Should Parents Turn Gay Kids “Over to Satan”?

Since this post wound up being too long, I’ll get to the short answer to the titular question and say, “No.” And let me just add “duh.”

But noted anti-Catholic John MacArthur has a different perspective . He was asked a question about how a parent should respond to a child who is gay, and this was his response:

There’s a problem of language here: he’s speaking Protestantese to people who only understand English. Most people will hear “turning over to Satan” and think “damnation.”

That may in fact be what MacArthur has in mind, and the dark depths of the Calvinist brain are well beyond my ability to understand. But let’s look at what he may be trying to say, on his own terms.

In the video, he suggests two ways for a parent to respond to a gay child. If the child claims to be a Christian, he is to be confront sternly. If there is no response, you’re to tell the church and there is to be a public “putting-out” of the child.  Shunning, in other words. You have to alienate them and separate them. You don’t eat with them. You “turn them over to Satan” as Scripture says.

If the adult child does not claim to be a Christian, it’s a “whole different issue.” You have to treat them like a non-believer, by bringing the Gospel to them directly and confrontationally.

Okay, so exactly what part of the Scripture is MacArthur misinterpreting here?

First up, 1 Timothy 1:18-20:

18 This charge I commit to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophetic utterances which pointed to you, that inspired by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among them Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.

Satan is a liar, not a teacher, so we cannot view this as a “learning” discipline. Hymenaeus and Alexander, who were teaching heresy, won’t learn to avoid error from the father of heresies. So what does Paul mean?

St. Thomas offers two interpretations:

First, that just as the Lord gave the apostles power over unclean spirits to cast them out (Matt 10:8), so by the same power they could command the unclean spirits to torment in the body those whom they judged deserved it. Accordingly, the Apostle commanded the Corinthians on his own authority to deliver this fornicator to Satan to be tortured. Hence, secondly, he discloses the effect of this sentence when he says: for the destruction of the flesh, i.e., for the torment and affliction of the flesh in which he sinned: “One is punished by the very things by which he sins” (Wis 11:16). Thirdly, he mentions its fruit when he says: that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus, i.e., that he may be saved on the day of death or on the day of judgment, as was explained above (3:15): “but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire,” i.e., of temporal punishment. For the Apostle did not deliver the sinner over to Satan’s power forever, but until the time when he would be converted to repentance by bodily torment: “Vexation alone shall make you understand what you hear” (Is 28:19). This sentence of the Apostle corresponds to what the Lord observed, when he said to Satan: “Behold he is in your hand (namely, his flesh), but yet keep his life unharmed” (Jb 2:6).

To deliver this man to Satan can also be understood as referring to the sentence of excommunicating by which a person is cut off from the community of believers and from partaking of the sacraments and is deprived of the blessings of the Church. Hence it says in S. of S. (6:10): “Terrible as an army set in array,” i.e., to the devils. For the destruction of the flesh would mean that, being cut off from the Church and exposed to the temptations of the devil, he might more easily fall into sin: “Let the filthy still be filthy” (Rev 22:11). Hence he calls mortal sins the destruction of the flesh, because “He who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption” (Gal 6:8). But he adds: that his spirit may be saved, i.e., that the sinner, recognizing his vileness, may repent and thus be healed: “I was ashamed, and I was confounded, because I bore the disgrace of my youth” (Jer 31:19). This can also mean that his spirit, namely, the Church’s Holy Spirit, may be saved for the faithful in the day of judgment, i.e., that they not destroy it by contact with the sinner, because it says in Wis (1:5): “For a holy and disciplined spirit will flee from deceit and will rise and depart from foolish thoughts.”

“Turning over to Satan” is excommunication, since the person is put out of the Church. He becomes part of the world rather than part the body of Christ, and is thus a subject of the Lord of the World: Satan. This is a medicinal penalty in Catholicism, meant to correct grave and persistent sin.

There is also the sense that “turning over to Satan” involves punishment of the body, in the hope that by the torments of Satan the sinner may be drawn back to the straight path.

Next, let’s look at 1 Corinthians 5:

1 It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. 3 For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment 4 in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

As the flesh will be glorified in salvation, so is it corrupted in sin, and the punishment of this flesh is the work of the devil.  As St. John Chrysostom writes: “For the gain is greater than the punishment: one being but for a season, the other everlasting.”

