Thursday, March 04, 2021

Jesus at the Feast (John 7:10-24)

 After his relatives went to the feast, Jesus also decided to go. He wanted to observe it, but he didn't want to be the focus of all the attention. You can see it in the way people were talking about Jesus, that he would have been the focus. Also, there may be a mystery in the Father's plan, which meant that he had to go to the feast slightly later than he might have otherwise.

Whatever Jesus hoped to avoid by not announcing himself came to pass anyway, when he taught in the temple. His opponents had to wonder where he got his knowledge, because they knew he wasn't trained like they were. Even though Jesus's knowledge is special and supernatural, we should take this as a lesson, that none of us has to be a trained expert to have knowledge of God. And our knowledge is meant to serve the love of God.

Jesus grounds what he is saying in the fact that he was sent by the Father. His opponents wanted to get him on a technicality of breaking the Sabbath. Jesus appeals to the spirit of the Sabbath, more than the letter. And then he notes that the boys were circumcised on the Sabbath, in order to keep the covenant. No one would say that circumcision--which was the covenant sign of being part of Israel--was somehow an unnecessary work that could wait. Jesus called them out on their pretended devotion to the Law. He doesn't say that we should never judge anything, but he is telling us to judge carefully, and with wisdom.

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Unbelief and Rising Opposition (John 7:1-9)

 One of the reasons to prefer the translation "Judeans" in verse 1--besides guarding against anti-Semitic attitudes--is that it better gets across who Jesus's opponents were. The main groups that were his opponents were the Pharisees, a group devoted to strict observance of the Torah (the law of Moses), and the Sadducees, who were picked by the foreign power of Rome to manage the worship of the temple. As a rule, they weren't particularly religious or observant; it's a bit like today, when we read about some country that has a state church. Most people realize that the people long since abandoned those convictions. In defense of the Pharisees, all the tragedy of the Old Testament--especially the sacking of Jerusalem in 586 BC, and the takeovers by foreign powers--convinced many people that it had all come about because people had not observed the Law closely enough. But again, even the receiving of the Law had at the heart of it God redeeming his people from slavery in Egypt. We were never intended to keep the Law for its own sake, but for the sake of loving God.

Jesus comes along, and tells these leaders that they're all missing the point. He can do this because he is God, and mysteriously, he gave the Law to the Israelites in the first place. He told his disciples to go to the Feast of Tabernacles without him. He says his time has not yet come, and he is speaking spiritually there, basically saying that going to Jerusalem at this time is not in the Father's plan. We should note that the word "brethren" is broader in this culture than it is in ours. These people were cousins of Jesus, both close, and not so close.

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Do You Take Offense at This? (John 6:60-71)

 There were two parts of what Jesus had just said that were offensive: first, he invited people to eat his flesh and drink his blood, which would be a violation of the law of Moses in several respects. Second, Jesus talks about God the Father in a way that no one would do. It sounds like blasphemy, to call God your own father.

He knew they were offended, on both counts. He essentially asked them, "Do you want me to leave?" Then he says the Holy Spirit is empowering everything that he is saying. Even if the idea of Jesus being God is a bridge too far, people have enough information from the Old Testament Scriptures to know that the Spirit of God can be trusted. Nobody could quite have known that He would be given to all kinds of people, but Jesus is saying, "If you don't believe me, believe Him, and the works that He does." And again, Jesus says that everything that is happening is according to the Father's will. We cannot believe anything concerning the Father, Jesus the Son, or the Holy Spirit, without a power given to us by the Father.

It must have really made Jesus sad, to see so many of the people who had begun to follow him start to go away. Then again, he knows who will leave, and who will stay, even as he asks. This gives Peter one of his many opportunities to confess his faith in Jesus, which is a big reason why St. John records this for us. There is a mystery in the fact that Jesus calls one of his closest disciples, the apostle Judas Iscariot, knowing that he is the one who will betray him. Why did Jesus do this? If you find a good answer, feel free to let me know. One thing he does want us to know is that everyone can choose. Nothing is inevitable, even if it seems like we can't avoid doing the bad things we want to do. Sin is never the best option, or even a good one, as tempting as it often is.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Privilege Of University Education

 As Providence would have it, I know a lot of university professors. I admire them. I've often wanted to be a university professor. My life path perhaps makes that somewhat unlikely at this juncture, but I wanted to tell you why I felt so privileged to be among those who attended and completed university education. I have also completed graduate work, so I am doubly lucky.

I can't write anything like this without lamenting the fact that the purpose--and the very existence--of colleges and universities is in doubt. I do not intend to go too much into that, but it makes me sad when I think about it. What a noble profession, to be a teacher! It's not a surprise to me that so many aspiring teachers have big dreams about making a difference, because even if reality invades to show them that it's more difficult than they thought, the heart of teaching at any and every level, is the sharing of truth, and wisdom. If that doesn't inspire you, you shouldn't even think about being a teacher.

Honestly, I think the core of who I am was actually formed at the University. I've always been curious, and a good university education pairs curiosity with purpose. Knowing something doesn't matter, unless that knowing matters.

There were professors under whom I struggled. There may have been one or two that I thought I might not like, if we met outside of class. But to truly be a student is a great privilege. The tragedy is that some who teach do not enjoy and relish the role of teacher. There are some people who probably should have done something else. That lack of fit for the role can be a deficit in temperament or skill, but it is a tragedy in every case.

A professor of mine literally changed the course of my life. There's no way he could have known that his advice was so crucial, and it is possible that what he said should not have been so memorable to me, or to have carried so much weight with me, but we can't know the path we're going to take until we take it. If I had never returned to St. Louis, I would never have met some of the dearest friends which I now possess. Knowing that my first adventure in graduate school was aborted, sometimes I regret that experience, but then, would I be here in this place if I had not first been there? All signs point to "no."

Even beyond the human elements of being a student, the great usefulness of a university education is to possess the tools--both mental, and physical--for finding out the truth about almost any matter under the sun. Many people think that students are told what to think. That may be true in some places, but in my experience, the knowledge I gained fits into a context, the meaning of which to some extent I must decide. It is my view of the world that everything I claim to know fits. I know few if any people who believe exactly the same things as all of their professors, but even if I did agree with all my professors, my pursuit of truth, and my obligation to the truth, is mine and no one else's.

