By William G. Most,
(c) Copyright, 1997 by William G. Most
[Seventh Section of HTML version]
Parables and Blinding: It is right after this incident that Mark narrates the beginning of His parables, and says He began to teach this way "so that seeing they might look and not see, and hearing they might hear and not understand." These words are from Isaiah 6:9-10. They have been much discussed of course. St. Mark quotes them in the form found in the Targum. St. Matthew quotes Isaiah in softer form (13:13-15): "Therefore do I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear." Isaiah had used imperative forms: "Hearing hear, but do not understand, seeing see, but do not perceive... ."
First, we need to note that it is well known that the Hebrews often attributed to positive direct action of God what He only permits, e.g., in 1 Sam 4:3, after a defeat by the Philistines, the Hebrew text has them saying: "Why did the Lord strike us today before the face of the Philistines?"' And often during the plagues before the Exodus, the text says that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh.
But Jesus did not really want to blind them. In Mt 23;37 He wept over Jerusalem because they would not listen.
So we need a different way to understand the purpose of parables. It is this: We might think of two spirals in the reactions of people to parables - and other things too. Let us imagine a man who has never been drunk before, but tonight he gets very drunk. The next day there will be guilt feelings - we specified it was the first time. Over time, something must give: either he will align his actions with his beliefs, or his beliefs will be pulled to match his actions. In other words, if he continues to get drunk, he will lose the ability to see there is anything wrong with getting drunk. But other beliefs are interconnected, and so his ability to see spiritual things becomes more and more dull.
In the other direction, if one lives vigorously in accord with faith, which tells us the things of this world are hardly worth a mention compared to the things of eternity (cf. Phil 3:7-8), such a one grows gradually more and more in understanding of spiritual things; he is on the good spiral. So the parables are a magnificent device of our Father, showing both mercy and justice simultaneously. To one who goes on the bad spiral, the blindness is due in justice, yet it is also mercy, for the more one realizes, the greater his responsibility. On the good spiral, the growing light is in a sense justice for good living; yet more basically it is mercy, for no creature by its own power can establish a claim on God. So in both directions, mercy and justice are identified, even as they are in the divine essence, where all attributes are identified with each other.
Rather similarly, Pius XII said (Divino afflante Spiritu: Enchiridion Biblicum 563) that God deliberately sprinkled Scripture with difficulties to cause us to work harder and so get more out of them.
Nature of Parable: There has been much discussion about parables in general: A. Julicher in 1888 made the mistake of starting with the concept of a parable in Greek rhetoric - and insisted there must be only one point to a parable, or it would be an allegory. But this view has been largely abandoned thanks to a study of rabbinic parables, which, although they are quite different from those of Jesus, yet did help us to see Julicher was wrong. (For a collection of rabbinic parables, cf. H. K. McArthur & Robert M. Johnston, They Also Taught in Parables,Zondervan, 1990 - it contains 115 actual rabbinic parables plus related items and studies of similarities and differences).
Explanations of Parables and Retrojection: Most scholars today think the explanations of parables given in the Gospels are not by Jesus, but came later from the Church. But this would attribute falsity to the Gospel statements that Jesus said these things. Now there is such a thing as retrojection - a process in which something Jesus actually said after Easter is presented as if said before Easter. As long as He really said it, this is not really deceptive. But to say He said something He did not say at all, that would be deception.
Gradual Self-revelation:The same lack of complete clarity of His teaching was part of His deliberately gradual self-revelation. What would have happened had He opened His public life by saying: "Before Abraham came to be, I AM"?
We can see this gradual character from an examination of the titles given Jesus. He called Himself often "Son of Man." Some claim He meant some other person. But it is clear that He is the earthly Son of Man when He says the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath (Mk 2:28) or when in Lk 9:58 He says, "Foxes have their holes... but the Son of Man has nowhere to recline His head." He is also the suffering Son of Man, for He predicted at least three times that the Son of Man would suffer and rise (e.g., Mk 8:31) and then He did precisely that. He is clearly the Son of Man to come at the end - from the parable of the weeds in Mt 13:26-41 and from Lk 17:24-26 which equates the suffering and the eschatological Son of Man.
Was there a current Aramaic expression, bar ('e) nasha to mean merely "I" or "a man in my situation"? This is much debated.
In Mt 24:30 He said, "they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." Which ties clearly to the Son of Man in Daniel 7:13-14: "Behold with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of Man. He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented to Him. He was given dominion and glory and kingdom so that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is everlasting." Many think that the Son of Man in Daniel means the "holy ones of the Most High." But it does not fit. (We spoke of this in our comments on Daniel). They, whether we take them to be the ancient Jews or the Christians later, never did get an everlasting kingdom. Nor would the Jews ever think of a Messianic kingdom as headless - the head was the Messiah. We note Jesus spoke Mt 24:38 late, towards the end of His earthly life, so the revelation by this title was indeed gradual.
