Wednesday of Week 34 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Revelation 15:1-4

Our reading today actually introduces the “seven last plagues”, seven golden bowls filled with God’s anger against the unrepentant wicked It consists of the introduction to the chapter which precedes the vision of the seven cups and contains a triumphant hymn of the good and righteous. In this way it sets up the context in which God’s anger and God’s punishment against the wicked are seen as entirely just and justified. Today, John gives us another vision he has had. He sees the seven angels, or messengers of God, bringing the seven last plagues on the wicked. They are the last because “they exhaust the anger of God”; with them God’s anger is satisfied.

God’s anger is a theme that goes right through the New Testament. Paul, for instance, in the letter to the Romans says: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth” (1:18). And it is spoken about even more frequently in the Old Testament. We remember the many occasions when God was deeply disappointed with the thankless behaviour of his people whom he had delivered from the slavery of Egypt. Even earlier there is the punishment of the Flood, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In later times, one invasion followed another, kings were deposed or died terrible deaths, the people were taken away into exile, Jerusalem and the Temple were sacked and destroyed more than once – all the result of Israel’s sin.

However, we have to be careful when speaking of God’s anger not equate it with the kind of anger we ourselves are prone to from time to time. Our anger is often a spontaneous and uncontrolled emotional reaction to a situation and is often quite out of proportion to what actually happened. God’s anger is measured and balanced. It is not really anger in our sense. Rather, it is the response he gives to those who totally reject his call to a life of truth and love and union with him. In fact, it is not God who rejects and punishes his people. Rather, it is they who reject him and find themselves in terrible isolation from the One for whom their whole being craves.

Our God is much more a God of love, who did not spare his only Son that we might be saved rather than condemned. God did with his Son what Abraham was ready to do, but did not have to. But still there are those who turn their backs on that love. What can God do except let them go and have their will?

In his vision John sees a lake like glass suffused with fire. It is thought that this is a heavenly counterpart to a basin in the Jerusalem temple which was known as the “Sea”. Other symbols of the Temple which appear in Revelation are: the lamps, the altar, the altar of incense, and the Ark of the Covenant. It represents the new heavenly Temple, where the elect gather and sing their praises to God.

The elect are those who have struggled victoriously against the Beast, his statue and “the number which is his name”. This seems to refer to those especially who died as martyrs, rather than worship the image of the emperor as a god (One wonders whether the Romans really believed the divine attributes of their emperors, most of whom had glaring human weaknesses, and enforced bowing to the emperor’s image mainly as a test of loyalty to the regime. In any case, committed Christians were not prepared to compromise the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ. They would not give to Caesar what belonged to God).

The gathered assembly of the elect, each with a harp given to them by God, now sings the hymn of Moses and of the Lamb. The hymn of Moses, founded in Exodus chapter 15 celebrated the triumph of the Israelites over Pharaoh. It begins with the words: “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea…” We sing part of this hymn during Easter Vigil liturgy. It is also a victory song and was sung on Sabbath evenings in the synagogue.

Here the elect also sing the song of the Lamb, who has triumphed over the forces of evil in bringing deliverance to all his followers. It is a hymn to the Lord God Almighty, the King of nations, who alone is holy and to whom all peoples eventually will come in adoration because of his “many acts of justice”.

Let us pray that we too may one day come to sing this hymn of praise, adoration and thanksgiving in a face to face presence with our Lord. Let us not, through our own stupid choices, face the “anger” of our God and find ourselves hearing those terrible words: “I do not know you, stranger.”

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