To gain courage for what lay ahead, Jesus went up a mountain for a foretaste of heaven.


Sunday, 2/29/15

The Church has clipped the first words off the Gospel. Where it says, “Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up a high mountain” the Bible says. “After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John.” We should see that St. Mark purposely linked Jesus going up on that mountain to what had happened six days earlier.

Six days earlier Jesus had revealed to the apostles that he was headed for Jerusalem where he would be mocked, scorned, and crucified. Mark is telling us that Jesus was so downcast over what he was to endure that he went up a mountain to get as close as possible to his heavenly Father. He was looking for the strength for enduring what lay ahead of him. Up there he prayed so long that the apostles fell asleep. When they awoke they were dazzled by witnessing Jesus receiving a foretaste of heaven.

The scene above them consisted in the floor of God’s heaven, like a trampoline, being stretched down beneath the feet of Jesus, so that his body was transformed by heavenly brightness.

With the Jews believing that Elijah had been taken up to heaven in a chariot, and with the grave of Moses in Bethpeor having been taken up there; those two were the only ones up there. They were free to stroll over to chat with Jesus in his foretaste of heaven.   

To put the cap on the encouragement the Father was giving to Jesus, he spoke out, owning Jesus to be his beloved Son.

Jesus showed us that it is the Father's will that we love all his children, even our enemies.


Saturday, 2/28/15

We can better appreciate today’s Gospel if we know the circumstances that brought Matthew to write it. We must go back to the total destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in the year 70 a.d..

Not a stone was left upon a stone, and everyone in the city perished. However, the Pharisees, who had always cooperated with the Romans, were allowed to take away their families to settle in a campground they owned in a place called Jamnia on the Mediterranean coast.

They were left asking themselves how they could survive as a religion, when their religious life had centered on temple worship. The answer they came up with was that they would see the core of Judaism to consist in being strict observers of all the  old and new mandates of their law.

They immediately saw that since their expanded view  of the law forbade them to eat with Gentiles. Along with that, they saw that the tens of thousands of Jews who also saw themselves to be Christians would need to avoid mixing with Gentle Christians if they wanted to remain Jewish.

Looking at the situation retroactively, they began saying that Jesus, by mixing with Gentiles, even eating with them, had by his example set out to destroy the law and the Prophets.

In writing his Gospel to refute that claim, Matthew quoted Jesus as saying, “I did not come to destroy the law and the prophets. I came to fulfill them.”

In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus, one by one, took the mandates of the Old Law, showing how the Father had sent him to bring them to completeness. In God’ s eyes it is not enough to avoid adultery, we must also avoid lusting. It is not enough to love one’s neighbor, we must love all of God's children.

Even though our fathers ate sour grapes it did not set our teeth on edge.


Friday, 2/27/15

Our first reading today comes from the middle of Chapter 18 in the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel. It tells us that if the wicked man turns from his evil he can be saved, while if a just man should change to indulging in evil, he will not be save.

That Chapter 18 opens with the same teaching, but put figuratively. The Lord was criticizing the people for repeating a saying to which he strongly objected. The saying was, “Fathers have eaten green grapes that have set their children’s teeth set on edge.”

When you were a kid, if you ever helped yourself to a neighbor’s grapes, only to find them so sour that it set you teeth on edge. These many years later, when you hear that old saying, your teeth can remember how the bitterness set them grinding. 

What that saying meant to them in Old Testament times was that children share in the guilt of their parents. Chapter Twenty of Exodus backed up that interpretation where it said, “I, the Lord, your God am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their fathers’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation.”

How can the Bible change what it says? In Exodus it says children, even grand children and further will; be punished for the sins of their parents?

For one thing, the Book of Exodus seems to have incorporated some laws and sayings from contemporal law codes without binding us to see hem as coming from God.

Then Paragraph 15 of Vatican Two’s Constitution on Revelation says some passages in the Old Testament were “imperfect and provisional.” It gave rules that were supposed to hold only until the right thing came along, which it did with Ezekiel.


Thursday, 2/26/15

Thursday, 2/26/15

The story of Esther is of more importance to Jewish people than to Christians, but we might see something in it for us. Let’s look at its historical background. The seventy years of the Babylonian captivity of the Jews ended in 530 when the Persians, after defeating the Babylonians, allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem.

