Palm Sunday reads; a reflection on Malchus; Lenten reading

PALM SUNDAY READS

A few years back, my parish asked me to do a presentation for its young adult group on “Palm Sunday in History and Scripture.” I provide it here for your edification.

Also, check out this article for a brief primer on Palm Sunday.

Finally, the always interesting Bp. Barron shares his reflection for the day: https://youtu.be/Jvi9Hmvki0k

WHAT MUST MALCHUS HAVE THOUGHT AND DONE?

And behold, one of those who accompanied Jesus put his hand to his sword, drew it, and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his ear. (Mt 26:51)

One of the bystanders drew his sword, struck the high priest’s servant, and cut off his ear. (Mk 14:47)

And one of them struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said in reply, “Stop, no more of this!” Then he touched the servant’s ear and healed him. (Lk 22:50-51)

Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. (Jn 18:10)

Each Gospel mentions Malchus, albeit briefly. Only John spills the beans on who committed the act and who the victim was. Only Luke (why only the good doctor, I wonder) mentions Jesus healing the casualty of Peter’s apparently haphazard attempt at defense of his Lord.

I’m endlessly fascinated with characters introduced in the Gospels in one episode never to be heard from again. Thing of Simeon, Anna, the widow dropping her last pennies in the temple treasury, the rich young man, the Samaritan cured of leprosy, the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, Simon of Cyrene … I could go on and on. Whatever happened to them? How did their encounter with Jesus change their lives? If they were around and heard of Jesus’ death (and Resurrection) what did they make of it all? Even though we will likely not know the answers this side of eternity, such reflection and meditation can be a worthwhile endeavor.

When the person with the cameo in Scripture is named, it is usually presumed that the reason for identification is that that person was well-known to the Christian community being exposed to the evangelists’ writings and maybe even a leader in one of those communities. Was this the case with Malchus? We don’t know. But it is not difficult to imagine this was a life-changing event for this slave of the high priest Caiaphas. Some questions to consider surrounding the incident and its recent aftermath:

What was Malchus’s disposition coming into the Garden of Gethsemane? Did he know of Jesus? If so, even though he was following orders, did he believe it was just to arrest Him? Was the slave surprised by the attack on him and did he try to defend himself? What was his reaction to the healing? Did he make others aware of it? Did he try to defend Jesus or at least question the whole process? Did he stay on the scene and go with the captive Jesus as He was marched out of the garden? What was his involvement in the subsequent trials and the Way of the Cross? What did he think of Jesus’ death and stories of His Resurrection?

Again, we don’t know any of this. I would hope that he would immediately have made others aware of the miracle (after all, it would be quite difficult not to acknowledge the pain of the attack and the shock of the healing, although we can imagine there was quite a tumult at that moment), but that would have required more than a bit of courage with this mob thirsting for blood. I would guess that at least some of them would have witnessed past miracles Jesus performed so maybe they would have not been very moved by the most recent one. But, whatever Malchus did or did not do that fateful evening or the following day, I believe it is a good bet that he eventually grew bold in sharing his unique story as a follower of “the way.” He would have been one of many eyewitnesses (consider my partial list above) who certainly would have been “celebrities” (so to speak) in those early gatherings of Christians, asking to repeat endlessly his encounter with Christ and undoubtedly never tiring to relate his story.

We also must not fail to consider Jesus’ lesson for us at the beginning of these events and all the way to the cross and beyond. He always focused on others, even though we weak and fallen humans would not blame Him if he were self-absorbed as this unjust arrest and subsequent farcical trials unfolded. He heals an aggressor, He focuses on the crying women on the way to Calvary, he acknowledges the “good thief” on the cross next to Him and ushers him t heaven, he forgives his tormentors, he takes care of the future needs of His mother. All this done in humility. What a (difficult) example to follow, but one we must strive to emulate.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION FOR LENT OR ANYTIME

The Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ by Alban Goodier. Lenten reading just finished yesterday. Superb. See my review here.

The Ear of Malchus (L’oreille de Malchus) (c. 1886-1894) by James Tissot

Have a blessed Holy Week.

Drop anchor (and a bunch of other stuff); Aquilina’s latest must-read

The Sunday Readings

Before going any further, listen to Bp. Barron’s Sunday Sermon (14 minutes) (find out more here). They are always excellent, but today’s entry is one of his best. One of his many gifts is the ability to help the listener see things in a new light or make apparent angles that were obscured (to me, at least). It is these new insights that prompted me to take time out of a busy day to build on, or at least explore tangents of, his thoughts. I am blessed to have fine homilists at my parish, but still listen to Bp. Barron nearly every week. If you are not as blessed, or are unmoved or even dismayed by what you here at your church, consider Bp. Barron your lifeline on the drive home.

First we hear the call of Isaiah (6:1-2a, 3-8) “a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.” I am reminded of two New Testament passages:

Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.

Mt 7:3-5

For there is no distinction; all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus…

Rom 3:23b-25

I provide the first quote, because Isaiah is totally on board with this teaching since he acknowledges his own sinfulness first. But then, per the second passage, he recognizes the sinfulness of the people (particularly egregious in his time, as we know, since he expends considerable effort in his writings rebuking and warning the Chosen People of the disaster to come because of their waywardness). (I will say, we give that generation a run for its money today.) But then, notice how easily his sin is removed. That burning ember is the fire of God’s love, received by us through grace, making us able, according to our openness to it, to be sent (i.e., apostles), giving us the ability to say, “Here I am…send me!” The world would be transformed in an instant if every professed Christian imitated the prophet.

And for anyone who dares think he is not fit to be an apostle, Paul, in the second reading (1 Cor 15:1-11), disabuses such a person of that notion:

For I am the least of the apostles,
not fit to be called an apostle,
because I persecuted the church of God.
But by the grace of God I am what I am,
and his grace to me has not been ineffective.

1 Cor 15:9-10a

“Everything is a grace” (St. Therese of Lisieux in “Her Last Conversations”).

Now to the Gospel (Lk 5:1-11). Bp. Barron, in his homily, is masterful in speaking of the lordship of Christ, getting into the boat uninvited and ordering around Peter, the master fisherman. Jesus takes the initiative, the men in the boat are compliant, they receive a material reward (a great catch of fish), and the grace to leave everything on the spot to follow the Lord.

It was Bp. Barron, speaking about allowing Jesus into our “boat,” that got me going on a different, but related, tack. That is, is there room in our boat, in our lives, for the Son of God? Or is the boat so full of earthly cares, anxieties, material things that Jesus could not even get a toehold? Are we sinking into the abyss of the world, drowning with lots of “stuff,” while our Savior can only look on from afar due to our being distracted, or worse, inordinately attached, to these non-essentials?

Is there a dumber expression than “He who dies with the most toys, wins”? Life is not a game. It is our chance to merit eternal life through God’s grace which allows us to have faith working in love. What we do here in this short life, this mortal coil, determines our fate in the next life.

So, it is time to unload our boat of the accumulated material and immaterial junk of our lives. What do sailors due when a boat has taken on too much weight and is sinking? They throw non-essentials overboard. In desperation, they may even toss beyond the rail what seem to be essentials. But what good are the latter when one’s very life is in the balance?

This is to be our attitude. Casting Christ aside puts one’s very life in jeopardy. there is no finer time than today to reassess our priorities, clear out the clutter, and invite Jesus into our boat. Like with Peter, the Lord takes the initiative. But will He find an honored place in our barque? Look to the Barque of Peter, for guidance.

How the Fathers Read the Bible

I was thrilled to discover that the prolific writer, Mike Aquilina, has just come out with another book, How the Fathers Read the Bible. It sits on my desk, waiting for a little break to be consumed ravenously. I have read many of his books, but this one, based on the title alone, looks to be one of his most important works. Retrieving these early Church Fathers (through about A.D. 800) and making evident their relevance today, particularly in Scripture study, is a noble and worthwhile task. How better to read the Bible from the heart of the Church than to go back to those men much closer than we are to the time of Christ and the apostles.

