Sunday, December 27, 2015

Feast of the Holy Family: two reflections

The Family of Jesus

1.     What exactly happened in that family?
2.     The family of Jesus wanted to bring him back home because he might have lost his head. We see this in Mk3/20-21 and 31-35.
3.     In this passage the family “set out to seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind’’ (Mk3/21). They wanted to SEIZE him; arrest him; put their hands on him; lay hold of him. The same word, “seize”, will be used later in the Mark account (see Mk14/1) to refer to the action of the Roman and Jewish authorities when they will arrest Jesus. So at this point the family of Jesus plays the same role as the social authorities.
4.     Then Jesus responds by taking a distance from his own family and pointing to AN OTHER FAMILY. To belong to that other family, he says, is to do the will of God. A new fraternal “family” life starts to revolve around Jesus based on listening to him and doing God’s will.
5.     Later in the account of Mark we read again something about the family of Jesus. See Mk6/1-6. Jesus notes that a prophet is with honor OUTSIDE and NOT INSIDE the family.  Honor is elsewhere EXCEPT in the native place and family.  “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house” (6/4). Again here is a picture of what may have been going on between Jesus and his family. Bible experts will say that this must have a historical base too; it is not just theological.
6.     In the Acts of the Apostles and in some letters of Paul we get a glimpse of the way the family started to behave after the death-resurrection. If the gospel accounts speak of pressuring Jesus to silence him, now we see family members being in the midst of the Christian communities. We can think of James who became head of the Jerusalem community (Act12/17; 21/18 and Gal2/9). There must have been a “CONVERSION” in the family of Jesus.

Lost in the Temple

1.     Luke does not offer historical the details of the infancy of Jesus. He offers a “theological” view of the traits of the adult Jesus through his infancy narrative. Luke offers a scene that announces the mission of the adult man, Jesus. He makes a “catechism” for his readers.
2.     In the caravan the men and women move together. Jesus is 12 years of age, as Luke writes, and this is an age not of little kids nor of adults. Jesus can thus join the women or the men in the caravan. There is no reason for Mary and Joseph to worry about his whereabouts. At the moment when each family gathers, Joseph and Mary discover that Jesus is missing. The two leave the caravan to turn back towards Jerusalem.
3.     After three days of searching Mary then asks a question. The question is not about Jesus! It is about the couple: “Son, why have you done this to US? YOUR FATHER AND I have been looking for you with great anxiety (Lk2/48)”. Bible experts have ways of interpreting this statement. One element is worth mentioning. Mary calls the infant “son” and not “my son” or “my child”. She says “son”. Experts will say that this “captures” the identity of Jesus.
4.     Luke is not doing history here. He aims to “teach” the reader about the identity of the Jesus who will be adult. His identity is not defined by the mother who gave birth to him but by his relationship with God. That identity has been given by the Angel Gabriel, by the angel in Christmas Eve, by Simeon and Anna at the Temple.
5.     And so Jesus, in the question of Mary, is not the child of the couple. He is not “their” Jesus. The story goes to say that Jesus returns to Nazareth with Mary and Joseph. Yes, Jesus becomes “obedient to them” (2/51) and some commentaries say that this is his way of obeying the Father in heaven by accepting the conditions of the incarnation which includes cultural life. Yet, now this Jesus is quite “different” in the eyes of Mary and Joseph. The earlier cold reply, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? (2/49)” has marked a break, a crack. Later in Luke’s account this will be clear. The members of his family…”are those who hear the word of God and act on it.” (8/21).
6.     Experts say that Jerusalem, for Luke, is the city of beginnings. Annunciation to Zechariah was done there Luc, Jerusalem is the fulfillment of the cross, the first apparitions of the Risen one is in Jerusalem, the Pentecost that starts the Church is in Jerusalem. So to place the 12 year old boy in the Jerusalem Temple has its theology too. His first words about his Father are said here.
7.     On the road from Jerusalem Jesus explains to two disciples on their way to Emmaus the meaning of the scriptures and shows how scriptures relate to his mission. The adult Jesus has a way of understanding the scirptures that disturbs others. He provokes surprise and controversy. This has been announced by Simeon when the child Jesus was brought to the Temple: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted” (2/34).
8.     Mary and Joseph may have enormous difficulty comprehending the response of the 12 year old boy. Luke presents them as faithful followers of the Jewish tradition and he also portrays them as confused. Just like the disciples, the couple “incarnate” the struggles of an adventurous faith.
9.     Now Luke writes about three days of seeking for the child. That evokes, for his readers, the three days of the empty tomb and then the apparitions. Jesus asks, as a child, “Why were you looking for me?” The same question will be raised in the empty tomb, a question of the two men in dazzling clothes: “Why do you seek the living one among the dead?” (24/5). Luke has his style of writing.
10.           On the road to Emmaus the two disciples lost “their” Jesus. Their expectations about Jesus did not allow them to recognize Jesus as they walked along. Mary and Joseph could not understand the response of Jesus.
11.           The disciples on the road to Emmaus then had their hearts burning. Mary, herself, keeps the events in her heart. It is in the heart that understanding happens. The disciples, after understanding, had to renounce their expectations of Jesus. Mary must have passed through the same process.
12.           In Luke’s “theology” what we know in faith is not acquired. For Luke the theme of moving…walking…taking a path…is important. Like Mary and Joseph and like the disciples to Emmaus we begin with expectations about God and, as my teachers in college like to say, with “pre-judgements”. But suddenly God is not present as we expect. He shows up differently. Unexpectedly. Disturbingly. He takes us on a different route. The story of the lost Jesus in the Temple may tell us that we are led to unexpected routes to pursue our search for God.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Justice of the Kingdom and Mission-Dialogue

