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Commentaries on 2 Corinthians

At the end of his first letter to the Corinthians Paul expressed the desire to come back and see them soon. He was unable to return, and they took this badly.

“Judaizing” preachers, that is to say, those Jews insufficiently converted to Christ, whom Paul had to face all the time, were trying to undermine his authority. Paul sent a messenger whom the Corinthians deeply offended: some members of the community were openly rebelling against the apostle. Paul responded in a letter “written in the midst of tears” (2:4) whereby he demanded the submission of the community. One of Paul’s best assistants, Titus, brought the letter and concluded his mission successfully. Upon Titus’ return, Paul, reassured, sent this “second” letter (in fact it was the third or fourth) to the Corinthians.

What is the content of this letter? What Paul feels with regard to the Corinthians and what he suffers from their lack of understanding. It is not much and yet it is a great deal. Paul is incapable of speaking about himself without speaking of Christ. This restless man, eager for understanding and affection, is so permeated with the love of Christ, that he cannot express a suspicion or a reproach without giving most profound sermons on faith. In trying to justify himself he writes the most beautiful pages on evangelization and on what it means to be an apostle of Christ.

We shall see that this letter includes pages which were not a part of it—fragments of other letters or notes sent by Paul to the Church of Corinth: in particular, 6:14-18 was probably written before our First Letter to the Corinthians; chapter 9 (see com. of 9:1); the chapters 10–13 which should contain a good part of the “letter written in tears” (see preceding paragraph).

1.3 From the very beginning, Paul describes his own situation as an apostle of Christ—wandering, persecuted, ill—to the Co­rinthians who know how to take it easy. While they feel proud of their large community and look for brilliant preachers (as will be seen below), Paul shares in the passion of Christ. Paul suggests that they too will know the true consolation of God when it is their turn to suffer for him.

 

The word comfort will often occur in this letter. God would not be satisfied by just teaching us resignation: comfort is the experience of the presence of God, but relies in part on the signs that show him acting among us. The two go together. Jesus told us to ask so that God would answer and his responses would be a source of joy (Jn 15:24). In any case, God does not free us of trials but gives strength and perseverance to overcome them.

 

 

• 12. The Corinthians did not take it well that Paul put off the promised visit. He feels obliged to confess that he has passed the stage of an apostolate based on human projects. He is a man of the Spirit and does not make decisions in the same way as many others do. The Spirit in him matures his decisions and he knows that he is not alone. He will not be one of those who are precipitate in making decisions or who back-pedal because they are not sure of themselves.

In him all the promises of God have come to be a Yes (v. 20). God fulfilled his promises when he sent his Son among us. Christ also did only what his Father wanted. Thus, Christ is a ‘yes consenting to the Father’s plan. From there, Paul draws the consequences for Christians. In baptism we say the first yes to Christ. At every Eucharist we repeat the same yes. The “amen” that we say in prayers means yes, it is true. The opposite of all this is sin which is the same as saying ‘no’ to Christ.

In a first outpouring (v. 22). Paul actually says: he gave us the first payment of the Spirit. See commentary on Ephesians 1:14.

• 23. Here Paul refers to the letters preceding this one and which we mentioned in the introduction. We referred to a previous letter that is perhaps preserved in chapters 10–13 of this “second letter.”

I do not wish to lord it over your faith (1:24): see 10:5-6. May it be that, when I come, I do not feel sad (2:3): see 12:21.

Paul alludes here to the triumph of the victorious Roman generals: the prisoners to be massacred later were dragged behind their chariots. Paul sees himself here as “the prisoner of Christ” (Eph 4:1). Jesus had taken him by force (1 Cor 9:16), making him his apostle. We understand these words as we do for Jeremiah (20:7): this irresistible call of God is in fact the access to a higher form of freedom.

The triumph was the occasion for offering a lot of incense: the perfume was the sign of glory for the one who was being honored rather like a god, a sign of death for the prisoners who were there. This comparison allowed Paul to continue in another direction: for some it smells of death (v. 16). The Gospel divides people. Even without going deeper into the mystery they are able to appreciate the “odor,” namely the style of Christian existence. Some are especially aware of the demands of Christian life, which to them seems a death. Others, on the contrary, envy the mysterious force that animates believers in the midst of their trials, and letting them understand that life is there.

Who is worthy of such a mission? In seeing this, the apostle feels inadequate for his mission. He would like everyone to recognize Christ and the radiance of his love through him, but he is a long way from that! On the contrary, the false apostle does not even think about that, but only wishes to be approved and to make money out of the word of God by hiding its demands: such apostles are famous and are not persecuted by anyone.

• 3.1 The preachers who oppose Paul would show letters of recom­mendation given by some community or some apostle. Whereas Paul relies on personal authority which doesn’t owe anything to anyone. Christ himself made him an apostle as he said in several places.

The pagans of that time surrounded their priests with honor and esteem, and so did the Jews. Through­out the Bible the honor of teaching the Law of God is highlighted and more so the unique role of Moses, who received the Law from God on Sinai. Yet an apostle of Christ is much greater than these.

How much more glorious will the ministry of the Spirit be! (v. 8). As Paul showed in Romans 7:1-13, teaching only the Law as the Jewish priests did, was not a great help to people since, because they are sinners, they do not obey the law and deserve their punishment. Whereas Paul brings believers into live communication with Christ and his Spirit so that, from then on, they can also share in the risen life. The apostles and ministers of the Church fulfill a major role if their words and actions are helpful in uplifting people.

In verses 7-13 Paul refers to the traditions found in the Book of Exodus (Ex 34:29-35). These highlighted Moses’ glory, but Paul mentions them to prove that Christ’s apostles are superior. There is a reference to Moses returning from his encounter with God with his face radiant; but Paul remarks that it did not last. Moses had to cover his face with a veil because his face was so radiant, but Paul notes that when a veil must be used, God does not yet fully reveal himself.

Paul underlines the blindness of the Jews who do not recognize Christ as the promised Savior: they have lost the key to their history and for them the Bible remains a closed book until the day when God, through Christ, gives them its true meaning (Lk 24:27; Rev 5:1). All their history should be understood as a mystery of death and resurrection. To enter into a new Covenant they had to welcome Christ without concern for their own privileges, and become his disciples together with other nations.

We are unlike Moses (v. 13). What a daring affirmation! Moses was the founder of the Jewish people and the supreme authority of the Bible! It is a fact that the least among Christians reflects with unveiled face the glory of the Lord. The Christian is the light of Christ and in earlier times those baptized were called “the enlightened.”

The Lord is spirit. Paul says this twice in verses 17 and 18. He does not confuse Lord, Christ, with Holy Spirit but plays with the words spirit and Spirit. He recalls that the person who turns to the Lord (16) goes beyond a first stage of faith (that Paul calls the letter) where he found God through laws and practices. He enters the adult age of spiritual life where, through God’s Spirit, we know ourselves and act towards God like sons and daughters and free persons. So Paul means: To find the Lord is to receive the Spirit and accede to the “spirit” (see Rom 2:29).

• 4.1 It is worthwhile underlining some features of the portrait of an apostle as Paul sketches it:

– We do not lose heart.

– We do not proceed with trickery nor do we falsify God’s message.

– We are more than your servants.

– Let everyone discover in us the glory of God that shines in Christ’s face.

– We carry the death of Jesus so that his life may be revealed in us.

– We believe and that is why we speak.

We carry this treasure in vessels of clay (v. 7). Usually, God carries out his plans by using inadequate instruments. Graham Greene became famous for his book “The Power and the Glory” in which we see a priest achieving heroic things despite his many personal faults.

For we, the living, are given up continually to death (v. 11). The apostle’s death is necessary so that his work may live. When a good job has been done in one sector of the Church, there has to come the hour of persecution, or of obedience to leaders whose authority we cannot reject, in spite of the fact that they may be unjust or mistaken. Nothing grows without having died first.

• 16. Paul has just reaffirmed his faith; for a few instants he confides what he feels within himself, confronted as he is by a thousand dangers and obstacles.

The outer being… the inner self (v. 16). With these two terms Paul takes up again what he has already said in Rom 8:10-11. There, he opposes “flesh” to “spirit” as here the outer being to the inner self. Here he reveals this strange experience that is his: the discovery in himself of a presence of God increasingly active, and at the same time a precocious wearing away.

With that, will Paul last long enough to see the return of Christ as he hoped a few years earlier (1 Thes 4:15)? He had greatly hoped that his glorious body would cover his earthly tent (5:21; see 1 Cor 15:52)! Now he is doubtful: from day to day it be­­comes more probable that he must pass through death, of which he has a horror, share the lot of those who have had to shed their clothing of flesh and await the resurrection.

He has no doubt that at death he will meet Christ: compare 5:8 with Phil 1:23 and Rev 14:13. We do not cease to exist, as is said by some, until the day of our resurrection.

So we feel confident always (v. 6). No certitude of faith removes the horror of death; it may perhaps provide even further reasons for increasing it. Jesus experienced a strange agony before being arrested. This trial is only temporary and faith is reassuring “Who will separate us from the love of God?” (Rom 8:35-39).

• 5.11 There are many ways of understanding faith: for each one of us, one or other aspect of Christian life makes more of an impact. What Paul sees in Christ is the great messenger and artisan of reconciliation.

His first conviction is that, with the death of Christ, a new age has begun for divided humanity. If he died for all, all have died (v. 14), namely, the whole history and wisdom of people before him have been surpassed and now God works among us in other ways.

We do not regard anyone from the human point of view (v. 16). Paul confides something of his affective life. Those around him love him, even if they make difficulties for him, and in the Church each one has his friends, those on whom he may count. Paul loves them, but doubtless not all in the same way. To begin with, he accepts persons with different criteria and is not guided (as are many Corinthians) by the appearance of fine speakers (v. 12). And his affec­tiv­ity has been renewed in the measure that he has been possessed by Christ: he loves them as God loves them and as God would like them to be.

Even if we once knew Christ personally… (v. 16). (Paul says: “If we have known him in the flesh” or, as he was in his humanity.) He no longer sees Christ as a Galilean preacher, enclosed in the context of Jewish life, but rather dominating history. Without a doubt he is also alluding to certain adversaries who consider themselves superior to him because they have known Jesus or belong to his family. He says to them: “we must” (which means: you must) see him differently: do not see him as your cousin!

The one who is in Christ is a new creature (v. 17): first because the barriers that divide and separate people no longer exist for him (see Gal 3:27; Eph 2:14-16). Also because it is not human desires that guide him, but the Spirit of God who recreates him at every instant (Gal 5:13-21).

In Christ God reconciled the world with himself (v. 19). Many people like to say: Jesus is love. This is true, but let us not forget that this love is his response to the love of the Father who wishes to reconcile us; we must do away with the idea of an angry God whom Je­sus tries to appease (Rom 3:25).

Who entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation (v. 18). Christians are not satisfied with only singing the praises of God, and their supreme aspiration is not to find a likeable community. They do their part in the task of universal reconciliation that supposes a denunciation of injustice and sin, and the effort to overcome them. Today the Church says a great deal about this so that we may better understand our mission in the world and in the conflicts and tensions that tear our nations apart.

We present ourselves as ambassadors in the name of Christ (v. 20). This is not only true of the apostles and Paul. It is also meant for us when we go to visit the sick or the needy; when, overcoming suspicion, we approach our brother or sister to create an atmosphere of confidence, so that, shortly, we may arrive at fraternal fellowship with others who have the same problems but who, in spite of that, often remain locked in their selfishness.

He had no sin (v. 21). It is difficult to translate Paul’s words: “He made sin him who did not know sin,” for obviously Paul here speaks according to Hebrew culture where the same word denotes both the sin and the victim who carries the sin. Paul recalls the mystery of the cross: reconciliation is not achieved without voluntary victims who take on themselves the hatred and the sin of humankind.

• 6.3 A distinctive sign of the apostle of Christ: the contrast between the treasure entrusted to him for others, and his own existence hardly enviable and truly unenvied. Like Jesus, he is a sign of contradiction. Paul recalls what he must endure, but does not hide his pride and his conviction: we enrich many, and we possess everything.

 

The eloquent appeal beginning in verses 11-13 continues in 7:2-16. It is there we find the commentary.

• 14. This passage interrupts the flow of the discourse 6:13 continued in 7:2. What is the meaning of this sudden invitation not to have anything to do with bad people?

In the “first” letter to the Corin­thians (1 Cor 5:9) Paul recalled a previous message in which he was asking them not to mix with people of immoral behavior. It is quite possible that the present passage comes from that message. Paul himself explains how we should understand these lines when he says in 1 Cor 5:10: “I did not tell you to stay away from the sinners of this world (if it were so, you would have to leave this world), but from the believers who went back to their pagan customs.”

 

• 7.2 Welcome us in your hearts. Here again the affective side of Paul is revealed. This indefatigable missionary, never overcome or discouraged, was at the same time very sensitive. Paul here recalls the incident we have spoken of in the introduction. Thanks to Paul’s letter, which must have been harsh, the Corin­thians were converted, followed Paul and dealt with those who attacked him.

 

• 8.1 The saints (v. 3) are the Christians of Jerusalem. In the year 48 there was a famine in Judea and in Jerusalem (Acts 11:28) due to the poor harvest of the previous year, a sabbatical year (during which the Jews did not sow so that the earth could rest). To remedy this situation of shortage, eco­nomic aid for the Christians of Jerusalem was organized. Later, Paul promised to keep the Jerusalem community in mind during his missions among the pagans (Gal 2:10). Here, Paul exhorts the Churches in Corinth and in the province to take up this collection that they had agreed upon.

Paul does not use the word collection in these chapters. Instead he speaks of the liberality and the greatness of generous giving; of the blessed work of grace. It is more a gift for the one who gives than for the one who receives.

Paul takes great care that the collection, involving large amounts, should be duly taken up. It must be collected and held by people who enjoy the confidence of the community.

In chapter 8:18, Paul surely refers to Luke: probably he had not yet published his Gospel, but was already helping the Churches to preach it.

 

 

• 9.1 Here again Paul speaks of the collection as if he had not done so in the previous chapter. Some think that at the same time Paul was writing to the Corinthians to invite them to give (chap. 8), he wrote another message for the churches of Achaia, which was the province of Corinth: this message may have been placed here later, at the end of the letter, because the theme is the same (chap. 9).

10.1 The tone of violence in these chapters 10–13 does not fit with the re­con­ciliation previously expressed. They may come from the letter Paul had sent before, following the incident in which various members of the Corin­thian community re­belled against him.

In this extraordinary page, a few words immediately situate the discussion.

Some members of the community attack Paul’s authority, feeling supported by those who have not been able to set foot (v. 13). Who are these people? They have the title of apostle, that is, of founders of communities, but by chance they always arrive where others have done the work (v. 15). People compare one “apostle” with another and Paul who never wan­ted to be served, who never pretended to be a great orator, or “doctor in religion” appears as a man of weak personality. His letters are severe and strong, some say, but as he is, he has no presence and he is a poor speaker (10:10).

Do not force me to act boldly (10:2). Paul sees himself as the apostle of the community, the one who has led them to the faith and communicated the Holy Spirit to them: no one could deny that.

Paul speaks of his power and his weapons in a threatening way. Surely the “power that destroys strongholds” is the Word of God. The Word of God gave birth to the Christian communities and gives them the power to stay united and alive in the face of opposition. The Gospel is “God’s power,” and when it is boldly proclaimed, the forces that oppose it collapse.

In this case, however, it is also a question of Paul’s spiritual power. Naturally, we think of Paul’s conviction, the power of his word, the awareness of his mission, all of which made an impact on the Corin­thians. It is also in the nature of apos­tles and prophets to threaten at times, on behalf of God who intervenes in an obvious way to show they are right. Recall the case with Ananias and Sap­phira before Peter (Acts 5).

Paul’s firm intention is to destroy arguments and haughty thoughts which that the knowledge of God (10:5). One might see here nothing but a rivalry between persons, but Paul knows what bothers many of them in his leadership: he does not go along with their game of petty interests and makes them live in the truth. If they do not have the courage to continue in that way, they will be nothing more than a religious group among others: they will have lost the path of the knowledge of God.

 

Faith is obedience (Rom 1:5): we submit to a teaching from God. That always goes together with obedience in a concrete life situation. If God has intended us to be a Church, he has necessarily wanted obedience to a hierarchy and to an established order. It is such obedience that Paul exacts.

Take note: this right to be obeyed is based on the call of Christ that has made him an apostle and on what the Spirit has done through him. When we see a multitude of preachers setting out on a mission, each one for his own church, we would at times have the right to ask who has sent them. We must also remember that it is not a question of Paul reigning over this community or several of them: he has already left to evangelize further afield (15-16).

• 11.7 In chapters 11 and 12, Paul will compare himself to the “apostles” who managed to be appreciated by the Corinthians, and on which his opponents are relying. Paul wants not to treat them as equal to equal: he is conscious of who he is, he can judge them. A dangerous position, even for someone who believes he is truly inspired by God! And yet, see 1 Cor 2:14-15.

To begin with, Paul is sure of a direct call from Christ: this contact with the risen Jesus has given him a transforming presence of Christ. He knows that his criteria, his decisions, his prophetic intuition have bypassed his adversaries. It is precisely because he has reached a superior level of life in the Spirit that he feels free vis-à-vis the “religious obligations” that are given such importance, even first place, by his opponents: compare paragraph 11:4-6 with Gal 2:6-10 and 5:7-12; see also 1 Thes 3:2-11.

Their attachment to the observance of the Jewish Law does not come from a different, legitimate view of matters of faith. They hold to it, because in their own lives, they have not discovered the best of Christian experience. Jesus had already shown, as in the case of the Pharisees that strict observance of religious rites comes from a lack of true faith (Mk 7:6). Whoever has the experience of life in the Spirit, shocks, without wishing to do so, any “religious” people and such was the case of Paul in the Church.

In 11:22-30, Paul speaks of his labors and the risks he has taken, the persecutions he has known. He does not do this to be well thought of. He wants to show others, and remind himself, that he is gifted with an exceptional grace. All are called to follow Jesus and carry his cross, all are called to evangelize. Why is it that so few undertake the true work of evangelization among “those who are afar,” as Jesus and Paul did? That in itself is a grace, and those who have not received it do not perceive the calls and miss the occasions. Paul intends to remain inimitable, not through vainglory but in fidelity to the way on which Christ has placed him.

APOSTOLATE AND CONTEMPLATION

• 12.1 Here Paul briefly alludes to the ecstasies through which he has been formed anew. The word ecstasy seems to many people rather eccentric; for others it is only appropriate for contemplative living apart from the world. It is quite true that ecstasy, if genuine, is relevant to contemplative life. But what is contemplation?

By “contemplation” we often understand the time given to meditation on the things of God and the discovery of his presence in our lives. In this sense we oppose contemplation to action, or we say that both should go together. Yet the word “contemplation” also and more rightly denotes a new stage in spiritual life where the relationship between our spirit and God are profoundly changed.

In this contemplation, it is not we who discover God or who establish ourselves in silence. God is the one who imposes his presence, who, in us, gives birth to our response. Contemplation is a gift of God; it is a way of knowing God, of being guided, reformed by him that is different from what the majority of Christians experience. It is not exceptional. The transforming and sovereign action of the Spirit is there more efficacious, leading always to the same end: the individual no longer belongs to himself.

This contemplation may be given to those who have retired to convents to answer a call from God; it may be given to those who live the normal life of most people; it is given to apostles. Differing from the practice of transcendental meditation and recollection that come from the East, it eludes our efforts; it is not a matter of leading either a more active or a more retired life. What is essential is that God has taken possession of our liberty (see Jer 1:5).

If Paul has been the apostle we know, if he has had an exceptional understanding of the Christian mystery, it is because he has been a great contemplative – in the sense we have just given. The ecstasies about which he has spoken correspond to the early years following his conversion (see Acts 22:6 and 17); they are proper to an advanced stage of contemplative life, but not the last, which is total and constant union with God.

I was given a thorn in my flesh. Many hypotheses have been offered on what this thorn could be: an illness perhaps (2 Cor 1:8; Gal 4:13) of which the unforeseen relapses reduced him to powerlessness? Or a temptation of the “flesh,” a late consequence of his moral education as rigid as the commandments of the Law? What is certain is that we all aspire to a state of peace in which we feel sure of ourselves, but God for his part, whatever the richness of his gifts, refuses to grant it (1 Cor 2:5; 4:7).

• 14. Paul ends his letter in affirming his authority. Jesus had spoken of a testimony coming both from the apostles and the Holy Spirit; in the same way Paul ends his defense appealing to a discernment which will be the work of the Spirit: verify, examine, recognize. Without a doubt it should be the same in the Church and at all levels; we cannot resolve conflicts or decide on orientation by arguments or votes only. We must necessarily have, besides reflection, times of silence, of true prayer and listening to the word of God.

 

Notice the “trinitarian” formula in 13:13.

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July 1, 2007 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, Biblia, Christian Community Bible, Commentary, New Testament | 1 Comment

Commentaries on 1 Corinthians

Some persons praise the first Christians as if they had been models of all virtue. In fact, there were no more miracles then than now. Here as elsewhere, Paul addresses men and women living in a world as real as our own. Corinth had its own particular character among the Mediterranean cities. Situated on a tongue of land separating two gulfs, it had the best part of its privileged site. The two ports of the east and west had been joined by a kind of paved way on which boats were pulled by means of enormous wagons drawn by bullocks. This spared sailors having to detour to GreeceCorinth, there was a sportive celebration—rather similar to the Olympic Games of our day—every two years. This drew large crowds of people. We notice in these two letters of Paul very clear allusions to these different aspects of Corinthian history: slavery, prostitution, stadium sports. by the south: a very long voyage at the time and very dangerous. Obviously it had to be paid for; this financially benefited the town; it also needed labor which meant many slaves. The city had a sanctuary dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite, the goddess of “love” for the Greeks, around which had developed (with the help of money) a prostitution that had nothing sacred about it other than its name. The prostitutes were counted in the thousands. Quite near

In Corinth, there existed a dynamic, though not well ordered Church, composed of Jews and Greeks converted by Paul. Many of them were in danger of returning to the vices of their former lives, once the enthusiasm of their first years as Chris­tians had worn off. Those responsible in the Church apparently were not capable of dealing with many problems: internal divisions and doubts about faith. They therefore called upon Paul, who wrote the present letter, because he could not interrupt his work in Ephesus.

 

We notice the authority with which Paul, from afar, leads the Church in the name of Christ; also his manner of teaching: before answering any question, he reasserts the foundations of the faith.

 

The Corinthians, in the midst of a pagan world, were concerned about matters that are again relevant in our times:

 

     about celibacy and marriage,

 

     about living together with those who do not share the Christian faith,

 

     about conducting the assemblies, for both the celebration of the eucharist and the use of “spiritual gifts,”

 

     about the resurrection of the dead.

 

 

 

• 1.From Paul called to be an apostle.… to God’s church in Corinth… with those who everywhere call upon the name of our Lord Christ Jesus. With these three expressions Paul defends his authority. He reminds the Corinthians, so easily entrenched in their rivalries, that they are part of a greater reality, the Universal Church of God.

 

Called to be holy. You have to become holy, but you already are. Holy, in the biblical sense, is the person or thing that belongs to God. The baptized have been consecrated to God and form part of the people who belong to God, the assembly of the holy ones, which is the Church.

 

God’s call does not allow them to remain as they are. Their conscience readily adapted to the moral norms of their milieu, but now, God’s call demands a renunciation of a certain vision of existence based on ‘the natural.’ They will have to be orientated, as best they can, towards an ideal of life found in the person of Christ.

 

In Christ. A single Greek preposition used by Paul is to be translated into English as in or through or with, according to the case. “In Christ” has many meanings:

 

– We are sons and daughters of God, made after the image of the only Son of God, and God loves us in Christ.

 

– God the Father saves us through Christ.

 

– The Father calls us to share with Christ his inheritance.

 

– We have become part of the body of Christ; we live in Christ and have received his Spirit.

 

– The word “Christian,” used for the first time in Antioch (Acts 11:26) to denote the disciples of Christ, was still not widely used; often in Christ means Christian. So “marry in Christ” signified “to marry in a Christian way.”

 

See Paul’s acts of thanksgiving in verses 4-9: what certitude of riches present in a community where all is far from perfect!

 

In his advice to the Corinthians, Paul shows us how to act when reviewing the activities of our parish or our apostolic group. Instead of being discouraged by the problems we face and accusing one another when something fails, the first thing to do is to remember what we already have in common.

 

These communities, in fact, like our own had to face their problems and their weakness. Each generation of Christians must learn to follow Jesus and “build Church,” or better still “be Church.”

 

He will keep you steadfast to the end (v. 8). The hope that maintains the “tone” of faith is the return of Christ. The first Christian generation expected to witness his glorious coming: he would judge the world and take his own with him (1 Thes 4:13).

 

 

 

• 10. The first sin of the Church is the division among believers. Several apostles (see 12:28) passed through Corinth. Certain members of the community profited by this to affirm their own identity by declaring allegiance to one leader rather than another: a way of satisfying vanity and the need of self-assertion.

 

Agree among yourselves and do away with divisions (v. 10): be a united family. This admonition is understood when the Church is a community sharing the same concerns. It is a little different when the church gathers together large numbers of people of different backgrounds who are per­haps opposed to one another in daily life. In this case the Christian community must be united, not by ignoring reality and never talking of inequalities, but by recognizing individual and collective faults in daily life. The Church can never be a reunion of passive or “heavenly” people.

 

I am for Peter (v. 12). Paul says “for Cephas” like in 3:22; this was the aramaic nickname Jesus gave him. Apollos: see Acts 18:24.

 

Christ did not send me to bap­tize (v. 17). When the Church is fully absorbed in its own problems, Paul reminds them of their mission: Is our first concern to preach the Gospel, or to dispute for the posts of guides and ministers of the community?

 

 

 

• 17. Even if these Christians in Corinth are not great “intellectuals,” as good Greeks that they are, they enjoy fine discourses and want to be seen as cultured persons. At this time throughout the Roman Empire people are in search of esoteric doctrines and some people in the Church see in faith the means of acceding to a higher knowledge. So Paul will tell them that all Christian wisdom is contained in the cross.

 

That would be like getting rid of the cross of Christ (v. 17). The cross should be present in the message we preach and in the way we preach it.

 

Moreover in evangelization it will always cost us to work with poor resources in a world subject to media. We need to count on the grace of God because we are weak and without titles of prestige. It will cost us to remind our communities of the poverty of Jesus and to be criticized by those who are well off in the world.

 

See whom God has called (v. 26). The Church of Corinth is formed of ordinary people: this is their strength. Everybody has his place and his mission in the Church. Ordinary people and poor communities, often persecuted and calumniated, have a primary role in the evangelization of the world. God wants them to evangelize the rich and at times, even the hierarchy.

 

 

 

• 2.1 I myself came weak, fearful and trembling. Paul indeed must have felt weak when for the first time he was bringing the Gospel to a brilliant Greek city well used to slavery and immorality. We experience the same feelings towards the evangelization of the modern world; preparation is important but what is it to prepare ourselves? Paul invites us to accept the mystery of the cross and to find there the strength of the Spirit.

 

It was a demonstration of Spirit and power (v. 5). The po­wer of Spirit, the power of pra­yer, the power of suffering. The Spirit is poured out after Jesus has suffered and died. With him, we can expect everything. Healings and miracles are worthless (and the devil takes advantage of them) unless they affirm faith in Jesus crucified, acting through the humble, and present in the poor.

 

 

 

• 6. Paul never intended to be con­­sidered a wise or eminent speaker by his audience. Yet he speaks of wisdom to the mature in faith (v. 6). The text says in more precise terms: “to the perfect ones.” At that time, several religions were calling “perfect” any believer who had received some secret information not given to all the members of the sect. In the Church also some considered them­­selves as belonging to a higher class of believers because of gifts of the Spirit they had received, especially if they were able to speak endlessly on matters of faith.

 

Paul opposes them with his own gifts as prophet and apostle. He is capable of teaching these essential truths which need few words but which can only be presented by those who have experienced the living God. What are these secrets? Firstly, what God is for us and what God wishes to give us (vv. 7 and 12).

 

Christian faith proposes that which no human doctrine, no religion could have given us. At times, comparing ourselves with those who follow a spiritual way outside Christianity, it would seem that we are saying the same thing with different words. This is partly true regarding our attitudes and our choices in life, but we should not be afraid to confess the riches God has given us in Christ: his Spirit gives us what no one has ever penetrated.

 

Such knowledge is not intellectual, it is a gift of the Spirit that sows and develops in us the one and only truth. It is very difficult to give an explanation of a truly spiritual experience. We can only speak of wisdom to those who have attained a certain spiritual level. That is why Paul tells the Corinthians that most of them are unable to criticize him.

 

The one who remains on the psychological level (v. 14). (Paul says precisely: “the psychic man”) does not reach the truth of Christ. However the spiritual person, not necessarily the intellectual person, knows by gift of God the things of God.

 

The spiritual person judges everything and no one judges him. He who sees has no way of convincing the blind person that there are colors. He sees them, however, and knows that if the blind person does not see them, it is not because the thing is doubtful, but because the blind person has neither eyes nor criteria for that. It is the same with the spiritual person and the carnal one.

 

 

 

• 3.1 As a good architect I laid the foundation (v. 10). Paul is founder of churches and others come after him, apostles, prophets or teach­ers, to preach and encourage the people. Paul is not jealous, but it could be that some of them seek their own prestige, forgetting that the Church belongs only to God. It could also be that the believers compare one apostle with another, and do this readily inasmuch as they are ignorant of what apostolic work really is.

 

Fire will test the work of everyone (v. 13). This image suggests many things. To Paul as well as to the readers the day of God’s judgment seemed to be imminent and everyone thought that God would purify and cleanse the world by fire. So Paul concludes that whatever we did not do according to the will of God and with the means he wanted will be destroyed by fire. Remember what happened with many apostolic projects that were but a smoke screen (how many tons of documents fit for the fire!). To serve Christ without really pure intentions, will not merit hell of course, but a personal purification will be necessary. This text supports the be­lief in Purgatory, that is, a process of purification at the time of death or after death for all whose transformation by the Spirit of God was only half-concluded (see commentary on Mt 5: 21).

 

 

 

• 16. Do you not know that you are God’s temple (v. 16)? Christ is the new Temple that takes the place of the temple of the Jews (Jn 2:19 and Mk 15: 38). The Temple of God is Christ because in him abides all the divine Mystery. The Tem­ple of God is likewise the Church because in her the Holy Spirit is working. The Temple of God is also each home and each believer (see 6:19) because the Spirit lives in each one of them.

 

 

 

• 18. Everything is yours and you belong to Christ (v. 23). We have here a decisive word on Chris­tian freedom.

 

On the other hand, remember what non-believing philosophers have said: People created God out of their own misery. Whatever was lacking in order for them to feel great and happy, they attributed to a superior being, who had everything. In worshiping him, they felt identified with him and forgot their own misery. This theory is not completely false: in fact people make idols for themselves, be they singers, athletes or politicians; and they feel happy when their idols have and do everything they themselves cannot do or have. They die for causes not their own and they feel proud of people and institutions that exploit them. A Christian is wary of authority becoming idols: he exists and thinks for himself. Even in the Church he is face to face with God with no other intermediary but Christ, and he does not indulge in the cult of personalities.

 

 

 

• 4.8 The Corinthians feel rich in their faith, rich in their spiritual gifts. They have made fair progress in the road of knowledge, and as people expert in the matter, they charitably look down on Paul, the poor Jewish preacher.

 

The Apostle knows that his own culture and strong personality would have given him a bright future. He sees at the same time the narrow-mindedness of his adversaries but allows them to make fun of him. They think he is a fool, and in a way he is. However, even if taken for a fool he brought them to Christ.

 

 

 

• 5.1 Paul knows that such a sinner cannot be brought to repentance unless he experiences the bitterness of his trea­chery. So the community must ask that he suffer in health and belongings (Paul says “delivered to Satan for the ruin of the flesh:” see in Job 1:12 and 2:6 the meaning of delivered to Satan). This excommunication is not merely a hu­man gesture. What the Church binds on earth is bound in heav­en (Mt 18:18). God is committed to send trials that may be at the same time a warning to the Church and a way of repentance for the sinner.

 

You should be unleavened bread (v. 7). The believers have been spiritually raised with Christ. As the Jews used unleavened bread to celebrate the Passover, in the same way the Christians have to be, in a figurative sense un­leavened bread, that is, they must lead a sinless life before God, and so worthily celebrate their Passover, which is the Resurrection of Christ. Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to yeast that leavens the whole mass. Here Paul uses the same comparison to show how evil spreads everywhere.

 

Those who do not belong to the Church (Paul says: those of this world) (v. 10). Believers are not afraid of living among sinners, because they themselves are, first, sinners among others (1 Jn 1:8-9) and have as mission to make known the mercy of Christ who ate with sinners. Yet they are not willing to live in a Church community with those who are hardened in sin and refuse to put right a public scandal.

 

Why should I judge outsiders? (v. 12). Jesus taught us the way to follow, but we cannot demand of unbelievers that they understand and accept our moral standards regarding reconciliation, sex, abortion, as long as their conscience is unable to recognize the criteria of the Gospel. The authorities of the Church are not commissioned to condemn them, but to be witnesses to the light.

 

 

 

• 6.1 “We carry treasures from God in vessels of clay” (2 Cor 4:7). How far is our daily life from what we pretend it is: children of God reborn in the Spirit! What do the members of our own family think about this! What do our near neighbors think of us!

 

Paul points out the contradiction between the contempt of believers for the false “justice” of the world, and the fact of lawsuits among them. What should they do? Settle their differences in the way indicated by the Gospel (Mt 18:15), in so far as there is a real community. How beautiful it would be to follow the letter of the Gospel (Mt 5:40)!

 

 

 

• 12. Everything is lawful to me, but not everything is to my profit. People without conscience quoted the first part of this sentence to justify their immoral behavior.

 

Food is for the stomach.… the body is for the Lord (v. 13). Paul contrasts what is purely bio­logical in our body with what makes up our whole person. To eat and drink are requirements of the stomach (modern language: body). In sexual union the body is given (mod­­ern language: person). This is why the believer who belongs to Christ cannot give himself to a prostitute.

 

Paul finds himself with the same problem that had led him to intervene in 1 Thes 4. For the Jews, all the criteria for morality were in the commandments of the Law. It was not usually questioned to what degree these commandments were the expression of an eternal order or depended on the beliefs and the culture of past time. Whatever the Law condemned—interpreted by the religious community—was a sin. Yet the Greeks and the pagans were ignorant of this law. Paul recalls the commandments on sexual matters (5:11 and 6:10; Eph 5:3), as Jesus had done (Mk 7:21), but he is careful not to make it the only criterion of what is good and bad. For him what obliges Christians to control and even strongly curb the practice of sexuality is their life in Christ. They want to respond to a call from God rather than satisfy the demands of nature.

 

Paul’s way of responding is of particular interest for us today in the universal moral crisis. For centuries and through necessity, sexuality was seen above all as the means of procreation; and from there began the search for the natural law ordering sex, pleasure and procreation. Today, union is no longer, primarily, for procreation even if procreation is desired. The cultural evolution and feminine promotion have made of sexual union, for an ever-increasing number of couples, the occasion of an exceptionally deep human exchange.

 

At the same time, personal liberation—and the liberation of women who carry all the weight of maternity—has thrown doubt on former moral laws, seen as belonging to a certain time and culture. Almost all countries that are considered “developed” have had to take into account pre-marital sex, homosexuality, abortion on the mother’s decision, the choice of maternity without marriage. Christians get in touch with these questions with religious references their contemporaries lack. Yet if they don’t have other motivation than a natural law valid for all, limiting sexuality to procreation and only within marriage, they will probably get bogged down in endless discussions that are scarcely convincing.

 

So they must do what Paul did. Without forgetting the laws in the Old Testament, recognized by the apostles and the tradition of the Church up to our day, it must be said that the sexual conduct of a Christian obeys, first of all, a logic of faith in Jesus Christ. It is less a matter of defining what is “good” or “evil” than showing where the practice and the experience of love and sexuality should lead us. To proclaim moral principles of sexuality, without first highlighting the eminent dignity of our humanity created in the likeness of God, and then consecrated to Christ by baptism and conversion, is wanting to gather the fruits without having planted the tree.

 

 

 

• 7.1 In this chapter Paul begins to answer some of the questions put to him by the Corinthians in writing. The first are about marriage and chastity.

 

Christian life encouraged the esteem for chastity. That esteem could be inspired as well by other non-Christian motives. Many doctrines in the Greek world considered evil and unclean whatever came from the body; and so, for some Christians, perfection meant living like angels, condemning among other things, marriage.

 

Paul does not teach everything on marriage, but only clarifies the relation between chastity and marriage. Spouses belong to Christ with all their being, consecrated by baptism. Therefore they cannot become slaves to the demands of their bodies. Love rather than sex guides them.

 

But the appeal of sex is there (v. 2). Paul says precisely: Because of “porneia” let each one take… This “porneia” has many meanings: prostitution, illegitimate unions, and many other things that go along with the word “porno.” Paul is probably refer­ring to sexual attraction, a force that rebels against our moral projects (similar to the revolt of the flesh in Rom 7:21). He does not say a person should marry “in order to” avoid misconduct but “because” sex is a reality strong enough to impose its demands.

 

Many are shocked by Paul not speaking of the positive aspect of sexuality at the service of love, but we must not forget that twenty centuries are between him and us. In Paul’s time the Greeks considered the sharing of themselves to be an ideal: a spouse for children, a friend for love, and prostitutes for pleasure. Here, on the contrary, Paul presents sexual life as a commitment of the whole human person (6:13) and not the “work of the flesh”: something that is very important.

 

Christianity was to reveal the dignity of marriage and conjugal love; but only in the twelfth century in Christian countries would there be an awareness of the great beauty of a couple’s love. What is here revolutionary is the reminder of the equality of rights of husband and wife according to the teaching of Jesus (Mk 10:1-12).

 

Lest you fall into Satan’s trap (v. 5). We should recall these words when speaking about Christian birth control. Paul says that, except in special cases where a special grace is given, it is not good for husband and wife to abstain from intimate relations for a long time.

 

 

 

• 10. I command married couples (v. 10). We read after a while: To the others I say (v. 12), referring again to married persons. It is almost obvious that in v. 10 Paul addresses married couples recognized by the Church; and in v. 12, all those married before they were baptized, but whose partners do not yet belong to the Church.

 

If she separates… (v. 11). Paul stresses a teaching of Jesus (Mt 5:32 and 19:5). This fundamental law of marriage as a commitment lasting to death is a divine law: not I but the Lord (v. 10). See also Eph 5:22.

 

If the unbelieving… (v. 15). Paul makes an exception for those who at the time of their conversion and baptism were married. In this one case the new Christian, starting a new life, obtains freedom from the marriage ties if his or her partner does not want to accept his (or her) conversion. Even while praising the desire of the believer to convert his spouse, Paul’s advice is that sometimes it would be better to separate, notwithstanding the possibility of a new marriage in the new faith. It is important to remember that Paul was living in a pagan world where separation and divorce were legal and constantly practiced.

 

Your children also would be apart from God (v. 14). Paul says precisely: “your children would be unclean”, using this word with the meaning that Jesus gave it: children who do not yet share the privileges of God’s people. Would it be right to think that children of Christian parents are alien to God as long as they have not been baptized? Grace has already touched them through the tenderness, the care and the prayers of their parents. We must not use false arguments when we invite Christian parents, (and rightly so) not to delay the baptism of their children.

 

 

 

• 17. Let each one continue living as he was (v. 17). Paul responds to the thirst for improvement of social conditions that are always real. Free people and slaves lived side by side, often in the same houses; and it was not always a distinction between rich and poor. Paul simply wants to put in its right place ambitions that devour the lives of many people, causing them to forget all the rest. Paul puts interior freedom above recognized liberty and he sees possessing Christ as supreme riches.

 

Yet if you can gain your freedom, take the opportunity. There are conditions of work and of social life that prevent us from doing God’s will and being truly free. However one quickly forgets that each social situation has its element of slavery. The quality of life is not to be confused with better-paid employment, especially if judged according to the criteria of the Gospel. In a world we call inhuman, our slavery largely depends on our whims and our ready response to advertising.

 

We translate: If you can gain your freedom, take the opportunity. It could also be translated as: Even if you could gain your freedom, take advantage of the present situation, that is, instead of being concerned so much for the advantages of becoming free, live your life fully today.

 

 

 

• 25. A new question to which Paul must reply. In Corinth, a city with a bad reputation where thousands of prostitutes lived in the vicinity of the temple of Aphrodite (as was the custom with pagans) the new community was discovering the way of virginity.

 

Choosing chastity “for the kingdom of God” is not a way of gain­ing time and freedom for apostolic work: it is taking a direction that opens to the love of God with new possibilities. Paul defends this choice he himself made. If Christ, to whom we are consecra­ted by baptism, is a living person, present to us, if he is the Spouse (Mk 2:19), the choice is valid, even if for most people it looks as strange as voluntary poverty.

 

Paul’s response goes further than the question of the Corinthians when he adds: time is running out. He points to much more than a prompt return of Christ, familiar to the first Christians. The coming of Jesus has shortened time in a figurative way: we can no longer settle down in the present world as we did before when we could see no further than the present. We are entirely turned towards what is to come. A Christian lives in the present, but all that matters most for him comes in the “after.” Let us not argue with Paul as if he were reasoning on the consequences of a certain coming of Jesus Christ: he is not theologizing but speaks like someone already possessed by Christ.

 

Paul then points out that all Christian commitments are likely to cause division for those who wish to live according to the logic of their baptism, seen as a total consecration to Christ. Married life or family life can present many obstacles to spiritual freedom and apostolic desires: see the words of Jesus in Mark 10:29.

 

 

 

• 36. If anyone is not sure (v. 36). This can also be interpreted as: “if anyone feels he cannot behave correctly with his young virgin.” In this case Paul would be referring to a spiritual trial that in fact took place in the primitive church. Some Christians shared their house with a girl who could have been their girl friend, both consecrating their virginity to the Lord. Paul, in this case, would invite them not to persevere in this commitment if they did not feel capable of keeping their virginity.

 

 

 

• 8.1 We live in a pluralist society, where many do not share our faith and wonder some­times if we should take part in their feasts or activities that are not in harmony with our faith. For example, how to deal with relatives or neighbors of another religion. What a married woman may do when her husband does not share her scruples. May a person belong to a group or party when many of its members are opposed to the Church? This is the problem that Paul deals with when answering about meat sacrificed to idols. The discussion begun here continues in paragraph 10:23–11:1.

 

There were many sacrifices of animals in the pagan temples. After the sacrifices, in a room of the temple a banquet was celebrated at which the meat of the victims was served. Christians were often invited to these banquets by their pagan friends. On other occasions, meat from these sacrifices was offered to them in the homes of their pagan friends. Even in the public market, most of the meat was from animals offered to idols.

 

Paul does not want the Christians to become a group of ­fanatics keeping themselves apart from society. Although it is true that offering sacrifice to idols is a sin, not for that reason is the meat unclean. False gods do not exist and have no power. Besides Jesus said that it is not what enters into a person that makes him unclean, but what comes out of his heart (Mk 7:15).

 

Knowledge puffs up, while love builds (v. 1). Christians with an informed conscience could perfectly well eat of that meat, knowing it was not sinful. However it was their duty to respect the opinion of others and so avoid scandalizing those unable to understand their reasons.

 

In 8:2 the words in brackets were most probably added later. Here, Paul contrasts the knowledge of God we can acquire and express by means of words and ideas, and another more authentic riches that is God’s presence to the one he knows and treats in a special way.

 

In verses 8:10, 11 and 12, Paul speaks of those of weak or unformed conscience, mean­ing the believers who have not yet had sufficient religious instruction or who have been badly instructed. They think that something is sinful when in reality it is not; or they are weak and follow others when their conscience reproaches them for doing so.

 

What if others with an unformed conscience see you, a person of knowledge, sitting at the table in the temple of the idols (v. 10). This is more serious. Some in the community already follow a path that will be denounced by John in Revelation (2:23), those who later would be known as the “Nico­laites.” They wanted to be very open and not separate from the non-Christians around them, so they preferred not to manifest their convictions. Finally one could not tell what truth they were witnesses to. In 10:14-22 Paul will clearly state that a Christian may not participate in such a banquet in the temple. For the present he does not say it openly, but he shows that such an attitude should be shocking for many people.

 

 

 

• 9.1 Have we not the right to be fed? In asking the Corin­thians to forget their right to eat sacrificed meat, Paul gives himself as an example and tells them how he also renounces his right to be supported by the churches. The churches gave food and drink to the apostles who visited them and took care of the Christian women attending them (v. 5), as in the case of Jesus (Lk 8:2). However, to give proof of detachment, Paul did not accept this favor and lived by the work of his hands (Acts 18:3).

 

I am bound to do it. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel (v. 16). As happened with Jeremiah (Jer 1) Christ the Lord began ruling the life of Paul from the day he called him.

 

I made myself all things to all people (v. 23). Paul gives a guideline for apostles of all times. Apostolic movements require their members to know their environment very well and the problems of their companions. Committed Christians must share the life-style and human aspirations of their companions in everything that is not sinful. Becoming like Paul, “a Greek among the Greeks,” not in appearance but in reality, they will be able to express simply and in all truth their faith in Christ; in that way they will offer to those whose daily life they share, the possibility of one day finding their place in the Church. From then on it will be the entire life of the new convert with all that is linked to his culture and his milieu that will be renewed by faith.

 

 

 

• 24. Paul is now ready to tell the Corinthians that they may not share the cult of idols. To justify his position (for the Corinthians it was very strict), Paul presents two arguments:

 

– no racing contest is won without self-sacrifice;

 

– the Bible has many examples of how God punished those who practiced a cult of idols.

 

As athletes who impose upon themselves a rigorous discipline (v. 25). Like them, we must renounce many things that are not evil. We need discipline to be really free, whether in the use of alcohol or tobac­co, or not idly waste time in front of the tele­vision or reading magazines. While the world lures us to be spectators and consumers, we must be agents of salvation, the salt of the earth. The second paragraph recalls the example of Israel (see Ex 32 and Num 21).

 

The rock was Christ (10:4). The Jewish legends said that the rock mentioned in Ex 17:5 followed the Israelites in their journey. Paul does not affirm that legend as true. He only recalls it as an image of Christ, present in his Church.

 

 

 

• 10.15 And the bread that we break, is it not a communion with the body of Christ? (v. 16). Paul will return to speak of the Eucharist in 11:18. This communion through the body and blood of the Risen Christ, besides being a personal encounter with Christ, makes of all of us one body. We form one body. This does not only mean that we feel united, but that the Risen Christ unites us to himself and, so doing, gives the community new strength.

 

The idol is nothing. The idol in itself was just a material thing, like an image. Yet the Jews thought (and Paul also mentions it) that the cult of idols was addres­sed to the devils. In fact, when people are now being drag­ged along by crazy trends or rhy­thms, or attitudes, and sacrifice to their idols what their families need for survival, and make themselves dependent on “mortals,” we know that in reality they are serving the devil.

 

 

 

• 23. Everything is lawful for me, but not everything is to my profit (v. 23). Paul draws the same practical deductions as in 8:1-13. Except in the cases mentioned, where the believer refuses to share directly in something evil, the supreme rule of conduct will be to seek what is good and respect the conscience of others.

 

 

 

• 11.1 Is it important for a woman to wear a veil while praying in Church? Mediterranean traditions required it and perhaps the new custom originated in “mystery religions.” In an earlier pa­ragraph (9:20) Paul said he was “all for all.” Here we notice that he didn’t always have a fair regard for customs contrary to Jewish tradition.

 

Paul speaks here according to his Jewish culture, chiefly male-centered, and repeats the same arguments of Jewish teachers (vv. 5-10). Then suddenly he realizes that he is denying the equality proclaimed by Jesus and tries to turn back (vv.  11-12). By the way Paul ends the discussion, we see that he himself was aware of the weakness of his arguments.

 

Let us not lessen these flashes of light thrown at us by Paul: the angels participate in Christian worship (Mt 18:10 and Rev 5:8; 8:3), even our exterior bearing is in a way an active sharing in the liturgy of the Eucharist.

 

This paragraph helps us to understand that many things in the Church and in Christian life are no more than customs or human traditions, although they maintain among us respectable values. Those in authority, like Paul, cannot impose them on the community.

 

 

 

• 17. Without making any transition Paul passes to the most important act of the Christian assembly, the Eucharist. These lines are the oldest testimony relating to the Supper of the Lord and were written in the year 55 A.D., some years ahead of the Gospels.

 

The community gathered in a friendly house. After the supper, solemnized by the singing of the psalms, the leader of the community said a prayer of thanksgiving, remembering the last supper of Jesus, and repeated his words to consecrate the body and blood of Christ. Then everyone received communion from the same bread and the same cup.

 

In 10:16 Paul recalled two aspects of the Lord’s Supper:

 

– it is the communion of the body and blood of the Lord;

 

– it affirms a union of love among all: we form one body.

 

Here Paul denounces the Corinthians for their sin with regard to these two points.

 

Each one eats at once his own food to avoid sharing with those who are poorer, or to evade the company of certain persons. We can imagine that the groups spontaneously formed and occupied various rooms in the same house: actually each one joined the group from his own milieu. Perhaps the buffet is more promising where the rich are, while the poor are in the yard.

 

Another is getting drunk and therefore not disposed to receive the body of Christ.

 

In not recognizing the Body (v. 29). This term points out at the same time:

 

– the one who does not distinguish consecrated bread from ordinary bread and does not receive it with due respect, as the body of Christ;

 

– the one who ignores his brothers and sisters in the celebration of the Eucharist. He does not recognize the body of Christ as formed by all the assembled Christians.

 

The Eucharist is the center and heart of the life of the Church, which is, before all else, a communion with God and with others. The Church is not only an instrument for spreading the Good News, but the place here on earth where people can already experience the union between themselves and Christ.

 

You are proclaiming the death of the Lord until he comes (v. 26). All the Eucharists celebrated around the world each day and every minute of the day, remind us that the death of Christ fills up the time until his coming.

 

History cannot cease, nor civilization be stagnant as happened in past centuries. Not only does technical progress force us to advance, but also the requirements of justice springing from the death of the innocent (and here God is the innocent) destroy the established order. Jesus’ death does not allow the world to rest or have peace. The Church reminds us of the death of Christ, not to preserve the past, but to draw from this unique event new energy for both reconciling and condemning.

 

This is the reason why so many among you are sick (v. 30). The Lord uses many signs to admonish us. Sometimes through personal illness; more often, through the weakness and spiritual anemia of the Church. Fulfilling the requirements for a worthy celebration of the Eucharist would be sufficient to renew the Church.

 

 

 

• 12.1 Let us notice the order followed by Paul: the Spirit comes after the Word, the Son. The spiritual gifts distributed in our days are the fruit of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

 

In the Church of Corinth the Holy Spirit reveals his presence by giving many believers spiritual gifts. All marvel when some of them, touched by the Spirit, begin praising God with words understood by no one. They feel still more the presence of God when a prophet reveals to some of them what is on their conscience or gives to some­one a special message from God.

 

Paul intervenes in two ways. First to establish order. Pagans went wild in the frenzied celebration of their feasts, while the Spirit makes everyone more responsible. When a frenzied individual cried out something senseless or scandalous, it was proof that he was not inspired.

 

Paul reminds us that the gifts of the Spirit (sometimes called charisms) have several aspects. They are gifts, especially evident in miracles. But they are also mi­nis­tries (v. 5), that is services, as is evident in the leading of a community. These should also be called works, because in them a person must not praise himself, but all must be seen as the work of God.

 

If Paul said that these services come from Christ, people might think that most important in the Church is the authority of those who govern in the name of Christ and at times are considered his “vicars.” Yet these gifts and ministries are also related to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit blows where he pleases and multiplies, among believers of simple heart, gifts and initiatives that renew the church. The mission of the ministers (bishops, priests or lay ministers) is not only to govern and ­command the Church, but also to recognize the true work of the Spirit in the community.

 

Who gives to each one as he so desires (v. 11). The Spirit gives the Church what it needs at the right place and the right time. These paragraphs reveal the concerns of the Church of that time, very different from ours today. Now the Spirit reminds the Church of its mission in the world. Many believers possess gifts that, without being apparent in miracles, inspire their exemplary and fruitful lives. Whereas, in those early times, the newly converted Christians discovered that God was among them. Through gifts of prophecy, wisdom, teaching, the Church unfolded day by day the innumerable consequences of the death and resurrection of Christ.

 

Words of wisdom that indicate an attitude to adopt. Words of knowledge that reveal something that is hidden, or what God is about to do. Faith (not in the meaning we usually give it, but as in Mk 11:22) that means certitude that God wishes to do something and urges us to ask for a miracle. Thus, it was that the Church discovered God’s presence within herself as well as the power issuing from the death and resurrection of Christ.

 

The same Spirit… the same Lord… the same God. God is the fountain of the various gifts granted to the Church and God is also the model of how diversity may be coupled with unity.

 

 

 

• 12. A detailed comparison with the body helps us to understand what the Church is, showing at the same time how we must complement and respect each other.

 

We cannot have a true community unless each of us shares in its life, placing our talents at the service of others. Even the least gifted may have riches that will be revealed at the right time. Even the misfortunes of someone may become the riches of the group that welcomes him/her. As soon as one is really committed to a Christian life, the spirit awakens in him new and sometimes unsuspected capabilities. If we pay attention to the riches of our brothers and sisters and awaken in them the consciousness of their dignity and responsibility, we shall see a new resurgence in the Church, fruit of the Spirit. It would take too long to recall the harm done to the Church in some places because of the passivity of Christians in a clericalized church.

 

At the end of the paragraph Paul lists the various gifts according to their importance. First, not what appears more miraculous, but what is most constructive for the Church. That is why apostles occupy the first place. These are not only the twelve chosen by Jesus, but also those who, like them and accepted by them, are founding new communities and governing those already existing. Then, in second place, come the prophets, who not only announce words of God, but also strengthen the community with the gifts of faith and wisdom that inspire their preaching.

 

In the last place are those who receive the gift of speaking in tongues, although in Corinth it was as if they had already reached Heaven.

 

 

 

• 13.1 I will show you a much better way (12:31). As the Corinthians marveled at the spectacular and wonderful things worked by the Spirit, Paul tells them that the only important thing is the ability to love.

 

Love or charity? At the beginning both words meant the same thing. Later on, the word “charity” came to mean the help given in the form of alms, although the giving of alms alone is not real love. On the other hand, for many people, true love is only that of a man and a woman. So it is irrelevant whether we say charity or love, but we have rather to clarify what love really is. Paul does just that in the present text.

 

If I could speak… if I had… To love is more important than performing miracles, more important than doing great things for others and dying for a cause, all of which can be done without love.

 

When I was a child. Already Paul outlines what he will explain in chapter 15 when he speaks of our life after the resurrection. Just as the caterpillar must completely change itself to become a butterfly (not merely by sprouting wings), and just as a child’s game has no sense for an adult, so will it be for our present life: work, study, love, our understanding of God and the world, the life of the Church—all will be no more than a forgotten past. Paul experienced a love of God that invaded him and divinized his least desires, and he knew it was already God’s possession of him, which would be eternal: love would never end.

 

Faith, hope, love (v. 13). Paul quite often joins these three “virtues,” that is the three movements in the Christian soul. In no other place does he state this more clearly than here. There is no authentic love without faith and hope.

 

The greatest of those is love. Sometimes this sentence is used to misrepresent what is essential to Chris­tian life. For many say, “I do good to my neighbor, what else does God ask of me?” It would not be difficult to prove that such love is very limited, selfish and impure. It is a “love” in which divine love lives in very cramped conditions and so is unable to transform our life. We would need, first of all, great hope in a Christian sense that is a passion for eternal things and then the yielding of ourselves to the Spirit who would complete his work of love in us. Love rea­ches its perfection when we are in God: I will know him as he knows me. As long as we do not see God, love is immature; this is the time when love must grow through faith and the knowledge of God’s word; also through hope and perseverance as we follow Jesus poor, free and in the midst of trials.

 

 

 

• 14.1 It seems that the assemblies in Corinth were very disorderly. People did not wait for their turn to speak, but spoke at the same time, especially the women. Paul invites them to be silent. Those with spectacular gifts felt more important and did not respect the most elementary order. Some who pretended to be inspired spoke and acted very strangely and at times shamefully.

 

Paul establishes an order of priority, giving preference to those gifts that most help strengthen the Church. He compares the Church to a building. We build it when we help others to grow, to be better and more united. What makes a person better is charity, and not the performance of extra­ordinary gifts and charisms, as miracles, languages and such. This is why extraordinary performances do not mean holiness; God can use anybody, even sinners, to perform for others’ benefit. The truth of a religion does not rely on the fact that its preach­­ers can heal the sick or do similar things, thereby filling stadiums and impressing large audiences. It depends on its fidelity to the teaching of the Apos­tles, as found in the Church.

