07 December 2007

St. Matthew Bible Study - Lesson 11

Father Echert gave a great lecture today. I like when he doesn't just stick to the points made by the bible study authors (since we can read the course notes ourselves and don't need to have it reiterated) and covers things a bit outside of the study.

Apostles, disciples
Father began by talking about the difference between an apostles and a disciple. There were many disciples, but only twelve apostles. The apostles were disciples, but not all disciples were apostles. Apostle comes from the Greek, meaning appointed one or representative. They were a "singular group" and has not been repeated and they exercised their "charter" only during their lifetimes (it wasn't handed down). There is a succession of popes from St. Peter, but there is not a succession of apostles, but of bishops, who have more limited roles and abilities. An example Father mentioned was that a Bishop would give you Extreme Unction/Last Rites, but wouldn't command you to "stand and be cured" as the apostles were able to do...and even raise the dead.

Father also mentioned that "Christ" is not a family name but a title that comes from the Greek word for Messiah.

John the Baptist
As a Catholic, I'm not always aware of the issues Protestants have with the bible. Father touched on a couple during this lecture. The first was in Matthew 11:2 where John the Baptist says, "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?" Father said that some folks suggest that John the Baptist had doubts about Christ, a crisis of faith if you will. Father was almost exasperated at the thought and said it was UNIMAGINABLE and just down-right unbiblical. Up to this point, all the prophets of the Old Testament have been pointing to a Messiah, to the Christ who was to come. John the Baptist was the greatest of these prophets and the prefigurement of Jesus Himself. John baptised Jesus, he made numerous public professions about Jesus, and is now sitting in jail because of his preaching, so to think he was questioning things at this stage is out in left field.

Father said there are two solutions:
1. This is good pedagogy. Rather than John the Baptist affirming that Jesus is the Messiah, he has Jesus do it Himself. John's humility would demand nothing less than to let Jesus speak for himself. I wish Father had more time to go into this, but basically there is a hand off between the OT and the New Testament. John is the greatest prophet of the Old and is preparing the way for Jesus. Now Jesus is here and can take the reigns Himself. Plus, John the Baptist was somewhat of a rock star in his day (Josephus records how popular John was) and had a large following of disciples, some fiercely loyal. John is trying to tell the people that even though Jesus may not be the Messiah they were expecting, that indeed, He is the Christ, go and see for yourselves.
2. John was questioning if Jesus was establishing His kingdom now since previously Jesus had told people not to mention the miracles He had performed. Jesus is now showing that He is the fulfillment of Isaiah 11:4-5. But, Father doesn't favor this interpretation because if Jesus wanted to fully establish his kingdom, so far it was a dismal attempt (ie: only a few followers healed). Father said Jesus is only showing a symbol of what is to come when His kingdom is really established.

Father talked about Herod the Great, who had been ruler over all of Israel and his weird paranoia of holding onto his power. Herod is the one who brought about the deaths of the Holy Innocents and also killed a wife and a few of his own sons. Not a nice man. Herod's three sons succeeded him...Caesar insisted on three rulers because he didn't want the power to be with just one man any longer least he become too powerful. Herod Archelaus, Herod Antipas and Herod Philip II were the three sons and ruled the three regions of Israel from the south (Herod Archelaus) to the north (Herod Philip). I've included some Wiki links on these bad actors as the history is pretty fascinating. Father talked about them quite a bit, but will let you check out the links for a better telling of the history than I could provide.

THE Immaculate Conception
This is another part of the chapter I didn't know Protestants had a problem with. From Matthew 11:11, "Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." Father said some folks point to this as evidence that Mary is not as exulted as Catholics would believe, claiming that John was the greatest, so where is Mary in all this. Father said that John the Baptist represents the culmination of the Old Testament, his finger always pointing to the Christ. John, like I mentioned earlier, is the greatest prophet of the Old Testament. John was cleansed of original sin in Elizabeth's womb at the Annunciation. Father also cited a few other OT prophets that may have been given this privilege (Jeremiah?). Mary was preserved from original sin from the moment of her conception. She alone is given this privilege, she is THE (definite article as Father said) Immaculate Conception. THE, as in one and only. She is created higher than the angels.

Also, regarding this passage, Father said Jesus is making a contrast. He is speaking of the Old Covenant, which John the Baptist belongs to. Mary is of the New Covenant and doesn't even fit here. And, saying that the lowest of the New Covenant is higher than the Old is showing what a privileged place WE hold. The Old Covenant was explicitly in Christ, the New is implicitly in Christ. We have received much (graces) from this privilege and MUCH is expected.

Elijah and other prophets
From our class notes, it mentions that society's rejection of John the Baptist, who is now imprisoned, foreshadows the rejection Jesus will experience, and the execution of John foreshadows Jesus' crucifixion.

From our study, John the Baptist is "Elijah" (spiritually), the "archetypal prophet who, according to Malachi, will be the forerunner of the Messiah who's to come when the "great and terrible of the Lord" arrives. Elijah and John the Baptist both endure persecution from royal authorities, and both prepare the way for someone greater. Although many people regard Elijah as the greatest prophet before John the Baptist, the OT records that there's another prophet greater than Elijah. Elisha asked for and received from God through Elijah a double portion of Elijah's spirit (2Kings 2:9-14). Scripture also records that Elisha performed twice as many miracles as Elijah. This reflects a pattern found elsewhere in the Bible. Moses gives the Israelites' the law, but he's unable to lead the descendants of the twelve tribes into the Promised Land of their inheritance. It's Joshua who directs the Israelites' conquest of Canaan. What Moses begins, Joshua completes. What Elijah begins, Elisha completes. And what John the Baptist begins, Jesus completes."

Father mentioned that John the Baptist was spiritually Elijah, but that the real Elijah will return as the fulfillment of Malachi. In Revelation, there two witnesses/prophets referred to that may be Elijah and Enoch (Enoch walked with God and was seen no more). Father said that since these OT prophets didn't die, that they may be the ones referred to in Revelation. Before the Second Coming, they will be martyred and in three days, resurrected. Again, prefiguring Jesus.

Again from our study, "Jesus shows how spiritual and intellectual pride can overtake common sense when he points out the moral inconsistency of those who faulted John the Baptist for fasting and who simultaneously fault Jesus for not fasting." "The people of Capernaum are blinded by pride that prevents them from repenting in humility. Jesus is very frank about the seriousness of sins related to pride, which are far graver than the sins of the flesh of which Sodom was guilty. It's pride that's Satan's identifying characteristic and his custom-designed calling card."


gemoftheocean said...

"John was cleansed of original sin in Elizabeth's womb at the Annunciation. Father also cited a few other OT prophets that may have been given this privilege (Jeremiah?)."

?! Please tell me he didn't really say this.

From The New Advent Article on the Immaculate Conception:

"...by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race."

[*SINGULAR* as in once, one (1), sole, only.]

"The immunity from original sin was given to Mary by a singular exemption from a universal law through the same merits of Christ, by which other men are cleansed from sin by baptism. Mary needed the redeeming Saviour to obtain this exemption, and to be delivered from the universal necessity and debt (debitum) of being subject to original sin. The person of Mary, in consequence of her origin from Adam, should have been subject to sin, but, being the new Eve who was to be the mother of the new Adam, she was, by the eternal counsel of God and by the merits of Christ, withdrawn from the general law of original sin. Her redemption was the very masterpiece of Christ's redeeming wisdom. He is a greater redeemer who pays the debt that it may not be incurred than he who pays after it has fallen on the debtor.

Such is the meaning of the term 'Immaculate Conception.' "

His posit seems really daft to me. Certainly not in any Catechism I had. And this bit by him, though interesting, seems unnecessarily speculative: "Father mentioned that John the Baptist was spiritually Elijah, but that the real Elijah will return as the fulfillment of Malachi. In Revelation, there two witnesses/prophets referred to that may be Elijah and Enoch (Enoch walked with God and was seen no more). Father said that since these OT prophets didn't die, that they may be the ones referred to in Revelation. Before the Second Coming, they will be martyred and in three days, resurrected. Again, prefiguring Jesus."

seems rather re-incarnation like to me.

swissmiss said...