The Justice of the Kingdom

1.   The “Sermon on the Mount” in the Matthew account (Mt5-7) shows the condition for entering the Kingdom. A conversion is called for and this has been signaled prior to the Sermon: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (4/17). This conversion expresses itself in justice (or “righteousness”). For Jesus this justice is not just any kind of justice; it is justice of the Kingdom.
2.   To understand this justice we try to see what it is not. There is another form of justice and it can be called justice nonetheless. But it still is not the justice of the Kingdom. What is that other form of justice? Jesus tells his listeners in these words, “…unless your justice surpasses that of scribes and Pharisees” (5/20). The justice of the Kingdom surpasses that other form of justice. What is the justice of scribes and Pharisees?
3.   The scribes are the learned in Scriptures. They can give expert commentaries. The Pharisees are the “radical” believers. They want to respect strictly the Law; this Law being so deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition. Scribes and Pharisees have thus attained a certain perfection in the observance of Jewish tradition. They have come to the point of seeing themselves able to evaluate others and say how others should be like them. Hence they impose rules and observances that the very weak cannot, however, follow too well. In fact the observance of the practices does not really open hearts to the possibility of charity. Submission to the observance of rules has become an external gesture forgetting the basic justice in front of God. It has been so external that it has become the mark of separating people from each other. There are those who can follow well the external practices and they are “better” than those who cannot. The social-cultural climate at the time of Jesus was marked by this distinction between the “better” ones and the “lesser” ones.
4.   The justice of the scribes and Pharisees would then be this type of justice; a justice that separates. It is selective justice well applied exclusive to the “better” members of society at the cost of marginalizing others, the “lesser” ones.
5.   To surpass this justice is to accept placing ourselves in the path of happiness; the path of the Beatitudes. We place ourselves in the hands of the Lord God and accept avoiding the separatist justice. We avoid getting stuck in conditions that select who shall be “neighbor”. We avoid getting stuck in conditions that select who shall be “my brother” or “my sister”. The justice of the Kingdom stretches the justice of scribes and Pharisees beyond its exclusive applicability. The other who is not of “my resemblance” is still a neighbor. The other who does not “resemble” me is still my brother, my sister.
6.   The human heart is made to love. The human heart is called to love like the Father. The Father is not selective. He does not choose who to respect and who to accord dignity. Every single person is, for the eyes of God, a beloved. This is so different from the perspective of scribes and Pharisees. Justice thus needs love for it to be justice of the Kingdom. Justice needs to recognize the dignity of each and every single human person, be that person my resemblance or not. The justice of the Kingdom is opposed to “ghetto” justice. The justice of the Kingdom is defined by the demand of perfection that goes beyond the strict observance of the “letter” of the law. “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” (5/48).
7.   A conversion is called for. “Repent”, says Jesus. What does this word mean?
8.   We tend to oppose in clear terms bad from good. And then we include opposing “bad people” from “good people”. This might even make us see persons in the light “eternity”…shall they go to “heaven” or to “hell”? Jesus has a different way of putting things. He is more nuanced. The scribes and Pharisees are very clear with their distinctions. They have their erudition and ritual purification to say who’s who in the ranks of the saved. When John the Baptist was ministering he was accused of doing sacrilege; he was accused of doing an illegitimate practice of baptism. Now Jesus notes that publicans and prostitutes he encounters, sinners in the eyes of the ritually pure, feel themselves forgiven by God. Jesus reproaches the ritually pure persons for not having recognized in the practice of John the Baptist the work of the living God.
9.   Whenever we recognize and admit our ignorance we learn more; we deepen ourselves. The good teachers and formators are those who consider themselves as still on the path of learning. A humble sinner has chances of becoming available to the mercy of God. We are, indeed, sinners. We need the mercy of God to have access to his Kingdom. What is important is to recognize where we are; who we are truly. This is “to repent”. In the letter to the Philippians Paul writes, “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves” (Ph2/3). Do not bloat your virtues. Rather, have the humility to recognize the virtues of others. See their dignity. In doing this we pursue unity, fraternity, mutual respect, solidarity. In doing this we reject division and paralysis of relationships. We reject the option to deny God’s plan. Why should we create division among ourselves when God’s plan is that we be one?
10.        By following the humility of Christ we become servants to each other and servants to the Kingdom. We perceive in others, including those we think are “bad” and “sinners”, as having qualities that can inspire us and help us improve.  To enter the Kingdom we certainly need to discover goodwill of God and the dignity and goodwill of others, no matter who they are. This is “to repent”.
11.        To repent is to step out of being too full of ourselves and assuming reverence towards others. This is “conversion” too. We turn ourselves away from pretending to have completed ourselves fully. We repent, we go down, we humble ourselves and we open doors to the dignity of others. We practice the justice of the Kingdom.

