Wednesday, September 7, 2011
The first ten studies of the Fourth Gospel. Enjoy.
These studies are based on Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of John by Francis. J. Moloney, S.D.B. as well as other sources listed within.
Open with PowerPoint.
Click FROM BEGINNING
Use arrow keys to navigate slides and animations.
Introduction to John, Part One
Introduction to John, Part Two
Sunday, June 5, 2011
So goes the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed
Florida Catholics, together with many other Catholics worldwide, celebrate today something that properly belongs this past Thursday, forty days after Easter Sunday held April 24. Confused? It’s okay to be confused.
The change and confusion is caused by good pastoral intentions. Although Thursday, June 2nd, was the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord for the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church this year, for pastoral reasons the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops—together with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops who obtained permission from the Holy See—always transfers it to the Seventh Sunday of Easter in all Florida dioceses. That’s why this past Thursday—although in the Church Universal the Solemnity of the Ascension—was not observed as a holy day of obligation (even though some other United States Catholic provinces DID retain the Thursday observance).
This Christian celebration dates from early times. In the Latin West the title is Ascensio, which implies the Lord Rising under his own power. In the Greek East it is called “the taking up” (Analepsis) and “salvation from above” (Episozomene). This implies, wisely, that Eastern soteriology consistently recognized that about which Saint Paul wrote to the early Roman Church:
But it was not for him alone that it was written that "it was credited to him"; it WAS ALSO FOR US, TO WHOM IT WILL BE CREDITED, who believe in the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over for our transgressions and WAS RAISED FOR OUR JUSTIFICATION.
Among Western Christians, Easter spirituality has risen and fallen over the centuries due to how well (or how poorly) we understand Christ’s redemptive work. On occasions when we rationally focus on Good Friday piling all the redemptive work there and chemically isolating that from the light of the Resurrection, Easter Sunday becomes frosting, something OUTSIDE redemption and not essential to it. But EASTER is the heart of Christ’s redemptive work, not Good Friday alone! We cannot even see the Passion properly outside the light of the Resurrection. Amen, only in the light of Easter may we pray, “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”
And so with theology of redemption and salvation skewed like this, even brilliant theologians like Saint Bernard of Clairvaux speak about the Ascension of the Lord as bearing melancholy and something depressing. This view completely misses Luke 24:50-53—
Then he led them (out) as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem WITH GREAT JOY, and they were continually in the temple praising God.
Truth be had the Passion, the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Giving of the Holy Spirit, and the Parousia are all moments in the same reality. Ascension makes sense given the Resurrection. These are not separate realities. Jesus Christ IS risen.
But just what is the ascension? Did Jesus literally “take off” into outer space? Did he have a trajectory and velocity? Can we pick him up with the Hubble Space Telescope? In other words, is the Ascension a spatial reality, a kind of space travel? Is it a physical reality?
And is the ascension like any other historical event? What exactly was the time of the ascension, any way? Analysis of the New Testament shows us that dating the ascension is troublesome. The author of Luke-Acts tells the story twice: In Luke 24 we read it occurred in the evening following the Resurrection, but in Acts 1 we read that it took place forty days after the Resurrection. John 20 does not describe it, and yet it can be interpreted as having happened some time between his garden appearance to Mary Magdalene and verse 22. Given all this, maybe the Thursday-Sunday shift in the Solemnity of the Ascension is not such a big deal after all!