So here would be something for people to ponder, so that the good would get more and more clarity, the evil would lose all. We need not suppose Daniel saw all this. That is not necessary, for the chief author the Holy Spirit, could see it. We have cases where this sort of thing seems to have happened in Genesis 3:15 and Isaiah 7:14 (identified as such by Lumem Gentium # 55).
Without using the title Son of Man, Jesus in Mt 7:22-23 indicates He is the judge at the end.
Many follow W. Wrede's book, The Messianic Secret (first appeared in German in 1901). Wrede said Jesus did not call Himself Messiah: The Church was embarrassed, faked incidents where it would come up, where He would enjoin silence, e.g., after raising the daughter of Jairus, He called for silence. Wrede said this is foolish, fakery. Anyone could see the girl was alive. But Jesus was alone in the house with the parents, Peter, James and John. He needed quiet only long enough to slip out and get on the way to the next town - so people would not seize Him and proclaim Him King Messiah if they knew what He had done. (in Chapter 6 we examined R. H. Fuller's analysis of Mark 8:29 ff. and saw it was faulty).
Jesus often spoke of God as His Father, and carefully avoided saying Our Father (except to teach them the prayer) - otherwise He said My Father, Your Father. In the parable of the wicked tenants (Mk 12:6; Lk 20:13) Jesus clearly meant Himself by the "beloved son" - the Pharisees present grasped that. But the Greek is agapeton, which the Septuagint uses to translate Hebrew yahid, only son.
He also said He was greater than Jonah, claimed authority over the Torah, said He could forgive sins, and as we saw, said He was the eschatological judge. When asked about John the Baptist, Jesus said John was Elijah (Mt 11: 9-15), of whom it was written, "Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you." - Jesus used the then current adaptation of Mal 3:1, made by combining it with Ex 23:20. But Mal 3:1 in the Hebrew said: "Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before my face." So Elijah at the end will be the forerunner of the coming of God Himself. This seems to imply Jesus is Yahweh Himself!
As to the clear texts in John: Before Abraham came to be, I am" and "I and the Father are one". - It is likely these were spoken only shortly before His death, when there was no more reason for a gradual character to His self-revelation. The time had passed for that, and the hardness of His enemies was complete.
The Consciousness of Christ: Even without using the strong texts from John, we can see how He understood His own self. In his Encyclical on the Mystical Body (Enchiridion Symbolorum 3812) Pius XII taught that from the first instant of conception, the human soul of Jesus saw the vision of God, in which all knowledge is available. in Sempiternus rex (Enchiridion Symbolorum 3905) Pius XII complained people were not accepting this teaching. He repeated the teaching in Haurietis aquas (Enchiridion Symbolorum 3924). The Holy Office under Paul VI (July 24, 1966) complained of non-acceptance. Yet Pius XII, in 1950, in Humani generis (Enchiridion Symbolorum 3885) said such Encyclical texts fall under the promise of Christ, "He who hears you, hears me"(Lk 10:16) and added that when a Pope in his Acta expressly takes a stand on a point currently debated, it is removed from debate. The debate was current already when Pius XII wrote the Encyclical on the Mystical Body in 1943, because a book by P. Galtier in 1939 had started the modern discussion.
Theological reasoning by itself shows He must have had that vision. For any soul has the vision if the divinity joins itself directly to the human mind/soul, without even an image in between (no image could represent the infinite God). But in Jesus this was more true than in other souls that have the vision, for not just His human mind/soul, but His entire humanity was joined to the divinity in the unity of one Person.
This knowledge caused Him suffering in anticipation of His passion, even from the start of His life. A long running stress would become even more severe. His divine power could have prevented the anxiety, but He had decided (Phil 2:7) not to use His power for Himself. Unprotected humanity would have to feel anxiety in such a situation. He admitted this interior distress to us in Lk 12:50 and John 12:27. His Mother too knew, since as we saw, she beginning at the annunciation, understood the prophecies of His passion. So, she suffered long years. Then at the cross she was asked - for all holiness lies in willing what God wills - to even will His death, so dreadful a death, in spite of her love, which was so great that "none greater under God can be thought of, and only God can comprehend it" (Pius IX, in Ineffabilis Deus, 1854. He was speaking of her holiness, but that word is interchangeable with love).
Luke 2:52 says He advanced in wisdom. The Fathers wrestled with this text, St. Athanasius solved it: There was no real growth in wisdom, but growth in what He manifested at each point. If He had shown His knowledge at for example age 3 it would have been shocking. Similarly in Mk 13:32 He says He does not know the day of the end. Pope St. Gregory the Great solved this saying that "He knew it in His humanity, but not from His humanity, i.e., it registered on His human mind, but His humanity was not the source of the information.