John the Baptist was cleansed of original sin in utero. That's what I've always been taught and Father Echert also said this. John was cleansed of sin AFTER conception but before birth, Mary was PRESERVED from sin from the moment of her existence. Yes, that's what he said and that's what I've always understood. Don't know if this is what you are taking issue with.

The rest may be my fault for being sloppy. In Matthew, folks are asking John the Baptist if he is Elijah, he says no, because Elijah didn't die (Elijah has NOT been reincarnated as John) and still has to come back. Father mentioned Malachi and Revelation as possible fulfillments of when Elijah will come back in person. However, in Matthew, Jesus says in Matthew 11:14, that John the Baptist IS Elijah. I maybe should've said John is the "in the spirit" of Elijah or something along those lines, but Father in no way, shape or form implied any sort of reincarnation. However, he was clear that Elijah still needs to come back and die (and mentioned Enoch in the same vein) so this is why he said that Elijah and Enoch could be those mentioned in Revelation.

swissmiss said...

OH, ooops. Sorry, I just saw a problem. I said Annunciation. Totally misspoke (mistyped). It should be Visitation. Sorry, I've been too scattered lately and sloppy. When Mary VISITED Elizabeth and the baby leapt in her womb...
mea culpas all around on that one!

gemoftheocean said...

(I knew you meant visitation)

Re: John the Baptist being cleansed of original sin - it's not doctrine, but a belief among some. In other words, not in the catechism. And I searched it on the catechism on the Vatican website. Not. There.

Re: the prophets....
There are experts in the Gospel of John like Raymond Brown who wouldn't "go there" with Revelation. To my mind, going too literal with that type NT literature almost borders on a Protestant approach. I like Fr. Echert's prefigurement schema, but as to what it's literally going to be like at the end blow blow blow I wouldn't even dream of "going there." Fun to speculate, but positing it is an entirely horse of a different color.

For my part I get exasperated when people posit personal belief as doctrine or dogma. Like for instance, I'm glad I'm not bound to believe in private revelation, but free to. I.E. I happen to believe Our Lady appeared at Lourdes, but for all that, it's not an article of faith to believe in a private revelation. I don't know if I believe in the Medjugorie visions or not -- at one point in my life, I've leaned towards , but from reading about it in other places, there are a few "political aspects" the situation that don't seem kosher. I'm not saying they're liars - some of them believe they saw what they think they saw (and perhaps they have) -- but from various reports there is contention in the ranks.

swissmiss said...

I've heard that John the Baptist was cleansed from original sin from the pulpit several times that I can remember. Doesn't make it doctrine...just letting you know I've heard priests preach this.

My thoughts are that since Mary was conceived "full of grace" and I have always understood that to mean that "full of grace" necessitated being without sin that John was born without sin. From the New Advent site for J the B:
"And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant" -- filled, like the mother, with the Holy Ghost -- "leaped for joy in her womb", as if to acknowledge the presence of his Lord. Then was accomplished the prophetic utterance of the angel that the child should "be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother's womb". Now as the presence of any sin whatever is incompatible with the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in the soul, it follows that at this moment John was cleansed from the stain of original sin.

Similarly, Mary is conceived without sin since she is the New Eve (who was also created without original sin) and she is to carry Jesus who is also without sin. With all the prefigurement going on, John the Baptist prefigures Jesus in many ways, so although not the exact same parallel as with Mary and Eve, John is born without sin.

But, unlike the Immaculate Conception, like you said, it's not doctrine, and I don't see it being essential for salvation. I do, however, believe it is what happened.

I'm with you on Lourdes and agree Medjugorie is very problematic. I used to support the visions at Garabandal, but not so much anymore since the bishops have condemned it.