SO MANY SERMONS ON this passage make it out to be about Israel, or the Temple priesthood. In fact, the footnotes on the USCCB website say this as well. If we read the entire pericope we might see a different interpretation. If every pericope is supposed to teach the whole Gospel, then what can we see here? Certainly condemning those who say they reject Jesus might make feel good those who say they accept him. What does Jesus actually say though?
Pull back a bit and you’ll see that the story of the cursed fig tree is framed. He’s leaving Bethany, which name means House of Figs. And he sees a fig tree… It also means House of Affliction. Interesting. So we’re about to afflict this fig tree, right? Jesus is hungry. He wants a fig. It’s not the time for figs though. So he curses the tree. And yes, then he cleanses the temple. But when his disciples ask him about the tree, what’s he make it out to be? Not the temple but rather about the fruit of righteousness in the hearts of the disciples: prayer. Forgiveness. Mercy.
Yes, it would seem the Temple is a visible parallel to the fig tree. But we need to be consistent in our readings: if Israel is a type and foreshadow of the universal (Catholic) Community of the Messiah, then what is done in the Temple is not “done to them…” but to all of us in symbol. Figs are Israel, I get it: but the Church is the Israel of God. The House of Figs is filled with followers of the Messiah.
That means that it is his followers from whom the Messiah is driving out the money changers. It is we who are in danger of being cursed if we do not bear fruit, “in season and out of season.”
Jesus comes to the Temple. He sees what’s going on. He goes to the house of Figs. He – also there – sees what’s going on. He curses the barren tree, drives out the money changers, and the tree dies.
Jesus cleanses us from our sins, restores us to God. But if we are bare, we will die.
WHEN MARY Visits Elizabeth their unborn children greet each other: the Forerunner leaps for joy in the womb of Elizabeth, his mother, at the presence of the Savior come in the womb of the Latter’s mother, Mary. The Church celebrates this today as a feast, but it comes rather late in the history of the Church. It’s from about the middle of the 13th Century, at least in the West. It shows up in the East only in the 19th! It’s the newness of the feast that I want to run with today.
Pascha was new at one time (seemingly it arose in the communities around St John in Ephesus). Christmas arose in the West. Epiphany arose in the East. Both of these feasts celebrated the Incarnation, but over time they combined and bifurcated. East and West now celebrate both.
The Incarnation of God in the flesh is the entrance of Eternity into Time. Everything that God does – even in time – is a fixed point in Eternity. Everything that happens in time is a result of the Incarnation. Full Stop. Everything in our world carries the echoes of that one event, like a wave rolling outward. There will, therefore, always be new feasts in the Church as we unfold the revelation ever more. Since Eternity is, of course, also Infinity, there is room for infinite unfolding, for more discovery.
The LORD is in our midst. He who made heaven and earth is here, today, celebrated as a foetus, or as the feminists would have it, a lump of cells. The humility of Eternity before he creation he made is staggering: fully dependent on the womb of the woman he chose, on her blood for his life, on her breathing for his breath, on the sounds of her womb for the knowledge of the world that a baby can have (we do not know). And here is God loving us even so for still, eternity, on the throne of Glory with his Father, breathing all of life in his Spirit, rolling the waves and the stars.
Silent and dumb in the present. Mary is the Living Ark of the Covenant, carrying within her the living word of the Torah, no longer script on scrolls, but here as flesh and blood. The Baptist leaps like David before the Ark.
How can we fail to weep for his love? How can we not be awestruck like his Aunt here? How can we fail to leap for joy like the Forerunner? How can we not cry out in strength like his mother?
In the Eucharist no less than in the womb.
And we become his living tabernacles through communion, the Ark of the Covenant walking through the streets unseen. We are Mary, making visitation.
So, when you greet people today, after the Eucharist makes his dwelling within you, will others leap for joy, or will they worry that you’ve not yet had your coffee?
