The assignment: Drawing from the doctrine of atonement expounded by Anselm, Aquinas, and Dr Margaret Turek’s Atonement, you are to give a homily on this subject to adult parishioners.
GOD HATES SIN. It’s perhaps an uncomfortable claim for we are aware that we sin although, perhaps, we tapdance around that awareness so as not to disturb ourselves much. Because God loves his creation and because sin has marred the beauty God gave us he has destroyed the power of sin to destroy us. This is the doctrine of atonement.
That word, atonement, may make us as uncomfortable as a discussion of sin. This discomfort may be related to the same tapdance of avoidance though: only if we are sinners do we need atonement. Pope Benedict has suggested that we trivialize sin and thus downplay our own need for redemption – and so we also trivialize the action of Christ on the Cross. (Atonement, 13.)
Today, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart opens up our meditation on Atonement as an act of love. Let’s take a look at the alternative prayer offered by Liturgy of the Hours for Morning Prayer (Vol 3, p. 639)
Father, we honor the heart of your Son broken by man’s cruelty yet symbol of love’s triumph, pledge of all that man is called to be. Teach us to see Christ in the lives we touch, to offer him living worship by love-filled service to our brothers and sisters. Amen.
We’ll move through bit by bit.
The heart of your son, broken by cruelty…
The cruelty mentioned in the prayer is our rejection of God. That rejection is sin in its totality. There may be individual sinful actions, but sin is a rejection of God and the love and dignity he offers us (Atonement, 51, 89ff). We are made for God and we only find our full happiness in him. Sin is any attempt to find or root our being elsewhere. Sin wounds us and our neighbor, but all sin is, primarily, a rejection of God. Any step away from that fullness – our proper end – is sin because we step away from God himself. (See also, Catechism ¶1849, ¶1850). Sin is real. This rejection of love is the cruelty spoken of.
God allows us to experience the results, the natural consequences of our sin (Atonement, 52). We suffer a loss of God, of a proper relationship with others and the world, and – eventually – we suffer death. Even these consequences wound God who wants so much more for us.
St Anslem starts us on this journey, asking “Why God Became Man?” Seeking to explore answers to Jewish and Muslim critics in his day (late 11c). In our rejection of infinite love, we incur (and continue to incur) an ongoing infinite debt that corrupts even our attempts to repay it. Anselm teaches that it required a human person to pay our a human debt, else humanity would have been beholden to whoever paid for us. Yet it needed to be God who did so because it was an infinite debt and only an infinite God could have paid it. So, uniting God and Man in himself, God the Son dies on the Cross to pay the debt of all humanity. In this action, he purchased us for himself and we are beholden only to God – as it should be. We can most clearly see the wounding of God’s heart on the Cross, and yet we can see something else as well. We need to see deeper into this action than just “purchase”: for in the act of atonement on the Cross, indeed the entire Incarnation, God the Holy Trinity has done something unexpected (Atonement, 130).
The Church sees love’s triumph in the Crucifixion. Even on the Cross – where we “did something to God”, it was a death by his own initiation, his own handing-over as the Eucharistic prayers say. God’s sovereign action is always the initiator (Atonement, 29): even our own actions are not mere reactions to God’s love but an act of his grace engendering in us a response. God is love. All that he does is because of the love that he is. Even his hatred of sin – his passionate hatred of the distance we ourselves have placed between us and him – is his love in action. Like a human lover, this puts God in a vulnerable position, at risk of being hurt by our rejection. But, unlike a human lover, God keeps pushing forward in love despite being wounded (Atonement, 35). Remember that Jesus is God the Son. He is showing us the love of the Father in this action on the Cross. What we see in Jesus’s love for us is his filial imaging of the Father’s love for us. Like Father, like Son! As the Father allows us to wound and slay the Son, the Heart of God breaks in the depth of his love for us. And his hatred for sin manifests as we slay his Son, the engendered response to his love rises in us, becoming the restoration of our relationship with him. (Atonement, 106)
On the cross, Jesus was made to be “sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21) and by allowing the perfectly pure Son to experience the natural consequences for our sins God restored us to him. This is the masterstroke against sin, for by the cross those consequences of rejection, pain, and even death become the pathway of the Father’s love to us.(Atonement, 129, footnote 97) As Jesus surrendered perfectly to God’s will, even the worst parts of our world of violence and sin become ways in which God can (and does) reach us. The Eastern Church says Christ has “trampled down death by death.” That’s why the Sacred Heart, wounded by cruelty, is the symbol of love’s triumph.
And so, the prayer says the heart of Christ is the pledge of all that man is called to be. We are called in the Son of God to contemplate the Father. We are called to share the love of God. But there is more. Our heart must become like his: ours must be broken, too.
We are called, in the closing words of the prayer, to see Christ in the lives we touch, to offer him living worship by love-filled service to our brothers and sisters. We are called to serve others, and to risk in that action the same rejection that he risks; our hearts will also be broken by cruelty as we call others to the divine plan of love. (Atonement, 222 ff)
Participating in the infinity of God’s action, we become humans paying human debt fully. Our pain, our suffering, in Christ, becomes part of the ongoing action of Atonement. Speaking at Fatima, Pope Benedict said, “entrust to him every setback and pain that you face so that they become – according to his design – a means of redemption for the whole world. You will be redeemers with the Redeemer, just as you are sons in the Son.”
IN THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH’s Book of Common Prayer (1979), as the priest breaks the consecrated bread, is sung the Fraction Anthem. “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast.” John the Baptist, of course, refers to Christ as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). And the New Testament is filled with references to Christ as an atoning sacrifice. (eg John 3:16, Romans 3:24, Hebrews 9:12-16, Revelation 5:9.)
But here’s where my meditations on this hit a snag: the Lamb offered every year at Passover was not offered as a sin offering. The main sin offering was, of course, Yom Kippur, and certainly Good Friday was in the Passover Season. Also the Yom Kippur offering is two goats. Not Lambs. The Passover offering does not fit the pattern of any of the other sacrifices of Leviticus. It was given by God to the people of Israel while they were still in Egypt, before the Temple or Tabernacle system was even discussed.
So it seems that there is a huge significance for this evident change in the Christian reading of the sacrificial system’s symbolism. This theological move forms the hinge by which we connect with the Jewish people. Why is our reading of Passover the way it is? Mind you these are only ruminations: I’m not really going anywhere and I have a lot more questions than answers.
As I noted this reading (of atonement as part of the Messiah’s mission) is present already in the earliest texts of Paul and the Gospels. So it’s not an aberration.
I’m not the historian that can delve into 2nd Temple Judaism. A cursory investigation on the internet shows a lot of Christian sources rather than Jewish ones. It seems the question of Why Passover and not Yom Kippur is a common one. There is a comment from Abraham ibn Ezra, writing in the 10th Century, understanding Passover as an atonement for those “in the house”. (Cited here.) That same page also has an extensive citation from Rashi which seems to hold that image as one of atonement, however I don’t think it jives totally? Both of these comments are in the 10th Century, though. Is there any earlier information? Shrug. This is a meditation, not a history paper.
Nu? Typology, maybe?
If Egypt is taken as a sign of “the world” or “sin” or as a synecdoche for all Gentiles, then Passover is a sign of leaving the worldly order (Mammon) for the Heavenly Kingdom.
If we understand sin as a bunch of rules we’ve broken, demerits, as it were, then we need a sin offering (like Yom Kippur) but if we understand sin as a breaking of the Marriage Covenant between God and his people then we need to redo the covenant, not just undo a few demerits. Passover is before the Sinai covenant and so it’s a good symbol to use for a do-over or a Mulligan.
Another clue about Egypt can be found if we loop back to the Fraction Anthem from the 1979 Prayerbook. It comes from a short passage in Paul:
Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men; not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you.”
Paul makes a parallel with the Jewish tradition of “liturgical spring cleaning”. A Jewish family removes all leaven from their house before Passover, sweeping all the corners, wiping down all the shelves. Very pious folks – of a certain standing – even have an entirely different dishes to use, even entirely different kitchens! Paul uses the leaven to signify sin, lists a bunch of sins that he’d like to remove from the Corinthian congregation and warns them that even a little yeast will (eventually) cause the entire bread to rise – not just some of it, but all of it. Taking leavening as a symbol for evil (as it is in the OT), the Apostle urges Christians to leave behind them their lives of sin and to not even associate with those who won’t. (The word rendered “immorality” in the RSVCE refers to sexual immorality. It’s actually the Greek word pornos and it’s related to prostitution. See 1 Corinthians 5:11.) We’re leaving all this behind us in Egypt. We’re not going to let it contaminate our new loaf.
How is this at all an Atonement though? Queue up an offhanded comment from the most recent episode of Bible Project podcast. Look at Exodus:
For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall fall upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.
I will smite all the 1st born. So even an Israelite would have been included without the Blood. God was allowing the substitution of an innocent life (the lamb) for the life of the First Born. Even more, in the substitution, the whole family was eating the flesh of the First Born.
This is not the case in Yom Kippur where the two goats are used: one is sent out of the camp and the other is burned up on the altar and its blood is sprinkled around in the Holy of Holies. Jesus is not that offering: his offering is consumed not by God’s flames but by his family – that is us. His life is substituted for ours. Hebrews says that God did not desire sin offerings, but rather the Body of the Messiah. Through the Body and Blood of Jesus it says, we are able to enter the Holy of Holies. We could read Hebrews 10 to indicate the Yom Kippur sacrifice (where the goat’s blood is sprinkled everywhere) or we can read it as the Passover Sacrifice, where – because God now has flesh and blood – we can enter the Holy of Holies through the veil of his flesh.
