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Woman at Well and Man Born Blind

Gospel Truth in Literary Masterpieces

I love these two stories from chapters 4 and 9 in the Gospel of John. The Woman at the Well was the Mass reading for Sunday, March 15th, and The Man Born Blind was the reading for yesterday, March 22. Reading them always reminds me of the Gospel of John course I took 18 years ago at the Lutheran seminary. So, I just decided to share a bit about the sophisticated structure and context of the two stories from assignments in that class.

It is good to remember that the ancient Greek had neither punctuation nor paragraphs and depended heavily on structure to indicate beginnings and endings and key points in the text. One tool used was chaistic structure as explained here. Such structure can easily be seen in both of these stories.

If this is too much, just ignore it. I hope we get back to meeting soon. I’m not up to defending all this but just offer it as food for thought while we have all this thinking time available.

 

The Man Born Blind

The Woman at the Well

January 29 – Parable of the Sower; The Grace of God

Bishop Baron had a slant on Wednesday’s Gospel reading from Mark 4:1-20, the Parable of the Sower, that I had never though of as being the point of the story. He suggests that the listeners were rolling their eyes at the foolishness of a farmer who would so carelessly scatter and waste precious seed and then suggests that the point Jesus was making was that God is like the farmer, scattering his seed, the Gospel, everywhere, even on those least likely to respond. In other words, the story, he suggests, is not about us, but about the Grace of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

That made me think of the focus of a homiletics class at the Lutheran seminary fifteen or so years ago. The professor often made the point that the themes of our sermons should never be “if, then” but always “because, therefore.”

If…, then… is an Old Testament theme, and Because…therefore… is a New Testament theme. Here are two covenant statements given to the people, the first through Moses, describing the OT, if…then covenant, and the second several hundred years later through the prophet Jeremiah, promising the NT, because…therefore covenant:

Exodus 19:3-6 Moses went up the mountain to God. Then the LORD called to him and said, “Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob; tell the Israelites: You have seen for yourselves how I treated the Egyptians and how I bore you up on eagle wings and brought you here to myself. Therefore, if you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my special possession, dearer to me than all other people, though all the earth is mine. You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. That is what you must tell the Israelites.”

Jeremiah 31:31-34 The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers the day I took them by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt; for they broke my covenant and I had to show myself their master, says the LORD. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer will they have need to teach their friends and kinsmen how to know the LORD. All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the LORD, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Jeremiah 31:31-34 is referenced four times (Paragraphs 64, 715, 762, and 1965). These are worth reading!

64 – Through the prophets, God forms his people in the hope of salvation, in the expectation of a new and everlasting Covenant intended for all, to be written on their hearts. The prophets proclaim a radical redemption of the People of God, purification from all their infidelities, a salvation which will include all the nations. Above all, the poor and humble of the Lord will bear this hope. Such holy women as Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Judith and Esther kept alive the hope of Israel’s salvation. the purest figure among them is Mary.

715 – The prophetic texts that directly concern the sending of the Holy Spirit are oracles by which God speaks to the heart of his people in the language of the promise, with the accents of “love and fidelity.” St. Peter will proclaim their fulfillment on the morning of Pentecost. According to these promises, at the “end time” the Lord’s Spirit will renew the hearts of men, engraving a new law in them. He will gather and reconcile the scattered and divided peoples; he will transform the first creation, and God will dwell there with men in peace.

762 – The remote preparation for this gathering together of the People of God begins when he calls Abraham and promises that he will become the father of a great people. Its immediate preparation begins with Israel’s election as the People of God. By this election, Israel is to be the sign of the future gathering of All nations. But the prophets accuse Israel of breaking the covenant and behaving like a prostitute. They announce a new and eternal covenant. “Christ instituted this New Covenant.”

1965 – The New Law or the Law of the Gospel is the perfection here on earth of the divine law, natural and revealed. It is the work of Christ and is expressed particularly in the Sermon on the Mount. It is also the work of the Holy Spirit and through him it becomes the interior law of charity: “I will establish a New Covenant with the house of Israel. . . . I will put my laws into their hands, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

St. Marks Parable of the Sower gets no references in the Catechism, but the Matthew 13:3-23 version of the same parable is referenced in Paragraph 1724 about Life in Christ. The footnote for Paragraph 1724 is on the phrase about slowly bearing fruit in the Church to the glory of God.

