Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Bible Study: Genesis 1


(1-5) We see in the first three verses the three distinct Persons of God: the Father and Creator, the Word, and the Spirit. The Father creates the heavens and the earth through his Word (his Son, known as Jesus in the flesh), and creation is moved and permeated by a mighty wind (3) translated literally as the "Spirit of God". The first words God speaks bring into being light, so from the beginning, the Word of God has been "light". In Psalm 90:2, we read that God has been God and God has existed from eternity to eternity. In 2 Maccabees 7:28, a mother tells her son to gaze at the heavens and know that God is their source of existence, just as He is the source of our existence. In the letter to the Hebrews, the author writes that it was through the Son of God (who is the Word made flesh) that the Father brought the universe into being.

(11-12) I forgot to mention this before... in a thread on about spiritual messages in Genesis 1, I mentioned the third day of creation:
I find that the third day in Genesis is a foreshadowing of the Resurrection of Jesus.
Then God said, "Let the earth bring forth vegetation: every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it." And so it happened: the earth brought forth every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it. God saw how good it was. (Genesis 1:11-12)
In the context of John 12:24 ("Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.") I think it prophesies the abundance of life that comes from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
(26-31) God has created morning, evening, water, earth, sky, plants, and animals, and finally He creates man in our image, after our likeness (26). This "image" of God is not merely our most generic form. We have the characteristics of God: creativity, mastery, a desire to be loved freely, and a will of our own. God made us, male and female, for us to inhabit the earth and control it -- but not to abuse it. The charge that we are to multiply and subdue the earth is echoed in Genesis 9:1, after Noah and his family leave the ark. In Wisdom 2:23, the author writes that God made man in the image of His own nature. We read in Psalm 8:6-9 that the state of man is close to that of a god, crowned with glory and honor, ruling over the things God has made on the earth. Psalm 115:16 echoes that: heaven is God's, but He has given the earth to us.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Scripture Reflection: 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 1, 2006)

Readings for today: Numbers 11:25-29, James 5:1-6, Mark 9:38-48.

First Reading: Moses brings 68 elders (2 remained behind) to the meeting tent, where God gives to them a portion of the Spirit He bestowed on Moses. Back at the camp, Eldad and Medad, the two elders who were left behind, receive the Spirit as well, and begin to prophesy. Joshua hears of this and says to Moses, "My lord, stop them." Moses is curious if Joshua is jealous for Moses, and replies "Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!"

Second Reading: James writes harsh words to the worldly rich, admonishing them for storing up material treasures rather than spiritual ones. He pits their mercilessness against the helplessness of the righteous.

Gospel: John warns Jesus about a man driving out demons in Jesus's name, though he does not follow us. Jesus says not to stop those who perform mighty deeds in his name, for whoever is not against us is for us. He even promises a reward to he who serves one who belongs to Christ. Jesus then goes on to preach that one should remove the body part which causes one to sin, and that one who causes a child to sin is committing an even graver sin.

As is often the case, the first reading and the gospel reading are clearly related: in one, Joshua's zeal for Moses causes him to be jealous for the gift given to Moses, and in the other, John's zeal for Jesus causes him to be wary of the gift given to a non-apostle. Joshua feels that Eldad and Medad are doing wrongly by prophesying. Perhaps he feels that Moses is threatened by their new-found gift, or he fears it is not from God. Perhaps he is hurt that they received this gift and he did not, for up to this point in Scripture, Joshua is only mentioned as Moses's aide; even though Joshua accompanies Moses up Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:13) and would be present in the meeting tent with him when all others would leave (Exodus 33:11), he was at best only a witness to Moses's communion with God. We see a similar reaction from John when he tells Jesus about a man exorcising demons in the name of Jesus, even though the man was not "one of them", by which he mostly likely meant an apostle or even a "regular" disciple. Perhaps John is jealous that an "outsider" has the faith in Jesus necessary to perform such deeds.

The response from Moses and the response from Jesus are similar to one another. Moses asks, "Are you jealous for my sake?" He says that he would be pleased if all were prophets, if received the outpouring of the Spirit. Jesus says not to prevent the exorcist from performing his duties, for "whoever is not against us is for us". He even goes so far as to say that anyone who gives even a drink of water to a follower of Christ "will surely not lose his reward". That sounds dangerous, even heretical -- a person who helps a Christian out will not lose his reward? But it is not heresy for at least two reasons: first, it's Jesus Christ, the Word of God, saying it, and second, because the reward is not explicitly named. The reward could simply be the change that comes into that person's life because of the kindness they showed to a Christian... and that change could include the opening of the heart to the message of Christ, leading them to become Christian themselves!

