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. 

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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.

Promotion Assumptions

uPromotion

Unreasonable expectations in any relationship can be detrimental. We can expect to much of others before the fact and when someone does not meet our expectations, a burnout in commitment can happen. Reasonable expectations and even right boundaries are essential for the relationship to flourish. When there are spontaneous and unreasonable expectations initiated by one party of the relationship to the other, the person imposed upon can feel rightly offended and anything but loved. In fact, that second person could feel like an object and less than appreciated for their dignity.

Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’” (Matthew 4:5-7).

What is implied here is that Satan wants Jesus to presume a rescue as if God the Father was at his beck and call. To have that much personal power is a common pattern that appeals to humanity’s drive to have formulas and dictate the way things ought to be. This is instead humility before the God of the universe. We can walk by faith of what God the Father says and thus act but not act so that God reacts. God initiates in principle for the relationship and humanity responds. Christ in his humanity shows us an example to know the difference.

Then the devil took him to the holy city- – Jerusalem was the center of God’s kingdom. Satan would have Jesus think that being there should include an experience where holy things are about to and must happen because religious settings are an end in themselves. Yes, some places are holier than others, but God is spirit and those who worship him in the age to come will worship him in spirit and truth. In a contemporary context, when we go to any church we can fool ourselves that whatever we can make of ourselves there lacks a need for to examine ones conscience. With the wrong mentality we can be in the churchy moment and think too much of ourselves. A better informed conscience of a Christian views church as not an end but a means to an end. Such a view keeps a pure religion and sees holy things in their right context and approaches those holy things in a response of humility and not a reaction based on assumption.

made him stand on the parapet of the temple- – Some of this is a mystery that the Son of God would be “made” to stand anywhere. But what is important here is in a fundamental question people ask of themselves: Am I good enough? The temptation to Jesus is that he needs a coming out party to be fully realized. But in Jesus, we see him growing first in favor with God and then man (Luke 2:52). We also know that Jesus “did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped” (Philippians 2:6). If Jesus took glory from the Father then he would be making himself the show and the temple all the more a marketplace of personality. The irony is that Satan was almost trying to counterfeit the glory of God that had come in a cloud over God’s temple in the time of Solomon. Jesus was instead anchored on the glory of the Blessed Trinity to be manifest in the true, providential time. The believer in Jesus can likely be grounded in the hope that at the end of ones life one can have fulness in knowing Christ. In our lives there will be temptations to receive improper promotions or at improper timing. Wisdom born of humility knows the difference.

You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test- – In the heart of this quote Jesus uses is to not objectify God and have him under ones convenient measurement. To test God is to treat him as an object. The Holy Trinity consists of three persons with will and passions and are subjects to be respected. They are not incidental conveniences and thus Jesus collaborates with the other members of the Holy Trinity and does not presume on the relationships. What is implied in the quote is an understanding with “your God”. It shows balance between familiarity and respect. It is to take God on God’s terms and that is enough. And if that is instead our test of ourselves then that is the truth and is fitting we affirm it.

Better Than Bread

Bread CrossMany were struck with the hypocrisy in the Godfather with the baptism scene. Michael Corleone had his daughter baptized in the Catholic Church while simultaneously men at his order killed several enemies of his.  When the Rite of Baptism is performed Michael is asked “Do you reject Satan and all of his empty promises?” The response is yes.

For anyone who comes into the Catholic Church and receives the Sacrament of Confirmation they are asked the same thing. In fact, all in the Catholic Church are asked this at the Easter Vigil once per year.   It is meant to be a beautiful part of proclaiming ones decision point in the Christian faith.  It is choosing life which brings hope.

In contrast, nobody likes those who suck life from the room.  They suck the air of hope.  Hopeful people of reason, even if partly sympathetic to their points will not want to be around them ironically because those same people can be persuasive.

As hard as it is to deal with someone like that in humanity, a greater life sucker would be the one who always lives and breaths opposition towards God.  Such is how we see Satan in the wilderness when he tempts Jesus with his “empty promises”.  But just as Jesus was baptized as a model of righteous conversion, the temptations stands as a model of continued holiness.

The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” He said in reply, “It is written:‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:3-4).

This is a temptation of making ones power all for self.  Just because we can do something does not mean that we should.  In medieval times a common saying by those in power was “Might makes right”.  In the pride of man there is a presumption in the name of religion that God must approve of what we do or want to do or we are not as destined for greatness as we think.  Plus God has us as his favorite and therefore if use of our power on a whim is what we want then there is so be it.

If you are the Son of God—- Satan thinks Jesus is a mere man and Son of God is just for someone with a kingly bearing.  Good guess in terms of those of the line of David but wrong.  The deeper things of God are beyond simple logic.  If we discern the things of God with no humility we might occasionally see what is meaningful.  But to discern something of mystery that is tethered in the heavens?  Entirely a case of spiritual blindness.

One does not live by bread alone— Jesus is God become flesh on earth but in this response he makes it clear that he is far beyond earthly in what defines him.

but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God— There is a fuller context here.  Jesus was fluent in the Old Testament like any good rabbi would be.  Quoting this line is like a shorthand for a larger truth that was expressed well by Moses.

He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your ancestors, so you might know that it is not by bread alone that people live, but by all that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:3).

Jesus is under no illusion that Satan, the father of lies, is about to convert.  But Jesus is Truth and speaks thus as a witness for all who want to discern who he is.

As we read this story there is a point to us that he is meant to be  the one who makes the unknown known and the unenlightened to be enlightened in grace.  How much grace?  All the grace! This is why Paul wrote of “the light of the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ”.  What comes forth from God the Father that is shown in Jesus is a word of grace for those who acknowledge their dependence of Jesus.  The truth of Jesus in the face of Satan’s dare points to that very freeing life that we have in surrender to the Father’s will.  Jesus in his humanity took with him to the cross that knowledge when he died on a Roman cross.

