Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Peter and the Popes: The 21st Sunday of OT

 
In terms of Catholic “preachability,” this Sunday’s Readings are a soft-ball pitch, a long high arc that every homilist ought to be able to knock out of the park.  The lectionary readings have been set up for a clear explanation of the nature of the Papacy and its basis in Scripture.

The context of the Old Testament reading should be explained.  During the lifetime of the prophet Isaiah, the royal steward of the palace, a certain Shebna, was arrogating himself by adopting royal privileges.  In particular, he was having a tomb cut for himself in the area reserved for the royal sons of David.  Like Denethor in the Return of the King (not an accidental parallel, by the way—Tolkien was a thorough Catholic), he was forgetting his place as steward and confusing his role with that of the king.  As a result, the LORD sends an oracle to Shebna via Isaiah, to the effect that Shebna will be replaced in his position by a more righteous man, a certain Eliakim son of Hilkiah:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

New York Times on "obscene" indifference to Christian genocide

Ronald Lauder, a Jewish activist, has a powerful editorial in the New York Times:
WHY is the world silent while Christians are being slaughtered in the Middle East and Africa? In Europe and in the United States, we have witnessed demonstrations over the tragic deaths of Palestinians who have been used as human shields by Hamas, the terrorist organization that controls Gaza. The United Nations has held inquiries and focuses its anger on Israel for defending itself against that same terrorist organization. But the barbarous slaughter of thousands upon thousands of Christians is met with relative indifference.

The Middle East and parts of central Africa are losing entire Christian communities that have lived in peace for centuries. The terrorist group Boko Haram has kidnapped and killed hundreds of Christians this year — ravaging the predominantly Christian town of Gwoza, in Borno State in northeastern Nigeria, two weeks ago. Half a million Christian Arabs have been driven out of Syria during the three-plus years of civil war there. Christians have been persecuted and killed in countries from Lebanon to Sudan.

Historians may look back at this period and wonder if people had lost their bearings. Few reporters have traveled to Iraq to bear witness to the Nazi-like wave of terror that is rolling across that country. The United Nations has been mostly mum. World leaders seem to be consumed with other matters in this strange summer of 2014. There are no flotillas traveling to Syria or Iraq. And the beautiful celebrities and aging rock stars — why doesn’t the slaughter of Christians seem to activate their social antennas?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Our Paper at the Special SBL Session on Paul

I'm not referring to the "apocalyptic" session everyone is talking about. Yes, I will be sure to attend that important session.

Actually, this post is about another special Paul session that N.T. Wright will also be involved with . . . a session in which he will be responding to a paper I have co-written with my college at JP Catholic University, John Kincaid. Pamela Eisenbaum and Ward Blanton will also be responding.

I should mention that I'm also quite excited about some of the other papers being presented, especially the one by David Burnett.
S23-236 
Pauline Epistles 
Joint Session With: Pauline Epistles, Paul and Judaism, Disputed Paulines, Pauline Soteriology, Second Corinthians: Pauline Theology in the Making, Systematic Transformation and Interweaving of Scripture in 1 Corinthians 
11/23/20141:00 PM to 3:30 PMRoom: Sapphire Ballroom M (Level 4 (Sapphire)) - Hilton Bayfront (HB) 
Michael Patrick Barber, John Paul the Great Catholic University and John Kincaid, John Paul the Great Catholic University
Cultic Theosis in Paul and Second Temple Judaism: A Fresh Reading of the Corinthian Correspondence (18 min)
David A. Burnett, Criswell College
"So Shall Your Seed Be": Paul’s Use of Genesis 15:5 in Romans 4:18 in Light of Early Jewish Deification Traditions(18 min)
Pamela Eisenbaum, Iliff School of Theology, Respondent (8 min)
Ward Blanton, University of Kent at Canterbury, Respondent (8 min)
N. T. Wright, University of St. Andrews, Respondent (8 min)
Break (5 min)
Matthew E. Gordley, Regent University School of Divinity
Psalms of Solomon and Pauline Studies (18 min)
Hans Svebakken, Loyola University of Chicago
Roman 7:7-25 and a Pauline Allegory of the Soul (18 min)
Pamela Eisenbaum, Iliff School of Theology, Respondent (8 min)
Ward Blanton, University of Kent at Canterbury, Respondent (8 min)
N. T. Wright, University of St. Andrews, Respondent (8 min)
Discussion (25 min)
Here is the abstract for our paper:
Since the rise of the Käsemann school the centrality of apocalyptic eschatology in Paul has been widely maintained across the spectrum of contemporary Pauline scholarship, ranging from such diverse scholars as Stuhlmacher and Campbell. In addition to this, there has been the more recent emergence of the place of theosis for comprehending Pauline soteriology, as initially suggested by Hays and later demonstrated by Gorman, Blackwell, and Litwa (e.g., 2 Cor 3:18; 5:21; Col 2:9–10). In this paper we will suggest that these two strands are directly linked by means of second temple Jewish hopes for an eschatological temple and cult, and actualized in Paul. As is becoming increasingly clear (e.g., Tuschling), apocalyptic eschatology was inextricably tied to cultic worship (e.g., 1QHa 19:10-13, 1Q28b 3:25–26). Indeed, building on the work of Deismann, Aune has suggested that apocalyptic eschatology was understood to be realized within the cult in early Christianity (e.g., John 4:23). We will suggest that Paul is no exception. In order to demonstrate this, we shall turn our attention to the Corinthian correspondence, where these themes serve as a leitmotif in Paul’s discussion. Beginning in 1 Corinthians 2:6, Paul speaks of this age passing away yet this gives way to the discussion of a new temple in chapter 3. Paul then elucidates the life of this new temple in the following ways: keeping the feast in chapter 5, linking becoming one spirit with Christ and temple imagery in ch. 6, and, finally, the cultic explanation of participation in Christ in terms of the eucharist in chs. 10-11 and baptism in ch. 12. These cultic emphases continue in 2 Corinthians with the explicit temple language in ch. 6 and almsgiving as liturgical offering in ch. 9.
Hope to see you there. I'm especially looking forward to the 25 minute discussion at the end. This should be fun!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"May God have pity on us": Readings for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Responsorial Psalm sums up a key lesson that runs like a golden thread throughout this Sunday's lectionary readings:
May God have pity on us and bless us;may he let his face shine upon us.So may your way be known upon earth;among all nations, your salvation. (Ps 67:2-3)
The psalm asks the Lord to show his compassion on all nations and to bring them his salvation. 

