Lectionary Reflection: Transfiguration

In the account of Jesus’ “transfiguration,” we are told that the “appearance of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became dazzling white” (Luke 9:29).  While one might wonder about the significance of this is, the comments that come after shed some light, so to speak. “And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:30-31, NRSV).  The reader is then told that when Peter, James and John awoke “they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.”  Clearly, then, the significance of Jesus’ altered countenance and dazzling white raiment is that he—along with Moses and Elijah— appear “in glory,”  although only of Jesus is it said to be his glory.

In the Old Testament, God’s glory is used to designate the manifestation of God’s “God-ness” to humans:  Moses doesn’t see God but God’s glory.  Continue reading

Lectionary Reflection: Epiphany 3 – Neh 8:1-10; Ps 19; Luke 4:14-21

In this week’s reading from Luke, Jesus has returned to his home region, Galilee, “filled with the power of the Spirit.” Luke tells us that his homecoming made quite the impression—“a report about his spread throughout…”

The excitement does not end, as Jesus then began to teach and preach in the synagogues as he traveled through Galilee. Eventually, he arrived in his hometown, Nazareth, and is received as a teacher on the Sabbath in the synagogue. As he read from Isaiah 61 (“The spirit of the Lord is upon me… to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”), and then sat down, “the eyes of all… were fixed on him.” Continue reading

January 20 Lectionary Reflection: Epiphany/Ordinary 2 (Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; John 2:1-11)

This weekend our nation gears up for two grand events: the inauguration of a president, and the remembrance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Preparations are being made for elaborate dinners and good wine and heartfelt speeches.

In John chapter 2, Jesus does something very human, very prosaic, very neighborly: he goes to a party. A wedding party, to be precise. If you’ve ever been to a Middle Eastern wedding, you know that they are lavish affairs, often with hundreds of guests. The wedding Jesus went to probably involved an elaborate dinner and at least one or two heartfelt speeches, and we know that it eventually included some very good wine.

We learn right away that Jesus’ mother has been invited to the wedding, too. And we get to witness a faintly humorous exchange between the Son of God and his mother Mary. In verse 4, the mother of Jesus informs him that the wine is gone (clearly expecting him to do something about it), and Jesus says “So what?” (I’m paraphrasing here). In verse 5, his mother says to the servants: “Do whatever he says.” I’d love to know what happens in the tiny white space between the end of verse 4 and the start of verse 5. There’s no break, no transition, not even an “and” or a “but.” What happened in-between verse 4 and verse 5? Did Mary raise her eyebrows? Did she put her hands on her hips? Was Jesus’ question light-hearted, and did he grin afterward and wait expectantly to see what his mother would do? Did either of them smile, sharing for just a moment the knowledge they had that was hidden to everyone else?

As soon as Mary hands the matter off to the servants, Jesus doesn’t argue about it anymore. And just as Mary requests, they do precisely what Jesus tells them to do. Fill the jars! he says. And they fill them. Up to the brim, just to be thorough. Bring them to the chief steward! he says. And they bring them to the chief steward.

The chief steward is so astounded by the water-become-wine that he confronts the bridegroom, pointing out that most people serve the good stuff first and save the cheap wine for later, when the guests have had a bit too much to know the difference, but that this host has saved the best for the end. It’s hard to tell if this is a reproach, subtle advice for next time, praise, or simply an expression of surprise.

What it tells the reader, however, is that God’s delightful abundance has just overflowed through Jesus and blessed this wedding with goodness. Six large stone jars – that is a lot of wine. As the psalmist sings, “They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights” (Psalm 36:8).

John reports that this act is the first of the “signs” that Jesus does. Turning water into wine, walking on water: we might think of these acts as miracles, as the divine bending or creative reinterpretation of the laws of nature, but John insists that they are signs that point beyond themselves. Signs that call forth belief in Jesus (John 2:11; cf. John 2:23). Signs that reveal the glory of Jesus. In the Old Testament, God’s glory was a symbol of God’s powerful presence with the people (Exod 24:15-18; 34:29-35; 40:34-38) – a presence so overwhelming that nobody could look it in the face and live (Exod 33:12-23).

In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ glory blazes forth for all the world to see at his crucifixion and in his resurrection (John 17:1-5). At a wedding in a small town in Galilee, an unsuspecting group of wedding guests sees a glimpse of Jesus’ glory: his true identity as the light of the world.

Let’s go back to the very start of the story, just for a moment. John notes that Jesus went to this particular wedding on the third day. It’s a small detail, but now it sparkles with potential meaning. At the heart of Christian conviction is the declaration that God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day (Luke 24:7; 1 Cor 15:4; cf. John 2:19).

“On the third day, Jesus went to a wedding.” Hear those words again in an entirely new way, in the light of the resurrection, in the splendid light of Jesus’ glory. See a glimpse of the wedding of heaven and earth, the wedding banquet at which all the nations sit. On the third day, Jesus arose and went to a wedding, where he prepares the feast for us.

