Thursday, April 15, 2021

The People Still Debating About Jesus (John 10:19-21)

 Jesus definitely stirred people up in this conversation. Again, it is hard to come away with the idea that Jesus is just a good moral teacher. People giving self-help advice don't claim to be God, if they want to be taken seriously.

On the other hand, in order to take the claims of Jesus and St. John the most seriously, in a way, we have to take Jesus's sharpest critics seriously as well. What would it mean, if Jesus were wrong about himself? What would it mean, if St. John and all the other Gospel writers and disciples of Jesus were mistaken?

And yet, it seems pretty hard to account for the good that Jesus is doing. No one in this audience would seriously consider atheism as an option, so the choices were: 1. Believe in Jesus, and accept everything that he has said about himself, the Father, and the Holy Spirit; or 2. Believe what had been revealed to the Israelites until Jesus came.

Given this background, we can see why people find it hard to believe that a demon could open the eyes of a blind man. Satan can only impersonate goodness, and the consolations of God. A bona fide miracle like this one invites us to seek out whether God has done it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Jesus Speaks Again (John 10:7-18)

 Jesus intends to speak authoritatively again, and then he says, "I am the door of the sheep." A door is something that you go through to get to somewhere else. Through Jesus, we find peace and well-being. What does Jesus mean, when he says that all who came before him were thieves and robbers? He is obviously not talking about the patriarchs or the prophets. Jesus is aware that many so-called "anointed ones" had come, promising to lead the people out of bondage to the foreign rulers. Even a couple of his own apostles had been armed militants in that cause. But military victory and political freedom is not what Jesus came to bring. When it comes to the deepest desires, and the deepest needs, none of those others, with their bold promises, will ever come through.

The special relationship that Jesus has with the Father is now one that we can have with Jesus, and with the Father! The Father and the Son are family, and we can be in the family of God as well. Then Jesus says that he will lay down his life for the sheep, which means he will die for you and me. He seems to say that he has more sheep than just those in Israel, and that he must bring them, also. In the end, this makes a lot of sense, because we are hearing this message. We are hearing this message and have a chance to receive it, because the apostles obeyed Jesus, and have gone to the ends of the earth. (See Matthew 28:19-20) The willingness of Jesus to lay down his life for us, the sheep, is most pleasing to the Father. Even though what was done to Jesus was a great injustice, it was not a surprise to the Father, or somehow outside of His plan. Jesus submits willingly to this plan, even knowing what it means for him. And he knows it better--in terms of how much suffering there will be--than we can ever imagine. The words of Joseph to his brothers (see Genesis 50:20) are ultimately fulfilled in Jesus.

We should all pray for the courage to draw close to Jesus, and to each other, because he is the one shepherd of the one flock.

The Door and the Shepherd (John 10:1-6)

 Jesus starts this section with, "Truly, truly, I say to you," which is a way to introduce new, authoritative teaching. We have to use our imaginations, to think about a thief or a robber, and the way he or she might come in to try to steal the sheep, or even to kill them.

Who is the gatekeeper? I would suggest it's most likely the Father. Then the shepherd goes ahead of the sheep, and leads them where he wants them to go. It's a key part of this analogy, or this "figure," as St. John calls it, that the sheep know the voice of the shepherd. We could possibly imagine someone who looks like the shepherd of a particular herd of sheep, and who has the mannerisms of that shepherd, could possibly trick the sheep. But Jesus is saying that his sheep will know his voice, and they will follow only him. When we believe in Jesus, when we trust in Him, we become the sheep of his pasture.

Jesus and St. John both know that their audience knows Psalm 23, and I'll just put it here, in full, for your consideration as you read along.

A Psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil;
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff,
they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
thou anointest my head with oil,
my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
for ever.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

The Man Sees Jesus (John 9:35-41)

 Jesus heard that they threw the man out, so he went to meet with him. Jesus must have known how open he was to receiving him, because he asked him, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" Jesus meets us the same way, even if we don't see him with our physical eyes. After all, this man couldn't see Jesus with his eyes, either. Even so, the man's spiritual vision was perfect. Once he knew that he was talking to Jesus, he worshiped him.

