Unscrambling the Bad Dialogue

Miscommunication-Cartoon“Lost in translation” is a sometimes nightmare in the art of diplomacy.  Either a message is incomplete or, even worse, fear or hostility emerges from the recipient. In dialogue across the religious spectrum there is the matter of wide gaps on some concepts in the languages as well as cultural nuances. 

One case of this can be found in the last 500 years between Catholics and Protestants.  As I have written before, Catholics are misunderstood on when they are speaking in definitive theological intent on wording and those times that are metaphorically spoken.  An example is when the metaphorical wording is implying how Mary has a distinct holiness but means it as extrinsically obtained. 

Ironically, the modern Protestants may even misunderstand the original Reformer fathers.  For instance, when I was evangelizing recently in a Catholic ministry a fiery Protestant emphasized sola gratia (grace alone).   That does tie back to Martin Luther.  However, he maintained a work of grace to be baptismal regeneration which the modern, zealous Reformed Christian would not ascribe to. 

More specifically on the translation is the Latin to English post-Reformation divide with an example like “holy”.  When a Protestant hears of a pope being referred to as “his Holiness”,they may perceive that Catholics see the pope as internally based in his holiness.  This is not true as one can see with an example of when Pope Francis was asked, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergolio?”   He answered that he is a sinner. 

To see this linguistically one can see the Latin root word santus.  It morphed into cognates that sound similar in the more blatant Latin based languages like Spanish and Portuguese for both holy as in Holy Spirit as well as saints.  While the former, holiness is intrinsic but for the latter, it is because they know they are sinners at the same time and wanted sanctification. 

Next is how “prayer” is used as an operative term in casual or fully theological conversation.   When Shakespeare writes, “Make haste, I pray then” we give him the benefit of the doubt that one mortal is not worshiping another mortal.  In modern language in a petition to a court undergirded by English common law the petitioner says they “pray this court…..” would do such and such.  Again, the judge is not being worshipped. 

So to with how Catholics or Eastern Orthodox pray to the saints.  They ask their intercession and the context is Christ centered.  The dilemma is that Catholics and Protestants in English have their wording quirks and in at least one direction there is a lack of benefit of the doubt in examining the written or spoken word.  When one is biased towards a person or group in examining their characteristics, the traits that confirm what is expected will be seen and the traits that counter what is expected are dismissed.  This is called confirmation bias. 

Another word that blurs the communication is “merit”.  Protestants often have taught that Catholics believe they get merit for salvation through their works.  The confusion is fueled in part about the Catholic Church due to the etymology of the word. 

In the second century, the Latin word meritum (“merit”) was introduced as a translation for the Greek word for “reward”, and so entered the theological vocabulary.  The doctrine of merit [Catholics] and the doctrine of reward [Protestants] are two ways of expressing the same concept (The Fathers Know Best, Jimmy Akin). 

In the 5th and 6th centuries the Catholic Church condemned Plagiarism and Semi-Plagianism which was a heresy that taught one could earn salvation with works absent of grace.  Later the Catholic Church stated “none of those things which precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification; for if it is by grace, it is not now by works; otherwise, as the apostle says, grace is no more grace” (Decree on Justification 8, Council of Trent). 

But sometimes, a good translation happens.   In 1999 there was the Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification which included Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later known as Pope Benedict VI).  They collaborated, looked through the history with cooler heads than some of the hotheads of both sides 500 years ago and said ,“By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part,” its key passage said, “we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping us and calling us to good works.” We are called to a life where faith is working through love (Galatians 6:5). 

For Jesus’ prayer of unity in the Body of Christ (John 17:21) to be realized, we owe it to our Lord to listen better and pray more.  As brothers and sisters redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, we owe it to each other too.

At the time I write this, I went to an event in the John 17 movement last night.  It is a touchstone for good dialogue and prayer for each other.  That is not all of the work, but honoring what unites us is a start. 

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A Tale of Two Priesthoods

Set Free Broken Chains

Urban myths are a dangerous thing to live by; especially in the realm of faith and history. 

One that I heard and then believed ad nauseam was “What about the priesthood of all believers?  The Church Jesus left was supposed to be pure and pristine.  One way those Catholics have it wrong is that only a select few are priests and thus they take away true freedom of the gospel and the priesthood of all believers.”

There is a further one that says, “anything from the Catholic Church that softens things up is a later development to make it look nice in the last 100 years.”

