Monthly Archives: October 2020

Walking like Christ

Christ Pantocrator, 13th century Serbian icon

30th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday (Year II)

Luke 14:1, 7-11

“One on tiptoe cannot stand” (Lao Tzu).1

Even with special ballet training, medical experts say that dancing en pointe for extensive periods can cause severe injury and foot damage. Blisters, calluses, broken nails, sprained ankles, fractures, inflammation, pinched nerves and other complications may result. Standing or walking on tiptoes is not recommended for everyday life.

Lao Tzu’s verse, “One on tiptoe cannot stand,” is an image of pride and arrogance. Jesus also wanted to relieve the spiritual toes of his contemporaries by showing them how to walk humbly and take the lowest place.

On a sabbath Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully. He told a parable to those who had been invited, noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place. Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’ Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table” (Luke 14:1, 7-10).

The way up is down. As the Son of God emptied himself and took the form of a slave (Philippians 2:7), we must empty ourselves and let the Holy Spirit fill us with his fruits to find peace and joy (Galatians 5:22-23). Christ is our pattern and roadmap to eternal beatitude. 

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11).

Lao Tzu’s second verse reads, “One astride cannot walk,” an echo of the American idiom, “Get off your high horse!” 

You have been told, O mortal, what is good,
and what the Lord requires of you:
Only to do justice and to love goodness,
and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).

-GMC

1 Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, chapter 24, translated by John C. H. Wu.

The Law of Mercy

Icon of Divine Mercy

30th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday (Year II)

Luke 14:1-6 

In this Gospel, Jesus was booked as a guest of honor on the Sabbath to dine at the wealthy home of a high-ranking Pharisee and his illustrious guests. The house was clean and decorated, and the table set for the midday Shabbat meal. The occasion was festive and joyous, the highlight of the Jewish week, for “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation” (Genesis 2:3).

Jesus was an unusual guest, however, and given his past actions and behavior, no one knew what to expect from him. At another Pharisee’s home, Jesus failed to comply with the ritual washing before the meal, and upbraided his host and guests for cleaning only the outside of cup and dish but neglecting the inside (Luke 11:37-41). In the synagogue on another Sabbath, Jesus cured a crippled woman against the will of the religious leaders (Luke 13:10-17). 

How far would Jesus go to undermine the authority of the Pharisees by his wonder-working and novel teachings? Jesus was being “watched closely” (paratéreó), the same verb used in Luke 20:20 when “spies” were dispatched to “trap him in speech” (Greek). 

On a sabbath Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully. In front of him there was a man suffering from dropsy (Luke 14:1-2). 

Commentators speculate on whether the afflicted man came of his own accord or was “planted” to ensnare Jesus.1 The words of the Mosaic law hung over the gathering as all eyes fixed upon him with suspense:

Remember the sabbath day—keep it holy. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God. You shall not do any work, either you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your work animal, or the resident alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy (Exodus 20:8-11). 

Not a word was uttered by the Pharisees, for the presence of the diseased man spoke loud and clear, but Jesus initiated a response to their silent queries. 

Jesus spoke to the scholars of the law and Pharisees in reply, asking, “Is it lawful to cure on the  sabbath or not?” But they kept silent; so he took the man and, after he had healed him, dismissed him (Luke 14:3-4).

Jesus took the bait. He could have avoided controversy and healed the next day, but doing so would have perpetuated false interpretations of the Sabbath and given the impression that he was intimidated into conforming to their rules. Jesus did not play politics. The merciful one cannot but act mercifully. Action follows being.

Then he said to them, “Who among you, if your son or ox falls into a cistern, would not immediately pull him out on the sabbath day?” But they were unable to answer his question (Luke 14:5-6). 

The speechless scribes and Pharisees had nothing to say, as none could deny that they would rescue their own precious child or animal on the Sabbath. Was not the cured man as precious and valuable to God as their own kin or cattle? Was not every person a beloved child of God? Undivinized hearts drew a line between “mine” and “thine,” prompting zealous protection of one’s own, but left neighbors abandoned. 

Jesus showed the true meaning of the Sabbath by revealing the Father’s mercy, which knows no bounds and is a law unto itself.

-GMC

1 Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J. writes in The Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV), Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1985, p. 1041:

 “We are not told how such a person was among those invited; his presence is not explained. Is he an unfortunate intruder (so E. E. Ellis, Gospel of Luke, 192) or was he planted? If he were an invited guest, why does Jesus eventually send him off?”

When Life’s Not Normal

Our routine lives have certainly been upset by the Covid 19 pandemic. The Thanksgiving and Christmas  holidays are now in question, school and work schedules are up in the air. So many of our normal contacts are gone, like going to church, for example. We’re involved now, too, in contentious political elections. “Normal” is nowhere in sight.

What can we do?

Most of this week I’ve been reading the Letter of St. Clement of Rome to the Corinthians. It’s a letter Pope Clement 1(c.100) wrote to the church in Corinth not long after the Apostle Paul wrote his two letters to that church. Evidently, things hadn’t changed. It was still a church in turmoil.

