Wednesday, October 12, 2005
The Gospel Of Justification
Yesterday we began reading from Paul's letter to the Romans; we will be reading from it until November 5, 2005 in our daily masses. If one listens to fundamentalist and non-Catholic preachers, one gets the impression that 1:16-3:20 is a strong indictment against the sins of humanity and that Paul pronounces it in view of the end times that is about to come. I'd rather look at the section not as a threat but as an introduction to the heart of Paul's gospel of justification. In effect, Paul presents the case of humanity's sinfulness to show that God has considered it and therefore has sent his only Son as a solution to man's existential problem. The emphasis is not so much the condemnation that hangs on humankind like the perennial threat of Damocles' sword. The emphasis rather is on the mercy of God and the grace that he reveals in Christ. The condemnation is great, the threat is real, but God's love is greater than this. 1:16-3:20 is better understood in the light of what Paul says all throughout his Gospel of Justification, especially in the words which conclude his argument on Justification:
For I am convinced that neighter death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, norpowers, nor height, nor depth nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, Our Lord. (8:38)
Edited on: Wednesday, October 12, 2005 8:13 AM
Categories: Liturgy, New Testament
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
Mt. 22:1-14 The Wedding Garment
Another parable proposed by the Lord as a reply to those who ask about his authority (cf. 21:23-27) is about a wedding feast. A king's son was going to be married and so gives out the invitation to those whom he usually invites. These excused themselves due to other commitments. Not only that, some of them even killed the king's messengers (vv.2-6). The king answers with a violent reprisal (v.7). With the usual guests finished off, the king sends out his messengers once more to call in anyone -- both good and bad -- into the banquet. And so the banquet did get underway.
If we compare the parable at this point to the other parables that Jesus tells his interlocutors., we can say that the present one is telling the same thing:
1. Those who refused, stand for the Jews who turned away from the invitation to the reign of God. (21:43)
2. The reprisal of the king, already hinted at in the previous parable about the tenants of the vineyard, represents the judgment that will laid upon the wicked, i.e., those who refuse the invitation of God's grace.(cf. 21:40-41)
3. Finally, those who respond to the invitation are like the tax collectors and the prostitutes in the parable of the two sons (21:28-32) who respond to the call of the Baptist to conversion. (cf. 21:32)
Apart from this, there are echoes of banquet-sayings uttered by the Lord regarding the replacement of those normally invited by others as in Mt. 8:11-13.
But then, there is a second part to the parable...
During the party itself, the king arrived to meet the guests. He saw one who was not in the proper wedding garb. Jewish culture demands that everyone come in the proper attire for a banquet. Since banquets last for some days, anyone invited can come at one's leisure in the proper garb. The man had no excuse for coming without the proper clothing. When asked by the king about his clothing, he shut his mouth (that is what phimotheti means; other translations settle for "he had nothing to say"). And that was in the culture of the times very rude. So the king orders that the man be thrown out of the party.
Then the king said to the attendants, "Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth." (v. 13)
One might as well ask: "Is the punishment proportionate to the offense? Did the man deserve to be bound hand and foot and thrown out into the darkness?" If it were just a story, perhaps we can say it was too much. The problem is, it is not just a story. The parable has all the elements of a judgment scenario: the wedding banquet, the implied wedding, the war on the wicked, the white garment for the wedding, the outer darkness. The last quoted phrase itself occurs in other parts of Matthew in the context of judgment:
Mt. 8:11-12: I tell you many will come from east and west and sit at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.
Mt. 13:41-42: The Son of man will send his angels and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.
Mt. 24:50-51: The Master of that (faithless) servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him and put him with the hypocrites; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.
Mt. 25:40: Cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.
Given these facts, therefore, what does the white garment point to? The answer I think is hinted at that part of the New Testament where the elements of this parable -- wedding feast, war, white garment -- can be found one other time: Revelation 19:1-21:8. In this section we find the clean white robe as representing "the righteous deeds of the saints" (Rev. 19:8).
Monday, October 03, 2005
Mt. 21-33-46 The Tenants of the Vineyard
Mt. 21:33-46 is a parable closely following that found in vv. 28-32 which deal with the question: "Who is doing the Father's will?" Both parables are tied up together by the same image, that of the "vineyard." In the parable under consideration, Jesus hooks up with the Vineyard Song in Isaiah 5:1-7 which is actually plaintive song regarding a vineyard that refuses to give off its fruits inspite of the attention given to it by its owner. The resemblance however is immediately cut off after Mt. 21:33, for what follows is the story of a rebellion. The tenants of the vineyard refuse to give the owner his portion of the yield. Instead, they kill off the owner's messengers one by one (vv.34-36). Finally, the owner sends his son, the one who will inherit the vineyard. But he too was killed by those tenants (37-39). The parable ends with a question: "What do you think will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants?" And the answer should have brought the parable to a conclusion:
He will put those wretches to a misrable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their proper season.
