HOLY UNCTION

Anoint-Sick

Anyone who thinks that any religious experience will protect them from problems, they are listening intently to a lie one way or another.  Conversion includes a sense of meaning for ones existence but along the way of life there will be trials and tribulations including all parts of the person.  By that time, if one has received the new birth in baptism, the oil in confirmation for growth then what about the healing and meaning for the rough passages? 

This is among the implied contexts in the formal but general sense as the “laying of hands”  in Hebrews 6:2. 

But this is referred to in an authoritative and objective sense in James. 

Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up (James 5:13-15a). 

Someone who is a student of the scriptures may look at this and wonder what is at issue.  After all, Jesus said after his resurrection that laying hands on the sick and seeing them recover would follow those who believe (Mark 16:18 c).

There is a difference between the two contexts.  In Mark 16:18 c the word used here is epitithēmi  for “laying on of” and cheir for “hands”.  The same Greek words are used in Hebrews 6:2.  But we have scriptural means to say that it is a matter of context.

If I am gravely ill, a priest or bishop may come who has been anointed with an indelible mark on their character where they represent the priesthood of Christ which Thomas Aquinas concedes as the ultimate, central priesthood while believing in holy orders.  It is a message for the one receiving that sacrament to have a context that the church on earth and in heaven is praying for him or her.  In such a grave moment, there is the light of the hope of the gospel that is objectively known to happen through church history.  However, as one who has been a charismatic Christian all of my life in different realms of Christianity I can say that laypeople can also lay hands on the sick and have hope for them to recovery. 

There is no impersonation by me of being in any holy orders.  I have known of many people being healed through Christians who did not have holy orders.  However, when it is happening, the context is a subjective experience and does not have the context of someone being set aside to communicate the transcendent and above earth perspective.  Also, if he or she accompanies the healing with some teaching or method that is heterodox then the accountability is harder to enforce with less to lose.  Being suspended from holy orders ministry is a grave issue that is hoped to not happen but at least can with much on the ordinary minister to lose. 

Below we some non-sacramental healing happening that does not conflict with the sacramental perspective. 

With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing.For unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice, came out of many possessed people, and many paralyzed and crippled people were cured. There was great joy in that city (Acts 8:6-8).   

Yes, it is true that Philip the evangelist was in holy orders.  However he was a deacon and not an elder (presbuteros from which is contracted in English etymology as priest). But as we seen in James 5 above, it was expected one could call an elder.  So he was set up on that respect with the same faculties as any layperson. No anointing of oil but God used him powerfully.    

As we see in ongoing church history, the anointing of oil as a sacrament of healing continually affirmed.  In non-sacramental and anti-conformist sensibilities, there could be a revulsion to any uniform ceremony and it must have been developed in the medieval ages.  A look further in church history is going to show them to be historical. 

“And in this [in quo] is fulfilled also what St. James the Apostle says: if any one is sick, let him call in the priests of the Church, and let them lay hands on him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith shall save the sick man, and if he be in sins they shall be remitted to him” (Origen,184 AD,  Hom. ii, in Levit., in P.G., XII, 419). 

There was not only an emphasis of form but all of matter in the application.

St. Aphraates, “the Persian Sage”, he wrote of the various uses of holy oil, saying it contained the sign “of the sacrament of life by which Christians [in baptism], priests [in ordination], kings, and prophets are made perfect; [it] illuminates darkness [in confirmation], anoints the sick, and by its secret sacrament restores penitents” (St. Aphraates, Demonstratio xxiii, 3, in Graffin, “Patrol. Syriaca”, vol. I, p. lv, 336-345 AD).

In a biography of St. Augustine, who was a bishop, it is written that Augustine applied this Sacrament of Holy Unction thus.

“[T]he rule laid down by the Apostle that he should visit only orphans and widows in their tribulation (James, 1:27), and that if he happened to be asked by the sick to pray to the Lord for them and impose hands on them, he did so without delay”(Possidius,”Life of Augustine” c. xxvii, in P.L., XXXII, 56). 

By this matter being consecrated by consecrated men, it was understood that anointing oil for healing would effectively be an objective demonstration of God’s power. 

We beseech you, Savior of all men, you that have all virtue and power, Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and we pray that you send down from heaven the healing power of the only-begotten [Son] upon this oil, so that for those who are anointed . . . it may be effected for the casting out of every disease and every bodily infirmity”  (Bishop Serapion 350 AD, The Sacramentary of Serapion 29:1). 

This sacrament that is at its heart Christ founded and Christo-centric has always been tied as a comfort for those leaving the church on earth to the church in heaven with the deathbed context of the Viaticum. 

