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Day 216 – The Birth of John the Baptist

Today’s reading: Luke 1:57-80

Today we read about the birth of John the Baptist.  When he is born, the town comes for the ceremony of circumcision and for the child to be named.  They assume he will be named after his father, Zechariah.  However, his mother says his name will be John.  The people inquire of Zechariah, who has been mute for nine months since he doubted the announcement of the angel.  Zechariah concurs in the name and immediately his speech is restored. He praises the Lord and prophecies.

What I find particularly interesting about this passage is the verse:

Fear came on all those who lived around them, and all these things were being talked about throughout the hill country of Judea. All who heard about him took it to heart, saying, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the Lord’s hand was with him. Luke 1:65-66

So, John the Baptist was a celebrity from a young age.  All the people in the area would have known this story while he was growing up.  Everyone would have thought “someday that kid is going to do something important” about him.  The scripture goes on to say:

The child grew up and became spiritually strong, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel. Luke 1:80

So that suggests that at some point John left the larger community and went into the desert to prepare.  Many speculate that he joined the Essenes, a monk-like community that lived in the desert.  Whether he did or not the people would have likely taken this as an additional sign of preparation.  Thus, this helps explain why John the Baptist drew so many people to him when he began his preaching.  The people were expecting him to be a great prophet and thus were predisposed to seek him out and hear his message.

Tomorrow: Luke 2:1-35

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Day 215 – The Annunciation

Today’s reading: Luke 1:26-56

Today we read about the Annunciation of the birth of Jesus to his mother the Blessed Virgin Mary.  There is SO MUCH in these verses that it is hard to get it all into one post.  It also requires that I just sort of address the facts and skip the nuance.

First, notice how the section begins:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. Luke 1:26-27

We are given Mary’s pedigree.  Her husband is Joseph, of the house of David, thus he is in the kingly line of succession.  She is a virgin.  One thing that should be noted her is the meaning of Jewish betrothal.  This is not the same as our engagement.  Mary and Joseph were already legally married.  Betrothal was the period of time between the marriage and when the husband would establish a house to bring his wife to live with him.  The fact that Joseph and Mary are already married will be confirmed later when Joseph considers “divorcing Mary quietly” when he finds out about the pregnancy.

Next, comes what I like to refer to as “the most quoted line in scripture”.

And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. Luke 1:28-29

Verse 28 is the first line of the “Hail Mary” prayer.  This prayer and therefore this verse is prayed by millions of Catholics daily often multiple times.

First, when we see “Hail” in the bible, it is usually followed by a name or title.  Thus, “full of grace” is a new name or title given to Mary.  Second, the word for “full of grace” used in the original Greek is a very unusual word.  It is “kekeratomene”.  It is a perfect future tense.  It is the equivalent of saying “full of grace now and always”.  Thus, the Angel Gabriel is calling Mary by this title from the moment he greats her – before the incarnation.  Thus, being “full of grace” is a state Mary is already in, before the incarnation.  A word on the relationship of grace and sin is warranted here.  Sin drives out grace.  You and I may have grace in us but we are not necessarily “full of grace” (although we can be at times).  To be full of grace implies that sin is not present.  Hence, when the angel uses this unusual word to give Mary the title of “full of grace” he is saying she exists in this state at all times.  Hence, the Catholic teaching that Mary is without sin.

Notice, Mary is “greatly troubled” but NOT at the presence of the Angel!  She is “greatly troubled at the saying” and “tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be”.   This confirms the unusual nature of the greeting.

Mary’s response to the Angel is unusual.

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

Luk 1:34

Mary is a young woman who is betrothed to a man.  She grew up in a rural culture, undoubtedly well aware of where baby farm animals came from.  She has most likely seen other girls of the village get married and have babies nine months later.  Mary is therefore not asking a question about biology.  If Mary’s marriage was going to be a “regular” marriage her response to the Angel Gabriel would be something akin to “So after my wedding night with Joseph, I’m going to get pregnant”.  However, she doesn’t say this.  That means she was expecting something different other than a regular wedding night and her reference in her question is to her virginity.  In other translations she says, “…since I know not man”.  What then did she expect?

