Types and Shadows

JMJ

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

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

Hebrews 8:5

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

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

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

The unity of the Old and New Testaments

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading the Signs of Ordinary Times

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

JMJ

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

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

Hebrews 4:12, Mark 2:14

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

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

I suddenly think that’s the point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Ordinary Mysteries

Icon of “He Who Slumbers Not” slumbering.

JMJ

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

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

Hebrews 2:18

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

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

Ordinary Time.

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

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

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

And he can help you.

So, that was Christmas

Jerusalem Cross: Representing the Believers around Christ

JMJ

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

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

Mark 1:22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hashtag Resist

JMJ

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

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

Luke 1:53 (KJV21)

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

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

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

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

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

Why say yes to such a God?

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

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

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

The Angelus

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

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

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

Hail, Mary...

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

Hail, Mary...

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

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

Urbi et Orbi

JMJ

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

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

Song of Songs 2:8 (CJB)

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

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

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

And there we were.

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

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

And loves us all the more.

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

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

Clash of the Titans

JMJ

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

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

Isaiah 45:8 (CJB)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patience is a Virtue

JMJ

The Readings for the 3rd Sunday of Advent (A1)

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.
See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth,
being patient with it
until it receives the early and the late rains.
You too must be patient.

James 5:7 (NABRE)

WHY IS JAMES ASKING US to be patient? The notes to my Lectors’ Handbook suggest this is a reading looking to hope in the 2nd Coming of Messiah. But That seems odd if you read the whole pericope: what’s that bit about the farmer? And the complaining thing? What’s that? Indeed, as the notes in the Handbook seem to indicate, this reads rather like a bunch of random wisdom sayings strung together here that we might have some pithy quotes to lob about. But I don’t think so.

If you pull back just a bit in the Epistle of St James, there’s a longer argument going on here that starts in the previous chapter. I think the whole argument runs from 4:1 to 5:11. That’s a bit long to take in at Mass, or even for a 7 Minute Homily, but let me sketch out the argument:

4:1 Why are there fights in the Church?
4:2 – 4 Because you covet things other people have, you’re jealous about who has what position, power, etc. In fact, that just shows you’re still friends with the world rather than God. Then James calls us unfaithful wives (to God), repeating something the Prophets said about Israel all the time.
4:5-10 if we are, therefore, humble before God, he will fight for us against these temptations. Humble yourself before God and he will lift you up.
4:11-12 We have an example of pride now. Gossip. Remember, these temptations lead to fights in the Church so…. don’t speak evil of each other. No backstabbing gossip, etc. That would cut off most of Coffee Hour sometimes. If you speak evilly of a brother or sister in Christ it means you’re judging them. NOTICE PLEASE that St James doesn’t seem to care if your comments are right or wrong. He says we talk this way because of our own pride. Pride leads to covetousness. That causes fights in the Church. STOP HAVING FIGHTS IN THE CHURCH. See?
4:13-17 We have another example of pride now: we make boasts all the time. Look what I plan to do tomorrow. Watch me do this thing. Look, Ma! No hands! All such boasting is evil. (Side note: this would end most staff meetings and all advertising.)
5:1-6 James carries this into an example of the example: rich people, who tend to boast in their wealth, are, in fact, being unjust all over the place. God will get them. Don’t envy them, don’t covet their wealth. We see that covetousness is a sign of friendship with the world up in Chapter 4, and that’s what causes fights in the church…
Finally getting to our passage today.
5:7 THEREFORE BE PATIENT, waiting for the Lord to return. What has that to do with anything? Why is there a farmer?

Because God is doing something here. God is working on the rich. On the prideful. On the Gossips. On the unfaithful wife, the Church herself. God is doing something here and he – the faithful farmer – is willing to wait until the early rain (Baptism) and the latter rain (the Holy Spirit) fall on all us sinners and make us into a fruitful harvest. SO WE should also be patient with one another not judging each other – or even COMPLAINING about things as they are – because such judging (back to 4:1) arises from pride and covetousness. And causes fights in the Church. So…

Thanks for coming to my TED talk.

Update: by way of application, this is about a lot of things. It reminds me of the old tshirt wisdom, “Be patient, God’s not finished with me yet.” Reading that as a prayer for humility on the part of the wearer and the reader is important. I’m a jackass, I know, but God is working on me…

This passage usually gets spun as a ugent advice along the lines of Sure, Jesus isn’t coming back now but wait some more. It seems rather to mean, Thankfully, Messiah hasn’t yet come back so we have some time to let him work on things in us.