However, a large number of Jews settled in as part of the Persian homeland. The Story of Esther takes up with those Jewish settlers in Persia seventy years later. It features a Jew named Mordecai and his beautiful niece, Esther. The villain of the story was Hamas, the chief minister of King Ahasuerus.   

Mordecai, for his own religious reasons, refused to bow to Hamas, who greatly resented being snubbed, and his dislike for Mordecai became a hatred for the whole population of Jews residing in Persia.

It happened that Vashti, the Persian king’s queen refused to come at the king’s summons. That resulted in his banishing her, and his going on to command that all the kingdom’s most comely virgins be lined up for him to choose a queen. Smitten by Esther,  he chose her for his new queen. 

Hamas, after seeing Esther so exalted, came to fear that her uncle Mordecai could become a threat to his influence as the emperor’s chief minister. So, he went to the king with stories of how the Jews were planning to overthrown the kingdom, and he talked the king into allowing him to draw a lot indicating the day for a mass slaughtering. The lot fell on a date between our February and March; and the Jews still keep that day as the Feast of Purim, which is Hebrew for a “lot.” Meanwhile, Hamas constructed a fifty-foot-tall gibbet for hanging Mordecai.

Esther wanted to plead to the king for the doomed Jewish people, but she was forbidden under pain of death from entering the king’s presence without being summoned. In today’s reading she prayed for her people, and she prayed for courage to enter the king’s presence unbidden.

All went well, with the king sparing the Jews, and commanding Hamas to try out his  high gibbet.

Our papers everyday carry stories of people in Iran, Egypt, and Syria who are being jailed for speaking out against the bad policies of those governments. The story of Esther could be the feast day for those brave men and women who risk their lives by speaking out for what is Godly.




Esther is our patron saint of whistle blowers.


Thursday, 2/26/15

The story of Esther is of more importance to Jewish people than to Christians, but we might see something in it for us. Let’s look at its historical background. The seventy years of the Babylonian captivity of the Jews ended in 530 when the Persians, after defeating the Babylonians, allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem.

However, a large number of Jews, however. Settled in as part of the Persian homeland. The Story of Esther takes up with those Jewish settlers in Persia seventy years later. It features a Jew named Mordecai, and his beautiful niece, Esther. The villain of the story was Hamas, the chief minister of King Ahasuerus.   

Mordecai, for his own religious reasons, refused to bow to Hamas, who greatly resented being snubbed, and his dislike for Mordecai became a hatred for the whole population of Jews residing in Persia.

It happened that Vashti, the Persian king’s queen refused to come at the king’s summons. That resulted in his banishing her, and his going on to command that all the kingdom’s most comely virgins be lined up for him to choose a queen. Smitten by Esther,  he chose her for his new queen. 

Hamas, after seeing Esther so exalted, came to fear that her uncle Mordecai could become a threat to his influence as the emperor’s chief minister. So, he went to the king with stories of how the Jews were planning to overthrown the kingdom, and he talked the king into allowing him to draw a lot indicating the day for a mass slaughtering. The lot fell on a date between our February and March; and the Jews still keep that day as the Feast of Purim, which is Hebrew for a “lot.”. Meanwhile, Hamas constructed a fifty-foot-tall gibbet for hanging Mordecai.

Esther wanted to plead to the king for the doomed Jewish people, but she was forbidden under pain of death from entering the king’s presence without being summoned. In today’s reading she prayed for her people, and she prayed for courage to enter the king’s presence unbidden.

All went well, with the king sparing the Jews, and commanding Hamas to try out the high gibbet.

Our papers everyday carry stories of people in Iran, Egypt, and Syria who are being jailed for speaking out against the bad policies of those governments. The story of Esther could be the feast day for those brave men and women who risk their lives by speaking out for what is Godly.

The Book of Jonah tells us that God loves all foreigners.


Wednesday, 2/25/15

Let’s revisit the story of Jonah. The linguistic scholars tell us that the original  Hebrew text for the Book of Jonah abounded in sentence structures and idioms that were in use only in 400 b.c. So, it was conditions in Jerusalem in that decade that had God inspiring the writer to make up this story of Jonah.

