Monthly Archives: April 2021

My Father’s House

Duccio, The Last Supper, Maestá altarpiece (1311)

Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter

John 14:1-6

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.

John 14:1

One of the disciples was about to betray Jesus (John 13:21-30). Another was forewarned that he would deny him thrice before cockcrow (John 13:38). The disciples had reasons to feel uneasy. Yet immediately after these predictions, Jesus exhorted them to stand firm in faith. 

“Believe in God; believe also in me,” an alternative translation reads. Pisteuete (believe) can be read in either the indicative or imperative moods.

In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 

John 14:2

“My Father’s house” evoked a world of images and ideas that shaped the character of Israel from ancient times. Psalm 122 celebrates a pilgrim’s journey to “the house of the LORD,” Jerusalem, which means “foundation of peace (shalom).”  

I rejoiced when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the LORD.”

Psalm 122:1; LXX

The same word for house, oikia, is used in John’s Gospel and in the Greek translation of the Psalm. Shalom, shalom, shalom—the Psalm resounds thrice (verses 6-8). The house of the LORD is a city of peace, an assembly of praise, and a citadel of justice.

There are many mansions or dwelling places (moné) in the house of the LORD, room enough for all. The Son of Man who had “nowhere to lay his head” on earth, poorer than foxes and birds, threw open the doors to his Father’s house of plenty.

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.

John 14:3

Jesus will ultimately triumph over death; the grave cannot hold him prisoner. Christ will “come again” and live forever with his disciples. A little later, Jesus locates the Father’s dwelling (moné) in the hearts of believers:

Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.

John 14:23

Dwelling in the Father’s house, and being indwelt by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are expressions of supreme union between God and his children.

“Where I am going you know the way.” Thomas said to him, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”

John 14:4-5

Why did Jesus expect his disciples to “know the way”? Perhaps the tradition of the Torah, Psalms, and Prophets should have clued them in.

Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.

Psalm 86:11; LXX

Way (Hebrew derek and Greek hodos) is a central idea in Mosaic law and liturgy. “Walking” (halak) in the way of the LORD is an idiom for living righteously in the sight of God.

Be careful, therefore, to do as the LORD, your God, has commanded you, not turning aside to the right or to the left, but following exactly the way that the LORD, your God, commanded you that you may live and prosper, and may have long life in the land which you are to possess.

Deuteronomy 5:32-33; LXX

If Thomas’ question had been directed to Moses, he would have been guided in the word, law, life, and truth handed down from Mount Sinai (Psalm 119).

The new Moses responded:

I am the way and the truth and the life.

John 14:6

The way, the truth, and the life of the Mosaic law has become flesh in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Way, the Truth, and the Life is a person revealing the face of God the Father.

No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6

-GMC

The Greatest Gift

Lord Jesus,
once in the wilderness
your people ate heavenly manna
and they were filled.
And once in a desert place
you fed the hungry 
with blessed bread.

A simple thing, we say,
costing our mighty God
little effort.

But what if bread is
a body offered for all,
and a cup of wine
your own life-blood
given to those who hardly care?

A costly thing, we say,
Is there anything more
God could have done?
Anything more
Love could do
than lay down his life 
for his friends?

From Lent-Easter Meditations and Prayers 
by Fr. Victor Hoagland, C.P.

For the Love of the Church

Byzantine mosaic, Jesus Washing the Feet of the Disciples, Monreale Cathedral, Italy (1180s)

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter

John 13:16-20

In the foot washing scene at the Last Supper, a beautiful image of apostolic communion in Christ toward the Father is given to the Church. 

Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.

John 13:20

An apostle (apostolos) is a “messenger,” one sent out by Jesus Christ to represent him. Sender and sent are so closely united that Paul reached for an organic metaphor to express it:

He is the head of the body, the church.
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
that in all things he himself might be preeminent.

Colossians 1:18; cf. Ephesians 1:22; 1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12:4-8

Jesus’ vision of the Church soars far beyond this earth, yet deep within its heart, into the glory of the Blessed Trinity who dwells in creation as in a temple. Apostles are sent by Christ to lead God’s children into the very heart of the Father, sender of his only-begotten Son.

Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.

John 13:16-17

Jesus’ standard of greatness was demonstrated on the floor with a basin of water and a towel around his waist. His actions and words mirrored the very character of the Father: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Apostles are called to be icons of Christ, mirrors of the Father’s heart, in the Spirit of truth.

Even if one out of twelve betray him, Jesus showed by his free acceptance of the Cross that the Church is worth dying for.

I am not speaking of all of you. I know those whom I have chosen. But so that the scripture might be fulfilled, ‘The one who ate my food has raised his heel against me. ’From now on I am telling you before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe that I AM.

