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.

December 4, 2019 – Why Advent?

Austrian Advent Celebration

Our 2007 Austrian vacation during Advent included a visit to Hellbrunn Palace, summer residence of the Prince-Archbishop (I don’t like political-religious titles.) and a center of Christmas celebration with a Christmas Market and very large Advent Calendar posted in the palace windows. It appears we were there on their fifth day of Advent.

There are about 9 million people in Austria, 75% identifying as Catholic, so general acceptance of Advent as a public celebration is normal. I doubt we could get away with posting these numbers on The State House in Columbia, even with the Christmas Tree in front.

A Little History

That high concentration of Catholics is at least partly because between 1684 and 1731, Austria expelled their Lutherans, some of whom ended up in South Carolina and founded Wachovia Bank. Freedom of religion was not a popular concept at the time. Even though Lutheran at the time of our vacation, I still felt welcome as a spending tourist, and the information about past intolerance and persecution by Catholics did not discourage me from being received into the Catholic Church forty-two months later. Misbehavior was as common in the 16th century as now.

Why Advent?

Pardon my digression, and back to the point, the reason for and value of observing Advent.

For me, that question has to be answered in the context of Advent as a part of the Liturgical Year, a continuous reminder of the whole story, the big picture, salvation history, from the creation through the patriarchs, the law, the prophets, the promise of and waiting for a messiah, the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension, the establishment of The Church, the Body of Christ, and the charges and instructions given to, and the early experiences of, that Church of which we are a part 2000 years later. Keeping that total picture in focus helps us avoid simplifying Christianity to a simple “me and Jesus” formula. Observance of the Liturgical Calendar forces us to pay some attention to all of Sacred Scripture, the whole story, the big picture, and our roles in it.

Threefold Coming of The Lord

Father Linsky mentioned the St. Bernard sermon about the threefold coming of Jesus, the Incarnation, His coming to us now, and the final coming in glory and majesty. Here it is, 12th century wisdom, copied from the Universalis App.

 We Are In It (The Church) Together

So, it is not just a simple “me and Jesus” formula, but our personal relationships with Jesus are essential and life changing. I don’t think of any simpler representation of what the results of that relationship, Mystical Union with the Triune God, can be than the Virtue chart posted here earlier, the virtues and gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit keeping us away from those dangerous sins beckoning us. If we are all in, corporal and spiritual acts of mercy, joyful living, and deep love of God and neighbor may come as naturally as breathing. And, if we all, or at least most of us, have that, we may need to add Masses at The Basilica of St. Peter to accommodate the masses drawn to see what in the world is going on.

Advent in the Catechism – Two Key Paragraphs

524 – When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Saviour’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating the precursor’s birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

1095 – For this reason the Church, especially during Advent and Lent and above all at the Easter Vigil, re-reads and re-lives the great events of salvation history in the “today” of her liturgy. But this also demands that catechesis help the faithful to open themselves to this spiritual understanding of the economy of salvation as the Church’s liturgy reveals it and enables us to live it.

Bonus – Austrian Bad News – The Krampus

Here is one Christmas custom we don’t want to borrow from the Austrians. Krampus is to St. Nicholas as stick is to carrot. He was roaming freely around the Christmas Market looking for trouble and scaring the kids until finally confronted and defeated by “St. Nicholas” at the Cathedral.

November 13 – Healing of Ten Lepers – Luke 17:11-19

Listening to Father Linsky this morning I had the thought of seeing if there is a preserved homily on this story of the ten lepers by any of the Church Fathers. I came home and Googled “church fathers on healing of the ten lepers.” That didn’t bring up any Church Fathers but did bring up some interesting and inspiring published homilies. One used this painting by James Tissot as the graphic and was titled “A Hidden Mass in the Gospel of the Ten Lepers.”

The post references Leviticus 14:1-32 which shows what was supposed to happen to the nine Jewish guys when the presented themselves to the priest. It was not a simple process. Eight days of ritual except for those who could “afford the regular offerings for their cleansing.” I tried unsuccessfully to find out what those “regular offerings” were, but I guess they were less time-consuming and more expensive. Some things never change.

I think you will enjoy reading how Msgr. Charles Pope, pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian, a vibrant parish community in Washington, DC, sees The Mass hidden in this story of the ten lepers.