The Pharisees find out about this, and they ask Jesus if he thinks they are blind. Jesus answers in an interesting way. He says that if they claimed to be blind, they would be innocent, but because they claim to see, they are guilty. God does not judge us for what we do not know, but rather for what we do know, or what we ought to have known. Jesus has a lot of mercy for sinners, but he knows who is honest, and who is not. When we have a relationship of loving trust with God, we can be totally honest with Him about who we really are. Those who think that religion is something they must jealously guard, because someone will take it from them, cannot live in the true freedom of the children of God.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

The Pharisees Call a Second Time (John 9:24-34)

 By some combination of bad will, and confusion, the Pharisees thought that giving Jesus credit for this miracle would be detracting from God's glory. They accused Jesus of being a sinner, and the man who was healed doesn't know anything about that. But he isn't going to take a good thing, and try to turn it into a bad thing.

The leaders couldn't believe the simple nature of the story of what happened, so they asked again. The man said he'd already told them. Why did they want to hear it again? Perhaps the man had figured out that they hated Jesus, so he asked them if they wanted to become his disciples. That didn't go over too well. They return his insults, and he points out generally that God does not listen to sinners, so if Jesus did this miracle, he is someone that God listens to. This enraged the Pharisees, so they call him a sinner, and throw him out.

Sometimes, the simple story of God's goodness is the truth of the matter. Perhaps we don't need to know all the details of a thing, but we can thank God for the obvious good that we can see in our lives.

And Jesus comes to us, simply offering forgiveness, and a place in the Father's family. It's as simple as that. You can go as deep as you want to go, but it is also the simple story of God's love for you. May God give us the eyes to see His love for us, and the courage to share it with others.

Friday, April 02, 2021

Sharply Divided Over Jesus (John 9:13-23)

 The Pharisees wanted to talk to the man that Jesus had healed of his blindness. They sent for him, and asked him how it happened. The person who receives this kind of miracle thinks at least that the man was a prophet. We don't think this way today, mainly because we've given up on the idea of miracles in our society.

Then the leaders sent for the man's parents. The leaders had already decided that if anyone openly believed that Jesus was the Messiah-- "Christ" is the Greek form of it--they would be put out of the synagogue. We can sort of understand the position of the parents here, but on the other hand, they are saying in effect, "You're on your own."

It's reasonable to think that a lying sinner would not be able to do these miracles. There were some in the leadership that spoke up in defense of Jesus on this exact point.

Who is he? We should ask the question for ourselves. That's exactly what St. John wants us to do. We shouldn't think that because St. John has a perspective, that he must be lying. What are the implications of believing or disbelieving in Jesus?

CS Lewis thought that we had three options: Jesus is Lord, lunatic, or liar. Personally, I don't think a person out of his mind would merit this kind of opposition. But you may be reading along, and reaching a different conclusion.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Jesus Heals a Blind Man (John 9:1-12)

 Jesus saw a blind man while he was passing by. The disciples asked the natural question, especially as good Israelites, who knew their Scriptures. They knew that every sorrow and trouble in the world came about from the sin of Adam and Eve.

Still, it probably rings a little harsh in our ears, the way they ask it. And when Jesus answers, he reveals a great mystery: that sometimes God gives a great difficulty to someone, in order to glorify Himself in them. In general, we talk about our weakness and frailty, and the tendency to sin, as part of the consequences of original sin. But it is important to recognize that original sin is different than personal sin, and that's part of what Jesus was trying to communicate.

Jesus tells the guy to go and wash in the pool of Siloam, after Jesus spits on the ground, and makes mud or clay out of the dirt, rubbing it on the man's eyes. Do you notice how physical everything is? Jesus isn't afraid to touch people, or the ground on which he walks. He works a miracle with his own spit. We should remember all of this when we read later about Jesus's body. Our bodies are good; heaven will not be about getting rid of our bodies. Maybe you can think of a part of your body which reminds you of some challenge that you overcame, or some event that was meaningful to you. Even in this little story, Jesus shows that he cares about all of that as well.

You can imagine that the neighbors and friends of this man weren't really sure that it was the same person they knew. These kinds of things don't happen every day. It was the man they knew, and he finally got around to telling them what had happened. It is interesting that St. John says Jesus "anointed" the man's eyes. There may have been something formal that Jesus said, like a prayer. Maybe he said a blessing that he was familiar with. In any case, the crowd ends up looking for Jesus. They asked the man where Jesus went, and he didn't know. They brought the man to the Pharisees, because they figured the Pharisees would know what to do.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Women In The Church: Some Thoughts

 I'm going to start in a unique place, and hope that I work around to a reasonable point that I wanted to make.

