Tag Archives: Herod Antipas

Bread from Heaven

The dark green around the Lake of Galilee you see in the upper part of this Google satellite picture of Palestine says there’s good farmland there now; it was good farmland at the time of Jesus.

Herod the Great and his son Herod Antipas,  Galilee’s rulers then, appreciated the prospects  then and they created a network of roads and large cities – Tiberius, Sepphoris and Caesarea Maritima on the sea– to export goods from Galilee to the rest of the world. Could this information help us appreciate the miracle of Jesus, feeding the crowd bread and some fish?

“I am the bread of life”,  Jesus says in today’s gospel from John. I’m the source of your blessings and everything that is. God the creator works through me.  Moses asked for bread for his people journeying from Egypt.  Jesus says: “I am the bread of life.”

Jesus makes a divine claim in this miraculous sign, feeding a multitude. The crowd  wants to make him king, (John 6, 15) but the kingship they see doesn’t approach the kingship that’s his. It’s much too small. Jesus rejects their plan.

In a wonderful commentary on Jesus as the bread of life, the early theologian Origen says that Jesus calls himself bread because he is “nourishment of every kind,” not just nourishment of our bodies. He nourishes our minds and our souls; he brings life to creation itself.  When we ask “Give us this day our daily bread,” we’re asking for everything that nourishes our “true humanity, made in the image of God.”

Jesus is the bread that helps us “grow in the likeness of our creator.” (On Prayer 27,2) Sometimes– in fact most of the time–we don’t know the nourishment we or our world needs, but God does. “The true bread come down from heaven”  knows how to feed us.

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

The Mass Readings after Epiphany

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The gospel readings at Mass for the week after the Feast of the Epiphany may not seem connected to that great feast, but they are.

The Magi who come to find the King of the Jews represent the nations, the gentiles, to whom Jesus comes as Savior.  In our readings for Monday Jesus, grown in wisdom and age and grace, begins his public ministry after his baptism by John, going into Galilee, “the Galilee of the Gentiles,” Matthew’s gospel calls it. Jesus brings  light “to a people who sit in darkness.” In Galilee he first fulfills the promise made to the Magi.

Baptized by John, Jesus continues his mission, repeating the very words John used to define his ministry: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” But Jesus goes beyond John, who acknowledges “I am not the Messiah; I am sent before him.(Saturday, John 3,22-3)  Jesus calls a gentile world as well as a Jewish world to turn to God; he is the kingdom of God at hand.

Humanly speaking, it wasn’t a good time to begin such a mission. It’s “after John was arrested,” a dangerous time. Galilee, when Jesus began his mission, was ruled by Herod Antipas, who imprisoned John and then beheaded him. (Matthew 4, 12-25)

But God’s time is not our time. It probably wasn’t a good time either for the Magi to come to Bethlehem, in the days of Herod the Great. But God’s ways are not our ways. That’s important to remember. We can miss the time of grace and its opportunities when we think of time in too human a way.

God could not possibly act now? Why not?

Accounts of the miracle of the loaves and the crossing of the Sea of Galilee from Mark’s gospel are read on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. Commentators note that Mark uses the Sea of Galilee as a stormy path Jesus takes to reach the gentile world of his day. Those on the other side of the lake are given the samef Bread that he provided for the children of Israel.

It’s to “all of Galilee” that Jesus goes and “as a consequence of this his reputation traveled the length of Syria, They carried to him all those afflicted with various diseases and racked with pain: the possessed, the lunatics, the paralyzed. He cured them all.” (Matthew 4, 23-25)

Galilee is the “Galilee of the gentiles.”

Bread from Heaven

Jordan satellite
The dark green around the Lake of Galilee you see in the upper part of this Google satellite picture of Palestine says there’s good farmland there now; it was good farmland at the time of Jesus.

Herod the Great and his son Herod Antipas,  Galilee’s rulers then, appreciated the prospects  then and they created a network of roads and large cities – Tiberius, Sepphoris and Caesarea Maritima on the sea– to export goods from Galilee to the rest of the world. Could this information help us appreciate the miracle of Jesus, feeding the crowd bread and some fish?

“I am the bread of life”,  Jesus says in today’s gospel from John. I’m the source of your blessings and everything that is. God the creator works through me.  Moses asked for bread for his people journeying from Egypt.  Jesus says: “I am the bread of life.”

Jesus makes a divine claim in this miraculous sign, feeding a multitude. The crowd  wants to make him king, (John 6, 15) but the kingship they see doesn’t approach the kingship that’s his. It’s much too small. Jesus rejects their plan.

