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

Archive for January, 2017

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Suggestion for seeing somebody famous

Not once but twice my brother and I were having lunch in towns well known for seeing famous film stars–Santa Monica and Malibu.  In the Santa Monica restaurant I called his attention to the presence of a movie star.  In the Malibu restaurant he called my attention to the individual who was famous not only in movies but also in TV.  We both felt it would be unwise to draw public attention to their presence.

No so John the Baptist.  In the Gospel for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (John 1:29-34) John, seeing Jesus coming toward him and others, rather excitedly says in the hearing of others, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world…” Now that’s a way of getting attention.

But why did John use the image of the “lamb” to refer to Jesus? I suspect that there is a historically theological reason for this.  Undoubtedly, those hearing John heard this reference and related it to their Exodus experience.  In the book of Exodus (Exodus 12:21-24), as the Israelites are about to leave Egypt, they are told by Moses to slaughter a lamb and spread its blood on the doorposts of their houses.  Thus the angel of death will “pass over” their homes, and kill the first born of the Egyptians. The lamb thus became an image of salvation.

At Mass, just before the reception of Communion, the priest celebrant holds the host at eye level, and says, as did John, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sin of the world….”  in reference to Jesus’ crucifixion and its salvific effect on humanity.

The second theme of significance in this Gospel is Baptism and the Holy Spirit.  Earlier Jesus had been baptized by John in the river Jordan.  At that juncture the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, descended  upon Jesus and John witnessed it.  Then John continued, “…He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”  (John 1:33)

What does this mean?  Basically it means that Baptism and the Holy Spirit will function together.  When we are baptized, the Holy Spirit as the “creative power of God” will enable us to deal with others as Jesus has instructed in his teachings.

So we have as the two themes of the day’s Gospel, the lamb and the Holy Spirit through Baptism.  We can learn from the image of the lamb that our suffering (maybe even death) can be a redemptive experience for ourselves and for others.  Note the illustration of the martyrs.  However, suffering can be a form of martyrdom.

Another point of significance is the awareness of the principal function of Baptism and the Holy Spirit.  Namely, the courage to be compassionate, forgiving, understanding, and a promoter of justice.  It is not hard to conclude that the above are necessary for effective discipleship.  Besides, by our behavior we will be drawing attention to somebody famous, namely Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Keeping Secrets

“Can you keep a secret?”  How often have we been asked this question?   Most likely, the “secret,” good or bad, may ultimately be a point of reflection which allows for a period of historical evaluation.  One thinks of significant issues that have happened and later thinks about them as having importance not only for us, but for others as well.  I suspect that Mary was just this type of person.

Why do I say this?  Well, for the feast of the Solemnity of Mary the Gospel tells us about the visit of the shepherds to the recently born Jesus  (Lk. 2:16-21).  They shared what they had been told by the angel.  The message was that a savior (which means “Jesus”) has been born in Bethlehem, and that peace would come.

The Gospel then tells us,  “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”  (Lk. 2:19)  A synonym for “ponder” is “reflect on.”  What things did Mary reflect on?  Those important things that a mother would have to reflect on throughout her life.  Her “secrets” were things to “ponder.”  Interestingly, Luke gives us further illustrations of this phenomenon.

The first example is the Annunciation (Lk. 1:26-38).  Mary is told by the angel Gabriel that she, a virgin, is to be the mother of Jesus which surprised her very much.  What would the towns people say when they saw an unmarried teenager pregnant?  Her response to this and other potential problems was “…Let it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk. 1:38)  No doubt her “pondering” led her to allow God to be in charge.

Luke’s second example of Mary’s “pondering” comes at the time she and Joseph take the child Jesus to the Temple to be presented. (Lk. 2:22-38)  Jewish custom was that the firstborn male be presented in the Temple as an offering to God.

The righteous and devout  Simeon took the child Jesus in his arms, and said that this child would be the rise and fall of many.  Then he most likely looked at Mary and told her “…and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Lk. 2:35)   No doubt Mary had much upon which to reflect especially during the final days of Holy Week.

