Friday, June 28, 2013

Christian Discipleship

Praise the Lord God for the beautiful readings that we have just heard from the Holy Scriptures. They richly fed us with spiritual knowledge and understanding of true discipleship.

Through faith and the Sacrament of Baptism, we Catholic who have become members of the Body of Christ, have also become servants and slaves of Jesus. As Elisha accepted to live a holy life by submitting himself to the Divine Will of God without hesitation, we Catholics are also called to be holy by standing firm and not submitting ourselves to the yoke of slavery. For Christ has set us free from the yoke of slavery.

As true disciples of the Lord Jesus who have been freed from the slavery of sin, we have been called to become slaves to one another [Gal. 5:13] in Christ. As slaves of Christ, to return to the desires of worldly flesh, pleasures, fame and wealth is to renounce the call of our "yes" to the Lord God.

Bound by the spiritual law of Christ, our commandment is, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself." [Gal. 5:14] Through the whole law, "there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him." [Rom. 10:12] If we love this one but we do not love that one, we are not of Christ. If we limit our love to those of a certain gender, age or ethnic background, we are not of Christ.

We have been called to live by the spirit, [Gal. 5:16] the spirit of adoption [Gal. 4:5] that we have received through Christ. "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God." [Rom. 8:14]

"What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit." [Jn. 3:6] We having been born of the Spirit are spirit "and what the spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent us from doing what we want, what is righteous." [Gal. 5:17]

Being born again in Christ, we have received the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit Who inclines our new hearts towards all righteousness, we have a living hope of completing our journey on earth. Through the sanctifying fire of the Holy Spirit, we have a living hope of eternal joy and peace in the Kingdom of God.

During today's Gospel Reading, we heard that Jesus was rejected by the Samaritans. The Jews and the Samaritans did not see eye-to-eye together and as such, they were not the type to associate with one another. The Samaritans were originally Gentile people who had descended from foreigners who had settled in Israel after the deportation of the Israelites in 721 B.C. [2 Kgs 17; Ezra 4:1-3; Neh. 4:1-9]

Knowing that His ministry was approaching its end, Jesus set His eyes on Jerusalem, [Lk. 9:51] where He had to go to be rejected and face death as it was written in the prophecies of the Old Testament. Because Jesus set His eyes on Jerusalem, the Samaritans did not receive Him. [Lk. 9:53] Making a distinction between the Jews and the Samaritans, they did not love their neighbours as themselves. They had not learned the meaning of true discipleship.

When James and John, the disciples of Jesus, saw how the Samaritans had hardened their hearts, they asked Jesus for permission to command fire to come down from Heaven and to consume them. [Lk. 9:54] Jesus turned and rebuked them. [Lk. 9:55] For the approach of Jesus has never been one of using force. It has been, "If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also." [Mt. 5:39]

Because James and John showed little patience towards the Samaritans, being ready to command fire to come down from Heaven, [Lk. 9:54] Jesus called them the "sons of thunder." [See Mk. 3:17]

As Jesus was going along the road, someone came to Him and said that he would follow Jesus wherever He went. [Lk. 9:57] To him, Jesus said, "'Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." [Lk. 9:58] From this response, we learn two things. First of all, from the words, "foxes have holes," which is symbolic of "hiding," Jesus was saying that He does not trick anyone into following Him. Secondly, by stating that foxes and birds have a resting place, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head, Jesus was indicating that in true discipleship, He expects total dedication. "No one can serve two masters, for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth." [Mt. 6:24]

Then Jesus told one person to follow Him. The person replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." [Lk. 9:59] To this, Jesus said, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." [Lk. 9:60]

Through these words, Jesus was saying, "Let those who are spiritually dead bury those who are physically dead. My message is one of life." In His response, Jesus did not intend to be taken literally. Rather, He wanted to stir the thoughts of those who were present. Jesus was fully aware of the respect that the children had towards their parents, especially when it concerned burying one's parents. This filial piety was deep rooted within Judaism. [Gen. 49:28-50:3; Ex. 13:19; Tob. 4:3, 6:15]