The historical context of the remark is also relevant. In the early church, there was sometimes bitter enmity between Jewish Christians ("natural") and Gentile Christians ("adopted"). This message by Jesus was important in denouncing the rivalry between those who were Christian because they were Jews who believed Jesus was Christ, and those who were Christian because they were converted. This message is presented multiple times in Scripture. In the book of Jonah, God rebukes Jonah for his fierce nationalism in wishing God had not saved Ninevah but rather destroyed it, as God had told Jonah to prophesy. The parable of the workers in the vineyard who receive the same wages, even though some worked all day and others only started work in the afternoon (Matthew 20:1-16, specifically v12). The parable of the prodigal son, in which the elder son is angry at the father for celebrating the return of the younger son (Luke 15:11-32, specifically vv28-30). There is no room for jealousy in the kingdom of God. The "natural" Christians are not any "better" than the "adopted" Christians.

Even the second reading, from the letter of James, fits into the gospel message. James warns the rich of building up (material) treasure for the last days. He uses language similar to Jesus's warning in Matthew 6:19-21, mentioning moth and decay. Jesus tells us to store up spiritual treasures in heaven, not material treasures on earth. The acts Jesus describes in the gospel reading, deeds done in the name of Christ, build up our spiritual treasure. Even the little act of serving water to a thirsty person is worthy of reward from God!

For a commentary on the second half of the gospel reading (on body parts that cause one to sin), see This is a Hard Saying, #1.

Peace be with you, amen.

Monday, September 25, 2006

RCIA: Prophets & Prophecy (Session #4, October 8th)


A. To understand the role of prophets in God’s revelation of Himself to humanity, and to understand the language of prophecy


A. Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC)

1. Prophet (Glossary)

B. Catholic Encyclopedia (CE)

1. Prophecy

2. Prophecy, Prophet, and Prophetess

C. Bible

1. Most (if not all) books of the Bible have prophetic material in them


A. What is prophecy?

1. Divine inspirations concerning what is secret, whether future or not. A Divine light by which God reveals things concerning the unknown and by which these things are in some way represented to the mind of the prophet, whose duty it is to manifest them to others. (CE)

i. In place of charms and oracles and other devices, God bestows instead the gift of prophecy

2. Content

i. Knowledge of forgotten pasts

ii. Knowledge of the hidden present

iii. Foreknowledge of future events

3. Transmission

i. Supernatural, from God

ii. Beyond the natural power of our intelligence

iii. Manifested by words and/or signs

iv. Conveyed to the intellect, the senses, or the imagination

v. The prophet was almost always awake

4. Types of prophecy

i. Perfect vs. Imperfect

a. Perfect: the prophet is sure of the thing being revealed and that it is God who is revealing it

b. Imperfect prophecy lacks one of those two characteristics (2 Samuel 7:2-5a, 13a)

ii. Denunciation, Foreknowledge, Predestination

a. Denunciation: future events that hinge upon cause-and-effect (Jonah)

b. Foreknowledge: future events that hinge upon free will, but which God sees in the present from eternity

c. Predestination: future events that are God’s infallible, unpreventable will, and which He shall cause to come about (the coming of the Messiah)

B. What is a (true) prophet?

1. One sent by God to form the people of the Old Covenant in the hope of salvation. (CCC)

i. Interpreter and herald of Yahweh whose duty is to communicate God’s will and designs to Israel

a. Preaching, foretelling, leading the people when they went astray

b. Preparing the way for the new kingdom of God ushered in by the Messiah

c. In a time of polytheism, prophets of God spoke for “Yahweh” (the name revealed to Moses), the one true God

ii. The Hebrew word is nevi, originally meaning “proclaimer” and developing into the Biblical usage of “interpreter and mouthpiece of God” (Exodus 7:1-2)

iii. Greek word prophetes comes from pro-phanai (to speak for, to speak in the name of someone)

2. No “tribe of prophets” (contrast with the Mosaic priesthood of Levi)

i. The gift of prophecy is an extraordinary grace bestowed by God on whomever He pleases

a. No preparation required, no training needed

b. Men, women, children, angels, demons, gentiles, etc.

c. Moral goodness preferred, but not necessary

ii. Prophetic message initiated by God (Jeremiah 1:2) or by prayer on the part of the prophet (Jeremiah 42:4)

iii. Prophets other than adult Hebrew males

a. Miriam, the sister of Moses

b. Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist

c. Samuel and Daniel as children

d. Balaam, a Moabite (Gentile) (Numbers 24:15-17)

e. Demons (Matthew 8:28-29)

C. What is a false prophet?

1. Either one who claims prophecy falsely, or one who reveals God in a manner contrary to the understanding revealed in Scripture. (Jeremiah 23:30-32)

2. True prophets should be virtuous, well-tempered, and in good mental health

3. True prophets should speak in conformity with Christian truth if they are inspired by the Spirit

4. True prophets should speak of things of grave and important nature, for the good of the Church or for souls in general

i. This excludes fortune-telling, crystal-gazers, etc.

