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

Archive for June, 2014

The Road to Power

Many remember hurricane Katrina, especially because of  how destructive it was.  Recently, there have been tornadoes in the Midwest, leveling houses so that they appeared as brittle as match sticks.  And then, there were the tsunamis.  I suppose that we have never become so aware of the power of nature until we have seen its destructiveness.

However, in addition to being destructive,  power can be constructive as well.  We see it in the love of a parent who will risk even death for a child.  On the feast of Pentecost, the readings (Acts 2:1-11 and John 20:19-23) tell us something of the power of love and dedication.  What kind of power is that of which we speak?  Namely, the power of the Holy Spirit.  What does that mean?

We can get some background from the Old Testament.  The opening verses of Genesis (Genesis 1:1-2) begin to tell the story of the creation of the world.  The key phrase is “…while a wind (RUAH) from God swept over the face of the waters.”  The wind (RUAH) is better translated as the “power” of God which soon came to mean the Holy Spirit.  In the creation account, we see the power of God as being creative.

A second example from the Old Testament is taken from Judges 6:34, the calling of Gideon.  “But the spirit  (RUAH) of the Lord took possession of Gideon…” This possession of Gideon by the spirit of t he Lord made it possible for him to conquer the  Midianites.  This spirit of the Lord gave Gideon the wherewithal to conquer.  This was power.

In the first reading from the Pentecost liturgy (Acts 2:1-11), the close disciples of Jesus were together.  “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind (see Gen. 1:1) and filled the entire room.”  This was a display of God’s power.

Two verses later, “The disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and they  began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability.”  The disciples spoke in order to be understood.  This was another example of the power of God.  The disciples were motivated to preach Jesus to the world, and the world understood.

In the Gospel (John 20:19-23), Jesus commissions the disciples to continue his ministry of justice, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding.  “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  But how does Jesus commission them?  In the next verse we read “…when he had said this, he breathed on them and said  ‘Receive the Holy Spirit…” (John 20:22)  Jesus commissioned his disciples by giving them the Holy Spirit in ordr to continue his ministry on earth.

What can we learn from these readings?  First of all, when the disciples received the Holy Spirit, they spoke to the people in order to be understood.  We receive the Holy Spirit at Baptism, and when we proclaim the message of Jesus it is to be understood, namely, by means of patience, compassion, understanding, and by the clarity of the message proclaimed.

Secondly, we must truly begin to appreciate our Baptism and what it does for us.  Not only do we bec0me children of God with great responsibilities, but we also receive the Holy Spirit, the “creative power of God” which enables us to do many things in order to properly proclaim the message of Jesus.  Reflecting seriously on our Baptism takes us along on the road to power.

 

 

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At the Crossroads

The aroma of pine trees, the scurrying of little forest creatures, and the multiplicity of  blossoming plants and flowers often accompanied me whenever I took hikes in forest parks.  Now I am unable to take such hikes,  but one thing I do remember is that on one trip I was told that there was a lovely waterfall at the end of the trail.  Well into an hour on the path, I was suddenly surprised.  I encountered some crossroads.  Was I to go left or right?  After having recalled the directions from the forest ranger, I wound up making the correct choice.  An important lesson was that of always being prepared in order to make the correct choice.

In two of the readings for the feast of the Ascension (Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11 and Matthew 28:16-20), we note that the close disciples of Jesus could well have been “at the crossroads.”   They had to make a choice.   Jesus is about to “go home” to the Father, so that he will no longer  physically accompany them.  What are they to do?  It becomes a matter of making a choice once they are aware of the options.

One can look at the options after a brief analysis of the above readings.  The first reading (Acts 1:1-11) tells us about Jesus’ message.  Luke the Evangelist says that in  his  Gospel he recounted much of what Jesus said.  In the book of Acts,  Luke has  Jesus telling the disciples that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit.  Finally, after the recption of the Holy Spirit, the disciples would be witnesses.

What can we learn from this reading (Acts)?  First, the disciples learn primarily of Jesus’ message of justice, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness.  Secondly, the disciples will be baptized by the Holy Spirit.  Thirdly, after the Baptism the disciples will be witnesses.  So,  from this reading (Acts), we learn that the disciples will undoubtedly know of Jesus’ message, be baptized with the Holy Spirit, and then by proclaming Jesus will become his witnesses.  All disciples (including ourselves) are required to follow this pattern.

The Gospel reading (Matthew 28:16-20) opens  with what we can see as the implication of the symbolic value of the “mountain.”  In biblical thinking, the mountain was considered the meeting point between heaven and earth.  That is to say, something important was going to occur.  (For example:  Mt. Sinai: the place of covenant between God and his people.  The mount of the Transfiguration: Jesus’ humanity and divinity are manifested.  Mt. Calvary: Jesus’ death, together with the Resurrection, helped manifest Jesus’ experiences toward human salvation.)