Applied to Mission and Inter-religious dialogue

12.        There is the tendency to think that mission and dialogue impose on others; they harm cultures. The gospel is perceived as interfering in the cultures of peoples. It is best to “do nothing”. Christians should “do nothing”. If ever they enter into dialogue they can compromise their faith. For the sake of dialogue Christians can drop the Gospel and drop Christ.
13.        This is partly due to the notion of “conversion” as pulling people out of the tranquility of their cultures and religions and leading them to a very alienating life form within the Church. Because of this type of “conversion” it is wiser to leave people alone; let them stay in their own cultural and religious traditions. If ever their traditions need improvement and further integration, the Gospel is not necessary. Leave those people alone and let their resources take care of their own wounds. They do not need Christ and they do not need the message of Christ.
14.        This type of thinking is attractive for those who have axes to grind in history. History, they say, proves the many blunders of Christianity and the Church.
15.        But then a closer look at Biblical evidence will reveal that neither Christ nor his message wanted harm against cultures. The Good News of Jesus is for liberation.
16.        What really gives harm to people and their traditions is the indifference and hatred and separatism that people make towards each other. The human heart is made for love and justice. When justice turns selective and exclusive, love comes in to remind people of the dignity of the rejected. When love is abused and turns promiscuous and blind, justice comes in to remind people of principles of respect and equality. This is what Jesus presents in his Sermon. This is what Jesus presents as justice of the Kingdom. It is a justice that is opposed to what separates people and to what makes social life unbearable. This is the message—a liberating message.
17.        Conversion is to this justice. Conversion is not about “club membership”. It is not about pulling people out of their cultural roots and forcing them into something alienating. Conversion is precisely this repenting against egoism, self-centeredness, ghetto centered practices.
18.        Now there are people who have seen the glory of Christ and have seen the enormous beauty of his message. These people have been assembled to share that experience. These people have formed a community called the Church. The Church is a community of persons touched by Christ. The Church is a community of persons doing their best to observe this justice of the Kingdom. The Church is so convinced of the validity of this justice; she wants to share and promote this to other cultures. What’s wrong with that?

19.        To opt for “doing nothing” is marked by ghetto thinking; it is to tell Christians to refuse sharing the message of Christ, to refuse sharing the justice of the Kingdom. It is to tell Christians to lock themselves up and avoid provoking other people. It is to tell Christians to throw Jesus and his message out of the window every time dialogue occurs; and they are to do this for the sake of dialogue. This is ghetto thinking.  

