Abolish or Fulfill? Abolish or Fulfill?


JMJ

The Readings for Wednesday in the 10th week of Ordinary Time (C1)

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.

There are no answers in this blog post. Some of us will hear a sermon today that says this passage means the old law has passed away. Jesus says he did not come to abolish but to fulfill. Oddly that sermon could come from traditionalists or revisionists. Jesus can’t fulfill something if he abrogates it. We want to think of fulfill in the same way we think of a card reader or fortune teller. Fulfillment means someone made a prediction and Jesus did it. It’s obvious, right? But that’s not what it’s intended here.

Fulfillment in these terms means the expansion of, the revelation of, the unveiling of the real meaning of something. There are very few prophecies in scripture where somebody says at such and such a time, such and such a thing will happen. Rather we see pictures drawn in the scriptures and then those pictures are flushed out as if they were done in simple pencil sketches and later are fulfilled in 3D video.

In a very famous prophecy Isaiah says that lady over there is going to have a baby and 800 years later it’s fulfilled in the Virgin Mary giving birth to Jesus. The sketch was that woman having a baby. The Fifth Element was the Virgin giving birth to God.

This is called Typology.

Jesus says everything else was an Antetype: he is the type, the thing itself. In my person are all true meanings revealed. He says elsewhere, “I am the way the truth and the life.” He is it. This means also that if the Bible is a unified story that needs to Jesus, even the laws and rules in the Old Testament are there to show us the way to Messiah; again, the rules are a sketch, not a prediction. It’s hard to link a forbidden shellfish salad with the coming of Jesus. Does the absence of bacon indicate anything?

How do we differentiate between various rules about food, liturgical instructions, property values, manumission, and sexual morals?

We are so used to thinking of the Torah as if it were a written totality of the Jewish law. We want to imagine 613 individual, discreet, rules and we want to be able to answer the question, Did you follow the rules? But is there any evidence that the code in the first five books of the Bible was the entirety of the law? Or is that a Christian assumption? is there a difference between saying one thing in the Bible and the gradual development of context within the Jewish tradition? Can you begin the rules in Leviticus and Deuteronomy and end up at don’t eat Chinese food and cheeseburgers are forbidden? At which point does the development become untenable?

What if the Jewish law is less like our modern codebooks of rules and regulations and more like British common law? What if the documents of the Bible are only a basis, a recording of some conversations, and not the end-all and be-all of the rules? What if the text of the Torah is only a sketch of the Law? What if “the Law” involves taking these sketches and applying them to individual cases, looking for fulfillment?

I come not to abolish but to fulfill. Jesus is part of a rabbinic discussion of the law. That Jesus “fulfills the law in his person” is a legal claim, an elaboration of the Torah. The notion that Jesus doesn’t fulfill the Law is a legal claim as well. Jesus is stating his place in the legal discussion. You can accept or reject that claim but it has nothing to do with shrimp cocktails or the use of mixed fibers in your clothing.

It only takes a pinch…


JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of St Barnabas, Apostle
Tuesday in the 10th week of Ordinary Time (C1)

You are the salt of the earth…

We are used to hearing this phrase, “salt of the earth” as it might refer to good, solid farmers, or blue-collar laborers, Midwestern voters, etc, salt of the earth types. But that’s not how Jesus uses it here. He’s speaking at a time when salt was literally currency in some parts of the world. To control the salt was a mark of cultural control. The Celts, for example, controlling Salzburg – “Salt City” – became quite wealthy selling salt to much of the world. You are the salt of the earth means “something everyone will want to take…”

Salt is one flavor that is most noticed by its absence. In fact, it might better be said that salt is less an option and more of a needed part of everything. It goes in coffee, ice cream, candy, meat, vegetables, tea… but when it’s not that we say, “needs salt” very quickly. Jesus uses other images for us as well: yeast, which only takes a pinch to leaven a whole batch of dough, for example. In a few verses, he will compare us to a candle: you only need to light one, and the whole room is lit up propper. Chewing tobacco, too, “only takes a pinch between your cheek and gum…” (I think some readers will be old enough to get that reference.)

We notice too, that the tiny band of twelve men preaching the Gospel has given rise to the ideas of “health care”, “liberty”, “women owning property”, “care for the weakest”, “peace activism”, “temperance”. Later they will give us things like “democracy”, “genetics”, “the big bang theory”, and “the scientific method”. It only takes a pinch… Likewise, we notice when it’s missing: when things like “turn the other cheek” go out the door and we enter a society of name calling and recrimination from the halls of Washington Power to the aisles of Wal*Mart.

