Sat, 27 December 2008
Chapter 13 of the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians begins with Paul's address to those who speak in tongues. Unless love is the controlling virtue in one's life, a spectacular faith, a powerful prophetic message or even the gift of tongues are of no value (cf. v. 1-3). He infers that love and the peace of Christ are to ever remain the arbiters among disputing peoples.
Characterizing love, he notes how it is "patient and kind," neither jealous or boastful; nor arrogant or rude; and never insisting on its own way (cf. v. 4-6). Further, love "does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things [without ever being wishy-washy], hopes all things, endures all things. [Divine] Love never ends" (v. 7-8). Paul knows that divine love does not come naturally to humans; rather, it is always a gift of purely supernatural grace.
He writes, "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up my childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (v. 10-12). Our American connotation of "love" pales in comparison to the love expressed through deeds of self-sacrifice that Paul speaks of in this chapter.
He again addresses the gifts of tongues in Chapter 14. He places the gift of prophesy as more valuable than the gift of tongues, except in instances where the tongue is interpreted, because prophesies edify the whole church (cf. v. 5). If all spiritual gifts are given for the common good, he observes that those who speak in tongues should speak in intelligible tongues and pray for their tongue's interpretation (cf. v. 7-10). Note that the interpretation of tongues does not mean a translation, for interpretations always convey a spiritual message beyond the jots and tittles of any message. When in church, Paul would rather "speak five words with [his] mind, in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue" (v. 19).
He heightens his tone by urging the Corinthians to maturity and wisdom (cf. v. 20). To understand the larger context of his powerful statement in verse 22, "Thus, tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is not for unbelievers but for believers," one must thoroughly digest Isaiah 28. He concludes the chapter by masterfully instructing his wayward church on the proper use of tongues, prophesy and silence in their worship and communal life.
Music: Moritz Moszkowski's 4 Moments Musicaux Op. 84 - Animato ma non troppo, from the album Moments Musicaux, performed by Elizabeth Wolff. www.magnatune.com
Sat, 20 December 2008
Paul addresses spiritual gifts in the twelfth chapter of First Corinthians. He knows the Church does not realize their low level of spiritual maturity; but their arrogant, impatient and factious ways indict them. So misguided is this Church that they act against the teachings of both Paul and the Council of Jerusalem. This chapter showcases him again pleading with the people like they are close family members.
He knows that the Corinthians have a good foundation of catechesis, but that many are either practicing dead-letter religion or are misappropriating their gifts. He addresses this by reiterating that all who are of Christ receive spiritual gifts and they must be exercised for the common good. A variety of gifts among individuals in a community provide the essential elements of Christian life. He lists numerous gifts, but "all [...] are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who appropriations to each one individually as he wills. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ" (v 11-12). Paul's language makes one question whether this factious Church was marginalizing individuals who had particular spiritual gifts as less important than those with other gifts. He stresses the equality of the people of God, for "the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable" (v. 22). Because the members of the Corinthian Church are one body, Paul chastises them for their disunity and urges them to love one another.
A loving, family life is so characteristic of genuine Christian life, as expressed in the thirteenth chapter. Sadly, this type of love is so uncharacteristic of modern Catholicism in America. Paul exhorts the Corinthian Church to this love and what love is and what it is not (cf. v. 4-8). He also makes it clear that they must all love more genuinely.
Music: Moritz Moszkowski's 3 Moments Musicaux Op. 7 - Tranquillo e semplice, from the album Moments Musicaux, performed by Elizabeth Wolff. www.magnatune.com
Mon, 15 December 2008
The character of Paul's language changes distinctly in Chapter 9 of 1 Corinthians as he attempts to reassert his role as an apostle. Some among the brethren of Corinth felt apostles would not need to work to support themselves, and viewed his working to support his ministry as a demerit on his authority. He responds by saying "I [am an apostle] to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord" (v 2). He continues by asserting the rights of an apostle through a series of rhetorical questions.
Using sound rabbinical arguments, he asserts that God allows the workers to partake of the fruit of their labor (Cf. v. 8-12). These statements are not Paul's attempt to amass material gains, but assert his authority as an apostle. As he continues, his temper begins to reveal itself in the verbiage (Cf. v 14). He hits on the cornerstone of his argument when he states "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!" and "What then is my reward? Just this: that in my preaching I may make the gospel free of charge, not making full use of my right in the gospel" (v 16, 18). Always trying to save as many souls as possible he reflects how he "became all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (v 23). He closes the chapter with a lively exhortation that the Corinthians strive for holiness through self-restraint and exertion like an athlete strives for victory (Cf. v 24-27).
Returning to his previous language-style in Chapter 10, he uses the example of their Jewish forefathers to instruct the troubled church. After illustrating the sacramental gifts that the Israelites received from God he warns the people not to partake unworthily or without gratitude, lest they die like many of the Israelites. He ever attempting to bring the conceited Corinthians to greater holiness, he provides hope against temptation by stating "God is faithful and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it" (v 13).
Returning to his railing against idolatry, he asks "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?" so that he may come to his eucharistic theology "The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread" (v 16). This is to establish that one cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons, and that meat sacrificed to idols is inherently demonic.
He instructs the Judaizers by saying "All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful" (v 23). He also allows that "if one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question" except it becomes clear that this meat was sacrificed to an idol (v 27).
Finally, in the beginning of Chapter 11, Paul addresses the issue of women's head coverings.
Music: Sergei Rachmaninoff's 6 Moments Musicaux Op. 16 - Adagio sostenuto from the album Moments Musicaux, performed by Elizabeth Wolff. www.magnatune.com
Tue, 9 December 2008
The beginning of an extremely challenging portion of Scriptures, 1 Corinthians 8 edges towards discussing liberty and constraints. Chapters 8-11 showcase Paul's pastoral nature, for rather than writing a polemic list of do's and don't's to a church of diverse believers with questionable devotion, he has devised an all-embracing construct for Christian life, worship and the spiritual realm. The implications of these chapters are more radical than the sexual ideals put forth in chapters 6-7.
The issues of enforcing ecclesial norms plagued the Corinthian Church just as it plagues the Catholic Church in America. One central issue emerges: eating meat sacrificed to idols. Rather than burn or discard meat used for ritual purposes, pagan temples and local markets sold vast supplies of cheap, edible meat. It was common in Corinthian culture for one to eat his meal right at the temple, and the vast quantity of meat made these temples a sort of banquet hall for trade guilds; in either case these affairs were tainted with pagan idolatry.
Paul prepares the groundwork for his argument by beginning chapter 8 very carefully; writing across the Aegean Sea to a church with which he has a deep spiritual bond, he is like a careful parent not trying to lose control of rebellious teenagers. As an Old Testament scholar, he knows the need to eradicate idolatry among God's people. Certain Corinthian Christians had long argued it was licit to eat meat sacrificed to idols, since they knew there was only one true God, but the early Church's harsh treatment of those who burned incense to the Roman gods provides a proper precedent against such a practice. Nevertheless, the Corinthian Church was in turmoil over this issue, dividing families and splitting the church.
For a bit of history, the Christian faith came to Corinth after the Council of Jerusalem which insisted that uncircumcised Gentiles refrain from eating meat with blood in it or that had been strangled, avoiding all things associated with idols and all forms of sexual immorality. Blood was so stringently avoided primarily because of God's commandment to Noah and his sons, not Israelites, of whom we are all descendants. Now, the Corinthians bristle at Paul's authority and perceived "legalism" in regards to meat sacrificed to idols.
He offers a valuable lesson, "'all of us possess knowledge'. 'Knowledge [without love] puffs up, but love builds up'" (8:1). After discussing love and knowledge, he concedes that "although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth--as indeed there are many 'gods' and many 'lords' -- yet, for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ" (v 5-6). He follows with "not all possess this knowledge. But some, through being hitherto accustomed to idols, eat food as really offered to an idol" (v 7). The mature Christians must bear patiently with their co-religionists who do not possess the knowledge in verses 5 and 6; the alternative is to sin against Christ (Cf. v. 12). He then finishes the chapter by edging up to a prohibition on eating meat sacrificed to idols which he will state definitively in chapter 10.
As an aside, when Paul says "all things are lawful," he is not being an antinomian [law-abolisher], but instead referring to those who have the full life of Christ and never act except in accord God's perfect will. This statement is also an attempt to warm those who respond negatively to legalism to his pastoring.
Music: La Cornara from the album Italian Music of the 17th Century, performed by Altri Stromenti. www.magnatune.com
Sat, 29 November 2008
In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul addresses another set of issues that rend unity among the Corinthian Church. Brothers are regularly asking secular magistrates to settle their disputes (cf. v. 1-2). The actions of these neophytes show they place self-assertion before the virtues of Christian sacrifice, prudence and charity. Paul informs them that choosing to stand before worldly authorities to settle these matters is a clear sign of their spiritual decay (cf. v. 4-6).
These brothers "wrong and defraud" their "own brethren" and are deceiving themselves (v. 8). He warns them that "the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom" of God and that "neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts [the original Greek here lists two separate terms to include homosexual offenders and those who freely allow themselves to be homosexually offended], nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God" (v. 9-11). Paul knows that some of the Corinthians were previously chained to the sins listed above, and urges them to remember that they have been "washed," "sanctified," and "justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (v. 11).
"'All things are lawful for me,' but not all things are helpful. 'All things are lawful for me,' but I will not be enslaved by anything [...] the body is not meant for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.'" When Paul says this, he makes a masterful distinction between function and purpose. Any function of the body – which will be resurrected on the last day – must never lead one to forget that their bodies are "members of Christ" (v. 15). Violations of one's body are offenses against that body and the person and purpose of Christ. If the purpose of human sexuality is that "the two shall become one flesh," then the function of uniting with a prostitute is an extreme aberration (cf. v. 16). There can be nothing immoral within Christians because they are, at the core, of Christ's body.
In Chapter 7, Paul answers the questions posed him by the Corinthian Church. He begins "It is well for a man not to touch a woman" (v. 1). Knowing that men are weak and tempted to immorality, he writes that "each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband" when necessary (v. 2).
Neither commanding nor legislating the conjugal union between marital couples, he seeks to alleviate selfishness and other problems relating to intimacy (v. 3-5). He wishes "that all were as I myself am [celibate]. But each has his own special gift from God" (v. 7). He establishes that divorce and remarriage should not be commonplace among the Christian Church (v. 8 ff.).
He uses Jewish regulatory language to describe the ramifications of a marriage between a believer and an unbeliever (v 10 ff.). He writes, "the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is they are holy" (v. 14). Note that the "consecration" he speaks of here does not refer to a salvific grace, but instead to that grace which allows such a couple to live under the same roof and raise legitimate children who are able to be baptized.
Paul writes, "if the unbelieving partner desires to separate, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. For God has called us to peace," but he does not here advise the believer to remarriage (v. 15). Generally, he instructs the people to avail themselves of every opportunities live the fullest Christian life possible without compelling slaves, married men and others to unnecessarily disrupt their state in life (v. 20 ff.).
He then offers advice similar to that given in Matthew 19, where Jesus advises those who are able to become eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom to do so. He explicates Christ's message in greater detail, saying "Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. But if you marry, you do not sin [...] Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that" (v. 27-28).
His urge that "those who have wives live as though they had none," is not a call for universal celibacy within marriage, but instead a warning against living a married life as an ordinary man, but as a fully integrated Christian (v. 29).
A man with a family has more responsibilities than the unmarried man, and meeting the demands of the kingdom may be more difficult. Paul stresses that he wishes "not to lay any restraint upon [the Corinthians], but to promote good order and to secure [their] undivided devotion to the Lord" (v 35). He concludes "he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better" (v. 38).
Music: Gagliarda Terza from the album Italian Music of the 17th Century, performed by Altri Stromenti. www.magnatune.com
Sat, 22 November 2008
1 Corinthians 5 reveals a distinct shift in the epistle, for here Paul begins to address the scandal of a Corinthian Christian living with his father's wife (v 1). Such an action is forbidden in Torah, prohibited in Roman law, and is in clear contradistinction with the call of Christ; it should have long been addressed by the Corinthian leaders, and Paul upbraids these leaders for their negligence. It is clear that this immoral person is adamantly persisting in his sin and shows no sign of leaving the church.
To this, Paul demands, "Let him who has done this be removed from among you" with all his apostolic authority, for "though absent in body I am present in spirit [when you are assembled together], and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing ... with the power of the Lord Jesus you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (v 2-3, 5). Thus a total excommunication removes him completely from the protective umbrella of God's Church until he bears the fruit of genuine repentance. One should note that men can regularly repent from sexual sin through grace; Paul's terrifying excommunication is a deliberate attempt to dissuade these sins.
Throughout the entire scandal, the Corinthians have been boasting of their spiritual acumen (cf v 6). He reminds them that as "a little leaven leavens the whole lump," unfettered evil quickly spreads throughout the Church. Referencing the festival of deliverance, the Passover, he writes "let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (v 8).
Paul knows that greed, robbery and idolatry are in the world, but demands that Christians not associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of egregious immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler (slanderer), drunkard or robber (v 11). His attempt is to raise the standards of holiness for Christians, never to execute vindication or to mete out punishment on non-Christians for immorality. When he says they are "not even to eat with such a one," he challenges the Corinthian Church to address grave sin for the good of the whole body, even if doing so painfully breaks the norms of social etiquette. Rather than tolerate evils that will poison the flock, Christians must "Drive out the wicked person from among you" (v 12). One will best do this through frequent examination of conscience and by speaking the truth in love.
Music: Avanti Il Quarto Brando from the album Italian Music of the 17th Century, performed by Altri Stromenti. www.magnatune.com
Sat, 15 November 2008
Paul's indictment of the Corinthian Church reaches new depths in 1 Cor 3:17 as he warns against troublemakers within the Church, "And if anyone destroys God's temple [the Body of Christ], God will destroy him." He continues, "Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, 'He catches the wise in their craftiness,' and again, 'the Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile'" (v 18-19). Paul then upbraids the Corinthians for not acting as those who are Christ's possession (cf v 22-22).
A strong leader, Paul then asks the people to examine his conduct for blame or error, professing a clean conscience (cf 4:3-5a). Knowing that it is the Lord alone who will judge, he stresses that the Christian must never pass final judgment on another in his own heart. Note, however, that the Paul's Epistles frequently call on the Christian to judge between right deeds and wrong deeds.
In response to the boastful ways of the Corinthians, he asks "What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?" (v 7). After being blessed with every spiritual gift in the heavens, they are acting like sniveling misers. He calls them to be what they really are, "a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men" (v 9).
Paul teaches that Christians are "fools for Christ's sake" and thereby possess true wisdom (v 10, cf 3:18). Citing the good example of the Apostolic band, he states "we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become, and are now, as the refuse of the world ... I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children ... For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me" (v 12-16).
Paul so steadfastly lives in Christ and Him crucified that he is able to overturn all pride, arrogance, factionalism. He warns the Corinthians he "will come to [them] soon" to pastor those who speak with arrogance and remind them that "the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power" (v 18-19). He forcefully concludes the fourth chapter by asking "What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?" (v 21).
Music: La Maltese from the album Italian Music of the 17th Century, performed by Altri Stromenti. www.magnatune.com
Sat, 8 November 2008
Christianity must ever remain mission-minded, seeking to save souls, lest it lose its saltiness. Clear standards and expectations of progress are necessary and reasonable in order to achieve practical gains. Spreading the Gospel must always come before seeking self-fulfillment and, non-coincidentally, those who lovingly spread the Gospel will experience the most fulfillment.
All Christians must beware not to squander the gifts they have received or neglect the responsibilities that come with their faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is God's gift to the believer and He provides additional gifts in order that one might cooperate with Him, repent, genuinely love Him and evangelize.
