Tag Archives: apostles

The Economics of the Trinity

The Twelve Apostles (Pushkin Museum in Moscow)

14th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday (Year II)

Hosea 11:1-4, 8e-9; Matthew 10:7-15

Thus says the LORD: When Israel was a child I loved him, out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the farther they went from me, Sacrificing to the Baals and burning incense to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, who took them in my arms; I drew them with human cords, with bands of love; I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheeks; Yet, though I stooped to feed my child, they did not know that I was their healer.

From the image of God as husband and lover, Hosea switched colors and began a new portrait of God as parent with both paternal and maternal qualities in this chapter. The personal pronoun for Israel-Ephraim also alternated seamlessly between the singular and the plural, as the people were conceived as both one and many simultaneously. Images, symbols and words were all chips in a mosaic creating an impressionistic montage of a reality beyond finite grasp. 

The covenant between God and his child was clearly unequal; an infant cannot repay his or her parents for the gift of life and nurture. Humanity was in a position of total receptivity to God. The divine heart burned with a mother’s love, lacerated as the child of her womb turned constantly away from her cheeks to kiss false gods.

My heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred. I will not give vent to my blazing anger, I will not destroy Ephraim again…

Like the selfless husband who continually redeemed his unfaithful wife, the rejected father transcended the human passion of punitive anger to call back his beloved son with the infinite, divine love that expected nothing in return (agape). For I am God and not man, the Holy One present among you; I will not let the flames consume you.

When the Word became flesh, Hosea’s kaleidoscopic impression received a human form, became the child Israel-Ephraim in the womb of his mother, and grew up to become the lover in pursuit of his beloved. His Body became the nexus between the One Three God and the one many personed humanity, linking heaven and earth as the theandric ladder. 

Agape Incarnate taught his brothers the economics of the Trinity: Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.

As the infant Ephraim received divine milk and teaching absolutely free, he was to give to others the spiritual milk of eternal life without expecting payment, for in reality no price can be set between the infinite and the finite. The most a receiver can pay back for his limitless debt was by immolating his entire existence to the Giver of life. On the Cross, the second Adam gave back everything the first Adam stole from the garden and deludedly called “mine”—his body, soul, spirit, mind, heart and will—and threw open the gate to restored personhood: “All mine are thine, and thine are mine” (John 17:10).

Jesus’ Father exemplified the perfection of agape by giving his only-begotten Son away, not only gratis, but even to the point of allowing antagonists to tear him apart and do with him whatever they willed. The Father’s priceless treasure was laid open to vultures and plunderers without self-protecting barriers—a banker’s nightmare.

Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick. 

Jesus’ call for radical abandonment to divine providence was revolutionary then and now. An apostle’s treasure was in heaven; he was not to make a profit out of priceless goods that rust and moth can destroy. The Gospel and business did not mix; they were incompatible.

However, life in the body necessarily required food, clothing and shelter. As Peter’s home sheltered Jesus during most of his public ministry, The laborer deserves his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, look for a worthy person in it, and stay there until you leave. 

In Talmudic tradition, the rabbi was supported by his village and taught the divine word free of charge. In like manner, the apostle also received support and shelter from generous patrons in his itinerant preaching of the good news. 

As you enter a house, wish it peace. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; if not, let your peace return to you. Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words—go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet. Amen, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.”

The last instructions mirrored the mindset in Semitic culture concerning words that can be given and taken back again; blessings mistakenly bestowed were revoked (see William Barclay’s Commentary on Matthew for more details). 

After centuries of religious wars and violent controversies continuing even in our own day, the warning of judgment concluding this passage seems to invite a Bible-thumping, aggressive evangelism. However, in the light of the Cross, Jesus could not possibly have encouraged violence in any form. When the Spirit of truth convicts persons of the truth of Jesus Christ, hard-heartedness must either give way to divine mercy or harden even more. Coming to the point of actual conviction is the work of the Holy Spirit; apostles are only sowers of seeds. Human freedom will always be respected.

-GMC

A New Kind of King

Statue of Christ the King in Świebodzin, Poland. Licensed by Pomnik Chrystusa Króla under CC BY-SA 3.0.

