Simple Words, Simple Faith

simplefaitharchiveDebates can have at times “drop the mic” moments where one points out an irrefutable fact that the other side is defenseless on.  The other side may be seem like they should just pack up and go home. 

When I see some debates between Catholics and Protestants it is sometimes said that Catholics do not have the gospel.  But if the rhetoric is simple and the audience is an average American Protestant one then that could be stalled whole as a central point.  As a former Protestant who is now a very grateful Catholic, I can use examples of the contrary with the mass and more.

First, there is a reading from the gospels in every mass with no exception.  On Sunday mass the priest or the deacon lifts up a book that only has the gospels, walks to the ambo (podium) and is accompanied by a lit candle.  In that walk the congregation sings allelulia. Reverence is definitely given.

Second is the homily (sermon).  The priest or deacon teaches off of the scriptures (on Sundays a minimum of four passages area read).  In my experience there is something shared for initial or ongoing conversion for the hearer. 

Third is the recitation of the Nicene Creed. It includes the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Resurrection, doctrine of the nature of Church and the end times return of Jesus with the final judgment.  This ends what is called the Liturgy of the Word. 

Fourth is in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  The priest lifts up and consecrates the host saying, “Behold the Lamb of God.  Behold him who takes away the sins of the world”.  Someone reading this may not believe that the host is any more than a piece of bread nor that Jesus was any more than a good man.  That is your choice.  But for those who read this and believe that it is just a piece of bread but Jesus is indeed everything that he said he was, I have a question.  If we were to go back in a time machine, snip some hair from Jesus and put it under a microscope what would we find?   Would it be shown to be something that knocks our socks off?  I would doubt it because that could be means of us being coerced into faith.  There is no true free will in that.  Likewise a Catholic or Orthodox can see the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. 

The last one has some distinguished beauty to it.  At the end of mass we are dismissed.  The etymology of this is being sent out.  In fact, one of the common things a deacon will say is “The mass is ended.  Go our and share the gospel with your life”. 

This bears light if one reads the scriptures.  Part of the priesthood of all believers’ calling is remembering that they are also sent into the world to proclaim the gospel. 

“Through him we have received the grace of apostleship, to bring about the obedience of faith, for the sake of his name, among all the Gentiles, among whom are you also, who are called to belong to Jesus Christ (Romans 1:5-6).

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A Most Kingly Goverment

Son of DavidTo understand the gospel in a macro perspective best there is an important launching point in the word  “Christ”.  The Greek word for it is christos.  This was a Greek word used in the pagan world for one anointed with favor shown in oil to rule or command.  This Greek word makes its way into the New Testament from early Christians who used that in the Greek translation of the Old Testament.  But when they called Jesus the Christ, they meant also like how Jews turned Christians had the Hebrew term meshiach (Messiah). This was also seen through the lens of kingdom; but not just any kingdom but the kingdom, but of David. 

This was shown in the Gospel of Mathew which says, “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham (Mathew 1:1).  In fact, there is much scholarship that suggests that the Gospel of Mathew was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic or Syriac (the latter two being close derivatives of Hebrew) and then translated into Greek.

A good view of the kingdom of God in Christ is that the “Old is revealed in the New and the New is concealed in the Old” (St. Augustine).  The gospel of Jesus Christ is articulated in covenantal language not embedded by shadows of covenantal promises like the law of Moses.  Instead it is a matter of covenantal love with Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law of Moses. With this accomplished Jesus has a magnified expression of David’s line of succession and true worship.  The following is a gospel proclamation of Jesus as the Anointed One. Notice that David is pointed to due to God’s covenantal faithfulness and an agenda that unfolds over the centuries. 

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:11-14). 

A king is not really a king without a kingdom.  But does the David reference extend to Christianity?  And if so, what would it look like? 

The writer of Hebrews touches on this with the reference of Mount Zion which is where King David was anointed king after all question of rivals was put aside.  Writing to Christians it is described as transcendent stating, “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 (Hebrews 12:22). 

            The kingdom of God in Christ glorifies Christ, transcends earth, is universal for application and holistic to the person.  Paul, a fulfilled Jew in Jesus as the Messiah, connected the gospel of Jesus to David.

the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 1:2-4). 