From the perspective of ancient Israel, this would have seemed bizarre. The gentiles were the enemies of God and his people in books such as Joshua. They persecuted Israel. They killed Israel's sons and daughters. They had vile practices? 

Could they really be invited to the banquet of salvation? 

Romans? You mean the guys who decimated their enemies? The ones known for leaving baby girls to die of exposure to the elements? 

You mean Assyrians? The guys who savagely raped and pillaged their way through the land of promise?

You mean Canaanites? The ones known for sacrificing their children to gods?

While the prospect of the salvation of the gentiles obviously doesn't strike us Christians today as much as a surprise, we must remember the essential truth this Sunday's readings wants to affirm: all people are invited to the feast. No one is beyond the mercy of God. 

Let me put it in slightly more contemporary terms. No one is excluded from God's kingdom. . . not even those Islamic radicals we are reading about in the news who are raping and killing young women and children. 

Yeah. . . It was that shocking. 

The message of this Sunday's readings is, yes, God wants all of these people--all nations!--back in the covenant family. 

Make no mistake, repentance is not optional. Still, the lesson is no less astonishing: God's grace can transform anyone. 

And we are, like the psalmist, to pray that it does. 

With that, let me offer some brief reflections on the readings.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Discovery of 1st century Jewish coins with "redemption" inscription

Photo from the IAA of the coins discovered
[Source]
Interesting. . .
During excavations along the main highway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) archaeologists discovered a ceramic moneybox containing 114 bronze coins. Each of the coins features a chalice and the Hebrew inscription “To the Redemption of Zion” on one side and, on the other side, a motif of palm branches and citron fruits with the Hebrew inscription “Year Four”—a reference to the fourth year of the Great Revolt against the Romans (69/70 C.E.). The revolt ended with the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. 
“The hoard, which appears to have been buried several months prior to the fall of Jerusalem, provides us with a glimpse into the lives of Jews living on the outskirts of Jerusalem at the end of the rebellion,” said excavation directors Pablo Betzer and Eyal Marco in a press release issued by the IAA. “Evidently someone here feared the end was approaching and hid his property, perhaps in the hope of collecting it later when calm was restored to the region.” 
The hoard was excavated from a building constructed in the first century B.C.E. The building was subsequently destroyed in 69 or 70 C.E. during the conclusion of the Great Revolt. [Source]
You can read the press release from the Israeli Antiquities Authority.

h/t Scot McKnight

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

The Still Small Voice of God: 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 


There is so much turmoil in the national and international news these days, it makes it difficult to maintain a sense of peace.  Instability in Ukraine, Israel, and Iraq seem capable of spiraling out of control, leading to regional or international war.  Christians are targeted for elimination in Iraq, Nigeria, Syria, Sudan and elsewhere.  Closer to home, we witness worrying erosion of religious liberty in developed countries, such that being known as an advocate of traditional Christian sexual morality could cause one to lose one’s job and suffer character assassination.  A legal path is opening up to force the closure of all Christian public institutions (schools, hospitals) that refuse to endorse the new sexual ethic.  If this were not enough, all of us face the turmoil of our private lives: struggles to overcome sin in ourselves and our families; illnesses and surgeries; financial struggles; temptations against faith; discouragement and dryness in prayer.  It can feel overwhelming for the individual believer who wakes up each morning to face what seems to be an overwhelming avalanche of challenges on a personal and public level.  

The Readings for this Sunday Mass address the struggle of the believer to stay in relationship with God in the face of overwhelming distractions and threats.  In the midst of wind, waves, earthquakes, the voice of God still speaks to us.

1.  The First Reading is 1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a:

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"Come, Receive Grain and Eat": The Feeding of the Five Thousand, the Eucharist, and the Hope of Israel (18th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

This Sunday's readings highlight the way the Kingdom of God is present sacramentally. Specifically, hopes for the restoration of Israel are linked to a miracle of Jesus, the feeding of the five thousand, which is presented in eucharistic terms.

I'll be speaking on this topic this weekend at the Catholic Family Conference in Wichita, Kansas. Hope to see some of you there!

FIRST READING: Isa 55:1-3
Thus says the LORD: All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk! Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy? Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare. Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life. I will renew with you the everlasting covenant, the benefits assured to David.
Here I'd like to highlight three major ideas which all are relevant to the Gospel reading.

The Messianic Banquet. Many scholars have recognized that the imagery here is likely alluding to hopes for an eschatological banquet.[1] This banquet, which is linked to the messianic age and the restoration of Israel, is most explicitly described in Isaiah 25:6-8:
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined. 7 And he will destroy on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. 8 He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken.
Other passages relating eschatological banquet hopes include biblical passages such as Isaiah 30:29 and Ezekiel 39:17-20 as well as texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls (1Q28a 2) and other Second Temple Jewish works (1 Enoch 62:14).

In a famous article on the messianic banquet, John Priest concludes,
The theme of a messianic/eschatological banquet was well known in Jewish and Christian apocalyptic thought. Although it is found in its developed form in only a surprisingly few texts, its pervasiveness is attested by allusions to it which can be given without explanation or comment.[2]
A Covenant Messianic Banquet. What is especially interesting about Isaiah 55:1-3 is that it links messianic banquet imagery to the language of covenant renewal. The combination of "covenant" and "banquet" motifs evokes the story of the covenant ratification ceremony at Sinai. There, of course, Israel enters into a "covenant" with God through a ceremony which climaxes with a kind of "heavenly banquet"--a meal with God on the holy mountain.
And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord. And he rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. 6 And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. 7 Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” 8 And Moses took the blood and threw it upon the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

9 Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, 10 and they saw the God of Israel; and there was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. 11 And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank. (Exod 24:4-11)
In fact, many scholars think messianic banquet traditions--which often involve hopes for a New Exodus, i.e., the return of Israel from exile--draw from this account.[3] In other words, just as the first Exodus climaxed with a meal with God on a mountain, the New Exodus will also involve a sacred feast. 

The Davidic Covenant Renewal. The covenant that is specifically said to be "renewed" is the Davidic covenant. Many read the promise in Isaiah 55 as the "democratization" of the Davidic covenant--i.e., what was promised to David is now transferred to all the people of Israel. This is often viewed in terms of a rejection of the Davidic monarchy itself. This seems unlikely given the larger book of Isaiah, which asserts the coming of such a figure in other places (e.g., Isa 9:6-7; 11:1-10). Thus, as Heim writes, ". . . the offer of David's original 'everlasting covenant' to the whole people is perhaps not so much a transferral, but an extension."[4] 

Of course, this is what is in view in the New Testament. Christ, the Son of God, extends his covenant to his people, enabling them to likewise be "sons of God" in him. 

