Tag Archives: Abraham

Going to God through Questions

Thomas

Today, July 3rd, we remember Thomas the apostle. We’re tempted to think that belief does away with troublesome questions and shelters us from a world of unbelief, that belief makes our way to God smooth and undisturbed. Not so, Thomas reminds us; he found faith through his questions and by placing his finger into the wounds of Christ.

Gregory the Great reminds us today of the importance of Thomas the Apostle.

“In a marvellous way God’s mercy arranged that the disbelieving disciple, in touching the wounds of his master’s body, should heal our wounds of disbelief. The disbelief of Thomas has done more for our faith than the faith of the other disciples. As he touches Christ and is won over to belief, every doubt is cast aside and our faith is strengthened. So the disciple who doubted, then felt Christ’s wounds, becomes a witness to the reality of the resurrection.”

That’s an interesting statement, isn’t it? “The disbelief of Thomas has done more for our faith than the faith of the other disciples.”

We go to God through questions, and some troubles too. We’re healed by touching the wounds of Christ.

Grant, Almighty God,
that we may glory in the Feast of the blessed apostle Thomas, so that we may always be sustained by his intercession
and, believing, may have life
in the name of Jesus Christ your son,
whom Thomas acknowledged as the Lord.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Abraham, The Unwavering Nomad

We call Abraham “Our father in faith” in our 1st Eucharistic Prayer. That’s because Abraham believed when God called him to leave his own land and go to a land he did not know. He believed in God’s call.

A pastoral nomad, sometimes settling down but then moving on. Abraham was on the move, on the way to a permanent home. That’s us too. Abraham trusted in God rather than in himself. As an old man, he believed God who said he would generate a child.

The great patriarch was tested. Faith grows through testing. Abraham’s greatest test came when God asked him to sacrifice his only son Isaac.

My favorite reflection on Abraham is Jessica Power’s beautiful poem:

“I love Abraham, that old weather-beaten
unwavering nomad; when God called to him
no tender hand wedged time into his stay.
His faith erupted him into a way
far-off and strange. How many miles are there
from Ur to Haran? Where does Canaan lie,
or slow mysterious Egypt sit and wait?
How could he think his ancient thigh would bear
nations, or how consent that Isaac die,
with never an outcry nor an anguished prayer?

I think, alas, how I manipulate
dates and decisions, pull apart the dark
dally with doubts here and with counsel there,
take out old maps and stare.
Was there a call after all, my fears remark.
I cry out: Abraham, old nomad you,
are you my father? Come to me in pity.
Mine is a far and lonely journey, too.

Bread of Shalom

Christina DeMichele, Christ Enthroned in His Creation (Used with permission)

Thursday of the Third Week of Easter

John 6:44-51

The Jews murmured about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” and they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

John 6:41-42

Unless Jesus was who he claimed to be, his statements were certainly wild and preposterous. From a natural perspective, the son of Joseph and Mary, born in a particular place and time, was destined to live and die like all human beings. Nothing about Jesus’ appearance suggested that he was a heavenly being.

Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop murmuring among yourselves.

John 6:43

The new Moses echoed his predecessor by chiding the children of Israel for murmuring and grumbling just at the time when God promised manna in the desert (Exodus 16:2; 7-8; LXX—same verb as in John 6:43).

“Whoever comes to me will never hunger,” Jesus said (John 6:35), but

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day.

John 6:44

Like a chain of magnets, the uncreated person of the Father draws all created persons to himself through the uncreated person of his Son, including all flesh (sarx) and the cosmos (kosmos).

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

John 12:32

Creation has an in-built force of attraction towards her LORD and Maker. In the beginning (Genesis 1:1), the shalom of God filled the heavens and the earth. Shalom means wholeness and completeness through communion with the LORD God, the basis of integral peace. In a shalom-filled world, all creatures move gracefully in synergy with the Spirit of God.