Below I will address both. 

To proclaim the gospel is a charge to all Christians and the Catholic Church affirms this as a natural unfolding of the great commission to make disciples and baptize them (Matthew 28:20).  It is just implied that it is not official likely because it is not in the midst of a mass where clergy read the words of one of the actual gospels of the Bible.  The calling of priesthood happens to all Christians upon initial justification.  But the empowerment for ones expression of the common priesthood is in what is called Confirmation. 

1305 This “character” [sacrament of Confirmation] perfects the common priesthood of the faithful, received in Baptism, and “the confirmed person receives the power to profess faith in Christ publicly and as it were officially (quasi ex officio).”[122 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theolpgica III,72,5, ad 2]

In reference to the referred Confirmation, it is a matter of one having a connection with the divine through God the Holy Spirit that binds the baptized to a common fellowship with the Godhead and not just “my Holy Spirit experience”.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ is proclaimed since no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except through the Spirit of God. 

But doesn’t the role of the priesthood take away from non-priests like a second class citizen placement?  Not at all.  I have bones and I have muscle.  I need one to keep me moving and another that fits in and supports passing on the blood flow.  This is consistent with the many passages in the New Testament where there are distinct gifts to the Body of Christ and how not everyone can say they are everything. 

1547 The ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of bishops and priests, and the common priesthood of all the faithful participate, “each in its own proper way, in the one priesthood of Christ.” While being “ordered one to another,” they differ essentially. In what sense? While the common priesthood of the faithful is exercised by the unfolding of baptismal grace –a life of faith, hope, and charity, a life according to the Spirit–, the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. It is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians. The ministerial priesthood is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church. For this reason it is transmitted by its own sacrament, the sacrament of Holy Orders. [22 Lumen Gentium,1965 10 § 2]

So if one was to an argument that one side exists to the own detriment of the other, it is really the position of the Catholic Church that the servants are the clerical priests. 

1141 The celebrating assembly is the community of the baptized who, “by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated to be a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, that through all the works of Christian men they may offer spiritual sacrifices.” [Rev 1:6; cf. Rev 5:9-10; 1 Pet 2:5,9] This “common priesthood” is that of Christ the sole priest, in which all his members participate:

Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy, and to which the Christian people, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people,” [1 Peter 55-67AD] have a right and an obligation by reason of their Baptism.  (11 Sacrosanctum Concilium,1965 14; Cf. 1 Pet 2:9; 2:4-5, 55-67AD)

“Aha!  But there you have the problem of how you Catholics go about ceremony that has a  form of godliness but denies the power of God thereof. Just dry religion.”

For that I would respond that such premises are incorrect and miss the good, the true and the beautiful with the following points. 

Liturgy is a word that comes from the Greek that is liturgia meaning the work of the people.  Sounds like a non-Christ centered work?  Consider that Jesus spoke of the “work” to believe in Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3) which was the night he was betrayed and said of communion “Do this in remembrance of me”. 

As for the celebration of these two forms of priesthood?  It is the sacrifice of thanksgiving that is tied to the nearness of Jesus through the Eucharist.  This may be implied where Paul writes,  “Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.  Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God” (Phillipians 4:5-6). The word for thanksgiving is eucharistia where we get Eucharist.  Once again, we see a participation of Christ’s priesthood who has done the direct work by suffering and death on the cross.  When we do liturgy we are doing what Jesus said with a supernatural remembrance “Do this in memory of me”.  Sacramentally, when I go to my parish in Tempe, Arizona, I do not re-sacrifice Jesus in my common priesthood but Christ lives out his sacrifice in me. 

1546 Christ, high priest and unique mediator, has made of the Church “a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.” [1 Peter].  The whole community of believers is, as such, priestly. The faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to his own vocation, in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet, and king. Through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation the faithful are “consecrated to be . . . a holy priesthood” [Lumen Gentium]. 

Yes, some were within the last 100 years.  The latest ones I can find are in the Catechism quoting from the Vatican II council in the 1960’s.  But one of the source quotes are from St. Thomas Aquinas from the 1200’s.  That is far before any possible “remodeling”.  Plus, for the Bible passages they are quoting that show the common priesthood, it is worth noting that such scriptures that point to  a common priesthood were approved as scripture by the Catholic Church.   If the Catholic Church is so against the priesthood of all believers, why did they call those passages as divinely inspired public revelation?  This was accomplished in the 380’s and 390’s AD with approval by popes. 