          In a way, one could say exactly where the “Mt. Zion” is for Christianity: the tomb of the Resurrection.  The preaching of this is the whole gospel of the kingdom, for the whole person for the whole world.  As of the term “appointed” this makes sense in light of the Isaiah prophecy that the “government shall be upon his shoulders” (Isaiah 9:6)). 

Jesus as the son of David rules a kingdom now with the logical consequences of being who he is in a Davidic pattern of kingdom.  On the fourth day of Jesus’ ministry Apostle Nathanael called him the King of Israel. Like King David, Jesus chose someone to have the keys over the household of faith as the chief steward. The chief steward also served the kings descended from David who were like a vice president or a chief of staff. The first for Christianity was born Simon son of John but was renamed Peter on the fifth day of his ministry.  Peter could bind and loose like a household manager and chief teacher and there has been someone in that same chair for 2,000 years.  The kingdom of Jesus has a Queen Mother named Mary instead of Bathseeba mother of Solomon.  People came to the Queen Mother in each generation of David’s descendants for their intercession.  Likewise, Mary interceded for his first miracle (John 2:1-11) on the seventh day of Jesus’s ministry. The Bible says that all generations will call her blessed.  All of this is also what comes with the fulness o the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Yes, King David is one more part of the tapestry in salvation history that inspired me to become Catholic. 

The Holistic Definition

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“I don’t that word means what you think it means” is one of the funnier moments in the Princess Bride film.  This statement humbled someone who  incorrectly use a word because he lacked a full understanding of the what it meant. 

Likewise a term like gospel can be used too lightly or wrongly.  Incorrect or shallow meanings can be dry information, politics, morals do’s or don’t’s, a specific culture’s paradigm or esoteric philosophy.  The Roman “gospel” was definitive, authoritative and expected to bring clarity in the world per a specific world view.   

“The term [Evangelion] has recently been translated as ‘good news.’ That sounds attractive, but it falls far short of the order of magnitude of what is actually meant by the word evangelion. This term figures in the vocabulary of the Roman emperors, who understood themselves as lords, saviors, and redeemers of the world.  The messages issued by the emperor were called in Latin evangelium   regardless of whether or not their content was particularly cheerful or pleasant . The idea was that what comes from the emperor is a saving message, that it is not just a piece of news, but a changing of the world for the better. “When the Evangelists adopt this word, and it thereby becomes the generic name for their writings, what they mean to tell us is this: What the emperors, who pretend to be gods, illegitimately claim, really occurs here – a message endowed with plenary authority, a message that is not just talk but reality…. the Gospel is not just informative speech, but performative speech – not just the imparting of information, but action, efficacious power that enters into the world to save and transform. Mark speaks of the ‘Gospel of God,’ the point being that it is not the emperors who can save the world, but God. And it is here that God’s word, which is at once word and deed, appears; it is here that what the emperors merely assert, but cannot actually perform, truly takes place (Pope Benedict VI, Jesus of Nazareth Vol 1 pp. 46-47).

There is a higher declaration in the message of Jesus.   We are told from the Bible that Jesus means “God saves”.  How does God save?  What does God save in us? This gospel speaks of transformation and not only of mental assent nor limited to only a personal paradigm. 

First, we should address it with a proper anthropology of the person.  A way to describe my physical existence is that I am physical and not that I have a body.  But I also have a mind, a heart, a soul and strength under the same view.  I am called to love God with all of them.  But without the grace of God, I cannot do that.  Jesus means “God saves” because we are saved by grace through faith in him connecting to his divine life. “The word of God is quick and powerful, to the dividing asunder between soul and spirit, joints and marrow and thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The word is Jesus and he became flesh (John 1:14) to be the Way. 

Divinity is key to understanding Jesus as Lord.  Isaiah wrote the Messiah would be “God with us”.  Jesus saves fully for those who receive him because he is fully God.  If Jesus was only 99% divine then the cross would not work because it would be an intervention of a finite being into finite material. 

Thus Jesus saves the whole person.  The Greek word for save is sozo.  That word is used for so much more than avoiding hell.  It is for all of the parts of the person and is ongoing.  When a woman with hemophilia was healed by Jesus the Greek word for healed was also sozo.  Several times in the Bible someone receives God’s touch on any dimension they are “sozo’d” or made whole. The demonstration of the gospel of Christ is a declaration of freedom from oppression (Acts 10:38).   Jesus so wanted to emphasize this that he said that to have true life one should eat his flesh and drink his blood (John 6). 

