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

Archive for January, 2015

Do you hear what I hear?

I truly believe it!  Caller ID is the best invention since sliced bread.  When the phone rings, caller ID tells you who is calling.  Many times you can see that it is a marketer trying to sell you something.  If you don’t recognize either the name or the phone number, the recorded message will tell you (or not).

Two of the readings for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (I Samuel 3:3-10, 19 and John 1:35-42) deal with “calling,” and there was a “sort of” Caller ID to explain the message.

In the first reading from I Samuel, the young boy Samuel, who was an assistant to Eli a priest, is called by name.  Samuel thought it was Eli since the two of them lived in the “house” of the Lord, and it was late at night.  Samuel ran to Eli, woke him up, and said, “Here I am. for you called me.”  Eli knew he did not. He then sent Samuel back to bed.

The same calling of Samuel by name occurred two more times.  Each calling resulted in Samuel going to Eli and making the same statement.  After the third “call by name” Eli realized that it was the Lord’s disembodied voice that was calling Samuel.  So he told him to go back to bed, and the next time he heard the call, he was to say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”  Samuel did what he was told, and subsequently he became a significant figure in the future history of Israel.  In a certain sense, Eli functioned as the CallerID for Samuel.

In the Gospel reading, the disciples present heard the call directly from Jesus.  They asked him where he was going and he replied, “Come follow me.”  Undoubtedly aware of his reputation, they did.  Perhaps it was an inner openness to Jesus that allowed them to say “yes” to the direct call.  We can likely asume that this intuitive sense of openness was a type of “caller ID” that motivated their decision to answer the call.

It appears to me that we can learn something from the above readings.  First of all, by virtue of our Baptism we are “called” to be disciples of Christ.  Secondly, the call can come to us in various ways.  For example, as in the case of Samuel the call to discipleship came via a disembodied voice.  Perhaps the “caller ID” can be for us something that someone says or does, such as a verbal plea for helping to bring about justice in our society.  Or reading about people  helping others during their moments of disaster.  Reflection and consultation help me to decide if what I am hearing or seeing is my call to discipleship.

In the case of the apostles, the personal call from Jesus was likely answered from an intuitive sense of who Jesus was and what he did.  This inner conviction becomes the guiding principle of a positive response.  For us, reflection and consultation become the “caller ID” clarifying the intuition which comes by being faithful to our Baptismal promises.  Mary had this innter conviction, so that when the angel asked her to be the mother of Jesus although she was not married, she answered much the same way as did Samuel, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.  Let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)  Faith becomes the basis for the intuition.

The “call” keeps coming.  Jesus wants us to be his disciples.  Our challenge is to hear that call, clarify its meaning, and act accordingly.

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Just how important is water?

Water has been and continues to be very important in our lives. Many scientists say that a major percentage of our body is water based.  We need water to keep things flowing in our body.  Water is needed to make things grow, such as plants, trees and flowers.  Droughts are considered to be very dangerous experiences.

We should also remember some theological examples in the Bible.  For instance, we have the narration in Genesis of Noah and the flood.  (Genesis 6-9)  Many people drowned because of their sinfulness against others, while Noah and family were saved.  We are also aware that in the book of Exodus (Exodus 14:1-31), while Israel was escaping Egyptian slavery, the people crossed dry-shod across the Red Sea.  That was considered a miracle, and  eventually became a staple in early Israelite theology.

In addition, there is a theologically significant  citation from John’s gospel.    “…The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”  (John 4:14)  In effect, Jesus referred to himself as being “living water” which gives eternal life.

The above indicates that “water” can be very good for us. The citation from John indicates that Jesus is the source of “living water” which can lead to eternal life.  For us Christians this means the living waters are the waters of our Baptism, the waters that lead to eternal life. When we are baptized, we receive not only the Holy Spirit but also the responsibility of carrying on Jesus’ ministry of justice, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding.

Two of the readings for the feast of the Baptism of the Lord (Isaiah 42:1-7 and Mark 1:7-11) refer to the importance of  the Holy Spirit and service.  In the gospel, John makes a distinction between himself and Jesus.  John will baptize with water but Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit.  That is to say that the coming of the Holy Spirit is crucial to Jesus’ baptism, because that same Holy Spirit provides the motivational energy for us to carry on Jesus’ ministry on earth.

