Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi: We Believe as We Pray– Reflection for Mass of April 1, 2011

1 Apr

Friday, April 1, 2011
Ferial– Friday of the Third Week of Lent
Readings: Hosea 14:1-9; Psalm 81: 5c-10ab, 13+16 (R: 10+8a); Mark 12:28b-34

Shema Yisrael, Adonai eloheynu Adonai echad– Hear, O Israel! The LORD our God is one LORD.”[1] This greatest of ancient Jewish prayers is a case of the principle Christians would later call lex orandi, lex credendi: the law that is prayed comes to be the law that is believed.[2] Indeed, Jews still pray the Shema twice daily as the LORD commanded them in the Book of Deuteronomy: “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.”[3]

These words of the LORD clearly were assigned a place of prominence; they were to be fixed as the primary focus on the hearts, on the homes, on the heads, and on the bodies, specifically the wrists, of the faithful. Similarly, Jesus affirms for us in today`s Gospel that this prayer leads us to a deepened faith, again illustrating for us the notion of lex orandi, lex credendi. That faith gives rise to a love of God that becomes affixed in our hearts, in our innermost homes that are our souls, in our minds, and in our bodies wherein lay our strength.[4]

Out of six hundred thirteen Mitzvot, or religious statutes, in the Torah,[5] Jesus cites only two as the Commandments than which there are none greater. The first is the Shema of Deuteronomy, while the second is from Leviticus: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”[6]

In its original context in Leviticus, the scope of this second of the greatest Commandments is restricted to the Israelites’ “fellow countrymen,”[7] those bound to the covenant between the LORD and Israel. However, Jesus challenges us to broaden our horizon of who our neighbour is. Of course, we need not to walk too far through downtown Toronto to have our concept of neighbour challenged: near to here we find the poor, the mentally ill, the addicts, the newcomers and refugees. Jesus reminds us that these, too, are our neighbours. One cannot be said to love God without loving these people, often the least valued and most forgotten of our preoccupied, capital-oriented society.

I have increasingly been taking note in my reading of the Gospels of late how many pericopes end in silence. Today’s Gospel reading is another example of this; the scribe who had asked Jesus which is the greatest Commandment, and indeed all the other religious leaders with him, did not dare “to ask [Jesus] any question.”[8] I doubt that these religious leaders fell silent because they were wholly satisfied with Jesus’ answer. They knew how correct and how wise Jesus had been in expanding their sense of neighbour and, with it, their sense of God. They knew all too well, as we know all too well, the rectitude of Jesus’ teaching and how difficult this teaching is to live out. If our love of neighbour does not extend to those who evoke the most disgust in us, then even our worship, our “burnt offerings and sacrifices,”[9] become not an act of love of God but an act of proud idolatry, of saying “‘Our god’ to the work of our hands.”[10]

Even amid our pride and our failure at times to see the least among us as our neighbour, though, Jesus still tells us comfortingly, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”[11] How, then, do we make up this distance from God’s kingdom? On our own, entrance into God’s kingdom is impossible. Only in relationship with God, through consistent prayer, will our weakness, our divided hearts, and our distance from God be overcome, and will we come to see our neighbour, and God, for who they truly are.

That regularity in prayer is the point of the Shema. By praying the Law enjoined on us, we will gradually come to believe in that which we pray: lex orandi, lex credendi. Then, that in which, or better yet in whom, we come to believe, God through an expanded notion of neighbour, we will come more fully to love.

WRS

[1] The Shema– Hear, O Israel! http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Scripture/Torah/The_Shema/the_shema. html. Accessed 30 March 2011. See also Deuteronomy 6:4.

[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1124. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s1c1a2.htm. Accessed 30 March 2011. This section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church reads: “The Church’s faith precedes the faith of the believer who is invited to adhere to it. When the Church celebrates the sacraments, she confesses the faith received from the apostles – whence the ancient saying: lex orandi, lex credendi The law of prayer is the law of faith: the Church believes as she prays. Liturgy is a constitutive element of the holy and living Tradition.”

[3] Deuteronomy 6:6-9.

[4] See Mark 12:30.

[5] Judaism 101: A List of the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments). http://www.jewfaq.org/613.htm. Accessed 30 March 2011.

[6] Leviticus 19:18; Mark 12:31.

[7] Leviticus 19:18.

[8] Mark 12:34.

[9] Mark 12:33.

[10] Hosea 14:4.

[11] Mark 12:34.

A Brief, Prayerful Announcement– Reflection for Mass of March 25, 2011– Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

25 Mar

 

Friday, March 25, 2011
Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord
Readings: Isaiah 7:10-14, 8-10; Psalm 40: 7-10; Hebrews 10:4-10; Luke 1:26-38

…And now, a brief announcement… “The Holy Spirit [has] come upon [us], and the power of the Most High [overshadows us].”[1] Nine months from today, we will celebrate Jesus’ Nativity, but the process of our bearing Christ into our world begins now, as we celebrate this Solemnity of the Annunciation of our Lord. We are urged, then, to begin, if we have not already begun, to be converted and to open our hearts and minds to renewal, to be better disposed to do the will of God… End of announcement.

Looking over my notes for the Liturgical Presiding practicum, I saw that our class had been told clearly about proper brevity and placement of announcements within the order of the Mass. Announcements are to be made where a natural break occurs within the Mass, for instance between the reception of Communion and the Concluding Rites, so as not to be disruptive to the flow of the liturgy.[2]

Amid our activities outside of the Mass, although in a different way than at Mass, announcements can be timely and humourous, thought-provoking, or even inspiring. For example, a creative television commercial may make one laugh or be likely to buy a product or adopt a lifestyle change. More deeply, the expected birth of a child within a family, announced during a family dinner, is a message of remarkable beauty.

However, many announcements are ill-timed, too long, repetitive, or disruptive, whether within or outside of Mass. Let us return to the examples of the television commercial and the pregnancy announcement. Some commercials are effective by their repetition in moving us to buy the products advertised, yet I detest seeing the same commercial multiple times in a row, unless it is a profoundly creative use of thirty seconds. Such a recurrent announcement is disruptive to whatever show I am trying to watch.

How might the announcement of an impending birth of a child be as disruptive, albeit in a different way, as the repetitious or dull television commercial? Today’s Gospel, I think, answers that question. I imagined upon re-reading Luke’s infancy narrative that I had been given the role of evaluating the Angel Gabriel’s technique in Liturgical Presiding. I do indeed have a similar assignment for the class I am in; for it I took notes on last Sunday’s Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada. The presider was not an angel.

If Gabriel were not an angel and if this were a Mass, the little Pharisee in me concerned with liturgical rubrics would have had a lot to say. In class, we are reminded not to begin Mass with a secular greeting in place of a “sacred” one, and thus to begin in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and then “The Lord be with you.”[3] Poor Gabriel gets off to a bad start here: “Hail, full of grace.”[4] The Greek imperative Χαῖρε, which we read as “Hail,” can also mean “Rejoice” or a simple, underwhelming “Hello!”[5] No wonder Mary found Gabriel’s salutation disconcerting! Then Gabriel proceeds to make a verbose and unfocused announcement. He not only tells Mary that she will bear a child, but that the barren Elizabeth will as well.[6] Then Gabriel simply departs from the scene.[7] If I had been in Mary’s place, I, like her, would have been “greatly perplexed.”[8] Herein, though, lies the success of Gabriel’s announcement: It allows for Mary’s participation in the narrative, much as the participation of the People of God during Mass contributes to good liturgy.

Mary’s fiat– her faithful “Here am I,”[9] which does not replace her perplexity at her conception of God made human but overcomes it– is an announcement in itself. In fact, her announcement is the most important one of today’s Gospel reading. Let it be our announcement, too, then, for it is appropriate at all times and at any time. And now, our brief, prayerful, announcement: “Here [are we], the servant[s] of the Lord, let it be done to [us] according to your word.”[10]

WRS


[1] Luke 1:35

[2] “Eucharistic Liturgy.” Course notes handout, Liturgical Presiding, SMP 3165 HS (Toronto: University of St. Michael’s College, 23 January 2011).

[3] Dennis C. Smolarski, How Not to Say Mass: A Guidebook on Liturgical Principles and the Roman Missal, 2nd ed. (New York, NY/ Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2003), 51.

[4] Luke 1:28. The Greek Χαῖρε, κεχαριτωμένη (Hi’-reh, keh-cha-ri-tō-meh’-nay) literally translates as “Hail, [woman] being (or, who is) made graceful.” See also The Greek Bible, http://www.greekbible.com/index.php.  Accessed 23 March 2011. Search for Luke 1:28, then click on the word κεχαριτωμένη to open the lexical entry for the verb χαριτόω, “I make graceful.”

[5] The Greek Bible, entry on the verb χαίρω. http://www.greekbible.com/l.php?xai/rw_v-2pad-s–_p. Accessed 23 March 2011. This word appeared on an exam in the New Testament Greek course I am taking, as part of a multiple choice question, “God revealed himself to Moses on Mt. Horeb (Exodus 3:14) in the Septuagint (The Greek translation of the Old Testament) as…” The correct answer (in Greek, from the Septuagint) is Εἱμι ὁ ὠν (“Amy ha own,” meaning “I am the one being” or more eloquently, “I am the one who is.” One of the incorrect choices, which was good for a few laughs in class, was Χαῖρε, το ὀνομα μοι Θεος ἐστίν (Hi’-reh, tah ah’-nah-mah moy thay-ahs’ es-tin’), which means in this context, “Hello, my name is God.”

[6] Luke 1:31, 36.

[7] Luke 1:38

[8] Luke 1:29

[9] Luke 1:38

[10] Ibid.

The Seventy- Luke 10:1-24

24 Dec

Back on 25 March 2009, I began my last post on a section of the Gospel of Luke with a flashback to the Annunciation, the event recounted in the opening chapter of Luke when the Angel Gabriel announces to the Virgin Mary that she would bear a son, Jesus, “Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32). Gabriel’s message is one of great joy: “Hail, favoured one! The Lord is with you,” yet Mary is said by Luke to be “greatly troubled” by it (vv 28-29). This episode ends with Mary’s joyful acceptance of God’s will for her: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (v 38). At those words, though, in characteristically Lukan fashion, Gabriel exits the scene and Mary is left alone. The joy of the occasion is combined with anxiety. Throughout Luke’s Gospel, the experience of discipleship is one of joy amid crisis.

That combination of joy and of crisis is again at the forefront at the close of Luke’s infancy narrative. As the prophetess Anna exhibits the mark of a true disciple by her ceaseless prayer in the Temple, Simeon, even while he blesses the Holy Family who has come to Jerusalem to present the Child Jesus to the Lord, predicts ominously: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35). Joy abounds as the anticipated “redemption of Israel” (v 25) is fulfilled by the Incarnation of the Son of God, yet from a young age Jesus knows that He “must be in [His] Father’s house” (v 49). He must complete His mission that will culminate on a cross in Jerusalem, the city upon which the Lukan Gospel is focused. Christ’s Passion and death on that cross, though, will not be the end. At Emmaus the Risen Jesus opens the hearts and minds of His fearful disciples to the Scriptures (Luke 24:32, 45) and to His presence “in the breaking of the bread” (v 35).  Then, as He ascends to the Father, Jesus directs His disciples back to Jerusalem where they will receive the Holy Spirit and will be sent forth as His witnesses (Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:8, 2:1-4). Thus begins the mission of the Church.

Like the earthly life of Our Lord, the era of the Church has been marked by joy and by crisis, and like the early disciples in Luke’s account we must orient ourselves toward the Holy City. Indeed, as Christ set His face toward that goal (Luke 9:51), we must set ours toward the Heavenly Jerusalem. We are promised success in our Christian vocation, even while on earth we await the eternal bliss of heaven. Our earthly joy in God’s presence is intrinsic to our divine call to discipleship, a mission of which none of us are worthy. Simon Peter, the first of the Twelve chosen by Jesus to follow Him according to Luke, encountered his own sinfulness on the shore of the Lake of Gennesaret (Luke 5:8). Peter’s sorrow, fear, and incomprehension in the presence of the holy are transformed by Jesus into joy and reassurance as the Rock of the Apostles is sent forth: “From now on, you will be catching [people]” (v 10).

Jesus, though, is not content to send only Peter in His stead; twelve Apostles are selected “to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Luke 9:1-2) Jesus clarifies that the mission of the Twelve will be demanding; they are to “take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor food, nor money, and… no one” is to “take a second tunic” (v 3) Our Lord’s commissioning of the Twelve begins Chapter nine of the Gospel of Luke. In that chapter, the Twelve grapple with the Messianic identity of their divine Master (vv 18-21). This Messiah predicts His death twice in the same chapter (vv 22 43b-45), leaving His Apostles confused and frightened. Jesus is transfigured before Peter, James, and John in a tremendous theophany in which the Son of God is affirmed by His heavenly Father: “This is my chosen Son; listen to Him” (v 35). However, even the Transfiguration unmistakeably points toward Jesus’ “exodus” (v 31); the Gospel’s climax, Jesus’ death outside Jerusalem, is again vividly foreshadowed.

Even the most fervent disciple would find the demands of fellowship in this Messiah difficult. After the awe-filled Transfiguration, the Twelve experience repeated failure in living the mission that they were sent to accomplish. Commissioned to heal the sick, they are not able to cure the demoniac child; their faith is no greater than that of the “faithless and perverse generation” (v 41) to which they belong. Jesus’ command to take nothing with them and to rely on God’s providence is neglected as the disciples clash over which one among them is greatest (vv 46-48). Instead of welcoming the outcast– they were to enter into the houses of the people on their way and build Christ’s kingdom of peace– they exclude the foreign exorcist (vv 49-50). Jesus, though, presses on.

Our Lord is determined to reach Jerusalem, although the road to the Holy City is arduous. It traverses the land of the hated Samaritans (vv 51-56). To follow Jesus requires the subordination of one’s earthly priorities– the security of one’s home, one’s family, one’s comfort in familiar surroundings and activities, and even one’s life (vv 57-62)– to discipleship of and in Christ. Jesus knows the difficulty of the task He entrusts to His disciples; this mission must conclude in self-sacrifice so that God will fill our emptiness with the glory of His resurrection. The path of Jesus leads us to the Cross if we are willing to accompany Him. Christ will not be deterred in accomplishing His salvific goal, nor does He stop at the call of only Twelve Apostles. Instead, Jesus expands the vocation of the Twelve to the whole Church, symbolized by the group of seventy[-two] first mentioned at the outset of Chapter Ten of the Gospel of Luke. There, Jesus sends these seventy “ahead of Him in pairs to every town” (Luke 10:1) with similar yet more expansive instructions to those with which He sent the Twelve in the preceding chapter of the same Gospel:

Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals, and greet no one along the way. Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’ If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him, but if not, it will return to you. Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you… Do not move about from one house to another. Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’ Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you, go out into the streets and say, ‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you.’ (vv 3-11)

These verses are not mere repetition by Jesus or by the Evangelist, although they do represent a typically Lukan couplet motif together with Luke 9:1-5. For example, the list of forbidden articles and activities in Luke 10:4 is similar to that in Luke 9:3: neither the Twelve nor the Seventy are to bring money or a sack in which to carry it on their journeys. The “walking stick” proscribed in 9:3 is substituted for a sanction against greeting other persons “along the way,” while instead of instructing the disciples not to “take a second tunic,” as in 9:3, in 10:4 Jesus says to the Seventy, “Carry… no sandals.”

Despite differences in wording and in order between the prohibitions in Luke 9:3 and 10:4, the message of both verses is essentially identical: discipleship in Christ requires total reliance on God, thus detachment from three sources of material security, whatever temporary good these might yield. The first of these sources is financial gain, symbolized by money and the sack in which to store it. The second, represented by the walking stick or by greeting people “along the way,” is adherence to a particular place or dependence upon particular people for happiness. The third source is attachment to goods– not only to clothing– indicated by the tunic or by the sandals.

Firstly, by these orders to His two sets of disciples, the Twelve and the Seventy, Jesus does not advocate destitution. In fact, Our Lord affirms in Luke 10:7 that “the labourer deserves his payment.” To deny the remuneration due a worker is a grave injustice: “Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts” (James 5:4). Secondly, neither does Jesus teach against close interpersonal relationships, or against a desire to serve in a specific environment. From my own perspective of religious life, for instance, I am frequently asked by friends, relatives, former students, and confrères alike whether I would want to return someday to our Basilian community in Colombia in which I last served over two years ago. I respond to such questions that I would go without reserve if called to serve there again. In six months in Cali, the people of our Congregation’s parish and school there taught me about true poverty: out of their material nothingness came a deep joy and faith that filled my comparative void and that continues to sustain me spiritually to this day. By the grace of God, though, I have also experienced great joy in Basilian community, whether in Edmonton, Cali, Windsor, or Toronto. I am open to service in any apostolate to which I am appointed, and I pray that this might always be so. Thirdly, by barring His disciples from carrying a second tunic or sandals, Jesus does not teach that to be well-attired is contrary to Christian fellowship. He does, though, urge simplicity of a pilgrim people. Money, friendship, a place to live and to work, and physical belongings are all necessary, but a Christian disciple must not regard these passing earthly goods as greater than the enduring good that awaits us in heaven.

Perhaps Pope Leo XIII’s Encyclical Rerum Novarum, on Capital and Labour, puts this message best. Following an affirmation of the right of the worker to a just wage, Rerum Novarum continues:

The Church, with Jesus Christ as her Master and Guide, aims higher still… The things of earth cannot be understood or valued aright without taking into consideration the life to come, the life that will know no death.[1]

The valuation of eternal life over any finite earthly good is at the core of Jesus’ instruction as He commissions the Twelve and then the Seventy. Elsewhere in the Gospels, the same message is proclaimed even more clearly: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Matt 6:33).

Upon sending forth the Twelve as well as the Seventy, Jesus stresses confidence in God over material possessions and even over other persons who might welcome His disciples along their way. The same instructions are conveyed in similar vocabulary and order, yet one ought not to dismiss as insignificant the true differences between Jesus’ words at the commissioning of the Twelve and of the Seventy. For example, Jesus’ more urgent exhortation to the Seventy in Luke 10:2, “the harvest is abundant but the labourers are few, so ask the Master of the harvest to send out labourers for His harvest,” is entirely absent from His directions to the Twelve in Luke 9. The following verse, a warning to the Seventy that they will be “like lambs among wolves,” also is not paralleled at the beginning of Luke’s previous chapter. However, comparable orders to those in Luke 10:1-16 are given by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.[2] No parallel of any of Luke’s sending of the Seventy is found in Mark’s Gospel. Some sayings in Luke 9, such as Jesus’ mandate to the Twelve, are much less detailed than in Luke’s following chapter: “Whatever house you enter, stay there and leave from there. And as for those who do not welcome you… shake the dust from your feet in testimony against them” (Luke 9:5). In Luke 10, this directive is more expansive; the Seventy are to accept and to return the hospitality of the “peaceful person” (Luke 10:6)– literally the “son of peace”[3]– and the proclamation of the imminence of the “Kingdom of God”[4] (vv 9, 11) is to follow whether or not the disciples are welcomed in the towns through which they travel.

These noteworthy discrepancies between the beginnings of Luke 9 and 10, and parallels or lack thereof between Luke 10:1-16 and passages in the other Synoptic Gospels, suggest that Luke’s accounts of the commissioning of the Twelve and of the Seventy stem from different sources. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all share the account of the sending out of the Twelve, although Matthew’s version of this pericope is arranged differently than those of Mark and of Luke.[5] In cases where a passage is included in all three Synoptic Gospels or in Mark and either Matthew or Luke, most Biblical scholars assume Markan priority– that is, that Matthew, Luke, or both used Mark, whose Gospel is held to have been the first to have been written, as their documentary source about the life of Christ.[6] Material shared by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, known as “triple tradition,” makes up approximately five hundred verses, or about three quarters of Mark, forty-five percent of Matthew, and forty-one percent of Luke. Moreover, ninety-one percent of Mark is also paralleled in Matthew, in Luke, or in both of these other Synoptic Gospels. While these parallels in wording and often in arrangement between the Synoptics can be explained by Markan priority, this theory does not account for “double tradition” material, found in Matthew and in Luke but not in Mark. These nearly two-hundred-fifty verses of double tradition, of which Mark could not have been a source, comprise almost a quarter of the Gospel of Matthew and over one fifth of the Gospel of Luke. A majority of scholars theorize that the origin of this double tradition is a non-extant document called “Q,” after the German word quelle, which means “source.” Chief among many arguments against the Q hypothesis by a strong minority of Scripture scholars is that Q, a theoretical written collection of sayings of Jesus, compiled from oral tradition and probably lacking Nativity and Passion narratives, has yet to be discovered.

Nevertheless, double and triple tradition agreements among Matthew, Mark, and Luke have led to widely accepted theories such as Markan priority and Q. In addition to material paralleled in multiple Synoptic Gospels, though, many verses and entire passages in Matthew or in Luke are unique to these Gospels. About thirty-five percent of the Gospel of Luke is uniquely Lukan, while one fifth of the content of Matthew is found in no other Gospel. Such a vast amount of uniquely Matthean or Lukan material is unlikely to have been the result of these evangelists’ independent additions to source documents available to both of them; more plausibly, Matthew and Luke employed in their composition written and oral sources not accessible to the other author. Matthean source material can be abbreviated “M,” and Lukan source material “L.”

M and L content are important to the distinctive order and structure of the Gospels of Matthew and of Luke, respectively. In the case of Luke 10, a verse of material found only in Luke begins both a new chapter in that Gospel and a new pericope: “After this the Lord appointed seventy [-two] others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit” (Luke 10:1). Such verses as this, which represent clear breaks between pericopes, are called seams. Matthean seam verses, including the evangelist’s adaptation of Old Testament texts, are more often M content than are Lukan seams comprised of L text.  In the Gospel of Matthew, M material seams follow particular formulas, two examples of which are “fulfillment citations” and use of contrast between the sayings of Jesus and the commandments of the Old Testament. Matthean fulfillment citations, wherein events occur to fulfill “what the Lord had said through [a] prophet,” introduce or conclude six pericopes between Matthew’s infancy narrative and the beginning of his account of Jesus’ nascent Galilean ministry.[7] The latter form of Matthean seam is found six times in a section of the Sermon on the Mount often called the “antitheses,” in which Jesus cites a tenet of Mosaic Law, prefaced by the phrase, “You have heard that it was said…” Then, Jesus interprets each statute for His own audience: “But I say to you…” Here, Jesus is not portrayed as abolishing the Law, but, as Matthew writes, in fulfillment of it (Matt 5:17). Thus, like Matthew’s fulfillment citations, the so-called antitheses– not true antithetical pairings of Moses’ Law and Jesus’ teachings, as if Jesus were attempting to supersede the Torah, but Rabbinic applications of the Torah to the social situation of Jesus’, or more likely Matthew’s, hearers– present Jesus in continuity with Israel’s religious and legal tradition.[8]

Unlike Matthew, Luke’s inclusion of Old Testament citations is rare, as are L material seams as opposed to M seams in Matthew. Where L seams occur in Luke, their break from the preceding pericope and led into the subsequent text are subtle. For example, Luke 10:1, an L verse, continues on the theme of the demands of discipleship presented in the triplet of proverbs in Luke 9:57-62. Discipleship is the central thesis through to Jesus’ blessing of the seventy in Luke 10:23-24. Nevertheless, Luke 10:1 is a break from the texts that precede and succeed it. Luke 9:57-62 and 10:2-16 is shared by Matthew and is therefore Q material with important Lukan modifications.

