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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).

Friday, December 12, 2014

Missionary Disciple

Abram K-J has  this  wonderful Advent post  on Jonah and included this painting.  Jonah no doubt had the heart of a missionary, but he gets depressed at Nineveh where he finds missionary success. Jonah is a great story of the love of God.  
Jonah into Sea
Jonah  Thrown into the Sea, by Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640)

This all brings to mind Pope Francis' teaching on the missionary disciple.    All believers are called by God to reach out. It's difficult and there will be times when the missionary wants to give up, like Jonah did, but the presence of God is in the mission.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Making Events Present

If you use the "search" on this blog there are several posts on anamnesis (remembering).  As God's people  gather in worship God comes with memories of his mighty acts, events which become present in liturgy.  Because God is in eternity, this is more than a re-representation of past events.

Sarna says this about remembering in his comment on Exodus 2:24: 

The Hebrew stem z-k-r connotes much more than the recall of things past. It means, rather, to be mindful, to pay heed, signifying a sharp focusing of attention upon someone or something. It embraces concern and involvement and is active not passive, so that it eventuates in action. As Menaḥot 43b has it: “Looking upon leads to remembering, and remembering leads to action.”

Remembering leads to action.  How does this happen?   The worshiper relives the events, as described in Sarna's notes to Exodus chapter 13:

This section continues the process of historicizing existing institutions by reinterpreting them in terms of the Exodus experiences. The revitalized ancient rituals, now charged with new historical meaning, serve to perpetuate the memory of those events by making them living realities for succeeding generations.

Nahum Sarna,   The JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus שמות (Jewish Publication Society, 1991). 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Read the NT in Greek

No excuses.  I've had the classes.  I can handle the grammar.     But   I've just been too lazy to plow through the NT in Greek.  Well, here is the challenge from Travis Bohlinger:  http://tavisbohlinger.wordpress.com/2014/10/02/no-more-reading-the-nt-in-english-please/

Gospel of Luke

I will be back to Exodus soon.   But today I have to  mention Brian Davidson's insight into Luke's 

While reading through Luke over the past couple weeks, it seemed to me that Luke makes explicit ideas that are implicit in the other Synoptic Gospels. I note here four: (1) the exodus motif, (2) the movement of the Synoptics’ presentation of Jesus’ ministry from Galilee down to Jerusalem, (3) the idea that Jesus was a prophet “in word and deed,” and (4) the belief that Jesus rose physically and bodily. 

If you read Brian's  post you will see four fascinating  scriptural cases where Luke makes explicit what is implicit in the other Synoptic Gospels.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Exodus 4

Exodus 4: 29-31 says this:
Then Moses and Aaron went and assembled all the elders of the Israelites. 30 Aaron spoke all the words that the Lord had spoken to Moses, and performed the signs in the sight of the people. 31 The people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had given heed to the Israelites and that he had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped.  
Exodus 4: 29-31 (NRSV).  
The reference to "elders"  reminds me of what we hear today about tribal leaders in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.  Sarna  in his comment on this verse from Exodus chapter 4 describes the importance of these elders in ancient times:  "The institution of elders is rooted in the tribal-patriarchal system that shaped the character of Israelite society in early times. The rich Mari archives dealing with Northwest Semitic tribes show that the council of elders was entrusted with considerable authority, judicial and political. Its members acted as the spokesmen and the delegates of the tribes in dealings with the urban administration.”
Nahum Sarna,   The JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus שמות (Jewish Publication Society, 1991). 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Exodus 3

In Exodus, God tells Moses, "you shall worship."  Exodus 3:12.  In fact, the freedom to worship is one of the objectives of the exodus: 

Whether it be a prediction or a prescription, this phrase ["you shall worhsip"]  is a subtle hint to Moses on how to handle the negotiations with the Egyptian authorities. The motif of the worship of God as one of the objectives of the Exodus is reiterated time and again before Pharaoh. Since the Hebraic stem ʿ-v-d means both “to be in servitude” and “to worship,” the phrase insinuates the idea that worship of God is incompatible with servitude to the pharaoh. 

Nahum Sarna,   The JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus שמות (Jewish Publication Society, 1991). 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Knew Not Joseph

Exodus 1:6-8 states: 
Then Joseph died, and all his brothers, and that whole generation. But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. 10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.”
Exodus 1:6-8  (NRSV). 