RESPONSORIAL PSALM: Ps 145:8-9, 15-16, 17-18
R/ (cf. 16) The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs. The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness.The LORD is good to alland compassionate toward all his works. R/ The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs. The eyes of all look hopefully to you,and you give them their food in due season;you open your handand satisfy the desire of every living thing. R/ The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs. The LORD is just in all his waysand holy in all his works. The LORD is near to all who call upon him,to all who call upon him in truth. R/ The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.
In light of the Davidic imagery in the First Reading, Psalm 145 is a particularly appropriate selection for the Responsorial Psalm. The superscription (title) of the psalm associates it with David. In fact, in a verse not read in the lectionary we read: "Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and thy dominion endures throughout all generations." Given the fact that the final form of the Psalter dates to a period long after the time of the Davidic kingdom, it is easy to see how this line could evoke hopes for the restoration of the Davidic kingdom, which is elsewhere identified as the "Kingdom of the Lord" (cf. 2 Chr 13:8).

Obviously, the line: "you give them their food in due season" coheres well with the First Reading as well.

SECOND READING: Rom 8:35, 37-39
Brothers and sisters:
What will separate us from the love of Christ?
Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine,
or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?
No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly
through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities,
nor present things, nor future things,
nor powers, nor height, nor depth,
nor any other creature will be able to separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Whereas the First Reading looks forward to the day of the eschatological banquet, i.e., the day of God's ultimate victory over evil, the Second Reading explains how this has occurred in Christ.

It bears mentioning here that some Protestant readers use this passage to support the idea of "eternal security", that is, the belief that once a person is saved that salvation can never be lost ("once-saved-always-saved"). A close reading of this text, though, reveals that no such idea is present. Paul says no trial or thing can separate us from Christ but he does not say that sin won't separate us from him.

In fact, "eternal security" is clearly at odds with Jesus' teaching in John 15, where Jesus identifies himself as a "vine" and believers as "branches". Specifically, Jesus explains that branches that bear no fruit will be cut off from the vine and "thrown into the fire and burned" (John 15:6). 1 John 5:15-17 likewise makes it clear that there is such a thing as "mortal sin". Finally, we might also mention that Paul himself hardly sounds like he affirms eternal security in 2 Corinthians:
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. 4 I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then every man will receive his commendation from God. (1 Cor 4:3-5)
GOSPEL: Matt 14:13-21
When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist,he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.
The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns.
When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick.
When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said,“This is a deserted place and it is already late;dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villagesand buy food for themselves.”
Jesus said to them, “There is no need for them to go away;give them some food yourselves.”
But they said to him,“Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.”
Then he said, “Bring them here to me, ”and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass.
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven,he said the blessing, broke the loaves,and gave them to the disciples,who in turn gave them to the crowds.
They all ate and were satisfied,and they picked up the fragments left over—twelve wicker baskets full.
Those who ate were about five thousand men,not counting women and children.
An Allusion to the Miracle of the Manna. Scholars recognize that the story of Jesus’ feeding miracle seems to evoke Exodus traditions, in particular, the episode of God feeding the Israelites in the wilderness with the manna and quail.  Peter-Ben Smit, explains “. . . the intertextual connections of the feedings and the Exodus traditions are so strong that they should be assumed to be of significance. A narration of a miraculous abundance of bread in a lonely place in the context of a prophetic movement is hard not to associate with the Exodus.”[5] Indeed, the allusion to the manna story in the account of the feeding of the multitudes is widely recognized.[6]

Note the elements common to both stories: language of “wilderness” (ἔρημός; cf. Exod 16:1, 3, 10, 14; Matt 14:13, 15; Mark 6:32. 35; Luke 9:12); the description of the need for food (cf. Exod 16:2-3; Matt 14:15; Mark 6:35; Luke 9:12); the giving of miraculous “bread” (ἄρτους; cf. Exod 16:3, 4, 8, 12, 15, 22; Matt 14:17-18; Mark 6:38; Luke 9:13)[7] is provided with another item (cf. the quail in Exodus 16; the fish in the Gospels); the food is gathered up into receptacles (cf. Exod 16:17; cf. Matt 14:20; Mark 6:43; Luke 9:17). In addition, as in the Gospel story, we find that no matter how much or how little manna the people gathered they never ran out (cf. Exod 16:18). The major difference here is that in the wilderness there was no manna left over as in the narrative of the feeding of the five thousand.

Indeed, by evoking Exodus Jesus likely signifies eschatological hopes, which were frequently linked with New Exodus imagery.[8] Josephus reports that a number of “imposters” (go/hv; cf. Ant. 20.97; 20.160) arose who apparently made claims that they would bring about the eschatological victory of Israel. He tells us that many were led astray by them because of their promises of “marvels and signs” (Ant. 20.168; cf. B. J. 2.258-60; 6.286-87)―terminology Josephus elsewhere associates with the Exodus (cf. Ant. 2.327).[9]

In fact, the term "signs" is used primarily to describe those miracles Moses performed to authenticate his prophetic identity before the people of Israel. These figures would often perform signs reminiscent of Moses and Joshua. For example, Josephus tells us about a man named Theudas, who gathered the people to the Jordan River, promising to make it part (Ant. 20.97-99). There was also a figure known as “the Egyptian,”―remember, Moses was raised in the house of Pharaoh!―who stood on the Mt. of Olives promising to bring down the walls of the city and then led followers out to the desert with promise of the performance of signs and wonders (Ant. 20.167-68), e.g., like Joshua. Such actions evoking such traditions were clearly meant to signal eschatological hopes―e.g., the “New Exodus”.

By performing a sign reminiscent of Israel’s desert wanderings Jesus thus likely signals his intention to fulfill eschatological hopes. Here we might add one further detail: Jesus’ instruction to the disciples to have the crowds sit in groups―a detail only present in Mark and Luke (Mark 6:39//Luke 9:15). This element also seems to evoke Exodus traditions. Moses had arranged the people into groups of a thousand, five hundred, one hundred and ten in Exodus 18:25 and Numbers 31:14. Indeed, that the Qumranites were also concerned with such groupings, associating it them with the organization of Israel in the eschatological age (cf. 1QS 2:21-22; CD 13:1; 1QM 4:1–5:17; 1QSa 1:14–15, 28–29), further supports the idea that the reference in the Gospels relates to New Exodus imagery.

The Fish and the Manna. But what of the fish? Is there any significance to their presence in the story?

