People in Jesus’ day were looking for fulfillment. They weren’t satisfied with what their world had to offer. When the economy was working right and everybody had jobs, the jobs still seemed futile. Poor people worked all day so that rich people could get money. The rich people, for their part, were never quite satisfied with what they had: If the poor man wanted to be rich, the rich man wanted to be king.
Sometimes it seemed like all creation was waiting with eager longing for … nobody seemed to know what.
But that’s not quite true. The people who knew the Bible also knew the meaning of their restlessness. “For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God.”
One of the symptoms of our fallen nature is an itch — a dissatisfaction with the way things are. It’s a restlessness that makes us want to move on, to do something else or go somewhere different. But our impulsive, random changes don’t fix the problem.
In fact, all of the best efforts of all of the best minds couldn’t fix the problem. That’s why God became man, to fulfill what was lacking in creation — and set a target for our longing.
The Old Testament is a story of wanderings and exiles. God sent messengers to give directions, but people didn’t want to listen. In fact, God knew they wouldn’t listen — and so he kept predicting, prefiguring, and foreshadowing the day when he would send his only-begotten Son and share his eternal Spirit with the world. He raised up a good king like David, who built up a kingdom for Israel. But even all this fell short of people’s hopes. They pointed forward to a King of Kings, Jesus, and a durable kingdom, the Church
Even Jesus’ coming was a partial fulfillment. For he still wants us to look forward to the perfection we’ll know in heaven. Only there will we find satisfaction that exceeds our longing: “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him.”
As we read the Bible we come to see that Old Testament shadows point us to New Testament images. The New Testament images, in turn, point us to eternal reality.
So there’s a pattern to the readings we hear at Mass: first the Old Testament, then the New. There’s a pattern to history, too. And there’s a pattern to our lives.
We can learn that pattern. God has been trying to teach it to us for thousands of years, and he sent his Son to be our perfect teacher.
We live in a vast and wonderful world. But gaining it all gets us nowhere. Without God, it’s like having 150 channels on cable TV, but nothing worth watching. It’s quite possible to gain the whole world and still feel like you need to get a life (see Mark 8:36).
People today are just as restless as they were in Jesus’ day. They refresh their email in hope that something will come in to make the next hour interesting. They check their phone to see if they’ve missed a text.
What we need to realize is that even the best text, from someone we dearly love, is just a shadow of what we can experience in prayer, in the sacraments, in Jesus.
Moses led the chosen people through a desert of distractions and temptations. But that, too, was just a shadow. Jesus is waiting to lead us to a happy life, a satisfying life. We’ll be satisfied with him in heaven. But he doesn’t want to wait for that. So he brings heaven to us on earth, right now, whenever we go to Sunday Mass.
It fulfills an obligation, of course. But it’s a fulfilling obligation!