To Do Bible

JMJ

LEARNING OF the death of my friend, Minka, via Facebook sent me on a used book quest to find her out-of-print works. Finally a copy of Praying from the Free Throw Line – For Now was procured from Thriftbooks. Reading it has not only triggered old memories (for I can hear her voice as I read it) but so many other realizations as well. We learn from our teachers and she was my teacher in so many ways. Even things she did not teach me, I see clearly, seem to have grown from seeds we planted together. All that follows is such. What is my process for working with Bible?

When readings the meditations in Praying From the Free Throw Line it’s easy to recognize the genesis of my own voice. But it’s also easy to recognize the fountainhead of my own theological errors. Minka’s knowledge of Biblical Languages (which she taught at two seminaries) does not mean that her final conclusions are safeguarded from error. I was only too happy at one time to hear her conclusions sine they justified my own actions. They were wrong, sinful. The process needs correction, not rejection.

The Christian texts of the Bible, of course, flow from the Jewish texts. This is not only a prophetic or historical claim but also a stylistic one. In its current form, the Jewish scripture is presented as three components: Torah, Prophets, and Writings. In Hebrew, תורה Torah, נביאים Nevi’im, and כתובים Khetuvim. These are abbreviated as תנ”ך Tanach. The Torah is the first five books. This is usually translated law, but law is only a part of the text (and the texts are only part of the law). The word also means instruction. Perhaps it’s best to read it as mainly meaning “instruction”? I don’t know. The guys at Bible Project take that to mean the entire text of the Bible is Meditation Literature – something to chew on, over and over. The Prophets include a few books that many Christians might not consider “prophetic” such as Judges, Samuel and the Kings. However, the Writings include some considered prophetic by Christians (Psalms, Song of Songs and Daniel) as well as some considered “only” history like the Chronicles. The New Testament is also parsed out this way: The Prophet scroll is the Apocalypse. The Writings are Acts and the Epistles. The Torah is the Gospels. This is all meditation literature. Some of it might be history or myth (as we understand those words today), but all of it is God-breathed meditation literature.

So, when we hear Jesus use the imperative and command his Father to “forgive” from the Cross, there’s as much there to meditate on as when Eve uses the Sacred Tetragrammaton to describe God, even though that name has not yet been revealed to Moses. How is that important? Well, the Rabbis who complied the scriptures in Babylon put the Name of God on the lips of our First Mother, so why? Yeshua probably spoke in Aramaic from the Cross. Why did the Greek Authors take the imperative?

For a Christian, a better way to ask is, “Why did the Holy Spirit inspire the authors to do this?”

And we might spend a whole week chewing on it in prayer.

And there begins my method for doing Bible or, in Hebrew, לעשות תנ׳ך l-asot tanach to do tanach: you read in the context of the whole thing – a unified story that leads to Jesus – and you meditate. If something catches your eye, you follow it. Where does it go? This is why the four Gospels are the Torah Scroll in the New Covenant: Jesus is the living word of God, the embodiment not of the Law but the very Giver of the Law himself, not “in human form” but incarnate as a human. Under the Law he himself gave. When he pulls wine out of the Mikveh jars or enters the debate between Hillel and Shammai, when he asks about the Divine Image on the Roman Coin or says “I AM” with enough force to scare people, we need to ask not only “What’s going on here?” but also, “What is the Divine Author saying to us here?” and also, “What is the human writer trying to tell us here?” and also, “How can we communicate this to others?” Each question is equally important for different reasons. When Paul works out his Daddy issues with Timothy, that’s one thing. When a preacher in the pulpit at Mass points out that’s what Paul is doing, that’s another thing. When a listener, working on the same things as Paul, hears the sermon and is moved to tears, that’s a third thing. Read. Mark. Learn. Inwardly Digest. And Proclaim. All of these are needed but at different places. This is how to do Bible.

Then it has to be read in the Church. Yes, there are other commentators that do not believe it leads to Jesus. But they are on another track now and God will guide them back as he needs to. A Christian must read the Bible in the Church. So we reference the Fathers and Church teaching not as a supplemental authority but as the final one. It’s possible for some random theologian (such as my teacher that started this post) to take her knowledge way out of the bounds of the Church, but if we draw back to the Fathers and the Magisterium, we can make sure that while we avoid the mistake of being 100% correct and entirely wrong.

Types and Shadows

JMJ

The Readings for the 2nd Thursday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary; for when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.”

