Prophesy, Visions, Dreams


May 20, 2018

Once again we find encouragement in Acts of Apostles: “ I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions. Your old men will dream dreams.”(Acts 2:17)

One Spirit, enlightening all people, across all ages. A cause for Pentecost celebration and again the source of our challenge. To speak out. To have a vision. To dream.

We live in strange times, when truth has become do-itself fantasy, violence has become a value, and the people who should speak out close their eyes, turn off their brains, and turn their backs in silence.

A fellow blogger, whom I greatly respect, Joris Heise (, said it so clearly a few days ago:

“So much distrust, anger and hatred rise like weeds from our ignorance of one another. We see someone whom we don’t know – and who might look or talk different – and, too often, because our instinct is to fear what is different, to become uncomfortable with what is strange, we turn off the love of God. On the other hand, someone who follows Jesus – and who tries to be Jesus in our present world – sees another person of whatever kind as someone loved by God, and kept in existence by our loving Creator…..the love that God has for our world is within—inside ourselves, our conscience, and our mind, waiting to emerge. Only the habit of prejudice, the failure to grow up, an environmental culture of caution and fear – these keep us from feeling and expressing the love of God for our neighbor.”

So yes… in our prophetic witness, in our visions, and in our dreams the Spirit beckons. We are indeed human beings, made in the image and likeness of God. We have dignity. We have self-worth. We are multicultural brothers and sisters…not immigrant “animals,” as a Western head of state said last week. (First step down the road to genocide? It began that way once before.)

The signs of the times should be prophetic eye-openers.

Extreme Israeli violence against Palestinian protestors on the day the U.S. Embassy was opened In Jerusalem? At least sixty dead and thousands wounded. Many children and young people. Justified because the Palestinians are terrorists?

Meanwhile, some 40 miles away there was Pastor Robert Jeffress, one of President Trump’s closest evangelical advisers. He offered a prayerful reflection at the U.S. Embassy ceremonies in Jerusalem. Pastor Jeffress has strong religious convictions. Can one reconcile them with the message of Jesus? Or with historical American values? According to the Reverend, “God sends good people to Hell. Not only do religions like Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism — not only do they lead people away from God, they lead people to an eternity of separation from God in Hell.”

In my own RCC tradition, the signs of the times are historic. On Friday, May 18, every Roman Catholic bishop from Chile offered his resignation because of sex abuse and the cover-up scandal. Indeed, the biggest shakeup in the Catholic Church’s long-running sex abuse saga. At the end of an emergency summit with Pope Francis in Rome, all thirty-one active bishops and three retired bishops signed a document offering to resign and putting their fate in the hands of the pope.

And that same Friday, as I was writing this reflection, nine students and one teacher were killed at Santa Fe High School in Galveston County, South of Houston. Since 2000, there have been 213 school shootings in the USA. The highest number in other countries (Australia, Canada, Germany, and South Africa) 5.

Challenges abound. The Spirit has not abandoned us. It appears however that a lot of believers have abandoned the Spirit.

Warm regards this Pentecost.

Thanks for traveling with me!



I am not running away from the challenge. This week end, however, I am again stepping away from my blog for a while. Going on a kind of R&R retreat with my wife. A time to relax and escape to a quiet place. Time to reflect. Lots of thoughts going through my aging head; and I enjoyed a busy year, still teaching three classes a week. I hope to log in again towards the end of June. Another Voice is not gone. Just dreaming dreams.

Christian Humanism

Sunday 13 May 2018

The Path to the Divine, at the heart of Reality, is through Christian Humanism.

Erasmus of Rotterdam (c1466 – 1536) explored it already when he wrote in his Enchiridion Militis Christiani (1503) that God is simply the life of the human soul. Much earlier, Augustine the Bishop of Hippo (354-430) could write to God in his Confessions “When I recognize myself, I recognize you!” For Augustine, God is the inner illumination of the mind, which propels the self beyond itself into the Divine. God is the light of the world reflected in the human soul.