The only answer that makes sense is that Mary had taken a vow of perpetual virginity.  Vows are virginity were not common in ancient Israel (since having kids was considered a great blessing) but they did happen, most particularly with a subset of girls.  Some girls went to work at the Temple when they were young.  They were responsible for mending the garments, sweeping, fetching water, etc.  However, when they got older and became ready to have kids they became sacramentally “unclean” and could no longer work in the temple. Many returned to their normal lives but a few took vows of virginity.  However, in ancient Israel, a woman was legally entitled to nothing without a husband.  These girls were therefore married to men who were older and had been widowed.  These men were not looking for new wives per se but were looking for girls to run their households, teach their kids, etc.  These virgins from the temple were excellent step-mothers.  More educated than average girls they would be fastidious in running a house, teaching the kids, keeping the religious schedule and even running a business.  It is likely that this was the relationship expected between Mary and Joseph.  Thus explains Mary’s question, “how shall this be since I know not man”.  It also explains why Zechariah is punished for his question to the Angel Gabriel when Mary was not.  Zechariah doubted Gods ability, Mary just doesn’t understand how she is going to keep her vow yet end up pregnant.

One quick analogy that I have found helps to demonstrate the style of Mary’s answer to the Angel Gabriel.  If I said to you, “do you want a cigarette”?  You could answer, “No, thanks” or “I don’t smoke”.  Mary’s answer is akin to “I don’t smoke”, it applies a permanent state.  No analogy is perfect but you can see the comparison.

The Angel Gabriel answers as follows:

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy— the Son of God.  And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God.”  And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Luk 1:35-38

First, notice that the Holy Spirit comes upon her and the power of God “overshadows” her.  This is how creation is described in the book of Genesis with God’s power overshadowing the waters of the earth and giving them life.  Thus, Mary holds within her the new creation.

Second, notice that Mary is related to Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist.  Recall that Zechariah her husband was a priest.  This implies, (but doesn’t conclusively prove) that both Elizabeth and Mary are also Levites.  That would make Jesus from both the kingly and priestly lines.

Third, line 38 is probably one of the most important in the Bible.  Mary surrenders her will to God and says, “let it be done unto me according to your word”. This is referred to as the “Fiat” or “the great Yes”.  It is this yes that undoes the “No” of our first mother, Eve.  This makes Mary, the new Eve and our new mother.  Further, since all fulfillment in the New Testament must be greater than their Old Testament counterparts and since Eve was without sin (until the original sin) this implies that Mary at the time of the Fiat was without sin.  It represents a second line of evidence supporting the sinless nature of Mary.

Next, we see Mary travel to see Elizabeth.

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit…

Luke 1:39-41

Two quick things here.  First, this is the fulfillment of the prophecy from the beginning of Luke that John the Baptist, “will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” Luke 1:15.  Catholic tradition is that it is at this meeting that John the Baptist is baptized in the Holy Spirit (although technically this is not a formal teaching).  Second, this passage parallels Old Testament passages where the Ark of the Covenant is returned to King David.  The Ark travels through the hill country of Israel and when it arrives to King David he leaps and dances.  Mary travels thought the hill country to see Elizabeth and the Baptist leaps when Jesus arrives.  This implies that Mary is the new Ark of the New Covenant.

Next is the second most quoted line of scripture, the second line of the Hail Mary prayer:

… and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!   And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

Luk 1:42-43

Elizabeth’s response is further evidence of Mary as the new Ark.  When the Ark was returned to King David, he said, “Who am I that the Ark of my Lord should come to me?”  Now the Ark was the holiest thing is all the Old Covenant.  To touch the Ark meant certain death because it was so pure and holy that it should not be defiled by the touch of a sinful person.  Remember the story of poor Uzzah who died instantly when he tried to stop the Ark from falling off a cart?  Well, what if the Ark became a person?  Well, that person would have to be purer and more holy then the Old Testament Ark and (again) would have to be without sin.  She would have to remain without sin and she couldn’t be defiled by the touch of another.  Again these lines of evidence suggest Mary’s sinlessness and perpetual virginity.

Next, we read Mary’s great prayer, referred to in tradition as “The Magnificat”

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.

For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

Luk 1:46-48

Two more things warrant mention here.  First, Mary specifically refers to God as her “savior”.  Nothing, I have written thus far takes away from the fact that Jesus is Mary’s savior.  How can this be?  If she was sinless, why did she even need a savior?   The best way to answer this question is an ancient example.  This analogy is sometimes estimated to be up to 1800 years old.

