Archive for the ‘The Apostles’ Category

The Case of the Prophet Caiaphas

April 29, 2017

Once word got around how Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead,

[T]he chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, “What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.” He did not say this on his own, but since he was high priest for that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on they planned to kill him. (John 11:47-53)

Caiaphas speaks the wisdom of this world, recommending evil means in hopes of a desired social end. Yet St. John notes that this earthly-minded high priest prophetically reveals the plan of heaven without knowing it — Jesus has come “to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28) Like Balaam in the Book of Numbers, Caiaphas prophesies despite himself.

After Jesus’ Passion, death, and resurrection, the Sanhedrin convenes anew — this time to address the issue of the Apostles’ continued ministry in His name:

When the court officers had brought the Apostles in and made them stand before the Sanhedrin, the high priest questioned them, “We gave you strict orders did we not, to stop teaching in that name. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and want to bring this man’s blood upon us.”

Caiaphas is threatened by the vitality of this Messianic movement that won’t die and stay dead. He fears the social rebellion and personal vengeance that its followers may seek out. Once again, the high priest’s misplaced concerns unknowingly speak spiritual truths.

The Apostles indeed wish to bring the Savior’s blood upon the Jewish leaders and everyone. When the Old Covenant was inaugurated, “[Moses] took the blood and splashed it on the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words.’” (Exodus 24:8) Likewise, in instituting his New Covenant, Jesus “took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.’” (Matthew 26:27-28)

And the Apostles’ teaching is not merely filling the ancient Jerusalem found in the earthly Promised Land. In his visions, St. John beholds “the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” and he notes that God’s people “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:2 & 7:14)

Recall what Joseph told to his brothers who had sold him away as a slave: “Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good, to achieve this present end, the survival of many people.” (Genesis 50:20) Remember what St. Paul writes to the Christians in Rome: “We know that God works all things for good for those who love Him…” (Romans 8:28) The case of Caiaphas reminds us that even those who make themselves the enemies of God will be used as instruments to accomplish His ultimate will. At times this truth can be painfully inscrutable to us, but we trust that every evil, even the murdering of God, shall be turned to the good of those who love Him.

Loving Mercy Overcomes Error

January 10, 2017

Reflections on John 1:43-51

philip-and-nathanael     In the early days of his public ministry, Jesus decided to go to Galilee. There he found his future apostle Philip and says to him, “Follow me.” Philip, from the same town along the northern coast of Galilee as Peter and Andrew, was so awed at encountering Jesus that he tracked down his friend Nathanael (also known as Bartholomew.) Philip told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth!” (Philip is sharing happy news, “We’ve found the promised Messiah, the Christ, and he’s not too far from here!”) But Nathanael is unimpressed and unconvinced, saying, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip winsomely replies, “Come and see.

When Jesus sees Nathanael coming toward him he says of him, “Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him.” Nathanael asks, “How do you know me?” Jesus answers, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael declares, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel!” Jesus replies to him, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” Jesus tells him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Why did Nathanael’s opinion about Jesus, that man from Nazareth, change so suddenly? Perhaps Nathanael was sitting under a particular fig tree when Philip found him and Nathanael, believing that there was no natural way Jesus could have known or guessed this, was instantly persuaded. Another explanation is that Jesus is referring to a memorable dream Nathanael has recently had. It’s strange that Jesus would describe an honest man as a son of Israel—that is, as a son of Jacob—whose duplicitous deeds are detailed in Genesis. But recall how Jacob once had a dream in which he saw the angels of God ascending and descending a stairway to Heaven while the Lord God stood beside him. (Genesis 28:10-19) Jesus alludes to that event in this encounter. Now if a stranger were to tell me about a conversation I thought no one else had witnessed, I’d be intrigued; but if someone were to accurately describe my dream from the night before, that person would have my full attention. Whatever the reason behind Nathanael’s change of heart it was the style of Philip and Jesus’ approaches that made it possible.

The Gospels show us through numerous episodes how the apostles started off as far from perfect. When told that Jesus was from Nazareth, Nathanael replies, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” This story presents Nathanael’s prejudice and how that bias nearly made him reject the Christ out of hand. What did Nathanael hold against those Nazarenes living some thirty miles away? Did he think them unfriendly, lazy, unrefined, impious, unscrupulous? Whatever the reason, he looked down on them and it showed.