We know that around the year 450 b.c. the city of Jerusalem had fallen into physical and moral decay, and to bring the people back to a healthy Judaism, God sent the priest Ezra and the diplomat Nehemiah to straighten the people out.

Those two succeeded beautifully, by getting the people to take the Law of Moses as their civil law. Working on the Sabbath and marrying foreigners became crimes.

The trouble was that the reformers overdid it. Jews came to regard foreigners as less than human, no longer God’s children. So, God inspired an unknown author to compose this ridiculous story. If the Bible had a Comic Section the Story of Jonah would go on the Funny Page.

When God told Jonah to go to save the people of Nineveh, Jonah, who hated all foreigners, hated the Assyrians of Nineveh the most.  So, thinking that God’s rule was restricted to the Holy Land, took a ship west to get away from God.

When God sent a storm to stop the ship, the crew threw Jonah overboard, and a whale swallowed him. (When I was eleven my father saw in the paper where they had shipped a complete whale from New Orleans on a train to St. Louis. He brought my sister Peggy and me down to see the whale, and we crawled inside his mouth, but we couldn’t see how Jonah could have fit through the throat.)  

The whale urped Jonah up on his home shore, so Jonah saw he had to take off for Nineveh. He marched through its streets, chuckling, and calling out, “Three more days, and Nineveh will b destroyed!”

To Jonah’s disgust, the people repented, and were saved. Jonah went off to a hillside where he pouted under a big leafed gourd that guarded his skull from the sun. That night a worm ate the gourd, and Jonah was furious over the loss.

God asked, “Have you reason to be angry over the plant. Should I not be concerned over Nineveh the great city in which there are more than a hundred twenty persons who cannot distinguish the right hand from the left, not to mention their animals?”  

God's Graces are as plentiful as his raindrops.


Tuesday, 2/24/15

The first reading from verses 10 and 11 from Isaiah, Chapter Fifty-five, are incomplete without verses 8 and 9 which lead into them. Let me quote them:

My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are my ways your ways, says he Lord.
 As high as the heaven are above the earth so high are my ways above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts.”

And that leads into today’s reading that goes:

“For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down, and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to him who sow and bread to him who eats, So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me void, But shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”

Every year with my Sixth Grade classes at St. Paul’s I’d hold up a dollar bill, saying I would give it to the first student who could memorize from verse 8 through 11.

It was fun watching twenty or so kids mouthing those verses, trying to stack them away in their brains.

God’s “words” that go forth from him in such abundance are the inspirations he pours out on all humanity, urging us, moment by moment, to do what is right, to avoid what is wrong.

I have a faint recollection of a question and answer from our grade school catechisms. The way I remember it is:

Q. Can we resist the grace of God?
A. We can, and unfortunately often do, resist his graces.

The once popular song "I Believe" had a line that went, “I believe that for every drop of rain that falls a flower will grow.”

That was hooey! Maybe for every five billion drops or rain that fall a flower will grow, and maybe for every five billion generous suggestions God puts in our hearts, we respond to only one. Not to worry. His graces are as numerous as rain drops.   

We must love what the Lord loves.



Monday, 2/23/15

In giving the Ten Commandments to Moses, God said, “Be holy, for I, The Lord, your God, am holy.”

There was no democracy in the time of Moses. In was a hostile world where “just to be safe” you killed a stranger who wandered into your field. It was the fearful reputation of your leader that kept you safe. In turn, you followed him in everything: wearing the same garb be wore, modeling every aspect of our behavior after his.

Chapter Nineteen of Leviticus repeated the Ten Commandments, even adding a few more. Significantly that chapter opened with God saying, “Speak to the whole community, and tell them, ‘Be holy, for I the Lord, your God, am holy.

Then, giving thirteen commandments for the people to observe, he followed each with the reminder, “I am the Lord,” or “I am the Lord, your God.”

The Bible is telling us that God was not arbitrary in telling us not to steal or curse. Rather, the Bible is saying that such things are forbidden because they go against God’s own intimate nature.

As Christians we must honor the rights of others because God himself honors the rights of every man and woman.

If e move to a consideration of today’s Gospel passage, the same things holds there. We must act kindly towards those in need because Our Lord feels kindly toward them.

We must keep remembering how St. John wrote, “God is love.”

