September 29

Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael

This feast honors the three angels named in Scripture: Michael (in Daniel, Jude and Revelations), Gabriel (in Daniel and Luke), and Raphael (in Tobit). These three are known as "archangels," ones leading classes of angels. Because of their mention in the Bible and their subsequent status in inter-testamental spirituality, they have been given their own feast day.

These beings, like all angels, function as messengers (the original meaning of the Greek term). In Scripture, they deliver messages to various people. In the case of Michael, they act as a leader to the heavenly host in their battle against evil. No matter whether they relay God's will or act as an instrument for divine providence, angels represent a conduit between heaven and earth.

First Reading, Option 1: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

9 I saw until thrones were placed, and one who was ancient of days sat: his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels burning fire. 10 A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousands of thousands ministered to him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened.

13 I saw in the night visions, and behold, there came with the clouds of the sky one like a Son of Man, and he came even to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. 14 There was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.

World English Bible

Daniel 7 forms the heart of the prophetic book. 7:1-8 described the vision of the four beasts who would rule. 7:9-14 outlined the Final Judgment on the Day of YHWH. 7:15-28 was the interpretation of an angel concerning the events of the last days.

Here we see Daniel's take on the day of Judgment. 7:9-10 envisioned the heavenly throne room. The "Ancient of Days" referred to the eternal nature of the divine (glory of the white garment) AND to the great wisdom YHWH possessed (hair "like pure wool"). The fiery throne/chariot had two, interlocking images: the Ark of the Covenant found in the Holy of Holies (with its cherubim that formed a "throne" for the divine presence) and Ezekiel's vision of the divine presence in the fiery throne (Ez. 1:15-28; this vision, called the "Merkabah," was influential in inter-testamental spirituality of Judaism and Christians alike). The "thousands that ministered to him," we can speculate, were angelic.

7:13-14 described the "Son of Man," the heavenly Messianic figure. The term "Son of Man" was generic, the Hebrew equivalent of the "every man." Yet, this unnamed figure would be given an everlasting, universal realm. All peoples would serve him. His dominion would never end.

The origin of this "Son of Man" was controversial in the inter-testamental period. The controversy hinged the interpretation of the preposition "with" ("...there came with the clouds of the sky one like a Son of Man"). The Greek Old Testament translation, the Septuagint, interpreted "with" as "on (the clouds)." In other words, the Son of Man had a heavenly origin. But, another Greek translation of Daniel, the Theodotion, interpreted "with" as "together with (the clouds)." In the Theodotion, the Son of Man rose up from the earth to the heavenly throne room; he had an earthly origin. Early Christians appealed to the former interpretation. Indeed, they preached from the Septuagint to their Greek speaking audience.

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First Reading, Option 2: Revelations 12:7-12

7 (There) was a war in heaven, Michael and his angels (went) to war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels made war, 8 and (the dragon) lost strength and (there) was no longer a place for them found in heaven. 9 The great dragon was thrown, the ancient serpent, the (one) called Diabolos and Satanos, the (one) deceiving the entire (inhabited) world, (he) was thrown down to the earth, and his angels (along) with him. 10 I heard a loud voice in heaven saying:

"Now (there is) salvation and power,
and the Kingdom of our God,
and the (universal) authority of his CHRIST,
because the accuser of our brethren was thrown (out),
the (one) accusing them before our God
day and night.
11 They conquered him through the blood of the LAMB
and the word of their witness
and they did not love their lives (even) unto death.
12 Because of this, rejoice heavens
and the (ones) living in them.
Woe (to) the earth and the sea
because the Diabolos came down to you,
possessing vast anger
knowing that he has little time (left to act)."

12:7 "...war in heaven" The war raged in the divine realm, not in the "sky." Jewish folklore always considered this insurgency as pre-creation, not as a lead up to the last days. Consider Isaiah 14:12-15:

12 How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, who laid the nations low! 13 You said in your heart, "I will ascend into heaven! I will exalt my throne above the stars of God! I will sit on the mountain of assembly, in the far north! 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds! I will make myself like the Most High!" 15 Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the depths of the pit. (World English Bible)

Also consider Luke 10:18:

18 He said to them, "I saw Satan having fallen like lightning from heaven." (World English Bible)

Yet, Jewish thought has tendency for a symmetry; hence a cosmic battle for control of heaven at the beginning of time would be played out at the end of time.

12:8 "(there) was no longer a place for them found in heaven" In this case, "place" did not refer to space, but to position and power. Because of their revolt, they were ejected from the heavenly realm all together.

12:9 "...the ancient serpent, the (one) called Diabolos and Satanos" The image of the serpent goes back to the Fall (Genesis 3:1-15). "Diabolos" and "Satanos" are the original Greek, but need no translation.

12:11 "...the word of their witness..." The word "witness" in Greek is "martyr." Taken in context, the term "word" is metaphorical, not martyrdom. In other words, the "word" of "witness" was more than vocal, it was a witness of blood spelt for the faith.

