Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I need to talk about a couple of things. First, the Gospel for the 20th. The rich young man. Meets Jesus. Asks Jesus what he needs to do still. Also says he's kept all the commandments. Jesus says to be perfect, sell your stuff and follow him. But he's rich, and he went away sad.

Now, when I was Reformed, we said 2 things about this and related texts: First, there's no way he actually kept the commandments; that's impossible. We need grace, and we are wretched sinners with no good of our own, but that God loves us. Second, this man wasn't saved. If you meet Jesus, and he asks you to give up some small thing like stuff to follow him, we can only hope we understand what's being offered. But he didn't. Ergo, unsaved.

Catholic theology reads this text very differently. Jesus said, "if you want to be perfect..." not saved. And we take him at his word that he kept the commandments, in some real fashion. We distinguish between venial and mortal sins (and imperfections) precisely to give this guy the benefit of the doubt. He's not one of the Pharisees, and least not in the manner of being a vocal opponent of Jesus, and official hypocrite of the New Testament. So there was indeed a legalism inherent in what the leadership understood the faith of Israel to be, as Paul tells us in Romans 9, but there is no reason to say that the OT faith was legalistic by nature. We can't read that chapter through Calvinistic lenses, precisely because we could not, and cannot, satisfactorily explain why Jesus holds them responsible for what they do (and gets pretty angry about it) if we understand predestination in that way. Luke 19:44, for instance, makes no sense if it was all pre-arranged for the glory of God. Man is not morally (or at least personally) responsible for acts that he cannot avoid doing. Ought implies can. I admire consistent Calvinists willing to bite the bullet on determinism, but most of you are trying to have it both ways, while denying that you are doing any such thing. I digress.

Love fulfills the law. Or, in the Catholic parlance, "charity". So the presence of supernatural agape in the soul really does make this dude a law-keeper, despite his imperfections and whatnot. Now, we don't know about whether he had it, but Jesus doesn't give any indication that he thinks the guy is lying. You're reading it in there to say that Jesus would have found his claim preposterous. The Catholic way of reading this and everything else makes the text more plain, which is not only ironic because Mother Church doesn't say we should be "just reading the Bible," (or, that is, she doesn't claim her authority from the Scriptures alone) and because the Church's interlocutors among the Protestants make a big fuss about reading the whole Bible and taking it for all it's worth. The point about faith formed by love could be wrong, but I said even before I was Catholic that exegetically, both readings re: justification/faith have plausibility. As Mr. Cross is fond of putting it, "You don't slice up the Body of Christ on a 'maybe.'" So, without the corruption of the time, this highly tenuous scriptural case loses its real passion and energy. And you've gotta ask again, "If it's about the corruption, why not just fix the immorality?" There is no possible way to see the relation between sin and new dogma. Is it possible to live a holy life honoring to Jesus Christ in accord with the teachings of Trent? Absolutely. Therefore, the corruption of the time has no bearing on the question of the truth or falsehood of the Council itself. Why this small point is not blindingly obvious is a mystery to me.

The long and the short of it is, I told God that I wanted to continue exploring the mystery of how to approach this text. Which is good. I can say I'm legitimately someone's friend if we talk theology.

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