One other thing about this common priesthood of the faithful are those who are later in heaven.  There is more than biblical room that the worship before God in heaven can include such intercession ongoing. 

 When he took it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each of the elders held a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones. (Revelation 5:8).

The beauty is not that Jesus is usurped of his status as Lord, Savior and Redeemer.  The Church does not teach that.  It is that the role of the believers is one that participates in what Jesus did and does in an ongoing way.  We are “a holy priesthood”(1 Peter 2:9). It is no coincidence that Catholic means “according to the whole”.  Jesus makes it that way.     

Mace, Priest In A Kilt and a Broken Link

Mace and Rosary

On a still warm evening on September 1st, I arrived in downtown Phoenix hoping to make connections with people looking for answers and also meeting with at least one person who presumed to have all the answers. 

Phoenix has a First Friday event once a month that has loud music, food trucks, art and people sharing information on their causes.  For me, I was there as part of an evangelization team.  Unfortunately, some others there to evangelize are not unity minded with my faith community.  There is a history of them giving my group mean looks and one makes pot shots on his microphone about my group’s practices and supposed practices. 

But tonight I had a plan.

There is an event coming up in a few weeks called John 17.  The John 17 movement has been going on for four years now and is based on the prayer of Jesus in the 17th chapter of John where Jesus prayed that all of his followers would be one.  One could say that it is a prayer that has not recently been answered.  So sad.  It is a beautiful prayer.  The meeting will involve Christians of different stripes that adhere to some very basic doctrines of the identity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and other matters. 

So I decided to do something about it or I am part of the problem.  This group who has blue shirts, many of them related to their leader, and “owns” a corner.  I went down there thinking “if I don’t involve them, I am part of the problem”.  First I came to a few young people who were in their teens or early 20’s.  The young man recognized me and said, “they’re down there” with a furrowed brow and a terse voice. 

“Do you mean the Catholics?”

“Yeah”

After summarizing the prayer of Jesus in John 17, I described the meeting, where it will be held and my hopes for things to change.  I then excused myself. 

When I turned around, I saw their leader.  I had been warned by Sue, the lead in my chapter of my evangelistic organization, that he was intense and not good at dialogue.  I hoped to have a different experience and I was disappointed. 

He did not let me get a word in edgewise.  He dictated questions to me in a demanding tone on a few scripted biblical points and disregarded that I rejected his premises about Catholic teaching based on official teaching of the Catholic Church.  I affirmed that he is a Christian that God is able to use for people to come to faith in Jesus Christ and assured him that I would pray for him.  He said he would pray for me too and asked to pray for me right then.  I agreed if he would pray for me.  His turn was first.  My intention for when my turn came was to pray generally, for God to bless him and use him and remain ecumenical.  With him going first he was nice for a full ten seconds.  Then he prayed deliberate specifics of doctrine that I be led into with his volume increasing. 

I stepped back and said, “That’s not praying”

“This is how I pray!” he said with a quizzical look. 

“That’s not praying.  That’s preaching.”.  And I walked away. 

I was discouraged and told my team about what happened.  “You were right Sue.” My heart was sunk.  I am no stranger to division in the Body of Christ.  Between the three in that group I met I can only pray now that the Holy Spirit will bring light to their souls.  In all fairness, I can say as a former Protestant of many years that 90% of Protestants I knew would be disgusted at the lack of Christian decorum of that gentleman. 

But then a ray of light happened a few minutes later.  A man walked by with a clerical collar but in a kilt.  His name is Rob and “father” is acceptable but not required to him as a priest in the Episcopalian Church.  He was a pleasant man with a sense of humor including how his kilt is not about being Scottish but being comfy.  Embracing the rays of light where I can, I gave props to CS Lewis and his non-fiction books like “Mere Christianity” that helped me see Christianity as logical in my youth.  He gave me his contact info and wanted to hear more about John 17.  It turns out he had heard about it by being a fellow faculty member with a Catholic priest.  I rejoiced in our brief fellowship though he admitted, rightly, that his orders are not recognized by the Catholic Church as valid. But we centered on the good things we agree on and blessed each other.  Sigh, the end. 

