« August 2005 | Main | June 2005 »

Friday, July 29, 2005

Luke 10:38-42 Martha, the One and the Many

Luke 10:38-42 has been interpreted in the past in terms of the active and contemplative religious life. According to this understanding of the text, Martha represents the religious who is engaged in various forms of apostolate while Mary would stand for those who spend their time in prayer and contemplation. While some may object to this interpretation because of its anachronism, there is also some reason to accept it. After all, Luke in his Acts also narrates an event in the early Church where the job of serving at tables was delegated to a group of chosen men so that the apostles can devote themselves to "prayer and the ministry of the Word (cf. Acts 6:3-4)." This narrative in Acts parallels the case of Martha who is worried and upset over the many tasks of hospitality vis-a-vis her sister who is at home at the Lord's feet, listening to His Word.

There is also another way of taking the symbolisms for Martha and Mary, as St. Augustine would. Martha represents the toil and labor that characterizes the present time while Mary's "resting" before the Lord points us to that time when the moment is no longer marked by human toil. In other words, the contrast between this life and the life to come. In this interpretation, Martha and Mary are facets of the Christian life which is marked by worry and hardship now, but tends towards rest and contemplation in eternity. Here are Augustine's words:

What, in any case did the Lord say to Martha? Mary has chosen the better part. Not that you chose a bad one, but she chose better. Listen to what makes it better: which shall not be taken away from her. Some time orother the burden of need will be taken away from you; the sweetness of truth is eternal. What she has chosen will not be taken away from her. It's not taken away, but still it can be increased. Or rather, in this life it can be increased; in the next life it will be perfected, it will never be taken away. (Sermon 103, 5c)

Augustine could have expressed here what he refers to as the otium sanctum and the negotium caritatis -- that balance of the "Martha and Mary" facets of the spiritual life. Otium sanctum (holy leisure) is the contemplative aspect of the Christian life, a foretaste of the joys that God reserves for those who love Him. This aspect is characterized by prayer and the adoration of God in His works -- a preparation for the beatific vision. Negotium caritatis on the other hand is the business of charity to which the Christian is daily called. In this life, Augustine seems to say, a balance of both is needed. Holy leisure is the ideal of the Christian life, but it should not prevent one from responding to the business of charity. Martha was not told to stop what she was doing; her attention was called to the one thing necessary. But Mary has chosen the better part, and that will not be taken away from her.

See this article too from Otium Sanctum.

Posted by bible student at 11:46 PM
Edited on: Saturday, July 30, 2005 12:19 AM
Categories: Liturgy, New Testament

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Kingdom and the Scribe

Matthew 13: 44-52 may at first appear unrelated. vv. 44-50 continues the string of parables about the Kingdom that Jesus tells his hearers beginning in verse 1. Vv. 51-52 is a concluding remark about the parabolic lessons just heard. In this remark, Jesus refers to a "scribe instructed in the kingdom of heaven." What is the relationship between a kingdom and a scribe? Answer: a king always has a scribe working for him. Scribes are those who keep records of the kingly administration., records that are both old and new. Scribes are the memory of a king's reign; through them, the continuity between a previous administration to a new one is made possible.

This passage is broken down by the liturgy to smaller passages during the course of the weekday readings for the 17th week in OT. Here is the breakdown:

Wednesday, Mt. 13: 44-46
Thursday, Mt. 13: 47-53

In Mt. 13:44-46, the kingdom of heaven is compared to a treasure buried in a field on the one hand and to a pearl of great price. The first of these parables emphasizes the hiddenness of the treasure that can be discovered only by "digging up" the earth, that is, by toil and hard work. The second emphasizes the search that one undertakes before one finds a pearl of great price. In both cases, when one finds the kingdom it is with great joy, and with joy also that one gives up all that one has for it. Both these parables should somehow remind one of Jesus' teachings about discipleship and most specifically of the story of the Rich Man who could not be Jesus' disciple because he could not give up his wealth.