A full treatment of His knowledge is found in Wm. G. Most, The Consciousness of Christ,Christendom, Front Royal VA 1980).
The Kingdom and the Church: He often spoke of the coming of the Kingdom. We can see from such texts as the parables of the net and the weeds in the wheat, and from Mt 21:43 that the Kingdom often means the Church in this world and/or the next. Even many nonconservative scholars see this, e.g., John L. McKenzie, in his Dictionary of the Bible,p. 480, or R. Brown in The Churches the Apostles Left Behind (Paulist, pp. 51-52), cf. his Responses to 101 Questions on the Bible,p. 12 (Paulist, 1990). The Revised NAB has adopted "Kingdom of God" where it formerly had "Reign of God." (We grant that "kingdom" does at times have other senses, but it often, especially in the passages cited above, does refer to the Church).
Jesus and the Law: He reaffirmed the law (Mt. 5:17): "I am come not to destroy but to fulfill."
Yet His enemies accused Him of breaking the law. The key to the answer is in Mk 7:1-13. The Pharisees had just rebuked Jesus' followers for eating with unwashed hands - the Pharisees and others frequently washed hands, and observed baptisms of various utensils. So Jesus answered them in the words of Isaiah 29:13: "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me." And He added: "They leave aside the command of God and hold to the tradition of men." They made void God's own commandment to honor Father and Mother, and instead said that if a man says to his Father or Mother, Corban - the money I would have given you is dedicated to God - then they are free of the fourth commandment!
A major Jewish scholar of today, Jacob Neusner (Torah,Fortress, Phila., 1985, p. 75) reports that the Mishnah, which was considered a codification of oral traditions, said that part of the law given to Moses was written, part was transmitted orally. There were 613 precepts in the written law, but many more than that in the oral law. Neusner cites the Talmud (Torah,p. 78) saying that the oral part is greater than the written part, and that the things handed on orally are "more precious." Neusner also says (Invitation to the Talmud,Harper & Row, NY, 2d ed. 1989, p. 23) that the Pharisees extended the levitical purity rules even beyond the Temple to their own homes. After 70 AD they extended these rules to all Jews.
In the Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 11. 3) we read: "It is a worse thing to go against the words of the scribes than the words of the [written] law."
Their esteem for the law was so extreme that they thought God Himself spends three hours per day in studying the Law (Palestinian Targum on Dt 32:4, and Babylonian Talmud, Aboda Zara 3. b).
Some of the things the Jewish teachers disputed were pitiful. Studying law meant largely just solving cases. Thus the Babylonian Talmud (Beza 1. 1) tells us that the schools of Shammai and Hillel, at the time of Christ, debated whether it was permissible to eat an egg laid by a hen on a feast day coming after the Sabbath. The hen had been working illegally!. The school of Shammai said it was permissible; Hillel said no. The Talmud (Sabbath 6. 65-66) tells us that Rabbi Meir said a cripple with a wooden leg could walk on the Sabbath - but Rabbi Jose said it was forbidden!
Yigal Yadin, the chief researcher of the Qumran Temple Scroll, reports (Biblical Archaeology Review,Sept-Oct., 1984, p. 45) that since Dt 23:12-14 ordered the latrine to be made outside the camp in the period of desert wandering, some Essenes took this to apply literally to all of Jerusalem, and so made a latrine outside the city at a distance of 3000 cubits - which was too far for anyone to be permitted to walk there on the Sabbath! (A cubit was about 17.5 inches).
We see there was ample reason, admitted by the Jewish sources themselves, for Jesus to rebuke the Pharisees. At the same time, we can admit that they also held some highly moral ideals along with foolish things (cf. J. Bonsirven Palestinian, Judaism in the Time of Christ,McGraw-Hill, NY, 1965, tr. W. Wolf, pp. 21-32).
Very many today say that the conflicts of Jesus with the Pharisees did not take place in His time, but that later the Christians came into conflict, and then retrojected these things to His time. But that would be sheer falsification of Scripture. One could retroject an actual saying of Jesus, given after Easter, to the time before Easter - but this proposed retrojection would be of things He never said at all. Further, as we have just seen, the Pharisees did commit dreadful excesses.
Jesus not only did not violate the real law of God, but He even extended and perfected it. Especially, although Leviticus 19:18 had commanded love of neighbor, when the Jews took that to mean only fellow Jews, Jesus in the parable of the good Samaritan made clear it applies to all. He also extended the precepts in Matthew 5:21-48: "You have heard it was said to them of old... but I say to you...
He distinguished clearly what is required for salvation from what is needed for perfection. Thus He said in Mt 19:21: "If you would be perfect, go sell all you have... ." And He proposed celibacy/virginity for those who could take it: Mt 19:12.