I turn now to the final four verses of this sequence of Q sayings in which Jesus condemns towns whose people have not accepted His message. Those towns, Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, are contrasted with Tyre and Sidon, cities that would have repented readily given the same opportunity to hear Jesus as were the three Galilean communities. Especially in comparison with the larger pagan centres of Tyre and Sidon, Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum were small fishing villages near the shore of the Sea of Galilee in the first-century C.E.[9] Jesus’ denunciation of these particular communities for their rejection of His preaching of God’s Kingdom, then, as opposed to larger towns where He had been, seems quite harsh. Of these villages, Capernaum is alluded to most often in Luke– four times (4:23, 31; 7:1; 10:15).[10] It was, despite its small size, a main centre of Jesus’ teaching ministry. It had presumably had more opportunities than other villages in its vicinity to reject Jesus. Evidently from Luke’s account, Capernaum had developed a worse reputation than other nearby villages for declining to receive Jesus’ Gospel of the Kingdom. Thus, it draws the starkest condemnation: “As for you, Capernaum, ‘Will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down into the netherworld’” (Luke 10:15). As poor as Capernaum’s reputation may have been, though, it was not, even for Luke, entirely depraved. Jesus’ first miracle there according to Luke is well-received; the people of Capernaum recognize Jesus’ authority (Luke 5:32) and rapidly spread the news (v 37) of His healing of a demoniac (vv 33-35) and teaching in their synagogue (v 31). Luke mentions Chorazin only once in his Gospel (Luke 10:13), while he refers to Bethsaida twice (Luke 9:10, as site of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, and 10:13). Why, then, such insignificant villages draw such a scathing rebuke in Luke 10:13-16 remains a mystery. Nonetheless, the message of this pericope is clear: Jesus’ human disciples, whether the Twelve or the Seventy, have been given divine authority to herald the inauguration of God’s kingdom. To fail to heed their message is to reject Christ, and therefore whoever rejects the Son of God, mediator between the divine and human as He is fully both, rejects God the Father.

If one reads no further than Luke 10:16, the tone of the Lukan account of the mission of the Seventy would suggest their utter failure. If those sent “ahead of [Jesus] to every town… He intended to visit” (Luke 10:1) had been unable to elicit repentance in three tiny fishing communities, their success would have been even less likely in larger towns, yet the Seventy return to their Lord rejoicing: “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name” (v 17). Their joy is not inappropriate; the Seventy recognize that their power to exorcise demons comes from Christ (Luke 9:1). However, Jesus warns them, “Do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20) Insofar as Jesus’ disciples have been empowered to participate in bringing to fulfillment the reign of God on earth, it has already been established in Christ. Satan, cast in Luke 10:18 as the “adversary”– the “prosecuting attourney,”[11] writes John L. McKenzie, of late Old Testament prophecy and wisdom traditions– has already fallen “like lightning from the sky” (v 18). Jesus’ disciples are promised that they will conquer even “serpents and scorpions,” and that nothing will harm” them (v 19). This promise is not a prediction by Jesus or by the evangelist of an end to persecution of Jesus’ followers. That has yet to occur, and if this latest “century of martyrs”[12] is any indication, maltreatment of Christians is on the increase. Instead, Luke’s message is that Jesus has provided for His disciples’ eternal welfare. Although Satan’s tyranny is still very much active in the world, it will be brought to an end with the eschaton, a process that is already underway.[13]

Following his admonition of the Seventy, newly-returned from their successful mission of evangelization, Jesus takes His turn to rejoice in prayer. McKenzie notes that Luke 10:21-22 parallels Matthew 11:25-27 almost exactly, with one important Lukan addition: Luke “alone mentions the rejoicing of Jesus in the Spirit.”[14] This allusion to the Holy Spirit is characteristic of Luke and of Acts.[15] At Jesus’ Ascension in Acts, the Apostles are reminded of our Lord’s own Baptism “with the Holy Spirit.” That Baptism is then conferred upon them; in the Holy Spirit they are to be Christ’s witnesses “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8) Luke often presents the Holy Spirit together with the Father and the Son. Three examples come to mind of this Trinitarian tendency of Luke: The first is his account of Jesus Baptism, during which the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus while “a voice from heaven,” that of the Father, declares that in His Son He is “well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)  The second is the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36), in which some consider the cloud (v 34) to be a reference to the Spirit, and the voice that says, “This is my chosen Son” (v 35), to be that of the Father. Jesus is present, of course, as a man. The third instance in Luke of the presentation of the whole Trinity in the same pericope is in Luke 10:21-22. Here, Jesus’ praise of the Father for His revelation to the “childlike” (v 21) is prefaced by Christ’s joy in the Holy Spirit.

These and other Lukan texts have therefore been used to support Trinitarian theology and in particular the divinity of the Holy Spirit. These dogmas, universal among Christians today, were disputed questions in the fourth century. The Council of Constantinople in 381, drawing especially upon the theology of the Cappadocian Fathers, Sts. Gregory Nazianzen, Basil of Caesarea, and Gregory of Nyssa, affirmed that the Spirit is equal in divinity to the Father and the Son. Although St. Basil never cited Luke 10:21 specifically in his formative work De Spiritu Sancto to argue that the Holy Spirit is divine, this verse is used liturgically to this day by various Christian churches on the feast day of Sts. Basil and Gregory Nazianzen.[16]

Another pertinent feature of Luke 10:21-22 is the identification in these verses between Jesus and divine wisdom.[17] Jesus and “anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him” (v 22) are alone able to know the identity of the Father. Moreover, the Father has chosen through the Son to reveal “these things” not to the “wise and learned” but to the childlike.” These verses recall the wisdom texts of the Old Testament. For instance, Sirach 51:1 reads, “I give you thanks, O God of my Father; I will praise you, O God my saviour!” Additionally, the prophetic tradition contains warnings about the limits of human wisdom compared to that of God, as in Isaiah 29:14b: “The wisdom of… wise men shall perish, and the understanding of… prudent men be hid.” God alone can reveal wisdom to humankind, for God alone is wisdom. Christ is at once wisdom’s mediator and wisdom incarnate. God will fill the humble disciple with His own wisdom. In this sense Luke points us toward God, wisdom and giver of wisdom to those who turn to Him: “To him who lacks understanding, I say, ‘Come, eat my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.” (Proverbs 9:4-6) At the same time as we, who lack understanding of God’s ways, are called to turn toward God, we have been supremely blessed like no other people: God-wisdom has become for us a human being. Thus we can say as our Lord said to His disciples: “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it” (Luke 10:24)

I began this article by recalling the Annunciation, a moment of great blessing told by Luke, and I conclude on this day before Christmas, another such moment. The announcement to Mary that she would bring Christ our Saviour into the world was at the same time a joyful and a troubling mystery. Likewise, the discipleship in Christ to which we are continually called brings with it experiences of blessing, of struggle, of joy, and of crisis. Let us pray as we celebrate our Lord’s Nativity for those who struggle in their faith, and for the persecuted, that they might be truly blessed. Let us also pray for those whose encounter with Christ, wisdom of God, who comes to us as a baby in a manger and will come again, has impelled them to proclaim the Gospel with joy. We, the disciples of Christ after the Twelve and the Seventy, await with this same joy the blessing of God that lasts forever. Amen.


[2] See Matthew 9:37-38, 10:7-16. The sayings of Jesus to His disciples found in Matthew differ in arrangement from those in Luke 10.

[3] John L. McKenzie, “The Gospel According to Luke,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, 2:143 (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968).

[4] Matthew parallels these “Kingdom of God” sayings found in Luke 10:9, 11. See Matthew 10:7, although note that Matthew prefers “Kingdom of heaven” to Luke’s “Kingdom of God.” See Philip P. Kapusta, “The ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ Versus the ‘Kingdom of God:’ Two Kingdoms, or One?” http://www.bibletopics.com/biblestudy/157.htm. Accessed 24 December, 2010.

[5] Colleen Shantz, “Redaction Criticism and the Gospel of Matthew,” Class Notes, SMB 1501 HS: Introduction to the Study of the New Testament, University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 28 January, 2010. Unless otherwise noted, these course notes are my source for definitions (especially double and triple tradition, Q, M, and L content) and figures I discuss in this section, such as the percentages of triple and double tradition found in each of the Synoptic Gospels.

[6] Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 4th ed. (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 94.

[7] These pericopes are the birth of Jesus (Matt 1:18-25) visit of the Magi (2:1-12), the flight of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to Egypt (vv 13-15), the massacre of the infants (vv 16-18), the Holy Family’s return from Egypt (vv 19-23), and the beginning of the Galilean ministry (4:12-17). Seam verses (also fulfillment citations) are Matthew 1:23; 2:6, 15, 18, 23, and 4:15-16.

[8] Anna Wierzbicka, What Did Jesus Mean? Explaining the Sermon on the Mount and the Parables in Simple and Universal Human Concepts (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 65.

[9] McKenzie, “The Gospel According to Luke,” 2:143.

[10] Bible Gateway, “Keyword Search Results: Capernaum,” http://www.biblegateway.com/keyword/?search=Capernaum&version1=31&searchtype=all&limit=none&wholewordsonly=no. Accessed 23 December 2010.

[11] McKenzie, “The Gospel According to Luke,” 2:143.

[12] H.W. Crocker, Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church, a 2,000-year History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001), 377.

[13] “Eschaton” is from Greek, referring to the “last things”; the term is synonymous with the end times.

[14] McKenzie, “The Gospel According to Luke,” 2:143.

[15] Ibid. Luke and Acts are held to have been written by the same author.

[16] “Readings for the Feast of St. Basil the Great,” http://www.liturgies.net/saints/0614basil/readings.htm. This site lists Catholic as well as Orthodox and Anglican liturgies and prayers. Roman Catholics celebrate the feast of Sts. Basil and Gregory on January 2; otherwise this feast is observed on June 14.

[17] D. Rebecca Dinovo, “Developing a Biblical Sophia Christology.” http://www.franciscan-anglican. com/Sophia.htm#_ftn12. Accessed 24 December 2010.