Nathanael’s rash dismissal of the Nazarene maligns someone Philip regards as a great and holy man. Yet Philip does respond in anger. Instead, he urges Nathanael to learn more. “Come and see.” Nathanael is persuaded by his friend to give this Jesus guy a chance—a fair hearing—and this modest openness eventually leads to him being won over. Still today, one of the best means for dissolving prejudices of every sort is through experiencing “the Other” firsthand.

As Jesus sees Nathanael approaching he demonstrates a penetrating supernatural knowledge of him. Jesus probably knew what Nathanael had previously remarked in secret but Jesus does not reproach or condemn him for it. Instead, Jesus compliments what is good in Nathanael: “Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him.” Though they do not yet see eye-to-eye, Jesus affirms his sincerity. This opens a door to dialogue that not only changes Nathanael’s mind but his entire life, as he goes on to become an apostle for Christ.

We could imagine a pricklier Philip or a different Jesus rejecting and condemning Nathanael for his initial disrespect toward the Christ of God; however, we see both practice tolerance toward him. Christians are commonly caricatured as easily offended but I have found that the more faithful variety show extensive mercy—which is very different than indifference. We are called to loathe error, but to love everyone. True tolerance does not hate others for holding wrong beliefs but loves them while trying to lead them to the truth.

It would be an oversimplification to say that forceful confrontation is never called for. Jesus occasionally denounced others, like “that fox” King Herod, the hypocritical Pharisees, and the evil spirits. Sometimes Jesus manifested his displeasure through bold prophetic acts, like flipping money-tables at the Temple or cursing the fig tree. Yet Jesus possessed perfect wisdom and a clear vision into others’ hearts. “Jesus knew their thoughts” and “did not need anyone to testify about human nature.” (Luke 5:22, John 2:25) We, however, must guard ourselves to be “slow to wrath,” for apart from the Holy Spirit’s prompting, “the wrath of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20)

In this era of division, let us promote unity in advocating for the truth. In our disagreements with friends or strangers, online or face to face, let us shun anger, sarcasm, and revilement and presume the other’s good faith and sincerity. This manner of winsome mercy won Nathanael’s mind and heart for Christ and it can be just as powerful today.

The Proof of the Apostles

September 10, 2013

By St. John Chrysostom

It was clear through unlearned men that the cross was persuasive, in fact, it persuaded the whole world. Their discourse was not of unimportant matters but of God and true religion, of the Gospel way of life and future judgment, yet it turned plain, uneducated men into philosophers. How the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and his weakness stronger than men!

In what way is it stronger? It made its way throughout the world and overcame all men; countless men sought to eradicate the very name of the Crucified, but that name flourished and grew ever mightier. Its enemies lost out and perished; the living who waged a war on a dead man proved helpless. Therefore, when a Greek tells me I am dead, he shows only that he is foolish indeed, for I, whom he thinks a fool, turn out to be wiser than those reputed wise. So too, in calling me weak, he but shows that he is weaker still. For the good deeds which tax-collectors and fishermen were able to accomplish by God’s grace, the philosophers, the rulers, the countless multitudes cannot even imagine.

Paul had this in mind when he said: The weakness of God is stronger than men. That the preaching of these men was indeed divine is brought home to us in the same way. For how otherwise could twelve uneducated men, who lived on lakes and rivers and wastelands, get the idea for such an immense enterprise? How could men who perhaps had never been in a city or a public square think of setting out to do battle with the whole world? That they were fearful, timid men, the evangelist makes clear; he did not reject the fact or try to hide their weaknesses. Indeed he turned these into a proof of the truth. What did he say of them? That when Christ was arrested, the others fled, despite all the miracles they had seen, while he who was leader of the others denied him!

How then account for the fact that these men, who in Christ’s lifetime did not stand up to the attacks by the Jews, set forth to do battle with the whole world once Christ was dead – if, as you claim, Christ did not rise and speak to them and rouse their courage? Did they perhaps say to themselves: “What is this? He could not save himself but he will protect us? He did not help himself when he was alive, but now that he is dead he will extend a helping hand to us? In his lifetime he brought no nation under his banner, but by uttering his name we will win over the whole world?” Would it not be wholly irrational even to think such thoughts, much less to act upon them?