Concerning the departing, the ancient canonical law is still to be maintained, to wit, that, if any man be at the point of death, he must not be deprived of the last and most indispensable Viaticum” (canon 13). Having repented of our sins and received reconciliation, we travel with the Lord Jesus out of this earthly life and to eternal happiness with him in heaven (Council of Nicaea, 325). 

To discount this quote causes two problems for those who want to discount their implications as part of the historical Christian faith.  First, it is the problem of saying this council was gravely wrong on this but completely right about the other part that defined orthodox Christology and other doctrines that non-sacramental Christians espouse.  A great hurdle arises again for how just the latter is not up for a revisionist history and abuse of the historical-critical method.  Second, it makes casual in passing reference to this being an ancient practice.  Are we to limit it to 50 years? A hundred years?  The veracity of the historical claim of the sacrament of healing holds up quite well in tandem with the fact that as an ecumenical council this is both an ancient and widespread context.  It is implied that it was applicable to the beginning of Christianity. 

This was a reference point for someone in their relationship with Christ and his mystical body which is the church.  This is to be understood as tied to being in communion with Jesus in his authority which is delegated to a visible church with his delegated authority. 

As often as some infirmity overtakes a man, let him who is ill receive the body and blood of Christ; let him humbly and in faith ask the presbyters for blessed oil, to anoint his body, so that what was written may be fulfilled in him: ‘Is anyone among you sick? Let him bring in the presbyters, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he be in sins, they will be forgiven him. . . . See to it, brethren, that whoever is ill hasten to the church (Caesar of Arles, early 500’s. Sermons 13[325]:3). 

We are told from scripture that Jesus is always the same.  He also made a promise that the church he founded would always stand.  Not only can we see in this sacrament a reference point but a power point.  And such power is upon the earth due to the nature of the Holy Spirit and grace to be known in the Body of Christ in both objective and subjective contexts. 

There is not only a beauty to the Sacrament of Healing but also to the Sacrament of Penance  or Reconciliation.  They go together and there is both rich scriptural and patristic content to support that which we will next see.

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Provoked By Light

clean-slate

There is a lot of talk depending on the situation on someone saying they are converting or are converts.  Typically whoever wants to listen will listen for the emotional impact or tantalizing details if “the really bad sins” were lived out.  There is then a social context of how glorious the testimony is then based on a hierarchy on the norms of culture.  Then the repentance is boxed in.  Instead it should be examined not as an isolated aspect but part of an integral whole for Christianity as seen below. 

Therefore, let us leave behind the basic teaching about Christ and advance to maturity, without laying the foundation all over again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, instruction about baptisms and laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment (Hebrews 6:1-2).

There is a lot to repentance that is missed in our minds if we do not see different contexts to it in the 1st Century AD.  To turn from sin starts as emotional by consequence but it is part of a desire in the heart with grace as the trigger point and faith as a response to God’s word of grace.  But the goosebumps do not have to be emphasized because they must come and go in the life of the Christian or the journey is only an automated process and without the beauty of full, free will.  A healthy repentance comes before any other steps.  Some of those steps may be limited in efficacy in the life of the believer depending on their spiritual disposition.  Repentance in the ongoing believer would be key to maintaining that receptivity and was referred to in the early church as ex opere operantis.

Below are some other factors to consider on repentance. 

1: Repentance means transformation for what is better and what you are designed for.  We are designed by God in love and for love.  Turning from sin is to turn from putting ones self first and look upward to love.  I often like quoting this verse, “Perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:18). 

2: Repentance transforms us but does not change our inherent design.  No one becomes a god through repentance.  Our DNA stays the same like a caterpillar does when it becomes a butterfly. We are better informed in the word for repentance, metanoia, having related etymology to the word metamorphisis.

3: This next point is tricky.  Sometimes the call of God is to stop leaning on things that prepared us and embrace God for all he is in the now.  The audience for Hebrews were those whose experience was steeped in the beauty of the Old Testament and for a God ordained season included animal sacrifices.  But the fulness of the gospel is to turn from a furry lamb to The Lamb which we see through the narrative of the cross of Christ in the gospels.  For that sort of preparation to be over, those former works are now dead works.  But in salvation we are to go on to good works.  “We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24).  Paul also addressed a dividing line in salvation history saying, “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6).  A converted people are touched by the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29) but also points to him in words and deeds as fruit of true repentance to what matters. 

