Friday, April 24, 2015

National Catholic Bible Conference

Other TSP contributors have been there in the past.  I'll be giving these talks:
* "How to Get through the Bible in an Hour": A one-hour journey through Scripture, showing how God is always inviting us to become part of his family through a covenant.
 * "Building Holy Families: Lessons from Genesis": The Book of Genesis describes the origin of all things, including the family.  We need to get back to our roots.
* "The 'Passion' of Marriage: Foundation of the Family": Did you know the Cross was also a wedding?  That's how the Apostle John saw it.  The Sacrament of Marriage flows from Jesus' self-gift on the Cross.  Once that is understood, our view of marriage is never the same. 

(The add is pretty epic, no?  I hope I get that full orchestration backup while speaking.)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

"He opened their minds to understand the scriptures": Readings for the Third Sunday of Easter

Two themes are underscored by this Sunday's lectionary readings. First, Jesus' passion was anticipated by the prophets. Second, Jesus died for a purpose, namely, the forgiveness of sins.

As the lectionary will also make clear, however, recognizing these truths is not simply the result of rationalistic biblical interpretation. It requires faith.

FIRST READING: Acts 3:13-15, 17-19
Peter said to the people:
“The God of Abraham,
the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,
the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus,
whom you handed over and denied in Pilate’s presence
when he had decided to release him.
You denied the Holy and Righteous One
and asked that a murderer be released to you.
The author of life you put to death,
but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses.
Now I know, brothers,
that you acted out of ignorance, just as your leaders did;
but God has thus brought to fulfillment
what he had announced beforehand
through the mouth of all the prophets,
that his Christ would suffer.
Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.”
There are many fascinating aspects of Peter's speech. Among other things, he refers to Jesus as the "author of life" (or "prince of life"; archēgon tēs zōēs), a reference that might be seen as highlighting Jesus' divinity (though that could be disputed, hence the interesting discussion).

However, here let us focus on one particular aspect of this passage: Peter insists that Christ's suffering was foretold by the prophets.

Specifically, the language employed by Peter seems to link Jesus to Isaiah's famous "Suffering Servant" passage.

The reference to Jesus as the God's "servant" and as the "Righteous One" evokes Isaiah 53:11, "by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous".[1]  Of course, there is something ironic here: the "author/prince of life" is also a "servant".

That Peter speaks of Jesus' passion and death, of course, also fits well with an allusion to Isaiah's Servant passage, since that figure is described as suffering:
3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:3-5)
Finally, Peter explains why his audience ought to repent and believe in Jesus: "that your sins may be wiped away" (Acts 3:19). It is hard not to hear echoes of Isaiah 53 in this. Isaiah explains the Suffering Servant dies in order to bring about the forgiveness of sins:
"he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed" and that he shall "make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities" (Isaiah 53:11). 
The speech of Peter, then, emphasizes that Jesus' death was anticipated by the prophets (namely, Isaiah). Recognition of this, Peter insists, should lead to faith. While the rejection of Jesus was the result of ignorance, looking back it should now be clear that everything that happened to Jesus was a result of God's plan. Comprehending this--realizing that, in fact, Jesus' death was in accordance with the divine plan--should lead to repentance and conversion.

In short, for Peter, conversion is the result of understanding the Christ-event in view of the scriptures. The Gospel, however, will also make it clear that such an understanding is not possible without faith.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Speaking in Dubuque Next Weekend

I'm looking forward to visiting the great state of Illinois this weekend and early next week for a wonderful parish mission at St. Mary's Parish in East Dubuque.  A copy of the parish flyer:

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The Great Reversal: The Second Sunday in Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday

For the second Sunday of Easter, or Divine Mercy Sunday, the Church sets before us a combination of texts that helps to illuminate the nature of ”the great reversal”[1] inaugurated in the resurrection of Jesus, beginning with our first reading from Acts 4:32-35.

