Showing posts with label Biblical Interpretation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Biblical Interpretation. Show all posts

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Venting momentarily

Within a lengthy comment-thread of David Smalley's Facebook page, a supporter of his podcast typed up a transcript from a recent episode.1 In that podcast episode, David allegedly said that:
"[I]f you think that that part of the Bible's not true and that people made that up, well then that calls into question every aspect of the Bible. Okay, some of the stuff in the Bible is made up and is incorrect, then maybe that's also the case about Jesus coming back to life, about what it takes to be baptized, about what it takes to be saved. Maybe they also made up the parts about what happens when you die and [go to] heaven."

If comments like these were really said exactly as they are portrayed, then I must admit that such arguments fascinate me. Allow me to briefly explain one aspect of why that is, even though, admittedly, the following remarks are more anecdotal and autobiographical than, say, strictly apologetic. I just feel like venting momentarily. 

In my opinion, no stream-conciousness-style criticism of Christianity, the "Bible," or truth could be more evangelical and fundamentalist in its assumptions and purported understanding than such overly simplistic arguments presented by David Smalley above. However, such remarks are why I actually enjoy David's podcast. David is an ex-evangelical who claims he never believed in god. He has spent the majority of his life as a comedic atheist who claims he could never believe in a god, and especially not the "Christian God" without rational proof, allegedly obtained only through empiricism, all the while reasoning like a fundamentalist evangelical who hangs one's entire faith on pre-commitments to every aspect of the "Bible" being true in every fundamentalist sense, correct in every fundamentalist sense, and not "made up" in any sense.

Thank you David for reasoning exactly like a fundamentalist Christian. Such remarks are embarrassingly naive when compared with the majority of Christian academia. For those who are genuinely interested in learning an accessible anthology of Christian academic tradition, I have a few recommendations to start with:

For understanding the Jesus tradition, study Craig Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels

For understanding first century Christianity, study N.T. Wright's voluminous series: 

For understanding the historical accounts of miracles both inside and outside the "Bible," study Craig Keener's two volumes, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts 

For understanding why David Smalley's claims about the truth or correctness of the "Bible" are excruciatingly facile, study John Goldingay, Models For Scripture; and also Telford Work, Living and Active: Scripture in the Economy of Salvation.

1. The comment was by Brandon Watts Tejedor, on Dec 30th, 2017

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sermon on the Mount: sections C & C' (part 2)

Continuing in this series about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel, we now come across one of the most controversial passages of the New Testament:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.   Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Countless interpretations of these passages have been offered, and I’m not going to pretend as though I have the definitive interpretation to it either. However, I do believe I have something worthwhile to offer, namely a view which endorses the Law of God and the teaching of His prophets, as well as a necessary change of Law (a “transfiguration” of the Law and the Prophets, so to speak) which must take place when “heaven and earth” are to pass away. But first, we must ask and attempt to answer an obvious question which likely would have crossed the minds of Jesus’ first century Jewish audience.

Why would anyone in Israel think that Jesus came to abolish the Law or the Prophets? Did Jesus come to teach in opposition to “the Law” and the Prophets of God?

I think St. Augustine’s comments about this passage provide a healthy dose of wisdom for all Christians to consider. He wrote:
After He had exhorted His hearers to prepare themselves to suffer all things for the sake of truth and justice, and not to hide the good gift they were about to receive, but to learn it with such good disposition that they would teach it to others, while aiming their good work toward the glory of God, and not toward praise for themselves—then He begins to instruct them and to show them what they should teach. And, just as if they were saying by way of inquiry: ‘Behold, we are willing both to suffer all things for thy name’s sake, and not to hide thy teaching. But what is this very thing which you forbid to be hidden, and for which you command that all things be suffered? Are you going to mention other things in opposition to what is written in the Law?He answers, ‘No.’ For He says: ‘Do not think that I have come to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to destroy, but to fulfill.’

So then, what did Jesus mean by “fulfill”?