The appearance of the fish may also be seen as an allusion to the story of the manna. Fish are closely linked with the gift of the quail in Numbers 11. The account begins with people complaining about not having the fish they ate in Egypt (cf. Num 11:5). In Numbers 11:22, Moses tells the Lord,
“The people among whom I number six hundred thousand on foot; and thou hast said, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat a whole month!’ Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, to suffice them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to suffice them?”
In response to this, the Lord, “…brought quails from the sea” (Num 11:31). In connection with this it is worth noting that Wisdom 19:12 describes the Lord providing the quail, which “came up from the sea” (ἐκ θαλάσσης).[10] The quails then are described almost as sea creatures, i.e., fish.[11] The giving of fish to the Israelites is also associated with the wilderness traditions in Sipre Num. 11:22, where they are said to have come from Miriam’s well.

One other note about the fish. Scholars have recognized that, as in other places where table-fellowship figures prominent in Jesus’ ministry, the miracle of the feeding of the multitude seems to evoke imagery of the eschatological banquet.[12] As mentioned above, some scholars have noted that the eschatological banquet itself may be modeled on the covenant meal celebrated at Mt. Sinai after the Exodus (cf. Exod 24:9-11). Indeed, there is other evidence that traditions relating to the eschatological banquet were tied to Exodus hopes. We have already noted that the organization of the people into groups in Mark and Luke evoke the wilderness traditions. Strikingly, these groupings were specifically used by the Dead Sea Community to describe the messianic banquet (cf. 1QSa 2:11–22). Furthermore, other texts relate that the people of God will receive manna in the eschatological age (cf. 2 Bar. 29:8[13]; Eccl. Rab. 1:9[14]; Tg. on Song of Songs 4:5[15]).

The emphasis on the abundance of food provided by Jesus (e.g., twelve baskets of leftovers), evokes texts closely associated with the tradition of the messianic banquet in which the eschatological age is linked with the Lord’s provision of an abundance of food (Isa 23:18; 62:8; Jer 31:10-14; Ezek 36:29; Joel 2:19; 2 Baruch 29:3-30:1).[16]

Given the presence of fish in the miracle it is interesting to note that that later sources preserve traditions describe the meal of the eschatological banquet as consisting of the sea monster Leviathan
(cf. 2 Bar. 29.3-8; cf. 4 Ezra 6.49-52; b. B Bat. 74b-75a). In light of this it is possible that Jesus’ act of providing not only loaves but fish alludes to these traditions.[17]

In fact, Marcus who points out that the prophecy in 2 Baruch not only envisions the eating of the Leviathan but also the manna (2 Bar. 29.3–8). He goes on to point out, “This passage has several other noteworthy parallels to our story: the revelation of the Messiah, the marvelous fruitfulness of the ground… and the statement near the end that ‘those who are hungry will enjoy themselves.”[18]

Jesus as the Davidic Messiah. As is well known, Matthew's Gospel emphasizes Jesus' role as the Davidic Messiah. With this in mind it is probably worth noting that Ezekiel describes the eschatological Davidic king as the one who would "feed" God's people.
And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.(Ezek 34:23). 
Jesus is the true Davidic Messiah, the Shepherd King, who feeds his people.

The Feeding of the Five Thousand as a Eucharistic Miracle. Davies and Allison find 9 parallels which occur in order in Matthew 14, the feeding of the five thousand, and the account of the Last Supper in Matthew 26[19] They conclude: “It seems to us evident that Matthew intended 14.13–21 to be closely related to the institution of the Eucharist.”[20]

Of course, it was in the Eucharist that Jesus established the meal of the new covenant, using language that draws directly on the covenant ratification ceremony described in Exodus 24, mentioned above ("blood of the new covenant"). As we have seen, this ceremony is understood by many as the source of messianic banquet traditions.

By linking the Eucharist to the feeding of the five thousand--a miracle drawing on messianic banquet traditions--Matthew links the Lord's Supper to meal associated with the restoration of Israel. The restoration of Israel is thus realized sacramentally in the Lord's Supper.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it: "The Kingdom of God has been coming since the Last Supper and, in the Eucharist, it is in our midst" (no. 2816). 

NOTES
[1] See, e.g., James L. Crenshaw, Defending God: Biblical Responses to the Problem of Evil (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 242, no. 21.

[2] John Priest, “On Note on the Messianic Banquet,” in The Messiah: Developments in Earliest Judaism and Christianity (J. H. Charlesworth, ed.; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992)), 237 [222-38]. In addition, see James D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered (vol. 1 in Christianity in the Making; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 394.

[3] See, e.g., Joseph Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1-39: A New Translation with Commentary (AB 19; New York/London: Doubleday, 2000), 357-60.

[4] Knut M. Heim, "The (God-)Forsaken King of Psalm 89: A Historical and Intertextual Enquiry," in King and Messiah in Israel and the Ancient Near East: Proceedings of the Oxford Old Testament Seminar (ed. J. Day; London: Bloomsbury, 2013), 309.

[5] See Smit, Fellowship and Food in the Kingdom (WUNT 2/234; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2008): 69–71.

[6] See Green, The Gospel of Luke, 363; Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 191-96; Collins, Mark, 322; Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, 402-5; Joel Marcus, Mark 1:417; France, Gospel of Mark, 262; Nolland, Luke 1―9:20, 442; Ludger Schenke, Die wunderbare Brotvermehrung: Die neutestamentlichen in Erzählungen und ihre Bedeutung (Würzburg: Echter, 1983), 104–107. Such allusions were also caught be ancient interpreters (cf. Cyril of Alendarida, Comm. On Luke 48).

[7] The connection between the manna and the bread is, of course, underscored in the Johannine account (cf. John 6:25-34).

[8] The term has now become part of the academic vocabulary. See Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile, 139, who writes that in the prophetic literature, “the future return from exile is ividly depicted in terms of a New Exodus”. He cites numerous examples (Hos 2:14-23; Isa 40:1-11; Isa 52:1-12; Jer 3:15-24; 16:14-15; 23:5-8; 30-31). Likewise, see Andrew C. Brunson, Psalm 118 in the Gospel of John: An Intertextual Study on the New Exodus (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003), 154: “The widespread and general hope of deliverance and restoration can be divided into three distinct yet interlinked categories which account for all of the expectations: the return from exile; the defeat of Israel’s enemies; and the return of Yahweh to live and reign among his people. I will refer to this complex of restoration hope as the New Exodus, a phrase which although not specifically found in the ancient texts yet adequately describes the eschatological program presented by the Prophets and also ties these longings to the paradigmatic deliverance in Israel’s past.”