First Reading: Acts 4:32-35
The community of believers was of one heart and mind,
and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.
With great power the apostles bore witness
to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus,
and great favor was accorded them all.
There was no needy person among them,
for those who owned property or houses would sell them,
bring the proceeds of the sale,
and put them at the feet of the apostles,
and they were distributed to each according to need.
In order to best comprehend the inner rationale of this passage, it is important to take a step back and briefly examine the resurrection itself against the various eschatological expectations in second Temple Judaism. While there was not a single view regarding the afterlife in second Temple Judaism, for those who expected the resurrection of the body, for many it was seen as an event that would occur in the age to come. One passage that points in this direction is Daniel 12, where the righteous are resurrected and shine like the stars of heaven.

With the resurrection of Jesus, something unexpected happens: one man is raised before all the rest, inaugurating the age to come by defeating death. What is more, the resurrection of Christ serves to produce in his followers a manner of living that demonstrates a willingness to invest in this dawning new world, and this can be seen in the disciples willingness to give of their own possessions in order to help those in need.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

The Easter Vigil 2015

Brant, Michael and I belong to a school of thought that sees covenant as a central concept in biblical theology, particularly Catholic biblical theology.  Such an approach has strong support in the text of Scripture and in the tradition and liturgy of the Church, and would seem to be a "no-brainer," yet there are those who oppose it and de-emphasize the significance of covenant for interpreting the Scriptures in the Church.  For that reason, it's necessary periodically to justify this approach.

When I teach biblical theology, I focus on a series of covenants which are central to the economy of salvation: the (1) Creation (or Adamic; Genesis 1-3; Hosea 6:7), (2) Noahic (David Noel Freedman preferred "Noachian"; Genesis 9), (3) Abrahamic (Genesis 15, 17, 22); (4) Mosaic (Exodus 24), (5) Davidic (2 Samuel 7; Psalm 89); and (6) New (Jeremiah 31:31; Luke 22:20).  It has always struck me, and my students, how well this overview of the divine economy accords with the readings of the lectionary of the Mass, especially the readings of the Easter Vigil.

I'll proceed to point out how all these covenants appear in various forms in the seven Old Testament readings that form the backbone of the Liturgy of the Word for the Vigil.

1. The First Reading:

Was Plato a Prophet of Christ?

I've been trying to work through Plato's Republic in my "spare time" in an effort to be cultured and well-read like everyone says we ought to be—actually, at the suggestion of Alvin Plantinga, who lists the Republic as one of the three books everyone educated person should have read.  In any event, I came across a striking passage some weeks ago from Book II of the Republic, during Socrates dialogue with Glaucon.  The two are discussing the nature of justice, and whether it is really better to be a just rather than an unjust person.  Glaucon adopts the extreme Machiavellian (atheist-materialist) position that it is better to be unjust than just, because the wicked person prospers in this life, while the good person suffers and experiences abuse.  Christian readers will see correlations here with Wisdom of Solomon 2 and the passion narratives of the Gospels:

"On the first day of the week. . .": Readings for the Mass of Easter Day

Here I thought I'd offer some thoughts on the readings for the Mass of Easter Day. (For the Easter Vigil readings, go here for John Bergsma's fine commentary from last year.)

Happy Easter in advance!

FIRST READING: Acts 10:34a, 37-43
Peter proceeded to speak and said:
“You know what has happened all over Judea,
beginning in Galilee after the baptism
that John preached,
how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth
with the Holy Spirit and power.
He went about doing good
and healing all those oppressed by the devil,
for God was with him.
We are witnesses of all that he did
both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.
They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.
This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible,
not to all the people, but to us,
the witnesses chosen by God in advance,
who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
He commissioned us to preach to the people
and testify that he is the one appointed by God
as judge of the living and the dead.
To him all the prophets bear witness,
that everyone who believes in him
will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”
In the First Reading, Peter explains that Jesus is the "Christ". The term is the Greek equivalent of "Messiah". Both terms, of course, mean "Anointed One". Here Peter tells us that God "anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power" (Acts 10:38). Here we see that the "Spirit" is inseparable from Jesus' identity as "Christ".

