Tag Archives: Scripture

Psalm 39: An Individual Lament

13 Nov

In The Jerome Biblical Commentary, Roland E. Murphy identifies Psalm 39 as “an individual lament, in a highly original form” (1:582). I will describe in this paper how Psalm 39 exemplifies an individual lament, following an identification of the characteristic elements of this type of psalm. I will then discuss ways in which Psalm 39 is unique: How it diverges from the typical form of the individual lament, and what elements of the psalm of lament are emphasized to a greater degree in Psalm 39 than in the usual individual lament.

Claus Westermann specifies eight distinctive parts of the “Psalms of petition or lament of the individual” (Westermann 64). The first of these parts is the address. In Israelite psalms of lament, addresses are notably brief, especially in comparison to the frequently lengthy introductory addresses of ancient “Babylonian and Egyptian laments” (Kolarcik 15). The addresses of Israelite psalms of lament presume “proximity [to] and familiarity” (Ibid.) with their addressee, who is invariably God. The second component of a psalm of lament, according to Westermann, is the lament proper or the complaint, directed against God or against enemies of the psalmist, who are often depicted as a “powerful army,” deceitful accusers in a “court scene,” or animals, for example (Kolarcik 16). In the case of a penitential psalm, the psalmist’s complaint is self-directed, in lament of his own sin. Complaints may be aimed at more than one of God, an enemy, or the psalmist’s self, even within the same psalm. Laments also feature expressions of “hope and trust in God,” termed by Westermann as a “confession of trust” (64) and by Michael Kolarcik as a “review of past” (15, 17). The psalmist expresses trust in God based on a historical record of God’s intervention on behalf of Israel. The “review of past” may also adopt the form of a sapiential reflection.

“In light of the trust” in God that Kolarcik cites as “the foundation of the lament, the psalmist then makes known the specific petition” (17). Such petitions are imperatives; the psalmist demands that God respond to them.  Psalms of lament may also include a series of “additional motive[s]” for God to answer the psalmist’s plea: God, says the psalmist, “will benefit from intervention on the psalmist’s behalf” (Kolarcik 18).  Some psalms of lament feature a “double wish,” whereby in entreating God to act in the psalmist’s defence, the psalmist also calls for a divine curse or punishment upon his enemy. Notably, in no psalm does the psalmist ask for the ability or strength to crush an enemy, but the psalmist entrusts this action to God. A statement of “divine response,” which conveys “assurance that the lament and the petition have been heard” (Ibid.), is included in some psalms of lament. Lastly, most psalms of lament contain a “vow to praise” God (Ibid.) should God alleviate the causes of the lament.

Of Westermann’s eight elements of an individual lament, he names five of these as “constituent parts” of this type of psalm: the “address, lament, confession of trust…petition, [and] vow of praise” (Westermann 64). The order in which these parts appear in a particular lament are unimportant to Westermann (Ibid.): “This… basic scheme… never becomes stereotyped.” Psalm 39 contains four of five of Westermann’s essential parts of an individual lament, lacking entirely a vow to praise. This psalm incorporates none of the other three elements of individual laments: motives, a double wish formula, or a statement of divine response.

Psalm 39 does include a brief address to God that, not unusually with respect to psalms of lament, is linked closely with the core of the psalmist’s address: “Listen to my prayer, LORD, hear my cry” (New American Bible, Psalm 39:13). However, Psalm 39 is atypical in the placement of its address in its next-to-last verse. The address, Kolarcik observes, is designed to open “the dialogue to what is important for the psalmist”: that God answer the petition (15). As such, the address most frequently serves as an introduction to the remainder of the psalm of lament, and is therefore not placed near the end of such a psalm. Instead of beginning with an address to God, Psalm 39 opens with a lengthy review of the past relationship between God and the psalmist (vv 2-4).  This review of the past is followed by the psalmist’s petition: “LORD, let me know my end, the number of my days, that I may learn how frail I am” (v 5). The placement of this petition within Psalm 39 is not unusual for an individual lament. However, James L. Crenshaw writes that “a peculiar feature of laments within Psalms [is] a decisive transition from plea to confident trust that [the LORD] will act to rectify the situation” (Crenshaw 81-82). Such a transition is present in Psalm 39. However, the expression of trust  (vv 6-8) begins as a sapiential reflection that continues until verse seven– a true statement of trust occurs in verse eight, “You are my only hope”– but also, according to Murphy (1:582), as a complaint against God: “You have given my days a very short span” (v 6a).