Hebrews 8:5

HEBREWS SPEAKS ABOUT THE Heavenly temple and about how what was then in Jerusalem was only a faint shadow – not only of what was before under Solomon, but also what was really present to Moses on the Mountain: God’s heavenly throne room. Yet was was present in Jerusalem at that time did not have the Ark of the Covenant or the Seat of Mercy, which had been carried away during the Babylonian siege and sack of Jerusalem – either by the Babylonians or else by the Prophet Jeremiah – and has yet to be found again. So the Temple present at the time of Jesus didn’t have all the working parts.

But Hebrews says that any earthly Temple is only a shadow of the real one in Heaven at this point because now Messiah has come. Types and shadows have their ending as Aquinas wrote. Because the newer rite is here. Yet one does not replace the other. One manifests the other fulfills the Truth.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

The unity of the Old and New Testaments

128 The Church, as early as apostolic times, and then constantly in her Tradition, has illuminated the unity of the divine plan in the two Testaments through typology, which discerns in God’s works of the Old Covenant prefigurations of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of his incarnate Son.

129 Christians therefore read the Old Testament in the light of Christ crucified and risen. Such typological reading discloses the inexhaustible content of the Old Testament; but it must not make us forget that the Old Testament retains its own intrinsic value as Revelation reaffirmed by our Lord himself. Besides, the New Testament has to be read in the light of the Old. Early Christian catechesis made constant use of the Old Testament. As an old saying put it, the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.

130 Typology indicates the dynamic movement toward the fulfillment of the divine plan when “God [will] be everything to everyone.” Nor do the calling of the patriarchs and the exodus from Egypt, for example, lose their own value in God’s plan, from the mere fact that they were intermediate stages.

Or, as The Bible Project puts it succinctly: “We believe the Bible is a unified book that leads to Jesus.”

Today is the Feast of the Theophany in those Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic Churches that use the Julian Calendar. Last night at the 2.5 hour Vigil Service we read about 20 Bible passages, served the Liturgy of St Basil, and then blessed water. This water, Theophany or “Jordan Water”, we believe avails much for healing, remission of sins, blessings, and the repelling of both spiritual and physical foes. It is and interesting tradition because while, in aome churches it’s blessed in a basin, the blessing can also be done at the ocen or in a river. My former bishop does this blessing in the winter snows, on the Continental Divide. These blessings, absolutions, healings, and exorcisms are not only for believers but for all God’s world. In his Son God claims us all for himself.

Types and shadows have their ending. God is Manifest. Baptized in the Jordan he begins to set all things aright. We can enter the water with him and rise as Sons and Daughters of God

Reading the Signs of Ordinary Times

The cover of The Silver Chair from the boxed set I received in High School (c. 1980)

JMJ

The Readings for the 1st Saturday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

The word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit. As he passed by, he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus, sitting at the customs post. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

Hebrews 4:12, Mark 2:14

I‘VE BEEN REREADING THE Chronicles of Narnia in the canonical order. Actually, I’m using a very enjoyable audio series with Michael York, Lynn Redgrave, and Derick Jacobi, among others. It’s easily the best set of recordings out there, but a bit pricy unless you find it on sale. Anyway… I’m on Book Four, The Silver Chair, just now. It’s my least favorite one. I can only handle it for a few (audible) pages at a time. It gets tedious after that.

Don’t get me wrong: the story is good enough. Two children from our world rescue a prince of Narnia from an enchantment and restore him to his throne. Magic and whatall, of course, and talking animals. There are surprises and twists. But everything is so dark and, well, boring. Colorless. Especially when compared to all of the other books, this one is drab.

I suddenly think that’s the point.

There is a discussion in another post about how Lewis plays with Time and what I think that might mean. These are stories for children, yes, but they are not children’s stories. They are very adult stories told for children: there are things you can see only as you meditate on them. The three middle books, Voyage of the Dawntreader, The Silver Chair, and A Horse and His Boy, are conversion stories. The first and the third are painful stories about children going through rather adult conversions: they have to leave behind all they know to understand Narnia. The middle one, which concerns us in this post, is about the interior conversion that a “cradle” must undergo. The “cradle Narnian” is Prince Caspian XI. Eustace is a convert – and indeed Jill as well – but since they are coming to rescue the Prince it’s his story they are a part of. (No one is in a story alone, of course, he is also part of their stories.) The Prince, however, has gone astray in his grief for his dead Mother. He’s been led away by a foreign power, the Green Witch, and needs to come home.