One can see Jesus’  salvation through foreshadowing events in the Old Testament and into the New. Jesus is bridegroom, overseer of our souls, shepherd, servant, healer, forgiver, deliverer, living bread that comes down from heaven.  There would need to be a  natural habitat of these aspects of Jesus to be nurtured and allowed to grow in being understandable as channels of grace and by no means obstacles or else it is just more law. But how it begins is with the anointing of the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son (Council of Nicea 325) flowing in sacraments such as “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins (Nicea).    

Early Christianity broadened from the Greek word for covenant, diatheke, to Latin expression of the word sacramentum.  As actions speak louder than words, Jesus articulates salvation with the sacraments. They are fruit of the cross which  Jesus initiates in love to the world through words and form by his people.

I will now repeat the biblical themes above shown in the sacraments. A common criticism is they are a “sacramental system” and “manmade traditions”.   I would respond the kingdom of God is familial.  It is kinship by covenant and not any more “system” than the joy of gifts being unwrapped by children on Christmas morning. They are centered on Christ.

Bridegroom- – Matrimony.  Holy matrimony speaks to Jesus who is returning at the end of the age for a pure and spotless bride. 

Overseer of our souls- Holy Orders with a bishop (episcopi).  This is a matter of a bishop being a sacramental sign of Jesus who watches over our souls (1 Peter 2:25). 

Shepherd- Holy Orders with a clerical priest (prebuteros).  This speaks to the priestly ministry who is also a doorkeeper in the local assembly of good or bad doctrine.  Ultimately Christ is the Apostle and High Priest of our good confession.  A local priest is an extension and not a hurdle.  At the local level he is on the front line of dispensing the sacraments of Holy Unction and Penance (see below).  This does not take away from the priesthood of all believers. 

Servant – Deacon (diakonos).  Christ was a servant of the world. 

Healer- Sacrament of Healing or Holy Unction.  Christ is healer and at times uses this sacrament to communicate that. 

Forgiver- – Sacrament of Penance/ Reconciliation.  Jesus was able to say that someone’s sins were forgiven.  He passed this on to his apostles who have passed that on to others (John 20:22-23). 

Deliverer- Baptism which is the initiation of the priesthood of all believers. It is the normative way that we are saved (John 3:3).  “Baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21).  There was a baptism in Moses (1 Corinthians 10:1-3) for the exodus (exhoda) from Egypt.  Jesus said he was the Way (hoda) which plays in words that he was the way out of the slavery of sin. 

Living bread that comes down from heaven- – Eucharist (eucharistia— thanksgiving).  Jesus gives us the means through his flesh that is made real in the Eucharist.  Jesus in communion is the “engrafted word of God that can save your souls” (James 1:21). 

But God is not bound to sacraments. My conversion to Jesus on a rainy day in Newport, Oregon was with the Protestant tradition“The Sinner’s Prayer”.  It but it is not something that one can point to in the scriptures nor anytime before the 19th century.  We are called to Jesus but ideally expressed as together  through the authoritative, universal, “according to the whole”, called out and together Catholic Church (ecclesia katholikos) which is the “church, the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Timothy 3:15).

The gospel can be articulated more holistically when applied sacramentally. This is not dependent on the individual holiness of the instrument he uses but by grace (ex opere operato).  Next is only how receptive we are (ex opere operantis).  God has something to say of all of us and to all of us but never forcing us.   

Right Resolve. Not Just Resolution

Heart by hands in the sunAs I am writing this, It is New Year’s Day of 2018. People love to make resolutions with some of theme having a permanent effect.  Honestly, some of them can be superficial or easy.  They say “I have a resolution to change”.  Resolution means one has resolve to follow through if one takes the wording correctly. 

But people can lose the emotional fuzz and let go.  In fact, give the person enough time and they will forget they made it. 

But conversion is a different thing.  There is an indelible mark on the person’s soul and their biography is not the same.  The story of their life has a reference point for context. 

There are some dramatic conversions that can change someone’s story.  Governor George Wallace was a racist, pro-segregation governor who changed his mind and heart and apologized.  There was one man who was party to religious persecution and the death of at least one good person who changed and became the Apostle Paul.  I knew someone who was a Neo-Nazi, violent meth dealer who came to fulness of life as a Christian minister.  By the time I knew him he was a soft-hearted man serving the mentally ill and addicted with tact and wisdom.  There is a line of before and after in an encounter with divine love.  True Love is a person who loves us as we are but too much to stay the way we are. 

