Political Activity is Not the Service of the Kingdom

The account of the feeding of the 5000 as reported in John chapter 6 is really a tragic story; the same people Jesus had miraculously fed eventually rejected Him. Their expectations were for a political solution to their plight, and a king who can produce food instantaneously for thousands of people would have made a good candidate:

When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.” Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone (vss. 14-15).

He gives them the slip until they catch up to Him in Capernaum:

And when they found him across the sea they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus answered them and said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled” (vss. 25-26).

Commenting on this passage, theologian Ronald Knox affirms that Jesus had come to provide only for their spiritual plight:

[O]ur lord is disturbed by the earthly-minded ambition on the part of his followers which would make a king of him. …Political activity is not the service to which the true kingdom is calling them.†

The temporal/worldly versus the spiritual/eternal is a theme that persists throughout the discourse:

Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal” (vs. 27).

This begins the “Bread of Life” discourse, a prophetic description of the sacrament of the Eucharist. Jesus repeats four times to the crowd of followers that they would have to eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to have eternal life. When they realized that this was a reference to cannibalism, they deserted Him, and Jesus did nothing to prevent it because they had understood Him correctly, but faithlessly.

It is possible that this whole dialogue was specifically aimed at the twelve disciples, to whom He asks:

“What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” (vs. 62).

This question, also prophetic since this is exactly what the disciples would experience, puts them in a corner. Let me paraphrase Jesus’ words,

“I just told you that to have eternal life you must consume my real body and blood. So how will you do that when I’m no longer here?”

Jesus explains:

“It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (vs. 63).

Jesus is reminding His disciples of the distinction between the spiritual and the earthly. They had seen Him change water into wine and feed thousands with a few loaves of bread, etc. That He would provide His body and blood in a spiritual manner should not have been impossible for them to believe.

The dialogue as a whole is a reminder that the mission of Christ and the Church is a spiritual one as opposed to an earthly one. The political issues of today: climate change, the alleviation of poverty, immigration etc., are the latter and are not the priorities of the “true kingdom”, and should not be the priorities of Church authorities today.

…rjt

A Commentary on the Gospels, New York: Sheen and Ward, 1952, p. 225.

Conflating the Love Commandments

“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35).

Note the exclusivity in Jesus’ words; this love is reserved for the disciples and is contrasted with “all”, a reference to current non-followers. This exclusivity obviously bothers Pope Francis who decided to reinterpret the passage in a recent address:

“Why does He call it a ‘new commandment’? The old commandment of love became new because it was complete with this addition: “as I have loved you,” “love one another as I have loved you.” The novelty is all in Jesus Christ’s love, that with which He gave his life for us” (link).

Continue reading “Conflating the Love Commandments”

Jesus Before Pilate: Five Observations of Fulton Sheen

Ecce Homo by Antonio Ciseri c. 1880

Possessing exceptional knowledge and wisdom, the Archbishop uncovers meanings in biblical texts that would be otherwise easy to miss.

1. After Jesus’ arrest and trial by the Sanhedrin, Friday morning He was taken to Pontius Pilate with a demand for his execution; Pilate responded,

“What charge do you bring against this man?” (John 18:29).

Continue reading “Jesus Before Pilate: Five Observations of Fulton Sheen”

Was Jesus’ Temple Clearing on Behalf of Gentiles?

Court of the Gentiles

After His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday Jesus headed to the Temple, making a whip out of cords and driving out of the Temple area not just those selling doves and changing money, but sheep and oxen as well. People who’ve studied Temple practices in the first-century find this story curious since this type of commerce was acceptable and necessary. Continue reading “Was Jesus’ Temple Clearing on Behalf of Gentiles?”

Lessons from Psalm 51 for the Summit

“…A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”

Psalm 51 was the result of a sex crime. It should have been the theme of the summit of bishops in Rome. The abuse, it’s cover-up, and the pain it has caused cannot be undone. More transparency, apologizing to the victims and their families, offers of compensation, are all the right things to do, but won’t undo the damage.

Only a renewed spirit on the part of the clergy as a result of repentance, contrition, and humility will solve the abuse crisis:

“For you do not desire sacrifice or I would give it; a burnt offering you would not accept. My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn” (vss. 18-19).

It is interesting that David’s self-reflection on his transgressions, specifically adultery and murder, do not include a mention of either one. The gravity of killing someone’s husband so you can take his wife was less of a crime against Uriah and Bathsheba than a grievous disobedience of God’s law. God sent the prophet Nathan to David charging, Continue reading “Lessons from Psalm 51 for the Summit”

Five Reasons to Proclaim Christian Truths Fearlessly

 

Emperor Nero used Christians as torches

Author Saul Bellow once wrote that he would occasionally attend a dinner party and would be asked for his opinion on a politically sensitive issue. His standard answer was non-confrontational: “I support all good policies and oppose all the bad ones.”

While the arrogance and moral bankruptcy behind political correctness will eventually lead to its own destruction, the current emerging generation of social engineers are becoming a serious danger to those who publicly proclaim basic Christian truths. Jesus demands, however, that we speak the truth, and courageously.