Augustine of course was echoing the Apostle Paul: “The God who made the world and everything in it is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands….From one ancestor God made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for God and find God —though indeed God is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:24-28)

Christian humanism affirms that at the core of authentic human existence there is some revelation and experience of the authentically Divine.

Here then, for reflection and discussion, are ten affirmations about Christian Humanism:

1. Human beings possess capacities to sense, understand, and respond to events of transcendence manifest in everyday existence.

2. The sense of the transcendent, or what one could call ‘an instinct for the Divine,’ responds to real disclosures within the natural, historical, and lived experiences of Reality.

3. “God” names what is actually present in the power, depth, scope, intensity, and claim of life.

4. These disclosures of divinity within the natural and historical lives of peoples need to be read and interpreted like one reads a text. Sometimes one needs to learn the necessary language….

5. Human beings can gain real intimations of the Divine via signs of sacredness in the world around them. Some people are vision impaired……

6. A Christian humanist freely decides to sense, attend to, and reflect on those intimations of Divine presence in human lived experence.

7. Critical thinking remains a necessary moment in the interpretation of Divine disclosures.

8. Christian humanism demands that we develop a conscience that is self-critical. And to become people of conscience we adopt spiritual and religious practices that actualize our capacities to be aware of and open to the fullness of life.

9. Christian humanism aims at inculcating a vigilant faith, a resolute hope, and an abundant love as modes of openness to the Divine.

10. Christian humanism fosters attitudes and feelings of heartfelt gratitude, steadfast humility, and demanding compassion.

Disciplined attention to Christian humanism discloses that in spite of sorrow, pain, and agony, human life is nevertheless saturated with worth and that responsible human action is to draw together that goodness into a complete vision of life with others and for oneself.

That my friends is our big challenge.


A Constructive Contemporary Theological Agenda

Sunday — May 6, 2018

As I stressed last week: TODAY, we need to find a way to articulate the human experience of the Divine that reduces it neither to the extreme secularity of the “post-theistic theologians” nor to the unthinking and closed-minded certitude of the static believers. We need to find a way to understand the positive, substantive and normative meaning of transcendence as it makes a claim on human beings within contemporary historical existence: within contemporary culture.

We need to find a new theological language. As Paul Ricoeur had prophetically noted already in his “The Symbolism of Evil” (Beacon, 1967, p.349), “It is not regret for the sunken Atlantis that animates us, but hope for a re-creation of language.”

Contemporary people want the security of answers – yet much official contemporary religion seems to give them answers from a place far away from their daily lives. Indeed religious fundamentalism and static belief theology seems motivated by this longing for the sunken Atlantis!

I suggest five principles for the contemporary theological agenda:

(1) The AIM of theology cannot be a kind of nostalgic retreat to recover a lost mode of being in the world. (I often think about this when I see some conservative cardinals prancing around in their colorful late medieval costumes. And their language fits their red dresses.)

(2) Theological thinking today needs to feel and experience the “call” of the Sacred (the Faith experience) by interpreting and thereby re-creating the meaning and power of religious language.

(3) We also look for the resonance and dialogue with tradition: with the theological expressions of earlier cultures. We resonate with them not just repeat them again and again….

(4) A truly authentic theology can never be simply the expression of individual, subjective experience. We belong to a community of believers…the Body of Christ.

(5) Theology therefore relies on culture but can never become locked within a particular culture. Nor can it venerate exclusively any particular culture….. One should not expect, for example, that African believers should use Western European language and rituals nor should their Christian cousins in China. And none of us should feel comfortable with the thought categories of a Neo-Platonic creed from the fourth century. We live, think, and speak today….

All cultures perceive reality through their own particular lenses; and these lenses are shaped and adjusted by shared human events and great movements in human history.

Every healthy theology (because its focus is what lies within and yet beyond culture in all of its historical manifestations) is continually engaged in a critical reflection and a critique of the contemporary and previous cultures.

