Sunday, March 31, 2013

Historical Questions about the Resurrection of Jesus: Special Easter Post and Podcast

Scroll down below to listen to the special TSP Easter podcast recorded last year. Of course, you can also listen on iTunes. Have you subscribed to the podcast yet? : ) 

Historical Questions About the Resurrection (Special TSP Podcast for Easter)(Right click to download)

St. Paul makes it clear that Resurrection is an essential aspect of Christian faith. He states,
“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.” (1 Cor 15:16–19).
The importance of this feast is also reiterated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: 
Beginning with the Easter Triduum as its source of light, the new age of the Resurrection fills the whole liturgical year with its brilliance. Gradually, on either side of this source, the year is transfigured by the liturgy. It really is a “year of the Lord’s favor.” ... Therefore Easter is not simply one feast among others, but the “Feast of feasts,” the “Solemnity of solemnities,” just as the Eucharist is the “Sacrament of sacraments” (the Great Sacrament). St. Athanasius calls Easter “the Great Sunday” and the Eastern Churches call Holy Week “the Great Week.” The mystery of the Resurrection, in which Christ crushed death, permeates with its powerful energy our old time, until all is subjected to him. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1168-1169) 
Yet many dispute the historicity of the Resurrection. For example,
“The tiny fraction of New Testament Easter traditions that comprises our bona fide historical evidence—the core empty tomb tradition (Mark 1:1–6, 8) and the appearance list given by Paul (1 Cor 15:3–8)—is woefully inadequate to establish a proposition as bold as the resurrection hypothesis.”—Robert Cavin1
Here I want to look at some of the reasons for such skepticism.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Thoughts on the Seven OT Readings for the Vigil

I've posted this in previous years, but thought I'd post it again for our newer readers:

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.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Some Thoughts on the Good Friday Gospel Reading

Every year on Good Friday, we read St. John’s account of the Passion from John 18-19.

One of the themes that runs through this reading is the Priesthood of Christ.  In this post, I would like to trace that theme.

There is priestly language already in the First Reading, from Isaiah 52 & 53, the famous “Suffering Servant” Song.  It speaks of the servant “making himself an offering for sin,” “justifying many,” and “bearing their guilt.”  These were priestly roles in the Old Testament, not the duties of prophets or kings. 

Turning to the Gospel Reading in context, we note that priestly themes precede the passage we read in Mass (Jn 18-19), beginning already in the Last Supper complex (Jn 13-17).  For example, the discourse on the Holy Spirit in John 16:4-15 contains priestly concepts.  Holy Spirit is sent to empower judgment of guilt vs. innocence, which reminds us of the tribunal of confession (cf. Jn 16:7 with Jn 20:22-23).  The Holy Spirit is upon Jesus, and will be given to the apostles, for the purpose of forgiving sin and making moral judgment, which in the Old Testament was the prerogative of the priests (see Lev 4:20; Deut 17:9).

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Leroy Huizenga on the Last Supper and Priesthood Imagery

Leroy Huizenga has an excellent piece on John 13 in which, among other things, he looks at the priestly imagery associated with the washing of the disciples feet.

Read it here.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Facebook Page of Mons. Guido Marini (Papal Master of Ceremonies)

Pope Francis with Mons. Guido Marini
Here. Great photos (such as the one on the right).

Given the fact that it is maintained in Spanish, I doubt he is the one who does that. Still, whoever is doing this for him is doing a great job.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Fr. G. Peter Irving III on Jesus' Act of "Hiding" Himself

Fr. G. Peter Irving with our children
at the baptism of our daughter, Molly Rita.

My uncle, Fr. G. Peter Irving III, pastor of Holy Innocents Parish in Long Beach, CA, has posted a brilliant homily offering spiritual reflections on Jesus' act of "hiding" himself from the crowds.


As the enemies of Jesus plot to put him to death, St. John tells us in today's Gospel that "Jesus therefore no longer went about openly among the Jews ." (John 11:54, RSVCE)

Pope Francis Meets Pope Emeritus Benedict (Video, Commentary, and Photos)

This is truly remarkable: a pope meets his predecessor.

I'm not sure that this has ever happened in the 2,000 year history of the Church: two popes appear together. (At least, I'm fairly certain that there is no documentation that such an event has taken place before.)

The video plus more pictures are below.

A few of items of note as you watch the footage.

First, Benedict made the long trip out to personally greet Francis as he landed. This was not expected. The heliport is about a mile away from the residence and the trip involves a good bit of walking, a taxing endeavor for the weakened Benedict. The two rode back in a car together. Benedict will also ride with Francis back to the heliport when he leaves.

Second, you'll notice Benedict's surprise as, entering the chapel, Francis forgoes the papal kneeler. Benedict tries to steer him back towards it, clearly humbled by the gesture. Instead, Francis explains that he wishes to kneel down next to Benedict in the same pew, telling him, "We are brothers."

Third, Francis brought Benedict a gift: an icon of Mary, our Lady of Humility. He explained that this was meant to express his gratitude for Benedict's papacy, which was marked by his humility. (UPDATE: John Thavis reports Francis' words as: "Allow me to say – I thought of you, and your pontificate.")

Fourth, after the cameras left, the two talked alone for 45 minutes. They then had lunch with secretaries.

Fifth, you'll note that Benedict is no longer wearing the papal ring, which, following tradition, was destroyed after he left office (though the former pope is usually dead when this happens). Instead he wears the "Council Ring," which Paul VI gave to all the members of the Second Vatican Council at its close. Benedict, of course, was one of the key figures at the council as a young priest. In one of his final addresses as pope, he spoke about his experiences there.


Friday, March 22, 2013

Who Says Catholics Don't Know the Bible? Nuns Win Big for Charity on Bible Game Show (VIDEO)

You've got to love the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist!

They just appeared on The American Bible Challenge hosted by Jeff Foxworthy (Game Show Network).

And won.

Who says Catholics don't know the Bible? ; )

You've got to love the honesty of the sister who insisted on re-doing the fork flip. Even Foxworthy was clearly surprised by that!

These were the same nuns that appeared on Oprah(See below).

The National Catholic Register explained that they
...faced off against Team Preachin’ Divas, a group of women dedicated to inner-city outreach in Oakland, Calif., and Team Anointed Ink, a group of Texas-based tattoo artists who cover up questionable body art with religious symbols. 
The top prize? $100,000 for their charity of choice.