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Naturally Social or Contractual?

What is our notion of the human person? Is the human person “naturally social” or “contractual”?
To say that the human person is “naturally social” one means that the human person, since birth, is a social being. The human person enters into the web of social relationships that offers support and protection and teaches duties. The social context is where the human person blooms thanks to the many links: family, neighborhood, school, workplace, etc. The human person is part of an “organism”.
The “contractual” view of the human person states that the human person is autonomous. Social relations and obligations are freely chosen, “contractually”, so to speak. The human person enters into “contract” with social groups. The human person is free and can move about selecting social bonds. The human person is not obliged to follow social obligations. Today we hear the word “liberalism” to refer to this autonomy of each and every individual.
Two ways of governing can arise from the notions. On way of governing involves working for the social lives of people, supporting people with their different social and economic needs. The role of the State is very intrusive. In terms of rights, the State gives the rights. The State assures individuals of their benefits. The other way of governing is by minimum intervention on people’s lives because of the autonomy of people. Between the State and people there is a competition; the role of the State should be very limited. Rights, here, are dictated by each individual. Each one has the right to pursue his/her own interests and goals independent of the collectivity.
What about the Church? The interpretation of the Church regarding human rights tries to put autonomy and the social together. Human rights, for the Church, are not just individual rights. They are not autonomous rights. They are rights of the human person living in community, in society. The individual and the social intertwine.
The collective should respect the autonomy of the individual by trying to oppose whatever obstacle there is to the social participation of the individual. The collective should assure the conditions that allow for participation of individuals. The promotion of the autonomy and dignity of each one is a social responsibility. The State must guarantee this.

But then, at the same time, each individual has the duty towards the collective. The individual must work for the promotion of what is good for all. (Later we will see this in the notion of “common good”.) This obligation might call for sacrificing some individual personal interests to assure the dignity of others. Social justice especially towards the weak and marginalized is so necessary to allow equality of chances and opportunities for personal growth and development. The Compendium states that “‘the more fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of others’ and that an excessive affirmation of equality ‘can give rise to an individualism in which each one claims his own rights without wishing to be answerable for the common good’” (Compendium #158). 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Condemning those who do not believe?