Jesus as the Wisdom of God: Wisdom Christology in the Gospel of Matthew

17 Dec

Jesus is never explicitly identified in the canonical Gospels with divine wisdom, and the sole Biblical instance of such an equation is in 1 Corinthians 1:24, where Paul writes that Jesus is “the wisdom of God.” Wisdom is therefore unlike titles commonly used in the Gospels to refer to Jesus such as teacher, son of man, son of God, son of David, and Christ or Messiah. According to Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, though, “Christological discourses” began within “a time span as short as twenty years after Jesus’ death” that described Jesus as the incarnation of the wisdom of God.[1] Wisdom Christology is more often associated with the Gospel of John, wherein Jesus is likened to the divine logos present from the creation of the cosmos (John 1:1, Genesis 1:1), than with the Synoptic Gospels.[2] However, the identification of Jesus as divine wisdom incarnate is present in Matthew, albeit more subtly than in John. In this paper, then, I will examine the wisdom Christology of the Gospel of Matthew. I will begin with a discussion of the historical roots in ancient Israel of the link between God and wisdom; a strong argument is made that this history originated in Israel’s monarchical period with the Israelite appropriation of wisdom literature, along with monarchical government itself, from Egypt. Following this historical sketch, I will identify where wisdom Christology is present in Matthew’s Gospel, with what divine actions this understanding of Jesus is associated, and how this notion of Jesus as wisdom might enrich the contemporary Church.

Wisdom literature in ancient Israel was an “exceedingly complex” tradition with a “variety of uses and implications” both secular and religious.[3] It was not novel at the time of Jesus’ earthly life, but dates back, according to Fiorenza, to at least the Babylonian Exile.[4] Moreover, Fiorenza writes, “wisdom’s theological roots are found not only in postexilic Jewish circles… but also in apocalyptic literature and in the writings of Qumran.”[5] Roland E. Murphy traces the wisdom genre of Israel to its monarchical period, and even beyond, to ancient Egypt: “Israel seems to have imitated Egypt in cultivating this type of literature, just as she had imitated Egypt in adopting the government of kingship.”[6] 1 Kings 3:1, which tells of the marriage of Solomon to a daughter of Pharaoh, is Biblical evidence in Murphy’s view of a strong probability of Egyptian cultural influence on monarchical Israel. The complex bureaucracy of a royal court system resulted from Israel’s adoption of monarchical government in imitation of its neighbours. Therefore, as “other nations” (1 Samuel 8:5) upon which Israel’s kinship was patterned had governed the intricate relationships between and “conduct of” courtiers, so too did Israel.[7]

Egypt’s ordering of its royal court through “teaching” or Sebayit, is notable, Murphy contends, for its influence on the organization of Israel’s monarchy, particularly under King Solomon. Murphy goes on to cite “remarkable similarities” between the Egyptian Sebayit and wisdom sayings of the Book of Proverbs that relate to order in a royal court and by extension to regulation of society as a whole. For example, both the Sebayit and Proverbs 2:4 extol those who seek after wisdom as a “hidden treasure.” Proverbs 23:1 mirrors passages of the Sebayit that list rules to be observed when dining before a ruler, and Egyptian wisdom writings about the “absolute reliability”[8] of a royal messenger are paralleled in Proverbs 25:13. Murphy contends that sapiential sayings from the Sebayit resemble not only those in Proverbs but many contained in other Old Testament wisdom books as well. He relates for instance the twenty-second century B.C.E. instructions in the Sebayit (ANET 417) to Meri-ka-re from his father Wah-ka-re on the importance of a ruler’s virtue– “More acceptable is the character of one upright of heart than the ox of an evildoer”– to the connection in 1 Samuel 5:22 and Ecclesiastes 4:17 between the value to God of Israelite kings’ sacrifices and their moral integrity.[9]

While the wisdom literature of the kingdoms of Egypt and of Israel is concerned with the ordering of expanded royal court systems, prophetic allusions to wisdom immediately prior to and during the Babylonian Exile take on a more negative tone than in the sapiential writings of Israel’s monarchical period. The first “explicit references to… wise men, or hăkāmîn,” Murphy writes, are found in Isaiah, whose characterization of those said to be wise is especially “harsh.”[10] Murphy quotes Isaiah 29:14 to support this assertion: “The wisdom of [Israel’s] wise men shall perish and the understanding of its prudent men [will] be hid.” In the midst of the Exile, the prevailing notion among Israelites became that human wisdom is negligible in comparison to that of God. This sapientology persisted after the Exile, with two important modifications: Firstly, human beings were increasingly viewed as capable of discerning right moral conduct from experience and from natural order, thought to be a manner of divine self-communication to humankind. Secondly, Mosaic Law was increasingly understood as the utmost form of God-to-human communication of wisdom. Thus the roles of scribes and priests– both of whom Ezra is a prime example (Ezra 7:6)– evolved into that of interpretation and instruction in Torah.[11] These sopherim, or wise men (in Greek, σοφοι), whose main function had become religious, in contrast to the mainly secular occupation of the wise men of Israel’s royal courts, were significant well into the New Testament period and especially in the Gospel of Matthew (Matt 23:34).[12]

Although the concept of divine self-communication as wisdom– particularly through Torah and through nature– developed in the post-Exilic period, “only in the later books [of the Old Testament]” was “wisdom… predicated of God.”[13] The personification of divine wisdom present in these late Old Testament period texts introduces a paradox: wisdom is at once remote from creation, attributable only to God (Job 28:13, 23), yet revealed to humankind as the recognition that “the fear of the LORD is wisdom” (v 28) or as the “craftsman” present in creation (Proverbs 8:30, Wisdom 9:9). Another problem arises with this representation “of wisdom as a person”: Wisdom thus might be understood as “no more than a personification, just as other aspects of God are personified in the Old Testament [such as God’s] Word (Isa 55:10-11) and spirit (63:10-11).” Roland E. Murphy responds to that potential danger by emphasizing not the late Old Testament personification of wisdom itself, but that the chief theological purpose of this period’s depiction of wisdom as a person is to highlight wisdom as divine communication to humankind. Wisdom in this period is not yet synonymous with God, but wisdom personified is understood in the late Old Testament era as a means of God-to-human communication. Therefore “the possibility of a supreme communication [of God as wisdom in the person of] Jesus Christ” in the New Testament age is left open.[14]

The depiction of Jesus as divine wisdom incarnate is most overt in 1 Corinthians and in the Gospel of John, among the earliest and latest New Testament writings, respectively. In the former, Paul affirms that Jesus is Θεου σοφιαν, “the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24), while from the outset of the latter, while not using the Greek word for wisdom, σοφια, or its derivatives in his prologue, John identifies Jesus as God’s wisdom and then immediately as God; the Johannine Jesus is the Word who at the creation of the universe “was with God and… was God” (John 1:1).  Clearly, then, the notion present throughout the New Testament period of Christ as God expressed as wisdom represents a shift from the latest Old Testament sapientology in which divine wisdom is not God but an attribute of God and the principal manner of divine-to-human communication. This shift, as Fiorenza indicates, occurred within twenty years of Jesus’ death,[15] during a time that gave rise to the written source material for much of the New Testament. Thus, the probability is strong that where wisdom sayings are present in the New Testament, they are intended, after their sources, to portray Jesus as God’s wisdom, not only as a divine trait but as fully God.

Jesus is associated with divine wisdom not only in the Johannine and Pauline literature, but also in the Synoptic Gospels. While such an identification of Jesus as the wisdom of God is made once in Mark (6:2) and six times in Luke (2:40, 52; 7:35; 11:31, 49; 21:15),[16] wisdom Christology is also integral to the Gospel of Matthew. Five instances of σοφια and cognates occur in the first Gospel (Matt 11:19, 25; 12:42; 13:54; 23:34).[17] This term is used Christologically the first four times it appears in Matthew, whereas in its fifth and final incidence it is applied to those whom Jesus has sent in his stead and who will be persecuted and killed.

Matthew refers to wisdom or to the wise on these five occasions in five distinct pericopes, the first three of which are original to Q, paralleled in Luke but omitted in Mark: Jesus’ words about John the Baptist (Matt 11:7-19),[18] his thanksgiving to the Father (vv 25-27),[19] and his condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees for seeking signs from him (12:38-42).[20] One Matthean pericope that includes a sapiential saying, that of Jesus rejection at Nazareth, is of Markan origin and is not paralleled in Luke.[21] The fifth Matthean reference to wisdom or to the wise occurs within Jesus’ denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees (23:1-36). While this pericope is present in abbreviated form in both Mark and Luke, the allusion to the “prophets… wise men (σοφους) and scribes”[22] (Matt 23:34) sent by Jesus, who will be rejected by Israel’s religious authorities, is uniquely Matthean.[23]

Although Matthew and Luke share Jesus’ speech “to the crowds about John” (Matt 11:7-19, Luke 7:24-35), and both end this pericope with a wisdom saying, the two evangelists differ slightly yet significantly in their redaction of that concluding verse. Whereas in Luke Jesus asserts that “wisdom is vindicated by all her children” (Luke 7:35), Matthew has edited the same Q verse to “wisdom is vindicated by her deeds” (Matt 11:19). M. Jack Suggs argues that “Luke’s editorial activity has taken the entire passage out of the context of wisdom thought altogether.”[24] The purpose of Luke’s closer approximation of the Q form than Matthew is to emphasize the expanded accessibility of divine wisdom personified in Christ to “the entire nation of Israel” as wisdom’s “children.”[25] According to Fiorenza, the Lukan “Sophia-God of Jesus recognizes all Israelites as her children.” Israel therefore “is justified… by all of them.”[26] D. Rebecca Dinovo notes that Luke’s version of this verse more closely parallels the wisdom text of Proverbs in which Wisdom speaks to her children: “Now, O children, listen to me; instruction and wisdom do not reject… Happy [are] those who keep my ways” (Prov 8:32).

In contrast to Luke, Matthew’s redaction as “wisdom is vindicated by her deeds” emphasizes that Jesus is the unique manifestation of divine Sophia. The Matthean Jesus is “Sophia incarnate”[27]; the same cannot be said of the Lukan Jesus on the basis of this pericope alone. In Matthew as in Luke, Suggs writes, “Jesus and John stand as the eschatological envoys of Wisdom.”[28] Both are therefore Wisdom’s prophets, but at that point the Matthean characterizations of each diverge.  With the inclusion of the proverb that “wisdom is vindicated by her deeds” (Matt 19:11) within the longest Q section preserved intact in Matthew and Luke[29] that extends from John’s disciples’ question to Jesus about whether he is the awaited Messiah (vv 2-3) to Jesus’ thanksgiving to the Father (vv 25-27), Matthew distinguishes John, wisdom’s greatest-ever prophet, from Jesus, who is wisdom. Suggs therefore writes that, as per Matthew,

Jesus is no longer the last and greatest of wisdom’s children; in him are the deeds of Wisdom to be uniquely seen… A succession of prophets [has] been inspired by Wisdom, of whom the greatest is John… Wisdom sends forth her prophets– from the first generation to this generation [that] has rejected Jesus and John. However, it would not… overstate the case that for Matthew [as for John the evangelist] Wisdom has “become flesh and dwelled among us.” (John 1:14)[30]

Suggs therefore asserts that, by the Matthean redaction as “deeds” of wisdom as opposed to Luke’s “children,” the evangelist intended to present Jesus as Wisdom incarnate. His argument is sound in that he considers this proverb the culmination of the entire Q section that begins with the list of Jesus’ Messianic deeds in response to the Baptist’s question about whether Jesus is the Christ. (Matt 11: 2-4). The thesis of Matthew 11:2-27 is that Jesus, announced by the Baptist, is the divine deed of wisdom and is Wisdom, fully divine and fully human. Jesus’ deeds of wisdom, as listed in Matthew 11:4-6 and pointed to again in verses 21 and 24, affirm his Messiahship that is exclusive of all other human beings. However, Matthew’s stress on the transcendence of Jesus as wisdom and as Messiah does not relegate the Christian disciple, whether in Matthew’s time or contemporarily, to the role of passive spectator to Jesus’ Messianic deeds. Inasmuch as the Matthean Jesus is uniquely divine Wisdom in human flesh, he is also Wisdom’s eschatological prophet. As such, Jesus has been granted the fullness of the Father’s authority over “all things” (Matt 11:27, 28:18). Stephen C. Barton writes that Jesus’ authority as prophet and mediator of wisdom according to the divine will (Matt 11:26), and indeed Jesus’ identification with divine wisdom itself, “is the fruit of being in a filial relationship with God, a relationship characterized on the human side by specific moral-religious qualities such as humility, obedience, and trust.”[31]