True repentance restores us to the design of the original experience that Adam and Eve had before the spiritual death of sin put an end to that maintaining grace.  What is the struggle of humanity without the encounter with Christ is a common striving to get back to what Adam and Eve lost and feeling often a paralyzing shame to yank one to not seeing the way out. 

“How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14). 

“I confess to Almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters that I have greatly sinned. In my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault.  In what I have done and what I have failed to do.”  These are words said in my church each Sunday.  Historically not the first time to approach God my savior.  But always treating each time like the first time is a good idea because we need to be honest, let God do the work allow God to “say the word and my soul will be healed”.  This dynamic is only a breath away in words such as this.  This is where the word of faith comes in. 

Basics of Light:The Foundation

cornerstone

In the whole world of spirituality it is popular to point out that it is hard to qualify with a quick slogan or a formula.  There is a saying in the Buddhist tradition “If you see the Buddha in the road, kill him”.  Or as Bishop Robert Barron says in the Christian tradition, “If you say you have figured God out, that’s not him” (Catholicism Series).

Jesus called for faith and to repent due to a kingdom that was at hand.  This is a great challenge and a mystery.  It is to change and experience something not comparable to other experiences.  But in Christianity, there should be some essentials.  One is that to be a Christian is to identify yourself in faith and life choices as belonging to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  He is known as the Son of God, true God and true man (Council of Nicea) who founded a visible church.  These are deep and mysterious truths not to be comprehended but truths nonetheless to at least get the general theme with some kind of faculties.  Reason is a good one but not sufficient in itself.  The fulness of the Christian faith takes a lifetime of learning possible even if you are raised Christian and live to 100 years old.  In such a journey there are many questions that come to mind not always answered and it can be hard to know where to start. 

But rest assured, there are at least some elementary things to it.  Again, not to box God in and make him “in the road,” but there are some basics in the New Testament.  God does not always repeat himself through the gospels and epistles but he does rhyme if you listen for it.   

Everyone who lives on milk lacks experience of the word of righteousness, for he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties are trained by practice to discern good and evil. Therefore, let us leave behind the basic teaching about Christ and advance to maturity, without laying the foundation all over again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, instruction about baptisms and laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. And we shall do this, if only God permits (Hebrews 5:13-6:3).

Good foundation in a system of thought is a lot like a thumb. Like how it can touch all fingers so it will touch the succeeding parts.  The “basic teaching” above overlap in the development of Christian life and doctrine as reinforcing agents.  They are respective, supportive traits of Christianity.  In Greek they could be called logoi or little words, but are effective because they point to the person and work of Jesus Christ who is encountered with those truths.

But how should we interpret the proper application of these foundational teachings?  First, it is a matter of seeing the principles conveyed that point to the Christian life being a forward one.  It is successive towards an ultimate design in Christ.  As we see the design and how it unfolds in church history there is an opportunity of seeing more than a fleshed out ideology but a lived experience of Christ as the “chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20).   Paul goes on to described more about that below in the same letter. 

to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ, so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming. Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body’s growth and builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:12-16). 

Also, we should interpret it is in the context of how the first Christian society interpreted it so we do not project our post-modern prejudices into what was written in the New Testament.  For example, I could compliment the makers of Salt Lake City streets as genius founders.  The wrong bias could say I must be affirming the Mormon faith.  But if you get to know loved ones who have known me long they can add to that statement on what I believe doctrinally and the statement was about the road system.  So too is any responsible reading of the Bible which includes “basic teaching” verses. 

So from 30,000 feet, I would like to propose what those points are. I suggest the first two are more applicable to the individual in execution and the latter four are overarching fundamentals that are implemented at the macro level. 

repentance from dead works – – Provoked By The Light   

faith in God- – Engaging in the Light (both believers and unbelievers). 

instruction about baptisms- – Entering The Light

laying on of hands- – Lifelong Engagement In The Light

resurrection of the dead- – The Light of Life

eternal judgment- – Judged In The Light

Though in the case of the author of Hebrews we do not know who wrote it, we can discern from the small talk at the end of the letter that he was a colleague of big names of the New Testament.  So if we were to be fair to the context of his foundational references we can look at the other apostolic writings of the New Testament (compare scripture with scripture) and look at the writings of the early church fathers.  They were people who were handed down authority and a tradition that was a living outgrowth of the living authority of a living Jesus.  If ones is to be detective, following wherever the evidence leads, one will hunger for living out those truths in the most true to form version of Christianity as possible.  To investigate thus is to truly investigate Christianity responsibly and on what it has actually taught.  I would add solving this part of the mystery can then be more vibrant and life giving and thus is worth a closer look for which I hope to show as Christianity ultimately a true walk in Christ.  And to walk with Christ is to be engaged with all of the Trinity. 