Some of Clement’s advice to the Corinthians might be helpful for us in our turmoil today. Instead of drifting off into your own private worlds or fighting with each other, think big, the pope writes to the Corinthians. Don’t become a church sunk in smallness.

You’re part of a great army defending God’s kingdom and advancing its cause. Stick together and be part of a greater plan. 

“Fix your gaze on the Father and Creator of the whole world” and believe he has a plan for the whole of creation. In lyrical language Clement paints a picture of God’s great plan. Don’t let your vision become too small.

“By God’s direction the heavens are in motion, and they are subject to him in peace. Day and night they fulfill the course God has established. The sun, the moon and the choirs of stars revolve in harmony at his command in their appointed paths without deviation….The earth blossoms in the proper seasons and produces abundant food…”

The world has its fierce, stormy seas, but God commands the seas. The destiny of creation is not destruction but resurrection: 

“ Consider, beloved, how the Lord keeps reminding us of the resurrection that is to come, of which he has made the Lord Jesus Christ the first fruits by raising him from the dead. Let us look, beloved, at the resurrection that occurs at its appointed time. Day and night show us a resurrection; the night lies in sleep, day rises again; the day departs, night takes its place. Let us think about the harvest; how does the sowing take place, and in what manner? The sower goes out and casts each seed onto the ground. Dry and bare, they fall into the earth and decay. Then the greatness of the Lord’s providence raises them up again from decay, and out of one many are produced and yield fruit.”

It’s not nature mysticism Clement recommends. It’s a big world seen through the eyes of faith. God’s “great providence” is at work.

Pope Francis, speaking to the world as well as to the church in his encyclical “Fratelli Tutti”, recommends the same kind of vision, a vision that unfortunately can be dimmed in the contentious political world we live in. 

God’s “great providence” is at work. The sun came up today. Seeds are falling into the ground.

The Love of a Mother Hen

Fra Angelico, Detail of the Crucifixion (ca.1437-46)

30th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday (Year II)

Luke 13:31-35

Some Pharisees came to Jesus and said, “Go away, leave this area because Herod wants to kill you” (Luke 13:31). 

From the bare text alone, it is difficult to determine the true motive of this warning from “some  Pharisees.” Interpretations range from friendly and good-willed to guileful and hostile.1 The latter seems more likely since they approach Jesus as a group. In the exceptional cases of Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin, and Nicodemus, a Pharisee, Jesus is approached alone and even at night for fear of their peers (Matthew 27:57; Mark 15:43; John 19:38; John 3:2). It took a lot of courage to stand alone against majority opinion.

Prophets have had to escape violent rulers for good reasons. David hid from Saul (I Samuel 19:1-17) and Elijah fled from Jezebel’s vengeful wrath (I Kings 19:1-4). But Jesus marched onward in the face of Herod’s threats.  

He replied, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and I perform healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I accomplish my purpose. Yet I must continue on my way today, tomorrow, and the following day, for it is impossible that a prophet should die outside of Jerusalem’ (Luke 13:32-33). 

The crafty, fox-like Herod (alópéx) had no power over Jesus whose only goal was to do the Father’s will. Jesus sought no overthrow of earthly kingdoms, but prepared hearts for the kingdom of heaven. His kingship was not of this world, his army consisted of “lambs among wolves” (Luke 10:3), and his greatest weapon was love even unto death on the Cross. 

“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up,” Jesus had prophesied (John 2:19). Destruction and construction must take place in the holy city Jerusalem, the center of temple worship and culture.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling! (Luke 13:34)

Jerusalem is an address to the entire people of Israel, as in Jeremiah’s lament: “To what can I compare you—to what can I liken you—O daughter Jerusalem?” (Lamentations 2:13) Jesus compared himself to a mother hen who shelters her children under her wings. Against all evolutionary instinct, the divine hen does not run away from the ravenous fox. “Survival of the fittest” is transcended by kenotic suffering, death, and resurrection. 

Behold, your house will be abandoned. But I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13:35).

“A little while and you will no longer see me, and again a little while later and you will see me,” Jesus said to his disciples at the Last Supper (John 16:16), echoing these final words to the Pharisees. The fox will kill the hen, leaving the chicks abandoned for “a little while,” but for all who repent in the name of Jesus Christ and return to the Father, “your grief will become joy… your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you” (John 6:16-22). 

St. Cyril of Alexandria reads the greeting, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” as a prediction of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem before his crucifixion (Matthew 21:9). St. Augustine, Theophylact, and Bede interpret the saying, originally from Psalm 118:26, as referring to Jesus’ post-resurrection glory.2

From the divine perspective, the house of Israel and Jerusalem is universalized to include the whole human race. So long as God continues to be stoned and killed in the hearts of human persons, spiritual desolation ensues. The “time” to welcome the Lord into our hearts is today  (Hebrews 3:15). 

-GMC

1 Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J. conjectures that these Pharisees “are depicted giving Jesus sage advice; these at least are well disposed toward him.” He finds support in other modern commentators: “Indeed, J. B. Tyson (‘Jesus and Herod Antipas,’ 245) plausibly argues for the historicity of this incident from the fact that Pharisees appear here not as antagonists of Jesus but as friends.” See The Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV), Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1985, p. 1030.