Such are qualities of “the childlike,” whom Matthew contrasts with the “children… in the marketplace” (Matt 11:16) who reject both the austere John the Baptist’s proclamation of the coming kingdom of God– the dirge for which they “do not mourn”– and the joyous actualization of that kingdom in the person of Jesus– “the flute” for which they “do not dance” (v 17).[32] Those children are in Matthew the false disciples who are nevertheless “wise and learned” by the common understanding of the time of Jesus and of the evangelist. The Matthean distinction between the “childlike,” those who trust in God’s wisdom and “gracious will” (v 26), and the restless children in the marketplace or the “wise and learned” is, according to Barton, “part of the larger Gospel theme that wisdom is a gift from God and therefore is not constrained by conventional expectations about where to find it, even expectations [that] associate wisdom with… [leaders] like the scribes, Pharisees, and priests… with… places like Israel, Jerusalem, the Temple, or [with] Torah.”[33]

For the contemporary Church as for the Matthean community, the focal point of the wisdom Christology of Matthew 11:7-19 and 25-27, and of the larger Q section from which these pericopes originate, is that, as Barton indicates, wisdom belongs to God and is revealed by God most fully in Jesus and by the Son to the extent that and “to whom he wishes to reveal [the Father]” in himself as wisdom (Matt 11:27). As Jesus’ revelation to humankind of God’s wisdom is inseparable from the relational unity of being between the Father and the Son, so too, the Christian disciple’s reception and dissemination of that divine wisdom cannot occur outside the context of human commitment to relationship with other human beings– that is, to building inter-human community, a theme integral to the Gospel of Matthew– and with God. Wisdom as God’s gift revealed to and heralded by human beings, is therefore, as Barton states, “the fruit… of a way of life and a pattern of faithfulness, [as opposed to] a process of solitary intellection.”[34]

A pressing temptation for the Church today is to regard itself as capable of mediating wisdom apart from God. To succumb to this deception has eschatological consequences, in particular when Christian leaders, purporting to speak for God, incite anxiety about persecution and disasters that will precede the end of time. Teachings not to worry about these forthcoming events are prominent in Matthew. For example, one ought to depend upon God’s providence to sustain even his or her life (Matt 6:25-32). God, in this case “the Spirit of the Father,” will speak in the disciples’ favour in time of persecution (Matt 10:20); the faithful follower of Jesus will not escape the “knowledge” of the Father (v 29). Matthew therefore attributes to Jesus words of eschatological comfort to those who follow God’s will. That divine will proposes only two related Commandments for Christians to follow: to love God and to love one’s neighbour as one’s self (Matt 22:37-39). In observing those statutes, the disciple is freed from anxiety over final judgment (Matt 11:24) and is open to Jesus who is eschatological consolation, in continuity with “the law and the prophets” (v 40) as well as the wisdom tradition of the Old Testament. While Wisdom in Sirach 6:24-25 calls its disciples to live by Torah as under a yoke and fetters,[35] Jesus invites us to himself, as he is Wisdom and the fulfillment of Torah: “Come to me, all you who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest… For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Matt 11:28-30).

Like Matthew 11:2-27, which includes two references to Jesus as Wisdom and is appended by another, the Matthean addition in verses 28-30 of Jesus’ invitation to take up his yoke, the next application of wisdom to Jesus also occurs within a Q-based pericope.[36] In Matthew 12:38-42, the “scribes and the Pharisees” demand a sign from Jesus (v 38), but do not realize that Jesus, the utmost of divine signs, is the Messiah already among them. Thus, they incur Jesus’ rebuke; they have had many opportunities to witness God with Israel and now does not acknowledge Jesus, the sign of prophecy “greater than Jonah” (v 41) and that of wisdom “greater than Solomon,” (v 42) as divine. The sapiential saying in this pericope’s last verse complements those in Matthew 11: 19 and 26. While those point to the exclusivity of Jesus as Sophia-God and eschatological prophet of wisdom, that in Matthew 12:42 highlights the supremacy– the “greater than” aspect– of wisdom’s self-manifestation as Jesus Christ.[37] The theme of Jesus as supreme sign of God permeates the Gospel of Matthew. Thus Matthew underscores that Jesus, as a human being, is the fullness of God’s presence among human beings. The evangelist does so by applying the Old Testament notion of divine sign as expressions of the “activity of God”[38] in the world to Jesus, who is the sought-after “Emmanuel… God [who] is with us” (Matt 1:23, Isa 7:10) from the beginning to “the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).

Jesus’ claim in Matthew 12:41-42 of Messianic, prophetic, and sapiential supremacy is also relevant for Christianity today. Matthew identifies Jesus as “greater than” all wisdom and prophecy that has preceded or will succeed him, thus for contemporary Christians to dispute over who is greatest (Matt 18:1-5, 20:20-26) is at the same time futile and destructive of human community. The pre-eminence of wisdom and prophecy are the Messiah’s alone. Matthew consistently condemns the urge among some members of his community to dominate fellow disciples. In Matthew, Jesus does not lord his Godhead over his followers (Matt 21:25); his primacy is felt not as the bearer of titles (Matt 23:10) Instead, Jesus, “the greatest among [us],” is so because he has come among us “to serve and to give his life” (Matt 21:28). Jesus thus models service for the Church today to the point of self-sacrifice. In my own ministerial experience, particularly in a leadership role as a children’s sacramental preparation instructor, I am reminded by Jesus as depicted by Matthew that I am to the children I teach their servant and the Church’s servant more than their proud teacher. Jesus is the children’s teacher through me. Also, the more I ask questions of the children and allow them to reflect and to respond as opposed to lecturing them from my knowledge, the more I am awed by their wisdom. The children I teach, then, become my teachers of humility and faithfulness and draw me, as I hope to draw them, the future of the Church, closer to Jesus (Matt 18:2-5), servant, teacher, Wisdom, and God.

After the allusion to Jesus as “something greater than Solomon” in Matthew 12:42, the next reference to wisdom in the first Gospel is when the “people in [the] Synagogue” in Nazareth question the source of Jesus’ “wisdom and mighty deeds.” (Matt 13:54) As in the wisdom sayings in Matthew 11, the evangelist here links the identification of Jesus as wisdom with wisdom’s manifestation through the deeds of its prophet, Christ. Similarly to the wisdom references of Matthew 11, but emphasized further in Matthew 13:54, revelation of Christ as wisdom through his deeds is contingent upon the active faith of wisdom’s receiver. That message again is as true for today’s Church as it was for the Church to which Matthew wrote his Gospel.

The fifth and last Matthean instance of a cognate of σοφια is not applied to Jesus but to the disciples who by Matthew’s time had already come under persecution of both religious leaders within Judaism and Roman authorities. Jesus connects these emissaries of wisdom whom he sends– “prophets, wise men, and scribes” (Matt 23:34) insofar as Christ is the embodiment of wisdom and the prophets and scribes steward and proclaim it­– with the Old Testament prophets who were also persecuted (Matt 23:30). While religious persecution is remote from contemporary North American Christian experience, it occurs at an unprecedented rate, with an estimated annual number of Christians killed for their faith in the world of 150 000.[39] Such a degree of persecution impels Christians who enjoy freedom of religion to advocate its expansion and to be aware of ways to alleviate suffering of those for whom it is suppressed.

Matthew’s identification of Jesus, wisdom’s prophet, with wisdom itself calls us to such a prophetic role in today’s Church. Employing especially the late Old Testament period concept of God as communicator of divine wisdom to humankind, that itself evolved from Israelite and non-Israelite traditions, Matthew argued that Jesus is uniquely and supremely the fullness of divine wisdom in human flesh. The Christian of Matthew’s time and of ours is given the task to mediate Christ as prophet, as servant, as God, and as wisdom to the world.


Notes:

[1] Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Jesus: Miriam’s Child, Sophia’s Prophet: Critical Issues in Feminist Christology (New York: Continuum Publishing Company, 1994), 139.

[2] Stephen C. Barton, “Gospel Wisdom,” in Where Shall Wisdom Be Found? Wisdom in the Bible, the Church, and the Contemporary World, edited by Stephen C. Barton (Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 1999), 104-105.

[3] Roland E. Murphy, “Introduction to Wisdom Literature,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 1:492.

[4] Fiorenza, Jesus: Miriam’s Child, Sophia’s Prophet, 133.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Roland E. Murphy, “Introduction to Wisdom Literature,” 1:488.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 1:490.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 1:488.

[11] Matthew Black, “Scribes,” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, ed. George Arthur Buttrick et al. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962), 4:246.

[12] Ibid., 4:246-247.

[13] Roland E. Murphy, “Introduction to Wisdom Literature,” 1:493.

[14] Ibid., 1:494.

[15] Fiorenza, Jesus: Miriam’s Child, Sophia’s Prophet, 139.

[16] Bible Gateway, “Quick Search Results: σοφ,” http://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch= %CF%83%CE%BF%CF%86&qs_version=TR1894. Accessed 8 December 2010.

[17] The Interlinear NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English, trans. Alfred Marshall (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 44, 51, 59, 104.

[18] Burton H. Throckmorton, Gospel Parallels: A Comparison of the Synoptic Gospels, 5th ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992), 55-56.

[19] Ibid., 57-58.

[20] Ibid., 72-73.

[21] Ibid., 86. Luke includes Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth and, as in Matthew and Mark, this episode highlights Jesus’ prophetic role. However, this pericope is transposed to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Luke (4:16-30) and does not contain a wisdom saying. Throckmorton does not list the Lukan pericope in parallel with the similar account in the other Synoptic Gospels.

[22] The Interlinear NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English, 104.

[23] Throckmorton, Gospel Parallels, 165-168.

[24] M. Jack Suggs, Wisdom, Christology, and Law in Matthew’s Gospel (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970), 55-56.

[25] D. Rebecca Dinovo, “Developing a Biblical Sophia Christology.” http://www.franciscan-anglican. com/Sophia.htm#_ftn12. Accessed 10 December 2010.

[26] Fiorenza, Jesus: Miriam’s Child, Sophia’s Prophet, 140.

[27] Suggs, Wisdom, Christology, and Law in Matthew’s Gospel, 58.

[28] Ibid., 55.

[29] Ibid., 37.

[30] Ibid., 57.

[31] Barton, “Gospel Wisdom,” 96.

[32] John L. McKenzie, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 2:83.

[33] Barton, “Gospel Wisdom,” 96.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Dinovo, “Developing a Biblical Sophia Christology,” accessed 10 December 2010.

[36] McKenzie, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” 2:85.

[37] James D.G. Dunn, “Jesus: Teacher of Wisdom or Wisdom Incarnate,” in Where Shall Wisdom Be Found? Wisdom in the Bible, the Church, and the Contemporary World, edited by Stephen C. Barton (Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 1999), 88.

[38] McKenzie, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” 2:85.

[39] Ron Csillag, “Christianity Arguably the Most Persecuted Religion in the World,” Toronto Star, 4 December 2010.