 

The spirits speaking through prophets are submitted to prophets (v. 32). What comes from the Spirit always blends with what comes from a person. Those who think they are inspired must be careful not to lessen what comes from the Spirit with their own beliefs and desires. No inspiration allows us to disregard our community or rightful authority.

 

The verses 34-35 have from the beginning scandalized peo­ple because of their harshness towards women and in certain texts they have been removed. If they are Paul’s they must be understood in the light of 11:1-16. The apostle was infallible regarding faith but no decision touching the organization of the Church whe­ther it comes from Paul or someone else is beyond cri­ticism or irrevocable, even in the case when it could be at a given moment “an order of the Lord.”

 

 

 

• 15.1 Have we here the response to a last question of the Corinthians? Many Greeks thought that at death the immortal soul leaves the body and remains alone. Was it admitted to the paradise of souls? Did it come to the great reservoir of souls already gone or who were to return, forgetting all the past lived on earth? Others held (as do a good number of Christians today), that all ends with death: see 1 Thes 5:13. Paul will therefore remind the Corinthians that faith in the resurrection is at the heart of the Christian message.

 

I remind you of the gospel. Here certainly we may speak of Good News, for death as something unknown is and always has been the great burden of human life (Sir 40:1).

 

How can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? (v. 12). Paul begins with the resurrection of Jesus as a fact: and from that he then draws consequences: our own resurrection.

 

We hear it said at times, even among believers that the resurrection of Jesus is not an historical fact. This is true in the sense that resurrection escapes the historical dimension. We know and we believe it because there are witnesses, and in no other way does history proceed. Nevertheless there is a vast difference: history deals with testimonies on which we have some ideas: a war, a meeting between two people, an invention. On the contrary, for the resurrection of Jesus, the witnesses can only speak of apparitions of Jesus or meetings with him. This experience led them to believe something much greater: Jesus had begun a life about which we have no idea, even sharing the power of God! We, then, in this very special case, shall believe not only what they saw but also what they believe, and that is in no way comparable with historical processes. But all the same, Jesus’ resurrection and coming in glory is a fact (see com. on Mk 16).

 

I have passed on to you (v. 3). Paul will not recall a tale, or a “myth,” these stories full of wisdom that abounded with the Greeks. They bared an order in the world, a meaning of life, but were only stories. Today certain people speak of the resurrection in the same way. They say: “It matters little what took place, the gospels are not directly interested in what happened to Jesus, for them it was important that strange events would give courage to the disciples and the hope of another life.” Paul says precisely the contrary: the resurrection of Jesus is a fact.

 

 

 

• 20. Whoever shares the faith of the apostles has accepted resurrection as a fact. Paul immediately goes to the consequences for us: shall we also enter another life?

 

All die for being Adam’s (v. 22). See the commentary in Rom 5:12 concerning Adam and Christ. The myths of various re­ligions in the past projected onto some mys­terious personage our own condition, but were unable to do more than give a mean­ing to life. They could not change it. Faith instead tells us that the Son-of-God-made-human has lived among us and lived for all of us. Let us leave aside our individualistic vision in which each one sees no more than his own destiny: for God the entire venture of creation and salvation is that of Adam, one and multiple at the same time. Jesus who is himself Man has lived it fully for us all.

 

Then the end will come, when Christ delivers the kingdom to God the Father (v. 24). Here again, let us leave aside simplistic images. Let us remember that there is only one God. Here, the Son is the Word of God made flesh who has taken on his shoulders the whole history of humankind. He who is eternally returning to the Father from whom he is born brings to the eternity of God all creation. There will not be a re-beginning of history. God will be all in all, we will receive God from God and we will have all, finally becoming ourselves. That, surely, surpasses all we could have imagined, but Paul adds: The last enemy to be destroyed will be death (v. 26). John will say the same in Revelation (21:4).

 

Why do they want to be baptized for the dead? (v. 29). Perhaps some of them were concerned for the fate of their parents who died without knowing the Gospel, and were baptized in their name. Paul does not give his opinion about this practice. He only takes the opportunity to argue in favor of the resurrection.

 

 

 

• 35. How will the dead be raised? With what kind of body will they come? (v. 35). Here indeed is the question we often ask: we would like to imagine, to know what we shall then be. But how can a human being imagine, know, this new world which is even now being prepared: is it not like a child still enclosed in the universe of its mother’s womb, and trying to imagine the world into which it will be projected?

 

All that Paul can do is to throw light on the mystery by using comparisons.

 

What you sow is not the body of the future plant (v. 37). Jesus spoke of the grain that is sown (Jn 12:24). With this example he destroyed those primitive ideas that some people still have nowadays: that angels will come to gather the dust of the dead, that corpses will come out of their tombs… In reality, our present body is the grain and the risen body, the spike or ear, will not be the recomposition of the actual body that is put in the earth.

 

Not all flesh is the same (v. 39). Paul explains that one and the same word can express many different things that have some likeness. For example, the word “light” is used to designate the very different ways in which the sun, the moon and stars, each shines with its own special color. During Paul’s time the word “body” was used for many things, even to designate the sun and the stars, called “heavenly bodies.” So, when it is said that the dead are raised with their own body, this does not mean with the same shape (with arms and legs and hair…) or the same life, although it will be the same person.

 

Just as the ear of wheat comes from a grain of wheat, it will be the same person as before, marked by all that has made him grow (the risen Christ rightly wished to show the marks of his passion on his glorious body). Since no one becomes himself alone, but in union and in relation with others, we shall know in all the fullness of their transfigured persons, those who have helped us most to develop our riches.

 

For there shall be a spiritual body as there is at present a living body (v. 44). Resurrection comes from what is within, it is like a transfiguration. Each one will have the body he/she deserves; a body that best expresses what he/she has become and what he/she is in God. Could we hope for anything more beautiful than that hope which is beautiful even in its logic? But is it certain? Paul is affirmative with all the boldness of faith. No reasoning can prove faith: only the experience of the working of the Spirit which even now is transfiguring us and will give us day by day, more than an intuition, a certitude of where we are going.

 

Earthly… heavenly… (vv. 45-49). We all have a double heritage: by nature we are in solidarity with the human race in the person of Adam—man, animal and earthly—but we also belong to this human community which mysteriously forms itself around Christ who is Spirit, source of life and who comes from heaven. Baptism has not made us pass from one to another. Moreover, faithful as we may be, our A­dam will continue to grow and increase in weight, with his weak­ness and temptations, but at the same time our inner being will be strengthened, this embryo of a celestial person, waiting for its true birth.

 

Flesh and blood cannot share the kingdom of God; nothing of us that is to decay can reach imperishable life (v. 50). It is the opposition between what can only rot and decompose, and the definitive, un­­­altered which is proper to the world where God is (Rom 8:21). Life has its logic: persons who have chosen to enjoy the present life hardly believe in that other world.

 

Not all of us will die (v. 51). Paul thinks that Christ is to return soon. On this supposition, he says that those who are alive when Christ returns will not have to “travel” with him to Heaven (that would be a materialist image), but will be transformed. Resurrection is not simply to live again as happened to Lazarus.

 

 

 

• 16.1 With respect to the collection, see Romans 15:25 and 2 Co­rin­thians chaps. 8 & 9.

 

Sunday, the first day of the Jewish week. See Acts 20: 7. During the time of Paul, Christians began to observe Sunday, the day of Christ’s resurrection, rather than the Saturday (or Sabbath) of Moses and the Jews.

 

Through the list of greetings to be pass­ed on, we can form some idea of these first believers from whom we have received the faith. We can see that in spite of their weakness the Christians of Corinth form a real Church, since it is a community where many are active and together trying to solve the problems of their life “in Jesus Christ.”

June 25, 2007 Posted by | 1 Corinthians, Biblia, Christian Community Bible, Commentary, Letters, New Testament, Paul | Leave a comment

The Risen Christ

The Risen Christ:

 

Has Jesus of Nazareth Been Distorted?

 

Jesus’ figure, as it emerges from the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, is the figure of a rabbi, a teacher of the Law in the purest tradition of the people of Israel (Jn 3:2). Although, later on, the first Christian Community gave more importance to the conflicts with the Pharisees than actually occurred, they did not forget that Jesus’ teaching was very close to the teaching of the Pharisees on many points (Mk 2:16; 12:28; 12:32). Both disciples and opponents saw him as a self-taught master of the law (Jn 7:15). How then did we go from there to the figure of Christ as it appears particularly in Paul’s letters: the Lord of history, the new Adam, the one who received the ineffable “Name”?

 

The apostles believed in the resurrection of Jesus and so did the entire Christian com­­munity who were born of this conviction. There was no doubt that he was the Messiah; people also believed that he was God’s Son in a very special sense, different from what the Jews un­derstood by this term. A long time was needed to draw all the inferences from this. This passage was undoubtedly more difficult for those who had known Jesus personally and who had seen him through the eyes of their Jewish culture, not because Jesus was not utterly Jewish, including his way of teaching, but because what they loved in him was preventing them from seeing beyond.

 

They certainly recognized themselves in James’ letter, the most “Jewish” of the apostolic writings. While acknowledging Jesus as “our Lord,” the author of the letter sees Jesus first as the teacher of a new law which included the best of the Old Testament (2:1 and 8). With the help of the impact of the Nazareth group, the “brothers of Jesus,” the Christian communities of Palestine would grow fond of this image they had of the Galilean rabbi. He had risen, of course, but he had not set the world clock back to zero, and his heritage was first of all an example of doing good, not just teaching the Law.

 

Within just a few generations, these “Judeo-Christians” would find themselves like strangers to the faith of the Church whose center had moved from Jerusalem to Antioch, then to Rome. It is there that Paul played a decisive role that he himself did not choose. He did not invent Christ the Lord and Redeemer: he was already present in Peter’s first proclamations (Acts 2:32-36; 3:15). Paul, however, had not been influenced (and at the same time limited) by the image and the words of the Galilean rabbi. On the contrary, his conversion had been an encounter with God himself in the person of Jesus, and he saw the Master’s itinerant preaching as the first stage of a wider destiny (2 Cor 5:16).

 

If Jesus had not risen, he would have remained a teacher; until then, his words were perhaps more important than he himself was. But his body disappeared from the tomb; this first-ever happening, if true, did not fit into the laws of the universe. So the visions of the resurrected one conveyed but one message: Jesus, the Lord! This went far beyond Jeremiah exultant in glory or Elijah taken up to heaven. On the day of Pentecost Peter said that God had raised his holy servant (Act 3:15) and he added: “God has made him Lord.” Before long Jesus will be recognized as “the son of the woman taken up to heaven to seize the book of history” (Rev 12:5; 5:7). Paul and John have authority to speak about him because they are true witnesses; both of them were privileged to get a glimpse of the above (Rev 4:1; 2 Cor 12:2).

 

From that moment, it was knowing who Jesus was that gave the understanding of his words, because he was God born of God. From that point on, his whole human adventure was a new beginning.

 

Therefore, when Paul speaks of Christ as the “image of God” (Col 1:15), he is not primarily inviting us to find the goodness of the Father in Jesus’ gestures: instead he is thinking more directly about the Son who, from the beginning, is the manifestation, the projection and the active wisdom of the forever invisible God. Christ is the one who passed through our history and our time so that, through him, all of creation including humankind would be seen as part of the divine mystery (Col 1:20).

 

In the gospels, Jesus chose to be the proclaimer of the Reign of God. With Paul, however, there is not just Kingdom, but our life in the risen Christ (Col 3:1). There we see the gap between Christian faith and the position of the non-Christian Jews who were the most sympathetic toward Jesus and acknowledged him as one of their own. Paul was not the one who built a wall of misunderstanding; the scandal was found in Jesus’ resurrection as well as in his death on the cross.

 

These are not less scandalous for today’s Christians. Although we have faith, at times we are besieged by doubt: is all of that certain? Many books written by unbelievers, or even by educated Christians, will reinforce our doubts: “The resurrection? There is no other basis than an empty tomb—and do we even know that? Yet, all these reasons do not overcome a deep-seated conviction in the hearts of believers. Then, people interpreted; they believed; they saw…. To say that he had risen was a way of exalting him and of reasserting the hope of the community…” A sense of God tells them that truth is found in the mystery rather than in the interpretations that seek to do away with it (1 Jn 2:27).

 

We have just said “a sense of God,” because it is not a matter of human feeling: we believe, which means first of all that we receive the testimony of the apostles and of the Church, and we believe the way they did. If we welcome faith, God will not leave us alone with our doubts, there is also an added promise: the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:18). There can be no lasting faith without a spiritual experience (Heb 12:18-24), and this is even truer for those living in a culture impervious to faith, as we are.

June 25, 2007 Posted by | Biblia, Christian Community Bible, Commentary, New Testament | 1 Comment

Commentaries on Romans

Jesus presented himself as the Savior. First of all he wanted to save the Jewish people. He spoke to them of the kingdom and they understood: God would reign over them just as he would reign in their lives. Their collective aspirations were not unknown to him, but he oriented them towards a more universal mission: it was truly “good news” for them.

With the beginning of the mission into Roman territory the Gospel had equally to be good news for the Greeks of the Roman Empire who were listening to the word of the apostles. Protected by solid structures that no-one questioned, they did not share the Jewish longing for liberation. In absorbing them the Roman Empire had practically reduced to nothing the pride and ambitions of nations great and small, leaving a void for religious concerns to take root. These people were interested in all that related to the human person and searched high and low in a jumble of doctrines and religions as a means of escaping Fate. So it was essential to speak to them of Christ, as the one who unravels our contradictions and gives us life.

 

In this letter to the Christians of Rome, capital of the Empire, Paul intends to respond to the concerns of the Greeks but without thereby neglecting the Jews. Jews were numerous in the Roman community as in all of the Roman Empire, and for those who believed in Christ it was difficult to reposition themselves towards God after a great majority of their own people had rejected the Christian faith. Up to then they had shared the hope of their people thinking that all Israel would recognize the coming of the Savior God. Now they were apparently no more than a minority on the margin of a long, biblical history.

 

The Letter to the Romans is for the most part a long exposition about Christian vocation. To us it will seem difficult, because that is what it is. We shall find there discussions and use of biblical texts which will often disconcert us, for Paul discusses as he had learned to do in the rabbinical schools of Jerusalem. It must be remembered that Paul’s teaching does not stem from a doctrinal system or from a theology: rather it constantly springs from his own experience. The encounter with the Risen Christ, the call made to Paul that put him at the service of the Gospel, the long experience as an apostle, the gifts of the Spirit acting in him and constant communion with Jesus: these were the sources of his vision of faith.

 

So Paul spoke of God’s salvation as if forgetful of the explosive Palestinian context where Jewish nationalism was at grips with the Romans and where all religious hopes were politicized. God’s salvation is the salvation of the human race, a total project, but taking place in the heart of people; all will depend on our response to God’s call: can we trust him?

 

Paul, marked by his own history, presents the beginning of faith as dramatic conversion. People are slaves to Sin (it would be necessary to understand what Paul means by that). We have been created to share the life of God, and as long as we do not achieve this we carry within ourselves a conscious or unconscious rebellion against God. Must we turn towards religion? We would gain very little, says Paul, with insistence that will shock many people: as long as we believe in becoming “good” through religious practices we turn our back on the only power that can free us: God’s merciful love. The only response he expects from us is our act of faith, a faith which immediately frees us.

 

This salvation is the one announced by the Bible, but it will disconcert those believers who do not go beyond religious practices. These belong to a first stage of sacred history that ended with Jesus’ death. Our baptism gives us entrance to a mysterious world which is no other than the Risen Christ: from now on we are “in Christ”, and living by his Spirit. The gift of the Spirit opens a new era where all is inspired by the law of love, for those who have become true sons and daughters of God.

 

Paul then returns to the problem of the Jewish people: what are we to think of all this history of Israel to which God promised a savior, and who finally fail to recognize him? Paul shows that two questions are not to be confused: the call of a people to whom God entrusts a special role in history and the call of persons who belong to this people. For each one faith in Christ will be the result of a free call of God.

 

Paul sent this letter in 57 or 58 probably from Corinth. Up till then he addressed himself to the communities he knew and whose difficulties he was aware of. This time it is not the case; at the end of his exposé he will speak in a fairly general way of Christian life and very specially of the way to accept one another among persons of very different origins. In Rome as elsewhere, it was not easy to unite in one community, Jews and converted pagans. Paul already preached what we ourselves find difficult to put into practice: accept those who are different.

 

The Letter to the Romans in the Church

 

It is now impossible to speak of the letter to the Romans without saying at least a word on the place it has held and continues to hold in Protestant Churches. It has been considered by many as the key to the interpretation of the whole bible.

 

It is known that Luther deepened the Reformation by commenting on this epistle. He was not wrong in seeing in this letter the condemnation of a Church established in the world, where faith had been degraded, becoming no more than practice devoid of faith which saves. The Christianity of the Middle Ages was in fact a people, rather like what the people of Israel had become. A person was a Christian by birth and continued to be one; he/she could be a believer, but as one is in any culture whatever. It was thought that salvation was gained by religious rites and by the practice of good deeds that merited heaven.

 

It was therefore very important to remember that faith is at the heart of every conversion, and that this conversion is the response to a freely given call from God. This letter emphasizes Christ the Savior and this emphasis was sufficient to devaluate the whole religious system which at the time was crushed by tradition and devotions. There was faith, at a time when preaching rarely touched on anything other than morality with its catalogues of moral principles. There was the word of God directed towards the individual person at a time when people were quite happy to trust Church leaders. It was then, a radical criticism of the Church which ended up looking at itself instead of turning towards God, and of a Church whose whole system—political, doctrinal and repressive, blocked the horizon.

 

We have said, however, that this letter had its roots in Paul’s experience as a Jew, a Pharisee and as an apostle called directly by Christ. It is from that point that Paul spoke of sin and justification, of call, of salvation through faith. For their part, Luther and his contemporaries read this letter against the backdrop of their own problems—or better—of their anguish.

 

They magnified the perspective of sin and eternal condemnation, victims of a philosophy (nominalism) in which nothing was good or bad in itself but only if God declares it so. Because of that everything Paul said about predestination of the Jewish people was interpreted by them as a personal predestination to heaven or hell.

 

When Paul spoke of justification—a word which at that time had a large and imprecise meaning—he meant that God re-establishes in us an order which is the true one; they understood instead that, if we believe, God will accept us even if nothing has been changed in us. The great perspectives of humankind and history as a battlefield of sin and grace, were reduced to a personal problem: am I really free or am I enslaved to sin or grace. Taking literally Paul’s images and comparisons, a doctrine of original sin was developed in which we all pay now and forever, for the sin of our first ancestors.

 

Several generations of protestants and catholics have been marked by these controversies: salvation through faith alone, or through faith and works, or through faith, works and sacraments? The love of the Father who saves and of Christ the Savior were eclipsed in fact by an obsession for salvation: how can I escape from this rigid frame in which God confines me? The concept of a just God, of inexorable decisions, which so easily condemns people into hell would traumatize the Occident and prepare a revolt in the next centuries, that of militant atheism.

 

It is not pointless for us today to know this. We are all children of our time and the remedy, if we do not wish to be enslaved, is to not give over-importance to one biblical text to the detriment of others. When you have become familiar with Paul and first with the letter to the Romans you see that for him the Father of Jesus is really father, and passionately loved. Thousands of details are to be discovered in Paul that disclose his experience of a continual communion and a life “in” the Triune God, an experience very close to that of St. John.

 

That will not prevent us from finding in this letter just what Luther, after St. Augustine, saw there: a genial presentation of the mystery of humanity redeemed by Christ. There is a certain forgetfulness perhaps of this letter and of this doctrine which too often has allowed Catholics to hem themselves in by their practices and their sacraments, and neglect mission.

 

 

 

 

 

 1.Paul, an apostle called and set apart for God’s Good News. Paul speaks of the Gospel three times in this paragraph. In his time the word Gospel, which signifies Good News, conveyed the meaning of victory. Paul presents himself as one announcing the liberating message given to all humankind.

 

What is Paul’s Gospel? He develops it briefly in the following lines. The Son of God has come down to earth and after sharing our common condition, has through his Resurrection, taken possession of the Glory due to him.

 

An apostle called and set apart… (v. 1). The twelve apostles were selected by Jesus and confirmed in their mission by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Here Paul reminds us that he himself was made an apostle by Jesus, who met him on the road to Damascus.

 

Recognized as the Son of God (v. 4). Another possible translation: constituted, or designated as Son of God. That does not mean that Jesus was not the Son of God before his resurrection, but he was so really one of us that nothing of his divinity showed. On the day of the resurrection, the Spirit of God “invaded” his human nature: from now on he is present and active in our history as the Son of God.

 

Paul usually reserves the term “God” for God the Father, fountain of the divine be­ing, from whom all divine initiatives originate. The Father communicates his life to the Son. The Son, for his part, reflects this life back to the Father in such a way that they mutually generate the Holy Spirit. The whole vocation of a Christian is rooted in this life of God, and that is why Paul constantly mentions the names of the three divine Persons.

 

We will encourage each other by sharing our common faith (v. 12). The apostle, as well as the believer, needs to share anxieties, hopes and a common faith. The Church is a fellowship and in order to develop our Christian life, we must multiply meetings in which we can be in communion with one another.

 

 

 

• 16. I am not ashamed… (v. 16). He who is proclaimed Savior by Paul is a crucified Jew, an unknown carpenter. How often they laughed at Paul when he spoke about this dead man who had risen from the tomb to be the Judge of humankind!

 

It is God’s power… (v. 16). The miracles that accompany the preaching of the Gospel are signs of God’s powerful action in transforming people and history in every place where the Gospel is preached and inspires those who hear it.

 

Upright… righteous… righteousness (v. 17). The word justice used by Paul also signifies uprightness. On the other hand, when he speaks of the justice of God usually he is not saying that God is just: his justice denotes an intervention to keep order in the world. In a special way the justice of God has humans to become just, that is, upright before his eyes. It is a matter of understanding that the words justice and just had a wide meaning in the Christian vocabulary and now simply designate all that is good: being just speaks of a life as God would have it. The just person is rather like a saint, in the way we understand it today, or putting it more modestly, she is as she should be in God’s eyes.

 

For that reason we shall at times translate God justifies us by: God makes us just and holy, or: God gifts us with true righteousness.

 

The Jews, like most humans, thought that peo­ple become righteous by their own efforts. Paul retorts that the righteousness God wants is some­thing much greater and beyond what human efforts can achieve. We are upright and friends of God when he allows us to approach him after making us holy by his grace.

 

The apostles preached the Gospel to two classes of persons:

 

– the Jews, prepared by God to receive the Savior,

 

– the Greeks (or people who spoke the Greek language). In fact the Jews con­sidered Greek all those who were subjects of the Roman Empire. These people did not know the Word of God, nor did they have any hope in him.

 

Paul shows that all people need the Gos­pel. Because the world lives in sin, and all of us to a greater or lesser degree are responsible for existing evil, we must believe in the Gospel if we want to be saved.

 

 

 

• 18. In these paragraphs Paul speaks of the pagan world of the Greeks, which included the great majority of humankind who had not received the word of God. In reality, God had not been absent from their conscience, and through centuries of civilization and religious research they tried to know God and the truth. Paul shows the failure of such human endeavor; ignorance and immorality are much more prev­alent in the countries where God had not spoken as he did to the Jews.

 

They knew God and did not glorify him as was fitting… (v. 21). We have to compare this text with another famous one, found in Wisdom 13, and with the speech of Paul in Acts 17:27-29. In these verses the Bible shows clearly that it is possible for everyone to know God. Anyone who looks at the world and reflects on life easily finds signs of the presence of God. Yet, when one lives in sin, truth is silenced. People do not openly deny God; they simply ignore him.

 

Faith is neither an option nor a luxury, as if we could well do without it. Certainly a majority on the planet do without it comfortably. Yet, if we were to withdraw all that comes from faith in our culture and life, the world would die for want of hope, as is already the case with nations and ideologies that have renounced it. This is why, in announcing the Gospel we free people who are truly in need of the Gospel, even though they may feel satisfied with themselves.

 

God gave them up to their inner cravings. Paul stresses the fact of homosexual relationships. In the Greek world, sexual relations especially between men were accepted and even praised by the greatest philosophers. Paul says: such an attitude is not the sign of a more open or free spirit, but comes from their ignorance of God.

 

This condemnation which only repeats those of the Old Testament (Lev 20:13) astonishes even Christians in the countries where the real religion is liberalism. Total sexual license with, in particular, the acceptance of such relationships flows from an idolatry proper to the liberal society, which has become a society of consumption. There, for those who are well off and in good health, the ideal is to satisfy every desire and profit from life to the maximum. Once God has been replaced by creatures, animals or fabricated articles, one can have him say everything, because, in fact his Glory is not known and darkness fills the mind.

 

In fact, homosexual relationships are a form of idolatry of one’s body. It is not, of course, a question of condemning those inclined towards homosexuality, whether it be by nature, or much more often, through cultural deformation.

 

 

 

• 2.1 You have no excuse, who­­ever you are… Paul addresses the Jews, who wait for God’s judgment on the world and are convinced that they will not be condemned, since they have the true religion. Paul reminds them of something we ourselves know: the greater our religious knowledge, the more arguments we have to justify our faults.

 

God will give glory… (v. 10). Paul has just condemned the injustice and wrongdoing of the pagan world. Now he recognizes that many who have not received a religious education do indeed live justly. In the next paragraph Paul affirms that:

 

– God will judge each one according to his own lights; our conscience will fully agree with this judgment of God on us;

 

– God also has sons and daughters among those who do not believe: he will judge them as he does for us, according to the path on which he has placed them.

 

On different occasions Paul opposes letter and spirit (vv. 27-29).

 

Letter denotes the written commandments that Jews observe but which remain exterior to them; the aim of these commandments was to lead them to conversion of heart: this is the spirit God wants. Two sets of words are in contrast in Paul’s letters: flesh, old covenant, commandments, Law, letter… and Spirit, spirit, new covenant, promise…

 

 

 

• 3.1 We have just demonstrated that all, Jews and non-Jews, are under the power of sin (v. 9). This is the central sentence of the paragraph. The Jews must, like others, rely on faith and be converted. That is what they have difficulty in understanding, since they have always been believers. They think they are good and are true believers, because they have been instructed in the faith. They trust in being saved merely for being marked in their body by circumcision.

 

What is the advantage of being a Jew? (v. 1). This is probably what the Jews will ask on hearing of salvation offered to those who do not know the Law, which means the religion taught by God. The same question is asked by Christians in modern times from the very moment they no longer believe that anyone living without Christ and the Church will go to hell. They think: “How fortunate if we were like them: we would be saved without having to follow a burdensome Christian morality!” Paul sees no advantage for the Jew, and we none for the Christian, except in terms of responsibility: God has entrusted his words to them.

 

In this way our baptism gives us membership with a minority called “people of God,” to whom God entrusts a mission to the world, along with many others who go to God without explicit knowledge of his secrets and his Christ. Baptism is not an assurance that gives us the right to feel better than others.

 

What comes from the Law is the consciousness of sin (v. 20). The Jewish law, or the law of Moses, is that body of religious, liturgical, moral and social laws governing the peo­ple of Israel (see 7:4). In the letters of Paul, the Law sometimes designates the Bible and at other times the Jewish reli­gion. Many Jews thought that they deserved a reward for prac­ticing the Law, but Paul says: true holiness is neither the result of our works nor a reward for them.

 

 

 

• 21. Paul has develop­ed two points: the world lives in sin; and the practice of the Law is not enough to obtain salvation. He then presents the Good News: God has come to save us through Christ.

 

All lack the glory of God. God is not satisfied with the actual state of humankind, even if the latter feel quite satisfied with their mediocre con­dition. He calls us to share his Glory, that is, everything in God that makes him great, happy and everlasting. God has created us to bring us into communion with him, and as he is out of reach, he reaches out his hand to us and makes us just (v. 21). We have already said in 1:17 that when Paul speaks of the justice of God he means God’s way of making us upright at his eyes. God makes us just and holy.

 

Now, confronting all those who think they are worthy before God because of their own efforts, because they fulfill all the commandments, Paul says: true holiness must be given to us. For there is no other righteousness or holiness than sharing the perfection and love that are in God himself.

 

Paul finds it very hard to explain the mystery of salvation with the religious words available at the time, many of which refer to a violent God. He has just spoken of the justice of God, but has pointed out that this “justice” is before anything else, a merciful intervention that makes us holy. He spoke of God’s anger, but the result of this anger is the coming of the Savior. He tells us now that God made Christ the victim we needed for the atonement of our sins; but we must not think that God, in anger, demands the suffering of an innocent victim. God is the one who provides the victim, and the coming of Jesus expresses the immensity of the Father’s love. In a few words, Paul gives to these terms a totally different and new meaning. The divine way of restoring justice is not by condemning, but by saving; by love God conquers evil in such a way that those who never knew love will be saved.

 

Many of the Jews con­verted to Christ thought it useful to continue practicing the ­religious prescriptions of the Bible, such as circumcision, observance of the Sabbath, cleansings, etc. (Col 2:16) and wanted other believers of the pagan world to observe them as well. Paul rejects that, because the Law had two dimensions. On one hand, it was the divine teaching for human life, such as how to know God, not to kill, etc… and on the other, it was the Law of the Jewish people, with all their own values, rites and customs, unlike that of any other nation. So, since God is God of all nations, he will not oblige them to give up their own culture and to live as the Jews do.

 

 

 

• 4.1 Paul then asks his Jewish brothers to go back to the sources of revelation. Long before the Law was given to Moses, there was the faith of Abraham. That means that faith is both more fundamental and more universal. The Law, instead, is a form of religion proper to the Jews and of value only for a period of their history. He asks: “How did Ab­raham become the friend of God and why is he taken as the model of be­lievers? Was it because he believed in God’s promises, or because he had received the rite of circumcision?” It is like asking a Christian today: “What is important, to believe in Christ, or to be baptized?”

 

The answer is clear; we become the friends of God by believing in his promises. The rite of baptism ratifies with a divine seal the gift of God and our commitment to him.

 

Therefore, baptism and the other sacraments are the “signs” of faith and have no value without faith. Baptism is the beginning of our living for God in the Christian community. Communion has no mean­ing unless we live in unity and share the fullness of the life of the Church.

 

Worthy of notice is the fact that Christian people are now less concerned with rites and devotions that were so important to past generations. At the same time renewal movements give more stress to essentials: our faith and surrender to Christ.

 

He did not doubt although his body could no longer give life. Abraham had a faith similar to the Christian who believes in the resurrection of Christ. We also are asked to believe in a God who gives life and for whom nothing is impossible.

 

Faith has no power (v. 14). Here Paul points out something that many times we fail to see. To believe in God who rewards good and obedience to his laws is already faith (Heb 11:6). This faith, however, consisting in respect and awareness of justice remains very far from Abraham’s confidence in God’s promise. Faith is found in every religion, but for Christians faith is everything.

 

 

 

• 5.1 In this paragraph, Paul shares his own experience to help us discover changes in our life from the moment we have gone beyond the Law or, for us: beyond any religion.

 

To begin with there is a feeling of peace: we are at peace with God (v. 1). Perhaps we felt well before, with no sin and no debt. The peace we now discover reveals our former emptiness: being alien to God, we were alien to a part of ourselves. It is only now that we are conscious of it, and what do we believe? We believe in the personal love of God for us and we see it in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

 

Through him we obtain this favor in which we remain (v. 2). It is not necessary for us to “sense” it to be in this state and it would be a mistake to search for a group where we could be “sensitively” aware of God. That is a form of self-satisfaction, and such is not the way of God’s true friends. It is not a matter of seeing or feeling but of believing what God does. Yet there are thousands of instances when we are conscious of this presence of God in us. Paul, who battled so much for Christ, says that it is in trials that we can discover the power of Christ working in us and making us mature (2 Cor 12:9).

 

And we even boast to expect the Glory of God (v. 2). The great Christian hope, unknown to those who have not met Christ is the certitude of a destiny surpassing all that could be imagined, hoped for, experienced by the greatest sages and mystics of all religions: total communion with God himself.

 

Hope does not disappoint us. In contrast to the people of the Old Testament, who remained always in what was temporary or provisional while waiting for ultimate truth and justice, the Christian already experiences what will one day fully enjoy. Something of that flavor or fragrance of the divinity has been poured into our hearts (v. 5) and that is the peace that God grants us when his Spirit comes to us.

 

Christ died for us when we were still sinners (v. 6). We are accustomed to hear about Christ dying for our sins, and often enough we are not touched, for his sacrifice seems to be far away and quite unreal. When by the grace of God we understand it, love suddenly pours from our hearts. Return love for love: this is the beginning of true conversion.

 

We have become just through his blood (v. 9). The text says precisely: We have been justified. Was the blood of Christ necessary? We have said with regard to 3:25 that Paul depended on the religious vocabulary of his time: the forgiveness of sins for the Jews was obtained by the blood of sacrificed victims. The prophets had already declared that the streams of blood from the Temple were of no value without obedience to God. Certain people understood that the true sacrifice able to reconcile the world was the sufferings and humiliations of the faithful minority of God’s people (Is 52:13). Whatever the explanation given, the salvation of the world passes through the sufferings and the death of the innocent, and the people of God must accept to be among the victims of violence. So it is that the violent death and the blood shed by Jesus are part of God’s language and also part of human experience. Paul knew this well, he who had taken part in the murder of Stephen (Acts 22:20).

 

 

 

• 12. Let us try to understand the thinking of Paul, inasmuch as he develops it here. In the first two chapters, he showed that without faith in Christ, humans lived in sin, including the Jews who had received the word of God. Then he asserted that salvation is brought about not by obedience to a law, but only by faith. Through this we are reconciled to God and we enter into a relationship of friendship with God who guides us towards the goal of the whole of life, which is to share the “Glory” of God, or his life in eternity.

 

Paul now widens his horizon. Jesus has come not only to reconcile sinners, many sinners, but to save humanity as a whole. In modern terms, we would say that he came to save human history; in biblical language, he has come to save “Adam.”

 

For Paul, as for the Jews of his time, Adam meant both the first human created by God and the whole of humankind. The children of Adam are only one with the ancestor whose name they bear. Indeed, from the beginning of humankind to the present generation, only one Adam comes to life, distrusting, rebellious and violent.

 

Sin entered the world through one man. Here Paul refers to the narrative in Genesis, but not to insist, as others have done after him, on the importance of the sin committed by the first human. In fact, Jesus did not speak of such sin, and the Scripture before him showed much reservation (see Wis 10:2 and Sir 49:16). Paul intends to point out a double solidarity that affects us: in Adam all humans are sinners, in Christ all have been reconciled. God created the world and has visited it to save the human race as a whole, united in Christ. This is why Paul puts the first parent of the old traditions in opposition to that that is the first in the plan of God. If the role of the first forebear remains very mysterious, Paul asserts clearly that humanity is not naturally at peace with God and that it cannot reach its goal as long as it is not saved by Christ.

 

We do not say that human nature is evil: God created it. It may perhaps be helpful to remember that during the 16th and 17th centuries, the history of the West was greatly influenced by the controversies about original sin. What nonsense was said (God had condemned all humankind to hell because of the sin of Adam)! This led to a reaction under the form of aggressive atheism in order to get rid of such a capricious and evil God. Thus it was asserted that humans are born good and that the society is guilty in making them evil.

 

The teaching of the apostles maintains that although human nature is good, we are born alienated. To speak to us of this situation, John uses two expressions: “the world” and “the ruler of this world,” that is, the devil (see commentary on John 3:16 and 1 John 2:15). Paul, for his part, will talk of sin. In these passages, sin refers to the totality of forces that have imprisoned humankind and which bring it to evil. We are not totally responsible for the sins that at times we do without really willing them (7:16-24), and this proves our slavery and alienation. And Sin begins with our difficulty in recognizing truth and judging according to truth.

 

This foretold the other Adam who was to come (v. 14). To the picture of human destiny presented in Genesis (chaps. 2 and 3), Paul presents in contrast another image, that of the crucified Christ. To the scene of sin near the forbidden tree, Paul compares that of redemption fulfilled on the “tree” of the cross. In the first scene there are three characters: Man (Adam), Sin (the serpent), Death. In the second, there are four: Man (Christ), Sin, Death and Justice (or new and holy life).

 

The gift of God more than compensated for sin (v. 16). The damage caused by sin from the very beginning increases each day; at times we feel crushed and powerless by the evil forces present everywhere. Paul, however, sees the greatness of the gift of God: while humankind increases and sin enters into all areas of society, God calls more people to free themselves.

 

There is something more. In this paragraph, somewhat complicated, Paul hints that the redemption of Christ does much more than correct the errors of humankind. God is not satisfied with helping us and making us better, for, after beginning to lift up men and women, he invites them to reign in life, which is to share his own Glory.

 

How much more will there be a reign of life for those who receive grace (v. 17). Christ embraces all of us, gathers us in his sacrifice, and becomes the new head of humankind. Perhaps Paul is thinking at times of the salvation of only those who have listened to the Gospel, believed in Christ and entered the Church. Note however that  he stresses the fact that Christ saves a world of sinners. Christ is the new Adam and the head not only of believers, but of humankind as well. Humans continue today to be drawn by the flood of evil originated by Adam. Humankind is also saved as a whole, as long as people try to lift up their brothers and sisters. He who does not share in this task loses salvation, because what God wants is not “my” salvation but the salvation of Adam.

 

The Law caused sin to in­crease (v. 20). It was an error to see the Law as the great gift of God (yet the Old Testament said it!). Let us say rather that because of the Law the Jews discovered much sooner than other nations how great was their need to be saved. Its first result was to increase sin, because from then on they knew what their duty was and did not do it.

 

 

 

• 6.1 We are now dead regarding sin (v. 2). If we say that the Law has been abrogated we risk a misunderstanding. We do not mean that from now on we shall follow our instincts: we have been freed of a situation where the Law seemed to govern everything, but in fact sin found in us an accomplice: distrust of God. Dead to sin: this means that sin no longer finds a response in us. Dead: it is indeed the right word since it has been a definitive step, one that is intimately linked to the death of Christ. To die with him so as to rise with him: this is the meaning of baptism.

 

In the early Church, mostly adults were baptized: they had been evangelized and committed themselves to the community of the holy people of God. Baptism followed a conversion. When Paul speaks of baptism we must understand that it takes in the entire journey through conversion, including catechumenate , initiation in Christian life… Other­wise, baptism would be no more than a rite.

 

We are all plunged into his death (v. 3). Baptism means entering into Christ to share the benefits of his sacrifice. It also means the acceptance of a complete change of life, that of Christ in his death and resurrection.

 

 

 

• 6. You must consider… It is evident that baptism, even when received with faith, does not make us perfect immediately. Is it enough for us to give our whole attention to commandments? What if the fear of temptation and daily faults paralyze us? Beware of scruples and guilt complexes! Paul proposes a different way: it is most important for us to believe that sin has no power over us. Our eyes will be fixed on Christ knowing that we belong to him and that he himself transforms us. Such an apparent carefree attitude serves us more effectively than nervousness. It is the way Saint Thérèse of Lisieux suggested for those who feel incapable of great things.

 

Do not allow sin any control over your mortal being. The faithful, although conscious of belonging totally to Christ, commit sins every day. Their sins, however, do not deprive them of what is most important, trust in the Father, which allows them to stand up after each fall (1 John 2:1). They know that they are and always will be sinners whom God forgives, as long as they try to amend and be better. We achieve freedom day by day by voluntarily submitting to the requirements of a better life.

 

In Paul’s time there were cases of slaves being exchanged by owners. A free person with debts could sell himself to his debtor in payment of his debts. The comparison used by Paul teaches us to be meekly at the disposal of the Spirit, as slaves who are not owners of their own persons. Let us look at what the Spirit advises before making any decision.

 

The Christian’s life must appear like slavery to whoever looks at it externally. Yet the Christian feels and knows himself to be free. The best example might be that of a mother totally dedicated to her sick child: she is totally free, because she has no other law than her love.

 

 

 

• 7.1 The last chapter presented Christ who frees us from sin and death and becomes our only master. Then Christians of Jewish origin could ask: What about the Law of the Old Covenant? Is it no longer of value? Was it not given by God himself?

 

You have died to the Law (v. 4). The Law was provisional: the time of the Law ended with the death of Christ. Here we find one of Paul’s great intuitions. The death of Jesus was seem­ingly no more than a minor event in the troubled history of the Jewish people under Roman occupation. Yet it is more than a turning point, a rupture in the history of the world. Before that time was the era of a minor humanity; after it, the time when God could act and make himself known fully and clearly (Gal 4). The death of Jesus marks the death of ancient history. The Christian way of counting the years from the death of Christ is not one among other possibilities: it responds to a reality.

 

The baptized Jews are no longer obliged to follow all the commandments of this Law that was the supreme authority. Of course, many of the commandments deal with justice and mercy and are not to be neglected. Even so Christians are not left with a religion of commandments: faith in Jesus Christ, the only Savior, inspires all our actions.

 

We have died to what was holding us (v. 6). The Law of Moses, the great gift of God to Israel was part of a provisional stage, when humankind was not entirely free. The Christians of today see in the laws an indication of God’s will but reserve the right to act according to the criteria of their faith. No law or even religious decree can prevail over a well-informed conscience. An ordered life creates more beauty than any religious constitution could ever achieve.

 

See the same theme in 2 Cor 5:14: “if he died for all, then all have died.”

 

First there was no Law and I lived (v. 9). It would be erroneous to think that Paul is speaking about his own past. He is rather playing a role and speaks on behalf of Man (see commentary 5:12-14). The other actors in the drama are Sin, the Law and Death.

 

For the Jews the conclusion is clear: the Law with its commandments had no power to renew the human person.

 

 

 

• 14. Paul describes the situation of the per­son who knows the commandments, but not the love of God. He is not a liberated person, but a divided one. Two opposing forces struggle within him; on one side the Law that tells him what to do, and on the other another law in his flesh, that is, in his nature. He is not really free.

 

There is something well disposed within human beings: the spirit; and something that resists the demands of duty: the flesh (see Mk 14:38). The flesh does not mean the body; this word designates what in us is weak in face of duty and God’s call to holi­ness. See commentary on 8:5.

 

Our liberty is impotent when faced with sin, that is, it can do nothing against the forces of evil dragging down all humankind. Dullness of spirit in our fellow workers, family prob­­lems, the general spread of pornography, selfishness and consumerism: the flesh within us becomes an accomplice in all these evils.

 

In this chapter Paul continues to play the role of the one who still does not know Christ and remains divided and enslaved. The next chapter will deal with the opposition between the spirit and the flesh for those who believe in Christ. For them there is a solution to their conflicts: they live in peace. And so Paul ends crying out: who will free me…? Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

• 8.1 After having shown at length the limitations of a religious law, a reality in every religion that stresses the observance of practices, Paul speaks of life in the spirit: for that is, first of all, Christian life. It would seem that what follows is a long theological discussion: and Paul is arguing the way he learned in the rabbinical schools. In fact, if we look closely, it is not the development of a thesis: all comes from the spiritual experience of Paul.

 

When a Christian believes he has received the Spirit of God, it is not merely because he has been told that confirmation gave him the Spirit. If in Christian life there is a characteristic experience it is that of the Spirit of God working in us. Of course we should always shun the temptation to want to experience through our senses the things of God instead of believing in his word: nevertheless there is a Christian experience. See commentary on Acts 21:5.

 

Paul, for his part, knows what life is when permanently directed by the Spirit: he has evaded the situation of the sinner divided between his conscience and his bad habits and found unity in his availability to God. He will boldly speak of total transformation for those who believe in Christ, even if later he had to recognize that this transformation is more in the process than in the accomplishment.

 

God sent his own Son (v. 3). Would he have sent him only to speak to us, to give us his laws, to give us great examples of divine love? The salvation that God gives us is quite different. Look at what happens when someone wants to help the margin­alized: in vain do we assist them materially; they will not become responsible unless they themselves face their own problems. God knew that. It is not he who pities sinners and says: “How sad! So irresponsible! I will dress them up in white and forget their sins, so they may look holy and be seated at my side.” God does not want to disguise reality, but to create humankind anew. So one of the human race must personally defeat Sin (that is, the power of death that keeps humankind paralyzed and divided).

 

He sent him… in the likeness (v. 3). In the likeness: Jesus carries on his shoulders the sins of others, but he did not commit any sin (Heb 2:14 and 4:15). Since the sacrifice of Christ the power of his Spirit has made believers capable of being victorious over the forces of death.

 

Through love and forgiveness God created a new world without rancor or desire of revenge or hidden remorse of conscience. We are at peace with him; we are at peace with each other.

 

 

 

• 5. The human life of Christ prepared the way for the communication of the Spirit to those who were to be adopted in order, later on, to be made divine, that is, transformed in God. First comes Christ, then the Spirit. This is why Paul reminded us first of the saving work of Christ (chaps. 5 and 6); now he tells us about the Spirit.

 

Those walking according to the flesh. What flesh signifies has been discussed in part in the commentary on 7:14. Without doubt, Paul has in mind the inner conflicts that each of us experience, and flesh refers to a human reality that weighs upon us. Nature can never be regarded in its pure state; the human nature of people of this twentieth century, with their instincts and desires, their images, the things that appear impossible to do away with, is mostly dependent on our education and culture. The tension we experience between flesh and spirit is partly the tension between our culture—the present liberal culture with its unbridled search for pleasure and the latest craze—and the spirit of Christ that seeks only the service of the Father. In such a context, the “resurgence” of sexual freedom among certain groups, which call themselves Christian, should not surprise us. They always speak of rights as if a Christian should have other rights before the Father of whom he should be a servant as Jesus had been and renounce himself.

 

In verse 5, we read, tend towards what is flesh. The Greek verb refers to what one keeps in his heart, his ambitions and plans. The same word appears in verse 7 which we translate as seeks. This refers to what our nature instinctively desires and what we plan whenever we conform to the ambitions of our contemporaries. Flesh tends towards death… flesh seeks against God: this may come as a shocking statement for us who live in a world estranged from faith, but where many good things happen nevertheless. We simply say that the Spirit of God works even in places where people do not know him by name. Yet there is no life as long as people do not call in question the ready-made ideas. To please God, it will always be necessary to be among the margin­alized, as Abraham was, that is, to run counter against the flesh.

 

Those walking according to the Spirit (v. 5). Should we write according to the Spirit or according to the spirit? In biblical culture spirit is both God’s and ours. The spirit is what God gives to humans; it is also their ready acceptance of God’s action. In this paragraph we should sometimes use spirit, our spirit visited by God, at other times it would be necessary to say spirit, God’s way of working in us; again at other times Spirit is God-who-communicates.

 

What Paul writes here is not a theory of what should take place in us, but what comes directly from his experience. The Spirit that has been given to him habitually possesses but a part of him, that is, his spirit. The rest, what he calls the flesh (it should be termed: the living reality, the basis of his psychology), continues to be what it was. Perhaps it can unwind more freely now that Paul is not always trying to repress it and subject it to the Law as he attempted to do before (7:15-25). Actually, it cannot be subjected; it can only desire rest and nourishment, dreams of sex and well-being.

 

Paul then is present as from the outside to these desires of the flesh, but he is firmly filled with the spirit. His spirit is now under the influence of the Spirit and knows the joy of letting himself be carried along. Paul then continues to see and feel contradiction within himself (2 Cor 12:7), but it is no longer a bruising test of strength: he is taking part in a victory of the Spirit.

 

Paul does not forget that others are less advanced than he is and still have to painfully conquer their liberty. He does not tell them that the flesh is evil, but that we must put to death the works of the flesh (v. 13): what we call mortification.

 

The Spirit that makes you sons and daughters (v. 15). The Greek text could be: “Spirit of adoption” but also “spirit of sons having all the rights of their father” (like in Gal 4:5). In no way does Paul want to em­phasize the difference we often make by saying: “Jesus is the only Son, and we, adopted children”. Speaking like that, we place a barrier, slight though it be, between God and us, and the Gospel does not so desire, from the moment we have known the Father.

 

Those led by the Spirit tend towards what comes from the Spirit. Then we begin to freely desire a new way of living in imitation of Christ. The desires of the Spirit animate our life. We experience them as an interior call, a security and a joy.

 

In following the desires of the Spirit we really feel free; this life, however, is demanding. Each day we have to go a little further in putting to death the body’s deeds (v. 13), that is, everything that paralyzes us and makes us cling to this world. Put to death: we call it “mortification.”

 

The Spirit assures our spirit that we are sons and daughters of God (v. 16). Whoever lives in the spirit lives in the light. While we remain firm in the teaching of Christ and share in the life of the Church, the Spirit gives us internal knowledge and joy in the things of God. The Spirit guides us and inspires us each day showing us how to please God.

 

 

 

• 18. The description of “living in the Spirit” continues. The believer who looks around notices that not only his community, but also the whole world is being transformed.

 

The glory that will be revealed and given to us. Though the Spirit dwells in our innermost being, we expect the transformation of our whole be­ing. Now, though we have the peace of Christ, temptations and sufferings prevent us from enjoying glory and being fully free. With the transformation of our whole being (Paul calls it the body: v. 23) we shall reach the glorious freedom of the children of God.

 

It is impossible to consider the human being apart from this world in which we live. Are there elsewhere in the Universe other intellectual beings? The Bible does not speak of it: it merely tells us that all creation is guided by the same mystery of death and resurrection which marks our destiny and which the Son of God has taken on himself.

 

Who has subjected it (v. 20)?: Is it God or humans? The result is hardly different. Paul shows us that sin has destroyed the order of nature. Some texts in the Old Testament show us nature standing for God against human crimes (Jer 14; Jn 3:7 and 4:11; Wis 5:17-20). It is certain that humanity has developed with aggressiveness and violence; hence the domination of women by men and the bellicose masculine spirit. Hence a science driven by the will to conquer nature: was not Adam’s sin the will to take by force knowledge and happiness?

 

The Bible notices that the progress of society usually involves exploitation and servitude. Scientific discovery has been used to destroy millions of lives and the progress of the liberal world keeps more people marginalized living in misery than there are living at ease.

 

Modern science has justly shown that the people are the summit towards which the whole current of life tends. We must not forget that we are brothers/sisters to and in solidarity with all that has life. The Bible does not invite us to dream of a nature brought back to the state of an earthly paradise, to be enjoyed by a few rich people. It does not demand that animals be treated as persons with rights. True love respects the order of creation and the “love of animals” is not a substitute for true and responsible love that knows how to accept and commune with free persons.

 

The whole of nature has been entrusted to Adam: he must bring it back to God, using it in such a way that he himself becomes an offering to God (Rom 12:1 and 15:7). That is the meaning of the sacrifice of animals in the Old Testament. The growing concern about human responsibilities towards creation opens our eyes to an aspect of sin, but also obliges us to ask where our history is taking us.

 

Creation groans and suffers the pangs of birth (v. 22). We see in the world more contradictions and tensions than peaceful progress: in fact this earth is not our permanent residence. On the contrary it is a place of sorrow, and dark faith prepares us for what we await from God: we wait for our full status of sons and daughters. Nature cannot but participate with us at this birth (v. 22) of which the passion of Jesus is the sign. It will share in the “liberty and glory of the children of God”: it would be difficult to think that resurrected persons will not have a place in a spiritualized and transfigured world.

 

 

 

 26. We do not know how to pray. We often think that we pray only when we are say­ing something and asking for things. Paul shows that words are not as important as the deep desire of the Spirit of God within us.

 

The Spirit intercedes for us. It is good to present our problems and worries to God, using words that the Spirit inspires. And still better when the Spirit invites us to remain in silent prayer and God communicates his peace to us.

 

 

 

• 28. In the last pages Paul has described God’s action in us through his Spirit. In fact, the providence of the Father covers all the events of our lives. Nothing happens in the world, in our family, in our lives merely by chance or because it was so destined.

 

Those whom he knew beforehand. Paul stresses the Father’s personal attention for each one of us. God knows us in Christ from the beginning of the world: children known before they are born, but also destined for a unique place in creation!

 

He calls them. Whatever be the way we come to know Christ, it is a personal call of God who gives us the opportunity to believe.

 

He made them just and upright. God put us in order, in an order pleasing to him. That goes far beyond an ordering on a moral level for those who needed it—and besides such an ordering does not guarantee that we always keep to the right path. More deeply something has been achieved in us, something has been sown in the world: we are the bearers of innumerable orderings from which a new conscience will originate and appear in humanity, during our lifetime or centuries later.

 

Those whom he knew beforehand (v. 20). On reading this verse some have thought that we are not really free, and that those elected by God are saved automatically. In fact, we do not read that some are elected for salvation, others not. Paul only says that they are elected to know Christ, which is not the same as salvation.

 

The kingdom of God extends much farther than the Church. The great majority of humankind do not know Christ and the Gospel. Yet God knows how to lead and save them, for the sacrifice of Christ saves all humankind. Paul is addressing believers and reminds them that to believe in Christ is a great personal grace; let them not be discouraged.

 

See also commentary on 9:14.

 

Who shall be against us? Paul is thinking of the evil surrounding us that frequently drags us down. He is thinking of the Day of Judgment when the accuser, the Spirit of Evil, could face us with the faults we have committed. He thinks of our troubled conscience that often brings us remorse. None of these will be stronger than the love and forgiveness of Christ. The believer should not be alarmed at his repeated faults or doubt the love of God, but try to live according to the truth.

 

 

 

• 9.1 Paul, being a Jew, shares the worries of the few Jews who have believed in Christ. Why did the chosen people not recognize their Savior? If they were a chosen nation, why were so few selected?

 

It is the same worry of Catholic families when their children do not go to church or when teenagers declare they have lost their faith. It is the same uneasiness we feel in the course of a mission: those who habitually go to church are perhaps the hardest to lead to conversion and are the ones that most obstruct the evangelization of outsiders.

 

Faith is not transmitted in heritage from father to son, mother to daughter. There have certainly been times and cultural systems where a whole nation followed the same religion and apparently shared the same faith. The Book of the Acts shows how on several occasions the conversion of the head of the family brought about the baptism of the whole household (Acts 11:14; 16:33). Faith however will always be a grace of God. In our days people have acquired complete autonomy and live in a world where all beliefs meet: faith can no longer be a family possession.

 

 

 

• 14. In this paragraph, Paul already anticipates the objection: “If God calls whomever he wishes, will our act of faith really be free?” (v. 19). This is and will always be a mystery. Paul does not intend to explain this, but asserts that God grants to whomever he wishes the grace of coming to Christ (see John 6:44). The experience of his conversion in which God took his freedom by force, as he does with the great prophets, brings him to use very strong words which seem to negate our freedom, especially in v. 22 which can be translated more strongly as: “if God endured with patience vessels prepared to be broken.”

 

We have two observations on this:

 

Paul uses Old Testament texts in which God speaks of saving or destroying the people of Israel (v. 27), of loving Israel, giving it good land, and of giving poor land to the people of Esau or Edom (v. 13), of making Pharaoh more stubborn to bring him to defeat (v. 17). All these are problems of collective failures or salvation, at the level of history, which Paul employs to clarify a historical fact: a great majority of the Jewish people did not recognize Christ. It would be very risky to draw from these conclusions about the responsibility of those who believe and those who do not. We will fall into a still greater confusion if we would apply this text, as others have done, to individual salvation, and discuss about those who will go to heaven and those who will be condemned. It is clear that this question has nothing to do with the argument of Paul: to know God is a grace which God gives to whomever he wills, but he surely gives other graces that other people be saved without knowing Christ.

 

Then we take note that all speakers, including Paul, say at times words that are somewhat excessive which will be clarified later by showing other aspects of the same reality. We ought to see other words of Scripture to re-establish the balance. If God calls us to a relationship of love and faithfulness with him (Hos 2:21), it is precisely because we are free and responsible (Sir 15:14). If God has destined someone for hell, how could he call him and demand that he live a holy life? It would be the cruelest of jokes.

 

 

 

PREDESTINATION

 

We must not confuse two different ideas of predestination.

 

For Paul, predestination refers to the loving plan of God from the very beginning. It was then that God decided how to lavish on each of us the riches of his love through his Son. See commentary on Ephesians 1:5.

 

It was not the same for the peo­ple of the sixteenth century, like Luther, Calvin and many Catho­lic theologians with them. They thought that God created man without worrying about his possible sin or providing for the coming of Christ. As a result of Adam’s sin, the Justice of God condemned all his descendants to hell. Then the Mercy of God decided to save some of them by sending Je­sus. This predestination after the sin would mean that no one could escape this blessing or this curse of God.

 

Paul, speaking of predestination, only praised God for his over­flowing love. They, instead, were obsessed by concern for their own salvation, thinking of a whimsical God who perhaps had destined them to hell. Luther escaped from this obsession by stressing the merciful Jesus more than a frightening God.

 

In that same despairing century our Lord Jesus made several apparitions asking people to honor his Sacred Heart, so reminding us that he was only love for us. It is not “Jesus” only who is a loving God. The Father who predestines us is love just as his Son is love.