William Barclay writes: “There may have been six bad Pharisees for every good one but this passage shows that even amongst the Pharisees there were those who admired and respected Jesus” (Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, 13:31-35).

On the other hand, the majority of classic Protestant commentaries of the last three centuries hold that these Pharisees had hypocritical and malicious intentions, and were possibly in league with Herod and Herodias in delivering the warning. These commentaries are all in the public domain:

Charles John Ellicott, Joseph Benson, Albert Barnes, Matthew Poole, John Gill, Heinrich Meyer, W. Robertson Nicoll (The Expositor’s Greek New Testament), F. W. Farrar (Gospel of Luke, Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges), John Albert Bengel (Bengel’s Gnomon of the New Testament), Joseph Exell (The Pulpit Commentary).

Patristic commentary is sparse on this verse, but St. Cyril of Alexandria finds these Pharisees ill-disposed toward Jesus: “Likely to lose their office of leaders of the people and already fallen and expelled from their authority over them and deprived of their profits—for they were fond of wealth, and covetous, and given to lucre—they made pretense of loving him, and even drew near, and said, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you’” (Commentary on Luke, Homily 100).

2 From St. Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea, Luke 13:35:

AUGUSTINE. (de Cons. Ev. ubi sup.) But as Luke does not say to what place our Lord went from thence, so that He should not come except at that time, (for when this was spoken He was journeying onward until He should come to Jerusalem), He means therefore to refer to that coming of His, when He should appear in glory.

THEOPHYLACT. For then also will they unwillingly confess Him to be their Lord and Saviour, when there shall be no departure hence. But in saying, Ye shall not see me until he shall come, &c. does not signify that present hour, but the time of His cross; as if He says, When ye have crucified Me, ye shall no more see Me until I come again.

BEDE. Ye shall not see, that is, unless ye have worked repentance, and confessed Me to be the Son of the Father Almighty, ye shall not see My face at the second coming.

Citizens of a New World

Simone Martini (c. 1284-1344), St. Simon and St. Jude, National Gallery of Art

Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, Apostles

Ephesians 2:19-22; Luke 6:12-16

Brothers and sisters: You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22).

From heaven’s perspective we are all exiles far from home, refugees in the same boat—the saving ark of Christ—sailing through this vale of tears (1 Peter 3:18-22). Adoption into the family of God by baptism makes no distinctions of race, class, gender, passport or visa. 

The pilgrim Church is our home away from home, a center of hospitality for strangers/foreigners (xenos) and sojourners/aliens (paroikos) returning to their motherland in the heart of the Father. 

The Son of God became the brother of every human person, uniting all races and nations into one family. The Body of Christ is the new and indestructible temple of the Holy Spirit (John 2:19-21).

Jesus went up to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God. When day came, he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named Apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called a Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor (Luke 6:12-16).

Jesus spent an all-night vigil with the Father and the Holy Spirit in preparation for the call of the Apostles, who with the prophets would form the foundation of the eternal and indivisible temple of God. 

On October 28 we celebrate the feast of two foundation stones, St. Simon the Zealot and St. Jude. Lit by the Spirit’s transforming fire, Saint Simon widened his nationalistic zeal to universal scope and joined St. Peter the fisherman in catching the globe in their net. Nothing definite is known about St. Jude, but tradition has made him the patron saint of impossible causes.1 

Jesus’ original desire that all may be one as a “dwelling place of God in the Spirit” is surely an “impossible cause” that can be entrusted to Saints Simon and Jude (John 17:21). They join heaven’s throng in a continual vigil for our unity as citizens of a country not of this world.

-GMC

1 According to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J. in The Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to Luke (I-IX), Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1981, p. 619-20:

Judas, son of James. Often called Jude, to distinguish him from the following Judas; he is otherwise unknown. His name occurs here and in Acts 1:13; he is not certainly to be identified with the “Jude, brother of James,” to whom the Epistle of Jude is ascribed (v. 1). Ioudas is a Grecized form of the name of the patriarch “Judah.”

In the corresponding lists (Mark 3:18; Matthew 10:3) “Thaddaeus” appears. In later Christian tradition the two names are joined, “Jude Thaddaeus,” but this conflation has no basis in the NT itself. Moreover, some manuscripts of Matthew 10:3 read Lebbaios… instead of Thaddaios. It is unlikely that the same person had all three names. It is rather an indication that the names of the Twelve were no longer accurately preserved in the early church by the time that Luke and Matthew were writing, and that the group of the Twelve, though important at the outset, gradually lost its significance, even to the extent that people no longer could recall who once constituted the Twelve. Luke’s account in Acts even shows them changing the structure of the Jerusalem Church (6:1-6). 

The lack of complete factual and historical information need not impede our reading of Sacred Scripture. The eternal and unchanging Spirit of God breathes truth into our prayerful reading to draw us into the Trinity beyond all words.