Jesus and Nicodemus

1.       Jesus encountered Nicodemus during the latter’s visit in Jerusalem. Nicodemus was a “ruler of the Jews” (Jn3/1) and a “teacher of Israel” (Jn3/10). Nicodemus, then, represented the Jewish people of that time who were attached to the Law of Moses. There is a passage in the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus that is not easy to digest. Let us cite it: “Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (Jn 3/18). Let us place this verse in the public life of Jesus where he faced conflicts.    
2.        The words of Jesus were addressed to Nicodemus, a Pharisee who came in the night, quite in a clandestine manner. As we know, in John night symbolized non-faith or doubt about the identity of Jesus. Nicodemus came in the night and will slowly be led to the light.
3.       As a Pharisee Nicodemus had an idea of the justice of God. In that viewpoint God considered a person just and holy if the person conformed with the Law. Anyone accepting the teaching about the Law had a good chance of being considered just and accepted by God. What about those who did not have any idea of the Law? We read about them in John: “…this crowd, which does not know the law, is accursed”(Jn 7/49).
4.       Pharisees had a harsh opinion about sinners and people ignorant of the Law. They applied the strict principle already mentioned in Deuteronomy: “You must not distort justice: you shall not show partiality… Justice, justice alone shall you pursue (Dt 16/19-20).
5.       Now, Jesus did not hesitate to mix with sinners. It was an occasion for sinners to know about the love of God. Jesus made himself available for the renewal and growth in faith of sinners. Those who saw the friendship of Jesus must have seen in the Passion and death of Jesus something incredibly beautiful. Jesus loved them seriously. It may have been hard to understand God but Jesus somehow helped them understand. The love of God—expressed in the message of the Kingdom—was not a fancy idea. It was serious and faithful.
6.       Just imagine. Jesus loved the “little ones” and told them about the love of God. The hour came when Jesus was threatened because of his message. Yet Jesus did not run away.  Jesus was condemned for having loved the little ones, the sinners, the prostitutes, tax collectors, the marginalized. Jesus was killed and accused of blasphemy. The Law said that the guilty should never be justified. “I will not acquit the guilty” (Ex 23/7).
7.       The attitude of Jesus towards the sinners, however, revealed the true justice of God. The justice of God went as far as the gift of faith. Whoever believed in Jesus escaped judgement!  Whoever believed in the love and concern for others, as basic in the message of Jesus, will escape judgement.
8.       In a more modern language, whoever respects the dignity of people who are image of God will escape judgement.  To put it in terms of Paul we read: “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved), raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus” (Ep 2/4-6).
9.       Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Dives in Misericordia, himself said this: “Christ, then, reveals God who is Father, who is ‘love,’ as St. John will express it in his first letter; Christ reveals God as ‘rich in mercy, as we read in St. Paul. This truth is not just the subject of a teaching; it is a reality made present to us by Christ. Making the Father present as love and mercy is, in Christ's own consciousness, the fundamental touchstone of His mission as the Messiah….” 
10.   The love of God, continues the Pope, “… is able to reach down to every prodigal son, to every human misery, and above all to every form of moral misery, to sin. When this happens, the person who is the object of mercy does not feel humiliated, but rather found again and ‘restored to value’….”
11.   The result of the revelation about the love of God is conversion. The Pope continues, “Conversion is the most concrete expression of the working of love and of the presence of mercy in the human world. The true and proper meaning of mercy does not consist only in looking, however penetratingly and compassionately, at moral, physical or material evil: mercy is manifested in its true and proper aspect when it restores to value, promotes and draws good from all the forms of evil existing in the world and in man. Understood in this way, mercy constitutes the fundamental content of the messianic message of Christ and the constitutive power of His mission…. Conversion to God always consists in discovering His mercy, that is, in discovering that love which is patient and kind as only the Creator and Father can be; the love to which the ‘God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ is faithful to the uttermost consequences in the history of His covenant with man; even to the cross and to the death and resurrection of the Son. Conversion to God is always the fruit of the ‘rediscovery of this Father, who is rich in mercy’.”
12.   How is this reflection related to our discussion in mission theology? We said that the task of the Church is to “convert” people and to consequently “implant the Church”. The document of Ad gentes makes this very explicit. But there are reactions to this.
13.   One is to completely agree uncritically and without reservation. Unfortunately, the Ad gentes has its weakness. Indeed it is not easy to conceive of mission as “implanting the Church” and inviting people to a “conversion”. In fact such language can discourage dialogue, notably dialogue with people of other faiths. Somehow, if we are to agree with the document we need to approach it with a critical attitude.
14.   The other response is to completely disagree. In fact, historically, mission was faced with a crisis because many Christians felt that mission was unnecessary. Many were not happy with the task of “conversion” and “implantation”. They would say that dialogue will fail when these are introduced. But there is a danger in complete disagreement in the name of dialogue and respect. Yes, dialogue is important but it need not involve giving up our faith. If we do not want to disrespect people of other faiths we do not, however, have to abandon our faith. On one hand there is the “method” of doing dialogue but on the other hand there is still the content of our faith. If we say that we do not want to impose conversion do we also say that we give up the “unique” mediation of Christ? If we respect the beliefs of others in their own mediators of salvation do we have to give up our faith in Jesus as unique mediator?
15.   Ad gentes itself agrees that conversion should not be imposed on others. Others have the right to their own faiths. But does this mean that we will abandon our faith?
16.   We might need to review our understanding of “conversion” and even “implantation”. These words are bound to be misunderstood. But if we are willing to stay Christians and if we are willing to hold on to the content of our faith as non-negotiable, we need to reflect on the nuances of the terms.
17.   As Christians we are so in love with Christ. Following the insight of the 4th gospel we say, “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory” (Jn1/14). We saw his glory. His glory was in his revelation of the love and justice of God. We are convinced about this. We are convinced about the message of Jesus about his Father. No we are not imposing our faith on others but because we have been so touched by Jesus we move according to our conviction and faith. We read, above, that conversion is in discovering the mercy of the Father; it is discovering that love which is patient and kind. We are touched by this love, so why will we refuse to share it with others? Why will we refuse to invite others to a conversion?
18.   Ok, others have their own faiths. But will this mean that we shall no longer be convince of Jesus and the mercy of God? Do we drop this faith of ours? Do we abandon the movement of the Spirit in us prompting us to share our faith?
19.   We do not agree, however, that conversion is a response to the threat of God wanting to destroy those who do not join the Church. It is not about “club membership”. It is about the conviction that the message of Jesus is true and his Father is really a loving Father. The Church is a community of people who are convinced of Jesus and his Father. It is a community of people who have seen the glory of Jesus. Conversion is to make people see what is so true in our faith and community—the Church. Baptism is not just about “club membership”. It is about making people participate in the mission of telling the world about the love of God. We are convinced, we are touched, hence we tell the world about what has touched us deeply. Do you want to participate in what we do—this is baptism. This is “implantation”. We want to live as a community of persons who have been touched by Jesus and his Father.
20.   What about the word “condemned”? Let us look at it in the context of Jesus and Nicodemus. Jesus was presenting his Father. Nicodemus was part of a cultural mindset that saw God as the harsh God of severe judgement. Jesus wanted to share with Nicodemus his own insights. To refuse love and mercy and concern for others is to get stuck with a harsh life of severity in treatment of people. Is that not a condemnation itself? Condemnation is not about God brandishing a weapon and destroying people. It is about insisting to stay stuck in the mud.