Certainly we Christians proclaim Jesus to be BODILY raised. This is a very important issue. Jesus was touched (John 20:27), he appeared to eat (Luke 24:41-43), he shared words with his disciples (John 21:15-22). This is hardly Gnosticism! But the Risen Lord Paul sees has been wondrously transformed, in 1 Corinthians 15:42-44. To signify this transformed and glorified state of the Risen Lord, Paul calls his body “soma pneumatikon”—a body spiritualized, that is, with properties very different from any other body in our experience. Bodily though it may be, the Resurrection is radically different than any physical bodies we contact and experience (see Mark 16:12; Matthew 28:17; Luke 24:16, 31, 41; John 20:14, 19, 26; 21:4). This body does not grow old, or fragment, or decay, or move like all the bodies we know. The resurrection and the ascension are BODILY—but not physical. They transcend what we moderns understand as matter, energy, space and time. To experience these realities we need eyes enlightened by the Holy Spirit—would a video camera pick up a Resurrection appearance? Remember, they are most unlike any ordinary physical phenomena! The ascension was REAL but not historical.
This might be shocking for you reading this. How can a Christian deny that Christ was taken up in glory? Well I for one am not denying that. Amen, I believe he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
We must make distinctions and avoid extremes. One extreme, to the right, reduces the Resurrection appearances and the Ascension to total objectivity and says that after the resurrection Jesus manifested himself to his disciples and Paul exactly how he was. This is the objectivist (a fundamentalist Christian). He or she oversimplifies the New Testament ignoring both metaphor and symbolic language and imagery used by Paul. They turn the Resurrection of Jesus Christ into basically the resuscitation of a corpse thereby losing its reality and mystery.
The other extreme, to the left, explains the Resurrection appearances and the Ascension as totally subjective—figments of the imagination, psychogenic vision, dream, or a simple literary device employed to express something different than Jesus’ bodily resurrection. The subjectivist ignores people like Paul (Galatians 1:13-16) and James (1 Corinthians 15:7) and their resistance to belief in the Resurrection. They also ignore the empty tomb and the witness of Eye-witness martyrs who knew Jesus personally and went to death proclaiming him risen and much more.
Christians should reject both these extremes.
Scholar Roch Kereszty, in his wonderfully informative and challenging Jesus Christ: Fundamentals of Christology explains that Christians must take VERY SERIOUSLY the implications of 1 John 3:2—
Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
Kereszty explains that seeing the Lord “as he is” means seeing God “face to face.” Why? Because the divine glory of the risen Christ is no longer hidden in the earthly mortal human nature. Jesus’ humanity—while not disappearing—has been transformed by the Holy Spirit and become completely transparent, so that his divinity shines through without any diminishment or obscuring. When will such a face-to-face encounter, if ever, occur? In the Kingdom or Reign of God when we are raised, completely conformed to him.
Kereszty illustrates the reasonableness of Christian faith in the Resurrection and Ascension. In these appearances, Jesus’ true body refers him to our world, and so, it is not absurd that human beings would perceive him with their senses. But that’s not all! The Risen Jesus appearing before the disciples and Paul is not like Caesar crossing the Rubicon or Alexander’s conquests! Jesus, risen and glorified, transcends the world we see and touch and know. Thus, Kereszty adds, it makes sense that we recognize him only through eyes of faith.
Kereszty explains the term “Effective Signs” as employed by Saint Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) to describe the resurrection appearances and the Ascension. Although the resurrection appearances (including the Ascension) did EFFECTIVELY communicate to the seers the reality that Christ was risen, they were nonetheless ONLY SIGNS adapted to the seers’ senses, imagination, and limitations of the disciples. They experienced the Risen One INDIRECTLY through these effective signs. DIRECT CONTACT—face-to-face contact with the Risen Lord is impossible still; it is beyond mortal human capabilities.
So the Resurrection appearances, including the Ascension, were unique events. They were objective, but not completely objective (something out there to be seen). They were subjective, but not completely subjective (something imagined). The Risen Christ is not only before the seer; he is INSIDE the sinner, transforming his or her heart. These events are not verifiable to everyone, but only those CHOSEN witnesses (see Acts 10:41). The Resurrection—and Ascension—cannot be called an ordinary historical event.