It is written in the prophets:
‘They shall all be taught by God.’
Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.

John 6:45

Jesus quoted Isaiah 54:13:

All your children shall be taught by the Lord;
great shall be the peace (shalom) of your children.

Isaiah 54:13; LXX

Like the second Adam, the first Adam in the Garden of Eden enjoyed an unmediated sonship in the Father, “walking” (halak) and talking with him in familiarity and intimacy. Yet only the uncreated Son “sees” (horaó) the Father in his plenitude exceeding the capacity of finite creatures. God alone “comprehends” God.

Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.

John 6:46

Not by vision but by faith, the children of God are drawn up to the Father through the Son.

Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.

John 6:47

Believing (pisteuó) goes far deeper than having right ideas about God and religion. Many who had a formidable knowledge of Scripture and theology did not believe Jesus. Only a genuine personal encounter leads to faith (pistis, the noun form of pisteuó). 

I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living (zaó) bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live (zaó) forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh (sarx) for the life (zóé) of the world (kosmos).”

John 6:48-51

Manna was provisional and a pointer to the tree of life to come from Abraham and Adam. The repetition of zóé (noun) and zaó (verb) which are cognate recall the words of the LORD God about the tree of life:

Now, what if he also reaches out his hand to take fruit from the tree of life (zóé), and eats of it and lives (zaó) forever?

Genesis 3:22; LXX

The Greek Septuagint version matches the words of Christ in the Gospel of John concerning the bread from heaven that bestows eternal life. Zóé in the Greek lexical universe indicates the fullness of life beyond mere physical existence, in fact, participation in the divine life. It is sharply distinguished from bios or biological, earthly existence. 

The original Hebrew word for life in Genesis 3:22, chay, includes divine, human, animal, and vegetative life as a whole—a concept that resonates with shalom. The Hebrew mind did not make the sharp distinctions between spirit and matter that characterized Hellenistic philosophy. In the beginning—bereshit, the opening word of the Torah in Genesis 1:1God, Adam, and the cosmos were one.

Restoration of shalom encompasses heaven and earth, all flesh and the cosmos. The eating and drinking Jesus risen in the flesh epitomizes shalom. Every division is overcome in the Father, through the Son, and by the Holy Spirit. 

-GMC

Sealed by God

Christ Pantocrator, 13th century Serbian icon

Monday of the Third Week of Easter

John 6:22-29

The next day, the crowd that remained across the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not gone along with his disciples in the boat, but only his disciples had left.

John 6:22

Whoosh! Jesus vanished like the wind without leaving a trace. Gazing across the Sea of Galilee, any “footprints” would have dissolved instantly in the crashing waves.

Not that the people fed by Jesus on the mountain surmised that the rabbi walked across the sea—what utter nonsense!—though he did miraculously multiply five loaves and two fish. Who knew what else Jesus could do? Like a collective Sherlock Holmes they noted (A) only one boat had been docked, (B) Jesus had not gone in the boat with his disciples, and (C) Jesus was missing. 

Other boats came from Tiberias near the place where they had eaten the bread when the Lord gave thanks. When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

John 6:23-24

A brigade of boats rowed hotly in pursuit of their bread king.

And when they found him across the sea they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

John 6:25

Not knowing what to make of Jesus’ appearance on the other side of the sea, the baffled people skirted the question, “How did you get here?” with a superficial “When?” 

Genuine, disinterested wonder in the marvels and person of Jesus was lacking in the crowd. Rather, impelled by fickle appetites, they chased him down for another free meal.  

Jesus answered them and said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. 

John 6:26

Signs point beyond themselves to an imperishable good beyond the fleeting undulations of hunger and satiety. The miraculous bread of the outdoor picnic was supposed to stimulate the deepest hunger of the human spirit. 

Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.”

