Carlos Caso-Rosendi

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Isaac, the son of Abraham was a guest for a while in the land of Abimelek. There he prospered greatly because the Lord was blessing him. The people of Abimelek noticed and asked Isaac to leave, fearing that one day he would become too strong in the land. Isaac moved away from their territory and arrived at Beersheba where God talked to him:

“I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.”[1]

Thus Isaac (Hebr. yitzak, laughter) was confirmed as the inheritor of God’s promise to Abraham. We want to focus on these words: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you” — the “I AM” is God, the same who one day would reveal His Name to Moses: “I AM WHO I AM.”[2]

Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebecca became pregnant. The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord.

The Lord said to her,

“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger.”

When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. The first to come out was red[3] (Hebr. edom), and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau (Hebr. hairy) After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob (Hebr. trickster, deceiver.) Isaac was sixty years old when Rebecca gave birth to them.

In time, the name of Jacob would prove to be prophetic. Jacob the trickster tricked his impulsive brother Esau. The hairy reddish skinned brother sold his birthright to Jacob who acquired the rights of the firstborn in exchange for some food.[4] The story seems to point at two kinds of men. One is an animal-like instinctive man of action. The other is a more astute, self-sufficient man who knows how to use the circumstances to his advantage. Thus the prophecy was fulfilled and the older son became a servant of the younger through trickery.

In Genesis 32:22-32 we read how God taught Jacob the most important lesson in the trickster’s life. The lesson was a variant of the words God had spoken to Jacob’s father Isaac. After sending a strong angel to contend with Jacob all night, the angel allowed him to win the fight. To show Jacob that he had prevailed not due to his own strength, the angel dislodged Jacob’s hip, reminding him of his grabbing Esau’s heel at birth. The trickster was renamed Israel (Hebr. yi’z-rah-El, the struggle [battle, fight] belongs to God), which is God’s short way to say: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.” From that day on, God was going to fight the trickster’s battles. In the history of the nation of Israel, every time they trusted the battle to God, they would triumph but every time they relied on their own strength, they would be defeated.

Time went by and one day Isaiah had to assure King Ahaz that Jerusalem was safe from some who were planning to attack. That is when Isaiah repeated the ancient promise but this time the promise was hidden in a name:

Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you[5] a sign: The virgin (Hebr. damsel, young woman, almah) will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Emmanuel.

You already know that Emmanuel means “God with us” which is Isaiah’s short way to communicate God’s promise: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you” — do you see the pattern?

Back to the troubled world we live in these days, back to the dark fog that seems to envelop the Church; it is good to remember that the promise is still good. The Church is the New Israel and even more than that, the Church is Israel’s destiny. One can see Israel as a sort of time-capsule where the Messiah, the Christ is traveling through the ages from the seed of Adam, to Noah, Shem, to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob until he is born of the almah as Emmanuel, God with us.

Many centuries later, when the promised Emmanuel was born of the promised young woman, he was taken to the Temple in Jerusalem. There his mother placed him in the arms of an old prophet of Israel, who was moved by the Holy Spirit to exclaim:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles.
and the glory of your people Israel.”[6]

The time traveling of the Messiah did not end there. He walked among the Jews of the first century, he taught many of them to follow him. In time he revealed to them his divinity and repeated the promise one more time: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you” but this time the promise took the shape of a piece of bread. Because he had been born in Bethlehem (Hebr. house of bread) that made a lot of sense.

After his death, he appeared to some of his disciples but he prevented them from recognizing him while he explained the sufferings of the Messiah to them.

And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24: 13-35)

Although he was apparently no longer in their midst, the sign at Emmaus revealed one important thing. Jesus disappeared as soon as the bread was consecrated. The promise acquired a new form. Jesus was gone but the Bread remained. The Eucharist was now the way for God to be with us.

If you are shocked by scandals, apostasy, attacks from outside and inside, traitors to the cause, and general abandoning of the faith; please don’t be discouraged. Most of all, do not even try to solve the problem with your own ingenuity or strength. God is with us. He is in our midst. He is not missing anything. He is walking with you and me.

“Do not be afraid, little flock for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.”[7]

The Kingdom is the Church. The Church is the Kingdom. Both are names we give to that unbreakable reality that was promised to the seed of Abraham. Think of the long time that this living promise has been traveling unscathed since those ancient days. The promise is right there in front of you looking like a harmless piece of bread. It may look simple but it is the hardest most indestructible thing in the entire universe. It is God and it is a message from God who is promising you:

“Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”

[1] Genesis 26:24.

[2] Exodus 3:14.

[3] The Hebrew word for man (adam) sounds like and may be related to the Hebrew for ground (adamah); it is also the name Adam (see Genesis 2:20). The word shares the root with the Hebrew word for red (edom) perhaps pointing at the color of every man’s flesh. Thus there seems to be a wordplay of sorts that involves the origin of man from the soil (that in many parts of the Fertile Crescent is clayish red) and the redness of man’s flesh and blood.

[4] Genesis 25:29-34.

[5] In Hebrew, the word “you” is in the plural mode.

[6] Luke 2:29-32.

[7] Luke 12:32.