 

Speaking of predestination, we say:

 

– God, who is not controlled by time, has no before or after. He sees and determines at the same time the beginning and the end for each of us. No life fails because of the negligence or bad faith of God (Rom 8:28; James 1:13). No one can prevent his saving plans (Rom 8:37).

 

– Our salvation is a gift of God. No one can believe and please God unless he has been called (Rom 11:5; Phil 2:13). No one is to be proud of his merits or demand a reward (Eph 2:9; Phil 3:9).

 

 – God is the one who works ev­erything in us, as long as we open ourselves to his action. Those who refuse to be re­ceptive are responsible for their own condemnation. The Church therefore speaks of “predestination” to express this saving work; but she has never spoken of predestination with regard to hell. Compare Matthew 25:34, the king­dom prepared for you, with 25:41, the fire reserved for the Devil.

 

Only a few will be saved (v. 27). Jews, who  have believed in Christ, instead of complaining, should give thanks to God for having called them. God saves the world by means of small groups and, even in the Church, not many people take the Gospel seriously: because this is also a grace of God.

 

Now Paul explains why the Jews lost the purpose of the Law (v. 31). They wanted to become holy relying on their own efforts. In this, some Christians today resemble them. They feel quite sure of their actions and are content with their lives. This presumption prevents them from seeing themselves as sinners.

 

They try to achieve their own perfection (v. 3). Many Christians likewise would like to come to God with hands full when, in fact, Christ invites us just to receive. In this way we receive the sacraments, not because we are worthy, but by extending our open hands like beggars.

 

 

 

• 10.1 Paul continues to develop the same theme of Israel’s unbelief using the Jewish method of discussion of the time. He distinguishes in the Bible various lines of thought. Apparently a great number of Old Testament texts only speak of fidelity in keeping the commandments but other texts make more of the gratuity of God’s gift. This once more makes clear that there is not “one” religion of the Bible: it is not enough to read any text and take it literally (which is called “fundamentalism”). The Bible gives us a series of testimonies where we recognize a path and a pedagogy from God. Throughout the centuries and in different cultures, Jewish and then Greek, he leads his people to the fullness of truth.

 

We have, perhaps, become used to a “progressive” view of history, rather as if all had to develop or “radiate” from what exists. Yet Jesus has shown that times succeed one another but are not alike. If there is pro­gress, and in a sense that is evident, it happens through upheavals and changes of perspectives.

 

Even in the Church there have been turning points in the course of this century. We must surely abandon the idea of a Church that, starting from western Christianity would by means of missions gradually extend to the rest of the world. Paul points out a different perspective: the current of grace could desert zones it had previously enriched to make other lands fruitful. He affirms that it is not caprice on God’s part; for him it is a matter of bringing the whole of humanity to maturity and he alone knows the way. We note at the same time how he defends the pri­vileged role of the Je­wish people. The same could be said of our ancient Christian bastions: their role, much less prominent, surely remains decisive, in as much as a remnant still remains faithful.

 

 

 

THE DESTINY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE

 

• 11.1 The two paragraphs 11-24 and 25-32 speak of the destiny of the Jewish people. As Jesus had announ­ced, the Jews were dispersed through­out the world, becoming a nation without territory, united only through its Law, its traditions and the certitude of it being God’s chosen people.

 

In times that still ignored the respect of those of other religions, a great number of Jews formed minority groups in Christian countries. It is a fact that people convinced of being the faithful of the one and only God quite naturally become insupportable to others (Esther 9). The Jews then have suffered from Christian fanaticism equal to their own. Christians did not see that their faith condemned religious fanaticism. They thought Israel was being punished for the crime of its ancestors in condemning Jesus: they saw in the tragedy of Israel, as in the survival, a sign from God.

 

In the course of this century Christians have become conscious of the non-violent character of the Gospel and that their vocation is to be a minority in the world: this has been a big step forward. It is time then to re-evaluate the role of the Jewish people, another minority given a place in history by God. They have not ceased being active in the world, often in saying what we ourselves should have said and did not and do not say. It seems that God willed this emulation between Jews and Christians, as Paul understands it. He clearly affirms that at the end of the world Israel would be reconciled with Christ and that Jews and Christians would recognize that their separate histories are one.

 

 

 

• 12.1 Paul here begins the second part of his letter: as in his other letters, he will try to be more practical here than in the first part.

 

Give yourselves as a living and holy sacrifice pleasing to God. It is not only Sunday that belongs to God—even if the weekly Eucharist is essential to Christian life. It is not only specific duties that we are to accomplish. God wants all that springs from our person.

 

Don’t let yourselves be shaped by the world where you live. We are invaded by propaganda, fashion, and songs without considering the weight of our cherished past. All that is the world: it encloses us in its logic and its would-be necessities. Yet we should be free for our heart to be only for God! We however become accustomed to what everyone does and still more to the sweet slavery of mo­ney. Without being aggressive or pessimistic the Christian will always challenge the world.

 

Inner renewal must transform you. Before adopting a rule of life, you must first have its spirit. You do not imitate St. Francis by wearing a habit: you must first be shattered by the love of the poor Christ. Christian renewal springs from new criteria, from a new vision of existence, of the modern world and of our liberty. Baptism that makes new Christians of us, initiates a renewal of our spirit enlightened by God. See Eph 4:3.

 

You will know what God wants. Following the best rules is not enough; we must constantly force ourselves to discover, me­ditate and understand the will of God in all the events of our life.

 

Take for example our body. See 1 Cor 12. We all form one body and we cannot give up our responsibility. Where Christians are very much in a minority, they usually depend a lot on the community that takes much of their time: this is the case Paul has in mind. He stresses that each one has his specific function in the Church: we are far from religious practice where the mass has mostly “listeners” who are silent.

 

 

 

• 4. From the way he speaks about Christian community, Paul lets us know that in his time it was not organized as in our churches today. In the early Church not everything depended upon priests educated apart from the common people and sent to the Christian communities from outside. As we said in Acts 14:23, the community elected a council of elders or presbyters, approved by the apostles. The most respected among them were the “prophets.” The body of presbyters, who had authority over the Church, were those who celebrated the Eucharist.

 

Everybody’s gifts were taken into account by the organization, which considered also as gift the ability to serve in the Church. See Ephesians 4:11 and commentaries on 1 Timothy 4:14.

 

Throughout history the Church has had to change its organization and constantly adjust itself to new social structures and cultural development.

 

Give with an open hand. Paul passes from the good discharge of ministries to the ministry of love for others.

 

 

 

• 9. Verses 9-13 presents a program of Christian life. Rather than the commandments concerning external acts, Paul stresses internal attitudes and dispositions.

 

Do not return evil for evil (v. 17). A demanding commandment of forgiveness so often formulated by Jesus. It is a false wisdom that would advise us to return evil for evil, mean behavior for mean beha­vior, a tooth for a tooth… It is also false wis­dom (v. 16) to strive to be noticed by adopting customs of a higher social class, or to dream of a life without material problems, or to regard more highly moneyed people, the power­ful or good speakers.

 

 

 

• 13.1 In the world where Paul lived, many people sought in religion an evasion from their family tasks and social duties (see 2 Thes 3:6-12). Paul stresses the “mystical” aspect of Christian life, but does not want such an evasion, so opposed to all his biblical formation. He will therefore insist on civil obedience in the context of a society far removed from our democracies of today.

 

This text of Paul has been distorted in the past by authoritarian governments, who after imposing their law by violence, expected to be obeyed as if they were the legitimate servants of God and the public good. It is still distorted today in many places—supposed colonies of imperialist countries; central power sees to the sending of preachers who will invite Christians to be silent in the face of injustice and economic plunder, using this paragraph to support their message. It is quite true that in a sense public servants are “God’s agents.” But do we not also find in the Bible that the devil gives power to those that serve him (Lk 4:5-7; Rev 13:1-9; Jn 12:31 and 14:30)?

 

Paul and his readers lived in a world where hardly anyone doubted the legitimacy of Roman authority. And as neither the common good nor peace can exist without authority and obedience, Paul declares that obedience to established authority comes from God. When he speaks of those who resist authority he has in mind those who try to impose their own interests or the interest of the group. What he does not accept is an anti-social attitude, a point that will arise in 1 P 2:12 and Tit 3:1 when authority begins to mistrust Christians.

 

No one may use these words to condemn those who resist for reason of conscience. In any case, it is only to God that a Christian submits his conscience. When the authorities demand something that is against truth and justice, he resists with the means his conscience reveals to him, ready to suffer punishment provided by human laws, and even to give his life. The great majority of the martyrs the Church honors today were condemned in their time as subversive persons and enemies of social order.

 

They are the stewards of God for your good (v. 4). We have to ask, then, if authority promotes goodness. When the laws favor only a minority, or allow corruption, or are oppressive to the poor, they are not at the service of God: let us remember Isaiah 5:8; 10:1-3; Amos 5:7-12.

 

The believer recognizes but one Lord: he will not accept that certain magnates become real “lords” capable of eliminating those who oppose their absolute power.

 

Jesus, for his part, refused to take part in politics (Mk 12:13-17), but he did not speak against those who wished to participate. He was free enough to denounce authority and to break the most sacred laws when they became oppressive.

 

During the past century the Church has reminded us very often that no authority can deprive a human being of his rights, and that everyone should be careful to elect authorities who serve the common good. In these matters, let us hear the doctrine of the Church: Gaudium et Spes 73-76.

 

 

 

• 11. You know what hour it is. This is the time to awake. Paul was just recalling the duties of a Christian in this world and he already turns to the opposite direction: beware of settling down in this world. The Christian is always awaiting the coming of Christ.

 

During the first thirty years of the Church, all waited for the imminent return of Jesus. When it became clear to them that history was being extended, they began thinking more of each one’s last end: it was then that they would meet Christ. In the present century we have come to realize that history is going towards an end and that we not only have to be ready for the last hour, but that we must also work for the evange­lization of the world. The Gospel is the power that, directly or indirectly, brings all human history to maturity; by living holy and responsible lives we hasten the coming of the kingdom of God (2 P 3:11-12).

 

 

 

• 14.1 Were the people in Paul’s audience really different from us? Reminding them of great truths, were they capable of smoothing the blocks that make community life so difficult?

 

Welcome those weak in faith. The Christians of Rome were mainly recruited among foreigners. Jews or Greeks came from different cultures and religions and had not wholly rejected their ancient customs. If the Jews wanted special meat, the vegetarians for their part would only complicate the problem. If the Jews had their Sabbath, others had their days of “fasting” and days of ill omen. In the beginning people were courteous towards one another; but then with time and pride, they did not fail to pro­voke a neighbor “in a spirit of faith.”

 

Paul reminds us of what Jesus had taught (Mk 7:19): there is no food or drink that is forbidden. Paul rejects, however, the disputes about all these things. Do not criticize their scruples. Whoever has overcome common pre­judices must ­respect the conscience of others. Each must sacrifice his own comfort for the well-being of others when this is required. We find similar difficulties when Christians of different backgrounds, races or political groups have to live together. It is an opportunity for them to show respect for one another.

 

Whatever we do against our conscience is sinful (v. 23): an important affirmation of the liberty of conscience. Perhaps it is often forgotten; but St. Thomas Aquinas himself reminds us that no law or religious authority should be followed against our conscience. It is, therefore, a grave responsibility to acquire good criteria through readings, conversations, reading the Bible, knowing that the Spirit is at work in all the life of the Church.

 

 

 

• 15.14 Here we see how gentle Paul was. He has the authority of an apostle of Christ and is able to solve the problems of the Church of Rome. Yet, he takes great care not to create divisions or rivalries, and he shows respect for the founders and leaders of the Roman community.

 

As a priest of Christ (v. 16). This term must not be interpreted as meaning what we understand by the Church’s priests. The first Christians did not use the word priest to designate their ministers, in order not to confuse them with the Jewish or pagan ministers who offered victims to God. Here, however, Paul compares himself to them. He does not present burnt offerings to God, but instead, he presents the pagans and reconciles them to God. This is the new and spiritual worship (12:1) that the apostles offer to God.

 

Still today there is danger of forgetting the difficult and often misinterpreted work of reconciling persons who have become both liberated and aware of their human worth. Only those who dedicate themselves to this evangelization can rightly celebrate the Eucharist.

 

 

 

• 22. The trip to Spain would mean going farther than Rome, center of the known world. This gives us an idea of how zealous Paul was in creating new communities in all parts of the world, without waiting for the newly founded ones to attain perfection. Today the mission is not beyond Rome or overseas: every Christian community should investigate beyond the frontiers of a “nice” area where a person feels at home. Then, perhaps, millions of others would be discovered who live at close range but nevertheless are “far way.”

 

I am going to Jerusalem to help that community. The attempt of the Jerusalem community to have common ownership of all their possessions had failed (Acts 2:44). So Paul organizes a collection for them in all the Greek communities, hoping this caring assistance would strengthen the links between Christians of Greek origin and Jewish Christians. It is often difficult to avoid tensions in the Church between groups of different cultures or classes. Quite often, it is even difficult to dialogue. Then the service of love will make hearts agree where minds cannot come to an understanding.

 

 

 

• 16.17 Brothers and sisters, I beg of you to be careful. There is no letter of Paul without this warning against divisions and against those who preach a “different Gospel.” The doctrine of the Church is the doctrine of the apostles, the witness­es of Jesus. There is a hierarchy, that is, a legally constituted authority, and Paul demands obedience in matters of faith.

 

The last sentence is a prayer of thanksgiving to God. It is similar to an­other prayer, more devel­oped, with which he begins the letter to the Ephesians.

June 25, 2007 Posted by | Biblia, Christian Community Bible, Commentary, Letters, New Testament, Paul, Romans | 1 Comment

Introduction to the Letters of Paul

From the beginning the churches took care to preserve the letters they received from the Apostles, since in them they had authoritative witnesses to the faith. It was more difficult then than it is today to gather these documents, and even save the perishable material of papyrus from dampness.

Before long, there was an initial collection of the first seven epistles arranged in the order of decreasing length: the four “great” letters to the Romans, to the Corinthians and to the Galatians, and “the letters from captivity”. Others came to be added: first, those to the Thessalonians which are actually the oldest; and then those that were passed on under the patronage of Paul: the letters to Timothy and Titus which were written some twenty or thirty years later, and the beautiful letter to the Hebrews, written most likely under the influence of Paul but by an unknown author. A phrase from the “second letter of Peter” (not written by himself but about fifty years after his death) is evidence that from this time the letters of Paul were counted among the inspired Writings (2 P 3:15-16).

 

Paul saw himself as “the apostle to the pagan nations”, seeing there his personal vocation beside Peter (to whom God had confided the charge of evangelizing the Jewish world) not only in Palestine, but also throughout the Roman Empire, wherever they were established. Paul received this mission from Jesus himself at the time of his conversion (Acts 22:21; Gal 2:7); so highly fundamental was it in the divine project of the mission and extension of the Church that it remained unfinished at the time of his death. The spirit of Paul, one of the great manifestations of the spirit of Jesus, is always at work in our midst through his letters.

June 25, 2007 Posted by | Biblia, Christian Community Bible, Commentary, Letters, New Testament | 1 Comment

Commentaries on Acts

Commentaries on Acts

 

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

 

 

During the three years of public life, Jesus set down the foundations of the Church: he gathered his first disciples and associated them with his mission (Mk 3:13-16). He put Peter in charge of the community (Mt 16:18) and made him the guardian of the faith (Lk 22:31) within the new People of God. He made the twelve apostles and the disciples a community of witnesses (Jn 15:16) and promised them the gift of the Spirit who would help them come to know the fullness of the Light which Jesus came to bring into the world (Jn 16:13).

 

Now, the Lord is risen, and from the pierced side of Jesus, a new people, a new world is born, like the child coming to life in the blood and water flowing from its mother’s womb (Jn 19:34). This gospel community, enlightened by the word of Jesus, enlivened by his Spirit, sets out to announce God’s marvelous deeds to the ends of the earth and to gather together in unity, the scattered children of God (Jn 11:52).

 

Two great giants stand out in this evangelization: Peter and Paul. Peter will devote himself in particular to the evangelization of the Jews, while Paul will become the apostle to the Gentiles (Gal 2:7-8).

 

Luke, the author of the third gospel, writes about this nascent Church in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, which was probably first called Acts of Apostles. If, as in the case of the gospels, earlier accounts of the Acts existed which Luke would have drawn upon to write his text, the harmony achieved in editing these various texts is indeed remarkable since it is very difficult to identify these different texts today.

 

Certain scholars believe that at the outset the Acts of the Apostles and the third gospel were one and the same text that was only divided up later. One point is certain, however: by the beginning of the second century, the Acts of the Apostles were already a separate text. However, the testimony concerning the beginnings of the Church has come down to us in two different forms: the “current text,” coinciding with the majority of ancient manuscripts of Syrian and Egyptian origin, and the said “Western text,” which is longer and where the disputes between the Jews and the first Christians are more in evidence.

 

The Book of the Acts does not follow a rigorous outline. One can, however, pick out some clear-cut divisions in the text which allow us to glimpse Luke’s project. Without focusing exclusively on Peter and Paul, Luke devoted the greater part of his work to them. In spite of many exceptions, Peter dominates the first twelve chapters, while Paul dominates the second part of the book.

 

From the geographical point of view, one can notice that the Acts bring us from Jerusalem, through Judea and Samaria, to Rome, thus following the mission to which Jesus appointed his apostles on ascension day (Acts 1:8). In the first seven chapters we are in Jerusalem, then in chapter 8 and those following, we see – of course, with some exceptions – the Church taking root in Judea, in Samaria and along the coastal plain; from chapter 13 onwards, we accompany Paul to Asia Minor and to Greece and finally, in chapter 28, to Rome, to the Palace of the Emperor, that is to say, to the heart of the pagan world.

 

There, the Book of the Acts ends abruptly, as if Luke, like the runner whose job is to accompany the Good News of salvation as it is spreading out from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, has achieved his goal and thus fulfilled his contract. This in itself is sufficient to remind us that the Acts, no more than the gospels, do not pretend to be a biography of Peter and Paul, or a detailed history of the early Church, but a testimony to the work of the Holy Spirit.

 

Indeed, the Holy Spirit is the veritable actor in the birth of the Church: this is the reason why many commentators, ever since the first Christian centuries, have not hesitated to call this book “The Gospel of the Holy Spirit.” With only slight modification we could use here the words of John in Jn 20:3: “The Spirit has accomplished many other signs which have not been written of in this book. These have been recorded so that you may believe that the Spirit is at work in the Church of Jesus Christ.”

 

Luke’s intention in the Acts is to highlight, in particular through the diverse preaching of Peter and Paul, how the mystery of Christ and of the Church has been announced and prepared for in the Old Testament, but also how this double mystery – Christ and the Church – fulfills the Old Testament.

 

In this perspective, Luke readily highlights the parallels between Jesus and his Church, and also between the people of the Old Testament and the Church: by way of example, let us mention the parallels between the death of Stephen and that of Christ, between the journey to Jerusalem of Paul and that of Christ, but also the opposition between the Tower of Babel and Pentecost.

 

Continuing in this same line of inquiry, Jerusalem constantly flows from the pen of Luke, (58 times). As he has done in his gospel, where the Holy City is mentioned 30 times, Luke points to Jerusalem as the place where salvation is accomplished and from where the Good News is to be taken to all nations.

 

 

 

 

 

 1.1 Throughout the Book of the Acts, the apostles affirm that they are “witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus” (2:32; 3:15; 5:32; 10:41; 13:31…). This testimony is not based on vague sentiments or doubtful visions, but on the “proofs” that Jesus gave to his apostles after his resurrection and which are echoed in the gospels.

 

The reference to the forty days is important. Inspired by the number of weeks – forty – which the child spends in its mother’s womb, the symbolic number forty indicates both the time of trial or growth and that of maturity: it is the time of waiting for new life. During forty days in the desert, Jesus prepared himself for his mission of Savior; during forty days the apostles will prepare themselves for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and for their mission of witness. It is in Jerusalem that the apostles will receive the baptism in the Spirit that will make them into new people. The Spirit that hovered over the waters (Gen 1:2) during the first days of creation, will descend upon them and inaugurate the new dispensation. The Church of which they will be the “pillars” will be first and above all the work of the Holy Spirit. It is in the Spirit that the apostles will find the strength to be witnesses of the Risen One in the very midst of the world.

 

You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the earth. Luke outlines here the geographic framework of the Book of Acts (see Introduction to the Acts of the Apostles). At the same time, he demonstrates how the dynamic of the Old Testament is reversed with the death and resurrection of Jesus.

 

From the first pages of the Book of Genesis, we know that the sky and the earth belong to God: he is their Creator and all belongs to him.

 

Later with the call of Abraham and the journey of Moses, we discover that in this universe there is one country which is particularly blessed by God, it is the Land of Promise; when David settles in Jerusalem, this city becomes the city of David, and at the same time, the city of God. From then on the Psalmist can say: “God preferred Jerusalem to all the towns of Jacob” (Ps 87:2) and in this Holy City, it is on the Temple Mount that God has prepared his dwelling (1 K 8:29). Thus gradually, according as God walks side by side with his people, lighting up the way with his Word, all eyes become fixed on Jerusalem and on the Temple.

 

Now, it is when people have destroyed the true Temple (Jn 2:19), the humanity of the Son by nailing him to the cross, that God brings forth life from death, and from then on, a new dynamic will burst forth from Jerusalem towards the other countries of the Promised Land (Judea and Samaria), and from the Promised Land to the ends of the earth. Each of the gospels in their own way, finishes with the sending of the disciples. Similarly, from the first pages of the Acts, Jesus reminds his Church of the demands of mission: when the Church, or even when the smallest community ceases to be missionary, she is no longer the Church of Christ.

 

After Jesus said this, he was taken up before their eyes (v. 9). Jesus multiplied the “proofs” of his resurrection for those whose vocation would be to become witnesses of the risen Christ (v. 3), but now he must let the disciples know the significance of the resurrection. In this final apparition on the day of his ascension, Jesus revealed to them the meaning of his own story: having come from the Father, he returns to the Father but he does not return alone, he brings with him a “captive people” (Eph 4:8) whom he snatches from the power of darkness in order to bring them into his Kingdom of Light (Col 1:13), he goes to prepare a place for us, so that where he is, we may be too (Jn 14:2-3).

 

For the moment, the disciples are still in this world, where they must bear witness to the new reality of the kingdom of God inaugurated by Jesus: a Kingdom which is not like the earthly kingdoms founded on power and money (Lk 22:25-26), but a Kingdom of love, of justice, of peace. This Kingdom is not to be found in the clouds, it is already in our midst (Lk 17:20-21) and it grows each time we let ourselves be guided by the Spirit of God.

 

 

 

 12. The apostles cannot begin such a difficult mission before they have received the Holy Spir­it. They have done everything that depended on them and now can only put themselves in the hands of God and wait perseveringly in prayer for the time he has fixed.

 

As John has done in giving us the word of Jesus to his mother, present at the foot of the cross (Jn 19:26-27), Luke here reveals to us the spiritual maternity of Mary. She is there sharing in the longing of the apostles, she is the New Eve, the new mother of all the living (Gen 3:20).

 

Mary, mother of Jesus, played a decisive role during those days when the apostles tried to reflect together on all they had seen and learned from Jesus, in order to clarify the message they had to give to the world. Mary, only witness of the annunciation and of the private life of Jesus, helped them perceive the mystery of his divine personality.

 

Luke does not speak about this: from now on Mary keeps herself in the background. Different from those “brothers of Jesus” who long for power in the Church, she is but a praying presence. From that moment the Church has a hierarchy but all those called to receive the Spirit are full members of this community or communion.

 

 

 

 15. Peter is acting here as head of the primitive Church. The death of Judas has left a vacancy in the “college of apostles” whose twelve members bring to mind the twelve sons of Jacob. Just as the Israel of old never accepted being deprived of one or many of its tribes, so too, Peter, will not permit the group of the Twelve to have one of its members amputated.

 

Peter will find a way to allow God to make known his choice. We may be surprised today that such an important decision could have been made by casting lots. Is this not a sort of washing one’s hands of the decision-making process? We must not forget that this episode is happening in a community whose religious culture welcomes signs from God. They know the qualities they would want to see in the candidates and two are eligible. Now the question is which one to choose? They pray to God to make his decision known and promise to accept the outcome. This election process, in the spirit of prayer and of abandonment to God, is it not finally as good as certain election processes, not excluding those used by the cardinals in conclave, where the real challenges to the Church have often been compromised by the dishonest voting of interested parties?

 

It is good to focus in this passage on the conditions which Peter laid down: To have followed Jesus from John’s baptism until the day when he was taken from us.” The Good News begins with the preaching of John and culminates with the ascension (Acts 13:14-31). In this way Mark’s is the typical gospel, Matthew and Luke have both added an introduction, the infancy narratives, while John makes use of a prologue to act as a kind of preface. For each of the evangelists, it is the resurrection accounts that dominate their gospels and give them meaning.

 

Like on so many occasions in the Old Testament (Jacob, Samuel, David…) God again chooses the second and possibly even the more simple person: let us examine the “calling card” of the first: Joseph named Barsabbas, also known as Justus while it is Matthias, without any other name or nickname, who is chosen by God.

 

 

 

 2.1 Pentecost was one of the greatest feasts of the Jewish calendar. Originally an agricultural feast, in the latter centuries of the Old Testament it became the celebration of the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai. For this occasion, like for the Passover, many Jews from the countries around the Mediterranean came on pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

 

It was during the Jewish Passover, which commemorated the liberation from slavery in Egypt, that Jesus, by his own death and resurrection, offered the world freedom from death and sin; it is on the day when the gift of the Law on Sinai is celebrated, the day when God made his covenant with the chosen people, that God now gives his Spirit to the “Israel of God” (Gal 6:16).

 

That very day the baptism of fire announced by John (Lk 3:16) takes place. God sends the Spirit of his Son and, with this, the Church is born. For the Church is not a human institution, or the work of a group of believers; it comes from God’s initiative, and God wills that individuals of every nation witness this event.

 

What happened at Pentecost was as unique as what was ac­complished by the resurrection. Nevertheless it follows the pattern of other interventions of God in history. On one hand, the Spir­it con­stantly brings about our apostolic renewals, religious awakenings, and dynamic communities that become the new blood of the Church, which constantly grows old and constantly needs renewal.

 

The Spirit comes to give life to the Church. It also comes to confirm or affirm the believers. The baptism of fire that the apostles receive is normally conferred on us through confirmation (see commentary on 8:9).

 

The rushing wind is a sign, because spirit means both breath and wind in the Hebrew culture. Inspired by the Spirit, Peter speaks up. He now knows the truth and believes, and this is why he can boldly proclaim it (Jn 15:26 and 16:13).

 

Each one heard them speaking in his own language. The repetition of this expression on three occasions (verses 6, 8, 11) is an indication to us that here is a key for understanding this passage. The miracle of Pentecost is not really in the fact that the apostles, all of Palestinian origin, began to speak in foreign languages, but in the fact that all the foreigners heard the proclamation of God’s wonderful deeds in their own language: that is the miracle of Pentecost. Many other New Testament texts refer to the “gift of tongues” (Acts 10:46; 19:6; 1 Cor 12; 14:2-19) but here in the Pentecostal text God outlines the basis of all evangelization: those who are called to have faith in Jesus, to become members of the Church, are not required to renounce their language and their culture, as the Jewish proselytes of old were expected to. On the contrary, God wishes to be praised and blessed by people of all languages and cultures: in this way the diversity of the members in the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12-13) will be clearly visible for all to see, likewise the gathering together through Jesus and his Spirit of God’s scattered children will also be visible (Jn 11:52).

 

Throughout her history, the Church has tended to forget the miracle of Pentecost when she imposed her language and her culture while evangelizing new peoples. Throughout her history, the Holy Spirit has also warned the Church against such temptations in the persons of apostles who live by the spirit of Pentecost.

 

 

 

 14. This is the first proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection. Peter, once again, aware of his responsibility in the group of the Twelve, speaks on behalf of all. He cites the texts of the Old Testament: Joel, the Psalms, etc. and demonstrates their fulfillment in Jesus and in the nascent Church.

 

I will pour out my Spirit. The Father sends the Spirit of Jesus to all people; he makes of all people his prophets, his witnesses.

 

I will perform miracles in the sky… Peter continues quoting the prophet Joel who announces the day of Yahweh, that is to say, in the Old Testament, the day of God’s judgement. According to Joel it appears that the people of Israel alone will escape punishment; but Peter expands the text and affirms (v. 39), at the end of his speech, that the salvation which comes from God is promised to all, to those who are near and to those who are afar, to all those represented here by the foreigners of diverse nationality.

 

God raised him to life. Peter recalls how Jesus showed many signs of love during his public life: in spite of that, or more precisely, because of that, he was delivered into the hands of pagans: how mysterious it is that people reject God’s love. More than 700 years before the coming of Jesus, the prophet Hosea was already familiar with this rejection of God’s love (Hos 11:1-4) and Jesus, himself, announces it in the parable of the murderous vineyard tenants (Mt 21:33-39). However, God, whose love is more powerful than our sins (Rom 5:20), raised him from the dead and made him the source of salvation for all (vv. 33 and 36).

 

Repent. Peter uses these words of Jesus at the beginning of his speech (Mt 4:17) – the Church is beginning to fall into the steps of Jesus – now it is no longer a question of receiving the baptism of John the Baptist, which was only a ritual of purification, highlighting the desire to repent. We must receive baptism “in the Name of Jesus.”

 

What shall we do?… Repent. In those days, to repent and to be converted meant to share the life of the infant Church which showed to the nation the way of sal­vation taught by Jesus. The Church did not appear as a new religion opposed to Judaism, but as a center of more authentic life.

 

Save yourselves from this crooked generation (v. 40). This means that the entire generation was missing the unique opportunity they were given. For God asked them to take the most decisive step in Sacred History; even Roman oppression could be overcome by a people able to put the Gospel into practice. At the same time Jesus made them discover the love of God the Father for which the whole Bible had prepared them.

 

Some three thousand were added to their number (v. 41). They already knew of Jesus, but were not committed to him. They were converted by the common action of the Holy Spirit and the apostles. A church in which signs of the Spirit acting could not be seen could not say that Jesus lives in her midst.

 

 

 

 42. Those who have been baptized feel strongly united by the new faith and long for a communal life. As they gather in private houses and the communities are not too big, they can know each other and share everything.

 

Luke tells us what they did and we must note the order of priorities:

 

   first the teaching of the apostles

 

   then comes Christian fellowship, with more attention to the weak (chap. 4)

 

   only then may the breaking of bread, that is, the Eucharist, be celebrated

 

   finally common pray­ers of thanksgiving to prolong the Eucharist.

 

In some communities today life is lacking because the first point, which is the basis for all the rest, is not given priority.

 

The Spirit of Jesus comes to us through the Word and the Eucharist: these are the sources of the Church’s dynamism. By the word, we do not mean the study of the Bible merely to know the Bible. The Bible helps us realize how God continues to speak to us through the actual achievements of our life, the community and the world.

 

The expression breaking of the bread could mean any Jew­ish meal that began with a blessing. But very early the Christians reserved this word for reference to the Eucharist that they celebrated remembering the last supper of the Lord (Acts 20:7; 1Cor 10:16).

 

Joy and simplicity of heart gave witness to the change in their lives and the authenticity of their fraternal sharing. They were deeply reconciled per­sons.

 

It was not the naive joy that is easily found in Christian groups who have no thought for the problems of the world. Neither they nor their enemies could ignore that Jesus had taken on the prob­lems of national reconciliation. They were enjoying the favor of the peo­ple who considered them to be concerned and responsible persons.

 

 

 

 3.1 We might sometimes think that Jesus cured all the sick. This is not true, since he did not heal this cripple who was in the Temple every day. This new sign brings about another proclamation.

 

Why are you amazed at this? The miracle was done in the Name of Jesus, that is, by the Power over every creature that Jesus received from the Father at the time of his resurrection. Jesus was in their midst as the servant of the Lord (Is 42:1; 52:13), but speaking of his Name was a way of stating his divinity (Mk 16:17; Phil 2:9).

 

I know that you acted out of ignorance. Yet Peter de­mands that they ad­mit their guilt. All of us must confess a similar guilt in the injustices and crimes of our times.

 

He must remain in heav­en (v. 21). The coming of Jesus inaugurated the “last days” in which the Gos­pel reconciles hu­manity with God, and changes human consciousness thus speed­ing up the course of history which, in the end, forces humankind to solve their problems together. Humanity is on its way to the coming of Christ and the restoration of the world, namely, the Res­urrection.

 

He sends him to bless (v. 26). This blessing comes to those who accept reconciliation with God upon seeing the love he revealed to us in Jesus. The blessing is not for us alone, rather, through us – the people of God – it reaches all the families of the earth.

 

 

 

 4.1 The Jewish leaders judge Peter and John. The Holy Spirit judges the leaders of the Jews.

 

These leaders believe they possess the truth because they are learned and have authority. It is impossible for them to back down before ordinary men who refute their statements. Meanwhile Peter points out how strange it is to be arrested for having healed a sick man (v. 8).

 

These leaders were Sadducees and they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead: Acts 23:6.

 

This text suggests that all of us can be the witnesses of Christ and of the truth, if we are determined to be involved. Often­times, because we only rely on our own strength instead of counting on the Spirit of Christ, we remain silent before our co-workers or our leaders.

 

What we have seen and heard (v. ­20). It is John speaking: see 1 John ­1:1.

 

 23. We can meditate on the way this church gathering develops: an event (the arrest) is shared by all. For them this con­frontation with the authorities is some­thing new. They con­nect what happened with the Word of God. In this case they refer to Psalm 2; then they begin common prayer and ask for courage to continue to do God’s works.

 

 

 

 32. Here we might understand that this sharing had become a rule in the early Church. In fact, if we pay attention to 4:36 and 5:4 it becomes clear that everyone admired what some of them did.

 

Jesus did not ask­ for this; yet they were doing it, inspired by the desire of every true believer to re­move all divisions between brothers and sisters, especially those created by money. Placing everything in com­­mon, however, requires not only a spirit of detachment, but also a sense of responsibility and organization. The believers in Jeru­salem lived at a time when work and foresight were not very important, and they soon consumed what they had, without being concerned about work­ing, and eventually became the “poor of Jeru­­salem.” Paul was to organize collections in other churches in order to assist them (Gal 2:10; Rom 15:25; 2 Cor 8).

 

 

 

 5.1 As children many of us were taught about the wonders God did in the past, as if God only acted in those days. The Jews of that time thought exactly the same way. The Bible spoke of the time of Moses when those who rebelled against God’s prophet were killed by divine inter­vention (Num 12:1; 16:1; 17:16). God continues to work in the Christian com­munity, and the ordi­nary believers of Jeru­salem suddenly discover that Peter, the fisherman, is not inferior to Moses. See also Acts 13:11; 1 Cor 11:30.

 

The couple’s sin does not consist in having kept part of their goods. Nobody was forcing them to sell their property and to give the money to the community. They wanted to deceive the apos­tles and give the impression they were donating everything, when in fact they were not.

 

We must be very careful when we speak of God’s punishment. For a Christian, the only punishment is to be forever separated from God. Death itself does not mean that God wants to punish us. Yet the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira served as a warning and a sign for the others.

 

Here the word church appears. Its exact meaning is “the assembly gathered by God,” and before Jesus’ time, the Jews used it to mean the new people that God was going to form in the messianic age. The believers continue to be proud of being Jewish, of being the people of God; nevertheless, little by little, the Holy Spirit separates them from the official community. They are already aware that they are the new people (Ps 22:32) gathered by God. The Church still means only the Christian community of Jerusalem. As other communities arise – other churches – “the Church” will refer to the entire people of God.

 

 

 

 12. So an ever-increasing number of men and women, believed in the Lord (v. 14). All the Jews believed in God who spoke through the prophets. It was easy for them to believe in the prophets of the past after the religious authorities acknowledged them and placed their warnings in all the books of the Bible. But it was quite a different thing to recognize Jesus as the prophet that God had sent them but whom they had rejected. The text states that to believe in the Lord and join the community are two inseparable steps. A person cannot belong to Jesus without belonging to the new people he has brought to life through water and the Spirit.

 

Verses 15-16 do not hesitate to compare Peter to Jesus.

 

 

 

• 17. Could this confrontation of the apostles with the rulers of the people be similar to what happens today in many countries when the Church denounces violations of human rights?

 

There are many Christians who say: it is not the same, since the apostles in their time were persecuted for proclaiming Jesus; whereas now, only Christians involved in politics are punished.

 

This, however, is not true. In Jesus’ day, the Jewish peo­ple were both dominated and divided. Jesus spoke as a totally free man, teaching a way towards free­dom, which today we would call non-violent action. The au­­thor­ities did away with him to defend the security of their nation (Jn 11:48) and their own political system. For the disciples of Jesus, to be con­verted meant to acknowl­edge com­plicity with those who put Jesus to death and to take the path indi­cated by him. Since they were living among op­pressors and re­sent­ful peo­ple, this was a very dangerous road (Lk 21:12-16).

 

In fact, when the priests judged Peter and John, they only demanded that they break away from this man (Jesus) whom they had legally condemned.

 

Proclaiming Jesus means preaching universal reconciliation (Eph 2:14), which is achieved at all levels of human life, including the economic and political. The Church would not be following Christ, nor would it be proclaiming Jesus as the only Savior (5:31), if it refused to be con­cerned that entire nations are condemned to die slowly through lack of food, edu­cation, and health. This crit­ical concern, however, would not be Christian preaching if it did not con­vince us to believe in the saving plan of God.

 

 

 

 33. Gamaliel was one of the most renowned among the masters of the Law. Here we see the open mind of this old Jewish teacher who knows that God’s ways are not always the ways of humans.

 

If their project or activity is of human origin (v. 38). Jesus had said something similar (Mt 15:13). Yet that does not seem evident. Are we not aware of many false doctrines that last? If they have lasted for centuries, perhaps it is due to the fact that in spite of the error and the evil they sow, they contain useful or necessary principles for a given time, or for certain human groups. Perhaps they make very important statements that the Church should proclaim but cannot or does not want to do. Experience shows that the majority of humans are not ready to embrace the Christian faith: must God abandon them because of that? Can we, who have Christ, say with certitude that such and such a one is not “the prophet.” Maybe God’s will is that he be the prophet of a certain group and help them in their searching for God (Acts 17:27).

 

Gamaliel was Paul’s teacher in Jerusalem for doubtless three or four years, a little after these events (Acts 22:3). Paul’s conversion will be providentially prepared through contact with this open and sincere man, and equally so through the death of Stephen (7:54-60).

 

 

 

 6.1 We must not think that Jesus indicated in every detail how the apostles were to organize the Church. A conflict took place between two social groups. It seems that these Hellenists followed the Essene party, who did not accept the legitimacy of the High Priests and who refrained from participating in the Temple rituals. The clash of ideas between “Hebrews” and “Hellenists” causes mutual mistrust so that it became necessary to give some autonomy to the Hellenists. Since the apostles identified more readily with the Hebrews, the others would have their own ministers for certain functions.

 

The community chooses sev­en men and the apostles give them a share in their au­thority, because any mission has its roots in Christ through the apostles.

 

The candidates must be filled with faith and the Holy Spirit, because they are not only entrusted with material services. And even if it were only for material services the Church would have much to suffer from competent administrators who lacked the Spirit of the Gospel. Were these seven men the first deacons? Luke mentions nothing beyond service, and “deacon” denotes servant, usually steward. In fact, this term, “deacons,” will from the start give the meaning of every ministry in the Church: ministry means “service” (1 Cor 12:15). Ministers are at the service of the community assembled by the Spirit to witness to the salvation given by Jesus. All through the centuries, the ministers of the Church would be tempted to misuse the role entrusted to them for the good of the community. Many will take advantage of their “service” to put themselves over the community: they will let others serve and honor them and will not hesitate to be called princes of the Church. What is true for those called to a high rank in the hierarchy is equally true for all those priests or lay people entrusted with lesser responsibilities: all must remember the words of Jesus (Lk 22: 24-27).

 

 

 

 8. Philip will be mentioned in Acts 8:5 and 21:8. Stephen is the only one remembered here.

 

Being a Hellenist (see previous paragraph), Stephen did not share the blind faith of the Jewish peo­­ple in their Tem­ple and its rituals. He understood that the Church had to become free from the patterns of the past and move away from the Jews, if they refused to believe.

 

Stephen’s long discourse before the San­he­drin (the Great Council) is an outstanding summary of the Old Testament. It emphasizes the increasing initiatives of God who calls, gives, promises, corrects and saves. Confronting this untiring love is the permanent rebellion of Israel who despises God and rejects those he sends. The prophet Hosea, eight centuries before Christ, already expressed the drama of the rejected love of God by his people (Hos 11:1-4). Stephen proclaims it again: this drama reached its culmination when Jesus, the Son-of-God-made-man, was nailed to the cross (Acts 2:23; 3:15; 4:10).

 

Stephen dies as Christ did. He becomes the first martyr (martyr means witness). He is a witness to Christ because he proclaims him, but even more so because he does as Christ did, he forgives his murderers.

 

Like Peter after Pentecost, Stephen still hopes for a conversion of the Jewish people: a minority at least will be converted. This hope will fade in time with the persecutions raised against the Church. The murder of Stephen would be the first sign leading the converted Jews to understand that apostolic work must be undertaken beyond the frontiers of the Jewish fortress.

 

Later, when it becomes clear that the Jewish community has rejected the Gospel, Paul will strive to build among pagan nations a network of communities, a new people of God. Then Paul and the other apostles will search for all those who, in any nation, have been predestined by God. They see the Church as a people of “saints.”

 

However, it again appears that many in the Church are not converted. As soon as the community grows and organizes itself, all the defects Jesus denounced in the Jewish Synagogue take place among the Christians and in the structures of the Church.

 

You always resist the Holy Spirit. This was and remains true in the Church that enjoys the assistance of the Spirit. The people of God always tend to take on the criteria and aims of any human group. Peace with those in political power, security for the future, unity and strength for the Christian organizations are more attractive than the words of the Gospel: sell all your belongings, preach on the rooftops, go to the poor, do not be called “father.”

 

The only way to escape from this return to “the Synagogue” is to do what the first Christians did after Stephen’s death: leave our beloved nest for the mission of proclaiming the whole Gospel.

 

 

 

 8.1 The death of Stephen leads to a resurrection. Instead of Stephen, the Church will have a new apostle in Saul who, after his conversion, will become “St Paul.” So God heard the prayer of Stephen for his murderers.

 

The illegal execution of Stephen unleashes the persecution against the Hellenist Christians. The apostles and others in the Hebrew group were not persecuted, because they were considered loyal to the Jewish religion and traditions.

 

Concerning Saul’s attitude, see what he himself will say later in Galatians 1:13.

 

 

 

 4. The persecuted Christians pro­claim their faith and start Christian communities in Samaria.

 

Evangelization brings happiness: God reveals himself, and through his Spirit he heals bodies and hearts. God becomes present. What a marvelous and moving thing! Joy, rather than fear and sectarianism, will always surround authentic Christians.

 

 

 

 9. Who is the most important person in this passage? Simon? No: it is the Holy Spirit.

 

Philip is one of the seven. He baptizes but he cannot communicate the gifts of the Spirit.

 

Baptism and the laying on of hands are the two stages of Christian initiation; they refer to two different aspects of life in the church. Baptism is the renewal of the individual through faith. While, the laying on of hands expresses the transmission of the Spirit in an uninterrupted way, be­ginning with those who received it at Pentecost.

 

This laying of hands (which has become confirmation in today’s Church) was then usually followed by these manifestations we read of in the Acts (19:6) and in Paul (1 Cor 12 and 14). The spectacular aspect of these gifts is often what impresses us most; they were part of a global experience that is still given in one way or another to those who have surrendered to the Spirit.

 

Simon, a magician, quack or hypnotist, gave Peter the opportunity to condemn a false understanding of spiritual gifts. Simon thought the apostles were more powerful magicians than he was, and wanted to buy the power of working certain miracles. Peter gives us to understand that looking for miracles is clearly not the way to prepare for receiving the Spirit. In any case, such things are not bought.

 

The manifestations of the Spirit are not always like the ones mentioned in Acts (see Acts 19:6 and 1 Cor 12). This is because God adapts his gifts to the needs of the Church.

 

Communities of simple, poor people are those that receive more gifts of healing for the sick. Because they lack normal resources, God becomes present. Prayer groups receive the gift of tongues, which is one of the gifts that strengthen piety. The gift of prophecy manifests itself in various ways according to context. Where faith leans heavily on the certainty of divine justice and the fear of God, we see predictions and revelations of the secrets of the heart. Where­as, among those with a more rational and intellectual bent, the prophet is often characterized by the gift of speaking with assurance and the ability to stress a point in such a way that the community or individuals recognize the voice of God.

 

The Spirit continues to be at work in many believers who, perhaps, neither speak in tongues nor work healings, but act under the inspiration of the Spirit. They produce the ‘fruits of the Spirit’ (Gal 5:22-24) and are thus authentic witnesses of Jesus.

 

Baptized in the Name of the Lord Jesus (v. 16). See the note on 19:5 on that subject.

 

 

 

 26. Note how the Holy Spirit leads Philip towards a man who was neither a Jew nor a Samaritan, the first person of another race to receive the Gospel.

 

The Ethiopian who is baptized is simply a man who ‘fears the Lord.’ This is the way they referred to people of other races who were attracted to the religion of the Jews and to faith in the one God. Without following all the Jewish customs, they read the Bible and liked to take part in the Jewish ceremonies.

 

The conversation with Philip begins on the basis of a text from Isaiah 53:7. This poem, called Ser­­vant of the Lord, speaks of a just man unjustly condemned who, through his sufferings, atones for the sins of all humankind. In this text the apostles saw one of the passages which best prefigured Christ: see commentary on Mark 14:24 and 1 Peter 2:24-25. Isaiah’s poem concludes with a veiled reference to the resurrection of the “Servant of the Lord.” It is marvelous to see how Philip can give a testimony of the Resurrection with such conviction that the Ethiopian believes in him.

 

 

 

 9.1 This is a decisive event in the beginning of the Church. Christ comes in per­son to win over the fiercest persecutor of the Christians.

 

The conversion of Saul, who will become Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, is also found in Acts 22 and 26.

 

It would be wrong to present Paul as an evil man who finally finds the right path. As shown in Acts 22:3-4; Gal 1:14 and Phil 3:4-11, Paul from his youth felt the need to dedicate himself to the service of God. This is why he went to Jerusalem to study the Law, that is, religion, with the best teachers of his day. His interest in the things of God made him uninterested in looking for a wife: he did not marry. To this young man, dependable and responsible, the Jews entrusted the difficult task of eliminating from their communities the new and suspicious doctrine of the Christians. Paul is in charge of the repression of Christ’s followers and he does this in a very harsh way, for the good of his religion.

 

Why do you persecute me? (v. 4) Who is this Lord who calls me a persecutor, when my only ambition is to serve God? Until that time Paul felt good, like the Pharisee of the parable (Lk 18:9), and thanked God for having made him a responsible, dependable and active believer. Now, faced with the light of Christ, he discovers that his merits and ser­vices are of no use to God; his faith is mainly human fanaticism; his self-assurance as a believer is disguised pride. Paul sees himself as a sinner, violent and rebellious; but at the same time, he understands that God has welcomed him, chosen him and forgiven him: this man is my chosen instrument (v. 15).

 

Paul is no longer the Pharisee of the parable; rather he has put himself in the place of the publican. “My God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” This is the characteristic conversion of a militant Christian. However active we may be, we will be unable to present ourselves as witnesses to Christ, if we do not admit to being forgiven sinners. This is why there is such Christian concern for universal reconciliation.

 

From then on, Saul (who will take the name Paul) will be a chosen instrument of Christ to spread the Church to other countries. Until then the Church, which was led by and made up of Jews, did not go beyond the Jewish people. Paul was a Jew too, but had been educated outside his country. He enjoyed the culture of the Greeks as much as that of his own race. Because of that and because of his exceptional personality, he was to be the apostle to the Greeks.

 

The Church must constantly renew itself, and is renewed through the conversion of adults. Christian communities, even when they want to be open to people who do not participate in com­munity affairs (for example, workers, or at times, young people), are usually unable to be really open. Thus the Lord calls some people from different walks of life that, once they have received the faith of the Church, will be able to evangelize those of their own milieu and to preserve their freedom with regard to traditional groups.

 

In crucial times in history, Christ called new men and women whom his Church needed: Fran­cis of Assisi and, closer to us, John XXIII.

 

The Way: this is what Christianity was called; the word expressed the fact that it is not only a matter of religious teachings, but rather a new way of life enlightened by hope.

 

 

 

 19. For three years Paul preaches his faith and relates his own experience in the province of Damascus, also called Arabia (see Gal 1:17 and 2 Cor 11:32).

 

Paul is already going his own way. He does not separate from the Church, as his journey to Je­ru­salem shows, since he goes there to meet the apos­tles. Yet he preserves his independence as he waits for the promptings of the Spirit.

 

 

 

 32. Peter appears in his role of “inspector” of the churches (the word bishop means inspector).

 

It is said here that he visits the saints. In the years prior to Christ, the word “saints,” namely, those consecrated to God, was used especially to designate the new people of God since the coming of the Messiah (see Dn 7:27). Christians are the new people of God since they are the Church (see 5:11); they are also the saints.

 

The raising of Tabitha is similar to what Je­sus did. It is an echo of the Resurrection of Christ, as the raising of Lazarus (Jn 11) or the widow’s son had been (Lk 7:11).

 

God wished to grant these signs to strengthen faith in Jesus’ resurrection. Besides the people who had been witnesses of his Resurrection, it was necessary that, in var­ious places, the communities could see for themselves that God “raises the dead” (see Heb 11:19). Similar resurrections have been seen in the Church even in this century.

 

 

 

 10.1 This is a new intervention of the Holy Spirit so that the Church would go beyond the Jewish world and the Gospel would reach other people. Cornelius (like the Ethiopian of 8:27) is a God-fearing man, that is to say, a foreigner who believes in the one God of the Jews, without being a member of the Jewish community.

 

The heavens were open­ed to him (v. 11). He may have seen a tent coming down – an image of God’s dwelling place in the world – which contained creatures considered unclean.

 

The Jewish religion included a whole series of prohibitions for believers. It distinguished between clean animals, name­ly those that could be eaten, and unclean ones that could not. The same regulations applied to peo­ple; Jews could not mix with non-Jews. Thus Pe­ter’s vision, in which he is invited to eat unclean animals, means that he must not hesitate to go and stay in the house of Cor­nelius the Roman.

 

We do not know if Peter would have hesitated to baptize a non-Jew (and uncircumcised) as Cornelius was. The manifestation of the Holy Spirit forced his hand.

 

At last someone of another race is baptized! In many places today as well, the Church is in danger of being reduced to a closed social group, and, perhaps, of becoming antiquated. Popes and bishops invite us to go forward and to dialogue with all people. Yet it would seem that only the intervention of an angel could convince us to go to other people.

 

He sent his people (v. 36). Peter presents Jesus. Jesus’ life was that of an authentic pro­phet, who comes to continue the work of previous prophets, spokespersons of God’s word. But, in Jesus, God was offering the good news of peace, that is, God was reconciling humankind with himself, once and for all. We are easily reminded of one of Paul’s central points: see Rom 5:1-11; 2 Cor 5:11-21 and Eph 2:14-16.

 

Judge of the living and the dead (v. 42). This expression comes from religious concepts of the time, making a distinction between the judgment of those who would witness Christ’s return at the end of the world (the living) and those who had died before (the dead). See the same in 1 Thes 4:17.

 

One receives forgiveness through his Name. Through his Name, that is to say, through his own power and effectiveness. This confirms Jesus’ divine authority.

 

 

 

 11.1 That Peter went to baptize a non-Jew seems to us the most normal thing. Let us not forget that the Christians of Jerusalem remained Jews, with their education, their prejudices and their sensibility. They did not see how a person could be part of Jesus’ family without first belonging to the people of God who, for them, identified itself with the Jewish nation. Could someone become their brother without first being circumcised? The warning they gave Peter is the first witness of the constant pressure that Christians have always brought to bear on their priests and bishops through­out history. Everytime that someone would like to open our Church to people of another culture, a powerful group will only be willing to accept those who consent to lose their own identity and be Christians in the way we ourselves are. These believers in Jerusalem are not acting in bad faith and they accept Peter’s explanations. Like him, what courage the leaders of the Church will need to respond to the calls of the Holy Spirit when faced with the prejudices of a group!

 

 

 

 19. Antioch, 500 kilometers north of Jerusalem, was the principal town of the Roman province of Syria, a pagan country, where Greek was spoken but where there was an important Jewish community. Luke does not tell us who presented the Christian faith to the pagans for the first time, nor how that happened. The Christians of Jewish origin that did it would deserve a statue, or better still a feast in our liturgy. So there is at Antioch for the first time a community where Jews and non-Jews are assembled: the future of the Church was there. The Jerusalem community is the Rome of the primitive Church. It is conscious of its authority and immediately asks to examine more closely this extraordinary new happening: a Church where Jews accept to rub shoulders with the uncircum­cised.

 

The Jerusalem com­munity behaved as having auth­ority over the new churches; the case of Antioch would touch everyone since, for the Palestinian Jews, accepting pa­gans was something of a scandal. Did not the Law of Moses forbid living with “uncircumcised” people?

 

 

 

 27. There is mention of prophets. Among the gifts that the Holy Spirit granted to converts, the gift of “prophecy” was one of the most outstanding. On various occasions the “pro­phet” would receive from God an insight into future events of the community, or something concerning one of its mem­bers. They would also give homilies “in the Spirit.” Everyone would recognize the hand of God in the conviction and wisdom with which they spoke, discovering a word relevant to the present in a biblical passage.

 

The first gesture of fraternal assistance among Christians of different coun­tries is un­der­lined. In this paragraph the elders or “presbyters” (it is the same word) are mentioned. The leaders of the Christian commu­ni­ty were so called, following the Jewish custom.

 

 

 

 12.1 This second persecution reaches the entire Christian community of Jerusalem (see 8:1). James (the great­er) was one of the pillars of the church together with Peter and John (Gal 2:9).

 

Peter’s second release (see the first in 5:19) brings out the po­werful intercession of the Church on behalf of its leader, and also the will of Christ to keep his church beyond reach of the power of evil (see Mt 16:18).

 

Report this to James (v. 17). This James is the “brother of the Lord”: he was already accepted as responsible for the church in Jerusalem.

 

 

 

 13.1 This is the beginning of Paul’s missions; for the time being he is sent as Barnabas’ assistant.

 

It is very difficult to know how the Church organized itself in the beginning. It did not have the same kind of hierarchy with three orders that we have now: bishops, presbyters (or priests) and deacons: this started only at the end of the first century. The Churches of Jerusalem and Antioch were certainly not directed as those in small towns. Most of the time, the communities chose their elders among the most trusted men. They had to be recognized or installed either by the apostles or some other superior authority and accepted by the neighboring communities. Their ministry as leaders included baptism, the celebration of the Eucharist and the anointing of the sick. This institution of the Elders (see 14:23 and 11:30) copied exactly the organization of the Jewish communities.

 

However, wherever there were prophets accepted as such (this was the case in Antioch), they enjoyed greater authority, somewhat like the apostles (1 Cor 12:28 and Eph 2:20).

 

Paul and Barnabas are not considered apostles yet, but they are prophets. As for the teachers: they are those who have the ability to teach doctrine and morality based on Scripture, for the ser­vice of the community.

 

Luke gives the details of the beginning of this mission. It emerges from the initiative of the Holy Spirit, but responds to the life of fervor of the community of Antioch. Note also that the community agrees to have two of its five leaders leave, and that Saul and Barnabas are ready to face the risks of this adventure.

 

The laying on of hands invokes the grace of God upon these two missionaries.

 

 

 

 4. This first mission begins in a very traditional way. Jews could travel through­out the Roman em­pire: in any impor­tant city they would find other Jews involved in trade and always gathered in communities, in “synagogues.” From Anti­och, Barnabas and Saul travel by sea to the island of Cyprus, Barnabas’ homeland.

 

The meeting with Ser­gius Paulus has the value of a sign: the Gospel not only convinces simple people, but also authorities. Paul is aware that he must witness before “kings and rulers” (Lk 21:12). The prophetic gifts of Saul are seen when he meets Sergius Paulus. From then on, the Book of Acts will no longer speak of Saul but of Paul: had the governor authorized him to use his family name? For Paul, who was already a Roman citizen (16:37), it is a further step in becoming integrated into the world of the non-Jews.

 

Paul and his companions. Once the mission began, Paul becomes the obvious leader. They do not stay in Cy­prus; they leave there groups of believers who have been hastily instructed.

 

When they arrive on the continent, at the inhospitable area of Perga, John Mark leaves them. Paul’s daring plans may have scared him. They go through the mountain range of modern Turkey and reach the heart of the province of Pisidia – Antioch (which must not be confused with the other An­tioch).

