“After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” (Mark 1:14-20)
In the Gospel reading for Mass on Monday this week, Jesus initiates his preaching ministry by focusing on the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. The Jewish people of Jesus’ day long awaited the coming of a Davidic King who would rule an everlasting kingdom. Naturally, Jesus did not quite meet the royal expectations of his Galilean listeners, but there was another major Jewish expectation that many readers of Jesus’ message miss. Jesus was indeed the Davidic fulfillment of the Scriptures, but he was also the long awaited new Moses, coming to lead his followers on a new Exodus. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses proclaimed to the Israelites:
“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brethren–him you shall heed…And the LORD said to me, ‘They have rightly said all that they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak all that I command him” (Deut. 18:15-18).
Later Jewish tradition would connect this prophecy with that of the future Messiah, who would lead Israel in a great time of need:
“Rabbi Berekiah said in the name of Rabbi Isaac: “As the first redeemer [Moses] was, so shall the latter Redeemer [the Messiah] be. What is stated of the former redeemer? ‘And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass’ (Exod. 4:20). Similiarly will it be with the latter Redeemer, as it is stated, ‘Lowly and riding upon an ass’ (Zach. 9:9). As the former Redeemer caused manna to descend, as it is stated, ‘Behold, I will cause to rain bread from heaven for you’ (Exod. 16:4), so will the latter Redeemer cause manna to descend, as it is stated, ‘May he be as a rich grainfield in the land’ (Ps. 72:16). (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 1:28, 3rd or 4th century A.D.)
Notice the parallels between Moses and Jesus as described in the New Testament. The Messiah will ride upon an ass, cause manna to descend from heaven, and be the Redeemer of the people of Israel. Just as Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt for the purpose of creating a Covenant nation set apart for the worship of God, so Jesus begins a new Exodus made in the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-33) of His body and blood. By inaugurating the arrival of the Kingdom of God, a new Exodus, Jesus says to His listeners that He is not only the Davidic King, but he is also announcing the long awaited consumation of the eternal feasting and worship of God.
“In the World to Come there is no eating or drinking…but the righteous sit with crowns on their heads feasting on the brightness of the divine presence, as it says, “And they beheld God, and did eat and drink” (Exod. 24:11). (Babylonian Talmud 17A).
Jesus is the bringer of salvation to the whole world, but he is also the heavenly manna or “bread of heaven” (John 6:51) who will sustain His people with eternal life through the Eucharist.
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give, is my flesh, for the life of the world…Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him” (John 6:52, 54-57).
By participating in the new Passover of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross represented every Mass through the Eucharist, the coming of the Kingdom of God is not just a 1st century historical event or a future realization at the end of time, it is a daily ever-present reality offered to each and every one of us. The challenge is to have the faith to experience the reality of Christ in the Eucharist.