Aslan sends two converted missionaries, Jill and Eustace, to rescue the lost Cradle Narnian. Jesus, calling to Matthew the Tax Collector, the Cradle Jew, who sold himself to the Romans.

Like any Narnian – or Cradle Catholic or Cradle Orthodox – Caspian knows he’s doing things right. The Green Witch has convinced him he’s fine. He’s really a Narnian, everything will be ok. Just trust her and she will get things back in line. And, like any Cultural Orthodox, Cultural Catholic, or even Cultural Jew, or Cultural Whatever, they miss the point of their religion, only getting the barest hints of the echoes from Childhood Memories. Caspian is Narnian in Name Only. He needs rescuing from the vestiges of Narnia in his own life enabling the Witch to continue to hold him back from his true life.

By vestiges I mean those shreds of cultural religion that are on unconnected to any living relationship: they form a sort of innoculation. Billy Graham refered to people who were “innoculated against” any real relationship with Christ by their cultural Christianity. Prince Caspian is in the same boat. The Green Witch has convinced him to stay put and she will make him a True King. Really she is only enslaving him to her more and more each day.

In order to guide these converted Missionaries to penetrate “even between soul and spirit” in the Prince’s life, Aslan gives four Signs. Each one they seemingly mess up – even to their own eyes – and yet each one works out in the course of their lives. In the end, it’s not by following the Signs that they save the Prince, but rather by saving the Prince, they discover they have followed the Signs. It is their growing relationship with Aslan that has drawn them forward.

Most of life plays out that way: one thing in front of another. Do them one after another. And you’ll discover you’re working out your salvation. We make much of the signs, or even the Signs of the Times but they’re not intended as prophetic way-showers, but rather as markers on the way. Prophecy is not about “What comes next?” in the timeline, but rather, “you are here”. The vestiges of religion and cultural laws fall away and you are left with a living relationship to the Word of God, the one and only word that God has spoken through all time and eternity, in text and in life: Jesus.

Before enlightenment, chop wood. Carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood. Carry water.

In the end, you will discover that Jesus has called you out of yourself, and out of your enslavement to the world. Follow him.

More Ordinary Mysteries

Icon of “He Who Slumbers Not” slumbering.

JMJ

The Readings for the 1st Wednesday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.

Hebrews 2:18

THE ANONYMOUS AUTHOR of Hebrews, just for a shorthand, let’s give him a name… say… St Paul? Anyway, St Paul begins, “Since the children share in blood and Flesh, Jesus likewise shared in them” and goes on to talk about suffering. Some translations and exegetical traditions (especially those more heavily influenced by the Protestant Reformers) limit the understanding of “suffering”. For an extreme example, the Complete Jewish Bible renders Hebrews 2:18 as “For since he himself suffered death when he was put to the test, he is able to help those who are being tested now.” There the “suffering” is explicitly limited to death, however – given the common understanding of the English word “suffering” – usually this idea is that suffering = his Passion (ie from Thursday night or Friday of Holy Week). That’s not the correct way to view this.

The Greek word used for “suffer” here is πάσχω pascho. The broad meaning is “things that happen to me” either good or bad. It is possible to limit it to bad things only, but with the addition of the word rendered as “tempted” (Gr: πειράζω pirazo) the meaning is clearly not limited to the latter half of Holy Week. The things that “happened” to Jesus started with cellular mitosis, implanting, blood, water, and a birth canal. Then probably a spanking.

Ordinary Time.

God has done all the ordinary things. All the things that we do – except sin – God has done them in his flesh, including coughing up phlegm, stubbing toes, getting itchy eyes, sneezing, sweating, and getting sunburned. God has worked hard and had to sleep – and had trouble sleeping. God in the Flesh has done it all.

Your life can now be a daily enactment of the life of God because God’s life was ordinary like yours. And so he knows, in his flesh and bones, what it means to feel pain, to be tired, to be hungry, to be thirsty. God knows, in his heart of hearts, how weak we are, how prone we are to sin – even though he, himself, never sinned.

Look to him and be radiant. Your face will never be ashamed. The things that happen to you happened also to God.

And he can help you.

So, that was Christmas

Jerusalem Cross: Representing the Believers around Christ

JMJ

The Readings for the 1st Tuesday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

They were amazed at the way he taught, for he did not instruct them like the Torah-teachers but as one who had authority himself.