John 13:18-19

Love is worth the price of betrayal. With only one disciple at the foot of the Cross, one hanged, and ten in hiding, Jesus looked beyond his scars, thorns, nails, and wounds to the Father and pleaded on behalf of the Church and world: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

When Jesus expired to the Father, he commended all of humanity to the Father: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows and Mother of the Church, pray for us.

-GMC

Word and Eternal Life

Andrei Rublev, Icon of the Most Holy Trinity

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

John 12:44-50

Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me believes not only in me but also in the one who sent me, and whoever sees me sees the one who sent me.

John 12:44-45

Jesus is not a one person mission. Again and again, he deferred all of his actions and words to the Father. Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Most Holy Trinity depicts the Son and the Spirit looking toward the Father, the unbegotten origin of the Son and the Spirit. God is, of course, beyond spacetime; thus words like “unbegotten” and “origin,” derived from sensible experience, must be understood as pointers to an ineffable reality.

I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness.

John 12:46

John’s Prologue introduces the Word of God who was “in the beginning with God” as Life and Light itself (John 1:1-5). 

And if anyone hears my words and does not observe them, I do not condemn him, for I did not come to condemn the world but to save the world.

John 12:47

Earlier in the Gospel, all judgment is given to the Son (John 5:22). Passages about judgment expose the core of the human heart. The voice of God in every heart provokes a search for flourishing. Fear of external judgment corresponds to an inner compass groping for Light, Life, Love, Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. 

Jesus forgave his enemies from the Cross for they did not recognize him as the Son of God (Luke 23:34). But failure to recognize the Spirit of God, Jesus says, is inexcusable (Matthew 12:31-32). These puzzling Scriptures seem to point to the fundamental orientation of our heart toward the voice and Spirit of God—receptivity or rejection?1

Whoever rejects me and does not accept my words has something to judge him: the word that I spoke, it will condemn him on the last day, because I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and speak.

John 12:48-49

The “word” (dabar) in Hebrew culture is loaded with significance. In Genesis, the word of God has the power to create, bringing light and life into being. A word of blessing, once given, could not be revoked (Genesis 27:1-46). Words have power to heal; they issue forth from the mouth of God to accomplish his purposes (Psalm 107:20; 147:15; Isaiah 55:11). God’s word is a living fire—a hammer that breaks rock into pieces (Jeremiah 23:29). 

In the Mosaic world, word and life (also law and life) are so closely intertwined that they are virtually indistinguishable:

When Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, he said to them, Take to heart all the words that I am giving in witness against you today, words you should command your children, that they may observe carefully every word of this law. For this is no trivial matter for you, but rather your very life; by this word you will enjoy a long life on the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.

Deuteronomy 32:45-47

Jesus, the Word of God, offered himself to the world as Light and Life. A heart shriveled, closed to love, and sunk in darkness is a heart condemned. 

The words of Christ proceed from the Father, for “the Father and I are one” (John 10:30).

And I know that his commandment is eternal life. So what I say, I say as the Father told me.”

John 12:50

The new Moses elevated the equivalence of word and life to Word and Eternal Life. Jesus is the Word sent forth from the Father to heal and give life to a broken and dying world.

-GMC

1 More than conscience, the Spirit of God produces the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22).

The Father’s Hand

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

John 10:22-30

The feast of the Dedication was then taking place in Jerusalem. It was winter. And Jesus walked about in the temple area on the Portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

John 10:22-24

A wintry chill descended upon the temple in Jerusalem as Jesus’ enemies encircled the shepherd like wolves. The Light of the World outshone all the candles of the Festival of Lights (Hanukkah, Feast of Dedication), but his enemies preferred darkness. 

“How long will you take away our life?” they asked the one who is Life itself (see NABRE footnote to John 10:24).

Hearts and ears were closed to Jesus, though his opponents seemed to seek a straight answer about his messiahship. 

Jesus answered them, “I told you and you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me. But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep.

John 10:25-26

Believing is not automatic. Signs and wonders, teaching, and fulfillment of prophecies do not necessarily awaken faith. The human heart has an unfathomable capacity to resist whatever it wants to resist. Every argument has a counter-argument. Faith is not ultimately a matter of debate, but of trust in a divine person. Faith is friendship.

Signs and wonders have limited efficacy. Stories in the Torah abound with signs and wonders that failed to produce lasting change. The ten plagues of Egypt rolled off the hardened heart of Pharaoh. The parting of the Red Sea, water from the rock, and “bread from heaven” (manna) did not prevent grumbling or craving for the “fleshpots of Egypt.” 

“You do not believe,” Jesus said, because you have no relationship with me. My sheep seek green pastures, still waters, healing, rest, and life from me (Psalm 23).