Let’s say you are walking along a trail in the woods.  There is a hole ahead of you that is filled with mud deeper than your height.  It is covered with sticks and leaves.  You step on it and fall in.  You are drowning.  You can’t get a grip and will certainly die.  A hand reaches down and pulls you up.  You are saved.  The trail is life, the hole and mud are sin and the person who saves you is Jesus.  Easy to understand.

Now Mary is walking down that same trail.  She reaches the same hole.  As her foot is about to touch the sticks and leave that cover the hole a hand reaches out and saves her, preventing her from falling in.  Mary is saved by Jesus, just as much as you or I are but just at a point sooner in her creation.  This allows her to be sinless and a fitting mother for the Lord but still entirely human and saved by her Son.

Finally, notice that Mary says, “every generation will call me Blessed”.  We see from the above that Mary is our new mother.  Just as Eve is our mother in the old creation, Mary is our mother in the new creation.  We are adopted sons and daughters of God because we are brothers and sisters in our Lord Jesus Christ.  Thus again, Mary is our mother.  The commandments tell us, “honor your father and mother”.  On the cross, with his dying breaths, Jesus tells us, “behold your Mother”.  We have seen from St. Paul last week that our sufferings in life are joined to Christ’s on the cross.  Who in history suffered more than the sinless Blessed Virgin Mary who saw her holy son crucified for our sins?  No one.  Her suffering was the most valuable of all human suffering.  Mary is our mother and she contributes greatly to our salvation and therefore every generation should call her blessed.  Saying a few nice words about the young Jewish girl who was Jesus’ mother on Christmas is not enough!    She said “Yes” to the Angel Gabriel.  What if she had said No?  Her “Yes” freed us just as much as Eve’s condemned us.  She was with the Lord at the Cross and added her suffering to his for us.  Every generation will call her blessed.  The Catholic Church honors this prophecy for the last 2,000 years.

Tomorrow: Luke 1:57-80

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Day 214 – The Gospel of Luke and the Birth of John the Baptist

Today’s reading: Luke 1:1-25

Today we start the Gospel of Luke.  I love Luke because of the historical nature of this work.  He states from the outset that he has approached this as a historical investigation and has made efforts to confirm the things that he is writing.  The best historical evidence suggests a date as early as A.D. 60 for when the Gospel was written.

Luke begins by recounting the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist.  He starts with this passage:

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah,

Luk 1:5

So John the Baptist’s father is Zechariah, who is a priest.  It follows therefore that his son will also be a priest.  Zechariah is working in the temple at the time he is told that his wife will conceive and bear a son.  Some background here is helpful.  The Jewish priesthood belonged to the tribe of Levi and all male members of the tribe were priests.  They performed the duties of the temple.  However, as the nation grew there became more male members of the Levi tribe than there were jobs in the temple.  To address this there was a rotation system, each person getting two weeks a year.  Further, the jobs of service in the temple were divided into hundreds of smaller jobs.  For example, one job might be to light a candle, the next job to carry the candle to the lamp, then one person would light one lamp and the next person another and another, etc.  To determine who did this the priest drew lots.  Given that background notice what happens next:

Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty,  according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense.

Luk 1:8-10

So it was Zechariah’s week to be in the Temple and he draws the lot that gives him the very coveted job of entering behind the veil to light the incense.  This is a prestigious and holy job, thus all the other priests remain just outside the veil praying.   Another important fact here is we see that in order to select who would get this job the priests drew lots.  Luke begins his Gospel with this story and he will begin the book of The Acts of the Apostles with a similar story when the Apostles draw lots to see who will get Judas’ job.  This is an indication that the Apostles are priests and saw themselves as such.

Next, the Angel Gabriel tells Zechariah that he will have a son.  Zechariah asks a question:

And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”

Luk 1:18

Notice, that Zechariah’s question has a strain of doubt.  He questions the possibility of this because his wife and he are of advanced age.  This will become important when the Angel makes a similar announcement to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Finally, notice that Luke concludes with relating the remaining story of the other priests waiting outside the veil.

