Tag Archives: Herod

Speaking the Truth

Often Mark’s Gospel offers little clues to help us interpret one passage in the light of another. For example, in today’s reading Jesus is sharply questioned by the Pharisees whether it’s lawful for a husband to divorce his wife. (Mark 8,1-12) Mark says the questioning took place as Jesus “came into the district of Judea and across the Jordan,” on his way up to Jerusalem where he will meet his death.

That was where John the Baptist was put to death for questioning the validity of Herod’s marriage to Herodias, who divorced Herod’s brother Philip so that she could marry him. Mark tells the gruesome story of that powerful man and ambitious woman a few chapters before in great detail. (Mark 6, 14-29)

Questioning Jesus in their stronghold, the Pharisees thought, might have two outcomes. Either it might incite Herodias and Herod to do to Jesus what they did to John, or if Jesus didn’t answer the delicate question about divorce, the crowds gathered around him might see him less brave than the Baptist.

Jesus’ answer is brave, and it’s not an abstract one. Marriage is not to satisfy human ambition, like Herodias’ ambition. From the beginning it was God’s will that man and woman be one flesh. The final lines of our gospel, spoken at this time and place, seem to be a strong judgment on the man and woman who engineered John’s death:

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

In Rome these days questions of marriage are being raised again, at a different time and place. We pray those engaged in the deliberations of our church will be brave and wise and merciful, and walk in the footsteps of Christ.

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.”

St. Joseph

For awhile, I’ve been studying a television preacher on one of the cable stations we get– Doctor Harold Camping, who is predicting the end of the world on May 21, 2011.  He’s found this news in the Bible, he says, and tries to prove it through fast and far-fetched calculations. He’s against churches and their services and their sacraments, like baptism. The age of the churches is over, according to him, just believe in the bible, it’s all there.

Questioners call in and he ends the session thanking them for sharing, but there’s not much sharing going on. It’s Dr. Camping’s monologue.

He’s not interested in recent biblical scholarship either. His main point is to get ready for May 21th by living a good life, otherwise you’re going to be burned to a crisp.

Today’s the feast of St. Joseph and I’m sure Dr. Camping isn’t interested in saints either. In fact, when he talks about the bible, he pays little attention at all to the people in it. The bible is just for us, waiting for the world to end.

But a world of witnesses produced this book, and Joseph was among them. He’s a guide, not only to the bible but the faith it represents. He’s a “son of David,” whom God calls from the small village of Nazareth to play an intimate part in the birth and life of Jesus.

In fact, in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth, Joseph is more prominent than Mary. He provides Jesus with a genealogy going back to Abraham. He is told by the angel not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife; he shouldn’t divorce her as Jewish law called for, and he should name the child, Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins.”

After the visit of the Magi, he’s told to take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. Then, the angel tells Joseph to return to Israel after Herod’s death. Finally, he makes his home in Nazareth in Galilee, where his family would be safer away from Herod’s heir, Archelaus, who ruled in Judea.

Clearly, according to Matthew’s gospel, Joseph has a major role in the birth and early life of Jesus Christ. Is that role over?
“Whenever the divine favor chooses someone to receive a special grace, or to accept a lofty vocation, God adorns the person chosen with all the gifts of the Spirit needed to fulfill the task at hand,” says St. Bernardine of Siena in the readings for today’s feast.

“This general rule is especially verified in the case of Saint Joseph, the foster-father of our Lord and the husband of the Queen of our world, enthroned above the angels. He was chosen by the eternal Father as the trustworthy guardian and protector of his greatest treasures, namely, his divine Son and Mary, Joseph’s wife. He carried out this vocation with complete fidelity until at last God called him, saying: ‘Good and faithful servant enter into the joy of your Lord.’”

St. Bernardine goes on to say that the church today honors Joseph as the fulfillment of the “ noble line of patriarchs and prophets” of the Old Testament. Christ honors him in heaven as he did on earth.

“Remember us, Saint Joseph, and plead for us to your foster-child. Ask your most holy bride, the Virgin Mary, to look kindly upon us, since she is the mother of him who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns eternally.”

Joseph was blessed with a wonderful interior faith. I don’t think he was too interested in calculating the end of the world.