In order to answer this question, let’s take a quick tour through Matthew’s use of this very word, “fulfill,” in order to see how it is used throughout this Gospel.
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (Matthew 1:22-25, cited from Isa. 7:14)

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. his was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” 
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”  (Matthew 2:13-18, cited from Hos. 11:1 and Jer. 31:15)

Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:12-17, cited from Isa. 9:1, 2)

And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.” (Matthew 8:14-17, cited from Isa. 53:4)

Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.” (Matthew 12:15-21, cited from Isa. 42:1–3)

Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” (Matthew 13:14, cited from Isa. 6:9,10)

This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 13:35, cited from Psalm 78:2)

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’ (Matthew 21:4, cited from Zech. 9:9 [it also echoes and alludes to various visions within Isaiah, e.g. Isa. 62:11])

While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”  At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled. (Matthew 26:47-56, alluding to many interwoven passages of Scripture about an end of the Old Covenant, but most especially Dan. 9:24)

Notice that according to Matthew’s own consistent use of this term to “fulfill”, it always occurs alongside citations from the Old Testament Scriptures. Taking that into account, along with it’s more straight-forward literal meaning to “fill full”, one obvious interpretation of what Jesus meant was to embody what was foreshadowed by the Law and the Prophets, thereby “filling full” what was lacking in them. In “The Law” and “The Prophets” of God we find clear illustrations of God’s holiness, loyal-love, righteous indignation, mercy, goodness, long-suffering, patience, and kindness. But did any single Israelite, or even any generation of Israel collectively, ever typify that reality

Even a cursory glance through Scripture will show that the answer is clearly ‘No’. Israel was given the Law and the Prophets, but every individual Israelite and even Israel collectively was lacking something significant which needed to be filled full. 

I realize that many Christians don’t accept this way of viewing the Law or the Prophets. But please bear with me and hear me out. 

What was Israel lacking, which the Law and the Prophets could not fill full?

We could also ask, what were the Law and the Prophets lacking?

The answer is actually much more simple than what ordinarily meets the eye. Both the people of Israel, and the Law and the Prophets they had received were lacking the power to raise the dead and grant eternal life and immortality (I Tim 6:16; II Tim 1:10; I Cor 15:53-54; Rom 2:7). Jesus came to accomplish that, once for all time, and even for those righteous saints who had already died (Heb. 11:1-12:2). But in order to do so, the filling full of what they were lacking had to be according to the terms of God’s Law as spoken through His prophets. The Law and prophets functioned as a pedagogy of death, with limited access into the Divine presence. Even the Law itself instructed Israel about an inevitable "time of reformation" which would result in direct access to the Divine presence without fear of death (Heb. 2:14-15; 9:8-10). As long as the "first tent" (the Holy Place) was still standing, the Holy Spirit was indicating that the way into Holy places, where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father, was not yet opened for the living or the dead. As I have indicated elsewhere in an academic paper, the book of Revelation teaches that after the definitive end of the old covenant administration, with the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 A.D., that access into Holy places is opened for all, and all the saints who have died in Christ ascend thrones, and they are each given authority over the nations to participate with Jesus in making all things new.

Only the incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, and vindication of the Son of God could open that way into the heavenly realities of eternal life with God (Heb 8:1-5). Not only did the temple of Jesus' Body have to be destroyed, but the Old Covenant temple and it's whole system of administration needed to be destroyed along with him in order for the New Covenant kingdom to advance throughout the world, uniting heaven and earth together in his Church and  thereby colonizing earth with the life of heaven.

So then, in a secondary sense, the Law and the Prophets were not only lacking the power to destroy the power of death, but they were also lacking their promised Messiah, the incarnate Son of God, who alone could accomplish that cosmic task.

Again, St. Augustine’s comments are helpful:
This sentence admits of a twofold meaning. …By saying that He has not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it, He says that He is going to make it complete by adding what it lacks and that He is going to observe it by doing what it contains. …He does not destroy what He has found in the Law when He supplies what it lacked; on the contrary, He strengthens it by giving it completeness. …For, when one is observing what has been added for the sake of completeness, he is all the more surely observing what has been previously established as the foundation.

Accordingly, it cannot be said that Jesus came to end all usefulness of God’s Law or what his prophets taught. Indeed, the very opposite seems to be the case. Yet, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Jesus is not only endorsing the usefulness of God’s Law and the teaching of His prophets. He is also teaching that there will come a time when “heaven and earth" will pass away, and when that occurs there must be a necessary change of Law (a “transfiguration” of the Law and the Prophets, so to speak). 