The focus of these verses from Revelation is on the destruction of the dragon. It portrayed not only what happened, but why it happened. The dragon and his "angels" were part of the heavenly court, but acted in their own interests, not in the interest of the divine King. Like any royal court of the ancient world, the king sat on his throne in judgment; he was the final arbiter. Unlike the modern world, there were no civil servants to present or defend a case. Instead, members of the court would begin charges and evidence for the monarch to rule on. The dragon made charges against the faithful, in order to create divisions within the court and drive a wedge between loyal subjects and God, the King. By creating discord in the heavenly court, the dragon hoped to eventually topple the King in a coup de tat. The dragon's devious intrigue gave him the name "Deceiver."

The heavenly battle, lead by Michael, ejected the dragon and his angels from the divine realm and hurled them to earth. This had two results. First, the angels and saints in heaven rejoiced, for the one who had sown so much discord was now gone. Second, however, the Evil One and his minion now acted on earth in the lives of people. The seeds of hatred, doubt, and selfishness were spread among the populace. Evil was now present, if only for a brief time.

With Diabolos, the ancient Satan serpent, gone, the heavenly faithful could cry praise to the Lamb and the sacrifice he made for the saints. They defeated the devil with the "Blood of the Lamb" as a weapon. His death on the cross made the victory over the dragon possible.

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Gospel: John 1:47-51

47 JESUS saw Nathaniel coming toward HIM, and said about him, "Look! (This is) truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit." 48 Nathaniel said to HIM, "How do you know me?" JESUS answered and said to him, "Before Philip called you, I saw sitting under a fig tree." 49 Nathaniel answered HIM, "RABBI, YOU are the SON OF GOD, YOU are the KING OF ISRAEL." 50 JESUS answered and said to him, "(Just) because I said to you that I saw you underneath a fig tree, (you) believe? Greater than these (things) you will see." 51 (HE) said to him, "Amen, amen, I say to you, that you will see heaven opened, and ascending and descending upon the SON OF MAN."

1:47 "Look! (This is) truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit." There are several problems with this sentence. First, is the adverb "truly" meant to be emphatic (to match the imperative "Look!") or can it be used as an adjective ("Here is a true or genuine or real Israelite")? Second, does Jesus in John's gospel use the term "Israelite" in opposition to the "Jews" (i.e., term for the Jewish leadership in John)? Third, is the moral attribute of honesty (" whom there is no deceit") opposed to the devious nature of the Jewish leadership ("the Jews"), a genuine compliment for Nathaniel, or in reference to Jacob, who was deceitful in Genesis 28:12, yet was the first to be called "Israel?" Despite the questions, Jesus gave Nathaniel a high compliment.

1:48 "How do you know me?" is literally "From where do you know me?" This latter statement is a Hebraism. Nathaniel (and the context of 1:47) asked about Jesus' assumption about his character, not about a prior meeting or knowledge of Nathaniel's origins.

"Before Philip called you, I saw sitting under a fig tree." Two points about this statement. First, "sitting under a fig tree" is literally "being under a fig tree." The shade aspect of the tree was far more important than the fruit it bore. Second, there is no real consensus among scholars about the symbolism of the fig tree. More important than the symbolism of the fruit tree was the foreknowledge of Jesus. This indicated his divinity, and was the reason for Nathaniel's statement of faith in 1:49.

" are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel..." Both "Son of God" and "King of Israel" are Messianic titles. Psalm 2:6-7:

"Yet I have set my King on my holy hill of Zion." I will tell of the decree. YHWH said to me, "You are my son. Today I have become your father. (World English Bible)

This statement displayed the faith in Jesus as the Messiah in two different, interlocking ways.

1:51 "Amen, amen, I say to you..." Only St. John expressed the term "Amen," as a doublet some 25 times. This made what followed emphatic.

"you will see heaven opened, and ascending and descending upon the SON OF MAN" The saying of Jesus mixed the content of Jacob's dream (Genesis 28:12) and Daniel's vision of the Son of Man figure (Daniel 7:13). Both evoked divine revelation. Angelic messengers come from and return to heaven, just as the Son of Man came from, and would return to, heaven.

When Nathaniel met Jesus, the Lord paid him a high compliment. Nathaniel was a genuine son of Abraham, an honest, even transparent man. "How do you know?" the skeptic replied. Jesus answered with a vision of Nathaniel. In that answer Jesus revealed himself. And Nathaniel responded in faith. Here was the Messiah, the Divine One. Then, Jesus challenged Nathaniel to see something greater; the new disciple would witness revelation, angels would bear communication between the Father and the Son. Seeing this communication, Nathaniel would become part of that heaven and earth give-and-take. The follower would be swept up in this revelation.

For John, evangelization meant more than following the Lord. It meant living in the Lord, living in union with God himself.

As heavenly beings, angels serve both God and humanity. They carry God's message and will to us. They intercede on our behalf. Like the saints, they bring God closer to us and us closer to our Maker.

Reflect on Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. How do these figures inspire you?