In a wonderful commentary on Jesus as the bread of life, the early theologian Origen says that Jesus calls himself bread because he is “nourishment of every kind,” not just nourishment of our bodies. He nourishes our minds and our souls; he brings life to creation itself.  When we ask “Give us this day our daily bread,” we’re asking for everything that nourishes our “true humanity, made in the image of God.”

Jesus is the bread that helps us “grow in the likeness of our creator.” (On Prayer 27,2) Sometimes– in fact most of the time–we don’t know the nourishment we or our world needs, but God does. “The true bread come down from heaven”  knows how to feed us.

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

Who are you?

Baptism jpg

In today’s reading at Mass from John’s gospel,  Jewish officials and Pharisees from Jerusalem send representatives to John the Baptist as he’s baptizing in the Jordan River near Jericho asking “Who are you?” “Are you the Messiah, Elijah, the Prophet?” “Why are you baptizing?”

“I’m not the Messiah, or Elijah, or the Prophet,” John answers. “I am the voice crying out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord. ’” John knew who he was and who he was not, and he wasn’t afraid to be the one God wanted him to be.

John could have followed his father,  Zechariah, as a priest in the temple at Jerusalem,  a role passed on from father to son. But John chose a different course. God led him another way.

We don’t know when, but John went down to the Jordan Valley where the road ascended to Jerusalem, and preached to and baptized the crowds going up to Jerusalem to the temple of the Lord. The clothes he wore, his style of life set him apart from everyone else.

John didn’t care how he looked or what people thought of him. He certainly didn’t choose an easy place to be, a desert place. Later, Jesus praised his strength and determination.

To know who you are, you need to listen to God’s call,  and evidently John did that. To speak the truth courageously, you need to depend on God’s strength, and evidently John did that too.  He became a voice for God, even if he sounds at times like a drill sergeant readying people for the battle of the last days. He said unpopular things to powerful people and faced the consequences. Herod Antipas, who ruled Galilee and Perea, arrested him and put him to death.

We’re like John whenever we ask God, “Who am I?” and listen for an answer. We’re like him whenever we use bravely the voice God gives us.

Evil Doesn’t Have Its Way

Beheading JohnToday we read a long narrative from Mark’s Gospel (Chapter 6) describing the death of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod Antipas. It’s been called a “Passion Account before the Passion of Jesus.”

Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee, had his capitol in Tiberias a short distance from Capernaum where much of Jesus’ ministry took place. He certainly knew what Jesus was doing and what people were saying about him. Some said he was Elijah, or a prophet. But what caught Herod’s attention especially was talk that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead.

Herod had arrested John and imprisoned him, probably in his fortress at Macherius near the Dead Sea. Then, influenced by his wife Herodias, who resented John’s criticism of their marriage– which violated Jewish law– Herod had John put to death.

The story told in great detail in Mark’s Gospel is an example of evil, oppressive power at its worst. Herodias’ daughter Salome dances at one of Herod’s bloated banquets and elicits his promise to do anything she asks for. “What shall I ask?” Salome asks her mother. “The head of John the Baptist,” is her answer.

Later in Mark’s gospel, Jesus identifies John the Baptist with Elijah. “I tell you that Elijah has come and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.” (Mark 9, 13) Like Jesus, John suffers and is treated with contempt.

The story of John’s beheading by Herod prepares Mark’s readers for the story of the Passion of Jesus. Both stories were meant to help Mark’s first audience, Roman Christians, face the sudden, absurd persecution inflicted on them by the Emperor Nero in the mid 60s. Like Herod, Nero seemed supremely powerful. They could not see it yet, but evil would not have its way. The Son of Man would rise from the dead and be glorified. So would they.

That’s the lesson we should take from this story too. Evil doesn’t have its way.

Is Faith a Ticket to Success?

You can’t listen to the story of the Prophet Jeremiah, our first reading these days,  without thinking about the passion of Jesus.  In fact, readings from the Book of Jeremiah are the dominant readings for Holy Week. We see Jesus in Jeremiah.

God tells Jeremiah to “hold nothing back,” but speak the truth to those in power, no matter how unpopular it is.  Jesus did the same.

Like Jeremiah, Jesus was innocent, but was framed by the powerful as guilty. They questioned his authority, but he would not deny his mission.

