November 1, 2022 at St. Peter Parish in Naples, FL
Revelation 7, 2-4 & 9-14 + Psalm 24 + 1 John 3, 1-3 + Matthew 5, 1-12
Apparently, the writher of the Book of Revelation expects one hundred and forty-four thousand to be the population of heaven. One hundred and forty-four thousand is less than half the population of Collier County. If you read this literally, it might give you some serious anxiety about whether or not you are going to make the cut. But, before make some sense of this, we ought to dig into the first reading today with a little combination of Mathematics and Bible knowledge. First of all, how many tribes are there in Israel? Now the math. What’s 12 squared equal? Now, the big round number of that day was “one-thousand”. In our times, we often think of a huge number by saying “millions”, but at the time of this writing they would have said “one-thousand” to express a really big number. So, take the number of tribes, square that number and then add the number that means “huge” and we get 144,000.
Is that really the population of heaven? This might be a good day to figure this out since the closer we get to the end of this liturgical year selections from the Book of Revelation and the apocalyptic style of writing will become more frequent in the Gospels.
The whole purpose of this is to draw attention to the big picture and the direction of salvation’s history. For almost a year, we have been proclaiming Luke’s Gospel which his one long journey to Jerusalem – not Jerusalem as place, but the “New Jerusalem” of heaven. So, our readings from Sacred Scripture to day and in the next few weeks are going to remind us of the big-time-space picture within which we live our Christian hope as we head to Jerusalem.
So, we have to figure out how to take seriously talk about 144,000 saved people standing with robes washed in blood holding palm branches. That takes some informed reflection and some study. It helps to know that first century Jews thought that the “age to come” would see the restoration of the scattered twelve tribes. The writer of Revelation sees the fulfillment of that expectation and even more. In other words, it’s going to be that restoration of the twelve tribes and even more, even better. Heaven won’t be just the twelve tribes, it will be twelve times twelve tribes and a million more! To make sure readers to do not get too literal about a head count, he adds a picture of numberless, multitudes representing every nation, race, people, and tongue under the sun.
What it all means is that the end of time turns out to be more than Israel ever imagined. It is more than anyone can imagine. Rather than a limited number, it is countless, and the implication for us then is that we have a chance. In fact, it’s probably better than a chance since in the end it involves God’s grace which is not a chance thing. It’s real. There’s room for us all, and this God revealed by Jesus is out get is all.
The saints we honor and remember today are hardly all dead and gone. We all know living people, ordinary Christians who live their lives enduring trials, sometimes terrible pain, family tragedies with great faith never stopping their love and service to others. They are constant in worship and in virtue. The power of grace is visible in their lives.
The saints are marvelous and many, way more than the nearly 10,000 named by the Church. To think that those named are the only ones limits the grace of God. The saints are as numerous as the grains of sand. They are with us and for us in every generation. They are in every parish, and they are sitting here in front of me. Today, we praise God for them, and we are encouraged to look forward and to work for that day when no one is ever excluded from God’s love and God’s house.