The phrase "did not know Joseph"   is full of meaning, as described by Sarna: 
This is the first appearance in Exodus of the verb y-d-ʿ [know]. It is a key term in the Exodus narratives, occurring over twenty times in the first fourteen chapters. The usual rendering, “to know,” hardly does justice to the richness of its semantic range. In the biblical conception, knowledge is not essentially or even primarily rooted in the intellect and mental activity. Rather, it is more experiential and is embedded in the emotions, so that it may encompass such qualities as contact, intimacy, concern, relatedness, and mutuality.  Conversely, not to know is synonymous with dissociation, indifference, alienation, and estrangement; it culminates in callous disregard for another’s humanity.  
Nahum Sarna,   The JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus שמות (Jewish Publication Society, 1991). 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Wicker Basket

Pharaoh had ordered, "Every boy that is born you shall throw into the Nile ...."  Ex. 1:22.  In response to this infanticide order,  Moses' mother "got a wicker basket for him, and caulked it with bitumen and pitch.  She put the child into it and placed it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile."   Ex. 2:3.   From there she "stationed herself at a distance, to learn what would befall him."  Ex. 2:4.  

What was this wicker basket?  Sarna says this about it: 

The receptacle is called a tevah, a term that, in this sense, appears elsewhere in the Bible only as the ark in which Noah and his family were saved from the waters of the Flood. Its use here underscores both the vulnerability of its occupant and its being under divine protection. Evocation of the Flood narrative also suggests, once again, that the birth of Moses signals a new era in history.

Nahum Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus שמות  (Jewish Publication Society, 1991). 

Scripture quotations from:   The Jewish Study Bible, Jewish Publication Society TANAKH translation (Oxford University Press Inc. 2004).

Themes from Exodus

Terence E. Frethem has an excellent commentary on the book of Exodus (hereafter Frethem).  The student has to get the big picture before he reflects on the details.   In Frethem you will find these themes discussed:

Importance of historicity of the exodus   (10)
Theology of  re-creation (12)
Credit:  Wikipedia Commons - file Moses 
Knowledge of God (14)
God's sovereignty - acting on His own (16)
God working through people  (17)
God and the women (chapters 1 and 2)  (17)
God and Moses - friend of God  (17)
Liberation paradigm  (18)
With God - change and newness (19)
Anti-God forces - historical and cosmic  (19)
Violence in Exodus as transmuted by reflection on Second Isaiah and the way of Jesus  (20)
Israel's worship and Yahweh's presence - sacrificial and sacramental  (20)
Who are the people of God? (21)
People of the covenant made with Abraham (22)
Redemptive work of God  (22)
Law at Sinai - a gift to the people  (22)
Law and faithfulness to God  (in worship and in daily living)    (22)
Vocational covenant - kingdom of priests for the benefit of other peoples (22)
The people fail (22)
The golden calf and the mercy of God (22)
The tabernacling presence of God and Israel's mission to the world (22)

Terence E. Frethem, Exodus - Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Knox Press 1991) (with citations  to page numbers from the introduction).


The book of Exodus will be my focus over the next 90 days.   You can't understand the Gospels without a solid grounding in this great story of God.  Here is what is coming:

Reversal of Fortune
The Birth and Youth of Moses
The Commissioning of Moses
The Challenge of Leadership: Initial Failure
Divine Reaffirmation
The Last Act
Commemorative Rituals
The Exodus
The Song at the Sea: Shirat ha-Yam
Crises in the Wilderness: Water, Food, Amalekites
Jethro’s Visit and the Organization of the Judiciary
The Covenant at Sinai
The Book of the Covenant: The Laws
The Tabernacle
Instructions for the Tabernacle
Installation of the Priests
An Appendix to the Instructions
Violation of the Covenant: The Golden Calf
Renewal of the Covenant
The Construction of the Tabernacle

Nahum Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus שמות. Jewish Publication Society, 1991 (Table of Contents).

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Food for Thought - Short and Sweet

All blog posts should be short and sweet, but occasionally I run into a blog  that I find particularly strong in that regard.  Brian Davidson's blog,   which I have added to my list,  has that brevity.   Brian says this about his blog:

"I created this blog as a way of collecting and sharing random biblical studies related things that I find interesting. It is an outlet for me to practice clearly articulating my thoughts and a venue for interacting with like minded Bible and grammar nerds."    

Brian approaches the great ideas which arise from the texts or one word from a text, and he succeeds in doing  so using few words.    As an example, lately I have been reflecting on the significance  of word  ἔξοδος (exodos)  which we see in Luke 9:31, and here  Brian briefly provides  some good food for thought on that subject.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Bible Scholar of the Future

If you have dreams of becoming a Bible scholar, Ben Witherington's book, Is There a Doctor in the House?:  An Insider's Story and Advice on becoming a Bible Scholar (Zondervan 2011),  may talk you out of it.  To be proficient,  you better know French and German, in addition to Hebrew and Greek.         You must have a love for history and archaeology, ancient religions and the history of literature and literary theory.   I knew students when I was in college who had the passion for this tremendous field of study, and  were ready to deal with all of these obstacles which I now see listed listed by Ben.    They went on to get Ph.D.'s and they did find work at universities.   But that was 35 years ago.   What about now?   Now, how do you support yourself as a Bible scholar?  New grads are feeling like most teaching jobs have dried up, unless you want to work for $3,000.00 a year as an adjunct.  Well, I hope it's not that bad.