Only a few voices seem to stand up for Jeremiah and only a few stood up for Jesus. Neither had many faithful followers at their time of trial. Yet both were carried along by God’s power and their names vindicated.

Our gospel reading recalling the lonely death of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod Antipas adds him to this brave company.

Some would have us see our faith as a ticket to success, an inoculation against failure or suffering.  Believe and nothing bad will happen to you. Yet, as you look at Jesus, the prophets and the saints, you see a more realistic profile of faith. We’re promised victory, yes, but only by accepting the mystery of the cross.

Keep an eye on Jeremiah and John. Keep an eye on the passion of Jesus. Follow them.

Immaculate Conception Parish: Mission–Monday

Jesus of Nazareth

Following up on the pope’s remarks about the blurred picture of Jesus we have today, here are some reflections on what we know about Jesus today. I’m offering these reflections at our parish mission:

“Tell me the landscape where you live and I’ll tell you who you are.” (Ortega y Gasset)

Thanks to recent archeological discoveries and historical studies we know more about the land where Jesus lived and the ancient texts of the bible than has been known for centuries. These new resources help us know Jesus Christ.

New editions of the bible like the New American Bible Revised Edition and the New Jerusalem Bible Revised Edition (both Catholic sponsored) make use of these resources.

We know more about Galilee, the northern part of Palestine where Jesus lived most of his life, than we knew before. He grew up and was raised by Mary and Joseph in the Galilean hill town of Nazareth, the gospels say. Extensive excavations have gone on in Nazareth, today the busy capital city of modern Galilee.

After his baptism by John in the Jordan River Jesus made his home in the Galilean town of Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee–also extensively excavated in recent times. From there, he visited the small Jewish towns scattered nearby in the fertile plains and mountains, teaching in their synagogues, healing and performing extraordinary signs. New historical studies tell us much about Jewish life in these places.

In Galilee Jesus proclaimed the good news that God’s kingdom was at hand. He used images from this land, like the seed and the sower, in his preaching as well as the scriptures he knew so well. Today Galilee still offers a picture of the land as he knew it.

“After John had been arrested,

Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:

‘This is the time of fulfillment.

The kingdom of God is at hand.

Repent, and believe in the gospel.’”  Mark 1

Under the rule of Herod Antipas, Galilee during Jesus’ public ministry was dotted with important cities like Tiberias, Bethshan, Sepphoris, and the seaport of Caesarea Maritima, all with large gentile populations. Matthew’s gospel calls it the “Galilee of the gentiles.” Hardly the backwater land once thought, the region was an important provider of food for the Roman world.

The gospels suggest that Jesus avoided these important Galilean cities. Instead, he saw himself sent first to the “children of Israel,” although  he occasionally performed cures for some gentiles, like the Syro-Phoenician woman who sought him out and the Roman centurion whose servant was sick in Capernaum.

The arrest and execution of John the Baptist by Herod may have been a practical warning about the danger of places where the powerful lived.

After his baptism in the Jordan River by John, Satan told Jesus to reveal himself in a spectacular way in the temple of Jerusalem, the religious center of Judaism; some disciples urged him to go there too.  However, Jesus made Peter’s simple home in Capernaum his home and from there brought his message to Jews and some non-Jews who lived on Galilee’s farmlands and fished in the Sea of Galilee.

Jesus grew up in Nazareth and his ministry was mainly in Galilee, but he customarily celebrated Jewish feasts, like the Passover, in Jerusalem. Visiting the Holy City, he likely camped among the olive groves that surrounded Bethany, where other pilgrims from Galilee stayed.  He had friends in Bethany– Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary, and also some friends in the city itself.

His visits to the temple at Jerusalem became more significant as the years passed. Even at twelve, he began to dialogue in the temple courtyard with the rabbis who marveled at his questions and answers; he spoke of the temple as “my Father’s house.” (cf. Luke ) After his baptism in the Jordan his dialogue with the rabbis sharpened and the claims he makes about his relationship with his Father increased.

John’s gospel, which we read extensively in the last weeks of Lent, offers some of his exchanges in the temple courtyard about his relationship with his Father. The scriptures and the prophets testify to him, he says. (John 5,31-47  Thursday 4th wk) “I am from him, he sent me.”  (John 7,1-30 Friday, 5th wk) “ Just as the Father raises the dead and gives life, so also does the Son give life to whomever he wishes.” ( John 5,17-30 Wednesday, 4th wk)  “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize I AM.” (John 8,21-30Tuesday, 5th wk ) His divine claims were violently opposed by the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem.