We must be loving because our Lord is loving. That seems to be the underlying message in all that Pope Francis has been telling us.

Those forty days in the desert were the opening campaign by which Jesus died to sin by resisting the devil.



 Sunday, 2/22/15

Jesus going into the desert for forty days had two meanings.

First, in miniature he was repeating Jewish history in his own life. That was in accord with something Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians. There, he wrote that God had a master plan by which he summed up all of history in the life of Jesus. Our Lord’s going into the water recalled the Israelites passing through the Red Sea. His spending forty days in the desert  echoed the Israelites’ spending forty years in the desert.

The second meaning in his going into the desert to be tempted was that it was the beginning of his life’s work. That’s how he began his mission of saving us. We all know that he saved us by dying for us, and we think of his death as his death on the cross. But St. Paul teaches us that was not exactly the death by which he saved us. In itself, his painful death on the cross had no value. After all, there were two thieves suffering the same death on their crosses, and there was no value in their deaths.

In Chapter Six of his "Letter to the Romans" Paul said a key thing about the death by which Jesus saved us. In verse ten of that chapter Paul wrote, "His death was a death to sin." Paul, by saying Jesus died to sin meant that Jesus, by withstanding all temptations to sin, proved  himself to be so impervious to temptation, he was “dead to sin.”

Today’s Gospel of the forty days of temptation by the devil was the opening campaign  by which Jesus showed his strength against sin. It was followed by years of skirmishes during which he pushed aside temptations to anger, lust, and pride. The Letter to the Hebrews says he was tempted in every way that we are. Finally, in the Garden of Olives his duel with the devil had his sweat dropping like blood. And when he said, “Father, not my will, but thine be done,” he was dead t sin. He had saved us by that death.

Sunday Mass is a delight, it has you riding on the heights, and it nourishes you with your inheritance.


Saturday, 2/21/15

Isaiah wrote, “If you hold back your foot on the Sabbath from following your own pursuits on my holy day .  . . .  Then you shall delight in the Lord. And he will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; he will nourish you with the heritage of Jacob.

What Isaiah said in those day about keeping the Jewish Sabbath can apply to us in regard to getting to Mass on Sundays. A habit of getting to Mass every Sunday will give us the three rewards of which Isaiah spoke.

First, we will delight in the Lord. By giving the Lord our Sundays, we will remove every hint of enmity from between us. We will be entitled to boast of our close friendship with him, assured that he will back us up on our claims.

Secondly, he will make us ride upon the heights. If you have ever driven the Blue Ridge Parkway from Tennessee to Pennsylvania you would have experienced the  exhilaration of cruising above the Shenandoah Valley at three thousand feet. You’d be above the smoke stacks and the traffic jams. You were your own person, up there with God. You can get a similar thrill from leaving cares outside as you kneel in silent exchanges with your God.

Thirdly, the wonderful readings at Mass are your heritage coming down to you from two, three, even four thousand years back. The homily too, at times, will be part of the heritage nourishing you. 

"This is the fasting God wants: releasing those unjustly bound."


Friday, 2/20/15

Through Isaiah, God told us, “This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke."

Earlier this week you might have read about a bill making its slow way through congress. It had to do with relaxing the mandatory sentences for drug possession. All the preparatory work went for naught when a committee chairman squashed the bill. We don't want to misjudge the man, but it would be wrong if he left good people in prison just to make his voters feel more secure. I hope they sleep well.
  
I never took drugs or had a puff of marijuana, but I could have, if friends had pushed it on me. That would have me now serving ten to fifteen years.

I did have a night and a day in jail eight years ago. After playing 18 holes up in Georgia, I had my right front fender clipped, and that had me charged with a misdemeanor for encroaching on the other lane.

Six months later, after an afternoon of golf here in Jacksonville, I was arrested and jailed by two big cops. A clerk up in Georgia, copying records, put my lane-encroachment down in the space for felonies, and I was charged as a felon fleeing from Georgia. I didn't tell anyone I was a priest, and no one asked me who I was.

At our jail here I was lined up with all that day’s catch, and the guard was asking the others if they thought I could get it up at age eighty. I was given a skimpy blanket, but my cell was cold, the night was long, and the toilet was stopped up.

