Recognizing Emmanuel Among Us

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The King David whom Peter recalls as the ancient patriarch of his people in this Sunday’s first reading (Acts 2:14, 22-33) seems a far cry from the King whom Peter came to know. THAT king, from the same bloodline as David, selected Peter to succeed him in leading all people to God.

A few weeks ago we read the account of how God harvested the leadership qualities he planted in David the boy. These gifts set David apart from any of Jesse’s other bigger and stronger sons. Yet as he grew up and gained power, some of the psalms often credited to David seemed to reflect a man of many insecurities—who, despite his gifts, used his prayers to seek the destruction of his enemies.

“Let ruin overtake them unawares,” he prays in Psalm 35. “Let the snare they have set catch them; let them fall into the pit they have dug. Then I will rejoice in the Lord, exult in God’s salvation.”

For this David, his love of God seemed conditional—based on a salvation he could see. The editor of “The New American Bible” reminds its reader in a footnote that although this psalm seems vindictive, “remember, the psalmist is praying NOW for public redress of an injustice. There is at this time no belief in an afterlife in which justice will be redressed.”

But David’s psalms reflect both man and prophet. In the above reading from Acts, St. Peter uses a psalm of David the Prophet (Psalm 16) to introduce the people to an Emmanuel way of life—one of hope in a God who is with us now. Peter quotes how David spoke of THIS King, and how THIS King fulfilled David’s psalms of hope:

I saw the Lord ever before me, with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.
Therefore my heart has been glad and my tongue has exulted; my flesh, too, will dwell in hope, because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you suffer your holy one to see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.

David the man often seemed to be all about his own salvation. But as Peter told the Israelites after Jesus died and rose from the dead, David the Prophet “knew that God had sworn an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne; he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that neither was he abandoned to the netherworld nor did his flesh see corruption.”

Peter and his fellow apostles knew this after Jesus died, but they weren’t sure they believed it. They remembered how brutally he died. Their doubts shrouded the Jesus they knew and loved from their eyes, and as the newly risen Christ walked in their midst, they didn’t recognize him. As Sunday’s gospel reading reveals (Lk 24:13-35), they opened their hearts to this stranger about their dashed hopes that Jesus would be the one to save Israel. Then comes Jesus’ big reveal:

“Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.

No doubt, Jesus must have quoted the prophet David, just as he quoted David the man from the cross via the beginning of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” But let’s not forget how that psalm ends:

The generation to come will be told of the Lord, that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn the deliverance you have brought.

WE are that generation and we owe it to both David the Prophet and Jesus the Christ to turn the hope they resurrected into our way of life—one in which God walks with us.

–Tom Andel

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