What is interesting to note is that the Hebrew word for “spirit” is RUAH, which means that it most likely means “the creative power of God.”  We observe that in Genesis 1:2 we read “…while a wind [RUAH] from God swept over the face of the waters…” creation took place.  “Spirit” generally means “God’s creative power” which is what this reading seems to indicate.

This is what we receive at our Baptism, namely, God’s creative power motivating us to carry on Jesus’ ministry on earth.  In the feast day’s Gospel when Jesus is baptized by John, two things happen.  First, the Holy Spirit comes down in the form of a dove [most likely reflecting Genesis 1:2, “God’s creative power hovering over the face of the waters”–like a dove]

The second thing that happens is that we note in the Gospel some  parallels to the reading from Isaiah 42:1-7.  The Lord speaks about his servant (Jesus was often called “servant”), his chosen one in whom he is well pleased, and in whom he has put his spirit [Hebrew has RUAH] who will bring about justice to the nations. In addition, the Gospel reading  tells us that the voice from heaven says to Jesus, “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased…in whom I have sent my Spirit.”

What have we learned?  First of all, that while John’s baptism was with water,  Jesus’ baptism was with water AND the Holy Spirit.  The word “spirit,” as the spirit of God, is more comprehensively translated “the creative power of God.”  So, when we are baptized and receive the Holy Spirit we are receiving the creative power of God to go forth and continue his ministry of justice and compassion.  Jesus proclaimed his mission (Luke 4:16-21, based on Isaiah 61:1ff) which should be ours as well.

The second thing we can learn is that we must learn to appreciate our own Baptism.  Whenever we bless ourselves with the sign of the cross using holy water, not only are we reminding ourselves of the waters of our Baptism, but also of what the sign of the cross means.

By our actions we express what we believe.  If we believe in our Baptism and in the creative power of the Holy Spirit, then our actions will prove that we shall continue the ministry of Jesus regarding justice and compassion.

 

 

 

How to be a “show off”

One of the polarizing issues at the moment seems to be searching for the proper answer to the question of immigration.  In effect, how does one comfortably deal with “outsiders?”  They are considered such because they speak a strange language, dress differently, and come from various cultures.

On the feast of the Epiphany (Greek=”manifestation”) we celebrate the fact that Jesus “manifested” himself to outsiders.  Just who were these outsiders?  They were called Magi who came from the East.  Most likely they were astrologers who were able to read the heavens and interpret the star that led them to Bethlehem.  Possibly because they brought expensive gifts to Jesus (gold, frankincense, and myrrh) a tradition arose establishing them as kings.

The Magi were non-Jews, and yet Jesus manifested himself to them thus indicating that ALL people were included in the plan of salvation, not just the Jews who considered themselves to be God’s chosen people.  What we notice in the feast’s Gospel (Matthew 2:1-12) is that what this “manifestation” meant was a sense of “openness” to the outsider.  That is to say, that non-Jews were included in Jesus’ miracles and good works.  For example, the Centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5-13); the healing of the Canaanite woman’s daughter (Matthew 15:21-28); The Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7-30).

Another major character in the Epiphany account is King Herod.  A sly old fox who when he heard the Magi ask, “Where is the child who has been born the KING of the Jews?…”  (The Greek text uses the word BASILEUS, so there can be no mistake), he tried to bring the Magi into his plot to kill Jesus.  When the Magi were told in a dream to go home another way, Herod’s search for another possible potential threat ultimately resulted in the slaughter of the baby boys in Bethlehem.

Incidentally, the phrase attached to Jesus, namely “the king of the Jews,” shows up in another place, namely, the scene of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion.  What is interesting to note is that Pilate had an inscription written to be placed on Jesus’ cross: “Jesus of Nazareth king of the Jews.” [John 19:19-20] (We usually see the version that has INRI, the Latin acronym for ‘Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.’)  At birth and at death Jesus is presented as king.

Finally, we have the Magi doing homage to Jesus.  Most likely they prostrated themselves as they would to anyone of higher rank.  It can truly be said that Jesus “manifested” himself to the Gentiles (non-Jews) first here then via the miracles and good works.  That manifestation was actually an “openness” to be able to help the “outsiders” ( represented by the Magi).  Jesus was “manifesting”himself, or, rather, “showing off.”

It seems to me that the best lesson we can learn from the Epiphany Gospel is to be OPEN to the “outsider” whoever he or she may be.  Every time that we perform a good deed, not only are we showing an openness to help, but above all, manifesting Jesus to others.  All good deeds are epiphanies of Jesus from us to others.  Doing a good deed is an excellent way of showing off.

 

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