Several alternations, in fact, from review of past (vv 2-4, 6-8, 12, 13b), much of which is contained in sapiential reflections (vv 6-7, 12, 13b), to petition (vv 5, 9, 11a, 13, 14), take place in Psalm 39. The first lament cited by Murphy (v 6) is contained within a sapiential reflection, but the first clear complaint, directed against God, is expressed well into Psalm 39: “You were the one who did this… I am ravaged by the touch of your hand” (vv 10, 11b). The lament here is split by the petition, “Take your plague away from me” (vv 11a). Psalm 39 then concludes with an unresolved petition: “Turn your gaze from me…” (v 14). As Murphy suggests, the “dark note” on which Psalm 39 ends nonetheless conveys the trust of the psalmist in God amid what is likely mortal illness. This verse may also serve as a reminder from Torah: “[God’s] face you cannot see, for no [one] sees [God] and still lives” (Exodus 33:20).

I have thus analyzed how, in its elements, structure, and emphasis, Psalm 39 exemplifies a psalm of individual lament, and I have highlighted differences in this psalm from the typical form of an individual lament.

Bibliography

Crenshaw, James L. The Psalms: An Introduction. Grand Rapids, MI/ Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001.

Kolarcik, Michael. “The Psalms of Lament,” in RGB2263H F Lecture Notes, 15-19. http://individual.utoronto.ca/mfkolarcik/PSALMS3_3Laments.PDF. Accessed 16 October 2011.

Murphy, Roland E. “Psalms.” In The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, 2:569-602. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968.

 New American Bible.

Westermann, Claus. Praise and Lament in the Psalms. Translated by Keith R. Crim and Richard N. Soulen. Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1981.

This paper was submitted in November, 2011; MDiv Year III, Semester 1; for a course entitled “Psalms” (RGB 2263HF) at Regis College, Toronto, Canada. Hopefully this Christmas season is not causing  many to lament, but as I show, the purpose of the lament in the Psalms is to convey trust in God that is at the root of any good complaint!

Serving with Our Whole Being- Reflection for Mass of September 16, 2011

16 Sep

Friday, September 16, 2011
Memorial of St. Cornelius, Pope and Martyr, and St. Cyprian, Bishop and Martyr
Readings: 1 Timothy 6:2c-12; Psalm 45:5-6, 7-9, 16-17, 18-19 (R: see Matthew 5:3); Luke 8:1-3

As a Basilian Associate teaching high school French and English at Instituto Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (INSA) in Cali, Colombia, three years ago, when I would teach the last class period of the day, there would not be much time between the end of my class and Evening Prayer in the house. I certainly did not have enough time then to prepare lesson plans or to grade homework. I did have just enough time to clear my mind after teaching before walking across the schoolyard to the house for silent reflection before Evening Prayer with our community there.

Before proceeding to the house, I would stop in regularly to speak with the school’s psychologist, who had become a good friend of mine. She would practice her English with me, while I would speak to her in Spanish. During one of our conversations, a woman came to greet the psychologist. She had two of her children, students at INSA, in tow. The mother and children smiled brightly, sharing what was clearly a joyful moment with the psychologist. When they left the room, the psychologist turned to me and said, “You wouldn’t know this by what you just saw, but the woman who was here is a single mother with HIV.”

Sadly, this story is not unique in the apostolate we Basilians serve in Cali. In addition to poverty and diseases such as HIV-AIDS, rates of substance abuse and violence are extremely high. Women are frequently the single parents; the poorest of the poor; the abused; those who serve their communities most eagerly, and often serve us with the deepest reminders of the ills of a society and of the socially-ingrained sin of the world[1] on one hand, and of profound joy and charity amid these ills and sin on the other.

