Now Available: Hebrews, by Mary Healy

Cover ArtIn this addition to the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, respected New Testament scholar Mary Healy unpacks the Letter to the Hebrews, making its difficult and puzzling passages accessible to pastoral ministers, lay readers, and students. Her commentary shows how Hebrews reveals the meaning of Christ’s death in light of the Old Testament figures, rites, and sacrifices that foreshadowed it. Healy explains that Hebrews, when fully understood, transforms our understanding of who God is, what he has done for us, and how we are to live as Christians today.

Mary Healy (STD, Pontifical Gregorian University) is professor of Sacred Scripture at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan. In 2014 she was appointed by Pope Francis to a five-year term on the Pontifical Biblical Commission. She is the author of several books, including The Gospel of Mark in the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, for which she serves as coeditor.

Praise for Hebrews

“A masterful treatise that offers significant assistance to those of us who seek to better know our faith as we make the journey toward the heavenly kingdom amidst all the struggles of the human condition.”—Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington

“Dr. Mary Healy has provided an accessible and insightful commentary, beneficial to seminarians, priests, and laypeople alike.”—Allen H. Vigneron, Archbishop of Detroit

“A commentary not merely for the mind but for the nurture of one’s spiritual life. I recommend it enthusiastically!”—Donald A. Hagner, Fuller Theological Seminary

“Readers will benefit from Healy’s firm grasp of the history of the interpretation of Hebrews and the applications of this homily for today.”—James W. Thompson, Abilene Christian University

“This commentary uses the best of Catholic teaching and biblical scholarship to illuminate some of the key teachings of Hebrews in a way that Catholics can appreciate and apply to their own understanding of Jesus Christ.”—Fr. Mitch Pacwa, SJ, St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology

“Healy demonstrates her giftedness at taking complex ideas and presenting them in an understandable and practical way….I enjoyed this commentary, and I know my students will as well.”—Jeff Cavins, founder, The Great Adventure Catholic Bible Study System

 

Reflecting on I Corinthians for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

From First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on I Corinthians 12:12-30

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In this section, it is not a matter of some kind of metaphoric “unity in diversity” that could be applied to any group. It is a matter of the kind of unity and diversity that exists in the body of Christ.

It is not a question of how the many can be one but how the One, Christ, can be many. This emerges from Paul’s shorthand at the end of this verse. After saying, As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, he could have said “so also the body of Christ,” meaning the Church. Instead, he says so also Christ, indicating that God’s plan since the resurrection of Jesus is that he be many: the whole Christ, including his members.

Here we strike a vein deeply rooted in Paul’s conversion experience, when the risen Lord asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). The unity of the Church with Jesus is so intimate that whatever Saul did to the least of Jesus’ brothers, he did to Jesus (Matt 25:40). This is indeed a mystery: as we saw in 6:12–20, Paul thinks of the union of Christians with Christ in realistic and, as it were, physical terms.

This becomes evident again here when he says that in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. In our way of thinking today, we would understand this as becoming members of a group, a collectivity like the student body of a school. But in Paul’s mind, if we become one, it is because each of us is joined sacramentally and bodily to the risen body of Christ.

This is clear from the following: (1) Paul’s realistic contrast between union with Christ and union with a prostitute in 6:12–20; (2) the parallelism of “body” here with “Spirit” at the end of the verse (13). If the Spirit is the Holy Spirit, then “body” would normally stand for the individual body of Christ, for it, not the Church, is the source of the Spirit. (3) The participation in the eucharistic body effects the unity of the Church (10:17).

That unity far transcends a tribal or ethnic or class unity. Traditional walls have collapsed as all became one, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons. Through the new experience, these groups found themselves to be brothers and sisters around the eucharistic table. The person of Jesus had now created a new and universal—catholic—community.

 

© 2011 George T. Montague and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Acts for The Baptism of the Lord

From Acts of the Apostles, by William S. Kurz, SJ, commenting on Acts 10:34-38

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Peter summarizes Christ’s ministry as taking place all over Judea, beginning in Galilee (here Luke seems to treat Galilee as part of the province of Judea). Skipping Jesus’ infancy (Luke 1–2), Peter focuses on Jesus’ public life beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached. Peter uses a shorthand expression that combines John’s preaching of repentance with his ritual act of baptizing people, which together were an indispensable preparation and catalyst for the public ministry of the Messiah. John’s baptism of Jesus, when the Father affirmed him as his beloved Son, was at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry (Luke 3:21–22).

