Tag Archives: Abel

Whitewashed Tombs

“Whitewashed tombs”
A reflection on Matthew 23:27-32 and Romans 8:19-23
Wednesday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time
©️2021 by Gloria M. Chang

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the memorials of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have joined them in shedding the prophets’ blood.’ Thus you bear witness against yourselves that you are the children of those who murdered the prophets; now fill up what your ancestors measured out!

Matthew 23:27-32

The “Woes of the Pharisees” can be traced back to pre-Abrahamic, protohistorical roots in Cain (Matthew 23:35), and thus address the whole human race that has lost its simplicity. 

The earth itself has become a tomb on account of the first murder.

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out in the field.” When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord asked Cain, Where is your brother Abel? He answered, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” God then said: What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! Now you are banned from the ground that opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.

Genesis 4:8-11

The cry of the earth and the cry of God go hand in hand. Adam and his progeny are at the center of the drama, which climaxes in the cry of the God-man-earth on the Cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). When Christ gave up his spirit, the Gospel of Matthew reports:

The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many.

Matthew 27:51b-53

All creatures look to Christ and his brothers and sisters to lead them into the Promised Land.

For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

Romans 8:19-23

Through the Veil

Icon of Holy Communion

Thursday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time (Year I)

Hebrews 10:19-25

Therefore, brothers, since through the blood of Jesus we have confidence of entrance into the sanctuary by the new and living way he opened for us through the veil, that is, his flesh, and since we have “a great priest over the house of God,” let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.

Hebrews 10:19-22

In Jesus Christ, “flesh” and “blood” have triumphed over sin, death, and the devil, and live and reign forever and ever.

Flesh (sarx) encompasses all of humanity and the cosmos, from the smallest atom to the farthest star and every living being.

And the Word became flesh (sarx) and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14

Unlike the sacrificial blood of animals which did not regenerate spirits dead in sin, the blood of Jesus opened a “new and living way” through the sanctuary veil to the presence of God.

In Christ, the blood of the slain Abel that cried out to God from the ground (Genesis 4:10) was assumed by the Son of God together with the earth and deified.

Every drop of blood of the risen Christ contains the whole Christ. Every particle of his body contains the whole Christ—divinity and humanity, heaven and earth, and communion with the Father, Son, Holy Spirit, angels and saints.

Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope, for he who made the promise is trustworthy. We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:23-25

Eucharist means “thanksgiving.”

Thank you, Father, for your Son.
Thank you, Jesus, for your Body and Blood.
Thank you, Spirit, for making us one.

-GMC

Living Tabernacles

Russian icon of the Crucifixion by Dionysius, ca. 1500, Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow

Why did the Son of God die on the Cross?

Many theories of atonement have been proposed since the early Church, but none of them are definitive. The Catechism of the Catholic Church simply states that the crucifixion is “part of the mystery of God’s plan” (599). 

Images of blood, sacrifice, temple, and altar dominate the book of Hebrews as Christ is shown to be the eternal high priest, final sacrifice for sins, and the fulfillment of the Old Covenant.

Jesus repaired what was broken in the center of the cosmos, temple, and heart of humanity. Blood spilled on the altar of the Cross to atone for the primordial disobedience in the garden of Eden. The first instance of animal sacrifice, according to many interpreters, took place when God clothed Adam and Eve in animal skins (Genesis 3:21). Fratricide and deicide followed in the wake of expulsion in the next generation.

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out in the field. ”When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord asked Cain, Where is your brother Abel? He answered, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” God then said: What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!

Genesis 4:8-10

Bloodshed was the last step in a series of thoughts and passions ignited in the human heart. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus identified the root of murder in the angry, hateful heart.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. ’But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Matthew 5:21-24

The book of Genesis stands as primeval witness to the heart of the “New Law” before lawmaking even began.

Then the Lord said to Cain: Why are you angry? Why are you dejected? If you act rightly, you will be accepted; but if not, sin lies in wait at the door: its urge is for you, yet you can rule over it.

Genesis 4:6-7

When his brother lay dead, consciousness of the law immediately sank in:

Cain said to the Lord: “My punishment is too great to bear. Look, you have now banished me from the ground. Anyone may kill me at sight.”

Genesis 4:13-14

A vague sense that Cain owed his own life for the life he had taken was expressed in his fear of retaliation. The Levitical law of “life for life” was instinctual.

Whoever takes the life of any human being shall be put to death.

Leviticus 24:17

Life is sacred on account of its divine origin. Since Adam is made in the image of Christ, the “firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15), any harm done to Adam is done to Christ. Fratricide is deicide.

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? …I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

Acts 9:4-5; 22:7-8; 26:14-15

These words could have also been addressed to Cain, for Abel is a type of Christ. 