To another who said that He would follow Jesus after saying farewell to those at his home, Jesus said, "No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." [Lk. 9:61-2] In other words, in true discipleship, ploughing demands more than what was demanded of Elisha. [1 kgs. 19:19-21] To plough for the Kingdom of God, it demands sacrifices. If one takes the time to look back, the work of God shall suffer.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, this is today's message to us from God. In true discipleship, there is no turning back. There is no turning back to the worldly ways. As slaves of Christ, we are expected to continuously move forward by growing in our spiritual lives through the grace of God the Father and the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit in the Most Holy Name of Jesus.

This week, let us consider this truth according to our callings, be it the religious life, the matrimonial life or the single life. Are we spiritually growing in our callings? Are we being loyal to our Master? Are we being true disciples? And if some find that there is much to be desired in their lives, may they take this opportunity to change their hearts while the grace of God is at work in them this week.


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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Peter the Rock

In Matthew’s parallel section of this week’s Gospel reading we find Jesus changing Peter’s name from Simon to 'Peter'. In response to Simon’s (ie Peter) answer the Jesus the Christ, the son of the living God Jesus tells Peter that he is indeed blessed and on the Rock that is Peter His Church will be built (Matt 16:16-18). Here’s a short exchange from an online source on how one can defend the Catholic position that Jesus made Peter the first Pope on that day and with those words...

For a layman, I suppose I was reasonably well informed about my faith—at least I never doubted it or ceased to practice it—but my own reading had not equipped me for verbal duels.

Then, one day, I came across a nugget of information that sent a shock wave through the next missionary who rang the bell and that proved to me that becoming skilled in apologetics isn’t really all that difficult. Here’s what happened.

When I answered the door, the lone missionary introduced himself as a Seventh-day Adventist. He asked if he could "share" with me some insights from the Bible. I told him to go ahead.

He flipped from one page to another, quoting this verse and that, trying to demonstrate the errors of the Church of Rome and the manifest truth of his own denomination’s position.

Some of the verses I had encountered before. I wasn’t entirely illiterate with respect to the Bible, but many verses were new to me. Whether familiar or not, the verses elicited no response from me, because I didn’t know enough about the Bible to respond effectively.

Finally the missionary got to Matthew 16:18: "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church."

"Hold it right there!" I said. "I know that verse. That’s where Jesus appointed Simon the earthly head of the Church. That’s where he appointed him the first pope." I paused and smiled broadly, knowing what the missionary would say in response.

I knew he usually didn’t get any defense of the Catholic position at all as he went door to door, but sometimes a Catholic would speak up as I had. He had a reply, and I knew what it would be, and I was ready for it.

"I understand your thinking," he said, "but you Catholics misunderstand this verse because you don’t know any Greek. That’s the trouble with your Church and with your scholars. You people don’t know the language in which the New Testament was written. To understand Matthew 16:18, we have to get behind the English to the Greek."

"Is that so?" I said, leading him on. I pretended to be ignorant of the trap being laid for me.

"Yes," he said. "In Greek, the word for rock is petra, which means a large, massive stone. The word used for Simon’s new name is different; it’s Petros, which means a little stone, a pebble."

In reality, what the missionary was telling me at this point was false. As Greek scholars—even non-Catholic ones—admit, the words petrosand petra were synonyms in first century Greek. They meant "small stone" and "large rock" in some ancient Greek poetry, centuries before the time of Christ, but that distinction had disappeared from the language by the time Matthew’s Gospel was rendered in Greek. The difference in meaning can only be found in Attic Greek, but the New Testament was written in Koine Greek—an entirely different dialect. In Koine Greek, both petros andpetrasimply meant "rock." If Jesus had wanted to call Simon a small stone, the Greek lithos would have been used. The missionary’s argument didn’t work and showed a faulty knowledge of Greek. (For an Evangelical Protestant Greek scholar’s admission of this, see D. A. Carson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984], Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., 8:368).