In the Old Testament, we read that kings (as well as priests and prophets) were anointed. The anointing oil seems to have been linked with the coming of the Spirit. I cannot fully develop this here but let me simply highlight one passage where this is clear: the anointing of David. In 1 Samuel 16 we read:
"Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed [David] in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. (1 Sam 16:13)." 
We might also mention Isaiah 61:
"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me" (Isa 61:1).
What is the Christ? He is the "anointed one", i.e., he is the one who comes in the Spirit. 

Thursday, April 02, 2015

20 Observations from Thomas Aquinas on the Gospel of John's PassionNarrative

In the past, we here at have offered commentary on the Good Friday readings. (Here is last year's fine commentary from John Bergsma).

While the lectionary for Sundays and Holy Days follows a three year cycle, the readings for the Good Friday service remain the same every year. So you can go back and read those commentaries if you'd like--they are just as relevant now as they were when we originally posted them.

Instead of essentially re-doing a past post, I thought this year I'd offer something a little different. (Besides, I don't think I can top John's excellent work.) 

This year I'd like to highlight 20 Things Thomas Aquinas has to say about the Passion Narrative in the Gospel of John--the Gospel reading for the Good Friday service. 

A couple caveats.

First, I'm not going to get into some of the critical issues that could be raised. For example, Thomas assumes--as all the Fathers and Doctors do--that the author of the Fourth Gospel is meant to be understood as the Apostle John, the son of Zebedee. Many contemporary scholars, of course, reject that identification. I don't have time to deal with this issue here. Suffice it to say, there are good reasons to think the author is identifying himself as the Apostle John (for one treatment, listen to Mark Goodacre's podcast on the topic). 

Second, there are many aspects of Thomas' commentary on Jesus passion I have not included. Certainly, some will complain that I have left out some things I should have included and have included some things I should have left out. The only defense--dubious as it is--that I can offer is: "What I have written, I have written."  

The following quotes are all taken from St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John (trans. F. Larcher, O.P. and J. A. Weisheipl, O.P. with M. Levering and D. Keating; Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2010). 

1. On the two-fold involvement of the Jews and the Romans

Thomas has an interesting take on the structure of the Passion in the Fourth Gospel, which comprises John 18-19. Thomas divides the two chapters by saying that ch. 18 deals with Christ's suffering at the hands of the Jews, while ch. 19 deals with what he had to suffer at the hands of the Gentiles (i.e., Romans). He also emphasizes the role of three major parties in the Passion: the disciples, the high priests, and Pilate. 
"Christ’s passion was effected partly by the Jews, and partly by the Gentiles. Thus, he first describes what Christ suffered from the Jews; secondly, what he suffered from the Gentiles (19:1). He does three things regarding the first: he shows how our Lord was betrayed by a disciple; secondly, how he was brought before the high priests (v. 13); and thirdly, how he was accused before Pilate (v. 28)." (no. 2271)

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Holy Thursday: Mass of the Lord's Supper

The Readings for the Holy Thursday Mass focus on the continuity between the ancient Jewish Passover and the institution of the Eucharist.  As the Passover was the meal that marked the transition from slavery to Egypt to the freedom of the Exodus, so the Eucharist is the meal that marks the transition from slavery to sin to the glorious freedom of the children of God.

1.  Our First Reading is from Ex 12:1-8, 11-14:

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

My God, My God! Why Have You Forsaken Me? Readings for Palm/Passion Sunday

How could the Messiah die?

Despite a few mysterious prophetic texts that seemed to intimate this possibility, the idea that the Messiah could arrive and subsequently be killed was radically counter-intuitive to most of first-century Jews. 

Yet the conviction of the early Christians, based on Jesus of Nazareth’s own teachings about himself, was that the radically counter-intuitive impossibility was actually prophesied, if one had the eyes to see and the ears to hear it in Israel’s Scriptures.