The resurrection as it is in Jesus Christ was not something his disciples—or anyone—had expected. It is shocking. Jesus is more than Superman, more than Neo at the end of Matrix. The reality of his Ascension is far greater than the mere spectacle of the appearance to the disciples—the reality is Jesus is LORD (Philippians 2:5-11). This one event, resurrection and ascension, establishes the Lordship of the man Jesus. Raised, Jesus is the font of new and eternal life; Ascended into Heaven, he has all authority over the community of existents, visible and invisible.
Do I live like that is real? Do I live as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin expressed our Blessed Lord and as Roch Kerezsty and Norris Clarke reminds us, that Jesus Christ is the "Omega Point" in the evolution of the universe, and that my end and your end is not some cosmic disaster but eternal life and love "through him, in him, and with him"? Do I really live as though life is not absurd, and that it has meaning, and that meaning is Christ, and that my deepest longings will not be thwarted or disappointed? Do I live seeing all things sacramentally, finding God in all things, trusting that salvation, hardly some bloodless angelic existence, will be through Jesus' REDEEMED BODY enfleshed in a renewed spiritualized material Universe?
The Ascension is much more than Superman flying away, role credits. It expresses Resurrection, the fundamental reality of all Christians—Jesus is Lord. It is a call to live that way. It is a call to the Authentic Gospel.
Celebrate its mystery and live it.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Often our Blessed Lord Jesus is called a “healer.” Amen, he is. But what does it mean to heal? What is healing? How is Jesus the Healer?
Us modern Western people living in the age of science are focused on the secondary and instrumental causes of things. We get sick; we don’t go to Temple, but to Pharmacy. We feel relieved and we say “the Tylenol helped me.” It is true! God, the primary cause, helped me through the instrument of Tylenol. Sadly, in my wonderland of modern science and access to resources in the affluent United States, I neglect the primary cause.
John J. Pilch, professor of Biblical studies at Georgetown University, says we modern people look for therapies which are aetiological, i.e., we look for the scientific causes of medical ailments such as germs and viruses. The Modern Western way is therefore to seek a CURE, i.e., a therapy that effectively assumes control over a process either biological and/or psychological (= a DISEASE).
However the ancient Mediterranean cultures—of which the first century Christians and Jews were part—were very different in many ways than us, Pilch explains. They were not scientifically oriented; the ancients were so focused on the primary cause of all things, God or “the gods,” that they didn’t bother much with the secondary causes. And if they did think about causes, they were personal, because to these ancients everything that happens has a personal cause. The question for them was “who did it?” not “what happened?” As Pilch illustrates, “When a human being is not readily available to blame, then a capricious spirit must be the agent of the misfortune” (The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible, p. 161).
Ancient Christians and Jews did not make clear distinctions between natural disasters, demonic possession, and human illness. Take the Synoptic “Healing of Peter’s Mother-in-law” story. Whereas in Matthew (see 8:14-17) and Mark (see 1:29-31), Peter’s mother-in-law is bedridden until Jesus holds her hand which causes the fever to leave, in Luke’s version (4:38-39) the demon named “Fever” apparently afflicts the woman. Pilch explains, “This is implied by Jesus ‘rebuking’ the fever. Luke uses the very same word in Greek to describe Jesus’ rebuke to demons (4:35), to the windstorm (8:24), and to an unclean spirit (9:42)” (Pilch, pp. 161-162). These were things seen by ancient Mediterranean peoples as utterly beyond human control.
Therefore these ancient Mediterranean peoples did not seek the medical CURE in their therapies. Rather they concentrated on the SYMPTOMS, and attempted to manage them or alleviate them. According to Pilch, this process is called HEALING, a therapy that interprets a disease or troubling medical condition and transforms it into the meaningful cultural construction called “ILLNESS.” Through this process of HEALING the psychological, sensorial, and experiential symptoms of the medical circumstances get reduced—or even eliminated—and the sufferer finds peace, freedom and, inevitably, NEW MEANING.