[9] In fact, the term shmeĩa is used primarily to describe those miracles Moses performed to authenticate his prophetic identity before the people of Israel. See the discussion in Rebecca Gray, Prophetic Figures in Late Scond Temple Judaism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 125-130.

[10] See Farrer, A Study in St. Mark, 291; Richardson, “The Feeding of the Five Thousand,” 145; Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, 591 n 69.

[11] This is pointed out by Marcus, Mark, 1:411; Nolland, Luke, 1:442.

[12] See, e.g., Nineham, Mark, 178: “Here perhaps we come near the original significance of the incident; it may have been intended by Jesus as an anticipation, more or less sacramental in character, of the Messianic Banquet, designed to communication his conviction that he was the one men would soon see presiding over the Messianic Banquet, and also perhaps to consecrate those who shared the food as partakers in the coming messianic feast, as to given them a guarantee that they who had shared his table in the time of his obscurity would share it in the time of his glory.” See also, e.g., Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, 402–3; Collins, Mark, 322–23; Fenton, Gospel of Matthew, 242; Healy, Gospel of Mark, 128; etc.

[13]“And it will happen at that time that the treasury of manna will come down again from on high, and they will eat of it in those years because these are they who will have arrived at the consummation of time.”

[14] “As the former redeemer caused manna to descend, as it is stated, Behold, I will cause to rain bread from heaven for you (Ex. XVI, 4), so will the latter Redeemer cause manna to descend, as it is stated. May he be as a rich cornfield [tsp is read as ttp ‘pieces of bread] (Ps. LXXII, 16).” Cited from A. Cohen, trans., Midrash Rabbah: Ecclesiastes (vol. 8 of 10; London/New York: The Soncino Press, 1983), 33.

[15] “Your two deliverers, who will deliver you, the Messiah son of David and the Messiah son of Ephraim, are like Moses and Aaron, the sons of Jochebed, who are compared to two fawns, twins of a gazelle. In virtue of their meritorious deeds they were feeding the people of the House of Israel for forty years in the wilderness with manna, plump fowl, and water from Miriam’s well.” Cited from Philip S. Alexander, The Targum of Canticles: Translated, with a Critical Introduction, Apparatus, and Notes (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 2003), 135.

[16] Boring, Mark, 187: “That so much food was not only left over, but left behind is another indication of eschatological extravagance. The disciples gathering the fragments is a counter-picture of the Mosaic manna, which could not be preserved (Exod 16:4–5; 13–21...), and portrays the messianic times, when hunger will be replaced not merely by adequacy but by extravagance (cf., e.g., 2 Bar. 29.5).”

[17] Marcus (Mark, 1:410) who points out that the prophecy in 2 Baruch not only envisions the eating of the Leviathan but also the manna (2 Bar 29.3–8). He goes on to point out, “This passage has several other noteworthy parallels to our story: the revelation of the Messiah, the marvelous fruitfulness of the ground… and the statement near the end that ‘those who are hungry will enjoy themselves.” In addition, see Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, 591 n 69; Davies and Allison, Matthew, 481.

[18] Mark, 1:410.

[19] (1) “And when it was evening” (14:14; 26:20); (2) “reclined” (14:19; 26:20); (3) “having taken” (14:19; 26:26); (4) “the bread” (14:19; 26:26); (5) “he blessed” (14:19; 26:26); (6) “having broken” / “he broke” (14:19; 26:26); (7) “he gave to the disciples” / “having given to the disciples, he gave to them (14:19; 26:26); (8) “they ate” / “eat” (14:20 26:27); (9) “all” (14:20; 26:27).

[20] Davies and Allison, Matthew, 3:481.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Getting Wisdom: 17th Sunday of OT

 
When I was a kid, the phrase “Get wise!” was a provocative taunt—essentially, a way to start a fight.  It meant something like: “I invite you to act like a smart aleck, so I will have an excuse to assault you physically.”  My elementary school career was a bit rough.


But what does it really mean to “Get wise” or “Gain wisdom”?  The Readings for this Sunday’s Mass teach us about this issue.

During this part of Ordinary Time in Year A, the Church is pursuing a lectio continua (continuous reading, i.e. reading in order) of both Romans and Matthew.  (This excellent website by Fr. Just provides an overview of the pattern of the Lectionary. ) The First Readings are taken from key passages of the Old Testament, chosen (more or less) to complement the Gospel reading.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Hypocrites in the Church: The 16th Sunday of OT


Our Readings for this upcoming Lord’s Day involve a meditation on both God’s mercy and his justice, and the complex way both virtues of God are expressed in his government of human affairs in general and his people in particular.  We see that God’s apparent tolerance of evil in the short-term is an expression of his mercy and desire that all should repent; yet ultimately God can and will establish justice. 

1.  Reading 1 Wis 12:13, 16-19:

Thursday, July 10, 2014

"The Seed, the Good Soil, and Understanding the Word": Readings for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

This Sunday the readings focus on the imagery of seed-planting. Read in light of the fathers and doctors in particular, the readings teach us powerful lessons about what it takes to be fruitful: (1) God's grace; (2) perseverance in hope; (3) careful and prayerful attention to the Word.

Here's a brief overview. . .

FIRST READING: Isaiah 55:10-11
Thus says the LORD:Just as from the heavensthe rain and snow come downand do not return theretill they have watered the earth,making it fertile and fruitful,giving seed to the one who sowsand bread to the one who eats,so shall my word bethat goes forth from my mouth;my word shall not return to me void,but shall do my will,achieving the end for which I sent it.
The point of the first reading is very simple: God's word accomplishes its purpose. Here we can make three observations:

1. The redemption of Israel and the conversion of the Gentiles. In context, the reading is specifically referring to God's promise to redeem Israel and, in so doing, bring all humanity to recognize him as the Lord. Immediately before the lines read in the first reading, Isaiah 55 declares:
"Behold, you shall call nations that you know not, and nations that knew you not shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you" (Isa 55:5).
Indeed, hope for the inclusion of the Gentiles is found throughout the book of Isaiah. In the next chapter, the Lord makes it clear that the nations will one day join Israel in worshipping him:
”And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, every one who keeps the sabbath, and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant— 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples." (Isa. 56:6-7)
Isaiah thus describes Israel in terms of a Servant whose vocation is to bring all humanity into covenant relationship with the Lord: "I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations" (Isa. 42:6).

In accomplishing this goal Israel, the descendants of Abraham, are to fulfill God's promise to the great patriarch: "by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 22:18).

The first reading, then, involves Isaiah announcing that God's word will accomplish its purpose, namely, he will redeem Israel and in so doing convert the hearts of people from all nations.

