immediately to tell his friend, Nathanael. These first century men and women persevered, they believed with a child-like faith, simple and in which there was no deceit. There were no layers of corruption to the faith that Nathanael evidenced, no arrogance. With seeking heart he and his friend Philip must have gone to hear John the Baptist, and when Jesus arrived, and said ‘Follow Me’ they did.
And we should do the same. We labor during the week, we worship on Sunday, we follow Jesus as He commanded. His word is in the Bible now, not spoken to us on a hillside at Bethsaida, but we believe. No matter what our leaders do, we trust the promises in His word just as Nathanael and Philip did in that long-ago apostate time. We follow, seek, trust. Nathanael was looking for something GOOD, and He came. We should also have seeking hearts. Are you looking for He who was written of in Moses and the Prophets? Like Nathanael during a time of low worship and little truth, we are also looking forward to something GOOD. He will come again
in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality…(1 Corinthians 15:52-53)
Commentary on Luke 9:51-56 From Living Space
We come today to a distinct turning point in Luke’s gospel. It is marked by the opening words of today’s passage: “When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.” The ‘taking up’ or the ‘assumption’ of Jesus refers to his passion and death leading to resurrection and ascension. It corresponds to the ‘glory’ that John speaks of and for whom the crucifixion is a ‘lifting up’ into ‘glory’.
At this point we have now come to the end of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and we move on to a new section – the journey to Jerusalem which ends at chap. 18:27 where we find Jesus in Jerusalem. The opening corresponds to Mark 10:1 where Jesus is seen entering Judea to preach there and which John more specifically describes as a journey to Jerusalem during the time of the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:1-10)
But Luke diverges from Mark’s story with very different material. He now follows Matthew’s source as well as using material of his own. The section consists almost entirely of teachings of Jesus to his disciples. It is all loosely organised within the framework of Jesus making his way to Jerusalem. The section we are entering is a time of preparation for the disciples for their future role as Messengers of the Kingdom.
Jerusalem is the place where it is all going to happen – the ‘exodus’ of Jesus, including his suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension leading to the passing on of his mission to his disciples with the coming down of the Spirit of the Father and Jesus on the disciples. And it will be from Jerusalem that the new Church will be established and from Jerusalem it will spread gradually throughout the whole Mediterranean area until it reaches the empire’s capital in Rome and from there to the ends of the earth.
As he set out, Jesus sent some messengers ahead to announce his coming. In order to go directly from Galilee to Judea, where the city of Jerusalem was situated, they would have had to pass through Samaria. Samaritans were particularly hostile to Jews, especially when they were on their way to a Jewish festival in Jerusalem (as Jesus and his disciples seemed to be doing). It would take at least three days to cross Samaria and the Samaritans were refusing the disciples overnight shelter. Because of this situation, Jewish pilgrims and travellers often avoided confrontation by going down the east bank of the Jordan River.
There is an irony here that, when the first Christians were persecuted in Jerusalem, they took refuge in Samaria which became one of the first places to accept the Gospel. (Very likely, the evangelist is aware of the irony when telling this story.)
Faced with this hostility, the brothers James and John, whom we described yesterday as hotheads, suggested that fire from heaven be called down to burn them up. Their threat is reminiscent of the fire that Elijah brought down on the emissaries of an idolatrous king. They were indignant that their Master, the Messiah, should be treated in this way. There is a parallel here between Jesus’ negative reception in his home town of Galilee with his rejection by the people of Samaria.
But Jesus distances himself from those disciples and gives them a scolding. This was not Jesus’ way. Instead, they went off to another village where they hoped to find a better welcome. As we see in other parts of the Gospel, Jesus does not normally go out of his way to court trouble. On the other hand, he will not hesitate to speak his mind or do what he believes is right, even if certain kinds of people take offence at it.