But I wish it was the end, as now a physical fight then happened.  Several young people in late teens or early 20’s got in a group tussle with what first looked like a bullying of one young lady.  Who steps in but this tall, bulky and clumsy dude (me) and a priest in a kilt.  Some with our help and some of their self-restraint happened and after terse words about a pending restraining order all was well.  Rob and I checked in where we could to be sure. 

I then turned to him and said “Well Rob, I guess we just did some ecumenical work”. 

Sue was in on it too and restrained a young lady from part of our team from getting too deep into the melee and getting hurt.  With the skirmish, her rosary caught caught by someone’s key chain with a can of mace to it.  She gave it over to me. 

So there I am holding a metaphor for the evening in my hands.  In handing out rosaries, it is not about praying to Mary as a goddess to do something intrinsically in her power.  The words of asking for her intercession is like “background music” as one reflects of the life and impact of Jesus Christ on the world.  But this world is broken just like this rosary.  And the scandal is that the Body of Christ is broken just like that rosary as well.  And the mace that is used too often is that of poisonous words that cut people down to win an argument.  How about we feed the poor together?  I know it may be crazy.  I’m just spitballing here possibly. 

For those who are scandalized of this story who are not Christians.  I commend to you the person of Jesus Christ.  The scandal is not in him.  As for joining this motley crew of Christians, take the risk anyway.  Though I have had greater joy, grace, prayer and love for the scriptures these recent years as a Catholic I can affirm that Catholics have let me down.  We’re human.  We’re on a journey and it can be a mess.  And it is still worth it to be in fellowship and be involved in the works of mercy like making peace in the world.  I am encouraged “to go out and make a mess”(Pope Francis). 

So yes, darn right it can change.  At the time of this writing I am looking forward to John 17 at New Life Church on Central Ave September 15, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona.  Below is a link on Facebook.  This time it is on Protestant ground.  I have a sense that Jesus is going to meet us. 

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me (John 17:20-21). 

https://www.facebook.com/events/1501468463224785/?acontext=%7B%22action_history%22%3A%22%5B%7B%5C%22surface%5C%22%3A%5C%22page%5C%22%2C%5C%22mechanism%5C%22%3A%5C%22page_upcoming_events_card%5C%22%2C%5C%22extra_data%5C%22%3A%5B%5D%7D%5D%22%2C%22has_source%22%3Atrue%7D

Hear How I Think, Then What I Believe

misunderstandingRECURRING KEY TERMS

Five years ago this fall my world got rocked.  I flipped through the channels one night and stumbled on a show called Genesis to Jesus.  It was an interview show focused on a theologian and his book about God’s covenant approach to humanity that is shown up as a family.  I was intrigued and kept watching that show.  I then bought one of his books.  Then another.  The attempt at approaching these subjects were not new to me but were in my experience where I thought I had “figured out” things by my comfortable Protestant experience.  What was new here is that I could see God’s divine plan for saving the world through the heart of the Catholic Church.   I revealed to my wife where my discernment was drawing me and after a month of prayer and study of both the Bible and history I was received into the Catholic Church.  In the words of former Pentecostal pastor turned Catholic deacon “I had to.  How do you look truth in the face and say, ‘No, can’t do it’?”  My wife joined me after her own discernment process in 2014. 

But it was not always smooth.  There was tension in my household.  Tension with my friends.And tension in my mind.  I would watch Youtube debates between Catholics and Protestants and found myself disturbed with some wording of Catholics not rightly put in context and anecdotal stories from ex-Catholics who “know by experience”.  Below I list some of the fine points that were helpful for me to consider in the intellectual part of my journey. 

Homecoming versus conversion- – I prefer to say that I am not a Catholic convert.  That is like saying I am an immigrant from Oregon to Arizona.  I would be demeaning Oregon and I would really be not be speaking to the nature of those two subjects accurately.  If someone was Catholic and became Protestant they left one Christian fellowship to another and did not “get saved out of the Catholic Church”.  I consider my journey as one of coming home to the spiritual soil of what was founded and kept from error by the Lord Jesus Christ.  I want to stress those last two points as something I have seen through my study of scripture, prayer and research of the early church writings. 

Both/and instead of either/or- – One of the chief attacks against the Catholic Church and also Protestant communities with traditional theology of morals with human affairs is that things have to be seen as one thing or another.  Frequently this is a false dichotomy.  Either you support gay marriage or you want the gas chamber for gays.  Either you want people free to know Jesus purely or you want to talk about sacraments.  Either you go to Jesus to forgive your sins or you go to a priest.  I would suggest that the answer to these emotional dares above is both/and or neither.  False dichotomies end the conversation before it gets a chance to breath.  There is a great need for the Holy Spirit to illuminate where two seeming paradoxes can coexist. 