John 6:27

Bodily hunger necessarily drives people to work for food, but spiritual hunger is easily dulled and forgotten. Jesus presented himself, the Messianic “Son of Man,” as the very imprint of God the Father. Like an official declaration stamped and sealed (sphragizó) by the signet ring of a king, Jesus declared himself to be the very countenance and Word of God.

So they said to him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”

John 6:28-29

What kind of work is “believing” (pisteuó)? In the Hebrews Hall of Fame, Enoch is praised for believing, and Abraham for his extraordinary faith and obedience (Hebrews 11:5-12). Believing is not merely a cognitive assent, but a wholehearted trust in God even when his commands are incomprehensible, as with the sacrifice of Isaac. 

The “work” of believing is exemplified by Mary, Mary Magdalene, the women disciples, and John the Beloved standing at the foot of the Cross on Calvary. Like Abraham poised to slay his son on Mount Moriah they stood, not knowing the outcome of the crucifixion three days later. 

Paul preached that believing (pisteuó) the Word of God seals (sphragizó) the children of God with the Holy Spirit, making them unique imprints and icons of the Son of God (Ephesians 1:13).

Standing with Jesus in the best and worst of times surpasses logic and reason. Faith is a relationship and commitment to a person, Jesus Christ. 

-GMC

Fire Tried Gold

Fiery furnace by Toros Roslin, Mashtots, 1266 (MS No. 2027, Fol. 14 V.)

Fifth Week of Lent, Wednesday

Daniel 3

Iconic images and words in the Bible interconnect to form a constellation that radiates to the “edges” of infinity. The episode of the three Jews thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image summons iconic connections from Genesis to Revelation.

The Hebrew word for “image” (tselem) recalls the Garden of Eden where humankind is made in God’s image. King Nebuchadnezzar turns Eden upside-down by playing God and ordering his subjects to worship a golden image (tselem) he has set up. In the process, his visage (tselem of his face) is distorted and bent out of shape. On the flip side, the faithfulness of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah refines and purifies the true image of God as fire tried gold.

Daniel also presents Nebuchadnezzar’s idolatry as an attempt to reverse the curse of Babel. The story of the golden statue takes place in the “land of Shinar,” the ancient name for Babylonia where the infamous tower was built (Genesis 11:2; Daniel 1:2).  

From the food test in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace in the first chapter of Daniel, to the refusal of the three Jews to test God or worship an idol, a type of the three temptations of Christ in the desert can be discerned (see footnote 4). Divine assistance is given in both trials.

The following poem is written in twelve stanzas in honor of the twelve tribes of Israel. The dodecasyllabic tercets honor Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. In the fourth stanza, their Babylonian names are used, but in the twelfth, their Hebrew ones (see footnote 12 for an explanation). The quatrain in the eleventh stanza honors the mysterious fourth figure in the furnace who “looks like a son of God” (Daniel 3:92 in the New American Bible Revised Edition).

King Nebuchadnezzar set up in Babylon
A golden statue calling every echelon
To worship with flute, lyre, horn, bagpipe and trigon.

Officials of every tribe, language and nation
Fell down before the tselem in adoration,1
Vainly striving for Babel’s unification.

Humans in God’s tselem sculpted on the sixth day2
To a sixty by six cubit god gave away
Their glory to a tselem made by hands of clay.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego dissented.
The tselem of the king serpentinely twisted.3
Straight stood the three and to their sentence consented.

Live or die, we will not test Adonai our king,4
Whether or not he saves us from the fire blazing.
Your gods we will not serve nor the gold engraving.

Seven times hotter heat the furnace, charged the king.5
Seven times seven cubits high rose the flaming—
An oblation of fire tried gold, God embracing.6

Azariah prayed while walking in the blaze.
Blessed be your name, O Lord God, we give you praise.
Jerusalem you judge when she hides from your gaze.7

For your name’s sake, O Lord, void not your covenant.
Remember Abraham, your beloved servant
From whom seed like countless stars will be descendent.8

A cool, spring breeze whistled like dew through the furnace;
An angel of the Lord brought succor and solace.9
A glorious hymn of praise rang out from three voices.