If you have read Mike already, you have a good idea what you are in for (a very accessible, lively, and interesting work, filled with interesting people and places). If you have not yet had the pleasure of a romp, and you love the word of God, I can’t think of a better place to start.

Isaiah Lips 10
Isaiah’s Lips (1995) by Richard McBee

God bless.

My top books read in 2021 and a prayer for 2022

Book Recommendations

I polished off forty-five books cover-to-cover, including two that I wrapped-up today, during this past year (there were three others completed that were started in 2020, as well, while I have one started this year that will be completed in 2022).

I read many fine books over the course of 2021, but picked nine that I would like to especially recommend, in no particular order (you can ready my reviews on Goodreads here):

  1. St. Dominic’s Way of Life: A Path to Knowing and Loving God by Patrick Mary Briscoe OP and Jacob Bertrand Janczyk OP (Amazon)
  2. Revelation by Peter S. Williamson (Amazon)
  3. Benedict XVI: A Life (Vol. 1) by Peter Seewald (Amazon)
  4. The Memoirs of St. Peter by Michael Pakaluk (Amazon)
  5. Classic Catholic Meditations by Bede Jarrett (Amazon)
  6. St. Joseph and His World by Mike Aquilina (Amazon)
  7. What Christ Suffered: A Doctor’s Journey through the Passion by Thomas W. McGovern (Amazon)
  8. The Second World Wars by Victor Davis Hanson (Amazon)
  9. The Cleveland Indians by Franklin Lewis (Amazon)

Happy reading!

A Prayer for the New Year

Source: https://www.norwichdiocese.org/Stay-Informed/All-Diocesan-Articles/ID/6781/A-Prayer-for-2022

May the coming year be especially blessed for you.

The Innocents and the Guilty

Today’s Gospel (Mt 2:13-18)

When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi,
he became furious.
He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity
two years old and under

Mt 2:16

Every sane person can agree that this passage documents an incredibly disturbing event — one of the most disturbing in all the Bible. There are various estimates on how many youngsters were murdered but, whether it be twenty or two hundred, the killing of innocent little children is horrifying.

Questions that come to mind:

  • Why was only Joseph warned of the coming persecution so he could save his family but none of the other families received this message?
  • Why didn’t God prevent Herod, one way or another, from carrying out this dastardly plan?
  • What must have the dead boys’ family members still living when Matthew’s Gospel circulated think of all this? Were they resentful, resigned, or rejoicing?

This episode did not have to be recorded in Scripture (only Matthew does). As it turns out, no extra-biblical source mentions it (although we know that this is not beyond the sociopath Herod’s capability), so it could have been lost to history. We also know that everything in Scripture is there through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so it needed to be included (see CCC 106). What are we to take away from it?

We are confronted here with the mystery of evil and suffering. Why does got permit terrible things to happen to innocent persons? The whole matter of free will comes into play as well. These are big subjects that have been grappled with for millennia and will continue to be mulled over for the rest of time. We will not solve them here. But three saints help us:

For the Almighty God, Who, as even the heathen acknowledge, has supreme power over all things, being Himself supremely good, would never permit the existence of anything evil among His works, if He were not so omnipotent and good that He can bring good even out of evil.

St. Augustine

We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose

St. Paul (Rom 8:28)

How can it be said that they died for Christ, since they could not use their freedom? […] God would not have allowed that massacre if it had not been of benefit to those children. St. Augustine says that to doubt that the massacre was of benefit to those children is the same as doubting that Baptism is of use to children. For the Holy Innocents suffered as martyrs and confessed Christ non loquendo, sed moriendo, not by speaking, but by dying.

Comm. on St. Matthew 2, 16 quoted from The Navarre Bible: St. Matthew

Let us conclude with this thought: Jesus ultimately did not escape the death sentence. In fact, mankind had a special brand of torture and death for the Messiah. And no mother ever hurt more than Our Lady at the loss of a child. Jesus was spared as an infant so that he could redeem those very same children that died in his stead (along with the rest of humanity). What a rejoicing there must have been among them when Jesus descended to the dead after His own murder!

Holy Innocents, pray for us!

