Category Archives: Year 2

Learned men followed the star to Bethlehem

The Magi Journeying

The wise men journeying from the East

Last year we studied the gospel Infancy Narratives before Christmas, and when viewing the crèche at church, I focused on the humble shepherds privileged to be the first visitors to the Christ Child. This year my thoughts focused on the magi – otherwise known as the wise men, the three kings. They were men of wealth and education, men from foreign lands. Having them present in Bethlehem, worshipping the infant Jesus, celebrates the universality of Christ’s salvation. He came to earth in the form of man to save (paraphrasing Paul) Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, men and women, rich and poor.

I also imagine the magi as seekers and risk-takers. They left behind lives of privilege to follow a star of knowledge.

We are seekers in this Bible class. We enrolled to expand our knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures and, wittingly or not, we opened our hearts to change. What a blessing has been the experience in my life.

One other thought on the topic of seekers. Recently I’ve been reading a book by Msgr. Thomas Halik of Prague in an effort to understand the prevalence of atheism in Czech Republic and other post-Communist countries. In Patience with God: The Story of Zaccheus Continuing in Us, he writes of atheists as seekers. They may know little about the institutional Church, and yet many of them have a form of faith, a spiritual sensibility. They are curious about Christianity, about Catholicism. They are interested, but shy. They are hidden but watchful.

He likens them to the gospel story of Zaccheus in Jericho, the tax collector of short stature who heard Jesus was coming to town. He climbed a tree so he could better see. Jesus called him to come down, saying He would eat that evening in Zaccheus’ house.

Not all seekers have the inclination to drop everything and pursue knowledge of God, as did the magi. Many are shy, and they need to be called by name.

Look around, as Halik says. The trees are full of seekers.


Q and A on Revelation

Finally, here are my answers to subjective questions asked on our assignments and test. Please share yours!

Why is the Book of Revelation so popular with fiction writers and religious groups? People want to be able to control God, creation, and their fate, especially in a complex and threatening world. They want to decode the numbers and symbols of Revelation so they can guarantee themselves a spot in heaven.

What’s the most important theme of Revelation? The world is the arena in which God’s plan for salvation unfolds. Human life is not a series of random events but a theater of divine activity.

What’s the most significant thing you learned? Revelation definitely gave me the sense of another dimension to life. As we carry out our lives, we are part of the cosmic struggle between good and evil. Angels and demons are fighting over us. God is active in today’s world, just as he was through the suffering history of Israel and the persecution of the early Christian Church. And I better understand as evil the seductiveness not just of power, prestige, and affluence, but of complacency.

The revelation of Revelation …

The Revelation of St John: 4. The Four Riders ...

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A new year has begun … and yet there is more I wish to say about Year 2, so bear with me a bit more. I posted nothing in May on the Book of Revelation. I was in a great rush, as I was leaving shortly after our last class for a pilgrimage in central Europe (more about that later). But the subject is so important and I learned so much that I want to record my thoughts and impressions.

First, a few words about our text, Revelation and the End of All Things by Lutheran Old Testament scholar Craig R. Koester (William B. Eerdmans, 2001). I love his cultural approach to the subject—and I took to heart his suggestion to read Revelation while playing Handel’s Messiah (on iTunes, in my case.) It was exhilarating to discover the source of so much Christian symbolism and imagery: Alpha and Omega. King of Kings/Lord of Lords. The pearly gates of heaven and streets paved with gold (The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass.)

Very helpful were the illustrations, selections from Albrecht Dürer’s 1498 woodcut series The Revelation of St. John. Dürer brings to life the phantasmagoric images from the visions. I now know, after studying Dürer’s seven-headed beast, what inspired Dr. Seuss!

Even better, Koester decoded Revelation’s literary structure and style. The Book of Revelation begins with warning messages to seven churches, then comprises a series of alternately threatening and reassuring visions. It is carefully structured, not in a linear way but in a spiraling loop, and was meant to be read aloud. Each cycle descends into darkness and evil but ends with a vision celebrating the triumph of God, so that listeners would continue to trust in God and remain faithful.

Revelation is still very difficult for the modern reader. But I now understand the emphasis is on God’s ultimate victory—a positive and glorious outcome, rather than death and destruction.

Christ-with-us–the Advocate, the Paraclete

Wolframs-Eschenbach. Church of our Lady: Altar...