What did they think of Team Anointed Ink?
“We met the other teams, and it was beautiful to see their love for the Scripture and their dedication to Christ,” Sister Maria said.  
A little more on their order:
Founded in 1997 with just four sisters in Ann Arbor, Mich., the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist has now grown to 120 members. The order’s habited sisters are specially committed to Mary, the Blessed Sacrament and the New Evangelization. 
By working to set aside money for the founding members’ retirement, the younger sisters are seeking to show their gratitude for the women “who have really spent themselves in providing a community and a home for us.” 
“If they hadn’t said ‘Yes’ to God’s call, what would we have done?”
And, yes, they love Scripture.
Although she and her teammates were chosen to compete because of their knowledge of the Bible, Sister Maria said preparing for the show gave them an even deeper appreciation of Scripture. She explained that Catholics tend to focus on the “basic idea and the content” of sacred Scripture rather than the small details. 
While that aspect of the Bible is “important,” she said, “the Church Fathers didn’t feel that way.” “The Fathers of the Church,” she said, “memorized the Scriptures, and they knew all the details, and they found them all significant.” 
In their study of the Bible leading up to the show — and even more so after the show — Sister Maria said she and her teammates have come “to look at the Scriptures in a different way” by learning “to appreciate the details more.” She added, “I hope that encourages some Catholics to rededicate themselves to discovering the riches of the Scriptures.”

Pope Francis on the "Tyranny of Relativism": "There is No Peace without Truth"

Below is an excerpt from Pope Francis' address to the Diplomatic Corps (with my emphasis added). Here we seem to get the fullest description to date of the "program" he sees for his Pontificate. 

As John Allen writes today: anyone who thought his election represented a repudiation of Benedict XVI isn't paying close enough attention. This morning Francis reiterated one of the key themes of Benedict's teaching: the danger of the "tyranny" of moral relativism. Enjoy!

As you know, there are various reasons why I chose the name of Francis of Assisi, a familiar figure far beyond the borders of Italy and Europe, even among those who do not profess the Catholic faith. One of the first reasons was Francis’ love for the poor. How many poor people there still are in the world! And what great suffering they have to endure! After the example of Francis of Assisi, the Church in every corner of the globe has always tried to care for and look after those who suffer from want, and I think that in many of your countries you can attest to the generous activity of Christians who dedicate themselves to helping the sick, orphans, the homeless and all the marginalized, thus striving to make society more humane and more just.

But there is another form of poverty! It is the spiritual poverty of our time, which afflicts the so-called richer countries particularly seriously. It is what my much-loved predecessor, Benedict XVI, called the “tyranny of relativism”, which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples. And that brings me to a second reason for my name. Francis of Assisi tells us we should work to build peace. But there is no true peace without truth! There cannot be true peace if everyone is his own criterion, if everyone can always claim exclusively his own rights, without at the same time caring for the good of others, of everyone, on the basis of the nature that unites every human being on this earth.

"Why Priests?": PART 4: The Priesthood of the Apostles in the Early Church

Clement of Rome
In the previous post I examined a number of New Testament passages that describe the apostolic ministry in priestly terms.

The early Church clearly picked up on this tradition.

Indeed, there is an abundance of evidence that the early Christians saw their ministers as not just "elders" or "pastors" but "priests". Let us examine some of the evidence.

1 Clement and the Apostolic Priesthood

One of (if not the) earliest Christian document outside of the New Testament is Clement's Letter to the Corinthians, typically cited as 1 Clement. There we find a fascinating treatment of the role of the apostles and Christian bishops.

For our purposes it is worth noting that this "primitive" document clearly links these offices to priesthood. 

In 1 Clement 40 we read about Christian priesthood. 
Since, therefore, these things are now clear to us and we have searched into the depths of the divine knowledge, we ought to do, in order, everything that the Master has commanded us to perform at the appointed times. (2) Now he commanded the offerings and services to be performed diligently, and not to be done carelessly or in disorder, but at designated times and seasons. (3) Both where and by whom he wants them to be performed, he himself has determined by his supreme will, so that all things, being done devoutly according to his good pleasure, might be acceptable to his will. (4) Those, therefore, who make their offerings at the appointed times are acceptable and blessed: for those who follow the instructions of the Master cannot go wrong. (5) For to the high priest the proper services have been given, and to the priests the proper office has been assigned, and upon the Levites the proper ministries have been imposed. The layman is bound by the layman’s rules. [Holmes, 73]
Going on, the letter expands upon the point made above, namely, that those appointed by the Lord must be given their due respect. 

St. Peter and Clement of Rome on the Apse
of San Clemente in Rome
In 1 Clement 42 we read that the apostles appointed successors from their earliest converts. 
The apostles received the gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus the Christ was sent forth from God. (2) So then Christ is from God, and the apostles are from Christ. Both, therefore, came of the will of God in good order. (3) Having therefore received their orders and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and full of faith in the Word of God, they went forth with the firm assurance that the Holy Spirit gives, preaching the good news that the kingdom of God was about to come. (4) So, preaching both in the country and in the towns, they appointed their firstfruits, when they had tested them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons for the future believers. [Holmes, 75].
Next we read that some have challenged the divinely established roles of those appointed by the apostles. Clement here condemns such rebellion by appealing to God's vindication of the Aaronic priesthood when some rose up against it. 
And is it any wonder that those who in Christ were entrusted by God with such a work appointed the officials just mentioned? After all, the blessed Moses, “who was a faithful servant in all his house,” recorded in the sacred books all the injunctions given to him, and the rest of the prophets followed him, bearing witness with him to the laws that he enacted. (2) For when jealousy arose concerning the priesthood, and the tribes were quarreling about which of them was to be decorated with the glorious title, he commanded the leaders of the twelve tribes to bring him rods inscribed with the name of each tribe. And taking them he tied and sealed them with the signet rings of the leaders of the tribes, and deposited them on the table of God in the tent of the testimony. (3) Then, having shut the tent, he sealed the keys as well as the doors (4) and said to them, “Brothers, the tribe whose rod blossoms is the one God has chosen to be priests and to minister to him.” (5) Now when morning came, he called all Israel together, all six hundred thousand men, showed the seals to the leaders of the tribes, opened the tent of testimony, and brought out the rods. And the rod of Aaron was found not only to have blossomed, but also to be bearing fruit. (6) What do you think, dear friends? Did not Moses know beforehand that this would happen? Of course he knew. But in order that disorder might not arise in Israel, he did it anyway, so that the name of the true and only God107 might be glorified, to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen. [Holmes, 75-77].
Aaron and his miraculous staff
Clement could have chosen any analogy here in defending the successors of the apostles.