This is My Body — on the Cross

At Mass on Sunday something occurred to me that never had before. We are all familiar with Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, when He consecrated the bread: “This is my body…given for you” (Lk 22:19). And, of course, there is a strict unity to events beginning in the Upper Room and culminating in the Resurrection. What came to my mind is Jesus saying those words on the cross to the Father. This is not recorded in Scripture, but if the Son did not express this sentiment audibly it certainly must have been in His mind and heart. Recall what the Lord expressed on Palm Sunday, knowing what lay in store for Him just a few days hence:

I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.

Jn 12:27

So, it makes sense that the Word would explicitly give His body back to the Father in His dying moments. In doing so, He gave His body for us and to us.

Holy Innocents
Massacre of the Innocents by Mariano Rossi (1731-1807)

God bless.

Madness, Evangelization, Prayer, and Adultery

Media (and more) Madness

I was disappointed to see hardly any more people at 9:00 Mass this morning than an average weekday Mass (about 75-100 for weekday Mass and maybe double that at the first Mass today). Yes, there are six other Masses, it is true, but undoubtedly in normal times all would be packed. Remember when churches would add extra chairs in every available nook and cranny and still it was SRO? Now, my church still has every other pew roped off and yet still appears sparse (and undoubtedly my experience is not unique).

I put much blame on the media for this madness as well as the willingness, sometimes bordering on enthusiastic, of churches to restrict and — uniformly in this country — to eliminate access to the sacraments, at least in the early months of the pandemic, with seeming eagerness.

Of course, the pandemic is serious. Of course, vulnerable persons should take smart precautions. But, there is no way that the numbers abandoning Mass since March of last year comes close to the numbers, statistically, who are most in danger from the virus.

When trust in God falls so far behind concern for physical well-being, especially among those who have next to zero chance of being severely impacted by corona, things are bad. Instead of taking this disease as a warning salvo from the Lord, folks are far too quick to abandon the sacraments. Faith is lacking, catechesis has long been wanting, and the Church has been far too accommodating to the secular authorities and culture.

Back to the media, the hysteria they generate is over the top. Desperate for viewers and clicks, they serve up worst care scenarios, give conflicting data, and twist statistics to serve their preferred story line. Yet, far too many viewers are sucked in hook, line, and sinker. If people of faith would spend the time in which they imbibe the various forms of media, whether MSM or social, instead in prayer, contemplation, spiritual reading, and viewing wholesome, inspirational, and instructive presentations, maybe their understanding and priorities would align with what is truly important. Life here is short, life eternal is what matters.

The steady decline in Church attendance has ramped up theses last twenty or so months. Maybe what Fr. Ratzinger saw in 1969 is coming even more quickly:

From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning.

Well, I want to be in that (small) number, come corona or high water or whatever else nature, man, or the devil may foist upon us.

Today’s Readings

[A[ll the ends of the earth will behold
the salvation of our God.

Is 52:10b

It strikes me that the beautiful reading from Isaiah from the Mass During the Day, is a clarion call for evangelization. God could have chosen to reveal Himself to all persons in every age in any way He wanted. Yet, He chose from ancient days an (to say the least) imperfect people to be the instruments of revealing Himself to the world. That instrument hit far too many sour notes as it was more likely to be handed over to an idolatrous culture than to transform that culture with the truth.

Well, the Lord does end up coming to us in time, to take care of us since we could not do it ourselves. But even then He graces us with His physical presence in the form of a man for only thirty-three years, leaving a motley band of eleven to “[g]o into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15).

Which brings us to the awesome prologue of John in today’s Gospel:

He was in the world,
and the world came to be through him,
but the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
but his own people did not accept him.

Jn 1:10-11

Certainly, far too many on this planet do not know Christ, even if they know about Him. That certainly is an evangelistic failure — a failure of Christian witness.

