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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Gospel of Luke and the Letter to the Colossians

For those who are in the habit of reading the Scriptures as part of their daily activities: Today, we began reading the Letter to the Colossians as the first reading for the daily mass. This will continue until next week and will cover until the third chapter of the letter. Yesterday, we began reading from the gospel of Luke, and this will continue until November, when the new liturgical season begins with Advent. We've just finished reading selections from the first letter to the Thessalonians. Below is a table showing how the selections are distributed during the weekday masses:

August 31, Wednesday

Col. 1:1-8

September 1, Thursday

Col. 1:9-14

September 2, Friday

Col. 1:15-20

September 3, Saturday

Col. 1:21-23

September 5, Monday

Col. 1:24-2:3

September 6, Tuesday

Col. 2:6-15

September 7, Wednesday

Col. 3:1-11

The readings for Sunday (September 4) and the feast of the Nativity of Mary (September 8) was not included since readings for these days follow a different rationale. Following Colossians is the first letter to Timothy.

Posted by biblista at 9:24 PM
Edited on: Wednesday, August 31, 2005 10:25 PM
Categories: Devotional, Liturgy

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Mt. 16:21-27 -- Being an Alter Christus

Those who have been baptized are called "alter Christus", an "other Christ". This aspect of the Christian life is underscored in Mt. 16:21-27. The gospel selection for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A) can be divided in the following way:

vv. 21-23 Get Behind Me, Satan: The Reproach To Peter
vv. 24-27 The Disciples' Way of the Cross

The statement "Whoever wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (v. 24) is actually a statement of the lifestyle of the one who wishes to follow Jesus. The central statement "take up his cross" points forward to the Way of the Cross. As Jesus will be carrying the cross of humiliation and shame, so too the disciple will have to carry his. The two outward statements -- "deny himself ... follow me" -- recalls all the instances when those whom Jesus calls have to leave something of themselves behind. The first four fishermen to be called left behind their nets and boats (in the case of James and John, they also left behind Zebedee, their father, the one who passed on to them their trade as fishermen); the rich young man had to discover that it was not enough to just obey the Mosaic law, he also had to give up his wealth (Mt. 19:16-22, cf. parallels). Given the connection of the statement to the previous one about Jesus' prediction regarding his own future, one is tempted to see here a call to the same process that Jesus will undergo: suffering, death and resurrection. When Jesus says "follow me" one might as well ask, "To where?" The gospel of John will give the answer: "Where I am, there you will also be", that is, to be with Him at the side of the Father. In Matthew Jesus intimates this in verse 27 when he refers to his return as the Son of Man who will render to each one his due.

The Son of Man is the celestial being in Daniel 7:13+ who receives from God all authority, power and kingship. This is the glorious Son of Man who will return as the Groom, King and Master of the House (cf. Matthew 25). He will share with the wise, the faithful and those who cared for the little ones the joy that is His. It is I think within this context that one must understand the statements in vv. 25-26.

Whoever will seek his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what profits a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul? What can he give in return for his own soul?

Vv. 21-23 is in continuation with the previous story about Peter's confession of the who Jesus is. After Simon Bar-Jona identifies Jesus as "the Messiah (the Christ), Son of the Living God" and gets commended for it, he shows in vv. 21-23 that he has not fully understood Jesus' Messiahship. He, like the Devil in Matthew 4:1f, thought of a Messiah without a Cross. Hence, Jesus calls him by the name "Satan", the Hindrance. Like Peter, the "alter Christus" must give up one's favorite image of Jesus for one that is in conformity with God's mind. In a moment of inspiration, Peter saw Jesus as the Christ, but as a Christ in glory with authority and dominion. He had to learn that that image of Christ will become true only AFTER Jesus has become the Suffering Messiah, obedient only to the Father's word. As the Tempter in Matthew 4:1f learned what Son of God meant, so too must the disciple.

Posted by bible student at 6:41 PM
Categories: Liturgy, New Testament

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Faith of A Pagan: Matthew 15:21-28

The story of the persistent Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-28 is taken by the Catechism as an example of prayer borne out of deep faith (CCC, 2610). In fact, the figure of the Canaanite woman and her persistence in asking for the Lord's help reminds one of Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52), the Parables of Persistent Prayer in Luke (cf. Luke 11:5-10;18:2-5). And while it can be compared to the case of the Roman centurion as an example of a healing at a distance, (Mt. 8:5-13), the case of the Canaanite woman is distinguished by the fact that here, her request was granted after being rebuffed.

Jesus' initial rejection of the request of the woman for help is justified in 15:24: "I was sent after the lost sheep of Israel." This has led some interpreters to think that the story probably came from a time in Jesus' ministry when the restoration of the people of Israel was foremost in his thoughts. However, the fact that Jesus relents to the woman at the end in recognition of her genuine faith, the story probably became an inspiration for the early Christian missionaries when these in turn found themselves in Gentile lands. Hence, this narrative provides a type for the Church in mission to the Gentiles.

This gospel narrative is paired with Romans 11:13-15.29-32 for the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time in Year A. This is interesting because Augustine has a sermon on the Canaanite woman where he makes side comments on this section of Romans (Sermon 77).

But why were the natural branches rightly broken off? (cf. Rom. 11:17a) Pride. And the wild olive rightly grafted in (Rom. 11:17b)? Humility. That's why this woman said: "Yes, Lord, for even the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from the table of the master" and why he said in reply: "O woman, great is your faith!"

In this sermon, Augustine had been explaining to his audience their connection to the Canaanite woman:

With these words ("I was sent to the lost sheep of Israel") the question arises: how did we come from the gentiles into Christ's sheepfold, if he was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel? What is the meaning of this profoundly mysterious maneuver by which the Lord, knowing full well why he had come, which was of course to have a Church among all the nations, said he had only been sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel?