It Is Good to Be Here- Reflection for Mass of August 6, 2010- Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

8 Aug

Friday, August 6, 2010
Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord
Readings: 2 Peter 1:16-19; Psalm 97: 1-2, 5-6, 9+11 (R: 1a and 9a); Luke 9:28-36

This Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord brings to mind my beginning as a Basilian Associate. My spiritual director in Edmonton at the time had been working with me during our meetings on praying over the readings of the coming days. During one meeting, we discussed Luke’s version of the Transfiguration. My spiritual director asked, “If you had to focus on one theme in this Gospel on which to preach, what would that theme be?”

Luke’s Transfiguration narrative provides us with many details, so it was a difficult task for me to stay focused on a single theme. For example, I am often drawn to the words of God the Father that are also recalled in today’s first reading from the Second Letter of Peter: “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”[1] Three of the most trusted Apostles, Peter, James, and John, accompany Jesus up the mountain.[2] Moses and Elijah, representative of the law and the prophets, converse with Jesus after his clothes are made to shine a dazzling white.[3] Poor Peter, barely able to stay awake,[4] misspeaks more than once. He does make an interesting comment about the three tents, recalling the Jewish Festival of the Tabernacles.[5] Jesus, likewise, literally came to dwell among us according to John’s Gospel, or, more faithfully to the Greek, He “tabernacled” among us.[6] Also, in the Lukan Transfiguration, the whole Trinity is present: the Father in the voice, the Son in the human person of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in the cloud.[7] That cloud, as well as the mention of Jesus’ “departure,” in Greek exodon, point ominously to the Passion and death of Jesus.[8]

All of these details are fascinating and quite appropriate fruits of scholarly research. Yet this theophany- an amazing manifestation of God’s power- for all its awesome display, calls us to a deeper simplicity. Noticing my struggle to focus on a particular detail of the Transfiguration- I was more like Peter, who Luke tells us “did not know what he was saying”[9]– my spiritual director pointed me toward what he thought was most significant in the story: Peter’s simple words, “Master it is good that we are here.”[10]

Like St. Peter, how good it is when we can spontaneously speak and pray those words. This week, I spent about two days translating a French interview transcript into English for Salt and Light Television. The interviewee, Montreal Cardinal Archbishop Jean-Claude Turcotte, spoke to one of our producers about the upcoming canonization of Brother André Bessette. Cardinal Turcotte related the healings performed while Brother André ministered at Collège Notre-Dame and at St. Joseph’s Oratory, and then through Brother André’s intercession after his death. Cardinal Turcotte said of the pilgrims who still visit the Oratory by the thousands that a sense exists that it is good to be there. Even those who will not be healed of physical infirmity nonetheless receive consolation, and have said, “We have peace.” Those pilgrims, through the prayers of Brother André, are prepared for their “great passage from life to death,” a transition that will bring new life but that is “never easy.”[11]

Let us then pray that, through the intercession of Brother André and the whole Communion of Saints, our lives on earth might be a process of transfiguration, our being made fit for eternal life with God in heaven. Let us join, with St. Peter and with the pilgrims to St. Joseph’s Oratory, in praying in thanksgiving as we celebrate this Eucharist that foretells our coming into God’s glory: “Lord, it is good that we are here.”

—–

Note on material used from the interview of Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, conducted for Salt and Light Television: Over the last few weeks, I have had the privilege of translating this and other French-language interviews for an upcoming documentary on Blessed Brother André Bessette, csc. Brother André will be canonized on October 17, 2010.

For more information, please go to www.saltandlighttv.org, and stay tuned for Salt and Light TV’s coverage of Brother André’s canonization. He will be known to the universal Church as St. André of Montreal.

 


[1] Luke 9:35, 2 Peter 1:17. This verse is also a repetition of Luke 3:22, in which a voice from heaven speaks these same words as Jesus is baptized.

[2] Luke 9:28

[3] Luke 9:29-30

[4] Luke 9:32

[5] Luke 9:33. See also Zechariah 14:16, Deuteronomy 16:13-15

[6] See John 1:14. The Greek word in reference is εσκηνωσεν, literally “tabernacled” or “build [one’s] tent. The same root is found in Luke 9:33, in Peter’s words, “Let us build three tents (‘skenas’- σκηνας).”

[7] See the Entrance Antiphon for Mass on the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.

[8] Carroll Stuhlmueller, “The Gospel According to Luke,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 2:141.

[9] Luke 9:33

[10] Ibid.

[11] Jean-Claude Turcotte, interviewed by Sébastien Lacroix for Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, July, 2010. Translation from French is mine. See note above.

Dear Pauline Post

1 Jul

The assignment that follows was originally submitted as my final synthesis paper for my course on the Letters of Paul at Regis College, Toronto, ON, Canada, on 7 April, 2010, MDiv I, Semester 2. Students were invited to synthesize the content of the course creatively. As the opening paragraph indicates, I chose to present the Pauline theology taught in the course and in its reading material as a series of letters and responses to an advice column similar to those found in contemporary newspapers. Unlike many previous essays posted here, the footnotes in this paper are in line with the text and are not listed separately.

—–

The following will be a series of four fictitious letters to and responses from a columnist of “The Pauline Post,” a newspaper that presents themes from the Biblical letters of Paul in a contemporary context. These letters will follow the format of an advice column. The first letter and reply will focus on Paul as an enigmatic and divisive figure in both first century C.E. Mediterranean and in twenty-first century Western societies. The second letter-response will discuss Paul’s eschatology and use of apocalyptic literature and how his written style and expectation of the imminent Second Coming of Christ differs from the current long-term expectation of the parousia. This letter exchange will also relate Paul’s apocalyptic approach to his views on love, family life, gender differences, and sexuality. The third letter and response will treat Pauline kenotic theology and his perspective on the cross as human foolishness but divine wisdom. It will also question to what extent Paul opposed or acquiesced to Roman power and what import Paul’s relationship with Rome has for our view of civil authority today. Paul’s insistence upon the Christian goal of a common good will be the subject of the fourth letter and reply.

–           Dear Pauline Post: My husband, Ambrose, and I attended a church service last Sunday during which a passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was proclaimed. The verse, “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord” (Eph 5:22) infuriated me but delighted my husband. I am afraid that Ambrose will cite Ephesians as a pretext to demand the same reverence from me as that which I owe to God alone. My husband contended that he would never consider himself equal to God, for Paul warned against pride in relationships- “love is not pompous [and] is not inflated” (1 Cor 13:4)- and against boasting: “God chose the lowly and despised of the world… to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God.” (1 Cor 1:29) I remain unconvinced by Ambrose’s attempts to allay my concerns. If Paul were alive today, he would need to answer for having created such rows that threaten the unity of families. Signed: Furious in Philippi.

–           Dear Furious: Your husband would be heartened to know that the saint whose name he bears shared his favourable view of Paul. Indeed, St. Ambrose referred to St. Paul as “Christ’s second eye.” Other commentators have opined negatively about Paul’s representation of Jesus, about Paul’s vices over his virtues, or even against his saintliness. For example, A.N. Whitehead decried Paul’s distortion and subversion of Jesus’ teachings. Philosopher Ernest Renan described Paul as “proud, unbending, imperious…, self- assertive and masterful,” and “not by any means a saint.” The discord generated between you and your husband over the Pauline legacy is thus not unprecedented; Paul was a cause of division in the first century C.E. and remains so today. Theologian Gustav Deissmann accurately said that “there has probably seldom been anyone at the same time hated with such fiery hatred and loved with such strong passion as Paul.”

Concurrently understood, among many characterizations, as a saint, a founder of institutional Christianity, an anti-Jewish renegade, and a misogynist, Paul and his letters must be appraised within their first-century social milieu, which was as diverse as and in several ways dissimilar to the modern world. Paul contended with the clash of Jewish and Gentile influences on early Christianity, with the definition of the Christian minority’s place within the pagan Roman Empire, and with the expectation of Christ’s immediate return to establish God’s reign on earth. After Paul’s death under Nero and with dimming anticipation of a sudden parousia, Christian writers absorbed much of the Imperial social order pioneered by Caesar Augustus, which included strict regulation of gender roles and family life (John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, In Search of Paul, 95-99). Letters like Ephesians were penned during this period. The undisputedly authentic Pauline letters- Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon (Ibid., 105)- obscure boundaries of gender, social class, and ethnicity in favour of a more charismatic notion of church (Gal 3:26-29). Some scholars, like N.T. Wright, consider Colossians (N.T. Wright, Paul, 27) and Ephesians, which you cite, to have been written by Paul, but those texts diverge in vocabulary from and feature a higher Christology than the texts listed by Crossan and Reed (Ibid., 18-19)  and are usually classified as deutero-Pauline. If Paul were alive today amid Western civilization, he would be confronted with a society as divided as that of the first century, but on different matters. Those include increased spousal and familial strife, greater awareness of gender equality, extremes of poverty and of affluence, and the threat to peace posed by destructive weaponry coupled with heightened intra- and international friction. Paul, though, would perhaps be encouraged by proposed solutions to such problems, chiefly continued emphasis on solidarity of Christians toward the betterment of the world for all- a “common good” (Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, 26, 46-93).

–           Dear Pauline Post: In your response to Furious in Philippi, you rebutted the argument based on Ephesians 5:22 that Paul was opposed to an expanded role for women in the family and in the church by countering that Ephesians is considered by a majority of scholars to be of post-Pauline authorship. I referred to your column, which cites 1 Corinthians as authentically Pauline, in my recent homily centered on Paul’s instruction, “Women should keep silent in the churches.” (1 Cor 14:34) My suggestion that those Pauline words should be heeded verbatim in our age was contested by a woman whose tirade after Mass made me wonder if the end times were looming. In deep reflection after escaping the mob of parishioners who tried to throw me off the nearest cliff (Luke 4:29), I thought that Paul had abandoned his gender egalitarianism as time progressed with no sign of the parousia, hence his infamous passage in 1 Corinthians. I am confused, though, since the same First Letter to the Corinthians exalts both celibacy and marriage as divine vocations (1 Cor 7:7-11). Paul’s “only” exhortation is that “everyone should live as the Lord assigned, just as God called each one.” (v 17) Signed: Counting the Days in Corinth.

–           Dear Counting: Two issues are raised in your letter above: Pauline authenticity, particularly of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, and the influence of apocalyptic theology on Paul’s perspectives on love, on family life, and on sexuality. Pauline redaction of 1 Corinthians is undisputed among Biblical exegetes, although many scholars hypothesize that this letter contains interpolations of later deutero-Pauline material into Paul’s original work. One of these probable interpolations is 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35. Notably, if this passage is omitted, the preceding text, “[God] is not the God of disorder but of peace,” (v 33a) links smoothly with the succeeding verse, “Did the word of God go forth from you, or has it come to you alone?” (v 36)

That argument alone does not negate Pauline authorship of 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35. However, if Paul did prohibit women from speaking in churches, his words must be situated in mid-first-century Corinth. Plato derided the stereotypical ritual prostitute of Corinth with the Greek word korinthiazesthai– “Corinthian girl.” Previously in 1 Corinthians, Paul condemned the Corinthians’ pride in their incestuous acts (E.P. Sanders, Paul, 106); the perpetrators of such evil were to be purged from their midst. (1 Cor 5:13) Paul then upbraided the Corinthians for excessive “divisions” created in what ought to have been a communal feast of “the Lord’s supper.” Instead, at Corinth some would become drunk at table, while others would go hungry. (1 Cor 11:17-22) Even the irenic ode to love (1 Cor 13:1-13) was a Pauline rebuke of first-century Corinthian lack of moral qualities: patience, humility, endurance, faith, hope, and charity. Corinth was an ancient economic hub noted for discrepancies in wealth and for rampant promiscuity.