The Corinthian Church contains individuals at various stages of immaturity, whereas a vibrant Christian community contains a mixture of mature veterans and immature new-comers. After accepting the gift of salvation and numerous spiritual charisms, Paul upbraids the Corinthians for letting let the cares of the world distract them from living a mission-minded faith. Additionally, they have not put to death the desires of their fleshly minds and act like busybodies who point fingers at others but never examine their own lives. Paul knows that these men are not wholly un-spiritual, but are spiritual men acting upon the desires of their flesh. In contrast, a genuine Christian spirituality is a life lived in regular experience with the Holy Spirit.
He writes, "But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as babes in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not ready for it; and even yet you are not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving like ordinary men?" (1 Cor 3:1-3) Wrapping themselves in their human leaders Paul and Apollos, they withhold honor due only to God who alone provides the Christian's growth (cf v 4). Paul understands that he is but a humble servant who thankfully responds well to God's grace by grace. Mindful that no one can earn his salvation, he knows laborers for the Kingdom will receive wages according to their works (cf v 8).
Jesus Christ Himself is the only foundation upon which the Church can be built (cf v 13, Eph 4, 1 Pet). To the extend they do this, the work of the Christian will be made manifest on the Day of Judgment (cf v 14-15). The man whose work is unworthy and is "burned up" will "suffer loss, though he himself will be saved" after a period of purgation (v 15). All Christians must see themselves as they truly are and fess up to their sins, whether this revelation occur in this world or in purgatory.
Music: La Zabarella from the album Italian Music of the 17th Century, performed by Altri Stromenti. www.magnatune.com
Sat, 1 November 2008
After a difficult mission in Athens, Paul comes to the Corinthians not with a lofty intellectual message, but having "decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor 2:2). Despite suffering from "weakness and in much fear and trembling," he successfully ministered to the Corinthians in "demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (v 3, 4). His intent was "that [their] faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God" (v 5).
Paul brings wisdom to those mature Corinthians, but this wisdom is a "secret and hidden wisdom of God" that "none of the rules of this age" could understand (v 6, 7).
Referencing Isaiah, Paul states "no eyes has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him" (v 9-10). God's ways are unsearchable, except to that man to whom "God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God" (v 10).
Speaking of his own ministry, he states "we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit" (v 12-13).
He contrasts the "unspiritual," natural man with the spiritual man, the latter of which "judges [discerns] all things, but is himself to be judged [discerned] by no one" (cf. 14, 15). In other words, the unspiritual man cannot understand the reasoning of the spiritual man. For no one can know the mind of the Lord unless He gives his sons "the mind of Christ" (cf. v 16).
Paul addresses the men of Corinth as "men of the flesh, as babes in Christ," feeding them with "milk, not solid food" (3:1-2). He writes, "For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving like ordinary men?" (v 3).
Modern Christians do well to discern the extent that they behave like ordinary men and discarding jealously and selfishness for the mind of Christ. Without a genuine spirituality, Christians will not be ready for solid food, but will remain among those of the flesh.
Sorry for the audio quality this week, this was digitized off of a cassette tape. Everything will be back to normal in the next episode.
Music: La Moneverda from the album Italian Music of the 17th Century, performed by Altri Stromenti. www.magnatune.com
Sat, 25 October 2008
A Christian must strive to achieve worthy goals and remain "mission-minded" if he is to live fully for the Kingdom. Whenever a Christian approaches the First Epistle to the Corinthians as merely a devotional book, like some sort of spiritual fodder, he will miss the entire point. St. Paul was always strategic in his plans and actions in order to hasten the mission; similarly, modern Christians are called to act with prayer, forethought and sound execution.
Always working from bases in urban centers, Paul would begin his ministry with the Jews, toiling to establish a base of followers from their ranks and those of the "God-fearers," religious Gentiles in close association with the Jews. Paul efficiently evangelized these God-fearers, offering them a monotheistic religion that did not require circumcision.
Paul never remained long in any one urban center, for his aggressive, often polemic, ministry made him many enemies. After rejection from one community, he would immediately create a new base in another city. He would then labor to coach his disciples in close discourse and worked day and night, meeting the people where they were; further, he often worked a trade to support himself simultaneously to carrying out his apostolic ministry.
As soon as Paul established a sustainable base in one community, he hastened to a new urban center to repeat the process. God appointed him to preach the gospel, a mission he ceaselessly carried out. Within one generation, his ministry of church-planting and letter-writing established a foundation in the Greco-Roman world that affected all subsequent Christian history. Paul's carefully-planned strategy of evangelization clearly contrasts the disorganized and way many modern Christians seek to spread faith. If Christians steadfastly imitate his worthy example their ministries will bear some of the same fruit. Music: La Savorgnana from the album Italian Music of the 17th Century, performed by Altri Stromenti. www.magnatune.com
(Sorry for the audio quality this week, this was digitized off of a cassette tape.)
Sat, 18 October 2008
Acts 18 describes how Christianity came to Corinth. After a difficult sojourn in Athens, Paul arrived in Corinth alone. Soon he met a Jew named Aquilla and his wife Priscilla, with whom he shared the same trade, and began persuading Jews and Greeks in the synagogues to follow Christ. The Scriptures account that the Jews quickly "opposed and reviled” both Paul and his ministry (v 5-6). In response, he "shook out his garments and said to them, 'Your blood be upon your heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles'" (v 6).
After departing from the synagogue, he began a highly contentious form of evangelization to the Gentiles and God-fearers, establishing his base in the house "next door" to the synagogue (v 7). God protected Paul's oft-threatened ministry in Corinth, saying to him in a night vision, "Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man shall attack you to harm you; for I have many people in this city" (v 9-11). After Gallio became proconsul of Achaia (roughly modern Greece), the Jews unite to accuse Paul of spreading an illicit religion (cf v 12-13). Gallio refuses to be the judge of such debate, forcibly ejecting the Jews from his court (cf v 14-15). Tension between Jews and Gentiles is excruciatingly high in Corinth, as expressed by the small riot that ensues (cf v 16-17).
Paul later wrote an epistle to “the church of God which is at Corinth," (1 Cor 1:1-2). Here he stresses the presence of a universal (i.e., catholic) Church with local manifestations. In the Greek, "the church of God which is at Corinth" does not refer to a local assembly, but rather to a universal church which is represented in Corinth. It is important to note that Christians derive the term for church, ecclesia, from the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament), where the entire Hebrew people is called the ecclesia of Israel, an assembly of millions. Ecclesia never refers to just a local community in the Septuagint.
Early in the epistle, Paul links Jesus Christ to the grace which the Corinthians have received (cf v 4). In spite of having received the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and other spiritual gifts, however, Paul indicts them for misusing these gifts to further theological causes in a mean-spirited manner (cf v 5). The task of a Christian is to grow in holiness, to love one another and to evangelize, never to be contentious or self-seeking.
Music: Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15, performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. www.musopen.com
Sat, 11 October 2008
An industrial hub and commercial center on an Isthmus, the city of Corinth contained many merchants and working-class types; many Roman army veterans retired to Corinth after their tour of duty. A conglomeration of Latins, Greeks, Syrians and Jews, it was the capital of the entire Roman province of the Achaia, roughly the boundary of the modern Greek state. Archaeological excavations have revealed entire streets of bars and brothels in the city. Corinth was notorious for its perverse sexual immorality.
Among all Churches recorded in the New Testament, the church at Corinth most parallels the state of the modern Church in America: it contained a diverse group of individuals living in tumult: Jewish and Gentile converts with legalistic leanings, a more liberal contingent and charismatic groups on both ends of the spectrum. Among the believers arose sex scandals, debates over the place of women in worship and intense discussions regarding loyalty to the Apostolic tradition. So embittered were the factions that existed in the Church towards another group that when a representative of one group would start to address the congregation, a member of another party would begin speaking in tongues to drown them out.
While Paul was staying in Ephesus, several prominent men of the Corinthian community sought out Paul's response on several matters. Obliging their request, Paul writes the First Epistle to the Corinthians in late spring of A.D. 55. A young Timothy most likely delivered Paul's letter to this first Century church in A.D. 55-57. Though they had received catechetical instruction from Paul himself over the course of 18 months, the Corinthians received neither Timothy nor the Epistle with high regard. Their tepid response raises questions as to how Christian the Corinthians actually were, and their turmoil speaks to the fact that they had not fully reformed their bawdy ways. Many members of the Corinthian church simply did not respect Paul as one who carried Apostolic authority.
Music: Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischutz, J. 277 performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. www.musopen.com
Sat, 4 October 2008
Paul uses stark language in Galatians 6 to indict both legalists and antinomians: "Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap" (v 7). While all in the Galatian assembly have some concern for honoring God, this verse makes a distinctions between those who "go through the motions," those who practice self-justification, and those true Christians who offer themselves entirely to God and live justly.
Speaking to Christians with a weakening resolve, Paul says "Let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart" (v 9). He continues, "So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith" (v 10).
Verses 11-18 seek to reiterate and summarize the entire epistle, which Paul writes with large letters in his own hand for emphasis (v 11). He contrasts the spirit (the true Gospel) with the flesh (Gentile circumcision and a doctrine of self-justification). He reveals those worldly men who want to "make a good showing in the flesh...only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ" (v 12). Consistently referring to the saving power of the cross, he says "But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (v 14). Because Paul knows the Christians are a new race within humanity, he establishes that "neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision" (v 15).
Although some may interpret verse 17 to read that Paul bore the stigmata, the words "I bear on my body the marks of Jesus," most likely refer to the wounds and scars that he bore from beatings and persecution in order that he might "fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ" (Col 1:24).
One must not conclude a study in Galatians without establishing that even the mind can be "of the flesh." In Col 2:18, Paul says "let no one disqualify you...puffed up without reason by his sensuous [fleshly] mind." A mind of the flesh has, among other things, a tendency to "rack up points" for itself after executing good deeds. He rails against those who place the things of this passing world – especially a pride-filled asceticism – ahead of Jesus Christ (cf. 20 ff).
Additionally, one must note that the Catholic interpretation of Romans and Galatians has never been that one can earn his salvation through good works. The Council of Trent reaffirmed the existing truth that no Catholic can earn his salvation, for it is a free gift of God. Still, ill-taught, immature and sinful Catholics may sometimes fall into the mindset that they must earn their salvation. One hopes that by living the fullness of truth in love, Catholics will debunk the myths that many non-Catholics believe about the Church's Magisterium. Further, living the fullness of the Catholic faith allows one to bear the fruits of a life in the Spirit, maintain a loving responsibility for his brothers, and continuously grow nearer to God.
Christians do well to model Paul's passion and willingness to challenge that which is manifestly wrong and leads to the spiritual death of the brethren.
Music: Beethoven's Sonata No. 4 in E Flat Major, Op. 7 performed by Paul Pitman. www.musopen.com
Sat, 27 September 2008
In Galatians 5:13, Paul begins a pivotal discourse on the life in the Spirit. He writes, "for you were called to freedom; brethren, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for flesh." His discourse aptly begins with exhortations to live in the maturity that is freedom and love; he then makes a statement that seems peculiar at first glance: "But if you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another" (v 14). To better understand this passage, one can recall that churches in Paul's age were frequently beset by fierce disputes between opposing ecclesial factions. As any good shepherd, he does not wish the victors to take vengeance on those who lose theological disputes. To do this, he highlights the sins of pride, "enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy," within his litany of sins of the flesh (v 20, 21). Finally, he presents the Fruits of the Spirit as the expression of a harmonious and fruitful community life and further encourages the strife-filled Galatians to "walk by the Spirit" and have "no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another" (v 25-26).
In light of the vicious disputes in Galatia, Paul begins Chapter 6 with an underlying confidence in the ability of the Church to heal and return to harmony. He begins by instructing those who consider themselves "spiritual" Christians to restore fallen brothers and sisters, and to fulfill this responsibility with a "spirit of gentleness" that is fair and never that of a pushover (v 1). He demands that a man watch out for his brothers but warns against pride: "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself" (v 2-3). In the Galaitian Church, the burden "spiritual" Christians must bear is likely the shame and guilt they feel towards those who followed the Judaizers as well as the humility to allow them to return to the fold after reform.
The verse "Let him who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches" speaks to the just wages due to all clerics, presupposing that they are teaching well (v 6). Given the abysmal state of our catechesis, Catholics have a long way to go to attain the standards of the Galatian church, let alone the expectations of a true disciple of Jesus Christ.
Music: Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. www.musopen.com
Sat, 20 September 2008
Paul knows that the free gift of Christ is a stumbling block for those who desire a religion of self-justification. He uses excruciatingly strong language against the advocates of such legalism when he says, "I wish those who unsettle you would mutilate themselves!" (Gal 5:12b)
Paul masterfully indicts the Judaizers as law-breakers who are preoccupied with the flesh. His conception of "flesh" speaks not only to one's sensual desires, but of anything which animates one apart from Christ, anything within a man that fights against the Spirit (cf v 17). True Christian life is a fight to the death against every desire of his flesh; any provision for the flesh is a surrender to the devil and puts one's soul in grave peril. The Judaizers' fleshly focus blinds them and their disciples from the freedom of the Christian life that is being "servants of one another" through love (v 13). Citing Leviticus 19, Paul affirms "For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (v 14). Moreover, he knows "if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law" (Gal 5:18).
Paul then lists 15 sins, attempting to compile a comprehensive list of the provisions of the flesh, "fornication, impurity, licentiousness [bawdiness], idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit [ecclesial factionalism], envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (v 20-21).
He contrasts these sins with those qualities which the Spirit gives to all disciples of Christ "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law" (v 23). Paul's focus on the Spirit seeks to clearly contrast it with the system of the law as an end in itself. One must not forget that the righteous man will live by faith and that God has no pleasure in him who begins in the Spirit but turns to his own resources in self-justification (cf Heb 10:37-38).
The powerful statement "And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" serves as both a summary of the Christian life and a warning for Christians to ever remain in Christ (Gal 5:24). A proper focus on Christ crucified does not downplay of the Resurrection; rather, Christ crucified is the proper emblem of our discipleship.
Faith is trust in God and a response to the his grace in Spirit, and Paul asserts " If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another" (v 26-27).
In light of the promise of Christ and the understanding of the Early Church, Catholics are not bread-worshipers, but disciples of our Lord in the Eucharist. Yet, "going through the motions" of the Mass condemns one just as much as does legalism. If Christians have been made for a relationship with the living God, the Mass is the supreme moment of one's life, the summit of worship and the source of an evident love, joy and peace. Were a Christian to not express love, joy or peace, it is a sign that he never had the life of Christ or that the tares of the word have choked him. Daily prayer and recollection are necessary for all disciples. Periodically, times of deeper prayer are required, and a period of detoxification from the world and one's own thoughts is often a prerequisite for entering into true prayer.
Music: Franz Schubert's Sonata in B Flat, D. 960 performed by David H. Porter. www.musopen.com
Sat, 13 September 2008
Paul puts forth several lines of argumentation in Galatians 1-4, including:
1) The Messiah is greater than Israel and is a hope for the whole world;
2) More than a fulfillment of the law, Christ is God's perfect gift for those who, in their mortal weakness, cannot hope to fulfill all the demands of God by themselves;
3) Paul's ministry to the Galatians exhibited both bona fide miracles and the introduction of the Spirit in these Gentiles' hearts;
4) The law served Israel as a tutor who controls an unruly child, but Christians are called to be adults, not mere children; and
5) It is foolish to turn from the Spirit's promptings and rely on self-justification and slavish bondage.
In Chapter 4 he discusses the theology of the law and the promises of God. He teaches that the promise precedes the law, and further states that God intended for the law to show His people they had the disease of sin, that they might yearn for the Messiah's redemption. Using the two sons of Abraham in an allegory, Paul illustrates how the son of a slave, conceived through man's fleshly design, stands in contrast to the son of a free woman, born through supernatural grace (cf. v 21-31). His gospel offers freedom in Christ; this freedom is born of maturity and establishes a right relationship with God. If Christ has set us free from the shackles of self-justification under the law, Christians must "stand fast, therefore, and ... not submit again to a yoke of slavery" (5:1).