The problem actually is that folks want the results without the work, the freedom without the responsibility. In the story of the Crucifixion, Jesus has a seamless garment which tradition says was woven by his Mother. One traditional reading of this symbol set is that Mary was sinless and she passed a sinless human nature to her Son. To the Roman soldiers, however, it’s just a cool shirt and they want it. So they play dice to see who wins it. The goods and graces of the faith are really meaningless in the hands of those who would just want to wear them as cool clothes. A man in a clerical shirt may not be a priest if it’s Halloween and even a priest tried to give St Catherine an unconsecrated host for communion. They want to take the consecrated ones for politics, or for art. (The ones who want to take it for desecration at least know the consecrated host is holy.) They want to take buildings for museums and vestments to feed “the poor”. In the last case, they want to rob the poor of their existential hope in God and his Church by giving the state the power and funds to distribute charity.)

We are the salt of the world: our purpose is to flavor everything, to take out the bitterness, to make everything better. We don’t need to be the most popular religion in the world. That we are and yet fail to make a continuing change, says more about us than about our faith. The world, however, thinks it says something about Jesus and his Gospel. So they want to take the Gospel from us and do it themselves. That makes it worse.

If we were doing what we were supposed to be doing, would we be in this situation?

The yoke’s on Elisha…


JMJ

The Readings for Saturday in the 10th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Cumque venisset Elias ad eum, misit pallium suum super illum qui statim relictis bobus cucurrit post Eliam.
 Eli’jah passed by him and cast his mantle upon him and [Elisha] left the oxen, and ran after Eli’jah. 

The call of Elisha is this strange thing, is it not? Elijah (who had been told a few verses earlier of this plan) simply walks up and tosses his poncho over a man ploughing with oxen and walks away. The man follows. It’s a subtle sign. It works. But there’s one more test: Elijah says “Go back. What have I done to you?” But Elisha knows and follows. Elijah is yoking Elisha with the call of God. This is the meaning of the action.

This comes after the previous scene where there’s an Earthquake! and Fire! and a Wind Storm! and then a faint whispering sound. It’s that last one that will make your hairs stand up: it was God. Drop a scarf on the guy… this you say is a call? 

How subtle are God’s actions in our lives! 

The difference between the destruction of the Prophets of Ba’al and the call of the Prophet Elisha is astounding. God may decide to act, once in a while, in showy miracles. I tend to want showboat events: lightening flashes, or visions in dreams, handwriting on the wall, or audible conversations with Ghostly Presences, but God gives us a nudge, a whisper, a silent and persistent intention; a sense of something more. Those other things can often be distractions. I probably would have wanted to run out after the Earthquake or the Fire. I would have responded to the Big Show. God’s got better things planned, though.

God wants better things for us, as well: don’t swear, says Jesus, just say yes or no. A big show of words can be useful or it can be distracting, but it doesn’t mean more. In fact, given the traditional spiritual counsel to silence, yes or no can be a lot of talking indeed.

A reminder from yesterday: it is the relationship that matters. Getting out, being social, joining in prayer with the community, fellowship with our sisters and brothers, and being the servant to each other. We strain ourselves to do big things, when all we need to do is love. We want to be the flash mob doing  a Mozart Mass in the mall when all we need is someone to lead the carol sing at the seniors’ home. 

When God drops a mantle on you, are you tossing it off in a fit of fan dancing and showmanship, or do you say, let me kiss my folks goodbye? I love that Elisha kills his yoke of kine and feeds the neighbors. When God calls you away, he doesn’t absolve you of your relationships. He improves them.

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Is there someone else we can talk to?

JMJ

The Readings for Friday in the 10th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Audistis quia dictum est antiquis… Ego autem dico vobis…  
You have heard it said of old…  But I say to you… 

If you come to the New Testament looking for a relief from those pesky rules in the Old Testament, look no further than the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus, the God of all Love, makes his Father’s rules even more strict. Not just don’t do XYZ, but even don’t imagine doing XYZ, or think about the things that could lead up to XYZ. And, as we learn later, don’t do something that will draw or trip your sister or your brother into XYZ. Jesus is not much more lenient than the older stuff, in fact, he’s worse.

If by worse you mean adding concern for motives to concern for actions.

