Elijah the Prophet, Jesus the Lord

September 27, 2011

Today’s Gospel reading happens to correspond to a presentation that I recently made in one of my classes on Luke’s use of Elijah imagery in his Gospel.  Luke’s use of Elijah is complex.  He does not make a simply one-to-one typological correspondence, but rather seems as concerned to contrast Jesus and Elijah as compare them.  Luke contrasts Elijah and Jesus not to criticize Elijah, but rather to show that Jesus is something more than a prophet.  Jesus is the Lord, and a Messiah who will bring salvation to all people, not through violence but through the cross.

Jesus explicitly invokes Elijah (and Elisha) in Luke 4:16-30. Here, he reverses the people’s expectations that the Messiah would be a warrior king who would bring God’s blessings on Israel and his wrath on her enemies.  Jesus first reads a messianic passage from Isaiah about the blessings the Messiah will bring, and says that this passage is fulfilled in their hearing.  This accords with people’s hopes and expectations.  But then, he invokes Elijah and Elisha who gave God’s blessings to Gentiles, to say that God’s blessings will be extended outside of Israel.  This contradicts the people’s hopes and expectations about membership in the Kingdom of God, and provokes their wrath.

Again in Luke 7:11-17, the raising of the son of the widow of Nain, there are allusions to Elijah raising the son of the widow who fed him during the famine (1 Kings 17:17-24).  Here, though, there are notable discontinuities.  Elijah uses almost magical efforts to raise the boy–laying upon him and three times breathing upon him (according to the Greek Old Testament which Luke would have used), completed by a powerful plea to the Lord (kyrios in the Greek Old Testament) to raise the boy.  By contrast, Jesus simply commands the boy and he is raised.  Elijah must beg the Lord for the miracle, whereas Jesus simply commands.  Significantly, Luke calls Jesus only “kyrios” in this passage.  Elijah must call on the Lord, Jesus is the Lord. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Chalice and Eucharistic Faith

September 26, 2011

Nathan said some important things about Bishop Olmsted’s recent decision in his post on Liturgical Minimalism in Phoenix.  I’ve got some different thoughts that I share here.

Even in this section of the GIRM dealing with “Communion Under Both Kinds” (281-287), there is much anxiety for the proper catechesis of the people about Eucharistic doctrine.

Rightly so, for the expansion of communion under both species was a stunning capitulation, in liturgical practice if not in theology, to Protestant arguments in favor of communion in both species.  The Catholic Church vigorously opposed these arguments for over 500 years, since the practice was condemned by the ecumenical Council of Constance in 1415 in response to the Utraquist controversy prompted by John Wyclif and John Hus.  Martin Luther listed the denial of both species to the faithful as one of three “captivities” of the sacrament of the Eucharist, along with the doctrine of transubstantiation and the sacrifical understanding of the Mass (James T. O’Connor, The Hidden Manna: A Theology of the Eucharist, 2nd ed., Ignatius Press, 2005, 130-135).

The GIRM is concerned above all that the faithful be properly instructed on the lynchpin of the Catholic response as formulated at the Council of Trent, namely that:

 “Christ, whole and entire, and the true Sacrament, is received even under only one species, and consequently that as far as the effects are concerned, those who receive under only one species are not deprived of any of the grace that is necessary for salvation”  (282). Read the rest of this entry »


Zillions of Talents

September 14, 2011

Fr. Pidel’s Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time speaks of “the ‘huge amount’ that we all owe the Father for our very existence and for our redemption.”  I want to add something about how huge that amount really is.

Last Sunday’s Gospel, the parable of the two servants, contains one of my biggest translation peeves in the US Lectionary.  We are told that the first servant owed “a huge amount” (Mt 18:24), which he could not repay, and so his master had compassion on him and forgave his debt.

The Revised Standard Version more accurately renders this “ten thousand talents,” reflecting the Greek, which says “muriōn talantōn.”

The first word there might be recognizable even if you don’t know much Greek, as it comes to us in English as “myriad.”  While it is true that it can mean the number 10,000 (actually, it’s the largest number that can be expressed in Greek with a single word), more generally it means “numberless, countless, infinite” (according to the Liddell-Scott Greek-English Lexicon).

Even more vividly, the Bauer-Danker Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature translates it as “zillion” (“in our lit[erature] used hyperbolically, as in Engl[lish] informal usage ‘zillion,’ of an extremely large or incalculable number”).  So here, “zillions of talents.”

That’s considerably more vivid, and a lot larger, than “a huge amount.”

Just to give some perspective: Thucydides, in his History of the Peloponnesian War, lists the assets and income of Athens at the height of her strength and as their epic war with Sparta was beginning:  “on an average six hundred talents of tribute were coming in yearly from the allies to the city… and there were at this time still on hand in the Acropolis six thousand talents of coined silver (the maximum amount had been nine thousand seven hundred talents)” (II 13.3, translated by C.F. Smith, Loeb Classical Library Edition).

So this poor man owes zillions of talents, and even taking it literally as 10,000 talents, that is more than the maximum contained in the Acropolis of Athens!

The point of course is that this is a ridiculous amount, utterly impossible to repay.  His only hope is for his master to have mercy on him and forgive his debt.  (And what does it say about the wealth and power of the master that he can forgive such a debt!)  By contrast, the second servant owes a hundred denarii (US Lectionary: “a much smaller amount”), which is a hundred days’ wages: a paltry amount by comparison, quite possible to repay with a little time and forbearance.  The disproportion between what he has been forgiven and what he is owed is beyond all measuring.

Understanding these proportions makes clear the limitless extent of God’s Divine Mercy.  We are such debtors, who owe God more than we can possibly repay.  Our only hope is in his mercy, which we receive in abundance, greater even than the uncountable myriad–the zillions–that we owe.


Spiritual Direction and Confession

September 11, 2011

“Confession is not spiritual direction.”

This is a principle that I have followed and a maxim that I have often repeated.  By this I mean that in confession, people generally need only some brief counsel, encouragement, and absolution.  Of course, the sacrament of penance is private and personal, and there are many situations that would require something different.  But I had thought it a sound principle to distinguish clearly these two different activities.

I might have to revise this thinking in light of what I have learned from reading the Congregation for the Clergy’s recent document “The Priest, Minister of Divine Mercy: An Aid for Confessors and Spiritual Directors.”  This document was dated March 9, 2011, but seems to have received very little attention.  This is probably for several reasons.  First, there is nothing controversial in it (unlike the 1997 Vademecum for Confessors Concerning Some Aspects of the Morality of Conjugal Life–which remains in my opinion the wisest, most useful, and practical instruction for confessors, not only on the particular topic it addresses but for the general principles it provides).  Read the rest of this entry »