The search also showed up this post from Orthodox Christianity which proposes the interesting idea that the healed Samaritan was a thoughtful person who realized that he had just been healed by the Great High Priest and he should go back and present himself to that priest rather than the ones in Jerusalem who were certainly going to reject him. Or maybe he was first heading for Mt Gerizim where the Samaritan’s worshipped. This post refers to an explanation by St. Cyril of Jerusalem of the process described in Leviticus 14. I found the following which might be what was referenced at this LINK. For convenience, I copied and pasted it below even though I don’t find it too helpful. Of course some Jews became believers and were grateful and I guess many Samaritans did not and were not.

Another homily on the story compares the ten to those baptized who then wander away from The Church and have no further need of Jesus. Once saved, always saved, I suppose. This one is worth reading also.

 

Nov 6, 2019 – Love & Joy, Fear & Trembling

Fear and Trembling

A Greek word translated as the noun “fear” shows up 10 times in the New Testament, and the one translated as the noun “trembling” shows up 3 times. The combination phrase, “fear and trembling,” using those Greek nouns, shows up only three times, always in the writings of St. Paul, once each in 2 Corinthians 7:15, Ephesians 6:5, and Philippians 2:12. More on the Greek at the end of this post.

It is worth noting that a search in English for the phrase “fear and trembling” shows one additional instance, the case of the woman healed of bleeding by secretly touching Jesus’s garment and then being called forward by Jesus. But that passage uses the Greek verbs for fearing and trembling rather than the nouns. The three passages using the nouns which, by the way, happen to rhyme, phobos and tromos, are these.

In 2 Corinthians 7, Paul writes to the Corinthians that Titus, who went to them as an uncircumcised Gentile convert Christian missionary, bringing the Gospel, remembers their obedience to his teaching when they received him with “fear and trembling.” It seems unclear whether the “fear and trembling” were in awe of the teaching or in fear of the convert, but I vote for the former.

In Ephesians 5, Paul advises slaves to be obedient to their masters in “fear and trembling” in sincerity of heart, as to Christ. Remembering that slavery in the 1st century Roman Empire was sometimes voluntary, not racial, and bore no resemblance to the plantation slavery of the US, it can easily be understood that Paul was advising respect, “as to Christ,” rather than fear.

The Philippians 2 usage is a bit more challenging since it is there that Paul advises the Philippians to “work out their salvation in “fear and trembling.” That is enough to cause any of us to be scared and shaky! Here is that phrase in context, preceded by explanation of exactly who Christ was and followed by some explanation of what it meant to Paul to work out salvation:

Who Jesus Christ Was/Is

  • “in the form of God” but didn’t exploit that equality
  • “emptied himself”
  • “taking the form of a slave”
  • “in human likeness”
  • “humbled himself”
  • “obedient to death, even death on a cross”
  • “greatly exalted” by God and given “name above every name”
  • that before him, “every knee should bend”
  • and “every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”
  • “to the glory of God the father

What the Philippians Should Do

And then, based on that description of who Jesus Christ was and what He did, we get a “So” or a “therefore,” and instruction about how to live in Philippians 2:12.

So then, my beloved, obedient as you have always been, not only when I am present but all the more now when I am absent, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.

And How They Should Do It

And that instruction seems to be followed by some explanation of why and how to work out salvation with fear and trembling. It begins with “For” which, therefore, links what follows with what has preceded: For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work.

  • Do everything without grumbling or complaining
  • That you may be blameless and innocent children of God
  • Without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation
  • Among whom you shine like lights in the world
  • As you hold on to the word of life so I will not have labored in vain

Joyful, Joyful We Adore Him

And then St. Paul ends the passage on a positive and joyful note in verses 17-18:

But, even if I am poured out as a libation upon the sacrificial service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with all of you.  In the same way you also should rejoice and share your joy with me.

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

It is good to remember that St. Paul wrote this letter from prison, probably in Rome awaiting his execution and that its fundamental purpose was to instruct the Philippians and to plead for Christian Unity. Consistent with that purpose is the introduction to the section which includes the “fear and trembling” phrase, beginning with love and then with some explanation of Christian love, the theme of our discussion on Nov 6.

Philippians 2:1-5  If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but (also) everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,

You can enjoy the whole section uninterrupted, Philippians 2:1-18, HERE. Note especially the footnote on Philippians 2:12, the fear and trembling verse.

Perhaps an abridged and less literary version of this beautifully worded message from St. Paul to the Philippians might be, “Love each other, putting the interests of each other first, and practice humility, remembering, with respect and awe, who Jesus is and what he did, always working joyfully to follow his example and be good witnesses to the world.”

It’s Greek to Me

And, if some further punishment is desired, here are the Greek word explanations.

And, if you want to read what somebody else has to say about fear and trembling, check out this link:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 30 – Who Can Be Saved?