I'm a lawyer, and I am grateful for my work. But  like most lawyers I know I have told my children to avoid the  law business as well.  Out of six children one has become a lawyer, and I am proud of that.  But no more!    There are too few openings for the people coming out of the law schools.   And we see that in other professions requiring graduate degrees  as well, especially with these jobs in academia.  The job market has always been tight for people coming out of "liberal arts" grad school programs, but now it appears forbidding.   We parents of the Gen Y's tell our children to become nurses and engineers.    Jacques Ellul's,  The Technological Society (Knopf trans. 1964) marches forward.  We are cutting out wonder, passion and the poetry of life from career choices.

My solution for those who will swim upstream and go after this honorable  career choice of Bible scholar? I have no solution, other than to say that young people should  think long and hard about it, as Ben Witherington describes in his book.    But one approach for those who are "called"  might be:  To keep the cost down,  attend a public university such as the University of Wisconsin - Madison which still has a strong classics program offering respected Ph.D's.  Live in community, like monks in a monastery. I don't know of any such lay communities here in Wisconsin, but I predict that we will see them.  I've got faith in the human spirit.  We will see young people make these kinds of sacrifices to become Bible scholars.  If the technological society (meaning The Brave New World where technology is all that matters) represents the cultural  gates of hell, the Bible scholar heroes of the future will be among those making sure that these evil forces will not prevail.  

Monday, August 18, 2014

Bloggers Not Blogging

Bible bloggers are not doing much blogging lately.  With the Middle East in flames and with the genocide of Christians in Iraq and Syria people feel  that  reflections on Scripture are a luxury.   We all want to enlist in the military and restore peace to the Holy Land, and bring the surviving  Christians back to their homes.  We all want to help.  I will give money to the Knights of Columbus for their work helping the persecuted Christians, and the desperate Yazidis.   The Knights will make sure the donations go where they should go.    I'm not sure what else I can do.  We are all trying to figure that out.

Well, I'm going to keep blogging. The Apostle Paul found time to write in a war torn world. The priests exiled to  Babylon wrote much of what we call the OT in the middle of their wars and persecutions.  There is nothing wrong with the Jesuit idea of contemplation in action.  Blogging is contemplation.

Friday, July 11, 2014

James Dunn Part 4 - Gospel Faith from First Encounter with Jesus

I'm coming back to James Dunn and his book, Jesus, Paul and the Gospels where Dunn says this: 

According to the Gospels, these first disciples dedicated themselves to following Jesus. They left their homes and their means of livelihood for his sake. They trusted this Jesus with their lives. He was the focus of their hopes. This can quite appropriately be described as ‘faith’. And given that there is a high degree of continuity between Jesus’ own leading followers and the leadership of the first churches — Peter and John in particular — there is bound also to be a similarly high degree of continuity between the early trust of Jesus’ first disciples and the faith they went on to express regarding this Jesus. Indeed, they would presumably regard their subsequent faith in Jesus as a vindication of their initial trust in him, their subsequent faith in Jesus as in at least some degree rooted in and springing from the encounter with Jesus in Galilee which so transformed their lives.

James D.G. Dunn, Jesus, Paul and the Gospels (Wm. B. Eerdmanns Pub. Co.  2011).  People make pilgrimages to Israel because they want to walk these same roads in Galilee.  A faith rooted in history is a great treasure.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Leithart and Levering

Two biblical writers who have been helpful to me are Peter Leithart and Matthew Levering.  Leithart and Levering, sounds like a law firm.  Here from First Things  you see what Levering says about Leithart:

I first discovered Peter Leithart’s writings in the pages of Pro Ecclesia and First Things. Even his earliest writings are striking for their creative engagement with the Christian tradition and for their superb rhetorical power. When I turned to his books, I found a sacramental and political theologian for the whole Church. Writing from a strongly Reformed, evangelical perspective, Peter manifests a wonderful love for Christ and for Christ’s scriptural word in all its dimensions. Indeed Peter’s love for Christ, and the distinctive way in which he has learned from those who have loved Christ in centuries past, overflows into theological and pastoral writings that put merely academic writings to shame. By God’s grace, he is energizing a “new evangelization” within Reformed and evangelical circles that will bear great fruit for all Christians, especially with regard to helping us to hear and live the gospel in our American context.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Language of Jesus II

As to the last post, I meant no disrespect for the Prime Minister.  He may have been correct. On this subject of the spoken language of Jesus,  the late Professor David Flusser, a Jewish scholar in Jerusalem, wrote:

The spoken languages among the Jews of that period were Hebrew, Aramaic, and to an extent Greek. Until recently, it was believed by numerous scholars that the language spoken by Jesus’ disciples was Aramaic. It is possible that Jesus did, from time to time, make use of the Aramaic language. But during that period Hebrew was both the daily language and the language of study. The Gospel of Mark contains a few Aramaic words, and this was what misled scholars. Today, after the discovery of the Hebrew Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus), of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and of the Bar Kokhba Letters, and in the light of more profound studies of the language of the Jewish Sages, it is accepted that most people were fluent in Hebrew. The Pentateuch was translated into Aramaic for the benefit of the lower strata of the population. The parables in the Rabbinic literature, on the other hand, were delivered in Hebrew in all periods. There is thus no ground for assuming that Jesus did not speak Hebrew; and when we are told (Acts 21:40) that Paul spoke Hebrew, we should take this piece of information at face value. 

David Flusser,  Jewish Sources in Early Christianity,  POB 7103, Tel Aviv 61070: MOD Books, 1989.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Language of Jesus - The Pope in Jerusalem

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated during a meeting with Pope Francis yesterday that Jesus’ native language was Hebrew.   Here is the Haaretz reporting:
“Jesus was here, in this land. He spoke Hebrew,” Netanyahu told Francis at a meeting in Jerusalem on Monday. The pope was quick to correct the prime minister and tell him that Jesus in fact spoke Aramaic, as mainstream biblical scholars generally agree.  There is compelling evidence for this: evidence from the Christian Bible itself, and historical evidence about the linguistic milieu Jesus was raised and lived in.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

James Dunn Part 3 - Gospel of Mark and the Jewish War

Dunn argues that the first 'readers and auditors' of the Gospel of Mark likely included people who had experienced the Jewish war (70 A.D.) or the events leading up to it: 
All this suggests in turn a close knowledge of the Jewish revolt and its antecedents shared by the writer and the recipients of the Gospel— that is, somewhere close to the land of Israel, probably Syria. Our knowledge of Christian communities in Israel-Syria during and immediately after the war is almost nonexistent. But it is certainly plausible to allow the possibility that someone who had endured some of the early hardships of the revolt wrote his Gospel for the benefit of Jesus-Messianists who were still in Judea and when his note to the reader in 13.14 would still have relevance. Or, alternatively in the wider region of Syria, when there would be many readers or auditors who had experienced the war and who resonated with its warnings and encouragement.
 James D.G. Dunn, Jesus, Paul and the Gospels (Wm. B. Eerdmanns Pub. Co.  2011).

James Dunn Part 2 - Earthly Mission of Jesus

Dunn challenges those who claim that Paul's gospel message ignored the earthly mission of Jesus: 

The good news about Jesus must have included some narrative explaining who Jesus was and recounting something at least of the character of what he had said and done during his mission. The gospel which converted so many Gentiles could hardly have been simply that an unidentified ‘X’ had died and been raised from the dead.   On the contrary, since new believers in Paul’s gospel were beginning to be called ‘Christians’ (Acts 11.26), baptised ‘in the name of Christ’ (1 Cor. 1.12–15), that would inevitably have prompted them to ask more about this ‘Christ’, not least so that they could give an answer to any questions as to why they had changed their lives and now based them on this ‘Christ’.

James D.G. Dunn, Jesus, Paul and the Gospels (Wm. B. Eerdmanns Pub. Co.  2011).  Yes, an "unidentified 'X' " would not have turned the world upside down the way the risen Jesus did.  Believers get to know him through a study of his words and deeds.   I have blogged about Frank Sheed's comments on this subject: 

To know Christ Jesus:  If we do know  not him as he lived among us, acted and reacted and suffered among us, we risk not knowing him at all.  For we cannot see him at the right hand of the Father as we can see him in Palestine. And we shall end either in constructing our own Christ, image of our own needs or dreams, or in having no Christ but a shadow and a name.
Frank J. Sheed, To Know Christ Jesus (Sheed and Ward, Inc. 1962) at page 11.


