Lenten Reflections on Scripture: A Wedding in Galilee

WaterwineAs the story of the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11) is one of the Luminous mysteries, many of us have contemplated the account of Jesus’ first miracle many times. The narrative is simple and easy to understand: Jesus begins to show his “signs” in order to prove who he is. Homilies I’ve heard on this text will often focus on Mary’s role here as the initiator of Christ’s first miracle and expound on that role in the life and ministry of her Son.

However, I’ve always been perplexed by the exchange between Jesus and Mary. She comes to Jesus and reports that the wine had run out. He answers, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” Mary does not respond to Him, but addresses the waiters, “Do whatever he tells you.” It’s the objectionable language of Jesus, and Mary’s non-response that I have trouble understanding.

One thing I will often do to help me fully grasp a gospel narrative is to use my imagination to picture the scene as if I was part of it. I enjoy theater and did a lot of acting in college which helps. I once heard a lecture by actor Michael York on performing Shakespeare. He noted that Shakespeare did not provide stage directions and never really cared how a play or a character was interpreted; the director or actor could do whatever they wanted. This is perhaps why his plays work in many different settings. Gospel narratives can be similar in that the text can be lacking in detail, as well as the fact that the Greek manuscripts had no punctuation, leaving it to the interpreter to picture the scene and punctuate the text. Continue reading “Lenten Reflections on Scripture: A Wedding in Galilee”

Types, Symbols, and the Nativity Story

Biblical typology is the study of words, events, symbols, etc. that have a broader meaning then their immediate literary context. Numbers connected to events are the most common types found in the Bible;  there were forty days of rain, forty years in the Sinai wilderness, forty days fasting in the desert etc.. It tells us that these events are connected or somehow foreshadow each other. Other important numbers include 1, 3, 7, 8, and 12.

Probably the best book on the subject is The Bible and the Liturgy by Jean Danielou. He looks into the Bible for events that foreshadow Catholic liturgy. One example he explores is the narrative of the flood and how it foreshadowed baptism. The ark going through the noahwater represented the purification of mankind just as for those being baptized, water represents purification from original sin.

Also, he points out that the number of people on the ark is eight, the number that represents the new creation, the eighth day. Sunday is considered the eighth day as the day of Christ’s resurrection. (Danielou makes an interesting observation that there is no record of any dissent by Jewish Christians in the first century when they made Sunday rather than Saturday the day of worship). This is why in most Catholic churches the baptismal fonts are octagonal (at least at the time he wrote the book — 1956). Baptism removes the stain of original sin enabling a new creation.

Continue reading “Types, Symbols, and the Nativity Story”

What does it mean to be a Christian?

A priest told me once to read Matthew 25:31-46 and to think about what it means to be a Christian. This is that very familiar passage when Christ separates the sheep from the goats:

 When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ 40 And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

I was looking at it on the USCCB web site, as it often includes some interesting commentary on the text. In this case there was a note on the question of who exactly are the “brothers”:

Are they all people who have suffered hunger, thirst, etc. or a particular group of such sufferers?  …[I]t seems that a stronger case can be made for the view that in the evangelist’s sense the sufferers are Christians, probably Christian missionaries whose sufferings were brought upon them by their preaching of the gospel. The criterion of judgment for all the nations is their treatment of those who have borne to the world the message of Jesus, and this means ultimately their acceptance or rejection of Jesus himself.

I have heard over a dozen homilies on this passage and it is never presented this way. It makes sense to ask why would Christ identify himself with every single person who suffers? There are lots of evil poor people, prisoners, and strangers. There are plenty of other passages that exhort us to “love thy neighbor”. This one, I think, is stating that the judgement of nations will rest on their acceptance of God through their actions toward His Church, His body.

Added 12/15:

I recently came across this piece of liberal wisdom from Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga on rorate:

“The ultimate question will not be, ‘did you go to Mass or not,’ but ‘did you feed the hungry’. Therefore, we cannot privatize faith inside a temple, in a liturgical celebration.”

The article added that while Maradiaga was an archbishop in Honduras, the percentage of those identifying themselves as Catholic went from 94% to 46% and became the first minority-Catholic country in Central America.

The misunderstanding of Matthew 25:31-46 can distort the way Catholics view the importance of the Church and the sacraments.

…rjt

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