The veil of the temple is torn, not because a new priest has entered the Holy Place and torn it, but because the real veil – Jesus’s Flesh – is pierced, revealing the wounded heart of God to all of us to enter into his love.
And Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us to move us out of the Egypt of our Sins to the waters of Baptism and then a lifelong journey to the Holy Land. We’ll stop at Sinai at Pentecost to have the Law Written on our Hearts, and as we wonder through the desert of this world we will (occasionally) wonder why we left Egypt at all. God will give us our Daily Bread.
The assignment: Your essay will address two questions: Who is Jesus of Nazareth? What insights are gleaned from his words and deeds: his baptism, his temptations in the wilderness, his Sermon on the Mount, the Lord’s Prayer, his “I AM” sayings, etc.? What can we understand about Christian discipleship in light of the person and mission of Jesus?
OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST himself declared what he was, what he had been, how he was carrying out his Father’s will, what obligations he demanded of men.” (Tertullian, On the Prescription of Heretics, Office of Readings, Feast of Sts Philip & James, Liturgy of the Hours, Vol 3, p.1811). Where does Jesus tell us who he is? How can this help form Christians today?
Finding the answers requires listening to Jesus in his context. We will look briefly at our Lord’s teaching on keeping/breaking the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8) walking with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to understand our Lord’s meaning more deeply, using Chapter Four of the Pope’s Jesus of Nazareth, Vol 1 (hereinafter, JoN). This chapter is a dialogue with another author’s work, A Rabbi Talks with Jesus (1993), by Rabbi Jacob Neusner. Benedict explores the Rabbi’s reactions as Jesus is questioned by Pharisees about his disciples picking grain on the Sabbath. The Rabbi provides Jewish ears and a Jewish voice.
In the understanding of Rabbinic Judaism, doing any sort of work on the Sabbath is a violation of the Torah. How the disciples keep Sabbath is important in all the Gospels. Pope Benedict notes on page 106 “Jesus’ statement that ‘the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath’ (Mk 2:27) is cited as evidence, the idea being that it represents an anthropocentric view of reality, from which a ‘liberal’ interpretation of the commandments supposedly follows naturally. It was, in fact, the Sabbath disputes that became the basis for the image of the liberal Jesus.” The liberal Jesus tosses out (or ignores) the commandments. “Jesus’ liberal understanding of the Law makes for a less burdensome life than ‘Jewish legalism.’” (JoN p. 109)
Jesus replies that priests work in the Temple on the Sabbath without actually breaking the law, adding “[S]omething greater than the Temple is here.” (Matthew 12:6 – RSVCE). He says, “The Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (v. 8) This is not a case of the “liberal” Jesus freeing us from all Moses’ laws. Benedict finds, along with Neusner, there is a different focus here, a revelation of who Jesus is.
We are eavesdropping on a conversation between Jewish voices: Jesus was using Jewish words in Jewish ways and those words were being heard in Jewish ways as well. In this light, we should keep in mind something different about the Sabbath and observing it in the Jewish context. Jesus is not tossing out rules. Rabbi Neusner hears it this way:
God rested on the seventh day, as the creation account in Genesis tells us. Neusner rightly concludes that “on that day we . . . celebrate creation”. He then adds: “Not working on the Sabbath stands for more than nitpicking ritual. It is a way of imitating God”. The Sabbath is therefore not just a negative matter of not engaging in outward activities, but a positive matter of “resting”.
JoN, p 108
Further drawing out resting, Benedict reads the verses immediately preceding chapter 12. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11: 28-30). The Pope pulls the reader back a bit to see the full context of the story. We don’t often read the picking grains story together with the preceding verses, but the wider angle on giving rest and then a conversation about resting on the sabbath shows us that these verses are all part of the same story. Pope Benedict lets us see in the wider context that Jesus is not just saying, “Hey, you don’t need to follow these sabbath rules anymore.”
Neusner agrees that Jesus is shifting the point of focus from the Temple. “[T]he holy place has shifted, now being formed by the circle made up of the master and his disciples” (JoN p 108). The Rabbi comes to the conclusion that Christ is putting himself in the place of the Torah and then asks, “Is your master God?” (JoN p. 110).
Hearing this as a Jewish conversation wrapped in the wider context provided by earlier verses, we can see that Jesus is claiming in his person to grant Sabbath rest. He is “Lord of the Sabbath”. That is to say he is claiming to be God and by following him his Disciple obeys the law of the Torah in a more direct way. By resting in Jesus we are “Sabbath Resting” not only on the 7th day, but always.
For a disciple, following Jesus is not a matter of ignoring the moral code, but rather expanding the code, making it personal. When the covenant was written on Sinai, God’s living fire burned the stone (Exodus 31:18), destroying what was not needed and revealing the laws that have been for all time. In the New Covenant, the law is written on our hearts. Now God’s living fire carves it out on our hearts: destroying in our lives what is not needed and revealing what has been the law for all time. Our hearts become living stones of God’s Temple (1 Peter 2:5).
Pope Benedict cited this meditation from Rabbi Neusner on pages 104-5: by Jewish tradition, there are 613 commandments given on Sinai which have been condensed, in various steps, down to the greatest commandments regarding God and neighbor. The Rabbi says Jesus taught all this faithfully. But, he notes, Jesus did add something: “Himself.” To the Rabbi’s eyes, Jesus has added himself to the story, replacing the Temple and the Torah. He is claiming to be God openly which his audience of 1st Century Jews – and Jews today – can hear. For the disciple today Jesus has unveiled himself as the central part of the entire Biblical story.
FIRST DAY IN CHRISTOLOGY CLASS was hard because too much thinking! Dr Turek teaches in a way that leaves you thinking for hours after it’s all over. I’m still digesting it today, Monday, but it seems less like “thinking too much” and more like we were praying. Contemplata aliis tradere, and all that: You get a blog post even without a paper due.
First walk through the stories about Jesus’ baptism. We started with the usual question, If Jesus was without sin why did he need to be baptized? “Usual question” in the sense that it’s the sort of question that’s so common it gets used as a homiletical device whenever the Baptism of Jesus comes up in the readings. (Note to self: do not do this.) It’s sort of a gotcha. “Well, you say Jesus is God so why dunk him at all?” In the course of our conversations, we unraveled the question slowly. When my friend Marvin made a comment about Jesus being God and the sky was opening up, it hit me like a bowling ball that Jesus is not baptized like us – we are baptized like him. God was dunked into the water so that we could be dunked into the water at all. Jesus had to be baptized as sinless: we’re the odd part, confessing our sins as we go in. The new thing is that our sins get washed away – not that he was sinless to begin with. We’re reading Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth, Vol 1, and it comes home suddenly (as he teaches) that John’s Baptism was not sacramental: it didn’t forgive or wash away sins. It indicated repentance – a change of heart – but it didn’t confer grace. Jesus changes that.
But that could not be if Jesus was not God.
And it’s Jesus being God that is the point of Christology and of our salvation.
The Prologue in John’s Gospel (John 1:1-18) opens with the claim that the Logos of God is with God and also is God. Dr Turek pointed out the “with” there is actually the Greek word πρός pros meaning “to, towards, with”. So when the word is πρός God, that means to God or better “towards God”. The Logos is constantly turned toward God, the Son eternally contemplating the Father. And the Father is continually pouring himself out to the Son. John 5:19 says, “Yes, indeed! I tell you that the Son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; whatever the Father does, the Son does too.” So what the Father does (self-emptying) the Son does as well, giving himself back to the Father.
The Prologue says it’s this Logos, this Son that has “become flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14) using another Greek word, σκηνόω skénoó, meaning to pitch a tent and echoing how God pitched a tent (the Tabernacle) in the middle of the tribes of Israel. (That’s the header image on this post.) This God now dwells with us however the Prologue and the New Testament take it further. Verse 14 says we beheld the “glory” of the Word “full of grace and truth”. And closes (v. 18) saying “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.” That “in the bosom” will be important. Hold on to it.
Later Jesus prays for us all:
I pray not only for these, but also for those who will trust in me because of their word,that they may all be one. Just as you, Father, are united with me and I with you, I pray that they may be united with us, so that the world may believe that you sent me.The glory which you have given to me, I have given to them; so that they may be one, just as we are one — I united with them and you with me, so that they may be completely one, and the world thus realize that you sent me, and that you have loved them just as you have loved me.
Did you catch all that? It’s a bit dense, but Jesus wants us to be in him in his unity with the Father. As the Son is to the Father, we are to be also. The technical term is filiation or “son making”. We are made sons and daughters of the Father in Christ the Son. We are called to the same relationship, the same glory and the same unity. This is the unity of peace, the unity of love, the unity of humanity in God the Father is the real meaning of salvation. It’s what the Son brings to us. And, the more we are called to give it to others. We hand it on.