The gospels, especially Luke’s, emphasize Jesus’ love of people. He reached out to those in need; he welcomed women as well as men to his company. His acceptance of outcasts like tax collectors and sinners brought him criticism from others. When John’s disciples asked him “Are you the one who is to come?”  he replies, “Tell John what you see and hear: the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead rise, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. “

“Come to me all you who are weary and I will refresh you, for I am meek and humble of heart,” he said, and he urged his followers to also welcome the weary: the sick, the prisoner, the homeless, the naked, the hungry needing refreshment.

He taught that God should be loved above all and we should love our neighbor as ourselves. He said we should forgive those who have offended us, because God forgives our offenses. He told us to pray to God thankfully and ask for what we need.

People listened to his teaching and knew that he lived what he taught himself.

After his resurrection, he appeared on a mountain in Galilee to his disciples and told them to go out to all the nations and preach the gospel, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  From the “Galilee of the gentiles,” he sent his disciples out to farthest corners of the earth.

Become like children, he said, because those with the spirit of the child belong in the kingdom of heaven.

According to St. Leo the Great, Jesus does not ask us to return to our play pens. We can’t do that. The spiritual child is

  1. free from crippling anxieties
  2. forgetful of injuries
  3. sociable
  4. wonders at all things.

Who Do You Say Jesus Is?

“Who do you say I am?” is the question Jesus asks his disciples at Caesaria Philippi. It’s a question  at the center of Matthew’s Gospel, which we read today in our liturgy.  Before this, Jesus has taught and done marvelous things in Galilee, mostly around the Sea of Galilee.  Now he’s going up to Jerusalem. “Who do your say I am?”

He asks the question at Caesaria Philippi, a place we don’t know much about, because the city fell into ruins after Jesus’ death and resurrection,  but it’s a place that has an important role in our gospel story.

Caesaria Philippi was located about 40 miles from the lake area where most of Jesus’ ministry took place. It was a gentile city, devout Jews tended not to go there, so we might ask why Jesus took his disciples there to ask this important question.

Caesaria Philippi was located right at the base of Mount Hermon, the great mountain that was the origin of most of the water that flowed into the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River. It was a large Greco-Roman city built  in Jesus’ time as part of a big economic boom going on in Galilee. Under the Herods, especially Herod Antipas, a number of large cities like Tiberias, Sepphoris and Caesaria Philippi were built in Galilee to handle the developing trade in agriculture and fish from the Sea of Galilee. The Herod’s wanted this area to be a supplier of food for the Roman Empire.

Some scholars think that Joseph moved his family to Galilee from Judea to get work in this new economy. Sepphoris, one of its booming cities, was only four miles from Nazareth.

“Who do people say I am?”  Jesus’ disciples answer his question in typical Jewish terms. “Some say you are Elijah, John the Baptist, or Jeremiah, or one of prophets.”

In sight of Caesaria Philippi, Jesus’ question might also be posed: “Who do these people say I am?”  The unspoken answer might be “Nobody.”

Would that be the answer we would give if we were asked what any of our great cities think of Jesus Christ today? “They think he’s nobody.”

“And you, who do you say I am?”

“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

Zacchaeus, the Tax Collector

31st Sunday C

We are going on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land this Friday, about 40 of us from here at St. Mary’s parish in Colts Neck, NJ. We are going to the land where Jesus lived and died and rose again, to the place where our church was born over 2,000 years ago.

We’re going to pass through Jericho, the place mentioned in today’s gospel, where Zachaeus climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus.  We’re going to visit Bethlehem where he was born and Nazareth where he grew up and the places where he ministered around the Lake of Galilee. We’re visiting Jerusalem where he was crucified and where you can see his tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

It’s a holy land for Christians, and it’s a holy land for Jews and Muslims as well. At present, it’s a land of contention, violence and wars over the land itself, the water, and the millions of refugees who have been displaced in the last century.

The principal parties at odds are Jews and the Palestinians, of course, but sometimes we forget that Christians are involved too. Not only are there Christian holy places there, but millions of Christians live in the Middle East who can trace their roots back to the time of Jesus. They’re in Palestine, Israel, Iraq, Syria, Egypt and other countries of that region; and many of them are leaving the region because the situation in which they find themselves.

In the last few weeks representatives of these Christians from the Middle East met in Rome at a synod to discuss their situation. It’s a matter of survival, they said. Christians may leave or may be forced out of the Middle East if the situation continues.

