Monday 10 July 2023 Week 14 in Ordinary Time
Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. When he had reached a certain place he passed the night there, since the sun had set. Taking one of the stones to be found at that place, he made it his pillow and lay down where he was. He had a dream: a ladder was there, standing on the ground with its top reaching to heaven; and there were angels of God going up it and coming down. And the Lord was there, standing over him, saying, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac. I will give to you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants shall be like the specks of dust on the ground; you shall spread to the west and the east, to the north and the south, and all the tribes of the earth shall bless themselves by you and your descendants.
‘Be sure that I am with you; I will keep you safe wherever you go, and bring you back to this land, for I will not desert you before I have done all that I have promised you.’
Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Truly, the Lord is in this place and I never knew it!’ He was afraid and said, ‘How awe-inspiring this place is! This is nothing less than a house of God; this is the gate of heaven!’ Rising early in the morning, Jacob took the stone he had used for his pillow, and set it up as a monument, pouring oil over the top of it. He named the place Bethel, but before that the town was called Luz. Jacob made this vow, ‘If God goes with me and keeps me safe on this journey I am making, if he gives me bread to eat and clothes to wear, and if I return home safely to my father, then the Lord shall be my God. This stone I have set up as a monument shall be a house of God.’
Psalm 90 My God, in you I trust.
While Jesus was speaking, up came one of the officials, who bowed low in front of him and said, ‘My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her and her life will be saved.’ Jesus rose and, with his disciples, followed him. Then from behind him came a woman, who had suffered from a haemorrhage for twelve years, and she touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, ‘If I can only touch his cloak I shall be well again.’ Jesus turned round and saw her; and he said to her, ‘Courage, my daughter, your faith has restored you to health.’ And from that moment the woman was well again.
When Jesus reached the official’s house and saw the flute-players, with the crowd making a commotion he said, ‘Get out of here; the little girl is not dead, she is asleep.’ And they laughed at him. But when the people had been turned out he went inside and took the little girl by the hand; and she stood up. And the news spread all round the countryside.
Jacob’s ladder is a symbol of interior connection to the sacred. I read in a commentary that it was more akin to the stepped pyramids of the great ziggurat temples of Mesopotamia, than the Ladder of Divine Ascent (Scala Paradisi) from the treatise written by the mystic John Climacus around 600 AD. In the stepped pyramids one ascended into the heavenly realms, hidden in the clouds of unknowing, beyond the realms of human influence. In the Scala Paradisi we may recognise its influence on the third part of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, Paradiso.
During the course of his journey, Dante meets and converses with several blessed souls who live in bliss with God. They have taken each step with purity of heart and intention on God. Each step is similar to a degree to be acheived.
The image of Jacob is somewhat different. “Truly God was in this place”, he says. The angels ascending and descending, is the action of grace guiding us along the pathway to our that for which our heart longs. The angels minister to creation and serve the Divine. The God of promise grants to Jacob a Divine inheritance. Jacob who stole his brother’s birth-right. Jacob’s actions should see him not in Dante’s Paradiso but in Inferno.
This is the Divine Comedy. Gods’ covenant with Jacob is not based on his merits, but on the grandeur of God’s love for him. What better examples of this than the Gospel stories of Jesus healing of the two women. Completely gratuitous, without merit.