My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.

John 10:27-28

No one can snatch the sheep of the divine shepherd. Not even death, the last enemy in this world (1 Corinthians 15:26), can destroy the Good Shepherd and his sheep.

My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

John 29:30

The buck stops with the Father. Jesus can be mocked, scourged, and crucified for a time, but “the Father and I are one.” The Good Shepherd will return to the Father with the sheep given to him. The Father is better than a surety or guarantee. His Word is not just a promise or an oath, but a person—his only-begotten Son.

-GMC

The Nones

Charles Taylor in his book “A Secular Age” may have insights into the “Nones”, the  “unaffiliated population” whom surveys say are leaving their religious traditions “because they stopped believing in its teachings.” Their numbers are increasing, surveys say.

Some become unaffiliated because they do not believe in God or the teachings of most religions. Many leave a religion because “they think of religious people as hypocritical or judgmental, because religious organizations focus too much on rules or because religious leaders are too focused on power and money.”

It’s interesting to see that “ far fewer say they became unaffiliated because they believe that modern science proves that religion is just superstition.”

Taylor says the theory that religion will disappear as science advances doesn’t hold up because there’s a search for “human fullness” for a “higher world” that doesn’t go away. Surveys indicate that’s the case among the unaffiliated today

But Taylor also recognizes that people find religions difficult today.  In the western world, our secular age is an age of “expressive individualism;” people want reasons to believe and belong. They need religious places that meet them as they are. They’re looking for religious experience.

“Those who believe in the God of Abraham should normally be reminded of how little they know him, how partial is their grasp of him. They have a long way to go…Many believers (the fanatics, but also more than these) rest in the certainty that they have got God right (as against all those heretics and pagans in the outer darkness). They are clutching onto an idol, to use a term familiar to the traditions of the God of Abraham.”  (p.769)

Churches need to engage the world with reasons, not with condemnations.  Belief leads us to the mysterious Unknown, not sharp certainties. Jesus kept speaking to Nicodemus many nights, it seems. As the story of the disciples on the way to Emmaus says, it takes time to believe. We’re slow learners. We pray that on their journey the “Nones” will find him “in the breaking of the bread.”

Shepherd, Sheep, and Gate

Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter

John 10:1-10

I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

John 10:11

This is the ultimate criterion for recognizing the good shepherd. In need of nothing, the divine shepherd empties himself completely and gives himself as food and drink to feed his flock. The sheep are not a source of sustenance for him.

Ezekiel prophesied against the bad shepherds of Israel, the background of Jesus’ parable;

Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves! Should not shepherds pasture the flock? You consumed milk, wore wool, and slaughtered fatlings, but the flock you did not pasture. You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick nor bind up the injured. You did not bring back the stray or seek the lost but ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and became food for all the wild beasts. They were scattered and wandered over all the mountains and high hills; over the entire surface of the earth my sheep were scattered. No one looked after them or searched for them.

Ezekiel 34:2-6

Sheep have a poor sense of direction and easily get lost. Without a shepherd, they can wander aimlessly away from the pasture into a desolate wasteland with no food or water. In Ezekiel’s prophecy, the false shepherds not only neglect the sheep, but abuse them for their own profit. 

“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.

John 10:1-3

Middle Eastern sheepfolds had only one door or gate into an enclosure made of stones, wood or thickets which kept out wolves and other wild beasts. The shepherd guarded the entrance to protect his flock. In communal sheepfolds, several flocks were entrusted to a gatekeeper who knew each of the shepherds. A thief would have to avoid the gatekeeper and find another way into the enclosure.

Who is the gatekeeper? Commentators both modern and patristic have offered various possibilities: the Father, Christ, the Holy Spirit, Moses, or even an angel. The main point is that the good shepherd is authentic and trustworthy.

When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.”

John 10:4-5

In a communal sheepfold, how does the shepherd lead out his own sheep from among the mingled flocks? Sheep have poor depth perception in their vision, but their sense of hearing is keen. They recognize the voice of their shepherd and can distinguish it from the voice of strangers. Sheep that do not belong to the shepherd will not follow his voice out of the fold.

Although Jesus used this figure of speech, they did not realize what he was trying to tell them. So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.

John 10:6-8

Communication of divine truths in words and figures rarely met with deep understanding in Jesus’ audience. Christ is both shepherd and gate. Elsewhere he is also the “lamb led to slaughter or a sheep silent before shearers” (Isaiah 53:7). Images and words coalesce to illuminate transcendent realities. Simultaneously shepherd, sheep, and gate, Christ is creation’s origin, way of return, and end.