But, more disturbing, is that “his own people did not accept him.” Is this not even more true today? Claiming Christianity as one’s own, but not adhering to the words of the Word, indicates a lack of acceptance of Jesus.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

mt 7:21

What sort of witness do we give when we don’t believe, or at least adhere to in word and deed, what the Lord has revealed to us? What does it say about or fortitude and courage when we allow the depraved secular culture to steamroll objective morality instead of steadfastly and boldly standing firm against the prevailing, sometimes hurricane force, winds? How many persons, open to the Christian message, have rejected the Church because of the scandal given by those claiming adherence to the Faith?

My spiritual reading these days comes from the book Secular Holiness by Fr. Paul Hinnebusch. I very much like the terminology he uses for “a life lived according to God’s will”: secular worship. He goes on to say:

Secular worship, then is the expression of daily life of the inner devotion of the heart, it is a life lived in devoted acceptance and implementation of the will of God, it is a life lived in righteousness.

p. 63

Yes, walking the walk, as well as talking the talk, makes our lives a living testament to worshiping the one true God always. This is how we fulfill Paul’s exhortation to “[p]ray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17).

The author goes on to give us Paul in Romans 12:1 as directly tying into this concept, as well as quoting Lumen Gentium 34 at length. Both are worth pondering.

(By the way, regarding John’s Prologue, I just heard of a new book by Anthony Esolen devoted to just those eighteen verses. He is a gifted thinker and writer. Check it out.)

The Woman Caught in Adultery

I recently listened to the St. Paul Center’s “Road to Emmaus” podcast episode “Jesus and the Law.” What I would give if I could get every homilist to listen to this and preach this Gospel Passage based on it. You will be hard-pressed to find a better way to spend a half-hour of your time. You will never listen or read this story again in the same way. (The passage and commentary Dr. Hahn refers to can be found here.)

I highly recommend purchasing the entire New Testament of this series here.

What does it mean to "Pray Without Ceasing"? Is It Possible?

Have yourself a Merry (and Blessed) little Christmas now.

No longer tongue tied, Mary and baby Baptist, Fradd, and Revelation

Gospel Reading (Lk 1:57-66)

Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed,
and he spoke blessing God.

v. 64

Imagine how Zechariah must have been going over and over in his mind, and maybe even writing out, what he was going to say when (and he knew it was “when” — see Lk 1:20) he was again granted the power of speech by God. We will hear his beautiful Benedictus tomorrow in direct preparation for Christmas Day, but he must have had so much more to share about his encounter with the angel some nine months earlier and the enforced silent retreat he experienced since then (note the “fear” that came upon the neighbors at Zechariah’s sudden outburst in v. 65). This blessed time gave him much opportunity to reflect on his relationship with the Lord and the need to trust Him completely. He also must have thought deeply about, and read, studied, and contemplated, the Torah during this period, particularly the prophetic books. What was this miracle child to become? We don’t know how long he lived after this, but he was certainly never the same.

I wonder about Mary in relation to this episode. The verse directly preceding today’s passage (the last verse of yesterday’s Gospel) gives the impression she left the hill country before the events related today. But this seems to me quite unlikely. We know the angel told Mary at the Annuniciation that Elizabeth was six months along and that Mary went quickly to visit her and stayed three months, so that covers at least nine months, probably a bit more. Why would she leave as Elizabeth was just about to give birth? No, it seems to me that Mary got to take all of this in, adding more to ponder in her heart. And, by the way, enabling her to relate these momentous happening to Luke when he was compiling his Gospel many decades later. I love the thought of the Virgin with Child holding the newborn John, contemplating what the future would bring for both. And if little John was dancing in the womb a few months earlier, imagine how he must have felt then, being right next to God incarnate and in the arms of His mother.

Fradd Nails It

I really appreciate Matt Fradd and wholeheartedly support his ministry. He is faithful, smart, honest, humble, and a great interviewer. Today he came out with a video that is worth watching, not only because of the New York magazine cover story that prompted it but, flowing from his opinions regarding it, what it bodes for faithful Catholics on social media and various platforms. His concerns are my concerns.

Before he even got to reading from one of Paul’s letters, the following passage was already in my brain. This entire passage falls under the heading, in the New American Bible, “Punishment for Idolaters.” When you get the first commandment wrong, the rest will quickly follow.