All the blood spilled in the sacrificial system of the Old Law sought to restore the original unity of God and humankind but failed. No amount of animal blood could bring back the dead or grant access to the divine presence (shekinah) in the Holy of Holies. 

And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.

John 12:32

The Son of God assumed the humanity of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel—the whole human family—and united what was split asunder. With forgiveness and mercy on his lips and in his heart, Jesus laid down his life and rose victorious over sin and death. 

The New Law of theosis or transformation into Christ superseded the Mosaic law and Levitical priesthood. The animal instincts of the murderers Cain and Lamech were transformed by the grace of the Holy Spirit to enable the human heart to respond with divine charity from the Father’s heart:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil… “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:38-39, 43-48

The ultimate end of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross is to pour out the Holy Spirit on the earth, deify the children of Adam, and unite human persons and the cosmos in the love of God the Father. Persons and the cosmos are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and the heart is God’s sanctuary and Holy of Holies.

“This is the covenant I will establish with them after those days, says the Lord:
‘I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them upon their minds,’”

he also says:
“Their sins and their evildoing
I will remember no more.”

Hebrews 10:16-17

Each one of us can build a tabernacle for God in himself. For if, as some before us have said, this tabernacle represents a figure of the whole world, and if each individual can have an image of the world in oneself, why should not each individual be able to fulfill the form of the tabernacle in oneself? …For that part within you which is most valuable of all can act the part of priest—the part which some call the first principle of the heart, others the rational sense or the substance of the mind or whatever other name one wishes to give to that part of us which makes us capable of receiving God.

Origen (fl. c. 200-254)1

The Image of the Blessed Trinity rests in the most intimate, hidden, and inmost ground of the soul, where God is present essentially, actively, and substantially. Here God acts and exists and rejoices in Himself, and to separate God from this inmost ground would be as impossible as separating Him from Himself… And thus in the depth of this ground the soul possesses everything by grace which God possesses by nature.

Johannes Tauler (c. 1300-1361)2

Fractured Adam
Shattered glass
Made one in Christ
By Love on the Cross
Not glued together
Nor sewn in patches
But indivisibly divided
Divided indivisibly
Trinity in Unity 
Unity in Trinity
We are children of God
Living tabernacles

-GMC

1 Origen, Homilies on Exodus 9.4. From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Hebrews, Erik M. Heen and Philip D. W. Krey, editors, and Thomas C. Oden, general editor (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 132-3.

2 Sermon 29 from Johannes Tauler, Sermons, trans. Maria Shrady, Classics of Western Spirituality (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1985), 105.

Cosmic Temple, Cosmic Christ

Christ Pantocrator, Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Licensed by Andrew Shiva under CC BY-SA 4.0.

28th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday (Year II)

Luke 11:47-54

“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth…” (Genesis 1:1).

The curtains of the cosmic drama open with these words of Genesis, rolling out a lush garden of primordial integration when the whole of creation pulsated with divine light and energy. Ancient Hebrew cosmogony linked the ideas of cosmos and temple: 

“The heavens are my throne, the earth, my footstool. What house can you build for me? Where is the place of my rest?” (Isaiah 66:1)

Before the Jerusalem Temple came to be, the Earth was the temple of God. Before the Hebrews came to be, Abel offered pleasing sacrifices to the Lord on the integrated altar-temple of his heart and the Earth, the dwelling place of God (Genesis 4:4). 

Cain dissociated the altar from the temple, his heart from the Earth, and committed fratricide (Genesis 4:8). 

Stabbed in the heart by Cain’s assault, the Earth opened her mouth and swallowed the body and blood of Abel, the first prophet (Genesis 4:10-11).

The Lord said: “Woe to you who build the memorials of the prophets whom your fathers killed. Consequently, you bear witness and give consent to the deeds of your ancestors, for they killed them and you do the building. Therefore, the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send to them prophets and Apostles; some of them they will kill and persecute’ in order that this generation might be charged with the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah who died between the altar and the temple building. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be charged with their blood!” (Luke 11:47-51)

Instead of cleansing their hearts and acquiring the holy spirit of the prophets, the children of the murderers silenced the voice of God with whitewashed tombs (Matthew 23:27), a respectable cover-up for their own violence. Jesus saw right through the tomb builders and unmasked their hypocrisy. 

We have an analogy in modern times: How well do we in America and around the world uphold the ideals of the heroes and heroines whom we honor? Do we pay homage to Abraham Lincoln but fail to examine our own hearts and that of our nation for racial bias? Do we laud Thomas Jefferson’s words that “all men are created equal,” but settle for institutional injustices? 

The prophets deserve to be honored. Jesus never sanctioned the destruction of their memorials. However, he challenged the tomb builders to go beyond paying external homage to conforming their own hearts to the spirit of the honored. 

