By Father Roch Kereszty
Special to The Texas Catholic
Many Catholics do not understand why the church still reads the Old Testament at Mass. In fact, the liturgical reforms of Vatican II have assigned an Old Testament passage for the first reading of the Mass for almost every Sunday liturgy, and for all major feasts, as well as on many weekdays. Though not consciously, both clergy and laity tend in practice to follow the second century heretic Marcion. He claimed that the Old Testament reveals not the God of Jesus Christ but another cruel, vindictive god, while the New Testament reveals a kind and loving father. We even rationalize our discarding of the Old Testament – keeping perhaps our favorite Psalms and wisdom sayings — by repeating the arguments of Marcion: “What can we learn from a God who commands the conquest of a land and the destruction of cities including all their inhabitants?”
The church, however, has always resisted the Marcionite temptation and considers the books of the Old Testament part of the inspired Word of God. She has always retained the integrity of both Testaments: The old is a course of divine education preparing us for Jesus and promising us salvation in him, while the new attests the fulfillment of these promises.
As to the cruelty of Israel’s wars, we should remember that God has formed the morality of his people gradually, as by ever more demanding courses. At the beginning he could not teach a group of savage nomads to love their enemies. But he did teach them from the beginning to love their neighbors, even if they are aliens who live among them. He also taught them to fight those whose idolatry is contagious, albeit in an earlier “course” in a physical sense. Thus, even now we can learn from these texts to fight Satan and to hate and reject all his wiles and machinations.
By comparing the two Testaments, we see how God has fulfilled each and every promise He made to his people. He has done so, however, in such an unexpected way that the fulfillment has transcended all expectations. So shocking was the fulfillment, that the majority of Israel has not accepted it. God promised a new exodus, a new, more powerful David, a new, more powerful prophet, a people whose hearts would be renewed, an Israel turned into a faithful spouse of Yahweh from her former ways of faithless promiscuity. In Jesus, he gave us infinitely more than what he had promised. God himself became the new David, the new prophet, the new king not only of Israel but of the entire world, enthroned on the cross. God himself became the good shepherd who took upon himself all the burdens of his people and led a new Exodus, a definitive liberation from sin and death by dying in our place and for our sake.The Old Testament images help us imagine and understand both the similarities and the incomparable greatness of the New Testament realities.
Through the Old Testament we learn about God’s fidelity in fulfilling his promises in both history and our personal life. If we read the Old Testament with the church, we must be ready for surprises and adventures that may leave us at first confused and dismayed.
When we look back at the surprising and daunting events with the eyes of faith, we will be amazed at how much better the gift turns out to be than what we had asked for. At the end of our lives, all those who tried to carry out his plan will see that he has given us infinitely more than what we could have ever dared to hope for.
Father Roch Kereszty, O.Cist., is a theologian and monk at the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas in Irving. His column will appear occasionally in The Texas Catholic.