God of our fathers, we bless you with one accord.
Angels in the heavens, all creatures, bless the Lord.
From the abyss of death, his sons he has restored.10

Nebuchadnezzar rose, hearing their melody. 
Turning to his nobles, he cried, Four men I see!
A shining son of God is walking with the three.
Powerless was the fire to singe hair or body.11

Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah
Refused to bow to all but Adonai (shachah).
Your God lives, blessed the king of Babylonia.12

-GMC

1 The Hebrew word tselem is translated as “image” or “statue” in Daniel 3:1 and throughout the passage referring to the golden idol. Click phonetics for the pronunciation of tselem

2 The word tselem is also used of the image of God in Genesis 1:26: “Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image (tselem), after our likeness.” Cf. Romans 1:23. In the Bible, the number six symbolizes human weakness, imperfection, and sin. The statue’s dimensions reflect the Babylonian sexagesimal (base 60) number system.

3 Daniel 3:19: “Then Nebuchadnezzar was full of fury, and the expression (tselem) on his face changed toward Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.” Idolatry distorts the image of God.

4 Hebrew readers do not pronounce the divine name, YHWH, out of reverence. Instead, they say “Adonai” (Lord) in place of the Tetragrammaton.

The response of the three Jews was perfected by Christ in his forty days’ temptation in the wilderness.

Nebuchadnezzar challenged:

Now, if you are ready to fall down and worship the statue I made, whenever you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, zither, dulcimer, harp, double-flute, and all the other musical instruments, then all will be well; if not, you shall be instantly cast into the white-hot furnace; and who is the God who can deliver you out of my hands?”

Daniel 3:15

The tempter in the desert similarly challenged Jesus from the parapet of the temple in Jerusalem:

“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: 

‘He will command his angels concerning you’
and ‘with their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”

Matthew 4:6 (cf. Luke 4:9-12)

Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah responded:

“If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, O king, may he save us! But even if he will not, you should know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue which you set up.”

Daniel 3:16-18

Jesus responded:

“Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’” 

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.”

At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written:

‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship
and him alone shall you serve.’”

Matthew 4:7-10 (cf. Luke 4:5-8)

In the first chapter of Daniel, the four men of Judah underwent a food test that threatened to annihilate their identity as sons of the Hebrew covenant. Christ’s first temptation in the desert also centered on food.

Jesus’ response from Deuteronomy 8:3 placed him in continuity with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, and the Mosaic tradition:

“One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”

Matthew 4:4

These three temptations (food, testing God, and idolatry) can ultimately be traced back to the trial before the tree of knowledge in Genesis. 

5 Daniel 3:19; 47. Seven is the number of perfection and completion in the Hebrew Scriptures. The detail of the flames rising “forty-nine cubits above the furnace” comes from the apocryphal additions to the Book of Daniel, inspired additions to the Aramaic text found in Greek translations. Click here for a sample of English Bibles that contain the verse. In the Revised Standard Version (Catholic Edition), it is verse 24 of the Prayer of Azariah inserted within Daniel 3. 

6 “Fire tried gold” is an image of proven faith in both the Old and New Testaments (Malachi 3:3; 1 Peter 1:7). In this poem, the true gold of the image of God is contrasted with the golden image of Nebuchadnezzar.

7 Daniel 3:24-31 (NABRE). In the protological account of Genesis, Adam and Eve “hid” from the face (panim) of the Lord God after the transgression (Genesis 3:8). Cain “went out from the face (panim) of the Lord and dwelt in the land of Nod east of Eden” (Genesis 4:16).

8 Daniel 3:34-36. 

9 Angels also ministered to Jesus in the desert (Mark 1:13; Matthew 4:11).

10 Daniel 3:52-90.

11 Daniel 3:90-94. The ascension of the three Jews from the inferno is a type of the resurrection.

12 Daniel 3:95-97. The Hebrew names of the three Jews in the last stanza celebrate their fidelity to the God whose name they bear. Their Babylonian names, imposed on them by the regime, pay homage to foreign gods.

Daniel means “God is my judge.” 
Hananiah means “God has been gracious.”
Mishael means “Who is what God is” or “Who is like God?”
Azariah means “God has helped.”

Belteshazzar means “Bel protects” or “favored by Bel,” referring to Baal, the supreme god of the Babylonians.
Shadrach means “the command of Aku,” the Sumerian moon-god.
Meshach, according to Easton’s Bible Dictionary, probably refers to the name of a Chaldean god.
Abednego means “servant of Nebo,” the Babylonian god of literature and science. Nebuchadnezzar’s name is derived from the same god and means, “Nebo, protect the crown!”

Shachah, the Hebrew word for “bow down,” is used here in the context of worship (e.g. Psalm 29:2). Click phonetics for the pronunciation of shachah. The word is also found in the context of paying homage to a non-divine subject, such as an angel or a powerful person (e.g. Genesis 18:2; Esther 3:2). The Latin word latria (an act of adoration or worship due to God alone) approximates the meaning of shachach used in this stanza. 

Indestructible I.D.

Fiery furnace by Toros Roslin, Mashtots, 1266 (MS No. 2027, Fol. 14 V.)

Third Week of Lent, Tuesday

Daniel 3:25, 34-43

Shadrach (Hananiah), Meshach (Mishael), Abednego (Azariah), and Belteshazzar (Daniel) managed to preserve their Israelite heritage intact in the midst of Babylonian power and prestige. Uprooted from their homes by force to serve the Gentile king, the four young men kept the Mosaic law and remembrance of the covenant alive in their hearts. Babylonian names, dress, and official positions did not erase their core identity as sons of Abraham, Isaac and Israel. 

Refusal to worship the golden statue of Nebuchadnezzar landed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the king’s white-hot furnace, a consequence they calmly and fearlessly accepted.

They walked about in the flames, singing to God and blessing the Lord. Azariah stood up in the midst of the fire and prayed aloud:

For your name’s sake, do not deliver us up forever,
or make void your covenant.
Do not take away your mercy from us,
for the sake of Abraham, your beloved,
Isaac your servant, and Israel your holy one,
To whom you promised to multiply their offspring
like the stars of heaven,
or the sand on the shore of the sea.

Daniel 3:24-25, 34-36

Azariah’s appeal to God began with his promise to Abraham, the father of many nations and the patriarch of the Hebrews. His prayer flowed from the relationship initiated by God with his people. God’s friendship with Abraham was rock solid and imperishable, a covenant built on the steadfastness of divine love and fidelity.

As the prayer of Azariah intensified, the flames rose higher and higher, “burning the Chaldeans that it caught around the furnace.” But an angel of the Lord “made the inside of the furnace as though a dew-laden breeze were blowing through it” (Daniel 3:48-50). Then the trio broke into one of the most sublime and heavenly songs in all of Sacred Scripture, blessing God and calling upon the angels, heavens, waters, sun, moon, stars, wind, fire, frost, mountains, seas, birds and beasts to bless the Lord and exalt him forever (Daniel 3:52-90).

As chaos and mayhem raged outside the furnace, unearthly peace emanated from within. An angelic vision pacified the king’s rage and stoked his wonder.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar was startled and rose in haste, asking his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” “Certainly, O king,” they answered. “But,” he replied, “I see four men unbound and unhurt, walking in the fire, and the fourth looks like a son of God.”

Daniel 3:91-92

Patristic commentators identified the fourth, godlike figure as Christ, but most interpreters leave the vision enigmatic, like the angelic figure who wrestled with Jacob (Genesis 32:25). In any case, God’s presence was manifested in visible form and divine protection was complete: “not a hair of their heads had been singed, nor were their garments altered; there was not even a smell of fire about them” (Daniel 3:94).