He could have spoken of how Israel rejected Moses. He could of spoken of God's vindication of Daniel or another one of the prophets. He could have compared them to the king, the Lord's anointed.

But he didn't. Clement describes the role of apostolic successors in terms of priesthood. 

In fact, to bring his point home, Clement brings his argument home in chapter 44, explaining that just as it was wrong to challenge the priesthood of Aaron in the Old Covenant, so too in the New Covenant it is wrong to expel those who have been installed as bishops and presbyters.

In context, the analogy is unmistakable: challenging the apostolic authority of such men is tantamount to challenging the divinely appointed priesthood of the Aaronites in the Old Testament.
Our apostles likewise knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife over the bishop’s office. (2) For this reason, therefore, having received complete foreknowledge, they appointed the officials mentioned earlier and afterwards they gave the offices a permanent character; that is, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry. (3) Those, therefore, who were appointed by them or, later on, by other reputable men with the consent of the whole church, and who have ministered to the flock of Christ blamelessly, humbly, peaceably, and unselfishly, and for a long time have been well spoken of by all—these men we consider to be unjustly removed from their ministry. (4) For it will be no small sin for us, if we depose from the bishop’s office those who have offered the gifts blamelessly and in holiness. (5) Blessed are those presbyters who have gone on ahead, who took their departure at a mature and fruitful age, for they need no longer fear that someone might remove them from their established place. [Holmes, 77-79].
Clement therefore explains the role of bishops and priests in terms of priesthood. 

Other Patristic Sources
Ancient copy of the Didache

1 Clement is hardly the only patristic text that speaks of Christian ministers as priests.

The Didache explains, 
But every genuine prophet who wishes to settle among you “is worthy of his food.” (2) Likewise, every genuine teacher is, like “the worker, worthy of his food.” (3) Take, therefore, all the firstfruits of the produce of the wine press and threshing floor, and of the cattle and sheep, and give these firstfruits to the prophets, for they are your high priests. [Didache 13:1-3; Holmes, 267].
The Apostolic Traditions, in a section most recognize as authentically from Hippolytus, likewise affirm Christian priesthood, distinguishing it from the diaconate. 
And when a deacon is ordained, let him be chosen according to those things that have been said above, the bishop alone likewise laying on hands as we have prescribed. In the ordination of a deacon, let the bishop alone lay on hands, because he is not ordained to the priesthood but to the service of the bishop, that he may do those things that are ordered by him. [Apostolic Traditions 8 (Latin 76:6ff.); cited from Bradshaw et al]. 
Indeed, it is well known that in later works such as the Didascalia Apostolorum the terminology of "priest" is commonly applied to Christian leaders.

But what exactly is envisioned here? Isn't a belief in a Christian priesthood a rejection of the biblical teaching that Christ is the one "mediator" between God and man?  

More on that next time.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Benedict's Moving 2011 Prison Visit (H/T Amy Welborn)

Earlier today I highlighted Benedict 2007 visit to the same youth detention center Pope Francis will be celebrating Holy Thursday Mass at next week. However, Amy Welborn reminds me on Twitter that Benedict also made an emotionally charged visit to a prison in 2011.

While not the same juvenile facility, the visit was no less notable. There Benedict held an extraordinary Question and Answer session with inmates. The transcript of his answers is here.

There is also video of the visit. One doesn't need to know Italian to be touched by it.

Don't forget - Benedict XVI said Mass at the same prison Pope Francis will next Holy Thursday. Here was his amazing homily...

By now you've seen the story: Pope Francis will celebrate Holy Thursday Mass at a Juvenile Detention Facility next week.

But did you know that Benedict XVI also celebrated the Eucharist there during Lent of 2007?

He did and there gave an amazing homily on the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Here it is (with emphasis from me). Enjoy!..

The Jewish Roots of Palm Sunday and the Passion

On this coming Sunday, the Church will bring us to what may be one of my favorite Masses and my favorite sets of Scripture readings in the entire liturgical year: Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, popularly known simply as ‘Palm Sunday’.

With the Palm Sunday readings, the Church ushers us into the climax of the liturgical year in the celebration of Holy Week. This is the last Sunday feast before the beginning of the Triduum, which will climax in the celebration of Easter (Latin Pascha), what the Catechism calls the “feast of feasts” (CCC 1169).

As you may recall—especially if you have young children who need to be held the entire time the Gospel is being proclaimed!—this is one of the longest sets of readings in the entire liturgical year. For on this Sunday, the Church not only commemorates the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem six days before the Passover; she also lays before the faithful the complete account of Jesus’ Passion and death, according to one of the Synoptic Gospels (This year, being Year C, it is Luke’s account that we will hear.)

Given the sheer number and length of readings for this Sunday, it should go without saying that I can’t give a full analysis of them all. (Whole books have been written just on Luke’s account of the Passion!) Instead, what I’d like to do in this post is focus our attention on the Old Testament roots of the opening Gospel—the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem—and show the deeper meaning behind Jesus’ actions and the way in which it anticipates the mysteries that will be revealed in the rest of the Palm Sunday readings, in his Passion, and in the Mass itself.

The Triumphal Entry of Jesus according to Luke
Unlike other Masses, Palm Sunday contains two proclamations of the Gospel. The first is from Luke’s account of Jesus Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem:

Jesus proceeded on his journey up to Jerusalem. As he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples. He said, “Go into the village opposite you, and as you enter it you will find a colt tethered on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it here. And if anyone should ask you,‘Why are you untying it?’ you will answer, ‘The Master has need of it.’” So those who had been sent went off  and found everything just as he had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying this colt?”They answered,“The Master has need of it.” So they brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks overthe colt, and helped Jesus to mount. As he rode along, the people were spreading their cloaks on the road; and now as he was approaching the slope of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of his disciples began to praise God aloud with joy for all the mighty deeds they had seen. They proclaimed: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He said in reply, “I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19:28-40; New American Bible)

Now, there are many aspects of this event that could command our attention. But the two that I think are most critical to a proper understanding of the event are (1) the Jewish roots of Jesus’ act of riding the colt into the city, and (2) the Jewish roots of the crowd’s response to his action.