This is why in a way we who call ourselves by the Christian name should always be converting.  Constant conversion speaks to constant grace that stirs us on to our calling.  Jesus said,  “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”.  And this is not impossible to attain at temporary, precious moments to be savored just as “grace perfects nature” (St. Thomas Aquinas).  Standing by grace is good but walking continually in grace is the gospel taking on flesh in our lives. 

I can testify that I became a Christian at a young age but I am having a conversion season right now and it is not the first time.  Below is my history.

1:  A rainy day in Newport, Oregon my cousin explained the gospel and led me in the “Sinner’s Prayer” of the Protestant tradition.  I accepted Jesus in my heart and meandered clumsily through the Bible for the next few years. 

2:  At 14 I met a friend who took me to my first regular church (I was not raised by Christians) and got more grounded on the fulness of Jesus and the Bible. 

3:  At 18 I was stressed with a lot of self-confidence issues, struggling with learning disabilities and discord with my parents when a spiritual older man came into my life with some light and some mixed bag insights.  Some conversions can be a mixed bag but God allows it so we can know more about what the pure is when we get our feet back under us.  When it was good, it was good.  But when it was toxic…Jesus gets very blurry when a pseudo-savior gets in the mix. Long story, ugly story. 

4: At 27 I got my feet back under me.  I went back to a well rounded church on a day they were singing “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand”.  My wife at the time was leaving me for another man.  Our children  were 5, 3 and under 1.  I used only a Bible for a year with few commentaries so that I would be re-grounded with the simple Jesus Christ. 

5:  By 35, life as a non-custodial father was hard and unfair.  Bitterness and entitlement over time had set in.  Through a combination of events and also brothers and sisters in Christ that served me “black coffee with no cream or sugar”.  I really let go of my entitlement. And then I got married to my best friend at 36.  Sigh.  The end.  Or so I thought. 

6: By 42, life was sort of looking good outwardly.  I had finally got my bachelors degree.  My wife and I had two beautiful children together.  We had moved from cloudy Oregon to sunny Arizona.  What could I want spiritually when we were also going to a good, local church with a very committed pastor?

But by then, skepticism had been setting in which is good if you distinguish it from cynicism. Below are some questions that had been on my mind for a few years.  

Up on the stage, there should be some focal, physical point of worship to God that is not some fallible human being.  Why has this not been figured out?

Christianity was so divided with so many voices and divided interpretations of the Bible.  There should be some environmental thing or something by which the Body of Christ can be united.  Why not?

I have been praying the Lord’s Prayer for some reason very often the last two months.  Why do I not see something authoritative that I can recognize? 

Jesus had the answer for all of that.  The answers begin with him and end with him.  After months of prayer, study of the Bible and viewing history I realized the reference point was the Catholic Church.  I “came out of the closet” to my wife that I was being drawn by the Holy Spirit to the Catholic Church.  She was not thrilled but I knew, ironically in the words of Martin Luther “Here I stand I can do no other” and was received in 2013.  She was received in 2014. These recent years have been my most grace and joy filled years as a Christian I have ever had.  

  But I am still converting.  I have discovered the beauty in the Catholic Church with approved ecclesial communities that have respective concentrations on some parts of the kingdom, include intensive Bible study and intentional fellowship.  My wife and I recently discerned out of one and I am investigating another. God’s grace sustains me. 

There is a phrase from Buddhists I like that is “If you see the Buddha in the road, kill him”.  There is applicable truth from that in how God is living and active with the gift of mystery to our “figure-it-out” tendencies.   

So with that here are my impressions. 

1: Christianity at its core is not as much on the small details one knows but who you know.  And the Who is the central person by whom one is truly known.   

2:  Jesus is The Way.  But Jesus allows in our lives persons and faith communities by which one finds a way that reflects part of the Way.  This is why I still cherish the Protestant pastors and friends that instilled in me much of my understanding of Jesus. 

3:  God is practical.  He took on flesh and bone in Jesus.  Talking up in the clouds gets old and it should. Likewise on click, inside track Christian- see.  Speak plainly when possible. 

4:  Take the Bible thankfully but not literally.  Sounds blasphemous?  Should I take the library literally? Depends on the genre. 