Paul then makes a strong and concise rabbinical argument: "If you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace" (v 2-3). In this attempt to convict the Galatians, Paul explains that Christians are called to a life of faith and love in the Spirit that comes from God, hoping "through the Spirit, by faith," for the righteousness that will be revealed at Chrit's second coming (cf. v 4). He further states, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love" (v 6).
By asking "who hindered you from obeying the truth?" Paul contrasts obedience to God with an obedience merely to the law (v 7). Notably, the Greek word for disobedience is the same word for disbelief. A Christian notion of obedience would be to respond to God with trust and belief, relating to Him as He is. One expresses his obedience by reciting the Creed at Mass, which begins in the Latin with the word credo: I believe. This deeply personal statement is akin to a marriage vow. Like the Shema Israel, however, our life in God is both deeply personal and deeply communal, demanding a loving response: "Hear O Israel: the LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." (Deut 6:4-5).
Music: Beethoven's Sonata No. 8 in C Minor "Pathetique", Op. 13 performed by Daniel Veesey. www.musopen.com
Sat, 6 September 2008
Paul expounds on the adoption of Christians as God's sons in the beginning of the fourth chapter of Galatians. He focuses on the unique role of the Spirit in this adoption: it is through the Spirit that the Father knows his sons; through the same Spirit, God's sons come to know the Eternal Son and can enter into the divine life of the Holy Trinity. In his other epistles, Paul shows how the presence of the Spirit in one's heart is both an assurance and an affirmation of one's sonship (cf Rom 8:16).
In verse 8, Paul digresses from his theological discourse, recounting the bond he had with the Galatian church by stating "Formerly, when you did not know God, you were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods; but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe [Jewish] days, and months, and seasons, and years! I am afraid I have [strenuously] labored over you in vain" (v 8-9). One can see how the influence of the Judaizers has led the Galatian Christians to block out God with their array of compulsive routines and superstitious rituals.
Paul then reminds the Galatians how he poured himself out for them, challenging them to be as mature in Christ as he is (v 12). Although exegetes are uncertain of what is was that lead him to say, "you know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first," it is clear that the Galatians cared for him while he taught as one in the person of Christ (v 13-14). He confronts the church by asking, "what has become of the satisfaction you felt? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me," and hints at the probable ocular nature of his ailment (v 15-16). He rebukes the Judaizers for making a fuss over the Galatians with neither good reason nor noble intent (v 18). Paul also shows the outstanding pastoral care he has for his "little [Galatian] children," those for whom he toiled in constant prayer.
Paul closes the fourth chapter with an extended metaphor. He establishes his allegory by stating "Abraham had two sons, one by a slave and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, the son of the free woman through promise" (v 22). He then juxtaposes the slave-mother Hagar, the law of Mount Sinai and the present Jerusalem with the free Jerusalem who is the Christian's true mother. The Galatians are called to be "children of the promise" like Isaac, but foolishly allow the Judaizers, who live according to the flesh, to persecute their life with the Spirit (cf v 28-29). Paul ends by citing Genesis, instructing them to cast off the shackles of the Judaizers and return to their freedom, "Cast out the slave and her son; for the son of the slave shall not inherit with the son of the free woman" (21:10-12).
Music: Beethoven's Sonata No. 9 in E Major, Op. 14 No. 1 performed by Paul Pitmam. www.musopen.com
Sat, 30 August 2008
St. Irenaeus Ministries will be featured on EWTN's "Life on the Rock" Thursday, September 4th at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Find out more on siministries.org.
God's law is always good when properly interpreted and executed (cf. Ps 119). When used incorrectly, specifically when manipulated for self-justification, it is disastrous. The law can illuminate one's sinful ways and highlight God's justice, but it cannot make one just.
Just as parents establish restraints and regulations on their young children, God used the law to instruct the fledgling Jewish people. Far more than a set of arbitrary burdens, our Heavenly Father intended his children's compliance with the law to be an expression of their love for Him. God also willed that it would be an aid to his people in the acquisition of the freedom, responsibility and love necessary to accept the Messiah. Many Jews, however, viewed the law as an end in itself; some even worshiped it instead of God.
Paul instructs, "Now before faith [Jesus Christ] came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith could be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ ... and if you are Christ's then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise" (Gal 3:23-26, 28). Even so, the heir to God's promise remains a minor, living under the care of the stewards of his household, "until the date set by the father" (4:2).
"But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (4:4-6). After adopting fleshly creatures as His sons, God conceives them anew as heavenly creatures by sending "the Spirit of his Son" into their hearts; through God they are no longer slaves but sons, and if sons, then also heirs (cf. 4:6-7). Paul finally appeals to the Galatians not to merely live within a religious system but to use religion to more completely embrace the living Christ, deepening an intimate relationship with the Triune God.
Music: Schumann's Scenes from Childhood, Op. 15 performed by Donald Betts. www.musopen.com
Sat, 23 August 2008
Paul continues to explore the correct relationship between the Mosaic law and Gentile Christians in Galatians 3:10. By stating that "in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham [came] upon the Gentiles," he overturns the argument of the Judaizers (cf. 3:14). One must not let the Mosaic Law replace God's covenant with Abraham, for "Anything that comes afterward does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void" (3:17). With this logic Paul advocates Covenantial Theology: God makes multiple covenants with His people over time to unfold His plan in stages, building block upon block; later covenants do not nullify prior covenants. Biblical Christians ought to contrast Paul's orthodoxy with the heterodox Dispensational Theology that arose in 19th Century Protestant circles and appears in the Scofield Reference Bible (1st ed. 1909).
He continues, "Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the offspring should come to whom the promise was made" (3:19). The law can do the work of God by stirring up those who have faith to realize that they must rely on the promise of God. One should follow God's laws without acquiring a delusional attitude of self-righteousness.
The law does not work against God's promises but serves as a custodian for the people of God until they come of age (cf. 3:24-29). God designed His people to mature and become "sons of God, through faith" in Christ Jesus (3:26). Christians who follow God's will from the heart are likely to produce works of faith from the heart.
Baptism fundamentally changes one's soul so that "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave, nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus," though one's body and state in life are likely to remain the same (3:28). Further nourished by the gift of the Eucharist, God prepares his people to go into all the world and spread the gospel.
Music: Bach's Aria Variata, BVW. 989 performed by Brendan Kinsella. www.musopen.com
Sat, 16 August 2008
The issue of Galatians has always been stark: either the Judaizers are correct and Paul is a gross heretic, or Paul's gospel is from God and the Judaizing legalists are confusing the Galatian converts. Yet, Christians since the Protestant Reformation have used Paul's argument in this epistle to understand to the relationship of faith and works. One would have to bend Paul's logic and terminology to argue that living the essential gospel does not entail any form of religious action. Certainly he sees baptism, the laying on of hands, conduct-changing repentance, and other vital acts as key to living a Christian life.
Christians should rightly be weary of both legalistic additions to the gospel and an attitude of antinomianism, a philosophy of lawlessness. The correct understanding of the nature of saving faith and Christian liberty is at stake in Chapter 3. An upset Paul asks who has tricked the Galatians into questioning the clear gospel in which he instructed them. He also asks whether or not the supernatural life, Spirit and miracles he offered them are more convincing than the new philosophy of the Judaizers.
The phrase "the works of the law" does not mean obedience to the law (cf. 3:5). A negative term in this context, Paul instead rebukes a reliance on self-justification through good works to gain access to salvation and absolve sins. The true child of God admits his weaknesses and wholeheartedly trusts in Jesus Christ despite his faults rather than try to manipulate a legal system in order to gain eternal life by his own actions. More important than the acts themselves are one's motives and intent.
Hebrews 12 shows examples of obedient acts of faith, for "by faith Abraham obeyed," persistently migrated West, and even tied his son Isaac on an altar for sacrifice. These wise actions exhibit a total reliance on God. The Book of Hebrews, John 8, Romans, Galatians, James and others show the necessity for the Christian not only to believe, but also to work in accord with God's will through his actions. Paul always sought to bring about obedience to God through faith among the Gentiles. One finds the phrase "the obedience of faith" throughout the Epistle to the Romans, notably at the beginning and the end.
The relationship of faith and works bears significance to all Christians, but in a special way to Mass-attending Catholics. The difference between clocking in and out of Mass and offering one's total self in faith and humility with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and receiving His body and blood is the difference between an act of legalism and an act of faith.
Music: Beethoven's Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor performed by Paul Pitman. www.musopen.com
Sat, 9 August 2008
The start of the second chapter of Galatians accounts Paul's journey to Jerusalem "after fourteen years," when he seeks Apostolic verification of the authenticity of his gospel and ministry. The Apostles clearly affirm his message and works, for "even Titus was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek" (v 3).
His words become passionate when he describes the attempts of certain Judaizers to sabotage his ministry, but states "to them we did not yield submission even for a moment, that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you" (v 5). Paul shrewdly puts himself on a par with Peter, whom he refers to as Cephas, citing his mission to the uncircumcised and that of Cephas to the circumcised (v 8).
He writes, "But when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned," for he had abandoned eating with Gentiles after the arrival of the "circumcision party" (v 11-12). Peter's insincere actions influence the rest of the Jews and even Barnabas, going against the Antiochian Church's former custom of open fellowship between Jews and Greeks. Reacting to this, Paul says to Peter before the assembly, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?" (v 14). A former rabbinical student, Paul properly follows the law but knows that "if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose" (v 21). In this he emphasizes the singular merit of Christ's sacrificial death and upholds the notion of Biblical Catholicity, where both Jew and Greek have access to life through His saving death.
Paul's intolerance to and efforts against legalism, divisions, and mere "cultural Christianity" should motivate the modern Christian who may feel surrounded by ungodly influences in an overly-polite Church; if he seems shrill, it is because modern Christians are so dull.
Additionally, it is pivotal that Christians accept the life-giving sacrifice of Christ and proclaim with Paul that "I have been crucified with Christ; it is not I who live but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (v 20). Only then will one discover that the Christian life is truly about "putting on divinity," and entering into the uncreated life of the triune God.
Music: Beethoven's "Symphony No. 4 in B Flat Major, Op. 60" performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. www.musopen.com
Sat, 2 August 2008
Within the first eleven verses of Galatians, Paul essentially damns twice over the Judaizers who have spread a contrary gospel. In our excessively polite culture, Paul's unwavering attitude toward critical theological issues may seem hostile or exaggerated; in reality, his reaction is both fitting and necessary.
The most important argument in the dating of Galatians is the absence of any appeal to the Council of Jerusalem's decision (cf. Acts 15). Because of this, it is extremely likely that Paul wrote this epistle sometime between A.D. 46 and A.D. 48. A significant chronological problem remains, however, in two separate portions of the text. First, Galatians 1:18 speaks to Paul's first visit to Jerusalem three years after his conversion. Later, it states that he travels to Jerusalem after another fourteen years (cf. 2:1). Mathematically, seventeen years before the A.D. 48 would bring one to the improbable conclusion that Paul composed this letter in A.D. 31, too early by any theological or chronological assessment. However, one must realize that it is a Jewish chronological practices to consider even a part of a year as an additional year; it is also entirely possible that Paul may not have meant to add these fourteen years (cf. 2:1) to the three years he specifies earlier (cf. 1:18).
Paul's point in referencing these years is to establish that God has given him His gospel, that the Jerusalem authorities confirmed his possession of the essential gospel and that villains of God's gospel are accursed.
To provide some chronological background, one could date Paul's conversion in either A.D. 34 or 35 (cf. Acts 9), which would place many of the events within the Book of Acts in that decade. By A.D. 44, the gospel spreads into Antioch and beyond and in Chapter 13 of Acts, the Holy Spirit sets Saul (Paul) and Barnabas apart for missionary activity. Towards the end of this first missionary journey, Paul travels through southern Galatia and participates in a famine-relief effort in Antioch. He then travels to Jerusalem after fourteen years, which again, may refer to a date fourteen years after his conversion (cf. Gal 2:1). It is during this trip that Paul notices a rise of intense anti-Gentile attitudes among the Christians in Jerusalem and his confrontation with the Judaizers becomes inevitable.
Music: Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain" performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. www.musopen.com
Sat, 26 July 2008
History has shown that Christians do best when they approach the Bible comprehensively. Many have profited in Bible study by availing themselves of ample background information, prayerfully reading through the text, considering the opinions of worthy commentators and carefully pondering those elements of the story not expressly stated in Scripture.
A good backdrop for a study of the Book of Galatians is that the Jewish people historically classified men into two races: Jews and Gentiles. In the Apostolic age, however, Christians began to believe that humanity had three races: Jews, Gentiles, and Christians born anew in Jesus Christ.
For centuries, theologians assumed Paul wrote this epistle to the ethnic Gauls in northern Galatia. In the 20th Century, many began to consider an earlier early dating of the epistle and put forth a strong argument that Paul wrote instead to the Jews and Gentiles in southern Galatia. This latter position seems more credible for many convincing reasons, such as the fact that there is no reference to the Council of Jerusalem in the book and that the Galatian names listed in the epistle are from the south. Commentator F. F. Bruce recently stated that Galatians was the earliest of Paul's letters, composed just before the Council of Jerusalem.
The issue of whether living a fully Christianity life required circumcision had great significance for the early Church, especially considering the lack of anesthesia and the rabbinical practice to use a stone knife for the procedure. History leaves few details about the Judaizers specific to Galatia, but it is likely that they traveled from church to church to spread their positions and claimed a commission from the pious and powerful James, Proto-Bishop of Jerusalem.
From the onset, Paul passionately affirms that his message is from God, not from man (cf. Gal 1:1). He then juxtaposes the grace and peace of Christ's gospel with the troubling perversions that come from the Judaizers. He writes, "even if ... an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed" (Gal 1:8). Not treating the issue as a mere discussion of doctrinal theory, he passionately points out all that is essential to know Jesus Christ and live in His resurrection.
After reflecting on Galatians, a number of questions emerge: What place should Jewish teachings and the Old Testament have in the Church? Who or what tries to pervert the gospel in this age? What is essential to live the Gospel? How do we best live out that which is essential?
Music: Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4 in A Major performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra
Fri, 18 July 2008
To celebrate the Year of St. Paul, we begin now a study of the Epistle to the Galatians, a work which is authentically Pauline. The most argumentative and passionate of all his letters, it speaks to an extremely contentious issue in the early church: whether a Gentile male had to be circumcised to be considered fully Christian. Theologians aptly recognize this epistle as "spiritual dynamite," and the ways Luther and others interpreted this book ignited the Protestant Reformation.
Galatians is well-renowned as a book that celebrates Christian liberty. Paul posits that if Jesus Christ is solely sufficient for our salvation, then a Christian's life must remain unadulterated by an outdated legalism and non-Christian philosophies.
To provide a bit of historical background, after persecuting the Way and undergoing a dramatic conversion, Saul (only later called Paul) began his ministry outside Damascus. A few years later he presented himself to the Church in in Jerusalem, who quickly sent him to Tarsus because of his infamous reputation. While Paul was in Tarsus, a mass influx of Gentile Christians entered the primarily Jewish Church in Antioch. The problems that arose when these Gentiles intermixed with Jewish Christians presented a dire problem, especially considering that the latter group had safeguarded their pedigree for generations. Barnabas traveled to Antioch to survey the situation for the Church of Jerusalem. Overjoyed at the conversion of so many Gentiles, he soon realized that these new Christians need an experienced teacher and called Saul from Tarsus to take the office.
One day, while the leaders of the Church of Antioch were at prayer, the Holy Spirit said to them, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them" (Acts 13:2). Heeding this command, the Church sent them to Cyprus and then to Asia Minor where they ministered to southern Galatia.
Upon returning to Antioch, Paul found troublesome Judaizers coercing Gentile Christians to undergo circumcision. When Peter arrived in Jerusalem, Paul contested the practice of the Apostle of eating only with Judaizers or by himself, whereas he used to eat freely with Gentiles. After Paul publicly rebuked Peter about this, the matter was decided at the Council of Jerusalem in A.D. 50 (cf. Acts 15). Although many scholars debate over the dating of Paul's letter, the fact he does not mention the council's decision in Galatians clearly places its composition prior to A.D. 50.