Why Does Jesus Ride a Colt into Jerusalem?
As is fairly well known, by choosing to publicly mount and ride a “colt” into Jerusalem in the midst of the procession of so many Passover pilgrims into the city, Jesus is performing what scholars refer to as a prophetic sign—a symbolic act which is meant to both symbolize and set in motion some major event in the history of salvation. In this case, Jesus’ act of riding the colt into Jerusalem harks back to Zechariah’s prophecy of the advent of the Messiah—the long-awaited king of Israel—to the city of Jerusalem (see Zechariah 9:9). However, there is more here than simply an implicitly messianic public act. For when we go back to the prophecy of Zechariah and read it in its full context, we discover several other important features of this particular messianic king:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem;  and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your captives free from the waterless pit. (Zechariah 9:10-11)

Three aspects of Zechariah’s prophecy are worth highlighting here: (1) he is a king of peace, not war; (2) he is king of the whole world; and (3) he will set his people free from “the Pit”—the realm of the dead—through the blood of the covenant. Let’s take a minute to look at each of these in turn and see how they are fulfilled in the Passion of Jesus.

 1. The King Who Rides the Colt will be a King of Peace
First, notice that  according to Zechariah, the messianic king who will come riding on a colt into Jerusalem is not just any kind of king: he is a king of peace. He will not be coming to wage earthly warfare, but to make the chariot and the war horse cease from Jerusalem.

 The Palm Sunday readings will make the same point in Luke’s account of Jesus’ Passion: in Gethsemane, when Jesus’ disciples realize that he is about to be arrested, they begin to fight back with the sword, and one of them (Simon Peter, as we know from John’s Gospel), cuts off the “right ear” of the high priest’s servant. In response to this, Jesus declares:

“Stop, no more of this!” Then he touched the servant’s ear and healed him. (Luke 22:51 NAB)

Although he is Messiah, neither Jesus (nor his followers) will rule through the power of the sword, but through the power of imitating him---the “one who serves”--and by taking up their crosses to follow him (see Luke 22:24-27).

2. The King Who Rides the Colt will be King of the World
Second, notice also that according to Zechariah’s prophecy, the king that will come riding a colt will also be a universal king; his dominion shall not be just over the people of Israel, but to the ends of the earth (Zech 9:10).

Once again, we see this element of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry fulfilled in his Passion an ddeath. Although the inscription his executioners put above his head read, “This is the King of the Jews” (Luke 23:38), at the moment of his death, it is a Gentile centurion who recognizes the innocence of Jesus:

It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon because of an eclipse of the sun. Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”; and when he had said this he breathed his last. The centurion who witnessed what had happened glorified God and said, “This man was innocent beyond doubt.” When all the people who had gathered for this spectacle saw what had happened, they returned home beating their breasts… (Luke 22:44-48)

As I was preparing this reflection, I could not help but note one striking application to the present celebration of the liturgy. Not only does Jesus’ rule over the Gentile nations begin when the Gentile centurion recognizes his innocence, but it is also at this very moment—the moment of his death— that the Lectionary contains a rule for the faithful throughout the world to kneel. It says:

[Jesus] breathed his last
[Here all kneel and pause for a short time.]
The centurion who witnessed what had happened glorified God…

By inserting our act of kneeling into the moment between Jesus death and the recognition of the Gentile centurion, in a certain way, the Liturgy itself realizes the prophecy of Zechariah 9. At this moment, on Palm Sunday, throughout the world, Gentiles everywhere will kneel to the King of the Jews. Indeed, one cannot help but see in the liturgical act of the faithful kneeling in silence at the death of Jesus a fulfillment of the Second Reading for Palm Sunday:

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave… he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend… (Philippians 2:5-10)

3. The King Who Rides the Colt, the Blood of the Covenant, and the Release from “the Pit”
Third and finally, according to Zechariah’s prophecy, the king who rides the colt into Jerusalem will not deliver his people through the shedding of blood in battle, but through the mysterious “blood of the covenant,” which will somehow set captives free from the realm of the dead known as “the Pit” in the Old Testament (Zech 9:10-11).

Once again, this Old Testament background of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday ultimately points forward to what he will accomplish in his Passion. For in the Upper Room, at the Last Supper, we find a striking parallel with Zechariah’s prophecy:  

When the hour came, Jesus took his place at table with the apostles…Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying,  “This is my body, which will be given for you;  do this in memory of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.” (Luke 22:19-22)

In other words, by means of his Triumphal Entry, Jesus is signaling much more than just the fact that he is the Messiah.He is also signaling what kind of Messiah he will be, and by what means he will set his people free from captivity—not by the blood of warfare, but by the blood of the covenant, which he will pour out under the appearance of wine in the Upper Room and on the wood of the Cross on Good Friday. It is by means of this blood, poured out upon the Cross on Calvary, that he promise the penitent thief that he will not go down to the shadows of the Pit, but into the glory of Paradise:

Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes,  but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you,  today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 22:39-43)

Note it well: the difference between the ‘good thief’ and the ‘bad thief’ is really about how they understand the nature of Jesus’ kingship. The first thinks Jesus Messiahship means that he will save his subjects from suffering and physical death. The good thief recognizes that Jesus kingdom is not of this world, and Jesus reveals to him, in the very midst of his agony, that the restoration he has come to give is not to the earthly land of Israel but to the promised land of “Paradise.”

The Palm Branches and the King Who Goes Up to the Altar to Offer Sacrifice
Finally, bringing our reflection to a close, I would like to make one last point about the crowd’s response to Jesus’ triumphal entry, with their proclamation of the words “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:38). As is also well known, the crowd is taking this chant from Psalm 118, a popular song that was sung during the feasts of Passover and Tabernacles. However, once again, when we go back and look at the Psalm in context, we discover yet again several striking features of the king whose arrival is being celebrated:

Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them  and give thanks to the LORD… The stone which the builders rejected  has become the head of the corner... Save us, we beseech thee, O LORD! O LORD, we beseech thee, give us success! Blessed be he who enters in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD. The LORD is God, and he has given us light! Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar! Thou art my God, and I will give thanks to thee.. (Psalm 118:19, 22, 25-28).