JESUS SAYS HE HAS OVERCOME the world. Yet, this is before his Crucifixion, before the Agony in the Garden – just before the High Priestly prayer. How has he already overcome the world? What does this mean for us? John Chrysostom says these words were spoken for our comfort and out of love for us. So I think we see here a little Transfiguration as it were: which happened to tell the Disciples that Jesus went to his death not as someone taken by surprise, but voluntarily as God.
When I was younger I had the sigil “IX XC + NIKA” on my email signature file. A friend who was Greek (but her family had been protestant for at least four generations) said to me, “I hope you know that means ‘en totou'”. Jesus Christ Conquers all. In fact the Greek in John 16:33 uses a form of that verb, “Nika” with νενίκηκα nenikeka. Jesus says he has already conquered. But we know he’s about to go to a false arrest, a rigged trial, and a politically motivated murder. How has he conquered? How can we say he has done so in spite of all this?
Christians tend to hyper-focus on the crucifixion. They do this either by making it out to be more important or less than everything else. I had a friend say the Resurrection and Ascension were irrelevant to his salvation. A Catholic priest even agreed with him no matter what I said to the contrary. The Catechism says, though, it is the entire incarnation that is salvific. Everything about Jesus is salvation happening. Other folks try to coverup the scandal of the death of God on a cross. Look at the Ascension by Salvador Dali:
Notice anything missing? Those hands and feet look might solid, no? Where are the wounds?
Everything about Jesus is salvation happening. Or, really, none of it is.
It’s popular among those who want to inspire Antisemitism, and also with those who want to downplay this moment as a defeat, to say this was something of a nightmare for Jesus. Some go so far as to say the Apostles made up the stories that come after Good Friday out of sheer guilt for leaving Jesus alone at his arrest. No one goes to their death for a lie they made up out of guilt, though.
The disciples knew that Jesus had conquered. He told them so. They forgot for a day or two… but he reminded them.
The world is not the thing that can damage us as Children of God. Yes, it can hurt us. Yes, it can tempt us. Yes, it can even kill us.
But Jesus has conquered the world not by undoing it, not by overthrowing it, but by subverting it. As man he received the worst the world could throw at him: poverty, political oppression, religious persecution, social rejection, depression, torture, dejection, loneliness, and death. As God, though, he took all that in and turned them into pathways to God or, more correctly, one long pathway to God. As man he also took the best we had – familial love, friends, joy, study, teaching, humor, creativity, physical labor, and piety. He turned these, also, into one long pathway to God. As man, he took perfectly normal, everyday things like eating, sleeping, and going to the bathroom. He turned these into pathways to God.
This is how he has overcome the world: at one time it all just lead to death. Maybe a life well-lived, or well-partied, sure, but death.
Now – since God has done it – it all leads to life. God is at the root of everything if we can only see him: good, bad, normal, exceptional, God has overcome the world by going all the way down and coming back again. No matter how far we run, he’s gone further. That is the meaning of atonement. Or, to quote Corrie Ten Boom, “There is no pit so deep that he is not deeper still.” (It is often misquoted as “…God’s love is deeper” but it is himself that is there in the deepness.)
They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary; for when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.”
HEBREWS SPEAKS ABOUT THE Heavenly temple and about how what was then in Jerusalem was only a faint shadow – not only of what was before under Solomon, but also what was really present to Moses on the Mountain: God’s heavenly throne room. Yet was was present in Jerusalem at that time did not have the Ark of the Covenant or the Seat of Mercy, which had been carried away during the Babylonian siege and sack of Jerusalem – either by the Babylonians or else by the Prophet Jeremiah – and has yet to be found again. So the Temple present at the time of Jesus didn’t have all the working parts.
But Hebrews says that any earthly Temple is only a shadow of the real one in Heaven at this point because now Messiah has come. Types and shadows have their ending as Aquinas wrote. Because the newer rite is here. Yet one does not replace the other. One manifests the other fulfills the Truth.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
The unity of the Old and New Testaments
128 The Church, as early as apostolic times, and then constantly in her Tradition, has illuminated the unity of the divine plan in the two Testaments through typology, which discerns in God’s works of the Old Covenant prefigurations of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of his incarnate Son.