Mt. 13:47-50 is a parable that can be compared to the one about the darnel and the wheat because of the reference to the day of judgment (cf. vv.24-30.36-43). Here however the emphasis is on the coverage of the kingdom of heaven. At first it gathers in all -- both good and bad -- and only afterwards will the separation between good and bad occur. The God who lets the rain fall on both good and bad wants his kingdom to draw in both good and bad. This should be a reminder to all that while God wants all to be perfect as He is perfect, He also desires that the "imperfect" be perfected in His mercy and compassion*.

Mt. 13:51-52 is the saying about the scribe who is compared to the master of the household who has a rich store of supplies that he can distribute as provision. Since the scribe passes on memories, this particular saying of Jesus are for the "teachers" of the Matthaean community who are supplied with these parables so that they can teach others what the kingdom of heaven means.

Posted by bible student at 3:21 PM
Categories: Liturgy, New Testament

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Give Me Wisdom

1 Kgs. 3:5.7-12 is this Sunday's Old Testament reading. The selection emphasizes Solomon's request for Wisdom and how the request pleased God. As appearing in the liturgy, we find a one-to-one correspondence between the request that Solomon makes and the response of God to that request. The text however appears in a more complete form as part of the literary unit formed by vv. 1-15. vv. 1-4 is a brief summary presentation of what Solomon did from the time he took power until the time he made his request, and justifies his presence at Gibeon, "the most renowned high place" (v.4). Note that high places were used for idolatrous worship, yet Solomon offered sacrifices to God there and it was there that God appears to him in a dream.

The dialogue between Solomon and God is found in vv. 5-14, with the remaining verse (v. 15) providing the conclusion to the whole story. The dialogue opens up with God commanding Solomon to make a request (v.5). Solomon's response can be divided into (a) Preface (vv. 6-8) and (b) The Request (v. 9). The first part of the preface is a narrative that emphasizes the special favors shown by God to David and his son. The second part highlights the present situation of Solomon, the son of David, who feels his own inadequacy in front of the people whom God has chosen. Solomon's request is in function of his role towards God's people, and that is, "an understanding heart" to judge, and to distinguish between right and wrong, so as to govern. God's response to this request is positive. God notes that Solomon did not ask for something that enhances himself personally -- long life, riches, victory in battle -- and was therefore pleased. He grants the request for an understanding heart, but in addition He would also grant what Solomon did not ask for, riches and glory as no other kings have, and -- on condition that he is faithful as David was -- even long life.

The Sunday liturgy suppresses a part of Solomon's preface to his request. "You have shown great favor to your servant, my father David, because he behaved faithfully toward you, with justice and upright heart; and you have continued this great favor toward him, even today, seating a son of his on his throne." This was done for a simple reason: the emphasis on the liturgy is on the exercise of kingship, not on the theme of succession. What is emphasized here is the requirement for a kingly rule that is pleasing to God. As such the reading actually echoes something from Wisdom literature: the need for kings and judges to seek wisdom.

This selection from the OT also sheds some light on the relationship between religion and politics, a relationship which is often misunderstood. If all authority is from God, then power and wisdom must necessarily come from on High. Take this premise as the first one in a syllogism about earthly rule and one gets to the conclusion that the best leader is one who is -- in Filipino parlance -- maka-Diyos (in English, this would be roughly translated as "Godly").

Posted by bible student at 2:48 PM
Categories: Liturgy, Old Testament

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Rom. 8:26-27 Praying When It Is Difficult

"How can one pray when it is difficult to pray?" Rom. 8:26-27 gives us an indication to the answer: the Holy Spirit which has been poured into our hearts enables us to pray even when we feel we cannot:

The word "Spirit" appears in the Letter to the Romans 20 times and 14 of these instances are found in Romans chapter 8. This only shows that the word "Spirit" is a key-word in this chapter. The word "Spirit" however does not have the same value in the way it is used throughout Romans.