In the next post I will try to bring clarity about when that time would be, and what that implies for Christians today. Here’s a teaser though: That time is not in our future. The first “Heaven and earth” already passed away.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, sections B & B' (part 2)

Continuing where I left off in part one of this series about the Sermon on the Mount…

In the previous Beatitude we learned that “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice…” and what that entails.  Here, immediately afterward in verse seven, we find “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”

Who are “the merciful”?  And is this merciful character contrary to a hunger and thirst for justice? How should we distinguish between mercy and justice?

One of the round-about ways I have tried to understand such questions is to think about how Christians today describe God, Jesus, and our relationship with Him. For example, Christians tend to talk a lot about God’s “grace.” Grace has, for a long time, been defined among Christians as receiving what we do not deserve, whereas “mercy” is defined as not receiving what we deserve. Grace is “unmerited favor”; there is nothing you did or could do to receive it. Grace is uncalled for, unwarranted, and freely bestowed. Mercy, on the other hand, is underserved treatment in light of what you did or could have done differently. Mercy is called for, warranted, and conditionally bestowed. Grace is positive favor irregardless of what justice demands; Mercy is leniency or mitigation in regard for what justice demands. Justice does not necessitate mercy. Yet mercy cannot be implemented without an absolute standard of justice. I think these are all helpful distinctions.

St. Jerome also spoke with agreement, saying that “Justice and mercy are so united, that the one ought to be mingled with the other; justice without mercy is cruelty; mercy without justice, profusion.”1

And as St. Augustine points out, mercy is "coming to the aid of the miserable.”2

Therefore the merciful could be understood as those who hunger and thirst for Godly, or absolute, justice, the justice which only God can perfectly know and dish out. Like Jesus, the merciful are meek before the wicked who oppose Him; they mourn over what absolute justice demands, and so, as St. Augustine pointed out, they come to the aid of the miserable. By contrast, those who remain “rich in spirit” should be expected to receive absolute justice without mercy.

Who, then, according to the next Beatitude, are “the pure in heart”? And what does that have to do with “seeing God”?

The Greek word for “pure” could also (and probably does) mean “clean.” It is most frequently used throughout the Torah to describe those in need of ceremonial impurity, in order to draw near to God.

For example, within God’s Law the hands of God’s people needed to be clean, free from blood and other impurities. Their clothes needed to be clean, free from blood, bodily fluids, and contact with the dead. Their sacrifices also needed to be clean, free from blemishes and sickness. Their houses needed to be clean, free from pollution, mold, and contagious skin diseases. 

All of these were necessary to draw near to God in His house, but interestingly, a “clean heart” was not prescribed; instead, a “clean heart”, was developed through a relationship with God in his Temple. Such was not only taught in the Torah, but Paul also implies that he thought it developed over time through interaction with God. According to I Timothy 1:3-11, it’s developed through understanding and trusting in the goodness of God’s Law, in accordance with the gospel of God. Through understanding and believing in the goodness of God's Law, a “clean heart” that is accompanied by a good conscience and sincere faith in Jesus Christ produces the love which Paul aims for when he commissioned Timothy to confront enemies within the Church. Go and read I Timothy 1 for yourself. It's all taught there. 

In God’s Law, a person who is “clean in heart” is one who fears God and will not betray Him; he is one who loves God with undivided allegiance with all his heart (Deut. 6:1-6). The “clean in heart” are allowed to ascend the Mountain of the Lord, and stand in His Holy Place (i.e the Temple, which was God's "House"). The clean in heart are the ones who want to remain faithful to the Lord without reservation or falsehood, in order to teach others the ways of the Lord (Psalm 24:3-4; 51:10; 73:13).
“Who shall ascend the mountain of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.” (Psalm 24:3-4) 

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. …Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.” (Psalm 51:10, 13)

Along with the Psalmist, Christians ought to see how clear the biblical symbolism must have been for first century Jews. St Jerome even noticed it when he said that “The pure is known by purity of heart, for the temple of God cannot be impure.”3

All of this, of course, connects with the next Beatitude. So then, why do we find, in the following Beatitude, it forecasted that “the peacemakers” are going to be called “sons of God”?