The Readings for this Mass offer us two of the most poignant prophecies of the suffering of the Messiah.

1. Isaiah 50:4-7, the First Reading, is part of one of the several enigmatic “servant songs” characteristic of the second part of Isaiah (Isaiah 40-66).  (I follow Benjamin Sommer in seeing Isa 40-66 as a literary unit.)  The subject of these “songs” or poems is a mysterious “servant” of the Lord, who is described variously in the first, second and third person:

Thursday, March 19, 2015

"A Grain of Wheat Falls and Dies": Readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

This Sunday is the last Sunday of Lent before Holy Week. The readings, therefore, lead us into the heart of the mystery of the suffering and death of Christ.

Below are a few thoughts on the lectionary selections.

FIRST READING: Jeremiah 31:31-34
The days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel
and the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers
the day I took them by the hand
to lead them forth from the land of Egypt;
for they broke my covenant,
and I had to show myself their master, says the LORD.
But this is the covenant that I will make
with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD.
I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts;
I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives
how to know the LORD.
All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the LORD,
for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.
The famous "new covenant" prophecy of Jeremiah is found in Jeremiah 31. The prophecy appears in a section of the book of Jeremiah--chapters 30-33--that focuses on future hopes for the restoration of Israel. Some refer to this section of Jeremiah as, "the Book of Comfort."[1] Indeed, many scholars recognize Jeremiah 30-33 as a discreet literary unit within Jeremiah. Among other things, God's covenant oath to David is emphasized in this section of the book, pointing to messianic expectations. Marvin Sweeney, for example, writes:
"Despite the emphasis on the criticism of Judah in the message of Jeremiah, the oracles in Jeremiah 30–33 point ultimately to the restoration of the people to the land under the rule of a righteous Davidic monarch when YHWH makes a new covenant with the people."[2]

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Speaking this Saturday at St. Lorenzo Ruiz Parish in Walnut, CA

This Saturday morning I'll be speaking at St. Lorenzo Ruiz Catholic Church in Walnut, CA. The topic will be intentional discipleship. 

Here's some information.
Cost: FREE. 
Location: Vellucci Hall at St. Lorenzo Ruiz Catholic Church, 747 Meadowpass Rd., Wanut CA 91789 
When: Registration begins 8-8:30. The event officially begins at 9am and ends at 12pm. 
 If you're in Southern California, I hope you will consider joining us!

To register in advance or to get more information call: 909-595-9545.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Jesus and the Law of God: 3rd Sunday of Lent

What is the best way to communicate law?  Written law has its limitations, because we are all familiar with the concept of the “loophole.”  There always seem to be methods of interpreting the written law in ways that run contrary to its intent.  In West Virginia, which is across the river for us in Steubenville, they passed a law a few years back allowing cafés to operate some small-time gambling on their premises.  The idea was to allow owners of small eateries a sideline to supplement income during a tough economic time.  Well, now dozens of new “cafés” have sprung up in the old steel towns on the other side of the river, and if you walk in and ask for a cup of coffee, they scarcely know what to do.  The “café” title is just a front for a gambling operation.  What was intended to be small time side business has become the whole purpose of these establishments.  This was not the intention of the law, at least not how it was “sold” to the people and legislature.

So what is the best way to communicate law?  Already in antiquity, the prophet Jeremiah longed for a better way than a written code: ““Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah… this is the covenant which I will make: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts.”

One of the themes that arises from this Sunday’s Readings is Jesus as the embodiment of the law, who gives himself to us, that God’s law may be inside of us.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Beloved Son and the Freedom of the Glory of the Children of God: The Readings for the Second Sunday in Lent

In the second Sunday of Lent, the Church invites us to contemplate the cruciform of the glory of the Beloved Son by linking a series of texts that at first blush might not appear to fit together. However, in this brief reflection, it will be argued that they do indeed fit together and can be united together through Paul’s statement in Romans 8:21, “that creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” In order to illuminate this inner rationale, we begin with the first reading from Genesis 22.