Friday, May 9, 2014

James Dunn Part 1 - Jesus, Paul and the Gospels

I am reading a great book by James D.G. Dunn titled Jesus, Paul and the Gospels.  Dunn argues that NT students fail to appreciate the importance of the oral tradition of the words and deeds of Jesus which preceded and provided the material for the written Gospels:

That Matthew and Luke had access to much more material than Mark is clear. That some of it was already in writing is highly probable. But that they also knew the Jesus tradition as living oral tradition, with the sort of diversity we still find in the Synoptic tradition, is equally probable.   

James D.G. Dunn, Jesus, Paul and the Gospels (Wm. B. Eerdmanns Pub. Co.  2011).

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Joanne McDonald - Egregious Twaddle

I have added Joanne McDonald's  great blog titled Egregious Twaddle to my blog and site list. 

Ms. McDonald says this about religious education:

What if our catechetical conventions and publishers and media producers and speakers’ bureaus focused exclusively on adult faith formation? Heads would explode, for sure. We’d experience a disturbance in the Force—as though the whole catechetical-industrial complex had cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. (If this takes off, they can blame me for 40 Years of Good Catechesis. Mea culpa in advance.) But a Gibbs-slap to the back of the head might be just what we need. It actually supports the New Evangelization, because that’s what we would be doing—evangelizing. Catechesis follows evangelization, and it has just never worked to catechize children and expect them to evangelize their parents.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Young Man - Gospel of Mark

In an excellent 2010 article published in HTS  TeleogieseStudies/Theological Studies  Pieter G.R. de Villiers makes the case that the "young man" who appears in Mark 14 and Mark 16 is mysteriously the same person.   See  "The Powerful Transformation of the Young man in Mark 14:51-52 and 16:5,"    HTS TeologieseStudies/Theological Studies 66(1), Art. #893, 7 pages, DOI: 10.4102/hts.v66i1.893 (November 5, 2010), online at http://www.hts.org.za/index.php/HTS/article/view/893/1130 
Mark chapter 14 ends with an anonymous "young man" who  "was following Jesus" and who flees the arrest scene as he too is about to be taken by those who came for Jesus.  The young man wears nothing but a linen garment which he leaves behind while fleeing from the scene. He flees naked, which is his symbol of shame and failure.
As the author of the HTS article states, "There is, however, one other reference in Mark’s Gospel, equally enigmatic, to a similar character. The climactic description of the women’s discovery of the empty tomb also refers to a young man. In Mark 16, the women go to Jesus’ tomb early on the sabbath after his death, worrying about how they will get to the body of Jesus to anoint it. They discover that the stone has been rolled away and then find a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, who tells them about the resurrection of Jesus."
The author builds the case for connecting these two appearances of a  "young man," based on dress, the linen cloth in chapter 14 and the white robe in chapter 16, based on  the anonymity of both of them, and on other similarities of content.  Also, the place of each reference is important.   The two references open and close the great story of the trial, death and resurrection of Jesus.
What does the author of the Gospel seek to teach through the two appearances of the young man?  The HTS article states: 
It is, for example, clear that the passion and resurrection of Jesus brings about a transformation in re-creation. Waaijman (2006:43"44) observes that humanity, having made the transition from non-being into being (transformation in creation), can orientate itself to good or to evil. Where evil prevails, deformity follows. This happens also with the young man in the garden. Mark makes a point of illustrating the shamefulness of his actions as he allows others to destroy his relationship with Christ and as he betrays Jesus. His nakedness represents the way in which his lack of faithfulness brings about his deformation. He follows the disciples in their shameful and deformed betrayal of Jesus. The death and resurrection of Jesus, however, brings about his transformation in re-creation from a failed witness and his state of shame into a privileged witness of the resurrection.  He himself has no part in his re-creation. His transformation is a divine gift to him which grants him a totally new condition and status.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Pope Francis - the Missionary Disciple

Disciples are followers, but the pope argues that believers must be more than followers.  They must be missionaries:     “Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are “disciples” and “missionaries”, but rather that we are always missionary disciples”. 

Article 120, "Evangelii Gaudium" ("The Joy of the Gospel")  (November 26, 2013).   

Friday, March 14, 2014

Pope Francis - the Desert Experience

Pope Francis speaks about the spiritual desert, and  how life at home with families and  at the workplace can be parched places where it becomes a challenge to proclaim the the  faith. Section 86, "Evangelii Gaudium" ("The Joy of the Gospel")  (November 26, 2013).   

In this section 86 the pope describes the desert, quoting Pope Benedict XVI, Homily at Mass for the Opening of the Year of Faith (11 October 2012) AAS 104 (2012), 881, as follows:  “Yet ‘it is starting from the experience of this desert, from this void, that we can again discover the joy of believing, its vital importance for us men and women. In the desert we rediscover the value of what is essential for living; thus in today’s world there are innumerable signs, often expressed implicitly or negatively, of the thirst for God, for the ultimate meaning of life. And in the desert people of faith are needed who, by the example of their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive.'" 