With my stomach upset I shared my breakfast with three guys who brought me into their card game. After a few hours a guard came, saying my lawyer was waiting,. Those guys I was playing cards with couldn’t believe I had a lawyer. They had each been there a  month or more without a charge.

My lawyer couldn’t get me out then, so I was put into a cold holding cell, awaiting transport to Georgia. I was told that up there I would wait at least two weeks before a court date.  I asked a lady guard for a blanket, but she said they were not issued to holding cells. 

At four I was told I was being let out; but lining up with all who were to be released that day, I had to wait an hour before they got down to S.

Anyway, I am very happy to have had that taste of what it is like to lose one’s individuality and freedom here in America.

Jesus saved us by fighting off every temptation to sin.

2?19/15

Critics in the First Century were saying that Jesus couldn't be the Messiah since he was executed as a criminal. The Gospel stories responded by showing that he demonstrated his Messianic greatness by his silently accepting every abuse thrown at him.

In Chapter Six of his "Letter to the Romans" Paul said a key thing about the death by which Jesus saved us. In verse ten of that chapter Paul wrote, "His death was a death to sin."

Paul, by saying Jesus died to sin meant that Jesus, by withstanding every temptation to sin, proved    himself to be so impervious to temptation, that Paul could say Jesus was dead to sin.

Do you remember the pop song "Oh, the devil sat down and cried?" It went like this:


A sinful man was set to go, the devil was waiting down below.
Then, something happened just before he died. He had a vision, 
Saw the light. He told the devil, go fly a kite,
And so, the devil sat down and cried.

Pardon me for being irreverent, but Jesus did something like the man in the song.

He was led into the desert where for forty days he withstood every temptation the devil could throw at him. Then, through three years of public life, and through three hours on the cross  he resisted every temptation to back out of the challenge the Father had set before him. Jesus saved us by that death. 



Remember, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.


2/18/15

When I place ashes on anyone’s forehead I say, “Remember, man, you are but dust, and to dust you shall return.”

That of which we are made isn’t dust, exactly. Genesis says the Lord formed man out of the clay of the ground; and, we are composed of carbon, calcium, potassium, and other clay-like stuff.

Why does the Church remind us that we are dust?  I suppose, like Thomas Gray’s “Elegy on a Country Church Yard” she is reminding us that “the paths of glory lead but to the grave.”

Our efforts may secure us power, fame or riches, but how secure can those achievements be. Can you take them with you?

What we can take with us is the gratitude of people we help. And God, who cannot be outdone in gratitude, will extend his gratitude to us for ever and ever and ever.

The Jews were not the only ancient people who had mysterious dealings with God.

Tuesday, 2/17/15

We are all familiar with the Bible story of God, dissatisfied with humanity, deciding to drown us. In our story, God decided to save one just man along with pairs of is animals.

We are not as familiar with the "Legend of Gilgamesh," an ancient version of this story that had been circulating two thousand years before the Bible was written. In that story there were many gods, and one of them, Ea, wanted to save a just man named Utnapishtim, so he told him to build an enclosed boat for saving him, his family, and pairs of animals.

The story in Genesis so closely follows that ancient Legend of Gilgamesh that it even copies such details as having the man send out first a raven, then a dove, to see if the waters were reeding.

At first we are disappointed when we hear that some of our favorite Bible stories are copies, but we should come to be happy with hearing that God had dealings with many other ancient peoples, not with just the Jews.



Cain and Able were not the first persons born in our world.


Monday, 2/16/15

The Bible’s story of Cain and Able, like Our Lord’s parables, was inspired by God, but it was not factual. The Jewish storytellers who gave us the tale of Cain and Able were shepherds, not dirt-farmers, so they made a shepherd the story’s innocent victim.

Thomas Aquinas taught us that God is pure beauty, goodness and truth. That rightly leads us to consider anything beautiful and good as Godlike. Just as rightly, scientist, in searching out hidden truths, bring us closer to God.

We should honor the Archaeologists who have meticulously searched through the remains of ancient cities and camps, to uncover for us the tools of the earliest civilizations.

They have found that up to 10,000 b.c. there were no permanent camps. People, known as hunters and gatherers, were obliged to follow the migration of animals and   the growth seasons of berries and wild grains. (Many old and very young people were left behind in those wanderings.)