1724 – The Decalogue, the Sermon on the Mount, and the apostolic catechesis describe for us the paths that lead to the Kingdom of heaven. Sustained by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we tread them, step by step, by everyday acts. By the working of the Word of Christ, we slowly bear fruit in the Church to the glory of God.

Thanks be to God for that gift of Grace which gives us the desire and enables us to continually grow in our faithfulness to Christ and his commandments, “slowly bearing fruit in the Church to the glory of God.” God has prepared the soil and sown the seed. We are called and enabled to cooperate. Even that shows up in The Catechism.

323 – Divine providence works also through the actions of creatures. To human beings God grants the ability to co-operate freely with his plans.

January 8, 2020 – Faith, Hope, and ????

The January 8th discussion centered on the Gospel Reading, 1 John 4:11-18, which begins, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another,” and goes on to say, “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.” That sounds like Mystical Union!” It seems to be a pretty heavy theological burden to be borne by a word we use to explain how we feel about popcorn, chocolate, fishing, baseball, and various other unimportant and non-productive indulgences.

Depending on the Bible translation used, that simple word, “love,” may be listed, with faith and hope, as one of the three theological virtues which

  • adapt man’s faculties for participation in the divine nature,
  • relate directly to God,
  • dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity, and
  • have the One and Triune God for their origin, motive, and object.

But, according to the Catechism, source of the four descriptors above, the three theological virtues are not faith, hope, and love but rather faith, hope, and charity! (See Catechism)

Those three theological virtues are found in the Bible in three primary texts, all words of St. Paul, inspired by The Holy Spirit. They are:

  • 1 Thessalonians 1:2-4  We give thanks to God always for all of you, remembering you in our prayers, unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father, knowing, brothers loved by God, how you were chosen.
  • 1 Corinthians 13:13  So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
  • Colossians 1:3-5  We always give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you have for all the holy ones because of the hope reserved for you in heaven.

For now, ignore faith and hope and focus on the deep scriptural meaning of the greatest of the three, love. Agape is the Greek word translated love in these three passages. Here is what Strong’s Concordance says about the meaning of agape. Read more HERE.

strongs agape

That definition seems a bit weak given the importance of the word in the New Testament. So, how have Bible translators dealt with that Greek word agape? Bible Gateway, which is linked at this website, will generate a list of all English translations of a verse. Here is that list for 1 Corinthians 13:13. Of 59 English translations listed, agape is translated as love in 52 and as charity, consistent with wording of the three theological virtues, in the other seven.

So, why is charity the chosen translation for four King James Versions including the BRG Bible, plus the Jubilee Bible, the Wycliff Bible, and the Douay-Rheims Bible? I think the answer to that question is that those are all old translations, hundreds of years old, and were most certainly influenced by use of the Latin word caritas to translate agape in St. Jerome’s 4th century  Latin Vulgate, the Latin Bible of the Catholic Church. The Douay-Rheims is not just influenced by but is an English translation of the Vulgate rather than of the original languages. The English translation of caritas is, of course, charity. So, now we know why the Catholic theological virtues are faith, hope, and charity rather than faith, hope, and love, and we can ask what that translation from agape to caritas reveals about the 1st century meaning of agape.

At this link is a good discussion of the reason for translating as caritas. It references a quote from the Latin writings of St. Augustine:  I mean by charity (caritas) that affection of the mind which aims at the enjoyment of God for His own sake, and the enjoyment of one’s self and one’s neighbor in subordination to God;” That makes a pretty good case for the Greek to Latin switch but, in 21st century American English, charity means as little as sending a check for $20 or so to Oliver Gospel or The Salvation Army around Christmas or slipping a couple of bucks to a homeless person on the streets of Columbia, nothing like the deep meaning St. Augustine expressed. At this link is a definition and several example sentences which illustrate the full meaning of caritas.