14th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday (Year II)

Hosea 10:1-3, 7-8, 12; Matthew 10:1-7

If they would say, “We have no king”— Since they do not fear the LORD, what can the king do for them? (Hosea 10:3)

About three hundred years after the launch of the Kingship Experiment, Hosea published the results: despair and helplessness. 

In Samuel’s old age, the elders of Israel had approached him to ask for a king, for “We too must be like all the nations, with a king to rule us, lead us in warfare, and fight our battles” (I Samuel 8:20).

The Israelites were not content with the Lord alone as their king, and desired the imagined splendor and glory of the surrounding nations. The grass looked greener on the other side.

Samuel warned them that they would lose a lot of their freedoms if they abdicated personal responsibility to a ruler. Sons will be taken from them in military drafts; violent wars will be waged; daughters will be taken in servitude as “perfumers, cooks, and bakers;” fields, vineyards and orchards will be confiscated; and heavy taxes will be imposed. “On that day you will cry out because of the king whom you have chosen, but the LORD will not answer you on that day” (I Samuel 8:18).

The will of the people was done because human freedom will not be overstepped by divine force. Samuel’s prophecy came to pass, and Hosea had the unpleasant task of unmasking Israel’s spiritual immaturity in putting their hopes in a human king. 

With the coming of the Messiah, an entirely new kind of king appeared in Israel—poor, simple in appearance, compassionate to outcasts and the oppressed, a shepherd among his flock with no palace or even a place to “lay his head” (Matthew 8:20; Luke 9:58). The “army” of this “son of David” consisted of twelve ordinary men, including fishermen and an abominable tax collector. Instead of chariots, war horses and the warrior’s bow (Zechariah 9:10), the new king gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness.

“Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel,” was heard time and again by the descendants of Samuel’s generation (Matthew 9:33). Indeed, the mangled sheep of the house of David had come to expect heavy-handed laws and authoritative control as facts of life. 

“The kingdom of God is among you” and “within you” (Luke 17:21), Jesus said, and the human person is a “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19). 

The message of Jesus was revolutionary for a culture built around the Jerusalem Temple, the Mosaic Covenant, and reverence for the laws of the rabbinic tradition. Jesus did not come to destroy, but to fulfill the hopes of Israel, though that necessarily meant replacing old cloth and old wineskins. Before sending out the Twelve to the Gentile nations, Israel deserved closure after millennia of waiting for the promises to Abraham and the patriarchs: “Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”

As Samuel obeyed the Lord and gave the people what they wanted (a powerful king), Jesus obeyed his Father and gave the people what they wanted (a crucified king). “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15)  echoed the cry of the people to Hosea, “We have no king.” In all these cases, God was rejected and the will of the people was done once again.

The crucial difference now was that the death of Christ resulted in new life for humanity in his resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Holy Spirit into contrite hearts. The kingdom of heaven is already here as a seed of grace planted within. The process of living the Our Father—“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”—is a journey of union with the only-begotten Son on the Cross in his union and communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

-GMC

Feast of St. Matthias

Thomas

May 14th is the Feast of St.Matthias, chosen by lot to take the place of Judas. He joins the eleven apostles so that the twelve tribes of Israel will be represented when the Holy Spirit comes. Tradition says Matthias brought the gospel to Ethiopia. The Pentecost narrative follows Matthias’ selection in Luke’s account.

The qualifications for a new apostle seem simple enough. Peter says it should be someone “who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us. He joins us as a witness to his resurrection.”

Two have those qualifications. Joseph called Barsabbas and Matthias.

Then, they pray:
“You, Lord, who know the hearts of all,
show which one of these two you have chosen.”
Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias,
and he was counted with the Eleven Apostles.” (Acts 1,15-17, 20-25)

Yet, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. For Matthias to be a witness to Jesus it wasn’t enough to get all the details right about what Jesus did or said, as a reporter or witness at a trial might do it.