5: Thomas Jefferson said ”Sit wisdom firmly in her seat.  Question even God.  For if there be a God, he must want honest questioning rather than blindfolded fear.” We are invited by Jesus to ask the touch questions.  And so, dear reader, come to Jesus and bring your honest questions with you.  Jesus can take it and any movement connected to him can take it too.      

So, there your have it.  It is not the end for me.  It is a process by which faith and reason work together.  

—— The Ongoing.

Magnifying Above and Beyond

Mary MagnifyTruth has consequences.  We do not always have things figured out on how to live a truth that is introduced to us if it is moral or spiritual.  In fact, “dry truth” may be easier because there is always a quantifiable road on how to apply it.  Math has physics.  Biology has medicine.  But in a scene of the miraculous or that speaking of God in our hearts, rare is the time that we “got it together”.  When we understand God’s agenda it is because we are filled with grace and the Holy Spirit in context of relationship with him.

So we see with this young woman two thousand years ago named Mary of Nazareth.  She gives her cooperation to God’s will not having much at all figured out but obeys one step at a time.  When she arrives at the house of her relative Elizabeth what we see is an openness to life, applied obedience, filling of the Holy Spirit and an absolute hope of bringing order to the chaos that evil creates.  Herein is the launching pad for Mary and what Matt Maher calls “the first Christian song”.

“And Mary said:

‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;

my spirit rejoices in God my savior.

For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;

behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.

The Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

His mercy is from age to age

to those who fear him.

He has shown might with his arm,

dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.

He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones

but lifted up the lowly.

The hungry he has filled with good things;

the rich he has sent away empty.

He has helped Israel his servant,

remembering his mercy,

according to his promise to our fathers,

to Abraham and to his descendants forever’ “ (Luke 1:46-55).

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord— Some Bible versions say that her soul magnifies the Lord.  One of my surprises as I made my journey to the Catholic Church from Protestantism was how good Mariology magnifies ones Christology (doctrine about the nature and work of Christ).  I know that I am only drawn closer to Jesus when I pray a rosary. Involving her is both involving the Queen Mother and one who reminds me that God was made flesh and dwelt with us (John 1:14) with her being the Theotokos (God-bearer of the Council of Ephesus 431). 

in God my savior—  “Aha! That shows she is a sinner.”  Not really.  If you pull me out of a pit then you are my savior.  If you yank me back when I am about to walk into a pit then you are just as much my savior. All of Mary’s family tree that leads to her was on a collision course for her to be born as a sinner— except God had other plans in how he filled her with grace. Several of the Protestant Reformers do not dispute this like Luther and Calvin. 

behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed—– And that is true.  One could go to ancient writings and even a fresco that was made early in church history that illuminates her role in an honoring way. The important term from the early church has been hyperdulia.  It is an exalted honor that was always distinct from latria which is worship to actual Deity.  A small sect broke that line in the 4th century but they did not last and either fizzled or were shut down. The honor towards Mary has been so embedded into Christianity that even when Henry VIII of England was persecuting Catholicism and shutting down parishes he made sure that guards were posted at a parish that had a Marian name to make sure it was not vandalized.  Such was the recognition of Mary and her “yes” to God.   

His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him…He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy — Mary is seeing that God is a Father who keeps his promises and it is based on covenantal faithfulness and not due to the intrinsic holiness of any person.

He has shown might with his arm… the lines here are about God manifesting His presence in such a way through the ages, and ongoing, so that social justice takes place out of divine origin.  People will reap what they sow whether it was good or bad but it is God who is the catalyst in informing the consciences rightly in people. But it should be noted that God or the Church informing consciences is not the same as replacing them. 

The hungry he has filled with good things—this is the part where God distributes grace in the kingdom to those that have room for it.  For the rich who are stuck unto themselves there is not room for such good things. For the proud they are to high and comfortable to “demean” themselves. 

according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever—-this is powerful because we know Abraham is our father too but through faith (Luke 16:24, Romans 4).  In that line of faith in the Old Testament we see God’s promises, obedience and then blessing.  The promise of God is always bigger than ourselves and longer than ones lifetime. 

For all who believe in Jesus and open up to him as Lord there is a continuation of salvation history  up to and through ones conversion.  This is the kingdom that will have no end and Mary stands as one who stands at the point of salvation history where one path points to a law without grace and another to Jesus as the “way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

If you are on the outside of Christianity looking in, I say choose Jesus.  If you are in the inside, keep choosing Jesus.  To magnify his name with your words and deeds is our calling. And that magnifying will be beyond your life and above your agenda.  Yet you will be the better for it. 

