Deified Worm and Threshing Sledge

Fra Angelico, Detail of the Crucifixion (ca.1437-46)

Thursday of the Second Week of Advent

Isaiah 41:13-20; 45:8; Matthew 11:11-15

For I, the Lord your God,
hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Fear not,
I will help you.”
Fear not, you worm Jacob,
you men of Israel!

Isaiah 41:13-14

Political tempests, pandemics, earthquakes, tsunamis, economic disasters and the like make human beings feel small and helpless in a hostile universe, but we are not alone, the prophet tells us. The Creator of all will take us by the hand and lead us. The humbling title “worm” in reference to humanity sounds strange to modern ears, but it ultimately points to Christ. All of Sacred Scripture is reduced to “one single Word, his one Utterance in whom he expresses himself completely.”1

Hugh of St. Victor, a twelfth-century mystic and theologian, summarized this exegetical principle: “All Sacred Scripture is but one book, and that one book is Christ, because all divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ.”2

On a physical scale, worms seem insignificant. Yet worms, writes St. Ephrem the Syrian, “are able to consume hard wood, so that, in the future, they will destroy the pride and power of very strong kingdoms.”3 Above all, the inner kingdoms of pride and egotism must be dismantled, for all disorder in the world begins within the human heart. From the point of view of the gardener, worms are highly prized for their tunneling and consumption of bacteria, fungi, and nematodes. Worm castings fertilize the soil and enrich it with nutrients.

The Divine Gardener made nothing in vain and certainly does not recoil at his own creation, which he pronounced “good” in the first chapter of Genesis. The Father’s love for humanity has no greater proof than the sending of his own Son to assume the flesh of this “worm Jacob” in order to redeem the earth and transfigure it with the deifying grace of the Holy Spirit. The soil out of which Adam was formed by the “two hands” of the Son and Spirit was recreated by the Father’s infinite love.4

I will help you, says the Lord;
your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
Behold, I will make of you a threshing sledge,
new, sharp, and having teeth;
you shall thresh the mountains and crush them,
and you shall make the hills like chaff;
you shall winnow them and the wind shall carry them away,
and the tempest shall scatter them.

Isaiah 41:14-16

The sharp-toothed threshing sledge hung on the Cross disguised as a dull and useless plank, but rose again to crush sin, death, and the minions of Gehenna. 

And you shall rejoice in the Lord;
in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory.
When the poor and needy seek water,
and there is none,
and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them,
I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
I will open rivers on the bare heights,
and fountains in the midst of the valleys;
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
and the dry land springs of water.
I will put in the wilderness the cedar,
the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive;
I will set in the desert the cypress,
the plane and the pine together;
that men may see and know,
may consider and understand together,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
the Holy One of Israel has created it.

Isaiah 41:16-20

Images of a well-watered desert flourishing with life point to the eschatological deification of humanity accomplished in Christ. Nothing on earth compares with this transfiguration beyond human calculation and estimation in which “the least in the kingdom of heaven” is “greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). According to many Fathers of the Church, Jesus was referring to himself. “Least” and “greater” are relative terms inapplicable to the absolute diversity of persons; thus the expression is one of profound humility.5

Let the clouds rain down the Just One,
and the earth bring forth a Savior.

Isaiah 45:8 (Alleluia verse)

-GMC

1 Catechism of the Catholic Church 102.

2 Ibid. 134.

3 St. Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on Isaiah 41.14. From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Isaiah 40-66, Steven A. McKinion, editor, and Thomas C. Oden, general editor, Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2004, p. 27. 

4 The expression, “two hands” of the Son and Spirit, originated in patristic literature.

5 Persons transcend relativity. See the article, In the Image of the Trinity, for further clarification.

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