When a theology becomes so locked within a particular culture that it is hardly distinguishable from it, we are on the road to idolatry: when the words, symbols and rituals of a particular culture no longer communicate and connect people to the depth of the human experience but become objects of worship in themselves.

The road around both regressive static belief and exaggerated humanization is an authentic Christian humanism. And that is my focus for next week!


Contemporary Belief and Reality

Sunday 29 April 2018

For many people, contemporary religious belief is twisted and distorted by two contending and often exaggerated tensions: Static Belief and Short-Sighted Humanization.

Static belief advocates simply revert to and reproduce the old static theology: they unquestioningly defend the beliefs and practices of earlier ages. For them historical critical reflection is not only unnecessary but dangerously unorthodox. They consider the old theology, clothed in the language of an earlier culture, to be self-evident, authoritative, unchanging, and exclusive. In my own Roman Catholic tradition, static belief cardinals and bishops are openly denouncing Pope Francis, whom they consider dangerous and most probably heretical.

For static believers, truth is obedient conformity to time-locked sacred stories, doctrinal understandings, and moral directives. Nothing changes. They insist that no one should question their “traditional” truth and morality. Nor should there be openness to new theological, historical, or biblical discoveries. Many contemporary Catholic and Protestant fundamentalists, for example, are locked in a static literal understanding of Sacred Scripture and are avid static believers. For them, Adam and Eve and Noah’s Ark were historic events. Curiously, 60% of the today’s Americans believe the Biblical account of Noah’s ark to be literally true. (About 12% of today’s adult Americans believe that “Joan of Arc” was Noah’s wife. But that is another issue….) These literal believers are repulsed by the very thought of biblical mythology. Obviously they cannot resonate with biblical scholar John Dominic Crossman’s famous observation: “My point, once again, is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.”

Today’s static believers have a number of challenges coming from respected contemporary New Testament scholars and church historians. So much has been discovered since the middle ages, even since the nineteenth century. Four examples: (1) ORDINATION. The historic Jesus did not ordain anyone. Jesus had no understanding of ordination. Nevertheless, one of my cardinal friends still loves to tell the story, in his ordination homilies, that Jesus, at the Last Super, ordained the apostles as bishops. Well in fact ordination did not arrive until decades after Jesus’s death and resurrection; and it was not about some kind of “sacramental power” to “confect the sacrament.” It was more about quality control — an assurance to Christian communities that their designated leaders were trustworthy. (2) WOMEN APOSTLES. Among Jesus’s followers there were women disciples as well as male disciples; and yes, there were also women apostles, like Mary the Magdalene, Prisca, and Junia. (3) WOMEN AND EUCHARIST. The people who presided at Eucharist in early Christianity were the heads of households. Some heads of households were women. Yes, that means women presided at Eucharist. (4) JESUS’S SIBLINGS. About the historic Jesus, a number of biblical scholars would agree that he had brothers and sisters. His brother James was in charge of the Christian community in Jerusalem. Were they Mary’s sons and daughters as well?

And there are still more questions…….Something for future reflections……

Turning quickly to short-sighted humanization, we also see today a profusion of barrel-vision humanized responses to theological questions. “Experts” who see the human being as just a material object and substitute physical and psychological theory for genuine theological thinking. I contend they have scientific barrel-vision because they cannot see the breadth and depth of Reality. I am thinking in particular about people like the best-selling authors Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell) and Sam Harris (The End of Faith).

Many of these “post-theistic theologians” (if one can really call them “theologians”) are strongly influenced by the postmodern thinking of the French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004). They celebrate the creative capacities of autonomous human beings by deconstructing all that is considered sacred.

Radical “post-theistic theologians” fall victim to what can be called a short-sighted humanization of theological questions. It is really extreme secularism. The signs of the sacred are simply reduced to signs of linguistic, political and often repressive social theories. In the end, it is but a short step to nihilism.

TODAY, we need to find a way to articulate the human experience of the Divine that reduces it neither to the extreme secularity of the post-theistic theologians nor to the unthinking certitude of static believers.