Of the four evangelists, Luke arguably pays most attention to the social position of women of his time.[2] When the story I just recounted occurred, I was writing a reflection on the passage we hear in today’s Gospel, the first three verses of Chapter 8 of Luke. These verses break from the narrative before it of the sinful woman in the Pharisee’s house[3] (although, significantly, that story also centers upon a woman and Jesus), and the Parable of the Sower directly after it.[4] Luke introduces characters as though he will continue with a story about Jesus, the women, the Twelve, and the unnamed “many others.”[5] However, at least in the case of the women, two of them, Mary Magdalene and Joanna– if this is even the same person as in Luke 8– are only named in one other place in this Gospel, at the empty tomb along with Mary, mother of James, in its resurrection narrative.[6] Susanna is mentioned in Luke only in the passage we hear today.

Luke tells us so little about “Mary, called Magdalene,”[7] Joanna, and Susanna. We know that Mary had been healed of “seven demons,” a grave spiritual infirmity,[8] and that Joanna had marital ties to Herod’s court.[9] Yet there is so much in so little in this passage. Indeed, I am drawn to just two words. First, in English, Mary, Joanna, and Susanna, among “many others,” are said to have “provided for Jesus and the Twelve out of their resources.”[10] The Greek word in this sentence for provided is διηκόνουν, a conjugated form of the verb διακονέω (di-a-ko-ne’-o).[11] We derive the English word “deacon” from διακονέω. This is not to say that the women in today’s Gospel reading were engaging in institutionally-ordained diaconal ministry; this meaning of “deacon” is anachronistic to the Biblical context. However, these women were engaging in important service (διακονία)[12] in the nascent Church at a time when lively debate among Jewish and Judeo-Christian leaders was taking place about the role of women in public worship.[13] Luke undoubtedly goes beyond what many of these leaders deemed comfortable in the place he accords to women, but he goes further yet in writing that the women provided for Jesus and the Twelve “out of their resources.”[14] The Greek word translated as “resources” is ὑπαρχόντων (u-par-chón-ton).[15] The English word here limits the range of meanings of a Greek word that has connotations of being in addition to one’s resources or goods.

I speculate therefore whether the Evangelist might have wanted to convey that the women were serving Jesus and the Twelve out of their being– who they were– more than merely out of their material resources. These little-known women and “many others,” then and now, in a special way the poor and the infirm– the single mother in Cali with HIV, for example– model for us the dedication of our whole being to the service of one another and of our Lord, who graciously gives to us his whole being in the Eucharist we celebrate.


[1] Richard M. Gula, Reason Informed by Faith: Foundations of Catholic Morality (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1989), 116-121. Gula discusses social sin, “a relatively new… concept in Roman Catholic theology,” at some length. He writes that “the notion of social sin articulates how social structures can shape our existence for the worse.” Gula highlights “but a few examples” of what he defines as social sin: “patterns of racial discrimination, economic systems that exploit migrant farm workers, structures [that] make it necessary that persons be illegal aliens and that sanctuaries harbour them, and the exclusion of women from certain positions in the church.” (Reason Informed by Faith, 116).

[2] 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), 2:138.

[3]  Luke 7:36-50.

[4] Luke 8:4-8.

[5] v 3.

[6] Luke 24:10.

[7] Luke 8:2.

[8] Ibid.

[9] v 3.

[10] Ibid.

[11]διηκόνουν,” in The New Analytical Greek Lexicon, edited by Wesley J. Perschbacher (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1990), 101.

[12]διακονία,” in The New Analytical Greek Lexicon, 92.

[13] Stuhlmueller, “The Gospel According to Luke,” 2:138.

[14] Luke 8:3.

[15]ὑπαρχόντων,” in The New Analytical Greek Lexicon, 417.

Like the Teacher in Mercy- Reflection for Mass of September 9, 2011

9 Sep

Friday, September 9, 2011
Optional Memorial of St. Peter Claver, Priest; Friday of the Twenty-Third Week of Ordinary Time
Readings: 1 Timothy 1:1-2, 12-14; Psalm 16:1-2a+5, 7-8, 11 (R: see 5a); Luke 6:39-42

One might find it difficult to see mercy as the focal point of the words of Jesus that we hear in today’s Gospel: “How can you say to your neighbour, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite…”[1] That last word, “hypocrite,” is especially harsh to my– to our– ears, yet by criticizing his hearers and calling them hypocrites, Jesus draws attention beyond the criticism itself to the mercy of God.