Much of the joy of being a student is in sharing the struggles of learning with those who are also struggling to learn. There is always a kinship in difficulty; there is a kinship in overcoming shared obstacles. There is a kinship in growing up, while also learning about the adult world, and trying to find one's place in it.

I suppose we will always have those who complain about the extended adolescence of young people, but I am fortunate that I'm not the same person that I was when I was 22, or even 25. That we have created spaces for people to make mistakes without undue catastrophe to themselves or others, and hopefully to learn from them, strikes me as something positive, not negative. It also strikes me that if the acquisition of knowledge gained at a university is a privilege that separates classes in our society, it means that we have lost a shared culture between the educated, and the skilled trades. We have lost that shared culture because we don't pay anyone enough to do anything. The resentment between them is probably caused by economics, but very few alleged conservatives are willing to do anything to prevent rich and culturally distant enclaves from persisting. There may be so-called "liberals" who are similarly resistant, but less economic stratification would lead to more cultural interactions of a healthy sort. The apparent dominance of numerous "progressive" absurdities is exacerbated by the economic stratification upon which it rests.

Anyway, I'm grateful for the continued success and advancement of my friends in their careers, and I believe that what they do is noble, and worth preserving. I'm especially thankful that in the end, I did not attend university to "get a job," though there is nothing wrong with that. Universities are about teaching and learning, and those things persist, and ought to persist, irrespective of the bottom line.

I'm Going To Need A Better Argument

 You know, there are things that we might disagree with, but if we hear good arguments in favor of a certain position, we can at least say, "That argument makes some sense, or is defensible."

I would not say that I love to catalog bad arguments on my own side, but that is mainly because I don't know what "side" I'm on, anyway.

One of the bad arguments for the death penalty is this, and it's not even an argument: "Some people I don't like, and who probably don't even believe in objective truth, are opposed to the death penalty. Therefore, I am in favor."

What sort of intemperate mental gesture inspires someone to ask me if I believe in objective truth, at the mere mention of the fact that I oppose the death penalty? Yes, I believe in objective truth; that's why I oppose the death penalty.

I am tempted to say that entire sectors of ideological camps operate according to these intemperate mental gestures, as if I must be some sort of pot-smoking hippie who attended the University of California-Berkeley.

And in fairness, I made some assumptions about my interlocutor, based on the quality of his responses. Even so, is it really so crazy to imagine that someone who believes that God spoke definitively in Jesus Christ would be against the intentional killing of convicted murderers? I think I could give arguments on behalf of the death penalty that would be more convincing than the ones I've heard lately. Let us hope so.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

True Food, and True Drink (John 6:52-59)

 The leadership was stunned by what Jesus had just previously said: he's going to give himself as bread for the life of the world. But it is more than just the oddity of what he said. We'll see as we go along here that what Jesus says is downright shocking and offensive to the hearers in this culture.

He starts off with, "Truly, truly…" to indicate that he's going to teach something new with authority. And then he tells us that we have to eat his flesh, and drink his blood. The children of Israel were commanded not to eat any meat that contained the blood of an animal. Human cannibalism is even worse. Jesus knows exactly how offensive this sounds to the people who heard him. Not only does he say it, but he doubles down, so to speak.

I think we have to deal with the question of whether Jesus is speaking figuratively. In a sense it's obvious that he is, but we should not think that belief in Jesus is somehow opposed to eating his flesh, and drinking his blood. This text is about the Eucharist, in my opinion. Scholars note that this is the only one of the four Gospels which does not contain a narrative of Jesus instituting the Lord's Supper, or Eucharist. Therefore, it has been traditionally believed that this so-called, "Bread of Life discourse" replaces the institution narratives in the other Gospels.

The straightforward reading of this whole section would be that if we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, we will have eternal life. The theology surrounding the Eucharist is somewhat technical, but I think we can know that believing that we are receiving the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist is exactly what he wanted us to believe. And it is not somehow opposed to believing in Jesus as our Savior, because he is giving himself to us. If he were not God, he could not do this. Back in verse 54, that word for, "eats" is pretty graphic, more like "gnaws."

He wraps this section up by saying that his power to give eternal life comes from the Father who sent him. We can look back at the episode of the Israelites receiving the manna in the desert, (Exodus 16) and know that it was a great gift, but it was pointing to this greater Gift.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Living Bread From Heaven (John 6:41-51)

 This first statement made by Jesus in this section sounds crazy. If any other person said this, we would think they had lost their mind. The opponents of Jesus then say basically, "We know who you are, and we know who your family is. You didn't come from anywhere special."

In fact, Jesus is saying that he became incarnate by the Virgin Mary, and became man. We should remember that Jesus did not become God, but he is God, and became man.

Here in verse 44, Jesus is letting us know about a great mystery: no one can believe in Jesus unless God the Father draws him or her, and makes it possible. Some people throughout history have made the mistake of thinking that we can do things in our own power to earn God's favor. The truth is, though, that we wouldn't have God's favor unless he gave it to us. Grace is God's favor, but also his presence and power in our lives. Grace makes it possible for us to be sons and daughters of God. Jesus ends this verse by saying that he will raise us up--his brothers and sisters--at the resurrection of the just on the last day.

When Jesus quotes the prophecy, "And they shall all be taught by God," he is talking about the enlightening power of God the Holy Spirit. This is one of the promises of the new covenant that the prophet Jeremiah spoke about, hundreds of years earlier.

Jesus continues to teach that God the Father makes it possible for us to believe in Jesus. To believe in Jesus is to have eternal life. Jesus says he is the Bread of Life. Then he draws a contrast between God's gift of the manna in the desert, and the gift of the Bread of Life. Jesus says that if we eat Him, we won't die. In the end, our bodies may die, but our souls will live.

Jesus is talking about the Eucharist, or the Lord's Supper. He has more to say about this, and so do we.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Seeking the True Bread From Heaven (John 6:25-40)

 "Signs" for St. John are miracles that point to deeper spiritual truths. Jesus is saying, "You're not thinking spiritually; you came to find me because I fed you." They know about food which perishes. In fact, they needed the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, because they don't have enough food in the first place.

