Thursday, May 13, 2021

The Apostles Want To Know the Betrayer (John 13:21-30)

 Even if Jesus was speaking prophetically just before, it moved him emotionally, to realize that one of his closest friends, as an apostle, would be the one to betray him. We almost get the sense that they didn't understand Jesus, when he said that he would be betrayed by one of them before. So this finds him saying it again, and he said it clearly enough that they understood the weight of it, and were asking him to tell them.

If we hang out with Jesus and the apostles enough, we will start to notice that Jesus will say strange and interesting things, and the apostles want to ask him about it, but sometimes they lack the courage. Even among the twelve apostles, there is a sort of chain of command. They know that they should ask St. John or St. Peter, if they want to know what Jesus meant, and he isn't talking. So they succeed, and our Lord tells St. John which one of them it will be. On the other hand he doesn't come straight out and say it, but he says that the one he gives a morsel of bread to will be the one. This might be one of those times where St. John didn't quite put it together at the time, but after the fact, he remembered, and it made more sense. After all, the others didn't react or sense anything out of the ordinary, when Jesus essentially told Judas to get it over with. And this would make sense with what we said earlier about when St. John probably wrote this Gospel: perhaps more than 50 years after the events he describes.

Many skeptics and scholars use this kind of evidence against St. John, as though because he were explaining the meaning of things after the fact, he must have created the meaning himself, after the fact. This seems unfair to me, because how many times when we are telling a story, do we say something like, "I didn't understand it at the time, but looking back, it makes so much sense"? If we do it, an ordinary man like St. John can do it, even when talking about the most important spiritual things. There's a tough balance I suppose, between asking tough questions of God, and of the Gospels, and not being open to being convinced, or even having any opinion, as long as it doesn't require faith. That's something that everyone has to wrestle with, from the most intelligent people in the world, all the way down to the ordinary person.

Judas took the morsel, and then he left. St. John tells us that it was night, and I don't think he was actually telling us about the time of day. I think he was using the metaphor of darkness to talk about the evil of what Judas was about to do. I'm just borrowing from great saints and thinkers on that one, so who am I to disagree?

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Jesus Explains the Foot-Washing (John 13:12-20)

 Jesus put all his garments back on, and then he sat back in his place. He asked them if they knew the meaning of what he had just done. According to the wording here, Jesus didn't wait for an answer; it was a rhetorical question. They called him, "Teacher," because that is something the students of a rabbi might call him in this time. "Lord" is more interesting, because when one of the disciples of Jesus uses this word in the Gospels, it tends to be a divine title. The ruling authorities at the time didn't miss this meaning, because it kept getting the members of the Church in trouble. The Romans thought their emperors at the time were divine, and they used the same word. On the other hand, in certain places in the Gospels, the word could mean simply, "Sir."

So Jesus takes all this, and says that if he is God, and King of Israel, and he nevertheless takes the place of a slave in order to serve them, that they should serve each other in the same way. This is another one of those times when the message of Jesus is one of radical equality, and without the background, we could completely miss it. Even those of us in the Church called to be ministers and preachers are not too important to sometimes take the very lowest place for the good of us all. In the end, we are a family. Even Jesus takes a lower place in relation to the Father, at least as it relates to the plan of salvation.

He says that he tells them he knows which of them will betray him, not to scare them, or trouble them, but to point out a prophecy about it, in the book of Psalms. The Psalm it comes from is ascribed to David, the great King of Israel, who ruled during the best times of Israel's history. The Psalms are his diary, in many ways, and they tell the story of what he felt, thought, and prayed, at the most difficult times of his coming to power, or being in power. Jesus is reminding them of David, because he wants them to understand that like David, he is a man after God's own heart, as David was described. And he will be the greatest of all Kings, in Israel, and for all of us. Also, Jesus says again that anyone who receives him receives the Father, who sent him.

Jesus Washes the Apostles' Feet in the Upper Room (John 13:1-11)

 We need to be aware that when we read the next five chapters of John's Gospel, (13-17) we are reading about Jesus alone with his apostles in the upper room of a house, preparing to celebrate the Passover. No one else is there. He says some of the most intimate and personal things to them in these next chapters.

In fact, right away Jesus does something which would be shocking to them: he washes their feet. Why is this shocking? In this culture, the duty of foot-washing, especially of important guests, fell to a slave. This is why Peter doesn't want Jesus to wash his feet. It would be completely humiliating for Jesus, if Jesus had an ego. He's trying to tell us something, and later he will make it even more clear.

What about the water? The washing seems pretty important. I think there are two things going on here. The first is that Jesus and his apostles introduced a new baptism, which was greater than the one given by John the Baptist. Remember, John the Baptist said this: "I baptize you with water in keeping with repentance, but one will come after me, who will baptize with the Holy Spirit, and with fire." So, I think John's baptism was perhaps one where you confessed sins and promised to do better--which we can see if we go back to read that part--but the forgiveness of all sins, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, comes with Christian baptism. (See also Acts 2:37-41.) In any case, this foot-washing may well have been the Christian baptisms for the apostles. We don't have any verses in any of the Gospels describing their baptisms. (You may also want to take a look at Mark 16:16, to understand the link between baptism and the forgiveness of sins.)

Secondly, whenever priesthood in Israel was transferred from one to the next, there was a ceremonial washing, much like a baptism. Now, this is going to be a little bit different, because Jesus remains the great high priest, and when he dies, he won't stay dead, so he isn't so much passing on his priesthood, as he is sharing it.

With Judas Iscariot of course, he didn't receive the benefit of the forgiveness of sins, because he had a bad will, as the one who intended to betray Jesus. It is true for us as well: the only way not to receive the forgiveness of sins and the grace by which it comes, is to knowingly refuse it. We can think of Michael Corleone, near the end of The Godfather, serving as a Godfather to his sister Connie's baby. Normally doing so is a renewal of one's own baptism, as the person renounces sin and Satan, on behalf of the child. But obviously the man who was orchestrating multiple murders was not renouncing sin! So Judas wasn't fooling anyone, at least not Jesus.

You'll notice St. John sometimes takes a moment to explain what something means. Not all the Gospel writers do this, or at least not quite as often. One of the reasons is that the leaders of the Church came to St. John near the end of his life, to ask him to write this Gospel. The other three, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, had been known. This Gospel is special, because St. John was very close to our Lord, as one of his closest friends on Earth. I think it's fair to say that St. John's Gospel was used especially to spread the message of Jesus beyond the borders of Israel.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Jesus Summarizes His Teaching (John 12:44-50)

 Jesus gives the credit and authority to God the Father in everything. This doesn't mean that Jesus has no power and authority; it just means that he submits to the Father, and sees himself as the Son of the Father, and the one the Father sent, nearly all the time.

Jesus says that anyone who sees him sees the Father. This question will come up later, because one of the apostles really wants to see the Father, and Jesus says that if you have seen him, you have seen the Father.

He also says that he is our Savior, more than our Judge. He says the Father will be the judge. Between saving and judging, we don't want to say that there is only saving in what Jesus does, but it seems clear enough that saving is more at the front of Jesus's mind and heart. I do believe that we could not possibly imagine the depth of Jesus's love for us. And the difficulty of keeping his commands doesn't change this. God will give us the power to obey what he commands. All we have to do is to accept that help, and to use it the best way we can. This is not the only time that Jesus says that his words are what the Father tells him to say. Therefore, if we have a problem with what we're being commanded to do, Jesus says we should take it up with the Father. Then he says that if we keep what he commands, we will receive eternal life.

Our true struggle will always be either against sin, and our tendency to sin, or simply the pride of believing that if we do well, it is because of our own efforts. I think we can see from these words here that God is actually giving us everything we need. Technically, we give to God nothing that he needs, but we offer back what he has first given to us: Himself, and His love, which are essentially the same thing, because God is love.

Monday, May 10, 2021

We Interrupt This Regularly Scheduled Program

 You get this question sometimes in a debate with an atheist: what if a fertility clinic was on fire, and there was also a five-year-old trapped in the building along with all the frozen embryos? Doesn't it make more sense to save the five-year-old? I suppose it is in service to some nebulous idea of "consciousness," that human rights are to be attached only to those who are conscious, and frankly, able to defend themselves. But let us posit a few things in the scenario. First, I will posit that the individual in the scenario only has the capacity to save one person. Furthermore, the five-year-old is equally vulnerable; that is, if you don't help her, she'll die, as certainly as all the embryos. There might be some aspect of our decision-making that says, "if I don't urgently assist the embryo to remain frozen, shortly after we escape from this situation, that person may die anyway," but it is a true no-win scenario, in the crucial fact that a person will die. And many will die. Therefore, the only completely unacceptable option would be to do nothing. It would be acceptable and commendable to save the five-year-old. It would also be acceptable and commendable to save one of the embryos.

Meanwhile, we are forgetting that human beings would die, regardless of any choice. It wouldn't be a hard case, if there were not tragedy attached to it. That's exactly why "double effect" ethical reasoning exists: in a true no-win scenario, one has to make the best of the terrible situation, according to one's own capacity to do good.

The reason why direct, intentional abortion is unacceptable in various medical nightmare scenarios is that one intends to kill the unborn child. If a mother chooses not to treat her cancer, knowing that she will die if she does not, in the hope of saving her child yet born, by giving her a chance to live, she's a hero. Isn't it still commendable to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others? But the logic of all elective abortion scenarios is that those who sacrifice themselves for the sake of that vulnerable other are the fools. I might describe that with certain words, but "heroic" would not be among them.

Even the doctor who consents to treat the woman with cancer, knowing with an almost near-certainty that an unborn child will die is not in the same moral position as a doctor who aborts the child, and then treats the cancer. The doctor in the first scenario here does not intend to kill the child. In fact, she hopes that somehow, the child may live, unlikely as that may be.

In the end, when we think about all these challenging ethical scenarios--some of which are quite real--we must ask ourselves about the meaning of our own lives. If the world is meaningless, and truly so, none of these ethical scenarios have any resonance whatsoever. In a consistent nihilism, every possible ethical choice would be the same morally: it would be of no account.

I still think that everybody should give the various incarnations of Star Trek a look. Though its creator Gene Roddenberry, was something of an "optimistic atheist," whatever that means, his television shows did explore real ethical challenges. This is so even if the writers of various stories did not see the best answer--or present the best answer--as the solution to the problem.

I can recall one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation which is endlessly fascinating to me. The scenario is similar to the one I began with in this post.

The young ensign, Wesley Crusher, was taking an entrance exam for Starfleet Academy. One of the tests was called the "psych test," where the administrators would discover your deepest fear or weakness, and devise a scenario to measure your response in a crisis. This is somewhat similar to the vaunted "Kobayashi Maru" command crisis scenario, from the original Star Trek films. In any case, the test designers knew that Wesley's father had died on a mission, because of a command decision by his commanding officer. They had also known that Wesley feared making a decision in such a no-win scenario. They fabricated an explosion in another room, and presented Wesley with the opportunity to only save one of two men who were trapped in the apparently fatal situation. One man was unwilling to accept Wesley's assistance, because of fear. Wesley saved the other man, presuming that all three of them would die, if he did not choose. The true answer to this, and to my original scenario in this post, is that you do what you are able, and lament the rest. We don't need to play "gotcha" games, because real life is tragic enough. People have to make these tough decisions every day; I don't know if scoring points against supposedly ignorant theists is worth giving flippant answers to hard questions. In addition, lurking in the background of all these debates are unquestioned assumptions about meaning and purpose. What is a person? What are people meant to do? What would be contrary to the human design, and to the human purpose? Those are bigger questions than many of us realize, and some of us may find that we're not actually ready to answer them. God's existence--or the alleged lack thereof--is just a funny curiosity to some. Maybe something you talk about for fun over sandwiches in your college dorm. For my part, it is an urgent question every single day: What is my purpose? What do I intend to do today, to help me fulfill that purpose?

If there is no purpose to the lives we lead, what really does it matter, if I happen to believe in some cosmic daddy in the sky? If we have no purpose, I might as well die, as soon as my circumstances or others fail to bring me pleasure in the measure that I determine. To put a crass point on it, this is why a good number of the existentialists killed themselves: optimistic nihilism doesn't exist. Once you run out of the capacity to convince yourself that existence is a trip to the carnival, there doesn't seem to be much point in hanging around.

I suppose I should say something hopeful, to wrap it up. It's just this: I believe in a good God, who created me, and all that we see. Whatever horrific suffering I may endure from now until the day that I die, I believe that he'll make it up to me. This is what St. Paul meant when he said, "for I consider that the sufferings of this present life are nothing, compared to the glory that will be revealed to us." If that's even partially true, then bring it on.

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Unbelief In Israel (John 12:37-43)

 One of the reasons why St. John quotes Isaiah here is that the Apostles and the rest of the Church were trying to explain why the Messiah had not been fully accepted by the people. One of the things they eventually saw—which is explained later by St. Paul—is that Israel’s rejection led to the acceptance of Jesus by non-Jews. The way they tended to think of it is that these outsiders were added on, not that they were God’s main concern.

There is still something special about receiving the Law, the prophets, and the wisdom. Even so, we shouldn’t think that unbelief is good, even if God brings good out of it. It’s a great mystery, because we are responsible for not believing, but God is responsible for all the good that comes from faith.

St. John seems to think that the One Isaiah saw was Jesus. Jesus doesn’t allow us to have a generic faith in God. He says at the end here that some of the Pharisees knew and believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but they were afraid to say it. We sometimes are just like them: we fear to speak the truth, because we fear people won't like and accept us.

Friday, May 07, 2021

One Last Sign (John 12:27-36)

Jesus knows of his coming death on the Cross, and he’s anxious about it. This is mysterious, given that He is God, but the Church long ago defined that Jesus has a human soul, and a human will. He has to submit himself to that divine knowledge, and to the Father’s plan.

He prays that God the Father would glorify His Name. The Father speaks, and this will not be the last time that Jesus prays out loud for our sake, and not his own. He and the Father have had lots of silent conversations, and we can, too.

Jesus says that the time for judgment on the world has come. When St. John says “world,” we should understand that to be everything in the universe that is opposed to God. He’s not opposed to the creation itself. In 1 John, he names everything opposed to God as, “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” But this helps us understand, “For God so loved the world...” from John 3. He loves His enemies, and makes them into friends.

Jesus says that after his resurrection from the dead, he will draw all men to himself. There is something about celebrating the Cross and resurrection that “preaches” to people. Jesus will do it himself. So whenever we seek Him, we do it not only for ourselves, but all who are dear to us. And the Cross says that everyone is dear to Jesus.

The dying and rising part wasn’t something the questioners were ready for. It does seem like Jesus is more humiliated than we might expect the Messiah to be.

These last words will be the last chance to hear Jesus, and accept Him. He’s still preaching, right up to the end.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Some Greeks Ask To See Jesus (John 12:20-26)

 Some Greeks come to the apostle Philip, and ask to meet with Jesus. He told Andrew, and they went together to tell Jesus. Jesus says the hour has come for him to be glorified, which means his death on the Cross. The way St. John uses the word "hour" is not necessarily about a time of day, or referring to 60 minutes. Instead, it usually means that something of great significance is about to occur. St. John and Jesus both know that how things may appear is different than how they are in reality. God attaches different meanings to things than we do at times.

Jesus uses the metaphor of the grain of wheat to talk about what will happen with him. He will die, but it will bear much fruit. The challenge that he then gives to us seems strange at first, but I think we know that a person who lives for others and serves them has a better life than someone who serves himself or herself. We can get a little bit worried about the word "servant," but truly, Jesus seems to connect service to friendship, and to love. He is inviting us to be his friend. If we are friend of Jesus, God the Father will honor us.

In the mind of St. John, and in the minds of other Israelites, there are only two kinds of people in the world: Jews and non-Jews. That's why this is here: everyone who is not a Jew is an outsider. St. John is hinting that soon, the message of Jesus will go to the whole world, not just to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (whom God calls "Israel.").

You'll notice that the Greeks never get to see Jesus. That's because the time for signs and interactions with people has ended. Everything that you will read now is the last week of the life of Jesus, at least on the side of the Cross.

The Apostles Understand Later (John 12:16-19)

 The disciples of Jesus didn't understand that prophecy from Zechariah at first, or how Jesus had fulfilled it. Like you and me though, sometimes we can only see the truth of something when looking back. And the Holy Spirit will come later, personally to each person, and He will help them understand.

Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead had caused a lot of people to believe in Jesus. Whether they would stay believers is another question, but the sign points to something, and the people were starting to recognize it.

Meanwhile, St. John says the Pharisees realized that they weren't going to be able to keep a lid on the movement surrounding Jesus. Faith in Jesus wasn't just going to die off.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Note To The Reader: End of Part I: The Book Of Signs

 All the way back near the beginning, I said that we could divide the Gospel of John into two parts: The Book of Signs, and The Book of Glory. "Signs" has a special meaning for St. John, and many of the disciples of Jesus. A sign lets you know that God has done something which points to a bigger truth. It could be a miracle, or some kind of gift, but those who witness it, or who experience it are supposed to see beyond the moment, and see the whole story, as well as their part in it.

"Glory" for St. John means Christ on the Cross. Even so, we can't think about the Cross without the resurrection of Jesus and his ascension back into Heaven.

Jesus did the signs we have seen in order to convince people that he is exactly who he said he was, and that he had been sent by the Father. Yet Jesus's whole mission rests upon his sacrifice on the Cross, and all that came after it. What would be the purpose, if God did miracles in order to tell people that he was here and active in the world, but he left His work unfinished? We are not free until death itself has been defeated. Like St. Paul will later say, if Christ has not been raised from the dead, our faith in him is pointless.

If you watch enough baseball, and a guy makes a terrible error in the field, like clockwork, he will very shortly come up to the plate to bat. The announcer will say, "He would like to atone for his error earlier," or something very similar. If he gets a big hit, he's made things right. The error from earlier doesn't matter. Therefore, when we talk about the "atoning sacrifice" of Jesus, we are talking about His work to make things right between all of us, and God the Father. There are some major disagreements among Christians about exactly how Jesus makes atonement, but the major point is that only Jesus can do it. We are acceptable in the sight of the Father because of the glory of Christ's work on the Cross. As we will see, it wasn't the most pleasant experience for Jesus, in human terms. But in terms of God's wider plan for you and me, Jesus embraced His Cross with great joy, and it brings him joy to know that we will receive him, and to take up our own crosses in life. When we really understand how much Jesus loves us, we understand that he would have died for me if I were the only one. This is the heart of love, and as we read the rest of the story, Jesus wants us to see it clearer and clearer.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

The Triumphal Entry (John 12:12-15)

 As Jesus was getting closer to Jerusalem, word got out to both the political and religious leadership, as well as the ordinary people. We could say that Jesus was significantly more popular with the average people--at least at times--than he was with his well-connected opponents.

That blessing and greeting there in verse 13 is the sort of thing that would be shouted at prophets and kings. St. John thinks that Jesus is fulfilling a prophecy from Zechariah. The exact quote is from Zechariah 9:9, but it is always a good idea to read the whole chapter, both before and after. If we were Israelites at this time, the most important question we would ask is whether Jesus and his disciples had correctly interpreted the prophets, the law of Moses, and even the wisdom literature--like Psalms and Proverbs for example--which are typically called "the writings."

Some people have grown up as Christians, and they've grown up in churches. In that way, it's really easy to take it for granted that of course, Jesus and all his disciples have correctly interpreted all the Hebrew Scriptures. I think it's wise to at least not take it too much for granted, although faith in Jesus affects how we read all the Scriptures, and that is good. The Bible as we have received it, from beginning to end, is a story of the children of Abraham, and it will be that way until the end of time.

If you get a chance to spend some time reading Zechariah and the other prophets, you can understand why people thought that the coming of the Messiah would be pretty violent. Much of the imagery is often war-like.

A Plot To Kill Lazarus (John 12:9-11)

 When Jesus did appear for the Passover, he drew a crowd. But some leaders had also heard that Lazarus would be there, the one whom Jesus raised from the dead. I suppose one way to eliminate the evidence of that miracle would be to kill Lazarus, but we never learn if anything came of it, or if certain people came close, but were stopped. These three verses are the only mention of this plot against Lazarus.

We are starting to see that the faith around the person of Jesus is going to change the religious practices of those who recognize him as the Messiah. It will be different enough from the faith demonstrated in the Old Testament that the people will be forever changed.

I recognize and lament how even the words of this Gospel have been used against Jewish people, even into this century, and in every century prior. It is my sincere belief that every person I meet is either a believer in Jesus, or a future believer in Jesus. Any efforts that I make to change a mind on that point--by the grace of God--will be free from violence, hatred, or pressure.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Jesus Is Anointed For Burial (John 12:1-8)

 We know from the end of chapter 11 that the religious leadership wants to arrest Jesus and put him to death. They thought the occasion of the Passover might be a good opportunity to get him.

Here in this section, St. John wants us to witness this anointing. Jesus is already the Anointed One--that's what "Christ" means--but this shows us that many of his disciples were at least beginning to understand that his death would have a special meaning.

Judas Iscariot doesn't actually care about the poor, as St. John explains. The answer Jesus gives is not an excuse to avoid serving the poor, but it does show us that Jesus is worthy of all that we have, and that we serve others in the strength of our love for Him. Jesus often praises the Father, and tells other people to do the same, but he never refuses honest worship offered to Him. The time that he was here with us, walking the earth, was special. Preparing Jesus for his burial cost nearly a year's wages. What might be important enough to you, in order to sacrifice a year's wages?

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Will Jesus Come To Jerusalem For The Passover? (John 11:55-57)

 If we turn back to Exodus 12, we can read about the institution of the Passover feast. This feast is a way for the people to participate in and commemorate God delivering the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, by means of the plague of the firstborn. The Angel of Death passed over any house which had the blood of the lamb spread upon the door posts. By this, God "knew" his own people, and spared them from his wrath.

The political and religious leaders must have figured that Jesus would travel to Jerusalem for the feast, and that being there, he would draw a lot of attention. It seems they thought that he wouldn't be too hard to find. They gave orders that anyone who knew where he was should tell them, so that they could arrest him.

Many people would travel from all the towns and villages, and even from all over the known world, to celebrate the Passover. All the feasts were important to the Israelites, but especially this one. If you look at the Psalms, you will see some marked as Psalms for singing when going to Jerusalem for a feast, and Psalms for singing when leaving Jerusalem after a feast. This gives you a little bit of an idea about people's religious practices, and the joy that usually came along with celebrating what God had done for His people.

Jesus: Messiah, Or Troublemaker? (John 11:45-54)

 Some of the people believed in Jesus, but much of the political and religious leadership did not. Also, they had positions to protect, which they believed they would lose, as many of the people believed in Jesus as the Messiah. The conspiracy against Jesus is an interesting one, because St. John doesn't think that the prophecy of the high priest is false. St. John wants us to believe that somehow God the Father will use this unjust scheme against Jesus for His own purposes. This might shed light on the mystery of why there is so much suffering in the world, if God is in control, and He is good. Even then, we spend most of our energy trying to endure the suffering, rather than explain it.

We can already begin to see that all the threads and all the roads in the life of Jesus will lead to the Cross. I don't think that Jesus avoided going around openly out of fear. I agree with Jesus and St. John that the Father has a specific plan for the unfolding of everything.

The high priest Caiaphas could not have known how true the words of his prophecy would become. One of the benefits of the virtue of hope is that it gives us strength to expect goodness from God, even when we experience suffering. In all this, Jesus will teach us, because he never stops praising the Father, no matter what he experiences.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Jesus Raises Lazarus (John 11:38-44)

 Jesus is still very emotional when he arrives at the cave where Lazarus is buried. He orders that the stone be removed. Martha asks him if he realizes that the smell is going to be bad after four days. Jesus, however, has the glory of God in mind. They take away the stone, and Jesus begins to pray. Jesus thanks the Father for hearing him, but he notes that the Father always hears him. He says that he's praying this prayer for the sake of the people watching, so that they might know that the Father sent him.

"Lazarus, come out." Lazarus comes to life again, and Jesus orders that they unbind the formerly dead man, and let him live his life.

I suppose there are a lot of us who have read this story before, and so we're used to it. But seriously, we don't hear stories of dead people coming to life again very often. And Jesus did it by His own power; it wasn't a mystery, or a quirky medical oversight. This was a bonafide miracle.

Even though this was not the resurrection of the dead at the end of time, I think this miracle points to it. Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Jesus Wept (John 11:28-37)

 After Martha confessed Jesus to be the Son of God who has come into the world, she left, going back home to get her sister Mary. Jesus was still outside of town, and Mary met him there, in the same place where Martha came to meet him.

People had seen Mary get up quickly to go somewhere, so they followed her.

When Mary said a similar thing to what Martha had said, that Lazarus would not have died if Jesus had been there earlier, the emotion of it moved Jesus deeply. He asked to see the grave, and where they had laid Lazarus. Jesus has a human soul, just like you and me. We know that it's tough to keep our emotional control, when our loved ones are very sad. Jesus went to the grave of Lazarus, and he wept. This is another of those great mysteries. I think that--given what Jesus is about to do--it is a mystery worth contemplating. Death is so wrong, and the sorrow so deep, that the Son of God couldn't tolerate it for even a moment. We should be mindful of this, when we are tempted to tell people that their grief over the death of a loved one is too much for us, or has gone on "too long."

The whole episode restarts a conversation among the people about the true identity of Jesus. We have seen this often, and I think St. John wants us to see it. He also wants the literal descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to know that they have a choice. It is not a betrayal of their forefathers to believe in Jesus; in fact, to believe is to truly honor those forefathers.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Jesus and Martha Speak (John 11:17-27)

 When Jesus got there, Lazarus had been dead four days. They surely had many friends, neighbors, and well-wishers to console them. Martha went out to meet Jesus, while Mary stayed in the house.

Martha believes enough in Jesus to wish that he had gotten there sooner. Maybe Lazarus wouldn't be dead. She still believes Jesus could do something, if he pleaded with God the Father. Jesus tells her that Lazarus will rise again, and she reasonably assumes that Jesus is talking about the resurrection of the dead at the end of time.

Jesus says, "I am the resurrection and the life," and it is bold. Jesus is trying to tell us that he doesn't just have something to do with what we hope for; He is what we hope for. Martha confesses Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of God.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Lazarus Dies (John 11:1-16)

 Lazarus was seriously sick, and his sisters Mary and Martha were obviously worried. Jesus knew them, and they may have been relatives. Jesus was informed by a message from the sisters that Lazarus was sick. The answer Jesus gives is strange, but they may have thought that Jesus knew Lazarus would survive.

Jesus does the strangest thing next, upon finding out that Lazarus is sick: he stays where he is, not going to Bethany, to help Lazarus. Then Jesus tells the disciples that it's time to go back to Judea. They respond like sensible people, reminding him that they left Judea so that the authorities would not stone Jesus to death. Jesus responds with a parable, or what seems like a parable, because he could be saying that the authorities could only try something underhanded under the cover of night. I think the Jesus is saying that if you walk by the Light, it doesn't matter what others try to do against you. Jesus is the Light of the world. If he is with us in and in us, we cannot stumble.

Then Jesus uses a metaphor for death, saying that Lazarus has "fallen asleep." The Church often speaks this way even today, because we believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Therefore, death is not the end that it seems to be, even if it hurts, and even if restoration will be a long time in coming.

The disciples didn't get it, of course, and they figured that Lazarus would wake up and be normal, as nearly all of us do each day. St. John kindly tells us that "fallen asleep" meant that Lazarus had died. Then Jesus told them plainly that Lazarus had died. Jesus says he is glad he wasn't there, so that the disciples might believe what Jesus is about to do, and therefore believe in him. Thomas, one of the disciples, is being a bit dramatic, and perhaps he thinks that whatever got Lazarus will get them, too.

I don't want to speculate and say that none of the apostles had any faith whatsoever, especially since we are often surprised by how God works beyond what we could ask or imagine. We could probably think of a problem that just seems too big for anyone to solve. In the quietness of our hearts, we might even admit our own unbelief that God could or would do anything about it. In any case, there are very few problems in this world bigger than death itself.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Getting Away, But Still Finding Followers (John 10:40-42)

 We don't really know if Jesus remaining in that place would have been harmful to him, but we know that he got away, so that they wouldn't arrest him. He went back to the place where John the Baptist was baptizing, and if you remember, that was basically the place where Jesus started his ministry, and announced himself to the world.

I think one of the reasons why St. John records the people saying that John the Baptist "did no sign" is to emphasize that John the Baptist was not testifying about himself; his whole purpose was to tell us about Jesus. (See John 3:29-30) Maybe being away from large crowds and the hostile leadership allowed people to judge for themselves about Jesus. And St. John tells us that many believed in Jesus there.

Jesus The Blasphemer? (John 10:31-39)

It's hard to miss that the opponents of Jesus believed him to be a blasphemer. They are supposed to stone anyone who commits blasphemy. Jesus wants the audience to look at the works he does, and by those works, to see the work of the Father, and the sending of the Son by the Father.

By quoting the Psalms here, Jesus is pointing out that the sons and daughters of God are like God, and we might seem like gods ourselves. The stakes are pretty high: if these leaders reject the Messiah, then we have a broken covenant, and God must again forgive. If Jesus is not telling the truth, we have no reason to be Christians. Christians adore Jesus as God, as the only-begotten Son of the Father.

I think a lot of people think being a Christian involves a lot of rules, and effort at good behavior. There is some of that, which is common in all religions. But the reason we pursue holiness is important. If God in Christ has redeemed us from sin and death, and the Father has made us part of his family by adopting us, we pursue goodness and holiness because He is holy, and we are His family, and His children.

In many places here in John and elsewhere, you have to make the case that Jesus claimed to be God. But given Jesus's own words recorded here in verse 36, and the fact that his enemies wanted to stone him for claiming to be God and the Son of God, our doubts about that particular question should be resolved. In verse 38, Jesus seems to be talking about that family relationship that he had with the Father, before he took on flesh to become our Savior. This is a great mystery, and it made things a little dicey for Jesus, but he escaped again.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Arguing on the Feast of Dedication (John 10:22-30)

 We know the Feast of Dedication more commonly as Hanukkah. There were several attempts to throw off the foreign domination suffered by Israel even after they came back into the land after the exile. Even in the time of Jesus, they had not fully succeeded.

The opponents of Jesus asked him to tell them plainly if he is the Christ, also known as the Messiah. He says he already told them, but they do not believe. In fairness, we have already seen that it takes a certain kind of spiritual sight to see Jesus as he intends us to see him. But once we know what Jesus and St. John are saying, then we are understanding Jesus in this spiritual way.

Jesus knows who his sheep are, and so he doesn't hesitate to speak bluntly with those who oppose him, knowing that they are not confused or misguided. We who are the sheep of Jesus will never be snatched out of his hand, and we will be given eternal life from him. He also says that no one can snatch us out of the Father's hand, either. Jesus repeats the idea that he is God, and that he is one with the Father in a special way that no one else is able to be. Once more, we should understand that what Jesus claims for himself would be blasphemy, if it were not true. Jesus is closer to the Father than anyone else could be, and when we come to the Father through him, we are invited to an intimacy with the Father which is new and deeper than the people would have experienced up to this time.

Jesus understands that it is all too human for people to dislike other people, based upon what they say, or how they say it. But when Jesus tells them to focus on the works he does, he is essentially saying, "You can't argue with results." God the Father is doing something through Jesus, and what we think about Jesus determines what we think about the Father. We might want to separate the two of them, but the eyewitnesses to Jesus are not going to let us off the hook so easily.

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.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Jesus and Abraham: The Conversation Continues (John 8:48-59)

 Jesus saying that his opponents were not "of God" didn't go over too well. In a time when demon possession was more recognized than it is today, "you have a demon" is pretty much the same as, "You're crazy."

Jesus denies that he has a demon, and speaks again about his relationship to the Father. What Jesus and St. John are doing is taking away the option of rejecting Jesus, and somehow worshiping the Father. Jesus says he does not seek his own glory, but that the Father does want to glorify Jesus.

Why is it that anyone who keeps the word of Jesus will never see death? It's because we receive eternal life by receiving Jesus, and eternal life is the opposite of death. Even when our bodies die, our souls will not.

It's actually a good question: "Are you greater than our father Abraham?" It's also a good idea to ask Jesus who he claims to be. As we read with an open mind and heart, we are actually having a conversation with Jesus about that question.

Jesus again says that he has no interest in glorifying himself. The glory he has is in a sense, glory that he has received from the Father. Jesus says that they do not know the God and Father they claim to worship.

He says that Abraham would have rejoiced to see Jesus there now, but he has seen it, in heaven. The opponents of Jesus actually ask another good question, because they know that the man standing before them is about 30, and Abraham lived more than 3000 years before this conversation took place. Even so, we remember that St. John has already told us that the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. Jesus took on a human nature, but he is a divine Person. The way that Jesus answers shows this, because when Moses asked God what His name is, God said, "I am who I am." Some of the translations of that phrase are a bit odd, but the meaning is that God is faithful, and does not change. Jesus knows exactly what he is doing. Therefore, it's not surprising that his opponents tried to stone him, because if Jesus were wrong, he would be guilty of blasphemy. Somehow he avoids the trouble, on this occasion.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Let Me Walk, And Chew Gum At The Same Time

 Governor Ralph Northam, Democrat of Virginia, outlawed the death penalty in his state today. Glory, glory, hallelujah! Let's have a sidebar.

You know, if you've never been a right-winger in America, you won't understand what it's like to put those pot-smoking, relativist, bleeding-hearts in their places, about whatever it is they overlook, especially abortion. I suppose I should say--again--that the philosophy and logic that underlies a pro-abortion position is still manifestly absurd. Whether it is driven by consequentialism, utilitarianism, or some combination of things, a human being cannot be intentionally destroyed, for convenience, "liberty," or any number of unworthy reasons.

The next thing that is almost required to be said is that capital punishment and abortion are not alike, even if we reach a point where we do not accept either one.

The Catholic Church--putative guardian of what makes for a good human life well lived--has recently stated its opposition to capital punishment in even stronger terms than it had previously. If I struggled in any sense to conform my mind to its thought on the matter, I might describe the most recent formulation of the question as "clever." But in my experience, I had reasoned to a place of steadfast opposition, well before holy Church had clarified its position.

It is notable that many observers noticed that she did not describe capital punishment as "intrinsically evil," which would have meant that every sentence of this nature imposed in the past would have been unjust, and rightly so. I am by no means a brilliant theologian, but it goes without saying that the Catholic Church would have a serious problem on its hands, if it implicated itself dogmatically in something that it had proclaimed to be everywhere and always wrong. It's hard enough for Catholics to defend themselves, without creating obvious and irreconcilable contradictions. Which is to say that a gradual realization that capital punishment is inconsistent with upholding the dignity of all persons made in the image of God--especially in the current situation--makes more sense than to pronounce upon all past situations, as if we had known everything we know now.

In my limited understanding and intellect, I don't think anyone has intended to pronounce upon what a known guilty murderer deserves; the most relevant question is, "Is taking such a person's life a matter of strict moral necessity?" What does it cost us, to show even the smallest amount of mercy, in such a case?

Furthermore, I think it has been persuasively argued that the present system of the death penalty in even the vaunted United States of America, costs everyone else involved dearly, in the maintenance of their own dignity and well-being, to say nothing of what we do to the image of God in those condemned.

I have often said that the book "Dead Man Walking" by Sister Helen Prejean, should be required reading for all of those interested in this question. Not everything she throws against the wall sticks, as it were, but most of it does. I think the most proper response to that account is sadness, and anger. I still feel the loss of Patrick Sonnier, and it seems that I should, though obviously we never met, and he was as guilty as anyone you could find.

It challenged me, in ways I did not expect. Do I really believe that forgiveness is possible, and that ultimate forgiveness is desirable for every person? Is there some injustice that could be committed against me, which would cause me to deny the inherent human dignity of the person who committed that offense? What is the goal of the criminal justice system? Are the means we use ordered to that end?

These are good questions, and all of them deserve concrete answers, even if the questions are posed by bleeding-heart, pot-smoking hippies.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Children of Father Abraham (John 8:39-47)

This section is an argument about Abraham, and who has been faithful to the message that Abraham received. In one sense, everyone in this audience was literally a descendant of Abraham. On the other hand, after St. John says that Jesus came to his own, but his own did not receive him (1:11) he adds, "But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." (1:12-13) Jesus invites and challenges the audience to be like Abraham, by believing in him. It goes without saying that trying to kill Jesus isn't compatible with receiving Jesus.

You can almost hear the tension, when Jesus suggests that Abraham is not their father. They pick up on it, too, because they protest that they were born out of wedlock. Then they say that their true Father is God. Jesus disputes this, because he says that if God were their Father, they would receive him, because Jesus came from the Father, and was sent by Him. Everything Jesus says here is quite mysterious and spiritual, but they don't hear it, because Jesus says they don't want to hear it.

Then Jesus says that they are children of the devil, which is not necessarily the way to win friends, and influence people. Then again, we should remember that Jesus knows exactly when he is wasting his words. Much of what he says here, as recorded by St. John, is for us, not for the original audience. Jesus reminds us that Satan is a liar, and the father of lies. When he lies, he speaks his first language. Jesus says that those who are born of God will listen to him. Jesus concludes that this audience will not listen, because they are not born of God. He also challenges them to prove that he has committed a sin, and they can't do it. 

The Truth Will Make You Free (John 8:31-38)

 It seems that there was a small group of Israelites that had believed and followed Jesus, but maybe they were getting pushback for doing that. I think Jesus is saying also that we have to continue in the grace that we have been given.

The mystery is why the children of Israel have not received Jesus. St. John mentions this all the way back in 1:11. This is a mystery that we don't really start to get an answer to, until St. Paul considers it in his letter to the Romans. In any case, Jesus offers a close relationship to him to every person, regardless of their ethnicity. That had been the Father's will all along. Being a friend and disciple of Jesus can break any power of sin, even if we are "enslaved" to a sin, or to many sins.

It is the divine power of Jesus that makes us free. Jesus again mentions his intimate relationship with the Father, which stirs opposition. Jesus knows that his fiercest opponents here aren't listening to God at all. He will go on to make the argument that Abraham would receive and listen to Jesus.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Jesus Speaks About His Death (John 8:21-30)

Jesus knows that he is speaking to his most hostile audience. This is why he doesn't speak directly and obviously right here. Most of the time, Jesus doesn't say, "you will die in your sin." In this case, Jesus must have an insight into the hearts of the people he's talking to.

Jesus mentions again that he is not from the earth, but that he has come from heaven. This of course sounds absurd to the hearers, but Jesus tells the truth, even if it is in a strange way. Jesus is again speaking about his special relationship to the Father. Jesus always does and says what is pleasing to the Father.
Jesus mentions being "lifted up," and this reminds us of his conversation with Nicodemus in chapter 3. Jesus will be lifted up on the cross to die. He will rise again, and ascend into heaven. That's why his questioners here won't be able to find him. Remember also that "Son of Man" comes from the prophecy of Daniel. It's a divine title. Jesus is not hiding anything, but we have to be able to hear and see in a spiritual way.

There must have been a gift of grace for some of the people, because it says that many believed, when Jesus said these things. It's the same for us: if God is giving us the grace to believe these unique spiritual sayings from Jesus, we have an opportunity to fully receive what he is saying. Even if other people think we are crazy, people thought Jesus was crazy as well.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Epistemic Questions About Intersectionality, and Its Hierarchies

 I tread lightly, because this discussion takes place after the brutal murder of eight Asian-Americans by a white shooter near Atlanta, Georgia. I certainly join all of the condemnations, and I am not afraid to examine the insularity and privilege which allows these sorts of things to happen.

I simply have a question or two--perhaps more--for the progressive framework which has given us "intersectionality," "white privilege," and other terms. Does the framework intend to say that white males, for example, are always in the position of an oppressor? Does the framework intend to say that certain subgroups of people are always in the position of the oppressed? If the answer to either or both of these questions is "yes," then how might a white male have access to truth that he was not given? In other words, does privilege prevent the man's access to truth that is ascertained by reason? Does the framework allow for shared access to the truth known by reason, or must he be given "truth" by those he oppresses?

I would willingly concede that something like a racist structure could persist, despite the good intentions of all people involved in an interaction or conversation. I also willingly concede that people of color face disadvantages because of long-lasting racism, reflected in concrete policies to prevent equality, especially with respect to education, and wealth.

But I asked these questions because the framework seems at the extremes to mimic the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity, with the result that no one is able--if he falls in a certain privileged category--to attain peace and blessedness until he has access to something revealed beyond his natural capacity. Any framework--whether sociopolitical or theological--that posits a permanent subjugation of any individuals or groups, and further, that the putative oppressed and oppressor cannot share or dispute anything in common, is by definition epistemic skepticism.

It can be an act of love, in any sort of discussion or debate, to tell an interlocutor that he or she is not seeing something that they ought to see. This can be helpful. This is much different than asserting that someone is unable to see something, because of their privilege. The latter claim is rooted in emotivism, the idea that the claims of any speaker are rooted not in the desire for truth, but in the desire for power. It is for the advocates of certain frameworks of intersectionality and white privilege to decide whether the creation of the frameworks is rooted in the desire for power, or in the desire for the truth. Anything that terminates exclusively in the will to power should be seen for the aggression that it is.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Jesus, The Light Of The World (John 8:12-20)

 Light and darkness is a constant theme for St. John in this Gospel. If you want, you can go back to my thoughts on the prologue at the very beginning to see this. That's St. John talking directly to the readers, in a sense before he begins to tell us the story of Jesus. Even there, St. John wants us to know that he believes Jesus is the light of the world. In this section, Jesus tells us himself.

Jesus and the Pharisees get into an argument about the authority of Jesus's testimony, because everyone in the discussion is aware of what the law given to Moses says about the importance of witnesses. Jesus again reminds the listeners that he has been sent by the Father. For Jesus, this would be enough, but he had also previously said that his own works bear witness to his identity. In other words, according to Jesus as recorded by St. John, Jesus has provided enough evidence to be trusted and listened to. It is up to each of us to decide what we think about the most important question: is Jesus God, and the Son of God, sent by the Father?

The opponents of Jesus wanted to arrest him then, but "his hour had not yet come." Here again is the mystery of the Father's plan. We will see soon enough that Jesus will not walk free, and as unjust as that was and is, it has a purpose. The Father will use the injustice of the cross to save you, me, and everyone from our sins. Not only from the guilt of our sins, but from their power in our lives. And it is never too late, as long as we live, to begin again.

Empty Rhetoric, And The Precipice

I do not intend to say that there are no valid concerns about the influence of giant multinational corporations over the national and international interest. What I do intend to say is that as long as tech companies are governed by wealthy, mostly white, educated liberals and progressives, there will be plenty of resentment that can be repackaged as fears about corporate influence. The Republican Party is still driven by populism on the one hand, and resentment toward urban white liberals and progressives on the other. Unless and until some trust-busting instincts issue forth in policy prescriptions, I'm calling this out as dishonest.

And this populism does have a tinge of racism, if not more than a tinge. You can't absorb the old Democratic "solid South," change nothing, and not be held back by regressive racial attitudes. The fault comes in for the political organization when you lean into it intentionally.

That's what conservatives--whatever that means, anyway--are going to have to wrestle with: Do you want to be associated with something that primarily stands for the prevention of a multiracial participatory democracy? To put it more plainly, a political party that stands or falls at the present moment upon making it harder for people to vote--especially when making explicit efforts to restrict those who it knows are unlikely to support it--is an obscenity against any form of representative government.

Fear of the other, and an extreme negative partisanship, are the most likely explanations for what is going on. The state of Georgia right now is considering a bill to make it a crime to hand out food and water to those who stand in line on election day. It is unconscionable, and indefensible. They are also moving to restrict voting on Sundays in the early voting period, knowing that Black churches organize to vote on that day. Democratic turnout swung Georgia for Joe Biden in the presidential election. A political party that completely surrenders the notion of persuasion in elections, but resorts to cheating--and that is what it is--is no longer a political party, but a cadre. And I won't even notionally be a part of it. You can say whatever you want about policy at the high levels of the Democratic Party. We can talk about anything you want, from abortion and sexual politics, on down the line, and I would probably agree with you. But the GOP no longer functions as a political party in any meaningful sense.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Go And Sin No More (John 8:1-11)

 If you're paying attention, you notice that the transition from 7:53 to 8:1 is in the middle of a sentence. In fact, many scholars doubt that St. John wrote this at all. It is not in the oldest manuscripts--handwritten copies--of the New Testament that we have. In some other copies, it appears in other Gospels. Even so, the Church has received this, and considers it part of St. John's Gospel.

As I recall, anyone and everyone who was caught in adultery was supposed to be stoned, according to the law. So right away, we notice that these leaders are going to give the man a break, and pin it all on the woman. So Jesus was going to ignore this farce for as long as he could. St. John also tells us that they asked him the question in order to trap him, but that obviously isn't going to work.

The way that Jesus answers is deeper than it first appears. This is not just a sentimental story about Jesus giving a break to a woman caught in adultery. Every Israelite knew as each new year came around that the community would commemorate the Day of Atonement, when the high priest would enter the holy place of the temple and make a sacrifice once a year for the sins of everyone in Israel. But maybe even they knew that the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin. After all, if the blood of bulls and goats could take away sin, why would they have to repeat it? So when Jesus says, "Let him who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her," he is pointing out that even on the most solemn day of the whole year, everyone is still guilty. Jesus never says that what she did is acceptable, but he puts it in perspective. We can judge conduct, and we can judge ourselves, but we should be very careful about making a final judgment about anyone else. That's what it means when St. John is using the word "condemn" here: we know that someone who is condemned is going to die. They are a murderer; that is what they are. A lot of people don't have time for nuance and explanations when it comes to people who have done bad things. Jesus is saying that God always has time to see us for more than what we have done, especially when we have done the wrong things. He tells her not to sin again, and she goes on her way. This is the definition of mercy, because she didn't deserve it. True mercy acknowledges wrongdoing, and offers relief from some of the consequences. May we be people of truth, and abundant mercy, because we know that God has been merciful to us.

Candyland Is Pointless

 Did you know that there isn't even luck or chance in Candyland? The outcome is determined before you start. I made the mistake of saying that it was pointless, and someone said it was "deterministic," not pointless. He went on to say that "pointless" was a value judgment. You don't say?

I guess if you really think about it, you can figure out my views on the weirdly popular, evergreen debate in theology, with respect to God's sovereignty, and humanity's free will. Even the strict Thomists have to be careful, in my book.

You may be asking yourself, "If he doesn't like determinism, why does he watch the same movie over and over again?" I don't know, really. But it wasn't determined before it was made. And if you haven't seen it, it's not determined for you. Suppose I just like a happy story. Or at least a redemptive one. If you want to call me a hypocrite, that's fine, but at least I won't be a programmed hypocrite.

I also have very defined and passionate food preferences, which is probably a manifestation of, "By golly, I'm not in control of much, but I'm going to control something!" I might as well be unguarded for a moment.

Sometimes ignorance really is bliss. It kind of ruined the cereal for me, when I found out that Trix is all the same flavor, regardless of the color or shape. Don't take a food science course, if you like your breakfast cereal. And don't ask me to play Candyland.

Friday, March 12, 2021

I'm Not Superstitious. But I Am Just A Little Bit Stitious.

 Every time there is a major sporting event that I really want to see, I have Bible study, or some other Jesus-related event. And I mean every time. [That's because you watch every major sport, and most of the minor ones, you dimwit.--ed.]

Moreover, when I do exercise my choice to watch the game, or a match of my favorite athlete Roger Federer, seemingly they always lose. It's to the point where Tim Butler says, "You sure you want to do that? You ruined their season last time." I'm supposed to know things about correlation and causation, but I tell you, part of the reason I skipped the game last night (my alma mater's basketball team) is that I didn't want them to lose. They won.

This is barking nuts, I know. But if it happens often enough, you at least start to get the idea that Jesus really doesn't want you to skip Bible study, or anything else involving Him, for that matter. I think, "Sheesh, Lord, you don't have to ruin it for everyone, just to get my attention. Couldn't you just tell the Holy Spirit to make me feel really bad about skipping?" Then again, I don't think God is as committed to guilt trips as we think he is. Even so, I skipped the game, and it apparently worked! Hey, don't knock it till you try it.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

The Giver of Living Water (John 7:37-53)

 Jesus knew that the last day of a feast is incredibly important. That's usually when the celebrating actually takes place. He says we should come to him and drink the rivers of living water. It reminds us of his conversation with the woman at the well back in chapter 4. Also, over in St. Matthew's Gospel, in 5:6, Jesus says, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied." In Isaiah chapter 55, Isaiah speaks about this hunger and thirst. Jesus is "a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples." St. John wants us to know that Isaiah's prophecy is beginning to come true in Jesus.

St. John just tells us that this "living water" is from the Holy Spirit, and truly, the living water is the Holy Spirit. Then St. John tells us about the plan as it is going to unfold. The special empowering gift of the Holy Spirit given to all of us cannot be received in this way until Jesus has finished his work.

Once more, we see the division among the people, in terms of what they believe about Jesus. The officers who tried to arrest Jesus must have been impressed by something he said, or at least they thought he had not said or done anything worthy of arrest.

Nicodemus, who came to see Jesus in chapter 3, tries to press the leaders to be fair, and to hear Jesus out. Nicodemus unfortunately hoped that reason and fairness would prevail, and it did not. It was never going to be a fair trial, once Jesus was on trial.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Who Is This Jesus? (John 7:25-36)

 Some of the people knew that Jesus had begun to get an infamous reputation, and that some of the leaders wanted to kill him. Maybe they were taken aback by his gentleness, or they wondered why the leadership would hesitate, if they were so set in their opinions against Jesus.

Some leaders thought they knew where Jesus had come from, because they knew his family. They could not account for his special knowledge, which he did not get from studying; he got it from His divine nature. Jesus once more speaks of his special relationship with the Father, and that he is the one whom the Father has sent. To say this is not very prudent, because it is not an accepted custom for an Israelite to speak about God so intimately. St. John tells us that the reason why the leaders could not lay hands on Jesus is that his hour had not yet come. This means that everything that will happen in Jerusalem is a spiritual mystery that will unfold according to the Father's plan, and not a moment before.

Some holy citizens start to recognize that the coming of the Messiah will bring miracles, and they ask the natural question, "Will the Messiah do more miracles than this man?" It's a good question. It's not necessarily the case that every miracle worker is the Messiah, but it was generally believed that a person who did miracles was most likely sent by God for some purpose.

As you might expect, growing support for Jesus among the people did not go over well with the religious and political leadership of the nation. Jesus is well aware of what is happening, but he also knows that they won't succeed in arresting him until the Father permits it. He is speaking in a spiritual way about his death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. But again, without the grace to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, everything Jesus says would sound completely crazy.

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.