However difficult it is to see mercy in these severe words, in between the metaphors of the blind person leading another blind person[2] and of the speck or log in one’s eye,[3] Jesus speaks words of warning against pride, but then words of consolation. On one hand we, Jesus’ disciples, cannot be “above the teacher.”[4] To think we could be greater than God is foolish as it is futile but, despite the logical impossibility of exceeding God in any particular divine quality, for example mercy, Jesus tells us on the other hand that “everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher.”[5]

How, though, does one become “qualified” and thus “like the teacher?” Let us take up again the example of mercy, and how we might become as merciful as Jesus, the incarnate God; our teacher. In the Gospel of Luke mercy is singled out among the most important attributes of God. Moreover, this Gospel’s author teaches that mercy is not just characteristic of God, but that we, too, are expected to act mercifully toward one another. Just three verses before the beginning of today’s Gospel reading, Jesus teaches his disciples: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”[6]

One who is merciful does not hold grudges against another for small (and often not-so-small) wrongs, the proverbial specks in the eyes of other people. One who is merciful is at once mature and continuing to grow in self-knowledge. By self-knowledge, I do not mean a narcissistic self-flattery that fails to recognize our own wrongs, but an awareness of where we stand before God and openness to the mercy of God, who knows us even better than we could ever know ourselves. Only by God’s mercy, in which we are called to be “like the teacher,” are the logs in our eyes– our more grievous faults compared to the specks of others that might escape our awareness but for God’s grace toward us– removed. Only then are we disposed to lead the blind toward God in mercy and in purity of heart.

I have long been both challenged and encouraged by the fact that, while Matthew’s Gospel includes the extensive Sermon on the Mount, more than half of Luke’s Chapter 6 from which we hear today is taken up by the Sermon on the Mount’s Lukan parallel, the Sermon on the Plain. Many exegetes contend that Matthew portrays a more transcendent God (this is debatable) with Jesus teaching from the mount.[7] In contrast, Luke writes of Jesus teaching on a level plain, in the midst of the crowds. Luke’s lesson is that the instruction of Jesus on the plain is not too lofty for us; in fact, again, the more “accessible” Jesus of Luke’s Gospel expects us to follow after his example and his teachings, especially that on the abundance of mercy that God has toward us and asks us to have toward others.

We have great examples in the saints in how to follow Christ’s teachings: “Be merciful… everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher.”[8] One such saintly example is Peter Claver, a prophetic voice for the African slaves in colonial Cartagena in what is now Colombia. Born in Barcelona, Spain, St. Peter Claver’s missionary vocation was recognized by Alfonso Rodriguez, another saint who was a Jesuit lay brother and mystic in Mallorca. After arriving in Cartagena in 1610, St. Peter Claver’s advocacy for the humane treatment of the Africans and indeed for the abolition of the slave trade that saw one third of African slaves die in transit between Africa and the Americas, drew the ire of slave traders and even of many of his own Jesuit brothers. After forty-four years in Cartagena, Peter Claver died, bedridden and neglected. Peter Claver, patron saint of Colombia, is nevertheless one of the Church’s great messengers of God’s mercy, giving his life as one “like the teacher.”[9]

As we continue this Eucharistic celebration, let us pray that, through the intercession of St. Peter Claver, our Basilian apostolates in Colombia and throughout the world might be beacons of mercy to the disadvantaged. May we be to all people “fully qualified” in the mercy of God, following after our Teacher, Lord, and Saviour, Jesus Christ.


[1] Luke 6:42

[2] v 39

[3] vv 41-42

[4] v 40

[5] Ibid.

[6] v 36

[7] 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), 2:69. Carroll Stuhlmueller, “The Gospel According to Luke,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, 2:115.

