A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

Archive for May, 2012

The “answer” is blowing in the wind.

The decade of the sixties was a turbulent time.  we noticed many examples of corporate greed; dissatisfaction with an unpopular war in Vietnam; the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King.  There were too many questions, but not enough answers.

During this period, folk music came into importance because it used the imagination to “offer” plausible solutions to potentially unanswerable questions.  One of the folk song artists who found a following was Bob Dylan.  His signature song became, “Blowing in the wind.”  If I recall correctly, each verse asked a potentially unaswerable question, for example, “How many deaths will it take before we know that too many people have died?”  And the repetitive answer to that and each following question was “The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.”

I propose to you, that we who are faced with many seemingly unanswerable moral questions, can presume the same answer.  Namely, “the answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.”  However, the wind I am suggesting is not general idea of wind as an ethereal entity, but rather the Holy Spirit.

What’s that you say?  Let us examine the first reading for the feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11).  Three images come clearly into focus:  Wind, Tongue, and Fire.

First, the image of wind.  The reading states early on “…a noise from heaven, like a strong wind swaying along…”  The wind is certainly active and comes from heaven.

No doubt the readers see the wind as reminding them of the Ruah YHWH (the Spirit of God) found in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) as being active.  There are several examples, but two are helpful.

There is the mention in Genesis (1:2-3) that a wind (ruah in Hebrew) from God “swept over the face of the waters.  Then God said ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”  The Spirit of God is effective.

Another illstration is from the book of Judges (6:34).  The text reads, “But the spirit (ruah YHWH) from the Lord took possession of Gideon…”   Once again, the Spirit of God is effective, because Gideon was able to act on behalf of the Israelite people.  A better translation for spirit (ruah) is “the creative power of God.”  Hence the Spirit of God is active.

Second, the image of tongues.  Tongues of fire appeared over the heads of those disciples present at that first Pentecost.  Why tongues?  Because one preaches the message of the risen Jesus by means of the tongue.  Preaching Jesus to others was part of the commissioning given to the disciples.

Icon of the Pentecost

Icon of the Pentecost (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Third, the image of fire.  Fire symbolizes that one is burning with desire and consumned with energy to preach the message of Jesus which is the promotion of  justice, the dissemination of compassion, and forgiveness.

What this means for us is that as the disciples received the Holy Spirit (the creative power of God) at Pentecost, so we have received the Holy Spirit at our Baptism.  And since reception of the creative power of God means carrying the work of preaching and teaching the Jesus message to others, we must do all that we can to remember the responsibilities of our Baptism.

So that when we are confronted with potentially unanswerable moral questions, we should keep in mind that “the answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.”  That is, the Holy Spirit which is the creative power of God. 







Will the circle be unbroken?

Years ago,  I recalled a gathering song called  “Will the circle be unbroken?”  The melody was rather catchy.  If I remember correctly, the image of the circle was intended to represent  the hopeful survival of the believing  community.  Presumably, the supposition was that the community of believers would last not just for a short while, but forever.  It gave somewhat the idea of permanence.  Hence, the unbroken circle.

In the book of Acts (1:1-11) , we seem to have  circle of permanence linking together the historical process.  The past, present, and future of Jesus’ life on earth.  What we call the “circle of permanence” is the church’s liturgical year which reminds us of the past, present, and future comings of Jesus.

First of all, the past.  The periods of  Advent and Christmas recall the time when Jesus enters into our world.  It is a “coming down” from heaven.  “Advent,”  from the Latin, means “the coming.”  God becoming human is referred to as the Incarnation, that which “becomes flesh.”  One of the key words for this Advent-Christmas season is Immanuel, which means in Hebrew, “God is with us.”  Knowledge of the divine presence with his people was a crucial factor in Israel’s belief of God’s guidance and protection.

Second, the present.  The periods of Lent and Easter recall the time when Jesus lived  in our world.  Lent is the time when Jesus lived and died so that all could see the example of his message.  Easter is the time when the risen Jesus shows that he has power over life and death.  Advent-Christmas is the “coming down” part of the circle.  Lent-Easter is “straight across”  time line part of the circle.

Third, the future.  The church continues the work of Jesus on earth.  The feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost are very special.  The Ascension is the moment when Jesus returns to heaven (from whence he came) after commissioning  his disciples to carry on his work until the end of the world.  Pentecost means the coming of the Holy Spirit to give  strength and encouragement to those who are prooclaiming the message of Jesus.  The time after Pentecost is the period when the believing community keeps the circle unbroken by constantly proclaiming the message of Jesus, namely, justice, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness.