          1 Corinthians 7 is indeed an example of Pauline apocalyptic literature. In Paul’s expectation of an imminent parousia, he instructed the church at Corinth not to be swayed by extremes of lust or asceticism, but to obey their divinely-ordained vocations. Paul begins 1 Corinthians 7 with a quotation of an ascetic Corinthian motto against the city’s renowned debauchery: “It is a good thing for a man not to touch a woman.” (v 1) Paul retorted that sex within marriage was a holy “duty” (v 3) of husband and wife, although prayer “by mutual consent” was a just cause for temporary abstinence from marital relations (v 5) In marriage, wife and husband are fully given to each other as to God (v 4). The Pauline message was consistent whether to the married, to the unmarried (vv 8-11), to the circumcised Jews, to the uncircumcised Gentiles (v 18), to slaves, and to free persons (vv 20-21): we did not create nor do we possess our own lives, but God did create and did, acquire us “for a price.” (v 23) Paul’s enduring point, then, in expectation of the parousia, is not to “become slaves to human beings” (v 23) but to discern and to adhere to God’s timeless call to each person (vv 17, 24). Lastly, on time and on apocalyptic literature, in a period of crisis and persecution for the nascent church, Paul anticipated the parousia not to be the end of chronos, or quantitative time, so much as the fulfillment of kairos, a decisive and divinely-willed moment in which all have lived since Jesus’ era and in which we are now living (Crossan and Reed, In Search of Paul, 176-177). Nonetheless, he greatly underestimated the chronos in which it would be finalized, but developed the theology that Christ’s return would radically complete the work in this world begun by our Lord’s death and resurrection.

–           Dear Pauline Post: We agreed with your reply to Counting that the eschatological process is both underway and yet to be fulfilled. Thus, your Corinthian interlocutor ought not to be worriedly counting his days. We also valued your comment that the end times began with the death and resurrection of Christ. Conversely, though, we wondered during our telephone conversation about this year’s Good Friday service whether Christ could have saved us by a less horrific death than by crucifixion. Jesus was either extremely foolish or knew his Father with intimacy beyond human comprehension to have “emptied himself” (Phil 2:7) in such a manner. Signed: Theologian in Thessaloniki and Writer in Rome.

–           Dear Theologian and Writer: Jesus’ self-emptying, or kenosis, has perplexed theologians and writers since Christ died and rose again. Paul attempted, especially in Philippians and in his letters to the Corinthians, to address the implications for Christian faith of Jesus’ death by a humiliating and painful method of execution sanctioned by Imperial Rome. With scathing vitriol at the outset of 1 Corinthians, Paul reproached the community at Corinth for its reliance on the “wisdom of human eloquence.” (1 Cor 1:17) The Corinthians were then asked rhetorically: “Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish?” (v 20) The Pauline gospel was thus affirmed: “We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the wisdom of God and the power of God.” (vv 24-25) Paul’s message was indeed good news, however subversive it was to Imperial authorities. Although he was skilled in rhetoric, Paul urged early Christians to rely entirely on God. Divine power exceeded and outlasted that of successive Roman Emperors, even though many of the latter bore the title, “Devi Filius– Son of the Divine One” (Crossan and Reed, In Search of Paul, 91). For his efforts, Paul was imprisoned at Ephesus, then in Caesarea, then in Rome. Philemon and Philippians were written during the Ephesian imprisonment (Ibid., 272). Philippians and 2 Corinthians contain passages of a dialectical literary style. In both letters, life and death, hope and despair, and exaltation and humiliation were abruptly contrasted, but hope emerged victorious for Paul (Ibid., 273) as he experienced Christ’s kenotic suffering in his “own mortal body.” (Ibid., 278) Paul was therefore able to preach authoritatively the mystical Christian union with the crucified Jesus. Christians thus share in God’s salvific and revelatory kenosis that supersedes but does not threaten temporal powers. (Ibid., 291)

–           Dear Pauline Post: Despite Paul’s reputation as an angry, proud, and divisive figure, I am attracted to his support of a “common good” (1 Cor 12:7) in early Christian communities. As expressed in previous exchanges with The Pauline Post, Paul mystically lived and taught by Christ’s self-emptying example. He anticipated an imminent parousia of whose “day and hour no one knows.” (Matt 24:36) Paul was converted on the road to Damascus yet over a lifetime (Crossan and Reed, In Search of Paul, 6-10); he was not perfect, but his struggles and vices make him all the more human to me. I was once unsure of my religious confession, but the more I read Paul’s letters, the more I am compelled to seek Christian baptism at the earliest opportunity. Signed: God-fearing Goodness Seeker in Galatia.

–           Dear God-fearing: The Pauline Post welcomes you to and supports you in your Christian journey. You are clearly not one of the “stupid Galatians” (Gal 3:1) whom Paul once excoriated. The Holy Spirit, Paul might say today, has moved you toward the Christian faith as the same Spirit moved “God-fearers”- neither Jews nor wholly pagans- sympathetic to Judeo-Christianity in the first century (Crossan and Reed, In Search of Paul, 36-37) toward fellowship with God and toward formation of loving human communities. Christian love, as Paul taught, is not easy, nor is it mere feeling, but is in its essence actively unitive. Together let us build up God’s church in the Spirit and in love seek the common good. (1 Cor 12:7; 1 Thess 5:11). “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal1:3) in this Easter season.

‘The Life of Man is the Glory of God’- Reflection for Mass of June 28, 2010

28 Jun

Monday, June 28, 2010
Memorial: St. Irenaeus, bishop and martyr
Readings: Amos 2:6-10, 13-16; Psalm 50: 16bc-23 (R:22a); Matthew 8:18-22

About two weeks ago I spoke with a journalist on the subject of heresy, admittedly not a topic that I think about often. “What is heresy? Who are heretics?” were the basic questions asked of me. As it was suggested to me, I had in hand the definition of heresy from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith.”[1] Unfortunately, that definition only got me a few minutes into our three-hour conversation.

With my mind drifting while I was preparing to meet the reporter, I thought briefly of St. Irenaeus’ “Against Heresies,” directed against the Gnostics.[2] In the second century, these Gnostics were teaching heretically that the spirit was imprisoned within our corrupt material bodies and that it could ascend to eternal life only upon our physical death. Irenaeus’ main counterpoint was that body and spirit were created by God, were good and will ascend together to eternal life.[3] Any mention of Irenaeus’ treatise, though, would have been even more futile in my discussion with the journalist.

Irenaeus’ “Against Heresies,” however dense, nevertheless contains some magnificent quotations. Perhaps his most well-known is this, included in today’s Office of Readings: “Life in man is the glory of God. The life of man is the vision of God.”[4] Here, St. Irenaeus provides not so much a denunciation of heresies but a tremendous testimony to the dignity of humankind, created in God’s image, and in turn to our dependence on God.

To lose our notion of these two fundamental truths, I posit, is the ultimate heresy. Pride that disregards God and thus cannot have a proper grasp of human dignity is as seductive in our time as it was in the era of St. Irenaeus. The wilful ignorance of God by the ancient Israelites at the height of their prosperity drew the ire of the prophet Amos. Today we hear from Amos the startling finale of the six “oracles against the nations,” of which the first four are directed against foreign peoples, the fifth is against Judah, and the sixth is a scathing criticism of the ancient Israelites’ decadence.[5] This was not what Amos’ target audience wanted to hear; Israel was reminded that it, more than other nations, had benefitted from God’s grace in its history, having been delivered from Egypt and from the Amorites.[6] Israel, more than its neighbouring peoples, knew better than to have abandoned its covenant with God.

As Amos’ oracle shocked the ancient Israelites, our Psalm response in today’s liturgy still has an alarming character. Not many Christians can or ought to ignore this warning: “Remember this, you who never think of God.”[7] The repetition of these words, however disturbing, should make us think and pray: How often do I think of God? How often do I adore and thank God? How often do I embrace the divine gift of my vocation above “a place to lay [my] head”[8] or above religious or secular ritual,[9] however important these are? Most of us are quite adept in such areas, but we can always improve with regular and attentive prayer.

Without denying the corruption of sin, we must remember the presence of God and unite ourselves to Him. God, St. Irenaeus wrote beautifully, is with us as “a constant goal toward which to make progress.”[10] In His love for humanity, God sent His Son, the Christ who “revealed God to [us] and presented [us] to God.”[11] Let us pray that we might be ever mindful of that relationship between humankind and God- Father, Son and Spirit- to whose glory and by whose abundant love we are given life everlasting.

WRS


[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2089.

[2] The word “Gnostic” comes from the Greek gnosis, for knowledge. Gnostics in general believed that secret divine knowledge had been revealed to them that had not been granted to all Christians as a matter of faith. Valentinus, of whose writings only fragments have survived to the present, was the particular target of St. Irenaeus’ “Against Heresies.” See Irenaeus, Against Heresies, I.1.

[3] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V.6.

[4] Ibid., IV.20.7.

[5] Philip J. King, “Amos,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 1:246.

[6] Amos 2:9-10.

[7] Psalm 50:22a

[8] Matthew 8:20

[9] See Matthew 8:21-22. Jews in Jesus’ time had great reverence for the dead, and much emphasis was placed on proper burial to honour deceased family members. The teaching to “let the dead bury their dead,” designed to shock first-century hearers, should be understood as an example of a hyperbolic proverb. The point of this saying is that discipleship of Christ must take precedence over ritual, although the latter might be of profound importance. This instruction is not that the rituals themselves are wrong or trivial, but that they, too, come from God. However, these are subordinate to the greater gifts of fellowship and mission in Jesus Christ. See also the Lukan parallel of today’s Gospel reading, found in Luke 9:57-62.

[10] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V.7.

[11] Ibid.

Do Not Judge, so that You May Not Be Judged- Reflection for Mass of June 21, 2010- St. Aloysius Gonzaga

21 Jun

Monday, June 21, 2010
Memorial: St. Aloysius Gonzaga, Religious
Readings: 2 Kings 17:5-8, 13-15a, 18; Psalm 60: 1-3+, 5, 10-11 (R:6b); Matthew 7:1-5

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.”[1] Jesus’ simple teaching recorded in Matthew’s Gospel has been one of the most misinterpreted. For good reason, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in his Homily prior to entering the conclave that elected him as Pope Benedict XVI, spoke of the “dictatorship of relativism”[2] that threatens our world. That relativism, which “does not recognize anything as definitive”[3] but proposes a logically incoherent system whereby one cannot or ought not to judge one principle to be truer than another, was not what Jesus advocated.

On the other hand, especially in our North American society, persons become engrossed in show trials or legal dramas, or television programs that present real-life civil cases whose palpable animosity is made accessible to the viewing public. While the viewing of many of these programs is not wrong per se, their popularity may suggest an obsession with reproachful judgment of others from the comfort of our homes to which Jesus’ warning in today’s Gospel reading more directly applies.[4]

Notably, Jesus’ saying about judgment is explained through the use of hyperbole.[5] Those in Jesus’ time or in the target community of Matthew’s Gospel would likely have appreciated the hyperbolic humour in the saying about taking “the log out of [one’s] own eye” before removing “the speck [from one’s] neighbour’s eye.”[6] At the same time, profound caution to be aware of our own faults before those of others and of our need for forgiveness is conveyed by this instruction.