Our homes and workplaces in the modern world are spiritual deserts. Most people have no interest in Jesus. Life at home for many focuses on getting the daily work done and paying the bills, without any appreciation for how God wants to enter into those mundane things.   And in the workplace if you push Jesus too hard you will get sued.  Life  at home and at work can become a spiritual desert.  But that is not for us.  We must be there to respond to the thirsty, parched people whom we encounter each day.   The desert creates an opportunity.  And we know how God deals with the desert.  As people think long and hard about the meaning of life (in the desert) they may conclude that the answer is God, and then in their thirst  they can experience the joy of the Gospel, and God will bring them to that promised land of faith, which (to switch metaphors) yields the fruit of the spirit, which is love, joy, peace and kindness.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Missionary Work Gives Joy

In his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, issued November 24, 2013,  Pope Francis at section 15 quotes the encyclical of John Paul II,  Redemptoris Missio (December 7, 1990), stating that “the missionary task must remain foremost”.   Commenting on these words just quoted, the pope states:

What would happen if we were to take these words seriously? We would realize that missionary outreach is paradigmatic for all the Church’s activity. Along these lines the Latin American bishops stated that we “cannot passively and calmly wait in our church buildings”; we need to move “from a pastoral ministry of mere conservation to a decidedly missionary pastoral ministry”. This task continues to be a source of immense joy for the Church: “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Lk 15:7).

Evangelii Gaudium (November 24, 2013) at section 15 (quoting Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops, Aparecida Document, 29 June 2007, 548).

This is a new way to look at Luke 15:7.  The messenger who brings the good news is blessed with great spiritual consolation.  But doesn't the text refer to "joy in heaven," with no reference to joy for the missionary?  The pope quotes Luke 15 as a matter of joy "for the church."  The church is present in heaven and on earth.  It's not a stretch, then, for the pope to rely on this verse in his discussion of the connection between joy and the work of sharing the gospel. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Jesus with the Bent Over Woman - Luke 13

This beautiful stained glass window depiction of Jesus'  healing of the woman on the Sabbath  shows the citation to "St. Luke XIII."

 From St. Tudno's Church,  near Gogarth, Conwy, Great Britain, a 12th. Century Stained Glass Window
This stained glass window depicts  the crippled woman healed by Jesus (Luke 13:10-13).    Credit:  Wikipedia Commons   

Monday, February 17, 2014

Not Many of You Should Become Bloggers

Few should become teachers, says James 3:1.  As a blogger I don't want to run afoul of James on this point.  But I do see a solution here, and that is to apply the golden rule.  “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt 7:12 RSV). It’s frustrating to read  things  written by people who don't know what they are talking about, especially if they take five pages to say what they could say in one.   Applying the golden rule here means that  I can't  be writing that way either.    My application to this in the blogosphere: Avoid subjects which are too deep for me.   That is doable.  Take what you know, and reflect on that.  For someone like me who has been enjoying  the Bible as a layperson  for over 35 years, the texts and scholarly commentaries which I have come to know and love  raise many  fascinating  issues to discuss.   I try to  avoid matters that should be left to the professionals.

With that preface, here is the scary verse for bibliobloggers:  "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness" (James 3:1 RSV).   And also consider this from  John Dyer:  

What few of us realize is that when we press those "Publish," "Post," "Comment," and "Send" buttons, we are making the shift away from merely "believing" truth and stepping into the arena of publishing that belief. In doing so we are effectively assuming a position of leadership and teaching that prior to 2004 was not available to us.
James warned us, "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly" (James 3:1, NIV1984). James goes on to graphically portray the incredible power that our tongues have both to praise and to curse especially in the context of teaching. He then says, "Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life." (James 3:13). Solomon echoes similar wisdom, "Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent" (Prov. 17:28).

"Not Many of You Should Presume To Be Bloggers,"  http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/marchweb-only/bloggers.html

Or, like I tell my children,   the less said the better.  

But Ps. 119 becomes a kind of opposing thought to James 3:1.  At verse 33 the psalmist says, "Lead me in the path of your commands, for in it I delight."  A blogger like me is not likely to come up with anything new.  But in the act of republishing  the sacred teachings and one person's response to them, my hope is that I am adding just a little of the light of Christ to a world which has much darkness.     As the psalmist says, the teachings become a "path" and in it we "delight."   Most bloggers are not doing much teaching.  That has already been done by the sacred writers.  We are more like members of a chorus who agree with Ps. 119, giving praise to God for his teaching and asking God to help us follow it. 

