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.