In John’s gospel read for Matthias’ feast, Jesus describes a disciple as one who abides in him, who remains in him– a friend committed to him. So, a disciple cannot be just an on-looker, but one who enters the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. He’s one who weathers doubts and uncertainties as the disciples listening to Jesus’ Farewell Discourse did. He’s like Thomas who sees the wounds in the Lord’s hands and side and learns to trust and believe through them.

Rembrandt’s wonderful portrayal of Jesus showing his wounds to Thomas (above) presents Thomas, not as a lonely skeptic, but representing all the disciples. All the disciples must come before Jesus’ wounds.

Pope Francis in a homily  spoke of the importance of the wounds of Christ for a disciple of Jesus. We’re on an exodus beyond ourselves, he said, and there are two ways open for us. “one to the wounds of Jesus, the other to the wounds of our brothers and sisters.”

“If we are not able to move out of ourselves and toward our brothers and sisters in need, to the sick, the ignorant, the poor, the exploited – if we are not able to accomplish this exodus from ourselves, and towards those wounds, we shall never learn that freedom, which carries us through that other exodus from ourselves, and toward the wounds of Jesus.”

The wounds of Christ and the wounds of our brothers and sisters– we learn from both to see victory of death and to trust in the passion of Jesus.

Like Matthias, we’re called to be witnesses..

An 84 Year Old Apostle: December 30

Presentation.jpg

St.. Luke begins his account of the infancy of Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem; where an angel announces the birth of John to Zechariah. He ends his account as  Mary and Joseph take the Child to the temple, “to present him to the Lord.”

Two elderly Jews, Simeon and Anna, meet the Child. Simeon joyfully takes  the Child in his arms. “Now you can dismiss your servant in peace, Lord, because my eyes have seen your salvation.” No temple priests, no officials, no angels, just two old people meet the Child.

Anna, an 84 year temple regular and a widow after being married for only seven years,  also sees the Child. “Coming forward at the very time,” Luke says, “she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting ttion of Jerusalem.”

The Lord comes to the 84 year old woman, to Simeon, to Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah, the shepherds in the hills, the wise men from afar. He comes to all. John’s letter read also today says that too.

Anna gives thanks at the sight of the Child and speaks about him to everyone she meets. At 84, she becomes an apostle.

It ain’t over till it’s over.

Saint Andrew, the brother of Peter

Duccio_di_Buoninsegna_036

November 30th is the Feast of St. Andrew. On the lakeshore in Galilee Jesus called him along with his brother Simon Peter to follow him. We only know a few details about Andrew. What are they?

He’s a fisherman, of course. Andrew is a Greek name. The area around the Sea of Galilee was then multi-cultural. His Jewish family came originally from Bethsaida, a trading town in the upper part of the Sea of Galilee with a substantial Greek population. Would that explain why his Jewish family gave him that name? Did Andrew speak some Greek?  Afterwards they located afterwards in Capernaum.

If that’s all so, it could explain why later in John’s gospel, Andrew and Philip bring some Greek pilgrims to Jesus before his death in Jerusalem. Jesus rejoices, seeing them as signs that his passion and glorification will draw all nations to him. One can sees why the Greek church has Andrew as its chief patron: he introduced them to Jesus.

Bethsaida has been resented excavated.

Bethsaida 393

Bethsaida: Winegrowers house

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Bethsaida: Ruins

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Bethsaida: Ruins

Can we also see Andrew as someone interested in religious questions? He’s described as a disciple of John the Baptist, and John pointed Jesus out to him. Jesus then invited Andrew and another disciple to stay for a day with him. “Come and see.” Afterwards, Andrew “found his brother Simon and said to him ‘We have found the Messiah.’” (John 1,35-41)

For the Greek Church  Andrew is the first of the apostles because he’s the first to follow Jesus; then he calls his brother. Western and eastern Christian churches together celebrate his feast on November 30th.

The letter to the Romans, the first reading for his feast in the Roman  Catholic liturgy, stresses there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, and praises messenger who bring God’s word to others. Tradition says Andrews brought the gospel to Greek speaking people. It also claims that Andrew was crucified on the beach at Patras in Greece. Besides Greece, Andrew’s also the patron of Russia and Scotland.