Why is reading and reflecting on  God’s word an empowering experience?   Jesus answers that, quoting  from  Deuteronomy 12:32,   Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”  (Matt 4:4 RSV) (quoting Deut. 8:3).

A version of this was posted on this blog June 27, 2012. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Fr. Dan Harrington S.J. Scholar and Priest

I am sorry to hear of the death on February 7 of  Fr. Dan Harrington S.J., a great priest and scholar.  His work has been the subject of previous posts on this blog.

Of all that I have read in tribute to Fr. Dan, this from Fr. Jim Martin S.J. is what stands out:

So the first time it was offered at Weston, I signed up for Dan’s “Introduction to the New Testament,” NT 101, along with what seemed like half of Weston’s student body and half the students at Harvard Divinity School. It’s not a stretch to say that his course changed my life. I had never really studied the New Testament before, and neither had some of my classmates, and blessed were we that our first exposure to studying the Gospels was through the eyes of someone who so loved them and knew them, and who so loved Jesus and knew Jesus.

"Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., R.I.P.,"  by James Martin SJ,   America  (February 8, 2014), online at 

Monday, January 27, 2014

St. Theresa of Avila - the Hands and Feet of Jesus

Text of remarks made at Holy Family Catholic Church, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin,  at the conclusion of January 27, 2014  funeral Mass for Kathleen (McCabe) Schuessler Pedi   - 
who was born February 14, 1926, and born to eternal life January 24, 2014

I would like to thank two people, my sister Julie who took care of Kathleen in 1979 after our father died.  You set aside your own life to care for your mother when she needed help.  Thank you so much.   And I thank my sister, Jeanne, for taking the lead in caring for Kathleen the last five years when she was at Hillside Manor Nursing Home, as she declined with her Parkinson’s condition.  We are so grateful.
Kathleen, ten years ago
May I please take you back to a time,  more than 50, almost 60  years ago when my mother,  Kathleen,  was having her children.  And she had eight of us.  She always said, "I have five beautiful daughters, and three fine sons."   But here I would like to go back to those first years, and then to what I'll call the  St. Joseph School era in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.  (Kathleen also attended St. Joseph School in the 1930's.)   I see in this new beautiful Holy Family Church pieces from  the old St. Joseph stained glass windows that I used to stare at as a  child at  daily Mass which all of us school children attended. I see today the amazing scene of the birth of Jesus and the Magi over here [to my left], and the ascension of Jesus over here [to right].    Will you please use your imagination and go back with me to this great time of our lives.  
St.  Theresa of Avila said this:
Christ  has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses …
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet ....

