The Sermon on the Mount
A very frequent question to me is : What does “poor in spirit” mean?
The Beatitudes are part of the three chapter long “Sermon on the Mount” in the Gospel of Matthew. The sermon is a collection of the moral teaching of Jesus.
The sermon is not addressed to the crowds. It is directed to the disciples. Jesus is the Rabbi. “He sat down”. Rabbi’s sat down to teach!
The word “Blessed” is sometimes translated as “Happy”. Also note that Jesus does not teach in any negative way. There are no “Thou shall nots”. His instructions are fulfilling the Old Law. “I did not come to destroy but to fulfil”. All of the Old Law is in the Beatitudes.
By going up the mountain as Moses went up the mountain to receive the 10 Commandments, Jesus is shown as the new Law giver.
What is this new Law?
“Blessed are the poor in Spirit.” The first commandment in the Old Law is to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind. Poverty in Spirit is to have no material thing more important than the Lord. The Spiritual is more important than the material. God is more important than our family or our wealth or anything else. This will be further explained with the verse: “seek first the kingdom of God and his justice and all these things will be added”.
A good paraphrase of the verse could be: If you want to be happy, put God absolutely first. The kingdom of heaven is already yours.
I repeat. This message was to those who came up the mountain to be taught by Jesus. It is not my job to explain the message. It is the evangelists’ job to get people to leave the crowd and come up the mountain!! Jesus is the teacher.
We can never be totally poor in Spirit in this world. But we can aim to be. We will be poor in Spirit in eternity. The beatitudes are not commandments. They are ideals of happiness promised by Jesus to disciples. We will reach them in heaven. In the meantime, we can be canonised for trying.
Bread of Life Fellowship
Jesus begins his Public Ministry
We are beginning the Public Ministry of Jesus. He has been baptised in the Jordan by the Baptist and the Spirit came down on him.
Our section today begins with the words : “hearing that John had been arrested Jesus went back to Galilee, and leaving Nazareth he went and settled in Capernaum”. The implication is that Jesus has left home. He is no longer the boy from Nazareth. He is fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah. He sets up in the “Galilee of the Nations”. He began his preaching with the message, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”.
Some notes. This message is exactly the same as the Baptist’s. It is word for word. Mark will add: “here is a message that is new and with authority behind it”. The basic call is to ‘metanoia’, repentance. We must turn away from the old ways. This we can do. All else is the grace of God.
Today’s Gospel tells us of Jesus calling his Apostles. Firstly Simon (Peter) and Andrew. The drama in Matthew is succinct. The fishermen were making a cast in the lake. Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men”. “And they left their nets and followed him at once.”
It is reasonable to believe that Jesus made his home for ministry at Capernaum. Tradition has it that he lived in Peter’s home. We know Peter was a widower and the mother-in-law lived there. It is also reasonable to conclude that Mary stayed in the family home in Nazareth. The two places are close to each other.
Matthew’s theme is Jesus is King and he proclaims the Good News of the Kingdom. His ministry is the curing of diseases and sickness among the people.
Joseph, Son of David
Matthew is writing to the Jewish Community. He is aiming to teach them that Jesus is Royal family, the son of David. The first words of his Gospel are: “Jesus, son of David, son of Abraham.” His genealogy is the male line. He believes strongly in the virgin birth. So how can Jesus be a descendant of David?
“She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus….” In the Hebrew tradition the father of the child is the one who names the child. Fatherhood is much more than being the one who propagates. The father is the one who takes public responsibility for the support and upbringing of the child and especially the religious upbringing. (Would that it still be so!) Joseph is the father of Jesus by adoption. The angel calls him to this vocation. He is a man of honour.
This is how Matthew gives great emphasis to his beliefs. He believes in the Virgin Birth and can prove it from the Old Testament. He believes that Jesus is the Son of David because he has been adopted by Joseph whom the angel calls the Son of David. He believes that Joseph is the husband of the Virgin Mary.
So much to pray about in Christmas week!!!! May Mary and Joseph and the child Jesus bless you abundantly!
Happy and Holy Christmas.
John the Baptist (2)
Today we meet John the Baptist in his relationship with Jesus. He is in prison. We remember the circumstances. He has challenged Herod and he will suffer the consequences.
The Scripture says that John had heard what Jesus was doing. This obviously causes John some concerns. He sends a message to Jesus asking him about the truth of what he has heard. He is not at peace. What has John heard? He has heard that Jesus is healing on the Sabbath, he is dining with Tax Collectors, and he is letting women of ill repute touch him. The gossipers have been filling him in on all the news!!!!!! Hence the question: Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?