 

Luke gives all the details of the events at Antioch in Pisidia, because they were typical of the situations Paul was going to face in various parts of the Roman empire.

 

Paul speaks at the Sabbath gathering in the “syn­agogue” (house of prayer of the Jews). The worship involves psalms and biblical readings (obviously, from the Old Testament). Then, one or sever­al of the leaders make comments. Since Paul is a visitor, out of deference, they ask him to speak.

 

Paul’s discourse, this return to the history of Israel may seem to us to hold little interest, as was the case for Peter’s (chapter 2) and Ste­phen’s (chapter 7). But it was the Jewish way of preaching, and for all these emigrants, there was nothing more interesting than being reminded of this history that they knew by heart and which gave them their identity in the midst of other peoples. So Paul presents this history, highlighting a series of facts that gives it meaning and clearly leads to Christ. Paul shows that God’s promises to Israel have been fulfilled in the resurrection of Christ.

 

We have here a way of understanding the Gospel that we must not lose. We hold that the Jewish and later the Christian faith is “historical.” That means first of all that God has been revealed through history: our faith is not a doctrine developed by thinkers, nor has it sprung from legends. It also means that the resurrection of Jesus marks a new departure for all human history and that year-by-year history presses on towards an end where the sole issue will be Judgment and the Kingdom of God. We cannot simply preach a doctrine that is always true, we must show how the Gospel is a living power and how the Spirit of God is at work in events.

 

The audience reacts in various ways. Those who are listening are not all Jews; there are also those “who fear the Lord,” or “proselytes” whom we have already met in the Ethiopian (8:30) and Cornelius: these are considered second-class believers by the Jews.

 

From the first words, Paul greets them the same way he greets the Jews. Then, in his preaching, he does not emphasize the observance of the Law, which only the Jews could fulfill and which made them feel superior to others: instead, Paul declares that the Law is surpassed (v. 38). He stresses the promises of God addressed to all people. Those who “fear ­God” are delighted by a Gospel that makes them God’s children, just as the Jews are.

 

They all invite Paul to speak on the same theme the following Saturday. At that time Paul makes an important decision: Instead of restricting himself to the Jews during the week, he prefers to go to those who “fear God,” people whom he wins over because he is not racist in any way. These people, in turn, bring others to the gathering on the following Sabbath – pagans who had never been involved with the Jews but now mix with them.

 

Then a crisis occurs. The assembly divides into two factions. Those Jews who are most close-minded and proud are afraid when they see themselves surrounded by “unclean” pagans; they oppose Paul and even try to throw him out. Rich and pious women intervene. From that moment, a Christian community separate from the Jews is formed.

 

Is not all this factual? If we do not often have such crises in our own Church, it is perhaps because the apostles are few, as in Paul’s time and we have not yet had the visit of the one who will be heard beyond our walls.

 

All those destined for everlasting life (48). This expression does not condemn those who have not believed. It simply states that the coming to faith was a gift for those believers: God entered their life and made them bearers of a current of divine life that would transform the world (Jn 17:3).

 

 

 

 14.1 What happened in Antioch in Pisidia happens here as well: Paul and Barnabas speak fear­lessly. This is one of the characteristics of the genuine apos­tle, moved by the Holy Spir­it. This self-assurance has a powerful influence on the conversion of the audience, but it is not a natural human gift. Paul will indicate that God gives it to preachers who place their trust in God, especially when they feel the weakest and the least prepared (see 1 Thes 2:2 and 2 Cor 12:10).

 

 

 

 7. Once beyond the town of Iconium, where many citizens spoke Greek, there was nothing to help the missionaries, including the problem of language. There was also the weight of the traditional religion. It would seem to us at times that it should be easier to teach the faith in a place where everyone had a religion, and therefore a certain faith in God. This is not so. Having religion meant submitting to the totalitarian authority of customs and social traditions linked to this religion. People were enclosed in a system of interested relation­ships with their divinities where it was impossible even to imagine the reaction of a free per­son in relation to God. The non-believers in our modern societies have in fact been freed of many prejudices and confusions.

 

Paul saw that he had the faith to be saved. This man must have been still far from faith that recognized Jesus, Christ and Son of God, but it was the same faith of many of those Jesus healed in the Gospel. God does not call only theologians, even if they are needed in the Church; the others, the “little ones” should feel that they also are the very substance of the Church.

 

The crowd is astonished by the miracle, but it is clear they have not understood. They want to return thanks, as they always did, since God once more showed his mercy: Paul did not come for that. All happens as at Iconium and Antioch: the pre­sence of Jews in every city of the Empire, the close communications between their communities made them formidable enemies for those who had the central authorities of Jerusalem against them. The Jews were to persecute the Christian communities and indispose the Roman authorities against them up to the Jewish War of 66-70 that brought about the ruin of their nation.

 

The difficulties of Lystra in fact helped Paul to define his objectives: he will no longer risk going to the provinces where it is difficult for him to speak and to be understood, and where he himself does not feel at home. From now on, he will evangelize the cities situated at the great crossroads, as well as the ports, and will leave to others the care of spreading the Gospel in the inner regions.

 

 

 

 21. Derbe marks the end of the mission. Paul and Barnabas go back the same way they had come. They visit all the communities established on the continent. Then they will sail for Antioch without returning to the island of Cyprus.

 

In those days the Church did not have parishes, clergy, institutions, or books. The apostle had to organize the Church in such a way that it might continue. There was a book, the Jewish bible, namely, the Old Testament. The prophets inspired by God would draw new teachings from this book, by discovering a sign of Christ in the past. From time to time apos­tles or prophets coming from other churches would visit the community.

 

There will be gatherings around the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (see 1 Cor 11); besides the Eucharist, everyone will share with others their own spiritual gifts (see 1 Cor chapters 12–14). Just as the Jewish communities had leaders called “elders” or presbyters, Christians also lay their hands on leaders, “presbyters,” who will lead and preside over the Eucharist (see commentary on 13:1).

 

So we understand that a mission does not reach its goal if it does not succeed in forming adult communities, with their own leaders and with the active participation of their members.

 

 

 

 15.1 We see the first internal conflict in the Church. Paul himself relates it in Gal 1:1-10.

 

Already for two or three centuries the migrant Jews in Greek-speaking lands had been attracting numerous pagans to their faith. These had, practically, to be integrated into the Jewish people since the Bible – the Old Testament – demanded without distinction, faith in the One God, circumcision, Jewish dress, respect for the alimentary taboos of the Jews…

 

A good number of Christians in Jerusalem did not see entry into the Church any differently. The Pharisees among them were more categorical in expressing their point of view (v. 5) while James did it with more nuance: pagans were saved by faith in Christ, but this remained linked to observance of the law. This signified that for these Christians, without being fully conscious of it, faith was integration with the people of God, but this people of God remained identified with Israel. Paul’s missions created a new element: communities formed in Greek countries with a majority of non-Jews and Paul laid down no condition for their baptism. For them the people of God was the Christian community. Would the Church be divided? Would Paul become the initiator of another “Christian” Church, more radical in its appreciation of salvation by faith alone in Christ? The meeting at Jerusalem was an effort of the whole Church to clarify its faith and safeguard its unity.

 

The manner of resolving the conflict clarified the communal aspect of the Church. The “elders” in charge of the mother-Church in Jerusalem met with the apostles who were the supreme authority in the Church. Simon Peter addresses them, referring to the experience he had in the case of Cornelius (chapter 11), and he opened the way to total freedom with regard to the Jewish reli­gion.

 

 

 

 13. The intervention of James, a firmly conservative leader of the Jerusalem Church, insisted on measures with the purpose of not scandalizing Chris­tians of Jewish origin. Even if the law is not obligatory, Christians of pagan origins would be asked to abstain from certain things most repugnant to Jews: the problem of blood (black pudding!) and unbled meat first of all, and also marriages between relatives, and food used in pagan sacrifices.

 

 

 

 22. If we re-read chapter 2 of Galatians, then Acts 21:25, we may think that Luke has combined here two events: the meeting at Jerusalem as well as a decision James took later for the Churches that depended directly on Jerusalem and where the Christians of Jewish origin formed the majority. That helps to understand the decree that follows.

 

The final decision of the “Council” of Jerusalem, as it is presented here, is doubtless the best the apostles and the Holy Spirit could do at the time. Let us frankly say that the settlement could only be provisional and lacked doctrinal justification. To impose Jewish laws was to penalize non-Jews; it was also a way of saying that the Church was unable to live according to the “newness” of the Gospel, free of the past, free of religious discipline. In fact, a few years later, there was no question of these laws since the Church had freed itself of the Jewish community, just as it had been rejected by the Jews.

 

The following expressions are to be noted: the apostles, the elders, and the whole community… it has seemed right to the Holy Spirit and to us: the decision of the community united to its apostles guarantees the presence of the Holy Spirit. On several occasions in history, similar debates have taken place, but then it was not a question of freeing the Gospel of the Old Testament laws; it was the laws and customs of the Church that had become the impossible burden to carry (v. 10) for a large human majority. Only when a debate is wide open, as was the one at Jerusalem, does it succeed in pointing out the obstacles and ecclesiastical taboos. As long as the central organisms stifle the liberty of expression, the mission weakens and encloses itself within a traditional clientele decreasing day by day.

 

 

 

 36. This is the year 50. It has been thirteen years since Paul encountered Christ on the road to Damascus and now another stage of his life is starting. He acts as the leader in charge. The apostles and the Church in Jerusalem officially recognized the mission that Christ had given him on the day of his conversion: he will be the apos­tle to the pagan nations of the Roman world (Gal 2:7-9; Eph 3:8-9).

 

The sudden breakup between Paul and his friend Barnabas should not surprise us: faith does not destroy one’s personality. Time and thanksgiving tend to lessen conflicts. Some years later Paul, who is imprisoned, will be helped by Mark (Phil 24), and much later, imprisoned again, Paul will ask Mark to come and help him (2 Tim 4:11).

 

 

 

 16.1 For Paul it is not enough to have established Elders in every com­munity; he also wants to have assistants who are to visit and strengthen the existing communities and form new ones, as Paul himself does. Timothy becomes the first of these. The apostle takes into account the good testimony that believers give of Timothy. When it is a matter of looking for leaders for the Church, Paul will always demand that they have a good reputation (see 1 Tim 3:7 and Titus 1:6).

 

A detail shows us how Paul was able to give in. He does not want pagans to be circumcised: this ­ritual has no value for a Christian. Yet, since Timothy is Jewish, Paul circumcises him according to the Jewish rite, so that he will not have any problems with believers of Jewish origin, and so that they will be better able to minister among them.

 

Luke gives but a few details of a journey that probably lasted two years. Paul’s letters give us an idea of the unremitting work he undertook to form believers and their leaders: a mission is more than gathering people together and preaching to them; it has to arouse and convert those who will give life to the community – a life of its own and which will continue to develop.

 

On two occasions the Holy Spirit prevents Paul from carrying out his plan to develop the Church in the Roman province of Asia. The Spirit shows him he must go beyond, to Macedo­nia that was the first province of Europe. Thus God’s will that the Gospel be taken as soon as possible to Rome, the center of the empire, is carried out. Paul, who is so dynamic and enterprising, follows the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

 

 

 

 9. Suddenly the text mentions we, that is to say, that Luke is beginning to relate his own involvement. We must conclude that in Troas, Paul and Silas met Luke, a doctor from Antioch who was waiting for them. He may have arrived by boat while the two missionaries were traveling inland.

 

 

 

 16. From the beginning, the Gospel proves its freeing power that in a first time results in the imprisonment of the apostles. Paul frees a female fortune-teller. This gift is condemned in the Old Testament (the Bible seems to recognize that it is not necessarily a question of fraud). This fortune-telling appears to be linked to dark powers that deny the absolute over-ruling power of God regarding the destiny of his children (Col 2:15; 1 Cor 2:8): wanting to know the future is in fact always to doubt God. The master of this girl put forward an argument that was meant to impress the authorities in a society where customs were sacred – the same argument the Jews used and will use against Paul (and later many “Christian” societies will use it against true believers): these people introduce customs which are not lawful for us Romans to adopt and practice.

 

In Roman jails there was a main room and in the center of the pavement a grill closed the opening through which the most dangerous prisoners were thrown into an underground cell. They throw Paul and Silas there. They are perfectly free in spite of their chains. Though they have been beaten and are wounded, they feel like praising God. In the silence of the night, the jailers and the other prisoners listen to them.

 

God is also listening. How many similar episodes, wherever a witness of Christian freedom has been at the risk of one’s life and liberty!

 

We who take the time, and rightly so to prepare for baptism, might be surprised by this very swift baptism of a whole family. It could be said that it was a special case: let us stress also that all this happened in a very different world from our own.

 

Note also that Paul knows how to defend his rights (v. 37).

 

 

 

 17.1 In this mission, we should note the case of Thessalonica, capital of Macedonia. The Christian community will begin with people of Greek origin, worshippers of God, whom Paul met in the synagogue, and with other Greek pagans. The few Jewish converts (v. 4) will probably become the pillars and the educators of the community. They had a lasting experience of God’s word and knew how to use the Bible. They sang the psalms, had some idea of a liturgy in the framework of a community, and had a better grasp of moral principles. Paul will always be careful not to let the Jews bring the converts back to a religion of commandments, but it was doubtless that among them he would, for a time, find the better prepared elements. Persecution prevents Paul from staying more than two months. How could a church formed under such conditions and consisting of pagans with little training survive? Yet it persevered: see the Letters to the Thessalonians.

 

 

 

 16. Athens was the most famous city in the Greek world. Even after the loss of political control, Athens remained the cultural center of the Roman world. Paul goes there, as he always aims for large cities or ports, where news travels from one place to another and spreads through sea travel.

 

He is offered the chance of speaking before the philosophers and the authorities of Athens, and he accepts. For these intellectuals he formally states his message, but it is a flop. It might have been expected. Usually those who accept the faith are those whose life draws nearer to Christ. His audience was only interested in novelties; they were masters, and Paul had no title. Paul confronted the Christian faith with the other religions, showing that for all peoples it was time to begin a new worldwide age. A first part recalled the fact of religious plurality: it was only a first stage in God’s plan. Then came the Gospel: all humanity was to unite in order to prepare for God’s judgment. It was there without a doubt that Paul would have given his own witness, but they did not allow him to finish his discourse.

 

Different than what the Jews often did (see again Wisdom 11–15), Paul does not attack images and the honor given to them. Paul knows that in all religions, many people give images their due place and do not confuse these traditional images and rites with the true and only God, for they have a certain idea of him. Paul only wants to show that this God is far beyond the figures we attribute to him, and immediately affirms the unity of humankind in the plan of God. From one stock he created the whole human race. Let us not resume the outmoded discussions to know if Paul condemns or not the theories of human origin from different individuals. Paul affirms that the race is one in God’s plan: the first among them, the model, the elder brother is not the little prehistoric ancestor but Christ, Son of God.

 

He wanted them to seek God by themselves – and eventually to find him. An astonishing affirmation of a humanity to which God has not said everything and which has to advance by groping and making many mistakes. God has so willed it, even if dictators think to impose a truth. Here, Paul does not condemn philosophers with­out faith, or whose theories have many harmful aspects.

 

How many interesting perspectives! Are we to be satisfied in just condemning our world in crisis? Never has humanity known such an upheaval in its conditions of life, such challenges to face, such changes to accept in everyday life. It is normal for a person to be disoriented, to have to grope and make enormous errors: this is part of God’s plan. Very often the Church is unable to say what is the best choice: are not Christians the Church? And they are divided. God has not the habit of supplying prophets who would think and know for others. We can only reaffirm what is our faith: every­thing should end with judgment and the judgment will be made before Christ. Peoples are saved and condemned according to whe­ther they accept or not this God who became one of us and one of those who serve.

 

Later, however, Paul points out that God prefers to overlook that time. Christ has come: starting with him, who is the head (Col 1:18), the dispersed children of God are going to be gathered in one body (Jn 11:52; Eph 1:10), and since he is the definitive truth, all must believe in the Gospel. God judges the world through Christ, that is to say, that people are saved or condemned depending on whether they accept or reject this God who appeared humble.

 

 

 

 18.1 Corinth, the main port of Greece and capital of the province of Achaia with 600,000 inhab­it­ants, of whom 400,000 are slaves, is a religious, commercial and cultural center. It has countless temples with thousands of prostitutes serving in them. The city is famous for its luxury and its corruption. Paul goes there and remains eighteen months – until the end of the year 52. This date is exact: history tells us that Gallio was governor of Achaia during the year 52.

 

Aquila and his wife, Priscilla, had just arrived in Corinth. They were perhaps already Christians, but Jewish Christians were not different from others before the decree of the emperor.

 

Aquila and Priscilla sim­ply place themselves at Paul’s service to help him. They will assist him on other occasions with the natural availability of peo­ple who do not feel tied to any city or country.

 

A vision: there are not many in this book. Perhaps Paul was wondering whether it would not be better for him to retire for a time as he had already done and as Jesus had advised in case of persecution (Mt 10:23). The devil increases the opposition when someone sets foot on his field: in this center of corruption, grace would triumph.

 

The Jews brought him before the court. Here we have a new example of the problems Paul met in the great Roman centers. Different peoples co-exist and many conflicts are settled within communities according to their proper laws and customs. Gallio, the Roman governor, has no wish to be dragged into the jungle of traditions and disputes, especially with the Jews who enjoyed religious privileges within the Roman Empire.

 

The Jews are furious in seeing the success of Paul that relies on the Word of God, that is, on their own sacred books. They fear that the boldness of the Christians might stir a reaction from the pagans, in which case they, too, would be the victims.

 

They seized Sosthenes – and beat him. A sure bet would be that this Sosthenes, a Jew, is the one mentioned in 1 Cor 1:1. Even if he already acted as a prominent member of the Christian group, it is doubtful whether the Jews would have attacked him before the authorities: most probably it was a group of bystanders falling on a well-known Jew.

 

Paul had made a vow (v. 18). He shaved his head as it was said in Numbers 6:5. All that Paul had written to turn converted pagans away from the Jewish Law did not prevent him, a Jew, from feeling at ease with the traditional forms of Jewish piety. He knew that faith alone saves, but it was his wish to mark with a vow some secret agreement he had made with the Lord.

 

 

 

 23. In this short paragraph Luke combines the end of the second journey and the beginning of the third.

 

Paul does not stay in Ephe­sus, the capital of the province of Asia. He is in a hurry to return, after two and a half years of mission. He goes up to Jeru­salem and returns to An­­tioch, which is the first and the main among the churches in the pagan world. Paul goes there to rest after every journey. The life of this large community, with years of experience, and the contact with its apostles, helped him to see what the future of the Church would be.

 

When he leaves again, Paul visits the churches established on his second mission. This takes him several months, so he will only arrive at Ephesus in 54. Meanwhile a church had been established there.

 

 

 

 24. During Paul’s absence, Aquila, Priscilla and others resumed the first contacts that he had established in the Jewish community. An important success: the integration of Apollos who will be one of the most valued missionaries (1 Cor 3:6; 4:6; 15:12). Apollos, we are told, knew something of The Way (v. 26). We have already met this term which denoted Christianity: not only a religion, nor only a faith or morale, but all that together and more. Apo­llos, like the twelve men mentioned in 19:1-7, had probably been in Palestine when Jesus was already known there. His teaching had not yet given rise to a movement nor made a stir equal to that resulting from John the Baptist’s preaching, which was followed by baptisms and commitments.

 

 

 

 19.1 For three years, Paul wanted to evan­gelize Ephe­sus. Ephesus was one of the most beautiful and largest cities in the empire.

 

Luke wanted to relate the baptism of these twelve disciples of John the Baptist. As we have just said they knew something of Jesus’ teaching, but as for being his disciples, they lacked what was most important: they had not received the Holy Spirit.

 

The Holy Spirit came down upon them (v. 6). See Acts 8:14-17. We must not forget that in the beginning, the Christian language was limited. We know that the Holy Spirit is much more than the manifestations that follow the laying on of hands. So we have such statements as: we have not heard that there is the Holy Spirit, while other texts state: that the Holy Spirit be received. The laying on of hands is meant to confirm the change worked at baptism through the experience of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:7). Many Christians would be surprised today if they have never had this tangible experience of God. Let us not say that these gifts are no longer useful or that such things do not happen today. What is important, surely, is to believe and live one’s faith rather than to feel it. Such an experience, however, is often the shock that gives rise to a re-blossoming of our faith: it shows us that God is near, and he is master of our inner self. Perhaps our rationalist temperament and our Church life, mistrust­ful of all that is a personal expression, serves as a dampener of the gifts of the Spirit; perhaps it is rather the poverty of our commitment to Jesus.

 

They were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Are we to presume that in the beginning baptism was in the name of Jesus and not in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit? It is not certain.

 

In the name of signifies: by the power of; maybe the baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit was called the baptism in the name of Jesus to distinguish it from the baptism of John and the baptisms of other religions. It is also possible that at the moment of receiving the water in the name of the Holy Trinity, the person baptized had to make a personal invocation in the Name of Jesus. Possibly also in early times, baptism was given “in the Name of Jesus” and later the Church modified the formula in order to distinguish itself from groups that believed in Jesus but without recognizing him as Son of God, born of the Father. There would be nothing to astonish us in such a change: the Church of the apostles had given the first formula; the same Church gave the second formula attributed to Jesus in Mt 28:19.

 

 

 

 11. Many are the signs that Jesus promised for those who would believe (Mk 16:15-18). Similar things happen today when the Church becomes missionary again.

 

We are impressed by the cures. Perhaps the in-depth conversion of those who confess their magic practices and burn their precious books is more important. Apparently they did not do it at the time of their baptism but later, when they were more convinced of their faith.

 

 

 

 21. The success of the Gospel was so great that it staggered idolatry. It appeared, however, alongside many other religions. The Roman world was full of religious restlessness, and from Asia in particular came many doctrines, cults and teachings that claimed to free people from death. The Gospel was different from all of them since, while those doctrines were merely theories, the apostles were proclaiming a fact: a Jew named Jesus has risen and we have seen him risen.

 

There is a chaotic disturbance. The group of idol-makers defend their interests. The Jews who lived quietly among the pagan population are worried, lest they be confused with the Christians, so they try to excuse themselves.

 

 

 

 20.1 Paul remained two and a half years in Ephe­sus, and some details in his letters let us see that Luke’s account is very incomplete. The great­er part of Paul’s activity is not mentioned, in particular the evangelization of the neighboring towns of Ephe­sus by a team of his assistants: see the Introduction to Ephe­sians. Paul had much to suffer, and was perhaps imprisoned (Introduction to the Philip­pians). It was at this time that he wrote his letter to the Galatians and the First Letter to the Corin­th­ians.

 

Paul goes to Mace­donia (where Thessalonica is located) and to Greece (where he spends some­ time in Corinth). There in Co­rinth, as he perseveres with his plan to go to Rome, he wri­tes to the Romans.

 

 

 

 7. Luke tells us that the Eucharist took place on the day after the Sab­bath – already our Sunday: the Christians had separated from the Jews, replacing the Sabbath with the following day, the first day of the week, the day of Jesus’ resurrection. Doing so they were putting on their calendar the major event of their faith.

 

Naturally they meet in a home and this is the beginning of the Christian gathering. They share instruction and re­flection, concluding with thanks­­­­giving (or Eucharist) and communion with the body of the Lord.

 

Each one could speak, and Paul as pro­phet and apostle had a good deal to say, prepared or inspired. What might have been Paul’s long discourse? He read and interpreted texts from the Scripture that were referring to Jesus; he gave witness of his own commitment to Christ; he related the many happenings in his mission when the Spirit of Christ was at work.

 

This part of the celebration could be prolonged: the prophets, even Paul, tend at times to overdo it, but they could not separate without ending with “the breaking of bread”, the Eucharist.

 

With the unlucky fall of one of the youth and the intervention of Paul, the participants witness God’s power over death (see 10:36).

 

 

 

 17. Paul returns to Palestine. He had a presentiment or he knew by a revelation of the Holy Spirit that another phase of his life was about to begin: the years of prison and trials. So he wished to say goodbye to all the leaders of the Church in the Roman province of Asia. He did not know all of them well, since the evangelization of this province had been the work of his team of assistants (20:4). These leaders are called elders in verse 17 and inspectors (or “epis­copes,” from which we have bishops) in verse 28. See on this subject the commentary on Phil 1:1.

 

Paul gives his own example and develops the obligations of “pastors” in the Church (v. 28). He then invites them not to enclose themselves in the role of president or admin­istrator of the community: they must prepare it for difficult times. Let them compare themselves with Paul and ponder on the sacrifices that the apostolic task demands of him. Is it good for them to rely on another – an apostle of course – when they are confronted with difficulties?

 

In verses 28-30, we have the warning of divisions and heresies in the Church: the same message will reappear in the Pastoral Letters (2 Tim 3:1-9). We are used to seeing Christians divided. For Paul, it was unthinkable. When he speaks of “the Churches of Christ” (Rom 16:4 and 16; 1 Cor 4:17; 11:16), he is only thinking of the local communities who communicate among themselves and all accept without discussion the same faith and tradition of the apostles. Paul alludes to what awaits him: all that we can do is to follow Christ, who has acquired his Church by his own blood. Only in heaven will a leader of the Church find rest and retirement (20:32).

 

In verses 33-35 Paul takes up the resignation discourse of Samuel (1 S 12:3). How quickly can a person be self-serving and look after self in any apostolic work.

 

The text also mentions the “bishops” (that word means inspectors). We do not know if they are the elders themselves, or only some of them, those with greater responsibility.

 

 

 

 21.5 Paul goes up to Jerusalem, and manifestations of the Spirit follow. Paul is warned that he should not go, and this happens when he himself leaves chained by the Spirit (20:22) that means without the possibility of making any other decision. It is the right moment to see how the Spirit of God is one with the spirit of the person he inspires: those who warn Paul know and declare that he will meet with trouble and they would not want it. Paul knows and he wants it. Today, such manifestations are not part of the ordinary experience of Christians, with the exception of certain charismatic groups. Yet on looking into the subject it would seem that many people do receive such warnings but attach little importance to them.

 

The Spirit passes through our spirit as does light through thick colored glass and takes its color. Many manifestations that certain people seek are current mainly in primitive religions, even the non-Christian: must we take it that they are the most desirable religious experiences? However, if the Spirit of God wills to use our parapsychological senses to let us feel his presence in this firmly closed fortress that we call “our own self” and where we pretend to be the only rulers, “Praise the Lord! Alleluia.” Let him have us speak in tongues, laugh and cry, if such breaks the ice and opens the doors of our reason that has already seemingly known everything.

 

A good number of Christians make fun of such happenings. They are free to believe or not: there are so many illusions and much charlatanism. All they have to do is to ask themselves whether or not they are systematically denying any divine manifestation in a world we believe we know well, through human experience. If God no longer has the right to intervene in a world given up to reason and the laws of science, how can there be a true and trustful communion with him?

 

That is important. Whoever renounces and gives self to God sees the Spirit becoming more and more active in her life, not through visions and marvels, but through silent inspiration. This becomes so habitual that a person cannot live without it and knows through experience that the inner inspiration is right even though reason suggests another way of acting. Such a person mistrusts her own projects and follows this spiritual instinct.

 

The primitive Church had its pro­phets, but always wanted community discernment to judge whether it was truly God’s Spirit (1 Cor 14:29; 1 Thes 5:21; 1 Jn 4:1-3). The Bible already spoke of prophets who spoke without being sent, or dreamed what they wanted to dream (Jer 29:16). The account of the journey helps us to get an idea of how these first communities welcomed brothers and sisters from other parts at a time when communication was limited. Besides, would there have been a Eucharistic celebration with these foreigners without at least asking about themselves and their Church? It was quite different when apostles or prophets were passing by for then they were granted manifestations of the Spirit, with a more developed knowledge of the Word, as well as news of the universal Church.

 

 

 

 17. The Christians of Jewish origin praise Paul when he gets to Jerusalem but, at the same time, they humiliate him. There is a rumor among them that Paul, besides not imposing the Judaic Law on Christian converts from paganism, also suggests that the Jews abandon the Law. They asked him to prove his fidelity to the past by becoming godfather to a few believers who had made a fairly costly vow – because if Paul had come from the Greeks, he would have money and could pay well!

 

Those who insist are the elders working with James “the brother of the Lord”: all are Jews from Palestine who, in spite of their faith, are still attached to the customs of the Old Testament.

 

They point out the importance of the Jeru­salem community: thousands of Jews in order to make their demands respected. They may still have been more numerous than the Christians in the pagan world: this was the inheritance of the past. Paul accepts for the sake of peace, but it will be his downfall.

 

 

 

 27. There are several si­mi­larities between Paul’s arrest and Ste­phen’s a few years before (see 6:9). The Jews from Asia draw up several accusations: the most serious one being that Paul brought an “uncir­cum­­cised” man into the Tem­ple; this profanation was pun­ishable by death. This is the man who is spreading his teaching everywhere against our people, our law and this Sanctuary. There were simi­lar accusations against Christ and Stephen.

 

This is a false accusation. Nevertheless, the Jews are not totally wrong: through his teach­ings, Paul forms Christians who replace the Temple wor­ship with faith in Christ; they replace the Law with a life of obedience to the Spirit and Jewish na­tion­alism with universal Christian community.

 

The Roman troops occupying Jerusalem and seeking order were stationed in a fort­ress adjacent to the Temple and overlooking it. Thanks to this, the soldiers were able to intervene before Paul met the same fate as Ste­phen.

 

 

 

 22.1 Paul here gives personal witness. He will stress he is still faithful to the religion of his fathers: but he has not been able to prevent Christ, the Lord, from imposing himself on him. Paul will quote Gamaliel (Acts 5:34); and then a Christian Jew very faithful to the Law, Ananias (v. 12). The crowd listens. The reaction comes when Paul says that the pagans will share the privileges of the Jews. The pagans: our enemies, impure people and enemies of God! The same affirmation had been decisive in the condemnation of Jesus (Mt 21:42).

 

 

 

 23.1 To understand the chapters dealing with Paul’s trial we have to remember that justice in the Roman empire was very well organized. The supreme tribunal was in Rome: this was the Tribunal of Caesar, and Roman citizens fearing a mistrial in their province could appeal to the Tri­bunal of Caesar. There were governors (or procurators) who administered jus­tice in each province. In the Jewish territory, the Romans who occupied the country kept the important cases for themselves, but they left the rest to the Jewish tribunals, especially religious affairs. Paul was to go through various tribunals, beginning with the Sanhe­drin, or religious court of the Jews, all the way to the tribunal of Caesar.

 

Thus, through Paul, the words of Jesus entrusting to his apostles the mission of proclaiming him before Jewish and pagan authorities was to be fulfilled.

 

Paul tries to make the resurrection of Christ the theme of his declaration. There was a trial to condemn Jesus. Now, Paul tries to have the governors pay attention to the cause of the risen Jesus, and he succeeds.

 

In every age, such will be the zeal of the witnesses of Christ when they are accused: to demonstrate that they are not acting out of self-interest, nor from any human motive, but because they are the servants of Christ.

 

 

 

 26.1 Paul did not have the best audience for his speech: an operetta king, Agrippa, to whom the Roman governor, the real authority, wishes to make a gesture; the famous Bernice, sister of Agrippa, who is his concubine before going off to make other conquests; and then all those who have come for a moment of relaxation before the cocktail, including the Roman officers who know very little of the religious quarrels among Jews. So we have a third account of Paul’s conversion (see chpts. 9 and 22). This time, Paul shows his conversion is not surprising: he has found what God had for so long promised his people: the resurrection of the dead.

 

I asked them to repent. It is precisely what the prophets said. It was not enough to proclaim oneself a Jew; all had to convert. And here, Paul speaks openly before this audience who are not outstanding in their moral virtue, except perhaps the Roman Festus.

 

That the Messiah would rise from the dead. Here again is the decisive point. Paul questions the religion of many Christians, who, according to polls accept Christ as Word of God but do not believe in the resurrection. Something beyond death? Perhaps… “I am not like those who think they know everything, I’m searching…” Precisely, as long as we are searching we have not taken the leap of faith. To accept Christ, is to renounce the totalitarian reason with its proven truths. Reason is at home in science but shortsighted in the face of essential truths. As long as there is no belief in the resurrection, there is no understanding of human destiny: a person may be educated, have a religious culture but be unable to grasp the truth. Even if the words of St. Anselm shock us, they are true: “Believe in order to understand.”

 

Paul is not so preoccupied about defending himself as he is about convincing others: Agrippa and Festus are people like everyone else and they need Christ. Festus is amazed by Paul’s biblical background and his enthusiasm: Agrippa, moved, says nothing. In fact, if they have been impressed, uneasiness will soon pass: “serious matters” will again take up their time.

 

 

 

 27.1 Paul is taken to Rome with a group of prisoners. It is not difficult for us to imagine that even if the officer shows him much consideration his situation is not all comfort. This officer has his own authority besides that of the ship’s captain: the soldiers know that if a prisoner should escape, his guard would be executed (see 12:19 and 27:42). This account is a very interesting document on navigation in the Mediterranean at that time. Luke has given plentiful details: what a contrast with the account of Jonah and the tempest, written doubtless by someone who had never sailed. It is obvious that Paul was familiar with this kind of journeying: in 2 Cor 11:25, he states having been shipwrecked three times. Paul’s inner strength stands out in the description of the storm: Paul knows he is to testify before the tribunal of the emperor.

 

 

 

 28.1 Paul almost perished at sea; on approaching the shore he narrowly escaped being butchered by his guards, and then the episode of the viper: see the promises of Jesus in Mk 16:17-18. Note the first gesture of Paul on arriving at a place the Gospel had not yet reached: he will heal the sick in the name of Christ. Would that he come and do the same in our peripheral urban areas where it seems, the Church has not yet disembarked.

 

 

 

 11. When they get to Rome, Paul is treated fairly well. Instead of being put in jail, he is allowed to stay in the city, handcuffed (with his right arm tied to the left arm of the guard).

 

 

 

 17. In Rome, Paul immediately wants to meet the authorities of the Jewish community. At this particular time, even if Judaism generally rejected Christian preaching, there had been no official condemnation. Christianity was for them a “sect,” a group, such as Pharisaism or the Essenes. Aware of how news traveled from one community to another in the Jewish world, Paul wanted to make the first move.

 

For him, it is important not to be considered as a traitor to his country for accusing the Jewish authorities. He is even more anxious to openly attack the refusal to believe in Jesus. The Christian community has already done what it could do among the Jews in Rome but he wants to strike harder.

 

Luke wished to end his book with the account of this meeting. Here Paul repeats almost all that he said when he first preached at Antioch of Pisidia (13:46-47): the Gospel is to be first preached to the Jews, but if they reject it, that will not prevent the word of God being proclaimed to all the nations.

 

Without any hindrance. That is the last word: the Gospel has gone out to conquer and nothing will stop it (Rev 6:2). Paul remained two whole years in this house, that is to say, in partial captivity: it was the delay fixed by the law for preventive detention. It is most probable that all ended with a not proven verdict. Some authors, in a hurry to consider as fables elements given in the Pastoral Letters on a later activity of Paul, assert that he was then condemned to death. There is no reason why Luke would have hidden it; it is still less probable when Luke alludes to a change of residence.

 

 

 

 

June 25, 2007 Posted by | Acts, Christian Community Bible, Commentary, New Testament | 1 Comment

John

INTRODUCTION

At the outset, the first three gospels may have us overlook the work and skills of its writers. Whatever vision they wanted to transmit about their Savior, they dealt so plainly with the witnesses that oftentimes we seem to have seen and heard Jesus himself.

 

Comparatively, John’s gospel is very different. This book has matured along with him in his life. His experience as an apostle moved him to constantly re-interpret the presence of the resurrected Jesus in the Church.

 

John does not let us ignore his purpose: “This has been recorded that you may believe that Jesus is the Son of God” (Jn 20:31). The

 

faith of the Church proclaimed Jesus as the Son of God. But how should we understand this term? Though Jesus’ resurrection had manifested the divine character of his person, one could wonder how and from what moment was Jesus Son of God and to what extent was he identified with God. John’s Gospel clearly asserts that Jesus’ existence was forever in God. This assertion on Jesus’ origin helps us understand the range of his work. The eternal Son-of-God-become-human did not only come to teach us the way of amending our­selves, but also to transform the whole creation.

 

John did not create his gospel from nothing. Here we find quite a number of precise witnesses including more confirmed details than the other gospels. However, he did not confine himself to his own remembrances. As time passed, he expressed and developed Jesus’ words by crafting discourses in which Jesus, “with the help of John”, actually talks to us.

 

John’s Gospel is controversial because the purer and harder a truth is, the lesser are those who are able to receive it. This is why this gospel raised controversies within the very Church but was later acknowledged as word of God and as apostolic witness.

 

So it is that John’s Gospel was written and re-written and was most probably published only after the death of his author, about the year 95, as a small paragraph added at the end let it understand. In this last composition it seems that John organized it around the three Passovers which mark out Jesus’ public ministry.

 

Here we find an important element to understand John’s mind. He finished writing twenty years after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Roman armies. John knows as well as Paul that Jesus’ resurrection originated a new age. The revelation to the Jewish people and the great liturgies in the Temple belong to a certain extent to the past, but in this first covenant that has become the old covenant are found the keys to the understanding of Jesus’ achievements. This is why John will call to mind the Jewish feasts and religious symbols such as the water, the palms, the lamb… and he will show how these are transfigured in the Christian life and liturgy.

 

This is why three sections can be gleaned after an opening that we call the week of discovery (till 2:16). These are:

 

– In 2:17 Jesus goes up to the Temple for the Passover: chapters 2–5 develop the sign of the Temple.

 

– In 6:4 the Passover is mentioned again and John develops the sign of bread.

 

– In 13:1 we find the third Passover, when Jesus is put to death at the moment in which the lambs are sacrificed in the Temple. The lamb will be the third sign.

 

 

Is John the author of the gospel called by his name?

 

This question is very difficult to answer. There are many reasons to doubt authorship of the apostle John, but there can be found as many reasons to vindicate the traditional attribution to John.

 

As we said in the Introduction to the gospels, an unavowed reason leads some persons to look for other authors than the very apostles. John’s message is clear and it hurts. Must we accept that the One who marked him forever and probably loved him more than the other apostles was the eternal Word of God, God born from God? What a stunning assertion! Perhaps we would prefer that this kind of things were not said by a direct witness but added later by some theologian. This would have easier idealized the person of Jesus because, by looking from afar he would not have borne the full weight of his human presence: his way of looking, of eating, of washing, and the scent of his sweat…

 

We must however recognize that strong arguments move us to doubt John indeed as the author, and for many scholars the primary point is this: dozens of years went by between the first and so fresh accounts about the doings of Jesus, and the discourses which were built later from them and which seem to sometimes forget the original tradition. Is it possible that one of the first witnesses of Jesus have ran such a long tread?

 

The one who shaped John’s Gospel discourses in the 70ths, most probably near Ephesus where according to a very ancient tradition John withdrew and died, was a theologian. His interest for the liturgy and the Temple lets us think that he was a priest. Can this fit with the person of John, Zebedee’s son, a fisherman of Tiberiadis? Is it possible that such a vision of Jesus, the Messiah, and then the Son of God, Savior of the world, had been borne in him and that he has expressed it in his gospel?

 

The answer to such questions depend mostly from each one’s experience. We may have met believers who are deeply and truly theologians though they have not passed through university. They encountered some outstanding personality and this was enough to awaken their gifts. Later they became one of these few apostles who continually go over the events and the discoveries of this ministry, always eager to understand the ways of God. Do they need some books, some friends to help them to mature in their thinking? The same God who pours in them wisdom will direct to them this kind of help.

 

Can’t this be the case of John, so close to Jesus and then apostle for some sixty years? He did not go, as Paul did through rabbinical schools, and this is why he does not use sophisticated arguments, but ever so, couldn’t he be a Theologian, this someone who knows God?

 

 

 

1.1 In the beginning was the Word. The real beginning is not the creation of the universe. For this beginning of time, space, matter, existence explains nothing yet demands an explanation. The real beginning is beyond time. John does not say that at this beginning “God was” because we know it. He speaks of the Word. We keep this traditional term word, although the term word that John uses says more than “word.” It is both “thought” and “word”, which is the word expressing what one carries in oneself. We ought perhaps translate with: The “Expression” of God. To speak of this Word, or Expression of the Father, or to speak of his Son, is the same thing. In other pages he will be called Splendor (Heb 1:1) and Image (Col 1:15) of the Father. The Son is not part of the Father, or another God since he has nothing that is of himself but all which is the Father’s is also his (Jn 16:15).

John will remind us that no one has ever seen God (v. 18). The Father from whom existence comes and all that exists is without beginning and his springing forth is known only to himself. John tells us here that for him, “being,” is communicating himself, expressing himself, giving himself. God expresses himself in him who is at the same time his Word and his Son and through this uncreated, unique Word, which fully expresses him; he creates a universe that is yet another way of saying what is in God.

 

This is still not enough to satisfy the need of God to communicate himself. As several texts of the Old Testament have already said (Pro 8:22 and 31, 2 S 7:2-30), God has entered through his Word into the history of humankind. It was he who was “spoken” of in their own way by all who carried the Word, all the prophets of the Bible and those of other religions as well. The Word enlightened all human beings, including those who did not know God; he was the conscience of the upright in every race, in every age. This Word, Son and Expression of the Father came one day to give us the definitive word by means of his own existence in becoming human among us.

 

Whatever has come to be, found life in him (v. 4). It is a property of life to develop from within until maturity is reached. This growth is to be seen throughout history in all the work of the Word; it is the language of God that develops among humankind. Whether we study the history of our race from its origins, or whether we read the Old Testament, we see how the language of God has been developed among humans. It always was a human language, but this language was inhabited by the Spirit of God, and in a special way within the history of Israel, it was also the word of God. We shall find this living word in him who is the Son-made-human, Jesus, but in a way that disconcerts us. For there is the mystery about the Son: it is true that he is God like the Father, but having received all, he is in a posture of offering: he empties himself so that the Father may exalt and glorify him anew.

 

A man came, sent by God. Twice in verses 6-8 and 15, John, the author of the Gospel, speaks to us of John the Baptist, precursor of Jesus. The Word has truly identified himself: he has not come with glory; he was introduced by a word which came from himself, but remained human in John’s preaching. It was easy to reject this witness and in fact when he came to his own, to the people of Israel, his own did not receive him.

 

The Word was made flesh. John uses the word flesh to underline the utter humility of God who, despite being spirit, became a creature with a mortal body. John says: was made, and not: “took the appearance” of a human person, because the Son of God was truly human.

 

God become human dwelt among us. The root sense of this verb “dwell” in the Bible is: to have one’s tent pitched. So John is pleased to allude to the sacred tent that served as the Hebrews’ sanctuary in the desert: in that tent, God was present beside them (Ex 33:7-11). In reality Jesus, the Son of God become human, is the true Temple of God among people (Jn 2:21), a temple as humble and apparently fragile as the tent in the desert was: nevertheless, in him is the fullness of God. The apostles saw his glory at certain moments of his mortal life (Jn 2:11 and Lk 9:32). They saw his glory in his Passion and Resurrection.

 

How does the Word save us? John does not speak only of Jesus rescuing us from the abyss of sin; he prefers to speak of Jesus allowing us to attain a status totally unexpected and beyond our reach: he made them children of God. We are made children of God by the very Son of the Father, provided that we believe in his Name, which is in his divine personality.

 

In him was the fullness of Love and Truth (v. 14). Love (or Grace) and Truth (or Faithfulness) are God’s two main qualities (Ex 34:6-7). These words are repeated as a refrain throughout Psalm 89. John means then that he has recognized the fullness of Jesus’ divinity (Col 2:9).

 

God has given us the Law. While recounting the sins of Israel, the biblical story foretold the time when there would be no need for a Law engraved in stones or written in books (Jer 31:31). Some day God would change the sinners’ hearts (Ezk 36:26) so that relationships of mutual Love and Faithfulness between God and humankind would begin (Hos 2:21-22). John affirms that the promised time of Love and Truth (of perfect religion) arrived through Jesus Christ.

 

 

19. THE LAMB

 

The authorities wondered: “Who is this who on his own initiative has begun to preach?” At that time, various Jewish groups “baptized,” or bathed, as a means of purification and to hasten the coming of the Messiah.

Regarding John the Baptist’s preaching and baptism, see Luke 3:10.

The Messiah is the name the Jews gave to the expected Savior. They also expected the Prophet, but it was not clear whether or not the Prophet would be someone other than the Mes­siah. It was believed that the prophet Elijah would reappear before the Messiah’s arrival (Mk 9:11).

 

There is the Lamb (v. 29). In the language of the Jews, the word “Lamb” can mean both servant and lamb. Jesus is the Servant of God spoken of by the prophets, who was to sacrifice himself for his brothers and sisters. He is also the true Lamb that replaces the Paschal Lamb (Mk 14:12).

 

A man comes after me (v. 30). In history, Jesus appears after John, but being the Word of God, he existed before all creatures. He also precedes, that is to say, all – including John the Baptist – are guided by his light.

 

 

35. DISCOVERING JESUS

 

This Gospel is the work of John the Evangelist who should not be confused with John the Baptist. John the Evangelist was one of the first two disciples to follow Jesus (v. 39).

 

John, concerned about helping us understand the profound meaning of Jesus’ actions, dwells on details to which we would not immediately pay attention. For example, the Bible begins with the poem describing Creation as happening in seven days, and because John sees Jesus’ work as a new creation, he describes the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry as happening within a week (seven being a symbolic number) (vv. 29, 35, 43 and 2:1).

 

On the first day John the Baptist affirmed: there is one among you whom you do not know. We see how, during the week, John the Baptist was the first to discover Jesus. Then later, John, Andrew and Simon also discovered him. The last day of the first week will be at the wedding in Cana, where Jesus will let them discover his glory.

 

What are you looking for? (v. 38). John did not forget these first words Jesus spoke to them. We want to know who Jesus is, but he asks us what our inner dispositions are: because we will gain nothing through finding him unless we are dis­posed to submit ourselves to him.

 

These two disciples began to live with Jesus. With time, they would discover that he is the Teacher, the Messiah, the Son of God. So, too, with us. We progress in this knowledge of Jesus Christ as we go on our journey through life.

 

John the Baptist was without jealousy; he had encouraged his disciples to follow Jesus, and later the first two brought others. Likewise, we come to Jesus because of another per­son who spoke to us of him, or involved us in an apostolic task.

 

These two disciples recognized Jesus. It would be more exact to say that Jesus recognized those whom the Father had entrusted to him. Thus he recognized Nathanael when he was un­der the fig tree (v. 48). Among the Jews, this expression referred to a teacher of the Law engaged in teaching religion, since ordinarily they taught under the shade of a tree. In the same way, Jesus recognized Simon whom the Father chose to be the first Rock of the Church (Mt 16:13).

 

You will see the heavens opened. See Genesis 28:12.

 

 

• 2.1 THE SIGNS OF JESUS

 

The Week of Discovery ends with the wedding at Cana. Indeed Jesus was at the wedding and brought his disciples to join in the singing, dancing and drinking wine. His pres­­ence and participation sanctified not only marriage but also festive celebrations and togetherness.

 

The disciples began to know Jesus, but someone else already un­derstood and believed in him: Mary his mother. How did it ever occur to her to ask him for a miracle? Did she know that Jesus could perform miracles? Mary did not ask for the conversion of sinners, or for bread for the hungry; rather, what she wanted was a miracle or something like it to free the groom from embarrassment.

Jesus answered her with a phrase which, di­rected to a stranger, could be interpreted as a reproach, but said in a different tone to his mother demonstrated a familiarity and a mutual understanding that went beyond words. Apparently Jesus had no thought of beginning his mission in that manner or at that moment, but his spirit recognized the Spirit speaking through his mother, and he granted this first miraculous sign.

 

It is worth noting that John relates only seven miracles of Jesus, and sometimes he calls them works, sometimes signs. They are works of the Son of God in which he manifests his power. They are signs, that is to say, visible things adapted for us by which he enables us to under­stand his true work – that of bringing life and renewal to the world.

 

This is why John mentions some details of this event that were symbolic of spiritual realities. Jesus participated in a wedding, and what was he trying to do, but to prepare for other weddings – of God with humanity? Jesus speaks of his hour that had not yet come, for, in reality, his true hour will be that of his Passion and Resurrection.

 

John adds that Jesus made use of the water that the Jews set aside to purify themselves. The Jews were obsessed with avoiding “defilement,” so their religion multiplied the rites of purification (v. 6). Jesus, by changing the blessed water into wine, signified that true religion should not be confused with the fear of sin: what is important is to receive from Jesus the Spirit which, like heady wine, makes us break from established norms and the narrowness of our own knowledge and learn­ing.

 

The water changed into wine: Jesus comes into our house to sanctify our daily life – its routine and its chores.

 

It was thus Jesus manifested his glory to those who were beginning to discover him. Mary brought grace to John the Baptist (Lk 1:39); again she intervenes to hasten the beginnings of the Gospel. She will not speak again in the Gos­pel, and her last words are: Do whatever he tells you (v. 5).

 

In those first days after John’s baptism, Jesus was still living among his relatives and town­mates whom the Gospel calls “his brothers”: see commentary on Mark 3:31.

 

• 12. With the wedding at Cana, the first section of the Gospel we have called the Week of Discovery ends. An­other section begins in which Jesus defines himself in relation to the Jewish world and their hopes. John presents four scenes:

Jesus in the Temple: The priests are materialistic, and Jesus judges them severely.

 

Jesus and Nicodemus: Nico­demus expresses the concerns of the learned and believing Jews.

 

the Samaritan Woman: This is the dialogue of Jesus with the townspeople who are believers in their own way.

 

Jesus heals the son of an official: Jesus points out that the majority of those who come to him, seek him because of his miracles.

 

 

• 13. Jesus had not yet begun his preaching. He went to the Temple of Jerusalem that was the heart of the Jewish nation and the symbol of their religion (Mk 11:12). The Temple, however, was not immune from corruption and lust for power. In the Temple the peo­ple had to make use of the priests’ services to offer their sacrifices. The priests’ authority and power derived from the Temple. The Temple was the place where the community’s offerings and gifts were brought; and there the chief priests disposed of this treasure. Besides this, they also received the taxes that the sellers and money changers paid.

 

Zeal for your house devours me as a fire, and the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me. This is taken from Psalm 69. Actually the hatred of the chief priests for Jesus would bring him to his death.

 

The apostles could not understand these words: for at that time nothing was more sacred to them than the Temple and the Scripture. Later, they would know that the most ordinary word of Jesus had as much weight as the whole of Scripture. They would also understand that Jesus is the true Temple. Until then, people constructed temples and looked for places where they could meet God and obtain his favors. Now God has made himself present in Jesus: it is he who delivers God’s riches to us.

3.1 A NEW BIRTH

 

Nicodemus was a religious person, con­cerned about knowing God and his ways, and he went to Jesus as to a teacher of religion. What he needed was not so much to receive instruction, however, as to undergo a change within himself. That, too, is what we need. We must recognize our powerlessness – by ourselves, un­aided – to pass through the barriers which block us from an authentic life. Like Nicodemus, des­pite all our accumulated experience and knowl­edge (or because of them), we are old people.

 

Jesus says we must be born again and born from above: John’s gospel uses a word that can be interpreted in both senses (v. 3). Nobody gives birth to himself, and just as we received our life in the flesh from others so, too, we receive the life of the Son of God from the Spirit.

 

All claim that they live: something moves in them, thoughts come to them, and they make decisions … Yet this could possibly be nothing more than the life of the flesh, or the life of an unawakened person.

 

The other life, that of the Spirit, is more mysterious because it takes place in the innermost depths of our being. We see the external appearance; we notice a person’s face and behavior, but we do not see God’s working in her. The awakened believer, however, who is habitually led by the Spirit gradually discovers changes in what motivates her actions and her ambitions. She feels at ease with God and without fear, experiencing that it is not so much she who orients her life, as another who lives in her. Yet she could not, in fact, be able to say exactly what happens within her.

 

Hence Jesus compares the action of the Spirit with the passing of the wind that we feel, although we do not see or hold it. Let us also take note that in Jesus’ language the same word means spirit as much as “wind.”

 

We have to be reborn of water and of the Spirit: this points to baptism. Let us not think that merely by receiving the waters of baptism, one is fully established in the life of the Spirit; rather, let us realize that normally one is baptized in order to begin the life of the Spirit: the words of the Gospel refer to adults converted to the Christian faith. The case of infant baptism is different. Bap­tism works within them. Yet they should receive instruction in the faith to lead them to personal conversion.

 

Like many in Israel, Nicodemus was a religious person and a believer. Why did he come by night? Possibly he did not want to risk his position and reputation, or mix with the common people around Jesus. This would not be the attitude of those who have been born again: these have been liberated from many things that paralyze others.

 

 

JESUS REVEALS THE PLAN OF GOD

 

11. John’s Gospel is different from the other three. Often, after relating some words of Jesus, John adds an explanation of the faith, which he supports with declarations that Jesus made on other occasions. That is what happens in this case.

 

How can this be? Nicodemus asked. To enter into the life of the Spirit, we need to know God’s plan for us. Yet no one can speak properly of such things except the Son of God. He has seen heavenly things, that is, the intimate life of God; he also speaks of earthly things, that is, of the Kingdom that God brings to us. Many of Jesus’ listeners will not accept what he says about the Reign of God; much less will they pay attention to what he reveals about the mystery of God. Jesus reveals to us that which, by ourselves, we are unable to know. Thus a Christian is not one who merely “believes in God”; we are Christians because we believe the testimony of Jesus (v. 11) regarding God and his plan of salvation.

 

In this plan, there was something very difficult to accept: that the Son of Man would have to die on the cross and to rise from the dead (be lifted on high means the same). Jesus reminds them of the serpent in the desert. This episode in the Bible (Num 21) prefigured what would hap­pen to Jesus. Of course, the Jews did not grasp the meaning of this message; in fact, they passed over all the predictions of the sufferings of their savior without understanding them.

 

They had to revise their ideas about other matters, also. The Jews had been praying for God to come and expected him to condemn the world and to punish the bad. He, on the other hand, sent his own Son to the cross so that the world will be saved (v. 17).

 

Other verses of the New Testament say that we should not love the world; which seems to contradict what we have just read: God so loved the world. The reason for this contradiction is that the word world has several meanings.

 

First, the world means all of creation, which is good since it is God’s work. The center of this divine work is humankind, which has come under the influence of Satan (8:34 & 44). Everything that sinful humanity creates – riches, culture, social life – is influenced, disfigured and used for evil. Hence, God sent His Son so that the world will be saved.

Yet, even though Christ’s resurrection initiated his invincible power over history, a strong current of evil continues, dragging along all who refuse to acknowledge the truth. This evil current is sometimes called the world. It would be more appropriate to say: the people who surrender themselves to the Master of the world. The Scripture points to them in saying: Do not love the world, or You are not of the world (1 Jn 2:15; 4:6).

 

 

22. The Gospel admits that many disciples of John the Baptist did not recognize Jesus. They had been drawn by their teacher’s example: he was intense and outspoken, hard on himself in food, drink and clothing. Somehow they had the hope, maybe because of John the Baptist’s man­ner, that God’s true justice would come and bring about direct punishment of the wicked. Like militant followers of whatever good cause, John’s disciples had this weakness: they were too focused on their own leaders and ways to consider other possibilities. To become Christ’s disciples, they would have to give up their own prophets.

 

It is necessary that he increase but that I decrease, says the greatest of the prophets (v. 30). Only Jesus comes from On High, and can fully satisfy the human heart. In him nothing of the good is lost, since he embodies all.

 

Always faces the justice of God (v. 36). Those who do not recognize the Son of God remain in the situation humanity was in when expelled from Paradise. If they are not able to receive the witness of “God the Son who is one with the Father,” they will never solve the contradictions in their lives or in the world in which they live; and they cannot but mistrust God.

 

 

• 4.1 LIVING WATER

 

The Jews hated the Samaritans. In addition, talking with any woman in a public place was looked upon with disapproval in Jewish culture at that time. Jesus, overcoming racial and social prejudices, began to talk with a Samaritan wo­man. In the person of this woman he met the common people of Palestine. The woman was from a different province and belonged to a rival cult, but both shared the same promises of God and both were waiting for a Savior.

 

The first concern of the woman was to quench her thirst. The ancestors of the Jewish people walked with their flocks from one water source to another. The most famous Jews (like Jacob) dug wells, and around these wells the desert began to live. This fact was like a parable; people look everywhere for something to quench their thirst; but they are condemned to find nothing but stagnant waters. Those who make tanks to preserve water find that the tanks crack (see commentary on Gen 26). Jesus brings the living water, which is God’s gift to us, his chil­dren: the gift of the Holy Spirit (7:37).

 

When there is water in the desert, although it does not surface, it is noticeable because of the verdant vegetation. The same happens with us when we truly live: our actions become better, our decisions more free, our thoughts more directed towards the essential. The living water from which all these fruits flow is not seen: this is eternal life, against which death can do nothing.