The symbol of the mountain in Galiee (Matthew 28:16) could well have been the “crossroads” for the disciples.  Jesus was “going home” to the Father, as the feast of the Ascencion indicates, so that means the disciples had a decision to make. What were they to do?

The second part of this reading shows that Jesus was comissioning his disciples to carry on his ministry.  How?  By comissioning them to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And for the disciples to feel assured while promoting  the continuity of this ministry, Jesus promised to be WITH them until the end of time.

So, we also are “at the crossroads” of decision making every time that we are challenged either to detour or to avoid the proclamation of Jesus’ message to others. But we have the promise of Jesus that he will be WITH us always as long as we remember and react to the presence of the Holy Spirit (“creative power of God”) whom we received at Baptism.

 

 

 

 

Going Home

After a series of adventures abroad, or even  here in this country, one is ready to return home because everything seems so familiar and more comfortable.  You remember the movie “The Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy, after her multifaceted adventures, said, “There is no place like home.”? She was glad to return to “familiarity.”

In the Gospel for the Fifth Sunday of Easter (John 14:1-12) Jesus tells his disciples that he is looking forward to “going home.”  But this time he is ready to take his disciples with him when they are ready.  He is soon to head for Jerusalem to undergo suffering, death, and resurrection, and then commission his followers to proclaim his message.  And after they die they will go with him.  This sounds appealing enough.

But where is “home” for Jesus?  Fundamentally, it is to be with God the Father.  In the Gospel Jesus definitively states, “No one comes to the Father EXCEPT through me.”  This indicates a special bond.  Ultimately, going “home” means going to heaven.  This is what the feasts of the  Resurrection and Ascension actually mean.

But let us get some kind of a perspective on this in order to understand it.  One of the fundamental themes of the Bible is the “promise of Immanuel,” which means “God with us.”   (“Immanuel” = Hebrew “God with us”)  In both the Old and the New Testaments there was the basic belief that God would be with his people in order to give them ongoing encouragement and support while confronting challenges to their belief system.

The church’s liturgical year (the Christological focus on maintaining the develoment of the Immanuel promise) appears to have a tiadic dimension.  The first stage of the church year (Hence:CY) is Advent/Christmas.  This is the time when the Immanuel promise is made (primarily through the influence of Isaiah, especially 7: 10-14).  Soon, Jesus is born and is considered the fulfillment of the Immanuel promise (Matthew 1: 20-23).  God is present with his people in the person of Jesus.  Advent promises, Christmas delivers.

The second stage of the CY is Lent/Easter.  This is the time when Jesus preaches and deals with people, manifesting compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and treating others with dignity.  Above all, he is giving the example that he wants his disciple to give after he has left the earth.  Toward the end of his life, Jesus experiences suffering and betrayal.  Finally, he is crucified.  A few days later he rises from the dead.  His resurrection is a sign that “his side won.”  Jesus’ life was the example for the disciples  to follow.

The third state of the CY is the period of Pentecost.  The resurrected Jesus commissions his disciples to carry on his work, namely the way to  treat others.  And in order to do that properly, he promises to send the Holy Spirit, which the feast of Pentecost describes.  Now that Jesus is not going to physically be with his disciples, but will “ascend” to the Father, it is the Holy Spirit who will be fulfilling the Immanuel promise.

To see the trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit working together we have only to notice Jesus’ baptism in the river Jordan as reported by Matthew (3:16-17).  After the baptism, the heavens are opened and Jesus “… saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighted on him.  And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.””  John the evangelist states that John the Baptist testified that Jesus is the Son of God.  (John 1: 34)  The stage was set for what was to be the ongoing backround  of Jesus’ public life, namely the Trinity functioning together and the expressed statement of the divinity of Jesus.  (John 1:29-34)

In summary.  Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus is “going home,” and he tells the disciples that they too will eventually “go home” after their ministry is finished.  Their “ministry” is to preach to others the example of Jesus, namely, justice, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness.  The resurrected Jesus will “go home” to the Father at the Ascension.  And the disciples will expect the coming of the Holy Spirit (the “creative power of God”) on Pentecost which will provide them with encouragement to continue preaching the message of Jesus to others.

The underling theme of Jesus’ and the disciples’ ministry is continuing the “Immanuel promise” (God with us).  The CY celebration of Advent/Christmas made that promise and kept it when God became human in the person of Jesus.  Jesus continued that promise during his life, death, and resurrrection as proclaimed by the CY’s celebration of Lent/Easter.  The disciples further continued that promise when Jesus went home to the Father (feast of the Ascension) and received the Holy Spirit (Pentecost).

It is important to remember that the Immanuel promise (God will be with his people) is present in the baptized who are able to proclaim the message of Jesus to the world.  And when that is finished, it is time to “go home.”

 

 

 

 

 

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