“with” instead of “through” in a derogatory sense- This goes a bit with the both/and but I bring this up because the Catholic Church is misunderstood to have saints who usurp the centrality of Jesus Christ in Christianity.  I often consider being a very comfortable airplane passenger knowing that the captain is in charge and that there is a co-pilot.  The co-pilot participates but is not in command and that is alright.  “There is one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus”.  I can still say amen to that knowing that all Christians are called to raise up petitions to heaven for each other, the world and specifically even civil authorities.  Christians can do that informed by the scriptures and as co-laborers with Christ and co-heirs in Christ. As for celestial beings in heaven being involved in that, there is scriptural precedence where it says in Revelation “When he took it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each of the elders held a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones” (Revelation 5:8).    

“ancient and enduring” instead of old– – – A common argument in modernism that newer ideas are better.  Along with that, since new ideas may have a fresh car smell then the old ideas can be emotionally dismissed and may err in suspending their critical thinking skills. 

But some ideas that are old and maintained for hundreds or thousands of years are still believed because they work.  The Catholic Church has not only endured past the 2,000 while empires have lived and even opposed them but while ideologies would come and go.  This includes ideologies that were supposed to eclipse the Catholic Church into the dustbin of history. 

faith versus reason. There are too many ludicrous assertions to count that I alone have heard on this one.  One example I have heard a year ago was that the more religious one is the lower their IQ is and vice-versa.  That’s a worthy debate one could have hypothetically with Pope John Paul II in one of his 14 languages.  He casts a wide net that sees the beauty of faith and reason in an integrated point of view. 

Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (John Paul II, Fides Et Ratio, 1998). 

Later in his encyclical he calls out several scientific disciples including the social and the physical that are integral to the development of mankind.  He expresses hope for informed consciences and not any supposed shackles of religion dictating like a micro-manager.  Has all religion been so nice?  Not even time but the high majority of the Catholic tradition is actually good at picking their battles on what is a big deal.  As to my Protestant brothers I can assert that the Catholic Church greatly fosters critical thinking. 

What does the Catholic Church actually teach rather than what you have heard? – – Someone close to me that was angry that I went from Protestant to Catholic quoted a narrative that he heard second hand that proved that Catholics worship Mary.  When someone hears something outlandish of what is infallibly or even authoritatively taught by the Catholic Church they are better served by going to the Catechism of The Catholic Church.  Frankly, deciding what the Catholic Church by some layperson comment account or even ones childhood memories falls short of inquiry fitting Christian conduct. 

Community balance instead of either individualistic or collectivist- – When I was a new Catholic I met with the second highest deacon in my diocese regarding formation of future deacons.  I mentioned that it seems like I now need to go from an individualized experience of Christianity to an collectivist one that resembles something not of western culture.  He kindly corrected me and informed me that it is really a matter of community which is neither extreme. 

Language of theology and language of love.- – My early discernment into the Catholic Church nearly was stopped in its tracks when I saw a debate on Youtube on Marian devotion.  The quotes used by the Protestant certainly seemed worded like Mary is an object of worship.  Over time I came to realize that in Catholic expression of truth there are metaphors that I can call the language love.  An example I use sometimes is that if I was doctor in astrophysics and said that the sun rises and falls on my children it would be interpreted as my devotion as a father and not my estimate on solar events. 

As I begin to write this it is a few month from what my Protestant brothers and sister will celebrate as the “Reformation”.  Debates may spike even more for awhile but I pray that cooler heads will prevail and the Catholic Church can be taken in context rightly for how it thinks and talks rather that stereotypes. 

O Sweet Rejection

REJECTION

In an agency or company that is large enough, it is common to have a public affairs director.  Even more precise on messaging might be a campaign manager who pays attention to polls and focus groups.  With the right info the advisor tells the boss how to word the message, stay on message and preserve the message with the solid votes. 