 

The second concern of the woman is to know: Where is truth to be found? Jesus tells her: You have had five hus­bands… This symbolizes the common destiny of the townspeople who have served many masters or “husbands” and, in the end, do not have anyone whom they recognize as their Lord. To begin with, what is the true religion?

 

The Samaritans had their Bible, somewhat different from that of the Jews, and in the town itself, a few kilometers from the Well of Sychar, was their Temple, which rivaled that of Jerusalem. Jesus maintains that the Jewish religion is the true one: Salvation comes from the Jews. In this he does not share the position of those who say: “It matters little what Church we belong to, since they are all the same.” Nevertheless, although one has the good fortune of following the true religion, he has to arrive at the spiritual knowledge of God (v. 23). The Spirit, whom we receive, helps us worship God according to the truth. The Father seeks such worshipers who enter into intimate personal contact with him.

 

Spirit and truth (v. 24). God does not need the words of our prayers, but looks for simplicity, beauty and nobility in our spirit. The Spirit of God cannot be communicated except to those who seek the truth and live according to truth in a world of deception.

 

In the final analysis, the Samaritan woman’s account is a parable of our own lives. Each one of us is in some way the Samaritan woman. What happened at the well of Jacob describes our own encounter with Jesus; the ways by which Jesus led the woman to recognize and love him are the ways by which Jesus, step-by-step, accomplishes our own conversion. In the end, the woman became Jesus’ disciple, and through this very experience she also became Jesus’ apostle: Many in that town believed in Jesus because of the woman (v. 39). This Jesus experience is the source of the apostolate. To evangelize is to share this experience with others.

 

Four more months … (v. 35). Like the harvest, the people who follow Jesus are also maturing.

 

People who reap the harvest are paid for their work: this Jesus’ maxim has many applications. Verse 36 possibly refers to the shared joy of the Father who sowed and of the Son who will harvest. In a different way, in verse 37, Jesus and his own are aware that they do not work in vain. Others have worked: Jesus refers to those who came before him, and especially to John the Baptist.

46. See Luke 7:1.

 

Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe. Jesus’ reproach is directed, not to the official who will later show great faith, but to the Jews and to us. While Jesus works miracles which confirm his mission, he also stresses that we should recognize him by seeing and hearing him. Do lovers demand miracles in order to trust one another? Do those who follow leaders demand absolute proof? Those who really seek the truth recognize it when it is presented to them.

 

Jesus’ second miracle in Cana concludes this second part of the Gospel in which Jesus defines himself in relation to Jewish society and its hopes.

 

Now begins a new section: Jesus proclaims the work for which he has come into this world; his Father has sent him to judge and to give life. We must first believe in the Messenger of God. This is treated in chapters 5 and 6.

 

 

5.1 Why did Jesus go to the Pool of Bethzatha? It is known that the said pool was a pagan place dedicated to Aesculapius, the god of health. Rumors abounded that, from time to time, the sick were healed there. The pious Jews, scandalized that healings should occur in a pagan place, main­tained that people were healed not by Aesculapius but by an angel of the Lord. Unscrupulous Jews went there to seek a cure even from pagan idols. Jesus, too, went there, but in search of the sinner he wished to save.

 

Note the sick man’s first response. In this miraculous place many hoped for a cure but few were healed. By ourselves alone – I have no one – we cannot be saved. We need a Savior.

 

Jesus disappears after the miracle. Some people might have said that he was at ease in a pagan temple, or think he healed the sick in the name of their gods. Jesus will make himself known in the Temple of the true God, his Father.

 

The Jews attacked Jesus because he “worked” on the Sabbath day. Let us examine Jesus’ reply more closely: My Father goes on working. It is well that people observe a day of rest to pay homage to God; yet God himself does not rest, nor is he absent from the world: he gives life to people. Being God-the-Son, Jesus should imitate God the Father instead of resting like people do. His enemies, on hearing him, were not mis­taken about his claims: they wanted to kill him because he made himself equal with God (v. 18).

 

Don’t sin again… (v. 14). Jesus reminds the sick man of his lack of faith that led him to the pagan sanctuary where he waited in vain for 38 years, just as in former times the Israelites remained secluded 38 years in the oasis of Kadesh in the desert, without be­ing able to enter the Promised Land. John noted this coincidence. He also understood that the cure in the pool represented baptism. Jesus’ remark to the healed person is addressed to those who have been converted and baptized: Do not sin again.

 

After this account the Christian faith is presented again. See commentary on John 3:11.

 

It should be mentioned that in these “discourses” John the Evangelist is fond of repeating key words of the discourses seven times. Here, for example, we find the words Sabbath, Jesus, and Moses seven times each; and the Father 14 times. John intends to contrast the Jew­ish religion instituted by Moses, whose major precept was the Sabbath rest, with that of the new times which Jesus came to inaugurate, wherein he enables us to know the Father.

19. THE SON AND THE FATHER, THE RESURRECTION

 

Jesus’ opponents were surprised to see how he violated the law of the sacred rest; this, however, was only the first intervention of Jesus (7:21). Jesus intends to do much more than just reform religion: he has come to renew the whole of creation.

 

The books of the Old Testament spoke of God as only one. Now Jesus shows us a new face of God: he is Father and has sent his Son to complete his work. In all that he does, God endeavors to give us life, and the greatest of his works is the Resurrection.

 

This rising from the dead does not mean “to return to life” but to begin a new and transformed life. The dead will rise again, of course (v. 28), but we can also speak of the resurrection in the lives of those who become believers. A word of Jesus accepted in faith gives us life and later takes root in us and transforms us. Together, the ­­­­­Father and the Son raise us to new life. God’s love, which engenders life, reaches us through the voice of Christ (v. 25). Compare v. 25 with v. 28.

 

Jesus then is not only human like us. Though human, he is also divine and reveals to us another face of God. Jesus wants to replace in our minds any image of God as a jealous or paternalistic God. The Gospel shows the Father giving all his authority to a human, to Christ. This re­sonates with modern psychology that teach­es that a person is not fully adult until he liberates himself from parental authority. Our contemporary world rightly rejects a paternalistic God.

 

On numerous occasions, Jesus called himself the Son of Man (See the explanation in Mark 8:27). Here John says a son of man (v. 27); that is, a Jewish idiom which means a human being. By being human, Jesus saves humanity from within.

 

When Jesus claims to be the Son, he repeats these two affirmations in various ways:

 

Everything that my Father does, I do; all that the Father has, I have.

 

and: I cannot do anything by myself.

 

In this way, Jesus is a model for the sons and daughters of God. We also should commune with the Father, so that he may teach us his works: there is no Christian life without prayer, that is, without a personal relationship with God.

 

30. THE TESTIMONY

To gain a direction in life, we need some un­der­standing of the world and humankind. This understanding may come through reason and science, but more often we are influenced and guided by the testimony of others – by their words, attitudes and personal qualities.

 

It is thus that those in love discover one another, friends accept each other, a career is decided upon, a religious or political commitment is made. It is also thus that the Word of God is discovered. Therefore, Jesus speaks of the testimonies that accredit him:

 

his works, that is, his miracles.

 

John the Baptist’s testimony in pointing him out as the Savior.

 

the words of the Bible that refer to him.

 

Some people say that since the Bible is the word of God they do not need anything more than that to guide them. Let them know that just as God spoke through events and through prophets, he con­tinues speaking to us through actual events and through spokespersons of the Spirit in the Church. Jesus rebuked those who believed they possessed the truth just by having the Bible, but did not believe in him whom God was sending them (v. 38).

God instructs us in his way when we listen to what others teach us; in daily life and within the Church we meet people living according to the Spirit, whereas others only pretend to be religious and upright persons.

How then do we distinguish between what is true and what is false? How do we recognize those who speak of God’s ways from personal experience? Jesus says that those who love the truth recognize those who speak the truth. Everyone values the testimony of an equal. To recognize the messengers of God, we must be the peo­ple who do not look for praise from one another, and thus are not enslaved by false values. Whoever seeks the truth and mercy will recognize a communication of the Glory of God in the words and actions of God’s more humble servants.

It pleases God when we recognize his witnesses. He desires everyone to honor the Son just as his Father does. By believing in his Son, we show ourselves worthy of his trust and thus become God’s children, open to his life.

7.19 At the end of chapter 5 we have placed the passage 7:19-24, which concludes the dis­courses but which, for some unknown reason, was placed after chapter 6.

6.1 See Mark 6:35.

22. In the following pages John expands Jesus’ pronouncements in the synagogue of Capernaum. Surely Jesus himself at that time did not develop so fully the doctrine on the Eucharist (vv. 48-58). There is no doubt, however, that Jesus expressed himself in a manner that scan­­dalized his hearers. What did he say but to affirm clearly that we must go to him, for he is the true bread from whom we receive eternal life?

People struggle for adequate food, and their first pre­occupation is to survive, be­cause if they do not eat they will cease to live. We do not have life in ourselves and have to constantly depend on others for what is necessary to maintain life. In spite of everything, some day life escapes us because we have not encountered the lasting food (v. 27).

In fact, we need much more than bread: beyond eating and drinking, we seek something that permits us to no longer experience hunger or thirst. We will find this on the day of the Resurrection, in the assembly of all the Saints in Heaven, where there will be total and perfect peace and unity. That is precisely what the Work of the Son of Man (the Human One) is.

The discourse begins with a question from the Jews: Which are the works that God wants us to do? Jesus replies: The Work that God wants is that you believe. The Father does not demand “works,” that is, the practices of a reli­gious law, but rather, faith. In the previous chapter, Jesus declared that his work is to raise people up. Here he indicates our work: to believe in the Messenger of the Father.

The key word of the discourse is bread (or loaves). That is why John repeats it seven times in each section of this chapter. The expression who has come down from heaven appears seven times in the chapter.

 

28. Here begins the first part of the discourse: Jesus becomes our bread when we believe in him.

In the past, when the Israelites wandered in the desert and lacked everything, God gave them a provisional meal, the manna. They had to give thanks to him for his gifts. But if God is only our benefactor and we go to him seek­ing favors, we end up concerned only for what God gives us; we will hardly thank him, and later will continue to ask and complain.

This was what happened with the Israelites who, after receiving the manna, rebelled against God and died in the desert. Material things, although they may come from heaven, do not make us better nor do they give us true life.

For this reason, God now proposes something new. The bread that comes down from heaven is not something, but someone, and that is Christ. That true bread communicates eternal life to us, but to receive it, it is necessary to take a step, that is, to believe in Christ and to make a personal commitment to him.

All that the Father gives me will come to me (v. 37). Not all those who take pride in belonging to the true religion come to Christ, but only those whom the Father knows. Though the church embraces many people of all descriptions, only those to whom the Father has given this grace will find their way to the controversial and humble Christ. While acknowledging the value of the sacraments and good works, we should not forget what Jesus taught: none of our own efforts can substitute for the grace of being chosen by the Father who calls us to know his Son in truth.

They shall all be taught by God (v. 45). Several texts from the prophets showed in what way Jewish religion should transcend itself. God’s covenant celebrated in Mount Sinai had given the laws through which the conscience of God’s people would be educated. Then should come new times when God would teach each of his believers as he did the great prophets (Is 54:13; Jer 31:34; Jl 3:1). Jesus recalls these promises and interprets them. It is not a matter of revelations given to everyone but of a mysterious call that directs us to Jesus. In Jesus, the perfect mirror of God, we discover the will of the Father for us. Jesus is the Word of God and from now on the most authentic revelations can only send us back to him.

This man is the son of Joseph (v. 42). Jesus’ listeners were Jews who believed in God and in the Scriptures. To believe in the proph­ets who were honored after their death was easy; but to recognize God’s contemporary and controversial messengers, especially when the messenger of God was a simple carpenter was another matter. This is equally true today, for we must overcome doubts and listen to God’s messengers who point out the mission of the Church in today’s world. There are many who believe in the Bible or in Christ but refuse to listen to the Church, especially when it speaks through Chris­tians and religious belonging to the world of the poor and of workers.

Do not murmur (v. 43). The Bible uses the verb “to murmur” in Exodus and Numbers: the Isra­elites distrusted God and constantly criticized Moses’ de­cisions (Ex 15:24; 16:2; 17:3).

48. COMMUNION – THE SACRAMENTS

The second part of the discourse: Jesus becomes our bread when we eat his body in the sacrament of the Eucharist.

How can this man give us flesh to eat? (v. 52). Thus spoke the Israelites who distrusted God in the desert (Num 11:4 & 18). John plays on the same words and gives them a different meaning here: why would a messenger from heaven give flesh to the world, when what we need is some­thing spiritual? Jesus answers in verse 63: this flesh to eat may sound like food for bodily sus­tenance, but it is really a sharing in the life of the risen Christ transformed by the Spirit. For that reason it gives life (6:63).

Through material means the believer participates in a heavenly reality and enters into communion with the risen Christ. The Church defines sacrament as something material that symbolizes and brings about a spiritual reality. When we faithfully participate in a sacrament, we encounter the living Christ in person renewing our lives. In the Supper of the Lord, that is, in the Mass, we really receive the body and blood of Christ, in what appears to be only bread and wine. The risen Christ becomes for us the food of eternal life.

Jesus acts as living bread in us. When we eat ordinary bread our body digests and assimilates it, but when we eat living bread (the body of Christ), this bread actively changes us. Christ transforms us; gives his life to us and unites us with himself: Whoever eats me will have life in me.

Flesh and blood. In Hebrew culture flesh and blood denotes the human being in his mortal condition. Jesus wants us to make our own his entire human being in its humble and mortal condition, and communicates to us his divinity. It is evident that communion only shows its full meaning if taken in the two species of bread and wine; even in the Latin Church there is no Eucharist if the celebrant at least does not communicate under the two species.

Regarding this means of Jesus’ life being transmitted to us, we are not easily convinced. We often wonder at Jesus’ words: he who eats my flesh has life, he who does not… We need to study the par­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ables on the Kingdom of God more closely. The gift of God, whether it be his word or the Body of Christ, is a seed so small that it may be lost or may not bear fruit. It is fruitful only in those who believe and persevere.

The sacraments we receive help us mature in the life of God; they affect the very core of our being. Sometimes we feel discouraged about the many defects and prej­udices we still have despite our reception of the sacraments. We do not understand that transformation is something deep and often not immediately evident.

60. This language is very hard. How could Jesus’ listeners believe that he, the “son of Joseph,” had come from God? And today how can we believe that we need the Eucharist? Jesus tells us why he came: The Son of God came down to us, so that later he would ascend to where he was before. He came from God to communicate to us the very life of God and then to bring us to the bosom of God (Jn 14:12).

The truth is that by Christ’s resurrection, our world has already started its renewal. For when the Son of Man entered the Glory of his Father, he carried on his shoulders the whole of creation that he wanted to renew and consecrate. Clothed in our humanity, the Son of God has ascended to where he was before: the first of our race has achieved full union with God.

Although, to all appearances, life goes on as before, we believe that the renewed world has been activated. The Spirit is at work within gigantic disturbances that continually agitate and shake the whole of humanity. Christ is ­invincibly consecrating this world. He enables humanity to arrive at maturity by means of innumerable crises and deaths that prepare for a resurrection.

Jesus’ listeners could not understand (6:61) the mystery of the Son of God and his humiliations. Jesus wanted to dispossess himself of his divine glory by becoming human and dying like a slave (see Jn 1:14 and Phil 2:6), so that later the Father would enable him to ascend to where he came from. It is likewise a test of our faith to believe that God continually works among us in our world. In spite of our unresponsiveness, God still loves us; the Church is so un­worthy, yet God uses it to fulfill his plan; history is so destructive, yet it is preparing us for the fullness of the Kingdom.

The flesh cannot help (v. 63). Jesus spoke of giving us his flesh, but this should not be understood as a continuation of the Jewish religion, in which the meat of sacrificed animals was eaten. In Hebrew culture, flesh and blood denote “the world below,” where humankind moves and where one has no access to communication with God. The Eucharist is different. This is the body, or flesh, of the risen Christ transformed by the Spirit, which acts in us spiritually and brings us into communion with God.

Lord, to whom shall we go? (v. 68). Many of Jesus’ followers left but, in the name of those who remained, Peter pledged his fidelity (see also Mt 16:13).

7.1 Jesus moves people to question his identity. It is better to question than to belong to a group that does not question because they think they already know. The brothers of Jesus were like that.

Show yourself to the world (v. 4). These brothers of Jesus were the fami­lies and townspeople of Naza­reth (see Mk 3:31). These people were to enter the Church after Jesus’ resurrection, and thought themselves important merely because of their former association with Jesus; but at that time they were still very far from understanding his mission. They wanted Jesus to be known for his miracles; but Jesus chose, rather, to reveal himself to those who could enter into the mystery of death that leads to glory.

My time has not yet come… Let us note here two types of persons: one type lives according to their plans, and the other type allow themselves to be guided by the Spirit. For the former, one time is as good as another; because they have no experience of the calling of God, they act impetuously and when they feel like it. Those who are guided by the Spirit wait for signs indicating that this is God’s time. Whatever is undertaken in God’s time will bring glory to God.

Like Jesus, John was a Jew. He was surrounded by Jews converted to the Christian faith. He consistently calls his unbelieving compatriots Jews. We would be mistaken if we thought he is designating here all the Jews. With this name of Jews he points out the religious, political and social ambiance that did not acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah.

Those Jews adhered to an established social order and to a certain manner of understanding life and religion that was common in their time. It was social and religious formalities that were important to them; they were interested in God only in the measure to which they had made him the defender of these things (Mt 23: 29).

 

25. SALVATION – SEEKING THE TRUTH

Who is Jesus? It is very important for us to know who Jesus is and from where he comes because, unlike the founders of other religions, he offers us the unheard of gift of sharing in God’s very life. If Jesus does not come from God, of what value is this promise?

We need to discover for ourselves who Jesus is, because it is only in this way that we will be saved.

As a person he attracts us, but his words shock us. When Jesus proclaims that the Kingdom is at hand, that we are sons and daughters of God, we think he uses figures of speech since the reality appears to be quite different. In time, with more ex­perience and suffering, we modify our viewpoint and discover that the world and people are just as he describes them. We then acknowledge him as Savior. In another way, we are saved because we have acquired the capacity to see things as God does. Hence, when we wish to help others arrive at faith, it is better at times to re­frain from discussions about reli­gion. They must first enter into themselves to dis­cover the wellspring of life. One cannot advance in the knowledge of Christ without advancing in knowledge of oneself.

We know where this man comes from (v. 27). So these Jews thought they knew who God was and what his plans were; but, in reality, they interpreted everything according to their own views and remained closed to the Truth. Standing be­fore them, Jesus claimed to be the Envoy of God. In speaking like this he was not looking for a title to become credible, but wanted to emphasize his total dependence on the Father and his intimate knowledge of him.

You will look for me and you will not find me (v. 34). This is the same warning God gave through earlier prophets (Jer 13:16). Once again, Jesus applies to himself scriptural words and prerogatives reserved for God.

37. THE COMMUNICATION OF THE SPIRIT

Spirit had not yet been given. In Wisdom 1:7, however, we read, “the Spirit of God fills the universe.” Actually God never ceased communicating himself. His Spirit enters into a person’s spirit whom he awakens, animates and impels. At all times he has been active in the artists, thinkers and heroes, and is also present in the spirit of people of upright heart.

The Spirit is not poured out like water. The Spirit of God becomes one with the spirit of the one who receives him. As long as we do not know God in truth, the Spirit comes “over” us, as occurred with the lib­er­a­tors of Israel, who did not necessarily become better for having been an instrument of God (Jdg 11:29). Only after Jesus had entered into his Glory could he give his Spirit to those who would be united with him.

Spirit had not been given. Many manuscripts read: There was no Spirit. In fact the meaning is the same. In this second way of speaking spirit refers to the manifold communications of God’s Spirit.

This ambiguity sounds strange to believers, who consider the Spirit to be a divine Person. Of course, the Spirit is as much person and as much God as the Father and the Son are, but the Spirit’s manner of being God and person and One is not the same. The Spirit is “communication of God dispensed” to all creatures through all times. He is somehow able to distribute himself, dwelling in each creature with different gifts; then he brings them back to unity in God. Because of this, Scripture sometimes says: “the Spirit,” at other times: “spirit” (Lk 1:15; Acts 6:3), or even: “the spirits” (Rev 1:4; 3:1).

Out of him shall flow rivers of living water. Compare 4:10. Bread and water: the Body of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit. In 7:38 we read: Out of him shall flow rivers of living water.

8.1 The selection 8:1-11 is not found in most ancient manuscripts of John’s Gospel. Many think that this selection is from other sources. Perhaps it did belong to the gospel of Luke (compare 8:2 and Lk 21:38) and was later inserted in John’s text.

 

If Jesus showed such respect to the sinner and refused to condemn her, as humans would, was it because he did not consider her fault grave? No, it was because God uses different ways than people do to bring sinners to repentance and to purify them through suffering.

 

There is a big difference between telling a person his ideas or deeds are wrong or sinful, and condemning him. We usually condemn the person; we do not make room for change and mercy. In this Gospel episode Jesus is both de­manding and merciful towards the woman.

 

It seems that certain pages in John’s Gospel have shifted. We already remarked that the selection 7:19-24 is really a continuation of chap­ter 5.

 

Also, the discourse 8:12-29 seems to be a con­tinuation of the miracle story related in chapter 9. After healing the blind man and proving the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees, Jesus declares: I am the light. Jesus’ pronouncement: hence I have just told you that you will die in your sins (8:24), reminds us of the saying in 9:41.

 

 

12. THE LIGHT

 

Jesus is the light for all people of all times. God guided the Hebrews in the desert by means of a luminous cloud. He guides us through his Son; whoever follows Jesus will not walk in darkness.

 

Light means many good things: the welcome light of dawn after a night of darkness; the elec­tric lights which illumine our homes while darkness reigns outside; the street lights which shine for everyone, poor and rich alike; the light that triumphs over the dark forces of evil and ignorance. Christ is all that and more for whoever follows him. He is the light by which we live with whole­ness and integrity, and through whom we learn to attribute to material things and human activities their proper value.

 

By the light of Christ a person triumphs over all inner darkness. We are conscious of only a small part of our inner self; we often obey impulses not under our con­trol that come from our nature. Good intentions animate us, and we have a clean heart (so we think), but we do not realize that actually we often obey the call “of flesh and blood,” as the Bible puts it. If we live in the light, the light will gradually illumine our innermost being.

 

Part of the human condition aggravated by sin is the absence of light for seeking and discerning what is good. Therefore, in serious matters, it is not wise to simply follow our first impulse. We need to be continuously enlightened through prayer, listening to the word of God, studying the teaching of the Church, and accepting the good advice of our brothers and sisters. By these means Jesus enlightens our conscience.

 

I AM

 

In this discourse Jesus gives witness to his own divinity. He makes us understand that in him there is a mysterious secret regarding his origin. On this page we read the expression I am seven times. John wishes us to understand that this is the key word of the discourse. I AM. It was thus God designated himself, speaking to Moses. We know that the Jews called God, Yahweh, that is, He who is. Jesus declares: “I am,” thus claiming for himself the Name that should not be given to any creature, no matter how prominent the person might be. There are Christians (e.g. the Witnesses of Jehovah) who would make Christ less than he is. They argue that since God is only one, how can the fullness of divine life be shared among three persons. While they call Christ the Son of God, they deny that he is God born of God. Yet Jesus IS as much as the Father, and must not be confused with the Father, hence he says: The Father sent me, and also: The testimony of two persons is worthy (in the Jewish Law code).

 

You will die in your sin (vv. 21 & 24). Sin is not just doing something bad. Sin is, also, to enclose ourselves in our own petty problems and rely only on human wisdom, without opening ourselves to the horizons of God. This eventually leads to death, for a life closed to God is no real life. The Bible divides people into two groups: those from above, who seek God’s ways, and those from below, who seek limited human goals. Sin is to refuse to allow oneself to be born again from above, as Jesus told Nicodemus (3:3). These Jews did not believe in Jesus, because his way of life and his message reflected a world of transcendent values – beyond this world – that did not attract them. Jesus would have wasted his time with them; the wisdom of God would be better re­vealed in his death on the cross (v. 28).

 

 

30. THE TRUTH – FREEDOM – SIN

 

Jesus spoke to the Jews who believed in him. Those Jews believed in Jesus according to their own view of him, very much like the Jews whom Paul would oppose in Galatians 3-4 did. From Jesus’ discussions with those who claimed to have the true religion, we can surmise how Jesus would con­­front us were he to pass among us today.

 

Jesus would not reproach us so much for our sins, as for our continuing to live in sin. Sins are evil deeds that at times may be excusable; often we repent of them as soon as we have committed them. To be in sin, on the other hand, is to live in falsehood; it is to persist stubbornly in a certain pride, an attachment to our own judgments. This attitude prevents us from entering into the ways of God, even though to all appearances we live an upright life and proclaim our faith.

 

Jesus is not a banner for every social group, whether known as Catholic or by some other name, with which we go to fight other groups. He has come as a king of the kingdom of truth. Those who seek the truth are his, whatever their ideas may be. Rather, those who live in truth are his.

 

For those Jews the world was divided into two groups: the sons of Abraham, that is themselves, and the rest. They boasted of their ances­try and forgot that in God’s eyes, each one is what he is.

 

Jesus comes to them as a witness to the truth; and his presence alone obliges all to examine themselves. The truth Jesus speaks of is not a doctrine that his followers should impose by force. Propagandists with arguments and biblical quotations are not needed, but witnesses who speak from their experience. Jesus says: The truth will make you free, and: the Son will make you free (vv. 32 & 36). Our truth consists in living in accordance with our vocation as children of God.

 

The believer who knows he is loved by God and consequently endeavors to be authentic is already in the truth, even if he retains some pre­­ju­dices common to his milieu, or is unconsciously guided by some lies or illusions in his way of living.

 

Jesus also speaks of freedom. Truth and freedom go together. Many individuals and peoples have not spared themselves in an effort to break their chains. Once liberated they quickly fall into other forms of subjugation, because the root of all slavery lies within everyone.

 

By doing evil one becomes an accomplice of the Devil and, even without wanting to do so, falls into a trap. He will then be unable to resist the illusions and harmful influences by which the Father of Lies brings the world under his power (v. 44).

 

As long as we continue to be unconcerned about our true condition and are either agitated or idle, we are no more than slaves, even though we may excel in wealth, knowledge or status. We thus add to the population of the world of below (v. 23), which is unstable. Generations of slaves will fol­low like the waves of the sea: slaves are people who are for a time in the house (v. 35). Christ enables us to enter yet another world, the world above in which the sons and daughters stay for­ever (v. 35). From the time we become children of God, everything we do bears fruit for eternity.

 

 

9.1 TO BELIEVE IS TO SEE

 

Jesus is the light: the blind man sees the light of day. Jesus is the light, but people are divided about him. Some are open to the light, that is, to faith; others remain blind, that is to say, they keep their own ideas and “their own” belief and refuse to believe in the messenger of God.

 

One way of deepening our understanding of this chapter would be to observe the Jewish people’s reactions to the mi­racle. Some open themselves to the light, that is, to faith; while others prefer to follow their own lights. This Gospel story shows us the blind man who immediately understands the significance of the cure, the fearful and pragmatic par­ents, and the Pharisees who do nothing but judge and are unaware that they condemn themselves as they judge.

 

The Gospel opens up to us another way of interpreting the miracle: the one who begins to see is the believer (see vv. 4, 39-41).

 

Master, was it a sin of his or his parents? (v. 2). Jesus refuses to consider every misfortune as God’s pun­ishment. The healing of the blind man was per­formed on the Sabbath. So people wonder if God will side with the law forbidding work on that day, or with the man who performed such a good work. The Pharisees defend the Law, as is to be expected from people who are closer to the written word and more distant from human needs.

 

You don’t know where the man comes from? Who live in such a way that they are able to receive the truth? It is quite understandable that the Pharisees cast out the blind man, because faith in Christ necessarily separates the believer from those who do not recognize the way God is working.

 

Many people think that faith is an illusion. They think faith is a cover-up of reality and that what is real is limited to material things, only that which is seen, touched, counted or measured.

 

Truth is different. The believer sees the same things that others see and know; but besides that, she captures something that escapes those who lack faith. A special sense is needed to see beyond the material world.

 

Christian faith is more than belief in a God higher than us. Faith is an ability to know by the light of Christ everything that is true, either in the goals or the means people use. The faithful one sees whatever other people see, but also perceives something that is out of their reach. We should not think that to believe or not to believe is a matter of minor im­portance in the strug­gles of life. Even when fighting together with non-Christians for concrete goals, we will hardly agree on what is more important.

 

With the coming of Christ a sentence, or judg­ment, is carried out (9:39). This means that humanity begins to be divided, because all must take a position in respect to him. Jesus judges people, or ra­ther, we are those who judge ourselves when we accept or reject him.

 

 

10.1 COUNTRY WITHOUT FRONTIERS

 

Thanks to the parable of Jesus, we can imagine one of those sheepfolds in which the flocks of various shepherds are gathered together for the night under the vigilance of one caretaker. At dawn, each calls his sheep and leads them out.

 

The Bible foretold the day in which God would come to gather together the dispersed sheep of his people, so that they would live in their land. Jesus is the Shepherd and he has come to accomplish what was announced, but he will not do it in the expected way. The Jews thought that the Shepherd would revive their for­mer prosperity: they would again be a privileged nation among other nations.

 

Jesus says clearly that his people are not to be thought of as identical to the Jewish nation. Those who be­lieve, and only they, are his. He will take from among the Jews those who are his; likewise, he will take sheep from other folds as well (v. 16), that is, from among nations other than the Jewish nation. Therefore, he will lead them all and will guide this flock – which is not a na­tion with land boun­daries – to where he knows. The only flock (not the only “fold”, as people say), that is, the only Church, moves freely through history, not confined to any one nation or era of civilization.

 

The shepherds of the Jewish people thought they could achieve unity by promoting national pride, by maintaining the privileges of the “high­er” castes, and by discrimi­nat­­ing against non-Jews. Jesus unites his people solely by attracting them to himself, by letting people experience who he is. All who are attracted to him, recognize his voice and believe his word are his.

 

People willingly gather around great figures, whether they be leaders or saints. When a people have neither frontiers, arms, language, nor laws to defend themselves against external and internal dissension, the presence of a Shepherd or leader is even more essential. Faith in Christ unites us far better than does fidelity to traditions of the past or solidarity with co-religionists. Christ’s people are not a mass; it is nor Humanity with a capital H. They are composed of persons who have begun an adventure with Jesus of mutual trust and love. I know them and they will hear my voice (vv. 14 & 16).

 

When the Bible speaks of the Shepherd, it usually refers to God himself, the only king of Israel, but sometimes means the King-Messiah sent by God. Jesus spoke of only one shepherd. Though distinct from the Father, he is one with him (v. 30).

 

In the Bible angels are sometimes called sons of God, and Jesus remarks that the rulers are called gods. Because of this, Jesus did not like to be proclaimed Son of God. He speaks forcefully in saying: the Father is in me and I in the Father: equal to equal (v. 38). At the same time that he stresses his divine power (vv. 15, 18, 29, 38), he also affirms his total dependence on the Father. In this we recognize God the Son.

 

 

11.1 This is the seventh and last miracle of Jesus recorded in John’s Gospel. Intentionally, the first words are designed to present the sick man: Lazarus personifies the person wounded by sin, who is in process of dying unless Christ calls him to life.

 

Lazarus came back to life! Let us not be astounded that Lazarus had the good fortune to live for a few more years and the misfortune of having to die again. This noticeable miracle only foretells the true resurrection that does not just prolong life but transforms our entire being. The resurrection is spiritual. It be­gins when faith moves a person to give up wrong ways of living and become open to receiving God’s life.

 

The Jews believed in the resurrection of the dead on the last day, as Martha mentioned (v. 24). They thought a divine force would come to shake the universe and open the tombs so the dead could come out. In reality, the resurrection of the dead comes about through someone, the Son of God, who has in himself all the power needed to raise people to life and to transform creation. One who lives in submission to Christ has already passed from death to life (5:24) and, because of this, will never die (v. 26).

 

All the persons mentioned here called Jesus “Master,” but John has them say Lord. In this way he teaches us that this miracle of Lazarus recalled to life is an image of the glorious resurrection of Jesus, the Lord. (Regarding this term “the Lord” which is one of the strongest proofs of the faith of the early Church in the divinity of Jesus, see the commentary in Acts 2:36.)

 

The Jews wanted to kill Jesus (v. 8), but it was legally difficult for them to take Jesus prisoner. They could do this only in the province of Jeru­salem, where their religious communities and political organization were strong. As long as Jesus remained on the other side of the Jordan, he was secure. The resurrection of Lazarus hastened the time of Jesus’ death and glorification.

 

The twelve hours (v. 9). Jesus will complete the twelve hours of his journey, that is, of his mission, without fear of the risks involved. Those who, like him, walk by day, that is, in accordance with the divine plan, will not stumble; Christ will be for them the light of the world.

 

I have come to believe that you are the Christ (v. 27). What more extraordinary profession of faith is there than Martha’s! It is like Peter’s (Mt 16:16), and in a short while it will be Mary who will tell about the resurrection to the same apostles. Truly the Gospel is not male chauvinist, nor does it enthrone ecclesiastical hierarchy.

 

Father, I thank you … (v. 41). This act of thanks­giving is the only one we read in John, aside from the long prayer in chapter 17 that is full of praise for the Father. We read another such prayer in Luke 10:21. These recorded acts of thanksgiving may seem very few, considering that thanksgiving is an essential attitude of a Christian, but Jesus expressed his act of thanksgiving in all he did. In his mortal existence, he dispossessed himself of his own will and power so that the Father could use him for his greater glory (Jn 12:27-28).

 

Untie him (v. 44). For burial the Jews bound their dead with linen. This word “to untie” means something more, it was the expression used by the primitive Church in referring to for­giveness of sins. Like Laza­rus, one who receives pardon returns to life.

 

 

45. THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

 

Caiaphas’ words were fulfilled but not in the sense he intended. Jesus was going to die to gather into one the scattered children of God (v. 52).

 

The worldwide effect of Christ’s resurrection is to unite all of hu­manity in renewed creation – as Jesus himself put it, “when I’m lifted up from earth I shall draw all to myself” (Jn 12:32). That is to say, the cross and resurrection are the source of communion and fraternity.

 

The Church reunites believers of all races and cultures: we call it “Catholic,” that is, universal. This Church, however, is but a be­gin­ning and a sign of that which will be attained at the end of time, when the whole of humanity will be re­united in Christ (Rev 7).

 

In our world, preventing people from grouping together to discuss and understand their situation perpetuates the oppression of rural and urban masses. This hidden violence opposes unity. Some current ideologies promote a struggle for liberation that attempts to unite people by targeting adversaries and continually deciding on whom to expel. There, too, the seed of violence (for both murder and exclusion are violence) gives birth to more oppressive societies.

 

Christians should be the first to notice we are living in an exceptional century in which, for the first time, all peoples share the same history and must accept a common destiny, either willingly or by force. This awareness enables them to see and to indicate the goals of human effort. They must ponder all of human reality, and even international relationships, in the light of the Gospel and not waste all their energy in projects of aid for the poor.

 

 

12.1 Matthew and Mark also relate the incident at a supper when Mary showed her passionate love for Jesus. She loved him with all her strength, and her love, far from blinding her, made her sense and respect the mysterious personality of Jesus.

 

Not all the apostles understood her gesture, because they still had much to learn about loving Christ.

 

Like Judas we often speak of giving to the poor. Yet the Lord’s command is not to give but to love. To love the poor is to reveal to them their call from God, and to help them grow as persons by overcoming their weaknesses and divisions and by fulfilling the mission God entrusted to them. The poor will live the Gos­pel and witness to it in the world. If we are not among them, we need conversion and true pov­erty to discover with them the Kingdom. How can we really love the poor unless we have passionate love for Jesus? When we do not, we prefer to speak only of giving to the poor.

 

Six days before the Passover. Mark and Matthew give the impression that this supper happened two days before the Passover, not six (Mt 26:2; Mk 14:1). The evangelists also disagree regarding the date of the Passover. While John declares that Jesus died on the eve of the Passover (Jn 19:14), the other three say that the Last Supper took place on the same day that the Jews celebrated the Passover. According to a very ancient tradition that various Oriental church­es still maintain, Jesus could have celebrated the Last Supper, not on Thursday, but on Tuesday. His trial would then have lasted two days: Wednesday and Thursday. (That seems much more probable than having all the sessions of the double trial of Jesus in the one morning of Friday). He would die on Friday, as all the texts affirm.

 

A possible explanation for these disagreements might be the follow­ing: The Passover is celebrated in accordance with the new moon which is not a fixed date, nor is it determined ac­cord­ing to the same criteria by everyone. Hence, in certain years some religious groups celebra­ted it three days before others. Jesus could have celebrated the Passover on the eve of Wed­nesday, while the majority of the people celebrated on the eve of Saturday.

 

Three hundred dinarii would be nearly a year’s salary for a laborer.

 

 

20. Several foreigners (called Greeks because of their language) were converted to the faith of the Jews. Though they did not observe the Jewish laws, they were accepted in the Tem­ple of Jerusalem where a courtyard, (separate from that of the Jews) was reserved for them. The question from those Greeks offers Jesus the opportunity to announce that his king­dom will be extended through the whole earth, when he will have been raised on the cross.

 

Unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies (v. 24). Jesus will die and the universal Church will be born. Jesus allows his lifeless body to be laid in the earth; on rising from the tomb, his same body, now glorified, will also em­brace the believers united to him. The life that is now his will be communicated to all the chil­dren of God.

 

Unless the grain dies. This is the law for all life that will be fruitful (Mk 8:34). The first believers were already saying: “The blood of the martyrs is a seed.”

 

 

27. This page of John’s Gospel records both Jesus’ transfiguration (Mk 9:2) and agony in Gethsemane (Mk 14:32).

 

Then a voice came (v. 28). While Jesus was in the midst of the noisy crowd a noise erupted: a message from heaven or simply a noise? This event, insignificant perhaps for the historian, was like the fleeting presence of reality breaking through the illusory scene in which most people are caught up. The fact that the people mis­understood his message, and that later they would deliver him up to their rulers, has become of minor importance to Jesus. He looks beyond all that. Jesus knows that he cannot save the nation from historical failure, but he understands that his death will change the course of world events: he will conquer where the destiny of humankind is to be played out.

 

From the beginnings of our history, the ruler of this world, the Spirit of Evil, has obscured in humankind the capacity to recognize God. God has directed the whole of creation towards a progressive growth in maturity until the birth of the New Creature. Because of sin this birth comes about in a world characterized by suffering, indif­ference and slavery.

 

The only way to salvation is to return to obedience, not “to God,” but to the Father. And Christ had to open the way through his sacrifice: I have come to this hour to face all this (v. 27).

 

We easily forget that the purpose of our life is to glorify God. We do not glorify God principally by constructing temples or by singing: “Glory to God!” but by making ourselves pleasing and living sacrifices to God. A bishop and martyr of the primitive Church, St. Irenaeus, wrote: “God is glorified when people are fully alive: but for a person to be fully alive is to see God.”

 

A sacrifice is a surrender of something for the sake of something or someone else. Our sacrifice is to allow God to be our life, to make us like him and to pre­pare us to reflect his own Glory. This ­indeed requires sacrifice because God makes us pass through a death to attain this life. Through obedience to God’s will, we are freed of our selfishness and the limits of our present condition, and we are prepared for another and everlasting state. God is glorified when his children attain glory, that is to say, attain his own perfection and are transformed through fire and the Holy Spirit.

 

 

37. AN IRREPARABLE CHOICE

 

Jesus’ life of preaching is coming to an end. John later finds it difficult to understand how God’s chosen people could remain so blind re­gard­ing their Messiah. John tries to search out the meaning of this refusal by using two texts from the prophets:

 

The first is a long poem dedicated to the Servant of Yahweh, a voluntary victim for the sake of his people (Is 53:1). It shows us that peo­­­ple do not willingly accept a humiliated Savior.

 

The second text shows how the rejection of Christ could have been foreseen. Indeed, the ancient prophets were also ignored while they were living, thus fulfilling a mysterious plan of God.

 

John stresses the sin of the majority who were not committed to Christ, although within themselves they secretly respected him. Somehow the Jewish peo­ple suspected that Jesus came from God, but to believe in what he claimed and asked was another matter.

 

For us, too, to believe in the Gospel is to take a stand; we cannot pass by the Church Jesus founded even though it may not be totally transparent. His word comes to us amidst numerous preoccupations, and most often we feel inclined to respond: “I’ll see later!” When we neglect his word, we often think it not grave. Actually it is God and his truth that we reject and we may not have another occasion to receive it. All eternity is decided today.

 

There is absolutely nothing in the Bible to support the belief that we will have other lives in order to repair our errors of today. If so many people of our time have grasped this belief in a succession of lives, it is above all because it encourages them to delay making real decisions; the devil takes charge of spreading this belief.

 

 

13.1 Here begins the second half of John’s Gospel.

 

In the first half, through signs and discourses Jesus foretold the work he was going to accomplish in the world and the glory that would be given him after he would be “raised on high.” Now Jesus’ hour has come, in which he will realize all that was announced.

 

The second half begins with the farewell discourses of Jesus at the Last Supper.

 

Just as in the previous chapters each of Jesus’ discourses begins with a miracle, the farewell discourses narrated in chapters 14-17 have, as a point of departure, the extraordinary act of the “washing of the feet.” This gesture contains two lessons:

 

the need to purify ourselves before participating in the Sup­per of the Lord.

 

how the commitment of love is to be put into practice.

 

 

2. THE PENITENTIAL RITE

 

John does not narrate the institution of the Eucharist, but the Washing of the Feet and what follows (vv. 26-30) may be seen as an obscure allusion to the Eucharist.

 

He began to wash their feet. The poor among the Jews walked barefoot while the rest wore sandals. A traditional gesture of welcome was to order a servant to wash the feet of the traveler (see Gen 18:4). The apostles did not have servants, but that night Jesus chose to be their servant.

 

Jesus did not intend merely to make the apos­tles clean and comfortable. His wash­­ing of their feet was a sacred act that symbolized purifying them just as baptism does. The apostles were already in the grace of God: the word of Jesus that they received with faith had purified them (15:3). They need­ed more prep­aration, however, before sharing the bread of life at the table of their Lord. All religions observe some preparatory or purification rites before offering sacred things to their members. Jews, for example, ob­served purification rites before participating in the Pass­over meal.

 

Jesus was no less demanding: he himself washed the feet of his apostles. He did not ask them to confess their sins; all he wanted was that they would humbly allow him, their Lord, to wash their feet.

 

This act reminds us at once of the sacraments of Baptism and Penance. There, bonds of humility and mercy are forged both for the one who purifies and for those purified. Henceforth the apostles will do what their Lord did before them, since he will send them in his name to forgive sins. They are not to act as hierarchical officials or judges granting pardon to sinners but to take the first step in humility and mercy, in order to likewise purify those who approach the Supper of the Lord.

 

The word Lord appears seven times in this chapter. With this in mind we understand that by washing the feet of his apostles Jesus performed a significant act which shows us, in a most surprising way, who our Lord and God is, and how he acts.

 

 

33. CHRISTIAN LOVE

 

I give you a new command­ment. That is to say, a commandment appropriate for the advent of a new era. The Old Testament spoke of interior fidelity to God and love of neighbor, but this message often remained hidden among the complexities of the Law. Besides, there are many ways of loving: even a fanatically religious per­son can claim to be loving God. In the New Testament Jesus says that love of God is the highest law. The example given by the Lord during his earthly life reminds us of the way to love.

 

Love that is like God’s aims at liberating our neighbor and en­abling her to fully develop her God-given gifts. Love like the Lord’s helps the neighbor become what God wishes her to be, by passing through death to resurrection.

 

Moreover, when we go deeper into the mystery of divine love revealed to us through Jesus, our love becomes merged with the eter­nal love of God that alone, in the end, shall permeate all we do. True love comes from God and makes us return to unity within God.

 

Time and again, Jesus points out the unique importance of Christian love. Later, his Apostles (e.g., 1 Jn 4:7 ff.) and the Church would sum up his teaching on love: Love of God is shown through love of our neighbor, love of our neighbor depends on love of God. What is it really to love God? The great saints and mystics of the Church tell us that love of God is not “to feel God,” to feel devotion or affection for God. Christian love lies not in sentiment or feelings (though on some occasions we might feel affection or devotion, which is helpful); to love God is to be determined to do what God wishes at each moment of our lives. What God wishes of us regarding our neighbor is that we render loving service and forgiveness.

 

 

14.1 THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

 

After the washing of the feet, John continues with Jesus’ three farewell discourses to his apostles. Those who had lived intimately with him for several months, would soon need to discover another way of living with the ri­sen and present, though invisible, Christ. “I was with you,” says Jesus (vv. 9 and 25); hence­­forth, “I will be in you.” The first of these discourses is found in chapter 14.

 

Jesus’ ascension to the Father was not just an individual achievement, but opened for all of us a way to our House, not situated high above us, but in God. There are many mansions (v. 2), that means that there is also a place for us: not just one mansion for ev­erybody, but a place for each one, because Heaven is not like a performance which is the same for everyone in the audience. God’s radiance will draw from each one the resonance only he can bring forth. Each one will be in his own mansion, being in com­munion with all.

 

Now, knowing what is the goal, we should walk towards this definitive com­munion. “I am the way,” says Jesus. He became human precisely so that we might see the Father in him. He followed his way, so disconcerting for us, so that, meditating on his actions, we would progress towards the truth. Although in the beginning we may not understand him well, with time, we will discover the Lord and understand that his way is ours. Passing through the cross and death, we will achieve our own truth and arrive at life.

 

I am in the Father, and the Father is in me, and you in me (vv. 11 and 20). Christ makes us enter into the divine family. Thus, we no longer speak of approaching God as if he were far from us. We no longer feel as if God were a single person in front of us. We enter “into” the mysterious life of the divine Persons who share every­thing and who are the one and only God. Material things cannot penetrate each other; but in the world of the spirit such is possible. Christ is in the Father and the Father in him. They make their home within us (v. 23).

 

In the introduction to the Gospel, John explained that all of God’s actions in the world should be understood in the light of the intimate relationship between the Father and the Son. Now he adds that the presence of God in us is due to another person, the Holy Spirit. Neither the Father alone, whom no one has seen, nor the Son, who made himself known, can enter into communion with people. They can, however, do so by means of the Spirit, whom we should call: God who is communicated. Hence we call spiritual life everything that refers to our relationship with God.

 

The spiritual life includes three elements:

 

keeping the words of Jesus: meditating on them, putting them into practice and letting them take root in our soul.

 

then, instructed by the Spirit regarding what we should ask in Jesus’ name, let us ask, with all confidence, for those things that he himself desires.

 

finally, let us do the same things he did. He did not multiply good works, but completed that which his Father asked him to do, even when his obedience would seem to us a vain sacrifice.

 

I will ask the Father and He will give you another Helper (v. 16). Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit whom he calls the Paraclete. This Greek word has several meanings. Here we use Helper. The Spirit helps the believers and inspires their pray­er so that it may be heard (Rom 8:26).

 

The Helper (or Interpreter) will teach you (v. 26). The Spirit enables us to understand and in­terpret Jesus’ words throughout all time.

 

Lord, how can it be that you will show yourself clearly to us and not to the world? (v. 22). Judas thought that Jesus meant he would summon them for secret meetings, but Jesus really meant he would make himself known to them through interior teaching and by letting them experience peace.

 

For the Father is greater than I (v. 28). This does not contradict what John teaches throughout the whole Gospel about Jesus’ divinity. This is to be read together with 5:18; 10:30; 16:15, if we want to know something of the mystery of Christ, “true God,” as spoken of in Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13; and 1 John 5:20.

 

As early as the fourth century Saint Hilary, the great bishop and defender of the faith, wrote: “The Father is greater because of being the one who gives. As he gives the Son all that he himself is, yet the Son is not inferior to the Father.”

 

Moreover, it is characteristic of the Son to deny himself so that he may give glory to the Father, until the Father gives him back “the Glory he had before” as said in 17:5 and 6:62. Because of this the apostles, who have seen him as a man among humans in the time of his humiliation, should now rejoice.

 

The Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name (v. 26). Compare with 15:26. The Holy Spirit proceeds as much from the Father as from the Son being, with them, only one God.

 

 

15.1 In this second farewell discourse, Jesus invites us to remain steadfast in the midst of the world. The discourse is divided into four parts:

 

the parable of the vine: I have sent you to produce fruits.

 

the world will hate you.

 

the work of the Holy Spirit.

 

in a little while you will see me again.

 

First, the parable of the vine. Jesus uses an image from the Bible, but he changes the original meaning, as he did before when speaking of the Good Shepherd (Jn 10:1). The vine represents the people of Israel. Planted from selected stock, cared for by the Lord, it should have produced fruits of justice (Mk 12:1).

 

Now the true Vine has taken root. Christ is the trunk from which the branches sprout, that is to say, all of us who live by him. He is also the entire plant, trunk and branches together: the Christians are really the body of Christ.

 

The vine was the people of Israel, and what mattered more to them was the collective conduct of the community as one body. What mattered was not the individuals but Israel. Now Jesus does not say: The Christian community is the vine, but: I am the vine. So each of us has to consider how he is joined with Jesus through faith, prayer, and keeping his word. Each one has to bear fruit. Jesus does not specify what these fruits should be: whether service, understanding, action for social justice, or a life silent­ly offered to God. Rather he insists that these fruits should come from the Spirit and bear his proper seal. The success of the Church is not measured by its achievements, but by the progress of those who interiorize Christ’s mystery and share in his cross and resurrection.

 

After making it clear that we depend totally on him, Jesus repeats his commandment of love. There is a necessary order in building the Christian life.

 

If from the start we say: We should love our neighbor because this is the only commandment, we will achieve nothing; because each one understands love in his own way, while not having as yet interiorized the thinking of Christ. Moreover, we need to receive from the source of all love the ability to love selflessly. Christ asks us to first share his thinking: that is what the expression, keep my commandments means. Thus we become his friends, knowing him as a person who loves us and acts in us. Later we will produce the authentic fruit of love, whose source is Christ.

 

 

18. In spite of Jesus’ having returned to his Father to initiate a more effective and universal presence among humankind, Satan continues to act with the power he has usurped. The hatred of those who belong to Satan is directed against the believers and the Church. Such helpers of Satan are called in John’s Gospel: the world.

 

Believers are destined to be hated by the world. It often happens that when a person begins to live in a more Christian and responsible way, she meets with opposition and hatred from her own family. No one knows what has aroused the hatred, but the devil does, who moves everything to discourage us.

 

Even in the Church we find those who are of the world and believe that they are serving God (16:2) when they persecute the true disciples of Christ. Some who identify themselves with what they consider “the interests of the Church” can even persecute, and at times with malice, those who are Gospel-minded. In reality they know neither Jesus nor his Father.

 

When our hope does not come from God, trials discourage us; but when our hope is rooted in God, we are strengthened and remain stead­fast. In the parable of the vine, Jesus said: “My father prunes every branch that bears fruit so that it will bear more fruit.”

 

 

26. THE FATHER, THE SON AND THE HOLY SPIRIT

 

In making us children of his Father, Jesus enables us to discover the intimate mystery of God. In God there is communion among the three persons: the Father, the Son and their common Spirit.

 

We speak of their common Spirit, because Jesus said both: The Father will give you another Helper (14:16) and: The Helper which I will send you (15:26). Now he says: He will take what is mine and tell it to you: everything that the Father has is also mine (16:15).

 

“The Spirit” is not a poetic figure: it is Someone. This has already been commented on (Jn 7:37; 14:1).

 

Starting from the day of Pentecost, the Spirit began to act in the Church, thus showing that he was the Spirit of Christ. The unbelieving Jews thought that God was with them, but in reality his Spirit did not act among them. So it was clear that they had sinned (v. 16:9) for not believing in Christ.

 

What is the way of righteousness (v. 8). The righteous One is Christ and the righteous persons are those who believe in him without seeing him (v. 10).

 

The Acts of the Apostles records how the Spirit worked in the first disciples of Jesus. Be­fore granting miraculous powers, the Spirit gave them joy, peace and mutual love, as well as inner certainty that Jesus had risen and was among them.

 

The Spirit guides missionaries; he gives them the power to perform miracles; he gives to believers the knowledge of God, new capacities for working, healing, serving and shaking up a sinful world. Throughout history the Spirit would raise up people of faith, martyrs, prophets, and through them transform the world. In this way the Savior, seemingly defeated, would be justified; and it becomes evident that the loser is Satan, who already has been condemned (v. 11). The evil spirit, great director of the worldly show, is displaced and his in­fluence limited. A new force, which is the Spirit, orients history and guides us towards the total truth.

 

 

16.16 JESUS IN OUR MIDST

 

Jesus is in our midst, but to be aware of his presence requires faith. He himself said: “You will see me because you live and I also live (14:19).” It is not important that we feel his presence, what matters is to persevere in his ways. In order to attain mature faith, it is necessary that we be deprived of the consolation of his presence for more or less prolonged periods: a little while and you will not see me.

 

For his disciples this happened for the first time at the moment of his death; later they saw him risen from the dead. This will come true for us at the end of time, when we discover the glorious Christ whom we have awaited in faith. No one should feel overconfident about feeling his presence, for example, after a conversion. When everything seems easy, we should not look down on those who find it hard to believe or who have never felt the presence of God. In a little while, perhaps, the Lord will leave us in darkness.

 

After Jesus rose from the dead, a real com­panion­ship would be established between him and his disciples: he would speak to them clearly of the Father; they would ask in his name.

 

I will tell you plainly… The naive response of the apostles in verse 29 underlines by con­trast what Jesus expressed in verse 25. Jesus did not mean that he would return in visible form to teach, not in parables, but more clearly; Jesus referred rather to the spiritual knowledge of him­self and his words that the disciples were to re­ceive from the Spirit.

 

You will ask in my Name (v. 26). Through a spiritual knowledge of Jesus, the believers will know what they should ask of him and he will give it to them. In the same manner, they will know the things that God does not want to give, and because of that they will neither desire nor ask for them.

 

 

17.1 ONE AND HOLY

 

Priestly Prayer is the name many give to that prayer in which ­Christ, before he died, offered to sacrifice his own life, as both priest and victim (v. 19). The word to consecrate applied to two things: the priest was consecrated, that is, was made worthy to offer the sacrifice, and he also con­secrated (made holy) the victim on sacrificing it.

 

Jesus put an end to the Old Testament form of worship that the Jews rendered to God in the Temple for centuries. The Israelites were holy; that is to say, their mission among all the nations was to serve the Holy God, whom they knew by a special privilege.

 

Jesus prays for his own so that they may be­come the new people (Ps 102:19), consecrated to God, this time according to the truth (v. 17). He will pour over them the Spirit of Truth, who has been promised to Israel and will instruct us interiorly.

 

Keep them in your Name (v. 11). In other words: keep them in the radiance of your own sanctity, with which you embrace your Son. At that moment Jesus prayed for his Church, to whom he entrusted his own mission. The principal duty of the Church is to know God. (The word to know is repeated seven times, clearly show­ing that it expresses the essence of the discourse). What­ever the situation of the Church might be, its proper and indispensable mission will be to keep and proclaim the true knowledge of God and the commandment of his Son.

 

Jesus wants each of his own to know God. This knowledge comes to us when we in­teriorize the word of God, persevere in pray­er and join community celebrations. In this we will have the help of the Holy Spirit, from whom come the gifts of knowledge and wisdom (Col 1:9). From knowledge will spring good works and love; this is the beginning of eternal life (v. 3) in which we will see God as he is (1 Jn 2:3).

 

Jesus prayed that his Church might be one, that is to say, that it might be the sign of unity in a divided world. It is not enough that Christ is preached; it is also necessary for the world to see in its midst the Church, one and united.

 

Catholic Church, means, universal. In the Church no one is a stranger. One Church, through one same spirit, and through the visible unity of its members.

 

The history of the Church seems to run counter to the prayer of Christ. Jesus desired unity; the evangelists relate how he named Peter as visible head of the apostolic group and the entire Church. How­ever, to maintain unity among people of different temperaments and various cultures requires much love and understanding.

 

From the beginning some began to reject the faith as taught by the apostles, and several groups or sects appear­ed.

 

For historical reasons, the countries of the Roman world were divided into two main empires: one of the Orient, with the patterns of Greek culture and that of the Occident (Europe), where the medieval culture developed. After the invasions of the barbaric peoples, con­tact between the Christians of these two parts became very difficult. Because they lived the same faith with different traditions and reli­gious practices, they began to consider themselves as having different religions. That was how the Oriental churches, that is, the Orthodox, separated from the Roman Church.