Studying this epistle reveals that Paul is far more than just a cantankerous character. Rather, he emerges as a staunch defender of all that is essential to the Gospel, one who is more than willing to stand up a powerful school of legalists to uphold the truth.
Amidst all the theological arguments in this book, Paul takes great care to describe a living spirituality in which Christians experience the full life of Christ: "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me" (Gal 2:20).
Music: Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80 by Johannes Brahms, performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. www.musopen.com
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Sat, 12 July 2008
Patrick Brennan was born and raised in suburban Rochester, NY by his faithful Catholic parents. The oldest male in a homeschooling family of five children, Patrick often volunteered as an altar server and lector at his parish. As he matured, however, his engineering mind found it increasingly difficult to believe in something he could not understand. Unsatisfied with the lack of fellowship at his parish, he was never challenged to foster a spirituality which embodied more than the abstract sentiment that "God loves you."
Everything changed in Patrick's life when his father lost his job. In one year, his family moved four times while his father looked for work, eventually settling in Wisconsin; the more his family moved the more Patrick's faith wavered. As the financial situation grew grim, he began to earnestly pray for their well-being. After months of frequent prayer, his father received a rare call-back for a job interview. In the days leading up to the interview, Patrick doubled his prayers and trusted that God would finally come to the aid of his family. The sad news that his father did not get the job crushed Patrick's struggling faith. Within a few months, he did not consider himself a Catholic but a Deist who suspected religion was nothing more than a show. At this point, the 17 year-old stopped praying altogether and got a job to help support his family; if God would not attend to their needs, he would have to be the one to carry the family on his shoulders.
In time, Patrick began to apply to colleges. Always computer-savvy, he decided to attend the Rochester Institute of Technology to become a Software Engineer. As he was departing for college, his mother handed him a Bible. He immediately handed it back to her and said, "I don't need this."
Soon after arriving in Rochester, an old friend invited Patrick to St. Titus Fellowship at the St. Irenaeus Center. Although only a small group at the time, the fellowship at St. Titus opened his eyes anew to the Catholic faith. As he began to regularly attend this Friday night fellowship, he more and more saw that faith was not simply "a glimmer of light that merely touches our lives, no, it is a torch that each of us needs to carry -- it's a way of life."
When he returned to Wisconsin over Christmas break, he began to read the Bible he once told his mother he did not need. As the next few academic terms passed, Patrick witnessed great growth at St. Titus Fellowship. While the group increased in numbers and its fellowship deepened, his faith grew strong like iron strengthened by iron. He now realized that his main purpose in life was to strive for Heaven.
Patrick's family still has its struggles, but he is thankful that God's grace has brought them through their darkest hours. He now realizes that were it not for the brothers in Christ he met at St. Irenaeus, he would not be Catholic today.
Dick Graham was also born in Rochester, NY to a faithful Irish Catholic family. After serving in the Navy and graduating college, he married and started a family. Though he never doubted his Catholicism, the responsibilities fatherhood and a career were so pressing that Dick never inquired why the Church taught what it did.
After his retirement, he began to study his Catholic faith and eventually ventured into anti-Catholic Fundamentalist chat rooms on the Internet. After a few years of serious study and frequent discussion with Protestants on the Internet, Dick began to win theological debates. It was at that time that Dick founded CARS, the Catholic Apologists of Rochester Society. The aim of CARS is to enable Catholics to grow in their knowledge of the faith, particularly by studying Scripture and the Catechism.
Music: "Foggy Tam Set" from album "Wild Wood" by Shira Kammen. www.magnatune.com
Sat, 5 July 2008
Many have some familiarity with the apparitions at Fatima. In this talk from the Men's Breakfast of January 2008, Gene Michael surveys Our Lady's apparitions to the three Portuguese children from an intriguing vantage point: Mary's message to men. Devoted husband and father of two, this former Battalion Chief within Rochester's Fire Department currently leads Credo, a Pro-Life apostolate, and directs the esteemed website RochesterCatholic.Com.
The story of Fatima begins in 1915 when an eight-year-old Lucia (Lucy) Santos observed a bright light an angel known as the "Angel of Peace". Three times in 1916, the Angel of Peace appeared to Lucy and her two cousins, seven-year old Jacinta and eight-year-old Francisco Marto. After asking them to pray for the reparation of sins and the conversion of sinners, this angel taught them to revere the Blessed Sacrament through prostration and prayer, and even brought the Eucharist to the children.
In May of 1917, the three children witnessed a woman "more beautiful than the sun" hovering above an oak tree. She held a Rosary in her hand and instructed the children to return to the spot five more times, on the 13th of each month, ending in October of that year. During this year, Mary instructed the children to pray five decades of the Rosary daily to bring peace in the world. On one notable occasion, Mary revealed that Lucy and Jacinta would spend eternity in Heaven, but that Francisco "would have to pray many Rosaries" to achieve this reward. Far from advocating the notion that one can earn salvation, Mary's words spoke to the difficulty of traveling the road that leads to Heaven (even for an eight-year-old), and to the necessity of frequent communion with God in prayer. Our Lady continuously asked the children to make reparation for sinners by penance and warned them that they would suffer greatly.
In June, Mary warned Jacinta and Fancisco that they would be taken to Heaven very soon but that Lucy would remain on earth to venerate her Immaculate Heart; she assured the children that all who embraced her Immaculate Heart - which is entirely and perfectly united to the Jesus - would be given salvation. The "Secret" of Fatima was the focus of July's apparition. The secret is usually referred to in three separate parts: (1) World War I will end; (2) another war will begin if men do not repent from sin; and (3) a widely debated, long-confidential secret regarding great turmoil within the Church. Mary instructed the children in making First Saturday devotions and to consecrate Russia to her Immaculate Heart, warning that proper execution of these two tenets would stifle Russia's errors and prevent another war. The other critical portion of the children's experience with Mary on July 13, 1917 was a vision of Hell that left them with a great fear of eternal damnation.
In August, anticlerical governmental authorities incarcerated the children and forced them to miss their rendezvous with Our Lady. Although their lives were violently threatened by these men, the children would not recant. Several days later, Mary appeared to the children, encouraging them to sacrifice for sinners through penance and mortification. The children heeded this message by each fixing a coarse rope around their torso, 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Our Lady's September vision contained a foreshadowing of the great miracle to take place that October 13th and a prudent instruction to remove their penitential ropes while they slept.
70,000 Portuguese citizens, journalists and photographers traveled to the place of Mary's apparitions to witness this miracle. Heavy rains had turned the countryside into a quagmire and awaited a great miracle. Soon, the crowd witnessed the "Miracle of the Sun", where sun seemed to dance and to change color. During this miracle, Mary spoke to the children, warning men not to continue to offend God, already greatly perturbed by their actions. As Our Lady departed for Heaven, the sun plunged toward earth on a path to annihilate the crowd. The people panicked and began to confess their sins. At the last moment, the sun ceased and retreated to its normal position; the crowd then found themselves and the countryside completely dry. Those journalists in attendance covered this story in dozens of newspapers, including the New York Times.
As she was dying of influenza, Jacinta spoke to Lucy, saying, "So many people falling into Hell ... tell everybody that God gives graces through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Priests must be pure, very pure. They should not busy themselves with anything other than the salvation of souls. The disobedience of priests to their superiors and the Holy Father greatly displeases our Lord."
Some have expressed that the message of Fatima creates undue focus on Mary, one that can lead a Christian away from Jesus. But St. Louis de Montfort's words remain true: "The more a soul is consecrated to Mary, the more it will be consecrated to Jesus Christ."
Fatima is extremely relevant to the modern Christian, especially the Christian man. The errors of Russia have indeed spread throughout the world and the moral, causing Christians to question their moral and spiritual identity. Rather than retreat in the face of troubles in contemporary Church and society, God has called modern men to live lives of sacrifice for the good of their families and the world. Armed with an interior devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, lives lived in active service for evangelization and the pro-life movement will please God and help save many souls.
Sat, 28 June 2008
Deuteronomy 21:18-21 describes a stubborn and rebellious son who, despite chastisements, will not obey his father and mother. The Law allows the parents of such a child to present him to the elders at their town's gate and "say to the elders, 'this son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.' Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid." Although this mitzvaoth may seem barbaric at first glance, it protects the wayward young man from his parents' anger and demands the elders' consensus before any judgment. After critical analysis, sees that only a law of divine origin could so brilliantly enshrine a principle while keeping a conviction virtually impossible. In 3,000 past years, no record exists of anyone dying in this manner.
Mosaic Law permits using the death penalty as a punishment for crimes against a human person or for apostasy, never for crimes against property. Rabbinical literature further regulates the use of capital punishment only when it follows due process (the trial of Christ is the notable exception).
Moses then proposes the covenant to the new Generation of Israelites: either serve the Lord your God or not (cf. 29:14). To visualize this fundamental choice for the people, he juxtaposes Gerizim, the mountain of blessing, with Ebal, the mountain of curse. Before giving them the opportunity to seal themselves to the Lord, Moses recounts the incredible safety with which God has blessed them during their 40-year sojourn. He then warns that those who agree to follow God's covenant but persist in their own sinful ways forsake the covenant and will bring a terrible curse upon themselves (cf. 21-28).
Because God knows His people are apt to forget the Law, He instructs his priests to "Assemble the people – men, women and children, and the aliens living in your towns –so they can listen and learn to fear the Lord your God and follow carefully all the words of this Law" (cf. 31:9-13). This will also teach their children, who have not yet heard the Law, to fear the Lord their God as long as they live. God's incredible sovereignty instills fear and His people rightly tremble before His majesty.
The Hebrew notion of holiness always contains elements of separation: cleaving to one's God will require a separation from the world.
God will give life to His people if they love Him, obey the Him and persist in His ways. Following the Lord is always a matter of one's heart: to close one's heart to Him is to cease loving or obeying Him.
Because Israel is a stiff-necked and rebellious people, Moses makes certain concessions to them. Jesus significantly raises the standards for the people of God, eliminating these concessions for His followers. Those who follow Christ are blessed with a greater blessing than that which the Law provided; not following Christ brings a larger curse than that which befell those who forsook the Law. The Messiah's teachings are for the spiritually-minded, not the fleshly-minded; adhering to them requires the complete gift of heart, soul and might.
Music: Beethoven's "Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15" performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. www.musopen.com
Sat, 21 June 2008
Deuteronomy chapters 12-26 contain the exposition of God's law. At the onset, He demands that His people purge their land of all false religion (Deut. 12). The Lord of all will not tolerate being worshiped at shrines to pagan idols. Further, He abhors any relativistic attitudes where men do whatever seems right in their eyes (v 8). His people are to wholeheartedly resist the devil in all his forms, especially temptations to do those wrongs that may seem so right.
God warns Israel in 12:29 to put away curiosity about the religions of other nations and to reject all forms of syncretism (when a religion begins to adopt pagan practices). Although God makes it clear He does not want His people to add or subtract from His law, in reality, modern Christianity has tended towards various forms of syncretism.
Contrary to some modern notions, Christ did not eliminate any of the laws of Torah. While some of His laws may not directly apply to Gentiles, it is in His people's best interest to study and understand the Law of Moses.
In chapter 13, God reveals that He will test His people with false prophets and apostates to see whether or not they will love Him fully (v 1-3). He instructs the community to put to death by due process any false prophets and all apostate family members who solicit idolatry. Although this may seem extreme to some, God is not a sap, and He will not be mocked. If God has called a nation to be His sons and daughters, His people have an obligation to keep His covenant and not to tolerate apostasy among their ranks in any form.
The rest of the law continues to define the way God's people are to live. He instructs them in many areas of life, covering everything from Passover regulations, to dealing with an unruly son and neighborly conduct. Throughout the entire exposition, God reiterates that all His commandments are for the good of His people and will set them apart that they might be a witness for all the nations.
Music: Beethoven's "Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15" performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. www.musopen.com
Sat, 14 June 2008
Because Jesus' teachings build upon the Law which God revealed through Moses, Christians must take care not to overlook the Old Testament. The fourth chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy contains God's demand that we heed all of His statutes and ordinances and that we "do them that [we] may live" (v 1). One brings judgment upon himself if he decides to add or subtract any of the Lord's commands.
Acknowledging the weakness of man's memory, Moses repeatedly instructs the people to bind God's law to their hearts and to diligently put it into action. Although his approach may appear on the surface to be redundant, his repetition is a deliberate attempt to cultivate God's words deep into their memory. This type of instruction helps them realize what a profound gift God has given the people:
"Did anything so great ever happen before? Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire, as you did, and live? Or did any god venture to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by testings, by signs and wonders, by war and by great terrors, all of which the Lord, your God, did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? All this you were allowed to see that you might know the Lord is God and there is no other" (4:34-35).
The fifth chapter of Deuteronomy contains the powerful giving of the Ten Commandments in the Covenant at Horeb.
Deuteronomy six is at the core of the Bible, for it contains our Great Commandment, the Shema Israel. Any pious person will spend a lifetime struggling to follow this command in its entirety; only a fool would take any portion of it lightly. God commands, "Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! And [therefore] you shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest. Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates" (6:4-9). Following the Great Commandment means that one seeks to offer every thought and action of his life in worshipful reverence to the one true God. This includes the way he handles his money. Notably, following this commandment means doing whatever possible to teach one's children and grandchildren to live it fully.
"When the Lord, your God, brings you into the land which he swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that he would give you ... take care not to forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery" (v 10,12). Like the Israelites, Americans must beware not to "follow other gods ... lest the wrath of the Lord" flare up against us (v 14-15). Our "other gods" today can come in the form of sex, money, or prestige.
The seventh chapter highlights the Israelites as a unique people, separate from all the other nations. So, too, Christians are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people he claims for His own" (1 Pt 2:9, cf Ex 19:6).
God demands these things from us for our own good. "Keep all the commandments, then, which I enjoin on you today, that you may be strong enough to enter in and take possession of the land into which you are crossing, and that you may have long life on the land which the Lord swore to your fathers he would give to them and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey" (Dt 11:9).
Only by binding God's commandments to our hearts and living them out in holy habits, disciplines that train one to habitually do the right thing, does one have any chance to defeat the devil.
God sets before us a blessing and a curse: a blessing for those who follow His commands, a curse for those who do not. The Book of Hebrews clearly shows that the New Covenant has raised the bar, for those who do not keep his commandments reap eternal punishment. The Lord knows the weakness of men's hearts and gives them the Sacrament of Baptism to circumcise this heart, the Eucharist to renew it, and innumerable other blessings. Let us firmly claim the blessings that He has given us, offering ourselves to Him entirely while we still have time to do so.
Music: Beethoven's "Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15" performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. www.musopen.com
Sat, 7 June 2008
Deuteronomy is a keystone in the arch of Biblical theology. Literally meaning a "second recitation of the law," to understand this book is to understand the standards Christ sought to raise. Jesus said "think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets, I have come to fulfill them; not one jot or tittle will pass away until all is fulfilled. Anyone who relaxes on the least of these commandments will be considered the least in the Kingdom of God," so all remains in effect unless He specifically and explicitly gives dispensation.
Before entering the text proper, we consider the many theological points that Deuteronomy establishes. First is a theology of words: God's words matter. Next, Deuteronomy contains a theology of memory: we would do well to reflect on all that God has done for His people. The story of Israel then becomes our own history: as we enter into these memories we are obligated to pass them on to each generation. The Church continues these Jewish traditions of word and memory in her liturgy. To illustrate, the priest stands on the altar as another Christ speaking to us, His disciples. Because God is beyond time, the raising of palms on Palm Sunday is both a remembrance of and a sharing in Christ’s entrance celebration at Jerusalem.