Leaders of our church are encouraging Christians throughout the world to support the church in the Middle East and to know what’s happening there. I would hope we will be able to do that as we are able on our visit.

We hope also that this visit will help us to know Jesus Christ and the stories about him better.

There’s been an explosion of knowledge in this part of the world in recent times as archeologists, historians and scholars explore the sites of the Holy Land and writings of the bible. We hope that this trip will help us know the bible better, and therefore know Jesus better too.

How can our visit help us know the bible better? Let me give you an example. After we arrive in Israel, we are going to Tiberias, a Jewish city on the Lake of Galilee where we’re staying for four days. There are many hotels there now, but in Jesus’ time, Tiberias was the capital of Galilee, where Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great and the ruler of Galilee, resided.

Herod was in power for almost all of Jesus’ lifetime, building his kingdom. Like his father, Herod was a great builder; archeologists are now uncovering the extent of his building, not only in Tiberias, but also in other sites in Galilee as well. He built on a grand scale. As a strong ally to the Romans he wanted to make sure when Roman visitors came they would be impressed by the places where he lived, his palaces, his public buildings, his style of life. He built lavishly.

Of course, you needed money for that kind of building; that’s where tax-collectors come in. There was no dialogue, no voting on tax collections  between Herod and the people he ruled. He told his army of tax-collectors, “Here’s how much I need so you go out and get it. Go to the fishermen along the Sea of Galilee and the farmers near Nazareth and get what I need; I don’t care how you squeeze it out of them.” And they went out and got him his money, with a little kept for themselves.

You can imagine the anger and anguish this would cause. Of course, people wouldn’t complain to Herod directly. He was a vicious ruler who had John the Baptist’s head cut off, remember. He was a brutal man from a brutal family. No, people were wary of Herod, but they could be angry with tax-collectors, whom they generally despised.

What about the tax-collectors themselves? I’m sure they saw Herod’s policies as unbalanced and wrong. They would bemoan this vain man who pushed people too much. But what could they do? After all, he was the one who had John the Baptist’s head put on a platter. You didn’t disagree with Herod.

“Jesus looked up and said,’Zacchaeus, come down quickly,for today I must stay at your house.’ And he came down quickly and received him with joy.”

Far from dismissing the tax collectors and being angry with them, Jesus saw them as they were: people caught in a bad situation. Yes, they had their faults. But Jesus reached out to poor Zacchaeus and the rest of them.

Is that the way  God looks at us? Often compromised, too weak to change things,  sometimes hopelessly going along and getting things wrong, and regretting it. Still, God calls us from the place where we watch it all to come and share his life and friendship.

Think of Zacchaeus as you pass through Jericho.

Sepphoris

Today’s gospel from Luke says that Mary and Joseph customarily took the Child up to Jerusalem for the yearly Passover feast. But was Jerusalem the only place they took him? Surely, they had friends and relatives in Cana and Capernaum, as well as in the Judean hill country, whom they visited from time to time? I don’t think they were a reclusive family hiding in the hills.

What about Sepphoris– Zippori the Israeli call it today– the capital of Galilee at the time, about five miles away from Nazareth, an easy walk for people then? According to one tradition, Mary’s family came from there. For the past decade, archeologists have been uncovering the ruins of this fascinating city.

Sepphoris was a flourishing place in Jesus’ day where, unlike Nazareth, gentiles and Jews lived together. Like other cities it was built on a hill surrounded by fertile valleys; looking east you could see the Mediteranean Sea. The city had a theater that sat 4,500 people, gleaming mansions with sparkling mosaics, streets lined with shops and public buildings. It was a center for tax-collecting and trade.

For sure, Galilee’s ruler, Herod Antipas, had his father’s taste for building. As in Jerusalem, building must have been going on there all the time. Did Joseph, a “builder” according to the gospel, work there? Did he bring his Son along with him? Did people from Nazareth bring their produce to the city to sell to the residents who smiled at the “simple” Nazarenes? Did Jesus see there how proud bureaucrats, like Pilate and Herod,”made their authority felt.” Did he watch the tough Roman legionnaires based there and recognize how futile a fight against them would be?

Sepphoris must have been one of the places, like Jerusalem, where Jesus learned about the world. The two wise teachers who mostly helped him understand what he saw were Mary and Joseph, “simple” people from Nazareth. But there must have been other family members and friends too who brought him up.

Angels didn’t.

The Feast of the Holy Family reminds us it’s not where you go to school, or where you live, or what things you have that’s important. It’s who brings you up?