We ask you, O Lord,

that, just as the blessed Apostle Andrew

was for your Church a preacher and pastor,

so he may be for us a constant intercessor before you.

Troparion (Tone 4) (Greek Orthodox)

Andrew, first-called of the Apostles
and brother of the foremost disciple,
entreat the Master of all
to grant peace to the world
and to our souls great mercy.
Kontakion (Tone 2)

Let us praise Andrew, the herald of God,
the namesake of courage,
the first-called of the Savior’s disciples
and the brother of Peter.
As he once called to his brother, he now cries out to us:

“Come, for we have found the One whom the world desires!”

Saints Simon and Jude

Simon Rubens

St. Jude LaTourSaints Simon and Jude, whose feast we celebrate October 28, are mentioned only a few times in the New Testament list of apostles,  tenth and eleventh respectively. (Mark 3,13-19, Luke 6,12-16)

Simon is called  `the Zealot,’ either because he was zealous for the Jewish law or because he was a member of the Zealot party, which in the time of Jesus sought to overthrow Roman domination by force.

Some of Jesus’ followers,  the Gospels indicate, were hardly pacifists. Peter was ready to use his sword in the garden of Gethsemani when the temple guards came to seize Jesus;  James and John told Jesus to call down fire from heaven on the hostile Samaritans whom they met on their journey to Jerusalem.

Simon, therefore, may thought of revolution when he answered Jesus’ call .

Jude, called `Thaddeus’ to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot, may be the brother of James, the son of Alphaeus, some interpreters of the Gospel say. If that’s so, he’s also a relative of Jesus. He may be the author of the Epistle of Jude in the New Testament.

Early Christian traditions – all difficult to prove historically – locate the ministry of these apostles in places as far apart as Britain and Persia; one important legend from 3rd century Syria says they were apostles to Syria. If so, we ask their intercession for that troubled place today.

Knowing little  about  Simon and Jude may be a good thing, because then we have to look to their mission to know them –they were apostles.

The mission of the apostles was to follow Jesus. “ ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ Jesus says in the Gospel of John. He also said “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.”

God made his will known to the apostles  in due time. They didn’t decide what to do or where to go by themselves. They knew God’s will day by day, as we do.  So often, it was unexpected and perhaps not what they planned.

“Your will be done,” we say in the Lord’s Prayer. That’s an apostle’s prayer. We try to make it our prayer too.

Saints Philip and James

We celebrate a feast of the apostles each month. Why? “Every family wants to find out how it began. We go back to the apostles because they were at the beginning of our church,” the early Christian writer Tertullian says. Today. May 3rd, we have two apostles together, Philip and James.

They’re celebrated together because their relics were placed side by side in the Church of the Twelve Apostles in Rome, when it was built in the 6th century. Philip was called by Jesus to follow him the day after he called Andrew and Peter, St. John’s gospel says. James, who is also called James the Less to distinguish him from James, the brother of John, was a cousin of Jesus who later became head of the church in Jerusalem and was martyred there in the year 62.

On a feast of an apostle you expect to hear one or more of his heroic acts or wise sayings, but in today’s reading from St. John’s gospel for the feast of these saints we hear instead an apostle’s clumsy question. During his Farewell Discourse, Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father.”

“Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Philip says to Jesus, which brings an exasperated response from the Lord:

“Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own.”

The gospels continually picture Jesus’ apostles as slow, uncertain, fearful–even ready to betray him. Philip isn’t the only one who can’t fathom the message or person of Jesus.

Called by Jesus, they’re human. Their humanness and slowness makes us realize where the power of our church comes from. “Not to us, O Lord, not to us be the glory!” The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ.

We’re Slow, like the Apostles


We’re slow, like the apostles, to understand the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The two disciples on the way to Emmaus are not the only ones slow to understand–all of them were. Luke says that in the Acts of the Apostles, which we read in the easter season. And we are slow too.

Peter, who preaches to the crowds in Jerusalem at Pentecost, certainly was slow to understand. He speaks forcefully at Pentecost, forty days after the Passover when Jesus died and rose from the dead, but the days before he’s speechless. It took awhile for him and for the others who came up with Jesus from Galilee to learn and be enlightened about this great mystery..