Deuteronomy establishes categories that represent something timeless in man and his condition that point us to principles, ideas and objective things in our salvation experience. One might consider this a theology of "types." In the words of Fr. Paul Quay, SJ, ‘we are all fated to relive the Old Testament,’ so we should read the script and strive to live our parts faithfully.
A theology of community, key to the divine intention, gives man meaning. All fell with Adam; all were redeemed in Christ's saving act: God calls us to be a corporate people without removing individual responsibilities.
God's sovereignty and His sovereign choice are key to understanding Deuteronomy. He is supreme, one, Lord of all, and He chooses His people for salvation and consecration. We are called to come into the presence of the living God – let us not delay. The promises of Deuteronomy also imply an even greater grace that is only fulfilled after Christ in Baptism.
God's call requires a response: holiness. The only faithful responses to God's call are to either to trust Him or to seek clarification on how to trust Him. All else is sin and borders on breaking the tenet, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test" (Deut 6:16). Israel all-too-often wanted their God to jump through hoops for them. They required constant "perks" and were ready to call everything off if they did not get their way immediately and in full. How foolish are we to still act as they did, we who have so many graces from Christ! Jesus recapitulated their 40-year sojourn in his 40-day fast in the desert. The devil's three temptations there were significant, especially when he asked Jesus to disobey Deuteronomy 6:16.
Finally, theologies of obedience and love also emerge from the text. We are called to give ourselves freely, fully and faithfully to God and to our people.
The Book of Deuteronomy begins with Moses giving the people a historical prologue for all the people about their journey from Sinai (Horeb) to the attempted mutiny of Moses at Kadesh which is essentially a rebellion against the Lord. Moses also accounts the other rebellions where tens of thousands die, and also their victories over Sihon and Og.
Music: Grieg's "Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16" performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. www.musopen.com
Sat, 31 May 2008
God gives a central decree when He says "Now, therefore, if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine. And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation" (Ex 19:5-6). The Apostle Peter expounds on this in the second chapter of his First Epistle, confirming that the entire people of God is a holy priesthood offering up spiritual sacrifices (good deeds, building virtues, witness); in addition, the people of God is to be built into both a living community and an edifice, a temple that God inhabits. Christ is our cornerstone. If we believe in Him, we will not be put to shame in our functions of the royal priesthood.
The presence of a priesthood of all believers, however, does not preclude an ordained priesthood. Because God is in our midst, we must have a specifically ordained priesthood to serve the sanctuary and offer sacrifices.
Korah, a Levite, considered the presence of an ordained priesthood to be elitism and, making allies with a number of other rebellious individuals, oversteps the boundaries of the temple to offer incense (cf. Num 16). After Moses and Aaron temporarily intercede for the whole people, God's judgment upon Korah and his band was that the "ground beneath them split open and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their families [...] they went down to the nether world [...] and fire from the Lord consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering the incense" (16:31, 33, 35). Do we ever hear of Catholics in America who act this way? If so, how might God react to their actions?
In response to the rebellion and the people's murmuring, God then sent a plague upon the whole people so terrible that even after the intercession of Moses and Aaron it killed 14,700 people. To illustrate God's favor, one staff from each tribe is selected for a demonstration. The next day, Aaron's staff, representing the house of Levi, "had sprouted and put forth not only shoots, but blossoms as well, and even bore ripe almonds!" (Num 17:23).
In Chapter 20, we see the old guard changing in the account of the deaths of Miriam and later Aaron. Just as they had at Massah, the people begin murmuring for water at Meribah (also known as Korah). In a rare lapse, Moses chooses not to listen to the Lord's commands to speak to the rock to yield its waters, but instead strikes it twice. Although water did gush forth for the people to drink, both Moses and Aaron (who complied with the decision) will not be permitted to enter into the promised land. Paul later teaches that this rock was Christ. One can learn from this lapse that the law (Moses) alone cannot bring you into the promised land, but instead Joshua (or in the Greek, Jesus) alone can bring you to your rest.
Because the Edomites will not let the people pass into Palestine, the Israelites begin a long march to their promised land. A testament that God has not completely withdrawn from his people, he grants them victory over Arad at Hormah and protects them from the saraph serpents they so deserve with the bronze serpent mounted on a pole. The people then are victorious over Sihon king of the Amorites and Og king of Bashan.
The Moabites, Edomites and the Ammonites are all kindred people to Israel, and God will not permit His chosen people to attack these others, lest they incur blood-guilt. Nevertheless, Balak the King of Moab is content to eliminate the Israelites, whom he likens to an "ox [that] devours the grass of the field" and devours all the country around his people (Num 22:4). Balak calls on a Syrian mystic, Balaam, who is not in the circle of the promised people, but has real spiritual power.
The Lord tells Balaam not to accept Balak's first payment to curse the Israelites. After Balak increases the reward, the Lord tells Balaam to "do exactly as I tell you." Seeking to press the limits of God's decree, the impatient Balaam sets off with the some of the princes of Moab, hoping to curse the Israelites if at all possible. To illustrate that you cannot bargain with God to do perverse things, the donkey he is rides on sees the angel of the Lord waiting to kill Balaam for his disobedience. Every one of the seven times Balaam seeks to curse the people, he ends up blessing them. In Peter's Epistles, the Epistle of Jude and Revelation, Balaam is seen as a false prophet from among the people who secretly brings in destructive heresies. Balaam then instructs Balak how to bring evil upon the people: get them to worship Baal of Peor. Finally, the zeal of Phinehas (25:6-14) keeps God's wrath from consuming the people.
Music: Chopin's "Nocturne No. 1 in B Flat Minor, Op. 9" performed by Vadim Chaimovich. www.musopen.com
Sat, 24 May 2008
Numbers clearly shows how terror strikes when the people of God will not maintain sustained worship of the God who is in their midst; in the absence of disciplined devotion, they simply lost hold of Him and turned to murmuring and to other gods. Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers all center on the holiness of God and what it means to be a people consecrated to Him. Christians are consecrated to God through the blood of Jesus Christ and the sacraments; to profane Christ and His covenant is to bring an even greater wrath upon yourself than that which befell the unfaithful Israelites.
Beginning in Numbers Chapter 13, twelve tribal leaders, one from each tribe, are selected by Moses himself to scout out the whole of the promised land in a 40-day reconnaissance mission. Meeting in Kadesh after the 40-days, Caleb urges Moses to attack the land, but vast majority of the other men say "we cannot attack these people; they are too strong for us," describing the giants or "nephilim" that inhabit some of the land and inciting the people to agree with them. Although God asked them to make a stand for the faith, they psyche themselves out saying "we felt like mere grasshoppers and so we must have seemed to them" (13:32ff).
At the sound of the majority's account, the people complain about what God has done for them and speak of a mutiny against Moses, moving to select another leader to take them back to Egypt. When Caleb and Joshua try to quell the rebellion they are nearly stoned to death. God then says, "How long will this people spurn me? How long will they refuse to believe in me, despite all the signs I have performed among them? I will strike them with pestilence and wipe them out. Then I will make of you [Moses] a nation greater and mightier than they."
A true leader and living martyr, Moses intercedes for the people by saying that the nations know that God is in the midst of this people. If He were to kill them all here, people would say that "The Lord was not able to bring this people into the land he swore to give them; that is why he slaughtered them in the desert" (14:15). Moses knows that God will not clean the slate of those guilty who will not give up their guilt and their sinful ways. Instead, he admits the guilt of the people and appeals to the steadfastness of God's love; by no means is this an appeal to God's "softness," but rather a testament of His unspeakable love for the people and willingness to provide the graces of repentance.
Answering Moses' intercession in the midst of His wrath, God swears by Himself and His glory that He will pardon the people but not one of those who have already spurned Him ten times will see the promised land. He then fates the people to wander for forty years for their supreme lack of devotion, "forty days you spend in scouting the land, forty years shall you suffer for your crimes: one year for each day. Thus you will realize what it means to oppose me" (14:34).
Immediately after God's sentencing, in Chapter 15, He provides hope by saying "When you have entered the land that I will give you..." and setting up regulations for proper worship and devotion. To establish the need for a holy Sabbath day, the Lord commands Moses to put a man who gathers wood on the sabbath to death (15:32-36). Mindful of how easily distracted and forgetful the people are, God then commands the Israelites to put tassels on the corners of their garments as a reminder; whenever they see the tassels they are to remember and keep all the commandments of the Lord. It is written, "Thus will you remember to keep all my commandments and be holy to your God. I, the Lord, am your God who, as God, brought you out of Egypt that I, the Lord, may be your God" (15:40).
While the Israelites may seem to be the most stupid, weak and unfaithful people on the face of the Earth, we realize that we are among their company. Miracles will do nothing for those who have no faith and are quickly forgotten, given the short attention span of human nature. Let us be ever-reminded of the need to be faithful and of God's indescribable steadfast love.
Music: Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet Overture" performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. www.musopen.com
Sat, 17 May 2008
The initial three chapters of the Book of Numbers showcase that the whole people belongs to God, the Tabernacle has a central place amidst the people, and that the Levites have a unique and extremely important duties. Throughout this time of encampment, the Levites punctiliously guard and maintain the Tabernacle, guard people against the wrath of God, and are continuously pastoring the people.
Then God commands Moses to number the all the Levites that are at least one month old. This is the first of a number of preparations God commands His people to make in order that they might survive the journey He has for them. These preparations establish norms for dealing with such issues as the unclean, suspected adulteresses and even Nazirites, those who take solemn vows of dedication to the Lord and abstain from all strong drink and fruits of the vine.
As they sojourn, the people begin to complain. Chapter 11 describes how God reacts to this obstinacy by sending the fire of the Lord to burn among them and consume the outskirts of the camp. We can see both an obvious and subtle lesson from verses 16-30. God distributes gifts to seventy elders, extending Moses' authority on those Godly men who are able to orchestrate, instruct and build the community. One man cannot build a community; the people themselves must all put their hands to the plow and make a community their own.
Although God provided for His people with a wind that "drove in quail from the sea and brought them down over the camp site," the people become greedy (11:31-34). Their ingratitude causes the Lord's wrath to flare up against the people and He strikes them with a very great plague. Throughout the 40 years in the desert the people take God's continuous miracles for granted and are punished for their actions.
Jealous of the seventy elders, the Lord reprimands Aaron and Miriam for murmuring against the Lord's anointed. Miriam herself is struck white with leprosy and banished from the camp for seven days.
Prerequisite in the formation of a community of God, the people must tremble before their Lord. Because the people will not reverence God, He expresses His justice through a form of severe mercy, cutting out that which is cancerous from among them.
Modern Christians may marvel at the responsibilities God placed on His people, but the Book of Hebrews relates that God has raised the bar even higher for the people under His new covenant. God is merciful, but when we refuse to accept God the way He is, we remove ourselves from this mercy. God is patient with us, but He requires us to prepare for the pilgrimage He has for us.
Music: Mozart's "Sonata No. 14 In C Minor" performed by Vadim Chaimovich. www.musopen.com
Sat, 10 May 2008
The modern Christian may be somewhat unfamiliar with the specifics of Israel's 40-year desert experience. Their sojourn begins in Exodus and the early sections of the Book of Numbers, ever guided by the teachings of Leviticus.
Although the Israelites gained physical freedom after crossing the Red Sea, they ceaselessly complained and rebelled throughout their journey despite witnessing many miracles. These texts clearly affirm that miracles do not create believers. Throughout the Book of Exodus, Moses is a Christ-like mediator between God and his people, who is unceasingly devoted to their welfare. The problems Moses has leading and uniting his community mirror the problems of the Catholic Church in America; we would do well to follow Moses' example and unite as many capable volunteers as possible in one mission for the glory of God.
Although God intended their journey to be a period of preparation for the people of His Kingdom, Israel, a slave mentality of dependence and passivity mark these 40 years (actually 38 years and 10 months). The people are not gracious for His gifts and repeatedly allow the trivial pleasures of slavery (leeks, onions, melons, etc.) to trump their new life of freedom and the bread from heaven; they are simply unwilling to undergo the suffering that following God brings upon them. To illustrate, this appetitive people would rather have died in Egypt with full stomachs than have received their freedom (Ex 16:3).
Though all Israel is a holy nation of priests, the tribe of the Levites are particularly chosen to offer the sacrifice of the altar. God's favor is not exclusive to any one tribe, however, for Joshua the Ephraimite succeeds Moses and later David of Judah becomes Israel's great king. Throughout the Book of Leviticus, the overarching principle is a call to be holy as God is holy. This does not apply only to the Levites, but to all of Israel.
The idolatrous worshiping of the Golden Calf directly follows the revelation at Sinai and prompts Moses' shattering of the first set of the tablets. Because of the weakness of their character, the people need strong, hero-like leaders and a visible tabernacle in order that they will not turn to idolatry.
In the first chapter of the Book of Numbers, we see a military census enrolling all capable men over the age of 20 (excluding the Levites), totaling over 600,000. The census prepares the people for the battles that God will have them fight, knowing that they can only gain victory by His hand. The military formation of Israel places the Levites in charge of the tabernacle so they might be a bridge to God but also a barrier between God's wrath and the people.
God's special plan for the Levites is a great gift that comes with great responsibility. The official mediators between God and Israel, those Levites who do not adhere to their duties (like Aaron's two sons) receive great punishment. In the Book of Malachi, God expounds on the responsibilities of priests and his great wrath ("I will strew dung in your faces...") toward those priests who are not faithful (2:1 ff). As the responsibilities of our Catholic priests are even greater, God's just anger will fall even more upon unholy priests of His new covenant.
Sat, 3 May 2008
Returning to our study in Exodus 3:4-22, the call of Moses on at Sinai showcases a veritable theology of God. The God of the Hebrews is not a mere tribal God, for He is "I Am Who Am."
Egypt is the classical Biblical metaphor for oppression and worldliness. In our modern context, we, too, need to escape from the "bondage of Egypt." Christ has broken the shackles of our slavery to sin, the world, the flesh and the devil; we can further "despoil Egypt" if we adopt its wisdom for God's mission (cf. Ex 3:22).
In Chapter 4, Moses questions his credentials to be God's deliverer for Israel. To empower him on his mission, God gives him the power to show signs: the ability to turn his staff into a serpent, to spread and heal leprosy and to turn water into blood on dry land (4:2-9). When he protests that he speaks with a stutter, God permits Aaron to be Moses' spokesman in a concession.
On his way to Egypt, Exodus 4:24-26 describes how God's anger wells up towards Moses who has been putting off circumcising of his sons. Neither Moses nor his wife Zipporah were thrilled with the idea of their sons' suffering, but the Midianite matron ends up circumcising her sons to honor God's covenant (cf. Gen 17:1-14). This passage is an object lesson in not procrastinating and not taking God's commands lightly.
Chapters 5-11 highlight Pharaoh and the plagues of Egypt. In some instances Pharaoh hardens his heart against God and in other instances God Himself hardens the Pharaoh's heart. The plagues upon Egypt are symbolic reminders that juxtapose the Egyptians with the people of God, set apart and bought for a price.
In Exodus 12, God describes the Passover to Moses. Although the Passover meal has evolved over time, Catholics would do well to understand the Biblical depth of the Eucharist, which has many profound roots in the Passover.
As the Israelites depart from Egypt and approach the Red Sea, the theme of deliverance begins in full-throttle. A testament to the hearts of the people, almost immediately after the river pulls back the people begin to doubt and complain. All the strong men of Israel would die before entering the Promised Land.
In Chapter 19, the Israelites reach Sinai where they receive the Ten Commandments. Interestingly, Modern Jews and Christians tend to group these commands in different ways, sometimes out of a desire to highlight certain of theological principles. St. Augustine's writings frame the current Catholic compilation which tends to group the 'first' and 'second' Commandments. A traditional Protestant enumeration would be a brief first commandment and a long second commandment that expounds on the decrees against worshiping graven images.
