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.