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

Archive for February, 2013

An Effective Change

The upper part of The Transfiguration (1520) b...

The upper part of The Transfiguration (1520) by Raphael, depicting Christ miraculously discoursing with Moses and Elijah. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Years ago, I remember hiking in a forested area near the ocean.  It was late afternoon when I exited the forest and wound up standing on a cliff overlooking the ocean.  In fact, the timing couldn’t have been better.  The sun was beginning to set and there were clouds scattered across the sky.

The multi-hued clouds gave off a very colorful display, and I was amazed at the wonderful sight that I was then witnessing.  It was as if I had walked out of darkness into shining light.  It was as if nature had been transformed.

In today’s Gospel (Luke 9:28-36), Peter, James, and John undergo a somewhat similar experience.  That is to say, they see something overwhelming and beautiful.  They see the “transfiguration” of Jesus.  This means that Jesus was transf0rmed physically before their eyes.  In their vision they saw him in glory because he was on his journey to Jerusalem where was was to suffer and die.  The disciples saw him “in glory” which gave them some hope for what was going to come in Jerusalem.

Moses and Elijah, two Old Testament individuals, the former representing the Law and the latter representing prophecy, were present in the vision as well.  Soon after a could appeared over the group and a voiced was heard to day, “This is my beloned Son.  Listen to him.”  Neverthess, they all kept their silence.

What really happened?  If we examine the symbolism, we will have a better understanding.  I would like to focus on three items:  mountain, cloud, and God’s voice.  First of all, the mountain which is often seen in the Bible as the “meeting place” between heaven and earth.  It appears that when a mountain appears in a narrative, then something special is about to happen.

For example.  Moses was the mediatior for the foundational covenant between God and his people Israel.  This took place on “Mount” Sinai (Exodus 19).  In the case of Elijah, there was a contest between him and the priests of Baal to see whose god had more power.  In the contest, it was Elijah’s god who won (I Kings 18:20-40).  This happened on “Mount” Carmel.  And then, of course, there was the case of Jesus.  He came not to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it .  This took place at the Sermon on the “Mount” (Matthew 5). 

The second item was the cloud.  In the Old Testament, the cloud was the sign of God’s presence.  God’s presence was a key to Israels’ theology.  It was the divine presence that gave the people assurance and support.  Most  likely divine presence was a continuation of the Christmas promise of Immanuel (Hebrew for “God with us”).  Because it was at Christmas that God came down in the person of Jesus to be with his people.

Thirdly, there is the divine voice from the cloud.  As at Jesus’ baptism so in the transfiguration scene, God’s voice came out of the cloud affirming Jesus and giving him support.  In today’s Gospel, the divine voice says, “This is my beloved Son.  LISTEN  to him.”

Our listening to Jesus depends upon knowing where our “mountain” is.  That is, the meeting point between God and ourselves.   Listening depends also on the “divine voice” coming from the “cloud.”  Affirming God’s presence is crucial for our service to others. 

This means proclaiming justice, manifesting compassion, and expressing forgiveness.  We pray not only for open ears but for open hearts as well to hear  God’s command to listen to Jesus who said it so well.  “Love one another as I have loved you.”  Only then can we be transformed from what we were to what we can be.

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How to deal with temptation

How many times have we seen people who have more money, fame, and popularity than we do?  Quite often  we give some thought to what we might want to “do” about it.  The possibilities can sometimes be quite frightening.

This situation is commonly called temptation.  Remember that temptation itself is not a sin, but an opportunity to choose for God or against God.  Thus it is, above all,  the moment of “choice.” 

In the Gospel for the first Sunday in Lent (Luke  4:1-13),  Jesus give us an idea of how we could respond to temptation.  Precisely, what is Jesus’ reaction?  First of all, a little background.  “Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, departed from the Jordan…”   Two things are crucial: “Holy Spirit,” and “Jordan.”  Coming from the “Jordan,” most likely meant the event of Jesus’ baptism.  It was at the Baptism that the Father and the Holy Spirit made an appearance with Jesus  (Luke 3: 21-22).  The word “Spirit” means “creative power” of God, the motivation of support and encouragement.