 

Much later the negligence of the hierarchy in not ending the abuses and useless human traditions led the Protestants or Evangelicals to found new churches, which they called reformed churches. This separation, however, had deeper political, social and economic roots. It was part of a cultural crisis that obliged Christians to revise their views regarding the Bible, philosophy and politics. According to what­ever stand one took concerning these issues, one joined the Protestants or stayed with the Catholic Church.

 

In our times, we have a better understanding of these past difficulties. Many Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants are attempting to unite as believers. At the same time, however, new problems have arisen within each Church. Today Chris­tians disagree and are split, not only in their political options, but also in their understanding of Christ and their views on how his message is best delivered in our time.

 

Ecumenism, that is, efforts to reconcile in truth and bring the Churches together, demands that we overcome the new dissensions that threaten the internal unity of the Church. All of us must work so that the unity of all Christians may be realized as Christ desires, and by the means he wants. In any case, nothing can be done without obeying the truth and doing the truth. In no way can we disregard Peter’s charism of unity that is granted to Peter’s successors.

 

 

18.28 CHRIST THE KING

 

My Kingship does not come from this world. It is important to remember what was said regarding Luke 8:9. In the Gospel the same word means: The King­dom, that is, the coun­­try that the king governs; the reign, that is the government of the king; the Kingship, that is, the dignity and power of the king.

 

In Jesus’ response to Pilate the meaning to be given to the word is not kingdom, but rather kingship, which is the power of the king.

 

In any case, it would be an error to understand Je­sus’ words as follows: “My Kingdom is in another world, therefore, the social and political problems of this world do not concern me,” and think that Jesus came to give spiritual salvation, in­di­vid­ually, to believing souls.

 

Likewise, it would be an error to understand the word: You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above as affirming that the authorities receive their power directly from God and that no one should take steps to replace them with others less corrupt, or less unjust, or more capable. See commentary on Romans 13:1.

 

Jesus with hands bound, behaves like a king before the governor, Pilate, who is captive of his office and his own ambitions. Jesus is not a king like those of this world, because he does not exert the kind of power that people are used to obeying. Jesus, king of the Jews, did not come to revive the independent Jewish kingdom, but to establish the Kingdom of Truth, which God promised them for centuries.

 

Yet truth does not win with arms, but thanks to the testimony of those who live according to the truth. Witnesses of the truth are often persecuted, but they themselves do not persecute others.

 

My kingship does not come from this world. Jesus is unlike other authorities that have gained their positions through force or have won in an election. He has been sent and anoint­ed by the Father.

 

Pilate, on the other hand, had been appointed by the Emperor of Rome and owed his career as much to his own ambition as to several protectors. How could such a man have power over the Son of God and have him crucified for fear of the peo­ple, if it were not to fulfill a decree from on High? Indeed, not even a spar­row falls to the ground without the Father allowing it.

 

God would not permit hu­man creatures to destroy the destiny of his Son. He cares for each one of us in such a way that even the in­justice committed against us serves his plans for our good. Because our fate depends at the same time on the Father and on human authorities, we should believe that he takes advantage of their decisions to carry out his own purposes, even when their power is of this world, that is to say, of a very questionable legitimacy.

 

Pilate condemned Jesus ­unwillingly. Having oppressed and shamelessly exploited the Jews, he feared the denunciations that they might make to Caesar against him. The condemnation of Jesus, however, meant for him nothing more than the death of one more Jew: he did not bear the whole guilt, since that type of justice was the result of the Roman colonial system.

 

Caiaphas, instead, the anointed High Priest of God, could not condemn Jesus with­out knowingly slandering his deeds and his word. So he was more guilty (19:11).

 

We have no king but Caesar (19:15). Thus shouted the crowd impelled by the leaders, although they hated the Romans and their emperor. In fact, several years later the Jews would have no other king but Caesar, and this king would destroy them. Pilate wanted to save the life of his prisoner when he presented him in his disfigured condition. Instead he wounded the pride of the Jewish people: a Christ the King humiliated – they could not accept this offense.

 

 

THE MOTHER OF THE BELIEVERS

 

19.25 At the moment of Man’s fall, Eve was with Adam. Now, at the moment of restoration, that is, the second creation, another woman is with the Son of Man (the Human One), the second Adam. Mary has neither spouse nor son who can receive her and, for the Jews, a woman who re­mains alone would be considered cursed. Jesus entrusts Mary to John and, also, John to Mary. John testifies having heard both phrases. Notice that he writes: Jesus said to the Mother, and not, to his mother. This is a new symbolic gesture of Jesus. Mary will be the Mother of believers.

 

Through this last deed of Jesus, the Church discovered something about the mystery of the Christian life. The believer is a member of a spiritual family. As a child needs a father and a mother to grow normally so, too, does the be­liever need Mary and the heavenly Father. This is an unchanging doctrine of the Church, which in no way attempts to make the creature equal with the Creator.

 

Not without reason has God given us a mother: if it is a misfortune for a child not to have known a mother, it is also a misfortune for a believer when his religion only expresses itself in masculine terms. The believer who welcomes Mary to his home as did John is neither a fanatic nor a quibbler regarding faith. There exists a form of humility, joy, interior peace and simple piety characteristic of those Catholics who have known how to open their doors to Mary without throwing out their Savior.

 

 

28. I am thirsty. Jesus is tortured by thirst. He also thirsts that the Kingdom of his Father be realized in the world. He thirsts for self­less love from those who may share his deepest thoughts and be willing to follow him until Cal­vary.

 

It is accomplished. Jesus drank the cup of sorrow and humiliation to the last drop. The Father had placed it in his hands as the means for becoming the Savior we need. The Work of the Son of God made flesh, which should be nothing less than a new creation of the world, is accomplished. The earthly existence of the Son of God comes to an end, and from the seed planted in the earth will come forth the New Creature.

 

The preparatory times of the Jewish reli­gion, in which the Law occupied first place and the fear due to unforgiven sins was never lost, are finished. A stage of his­tory has ended, in which the rest of humanity had been dragged by its fears and acceptance of its deadly fate, which was a form of its slavery to the Evil Spirit.

 

Now begins a new era in history, the era of the New Covenant of God with humanity. The Spirit will be communicated to the Church. John said: Jesus gave up the spirit; a word that also indicated that he was giving his Spirit to us.

 

 

31. THE SACRED HEART

 

In Jesus’ death as in his life, there are many de­tails that enable us to understand his sacrifice better, if we see them in the light of the Old Testament.

 

In the piercing of Jesus’ heart the words of the prophet Zechariah: They shall look on him whom they pierced (Zec 12:10) were literally fulfilled. The wounds of Jesus are seen by people of any religion as the distinctive mark of Christian faith. Without needing words, they tell a way of self-sacrifice in which God made himself a model. God said through Zechariah that this is the moment in which sinners are converted.

 

John also records a prescription of the Law regarding the Passover Lamb: Not one of his bones shall be broken (Ex 12:46). This occurred at the death of Jesus, the true victim who took the place of the Passover Lamb.

 

Blood and water came out. The Jews believed that only through the blood of their victims could they obtain God’s pardon. Speaking poetically, first John, then later the Church, said that from the open breast of Christ came forth the sacrament of Baptism and the Eucharist, water and blood. From the cross, forgiveness and new life have sprung forth for us.

 

The open heart of Jesus invites us to discover the powerful, hidden and mysterious love that inspired his life. The disciples of Jesus, who had lived with him, would find that their memories and emotions would be diluted and disappear with time; they would discover, on the other hand, that there had been no word, or deed or even silence of Jesus that had not been an expression of his love for God. From his open heart on the cross originates our devotion to the Heart of Jesus. Let us not get distracted by intellectual ideas in an attempt to explain or interpret faith; rather, let us contemplate God’s love and allow it to transform us, making us like unto him.

 

 

38. Jesus has just died and it is two Pharisees who took care of giving him a decent burial. Joseph of Arimathea approached Pilate: be­­cause the disciples had no means of approach­ing the Roman governor. Joseph and Nicodemus were disciples in “secret.” Because Jesus identified himself with the common people, it was difficult for those in better social positions to integrate themselves into his group. Here we have an example of the inevitable consequences of a preferential option for the poor.

 

Nicodemus, Joseph of Arima­thea, Laza­rus and the women mentioned in Luke 8:2 were people of upper or middle class. This fact was enough for some scholars to hastily conclude that Jesus did not live among the poor: seemingly forgetting all the rest of the Gospel’s evidence. Let us remark that, even now, wherever an apostolic person lives as a poor person among the poor, there are always people, who are better off financially, who recognize him and give him support. By being truly committed to the poor, Jesus saved the rich and won the admiration and friendship of some of them.

 

There was a garden. The place for the execu­tions was an abandoned quarry near the walls of Jerusalem. Tombs were dug along the sides while the bottom was filled and passed as gardens. A rock projected, about four meters high, from the middle of the area. This rock was called Calvary and on it were raised the crosses.

 

 

20.1 On the second day after the burial it appeared that Jesus was alive and had gone from the tomb. The resurrection took place on the first day of the week, which henceforth would be called the Day of the Lord, that is, Sunday.

 

In Luke’s Gospel, after Jesus’ resurrection he helps his disciples revive their faith and hope. Here instead we see the believers silently contemplating the risen Lord. Christ appears to Mary, who does not recognize him. When he stands in the midst of his disciples, he has to show his wounds to prove that it is he himself, he who had died. Jesus is among them, but his appearance is that of a stranger, and his spiritually transformed body radiates the victory over sin and death.

 

Then Peter arrived. Several texts record that Peter was both a witness to the empty tomb and of Jesus risen from the dead (Lk 24:12 and 24:24; 1 Cor 15:5). Our faith is supported primarily by the testimony of the apostles, and especially by the testimony of the head of the apostles.

 

He saw the linen cloths lying flat. The linens designate the sheet, about 4 meters long, spread under the body from the feet to the head and then, above the body, from the head to the feet; they also refer to the bands that tied the two ends of the sheet. The dead person’s face was wrapped with a separate cloth, the napkin that was tied under the chin and over the head.

 

The sheet and the bands were lying where the body had been but were flat, for the body in­side them had dematerialized. The napkin, which was rolled in the other direction, stayed as it was.

 

Jesus had not returned to life with his earthly body. This had dematerialized, so when we speak of the risen body of Jesus, we refer to some­thing we have never experienced on earth. Those who have had dreams and visions of Jesus have only seen images of him, but have not actually seen him, except for a few of the most eminent saints.

 

 

11. Do not cling to me, you see I have not yet ascended to the Father (v. 17). Before his death, Jesus did not disapprove of the passionate feelings and actions of Mary. Now this familiar gesture to take possession of her loved Master is no longer appropriate.

 

He is now the Risen One, and though he lets himself be seen by his disciples for a few days, he is in the Glory of the Father. His disciples must relinquish the physical presence of Jesus with which they felt so much at ease. From now on the followers or the brothers and lovers of Jesus will embrace him in a secret and marvelous way, when they are given gifts of prayer and faith. It is then that the contemplative spirit, who is represented by Mary, may enjoy the whole of Christ (see Song 3:4)

 

I have not yet ascended to the Father. Jesus is revealing the great desire that filled his life. He came from God and must return to the Father. This is “the greatest love in the world.” All the love that Jesus has for us is but a manifestation of that other love, because God the Father is the fountain and the goal of all love. See the commentary on Matthew 19:16 in this regard.

 

It is not by chance that the word Lord is again repeated seven times, the last time by Thomas: “You are my Lord and my God.” This expresses the faith of the Church.

 

Let us remark that the persons concerned in this event did in fact call Jesus, “the Master.” However, John puts on their lips the word Lord. Why? From the first days of the Church, the believers had to find words to express their faith in Jesus, Son of God. Being the Son, he was not the same person as God, but he was one with him. How to express this divine condition?

 

In the Bible two names were given to God: God and Yahweh. At that time the Jews no longer pronounced the name of Yahweh and instead said: “the Lord.” Moreover, in the Greek bible used by the apos­tles and the Church, Yahweh was also trans­lated as “the Lord.” So the apostles decided very soon to retain the term God when speaking of God the Father, and to call Jesus “the Lord,” by this affirming that he was not inferior to the Father.

 

The risen Jesus’ apparitions to his disciples, besides fostering their hope and making them qualified witnesses of his resurrection, were necessary for their spiritual formation. The disciples had to learn to recognize Jesus no longer through their senses but through faith. Likewise, we have to learn to recognize and follow Jesus in the dim light of faith, in desolation as well as in consolation, thus we too will be among those whom Jesus blesses: Happy are those who believe without seeing me (v. 29).

 

 

19. Just as in the first creation God infused life into Adam, so, too, Jesus’ breath communicates life to the new spiritual creation. Christ, who died to take away the sin of the world, now leaves to his own the power to forgive.

 

Thus the hope of the Biblical people has been realized. God led them in such a way that they felt the universal presence of sin, and so they offered animals in the Temple uninterruptedly to appease God. That river of blood failed to destroy sin, and the priests themselves offered sacrifices for their own sins before praying to God for the others. Ceremonies and rites had no power to purify the heart or to give the Holy Spirit.

 

Now, in the person of Jesus risen from the dead, a new world has begun. Although humanity may continue to sin, already the first of its sons and daughters, the “eldest brother of them all” is sharing fully the holy life of God.

 

Those who strive for the spiritual life, suffer above all from a keen awareness of the universal presence of sin. They grieve deeply at not yet having attained total liberation from sin. Hence they recognize the forgiveness of sin as the greatest gift given to the Church.

 

The capacity to forgive is the only power able to release the great tensions within humankind. Although it does not easily conquer hearts, it is an invaluable secret and the Church should consider it as its own particular treasure.

 

One who does not know how to forgive does not know how to love. On making us aware of sin and purifying us from it, the Church helps us demonstrate a more authentic love for the neigh­bor.

 

 

21.1 Jesus appears this time near Lake Tibe­rias. This delightful story is filled with divine presence as Christ stands on the lonely lakeshore in the light of dawn. The apostles see a stran­ger but John, the proph­et, recognizes Christ.

 

The apostles pulled in a net full of 153 big fish. This number had a symbolic value; it ex­pressed plentitude and universality. Such will be the apostolic work: all nations of the earth will be brought to Christ.

 

The triple questioning of Peter by Jesus may be thought of as the undoing of the triple denial during Jesus’ passion. Peter, too, being the shepherd of the shepherds, is a forgiven sinner. Jesus entrusts the whole Church to him: the same as in Matthew 16:18. Do you love me? This is the first condition to be fulfilled by a shepherd in the Church.

 

This dialogue between Jesus and Peter expresses what being a Christian is all about. Jesus asks us every day if we love him in a special and exclusive way: Do you love me more than these? We answer, “Yes,” despite our miseries, as Peter did; Jesus then invites us to follow him anew, out of love (v. 22), and to share with him the responsibility of caring for the peo­ple of God. There is no better way of following Jesus than by giving up our lives for his mission.

 

Jesus orders Peter to care for the Church and, with this, orders us to obey. We obey freely and conscientiously, not because the she­pherds are always capable and infallible, but rather because they perform a necessary function of authority. We believe that historically they are the successors of the apostles, and for that reason have received their mission from God.

 

The Gospel ends with a prediction of the different fates that will be Peter’s and John’s. Peter died a martyr’s death in Rome in the year 66 or 67; John was still living in the year 90. He was the last of the witnesses of Christ and many thought he would not die until the Lord would come again: hence, the Gospel insists that Jesus had not made such a promise.

 

The last paragraph was placed there by those associated with John at the time of his death.

June 19, 2007 Posted by | Christian Community Bible, Commentary, John, New Testament | 1 Comment

Commentaries on Luke

 

Luke, a Syrian doctor, was converted to Christianity when the first missionaries left the Jerusalem and Caesarea communities to take the Gospel beyond the borders of the Jewish country. Luke then left his homeland to accompany the Apostle Paul.

 

He arrived in Rome, the capital of the then known world, where he stayed for at least two years. There he met Peter and Mark who were preaching among the Christians in Rome.

 

When he wrote his Gospel, various texts containing deeds and miracles of Jesus were available to him, the same texts which Mark and Matthew had used. In his travels, he had also picked up other stories that came from Jesus’ first disciples. These stories were preserved in the oldest churches of Jerusalem and Caesarea.

 

On this we have the witness of his first paragraph (1:1-4): he was concerned with finding the testimonies of the first ministers of the Word, this is the apostles.

 

Then it would be wrong to think that Luke wrote long after the events, as some people say, and elaborates on things he doesn’t know. Though the last corrections to his gospel were done about the year 70, the bulk is much older. This is the case specially for the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel telling us about Jesus’ infancy. They are the translations almost word to the word of a Hebrew or Aramaic writing from the first Christian generation based on information which his mother Mary must have supplied.

 

Luke’s cultural background was Greek and he was writing for Greek people. He omitted several Marcan details, dealing with Jewish laws and customs which would have been hard for his readers to understand.

 

Luke saw in the Gospel the power reconciling people with God and with one another. Therefore, he was concerned about giving us the parables of mercy and the words condemning money – a divisive factor between people. Likewise, Luke showed the very natural way Jesus treated women, who were completely marginalized by the world.

 

The Gospel of Luke has three sections (see Introduction to the New Testament):

 

   Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, 3:1–9:56;

 

   the journey to Jerusalem, 9:57–18:17;

 

   the arrival in Jerusalem and the passion, 18:18–23.

 

The last chapter on the apparitions of the risen Jesus will serve as an invitation to read the Book of Acts, which is a continuation of Luke’s Gospel.

 

 

 

 

 

 1.1 Luke dedicates his work to Theophilus, who may have been a well-to-do Christian. According to the custom of the times (printing did not exist), Luke gave him his manuscript with the expectation that several copies would be made at his expense for the use of Christian communities. Luke would also dedicate the Acts of the Apostles to Theophilus.

 

 

 

 5. In the days of Herod. This Herod was the father of “Tetrarch Herod” who is recorded in 3:1 and whom Jesus knew. He was the last king of the Jews. When he died, Judea lost its autonomy. This Gospel begins in the Temple, and will end in the Temple. This first book of Luke will take place in a setting that is strictly Jewish. Only in his second book, the Acts, shall we find the extension of the Gospel to all the nations. God’s work begins with simple believers – there were many of them in Israel, those who in the Psalms are called “the poor of Yahweh.”

 

Among the Jews, there were a number of priestly fam­ilies called Aaron’s descendants. All the men from these families were priests from generation to generation. From time to time they had the privilege and duty to fulfill priestly functions in the Jerusalem temple, but the rest of the time they worked in their towns and villages as ordinary citizens.

 

Elizabeth could not have children (v. 7). As with Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel (famous ancestors of the Jewish people), and Hannah (mother of the prophet Samuel) this occurred so that God’s goodness and power shown to the humble and despised would be made more obvious (1 S 1).

 

Your prayer has been heard (v. 13). Zechariah wanted to have a son, but no longer hoped for one. However, in the temple he prayed for the salvation God would grant his people and is promised both salvation and a son.

 

He shall never drink wine (v. 15). In Israel many men consecrated themselves to God in this way: they neither cut their hair nor drank alcoholic drinks and withdrew from the world for a while (Num 6). They were called Nazirites.

 

Zechariah’s son was to be a Nazirite from his mother’s womb until his death, as Samson had been (Jdg 13:5). The one who would be known as John the Baptist receives the mission to preach repentance, and his very life was to be a model of austerity (Mk 1:6). In that he will be the opposite of Jesus who, but for exceptional times such as his fasting in the desert, would live like everyone else and not request special fasts of his disciples (Lk 7:33-34).

 

Then, the angel indicates what John, Zechariah’s son, will be: He will go in the spirit and power of Elijah (v. 17). In Scripture we see that after Elijah disappeared, having been taken to heaven in a flaming chariot (2 K 2:11), the community of believers kept wondering about the meaning of such an unusual event. They even thought that just as Elijah had worked during a time of religious crisis to bring his people back to faith, so he would also return from heaven before the coming of the Messiah to restore his people’s faithfulness.

 

The text here refers to this Israelite expectation: one should not think that Elijah would return from heaven in person as Malachi 3:23 seemed to say. Rather John the Baptist would operate with the spirit of Elijah to obtain reconciliation for all, through justice and faithfulness to God’s law.

 

So, in this remote corner of the world, the Good News begins with an elderly and childless couple, because nothing is impossible with God.

 

 

 

THE VIRGIN MARY

 

 26. The first two chapters of this Gospel are, like the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, an account of the infancy of Jesus. The spirit, however, is entirely different. Matthew uses without scruple stories that were not authenticated, but were in the tradition of “infancies of saints” that circulated among Jews and he used them to show what the mission of Jesus would be. Luke also gives us an account that is first of all theological but based on facts. In doing that he uses a very ancient document familiar to the Christian communities of Palestine. We find seven tableaux in the first two chapters:

 

Annunciation of John, annunciation of Jesus;

 

the visitation;

 

birth of John;

 

birth of Jesus;

 

the presentation;

 

Jesus in the Temple.

 

The account of the annunciation of Jesus marks the difference from John in his person and in his mission.

 

How considerate God is toward humans! He does not save them without their consent. The Savior is expected and welcomed by a mother: a young girl accepts to be the servant of the Lord and becomes the mother of God.

 

The virgin’s name was Mary (v. 27). Luke uses the word virgin. Why did he not say a young girl or a woman? Simply because he was referring to the words of the prophets stating that God would be received by the virgin of Israel. For centuries God en­dured thousands of infidelities from his peo­ple, and had forgiven their sins. At his coming, the Savior was to be welcomed by a “virgin” people, that is, a people fully consecrated to him. In Jesus’ time many people concluded that the Messiah would be born of a virgin mother when they read the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14. Now then, the Gospel says: Mary is The Virgin.

 

The one who, from the beginning, was chosen by God to welcome his only Son through an act of perfect faith, had to be a virgin. She, who was to give Jesus his blood, his hereditary traits, his character, his first education, must have grown under the shadow of the Almighty like a secret flower belonging to no one else, who had made of her whole life a gift to God.

 

How can this be? (v. 34). The angel states that the baby will be born of Mary without Joseph’s intervention. The one to be born of Mary in time is the same one who exists in God, born of God, Son of the Father (see Jn 1:1).

 

The power of the Most High will overshadow you. The sacred books spoke of a cloud or shadow filling the temple (1 K 8:10) as a sign of the divine presence over the holy city, protecting it (Sir 24:4). By using this image the Gospel conveys that Mary becomes God’s dwelling place, through whom he works out his mysteries. The Holy Spirit comes, not over the Son first, but over Mary so that she may conceive through the power of the Spirit, since a man’s intervention is excluded. The conception of Jesus in Mary is the result and the biological expression of her total surrender to the unique and eternal Word of the Father.

 

It is thus that the Alliance between God and humankind is finally realized. It will not only be the “work” of Jesus. He, himself, is already the eternal Alliance. A child born into a family belongs entirely to the family of its father and to that of its mother: he is the alliance between two families until then strangers to one another. So it is that Jesus, born of the Father and of Mary, is the Alliance between God and the human family, and it is there that the faith of the Church is rooted: Jesus is truly God and truly man.

 

Before the angel came, had Mary thought of consecrating her virginity to God? The Gospel gives no indication to this effect other than Mary’s word: I do not know man. Let us recall that Mary was about to be married and was engaged to Joseph, which, according to Jewish law, gave them the rights of marriage (Mt 1:20). It is possible that this question is merely meant to invite a response from the angel on the intervention of the Spirit. The whole text however be­­comes more transparent if Mary had already kept herself for God alone.

 

“Mary ever-virgin” affirms the Christian tradition that never fails to expand the scriptural statement. As for Mary having thought of virginity before the angel’s visit, that is a different matter. Such a decision was foreign to Jewish mentality, but it is also certain that the Gospel becomes alive with new and surprising decisions. Such an unusual decision born of an unusual relationship with God is not surprising for those who have an inner experience of the Spirit.

 

 

 

THE ANNUNCIATION

 

Only Mary could make known the mystery of Jesus’ conception to the primitive church. How could she express such an inner experience and how would it be reported?

 

Therefore, in writing, Luke had to use biblical words and forms that would allow us to understand the mysterious encounter of Mary with God.

 

The angel Gabriel (v. 26). For the Jews Gabriel was the name of an angel of the highest rank who appears in the book of Daniel to announce the hour of salvation (Dn 8:16 and 9:21). So, in speaking of Gabriel, the Gospel implies that, for Mary, everything began with the assurance that this was the moment when the destiny of the world was being decided.

 

Rejoice. This was the joyful way in which prophets addressed the daughter of Zion, that is to say, the community of the humble, who looked forward to the coming of the Savior (Zep 3:14; Zec 9:9).

 

Full of grace (v. 28). The word used in the Gospel means specifically: beloved and favored. Other people had been loved, chosen, favored; but in this instance it becomes the very name of Mary.

 

She was troubled at these words. The text does not speak of fear as it did in the case of Zechariah (1:12). From the first moment that Mary’s spirit was awakened, she was aware of the presence of God inspiring her every decision, and so the divine revelation does not cause fear in her. The divine words, revealing her unique vocation, do trouble her.

 

You shall conceive (v. 31). Here the Gospel makes use of several biblical texts, of which some foretell the future of a child, and in some others God entrusts a mission. See Gen 16:1; Ex 3:11; Jdg 6:11. We have already mentioned Isaiah’s prophecy (7:14) announcing the one who would be Emmanuel, meaning God-with-us. Mary will name him Jesus, which means savior.

 

He will rule over the people of Jacob forever (i.e., the Israelites). This is a way of say­ing that Jesus is the Savior, the son of David, an­nounced by the prophets: 2 S 7:16; Is 9:6.

 

He will be great (v. 32), but not in the way that John the Baptist would be great before God, for John was only a human being (1:15). Jesus was to be son of the Most High, and son of David: these two attributes pointed to the expected Messiah or Savior (2 S 7:14; Ps 2:7). See also Rom 1:3-4. This is why it was made clear that Joseph was from the family of David: see commentary on Matthew 1:20.

 

 

 

THE SERVANT OF THE LORD

 

I am the handmaid of the Lord (v. 38). In saying this, Mary does not lower herself with false hu­­mility; instead she expresses her faith and her surrender. From her will be born the one who will be both the servant announced by the prophets (Is 42:1; 50:4; 52:13) and the only Son (Heb 1).

 

Many persons are mistaken about the word “servant” in that they view almighty God as using his servants to his own ends without taking time to look at them and love them. For them God would lose his greatness if he were to give Mary au­­then­tic re­sponsibility in the incarnation of her Son.

 

This is quite contrary to the spirit of the Bible. God loves people, he wishes, he who is God, to experience human friendship (Dt 4:7; Pro 8:31). God had no need of a woman to make a hu­man body, but he wanted to have a mother for his Son; and for Mary to really be that mother, it was necessary that God looked upon her with greater love than he had for any other creature. Thus, Mary is called full of grace.

 

Grace is what we call the power God has to heal our spirit, to instill in us the disposition to believe, and to make us resonate with the truth so that the expression of real love comes from us in a spontaneous way. We call grace that which came from the living God to blossom on earth: Isaiah 45:8; Psalm 85:11.

 

Mary is really full of grace because Jesus was born of her as he is born of the Father. This is why the Church believes that Mary has a unique role in the work of our salvation. She is the marvel that God achieved at the outset of transforming humankind into his image.

 

 

 

THE HUMBLE PEO­­PLE

 

 39. The angel’s me­s­sage has not left Mary alone with her problems. The angel spoke of her elderly cousin, Elizabeth. With her Mary will share her joy and her secret. Mary, quite young (was she more than fifteen?), will learn from her many things that Joseph could not tell her. What had been foretold to Zechariah will now be fulfilled: “Your son will be filled with the Holy Spirit while in the womb of his mo­ther.”

 

What is most important in history is not what is spectacular. The Gospel pre­­fers to draw our attention to life-filled events.

 

A few years later, Jewish crowds would go to John the Baptist looking for the word of God. No one would wonder how he received the Spirit of God, and no one would know that a humble girl, Mary, put God’s plan in motion on that Visitation day.

 

Blessed are you who believed! (v. 45). What is important is not that Mary is the mother of Jesus in the flesh, and this, Jesus will repeat (11:27).

 

Mary, who has become the Temple of God, communicates the Spirit – the Spirit of Jesus.

 

About Mary’s canticle. Mary, so un­obtrusive in the Gospel, having no part in Jesus’ ministry, is the one who proclaims the historical revolution begun with the coming of the Savior.

 

She proclaims:

 

   the mercy of God who always keeps his promises,

 

the change that is to take place in the human condition.

 

This is what Martin Luther King, the emancipator of the Blacks, recalled: “Despite the fact that all too often people see in the church a power opposed to any change, in fact, the church preserves a powerful ideal which urges people toward the summits and opens their eyes as to their own destiny. From the hot spots of Africa to the black areas of Alabama, I have seen men and wo­men rising and shaking off their chains. They had just discovered they were God’s children, and that, as God’s child­ren, it was impo­s­si­ble to enslave them.”

 

The song of Mary also expresses the deepest feeling of the Christian soul. There is a time for us to seek truth, to discover what our major duties are and to become truly and essentially human. There is a time for asking from and serving God. In the long run, we come to understand that divine love seeks out what is poorer and weak­er to fill it and make it great. Then our only prayer becomes thanks­­ ­giving to God for his understanding and merciful designs.

 

 

 

 57. What was cir­cum­cision? (See Gen 17).

 

The child lived in the desert (v. 80), that is, the desert of Judea by the Dead Sea, where some large com­munities of which the well-known Qumran community had settled. These communities, called the Essenes, devoted them­selves to prayer and meditation on Scripture. And took part in the education of children.

 

 

 

 2.1 The emperor issued a decree. The Jews formed a small nation under the rule of the Roman empire, which included diverse peoples. The precision given by Luke presents a difficulty because Quirinus was appointed governor of Syria in the year 6 A.C. and Jesus was twelve at that time. Several explanations have been built, but very possibly Luke used a mistaken chronology in that place like in Acts 5:36. Luke is infallible as a witness of salvation, not as an historian.

 

Because of the census, Joseph and Mary had to leave their Nazareth home at the time the child was to be born. Joseph, a descendant of David, must have had relatives in Bethlehem, the city of David and of his family. Jesus may have been born in the house of one of those relatives.

 

The chalk hill on which the village of Bethlehem was built had many natural caves used as dwelling places by the not so rich. The cave where Jesus was born consisted of two rooms separated by a rock formation. The innermost room was probably used as a shed and stable. Since there was not enough room or privacy in the common room, Joseph and Mary settled in the area where the animals were kept.

 

Thus, it was foreseen by the Father that Jesus would be educated in a real home, where neither work nor bread would be lacking. In his birth, however, as in his death, Jesus would resemble the most abandoned.

 

She gave birth to her firstborn (v. 7). This term was used then to designate an only son, underscoring that this first son was consecrated to God (Ex 13:1). See also Rom 8:29; Col 1:15.

 

The liturgy of Christmas sings: “Happy mother of God! Today you gave birth to the Savior of all times, and giving birth, you remained a virgin.” In fact God was not too great for Mary: “From on high he sees the proud, but he becomes weak with the humble.”

 

 

 

 8. With the necessary stages in the religious formation of humankind being over, God sent his Son on earth to introduce us to true religion. Now the angel proclaims peace and graciousness to humankind. See how much God loves us! Let yourselves be caught up in his love! Why continue to fear? Have you not understood that God became a child and that from now on he will be among us as a silent and defenseless child?

 

Let this be a sign to you (v. 12). They will recognize God who became poor for us in order to communicate his treasures to us.

 

They returned giving glory to God (v. 20). While the world was in darkness, some shepherds saw God. Why were they called to the manger? God delights in revealing himself to the poor, and Mary and Joseph had the joy to share with them a part of their secret.

 

With the birth of Jesus a new age begins (the final age as the apostles will say) in which, on one hand, people hope for the salvation of the world, and on the other they already enjoy this salvation. The shepherds are models for those dedi­cated to contemplation. Following them, the Church will never be totally involved in works of mercy or human development, but instead, with its truest spirit, will continue to look upon Christ present in its midst, giving thanks and rejoicing in God.

 

 

 

 19. Mary treasured all these messages (v. 19), because every event of her life was for her the way God revealed his plans to her, and all the more so now that she was living with Jesus. She wondered, marveled but was not confused, because her faith was beyond wavering. However, she too had to discover the ways of salvation slowly and painfully. She pondered on these things until the time of the Resurrection and Pentecost when all the words and deeds of Jesus became clear.

 

 

 

 22. Mary and Joseph went to the tem­ple to fulfill a ritual of the Jewish reli­gion (Lev 12:8). Jesus being a firstborn male must be consecrated to God (Ex 13:1).

 

Simeon and Anna like Mary and Joseph belong to the “small remnant of Israel,” This minority of God’s people live their faith in humility and faithfulness to the prophets’ teaching: God knows how to make himself known to them.

 

What is the meaning of the sword that will pierce Mary’s soul? It indicates Mary’s grief upon seeing her Son die on the cross. It also signifies that Mary will suffer because she will not always understand what her Son does. The best-shared love will not prevent each from remaining a mystery to the other, and more so for God than for anyone else. God does not watch our fidelity from heaven, but rather seeks us (he tries us in the sense of asking us to reveal ourselves). The love of the Father will be Mary’s cross just as it would be for Jesus.

 

Christ is God’s light which enlightens people, but which also blinds and confuses them at times. He is a sign that is opposed, but this is a mystery – those who oppose him are not always the worst. There are some people who believe in Christ, but do not follow him. Unable to see his light they do not know that it condemns them. There are good people who do not believe because God wills that they seek the light their whole life long.   

 

 

 

NAZARETH – ACHIEVING FREEDOM

 

 41. During his Nazareth years Jesus discovers life as any child or youth of his age. He does not receive special education. Nor does he manifest extraordinary talents, other than perfect judgment to assess and evaluate everything according to God’s criteria.

 

Joseph passes on to him the faith of Israel; the Nazareth community, however insignificant, makes him a practicing Jew, subject to the Law. What was the deep experience of Jesus, how did the Son of God place himself in this world of humans, step by step, as he discovered it? Luke has given us but one instance that to him was significant as it had been for Mary herself.

 

At twelve an adolescent was to observe religious prescriptions, among them the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the feasts. Seated in the shade of the Temple galleries, the teachers of the law used to teach groups of pilgrims and to dialogue with them.

 

It is on this occasion for the first time that Jesus disconcerts his entourage. Why have you done this? The Gospel highlights this misunderstanding: Mary reproaches Jesus and Jesus reproaches his parents. It then emphasizes the awareness Jesus has of his privileged relationship with the Father and his total availability for his mission. If the discovery of the Temple, heart of the nation, center of Israel’s religion, stirred new feelings in him, he could have asked permission or forewarned his parents. How could he remain two days without thinking his parents would be anxiously searching for him? He must have thought this suffering was necessary and conquered his liberty in a radical way before returning home with them. Jesus had to experience all of human life, sin excepted; in his own way he passed through the stages of psychological development. Instead of speaking of the lost child it would be more exact to say that the youthful Jesus found himself.

 

It might seem strange that Mary did not think to tell Jesus one day of his origin and who Joseph was for him. If we hold to this account, it is Jesus who takes the lead over Mary and Joseph and tells them himself whose son he is: I must be in my Fa­ther’s house.

 

They did not understand that answer (v. 50). Mary had heard the message of the annunciation and knew that Jesus was the Son of God. She undoubtedly never thought that being Son of God would be what Jesus had just done. In the same way God oftentimes disconcerts us even if we know very well what he wants.

 

 

 

 52. Luke does not mention anything more about the life of Jesus in Naza­reth until he reaches the age of thirty, when he begins to preach. He was Joseph’s apprentice, and after Jo­seph’s death became the carpenter of Nazareth. Joseph must have died before Jesus revealed himself, otherwise, when Jesus left home, Mary would have remained with Joseph (see Mk 3:31). Mary’s son was a man among people and later the Christian community of Naza­reth would treasure things made by the carpenter Son of God.

 

Too often we read the Gospel as a “life of Jesus” and are astonished to find great blanks such as the thirty years of Nazareth. We forget that the written Gospel intended first of all to build a catechesis with the actions and words of Jesus, and not reconstitute his whole life.

 

 

 

 3.1 Luke provides us with facts that enable us to situate Jesus in history. It is the year 27 after Christ and actually Jesus is about thirty to thirty-five years old. The Jews have lost their autonomy, and their country is divided into four small provinces. Herod and Philip, sons of the Herod mentioned at the birth of Jesus (see Mt 2:1) rule over two of these provinces.

 

Those interested in the chronological commentaries can also read John 2:20.

 

In the first two chapters Luke has shown us how the Son of God inserted himself into humanity. As Paul says in his letter to the Galatians, he was “born of a woman, subject to the Law” (Gal 4:7) which means that he had to be formed by a culture, marked by his era, limited by the human context of his time. We are now going to see that he did not begin his mission in a grandiose way with prodigious miracles but very simply entered a movement initiated by another one, John the Baptist.

 

The first paragraph shows how the Holy Land was divided, a challenge to the promises of God. In the case of several high priests there was contempt for the law of God, for the high priests should succeed each other, father to son, and remained in office all their lives. In this degrading situation a new element would rock the people: the preaching of John the Baptist.

 

 

 

 3. Listen to this voice crying out in the desert (v. 4). The text which follows is from Isaiah (40:3) John renews the tradition of the prophets after four centuries of interruption and like many among them, he speaks of an imminent judgment. To confront the judgment of God is always most fearful and John speaks of rebuilding a sense of justice. John speaks of the punishment to come. In verse 7 the text says more precisely “escape from the coming wrath”. These Hebrew words refer to a condemnation already pronounced by God that will soon bring a terrible trial on a national or worldwide scale (Lk 21:23; 1 Th 2:16) that believers recognize as a judgment of God. It is then that the wicked receive their punishment, while the just who count on God are saved (Is 1:24-27; Joel 3:1-5, Zec 14).

 

John awakens the expectation of a savior. It is easy for us to say that the savior was Jesus and that God’s judgment would come a few years later with the war that destroyed the Jewish nation, but for those who were hearing John it was difficult to imagine what this savior might be.

 

We are the sons of Abraham! (v. 8). Just like the prophets, John warns us against fanaticism whether it be national or religious. It is not enough to walk under the flag of the God of Israel (or the Church) since many of those who pretend to defend this cause are no more than a race of vipers. God demands justice and reparation for the evil that has been committed.

 

So we see John preaching without having asked anything of the religious authorities. People come from all directions searching for pardon. Verses 12-14 tell us that John turned no one away: neither the prostitutes nor the collectors of Roman taxes. He does ask of all a commitment of solidarity. Once corruption has taken over and the vision of God’s Alliance has faded away, those who recognize their part in the evil affecting the whole of society must make positive gestures regarding money and the enjoyment of it, which will be for all a sign and a call to conversion. Such signs should increase in Christian communities today and in the groups seeking to purify our society.

 

It is that which gives meaning to the total renunciation of John and his appalling austerity: in no way are we all asked to imitate him, but his sacrifices give weight to his words. The religious leaders and the Pharisees who see themselves as models keep away even sneering perhaps, (7:30 and 33) but the people come to John asking for baptism.

 

 

 

 15. Baptism means to be immersed in water and to rise. The Essenes in the desert were baptized on the occasion of certain feasts to show their desire to reach a purer life when the Savior would come. John, in turn, baptizes those who wishing to straighten out their life, marking their commitment by a visible ritual.

 

Here the Gospel compares John with Jesus and John’s baptism with Christian baptism. All of us have heard words like: since Jesus was not baptized until he was thirty years old, one should be baptized as an adult. This is a useless argument since we are not dealing with the same baptism and the demands are different.

 

Baptism in water… baptism in fire (v. 16): this refers to common experiences. We wash stains off clothes in water, but what has been washed does not then resemble that which is new. Besides there are stains which remain. On the other hand, fire purifies rusted metal so that shining metal comes from the crucible as good as new. Moreover, fire can consume stains together with whatever is stained.

 

John baptizes with water those who want to straighten out their life. For them, baptism is a way of expressing publicly their decision and promise. Such resolutions are fallible as are any human commitments and insufficient to eradicate the root of evil from our heart.

 

Jesus, on the other hand, requests that his apostles baptize those who enter the church. It is then when God gives his Spirit that transforms people interiorly.

 

John did not baptize children (or women). As Christian baptism draws its power, not so much from the commitment of the recipient, as from the gift of God making us his children, we can baptize children as did Christians from the early times. They may receive the gift of God, provided that their family and the Christian community accept the responsibility for their growth in faith.

 

 

 

 21. Jesus neither needs conversion, nor John’s baptism. Being the Savior, he wishes to join sinners seeking the way to forgiveness. By receiving John’s baptism, Jesus affirms this as the right way: to seek justice and reform one’s life.

 

There had been no prophets for centuries. God seemed silent and the Jews often said that “the heavens were closed.” Now, God speaks again and Jesus stands in place of the prophets. The heavens opened means that Jesus received a divine revelation (see Ezk 1:1 and Rev 4:1).

 

You are my Son (v. 22). Who saw and who heard that voice is not clear from the Gos­pel (Mt 3:16; Mk 1:10; Jn 1:32). Studying the texts brings us to the following conclusion: Jesus was favored with a revelation from God which John the Baptist may have shared. Why such a manifestation? Did Jesus need to know that he was the Son of God?

 

Let us not forget that the phrase son of God can be understood in various ways. In the period before Jesus, the king of Israel was called son of God. Son of God was also used to designate the expected Messiah, chosen by God to save Israel.

 

Jesus was Son of God in the sense of Only Son of God, begotten of God from the time of his conception. From that moment on, he was conscious of being the Son of God.

 

On the other hand, it was only at the time of his baptism by John that Jesus received the call from God inviting him to begin his ministry of salvation, and that God made him his Son (in the old biblical sense), that is, prophet and king of his people. God is calling him to begin his ministry. That is why in 3:22 we read a word of Psalm 2: “You are my son, this day I have begotten you,” a word of God presenting his Messiah to the world. (A good number of ancient texts give to verse 22 the same text as Mk 1:11).

 

Since the word of God (if it is really from God) is always effective and accomplishes what it says, Jesus receives at the same time the fullness of the Spirit, who consecrates prophets and works miracles. From the moment of his conception Jesus enjoyed the fullness of the Spirit bonding him in a unique relationship with his Father. Now he receives the Spirit enabling him to be the prophet and the servant of the Father.

 

Thus, Jesus is anointed to proclaim the reign of God and to call the poor first (4:18). Different from so many liberators who, according to Scripture, received the Spirit with a view to a specific mission, Jesus is fully savior. Different from us, who are always so concerned to leave a way out of our commitments, Jesus will not rest until his word and witness to the truth lead him to his death.

 

In many pages of the Gospel we see Jesus dealing with individuals. In other and more important circumstances Jesus is depicted as the savior of the whole human race as in this baptism. The Bible tells us of a God who creates, nurtures, instructs and brings to maturity the only one “Adam,” i.e.: the human race as a whole – Jesus is not the savior of “people,” i.e., of many individuals, in order to give them free entrance to heaven – Jesus takes by the hand the human race (Heb 2:16) and makes it one holy body in which God the Father will recognize his only Son.

 

 

 

 23. Luke then presents a list of Jesus’ ancestors, which is quite different from Matthew’s (Mt 1:1). Luke not only goes back to Abraham, he also supplies the legendary list of Abraham’s ancestors all the way back to the first human, as if to emphasize that Jesus has come to save all of humanity. He is not only the Savior of Christians: his coming is relevant for the whole of history and helps us to appreciate the contribution of all the saints and wise people God has raised throughout the world. On the other hand, from Abraham to Jesus the list is very different from Matthew’s. The list of ancestors varied depending on whether one counted natural parents or adoptive parents, since adoption was a frequent occurrence among the Jews.

 

 

 

THE TEMPTATION

 

 4.1 In secular history, people only participate and cope with other people. Sacred history views things from another perspective: God’s plan unfolds hindered by the disturbing devices of the evil spirit, and people are called to take part in this struggle that exceeds their own plans. This is why Jesus had to face the evil one.

 

We speak of temptation when we feel the pressure of bad instincts or when we feel dragged into doing evil by circumstances. Jesus did not possess our bad instincts but the Holy Spirit led him to be tested into the desert – remember that to tempt and to test have the same meaning – and there he felt the strongest persuasion from the evil one who tried to dissuade him from his mission (see also Mt 4:1).

 

Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, began his ministry by undergoing a very hard test: forty days of total solitude and fasting. In this situation, Jesus experienced his frailty as he faced a leap into the unknown: he was about to let go of life in Nazareth in surrender to the Father’s will, and begin a mission which would lead him to death within a few years.

 

The devil, or the accuser, spoke to him; thus is he named in Scripture because he always criticizes. He leads us to accuse God, and when he has made us fall, he then accuses us and tries to convince us that our fall will not be forgiven by God.

 

If you are the Son of God. Jesus knew who he was, but he had not yet tested his power. Could he not, for a moment, release divine energy when his body was weak from hunger? Could he not, someday, get down from the cross to save himself?

 

Jesus refuses to be self-serving. He has higher goals: and so the Devil takes him higher. Knowing people as they are, Jesus is tempted to im­pose himself on the people and manipulate them. He is tempted to compromise and use weapons of the devil who respects neither the truth, nor free­d­om of conscience. It would then be easy to reign over the nations “in the name of God,” since the devil gives them to whom he wishes (v. 6).

 

Jesus has chosen to serve only God. The devil asks, “Why, then, do you not begin your preaching with something spectacular, like dropping from a high place into the midst of the crowd at prayer in the temple? – Do you not believe that God will perform a miracle for you?” – This time the devil uses the very words of Scripture: in reading them, one might think that with much faith, one would always be healthy and successful. Jesus warns against the error of a “faith” which tries to remove the cross. Jesus will not demand miracles from his Father to avoid suffering the humiliation and rejection that are the lot of God’s messengers: this would be to challenge God under the pretense of trusting him.

 

The devil left him, to return another time (v. 13). In the Passion of Jesus, the devil will turn the people’s wickedness against the Liberator whom he could not lead astray. See John 12:31 and 14:30.

 

 

 

 14. Jesus returns home in the company of some of John’s followers who become his own disciples (Jn 1:35) and he performs his first sign in Cana (Jn 2:1). This miracle launches his ministry. From Capernaum, where Jesus lives in the house of Simon and Andrew, near the lake, Jesus begins to preach in the synagogues of Galilee (Mk 1:35) and his words impress people because he works with the power of the Spirit, namely, he speaks with authority and his miracles confirm his words.

 

He began teaching in the synagogues (v. 15). Jesus does not begin by preaching to the crowds who know nothing of him; instead, for months he makes himself known in the synagogues.

 

 

 

 16. In Israel there was only one Temple, that of Jerusalem, where priests used to offer sacrifices. In every place where at least ten men could meet, there was a synagogue where every Sabbath a liturgical ser­vice led by community members was celebrated. It was easy to take part in the read­ings and commentaries on them, so Jesus made himself known by participating in the Sabbath services in the synagogues of his area, Galilee.

 

After some time Jesus, already famous, passed through Nazareth where he was not welcome. In this account Luke shows why Jesus attracted the people and why, particularly in Nazareth, he was rejected.

 

He found the place where it is written: this paragraph is from Isaiah 61:1-2. The prophet is referring to his own mission: God sent him to the Jews in exile to announce that soon God would visit them. Yet his words prove even more appropriate in the case of Jesus who was sent in order to bring real freedom to a people waiting for it.

 

The phrase to free the oppressed is not found in Isaiah’s text, but Luke takes it from another text of the same prophet (Is 58:6) and inserts it here because this expression ‘to set free’ summarizes better than any other word the very work of Jesus in his mission.

 

Today these prophetic words come true even as you listen (v. 21). Jesus has come to inaugurate a new age in which God becomes present and reconciles people. Every fifty years Israel celebrated a jubilee year during which debts were forgiven and slaves recovered their freedom (Lev 25:10). In the same way a year of mercy from the Lord is beginning. Thus the time of promises and prophecies is over. God begins to show himself to humankind as he is: Jesus reveals the Father and the Father reveals his Son through the signs and miracles that he performs.

 

He has appointed me to free the oppressed (v. 18). Jesus brings real liberation to everyone since his deeds urge each one of us to live in truth: “the Son makes you free… the truth will make you free…” (Jn 8:32). The Jews, obviously, were looking first and foremost for political freedom, which is part of total human liberation. Why did Jesus not bring it? Was he only interested in “souls”?

 

Actually the Old Testament never promised “the salvation of souls” which is sometimes emphasized these days in various groups. Such believers think they are saving their souls and yet remain silent, or blind accomplices of the daily sins permeating all economic and social life.

 

The Old Testament foretold that Jesus would be the Savior of his people and of his race. His words and deeds were stirring people who had become helpless and were opening the way for human liberation at all levels, but they were like seeds and could not produce immediate fruits. Jesus had no desire to join the fanatics and vio­lent among his people in order to obtain national sove­reignty as oppressive as Roman domination. He was witnessing to the truth and laying the foundations for all future liberation movements.

 

In the same way today, if there is true evan­geli­zation, liberating deeds are seen and free persons appear, able to liberate others.

 

He has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor (v. 18). See commentary on Luke 6:20.

 

Then Luke explains why the people of Nazareth rejected Jesus:

 

   First, because of their pride: a stranger easily dazzles us, but we fiercely deny that one of us could stand out or be our teacher: who is this but the son of Joseph? See commentary on Mark 6:1.

 

   Secondly, because of their selfishness: they do not agree that God’s benefits should be shared with others. So Jesus reminds them that the prophets of old did not limit their favors to their compatriots alone (see 1 K 17:7 and 2 K 5).

 

 

 

 31. See commentary on Mark 1:21.

 

 

 

 42. Jesus is a model missionary. He no soon­er gathers a few believers together than they want to keep him for themselves, either because they see in him a true pro­phet, or want to form a true community under his guidance.

 

Jesus, however, leaves the task of shepherding (in the sense of guiding a specific community) to others, because he has many more people in mind still awaiting the Gospel.

 

 

 

• 5.1 THE APOSTLES

 

Jesus invites himself aboard Peter’s boat, and Peter is willing to render him this service. Jesus looks for more: even though many are ready to assist him, he seeks those who are willing to totally surrender to his work. The listeners are many, but he needs apostles.

 

Miracles are another way in which Jesus teaches. The miracle reported here is God’s word for future apostles. Lower your nets; the nets were at the breaking point; you will catch people…

 

Leave me, Lord, for I am a sinful man (v. 8). Such is the fear of the one who discovers that God has entered into his inner life: this is a first act of faith in the divinity of Jesus. Yet Jesus calls on sinners to save sinners.

 

Leaving everything (v. 11), they followed him. It is not that they had much, but it was their whole life: work, family and their whole past as fishermen.

 

Apostle means sent. Christ is the one who chooses his apostles and sends them in his name. Where will he find someone to send except among those who are willing to cooperate with him? One begins to be an apostle, or at least to cooperate with Christ, when one looks for something more than performing good works for the benefit of the parish, when one feels responsible for people: fisher of people.

 

Here Luke may have combined two different events: the call of the disciples briefly presented in Mark 1:16 and the miraculous catch. John also relates a miraculous catch (Jn 21) but he places it after the resurrection. We have good reason to think we are dealing with the same mi­racle, but it suited John to combine it with the appearance of the risen Jesus to the apostles, which occurred later in the same place.

 

 

 

 12. See commentary on Mark 1:40.

 

Make an offering for your healing (v. 14). The same law that demanded that a leper be isolated (Lev 13:45), provided that if the leper was healed, he could, after examination by the priests be reintegrated into the community. Because leprosy was seen as God’s punishment, healing meant that God had forgiven the sinner who was to express his gratitude with a sacrifice.

 

 

 

 15. He would often withdraw to solitary places and pray. Luke mentions Jesus’ prayer several times (3:21; 6:12; 9:28…) Jesus did not withdraw only to be still, but because, on each occasion, prayer was a necessity for him.

 

 

 

 17. See commentary on Mark 2:1.

 

There were many Pha­ri­sees and teachers of the Law. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were not against Jesus yet, but being men who had received much religious formation, they were the first to wonder about Jesus’ religious claims: was he only a faithful believer respectful of God’s law or was he promoting a new sect? Jesus took advantage of their presence to show that he was not simply a disciple of Moses and the prophets, but the master of them all.

 

We easily understand why the teachers of the Law were scandalized. How could this man without studies or title, stand up to them as if he were a teacher? They were looking for the coming of a God who would confirm their teaching and acknowledge their merits. ­Jesus, however, was in the midst of common folk and did not pay attention to the authority of the masters of the law who looked down on them. Since the teachers of the Law could not believe, their only recourse was to oppose Jesus.

 

 

 

 27. See commentary on Mark 2:13.

 

The events related in this chapter show how Jesus situates himself in society and with what peo­ple he relates: with a small group of fishermen who will be in charge of his new movement, with lepers and sick people who seek him. He calls people who, like Levi, belong to a despised group.

 

 

 

 6.1 Here we have two conflicts between Jesus and the religious people of his time concerning the Sabbath.

 

See commentary on Mark 3:1.

 

Let us not forget that the word Sabbath means rest. God requested that one day be made holy each week, not primarily for reli­gious assemblies, but to allow everyone to rest (Ex 20:10). God is glorified when people are not enslaved in order to gain their daily sustenance because of their work.

 

In the first episode, Jesus does not argue with the Pharisees who consider work the mere act of plucking a few ears of corn and shelling them. First he recalls that great believers, like David, at times overlooked the law. He then adds: The Son of Man rules over the Sabbath. Among the Jews, however, no one, not even the High Priest, could dispense from the Sabbath observance. So Jesus leaves them perplexed and wondering: Who does he pretend to be?

 

In the second case, Jesus could have said to the man: “Why do you ask me to do something forbidden on the Sabbath? Come back tomorrow to be healed.” Jesus does not avoid the confrontation because Gospel means liberation and we become free when we admit that there is nothing sacred in a society that attempts to impose its own standards. The law of rest (Sabbath) is one of the fundamental laws of the Bible but that does not prevent the possibility of this law causing oppression and for that reason it must at times be dispensed with.

 

It is the same for the most sacred laws of the Church: at a given moment they might be an obstacle to the Gospel and, if that be the case, Christian conscience, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, must find a solution for the time being. As long as people are subject to an order, to laws and authorities which are considered sacred and which no one thinks of criticizing, those people are neither free nor true sons and daughters of God. (See 1 Cor 3:21-23; 8:4-5; Col 2:20-23.)

 

 A respect for God that would destroy our critical sense would not be in keeping with the Gospel; a religion preventing us from seeking the truth and from questioning every area of human restlessness would not be the true one. To study the Bible without daring to know and take into account the contributions of modern science for fear that our very naive vision of sacred history would fall apart would be to sin against the Spirit.

 

 

 

 12. Jesus keeps those whom he loves the most in his prayer. The success of his mission will depend upon them; other people’s faith will rest on them. Jesus does not want their call to be his own will: before calling them, he wants to be certain that he is doing the Father’s will (Heb 5:8). For the simple ­reason that Christ chose them and entrusted his Church to them, they will be tested in a thousand ways (Lk 22:31). Therefore Jesus wants to safeguard them through the power of his prayer (Jn 17:9). The day before his death he will have the consolation that not one of those the Father gave him has been lost (Jn 17:12).

 

 

 

• 17. See the commentary on the beatitudes in Matthew 5:1. Matthew adapts them for the members of the church of his time. Luke, on the other hand, puts the beatitudes here just as Jesus proclaimed them to the people of Galilee. In the words of Jesus, the beatitudes were a call and a hope addressed to the forgotten of the world, beginning with the poor among his people, heirs of God’s promise to the prophets.

 

The Gospel, as in Mary’s Canticle (1:51-53), reverses the present situation. Since then, God shows his mercy especially by his generosity towards the poor and the despised. He also entrusts his Gospel to them and makes them the first to participate in his work in the world. The poor are those whose contribution is most necessary to the building of the Kingdom; when the Church forgets this, she does not delay in returning to what Jesus criticized in God’s people of his time.

 

There are a thousand ways to present Jesus and his work. However, in order for such teaching to deserve the name evangelization (or: communication of the Good News) it must be received as Good News first by the poor. If other social groups feel more identified with the teaching, or they are invited first, it means that something is lacking either in content or in the way of proclaiming the message. Most probably it is not given in such a way that it does justice to the disinherited.

 

In contrast with these beatitudes, Luke presents lamentations recalling those of Isaiah (65:13-14). They are lamentations as used for the dead, not maledictions. For the rich forget God and become impermeable to grace (12, 13, 16, 19). These lamentations are a sign of the love of God for the rich, as are the beatitudes for the poor, for he loves them all, but in a different way. To the first he affirms that he will destroy the structures of injustice, and to the others he gives a warning: richness brings death.

 

The beatitudes do not speak of the conversion of the rich, nor do they say that the poor are better, but they promise a reversal. The Kingdom signifies a new society: God blesses the poor but not poverty.