Breaking down Matthew 10:24-31, Jesus gives five reasons to speak confidently and without fear in the face of opposition: Continue reading “Five Reasons to Proclaim Christian Truths Fearlessly”

“Do sane Christians of the 21st-century really think I wrote that God induces people to sin?!” …St Luke

In art, St. Luke is often accompanied by a winged ox

Following the French, the Italian bishop’s conference recently voted to adjust the wording of the Our Father for liturgical purposes, changing “Lead us not into temptation” to “Abandon us not into temptation”. They had agreed with Pope Francis who had stated that,

“A father does not lead into temptation, a father helps you to get up immediately. …It is not a good translation because it speaks of a God who induces temptation” (Link).

A key point in his public letter correcting Card. Sarah on the new protocol with respect to liturgical translations revealed the pope’s preferred methodology:

“Here we can add that, in light of the MP [Magnum Principium], the “fideliter” of §3 of the canon implies a triple fidelity: to the original text in primis; to the particular language into which it is translated and, lastly, to the comprehension of the text by the recipients” (link).

Continue reading ““Do sane Christians of the 21st-century really think I wrote that God induces people to sin?!” …St Luke”

The Canticle of Simeon and the End of an Era

The Song of Simeon (nunc dimittis) lies within St. Luke’s Presentation narrative (2:21-40) in which he recounts that forty days after His birth, Jesus is presented in the Temple as the first-born male and a sacrifice is offered. Simeon, a devout Jew awaiting the “consolation of Israel”, recognizes Jesus as the Messiah as soon as he sees Him, breaking out in a song of praise.

But St. Luke omits something in the narrative:

“When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth” (vs. 39).

Why does St. Luke skip the Magi, Herod, the murder of the Innocents, and the flight to Egypt, all of which occurred before the Holy Family returned to Nazareth? Since Luke was undoubtedly aware of those events, their omission might reflect a specific purpose in his writing. Recall that Luke’s gospel constituted a letter written to a man named Theophilus:

“…I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, Most Excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received” (Luke 1:3-4).

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On the Trail of the Seed of Eve

Reading the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy) as narrative is not just spiritually rewarding but a lot more fun. What I mean by this is to read the text as one would read a novel, experiencing the drama by identifying and connecting broader themes as well as minor ones. Most Old Testament scholars today break the Pentateuch up into diverse source materials which they then analyze individually in light of history and archaeology. In doing this they tend to miss or discount the broader themes that the author of the Pentateuch intended to convey. Tracing the seed of Eve in Genesis is an example of reading the text as narrative.†

In His response to the Fall of Adam and Eve, God charges the serpent with what constitutes, on the one hand, a threat to his “seed”, and on the other, the promise of hope to humankind:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; They will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel” (Gen. 3:15).

Note that the references to the offspring (seed) of the serpent are singular and thus directed at Satan himself; he and his seed are one. Who then constitutes the seed of Eve that will crush the head of Satan? While it is left an open question, the author of the Pentateuch carefully traces this seed through various genealogies and narratives.

In the story of Noah we see how God’s promise develops; He judges the world yet preserves the obedient Noah and his family. After leaving the arc Noah builds an altar and sacrifices to God, who then blesses Noah:

“And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Gen. 9:1).

Now the promise concerning Eve’s seed will be preserved through Noah’s descendants.

Nimrod on the Tower of Babel. From John Huston’s film, ‘The Bible’.

But not through his great-grandson Nimrod. In the genealogy of Noah’s descendants in Genesis 10-11 (the Table of Nations), Nimrod receives an extended comment:

“Cush [son of Ham] became the father of Nimrod, who was the first to become a mighty warrior on earth. He was a mighty hunter in the eyes of the LORD; hence the saying, ‘Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter in the eyes of the LORD.’ His kingdom originated in Babylon, Erech and Accad, all of them in the land of Shinar. From that land he went forth to Assyria, where he built Nineveh…” (Genesis 10:8-12).”

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How Did the Disciples React to the First Eucharist?

At the Last Supper, after Jesus consecrated the bread and wine for the first time, is it possible that one or more of the disciples believed upon hearing these words that an actual transformation of the elements of the bread and wine had taken place? I think it’s possible that Judas was probably the only one who didn’t, and for four reasons.

First, at the Last Supper, when Jesus broke the bread and said, “This is my body”, he had said it in Aramaic. Semitic languages do not have words to indicate the verb “to be” in these types of statements. In Hebrew and Aramaic, the verb is implied when a subject and predicate are simply juxtaposed. What Jesus literally said as he held the bread was, “this, the body of me”. The disciples would have understood that the one is precisely identified with the other. Also, there were other expressions Jesus could have used to indicate that the bread was only to be regarded as a symbol.

Secondly, when Jesus said the words of consecration, the disciples would have immediately recalled the incident recorded in the Gospel of John chapter 6. Jesus repeats four times to a large crowd of followers that they would have to eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to have eternal life. They had thought He was referring to cannibalism, and Jesus did nothing to prevent their deserting Him because they had understood Him correctly, but faithlessly. So Jesus doubles down, demonstrating that this whole dialogue was specifically aimed at the twelve disciples:

“What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” (vs. 62).

He puts them in a corner with an obvious dilemma. Let me paraphrase Jesus’ words,

“I just told you that to have eternal life you and anyone must consume my real body and blood. So how will you do that when I’m not here?”

Continue reading “How Did the Disciples React to the First Eucharist?”