Jesus describes himself as the "Son of Man." It's actually Jesus's favorite way to describe himself. What does it mean? Well, we have to go back to the prophet Daniel in the Old Testament. In Daniel 7:9-14, there is one to whom glory and dominion are given, over all the people of the earth, and his kingdom will not be destroyed. And this Son of Man receives it from the Ancient of Days, who is the Father. This prophecy was hundreds of years old, in the time of Jesus. I don't know about you, but it seems to me like it's in the wrong half of the Bible! This is one of the clearest prophecies about the Messiah that you'll find. A "son of man" in ordinary speech would be the son of a king.

Later on, Christians sometimes used "Son of Man" as a way to talk about the human nature of Jesus, as opposed to his divine nature. However, in context, "Son of Man" is a divine title.

In a certain sense, it is understandable that they would ask Jesus what works they should do, in order to do the works of God. He did use the word "labor" in his last statement. He answered their questions by saying that the work of God is to believe in him, Jesus, the one whom the Father has sent.

They then asked for a sign, and then brought up the example of the manna from heaven that God provided when Israel was wandering in the wilderness, after they left Egypt. This is a perfect segue for Jesus, because he is the Bread which came down from heaven. He promises that those who come to Him will never hunger or thirst spiritually, because he will be their food and drink. Matthew 5:6 says, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied." Jesus is the righteousness for which we hunger and thirst. It is a joy to know that we can come to Jesus over and over again, no matter how unworthy we feel, and he will take us in, and never drive us away. The end of this section tells us that this is the Father's will, and Jesus will always carry it out. There is another promise of the resurrection from the dead for everyone at the end of time. "The last day" or, "the day of the Lord" always refers to the last judgment, and a new age of God's glory, a time of ultimate triumph over evil.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

The Crowds Seek Jesus (John 6:22-24)

 The crowds followed Jesus back across the sea, when they didn't find him on their side. Jesus wants to purify their reasons for seeking him, but it is good that they are seeking him. Maybe you think that you don't have the best reasons for seeking Jesus, but if you are reading this, you are seeking him, and Jesus will work with that.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Jesus Walks On Water (John 6:16-21)

 The disciples waited for nightfall, and they tried to go back across the sea. They see Jesus walking on the water, and are terrified. "It is I; do not be afraid" is a perfectly good translation of the first half of that Greek sentence combination. But you can also translate the "it is I" as, "I am." So the whole thing would read, "I am; do not be afraid." As we will see later, "I am" is one of the ways that Jesus claims to be God, and to have existed before he was born as a man. Some of the "I am" statements are more obvious, and it could be argued that this is not one of them, but grammatically, it could be.

Meanwhile, Jesus does another miracle by bringing them close to the shore, immediately after their conversation with him.

I also think that these events are probably the same ones recorded in Matthew 14:22-33 and Mark 6:45-53.

We should not worry, if we notice that the same biblical story is told differently in two or more places. The human authors may have remembered different things, and even if we cannot find a reasonable explanation to fit the difference, God is using the difference to tell us something important that He wants us to know. Even though the Bible is ever and always the word of God, we are devoted to the God who spoke the word, much more than to the certainty of the details about it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

The Feeding Of the Five Thousand (John 6:1-15)

 After the conversation about authority in chapter 5, Jesus went across to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. The whole crowd tried to follow of course, because they had seen him heal many people.

In fact, many people were already on that side of the water. Jesus asked Philip how they intended to feed all these people, knowing that they had no human means to do it. It was a test, and it's not clear whether Philip passed or failed. In any case, Jesus decides to do something.

We should not miss the fact that all this took place around the time of the Passover. In addition to the Passover lamb, the people ate unleavened bread and bitter herbs, to commemorate their deliverance from Egypt. Also in the background is God's provision of the manna from heaven, when Israel was wandering in the desert.

We should not understand these verses to mean that Jesus was simply really efficient in dividing up the bread and the fish. He actually multiplied the bread and the fish, and fed about 5000 people.

People understood that they had been witnesses to a miracle, but perhaps perceiving it in the wrong way, they tried to make Jesus king. Jesus is the king, but it is also important that Jesus become the king according to the Father's will and plan. The people were not necessarily wrong to call Jesus a prophet, but the question we should have is whether Jesus is only a prophet, or is he something more?

Saturday, February 06, 2021

Jesus Calls Witnesses in His Own Defense (John 5:30-47)

 Jesus says he does nothing on his own authority, but judges according to what he hears from the Father. What's interesting about that is that Jesus has plenty of authority. Yet even here, we see him submitting to the will of the Father. Jesus is also subtly reminding people that the law given to Moses said that a witness's testimony was only valid when backed up by two or three witnesses.

Therefore, Jesus calls John the Baptist in his own defense, and he also says the Father bears witness to the truth of who he is, and what he is doing. He says John the Baptist's witness would otherwise not be good enough, because John is just a man, but Jesus knows that many of the people respect John the Baptist.

Also, Jesus says the works that he is doing bear witness to the truth of who he is. Basically Jesus sees himself as the one who was sent by the Father. He goes on to say that his opponents do not love the Father, because they do not believe Jesus, whom the Father has sent.

Then we have to wonder what Jesus is saying about the Scriptures in verse 39. Is it wrong to know the Scriptures? Is it wrong to read them as much as possible? No; what Jesus is saying is that if you know the Scriptures backwards and forwards, but you don't know Him, you're wasting your time at best. Let's come to Jesus to receive all that he intends to give.

Jesus is frustrated with the leaders, because they will praise one another, before they praise the Father for sending His Son. They see their identity as those who obey Moses, but Jesus says they are not obeying Moses, because Moses wrote about Him. This is really an astonishing claim, because Moses is believed traditionally to only have written most of the first five books of the Bible. God was trying to tell us about His Son more than 3000 years ago!

Friday, February 05, 2021

The Credibility of Jesus, the Son of God (John 5:19-29)

 The "truly, truly…" indicates that Jesus is about to say something new, as a revealer of God's plan. He's telling us that the relationship between fathers and sons which we understand is an analogy to his relationship with the Father. Many sons imitate their fathers, and if the man is good, the son will be good as well. Jesus says that the Father loves him, showing and telling him everything. Verse 23 seems to teach that we should worship Jesus, in the same way that we worship the Father. (St. John uses the word "honor.") Trusting that the Father has sent His Son Jesus grants us eternal life. Verse 23 also closes off the option of worshiping the Father, but refusing to worship the Son.