Transfer of Privileges
At this point in the story, one is reminded of moments in salvation history where a privilege given by God to a place or to a person is withdrawn and given to another. This is the case of Shiloh and King Saul. Shiloh was the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant until it was transferred to David's Jerusalem. King Saul enjoyed the privilege of God's election until that privilege was taken away from him and given to David. The vineyard will be "let out to other tenants..." In Romans 9-11 we find Paul explaining why the Jews have ceased to be the People of God since the privilege has been given to the Church. The parable in Mt. 21:33-46 intimates why: in killing the owner's son and wanting to inherit the vineyard for themselves, the tenants were revealing their evil intent towards the owner. They too wanted him killed so that they can have his property. The graphic illustration of hatred towards the owner is first acted out against his son. Isn't it that to accept Jesus is to accept the One Who Sent Him? So conversely, anyone who hates Jesus, hates the Father. In this story of the Tenants of the Vineyard, the story of Israel's rejection of God's Messiah is actually presaged. And the Pharisees and chief priests understood it quite clearly! (cf. 45-46)
That the story is about Christ's rejection is quite clear in v. 42 where Jesus quotes from Ps. 118:22-23:
The very stone which the builders rejected
has become the head of the corner
this was the Lord's doing
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
Early Christian preaching has used this passage to refer to the rejection of Jesus by his people and the subsequent vindication he receives from God in the resurrection (cf. Acts 4:11; 1 Pet 2:7) . A cornerstone is prepared for a new edifice. The mention of it in the context of the parable intimates points to Jesus as the cornerstone of a new building. And God Himself will make this happen. We know when it does happen: at the glorification of Christ.
The Fruits that will be Rendered Back
The parable mentions the fruits that will finally be made available to the owner of the vineyard once the proper changes are made. In Matthew, as in the Gospels, "fruit" is most often associated with righteousness, hence "fruits of righteousness" and conversely, "fruits of wickedness" Below are the occurences of the word "fruit" and "fruits" in Matthew's gospels. Note that it is only in the case of the fig tree that Jesus curses and the parable of the farmer, where the meaning of "fruit" is not moral; while in Mt. 26, the reference is to the wine of the Last Supper.:
Mt 3:8 Bring forth therefore fruit worthy of penance.
Mt 3:10 For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that doth not yield good fruit, shall be cut down, and cast into the fire.
Mt 7:17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and the evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
Mt 7:18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit.
Mt 7:19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire.
Mt 12:33 Either make the tree good and its fruit good: or make the tree evil, and its fruit evil. For by the fruit the tree is known.
Mt 13:8 And others fell upon good ground: and they brought forth fruit, some an hundred fold, some sixty fold, and some thirty fold.
Mt 13:23 But he that received the seed upon good ground, is he that heareth the word, and understandeth, and beareth fruit, and yieldeth the one an hundredfold, and another sixty, and another thirty.
Mt 13:26 And when the blade was sprung up, and had brought forth fruit, then appeared also the cockle.
Mt 21:19 And seeing a certain fig tree by the way side, he came to it and found nothing on it but leaves only. And he saith to it: May no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And immediately the fig tree withered away.
Mt 21:41 They say to him: He will bring those evil men to an evil end and let out his vineyard to other husbandmen that shall render him the fruit in due season.
Mt 26:29 And I say to you, I will not drink from henceforth of this fruit of the vine until that day when I shall drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father.
Mt 7:16 By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Mt 7:20 Wherefore by their fruits you shall know them.
Mt 21:34 And when the time of the fruits drew nigh, he sent his servants to the husbandmen that they might receive the fruits thereof.
Mt 21:43 Therefore I say to you that the kingdom of God shall be taken from you and shall be given to a nation yielding the fruits thereof.
In other words, the "fruit" that is referred to in this passage are not different from the "fruits of the Spirit" mentoned in Gal. 5 or the lasting fruits by which the Father is honored in John 15.
Monday, September 26, 2005
The New Otium Sanctum
I am transferring some of my files from the old Otium Sanctum to this new one. Please bookmark the site since the URL is quite long or just remember this SnipURL: http://snipurl.com/otiumsanctum. The article entitled "St. Augustine on the Reading of Scriptures" has been transferred to the new site.