 

When people speak well of you (v. 26) (see 1 Cor 4:8). The contrast between groups of people who are persecuted and those who are well thought of can exist within the Church itself. Many problems can remain unsolved and even mission itself be blocked because of influential groups and persons who want for nothing and know how to obtain official benedictions. Jesus recalls the example of the prophets.

 

In Jesus’ time the religious authorities of the Jews had a very limited esteem for the writings of the prophets, giving all importance to the books of the Law centered on the cult of the Temple. Jesus would tell his disciples that they are the heirs of the prophets (Mt 13:17; Acts 3:25; James 5:10), and will give importance to the unassuming messengers who, within the people of God (and often in contradiction with dominant ideas) proclaim the word of God. A Christian should never be surprised by weakness or any other defect that he meets in the Church; let him be happy to be faithful even when persecuted.

 

 

 

 27. Here Luke presents only a few of Jesus’ sayings which Matthew combines in chapters 5 to 7 of his Gospel, and which we have explained.

 

Some people feel cheated when they see that Jesus speaks about changing our life rather than about reforming society. Let us not reproach Jesus for not mentioning social reform at a time when few understood what it was. The reason is elsewhere: Jesus deals with the essential. The root of evil is within people. It is obvious that evil structures prevent people from living and growing. It is equally obvious that not a single revolution, however many benefits it may bring, can establish a less oppressive society, as long as people themselves are not transformed according to the Gospel. Jesus teaches us the way towards growth and freedom.

 

All need conversion to Jesus’ word. Jesus’ obvious predilection for the poor and oppressed does not mean they are better. It means God is compassionate, sharing a deeper mercy where misery is deeper, offering hope and total liberation where hope is dimmest. The oppressed person is not innocent; if he were not paralyzed by fear, divisiveness, and greed for the advantages offered to him by his oppressor, he would attain a moral power capable of renewing the world. Thus, the oppressed will not be freed unless they grow in confidence in God, which will enable them to understand each other and risking a way of reconciliation.

 

The following sayings of Jesus point out the indispensable changes of heart and approach.

 

Give to the one who asks (v. 30). Jesus does not give a rule which is automatically applicable in all situations: we know there are times when we should not give because it would encourage bad habits. Jesus wants to challenge our conscience: Why do you refuse to give? Are you afraid you will not be paid back? What if this was the opportunity to trust your Father and to let go of something which is “your treasure” (12:34)? You who wish to be perfect, why do you ignore so many opportunities to give up your own wisdom in order to let God take care of you?

 

 

 

• 31. Here, as in Matthew 5:43, Jesus does not refer mainly to personal resentment and friendships, but to opposition in the social, political or religious order: treating differently the people of one’s group or party and those of the opposite side. We love and respect those of our own group and are only moderately concerned about the rights of others: they are probably sinners and even in the best of circumstances of small interest…

 

Jesus invites us to overcome such differences: what counts is the individual and when my neighbor needs me, I must forget his color or whatever label has been given him.

 

If you lend when you expect to receive. Once again, we are dealing with a social attitude: people who look for friends among those who can promote their social climbing and who avoid all who might be a burden because they are people without influence: Lk 14:12.

 

 

 

• 35. See commentary on Mt 7:1. Perfection for us consists in imitating the Father. He is God by being compassionate; his compassion is his ability to be touched by the poverty and the anguish of his creatures, and to lavish upon them what he can give. The attitude of the person who judges his brothers and sisters is the very opposite of mercy.

 

Jesus speaks of the way in which God already leads us in the present life. A rationalist culture has often convinced us that God lets the laws of nature and humankind go their own way while he remains a passive spectator, but the kingdom of God is the presence of God himself who even today has liberty to reverse all situations, even if for that purpose he has his own time.

 

 

 

 43. No healthy tree (v. 43). These sayings were already mentioned in Matthew 7:15. Here, however, Luke gives them a different meaning by referring to a pure conscience. We must purify our mind and our spirit to become the tree that produces good fruits.

 

 

 

 7.1 THE POWER OF GOD

 

This captain of a foreign army earned the esteem of the Jews. The amazing thing was not that he should have contributed to the build­ing of the synagogue, but rather that the Jews should have accepted it from him. He must have been a good man. He knew the Jews’ prejudices too well to have dared to per­sonally approach this Jesus of whom they spoke. Indeed, up to what point did Jesus share his compatriots’ pride? Would he respond to the pe­tition of a Roman official? That was why he sent his Jewish friends to Jesus.

 

The man is really troubled: will Jesus consent to go to a pagan’s house and “become impure”? (Jn 18:28). The captain goes one step further: Jesus does not have to come to his house. While other sick people seek to be touched by the Master thinking that Jesus possesses some healing power, this man, has instead grasped that Jesus has the very power of God and does not need to go to the sick servant: it would not be any more difficult to give a command from a distance to a life that was slipping away.

 

 

 

 11. No one has ever attributed power over death to any person. Only Jesus conquers death and he does so very simply.

 

Jesus only knew this young man through his mother and it is for her that he has restored him to life. To be a widow without children is the height of distress (see Ruth), and it will be the lot of Mary.

 

The woman represents suffering humanity. “You will suffer because of your children”: this was said after the first sin. Humanity cannot avoid accompanying the dead after depriving them of their reasons for living. Humanity buries their young with tears, while continuing to kill them.

 

 

 

THOSE WHO DOUBT

 

 18. Jesus and John the Baptist. The situation has been reversed. John appeared as a great prophet, while Jesus began preaching in John’s wake but without the same impact (3:18-20). Now John is in prison and Jesus is known as a healer. Has John doubts in prison? It is possible even if he had told some of his followers that Jesus would take his place. It might be more accurate to interpret his question as a pressing invitation: “If you are the one who is to come, why so much delay?”

 

John’s disciples did witness the cures, but the cures are not everything and Jesus adds: the poor hear good news because real evangelization restores hope and leaves people renewed.

 

The blind see, the lame walk… (v. 22). The prophets foretold these signs (Is 35:5) that were really something new, because in the past God usually manifested himself as a powerful savior. These healings pointed to the liberation that Jesus was bringing: not punishment of sinners (which was a great part of John the Baptist’s preaching) but, before all else, reconciliation suited to healing a world of sinners, of violent and resentful people.

 

Fortunate are those who encounter me, but not for their downfall (v. 23). And fortunate are those who do not doubt Christ’s salvation after seeing the fruits of evangelization. Fortunate are those who do not say: this way is too slow. The Gospel shows its richness in giving life to people, in restoring hope to those who have experienced weakness and sin. It is necessary to have seen and understood that this is most important.

 

It does not matter if the world seems to continue to surrender to the forces of evil. The presence of liberated people compels others to define themselves in terms of good and evil and this makes the world grow.

 

With this, Jesus answers the disciples of John, men who are self-sacrificing and concerned for the triumph of God’s cause. Perhaps they are so absorbed in their search for justice that they fail to recognize God’s powerful working in Jesus’ actions, which appeared so gentle and mild.

 

 

 

 24. When John’s messengers had gone. Most of John’s disciples continued to follow him and did not acknowledge Jesus. Jesus did not accuse them, instead he praised John and situated himself in respect to John.

 

A prophet and more than a prophet (v. 26): Jesus clearly takes a stand in favor of John; yet John was the subject of many reservations in respected circles. No one (the Gospel uses the Jewish term: among those born of woman, that simply means: no one) could be found greater than John. For the common people John was the greatest contemporary figure. Jesus agreed with them for this reason: John introduced the Savior and the kingdom of God.

 

The least in the kingdom of God is greater than he (v. 28): in the sense that Jesus’ disciples entered the kingdom that John only announced. However holy John may have been, he was not given the knowledge of God that permeated Jesus. Actually Jesus emphasized the superiority, not of his disciples as compared to John, but of his own mission when compared with that of John.

 

John said that each one had to straighten out his life. Jesus rather insists that all efforts are useless if a person does not believe in the Father’s love. John’s disciples used to fast; Jesus’ disciples will know how to forgive. John attracted to the desert those who knew how to let go of conveniences that they were accustomed to; Jesus lives among people and heals their wounds. The baptism of John signified a per­son’s willingness to give up his vices, while the baptism of Jesus bestows the Spirit of God.

 

They are like children sitting… (v. 32). They do everything at the wrong time; they reproach John for his austerity and Jesus for his lack of austerity. There is no “one” way of serving God; there is no “one” model of holiness, “one” style of Christian life. God acts in thousands of ways throughout history, encouraging at a given time what he will censure later in another milieu. The alarming asceticism of hermits in the desert or that of the ancient Irish monks has been a richness for Christianity; a Christianity that appears more human has not prevented other believers from following Jesus to the cross. Jesus went further than John but he needed John: the Gospel is heard with pleasure but is not taken seriously as long as repentance and sacrifice are brushed aside. Perhaps the renewal of our faith today is waiting for prophets and for movements that dare to question a culture and a society that has become sterile.

 

 

 

 36. The Pharisee, Simon, had some clear and simple religious principles: The world is divided between good people and sinners. Those who obey are the good people; sinners are those with notorious sins. God loves the good and does not love sinners: God stays away from sinners. Being good, Simon stays away from sinners. Since Jesus does not move away from the sinful woman, the Spirit of God must not be guided by him.

 

Simon was a Pharisee, and Pharisee means: “separated” (apart). Let us not condemn him: a constant theme running through the Bible invites the righteous to separate themselves from sinners; it was thought that the “uncleanness” of a sinner necessarily contaminates the others. Jesus shows that this need to separate, like awaiting the punishment of sinners, disregards both the wisdom of God and the reality of the human heart. God knows that we need time to test good and evil and also to arrive at a mature and stable orientation. He lets us sin because, in the end, we will know more clearly that we are bad and that we need only Him. Thus God easily forgets our sins and our excesses, if in spite of them or through them, we come to genuine love.

 

Simon did not welcome Jesus with the customary signs of hospitality at that time. In those days, people reclined on sofas around the table according to the custom of rich people and thus Jesus did as well. How could he dialogue with this respectable man who believed he knew the things of God but was incapable of feeling them? Jesus was waiting for the arrival of the sinful woman.

 

The one who is forgiven little (v. 47). This is a maxim rather than a valid affirmation in every case. Many who were not great sinners have loved Jesus passionately. Here Jesus speaks with irony to a very “decent” man: Simon, you think you owe little (and you are wrong in that), and for this reason you do not love much.

 

This is why her sins are forgiven (v. 47). Some see a contradiction between this verse and verse 42, where great love is the fruit of greater forgiveness. In verse 47 great love obtains this forgiveness. Jesus does not attempt to say which of the two – love or forgiveness – comes first: in fact, the two go together. Here Jesus is contrasting two forms of religion. The religion of the Pharisee is something like bookkeeping: God takes note of good and bad works to later reward more fully the person with more entries for good works. True religion, focuses instead, only on the quality of love and trust, and usually we love to the degree that we become aware of how much God has forgiven us.

 

Your sins are forgiven (v. 48). Try to understand the scandal such words must have caused. Actually, whom had the woman loved except Jesus? Who could forgive sins, except God?

 

It is easy for us at a distance to side with Jesus against Simon and his friends, but in fact Jesus went against all the reasons that usually help religious persons in their own decision-making.

 

From early times a question has been raised: what relationship is there between the sinful woman of this paragraph, Mary of Magdala of the following paragraph, and Mary of Bethany who, during another meal, pours perfume on the feet of Jesus (a very strange gesture) in the house of another Simon, and becomes the subject of criticism? Are they one, or two or three? The Gospel does not tell us clearly, given also the fact that the evangelists never hesitate to relocate a word or conversation of Jesus to put them in a context better suited to their account.

 

Whatever the answer may be, there are links between these various episodes. The scandal for religious persons was not that on one occasion Jesus allowed a sinful woman to approach him, but that women who belonged to the group of disciples familiarly approached him. One of them, Mary of Magdala, could have been less than a model at the time of her demons (8:2).

 

 

 

JESUS AND THE CULTURE OF HIS TIME

 

 8.1 See the commentary of Matthew 1:18 concerning the inferior status of women in the time of Jesus and especially in Jewish society. No spiritual master would have spoken to a woman in public: women were not even admitted to the synagogues. Nevertheless, Jesus did not pay the least attention to such universally accepted prejudices. Various women took Jesus’ words and attitude as a call to freedom. They even joined the circle of his intimate friends while ignoring the gossip. Here we have a fundamental testimony about the freedom of the Gospel.

 

Jesus was truly human, and as such he belonged to a race and a culture: he was a Jew of his time and his gospel was attuned to the culture that he shared. Yet Jesus did not adopt the inhuman traits of his culture; nor did he accept the prejudices of the Jews of his time with regard to women, to public sinners, to pagans and so on, nor did he share their views in regard to the Sabbath. His gospel is a leaven that changes cultures for the better; in many respects his way of life goes against the mainstream of cultures.

 

Mary of Magdala (Mag­dala was a village on the shore of Lake Tiberias) will be at the foot of the cross along with Mary, the wife of Cleophas, the mother of James and Joset. These two women, along with Joanna, will receive the first news of the Resurrection (Lk 24:10).

 

 

 

 9. See commentary on Matthew13:1-23.

 

This is the point of the parable (v. 11). The comparison (or parable) of the sower helps us to understand what is happening around Jesus. Many people became very enthusiastic at the beginning, then, after a while they left. Only a few persevered and the apostles wondered: How will the kingdom of God come if no one is interested?

 

The Gospel records ­Jesus’ explanation about the fields on which the seed fell. There was a lot more to explain. First, his comparing the kingdom of God with something that is sown must have surprised the listeners. Throughout Sacred History, there had been abundant sowing and Jesus’ contemporaries were expecting a harvest (see Rev 14:15).

 

We, like Jesus’ contemporaries, want to reap, that is to enjoy the fruits of the kingdom of God, namely, social peace, justice and happiness. Many wonder how it is possible that people continue to be so evil two thousand years after Christ.

 

If the kingdom of God has come and it is already in our midst, that does not mean we are going to enjoy its fruits. The kingdom of God is where God rules, and God rules where people accept him for what he is, where he can be Father and where his sons and daughters can accept his plan for them.

 

From that moment on, people grow in a thousand ways, and social consciousness also develops. People become aware of their dignity and their common destiny, in spite of the fact that it seems more impossible every day to reach the goal.

 

 

 

KINGDOM OR REIGN OF GOD

 

Jesus spoke Aramaic, a language in which a single term means three different things: the kingdom, that is the place where God acts as king; the reign, or the fact that God acts as king; royalty, or the dignity of God the king.

 

Jesus often speaks of the kingdom proper: “you will not enter the kingdom of God”; elsewhere, however, the meaning is debatable as for example in the Our Father. Should we say: “Your kingdom come” or “Your reign come”?

 

In the present parables, traditionally called the parables of the Kingdom, the two meanings go together. The great news that Jesus proclaimed was the coming of an age totally different from the times of sacred history that the Jews had experienced. God was obviously present throughout human history, especially Israel’s history, yet now he was coming in a different way. Now, and only now, would people know him as he is.

 

The reign of God began with Jesus revealing the true face of God; then at his rising as Lord of the living and the dead, he would begin to rule and personally reorient human history.

 

 

 

 19. See commentary on Mark 3:31.

 

 

 

 26. See commentary on Mark 5:1.

 

 

 

 40. See commentary on Mark 5:21.

 

 

 

 9.12 See commentary on Mark 6:35.

 

This multiplication of the loaves occurs in all four Gospels, which is true of very few events in the Gospel. Besides this account, another multiplication of the loaves is related in Matthew 15:32 and Mark 8:1. It is likely due to the fact that one could see in it the announcement of the Eucharist as will be emphasized in the Gospel of John (chap. 6).

 

This abundance of accounts may be due to the fact that the multiplication of bread is one of the miracles of Jesus which best shows his absolute power over the laws of nature (see commentary on Mark 8:1).

 

Remember that the Jews of Jesus’ time were a poor people, too numerous for a fertile, but limited territory. The Roman occupants claimed a good portion of the resources, and politicians like Herod imposed heavy taxes, which were partly justified by the need to occupy the extra manpower in grandiose projects.

 

Many people had no security in employment, as is true today in many countries, and Jesus along with his followers shared that situation. In that desolate area, Jesus felt responsible for all his brothers and sisters who became his guests (as also happens in Luke 11:5), and he acted according to faith. Every day, in those times until now, many people must have shared their last resources with someone poorer, confident that God would pay them back. Jesus, in turn, would do no less. The miracle he performed at that moment confirms the faith of many humble believers, who are perhaps not too devoted to the Church, but who often know how to risk all they have.

 

Jesus is not concerned that this miracle awakens in them a misguided enthusiasm that will end up with a split among his followers (see Mk 6:45). Jesus had not fed them to attract them to his church, but to fulfill God’s promises to the poor.

 

 

 

 18. This occurred near Caesarea Philippi, a famous spa located in the far north of Palestine, at the foot of Mount Hermon. Jesus had gone away from Galilee because he was not safe there. As was his custom, he sent the Twelve ahead of him to the villages he would visit, to prepare for his coming.

 

What do people say about me? And you, what did you tell them about me when you were among them? Who did you tell them I was? Peter answers first, confident that they were not wrong in presenting their teacher as the Messiah, the One sent by God.

 

Jesus does not deny that he is, but he forbids them to make it known from then on, because, according to the people, the Liberator had to crush his enemies. Can the apostles simply call Liberator, one who will die on a cross?

 

By comparing this text with Mk 8:27 and Mt 16:13, we come to the following conclusion: Matthew combined in a single story two different events in which Peter was first in proclaiming his faith. The first episode is the one that Luke relates at this point.

 

In the second, Peter recognized Jesus as the Son of God and received the promise that Matthew recalls. Perhaps this took place after the mul­­tiplication of the loaves: compare with John 6:66-69, or perhaps after the Resurrection: compare with John 21:15-17, which insists not on faith, but on the love that Jesus can see in Peter. See also Galatians 2:7-8.

 

 

 

 22. Why did Jesus ask his apostles the questions we have just read? the Gospel answers clearly: because the time had come for Jesus to announce his passion to them. Jesus had not only come to teach people but to open for them the door leading to the Resurrection. Since his apostles now know him to be the Savior promised to Israel, they must learn that there is no salvation if death is not conquered (1 Cor 15:25). Jesus will obtain this victory when he freely chooses the way of the cross: the Son of Man has to suffer much and be rejected by the authorities.

 

Immediately after that, Jesus adds that we must all share in his victory over death: You must deny yourself: this is the fundamental orientation of our life. We must choose between serving and being served, sacrificing ourselves for others or taking advantage of them. Or, as a well-known prayer puts it: Let me seek not so much to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.

 

It is in his early years that a child is helped towards this choice. In a true family he is not the center and king, with his parents as slaves, but he learns how to serve and give himself. He must accept his brothers and sisters, share with them and at times limit his own future for their good.

 

Take up your cross each day (v. 23). Here comes the acceptance of the cross which the Lord gives to each one of us and which we do not have to choose because we find it in our destiny. We must not carry it because we are compelled to, but rather we must love it because the Lord wished it for us.

 

In a world where it has become usual to live one’s own life – and in so doing, to waste it, many difficult, even abnormal children, will cause their parents to become true followers of Jesus in bearing their cross.

 

If you choose to save your life (v. 24). Jesus refers to the general orientation of our life. He has nothing in common with those who are only concerned about avoiding “sins,” while they pursue their ambitions and their desire to enjoy this life to the fullest. The mere fact of seeking to live without risks separates us from God’s way.

 

If someone feels ashamed of me (v. 26). Besides the cross given to us each day, God will ask us to witness to our faith and in that we will have to run risks, even if it is nothing more than the risk of being ridiculed by our friends and our boss. During periods of violence, can Christians remain silent, limit themselves to their “spiritual” reunions, give no concrete indication of what they themselves think and live?

 

 

 

 28. Recall the divine revelation Jesus received at the beginning of his ministry (Lk 3:21). This other divine manifestation Jesus receives at the Transfiguration is due to the beginning of a new stage: the Passion.

 

Jesus has already been preaching for two years, but there is no hope that Israel will overcome the violence that will lead to its ruin. Even if Jesus’ miracles do not convince his compatriots, Jesus will have to face the forces of evil: his sacrifice will be more effective than his words in arousing love and the spirit of sacrifice in all the people who will continue his saving work in the future.

 

He took Peter, James and John with him: these men had a privileged place among the Twelve (Mk 1:29; 3:16; 5:37; 10:35; 13:3). Most probably the rest of the “apostles” only reacted very slowly. All the patience and pedagogy of Jesus did not make them grow more quickly and they were not ready to enter the cloud with him.

 

He went up the mountain to pray. It is quite possible that it was during a night of prayer that the event that Jesus expected took place. This transfiguration of Jesus has first of all a meaning for himself. Jesus did not know everything beforehand; he was not spared doubts and anxieties. It does not seem that the Father manifested himself with abundant favors for him: Jesus served without expecting heavenly rewards. On this occasion however he received certitude concerning the purpose of his mission.

 

For the apostles it is a decisive witness that will help them to believe in the Resurrection. (The letter headed “Second Letter of Peter” makes no mistake when it insists on this witness of God, even if done in an awkward way (2 P 1:17), because it claims to be written by Peter himself). It is a fact that many persons throughout history have been considered as prophets or even as “the” prophet, but none of them have pretended to have a witness from God in his favor, other than his own successes. Jesus counted on witnesses, beginning with John the Baptist. In all biblical revelation faith is supported by these witnesses. Here it is Moses, the founder of Israel, and Elijah, father of prophets, who recognize Jesus.

 

Luke tells us that Moses and Elijah spoke to Jesus about his departure (v. 31) (in Greek this is “exodus”). Jesus then becomes the new Moses who will bring God’s people from this world of slavery to the Promised Land.

 

This is my Son. See the commentary on these same words in 3:22. Here, however, Jesus appears as the one for whom Moses and Elijah were waiting, the one for whom they had prepared, even if for this moment they can console him for he still carries the weakness of our human condition. See in relation to this Transfiguration of Jesus the commentary of Mk 9:1.

 

 

 

 46. See commentary on Mark 9:33.

 

Mark remarks that Jesus took a child in his arms: something unusual for people of that time since children did not count, and religious teachers only urged that they be well disciplined. The model of religion seemed to be a serious man who did not laugh, did not run, did not look at people in lower positions, especially women and children. Oftentimes, such a mentality is seen in those who criticize child baptism and first communion.

 

Jesus does not answer the apostles’ question: Who is the greatest? because what matters is not to become great, but to be close to Christ. In order to receive Christ, we must welcome him in the person of the little ones.

 

 

 

 51. After having recalled the actions of Jesus in Galilee, Luke begins the second part of his Gospel, where he brings together words of Jesus spoken on different occasions. In order to preserve continuity in his account, he imagines that Jesus is giving these responses while on the way from Galilee to Jerusalem where the third part of his gospel will take place.

 

The first paragraph reminds us that between the two provinces of Galilee and Judea, there was Samaria. Its people were Samaritans, non-Jews, and the two peoples really hated each other. When Jews from Galilee were going on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, every door was closed to them throughout Samaria.

 

It would seem that each time Jesus meets Samaritans, it is to teach us a new way of seeing those who do not share our faith. Religions have often been aggressive, at times very violent, especially those religions that see themselves as a revelation of the only God. This was already the case in the Old Testament. Jesus is not part of such fanaticism, teaching us not to confuse God’s cause with ours nor with the interests of our religious community. There is absolute respect for those God leads by another road. What a contrast with the legends of the past that this account awakens in verse 54 (see 2 K 1:9).

 

Here Jesus tells his apostles to be less impulsive: the Samaritans who refuse to welcome Jesus on this occasion are not guiltier than those who close their doors to a stranger. Why destroy this little village, if by doing this they still had to look for a place in another village? It was better to move on without delay.

 

 

 

BREAKTHROUGHS – BECOMING FREE

 

 57. In contrast with Jesus’ customary understanding attitude about human nature, here we see Jesus very demanding with the disciple who wants to follow him: Jesus cannot waste his time in forming those who are not ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of the Gospel.

 

The third of these would-be disciples, perhaps, was sec­retly hoping that at the time of saying good-by, his family would beg him not to do such a foolish thing, and so he could remain with his good intentions: I would like to, but…

 

The second case is different: Let the dead bury their dead. Faced with these abrupt words that we occasionally meet in the Gospel, there are two attitudes to be avoided. The first would be to take these words as a general rule, a precept addressed to everyone without nuance, the second, more frequent, would be to say: “That must not be taken literally, it’s an oriental way of speaking.” For Jesus there is no entry into the Kingdom without an experience of liberty.

 

First I want to bury my father (v. 59). This means perhaps that he should bury his father who has died. Most probably it means that he wanted to look after his aging father up to the time of his burial (Tb 6:15). It is difficult to think one is truly free if he had not had the opportunity to prove it by acting differently from what is understood and accepted around him. Think of Francis of Assisi begging for bread in his own town after having lived there as the son of a rich family.

 

Leave them and proclaim the kingdom of God. When a call from Jesus reaches you, it is the complete will of God for you in this precise moment. Leave there your excuses, your duties: perhaps these would be duties only in a world of the dead. God has provided that others, perhaps his angels, will see to them.

 

 

 

 10.1 See commentary on Matthew 10:5 and Mark 6:7.

 

Luke reports a mission of the seventy (or seventy-two) after the mission of the Twelve (9:1).

 

There were twelve apostles, according to the number of the tribes of Israel: this means that, at first, the Gospel was proclaimed to the people of Israel. Then came the mission of the seventy-two (or of the seventy): these numbers symbolized the multitude of pagan nations. This mission, then, is a figure of the task that is the responsibility of the Church until the end of the world: to evangelize all nations (Mt 28:19).

 

When the Church has been present long enough in a particular place, we tend to believe that everyone has had the opportunity to receive the Gospel: this is an illusion. Even in the best of circumstances, many families, especially the poorest ones, have waited for years for some missionary’s visit.

 

Do not stop at the homes of those you know (v. 4). The Gospel says: “do not greet anyone.” Missionaries would soon lose their wings if they stayed to chat or asked hospitality from friends who had not welcomed the Kingdom. They should rather count on the Providence of the Father who will open to them the heart and house of one of those who have listened to the Good News.

 

In visiting homes, the first thing to do is to give peace, that is, to come as a friend on behalf of Christ and his Church, taking time to listen to the people visited and to find out their concerns. Then, and only then, will we be able to give them a good answer and to tell them: the Kingdom has come to you; even though you may have a thousand problems, believe that today God has come closer to you to reconcile you. This is the time to be reconciled with family members and neighbors, to let go of resentments. Begin doing what you can do, and trust that, in his own way, God will solve what is beyond your own power.

 

Many of the people who welcome the missionaries with joy are not going to persevere: they are not going to enter a Christian community. That does not necessarily mean that the missionaries’ efforts have been wasted. These people will remember this moment of grace from the Lord, and it will help them in living with more faith. In any case, there will be some whose hearts were touched by the Lord at that time and they will become active members of his Church.

 

The mission helps form the missionaries and also awakens those they visit. Jesus formed his disciples, not only through his teaching, but also by sending them on missions. That is the way he formed the seventy a few months after they met him. Likewise now, the best people for missionary work are often those who have been recently converted.

 

 

 

HEALING THE SICK

 

 8. Heal the sick, Jesus says. We have already mentioned that Jesus did not come to bring good health to all the sick people, but rather to bring us salvation. Since we are sinners, our salvation is worked out through suffering and through the cross.

 

Jesus’ messengers do not try to replace doctors. They do not proclaim faith as a means to be cured: that would cheapen it. They do, however, offer “healing” to the people who have not yet discovered that the kingdom of God and his mercy have come to them.

 

Wherever there are communities of Christians, they must care for the sick and visit them as a sign of their being concerned for everyone and being everyone’s family. The love shown by a visitor encourages the sick person, gives him joy and arouses gratitude in him, and thus disposes him for an in-depth renewal and for the forgiveness of sins. See also James 5:13.

 

In his first letter to the Corinthians 12:9, Paul speaks of the various gifts that the spirit gives to the Christian community and he makes a distinction between the gifts to work miracles and to heal the sick. This last gift may correspond to a natural talent the person had before.

 

Obviously we should encourage those who can pray and lay their hands on the sick. Doctors and health care workers must look on their skillful care of patients as a service done for the sick on behalf of God.

 

 

 

 17. At first, the person who preaches Christ and works for him is scared. Then follows the joy of having surpassed oneself, and even more the joy of having believed and worked with the very power of Jesus. Jesus gives thanks for the seventy (or seventy-two) and for all those who will follow them.

 

What are these things (v. 21) that God has revealed to the little ones but the mysterious power of the Gospel to transform people and show them the truth? The apostles marvel at the power coming from the name of Jesus (Mk 16:17). Jesus underlines the defeat of the Adversary, Satan.

 

The learned and the clever think they know, but do not know what is essential. They speak of a God who is no more than a shadow of the true God as long as they do not recognize him in Jesus. They do not know where the world is heading because they do not see how God’s power is working wherever Jesus is being proclaimed.

 

The little ones, on the other hand, have understood. Before they saw themselves as a sacrificed generation. For the little ones are used to sacrificing themselves for their children from generation to generation, or they are sacrificed by powers, under the pretext of bringing happiness to their descendants. They did not live for themselves; rather they were preparing a place for others. Now the little ones, namely, the humble believers, have everything if they have Jesus, the Father has given everything to him.

 

Little ones live their faith in simple ways but they know that none of their sacrifices are lost. It is Jesus who reveals the Father to us and, knowing him in truth, we also share in his control over events. Our desires and our prayers are powerful because we have come to the center from which God directs the forces saving humankind: because we work for eternity, our names are already written in heaven (v. 20).

 

To evangelize does not mean to try to sell the Gospel but rather to prove its power to heal people from their demons. We need not become activists in order to accomplish that. We must admit that we have no power in these things and we must give thanks to God who enabled us to see, to hear and to communicate his salvation.

 

Fortunate are you to see… (v. 23). Stop being envious of famous people, kings and prophets of the past. You who are alive now, and who are neither kings nor prophets, have been given the better part.

 

 

 

 25. Who is my neighbor? (v. 29). The teacher of the law expected to be given the precise limits of his obligation. Whom was he supposed to look after? Members of his family? People of his own race? Or perhaps everybody?

 

It is significant that Jesus concludes his story with a different question: Which of the three made himself neighbor? (v. 36). It is as if he said: do not try to figure out who is your neighbor, listen instead to the call within you, and become a neighbor, be close to your brother or sister in need. As long as we see the command to love as an obligation, we do not loving as God wants.

 

Love does not consist simply in being moved by another person’s distress. Notice how the Samaritan stopped by in spite of it being a dangerous place, how he paid for the expenses and promised to take care of whatever else might be necessary. Instead of just ‘being charitable’ he took unconditional and uncalculated risks for a stranger.

 

On one occasion, Martin Luther King pointed out that love is not satisfied with comforting those who suffer: “To begin with, we must be the good Samaritan to those who have fallen along the way. This, however, is only the beginning. Then, some day we will necessarily have to realize that the road to Jericho must be made in such a way that men and women are not constantly beaten and robbed while they are traveling along the paths of life.”

 

With this example, Jesus also makes us see that, many times, those who seem to be religious officials, or who believe they fulfill the law, are incapable of loving. It was a Samaritan, considered a heretic by the Jews, who took care of the wounded man.

 

For the Jews, neighbors were the members of Israel, their own people, dignified by sharing the same religion; in fact, this familial relationship came from “flesh and blood.” For Jesus, true love leads one to give up any discrimination.

 

 

 

 38. Many things seem to be necessary in a family: cleaning, preparing meals, looking after the children. If there is no time to listen to others, what is life worth? Perhaps we do many things in the service of God and our neighbor; only one thing nevertheless is necessary for us all: being available for Jesus when he is present.

 

Martha is working and worrying and does not have time to be with Jesus. Jesus is peace and the person who does not attend to him in peace does not receive him. There is a way of serving and working feverishly which leaves us empty, whether it is at home or in the community; instead Jesus wants us to find him in our daily work.

 

Our prayer can also be a way of fidgeting like Martha: when we fret in saying prayers, when we use a lot of words to present our worries to the Lord a hundred times over; when the person responsible for the celebration becomes nervous and overly concerned about the perfection of the singing or the homily.

 

To pray is to take the time to listen, to meditate in silence on the work of God, it is to slow our desires, so as to pay attention only to God, secretly present, and slip into his will.

 

How strange that in some non-Christian religions, people learn to bring their minds to peace and silence and reach true serenity. Meanwhile, we enter prayer with our concerns and do not let go of them until the prayer is ended.

 

Mary sat down at the Lord’s feet. It is the traditional attitude of the disciple, at the feet of her Master. Surely Jesus was not continually teaching, but being himself the Word of God, he brought God to all that he touched. Mary felt it was good to be there and she was aware that her presence was not to displease Jesus.

 

Mary has chosen the better part (v. 42). She followed only her instinct, but Jesus sees more: he will not be there much longer, and in any case his presence among us is always brief. Mary has been able to take hold of these brief moments when Jesus could be hers, and she is his while listening to him.

 

If the Mary in this episode were the same as Mary of Magdala who accompanied Jesus (Lk 8:2) we could imagine the following:

 

Mary is among the disciples who, along with Jesus, are received by Martha, her sister or “relative”. Mary is not in the least concerned about preparing the food and Martha complains. Jesus then praises Mary, not only because she is listening to him, but also because she had already decided to follow him. Like the apostles, Mary has chosen the better part.

 

 

 

 11.1 The apostles already knew how to pray and they prayed in common, as all the Jews did, in the synagogue and at key times during the day. Yet, in living close to Jesus they discovered a new way to live in close fellowship and they felt a need to address the Father differently. Jesus waited for them to ask him to teach them how to pray. See Mt 6:9.

 

 

 

 5. Jesus urges us to ask with perseverance without ever getting tired of asking but, rather, “tiring” God. God will not always give us what we ask for, nor in the way we ask, since we do not know what is good for us. He will give us a holy spirit, or a clearer vision of his will and, at the same time, the courage to follow it.

 

Knock and it will be opened to you (v. 9). A page from Father Molinie is a commentary on this verse. “If God does not open up at once, it is not because he enjoys making us wait. If we must persevere in prayer, it is not because we need a set number of invocations, but rather because a certain quality, a certain way of prayer is required. If we were able to have that at the beginning, our prayer would be heard immediately.

 

“Prayer is the groaning of the Holy Spirit in us as Saint Paul says. Yet, we need repetition for this groaning to open a path in our stony heart, just as the drop of water wastes away the hardest rocks. When we have repeated the Our Father and the Hail Mary with perseverance, one day we can pray them in a way that is in perfect harmony with God’s will. He himself was waiting for this groaning, the only one which can move him since, in fact, it comes from his own heart.

 

“As long as we have not played this note, or rather, drawn it from within, God cannot be conquered. It is not that God defends himself since he is pure tenderness and fluidity, but as long as there is nothing similar in us, the current cannot pass between him and us. Man gets tired of praying, yet if he perseveres instead of losing heart, he will gradually let go of his pride until being exhausted and overcome, he obtains much more than he could have wished for.”

 

 

 

PETITIONS – THE SAINTS

 

Jesus invites us to ask with perseverance: persevering petitions cease being self-centered and become prayer, that is, they lift us up and bring us closer to God.

 

What about asking the saints? We must admit that, very often, the person who begs from the saints takes a road opposed to real prayer. Such a person is not interested in discovering God’s mercy, but in obtaining some favor. She does not care whom she addresses as long as she finds an efficient and automatic dispenser of benefits. So begins the search for saints, shrines and devotions.

 

The Church is a family. Just as we ask our friends to pray for us, so too and much more should we ask our brothers and sisters, the saints. No one will criticize us if, at times, we show our confidence in their intercession, especially the intercession of those whom we admire more because we know their lives and their deeds. This “petition” to the saints should not, however, be confused with perseverance in asking, which introduces us into God’s mystery. Only Mary, the mother of God can accompany us in that prayer because God made her our mother; because he deposited in her all the compassion he has for us; and because he united her to himself in such a way that when we look at her, we always find the living presence of God.

 

 

 

 14. See commentary on Mark 3:22 and Matthew 12:23.

 

By the finger of God (v. 20). In Exodus 8:15 the same expression is used to designate the power of God working miracles.

 

 

 

 23. Whoever is not with me… This phrase seems to contradict Luke 9:50: Whoever is not against you is with you. In fact, in Luke 9:50 Jesus admits that his spiritual family goes much beyond the visible group of his disciples: those who, without belonging to the church, work for the same goals, must be considered as friends.

 

In Luke 11:23, on the other hand, Jesus speaks of people who refuse to stand with him and his message and who want to remain uncommitted: they do not join him, and later they will criticize him.

 

 

 

 24. The Jews believed that evil spirits preferred to live in the desert or, rather, that God had banished them there (Tb 8:3). Here Jesus is speaking of people who only believe for a while because they do not repent enough of their past sins. They enjoyed listening to the word, but they did not take the costly measures that would have allowed them to heal the root of evil. See commentary on Mt 12:43.

 

 

 

 27. Blessed is the one who bore you! This woman envies the mother of Jesus and is full of admiration for his way of speaking. She is mistaken if she thinks that Jesus’ relatives can be proud on his account, and she is wasting her time if she admires his words instead of making them her own. So Jesus turns her towards the Father, whose word he gives, and to herself, whom God invites to the family of his sons and daugh­ters.

 

As for Mary, the mother of Jesus, the one who believed (1:45), she kept all the words and deeds of the Lord in her heart (Lk 2:51).

 

 

 

 29. The Ninevites, being sinners, received no other divine sign than the coming of Jonah, who invited them to repent. Jesus’ contemporaries believe they are “good” because they belong to the people of God, and they do not realize that the hour has come for them to repent as well.

 

The people of Nineveh will rise up with these people and accuse them (v. 32). Jesus again uses the traditional image of collective judgment where each one excuses himself by pointing out that others have done worse. This image retains a deep truth: all that God has given to each one of us should produce fruits for all humanity.

 

 

 

 37. See commentary on Matthew 23.

 

The Bible does not demand these ritual purifications that Mark also mentions in 7:3, but the teachers of Jesus’ time insisted that they were necessary. Jesus rebels against these new religious obligations. Why do they not pay more attention to inner purification?

 

Then we read about the reproaches Jesus addressed to the Pharisees on various occasions. If Luke like Matthew has kept these very hard words of Jesus, it was perhaps a reminder that the Gospel goes much further than the vision of the Pharisees, so concerned, as they claimed, for the service of God. Some of them were part of the first Chris­tian community, and were influential (Acts 15:5). Doubtless, the hostile attitude adopted by the par­ty of the Pharisees in the fol­low­ing years accounts for the remembrance of these reproach­es. There are surely others and deeper reasons for the many warnings we read in Scripture about Pharisees.

 

Entering the new covenant is a free gift from God. It is also a gift from God to possess a good knowledge of Christian doctrine, or exercise a special ministry in the Church, or belong to a Christian group committed for their faith. Nevertheless there is always the danger to behave as an elite group, thus losing the true humility that should lead us to occupy the last places, where we really should be.

 

 

 

 49. Those who, before Luke, wrote down this saying of Jesus: I will send prophets… (which we also read in Mt 23:34), introduced it with the formula: “Wisdom says,” which was a way of designating Jesus. When Luke placed these lines with­in Jesus’ discourse, he forgot to take out these words. Removing them would have made the text a lot clearer.

 

See commentary on Matthew 23:34. Jesus states that the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law will be mainly responsible for the persecution against the first Christians (against those apostles and prophets he is going to send).

 

The warning of Jesus is equally relevant for Christian institutions and all those who in one way or another guide the com­munity. We too, per­haps, build a church for the “elite” who un­-conscious­ly despise the poor and the lowly. So very quick­ly were the prophets paralyzed or eliminated.

 

You yourselves have not entered, and you prevented others from entering (v. 52). Is not this one of the reasons why so many simple people go to other churches?

 

 

 

 12.1 Nothing is hidden that will not be made known: this could be interpreted in different ways. In these paragraphs, Jesus refers to the courageous testimony of faith. We have to speak the truth without worrying about what people will think of us. Here hypocrisy is attributed to those who are always try­ing to be diplomatic, and whose primary concern is not to lose friends.

 

Do not fear: see commentary on Matthew 10:28.

 

Do not fear (v. 4): see commentary on Matthew 10:28.

 

Everyone who criticizes the Son of Man (v. 10): see commentary on Mark 3:29.

 

GREED – PRODUCTIVITY

 

 13. Who has appointed me as your judge? Jesus does not resolve legal differences as do the teachers of the Law since it was the Law that decided civil and religious questions. Jesus reserves his authority for what is essential: suppressing the greed ingrained in our hearts is more important than looking at every per­son’s right with a magnifying glass.

 

Avoid every kind of greed (v. 15): Jesus does not say people should be resigned to mediocrity or destitution, satisfied to have ten people sleep in the same room, and without any opportunity for education. We know that all this prevents the growth of people in awareness of their dignity and their divine vocation. Jesus does not criticize our efforts to achieve a more just society, since the whole Bible requires it.

 

It is one thing to seek jus­tice, knowing that without justice there is neither peace nor communion; it is quite another to look at what others have with the desire to share their greed. Today we clamor for justice, but tomorrow we may only seek more superfluous “necessities.” Such greed will never let us rest and, what is more, it will close the door of the Kingdom on us (Mk 10:23; 1 Tim 6:8).

 

Possessions do not give life (v. 15). Make sure that your concern to have what you lack does not make you neglect what could give you life now.

 

In this regard, we should allow the poor to speak, all those brothers and sisters of ours who, though immersed in poverty, continue to be persons who live, in the strongest sense of this word. Should we pity them, or should we count them among the few who already enjoy the Kingdom of God? One of the greatest obstacles preventing the liberation of people is their own greed. The day they agree to participate in powerful boycotts and not go their own way in the pursuit of advantages for one or other category, they shall begin to live as people.

 

What shall I do? The rich man in the parable planned for larger barns for his sole profit and Jesus condemned him. We too must consider what we should do to bring about a better distribution of the riches of the world.

 

The person who amasses for God (v. 21) knows how to find happiness in the present moment. Wherever she is, she tries to create a network of social relationships through which everyone gives to others and receives from them instead of wanting and getting things in a selfish way.

 

 

 

A CHURCH POOR LIKE JESUS

 

 32. Do not be afraid little flock. Nowhere in the Gospel does Jesus lead us to believe that with time most people will be converted.

 

We know that the non-Christian world is numerically much more important than the “Christian” world and it grows more rapidly. When large numbers in the “Christian” world give up the practice of religion, we understand that the Church is both a sign and a little flock.

 

Jesus asks each one of us to be detached from earthly things and he also asks the same of the flock. What matters for the church is not the building of powerful institutions nor the holding of key posts in society “for the greater glory of God.” A Church which awaits the return of the Master is careful to be ready to pack their bags, wherever it may be, when the Lord will send them out and ask them to become missionary again.

 

Sell what you have and give alms (v. 33). Are ordinary people convinced that the Church has done this? Christians rejoice when their bishop and pastors condemn injustice and remind them of the rights of the working class and the marginalized. It is not enough for us to preach to others. God asks justice of the world and poverty of his Church. Our call for justice will not be heard as long as the Church does not accept for herself the whole Gospel.

 

It has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom: compare this with Luke 10:23 and Matthew 16:16. The Church is in the world, this little flock that seeks what is essential.

 

 

 

 35. Jesus develops the parable of the servant expecting his master’s return. This servant is here contrasted with the rich of the preceding paragraph (12:13) who was only concerned about a long and comfortable life. The servant works for God.

 

Happy are those servants whom the master finds wide-awake (v. 37). Wide-awake, that is, concerned about tomorrow’s world. Wide-awake also means being aware of the truth; we do not consent to call ‘good’ evil, and ‘evil’ good; we do not forgive ourselves for allowing evil and we are not intimidated before injustice.

 

The Son of Man will come like a thief (v. 40). We should not think that this refers only to the day of death, nor should we be afraid of God’s judgment if we live in his grace. Jesus tells us about the master returning from the wedding, who is so happy that he reverses the usual order and begins to serve his servants. If we have been serving God for years, how could we not reach another phase of spiritual life in which it would seem that God is concerned only in giving and feasting with us?

 

Peter said to him: (v. 41). This new paragraph is aimed at those who hold responsible positions in the Church.

 

My Lord delays in coming (v. 45). Those in responsible positions may betray their mission. More often, they make the mistake of seeing only to the good functioning of the institution and they forget that Christ is coming.

 

God comes all the time through events that, unexpectedly, ruin our plans. Therefore, the Church must not rely too much on planning its activity: who knows what God has in store for us tomorrow? Instead the Church should see to its prayer and its availability so that the Lord will let her be in the best situation when he shakes up our little universe.

 

Be awake to admire, rejoice in and discover the presence of God and his blessings that enlighten our lives.

 

 

 

 49. I have come to bring fire. Must we think of fire as referring to something precise such as love, the Gospel or the gift of the Holy Spirit? It is better to stay with the image of fire that purifies, burns all that is old, gives warmth and fosters life; fire of the judgment of God destroying all that is not surrendered to its reforming action.

 

Jesus comes to remake the world and to bring the jewels that will remain for eternity out of the rubble. Those who follow Jesus must participate in this work of salvation directed at a situation combining work, violence, suffering as well as great dreams wise or mad.

 

I have a baptism to undergo… (v. 50). Jesus is the leader and will be the first one to face death as a means of obtaining resurrection. This step, as ‘agonizing’ for Jesus as it is for us, is the baptism of fire (see Lk 3:16) that introduces us into a glorious and eternal life. It is the true baptism of which the others, baptisms of water and Spirit, are only a preparation (Rom 6:3-5).

 

I came to bring division. This is followed by words of Jesus that are so upsetting for those who expect of him a peaceful life. Jesus is a source of division among nations (see commentary on John 10:1-4) and social groups. Often people have tried to use religion as cement for national unity or family peace. It is true that faith is a factor in peace and understanding; but it also separates those who are truly alive from those others, be they relatives or friends, who cannot have all that is now the most important to these true believers. Many times, the wound and the scandal of this separation are so painful for them, that they turn into our persecutors.

 

The Gospel does not put this world on the road to an earthly paradise, but it challenges it to grow. The death of Jesus brings into full light what was hidden in hearts (Lk 2:35); likewise it reveals the lies and the violence underlying our societies, just as it revealed those which underlay the Jewish society of his time.

 

 

 

 54. When you see a cloud. The signs which are seen around Jesus are enough for everyone to understand that now is the time announced by the prophets, when people must be converted and Israel must acknowledge its Savior: tomorrow will be too late (vv. 57-59).

 

When you go with your accuser before the court (v. 58). In Matthew’s Gospel this refers to reconciliation between brothers and sisters. Luke, instead, uses this phrase in reference to our conversion. We are on our way to God’s judgment and it is the same as going before the authorities; therefore we must take ad­van­tage of the time given to us to straighten out our situa­tion. We must not waste this moment when we can be saved from Judgment by believing in Christ’s message.

 

 

 

 13.They told Jesus… about an uprising of Galileans in the temple court and the immediate inter­vention of the Roman guard stationed at a nearby fortress. They profaned the holy grounds strictly reserved for the Jews and shed blood in the Holy Place.

 

Those relating the story expect that Jesus will answer in a way expressing his national and religious indignation over the killing of his compatriots and the offense against God. Jesus does not choose to focus on these issues: as usual he shows that people are more absorbed in human ra­ther than divine causes and he calls their attention to what counts: those Galilean patriots were violent men, just like the Roman soldiers who killed them. Right then, God was calling everyone to a conversion on which their survival depen­ded. In such a violent atmosphere there was no way out for the dominated Jewish people except through faith, because faith works through the spirit of forgiveness.

 

 

 

GOD’S PUNISHMENT

 

In this passage Jesus questions the idea we have of God’s punishment. We cannot believe in God without believing in justice. For the Greeks whose gods were capricious and not very honest, justice was a divine power superior to the gods. We always tend to make ourselves the center of the world and believe we are better than others. If misfortune falls on someone else, we think it is just, but when it is our turn, we ask: “What have I done against God that this should happen to me?”

 

The Gospel deals with several aspects of the question. First of all let us try to be free of a ghetto mentality (see 6:32): the evil done by our enemies is not worse than the evil we do.

 

The justice of God goes far beyond our justice, and is only really fulfilled in the next life (the case of Lazarus, 16:19).

 

The misfortune, which to us here below appears as the “punishment of God,” is no more than a sign, a pedagogical measure used by God to make us aware of our sin. And God often converts a sinner by granting him unexpected favors (see the case of Zac­cheus, 19:1).

 

Then why is there so much about God’s punishment in the Old Testament? God’s people did not know yet an afterlife, so it was necessary to speak of God’s punishments in this life, for these people to believe in his justice. In fact God continues to give such signs both for persons and for communities. It is good to know how to recognize them, keeping in mind they are not the last word of God’s justice.

 

 

 

 10. The word untie (v. 15) was used by the Jews to express that someone’s sin or penalty was canceled. It also meant freeing an animal from its yoke. Jesus frees the human person and invites us to follow his example.

 

We should not be surprised at the indignation of the chief of the synagogue. Since he had never been able to help his sick sister, he must have felt discredited by Jesus’ move. Would it not be the same with us? It never occurred to Jesus to ask the authorities for permission to save people.

 

 

 

 18. See commentary on Matthew 13:31.

 

At the conclusion of his Galilean ministry, Jesus invites optimism: although the results are few, a seed has been sown and the Kingdom of God is growing.

 

 

 

 22. See commentary on Matthew 7:13.

 

Is it true that few peo­ple will be saved? Jesus considered this a useless question. What should have been asked, instead, was whether Israel listened to God’s call, and if she was following the narrow road that would save her.

 

People coming from east and west (v. 29) People from all nations will be converted and come into the Church while the Jewish people – for the most part – would remain outside.

 

 34. See commentary on Matthew 23:37.

 

 

 

Note however a little difference: until the time when you will say (v. 35). For Luke, disciple of Paul, it is certitude: the day will come when Israel will recognize Christ (see Rom 11:25-32). For Jesus has come to save Israel, which means to give sense to its history. It will then, doubtless be the end of all other histories.

 

 

 

 14.7 Here Jesus develops a biblical proverb inviting us to be modest in social gatherings (Pro 25:6-7). Such behavior befits God’s children. Whatever the area of human activity may be, we should let others seek the first place, while stepping on other people as they do so. We know that what matters is not what is seen: God knows how to exalt the humble and place them where it best suits him.

 

Moreover, when we go from the earthly church to the Kingdom of heaven, there will be changes in who occupies the first places. Someone who was pope, or bishop or a prominent “Catholic” may count less than the little old lady who was selling newspapers.

 

 

 

 12. Everyone of us seeks to be near those who are above us, since we think we benefit more from being connected with those who are superior than with those who are inferior.

 

Jesus’ warning points to one of the main causes of injustice. We all share in the guilt when we decide with whom it is more beneficial to be associated; consequently everyone tries to climb higher, always leaving the weakest in the most isolated and helpless position.

 

It would be a strange sight to see public officials pay more attention to the poorly dressed, or to see the poorest areas supplied with water and power before the residential districts, or to see doctors go to the rural areas to practice.

 

 

 

EXCUSES

 

 15. In many parts of the Old Testament there was talk of a “banquet” that God would prepare for good people, for his servants, when he would come to establish his Kingdom. Jesus also developed this theme many times because the banquet represents the communion of saints. The parable here is very similar to the one which Matthew relates in 22:1.

 

Happy are those who eat at the banquet in the kingdom of God, says the man speaking to Jesus. Perhaps he did not suspect that in order to participate in the eternal feast, it was necessary to respond then to the call from God inviting everyone to gather in his community, the church, and to build a more loving world. The one who turns away from his brothers and sisters today will not eat with others at the banquet.

 

We are given the reasons why those invited did not respond to the call of the Lord, when he summoned them to build a better world along with him. I have bought a land… I just got married… These are all good reasons. Yet financial concerns of the family must not stop our community involvement, nor prevent us from participating in the Christian assembly. Many times, those who enjoy greater cultural formation allow themselves to be paralyzed by the needs of a “happy home” with well-educated children. If we are not very demanding with ourselves we will be soon among those in whom the thorns have choked the seed.

 

Bring the poor… compel them to come to my church; force them also to fulfill the role fitting to them in society. God relies on the poor and the marginalized to maintain the aspirations toward peace and justice in the world, to awaken the consciences of those “good” peo­ple who are too comfortable.

 

 

 

 25. Jesus thinks about people who, after becoming enthusiastic about him and giving up their personal ambitions to dedicate themselves to the work of the Gospel, turn back to seek what ordinary people see as a more “normal” and secure life. Jesus needs disciples who commit themselves once and for all.

 

Why this comparison with the king going to war? Because the per­son who frees himself for the service of the Gospel is, in fact, a king to whom God will give greater rewards than anyone else would give (see Mk 10:30). He must also know that the fight is against the “owner” of this world, the devil, who will stop him with a thousand unexpected tests and traps. Had he not totally surrendered, the disciple would surely fail and be worse off than if he had not even begun.

 

So long as you don’t give up… (v. 33). Jesus asks some people to give up their loved ones and their family problems. To all he shows that we shall never be free to answer God’s call, if we do not want to rethink our family links, our use of time and all that we sacrifice in order to live “like everyone else.”

 

Without giving up your love for your father and your children… (v. 26). This is found in Matthew 10:37. Luke adds: your wife.

 

 

 

THE BLACK SHEEP

 

 4. Why do the Pharisees complain? Because they are scrupulously concerned about ritual purity. In this perspective – present in the Old Testament – in a relationship between two people, the one who is unclean will contaminate the other. Since “sinners” by definition never think of purifying themselves of the hundred and one impurities of daily life, Jesus could then be considered a teacher ready to become impure at any moment. So it is that Jesus will speak of God’s mercy that has not swept away sinners from his presence.

 

Then again, is not there some­thing more human in the indignation of “good” people: let everyone see the difference between the rest and us! Once more Jesus battles against the old idea of merits that have been gained and therefore worthy of God’s reward.

 

Happy the one sheep Jesus went after, leaving the ninety-nine! Poor righteous ones who do not need God’s forgiveness!

 

In large cities today, the church seems to be left with only one sheep. Why does she not get out, namely, let go of her income, privileges or devotions of a commercial style, to go out looking for the ninety-nine who got lost? To leave the comfortable circle of believers who have no problems, to look beyond our renewed rituals, and to be ready to be criticized just as Jesus was criticized, is the challenge today.

 

Who lights the lamp, sweeps the house and searches except God himself? Out of respect for God, the Jews of Jesus’ time preferred not to name him, and they used expressions such as the angels or heaven.

 

 

 

ORIGINAL SIN

 

THE PRODIGAL FATHER

 

 11. There are three characters in this parable: the father, representing God; the older son, the Pharisee. Who is the younger son? Is he the sinner or perhaps Man?

 

The Man wants freedom and thinks, many times, that God takes it away from him. He begins by leaving the Father, whose love he does not understand and whose presence has become a burden to him. After having wasted the heritage whose value he does not appreciate, he loses his honor and becomes the slave of others and of shameful actions (pigs were unclean animals to the Jews).

 

The son returns. Having be­come aware of his slavery, he con­vinces himself that God has a better destiny in mind for him, and he begins on the road back to his home. Upon returning, he discovers that the Father is very different from the idea that he had formed of him: the father is waiting for him and runs to meet him; he restores his dignity, erasing the memory of the lost inheritance. There is a celebration of the feast to which Jesus referred so many times.

 

At last we understand that God is Father. He did not put us on earth to collect merits and rewards but to discover that we are his children. We are born sinners: from the start of our lives we are led by our feelings and the bad example of the society in which we have been raised. There is still more: as long as God does not take the initiative and reveal himself to us, we cannot think of freedom other than in terms of becoming independent of him.

 

God is not surprised by our wickedness since, in creating us free, he accepted the risk that we might fall. God is with all of us in our experience of good and evil, until he can call us his sons and daughters, thanks to his only Son, Jesus. Note this marvelous phrase: I have sinned against God and before you. Sin goes against Heaven, that is, against God who it truth and holiness. But God is also the Father concerned for his son; the son has sinned before the one who draws good from evil.

 

Such is our God and Father, the one who creates us day after day, without our being aware of it, while we go on our way; the one who seeks sinners whom he can fill with his treasures.

 

The older son, the one who obeys, though with a closed heart, understands none of this. He has served with the hope of being rewarded, or at least, the hope of being seen as superior to others; and he is incapable to welcome sinners or to participate in the feast of Christ, because, in fact, he does not know how to love.

 

 

 

 16.1 Jesus is not concerned about condemning the improper actions of the administrator, but rather points out his cleverness in providing for his future: this man was able to discover in time that friends last longer than money. In the same way, in promoting a new way of living, the people of light must strip money of its halo as Supreme Good. It seems that putting money in a safe place is the best way to assure our existence and our future. On the contrary, Jesus tells us to use it and to exchange it without hesitation for something much more valuable such as bonds of mutual appreciation.

