As I am sure you all know, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series this year and have been declared the World Champions of baseball for the first time in 108 years. Though I personally root for the Chicago White Sox, I was happy that my friends who are Cubs fans got a taste of what it is like to revel in the success of your team.
A few days later, Chicago celebrated the victory with a parade and a gathering in the beautiful lakeside park about which Chicago is justly proud. You might remember that it was in the same area that President Obama addressed his supporters on the night of his election eight years ago. According to the news reports, the parade route and the park were filled with five million Cubs fans! If the count was accurate, and there is some question about that, the crowd was actually bigger than the entire population of the Chicago metropolitan area. This much I can tell you. The crowd was huge.
So a crowd of 144,000 as reported in the Book of Revelation today seems very small by comparison. Were we to take this number literally, and there are those who do, it would mean that very few people are going to get to the heavenly throne room. However, taking the number literally would be a very big mistake on our part.
First of all, we must consider that the entire population of Israel at the time Jesus lived would never have reached that number. The Gospels tell a familiar story of Jesus feeding 5,000, not counting women and children with five loaves of bread and a couple of fish. That number would have been astounding for the people of that time. No one who lived at the time of Jesus could even begin to imagine a crowd that large. While modern day cinematic efforts about Biblical stories are filled with extras, the fact of the matter is that the population of the world at the time of Jesus was very small indeed.
144,000 must, therefore, be considered a symbolic number. There were twelve tribes of Israel. Multiplying that number by 12,000 yields this number, a number that is very much “unimaginable” for the people of that era. In other words, what the Book of Revelation is trying to say is that a great number of people fill the throne room of heaven, a number that is simply larger than anyone could imagine.
Far more important than the number of people in this scene is what they are doing. They are singing “a new hymn.” This phrase is used extensively in the Scriptures. Many of the psalms bid us sing a new song to the Lord. Once again, it is important not to take the words literally. Rather than a new song, we will sing a familiar song in a NEW situation. The event or occasion itself makes the song new. It is, quite simply, a song of praise, sung by those who have followed the lamb.
Remember once again that this book was written during the time of great persecution of those who have come to believe in Jesus. The 144,000 are the people who have followed in the footsteps of the Lamb who has shed his blood for the rest of the flock. In shedding their blood, the martyrs have joined ranks with our crucified Savior, Jesus Christ.
This is, in fact, the vocation of the CUSAN. We share a bond with the crucified. We have accepted the cross which has been given to us, the cross of chronic illness and/or disability. The reading from the Book of Revelation for today should be a source of great comfort for us as we look forward to the day when we too will sing a new song to the Lord, standing in the presence of the heavenly court as we worship our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator