Reflecting on Revelation for the Seventh Sunday of Easter

From Revelation by Peter S. Williamson commenting on 22:14:

The seventh and last †beatitude makes clear that the call to conversion is truly good news: Blessed are those who wash their robes. A previous vision revealed people before the throne of God who had “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14). This blessedness is not the result of a perfect moral record, nor is it available as a result of merely human moral effort. It belongs to those who turn from evil to God and receive cleansing and grace from the sacrifice of Christ through baptism (Acts 22:16; Eph 5:26) and ongoing repentance: “If we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin. . . . If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing” (1 John 1:7, 9). Jesus explains a twofold right that belongs to the blessed as a consequence. First, they have access to the tree of life, eternal life, previously kept back from the human race because of the sin of our first parents (Gen 3:22–24). Second, they enter the new Jerusalem through the gates—they have the right to dwell there as true citizens.

 

© 2015 Peter S. Williamson and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on the Gospel of John for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

From The Gospel of John, by Francis Martin and William Wright, commenting on John 14:25-29:

———

Throughout the Farewell Discourse, Jesus announces beforehand many things that will happen to the disciples (13:19; 14:29; 16:1, 4). Jesus has just told the disciples about the realities to be revealed at his resurrection, and he includes the future teaching activity of the holy Spirit. As the Father has sent Jesus, upon whom the Spirit descended (1:32–33), the Father will also send the Spirit in Jesus’ name and at his request (14:16). The Holy Spirit, who will dwell in Jesus’ disciples, will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.

There are several instances in the Gospel where disciples are said to remember episodes in Jesus’ ministry after his glorification (2:17, 22; 12:16). As this verse suggests, their remembering of Jesus’ ministry will be caused by the Spirit. It is not a simple recollection of the past but also a deeper understanding of Jesus and his work given by the Spirit—a spiritual understanding. The Spirit leads disciples into a greater understanding of the mystery of Jesus and makes it come alive for us.

Among his promises (14:18–24), Jesus includes the promise of his peace. Behind this mention of “peace” is the biblical promise of shalom (peace, wellbeing, everything is right), a blessing of reconciliation that God promised to bestow upon his people in his †eschatological act of salvation (Isa 52:7; 54:10–13; Jer 33:6–9; Zech 9:10). Jesus’ peace is a fruit of his relationship with the Father, into which he will bring his disciples. It is a supernatural peace that arises from a total love for the Father and therefore is unlike the peace of the world, which rejects God. Repeating his words of reassurance (14:1), Jesus calls the disciples to a confident, trusting faith and promises them the peace that comes from obeying the Father and knowing his love. We shall see this promise fulfilled in the Gospel account of Easter Sunday evening, when the risen Jesus gives the disciples his peace, which drives out their fear (20:19; see 20:26; 1 John 4:18). Paul similarly exhorts his readers, “Let the peace of Christ control your hearts” (Col 3:15).

Jesus continues to console his distressed disciples with the promise I will come back to you. He will return to them not only after his resurrection, not only at the †Parousia, but also during the present time through the Holy Spirit. While it may be very hard for them to grasp, the disciples should rejoice that Jesus is going to the Father. The Father is greater than Jesus in his mortal humanity, but at his resurrection and ascension, Jesus’ humanity will be glorified by the Father and become “greater” (see 14:12). Jesus’ entrance into heavenly glory opens up salvation and life with the Father, salvation and life for humanity (see Acts 2:33). Jesus has prophesied these things ahead of time, so that when they happen, the disciples may believe in him, believe that he is present to the Father and “has revealed him” (1:18).

© 2015 Francis Martin, William M. Wright IV, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Revelation for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

From Revelation by Peter S. Williamson commenting on 21:1-4:

For many Catholics accustomed to thinking about eternal life in heaven, Revelation’s picture of the new Jerusalem descending to a re-created earth may come as a surprise. However, a close look at the Catechism shows that it devotes one section to “Heaven” (1023–29), and after the section on the “Last Judgment” (1038–41) comes a separate section on “The Hope of the New Heaven and the New Earth” (1042–50).

Summing up the Catechism, heaven is where “those who die in God’s grace and friendship” go to live with Christ immediately after death (or after their purification is complete in Purgatory), before the resurrection of their bodies (1023). They live there in a “communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed” (1024), a reality beyond human understanding. In heaven, God gives human beings the ability to see him in his heavenly †glory, what theologians describe as “the †beatific vision” (1028).

However, turning now to Catechism 1042–48, the ultimate future of God’s people—after the resurrection and the last judgment—is to reign with Christ in a re-created cosmos. Then “the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. . . . the righteous will reign forever with Christ, glorified in body and soul. The universe itself will be renewed” (1042). “In this new universe, the heavenly Jerusalem, God will have his dwelling among men [cf. Rev 21:5]” (1044). “We know neither the moment of the consummation of the earth and of man, nor the way in which the universe will be transformed” (1048, emphasis original).

So what’s the difference? When the kingdom of God comes in its fullness, God’s people will have new bodies and live on a renewed earth. Nevertheless, there is continuity between heaven now and the new creation in the future age: in both, human beings enjoy the beatific vision; in both, they reign with Christ; in both, they are freed from all suffering and sorrow. If heaven is defined as where God is present and reigns completely, it is clear that when the new heaven and the new earth are created, heaven comes to earth.

For many centuries Christian hope has focused on heaven. In contrast, the hope of the early Christians centered on the return of Christ (Titus 2:13), the resurrection of the dead, and the full establishment of God’s kingdom as expressed in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Without lessening our desire to go to heaven when we die, we Christians would do well to set our hope on the full and final establishment of Christ’s kingdom on earth.

 

© 2015 Peter S. Williamson and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Revelation for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

From Revelation by Peter S. Williamson commenting on 7:15-17:

An end to suffering. The vision in Rev 7:9–17 of the eternal life promised us is extraordinarily comforting. Here is no empty promise that faithful Christians will be spared trial and suffering, a way of thinking that the life of Jesus and all of Christian history contradict. Rather, John foresees a countless multitude passing through the great tribulation of this age before Christ returns and standing victorious before God and the Lamb, wearing white robes, and waving palms in celebration.

This vision offers a partial yet helpful answer to an age-old question: How can a God who is good and all-powerful allow suffering to afflict the just? The vision reveals that all such affliction is time limited. There will be an irreversible end to the suffering of those who belong to God. Those who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood the Lamb”—the Lamb who fully shared in the suffering of this world to the point of being slain—are destined to eternal joy in God’s presence, where there will be no more hunger, thirst, oppressive heat, or any other evil. The Lamb will be their shepherd and quench their thirst with life-giving water. God their Father will heal their wounds and “wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

For all the saints. The Church reads the two visions of this chapter on the Solemnity of All Saints, a feast that celebrates the sanctity of all God’s faithful people who have gone on before us, not just the saints who have been canonized by the Church. The Lord calls every Christian to holiness, in every state of life. Hebrews 12:14 exhorts us, “Strive for . . . that holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” It is a simple fact that only saints—holy people—reach heaven. Christ qualifies us to live in God’s presence: he makes us holy through his death and resurrection, conveying the benefits to us through the sacraments. Nevertheless, we must “strive” to do our part as well through ongoing repentance, prayer, reading Scripture, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Our part entails daily dying to self and surrendering ourselves completely to God. This process must be completed before we see the face of God. Why not begin in earnest now?

 

© 2015 Peter S. Williamson and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on the Gospel of John for the Third Sunday of Easter

From The Gospel of John, by Francis Martin and William Wright, commenting on John 21-15-19:

———

This exchange between Jesus and Peter provides much food for thought about the ministry of the pope and basic aspects of the Christian life, such as sin, repentance, and discipleship. When Peter denied Jesus three times, he rejected his relationship with Jesus. In this scene, which recalls Peter’s denials, we see the tremendous love and mercy of Jesus for Peter. Jesus makes the first  move and initiates the conversation with Peter. He invites Peter to repent and return to him by professing his love. With Peter’s threefold profession of love, his threefold denial is undone, and Jesus restores the relationship between them. Jesus’ mercy is so complete that he does not hold Peter’s past sins against him. Instead, Jesus gives Peter the honor and responsibility of serving as the delegated shepherd of his sheep.
The same dynamics of repentance and forgiveness apply to all disciples, for Peter is still a sheep in relation to Jesus. No matter how serious or how many the sins we have committed (Peter’s were very serious), the love and mercy of Jesus is infinitely greater. He seeks us out and invites us to return to him. This scene should give us confidence that when we seek reconciliation with Jesus, he forgives us completely and forever. As Pope Francis has beautifully taught, God  “does not tire of forgiving us if we are able to return to him with a contrite heart.”

© 2015 Francis Martin, William M. Wright IV, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on the Gospel of John for the Second Sunday of Easter

From The Gospel of John, by Francis Martin and William Wright, commenting on John 20:20:

———

During the Farewell Discourse, Jesus told his disciples that they would “weep and mourn” (16:20) and be “in anguish” (16:22) when he left them. He also reassured them, “I will come back to you” (14:28) and “you will see me” (16:16).

Now Jesus fulfills this promise: he came and stood in their midst. And he speaks the words of shalom, the †eschatological reconciliation between God and his people: Peace be with you (see Isa 52:7; 57:19). Before he departed, Jesus told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. . . . Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid” (14:27). The risen Jesus now gives the disciples the gift of his peace, which drives away their fear, for he incorporates them into communion with the Father. !rough his cross and resurrection, Christ has “conquered the world” (16:33) and its ruler (12:31), and he has made his disciples “children of God” (1:12). There is, then, no reason for his disciples to fear. The presence of the wounds of crucifixion on the risen Jesus’ body is significant. They indicate that the body resurrected to glory is the same one that died on the cross (see Luke 24:39).14 Resurrection is not the return of a human being to ordinary mortal life but total transformation into a glorified mode of existence. As St. Paul wrote, the natural body is transfigured by the Holy Spirit into a glorified, “spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:44). The wounds on Jesus’ resurrected body reveal that he is forever fixed in the act of love in which he died. The love and sacrifice that he offered on the cross are forever present before the Father as “expiation for our sins, and . . . for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).

Jesus’ wounds also signify that the victory of the resurrection comes only through the cross. Similarly, the Lamb in the book of Revelation bears the wound of his slaughter by which he accomplished the work of redemption (Rev 5:6, 9). In this way, St. Thomas Aquinas, drawing on the Venerable Bede, can speak of the wounds on Jesus’ resurrected body as “trophies” of his victory.

Donatien Mollat found significance in John’s use of the verb “showed.” After the temple incident (2:14–17), the †Jews asked Jesus to “show” them a sign to legitimate his words and deeds (2:18). Jesus responded with a statement about raising up the temple of his body (2:19). Now, when Jesus shows the disciples his risen body with its wounds, he provides the †sign that legitimates his words and deeds: his resurrection.

 

© 2015 Francis Martin, William M. Wright IV, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Philippians for Palm Sunday

From Philippians, Colossians, Philemon by Dennis Hamm, SJ, commenting on Philippians 2:5-11:

The passage as example. The first and best application of this passage is the one Paul himself makes in the Letter to the Philippians. The Christ hymn illustrates the mind-set he exhorts Christians to take on in the preceding verses (1:27–2:4). Then in the verses that follow (2:12–18) he will apply the example of Christ in concrete ways to the life of the community.

The passage as a prayer of the Church. The passage has such beauty and wholeness that it lends itself to being lifted from its epistolary context and used as a freestanding text for prayer, meditation, liturgical reading, and song. Indeed, it is likely that more Christians have experienced the text in these contexts than in the context of the letter itself. In that way, it is like the three canticles drawn from the infancy narrative of the Gospel of Luke—the Magnificat (1:46–55), the Benedictus (1:68–79), and the Nunc Dimittis (2:29–32).

The passage as a source of doctrine. Paul speaks of Christ as being “in the form of God” and not considering “equality with God” as something to be taken advantage of. In all this, he refers to the preexistent, eternally divine Son of God in a way that parallels the thought of Heb 1:1–14, the prologue of John (1:1–4), the affirmation of 1 Cor 8:6, and the hymn of Col 1:15–20. It is important to notice that Paul is not teaching the preexistence of the Son as something new. He presumes that this is common knowledge among Christians as he moves to present first Christ’s self-emptying in his †incarnation and then the self-humiliation of his earthly life and shameful death as the pattern and standard for the life of a Christian.

While Paul is not explicitly spelling out the doctrine of Jesus as Second Person of the Trinity, his text provided some of the raw material that the Church, some three centuries later, would use to formulate the doctrine of Jesus as the eternal Son “consubstantial” with the Father.

 

 

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

Reflecting on the Gospel of John for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

From The Gospel of John, by Francis Martin and William Wright, commenting on John 8:1-11:

———

The story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53–8:11) has a complicated history. It does not appear in any major Greek copy of John before the sixth century, which is why it appears in brackets in the NABRE, although it does appear in earlier Latin manuscripts. In some Greek manuscripts of John, the story appears in places other than its present location. One manuscript group has the account at the end of the Gospel, after 21:25. In addition, it appears in some manuscripts of the Gospel of Luke, after 21:38. The Greek language in this story differs noticeably from that in the rest of John. These factors suggest that the story did not originate with the rest of the Fourth Gospel. Rather, it resembles conflict stories found in the Synoptics. The Church receives this text as inspired Scripture and proclaims it liturgically on the fifth Sunday of Lent in Year C.

Jesus shows loving-kindness to a person involved in sexual immorality. Many men and women are in a similar situation today. Turning away from such sinful activity can be very difficult. The gentle mercy of Jesus, which is infinitely greater than the worst of our sins, is available to all in the sacrament of reconciliation, through which he pardons all our sins, even the most serious ones. Moreover, Christians who are not involved in such sinful behavior do well to avoid the proud self-righteousness of the woman’s accusers and instead imitate Jesus, not condemning but lovingly summoning the sinner to repent and live a better life.

Pope Francis on Christ’s Mercy:

[This] Gospel presents to us the episode of the adulterous woman ([John] 8:1–11), whom Jesus saves from being condemned to death. Jesus’ attitude is striking: we do not hear words of scorn, we do not hear words of condemnation, but only words of love, of mercy, which are an invitation to conversion. “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again” (v. 11). Ah! Brothers and Sisters, God’s face is the face of a merciful father who is always patient. Have you thought about God’s patience, the patience he has with each one of us? That is his mercy. He always has patience, patience with us, he understands us, he waits for us, he does not tire of forgiving us if we are able to return to him with a contrite heart. (Pope Francis, “Angelus,” March 17, 2013.)

© 2015 Francis Martin, William M. Wright IV, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on 2 Corinthians for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

From Second Corinthians, by Thomas D. Stegman, SJ, commenting on II Corinthians 5:18-21:

—————————-

The Sacrament of Reconciliation. For Catholics, the ministry of reconciliation is enacted in a privileged and unsurpassed manner in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In fact, the opening words of the prayer of absolution make the connection explicit: “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself ” (employing words from 2 Cor 5:18–19). Because sin damages our relationship with God and others, it is necessary to seek reconciliation with God and the Church. Penitents confess their sins to a priest or bishop, who is an instrument of God’s merciful love and forgiveness.

