Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Cost of Discipleship: 22nd Sunday of OT

It's been a tough week for Michael and I at our respective Universities, trying to keep up with the start of classes and a press of academic and administrative duties.  So this week I'm posting an unaltered re-run of a commentary on the Readings from three years ago:

If last Sunday’s Readings were a soft-ball pitch, a nice high arc to knock out of the park, this Sunday’s Readings are a wicked curve ball for the Catholic preacher.  Nonetheless, while these readings aren’t the “feel good” homiletical experience of last week’s, the truths are just as important and just as “Catholic.”

We begin with a troublesome passage from the prophet Jeremiah:

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.
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
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: