Tag Archives: Torah

Lamps in the Light

Fourth Week of Lent, Thursday

Exodus 32:7-14; John 5:31-47 

He was a burning and shining lamp, and for a while you were content to rejoice in his light. But I have testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father gave me to accomplish, these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me… For if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me, because he wrote about me.

John 5:35-36, 46

The children of Moshe Rabbeinu (“Moses our Teacher”) had difficulty accepting the Messianic claim of Jesus of Nazareth. Wonders and signs failed to convince; teachings in the synagogue alienated. Mysterious references to his invisible, inaudible Father “who testified on my behalf” eluded not only his adversaries but even his friends (John 5:37; 14:9).

The tablets of the Ten Commandments were akin to the tree of life for Israel, guarded in the ark of the covenant by two cherubim as at the gates of Eden (Exodus 25:18-22). The word of God, living and active, fed the Israelites in the desert of exile as a refreshing, spiritual drink. Yet Jesus called into question the confidence of those who prided themselves as faithful keepers of the law shaped by the divine word.

…and you do not have his word remaining in you, because you do not believe in the one whom he has sent.

John 5:38

Jesus’ lamentation was devastating, for to be void of the word of God meant death and destruction.

You search the scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf. But you do not want to come to me to have life.

John 5:39-40

The first statement may also be read as an imperative: “Search the scriptures, because you think that you have eternal life through them.”1 Moving from the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures) to the man, Jesus, required a gigantic leap of faith. 

The awe-inspiring, wholly transcendent God of Mount Sinai spoke to Moses “face to face” from between the two cherubim over the ark in the tent of meeting (Numbers 7:89). The ark represented the ultimate manifestation of God’s physical presence on earth (shekinah). For a man to claim to be God in the flesh was the height of blasphemy.

Jesus, a Jew among Jews, understood the trauma and dissonance surrounding his person and work. Thus he appealed to the testimony of John the Baptist, his Forerunner, and especially to Moses, Israel’s foundational teacher and lawgiver. The appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus at the Transfiguration ratified his status as the true Messiah and Son of God.

The following poem is a reflection on Jesus’ appeal to his witnesses in John 5:31-47.

The lamp of the law given to Moses2 
Illumined prophets, priests and kings.
Pharaoh’s rival esteemed Christ’s reproaches
More than Egyptian glitterings.3

Elijah’s word burned like a blazing torch, 
Calling fire down from the heavens.4 
John prepared the way for the fan to scorch,5 
The Lamb’s lamp waking to penance.6

Dim was the lamp in the Light of the Word
Born in the beginning with God.7 
Hearts filled with the word recognize the Word,
Acknowledging the love of God.8

He who has seen me has seen the Father9 
Though his form is invisible.10 
Alone I am not, but from my Father—
His charaktér made visible.11

Moses, Elijah and I are aflame—
Lamps in the triple Light of God.12 
The Torah and Prophets proclaim
That I AM WHO I AM, your God.

-GMC


References

1 See New American Bible (Revised Edition) footnote to John 5:39

2 Psalm 119:105.

3 Hebrews 11:26.

4 Sirach 48:1, 3.

5 Luke 3:17.

6 John 1:29; 5:35.

7 John 1:6-9; 1:1-2.

8 Inverse of John 5:38, 42.

9 John 14:9.

10 John 5:37; 1:18; 6:46.

11 Charaktér from Hebrews 1:3: image, stamp, or imprint. Click phonetics for the pronunciation of charaktér.

12 Transfiguration of Jesus: Mark 9:1-8; Matthew 17:1-8; Luke 9:28-36. Triple Light refers to the epiphany of the Holy Trinity.

Christ, the Living Stone

Ten Commandments, licensed by Oren neu dag under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Third Week of Lent, Wednesday

Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9; Matthew 5:17-19

Now therefore, Israel, hear the statutes and ordinances I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. In your observance of the commandments of the Lord, your God, which I am commanding you, you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.

Deuteronomy 4:1-2

The two stone tablets of the Law given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai contained everything humankind needed to live a holy and blessed life. Rabbis, scholars, and faithful Jews down the centuries meditated on the law “day and night… like a tree planted near streams of water” (Psalm 1:2-3). 

The Ten Commandments are profoundly relational in essence. The rabbinic tradition teaches that the “first tablet” concerns our relationship with our creators, both divine and human (worship of God and honor of parents, who are co-creators), and the “second tablet” concerns our relationship with our neighbors. Ethics and social justice (horizontal relationships) flow from metaphysics (the vertical relationship of Creator and creation, mirrored in the parent-child relationship). The foundation for fraternal justice, human rights, and dignity is the imago dei: human persons are made in the image of God.1

The Decalogue contains the first ten commandments of the 613 commandments given by God to the Jewish people. According to Hebrew scholars, all 613 are reducible to the Ten Commandments, and the Decalogue itself is reducible to a single precept.

A Gentile asked Rabbi Hillel (c. 110 B.C. to A.D. 10) to teach him the entire Torah while he, the inquirer, stood on one foot. The rabbi answered, “What you yourself hate, don’t do to your neighbor. This is the whole law; the rest is commentary.”

Rabbi Akiva (c. A.D. 50-135) summarized the Torah with Leviticus 19:18: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus proved himself to be a first-rate rabbi in a conversation with a kindred scribe:

One of the scribes, when he came forward and heard them disputing and saw how well he had answered them, asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, ‘He is One and there is no other than he.’ And ‘to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself’ is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Mark 12:28-33

Love of God and neighbor are two sides of a single coin (the dime of the Decalogue). The imperishable law (Psalm 119:89) is “sweeter than honey” and a life-giving balm (Psalm 119:103). To become a walking, living Torah was the aspiration of a true son or daughter of Abraham.

Jesus, who grew up hearing and chanting the Torah of his beloved people, had the utmost reverence for the law and the prophets. 

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.

Matthew 5:17-18

In the Sermon on the Mount, the new Moses delivered the heart and kernel of the Mosaic law, summed up in the Golden Rule:

Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets.

Matthew 7:12

In the Mosaic tradition, law keepers are children of God. Conformity to the law is love of God and neighbor. Jesus raised the bar higher than any teacher before him. No rabbi had ever said, “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44). Rabbi Jesus said, Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect,” or in Luke’s version, “Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful” (Matthew 5:48; Luke 6:36).

The nation of Israel produced some of the wisest sages the world has ever known. Kings and queens of foreign nations flocked to Solomon’s temple and palace to hear the wisdom of Israel as Moses predicted:

Observe them carefully, for this is your wisdom and discernment in the sight of the peoples, who will hear of all these statutes and say, “This great nation is truly a wise and discerning people.”

Deuteronomy 4:6

Yet Jesus baffled his audience with a new vision of “righteousness” beyond that of their most illustrious members:

I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:20

Jesus baffled and eluded the world right up to the Cross and even to the present day. Without the Holy Spirit, who can understand him or even say, “Jesus is Lord”? (1 Corinthians 12:3)

The Golden Rule engraved on tablets of stone
Revived in the valley as a breathing bone.2

-GMC


References

1 The Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant traditions have different enumerations of the commandments given in Exodus 20:1-17. See New American Bible (Revised Edition) footnotes. The rabbinic tradition, of which Jesus was a part, gives the following order:

  1. I am the Lord your God
  2. No idolatry
  3. Do not take God’s name in vain
  4. Honor the Sabbath
  5. Honor your father and mother
  6. Do not murder
  7. No adultery
  8. Do not steal
  9. Do not bear false witness
  10. Do not covet

2 Ezekiel 37:1-14.

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 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

Water and Spirit

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

Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter

John 3:7-15

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked Jesus (John 3:9). How can a person be “born of the Spirit?”

The youthful Mary had also asked the angel Gabriel, “How can this be?” (Luke 1:34)

In the Gospel of Luke, Mary received the forthright response, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35).

Gabriel’s answer did not explain how in the scientific sense, but it named the agent of the miraculous Virgin birth. “Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). 

Nicodemus received a less clement response:

“You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this? Amen, amen, I say to you, we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony.

John 3:11

Written in the last half of the first century, the Gospel of John was composed in the milieu of the tension between the early church and the synagogue. The shift to the plural, “you people,” seems to express a sorrowful gulf between Jesus and the community of teachers represented by Nicodemus.

The Torah is a window onto eternity. Nicodemus was expected to recognize the face of God and the works of the Spirit of God, given all his learning.

If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

John 3:12

The “I” of the Dabar/Logos/Word spoke “in the beginning”—Bereshitthe first word of the Torah. The entire book of Genesis is a record of God’s covenant love with humankind. The Lord God Almighty of Israel gave to Moses the gift of the Ten Commandments to guide his people in living a holy life on earth, paving the way to “heavenly things.” Through his mouthpiece, the prophets, the Lord God described himself as a king, shepherd, prince of peace, potter, father, lover, husband, mother, hen, Spirit, wind, breath, rock, fortress, tower, and more. By means of vibrant and colorful earthly images, God painted a splendid portrait of his character for Israel. 

Nevertheless, making the leap from the Torah to Christ was by no means self-evident. Nor is this dialogue with Jesus in the dark of night easily comprehended. Nicodemus speaks for all persons, past and present, in his perplexity. A survey of biblical commentaries on this passage reveals an abundance of varied and divergent interpretations. Nicodemus’ “How can this be?” continues to reverberate down the centuries. 

No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

John 3:13-15

Jesus identified himself with the ladder of the holy patriarch Jacob-Israel (Genesis 28:12). The Greek verbs for ascending and descending in John 3:13 and the Greek Septuagint version of Genesis 28:12 are identical. 