The BIG Question

Discussion was around the Gospel for the day, Luke 13:23-30 which begins with someone, presumably a Jew, asking Jesus, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Here is the passage with the preceding and following verses included just for some context.

Luke 13:22-31

He passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem.

Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”

He answered them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ And you will say, ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’ Then he will say to you, ‘I do not know where (you) are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!’ And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out. And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” 

At that time some Pharisees came to him and said, “Go away, leave this area because Herod wants to kill you.”

Response of Jesus

In the Luke 13 passage, it is not clear whether the questioner was asking about being saved to eternal life or just about surviving possible military conflict with or persecution by the Romans or other enemies or persecutors of the Jews, but Jesus ignored that issue, and shifted immediately from how many to whether or not and from event (being saved) and from process (ate and drank in your presence, taught in the streets) to relationship (I don’t know you or where you come from.)

(NABRE is in a minority here in omitting the “I don’t know you” from the translations though “I don’t know where you are from” was apparently considered an equivalent repudiation in the culture of the time. If you want to investigate, all the English translations of the verse are HERE.)

Searching the Catechism

I searched the Catechism for a simple formula for being “saved.” I didn’t find one. I guess it must be all about the relationship we have with our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, through our public Profession of Faith (Creeds), regular Celebration of the Christian Mystery (Sacraments), Life in Christ (Beatitudes, Virtues, Gifts, Commandments), and Christian Prayer (in the pattern of The Our Father). Hmm. Those bold print items are the four major divisions of the Catechism. The whole Catechism must be all about “being saved.”

The Hard Part – For Me

Assuming that is true, we can recite the creeds, show up faithfully for Mass and Holy Days of Obligation, and pray the Our Father out of habit, but, for me at least, It’s that Life in Christ, living the Beatitudes, practicing the Virtues and Gifts, obeying the Commandments, that seems impossible, at least outside the walls of The Church. Even if I stay busy doing those things, there is still the issue of motive, the secret motives of my heart. Are they selfish or unselfish, based on love or on self interest? Even St. Paul had that concern:

1 Corinthians 4:4-5 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. (From Monday Oct 28 Office of Readings)

In Case of Despair

But, when we despair, we can remember the promise of Jesus when his disciples asked him the same question he was asked in Luke 13: “...for God all things are possible.

Matthew 19:24-26 – Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

It seems fair to say that only the love of God, both His love for us and our love for God, make possible and fruitful that “striving” mentioned in Luke 13. Striving for our own benefit, without that relationship with God, must be useless. There is evidence of that even in the Old Testament, when the big question was addressed.

Isaiah 64:5-7 You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.

So, we don’t have to deny that salvation is a free gift of God and that our “works” have nothing to do with our salvation except that they are fruits of it if we, by the Grace of God, are able to say someday with St. Paul that:

2 Timothy 4:7-8 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day– and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

St. Paul seems to have had more confidence here than in his letter to the Corinthians. I suspect he had grown spiritually in the dozen years or so of faithful and selfless service between writing a letter to a new church around 56 AD and being in prison in Rome awaiting his death maybe in 68 AD.

Well, at least we may be able to say that we have striven! And that is what Jesus recommended in Luke 13.

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Bonus question: At this link is a non-Catholic explanation of how to be saved.  Can it work? I believe so, but what is missing from it that is important to Catholic Christians?

Suggestion 1

Suggestion 2

Suggestion 3

Suggestion 4 (Relationship through and with the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, the Body of Christ)

I’m sure that any who have read this far will think of other answers. Share them with me and I will post them below this statement. I clearly got bogged down a bit in this issue, but it is one that is of prime importance to me and just thinking and writing about it is helpful. As always, please feel free to point out any place you think I have erred.

Oct 23 – Chaos to the Church – Bible Story from 50,000 ft

Discussion today about Jeff Cavens’s Bible Timeline made me think of this chart I developed over some period of time. It is designed to illustrate salvation history, Bible time-line, and God’s revelation of Himself. Well, maybe it is the 500,000 foot level because there is not much detail. Earlier this year, I did a blog post with more explanation HERE. Read the verses. Let me know of anything I need to revise to improve the theology. Thanks to Fred Belinga for the leadership today.

St. Augustine on The Our Father

This short essay is included in the Office of Readings this morning, October 22, 2019, and it just struck me as particularly meaningful, especially the first sentence on why we use words. Given our consistent praying of the Our Father at Mass and in the Morning Prayer I decided to share it with the MPG. This is a screen shot from the Universalis APP which I recommend highly.