On a purely practical level, the intercession of the saints makes perfect sense to me. Yes, God is everything to me, but he’s not the only thing. In other words, I cannot navigate life without the assistance of God’s creatures (both living and dead). Whether it is the immediate help of a friend whom I ask for assistance, an ancestor who assisted in my physical existence, or better still, some historical figure whom I’ve never met before, but who is nevertheless responsible for much of the wisdom and prosperity that I enjoy in my culture today. In this sense, then, man does not live by God alone.
If this weren’t really the case, then why would we even begin to thank anyone for anything? Indeed, where there’s a will, and some good received, then gratitude should ensue. It brings to mind that popular joke about the man drowning, who refuses various forms of help/intercession under the pretext that “God will save him.” He eventually drowns, and subsequently finds himself standing before God, only to discover that God had employed those aforementioned individuals as agents of His saving help. We are not mere puppets of God, we are, by His generosity, partners and ambassadors in his plan for salvation.
And that all makes perfect sense to me on a practical level. But looking for clear Biblical evidence that human beings can come to our assistance post-mortem always poses a bit of a challenge for any number of reasons. Thus, when I heard some readings at Mass I had to do a double-take. I’ve heard numerous individuals invoke the book of Revelation (e.g. Rev. 5:8 and 8:3-4) as a defense of the doctrine of intercession, but I always found the argument somewhat unconvincing- if only because divine activity is so otherworldly and symbolic (how could it be anything else?). And this is part of the difficulty in making the case. How do we make something so otherworldly, a little bit more “earthly”… if only for a moment?
Enter the prophet Elisha and the following reading:
“Then Elisha, filled with the two-fold portion of his (Elijah’s) spirit, wrought many marvels by his mere word. During his lifetime he feared no one, nor was any man able to intimidate his will. Nothing was beyond his power; beneath him flesh was brought back into life. In life he performed wonders, and after death marvelous deeds.” Sirach 48:12-14
Had I misread the passage? I read it again. No, that’s precisely what it said “after death he performed miracles.” The critique I had always heard about the intercession of the saints seemed refuted by this simple statement. Whenever I had previously attempted to draw the analogy of human and divine behavior, I was often reminded by those attempting to refute this that the rules of this life don’t apply on the other side of the curtain. In this life, I was told, you are allowed to accomplish Godly works for the sake of the kingdom, but after death, not so much. And yet, here was a verse, one that I do not remember ever having read before, suggesting something suspiciously like a saint interceding after his physical death. How much more direct do we need it to be? I’ll state it again; “After death he performed marvelous deeds.”
This is not to suggest that Elisha is in some kind of competition with God. Quite the contrary, the point is death does not change our ability to love God and serve our neighbor. As a matter of fact, one might argue that our close proximity to God in the next life might only serve to bolster our efforts in this respect.
All the same, one may point out that Sirach is part of the Septuagint, and not accepted as part of the Protestant canon. And indeed, if there were no related verses to support my claim, I would agree that my argument would seem to be on shaky ground. However, what is most compelling to me about this passage is not simply what it says, but rather that it further corroborates and clarifies another passage which is in every Christian Bible:
“Elisha died and they buried him. Now the bands of Moabites would invade the land in the spring of that year. As they were burying a man, behold, they saw a marauding band; and they cast him into the grave of Elisha. And when the man touched the bones of Elisha he revived and stood up on his feet.” Kings 13:20-21
Hence, not only was Elisha capable of performing miracles in this life, but apparently, as both passages suggest, he “performed marvelous deeds” even after death. What marvelous deeds you may ask? See the aforementioned passage. In one fell swoop these corresponding texts not only point to the possibility of holy figures effecting miracles after death, but something still more shocking, that healing exists quite literally within their very bones.
From the Catholic perspective, these relics are not seen as an amulet, but rather derive their potency from the same Source they always did. Whether in life or death, the prophet’s power comes from their unshakable union with God. Still, one common counter argument to this claim goes something like this – “Prophets may have been necessary before Christ, but now that Christ has come and died once for all, there is no longer a need for them.” Yet Christ did not come to abolish saints and prophets, rather he came – as the following prophets suggest – to share his intercessory power with all of his people, not just a select few:
“And Joshua, the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, answered and said; ‘My lord Moses, forbid them!’ And Moses said unto him. Enviest thou for my sake? Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!” Numbers 11:28-29
“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions” Joel 2:28
Were not these very words of Hebrew Scriptures fulfilled at Pentecost… and afterwards?
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