21 February 2008

St. Matthew Bible Study - Lesson 17

Ok, I’m three weeks in arrears (chapters 17-19). Egads! How did I ever get so far behind?

Today at bible study, Father Echert blessed all of our religious items, along with salt, oil and water and he did it in Latin AND translated it into English for all of us Latin illiterates. I know (most of!) the responses to Mass, but beyond that and it all muddles together. I can’t wait until my kids start to learn Latin because I’ll be learning right along with them. I only wish I had had the benefit of learning Latin at their age.

I had some rosaries for my kids, a house scapular, a sick-call crucifix, a prayer book for my son and a third-class relic that I finally got blessed. Better late than never. I wished I would’ve known that we could bring salt and water to exorcise and bless. There’s always next time.

In this chapter we see one of the greatest theophanies, where God appears to man (although I’ve heard that epiphany is a better term in this instance). Previously, God appeared to Moses and Abraham (and some others along the way). This time it is at the Transfiguration and this chapter is full of symbolism/parallels. Some would say it is looking backward (tying in Moses and Elijah) and forward to Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. I like to think of it Jesus showing how He is the fulfillment of Scripture and is pulling everything together, tying up the loose ends. Our class notes indicate that it is no accident that the event confirming that Jesus is the Son of God is placed immediately after Jesus’ initial prediction of His Passion, death and Resurrection.

Moses and Elijah appear on the mountain and represent the Law and the Prophets. They both ascended Mt. Sinai and had a theophany and are both pivotal figures of the Old Testament. We know that Moses died before the Israelites came into the Promised Land and that Elijah is still to return, so this shows how the Old Testament prepares the way for Christ.

The chapter starts out by saying that after six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with Him to the mountain (fairly universally believed to be Mt. Tabor, but Father said that since it isn’t mentioned by name it allows us to mentally connect to the events with Moses on Mt. Sinai, tying the old with the new.). The six days indicate a period of preparation for something very important. Father Echert mentioned that three days also represents a period of preparation and this is twice that, so something important is about to happen.

This event parallels and harkens back to Moses on Mt. Sinai:
• both events take place on the seventh day
• both events are on a mountain
• Jesus and Moses had three companions
• their faces both shine (Jesus entire body shines)
• God’s cloud of glory descends on them
• God speaks through a heavenly voice
• Jesus, Moses and Elijah are known for spectacular departures

Of note, Father mentioned that even though Jesus was Transfigured, doesn’t mean He changed His nature. He is still fully human and fully divine.

Angels and the Fall
Father also made mention that in all the cases of theophany; it is just a manifestation of God. You are only able to see God in His brilliance/glory when you are in Heaven, which far exceeds what the disciples saw during the Transfiguration. Even the angels did not see God in Heaven before they were tested. Father said that if the angels had been with God in Heaven they would never have rebelled. Since we are created beings, Heaven is what we are created for, to be with God and see Him face to face; it would be complete happiness. So, the angels were in some ante-room to heaven and asked to decide and that’s how they were in a position to actually decide not to serve or choose God. The fallen angels have NEVER seen God face to face, since once a soul sees God, he cannot help but choose God. Even at our deaths, unless we go directly to Heaven, we will still not be seeing Jesus in His fullness at our judgment. This comment explained a great deal to me since I posted about not understanding how the angels could choose against God if they are so much more intelligent than we are. You can see the post here.

Peter, who is completely awestruck, can’t even get the words out of his mouth about erecting booths, when we are told of the cloud overshadowing them and God speaking, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; LISTEN TO HIM.” Previously, we hear these words at Jesus’ baptism (Mt 3:17), but this time with the addition of “listen to Him.” Peter’s desire to build these booths is related to the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths. During the feast, the Israelites would commemorate the forty years wandering in the wilderness by Moses and the Hebrew people, when the Tabernacle was in a tent, and the people lived in tents. During the feast, “booths” were erected from grass and twigs. It was one of the three main festivals celebrated each year. Men would live apart from their family for a few days. Father mentioned that St. John’s gospel better shows how Jesus is the fulfillment of this feast, which would be celebrated until Jesus came. Peter was doing what he thought would be helpful to fulfill the words of the Old Testament prophets.

This cloud appeared at times in the Old Testament and represents the glory of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit. I had never heard this word before, but a lady who is a convert to Catholicism was very familiar with it and said that many Evangelical preachers talk about “shekinah” a great deal. The shekinah is seen as a pillar of clouds that guided the Israelites in the wilderness, it is the cloud that descended on the tabernacle (cloud by day, fire by night). We also see it with Solomon and the dedication of the Temple, the cloud that came over the Virgin Mary and the cloud at the Ascension.

Face in the dirt
We see the apostles fall on their faces on Mt. Tabor when the cloud appears and they are confronted by God’s glory. We also see this in Genesis (17:3) when Abram is prostrate on the ground, Ezekiel (1:28b) is also prostrate, and the same in thing happens to sinful man in Revelation (1:17.)

The apostles are a bit dejected when they tell Jesus they weren’t able to cast out demons and Jesus tells them it is because of their lack of faith. Ouch. This event took places before Pentecost, because after Pentecost they could’ve cast out demons with a word. Father Echert said that the apostles were given an incredible amount of power to cast out demons and perform miracles in His name. This ability was primarily given to that generation of apostles and while subsequent priests can perform miracles, this ability has been greatly reduced. Father also said that the miracle in this chapter shouldn’t be diminished by the interpretation that the boy was merely an epileptic and Jesus was only comforting him. The boy was clearly possessed and the possession manifested itself in what people of the day would call epilepsy. Jesus performed a miracle in casting out the demon merely by His word.

Handed over
One interesting point, is when Jesus predicts His Passion, death and Resurrection, He mentions that “the Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men.” In asking the question, “who is it that’s going to deliver the Son of Man into the hands of men,” I thought He was referring to the chief priests, elders and scribes. Some people thought it was Judas, others thought it was Pilate, but really it is Jesus Himself who will hand Himself over by going to Jerusalem and fulfilling what was prophesized in Scripture.

More parallels
Taken from our class notes, it says, “That Jesus is planning some sort of an exodus to coincide with His Passion, death and Resurrection begs the question: From where is Jesus going to be leading this exodus, and where is he going? The answer is closely connected with Jesus’ mission to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, not to abolish them. As the new Moses, Jesus will lead the descendents of the 12 tribes of Israel from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant, which encompasses all the nations of the world. Jesus’ new exodus also is from the old Jerusalem to the New Jerusalem, the heavenly city.”

When the issue of paying the Temple tax arises, Peter is quizzed about who pays the tax. Jesus is pointing out that in the household’s of kings, the sons do not pay tax. Jesus is the Son of God and is exempt from any tax. However, Jesus tells Peter to go fishing and whatever fish he catches he is to open its mouth and find a shekel. Peter is to use the shekel to pay the tax for Jesus and himself. This shows the spiritual union between them (Peter is His appointed and doesn’t have to pay the tax because the king is paying it for him) and is showing that Jesus isn’t here to abolish the laws. He is willing to pay the tax even though he is not obliged to.

1 comment:

Tara said...

"You are only able to see God in His brilliance/glory when you are in Heaven"

I always thought that was odd that people think the Angels were made in Heaven? Only after they were tested did they enter Heaven. But, I am not clear about Satan--I thought he talked with God and saw Him face to face--but you know that he could not have been in Heaven--because anyone who enters Heaven, never leaves. Hmmm