A friend posted the other day that his priest told him he would do much better struggling against sin if he stopped thinking about rules he could or could not break and started thinking about relationships. Sin breaks relationships. Another friend, preaching last week, underscored that the Evil One’s primary purpose is to isolate us, to break our relationships and to leave us feeling alone, isolated, and vulnerable. Sin is the easiest way to do that. Again, it’s not breaking rules, per se, it’s breaking relationships.

Jesus knows that actions may end relationships, but motives and intentions do so as well. We are stranded, alone in our heads. Thoughts and addictions that lead us to isolating behaviors are just as dangerous to our souls as are the actions themselves. 

George Carlin discusses this in Confession

‘Cause that’s what they taught us; it’s what’s in your mind that counts; your intentions, that’s how we’ll judge you. What you want to do. Mortal sin had to be a grievous offense, sufficient reflection and full consent of the will. Ya had’ta WANNA! In fact, WANNA was a sin all by itself. “Thou Shalt Not WANNA”. If you woke up in the morning and said, “I’m going down to 42nd street and commit a mortal sin!” Save your car fare; you did it, man! Absolutely!

Jesus is mindful that once you have the wrong motives, even the right actions get corrupted: being sexually attracted to someone is a bad reason to befriend a stranger on Facebook or to invite a coworker out to lunch. It’s a bad thing to base a purely platonic friendship on as well. Greed is a bad reason to get married. I’ve known people to leave parties “together” because it was August in New York City and one of the two had air conditioning. Putting down a bad foundation ruins the whole structure. Jesus is pointing out the foundation comes way earlier than we had previously imagined.

No one is saved alone: it is our relationships that bring us to heaven. If we  wanna, we damage the relationships in our hearts, we have already sinned. 

Jesus calls us to loving relationship with himself and with each other. This is a relationship based not on use, not on utility, but rather on intrinsic worth. We have to will the good of each other. We have to wanna.

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Lord, it’s hard to be humble.


JMJ

The Readings for  in the 10th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Si ergo offers munus tuum ad altare, et ibi recordatus fueris quia frater tuus habet aliquid adversum te : relinque ibi munus tuum ante altare, et vade prius reconciliari fratri tuo : et tunc veniens offeres munus tuum. 
So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 

Jesus says not “if you hate someone” or “if you have a grudge” but rather “if your brother has anything against you.” If Christians actually believed that, there would be no schism. Whomever forgives the most wins. “You can’t leave me because I’m coming with you”, said the Patriarch to the Pope (or the other way around), as they duked it out in an attempt to say “I’m wrong. You’re right.”  Each before the other.

This is our challenge – I am the only sinner I know. All others are Christ to me.

How far do we take this humility? Jesus says to our brothers. Clearly it’s not an act of humility to say to a worshiper of Ba’al, “I’m wrong…” Jesus was not saying to his Jewish brethren that the Israelites should have stayed in Egypt.

But how can we be humble before others, those outside the faith? In fact, that humility is to be a hallmark of our presence. 

Imagine if you have met someone, gone on a few dates, and are thinking about “getting serious”. How many dates do you go on before you mention that you go to Mass every day? Can you say you are “in a relationship” with someone who doesn’t know that about you? Can you even be friends?

In today’s world many folks just say, “Let me be silent.” While it feels humble, it is an action of pride. It  is not loving: preaching out loud is not what I mean here. You are in relationship with these folks. God has placed them in your life. Keeping silent about your life is denying the relationship. Fear is pride: God doesn’t know what he’s asking of me in the modern world. I will keep silent because I know what is best. Humility is about growing that relationship, about deepening the love you share with those around you. Denying your full presence to your friends, to your coworkers, to the people around you is a breakdown of love. Retreating in silence is building a wall that, in the end, will only hinder their salvation and so, yours.

Your brother holds you silence against you. Leave your gift at the altar and repair your relationship.

So, how to be humble, to live honestly as Christians. Love requires risk. Think of Jesus washing feet. Think of Jesus silent in the Blessed Sacrament. This is our challenge, our walk. 

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Brief thought on Elijah: Pick.

TZzztztztzzzztztzztzttztzztzt CHUSHPOW

JMJ

The Readings for St Anthony of Padua, Doctor of the Church 
Wednesday in the 10th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Usquequo claudicatis in duas partes? Si Dominus est Deus, sequimini eum : si autem Baal, sequimini illum. 
How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Ba’al, then follow him. 

This story… I’m quite convinced the “fire of God descending” was more of a TZzztztztzzzztztzztzttztzztzt CHUSHPOW lightening flash and explosion. The fire even lapped up the water. And the part the reading skips, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Let none of them escape!” They seized them, and Elijah brought them down to the Wadi Kishon and there he slaughtered them.” Ba’al simply means “lord”. It is, really, the non-Hebrew word for “El”.  Notice it’s kind of the same sounds.  