When in the Fourth Gospel the disciples ask Jesus about who exactly were the culprits as to why the man born blind suffered his sad condition, Jesus replied that his blindness was neither the result of his sin nor his parents’ (see John 9:1-41). And in the Gospel stories concerning demonic possession the bad spirit is not so much the cause of the sufferer’s condition, but just another symptom, the misfortune being manifested. Jesus the healer, the liberator, is not scientifically-oriented. As he is presented in the Gospels he seems to lack a aetiological concerns.
So to recap, Modern Western people are scientifically-oriented. We focus on the secondary or instrumental cause at the expense of the primary cause (God). We seek medical CURES for DISEASES. The Ancient Mediterranean was not scientifically-oriented, but looked at the appearances (phenomena) of things. He or she focused on the primary cause (God or “the divine”) to the expense of secondary, instrumental causes. He or she sought HEALING for ILNESSES.
This is in no way to suggest that the ancient Jew or Christian was gullible or stupid! As Anthony Rizzi admonishes us in his The Science Before Science: A Guide to Thinking in the 21st Century (p. 1), an ancient “Christian took the Bible as true on faith, but he was conscious that it was faith,” whereas we modern Western people identify with the conclusions of the science (say of the earth’s motion or shape) in a dangerous blind belief, unaware that we are taking the word of an expert and do not, ourselves, genuinely know to certitude. This is dangerous—while being humble, aware that you have not done the various experiments, trusting the word of an expert in a specific science is wise, it is nonetheless most foolish to be unaware that you are merely trusting the word of the expert and in hubris think your modern so-called “knowledge” is superior to that of those pre-scientific peoples who lived before you!
But returning to our discussion on healing and cures, Jesus is a healer. He restores purposefulness and meaninging of life to those who suffer.
Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 1503
Christ's compassion toward the sick and his healings of almost every kind of infirmity are a resplendent sign that "God has visited his people."
But does Jesus go beyond healing?
Yes, Jesus comes to cure us also. He is SAVIOR. To be saved is to be made WHOLE. Jesus came to cure us, to heal us completely, to make us whole and well, that is, to save us.
But from what did Jesus come to cure and save us? He did not come to save us from medical conditions—we can safely assume that everyone Jesus healed via miracles, including those he reanimated, later died. What about social evils? I think we like the idea of Jesus the rescuer, the genie who flies in like Superman granting wishes, ready to whisper the Powerball numbers in our ears, to empower the Miami Heat to sweep the Finals (if you are a sad Miami sports fan, perhaps the saddest of all sports fans), to halt those tsunamis and earthquakes, to make our cancer and AIDS vanish, to give us good credit scores, etc. But the real Jesus is better than this mental idol, this comprehensible god and messiah. Like St. John Chrysostom says, “a comprehended god is no god.”
The real Jesus, true God and true man, came to cure us not from social injustice and political bondage, not from environmental disaster and economic collapse, not from disease and pain, which are all symptoms, but their root—sin. Jesus, the cure of sin, came to save us from sin and selfishness, the font of all suffering.
“…he will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
Did Jesus—Yeshua or Yah Saves—come to save us from pain and disease and physical torments? Jesus came to free us from sin:
First Jesus forgives the paralytic, calling him CHILD (see Matthew 9:2). THEN the miracle comes.
Forgiving sin is primary for Jesus the Savior. Forgiveness comes first. “Everything else follows,” Father Anthony de Mello writes (Seek God Everywhere: Reflections on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, p. 21). And what is sin to Jesus? Is it wrong acts and deeds? Is it failure to adhere to laws and neglecting to live up to obligations? Is it forgetting to say the right prayers? Are these the root of all suffering? No. Then to find what exactly Jesus means by “sin” we must dig deeper still.
Our Blessed Lord came to save us from the radical horror that is sin—meaning our refusal, our NO to growth, our NO to commit ourselves, our NO to become sensitive and concerned, our NO to risk, our NO to drop our mental idols through which we distort the world, and our NO to love.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
John 11:35 is short and simple.
