Thoughts on the Second Reading for the Seventh Sunday of Easter

Good Works

Behold, I am coming soon. I bring with me the recompense. To repay each for what he has done. Revelation 22:12

If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. I Corinthians 13:3

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is a gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:9

Christians are saved by grace through faith; justified by faith not by our works, but the great Prophet John tells us as Word from God that when Christ returns He will repay us for what we have done. John offers a list of those who will be lost: the cowardly and faithless, but also murderers, adulterers, and all liars. These are partly actions in the world, partly the failure of virtuous dispositions, partly actions that represent a rebellion against justice or acquiescence in the lure of evil. Those whom the prophet condemned for doing such things are condemned for the injustice of such acts, but more so because each represents a failure of love. “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (I John 5:3). “Whoever keeps His word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in Him” (I John 2:5). Continue reading “Thoughts on the Second Reading for the Seventh Sunday of Easter”

Thoughts on the First Reading for the Sixth Sunday in Easter

Some of our number who went out without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings…. We have with one accord decided to choose representatives and send them to you. Acts 15:24, 27

The wall of the city had twelve courses of stone as its foundations, on which were inscribed the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

Revelation 21:14

The fifteenth chapter of Acts describes the apostolic college, the apostles at Jerusalem, at work guiding the Church and keeping it safe from error. Paul and Barnabas had found the Church in Antioch much troubled by those who taught, “Unless you are circumcised, you cannot be saved.” Paul did not decide the matter for himself but went to Jerusalem to obtain the judgment of the apostles at what would be known as the Council of Jerusalem. There Paul and his companion Barnabas found Peter and perhaps also James and John (Acts 15:7, Galatians 2:9).<br.> Just who is and who is not an apostle in the account of Acts can be confusing. The word apostle is a Greek word describing one who is sent out, in the sense of Matthew 28:19: Go, baptize, and teach. In the first instance the apostles are the Eleven, or the Eleven plus Mathias, who was elected by the Holy Spirit under the criteria that he had been with the apostolic mission from the beginning so that he was a first-hand witness (Acts 1:21–26). Surrounding the eleven, and commissioned by them, was a larger group also called apostles, among whom Paul is chief example. When Paul enumerates those to whom Jesus had appeared after his resurrection the Twelve are a category different from “all the apostles” (Acts 15:5). Continue reading “Thoughts on the First Reading for the Sixth Sunday in Easter”

The Fourth Sunday of Easter

All Nations Shall Serve Him

I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth Acts 13:47

I, John, had a vision of a great multitude, Which no one could count, From every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb. Revelation 7:9

How Paul and Barnabas fulfilled the mission that brought every race and nation before the throne of God is the mystery of grace that works in the world to the glory of God fulfilling John’s vision of the conversion of the vast multitude of the elect, citizens of the Kingdom of God. It is a kingdom spread not by violence but by loyalty to its convictions and love in its witness to the world. Daniel prophesies of Christ: “To Him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, races, and tongues should serve Him” (7:13–14). Continue reading “The Fourth Sunday of Easter”

Palm Sunday

The Day Jesus Was King

Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, If these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” Luke 19:38-40

Isaiah had promised: “Behold a king shall rein in justice” (32:1), and when Gabriel was sent from God to foretell His birth, the angel told His mother: He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, And He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; And of His kingdom there will be no end. Luke 1:32–34

When Jesus called Nathanael, he replied: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the king of Israel” (John 1:49). Throughout the days of His teaching and miracle-working his disciples were admonished to tell no man that he was the anointed one, but there came a day, ever remembered among Christians as Palm Sunday, when Jesus was acclaimed as king. The dramatic climax of Jesus’ work one earth is especially evident in the Gospel of John. There is the great miracle at Bethany of the mastery of the last enemy in the raising of Lazarus (Luke 11:1–45), and again the visit to Mary and Martha, where Jesus allowed Himself to be anointed with pure nard so that the house was filled with its fragrance (12:1–9). At that time Jesus established the recognition of His glory as the source of all charity: “The poor you have always with you, but you do not always have me” Continue reading “Palm Sunday”

The Fourth Sunday in Lent

Whoever is in Christ is a new creation.