Like Luke’s Gospel (3:22; 4:1), Peter emphasizes that God anointed Jesus . . . with the holy Spirit and power. Although the Spirit was with Jesus from his conception (Luke 1:35), at his baptism the Spirit empowered Jesus’ human nature for his ministry of preaching, healing, and exorcisms, just as the Spirit empowers the Church for ministry in Acts. Fortified by the Spirit and divine power, Jesus went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil.

Peter’s explanation that God was with him emphasizes the presence of the Triune God with and in Jesus’ humanity. Luke’s emphasis on Jesus’ humanity— rather than on his divinity, which John’s Gospel more frequently accentuates— shows that Jesus worked miracles not only as God, as stressed in John, but also as a Spirit-empowered man, who is therefore a model for all his disciples.

This enables Luke and Acts to underline the continuity between wonder-working prophets like Moses and Elijah, the miraculous prophetic ministry of Jesus, and the miracles of his Spirit-empowered followers like Peter, Stephen, and Paul in Acts. Peter and others imitated Jesus’ healings as part of their prophetic witness to God’s saving message; so such works are likewise possible for Spirit-empowered Christian readers of Luke-Acts.

© 2013 William S. Kurz, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Philippians for the Third Sunday of Advent

From Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, by Dennis Hamm, SJ, commenting on Philippians 4:4-7
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Your kindness should be known to all. The “kindness” (epieikes) Paul calls for here is a special kind, which the lexicon describes as “not insisting on every right or letter of law or custom; yielding, gentle, kind, courteous, tolerant.” He may have chosen this rare word as a necessary virtue for the two women leaders mentioned above, as well as for those dealing with them.

In this context, Paul’s statement The Lord is near is not a general truism. In Ps 145:18, a psalm that praises God’s goodness as creator and redeemer, the phrase “You, Lord, are near” expresses confidence that God is responsive to those who call upon him.

Here in Philippians the short assertion that the Lord is near carries the psalm’s resonance but applies it to the one who is specifically honored as Lord in this letter—Jesus the risen Messiah. Since the context of this passage is a call for prayer of petition (v. 6), “near” seems best understood as immediate presence, as in Psalm 145, rather than the temporal imminence of the parousia.

The phrase Have no anxiety at all could provoke the anxious person to respond, “Easy for you to say.” But this is not wishful thinking. Paul reminds his addressees that they have a God whom they can trust to respond to their anxiety and provide for their needs. There is a practical way to address anxiety: in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. “In everything” means in every circumstance—imprisonment, community conflict, harassment from external adversaries. Help is at hand, for the asking.

In urging prayer of petition, Paul insists that it be made with “thanksgiving” (eucharistia)—a reminder that their confidence in God rests on the ways they have already known his power that “began a good work” in them (1:6). The result? The peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

It takes something that transcends human understanding to guard human hearts and minds. And this happens precisely “in Christ Jesus,” that is, in the risen Lord and the messianic community joined to him. Note that Paul is putting in other language Jesus’s teaching at the heart of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:25–34): the remedy for anxiety is not simply emptying the mind of worry but seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matt 6:33). Trusting in God, expressed in prayer within the believing community, leads to peace of mind.

 

© 2013 Dennis Hamm, SJ, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Mark for the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Mark, by Mary Healy, commenting on Mark 13:24-32

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Finally, Jesus comes to the climactic event that will occur after the tribulation already mentioned but in those days, that is, in the same period of unparalleled distress that follows the desolating abomination (see vv. 17, 19–20). Using biblical imagery Jesus describes cosmic upheavals: the sun and moon will be darkened, stars will fall, and the heavenly powers will be shaken. In the prophets such heavenly disturbances symbolize the earth-shattering impact of God’s judgment upon a rebellious city or empire. But what do they signify here?

On one level, Jesus is giving a symbolic portrayal of the fall of Jerusalem and the temple. For the Jews the temple was a microcosm of the universe. Images of the stars and constellations were embroidered on the temple veils; the seven lights of the menorah represented the sun, the moon, and the five known planets. The temple was the center of the universe, the meeting point of heaven and earth. Thus its destruction would be a cataclysm of cosmic proportions. In this sense Jesus’ words were fulfilled in AD 70, when the Roman legions under Titus reduced the temple to charred rubble and permanently ended the old covenant sacrifices.

But Mark hints at other levels of meaning. Jesus’ words were also fulfilled in part at his crucifixion, when the sun was darkened at midday (15:33).18 Mark has already suggested that the temple prefigures the mystery of Jesus himself, the new and definitive dwelling place of God among his people (see on 9:7; 12:10–11). Jesus’ bodily death portends the destruction of the earthly temple, bringing the transition from the former age to the new and final age of salvation history.