The Word, which gives life! He existed from the beginning. We have heard him, we have seen him with our eyes, we have contemplated him, we have touched him with our hands! The life appeared, and we have seen it. We are testifying to it and announcing it to you — eternal life! He was with the Father, and he appeared to us. What we have seen and heard, we are proclaiming to you; so that you too may have fellowship with us. Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Yeshua the Messiah. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
What the Apostles touched and Contemplated (that is, Jesus and his teaching) they pass on to us. We touch and contemplate it through them. We pass it on to others. Those others touch and contemplate Jesus through us when we pass him on. We mediate Jesus to them. The face of God, through us, draws people ever closer to an unmediated experience so that they, too, may become mediators of his action in the world.
How? John 13:25 says that, at the Last Supper, St John was “leaning against Yeshua’s chest”. Remember the son “in the bosom of the Father” so, also, we are in the bosom of the Son. Because we are united with Jesus in his contemplation of Abba, God the Father. What we see Abba do we do as well by the grace of our participation in Christ. We experience our salvation not as a moment in the past (Baptism?) but as a process and one that includes not only us but others. As God was in the midst of Israel, but Israel was a light to the Gentiles, so we are to the world. It’s not an added or optional part: it is the thing itself. My evangelism to you is part of your salvation, yes, but it is part of mine as well because it is the ongoing action of Christ on the Cross.
So Christology becomes soteriology: the Son’s relationship to the Father becomes our relationship to the Father. We say “Abba” not like step children, but as sons and daughters of God in Christ who is his only begotten Son. As Mass says, we live “through him, with him, and in him… in the unity of the Holy Spirit” and we offer all glory to God the Father. The Spirit of God, aspirated between the Son and the Father in their Love, is now aspirated between us and the Father as well. And through us further into the world.
THE ASSIGNMENT was to read a selected book of the New Testament (in my case, The Epistle to the Colossians) and answer selected questions. A five-page paper was assigned as well as a 10-12 mins presentation.
What Problem is Being Addressed?
This depends on who is writing and when. Is this letter written by Paul (mid-50s to early-60s), by a disciple of Paul but in Paul’s name (50s – 70s), or is it “in a Pauline style” but much later (-90s?)? If it is by Paul or a disciple the issue could well be the same. If it is from a later date the content and reasons are different. Please note that sources are listed at the end of the paper.
Those who say the letter is pseudonymous point out that there are multiple terms used in this letter not used in other letters. Additionally, it does not fit into the accepted chronology of Paul’s writing: “This means Paul would have written Colossians sometime before his Letter to the Romans, creating the difficulty that Romans often betrays less development than Colossians with regard to some key concepts such as “body of Christ,” the relation of baptism to resurrection, and emphasis on Christ’s future coming.” If this text is from a later period then all of what follows is to be seen as didactic (here are some rules to follow) rather than pastoral (there are some problems so let’s talk). The author is creating a “Pauline slapdown” for their community rather than helping any local Christians deal with issues. Thus the argument seems to be, “Paul already had to deal with stuff like this 20 years ago and he did this… so y’all fall in line.” The unknown author seems to be making claims in support of some specific parties in a local church over other parties. (All the preceding is summarized from Havener.) Our class text indicates that the author wants to “… respond to the challenge presented by ‘the philosophy’ (2:8), and… to provide some support for Epaphras (1:7)…”
Considered as actually from St Paul, though, this letter is very interesting! It is traditionally paired with Philemon. The text does respond to some cultural challenges and a good bit of encouragement for a congregation of new Christians. The text is also part of a one-two punch delivered to Philemon and addresses issues on interpersonal relationships in the new community.
Assuming the text to be what it claims to be, the issue is one of how to live as Christians in the culture. Kreeft and our textbook both think that the issue is some sort of Jewish legalism and proto-Gnosticism. Other scholars suggest that there is more a sort of two-way pressure: from the Pagan side there was Epicurean philosophy as well as the normal Roman Paganism (worship of the Roman gods). From the Jewish side, there is legalism – a pressure to follow the full scope of Jewish religious laws.
I find these two sides pushing images makes more sense to me than thinking most (all?) of the pushback was from the Jewish community: certainly as Catholics that we are challenged both by the culture of the secular world (our local Paganism) as well as by other religions. We are also challenged by the legalism within our own tradition. More on that in a few moments though!
God is in control; that is to say, “Christ is in Control.” The opening passages of this letter (Colossians 1:12-20) are a hymn from the early Church. We also sing this at Vespers on Wednesdays. Christ is described in a great number of titles, each listing Christ as the top of some theological category. All of the sources refer to this hymn as describing the Cosmic Christ.
This Cosmic Christ is presented as a counter to “philosophy” as well as to local paganism, on the one hand, and, on the other, as in opposition to adherence to the law itself. It is our being (through baptism) in Christ that means we are no longer subject to the Jewish law or the superstitions of the Pagan world. We no longer need to dig into mysterious/occult ways, since Christ is the culmination of all mysteries.
1) The Cosmic Christ
The hymn in 1:15-20 gives a number of titles and descriptions to Christ that are very much beyond the “carpenter’s son of Nazareth”:
He is the image of the unseen God and the first-born of all creation, for in him were created all things in heaven and on earth: everything visible and everything invisible, Thrones, Dominations, Sovereignties, Powers- all things were created through him and for him. Before anything was created, he existed, and he holds all things in unity. (etc)
“The hymn… makes clear that Christ is the ruler of the cosmos;… [and]has a very high view of the divinity of Christ, but it is a step in the development of doctrine, not its completion…” (Smiles)
2) In Christ (ἐν Χριστῷ)
The expressions “in Christ” and the variations “in him/ whom” and “in the Lord” appear extensively in Paul’s writings, some two hundred times… In Colossians, in Christ (and the variations) occurs nineteen times. …Paul used (in all of his writings – DHR) fourteen compound words beginning with sun, the preposition translated “with.” Three of them are found in Colossians, co-buried (2:12), co-raised (2:12; 3:1), and co-quickened (2:13). (Martin)
One could be tempted to read “in Christ” as a mere psychological or spiritual “identification” with Christ, but the Catholic understanding of “in Christ” implies the doctrine of theosis or divinization and it means that the believer participates in Christ fully by Grace. There is a mystical way in which the believer is being Christ or mediating Christ in the present situation.
¶1691 “Christian, recognize your dignity and, now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return to your former base condition by sinning. Remember who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Never forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of the Kingdom of God.”
¶1692 The Symbol of the faith confesses the greatness of God’s gifts to man in his work of creation, and even more in redemption and sanctification. What faith confesses, the sacraments communicate: by the sacraments of rebirth, Christians have become “children of God,” “partakers of the divine nature.” Coming to see in the faith their new dignity, Christians are called to lead henceforth a life “worthy of the gospel of Christ.” They are made capable of doing so by the grace of Christ and the gifts of his Spirit, which they receive through the sacraments and through prayer.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section III “Life in Christ”
Kreeft points out that the main argument is “(1) Christ is divine. (2) And you are in Christ. (3) Therefore, ‘if then you have been raised with Christ… set your minds on the things that are above not on the things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God’ (3:1-3).” Paul spends most of chapters 2 and 3 walking the reader through the implications.
3) Jesus’ Primacy Over the Powers
Jesus is cited as head over all things, therefore we do not need to submit ourselves to any spiritual “others” such as angels, elemental powers, etc. Is Paul addressing worship of local deities or some proto-Gnosticism? Most of the sources think there’s something like Gnosticism going on here. Paul uses the term “Philosophy” (love of wisdom) in 2:8. Greco-Roman paganism had “taboo” days where certain things could not be done. Many superstitions command “do not touch” and “do not eat” so the contents in the Epistle do not need to refer to Judaism alone. What, exactly, is Paul referring to? At this great remove, we might be unable to know for certain, but there are many examples today of people who make Christ one of a “pantheon” in their spiritual-but-not-religious way. Paul is saying that’s not following Jesus who is higher than all other beings. This is the prime insight, really, of the entire letter. In Christ is our Hope, and our action, our life, our one true religion.
4) Relationships in the Home in theory and practice.
Jesus’ primacy is not only a theological or spiritual claim: we must act as if it’s really real. Paul points out that the Cosmic Christ has implications in the home noting that contrary to the abusive family structures common in the Roman world, the Lordship of Christ requires our families to change. The Bible Project makes it clear that the way a Roman Pater Familias ran his home was nothing like a Christian Father exercising his headship in Christ. What Paul describes would not be very recognizable to the “secular” Roman world.
Then Paul gives an example in the relationship between Philemon and his slave Onesimus. Paul does not demand the political overthrow of a system, but the change he makes in the relationship between a Roman Master and a Roman Slave will, eventually, change even our country. But we know the laws are only part of the work: it is still hearts that must be changed.
5) Comments on Legalism
Legalism (which will not save us) is part superstition and part politics. The legalism mentioned in the Epistles is usually referring to circumcision, dietary laws, and the sabbath, but as I noted Roman Paganism has such rules as well. Today we practice a sort of reverse legalism rather than evangelism. Paul wants us to change hearts and relationships, to win souls for Christ. He doesn’t give us new rules for the household, he shows us how love plays out. Paul wants the Colossians and – especially? – Philemon to do the hard work of changing hearts – their own hearts and others. Following rules does not save us.
How often in our modern world do we try to change laws to make people comply with Christian morality rather than doing the hard work of changing hearts?