On Condemnation, Baptism, Serpents and other Matters in Mk16

The Longer ending of Mark 16:

The Appearance to Mary Magdalene.
9 When he had risen, early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons.10 She went and told his companions who were mourning and weeping. 11 When they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.
The Appearance to Two Disciples.
12 After this he appeared in another form to two of them walking along on their way to the country.
13 They returned and told the others; but they did not believe them either.
The Commissioning of the Eleven.
14 [But] later, as the eleven were at table, he appeared to them and rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw him after he had been raised.
15 He said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.
16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.
17 These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages.
18 They will pick up serpents [with their hands], and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
The Ascension of Jesus.
19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God.
20 But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.

Let us comment on this:

1.       The Note of the New American Bible on 16:9–20:
“This passage, termed the Longer Ending to the Marcan gospel by comparison with a much briefer conclusion found in some less important manuscripts, has traditionally been accepted as a canonical part of the gospel and was defined as such by the Council of Trent. Early citations of it by the Fathers indicate that it was composed by the second century, although vocabulary and style indicate that it was written by someone other than Mark. It is a general resume of the material concerning the appearances of the risen Jesus, reflecting, in particular, traditions found in Lk 24 and Jn 20”.
2.       Take note that this section of Mark, although canonical, was composed by the 2nd century. (Hence it did not come from the pen of Mark.) That means after a span of over a century of early Church history. The content of the verses reflect the many experiences (of maybe 2 centuries) of the early Church since her foundation. A lot of experiences have transpired already.
3.       This section also is marked by the Easter tradition found in Luke and John. So it is about Easter and commissioning. It is the tradition that sees the victory of the resurrection over death and sin. Note the word “victory”. Remember what we said before, redemption is “victory”.
4.       Baptism? Jesus said: “Whoever believes and is baptized…” (Mk16/16). Is it about “club membership”? Let us see it this way. Recall Mark 10/35-45.
5.       Remember the attitude of James and John who wanted to sit beside Jesus in glory? They craved for the best places. Is that how to be in the Kingdom?
6.       The glory that Jesus promised was different…it was strange. In in Mark’s account, those who were at the right and left of Jesus were bandits or “revolutionaries”: “With him they crucified two revolutionaries, one on his right and one on his left (Mk 15/27)”.
7.       Jesus gave a portrait of the powerful people in the world and he commanded his disciples not to be like those powerful ones (10/43). Jesus then proposed the role of servant and slave (10/43-44). Can that be done? Why not? It may take time. We see why Jesus asked the disciples if they were ready to take up the cross and be plunged in the same baptism (10/39). Can they follow the same path of Jesus and participate in his mission? It was not about “be member of a club”. It was about the willingness to share in the mission of Jesus.
8.       At the end Jesus reproduces with his friends the dynamism of being sent by God. The Risen Jesus opens the field to the initiatives of the Apostles and those who will continue the mission. They are sent to all creation with the task of proclaiming the Good News.
9.       To be associated with Jesus is very constructive. Not to enter into this link with Jesus is to be cut from the promised life with God. The gospel account specifies this. It affirms that there are signs that accompany those who ally with Jesus. 
10.   They are to “drive out demons”, “speak new languages”, “pick up serpents [with their hands]”, “drink any deadly thing”, “lay hands on the sick who will recover”.
11.   That was the language of that time. It carried with it convictions. Demons were known to cause illness. The disciple can attack the source of illness. The disciple can open up to all and be able to communicate and dialogue. The disciple is not anymore at the mercy of the one who mocked God’s plan, the serpent, source of deceitful sin. Just think of situations in life where we thought we were powerless. How easy we might be led to be “intoxicated” by fatality and despair. How wonderful it is to lay hands on those who are in conditions of loneliness, illness, misery.
12.   Faith transforms the disciple to become messengers of hope. The disciple celebrates the joy of seeing efforts become “tenfold” fruitful.  Then the disciple is assured that the Lord is glorified, “sitting at the right hand of God”. This indicates that it is really worth linking up with Jesus. Not to link with him is…well, the miss a lot. This is what “condemned” means.
13.   Note how it can therefore be “inclusive”. Do you see how?