The image of “desert” was often used in the Old Testament as a place of purification, as it was for the Israelites after crossing the sea.  Israel failed during her period of testing, but Jesus did not.

Now, the temptation itself.  Basically, it was an attempt for Jesus to use his divine power even though he didn’t have to.  If Jesus had chosen to do so, then the devil would have been in charge because he set the terms.

What is important is to note two things.  The first is the use of the “if…then”  conditionality of each of the three temptations.  For example: (1)-“IF you are the son of God, (THEN) command this stone to become bread”; (2)-“IF you worship me, (THEN) I will give you all these belongings”; (3)-“IF you are the son of God, (THEN) throw yourself down, and the angels will save you.”  It was obvious that a choice was being offered.

The second item to notice is the fact that Jesus answered every temptation by the use of Scripture.  To cite the Scripture correctly, a real knowledge of it is required for the citation to be effective.

How can this Lucan reading help us to deal with temptation?  I would like to suggest four items.  First, we remember that we are filled with the Holy Spirit at our Baptism, which means that we have God’s “creative spirit” as motivitation for our service to others.  Second, we ask ourselves what will be our “desert” as a place of purification, in order to help others.  Will it be suffering, the sacrament of reconciliation, or what?

Thirdly, be mindful that each temptation is a choice which makes it an “if-then” challenge.  Israel’s covenant at Sinai was posed as an “if…then” choice, for example, “IF you keep my commandments, (THEN) I will be your God” (Exodus 19).  Jesus maintains that element of choice as we should.  Do we keep the commandments or not?  Fourthly, the use of Scripture as a form of support and encouragement.  The message and life of Jesus in the Gospels gives us a model, as does the preaching of the prophets.

So it is, that our Baptism, together with having a place of purification, an awareness of the “if…then” dynamic, and a good grasp of Scripture will help us to ward off effectively temptations as they come.  This way, we will be able to choose “for” God rather than “against” him.  That is how we deal with temptation.

Do you see what I see?

Many of us dream quite frequently.  The dreams are filled with symbolic imagery about which we know very little.  Yet the experts tell us that the dreams are very much a part of who we are.  We must figure out what the symbols mean.  In the Bible we often see the dream as a form of divine revelation, for example the Magi are told in a dream not to return to Herod,  Joseph is told to come to and then leave Egypt (Matt. 1:12; 2:13, 19).

In the first reading for the fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8), Isaiah has a vision.  The vision could well have been a dream and thus most likely revelatory.  What was Isaiah’s vision?  He saw God sitting on a throne surrounded by Seraphim (guardians of the throne).  The Seraphim exclaim loudly “Holy, Holy, Holy….”  The designation of holiness indicates a sense of “otherness.”  That is, that God is special.

Soon after, follows a small earthquake and an indication that the Lord has a mission to be completed.  “Whom shall I send?” asks the Lord.  “Here I am.  Send me.”  So replies Isaiah.  After a little shaking up and the divine  request for a messenger, Isaiah will go and preach the Lord’s message to others.  The word “prophet” means “to speak for another.”

For us, I think the significance in this reading is clear.  Three items come to mind.  First, the need to determine where it is that we “see” God; either in church, in the marginalized, in another person, or somewhere else.  It is only when we “see” God that we can recognize his presence and act.

Secondly, it  is important to note the specialness of God.  He being “something other” indicates a certain trust of his concern for us.  This means confidence in his support of and presence with us.  The belief that “with God all things are possible” suggests a strong motivation for our ministry of service.

Thirdly, accept the challenge to be God’s messenger to others.  As Isaiah needed a little “shaking up” to see what was at stake, so we can expect a little shaking up.  The message of God is one of justice, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding in our ministry to others.  We should frequently keep in mind  the final part of Isaiah’s vision as applicable to us.  The Lord, contemplating the mission, asked,  “Who will go for us.”  Isaiah’s response should be ours.  “Here I am.  Send me.”

Photo of the Book of Isaiah page of the Bible ...

Photo of the Book of Isaiah page of the Bible (cropped version) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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