[8] vv 36, 40

[9] Pierre Suau, “St. Peter Claver.” In The Catholic Encyclopedia. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11763a.htm. Accessed 9 September 2011.

Clothed with Humility- Reflection for Evening Prayer of August 31, 2011

31 Aug

Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Wednesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time
Liturgy of the Hours: Wednesday, Week III
Reading for Evening Prayer: 1 Peter 5:5b-7

During a recent family reunion, I came across two icons of Christ, ruler of all– in Greek, Χριστος Παντοκράτωρ (Christos Pantokrator)– that belonged to two different relatives of mine. Since taking a course in New Testament Greek last year, I have become even more fascinated by icons, especially this one, Christos Pantokrator, than I had been previously.

What does the Christos Pantokrator icon have to do with the reading from 1 Peter from tonight’s Evening Prayer, though, and what does it have to do with our lives as religious, as Basilians, as priests or, in my case, as one in formation for ordained priesthood?

In the very first verse of the reading from tonight’s Vespers, the author of 1 Peter exhorts us: “Clothe yourselves with humility.”[1] When we look at the icon of Christos Pantokrator, and indeed of many icons of our Lord, he is clothed on the inside with a red garment, symbol of divinity. Overlaying the red, though, is an outer blue garment: Christ’s divinity has been clothed in our humanity. Therefore, by his Incarnation, Jesus Christ assumed our frail nature, of course without losing any of his divine nature. This is a valuable lesson in the virtue of humility. Not only does God show “kindness”[2] toward the humble, but God also shows us concretely the way of humility by becoming one like us, just as the ruler of all once created us in his image and likeness.[3]

Humility, I think, is one of the most difficult virtues for most people to practice. Perhaps this is because of the greatness of our human nature. One of my favourite Psalms, Psalm 8, praises God thus for the creation of human beings: “You have made them little less than a god.”[4] I know all too well by experience that this nearness to divine essence with which we have been created so easily leads to misplaced ambition and hubris. I am the last person who should be leading a reflection about humility!

When Jesus’ own Apostles let their pride get in the way of acceptance of the Cross– of giving everything they were in hope of the Kingdom of God– Jesus reminded them of their place in bringing about that Kingdom. Examples abound of Jesus reminding the Twelve– and us– of the humility with which he himself lived. The most striking instance of this to me is when he placed a child among his followers, who had been quarrelling over who among them was the greatest.[5]

As I was leaving the Vancouver airport to come home to Toronto just days ago, my two-year-old niece provided me with a reminder of humility clothed in godlike dignity. As I held her and said, “Bye, Molly, I love you,” she laid a big, sloppy kiss on my cheek that brought tears to my eyes. If Molly were to be represented in an icon, she would be wearing a blue inner garment draped in red which, of course, is how our humble Queen and Mother, Mary, is often depicted.

Out of the mouth of this babe, to paraphrase Psalm 8 again, came a defence “to silence the enemy”[6] that is pride, which deludes us into thinking that we do not need God.

Lastly, humility does not mean that we ought not to have dreams, cares, and ambitions. Such dreams, cares, and ambitions are normal and should be encouraged, as long as they draw us closer, especially as Basilian religious, to the dignity given to all of us by God. 1 Peter says, “Cast all your cares on [God], because he cares for you.”[7] After all, our God is a God who has clothed us “mere mortals”[8] in his image. As the Psalmist says, we are thus “crowned with glory and honour.”[9]

“O LORD, our Lord, how awesome is your name through all the earth!”[10]

This reflection was originally given during Evening Prayer (Vespers) of August 31, 2011, during a retreat of the Basilian Fathers’ Scholasticate in which I am currently living.


[1] 1 Peter 5:5

[2] Ibid.