Thus, from this opening question, he explains the story as a prefiguration of what happens in the time of the apostles when they -- especially in the person of St. Paul -- preached the gospel to the Gentiles and made possible the "grafting" of the wild olive branches of gentility into the tree that is Israel.

The story of the persistent Canaanite woman therefore has a typological sense. It also has a moral sense which Augustine does not hesitate to pound into his audience:

So notice, brothers and sisters, how it is above all humility that is being recommended to us in this woman who was a Canaanite, that is, who came from gentility and was a type -- that is, a representation -- of the Church.


Let's learn, let's keep humility. If we haven't got any yet, let's learn it. If we don't have it, let us not lose it. If we haven't yet got it, let's get it andbe grafted in. If we already have it, let's keep it and not be broken off.

The story of the Canaanite woman is rich. It can be seen as an example of the persistence of a mother who loves her daughter or the humility of a pagan in front of the Lord or even a reminder of how the Lord refuses a request so as to make one's desire more intense. There is a lot of meat here but all derives from the humble woman whom the Lord praises in the end: "Oh woman, how great is your faith!"

Posted by bible student at 11:05 PM
Edited on: Wednesday, August 10, 2005 11:46 PM
Categories: Liturgy, New Testament

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Jesus Walks On Water: Matthew's Version

Matthew 14:22-33 is a rewriting of Mark 6:45-52, a narrative that closely follows the feeding of the five thousand (6:34-44) and is connected to it (see Mk. 6:52). But while in Mark the disciples were not able to understand the connection between the multiplication of the loaves and Jesus on the waters, and therefore the significance itself of this latter, in Matthew, the disciples end up worshipping Jesus as the "Son of God" that is, as God* (Mark 14:33). This conclusion actually highlights the Marcan "insinuations" of Jesus' Divinity implied in Jesus' walking on the waters, the self-presentation "Take courage, I AM", and the intention to pass them by.

Passages from Ps. 77, 20 and Job 9,8 point to God walking on the Sea. Ps. 77,20 even mentions the unseen footprints of the Lord on the mighty waters

Your way was on the sea (byam drkyka)
your path on the mighty waters
though no one sees your footprints.

Job 9,8 echoes the mythical language of a hymn about the victory of God over His enemy Yammu: "He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the mighty crests of the Sea." With these two passages at the background of the Marcan phrase "he came toward them walking on the sea" (6:48), the following "and he meant to pass them by" should echo passages from the Exodus about the glorious passing of Yahweh. God passing by is God doing something for his people. And when therefore Jesus says to his frightened disciples: "Take courage, I AM", it is as if he is bringing them the consolation that only God can give (cf. Isaiah 41:10.13;43:1.3.5).

"I AM" is the name Yahweh gives Moses in Exodus 3:14. When Moses asked Him the name by which He would be known by His people, He said: ehyeh asher ehyeh which most translations would render as "I Am Who Am". We know now, however, that the Hebrew asher is not always a relative pronoun ("who" in this instance); it can also be the equivalent of a colon or a quotation mark. Thus the proper rendering would be "I am 'I AM'". Hence, the following statement becomes easily understandable: "This is what you shall say to the Israelites: I AM has sent you."

In Matthew's version, the reference to Jesus' intention of passing by was suppressed and instead, a concrete saving act is supplied. In the figure of Peter, the disciples express themselves in a dialogue with the God who saves:

And Peter said to him:
"Lord, if is truly you, command me to come to you on the water."
And he said:
Peter got out of the boat,
and began to walk on the water
towards Jesus

But when he saw how strong the wind was,
he became frightened
and he, beginning to sink, cried out: "Lord, save me!"

Immediately, Jesus
stretched out his hand
and caught him
and said to him: "O man of little faith, why did you doubt?"

"Lord, save me!" The Lord does not abandon those in Peter's bark to the waves of history that toss it about. He is there as the Lord of history with his hands stretched out to the men of little faith who may think that, in a moment of weakness, that the waves are bigger and the winds stronger than the Lord.

"O man of little faith, why did you doubt?" is a rebuke. Coming from one who has shown the majesty of His divinity, it should also be taken as a reminder that when the Lord is near, there can be no room for fear, only faith.


*The title "Son of God" is not semitic in origin; it is Roman, and became more and more a title of the Emperor of Rome after Caesar Augustus. "Divi Filius" is therefore linked to the imperial religion to which the gospels set themselves up against. In fact, the claim that Jesus was "Son of God" is a claim that undermines Roman rule, as does the more Jewish title "Messiah" (XristoV, Christ)

Posted by biblista at 11:33 PM
Categories: New Testament

Friday, August 05, 2005

Deuteronomy in the Weekday Liturgy

Deuteronomy, the Pentateuch's book of love will be read in selections during the coming days. Here is the breakdown:

Section Day Week
Deut. 4:32-40 Friday 18th
Deut. 10:12-22 Monday 19th
Deut. 31:1-8 Tuesday 19th

Deuteronomy means "Second Law" or "The Law Reiterated". The Israelite generation that stood at the foot of Sinai has passed away and now Moses stands before a new generation of Israelites who never saw and experienced what their fathers saw and experienced in Egypt and in the Wilderness. This new generation will now walk into the land promised to their fathers, and so Moses narrates to them how God has loved them and their fathers and tells them how to respond to that love.

Love for God is expressed in obedience to the Law. Within the context of a loving relationship between God and his people, Father and first-born, the Law becomes the expression of paternal wisdom handed on to the son. It is thus, that obedience to the Law also becomes an occassion to really get to know the Great Abba.

Posted by bible student at 5:29 PM
Categories: Liturgy, Old Testament