It is never Jesus’ way to destroy his enemies. We will see that clearly after he reaches Jerusalem where far worse things are done to him. Jesus’ purpose always is to change people who are against him, to defuse their hostility and help them to see things in a better way. It is something we could try to do more often. It is not at all the “softy’s” approach. On the contrary, it requires great inner strength and security.
St. Michael & Lucifer… sculpture at Umlauf Sculpture Garden in Austin, Texas
Today is the Feast of the Archangels. However, we will focus particularly on St Michael as suggested in today’s first reading from the book of Apocalypse. More so, for most of us Catholics, we have a special devotion to St Michael, namely, to seek his protection and intercession from the snares of the Evil One. Most Catholics have experienced the powerful shield that St Michael gives us. This is what we read in the first reading. “Now war broke out in heaven, when Michael with his angels attacked the dragon. The dragon fought back with his angels, but they were defeated and driven out of heaven.” Indeed, St Michael is often seen as the protector of heaven and of humanity from the attacks of Satan.
The word, “Satan” literally means the Adversary. He has been opposing God right from the start of his existence. He fights against good and seeks to set up his own kingdom without God. How does he do it? What are the weapons of Satan? He brings about division. Wherever and whenever you seek division, there is the work of the devil. He knows that when we are divided, the kingdom cannot stand. “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” (Mk 3:24f)
What is the cause of division? Firstly, it is due to pride. The primary reason for the fall of Satan was his pride. He wanted to be like God without God. He was enchanted by his own beauty and intelligence, thinking that he is better than anyone else and that he can be happy without God. This is true for many people today. They are bewitched by their intellect, believing that knowledge, technology and power can change the world and that they can be in charge of their lives or find happiness through material things and pleasures. Relativism and secularism are the expressions of man’s pride and self-importance.
Secondly, pride leads to ambition. Satan was over ambitious. He was serving himself rather than God. Angels, like us, are created to serve God and be His messengers of the Good News and of love. We are created by God to play our role in His divine plan, which is to build a kingdom of love and unity. There is a difference between ambition and vocation. Ambition is about achieving success for oneself. It is about our egoism. Ambition makes us selfish and even intolerable of others’ success. It does not even respect the right means to achieve the end.
Thirdly, Satan thrives on our ignorance that is the offspring of pride. Many of us, because of our knowledge, think that evil spirits are just a myth. Anything that is not empirically proven we reject. We fail to realize that there is the spiritual world besides the material world. Many of us are misled into thinking that the Devil does not exist because we do not see him. This makes us easy targets and prey of the Evil One because he can work on us, deceiving and tempting us into sin without us being aware of it. We are not alert and watchful of how the Devil is influencing us to sin and evil.
Fourthly, it is due to lies and deception. “The great dragon, the primeval serpent, known as the devil of Satan, who had deceived the entire world, was hurled down to the earth and his angels were hurled down with him.” If humanity has become so proud and arrogant, it is because we have been deceived by the Evil One. He has led us to believe that happiness has to do with power, riches and status. He has misled us into thinking that because of our knowledge, we know everything in this world and we can do without God. Half-truths and lies are the means by which the Devil confuses us and tempts us to sin. As Jesus said, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (Jn 8:44)
Today when we celebrate the Feast of the Archangels, we are reminded of our role in the history of salvation. Like the angels, we are called to play our part for the good of creation and humanity. We are called to be people who are bridge builders, not dividers! This is what Jesus said to Nathanael, “I tell you most solemnly, you will see heaven laid open and, above the Son of Man, the angels of God ascending and descending.” In other words, we are called to be like the angels who are intermediaries between God and man. We are to be the ladder for others to come to God. This is our calling in life. All of us in different ways are called to be God’s angels and archangels in the lives of our fellowmen in the building of God’s kingdom.