Since our theology and salvation history begin in the ancient Hebrew Old Testament, and since the Vulgate and Septuagint were translations from Hebrew, we should pay attention to what the Old Testament teaches about the love of God. Here is a beautiful OT proclamation about God and his Love. It shows up a dozen or so times with minor wording variations:

Joel

The single Hebrew word translated steadfast love in this verse is chesed which has a suggested meaning of lovingkindness or devotion. It can be translated as gracious, chesedmerciful, kind, good, or to bend or bow oneself, but is translated in the King James Version 26 times as lovingkindness, a strong word that covers motive and action, love followed by corporal or spiritual acts of mercy. I’m going to extrapolate and suggest that since the time and culture of the early Christian Jews was the same as that of the early non-Christian Jews, agape had a similar meaning, making the translation to caritas reasonable and logical.

Does all this mean that anyone who doesn’t use an English bible that translates agape as charity in 1 Corinthians 13 misses the boat on understanding the theological meaning of love? No, there is plenty of evidence of that meaning in the fact that “God so loved (agape) the world that he gave his only Son…” That is a perfect example of love-driven action. John could have written, “God so loved the world that he hoped everybody would do OK,” but that would have been a false statement. (See James 2:14-17)

There is one potential problem with using an English Bible that translates agape as charity. If it is read from the KJV at a wedding, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity,” the guests might think they are at a fund-raiser instead of a wedding and start asking how their donation checks should be made out. At least that would mean they were taking the word seriously, if incorrectly.

Extra Credit: Why is love(charity) the greatest of faith, hope, and love(charity)?

And one final thought: Some have reversed the order of “God is love” to read “Love is god.” Not so!

December 18th – Remembering Fathers, Especially Joseph

Our Own Fathers

We all shared memories of our own fathers and got to know each other better as a result of that discussion. Father Linsky had led us in that direction because of inclusion of Joseph in the Gospel Reading for the day. So, discussion then turned to Joseph’s role in the lives of Mary and Jesus.

Gospel Reading – Matthew 1:15-25 (NABRE)

End of the Genealogy of Jesus
Eleazar became the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Messiah. Thus the total number of generations from Abraham to David is fourteen generations; from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations; from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah, fourteen generations.

Mary & Joseph and The Birth of Jesus
Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit.  Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. 

Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.

Saint Joseph

There are three important Josephs mentioned in the Bible, Joseph, Jacob’s son, who was sold into Egyptian slavery by his brothers, Joseph of Arimathea, wealthy and prominent citizen who claimed and buried the body of Jesus after the Crucifixion, and Joseph who was betrothed to Mary and took her into his home and was earthly father of Jesus.

At this LINK is the Catholic Online view of St. Joseph. It’s a nice summary, unfortunately cluttered up a bit with advertisements. Teaser sentence for the link: “Everything we know about the husband of Mary and the foster father of Jesus comes from Scripture and that has seemed too little for those who made up legends about him.”

Various Opinions on Joseph and Perpetual Virginity of Mary

I continue to be impressed with the well referenced articles on Wikipedia about Bible and Religion. For what it says about modern views of Joseph by various Christian churches, click HERE and scroll down to “Modern Appraisal.”

The Eastern Orthodox and Catholic and a few other churches are in agreement on the perpetual virginity of Jesus which of course would tell us a lot about Joseph. I had never heard the position of the Orthodox Church that Joseph had earlier children, but the writers of Britannica don’t believe it has credibility and argue that, “reliable information about Joseph is found only in the Gospels.” Well, that is consistent with the quote from Catholic Online.

Catholic Importance of Mary – Catechism

As we consider any issue or question about The Blessed Virgin Mary, it seems important to remember this statement, Paragraph 487, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is in the section about the Creed and the phrase, “Born of the Virgin Mary.

587 –What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ.

So, it’s all about Jesus!

 

Matthew 1:25 Translation Issues

Along with passages that mention “brothers” of Jesus, verse 25 in the Gospel reading seems to many to provide evidence against the Perpetual Virginity of Jesus. We have talked a few times about the meaning of “brother” in the first century Middle East, but not of the translation of Matthew 1:25.

Until

Someone asked why the writer of Matthew used the preposition “until” in this verse since that suggests denial of (but does not actually deny) perpetual virginity. The fifth word in the verse above is the one translated “until,” and there is little controversy about that translation except for a couple of mentions.