129 Christians therefore read the Old Testament in the light of Christ crucified and risen. Such typological reading discloses the inexhaustible content of the Old Testament; but it must not make us forget that the Old Testament retains its own intrinsic value as Revelation reaffirmed by our Lord himself. Besides, the New Testament has to be read in the light of the Old. Early Christian catechesis made constant use of the Old Testament. As an old saying put it, the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.
130 Typology indicates the dynamic movement toward the fulfillment of the divine plan when “God [will] be everything to everyone.” Nor do the calling of the patriarchs and the exodus from Egypt, for example, lose their own value in God’s plan, from the mere fact that they were intermediate stages.
Or, as The Bible Project puts it succinctly: “We believe the Bible is a unified book that leads to Jesus.”
Today is the Feast of the Theophany in those Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic Churches that use the Julian Calendar. Last night at the 2.5 hour Vigil Service we read about 20 Bible passages, served the Liturgy of St Basil, and then blessed water. This water, Theophany or “Jordan Water”, we believe avails much for healing, remission of sins, blessings, and the repelling of both spiritual and physical foes. It is and interesting tradition because while, in aome churches it’s blessed in a basin, the blessing can also be done at the ocen or in a river. My former bishop does this blessing in the winter snows, on the Continental Divide. These blessings, absolutions, healings, and exorcisms are not only for believers but for all God’s world. In his Son God claims us all for himself.
Types and shadows have their ending. God is Manifest. Baptized in the Jordan he begins to set all things aright. We can enter the water with him and rise as Sons and Daughters of God
The word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit. As he passed by, he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus, sitting at the customs post. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.
I‘VE BEEN REREADING THE Chronicles of Narnia in the canonical order. Actually, I’m using a very enjoyable audio series with Michael York, Lynn Redgrave, and Derick Jacobi, among others. It’s easily the best set of recordings out there, but a bit pricy unless you find it on sale. Anyway… I’m on Book Four, The Silver Chair, just now. It’s my least favorite one. I can only handle it for a few (audible) pages at a time. It gets tedious after that.
Don’t get me wrong: the story is good enough. Two children from our world rescue a prince of Narnia from an enchantment and restore him to his throne. Magic and whatall, of course, and talking animals. There are surprises and twists. But everything is so dark and, well, boring. Colorless. Especially when compared to all of the other books, this one is drab.
I suddenly think that’s the point.
There is a discussion in another post about how Lewis plays with Time and what I think that might mean. These are stories for children, yes, but they are not children’s stories. They are very adult stories told for children: there are things you can see only as you meditate on them. The three middle books, Voyage of the Dawntreader, The Silver Chair, and A Horse and His Boy, are conversion stories. The first and the third are painful stories about children going through rather adult conversions: they have to leave behind all they know to understand Narnia. The middle one, which concerns us in this post, is about the interior conversion that a “cradle” must undergo. The “cradle Narnian” is Prince Caspian XI. Eustace is a convert – and indeed Jill as well – but since they are coming to rescue the Prince it’s his story they are a part of. (No one is in a story alone, of course, he is also part of their stories.) The Prince, however, has gone astray in his grief for his dead Mother. He’s been led away by a foreign power, the Green Witch, and needs to come home.
Aslan sends two converted missionaries, Jill and Eustace, to rescue the lost Cradle Narnian. Jesus, calling to Matthew the Tax Collector, the Cradle Jew, who sold himself to the Romans.
Like any Narnian – or Cradle Catholic or Cradle Orthodox – Caspian knows he’s doing things right. The Green Witch has convinced him he’s fine. He’s really a Narnian, everything will be ok. Just trust her and she will get things back in line. And, like any Cultural Orthodox, Cultural Catholic, or even Cultural Jew, or Cultural Whatever, they miss the point of their religion, only getting the barest hints of the echoes from Childhood Memories. Caspian is Narnian in Name Only. He needs rescuing from the vestiges of Narnia in his own life enabling the Witch to continue to hold him back from his true life.
