Catholic Epistles Part 3: Letters of John and Jude

This is the final group of general letters, the past weeks we looked at James and Peter.  John wrote three letters and Jude only wrote one. John’s third letter is the shortest book in the entire Bible followed by John’s second letter and Jude is the fifth shortest. So this will be a quick one.

The Letters of John might have been written by the Evangelist or at least one of his followers and it is widely believed that the second and third letters were written by a different hand than the first letter. The first letter begins with roughly the same language that we hear from the Gospel word, light in the darkness, new commandment, love, children of God and other. It’s like a distillation of the Gospel. The first letter seems to be the most general of the Johannine letters. As we turn to the other letters they are both directed to individuals John’s second letter is to a specific region and the third letter to some guy named Gaius. The second letter warns against false teachers and stresses truth and love. The third letter begins by praising Gaius for his actions in imitating good and John says that he will be coming soon. The community that John writes too is fractured as there are too many people saying what is truth. Just like that saying “too many cooks spoil the broth” as we have heard from other letters there are others preaching about Jesus and this has caused some fracturing in the community.

The Letter of Jude is a chapter long and Jude is the brother of James. Once again this stuff sounds sort of familiar as Peter’s second letter covers this same idea. Jude warns about false teachers who lead people to sin and mockers who dismiss the idea of Christ’s return. It gives the general idea that we are called to fight for our faith with love and mercy. This book is interesting as it references the Book of Enoch a book which is only used by the Orthodox Tewahedo community in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

If you have some spare time take some time and open the Bible to read. It doesn’t even have to be the upcoming readings for the week or anything like that. Pick whatever sound nice to you and read it.

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Catholic Epistles Part 2: Letters of Peter

Last week we looked at the first General or catholic letter from James. Now we turn to Peter who wrote two letters. Well these most likely were not written by Peter directly either by a secretary or more likely a disciple of Peter writing in his name after Peter died. The whole authorship debate is pretty crazy and don’t really want to get into it. The first letter was most likely written after the letters of Paul were a thing, the second letter might have been the last book written for the Bible as it references other letters as scripture and it uses the Letter of Jude. A rough dating of the letters are between 70-90 for the first while the second ranges between 80-130 or so.

As for the content of the letters they vary widely between the two. In the first letter it is addressed to the exiles of the dispersion, and pin points the location of the people to Asia Minor. The letter begins by talking up the Christian people as they are “God’s own people” it goes on to echo the words of the Lord from Exodus “Be holy because I am Holy” and the idea of girding the loins of your mind, now this is like getting your mind from the gutter.  The general idea is that the Christians are special people but Peter tells them to behave themselves amongst the gentiles (pagans). This simply is be both a good Christian and a good citizen. The topic changes and Peter talks about the harassment of the Christians by their pagan neighbors, sure but Peter reminds them that it is only through suffering that glory can come, and he was there at the death of Jesus. Sure more suffering could come but then the glory will be better. One interesting point in this letter is that it talks about Christ after he died proclaimed to spirits in prison, some early theologian see this are a reference to the descent into the dead/Hell where Jesus preached the Gospel to those in Limbo.

The second letter is addressed to “those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with our in the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” It begins by saying that followers should “become partakers in the divine nature” and that there are things that can supplement our faith with virtues and virtues with knowledge and knowledge with self control and self control with steadfastness and steadfastness with godliness and godliness with brotherly affection and brotherly affection with love. It goes on to condemn false teachers and that the second coming isn’t going to be coming tomorrow for to the eyes of the Lord a thousand year are but a day. This waiting also is a time for repentance  therefore all Christians “Peter” suggests should look to scripture and his last letter. Christians need to live in holiness and gird the loins of ones mind.

It is interesting to read these early writings of the Church as see that some topics are still what we are struggling with. The whole be a good Christian but also be a good citizen is where many people face problems today as they are more concerned with being a good citizen no matter how it makes them look as a “Christian” just look at what’s been going on in Washington do we consider any one there is acting “Christianly” to one another the Democrats and Republican have been at each other for years slowly becoming more entrenched in their own ideologies and refusing anything else.