From 9,000 b.c. people in the Zagros hills between Iraq and Iran domesticated sheep, keeping them in pens of rubble stones. From 8,000 b.c. in Jericho they began gathering grain and planting it, using natural glass obsidian for sickles. From in 7,000 b.c. they began making pottery.

We are not being irreligious when we doubt that story in Genesis that pictures God making leather garments to cover the nakedness of our first humans. 

Jesus reached out to the man who was unclean. That was a good example for us.

Sunday, 2/15/15

In Our Lord's time leprosy was a double whammy in that while it left a person with a flesh-eating disease, it also made him an outcast from society. He was obliged to call out, "Unclean, unclean!" to any who came near him.

It is significant with the leper in today's Gospel that he did not ask Jesus to cure him, he asked him to make him clean. It is significant as well that Jesus did not cure him with just his word. No, he reached out, touching the man.

Since Hansen's finding a cure for the leprosy virus the national leprosarium in Carville Louisiana has been closed down, and our country is almost free of lepers. We do though, have people who are avoided the way lepers were. We should consider offer Our Lord's kindly outreach to people whose poverty leaves them filthy.

I was touched several years ago by a sixtyish woman I gave a ride to on I-10. Her family had abandoned her three years before, and she was left to live on the road. She was always on the lookout for a place where she could bathe and wash a few things.

Pope Francis this last week set up a place in the Vatican where people could get a free hot shower and haircut.

All First Century accounts of the Last Supper recall Jesus doing four things in sequence: he took the bread, blessed it broke it, gave it.



Saturday, 2/14/15

The Gospel tells the story of Jesus feeding four thousand people with seven loaves of bread. This is similar to the story two chapters back in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus fed five thousand with five loaves. On both occasions Jesus did four things in succession: he took, blessed, broke, gave the bread.

There is more to that coincidence. In Mathew, Mark, and Luke’s accounts of the feeding of the five thousand and in their accounts of the Last Supper, Jesus did the same four things in the same sequence: he took, blessed, broke, gave the bread. Paul has it the same in is account of the Last Supper in First Corinthians.

Scholars are convinced that the reason Matthew, Mark Luke and Paul all have it the same way, is that by the time they wrote later in the First Century, they had been celebrating their Sunday Masses for years, always pronouncing that same sequence of four actions for what Jesus did leading up the Consecration: he took the bread, blessed broke and gave it.  

Another bit of evidence about their Mass from that First Century comes from their handbook, “The Teaching of the Apostles.”  That handbook, known by its Greek word for teaching, the “Didache,”  saw the Sunday Mass as being the people’s sharing in Our Lord’s sacrifice. It emphasized the importance of the People submitting their will to God for the purpose of their becoming part of that sacrifice of Jesus.

What appeal did the apple have for Eve, and what is the basic appeal of all sin?


Friday, 2/13/15

What was it that made the fruit appealing to Eve? Genesis says, "The woman saw that the tree was good for food, appealing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom."

We are surprised by that last part. A tree that is seen to be desirable for gaining wisdom would be an oddity. Where did that come from?

Well, it relates to something the serpent said, in tempting the woman. He said, “Your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who knows what is good and what is bad.”

The serpent implies that the gods arbitrarily decide what actions are good and what ones are evil, and if the woman ate of the tree she would be like a god, able to decide for herself what was good and bad.

It was that aspect of the woman’s sin that has it relating to all our sins. We sin by deciding we are gods who can make our own Ten Commandments.   

 Stretching the point a little, we can see how the Gospel story could relate to the woman’s sin. The man couldn’t speak right until after Jesus touched his ears to make him hear right. When we can’t hear Jesus, we talk gibberish.  

Under God's direction, Chapter One of Genesis was composed by the Jewish priesthood, while Chapter Two was composed by court story tellers.


Thursday, 2/12/15

Today’s reading begins with God saying, “It is not good for man to be alone,” and we usually understand him to have said, “It is not good for the male to be alone;” but the text actually records God as saying, “It is not good for the human to be alone.”

Read properly, God was saying that he created us as social beings who only act well when they act together.