Mark 1:22

HEY! PRESTO! It’s no longer Christmas, but Ordinary Time: tempus per annum. Epiphany had an Octave back in the Old Days, and the Sunday within the Octave was the Baptism. And then there were a certain number of Sundays after Epiphany, and then it was time for Pre-Lent (which begins this year on 5 February). Titles aside, the readings assigned for the first few weeks of Ordinary Time drift from Glorious to Pre-Lenten. This happens in the Autumn as well when the Apocalypse starts to take over the reading themes in October, well before Christ the King. Today, through late Winter and early Spring, we’ll be meditating on Death and Penance soon enough. Today’s readings are Manifesting Glory.

Your calendar says Ordinary Time but your readings say Epiphany Octave.

Jesus is revealed in today’s Gospel as one speaking “with his own authority” and not like the other teachers, whom the people have heard, who appeal to precedent and say nothing new. This authority is surprising to the people, as the Gospel states. It never says good or bad surprise, but I’m sure it goes both ways. Some were surprised good. Some were surprised bad.

Rabbi Jacob Neusner makes this same point in A Rabbi Talks with Jesus: when Jesus talks he clearly puts his own words (sometimes) on par with the Torah but most often over the Torah and, usually, over others who are interpreting the Torah. (Although he sometimes takes sides in existing rabbinical arguments, sometimes with Hillel, sometimes with Shammai.) Jesus speaks on his own Authority. This is fitting, of course, if one is claiming to be God, the Son of God. When someone says, “The teachings of Jesus are nice…” they usually fail to grant (or realize) all that implies. Many who read the New Testament fail to see that the teaching method/refrain of “you have heard it said… but I say to you…” is this divine claim in action. Neusner sees it and is surprised bad. In fact, he’s surprised into full-on rejection just as the other leaders were in Jesus’ day.

But Jesus is claiming authority – just by his very presence. His relationship with God the Father is such that it’s impossible to not claim this authority. It would be a lie to pretend otherwise.

In his homily yesterday, Fr Emmerich Vogt, OP, made the point that those of us who are baptized into Christ share this same authority, this same relationship. We are, as Pope Benedict said, “Sons in the Son”. Or rather we can be, by grace, participating in the divinization which Christ offers us. The writer of Hebrews has it:

For it was fitting that he, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the leader to their salvation perfect through suffering. He who consecrates and those who are being consecrated all have one origin. Therefore, he is not ashamed to call them “brothers” saying: I will proclaim your name to my brethren, in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.

The whole point of ordinary time is that there is no longer any such thing. We are riding salvation history now: all time is liturgical time, the unfolding of the Kingdom. “He who consecrates and those who are being consecrated all have one origin.” All life is now living into Salvation, the unfolding of the Kingdom in our own lived experience. God has made everything not-ordinary.

This is the path on which the sons in the son now walk: to glory. It would be a lie to pretend otherwise.

Be the Mikveh

JMJ

And he stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
Matthew 8:3
He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’
John 7:38
Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.
John 4:14

THEOLOGICAL WRITERS MAKE MUCH OF Jesus “contagious purity“. The laws of Jewish Scriptures assume that something that is impure cannot be touched lest the impurity pass through the touch. If one is in a state of ritual purity and touches something unclean it is the impurity that is contagious: if I touch a corpse it is I who become unclean. Thus men refrain from touching a woman because she may be ritually impure. It is her impurity that is contagious – a man’s ritual purity is very fragile and can be destroyed. Jesus, however, walks around touching things – lepers, the sick, corpses, etc – without fear. Instead of becoming impure himself he makes them pure – healing them, raising the dead, cleansing lepers.

I get why this is important as it’s a huge paradigm shift from Second Temple Judaism. Fear of contagious impurity is what makes the Priest and the Levite out to be the bad guys in the Good Samaritan story. Contagious impurity comes up in other New Testament conversations as well: it’s the heart of the objection that Jesus eats with sinners (becomes contaminated by them). Jesus says that’s not the issue at all. So I get why his purity is hugely important. But I missed the application until September when I was working on a paper for Homiletics, published here.