Unicorns exist after all: Evidence from Aquinas

In his commentary on the psalms, Aquinas quotes Psalm 22:21 as reading: "And my lowliness from the unicorn's horns."

Wait. . . did Thomas just say that unicorns existed in the psalmist's day? Did unicorns survive the flood after all?

Well, probably, but don't get too excited unicorns aren't what you think they are. Thomas cites Job 39, explaining, "'The rhinoceros', that is the unicorn, 'will never desire to serve you', but will die. . '"

So there you have it from Thomas Aquinas: rhinos are unicorns.

Fat unicorns. 

Tri Star has led me astray.
But I guess a rhino running across the screen wouldn't sell as well.

P.S.
For those who might not understand that this post was intended with humor, let me be clear. . .  I am not suggesting that Thomas believed rhinos could fly. 

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Gentle King of the Universe: 14th Sunday of OT

Well, folks, it has been a long, long time since we’ve had a reading on
Sunday from Ordinary Time (since March 2, to be exact), but here we are: we’re mostly “stuck” in Ordinary Time until the end of November.  Not that that’s a bad thing!  Ordinary Time has extraordinary insights.

We are in Cycle A of the Lectionary, reading through the Gospel of Matthew.  Sundays 9–13 of Ordinary Time were either skipped or pre-empted this year by the Solemnities Pentecost through Sts. Peter and Paul.  So we pick up Matthew again in media res, “in the middle of things.”

This Sunday we find Jesus more or less in the middle of his earthly ministry (Matt 11), and the Readings are marked by a strong theme of the restoration of the world-wide Kingdom of David.

1. Our First Reading is Zechariah 9:9-10

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Is Peter "Cephas"?: A follow up

Image of Peter wondering who this "Cephas"
fellow is. (Just kidding)
So the person who sent in the email asking about whether or not Peter and Cephas are one in the same person wasn't apparently entirely satisfied with my answer.

In a charitable response, the following arguments were brought up. First, I was criticized for not considering the possibility that Mark, Paul's companion, is the "pillar" named "John" in Galatians  2.

The reader then writes:
And more significant, the article glossed over the evidence from Acts, specifically on three points: (1) Acts never says Peter went to Antioch; (2) Acts makes it clear that Peter stood up boldly to the Jews, never caving into Judaizing; and (3) Act 15 shows Peter as the star witness at the Council of Jerusalem, which makes no sense if he was a hypocrite, nor does it fit with 15:1-2 where it says "certain persons" were opposed by Paul, and 15:24 says again "certain persons without our permission," which can hardly be referring to Peter.

If you believe Acts 15:1-2 is speaking of the Galatians 2 incident, then everything changes because identifying Peter as the "certain persons" becomes very untenable.
Let's take these one at a time.

Normally, I wouldn't offer such a detailed response but, since it's the feast of Peter and Paul, I think it's appropriate to spend some more time thinking about Petros. 

1. The John who is a "Pillar" could be "John Mark".
The emailer writes: "the article didn't even take note of the possibility that 'John' mentioned in Gal 2 as a 'pillar' was likely to be 'John-Mark,' which Acts frequently puts as Paul's companion."

I'm still not quite sure how this proves that "Cephas" is not Peter. Either way, let's be clear: it is
incredibly unlikely that the "John" in Galatians 2 is Mark.

First, nowhere outside of Acts is Mark ever called "John" in the New Testament. That the references to him in the Pauline corpus (Philm 24; 2 Tim 4:11) never identify him as "John" should also be pointed out.

This highlights an irony. We are supposed to think that Paul's use of two different names, "Peter" and "Cephas", points to there being two different people involved. However, when the Pauline corpus refers to the same figure in every case by one name--"Mark" (Philm 24; 2 Tim 4:11)--we are supposed to believe that a figure named "John" in Galatians is suddenly a reference to someone else.

Right.

Although Acts identifies Mark with the name John, it does clarify for us that this figure went by two names. It obviously does this because John the apostle was clearly the more important John (see below) and Luke was apparently concerned that calling Mark "John" might lead to confusion. He makes it clear therefore that there are two Johns--John Mark and John the apostle. The latter is clearly the more prominent figure.

That the pillar identified as "John" is not John the apostle but “John Mark” is just too hard to believe. Yes, Paul knew John Mark. But it is just too much of a stretch to think that he was more important than John the apostle. John the apostle and Peter are clearly the spokespersons for the apostolic college (cf., e.g., 4:13, 19; 8:14). John is also mentioned with Peter as among the most prominent oft he apostles in Acts 12:2; he is the brother of the first apostle to be killed.

To think that the reference to the pillars somehow includes John Mark and not Peter or John the apostle is far fetched in the extreme. First, the only other author who identifies Mark as "John" makes it clear that he is doing so because John the apostle was the more famous figure with that name. Again, that “Cephas” is a different figure—i.e., that it is more likely that a figure other than Peter is in view here—is especially difficult to believe given the fact that Paul is explicitly proving his authority in Galatians 2 by comparing himself to Peter, not a different figure named "Cephas" (cf. Gal. 2:8)!

Peter is the important figure here--why wouldn't he rank among the "pillars"? One might come up with an unlikely scenario to explain this but that's just what any such explanation would be: unlikely.

2. Acts never says Peter was in Antioch. 

Peter doesn’t go to Antioch in Acts--so what? Acts shifts from focusing on Peter to focusing on Paul’s trips. In fact, we know that Peter left Jerusalem. Acts 12 tells us that after Peter was delivered from prison he went to "another place" (Acts 12:17). There is no reason to believe he couldn’t have gone to Antioch.

In fact, we’d almost expect him to go there since that’s where the largest Christian community was after Jerusalem. In fact, in Acts 11 we know that after Stephen’s death many left for Antioch (cf. Acts 11:19). If others left Jerusalem for Antioch when persecution arose, why wouldn’t we suppose that when Peter left Jerusalem he first went there?

Moreover, Acts doesn’t give us every detail of what the apostles did. It doesn’t for example, tell us about Paul staying in Jerusalem for "fifteen days" and chatting with "Cephas" (cf. Gal 2:18).

So the fact that Peter doesn’t go to Antioch in Acts is not a serious argument. There are too many reasons to think that we can’t read anything into that!

3. Peter probably wasn't perfect. 
Just because Peter defended the Gentile mission in Acts 15 doesn’t mean he never acted like a hypocrite. So what that Peter defended Paul at the Council? Why is it unlikely that Peter failed at times to practice what he preached? I just don’t see any problem here. 