Sorry about tenses….This is written late in the night 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Love of God comes first (precedes) before the Moral

This is a delicate topic. We have been used to thinking that we do good things to win the love of someone else. In a way we say that morality is done in order to please God. God might be angry if we do not do good things. God wants to see that we do good things. Moral life is designed for the satisfaction of God. 
This is not biblical and it is not within the context of Revelation. God took the initiative to create us, to liberate us and to introduce us to divine life (thanks to Jesus Christ). In other words, the love and the "good things" done to us by God came first and moral living is our response. The love of God is primary; moral life is our way of saying thanks.
Well, it is not easy to digest this, I suppose. The world is so tough. There is so much darkness in social living. How can we speak of God loving us first? Is the Christian moral faith an illusion, a dream, a kind of "lotus eating" gesture?
Well, let us look at Jesus. He came to announce the Good News--that we belong to the Father. He loved his disciples and said that they should love each other as Jesus loved them. In Jesus we see also the initiative of love coming initially from God. Discipleship and hence moral living is a response. 
During the time of Jesus, life in Palestine was quite dark. It was the period of the Roman Empire. People were heavily taxed for Rome. The Jewish nation was tired and fed up being always under a foreign reign. Then among the Jews themselves there were inconsistencies in social life. There was the elitism of people who claimed to have mastered the "purity" rites. There was the marginalization of the poor and little ones. There was the weight of religious practices--such as the Sabbath observance. The Temple was quite a burden--starting with the taxation of Herod the Great.
It was never that easy during the time of Jesus. It was dark too. Yet Jesus came to preach about the love of God and Jesus called for discipleship so that there be disciples who will continue his ministry of preaching the Kingdom.
Jesus knew that the love of the Father was primary and discipleship was a response. So if, today, we wonder about the reality of the Christian faith, we can look at Jesus. The reason why a disciple of Christ works for justice, struggles against corruption and promiscuity in society is not to win God's love. No. The reason is because the love of God is true and real the dark elements in society should not have the domination over people. Moral living is a way of "witnessing" to the truth about God's love--confirmed in the Resurrection of Jesus. The love of God comes first. Then we respond and say that, indeed, we live as victors over sin and darkness and we do not want sin and darkness to govern us. The love of God precedes our moral life.