Proposal For Conversion

The BeginningThis is a proposal I sent to an organization called Communion and Liberation.  They have an annual convention once a year called New York Encounter.  They are accepting proposals from people who have something to share that would fit with their theme.  A different theme each year.  For next year it is “something to start from”.  Hopefully what I write below fits.  It is attended by many people who are not necessarily Catholic or even Christian of any kind.  So I do speak in doctrinal terms here but hopefully in an approachable way.   

Enjoy,

Jason Miller

Greetings in Christ,

My name is Jason Miller, and I am a Catholic convert after over 30 years of practicing as a faithful and engaged protestant. Professionally, I am an Arizona-based therapist and my therapeutic approach is partly strengths-based in supporting clients towards their goals. In addition to my work as a therapist, I am also a certified catechist in the Diocese of Phoenix. 

My proposal for my exhibit is called “Critical Impressions in Conversion.”  I write, “Critical Impressions” due to first impressions of Jesus discipling people in the first week of His public ministry.  What could be limited to first impressions, I suggest, are to be always applicable “critical impressions” as Christians are called to ongoing conversion. 

In humanity we often are restless and repelled from conversion though it meets our  inner hunger summed up well by how “our hearts are restless for thee” (St. Augustine of Hippo). The chief traits of the gospel addresses this restlessness are how “God is with us” in the Incarnation, has “mercy on us” in the Cross, and continues victory in us by the Resurrection.  Grace can work in our hearts a conscious awareness of knowing Jesus is looking at us to engraft this reality in our souls.  It is in his gaze we know God wants holistic salvation as “grace perfects nature” (St. Thomas Aquinas).  A good place to start from.  Engagement in communion with Christ and the Church lifts up those parts that are meant to be fulfilled in him.  Guesses with reason alone point only to natural faculties of the person and lack the dimension of the “religious sense” that Fr. Giussanni wrote of. 

In my experience as a therapist, where I cannot explicitly refer to sin or share the gospel, behavioral sciences show the gaps in the person to be recognized then perfect in grace. I want to address several inner tensions to authentic conversion, and how they look if  they can be contextualized with grace.  I use an acronym to groups that approaches this with a neutral then strengths-based perspective. These concepts are in the acronym GOSCAMP:guilt, openness, skepticism, confusion, anxiety, manipulation and preparation.  These are the points of the human condition we are meant to meet Jesus and be changed in. What I do with each is show how each in the pure sense are neutral. 

The analogy I make is without being an athlete I can push a large truck down the road on one condition: put it in neutral for me.  So too can someone dealing with the factors below without a reminder in the right direction or too often in this fallen world in the wrong direction on these key points.  After having “de-neutralized” each, I challenge the hearer to drive slowly forward rather than staying neutral on those terms. 

But Jesus, if fully interpreted as Savior, addresses these things and so should the Church.  I thus point to the first week of Jesus’ public ministry to illuminate how the divine encounter of Jesus transforms the very fiber of our being.  This Chief Shepherd and Bishop of our souls (1 Peter 2:25) does this work in the full presentation of gospel essentials, proper formation of the conscience and a mindfulness of his presence in our silence before him alone.

More substantively, for “something to start from” I will be pointing to the first days of Jesus discipling people in divine yet mundane encounters.  Below I outline how Jesus, who does not change, converses with the common struggles in humanity and draws them to himself.  So too can those who want more of the light of Christ can be discipled in and pass on to others like one beggar telling the other where to find bread.  These are indeed critical impressions by which conversion fits largely on the merit that Jesus does not change. 

Day One is the prophetic encounter with truth.  In this case it was John the Baptist  who shook up precious paradigms and even personal places of power meant to be shifted.  Some hear this today and stay for more.  Those who do stay choose the way of preparation for whatever comes next in the Lord.  It is to “make straight the paths of the Lord”.

Day Two- – Some saw Jesus “fulfill all righteousness” as they then would “Behold the Lamb” being baptized. We are meant for openness to see Jesus but on his terms.  God works to show us his ways in matter.  It is to be heavenly minded while in context of earthly good. These are like two rivers meant to flow together. Confusion is an initial reaction to this which can give way to see spirit and matter contradicting rather than complimentary like the gnostics. Grace perfects nature and makes them complimentary in contemplation. 

Day Three- – Some saw Jesus as someone to dwell with and therefore fellowshipped with the Lamb- Holy Friendship. One only knows more if they “come and see” as Jesus said to his first followers.  At 4pm the future apostles John and Andrew went and stayed with Jesus. 