Finally, to let God do that work in you (or in me) you have to be humble, don’t complain, bear with each other, and let God use the tools he has picked to do the job.

Red in the Morning

Dawn over a foggy golden gate
The Readings for the 33rd Sunday, Tempus Per Annum (c2)

Before the LORD, for he comes,
for he comes to rule the earth,
he will rule the world with justice
and the peoples with equity.

Psalm 98:9 (Responsorial)

FUN FACT: what the NABRE calls “Malachi 3:19” other translations call Malachi 4:1. NABRE has all the words, but only 3 chapters… Not really sure what that’s about. Makes it real hard to link to other translations. Anyway, furnace. We know the whole thing. The day of the Lord will hit the sinners like a fiery furnace. But wait, there’s more: the Just will see the Sun of Justice Rise.

So, for both Just and Unjust, the Day of the Lord means a fiery sunrise. The fire will burn for everyone. How will that day dawn for you?

We often make justice to mean “punishment” and mercy to mean “letting me off the hook”. These definitions are neither of them true, and they make God to be as petty as we are.

Mercy is God’s divine and infinite condescension to us in kindness and love. The first instance of this mercy, personally and for each of us, is the creation of the entire world. The second instance is the creation of your individual soul, an act of infinite love and creation in time that took place at the moment of your conception. All things – all blessings, all punishments, all teachings, all correction, all salvation, all purgation, all joys, and all sorrows – arise from this original mercy, or original blessing, as the former Dominican, Matthew Fox, called it. This is an act of Mercy because God has no need of you, no need of the universe, no need of creation at all. God’s love did this.

Then we want to think of human sin and its punishment. Yet we do not think of, even then, God’s constant mercy. For we know that sin is death. We know that we are cut off from the divine life by mortal sin (that’s why it’s called “mortal”) yet, in God’s mercy, we do not die, we are not “smote”. God lets us go on with an eye towards our repentance and restoration. Almost all of life, then, is a mercy. We cannot escape the consequences of our actions for that is part of the way the world functions: if you kill someone, they are really dead. You will grieve that action even if you are absolved. If you spread hate, you will suffer the social blowback from your actions even if you are able to grow towards love. If you commit sexual sin, there’s the possibility of a child, of disease, of re-writing the reward pathways in your brain towards an addiction. These are parts of the world in which we live and each sin means that we must deal with the actions. That’s not justice, though. It’s only the natural consequence. in some case the “really dead” or the “accidental child” my turn out to be a blessing or a curse, or even a cross, but it’s still not justice. No retribution is, of itself, justice. Eye for eye is not justice nor is, ironically, dropping things, walking away, forgetting…

God’s justice is a restoration of right relationship.

Imagine you are building a building as a contractor. The floor should be perfectly level. From that floor, at perfect 90° angles, should rise each of the walls – they are square. They stay straight, square with the floor all the way up, this means the walls are “plumb”. However, let us say that one wall begins to sag inwards. This wall will – eventually – make the adjoining walls weaker. They may begin to sag. And the roof could possibly collapse. So the owner calls you back and asks you to fix it – to make the wall square again. The process of returning the building to level, square, and plumb when projected on human relationships, is justice.

We want to think of Justice and Mercy in opposition, but, in fact, they are part and parcel of each other. Justice demands a right relationship. Mercy makes it mutually possible. Justice demands I share my surplus with the poor – not store it up in my new barns. Mercy (God’s kindness) allows me to have the grace to do it. It is not justice for the rich to hoard their wealth unless it is in order to more easily serve the poor. It is not mercy for us to say, “He can do whatever he wants with his stuff” for that leaves him in wrong relationship, leaves him in his sins. When we remind the rich man of his duty to justice and move him (through God’s grace) to restore a right relationship with the poor, that is mercy. When we use love to show someone walking away from God the right path, we are merciful: and that restores right relationship to God and others, that is justice.

They do not kiss together: they are the component parts of the same thing. Justice is the form of mercy. Mercy is the substance of justice.

Likewise the Sun of Justice and the Fiery Furnace. They are the same thing: it’s how we stand, if we’re level, square, and plumb. Or are are we sagging inwards, pulling down the whole structure? Do we want fixing or propping up? Do we need tearing down so that something good can be raised up instead? If we are falling apart, the fire will burn, but if we are solidly built in the faith, resting on the solid rock, rising like a tower, then the sunrise will show forth in the inviting colors of a new day.

God is a consuming fire. The only choice we have is shall we be consumed willingly or not.