Our first reading today is from Chapter Two of Genesis, while for a few days before this the readings were from Chapter One of Genesis. If you look closely at these two chapters you might notice that in Chapter One the Almighty is referred to as God, while in Chapter Two the Almighty is referred to as the Lord God, are simply as the Lord. Those differences in our English language Bibles reflect a difference in the original Hebrew texts. There, in Chapter One the Almighty was known as elohim, while in Chapter Two he was called Yahweh.

Those differences stem from the two chapters having been composed by different groups of people. Chapter One was composed by Jewish priests, and it reflects their interests; while Chapter Two, where the Almighty is known as the Lord God, was composed by the court story tellers in the time of King Solomon. Passages written  by the story-tellers have a human interest slant. Sometimes they were composed for children listeners.

In today’s reading, after God created the man, he went on to create each kind of animal; but none of them was a suitable mate for the man.

You can picture that story teller asking the children, “Would the man want to marry the bear? “ And the kids would shout, ”No. No, he wouldn’t want to marry the bear.” “Well, would he want to marry the monkey?” And the kids would shake their heads, saying, “No. the man would not want to marry a monkey.”

 So, then the Lord God put a deep sleep on the man, forming a creature out of his rib; and when the man saw the woman, he shouted, “This one. I want this one!” 

Chapter One and Chapter Two of Genesis were composed by different groups.


Wednesday, 2/11/15

With our first readings from Genesis we might notice passages using different names for the Almighty.

In Chapter One he was God. In Chapter Two he is the Lord God, or simply the Lord. 

Our English language Bible's two names for the Almighty translate the two Hebrew names in the original text. In Chapter One the Almighty is called God, which translates the Hebrew Elohim. In today's Chapter Two he is called Lord, which translates Yahweh.

The differences between Chapter One and Chapter Two go deeper. They were originially composed by     two different classes of people. Chapter One was composed by the priestly class and it reflects their concern with what foods can be rightfully consumed, and with the times to be observed for religious functions. Chapter Two, which refers to God as the Lord, or Yahweh, was composed by Solomon's court story tellers who added  human touches to their interesting stories.

The name Yahweh is explained for us in Chapter Three of Exodus. The voice from the burning bush had commissioned Moses say to the Pharaoh, "Let my people go!"

Moses inquired of the voice from the bush, "Whom shall I say sent me to speak for the People?" and the voice replied, "I am who am."  "This is what you shall tell the Israelites, "I Am sent me to you." In the original Hebrew it was "Yahweh" who sent you." 

Scholars identify passages composed by the priests as P texts. Then, with Yahweh sometimes spelled as Jahweh, as J texts. After the age of Solomon a third source known simply as D began contributing passages. 

God created us in his image and likeness.




Tuesday, 2/10/15

Our first reading tells us that God created us humans in his own image, and that sets us wondering. In what ways are we like God?

As products of Catholic schools or  C.C.D. classes we know that the Sacraments give us a sharing in supernatural likeness to Christ, but this first chapter of Genesis goes back before Christ and Christians.

This Chapter One of Genesis tells us that every child everywhere in every age was conceived in the image and likeness of God. So, the question is “What is this image and likeness to God that is shared by every human?”

I seem to remember the nuns saying our likeness to God consists in the spiritual side of each of having intelligence and free will. None of the lower animals have those.

On our likeness to God there is a verse from Dante’s Divine comedy that I have repeated many times since I came across it two years ago. Let me lead up to it.

Dante, as a boy in Florence Italy in 1280, was smitten by a nine-year old girl named Beatrice. And although she died in her early twenties, she became the inspiration for all the poetry Dante went on to write.

Dante was  thirty–five, and dissatisfied with the life he had been living, when he closeted himself for ten years of work on his Divine Comedy. Its theme had Beatrice in heaven devising a scheme for straightening out Dante. From Limbo she called forth the Roman poet Virgil, commissioning him to accompany Dante on an extended tour through Hell and Purgatory.

Those legs of his journey completed, Dante arrived in Paradise where Beatrice took over as his guide. He was experiencing great happiness in his heavenly surroundings, but  there was something puzzling him, and he asked Beatrice about it.

He said that at the same time everything in heaven was new to him it still struck a familiar chord. He asked Beatrice to explain the similarity between heavenly and earthly beauty. The answer she gave might tell us how we share God’s image and likeness.