Finally, the reference to Jewish purification rituals in verse 6. Traditionally such washing had to be done in “living water” which means the ocean, a river, stream, a spring, etc, or from rainwater. Wealthier Jewish homes may have a dedicated pool (called a mikveh) for use by the family. Jewish laws require a certain amount of “living water” to be used but other “normal” water can be brought into contact and – thus ritually purifying all the water to make it acceptable for the ritual. Among other uses, the mikveh was traditional for a bride (and sometimes the groom) to use before the wedding to be in a state of ritual purity. A mikveh requires about 140 gallons of living water or water that had otherwise been purified. (Source retrieved on 9/11/22.)
… There’s something interesting about the use of “living water” in a mikveh and Christ promising streams of living water rising up with the believer (John 7:38). The Greek in 7:38 is the same phrase for “living water” in the LXX for Jeremiah 2:13.

I have been meditating on the “something interesting” for a while now. When I was a kid I thought that living water might mean something alive… like a monster or a water being. I don’t know. I did not think of living water as a class of water opposed to water that is “dead” or “still”. What I think I’m seeing is a promise that – as Jesus has contagious purity, flowing out from him to others around him – we are to have streams of living water (Hebrew מים חיים Mayyim Chayyim) rising up from within us, where this is a contagious purity flowing out to others. This is the promise Jesus makes to believers. What he does, we are to do as well – and ever greater things than he! This living water, welling up from within us, is not our own “Stuff” but rather Jesus.

It’s (another) scriptural promise for absolution in confession: those sins you forgive are forgiven… living water welling up inside of cleanses those around you. When we are open to Jesus’ action in our lives we become mediators of that action to others around us. “Acquire the Holy Spirit,” as St Seraphim of Sarov says. “And thousands around you will be saved.” We do not act for ourselves but for the extension of the Kingdom of God. As Pope Benedict says (in Introduction to Christianity) we’re to be open “on both sides”: to God and to our fellow men, as Jesus was fully for God and for us.

By Grace, we become a source of living water for those around us and they, in turn, become sources of living water as well. The living water flows out from the Tabernacle of the Eucharist until it becomes a flood filling all the world.

Hashtag Resist

JMJ

The Readings for the 4th Thursday of Advent (A1)

He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away.

Luke 1:53 (KJV21)

THE ANGELUS IS A favorite devotion of mine. (If you are not familiar with it I have included it at the end of this post.) I’ve used nearly daily since I first realized it was a prayer to be said outside of Church. (It was usually prayed before the Sunda service at my Episcopal parish when I was growing up, but only in college did I find it could be prayed in other places. It’s prayed three times a day, theoretically at Sunrise, Noon, and Sunset. I was taught it was a “reminder of the Incarnation.” This was the “point” it’s had for the last 40 years or so.

Listening to the most recent Poco A Poco podcast last night, the CFR friars changed my mind. For the first time in 40 years I heard the prayer differently. The prayer is not (only) a memorial of an historical event (or, worse, just a theological doctrine) but rather an active prayer for our transformation in Christ. Mary said “yes” to God – and so we should all be saying yes. It’s a continual submission in faith to what God wants. It’s an ongoing Act of Faith: you have to stay open to God as Jesus and Mary were, never turning away, never closing a part off. I do this all the time. We all do, but I never thought of the Angelus as a thrice-daily prayer to struggle against this closing-off.

But once you open yourself up to that, once you say yes, what are you left with in the world? Nothing. You become like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: promised a land, even living on the very land itself, but owning none of it. Like Moses, seeing the land, but not allowed to enter it. Like David wanting to do something for God and being asked “who are you to imagine I want this to happen?” Everything in this relationship is “now but not yet”. Everything in this relationship is full trust and openness and, yet, nothing like the world imagines those things to be. You have a fully trusting relationship with the all-powerful creator of the universe, which makes you a nothing in the world.

Lift up the lowly
Send away the rich
Tear down the mighty
Give the whole thing to the meek
Who no nothing about it anyway

Saying yes to God makes you the Mother of the LIving Creator of all Things, a condemned criminal dying on a post in the ground. Saying yes to God means the Lord of the Universe nurses at your breast and dies before your eyes. Saying yes to God means all the pain of your life. Anyway.

Why say yes to such a God?

Because that God is love.
And love has no place in this world
Therefore it’s impossible for it not to hurt you
Once you, yourself, become love.
But your love, God’s love, Love.
Is healing the world.
Say yes to God.
Reject the world.
Because you will heal the world
And you can only love your neighbor
(at all)
By loving God.
You cannot say yes to your neighbor
in anyway that will actually help him
unless you say yes to God.