The next example of Luke regarding Mary’s reflective process is the loss of the twelve year old Jesus.  (Lk. 2:41-52)  It was the custom to go to Jerusalem every year for the feast of the Passover.  On their way home, Mary thought Jesus was with Joseph and he thought the child was with Mary.  Soon they discovered that Jesus was nowhere to be found.

So they returned to Jerusalem to find the lost child.  Finally, they encountered him in the Temple conversing with teachers.  As a good Jewish mother, Mary demanded a reason and chided Jesus “Child, why have you treated us like this?”  Jesus’ response was pretty cryptic.  At any rate,  he returned to Nazareth with his parents and was obedient to them.  Then Luke ends the experience with the words, “…His mother treasured all these things in her heart.”

Mary accompanied Jesus throughout much of his life, from birth to death.  No doubt she had plenty of time to “ponder” what she had experienced during the times of the visit of the shepherds, the Annunciation, the Presentation of the child in the Temple as well as his loss at twelve years old.  Her pondering resulted in things such as doing God’s will, and realizing that bad things in life can happen as well as good things.

This “secret” (of pondering ) will remain within us and we should share it.  Why?  Because this reflection will help us to enable others, by our example, to expect experiences both good and bad and anticipate the doing of God’s will, no matter what happens.

How do we know that God is with us?

Many is the time that we have not heard from relatives or friends, especially on holidays.  Often they  have been busy about many things, but we would enjoy a reminder every now and then.  Perhaps a phone call or a letter.  I don’t think anyone likes to be forgotten.

But, in fact, we do have reminders.  For the church minded we have feast days when we are reminded that somebody cares for us.  One of those moments is the feast of Christmas.  In the Gospel for Christmas (Mass during the day) the famous (and cryptic) first eighteen verses of John’s Gospel are read.

Much is made of the concept “Word,” and there are two items of particular concern.  First, John 1:1-5 reminds us distinctly of Genesis 1:1ff.  Both John and Genesis begin the same way:  “In the beginning….” dealing distinctly with creation.  Second,  John uses the concept “Word” (Greek: logos) as being participatory in the act of creation.  Genesis uses “spirit” (Hebrew: ruah) in the same participatory function, namely, the act of creation.  Because in Genesis, the acts of creation are preceded by “And God said….)

So, what does this mean?  That creation took place with the participation of the Word (“and God said…”) and the Spirit (I think a better translation for ruah is “the creative power of God.”)  The use of Word and Spirit (“creative power”) is highly suggestive.

Another significant concept in John’s gospel is in 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us….”  For the word “lived,” the Greek has “he pitched his tent.”  Which means that one can un-pitch the tent and go be with the group. The individual becomes mobile.

The above leads to an ultimate Christian belief, namely, that God became human in the person of Jesus Christ.  Hence the mobility of the tent to accompany his people.  This leads to the concept that God (in the person of Jesus) lives among us.  In Hebrew this is IMMANUEL, which means “God with us.”  Throughout the period of Advent we have often heard the hymn “O come, O come Immanuel…”  Advent is the time of expectation.

What we learn from the Gospel (John 1:1-18) most likely can be summed up in the following ways.  First, Jesus is the Word of power.  During his public ministry he created people anew by dealing with them in terms of justice, compassion, forgiveness, understanding, and healing.  His disciples were to carry on his work.

Secondly, throughout the Old Testament we notice that God’s presence among his people was crucial to their survival and service.  We note both the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple.  This Immanuel theme continued in the New Testament with the coming of Jesus and his dealings with other people.  Thus, Jesus continued to “pitch his tent” among those who felt marginalized.  As faithful disciples we are also expected to “pitch our tent” among those who feel marginalized by society.

If such is the case, then we know that God is with us and the hope of Immanuel continues to live on.

 

 

 

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