The question can only mean that John is scandalised by the behaviour of Jesus. Jesus gives a clear answer. “Go back and tell John what you see and hear: the blind see again, and the deaf hear, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the Poor; and happy is the man who does not lose faith in me.”
I remember the old English translation of the verse. It was: “blest is the man who is not scandalised by me.” Jesus is saying to John and to all of us that we must understand that his ministry is not about political power. It is about healing and the poor. Jesus stated clearly to John and to us that we must listen to him and not to the gossip. If his ministry is a scandal to us we need to change our thinking. He will not change.
Clearly, John got the message. Now he is ready to die for his Master. Now he is not scandalised by Jesus ministry of Good News. He has read all about it in the prophecies.
The birth of Jesus reminds us again of His mission to the humble and poor, The God Man is among us. We thank John the Baptist for announcing Him and helping us focus on the meaning of Christmas.
John the Baptist.
Today we meet John the Baptist, whom Jesus describes as the greatest. John knew his role in Salvation History. He knew when to start and he knew when to stop. He was the precursor, the one who prepared the way. He is the link between the Old and the New Testament.
John was a very successful preacher. He lived frugally in the dessert and proclaimed a message. “Repent for the kingdom of God is at Hand”. He preached a baptism of Repentance. His message was “Shape up or ship out”. It was the old testament message of “Turn around” or “Change your ways”. John baptised thousands in the Jordan. He was a most successful preacher. He was especially hard on the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees.
But John knew there had to be more to the message. He said one is coming after him, one so much greater than he. John knew there had to be more and he called this more the baptism of the Holy Spirit. John prepared the world for this. He pointed to Jesus. His beautiful words: “He must increase, I must decrease.” He knew when to start his ministry and he knew when to hand over to the Lamb of God.
The word “baptise” means to soak or immerse or perhaps to dunk. The phrase in the scripture means that the Messiah, Jesus, will totally immerse or soak us in the Holy Spirit. We must repent, we must turn away for sin, but the rest of the spiritual journey is a grace of the Holy Spirit. John knew there was more. He was waiting for it. We join with him in this expectation.
We begin the New Year of the Church. The Gospel this year (A) will usually be from the Gospel of Matthew.
The new year begins where the old one finished – the Coming of Christ at the end of Time. The Theme is to “STAY AWAKE.” Advent is a time to prepare for the Coming of the Saviour, but clearly this event will be overshadowed from the beginning by the Cross. One cannot be celebrated without the other.
Again, the apocalyptic accounts in the Gospels talk in the present tense of events, present and future and past. There is a reference to the destruction of the Temple, to the End Times and to the present moment. They appear in a Code that is known to the Christian readers. (Called Apocalyptic writing). The readers know already about suffering and persecution and the destruction of the Temple, but this destruction and death will lead to glory and eternal life.
Jesus remarks that what happened in Noah’s day will happen again. One taken, one left. Ordinary events like eating and drinking and marrying suddenly have turned to disaster when the Flood came. It will be like that when the Son of Man comes. One will be taken, one will be left.
“Son of Man”. This is a term that Jesus uses to describe himself. It is taken from the Book of Daniel. I mentioned in this article that the early Christians understood the code of Apocalyptic literature. They knew their Bible. The simple message is to stay awake, to be on guard, to be watchful and ready for the coming of the Lord. Tough times are coming but so is our Saviour.
“Therefore, you must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
The Four Sundays of Advent put before us the message of the ancient Prophets in week one, John the Baptist in weeks two and three and Mary in week Four. We are then ready for Christmas!
This is the last Sunday of the year. It is the Feast of Christ the King. The year concludes with proclaiming Jesus as King of Heaven and Earth.
The Gospel of Luke today gives us the comments of three witnesses to the death of Jesus – the leaders, the soldiers and the “good” thief. Firstly, the leaders: “he saved others,” they said, “let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen one”. Then the soldiers: “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” Above him there was the inscription: “This is the king of the Jews.” And finally, the good thief: “Save yourself and us as well”.
Surely three different concepts of Kingship. It is always amazing to me that there can be so much badness in the presence of such goodness. Jesus is on the Cross in his last agony and some people can be so unkind. Yet Jesus can still be offering salvation and forgiveness to those who are open to him. “Indeed, I promise you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Jesus is Lord and King of the world and Lord of our lives. The Feast today reminds us of our obligations to our King. Jesus wants to be the Lord of our lives- everything. We renew our dedication and consecration to the King of our lives. And Jesus renews his promise: “I promise you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
“Jesus entered Jericho.” Luke’s Gospel is about the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem, to the Cross. We are almost there. Jericho is a little more than a Sabbath walk from the Temple.