Although much could be said about this passage, for our purposes here, one point above all should stand out: When the crowds greet Jesus with palm braches and chants, they are reenacting the words of Psalm 118. Yet in the Psalm itself, notice that the king is not simply coming into the city (‘open to me the gates)—he is going up to the Temple to offer sacrifice. And not just any kind of sacrifice, but the “thanksgiving” sacrifice, known in Hebrew as the todah offering (see Leviticus 7).

Once this Old Testament background to the crowd’s response is in place, the deeper meaning of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry is revealed. The crowds with their branches and their Psalms have it right: Jesus is the king of Israel; he has come to his city; and he is going up to the altar to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving. But the sacrifice he is going to offer is not that of bulls or goats, but of himself. And the todah that he will give will begin with the Eucharist celebrated in the Upper Room and consummated on the altar of the Cross.

The Catechism on the Triumphal Entry, the Eucharist, and Holy Week
In other words, at every Mass, when we proclaim—“Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord,Hosanna in the Highest!”—we are not only remembering the first Palm Sunday. Even more, we are celebration the liturgical coming of the King into our midst, as he 'ascends' to the altar of the Eucharist. As he said at the Last Supper, there he 'pours out' the blood of the new covenant in the one eternal offering by which we too are given peace and prepared to enter into the kingdom of Paradise.  In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

How will Jerusalem welcome her Messiah? Although Jesus had always refused popular attempts to make him king, he chooses the time and prepares the details for his messianic entry into the city of "his father David". Acclaimed as son of David, as the one who brings salvation (Hosanna means "Save!" or "Give salvation!"), the "King of glory" enters his City "riding on an ass". Jesus conquers the Daughter of Zion, a figure of his Church, neither by ruse nor by violence, but by the humility that bears witness to the truth… Their acclamation, "Blessed be he who comes in the name of the Lord", is taken up by the Church in the "Sanctus" of the Eucharistic liturgy that introduces the memorial of the Lord's Passover.

Jesus' entry into Jerusalem manifested the coming of the kingdom that the King-Messiah was going to accomplish by the Passover of his Death and Resurrection. It is with the celebration of that entry on Palm Sunday that the Church's liturgy solemnly opens Holy Week. (CCC 559-560)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Pope Francis to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew: "My Brother Andrew"

Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I
Here is what Pope Francis said in his address today to a gathering of religious leaders in Rome.

In a moving moment, he began by thanking the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who had just spoken. He identifies him as "My Brother Andrew", since the Patriarch traces his line of apostolic succession back to St. Andrew, St. Peter's brother.

I've added emphasis to some of my favorite parts.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, 
First of all, heartfelt thanks for what my Brother Andrew told us. Thank you so much! Thank you so much! 
It is a source of particular joy to meet you today, delegates of the Orthodox Churches, the Oriental Orthodox Churches and Ecclesial Communities of the West. Thank you for wanting to take part in the celebration that marked the beginning of my ministry as Bishop of Rome and Successor of Peter. 
Yesterday morning, during the Mass, through you , I recognized the communities you represent. In this manifestation of faith, I had the feeling of taking part in an even more urgent fashion the prayer for the unity of all believers in Christ, and together to see somehow prefigured the full realization of full unity which depends on God’s plan and on our own loyal collaboration. 
I begin my Apostolic Ministry in this year during which my venerable Predecessor, Benedict XVI, with true inspiration, proclaimed the Year of Faith for the Catholic Church. With this initiative, that I wish to continue and which I hope will be an inspiration for every one’s journey of faith, he wished to mark the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, thus proposing a sort of pilgrimage towards what for every Christian represents the essential: the personal and transforming relationship with Jesus Christ, Son of God, who died and rose for our salvation. This effort to proclaim this eternal treasure of faith to the people of our time, lies at the heart of the Council's message. 

Pope Francis on the Secret to Living Celibacy: "I Was Dazzled By A Girl..."

Cardinal Bergoglio (Pope Francis) and Rabbi Skorka. 
The following is taken from a conversation Cardinal Bergoglio (Pope Francis) had with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, rector of the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary. The two talked about the challenges of forming men for ministry. It was printed in Sobre el Cielo y la Tierra (“On the Heavens and the Earth”), published by Sudamericana in 2012.

In the following excerpt Bergogolio speaks candidly about the challenges of celibacy but also its advantages, explaining why he favors maintaining it as a discipline for priests.

Bergoglio: When I was a seminarian, I was dazzled by a girl I met at an uncle's wedding. I was surprised by her beauty, her intellectual brilliance... and, well, I was bowled over for quite a while. I kept thinking and thinking about her. When I returned to the seminary after the wedding, I could not pray for over a week because when I tried to do so, the girl appeared in my head. I had to rethink what I was doing. I was still free because I was a seminarian, so I could have gone back home and that was it. I had to think about my choice again. I chose again – or let myself be chosen by – the religious path. It would be abnormal for this kind of thing not to happen.

When this happens, one has to get one’s bearings again. It’s a matter of one choosing again or saying, “No, what I'm feeling is very beautiful. I am afraid I won't be faithful to my commitment later on, so I'm leaving the seminary.” When something like this happens to a seminarian, I help him go in peace to be a good Christian and not a bad priest. In the Western Church to which I belong, priests cannot be married as in the Byzantine, Ukrainian, Russian or Greek Catholic Churches. In those Churches, the priests can be married, but the bishops have to be celibate. They are very good priests. Sometimes I joke with them and tell them that they have wives at home but they did not realize that they also got a mother-in-law as part of the bargain. In Western Catholicism, some organizations are pushing for more discussion about the issue. For now, the discipline of celibacy stands firm. Some say, with a certain pragmatism, that we are losing manpower. If, hypothetically, Western Catholicism were to review the issue of celibacy, I think it would do so for cultural reasons (as in the East), not so much as a universal option.

For the moment, I am in favor of maintaining celibacy, with all its pros and cons, because we have ten centuries of good experiences rather than failures. What happens is that the scandals have an immediate impact. Tradition has weight and validity. Catholic ministers chose celibacy little by little. Up until 1100, some chose it and some did not. After, the East followed the tradition of non-celibacy as personal choice, while the West went the opposite way. It is a matter of discipline, not of faith. It can change. Personally, it never crossed my mind to marry. But there are cases. Look at the case of the Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo. He's a brilliant guy. But as a bishop, he had a fall and resigned from the diocese. This decision was honest. Sometimes we see priests fall into this.

Skorka: And what is your position?