Next week we will be looking at the three letters of John as well as Jude’s letter.

Catholic epistles Part One: Epistle of James

Over the next couple of week, since we finished up Esther last week, the focus will shift to the catholic epistles. Now, these are the lesser letter and the term catholic means universal since these letter are not directed to a specific audience. They consist of the Letter of James, two Letters of Peter, three Letters of John and the Letter of Jude. This week will be James, next will be Peter’s letters and the following one will be the rest.

The letter of James is New Testament Wisdom Literature. It may have been written by James, the brother of Jesus or perhaps James the less who lead the Church in Jerusalem, but it could have just been attributed to him however whoever this James was it seems like Jude might have been his brother as well. It gets a bit confusing figuring out authorship of these letters. On to the book itself. James begins with a rather short greeting like the other letters and goes right into the message sure there are going to be trials in life but keep steadfast in your faith, that you live in. It seems rooted in love first and foremost echoing the commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself”. James gives an example of a richly dressed man and a poorly dressed man entering into the assembly and caring more about the one that looks better. James continues with interesting metaphors and musings about how to live life. The letter end with the idea of the sacrament of anointing of the sick. In the letter we hear that it is works and faith that justify mankind. This is at odds with the Protestant belief of Sola Fide where you just have to believe that salvation is attained by grace alone in Christ alone through faith alone for the Glory of God alone as told in Scripture alone.

Reading through this letter it seems like it would be something that I would write today so perhaps we need to hear from this book more often, as the message is one that seems to be continually in need of.

Book of Esther part 3: The finale

This is the last of the series on the Book of Esther, last week we looked at Haman’s plot. We get to the whole deal with Purim today.

The King Xerxes, couldn’t sleep so he gets out the book of memorable deeds and reads about Mordecai and how he informed the King about the two eunuchs that were plotting against him. The king asks what was bestowed on Mordecai for doing this and learns it was nothing. The king asks who is in court and lo and behold it’s Haman, the King asks Haman what the king should do for someone who delights him. Now, Haman think that this is about himself and that the King will be honoring him so he goes all out, he wants to be dresses in royal robes and ride on a royal horse through the town being honored by all. The king says wonderful and tells Haman to do this for Mordecai, the Jew by the gate. Haman returns home in mourning and with his head covered and told his wife and friends what had happened, they predict that it is only going to get worse for Haman. While this is happening the King’s Eunuchs come to bring Haman to Queen Esther’s banquet. At this second banquet the King ask Esther again what her petition is and Esther reveals that she is Jewish “I and my people are being sold to be destroyed”. The King wonders who would do such a thing and Esther points to Haman, this foe and enemy. This enrages the King and storms out furious about this, one of the eunuchs mentions that Haman is/was building a gallows for Mordecai by his house. So Haman was hanged on the gallows meant for Mordecai. The king gave Haman’s house to Esther and Mordecai became the new Prime Minister and lived in Haman’s house.

The initial step was taken but there was that Edict that went out saying to kill all the Jewish people, so Esther pleaded with the King to cancel the edict sent out by Haman ordering the destruction of the Jews. A new edict was printed and distributed across the nations saying that the previous one is wrong and allowed the Jews who were in every city to gather and defend their lives, to destroy, to slay, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them, with their children and women, and to plunder their goods,  upon one day throughout all the provinces of King Ahasu-e′rus, on the thirteenth day of Adar.  As time passes it gets it the thirteenth of Adar and the Jews gathered together and in Susa, the capital they slew 500 men and 10 of Haman’s sons were captured. Esther goes before the King and asks for another day since the Jews didn’t take any plunder. He agrees that those in Susa can do it another day and the Jews slew 300 more. Across the provinces of King Ahasuerus some 75,000 were slain. This is why the feast of Purim is celebrated.