Regardless of the enumeration, we must strive never to take the Lord's name, breaking any habits we may have adopted. It is also crucial not to work or pursue our own vain pleasures on Sundays (cf. Is 56, 58). Paramount is honoring our father and mother, for although they are not without error, we must respect those who represent the authority of God to a young child. If we keep this proper order, bowing before God and His Commands, we will be greatly blessed. Our study seeks only to open doors of the text, as it would take dozens of sessions to unwrap the treasures God gives His people at the end of Exodus and the ways we can learn from them.
The goal of the Law is Jesus Christ. God gave these Ten Commandments are to prepare man to receive God and for God to embrace us. They frame our morality and keep us from making concessions. Mindful of the fact that we are not Jews living under the Old Covenant, the Law and God's regulations for Tabernacle worship are of great benefit in keeping a Christian steadfast to Christ on his journey out of Egypt into the Kingdom of God.
Mon, 28 April 2008
Despite the popularity of Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 movie The Ten Commandments, modern Christians tend not to study the Book of Exodus. Its name taken from the Hebrew for "the way out," this second book of the Bible speaks of the quintessential human desire to depart from misery and begin rejoicing. The well-known tale of Moses' birth and the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt only account for a third of the book; the other two-thirds cover the wanderings in the desert.
Thematically, Mt. Sinai (sometimes referred to as Mt. Horeb) represents two things in Exodus: covenant and its specification, the Law. Prayerful study into the depths of these themes reveals that we will be bound to slavery unless we follow God's commands, internalizing them and making them our own. In addition, one sees that modern Christians can unite themselves spiritually with the Israelites in a pilgrimage out of secular bondage into a new life in God.
God makes a covenant with his people in a wonder that exceeds Fatima in its magnitude and in the number of witnesses. If the Ten Commandments typify the covenant and the law, the crossing of the Red Sea symbolizes God's moment of deliverance from the hands of their oppressors. As Paul later explains, this latter event is a prefigurement of baptism via the cloud [baptism in the Holy Spirit] and the sea [water baptism] (cf. 1 Cor 10:2).
The final sixteen chapters focus on tabernacle worship and contain many Catholic themes. This portable tent is the dwelling place of the Lord, situated in the midst of the people, a veritable Emmanuel principle. So specific are the provisions of worship that the people begin to acquire a great reverence for God. Fundamental to the proper worship of God, reverence is intensely personal; we, too, must "Take off [our] shoes" and present ourselves to the Lord in spirit and in truth (Ex 3:5).
A brief study of Egyptian history will place Exodus in its proper context. Not long before the birth of Moses, the native Egyptians finally expelled their long-hated foreign rulers, the Semitic Hyksos that are sometimes called "the Shepherd Kings." Xenophobia quickly set in and the Pharaohs began to attack and enslave foreign populations within Egypt. Forgetting the merits that the Semite Joseph had once gained in their courts, they rounded up all the remaining Semites (of Hebrews, the forerunners of the nation of Israel) and enslaved them, even exerting population control by slaughtering male newborns.
In order that Moses might not join the ranks of the slain newborns, his parents send him down the Nile in a papyrus-and-bitumen basket. Providentially, the Pharaoh's daughter finds him floating, embraces him into her family and gives him access to all the wisdom of Egypt. The up-and-coming prince's love for his people lead him to strike and kill a man in their defense. Immediately fleeing to the land of Midian, he spends 40 years in the wilderness growing in discipline by years of searching for God.
While tending his flock one day, Moses catches sight of a bush burning on Mt. Horeb that is not consumed by the flames. This event is a powerful Christophany wherein God manifests himself in another form. God speaks "So indeed the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have truly noted that the Egyptians are oppressing them. Come now! I will send you to Pharaoh to lead my people, the Israelites out of Egypt" (Ex 3:9-10). Moses slowly accepts this commission and becomes the leader of Israel.
Mon, 21 April 2008
Paul's argument in Romans uses forensic logic and a precise application of key verses from Genesis to stress that Abraham did not earn the righteousness that was credited to him by faith (cf. Gen 15:6). Our faith must be an obedient faith and our obedience must be in faith; believing for decades and learning from his prior failures, Abraham's faith grew to a point that he was willing to sacrifice his uniquely beloved son Isaac to follow God's commands. It is impossible to earn salvation, but an active faith that produces good works is necessary for one's salvation (cf. Jas 2:20).
Abraham's spiritual pilgrimage took him from Ur in modern-day Iraq to Haran in modern-day Iran and then to the land of Canaan, the land of promise. Sojourning in tents for decades, this city-boy from Ur trusts in God more and more at every step of the journey. Abraham's witness should convict all believers to allow the Word of God, especially His promises, to dwell richly in them, leading them on a pilgrimage wherein they begin to lose their love of the world and become increasingly attached to the things of heaven (cf. Heb 11).
Both the offering of Isaac and Melchizedek (my righteous king) the Prince of Salem (Prince of Peace) prefigure Christ. In reference to the former, Isaac must have been a teenager when he journeyed with his father to Moriah, and Rabbinical literature confirms that he willingly stretched out his arms to be bound on the altar. Just as Jews imagine their prayers being offered to God like Isaac's willingly spread and bound hands; Christians should ever be mindful that our prayers are offered to God through Christ's outstretched arms bound to the cross. Turning to the Book of Hebrews, the words of Genesis exactly foreshadow the crucifixion (11:17-19).
Jacob's dream during his flight after stealing the birthright from his slothful brother Esau shows us that God is always with us wherever we travel (Gen 28:10). Jacob the con-man is humbled by an even craftier man, Laban who exploits him for 21 years. When Laban's daughters take the household gods upon their departure from Laban, it is a claim on the inheritance, not an effort to continue idolatry. Over time, Jacob realizes he must make peace with his brother Esau. In his weakness after losing the wrestling match to the Angel of God, Jacob finally surrenders everything to God and is renamed Israel. We then hear of Joseph, his beloved-son, who becomes a Christ-figure when he is hated because he tells the truth and will save his family by doing so.
Genesis is ultimately about the relationship about God and man, and every Christian must recapitulate the spiritual dimension of each of these stories.
Much has been said about the Fathers of the faith, but the Mothers of the faith are also strong characters throughout Genesis. When Peter praises the "reverent and chaste" behavior of women he uses Sarah as an example (1Pt 3:6), but Abraham's wife was no doormat! New Testament exhortations for women to be submissive must not be construed as a command for women to make themselves in victims, rather they are to be pillars of strength and obedience by virtue of their faith in God.
Music: "Airs des Silvains" from the album "Rameau and Leclair" by Philharmonia Baroque. www.magnatune.com
Sat, 12 April 2008
The first masterful 11 Chapters of Genesis set the stage for a drama between God and man peerless among all other written literature. One must not overlook the importance of God's covenant in Genesis. A covenant has two parts: it establishes a deeply personal relationship and defines the specific points on which that relationship depends. The personal name of God, Yahweh, appears throughout Torah whenever it is in reference to a divine covenant.
Through God's great mercy, the initial fault of Adam brings the great promises of the proto-evangelium: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head while you strike at His heel" (cf. Gen 3:15).
These early narratives of Genesis are often foolishly dismissed as mere children's stories, but they contain deep eternal truths. The narrative of Cain and Abel shows the depth of sin's destruction and a foreshadowing of Christ: the sacrificer who himself is sacrificed (cf. Gen 4). God's abhorrence of sin, righteousness and redemption through water come to the forefront in the story of Noah (cf. Gen 6-7). The Tower of Babel shows men's aspirations to the heights of life on their own terms; God confuses their purpose to bring about His purpose (cf. Gen 11).
Genesis 10:18-28 reveals an often overlooked and historically misinterpreted passage that is developed throughout the rest of the book of Genesis. It contains the prophesy of how Canaan is to willfully sin as did his father Ham and how these sins will bind Canaan's posterity, the Amorites, in slavery. Noah juxtaposes his cursing of Canaan with his promise to Shem when he says "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem!" (Gen 10:25). The descendants of Shem will become the Semitic peoples, the forerunners of monotheistic religion. Noah also prophesies that the Japhethites (Europeans and Asians) will one day come to dwell in the tents of the Semites and learn their religion.
Starting in Genesis 12 we see that God, the divine father of every human family, chooses a particular family to be the origin of His chosen people. Despite the fact that his earthly father was an idolater, his Heavenly Father calls Abram into covenant and to be the father of our faith. Paul expounds the fatherhood of our faith when he writes, "Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him for righteousness" (Rom 4:3). His constant belief in God opens him up to receive God's gift, His transformation into a creature of righteousness, inasmuch as he places complete trust in God.
Music: “Airs des Silvains? from the album “Rameau and Leclair? by Philharmonia Baroque. www.magnatune.com
Sat, 5 April 2008
What denotes a proper interpretation of the first eleven chapters of the Book of Genesis? When one begins to discusses Biblical interpretation, the terms "fundamentalist" and "literalist" quickly emerge. We derive the first of these two terms from a group of late-19th Century Christians who adhered to a set of fundamental beliefs. Earnest Christians who adhere to the Church's core teachings may be improperly perceived as radical Fundamentalists, groups of self-appointed moral policemen who cannot stop imposing their will on others. The second of these two terms, "literalist," has also taken on a negative connotation in popular parlance. Many Christians who are faithful to God's word are considered to interpret the Bible so literally that they throw logical reasoning into the wind and believe outlandish premises like that King Herod actually was a furry little fox (cf. Lk 13:32). Rather than say Catholics are literalists and associate them with a pejorative term, it would be better to affirm Catholics as believers who seek to believe and obey all that the Bible teaches according to God's intention in giving us His text, believing it to be without error and to contain all the things vital to our salvation and growth in holiness.
The question of how to interpret the Bible does not arise from problems that individuals have with the Biblical text itself but from a disagreement over Biblical issues. Three such issues emerge: (1) Do we believe in Biblical miracles? (2) Do we believe in Biblical prophesy? (3) How are we to understand "myth," particularly the "creation myth"? How a group of Christians answers these three questions directly guides the way they interpret the Bible. For instance, the historic Churches' interpretation of Scripture leads them to a belief in seven Sacraments instead of two.
Far from merely psychoanalyzing the human authors of Scripture, one does well to consider the divine intent of their words within the normal canons of language. One must never subtract the mystery of God from His Word, lest he render it flat and meaningless while multiplying his sorrows. Let us be confident in the words of the prophet Isaiah, "this is the man to whom I will look, he that is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word" (66:2).
In this light, we turn to the two creation stories in Genesis. Some good points to establish from the start are that the meaning of the Hebrew word "day" neither precludes nor requires a 24-hour period and, interestingly, the text refers to "morning" and "evening" before the creation of the sun. From the start of Genesis, it emerges that God creates from nothing and then orders his creation. It is clear that God makes man from dust and forms him in His own image and likeness. Despite being moral, attracted to beauty and goodness and finding his meaning hidden in God, when given the opportunity to chose between life and death, he disbelieves and disobeys. As Paul establishes, all men have sinned not only because of Adam's sin but also due to their own delight in disbelief and disobedience.
Pope Pius X's Against Modernism rebukes those who follow the lie that the Scriptures contain error or are not important to follow. St. Irenaeus says that heretics approach the Scriptures like one who destroy a mosaic of a man by rearranging its tiles into an image of a fox. When Paul says "the letter kills and the spirit gives life," he only seeks to say that the letter apart from the spirit brings condemnation and establishes that the letter along with the spirit gives life. The Holy Spirit guides us as we interpret the Scriptures, starting with the most central passages and then moving onto the more obscure points, always abiding by the living tradition and Magisterium of the Church. Unless are constrained by a right interpretation of the Scriptures, which are a "constitution of the people of God," we are prone to numerous divisions.
Let us not be so presumptuous as to deny our identity as created beings or the fact that we have an infinitely powerful creator. By humbly approaching the Scriptures buttressed by sacred Tradition and the Magisterium will we be able to see that the first eleven chapters of Genesis contain the framework of the entire Bible: the creation and ordering of the universe; the sin of Adam which we recapitulate; the prophesies after the fall that reestablish an implicit covenant and establish hope for a second Adam and a second Eve; the wayward nature of the world; Noah's salvation through water as a prefigurement of Baptism; and that the prohibition of eating meat with blood in it is a key to the sanctity of life. We will be richly blessed by respecting and savoring the Biblical texts, asking the questions that God presses to our hearts and thanking Him for all the blessings He bestows upon us.
As mentioned last week, these recordings are from a while ago (2005), so apologies if the quality is not as good as usual.
Music: Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. www.musopen.com
Sat, 29 March 2008
Way back in September of 2006 we posted a preview of "The Foundations of Biblical Thinking." This study of Torah has remained one of our most downloaded episodes, so by popular demand here it is in its entirety! So crucial to the Christian life, we will enter into Pentateuch's time-tested wisdom and find that the more we understand these first five books of the Bible, the more rest will come to our souls (cf. Jer 6:16).
Let us remember what Christ said "For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments [referring to Torah] and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven" (Mat 5:19-20). In addition, one cannot grasp Christ without a firm knowledge of the Old Testament.
Only by feeding upon Christ in Word as well as Sacrament will He transform us into Himself. These sacred texts are inspired by the Holy Spirit, without error and are ordained by God to be the means of solid instruction for His people. As the Old Testament is filled with riddles, however, one must dig deeply and prayerfully enter into them in order to it in order to adequately enrich ourselves – we bring folly upon ourselves when we ignore it.
The Old Testament offers four key gifts to Christians: (1) it points to Christ as the messiah and the savior of Israel; (2) it deepens our understanding of Christ by enabling us to read the New Testament in the light of the Old, and vice versa; (3) it provides a type of spiritual road-map for life, describing a saga which we are all fated to relive; and (4) it reformats our thinking to focus more on God, opening the doors into the infinite recesses of the Divine Heart and His sublime mysteries. What bountiful treasures await those who proceed in faith!
Far more than a myth, the Book of Genesis begins with the verse, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (1:1). In the distant beginnings of the human race, this verse establishes the most important things. Genesis is a book of origins and generations that follows the Hebrew logic that we understand the things of God by understanding His beginning.
If we humbly follow the Word to God on His terms instead of our own, He will increase our faith and will preserve us from doubting the veracity of these books. We simply must take these texts more seriously than we would children's stories; but the fact that some consider Genesis to be a series of mere fables highlights our need to interpret Torah correctly. By an earnest study of Torah throughout these fourteen episodes, we will gain a firm foundation to study the entire Bible, equipping ourselves to spread God's Word to the nations.
Remember that this series and all our other material is available on our webstore, siministries.org/Store. Thanks to Adam the Catholic for leaving us a review on iTunes - if you enjoy these podcasts please take a couple of minutes to leave us a short review there, as that will help us reach new listeners. Finally, this episode marks our first foray into music, and your feedback on that (and anything else, for that matter!) would be greatly appreciated: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Music: The Symphony No. 9, opus 95, "From the New World" by Antonin Dvorak from musopen.com.
Sat, 22 March 2008
While every Gospel contains a Resurrection account, Luke makes certain key insights. "At dawn [having departed while it was still dark], women travel to Jesus' tomb bringing the spices they had prepared. They found the stone rolled back" (24:1-2). Perplexed at the absence of Jesus' body, their confusion changed to fear when they saw two men in "dazzling garments" come to them. In an age before bleach, these women were convinced these were angels and "bowed to the ground" (v. 5). Upon hearing the angels' narrative, "they remembered His words" and were assured of His resurrection (v. 8).
These women, Mary of Magdala, Joanna and Mary the mother of James then travel to the eleven, but are not able to convince any of them except Peter. Only in Luke do we then get an account of Jesus on the road to Emmaus happening on the same day of His resurrection. After revealing to them "every passage of Scripture which referred to Him" on this road, He "pronounced the blessing, then broke the bread and began to distribute it to them" (v. 27, 30). At this, their eyes were opened, He vanished from their sight and they said "Were not our hearts burning inside us as he talked to us?" Let us not overlook the fact that their hearts were ablaze at the Hebrew Scriptures despite His disappearance and celebration of the Eucharist.