How can we keep this circle of caring love and concern from being broken?  I would like to make some suggestions.  First, remember that our experience of Jesus is like an unbroken circle, and it is the church’s liturgical year that often reminds us of this.  For example, the Advent-Christmas period is a reminder that Jesus entered into our world (past); the Lent-Easter period is a reminder that Jesus lived, died, and resurrected in our world (present); and that the post-Resurrection period (Ascencion, Pentecost, and the time after Pentecost) is the time the church continues the work of Jesus in the world.

Secondly, we keep this circle of care and concern unbroken through our good example of life and preaching with the support of the Holy Sprit.  Our Baptism makes us aware of this.

What does “love” have to do with it?

We have all heard many people flippantly use words to mean something that they weren’t originally intended to mean.  For example, why someone says, “Oh, I love that color,” or “I love that style of shoe,” that person is really saying, “I like that color,” and “I like those shoes.”  The intellectual laziness  suggests to us that this particular individual doesn’t really understand the meaning of the word love.

In today’s Gospel reading (Sixth Sunday of Easter: John 15:9-17) the word “love” is very much in focus.  In fact, the actual meaning of love has to do with commitment, the commitment of one to another–even if it means giving one’s life for the other.  The situation of parent-child relations strongly bears this out.

In the biblical sense, “love” is really something active.  It is not simply an emotional expression, it is something you do to prove you have it.  How does one get it?  I suspect that today’s Gospel reading can tell us about active love.  Let us look at it  from a three fold perspective:  Permanence; Totality; and Relationship.

First of all, Permanence.  Jesus tells his disciples, “Remain in my love…”  “Remain” means remain not for a moment, but forever.  One does this by keeping the commandments–permanently.

Second, Totality.  One makes sacrifices for the one who is loved.  The greater the sacrifice, the greater the love expressed.  Jesus suffered and died for us.  What kind of sacrifices are we willing to make for others?  Sacrifice means the same as commitment.

Third, Relationship.  Jesus tells his friends, “I no longer call you servants, but I call you friends…”  The Greek word used for “friends” is philoi, which means “beloved.”  The nature of the relationship is changed.  Jesus’ friends are his “beloved,”  namely, special people.

If we take Jesus seriously when he tells us, “Love one another,” we know he is talking about an active love.  We do this by keeping the commandments permanently; by spending quality time with others even though it may bring about suffering; and by remembering that we have become the philoi (friends=beloved) of Jesus through our Baptism.  Permanence.  Totality.  Relationship.  How’s that for being a modern day Christian “lover?”

Why should we “protest?”

TIME magazine’s 2012 person of the year award went to the “Protester,”  whose picture was put on the cover.   The “Arab Spring” events as well as the “Occupy America” movement were big news .  But what was it that was being protested?

The protestors felt that a major message had to be proclaimed and the best way they thought it could be done was to proclaim loudly the major message.  In today’s Gospel (Mk. 1:1-8),  John the Baptist is proclaiming  loudly the major message of Jesus’ coming by protesting loudly.

And the “message?”  Well, one has to see it from a historical perspective in order to understand it more completely.  This means seeing the coming of Christ in the past, the present, and the future. 

Regarding the past, the Baptist uses a quote from the prophet Isaiah speaking (several centuries earlier) of one who is to proclaim the coming of the Lord.  With regard to the present, John accepts the fact that Jesus is already among them about to be baptized and then begin his work.  Concerning the future, I dare say that when the Baptist spoke of Jesus baptizing others with the “Holy Spirit,” we could understand the reference not only to the Apostles receiving the Holy Spirit on Pentecost to continue the work of Jesus after his Resurrection and Ascension, but also to the rest of us baptized to continue Jesus’ work as well.

How can we be “protestors” in this day and age?  Above all, we must proclaim loudly the presence of Jesus among us now, and that we can better undersand that presence if we utilize the historical perspective.

Perceiving  the presence of Jesus in the past would be to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas.  Every year we focus on the fact that Jesus (Immanuel in Hebrew means “God with us”) has come to us historically.  In the present, we become more conscious of our Baptism where we received the Holy Spirit, and provide good example with our words and deeds.  In the future, we believe that Jesus will come again and see how we have become good “protestors.”

John the Baptist baptizing Christ

John the Baptist baptizing Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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