There is a right praise, or orthodoxy, in seeing the freedom of surrender to God in place of presuming our agenda.  An embodiment of that in the example Jesus gives here is in saying no to bread, though acceptable, for the author of his daily bread.

If the believer in Jesus Christ follows suit that way, it is not an orthodoxy based on saying no but that of saying yes to who is greater.  God does not tell us a no unless it is pointing to a greater yes that affirms what divine nature is about on earth.  This is called affirmative orthodoxy for God’s kingdom.  And for the reader here who would be a disciple of Jesus and takes a gulp about such reckless dependence, keep in mind that there is a word of grace for you if you take up your cross.  What it sounds like to encounter that word of grace is between you and God in your situation.  But it is good.

 

Pivot Point At A Wedding

Let Go Let GodIn any worthwhile relationship there will be moments of trust to the other as truly wishing the good of the other.  In relating to Jesus, it could be complicated to do both.   To have a fitness of the relationship with Jesus is a surrender to grace in full.  Case in point, Mary who is full of grace, would be an example for the new disciples to see that exactly.    Also what we will see is that her relationship was full of grace as well.

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it. And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from (although the servers who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him. After this, he and his mother, [his] brothers, and his disciples went down to Capernaum and stayed there only a few days (John 2:1-12).

They have no wine- One sign of  a close relationship is if few words need to be spoken to communicate a need. In approaching Jesus in ones personal relationship with him, one does not have to be wordy. Mary knew there was no need.

Woman, how does your concern affect me?– – The appearance in wording to Mary may seem dismissive to the modern eye and that Jesus is admonishing her.  A historical approach shows actually that Mary’s access to Jesus was very blessed. As for “Woman”, it was actually a term of endearment.  The Greek word for woman was gune. That word was used by Augustus to Cleopatra and Odysseus to Penelope by Homer (Steve Ray, St. John’s Gospel: Bible Study Guide and Commentary; Loc 1305 Kindle).

The next part is better translated with the understanding it was an idiom.  It was “What to you to me”.

When the idiom is used in response to a person’s request, either stated or implied, the speaker sometimes capitulates to the expressed will of the other (2 Kings 3:13) ….Jesus complies with Mary’s request, and Mary herself appears perfectly confident that Jesus will respond favorable to her petition. In affect, Jesus would not have initiated the miracle at Cana, but neither does he refuse his Mother’s prompting (Ignatius Study Bible).

This means there was nothing separating them which sets the stage of her understanding that the gravity of her request.What is about to be explained to her is that what is about to transpire will be her getting her wishes but her petition would go beyond that miracle to the relationship getting much more complicated: in the way of the cross.

My hour has not yet come– – Jesus makes a statement that could be taken as a no, but his action in a moment speaks louder than those words.  In his words Jesus leaves room to the appointed time that all is set right.  Yet here could be considered an hour where life is not the same again.  Jesus speaks to Mary on the significance of this intercession in that if there was any apparent wiggle room for him to go back to being a locally known carpenter it would be blown out here by his agreeing to her request.  If actions speak louder than words, this miracle would be like an naugural speech.  When we ask anything of Jesus, our consciences should be informed of the significance of the interaction.  The mark of change is continual when we ask for God’s intervention and we should be prepared for that in taking up ones cross to follow Jesus.  Mary was prepared for this 30 years prior when an old man prophesied to her that, “a soul will pierce your heart as well”.

Do whatever he tells you– – I keep coming back to this verse which bears repeating because humanity can fall into the mistake implied.  “Consequently, 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).  Not to say that Mary was repenting, but she had to appropriate her faith to a new level regarding Jesus in that from this day forward, her experience of Jesus would have to be outside of a default box of her known life.  It is not up to her what happens this hour and so she endorses the will of Jesus with a God-inspired openness.  Her faith in requesting and responding works as a catalyst of God’s work on the cross.  Here Mary takes her hands off Jesus and released him to the world.

six stone jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings– Augustine saw a symbolism in the six jars being symbolic of six ages of God doing something unique.  I would lean more on it being a matter of the six covenants that God had made in the Old Testament with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David.   They all were initiated in grace by God.  And if one sees the significance of stone materially, remember then that stone does not get stained.  Thus perfect for ceremonial washings.  The beauty of this is one could propose that there were six jars but seven vessels.  Jesus was that seventh vessel of grace that fulfills the intent of the first six.  Seeing this through the lens of the Old Testament, we can appreciate how God directed a momentum of covenant in His dealings with Israel.  In fact, the word in Hebrew for making a covenant was to “seven ones self”. Three years later Jesus speaks of a new covenant when he lifts up another supply of wine and declares it the blood of the new covenant.  As miraculous as the wine was about to be, it was a spiritual foretaste of the cup of the covenant.

as the beginning of his signs– – For those who examine the miracles of Jesus that are specifically described, there are teaching implications that must be considered.  The actions of Jesus speak as infused messages that due to the meaning and power them make the grey harder to turn to.  The signs point to objective and inconvenient truth to surrender to or deny.

and his disciples began to believe in him– – The longest time of discipleship represented in this group was a whopping 5 days by this point.  To see Jesus as a nice option and a nice guy does not cost anybody anything.  But with “believe” being a pregnant word in the gospels with faith and works bound together, one can see that decisions were made that day to simply do whatever Jesus tells them to do just like Mary said. Those who obey Jesus are not just receptacles as an end but vessels to share salvation to the world.  That was them.  That can be any of us if you decide to take up your cross and follow Jesus. This is the divine romance.  For Jesus begins here to begin a courtship with the world.