  1. A footnote in The New Testament, New Catholic Version, St. Joseph Edition says that “The Hebrew word “until” neither implies nor excludes marital conduct after Jesus’ birth.” While it seems to be true that the Hebrew vocabulary, not very rich, uses the same preposition for limited time and for all time, it is unclear why that is applicable since the language of Matthew is Greek. Maybe, since the audience was Jewish, their mindset was to see the Greek word for until as being like the Hebrew word for until.
  2. There is one New Testament verse in which the Greek word seems to imply forever since it is presented as equal to “always:” Matthew 28:20 …teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Surely Jesus will continue to be with us even after the “end of the age” so “until” seems to suggest forever in this case.

Know (Ginosko)

The more interesting word is the third one, the one in the phrase translated “had no relations,” because that word. ginosko, means and is normally translated as “know.” Below is all the translation information from Strong’s Greek Lexicon. Note that the snip includes the URL where this kind of information can easily be found.

Note especially the third definition, euphemism for sexual intercourse. The word is translated that way four times in the New Testament, including in Matthew 1:25, but as forms of “know” more than a hundred times. I would find little support among Bible scholars but could argue that a better translation of Matthew 1:25 would use the third definition and would be, “He (Joseph) did not have full knowledge and understanding of her (Mary) until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.

Translated that way, given that full knowledge and understanding by both Joseph and Mary of who Jesus was, how Mary had been chosen and prepared, what she had done, and how Joseph had been called to help, I suspect that marital relations and more children would have been absent from the list of priorities for both Mary and Joseph and that Perpetual Virginity would have been assumed by both. One might use the phrasing of Catechism 587 to say of Joseph: What Joseph believed about Mary was based on what he believed about Christ, and the way he treated Mary illumined his faith in Christ.

Joseph’s Date of Birth

This is a minor issue and not significant since we have no way to know how old Joseph was at the time of the birth of Jesus. It is interesting that he seems to have no presence after the Birth and Presentation stories so may have died before the ministry of Jesus began. Therefore, we may reasonably think of him as depicted in this 15th century painting by Guido Reni, an elderly man well past his prime.

“Protestant” Views of Perpetual Virginity of Mary

Perpetual Virginity of Mary (PVM) is certainly not a priority of most churches today except Catholic and Orthodox. However, that seems to be an evolved and weakened position from strong belief in PVM by original 15th century reformers. Here are some interesting links for any who want to pursue the question further.

Perpetual Virginity of Mary

Biblical Evidence for Perpetual Virginity

John Wesley

Martin Luther

Bonus from Rich Sayers

On a different subject, Rich Sayers suggested sharing this beautiful film with the group. This is what it is about. It is only about 7 minutes.

Screen Shot 2019-12-19 at 9.32.09 AM

December 11, 2019 – Come to Me – Matthew 11:28-30

The Call and the Promise

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Only in the Gospel of Matthew

In thinking of the meaning of these words, it is important to note that they are found only in the Gospel of Matthew, a Gospel generally recognized as addressed to a Christian community of Jews. Here are some evidences of that:

  1. Matthew traces the lineage of Jesus back through David to Abraham while Mark doesn’t mention ancestry at all, Luke (Gentile Gospel) traces it back to Adam, and John (Spiritual Gospel) traces it back to The Beginning, the Creation.
  2. Only in Matthew does Jesus say, Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” The verb “fulfill” shows up six times in Matthew, always referring to fulfillment of Hebrew Scriptures, and not at all in Mark or Luke. It shows up once in John, then referring to fulfillment of something Jesus had said.
  3. The phrase “Pharisees and Sadducees,” referring to the anti-Christian Jewish establishment, shows up five times in Matthew and not at all in the other Gospels. The phrase “scribes and Pharisees” shows up eight times in Matthew, twice in Luke, and not at all in Mark or John.
  4. Matthew is generally considered by Bible Scholars to have been written fifty to sixty years after the Resurrection to a Jewish Christian Community under threat of being thrown out of the Synagogue. That may explain why the disciplinary process described in Matthew ends with the instruction that a person who does not submit to the Church should be treated as a Gentile. ( Matthew 18:17 If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.) This community evidently considers themselves to be completely Jewish as well as Christian. They just don’t submit to the Scribes and Pharisees.
  5. While Matthew holds out hope for the Gentiles (Matthew 12:21 And in his name the Gentiles will hope.) they are clearly considered outsiders. Only in Matthew does Jesus say, Matthew 15:24  “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
  6. There is little if any explanation of Jewish rituals in Matthew like those in Luke (Luke 2:22-24 for example). The Matthew community needs no such explanation.
  7. In passages shared by Luke and Matthew, Luke’s “Kingdom of God” is generally expressed as “Kingdom of Heaven,” perhaps in deference to Jewish sensitivity to saying or writing the name if God.