Further Notes (for speaking)
Paul is writing a letter of encouragement. He has been visited in prison by his friend Epaphras – who founded this community – and he has sent a letter to them by the hands of Tychicus and Onesimus. Now, Onesimus is the slave of one Philemon, a member of the Colossian community. Paul is also sending a personal letter to Philemon to ask for some special favors.
The church in Colossae may meet in Philemon’s house.
The Colossians are facing cultural pressure to conform from two different directions: the Pagans in Colossae as well as from the Jewish Community. Are these Jewish Christians or Jewish Jews? Well, at a certain point in time there was no division here. If this letter is written by Paul in the middle of the 1st Century the Jews who believe Jesus is the Messiah are worshipping in the Synagogue along with the Jews who do not believe. The practice seems to have been for Jews to meet on Friday night and Saturday for Sabbath and then, after the Havdala service, marking the end of Sabbath, Jews who believed in Jesus as Messiah gathered with Gentiles for the Eucharistic supper. (Keonig)
I would like to suggest that Jews outside the community may have wondered at Jews eating with Pagans. We can imagine the conversation being something like this:
Why do you eat with them late Saturdays? Um… Are they righteous Gentiles? Oh yes! Oh, then they should come to synagogue, at least. They can sit in the back. You know they should keep Kosher, though… Hey, you know… brothers… if you tried to blend in more, it would be easier for all of us. Just pretend you’re Jews…
Additionally, Paul was addressing a Church arising in a pagan culture and needed to move Christians from their own cultural assumptions towards a more Christ-centered life. Paul believes that, in baptism and through the Holy Spirit, the Christians are endowed with the grace to make this change in their lives.
There are mystery religions as well as normal Roman paganism (worship of Jupiter/Zeus, etc). In this world, they would imagine Jesus to be just another deity. One Anglican scholar has noted that while there were miracle-working Rabbis in Jewish tradition, there were no such cases in Pagan culture. That Jesus was a miracle worker would, in Pagan eyes, imply that he was divine. He would be in danger of just getting added to “the list”. (Dix.)
Paul’s letter of encouragement says Jesus is more than all that. Jesus is everything.
Legalism was (at one time) the idea that following the law would save us. Paul says it is Christ who saves us and urges us to live into that (to act in trust – fideo – on our beliefs – credo). What do we do to “outsiders” though? We could evangelize them, but we often take the shortcut: to pass laws that make them obey our morality even if they are not part of the faith. We feel much safer in a society with a veneer of Christian uniformity. Integralism is legalism in reverse: sure, we have faith. We save the law for the outsiders.
Reflection Paper on Hebrews. Dancing with Jesus from Fear, through Faith, to Fire.
The Assignment was a Reflection Paper on an assigned text, to be an oral presentation of around 7 mins. From all of the Epistle to the Hebrews I selected 10-12, the portion “on faith”. By way of process, I started with a five page paper that was (mostly) scholarly and was, in no way, reflection or tied to personal experience. A trial run was 12 mins. I trimmed it back to 8ish an then it was still not reflective. Adding in a thread about vocation and recent events in that sphere seemed to tie it all together and require yet another edit to get it down to 8 mins.
GOD IS A CONSUMING FIRE.(Hebrews 12:39). It sounds like a threat for the sinners. It is rather a promise of love for us, and of salvation. In our vocational journey, we must move with Christ from fear, in faith, to fire.
Last year we read Pope Benedict’s Introduction to Christianity. He said the Christian faith is a description of the world as it really is: how God designed and intended things to run. To say Credo is not (only) to say something about God, but also to say something definitive about how the world actually is. Having made the foundational move to Credo, having given our assent to the doctrines, we must live (act) as if they are true.
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Heb 10:31). Who has so fallen? “The Lord will judge his people” (v 30). The writer speaks of us. It is we who have fallen into the hands of God! And it’s fearful to be here.
You here in this room know that you can try and run away from God, but he will find you anyway. God waits for you to respond in faith.
Faith is the important word. In Greek, it’s pistis. This is how the Greeks begin the Creed at liturgy: “Pisteo”. In Latin we say “Credo”. Pistis is also used to say “by faith” here in Hebrews. In Latin, though, the translation uses a form of “Fideo”. We’ve broken this Greek “Pistis” thing into two Latin parts: a credo or “I believe” – I assent to this teaching – and a fideo or “I trust”. Picture the Greek word Pistis as breathing. Then we can imagine the Latin words breathing in at “Credo” and then breathing out at “Fideo”.
Has anyone pushed you away from your vocation? Has anyone tried to derail your process or tell you you’re not really worthy? 10:36 says “For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised.” We don’t receive the promise unless we endure unless we push to do the will of God! In fear we are tempted to become “those who shrink back and are destroyed, but” by God’s grace we can be found among “those who have pistis and keep their souls.” (v 37). Our faith calls us beyond fear, deeper into God.
You all feel this call. You KNOW we must do something! Doing is our Fideo. We must act as if our hope is real – even when we cannot see it. Discernment is an action verb!
Everyone listed in Chapter 11 of Hebrews is acting by pistis: even though they are not getting what God promised in the future, they are acting as if they had it already. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses.
Rahab… Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets… And all these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised… (11:31ff)
Faith is this action. Acting as if the world really is what God says it is even when it seems otherwise.
Remember how Cardinal Ratzinger described faith (he means both the “fideo” as well as the “credo”): we cling to the cross but the cross is not tethered to anything: we are floating over the abyss of unbelief on a plank of wood.
God is doing something in our life and we must (in pistis) not only assent to let him do as he wills (Credo) but we must also participate in it (Fideo). He has given us what we need to work out our salvation in fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). JUST DO IT.
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of God: but Christians assert that God is love. We also know love hurts like the Cross. We don’t know why, yet we struggle forward. And Chapter 12 now brings this all home: we are surrounded by a great crowd of witnesses (12:1b). Every action in the arena of life, in the arena of our vocation, is watched and cheered on.
Hebrews urges us not to reject hard struggles, but to act in pistis even so, assent and push forward to the God of love. From the saints and angels around us, we can hear a great deafening roar as the Race Set before us begins “CREDO! (YES!) FIDEO! (YES!) GO!” (And the crowd goes wild!) COME ON! AGAIN!
And, rushing forward we find at the end of 12 what we saw at beginning of my talk: here is why it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of God: he is a consuming fire!
We will not arrive at Ordination Day on a sea of clouds and golden sunbeams, but rather Paradise is only in the eternal wildfire of Divine Love that burns away our dross, that purges away our sins, that leaves us free and clear to embrace God as fully as he wishes to embrace us. How do we dance in Pistis to this end? How do we prepare?
The Fathers use the image of metal in a forge: as it heats up, the metal never burns as such, but we can see the fire take root, filling the metal with itself, glowing. The Eucharist is the fire. Prayer. Our actions of Credo and Fideo. We commune with God and, little by little, we begin to take on his fire.
Here’s a story from the Desert:
Abba Lot went to Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, insofar as I can, I say my prayers, I keep my little fast, and I pray and meditate… Now what more shall I do?” The elder stood up and stretched his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of flame, and he said to him, “If you wish, become all fire.”
We have fallen into the hands of our God. He is a consuming fire – for all of us – for the sinners and the saints. He is nothing but love, forever embracing, forming, sustaining, enfolding.
We can dive right in – in pistis – and we will live forever in the fire. He is love: both our source and our proper end. Having set out for him as the end of our race we dare not turn back. That would be to act without pistis.
Or we can try standing outside the fire in fear, always running away from God. In which latter case we will burn out in that omnipresent conflagration of love. Forever.
Rather, Love, brothers and sisters. Love now & here.
THE ASSIGNMENT WAS to do one of several application questions from the Ignatius Study Bible for the Gospel of John for the assigned chapters (2, 7, 12, 17). The study questions for the Ignatius Study Bible are amazing. The study guides can be downloaded for free in PDF format here.
2:15–16. What attachments do you have that Jesus might want to drive out of your heart (his Father’s house)?
The therapist, my spiritual director, and I are working on my attachment to “being liked” or, rather, my attachment to the fear of being disliked. I write it negatively like that because it’s actually an attachment to the fear: you know, the adrenaline, the safety of being secretive, the chance to blame others (who have done nothing) for my own inaction. Yes, being liked is nice, but it’s not really what I want: the safety of being disliked is much better.
When I was in High School then-President Regan reinstated the Draft and we all had to register for the draft, even though it wasn’t yet being used. I was obligated to register when I became 18 and I was required to register or else I would not qualify for any federal student aid or loans. (Back in those days such aid made college actually possible.) I had intended to register as a Conscientious Objector but the reason was not one of pacifism: rather just cowardliness. I didn’t want to go into the army. As much as I can (now) construct an argument for Christian Pacifism, it was only my attachment to fear that made sense out of this in High School. This is a passion I live with and, with God’s grace and the help of more than a few mentors I’m learning to drive this out of the Temple. This is not to say God can’t use even this for a blessing: if I hadn’t chickened out of some vocational process along the line I might, even now, be a Methodist minister somewhere. God can use even my fear of follow-through. But better to make an offering wholeheartedly than to set hands to the plough and then back away.
7:24. What does Jesus mean by judging here? How does he want you to judge? What should you be judging?