Beatrice said, “All thing among themselves possess an order, and this order is the form that makes the universe like God.” 

The Account of the creation in Genesis repeats much of a Babylonian creation myth; however, the Jewish account insisted that there was only one Creator who was all good.


Monday,2/9/15

Our first reading is the first chapter of Genesis. It gives us the Bible’s account of the creation of the world. It is a most puzzling account in that it speaks of God, not creating from nothing, but from “a formless wasteland. “ It’s more puzzling elements are the way God created the sky as a hard dome, and of his relocating half the earth’s ocean waters up above the dome.

Now, Archaeology over the last two centuries has unearthed hundreds of thousands of baked clay tablets that recorded the creation myths of the Babylonian, and of the Sumerians, going back to 3000 b.c.. But, from before 600 b.c. they have not uncovered any tablets containing a Jewish creation story.

All the evidence tells us how the Genesis account of the creation came to be written. For seventy years after 600 b.c. the Jews were captives in Babylon where they were mostly employed in repairing the dikes that kept the Tigris and Euphrates from flooding Mesopotamia’s farmland. However, every year they were freed to take part in a ten day re-enactment of the Babylonian creation myth.

The Jews had no scientist who could figure out how the creation of the world actually came about. But what they did have was an acquaintance with God that told them where the Babylonian myth couldn’t be right.

Now that ancient myth, known as the “Enuma Elish,” spoke of two creators: one good, and one evil. The Jew’s acquaintance with the one God told them that everything he created was good. With that sure knowledge, the Jews rewrote the Babylonian  myth in a way that insisted there was single creator who made all things by the power of a single word. In their Genesis account the Jews told the world that everything God crested was good.

Paul tried to be all things to all men. That would be too much for people like us.


Sunday, 1/8/15

 The Gospel tells the story of Our Lord’s first Saturday evening in Capernaum. With the Sabbath rest concluding at sundown people brought him many who were ill or was possessed by demons. He had a hundred percent efficiency rating.

Paul came close to that in the Second Reading where he said, “I have become all things to all, to save at least some.”

You and I fall so very far short of that. How far short we fall of all that we would want to accomplish. Do you ever find yourself blaming yourself for not doing more?
Shakespeare’s Thirtieth Sonnet expresses that regret. Let me quote it.

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:

Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancelled woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanished sight:

Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoanèd moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.

But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end.

Shakespeare dedicated those words to a lost friend, but we can use it as a prayer in which thinking on God’s love, we sense his filling us with warmth.

At parting we leave people with good advice.


Saturday, 2/7/15

Our first reading today concludes a month’s of excerpts from the “Letter to the Hebrews.” In saying goodbye to his readers, the Apostle loaded them with good advice about being good, about sharing, about obeying superiors.

I was taking off on a trip two days ago, and the ladies at church gave me advice about dressing warm, about watching my schedule, about getting plenty of sleep.

It reminds me of a talk show I once heard on my car radio. The MC was interviewing a man who was taking pills to bring about a sex change. The MC asked if the pills were having any noticeable effects, and the guest answered, “There have been two effects so far. One is that my body fat has migrated from my shoulders to my hips. The other is that I can’t see anyone leaving the house without warning them, ‘Now, you be careful!’” 

Herod's sentimental feelings toward John were the opposite of true feelings.


Friday, 2/6/15

The behavior of Herod in today’s Gospel points out the difference between sentimentality and true feelings.

When Herod took up with his brother’s wife people everywhere were quietly going,  “Tsk, tsk!”  but they didn’t dare say anything openly against the king.

John the Baptist, however, didn’t hold back. He openly told Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” That wife, Herodias, hated John for questioning a mighty queen like herself, and she got Herod to arrest John.

The royal couple had a palace across the Jordan at a place called Machaerus, and it had an underground cell where Herod imprisoned John. Herod had always been fascinated by John. You could say he had a sentimental attachment to him.

So, when he found that the jailors and John were carrying on conversations in the underground prison, he found a way of sneaking halfway down the stone steps to a place where he could listen in. Mark said,  “He was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him.” 

We can picture Herodias nagging at Herod over his fascination with the Baptist. And in the end Herod’s fascination with John didn’t help John. Sentimental attachments are noting like responsible feelings.