The false shepherds plunder the sheep; their voices are rejected.

I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.

John 10:9-10

The good shepherd not only guards his flock from harm, he puts himself in harm’s way to the point of death. The Son of God alone can freely lay down his life in order to take it up again (John 10:17-18). All other shepherds must answer to the chief Shepherd and receive sustenance from him for others (1 Peter 5:2-4).

I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep.

John 10:14-15

The relationship of the good shepherd to his sheep is elevated to the divine communion of the Father and the Son. The role of the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Covenant came to its fulfillment with the coming of Christ, the way to the Father.

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.

John 10:16

Christ is the universal Shepherd who leads both Jews and Gentiles home to the Father.

-GMC

Welcoming the Night Visitor

Jesus and NicodemusJ

We heard from Thomas, doubting Thomas, on Sunday. The next few days  he’s joined in this week’s readings by Nicodemus, a teacher in Israel, fluent in religious matters, but he comes to Jesus by night. Was it fear, human respect? Yet Jesus meets him at night. (John 3)

Nicodemus questions but doesn’t seem to understand Jesus’ answers. “How can this happen?”  Thomas  isn’t the only skeptic, a lone dissenter. Others are slow to believe too.  There is a recurrent skepticism in us all.

Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea– a member of the Jewish ruling party and another hesitant believer – finally come forward at Jesus’ death.  Joseph asks Pilate for his body. Nicodemus brings an abundance of spices for his burial. Leaving the darkness, they follow Jesus into the light. Here’s how John’s gospel describes them:

“After this, Joseph of Arimathea, secretly a disciple of Jesus for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus. And Pilate permitted it. So he came and took his body.
Nicodemus, the one who had first come to him at night, also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about one hundred pounds.
They took the body of Jesus and bound it with burial cloths along with the spices, according to the Jewish burial custom.
Now in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried. So they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day; for the tomb was close by. “(John 19, 39-42)

The dark time of death is bathed in glory.  Nicodemus’ store of spices  makes Jesus’ burial a kingly burial. The new tomb in a garden already suggests something wonderful about to happen.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3,17)

“Everyone who believes in him might have eternal life.” Everyone, even reluctant believers  like Joseph and Nicodemus.

Freedom to Follow

Jesus teaching his disciples. From a 1684 Arabic manuscript of the Gospels, copied in Egypt by Ilyas Basim Khuri Bazzi Rahib (likely a Coptic monk). In the collection of The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Saturday of the Third Week of Easter

John 6:60-69

Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” 

John 6:60

Jesus respected the freedom of his disciples. Without coercion, they were free to accept his words and stay, or leave. 

Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you?

John 6:61

Jesus was not looking for popularity or concerned about public image. On the way to the Cross, he stood to gain nothing and lose everything. As a fisher of men, he cast into the sea a most offensive bait (skandalizó—“shock”). When the fish began dispersing, Jesus made no attempt to make his bait more palatable or attractive, but reiterated his claim to be “from heaven” and “from above” (John 6:38; 3:13).

What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

John 6:62-63

In the protohistory of Genesis, human lifespans were curtailed when the LORD withdrew his spirit from flesh after a limited duration. 

Then the Lord said: My spirit shall not remain in human beings forever, because they are only flesh. Their days shall comprise one hundred and twenty years.

Genesis 6:3

After the rise and fall of multiple civilizations from the time of the Flood, the complexification of human cultures made the divine simplicity of “spirit and life” seem very remote.

But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him.

John 6:64

No amount of theologizing will produce a satisfactory theory of human freedom in the face of divine love. Much of what Jesus claims does not fall into neat, rational categories. Jesus presents himself as he is, granting everyone the freedom to follow or depart. 

And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”

John 6:65

This statement may vex those accustomed to striving and achieving goals by human effort. Following Jesus, however, is not an achievement, but a gift of faith from the Father. But if faith is wanting, is the Father to be blamed? Such a conclusion is inadmissible. 

The Cross is evidence that Jesus values our freedom even more than his own life. He is the polar opposite of a tyrant. Freedom and love are inseparable.

As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.

John 6:66

More literally, these disciples no longer “walked” (peripateó) with him. “Walking” (halak) with God is a central idea of Jewish faith and religion (Deuternomy 8:6; 26:17).

Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”

John 6:67

Like a perfect host, Jesus left the door open for his guests to come and go as they wished. 

Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

John 6:68

Peter’s question expressed his realization that, even though it was tempting to search for a more palatable teaching, none were on the horizon. Jesus was here and he had “the words of eternal life.”

We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

John 6:69

These words of faith came wholly from Peter’s own heart, in synergy with the Spirit, without force or indoctrination. Jesus was a rabbi like no other.

-GMC