Elijah challenges us to pick: who is Lord. Mindful that you can only serve one lord, and, as Mr Dillon said, “you’ve got to serve somebody”. Elijah asks us to pick.

Pick.

St Mary of Egypt fought against all the lords of her life for 40 years. I’ve only just begun. Not only do I have to pick (I’ve picked already, thank you) I have to kill off all the parts of me that are prophets for the others.
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This sucks worse for me than for you.


JMJ

The Readings for  the 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)

Omnia enim propter vos : ut gratia abundans, per multos in gratiarum actione, abundet in gloriam Dei. 
For all things are for your sakes; that the grace abounding through many, may abound in thanksgiving unto the glory of God. 

This quote came across my Facebook yesterday. It’s so un-American, so un-Modern, so un-Millenial, so un-Boomer, I had to share it. It is, really, very Xer, or so I think… and very “Greatest Generation” or “Silent Generation”.  It’s from St. Nikolai Velimirovich, an Orthodox Saint. Born in Serbia, he was imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp then lived in the Communist Yugoslavia. He came to America after the war and died in Pennsylvania. 

Only the foolish think that suffering is evil. A sensible man knows that suffering is not evil but only the manifestation of evil and healing from evil. Only sin in a man is a real evil, and there is no evil outside sin. Everything else that men generally call evil is not, but is a bitter medicine to heal from evil. The sicker the man, the more bitter the medicine that the doctor prescribes for him. At times, even, it seems to a sick man that the medicine is worse and more bitter than the sickness itself! And so it seems at times to the sinner: the suffering is harder and more bitter than the sin committed. But this is only an illusion – a very strong self-delusion. There is no suffering in the world that could be anywhere near as hard and destructive as sin is. All the suffering borne by men and nations is none other than the abundant healing that eternal Mercy offers to men and nations to save them from eternal death. Every sin, however small, would inevitably bring death if Mercy were not to allow suffering in order to sober men up from the inebriation of sin; for the healing that comes through suffering is brought about by the gracefilled power of the Holy and Life-giving Spirit.

Let that sink in for a moment: from a man in a concentration camp:  “Only sin in a man is a real evil, and there is no evil outside sin. Everything else that men generally call evil is not, but is a bitter medicine to heal from evil.” I think of all the “evils” we imagine today, from “hate speech” to “gun control”, from “oppression” to “open borders”, from nuclear war to ozone depletion, we are filled with things we think of as “evils”. The only evil is sin. And nearly no one calls sins out as “evil” anymore for that would be “judging someone”. Yet here’s a man who has endured what I – and you, perhaps – would call the two greatest evils of the 20th century (Nazism and Communism) who says “Everything men call evil usually is only a bitter medicine to designed as a cure from evil.” No body likes bitter medicine. Every day Christians pray for their rulers – even the “evil” ones: Caesars, Kaisers, Commissars, Fuhrers, and Trump.  God put them there for a reason.

And you might think it’s evil… but are you saved yet?

St Paul says, “All things are for you.” The implications are astounding. Sure, you might take the Oprah/Osteen line and opt for “only the things I want are for me…” but Paul says πάντα, panta, all things. All means all. That crappy email from a client, the customer yelling at your barista, the car that swiped in front of you and made you slow down, the smelly guy on the subway. We usually want to get rid of all these things. What about that political opponent that won, that lazy coworker that got a promotion, the doctor that charges too much money for the pills you need? What about that sleepless night worrying about nothing in particular that ruined your workday, or that unjust work situation that turned into the most grueling three days ever experienced? What about that family that is emotionally abusive, the pain that you still feel from that sports injury in school, the monotonous repetition of your job? All means all

I want to tell you that I’m not some wise man spouting on a mountain top. I can complain with the best of them. But Paul says all things are for your sakes and he means it. Think how many times this comes up through the New Testament writings: 

  • in all things thanksgiving…
  • all things work for the good of those who love the Lord…
  • count it all joy…
  • for I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature…

But we will stop everything for just a little bit of pleasure. And when we can’t get the pleasure that we want, we complain we are being “oppressed” as if St Nikolai and his Dachau friends had nothing to compare to the folks at WalMart not saying “Merry Christmas”. We will literally bend over backward and swallow hands-full of pain killer just to avoid feeling pain.

Paul says all things.