The Simple Party of Five

judith-in-art-salviNot all gatherings are divine.  Some are get-togethers of people who have only goals that are shallow and of this earth.  Some people gather seeking The Deity as they understand and are truly open to what will happen.  Some gatherings are mixed in intent. Maybe wanting God but on very tight terms. But true openness to gather in God’s presence is always an encounter with God in intimacy and grace.

A factor we can see in a true gathering in God is in the meeting of species like when the angel Gabriel came to human Mary passing on a divine proposal. Case in point of two humans with a resolutely divine purpose is Mary coming to her relative Elizabeth.  Mary carries Jesus and Elizabeth carries John who would prepare the way for Jesus. In this gathering is a calling and a called out gathering in the Greek is ecclesia.  Ecclessia is where we get church or iglesia in Spanish.  To an observer with the carnal eye it is a meeting of two women who may have lumps in their bellies.  To a divine observer there was more than two by far, as we will see, with women of great significance to salvation history.

“During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah,  where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit,  cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Luke 1:39-45).

traveled to the hill country….. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord[n] should come to me?—–  These lines show this great fellowship to be a case of the “Old is revealed in The New” (Augustine of Hippo).  These details have been pointed out by Scott Hahn in Hail, Holy Queen and Tim Staples in Behold Your Mother as closely related to when the Ark of The Covenant went to the hill country of Obed-Edom and then to King David who said parallel wording to that of Elizabeth. What we see here is a special recognition of the presence of God in a place that is out of the way but yet appointed.

and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit,  cried out in a loud voice—— In this line is a layer of worship in spirit and truth (John 4) that speaks of a new Ark of The Covenant and its proper devotion.  The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and translated into Greek.  The New Testament was generally written in Greek including Luke. In the Old Testament the term “cried out” is used many times but there was one word for it that was used only when the Ark of the Covenant, an object that was sanctified by the presence of God, was used.  This word was used seven times in the Old Testament and used only once in the New—-right here.  True this conversation was originally in Aramaic but Luke has a way with words in translation for a theological purpose.  As to our devotional purpose we can see the presence of Jesus as both divine and inherently a worship event whether quiet or not.

filled with the Holy Spirit,…. the infant in my womb leaped for joy—- This shows us that this church on this front yard in Judea is bigger than two.  We know from other scriptures that the Holy Spirit is a person.  That makes three.  We know the Holy Spirit fills people and not things so John makes four.  And if John is a person in the womb then so is Jesus so that makes a party of five.  We can apply right there that in a valid church gathering there should be an openness to life in all its forms and the filling of the Holy Spirit.  We see this repeated by Luke in his sequel, Acts, in how the early established church had that experience.

Blessed are you who believed—– This is the last but not least mark of true church we can get and if we blink we will miss it.  Mary is not to be understood as a model of faith because she was a bullseye target for the Holy Spirit to conceive Jesus and be an incidental vessel.  She is known in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition to be one who cooperated her faith and works with God’s will.  This shows the mark of a true church to be obedient to God’s will in pursuit of holiness. The theme we get so much in the bible is that believe is a pregnant word that assumes a corresponding action to what God asks.

If ones experience of God’s kingdom begins and ends with personal happiness then it is not God’s kingdom but a kingdom of self. In this passage we see that the Holy Spirit indwells, all are counted with a culture of life and we come with resolved manner of obedience.  I frequently ask “What’s stopping us?”  Today I ask, are you caught up with the gatherings and mentalities of the world that would prevent you from those that are divine?

Most blessed are you among women—  If we get out into a higher mindset, we can be a light in the world that casts out darkness.  This term is also used in the Old Testament for women that nail or cut off the head of the enemy literally (Jael, Judith).  If you are in sync on the details above, how does one not take the fight to the enemy with spiritual weapons?  We do that by continually relying on God’s grace and applying such grace in simplicity. 

Years later Paul saw it this way saying, “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal” (2 Corinthians 10:4).Paul goes further in the implication for how Christians engage in warfare in basic principles.

“For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I want you to be wise as to what is good, and simple as to what is evil; then the God of peace will quickly crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you” (Romans 16:19-20).