I don't read Fr. Dwight Longenecker too much anymore; there's too much culture war--that is, a dangerous conflation with "package deal" politics--but he had a really interesting blog post some years ago. He argued that he understood why women's ordination movements were picking up steam in the Protestant world. He said that there was no principled reason for Protestants to exclude women from their clerical states, because the office itself is not sacramental in that setting. If all that is required for good preaching is education in the scriptural texts and homiletical training, there is no reason why those couple of verses which seem to prohibit women preaching should carry the day.

In the Catholic world, the clerical state is much more than an office of one who is educated concerning the Bible, and preaches at Mass. Jesus Christ is of course a man, who also appointed 12 men to be his closest Apostles. The clerical state in Catholicism emerges from the apostolic succession from these 12 men. In other words, in order for women's ordination to actually begin carrying the day, one would have to erase Jesus himself, and the apostolic succession. Which is to say also that Catholics are not reliant on those few Scriptures alone to combat certain liberalizing forces in regard to this question. And of course, there is the Magisterium, or teaching office itself which has clarified even recent challenges to this question, though it has not been in serious question at all.

A person could also notice that there has been a certain kind of liberalization in Catholic life pursuant to the Second Vatican Council. This does not mean that any new idea which was claimed to be part of the Council is actually a part of the Council's teaching. There in fact has been a lot of error, which has used the purported authority of the Council for its cover.

Yet one of the great gifts of the Council is the clarification of the role of the laity. Laypeople have been encouraged to take more of an active role in the life of the parish, and in the duties of the liturgy. This has not come without its own risks, because many abuses became normalized, and in some ways, this did not clarify the role of the laity, as much as confuse it with that of the clerical state.

My Protestant brothers and sisters are debating whether women can preach and teach; the Catholic asks this question in a slightly different way: "where and when?" Because the most relevant question for the Catholic are the qualifications for the clerical state. No one I am aware of makes the argument that somehow women are unable to understand the content of the apostolic message. But to be a cleric in the Catholic Church, one must be a man. Clerics preach in the context of the Mass. Clerics--excluding the deacons--celebrate the Mass itself, and confect the Eucharist. In Catholic thinking, the total change of bread and wine into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ, is what makes the Mass actually occur. Without this transubstantiation, there is no Mass.

Outside of Mass, anyone who shares the truth about the Catholic and apostolic faith exercises that gift of priesthood which Christ gives to all the baptized. The clerics have a different priesthood, in kind and degree, but the priesthood of all the faithful is real. A woman could preach in a sense in many contexts, because any layperson can preach in many contexts. But a layperson is not a cleric, and a cleric is not a layperson.

I am fairly certain that I know women who know the Scriptures better than I do, and can teach them better than I can. If the Protestant clerical office is one of preaching and teaching only, it makes sense why their "traditionalists" are losing that argument. Unless one argues that ordination somehow changes a person in their very being,--which Protestantism cannot do--it is impossible to say that women lack the necessary qualification for the clerical state.

It was an Anglican, Lightfoot, who laid out the fundamental difference sacramentally between Protestants and Catholics, in an essay titled, "On the Christian Ministry." He described the Protestant view of the clerical state as "functional," and the Catholic view--which they share with the Orthodox--as the "sacerdotal" view. It was the disagreement with the sacerdotal view as Lightfoot described it, which allowed the first Protestant Reformers to reject the necessity of the Catholic sacramental system. That is, to reject the Catholic worldview in a principled way, and indeed the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, you have to reject the "sacerdotal" view, and accept the "functional" view.

This fundamental difference concerning the clerical state, and the sacraments themselves--including how many there are, and what they purport to do--is the simplest way to understand all the differences between various groups of Protestants, and Catholics. Anglicans,--with all due respect--have been trying since the Protestant Reformation to have their cake and eat it, too, charting a middle way between the two positions that doesn't actually exist.

Does the Christian minister merely proclaim the truth concerning Jesus, or does he or she actually mediate grace to the people of God? The answer to this question explains the deepest division among all the Christian people. May we seek an end to these divisions, and also may everyone understand clearly the implications of what they claim to profess. By the mercy of God, may he lead us to perfect clarity in His truth, and give us the courage to reject whatever we believe that is false, inconsistent, or only partially true.