The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven against every impiety and wickedness of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness. For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse; for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. While claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes. Therefore, God handed them over to impurity through the lusts of their hearts for the mutual degradation of their bodies. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God handed them over to their undiscerning mind to do what is improper. They are filled with every form of wickedness, evil, greed, and malice; full of envy, murder, rivalry, treachery, and spite. They are gossips and scandalmongers and they hate God. They are insolent, haughty, boastful, ingenious in their wickedness, and rebellious toward their parents. They are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know the just decree of God that all who practice such things deserve death, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Rom 1: 18-32

I encourage you to subscribe to his YouTube channel (before it’s too late) and other platforms, watch some of his stuff, and like & subscribe.

Revelation

Apropos of the last topic, I have been working through Revelation using the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture. Phenomenal. If you are one of the many, like me, who is confounded by the last book of the Bible, you will not come across a better and more thorough dissection of John’s writing. Having just read chapter 13 of Revelation, similar themes as those above have come up. A frightening time awaits the faithful, as the idolaters won’t be crossed, and the idolaters, as God will not be mocked.

Zacharias Writes Down the Name of His Son (1486-1490) by Domenico Ghirlandaio

God bless.

“May it be done to me according to your word.”

Gospel Reading (Lk 1:26-38)

If we were to assign a motto to the Blessed Virgin’s life, it would be these words to the angel Gabriel. Her whole life was dedicated to the Lord, her will perfectly aligned with His from the moment of her conception. So her reply to the angel, despite her surprise and being “greatly troubled” (v. 29), would have come naturally, without effort or second thought. Virtues, like vices, become habit forming, and all of this young girl’s habits were virtuous.

In hearing the Gospel proclaimed today at Mass I particularly keyed in on the word “word.” We know from John, the beloved disciple (specially beloved not only by Jesus, but by Mary, as well, as the Evangelist became her caretaker starting at the foot of the Cross), that Jesus is the Word (see Jn 1:1-18, esp. 1 and 14). It is particularly fitting that the one who kept God’s Word perfectly in her heart now had the Word made flesh physically next to her heart. Only an immaculate heart could be granted such a privilege. Shame on anyone who denigrates Mary or her exalted place in salvation history.

Mary did not have a tombstone on which to put these words to live by, but may we all live in such a way whereby we could do so wholeheartedly.

Words of Wisdom

My Advent reading has included the first volume of Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth trilogy. Unlike the latter two volumes, I never completed the first, but now find myself one chapter away from doing so.

Today I came across this wonderful quote, refuting scholars who attempt to classify Jesus in existing categories, particularly as simply a prophet:

These various opinions are not simply mistaken; they are greater or lesser approximations to the mystery of Jesus, and they can certainly set us on the path toward Jesus’ real identity. But they do not arrive at Jesus’ identity, at his newness. They interpret him in terms of the past, in terms of the predictable and the possible, not in terms of himself, his uniqueness, which cannot be assigned to any other category. Today, too, similar opinions are clearly held by the “people” who have somehow or other come to know Christ, who have perhaps made a scholarly study of him, but have not encountered Jesus himself in his utter uniqueness and otherness.

p. 292

No wonder the people of Jesus’ time (and our time) had so much trouble believing in Jesus. The tendency from time immemorial has been to put God in a box. But God is the original out of the box thinker. Trouble arises when we place limitations on the One who is unlimited. We can never give enough credit to what the Lord can do and wished to do for us. Per today’s Gospel, Mary placed no limitations on Yahweh — neither should we.

As for scholarly study inhibiting a real encounter with the person of Jesus, it is unquestionably a real danger. Knowing about Jesus does not necessarily lead to knowing Jesus. A kneeling theology is required. Diving into Scripture, meditating upon it, praying with it, and praying to it, (that is, the Word — see the first section above), and to the one who inspired it, the Holy Spirit, are vital (in the truest sense of the word). Authentic and deep relationships only happen through conversation, which is exactly what prayer is.

Dearest Jesus, may a true conversion of hearts lead many souls (especially my own) to more full appreciate your “utter uniqueness and otherness.”