Thursday, September 22, 2005
Luke For The WeekBelow are my reflections on this week's readings from Luke . Only on Wednesday is their a selection from Matthew.
Edited on: Monday, November 28, 2005 4:29 PM
Categories: Liturgy, New Testament
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Build My House
The theme of the weekday readings for the 25th Week in OT Year A is "Build My House". Readings are selected from Ezra, and two minor* prophets who are mentioned in Ezra 5: Haggai and Zechariah. The week starts off with the edict of Cyrus in 538 BC, the end of the exile (Ezra 1:1-6). In this edict, the Emperor calls upon interested Jews** to go back to their land and rebuild the temple of Jerusalem. In Ezra 6:7-20 one finds the edict of Darius (521-485) which reiterates the building of the Temple. He orders that the taxes be used for the financing of the construction and commands that a steady supply of animals be given to the priests to offer as sacrifices offered continually in the temple. Due Darius' support, the temple is rebuilt.
Ephesians 4:1-13 actually continues the theme of building up the Temple of the Lord but from a different perspective, that of the New Testament. The Lord's Body is His Temple. Paul urges the Ephesians to live according to their vocation to holiness, striving at the same time to preserve their unity. The unity of the Body of Christ is based on the oneness
- of the Body itself
- of the Spirit that gives it life
- of the hope to which Christians are called
- of the Lord who is one
- of faith
- of baptism
- of God, who is Father of all
This unity is not to be contrasted with the diversity of gifts that the Lord has procured for his Church. There are different charisms given to different members of the Church but all these are for the "building up of the Body of Christ." It must be noted that here, Paul uses the language of human growth -- "maturity", "full stature" -- because he is emphasizing the organically vital dimension of the Mystical Body of Christ.
Haggai is mentioned together with Zechariah in Ezra 5 as those prophets who protested against the discontinuation of the rebuilding of the Temple. In Haggai 1:1-8, the prophet attributes the economic difficulties of the Jews to the ruined state of the Temple. The prophecy can be summarized thus: "Build the temple that all may go well with you" (vv. 7-11). In Haggai 2:1-9, the prophet answers those who are saying that the completed Temple looks dismal and that it lacks the glory of the old one. Noteworthy in this prophecy is the reiteration of God's promise "I am with you." There is also the words "One moment yet, a little while" which is echoed in John's Gospel. "A little while" is the period of time which separates present hardship from future glory. Finally, God's future temple will be far more glorious than the first one. This prophecy does not refer to the temple that King Herod will build and which the disciples will be marvellling at. It refers to the Temple of the Lord, His Body. Thus, with Haggai's voice, we hear the announcement of the Church.
Zechariah's prophecy repeats in some ways what Haggai said about God's dwelling among his people. Alluding to the pillar of fire that accompanied the Israelites in the Desert, he says that God will once more protect His people like a surrounding fire. But God will not only protect His people and exact vengeance on those who have hurt them. He will dwell in their midst, just as He did before (in the Tent of Meeting). The prophecy makes sense if one situates it AFTER the completion of the second temple. The dismal looking temple that the returning Jews managed to finish -- according to this prophecy -- should not trouble them for God's presence among His people is much more important than any temple built for any god whatsoever.
*"Minor" does not mean "less important". The term refers to the books ascribed to them: these are very short books, so they are called "minor."
**Jews. Technically, "Israel" no longer existed. Only those who were
from Judah returned. The exiles of 721 BC are no longer mentioned.
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Dr. Enright and Forgiveness
A propos this blog, I received a dispatch from Zenit regarding an interview with a psychologist about forgiveness. Please read this article posted at A Glitch In Time. In last Sunday's homily on the theme of forgiveness, I pointed out three steps in forgiving:
1. Stop hating the offending person
2. Forget the reason for the hatred
3. Love the offender
These three steps corresponded to the process that arouses hatred/anger towards an offender:
1. An offense is made that is seen as an attack towards one; anger is
2. One remembers the offense and lets it simmer; anger becomes hatred.
3. When the offender is thus hated, one begins to "objectify" him.
Thus, in the process thus described, one has not really forgiven the other person unless one makes the step to love him, that is, to treat him once more as a person. In the Enright interview, the psychologist is quoted as he describes the process he uses in forgiveness therapy:
for those who cannot forgive, I ask, “Are you ready to explore what forgiveness is and is not?” Such a question does not ask a person to forgive, but instead to examine what forgiveness is.