In awe and amazement, King Nebuchadnezzar added his own line of praise following the “Hymn of the Three Holy Children”: 

“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who sent his angel to deliver the servants that trusted in him.”

Daniel 3:95

God’s covenant with Abraham 
Stamped upon the heart,
No idol of Babylon nor
Fire can take apart.

-GMC

Scrooge and Dives

Kykkos Monastery mosaic representing the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

Second Week of Lent, Thursday

Luke 16:19-31

In Charles Dickens’ novel, A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge takes a voyage in time to Christmases past, present and future, and wakes up right after the shock of seeing the headstone of his own grave. Overjoyed and relieved to find himself alive, he immediately seizes the moment to transform his miserly existence to one of magnanimous generosity to the poor and needy. Dickens’ heartwarming classic captures the essence of repentance and personal conversion.

Jesus told the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (derived from Elazar, “God has helped”) to awaken the living to awareness of the grave in their own hearts. Listeners who travel to Hades with the rich man (Greek plousios, Latin dives) are given the opportunity to experience the mortal anguish of death and burial, and the regret of not having lived generously, detached from riches, for the love of God and neighbor. 

“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’ Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’ He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.’

Luke 16:19-28

The fact that the rich man was moved to pity and mercy for his brothers, desiring their repentance and conversion so as avoid the torment of regret in the afterlife, shows that the parable was directed to hearers who still have a chance to change their lives. The watchful “awaken” from the parable like Scrooge, fully alive and able to make an about-face (metanoia).

The rich man’s confidence that a warning from the grave would effect the cure of the complacent was an illusion confirmed by historical events.

But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’ He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’”

Luke 16:29-31

Jesus’ miraculous raising of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha (not the poor man of the parable), only intensified the desire of the chief priests to return Lazarus to the grave and kill Jesus as well (John 12:9-11). Above all, the Easter event of Christ’s resurrection had little to no effect on those whose wills were bent on eliminating the life and influence of Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 28:11-15).

Conversion is a mystery. May each day be received as a gift of divine mercy in the ongoing journey of metanoia. 

The pity of plousios
Lies buried underground,
But prophetic parables
Turn profiteers around.

-GMC

God Made All Things Good

Peter’s vision of a sheet with animals, from Acts 10; illustration from Henry Davenport Northrop, “Treasures of the Bible,” published 1894.

5th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday (Year I)

Genesis 1:20—2:4a; Mark 7:1-13

Then God said: Let the earth bring forth every kind of living creature: tame animals, crawling things, and every kind of wild animal. And so it happened: God made every kind of wild animal, every kind of tame animal, and every kind of thing that crawls on the ground. Clean and unclean he created them. God saw that it was good.

Genesis 1:24-25

Now when the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands. (For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders. And on coming from the marketplace they do not eat without purifying themselves. And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles [and beds].) So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?”

Mark 7:1-5

God’s orderly and functional arrangement of the cosmos into day and night (time), sea, sky, and dry land (space), filled with heavenly lights, animals, plants, and humankind was pronounced “good” seven times.

The universe of the scribes and Pharisees, however, was contaminated and polluted, filled with categories of clean/unclean and pure/impure that were foreign to the creation story.

So where did the distinction of clean and unclean come from? Jesus, who fearlessly interacted with centurions, lepers, “tax collectors and sinners,” walked in Gentile territory and breathed Gentile air, made no division in the created world between clean and unclean. Look within the heart, he said, and root out the true source of defilement.

Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them… For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.

Mark 7:15, 21-23

A centuries-old religious consciousness that developed out of the purification laws and rituals of the Mosaic covenant was hard to challenge. Many heroes of Israel were celebrated as martyrs in defense of their laws and customs. The prophet Daniel admirably withstood pressure from the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar to partake of the royal food and wine, receiving only kosher vegetables and water (Daniel 1:8-17). In consequence, the Lord filled him with prophetic insight. The scribe Eleazar of Maccabean fame was martyred for refusing to eat pork as a sign of assimilation to Hellenistic culture (2 Maccabees 6:18-31).