He also added ideals in the Sermon on the Mount in Mt 5-7. St. Thomas explained well (II. II. 40. 1 ad 2, citing Augustine De Sermone in monte 1. 19): "These precepts are always to be observed in attitude of mind, namely, that a man should always be prepared not to resist... But at times one must act otherwise, because of the common good [referring chiefly to public authority]... Hence Augustine says:... nothing is more unhappy than the happiness of sinners, in that impunity is nourished and an evil will is strengthened." Jesus Himself when slapped on the face by a guard at His trial did not turn the other cheek, but rebuked them (John 18:23).
Incidentally, only four of the early Christian writers were clearly absolute pacifists: Marcion, Tatian, Tertullian and Lactantius. But each passage involves heresy and so the testimony is voided. Marcion and Tatian were major heretics. Tertullian by the time he wrote a pacifist text had fallen into Montanism.
Jesus and St. Paul on the Law: There seems to be a conflict: Jesus said He came not to destroy but to fulfill; St. Paul said we are free from the law. But if we study carefully, there is no conflict at all, but perfect agreement. (2 Peter 3:15-16 comments that St. Paul is hard to understand. Anyone who has studied Paul says loudly: Amen).
St. Paul was in a running fight with the Judaizers. They said: Christ is not enough, we must have the law too. The natural response for Paul was: We are free from the law. That was rather misleading language. He meant: 1)Jesus is enough; 2)Keeping the law does not earn salvation. For Paul, like Jesus, taught that God is our Father, and so we get our salvation as His children. We inherit: cf. Gal 3:15-18; 4:5-7; Rom 8:16-17; 6:23. (It is true that Greek kleronomein) can mean merely get, need not always mean inherit. But the contexts of the verses referred to show Paul does mean inherit). Even as children, however, we could earn to lose salvation, to be disinherited: Rom 6:23.
(Incidentally, we can see from the above the correct solution to the question of predestination: 1)Our Father wills all to be saved; 2)He looks to see who rejects His grace so gravely and persistently that he cannot be saved - sadly, He decides to let those go, negative reprobation; 3)All others He predestines, not because of merits, which have not appeared yet, but because that is what He wanted to do in the first place, and they are not blocking Him. So, as with inheriting, one does not earn the positive reward, but can earn to lose it, that is, can earn the negative, reprobation).
Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes: Earlier in this chapter we saw with the help of Jewish sources, that the Pharisees really were guilty of the faults with which Jesus charged them. So it is not correct to say the Gospel strictures on them really belong to a period later in the first century. The fact that they had some beliefs in common with Jesus, e.g., the resurrection, does not change this fact. Nor does the fact that some few Pharisees were friendly to Jesus change it. Rather their extreme hatred is shown by their obtaining His condemnation to a death so horrible that a decent person would not treat a dog that way. Later in the first century a curse against Christians was inserted into their liturgy.
Some today try to say that it was not the Jews that brought the condemnation of Jesus, it was the Romans, on a charge of insurrection. To say this means the Gospels are telling a lie. It is painfully clear that Pilate tried to dismiss the charge. The Jews, especially the Pharisees pressed on, and asked to have Barabbas, a real murderer released instead of Jesus. The Acts of the Apostles present the same picture of their attitude.
We grant, as Vatican II said (Declaration on Non-Christian Religions #4), that the special guilt for His death does not fall on Jews today, or even on all Jews in the country at that time -it falls only on those who were before Pilate's tribunal screaming for His blood. But we cannot escape charging those who were there with incredible hardness and blindness. And most of the others failed in faith in not accepting Him.
Flavius Josephus in Antiquities I. 3, says the Pharisees lived an austere form of life, and that they believed in the immortality of the soul, rewards and punishments in the life to come. They had great influence among the people of the time of Jesus, especially through the scribes. St. Paul tells us that he had been a Pharisees before his conversion (Phil 3:6; Acts 23:6, 26:5).
The Pharisees may have developed from the Hasidim, a religious reform movement at the time of the Maccabees. They became prominent as an opposition party during the reign of the Hasmonean rulers, John Hyrcanus (134-04 BC) and Alexander Jannaeus) 103-76 BC), and had much influence over Alexandra Salome (76-67 BC). With the reign of Herod their political influence seems to have declined, but their influence with the people was great.
The Sadducees seem to have originated in the 2nd century BC, and to have had much influence up to the first Jewish revolt, 66-70 AD. The name most likely comes from Zadok, high priest at the time of David. The Sadducees did favor the priests and their interpretation of the law. By the time of Jesus they included the families from whom the high priests came, and also other wealthy aristocrats of Jerusalem. Most members of the Sanhedrin, the highest judicial authority of the Jews, were Sadducees. The Sadducees allied themselves with those who had political power. Their influence among the people was much less. The Sadducees accepted only the written law, not the oral law which was so important to the Pharisees as we saw above in this chapter. It used to be thought that they accepted only the Pentateuch and rejected the rest of the Old Testament. This seems not so likely now. Josephus in Antiquities I. 4 says the Sadducees believed souls die with bodies. They tried to trap Jesus with their imaginary case of a woman who had seven husbands: whose wife would she be at the resurrection?
