Jesus’ condemnation of the self-righteousness of the people of his time in today’s Gospel reminds us of the wisdom of faith content by whatever provisions the Lord has chosen to give. Unlike the Ninevites, who repented from their sins simply by the words of Jonah without witnessing any miracles, the contemporaries of Jesus refused to repent even though he was among them working miracles day in and day out. While one group profited from the words of God delivered through a prophet, the other group turned from the Word of God and rejected his grace that would humble their hearts. The faith of Nineveh accepted whatever little revelation God was willing present to it and received such revelation with great humility. The faith of Jerusalem doubted all the revelation that God was granting them and rejected Jesus’ revelation with its pride. Allow Alexander Pope’s Universal Prayer to guide our own faith life today so that, with the humility the Ninevites, we may receive whatever little the Lord chooses to reveal to us with humility in faith.
The strangest part about the readings of the beginning of the liturgical year is reminder and warning about the end of the Church here on Earth. And yet, this is not too strange since that small beginning of the entrance of little baby Jesus is best recognized by the magnitude of its ending at the final fulfillment, that which we call the Second Coming. Throughout all of this, we must learn to realize that the Second Coming is not a separate even; rather, it is a fulfillment of that single event still in progress from the moment those words reached Mary’s humble ears.
For this reason, the season of Advent is not merely a return to historical longing and fulfillment by Jesus, but it is our own entrance into the mystery of God Incarnate, God becoming flesh, entered into history, and made it His own, as we profess daily in The Angelus, “…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This dwelling among us means that God has made Himself subject to suffering and death. In other words, God knows the human condition, and He knows it most intimately.
And so St. Paul writes, “You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed”. (Rm 13:11) Indeed, we shall know neither the hour nor the day that we will be called to stand in front of that Son of God, as the Gospel tells us. We must not put down our guard and sleep our earthly lives away. We must live lives faithful and worthy of Christ. For on that last day, we cannot say to him “Lord, you have no clue what it is like to live a short life, to suffer, to mourn, to love, to lose, and to die.” And yet again, on that last day we cannot say to the Lord that the eternal One, the Lord Who exists outside of time and space, cannot possibly be sympathetic or empathetic of our own human condition since God is not only sympathetic to our own humanity, but our God literally lived it.
No, my friends, we will have no excuses once we greet our God on that last day. It will be the Son of God who judges, and he lived a human life from the womb of His mother to the stone tomb. In his living that human life, the Gospels tell us, he encountered numerous people from different positions in society, as we all do. Then on the end of days, from his countenance shall be seen every single human face since all are his brothers and sisters. And we shall have to raise our heads to those faces, the innocent faces of children, the worn-out faces of the poor, the tear-filled faces of parents who weep for their children lost at war, the embittered faces of our enemies. We shall have to raise our heads to that countenance, and a voice shall come from it that will say, “What you did, or did not do, for the least of my brothers.” That voice will not die or fade away. It will fill our eternity. If we are able to raise our heads with the confidence of the forgiven sinner towards that countenance of the Son of man, it is only because we have taken heed of St. Paul’s calling to us: the hour now for you to awake from sleep.
Recognizing this truth will demand that our families, schools, and communities take care to form us into people whose lives are worthy of Christ. The life worthy of Christ is one that serves others and not the self. And this formation recognizes that these virtues founded upon love of neighbor cannot be built overnight, nor are they formed by short periods of engagement and detachment. Indeed, the love of and for our brothers and sisters, especially the most vulnerable in our communities and world, is a life-long habit of virtue that we will need to constantly work on in order to have growth.
I’m spending yet another year away from my family for Father’s Day because of obligations so I’ve taken a moment today to reflect about what drastic changes I’ve undergone since becoming a father.
1. I’ve become much more grateful
It’s not like I wasn’t a grateful man before becoming a dad, but something definitely changed with my thankful attitude since I’ve taken on the role as father. I can still recall the first crying noises that Madison made after being born and how those tiny noises brought me to tears. I remember when she first laughed, I thought it was the coolest thing and I tried so desperate all the time to get her to laugh, but I failed probably 95% of the time. All these moments are priceless-ly treasured in my heart and I’m forever grateful to God for His gift to us. But I’m not just more thankful for my daughter, I am thankful for my wife; for the patience that she practiced in carrying our child in her womb, for her understanding of my busy schedule during certain months of the year, and for her continued love for me–a love that is so simple and unconditional. Fatherhood has definitely showed me that the simpler and smaller things and moments in life are to be valued and cherished as much as those that are greater and more profound.