One leader that stands out in casting aside such conventions was Jesus of Nazareth.  Early in his ministry he goes to Nazareth and shares a message of the kingdom of God coming with holistic application to the individual and massive effects of the cycles of life as Jews of that time would know it.  He struck a nerve that could lend to popularity, then ride a wave of popularity and make Nazareth great again (I wonder where I got that line).  But Jesus shows us below that he does not work that way.  He does not favor one side over another and does not want to build a kingdom full of entitlement.  It will be of love.  Going forward 2,000 years the intention of Jesus for the sharing of his message is to be about love, articulated in love and for a humanity that was created in love.    

Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”[And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’” And he said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon.  Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away (Luke 4:21-30). 

and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him- – In a plain reading of this, they are looking at Jesus who just zigged where they were expecting him to zag.  To read this in light of the development of Christianity one can see that the Christian gospel properly expressed will get undivided attention of the world (e.g. a few times in Acts the Apostle Paul was likewise met with silence). 

Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing– -What may be implied here, especially with those that negatively react, is that accepting and living with this truth is accessible and expected that day and it is a matter of salvation.  Ignorance is bliss but knowledge has consequences to act.  Moses spoke of this as a foundational truth saying “No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it “(Deuteronomy 30:14).  Here is an inconvenient truth that does not win popularity contests and a campaign management mentality would roll eyes at.

Isn’t this the son of Joseph?- – Whether it is Jesus or anyone who proclaims him, we can look very normal with two eyes, two ears etc.  The flesh naturally should be seen but not regarded in the sense of being an amplified criteria on the whole person even in some ways their biography.  Paul addressed this saying, “from now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer” (2 Corinthians 5:16).

Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum- – A classic issue through history is to put Jesus and his Church under the judgement of experience and even good ones.  Jesus was a miracle worker but he was not a performer. Jesus was and is Lord and Teacher and not called to move with the whims of the world.

there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah……but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon- – The Church in expressing through all of the word of God to move the world and not be moved by it.  And so Jesus with a gospel of inclusion for all stood strong and still does. 

When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury.– – Translation:”When people in their comfort zone heard…”  Jesus had a message of love for the world but it was also implied how faith and obedience must be present for the fulfillment to happen. They were not entitled to a pass on that. Jesus was calling them out of a favor of God for a few and into the favor of God to the whole.  This was addressed much in the early Church with kata holos to describe the Church of Jesus’ founding.   

drove him out of the town- – In hindsight through Christian history, a fully informed acceptance is possible but so is rejection.  Many times through the gospel he tells his followers that rejection and even martyrdom could happen since the same parts of the world that hated Jesus would hate his Church too. 

But he passed through the midst of them and went away– – Jesus came and left with authority still intact that day.  Where hate and man-made agendas may oppose Jesus and his Church, there is always going to be an ongoing life that carries the deposit of faith. 

An example is how Apostle John had those who were in turn discipled by him and vested with authority to carry on the gospel of the kingdom in the fullness of truth.  Thus in in 107 AD Ignatius of Antioch wrote- –

See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is administered either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude of the people also be; even as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic [kata holos] Church. —Letter to the Smyrnaeans, Ch 8

Be The Change You Want To See

A New Agenda

There is a saying attributed to Mahatma Ghandi who was known as a catalyst for social change.  It was “Be the change you want to see in the world”.  It is a powerful saying that stirs the heart to not pass the buck for living out the virtue of justice.  It is tempting to look for narrow solutions through maybe only one system.  As I write this, the world is looking for answers after a tragedy and wondering where the change is going to happen.

For someone that has a well informed conversion as a Christian, they are called to be a catalyst of change for all of the worlds systems.  This happens one person at a time who hears who Jesus is and accepts the love and care offered in the gospel and the community of Christ on earth.  In my church the deacon often says at the end of mass to “go out and proclaim the gospel with your life” so it is also not to be narrowed down to just more words.  The world is full of words.

Below we see Jesus weeks or months after he has modeled a secure and holy personhood in rejecting evil of Satan in the desert and presenting himself in simplicity to those who knew him all his life.  In the message of the kingdom of God, those who receive him better echo him.  Conversion stories have continued for 2,000 years with imperfect people, touched by grace, live Christian life out imperfectly but often honestly. The application for those people who live out what it is like to be on the receiving end of the works of Jesus and his Church are shown below.

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read,  and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (4:14-19).