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Another Johannine theme that speaks to me powerfully: the Paraclete/ the Advocate. Several times Jesus speaks of the gift of the Spirit that is to come. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of all that I have said to you. (John 14:26)

Here’s what I gathered from all the commentaries: The glorification of Jesus at his death released into the world the Spirit of Truth, the Advocate and Paraclete. The spirit is “Christ-with-us,” appearing as Jesus leaves. He is delivered over as Jesus dies on the cross, breathed upon the disciples at Jesus’ first resurrection appearance to them, sent from above as Jesus returns to his Father’s side. Every step in Jesus’ exaltation is accompanied by a gift to us of his Spirit.

As the Spirit of Truth, he will be the constant guide of disciples, speaking to them and to us (through inspired preachers and writers) what he hears from Jesus, who in turn receives from the Father.

Finally, in my own words, a prayer to the Holy Spirit:

Breath to Breath

Paraclete. Advocate. Champion.

You are the gift of love released with the last breath of Jesus on the cross. You are one with Christ and the Father, a presence within us unbound by time or place.

Holy Spirit, guide us. Holy Spirit, protect us. Holy Spirit, intercede for us.

As once you filled the Upper Room with wind and fire, so too may you fill our souls with wisdom, courage, and the breath of everlasting life. Amen.

Bread of Life

The Gathering of the Manna, by James Tissot

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One of the evangelist’s many themes in this gospel relates to the Eucharist as the Bread of Life. Contemplating this theme pulls me back to the genesis of this blog: the concept of wandering through the wilderness.

God rained down manna in the wilderness to sustain Moses and his people. The Eucharist is our manna, to nourish and sustain us as we wander through our 21st century wilderness. Jesus is our bread from heaven, the bread-wisdom giving life to those who believe in him. Not life on this earth but eternal life with God.

In the Eucharist, we become one with God. He is in us and we are in Him. What we consume is the Spirit-filled flesh and blood of the Son of Man. It sustains us until the raising up of the last day.

Perhaps the greatest Johannine theme: Jesus is the Word of God sent by God. The pre-existent word of God incarnate. Jesus is the way to the Father. Sent by God, Jesus finishes the work God gave him to do and then goes back to God.

The evangelist is also found of dualities: Light and darkness, truth and falsehood, life and death, above and below, sight and blindness.

The Lord is risen!

Christ washing the feet of the Apostles, by Gi...

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He is risen indeed! — an exchange borrowed from our Orthodox brethren and passed on by our bishop. This year, Holy Week services have been especially fulfilling, as I hear echoes from so much of what we’ve studied the past two years in Catholic Biblical School. … Readings from Genesis and Exodus … from Paul’s writings …

From the gospel of John, the washing of the feet and the Passion, with Jesus handing over the Spirit, the Paraclete, at his death.

From Revelation, the Alpha and the Omega, and–a special treat last night from the cathedral choir–the Hallelujah Chorus.

Grace and peace to all.

The disciple beloved of Jesus

Damian. "Jesus Christ and St. John the Ap...

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So who was the Beloved Disciple of John’s Gospel? The “one whom Jesus loved”?

I am fascinated by the theories. Tradition has it that the gospel itself was written by John the Apostle, brother of James and son of Zebedee. But he couldn’t possibly still be living when the gospel was written in 90-100 AD, could he? And clearly there are parts written by someone else, as they refer to the Beloved Disciple’s death.

Some speculate the Beloved Disciple was Lazarus of Bethany, the brother of Martha and Mary. The siblings certainly enjoyed a close relationship with Jesus. He was often in their home. And the beloved disciple of the gospel was a person of some influence. He had cachet with local authorities and was able to win entry for him and Peter to the courtyard of the high priest. Here’s a GoogleBook link to a page from Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels that explains the reasoning of J.N. Sanders on the subject, then dismisses it entirely:

Then, of course, there are those who suggest that he is a she – Mary Magdalene. Novelist Dan Brown (The DaVinci Code) hypothesizes that it is she who was seated next to Jesus at the Last Supper and pictured in DaVinci’s painting with flowing locks, smooth face, no beard.

Scholars today believe a disciple who knew Jesus was a major source for the gospel, but other sources were used: signs or miracles, sayings, the passion and resurrection narrative. The Beloved Disciple serves as the model of a faithful believer. By never naming the mysterious disciple, the gospel allows each of us to enter into the story ourselves, as one whom Jesus loves.

Want to know more on the authorship issue? There’s an exhaustive article, with 82 footnotes, on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.or/wiki/Authorship_of_the_Johannine_works

Side note: Actually, I believe John the Apostle could have been still alive at the time the gospel was begun. In the synoptic gospels, he and James seem to have been young and impetuous– the “sons of thunder.” Boys were considered men at 14, doing their father’s work and, sometimes, starting families. Had he been 16 at the time of the call, John would have been in his late 70s at the time the writing began. In any case, I like to think that Jesus took a fatherly interest in young John the apostle.