This is a strange book in the Bible as it has a different feel from the rest of the books. I can sort of understand why the church reads only a brief section from Esther as it’s sort of like the Quentin Tarantino movie of the Bible. It is worth reading, seeing or hearing.

 

Book of Esther part 2: Haman’s plot against the Jews

Last week I went through the first bit of Esther, this week we look at the plots.

After all this had happened the King, perhaps Xerxes, promoted Haman to be like the Prime Minister in the country and all the king’s servants were told by the king to bow to Haman. Mordecai did not. The other servants told Haman and when he noticed the slight was filled with fury. Haman learned that Mordecai was a Jew and sought to destroy all the Jews. Haman cast Pur (lots) and through this decided that all Jews will be destroyed on the 13th of Adar. Haman put this before the king and sort of approved it. Haman will pay 10 thousand talents of silver for this to be done. So on the 13th day of Nisan, the first month of the Hebrew calendar and wrote the edict to go out across the kingdom. The next chapter is a copy of the edict, that all Jews, with their wives and children, will be destroyed by the sword of their enemies, without pity or mercy, on the 14th of Adar, the last month of the year. Mordecai and the Jewish people rent their clothes, put on ashes and sackcloth, and wailed. Esther eventually learned about the edict through a very clumsy game of telephone through one of the King’s eunuchs, Hathach. Esther decides that Mordecai and the Jewish people should fast on her behalf, and neither eating or drinking for three days. Esther and my maids will also fast, then she will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.

We are then treated to two prayers one from Mordecai and the other from Esther. In Mordecai’s prayer we learn that he didn’t bow because he didn’t want to set a Man above God.  He continues and asks the Lord to spare his people once again for their death was before their eyes. Esther also turned to the Lord, she took off her fancy garments and put on garments of distress and mourning, as well as covering herself with ashes and dung instead of perfume. In Esther’s prayer which is read the Thursday of the first week of Lent, we hear her asking for the Lord to put eloquent speech in her mouth, and turn the king’s heart to hate the man who is fighting against us, so that there may be an end of Haman and those who agree with him. “Save us from the hand of our enemies; turn our mourning into gladness and our sorrows into wholeness.” This is a powerful prayer and it is really a shame that we don’t hear from Esther on Sundays. On the third day the fast was over and Esther put on her royal robes and with two handmaidens entered the king wasn’t too happy about this to begin with and Esther fainted. The king dashed to Esther and told her that she would be die as it only applied to those people. As she tried to respond she collapsed and as she regained strength asked that the King and Haman join her for dinner. Now, Haman saw Mordecai by the King’s gate and Mordecai wasn’t cowering or kowtowing before Haman so he went home and was pissed. Haman gathered together his friend and wife and after talking about how wonderful he is but Haman wouldn’t be happy unless Mordecai bowed down before him. His wife and friends suggest why not hang Mordecai in the morning and then go to dinner with the king in the evening.

It is still sort of weird going between the extended verses and the regular ones as they are often time saying basically the same thing twice. This is an interesting story and it is a shame that we only hear like six verses from it on a Thursday in Lent.

Book of Esther: part 1 (Prologue and Elevation of Esther)

The book of Esther, the extended edition, begins with an introduction of all the characters and place. In the second year of the reign of Artaxexes the great (perhaps Xerxes) on the first of Nisan, Mordecai (Esther’s cousin), of the tribe of Benjamin, had a dream of two great dragons poised to fight and at every roar the nations of the world all prepared for war against the righteous. This continues as Mordecai overhears some eunuchs plotting against the king and Mordecai tells the King, placing him in the court but Mordecai gained an enemy in Haman who sought to injure Mordecai and his people because of the eunuchs. This give us some more understanding as to who Mordecai and Haman are.

