Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Scripture Reflection: 1st Sunday of Advent (December 3, 2006)

Readings for today: Jeremiah 33:14-16, Psalm 25:4-5,8-10,14, 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2, Luke 21:25-28,34-36.

We must remain vigilant in our daily lives, praying to God for the strength to endure all trials, awaiting the day when Jesus Christ returns in glory.

First Reading: The Lord speaks through Jeremiah here, speaking of the fulfillment of a promise made to Israel and Judah: a righteous shoot being raised from the lineage of David, one who shall do what is right and just. God says that Judah will be safe and Jerusalem will be secure. This promise is to be fulfilled in Jesus, born of the house of David, who shall obey the will of the Father in all things.

Second Reading: This excerpt from Paul's letter is a reminder to the church in Thessaly to remain strong in heart and to exercise proper conduct, so as to be seen blameless in holiness before God at the return of Jesus. This is apropos for the Advent season as we wait for the birth of our Savior. The hymn People, Look East comes to mind here: Make your house fair as you are able / Trim the hearth and set the table / ... / Love, the Guest, is on the way. As Advent is a season of anticipation, we should follow the advice of Paul to remain strong in heart and to conduct ourselves in a manner pleasing to God.

Gospel: The Gospel reading has two parts. In the first, Jesus is warning his disciples of signs that will accompany the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory (Luke 21:27). This discourse is familiar because we heard it from Mark's perspective (Mark 13:24-32) only two weeks ago. But the reading today continues with the second half, which is a warning from Christ to the disciples not to be caught off-guard. Jesus warns them against laziness and drunkenness, and hearkens them to be vigilant and to pray to God for the strength to persevere. Paul has echoed the sentiments of Jesus here: be alert, do not be weighed down by your daily lives, pray for strength.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Scripture Reflection: Feast of Christ the King (November 26, 2006)

This isn't so much a reflection on the Scripture passages (Daniel 7:13-14, Psalm 93, Revelation 1:5-8, John 18:33-37) for the Feast of Christ the King this year as it is a reflection on the concept of Christ the King. I'm not going to delve into the history of the solemnity, although Wikipedia can help you out there. Rather, I'm going to focus on one of the temptations Christ underwent in the desert after his baptism and the fulfillment (by the Father) of the empty promise made to him by Satan.

Before I go on, I'd like to refer to On the Way to Jesus Christ (ISBN #1586171240), a collection of essays by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (before he became Pope Benedict XVI). One of the essays mentioned the temptations and their fulfillments, and that essay was one source of inspiration for this post.

The Scripture I'd like to focus on is Matthew 4:8-11 (Jesus is tempted with worldly power) and Matthew 28:16-20 (the Great Commission). Look them over and you will immediately see the connection. When Satan promises Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in return for Jesus's worship of Satan, Jesus rebukes him with the Scripture of Deuteronomy 6:13. Then, just prior to the Great Commission (to make disciples of the nations), Jesus announces that he has received authority in heaven and on earth (using the same language found in Daniel 7:13-14).

The juxtaposition of these two excerpts shows that Jesus indeed has authority over all of heaven and earth (including earthly kingdoms and nations) without the "help" of Satan -- in fact, specifically by rejecting Satan. Now, I don't believe that 2 Timothy 2:12 (we shall also reign with him) is speaking of us holding the authority which God alone holds, so I'm not saying that we can somehow attain power over heaven and earth through Christ, simply that Jesus as perfected man (and perfect God) has power over all creation because of his obedience to the Father in all things. So with this authority, Jesus is King of the universe (as the collect reads).

So what does this all mean? I've come up with three things to "take away" from this feast day:

Renounce your own kingship. What does this mean? You're not God. You don't control everything... you can't. A "king of the hill" mentality, where you must remain on the top at all costs, where there's nowhere to go but down, where the smallest failure means depression and disappointment on a massive scale, is clearly unhealthy but it seems to be what's thrust in our faces all day. Accept that there are things outside your control. Accept that there is always room for improvement. Accept appropriate criticism graciously. Admit you can be wrong... admit you are wrong, even. Accept forgiveness and forgive others.

Recognize Christ's kingship. We might be "helpless", but God is not. Our failings do not diminish Christ (Galatians 2:17). His perfection provides salvation for us, despite our shortcomings. Recognize that it is God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- who is in control. God knows you more intimately than anyone else knows you.