Starting in verse 36, Jesus reappears to the eleven, standing in their midst. Although Luke does not mention Thomas' absence, the other Gospel writers confirm that he was not present for this episode. Too awestruck to honor his request to "handle me," wishing to prove to them His resurrection, they "disbelieved for joy" (v. 39, 41). Again speaking of the Hebrew Scriptures, He then opened their minds, confirmed His resurrection and said, "And that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem, You are witnesses of these things and behold I send the promise of my father upon you, but stay in [Jerusalem] until you are clothed with power from on high" (v. 46-47). Strikingly similar to the opening of the Book of Acts, these verses reflect a sort of summation of all the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus and end with the Ascension in verse 51. Luke's extremely concise writing here highlights the importance of knowing Him in the Hebrew Scriptures and compels His believers to spread Him to all nations in order to save men from their sins.
Sat, 15 March 2008
Although Chapter 22 depicts Jesus' final Passover beginning with Him blessing a cup, let us not be confused that this is the Institution of the Eucharist; he reveals Himself to us in bread and wine at the climax of the meal. Instead of following the order of the Passover meal to say "this is the Passover," upon the revelation of the hidden piece of unleavened bread, when Christ brings forth this bread, He says "This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." It is after the meal that He says, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood."
Luke then provides a recapitulation of the earlier conversation while at table. Thus, his reference to Judas perfectly is logical, for the other synoptics clearly show the betrayer leaving their company before the Eucharist (v. 20 ff).
As we mentioned last week, Luke provides a wonderful account of Jesus' words to Peter during the meal, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you...but I prayed for your faith may not fail..." (vv. 31-32). This is akin to other Biblical descriptions of Satan the accuser.
Bewildered after Christ's arrest, the man who was first to draw his sword in defense of Christ is the first to commit apostasy. Christ foreknows His sin and still trusts in His leadership, for He says at the meal "when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren" (v. 32).
According to His custom, He travels to the Mount of Olives to pray after the meal under the full Passover moon. In agony, Portraying His supreme obedience to God, He prays, "Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done" (v. 42).
Perhaps dressed in civilian clothes to deter a riot, "there came a crowd, and the man called Judas...was leading them." One of Luke's key details is the retort "Judas, would you betray the Son of man with a kiss?" (v. 49). After this, Luke gives the brief account of Peter's sword-wielding in Gethsemane, the apostle's betrayal, the fateful glance upon the face of Jesus and the start of Peter's repentance.
While incarcerated, Jesus is maltreated and mocked. At the end of Chapter 22, the Jews have united in a desire to kill Him and decided to present Him to Pilate.
Upon hearing that Jesus is a Galilean, Pilate takes Him to Herod Antipas, who is in Jerusalem for the Passover. Not deeming Him worthy of death, the worldly, shrewd Herod and his men treat Him with contempt before sending Him back to Pilate dressed in a purple robe. Pilate is hesitant to kill Jesus (let us remember his wife's warning, accounted in the other Gospels), wanting instead to "chastise him and release him." At the incessant crowd's demands, Pilate agrees to crucify Him in order to deter an insurrection and maintain his Governorship.
In 23:26, Luke's account then depicts the Way of the Cross. Simon of Cyrene (North Africa) assists Jesus and He speaks to the Daughters of Jerusalem to beware an hour when even greater disorder will come: "do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children...For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?" (v. 28, 31).
Mocking Him all the way to the cross, "And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and on the left" (v. 23). While the rulers scoff at Him, Jesus says to the good thief at His right, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (v. 43). Paradise, a term that literally means a garden or a blessed state speaks to this man's eternal resting place, even though he may have needed a time of purification.
Even in Luke's truncated transcription of these events, he provides key details that exemplify Christ's deity during His last earthly moments. Only Luke relates that the "curtain of the temple was torn in two."
"'Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit!' And having said this He breathed His last" (v. 46).
The multitudes, upon seeing His crucifixion, returned home beating their breasts. Verse 50 shows a fulfillment of the prophesy of Isaiah 53, as Joseph of Arimathea lays Christ's body in a rich man's tomb. Before the Sabbath rest, the women hurried to prepare his body and prepared to return to the tomb on the first day of the week.
Sat, 8 March 2008
Luke's depiction of the Olivet Discourse is a wonderful, powerful message. Verse 5 begins with the warning, "the day will come when not one stone [of the Temple] will be left on another, but it will all be torn down" and "take care not to be misled. Many will come in my name saying, 'I am he' [...] do not follow them." He assures us, "the end will not be at once," meaning to state the various stages in the eschatological events to come.
All who are in the world during the times of cataclysms must be radically dependent on the Father to survive for any length of time, and many will win the crown of martyrdom: "some of you will be put to death [...] yet not a hair of your head will be harmed. By patient endurance you will save your lives" (v. 12-19). Jesus warns the crowds to leave Jerusalem when soldiers surround it, good advice not only because David's City will later be sacked by Gentiles in 70 A.D., but because it will experience a final destruction. He then speaks of the foolishness that is fearful speculation as to the timing of such events. Rather, He confirms that a living in radical obedience to the Gospel is the only way to heed these words spoken on the Mount of Olives.
The Parable of the Fig Tree illustrates the nearness of God's Kingdom and establishes that succumbing to "the cares of this life" is equally destructive to drunkenness or indulgence.
On Wednesday before His crucifixion, the high priests and scribes plot Jesus' death with Judas.
The following day, Thursday, Jesus and His Twelve celebrate the Passover. Jesus celebrates the first Eucharist with His disciples, effectively saying that He is the passover sacrifice who will die for them. Immediately after this, He takes the Eucharistic cup and says "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you". Though some believe Luke places Judas at the meal during the Eucharist, the Gospel of John explicitly contradicts this. Luke instead is trying to summarize Judas' role in the Passover meal.
Let us not overlook what Jesus says to Peter: "Simon, Simon! Remember that Satan has asked for you, to sift you all like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may never fail. You in turn [even though you will betray me] must strengthen your brothers" (v. 31-33).
Verses 35-38 may initially seem difficult to interpret, but a closer look reveals that instead of an assent to violence or statement of God's abandonment, but He is simply stating that this is a night where everything will be turned upside down and therefore all must be ready.
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Sat, 1 March 2008
Starting in Luke 19:28, we join Jesus in his final pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover. From the time of Christ until the destruction of the Temple, the Passover reaches its highest point of prominence in the Jewish liturgical calendar. Swelling three-times its size, the crooked, oriental streets of Jerusalem are crowded with pilgrims and lambs to be slaughtered.
Juxtaposing the violent end that will befall Him, He enters the city in a peaceable manner – by riding a colt (also referred to as an ass in some translations). A combination of the large crowds and the inspiring, Messianic-laden liturgies that take place in the Temple make for a potential powder-keg situation. Upon seeing the renowned miracle-worker riding on the cold, the crowd erupts with shouts of "Blessed is He who comes as king in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" Though His disciples try to bring order to the palm-bearing crowd, Jesus affirms that such a greeting is in accord with the Father's will, for He says "If they were to keep silence, I tell you the very stones would cry out." A sort of prefigurement of His Second Coming, one does well not to overlook the multiple layers of His entrance, specifically the focus on Christ as king.
In verse 45, Jesus ejects the traders and those selling concessions from the Court of the Gentiles, saying "my house is meant to be a house of prayer [for all nations]." This event takes place on the Monday before His crucifixion, and showcase His might. Not only does he expel the money-changers and practically gain complete control of the Temple Mount, but He confounds the questions of the priests and Pharisees who question his authority.
After they question Him, he directs the biting Parable of the Tenants at these priests and scribes. In this parable, a man planted a vineyard but his wicked tenants kill everyone he sends to reclaim what is rightfully his, even to the point of killing the master's beloved son. He shows how these Jewish authorities are acting exactly as the tenants do in His parable: in their hatred for Christ and inability to accept Him as the Messiah, they throw away all reason and seek to kill Him. At this point, they greatly increase the number of spies they send into the Temple to question Jesus, seeking to catch Him off-guard that they might deliver Him into the Governor's court on a charge or public disorder, or worse. In every instance, Jesus outwits these adversaries with great rabbinical arguments (cf. v. 20-25 and v. 27-40).
In the week leading up to the Crucifixion, Jesus teaches daily in the Temple and retires over the Mount of Olives into Bethany each night. Notable teachings of this week include a warning to avoid the religious pride of the Pharisees and an affirmation of God's pleasure with the poor widow he sees giving all she had to the temple treasury.
After He leaves Jerusalem for Bethany on Tuesday night, He predicts not only His passion and the destruction of the cataclysm to come, although the Disciples cannot seem to understand these teachings. Next week we will study Jesus' Olivet Discourse and those other events leading up to the Last Supper.
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Sat, 23 February 2008
Our study in Chapter 18 begins with two classic parables that urge religious individuals to go substantially deeper in their faith: The Corrupt Judge and the Pharisee and the Publican. In the first, Jesus again (cf. 11:5-10) teaches His disciples to persist in prayer, "you ought always to pray and not lose heart." In the second, He exhorts His disciples to humility and upbraids the haughty and self-righteous.
Verses 15-17 describe Jesus blessing the children faithful mothers bring to Him; these seldom-used verses form some of the Scriptural basis for infant Baptism. Far more than a magical bath, one can trace infant Baptism throughout the Early Church in the writings of Hippolytus and Origen.
In verse 18, a pious, precocious rich man questions Jesus about inheriting eternal life. Jesus speaks rather coldly to him at first, but looks with love upon this young man's earnestness. He says to him, "There is one thing further you must do. Sell all you have and give to the poor. You will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me" (v. 22). Jesus advises us to take on worldly obligations only when we are confident they are God's will for us: "I solemnly assure you, there is no one who has left home or wife or brothers, parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God who will not receive a plentiful return in this age and life everlasting in the age to come" (v. 29-30). He seeks to teach us that only in freedom from wealth and debt can we love to our brothers and sisters as He would.
Taking the Twelve aside, Jesus then foreshadows what will happen to Him in Jerusalem, but "His utterance remained obscure to them, and they did not grasp His meaning" (v. 34). Traveling through Jericho on the way up to Jerusalem, He then heals a blind man because of his persistence and faith.
Upon reaching Jericho, Jesus meets the short, chief tax collector named Zacchaeus. Because of his diminutive stature, this man climbs a tree to see Jesus. At the sight of this man in the tree, Jesus calls "Zacchaeus, hurry down, I mean to stay at your house today" (19:5) In the course of a meal with Jesus, this rich but sinful man confesses, "Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much" (v. 8). In a powerful scene, the Son of God responds by saying, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too is a son of Abraham, for the Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost" (v. 9-10).
As He and the Twelve draw near to Jerusalem, He describes the Parable of the Sums of Money, a profound teaching that concludes our study. Also known as the Parable of the Talents, many are familiar with the premise: "A man of noble birth went to a faraway country to become its king, and then return. He summoned ten of his slaves and gave them ten talents each, saying to them, 'Invest this until I get back'" (v. 12-13).
When the nobleman returns, he summons these slaves before him in order to see what they have done with their gifts. Learning that the first slave, whom he gave ten talents, has made a profit of ten more talents, he gives this slave authority over ten cities. The second slave has done likewise, gaining five talents, and gains control of five cities. However, one slothful or perhaps fearful slave reveals that he has buried his talent and gained nothing. The master casts this slave out after giving his one talent to the man who had ten. Thus Jesus speaks to God's expectation that we will make a spiritual return on those gifts He has bestowed upon us, and warns"whoever has will be given more, but the one who has not will lose the little he has" (v. 26). This is the lesson He seeks to teach the Twelve as He enters Jerusalem to be captured and crucified.
You can now purchase Luke and lots of other great material at our new webstore: http://siministries.org/Store.
Sat, 16 February 2008
Chapter 15 contains three classic parables, each targeting the self-righteous and speaking of the need to rejoice and repent. Jesus likens his close contact with sinners to that of a shepherd who risks death to save his lost sheep. Unlike the murmuring Pharisees, we must seek the lost, encourage our pastors to seek out the lost and then rejoice when sinners repent. The parable of the woman who finds her lost silver coin emphasizes our need to rejoice at the finding of the lost.
In the famous parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus describes a man and his two sons. One of these sons squanders his inheritance on a sinful lifestyle before hitting rock bottom, and, coming to his senses, returns to his father. At this, the father calls for a great feast and reinstates him into the family. The other son, obedient throughout his entire life, has irrational hatred towards his brother and refuses to enter the feast. The father closes with, "It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found."
In Chapter 16, Jesus continues to teach in parables. The shrewd but dishonest steward who regains his master's approval illustrates the superior ability of worldly men to make friends among their own kind. Jesus encourages us to devote considerable time and money for the sake of the Kingdom, reminding the money-loving Pharisees "you cannot serve God and mammon."
Verses 14–18 show that the law has not passed away but that the new covenant heightens its requirements. For proof of this, one only needs to look at His interpretation of the law in regards to entering the Kingdom and the question of divorce. He then says, "the law and the prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and every one enters it violently." By "violently," Christ does not mean we work for salvation, but that we must be willing to toil as we embrace a radical discipleship.
The parable of poor Lazarus and the Rich Man shows the ease with which those who in their lifetime receive many good things without any concern for the poor lose their place in the Kingdom.
Chapter 17 provides firm warnings against sin and the punishment that is due those who lead others into it. His teachings are so strong that the disciples ask, "Increase our faith!" To this He responds, "If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, 'Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,' and it would obey you."
Of the ten lepers Jesus heals in verse 13, only one, a foreigner, returns to thank him. May we awaken to realize that we too often are like one of the other nine: greatly blessed but thankless. Jesus wishes for us to thank Him for all we have and then realize that "we are unworthy servants; we have only done what is our duty."
Verses 20-37 juxtapose the final, triumphant coming of the Son of man with the current generation that rejects Him. In these He also warns His disciples not to speculate about time of the parousia, a destruction that will come quickly when men will be taken out of the world. Note how Jesus' statements do not confirm a sort of pre-millenial "Rapture" that is popular among some Christians, but that He will sustain those who are truly faithful throughout epic tribulations.
Sat, 9 February 2008
Timeless Parables and True Discipleship
Beginning in Luke 12:13, we see that Jesus' teachings sharply contrast worldly notions of fiscal prudence and advocate extreme trust in God's provisions. Speaking tenderly to his disciples, Jesus is serious when he says "do not live in fear, little flock ... sell what you have and give alms."
Jesus gives an unprecedented promise to those who live justly and are prepared for the Day of the Lord's Coming, saying in a parable, "blessed are those servants who the master finds well-awake on his return, for ... the Master ... will put on an apron, seat them at table, and proceed to wait them."
Jesus warns, much will be required of those to whom much has been given, and also establishes, "I have come to light a fire on the earth. How I wish the blaze were ignited! I have a baptism to receive [His suffering and death]. What an anguish I feel till it is over! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on earth?" He answers, "the contrary is true ... I have come for division," prophesying that His words will even divide families.
In Luke 12:57, Jesus confirms the ancient idea of a purgatory, a time of purgation from sin prior to heaven, reminding us to settle our debts to God and our fellows now rather than later.
Chapter 13 begins full-throttle with urgent calls to penance, "you will all come to [death] unless you reform." After repentance, Jesus calls His disciples to bear fruit. Like a barren fig tree, He will cut those down who consistently bear no fruit.
"Strive to enter through the narrow gate." Many will come and press claims of their closeness to Christ, but he will say "away from me, you evildoers!" to those who are not true disciples. The Chapter ends with Jesus pining for the conversion of Jerusalem like a parent longs for a wayward child.
A Sabbath cure opens the 14th Chapter, when Jesus heals a man with dropsy. He illuminates the lack of compassion the lawyers show toward other afflicted Jews.
In parables, Jesus teaches that "everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted" and that attending the Master's banquet should be our highest priority. The wise servant puts the Kingdom before every other responsibility, even those to a husband or a wife.
Like he stated in 9:23-27, Jesus then reminds us of the high cost of discipleship in 14:26-27. He establishes that we must put God before everything else, even if displeases those closest to us.