First Reading: Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18
God put Abraham to the test.
He called to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am!” he replied.
Then God said:
“Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love,
and go to the land of Moriah.
There you shall offer him up as a holocaust
on a height that I will point out to you.”

When they came to the place of which God had told him,
Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it.
Then he reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son.
But the LORD’s messenger called to him from heaven,
“Abraham, Abraham!”
“Here I am!” he answered.
“Do not lay your hand on the boy,” said the messenger.
“Do not do the least thing to him.
I know now how devoted you are to God,
since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.”
As Abraham looked about,
he spied a ram caught by its horns in the thicket.
So he went and took the ram
and offered it up as a holocaust in place of his son.

Again the LORD’s messenger called to Abraham from heaven and said:
“I swear by myself, declares the LORD,
that because you acted as you did
in not withholding from me your beloved son,
I will bless you abundantly
and make your descendants as countless
as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore;
your descendants shall take possession
of the gates of their enemies,
and in your descendants all the nations of the earth
shall find blessing—
all this because you obeyed my command.”
In our first reading, the Church turns our attention to one of the most important passages of the entire Old Testament, Genesis 22, the account known as the Aqedah. Before examing this pasasge, it is worth situating it within the wider Abrahamic narrative and in particular, beginning with Genesis 12:1-3. In Genesis 12:1-3, God makes three promises to Abram, (great nation, great name, and blessing to the nations) and each of these promises is in some way elevated to the status of a divine covenant within the Abrahamic narrative (see Genesis 15 and 17 for the first two).[1]

In turning to our passage, it is the promise to bless all nations that is elevated to the status of a divine covenant. While it is true that God has indeed already promised to Abram that all nations would be blessed through him (Gen 12:3), here in Genesis 22 this promise becomes a divine covenant, for God swears by himself that all nations will be blessed through Isaac.

In fact, in his outstanding monograph The New Isaac, Leroy Huizenga suggests four unique aspects to our reading: first, the blessing of Abraham is now categorical, “I will bless you.” Second, Abraham’s descendents are now likened to both the sand of the seashore (22:17) and the stars of the sky (22:17, 15:5). Third, the unique divine oath, for here it is God who swears by his very self to fulfill his covenant with Abraham. Fourth and finally, it is here that God declares that it is now through Abraham’s seed, Isaac, that the nations will be blessed.[2]

In addition to these four aspects, Huizenga also notes that it is possible to detect something of an active role for Isaac in the story, for in addition to Abraham and Isaac “walking together united,” (Gen 22: 6, 8) the Septuagint calls Isaac τὸ παιδάριον (paidarion), which in Gen 37:30 is used to describe seventeen year old Joseph.[3]

Another hint centers on the use of the term “beloved” son for Isaac in the Septuagint, for it can have the connotation of favor due to obedience. [4] In any event, it is very significant that the Septuagint calls Isaac Abraham’s “beloved son,” for this is precisely how God describes Jesus in our Gospel reading for this week.

Before moving on from the first reading, it is important to further illuminate the inner rationale behind this event, and while much more could be said about it, for our purposes it appears best to focus on the nature of the sacrifice that elicited God’s oath to bless the nations.

In the Aqedah, Abraham passes God’s test by offering to God what was dearest to him, his son Isaac, and this sacrifice unto death leads to life, in this case, both God sparing Isaac’s life and swearing to bless the nations through the “beloved Son.” Moreover, Abraham’s offering also becomes the paradigmatic act of sacrifice and fidelity, as can be seen from the fact that the place of this near sacrifice, Mount Moriah, is by the fourth-century B.C. identified as the location of the temple mount in Jerusalem (see 2 Chronicles 3:1; Jubilees, 18:13; Josephus, Ant. 1.224).