So we have this notion of the obstinate sinner being punished in order to draw him back to the church. Is that how MacArthur understands the passage? I don’t know. Calvinists tend to think most of us are damned, so I’m guessing he has something else in mind.

But here’s where we get to the really fun part with MacArthur, because he and other fundamentalists are awfully selective when it comes to what they think is worthy of divine punishment. See, there are other people who should be turned over to Satan, according to Paul:

9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men; 10 not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you.”

Here we have the distinction MacArthur is attempting to make: Paul is not referring to the “immoral of this world” (non-Christians), but to he who “bears the name of brother” (Christians).

Please note, however, the list of people included.  Is MacArthur suggesting we turn people over to Satan for speaking harshly of others (“revilers”) and stop eating with people are greedy? Drunks are to be put out of the church? In fact, are all the “immoral” to be put out of the Church and cut off from family? You’ll have a pretty small church.

Elsewhere, Paul identifies others deserving of harsh judgement. Among them is “any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body.” That means anyone who fails to recognize the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Like John MacArthur.

In fact, Paul makes this link direct in 1 Corinthians 5 when he writes “let us celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” This is the Eucharist.

The Council of Trent took a more sensible line, tempered by mercy, as taught to us by the One who ate with sinners:

Should they, however, happen to sin in any manner through human frailty, that precept of the apostle is to be observed by them, that they reprove, entreat, rebuke them in all kindness and patience, since benevolence towards those to be corrected often effects more than austerity, exhortation more than menacing, charity more than power. But if, on account of the grievousness of the transgression, there be need of the rod, then is rigour to be used with gentleness, judgment with mercy, severity with lenity; that so discipline, salutary and necessary for the people, may be preserved without harshness; and that they who are chastised may be amended; or, if they be unwilling to repent, that others, by the wholesome example of their punishment, may be deterred from vices; since it is the office of a pastor, at once diligent and kind, first to apply gentle fomentations to the disorders of his sheep, afterwards, when the grievousness of the distemper may require them, to proceed to sharper and more painful remedies; but if not even these are effectual in removing those disorders, then is he to free the other sheep at least from the danger of contagion. (Trent, Session 13, De Reformatione, Chapter 1)

It’s worthwhile to note that this decree follows one on the Eucharist. Thus, in context, Paul is not recommending that parents stop having dinner with their kids, but that the Eucharist should be withheld from people engaged in obstinate sin, whether that sin is sodomy or greed. Notably, this power is reserved to the Church, not the individual or the community.

And, of course, merely “coming out”–the criteria which is used by MacArthur–is not enough to trigger any of this. Declaring one’s sexual preference is separate from engaging in gravely disordered sexual acts. The acts, not the ontological state, are the sin.

So how are we to respond to a child who comes out? 

MacArthur missed the one word that should have led all the others: love. With love. How parents navigate this tricky minefield of modern sexuality is no easy thing, and we can hope that the Synod on the family turns its attention to offering real guidelines for dealing with children and loved ones with mercy, love, and faith. It’s not easy. The world has gone mad and our children are not immune to this madness.

There’s a fine line to be walked, and we need a little guidance on how to walk it. Do we attend a gay wedding? No, because that would be creating a public scandal. But do we stop talking to a gay child?

Of course not, and there is nothing in Paul or anywhere else to suggest that we should. You can’t just yank out a line from Paul, isolate it, and use it as a one-size-fits-all guideline. This is just Religion by Proof-Texting, not the faith of a living Church.

The obsession of Christian fundamentalists, and in some sectors of Catholicism, with homosexuality is an unfortunate byproduct of our times. Political and social issues are becoming entangled with the faith, and some are losing perspective on the reality of sin.

It’s kind of strange to see people talking so much about the sinfulness of sodomy (which affects the non-sodomite not at all) while giving little attention to the other three sins that cry out to heaven: murder,  oppression of the poor, and defrauding workers of their just wages.

We don’t see a lot of Bible-belters carrying signs that say “God hates defrauding workers of their just wage.” But drag sodomy into the discussion, and suddenly some people get very interested in letting you know what they think. This has more to do with the individual and his insecurities than with the sin itself.

As for me, I intend neither to sodomize nor to be sodomized, and so the sin is of little interest to me, except in the way it indicates a general decline in the public’s understanding of healthy sexuality and the continuing erosion of marriage. If a child of mine fell into that behavior, I would be heartbroken and do I would could to help him or her find the way to live a life of faith in chastity.

It would not be an easy road to walk, but I would not leave my child to walk that road alone.

As the Fathers of Trent observed, “rigour [is] to be used with gentleness, judgment with mercy, severity with lenity; that so discipline, salutary and necessary for the people, may be preserved without harshness.”

And Then We Shall Die

1 Kings 17:7-16 contains one of those arresting sentences  that show the depth of suffering and living death people can reach before being restored to life by the Lord:

[Elijah said] “Please bring me a little water in a vessel so I can drink.” As she went to bring (it), he called to her: “Please bring me a bit of bread in your hand.” She said: “By the life of YHWH, your God, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in the jug and a little oil in the flask. Here I am gathering a few sticks, so that I can go in and prepare it for myself and my son. We shall it eat and then we shall die.”

Strozzi: Prophet Elijah and the Widow of Sarepta

God has sent Elijah to Zerephath, a foreign land outside of the power of his persecutor, Ahab. Zerephath is in Sidon, on the Mediterranean, and is the homeland of Jezebel and her god Baal. (Indeed, this story is part of a larger sequence showing the victory of God over Baal.) It is strange, then, that this foreign window recognizes him as an Israelite holy man and uses the phrase “By the life of YHWH, your God…”

A terrible drought afflicts the land. People suffer and die. The dryness of the land is reflected in the spiritual dryness of the people. It’s a sign of the growing insufficiency of the old law and the coming of a new law which will be written directly on the hearts of man by Christ.

Elijah gives us a foretaste of that new law when he is the conduit for a miracle. The woman’s action call to mind the story of the widow’s mite: she is ready to give the last measure of her grain to this stranger. Does she do this out of faith and hope, or out of despair? She has already decided she and her son are dead, and is resigned to the fate she had planned, but does this holy man stir something new in her?

There in a barren, dried land of famine, with no more than a handful of meal and a few drops oil–poor, miserable, spiritually dead without a true god (she refers to “your God” when speaking to Elijah)–she is as dead as the living can be.

And yet the presence of God comes to her in through the prophet, and a small flicker of grace prompts her to give her last mouthful to this man and thus prove by her works the goodness still alive in her heart.

What these passages offer, of course, is a powerful pre-figuration of Christ. Elijah is sent to the lowest of the low (a widow would have been utterly dependent on others to survive); he is sent to non-Israelites; he is the means by which a miracle of food is affected, as the grain and oil are replenished; and he follows this with another miracle by raising a boy from the dead.

Even the passing phrase she utters about “collecting a couple of sticks” suggests deeper meaning: isn’t the cross a “couple of sticks”? She has done what we must all do to be saved: she has taken up her cross.

Jesus himself mentions the widow in Luke 4:24–26, using this passage to explain that he will be rejected by his own but accepted by gentiles:

Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.

Why was the widow of Zarephath favored? Partly to show the power of the true God against the false gods, but also to show how God lifts up the lowly and rewards those who give freely. It also looks forward to the day in which God will extend to all humanity the favor He has shown Israel.

Something even more powerful beats within this story, however, with powerful themes of want, suffering, and death. The woman and her son were near death. In the next story, the widow’s son does die, and is brought back to life. (Note: Some exegetes believe, without good reason, that these two stories are about two different widows.) Death stalks these passages like a beast devouring the innocent, laying waste to vast stretches of humanity.

T.S. Eliot, describing The Waste Land, shows us “fear in a handful of dust”: another image of death. But in this passage, we see death defeated by no more than a handful of meal.

That meal will be transformed by Christ into the Eucharist, which provides a food that gives life far beyond what a mere cake of grain and oil can do.

We all must die to be Christians: die to our troubled pasts, the world, our selfishness, our disordered desires, our sin. There is no new birth in Christ without death. There are a thousand little deaths that come before the last death, and in those little deaths new life springs forth. We become new creation in Christ as the one passes away.