"Why Priests?": PART 3: The Priesthood of the Apostles in the New Testament

This post continues my response to Protestant scholar Michael Bird's post, "Why Priests?". Read the IntroductionPart 1 and Part 2.

Michael recognizes that there are biblical reasons to see "evangelical ministry" as "priestly ministry". He highlights Romans 15:15-16, in which Paul explicitly identifies himself as a priest.
“Yet I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15:15-16).  
From this passage, Michael concludes: 
... the idea of setting apart/consecrating/devoting/ordaining a person to gospel ministry means to set apart/consecrate/devote/ordain someone to what the Apostle Paul calls a priestly work. If vocation defines description, then there is nothing illegitimate about calling such persons “priests.”
Given the clarity of this passage, I don't think there can be any doubt that Paul saw himself as exercising a priestly ministry. 

However, it should be noted, that this is only the tip of the iceberg. When it comes to the biblical evidence for the priesthood of the apostolic office numerous other texts could be cited.

In an article forthcoming in JBL I make the case that Peter's role in Matthew 16 should be read in priestly terms. I won't rehash all my arguments here. Suffice it to say, it is widely recognized that Jesus compares Peter to Eliakim, a figure described in Isaiah 22. Notably, Eliakim wears garments only otherwise associated with priesthood (i.e., the robe and the girdle). Indeed, ancient Jewish sources had no doubt about Eliakim's priestly identity. 

However, numerous other passages could also be mentioned. I highlight a number from Matthew in my JBL article. Let me here take a different approach and examine some passages in Luke, the focus of another forthcoming article of mine. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tomorrow: Continuing My Response to Protestant Scholar Michael Bird's Post, "Why Priests?"

Tomorrow I will be continuing my dialogue with Protestant Michael Bird, who wrote this post, entitled, "Why Priests?"

If you'd like to be brought up to speed on this series, here are the links to the IntroductionPart 1 and Part 2.

A Catholic Meme I'm Not Thrilled About. Don't Forget, Benedict Emphasized "Charity"

Okay, so maybe I'm being a bit cantankerous but I have problems with the meme on the right. Catholics are floating this picture, produced by CatholicVote, around Facebook.

Now I have to confess that I think it is a bit silly to try to encapsulate any pontificate with a single word.

But, having said that, I have to admit that what is really irritating me is this: if any recent papacy should be linked with "charity" it is Pope Benedict's! Why?

From the start of his pontificate and all throughout it, "charity" was really the theme of Benedict's teaching!

At the beginning of his very first address he cited Vatican II in describing the Church as "a great family of all the peoples by means of the unifying power of Truth and Love" (cf. Lumen Gentium 1).

His very first encyclical was Deus Caritas est--"God is Love (Charity)". 

The importance of the theological virtue of Charity was emphasized throughout his Petrine ministry.

Whatever his topic, Benedict seemed to always treat it in relation to Charity.

How did he approach the Eucharist? His letter on it was entitled, Sacramentum caritatis, that is, "The Sacrament of Charity". 

What about his approach to Catholic Social Teaching? He laid out his teaching here in Caritas in veritate, that is, "Charity in Truth". 

I love Pope Francis but let's not have such a short memory! If there ever was a pontificate devoted to proclaiming "charity" it was Benedict XVI's!

Of course, the final act of his papacy, his resignation, is probably best viewed as an exceptional act of "charity" on behalf of the Church.

But--and this is really important--I think it is really absurd to try to figure out which pope has more "faith" or "love". Did Benedict have more "Faith" than John Paul II? Did John Paul II have more hope than Francis? This is dangerous!

The question here should be which pope emphasized which theological virtue the most in his teaching, not trying to assign who was the most loving or faith-filled!

And there can be no doubt, as Francis has emphasized "poverty", Benedict emphasized "charity".

Again, this is not to suggest that John Paul II or Francis was or are unconcerned about love/charity. But let's not forget that "Charity" really and truly was the major motif of Benedict's ministry.

How would I then assign the theological virtues? Again, this is facile. But if someone were to put a gun to my head and insist that I find a way of linking each pope to one of them, I'd say the following.

John Paul II as "Faith": It was John Paul II who wrote the great encyclical, Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason).

Moreover, he was the one who also gave us the Catechism of the Catholic Church (though it was Cardinal Ratzinger who oversaw the project, it was published as the magisterium of John Paul II). In fact, in his Apostolic Constitution, Fidei Depositum (Deposit of Faith), a work which also emphasizes the role of faith, he tells us why he gave us the Catechism: to provide the Church with "a sure norm for teaching the faith".

Francis  as "Hope": Given what I've said above, "hope" would seem best attributed to Francis. Indeed, in his address to the Cardinals he highlighted as a chief danger the temptation to "bitterness".

Still, I have to say, linking each pontificate with one theological virtue is probably too difficult. But if there is one thing I'm sure of it is this: Benedict put greater emphasis on "Charity" than any other recent pope. Let's not forget that--and certainly not so soon!

John Allen on the Myth of the Vatican's Wealth

The Vatican is not the place of financial indulgence it is often made out to be. Allen does a great job explaining the reality. I've added emphasis to select elements and put my comments in red.
Given the magnificence of St. Peter's Basilica and the Apostolic Palace, the Vatican may seem a counterintuitive place to pursue the dream of a poor church. Some may expect the new pope to hold a fire sale in St. Peter's Square -- in a metaphorical sense following his namesake, Francis of Assisi, by stripping the place naked before starting anew. 
Such a program is, in truth, easier to applaud than to accomplish. 
To begin with, the legendary wealth of the Vatican is to some extent more myth than reality. The Vatican has an annual operating budget of under $300 million, while Harvard University, arguably the Vatican of elite secular opinion, has a budget of $3.7 billion, meaning it's 10 times greater. The Vatican's "patrimony," what other institutions would call an endowment, is around $1 billion. In this case, Harvard's ahead by a robust factor of 30, with an endowment of $30.7 billion. 
The Vatican bank controls assets estimated at more than $6 billion, which is nobody's idea of chump change, but most of that isn't the Vatican's money. It belongs to religious orders, dioceses, movements and other Catholic organizations, and is managed by the Institute for the Works of Religion to facilitate moving it around the world. 
Of course, these figures don't include the value of masterpieces of Western art housed in the Vatican, such as Michelangelo's "Pietà." The Vatican considers itself custodians of these items, not their owners, and it's a matter of Vatican law that they can never be sold or borrowed against. [Allen neglects to mention that this is due to a treaty with the Italian government. The Vatican is permitted its sovereignty, but only within certain boundaries. In fact, the EU would make it impossible for the Church to sell these goods--they are seen as part of the Italian people's patrimony.]. As a result, they have no practical value and are listed on the Vatican books at a value of 1 euro each. 
Aside from selling off the papal limo, which Pope Francis doesn't seem inclined to use, and baubles such as the crimson-lined mozetta, which he doesn't seem inclined to wear, it's hard to see immediately what he could jettison that would dramatically alter perceptions. 
Moreover, Francis was elected in part on a platform of overhauling the Vatican's bureaucracy in the direction of greater transparency, accountability and efficiency. 
Assuming he assembles a team of reformers, he'll need to make sure they have the tools to do the job. At least initially, that might require more money for Vatican operations rather than less...
In any event, it might help matters if the outside world could see the relatively Spartan settings in which most Vatican officials actually live and work as opposed to the resplendent backdrops used to stage public rituals. Simply by lifting some of the veils of secrecy, Francis might move a long way toward recalibrating impressions.