And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

Luk 1:21-23

All Zechariah had to do was go behind the veil and light incense and come back out.  That is why they are “wondering at his delay”.  Because Zechariah took so long, they knew something had happened.  Despite the dramatic encounter with the angel and his inability to speak Zechariah stays at the Temple until “his time of service was ended”, again a reference to this weekly rotation system.

Tomorrow: Luke 1:26-56

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Day 213 – The Letter to Philemon

Today’s reading: Philemon

Paul’s letter to Philemon is the shortest but one of the most important letters.  Paul is writing to Philemon about his slave Onesimus.  It seems that Onesimus had run away, crossed paths with Paul and was converted.  Now a Christian, Onesimus is obligated to his commitments and must return to Philemon.  Paul is writing to convey to Philemon that Onesimus has converted and thus stands in a new relationship with Philemon.  No longer master and slave, they are brothers.  Paul wants Onesimus to be treated accordingly.

After an initial greeting Paul makes this statement:

Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ TO COMMAND YOU to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose FATHER I became in my imprisonment.

Phm 1:8-10

There are two things of note here.  First, Paul says that he has the authority to command Philemon to do what is required.  Again, this shows hierarchy and authority.  However, notice the Paul instinctively qualifies this authority.  It is not absolute but is “to do what is required”.  It is an authority related to morality and the proper living of the Christian life.

Second, notice that Paul says that he has become the FATHER of Onesimus.  This raises the “call no man father” prohibition question.  Why would Paul say that he is Onesimus’ father if he did not expect Philemon and Onesimus to call him that?  Can you imagine the scene playing out when Philemon reads this letter?  Philemon says, “Onesimus because Paul has become your father in the gospel I am releasing you from slavery and sending you back to him but don’t call Paul father because even though Paul named himself our father we aren’t’ supposed to do that.”  It doesn’t make sense.  Again, what the “call no man father” passage really means is to give to no man the respect and adoration that is due to God the Father alone.  It applied most directly to the Roman emperors who declared themselves to be Gods.

Next, and I think the key to this whole letter, Paul writes this:

For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.  So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me.

Phm 1:15-17

Paul is saying that the distinction between slave and free is gone.  The distinction of class is gone.  All men are equal in Christ.  It is this idea that will change the world.  Men will continuously fail to live up to this standard but it will keep reappearing.  Over and over again it will tear down kings and governments.  It will end slavery as we knew it in America.  It will help end communism.  It is one of the most powerful ideas ever conceived and it is first articulated here.  Under Christianity, all men and woman are created in the image and likeness of God, are unique and therefore deserving of respect and equality.

Tomorrow: Luke 1:1-25

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Day 212 – The Special Guest and the Fruit that Increases

Today’s Reading: Phil 4

There are two great little nuggets in today’s reading.

First, there is apparently a dispute between two women and Paul encourages everyone to help them work it out.  In passing, he mentions someone important:

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.  Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Phi 4:2-3

Who is the Clement?  Well, we know that he is counted among “the rest of [Paul’s] fellow workers”.  So he is a Christian, a religious person, working to spreads the Gospel.  He also will take on another starring role, traditionally this Clement is thought to be POPE Clement, the fourth Pope.  The next time someone asks you, “Where is the pope in the bible?”, take them here.

He will go on to write the Letter of Clement.  The Letter of Clement is interesting for many reasons.  It probably is the one book that came the closest to making it into the Bible but ultimately didn’t make the cut because even though Clement knew the Apostles, he himself was not an Apostle.  Also, the Letter of Clement was written to address a dispute in Corinth.  This is significant because Clement has authority to address this dispute despite the fact that John the Apostle was still alive at the time.  Thus, it is a historical indication that the authority of the Papacy had been established from the outset and was passed on to a successor who was not a direct apostle.

Second, Paul again evokes TRADITION as a legitimate conveyer of Christian truth:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have LEARNED and RECEIVED and HEARD and SEEN IN ME —practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Phi 4:8-9

There is no doubt that the early Church looked to the Old Testament as scripture.  There is no doubt, as Paul himself said, that the letters of Paul were circulated and read in the early Churches.  There is no doubt (and we have historical evidence to confirm) that the Gospels once penned were circulated and read in the early Church.  However, there should also be no doubt that many things were taught by doing.  Things like how to baptize, how to worship, how to perform the Eucharist and others were done by repeating what they had heard, saw and were taught from the Apostles.  Paul endorses and advocates this and instructs the faithful to keep repeating them.