Jesus alone could not transform religious consciousness. He left that work to the Holy Spirit, the Advocate and enlightener of hearts. It was not to Daniel or Eleazar, whose witness preserved the Hebrew faith, that the following vision was given, but to Peter the apostle:

The next day, while they were on their way and nearing the city, Peter went up to the roof terrace to pray at about noontime. He was hungry and wished to eat, and while they were making preparations he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something resembling a large sheet coming down, lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all the earth’s four-legged animals and reptiles and the birds of the sky. A voice said to him, “Get up, Peter. Slaughter and eat.” But Peter said, “Certainly not, sir. For never have I eaten anything profane and unclean.” The voice spoke to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you are not to call profane.”This happened three times, and then the object was taken up into the sky.

Acts 10:9-161

The vision stunned Peter. The Holy Spirit who gave him the vision also prompted the Roman centurion Cornelius to summon Peter to his house. The shocking actions of Jesus now became Peter’s own as he opened his speech with this revelation:

You know that it is unlawful for a Jewish man to associate with, or visit, a Gentile, but God has shown me that I should not call any person profane or unclean.

Acts 10:28

The division between Jew and Gentile was not created “in the beginning,” but developed out of the covenant between God and Abraham, “father of many nations” (Genesis 17:4). The final goal of the divine-human covenant is oneness in Christ, as expressed by Paul:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28

With the Son’s revelation of the Father and the Holy Spirit, humanity is now destined for a life even beyond that of Eden. For with Paul’s inclusion of “male and female” among the divisions overcome by Christ, Adam is transfigured to the Trinitarian fullness of the divine image as persons transcending individuals:

St. Gregory of Nyssa writes:

Scripture says in the first place, “God made man; in the image of God, he made him.” Only after that is it added, “He made them male and female,” a division foreign to the divine attributes.2

Human persons in the image of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the whole theandric nature by grace through Jesus Christ. As the person of the Son of God is neither male nor female, Trinitarian fullness integrates the gender division into the oneness of deified human nature.

Pentecostal baptism by the descent of tongues of fire upon unique persons crowned the work of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Body of Christ is thus One Many, mirroring the One Three Trinity. 

Peter did not break with Abraham and Moses, but finally saw the Light guiding Israel down the centuries:

In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.

Acts 10:34

The circumcised believers who had accompanied Peter were astounded that the gift of the holy Spirit should have been poured out on the Gentiles also, for they could hear them speaking in tongues and glorifying God.

Acts 10:45-46

In Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, all creation is moving towards its fulfillment in the glory of the Blessed Trinity. 

God made all things good.
Knowledge of good and evil
Marked clean and unclean spaces,
Birds, beasts, persons and races—
A world un-paradisal—
Till Christ died on wood.

-GMC

1 According to the New American Bible (Revised Edition) footnote, “The vision is intended to prepare Peter to share the food of Cornelius’ household without qualms of conscience.” It is not a prescription for food culture. 

In Genesis 1:29-30, God actually intended vegetarianism for humans and animals. See NABRE footnote: “According to the Priestly tradition, the human race was originally intended to live on plants and fruits as were the animals (see v. 30), an arrangement that God will later change (9:3) in view of the human inclination to violence.”

2 St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Creation of Man 16. From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Genesis 1-11, Andrew Louth and Marco Conti, editors, and Thomas C. Oden, general editor (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 35.

See the related post: Mary, the Church and the Trinity

Hebrews and Herod

From the Schedelsche Weltchronik or Nuremberg Chronicle (1493).