II Corinthians 5:17

At the heart of Paul’s genius is one grand, all-encompassing idea that is simultaneously a theology of nature, a theology of salvation history, and a theology of everyman’s soul’s pilgrimage. It is the image of a fallen cosmos, now groaning and travailing as it looks forward to redemption, of creation itself being made new in Christ in whom all things consist; of a chosen people reaching home in the Church, the company of Christ, in the New Jerusalem; and at its crown the image of man who grown old in sin set is at last set free and made new in the image of Christ. Sacred Scripture opens with the image of the Holy Spirit of God hovering over a world that has fallen into chaos, darkness, and emptiness, remaking it into the light-filled order and fullness of being that reflects the glory and perfection of its Creator. Continue reading “The Fourth Sunday in Lent”

The Third Sunday in Lent

His Name Shall Be Called Jesus

If they ask me, “What is His Name?” What am I to tell them? God replied, “I am who am.” Then he added, “This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I am sent me to you”

Exodus 3:13–14

Revelation is knowledge, knowledge, given by God when in the fullness of time He wills to reveal Himself. It is addressed to the obedient intellect. God may make Himself known by His deeds: “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself” (Exodus 19:3). He may make Himself known to the prophets in visions. God may teach us through His providential government of our lives as we walk along the path He has given. But on a day in the desert, when Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, God commanded Moses’ attention by showing Him a burning bush that “though on fire was not consumed.” There is no description of what Moses saw at Mount Horeb, but Moses knew that God was present. As he approached the burning bush God warned Moses not to come nearer and commanded that he remove his sandals: “For the place where you stand is holy ground.” Moses, full of awe, asked the question one who encounters mystery is likely to ask. “Who are you; what is your name? Continue reading “The Third Sunday in Lent”

The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Apostleship: What Paul Received

Apostleship: What Paul Received I handed on to you what I received as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures; that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.

Last of all, as to one born outs of due time he appeared to me

Paul would write again of his place as an apostle teaching what he had received, for when he undertook to correct the Corinthian Church regarding their tendency to celebrate the Eucharist as part of a rowdy love feast, he appealed to the tradition he had received from the Lord: that on the night when He was betrayed he took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, This is my body… (I Corinthians 11:23–26). We cannot be sure that Paul ever saw Jesus or ever heard is voice before Jesus spoke to him as he rode to Damascus to persecute the Church in that city. What Paul knew in the ordinary way of knowing he had learned in part from his study of what he then considered a damaging deviation from Pharisaic orthodoxy. He then heard the testimony of Stephen, for Paul, an agent of the Sanhedrin, guarded the coats of those who were stoning the deacon who has always been considered the first martyr. Continue reading “The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time”

The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Joy in the Law

Ezra read plainly from the book of the law of God, Interpreting it so that all could understand what was read. Then Nehemiah, that is, His Excellency, and Ezra the priest-scribe And the Levites who were instructing the people Said to all the people: Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not be sad and do not weep— For all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law. He said further, “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks. Do not be saddened this day.

The book of Nehemiah continues the account of Israel’s history begun in Chronicles, telling the story of the rebuilding of the city and the religious reformation of the people after their return from captivity in Babylon. The story is told in part in the voice of Nehemiah, a much favored Jew who had become cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes, and who, when he had heard of the desolation of the city of his fathers, its gates destroyed by fire, had been permitted by the king to visit Jerusalem in order restore it. The text has its difficulties. Ezra, the priest-scribe who effected religious reform, and the royal emissary Nehemiah may not have been contemporaries. The return from Babylon had been accomplished haphazardly, over more than a century. It is difficult to identify precisely the book from which Ezra read, which may have been Deuteronomy or Leviticus or some other part of the Pentateuch. What we have is surely the best information available to an author who may have written a century after the event described in the eighth chapter of Nehemiah, and who was himself the beneficiary of the reform he describes, a reform that gave Judah the Sabbath-observing, law-loving, ethnically- exclusionary character that would mark its existence as long as the city would endure. Continue reading “The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time”

The Feast of The Baptism of the Lord

God’s Gentleness

He shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making His voice heard in the Street. A bruised reed He shall not break and a smoldering flax he shall not quench. Isaiah 42:2–3

Careful readers of Chapters 40–55 of the Book of Isaiah have long found in these prophesies distinctive themes of hope, and in the fifty-second and fifty-third chapters the prophet offers the image of a Savior who comes to comfort, who is bruised for our iniquities, who does not display the beauty that the world desires, and who deals gently with those He calls. It is an image that transforms the idea of the King, for the one who is coming calls us from a visage made undesirable by suffering. He comes not to judge but to heal. He will come in glory, but now He comes in gentleness. His kingdom in this world is a kingdom of the heart. His grace works from the inside out. Continue reading “The Feast of The Baptism of the Lord”

The Feast of the Epiphany

His Star

We saw His star as its rising And have come to worship him. Matthew 2:2

For the Mediterranean world, Greeks and Romans, Hebrews and Egyptians, life was part of a larger system and our lives were seen as dependent upon beings, God and gods, and upon events that happened elsewhere. For the Hebrews the pattern of nature was established and sustained by the eternal God who had created it, and the pattern of every life was determined by, or at least depended upon, the will of God, who, was known not only because the firmament showed forth his handiwork (Psalm 19:1) but who touched the believer through his providential presence and through his chastening absence. Mankind was never alone in the world for not only was God ever present, but the angels, both the fallen angels and the obedient angels, were influences usually invisible but sometimes apparent. Continue reading “The Feast of the Epiphany”