5. Prophecies that make known the sins of others, or delve into predestination (of a soul’s salvation or condemnation) are suspect

i. In particular, the Day of Judgment is a secret that has never been revealed

6. Look for fulfillment of prophecy, except where the prophecy was hinged upon conditions which have changed (Jonah)

i. Consider prophecy from God which may have been misinterpreted by humans

D. Who were some of the prophets?

1. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob

i. God spoke directly to Abraham (and Isaac and Jacob)

ii. God formed the covenant of circumcision with Abraham, the first physical historical covenant

2. Moses and Aaron

i. God spoke directly to Moses, manifesting Himself in such forms as a bush burning but not consumed and a pillar of smoke

ii. God reveals himself by name to Moses: Yahweh (“I am who am”)

iii. God reveals himself as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob

3. Samuel and Nathan

i. Samuel was called by God as a young boy (1 Samuel 3:4-10), and his calling began the “institution” of prophets

a. Prophets did not have “schools”, nor did they “pass on” their “skill”, but prophets became main-stays and advisors to the king

ii. Nathan served King David and prophesied as well as instructed David using parables (2 Samuel 12:1-7a)

4. Elijah

i. Helped lead Israel back to God

ii. Raised a boy from the dead (1 Kings 17:17-24)

iii. Fled to Mount Horeb when Jezebel threatened his life; there he received encouragement (1 Kings 19:8b-13a) and a mission from God (1 Kings 19:13b-18)

iv. Commanded by God to anoint Elisha as his successor (1 Kings 19:16, 19-21)

5. Elisha

i. Succeeded Elijah and received a “double portion of [his] spirit” before Elijah was taken up into heaven amidst a whirlwind and a flaming chariot (2 Kings 2:9-12)

ii. Also raised a boy from the dead (2 Kings 4:32-35)

6. Major Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel

7. Minor Prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zachariah, Malachi

8. Called by God in different ways and responded differently (Amos 7:14-15; Jeremiah 1:4-5; Jonah 1:1-3a)

9. The fate of prophets…

i. All were threatened, most were killed

ii. Jesus referred to Jerusalem – and the Pharisees in particular – as the murderer of the prophets (Matthew 23:29-37)

E. What was the role of prophecy?

1. Literal and figurative meanings behind the images and words

i. Literal: 1 Kings 22:17

ii. Figurative: Jeremiah 1:11-12

iii. Literal and figurative: 2 Samuel 7:12-13

2. Usually oral instruction accompanied by symbolic gestures

i. In Jeremiah 27:2, he was prophesying God’s bondage of the Israelites under Nebuchadnezzar.

ii. Some prophecies appear to have been made exclusively to be written down

3. Preaching religion and morals, deploring idol worship and empty sacrifices; foretelling the Day of Yahweh, the Messiah, salvation, and the end of the world

F. What did they prophesy?

1. They did not just receive a mission of preaching and predicting God’s will, they were given a specific message, and all they spoke came to them by revelation and inspiration (2 Peter 1:21)

2. God’s abandonment of Israel for their wickedness and His return (Hosea)

3. God’s destruction of wicked nations if they did not repent (Jonah)

4. The new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 11:19-20, 36:26-28)

5. Obedience and love, instead of sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22; Hosea 6:6)

6. The Messiah, details of his ministry, even John the Baptist (Isaiah 9:5-6, 53:1-12; Daniel 7:13-14; Zechariah 9:9; Malachi 3)

i. Jesus Christ is understood to be the consummation of prophecy, meaning that all the prophecies were ultimately pointing to his birth, ministry, death, and resurrection, as well as his purpose in the salvation of God’s people (Matthew 13:17)

7. The Resurrection (Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2)

G. What about prophecy during the time of Christ?

1. The angel Gabriel, appearing to Mary, regarding Jesus (Luke 1:26-37)

2. Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, upon seeing Mary (Luke 1:41-45)

3. Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, upon John’s birth (Luke 1:68-79)