Pope Francis Prays At Peter's Tomb with Ecumenical Patriarch and Other Catholic and Orthodox Bishops

Prior to celebrating the Mass inaugurating his Pontificate, Pope Francis prayed before the tomb of St. Peter. He was joined by, most notably, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, as well as other Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic Bishops. Here is the video:

Monday, March 18, 2013

"Why Priests?": PART 2: The Priesthood in Jewish Eschatological / Messianic Expectations

This post continues my response to Protestant scholar Michael Bird's post, "Why Priests?". Read the Introduction and Part 1.

Before looking at the New Testament evidence regarding priesthood in the New Covenant age we really ought to be sure that we have the proper context for the discussion. Specifically, we must remember that Jesus was a Jew. So were his earliest disciples. Their understanding would have been shaped by Israel's scriptures and the Judaism of their day.

This raises an important question: How did ancient Jews envision priesthood in the age of the Messiah?

It is widely acknowledged that ancient Jews anticipated the coming of a new temple in the future eschatological / messianic period. This hope is clearly annunciated in biblical books like Isaiah, which identify the temple as the future site of the ingathering of Israel.
2 It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, 3 and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths (Isa 2:2–3; cf. Mic 4:1–2).

6 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)
The latter passage is cited by Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels as part of his action in the temple (cf. Matt 21:19; Mark 11:17; Luke 20:46).

In short, as Michael Bird himself has persuasively demonstrated (see his excellent book, Jesus and the Gentile Mission, pp. 155-61), the Gospels clearly present Jesus as affirming the hope for a coming eschatological temple. Specifically, this temple is associated with Jesus (cf. John 2:19; Mark 14:58).

Such imagery is likely present in Jesus' apparent application of Psalm 118 to himself at the end of the Parable of the Wicked Tenants: "The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner..." (cf. Mark 12:10; Ps 118:22). Since the temple is both the context for Psalm 118 (cf. Ps 118:26) and the episode in which Jesus spoke these words (cf. Mark 11:27), it seems hard to doubt that the building project envisioned here involves temple imagery. In short, (much, much more could be said!), Jesus is identifying himself with the temple and probably the Church as well (he is its cornerstone).   

The New Temple, the New Priesthood and the New Cult

But it is important to recognize that, for ancient Jews, the belief in a coming “new temple” necessarily involved hopes for a new priesthood and a new cult. Therefore the biblical prophets repeatedly insist that there will not only be a new temple but also a new priesthood and a new cult. 

A few examples will suffice:
  • Malachi 3 explains that the eschatological age will see the purification of the sons of Levi, who will present “right offerings” (מגישי מנחה בצדקה) (cf. Mal 3:3). 
  • Ezekiel, famous for his vision of the new temple (Ezek 40–48), provides a detailed description of the offerings that will be made therein (cf. Ezek 42:13; 43:18–27; 44:11, 15–16, 29–30; 45:13–25; 46). 
  • In Isaiah 56:6-7 (quoted above), we read a vision of the new temple that includes the assertion that foreigners will “minister” [šārat] to God. This is a stunning statement. This terminology is used to describe priestly cultic activity throughout the Old Testament (e.g., Exod 28:35; Num 3:6; 8:26; 18:2; Deut 10:8; 17:12; 1 Kgs 8:11; 2 Chr 5:14). Not surprisingly, this particular element of Isaiah’s prophecy is left out in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Scholars recognize that the omission is likely due to discomfort with the implication that Gentiles might somehow serve as priests. [1]
The Prophetic Critique of the Cult

Here it is important to mention that many have overlooked this aspect of the prophetic hope because of anti-cultic / anti-priestly theological prejudices. For many years scholars have read the prophetic critique of the corruption of the cult as a whole-sale rejection of cult and priesthood. 

Yet this would be to misread the prophets!

The truth is, the prophets never reject the divinely instituted nature of priesthood and cult. Indeed, many clearly affirm its role in the eschatological / messianic age notwithstanding their condemnation of its corruption in their day.

Jeremiah, probably the most forceful critic of the temple cult, insists that in the future day of the eschatological ingathering of Israel the people will offer sacrifices in the new temple:
“And people shall come from the cities of Judah and the places round about Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin, from the Shephelah, from the hill country, and from the Negeb, bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices, cereal offerings and frankincense, and bringing thank offerings [תודה] to the house of the Lord” (Jer 17:26; cf. also Jer 33:10-11).
Transcending the Law

It is worth mentioning that many of the prophetic texts envision a sort of transcending of the Levitical priesthood. For example, Isaiah, as mentioned above, seems to envision foreigners serving as priests. Likewise, he envisions Gentiles offering sacrifices in Egypt.
“In that day shall there be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt… and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day and worship with sacrifice and burnt offering [minḥâ], and they will make vows to the Lord and perform them” (Isa 19:19a, 21).
Ancient fragment of the Testament of Levi
Such expectations clearly continued into Jesus' day. A noteworthy passage in this regard is found in the Testament of Levi:
Levi, your posterity shall be divided into three offices as a sign of the glory of the Lord who is coming. The first lot shall be great; no other shall be greater than it. The second shall be in the priestly role. But the third shall be granted a new name, because from Judah a king will arise and shall found a new priesthood in accord with the gentile model and for all nations. His presence is beloved, as a prophet of the Most High, a descendant of Abraham, our father. (T. Levi 8:11–15; OTP 1:791)[1] 
This is apparent in other prophetic books as well. For example, Jeremiah 30:21 explains, “Their prince shall be one of themselves, their ruler shall come forth from their midst; I will make him draw near (והקרבתיו) and he shall approach me (ונגש), for who would dare of himself to approach me? says the Lord.” The term translated, “I will make him draw near” (והקרבתיו), is frequently used in cultic settings (cf. Exod 29:4, 8; 40:12, 14 Lev 3:6; 7:35; 8:6, 13, 24; Num 8:9, 10; 16:5, 9, 10), as is “he shall approach me” (ונגש; cf. Exod 28:43; 30:20 Lev 21:23; Ezek 44:13). Together these terms seem to indicate a priestly role for the coming Davidic messiah.