Day Four- Jesus here calls one to personal mission of service in his kingdom as happens with Peter.  In the early encounters of Jesus with Peter his struggle with guilt turns into shame.  Guilt is spiritual pain. Guilt is for the mistakes we make or the sins we have done against our conscience.  Shame says that we are a mistake putting us into spiritual shock and not seeing hope for change.   Ongoing mission, like in the early encounters with Peter, is key here in grace. Though Peter tells Jesus to get away from him with his “resume”, Jesus responds with mission.  Mission is manipulation redeemed for it educates us in the pure sense like pure education.  Education comes from educare which draws from within.  The calling of Jesus addresses how his life is walked out individually. 

Also the same day Jesus invited the openness of hard inquiry. Nathanael asked behind Jesus’ back if anything good could come out of Israel.  Jesus miraculously responded by complimenting him on his straightforward demeanor in place of “guile”.  While Ignatius of Loyola would call for contemplation, which is valid,  there is a beauty of skepticism. Ongoing engagement of reason is not an enemy of faith.  “The Truth, which is Christ, imposes itself as an all-embracing authority which holds out to theology and philosophy alike the prospect of support, stimulation and increase (Fides Et Ratio, para.92). Without skepticism, we are not stimulated. I could guess that he had anxiety, but his anxiety of Jesus that could have been on the exposing miracle, but changed to fear of the Lord.   

Days 5 and 6 on their way to a wedding in Cana-  One takes time in contemplation of Christ on their favorite angle of him.  I would suggest that the initial and ongoing follower of Jesus Christ needs them all like flashpoints of conversion.  To sum up on these points I would say the first and ongoing critical impressions of Jesus are preparation over stagnation, contemplation over confusion, communion over isolation, grace over shame, and skeptical seeking over blind cynicism. 

But not with Our Lady since she is best disciple of them all.  She asked “how can this be”? about conceiving as a virgin.  It says, twice “she pondered these things in her heart”. She had a sense of esteem in God’s love in saying “I am the Lord’s servant”.  These first impressions of this mysterious carpenter/rabbi from Nazareth were critical and lifelong impressions for Mary who was full of grace and leads us to Jesus. In our case, gazed upon by Jesus in all of the parts of us, we can be also filled every day. 

Day 7-   The conversion of the heart.  One now believes in Jesus with willingness to obey like the disciples did at the wedding at Cana.  You are a friend of Jesus and a witness of the wedding far above the one studied in the verses below.   Some wrongly think Jesus rebuked Mary for her approach about fixing a wine situation.  But the idiomatic impression meant there is nothing between him and her.  Though we were conceived in sin, we can be asked to be filled with grace now and push the throttle of faith on the upside of our internal struggles in receiving everything Jesus that he wants to be in us.  Today we can know God’s narrative of ourselves with a holistic understanding of the gospel that saves the whole person. 

Meekness, Wonder and Discovery

MeeknessI heard and interesting definition of meekness once: power kept under control.  To have the power and not flaunt it is no small challenge unless one is very humble.  For the crowds around a celebrity who approach a fanaticism about the that person, the trajectory is meant to be up, always up, including when it is really not.  In an example of the opposite end, there are celebrities that get old, weak and eroded of glorious beauty.  In that case, the public does not forgive. 

Such is the significance of what is called Palm Sunday by Christians in a crucial day in the life of Jesus.  Jesus made an entrance with much acclaim but his demeanor was really low key.  He proceeded on a donkey but was hailed with words fit for a king.  Before coming into the city of Jerusalem, he spoke with knowledge and authority that was determined and very set telling his disciples  “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tethered, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them here to me” (Matthew 21:2). A donkey was a status symbol of a fresh new car.  But was not meant to be speedy.  It was slow enough that one could chat with the people and be approachable rather than being on a high, fast horse.   

Jesus spoke from knowledge, authority and determination because his standpoint was from eternity and not just one age.  Taking a step back and seeing Jesus through a prophesy lens shows more in the preparation than his ride.  “This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled: ‘Say to daughter Zion, “Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” ” (Matthew 21:4-5). There is power and authority shown here but again there is meekness because there is a reference to the “daughter Zion”.  The prophecy that is quoted here has those two words to show the gentle favor like one would have for a daughter but saying Zion since that was a term for Israel of how God keeps his promises without an end. 