From Abel to Zechariah, the voice of God was stamped out between the altar (thusiastérion) and the temple or “house” (oikos). The altar was “the meeting place between God and the true worshiper”—the human heart, ultimately, not just a manmade structure. “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6; Matthew 9:13). 

In the yawning gulf between the altar and the temple, the heart and the Earth, fratricide after fratricide darkened the soil of our original clay with bloodshed. 

Christ, the high priest of his temple, would eventually be killed like all the prophets on the altar of the Cross in his kenotic obedience. Yet the Son of God is more than a prophet and a priest. His cosmic Body is the very temple of the Holy Spirit (John 2:20-21). Adoption by the Father through Christ, by baptism into his death, makes each person a temple of the Holy Spirit (Romans 6:4; 1 Corinthians 6:19). 

The Earth could not hold the Body and Blood of Christ in a tomb as she did Abel to Zechariah. On the third day, the Son of God rose and renewed the whole universe, deifying her and pulling her into the love of the Trinity.

A change of heart was not forthcoming from Jesus’ antagonists, however. They were righteous in their own eyes, and honoring the tombs of the righteous confirmed their righteousness. Jesus joined the voices of the prophets and decried their hypocrisy, precipitating their schemes.

Woe to you, scholars of the law! You have taken away the key of knowledge. You yourselves did not enter and you stopped those trying to enter.” When Jesus left, the scribes and Pharisees began to act with hostility toward him and to interrogate him about many things, for they were plotting to catch him at something he might say (Luke 11:52-54). 

-GMC

Reality has Come

“Reality has come,” Melito, bishop of Sardis in the 2nd century, says in a homily for Easter. “The type has passed away… The lamb gives place to God, the sheep gives place to a man, and the man is Christ, who fills the whole of creation.

“The sacrifice of the lamb, the celebration of the Passover, and the prescriptions of the Law have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Under the old Law, and still more under the new dispensation, everything pointed toward him.

“Both the Law and the Word came forth from Zion and Jerusalem, but now the Law has given place to the Word, the old to the new. The commandment has become grace, the type a reality. The lamb has become a Son, the sheep a man, and man, God.

“The Lord, though he was God, became man. He suffered for the sake of those who suffer, he was bound for those in bonds, condemned for the guilty, buried for those who lie in the grave; but he rose from the dead, and cried aloud… I have freed the condemned, brought the dead back to life, raised men and women from their graves… I am the Christ; I have destroyed death, triumphed over the enemy, trampled hell underfoot, bound the strong one, and taken men and women up to the heights of heaven: I am the Christ.

“Come, then, all nations, receive forgiveness for the sins that defile you. I am your forgiveness. I am the Passover that brings salvation. I am the lamb who was immolated for you. I am your ransom, your life, your resurrection, your light. I am your salvation and your king. I will bring you to the heights of heaven. With my own right hand I will raise you up, and I will show you the eternal Father.”

 

The Prayer of Abel

“Look with favor on these offerings and accept them as you once accepted the gifts of your servant Abel.” (1st Eucharistic Prayer)

In a homily, St. Ambrose explains why God accepted Abel’s gifts and not Cain’s. His gifts were a prayer from his heart.

He brought them to God prompted by the same gratitude that caused the Samaritan to give thanks to Jesus after being cured of leprosy. Gratitude is always at the heart of the Eucharist.

Abel’s gifts were the result of true prayer, according to Ambrose, who summarizes what true prayer is: “Jesus told us to pray urgently and often, so that our prayers should not be long and tedious but short, earnest and frequent. Long elaborate prayers overflow with pointless phrases, and long gaps between prayers eventually stretch out into complete neglect.

Next he advises that when you ask forgiveness for yourself then you must take special care to grant it also to others. In that way your action can add its voice to yours as you pray. The apostle also teaches that when you pray you must be free from anger and from disagreement with anyone, so that your prayer is not disturbed or broken into.

The apostle teaches us to pray anywhere, while the Saviour says Go into your room – but you must understand that this “room” is not the room with four walls that confines your body when you are in it, but the secret space within you in which your thoughts are enclosed and where your sensations arrive. That is your prayer-room, always with you wherever you are, always secret wherever you are, with your only witness being God.

Above all, you must pray for the whole people: that is, for the whole body, for every part of your mother the Church, whose distinguishing feature is mutual love. If you ask for something for yourself then you will be praying for yourself only – and you must remember that more grace comes to one who prays for others than to any ordinary sinner. If each person prays for all people, then all people are effectively praying for each.

In conclusion, if you ask for something for yourself alone, you will be the only one asking for it; but if you ask for benefits for all, all in their turn will be asking for them for you. For you are in fact one of the “all.” Thus it is a great reward, as each person’s prayers acquire the weight of the prayers of everyone. There is nothing presumptuous about thinking like this: on the contrary, it is a sign of greater humility and more abundant fruitfulness.”