2. I’ve become more patient with repetitions and children activities
Teaching high school played an important role in forming my patience for the youth, but fatherhood has almost brought the virtue to near perfection…well, not quite near perfection, but it’s up there somewhere. My daughter, like all other children, loves to play and she, like other children, loves to have a thing repeated a zillion times before moving on to another thing, only to have that new thing repeated another zillion times. For instance, I’ve listened to Let It Go countless times–literally countless because the number of times probably approaches infinity. And yet, because the joy I see in her eyes and in her smile, my patience grows, not out of necessity, but out of love. Here, I’m reminded of a Chesterton quote:
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
And as #1 suggests, I’m also thankful that my 1.5 years old daughter could show me there is much to be grateful for in these repetitive acts.
3. I know better and am more willing to suffer for my loved ones
Beginning with the first nights with Madison as a new born, when sleep was understood only as a fantastic concept like that of unicorn and Santa Claus, to the sleepless nights spent with her when she became ill, to taking care to make foods that aren’t extremely spicy so she could eat it, to changing super soiled diapers that one simply cannot believe came from a human being, much less a baby. From beginning to thus far, I’ve learned that those things that cause my wife and me to be inconvenienced or suffer are those things that benefit our beloved daughter. I knew love required suffering, and fatherhood taught me what that looks like and how valuable it is that parents need realize this.
4. I’ve learned how to love my wife better
It’s a strange thing to say because it sounds like I wasn’t a good husband since I didn’t know how to love my wife correctly, and that’s precisely what I mean. In the course of learning how to be a father, I also learned how to be in solidarity with my wife as we parent our child and, in doing so, I learned to listen (not with just my ears) to her needs and desires and to her joys and sorrows. And by listening, I learned how to better love my wife.
5. I’m a better pray-er
One very astonishing thing that I noticed from my daughter is her complete dependence on us as parents and her candidness. Madison is completely dependent on us to get things for her, especially when it comes to food or changing her diaper. She’s also not shy about coming to either one of us to take our hand and lead us to something that she wants or something that she wants to do. And she does this countless times a day. As I reflected on this awhile back, I realize that my utter dependency on God is like Madison’s utter dependency on me. And yet, she goes to me and asks for whatever she wants, and I may say no, but she never gets in trouble for asking. Then, I asked myself, why do I not go more often to God for things or just to chat? Madison has taught me that I’m utterly dependent on God and that I should go to Him more often.
In part 1 of this posting, I pointed out what God meant to first-century Palestine Jews and what they saw in the title “Son of God”. I will use James DG Dunn and NT Wright, two conservative and traditional New Testament biblical scholars, as primary sources to tackle the task at hand.
Whether or not Jesus thought of himself as the Son of God is a question that raises a lot of difficulties for Christology scholars. However, given that we have no recorded autobiographical text of Jesus, there doesn’t seem to be a definitive way to make an argument in favor of either position. Yet, Dunn argues that we can hope to penetrate into the mind of the first-century Palestinian Jew named Jesus, however implicitly through his words and actions, to learn of his own sense of divine sonship. Dunn and Wright conclude that any movement that suggests that Jesus thought of himself as a divine person sharing in the divinity of God is ludicrous and does not take into account the historical context and development of the New Testament texts. On the other hand, it is not altogether moot for us to approach the question “did Jesus ever claim his divine sonship?” since we have enough evidence from to the scriptural text, as well as other historical works, to insist that Jesus saw himself having an eschatological uniqueness in his relationship with God.
One argument for the self-knowledge of Jesus as having an eschatological uniqueness is his addressing of God as abba in the Gospel writings. Dunn insists that this piece of evidence is a good starting point insofar as this way of addressing God was not very common in the Jewish tradition of Jesus’ time. When Jesus addressed God as abba, it seems that there is an intimacy striking of someone familiar to the subject who is the object of his affection in a very familial way. Distinctively, and worthy of noting, is when Jesus taught an adaptation of the Kaddish, where he addresses God as abba instead of the traditional ‘Lord of the world’ as how these prayers normally begin. Further, Dunn points to Paul’s usage of abba as something distinctive for the Christians as another piece to the argument since, as Dunn argues, “had it been in common usage within any other large group or class within Palestine or Judaism Paul could hardly have thought of it in this way, as a distinguishing mark of those who shared the Spirit of Jesus’ sonship, of an inheritance shared with Christ.”
Yet, the question remains why it seems that Jesus saw himself as the great I AM in the gospel accounts, most prominently in the Johannine text. Here, we find that the historical argument from the Johannine scripture is moderate, if not weak, for the self-knowledge of Christ as the Word of God, born before all ages. In fact, Dunn, citing C.H. Dodd, argues that much of what is said about the person of Jesus as the pre-existent being proceeding forth from the Father in the Johannine tradition is a literary product of the author’s meditation or sermons. This is the result of comparing the synoptic and the Fourth Gospel, which provides us with various sayings and affirmations that Christ made about himself which are present in the Johannine tradition, but are not present in the Markan, Matthean, and Lukan traditions. This means that Jesus did not see himself as the very God of Israel who created all things from the beginning and to restore it to its former glory.