“Hosanna” is a word quoted from the crowd in all four gospels for this event.  It comes from the Hebrew words yasha  (“deliver, save”) and anna (“beg, beseech”) which forms what we say down to English, as “hosanna.” Literally, hosanna means “I beg you to save!” or “please deliver us!”  Later that day by the temple they would repeat it again much to the dismay of the religious leaders.  There is something noble to their praise, but it is worth keeping in mind the question: how many in the crowd would not forgive him like society does of those who grow old for not being so super? How many matter of 5 days later would being saying “Crucify him!”?  when appears in a mockery of royal robe and crown of thorns?  They generally may be calling for Jesus to save them only half on what matters and 150% on what does not. 

This comes back to why the apostles and the early church preached and taught Jesus as crucified but then risen.  If we call out to Jesus without a well rounded understanding of his sacrificial love, we will be set up to love without meaning and sacrifice without endurance.  So too for those who call themselves by the name of Christ, we will shine for the radiance of Jesus to the world.  To speak and live out the fulness of the good news of Jesus Christ in a robust manner is to let out Matthew, Mark, Luke and John like a lion from of a cage. 

There is a recurring mentioning for evangelizing with the gospel to “lead by beauty” (Bp. Robert Barron). Praise was given with palm leaves and personal clothes laid in the his path which could be considered beautiful in its simplicity.  “And when he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken and asked, ‘Who is this’ And the crowds replied, ‘This is Jesus the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.’ “ This was a simple insight in that someone important was there to see but next the chance to hear him. And if this turned out to be a prophet truly sent from God then there was a new direction to come. 

With the emergence of Christianity that was based on the cross and the resurrection the impact would be more than a shaking via a proposition but a provocation into the darkness of the world.  Decades later, associates of  Paul would be responded to accordingly with an adverse commentary.  “But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, ‘These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. ‘ “(Acts 17:6). 

Such is the pattern of Christ encountering the individual or the culture.  First the shaking by beauty and then the flipping of the paradigms.  Even this same day we see a hint of it.  “He entered Jerusalem and went into the temple area. He looked around at everything and, since it was already late, went out to Bethany with the Twelve” (Mark 11:11).  This seems like a quiet happening until one considers that only months ago he was there solo in a confrontation with the religious leaders when he healed a man born blind whereas they were troubled due to deeming Jesus and the man unworthy of a miracle.  Now Jesus comes with the Twelve.  These were the apostles of the Church.  The day would come when they would be teaching in what is equivalent to the temple basement.  Change would be coming outside of the box of the elite.  Today he begins to serve them notice that grace was here and it would be unstoppable as it is the hand of God.  Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ He said in reply, ‘I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!’ “ (Luke 21:39-40). 

Also it is worth noting the irony they were leaving the temple where the leaders do not understand him to Bethany where he was understood.  In Bethany, Jesus had revealed himself to be the resurrection and the life in raising Lazarus from the dead.  It was there that his sister Mary was used as object lesson of what it is to listen to him and adore him.  Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha served as a microcosm of community that is formed by Jesus and receive teaching in the context of being more formed towards him.  Such a people formed even more from the fullness of what Jesus did and is would likewise be prone to cry out. 

Thus we should consider Palm Sunday for what it can be.  It marks not the fulness of revelation of who Jesus is but is an appetizer of who he and his kingdom. But drawing from this scene we cry out to him now as Lord and Savior. 

Interview With A Rabbi

Happy Old Man

 

Changing perspective at a basic level can be hard.  Even more when a person has a privilege in perspective that is above their peers.  In someone at the pinnacle of the physical sciences the bias is called scientism in only confining what can believed by the quantifiable.  Or one could be a great mind in the social sciences (e.g. psychology, sociology, anthropology, social work etc.) and be fixed in thinking based on meaning per what a person or group defines as true or good today.  Good can come from inquiry when one asks the right questions.  A high expression of truth is in the words that end with “-logy” coming from the Greek work logos which is a thought out, reasoned expression for order. 

But with Christianity what is clear is that Jesus Christ is the proclaimed as divine “Logos”, the Word made flesh (John 1:1, 14), and the lease for Jesus in his day was theology.  Such a man that had such qualifications in Palestine in the 1st century was Nicodemus.  He could influence what was defined as truth among the leaders.  One night he encountered a man who was both a rabbi and a simple ex-carpenter.  This encounter was an interview that started in curiosity, went on in a confusing vein and last challenged him.

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?” Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus answered and said to him, “How can this happen?” Jesus answered and said to him, “You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this? Amen, amen, I say to you, we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony. If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:1-15). 

teacher who has come from God… unless God is with him— This is a good starting point for the person that is privileged.  Even a high and mighty atheist will at least say Jesus had a great following and a sociological phenomena ensued.  Nicodemus sees that there are miracles and that Jesus is spiritual and is blessed by God.   This is a sign of spiritual hunger when one sees the introductory basics of Jesus. 

Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above— In reading the words of Jesus one should know the context of good news from him.  From the Old Testament the good news was the word of divine provision.  In the Roman empire the “good news” was that your people are conquered and Caeser gets to rule you.  But in Jesus he brings spiritual provision in the context of a tangible kingdom but anchored in heaven.  To accept that good news one transitions from an earthly citizenship to a heavenly one.

Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit— At this point Jesus doubles down on the point of spiritual birth that is in the context of the material and spiritual.  This is the theological normative of baptism.  Amniotic fluid was never referred to as the context here by the early church.  The material of water as the normative in the new birth was spoken by Jesus to Jews because their point of redemption in salvation history was shown forth through water in God’s deliverance.  One can see that with Noah and the ark through the flood or Moses in the wilderness.  The antitype is spoken of in 1 Peter 3:21 when it says,”baptism now saves you”.  Those experiences were of God’s deliverance and always in the context of community.  This community is in comm-union with the Blessed Trinity. 

The wind blows where it wills….so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit— This is an important principle in having a life in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Growing after your spiritual birth is to keep yielding to the Holy Spirit.  This is childlike trust unto God.

One may rationalize this call saying wind and spirit are like apples and oranges.  Linguistically this is not the case. The English words “wind” and “spirit” in the New Testament are the same Greek word-pneuma.  When we read “wind” and “spirit” in this passage, we do so because the translators have made the distinction for us based on the context.  The original readers would have read only the word pneuma  (Steve Ray, St. John’s Gospel, 2002).  This spirit is that of adoption and fundamental transformation of the person in light of God’s voice crying out from us in the fulness of a divine adoption, suffering and always hope. 

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together (Romans 8:14-17).   

How can this happen?— Nicodemus was frustrated that he was given a riddle for his question rather than something simpler that fit his theological paradigm.

You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this? — The crux of some of the matter is right here.  Nicodemus is a man of privilege and Jesus urges him to check that very thing.  Jesus challenges Nicodemus to see him through the scriptures on the fullness of tradition.  “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). Jesus challenges him to get over it through the message of being born again unto God the Father in heaven. 

how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?— Jesus points to Nicodemus’ earlier struggle in the cleansing power of God through matter of water as reference for how far he needs to go to truly absorb many sacred mysteries.  Nicodemus wanted to comprehend while Jesus wanted him to get the jist. 

No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.— Jesus points very strongly to the dividing point in the Incarnation.  Jesus points to the fact that he has come from heaven and in breathing, living and talking he offers something that is incomparable. 

so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life- And then there is suffering.  Jesus points to how, though he was heaven sent, he was heaven bound for the salvation of men through the cross.  Yes, God came to earth in the Son.  But the cross is still the cross. If Nicodemus were to come into that kingdom it would be due to the work and expressed context of the cross and no experience of the Holy Spirit or 1,000 baptisms would be enough to replace that need.  To take the Incarnation and the Atonement in Christ in fulness is to have true life.  This is the life eternal in Christ. 

The odd part to me is that the quotation marks in these last words end in that chapter according to most Bible versions right before what is possibly the most popular Bible verse.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16). 

Though not the words of Jesus, rich in meaning.  Christianity as founded by Jesus will be under authority by God, community based, contemplative and engaged in mystery.  These are true, good and beautiful to experience in Christ in the fulness of such belief.   

But we are to be also informed in obedience to Jesus as Lord. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him” (John 3:36).  In this gospel the antithesis of believing is not unbelief but disobedience.  So, if you raised your hand at the right goosebumps moment at church camp as a kid,  great! But are you still obeying Christ now?  Otherwise you are not walking by faith through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Having spiritual credentials is not the same as knowing Jesus.  An actively challenging gospel to us is on our “spiritual privilege” assumption.  He does not change but we do.  The choice to stay only as inquirer is on us if we will turn to Jesus as more than just favored of God but as Lord. 

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. (CS Lewis, Mere Christianity). 

See, Stay and Go

sun-moon-northpole

In the heat of the day, a woman of one ethnicity meets a man from another ethnicity at the well.  She gets the water then because she is an outcast socially from her people.  This stranger just called her out on her current life of emptiness but she chooses to stick around anyway.  She is challenged but intrigued.

 

See

This woman just got served by Jesus.  Unfortunately for her she was served in the sense of her sinful past being laid to bare.  But to her credit, she rolls with it pretty well all considered.  He challenged her on the issues of living with a man unmarried and having 5 husbands so he could propose to her for something better. 