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit– –   To proclaim the gospel with your life is most typically supposed to be where you already have relationships at least in part.  Christians are to be a light to the world and it must include being faithful to that call in the daily grind before hoping for exotic opportunities.  The difference is that, in Christ, we are to do this with the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit gives the ability, the dyname– (Greek word for power) that goes outward equally life dynamite.

as was his custom. He stood up to read– – The flow of this in the Greek implies something different than the translators intent and instead points to Jesus serving regularly as a reader.  To be a reader was a service to the word of God and to the people.  The application to the believer is that to proclaim the gospel with the right temperament one must be a servant first to those you share Jesus with.  Jesus had credentials in his home town as a person of service.

The Spirit of the Lord is on me- – In a simple way one could interpret this as a point of mission from the passage in the Old Testament that Jesus is quoting from.  But in context of what had been happening in Jesus life it is important to go back to the baptism under John.   The words of God the Father was that Jesus was his beloved son in whom he is well pleased and the Holy Spirit had come upon him as a dove.  Jesus said on the night of the Last Supper that the Holy Spirit would teach us and remind us of what he had said (John 16:24). In short, Jesus introduces himself in the communion of love and any Christian is meant to walk that life of love under the power of the Holy Spirit who gives that spiritual breath of life in true sonship.

he has anointed me– – That sonship is then expressed with an instilled authority from above.  Jesus gave authority to the Church to make disciples of all nations and tying baptism to that process.  Christ means anointed one and Christians belong to him.

The Holy Spirit “anoints” the baptized, sealing each with an indelible character (cf. 2 Cor 1:21-22), and constituting each as a spiritual temple, that is, He fills this temple with the holy presence of God as a result of each person’s being united and likened to Jesus Christ (Christifideles Laici, 13).

proclaim good news to the poor– – The gospel of the poor is no limited to material gain, changing a political trend and persuading on moral fine points.  Those parts can be addressed as some of the secondary provisions but the ultimate provision is centered in heaven.  Jesus would later teach for prayer “Our Father, who is in heaven…give us this day our daily bread”.  Jesus himself is our provision.  He said a year before the Cross “ I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51).

to proclaim freedom for the prisoners- – – Prisoners are under judgment and chained up that way.  When they are free the sentence is lifted.  “Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).  As I often tell my clients as a counselor, shame is like going into “spiritual shock” that makes one ask “What’s the point for making a change?”.

recovery of sight for the blind- – A servant of the gospel may have to be confrontative at times. Jesus said in reference to the Pharisees ,“For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind” (John 9:39). He shows up in the right sharing of the gospel on a wisdom that is beyond common assumptions of knowing it all.  The conventions of knowing what matters was going to be rearranged dramatically.  “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).

to set the oppressed free– – – This could be interpreted as a concentrated experience for someone of the effects of the fall of Adam and Eve through further attacks from evil in the work of the devil.  It is where we can understand the Lord’s Prayer line “deliver us from evil”.  This evil takes us from hope if we do not have the gospel.

“Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her? (Luke 13:16)”

Luke also writes about this oppression being broken by Jesus but it is important to note the emphasis that his continual communion, or common union, with heaven was active. So should ours be.

“how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him” (Acts 10:38).

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor- – This speaks to the coming of Jesus hitting a great reset button.  There was in the Jewish understanding a reset year every half century where slaves who were set fee, debts forgiven and other measures to refresh.  The good news of the gospel is life changing and the favor of God would be expressed in fulness of this in three years on a Friday afternoon and early in the morning 3 days later.

For what I {Paul} received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

and sat down– – Jesus in sitting down goes from a reader to one who teaches with authority.  In the coming days Jesus would sit down again and teach in a divine wisdom that did not accompany the world but would move it.  That teaching authority would extend through the Holy Spirit with faithful men with the laying on of hands (Hebrews 6:2) that would carry on the word of God from a chair that is divinely inspired.  Held in right order, the Bible would one day be infallibly defined and the gospel would go to all nations.

He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”– – – We can pray now for God’s kingdom to come to us and through us in power because The King has come.

But for many he was just the son of a carpenter.  “Surely prophets don’t grow up from little boys” (Keith Green).  Jesus came in history and mystery along with his majesty.  Grasping obedience to him, and for Christians to rightly articulate it, is a tension point not naturally easy to do as we will next see.

Bag of Goods, Not So Good

Idol Examples

Fidelity is a loaded term and maybe more in a world of gossip where one hears of infidelity.  In the spiritual life there are subtle temptations that can come where we give affections meant for God alone and give it to the things that are passing way.  Occasionally those temptations can be quite blatant.  Here is an experience where Jesus experienced the latter.