The handful of grain the window gave to Elijah was once a seed, which fell to the ground and died, and in dying produced many seeds. If we allow ourselves to truly trust in Christ, to lift up his cross, and join him in death, then we too will spring up as new growth, with a new life that will never end.

“Jesus’s Wife” Scholar Admits: Where There Are Flames, There May Be Fire

Partially conceding the bloody obvious, Harvard professor Karen L. King said the following to the New York Times:

This is substantive, it’s worth taking seriously, and it may point in the direction of forgery. This is one option that should receive serious consideration, but I don’t think it’s a done deal.

The “this” she’s talking about is the fairly clear evidence that the John fragment, which matches the “Jesus’s Wife” fragment, is a fake.

Laurie Goodstein, NY Times religion reporter and PR flak for revisionist Bible scholars everywhere, is still desperately trying to salvage her scoop, even if that means deploying sleazy innuendo. The discoverer of the forgery, Christian Askeland, made the mistake of being Christian and hanging around with the wrong sorts of people.

Let’s play follow the bouncing code words!

Dr. Askeland is an evangelical Christian who is also affiliated with Indiana Wesleyan University, an evangelical college in Marion, Ind., and the Green Scholars Initiative. That organization was founded by the Christian owners of the Hobby Lobby chain of arts and crafts stores to study a collection of biblical artifacts amassed by the family for display in a Bible museum they plan to build in Washington.

You know, if she keeps blowing that dog whistle, she’s going to lose her hearing. We get it, Laurie: “Ignore this God-bothering twit.”

It’s worth noting at this point that none of Goodstein’s coverage of Pseudo-GJW has ever pointed out King’s own bias as someone deeply invested in revisionist Biblical scholarship.

Goodstein obviously even questioned Askeland about what she assumes is his bias:

However, Dr. Askeland said his doubts about the Jesus’ Wife fragment were not prompted by any concerns about the unorthodox content because “there are many gospels, many texts, that say all kinds of things about Jesus.” Instead, it was the appearance of the fragment — the handwriting, the ink, the letter forms: “Whoever wrote it had different ways of writing the same letter,” he said.

Still spinning, she includes the following section later in the story:

Malcolm Choat, a Coptic expert at Macquarie University in Australia who cautiously contradicted the doubters in his paper last month for the Harvard journal, said in an interview that the new evidence was “persuasive,” but “we’re not completely there yet” — until the John and Jesus wife papyruses can be studied in person or using high-resolution images to understand their relationship.

Larry Hurtado adds this clarification to that section of the story:

Although cited in a recent New York Times article as still entertaining the authenticity of the “Jesus’ Wife” fragment, Malcolm Choat actually grants the force of the recent analyses that appear conclusively to show that the Coptic Gospel of John fragment is a fake.  And he grants also that this strengthens considerably the likelihood that the “Jesus’ Wife” fragment is fake as well. (This based on email exchanges with him as of today, 06 May.)

The spin machine is finally beginning to grind to halt with this one.

Related: This is a good piece on the lessons learned from the whole incident.


Someone Finally Finds a Good Use for “The Message”

Stopping a bullet:

Rickey Wagoner told police in Dayton, Ohio, that he was repairing an electrical fault in his bus early yesterday morning when unknown attackers approached him and shot him three times.

One bullet struck the 49-year-old’s right leg and the other two hit him in chest, reports the Dayton Daily News.

Sgt. Michael Pauley said the two bullets fired into Wagoner’s chest were “stopped” by a modern translation of the Bible called The Message carried in his front pocket.

“There was obviously some kind of intervention involved in this incident, because he probably should not be here,” Sgt. Pauley said.

“God’s on Rick’s side,” added Lillie Brown, a long-time friend of Wagoner’s.

The Message is a colloquial translation of the Bible created by Eugene H. Peterson because reading is hard.

Here’s the way it translates the beginning of John:

1 The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
in readiness for God from day one.

3–5  Everything was created through him;
nothing—not one thing!—
came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
the darkness couldn’t put it out.

And Matthew 6:7-13:

“The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this:

Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best—
as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.

Why yes, it is both brain-scramblingly bad and fitfully heretical, but at least it saved Rickey Wagoner’s life, and for that we should give thanks.