Responsorial Psalm 116: 10, 15, 16-17, 18-19
R. (116:9) I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.
I believed, even when I said,
“I am greatly afflicted.”
Precious in the eyes of the LORD
is the death of his faithful ones.
R. I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.
O LORD, I am your servant;
I am your servant, the son of your handmaid;
you have loosed my bonds.
To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and I will call upon the name of the LORD.
R. I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.
My vows to the LORD I will pay
in the presence of all his people,
In the courts of the house of the LORD,
in your midst, O Jerusalem.
R. I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living. 

In our responsorial Psalm, it is also possible to detect a rather Abrahamic spirituality, for the Psalmist declares that he believes even when he was greatly afflicted, trusting God to deliver him from peril.

In particular, the Psalmist appears to be trusting God in the face of death, for he trusts that he will walk before the Lord in the land of the living, for even the death of the faithful is precious in the eyes of God.

It is against this backdrop that we can turn to our two New Testament passages for this week, beginning with Paul’s famous statement that “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Second Reading: Romans 8:31b-34
Brothers and sisters:
If God is for us, who can be against us?
He who did not spare his own Son
but handed him over for us all,
how will he not also give us everything else along with him?

Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones?
It is God who acquits us, who will condemn?
Christ Jesus it is who died—or, rather, was raised—
who also is at the right hand of God,
who indeed intercedes for us.
 It is fairly common to hear Paul’s line from Romans 8:31 as a line of encouragement, and while it certainly is, it is important to understand why Paul can make such a statement. Far more than simply pious well-wishing, Paul tells the Romans that if God is for them no one is able to effectively stand against them due to the fact that God himself did not spare his beloved son, but instead handed him over for us all.

It is interesting to note that a number of voices as different as Augustine [5] and Douglas Campbell[6] have suggested that Paul is alluding to Genesis 22, for Paul states that God did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all. As Campbell suggests, “It is a deep concern for the plight of humanity that motivates the Father to send the Son, and the depth of the concern is proved by the fact that the Father does indeed send his only, beloved Son, much as Abraham was prepared to offer up Isaac.” [7]

While it is not possible to prove that Paul had the Aqedah in mind in Romans 8:32, the theological basis for such a suggestion is strong; for Paul is clear that it is the sacrifice of Jesus that demonstrates the righteousness of God (Rom 3:21-26), that is, though he was in the very form of God, Jesus became obedient to the point of death on a cross and as a result, God highly exalted him by giving him a name above all names, including having all nations confess his lordship (see Phil 2:6-11).

Here in our passage, Paul states that the same Jesus whom God handed over now reigns at his right hand interceding for us. As a result, no one is able to effectively stand against those who belong to God, for the crucified and risen Christ reigns in glory and is the one who ensures their victory.

In our Gospel passage, the Gospel of Mark offers us a “preview” of Christ’s resurrected glory, and in a manner that serves to connect both our first and second readings.

 Gospel: Mark 9:2-10
Jesus took Peter, James, and John
and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them,
and his clothes became dazzling white,
such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.
Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses,
and they were conversing with Jesus.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply,
“Rabbi, it is good that we are here!
Let us make three tents:
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified.
Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them;
from the cloud came a voice,
“This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone
but Jesus alone with them.

As they were coming down from the mountain,
he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone,
except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
So they kept the matter to themselves,
questioning what rising from the dead meant.
Immediately before our passage, Jesus declares to his disciples that he must be crucified, resurrected, and return in glory, and what is more, that some of them will not die until they see the coming of the Kingdom of God in power (Mark 8:31-9:1). Mark then tells us “six days later” Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves (9:2).