Rom. 1:4 "spirit of sanctification"; Rom. 1:9 "my spirit" = I ; Rom. 2:29 "spirit" vs. "letter"; Rom. 7:6 "newness of spirit" vs. "oldness of letter"; Rom. 8:2 "law of the spirit of life" vs. "law of sin and death"; Rom. 8:4 "walk according to spirit" vs. "walk according to the flesh." Rom. 8:5 "flesh-mind" vs. "spirit-mind" Rom. 8:6 "wisdom of the flesh" vs. "wisdom of the spirit" Rom. 8:9 "flesh" vs. "spirit" / "Spirit of God" "Spirit of Christ" Rom. 8:10 "body" vs. "spirit" Rom. 8:11 "Spirit of Him" "His (Christ's) Spirit" Rom. 8:13 "live according to flesh" by the Spirit "mortify deeds of the flesh" Rom. 8:14 Spirit of God Rom. 8:15 spirit of bondage and fear, spirit of adoption Rom. 8:16 Spirit himself > our spirit Rom. 8:23 firstfruits of the Spirit Rom. 8:26 Spirit ... Spirit Rom. 8:27 Spirit Rom. 11:8 "spirit of insensibility" (as opposed to the "spirit of wisdom") Rom. 12:11 "in spirit" (as opposed to "in body")

In all these instances, the Holy Spirit is referred to in the following verses: Rom. 1:4; Rom. 8:9.11;8: .

The passage under consideration therefore refers to the Spirit which is both called "Spirit of God" and "Spirit of Christ" in 8:9 and "Spirit of Sanctification" (= "Holy Spirit") in Rom. 1:4. And the function that is underlined here is that of prayer. The Holy Spirit empowers the baptized to pray by interceding for him/her through groanings that are inexpressible.

The Catechism makes use of Romans 8:26-27 in synchrony with Hebrews in explaining the prayer of intercession:

Intercession is a prayer of petition which leads us to pray as Jesus did. He is the one intercessor with the Father on behalf of all men, especially sinners. He is "able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them "(Heb. 7:25). The Holy Spirit "himself intercedes for us ... and intercedes for the saints according to the will of God". (Rom. 8:26-27) (CCC, §2634)

Thus, when we intercede as the Church in behalf of all men and the whole community of the faithful, we extend on earth what the Lord, our High Priest, is doing before the Father, and at the same time, we mirror in our act of intercession what the Holy Spirit is doing in our lives.

Romans 8:26-27 when seen within its immediate context gives us an idea of what the Spirit is doing in our lives as the future of God inexorably makes itself present. Romans 8:18-30 develops within the contrast "present sufferings -- future glory". The inexpressible groanings of the Holy Spirit mirrors the groaning of creation and of the Christian that labours in pain under the present which is in the process of being transformed into glory.

For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And even we Christians, although we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, also groan to be released from pain and suffering. We, too, wait anxiously for that day when God will give us our full rights as his children, including the new bodies he has promised us. (8:22-23, NLT)

The Holy Spirit which has been poured into our hearts, enabling us to call God "Father",(Rom. 5:5;8:15; cf. 8:29) just as Jesus did, is a companion in this present time of "groaning". In our prayers, He is there helping us with His own prayers and in so doing, helps us to pray even when we feel that we cannot (Rom. 8:26). It is thus, that in times of anguish and distress brought about by the difficulties of the present, it is the Holy Spirit that helps the Christian raise his/her heart to God and pray with faith for all that he/she needs.