We meet Zacchaeus, one of the characters of the Bible. Zacchaeus is a publican, a senior tax collector, a wealthy man. He was not tall. He was anxious to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was passing by.
Because of his small stature he climbs the sycamore tree to get a better view.
He receives the invitation from Jesus. “Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry because I must stay at your house today”. “And he hurried down and welcomed him joyfully.”
I would like to make a few comments. “They all complained”. Every time Luke mentions the word ‘they’, they are complaining. The people in the gospel are always complaining.!!!!!
I owe Zacchaeus an apology. Over the years I have always thought that the visit of Jesus was the cause of his conversion. But the text needs correction. It says: “Look sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor…….”. The Greek clearly says “I am giving half my property to the poor…..”Jesus is visiting Zacchaeus because he is already converted. He is not a man full of promises. He is already making restitution. Jesus is inviting himself into Zacchaeus’ house to confront the complaining crowds who do not accept his conversion. This eating with publicans gives rise to the three parables in Ch 15.
It is the complaining crowds that need conversion. No matter what is his past, Jesus wants to assure Zacchaeus that “salvation has come to his house”.
The Conclusion says it all. “The son of man has come to seek out and save what was lost”.
The Pharisee and the Publican
Obviously one man’s prayer is salvific and “at rights with God”. The other man’s prayer does not make him at rights with God. So we need to have a good look at the difference between the two.
Luke begins: “Jesus spoke this parable to some people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else” Obviously, this does not apply to us!!. Or maybe it does?
The Pharisee’s prayer. Luke says that he stood there and prayed this prayer to himself. This could mean that he prayed silently. Luke seems to play a pun on the words. Prayer is of course directed to God. If you start praying to yourself, you are in trouble!
“I thank you God that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like the rest of mankind.” This part of the prayer could earn a pass. I am sure that there are times when you and I can thank God for our life. We can thank God for differences in culture and creed. For example, I can thank God for my Catholic education, for my Australian culture. I can thank God for the many blessings I have being in a Community. That part of the Prayer earns a Pass. But the next part earns a condemnation and the wrath of God, “and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here.” That’s the bit that does the damage. It is fine that he fasts and tithes. It is bad that he judges.
The lesson is to keep the bad naming of other people out of our prayers. To sit in judgement is to call judgement on one’s self. To thank God for everything in life is a good prayer. To exalt yourself is to seek humiliation.
On the other hand, the prayer of the Publican is the other extreme. He is the image of a backslider, a non-practicing member of the religion. He lays his life open to the gift of Divine Mercy.
Jesus teaches again on Prayer. The prayer of preference is: “God, be merciful to me a sinner”. “This man I tell you went home at rights with God”.
This is another of Luke’s great stories. It tells the story of two extremes. e.g. the Prodigal Son. This story is a contrast between a religious person and a non-practicing believer. You and I are somewhere in between and we must not miss the point.
The Rich Man and Lazarus.
Last week we mentioned that Jewish Parables present a difficulty for the western minded Luke. He has no problem with the way he tells stories. Luke is the best story teller. He has given us the story of the Prodigal Son, the story of the Good Samaritan and now the story of Dives and Lazarus. In a way these three stories need little explanation, yet the truth is that we can meditate on them for a lifetime and never exhaust the depth of their spirituality.
The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is a story about REVERSAL of roles. The story begins with Lazarus outside the rich man’s house and finishes with him in Abraham’s bosom. The rich man lives in a grand house but spends eternity in Hades. There is food aplenty for the rich man on earth, but in Hades he is tormented by thirst. The constant point in the story is the GAP between them, a gap that never can be bridged!
It is a story about contrasting events and contrasting people. The two people in the story are neither paraded before us as saints nor sinners. The facts of the story are there. You can draw your own conclusion.
Luke gives us this story as a story from Jesus. The last part of the story shows how Luke’s community has meditated on it in the post Resurrection Church. Then Abraham said to him, “if they will not listen to either Moses or the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.”
Is this a reference by Luke to the resistance to change in the early Christian Community to the basic teaching of Jesus? Do they not share with the poor? Luke’s mention of eternal punishment would be a timely reminder in those days as much as it is today for us. A good lesson on the fear of Hell is always salutary!! There will be a reversal of roles in the future. “If someone comes back from the dead they will repent”.
Not likely, says the story!