In the regular version we begin a year later at a week long banquet that Artaxerxes held for all his Princes and servants. Everyone was going crazy partying. Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for all the women. On the seventh day Artaxerxes asked his eunuchs to get Vashti to show her beauty, she refused. This incensed the King and he called his wise men to figure out what should be done. One of the princes Memucan suggested that “all women will give honor to their husbands, high and low.” They also remove Vashti as Queen and after some time passes Ataxerxes or his people decide that he needs a queen. So the order went out for maidens and many showed up including Hadassah (Esther) her parents had died and her cousin Mordecai adopted her as his daughter. The King found favor with Esther and she became the queen and a banquet was held. Then we get the story of Mordecai overhearing eunuchs plotting to kill the King and it he reports this to Esther who brings it to the King.

This is one of the weirder books in the Bible for several reasons there are many banquets and it deals with foreign royalty. We hear about the Pharaohs in Egypt and King David and so forth in Israel and Judah but here we are offered a Queen from Persia who happens to be a Jewish orphan. Talk about rags to riches. What makes it more confusing in the addition of the Greek text to the Hebrew text which so far tells us the same thing twice unless there was a lot of plotting going on in Persia. This is my first time reading through this book. This year the feast of Purim is celebrated this weekend (11/12).

Lenten Reflections: Book of Esther

The past couple of years I worked through Job and Amos. This Lent I’m going to look at the Book of Esther. Esther is one of the Five Scrolls or Megillah it is in the third section of the Hebrew Bible the Ketuvim or the Writings. In the Christian church it is one of the Historical books. This book is interesting as it deals with a woman Esther who becomes Queen of Persia and wife of Xerxes the great, perhaps. In Esther we hear about the events that are celebrated during the feast of Purim. This book is unique since it does not explicitly mention God.

There is an interesting thing about the book is that there are additional chapters of the book that are in the Greek Septuagint. In the Vulgate these are placed at the end of the book and depending on your translation these might be indicated by letters or as numbers. To make it more confusing some Bible translations put these within the text of the book so you get a like chapter A or 11 before the first chapter of Esther.

The Magnificat

As we near the end of Advent I though we would take a look at the Canticle of Mary. This is one of the eight oldest hymns and perhaps the oldest one about Mary. The words are taken from the Gospel of Luke (1:46-52) at the Visitation Elizabeth greets Mary with the first half of the Hail Mary and Mary’s response is the Canticle or Song of Mary it is also known as the Magnificat (from My Soul magnifies the Lord) and in the Eastern Church it is simply the Ode of the Theotokos. It is typically prayed during Vespers or Evening Prayer in the Western Churches (Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican) Protestants sing it during Advent and in the East it is sung during Sunday Matins. A version of the Canticle in English is as follows.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.

In the Eastern Church after the Canticle itself they add ‘You who are more to be honoured than the Cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim, you who, uncorrupted, gave birth to God the Word, in reality the God-bearer, we exalt you.’ or “More honourable than the Cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim, without corruption thou gavest birth to God the Word: true Theotokos, we magnify thee.”

 

Verbum Domini

Verbum Domini is a Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation from Pope Benedict XVI on  how the Church should approach the Bible, it is like a synthesis of the thoughts from Dei Verbum. It looks at what Dei Verbum said from Vatican II and how we have implemented it in our lives. If you want a real quick overview take a look at the “Table of Contents” before the exhortation begins.

The exhortation itself is broken down into three main parts with an introduction and conclusion. The introduction says that this come from the 12th Ordinary General Synod of Bishops, which focused on The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. Benedict uses the Prologue of the Gospel of John (1:1-18) as a guide. The Word was with God in the beginning and took on flesh to become one of us so that we all might live. This is as Benedict XVI says “a synthesis of the entire Christian faith.”