I think that an understanding of that question goes along with understanding of first century history. Most Christians I know have absolutely no clue about what was going on in the first century. Nevertheless, we find a taste of something crucial woven throughout the New Testament Scriptures. Indeed, throughout Matthew’s Gospel and throughout the history of first century Christianity, the “sons of God” were divided between Christian Jews and anti-Christian Jews. The anti-Christian Jews of Rabbinic Judaism considered themselves to be the true “sons of God.” That's a fact. According to various historians (like Eusebius, Hegessipus, etc.), first century Rabbinic Judaism was hostile to the “conversion” of Jews to Christianity. Josephus is also heavy on the emphasis of how radical and extreme first century Judaism was. Christian-Jews, on the other hand, did not consider themselves to be “converts,” but rather true heirs of the faith of Abraham through Israel’s promised Messiah; and they were at peace with their rejection by Rabbinic authorities.

Jesus, therefore, was likely teaching Israel that peacemaking would be essential for the world to see who was and was not a child of God and a faithful worshiper of God. It was because Jesus forecasted that there would be warfare and bloodshed that he also forecasted the need for his disciples to be true, non-violent peacemakers. 

As I was studying the Fathers’ comments about the Sermon on the Mount, I came across an interesting comment by St Augustine about the tension between war and peace. He wrote: 
Peace is the fixedness of order; by order, I mean an arrangement of things like and unlike giving to each its own place. And as there is no man who would not willingly have joy, so is there no man who would not have peace; since even those who go to war desire nothing more than by war to come to a glorious peace.4

Here are some questions floating around in my mind, which I think are helpful for us all to consider: Is peacemaking contrary to a hunger and thirst for justice? Is peacemaking contrary to just warfare? Is there even such a thing as just warfare, if God’s people are called to be peacemakers?

One interesting implication of that statement by Augustine is the way in which it relates to God. If it is true that people who go to war desire nothing more than to come to a glorious peace through it, then what does this teach us about the desire of the God we image, who does go to war against His enemies?

When we read the history of Israel and sometimes see the Lord going to war against the evil people and corrupt gods of certain nations (which they remained loyal to), we find at least two issues looming in the background:
  1. Those wicked nations and their gods relentlessly contended with the Lord, without repentance
  2. God’s enemies would not accept His terms of peace or heed his desire for brotherly love

In light of Augustine’s statement above, coupled with the Scripture’s own accounts, one implication of such warfare by God was His desire to bring his people, who did love Him, to “a glorious peace.”

The Scriptures only continue adding to this complex paradox. For instance, it is in the Scriptures that we find God waging war sometimes, but not all times. God wages war against certain people, but not all people. Jesus, the Son of God, says that he did not come to bring peace, but a sword; yet Jesus also says blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Jesus says that those who live by the sword will die by the sword; yet Jesus is the one who promises that many people of Israel in his generation would fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem would be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles (Luke 21). And in the book of Revelation we find a whole host of examples of Jesus and his angels waging war upon "the land" from "the heavens." In chapter nineteen the sharp sword used to strike down the unfruitful vineyard of Israel even comes from Jesus’ mouth.

With all of these added complexities in mind, let me show another important quote from St Augustine, who wrote:
Because nothing can contend against God, the children of God are peacemakers; for, of course, children ought to have a likeness to their Father.5

St. Hillary also wrote something along the same train of thought, when he wrote: 
The blessedness of the peacemakers is the reward of adoption, ‘they shall be called the sons of God.’ For God is our common parent, and no other way can we pass into His family than by living in brotherly love together.6

If such claims are all true, the complexities don’t end there. They get even more difficult to sort through once some other views of these saints come into play. For instance, both St. Augustine and St. Hillary believed and taught a “just war” theory, and they even contended against many enemies of the Christian faith; yet in all of their works they also promoted peacemaking and brotherly love, and in some of their works they even pray that God would avenge His persecuted saints in order to bring them peace.

How in the world are Christians supposed to solve this great complex paradox? 

Believe it or not, I have an answer. Or, I should say, the Christian Tradition has an answer which is deduced from the Scriptures themselves. That answer might not satisfy all people, but I have an answer; and that answer begins by understanding the history behind the New Testament. 

It is pretty much an indisputable fact that many first century Jewish authorities and their disciples displayed a kind of ruthless and bloodthirsty zealousness for the expansion of their own empire. They wanted the Roman empire gone and their own independence secured. (An excellent book on this subject is The Rise and Fall of Jewish Nationalism: Jewish and Christian Ethnicity in Ancient Palestine, by Doron Mendels.)