Jesus teaches us about the resurrection from the dead at the end of time. If you break the word "resurrection" down, it means something like, "the rising to life again." "Hearing" in the Old Testament Scriptures meant something more than simple hearing. It meant paying attention, or listening. The resurrection to new life at the end of time is actually not a new idea, because the prophet Isaiah spoke about it in chapter 26 of his Old Testament prophecy. (26:19) What is new is that the just people will obey and follow Jesus.

Thursday, February 04, 2021

Jesus Heals A Cripple On The Sabbath (John 5:1-18)

 Apparently, it was believed that an angel would stir the waters. This poor man couldn't get in fast enough. This seems a bit out of the ordinary, to believe that putting yourself in a pool of water could provide healing, but it is not unheard of. In any case, Jesus cuts the red tape, so to speak. It is doubtful that the opponents of Jesus had a real objection to what Jesus had done here on the Sabbath. Instead, they probably are running out of seemingly reasonable explanations for how Jesus is healing people. Also, anyone who says that the rules the people have been living under don't matter so much is going to challenge the authority of those who hold authority based on those rules.

It is prohibited in the law of Moses to do work on the Sabbath. On the other hand, a miracle of healing is not an ordinary work. Also, God would have authority to dispense with the laws as He sees fit. That is why the identity of Jesus is so important. If Jesus is God in the flesh, then he can alter the laws as he sees fit. He can even tell us what the purposes of each law really were.

It's kind of in the background here, but there is another healing of a disabled person elsewhere in the Bible. In Luke 5:17-26, Jesus heals a paralytic, and he connects the healing to the spiritual healing that we all need. In some way, every weakness and misfortune that we experience in our bodies is related to sin. The people in this culture believed that illness, injury, and disability were direct results of their actions. Jesus understands that, which is why he speaks in the way he does here (v. 14). Even so, he will challenge some of those attitudes later, and he may be hinting at something spiritual in these words anyway. The judgment of God would be far worse than anything bad that happens to us here.

It is unique for anyone in this culture to address God as, "my Father." We are used to speaking this way now, because we have grown up in a culture where the way Jesus talks about God is the way we have learned to speak about Him. In any case, the leaders are not wrong to interpret Jesus as saying that he is equal with the Father. That previous passage in Luke makes it more obvious. Anyway, St. John wants us to believe that Jesus is God, and that Jesus understood himself to be God.

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Jesus Heals A Leader's Son In Capernaum (John 4:46-54)

 This official in Capernaum probably had tried everything else. Maybe he had heard that Jesus was a healer. How difficult it must have been, to watch your own child get sick, and come nearly to the point of death.

Jesus expresses disappointment at a lack of faith that he has seen in general. The context for this is Matthew 16:4, and Mark 8:38. In those places, people were witnesses to a miracle, and still asked Jesus to prove himself. Maybe Jesus thought that this official wouldn't believe, either. On the other hand, we have the believing centurion in Matthew 5:5-13. That man knew that Jesus had the power to do anything, and Jesus praised him for his faith. This official must have been somewhere in between the faithless, and the Roman centurion, because Jesus told him to go, and he went. There is some faith there, to take Jesus at his word.

Faith is supernatural, but it is also simple. At any moment, you and I have the opportunity to take Jesus at his word, to trust Him. In this way, faith is a loving trust in Jesus as a friend.

"Religion" gets a bad rap, but it comes from the Latin which means, "to bind together." So if we put that all together, we are bound together to one another, and to God, by certain practices that teach us to trust in God, and especially in Jesus our Savior.

One thing that St. John--and Jesus--don't want us to miss is that the miracles are signs. Like all other signs, they let us know that something is going on. There is nothing special about a road sign, necessarily. Even so, we can think of times when we were glad that we read the signs. In the same way, it's amazing that Jesus can turn water into wine, or to heal an official's son, but Jesus wants to tell us about himself, and about the Father.

Returning To Galilee (John 4:43-45)

 Jesus went back to Galilee from there. When he had said that no honor would come to a prophet from his own country, we can understand this. A lot of times, nobody wants to hear supposed wisdom from a kid they watched grow up. "You think you know so much? I remember when you couldn't feed yourself!"

In this case, Jesus's popularity grew from things he did outside Galilee, so some people must have forgotten that they didn't like him.

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Jesus in Samaria (John 4:27-42)

 The disciples wanted to know why Jesus was talking to the Samaritan woman, but they didn't ask. Meanwhile, she went and told everyone in the town how Jesus knew everything she ever did. He had to be a prophet, at the very least.

The disciples hadn't seen Jesus eat for a while, so they pressed him about it. Jesus used it as a way to talk about doing the Father's will, and accomplishing the mission for which he was sent. Jesus doesn't see enemies when he looks at sinners; he sees opportunity. To Jesus, we are all beloved children of the Father, who have happened to run away. Isn't it wonderful to think that no matter how unworthy we think we are, Jesus sees who we are supposed to be? That is what it means to call Jesus our Savior and friend.

Jesus reminds the disciples that none of the good things that will happen are because of them, but they will see God's work in their ministry. When we share our faith, the same is true for us.

He stayed in Samaria, in the town of Sychar, for two days, because the people asked him. They no longer believed simply because the woman told them, but they heard and saw Jesus. Sometimes, we have people to guide us in our faith, and for that we should be thankful. But sometimes we have to see God working in our lives, in order to trust Him more deeply.

Monday, February 01, 2021

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman (John 4:1-26)

 Jesus knew that the Pharisees could make trouble, the closer he was to Jerusalem, so he withdrew to a smaller place. As it says, he had to pass through Samaria. The Samaritans were viewed as half-breeds and heretics. This is why the woman was surprised when Jesus began to talk to her. It was about noon.

Jesus knows when someone is ready to receive Him, and he is drawing her out, as someone would draw the water out of the well. Sometimes when Jesus gets close, we don't necessarily run away, but we would rather talk about something else. The woman deflects Jesus, or tries to, a couple of different times.