Light & Bread in the Gospel of John

This essay originally was published in an online journal, now defunct. I’m publishing it here in case it’s of interest. The full title is Light and Bread: A Sapiential Reading of Two “I Am” Statements in the Gospel of John. All the footnotes got stripped when I plopped the text into WordPress, but if you’re curious about a citation, let me know.

The most powerful moments in the Gospel of John occur when Jesus takes the sacred name of God—“I AM”—as his own. In particular, Christ seeks to explain his being by creating a mosaic of images in the seven “I am” statements. In these, Jesus is the bread of life; the light of the world; the gate; the good shepherd; the resurrection and the life, the way, the truth, and the life; and the true vine. Each statement peels back the veil that shielded mankind’s eyes from the face of God, seeking to express a new way of encountering God, not on the mountain or in the pillar of fire, but in the flesh of the incarnate Christ.

Jesus uses the phrase “I am” in numerous other places in John, perhaps none as potent as his simple formulation, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58) These statements must have been like a thunderclap for his Jewish listeners, who fully understood that Jesus was claiming equality with God. The Gospel of John is deeply rooted in Jewish theology and understanding, and it is through these “I am” statements that Jesus conveys the nature of the new covenant to a Jewish audience. In particular, the images of bread and light convey two fundamental qualities that define the Christian experience.

I Am the Bread of Life
In most of his sayings in John, Jesus draws on Old Testament language and imagery to express new realities to his audience. This opens his words, particularly his “I am” phrases, to multiple levels of meaning and understanding. With John 6:34—“I am the bread of life”—we have an image that evokes wisdom, allowing for a sapiential interpretation that draws upon the long tradition of personified Wisdom in Jewish literature.

Bread is associated with Wisdom throughout the Old Testament, and into the New. We hear it in the words of Sirach 15:3: “She [Wisdom] will feed him with the bread of understanding, and give him the water of wisdom to drink.” In Amos 8:11, the prophet draws a parallel between the hunger for food and the hunger for wisdom: “Behold, the days are coming … when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.” In a passage like this, Christians make a connection between a hunger for bread and the incarnate Word. This was the kind of pedagogy Jesus was offering to his listeners, and to Christians down through the ages to our own day.

Christ has come into a Jewish world that understands two paths of knowledge: that of the philosophers, and that of the law. These are both a kind of bread that feeds the people. We see in the feeding of the 5,000 examples of both kinds of bread. First, Phillip says that “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” (John 6:7) Thomas Aquinas sees this as an image of wisdom acquired through philosophy, which must be purchased through “experience and contemplation,” and yet will never fully nourish.

The other kind of wisdom is the Law, represented by the five barley loaves, which are a symbol of the Pentateuch. This, too, is not enough to nourish, and must be multiplied by the Lord. Thus, we see that wisdom derived from philosophy and wisdom derived from the law are insufficient until multiplied and completed by the coming of Wisdom in the form of Christ.

With this as our background, we begin to understand what Jesus means when he says “I am the bread of life.” This is a new bread, which neither the Jews nor the Greeks have ever encountered. Money—even 200 denarii—is useless for purchasing this kind of wisdom. As we read in Isaiah 55:1-3, we come to eat and drink at the banquet of the Lord “without money and without price.” We should not spend our money for “that which is not bread” and “which does not satisfy.” The “bread” of this passage is not literal bread, but the Word of the Lord, which you must “hear, so that your soul may live.”

The phrase “bread of life” does not occur in the Old Testament. Indeed, we have to look to the Pseudepigrapha to find this phrase.

“Joseph and Aseneth” is a non-canonical tale dating from some time between 100BC and 200AD, and telling the story of the marriage of Joseph (son of Jacob) to the pagan Aseneth. Thus, it may be either a Jewish document that represents the sole appearance of the phrase “bread of life,” or a later document written under the influence of Christianity.

In the apocryphal tale, an angel comes to Aseneth to help her become worthy of marrying Joseph. He does this by feeding her a piece of honeycomb from his hand, and bidding her “Eat.” In the story, the honeycomb is an image of manna, but the words of the angel (whom Aseneth address as “Lord”) have a powerful Christian import: “Behold, you have eaten the bread of life, and drunk the cup of immortality, and been anointed with the ointment of incorruptibility. Behold, from today your flesh will flourish like flowers of life from the ground of the Most High.”

