While reading the Book of Esther I noticed a verse or two that I have previously overlooked. That verse is part of the introduction to the story of Esther and Mordecai and it goes like this:
“Behold, voices and confusion, thunders and earthquake, tumult on the earth! Then two great dragons came forward, both ready to fight, and they roared terribly. At their roaring every nation prepared for war, to fight against the righteous nation. It was a day of darkness and gloom, of tribulation and distress, affliction and great tumult on the earth! And the whole righteous nation was troubled; they feared the evils that threatened them, and were ready to perish. Then they cried out to God; and at their outcry, as though from a tiny spring, there came a great river, with abundant water; light came, and the sun rose, and the lowly were exalted and devoured those held in honor.” Esther, Introduction 11:5-11.
The book of Esther tells the story of a conspiracy to exterminate the people of God. In a dream, Mordecai is warned of the impending peril but he is also assured of the ultimate triumph of the forces of good. The verse that called my attention this time is “as though from a tiny spring, there came a great river, with abundant water.” That figure of a mighty river that comes from a tiny spring is used in various parts of the Bible. Ezekiel uses it in his vision of chapter 47:
“Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there, water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple towards the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me round on the outside to the outer gate that faces towards the east; and the water was coming out on the south side. Going on eastwards with a cord in his hand, the man measured one thousand cubits, and then led me through the water; and it was ankle-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was knee-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was up to the waist. Again he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be crossed. He said to me, ‘Mortal, have you seen this?’ Then he led me back along the bank of the river. As I came back, I saw on the bank of the river a great many trees on one side and on the other. He said to me, ‘This water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes. People will stand fishing beside the sea from En-gedi to En-eglaim; it will be a place for the spreading of nets; its fish will be of a great many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.’” Ezekiel 47:1-12
In turn the vision of Ezekiel reminds us of the Apocalypse of St. John where a similar river is described at the end of the book of Revelation:
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” Revelation 22:1-2
The last two passages seem to indicate the purpose of this river is to heal mankind at the end of times. By analogy the images seem to prefigure the Sacrament of Baptism which heals the human soul from the wound of original sin but there is more to the healing prefigured here. Rivers are mentioned many times in the Bible from the beginning. Two rivers water the Garden of Eden, the Hebrews must cross the Jordan to enter the promised land, Naaman the Assyrian is cured of his leprosy by bathing in the Jordan seven times, Christ is baptized in the Jordan by John the Baptist, and so on. The river in these visions is different from all the others mentioned in Scripture because it flows from the Temple of God. This is a river flowing from the Source of Life, God Himself.
Why do I think that the healing takes place at the end of times? First, logically the nations of the world are not going to be healed before they submit to the will of God. We know that is what the Lamb of God accomplishes when He conquers the world, and that conquest occurs at the end of time. So the nations of this world, like Naaman the Assyrian, have to humbly submit to the God of Heaven before being healed.
Ezekiel sees the river flowing through the desert to the Dead Sea just like the Jordan reviving the landscape and transforming the sea that is revived, teeming with life. Two little towns located on opposite sides of the Dead Sea are mentioned: En-gedi and En-eglaim. After the transformation, says Ezekiel, there will be plenty of fish in the sea between these two towns. St. Augustine of Hippo took the time to add the numeric value of the towns names, they resolve to 153 which is coincidentally the number of fish that the disciples caught when Jesus ordered them to cast the nets for the last time after fishing all night. John 21:11
Now our image is taking shape. This is definitely something for the end of times, and also a great sign of hope in the triumph of the Gospel. Why?
Very often Our Lord compared the evangelization of the world to fishing. In fact He chose Peter, a fisherman, to lead the Church from the beginning. These passages have plenty of details to interpret but let us concentrate on this miraculous healing waters that make the Dead Sea teem with fish. While we do it let us not forget the connection that St. Augustine established, between the healing of the dead waters described by Ezekiel and the encounter of the resurrected Jesus with His disciples at dawn by the Sea of Galilee.
In my opinion the abundance of fish predicts the abundance of souls coming into the Church in search of healing at the end of times. The image strongly suggests a massive triumph of the Gospel and many conversions. It reminds me also of the conversion of Nineveh after the preaching of Jonah. Another coincidental connection seems to point at that: before being called Peter, our first Pope was called Simon Bar Jonah.
And here is another Papal connection:
“It was by no external or human design that our beloved Benedict XVI abdicated on the 11th of February, on the anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes through whom many miraculous cures have been effected. The Lord is thus telling us He is working to heal the Church.”
Lourdes is known by a miraculous spring. The location of the spring was revealed to Bl. Bernadette Soubirous by an apparition of Our Lady on 25 February 1858. Although the Church never pronounced a formal approval, Lourdes water has become an important part of the faithful devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes. Since those days, many people have been cured by drinking or bathing in it. Pope Benedict XVI was there for the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the apparitions and later in 2013, he abdicated on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. I took that as a sign that the period initiated by the abdication of Pope Benedict was going to lead eventually to a healing of the many wounds inflicted on the Church by both her enemies and some of her unfaithful sons.
We are now approaching the center of a storm that has been rocking the Church for a long time. Mordecai saw it in his dream: “Behold, voices and confusion, thunders and earthquake, tumult on the earth!” I think we should not forget the river at the end of Mordecai’s dream because that is the healing river described by Ezekiel and John. The storm will rage, darkness and confusion may surround us for a while. Yet we must never forget that, at the end of that dreadful time, the healing of the Church and the nations will follow. That means that every Christian will have to participate in a huge catechizing effort, a load of fish so big that may threaten to burst our nets. That joyful hope will help us endure the trials of the storm.
“Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your liberation is drawing near.” Words of Jesus in The Gospel According to St. Luke 21:28.