In fact, the very reason Paul was upset with Peter is because he says that before “men came from James” he had “ate with the Gentiles”. Cephas (=Peter) did not insist at first on keeping kosher. He was not a Judaizer. That’s consistent with what happens with Peter in Acts. Paul condemns Peter not for being wrong about that but for being a hypocrite—he backed away from what he knew was otherwise right.

In conclusion, you can always find a way to make a “possible” objection to the Peter=Cephas identification. On the whole, however, the arguments separating the two are too problematic. Given all the considerations, it is far more probable that Peter=Cephas. 

“Possible” is not “probable”—and you can’t choose the latter over the former. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Is Peter "Cephas"?

I received an email from a reader who asks question whether or not Peter is the figure also identified elsewhere in the New Testament as "Cephas".
You said that Paul saw Peter as a "pillar" of the community. But in AD 200, St Clement taught that Paul rebuked not Peter but one of the Seventy, another guy named Cephas. As support of this, Paul uses the name "Peter" in Galatians 2:7-8, but shifts to "Cephas" in 2:9 and following. Why use two names in the same breath if the same person is meant? 
In short, the answer is, "No, these are not two individuals."

Bart Ehrman advocated the view that Cephas and Peter were different figures in an article in Journal of Biblical Literature in 1990. Dale Allison persuasively rebutted his arguments in a follow up piece in 1992 (available here).

Here, as a kind of supplement to the reading reflection I have already offered for the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, I'd briefly like to look at this question and highlight some of the arguments Allison employs.

The text of Galatians. First, however, let's take a look at Galatians 2:
And from those who were reputed to be something (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who were of repute added nothing to me; 7 but on the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised 8 (for he who worked through Peter for the mission to the circumcised worked through me also for the Gentiles), 9 and when they perceived the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship. . . (Gal. 2:6-9)
So, does Paul's shift in the use of names point away from the idea that Peter and Cephas are the same figure? Was Clement conveying historical information here?

I don't think so. Consider the following. . .

1. Clement isn't the only source that relates this idea. In fact, in some ancient sources "Cephas" is said to be one of the Twelve. There seems to have been a great deal of confusion on the matter.

2. We know Clement's view only through the later writings of Eusebius. Actually, Clement's original source has been lost to us. We know this was Clement's view only because it comes to us through Eusebius: "Clement, in the fifth book of his Hypotyposes, in which he mentions Cephas, of whom Paul writes: 'When he came to Antioch, I withstood him to his face,' says that one who happened to have the same name as Peter the apostle was one of the seventy" (Hist. eccl. 1.12.2).

3. It is easy to explain how the alternate tradition emerged. As Allison shows, the tradition probably sprung up in response to embarrassment over the passage in Galatians 2 where Paul condemns "Cephas" for hypocrisy. Indeed, this is precisely the context in which Clement/Eusebius introduce the Cephas/Peter distinction.

4. The shift in names is not at all unsurprising. Important Jewish figures often went by more than one name (e.g., Jacob/Israel). In fact, in the work Joseph and Aseneth, the shift occurs in the space of a single verse: "And Jacob heard about Joseph his son, and Israel went to Egypt" (Jos. Asen. 22:2). Likewise, in the Testament of Jacob the Patriarch is identified as both "Jacob" and "Israel" alternatively, as Allison notes, "even in the same paragraph".

In fact, Cephas appears to be an Aramaic form of "Peter".

Moreover, Paul himself shifts in using other names. See, for example, Romans 8:9-11 where Paul refers to "Jesus", "Christ," and "Jesus Christ", apparently intentionally offering a variety of names for the one he recognizes as "Lord". Moreover, Peter himself went by yet another name: "Simon". In some places other New Testament writers offer alternate names for him, describing him as both "Simon" and "Peter". See Mark 14:37: "He [Jesus] came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, 'Simon, are you asleep?'" The shift from Simon to Peter also occurs prominently in the Last Supper narrative in Luke where Jesus goes from calling him "Simon, Simon" (Luke 22:31) to warning him, "I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow. . ." (Luke 22:34). If writers could do this with the name "Simon", why couldn't Paul do the same?

Other examples of figures going by two names could also be mentioned. In Acts, we have one person who is sometimes identified as "Mark" (cf. Acts 15:39) but he is also known as "John" (cf. Acts 13:13).

In short, given these examples, is it really likely that the shift in names in Galatians 2 really points to the identity of another disciple?

5. Jesus calls Simon Peter "Cephas" in John. The author of the Fourth Gospel apparently thought Simon Peter was "Cephas": "Jesus looked at him, and said, 'So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas' (which means Peter)" (John 1:42).

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Working document for Pope Francis' Synod on Family: The Bible is the heart of transforming family life

The Instrumentum Laboris (i.e., the working document) for the upcoming Synod on the Family called by Pope Francis has finally been released (html, pdf). The document highlights challenges facing the family today and offers thoughts toward advancing pastoral solutions. I encourage people to read it themselves.

Much can and will be said about this document. Here I just want to register my gratitude for one aspect of it in particular: the pride of place given throughout this document to Scripture.

Indeed, it begins with a discussion of the biblical teaching on the family (no. 1-3). After also calling for a greater familiarity with the teaching of the Church (nos. 4-7), it then launches into a discussion of what is needed to address the pastoral challenges facing the Church. First and foremost, the document calls for careful instruction about the teaching of Scripture (no. 9).

Interestingly, the document points out that knowledge about the teaching of the Bible is better known today than it has been in the recent past. Perceptions of this, I think, vary depending upon location and context. Regardless, it notes that many responses from the bishops who gave input into the document spoke of "the faithful's great desire to know Sacred Scripture better" (no. 9).

It then goes on to speak of the importance of the homily in this regard:
. . . the formation of the clergy stands out as particularly decisive, especially in the quality of homilies, on which the Holy Father, Pope Francis has insisted recently (cf. EG, 135-144). Indeed, the homily is a privileged means of presenting Sacred Scripture to the faithful and explaining its relevance in the Church and everyday life. As a result of preaching in a befitting manner, the People of God are able to appreciate the beauty of God’s Word which is a source of appeal and comfort for the family. (no. 9)
I know I also speak for my co-bloggers here at TheSacredPage.com when I say I was pleased to see this pointed out.

Week after week we offer in-depth analysis of the Sunday readings to assist in spiritual preparation for participation in the liturgy. We are especially grateful to the priests and deacons who have written us to tell us that they have found these reflections helpful for their homily prep. We are especially grateful to those who have shared them with their brother priests and deacons.