"You Catholics," the missionary continued, "because you don’t know Greek, imagine that Jesus was equating Simon and the rock. Actually, of course, it was just the opposite. He was contrasting them. On the one side, the rock on which the Church would be built, Jesus himself; on the other, this mere pebble. Jesus was really saying that he himself would be the foundation, and he was emphasizing that Simon wasn’t remotely qualified to be it."

"Case closed," he thought.

It was the missionary’s turn to pause and smile broadly. He had followed the training he had been given. He had been told that a rare Catholic might have heard of Matthew 16:18 and might argue that it proved the establishment of the papacy. He knew what he was supposed to say to prove otherwise, and he had said it.

"Well," I replied, beginning to use that nugget of information I had come across, "I agree with you that we must get behind the English to the Greek." He smiled some more and nodded. "But I’m sure you’ll agree with me that we must get behind the Greek to the Aramaic."

"The what?" he asked.

"The Aramaic," I said. "As you know, Aramaic was the language Jesus and the apostles and all the Jews in Palestine spoke. It was the common language of the place."

"I thought Greek was."

"No," I answered. "Many, if not most of them, knew Greek, of course, because Greek was the lingua franca of the Mediterranean world. It was the language of culture and commerce; and most of the books of the New Testament were written in it, because they were written not just for Christians in Palestine but also for Christians in places such as Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch, places where Aramaic wasn’t the spoken language.

"I say most of the New Testament was written in Greek, but not all. Many hold that Matthew was written in Aramaic—we know this from records kept by Eusebius of Caesarea—but it was translated into Greek early on, perhaps by Matthew himself. In any case the Aramaic original is lost (as are all the originals of the New Testament books), so all we have today is the Greek."

I stopped for a moment and looked at the missionary. He seemed a bit uncomfortable, perhaps doubting that I was a Catholic because I seemed to know what I was talking about. I continued.

"We know that Jesus spoke Aramaic because some of his words are preserved for us in the Gospels. Look at Matthew 27:46, where he says from the cross, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ That isn’t Greek; it’s Aramaic, and it means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

"What’s more," I said, "in Paul’s epistles—four times in Galatians and four times in 1 Corinthians—we have the Aramaic form of Simon’s new name preserved for us. In our English Bibles it comes out as Cephas. That isn’t Greek. That’s a transliteration of the Aramaic word Kepha (rendered as Kephas in its Hellenistic form).

"And what does Kepha mean? It means a rock, the same as petra. (It doesn’t mean a little stone or a pebble. What Jesus said to Simon in Matthew 16:18 was this: ‘You are Kepha, and on thiskepha I will build my Church.’

"When you understand what the Aramaic says, you see that Jesus was equating Simon and the rock; he wasn’t contrasting them. We see this vividly in some modern English translations, which render the verse this way:‘You are Rock, and upon this rock I will build my church.’ In French one word, pierre, has always been used both for Simon’s new name and for the rock."

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Friday, June 14, 2013

Mary's Perpetual Virginity

Last week we looked at the reasons why the supposed evidence that Mary had other children after Jesus is, in the end, not very strong evidence at all.  So now let’s look at some Biblical basis’ for Mary’s perpetual virginity.  There seems to be quite a few verses that point to Mary’s perpetual virginity although the weight of the arguments are arguable. 

We find in Luke 2:41-51 that Jesus is found missing.  Joseph and Mary are frantic and search for him for three days and then find him in the Temple.  I find it odd that throughout those three days there is no mention of any siblings helping in the search for Jesus.
A second argument can be made by the fact that in Jewish society younger sons never gave public advice to an older brother, much less, the oldest son.  This would be very disrespectful.  And this is what seems to be happening in John 7:3-4 “So his brothers said to him, "Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples may see the works you are doing.  For no man works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world”.”