Ultimately the imagery of heavenly chaos—a kind of undoing of God’s work of creation (see Gen 1:14–18)—points to the end of the world (see 2 Pet 3:10; Rev 21:1). For Mark these various levels of meaning are closely interconnected. The end time tribulations begin in Jesus’ own passion, which signals the end of the age of the old covenant and ultimately the end of the universe that will follow the final upheavals at the close of history.

 

© 2008 Mary Healy and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Matthew for the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Matthew, by Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, commenting on Matthew 11:28

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Jesus shifts from addressing the Father to addressing the world of potential disciples. Come to me is Jesus’ invitation to all who have toiled and become tired in spirit. He invites them into a personal and rewarding relationship with him.

In the context of Jesus’ ministry, those who are burdened are probably those who are struggling to bear up under the demands of the scribes and Pharisees, who “tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people’s shoulders” (23:4).

The benefit of answering Jesus’ call is spiritual rest. This is more than a promise of everlasting repose in the life to come. It is also a promise of inner peace in this life, the kind of peace that quiets the mind and heart and surpasses human understanding (see Phil 4:7). Of course, the followers of Christ will continue to experience frustration, trials, and suffering, but these burdens become lighter and more bearable with the Lord’s help.

The invitation includes a summons to bear the yoke of Jesus. This is a call to discipleship, to submit oneself to the instruction of the Messiah. Disciples are bidden to learn from Jesus not only by heeding his words but also by imitating his life, which is a perfect incarnation of his words. Only in Christ is the message and the messenger one and the same. He who preaches the importance of being “meek” (5:5) is also he who shows us what it means to be meek (see also 21:5).

Finally, Jesus declares that his yoke is easy, his load is light. In the biblical world, a load-bearing yoke was a curved beam laid across the back of the neck and shoulders with chains or suspension ropes at each end. Peasants used them for hoisting and carrying heavy objects. No doubt this was backbreaking work. Given this background, it is worthwhile to consider why Jesus would speak of his tutelage as an easy yoke. Most likely, it is a creative way of saying that discipleship is not effortless, but neither is it an exhausting burden.

© 2010 Curtis Mitch, Edward Sri, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Matthew for the Solemnity of All Saints

From The Gospel of Matthew, by Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, commenting on Matthew 5:1-12a

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Jesus frames the beatitudes with the same blessing at the beginning and the end of this list—for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (5:3, 10)— “indicating that all the several kinds of blessedness are aspects of the one supreme blessing of possessing the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Though the promises in the central beatitudes (vv. 4–9) are given in the future tense (they will . . .), the fact that the foundational blessing of the kingdom (vv. 3, 10) is given in the present tense (“theirs is the kingdom. . .”) indicates that the happiness envisioned in the beatitudes is not only for the distant future, but also can be experienced to some degree even now, as the kingdom of heaven dawns in Christ’s ministry (4:17).

Jesus’ beatitudes represent a reversal of values, turning the world’s standards for happiness upside down. Many of the people whom the world would consider to be among the most miserable—the poor, the mourning, the meek, the persecuted—Jesus proclaims to be in an advantageous situation, for God looks now with favor on them and assures them of consolation in the future.

Jesus thus challenges his followers to see life from God’s viewpoint, not the world’s. When his followers live by God’s standards, they are truly in a fortunate state in life, no matter what their circumstances may be, for they bring a glimmer of the joy and hope of the heavenly kingdom into the afflictions of the present world.

Ultimately the beatitudes are nothing less than a portrait of Christ’s own life. Matthew depicts Jesus as meek (11:29; 12:15–21; 21:5), merciful (9:27–31; 15:22; 17:14–18; 18:33; 20:29–34), and persecuted (27:27–31, 39–44). As an indirect portrait of Jesus, the beatitudes “display the mystery of Christ himself, and they call us into communion with him.”

© 2010 Curtis Mitch, Edward Sri, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Mark for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Mark, by Mary Healy, commenting on Mark 10:46-52

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Jesus and his companions arrive at Jericho, an ancient city fifteen miles northeast of Jerusalem, the site of Israel’s first conquest in the holy land (Josh 6). After passing through the city, they are accompanied by a sizable crowd, probably including both Jesus’ followers and pilgrims heading toward Jerusalem for the feast of Passover (Mark 14:1). Every year all Jews in Palestine who were able would travel to the holy city to celebrate Passover (see Luke 2:41), commemorating the exodus from Egypt.