The proscription against judging others does not bar us from distinguishing good from evil; in fact we must constantly differentiate these as faithful and rational moral agents. However, that teaching is deeper than merely judging and acting morally; by it Jesus draws us into the mystery of God’s bountiful mercy. As God is merciful toward us, we must not condemn, lest we likewise be condemned, but we are to act mercifully toward our neighbour. We ought to even exercise that mercy pre-emptively, just as God anticipates our sins and our struggles, and is ever-present to assist, to console, and to forgive us.

As we profess in our Creed, we believe that Jesus Christ “will come again to judge the living and the dead.” That judgment, though, is founded on merciful love that is God’s very nature. Thus, we pray during the first Eucharistic prayer in intensely moving words: “Though we are sinners… do not consider what we truly deserve, but grant us your forgiveness.”[7]

St. Aloysius Gonzaga, whose memorial we celebrate today, especially understood this mercy of the divine judge that we are called to replicate. A prince by birth, he placed himself at the service of the plague-stricken hospital patients in Rome. He contracted the plague himself and died at the age of twenty-three years.[8] In his humility, St. Aloysius thought it “better to be a child of God than the King of the whole world.”[9] Let us pray that we might follow the example of St. Aloysius of consecration to our one true King and Judge.

May we, through the intercession of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, patron of youth, come to a greater love for God, be preserved from sin, and at the hour of death be welcomed into the embrace of God’s mercy by which we are judged and by which we conduct ourselves toward one another.

WRS 


[1] Matthew 7:1, Luke 6:37

[2] Joseph Ratzinger, “Cappella Papale, Mass ‘Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice’:  Homily of His Eminence Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Dean of the College of Cardinals, Monday 18 April 2005.” http://www.va/gpII/documents/homily-pro-eligendo-pontifice_20050418_en.html. Accessed 20 June 2010.

[3] Ibid.

[4] This paragraph is derived from the video reflection for 21 June 2010 by Fr. Michael Manning, SVD, posted on the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. See http://www.usccb.org/video/reflections.shtml

[5] John L. McKenzie, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 2:75.

[6] Matthew 7:5

[7] The Catholic Liturgical Library, “Eucharistic Prayer I (Roman Canon), Mass of the 1970 Missal.” http://www.catholicliturgy.com/index.cfm/FuseAction/Text/Index/4/SubIndex/67/ContentIndex/22/Start/9. Accessed 20 June 2010.

[8] “Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, June 21,” in Living With Christ, Large Print Edition,  Vol. 16 No. 6 (June 2010), 168.

[9] Quote Catholic, “Saint Aloysius Gonzaga: Child of God.” http://www.quotecatholic.com/ index.php/holiness-devout-life/st-aloysius-gonzaga-child-of-god/. Accessed 20 June 2010.

A Greater Good- Reflection for Mass of June 14, 2010

14 Jun

Monday, June 14, 2010
Ferial- Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Readings: 1 Kings 21:1-16; Psalm 5: 1-2, 4-5, 6+, 12; Matthew 5:38-42

Nine chapters of 1 Kings before the passage that is today’s first reading, the story of Naboth’s vineyard, the chaos began that would bring down Israel’s monarchy. The disorder started in about 930 B.C.E. with the schism between the southern Kingdom of Judah and the northern Kingdom of Israel.[1]

From the viewpoint of the author 1 Kings, there were only three righteous kings, all of the south: David, Solomon, and Asa.[2] The forty-one-year reign of Asa over Judah overlaps with those of Jeroboam, first king of the North post-schism, and six kings of Israel, two of whom ruled for two years or less.[3] 1 Kings describes each of these northern monarchs as having done all the evil and worse of their predecessors back to Jeroboam.[4]

The two Books of Kings and the preceding two Books of Samuel, which together comprise the Biblical history of monarchical Israel, are clearly written from a Judahite perspective. The southern kings were not as good, nor were the northern kings as bad as they are made to appear.[5] Nevertheless, significant truth is found in these pro-Judahite and pro-Davidic accounts. Foremost of these truths is the danger of falling to false gods. The alarm is sounded even before the first king is anointed; a danger existed in the Israelites’ plea to Samuel to appoint for them “a king… as other nations have.”[6]

Ahab, the king featured in today’s first reading, was like his northern predecessors in his worship of foreign idols. He had even sealed his dependence on those gods in his marriage to Jezebel. Such worship of foreign deities was the chief evil of the northern kings that prophets like Elijah were sent to suppress.[7] Moreover, Ahab was given a long reign of twenty-two years in which the LORD gave him a chance to set right the evils of his predecessors.[8]

He did the opposite, and worse; Ahab did evil under the guise of keeping religious and social tradition. Ahab’s attempt to acquire Naboth’s vineyard was not wrong in and of itself; Naboth would have been expected by that tradition to give his excess land to his neighbour or to the poor and landless.[9] He refused to do so, which makes me question whenever I read this story why no prophet is said to have criticized Naboth’s lack of charity. Ahab, though, had no right to the land, or to have Jezebel force Naboth to part with his vineyard. On the surface, the actions of Ahab and of Jezebel do not seem wicked; the same ancient tradition in which two witnesses are sent to Naboth to bring a capital charge against him was also longstanding.[10] Here again, though, we see abuse of the vulnerable by those who have power over them. The treatment of Naboth by a king who has fallen for the gods of greed and affluence becomes a question of social justice and a question of to whom we bear allegiance: to God or to someone or something else.[11]

The account of Naboth’s vineyard and again today’s Gospel in which Jesus warns his disciples against the unjust application of a religious law that was designed to mitigate retaliatory violence- “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”[12]– remind us that charity must govern our actions as Christians. That charity must take precedence even over actions that are merely right by legal or by religious tradition.

Let us pray accordingly that our liturgy might strengthen us; that through the Sacrament of the Eucharist we might act with justice and with charity in applying laws that are good in and of themselves to the even greater good of ourselves, of our neighbour, of the world in which we live, and of our relationship with our God.

WRS


[1] Lawrence Boadt, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction (New York, NY/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1984), 292-294.

[2] David and Solomon enjoyed the Lord’s favour despite their many cycles of sin and repentance. Both are said to have “rested with [their] ancestors” upon their deaths (see 1 Kings 2:10, 11:43). Asa, too, “pleased the LORD like his forefather David.” (1 Kings 15:11) 2 Kings chronicles the lives of two more righteous southern kings, Hezekiah and Josiah (see 2 Kings 16-20, 22, 23:1-30; see also Boadt, Reading the Old Testament, 296).

[3] During the reign of Asa in Judah, the following kings came to power in the north of the split kingdom: Nadab (reigned for two years; see 1 Kings 15:25-32), Baasha (twenty-four years; see 1 Kings 15:33- 16:7), Elah (two years; see 1 Kings 16:8-14), Zimri (seven days; see 1 Kings 16:15-22), Omri (twelve years; see 1 Kings 16:23-28), and Ahab (twenty-two years, the first three of which overlapped with the reign of Asa; see 1 Kings 16:23-34).

[4] 1 Kings 15:26, 34, 13, 19, 25, 30.

[5] Boadt, Reading the Old Testament, 295-297.

[6] 1 Samuel 8:5

[7] John J. McDermott, “Weekday Homily Helps: June 14, 2010, Monday of the 11th Week of Ordinary Time, Exegesis of the First Reading.” Edited by Diane M Houdek (Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2010).

[8] 1 Kings 16:29

[9] Ibid. See also Leviticus 25:13-17, which provides for the transfer in ancient Israel during the Jubilee year- every forty-nine years- of excess land from the wealthy to those who had less land. This ideal of charity was often not observed, and its observation was frequently not enforced.

[10] Ibid. See also Deuteronomy 17:6.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Matthew 5:38. Jesus’ saying there is based on the Old Testament law written in Exodus 21:24 and Leviticus 24:19-20.

Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven- Reflection for Mass of June 7, 2010

7 Jun

Monday, June 7, 2010
Ferial- Monday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time
Readings: 1 Kings 17:1-6; Psalm 121:1-8; Matthew 5:1-12

During my time in Cali, Colombia as a Basilian Associate, I took daily Spanish classes upstairs in the Cultural Centre of our Order’s school there, Instituto Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (INSA). On the way down the stairs after each Spanish lesson, I would note the inscription above the landing: “Bienaventurados los perseguidos… porque de ellos es el reino de Dios.”

That verse is the last of the Beatitudes from the Gospel of Matthew that we hear in today’s Gospel reading: “Blessed are the persecuted… for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”[1] Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount includes eight Beatitudes, whereas the Lukan parallel, the Sermon on the Plain, contains four Beatitudes and four corresponding woes.[2] Only two of Matthew’s Beatitudes, the first and the last of the eight, follow Jesus’ blessing with the very Matthean expression, “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”[3] The kingdom is promised in a special way to the poor in spirit and to those “persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”[4]

In Colombia, poverty and persecution are ever-present realities; the passage written on the tiles above the stairwell of INSA’s Cultural Centre is therefore all the more striking. The Cultural Centre itself is named after Aldemar Rodríguez Carvajal, a twenty-year-old lay catechist from the neighbouring Basilian-run parish who was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered in 1992.[5]

Jesus’ blessings of the persecuted and of the poor, though, are not limited to Cali, to Aldemar Rodríguez Carvajal, to Jesus physical setting in first-century Israel, or to any particular person or place. The call of God through the Beatitudes extends to all of us.

The section of our Basilian Way of Life on our vow of poverty begins with the first Matthean Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”[6] We might ask what it means for us, here in Canada, to be poor, or to live poverty “in spirit.” If we read farther into the Basilian Way of Life, we are given some possible answers. The last paragraph on poverty begins with the declaration: “All that comes from the creative hand of God is good.”[7] Prior to this, the Basilian Way of Life emphasizes solidarity, accountability, and common life such that no person or community is in need.[8]

Inasmuch as the Beatitudes are blessings from God with everything that is good, they are also mission statements. To understand the Matthean Beatitudes in this way is faithful to the meaning of the Gospel. In fact, in the Jerome Biblical Commentary, John L. McKenzie connects Matthew’s first two Beatitudes, in favour of the poor in spirit and of those who mourn, to Isaiah 61:1-2: “The LORD has anointed me… to bring glad tidings to the lowly… to comfort all who mourn.”[9] While Luke places these same verses on the tongue of Jesus at the beginning of His ministry in Nazareth, Matthew makes a less evident reference to them in his Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew, Jesus is in continuity with the blessings given through the Law of Moses, and in Luke, Jesus is connected to Israel’s prophetic tradition.

In this manner we are to be, like Isaiah, like Matthew and Luke the Evangelists, and like Jesus Himself, prophets of the Beatitudes and stewards of God’s law, word, and creation. Blessed are those entrusted with such a vocation. The kingdom of heaven is for those who live that calling in truth and in love.

WRS


[1] Matthew 5:10

[2] Luke 6:20-26

[3] Matthew 5:3, 10

[4] Matthew 5:10

[5] Luis Fernando Sánchez, “The History of the Basilians in Colombia.” http://www.basilian.org/Meet_the_Basilians/colombia_history_en.php. Accessed 6 June, 2010.

[6] Matthew 5:3, quoted in The Basilian Way of Life, 14.

[7] The Basilian Way of Life, 24.

[8] The Basilian Way of Life, 16, 20-24.

[9] John L. McKenzie, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 2:70.