“The Annunciation” (1528) by Benvenuto Tisi

God bless.

Week 4: Leap for joy!

The Gospel Reading (Lk 1:39-45)

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb

Lk 1:41a

Then David came dancing before the LORD with abandon…jumping and dancing before the LORD

2 SM 6:14, 16

Comparing Mary’s encounter with Elizabeth to David’s retrieving the Ark of the Covenant is not uncommon in the literature. And, certainly, comparing little John, who became known as “the Baptist,” to David in their leaps before the Lord is invariably mentioned in those same expositions. But, something I have not come across is linking John and David in their respective roles.

Both are precursors to the Messiah. Both, in a sense, prepare the way of the Lord. John more immediately, to be sure, while David 1,000 years before. David was a man after God’s own heart, Scripture tells us (see 1 Sam 13:14). Jesus, in different words says essentially the same thing about His cousin, but in even loftier terms: “Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist” (Mt 11:11a).

In David, a Christ (i.e., an Anointed One) in his own right, we see many types of his Lord (see here and here). John, the New Elijah (see here), like his prophetic forebear, attempts to ready God’s Chosen People for the advent of the Messiah. Yes, Elijah comes a couple of centuries after David, but both hold forth the promise of the Lord God intervening in history in an unexpected, but glorious way.

David had reason to dance in front of the returning ark touched by the finger of Yahweh. John had even more reason to dance in front of the new ark containing God Himself. Both anticipate the Epiphany. David fell into a different category, as Jesus explained:

Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

Mt 13:17

But John, the last Old Testament prophet, was blessed to see and hear the longed-for Messiah in time and space. And both he and David, who pointed toward the Christ, now enjoy His presence personally in eternity.

More on Today’s Readings

Book Recommendation

The Fathers on the Sunday Gospels edited by Stephen Mark Holmes

I worked through these brief sermons, arranged to follow the current lectionary, for the last year. Pick it up if you can — it will enhance your weekly reflection on the Sunday readings. See my brief Goodreads review here.

https://brentkuhlman.wordpress.com/2018/12/23/the-baby-leaped-for-joy/

God bless.

Week 2: Advent continues

TODAY’S READINGS

[T]he word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.
John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan,
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins

Luke 3:2b-3

With these words, Luke introduces John the Baptist. The message? Repent! Matthew (3:2), Mark (1:4), and John (1:23), all affirm this was Jesus’ cousin’s calling and ministry.

In fact, Jesus Himself begins His public preaching ministry with precisely the same message as recorded by two of the evangelists (see Mt 4:17 and Mk 1:14), while Luke is not specific about Jesus’ initial message (4:15), and John, I would argue, conveys the same message more through Jesus’ first actions than His words (2:13-16).

It seems to me that the biggest problem today is that this message is lost on vast swaths of the public, as it was on many of the Jewish religious leaders of the Baptist’s day (see Mt 3:7-10), because nobody calls it sin anymore. What is there to repent for? Actually, even more concerning, is that the poles have been reversed in modern society. Isaiah saw this over 2,500 years ago:

Ah! Those who call evil good, and good evil,

who change darkness to light, and light into darkness,

who change bitter to sweet, and sweet into bitter!

Is 5:20

And we see the effects, as did Isaiah:

Their root shall rot

and their blossom scatter like dust;

For they have rejected the instruction of the LORD of hosts,

and scorned the word of the Holy One of Israel.

Is 5:24b

And the final result:

Therefore the wrath of the LORD blazes against his people,

he stretches out his hand to strike them;

The mountains quake,

their corpses shall be like refuse in the streets.

For all this, his wrath is not turned back,

his hand is still outstretched.

Is 5:25

An age old problem about which we should not be surprised. It will get worse. But God is in charge and will render a just judgment in time and in eternity.

Through all this, our challenge is to maintain the joy the psalmist has in today’s Responsorial:

The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

Ps 126:3

How to do this? Paul — in prison mind you — encourages this prayer today to the Philippians (and to us):

[T]hat your love may increase ever more and more
in knowledge and every kind of perception,
to discern what is of value,
so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
filled with the fruit of righteousness
that comes through Jesus Christ
for the glory and praise of God.