If a person has examined the dimensions of forgiveness, I ask, “Are you ready to examine forgiveness in its most basic form toward the one who hurt you? Are you willing to try to do no harm toward that person?” Notice that this question does not ask the person to love the offender, but to refrain from the negative, to refrain from harming even in subtle ways.
Next comes the question “Do you wish the person well?” Notice that this shifts the focus to the positive, toward at least a wishing, if not a deliberate acting toward, wellness in the other person.
All of these questions are intended to move the offended person a little closer to love. If a person still refuses to forgive, we must realize that their emphatic “no” today is not necessarily the final word. That person may change tomorrow. (More here)
Edited on: Wednesday, September 14, 2005 3:22 PM
Categories: Devotional, New Testament
Monday, September 12, 2005
Sirach On Forgiveness: A Doorway To The Lord's Prayer
The Gospels did not grow out of the Old Testament, we know that. Between the Two Testaments, there is a jump in quality because of the figure of Jesus Christ. It would be naive to think that the Old Testament writings, read in a particular way can lead one to the Letters of Paul and the Gospels. In fact, we know that the whole New Testament is a product of the rereading of the Jewish scriptures in the light of the death and resurrection of Christ. And yet, there are some passages in the Jewish Scriptures that show some continuity between Old and New Testaments. A case in point is today's OT reading: Sirach 27:30-28:7*
Wrath and anger are hateful things,
yet the sinner hugs them tight.
The vengeful will suffer the Lord's vengeance,
for he remembers their sins in detail.
Forgive your neighbor's injustice;
then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven,
Should a man nourish anger against his fellows
and expect healing from the Lord?
Should a man refuse mercy to his fellows
yet seek pardon for his own sins?
Remember your last days, set enmity aside;
remember death and decay, and cease from sin!
Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor,
Think of the Most High's covenant, and overlook faults.
Note the bold phrases in black. These sentences actually echo the Lord's Prayer ("Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors") and the Beatitudes ("Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."). The lines in blue actually bases forgiveness and the love (opposite of hate) of neighbor in the commandments, specifically, in the commandments given at Sinai. Does not Paul echo this passage in Rom. 13:10 where he writes: "Love does not evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law."
*The Wisdom of Ben-Sirach is Jewish Scriptures; the Essenes of Qumran had it among their scrolls. It is inspired writing among the Jews of the Diaspora (the Alexandrine Old Testament gives witness to this). The Pharisees excluded it from their Hebrew canon after 70 AD; it is the Pharisaic canon which is used today by Protestants.
Mt. 18:21-35: Forgiveness From The Heart
We can sympathize with Peter when he asks: "Lord, how many times should I forgive a brother who wrongs me?" And we find the answer to the question difficult to accept: "Don't count the times you forgive.*" And then, so as to quash any objections that may arise from his reply, the Lord immediately proposes a parable about a man who was freed from a large debt by his master, the king, but who would not do the same for a person who owed him a mere paltry sum. When the king heard what the man did, he had him imprisoned until he paid back all he owed to him. And the Lord concludes the parable with these ominous words: "My heavenly Father will treat you in exactly the same way unless each of you forgives his brother from the heart."
"To forgive from the heart." Seen within the context of Matthew 18:21-35, the phrase means both forgiving with compassion and forgetting the wrong done. The king had compassion on the man who owed him a large debt and therefore freed him from it. The word for compassion used here is the same word that the Gospels use for the compassion that Jesus feels for the crowds who come to him for healing. Splanchnizomai, is a strong emotion that is felt in the center of one's being. The king experienced it when the man in the parable pleaded for more time to pay what he owed. Knowing that the large amount cannot be paid in a lifetime, anyway**, the king wrote off the debt. But the man, having been freed from a debt he could not pay, would not write off the debt of one who can pay his in this lifetime. Thus, the sadness of those who witness the man who has been treated graciously deal with a fellow in a similar situation in a cruel manner. Thus, too, the harshness of the king when he hears about it.
When was the last time you forgave from the heart?
"Forgive us our sins as we forgave those who sin against us." This is the daily prayer of the Christian. In that short petition, we are asking the Heavenly Father to forgive us not out of his sheer mercy, but in the measure that we forgive others. It actually sounds as if we are saying: "Because I forgive others, forgive me too." I have written about the Jewish roots of this idea, so I won't repeat it here. But in the light of this petition, wouldn't it be quite presumptuous for me to ask God's forgiveness when I have excluded certain people from forgiveness.
