A Lesson With Some Shepherds

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The process of spiritual seeking always has two parties in play: the Creator and creation and starts with a breaking ground process.  Sometimes the people that do the seeking are very intentional when a seeming lightning in a bottle happes and sometimes it comes out of nowhere in the Creator doing the initiative.

Such is the case of the shepherds that we sing about every Christmas.  Though the breaking of ground happens with effect for the shepherds there is a larger lesson for God breaking ground for a kingdom that is being established.

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.  The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them (Luke 2:8-20).

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields—  In our modern western culture we miss the importance in this narrative that these guys were in the lowest distinction of occupations in society.  At least a lowly carpenter could be preferred for a draft and be a witness in court.  Shepherds were not considered to have a transferable skill set and were not considered to have enough nobility to testify in the finding of facts.  A PR expert would say that they should not be on point with the revelation of Jesus.

But it was the will of God that this new kingdom have a true value of being “of the poor and for the poor” ( Pope Francis).

“At that very moment he rejoiced [in] the holy Spirit and said, ‘I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.[Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will’“ (Luke 10:21).

good news of great joy that will be for all the people…and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests—- This is rich because the message of Jesus that would be expressed when the Church is actualized is for all people.  There are no white or black, rich or poor but just those who choose to be God’s favor.

For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord—- though Luke’s gospel is not known to have as many Jewish traits as the others proportionally, he mentions this because with Jesus being born in the city of David there is a continuity of God’s long-term plan still that is not lost with its universality.

… a sign for you… an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger—- Theologians refer to the infancy narratives as the protoevangelium which is to say that it is primitive portion of the the gospel (evangeleon) that points in principles to the whole of the gospel narratives.  The description above they are to look for is not aesthetically pleasing for someone looking for the king with sparkle.  But neither are shepherds with their sparkle.  And neither are any of us when we remove the veneer of our self-righteousness and worldly pride.  The simplicity of Jesus as a baby points to the humility in essence to when his precious baby hands have grown and are pierced for our sins.

And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God— The simplicity of the understanding of how to discern Jesus correctly is our best preparation for heaven to touchdown on earth where the Church on earth is manifest.  These shepherds in being called out by the angels to gather to Jesus could qualify as a divine qahal, or assembly, in the Jewish understanding.  From a completed New Testament understanding on being called out to God’s purposes they were doing Church.  It only makes sense that angels are manifest for this point to be made.  The writer of Hebrews makes such a point later in the 1st century how the presence of angels is typical for the kingdom of God in Christ.  “No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering” (Hebrews 12:22).   On a personal note I had a distinct sense of angelic presence the afternoon I went to my first mass as an adult in late 2012 and began my journey of discernment into the Catholic Church.

So if one is to receive a message of God’s universal and practical plan of grace for mankind and are mindful of God’s kingdom come to earth, what is the proper response?  “So they went in haste” is here the definition of a good knee-jerk reaction.

And what should we discern or find when we get in haste to what God has called us too?  “[A]nd found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger” means to find Jesus is to find him in the context of fellowship.  What should that fellowship be?  More of a church that is “of the poor and for the poor”.  Further, that manger speaks of transition.  Through the ages the spiritual richness of the Church, which is what counts, has been greatest when on the run, general transition or both.

And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart—  So for those that hear, God’s call to come, come and stay with a reflective heart on the mysteries of Jesus.  Mary is in the narrative as an example of experiencing the grace of God’s kingdom, which she was “full of”, that Side A is the experience but Side B in the contemplation as we consecrate ourselves in whatever station of life we are called to.

My prayer for you and I dear reader is that we do not let distractions keep us from meditating quietly of the nature of Jesus and relationship to him.  With a fullness of grace there is nothing left to stop us.

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Light On Gospel of Nice

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Truth, by very definition, supposed to be at the exclusion of other perceptions that are not truth.  The kinds of truths that make this world run on the material, philosophical and spiritual truths.  Many things that are material can challenge the intellect and are not for everyone.  Math truth seems to have waved bye-bye to me a long time ago.  But there is plenty of room for grasping philosophical and spiritual truths for the Forest Gumps and Einsteins of the world.  One of the many things I love about Jesus is that the teachings are so accessible.  When they are not there is even a follow up explanation.

But in the teachings and ultimately the authority of Jesus Christ as Lord is that in the gospels He is continually breaking ground or building something in His Church.  Jesus was not running for anything but the cross by which He would redeem the world as the atoning Lamb of God and form a holy community.

But in casting a vision of truth in the Sermon On The Mount Jesus knew that there were deceivers coming to people in the assembly of the day and of days to come so He addresses this.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:15-20).

Beware of false prophets— Obviously they could be ones who predict something and it does not happen.  But comparing within the same book of Matthew we see in chapter 24 that there would be ones who say, “I am the Christ”.  They are wanting to be the beginning and end of God’s kingdom in place of Jesus.  Jesus is unique and anyone trying to usurp that and elicit worship that belongs only to Him is false where Jesus is truth.

come to you in sheep’s clothing—- Many Christian may know a thing or two from when they have seen deceivers come into the world or even into Christian fellowship.  In the first appearance they seem good.  Maybe they do some good works or speak a dialect of “Christian-ese” fluently.  A deceiver that draws people from the simplicity and devotion to Jesus may fool some leaders some of the time even.

But what are some basic fruits that Jesus says we should look for?  We are informed on what to look for in John 10.

“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.”

So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came [before me] are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.  I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.  A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.” (John 10:1-5, 7-13).

We learn here that they get among God’s people without respect to the authority of Jesus.  We learn later in the gospels that Jesus delegates authority to others who likewise pass it on to others. It could be implied that they are the “gatekeeper”.   If someone is self-appointed and wants to exercise new truth we ought to be alert right there.  What we also see is that they will not have a healthy view or endurance when hardships come like the specter of death or persecution.  Whereas the DNA of the Church that Jesus builds is that it is “the pillar and foundation of truth”.  Jesus and the true gatekeepers will open and close the books on truth without error but the false shepherds will pollute everything.

I would like to point to the life versus destruction that Jesus speaks of.  Life more abundantly respects the dignity of the human soul and body.  If the reader here is checking out Christianity, take a look at the fruits of its teachings when followed correctly.  I emphasize “when followed correctly” because, as GK Chesterton said, one should judge a medicine for when it is taken.  Christianity, as can be seen in history, supports real life in all its forms.  Moral relativism will only plant ones feet firmly—in mid-air.  Its fruit is death to the dignity of the person and the family.

Last, on discernment, I challenge the reader to be careful about their sources in light of the real deal of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.  Do your influences state something about right living based mostly on “I feel”?  At the time that I write this there has been a Supreme Court decision that has ruled that same-sex marriage must be recognized as a constitutional right.  I am seeing on Facebook many Christians who have openly defied Jesus the Shepherd under the “Gospel of Nice” with the new holy sacrament of “I’m okay, your okay”. They celebrate the ruling for the wisdom of the age in place of the wisdom of the ages. If for a moment someone begins to wonder if they have been deceived, look at the fruit of the prophets of this age.  What is the fruit of no-fault divorce and later remarriage?  What is the fruit of abortion with the people involved?  The wisdom of the age seemed so convincing at the time. Could the fruit be bad in the long run about gay marriage if natural law and spiritual law is violated.  I have my not so wile guess.

Make no mistake: sheep are dumb.  We need Jesus and His chosen, broken servants to walk right and not the false prophets of moral relativism scattered in the media. It is up to each of us to see truth with the right eyes.