NEXT WEEK: A Constructive Contemporary Theological Agenda


How We Understand and Speak About REALITY

Sunday — 22 April 2018

In 1886 the French sociologist Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) dismissed all gods as unimportant window dressing and insisted that religions are just rites and rituals.

In The Origin of Species (p. 470), Charles Darwin wrote that: “The feeling of religious devotion is a highly complex one….Nevertheless, we see some distant approach to this state of mind in the deep love of a dog for his master, associated with complete submission, some fear and perhaps some other feelings.”

Ever since Darwin equated human devotion to God with a dog’s devotion to its master, biologists, psychologists, and some philosophers have been postulating religious instincts and other neurological bases for religion. Their work always attracts attention, especially in the popular media. Time Magazine and Newsweek, for example periodically announce a “new” revelation about religion. In his best-selling 2006 book, English biologist Richard Dawkins tried to say it all: The God Delusion.

And so the contemporary REALITY questions:

Dose God exist?

Have we discovered God, or have we invented God?

Are there so many similarities among the great religions simply because God is the product of universal wish fulfillment?

Have human beings historically created supernatural beings, because of their need for comfort in the face of existential tragedy and to find purpose and significance in life?

Or….have people in many places and in many times, to a greater and lesser degree, actually gained glimpses of God?

Theologians try to understand and interpret our experience of REALITY. I see three approaches in contemporary “theology,” as it tries to answer the above questions: (1) Static Belief, (2) Short-Sighted Humanization, and (3) Christian Humanism.

Before moving into these three categories, we need to clarify what theology is and is not.

Faith is our experience of God: the human experience of the Divine. Theology is an interpretation of that faith experience and finds expression in words and symbols. The best definition of theology is still that of Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109): Fides quarens intellectum – “faith seeking understanding.” Theology is an interpretation. When we do theology we express ourselves in the symbols, words, and rituals that are products of our culture.

Cultural change means that theology changes as well – in small ways and occasionally in big ways.

In every age people scratch their heads trying to best express what they experience in their faith experiences of the Divine. There is always change in theology just because words change, thought categories change, and symbols and rituals that worked in one era do not always work in another time frame. This has always been my point with my blog “Another Voice,” the challenge I read long ago in Little Gidding by T. S. Eliot: “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language; and next year’s words await another voice.”

Next week: Two strong but unhealthy contemporary theological trends – Static Belief and Short-Sighted Humanization…..Bear with me please!


Human Rights / Human Dignity

Sunday — April 15, 2018

“‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” Acts of Apostles 2:17

In my first post Easter reflection, some thoughts — for people of all ages — about being prophetic in living our dreams and visions.

First a brief story.

A friend sent me a short video about a young man’s vision of Jesus. A young white fellow was deeply troubled and tearfully crying and praying in church: “Jesus help me! Lord help me please!” Suddenly a dark-skinned man in a robe appeared and said: “Hey man, what’s the problem?” The fair-skinned fellow cries out: “I need Jesus!” The dark-skinned man replies: “Yes. I am here. What’s your problem?” The young man says: “but…but you don’t look like your pictures!” Jesus replied: “Get over it kid. I am dark-skinned and speak and act like a foreigner. I grew up in a different part of the world. My Mom and Dad were very dark-skinned as well. We all looked like migrants to people like you……now what’s the problem?”

The message of Christ proclaims the dignity and worth of every human person. There can be no exceptions. The must basic human right is the right to be oneself: to be accepted, to be acknowledged as a human being who by nature has value and deserves to be respected.

In authentic Christian behavior all must be acknowledged, respected, supported, and helped: male, female, transgender. Black, white, yellow and colorful combinations. Gay, straight, and uncertain. Americans, Mexicans, Syrians, and other foreigners. The young and old. Rich and pour. Handsome and ugly. Smart and stupid. Saints and sinners.

Are you listening bishops? Are you listening rabbis and imams? Are you listening White House? Are you listening Democrats and Republicans? Are you really listening United Nations representatives from around the world?