Lectionary Reflection: Baptism of the Lord: Isaiah 43:1-7; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

This Sunday is the feast of the baptism of Jesus.  The Lucan account, which comprises the gospel reading for the day offers us two perspectives on Jesus.   As John the Baptist sees things, Jesus, the mightier one who comes after him, primarily comes as a judge.   The role of Jesus is to baptize with fire, to purge Israel as part of her renewal before God.  John seems quite satisfied to be the herald for this coming judge, the one who will make John’s own penitential brand of water baptism seem gentle by comparison.  We should not think that John was filled with resentment, eager to see people punished.  Rather, John longed for this one who would baptize with fire because he longed for the renewal of Israel.  This renewal would require the apocalyptic unveiling of God’s righteous judgment.  Continue reading

Lectionary Reflection: Epiphany: Is 60:1-6; Ps 72:1-13; Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6; Mt 2:1-12

Botticelli, "Adoration of the Magi" (1475/6)

The word ‘Epiphany’ means ‘manifestation’ or ‘showing,’ and on this solemnity we celebrate the manifestation of Christ to all peoples, races, and nations, who are symbolized by the three magi who visit the Holy Family shortly after Christ’s nativity. In fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, the magi offer gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We have here a complete symbolic theology: the three kings give gold, which symbolizes the heart’s offering of love, in homage of Christ’s Incarnation; frankincense, which symbolizes the mind’s offering of adoration, in homage to Christ’s divinity; and myrrh, which symbolizes the body’s offering of penance, in homage to Christ’s humanity. In this respect, the magi bridge the Old and New Testaments. Although the three magi are not partakers of the covenant that God made with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they arrive to adore the Messiah. Indeed, the tribute of these gentile kings, which had been prophesied in Isaiah and the Psalms, takes on a special meaning in St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where their gifts are symbols of a much deeper mystery, that the gentiles would be coheirs, members of the same body, and partners in the promise of Jesus Christ through the Gospel.

We have over the years accounted these ancient astrologers wise men. Continue reading

Lectionary Reflection: Advent 4: Micah 5:2-5a; Psalm 80:1-7; Heb 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-55

Lectionary Reflection: Micah 5:2-5a; Psalm 80:1-7, Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45(46-55)

In this week’s gospel reading, Luke presents the joyful scene of Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth.  Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth proclaims Mary blessed for believing “that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord” (1:45). Gabriel promised that she would not only bear a son, but that he would reign as king, restoring the Davidic throne and fulfilling the words of the prophets, as we read in this week’s selection from Micah: “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel… And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace” (5:2,4).

That Elizabeth takes special interest in Mary’s faithfulness is fitting, as it was her husband, Zechariah, Continue reading

Lectionary Reflection: Zeph 3:14-20; Is 12:2-6; Philpns 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18

“You brood of vipers” – nobody’s Christmas card conveys that message. And yet everyone’s does. John’s indictment echoes God’s appraisal of his people – all people. It’s a judgment Jesus would share: “If you, though you are evil…” Our text reminds: there is need for peace on earth and in our souls because we have sown war. God draws near not only out of his own overflowing love but our radical need. And his coming takes the fleshly shape it does because from our hearts of stone God would raise true children of Abraham. It is a baptism of the Holy Spirit, a circumcision of the heart, that is required, for the fruit of our repentance is, time and again, rotten. He whom John proclaims will bear the fruit we could not, not extorting but emptying himself of riches for our sakes, not bearing false witness but enduring it, not seeking his due but becoming servant of all, sharing his clothes with all us naked; his body with all us hungry.

This, Luke and the prophets tell us, is good news. It is good news. Brood of vipers, we may be, but we have not been abandoned to our own grasping, evil devices, God has come, in our midst. Lifted up, bearing our wretched, serpentine form and the cost of our empty penitence, for this he came into the world. By this we might bear new fruit from our new hearts. Our fortunes restored – and more – before our eyes and the eyes of a doubtful world.

Lectionary Reflection: Advent 2 – Baruch 5:1-9 or Malachi 3:1-4; Luke 1:68-79; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel / and ransom captive Israel / that mourns in lonely exile…

“Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.” Baruch 5:1

Our lectionary readings for Advent 2 deal with two themes: comfort and proclamation. In Baruch 5, the Lord’s comfort comes to the Israelites as divine glory. Jerusalem is to trade the garments of sorry and affliction for the garment and diadem of glory. The comfort of glory is also a comfort of peace, for God will give Jerusalem the name of “Righteous Peace,” a peace that is marked by the return of the exiles. Even creation is brought into this peace by obeying God’s command making the path for the exiles straight and level. Continue reading

Intrinsic Goodness and Contingency, Resemblance and Particularity: Two Criticisms of Robert Adams’s Finite and Infinite Goods

SCE Nov 12Prof. David Decosimo has recently published an article, entitled “Intrinsic Goodness and Contingency, Resemblance and Particularity: Two Criticisms of Robert Adams’s Finite and Infinite Goods” in Studies in Christian Ethics 25.4 (November 2012): 418-441.

Here’s an abstract:
Robert Adams’s Finite and Infinite Goods is one of the most important and innovative contributions to Christian ethics in recent memory. This article identifies two major flaws at the heart of Adams’s theory: his notion of intrinsic value and his claim that ‘excellence’ or finite goodness is constituted by resemblance to God. I first elucidate Adams’s complex, frequently misunderstood claims concerning intrinsic value and Godlikeness. I then contend that Adams’s notion of intrinsic value cannot explain what it could mean for countless finite goods to be intrinsically valuable. Next, I articulate a criticism of his Godlikeness thesis altogether unlike those he has previously addressed: I show that, on Adams’s own account of Godlikeness, a diverse myriad of excellences could not possibly count as resembling God. His theory thus fails to account for a whole world of finite goods. I defend my two criticisms against objections and briefly sketch a more Aristotelian and Christian way forward.