The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”  Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus said to her, “I am he,the one who is speaking with you.” At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, but still no one said, “What are you looking for?” or “Why are you talking with her?” The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?” (John 4:19-29).

Sir, I can see that you are a prophet— A turning point in anyone’s conversion is recognizing Jesus has at least some valid authority. As a Samaritan she had an imperfect formation by Jewish standards in what to hope for but she does see something big is going since a prophet discerns truth.  Her perspective is broadening. 

…this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem— This woman is centering on spiritual mysteries that seem to have no discernible purpose and doing that based on her own cultural lens.  Jesus responds with a coming agenda, a kingdom, that would not be bound to her culture or his and has a broader purpose.  Jesus acknowledges the foundation on how salvation history through the Jews but points to importance of blessing the world.

I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed— She points in hope how somehow someone will be anointed by God. It is implied the Holy Spirit will do the anointing. In further developed articulation of Christianity one can see an abundant life full of the Holy Spirit. Such a life is informed by the work of Christ on the cross drawing one to a fully formed life the Holy Trinity.  Below are dynamics of the persons of the Holy Trinity that we can understand in fully articulated Christianity that is, again, of spirit and truth. 

The One whom the Father has sent into our hearts, the Spirit of his Son, is truly God. Consubstantial with the Father and the Son, the Spirit is inseparable from them, in both the inner life of the Trinity and his gift of love for the world. In adoring the Holy Trinity, life-giving, consubstantial, and indivisible, the Church’s faith also professes the distinction of persons. When the Father sends his Word, he always sends his Breath. In their joint mission, the Son and the Holy Spirit are distinct but inseparable. To be sure, it is Christ who is seen, the visible image of the invisible God, but it is the Spirit who reveals him (Catechism of the Catholic Church para. 689). 

The work of the Holy Spirit is partly to point to Jesus as the visible member of the Godhead.  Working as “Breath” (the word for spirit and wind is the same in Hebrew), there is a relational context that the believer is invited to of unity (John 17:21).  This intent of breathing the Breath of God has to have consequence on earth in a new agenda.  This is the gospel lived out.  This woman in her simplicity points to a foundation for this hope. 

Stay

will worship the Father in Spirit and truth- Jesus is contrasting her presumption that the new faith would have to be anchored by a singular geographical location.  For Jesus to say this had foundation from prior scripture.  “From the rising of the sun to its setting, my name is great among the nations;Incense offerings are made to my name everywhere, and a pure offering; For my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 1:11). How is this supposed to work if God’s people are bound to only offer sacrifice in the temple?  In the rabbinical narratives between the Old and New Testament they wrote with the Messiah to come the sacrifice to remain would be of bread for thanksgiving; it was called todah in Hebrew,  translated eucharistia in Greek in a translation of the Old Testament and is Eucharist in English. 

the Father seeks such people to worship him- Those people are sensitized to the joint mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The spirit spoken of is a reminder of the Holy Spirit being the Breath behind all spiritual wind which reveals the son for which there is no discrimination. 

God is Spirit-  Exactly articulated later with these words in the Nicene Creed of 325 “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life who proceeds from the Father and the Son and with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified.    

those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth – For those who know the call after conversion to be true worshippers they are introduced into partaking of this divine nature, sensitized to true worship and will worship the Father in Christ. The rituals that are absent the spirit only point to a greater reality but are not in themselves that greater reality.  But Christ is and he is to be experienced in matter and faith. 

I who speak to you am he  This is the dividing line.  She can go backward from Jesus but not in ignorance.  Or she could go forward and continue to be changed in perceptions and lifestyle with a full conversion.  She has been proposed to and not imposed upon. So we can be in the moments of turning around and giving our own testimony to the world about this mysterious Other.   

Go

“Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?”— Good evangelism sometimes is knowing the right answer to the right question.  She had her answer: Jesus is Savior and she needed saving.  Each day one chooses to walk in friendship with Jesus is an opportunity to be whole.  Not all dynamics of conversion are meant to be figured out.  But if we open our eyes Jesus will meet us in the common wells of our lives. The subsequent transformation compels us to a proclamation of the comprehensible and the mysteries in Christ.   

The Lord’s missionary mandate is ultimately grounded in the eternal love of the Most Holy Trinity: “The Church on earth is by her nature missionary since, according to the plan of the Father, she has as her origin the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit.” The ultimate purpose of mission is none other than to make men share in the communion between the Father and the Son in their Spirit of love (Catechism of the Catholic Church para. 850).