The first century was a time for the people of Christ’s kingdom to make peace and promote brotherly love as much as possible, and to die for the sake of Christ as necessary. By such faithful peacemaking unto death, not only would Christians be dissociated from the “richness of spirit” among the Jewish brethren, but their faithful witness to the truth-claims of Jesus would not be futile either.

With all of this in mind, one might also recall that in the book of Revelation, which describes first century Jewish persecution, we learn that the prayers of the saints who had died in the first century were heard, and the persecution they received for their faithful witness to Jesus was expected to be vindicated. That vindication of the prayers of Jesus’ peacemaking disciples occurred just as promised, by Jesus, beginning in the Jewish wars of 66 A.D. and definitively ending the old covenant administration in 70 A.D., by the destruction of Jerusalem and Herod’s Temple.
The I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the land?”  

Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake. 

…Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of wrath has come, and who can stand?” 
(Rev. 6:9-17)

According to the Book of Revelation, the prayers of the peacemaking saints were effective and necessary in bringing about God’s justice. Peacemaking is not contrary to praying for God to respond to injustice with perfect justice. We—the Church—need to learn how to put our complete trust in God. And I believe that a life of prayer is the answer to that “how.”

Those of us who tend toward being bloodthirsty for justice, who struggle with jealousy and selfish ambition, need to learn how to pray for God’s mercy and peace upon His enemies and upon ourselves. 

Those of us who tend toward an unrealistic ideal of total peacemaking and pacifism, who delight in timidity or struggle with having any desire for justice (as though that desire itself is taboo in God’s sight), need to learn how to pray for God’s perfect justice. But as we pray for God’s justice and peace, we must not pray or live according to a double-standard

If we pray that others would receive God’s peace, we must be peacemakers ourselves. If we petition God to bring justice upon others who persecute us unjustly, we must expect the same justice to applied to our own selves as well, if God ever catches us persecuting others.

All of this sheds light on the closing Beatitude: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness (i.e. justice’s) sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Why are they “fortunate” if they are persecuted for the sake of justice? And what justice (or whose justice) are they going to be persecuted for?

In the following verse (Matthew 5:11), Jesus tells us whose justice threatens their enemies: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” 

Those who are persecuted for the sake of justice are the same as those who are persecuted falsely on Jesus’ account. They go out among their family and friends, proclaiming the “Gospel of the Kingdom,” but receive persecution for it, as Jesus would forecast again in Matthew chapter 10.

They were “fortunate” to be persecuted for “the sake of the justice” on Jesus’ account—on account of the Just One. They would also be persecuted for being more just than their enemies, and Jesus promised to reward their faithfulness with vindication. 

Since this is what Jesus promised to his first disciples, how much more does such a promise apply to his disciples in every generation thereafter?

1.  Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels (volume 1), John Henry Newman, trans. (Veritatis Splendor Publications, 2012) p. 131
2.  Denis J. Kavanagh, trans., The Fathers of the Church: St. Augustine Commentary on the Lord's Sermon on the Mount with Seventeen Related Sermons (Catholic University Press: Washington, D.C., 2001 reprint) pp. 23
3.  Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels (volume 1), John Henry Newman, trans. (Veritatis Splendor Publications, 2012) p. 132
4.  Ibid.
5.  Ibid. p. 133
6.  Ibid.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

"If interested"

Commenting on Zechariah 12:1-3, Didymus the Blind (313-398 A.D.) makes all of the historical connections presented so far in this series, regarding Jesus' prophecies about the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