This bread has a power beyond that of manna. It not only makes Aseneth pure and draws her in the Covenant, but also gives her new life. Was this an early tale used by either Jesus or the Evangelist to convey a radical new theology to a Jewish audience, or a later Christian interpolation of a traditional Jewish folk tale? We have no way of knowing, but the image it creates is a powerful one. Here is the “bread of life,” which is able to unite Jew and gentile.

Even more suggestive is the fact that this Jew is Joseph, a symbol of wisdom who rises to great heights because of his wise council to pharaoh. How does he do this? As the scripture tells us, “There was no bread [sometimes translated merely as “food”] in all the land.” (47:13) What does Joseph do? He finds a way to provide grain for bread during the years of famine. In this way, he prefigures Christ feeding the multitudes.

We can see in these brief examples—both canonical and non-canonical—the powerful currents of meaning and symbols that drive us forward, like waves on the sea, from the old covenant to the new. Wisdom becomes a symbol for “spiritual refreshment,” and that Wisdom is the Word: “Christ is the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24).

This is the Wisdom that will bring us all to eternal life. As Thomas Aquinas observes, material bread is “the bread of death.” It can only ever replace what is lost by the body, and thus has no role in our immortal life. But the bread of life is the bread of “divine wisdom.” It is “life-giving of itself, and no death can affect it.” The life this bread gives us allows the soul to live, and that life is ours because we listen to the word of God.

I Am the Light of the World
Turning to John 8:12, wherein Jesus says “I am the light of the world,” it is possible to continue exploring sapiential themes and the way they would have resonated with a Jewish audience.

Once again, we have Christ presenting an image that evokes a specific Jewish understanding. In this case, his words coincide with the feast of Tabernacles, which began with a water-drawing ceremony and the lighting four large lamps of gold in the Temple’s Courtyard of the Women. These lamps were fueled with vats of pure oil, and lit by children of priestly descent using worn out priestly garments as wicks. The light was so bright that it illuminated all the courts of Jerusalem.

Philo wrote that Tabernacles was meant to teach “equality, the first principle and beginning of justice . . . and after witnessing the perfection of all the fruits of the year, to give thanks to the Being who has made them perfect.” The feast ended on the eighth day, which was regarded as the crowning day of all the feasts of the year. It is quite suggestive that Tabernacles was a harvest feast, celebrating the conclusion of a fruitful growing season. This echoes and amplifies John 6 and its mediations on the bread of life.

Thus, on the occasion of a feast in which oil is fired with the worn-out garments of the Temple priests, shedding a light over the Temple and the whole city, Christ utters another earth-shaking statement: He is the light of the world. Oil is a symbol of anointing and kingship, while the worn out priestly garments are a symbol of the insufficiency of the old priesthood and sacrifice. The lamps of the feast merely provide earthly light, which will flicker and fade when the oil is exhausted.

In this setting, Christ reveals the light that never fades, and which illuminates not merely the Temple or the Jews alone, but the entire world. The light of the fire illuminating the Courtyard of the Women was meant to evoke the pillar of fire that guided the Jews in the wilderness. The Book of Wisdom identifies this light with “the imperishable light of the law” (Wisdom 18:4), which brought them to the promised land. This light has been replaced by the light of Christ, which shall lead us to the true and final promised land of heaven. The one who follows the light of Christ “will not walk in darkness, for he has the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Augustine says that this light is “the Light which never fails, the Light of knowledge, the Light of Wisdom.” God’s first creation, of course, was light. (Genesis 1:3) Wisdom is “a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness.” (Wisdom 7:26) Christ brings Wisdom to mankind. He offers a light that shall be placed upon a stand to shine brightly, driving away the darkness of error and sin. (cf Luke 11:33-36) Those who believe in his truth have found the light of Wisdom: “I have come as light in the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.” (John 12:46)

Wisdom was with God at the beginning, and in the beginning was the Light, brought to earth by Christ. “Let us love this Light,” says Augustine. “Let us long to understand it, let us thirst for the same; that, with itself for our guide, we may at length come to it, and that we may so live in it that we may never die.”

By coming among us as the bread of life and light of the world, Jesus gives us an opportunity to share in the life of God. In particular, we are called to wisdom, which is found through following the teaching and example of Christ.