Whatever we are ashamed of is the thing that Jesus needs to take away from us. This woman has had five husbands, and probably it was unlawful, otherwise she wouldn't feel bad about it. Jesus knows why she's here in the middle of the day; she's been ostracized by everyone in her community.

What does it mean when it says, "living water"? It could mean simply moving water. Even so, Jesus has nothing with which to carry water. On the other hand, I think "living water" refers to something mystical and spiritual. Even after Jesus tells her to call her husband, she doesn't want to talk about that, so she starts a theological discussion with Jesus. It would be interesting to talk about the things of God with God Himself, but sometimes it is easy to talk about the things of God, instead of talking with God about the things that have hurt us, and still hold us back.

This woman is transformed, not only because she is known by Jesus, but because she is known and accepted by Jesus. He doesn't accept the choices she has made, but he treats are like a person, and not a beast, or some kind of monster. I think people can get into a pattern, knowing that others judge them, and they accept that in their own way, judging themselves. One of the great mysteries here is that God does not allow us to condemn ourselves. It is actually pride, for us to say that we are unworthy of love.

Jesus reconciling this woman to God is also a preview of God's plan to take the message of salvation in Jesus to the entire world. Salvation is from the Jews, but it is for everyone. The living water of the Holy Spirit quenches our spiritual thirst, our deepest need, even if we don't realize it.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Heaven and Earth: Jesus and John the Baptist (John 3:22-36)

 This particular situation might be confusing: two unique people, who seem to have truth from God are both preaching and baptizing. John the Baptist notices that people seem to be more drawn to Jesus. John's disciples notice, too. John the Baptist reminds them and us that he is not the Messiah, but that he was given the task of proclaiming His coming. He uses the analogy of a wedding. In our terms, John the Baptist is saying that he is the best man. The best man's job is to celebrate his friend, the groom, and to do whatever he can to help the guests celebrate and enjoy the wedding. Our culture isn't much different than theirs in this. The best man is usually the closest friend that the man getting married has in the world. Any solid best man will be thrilled for his buddy, and once it's over, his job is done. That's exactly what John the Baptist is saying.

There is a fair amount of discussion about whether verses 31 through 36 is still John the Baptist talking, or whether St. John is explaining what we just read or heard. There are no quotation marks in the original Greek. In these cultures, the people didn't use them. They are given to us as a help, because we live in a written culture, and we quote people who say things, especially if they are being reported to us by someone else.

In any case, this part is a contrast between John the Baptist, and Jesus. St. John wants us to know that Jesus comes from above, and John the Baptist is from below. It doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with John the Baptist; it simply means that Jesus is going to reveal things about the Father that no one else would be able to know. Friendship with God, and to be in the family of God, is beyond the power that we have in ourselves. God can give us the power, but we must ask. It is our destiny to be in God's family. Anything less is a waste of our lives.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

For God So Loved The World (John 3:16-21)

 The mystery to end them all is this: Jesus came into the world to die for us, because He loves us. The Father sent the Son to us, because He loves us. The Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit, because He loves us.

There is a mystery in the word "believe." What does it mean to believe? It can't be just knowing and acknowledging something to be true. We know of people who know many things to be true, but they choose to do something opposite of what they know to be true. But think about a time that you heard someone say to someone else, "I believe in you." A person who says this has complete trust in that person. They are not saying, "I acknowledge the reality that you exist." They are saying that they trust such a person with something or someone that is very important to them.

Believing in Jesus is a total trust that changes how we understand our entire lives. We can trust Jesus with everything that we are. It's a lot like a baseball team that sends its best starting pitcher to the mound in a deciding game. When the ace is on the mound, everyone plays better, and is full of confidence. Jesus is our ace, but unlike even the greatest pitchers, he never loses. That's how he wants us to trust him.

What about this condemnation? Isn't it a little wrong for the supposed God of love to condemn people? Yet we know that we are sinners, and we should think about what would happen if we were measured against perfection. Jesus has told us that he will answer for us before the Father. He has told us that no mistake we could ever make is too big for him to take away. There is only one thing that could happen, if we--who have no righteousness or justice of our own--tried to answer for ourselves: we would be condemned. Therefore, it's not so much that the God of love is sending us away; rather, He is giving us the right to choose to stand on our own, even though that is foolish.

We know what happens when we are ashamed: we run and hide. Adam and Eve did this, after they disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. But it's very different when we know that God loves us and forgives us. We come into the light, because everything good that we are gives praise to God.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Nicodemus Comes To Jesus At Night (John 3:1-15)

 Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, because it's not a popular thing among the leadership to see Jesus. Some mix of curiosity and flattery causes Nicodemus to say that he knows Jesus is a teacher who came from God. Jesus takes this as an invitation to teach them something, then. That "truly, truly" is a way to say that something with authority is coming next, something new that hasn't been heard before.

Jesus says we have to be born anew, or born from above, depending on the translation. That reminds us of what we read earlier in John 1:11-13. Drawing near to God in Jesus has nothing to do with where you come from, or who your parents are.

Nicodemus doesn't get it. He doesn't realize Jesus is speaking spiritually here, and so he asks, "how can a man go back into his mother's womb to be born again?" What Jesus does say reminds us that we can't please God by our own efforts; the Holy Spirit must give us the power to do what God asks of us. The reference to "water and the Spirit" is a reference to baptism, in which sins are forgiven, and the person baptized is given the gift of the Holy Spirit, who indwells him or her.

The wind blows where it wants to, and so it is with the Spirit, Jesus says. In fact, the Hebrew word for "spirit" also means "wind." Nicodemus still doesn't get it, which surprises Jesus, since Nicodemus is supposed to be one of the great teachers of Israel. But in fairness, God has a new thing going on. Jesus also says in so many words that he came down from heaven, and just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so he also must be lifted up. By that he means the cross. In context, (Numbers 21:8) Moses made the serpent as God commanded, and those who looked at it were cured of the poison from the snake bites. Therefore, believing in Jesus is the way to be saved from the poison and the sickness of sin, and to be rescued from death.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Jesus Cleanses The Temple (John 2:13-25)

 This part of the text tells us that the Passover was at hand. Exodus 12 is the Bible chapter dealing with the Passover as an event, and the Passover as a memorial meal, to remember that event. That final plague against the Egyptians was terrible, taking all the firstborn sons and animals of the Egyptians. The Israelites were safe, because they had followed the instructions given by the Lord. Passover is still celebrated today, because Exodus 12:14 commands the people to observe it forever.