First century Judaism was situated amidst a variety of religious beliefs that saw god in various ways. For the Jews of this time, God was seen in a twofold manner: the One existing before all things Who created all things and Who has called Israel to be his people and offer Himself to them as their God. All of these religious traditions, along with Judaism, saw the title son of God in a variety of different ways. Some pagan religious traditions and myths saw the title as a conferring of divinity by god himself to the one he has chosen, or that a god as copulated with a human being to give birth to a demi-god and so forth. For Judaism, son of God is used in reference to one who lives in a holy manner and who has kept the Law of the Lord. Accordingly, this title is used of various persons, as well as to refer to Israel and the Israelites themselves.
With this in mind, we do not think that Jesus thought of himself as the Son of God in the manner that modern Christians think of this Christological title. There is little evidence to suggest that Jesus thought of himself as the same substance (homoousios) as that One God who created Heaven and Earth, and Who called Israel to be His people. What little evidence we do have of this exists only in the Johannine tradition and, when placed side by side with the Synoptic traditions, does not provide a good enough argument for us to insist that Jesus understands himself as the Son of God with the same understanding that the Nicene Creed claims of him. Yet, this in no way negates the expression of faith that the Nicene Creed claims of Jesus. Instead, we must remember that the Nicene Creed is an extended proclamation of faith expressing in a more coherent manner what the early Christians understood by claiming Jesus as the Son of God.
 Cf. James DG Dunn “Christology In the Making” and NT Wright “The Resurrection Of the Son of God”
There is much written and spoken about these days about love of neighbor. This is a great approach to living the good life, and properly so because God has commanded it of us. There can never be enough talk about love of neighbor, given that it is not just all talk but that it is lived out as proper to Christ’s commandment. However, we must not forget that the greatest commandment is not to love our neighbor, but that it is to love God with all our hearts and all of our minds (Mt 22:37-38). This greatest commandment cannot be replaced by simply living out that second great commandment of loving our neighbor. In other words, a great philanthropic life does not fulfill this greatest commandment.
The commandment to love God with all of our hearts, all of our souls, and all of our minds is quite strange for two reasons. First, the commandment demands that we love God with a freedom that recognizes Him as lovable in Himself and not because we are commanded to. This is strange because it is the commandment that directs us to love, and yet our love ought to overlook its commanding nature. Secondly, the commandment does not demand a performance that is measurable, and thus can be said as having been fulfilled once we have done what is asked. The commandment asks for us to love, and love stems from our hearts, our innermost being, ourselves. We can measure whether or not we have not killed or stolen, but we cannot measure whether or not we have loved with all our hearts and all our beings. For this reason, we would rather give anything and everything we own because anything and everything can be measured; that is, anything and everything except the heart. And this is the thing we are asked to give to God without hesitation and forever.
But can we love God as this commandment demands of us? Our hearts are weary and worn from everyday life that they seem unable to carry out what is demanded of us. Added to this, God seems so far away and distant from our everyday lives that we only call upon Him when we really truly need him, like when a family member suffers or dies. And so we gather from this that we cannot love God like this commandment asks us to. But it is precisely here that we ought to realize that we ourselves cannot give God the love that this greatest commandment asks of us; rather, it must God who has to provide us with this love to love Him. The first and greatest commandment asks that we love God with all our hearts, then the very first prayer that we utter needs to be asking God for this love in order to love Him properly. He must give strength and life to this love to us in order that He can love Himself in us and through us by the power of His Holy Spirit. This is the only way our love can be worthy of Him.
For our own part, we should believe God that when He demands it of us that He would give us the proper tools to fulfill the demand. Here, we should trust God more than our own heart and pray for love. If the heart prays for love, it will love. This is true even if the heart feels saddened at fulfilling so little of that very first and greatest commandment.
Happy Thursday, friends!
God According To First-Century Judaism
In chapter nine of his work titled The New Testament and the People of God, the New Testament scholar N.T. Wright argues that first-century Judaism’s belief can be summed up as creational and covenantal monotheism. Surrounded by various beliefs in divine beings like Epicurean gods who are as far away as possible from their own world and a Stoic god who ends up being synonymous with nature itself, the Jewish tradition saw their God as a kind of combination of both and yet utterly different in His nature and relationship to Israel than the two. For the Jews, YHWH was not only the One who interacts within the created world, but is the One Who has created all things. We can find evidence of this throughout the part of the biblical text we now call the Old Testament. Take for example chapter 40 of the Book of Isaiah where YHWH is praised for His mighty powers and wonders that He has done, and the many Psalms that sing of YHWH’s glory and mercy. Indeed, for the Jews of Jesus’ time, the belief in YHWH can be summed up in that daily Jewish prayer: “YHWH is our God, and YHWH is One”.