By vestiges I mean those shreds of cultural religion that are on unconnected to any living relationship: they form a sort of innoculation. Billy Graham refered to people who were “innoculated against” any real relationship with Christ by their cultural Christianity. Prince Caspian is in the same boat. The Green Witch has convinced him to stay put and she will make him a True King. Really she is only enslaving him to her more and more each day.
In order to guide these converted Missionaries to penetrate “even between soul and spirit” in the Prince’s life, Aslan gives four Signs. Each one they seemingly mess up – even to their own eyes – and yet each one works out in the course of their lives. In the end, it’s not by following the Signs that they save the Prince, but rather by saving the Prince, they discover they have followed the Signs. It is their growing relationship with Aslan that has drawn them forward.
Most of life plays out that way: one thing in front of another. Do them one after another. And you’ll discover you’re working out your salvation. We make much of the signs, or even the Signs of the Times but they’re not intended as prophetic way-showers, but rather as markers on the way. Prophecy is not about “What comes next?” in the timeline, but rather, “you are here”. The vestiges of religion and cultural laws fall away and you are left with a living relationship to the Word of God, the one and only word that God has spoken through all time and eternity, in text and in life: Jesus.
Before enlightenment, chop wood. Carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood. Carry water.
In the end, you will discover that Jesus has called you out of yourself, and out of your enslavement to the world. Follow him.
THE ANONYMOUS AUTHOR of Hebrews, just for a shorthand, let’s give him a name… say… St Paul? Anyway, St Paul begins, “Since the children share in blood and Flesh, Jesus likewise shared in them” and goes on to talk about suffering. Some translations and exegetical traditions (especially those more heavily influenced by the Protestant Reformers) limit the understanding of “suffering”. For an extreme example, the Complete Jewish Bible renders Hebrews 2:18 as “For since he himself suffered death when he was put to the test, he is able to help those who are being tested now.” There the “suffering” is explicitly limited to death, however – given the common understanding of the English word “suffering” – usually this idea is that suffering = his Passion (ie from Thursday night or Friday of Holy Week). That’s not the correct way to view this.
The Greek word used for “suffer” here is πάσχω pascho. The broad meaning is “things that happen to me” either good or bad. It is possible to limit it to bad things only, but with the addition of the word rendered as “tempted” (Gr: πειράζω pirazo) the meaning is clearly not limited to the latter half of Holy Week. The things that “happened” to Jesus started with cellular mitosis, implanting, blood, water, and a birth canal. Then probably a spanking.
God has done all the ordinary things. All the things that we do – except sin – God has done them in his flesh, including coughing up phlegm, stubbing toes, getting itchy eyes, sneezing, sweating, and getting sunburned. God has worked hard and had to sleep – and had trouble sleeping. God in the Flesh has done it all.
Your life can now be a daily enactment of the life of God because God’s life was ordinary like yours. And so he knows, in his flesh and bones, what it means to feel pain, to be tired, to be hungry, to be thirsty. God knows, in his heart of hearts, how weak we are, how prone we are to sin – even though he, himself, never sinned.
Look to him and be radiant. Your face will never be ashamed. The things that happen to you happened also to God.
HEY! PRESTO! It’s no longer Christmas, but Ordinary Time: tempus per annum. Epiphany had an Octave back in the Old Days, and the Sunday within the Octave was the Baptism. And then there were a certain number of Sundays after Epiphany, and then it was time for Pre-Lent (which begins this year on 5 February). Titles aside, the readings assigned for the first few weeks of Ordinary Time drift from Glorious to Pre-Lenten. This happens in the Autumn as well when the Apocalypse starts to take over the reading themes in October, well before Christ the King. Today, through late Winter and early Spring, we’ll be meditating on Death and Penance soon enough. Today’s readings are Manifesting Glory.
Your calendar says Ordinary Time but your readings say Epiphany Octave.