Tomorrow: Philemon

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Day 211 – Paul Presses On…

Today’s reading: Phil 3

Just a short one today in which we see Saint Paul tell us that no one, not even his, Salvation is guaranteed:

For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—  that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

Phi 3:8-12

Notice, Paul has dedicated his life to the Lord.  He’s walked from one end of Rome to the other.  He’s suffered beatings and shipwrecks.  Yet still, he describes his obtainment of salvation as a future possibility.  However, Paul knows he is on the right path.  In fact, he is confident enough in that, that he encourages the brethren to imitate his way of life and in doing so to make themselves an example to others:

Brethren, join in imitating me, and mark those who so live as you have an example in us.

But confidence that you are traveling the right path is infinitely different from an assurance of salvation.  That is why Paul said in the last chapter that we must, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

Tomorrow: Phil 4

 

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Day 210 – Work Out Your Salvation in Fear and Trembling

Today’s reading: Phil 2

First, I would like to point out that Chapter 2 of the letter to the Philippians is one of the most moving pieces of Scripture.  It’s worth reading again, meditating on and praying over.

There are several passages to make note of.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage.  Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men.

I recently heard a priest who got deeper into the translation of this passage.  A more literal translation of this verse is:

Because he was equal to God did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited for his personal gain rather he rendered it void taking the form of a slave.

Wow.

This passage is saying something that we tend to know but not really understand.  Jesus is God and because he is God he does not need aggrandizement.  Jesus doesn’t need to use his divinity to gain honor or respect, so he (in a sense) surrenders it, to become a man.  It should impress upon us the dramatic step God took for our salvation. Also, as we are adopted sons and daughters of the Father we should realize that this is possible for us too.  This is what it means to be holy.  To emulate Christ in all things including the surrender of ourselves, our pride, our need for recognition and become humble a servant of our fellow man.

Second, we address the famous verse, Paul writes:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Phi 2:12-13

Frist, what is clear is that salvation is something that must be worked out and is not something that finished.  Thus, the idea of “once saved, always saved” is refuted. Again, we can accept that stylistically we may refer to two aspects of salvation: justification (an initial moment of salvation in the past) and sanctification (the working out unto perfection of the human person).  Justification may happen once but sanctification must be done over time.

Also, notice that this working out salvation is tied to obedience.  Paul basically says you have always been obedient so continue to be so even when he is not there.  In fact, one translation for the word faith in Hebrew is obedience.  This implies that there is a supplication aspect to faith, the humbling of oneself.  In the old covenant, this obedience was to the law.  In the New Covenant, this is a different type of obedience, it is obedience to the demands of love.

Finally, notice what the passage says about works, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”  This short sentence says a lot.  It shows that the will, the desire to do good works, is itself a grace given to you by God and the doing of good works is God working through us.  This helps address the question of why works can be meritorious.  Even the desire to do them is a gift of grace from God.  At all points we are being held up by Him, we are being moved forward by him.  As to good works not that the verse does not go so far as to say that God causes (or forces) us to do good works.  Therefore the verse implies free will.

Finally, notice the amazing consistency we have seen in Paul’s theology on works in the last few days. He teaches that we are one body of Christ.  He says that he makes up what is lacking in Christ’s suffering with his own body.  He says that God “began a good work in us” and that “we suffer for his sake” and finally that we must “work out our own salvation”.  All this fits together to show that our suffering / good works are meritorious because as we are part of the body of Christ our suffering were gathered together by Jesus when he was on the cross.  In gathering them to himself Jesus transforms our suffering and works from finite meritless actions into infinitely holy works. I want to stress that this is literally anything and everything we do.  My writing this article out of love for others is obedience to faith is a good work that is united to Jesus on the cross.  Tonight when I cook dinner for my kids, that is a suffering (albeit a small one) that again is made meritorious because of my connection to the body of Christ. We as brothers and sisters in the body are truly God’s co-workers when we live out the Christian life which is another reason why Paul repeatedly implores all Christians to do so.

Tomorrow: Phil 3

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Day 209 – The Letter to the Philippians

Today’s reading: Phil 1

Today we begin the Letter to Philippians.  It is one of the hardest letters to date chronologically but our best reasoning points to it being a latter letter probably around A.D. 62.