The Essenes are first mentioned at the time of Jonathan Maccabeus, around 150 B.C. They probably stemmed from the Hasidim, like the Pharisees. They emerged as a major theocratic party after the Maccabean revolt. They were prominent in Jerusalem politics through the reign of Aristobulus I, c 104 BC Then they became increasingly opposed to the Zadokite priests. Hence they withdrew into separatist enclaves in Jerusalem and other cities. It is likely, though debated, that the Qumran sectaries were part of this Essene movement.
When an earthquake destroyed Qumran in 31 BC. the sectaries there may have moved to the southwest corner of Jerusalem. After the death of Herod, they went back to Qumran where they stayed until the Romans captured the place in 68 AD.
They considered themselves as the faithful remnant of Israel and the chief part of an eschatological community. Their discipline and lifestyle was severe: meals, study, and property were in common. It seems some Essenes practiced celibacy (cf. Josephus Jewish War II. 8. 13).
They considered the Jerusalem temple decadent, yet at least for a time they seem to have sent offerings there.
The Miracles of Jesus: Rationalists attack the very possibility of miracles. Some, who consider themselves scientific, say the universe is a closed system of laws, so miracles are impossible. R. Bultmann was so foolish as to say that, "Conclusive knowledge is impossible in any science or philosophy (Kerygma & Myth,tr. Reginald Fuller, ed. H. W. Bartsch, Harper & Row Torchbooks, NY, 1961, 2d ed. I. p. 195). Yet he was certain that if one has seen "electric light and wireless" he cannot believe in spirits and miracles. And he adds that if natural science can explain something, we could call it a miracle, but if it cannot, it would be superstition to call it a miracle (ibid., pp. 197, 199)!
Some homilists today, to seem up to date, give foolish explanations of some miracles, e.g., the miracle of the loaves happened when Jesus induced people who had been selfishly hiding loaves under their cloaks to get them out and share them!.
But even the New Jerome Biblical Commentary (pp. 1320-21) says that His exorcisms and cures were never denied in antiquity, even by His enemies - who referred His miracles to magic or the power of satan. But some who accept exorcisms and cures balk at nature miracles, such as calming the storm. But the power needed is the same in both types of miracles.
Were some cases called exorcisms in the Gospels really cases of epilepsy? Perhaps. The mission of Jesus was not to teach scientific points, but to cure the sick for the sake of His mission. He knew, had no need to explain. Whatever was the trouble, He cured it by a word.
Some try to say the miracles of Jesus were just the same as those of pagans or rabbis. But the parallels are far from parallel. Cf. L. J. McGinley, "Hellenic Analogies and the Typical Healing Narrative", in Theological Studies 4, 1942, pp. 385-419. Attempts to find parallels in the life of Apollonius of Tyana by Philostratus are shockingly inane. Apollonius finds a satyr annoying women, he quiets the satyr with wine (6:27). He writes a threatening letter to a ghost (3:38). He finds dragons 60 feet long (3:7). He sees robot tripods that serve meals (3:27). And more nonsense.
Some also claim the miracles were not intended to prove anything, they were just signs. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary says Jesus is shown as consistently refusing to work miracles to show His power. The five texts cited are all in special situations which prove nothing. Really, He often did work miracles for proof, e.g., Mk 2:1-12; Lk 8:. 41-56; John 5:36; 14:10.
The Church: Even though the word church does not occur often in the Gospels, yet the reality is there. We already saw earlier in this chapter that the phrase "Kingdom of God" commonly means the Church. And in our summary of apologetics in chapter 2 above we saw that He did gather a group, commissioned them to teach in His name, and promised God's protection on their teaching. Once we reach that point, that group, or Church, can assure us of many things.
Did He intend that Church to last more than one generation? The very question is foolish. Would God become man, suffer so much, teach and do so much for just one generation? Many parables make His intention clear. e. g, the parable of the weeds, (Mt 13:24-43) pictures the Kingdom of Heaven as a field in which the master sowed good seed, but an enemy came and sowed weeds.
The servants wanted to pull out the weeds, but the master told them to wait: "The harvest is the end of the world, and the reapers are the angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the world." So the Church, with both good and bad people in it, will last to the end. The parable of the net (Mt 13:47-50) brings out the same thing. The fishers will sort out the good and bad fish: "So it will be at the end of the world." And He told them very explicitly in Mt 28:18- 20: "All power is given me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore, and teach all nations... behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world." The Acts of Apostles reveal the Apostles were slow to catch on to this last item. But eventually, with some divine prodding (Acts Chapters 10-11) they did. Their slowness is not surprising - it appeared so much in the Gospels too. It would not do to say Jesus used only interior locutions - no speaking at all - after the resurrection. Really, when there is such a locution, the soul must understand at once. Later, certitude over it may fade (cf. St. Teresa of Avila, Life 24, and Interior Castle 6. 3. 7). This is the reverse of the pattern shown by Peter in Acts 10-11).