While the transfiguration stands as a fairly well known Gospel story, what is often underestimated are the clues in the narrative that connect it to Genesis 22, and in particular, Jesus to Isaac. While Huizenga suggests a number of interesting potential connections between Genesis 22 and Matthew’s account of the transfiguration (see Matthew 17:1-9), this line of analysis can be applied to the Markan account and produce a number of interesting parallels:

1. As in Genesis 22 (Septuagint), the event occurs “on a high (ὑψηλός) place/mountain” (Gen 22:2, Mark 9:2).
2. As in Genesis 22, there is a heavenly voice (Gen 22:1, 15; Mark 9:7)
3. As in Genesis 22 (Septuagint), there is the presence of the “beloved” son (Gen 22:2, 12, 16)
4. As in Genesis 22, the beloved son is the one to be offered
5. As in Genesis 22, the beloved son is granted “new life.”

In fact, Huizenga suggests that the inner rationale that illuminates the transfiguration intertexually is the connection between “sonship, obedience, and the cross,” a connection that further highlights what it means that Jesus is God’s “beloved” son.[8] For like Abraham’s beloved son, Jesus is obedient to the point of self-sacrifice and as a result is to receive resurrection “glory.”

It is this resurrection glory that is proleptically on display in the transfiguration, and this is not only inferred from the profound glory that Jesus displays as he meets with Moses and Elijah, but in what Jesus tells Peter, James, and John as they come down from the mountain, namely, that they are not to tell anyone about this event until the Son of Man had risen from the dead (Mark 9:9).

As a result, it appears correct to conclude that the transfiguration serves to teach the Church what defines the life of divine sonship, that is, that the road to glory is the road of the cross.


While Jesus’ identity as the Beloved Son of the Father entails a unique level of glory, the glory of divine sonship is not just for Jesus alone as the beloved Son, but for all for whom the Spirit of Sonship dwells.

In fact, Paul goes so far as to state that the whole creation waits in eager expectation for the revelation of the children of God, and at this point all of creation will obtain “the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21).[9]

Yet in context, this glory belongs to all the children of God who suffer with Christ in order that they might be glorified with him, connecting the freedom of the children of God with suffering. In other words, Paul agrees with Matthew (via Huizenga) that sonship is defined by obedience and the cross, and this is the road to glory.

[1] For more on the profoundly covenantal shape of Genesis 12-22, see Scott W. Hahn, Kinship by Covenant: A Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God’s Saving Promises, The Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 101-135.
[2] See Leroy A. Huizenga, The New Isaac: Tradition and Intertexuality in the Gospel of Matthew (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 77-78.
[3] See Huizenga, The New Isaac, 80.
[4] See Huizenga, The New Isaac, 80.
[5] See City of God, 16.32.
[6] See Douglas A. Campbell, The Quest for Paul’s Gospel: A Suggested Strategy (London: T&T Clark, 2005), 76. ; idem, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 63, 69, etc.
[7] Campbell, The Deliverance of God, 63.
[8] See Huizenga, The New Isaac, 223-235.
[9] While Romans 8:21 is sometimes translated “the glorious freedom or liberty” of the children of God, this is not the only way to translate the text (see NRSV vs. RSV), and what is more, Paul consistently links glory not with freedom but with those who are in Christ (Rom 2:7, 3;23-24, 8:29-30, I Corinthians 15:35-57, 2 Corinthians 3:17-18). I am grateful to Fr. Gregory Tatum for pointing me in this direction and eagerly await his forthcoming manuscript on Paul with the potential title of The Freedom of the Glorious Children of God.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The flood, Christ in the wilderness, and the new creation: Readings for the First Sunday of Lent

This Sunday we celebrate the First Sunday of Lent. The lectionary readings focus on the flood--at least the first two. The reason for this might not seem immediately clear. 

The Gospel reading, taken from Mark, then goes on to describe Christ's forty days in the wilderness. 

How do all these selections relate to one another? Here I shall try to offer an explanation. 

To tip my hand a bit, I think the imagery that runs throughout the readings is the concept of "new creation". Indeed, in the Christian tradition, Lent is preparation for the resurrection of Christ, the event that is understood as ushering in the new creation. The fathers identified Sunday thus as "eighth day", or, the first day of the new creation week. 

With that in mind, let us turn to the readings. . . 