Posted by bible student at 12:00 AM
Categories: Devotional, New Testament

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Parables of the Kingdom

Matthew 13:24-43 continues the theme of Jesus teaching in parables. The first part of the passage is a series of parables about the "kingdom of heaven." Parable, here, should be understood as a simile, since Jesus prefaces a parable with the explanation "X can be likened to Y". (The NLT translates "illustration")

The longest parable deals with the question of the bad and good being mixed up in the kingdom (v. 24-29). Here it is about the wheat and the tares, the first having been planted by the farmer and the second by the enemy, i.e. the devil. One might as well ask: "Why is it that inspite of the fact that all of us hear the same Word of God, not all turn out to be good believers?" The emphasis in the parable, however, is how to deal with those weeds which the enemy has planted: the owner of the field tells his worker not to uproot the weeds immediately, but to wait until harvest (= Judgment Day) when these will be separated from the wheat:

Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, "First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn." (v.30)

The parable is given its explanation in the last part of the passage (vv. 37-43). Note the attitude of the owner of the field: he does not uproot the bad so as to protect the good. Even if the weeds continue to grow, the owner of the field is still the Master of what he owns; He is in control and has an appointed time for the weeds. Some Christians find it scandalous that in the congregation they go to, they recognize people whom they know to live immoral lives. There are denominational groups that even excommunicate a member for not living according to the moral standards the group has defined, e.g. a girl who cuts her long braid finds herself excommunicated because her group believes that females should have long hair, or a male TV star gets the same treatment because he appears in a beer commercial. The Lord however sees the Church as a mixture of wheat and tares while it continues its pilgrimage on earth. Only on Judgment Day will the true sons and daughters of God be manifested (cf. Romans).

The second parable is another parable about the mustard seed (31-32). In another parable that is well known, the mustard seed -- the smallest of all seeds -- is compared to faith. No matter how small one's faith is, so long as it is there, one can do the impossible. Here the comparison is to the Word that is sown but then grows into a shelter that can be a home to a great variety of people. Here, mustard tree that emerges from the smallest of seeks evokes the image of the Church that draws to her bosom the men and women of all races (= the birds of the sky)

The third parable is about the leaven-like characteristic of the kingdom of heaven (v. 33). In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord spoke of the Church as "salt of the earth and light of the world." In this passage he compares it to the yeast that the baker mixes with flour until the dough rises and becomes a loaf of bread. The kingdom of heaven is to the world of men and women like yeast is to dough. The quality of the world should "rise" wherever the Church is inserted into its life.

The central part of this discourse is another explanation as to why Jesus speaks in parables (vv. 34-35):

All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables.
He spoke to them only in parables,
to fulfill what had been said through the prophet:
"I will open my mouth in parables,
I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation of the world."

In a previous instance, the Lord tells his disciples that he speaks in parables so that those only whom God has disposed to listen to Him may truly benefit from His words (cf. "No one comes to me until the Father draws Him"). In this sense, the parabolic form of Jesus' teachings already have the characteristic of judgment: there are those who will listen but not hear (See Matthew 13:10-17).

In the present passage, the idea of "parable" is taken from the quoted psalm 78, which is a prophetic recitation of Israel's salvation history. In this psalm "parable" is synonymous with "hidden lessons", i.e. about something that is shared between God and his people and which nobody else can understand or know about. In this sense, the parable is also something that hides when it is disclosed. It is for this reason that the Lord, when alone with his own, explains to them the hidden things he announces (vv. 36-43).

Posted by biblista at 12:39 AM
Edited on: Wednesday, July 13, 2005 12:41 AM
Categories: New Testament

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Isaiah 55:10-11 My Word Never Fails

Isaiah 55:10-11 is from the conclusion of Isaiah's Book of Consolation (Isaiah 55:1-13). Here the keyword is DABAR which the Septuagint translates as logoV. Our modern English translations simply render it as "Word." But this somehow limits the concept that both the Hebrew original and the Greek translation containt. In both those languages, the original idea can be rendered as "Word-Event." God's "Word" is not simply an idea that is pronounced or written, it is a "happening"; and because it "happens", it can change, transform, create. The powerful imagery that Isaiah employs in these two verses compares God's Word with water that becomes either snow or rain that irrigates the land and makes it produce the food that one brings at table and from which one is nourished. From water, to snow, to irrigated land, to vegetation, to bread that one eats -- God's Word operates the same way once it leaves God's mouth. It brings about a happening, or like the water, a "life-cycle."