No Longer Strangers

JMJ

THIS READING CAME UP a week or so ago on the Feast of St Simon and his buddy. It’s been a bit of a wrestling match since then. Getting along with Christians who disagree with us is part of this (that’s where our preacher took it last Friday). But it’s the relationship between our elder brothers, the Jews who follow Messiah, that interests me most here.

So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:19-22 (RSVCE)

St Paul wrote this in 60 or 62 AD. And here we are nearly 2000 years later. So, by way of reminder: Paul is writing to a community made of of Jews and Gentiles who, together, have come to believe the Jesus is the Messiah long promised to the people of Israel. In this belief, they (Jews and Gentiles together) are worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These two groups feud a bit, ok. But here’s the rub. I think we hear it backwards today.

The issue with Jews and Gentiles was not only “should Gentiles become Jewish first…” (ie, get circumcised, etc). We can read it in Galatians as if it’s Gentiles doing Jewish things because they don’t feel on equal footing to be actually following the Jewish Messiah. Paul calls them, “You Foolish Galatians” for this. Who bewitched you? So some (at least – more? all?) of what Paul is writing is to Gentiles who do not need the courage to face off against the “Judaizers” but rather they need to be assured – in their own faith – that they are worthy to stand why they are. Remember, last week (hyperbolically) these Gentiles were killing bulls for the Magna Mater and offering incense to Caesar. Now they are following YHVH. What do they need to do? Nothing other than believe in Jesus. Paul says he used to persecute the Church and now he’s an apostle! How are we good enough?

In other words, what if Judaizing was the “pastoral accompanying” of the 1st century? You don’t feel good enough? We can make things easier for you: let me get my knife, and give up your bacon and sausage as well…

Paul assures the Gentiles that they, “are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God”. This must refer to the covenanted household of Israel. There’s only a handful of Gentile believers in the world. There’s not even one generation of dead Christians yet. There’s about 2000-3000 of them (Gentiles and Jews together) at this point, honestly. Unless Paul means to limit that “household of God” to those 2500 people, then he’s reassuring his Gentile flock that they have been united to something much bigger than themselves. In Romans he will remind Gentiles that they have been grafted into Israel. It’s we (I’m a gentile, too) who are outsiders here, strangers, aliens. And Paul is telling us that through Jesus, we’re good enough to be here.

A lot of times when I hear these verses expounded they usually get read to be about the Jews trying to make us do things “like them”. It never gets around to the possibility it was Gentiles were not feeling included from our side; because of our own insecurity. Paul seems to be saying, Look, in Yeshua we’re all in this together. Gentiles have been united to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We are no longer strangers in Israel. Mind you, I know that Jews would disagree with this reading soundly. But some good part of this is based on 2000 years of Gentile bully of Jews. Romans, for example, reads more as if Gentiles were trying to bully Jews into eating bacon. And Paul has to remind his Gentile followers that they have been grafted in and they can be cut out again, too.

Personally, it feels as if sometimes a fascination with “Jewish Roots” can be a type of envy: I have no history, no tribe, no culture other than that of a white, middle class, American male. Because of the chaos of the last few decades, I’m not really tied to “American” except by a reference to a common mythology about cherry trees and fireworks. What my grandparents fought for as “freedom” is deemed nearly-fascist oppression now. Persons born in the last 20 years would feel overly burdened by even my parents’ generational ideas of “gender roles”. And, even embedded in the culture, some are honest enough to admit it’s only about marketing. So, being disconnected from the past by our current world – but rejecting the present as hopelessly silly – I have no culture. From the 90s on, I’ve sought one: ancient religions, ancient languages, even ancient clothing. Gentiles of the 1st and 2nd Century AD would have been in the same boat: entirely cut off from their pagan past and their pagan present, they tried latching on to Judaism as a cultural home. It makes perfect sense. Here, at last, was a culture, traditions, language, and a people of which God fully approved. Heck, he (God) even spoke in Hebrew at the Creation of the World.

וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי אוֹר וַיְהִי־אוֹר׃

And God said, “yhee ohr”. See? He spoke Hebrew.

So why not convert to this culture as well as this religion?

But to retreat into this culture is to miss the boat entirely. God set up Israel, by Covenant, as a sacrament for the whole world; a sign and a reminder of the Eden that was – and was lost – and the Eden that will be in the World to Come. In Messiah, we Gentiles partake fully of that sacrament. We become not the sacrament but the presence itself. You are what you eat, but when we take communion we don’t become only more bread, but rather Jesus. And more ourselves as God intends.

Israel was the Host in the Monstrance. Now we eat, partake, and go out into the world to do the Gospel. The temple is no longer only in Jerusalem but in all the world.

We are grafted in. And in the grafting, the whole tree is changed.