Homily – 11th Sunday OT A 6-15-08

Homily — 11th Sunday OT A                    6-15-08

In the First Reading from the Book of Exodus, the LORD God says to the Israelites You have seen for yourselves how I treated (your oppressors) the Egyptians, and how I bore you up on eagle wings and brought you here to myself.

In this passage and several others in Sacred Scripture, God compares himself to an Eagle, the King of the Birds of the Sky.

This image of God the Eagle swooping down to earth, putting us on his back and soaring off to a high mountain top beautifully conveys God’s humbling himself and being born of a Virgin, and then through His Cross and Resurrection lifting us up with him.

In the first Reading, God was trying to impress on the Israelites that their deliverance was all God’s doing.  Without the Eagle swooping down and saving them and bringing them to the mountain, they would still be enslaved in Egypt.   And also with Jesus, if He didn’t swoop down from Heaven and die on the Cross for us, we would be enslaved in sin.

But God doesn’t save His people so that they would forever grovel at his feet.  As children made in His divine image, God empowers His people after He saves them.

And so in the Book of Deuteronomy for example we read Moses say As an eagle incites it’s nestlings forth by hovering over his brood, so (the LORD) spread his wings to receive them and bore them up on his pinions.

If we follow the Lord, He is forever trying to push us out of the nest and getting us to fly on our own.

In an old Smithsonian magazine there was the following description of an eyewitness account of an eagle training her young to fly:

It was about ten o’clock. The mother started from the nest in the crags, and roughly handling the young one, she allowed him to drop, I should say, about ninety feet, then she would swoop down under him, wings spread, and he would alight on her back. She would soar to the top of the range with him and repeat the process. One time she waited perhaps fifteen minutes between flights. I should say the farthest she let him fall was 150 feet.
My father and I watched this, spellbound, for over an hour. I do not know whether the young one gained confidence by this method or not. A few days later father and I rode to the cliff and out on Overhanging Rock. The eagle’s nest was empty.

And in the same way, Jesus pushes us out of the comfortable nest, and lets us fall into the world below — not to make us fall, but to make us able to fly by ourselves.

This is what we see in today’s Gospel.  Jesus takes his 12 baby Eagles and says “time for you to learn to fly on your own boys.  Go out and fly on your own, curing the sick and driving out demons.  Don’t worry, I’ll be hovering over you and swooping under you throughout your flight.”

Perhaps some of them would have rather stayed home, but there was no option. And in the same way, Jesus wishes us to fly as eagles in this world by living according to His Gospel.
Another very popular image that’s found in a lot of the Psalms is the image of taking refuge under the shadow of God’s wings.  Psalm 91 for instance says Under His wings you will find refuge;  Psalm 17:8 states Hide me in the shadow of your wings.

While we might think that this represents God sheltering us from evil, it also means more than this.  The Israelites hearing the words “under His wings you will find refuge” would have immediately thought of the Holy of Holies inside the Jerusalem Temple.   Behind the veil in the Holy of Holies, there were Two giant  Eagle-like solid gold Cherubims, each with a 15 to 20 foot wing span, staring at you.  The Cherubims wings were fully spread out, one wing touching the side wall closest to it, the other wing touching the wing of the other Cherubim.

And under the wings of these two Cherubim was the Ark of the Covenant containing the Commandments of God.   And so when the Psalmist says Under the shadow of His wings you will find refuge, the meaning was “in the Temple you will  find refuge” or “by following the commandments you will find refuge”.  And we members of the New Israel, the Church, can take this image even further, for the Virgin Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant!

The final Eagle imagery is given appropriately enough in the last Book of the Bible, in Revelation 12:14, where the Woman, an image of the Church, is being pursued by the Serpent.  Rev. 12:14 states the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle, so that she could fly to the desert, where far from the serpent, she was taken care of.

God gives the Woman not just any wings, but The two wings of The Great Eagle, Christ Himself.  As Isaiah 40:31 states:  They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength/they will soar as with Eagles wings.

May God bear us up on Eagles wings and bring us to Himself; may He send us forth to fly in this world with His Eagle’s wings to fly with.  Then will be fulfilled Matthew 24:28, which is translated by many of the Church Fathers as: Where the Body (of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist) is, there the Eagles will gather.

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