Who will then send the rich away, destroy the thrones, powers, and principalities that stand in the way of the only good that there can be in this world fallen away from God: reunion.

Praying the Angelus three times a day means becoming the Mother of God who wants to redeem the world by letting the world kill him because he loves it so much that he would die to bring it all back home.

The Angelus

V. The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
R. And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
R. Be it done unto me according to thy word.

Hail, Mary...

V. And the Word was made flesh.
R. And dwelt among us.

Hail, Mary...

V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray. Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Urbi et Orbi

JMJ

The Readings for the 4th Wednesday of Advent (A1)

The voice of the man I love! Here he comes, bounding over the mountains, skipping over the hills!

Song of Songs 2:8 (CJB)

DURING THE GLOBAL PANIC in March of 2020, watching bodies pile up, morgues overrun, hospitals sealing off units, the Holy Father did an Urbi et Orbi blessing with the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, praying and blessing the entire world as only the Vicar of the Messiah can do, has the authority to do. No matter who you were or where you were that night, you were blessed, even if you do not know it: the sign of the Saviour’s Victory was traced over you by the Pope. We will never know what course the Pandemic could have taken without that blessing. In my heart, by faith, I know the world was changed that night.

The world’s beloved came over the mountains to her and spoke in his humble silence that night.

I took a couple of hours off work to watch. I want to say it was about noon here? 11 AM? It was dark and cold and rainy in Rome, watching the Pope walk all by himself up the steps to the Basilica like Christ walking to Gethsemane. And the whole world watching. At the Benediction, all the sirens and church bells of Rome rang out. Weeping I reached to touch the screen of my computer. The whole thing, live-streamed, was palpable. It was real. Most of the world could not go to Mass or confession, but the Pope gave an indulgence.

And there we were.

In the arms of our lover, absolved, and – eventually – victorious. But Victory here means something other than what the world means.

We do not find victory like Messi in more goals and the defeat of our enemies, but rather in the messiness that arises from love and forgiveness. In the end, even the pandemic was for our salvation: walking the path through to the end means that God has dirty diapers and dies on a post stuck in the ground.

And loves us all the more.

Our lover is no longer coming to us but now is with us. This is the Messianic age. And yet it is not. We have work to do – or rather he has work to do and only waits for us to get out of the way.

God is with us, ripping open the heavens and coming among us, ripping the veil of the Temple and revealing it to be empty. God dwells in our hearts. This victory is his.

Clash of the Titans

JMJ

The Readings for the 3rd Wednesday of Advent (A1)
Memorial of St John of the Cross, Priest & Doctor of the Church

Heavens above, rain down justice; let the clouds pour it down. Let the earth open, so that salvation springs up, and justice sprouts with it. I, Adonai, have created it.

Isaiah 45:8 (CJB)

READING this verse (or, as is common at this time of year, hearing it sung) always makes me think of a Greek Myth wherein Zeus appears as a rain of golden fire to Danaë, which is how she conceived Perseus. It is one of the more poetic of lines from Isaiah, addressed to Cyrus, the King of Persia, whom Isaiah calls “messiah” in 45:1. It is the liberation of the Jews from Babylon that is happening here, by the anointed hands of Cyrus.

God is using human politics to bring about divine ends. Cyrus did things for his own reasons (and for his own god, Marduk) yet the one, Almighty God appointed him to be the liberator of the Jews from their Captivity into which he – God – had sent them for their sins. This is Almighty God acting in history through the free will and agency of a human actor. This is how God has chosen to act in almost all of human history. He has condescended to enter into relationship with us wearing the face of our neighbor, meeting us where we are, and conveying to us his grace in the hands of those around us.

What about those who are not “one of us”?

Well, as with Cyrus, even praying to Marduk, God can cause divine grace to pour through his actions, through his politics. And in those places where God was not sending the Hebrew Prophets to prepare his way he was still preparing his way. The Bible is a unified story that leads to Jesus, certainly, but actually, the whole world is such. How can it not be? All truth leads to the Truth. All light is but a reflection of the Light. All true life is but an echo of the Light. There is only one story, one way.

Or, you can walk off the screen. Your choices is valued and real. You can decide to reject the grace literally pouring in from everywhere.

Then it will be fire (for it always has been).

Time flies…

JMJ

LEARNING, TONIGHT, OF TWO different readings of this passage. One will be familiar to my Christian readers, the other to my Jewish ones. There may be some overlap, but they seem to be mutually exclusive. There may be a way to pull in the both-and option, but we’ll see.