“Never deny, seldom affirm, but always distinguish.” So runs a Dominican saying which I’ve heard from my spiritual director as well as from the late Bishop Robert Christian, OP. The Greek for “distinguish” here is “krino” and Jesus is saying we should “distinguish by righteous distinguishing”. Between Augustine and Aquinas we come to think that no one (usually) does evil because it’s evil but rather because they believe it to be good. The working definition of evil, then, in many of the western Fathers of the Church is to prefer a lesser good to a greater one. Yes, it’s good – perhaps even good enough – but it’s not the highest good that can be achieved here. When I hear Jesus asking us for some “righteous distinguishing” he’s commanding us to go for the highest good. Yes, it’s good to obey the Sabbath, but making a man whole is better, right? Righteous! This seems to apply to many of our “cultural war” discussions and might teach us something. Yes, someone outside of the Church might prefer X to Catholic Teaching – but the Church should bring them to the higher good. At the same time we, as Catholics, should understand that (at the moment) the “outsider” is doing what they think is the highest possible good: they need to have their sights raised ever higher. This is the same for me: taking 20+ years to apply certain parts of Orthodoxy /Catholicism to my life because I thought I was good enough rather than striving to be as perfect as God is perfect, for the Highest Good.
12:3–5. What does Judas’ question imply about Mary’s generosity? When have you criticized (or been criticized by) someone for being generous? What was the outcome of the criticism?
Judas says Mary’s generosity is misplaced. The implication is that she should have given the money for a “better use”. My job as Director of Outreach at St Dominic’s includes the function of Parochial Almoner: this process of “be critical re:generosity” is a daily part of my life! The questioning goes both ways: because parishioners can both give uncritically and also be critical of my disbursements. The constant process of confusing “getting rid of my junk” with “generously giving to the poor” is hard to work with and yet – even though I have to try and redirect the junk to other places – it also must be discerned as their own sincere actions.
The other side of this equation is folks who want to keep better track of our generosity to others. Now, to be fair, I’m not giving away my money. I’m here to facilitate the charity of others. So, they have some right to ask questions about where the money goes. So, again, I have to assume they are doing the best they can: my own charity is in how I act to them.
The rest of this question is “What was the outcome ?” and it’s a learning curve for me: my boss has asked me to be transparent with the whole process so I’m finding ways to provide education and to not-judge at the same time.
17:14–17. How does the saying “You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy” apply to your own relation with the world? To which of the two do you—in your heart of hearts—belong? How do you know that?
While I hope that one day there will be a final answer to this, it is not – yet- “unwordly” enough for me. Two weekends ago a mutual friend introduced me to someone from St Louis whom I had previously known only online. Within a few moments, we were small talking very well in what – I realized later – should probably be categorized as “near occasion of sin”. For someone who could read the code, we were using it might have been heard as scandal, but it all sounded normal and polite with a good bit of laughter. I found myself wondering why there was always this meaningless and yet near-sinful patter like that just beneath the surface.
One of my (American) Eastern Orthodox heroes is the late Fr Seraphim Rose (1934-82). He was raised as a member of the Methodist church and drifted into atheism and vaguely eastern “spirituality” but, eventually, joined the Russian Orthodox Church in 1962. By the time of his death 20 years later he had become a monk and was recognized as an Elder in that tradition, a spiritual father or “Staretz”. A story is told of one night a youth retreat at his monastery (in Platina) played a trick on him: serving vanilla ice cream as a special treat to the monks, the kids gave Father Seraphim a scoop of mashed potatoes. He ate the potatoes as thankfully as the other monks eating the ice cream. Although this is sometimes recounted as proof that he had “no attachment to food”. I think it embodies other Christian virtues: unwillingness to accuse others, joy in what one is given, and the blessing celebrated by a simple act of thanksgiving for all that is. I’m not there yet: I’d still complain. To cycle back to the first question, I’m still inclined to enjoy the ice cream more (eat dessert first) out of fear that I might miss out on something good. This is something to keep working on and pray gets set right in time.
The assignment was to discuss the ways that “priesthood” is echoed in the Gospel of Luke. I didn’t quite buy it. I was left either writing a paper I could not support or, else, ranting a bit. I tried to do a middle course and follow Thomas Aquinas: take the opposing position seriously and then state my objections and my own argument for my position.
The Church has traditionally seen in Christ a threefold ministry or office. These functions, prophet, priest, and king, are called the “three munera” from the Latin munus which means “office”. These roles can be seen beginning in Adam and recurring through the Old Testament until they are fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah. In 1 Corinthians 15:45, Jesus is called the “Last Adam”. As the new Adam, we should see Jesus fulfilling the functions traditionally assigned to Adam but lost in the Sin of Eden. “Fulfilled” here means not only that they were prophesied in the past, but also that they are “filled up” in Jesus in a way that they were not previously. The Messiah fulfills (to a superfluity) all that is needed. When we see Adam and what he is described as doing in Eden, before the Fall, we see Man as we were intended to be. Christ is that man.
A comment in The Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture sidebar notes that “modern biblical scholarship has generally been skeptical that Christ is portrayed as a priest in this and other Gospel passages”, although recent scholarship has opened up some to this reading. The present writer numbers himself among the former, “modern” group that does not see. In this paper, we will be concerned with the munera of priest, but there will be more of a struggle than an exploration. Hebrews, especially in Chapter 7, presents a full argument on the priesthood of Jesus (“after the Order of Melchizedek” v.17, etc). Does the Gospel of St Luke (and all the Gospels generally) contain textual echoes of Christ in the role of priest in the way that, primarily, we see him most clearly in the book of Hebrews?
A book we referred to often in the previous class is of some help here. Bible Basics for Catholics by John Bergsma helps us trace the role of priest, prophet, and king through the different covenants in the scriptures.
Bergsma sees priesthood in the verbs used to describe what Adam does: “What else does the Bible tell us about Adam? Genesis 2 tells us that God planted a garden in Eden and placed Adam there “to till it and keep it”. There’s a bit of a word play going on here. In the Hebrew language, this phrase is literally “to serve (it) and guard (it).” It is uncommon to find these two verbs together in the Bible. We will not find them together again until much later, in Numbers 3:7-8 where are the two verbs – “serve” and “guard” – together describe what the priests do in the place of worship. For the ancient reader, Adam’s commission “to serve and guard” in the garden would have had a priestly sound to it.” (p 20-21.)
Adam is appointed by God to name the animals, which Bergsma sees as part of Adam’s Kingly function. Orthodox theologian, the late Fr Alexander Schmemann, sees this naming as also part of Adam’s priesthood also. Like Bergsma, Schmemann understands naming as a revelation of the very essence of the thing. Naming, then, is a eucharistic act: when Adam says, “this is an elephant” or “you are a dog” it is as constitutive as when Jesus or our pastors say, “This is my body.”
“The first, the basic definition of man is that he is the priest. He stands in the center of the world and unifies it in his act of blessing God, of both receiving the world from God and offering it to God—and by filling the world with this eucharist, he transforms his life, the one that he receives from the world, into life in God, into communion with Him. The world was created as the “matter,” the material of one all-embracing eucharist, and man was created as the priest of this cosmic sacrament.” (Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy, St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1973, p15.)
In these two descriptions, we can see three different priestly functions – speaking (to bless, to name), serving, and guarding (or keeping). Blessing and naming is, in fact, one of the things Jesus does most – not only in Luke but in all the Gospels. If one includes healing and exorcism under the rubric of “blessing” then almost the entire record of Jesus work is, by this light, priestly. This abundance of blessing seems to be a primary argument for these echoes of priesthood in the text.
While blessing, serving, and guarding are functions of priesthood in the Church, are these three verbs an argument for priesthood of Christ?
Bergsma notes that priesthood is a bit harder to find (p. 128). “Jesus’ role as priest is harder to see, but he says it is there. For example, he cites the Pharisees challenge Jesus for breaking their Sabbath rules about rest. Jesus replies, “Have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? (Mt 12:5) Jesus points out that priests are allowed to work on the holy days; in fact, they have to. The implication is that Jesus himself is a priest and has priestly rights.” In the footnote to this section (p. 175) the reader is directed to p. 108 of Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth: from the baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration. Finding nothing on that page, I read the entire section (pp 106-112) entitled, “The Dispute Concerning the Sabbath”.
The passage is a sort of dialogue with another text, A Rabbi Talks with Jesus (1993), by the late Rabbi Jacob Neusner. The Pope Emeritus is analyzing the Rabbi’s response to Matthew 12:1-8 where Jesus is questioned about his disciples picking grain on the Sabbath. This event is also recorded in Luke 6:1-5. At issue is the question of violating the Sabbath by work. In Luke, Jesus says that David and his companions ate the bread reserved for priests so – sometimes – situations may require that laws change (or be broken). “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath”. In Matthew, Jesus’ reply notes also that priests work on the Sabbath without actually breaking the Sabbath. Both readings can seem to indicate that Jesus is claiming priestly dignity (either to eat the bread of the presence or to work on the Sabbath) for himself and his disciples. The Rabbi thinks the issue of violating the Sabbath is not the point. “What troubles me, therefore, is not that the disciples do not obey one of the rules of the Sabbath. That is trivial and beside the point” (p.107). The issue is one of authority, but not priestly authority.