So what's the big deal? Why is Jesus so upset that people are selling things in the Temple area? There are a couple of reasons. Most religious traditions in the world recognize a difference between sacred things, and ordinary things. "Sacred" refers to something set apart for a holy purpose. The Temple was sacred, and people were treating it like the lobby of a Wal-Mart. Secondly, according to the rules the people were given for worship, the outer court of the Temple was reserved for non-Israelites to gather to worship and pray. They were not allowed to go into the inner places of the Temple, where the children of Jacob would go, and certainly not into the very most important sacred places, where only the high priest and other priests could go. But they had a right to hear the word of God to them, and you can't even hear it, if people are selling things in the place where you're supposed to be.

It is also worth pointing out that a ritual cleansing was something that a priest would do, before making a sacrifice. Hold that in your mind, for the rest of this Gospel, if you can.

The quotation in verse 17 is from Psalm 69:9, and if you read the entire Psalm, I think it is fair to say that it's about Jesus, whether it's suffering he endured, or mockery, or persecution. And the psalmist is trying to say that he only wants to bring the mercy of God to everyone, and that is exactly what he was doing, and why others were angry. Sometimes it happens that religious people want to keep the things of God for themselves, like a symbol or a token, rather than share them with the people who need to hear about God's love.

It's a good idea that if you see a quotation in the New Testament from somewhere in the Old Testament, you should assume that the writer intended you to read maybe even the entire chapter, and not just the quotation. If you make it a point to do that, everything Jesus does and says makes a lot more sense.

They get into a discussion here about the Temple, because Jesus says if the leaders destroy it, that he will rebuild it in three days. This obviously sounds crazy, because they note that Herod didn't finish his finishing touches for 46 years.

Jesus is speaking spiritually here, and St. John eventually tells us that he was speaking of his body as the Temple. Even to say that is pretty thought-provoking, because the ordinary person would think of the Temple as the place where God dwells. In that way, Jesus is talking about his Incarnation, as God in human flesh.

St. John gives us a little preview of the resurrection of Jesus. He won't stay dead, but will rise again. Some skeptics and scholars claim that because St. John was sort of interpreting his own book right here, by telling us what it means, that some guys made it up later. That explanation doesn't really hold water, because St. John lived for a long time, and if he had been making up things about Jesus, the Church would have called it out really fast. But the early Church was absolutely united and unanimous in the belief that Jesus was God, and that he rose again from the dead, after his death on the cross.

John gives us a little note here at the end, to say that Jesus gained some popularity, after these miracles and sayings. We should be able to say that Jesus is at least as smart as we are--and much more--because even we know not to be too impressed with people who spend a lot of time telling us how great we are. Chances are, they're up to something.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Jesus And The Disciples At A Wedding At Cana (John 2:1-12)

 Weddings in this time and place were big social events. Distant family, neighbors, and friends were all expected to come. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph may well have been related somehow to the couple.

Also in this time, the wedding celebration lasted about a week. This culture was even more an "honor-shame" culture than our own. It would have been a huge social embarrassment for the family to run out of food or wine. So Mary steps in. It's awfully hard for any decent son to say no to his mother, especially when she recognizes the problem, and knows Jesus can help.

Why does Jesus answer the way he does? Isn't he speaking harshly to his own mother? No; Jesus does know, however, that when he does this miracle, attention and opposition will be drawn to him. Jesus is concerned that everything will begin to happen sooner than it ought to. In the end, I suppose Jesus understood from the Father that he could do this, without disrupting the Father's plan.

Also, there is a spiritual mystery in Jesus addressing his mother as, "woman". In the same way that Adam had a partner in Eve, Jesus has a partner in his mother Mary. St. Paul will tell us later that Jesus is the new Adam (see Romans 5). Like the new Adam, the new Eve succeeds where the old Eve failed.

One other bit of background explains why Jesus answers the way he does. In the Old Testament, wine was a symbol of God's generosity and favor. Jesus is saying that it's not quite time to celebrate yet. It will be, but not yet. Even so, Jesus does the miracle.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

More Disciples Follow the Lamb of God (John 1:43-51)

Philip was from Bethsaida, in Galilee. Jesus found him and called him, and Philip found Nathanael. Nathanael said, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" which is basically saying Nazareth is the hick town where nobody visits, and nobody admits to being from there.

Notice that Philip answered in the same way that Jesus did, when they asked him where he was staying. Nathanael was given that same spiritual invitation as the first ones had received. When we give each other that same spiritual invitation--whether to go deeper, or to know Jesus for the first time--it is Jesus who is actually doing the inviting.

Now Nathanael knows where the power comes from, because Jesus looked at him, and he knew him. The way Jesus knows us is so intensely personal, and so loving at the deepest core of our being, that we will eventually do anything, simply to let Jesus look at us like that again.

Jesus of course saw him under the fig tree, before Philip called him, and that's not very normal. For Nathanael, it confirmed what Philip had first told him, and made him ready to receive whatever Jesus wanted to give him. The rest of what Jesus says here sounds a bit like, "You ain't seen nothing yet, buddy. Just wait."

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Souter Is The Reason I Don't Buy The Judges Defense For Voting Trump

 I was in the neighborhood of eight years old when David Souter was nominated to the Supreme Court. If you look back in the record, the progressive and Democratic-aligned interest groups believed that Souter was anti-Roe, and anti-choice. Republican and conservative-aligned interest groups believed precisely the same thing. The partisan political actors that are our elected officials acted accordingly, but he was eventually confirmed. You'll recall, of course, that Souter became one of the most reliable defenders of Roe that has ever sat on the Supreme Court. This goes for Anthony Kennedy as well. The list of Republican-appointed judges that became defenders of that judicial decision is not a short one. This poses a problem for the argument that because of the gravity of abortion, and its absolute immorality, Catholics and other Christians must always support the Republican nominee for president, because of the promise to appoint judges who will overrule Roe. As another interesting piece of evidence, I am sure that Byron White was expected to defend the liberalization of all laws pertaining to sexual conduct, and reproductive technology. In fact, on the other hand, he was the last judge appointed by a Democrat to vote to overrule the precedent of Roe. Rather than waste time lamenting the extinction of pro-life Democrats, let me rather say that a straight line from a Republican president to a Roe-hating judge is impossible to find. I don't think President Reagan expected that his choice of Sandra Day O'Connor would solidify Roe, either. But I bet you could find some partisan Catholics who argued that "good Catholics" would obviously support Reagan, and would obviously fight against whomever opposed O'Connor.

Let me just get right to the point: President Trump is unfit to be the president of the United States. He's unfit temperamentally, legislatively, intellectually, and as nominal head of state. Nearly everything he does invites some sort of disaster of his own making. I have said before that we elected the guy at the end of the bar. I don't say it for comic relief, or simply to insult those who have supported President Trump; I say it because it's the truth as I can discern it.

I absolutely agree that the Democratic Party does not understand the contours of the most serious ethical issues of concern in America. They do not understand the immorality of abortion, the recklessness of agnosticism relative to family structure, and a few other things--like euthanasia--in this sphere. I agree that the Democratic Party platform on these and similar issues is dangerous, and unacceptable. As I would contemplate becoming an elected official, either in fact or in theory, I understand my responsibility to not lend support to particular laws that are contrary to the natural law, and the true anthropology and telos of humankind. The common good is not an arbitrary designation with a definition that may be decided by a majority at its whim. The authority of every legitimate government rests in its accord with the natural moral law. Everything contrary to this--even if duly passed by the correct representative processes--is null and void. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was ultimately successful, because the justice of which he spoke has a precise content. No mere human government can retain legitimate authority, while acting contrary to justice.

I can say in the abstract that I would prefer judges who are opponents of Roe, but I would accept judges who tolerate or even agree with it, if they are good judges otherwise. Likewise, it is not prudent to tolerate or even accept an unfit judge, simply because they are an opponent of Roe. This is not to say that I do not support the overturning of Roe, because I most certainly do. It is to say that I ought not feel morally bound to support an unfit president, or unfit judges, because of their stances with regard to Roe.

You may be aware of the hostility of the most recent Democratic administration to the conscience rights of various religious individuals, owing to their scruples about abortion and birth control. This hostility is likely to return in a Biden administration. Yet my anti-abortion views, and my views concerning the rights of conscience are fully compatible with the belief that Biden will be a better president than Donald Trump.

Add to all this the barely disguised effort of voter suppression, and election theft which has already been attempted by President Trump, his acolytes, and supporters. I marvel at the attempt to equate Biden's errors with Trump's outright hostility to human dignity in general, and representative democratic norms in particular. In short, even if Biden is seriously wrong in every opinion, and gravely so, he's still the better choice, in my view. If I come to the conviction that representative democracy itself is at stake in this election, how can I be expected to overlook that threat, because the Democrats continue to be wrong about abortion and human sexuality? Tyranny threatens to become associated with the United States of America, and I cannot be blasé about that.

Various people attempt to convince me that I simply overlook the alleged accomplishments of the Trump administration, as if it is a small difference of opinion, like all or most of the elections before this. Almost as if choosing a leader is merely a matter of preference, like choosing ice cream. You could easily argue, for example, that the 1960 presidential election was a choice between two acceptable options, and that good people on both sides could legitimately disagree. I am sure that many friends and neighbors continued on as before after the election was over. This year, I do not regard the presidential election as a matter that is debatable. The choice is between competence, and incompetence. It is between chaos, and stability. It is between tyranny, and some semblance of freedom. I honestly am willing to lose friends for expressing that conviction, and for not wavering from it. I do not believe that the passage of time will soften the harsh judgments made against President Trump. It is true that passionate partisans in every election draw the lines in the sand, and choose not to let bygones be bygones. This is different. If I must choose between the competent, decent man, who is a bad Christian and Catholic, or the man who claims sympathy with traditional morality, whilst mocking it, give me the sinner over the fighter, any day. [Most of this was written prior to the insurrection and coup. None of that reflects more favorably on President Trump, obviously, and another impeachment and possible removal are in the offing.]

Many people have silly ideas, that denouncing Donald Trump means that one must open Joe Biden's cause for sainthood. I really have no idea how much principled criticism will satisfy any person in particular, but if you have a choice between Vito Corleone and Gary Hart, specifying Hart's distance from the ideal in the same moment is absurd. Vote for the person who isn't a grasping vulgarian wannabe dictator. You can still deny Holy Communion to Hart at Mass, whilst thanking God for His provision.

One other thing: I don't know when it became impossible for people to lose an election and get over it, but my land! If you want to feel uncomfortable, find all those rightists on the web who claimed "the Left" would refuse to recognize the result. Ironic, that. I wrote nearly 17 years ago that I would not behave like a convict headed for the gulag if Kerry won the election, and now we have people claiming the triumph of Stalin, just because Joe Biden won the election. What a bunch of silliness, and unpatriotic silliness, at that. More than this, people have died. Mike Pence, Nancy Pelosi, and numerous members of Congress were threatened with death or bodily harm, just for doing what we've always done: respect the democratic process, and generally behave like reasonable adults. I do not intend at this time to join the Democratic Party--the whole thing seems like polishing the shuffleboard court on a sinking cruise ship--but I sure as heck won't even consider voting Republican, for some indefinite period. Sorry, but not. The earnest one in error beats the conniving nihilist, in any calculation. All these people who claimed to be results and policy oriented don't even have that. The trains most certainly do not run on time. A national mask mandate, and an executive branch not populated with utter fools had a chance to end the COVID crisis before the new year. And with many fewer deaths. But apparently demonstrating hostility to journalists, college professors, liberals, feminists, Democrats, immigrants, and whomever else, is more important than living in reality. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Following The Lamb of God (John 1:35-42)

 John the Baptist says, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" again, and two more of his own disciples follow Jesus. A less humble man would be troubled by this, but he knows exactly who he is, and what he is there to do. He told us there in verse 31: he is baptizing so that the Lamb of God would be revealed to Israel.