FIRST READING: Genesis 9:8-15
God said to Noah and to his sons with him:
“See, I am now establishing my covenant with you
and your descendants after you
and with every living creature that was with you:
all the birds, and the various tame and wild animals
that were with you and came out of the ark.
I will establish my covenant with you,
that never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed
by the waters of a flood;
there shall not be another flood to devastate the earth.”
God added:
“This is the sign that I am giving for all ages to come,
of the covenant between me and you
and every living creature with you:
I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign
of the covenant between me and the earth.
When I bring clouds over the earth,
and the bow appears in the clouds,
I will recall the covenant I have made
between me and you and all living beings,
so that the waters shall never again become a flood
to destroy all mortal beings.”
In Christian tradition, the season of Lent is associated with death and new life--specifically, to borrow Pauline language, it is a time to "put to death" attachments to sin (cf. Col. 3:5) in anticipation of the celebration of Christ's resurrection, which opens up for us "new life".

In the liturgy, the flood of Noah is frequently used as an apt image of new creation--through the waters of death, new life emerges.

In short, in the flood, Noah is portrayed as a new Adam. Through him, we have God bringing forth a kind of new creation. Many parallels could be mentioned:

  • Out of the waters, a new creation emerges (Genesis 1:2; 7:11)
  • The flood begins after “seven” days, evoking the seven days of creation (Gen. 2:2; 7:10)
  • As the Lord rested on the seventh day, the ark comes to a rest in the “seventh” month (Gen. 2:2-3; 8:4)
  • Like Adam, Noah is told to be “fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 2:28; 9:1)
  • Also, like Adam, Noah is given dominion over the creatures of the earth (Gen. 2:28; 9:2)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Join Us in Tyler, Texas, for "Why the Cross?"

This weekend I have the privilege of joining Fr. Leo Patalinghug and Bishop Strickland in Tyler, Texas for a fantastic conference on the meaning of suffering and the beauty of the cross.  Hope you can join us! Click on the image to go to registration.Untitled-1

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Why Not Publicize Miracles? The Readings for the Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time

In this weekend’s readings, a healed leper disobeys Jesus and spreads the news of his miraculous cure everywhere, impeding the Lord’s ministry.  Why did Jesus tell him to be quiet about the healing?  What is the role of miracles in the Jesus’ ministry, and in the life of the Church today?

1. The First Reading for this weekend’s masses was obviously chosen to provide the background for understanding leprosy as it was experienced by the Jews and other ancient peoples.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

"Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted": Readings for the FifthSunday of Ordinary Time

This Sunday the lectionary has us pick up where we left off in the Gospel of Mark last Sunday. Last week we heard about how Jesus' ministry was characterized by "authority"/"power"--something which was specifically highlighted by his authority over evil spirits. This Sunday we are presented with a series of scenes that further emphasize Jesus' identity as a healer and exorcist.

The first reading, which is taken from the book of Job, also deals with a figure associated with healing: Job. Indeed, the story of Job is ultimately about God's victory over Satan--making the story an apt background for the Gospel reading.

Moreover, as we shall see, the book of Job provides some helpful perspective on questions that might be raised by the Gospel selection. Among others, after hearing about how Jesus went around healing vast numbers of people during his earthly ministry, we might ask: Why doesn't Jesus always heal us from our physical infirmities today?

Finally, the second reading continues where we left off in 1 Corinthians last Sunday. In Ordinary Time, the second reading in the lectionary is not always chosen because it is somehow related to the first reading or the Gospel. That is clearly on display here. One is hard-pressed to find a point of contact between what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9 (the second reading) and the other selections from Scripture read this Sunday. The beauty of the second reading in Ordinary Time is that it offers an opportunity for continuous reading from a specific book of the Bible (cf. no. 107 here).

Below are some of my thoughts on these selections. Obviously, a lot could be said and I can't offer a completely comprehensive treatment of all the issues raised by them in a simply blog post (far from it!). Rather, I've tried to focus on some "big picture" items. I hope this is helpful.