Mark’s accounts of Jesus resurrection appearances, read on the  Saturday of Easter week, stresses the unbelief of his disciples. They were not easily persuaded.

It’s the same with us. Each year the Lord refreshes our faith in the resurrection, but it’s not done in a day. Like the disciples, we need time to take it in, and so we have an easter season of forty days.

The disciples also were slow to understand the mission they were to carry out, a mission that was God’s plan, not theirs, a plan that outruns human understanding. A new age had come, the age of the Holy Spirit, and they didn’t understand it. The fiery winds of Pentecost had to move them to go beyond Jerusalem and Galilee to the ends of the earth.

The Holy Spirit also moves us to a mission beyond our understanding. Luke says that in the Acts of the Apostles. “The mission is willed, initiated, impelled and guided by God through the Holy Spirit. God moves ahead of the other characters. At a human level, Luke shows how difficult it is for the church to keep up with God’s action, follow God’s initiative, understand the precedents being established.” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles)

“You judge things as human beings do, not as God does,” Jesus says to Peter elsewhere in the gospel. We see things that way too.

Like the others, Peter is slow to understand God’s plan after Jesus is raised from the dead. He doesn’t see why he must go to Caesaria Maritima to baptize the gentile Cornelius and his household. (Acts 10,1-49) It’s completely unexpected. Only gradually does he embrace a mission to the gentiles and its implications. The other disciples are like him; God’s plan unfolds but they are hardly aware of it.

One thing they all learned quickly, though, as is evident in the Acts of the Apostles. Like Jesus, they would experience the mystery of his cross, and in that experience they find wisdom.

The Thomas in us all

Thomas

Some things — like telling time or tying your shoes — you learn once, but we know Jesus Christ gradually, day by day. Human and divine, he makes himself known to us as he promises and as we are ready to receive him.

That’s why Thomas, the apostle, whose feast is today, is such an important figure. Far from being a lonely skeptic, an isolated dissenter, he represents the slowness of heart and mind, the recurrent skepticism, that affects us all.

Yet, Thomas is a sign of hope. He reminds us that the Risen Jesus offers, even to the most unconvinced, the power to believe.

Lord Jesus,
the Thomas in us all
needs the wounds in your hands and side,
to call us to believe
you are our Lord and God.

Risen, present everywhere,
bless those who have not seen,
blind with doubts
or weakened faith, or no faith at all.

Bless us, Lord,
from your wounded hands and side,
strengthen our faith
to believe in you.

Reading Churches

door cologne

We hurry through doors, because we want to get inside. But cathedral doors are not ordinary doors; they try to slow you down and get you ready for what’s inside.

cologne apostles

The apostles stand at the western door of the Cologne Cathedral. Peter and Paul are nearest the door itself. Above them is the scene of their martyrdom under Nero. They’ve given their lives to the truth that’s told here, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was sent from above, and by his death and resurrection he calls us to follow him to glory. They’re teachers of faith who invite us to believe. You might call this door a version of the Apostles’ Creed.

cologne rulers

Earthly rulers, like Charlemagne, stand at the door too, witnesses of another authority. The faith is to be lived on earth as well as heaven.

The images of prophets, teachers, martyrs and saints on the outside and within the cathedral echo the same promise. The Cologne Cathedral was an important church that welcomed pilgrims from other parts of northern Europe and so, besides the Three Kings, images of the popular saints honored at other shrines along the pilgrim routes of Europe, like St. James of Compestelo, are found there. It encouraged a common vision of life that made the various peoples one.

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In days when people couldn’t read, they read the cathedral’s stained glass, paintings and sculpture. With them can we see the building’s reach into the heavens pointing to a world above, a world where the promises of God will be fulfilled?

Last Suppercloseup

I took a picture of a stained glass window of the Last Supper in the Strasbourg Cathedral. Jesus hands a morsel to Judas, who then goes out into the night. How beautifully the artist captures the sadness of the Lord.