The first part is titled Verbum Dei, The Word of God. It begins with an analysis of the prologue of John’s Gospel ” In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…” This idea goes into the Incarnation (The Word become flesh) where Jesus is the condensation of God. Since the Incarnation took place within time and space it happened at one point and the writings are “The word of God is thus expressed in human words thanks to the working of the Holy Spirit”  but reflect both the human and divine. Once again Mary is offered as a model for us. This next part we shift our focus on the book itself. Here Benedict gets into hermeneutics and how to exegete scripture.  Benedict directs our attention to opening up the Bible and reading it however he notes that we enter it with a faith-filled approach as this way has been, “practiced from antiquity within Tradition, seeks saving truth for the life of the individual Christian and for the Church. It recognizes the historical value of the biblical tradition. Precisely because of the tradition’s value as an historical witness, this reading seeks to discover the living meaning of the sacred Scriptures for the lives of believers today”, while not ignoring the human mediation of the inspired text and its literary genres. Scriptures can be used as an Ecumenical building block as well, like with bible study, we can get into the nuts and bolts of religion through discussion of common scripture.  We can look at the lives of the Saints as they have lived truly lived the Word of God.

The second part is entitled Verbum in Ecclesia, The Word in Church. It begins by calling us back to the beginning of John’s Gospel as Augustine puts it “you were created through the word, but now through the word you must be recreated.” How are we recreated? Through the scripture notably by the sacraments and the liturgy. Significance is put on the Liturgy as for many people this is the only place they will hear from the Bible. Benedict notes that Lectors need to be trained since they need to understand what they are reading before they can read it to the congregation. Then the focus turns to the Homily. The quality of homilies need to improve as the faithful need to be able to understand what the priest is talking about and understand that Christ is at the center of it.  We move on to the Sacraments of Healing saying that Scripture is a major aspect of both Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick. Next we are given The Liturgy of the Hours, the prayer of the Church as a way for us to get closer to the Scripture. Once again Benedict urges us all to read the Bible using Lectio Divina or even just praying the Rosary.

The third part is Verbum Mundo, The Word to the World. This section begins talk of Evangelization and mission. We are called to be not only hearers of the Word but heralds of the world, at the end of Mass we are told to go out into the world and bring what we have heard out into the world. This is has been our mission since baptism, bearing witness to the Gospel in our daily lives. We need to not only evangelize the world but re evangelize it. Next the focus is turned to special interest and how the youth, the migrants, the suffering, the poor and creation are all integral parts that need to be protected and nurtured by all of us but they are also a part of the evangelization. Even within the secular world the Bible is still a source of inspiration as so much of the world can follow the code of rules. We can also learn about the Bible through secular institutions as long as they are properly educated, the Bible can be used as inspiration for artists of all types and we should use all methods available to spread the word of God even this Internet thingy.

At the end Pope Benedict urges us all to read the Bible. One of the great lines in the Conclusion “Let us be silent in order to hear the Lord’s word and to meditate upon it, so that by the working of the Holy Spirit it may remain in our hearts and speak to us all the days of our lives.” As for many of us listening is something that is difficult for us to do.  Let us find quiet moments in our lives where we can listen and explore the word of the Lord.

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

This week the readings come from Malachi 3:19-20, Psalm 98, Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians 3:7-12 and Luke’s gospel 21:5-19.

Once again we are looking to the end time but today we have the idea of salvation added to it. Malachi warns us that “Lo, the Day is coming” when all of this will end, the Lord will come and Justice will happen the proud and evil doers will be set on fire and those who fear the Lord will arise. Paul touches on this in a way by saying that when they brought the message to Thessalonica they hoped to be models for imitation in how to act and all that jazz. Their message is that the end is coming but we don’t know when, so go about your lives like normal work but try and model our behavior. In Luke we get Jesus echoing the message of Malachi and Paul, the Day is coming and the Lord will come. Sure it won’t be nice nation will rise against nation and you will be persecuted not for who you are but for what you believe in.

This is a great message for this week as it seems about half the United States isn’t pleased with the result of the Election, but we all can deal with it. As we need to be models for the world as Tertullian observed the pagans say “See how those Christians love one another” we need to continue to show this love to more than just those in our parishes but out in the community we should care about how are communities function. Sure there may be those who we don’t care for in the world but we need to be able to show them the same love that we show to our own family and friends. By bringing love out into the world we are working to building the kingdom here on earth.