Over the course of the textual conversation, though, Rabbi Neusner and Pope Benedict come to the conclusion not that Jesus is a priest, but something altogether more than a priest. As the conversation between the Pope and the Rabbi continues the Rabbi comes to the conclusion that Christ is putting himself the place of the Torah itself and then asks, “Is your master God?” (p. 110). Christians would reply to that question with a strong affirmation. Indeed there is something more than a priest here. In one sentence on p. 108 of the Razinger text the Rabbi is quoted as saying that Jesus and his disciples now “stand in the place of the priests” but it is not as priests that they stand there rather it is replacing the priests. I think that’s why Bergsma and others find “Jesus’ role as priest is harder to see”: he is so much more than a priest or a prophet that those are eclipsed. While these functions are present in the Messiah, it’s as God-Man that he moves through the text. He is fulfilling the older priesthood – making it something more by the fact that he is not a priest, but God.
We – as his church, as human beings, need the munera all broken out. The Catechism, in ¶871-913, gives a full description of the priesthood of Christ and how the Laity participates in all of its functions. Ordained ministers are called specific types within this general class. Thus Jesus, as God, offers us (his Church) participation in his Divine-Human Messiahship in the form of the munera in the Church. To see the fullness of Christ in liturgy, one would want to see a Mass served in the presence of a Bishop (“pontifical” Mass) by presbyters and deacons together with the fullness of participation from the laity. There are all the baptized orders of the Church (laity, bishops, priests, and deacons) present the fullness of Christ’s body in action. So Christ, in the Gospel, does something more than priests do. In his Sacrifice on the Cross or giving us the gift of His own Body and Blood at the Last Supper we see Christ as a king (Bishop), as a leader (Presbyter), and also as a servant (Deacon). He’s not a priest as 1st Century Jews understood this – or at least I do not see it – but he is God doing these things.
This leads to one other issue with such a reading, especially in the context of St Luke: Why would Luke be using a typography from the Jewish Scriptures? Luke is generally seen pointing to Christ as a Gentile writing for other Gentiles. If the Messiah is presented as “filling up” the role of a priest, would it not make more sense for him to use the typography of Greco-Roman sources? Making references to obscure Jewish hints (even ones available in Greek) seems to miss the mark. Mind you, it would be very surprising to see them, but if the argument is for Jesus to be a priest, wouldn’t the evangelist take the culture of the intended audience into account? Are those hints even there in the Greek, though?
To go back to Genesis and the command to Adam in the garden, the Hebrew words cited by Bergsma from Genesis 2:15 are to work/serve עָבַד avad – Strong’s #5647 and to keep שָׁמַר shamar – Strong’s #8104. (I’m citing Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible which numbers each Greek and Hebrew root word used in the Bible and makes it possible to find other occurrences of the same word or words.) In the Septuagint they are translated into Greek. They are to work ἐργάζομαι ergazomai – Strong’s #2038 – and to keep/guard φυλάσσω phulasso – Strong’s #5442. These two Greek words are not found together at all in the New Testament. There is a whole rabbit warren of interesting verses linked with each of those words individually, but none of them tie to priesthood or directly to Jesus.
What might be going on with the arguments that some make, seeing priesthood for Christ in the Gospels? One possibility may be the perceived need to see everything Catholics do in the text. “Where is that in the Bible?” is a common question addressed to Catholics by both Protestants and non-Christians. We must remember ¶108 in the Catechism.
Still, the Christian faith is not a “religion of the book.” Christianity is the religion of the “Word” of God, a word which is “not a written and mute word, but the Word which is incarnate and living”. If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, “open [our] minds to understand the Scriptures.”
We do not follow the letter of the text. We do not need to find “our stuff” in the literal content nor are we under obligation to do so! That said, the present writer is not willing to dismiss the argument entirely: only to say it’s not textual. There are other arguments based on “textual echoes” as was presented in our last class (viz taxes). Is it possible to “hear” what might be in the mind of a 1st Century Jewish or Gentile listener? Or only possible to suggest it? It seems only the latter – even though it might be a great support for one’s argument. Yet this is not infallible: there is a “textual echo” argument, for example, which implies the story of the Centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5–13, Luke 7:1–10) indicates blessing a same-sex relationship. Such textual echoes seem, to this writer, to depend less on the text and more on the ears of the hearer.
Another – and to this writer’s mind better – argument might be the Holy Spirit and the Catholic practice of contemplating on the scriptures. Again, in ¶108, “the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, ‘open [our] minds to understand the Scriptures.’” As a reader prays in the Spirit and meditates on the scriptures, by God’s grace things may unfold in the mind to help further understand the content. Although these are perfectly valid – coming from the same Spirit that wrote the scriptures and formed the mind of the contemplator – they are not in the text but are rather the fruit of contemplation which may be passed on for the edification of others if they find it useful. In that light, while the present writer doesn’t find this material useful, others may be blessed by it.
There are places in the New Testament where Jesus is described as a priest: the Epistle to the Hebrews is foremost. But the Gospels seem to be concerned with proclaiming him as God. Jesus spends much of his time blessing and naming: exorcising, healing, and pronouncing clean. While these are the actions of a priest, they are also the actions of the Incarnate God in his person. He doesn’t need a priest to mediate the actions and doesn’t need to be a priest in himself. This enriches the prayer life also, but – perhaps – in a way more akin to Occam’s razor, it is the “more simple” reading here. Why is Jesus not subject to the purity laws or to restrictions around Sabbath? Because he replaces the Torah by fulfilling it – as Rabbi Neusner asks (Ratzinger, op cit p.110), “I ask again – is your master God?” Yes.
In closing, Pope Benedict’s book cited this meditation/dialogue from the Rabbi on pages 104-5. He cites the Talmudic tradition that there are 613 commandments in on Sinai (the Talmud says there are 365 “do not’s” or negative ones, coinciding with the number of days in the solar year, and there are 248 positive commandments or “do’s”, a number ascribed to the parts of the body). These were condensed, in various steps, down to the greatest commandments. The rabbi then notes that Jesus reported all this. He did not subtract anything but – Rabbi Neusner adds, perhaps saying more than he knows or wishes to say – Jesus did add something: “Himself.”
The assignment was to present answers to some study questions for Matthew Chapter 22 (RSVCE – 2nd Edition) in theIgnatius Study Bible. The Study Guides can be downloaded free here. Since this wasn’t a written paper, this text is more the general idea of my presentation, which went over my 20 allotted minutes. The questions are in bold below.
If politics are allowed play into my online discourse – social media or blogging – often it can cause distress for friends on left and right: traditional Christians who try to live out the faith (as Catholics, Orthodox, or Protestants) can seem too far to the right for some secular liberals and yet – at the same time – too far to the left for secular conservatives.
Jesus says his kingdom is not of this world – as the Christian is called to be in this world but not of it. This does not mean Jesus kingdom is not here, active and now: only that it’s a different pattern than the worldly ideas of rule.
Jesus walks us through several of these sorts of oppositions in Matthew’s 22nd Chapter.
He takes on Jew and Gentile, Pharisee and Sadducee, and sacred vrs secular. None of these are “the right way” to view the Tax Question. Let’s take a look at that passage (Matthew 22:15-22)
The Study Bible asks
What is the malice in the collaboration between Pharisees and Herodians in asking Jesus the question about paying taxes?
To get the answer (What was the malice?) we need to answer these questions first: who were the Pharisees? who were the Herodians?
The Pharisees were the “rabbinic” party of Judaism. It might surprise you to hear me say that on our modern “liberal/conservative” spectrum they were the liberals. The reason I say this is because they believed that man could – with God’s help – interpret the scriptures. That is to say that one did not need to take the scriptures literally, at face value. One could read into them for meaning, looking beneath the literal meaning of the words for greater clarity.
The Sages taught: On that day, when they discussed this matter, Rabbi Eliezer answered all possible answers in the world to support his opinion, but the Rabbis did not accept his explanations from him.
Rabbi Eliezer then said to them: If the halakha is in accordance with my opinion, the walls of the study hall will prove it. The walls of the study hall leaned inward and began to fall. Rabbi Yehoshua scolded the walls and said to them: If Torah scholars are contending with each other in matters of halakha, what is the nature of your involvement in this dispute? The Gemara relates: The walls did not fall because of the deference due Rabbi Yehoshua, but they did not straighten because of the deference due Rabbi Eliezer, and they still remain leaning.
Rabbi Eliezer then said to them: If the halakha is in accordance with my opinion, Heaven will prove it. A Divine Voice emerged from Heaven and said: Why are you differing with Rabbi Eliezer, as the halakha is in accordance with his opinion in every place that he expresses an opinion?
Rabbi Yehoshua stood on his feet and said: It is written: “It is not in heaven” (Deuteronomy 30:12). The Gemara asks: What is the relevance of the phrase “It is not in heaven” in this context? Rabbi Yirmeya says: Since the Torah was already given at Mount Sinai, we do not regard a Divine Voice, as You already wrote at Mount Sinai, in the Torah: “After a majority to incline” (Exodus 23:2). Since the majority of Rabbis disagreed with Rabbi Eliezer’s opinion, the halakha is not ruled in accordance with his opinion. The Gemara relates: Years after, Rabbi Natan encountered Elijah the prophet and said to him: What did the Holy One, Blessed be He, do at that time, when Rabbi Yehoshua issued his declaration? Elijah said to him: The Holy One, Blessed be He, smiled and said: My children have triumphed over Me; My children have triumphed over Me.