It is evident, then, that if they had not seen him risen and had proof of his power, they would not have risked so much.

Enduring Despite Scandal — 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

July 17, 2011

I know of a man who was called and chosen to lead, to preach, and to be a minister on behalf of Christ. Good and powerful things were done through his ministry and he was respected by many Christians. However, despite outward appearances, this man was a sinner (a great sinner,) and when his sins became known he brought great scandal to the Church. It was revealed that he had repeated stolen from funds collected for the poor. It also became known that he had betrayed Christ, his people, and his vocation in a vastly more terrible way. So terribly, in fact, that Jesus said, “It would be better for that man if he had never been born.”  (Better for him if he had never lived life outside his mother’s womb.) This man, who preached the gospel, who worked mighty deeds, who drew crowds to Jesus Christ, was the Apostle Judas Iscariot.

Could you imagine being one of those Christians who had been evangelized by the Apostle Judas? What if he had preached the gospel and ministered in your hometown? Imagine how your faith might be shaken by his sins. How tragic it would be if any Christians had parted ways with Jesus Christ, the apostles and the Church because of the scandal of this one man.

Though the one, apostolic, and Catholic Church is holy, she does contain sinners. Jesus said that there would be weeds that grow alongside the wheat. It has always been this way, and so it shall be, until the separating harvest at the end of the age. There have been terrible sinners among the Church’s popes and priests, her lay men and women; children of the evil one. Yet, these sinners, should not make us forget about the Church’s many canonized and uncanonized saints, the children of the kingdom, through whom far greater good has been done.

Like the mustard seed Jesus described, His Catholic Church, which began as a speck in history, has grown into the largest of plants, a peaceful dwelling place which brings together all peoples. And like the yeast in the dough that Jesus spoke of, the works and teachings of His Catholic Church have raised up the whole world for the better. For instance, the Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world and she has been the defender of universal human dignity through the centuries. The modern world accepts the concept of universal human rights as a given because the Catholic Church first championed human dignity by her teachings and deeds. Despite the sins of some of its members, let no one say that the Catholic Church has not been a source and a force for good in the world.

We see that Jesus foreknew what Judas was freely going to do. Jesus said, “Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?” “Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” (He said this in reference to Judas.) Why did Jesus, who knew all the while what Judas would freely do, permit him to remain in their company? One could rightly say it was because the Father had ordained it so, or that it was necessary to fulfill Old Testament prophesies, or so that the Son of Man and Savior of mankind would experience the human suffering of betrayal by someone who knew Him well and should have loved Him. Perhaps there are one thousand true reasons for it in God’s providential plan, but I am convinced that one of these reasons is this: So that in the future, whenever one of Jesus’ own betrayed Christ’s Church, be they a member of the clergy or laity, it would not destroy our faith in Christ.      Ultimately, the only person our Catholic faith depends upon is Him, and Jesus will never let us down.

For those who have been alienated from the Faith because of scandals, let us pray whatever the offense, that no Judas shall keep them away from Jesus Christ and His Church.

Why Twelve Apostles? — Wednesday, 14th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

July 6, 2011

Yesterday, Jesus said to His followers, “ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” Today, He summons twelve disciples from the crowd to have a special role and authority among His people. Each is named an “apostle,” a title which is a Greek word, meaning “one who is sent.” Jesus shall send the apostles into the world to be the foundation stones of the Church. Why did Jesus choose twelve Apostles, rather than ten, twenty, or one hundred? I think that reasons are found in the history of God’s people and in the symbolic meaning of numbers.

Yesterday, Jacob wrestled with God and his name was changed Israel. This man, Israel, had twelve sons and through these sons, descended the twelve tribes, the people of Israel. By choosing twelve, Jesus establishes the people of God anew; He constitutes a new Israel. The number twelve is also three times four. Three is the Trinitarian number of God and four is the number of the created world; as in north, south, east and west, or the four corners of the earth. Twelve, the number which is three times four, denotes how the Triune God shall reach out to all nations to form a new people of God, a new family, a New Israel, the Church.

Our Church, its bishops, priests and deacons, like the sons of Israel and the twelve Apostles, frequently prove that they are human, yet our Church is more than just an organization and the ordained are more than just functionaries. Our clergy derive their special role and authority from Jesus Christ and the Apostles, and our Church is intended for all. They are our fathers and the Church is God’s family.