             Today I say to you that hers was the body.  Hers were the hands.  Hers were the feet.   And hers  were the eyes, those beautiful Irish eyes.  Yes, she danced with her feet, and played violin with her hands.   But for us it was much more.    When we were so little that we  didn’t know anything about  Jesus, Kathleen was like Mother Theresa to us. Kathleen  was the only Jesus that we had.  Here are two examples:  
            When Christine was two she almost died from  pneumonia. Christine was so sick that she got very tiny. That's how Kathleen gave her the nickname, "the wee one."   But Kathleen nursed her back to health.
            The earliest memory of my entire life came from  our Marr Street house in Fond du Lac.  You won’t believe this, but I remember from my crib, when I was no more than two years old, waking up to this baby Mary crying, and  who would not stop crying.   We have all heard of those weeks and months when  Mary would not stop crying.  And picture this for Kathleen.  She is a young mother of about 30, with this crying baby, and with a two year old and a three year old, and she is pregnant with Christine.   Many moms would lose their cool facing this, would be overwhelmed.   But Kathleen did not lose her cool.  She loved that baby Mary, and she held her in her arms night after night,  to where she finally stopped crying.  Kathleen did not just survive those years of young motherhood.  She thrived on those challenges.  She loved that time of her life.   
            It’s freezing cold today, 8 below zero outside.   To my memory, the weather  was always like it is today  in January when we were small – below zero.  But if this were 1965 we would have been playing tackle pom pom on the St. Joseph school playground today.  Yes, our teachers (Sisters of St. Agnes)  let us play.   They would let the snow stay on parts of the concrete schoolyard, and we stormed out there at recess and got it  packed down from playing  those running and tackling games on it.  We also played king of the hill on the snow piles created by the plowed snow.   What does this have to do with Kathleen?   She had to get all the gear for us – the coats, those face mask ski hats, the mittens and gloves, and help us load it all on every day, so that we could get out and walk to school two blocks away, and be prepared to handle those wonderful school recess periods out in the cold.     There were 700 of us baby boomers crammed into St. Joseph School.  The sisters had to let us out.  My best memory of those days with Kathleen was the oatmeal.     The hot oatmeal that Kathleen made every morning  helped a lot when it was 13, 14, 15 below zero, and we had to get to school.
            Kathleen  rarely raised her voice.  We lived in a giant old house 136 Sheboygan Street and  the eight of us would be spread out all over it, in different spots.  (Thanks to my brother Jim, who made arrangements with the owner,  we are going to go through that house later today.)  Christine was usually  in the study “den” with her two imaginary friends, named Cottie and Cootie.   But when mom called for you, she  wouldn’t shout for you.  She would quietly go to you and ask you to take out the garbage or clean the kitchen.   There was no yelling.   Even when John and I were playing catch in the dining room and  broke the Jesus statue she didn’t yell.  She just cried, and then she forgave us.   
            When we had some trouble in our house,  at about age eight I could sense it and was bothered by it.   In the middle of this I  remember asking  Kathleen, “Mom, what was the best time of your life?”  She said, “Right now is pretty good.”  About two years later, again some things were going wrong, and I went to Kathleen again and said, “Mom, tell me, what was the best time of your life?”  She said, “I would say right now is good.”   Fr. Tom talked about that in his tremendous homily.  Thinking of that raises this question:  Was Kathleen Pollyanna?  No, she was not Pollyanna.   She was gifted with the ability to endure suffering with composure.   
            As everyone has been saying over the last couple of weeks, nursing home staff included,  Kathleen was all about sacrificial  love, the eyes, hands and feet of love which St. Theresa described.   My sister Julie said, “She lived  a quiet kind of love. “
On that subject of what love means, I will close with this, which was Kathleen’s  personal teaching  to me.   We were at Schreiners Restaurant, Kathleen and I, and  Jeanne and Christine were there with us.   It was May, 1980, just a couple of days before I would be getting married.  My sisters were looking straight at me, to make sure that I was listening to what Kathleen was going to say to me about how I needed to treat my beautiful new bride, Katy.  Kathleen’s words were simple.    She said to me,  “Tom, be kind,  be kind.”
                                                                                                              Tom Schuessler
                                                                                                                          January 27, 2014

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Four Senses of Scripture

Here is some excellent material on how to read the Bible:

The senses of Scripture
115      According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral, and anagogical senses. The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.
116      The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: “All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal.”
117      The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God’s plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs. 
The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ’s victory and also of Christian Baptism.
The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written “for our instruction.”
The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, “leading”). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.
118      A medieval couplet summarizes the significance of the four senses:
The Letter speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith;
The Moral how to act; Anagogy our destiny. 

Catechism of the Catholic Church, sections 115-118 (footnotes omitted). 


Present with Jesus - Anamnesis

Jesus said, "Do this in remembrance of me." David Bennett and Jonathan Bennett make these comments on remembrance: 
The Greek word for remembrance, anamnesis, does not imply simple psychological recollection. Enlightenment rationalistic assumptions have clouded many an interpretation of Jesus' words here. The word anamnesis, as it was often used in ancient times, means to bring the past into the present and the present into the past. In the Eucharist, we truly experience Christ's life, death, and resurrection, and Christ is made present to us, and we are made present to Him. This is far more dynamic than merely remembering something. 

The Jewish celebration of Passover  is precedent to defend this  description of the liturgical experience of anamnesis.  The CCC states:  "In the sense of Sacred Scripture  the memorial is not merely the recollection of past events but the proclamation of the mighty works wrought by God for men. In the liturgical celebration of these events, they become in a certain way present and real. This is how Israel understands its liberation from Egypt: every time Passover is celebrated, the Exodus events are made present to the memory of believers so that they may conform their lives to them.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, sec. 1363. 

Dave Armstrong in this blog post has done a great job citing the OT authority and Jewish sources which confirm that Jewish thought promotes this liturgical idea of making past events present and real.  Our modern minds have great difficulty making the past present because we live by what Gerhard von Rad calls "the law of historical exclusiveness."   Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology Vol. 1(New York, Harper & Row Trans. 1962), at page 110.   "We have to further consider that in their presentation of religious material the peoples of antiquity were not aware of the law of historical exclusiveness, according to which a certain event or a certain experience can be attached only to a single definite point in history.  In particular, events bearing a saving character retained for all posterity, and in that posterity's eyes, a contemporaneousness which it is hard for us to appreciate."  Von Rad at page 110.

Another version  of this post appeared here August 8, 2012.