In the revelation of Jesus Raised from the Dead, this is authentic Christian behavior. It is authentic human behavior: not just our challenge but our duty. It is our responsibility. Political party or religious tradition differences allow no exceptions.

Next week some pointed theological questions.


Easter 2018

Happy Easter!

May we move forward, supporting each other,

in the Way of Jesus who is our Truth and Life.

“Instead of reading the Bible to assure ourselves that we are right,

we would be better to read it to discover where we have not been

listening.”– Raymond E. Brown, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind, p150.


I will be away for a couple of weeks.

Courageous and Confident

Palm Sunday – March 25, 2018

Today as we enter Holy Week 2018, I conclude my Lenten reflections about Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, with some final thoughts about the Johannine Gospel and its challenge to contemporary Christians.

Scholars like Pheme Perkins, at Boston College, emphasize, that the author of John presumes that much of the narrative about Jesus and its people and places was already well known to the Johannine audience. They would have been familiar with the various titles for Jesus, with Baptism, Eucharist, and the Spirit. They were already Christians, entering the second century of Christian life and experience. The Fourth Gospel then is a call to re-examine their lives as followers of the Risen Lord. That challenge of course rings true for us as well.

Last week we looked at the “Book of Signs.” Today we move to the “Book of Glory”: John 13:1 to John 20:31.

John 13:1-4 is a turning point in this gospel. Jesus’s “hour” had come “for him to pass from this world to the Father….he had come from God and was returning to God.”

The occasion in John 13 is the Last Supper. Unlike the Synoptics, the Johannine Gospel has no mention of Eucharist, but Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. “I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.” (John 13:15) I think we forget that people’s feet back then were really dirty! Washing feet was not a pleasant task. Reading this scripture, I think we forget as well what Jesus also said: “Whoever welcomes the one I send, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” (John 13:20) The Johannine author did not mention the Eucharistic bread and wine because he wanted to emphasize that Jesus is present in the Community of Faith. Jesus promises that his Spirit (the Advocate) will be with them. (John 14:15-16, 15:26, 16:15) For centuries, in my Roman Catholic tradition, people have argued and fought about Jesus’s “Real Presence.” The Johannine Gospel is very clear: the primary real presence of Jesus is in the community. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches (John 15); and we are to love one another. The branches cannot survive without the vine; but the vine cannot survive without the branches. The profound mystery of life. No one can do it alone…. In Mark, Matthew, and Luke the stress was on Divinity talking on humanity. That is true in John as well, of course. In John, however, we see another emphasis: humanity taking on Divinity. God is truly with us: in the very heart of our being. (Some of the old images of God no longer speak to contemporary people; but God has not abandoned us. We should not abandon God. We simply need to reflect on better ways of conceptualizing and speaking about our experience of the Divine.)

The Johannine account of the crucifixion does not stress Jesus as one who suffers, as we saw for example in Mark 15.25–39. In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus is the one who is exalted, “lifted up” in his moment of glorification. In John 13 to John 16, Jesus prepares his disciples for his imminent departure followed by his “high priestly prayer” in John 17. Here we see a very strong and confident Jesus. “I have glorified you on earth and finished the work you gave me to do. Now, Father, it is time to glorify me…” (John 17:4-5)

The final Johannine chapters contain the accounts of Jesus’s trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. The Jesus who stands before Pilate is strong. On the way to Golgotha Jesus carries his own cross. He does not need the help of a Simon of Cyrene as we saw in Mark, Matthew, and Luke. Also in John, unlike the other three gospels, Jesus crucifixion occurs on the day of preparation of the Passover (John 19:14) rather than on the Passover holiday itself. Here Jesus prepares himself for the departure to the Father and seems to be in complete control of his destiny, even to the extent of commending his mother to the Beloved Disciple (John 19:26–27).