The Tension With Wonder

think-big-start-small-byob-post1If our lives are touched by the grace of God, and we are to go forward in applying it, how is it applied in the context of a relationship with him as things get more complex?  Here I think there is a lesson to be learned from a young Jewish girl two thousand years ago.

As I noted previously, Mary was approached by Gabriel and told that she would conceive the long awaited Messiah of Israel who would bring freedom and it would be in a way that is very expansive.  Mary was indeed full of grace which included a life filled with some sense of purpose.  When God challenges us, those things that are truly of him that we do in grace and do not go away but are like gold refined in the fire.  When we are refined in a divine conversation of God, it is only for our good and that of the world around us as shown below.

“But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her (Luke 1:34-38).

How can this be…?—  It is important to see that this is not a matter of doubt on God’s agenda being carried out for two reasons.

First, since God is impartial, she would have been silenced like Zechariah if she was cynical against the word of God. Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was struck mute for doubting John’s miraculous conception.  The difference is that Zechariah inserted that the natural decay of death was stronger than the author of life.  For him in that moment, natural law was an end in itself.

But for Mary there was the principle of consecration totally to God and such disposition lends the soul for the unexpected and even the miraculous.  There is a strong case to be made that Mary was promised to God as a temple virgin and aged out of serving directly in the temple when she gained her menstrual cycle. 

Far fetched?  Not so much if one sees celibacy as part of a spiritual life and law. For her, consecration unto God was an end in itself and she understood God was permanently there meeting her in that which superseded any other relationships.  I would suggest along with the Sacred Tradition of the early church that she vowed her virginity even through marriage. 

There is reasoning for Mary’s perpetual virginity to not be far-fetched. Imagine there is a wedding shower and there are comments that one day the bride to be will have a baby shower.  Then the bride says, “How can this be?  There is no sign of a stork nest being built outside my window and that is required for having a baby”.  There would be an uncomfortable silence as people wondered who is going to explain the biology of the marital embrace.

The commentary of the Ignatius Study Bible explores this further.

“The Greek text literally says, ‘I do not know man’, which refer to Mary’s virginal status rather than her marital status.  Her concern is not that she is unmarried but that she is a virgin at present and that she intends to remain one in the future.”

There are doctrinal and devotional applications to this interpretation of that verse.  Doctrinally, in the subset  of what is called Mariology, we see a great case for her perpetual virginity which was believed by Luther, Calvin and Wycliff.  There is also scriptural foundation for a husband to know of a wife’s pre-existing vow and endorse it by silence (Numbers 30:11-13).

But for the personal devotion life of the believer there is something important for individual, spiritual formation.  Mary answered back defending the beautiful premise that saving herself for God alone was important to her.  If your calling is to be a spouse, celibate, or single but looking then bring God into that. Cherish his will for your life with an attitude of thanksgiving one day at a time.

The holy Spirit will come upon you—- This line goes toward the profound establishment of God’s kingdom with wording that is reminiscent of the dedication of Solomon’s Temple.  God came in a cloud on that temple and an anointing was put on the king who was referred to as the meshiach or “Anointed One” where we get Messiah.  Mary would be the first person in the New Testament who would be a true worshiper because she would carry the Son of God truly and not as an honorific title for the Davidic dynasty.

Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived.—-  I have long cherished an African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”  The encouragement Mary receives is that she is not alone and God has a plan for her to be worked out in community.  God calls all of us beyond ourselves first to Him but often in the faces of others.

Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.——  Being at peace in her consecration to God, her mission more specifically in God and her place in community Mary is in a very mature place to give an informed yes and live it out.  Our names, circumstances and callings in life may be different but the principles are there.  We can benefit from all those principles so that we can be flexible when God knocks on our doors and calls us to make a new way for Him.  The absence of welcoming is the only things stopping us from those even quieter conversations with God when he comes.

For further research on point of Mary being a perpetual virgin, I recommend looking at the Protoevangelium of James written in the second century and highly attested by many early church fathers including Ambrose of Milan. This includes a major implication that Joseph took her as his wife but did not know her sexually.

Here is the link.

http://ministries.tliquest.net/theology/apocryphas/nt/protevan.htm

Also believed by a major leader in the Reformation. 

“A new lie about me is being circulated.  I am supposed to have preached and written that Mary, the mother of God, was not a virgin either before or after the birth of Christ” (Luther’s Works, 22:214-215).