We have the shining example of Nathanael who is just the opposite of the Devil. We read that first and foremost, he was a man of peace, unlike the devil who brings division. For the Israelites, a man sitting under the fig tree even in the face of problems means that he is at peace and not easily unsettled by the troubles of the world. (cf. Mic 4:4) A man of God is always a man of peace. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Mt 5:9) Those who are always divisive wherever they go, whether in church, in the office or in the family, are under the influence of the Evil One because he likes to divide and conquer. The Devil is individualistic, selfish, proud and self-centered. He cannot live with anyone. Wherever he is present, there will be quarrels, misunderstanding and discord.
Indeed, to find peace in this world, we need to find peace within ourselves. If we are causing so much division around us, it is because we lack peace in our hearts. If there is a lack of peace, it is because many of us do not sit under the fig tree to pray and contemplate. We are doing many things but we lack self-awareness. Even what we do for the Church becomes an ambition, driven by worldly motives rather from the love of God within us. That explains why even in service, there is so much pride among our priests, religious and laity. There is division when our ego takes the better of us. The lack of collaboration is always because of pride and ambition.
Secondly, we are told that he was a man without deceit, in contrast to the Devil who is the father of lies.“When Jesus saw Nathanael coming, he said of him, ‘There is an Israelite who deserves the name, incapable of deceit.’” This was the greatest compliment Jesus could pay to anyone. In other words, Nathaniel was a man who sought to be true to himself. He was not a hypocrite nor was he unfaithful to himself. All his life, he sought to do the right thing, follow the law and wait for the coming of the messiah and the kingdom of God. What about us? Are we lacking integrity in our lives? If we do, then we are living a lie. Many of us are living a lie, especially in married life. We pretend to be loving and united in marriage or in our organization, but there is so much jealousy, resentment and anger.
So how can we overcome the seductions of the Evil One? Firstly, following Nathaniel, we are called to recognize who the Messiah is. “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel.” We can conquer the Evil One only through the blood of the Lamb. “Then I heard a voice shout from heaven, ‘Victory and power and empire for ever have been won by our God, and all authority for his Christ, now that the persecutor, who accused our brothers day and night before our God, has been brought down. They have triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb.” We must take note that the one who would accuse us of our sins would be the Devil, not our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the devil who leads us to sin and condemns us every day in our conscience so that we feel totally unworthy and a hopeless sinner, and finally give up on ourselves and on God.
But if we have faith in Jesus, then we know that salvation is not our work and our merits but because of His mercy, forgiveness and love. To be saved by the blood of the Lamb means to be saved by the love of Jesus, His victory over sin and death by His passion on the cross and the resurrection. We are called to cling on to the forgiveness and mercy of God instead of our ego, pride and ambition. We are called to rely on God for strength against the foes of division.
Secondly, this peace comes about through contemplation and prayer. Nathaniel was a man of prayer. The fig tree was a good place to pray and contemplate because its leaves are big and shady. So sitting under the branches of the fig tree provides a wonderful place to pray, especially when there were no air-conditioners in those days. In a special way, as we contemplate on the Word of God and His mercy, we should also solicit the assistance of St Michael to keep the evil one at bay.
Most of all, the most effective way to fight against the Evil One is to live a good and holy life through a life of martyrdom and self-sacrifice. The evangelist wrote that the triumph was won also “by the witness of their martyrdom, because even in the face of death they would not cling to life.” We are called to be faithful to Christ even unto death. We must live out the life of Christ in contrast to the work of the Evil One. Witnessing to Christ’s love, faithful and humble service to the Lord is the means by which we triumph over sin and division.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
Tags: angels, Archangels, Bethsaida, Can anything good come out of Nazareth?, DN 7:9-10 13-14, do not be afraid, Do you believe, Gabriel, His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, jn 1:47-51, John 1:45-46a, Michael, Michael and his angels battled against the dragon, Nathanael was looking for something GOOD, Prayer and Meditation, Psalm 138, Raphael, REV 12:7-12AB, September 29 2016, St Michael the Archangel, St. Gabriel the Archangel, St. Raphael the Archangel, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man