my word shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it (Isa. 55:11)

The liturgy for the 15th Sunday of Ordinary time pairs this passage with the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:1-23. By doing this, the Church is helping us understand the connection between the words of Jesus and God's Word. In Matthew's parable, the words of Jesus -- symbolized by the seed of the sower -- can grow and bear fruit in a heart that is "fertile." The parables that Jesus use to teach the crowd already "select" those meant to benefit from them: "they shall look but will not see and listen but will not hear or understand." Only to the disciples has it been given that Jesus' words are understood. And it is for them that the Word of God becomes life.

There is another passage from the Gospel of John which echoes Isaiah 55:10-11. The echo is faint, but it is there. "My Word ... shall do my will ... (shall do ) the purpose for which I sent it" has an echo in "My food is to do the will of God who sent me to finish His work" (Jn. 4:34). The context of this latter passage is Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman. It was an encounter where He, the Word of God made flesh (cf. Jn. 1:1-18) presents himself as the source of the water that gurgles unto eternal life (Jn. 4:14). The encounter ends with the woman going back into town and calling her townsmates to where Jesus was so that they too may encounter Him. The evangelist John composed the story in such a way that Jesus' talk about food and harvest in v. 34-38 should point to the coming of "many Samaritans" (v.30). Thus, by sending God's Word to this town of Samaria, a woman who sought water helped a whole town recognize "the Savior of the world. (v. 42)"

Posted by bible student at 1:55 AM
Categories: Liturgy, Old Testament

Monday, July 04, 2005

Matthew 11:19b Wisdom's Children or Works of Wisdom?

In Matthew 11:16-19 Jesus compares the towns where he has been preaching to children playing in the marketplace: they won't respond to the dirge of the Baptist's asceticism or to the flute of Jesus' joyful announcement of the good news. In Filipino, one can even interject that "this generation" is sala sa init, sala sa malamig. Then Jesus concludes his comparison with a wisdom saying that has been rendered differently by different translations.

kai edikaiwqh h sofia apo twn teknwn authV

But Wisdom is justified by her children (New King James Version)
But Wisdom is justified of her children (American Version)
Yet Wisdom is justified by her deeds (NJB)
Yet Wisdom is vindicated by her works (NRSV)
Yet time will prove where Wisdom lies (NAB)
But Wisdom is shown to be right by what results from it (NLT)

Notice that the NKJV and the AV represent very literal renderings of the original with minor differences in the interpretation of apo. The NJB and NRSV however represent an effort to render the concept behind "Wisdom's children" where "children" are understood as those that are "effected" by Wisdom. In this sense, the New Living Translation is more explicit in its line of interpretation when it chooses a longer rendering "by what results from it (Wisdom)." Given this sampling of renderings, the NAB seems to represent a wholly different line of thought: where does it get the idea of time? Was the translator imagining a word like aharit ("generation after" which can also conceivably stand for "children") behind the Greek teknon?. The NAB translation however retains the enigmatic character of the saying. The line of interpretation followed by the NJB, NRSV and NLT however lends well to the larger context, if we would include the following prophetic oracles over the unrepentant towns within it. This latter ends with a prayer where Jesus mentions "children" as opposed to the "wise and the clever."

At that time Jesus said in reply, "I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to the childlike. (Matt. 11:25)

This would make the "works of Wisdom" repentance and faith in Jesus' words. But given the literal translation of the NKJV and AV (also the Douay-Rheims and Vulgate), would it still be necessary to do so? Wisdom's children would be the community of faith itself.

Posted by bible student at 9:51 PM
Edited on: Monday, July 04, 2005 10:20 PM
Categories: New Testament