Jesus is revealed in today’s Gospel as one speaking “with his own authority” and not like the other teachers, whom the people have heard, who appeal to precedent and say nothing new. This authority is surprising to the people, as the Gospel states. It never says good or bad surprise, but I’m sure it goes both ways. Some were surprised good. Some were surprised bad.
Rabbi Jacob Neusner makes this same point in A Rabbi Talks with Jesus: when Jesus talks he clearly puts his own words (sometimes) on par with the Torah but most often over the Torah and, usually, over others who are interpreting the Torah. (Although he sometimes takes sides in existing rabbinical arguments, sometimes with Hillel, sometimes with Shammai.) Jesus speaks on his own Authority. This is fitting, of course, if one is claiming to be God, the Son of God. When someone says, “The teachings of Jesus are nice…” they usually fail to grant (or realize) all that implies. Many who read the New Testament fail to see that the teaching method/refrain of “you have heard it said… but I say to you…” is this divine claim in action. Neusner sees it and is surprised bad. In fact, he’s surprised into full-on rejection just as the other leaders were in Jesus’ day.
But Jesus is claiming authority – just by his very presence. His relationship with God the Father is such that it’s impossible to not claim this authority. It would be a lie to pretend otherwise.
In his homily yesterday, Fr Emmerich Vogt, OP, made the point that those of us who are baptized into Christ share this same authority, this same relationship. We are, as Pope Benedict said, “Sons in the Son”. Or rather we can be, by grace, participating in the divinization which Christ offers us. The writer of Hebrews has it:
For it was fitting that he, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the leader to their salvation perfect through suffering. He who consecrates and those who are being consecrated all have one origin. Therefore, he is not ashamed to call them “brothers” saying: I will proclaim your name to my brethren, in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.
The whole point of ordinary time is that there is no longer any such thing. We are riding salvation history now: all time is liturgical time, the unfolding of the Kingdom. “He who consecrates and those who are being consecrated all have one origin.” All life is now living into Salvation, the unfolding of the Kingdom in our own lived experience. God has made everything not-ordinary.
This is the path on which the sons in the son now walk: to glory. It would be a lie to pretend otherwise.
THE ANGELUS IS A favorite devotion of mine. (If you are not familiar with it I have included it at the end of this post.) I’ve used nearly daily since I first realized it was a prayer to be said outside of Church. (It was usually prayed before the Sunda service at my Episcopal parish when I was growing up, but only in college did I find it could be prayed in other places. It’s prayed three times a day, theoretically at Sunrise, Noon, and Sunset. I was taught it was a “reminder of the Incarnation.” This was the “point” it’s had for the last 40 years or so.
Listening to the most recent Poco A Poco podcast last night, the CFR friars changed my mind. For the first time in 40 years I heard the prayer differently. The prayer is not (only) a memorial of an historical event (or, worse, just a theological doctrine) but rather an active prayer for our transformation in Christ. Mary said “yes” to God – and so we should all be saying yes. It’s a continual submission in faith to what God wants. It’s an ongoing Act of Faith: you have to stay open to God as Jesus and Mary were, never turning away, never closing a part off. I do this all the time. We all do, but I never thought of the Angelus as a thrice-daily prayer to struggle against this closing-off.
But once you open yourself up to that, once you say yes, what are you left with in the world? Nothing. You become like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: promised a land, even living on the very land itself, but owning none of it. Like Moses, seeing the land, but not allowed to enter it. Like David wanting to do something for God and being asked “who are you to imagine I want this to happen?” Everything in this relationship is “now but not yet”. Everything in this relationship is full trust and openness and, yet, nothing like the world imagines those things to be. You have a fully trusting relationship with the all-powerful creator of the universe, which makes you a nothing in the world.
Lift up the lowly Send away the rich Tear down the mighty Give the whole thing to the meek Who no nothing about it anyway
Saying yes to God makes you the Mother of the LIving Creator of all Things, a condemned criminal dying on a post in the ground. Saying yes to God means the Lord of the Universe nurses at your breast and dies before your eyes. Saying yes to God means all the pain of your life. Anyway.