On Human Dignity

On Human Dignity

Vatican II published an important document touching on modern times, Gaudium et spes. There we read about the dignity of the human person. The human is really central and even summit. This dignity of the human person is what serves as foundation of social life. If we are to ask what is it that we must constantly and vigilantly recognize as basis of all we do, is it human dignity.
Theologically, the dignity of the human person is directly related to the mystery of the Word made flesh (see Gaudium et spes 22). The human is created in the image and likeness of God and the Word—the Son—became flesh and lived among us (see Jn.1/14). The Word incarnated and became human—Jesus was in solidarity with humanity. The incarnation of Jesus was such a strong affirmation—and reaffirmation—of the value and dignity of the human. Truly the human is so valuable, the image of God is so valuable that God himself became human. Jesus in his incarnation and solidarity with us fully honored our humanity. Jesus also opened the doors telling us that we belong to the Father. Human as we are, we are meant to live in communion with God.
Human dignity is inalienable. This word, “inalienable” means that our dignity cannot be “alien” or “foreign” to us. By virtue of the fact that we are human; we cannot remove dignity from us. Dignity is not an addition to us. It is not a separate aspect of ourselves. We are of dignity. The fact that we are image of God and the fact that the Word became human affirm our dignity.
The sense of “being human” therefore is always linked with relationship with God. God is our source of “being” and God is the final end of our “being”. Now, there are different ways of living. Within culture some of us are richer, some are poorer. Some have more power, other have less power. Some are prestigious, others are not. But we have been created as image of God so no matter what status we have in society we remain image of God and we remain those whom Jesus shared life with. We can never say that a poor person has “less dignity” than the rich person. We all and altogether share the same dignity. Human dignity goes beyond the cultural statuses and labels we hold. Hence Gaudim et spes insists that because dignity is proper to everyone our dignity has rights that should not be violated. (See Gaudium ert spes 26).
The dignity of each of us is not based on success or failure in social life. It is not dependent on capacities, abilities and talents. Human dignity is based on a simple fact: God loves each of us.
This discussion on dignity clarifies the different stand we need to make in front of moral-ethical issues like abortion and euthanasia. We are also guided in our economic and political activities. We cannot remove the fact that we are all equal in dignity. Jesus has affirmed this well by being one of us. His incarnation and solidarity with us affirm that each and every single human is honored equally. Each and every single human person is “joined with” Christ; for we see how Christ became so fully human he even experienced suffering and death like all of us. (See Gaudium et spes 22). In Jesus Christ all humans stand in dignity.
Yes, the Word incanated—the Word became flesh. So flesh is, itself, an incarnation. We as human are incarnated. We are “in-flesh”. In our human condition as incarnate we are in link with everything around us. We taste our sweat; it is salty. We have the minerals in us. We grow and develop parts of our bodies; we are like the vegetation. We have sensations and feeling; we are like the other animals. Then of course we think and we reason out—and we use our thinking to relate with the world. We have language which identifies us socially. We are a kind of “summary” of the whole universe! How can we look down and belittle our being incarnate? Our different relationships with the world around us—with people, animals, things—are all possible thanks to our very own incarnation. Through our incarnation we enter into relationships with others.
What is so fantastic and wonderful is that the Word became flesh so that we be more and more clear about the love of God for us. In terms of ethics-morality, such as in the case of bioethics, sexual life and medical ethics, we can be guided by this dignity of the human incarnate. We can be guided in our discernment about what we shall do with the human body—as in transgender change, alcoholism, drug addiction, torture, prostitution and even work conditions. (See Gaudium et spes 27). We can also be guided in our discernment about our relationship with Nature—the ecological problem which is so actual today. How do we see our incarnation in front of Nature?
Now we believe in God as Trinitarian. The human is image of God—yes—who is Trinitarian. What do we see in the Trinity? We see communion. We see love and sharing. So our being image of the Trinitarian God leads us to recognize that we too are community. We are fulfilled and truly human in communion with others. We make full and real our being-human in communion, in relationship, is being-with others. To live with others is not an addition to our being-human. The human being is inter-relational. The human being is "communitarian". (See Gaudium et spes 25).
Social life, with all its different elements—economics, politics, etc.—must therefore have full respect for the human dignity. We can never say that some need to be in communion with others while others do not. To be human and to live in dignity is to be social. Society and all the institutions within society must give priority to human dignity. If we talk of economic growth and development we need to consider human dignity. We need to consider the community. We cannot just grow and develop economically at the expense of the community. We cannot be exclusive in economic growth and development. Each one must have a participation. Here we can think of the ethics of work and capital.
Now, social life has become so complex and so complicated we experience so much inequality—and poverty and misery. If we are to take seriously the respect for human dignity we need to be vigilant about the conditions of the poor and the marginalized. This is why we have, in the Church, the “preferential option for the poor”. Social life has become so complex that, indeed, many are marginalized. So many may have started to question their own dignity. The preferential option for the poor is to affirm that the poor always have dignity that must be respected. 

Reflecting on human dignity, I ask myself if we exercise this respect for dignity in our country. There is a big danger in serving exclusively those who belong to the same political color. If one is wearing another color, this person runs the risk of being set aside and not even listened to. Is this not a violation of respect for human dignity? Any citizen of the country of any political color has the basic right to be served properly and humanely.