 

We are not owners but administrators of our wealth and we must administer it for the good of all. Money is not a bad thing as long as we use it as a means to facilitate exchanges. Jesus, however, calls it “unjust” (we use the word filthy) because money is not a true good (it is not money that makes us just before God); and because it is impossible to accumulate money without failing in trust in the Father and without hurting our neighbors.

 

Money is something that peo­ple acquire and lose; it does not make anyone greater. Therefore, money is not part of the goods that are our own (v. 12).

 

 

 

THE RICH

 

 13. The Pharisees, heard all this and sneered at Jesus (v. 14). More than the other evangelists, Luke notes the incompatibility between true religion and love of money. The Pharisees could justify their love of money by quoting some sayings from the Bible. In fact, in the beginning the Jews saw wealth as a blessing from God. It seemed just to them that God should reward in this way those who are faithful to him when they know how to deal with the riches of this world. Then, with the passing of time, they came to see that money was more of a danger and that, often, it was the privilege of those without faith (Ps 49, Job).

 

Nevertheless, as soon as someone has money he is convinced that he possesses truth, and thus the Pharisees felt authorized to judge and decide on things of God. After them, many Christians belonging to influential circles have wished to use money and power for the service of the kingdom of God and quickly established themselves as managers. Mon­ey in turn possesses those who possess it. Very soon one is ready to approve a moral order that justifies one’s own privileges and forgets the Gospel values of justice, humility and poverty. In the end, it is the Church itself that is despised by those who seek God.

 

Why have so many people of hum­ble origin felt inferior to the rich in the church? They got used to seeing the rich heading church organizations and accustomed to receiving the word of God from them, in spite of Jesus’ warnings.

 

 

 

THE LAW

 

 16. We are about to read three of Jesus’ sayings whose only connection is their reference to the Law. The Law meant the laws that God had given to the Jews. Besides, the Law and the Prophets was a way the Jews used to refer to their Holy Writings that we call the Old Testament. Jesus uses this expression here to point to Old Testament times, to all that prepared for his own coming.

 

For a single letter of Scripture not to be fulfilled (v. 17): that means that everything in it had its significance even though Jesus states that the decisive point has come with him. The Law was needed to prepare for his coming, but it will no longer be observed in the same way as before (see Mt 5:17-20).

 

For Jews who observed the Law and in particular for those who had followed John the Baptist, another step was needed: faith in Jesus and, by this, to conquer the kingdom of God (Lk 7:24). Despite appearances, it is much easier to follow religious practices, to observe laws and to fast, than it is to believe and to risk the unknown by following the crucified Je­sus.

 

 

 

 19. This parable deals with the worldwide gap between the rich and the inhumanly poor. There is a deadly law of money which makes the rich live separately: housing, transportation, recreation, medical care. The wall the rich man willingly built in this life becomes, after his death, an abyss that no one will be able to bridge. The one who accepts this separation will find himself on the other side forever.

 

A poor man named Laza­rus: Jesus names the poor man, but not the rich one, thus reversing the order of the present society that treats the well to do as a person but not the ordinary worker. We also see that, on dying, Lazarus finds many friends: the angels, Abraham, the father of believers. The rich man finds neither friends nor lawyers to relieve his situation: hell is isolation.

 

Some people would like to know what was the rich man’s sin for which he was con­demned to hell. Was it that he denied some crumbs from his table to Lazarus? The Gospel does not say this. Instead it shows that the rich man did not even see Lazarus lying at his door: Remember that in your lifetime you were well off.

 

The La­za­­rus of today are legion and are already at our door; they are known as third or fourth world. On a world scale it is the more advanced countries and the privileged minorities that have taken possession of the table to which all were invited: the real power, and the culture imposed by the me­dia. The national industries and sources of employment have been destroyed by a free exchange unimpeded by any social or moral restraint. Hundreds of millions of “Lazarus” people are marginalized and rejected until they die in misery, or through violence arising from a dehumanized life.

 

Modern-day Lazarus are kept at a distance from the residential areas by police, dogs and barbed wires. They would like to get their fill of the crumbs that are left over from the feast, but there are few scraps falling back to the homeland, after everything is wasted on imported products or deposited in foreign banks. Lazarus lives among dogs and rubbish: he becomes a prostitute, or a pickpocket, until a premature death enables him to find someone who loves him: at the side of Abraham and the angels.

 

Meanwhile, the rich person works hard, not so much to enjoy life as to convince himself that he is right: even the Church should justify him and the separation. It is this perversion of his mind that takes him to hell, after having inspired in him hatred or contempt for all those who proclaim the demands of justice taught by Moses and the pro­phets, that is to say, by the Bible.

 

The Gospel, in its desire to save the rich as well as the poor, asks us to work with a view to removing the abyss that separates them. The time for breaking down the barrier is in this life.

 

 

 

 17.11 The ten lepers were cured but only one of them was told: Your faith has saved you. He was the one who responded straight from the heart. While the others were concerned about fulfilling the legal requirements, he only thought about giving thanks to God right where the grace of God found him: such is the faith which saves and transforms us.

 

Among the many people asking God for healing and favors, how many will really come to love God?

 

 

 

 20. When will the kingdom of God come? It does not come as a revolution or the change of the seasons each year: it is at work in people who have received the Good News. Those who believe already enjoy the Kingdom.

 

Then come the words of Jesus concerning the end of Jerusalem and his second coming (Mk 13:14). We should not speak about the end of the world in every time of anxiety. Jesus gives us two comparisons: the lightning (v. 24) which is seen everywhere and the vultures (v. 37) which gather with­out fail wherever there is a corpse. In the same way, ev­eryone, without fail, will be aware of Christ’s return.

 

Yet his return will catch off guard those who are not expecting it (just as in the days of Noah). Judgment will separate the elect from the condemned – nothing separated them in daily life – from two people working side by side, one will be taken, the other left behind.

 

In Matthew 24:17 the reference to someone outside his house is connected with the end of Jerusalem, and here it means it will be necessary to escape quick­ly. In the present text this has another meaning: when the end of the world comes it will be too late to worry about saving one’s life or possessions.

 

Where will this take place? (v. 37): foolish question as in Luke 17:20, because the Lord will not come to take his people to a geographic location. On that day, the good will be taken into the presence of God as infallibly as vultures gather around a corpse.

 

 

 

 18.1 If there is a just God, why does he not do justice? (Ps 44:24, Heb 1; Zec 1:12; Rev 6:10). Jesus answers: Do you desire and ask for the justice of God with enough faith? He will undoubtedly do justice, but you will have to wait.

 

A judge who neither feared God nor people: many peo­ple upon seeing what is un­just and absurd in life, view God this way. If we pray with perseverance, we will gradually discover that things are not as absurd as they seem, and we will come to recog­nize the face of the God who loves us in what happens.

 

Who cry to him day and night (v. 7). Jesus, who so insists on our responsibility to the world, is the one who also urges us to call on God day and night. Why are people so readily divided (or why do we divide them) into prayers and doers?

 

Will he find faith on earth? (v. 8). Jesus confirms an opinion already found among the Jews of his days. In the last days before Judgment, the power of evil will be so great that in many love will grow cold (Mt 24:12).

 

In fact, with the first coming of Jesus, the Old Testament ended in seeming failure; few had believed in him and, later, most were influenced by the confusion, the false saviors and the violence which precipitated the fall of the nation forty years after the death of Jesus.

 

 

 

 9. The Pharisees were very determined to fulfill God’s law; they fasted often and did many works of mercy. Unfortunately, ma­ny of them took the credit for such a model life: they thought they no longer needed God’s mercy because their good deeds would force him to reward them.

 

On the other hand the publican recognizes he is a sinner towards God and people: all he can do is to ask pardon. He is in the truth and in the grace of God when he goes home.

 

Jesus speaks for those who are fully convinced of their own righteousness (v. 9). The text says precisely: “their justice” which contrasts with “he was justified” in verse 14. The Bible calls just those whose life is in order before God because they observe his law; so in Mt 1:19 and Lk 1:6 Joseph and Zachary are called just. In many places, however, great importance is given to the exterior acts of the just man, and for the Pharisees as for any religious group that is at the same time a party or a social group, the members of the group considered themselves as good people.

 

Jesus invites us to humility if we want to acquire the only righteousness which counts in God’s eyes, for it is not a matter of acquiring it by means of merit and religious practices, but receiving it rather as a gift from God destined for those who want his pardon and holiness. It is not by chance that this parable is in the Gospel of Luke, disciple of Paul; for Paul, the converted Pharisee, constantly dwells on what is the true justice of a Christian. What God wants for us is so great that we could never buy it with religious practices or good works: but to those who trust him God gives all (see Rom 4).

 

Neither is it by chance that Jesus offers us a Pharisee who only knows how to compare himself with another person in order to find himself better than the other. It is there that the devil waits for all, and for all Christian groups, who pride themselves on having discovered a way to conversion. Wherever we see a divided Church, whether because of political or religious causes, it is a good guess that people favor such a situation because it allows comparison with others. It is difficult to belong to a group of “the converted” without looking with charitable compassion on those Christian brethren who have not taken the same road.

 

 

 

THE POWER OF JESUS

 

 19.1 Everyone in Jericho was pointing a finger at Zaccheus: how could a man involved in dirty deals, (like he was) be converted? What punishment would God send to him? Instead of punishing him, God comes to his home.

 

Jesus shows that he is guided by the Spirit when he spots Zaccheus among so many people, and when he understands at that very moment, that on that day he has come to Jericho, above all, to save a rich man.

 

Zaccheus knows that he is the object of envy and hatred. He is not all bad: although his hands are dirty, he has not lost the sense of what is good and he admires the proph­et Jesus sec­­retly. God is able to save him because of his good desires. The favor Jesus does to him compels him to manifest the human and good qualities hidden in him.

 

It is said that he received Jesus joyfully: a joy that shows the transformation that has taken place in him. After that, he will have no trouble in rectifying his evil deeds. Then he will share and reestablish justice.

 

The people are indignant, and in that they imitate the Pharisees; they believe that the prophet Jesus should share their prejudice and even their resentments. Jesus is not a demagogue; the crowd’s lack of understanding does not matter to him any more than that of the Pharisees. Once again, Jesus shows his power; he destroys evil by saving the sinner.

 

 

 

 11. Galileans go to Jeru­salem to celebrate the Pass­over and Jesus goes with them. He knows that death awaits him: they, nonetheless, are convinced that he will be proclaimed king and liberator of Israel.

 

In his parable Jesus invites them to hold onto another hope. He will rule on his return from a faraway land (his own death) at the end of history. Meanwhile, his people are in charge of riches, which he has given them and which they must multiply. They should not wait in idleness for his return, since his enemies will take advantage of his absence to strug­gle against his influence. ­Jesus’ servants will participate in his triumph to the degree that they have worked.

 

This page is closely connected with the parable of the talents (Mk 25:14). Two differences are pointed out in what follows.

 

For one thing, in the introduction and in the conclusion ­Jesus refers to his country’s political life. The country depended on the Roman Empire and its kings had to be acceptable to the Roman government that protected them.

 

On the other hand, the parable insists on God’s justice: everyone receives according to his merit. Heavenly happiness is not something that can be distributed equally. Everyone will know God and will share his riches to the degree that one has been able to love throughout life. Every step we take by way of obedience, sacrifice and humility, develops our capacity to receive God and to be transformed by him.

 

 

 

 20.9 How many confrontations between Jesus and the leaders of Jerusalem. In 20:19, Luke says: They feared the people. Is it a fact that the Jews of that time, their teachers of the Law and their priests were any worse than we are today? Or are we mistaken when we dream of a Church without persecutions and controversies?

 

 

 

Not all of us must experience the oppositions Jesus met. He chose for himself this crucifying way because it is the highway to God.

 

 

 

 27. See commentary on Mark 12:18.

 

Luke has his own expressions in speaking of the resurrection in verses 34-36. It is because in those countries of Greek culture (Luke wrote for them) many people believed in the immortality of the soul as something natural. Luke clarified for them that the other life is not something natural; it is a gift of God for those who are considered worthy to enter it.

 

They too are sons and daughters of God. Using a Hebrew expression, the text says: they too are sons of God (at that time the sons of God were the angels) because they are sons of the resurrection. This resurrection is not like coming back to the life we know, it is the work of the Holy Spirit, who transforms and sanctifies those he resurrects. There­fore the resurrected are sons and daughters of God in a much more authentic way than those of this world: delivered from sin, they are reborn of God.

 

All live for him. They started to become alive when God knew them and called them, and they will not disappear, since God called them from this world to bring them into his own.

 

Faith in the resurrection contrasts with the doctrine of transmigration that says that souls come back to life in a body and social condition that befits their merits. The cycle will continue as long as purification has not been completed. It is a powerful theory capable of enticing many people in the West.

 

It could be said that it is convenient and leads to irresponsibility since all could be settled. Actually, however, this is not the case with the Hindus: their moral concern is often greater than ours, for they are keen to escape from these recurring beginnings. The difference is elsewhere. There are two conceptions of a human. In one, the soul is imprisoned in a body, in the second God saves the indivisible person. The body is not a clothing for the soul, which may pass from an old person to a newly born.

 

That is why Christian hope awaits a resurrection, that is to say, the possibility for each one to be reborn of God in God and express oneself fully in a “glorified body.”

 

The Bible teaches us that this present life is our only opportunity. People die only once and are judged (Heb 9:27).

 

 

 

 45. They even devour the property of widows. This may refer to teachers of the law lodging in the home of some pious widow and then living at her expense.

 

 

 

 21.5 See commentary on Mark 13:1 and Matthew 24:1.

 

For a great calamity will come upon the land (v. 23). Luke foretells the destruction of the Jewish nation more clearly than Matthew and Mark do.

 

Until the time of the non-Jewish nations is fulfilled (v. 24). Luke divides history into two ages. One corresponds to the Old Testament: that was the time when Sacred History was almost the same as the history of Israel. Then, after Jesus, came the time of the nations. The destruction of the Jewish nation and the dispersal of its people inaugurated a new era, which would be mostly the history of the evange­lization and education of the nations by the Church. We could call that period the times of the New Testament, which will end with the great crisis concluding human history.

 

 

 

 34. Be on your guard. After speaking about the imminent end of Jerusalem (vv. 28-32), Luke speaks of that day which will conclude human history with the coming of Christ, the Judge (vv. 34-36).

 

Be on your guard. This invitation is not only addressed to those who will know that day, but it is for everyone, throughout the history of the Church. Once more he invites us to watch and pray while the world is asleep (see Eph 6:18).

 

That you may be able to stand: to avoid errors and deceit (2 Thes 2:9; 1 Thes 3:13) during the trials preceding Christ’s coming. The Our Father expresses the same concern. Those who are expecting the coming of the Kingdom pray: do not put us to the test.

 

In fact, vigils and prayers serve not only to prevent possible falls. When the believer and the Church are more awake, they cooperate more in the development of the divine plan and hasten the coming of the Lord.

 

 

 

 22.7. Where do you want us to prepare it? This was the first preoccupation of pilgrims to Jerusalem: finding a house where they could eat the sacrificed lamb.

 

A man will come to you. Usually women carry the water jars, and so it would be easy to identify a man with a water jar. Jesus knew that Judas was betraying him, and did not want to indicate the place of the supper ahead of time: he could have been apprehended there. So he trusted a prophetic intuition: the Father had designated the place for the last supper. It was, in fact, the home of a rich man, a disciple of Jesus in Jerusalem. This may have been the house where the apostles gathered after Jesus’ death and where the Church started.

 

 

 

 14. See commentary on Mark 14:12.

 

Jesus took his place at table, or rather as the Gospel says, “he reclined,” as was the custom at banquets of the well to do: guests would recline on sofas around the table.

 

It is very difficult to know whether this last supper of Jesus started with the meal of the passover lamb and concluded with the eucharist, or whether Jesus only celebrated the eucharist, without having shared the passover meal. In any case, the Gospel intends to teach us that the eucharist will be for the Church what the passover meal was for the people of Israel.

 

They passed him a cup. The person presiding at the passover meal would take four cups which he would bless and which the participants would pass around.

 

I will not drink of the grape of the vine (v. 18). Jesus recalled that, for the Jews, the passover meal was already an anticipated figure of the banquet of the Kingdom of God. On that night, the celebration took place for Jesus in a very special way.

 

This is my body. Is the consecrated bread the symbol of the body of Christ, or is it the body of Christ in fact? There have been great controversies between Catholics and Protestants about this. Catholics understand that the bread is really the body of Christ; Protestants maintain that the bread does not contain the physical presence of the body of Christ and look upon it as a mere symbol. Both have tried to come to a mutual understanding.

 

The faith of the Church states that the consecrated bread is symbol and reality at the same time. The presence of the body of Christ is not symbolic but real, though not a material presence, as if we could say: “Jesus is here on the table.” The body of Christ is present, but through the sacramental sign of bread and wine, and it is present inasmuch as it is signified. In communion we receive the body of the “risen” Christ (it is another reason to think that it is not a material presence, but rather of another type, no less real, but different) in order to receive from him strength and life. Though his presence to the believer in communion is a mysterious and intimate reality, the objective of the Eucharist is not to make Jesus more present, but to renew and strengthen the communion (fellowship) between Jesus and those who share in the table of the Lord, making us at the same time more conscious of his divine overwhelming presence.

 

My blood which is poured out for you. Jesus gives us the meaning of his death: he will be the Servant of Yahweh promised by Isaiah (53:12), who takes upon himself the sins of a multitude. That is why in Matthew and Mark Jesus says: My blood poured out for a multitude. Let us say that, for the Jews, a multitude, or the many, does not exclude anyone. However, this multitude refers first to the chosen peo­ple of Jesus: that is why we read here poured out for you, the same as in 1 Cor 11:24; Eph 5:25; Jn 17:19.

 

The new covenant: see commentary on Mark 14:12.

 

Do this in remembrance of me. With these words Jesus institutes the Eucharist as the church will celebrate it. In remembrance of me: not to remember a dead man. At the Passover the Jews remembered the intervention of God who had delivered them from Egypt; in the Eucharist, we remember the intervention of God who saved us through the sacrifice of his Son.

 

The parenthesis of vv. 19-20 includes words which are not in many ancient manuscripts and perhaps do not belong to Luke’s gospel.

 

 

 

 24. After the narrative of the Last Supper (Mk 14:12), Luke brings out some memories of the conversation with which Jesus took leave of his apostles. Here he shows Jesus as alone and misunderstood by his own apostles on the eve of his death. They have not learned anything in so many months and at the end of the Last Supper, they only express their all-too-human concerns.

 

The apostles were vying for the first place in the Kingdom: what concept, then, did they still have of the Kingdom? During the supper Jesus had acted as the servant of the house (Jn 13:1).

 

Jesus does not get discouraged when he sees that the apostles are out of touch with his thoughts and desires, even when time is coming to an end for him. He has surrendered his life and his work to the Father: if he has seemingly failed, he knows that after his death his work will rise to new life along with him, and so he confirms his promises to his apostles.

 

You will sit… (v. 30). How hard it is for us to understand Jesus’ faithfulness to his own people. All that is his, he shares with those who have committed themselves to his work. The twelve tribes of Israel means the entire people of God. With this, Jesus designates all of us who come from many nations to accept the faith of the apostles.

 

Peter believes that since he is the head, he will be stronger than the others. Jesus, on the other hand, sees Peter’s future mission, and in spite of his fall, wills to give him a special grace, so that he will be able to strengthen the rest. Such is Jesus’ way of doing things: he saves what was lost and, having seen the incurable weakness of human nature in Peter, he uses him to give the Church a stability to which no other human society can aspire. Indeed, the continuity of the Church through the centuries is, in part, due to the popes, Peter’s successors.

 

At the end, Jesus uses some images to indicate that the crisis foretold so many times is at hand: the apostles do not really understand and they look for swords.

 

 

 

 39. It appears that Jesus celebrated the Passover in a house at the southwest of the old town of Jerusalem. He went down the stepped street to what had been the stream of Tyropeon, went up the Ophel area, the old city of David, to go down to the Kidron torrent, almost always devoid of water. From there he must have taken a path to go up to the Mount of Olives. It was called that because its western slopes were covered with olive trees. Jesus went to a garden called Gethsemane, or “olive press.” This land may have belonged to one of the disciples of Jesus, since he went there many times (Jn 18:2).

 

He was in agony. Jesus certainly has felt, just as we have – and perhaps even more acutely – the horror of death. But he must also have been assailed by a despairing vision of the world of sin due to the presence of the all-holy Father. Should we want to understand something of what took place in those moments, we must learn about the testimonies of the great saints who, in their own way, also experienced this extremely difficult test.

 

Some of the ancient manuscripts of the Gospel do not have verses 43 and 44: probably they were taken out because many people were scandalized by this “weakness” of Christ.

 

An angel from heaven. At times the Bible speaks of an angel to indicate that God intervened in a mysterious way, by encouraging, teaching or pun­ishing…This angel reminds us of the one who came to encourage Elijah (1 K 19:4). We must understand that God wished to give Jesus a special help to be able to endure this exceptional trial. There again we need the witness of the saints to understand better.

 

Drops of blood formed like sweat. This is a symptom understood by doctors, due both to anxiety and suffering.

 

The hour and the form of Jesus’ arrest were suited to evildoers driven by the Power of darkness. There are times when all hope and justice have apparently disappeared from the earth.

 

 

 

 54. WHY DID THEY KILL HIM?

 

Regarding the two trials of Jesus, one religious, the other po­litical, see commentary on Mark 14:53.

 

Jesus’ trial and condemnation to death were not very different from what happens to many Christian militants and martyrs. Merely preferring relationships with the poor and educating simple people so they can be free and responsible does not constitute a crime in any country, and yet, throughout the centuries, it has been enough to bring persecution onto many persons. We have already men­tioned that Jesus preached in extremely difficult circumstances, since his nation was under the law of the Roman occupants, and any liberating message smacked of subversion.

 

Undoubtedly, those who condemned Jesus had plenty of reasons to hate him. However, the Gospel records that the accusations focused on the key points of his teaching. They condemned Jesus because he claimed to be divine: the Christ, the Son of God, the one who will sit at the right hand of God.

 

The chief priests of the time belonged to wealthy families who fought for their positions because it gave access to temple money. Annas and his sons (and his son-in-law Caiap­has) are known to have ac­ted with utter shame­lessness, silencing protests with the sticks of their guards, who form­ed an illegal militia. Here, they appear with the leaders of the Jews, or the Elders, who belong to the richest families.

 

 

 

 23.1 Pilate does not want to condemn Jesus, partly because he hates Jewish priests, and so he sends Jesus to Herod. By putting a white robe on Jesus, Herod treats him as a madman pretending to be a king.

 

They became friends from that day on, because, in spite of the fact that they were so different, they realized that they belonged to the same class of people with power to play with the lives of common people.

 

 

 

 18. Barabbas may have been one of those terrorists harassing the Roman op­pressors. The chief priests who wanted to have peace with the Romans hated these people. Yet the chief priests persuaded the peo­ple to ask for the release of Barabbas. Even though they hated those priests, the people listened to them. With that, Pilate’s plan (he wanted to release Jesus) failed.

 

 

 

 27. What will happen to the dry wood? (v. 31). Jesus taught that the sacrifice which is accepted is fruitful: but at the same time he mourns the unnecessary sufferings of a people who have let the opportunity pass them by, and who will be destroyed through their own fault.

 

These words are also meant for all those who make the blood of Christ useless for themselves.

 

A large crowd followed him, especially women… Luke is the only evangelist reflecting this compassionate attitude. Contrary to Matthew who insists on the guilt of the Jewish people, Luke wants to point out that ­Jesus’ condemnation moved many people. ­Je­sus’ words recall what he already said about the des­truction of the Jewish nation (Mk 13).

 

 

 

 39. The leaders of the Jews have put Jesus where he belongs, since he decided to take our sins upon himself. The two men look at the one who has come to share their destiny.

 

You will be in paradise (v. 43). What is paradise? We lack adequate words to express what lies beyond. In Jesus’ time, the Jews used to compare the Place of the Dead to a huge country divided up into regions separated by insurmountable barriers. Hell was one of the regions; it was reserved for the wick­ed, from there no one could escape. Another region was Paradise where the good people would be with the first ancestors of holy people, awaiting the moment of resurrection.

 

You will be with me, says Jesus, that is with the Savior, who for a day and a half was in the peace and joy of God, before the resurrection. This statement puts us at ease as to our own destiny at death, although we cannot know what will become of us before the Resurrection. We will not be anesthetized, nor will we cease to exist, as some claim, but we will rather possess everything, being with Jesus who came to share death and his brothers’ and sisters’ rest (see Phil 1:23 and Rev 14:13).

 

 

 

 24.1 The Lord Jesus: with this expression, not found in the rest of the Gospel but very much in use in the early church, Luke shows us that the Risen Jesus has entered a kind of existence which is different from that of his mortal life. Let us remember the following:

 

1)    None of the Gospels describe the Resurrection of Jesus: it was an event that could not be seen.

 

2) The apostles’ prea­ch­ing about the risen Jesus is based on two facts: the empty tomb and the appearances (see commentary on Mt 28:1).

 

3) Before the Gospels were written, Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, in the year 57, gave a list of Jesus’ appearances (1 Cor 15:3).

 

4) Although the four Gospels agree on the essentials, there are, nevertheless, differences as to the order of the appearances and the place where they occurred. Luke does not mention appearances in Galilee. Matthew gives the impression that all that was important took place in Galilee, and that the Ascension took place there as well. Paul speaks first of an appearance to Peter and does not mention the appearance to Mary Mag­dalen. An in-depth study of the texts sheds some light on these discrepancies: they did not want to reveal everything, and at times preferred to modify details of the place or the chronology to fit the demands of their book and for the purpose of teaching.

 

5) As for Jesus’ ascension, it was not a “trip” to heaven; he was already “in heaven,” in the sense that he shared the glory of God from the moment of his Resurrection. The Ascension is simply the last of his appearances (see commentary on Acts 1:9).

 

 

 

 13. We notice on this page of the Gospel how carefully Luke uses in turn the verbs: see and recognize. The evangelist, in fact, wishes to show us that after his resurrection Jesus can no longer be “seen” with the eyes of the body; he had gone from this world to the Father, and this new world evades our senses. It is only with new vision, this light of faith that we “recognize” him present and active in us and around us. If the history of the Church records a number of exceptional apparitions of the risen Jesus, the faithful are invited to “recognize” him through faith.

 

These two disciples were merely going home to return to their work, after their hopes had been crushed. We are accustomed to call them the pilgrims of Emmaus.

 

The Jewish people, the people of Israel, were pilgrim people because they never had the possibility of lingering on the way. The departure from Egypt, the conquest of the Land, the fights against invaders, the development of religious culture were many stages along the way. Each time they thought that in reaching their goal, their problems would be solved, and each time they had to realize that the road was taking them still further.

 

Cleophas and his companion were pilgrims since they followed Jesus, thinking that he would redeem Israel. In the end, there was only the death of Jesus. This is the moment when Jesus becomes present and teaches them that one does not enter the Kingdom without passing through death.

 

They recognized him (v. 31). Perhaps Jesus looked different as we see in John 20:14. This is what Mark says in 16:12. Luke also wants us to understand that the same people, whose eyes could not recognize Jesus, will see him when they come to believe.

 

Starting with Moses and go­ing through the prophets (v. 27). Remember that “Moses and the prophets” is a way of designating Scripture. Jesus invites them to pass from Israel’s faith or hope in a happy future for the whole nation, to faith in his very person, accepting the mystery of his rejection and of his Passion.

 

Everything in Scripture concerning himself (v. 27). In his first biblical lesson, Jesus taught them that the Messiah had to suffer. Jesus not only found all the texts which foretold his Passion and Resurrection such as Is 50; Is 52:13; Zec 12:11; Ps 22; Ps 69; but also those texts showing that God’s plan filters human history.

 

Something similar happens to believers now when we often complain and show our impatience. Yet Jesus did not leave us alone. He has not risen in order to sit in heaven; he is ahead of humanity on pilgrimage and draws us toward that final day when he will come to meet us.

 

At the same time he walks with us, and when our hopes are dashed, it is the moment when we discover the meaning of the Resurrection.

 

Thus the Church does for us what Jesus did for the two disciples. First, it gives us the ‘interpretation of Scripture’: what matters in our efforts to understand the Bible is not to know many passages by heart, but to discover the thread connecting various events and to understand God’s plan concerning people.

 

Then, the Church also celebrates the Eucharist. Notice how Luke says: he took bread, said a blessing, broke it and gave it; these same four words were used among believers to speak of the Eucharist. We can come close to Jesus in conversation and meditating on his word; we find him present in our fraternal meetings, but he makes himself known in a different way when we share the bread that is his body.

 

Cleophas (v. 18): the husband of Mary, mother of James and Joset (see Jn 19:25 and Mk 15:40).

 

 

 

 36. Jesus was reborn to a glorious life from the day of his resurrection. He was already ‘in the Father’s glory,’ but wanted to be with his disciples on various occasions in order to convince them that his new condition was not a lesser life, or something ghostly, but rather a super life.

 

In this chapter we put in parentheses some words or sentences that do not appear in many ancient manuscripts and which perhaps have been added later.

 

 

 

 44. Jesus uses these encounters to clarify the meaning of his brief and intense mission for his apostles. He saves us from sin, which means nothing less than reordering history to resurrect humankind.

 

Everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms had to be fulfilled. What the prophets announced, about a savior who would be rejected by his people and take the sin of his people upon himself, had to be fulfilled. What sin? Everyone’s sins, of course, but also the violence of the whole Jewish society at the time of Jesus. This was the sin that brought him to the cross.

 

As a matter of fact, this way of death and resurrection was not reserved only for Jesus, but for his people also. In that precise period, Israel, subject to the Roman Empire, had to accept the death of its earthly ambitions: autonomy, national pride, the religious superiority of the Jews over other people… in order to rise as the people of God scattered among nations and to become the agent of salvation. A minority took the way Jesus pointed out and this was the beginning of the Church.

 

Repentance and forgiveness. Christian conversion is not passing from one party to another, from one religious group to another: it is a recasting of the person. Persons are part of a society, a world, a history. There­­­­­­­fore the preaching to the nations means also the education of the nations and even international society. This is something that takes longer than ten or a hundred years.

 

You shall be witnesses to this (v. 48). Jesus calls his apostles to be the official witnesses of his Gospel and those who judge authentic faith.

 

Remain in the city. The apostles are not able to begin immediately missionary work. They will first dedicate themselves to strengthening fellowship and the fervor of the community of the disciples, as they wait for the time chosen by the Father to give them the power coming from above.

 

I will send you what my ­Father promised. Jesus could not affirm his divine authority and the unity of the three divine persons more powerfully.

 

He withdrew: this was the last of Jesus’ appearances to the group of disciples.

 

And so concludes Luke’s first book. His second book, The Acts of the Apostles, follows the Gospels and it begins exactly where this Gospel ends.

June 16, 2007 Posted by | Christian Community Bible, Commentary, Luke, New Testament, Novum Testamentum | 1 Comment

Bakit hindi lahat ng biblia ay may pare-parehong mga aklat?

Bakit hindi lahat ng biblia ay may pare-parehong mga aklat?

 

Noong panahon ni Jesus, walang Judiong nagduda na ang mga aklat ni Moises at ng Mga Propeta ay salita ng Diyos. Sa paglipas ng panahon, malugod na tinanggap ang ibang mga aklat na tinatawag na Mga Sinulat o Mga Aklat ng Karunungan at idinagdag ang mga ito sa mga unang aklat. Ngunit hindi nilinaw kung anong antas ng awtoridad ang dapat  ibigay sa mga ito.

 

Ang ilan sa mga aklat na ito ay sinulat hindi sa wikang Hebreo kundi sa Griyego, ang wikang ginagamit sa maraming bansa. Kaya mas marami ang mga aklat sa bibliang Griyego na ginamit ng mga Judio sa labas ng Palestina pati na sa maraming simbahang Palestino.

 

Pagkatapos lamang ni Jesus – at pagkawasak sa Jerusalem ng mga Romano saka ang mga Pariseo, sa taong 95, ay nagtawag ng konseho sa Jamnia, upang muling itatag ang komunidad ng mga Judio. Noon nila itinatag nang may katiyakan ang canon, na siyang pamantayan ng bibliang Judio. Bagamat tinanggap nila ang ilan sa mga mas bagong aklat, halimbawa’y iyong kay Daniel, sadya nilang di isinali ang lahat ng nasusulat sa Griyego.

 

Samantala, ginamit naman ng Iglesya ang bibliang Griyego tulad ng ginawa ng mga apostol, at ang inalala lamang nila ay kung ano ang dapat isama sa Bagong Tipan.

 

Sa taong 384, sa wakas, binigyang-katiyakan ng tinatawag na Dekreto Damasco ang canon ng bibliang Kristiyano at tinanggap ang ilang aklat na nasa bibliang Griyego na tinaggihan na ng mga Judio sa Jamnia, sa kabila ng opinyon ng minorya na naglagay sa mga ito sa mas mababang ranggo. Ang mga aklat na ito ay tinatawag na deuterocanonica, ibig sabihi’y mga aklat ng ikalawang pamantayan.

 

Nang lisanin ng mga Protestante ang Iglesya, pagkatapos ng labindalawang dantaon, hindi nila naisipan pang punahin ang pamantayan ng Bagong Tipan ngunit hindi sila magkasundo sa mga aklat na deuterocanonical, kaya minabuti nilang huwag nang isali ang mga ito. Tinawag nila ang mga itong apocrypha, ibig sabihi’y di-tunay. Ngunit hanggang sa ikalabing-siyam na siglo, karaniwa’y inilimbag nila ang mga ito sa kanilang biblia. Pagkatapos, lubusan nang di isinali ang mga ito.

 

Ang mga aklat na deuterocanonical ay:

 

1 at 2 Macabeo                              Baruc               Karunungan ni Solomon

 

Kabanata 13-14 ng Daniel            Tobit                Sirac

 

Kabanata 11-16 ng Ester              Judit

 

Lahat ng modernong mga pag-aaral ng biblia ay nagpapakita sa kahalagahan nitong mga aklat na deuterocanonical bilang tagapag-ugnay ng mga Hebreong aklat ng Matandang Tipan at ng nasa wikang Griyego na bumubuo ng Bagong Tipan.

 

Bigyang-pansin na ang tanging paraan para malaman kung alin ang mga sagradong aklat at kung alin ang hindi dapat isali sa Bibia ay komunsulta sa desisyon ng Iglesya. Ang mga tumutuligsa ngayon sa Iglesya sa ngalan ng Biblia ay hindi makakaalam kung saan matatagpuan ang salita ng Diyos kung hindi ito ipinahayag ng Iglesya.

June 4, 2007 Posted by | Biblia ng Sambayanang Pilipino, Commentary, Lumang Tipan | 1 Comment

1 Macabeo: Komentaryo

Matapos ang panahon nina Esdras at Nehemias, tatlong dantaong nabuhay sa pinakagilid ng kasaysayan ang probinsya ng mga Judio sa pinakadulong hangganan ng imperyo ng Persia. Itinalaga ng mga mas masigasig ang kanilang sarili sa pagnenegosyo, at iniwan ang kanilang bayan para manirahan sa lahat ng sentrong siyudad sa palibot ng Dagat Mediterraneo. Pero sandantaon pagkatapos ni Nehemias, sa taong 333 bago kay Kristo, nagsimulang maglibot si Alejandrong Dakila sa mga bayan sa Gitnang Silangan, nilulupig ang lahat ng kalabang hukbo at ibinabagsak ang mga hari. At gayong tatlumpung taong gulang siya nang mamatay, ang kanyang mga tagumpay ang nagbukas ng daan para sa kulturang Griyego na may hangaring umunlad, may tiwala sa kakayahan ng tao at mas bukas na diwang nalalampasan ang makasariling nasyonalismo.

Pinaghati-hatian ng mga heneral ni Alejandro ang malawak niyang imperyo. Maunawain ang mga Tolomeong naghahari sa Ehipto at Palestina kaya hindi nila ginulo ang mga Judio nang dahil sa kanilang relihiyon at mga kaugalian. Pero nang malupig ng mga Antioko ng Siria ang mga Ehipsiyo sa taong 197 at maagaw ang Palestina, marahas nilang ipinagpilitan ang kanilang paganong relihiyon sa mga Judio.

Ang malupit na pag-uusig ang siyang naging sanhi ng pag-aalsa ng mga Judio na pinamunuan ng angkan ng mga Macabeo. Kinikilalang isa sa pinakamagaling na mga libro ng matandang kasaysayan ang Unang Aklat ng Mga Macabeo. Isinasalaysay nito sa atin ang mga pangyayari sa digmaan at mga kabayanihan ng limang magkakapatid na Macabeo mula sa taong 170 hanggang 130 bago kay Kristo.

Digmaang Banal, Digmaan ng Pagpapalaya

Ipinakikita sa atin ng libro ng mga Macabeo ang isang bayang naghahangad mabuhay ngunit mas pinahalagahan nila ang pananampalataya kaysa sariling buhay. Kung kailan nakasanayan na ng lahat ang buhay na walang problema, saka naman dumating ang pag-uusig. Marami ang kumbinsido na wala silang anumang magagawa laban sa isang napakalakas na kapangyarihan, at napakahirap makipagsapalaran. Pero nagpapalitaw ang Espiritu ng Diyos ng mga bagong bayani, at salamat sa kanila’t nababawi ng bayan ang dangal nito, at naipaglalaban ang mga karapatang saligan ng pagkatao at ng pagsampalataya.

Nakita ng sambayanang Judio na nag-iisa sila laban sa mga umaapi sa kanila, at hindi sila gaanong natulungan ng mga kakampi nilang Romano. Kaya sa sarili nilang lakas sila umasa, at tinulungan naman sila ng Diyos.

Ang mga pakikidigma ng mga Macabeo ay halimbawa ng mga digmaang banal na puno ng kabayanihan at katatagan, at ng pagsaklolo ng Diyos. Pero ipinakikita rin nito na hindi kayang lutasin ng banal na digmaan ang lahat. Bunga ng pagkasangkot sa mga problemang militar, at mula rito’y sa pamumulitika, ang mga inapo ng mga Macabeo ay agad na naging materyalista hanggang sila’y maging isang partido at mga pinunong walang pananampalataya ni moralidad.

• 1.1 Ang unang talata ay buod ng kasaysayan mula kay Alejandro hanggang kay Antioko Epifanes na hari ng Siria. Pansinin ang bahaging 1:11-15 na nagbibigay-diin sa simula ng krisis pangmoralidad sa Juda.
Dalawang bagay ang mapagkikilanlan sa kabihasnang Griyego ng mga Sirio:
– Ang sining at ang pagdami ng mga estatwa na kahit na gaano kaganda ay ginagamit naman sa paganong pagsamba.
– Ang edukasyong pisikal: mga istadyum, isports, mga languyan. Hubo’t hubad ang mga manlalaro, na isang eskandalo para sa mga Judio. Ipinapaliwanag nito kung bakit kailangang ibalik sa mga nahihiyang makita bilang Judio ang supot ng balat na tinuli sa kanila, sa pamamagitan ng isang operasyon.

• 41. Dalawang aspeto ng krisis ang inilalahad ng kabanatang ito:
1) Krisis pangmoralidad. Isang mas maunlad pero paganong sibilisasyon ang nakakaharap ng mga Judio. Maaari kayang pakibagayan o pakinabangan ang kulturang ito nang hindi tinatalikuran ang pananampalataya?
Pagbabayaran ng mga Judio sa panahong iyon ang pagkakamaling ginawa nila sa paghiwalay sa pag-unlad ng kultura ng mga karatig-bansa nila. Tatlong dantaon nilang binibigyang-diin na sa Diyos mismo galing ang lahat ng batas at mga kaugalian ng Israel, at hindi puwedeng baguhin ang mga ito. Kaya sa pagdating ng makabagong daloy ng panahon, nagkakrisis sa konsiyensya ang mga may pinakabukas na isipan sa kanila: puwede kaya nilang palitan ang mga kaugalian nang hindi nagtataksil sa Diyos? Pero napakahirap maging bukas sa kabihasnang Griyego nang hindi nagiging rebelde sa pananampalataya. Kaya hindi lamang pinalitan ng mga may gustong maging moderno ang istilo ng kanilang pamumuhay kundi tinalikuran din nila ang kanilang relihiyon. Isipin natin ang nangyayari sa ating panahon ngayon sa pagka-diskubre ng mga kabataang nag-aral sa napakakonserbatibong mga eskwela o parokya ang mga rebolusyonaryong agos ng kaisipan na nagbibigay-sigasig sa kanila.
2) At kasunod naman ang organisadong pag-uusig. Gusto ng makapangyarihang mga hari na pag-isahin ang lahat ng grupo sa kanilang imperyo. Sinasabi nilang nakapagwawatak-watak daw ang relihiyon. At isa pa’y mapanganib para sa kanila ang konsiyensya ng mga taong malaya. Kaya nakikipaglaban ang mga hari sa mga naghahangad maglingkod sa Diyos at sumunod sa kanilang konsiyensiya.
Nag-aalala ang bayan:”Hanggang kailan nila matitiis ang pagsabotahe at panloloko sa kanilang mga gawaing panrelihiyon?”
Binabanggit sa 1:54 ang “kasuklam-suklam na diyus-diyusan ng mga mananakop,” na binabanggit din sa Daniel 9:27. Ganito ang tawag nila sa isang altar na pagano na itinayo sa matandang altar ng Templo. Bibigyan ni Jesus ng bagong kahulugan ang ekspresyong ito sa Mc 13:14.

• 2.1 Sa digmaang nasa ilalim ng pamumuno ng angkan ng mga Macabeo o ng mga anak ni Matatias matutuon ang buong libro. Narito ang salaysay sa paghihimagsik ni Matatias, ang paring biglang naging lider ng mga inaapi.
Ako, ang aking mga anak at mga kapatid, mananatili kaming tapat sa Tipan. Kapwa relihiyoso at makabayan ang kanilang dahilan. Ipinakikipagsapalaran ni Matatias ang lahat laban sa diktadura.

Muling ipinakikita ng Diyos ang kanyang kabutihang-loob sa kanyang bayan sa pagpapalitaw niya ng kinakailangang pinuno, isang taong tulad ni Moises na lubos na kakampi sa kanyang bayan gayong napakadali sana para sa kanya na mapalapit sa mga nasa kapangyarihan.

• 29. Dalawang magkasalungat na saloobin ng sumasampalataya ang makikita sa tekstong ito.
Ang ilan ay nagpapasya lamang base sa Batas ng Diyos, o ayon sa interpretasyon sa Batas ng Araw ng Pahinga: bawal ang makipaglaban sa araw na iyon na nakatalaga para sa Diyos. At buong kabayanihan nilang pinababayaan na sila’y patayin.
Ginagamit naman ng iba ang kanilang isip at konsiyensya, at ipinapasyang ipagtanggol ang sarili.
Walang sinumang hinuhusgahan ang libro. Ngunit maliwanag na ipinakikita rito na hindi puwedeng kumilos ang mga sumasampalataya sa pamamagitan lamang ng pagtingin sa mga libro o sa nakaraan. Lagi tayong mahaharap sa mga bagong sitwasyon na nangangailangan ng bagong repleksyon: “Hindi ang tao ang ginawa para sa Araw ng Pahinga” (Mc 2:27).
Sa berso 42, matutunghayan natin ang tungkol sa mga Asideo. Bago pa nagsimula ang paghihimagsik ni Matatias, may ganito nang kilusan para sa espirituwal na pagbabago na siyang panggagalingan ng mga Pariseo at mga Esenio. Sumama ang mga Asideo sa kanya, pero humiwalay rin nang mapasangkot sa pulitika ang mga anak ni Matatias, ang mga Macabeo.

• 3.1 Pagkamatay ni Matatias, ang kanyang anak na si Judas ang siyang namuno sa paghihimagsik.
Tatlong dantaong sa mga gawaing pansamba lamang nakapokus ang atensyon ng mga sumasampalataya. Mga pari at mga Levita ang lumilitaw na tanging huwaran ng pananampalataya. Ngayon, may pagbabago dala ng mga pangyayari. Agad na nililingon ng bayang Judio ang panahon ng mga Hukom o ni David. Para sa marami sa kanila, ang nakikipaglabang may hawak na sandata at ipinakikipagsapalaran ang buhay para palayain ang kanyang bayan ang siyang huwaran ng sumasampalataya.
Ang brutal na pag-uusig ang naghatid sa kanila hanggang sa ang pag-iwas na lumaban ay mangahulugan ng pagwawaksi sa lahat ng nagpaging-iba sa bayang Judio sa lahat.
Sa harap ng di-pantay na labanan, inilalahad sa atin ang pagpapahayag ng pananampalataya ni Judas: mapagtatagumpay ng Diyos ang iilan laban sa napakarami. Ganito rin ang sinabi ni David nang harapin niya si Goliat (1 S 14:6 at 17:47).

• 10. Maraming beses na binibigyang-diin ng mga libro ng Mga Macabeo na nakipaglaban ang mga Judio, higit sa lahat, para ipagtanggol ang kanilang Banal na Lugar. Ang templong ito ang simbolo ng kabuuan ng Batas, o ng kabuuan ng kanilang relihiyon.
Kailangang ipaglaban ng lahat ang mga bagay na nagbibigay-kabuluhan sa kanilang buhay, na kung hindi natin maiingatan ay mawawalang-saysay ang magkaroon ng magandang kinabukasan. Para sa mga Judio ng panahong iyon, para na ring itinakwil nila ang kanilang pananampalataya sa oras na talikuran nila ang kanilang mga kaugalian at pagsamba, dahil sa kanila lamang ipinagkatiwala ang mga pangako ng Diyos. Gayong ang Templo mismo ay mga bato at kahoy lamang at may ilang mamahaling metal, hindi nila ito maaaring iwan na hindi nawawala ang kanilang dangal bilang mga tao at ang kanilang bokasyon bilang mga sumasampalataya.
Walang gaanong ikinaiba ang mga Macabeo sa mga nangangahas sa ngayon na ipaalala ang mga karapatan ng mga dukha at hingin ang pagkilos ng lahat sa mga kasalukuyang lipunang itinatag sa pang-aapi. Inaaresto sila, tinotortyur, at namamatay para humingi ng pagbabagong pulitikal. Ngunit sa pamamagitan nito, naipagtatanggol nila ang kanilang pananampalataya. Sapagkat kung magwawalang-kibo sila, mawawala ang kanilang dangal bilang tao at kanilang itatakwil ang espiritu ng katarungan at kalayaan (Gal 5:11-12).

• 4.1 Ipinadala nila laban kay Judas ang isang koronel, si Apolonio. Pinatay ni Judas ang koronel. Isang heneral naman ang kanilang ipinadala, si Seron: at natalo rin ni Judas ang heneral. At ngayo’y isang malaking hukbong may dalawang heneral ang ipinadadala ni Antioko laban sa mga Judio. Panalo si Judas sa Emaus.
Kapansin-pansin ang saloobin ni Judas at ang kanyang sinabi: Matapat ang Diyos.
Tatlong dantaong itinuro sa mga Judio na ang kanilang kasaysayan ay isang serye ng kahanga-hangang pamamagitan ng Diyos (tingnan ang mga libro ng Mga Kronika). Labis nilang binibigyang-diin ang pagtulong ng Diyos kayat parang bale-wala ang kabayanihan ng tao. Alam ni Judas na kailangan siyang kumilos na di naghihintay ng milagro o pagbubunyag. Pagkatapos magtagumpay, saka lamang malalaman ng lahat na ang Diyos pala ang nagligtas sa kanila. Isang kasinungalingan ang humingi ng kapayapaan, pagkain at katarungan sa Diyos nang hindi naman inaalis ang mga istruktura ng pang-aapi.

• 36. Bunga ng mga tagumpay ni Judas, pinirmahan ni Antioko Epifanes IV ang isang kasunduan na nagbibigay ng awtonomiya sa probinsya ng mga Judio (Abril ng taong164 bago kay Kristo). Nagtagumpay ang mga Judio at una nilang inasikaso ang paglilinis ng Templo na nilapastangan ng mga pagano (Disyembre ng taong 164).
Alam ng mga Judio na hindi sila katulad ng ibang mga bayan. Ang Diyos mismo ang nagpapasya ng kinabukasan. Sa anumang pagkakataon, ang pinakakailangan lamang ang nilulutas nila habang hinihintay ang isang propeta na magtuturo sa dapat nilang gawin. Ganito ang makikita natin sa bersikulo 46. Pero parang baligtad ang sitwasyon. May mga propeta noon samantalang ayaw naman silang pakinggan ng mga Israelita. At ngayong wala nang mga propeta ay saka nila gustong makarinig ng mensahe. Hindi na nga magkakaroon pa ng mga propeta hanggang kay Juan Bautista.

• 5.1 Mabigat ang loob na tinanggap ng mga heneral na taga-Siria ang kasunduang nilagdaan ng hari. Itinaguyod nila ang pag-uusig laban sa mga Judiong nasa karatig na mga teritoryo, na kung minsa’y napakalalaking grupo. Kayat sinimulan ni Judas na iligtas ang kanyang mga kababayang nasa panganib at ibalik sila sa probinsya ng Judea.

• 55. Patuloy ang digmaan sa mga tagumpay at mga pagkalupig. Binibigyang-diin dito ng Biblia kung bakit nabaligtad ang pangyayari: personal na interes lamang ang hangad ng marami sa mga pinuno.

• 6.1 Inilalahad ng Biblia ang wakas ni Antioko Epifanes bilang halimbawa ng kamatayan ng mga nang-uusig. Ibang salaysay naman ang matutunghayan natin sa 2 Mac 9.

• 32. Muling sinalakay ang Palestina at sa labanan sa Bet-zacarias, napilitang umurong mula sa mga kaaway ang hukbo ni Judas na bale-wala kung ikukumpara sa hukbo ng hari. Pero pagkaraan ng dalawang taon, makikipagkasundo ang hari at pagtitibayin nito ang kalayaang panrelihiyon ng mga Judio.

• 55. Sa kauna-unahang pagkakataon, biglang-biglang tumigil ang labanan, at kinilala ang karapatan ng mga Judio na ipagpatuloy ang kanilang relihiyon (b. 59). Ang pakikipaglaban ng iilang bayani ang naghatid ng unang bungang ito at bumago sa kasaysayan ng bayang Judio.

• 8.1 Iginiit ng mga propeta na dahil ang bayang Judio ang bayan ng Diyos, kailangang sa Diyos sila manalig at huwag maghanap ng tulong sa iba. Kawalan ng pananalig sa Diyos ang makipagtipan sa mga bayang pagano. May ibang pagkaunawa si Judas kayat hangad niyang makipagtipan sa mga Romano.

Sa isang dako, nagkaroon ng malaking pag-asa ang mga Judio dahil sa mga unang tagumpay. Mula pa sa panahon ng pagkatapon, hindi pa kailanman nabawi ng mga Judio ang kanilang awtonomiya, ngunit para kay Judas at sa kanyang mga kasamahan, dumating na ang oras para itayong muli ang dating kaharian nina Solomon at David.
Sa kabilang dako naman, hinahangaan ni Judas ang organisasyon at kapangyarihan ng mga Romano, at naniniwala siyang pabor sa muling pagtatayo ng kaharian ni David ang kanilang proteksyon.
Pero tama nga ang mga propeta: hindi dapat umasa sa mayayaman at makapangyarihan ang mga naghahanap sa Kaharian ng Diyos at sa katarungan. Ang mga Romanong labis na hinahangaan ni Judas ay magiging mga kaaway niya. At pagkalipas ng dalawang dantaon, wawasakin nila ang bansang Judio sa panahon ni Jesus.

• 9.1 Narito ngayon ang madamdaming salaysay ng kamatayan ni Judas. Namatay siya sa ningning ng kanyang pananampalataya at kabayanihan, gaya ng maraming “umaasa sa muling pagtatayo sa Israel” at namatay siya alang-alang sa pag-asang ito.
Makikita nating grasya ng Diyos sa kanya ang maaga niyang pagkamatay. Ang daang kanyang sinimulan dahil sa pananampalataya ay magtatapos para sa kanyang mga inapo sa mga pagsang-ayon at kabulukang madalas na kasama sa kapangyarihang pulitikal.

• 23. Kailangang tumakas pa-disyerto kasama ng kanyang kalahi si Yonatan na siyang hinirang na kahalili ng kanyang kapatid na si Judas. Pinaalis niya ang kanyang kapatid na si Juan taglay ang bagahe para dalhin ito sa isang ligtas na lugar sa kabilang ibayo ng Jordan. At doo’y tinambangan sila. Kaya tumawid si Yonatan sa kabilang ibayo ng Jordan para maghiganti. Sa kanyang pagbabalik, sinundan pala siya ni Bakides at ng hukbo nito, at ngayo’y nakaharang sa daan nila patungo sa ilog. Ngunit nakalampas sila sa mga kaaway at lumangoy patawid.

• 10.15 Sa harap ni Alejandro, si Yonatan ang kinatawan ng mga Judio, pero ano ang kanyang titulo? Hindi na nagkaroon pa ng hari ang mga Judio pagkatapos ng Pagkatapon, at isa pa’y hindi nila kikilalaning hari ang sinumang hindi inapo ni David. Mula sa panahon nina Esdras at Nehemias, ang mga pari na ang namuno sa pamayanang Judio, kaya si Yonatan ay kailangang maging Punong-pari, at upang siya ang maging kinatawan ng kanyang bayan, tatanggapin niya kay Alejandro ang tungkuling ito. Naging sanhi ito ng isang krisis pangmoralidad para sa mga Judio dahil walang puwedeng humirang sa kanyang sarili bilang Punong-pari, kundi ayon sa karapatan ng angkan (tingnan ang Lev 8).
Nagbunga ng paghiwalay ng mas relihiyosong mga Judio ang paghirang na ito kay Yonatan. Marami ang sumalungat sa kanya, kabilang na rito ang mga Asideo (7:13) na magiging partido ng mga Pariseo.

• 59. Lalong nasasangkot si Yonatan sa pulitika, at hindi itinatago ng kabanatang ito ang lahat ng karumihan ng pulitika na karaniwang nagaganap at ginagawa. Kaya napatutunayan ang binigyang-pansin natin hinggil kay Judas (9:1): lumipas na ang panahon ng muling pagtatayo sa kaharian ng Diyos na magiging isang bansa sa piling ng mga bansa.
Misyon ng mga Kristiyano ang lumahok sa pulitika bilang pampaalsa sa masa, sa kabila ng mga tukso at pagkakamaling lagi nilang makakaharap sa maraming taong walang konsiyensya. Ngunit kailangang maging maingat ang Iglesya na huwag magbalik sa dating paghanap ng tagumpay sa pakikipagkasundo sa mga puwersang may kinakampihan. Hindi dapat ipagkamali ang likas na misyon ng Iglesya sa anumang programang pulitikal. At isa pa’y hindi pinaghahati-hati ng Iglesya ang mga tao bilang mabuti at masama, kakampi o kalaban, ayon sa kanilang posisyon sa pakikibaka sa lipunan.

• 12.42 Pagkamatay ni Judas at ng dalawa niyang kapatid, si Yonatan naman ang mamamatay sa digmaan para sa kalayaan. Hahalili sa kanya si Simon na nag-iisa na lamang sa mga magkakapatid.
Ipinagpapatuloy ng libro ang salaysay ng gobyerno ni Simon at ang kanyang mga gawa hanggang sa patayin siya sa taong 134 bago kay Kristo.
Magtatagumpay si Simon sa kanyang mga pakikipagdigma. Alam niya kung paano gamitin para sa sariling kapakinabangan ang kompitensya ng maraming hari na pinaglalabanan ang trono ng kaharian ng Persia. Ang kanyang mga tagumpay at ang kapayapaang nakamit niya ang magpapalamig sa sigasig para sa pananampalataya na siyang naging simula ng digmaan para sa kalayaan. Si Simong tagapagpalaya ay magiging Simong diktador sa katapusan ng isang prosesong napakadalas maulit sa kasaysayan. Tingnan hinggil dito: 14:41-47; 15:23.
Pagkaraan ng sandantaon at kalahati, sa pagdating ni Jesus, ang mga inapo na ni Simon ang magiging mga punong pari. Ang mga ito ang pinakamateryalistang grupo sa mga Judio (ang partido ng mga Saduceo). Isa sa kanila si Caifas na naghatol ng kamatayan kay Jesus.
Bigyang-pansin ang pahapyaw na nabanggit sa 13:41-42 at sa 15:3. Pagkaraan ng apat na dantaon ng kawalang-kalayaan, ang mga Judio ay magiging isang bansa uli.
Ipinaliliwanag ng bago at masayang karanasang ito kung bakit pagkatapos ng sandaan taon at kalahati sa panahon ni Jesus, hindi nila matagalan ang dominasyon ng imperyong Romano.

May 31, 2007 Posted by | 1 Maccabees, Biblia ng Sambayanang Pilipino, Commentary, Old Testament | 1 Comment