Didymus wrote:
An oracle of the word of the Lord on Israel. Thus says the Lord, who stretches out the heaven, lays the foundation of earth, and forms a spirit of a human being in it: Lo, I am making Jerusalem like a shaken threshold for all the people round about and in Judah; there will be a siege against jerusalem. On that day I shall make Jerusalem a stone trodden on by all the nations; everyone who treads on it will mockingly mock it, and all the nations of the earth will gather against it. 
The prophet Zechariah prophesies the fate of Judah and Jerusalem and its inhabitants after the crucifixion of Jesus, receiving his message from the Creator of everything, who stretches out the heaven lays the foundation of earth, and forms a spirit of a human being in it. 
...The one who stretches out heaven lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of the human being in it threatens to devastate and destroy the city and region of the Jews on account of the crimes committed by those guilty godless deeds against the savior who has come. They inflicted the cross and scourging, remember, on the one who gave his life as a ransom, removing the sin of the world--and this despite his coming for the salvation of all. Now, what is the awful fate he forecasts for the Christ-killers? Lo, I am making Jerusalem like a shaken threshold and Judah for all the peoples round about so that they will no longer have a basis and security because they will be abandoned by the one who laid its foundation and protects it.
...Before the abandonment and surrender, remember, the city to which this refers was a house and inheritance and beloved soul; but later he said of it because of its impiety towards him, "Lo, your house is left to you in ruins."1
...The awful fate that was threatened befell both the material Judah and its capital, which in fact was destroyed to the point that there was no longer stone standing on stone.2
...On approaching Jerusalem the savior had said this would happen to her: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, if even you had only recognized the things that make for peace. But now they are hidden from your eyes: your enemies will come upon you, surround you, and throw a rampart around you,"3 so that you will be abandoned and dashed to the ground, with all then hostile nations encircling you, and so you will be seen to be desolate. "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies," Scripture says, remember, "you will know that its devastation has come near."4 The killers of the Lord had actual experience of this when the Romans overpowered them, destroyed their cities, and enslaved them; they were taken off into captivity or, rather, uprooted from their motherland, and so no longer had their own land or country, but were taken to every quarter of the earth. 
In reference to the wrath that had at last befallen Judah and its inhabitants, an historian, one individual from those who actually experienced it, wrote an account in many volumes of them and their places,5 so that the fulfillment is indisputably visible both of what the savior said and of what Zechariah uttered in prophetic mode, beginning with the verse I am making Jerusalem like a shaken threshold. When the threshold was reduced to shaking and the city subjected to a siege, all the foreign nations scornfully entered and trampled on it like an unclean stone, no longer approaching it as a shrine and sacred surface, showing no respect or performance of due rites of expiation and purification. They mockingly mocked it like a ruin, with everyone from that time coming to it to "plough it like a field."6

Commenting on Zechariah 12:10, he wrote:
Having fallen foul of grievous misfortune, the Jews, after gaily murdering the Lord, were in the grip of severe pangs of grief as if grieving for a dear departed and lamenting a firstborn son; "wrath has overtaken them at last,"7 the result being that their homeland has been ruined and they have been enslaved and forced to wander throughout all the earth. It is possible to learn from the present text itself that it was by the decree of God's providence that they were subjected to this for the sacrilege they committed in subjecting the savior of all to crucifixion.8

Commenting on Zechariah 14:1-2, he wrote:
There is reference to days of the Lord when harsh and punitive actions are taken on the guilty, as sense you can find confirmed in many places. ...After the verse saying, Lo, days of the Lord are coming, when your plunder will be divided in your midst, the Lord immediately says he will assemble all the nations against them to battle, as happens on a day of engagement; the nations are assembled for military action in the assault on Jerusalem. 
Such things befell them, resembling the savagely inhuman fate of the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judea when the Jews were captured by the nations on account of the guilt incurred by the killers of the Lord. "The nations raged, the people informed vain and futile plots, the kings took their stand, and the rulers came together in concert against the Lord and against his Christ. God ridiculed and mocked them, in wrath speaking against them and in his rage confounding them."9 So the apostle writes to the same effect about those who killed the Lord and the prophets and persecuted the apostles: "God's wrath has overtaken them at last."10 It was noted above as well that a Jewish historian, Josephus by name, truthfully and precisely described the disasters befalling the nation, including starvation and other misfortunes much worse than that; the searcher after good can meditate on it if interested in reading directed to learning and the fear of experiencing the same fate.11

1.  Matt. 23:38; Luke 13:35
2.  Matt. 24:2; Luke 19:44
3.  Matt. 23:37; Luke 19:41-43
4.  Luke 21:20
5.  This is a reference to Josephus, who he will reference later on in his commentary.
6. Robert C. Hill, trans., The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation. Didymus the Blind, Commentary on Zechariah (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2006) pp. 286-290
7.  A reference to 1 Thessalonians 2:16
8. Robert C. Hill, trans., The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation. Didymus the Blind, Commentary on Zechariah (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2006) p. 301
9.  Psalm 2:1-4
10.  Another reference to 1 Thessalonians 2:16
11. Robert C. Hill, trans., The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation. Didymus the Blind, Commentary on Zechariah (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2006) pp. 319-321