There are people who think that forgiveness means that one stop from hating a person who given offense. They would accept an apology but would not forget the offense committed. The memory of the offense is allowed to remain at the back of one's head like a mine that one has buried in a field and forgotten there. Sooner or later, one will step on that mine and detonate it. The memory of an offense can be buried so deep that one would think it is no longer there. When it is aroused however (by a similar incident or by the same person) it can still cause quite a bit of turmoil. How many people are there who go through life seething with an anger whose cause they can no longer remember, or even recognize?
When was the last time you forgave from the heart?
Stop hating, ... forget the reason for the hatred. "Forgive and forget," they say. But this isn't forgiveness yet. Until one allows compassion to be a part of it, then one's act of forgiveness is incomplete. Compassion in the Gospels moves one to do something good for the other. Remember the parable of the Good Samaritan? It was compassion that differentiated the Samaritan from the priest and the Levite who also saw the suffering man by the roadside. It is compassion too that made the king in the parable write off the large debt owed to him thereby allowing his debtor a new lease on life, so to speak. Unless one's forgiveness actually moves one to also do something good for the person forgiven, then the forgiveness one offers is like a cold handshake -- it will not warm the hearts of those who receive it.
Seven times seventy-seven is five hundred and thirty-nine times. With the figure, it becomes highly impractical to remember how many times one forgives one particular person. What the Lord is saying is "as your brother does not count how many times he wrongs you, so too, do not count how many times you forgive him."
The "talanton" and the "denarii" that are contrasted in the parable as the respective amounts owed by the man to the king on the one hand, and that owed by a fellow servant represent huge disproportionate amounts. The Filipino version I am using actually translates those words in terms of PHP 10,000,000.00 as opposed to PHP 500.00.
Edited on: Wednesday, September 14, 2005 2:22 PM
Categories: Liturgy, New Testament
Thursday, September 08, 2005
Col. 3:1-11 Life Between Christ's Glorification and His Return In Glory
Col. 3:1-11 is the first part of Paul's theological introduction to the practical guidelines section of his letter to the Colossians (3:18-4:9). The second part is in 3:12-17. That these sections dwell on the life of the baptized between the time of Christ's glorification and his coming again in glory is suggested in the lines "you have been raised with Christ"(v. 1)... and "you also will appear with him in glory" (v. 4). Taking these two moments as reference points for the Christian life, how is the Christian to live?
(1b)Seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at
the right hand of God
(2) Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
Note the parallelism in these lines. To seek the things that are above (ano), is to set ones mind on things that are above (ano) . Paul is here actually drawing a conclusion from an idea that should be obvious to his readers: the Christian has become -- through baptism -- so united with Christ that he is even now joined with Christ at the right hand of God. The Christian, in other words, is already among heavenly things! Hence, he has to fix his gaze and his hopes on those things which are proper to his new nature.
It is normal for people to think that in terms of "below-above" when we think of the spiritual life: I am "below" and God is "above". Hence, in order to be near Him, I should "go up." Isn't it that the whole idea of "ascesis" is "to ascend" as implied in the words "ascetic" and "asceticism"? Paul knew this "ascetic mentality" and talks about it in Col. 2:23, and he dismisses it as "having an appearance of wisdom in promoting rigour of devotion and self-abasement and severity to the body but they are of no value in checking the indulgence of the flesh." Rather he points to an asceticism that is more real and more in accord with the present situation of the Christian, an asceticism that is possible because rooted in the recreation of the human being.
Paul writes that the Christian's life is "hid with Christ in God" (v.3) and that the Christian -- in baptism -- "has put off the old nature with its practices and has put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator." (v. 10). The Christian has been created anew in Christ. The new nature that Paul refers to is the new humanity created by God in Christ and to which the Christian shares in by virtue of his baptism. Christ is "the image of the invisible God" writes Paul in Col. 1:15 and it is in this image that the new humanity is renewed in knowledge (3:10). The Christian, may look as human as anybody else outwardly; but this is only because his life is hid. As Christ when walking among us looked just like us and talked like us, so too, the Christian is by all appearances human. Only God can see who he truly is. In the end, Paul writes, when Christ appears in glory, so the Christian will also be revealed as God knows and sees him, to all (cf. Romans 7:19).
The new status of the Christian apud Deum has consequences for his daily life (3:5-17). Since he is no longer an "earth-bound-and-death-bound" being, he now has a life that is Christ-like and Spirit-filled. It is this life which Paul describes as "living IN Christ" (cf. 2:6-11)