The Book of Glory concludes with the discovery of the empty tomb by the women and other disciples (John 20:1–10), Jesus’s appearance to them (John 20:11–18), and the narrative of “Doubting” Thomas (John 20.24–29). The last two verses contain what many scholars think may have been the gospel’s ending: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)

Appendix: Many scholars consider John 21 to be a later addition to the Johannine Gospel. It not only contains resurrection appearances in Galilee, but it also emphasizes the authority of the Beloved Disciple, who likely died a normal death in contrast to Peter’s martyrdom (see John 21.15–23). Quite possibly, this appendix reflects a controversy among the second or third generation of believers, who may have considered the Beloved Disciple inferior to Peter. Chapter 21 reinforces the Beloved Disciple’s role as the authorized witness of the Jesus tradition for the Johannine community.

I titled today’s reflection “Courageous and Confident.” That is how I perceive Jesus in the Johannine Gospel. With courage and confidence, Jesus spoke out against the hypocrisy of the self-centered arrogant. In conflicts with Judean religious leaders he stressed that religiosity is not faith.

Today we encounter the same kinds of hypocrisy and are confronted with un-Christian religiosity from religious and political leaders. As members of Jesus in the community of faith, may we sustain each other with courage and confidence. That is the message for this Holy Week, as we prepare for Easter 2018.

– Jack

According to John

18 March 2018 — Fifth Sunday in Lent

General Observations: The Gospel According to John (the Johannine Gospel) differs from the Synoptics (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) in style and content in several ways. John’s Gospel omits a large amount of material found in the Synoptic Gospels, like the temptation of Jesus, Jesus’ transfiguration, and the institution of the Lord’s supper. The sermon on the mount and the Lord’s prayer are not found in the Fourth Gospel. In John we do not see proverbs and parables but symbolic discourses. Jesus’ miracles are designed to provide symbolic insight into Jesus’ identity and his relationship to the Father. In the Johannine Gospel, Jesus is clearly the Wisdom of God, the source of eternal life, and still continually living within the community of faith.

According to the Johannine Gospel, Jesus’ public ministry appears to extend over a period of at least three years. During that time, he went, several times, from Galilee to Jerusalem. The synoptics, on the other hand, have Jesus making only one journey to Jerusalem — the final one — with most of his ministry taking place within one year.

The Johannine Gospel uses a “post-resurrection” point of view. The author looks back on the Jesus events and emphasizes the inability of the apostles to understand the things that were happening at the time they occurred. See for instance: John 2:17-22, where there are obvious references to the Resurrection, “He was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body, and after he rose from the dead his disciples remembered.” John 12:16-17, “At the time his disciples did not understand this but later, after Jesus had been glorified, they remembered….” And John 20:9, “Until this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” Perhaps we do not always clearly understand?

The gospel’s prologue (John 1:1-18) is most likely an elaboration of an early hymn. Interestingly, the rest of John’s Gospel does not speak of Jesus as the pre-existent, creative Word. Many biblical scholars suggest, therefore, that the prologue was added after the gospel had been completed.

Authorship and Locality: The old tradition, from the second century, was that the author was the apostle John, son of Zebedee. Most contemporary scholars are not of this opinion. Scholars such as Raymond E. Brown believe that the original author of an oral tradition, that evolved into the Johannine Gospel, was a companion of Jesus, the “Beloved Disciple,” who formed a community, most probably in Ephesus. Scholars call this “the Johannine community.” An oral tradition of eye-witness recollections of the Beloved Disciple evolved and began being written down around 90 CE. The final redaction occurred ten to twenty years later, giving us a gospel composition date of between 90 and 110 CE. We don’t know who the “Beloved Disciple” was. There is quite a variety of scholarly opinions: a truly unknown disciple, the Apostle John, James the brother of Jesus, or even Mary the Magdalene.

The Johannine community was greatly concerned with hot issues in the church–synagogue debate and defined itself primarily in contrast to Judaism. The final version of the gospel was composed after the crisis created by the expulsion of Christians from the synagogue. The Judean criticism is strong; and, over the centuries, some have incorrectly used the Johannine Gospel as an excuse for anti-Semitism. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it is unfortunate that English translators have so often used the words “Jew” and “Jews,” when “Judean” and “Judeans” would have been more correct and less problematic.