The Source of the Labor and Burdening

There is probably more, even enough for a Doctoral thesis or a book, but the point in all this is to better understand the words in Matthew 11:28-30. For clear and convincing evidence that the problem, the source of the burdening, is the Jewish establishment, read these words:

Matthew 23:1-11  Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples,  2 saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.  3 Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.  4 They tie up heavy burdens (hard to carry) and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.  5 All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.  6 They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,  7 greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’  8 As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.  9 Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.  10 Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Messiah.  11 The greatest among you must be your servant.

It seems we must conclude that Jesus is saying to “do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you” only to the extent that those things are correctly understood. Jesus seems to spend much of the Gospel explaining what that ancient Law really meant.

Context Within the Gospel

That is probably enough about the Gospel. What about the context within Matthew’s Gospel of these three verses of invitation and promise? Major sections of the Gospel are:

  1. Genealogy and Birth of Jesus
  2. The wise men
  3. Flight to Egypt and Slaughter of the Innocents (Moses reminder)
  4. Return to Israel and baptism by John the Baptist
  5. Temptation of Jesus
  6. Calling of the first disciples, preaching and healing
  7. The Sermon on the Mount including the Beatitudes and the Our Father – Chapters 5-7 (Moses reminder again)
  8. Ten miracles by Jesus – Chapters 8-9
  9. Jesus sends out the twelve, giving them detailed instructions – Chapter 10
  10. Contrast of John the Baptist with those who are refusing to repent – Chapter 11
  11. Jesus prays and then issues the “Come to me” appeal, contrasting the “apprenticeship of love” he offers with the “list of customs, obligations, and conventions” in the Mosaic Law. (Quotes from footnotes in the “New Catholic Version, St. Joseph Edition.)
  12. Problems with picking grain and healing on the Sabbath, violations of “Mosaic Law.” Jesus defines his family as whoever does the will of his heavenly Father, maybe referring to those responding to his invitation to “Come to me” and rejecting those who are only sons of Abraham.
  13. Kingdom of Heaven parables. Conflict with scribes and Pharisees expands and intensifies
  14. Peter’s confession and promise of The Church
  15. Transfiguration showing endorsement of Moses and Elijah and link to Law and Prophets
  16. More instructions to his disciples and predictions of his Passion
  17. Entry into Jerusalem, cleansing of the temple
  18. The 1st and 2nd Greatest Commandments
  19. The “Woe to you” verses condemning the scribes and Pharisees.
  20. More parables and instructions to the Disciples.
  21. Arrest, trial, Passion and Resurrection
  22. The Great Commission (Final Instruction to his followers, The Church)

Focal Point of the Gospel?

So, it seems to be not too much of a stretch to argue that the “Come to me” verses, the bold red print above, are the focal point, the primary invitation, of Matthew’s Gospel. (Remember there were no verses, chapters, or punctuation in ancient Greek writing)

Jesus has preached and sent out the Twelve with the message and it has largely been rejected. So, he issues this profound invitation and promise, a challenge to the establishment, and, from that point, conflict with the establishment increases, the Passion is foreseen, and Jesus turns his attention to instructing his followers, those who responded positively to his invitation, and building the foundation for The Church which would bring that message of rest, humility, easy yoke, and light burden to all people.

After all, the Gospels are not just bunches of words randomly assembled but are divinely inspired and carefully structured and composed by talented writers who had first-hand knowledge of Jesus and whose goal was proclamation of the Gospel.