4. Simeon, in the temple at the presentation of Jesus (Luke 2:25-35)

5. Anna, recognizing the fulfillment of God’s promise (Luke 2:36-38)

6. John the Baptist, possessing the spirit of Elijah (Luke 3:15-16)

7. Jesus as prophet

i. As a boy in Jerusalem (Luke 2:46-49)

ii. At the start of his ministry (Luke 4:14-21; cf. Isaiah 61:1-2)

iii. About John the Baptist (Luke 7:27, cf. Malachi 3:1)

iv. He taught with an authority never known before, for the source of his teaching was not outside of him, but in him

H. Where is prophecy now?

1. The book of Revelation is the last formally acknowledged prophetic work of Divine inspiration, but the prophetic spirit has not disappeared

2. We have freedom in accepting or rejecting private or particular prophecy, but we should be slow to judge either way

i. The real litmus test is fulfillment!


A. The Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53)

1. Examining the parallels between the prophecy and the ministry of Jesus

This is a Hard Saying, #1: If your right eye causes you to sin...

Back after a bit of a hiatus -- between work, a summer class at Rutgers, Bible study, Tuesday nights at Andy's Corner Bar, and myriad other activities, this blog was pushed aside. I'll try to post something at least once a week now, but I've assumed another set of committments to my time: work, RCIA team, Bible study, dance lessons at some point...

"This is a hard saying", murmured the crowd of disciples upon hearing Jesus talk about his flesh as true food and his blood as true drink. Jesus's ministry was full of hard sayings. In volume 1, we consider Matthew 5:29-30:
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.
These admonitions, echoed in Matthew 18:8-9 and Mark 9:43-48, seem to say that the flesh is so evil we are better off removing those parts of it which cause us to sin than to perish because of them. And yet, the Word of God humbled himself and took on our humanity in the form of Jesus Christ, so while man's intention may be inclined toward evil from the very beginning (Genesis 8:21), we can feel comfortable saying that flesh, in and of itself, is not evil. Indeed, the Bible tells us of a bodily resurrection, so let us not assume flesh is evil.

And, if there is a bodily resurrection, is it not odd that we would not be restored fully, both in spirit and flesh? Would we not have perfect sight, perfect hearing, perfect taste? Would we not be spotless and without blemish before our God? The other places in the Gospel where these sayings come up mention "enter[ing] into life" and even, in Mark 9:47, "enter[ing] into the kingdom of God". The stump on a man, in heaven, walking without an arm (cut off for fear of sin) would be a testimony to sin, and there is no place for that in the Kingdom of God. I think the only wounds we will ever see on another body in heaven are the blessed ones Jesus bore, not as a testimony to our sinfulness, but to God's saving love. What, then, does Jesus mean when he says it is better for us to remove a body part that causes us to sin than to be condemned by it?

I have never known a person who sinned because of an arm, a hand, or even a finger; nor have I met a person who sinned because of a leg, an eye, an ear, or any other body part... except the heart. The heart is mentioned over and over again in Scripture, especially in the Gospels. Jesus says...
  • "Blessed are the clean of heart." (Matthew 5:8)
  • "Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be." (Matthew 6:21)
  • "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart." (Matthew 11:29)
  • "You brood of vipers, how can you say good things when you are evil? For from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks." (Matthew 12:34)
  • "Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted, and I heal them." (Matthew 13:15, cf. Isaiah 6:10)
  • "For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy." (Matthew 15:19)
  • "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart." (Matthew 22:37)
... and that's just one book of the Bible. God promises that He will be our God, and we will be His people, that He will give us a new heart: His spirit in us (Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 11:19-20; Ezekiel 36:26-28). Finally, Jesus reminds us that "whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39). What is this life we are to lose? Must we all be martyrs like St. Stephen? I don't think that is Jesus's intent here.

We must lose our material life, our worldly life, and in doing so, we will gain the life we have pushed aside, one which embraces the values of Christ, not of the world. And therein lies what Jesus was referring to in Matthew 5:29-30. Remove from your life that which causes you to sin. If alcohol causes you to sin, remove the alcohol, not the hand holding the bottle or the arm which raises it to your lips. If pornography causes you to sin, remove the pornography, not your genitals. If crude or racist humor causes you to sin, remove that influence, not your ears. If a person who says "Jesus is asking me to give up what I love?" that is indeed a clear sign of what sin has done: we love worldly things so much we cannot fathom sacrificing them for the infinitely more awesome gift God is offering us. A life of sin does not get one "thrown into Gehenna" but leads one there. We can choose to deny ourselves the worldly pleasures and accept God's promise... or we can accept our worldly lusts and, in doing so, deny ourselves the kingdom. God offers us this choice; He challenges us to love what is good.