Classic Jewish monotheism’s belief in God was twofold. First, this Jewish tradition believed that God was first in the order of existence, was One, and created all things; and second, that God called Israel to be His chosen people. Because of this, God was seen as completely other than the world, but also is continually active within the world. This is a God who is to overthrow the pagan gods and powers of those nations belonging to these pagan gods. And in His vindication, He will free His people from oppression of these pagan worshipers, as well as show the nations His glorious name.
Son Of God In First-Century Palestine
James DG Dunn reminds us that whatever we may say about Jesus’ title ‘Son of God’, we cannot claim that first-century Christians had the same understanding as our own Nicene profession of this title in mind when they posited it of Jesus. Divine sonship was not something novel to the Early Christians. In fact, the title ‘son of God’ was a title ubiquitously used in reference to many people in the time of Jesus. Take for instance the various attributions of divine sonship to the legendary heroes of Greek mythology, like Dionysus and Heracles. Or take for another instance where the title ‘son of God’ is found throughout the scriptural texts as being attributed to Israel, Israelites, and the king.
Divine sonship, or attribution of divinity, in the first two centuries of Palestine is liberally used when talking about men for numerous reasons. First, we need to understand that early Christianity was not inhibited by a fear of attribution of divinity to men because they did not approach the predication as modern day Christians approach it. Dunn tells us that when this predication is used in these first centuries “in reference to individual human beings it could denote anything from a righteous or pious man, one who lived in close accord with the divine, to a heavenly or semi-heavenly being, including or the way particularly kings and rulers and especially wise or gifted or inspired men.” As a result, those who are seen as “son of God” are not necessarily seen as, to borrow Nicene terms, begotten by God from before all ages and consubstantial with God. Rather, these men are seen as people who reflect the goodness of God through living their lives in accordance with the divine law.
Drawing from various evidence of the ancient world, Dunn argues that because of the variety of beliefs about the divine and humanity that when the ancient people spoke of someone as being “son of God,” it is not positing anything about a divine relation insofar as their natures are concerned; instead, it is a reflection of the person’s relationship to the divine in terms of their living out the divine mandates. This leads Dunn to conclude that “there is little or no good evidence from the period prior to Christianity’s beginnings that the Ancient Near East seriously entertained the idea of a god or son of god descending from heaven to become a human being in order to bring men salvation, except perhaps at the level of popular pagan superstition.” Thus, we can reasonably conclude that first-century Christians did not understand Jesus’ divine sonship as contemporary Christianity does.
Whenever I think of Advent, I think of John the Baptist. The Baptist was the voice crying from the wilderness to the people of his generation to prepare the way for the Lord. We are not spared of this message. The Church is the voice crying out from the wilderness to our own generation, even if she confesses that “it is not I for I am not even worthy to loosen the laces of His sandals!” She cries out to us, announcing that there will be a coming, a final coming, where the radical and redemptive love of Christ will prove wrong our popularized conception of sentimental love. And this love will come when God wills it; not when it suits us. We all must wait, even the Church. We must learn, the Baptist teaches us, to be patient in our own preparation for the Lord’s coming.
But there will be those of us who, even with the most genuine religious convictions, will lose patience. We may start to pose the question to the Church, as those who asked the Baptist: who are you and what are you doing if you are not the one who is to come? The answer will come from the Church that she is a provisional messenger sent to prepare His way. Yet, the answer may not satisfy our preconceived understandings of reality and we may start looking elsewhere for this God who is to come. And all too often, as St. Augustine teaches us through the example of his early life, this search for God elsewhere in lost of patience leads us to a wilderness of our own. In this wilderness, we no longer cry out for a preparation for one who is to come, and for whom we are not even worthy to untie the laces of his sandals. Rather, in this wilderness, we have replaced the one who is to come and even God himself is not worthy to untie the laces of our sandals.
No, my friends, we cannot disregard the messenger (the Church) and what she has to say simply because the voices that come from her are human. The forerunner may only be provisional and not the reality that is God Himself, but the Gospels teach us that He only comes to those who love those He sent ahead of Him and take heed of their divinely-inspired wisdom. In this season of Advent, the Church is calling us to prepare our lives in ways of faith, hope, love, and patience for Christ, the Ever Living Word. How will we respond?
Have a blessed Tuesday!