[3] Genesis 1:27

[4] Psalm 8:6

[5] Mark 9:33-37, Luke 9:46-48

[6] Psalm 8:3

[7] 1 Peter 5:7

[8] Psalm 8:5

[9] v 6

[10] vv 2, 10

Homily Assignment on Vatican II’s Decree on Priestly Formation, Optatam Totius

8 May

The following is the last of three assignments I submitted for my course entitled “Thought of Vatican II” at the University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto, ON Canada (MDiv Year II, Semester I, dated 7 December 2010). One of the options for this “integrative” assignment for those who foresee entering ordained ministry was to write a “homily,” taking into account one of the Decrees or Declarations (not one of the constitutions: Sacrosanctum Concilium, Dei Verbum, Lumen Gentium, or Gaudium et Spes)  of the Second Vatican Council as well as liturgical readings for the day on which the homily would be preached (It was not actually required to deliver the homily orally; only to write it). As I had presented earlier in this course on the Decree on Priestly Formation, Optatam Totius, my homily assignment focused on the same document. The original preface I wrote to explain the imagined liturgical setting and readings appears before the homily itself, and an appendix with the readings appears after it.

Preface

The liturgical setting of the following homily is a Mass of ordination to the presbyterate. In this homily assignment, I will correlate the core teachings of the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Priestly Formation, Optatam Totius, with the Scriptural readings I have selected for this Mass.  The first reading, Isaiah 61:3a, focuses on the universal divine commission to serve persons most in need. The Gospel acclamation, Luke’s quotation from Isaiah 61:1, carries forward this notion of service into the Gospel reading, Luke 22:14-20, 24-30, which joins the imperative of humble service given by Jesus to his apostles and to their successors with the institution of the Eucharist. Likewise, Psalm 116:12-13, 17-18 and its responsorial verse, 1 Corinthians 10:16, relate the themes of service in God’s name an Eucharist as both communion– among human beings and between humankind and God– and thanksgiving for God’s goodness. The second reading, 1 Peter 5:1-4, applies the Christian obligation of humility specifically to presbyteral ministry; a presbyter is not to work for his own gain, but for the good of all among whom the presbyter ministers.

Homily

The Fathers of Vatican II were highly attentive toward the significance of formation for ordained priesthood and toward presbyteral ministry itself. Two Conciliar decrees, Optatam Totius and Presbyterorum Ordinis, focused on these respective subjects. Vatican II as a whole was primarily a council of renewal of the Catholic Church, a council at once of aggiornamento, or bringing the Church up to date, and of ressourcement, a return to sources– to tradition both Biblical and extra-Biblical, with a special esteem of the early Church Fathers– and ultimately to God. This need for renewal of the Church is acknowledged in the opening sentence of Optatam Totius, the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Priestly Formation. This document begins by entrusting much of this ecclesial renewal to its priests and those who form men discerning the Sacrament of Orders. Optatam Totius declares: “This sacred Synod well knows that the wished-for renewal of the whole Church depends in large measure on a ministry of priests [that] is vitalized by the Spirit of Christ.”

The foundation of all priestly formation, then, is Christ, in whose priesthood the ordained participate. The priest is called, says Optatam Totius, to be vitalized, that is, enlivened, by the Spirit of Christ. In Christ’s Spirit– as our first reading from Isaiah puts it, “the Spirit of the LORD God”– the priest is anointed for service to God and to the Church, the people of God. During this very liturgy of priestly ordination, the priests, once vested with stole and chasuble, will be anointed with chrism on the palms of their hands. The Holy Spirit of Christ, begotten of the Father, is at this point called to rest upon the candidate for Orders, through the prayer from the Rite of Ordination that coincides with the anointing of hands: “The Father anointed our Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. May Jesus preserve you to sanctify the Christian people and to offer sacrifice to God.” Together, the anointing with chrism of the hands of the newly ordained and this prayer recall the constant presence of the Holy Spirit among us. Not only in Holy Orders, but in our Baptism into the priesthood of the faithful, in Confirmation, and in the Anointing of the Sick recipients of these Sacraments are anointed with chrism. Thus, from our reception into the Church until our reception into the company of the saints in heaven, the Spirit of the Lord is upon us as God’s Spirit is on the prophets and upon Christ. In the Holy Spirit, “the Lord, the giver of life” (cf. the Nicene Creed), we are perpetually vitalized.