Matthew 16: 13-20: Is there a Pope, and what authority does he have? There are two ways to answer:
a)We study the passage in Matthew 16. It is clear enough in itself, even though some Protestants try to say the rock is the faith of Peter. But a distinguished Protestant W. F. Albright, who in his day was often called the Dean of American Scripture scholars", along with C. S. Mann, wrote in the commentary in the Anchor Bible, Matthew (pp. 195-98) that it is mere denominational prejudice to say that the rock means Peter's faith or Peter's Messianic confession. He adds that Peter's authority to bind or loose "will be a carrying out of decisions made in heaven."
b)We really do not have to labor thus on the exegesis of Matthew 16. For in apologetics in chapter 2 we proved that there is a group or church commissioned to teach by the messenger sent from God, Jesus, and promised God's protection on its teaching. All we need to do then is to see if the Church did teach there is a Pope, and what his authority is. That is abundantly clear. Already in about 95 AD, Pope Clement I intervened in a schism in Corinth. Early in the letter he said: "Because of the sudden and repeated calamities and misfortunes, we think our attention has been slow in turning to the things debated among you." If someone without authority spoke that way, the recipients would respond: "Who does he think he is anyway?" The Council of Ephesus in 431 was dealing with an Eastern error, yet St. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria, went to Pope Celestine for a decision. The Pope's delegates said, without contradiction at the Council (DB 112, cf. Enchiridion Symbolorum 3056): "The holy and blessed Apostle Peter... received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ... He [Peter] lives even to this time, and always in his successors gives judgment." There are many more such texts. Very important is the testimony of St. Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3. 3. 2), who even though he had heard St. Polycarp of Smyrna tell what he had heard from the Apostle St. John, yet calls Rome the principal church with which others must agree.
The Church, then, which speaks with the protection promised by Christ, tells us there is a Pope, and that He can even define doctrines infallibly without consulting the Bishops - though as a matter of fact he does consult) and that he has absolute and immediate authority over everyone in the Church, even the Bishops.
Passover, Eucharist, Sacrifice: There is a question of the date of the Last Supper. On the one hand, the Synoptics suppose it was a Passover meal: Mk 14:12; Lk 22:7 & 15, while John 13:1 seems to say it came before the Passover.
Of course, we must not say there is a contradiction of one Gospel against another. There are several solutions that are plausible.
In that year, when the Passover fell on a Sabbath, at least some of the Passover lambs were sacrificed on Thursday afternoon to prevent possible violation of the Sabbath rest by running into Friday evening because of the large number of lambs. Hence two possible dates for the Supper.
Or: When the Passover fell on a Sabbath, as it was that year, it seems the Pharisees held the Passover meal on Thursday evening, to avoid any danger of violation of the Sabbath rest on Friday evening. But the Sadducees, staying closer to the letter of the law, held the Passover meal on Friday evening. So the Synoptics would follow the one system, John the other.
The Eucharist was a sacrifice. For a sacrifice includes two elements: the outward sign (which is to express and perhaps even promote the interior) and the inner dispositions. The essential inner disposition on His part was obedience to the will of the Father. (The dispositions often mentioned in the catechetical memory word ACTS: adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, supplication) are not wrong, but omit this essential). Cf. Romans 5:19 and Lumem Gentium #3. The outward sign at the supper was the seeming separation of body and blood, standing for death. Thereby He said to the Father: I know the command you have given me. I am to die tomorrow. I turn myself over to death (expressed in the seeming separation). I accept. I obey. He made the pledge that evening, carried it out the next day. Then the outward sign became the physical separation of body and blood. In the Mass the outward sign is the same as that of the Last Supper. His interior disposition then and now is the same attitude continued, it is not a repetition. For death makes permanent the attitude towards God with which one leaves this world.
He commanded: "Do this in memory of me" so that we might join our obedience to the will of the Father to His, so that there might be an offering of the whole Christ, Head and members. His Mother moreover was there when He died, and she did join her offering with His, to such an extent that Pius XII, in the document defining the assumption, spoke of "the struggle [Calvary] which was common to the Blessed Virgin and Her Son". Really it all was the making of the New Covenant. In the covenant, the essential condition is obedience. Vatican II says in Lumem Gentium #61: "In suffering with Him as He died on the cross, she cooperated in the work of the Savior, in an altogether singular way, by obedience (the very covenant condition), faith, hope and burning love, to restore supernatural life to souls."