A third argument is pretty evident at His actions on the cross.  Our Lord entrusted his mother to John.  That action makes no sense if Mary had other sons (John 19:26-27).  The social customs of the time would have made such an action unthinkable.

Lastly, we find that in Luke 1:34 Mary is surprised by the angel’s announcement that she will bear a son.  She was already betrothed, or to be married, and she was surprised that she is going to bear a son?  Why would she be surprised at that statement?  She answered that she does not know man.  You would think that Mary would just assume that her husband-to-be is going to father her a child.  She would only be surprised if she had vowed to never know a man.  Only after she questions the angel about her virginity does the angel explain that “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the holy thing which is born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)  Only then does she seem to understand.

The descriptive term to “overshadow” gives the connotation of a man overtaking a woman, as the coming together of man and women.  In essence, Mary believes she is connected to God in a marital fashion.

After learning of Mary’s expectancy, Joseph was contemplating quietly divorcing and putting her away because he knew that she would be accused of adultery and the possibility of Mary being stoned to death was definitely present.  As he was contemplating his choices an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream and said to him: “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 1:20).  Thus he received confirmation that he was called to live his marriage in a completely special way. 

Therefore, we see that even though Mary was with child and he knew that the Child was not his, he still accepted Mary as his wife on the word of a powerful dream.  Is there any better reason to keep a chaste life when you know you are to marry God’s mother and raise His Son?

Another way of arguing the perpetual virginity is by looking at the typology of Mary as found in the OT. “A type is a person, thing, or event in the Old Testament that foreshadows something to come later in time, either later in the Old Testament itself of in the New Testament. It is like a taste or hint of something that will be fulfilled or realized. The anti-type (New Testament event) is always greater than its type (shadow of an event in the Old Testament). And both are independent of each other.

“Types” are explained in Rom 5:14 and Heb 9:9, as a figure, 1 Cor 10:6 and 2 Thess 3:9 and 2Pet 2:6, as examples, 1 Cor 10:11 and Heb 11:19, as a type.

The Egyptian Exodus told in Hosea 11:1 is quoted exactly in Matt 2:15 when speaking of Jesus’ return to Israel from Egypt: “where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son."”

What Matthew has done here is he took an historical event and interpreted it as a shadow of something greater to come in the future, which he sees as ‘fulfilled’ in the person of Jesus the Messiah.

Other examples of type/antitype pairs are:

A) Jonah in the belly of the of whale is a type of Christ in the tomb. For Jonah stayed in the belly for three days as did Christ stay buried for three days until His resurrection.

B) The manna in the desert, Ex 16:31, is the bread of life compared to its antitype the living bread of life, that is Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, Matt 26:26

We can see from these examples that the Old Testament writers as well as the New Testament writers wrote and used these kinds of connections to show the greatness of God…through His imagery, and interconnections woven throughout Scripture.

Let’s see if we can find a new antitype that fits-in with the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant type. The Ark of the Covenant contained the Ten Commandment tablets, a golden pot containing some of the manna that fell from the sky during the 40 years of wandering the deserts after their liberation from the Egyptians, and the rod of Aaron.

Now, when we look for another container holding something similar yet greater than these objects, we can’t help but notice how Mary, the mother of Jesus, fits that description very well.

The Ark contained the Ten Commandments, the Word of God written by the finger of God on stone tablets. In Mary contained the Word of God made flesh, God incarnate.

The Ark also contained a pot of the miraculous bread that fell from the sky to sustain the wandering Jews after their liberation. In Mary contained the bread of life giving us spiritual life instead of merely physical sustenance.

The Ark also contained the rod of Aaron, the proof of true priesthood. In Mary’s womb is the true priest. And the Ark is treated as such that one who touches it without proper reverence died (2 Sam 6:6-7). Pretty good incentive to refrain from improperly touching Mary huh?