To be clear, we don't write homilies. Priests and deacons, using the special charism they have received, need to prayerfully consider what they will do from the pulpit given their own congregation's circumstances and needs. Our purpose is to simply offer some exegetical thoughts that might be helpful towards that end.

Of course, the Sunday readings commentary is not just for homilists. In fact, John and I often talk about how spiritually beneficial working them up--a process that usually takes about 3 hours per reflection--has been for us personally. Truth be told, we write these as much for our own preparation as we do for anyone else's!

Our hope is that anyone interested in getting more out of the lectionary--not just those preparing homilies--will benefit from these reflections. We are very thankful for all of the email and comments we receive from lay Catholics who enjoy reading them as well as part of their own Sunday preparation.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that according to the Instrumentum Laboris, the homily is not the only means of promoting knowledge of Scripture. We read:
In addition to the homily, another important means is the promotion, within dioceses and parishes, of programmes which help the faithful take up the Bible in a proper way. What is recommended is not so much multiplying pastoral initiatives as inserting the Bible in every aspect of existing ministerial efforts on behalf of the family. Every instance where the Church is called to offer pastoral care to the faithful in a family setting can provide an opportunity for the Gospel of the Family to be announced, experienced and appreciated."
We hope this blog will help people engaged in any pastoral work as they seek to bring the Gospel to our hurting world.

"Upon this rock": The readings for the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul

It is solely by accident that I have the privilege of writing the reflection on the readings of the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul. However, I couldn't be more grateful for the opportunity.

The lectionary readings this Sunday climax with a selection from Matthew 16:13-19, a passage I have spent much time studying and writing about. Aside from treating it in a substantial way in my doctoral dissertation, I have also recently published an article on this passage in the Journal of Biblical Literature (see here).

Obviously, I cannot offer as in-depth a treatment of the passage here as I do there. In these reflections I want to highlight some key (pardon the pun) aspects of the lectionary readings, highlighting certain ways I think they compliment one another, focusing in a detailed way on Matthew 16:13-19.

So, without any further ado, let's begin. . .

FIRST READING: ACTS 12:1-11
In those days, King Herod laid hands upon some members of the Church to harm them.
He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword,
and when he saw that this was pleasing to the Jews
he proceeded to arrest Peter also.
–It was the feast of Unleavened Bread.–
He had him taken into custody and put in prison
under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each.
He intended to bring him before the people after Passover.
Peter thus was being kept in prison,
but prayer by the Church was fervently being made
to God on his behalf. 
On the very night before Herod was to bring him to trial,
Peter, secured by double chains,
was sleeping between two soldiers,
while outside the door guards kept watch on the prison.
Suddenly the angel of the Lord stood by him
and a light shone in the cell.
He tapped Peter on the side and awakened him, saying,
“Get up quickly.”
The chains fell from his wrists.
The angel said to him, “Put on your belt and your sandals.”
He did so.
Then he said to him, “Put on your cloak and follow me.”
So he followed him out,
not realizing that what was happening through the angel was real;
he thought he was seeing a vision.
They passed the first guard, then the second,
and came to the iron gate leading out to the city,
which opened for them by itself.
They emerged and made their way down an alley,
and suddenly the angel left him.
Then Peter recovered his senses and said,
“Now I know for certain
that the Lord sent his angel
and rescued me from the hand of Herod
and from all that the Jewish people had been expecting.”
At first glance, the story of Peter's deliverance in the book of Acts seems a bit comical. Peter, with the help of an angel, practically sleepwalks out of prison. It is only when Peter ends up down an alley alone that he finally believes what has happened to him is real and not a dream: "Now I know for certain that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me. . ."

Beneath the surface, however, there is more going on in this account than meets the eye. For one thing, the story highlights Peter's importance.

Petrine primacy in the New Testament. Indeed, New Testament underscores Peter's role as first among the apostles--i.e., his "primacy"--in various ways.

For one thing, in the Gospels Peter is always listed first among the apostles. This applies not only to lists of the twelve (cf. Matt 10:1–4//Mark 3:13–19//Luke 6:13–16; cf. Acts 1:13) but also to occasions where groups of disciples are mentioned
  •  the account of the Transfiguration (cf. Matt 17:1//Mark 9:2//Luke 9:28)
  •  the healing of the ruler’s daughter (cf. Mark 5:37//Luke 8:51)
  •  in the preparations for the Passover (cf. Luke 22:8)
  •  at the beginning of the Olivet discourse (cf. Mark 13:3)
  • in Gethsemane (cf.  Matt 26:37//Mark 14:33).
John P. Meier writes, “[Peter] is the most frequently mentioned, the most actively engaged, and hence the most prominent of the Twelve.”[1] Who could disagree with this assessment?

Likewise, Paul in Galatians explains that  the task of preaching Gospel to the uncircumcised had been entrusted to him just as Peter had been entrusted with the responsibility of preaching the Gospel to the circumcised (cf. Gal 2:7). He even describes Peter as one of the “pillars” of the community, naming James and John also (cf. Gal 2:9). All of this points to Peter's important role. In fact, it is Peter who he compares himself to--not James and John.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Body of Christ, Manna for the Journey: The Readings for Corpus Christi


This weekend is another great liturgical feast, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, otherwise known as Corpus Christi.

Corpus Christi is one of a handful of feasts that celebrates the very gift of the Eucharist itself.  It is one of my favorite feasts, because the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist was instrumental in my becoming Catholic.

Back in the Fall of 1999 I was reading through the Apostolic Fathers and came to this passage in Ignatius of Antioch’s Letter to the Smyrneans (c. AD 106):

But consider those who are of a different opinion with respect to the grace of Christ which has come unto us, how opposed they are to the will of God. They have no regard for love; no care for the widow, or the orphan, or the oppressed; of the bond, or of the free; of the hungry, or of the thirsty. They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes.

I was shocked by the italicized line, because I realized that no one who held to standard Protestant views of the Eucharist would have written something like that.  “Transubstantiation” as a term may have come years later, but Ignatius’ view of the Eucharist was clearly that it had become transformed into the flesh of Christ.  Since Ignatius was writing ten years after the death of the Apostle John, there was not enough time for him to have gotten “confused” on this issue.  It dawned on me that Ignatius was simply reflecting the views of the early Christians on the Eucharist—views that they must have gotten from the Apostles themselves.

In any event, the Readings for this Feast have obvious and strong relevance to Eucharistic doctrine.

The First Reading, taken from Deuteronomy, reflects on the gift of the manna to the Israelites during the forty years in the wilderness, an obvious type of the Eucharist: