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"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, con
cerning the word of life -- the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it ...." I John 1:1-2 (RSV)

"After his resurrection the disciples saw the living Christ, whom they knew to have died, with the eyes of faith (oculata fide)." Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, III, 55, 2 ad 1, as quoted in D. M. Stanley, Jesus in Gethsemane (New York, Paulist Press 1980).

Monday, July 30, 2012

Jesus and Paul - Part 4

John Gresham Machen - Defender of the Faith. To finish up with this series of posts on Jesus and Paul I am once again pleased to rely upon Professor John Gresham Machen's  The Origin of Paul's Religion (New York MacMillan 1921) (hereafter Machen)  available here.    A common theme of unbelievers is that Paul championed a faith which he created.   They claim that Paul does not refer to the teaching of Jesus or to his earthly  deeds, and therefore he created a religion based on a "Christ" created from his own psychological experiences  rather than a faith based on the Jesus of history.     In this and the previous two posts we see Machen defeat these arguments  with confidence and grace.  And Machen makes his points with clear writing which the general reader can understand.  I am most grateful to Machen for his clearly stated defense of our faith.

Sermon on the Mount.  Before launching into Machen, I would like to mention a reflection of my own on this subject of Jesus and Paul, comparing his epistles to the four Gospels.  We have an image of Paul as the one  who proclaimed Jesus as "Lord over all" (Rom. 10:12).   But  Jesus himself does that as well, as noted below.   (See section below highlighted as 'Divine Jesus in the Gospels.')  Yesterday I was listening (on audio CD)  to Pope Benedict XVI's discussion of the Sermon on the Mount, from his book Jesus of Nazareth Vol. 1 (Ignatius Press 2007).   I was fascinated by the discussion of  Matthew chapter 5,  where, the Pope argues, Jesus creates a complete  reformulation of  the law of Moses and  he concludes:   Only God can do that.  (Jesus also  made it clear that with this teaching  he was not abolishing the law of Moses  (Matt 5:17).) 
People normally think of the Sermon on the Mount as wisdom teaching from Jesus on how to live for God, and it is that. But listening to Jesus' re-working of the law saying, "You have heard it said, but what I tell you is this," the people hear more than a wisdom teacher (Matt 5: 21,27, 31, 33, 38, 43).  They hear him who has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18).   In  the middle of this wisdom teaching,  they hear this reformulation of the law of Moses, and it shocked them.   One reason why the people  were "astonished"  at his teaching (Matt 7:28), no doubt, was because in this teaching he had taken authority over the law of God..

Why all this quoting of Machen?    In many respects, making connections between Paul and Jesus is not rocket science.   Paul's conversion comes just a few short years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Common sense  tells you that a Jewish scholar who was interested in Jesus, and who lived  in the same era as Jesus would have picked up all kinds of information about him.   So why these four posts looking at this subject more closely?
It's personal for me. In my early years as a student of the Bible, Paul was my main teacher, as I have noted in this blog.     From that experience I almost  feel as though I know St. Paul, as a friend and guide.   In recent years my attention has turned to the four Gospels, although attention to the Gospels does not have to mean neglect of the epistles.    But with my interest in the Gospels, and my history of looking to Paul for as a kind of spiritual director,  I have a natural interest in knowing what St. Paul, thought of the what we now see in our four Gospels.    Yes, I know.    When Paul was writing, the Gospels had not yet been written.  But what did Paul know of the words and deeds of Jesus which were taught by the eyewitnesses in Jerusalem, and which later became the four Gospels?   Because of the huge respect that I have for Paul,  I want to understand how Paul likely would have come to learn of Jesus' earthly life.    For this kind of reflection on the connections between Paul and Jesus, Machen has been most helpful to me 

Jesus' Direct Revelation to Paul. Paul proclaims that he received a direct revelation of "the gospel" from Jesus himself. Galatians chapter 1.   (In the last two posts, I noted Machen's comments that this gospel was accepted by the Jerusalem church, and was nothing new. See also  Galatians 2:1-10.) This direct revelation by Jesus to Paul on the road to Damascus is a fact of history.   Paul's presentation of the gospel did not depend on detailed information about the words and deeds of Jesus.    Machen states in this amazing section of the book that, while information about Jesus' earthly life would have come to Paul from the witnesses who saw Jesus' deeds and and heard his words,   Paul received the gospel itself directly from the risen Jesus:
Bare detailed information about the words and deeds of Jesus did not in Paul's mind constitute a "gospel"; they constituted only the materials upon which the gospel was based. When he says, therefore, that he did not receive his gospel from men he does not mean that he received no information from Peter or Barnabas or Mark or James or the five hundred brethren who had seen the risen Lord. What he does mean is that he himself was convinced of the decisive fact—the fact of the resurrection—not by  the testimony of these men, but by the divine interposition on the road to Damascus, and that none of these men told him how he himself was to be saved or what he was to say to the Gentiles about the way of salvation. Materials for the proof of his gospel might come to him from ordinary sources of information, but his gospel itself was given to him directly by Christ. Machen at 146.

Few Quotes of the Words of Jesus. Machen here deals with the fact that Paul makes few direct references to the words of Jesus:
In answer to this question it must be admitted that direct citations in the Pauline Epistles of words of Jesus, and direct references to the details of Jesus' life, are surprisingly few. In 1 Cor. vii. 10, Paul appeals to a command of the Lord about divorce, and carefully distinguishes such commands from what he himself is saying to the Corinthians (verses 12, 25). In 1 Cor. ix. 14, he calls attention to an ordinance of the Lord to the effect that they that proclaim the gospel should live of the gospel. In these passages it cannot be doubted that the commands of "the Lord" are commands that Jesus gave during His earthly ministry; they are certainly not commands given to Paul by the risen Christ. For the words which Paul himself wrote to his churches, by virtue of his apostolic authority, themselves constituted commands of the Lord in the broad sense, in that the authority of the Lord was behind them (1 Cor. xiv. 37); here, therefore, when such apostolic commands are distinguished from commands of the Lord, the commands of the Lord must be taken in a narrower sense. They can only be commands given by Jesus during His earthly ministry.  Machen at 146.
And here dealing with the Eucharist, Machen discusses the reference by Paul to the words of Jesus, where Paul clearly relies on information from the eyewitnesses of Jesus, even making references to the detail of the betrayal of Jesus:
Most important of all, however, is the report of the institution of the Lord's Supper in 1 Cor. xi. 23ff. The report is' introduced by the words, "For I received from the Lord that which also I delivered unto you." What does Paul mean by the expression "received from the Lord"? Does he mean that the information was given him directly by the risen Christ, or that he received it by ordinary word of mouth from the eyewitnesses? The former interpretation has been favored in the first place by some who occupy a strictly supernaturalistic point of view, to whom therefore it does not seem strange that the risen Christ should give to His apostle even detailed information about past events; it has also been favored by some who start from naturalistic presuppositions, and, regarding Paul as a mystic and a visionary, seek to separate him as far as possible from historical tradition about Jesus. But from either of these two points of view the interpretation is unsatisfactory. Why should the risen Christ give to His apostle detailed information which could be obtained perfectly well by ordinary inquiry from the eyewitnesses? Such revelation would be unlike the other miracles of the Bible. God does not rend the heaven to reveal what can be learned just as well by ordinary word of mouth. But this interpretation is equally unsatisfactory from the naturalistic point of view. Did Paul really suppose the risen Christ to have given him all this detailed information about the night of the betrayal and the rest? How could such a visionary experience be explained? The only possible answer, on naturalistic presuppositions, would be that the vision merely made use of materials which were already in Paul's mind; Paul already had information from the eyewitnesses about the Supper, but after he had forgotten whence he had received the information it welled up again from his subconscious life in the form of a vision. This explanation involves a psychological absurdity. The area of Paul's consciousness was not so limited as it is represented in modern reconstructions as being. If Paul received information from the eyewitnesses about what Jesus said and did on the night of the betrayal, we can be sure that he remembered the information and remembered where he had got it. It was not necessary for him to receive it all over again in a vision. Machen at 148.
Character of Jesus.  Paul's references to the character of Jesus also show that he was well aware of his words and deeds:
Moreover, the references of Paul to Jesus' life concern not merely details; some of them also attest warm appreciation of Jesus' character. The character of Jesus is indeed, according to Paul, exhibited primarily by the great central act of love by which He came to earth to die for the salvation of men. In Phil. ii. 5ff., the unselfishness of Christ, which is held up for imitation by the Philippian Christians, is found no doubt primarily in the incarnation and in the Cross; in Gal. ii. 20, the love of Christ, upon which the faith and the gratitude of believers are based, is found in the one great fact of Christ's death ("who loved me and gave himself for me"). But there are also passages in the Epistles which show that Paul was impressed with the character of Jesus not only as it was manifested by the incarnation and by the atoning death, but also as it appeared in the daily life of Jesus throughout His earthly ministry. The plainest of such passages, perhaps, are 2 Cor. x. 1 and Rom. xv. 2, 3. When Paul speaks of the meekness and gentleness of Christ, he refers evidently to the impression which Jesus made upon His contemporaries; and when he says that Christ "pleased not himself" but bore reproaches patiently, he is evidently thinking not only of the gracious acts of incarnation and atonement but also of the conduct of Jesus from day to day. In 2 Cor. viii. 9 ("though He was rich yet for your sakes He became poor"), although the reference may be primarily to the poverty of any human life as compared with the glories of the preexistent Christ, yet the peculiar choice of words is probably due to the details of Jesus' life of hardship; Paul would hardly have spoken in this way if Jesus while He was on earth had lived in the magnificence of an earthly kingdom. Even in Phil. ii. 7, though the "form of a servant" refers primarily to human existence as distinguished from the glories of heaven, yet there seems to be also an impression of the special humility and poverty of Jesus' earthly life; and the Cross is put as the climax of an obedience which appeared also in Jesus' life as a whole (verse 8). Back of these passages there lies warm appreciation of Jesus' character as it appeared in the days of His flesh.  Machen at 150. 
Unstated Knowledge of the Earthly Jesus.  Machen explains that we can safely assume that Paul knew a great deal about the earthly Jesus, even though that knowledge is not presented in the epistles:
Undoubtedly, moreover, Paul knew far more about Jesus than he has seen fit, in the Epistles, to tell. It must always be remembered that the Epistles do not contain the missionary preaching of Paul; they are addressed to Christians, in whose case much of the primary instruction had already been given. Some things are omitted from the Epistles, therefore, not because they were unimportant, but on the contrary just because they were fundamental; instruction about them had to be given at the very beginning and except for special reasons did not need to be repeated.   Machen at 151. 
Machen argues  that St. Paul no doubt included words and deeds of Jesus  in his "fundamental teaching"  which we do not see in the epistles: 
Thus the incidental character of Paul's references to the life and teaching of Jesus shows clearly that Paul knew far more than he has seen fit in the Epistles to tell. The references make the impression of being detached bits taken from a larger whole. When, for example, Paul says that the institution of the Lord's Supper took place on the night in which Jesus was betrayed, he presupposes on the part of his readers an account of the betrayal, and hence an account of the traitor and of his position among the apostles. So it is in other cases where Paul refers to the life and teaching of Jesus. The references can be explained only as presupposing a larger fund of information about the words and deeds of Jesus. Unquestionably Paul included in his fundamental teaching an account of what Jesus said and did.
Indeed, if he had not done so, he would have involved himself in absurdity. As J. Weiss has pointed out with admirable acuteness, a missionary preaching which demanded faith in Jesus without telling what sort of person Jesus was would have been preposterous. The hearers of Paul were asked to stake their salvation upon the redeeming work of Jesus. But who was this Jesus? The question could scarcely be avoided. Other redeemers, in the pagan religion of the time, were protected from such questions; they were protected by the mists of antiquity; investigations about them were obviously out of place. But Paul had given up the advantages of such vagueness. The redeemer whom he proclaimed was one of his own contemporaries, a Jew who had lived but a few years before and had died the death of a criminal.  Machen at 152 (footnote and citation omitted).

Resurrection and the Eucharist.  Why, then, does Paul bother discussing such "primary" information as the resurrection in I Cor. 15, and the Eucharist in in Cor. 11?  Machen points out that we have  this tremendous teaching on these two subjects only because  misunderstandings  arose in Corinth that required Paul to deal with them:
Except for certain misunderstandings which had arisen at Corinth, for example, Paul would never have set forth in his Epistles the testimony by which the fact of the resurrection of Jesus was established; yet that testimony, he says, was fundamental in his missionary preaching. If it were not for the errorists at Corinth we should never have had the all-important passage about the appearances of the risen Christ. It is appalling to reflect what far-reaching conclusions would in that case have been drawn by modern scholars from the silence of Paul. So it is also with the account of the institution of the Lord's Supper in 1 Cor. xi. 28ff. That account is inserted in the Epistles only because of certain abuses which had happened to arise at Corinth. 
Elsewhere Paul says absolutely nothing about the institution of the Supper; indeed, in the Epistles other than 1 Corinthians he says nothing about the Supper at all. Yet the Lord's Supper was undoubtedly celebrated everywhere in the Pauline churches, and no doubt was grounded everywhere in an account of its institution. Thus the resurrection appearances and the institution of the Lord's Supper, despite the fact that they were absolutely fundamental in Paul's teaching, appear each only once in the Epistles. May there not then have been other things just as prominent in Paul's teaching which are not mentioned at all? These two things are mentioned only because of the misunderstandings that had arisen with regard to them. Certain other things just as important may be omitted from the Epistles only because in their case no misunderstandings had happened to arise. It must always be remembered that the Epistles of Paul are addressed to special needs of the churches. It cannot be argued, therefore, that what is not mentioned in the Epistles was not known to the apostle at all.  Machen at 151-152.  
Divine Jesus in the Gospels.  Machen sums up stating that Paul's presentation of Jesus as divine does not differ from the Gospels, which also present Jesus as divine: 
The presumption is, therefore, that Paul was a true disciple of Jesus. He regarded himself as a disciple; he was so regarded by his contemporaries; he made use of Jesus' teaching and example. But is this presumption justified? Was it the real Jesus whom Paul followed? The question can be answered only by a comparison of what is known about Paul with what is known about Jesus.  ... 
But at the very beginning of the comparison, a fundamental difficulty arises. How may Jesus be known? Paul is known, through his own letters. But how about Jesus? The sources of information about Jesus are the four Gospels. But are the Gospels trustworthy?
If they are trustworthy, then it will probably be admitted that Paul was a true disciple of Jesus. For the Gospels, taken as a whole, present a Jesus like in essentials to that divine Lord who was sum and substance of the life of Paul. The Jesus of the Gospels is no mere prophet, no mere inspired teacher of righteousness, no mere revealer or interpreter of God. He is, on the contrary, a supernatural person; a heavenly Redeemer come to earth for the salvation of men. So much is usually being admitted to-day. Whatever may have been the real facts about Jesus, the Gospels present a supernatural Jesus. This representation is contained not merely in one of the Gospels; it is contained in all of them.   Machen at 153. 
Ransom from Sin.  And Paul's focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus is also a feature of the Gospels which had this same emphasis.  This is the key theme because from it comes forgiveness of sin:
The very choice of material in the Gospels points to the same conclusion; the Gospels like the Epistles of Paul are more interested in the death of Jesus than in the details of His life. And for the same reason. The Gospels, like the Epistles of Paul, are interested in the death of Jesus because it was a ransom from sin.
Machen at 154.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Jesus and Paul - Part 3

The church recognizes that  the writings of  St. Paul are inspired by God.    Paul teaches Christians great truths about the theological meaning of the risen Jesus, and he does that (especially in the Book of Romans) as a Jewish scholar who understands the great narrative of God's actions working through his chosen people,  beginning with Abraham,  to reclaim the world from sin and death.   Paul's  epistles also provide an inspiring example of one person who dedicated his life,  his intellect, emotions and will, to his Lord, and found that God graciously empowered him to do so.   Jesus himself dramatically appointed Paul to work for him, when Paul encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus.

For me the study of the Gospels comes first, as compared to study of Paul's epistles.  If I am to learn of Jesus, I must go to the Gospels where his words and deeds are described,  for reasons which have come up before in this blog as discussed briefly here.   St. Paul's writings then become invaluable comments on what we have previously learned from the Gospels.

How do we know that St. Paul's Jesus  is the same as Jesus of Nazareth as described in the Gospels?  This question comes up because Paul makes few references to the words of Jesus in his letters.  We also see Paul asserting his independence as a teacher of the gospel message in the Epistle to the Galatians - where he appealed to  the Galatians to reject the claim that  Gentile believers needed circumcision,   stating that his teaching authority came directly from Jesus and did not depend on authority granted by the Jerusalem church leaders.  Sceptics attempt to show from this that Paul's Jesus was not based on the Jesus whom we see in the Gospels.

In the last  post, to defend the traditional views on this subject, to which I adhere,   I briefly noted that Paul received the right hand of fellowship from the Jerusalem church. Yes, there was tension between Paul and the Jerusalem church on  the specific issue of Gentile freedom  from Jewish law, which was ultimately resolved at the Jerusalem council,  but that dispute was over this one issue involving the law and never involved a questioning of Paul's presentation of the person of Jesus.   If Paul  had created something new as to his description of Jesus, the mother church in Jerusalem would have rejected Paul when he came to them.

In this post I'm looking further at the people whom Paul knew as he went about his work.  Even before his conversion Paul  knew of Jesus.  After his conversion,   Paul knew and worked with people from this Jerusalem church.   From them he learned of the earthly Jesus of Nazareth.

Investigating this subject sends you into a huge pool of scholarly articles and books.   My problem with this literature is that much of it quotes other articles and books rather than the evidence from the Bible itself, and it is the scriptural texts which interest me as a general reader.     In this post I will quote from John Gresham Machen  who deals  with some of the NT texts, and from these the believer can see clearly that St. Paul's Lord Jesus Christ is  the Jesus of the Gospels.

It's true that for Paul the person and work of Jesus are what Paul deals with, and in particular the cross and  resurrection of Jesus, as pointed out here  (citing  1 Cor 1:18; 2:2; 15:3-8).  Professsor David B. Capes in this same piece  properly notes here that "[o]nly a few references to the sayings and activities of Jesus prior to his crucifixion appear. In this regard the Pauline corpus is not unlike other NT letters, the Acts of the Apostles and the Apocalypse. These too contain few quotations of or allusions to Jesus’ teachings and deeds during his earthly ministry."
In the next post I will look at these quotations and allusions, and discuss the significance of them.

But for now, we start with the point that Paul's lack of attention to the words of Jesus does not mean that Paul did not know of Jesus and his sayings.   Professor John Gresham Machen in The Origin of Paul's Religion (New York MacMillan 1921) (hereafter Machen)  available here  states that:
Paul was deeply interested in Jesus, since he was an active persecutor of Jesus' disciples. After the conversion, Paul was undoubtedly baptized, and undoubtedly came into some contact with Christians in Damascus. The presumption is strongly in favor of the presence there of some who had known Jesus in the days of His flesh; the independence of which Paul is speaking in Galatians is independence over against the Jerusalem apostles, not over against humble disciples in Damascus, and it does not relate to information about details. Three years after the conversion Paul visited Peter at Jerusalem, and also met James the brother of Jesus. [The Catholic church teaches that this "brother" was not the child of Mary. T.S.]   It is quite inconceivable that the three men avoided the subject of Jesus' words and deeds. The fifteen days spent with Peter at Jerusalem brought Paul into contact with the most intimate possible source of information about Jesus.   Machen at 137.
Also, according to the Book of Acts  (Acts 9:27) Paul met his  friend Barnabus during his first Jerusalem visit.  Machen further states this about Paul and Barnabas:
Whatever may be thought of this detail, the later association of Barnabas with Paul, at Antioch and on the first missionary journey, is generally or universally recognized as historical. It is confirmed by the association of the two men at the time of the conference with the Jerusalem pillars (Gal. ii. 1). Thus Paul spent several years in the most intimate association with Barnabas. Who then was Barnabas? According to Acts iv. 36, 37, he was a man of Cyprus by descent, but he was also a member of the primitive Jerusalem Church.
It will probably be admitted to-day by the majority of scholars that Barnabas really had a place in the primitive Jerusalem Church. But if so, his close connection with Paul is of the utmost importance. How could Paul possibly have been for years intimately associated with Barnabas in the proclamation of the gospel without becoming acquainted with the facts about Jesus? Is it to be supposed that Barnabas, who had lived at Jerusalem, proclaimed Jesus as Saviour without telling in detail what sort of person Jesus had been, and what He had said and done?
Machen at 137-138.

Paul also had another friend, John Mark  (Col 4:10 and Philem. 24), who was from the Jerusalem church (Acts 12:25), as was Silas (Acts 15:22, 27).    John Mark was Mark who according to a strong tradition authored the Gospel of Mark, which was a Gospel heavily based on information from Peter.  Machen at 139.   Mark may have gathered some of this information about Jesus  from Peter after he stopped working with Paul, but even that happened   Paul's contact with John Mark early in Paul's ministry put Paul into contact with someone who would have been aware of  Peter's descriptions of Jesus. See Acts 12:12 (Peter at the home of John Mark's mother).     Also, Paul's experience at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) would have been for him "an enrichment in Paul's knowledge of Jesus' earthly ministry." Machen at 139.    Machen states:
It is hardly to be supposed that at the conference any more than at the first visit of Paul to Jerusalem the subject of the words and deeds of Jesus was carefully avoided. Such avoidance would have been possible only if the Jerusalem Church itself had been indifferent to its own reminiscences of Jesus' earthly ministry. But that the Jerusalem Church was not indifferent to its own reminiscences is proved by the preservation (evidently at Jerusalem) of the tradition contained in the Gospels. The existence of the Gospels shows that the memory of Jesus' words and deeds was carefully treasured up in the Jerusalem Church from the earliest times. Paul could hardly have come into contact with such a church without obtaining information about Jesus. He could not have failed to obtain information even if he had been anxious to avoid it.
Machen at 139.

Next post I will discuss places in the NT where we see Paul alluding to the words of Jesus, and to his earthly character.  Thanks to Machen,  I have a renewed enthusiasm for the writings of St. Paul, whose life and teaching inspire the believer to follow Jesus.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Jesus and Paul - Part 2

I am coming back to Jesus and  St. Paul.  I listen to Paul in my car, as I described here.  If we believers live, as Paul says,   "so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our bodies"  (2 Cor 4:10), I would like to know what Paul has in his mind  when he refers to Jesus in his letters, and that means that I  would like to make as many NT textual  connections between Jesus and Paul as I can.   After all, Paul wrote thirteen of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, and over 30% of the NT  text, and that percentage does  not include the letter to the Hebrews.  

Paul teaches "the transcendent conception of Jesus as divine Redeemer"  and in doing so  Paul is "quite unconscious of introducing anything new; indeed he expressly calls attention to the harmony of his proclamation with that of the intimate friends of Jesus."  John Gresham Machen, The Origin of Paul's Religion   (New York, Macmillan 1921) at page 136. 

I agree with Machen, that  "the heavenly Christ of Paul was also the Christ of those who had lived with Jesus of Nazareth. They had seen Jesus subject to all the petty limitations of human life; they had seen Him hungry and thirsty and weary; they had toiled with Him over the hills of Galilee; yet they gave the right hand of fellowship to one [St. Paul]  who regarded Him as the divine Redeemer seated on the throne of all being, and they were quite unconscious of any conflict between their view and his." The Origin of Paul's Religion, at 136. 

Now, where do you go if you want to learn more about this 'Jesus and Paul'  issue?  In addition to this book by Machen which I have been quoting from here,  I suggest Larry Hurtado's book,  Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Eerdmans 2003),  and especially the section beginning at page 156 where Hurtado describes Paul's efforts  to maintain links between his churches and the mother church in Jerusalem  (Eerdmans 2003).   The upshot is that  Paul was teaching  nothing new, and he had  the  support of the church leaders  who were eyewitnesses of the earthly Jesus.   

The next two posts (thanks to Machen)  will  refer to NT  texts which  support this approach, that Paul's teaching is closely connected to the earthly Jesus of Nazareth as he was known to and described by the eyewitnesses.  But I am going to Ohio to visit my son, Joe, in Ohio and it may be a few days before I get to this.   On Saturday I am going to the Cleveland, Ohio Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.   Now that is a subject which would be better tackled by Ben Witherington, who writes on the Bible and Culture here, but I might take a shot at it next week.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

One Bread One Body - Jesus in the Assembly

This is the second of my two posts on Frank Sheed.  In Theology for Beginners (London, Sheed & Ward 1958, Ann Arbor, Servant Books 1976, 1981)  Sheed says that John chapter 6 is Jesus' "first promise"  of the Eucharist.  Theology for Beginners at 160.  That's why in his discussion of this sacrament he starts with a reflection on that chapter, and then brings in the rest of the NT teaching on the subject.   From the beginning - at the last Supper on the night before he died and then in the worship of the early church - believers have experienced the Eucharist with others.  We approach Jesus together  in the Eucharist as the mystical body of Christ. It is a collective and not just an individual experience of the presence of God.

Yes, anyone who has been catechized is already aware of such teaching.  But I know many who believe that they can skip church as they see fit and still call themselves Christians, and I know others who are fervent believers but  who are trying to 'go it alone' with Jesus.  As for me, I walk into church and I give barely a thought to this mystery, that Jesus present  in the Eucharist happens while Jesus is present in the assembly.  These quotes from Sheed are broader than my issue of  'Jesus in the Assembly,'  but for me as I am reflecting today on the 'lone ranger' Christian,  the scripture which he discusses here is all about that issue.     

Here is Sheed describing the reaction of Jesus' followers to the 'bread of life' message in John chapter 6:

Needless to say, all this [the command to eat his body and drink his blood]  meant nothing whatever to those who heard it first. For many, it was the end of discipleship. They simply left him, probably thinking that for a man to talk of giving them his flesh to eat was mere insanity. When he asked the Apostles if they would go too, Peter gave him one of the most moving answers in all man's history: "Lord, to whom shall we go?" He had not the faintest idea of what it all meant; but he had a total belief in the Master he had chosen and simply hoped that some day it would be made plain.   Theology for Beginners, at 159. 

Jesus now offers us a union with himself in the Eucharist, which is closer than his followers had during their time with him in his earthly ministry: 

What Our Lord was giving us was a union with himself closer than the Apostles had in the three years of their companionship, than Mary Magdalen had when she clung to him after his Resurrection. Two of St. Paul's phrases, from 1 Corinthians 11 and 10, are specially worth noting:
"Whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord"; and "We, being many, are one bread, one body, all that partake of one bread"- a reminder that the Eucharist is not only for each man's soul but for the unity of the Mystical Body.  Theology for Beginners, at 160 (emphasis added).

(I don't have space here to discuss the important  issue of  unconfessed sin -  taking the Eucharist "unworthily" -   which is raised by this quote from St. Paul.)

At the communion song when we worship together  we sing that we are 'one bread, one body.'  But do we really believe that?   Too many Christians believe that they can achieve a felt union with Jesus by way of determined  individual study and contemplation.  If  John chapter 6 were the only words of Jesus on the Eucharist we too would be like Peter was after hearing this, with "not the faintest idea of what it all meant" (page 159),  and with such limited understanding  we might try to find Jesus by going off on our own.  But the words of Jesus which were written down many years before the Gospel of John, in the other Gospels and by St. Paul,  shed more light:

There is no hint that [after John chapter 6] Our Lord ever raised the matter again until the Last Supper. Then his meaning was most marvelously made plain. What he said and did then is told us by Matthew, Mark, and Luke; and St. Paul tells it to the Corinthians (1 Cor 10 and 11). St. John, who gives the longest account of the Last Supper, does not mention the institution of the Blessed Eucharist; his Gospel was written perhaps thirty years after the others, to be read in a church which had been receiving Our Lord's body and blood for some sixty years.  Theology for Beginners, at 160 (emphasis added). 

It  helps to picture this scene of the early church believers who received the Eucharist while assembled together.  To grow close to him, don't just hole up alone with your Bible.  Go to Sunday worship where you will find  Jesus present  with your brothers and sisters, and receive his body and blood in the sacrament.  If you are homebound  your church will have someone who will take communion to you and pray with you as you take it.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Reading the Gospels with Frank Sheed

This year marks the 50 year anniversary of the publication of  Frank Sheed's  great book, To Know Christ Jesus  (1962, 1980  Sheed and Ward, 1992 Ignatius Press). Thousands of books on the words and deeds of Jesus have been written before and since Sheed's book.     Why read Sheed?  I read his books because I enjoy his refreshing words and  phrases which help the reader picture the Gospel events which he describes.  He is a terrific writer.    I also appreciate Sheed's energy and zeal for the faith. In  To Know Christ Jesus he presents the life of Jesus with joy and gratitude.
For the "general reader" like me who seeks to internalize the teaching of the Gospels, reading Sheed's book is exercise which  improves spiritual vision.     I am reading this book for that purpose, now for the second time,  and this time the experience has been enriched because I am studying slowly  after having taken seriously Sheed's opening comments (pages 12-13 discussed in this post) about what he expects from readers.   

We students of the Gospels  hope that our study of the life of Jesus  will provide a glimpse of him, who is truth and life for us.   Yes, I know,  to see Jesus, go to the Gospel texts directly.  But Bible study is not something to be done alone.  It helps to study together, with other members of the body of Christ,  and that's why we have group discussions.    Another way to "study together" is to listen to the insights of other Bible writers, and some writers present themselves with such warmth and clarity that while I read them I can  imagine that the writer is sitting with me.   That's how it is with  Frank Sheed (1897-1981).  

Here is a one-sentence example of Sheed's easy and inviting style:   "Now that we are settling down to study that [Galilean] ministry, it would be good to look at a map of Palestine, find Capernaum, and make for ourselves a first mental sketch of the stage of such great happenings."  To Know Christ Jesus, p. 154.  

In addition to this approachable style, I enjoy Sheed's imaginative skills. To make the Bible come alive writers put their imaginations to work. See the book by  Shane Berg, Donald H. Juel and Matthew L. Skinner   Shaping the Scriptural Imagination: Truth, Meaning and Theological Interpretation of the Bible  (Baylor University Press 2012) (collection of essays on Juel's thought and his interest in helping readers develop theological imagination through reading the Bible). 

Sheed uses his imaginative skills to take the reader with Jesus to the roads, hills, homes and  synagogues,  and to the Temple,   of the Holy Land.  Here is an example, from Sheed's description of the transfiguration: 

Present when he told them were Peter and James and John, whom he had chosen to have with him when he raised Jairus' dead daughter to life, and whom he would choose to have nearest to him in Gethsemane. We tend to think of them as principals at the Transfiguration, almost as though the whole incident had been staged for their sake. Strengthened and comforted by it they certainly were; but they were not principals. Jesus conversed with Moses and Elijah: the three apostles were asleep part of the time and contributed nothing. Only one of them said anything at all: Peter said that it was a good thing they were there—they could make three shelters, one for Jesus, one for Moses, one for Elijah; but he himself tells us, through Mark (9:5), that he was too frightened to know what he was saying. ...
As Peter finished his proposal to build three shelters, a luminous cloud overshadowed them, wrapping them round so that once again they were afraid. A Voice came out of the cloud saying: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him." The last three words, establishing our Lord's authority as teacher, were new. All the rest had been said by the same Voice at Jesus' baptism in Jordan.
Peter, James, and John had been afraid—afraid when they saw Jesus and Moses and Elijah all white and luminous, afraid when the cloud wrapped them round, afraid when the Voice sounded from the cloud. With a touch of his hand and the words "Arise and fear not", he recalled them to the world they were used to.
To Know Christ Jesus, p. 234-235.

Space for this post does not allow me to discuss this beautiful description.  The point to make here is that before Sheed's  creative and imaginative presentation of the Gospels can have a significant impact, the reader has some work to do.  For example, in the Gospel accounts of the transfiguration, what is the theological significance of Moses and Elijah?  And what is the religious meaning of the "three shelters" which Peter mentions?   Without an understanding of the history of Israel and the Jewish faith of Jesus - which takes time and effort to learn - you can't deal with these two questions, and in general you will find that  Sheed's lively descriptions throughout the book won't mean much to you over the long haul.

Work to Do

I am in the middle of my second time through  To Know Christ Jesus.  My first reading of the book  15 years ago had me thinking, "That was nice, but there is nothing new here. I have read the Gospels since childhood, and this book is a nice summary of them. Let's move on to the next book, preferably with more theology."    The book did not really grab me years ago, as it has this time around,  because back then I had no interest in doing the extra work  which Sheed expects the reader to do.  He expects the reader to work hard to understand the words and deeds of Jesus in their spiritual and cultural context.  Only then can Sheed's own refreshing teaching on the life of Jesus deeply affect the reader.

Understanding the context means at least three things to Sheed:  1) That as you read the portion of the Gospels which he describes you need to study other related parts, "so that you can relate things said in different Gospels or in different parts of the same Gospel," and that effort "will require what is rare in modern readers, a total concentration of the mind." Page 12 (emphasis added).  2)  That you learn the “general history” of that time, which means the history of Israel and the lands around it (especially Egypt and Syria), and the history of Greece and Rome. Page 13. 3) And most importantly, that you understand the “religious atmosphere” which calls for study of the Old Testament (p.13), and today scholars echoing that thought would say that you must understand "second temple Judaism” which was the religious faith of Jesus, his followers, and also was the faith of his religious opponents.  

I realize that study of the history and culture affecting the life and times of Jesus is a basic component of any college level NT course. But most of us don't have time to enroll in a course. Sheed writes for all interested laypersons, and he is asking all of us to get up to speed with an understanding of the historical and religious context of the life and times of Jesus.  

As I make a kind of halting progress studying the Old Testament and reading books on the history and culture of Israel, I am learning the vastness of the related literature. No matter how hard I study I will only scratch the surface of what a person can learn. But at least I can come to the Gospels now with images in my mind of this "religious atmosphere" (p. 13) which were missing the last time that I read Sheed. Derek LemanLois Tverberg and Taylor Marshall are excellent teachers for a layperson's study of the Jewish Jesus, and have been helpful to me. Also, the Carmelites provide solid background of this kind in their discussions of the lectionary Gospel readings.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Jesus and Paul

Epistles or Gospels, what do you read?  Actually, that's not the right question.  "All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness"  (2 Tim 3:16 RSV). But it's worth checking to see if you are out of balance when it comes to NT study, as I was for years.
I am reading the book,  To Know Christ Jesus (1962, 1980  Sheed and Ward), by Frank Sheed, which is all about the Gospels.  Sheed and his book will be the subject of the next two posts. There  was a time when  my efforts "to know Christ Jesus" centered on  the epistles of St. Paul, not the Gospels.  How did  that happen?  

Out of Balance. You take on the habits of your friends. Starting back in the 1970's the people in our circles were focused on the Apostle Paul, although they never would have put it that way.    At our small group  Bible studies in the 70's and 80's  we would turn mainly to  St. Paul and his soaring theology of the risen Christ, and his powerful  phrases which we would memorize.
How can you beat Romans 8:1 ("no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus"),  Philippians 1:6 ("he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus") and 2 Corinthians
 5:17 ("if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, behold all things have become new").
Even now, although my NT reading is more Gospels than epistles,   I still  love St. Paul.   I can at least paraphrase these verses which I had committed to memory 35 years ago, which is helpful especially when times get tough.    Today, though,  when I am in the writings of St. Paul  I am not so much looking at isolated verses.    Now  I prefer to hear the letters as a whole or at least longer sections - listening to the audio NT in my car. 

2 Cor 4.   As an example of this  "broad sweep" approach to St. Paul,  lately when I am  in my car  I have been listening to audio of the entire letter of 2 Corinthians. Here is a portion of  that letter: 

[5] For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.
[6] For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
[7] But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us.
[8] We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;
[9] persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;
[10] always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
[11] For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
[12] So death is at work in us, but life in you.
[13] Since we have the same spirit of faith as he had who wrote, "I believed, and so I spoke," we too believe, and so we speak,
[14] knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.
[15] For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
[16] So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day.
[17] For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,
[18] because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 
2Cor.4:5-18   (RSV)

From Paul to Jesus.  Anyone who loves the Gospels would have to be grateful for this wonderful quoted teaching from 2 Corinthians 4  on how the life of Jesus impacts the life and struggles  of the believer in Jesus.  This passage  shows how the epistles and the Gospels enhance each other. Startling passages like this, which remind  believers that we too live  "so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our bodies"  (2 Cor 4:10), create a desire in me to  know more about the life of Jesus when he walked among us.  This epistle takes me back to the Gospels.
Also, when you think of these 2 Cor 4:10  words of St. Paul ("the life of Jesus")  they need content.   You can't pull images of the life of Jesus out of some kind of Pauline thin air.  You have to go back to the Gospels to learn of Jesus' actual life.  See  David M. Stanley S.J.,  “Contemplation of the Gospels, Ignatius Loyola, and the Contemporary Christian,”   Theological Studies, Vol. 29 - 3 (1968) at  417 ("St. Ignatius relied mainly upon the contemplation of the earthly history of Jesus for the effectiveness of his carefully constructed program of Spiritual Exercises.").
Future Projects.   As a future reading  project  on  "Jesus and Paul" issues, I plan to study  The Origen of Paul's Religion, by John Gresham Machen (Macmillan 1921), which you can find  here.    I have given Chapter IV titled "Paul and Jesus" a quick read, but I look forward to going through all of the scripture which he cites.  Why Machen?  He  presents solid scholarly arguments on  how the life and teachings of Jesus and Paul fit together beautifully, and he is clear, concrete and easy to read, like Frank Sheed.  First I need to finish Sheed's To Know Christ Jesus, which is the subject of the next two posts,  and then I will  move on to Machen.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Help from the Carmelites

This  lectio section of the Carmelites' website where you find  Bible studies is a treasure trove for students of the Gospels.  They  probe deeply into the Gospel reading for each day.   And if you are like me you will especially enjoy their study technique where,  from the text, they come up with a list of questions.  For example, last Sunday we had the mission of the twelve, Mark 6:7-13.  In the lectio for that Gospel, which you can find here they list these questions: 
a) In Mark, why is the driving out of the unclean spirits so important?
b) What is the sense of this insistence on poverty of means?
c) What is the content of this first proclamation?
d) Why does Jesus place together poverty and courage and freedom?
e) Why does the proclamation have to be itinerant and not stable?
Now that is a dynamic way to study the Bible.  This lectio material is the best resource that I have found for daily reflection on the Gospels.   
By the way, I would add this question: What is our duty to missionaries?  My take on  Mark 6:10 ("Where you enter a home, stay there until you leave the place") is that those out on the mission should be able come to my house and stay as long as they see fit.  Proclamation of the word does not just happen.  It needs support from the homes.
Speaking of the Carmelites, this is the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians at Holy Hill,  Town of Erin,  Washington County, near  Hubertus, Wisconsin, which is just a 30 minute drive from Mayville, where I live.  "Holy Hill" is run by the the Discalced Carmelite Friars and attracts more than 300,000 pilgrims and visitors each year.

Holy Hill National Shrine of Mary, WI
Holy Hill, Town of Erin, Washington County, WI 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Tip from Vince Lombardi

In Wisconsin we love Vince Lombardi    (1913-1970).   Vince died at the young age of 57, about my age.  He went to daily Mass, but he was was not a saint, especially when it came to his family.   He worked too much, to the  neglect of his wife Marie, and his  two children, Vincent Henry and Susan.  (Well, it was not all work.  He and Marie  did have good times,  as we know from the stories of their  Friday night fish fry outings and the Sunday post-game parties with the players in the basement of their home.)   At Mass Vince prayed for control of his temper.  Balancing work and family life is a struggle for all of us.

Vince Lombardi 1962 photo 

I just want to mention one thing here  that I learned from Vince, which helps  with study of the Gospels.  Vince worked all day and came home.   He went back to work at night.  How could he do that?   His habit was to sit in his chair and take a rest,  and sleep briefly,  after supper.  That re-charged his batteries and gave him the energy to go back to work for a few more hours, to prepare for the next game.

Spare time Bible students like me search for ways to buy time for study.   How do you do that when you just worked for ten hours, did some work at home,  and have been beaten down by the day?  Exercise is a good idea.  But on some days,  if there is  no evening meeting and if Tim does not have a game,  I like the example of Vince.  Find a way to rest after work and even nod off for about 15 minutes, but no more than 15 minutes.  That will give you the energy to get up and  reflect on the lectionary Gospel text for the day, or go to the book that you are reading.  Now I am in the middle of Richard Bauckham's  Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitnesses Testimony,  (Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, U.K:  Eerdmanns, 2006).  As a lawyer Bauckham's eyewitness testimony approach to his discussion of the historicity of the Gospels is music to my ears, but you need to be wide awake to learn  from him.   Thanks to this tip from Vince, at least on some nights I have the energy to do my reading.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Healing Part 3 - Words and Deeds of Jesus

This is my last  of three posts  on the subject of healing.  The need for Christians to reach out and provide a healing touch to others was the subject of the first  post.    In the post following that, the U.S. Bishops  explain the ministry of healing with an excellent list of references to the Gospels and they also provide  insights into the redemptive meaning of suffering.  Here my concern is with one particular aspect of  the individual’s personal  relationship with God – the study of the words and deeds of Jesus.   What does such study have to do with healing? The answer involves the healing effects of the believer's  adoption as a child of our heavenly Father.

 To explore this issue I rely on an article written by Fr. David M. Stanley S.J.  The article does not mention healing.  But the ideas from the article, for me, are all about healing.  By healing in this post I mean that a person experiences an emotional change:   The person is hopeless, discouraged, selfish and depressed, and then by turning to Jesus the same person becomes hopeful and even cheerful, or if depression remains it is no longer overwhelming.  (The previous sentence does not mean that spirituality solves all mental health issues for which a person should seek expert medical care.)   With healing, a person bears the fruit of the Spirit,  love, joy, peace, kindness, faithfulness and self control, as described in Gal. 5:22-23, and becomes helpful to others.   Yes, I know that life is not that simple.  That's why I put up my last post from the U.S. Catholic Bishops.

I realize that books have been written about religious faith and emotional healing, and that there are many spiritual facets to consider.  There is the connection between confession of sin and healing.  James 5:16.  Psalms, hymns and songs have a healing effect.  Eph. 5:19.  Support from the Christian community, the body of Christ, brings healing. There is a contrarian approach which would be to avoid this subject as too introspective; instead,  look  outward to the Kingdom of God which Jesus initiated with his resurrection, and  courageously figure out how we can help to move the kingdom forward in all spheres of life.      I understand all of this, but I can't address these subjects here.  And I realize that we live in a world where trouble comes in waves, which never stop rolling in, and sometimes come  crashing in to our shores.  But here I am suggesting that contemplation of the words and deeds of Jesus can become a kind of safe harbor, not as a place of 'escape' from trouble, but  as a safe place where the healing grace of God can work.   

I.   Words and Deeds of Jesus

Jesus is alive today and  that is why  believers  turn to him for healing.   We call on the risen  and exalted Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father to heal  those in need. Why then should we contemplate the words and deeds of Jesus,  “the days of his flesh” (Heb. 5:7)?     Contemplation of Jesus’ earthly life takes the believer into an ‘event’  in which the person experiences  life as a member of  God’s family.  That spiritual experience of  ‘family’  provides healing which comes directly from God the Father.    

Fr. David M. Stanley in an article published in Theological Studies,  says this:

The Christian of today feels compelled to ask the very relevant question, “Why contemplate the earthly history of Jesus of Nazareth?”   …
[I]t is clear that St. Ignatius relied mainly upon the contemplation of the earthly history of Jesus for the effectiveness of his carefully constructed program of Spiritual Exercises. This form of Christian prayer unquestionably constitutes the wellspring of Ignatian spirituality.  “Contemplation of the Gospels, Ignatius Loyola, and the Contemporary Christian,”   Theological Studies, Vol. 29 - 3 (1968) at  417, 421  (hereafter “TS”).    

This is a good question because, after all, the Gospel writers themselves did  not have an attitude of  looking back at the past:

Search as you will, you will discover in their books no nostalgia for "the good old days."   As a result of the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus' first disciples had no desire, made no attempt, to live in the past, or to turn back the clock by wishing to return to the privileged intimacy with Jesus which they had enjoyed during the years of His public ministry. Their newly-given Christian faith directed their attention towards the glorified Lord Jesus, who now stood revealed to them as the very incarnation of aggiornamento, forever up to date, continually abreast of the happenings of this world.
TS  at 425-426 (italics in original). 

 If the Gospel writers with this enthusiasm for the risen Jesus had no desire to return to their existence during the years when they had followed Jesus in his public ministry, why do they devote their written works to “what Jesus began to do and  to teach” (Acts 1:1)?”   TS at 428.  Stanley’s answer to this is lengthy, but this comment on  'participation' is key:       

The answer lies undoubtedly in their conviction that it was precisely through the prayerful assimilation of Jesus' earthly history that the Christian must be led to a personal participation in the paschal mystery. Mark states the principle thus (and he is echoed faithfully by the three other Evangelists) : "If a man decides to come after me, he must say 'no' to himself, shoulder his cross and follow me" (Mk 8:34). To be a genuine disciple of Jesus, the Christian must repeat in his own life—and expressly at the cost of his own ego, as Mark immediately adds in the passage just cited—the redeeming experiences of Jesus' own mortal existence.      
TS at 428-429. 

You can see that Stanley introduces radical thoughts here, and to grasp them fully  a person would benefit from a  careful  reading the whole TS  article. Available on line at  http://www.ts.mu.edu/content/searchArticles.html     Also, an Ignatian retreat is an excellent tool to help develop understanding of  this kind of “personal participation” in the life of Jesus.   But keep this one thing in mind as necessary background:  The  participation as just quoted, with these words of Jesus from Mk. 8:34,  calls the believer to a life in which the believer must shoulder the cross.  That means a life lived for the benefit of others, not for ourselves.  

II.               Contemplative  Steps

Contemplation of scripture is a ‘saving event.’   TS  at 434.   With the sending of the Spirit, the events from the earthly existence of Jesus become present in our lives.  TS  at 435.    Contemplation of the mysteries of Jesus’ life brings about an experiential knowledge of Jesus.  TS at  438.   Begin with the text of the  Gospel, and proceed from there:

[The] believer must begin with the sacred text of the  Gospel narrative, since that is by its inspired character the privileged  locus of the action of the Spirit of the exalted Lord Jesus. If He is now present in this world, as the Christian faith asserts, by a dynamic involvement in the contemporary historical process, He is present in a unique way in the Gospels, just as He is uniquely present in the Eucharist.     TS at 439.

How does one conduct theological reflection upon a narrative in the Gospels? The technique may be reduced to one simple, searching question: "What is the Lord Jesus attempting to say to me now through this particular text of the Gospel?" If I can plumb the depths of meaning in the words of the Evangelist to the best of my ability and with the power of my faith, I shall assimilate them to myself—or better, I shall be disposed to be assimilated or conformed to the mystery which I am contemplating.    TS at 440.

The final step in the exercise of contemplation is the religious experience, the saving event. One might best describe it by saying that the mystery must happen for me, to me.  It is thus in the OT that the sixth-century author of Deuteronomy described the event-character  of the ritual proclamation of Yahweh's covenant to his own contemporaries many centuries after Israel's great initial experience at Sinai.  It is instructive to note how the author phrases this covenant renewal: "Yahweh our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. It was not with our ancestors that Yahweh made this covenant, but with ourselves who are all here alive today" (Dt 5:2-3). Similarly, when I reflect upon the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:30 ff.), I must consider Jesus' final words as addressed to myself in my contemporary situation:  "Go, and do likewise yourself!" (v. 37).   TS at 441.

Finally, those immersed in the words and deeds of Jesus are in the event!  This is where the healing based on membership in God’s family enters the picture.   We know that the Eucharist is an event in which we participate in the paschal mystery.   And now  God offers participation from this encounter with the word of God.

III.            Healing - Sense of  Family

For the believer who is living out the ‘participatory’  faith commitment to Jesus as just described, how does contemplation heal a person?    Scripture provides an answer by teaching that  God is our Father and believers are his adoptive children.
The creator of the contemplative  ‘event’  is “the Spirit of the risen Christ, who through His intimate presence in the believer makes the mystery [Gospel account]  happen for him.”   TS at 441.    St. Paul describes God’s adoption of the believer: "Those who are led by the Spirit of God are God's sons. For you have not received the mentality of slavery forcing you back again into fear; you have received the mentality proper to your adoption as sons, thanks to which we cry 'Abba' (dear Father!)."    Rom. 8:15-16 (trans. by Fr. Stanley, TS at 441).   And St. Paul also says:     "The proof that you are sons is that God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts crying 'Abba! (dear Father!)"  Gal. 4:6 (trans. by Fr. Stanley, TS at 441). 
Jesus teaches this special relationship between God (“Our Father who art in heaven ….”) and his children in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7), and many other places in the Gospels.  See also TS at 442.    The believer develops a spiritual  “sense of family.”   TS at 442.
When Fr. Stanley uses the word “mysteries” he means the earthly words and deeds of Jesus.   To connect the dots,  here is an  explanation of how  contemplation of the mysteries helps the believer to experience this relationship as a child of the heavenly Father:

     It remains to suggest some explanation of how our contemplation of  the mysteries of Jesus' earthly history is truly efficacious in assisting us to advance in this consciousness of our relationship as sons to the heavenly Father. The answer quite simply is that it was through these very events that Jesus Himself deepened His sense of His unique filial relationship to the Father. For it was through His experience of those events in His own earthly life that our Lord's human nature was gradually transformed by the paschal mystery, which reached its culmination in His death and resurrection. This statement may sound somewhat strange to us, until we recall Paul's startling assertion that Jesus Christ was "constituted Son of God in power by resurrection from death in accordance with His Spirit of holiness" (Rom 1:4). There is, then, a very real sense in which this sonship of the incarnate Son was fully realized only at the climax of His earthly career.   TS at 442.
   As a result of this paschal mystery, Jesus “can  ‘touch’  me in  the innermost recesses of my being, imparting to me the grace-filled capability of relating to Him in these very mysteries.”   TS at 443.  

 Contemplation of the mysteries heals the suffering believer by taking the believer into the very life of Jesus as a member of his family.    As you become part of these events  you see that you are not alone.   The suffering believer looks forward with hope to the future:

Not only that, but we ourselves who possess the first fruits of the Spirit articulate our yearning in the inmost depths of our being, as we await expectantly our adoptive sonship, the redemption of our bodies" (Rom 8:23). St. Luke  repeats the theme by means of his version of Jesus' words to the Sadducees in the controversy over the general resurrection: "They cannot die any more, since they are like angels; and they are sons of God, since they are sons of the resurrection" (Lk 20:36).
 TS at 443.   

It is the close relationship of child to Father which provides the healing - and if you have suffering which does not go away, you are not alone. Your heavenly Father is with you, now on this earth and after death as you become a child of the resurrection.

 A contemplative  study of  the Gospels gives the believer as a special member of God's family a healing touch,   a spiritual  participation in the events of Jesus’ life.  This is not all about technique and methods.  No one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws him.  Jn 6:44.   But it is also true that "one who comes to me I will in no wise cast out" (Jn 6:37).