Why say yes to such a God?
Because that God is love. And love has no place in this world Therefore it’s impossible for it not to hurt you Once you, yourself, become love. But your love, God’s love, Love. Is healing the world. Say yes to God. Reject the world. Because you will heal the world And you can only love your neighbor (at all) By loving God. You cannot say yes to your neighbor in anyway that will actually help him unless you say yes to God.
Who will then send the rich away, destroy the thrones, powers, and principalities that stand in the way of the only good that there can be in this world fallen away from God: reunion.
Praying the Angelus three times a day means becoming the Mother of God who wants to redeem the world by letting the world kill him because he loves it so much that he would die to bring it all back home.
V. The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary. R. And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord. R. Be it done unto me according to thy word.
V. And the Word was made flesh. R. And dwelt among us.
V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God. R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray. Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.
DURING THE GLOBAL PANIC in March of 2020, watching bodies pile up, morgues overrun, hospitals sealing off units, the Holy Father did an Urbi et Orbi blessing with the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, praying and blessing the entire world as only the Vicar of the Messiah can do, has the authority to do. No matter who you were or where you were that night, you were blessed, even if you do not know it: the sign of the Saviour’s Victory was traced over you by the Pope. We will never know what course the Pandemic could have taken without that blessing. In my heart, by faith, I know the world was changed that night.
The world’s beloved came over the mountains to her and spoke in his humble silence that night.
I took a couple of hours off work to watch. I want to say it was about noon here? 11 AM? It was dark and cold and rainy in Rome, watching the Pope walk all by himself up the steps to the Basilica like Christ walking to Gethsemane. And the whole world watching. At the Benediction, all the sirens and church bells of Rome rang out. Weeping I reached to touch the screen of my computer. The whole thing, live-streamed, was palpable. It was real. Most of the world could not go to Mass or confession, but the Pope gave an indulgence.
And there we were.
In the arms of our lover, absolved, and – eventually – victorious. But Victory here means something other than what the world means.
We do not find victory like Messi in more goals and the defeat of our enemies, but rather in the messiness that arises from love and forgiveness. In the end, even the pandemic was for our salvation: walking the path through to the end means that God has dirty diapers and dies on a post stuck in the ground.
And loves us all the more.
Our lover is no longer coming to us but now is with us. This is the Messianic age. And yet it is not. We have work to do – or rather he has work to do and only waits for us to get out of the way.
God is with us, ripping open the heavens and coming among us, ripping the veil of the Temple and revealing it to be empty. God dwells in our hearts. This victory is his.
READING this verse (or, as is common at this time of year, hearing it sung) always makes me think of a Greek Myth wherein Zeus appears as a rain of golden fire to Danaë, which is how she conceived Perseus. It is one of the more poetic of lines from Isaiah, addressed to Cyrus, the King of Persia, whom Isaiah calls “messiah” in 45:1. It is the liberation of the Jews from Babylon that is happening here, by the anointed hands of Cyrus.
God is using human politics to bring about divine ends. Cyrus did things for his own reasons (and for his own god, Marduk) yet the one, Almighty God appointed him to be the liberator of the Jews from their Captivity into which he – God – had sent them for their sins. This is Almighty God acting in history through the free will and agency of a human actor. This is how God has chosen to act in almost all of human history. He has condescended to enter into relationship with us wearing the face of our neighbor, meeting us where we are, and conveying to us his grace in the hands of those around us.
What about those who are not “one of us”?
Well, as with Cyrus, even praying to Marduk, God can cause divine grace to pour through his actions, through his politics. And in those places where God was not sending the Hebrew Prophets to prepare his way he was still preparing his way. The Bible is a unified story that leads to Jesus, certainly, but actually, the whole world is such. How can it not be? All truth leads to the Truth. All light is but a reflection of the Light. All true life is but an echo of the Light. There is only one story, one way.
Or, you can walk off the screen. Your choices is valued and real. You can decide to reject the grace literally pouring in from everywhere.
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