Four sections: Contemporary biblical scholars, break the Johannine Gospel into four parts: the Prologue (John 1:1-18); the Book of Signs (John 1:19 to 12:50); the Book of Glory (John 13:1 to 20:31) and the Epilogue (John 21).

The seven “signs” point to a new creation brought by Jesus and are clear indicators of his divinity: Changing water into wine at Cana (John 2:1-11) “the first of the signs;” Healing the royal official’s son in Capernaum (John 4:46-54); Healing the paralytic at Bethesda (John 5:1-15); Feeding the 5000 (John 6:5-14); Jesus walking on water (John 6:16-24); Healing the man blind from birth (John 9:1-7); and the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-45).

Signs and Personal Reflections: Once again, as I re-read the Johannine Gospel, I see texts that speak loud and clear to our contemporary life situation. (Next week, as we enter Holy Week 2018, I will have some reflections about the “Book of Glory.”)

Authoritarian Self-Defense: The inability and unwillingness of “respected” leaders to see the obvious. In their obsession with secrecy and defending their good name, “seeking the glory that comes from men” (John 12.43; 7.18) they refuse to rock the boat. Jesus says they put the honor that comes from people before the honor that comes from God. It is a question of ethics: an ethic of only self-love.

Authoritarian Followers: Why did the Judean leaders, including conscientious Pharisees, conspire to crucify Jesus? Why did so many ordinary people collude in their decision? Was the High Priest Caiaphas any different from contemporary national leaders in his simple judgment that “If we let him [Jesus as the just and prophetic person] go on speaking in this way, everybody will believe in him…. it is better to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” (John 11:48-50) Today, political leaders – and some church leaders — know well the power of demonizing specific people and certain groups, as a way of achieving a semblance of social or institutional unity: high school students demonstrating against guns, radical feminists, Mexicans, and gays.

Conversion: Throughout the Johannine Gospel Jesus persists in his call for conversion: “On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.’’ (John 7:37-38) Jesus’ call is significant. The pre-requisite for faith is thirst. Thirst for more. Thirst for justice, truth, and com-passion. Thirst for the divine.

Systemic Sin: In the Johannine Gospel, I see systemic sin as the deeper sin: the origin of other sins. All people need to interact socially, they need to base genuine community on love, mutual respect and openness to difference. Not on ideology and accepted customs (John 5:10); nor on a common enemy (John 7:32); nor the exclusion of dissenters (John 7:47-48; John 9:35). Genuine believers need to face every-one’s propensity to sin. And not deny it nor cover it up, nor simply ignore it, as has happened with the clerical sexual abuse of children and with the lying, dishonesty, and gross sexual immorality at the highest levels of our political leadership.



Healing and Reconciliation

The Fourth Sunday of Lent – March 11, 2018

While Mark focused on the mostly Gentile Christian community in Rome and Matthew was more focused on the Judeo-Christian community in Antioch, Luke stresses that Christianity is a way of life for Gentile as well as Judeo-Christian believers; and that it warrants legal recognition in the Roman Empire. Luke is about healing and reconciliation: actions greatly needed in our own contemporary society.

Luke’s author was a highly educated Gentile Christian who came from a thoroughly Greco-Roman environment. Unlike Matthew’s author he is not well-grounded in the Judaic tradition. Scholars speculate on whether his “ordered account” was written for a Christian community in Antioch or some other location in Asia Minor, like Ephesus or Smyrna. Luke and the Acts of Apostles make up a two-volume work often called simply Luke–Acts; and they are addressed to the “most excellent” Theophilus (Friend of God).