Be a subject of Christ and a citizen of his kingdom. This is the aim of Christian life. I suppose the Protestant terminology here is "accept Jesus as the Lord of your life", but I don't think that in doing so you "hand everything over" to Jesus in the sense that you rescind control and responsibility and ownership of everything. Rather, to be a new creation in Christ is to finally accept your humanity -- your being formed in the image of God -- and the responsibility of your abilities, talents, resources, and decisions. In truth, the faithful steward returns to God that which God has given him with interest, but God has placed that seed in the hands of the steward. As stewards charged by God, we are to take what we have been given and invest it in the world so as to make a return to God. Yes, the praise and glory is God's, but the endeavor is ours! God so loved the world that He works through humanity all the time. Not only did He humble Himself to share in our humanity in Jesus, but He is in constant partnership with us. God works through us when we choose to make His will our own. So be a subject of Christ: recognize him as the leader of your life. Be a citizen of his kingdom (Philippians 3:20): show God's love, forgiveness, and mercy.

Personal: Post-Thanksgiving Recap

I hope everyone had a happy and healthy (yeah, right) Thanksgiving*. I've been very busy the past few weeks, what with work, some quality time with my fiancée, a trip up to my almost mater RPI to visit my fraternity and touch base with my Little Brother and impart some wisdom on the pledges and the incumbent Senior Dean (the pledge educator, a position I held thrice), Bible Study (I attend up to three different studies a week), a men's fellowship retreat (17th-19th), two devastating NY Giants losses (last night was atrocious), Thanksgiving vacation (with plenty of ping-pong, Carcassonne, and Settlers of Catan), and a few delicious drinks (not to mention the food).

I've also registered my blog with Christian Bloggers (as you can tell by the icon on the sidebar), and I've joined another blog, Timeless Prayer. I've yet to actually write anything there (see paragraph #1) but I hope to in the coming days.

I'm running dangerously close to my parenthesis quota for the month, so I'd best stop there.

My upcoming posts will probably be:
  • Bible Study on Isaiah 40
  • Reflections on the Feast of Christ the King, celebrated this past Sunday
  • Preflections on the readings for the upcoming first Sunday of Advent
  • A psalm over in Timeless Prayer
* Void where prohibited or not celebrated.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Religion: Advent Prayers

My family had a missalette with prayers for the weeks of Advent to be said at the table before meals. Thanks to the power of Google, here they are. I offer my own version here:

Prayer over the Advent Wreath
Our help is in the name of the Lord. Who made heaven and earth. Let us pray. O God, by Your word all things are made holy. Pour forth Your blessing on this wreath and grant that we who use it may prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus and that we may receive abundant graces. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

First Week of Advent (Reading: Luke 21:34-36)
May this light remind us of Jesus, who is the true light of the world. Let us call upon him whose coming we await, for he is: God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God. Amen.

Second Week of Advent (Reading: Luke 3:1-6)
Father, help us to prepare the way of Jesus, the light of the world. May we who believe he will come again serve You today and every day. Let us proclaim this mystery of our faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Amen.

Third Week of Advent (Reading: Luke 3:10-18)
Lord, we ask you to penetrate the darkness of our minds so that, filled with your brightness, we may rejoice in your coming as we say: Blessed be God forever. Amen.

Fourth Week of Advent (Reading: Luke 1:39-45)
Lord, hurry and come to us. May your light shine in our lives, so that we may be freed from sin. Protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for your coming as our Savior: For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Bible Study: Genesis 4