The Torah Portion that was read last Shabbat Morning was וַיִּשְׁלַח Vayishlach which means “and he sent”‎. The important passage, for me, is the wrestling with the angel. I have that as the header image on literally every page and post on this blog. (By way of stealing a bit of the sky from the Doré illustration.) But I do not read it the way the Jewish Tradition does.

A man wrestled with him: our sages explained that this was the ministering angel of Esau.” A commonplace of Talmudic and midrashic literature is that every nation has its own angelic “minister” who represents its interests before G-d. It is Esau’s angel, then, who attempts to frustrate Jacob’s mission.

Source which cites the Talmud and other texts in support

Every Christian commentary I’ve heard on this passage indicates that Jacob is wrestling with God, himself, with even most of the liberal scholarship falling on the side of this being a mythological telling of Jacob wrestling with God. Israel is taken as a literal description of what has just happened (Jacob has wrestled with God) and a prophecy that he has nothing to fear from his brother, Esau, with whom he has also striven. The same commentaries say Jacob is sending his own angels ahead of him (Messangers = Angels, I get it).

Then Jacob and Esau meat and are reconciled. This reunion gets spun into some very interesting symbolism.

Jacob left home to try and control his own destiny but he knew he had to come back – God wanted him in Eretz Israel for his own salvation as well as the blessing he would be to the whole world. To come back into the Land, though, he would need to reconcile with his family – including the ones he had tricked. God needs to make evident that Jacob intends to be here – evident not to God, but to Jacob. So it is fitting that there are trials for Jacob to overcome on his way home. God wants Jacob to see that he – Jacob – wants to be here.

Sometimes, when things are too easy, we are willing to drop them just because they were too easy. When we have to work for them… suddenly I will not let you go until you bless me. This journey home was Jacob’s purgatory. He has more to come, actually. But he’s home for now.

Part of our own journey home is realizing where home really is.

This Sunday was Advent 3, Gaudete Sunday. “Rejoice”, from the Introit Verse in Philippians 4:4, Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. Amen, rejoice.

From my first visit to St Dominic’s in 2016

Six years ago on 3 Dec 2016 I walked into St Dominic’s Church for the first time. It was Saturday before the 2nd Sunday of Advent that year. Three days later, as my friend Tim says, I moved in. I was thinking about it this weekend. Six years later and some things have happened. I feel like I’ve been here at least 10 years. One lifelong parishioner assumed I was also a lifer. Look upon this vine you have planted….

Making, with my Sister Anne, Life Profession as Dominican Tertiaries.

In the midst of all life’s changes and passions, I wanted to promise God I would not run away. That if he let me come back to SF from my exile in Alabama, I would stay put. I would root this time. Nothing would be an optional item. Nothing would be expendable. God would be in charge of staying or going. I’m not leaving minus clear indications otherwise.

Six years after walking in the front door, I work for the parish and I’m involved as a Dominican tertiary and also in the formation program for the diaconate. It’s not been easy – there have been many surprising bumps and som very hard knocks. Purgatory is not supposed to be easy. But the end is the reunification of God and Man. The Catholic Answer to Gnosticism is not “God can use matter” or “matter is neutral” or even “don’t worry about matter”. To make a direct pun, matter matters. There is literally nothing in life that is not intended as an action of God’s grace. Your friends, family, even your enemies are there to pour God’s grace into your life for your salvation. This is why icons are bathed in light: all of the universe, all physical matter, is mdiating God’s grace to you if you can but see it. Icons are windows to heaven and heaven is happening here, now.

Is Jacob wrestling God or an Angel sent from Esau? It matters not – for, for him who loves the Lord, all things are God working out his salvation. All angels are divine messengers, no matter who they are guarding. Esau’s angel cannot but be doing God’s will any more or less than any other angel.

As the Rabbis teach, “Only in the Messianic era will the world experience the wholesomeness of the restored relationship between Esau and Jacob, between matter and spirit, between body and soul.”

We are in that era now: these words are fulfilled in your hearing. Indeed, for most of the Church Fathers any theophany in the Older Scriptures is God the Son – this Angel, the Burning Bush, the voice on Sinai. God thw Father speaks, yes, but his word is the Son. God has become man and flesh and spirit are returned to their rightful relationship. Even in the things you fear, Rejoice! God is mysteriously working for your salvation and healing.