4th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday (Year I)

Hebrews 13:1-8; Mark 6:14-29

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels. Be mindful of prisoners as if sharing their imprisonment, and of the ill-treated as of yourselves, for you also are in the body. Let marriage be honored among all and the marriage bed be kept undefiled, for God will judge the immoral and adulterers. Let your life be free from love of money but be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never forsake you or abandon you.” Thus we may say with confidence:

“The Lord is my helper,
[and] I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?”

Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Hebrews 13:1-8

King Herod heard about Jesus, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” Others said, “He is Elijah.” And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.” But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”

For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him. Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”

She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” “The head of John the Baptist,” she answered. At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

Mark 6:14-29

Abraham and Lot
Entertained angels unawares.1
Herod the despot
Reveled and toasted love affairs.

Prisoners are Christ
Whom we love as our own Body.
Herodias’s heist
Slew the Baptist by debauchery.

Marriage is sacred:
“Bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh.”2
Infernal hatred
Seeks adulterers to enmesh. 

Worship not mammon,
For God will never forsake us.
Wealth is a dragon
Swearing oaths that overtake us.

Venerate the saints,
Bearers of Christ in word and deed.
A paramour’s plaints
The saintly prophet did not heed.

Jesus Christ our Lord,
Yesterday, today, forever,
Struck Antipas’ chord,
Of John’s head he dared to sever.

-GMC

1 Genesis 18-19.
2 Genesis 2:23.

Related posts: The Double Eye, Head of the Class

The Eye of God in the Heart

Abraham, Russian icon, Andrei Rublev Museum of Early Russian Art, Moscow, Russia

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

Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19; Mark 4:35-41

Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1

Is faith objective or subjective?

The New American Bible (Revised Edition) footnote to Hebrews 11:1 explains the difficulty of translating the original Greek words that it has rendered “realization” (hupostasis) and “evidence” (elegchos). The difficulty is existential and experiential. 

The Son of God united “flesh” (sarx) and divinity in his own person, an objective fact attested by Scripture, Tradition, and the Church, but facts do not produce faith of themselves. Even the devils “believe and tremble,” James writes (2:19).

Hupostasis unites object and subject—that which is believed and the heart that believes. As object, hupostasis means substance, being and reality. As a subjective experience, it means confidence, realization and conviction. 

Elegchos also carries objective and subjective meanings. As object, it means proof or evidence, and as subjective experience it means inner conviction. Translation is difficult because the choice of one word seems to exclude others. The NABRE has tried to include both the objective and subjective dimensions of faith in its translation.

From the point of view of spacetime, faith is related to hope in the realm of “not yet.” 

All these died in faith. They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar…

Hebrews 11:13

From the point of view of eternity, faith rejoices “now” with the eye of God in the heart.

Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad.

John 8:56

Heroes like Abraham walked with God, trusting in his “unseen” promises. Yet Abraham’s faith was as real and substantial as sight, Jesus attested two millennia after the death of the patriarch.

Genesis records that Enoch “walked” (halak) with God and “he was not, for God took him” (Genesis 5:24). The word for “walk” appears in Genesis 3:8 to describe God “walking” in the garden. God and the son of God walked together, an image of the Father and the Son: “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30). 

The seventh member of the genealogy in Genesis did not die, an early sign of the resurrection hope. Seven also indicates perfection and completion in the Hebrew covenant. 

By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and “he was found no more because God had taken him.” Before he was taken up, he was attested to have pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please him, for anyone who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Hebrews 11:5-6

The possibility of resurrection kept alive by the memory of Enoch in the human heart enlivened the faith of Abraham many centuries later.

By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac descendants shall bear your name.” He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead, and he received Isaac back as a symbol.

Hebrews 11:17-19

Faith is both objective and subjective. Faith is the life of God in the human heart. Faith is the still, quiet divine center in the midst of storms and trials.

Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind ceased and there was great calm.

Mark 4:38-39

Faith is Jesus asleep, yet in command, in the inner boat.

-GMC