Scripture Questions
  1. How does Cain's response to God (Genesis 4:9) compare to his father's response (Genesis 3:10,12)? How is Cain like his father? How is he different?
  2. When God asks Adam where he is, Adam doesn't really answer the question, but explains the circumstances. Then when God asks Adam how he knew he was naked, Adam replies by shifting the blame to Eve. When God asks Cain where Abel is, Cain lies (saying he doesn't know) and avoids the question by asking his own question, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Cain's response is like Adam's in that he tries to avoid taking blame. His response is different from Adam's because Cain lies.
  3. Reread Genesis 3:21 and Genesis 4:15. What do they suggest about God's relationship with sinners?
  4. Despite Adam and Eve's transgression, God provides them with clothing from animal skins -- if they were leather skins, the animals were killed for man's sake. When Cain fears that he shall be slain for his transgression, God gives him a mark meant to protect Cain from retribution. Thus we see God caring for Adam, Eve, and Cain, even in their sinfulness.
  5. Cain does not express repentence. Neither do Adam and Eve. Why?
  6. Perhaps they felt their actions were justified. They fail to see how what they did was "wrong".
  7. Compare Genesis 3:2-6 and Genesis 4:6-8. How does the narrator show that Adam and Eve and Cain were responsible for their actions?
  8. The serpent did not tell Eve to eat the fruit or even force her to; it merely placed the idea in her mind. She was tempted to eat the fruit and succombed to the temptation. Adam likewise ate freely. God told Cain that even though "sin is crouching at the door [and] its desire is for [him]", he "must master it". Cain, whose sacrifice was rejected, did not heed these words and succombed to the misplaced anger he felt towards Abel, whose sacrifice was accepted. What these two incidents show is that sin is not the only outcome of a temptation: the other outcome is mastery over the temptation by obedience to God's will.
  9. What do Jesus's words in Matthew 18:21-22 suggest about his view of Lamech's words in Genesis 4:23-24?
  10. Lamech boasts of his murder of a young man: "If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold." Jesus says that we must forgive not just seven times, but "seventy-seven times" (RSV-CE). The allusion to Lamech is clear. The number seventy-seven implies innumerability. As Lamech threatens abounding vengeance, Jesus demands abounding mercy and forgiveness.
Personal Reflection Questions
  1. Considering the differences in abilities and resources and circumstances between people, is God fair? Is He just?
  2. God does not ask of us more than we can do, and with God there is nothing we cannot do. Considering the sinful nature of humanity, the fact that we are offered redemption through Jesus is more than fair.
  3. Whom do you envy? What is wrong with envy? From your own experience, what are the results of envy?
  4. I envy people with more money (or rather, less debt!), less frantic and hectic schedules, and people in better shape than me (my fiancée included). Envy produces an unhealthy desire to please yourself rather than your neighbor, to meet your own private standards rather than God's. Envy can lead to worse sins, as the example of David shows (2 Samuel 11-12).
  5. Are there both healthy and unhealthy kinds of anger among family members? How can you tell the difference?
  6. Yes, there is healthy anger and unhealthy anger. Unhealthy anger is brought about through jealously, impatience, selfishness, injustice, etc. Healthy anger is often brought about by recognition of those traits. Unhealthy anger in general seeks to appease itself through vengeance, through "setting the other person straight". Healthy anger seeks to appease itself through righting wrongs and discipline.
  7. What are the effects of vengefulness or other kinds of bitterness? How might you express forgiveness and love when you are tempted to feel vengeful?
  8. When I would prefer to exact some sort of revenge for a hurt against me, I try to consider the environment that led to the action I was hurt by. It takes a lot of willpower to avoid the temptation to get back at someone (especially if an identical scenario appears in your favor).

Friday, November 03, 2006

Theology: The "Word of God", is it Jesus or the Bible?

Perhaps this will garner much attention, or perhaps no one will notice it. Nevertheless, I ask the tough question: What is the Word of God? Is the Bible (or Holy Scripture in general) the Word of God? Is Jesus the Word of God? What does "the word(s) of God" and "the word(s) of the LORD" mean? Is Scripture really referring to itself? Did Scripture come to Jeremiah? To Amos? To Obadiah? To Jonah? Or is "the word" something else?

I posit that the phrase, when found in Scripture, means "revelation from God" generally, and specifically refers to an encounter with the Word of God, the second Person of the Trinity. Jesus equates himself with the Word, and John the Evangelist recognized this (John 1:1-14). Other New Testament writings support this stance. Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, is the totality of revelation from God made present to us. When he spoke, it really was the words of God coming from the Word of God. It couldn't be otherwise. Jesus = the Word of God = revelation from God.

So what does that make the Bible? Scripture is a witness or testimony to the Word. It contains the Word, it describes the Word, but it is not itself the Word. Frankly I find it hard to believe one would accept "Jesus is the Bible" and not "Jesus is the Eucharist". If one is going to argue that "Jesus is in heaven, and therefore he's not on earth as a piece of bread" (an argument I have received on the subject) then the idea that "Jesus is on earth in/as the Bible" is equally ludicrous.
  • Genesis 1:3, where it is the voice of God, the Word of God, through which light (and all things) came into being. God didn’t create the universe with Scripture.

  • Luke 8:11, where Jesus explains the parable of the sower and the seed. In equating the seed with the “word of God”, Jesus equates the “word of God” with himself, for he describes himself as the seed which must fall to earth and die to bear great fruit.

  • John 1:1-14, where John proclaims that the Word is God, and that the Word manifest itself in the flesh in the human Jesus.

  • Hebrews 11:3 and 2 Peter 3:5, where we read that “the world was created by the word of God” (RSV), which cannot mean the Bible or Scripture.

  • 1 John 2:14, where John writes that “the word of God abides in you” (RSV). He means not Scripture, but the commandments of God, revealed to us and written on our hearts (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34), a new covenant through Jesus Christ.

  • Revelation 6:9, which describes “those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne” (RSV). These are not people who died for the sake of a book, but for the sake of Jesus Christ. (Cf. Revelation 1:2 and Revelation 20:4, where “the word of God” and “Jesus” are both used—again, this refers not to particular Scriptures (especially since the Bible was not formulated at the time of the writing of the Book of Revelation), but to the revelation received from God.)

  • Revelation 19:13, which clearly states “He is clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.” The name of Jesus, before ever he was Yeshua Baryosef (or similar), was The Word of God.
I open the floor to your interpretations, opinions, beliefs, etc. Whether you agree or disagree, please provide references to Scripture (and explanations) that support your position. Writings from the Church Fathers (a source which I have not looked into yet) are acceptable and appreciated.