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.”At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written:‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’”Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him (Matthew 4:8-11).

Here is the temptation of material gain as an end in itself and of unfaithfulness.  If one ponders idolatry in all its forms one will see how so often in this world a giving aways of ones self to gods of this world happens.  This is why after so many profound devotional and theological statements in 1 John it ends with “little children guard yourselves from idols”.  This was not a distraction from what was shared but an encouragement to guard the beauty of knowing God’s love in an ongoing way.

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain- – This is ironic because in a casual read of the gospel one can see many times that Jesus liked “getting away from it all” for teachable or pivotal moments of his ministry.  A lesson is that Satan may tempt us with an isolating way to bully us and make us feel alone.  With God, we are never alone.  In ongoing conversion as a Christian, it is good to take our own initiative to have a retreat with God for intentional reflection. Further, if we are finding ourselves alone in adverse circumstances we can pivot to God whose love is always there.

all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence– – There are three things that are considered transcendentals in the history of Christianity.  These are beauty, truth and goodness.  Beauty, when shown correctly, can draw the heart of someone to heavenly places.  As Christians, we are blessed “in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens” (Ephesians 1:3).  If one continues to be grounded in the beauty of the divine beyond any beauty of our eyes we will not be shaken from the reflection of where we are truly seated.

All these I shall give to you– – Quite the salesman, Satan shows forth a counterfeit of grace.  This reminds me of someone who is a “loyal customer” of their drug dealer and he generously gives a “gift” on their birthday literally on their doorstep.  True joy is not for the drug dealer to give nor true power.  Satan is just one other kind of dealer.

The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve– – This is a gateway commandment of sorts and can be shown to have meaning in ones ongoing journey in Christ.  To worship God alone is fitting as the right boundary for mortals to the God who is not a type of species but just is. He is the I AM which is like “Something Other Than Being”.  God is not a genus of species that can be subjected to our mortal classifications.  The fidelity of worship based on this knowledge lends to a holy life with “these three things that abide” (1 Corinthians 13:13).  This is expanded on below.

The first commandment embraces faith, hope, and charity. When we say ‘God’ we confess a constant, unchangeable being, always the same, faithful and just, without any evil. It follows that we must necessarily accept his words and have complete faith in him and acknowledge his authority. He is almighty, merciful, and infinitely beneficent. Who could not place all hope in him? Who could not love him when contemplating the treasures of goodness and love he has poured out on us? Hence the formula God employs in the Scripture at the beginning and end of his commandments: ‘I am the LORD’ (Catechism of The Catholic Church, para. 2086).

To be rooted in ones life like this has a subsequent overflow.

The theological virtues are the foundation of Christian moral activity; they animate it and give it its special character. They inform and give life to all the moral virtues. They are infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and of meriting eternal life. They are the pledge of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the faculties of the human being. There are three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity (CCC 1813).

Then the devil left him- – The formula on ones simplest means to deliverance from the devil is simple.  It is to “Submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).  There are some who consider themselves believers in Jesus Christ but feel that the devil is after them.  If one believes that is really true, then it bears consideration on how much one is submitting to God in their daily living.

angels came and ministered to him– – Again, one is not truly alone if one is in relationship with God.  Even then, it is not God alone who accompanies you but angels of a celestial kingdom. In fact, if we let him, God can send us “angels” in the sense of human beings who make a catalyst for change.

One example I saw was in the area of addiction recovery.  As an intern in a substance abuse recovery program at the intensive outpatient level, there was a new member of a process group who was ambivalent about going to a 12 Step group that night. He cited  how “maybe I’ll go, maybe I won’t” due to feeling alone doing that.   The group leader, who was in recovery himself, said asked, “are you going to [expletive] go or won’t you”.  One volunteer after another in the group assured him that they would go with him.  He went with four new friends and engaged in recovery before the Higher Power of his understanding.  We commonly come to faith through community, abide in Christ in the context of full community and go towards a great gathering in the end before a loving and holy God.   When we restrict our worship to God alone it does not rob us but frees us.  The ministering of one to another is to reaffirm the greatness of that fact and the angels who come to Jesus serve as reference points of it.

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:22-24).

So to say no to Satan and all his empty promises is to say yes to God who is above all the darkness of this world.  This is God who is Love that we can always say yes to in continual conversion.  And with God and his kingdom properly factored, we are never alone.