How the Redemption Operates: Jesus said (Mt 20:28 and Mk 10:45) "The Son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for many." Similarly 1 Cor 6:20 and 7:23 speak of the price of redemption. Many other times St. Paul speaks of buying.
Many today despair of understanding these words about the price or ransom. They notice that the captor was satan: we do not want to say the blood of Christ was paid to satan. Nor was it paid to the Father: He was not the captor. But it can be understood readily if we recall what we saw in chapters 5 and 11 above on the concept of sin as a debt, and of the fact that the Holiness of God wants the scales of the objective order rebalanced after they have been put out of balance by sin. The sinner takes from the scale what he has no right to have: Jesus by His life and death put back infinitely more than all sinners took. We stress it is primarily the Holiness of God, in which He loves all that is good that is central here, even though in a way justice is involved.
His death, if we use the contractual language of covenant, generated an infinite objective title to forgiveness and grace for the world as a whole, and even for each individual person (cf. Gal 2:20). Yet someone can be lost if he makes himself incapable to taking in what the Father so generously wants to give.
The concept that sin is a debt is abundant in OT and NT, and in Intertestamental literature, in the Rabbis, and in the Fathers. It shows especially in the Our Father: Forgive us our debts.
The Sequence of Resurrection Events: At first sight, the various accounts seem irreconcilable. But it can be done, and in more than one way. Here is a very plausible sequence: a)Magdalen and other women come to the tomb about dawn, and see it empty; b)In their excitement, she or they run to the Apostles (Mt here, between 20:8 & 9) omits the visit of Peter and John, our item c); c)Peter and John refuse to believe, but do run to the tomb, and find it empty. They are amazed, but do not see Jesus; d)Peter and John leave. Magdalen stays, sees Him, at first takes Him for the gardener. He soon makes Himself known. Magdalen and others make a second visit to the Apostles to say they have seen Him; e)Jesus appears to Peter; f)Jesus appears to two men on the road to Emmaus; g)They go back to the Apostles, and hear Peter had already seen Jesus; h)Jesus appears to the Eleven; h) Thomas was absent before, so Jesus comes again when Thomas is there; j)further appearances at the Lake of Galilee.
A few comments: 1)As often, the Gospels do not keep chronological order, and there is even telescoping by Luke - as he did with the account of the return to Nazareth after the presentation. Now Luke tells that Jesus said stay until the Holy Spirit comes. Then he tells of the Ascension, with no mention of an interval; 2)Matthew at times uses what is called the "plural of category" i.e., speaking of a group when it was really an individual, e.g., 28:1- 10 compared to John 20:11-18. (Only Magdalen in John); 3)Matthew and Mark, in view of their own scope, prefer to stress the Galilean appearances, which were more frequent, and completed the instruction of the Apostles. But both do add some appearances in Jerusalem: Mt 28:9-10 has the appearances to the women, and Mk 16:9-11 has an appearance to Mary Magdalen.
Special Emphases of the Several Evangelists:
Matthew seems to write especially for Jewish Christians. Hence so many OT quotes, showing fulfillment of prophecies in Jesus, to demonstrate that He is the expected Messiah. For this very reason it is very hard to suppose Matthew wrote after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. How could he have refrained from pointing out the fulfillment of that prophecy of Jesus? Matthew gives us more sayings of Jesus than the other Gospels do. However, it seems clear that he has often grouped them, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, which is probably put together out of several discourses of Jesus. Matthew also shows special interest in the Church, and its universal mission. He reports many strictures on the Pharisees and also the Sadducees. As we saw before, it is not permissible to say these things were never said by Jesus, that a later generation invented them, and projected them back into the mouth of Jesus. Rather, we saw that Jewish sources themselves give the same picture of the Pharisees as does Matthew.
Mark shows more of the narrative style than the other Gospels. Central to this Gospel is the question of who Jesus is. As we saw, it is a very respectable position to hold the ancient tradition is true that Mark wrote from the preaching of St. Peter. There is much discussion of the audience intended by Mark - some think it was written to confirm the Roman community in its outlook - or - to correct that community and help it change its mind. There is an enormous range of disagreement among scholars about Mark. The picture is complicated by the fact that many Form Critics admit they cannot be sure what belongs to the tradition that came down to him, and what pertains to Mark's editing. Mark is also noted for his portrayal of the human features in Jesus: Jesus shows apprehension or even fear in the Garden, sadness, sympathy, admiration and indignation.