Bartimaeus (Aramaic for son of Timaeus), a blind beggar, is strategically located at the roadside where he can beg for alms from passing pilgrims. In contrast to the festive crowds walking along, he sits, emphasizing his social isolation as a disabled person.

Sensing something unusual, Bartimaeus inquires and is told that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by. He has evidently heard enough about this miracleworking rabbi to stir his faith. Bartimaeus is the only recipient of healing in Mark to address Jesus by name.

This is also the first time in the Gospel that the title son of David has been applied to Jesus. The title literally means a descendant of David (see Matt 1:20), but for the Jews it had much greater meaning as the heir of God’s promises, the Messiah-King who would restore the Davidic monarchy and rule over Israel forever (2 Sam 7:12–16; 1 Chron 17:11–15; Ps 89:21–38; Jer 23:5–6). Moreover, one of the promises associated with the coming of the messiah was the opening of the eyes of the blind (see Isa 29:18; 35:5; Luke 4:18).

Have pity on me is a plea often lifted to God in the Psalms (Ps 6:3; 25:16; 51:3; 86:16). Blind Bartimaeus already sees much more than those around him.

© 2008 Mary Healy and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Mark for the Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Mark, by Mary Healy, commenting on Mark 10:17-30

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Jesus puts his finger on the source of the man’s dissatisfaction. Despite his fidelity to the law, he lacks the one thing necessary (see Luke 10:42). Why does Jesus tell him to sell all that he owns? Perhaps because the man was bound by his possessions and attached to the independence they made possible. They were the earthly treasure that was hindering him from freely receiving the heavenly treasure that was being offered to him.

Jesus wishes to set the man free to follow the true longing of his heart without reserve. And the relinquishment of his possessions is not to be an abstract, isolated act: he is to place himself in solidarity with the poor by giving the proceeds to them.

The Old Testament already recognized that to give alms to the needy is to store up treasure in the sight of God (Tob 4:7–11; Sir 29:8–12). Jesus is asking this man to become as dependent on God’s providence as children, to whom he has just said the kingdom belongs (10:14). He then offers the same invitation he gave his disciples earlier (Mark 1:17; 2:14): Come, follow me. Here is where the first tablet of the Decalogue comes in: it is in giving one’s life unconditionally to Jesus that the covenant obligation to love God is lived out. Jesus is in the place of God.

Tragically, the man cannot bring himself to pay such a high price, even for the “eternal life” that he so passionately seeks. The word for possessions can also be translated “properties” or “estates.” Evidently the man finds his security and comfort in earthly wealth and he is not willing to embrace the self-denial that leads to true wealth. It is a sobering conclusion to the story, the first time that Jesus’ invitation to discipleship has been directly refused.

© 2008 Mary Healy and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Mark for the Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Mark, by Mary Healy, commenting on Mark 10:2-16

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Now Jesus comes to the heart of the matter, the real “commandment” he wishes to draw attention to, which is given not in the fifth book of Moses, Deuteronomy, but in the first, Genesis. He quotes two passages from the story of creation, referring to humanity prior to the sin of Adam and Eve. The first, Gen 1:27, recounts God’s creation of human beings in his image on the sixth day: God made them male and female. The second, Gen 2:24, describes the covenant bond of love between husband and wife, expressed in sexual union: a man shall leave his father and mother [and be joined to his wife], and the two shall become one flesh.

In biblical thought flesh is not merely the physical body but the whole human being as present in the visible world. For a husband and wife to become “one flesh” is the bodily expression of a personal union at the deepest level of their being. Jesus links these two scriptures to indicate that the communion of love between a husband and wife is a sign pointing to God’s ultimate purpose in creating humanity in his image.

With these statements, Jesus brings the discussion—and the whole understanding of marriage itself—to a new level. By the very fact of referring to humanity before the fall, Jesus is implying that from now on, God’s original intention is the true standard for marriage and other human relationships. He is saying, in effect, that the concession in Deuteronomy no longer applies because humanity is no longer captive to sin, hardness of heart, and the resultant family breakdown. Now there is a new reality at hand—the kingdom of God—with a new power to live and experience what God intended from the beginning. As Jesus has already suggested (Mark 8:31–9:1), this new possibility will come about through his paschal mystery.

Jesus concludes with his own solemn injunction: what God has joined together, no human being must separate. He thereby confirms what Genesis already implied: the union of husband and wife is no mere human convention but a bond made by God himself (see Mal 2:14–16). No human being is authorized to dissolve that bond once it has been made.

© 2008 Mary Healy and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.