In Matthew 11:19, Jesus says quite clearly: “Wisdom is justified by her deeds.”

St. James provides guidance for our times, when discerning between the wisdom of man and the Wisdom of God becomes difficult. Who is wise? James asks. Let his works and meekness prove his wisdom. Those who display “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition” do not have the wisdom that “comes down from above,” but instead have a wisdom that is “earthly, unspiritual, devilish.” (James 3:13-15) This can lead only to “disorder and every vile practice.” (James 3:16)

By comparison, the Wisdom of God is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity.” (James 3:18)

In “The Tree of Life,” St. Bonaventure describes what is needed for the kingdom of God to be perfect. Power alone is not enough. The kingdom also needs “resplendent wisdom,” so that this power is direct by “the brilliant rays of the eternal laws emanating without deception from the light of wisdom. And this wisdom is written in Christ Jesus as in the book of life.” The Son of God, says Bonaventure, is “the book of wisdom and the light that is full of living eternal principles in the mind of the supreme Craftsman.”

Nourished by the Bread of Life and guided by the Light of the World, mankind at last has an opportunity to share in a portion of the Wisdom of God, by which we can better discern the will of God in our lives. 

What Happens When You Don’t Know How To Read the Bible

You get people reading Mark 16:18 and thinking they should do this:

… for which the natural, tragic, and wholly expected consequence is this:

Pastor Jamie Coots dies after snake he was handling bit him

(WBIR) Kentucky Pastor Jamie Coots died Saturday night after he was bitten by a snake, according to Middlesboro Police Chief Jeff Sharpe.

Coots starred on “Snake Salvation” alongside Pastor Andrew Hamblin, from LaFollette, who was recently in court for TWRA citations for snake-handling. The National Geographic show profiled the Pentecostal, serpent handling preachers.

Chief Sharpe said Coots was found dead in his home at about 10 p.m. Saturday after a snake allegedly bit Coots while he was handling the animal in his Middlesboro church, Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name.

And don’t miss the part in the above video where a snake bites off Pastor Jaimie’s finger and his wife keeps it around.

St. Gregory the Great on this passage:

Are we then without faith because we cannot do these signs? Nay, but these things were necessary in the beginning of the Church, for the faith of believers was to be nourished by miracles, that it might increase. Thus we also, when we plant groves, pour water upon them, until we see that they have grown strong in the earth; but when once they have firmly fixed their roots, we leave off irrigating them. These signs and miracles have other things which we ought to consider more minutely. For Holy Church does every day in spirit what then the Apostles did in body; for when her Priests by the grace of exorcism lay their hands on believers, and forbid the evil spirits to dwell in their minds, what do they, but cast out devils? And the faithful who have left earthly words, and whose tongues sound forth the Holy Mysteries, speak a new language; they who by their good warnings take away evil from the hearts of others, take up serpents; and when they are hearing words of pestilent persuasion, without being at all drawn aside to evil doing, they drink a deadly thing, but it will never hurt them; whenever they see their neighbours growing weak in good works, and by their good example strengthen their life, they lay their hands on the sick, that they may recover. And all these miracles are greater in proportion as they are spiritual, and by them souls and not bodies are raised.

Who Will You Serve in 2014?

Ayep, still on my two week holiday break, and not returning to regular bloggage until Monday.

I hope you’re all enjoying whatever downtime you can snatch before the reality of an arbitrary new time-cycle dawns upon us and we realize that, although the awfulness of 2013 is over and we’ve survived (sort of) the fifth year of an Obama administration, three more years still remain. And at the end of that three years, we’ll just get yet another venal, corrupt, and narcissistic leader to drive us further down the road to ruin.

Yeah, that’s a terrible attitude to have, particularly when we are powerless to do anything about it. It was ever thus. Our beautiful country had a brief time when we were at least partly free of it, but that’s gone now, and while we can mourn it, there’s only so much we can do about it. In three years I get to face the choice between Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton? That’s a choice? Are you kidding me? A nation once led by great men is now led by the political equivalent of reality show stars.

Emperor Leo VI kneels before Christ (Hagia Sofia)

Once in a while we can lift our voice in protest and simply say non serviam, but I’ve chosen the better portion, and will focus on the small, the tested, the local, the eternal. I’ll teach. I’ll write. I’ll raise chickens. I’ll read. I’ll play, because play is important, too.

