S. St. Michael and All Angels. “Or Should I Say Eye?” 19 Dan. 10, Matt. 18:1-11
It seems the texts the last several weeks have been throwing one conundrum after another at us. Today it is a very old one: is the Angel Michael Jesus, or is he just an angel like Gabriel?
The medieval feast of St. Michael reflects the Roman church’s confusion from around the 6th century on the relationship between Christ and Michael the Archangel (archangel means “ruling angel” or “first angel” literally).
In the late 5th century, Pope Gelasius supposedly had a vision of the Angel Michael helping him. This was the impetus for the feast that is still observed on this date in Anglican and Lutheran Churches and was on this date until 1960 in the Roman Church (I don’t think the Eastern Church has ever celebrated it, but maybe we’ll see why in a minute). Gelasius did not identify Michael with Christ Jesus and many in the Western Church followed him on this.
Actually our reading from Daniel records the only 2 times in canonical Scriptures that Michael is mentioned. He’s mentioned in Jude and Revelation (but real catholics and Lutherans know those aren’t canonical). There’s a lot about Michael in the OT Apocrypha but that’s not canonical either, Rome’s confusion on that notwithstanding). In the first verses of Daniel 10, Daniel sees a vision of “the glorious Man” body like beryl, face like lightning, eyes like torches of fire, arms and feet like burnished bronze, the sound of His voice like an army. It seems pretty obvious this is the Risen and Exalted Christ Jesus.
Seeing the Glorious One, Daniel is literally knocked out, flat on his face, unconscious but hearing the words. And that’s when our OT reading begins, with the hand of (an anonymous) angel touching him, rousing him and saying “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to help.” This angel explains that he would have been here sooner, but he’d gotten tied up battling the Prince of Persia for three weeks, until Michael, one of the chief princes, helped him. And he’s come to help Daniel understand the vision of the Glorious Man which is for the time of the end, when Michael, the Great Prince of Israel, will stand up, in a time of trouble, when the dead will be raised, and the righteous will shine.
It’s not a tough reading to understand. See, in Hebrew the very name “Michael” tells you Who He is. Literally the name means “Who is God.” Michael is God. That’s why He’s the Great Prince of Israel. He is also the Angel of the Lord, the Ruler of the angels, Who protects His people and slays His enemies in highly athletic fashion. Luther and most of the Greek speaking fathers and the Nicene Creed era fathers all recognized Michael is the Incarnate and Exalted Christ Jesus; it’s only the idea that God can’t take on flesh that prevents recognizing Michael as Christ. But the faithful recognize Him, always. We know Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever and that He is not bound by time. Yes, He took on flesh in time, 4BC in Bethlehem, but He travels back and forth in time freely as the Crucified and Risen One He always is, the True God made Man.
The line that Michael is “one of the chief princes” is just ironic understatement. Like “That Rory Mcilroy’s a decent player. He might make a living golfing”. That Michael is the Great Prince of Israel, that He stands up in a time of tribulation when the dead are raised, can refer only to Jesus Christ and His suffering, death, and resurrection in 30 AD (remember, on Good Friday that at the moment of the Lord’s death, the tombs were opened and many of the saints were raised from the dead to go and throw a scare into the people in Jerusalem?) Daniel, like most of the OT prophets sees the events of Good Friday weekend and the Last Day as very closely intertwined. And I think they are more right in this view—that Good Friday and the Last Day are essentially the Same Day than most “modern” Christians are in thinking they are far apart in time and essence.
Since Michael in chapter 12 of Daniel can only be Jesus the True God and Prince of Israel we know He must be the same Lord in chapter 10 (which teaches us the art of irony and understatement, good things to learn). But why do so many fail to recognize the Lord Christ? Mainly because we are very poor Bible readers; we think too much. We don’t let art “flow over us”. We imprison God in cages of what our modern, conventional wisdom thinks possible. Because we can’t time travel, we think the Man Jesus could not either (forgetting that uh, duh—He’s God!). Because Jesus hid His glory during His 33 years of ministering to us on earth in Person, we think divine Glory cannot be fully shared or seen by human flesh.
Ultimately, these are not just failures of imagination (or failures to read enough sci-fi, though they are that, too 🙂 These failures to recognize Jesus when He appears right in front of our faces are all failures of holiness, they’re the result of sin. Sinful people cannot behold God face to face. Moses, Daniel, Isaiah, Peter, James, John all learn this lesson the hard way. The fire that comes from Jesus’ eyes is, to the Faithful, the golden glow of Eternal Life. But to sinners who hate Him, it’s a lake of fire with flesh eating worms, destroying eternally (like drinking from the Holy Grail is death to Nazis but life to Sean Connery). If we will not take up the cross and suffer death with Jesus in the disinterested self-abandonment of adoration, if we will not lose our lives for Christ’s sake, we will never be raised from the dead with eyes that can see, bodies that can bear the sight of God’s unveiled glory. It’s only sharing Jesus’ dying on the cross, losing our old lives, old selves, that we gain new, eternal, glorious and divine Life…
In our Gospel, the disciples ask Jesus “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” What a stupid question! Duh! It’s Jesus! Jesus is God! Don’t you recognize Him or see that He is Greatest?!
But Jesus sets a little kid in their midst and says “unless you’re converted and become like this, you will by no means enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever humbles himself as this little child is greatest in Heaven.” Now think: Who, [though He is God!!!], humbled Himself to be born a baby in Bethlehem’s stable? Who humbled Himself down into death and hell on a cross for us? He and He alone is Greatest—which shows only Jesus could ever write the book “Humility and How I Achieved IT”.(!) (The Bible may be that Book!).
Jesus then says some harsh words to all who would cause the little ones who believe in Him and His greatness to sin. Because the faithful are mortal enemies of sin, so much so they’d gladly lose an eye or foot rather than the Sight of God.
I know one film that illustrates this beautifully: the Coen Bros’ “True Grit” particularly the scene where Matt Damon complains one-eyed Rooster Cogburn shot him accidentally, because he’s a bad shot. Annoyed, Rooster throws an empty whiskey bottle high in the air, blasts away with his pistol to prove his shooting prowess. The bottle falls unbroken to the ground; Rooster needs several shots to break it, complaining of cheap shells. Matt Damon goes “I thought you’d say the sun was in your eyes… or shall I say eye?*
Theme of movie (which you should see): it’s by the loss of his eye that Rooster truly sees; by the loss of her arm that Mattie Ross gains strength. When our hatred of sin is greater than our love of self, such that we’d rather loose an eye with Rooster or an arm with Mattie than the sight of God, that is true gain, true grit, true faith, true Peace, surpassing understanding, guarding heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.