Jesus also identified himself with the likeness of the poisonous serpent that healed the children of Israel in the desert (Numbers 21:9).1 Moses’ original action of “setting” the serpent on a pole becomes in the Messianic light an exaltation and glorification2 of the “Son of Man,” a self-referential term from the Psalms, Ezekiel, and Daniel that Jesus frequently used. The promised Messiah has come to heal the brokenhearted and bind up the wounded, and to send his Spirit to renew the face of the earth (Isaiah 61:1; Psalm 147:3; Luke 4:18; Psalm 104:30: Genesis 1:2).

The angel Gabriel’s answer to the Blessed Virgin Mary is the answer for all her children, the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ her Son. For the Woman whose womb waters were overshadowed by the Holy Spirit is a living symbol of the watery Womb of God the Father.

And the earth was tohu vavohu (without form, and void); and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Ruach Elohim (Spirit of God) was hovering upon the face of the waters.

Genesis 1:2 (Orthodox Jewish Bible)

From the Virgin Father’s Womb to the Virgin Mother’s womb, the creation and recreation of Adam and the earth are accomplished by “water and Spirit” (John 3:5).

We join Nicodemus in his journey from the nighttime of obscurity to the dawning light of faith in the resurrection of the Son of Man on the third day.

-GMC

1 See related post: Christ and the Bronze Serpent

2 See New American Bible (Revised Edition) footnote to John 3:14.

The Greatest Commandment

Shema Yisrael at the Knesset Menorah in Jerusalem
(Licensed by Rabanus Flavus under CC-BY-SA-3.0)

9th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday

Mark 12:28-34

Most of the encounters between Jesus and the teachers of the Law in the Gospels were confrontational and combative, but in this passage we meet an unusually thoughtful and spiritually mature son of Israel. 

One of the scribes who had been listening to Jesus asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”

The first part of Jesus’ response was familiar to every Jew from the cradle—the Shema (Hear!) began every synagogue service and was the pillar of Judaism. Found in Deuteronomy (6:4-9; 11:13-21) and Numbers (15:37-41), over time the command to “bind them” to the hand, between the eyes, and on doorposts and gates was taken literally and evolved into the phylacteries which Jesus condemned (Matthew 23:5). 

The second part came from Leviticus 19:18. All of the minute rules and regulations of Jewish law were summed up in these two precepts—love of God and love of neighbor, or simply, love, for the two are inseparable.

The scribe found a kindred spirit in Jesus and spontaneously responded: “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, He is One and there is no other than he. And to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

This remarkable scholar probably spent a lot of time meditating on the essence of the Law contained in Prophets like Samuel: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obedience to the Lord’s command? Obedience is better than sacrifice, to listen, better than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). In passages like these, the highest wisdom of Judaism is contained. All external works and sacrifices find their fulfillment in the inner temple of the heart.

The scribe received a tremendous gift that day in hearing from Love Incarnate himself, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” 

Jesus’ face, body, hands, voice and entire demeanor radiated wisdom and kindness. People listening to him were captivated: “And no one dared to ask him any more questions.”

-GMC

Whose Wife Will She Be?

King Kalakaua’s Torah and yad in display case at Temple Emanu-El, Honolulu, Hawaii.
Licensed by Wmpearl under CC0 1.0.

9th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday (Year II)

Mark 12:18-27

What is it like not to believe in a spiritual realm? If reality is confined only to the material, sensible world, the focus of one’s energy might be to preserve and perpetuate one’s existence in time as long as possible—the family name and property. 

A theoretical question was put to Jesus by the Sadducees who did not believe in an afterlife or spirits: Suppose seven brothers die in succession after marrying one woman, and the woman finally dies. “At the resurrection when they arise whose wife will she be?” The Sadducees were confident that the question would expose the absurdity of an afterlife.

Jesus said to them, “Are you not misled because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but they are like the angels in heaven.”

There is more to life than meets the eye. The unseen realm exists, Jesus said, and it far surpasses the bodily existence of this life. What exactly the angelic life will look like for humans was not spelled out, but it most certainly lies beyond marriage and family ties. 

Jesus then appealed to the written Torah (the Pentateuch), which the Sadducees accepted as most authoritative: “As for the dead being raised, have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God told him, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not God of the dead but of the living. You are greatly misled.”

The patriarchs who preceded Moses are alive, Jesus said, though again not spelling out any details of the how or where. The text was given not so much as a “proof,” as words can be interpreted in many ways, but was presented in a new angle to open the eyes of the Sadducees who had developed tunnel vision. Jesus shattered the assumption that life simply ended with death.

The odd thing is that the Sadducees believed in the God of Moses who is spirit. From their sect came most of the priests who performed the Temple sacrifices. If human existence was only confined to this earthly life, their God must have been very remote and cut off from earthly affairs. Spirit and matter did not touch. How shocking then, to meet a man who claimed to be the Son of God who will rise from the dead. 

The teaching authorities of the people who waited for centuries for the Messiah were very unprepared for a Christ come in the flesh. “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” Jesus warned (Matthew 16:6).

If the idea of an afterlife was unbearable to the elite of Jesus’ people, one only wonders what Jesus held back when he said, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now” (John 16:12).

-GMC