The priest or bishop also represents the community, whose witness to Christ and fraternal bonds are weakened by the sin of its members. The words of absolution—which are prayed by the priest or bishop after the penitent’s confession of sins, act of contrition, and resolution to do penance—are extremely powerful, for by means of them God brings about what he intended through the sacrificial death of Christ.

Priests and bishops thus have the awesome privilege and responsibility of continuing the work of Jesus the Good Shepherd. Their demeanor and comportment in the confessional, especially when marked by patience and compassion, can have life-changing consequences. I have found that intimacy with Jesus’ Sacred Heart and recognition of my own sinfulness are essential aids to celebrating this beautiful sacrament.

Ambassadors of Messiah Jesus. Because Christ conferred the power to forgive sins on his apostles (Matt 16:19; John 20:21–23), bishops and priests represent and speak for him in a unique manner, as when celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Nevertheless, by virtue of their baptism and confirmation all Christians participate in the priesthood of Jesus (e.g., Lumen Gentium 30–31) and thereby in his mission. That is, every one of us is called to be an ambassador of Jesus, a person who bears witness to him by living out gospel values, by building up the community of faith, by advocating for justice, and by working for peace.

Christ “willed that . . . his whole Church should be the sign and instrument of the forgiveness and reconciliation that he acquired for us at the price of his blood” (Catechism, 1442). One way that Catholics can participate in the ministry of reconciliation is to frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is only when we appropriate God’s mercy and love in our own lives that we are able to be conduits of that mercy and love for others. Like all his gifts, God’s gift of reconciliation is bestowed on us in order to be shared.

© 2009 Thomas D. Stegman SJ, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on 1 Corinthians for the Third Sunday of Lent

From First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on I Corinthians 10:1-4:

Now let us look at each of these elements in turn. The cloud is a classic symbol in the Old Testament for the presence of God. A cloud led the people by day and concealed them at night as they made their way to the Red Sea (Exod 13:21–22; 14:19–20; Ps 105:39). The Lord came down in a cloud over Mount Sinai at the time of sealing the covenant with his people (Exod 19:16; 24:15, 18). When Moses built the tabernacle, the cloud came down and overshadowed it, and “the glory of the Lord filled the Dwelling” (Exod 40:34–35). Paul sees the cloud of the exodus as a prefigurement of the Holy Spirit, whom Christians receive when they are baptized. And as the Israelites crossed the sea to freedom, Christians have escaped the tyranny of sin and death through the waters of baptism.

The expression baptized into Moses would make no sense apart from its parallel “baptized into Christ.” Paul sees the New Testament fulfillment already present in the Old Testament type: it was only in being united to Moses that the people escaped Egypt, just as it is only in being united to Jesus that one is saved (1 Cor 12:13). As the manna was spiritual food in the sense that it was not the product of human hands but a sheer gift from heaven, so the Eucharist is spiritual food, and not only because it is a heavenly gift but also, being the body of Christ, it is the source of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:17; 12:13; 15:45). This typology has furnished the Church with a rich source for theology of the sacraments.

The spiritual drink of which the Israelites partook was the water that flowed from the rock when struck by Moses (Exod 17:1–7; Num 20:2–13). It was spiritual in the sense that it was miraculously provided by God. The fulfillment is in the Holy Spirit, as Paul makes explicit in 12:13: “We were all given to drink of one Spirit.” In this Paul reflects the same theme found in the Gospel of John: “Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (4:14). “ ‘Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says: “Rivers of living water will flow from within him.” ’ He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive” (7:37–39). And most graphically, when the soldier pierced Jesus’ side after his death on the cross, “blood and water flowed out” (19:34).

John’s linking of blood to water may symbolize the Eucharist along with baptism and the Holy Spirit. So it is also possible that the spiritual drink of which Paul speaks may at least hint at the eucharistic blood of Christ. As Chrysostom comments, “The same Person brought them through the sea and you through baptism; and before them set the manna, but before you his body and blood.”

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