Seems easy enough to understand, given the surrounding narrative, the death of Lazarus and his family (John 11:1-54). Or is it?
What does it mean in the Johannine story of Jesus that "Jesus wept"? Was it out of sadness? If so, for whom was Jesus sad? It is not as if Jesus, fully divine yet fully human, could not experience emotions! Of course he could! Did he weep then at the loss of his friend Lazarus, and for Mary and Martha? Was Jesus sharing the pain of the grieving here? Or was he pitying them? Or was it something else entirely?
Certainly elsewhere in the New Testament Saint Paul encourages us in Romans 12:15: "rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep." Paul teaches us the need for empathy, that is, to be sensitive to the other and share his or her life, understanding the other's point of view and communicating that you do. Empathy has been described by the wise as the gift of love that is as if you could see through the eyes of the other, but without losing the "as if." Empathy should not be confused with sympathy, which is only pity or sorrow for the other.
And certainly Jsus is with us through our darkest hour, our most troubled times. Jesus, true God and true man, is with us in our pain and suffering.
Not to discount that profound truth, I think from what I have learned, there is much more here. How we look at something affects what we take from it. We have to remember that the sacred authors did not envision 21st century Westerners as their audience when they wrote the stories that would become the Bible. The Holy Spirit does have a Word for us through these many words and expressions and literary genres, but we are audience in a secondary sense. We are eavesdropping every time we read the Scriptures, listening in on an ancient faith dialogue between God and our fathers and mothers in faith, both Jew and Christian. We have to carefully investigate, as best we can, the original meaning of the text in its historical and literary context. We must carefully refrain from reading our own opinions into those verses which does violence to the text.
The Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, n. 12:
“The interpreter must look for that meaning the sacred writers, in given situations and granted the circumstances of their time and culture, intended to express and did in fact express through the MEDIUM of a contemporary literary form. For the correct understanding of what the sacred author wanted to assert, due attention must be paid to the customary and characteristic styles of feeling, speaking and narrating which prevailed at the time of the sacred writer, and to the patterns men normally employed at that period in their everyday dealings with one another.”
Good scholarly commentaries help. The following was helped by Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of John by Francis J. Moloney, S.D.B.. Lets break this section of Scripture down:
According to scholar Raymond Brown, this account of the miracle of reanimating Lazarus serves the purposes of Johannine theology. Following Brown, Moloney sees this section thus:
c) Vv. 11:17-27—Jesus encounters Martha. Jesus reveals himself as the resurrection and the life but is misunderstood by Martha.
d) Vv. 11:28-37—Jesus encounters Mary. After she initially surpasses her sister Martha’s confession of Jesus she falters and joins “the Jews” in their weeping and false understanding of Jesus.
e) Vv. 11:38-44—The miracle, the Seventh Sign in the Fourth Gospel. Jesus calls forth Lazarus, that doubting and unbelieving characters might believe that he is the Sent One of God.
f) VV. 11:45-54—The decision of “the Jews.” The leaders decide that Jesus must die. The full significance of this death is provided by the narrator as Jesus and his disciples leave the scene and go to Ephraim.
(Note on the use of "the Jews" -- this is a blunt term the Fourth Gospel uses repeatedly throughout its narrative in reference to the opponents of Jesus. It is placed in quotation marks because "the Jews" does not refer to the Jewish people as such but those characters who have fixed their minds incorrigibly about Jesus and the Johannine community at the end of the First Century -- it is not an endorsement for antisemitism.)
The Special Sister and the Sent One from God
To understand (d) we need to get into its surroundings. We now look closely at vv. 32-36—
…Then Mary, when she came where Jesus was and saw him, fell at his feet, saying to him, "Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; and he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”…
According to Moloney Lazarus’ death should never be the center of Mary’s attention, or anyone’s. Up until now she was totally focused on Jesus, responding to the voice of the Good Shepherd (see 11:28-29; cf. Jn 3:8, 29; 5:25, 28; 10:3-4, 16-17, 27; cf. particularly 10:1-18; also please note 5:37). Whereas in her own encounter with Jesus Martha had taken the initiative on every turn (11:21-22, 24, 27), Mary—one of the Good Shepherd’s own sheep—was called forth by the word of Jesus.