For documentation, Luke’s author drew from the Gospel of Mark, the sayings collection called the “Q” source, and a collection of material called the “L” (for Luke) source. The author is not named in either volume, but a tradition dating from the 2nd century suggested that the author was the Luke who was a companion of Paul. While this view is still occasionally put forward, many biblical scholars today question that supposition. I tend to agree with them. There are significant contradictions between Acts and the authentic Pauline letters. Textual analysis suggests that Luke-Acts was written not earlier than 80–90 CE; and most likely as late as 90–110 CE, because the text was still being revised well into the 2nd century.

Last week I stressed that Matthew saw Jesus as the fulfilment of Hebrew history. He began his infancy narrative with a genealogy of Jesus from Abraham down to Joseph and Mary. Luke, on the other hand, understands Jesus as the high point in all human history. His genealogy is presented at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry and runs backwards from Joseph to Adam. Luke is also more Mary-oriented than Joseph-oriented. In Matthew’s infancy narrative the light is on Joseph. In Luke’s account, it is Mary who shines. She is the one who hears and keeps God’s word.

What strikes you, as you re-read this gospel? Three themes caught my attention: women, building bridges, and religious hypocrisy.

WOMEN: In Luke Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law (Luke 4:38-39), a 12-year-old girl (Luke 8:41-42, 49-56); a woman with a 12-year infirmity (verses 43-48); and a woman who had been crippled 18 years (Luke 13:10-17). In Luke we see Mary, an early disciple of Jesus. She sits before Jesus and listens to him. Her sister Martha complains to Jesus that Mary should be helping her with serving. Jesus replies: “Martha, Martha…it is Mary who has chosen the better part.” (Luke 10:38-42). In the Resurrection accounts, women not men are most important: Women were among those who observed the crucifixion (Luke 23:27, 49). Women prepared spices to anoint Jesus’ body (verses 55-56). Women were the first to find Jesus’ tomb empty (Luke 24:1-3) and angels told them Jesus had been raised from the dead (verses 4-8). Women were the first to proclaim the Resurrection to Jesus’ other disciples (verses 9-11). (Reading these verses, I thought: How ironic that the former president of Ireland, Mary McAleese, was barred by the Vatican from taking part in a conference celebrating International Women’s Day, due to her views on gay rights and clerical sexual abuse.)

BUILDING BRIDGES NOT WALLS: Luke’s stress on peace-making implied a new relationship with the Roman Empire. Dialogue had to start, and destructive polarization had to end. In Luke’s infancy narrative, angelic messengers proclaim: “Good news of great joy for all people. To you is born this day . . . a Savior! . . . Peace on earth among those whom God favors!” (Luke 2:10-11,14] These words echo and go far beyond the Roman monument inscriptions that had praised Augustus Caesar as “god” and “savior.” Luke hereby stresses that Jesus had completed more fully and uniquely the work of Augustus. Later in this gospel, Luke offsets the fact that Jesus was executed by the Romans, by having the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate declare Jesus innocent three times (Luke 23:4,14,22). Only Luke, unlike Mark and Matthew, has the Roman centurion at the foot of the cross exclaim: “Surely, this man was innocent.” (Luke 23:47) Building bridges. In Luke’s narration, Herod Antipas and Pontius Pilate become unlikely friends, after being in Jesus’ presence (Luke 23:12). And finally, only in Luke’s Gospel does Jesus pray for forgiveness for his crucifiers (Luke 23:34).

RELIGIOUS HYPOCRISY: Some observers accuse Luke of antisemitism, because he regularly shows Jesus criticizing Jewish religious leaders (Pharisees, scribes, and Levites). I think these critics miss the point. Jesus was strongly critical of the arrogant religious hypocrisy of the religiously elite in his day. When invited to dine in the home of a Pharisee, for example, the religious leader accused Jesus of not washing ahead of time. Jesus replied: “Now then, you clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people!…give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you…you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God….Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.” (Luke 11:37-44) Luke speaks strongly to our own contemporary society, in which the religiously elite praise God and ignore the poor, the oppressed, the diseased, and the marginalized.

And I conclude this week’s reflection with a quote from Billy Graham: “It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.” I think Luke would agree with that….

Next week, we look at John.

— Jack