Phil 1:9-11

Yes, “pure and blameless” is how we must face our “judges” on earth, without counting the cost, and our true judge when we meet Him when we are released from this mortal coil.

LUKE THE HISTORIAN (AND JESUS HISTORICAL)

I have long been fascinated by the dating of biblical events, most especially when Jesus lived. And He did live. Both videos make the point, particularly Bp. Barron, that there is no question Jesus is a real historical figure, and this is most explicit in Luke who specifies almost to the year the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (through John the Baptist) in today’s Gospel:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,
when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea,
and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee,
and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region
of Ituraea and Trachonitis,
and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene,
during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,
the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.

Lk 3:1-2

So, I went to my trusty commentaries and found this breakdown in the Luke volume of the great “Opening the Scriptures” series by George Martin:

  • Tiberius Caesar’s reign began, according to most scholars, in A.D. 14, so the year is 28 or 29
  • Pontius Pilate was governor from the years 26 to 36
  • Herod Antipas was tetrarch of Galilee from 4 B.C. to A.D. 39
  • Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis from 4 B.C. to A.D. 34
  • Lysanias was tetrarch o Lysanias and Abilene in the fifteenth year of Tiberius’s reign
  • Annas was high priest from A.D. 6 to 15 but retained that honorary title ongoing
  • Caiaphas was high priest from 18 until 36

It all lines up very neatly — Luke was true to his word when he says at the beginning of his Gospel that he investigated “everything accurately anew” (1:3). And since we know, from Luke again, that “[w]hen Jesus began his ministry he was about thirty years of age” (3:23), our calendar on the wall, when it tells us the year of our Lord (Anno Domini) is pretty accurate. I have seen date ranges for the birth of Jesus anywhere from 10 B.C. to 1 B.C. but 4 and 1 seem to be the most likely candidates.

JOHN AND THE WORD

A brief last note on something I only picked up on today that appears as the last words of the excerpt with which I just dealt: “the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert” (Lk 3:2b).

We know from the beginning of John’s Gospel that Jesus is the Word of God. Interestingly, John the Evangelist intersperses the John the Baptist story with the theological explanation of Jesus’ origins and the role attributed to Him (Jn 1:1-18). That may say something about my next observation.

That is, what if “the word of God” coming to John “in the desert” was Jesus Himself in the flesh? Jesus was certainly not immune from having His own desert experience (see Mt 4:1-11), although likely after John had already been in the public eye for a while. But why might He not have approached John at that earlier event? They were relatives after all. They first met in their respective wombs. And it seems unlikely to me that they would have never met afterward. But even if they did not have a personal encounter again before their respective public ministries, I would think Elizabeth would have relayed something of this first encounter to John, as Mary likely would have to Jesus (certainly the possibility exists that John’s parents kept silent, died soon after his birth, or sent him of to the Essene community at a young age). Additionally, John’s mission was clear to his father (see Lk 1:76-77) and to Jesus (see Mt 11:7-19).

Now, it might seem from later events in Scripture that John was unclear on Jesus’ identity and mission (although this is disputed, but see Jn 1:31, 33 and Mt 11:2-3 for starters). I do think it could be worked out, though, that Jesus and John still had this desert encounter.

I wish I had more time to get into it now, but it is food for thought, contemplation, and further study.

ADVENT HELPS

Week two of Barron and Hahn and Bergsma.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

I mentioned last week that as part of my Advent reading, I would be working through the first volume of Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth. What a treasure! Not the first book on the Lord I would give to the newbie (that would be Fulton Sheen’s Life of Christ), but for anyone who loves Jesus, it is a magnificent way to enhance your knowledge of and deepen your love for the Messiah. The pope emeritus’s textual, historical, and spiritual insights are the exceptional work of a man who has been intimate with his subject over a long life.

https://images5.fanpop.com/image/photos/30700000/John-The-Baptist-Jesus-Jesus-Of-Nazareth-movie-jesus-30780530-439-335.jpg
John the Baptist and Jesus in Jesus of Nazareth (1977)