Mary is the special sister, the Lord’s own, in the Johannine narrative. She approaches Jesus differently than Martha, and upon seeing him falls at his feet (11:32—idousa auton epesen autou pros tous podas). And though from this low position repeats PARTIALLY the confession of Martha (cf. 11:22) in 11:32b—“Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died—she OMITS Martha’s REASON FOR CONFIDENCE (“whatever you ask from God, God will grant to you”). In other words, unlike Martha, Mary does not box Jesus into being a “Miracle Worker.” Her confession of Jesus simply states unconditional trust in the power of the presence of Jesus. This means that Mary, not Martha, accepts Jesus’ revelation of himself as the resurrection and the life (cf. 11:25-26). In this story Mary has true faith (11:29, 32); Martha falls short of true faith (11:21-22, 24, 27).
But then, disaster! By weeping Mary switches her attention from Jesus to her dead brother. Mary succumbs to the weeping of “the Jews” (11:33). Jesus sees her weeping, and “the Jews” who are with her also weeping (11:33ab). Result: he is strangely moved. It is not compassion that moves Jesus to anger in spirit and TROUBLES him (11:33c). Nor is it lack of compassion. What is it? Frustration and angry disappointment (enebrimēsato) manifested in a deep, shuddering internal emotion (etaraxen) moves Jesus.
Jesus’ ministry draws to a close. He is frustrated. Mary had earlier displayed every sign of transcending the limited expectations of “the Jews” (11:31) and the failure of the disciples (11:12, 16) and Martha (11:21-22, 24, 27) to understand the significance of the death of Lazarus and Jesus’ self-revelation as the resurrection and the life (11:25-26). Mary has joined “the Jews” in their tears (11:33a)! Up until now the narrative reports that the only ones who have been crying are “the Jews” (11:19, 31). So this is HORRIFICALLY DISAPPOINTING FOR JESUS!—after initially authentic faith in Jesus, she turns away from Jesus to join “the Jews” in the tears of unfaith!
Do you see why Jesus reacts this way? WILL NO ONE COME TO FAITH? By reversing her earlier unconditional acceptance of Jesus (11:28-32), she does something that occasions anger and severe disappointment in Jesus. Nonetheless he must still continue his mission. He must wake Lazarus from sleep (11:11) and glorify God, and through this event be glorified (11:4).
Jesus asks to be led to the tomb of Lazarus, “THEY” invite him to “come and see” (11:34). The context demands that it is Mary and “the Jews” (11:33) who issue this invitation. Mary now has total association with “the Jews” leads Jesus to tears (11:35). “The Jews”—like many reading this passage—completely misunderstand the tears as a demonstration of Jesus’ love for the dead Lazarus (11:36). But in Greek the weeping of Jesus (dakryō) is not the same as the weeping of Mary and “the Jews” (klaiō), and Jesus’ tears therefore cannot be associated with the surrounding mourning process.
Why then did Jesus weep?
He wept because of the DANGER that his unconditional gift of himself in love as the Good Shepherd (cf. 10:11, 14-15), the resurrection and the life who offers life here and hereafter to all who would believe in him (11:25-26), will never be understood or accepted. Jesus weeps his frustration!
What do you all think about this?
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Step One: The Birth of Jesus -- Two Gospel Narratives
Step Two: Introductory Matterials and Proper Interpretation of the Gospel Matterial
Step Three: The Gospel of Matthew's Infancy Narrative
Step Four: The Gospel of Luke's Infancy Narrative
Step Five: Conclusion: The Historicity of the Infancy Narratives, Similarities Between Matthean and Lucan Infancy Narratives, The Birth of Jesus Today, and Self-Check