It’s that last part that is important. The “liberalism” is that humans can “triumph” over God and tell God what the law should be. The Pharisees were among those who practiced this process of interpretation. There are several places in the New Testament where Jesus is debating with various Jewish leaders and says their interpretation is not the correct one and then – as God – he offers the truth.
However, in our later chapter here (34-40) Jesus, being asked about the greatest commandment takes sides with one Pharisee over another! For there were two great schools of thought in interpretation, each named for a prominent rabbi, the “house of shammai” and the “house of hillel”. Rabbi Shammai (50BC-30AD) said the greatest commandment was to Love God (etc) and the second commandment was to keep the Sabbath. Rabbi Hillel (110 BC-10AD) said the same about the first commandment, but the second was to love your neighbor. Jesus – that is God – side with Hillel here.
(Think about those who questioned Jesus repeatedly about Keeping the Sabbath! Perhaps they are from the school of Shammai?)
On the other hand, Jesus sided with Shammai on the question of divorce: Hillel said it could be for anything, even burning the dinner. Shammai said only for infidelity.
Anyway, the Pharisees were the party of “interpretation”. Remember that. It’s not that interpretation is wrong – it’s part of our tradition! But one still must have the right interpretation.
The Pharisees are (generally) in opposition to the Sadducees, not only on theological matters, but also in terms of politics: the Sadducees have the temple priesthood and are the upper class. While the Pharisees are educated, solidly established in society, they are (generally) closer to the people, they are the Rabbis in the local synagogues, the teachers that are “on the street” as it were.
The Pharisees were looking for the Messiah to come and liberate the people of Israel. As we have discussed here in Class they were expecting political liberation from the Son of David: another king, another leader (perhaps like the Maccabees?) that might move them into their own political sphere.
But who were the Herodians? Here I tripped up a lot in my research. To be honest I thought I knew who they were (the party supporting the line of the Herods) but that was not exactly right. I mean, it was, but yet…
So first off they were pro-Herod. Yes. Herod the Great and his children were the client kings under the Romans. They were Jew-ish… but they were not Judeans. They were from Idumea.
You may remember from the OT class that Judas Maccabee led a campaign against the Idumeans (and others) in 163 BC. Josephus reports the Idumaeans were forcibly circumcised. (A.J. 13.257–258)
So.. they are Jew-ish, but they are not, perhaps, quite as fullheartedy faithful as more-willing converts.
Some of the sources I looked up indicated that some Herodians wanted the King to establish a theocracy in Israel. The Wiki cites Tertullian (Adversis Omnes Haereses [1,1)) saying that some even thought Herod was the Messiah!
Since Herod is the Roman Client King, they support the Romans (at least indirectly) and so they are what we would call Hellenists, although we’re not talking about Greeks now. They are “secularists” who want to get along with the secular power to protect their self-interest.
So here’s some folks claiming the Messiah has already come – from outside of Israel. They have reason to not like Jesus.
And they are aligning with the Pharisees – who clearly don’t think Herod is the Messiah! And the Pharisees have no reason to align with the Romans… or their supporters. But “politics makes strange bedfellows” yes? Or even religious politics.
So the question… Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Is set up so that Jesus can offend the one party by saying no – whilst pleasing the other. Or, reversing the parties – by saying yes. The pro-Rome party wants you to say yes… but the pro-People party wants you to say no. This would be rather like the SSPX signing up with “Catholics for Choice” to oppose the Pope…
That’s the real malice: their alliance shows they hate Jesus more than they adhere to their own theo-political points. Hypocrites (v 18) is the exact right word here.
Jesus answer, as our NT textbook lets us know, can mean either:
One should pay nothing to Cesar because everything belongs to God
one should pay the emperor because he is God’s representative
one can pay Caesar but recognize that his authority is relative and that loyalty to God takes precedence.
The Dominican Sister who wrote our text thinks it’s the last one, but I think it’s more like a combination of the first two:
In the Greek Jesus looks at the coin and asks “whose icon is this?” He uses the Greek word eikon which is used in the LXX in Genesis 1:26 to describe man made in God’s image. So… whose icon is on the coin? Yes, it’s Caesar, but whose icon is Caesar? Gods.
Render to God… how?
I was disturbed by the “application question” the Study Bible asked here. Or, rather, I was disturbed by what seem to be the assumptions behind the question:
How honest are you in paying taxes to the local, state, and federal governments?( a good question, but then….)What excuses do you make to yourself to avoid paying taxes?
The Study Bible seems to think everyone is going to have excuses to make? Why make that assumption?
After working in the tech industry for most of the last 25 years, I’m over exposed to “libertarian” ideas. But our current situation, viz a vis covid, leaves us with a more-pertinent ongoing meditation on how our individual actions can effect the common good. This was the gist of the article Dcn Fred sent us just before Christmas.
Taxes fit into this category: there are some who would object to taxes because of immoral uses crafted by government, but Jesus doesn’t seem to question the morality of the Caesar’s gov’t at all.
There’s a prayer offered at every Divine Liturgy in the Byzantine Catholic and Orthodox tradition, for “our rulers and our God-protected army.” This phrase is also used in daily personal prayers.
Even under Stalin. There’s some mystery there, somehow, we get the Gov’t God wants us to have for the working out of our salvation.
Whose icon is this? This is something about everything belongs to God… and so we render everything to God. Yet somehow, through the mystery of Mediation, even this pagan emperor oppressing us is participating in God’s exercise of Authority. We pay taxes to Caesar, but to God – and so our roads are built, the army maintains the peace… and we can continue to pray for God’s kingdom to come.
How generous are you in contributing to the financial support of the Church?
I don’t believe in claiming my donations to the Church on my taxes. That feels like bragging. But I believe that the scriptures teach us to start at 10% and give until you’renot doing things you’d otherwise want to do.
But it’s not all going to the Church. The Church Fathers suggest that it’s better to give to the poor directly… John Chrysostom suggests setting up a room in your house to let the poor sleep in. He calls it a “Christ Room” since that’s who is really sleeping there. He says, “You have a place set apart for your wagon, but none for Christ who is wandering by? Abraham received strangers in his own home (Gn 18); his wife took the place of a servant, the guests the place of masters. They did not know that they were receiving Christ, that they were receiving angels.”
THIS sort of charity is what Jesus is talking about in the Parable
What is the “wedding garment” that the guest has failed to wear? We’re all in the feast, right? I mean that’s the point of the first section: we are at the banquet because God sent his agents (evangelists) out to grace everyone.
St Theophylact of Ochrid says, “The entry into the wedding takes place without distinction of persons, for by grace alone we have all been called, good and bad alike; but…
Now that we’re in… what do we do with the grace of God? How do we change our lives and the lives of those around us?
The Saint continues… “the life thereafter of those who enter shall not be without examination, for indeed the king makes an exceedingly careful examination of those found to be sullied after entering into the faith. Let us tremble, then, when we understand that if one does not lead a pure life, faith alone benefits him not at all. For not only is he cast out of the wedding feast, but he is sent away into the fire. Who is he that is wearing filthy garments? It is he who is not clothed with compassion, goodness, and brotherly love. “
Finally, this points us to the kind of Love Jesus is talking about at the end of Chapter 22.
What does it mean to you to love God with your whole heart, soul, and mind? What do you do to demonstrate that love?
What does it mean to love your neighbor as you do yourself? How do you love yourself? How does that apply to the way you love your neighbor?
I mentioned that, among the Pharisees, this twofold reply indicates Jesus siding with Rabbi Hillel, that loving one’s neighbor is the second greatest commandment as opposing Rabbi Shammai.
There is a story about a gentile who was exploring religion and he went to Shammai and said, “I am interested in the God of Israel. If you can explain the Torah to me while standing on one foot, I will consider this…” and Shammai beat him with his cane and chased him away. Then the man went to Hillel and asked the same question. The elder stood up and, holding his foot in his hand, said, “What you would not have done to you, do not do to your neighbor. The rest is commentary, now go study.”
In this reply, he not only showed the heart of God’s law – love of neighbor – but he also reproved the other Rabbi – who, even as annoying as this question was should not have beat the man coming to him for wisdom.
So Jesus and Hillel, together, saying love of neighbor is the heart of the Law of God. And loving God taken as – somehow – the outcome of this love of neighbor. There’s some element of mystery here that we cannot understand in this life. But in some way, my loving service to my neighbor is loving service to God. And, likewise, my loving service to my neighbor is God’s serving them.
The charitable man is both God’s action in service and – at that same moment – serving God.
I’m least likely to succeed at this. And daily this fact comes to me. Some of you know that over the summer I took a new job, leaving the word of tech after so long and becoming the Director of Community Services at St Dominics. The old-school title of “the guy who does the charity stuff” is “Almoner” from the word “alms”. I’m the Parochial Almoner, thus.
Even with other people’s money, I cannot love fully. I spend my days wondering if I’m being lied to and who might be trying to pull one over on me. It’s only in our food ministry – and in the ministry at Most Holy Redeemer where I volunteer – that I can fully give myself over. It is such a blessing to feed people – even the people who may already have food! But to be open in hospitality, to know that somehow in feeding the poor at the door, I’m feeding God who feeds me… who enables me to feed the poor! This great exchange of God for God, this feeding of those who need food, the care of the smallest sparrow that God has – through me! Through me! His most unworthy servant – through me nonetheless – this is God’s grace in my life.