Specifically, three priesthoods are mentioned here: 
  1. the first lot, the high priesthood given to the descendents of Aaron; 
  2. the second, the order of the Levites
  3. the third, established by a coming king (=the messiah?), which is linked with the Gentiles.
Although this schematization could easily be seen as betraying the hand of a later Christian editor, it should be pointed out that the association of Gentiles with the priesthood may simply be seen as reflecting what is found in, for example, Isaiah 56, which, as we observed above, links the Gentiles with priestly activity in the eschatological age. Still, if it is a Christian text, it is just another piece of evidence that Christians appropriated such Jewish hopes for the priesthod.

Jesus the Jew?

The Temple Scroll discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls.
This scroll details the duties of priests
in the eschatological / messianic age.
All of this provides us with important context for reading the New Testament. As is well known, such hopes for a new priest and a new cult continued well into Jesus’ day (e.g., the Dead Sea Scrolls, which details the activity of priests in the eschatological age in various ways).

Indeed, it is important to note that there are no Jewish sources that reject the expectation of a future temple cult! There are variations on what it would involve, but such hopes are ubiquitous—from the Dead Sea Scrolls to Josephus. Even Philo, who spiritualizes the meaning of the temple, nevertheless never rejected the Jerusalem cult!

In short, the evidence suggests that a vision of the new covenant age without a cult and priesthood would be, by definition, un-Jewish. Given the evidence, it simply isn't plausible to think an ancient Jew in Jesus' day would entertain such expectations.

With that we come to the all important question: Did Jesus reject such hopes for a new priesthood and a new cult? Did he believe—unlike every other Jewish source we know of—that the eschatological age would mean the end of an ordained priesthood and cultic worship? 

I don’t think that’s what the New Testament suggests. But we’ll deal with that evidence in the next post.

[1] Dwight W. Van Winkle, “An Inclusive Authoritative Text in Exclusive Communities,” in Writing and Reading the Scroll of Isaiah (eds. C. C. Broyles and C. A. Evans; Leiden: Brill, 1997), 425 [423–40]. 

Star Wars Viewed Through a Hermeneutic of Suspicion

How could I have been so naive? The whole account I knew was really just political propaganda after all!


Here's a call for some scholarly sobriety.

H/T NewAdvent

The Gospel Will Be Read in Greek at the Papal Installation Mass Tomorrow!

The Gospel reading tomorrow--with the Gospel acclamation--will be proclaimed in Greek! 

This is no doubt related to the fact that the Ecumenical Patriarch from Constantinople will be in attendance with three other Orthodox bishops. 

In doing this Pope Francis is clearly underscoring his recognition of the significance of their presence, expressing his gratitude as well as his desire to continue working towards unity. It seems Francis will make ecumenism as much as a priority as Benedict did.

But back to that headline: I repeat, the Gospel will be read in Greek! 

I can't believe I'm typing this! This is awesome. 

I love hearing the parts of the Mass in Latin, but let's remember, the New Testament was written in Greek. 

And if you're wondering, the readings will be taken from those assigned for the feast of the day, the Solemnity of St. Joseph. Here are the lectionary selections:

Some Thoughts on Pope Francis' Coat of Arms

Today the pope's new coat of arms has been released.

Specifically, the coat of arms includes the following:  
  1. A simple miter (instead of the traditional papal tiara; Benedict used the same imagery).
  2. Keys, evocative of Jesus' words to Peter in Matthew 16:18-19. The image is standard for the papal coat of arms. 
  3. The emblem of the Jesuit order, the "Society of Jesus". "IHS" represents the first three letters in the name of Jesus in Greek ("I" = J; "H" = "E"). One can't help but notice that the sunburst surrounding the Christogram also, fortuitously, evokes the flag of Argentina, Pope Francis' homeland (see below). 
  4. A star, a symbol of Mary. Mary, like Daughter Zion in the Old Testament, embodies the biblical hope that the saints will shine like the stars, cf. Dan. 12:3.
  5. The nard flower (yes, I know they look like grapes), a symbol traditionally used for Joseph's holy purity. The Joseph imagery rounds out the imagery of the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary, Joseph). Notably, Francis has invoked the imagery of the Holy Family in his opposition to legalizing homosexual marriage in Argentina.   
  6. Pope Francis' coat of arms.  
The Flag of Argentina. Note the similarity of the sunburst
to that found in the Jesuit emblem. 

We should also take notice of Pope Francis' episcopal motto: miserando atque eligendo, which is Latin for, “by having mercy, by choosing him.”

The line is taken from an eighth century sermon delivered by the Venerable Bede's on the conversion of St. Matthew: “Jesus saw the tax collector and by having mercy chose him as an Apostle saying to him: Follow me.”

According to Vatican Radio, Bede's homily, which stresses divine mercy, has long been near to the heart of Cardinal Bergoglio (Pope Francis).

Notably, Bede's homily also stresses Matthew's abandonment of his wealth to follow Jesus--something a man who would choose to be called "Francis" no doubt finds especially significant!
There is no reason for surprise that the tax collector abandoned earthly wealth as soon as the Lord commanded him. Nor should one be amazed that neglecting his wealth, he joined a band of men whose leader had, on Mathew’s assessment, no riches at all. Our Lord summoned Matthew by speaking to him in words. By an invisible, interior impulse flooding his mind with the light ofgrace, he instructed him to walk in his footsteps. In this way Matthew could understand that Christ, who was summoning him away from earthly possessions, had incorruptible treasures of heaven in his gift.
In fact, it was on St. Matthew's feast day in 1953 that Pope Francis first heard the call to the priesthood.