There are two interesting passages in the first chapter:

6 And I am sure of this, that he WHO BEGAN A GOOD WORK IN YOU will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

This is a simple yet important point.  Sometimes we get tied up with terms like salvation v. justification v. sanctification.  Catholics tend to shortcut the distinctions and speak of it all under the umbrella term of “salvation”.  However, what is clear it that salvation (or if you want to refer to it as sanctification) is a process.  After it is begun in you it goes on throughout your lifetime and is usually completed after your death when you are in heaven.  As an aside, at this point, we should mention the Eucharist.  To use a colloquial term, the Eucharist puts this process on steroids.

The second interesting verse is the last verse of the chapter.

29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him BUT ALSO SUFFER FOR HIS SAKE, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

So we are told explicitly that suffering is part of life.  But, why would one have to suffer for the sake of Jesus?  This goes back to what we read the other day in Colossians 1:24

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what IS LACKING IN CHRIST’S AFFLICTIONS for the sake of his body, that is, the church,

Again we see Paul making this key point.  Our sufferings, which are good works, are for His sake.  They have value.  Why? Because we are the Body of Christ and literally united to him.  If the “body of Christ” was only a metaphor then these statements of Paul wouldn’t be true, we would be suffering for no reason.  So the Body must be something more than a metaphor.  Jesus suffered on the cross for the forgiveness of sins.  Being God, he knew about and felt our current sufferings while he was on the cross.  Therefore, we suffer now, “for his sake”, so that our sufferings can be united with him on the cross and used by him for the salvation of the world.

Tomorrow: Phil 2

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Day 208 – Friends and Representatives

Today’s reading: Col 4

Today’s reading seems to be just a closing list of goodbyes but if we look closely we can glean some important information.

First, notice that while Paul is introducing the people he has been working with and giving their accomplishments he is doing so for a reason.  He wants the Colossians, whom he has never met, to know that these men are faithful to the Gospel and to the Church.  Paul is personally attesting to their credibility and their prior actions not just so that the Colossians will welcome them but will accept them as those with authority to teach the Gospel.  We do not know if any of these men were in fact ordained but we can safely assume is that Paul is giving their pedigree not just to show his gratitude but to establish that they are not among the false teachers that caused Paul to write to the Colossians in the first place.

Second, I really like Paul’s statement, in which he says,

Act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person. Colossians 4:5-6

Paul is telling us to be attentive and listen to every person we encounter.  We should speak kindly to them and be interested in them as a person.  We should “scratch each person” where they itch and tailor our message to their questions/issues.  How many modern-day communication gurus have preached “active listening”?  Here is Paul giving this practical advice two-thousand years ago.  This is a key aspect to accomplishing many of the things Paul talked about in the previous chapters.  If we want to be holy we need to put others first.  If we want to be compassionate we need to listen and empathize.  If we want to be kind we need to respond with gentleness.  If we want to be meek we need to care about them and their story.  Listening, communication and kindness are how we will make friends, allies and ultimately converts of the world.

Tomorrow: Phil 1

 

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Day 207 – Live Like You Are Dying

Today’s reading: Col 3

There is a well-known country music song that exhorts us to “live like you are dying”.  The meaning, of course, is to implore us to appreciate that which we have around us. The moments big and small with family and friends that are the joys of life.  We should stop worrying and appreciate the people we have and the time we have with them.

Its sound advice but Paul takes it one step further.  He doesn’t say to live “like” you are dying.  He says,

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3:3

For Paul, this is not a call to change your mental outlook on things, rather, this is an admonition for you to understand the radical change that is your new reality.  Considering this new reality our ones of “holiness, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience.”  Paul says that

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17

This is consistent with Paul’s teaching elsewhere when he says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20) and “For we are God’s co-workers…” (1 Corinthians 3:9).  It is hard for the modern mind to appreciate the depth of what Paul is saying.  These are not metaphors.  We should not just try to act this way.  Paul says we should “put to death” that which is in us that is not Christ-like.  To Paul, the oneness with Jesus Christ is a change to our very nature.  We should not just strive to be a little nicer or a little kinder or a little more holy.  We must commit to banishing all remnant of our former corrupt selves so that the good new creation that we are can be our true new selves.

Tomorrow: Col 4

 

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