So in loving you I am loving God and loving myself – it all becomes one process, one action, one outpouring of God’s love. (For, certainly, it is God who is loving here, not me.) To the conservative, giving away all this money makes us too liberal. C.S. Lewis once gave a pound coin to a beggar and his companion remarked, “You know he’s just going to buy a beer with that.” And Lewis replied, “Funny, so was I.” We love without expecting a return. That’s how God loves us.
And yet – and yet – it’s not only the poor that need love, or, more to the point, not only the fiscally and physically poor who need loving. There are other types of poverty and we must show charity to them as well. This is where we are too conservative to our liberal friends. It is not love to let someone do whatever they want if what they want it to damn themselves. How do you love in a way that leads people to God – and away from their sins?
Here is another place where I am not yet mature enough in my faith, but our Holy Father calls us to accompany folks to God.
As this broken bread, once dispersed over the hills, was brought together and became one loaf, so may thy Church be brought together from the ends of the earth into thy kingdom.” – The Didache, retrieved on 12/2/21.
Barthélemy’s chapter 8, Preservation or Re-creation?, speaks of the conflict between the pessimism of the priest’s point of view and the optimism of the prophet. But when the author laid out the argument for God wanting to destroy the Temple (pp. 184-191) my mind went to the above prayer from the Didache. It is the earliest recorded Eucharistic liturgy of the Church. Most scholars believe it to have been composed by 90 AD, but some date it to the 2nd Century. At 90 AD, it could have been prayed by some of the Apostles themselves! The common Eucharistic loaf (leavened bread) is composed of grains that were once scattered in the fields “over the hills” but now they are united and the community asks that the Church be united together in the same way. Yet this prayer is said over the broken bread, ready to be dispersed to the congregants and, in those days, taken by deacons to distant folks and the sick, etc. The bread is brought together in one, consecrated in the Eucharist but then scattered again out into the world, seeding the kingdom everywhere.
The author speaks of the time for “this people, or rather the remains of this people to give birth to the “remnant”, the germ that is to be raised up to give birth to another people.” God wills to see the religious and political institutions of Israel destroyed, like the master builder who destroys the scaffolding that now does no more than conceal the definitive building…” (p.192)
I have a sort of “Plan B Bias”. When I read the scriptures I see God warning Israel (or Noah, or Adam & Eve), and then, when they fail to heed the warning, God punishes folks. Then there is a Plan B. However God always knew what would be the outcomes of human freedom and so, as I learned in RCIA and must constantly remind myself, there is no Plan B. God is always working out his purpose, always from the point of view of someone aware of all things in all times and places. God warns Israel not in the hope of possibly turning them away but in full knowledge of where they are going! As Barthélemy says so pointedly, God wants to destroy the temple! (p.190) This so he can scatter his people like grain on so many hillsides! To make this work, though, they have to become his people first.
This chapter walks us through that process: the need for an “impossible intimacy” (p. 171) and the steps he takes to bring the people to himself. Most importantly is the creation of an “Us” (p. 180ff) by means of ritual and telling the stories over and over to the children. The author highlights the way a father is told to tell his children “We were slaves under Pharoah…” and Barthélemy says, “Note that ‘we’ includes the father of a twentieth-century generation as well as past or future generations. This ‘we’ and ‘us’ is common to all generations of Jews who remember that ‘we were Pharoah’s slaves’. The ‘we’ refers to this same people who are actually alive now.” (ibid) The website My Jewish Learning confirms this, speaking of an almost sacramental reenactment in at Passover: “ The Ritba (Rabbi Yom Tov ben Avraham Ishbili, 1260-1330) stresses that every single individual must see and look at himself as though he had been a slave in Egypt and as though he went forth to freedom.’ Whereas the Hagaddah (the Passover table liturgy – DHR) frames in the plural its earlier comment that God redeemed both our ancestors and us, the obligation to see ourselves as former slaves is articulated in the singular. On Pesach, the Ritba suggests, it is not enough to speak of our communal liberation from slavery; rather, we must each experience this redemption also as a personal journey.” Retrieved on 12/2/21.
This creation of a specific people, structurally enforced by being “condemned to liberty” as we read in Chapter 4, sets up a fully-resilient identity of faith so that the people of “Israel, dispersed among various empires, could never offer sacrifice to the powers in which those empires believed.” (p. 70) This is the strong seed, the strong remnant that was dispersed among the nations to grow. There is no Plan B, the God who did this knew, all along, how Israel would get – how all people get. The Temple Structure, the whole covenant was structured to bring the people together, to attach them to God in intimate connection. Israel was to be a “covenant of the people and light of the nations” (Isaiah 42:6, Jerusalem Bible). My Plan A/Plan B bias would say that God tried to get the 12 Tribes to line up behind the covenant but they failed to be a “holy nation” so Plan B happened, but Barthélemy’s writing makes me open up to a flight of historical contemplation: that the first step was the creation of a People. Actually, the final goal is the salvation of all who seek it (knowing that some won’t even bother). God is seeking everyone. So the People of Israel are dispersed, first to Babylon – where they learn to get on without the Temple. Then, fully armed with Rabbis, these “slaves of God alone” (p. 85) are dispersed around the known world to discover “righteous Gentiles” and “God Fearing” proselytes. These communities become “the germ that is to be raised up to give birth to another people,” they are the first people that Paul and the other Apostles evangelize. When they get to a new community, God-fearing Gentiles and Jews who speak Hebrew in prayer become the linguistic bridge to the locals, ready to share the Good News and whisper translations to those who come to listen to the Apostles preach. Evangelism ensues. The only plan there ever was is working.
The inward focus needed to become a people is first though. There are parallels in the Church as well. Bishop Barron says hunkering down is good, “But we should also be deft enough in reading the signs of the times, and spiritually nimble enough to shift, when necessary, to a more open and engaging attitude.” (Word on Fire, “The Benedict Option and the Identity/Relevance Dilema”, Retrieved on 12/3/21.) It is in “hunkering down” (Barron’s term) that we find the strength, grace, and identity needed to go out. This is a question of formation both for the community and for individuals. This is why we’re in school before being ordained: so that, being formed, we can go out “to the margins” as Pope Francis says to draw others into the Kingdom.
For my personal formation, the Plan A/Plan B thinking I mentioned arises from a certain Protestant apocalyptic dispensationalism which was popular when I was growing up in the South: the Jews failed to accept Christ and so the mission to the Gentiles was born. Commenting on Matthew 11:28, the Scofield Reference Bible (very popular in the world of my childhood) says “the rejected King now turns from the rejecting nation… It is a pivotal point in the ministry of Jesus.” Retrieved on 12/2/21. And while I knew this isn’t Catholic teaching, it was such a strong part of my upbringing that I am constantly surprised by new ways it has remained hidden. Barthélemy’s writing offers a unique antidote, allowing me to contemplate the Bible as one story, one plan of salvation without any sense of replacement theology or various dispensations. Israel is God’s people scattered across the hills and gathered into one loaf in the Messiah, broken and shared and dispersed again in the Church.
As the Church is composed of Gentiles grafted into Israel, those “who form the Israel of God” (Gal 6:16) I found myself wondering if there was a parallel between how God treated Israel at this time and what is happening to the Church today. I thought of Father Ratzinger’s (as he then was) oft-quoted comments about the “Church of Tomorrow”
From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so it will lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, it will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision… The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution… – “When Father Joseph Ratzinger Predicted the Future of the Church”, from Aleteia, retrieved on 12/2/21.
But the earlier part of the comments is not so often quoted:
“The future of the Church can and will issue from those whose roots are deep and who live from the pure fullness of their faith. It will not issue from those who accommodate themselves merely to the passing moment or from those who merely criticize others and assume that they themselves are infallible measuring rods; nor will it issue from those who take the easier road, who sidestep the passion of faith, declaring false and obsolete, tyrannous and legalistic, all that makes demands upon men, that hurts them and compels them to sacrifice themselves.“ (Ibid. Emphasis added.)
Those highlighted lines parallel the various types we can imagine among the people of Israel dispersed among the Gentiles. There were some who just accommodated themselves to the new world, forgetting all their father taught (if they were ever taught). There are some, though, who became too legalistic and judged others, forgetting grace entirely. And finally, there is the rightful reaction to the legalism of the second group that, unfortunately, goes on to throw out the baby with the bathwater, becoming“spiritual but not religious” versions of the group that forgot the faith entirely.
As Father Ratzinger predicted, we can see all of these people around the Church today. We can also say that we were slaves of Pharoah in Egypt – but Egypt is here and now, our sins and the World System around us and some of our co-religionists blend into the world, or become too legalistic, or opt for a Catholic flavor of spiritual but not religious. We should want to be gathered again to God so we strive to become “those whose roots are deep and who live from the pure fullness of their faith.” We can hunker down, but we need to be ready, as Bishop Barron said, “reading the signs of the times, and spiritually nimble enough to shift, when necessary, to a more open and engaging attitude.” The only ingathering that really matters is the final gathering into the kingdom and we want to bring as many as we can! Ending where we began, our Plan A must be to humbly pray the final prayer of the Didache liturgy: “Be mindful of thy Church, O Lord; deliver it from all evil, perfect it in thy love, sanctify it, and gather it from the four winds into the kingdom which thou hast prepared for it.”