And lastly we also find that where God has entered through Mary's virginal opening so too must that opening remain shut as seen in Ezekiel 44:1-2 " The man led me to the outer gate at the east side of the Temple area. The gate was closed, and the LORD said to me, "This gate will stay closed and will never be opened. No human being is allowed to use it, because I, the LORD God of Israel, have entered through it. It is to remain closed

Since there is no break in this belief of ever-virgin through Christian history up until a few decades ago, we need to acknowledge that the perpetual virginity of Mary to be a default position.  Therefore those against this precept need to prove otherwise not the other way around.  I believe I have discredited any ‘proof’ showing that Mary and Joseph were having marital relations after Jesus’ birth in last weeks leaflet and today  I believe I have shown that there are some verses that point to the ever-virginity of Mary.  To conclude, Mary was a virgin before the conception of Christ, during her pregnancy and after our Lord’s birth up to her last day on earth.  To accept anything different will need additional proofs to the contrary.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Did Jesus Have Brothers?

In St Paul’s letter to the Galatians we find Paul mentions that Jesus had a brother by the name of James.  Does this mean that Jesus’ mother did not remain a virgin after His birth, did Jesus have blood-related siblings?  Let’s answer that question.


In Aramaic or Hebrew, there is no separate word for cousin.  Therefore, the word brother was used for cousins as well as other close members of the family. As an example we find that in Gen 14:14 Lot is called Abraham’s brother although we know him to be his nephew.  In the jewish custom we find that the word brother has a broader use such as people joined in a cause to refer to them as kinsmen (ex: 42 bretheren of King Achaziah (2 Kings 10:13-14)).  Or to describe a friend as in 1 Kings 9:13, 20:32 and 2 Sam 1:26.  In Amos 1:9 the word is used to describe an ally. 


Therefore, when we come up to verses which speak of the bretheren (or brothers) of Jesus we can correctly assume that His brothers are in effect close friends, fellow believers or even fellow citizens of His native town Nazareth.  Verses such as Matt 12:46 “As he was yet speaking to the multitudes, behold his mother and his bretheren stood without, seeking to speak to him.” can easily be explained as Jesus’ mother and his childhood friends (or fellow Nazareens, or cousins).


I believe the difficulty comes when we find the verses that seem to specify brothers by name such as verses Mark 6:3 and Matt 13:55.  Both these verses seem to be relating the same incident.  Matt 13:55 “Is not this the carpenter’s son?  Is not his mother called Mary, and his brethren James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Jude?”  This verse seems to suggest that Mary had other children by the name James, and Jude.  But if you look closely the author did not call these men Mary’s sons, this writer separated them from Mary and in doing so introduced the idea that these men were not Jesus’ biological brothers.  We find elsewhere in Matthew that Mary was the mother of James and Joseph but these men’s father was Zebedee.  You will see what I mean when you read Matt 27:56 which states: “Among whom was Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.”  With this we find that at least James and Joseph (or Jose, its English equivalent) are the sons of Zebedee (Cleophas) and another Mary.  Therefore, we find that James and Joseph are not the biological brothers of Jesus.  The only reason to be called the bretheren of Jesus would be because they were childhood friends.  We can extrapolate that conclusion by studying John 19:25 which states: “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene”.  We find that Mary, the mother of Jesus, had a ‘sister’ named Mary and more than likely these two were not siblings but were very close.


            About Simon nothing certain can be stated.  Out of the four men grouped together and named in Matt 13:55, we find three of them are definitely not the biological sons of Mary, Mother of Jesus.  Since these men were grouped together and two out of the four are not His brothers, we can safely and accurately say that the other two are not Jesus’ brother since to be as such Simon and Jude would have been introduced in a manner reflective of that fact. At the very least Simon and Jude would have been described in a different way from the other two.  All agree that if Joseph and James are not brothers of the Savior, the others are not.


To conclude, Mary was a virgin before the conception of Christ, during her pregnancy and after our Lord’s birth up to her last day on earth.