Most of all, I’ll pray, serve my family and neighbor, love, and continue seek the true and the beautiful in strange places and in the faces of those the powerful would like to forget.

I’ll try to make the little patch around me a bit better without worrying overmuch as fools and despots pull their levers and make their schemes and dream up new utopias that will never come to pass, but will make us all miserable and angry in the meantime.

Our eyes are fixed on a different goal, and we should never be too much at home here in our exile. We will always be slaves, but to whom will we be enslaved? Power? Money? Sin?

I will not serve them. They are not my masters. The beauty of our faith is that we may choose our ultimate master, and like Paul, I choose to be a slave to Christ Jesus, and any other master who would try to rule me can get in line.

You gotta serve somebody: Bob Dylan got that one right. The question isn’t if you will serve, but who or what.

We are people of the resurrection. Nothing can defeat us except ourselves. I think the year ahead will be another rocky one, as we continue to pull ourselves apart and give our fealty to people who have not earned it and do not deserve it. There are people whose power is utterly dependent upon our divisions and enmity. For when you say you follow this person or party, or that one, what are you following? Your eyes are on the ground, and that means you’re looking in the wrong place.

Oscar Wilde–haunted both by Christ and sin his whole life–understood that: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

Let’s spend 2014 with our eyes on heaven. It’s not as far off as the stars. We get a foretaste of it in love and service and beauty and joy and the touch of another’s hand. It’s in the Eucharist and the sacraments.

Satan said non serviam to God, and the World follows his example.

It’s left to us to say non serviam to everyone but God.

Sirach: An Online Manuscript Collection

The Book of Sirach (Latin: Ecclesiasticus) is a beautiful wisdom work that blends Greek and Hebrew thought. It’s the last of the Old Testament books composed, and was probably written only two centuries before the first of the New Testament texts, providing an important glimpse into the development of faith and philosophy between the OT world and the NT world.

The last century has seen the recovery of various important manuscripts of Sirach, first from them middle ages, and then later, fragments from Qumran. These manuscripts are scattered in collections in Cambridge, Oxford, London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, and Jerusalem, making close examination and comparison of text a difficult thing. A new project called The Book of Ben Sirah is making that job much easier by attempting to unite all extant manuscripts into a single site. (Only the pages at the Bodleian Library are not included for rights reasons, but the site includes links to them.)

Right now, there are just hi-res scans up, but transcriptions, translations, and resources will be added now that the project is live. Check out the link to get a glimpse of these important manuscripts.

Brand New Verbum Bible Software Packages!

I get excited easily when it comes to new releases from Verbum, the Catholic Bible study software created Logos Bible Software. Today–Black Friday–they are releasing new bundles with some remarkable and welcome improvements.

These new “Verbum Plus Libraries” are updated to include a Catholic Topical Index, Saints Database, restructured librareis, more books, improved lectionary support, and other improvements.

Here’s the official rundown of new features:

• Roman Missal now opens automatically (The Missal, in English is now included in Foundations Plus)
• Look ahead or back and choose the liturgical reading you want to view from a calendar
• Displays titles of readings instead of verse numbers only
• New icon indicating liturgical color

• New database of over 500 Saints and their feast days
• High resolution images for over half of the Saint entries
• Navigate through the saints and their feast days right on your homepage

• Huge reference index, hand-compiled by scholars here at Verbum
• Doctrinal in nature
• Shows up by default in Cited By Tool and the Topic Guide
• Filled with topics especially relevant to Catholic doctrine
•Study topics like absolution, Eucharist etc, and see where scripture verses, Catechism references, and Ecclesial writings that pertain to that topic are located in your library
• Works best with more resources/bigger libraries

Each of the packages–Basic, Foundations, Scripture Study, Master, and Captone–add more resources and power as they go up in price. Verbum is expensive, but I would not be able to do my Masters in Theology work, Catholic writing, lecturing and even some of my blogging without it.

Verbum is at the heart of my system for writing about theology and preparing lessons, and its ability to drill down through massive amounts of text and language resources is the kind of thing that compresses the work of a week into seconds. They keep adding great resources and features, and although I’ve only had a little time to look at the new version, it looks like a solid upgrade created with Catholics in mind.