Mark as a whole is shorter than Matthew and Luke. R. Bultmann thought (in: "The Study of the Synoptic Gospels" in Form Criticism,tr. F. C. Grant, Harper & Row Torchbooks, N. Y. 1962, pp. 32, 34-35) that was a sign Mark was the earliest form of the Gospel. But that claim does not stand up. We have all heard people trying to tell a story - if they are not skilled at storytelling, they are apt to insert needless details, which mar the effect of the story. Bultmann thought Matthew and Luke added details. But this is not generally the case. Mark 9:14-29 is much longer than the parallel in Lk 9:37-42. Again, Mark 6:32-44 is more detailed that Mt 14:13-21 and Lk 8:40- 56. Leslie R. Keylock studied this matter (in: "Bultmann's Law of Increasing Distinctness" in: Current Issues in Biblical and Patristic Interpretation,ed. G. F. Hawthorne, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1975, pp. 196- 210) by examining a large number of parallels. He found Luke is more precise than Mark 47 times, but less precise 37 times. Matthew is more precise than Mark 58 times, but less precise 54 times. So there is no "law" of increasing detail added by fancy.
Luke's preface shows his great care in getting the facts and presenting them. (Please recall our report on a study of the Semitisms in Luke, in our treatment of the genre of the Infancy Gospels. Even though Luke is the only writer of a book of Scripture who is not a Semite, his language shows more Semitisms than do the Semites - an indication of his meticulous concern for accuracy). So he opens by situating events in the framework of the history of the time. The tradition that he was often a traveling companion of St. Paul is quite credible - more on this in our treatment of the Acts of the Apostles.
It has been noted that Luke's style varies - at times he is quite Semitic, at other times, he writes a good quality of literary Greek. This is the result of his meticulous translation of Semitic sources, as we saw in the study just mentioned above.
John's Gospel is clearly of a somewhat different tone than the Synoptics. In John, Jesus often speaks in long discourses, instead of short sayings. The disciples recognize Him at once as the Messiah (1:41-49), while in Mark, the recognition is the climax of the Gospel( Mk 8:31). However, the contradiction is only apparent. In John they do at once suspect Jesus is the Messiah - Messianic expectation was high at that time, as we know from history. But to recognize what sort of Messiah is something else. In Mk 8:29 and Mt. 16:16 there is a somewhat deeper perception, especially since in Mt. Jesus says Peter had a revelation from the Father. Even so, this would not necessarily be a full understanding of His divinity, but only something on the way to that perception.
Today it is the fashion to strain to find "contradictions", which formerly scholars would try to resolve, e.g., New Jerome Biblical Commentary (p. 943) says that John 16:5 contradicts 14:4. Now 16:5 says: "Now I am going to Him who sent me, and no one of you asks me: Where are you going?" In 14:4 Jesus had said: "And where I am going, you know the way." But the Apostles clearly did not understand 14:4, as shown by the next lines in which Thomas says he does not know where He is going nor does he know the way. Jesus often spoke cryptically to provoke thought. So there is no contradiction.
Another inane objection concerns chapter 21, saying it could not be by John. But in commenting on Deuteronomy we met the objection that Moses could not have described his own death. Of course. But someone else could have added it later. Similarly, it is obvious that another hand added chapter 21 of John. Knowing how authorship was handled in those times makes these thing quite possible. Really, only the last few words of chapter 21 would need another author.
It is also noted that Jesus speaks quite openly of His divinity in John: "I and the Father are one" (10:30) and "Before Abraham was, I AM" (8:58). This is true, but if we note that Jesus engaged in gradual self-revelation, these lines could have been spoken close to the end, when the malice of his enemies was complete and hardened.
The Gospel seems to have been written by "the Beloved Disciple". Formerly it was thought clear that that disciple was John. Today the tendency is to deny it was.
Very tempting is the testimony of St. Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3. 1. 1): "Then John the disciple of the Lord, who reclined on His bosom, also put forth a Gospel while living at Ephesus in Asia." Irenaeus also tells us (Letter to Florinus) that he had listened, when young to St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna (not far from Ephesus) telling his recollections of the Apostle John.
However, there is a cloud, for Eusebius (History 3. 39) quotes Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis, c. 130 AD who seems to distinguish two Johns, the Apostle and the Presbyter. So it is just possible - not certain - that Irenaeus confused the two. Yet since he heard Polycarp who knew John, this is very unlikely. There are other ancient writers who seem to say the Gospel was by John the Apostle.
We should note too that the beloved disciple reclined on the chest of Jesus at the Last Supper, was present at the cross, went to the tomb with Peter, had Mary the Mother of Jesus entrusted to His care. So it seems he was one of the inner three, Peter, James, and John. Now the beloved disciple is not Peter, is clearly distinct from him. Nor could it be James, who was a martyr in 44 AD, too early to write the Gospel. So it almost certainly should be John the Apostle.
Many today think the Gospel was the product of a Johannine community, and went through more than one revision. This is not impossible. In such a case, however, the data at least for the most part would have come from the Apostle.
The Gospel often speaks of "the Jews" without further identification. We gather that the enemies of Jesus are meant, i.e., Pharisees, Sadducees and others.
Copied from EWTN with permission.
HTMLized by Luke Wadel, Acuity of Divine Love in the Intellect: How Eternity Matters.