Studying God’s Word

Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12a [667]
The solemnity of All Saints is a holy day of obligation for Catholics and is celebrated annually on November 1. On this day, we commemorate those who have gone before us and have obtained the beatific vision in heaven. The symbols for the day are a sheaf of wheat and a crown, with the solemnity grounded in the words of the Jewish sage: “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,” Wisdom 3:1. The same set of readings is used each year as the church calls us to reflect upon these models of the faith through the lens of these three texts.  
The first reading is taken from the Revelation of John, the Bible’s final book. Many regard this text as the Bible’s finest example of apocalyptic literature. The term apocalypse derives from the Greek word apocrypha meaning “hidden, concealed, secret.” These works often focus on end-time (end of the world) scenarios. Apocalyptic literature flourished for about four hundred years, roughly 200 BC to AD 200, and was used by both Jewish and Christian authors. It is believed that apocalypses are best characterized as “crisis literature,” since it was often used to offer hope to the intended audience undergoing some type of oppression and persecution. Examples of early forms of this literature are found in the Old Testament, especially associated with vision from the Israelite prophets, such as Isaiah and Daniel (see, for example, Is 24–27, 33; Dn 7–12). In fact, the author of the Revelation of John frequently draws from the apocalyptic imagery present in Old Testament writings, updating and applying the symbols and images within his Christian context.
Today’s reading actually contains excerpts from two separate visions in Rev 7:1-17: the sealing of the 144,000 (7:1-8) and the triumph of the elect (7:9-17). Two points emerge: first, the Lord will protect his faithful in times of crisis; and second, eternal reward awaits all those who persevere under duress, especially those who are martyred for the faith. Although the first widespread and systematic persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire did not occur until the reign of Emperor Decius (AD 249–251), sporadic and informal harassment of Christians (including physical and verbal abuse) was common. This included martyrdom at times and was certainly applicable at the time of the writing of the Revelation of John.
The second reading from First John is likewise a reading that offers a message of hope. As believers, we are called “children of God.” We wait in anticipation of the revelation of Christ that awaits us all in the life of the world to come. First John assures us that as children of God, we will be “like him,” pure and undefiled.
The Gospel reading is the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount according to Matthew, the beatitudes. In many ways, these beatitudes serve as a checklist for our lives as Christians. Jesus’ beatitudes show us that we are not measured by God with the standards of wealth, power, and privilege, dominant in our larger culture. We are assessed by God’s divine standard. We are called to be meek and merciful, to be peacemakers, willing to suffer for the faith if needed, open to comforting the poor and mournful when needed.
Dr. Daniel J. Scholz