The cost of discipleship is everything you have, your entire life; not a penny more or a penny less. Unless you are a disciple, you are like salt that loses its flavor or was never salt to begin with, and is worthless for the "land and dung heap" alike.
Sat, 2 February 2008
At the start of Chapter 10, Jesus sends out 70 missionaries to minister to the towns of Galilee. He sends them in pairs in order that they may be a microcosm of the Church, and also because Torah establishes the validity of a claim by the testimony of two witnesses.
Making no specific provisions for the lambs that He "sends among wolves," these missionaries are radically dependent upon their Heavenly Father and others' hospitality. Notice the "wages" Jesus gives His laborers: they receive nothing beyond food and lodging. Modern Christians do well to serve Christ radically, as much as their state in life will allow.
It will be worse for the towns of Galilee who reject these missionaries than it was for Sodom and Gomorrah. The 70 become God's powerful instruments and report wondrous signs of a great shake-up in Heaven. Truly, the Kingdom of God is at hand, just waiting to be grasped.
One cannot attain His Kingdom through study alone, as Jesus said, "I offer You praise, O Father ... because what you have hidden from the learned and the clever you have revealed to the merest of children." We are foolish if we do not trust fully in Jesus' promise that He and the Father will manifest themselves to those who keep His Commandments.
Blessed are we who are able to know and follow the Messiah, for all previous generations longed for the opportunity given to us. The least in the Kingdom is greater than John the Baptist.
A lawyer then questions Christ about eternal life, and Jesus confirms that the path to Heaven is by living the two great commandments expressed in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself.’ When the lawyer asks who his "neighbor" is, Jesus tells him the parable of the Good Samaritan, which calls all who hear to practice mercy. Limiting the mercy we show distances us from our heavenly Father.
The house of Martha and Mary is the site of a key scenario: Mary listens devoutly to Jesus while He warns her sister, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, one thing alone is needful." As His disciples we take Him – the only necessary thing – into every part of our lives.
Chapter 11 begins with lessons on prayer: the Lord's Prayer and teachings on importunate (persistent) prayer. In every case, the Christian prays when he asks, keeps asking and continues to ask again in hopes that the door may be opened unto him. We must be fully engaged in our faith, even if this requires much practice in prayer.
Beelzebub, "Lord of the Fly", was originally a play on words mocking the name for the Canaanite god, "the Lord Prince." By the time of the Luke's gospel, the name refers to Satan. After one exorcism, some question whether Christ is in league with Satan, but He affirms "a Kingdom divided against itself cannot stand."
He exhorts those healed from demons to sanctify their lives and prepare for when the demon returns with seven others, attempting to reconquer their souls. Instead of acting like the woman who shouts praises in unbridled emotion, to truly praise Him we must "hear the word of God and keep it;" we must repent and allow the Word of God to become incarnate in our lives.
Christ gives them only the sign of Jonas, for signs and miracles alone will not produce faith. In every generation, those that seek only miracles or "religious fairy tales" are in grave error.
While at a dinner with some Pharisees, Jesus rebukes them for "washing the outside of the cup" while leaving the inside filthy; he criticizes other hypocritical acts. He also chastises the lawyers who exploit loopholes, steal and bury the key of knowledge from others. He then warns, "the blood of all the prophets shed from the of the foundation of the world may be required of this generation," and our punishment will be the same if we neglect so great a salvation. Everyone must beware the leaven of the Pharisees (especially their hypocrisy); we must have no fear about the body's death. Jesus acclaims both a fear of God and an awareness of His tender compassion and care for us. Our study concludes with promise that the Holy Spirit will be our advocate during times of persecution and a warning never to blaspheme against Him.
Sat, 26 January 2008
Beginning in Chapter 8, our study continues Luke's account of Jesus' active ministry. Accompanied by "the twelve [...], some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities; Mary, called Magdalene [...] and many others," Jesus draws large crowds when he preaches (v. 2-3).
To one great crowd, Jesus delivers the parable of the Sower and the Seed, or what we might more aptly call the Parable of the Soils. These different soils are a good illustration of a number of stages of the spiritual life. After Jesus lists the various soils, we see that each type represents richer grade of soil, and each is more able to bear and sustain a healthy spiritual life than the last. Lastly, He describes our final goal, "And as for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience" (v. 15). This and all the parables of this chapter relay that in order to achieve this, we must seek Him, persevere in our seeking, ask his aid and never relent.
Exhausted from His ministry, Jesus then falls asleep while traveling across the Sea of Galilee. Soon thereafter, a sudden storm of wind begins to overtake their boat. His apostles awake Him with such little faith that as soon as He has rebuked the wind and the water, he chastises them for their weak faith. How often do we act like the disciples and doubt whether God will protect His people in times of peril?
Upon arrival at the shore, we see the Lucan account of a man possessed by Legion who lives among the catacombs in the country of the Gerasenes. Confronting this man, Jesus casts out the numerous demons into a herd of swine that hurl themselves over a cliff and into the sea. Jesus then gives the healed man a mission to speak of God's miraculous power.
In verses 40 through 48, one faithful touch of Jesus' cloak heals a woman with a twelve-year hemorrhage, although the miraculous power of God will not go out into any other member of the jostling crowd surrounding Him. Jesus then raises Jairus' daughter from the dead amidst the of laughter her hired mourners (v. 49-56).
In the beginning of Chapter 9, Jesus sends out the twelve throughout the villages of Galilee with "no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money" to minister to the people through "preaching the gospel and healing" (v. 3). Even at this relatively early stage of Jesus' public ministry, Herod hears of all that has been done and seeks to see Jesus.
Upon the return of the disciples from their missionary activity, they gather with Jesus in the lonely desert area of Bethsaida. Here Jesus multiples five loaves and two fish into enough food to feed five thousand men, in addition to the accompanying women and children, with twelve baskets of food left over (v. 10-17).
Luke quickly relays crucial gospel events in verses 18-27: Peter confesses that He is "the Christ of God," Jesus speaks to the suffering He will undergo at the hands of the Jewish leaders, and Jesus describes what it means to truly be His disciple, "let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."
At the Transfiguration of Jesus, John, James and Peter witness Jesus transfigured with Moses and Elijah (v. 28-36). Peter's impetuous line contrasts the voice of God calling heaven and bellowing "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to Him!"
As Jesus and the three return from the mountain, they witness the plea of a father whose son foams from the mouth with a demon, one whom His own disciples could not expel. Luke, unlike the other synoptic writers chronicles Jesus response to the man's request, "O faithless and perverse generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?" (v. 41). The words of Jesus hearken to God's complaint against His people in the 14th chapter of Numbers, where people look only for miracles and have no recourse to God or His ways. As the crowd cheers that Jesus has expelled the violent demon, Jesus reminds them that He will go to the cross for them, but they do not understand.
The conclusion of Chapter 9 showcases three teachings on discipleship. Jesus shows the price of discipleship when he says "foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head," and later "Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God" and finally "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God" (v. 57-62). In all of these, we see how Jesus calls all of his disciples to follow Him in total self-giving.
Sat, 19 January 2008
At the start of Chapter 6, the scribes and Pharisees confront Jesus on two occasions regarding how He and His disciples observe the sabbath. Jesus implies that while the law of the Lord is perfect and provides guidance, the law is not an end in and of itself, but a means to the end – a roadmap to God, if you will.
We see the scribes and Pharisees scrutinize the actions of Jesus and His disciples, watching for even the smallest mistake and demanding a strict observance of the law. When his disciples pluck heads of grain on the sabbath, Jesus transcends their reasoning and cites David's eating the bread of the Presence, claiming "the Son of man is lord of the sabbath" (v. 3-5). On another occasion, despite knowing the thoughts of the scribes and Pharisees, He heals on the sabbath after asking, "is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?" (v. 9).
In verse 12, Jesus retires "in these days" to the mountain to pray, and spends all night in prayer before appointing twelve disciples, a period of time that is akin to Mt. Sinai and Moses' preparation prior to receiving God's covenant. From his numerous disciples, Jesus selects twelve by name to be His apostles. One sees in this the continuation of the Hebrew office of "shaliach" wherein a master sends out a representative, oftentimes giving them their full power.
In verse 17, Luke first expounds on the core of Jesus' message in the Sermon on the Plain. Among these tenets, we hear, "Blessed are you when men hate you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets" (v. 20-24).
Accompanying these promises and exhortations, Jesus expounds on the following warnings, in order that we might not follow imprudent paths, most notably He says, "Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets" (v. 25-26).
Jesus demands a radical adherence to all of the gospel message in one's actions. He fleshes out many ethical teachings in verses 27-38. Overall, we see that we must rely completely on God instead of desiring security or clinging to what is comfortable. If we are not radical disciples of Jesus and only take His message half-heartedly, we are no better than blind men and possess no credible Christian identity (v. 39). Verses 40-49 further describe Jesus' lofty call, containing many wonderful images and lessons for us all.
The start of Chapter 7 describes the miraculous healings in Capernaum and Nain. In the first, Jesus says of the centurion "not even in Israel have I found such faith" before healing the man's son (v. 9). Soon after this, Jesus travels to Nain and raises a young man from the dead by touching the platform on which he is being carried out of the city, saying, "Young man, I say to you, arise" (v. 14).
Somewhat unlike the depiction of John the Baptist given to us in the Gospel of John, Luke describes that the Baptizer is in need for a final answer whether or not Jesus is the Messiah. After the disciples of John describe the events in Capernaum and Nain to him, John and Jesus communicate with one another through messengers. Giving the last statement, Jesus' disciples cite elements from Isaiah, imply His Messianic identity, acclaim John's ministry and justify those who receive John's baptism.
In verse 36, Luke describes a striking incident while Jesus dines in the house of Simon, a Pharisee. During the meal, a sinful woman enters, wetting his feet with her tears, kissing them, wiping them with her hair and anointing them with oil. Jesus contrasts her devotion with the lack of honor Simon bestows upon Him. He says, "her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little" (47). Simon who is only aware of formal religion, does not break through to God and thus cannot honor Jesus in the same manner. By following Jesus' message wholeheartedly, not only do we receive His forgiveness, but break beyond formal religion to encounter Christ Himself.
Sat, 12 January 2008
In Luke 4:31 Jesus teaches at the synagogue in Capernaum on the Sabbath. For the first time, Jesus publicly commands an unclean spirit to listen to Him, and instantly it comes out of the man. This very important event along with the healing of Peter's mother-in-law are the first episodes that bring Jesus into the public eye as a healer and miracle-worker. These form a turning point Jesus' ministry, for He is now unable to travel anywhere without large crowds following Him.
In Chapter 5, Luke opens with the catching of a multitude of fishes and Peter's confession on the Sea of Galilee where, amidst a tremendous haul of flopping fish, Peter becomes convicted, kneels down and asks Jesus to leave the boat (without realizing that there is no place to go). John's Gospel tells us that Jesus knows Peter before this event, but Luke here highlights the moment where Jesus first breaks through to the man who would become the Rock.
In verse 12, Jesus heals a man with leprosy, an event which compels "great multitudes gathered to hear and to be healed of their infirmities. But he withdrew to the wilderness and prayed." Because the recipients of Jesus' miracles do not heed his words to "tell no one," the crowds that follow Him become increasingly burdensome.
The healing of the paralytic is the dramatic moment that turns the Pharisees against Jesus. Luke says "the power of the Lord was with him to heal," a subtle reminder that Jesus did not even do miracles unless they were in accord with the will of the Father (v. 17). The room being full of dignitaries and scholars, earnest men creatively carry a paralytic up to the roof, seeking to bring him in through it and lay him before Jesus. One must note that Jesus "saw their faith," the faith of the majority in the crowd, before saying, "Man, your sins are forgiven you." Because God alone can forgive sins, this miracle forces all to decide whether He is God's chosen one or a blasphemer.
Luke then describes the call of Levi the tax collector, commanding him to "follow me" (v. 27). The Pharisees and scribes murmur at this, and Jesus responds, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (v. 31-32). His indictment of their maligned form of religion truth brings to mind the words of Fulton Sheen, "those who deny the disease make the cure impossible."
We close with the incident of verse 33, when they question "the disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink."
And Jesus said to them, "Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days." He told them a parable also: "No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it upon an old garment; if he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, 'The old is good...'" (36-39)
Jesus makes it clear that He has not come to fit inside ordinary Judaism, but to transform the establishment entirely in accord with the Father's will. All too often, those who are the most invested in traditional ways are the most unwilling to give up their old wine and accept God's challenging invitation to new wine.
As we read of Jesus coming into Galilee, we must digest these verses and examine where we stand with God, asking Him what we must to do follow Him. We must be like Levi, a man undoubtedly engrossed in the world who left everything to follow Him. Will we be among those religious that don't leave their comfortable lifestyle to follow Him, or will we respond to Jesus in a credible way and amend our lives?
Sat, 5 January 2008
At the start of the Gospel proper, Luke focuses on John the Baptist: his ministry and his message. It seems Christians today often shrink the role of John the Baptist and the roles other Prophets in the history of salvation, and instead embrace a "let's cut to the chase" mentality. The fact that John is present at the onset of all four Gospels speaks to his priority early Christians gave him. Far more than Jesus' emcee, John is a thundering voice who preaches repentance and preparation for the one who is to come after him.
Luke's Third Chapter records events of A.D. 29 or 30, when the word of God calls John out of his repose in the wilderness and into ministry. His "baptism of repentance which led to the forgiveness of sins," while not a Sacramental Baptism, shows how God's salvific grace acts throughout all history and looks forward to the grounds of forgiveness through Jesus Christ (v. 3). John is the "herald's voice in the desert, crying [...]" of the necessity of preparation for reception of the Gospel:
"You brood of vipers! Who told you to flee from the wrath to come? Give some evidence that you mean to reform. Do not begin by saying to yourselves, 'Abraham is our father.' I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones. Even now the ax is laid to the root of the tree. Every tree that is not fruitful will be cut down and thrown into the fire." (v. 7-9)
Condemning injustices of all kinds, John's ministry is so electric that men of all kinds ask him whether or not he is the Christ. He clarifies that "there is one to come who is mightier than I [...] He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire" (v. 16).
As the Holy Spirit descends visibly in a "form like a dove" upon Jesus at his baptism, God shows John the one who will baptize in the Holy Spirit and whose "winnowing fan is in his hand to clear the threshing floor and gather the wheat into his granary, but chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire" (v. 22). In no need of John's Baptism, Jesus travels to the Jordan to bless the waters and open the way for future Sacramental Baptism.
In verse 23, we see that Luke's genealogy that begins with Adam, Son of God. This contrasts Matthew's Judaic genealogy places Abraham as Jesus' eldest relative.
"Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, then returned from the Jordan and was conducted by the spirit into the desert for forty days, where he was tempted by the devil (4:1). Although the devil tempts Jesus three times by using Scripture Jesus is able to rebuke the devil with Scripture and does not succumb. In all three instances, the devil proposes that Jesus compromise his principles to accomplish a so-called greater good.
In 4:14, Jesus returns into Galilee to begin his active ministry by teaching in the synagogues to much praise. Yet, Luke does not mention the arrest of John as the catalyst in the start of Jesus' active ministry as do the other Gospel writers.
In one notable instance, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue at Nazareth and reads powerfully from a scroll of Isaiah 61:11, announcing the advent of the Messianic age:
"The spirit of the Lord is upon me; therefore, He has anointed me. He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor; to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind and release of prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord" (18).
Initially lauded by all in attendance, Jesus soon questions the assembly's sincerity and speaks of the hardness of their hearts. This enrages crowd, so much so they "rose up and expelled him from the town, leading him to the brow of the hill [...] and intending to hurl him over the edge" (29). Jesus, however, is able to pass through their mist and walk away. The first of many instances where Jesus' message pushes the limits of human receptiveness, we will contrast this noticeable instance with Jesus' teaching at Capernaum in next week's podcast.