Many students would follow rabbis in those days literally everywhere, which is why the two men ask Jesus where he was staying. We might imagine on another occasion that John the Baptist had told his followers, "When I point out the Lamb of God to you, follow him instead of me." He will say very similar things in the actual biblical text later on.

"The tenth hour" is about 4 o'clock, in a 12-hour workday.

There is a spiritual invitation in that, "come and see" from Jesus. Curiosity is one of the ways God uses to draw us closer to Him.

Andrew brings Peter, whose name is actually Simon. "Messiah" in Hebrew means "anointed one," and "Christ" in Greek means the same thing. So this is really interesting: the brothers give Jesus some titles, based on what they understand and what they hope for as Israelites, and in Simon's case, he gets a new name from Jesus. When God changes a name, that person is going to be important in the biblical story. For example, Abraham and Jacob from the book of Genesis are very important to this entire story, and they had their names changed. Let's just say, you might want to keep your eye on Peter. (Abram became Abraham, because he would be the father of many nations; Jacob's name became "Israel," which means, "he wrestles with God." Israelites therefore are literally the sons of Jacob. And Jesus has more to say later about the sons of Abraham, both true and false sons.)

"Peter" in Greek means "rock," and "Cephas" is Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke) for "rock." 

Monday, January 11, 2021

Between Foolish Youth, And Idols

 I watched 60 Minutes last night. I do that a lot; it's still a great show. Speaker Pelosi was on, talking about the attacks, and what she intended to do next. To be honest, never in my life have I felt such tenderness and affection for Nancy Pelosi. I always wanted to triumph over her politically; I don't want anything bad to happen to her, and I never did.

That's the interesting part of an early young adulthood spent dabbling in politics: on the one hand, you treat it like a sport. Win or lose, you come back and fight tomorrow. As it turned out, every question and its consequences was much more grave than a Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal Wimbledon final. On the other hand, it was never meant to be a blood sport in any case. Our loss of epistemological realism and our lack of virtue now means that a great many people can't fight it out in good faith in the political arena, and come back and do it again tomorrow.

Our political system was never meant to bear the weight of the total meaning of our lives, and our place in society. Perhaps that is the greatest lie of classical liberalism: that it could bear that weight, and tell us exactly who we are.

We can say that we want politics as such to matter less, but what does that mean? We cannot easily reclaim the ground of meaning and purpose which politics is now filling for most people. Family bonds are strained or broken, solidarity and mutual care has been replaced by market mechanisms. We tell people that they are worth what we pay them to do, and then we pay most people almost nothing.

And how exactly are we going to tell generations of people that their sexuality--which we treated as just one more consumer choice in the marketplace--isn't as fluid as some would like to think, and that part of their confusion is due to the idol of Choice?

Generations of people have now believed that government should not legislate morality, and now there is no morality for any purported government to legislate. Our selfish individualism that masqueraded as a political ideology has revealed some people's reliance on an older underlying philosophy, while they took great pains to deny its relevance.

And maybe our system never deserved all its praise, premised as it was on individualism, conditional peace, and insurrection, from the very first.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Behold The Lamb Of God (John 1:29-34)

 John the Baptist sees Jesus on the next day, and we should understand some background about the title he gives Jesus. Lambs were often given to God in sacrifice, commanded by Him to signify the forgiveness of sins. Leviticus 1-7 describes many sacrifices for sins that the Israelites were aware of, both large and small. The Passover (Exodus 12) was a sacrifice, and arguably the most important one for the people. As each family ate their Passover Lamb, they were participating in the memory of God passing over the houses of the Israelites with the final plague, when he led them out of Egypt. One critical thing to remember is that sacrifice in the Bible is not about death, for the most part. Sacrifices are about the life of the animal (see also Leviticus 17:11). The death of an animal sacrifice is meant to teach us that sin causes death, just as it did for Adam and Eve (see Genesis 3). St. Paul will say later, "For the wages of sin is death…" (Romans 6:23)

Therefore, John the Baptist is telling us that Jesus will be a pure sacrifice, once-for-all, to take away all of our sin. There is a mystery here, because we would naturally ask, "How can Jesus be before John the Baptist, when Jesus was born at a particular time, and the two men are about the same age?" We need to go back to the prologue, and remember that St. John's wording is meant to teach us that Jesus is God, who took on a human nature. He is not a human person who became God; he is God, who became man. This is probably the most important thing that John wants us to know. John the Baptist is also giving us a little preview of his plan to step aside, because his work is done. He doesn't need to announce the coming of Jesus once Jesus has come. This will help us to understand some things John the Baptist says later. John the Baptist is reminding us that his water baptism is not the same as the one Jesus will give, which is one in and by the Holy Spirit. We will get a chance to explore this more later.

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Jesus Is Greater Than John The Baptist (John 1:19-28)

 The religious leaders asked John the Baptist who he was, because there were many ideas about who would come on the scene at the end of the world. Many thought Elijah would come again, before the end. The leaders also knew that John was preaching a bold message of repentance, that certainly challenged some of their lax attitudes. The "Prophet" is most likely the one spoken of in Deuteronomy 18:15-18. It also indicated to other people that maybe God was up to something new.

The Messiah was supposed to take his place as King, and lead their armies in victorious battle over the nations of the Earth. Most probably did not think John was the Messiah, but he was interesting enough that they had to ask.

John denied it, but the way he answered the question showed that God really was up to something new. John is not the Messiah, but he says he is the one to announce him. He quotes a prophecy from Isaiah, (Isaiah 40:3) and everyone should know that it will get very interesting from here.

One traditional view of John the Baptist is that he was the last prophet of the Old Testament. Therefore, when he is receiving messages from God about who Jesus is, he is fulfilling the last parts of his role as that prophet.

John also gives us some new information about the Messiah: he will also be the only Son of God the Father. We are also introduced to the Holy Spirit. Often in the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit is called, "the Spirit of God," and we don't get a lot of details about who He is, but we do know that the Holy Spirit would always come to the aid of the anointed kings and prophets in Israel. So, one thing we can reasonably conclude is that the author St. John believes Jesus to be a prophet and a king.