Renewed by the Spirit of the Lord, the Church and priesthood within it are by nature transcendent of earthly borders, such as those between nations, languages, cultures, and social classes, yet at the same time God shows preference toward the poor, the captives, and the oppressed. To these, Isaiah writes, he had been “anointed to bring good news… to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour.” Jesus made Isaiah’s mission his own from the beginning of his ministry, as we have heard in today’s Gospel Acclamation. That verse is drawn from Luke who, uniquely among the Gospel authors, includes Jesus’ quotation from Isaiah 61 before the Synagogue assembly in Nazareth on the Sabbath. In Luke, this is Jesus’ first act of public ministry. Jesus begins, as had Isaiah before him, by announcing that he had been sealed by the Spirit to evangelize, to free those held captive by that which is not of God, to restore sight to the blind, and “to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour.” We might recall that Jesus’ first act of prophecy, the words of Isaiah from the scroll, was well-received by his audience. However, for declaring that his message of reconciliation and of healing would extend to those most in need, whether Jews or Gentiles, Jesus draws the assembly’s rejection. Undeterred, Jesus continues his mission, as the concluding sentence of Luke 4 illustrates: “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.”

The same proclamation of the kingdom of God for which Jesus was sent is also our purpose and our imperative in priestly ministry in Christ’s stead. An entire chapter of Optatam Totius is devoted to “matters [that] have a special bearing on the sacred ministry” of the presbyterate, namely those of pastoral service: “catechetics, preaching, liturgical worship, the conferral of the Sacraments, works of charity, [and] the duty of seeking out the straying sheep and unbelievers,” according to article nineteen of this decree. Not to be disconnected from the intellectual and spiritual formation for priesthood treated in previous chapters of Vatican II’s Decree on Priestly Formation, nonetheless “the promotion of strictly pastoral training” for priests-to-be is given a special place as the title of the sixth chapter of Optatam Totius. Without this pastoral dimension, the import of the Catholic priesthood and of priestly formation is minimized. As pastoral training is necessarily linked to intellectual and spiritual formation of clergy if priestly formation is to be considered holistic so, too, I go as far as to say that those pastoral services enumerated in article nineteen of Optatam Totius all ought to be understood as works of charity. Here I do not read into Optatam Totius a concept not in the document; the same article nineteen of this decree underscores the chief “qualities to be developed in seminarians,” such as promotion of dialogue, and “a capacity to listen to other people and to open their hearts in a spirit of charity to the various circumstances of human need.”

My emphasis on the pastoral aspect of the presbyterate and of priestly formation, and on all pastoral works as works of charity, comes from my experience as an associate of the religious community of priests to which I belong, the Basilian Fathers. I was sent early in my priestly formation to Cali, Colombia, to teach high school French and English and to learn Spanish. As I gradually learned not only a new language but a new culture, I noted that, in addition to abject poverty, most people of the Basilian school and parish had received little catechetical instruction. The mission of the Basilians in Cali, then, was at once to alleviate the material poverty of those whom we served, as well as to provide an education– often entirely subsidized– to these people in both religious and secular disciplines. From that, there developed a deep bond of love between the Basilians and the residents of our parish neighbourhood. This was impressed upon me one day when, as a community manual labour exercise, I was washing clay roofing shingles in our schoolyard. A poor man on the street approached the schoolyard gate and greeted me with a smile, “Hola, Padre”– “Hello, Father!” Not yet ordained at that time, I had difficulty then– and I still do– with being called “Father,” for the pastoral responsibility that this title denotes, yet if I were to be called Father, all my works, I prayed, would be acts of charity. My priesthood, modeled after that of Christ, would be pastoral by definition. Priesthood is an anointing to pastoral acts of charity, whether one is a parish priest, a high-school, university, or seminary instructor, a scholar; whether one is praying, in recreation, or is washing shingles in a schoolyard. Priesthood is pastoral charity, oriented toward the good of human community and finally toward God.

My appointment to Colombia increased my awareness that priesthood, as a ministry of ecclesial leadership in charity, takes into account both the universal Church and the local church.  At the same time, the universality– the catholicity– of the Church became more evident to me as did the particular needs of local churches, regions, and nations. I was sent from Edmonton to Cali, after only six months as a Basilian associate, the earliest stage of formation in our religious community. The differences between the two churches are remarkable; the relative affluence of Edmonton over Cali, the religious devotion inherent in Colombian culture, and the linguistic dissimilarity between the two places are but a few of these distinctions. Nonetheless, the same Mass is celebrated in both Edmonton and Cali; Edmontonian and Caleño Catholics belong to the same Church in communion with the See of Rome.

Regarding priestly formation in particular, Optatam Totius holds in tension the recognition of the necessities of local churches and of those of the universal Church. The decree begins with an accent on the former: “Since the variety of peoples is so great,” says article one of Optatam Totius, “only general rules,” such as the establishment of “Program[s] of Priestly Formation” by regional bishops’ conferences, “can be legislated.” In Optatam Totius’ next article, though, which begins its chapter on “the intensified encouragement of priestly vocations,” the document is clear that “the task of fostering vocations devolves on the whole Christian community.” The encouragement of vocations to ordained priesthood evidently begins at the local level– in homes, in schools, and in parishes– yet it extends universally. To those who will be ordained shortly: The best way to encourage vocations, not only to the priesthood but to the specific vocation to which God calls each Christian, is to live your own divine calling to Holy Orders joyfully. In today’s second reading, the author of 1 Peter acknowledges that his vocation as an elder– literally, a presbyter– is not easy. He is “a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed.” Articles nine and ten of Optatam Totius echo this eschatological balance of 1 Peter of the “obligations” and even “hardship of the priestly life” with joy “in the blessedness promised by the Gospel” and by a “profound identification of” the priest’s entire life with that of Jesus Christ.

Priesthood, configured to Christ, is more than the power to confect the Eucharist, although this sacerdotal privilege is not unimportant. As per article eight of Optatam Totius, the priest must “be taught to look for Christ in many places: in faithful meditation on God’s word, in active communion with the holy mysteries of the Church… in the bishop” whom they assist, “the poor, the young, the sick, the sinful, and the unbelieving.” The Eucharist is only the beginning of Christian service; the priest who confects it for and receives it with the people of God must not, as today’s Gospel and second reading both affirm, “lord it over” those whom we serve as leaders. The Eucharistic feast must be united with and must give way to service. Moreover, as we heard in today’s Responsorial Psalm, the Eucharist, over which the priest presides, is at once an act of thanksgiving and one that draws human beings into ever-closer communion with one another and with God.

Let us pray, then, for the priestly candidates present before us here, and for all priests and those in formation for Holy Orders, that they might be joyful instruments of and participants in the priesthood of Christ. In this Eucharistic celebration we thank God for the gift of priests, “the hope of the Church,” as concludes Optatam Totius, and for those entrusted with their formation.

Appendix: Readings for Homily Assignment on Optatam Totius

Thought of Vatican II- SMT 3670 HF

Readings are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, selected according to The Rites of the Catholic Church, trans. The International Commission on English in the Liturgy (New York: Pueblo Publishing Co., 1980), 2:102-106.

First Reading: Isaiah 61:1-3a

1The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
   because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
   to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
   and release to the prisoners;
2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
   and the day of vengeance of our God;
   to comfort all who mourn;
3to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
   to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
   the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 116:12-13, 17-18 (Response: 1 Corinthians 10:16)

12What shall I return to the Lord
   for all his bounty to me?
13I will lift up the cup of salvation
   and call on the name of the Lord

 R: Our blessing-cup is a communion with the blood of Christ.

17I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice
   and call on the name of the Lord.
18I will pay my vows to the Lord
   in the presence of all his people. R.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 5:1-4

1Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you 2to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it— not for sordid gain but eagerly. 3Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. 4And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away.

Gospel Acclamation (Luke 4:18-19)

 Alleluia.

 The Lord sent me to bring good news to the poor and freedom to prisoners.

 Alleluia.

Gospel Reading: Luke 22:14-20, 24-30

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16for I tell you, I will not eat it* until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ 17Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ 19Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 20And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

24A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. 27For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. 28‘You are those who have stood by me in my trials; 29and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, 30so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

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.

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.

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.

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.