Flesh and spirit, commentary on some texts of St Paul’s Letter to the Galatians

‘Flesh and spirit’,                                                         commentary on some texts of St Paul’s Letter to the Galatians

Year 2, Week 27, Monday                  Glenroy 1976

the knowledge of the mystery is always a revelation”

“For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” Gal 1:11-12

Paul defends his Gospel. ‘I declare and state: my Gospel is not a human fabrication.’ He teaches that what makes a person acceptable to God is faith in Christ crucified. This Gospel, Paul declares, is not a catering to human weakness. He goes on: ‘Nor did he receive it from others’.  He is proclaiming his independence. Many traditions he did indeed receive from the Jerusalem Church, but his essential Gospel did not come from them. He goes on: ‘He learnt his message through revelation’. That is, it was on the road to Damascus that he received his overpowering insight into the meaning of Christ. Of course, he knew beforehand many things about Christ and the Church, which is why he persecuted of the followers of the Way. Paul has seen the core of Christianity. The rest he strips away.

As with Paul, so with all Christians. They may have heard the gospel and learnt the doctrines from others, but the knowledge of the mystery is always a revelation. Their insight may repeat that of countless millions before them, but it is always new. Their witness may seem like the witness of many others, but it is original for they have become Christ and reveal the Christ. They have become the Man and proclaim the Man in a way that has never been done before. What counts is not the originality of the doctrine but the originality of the attestation. The newness is not the what but the who. Those who have come to know the Christ provide a new dimension of power and salvation, of encouragement and companionship.

  

Year 2, Week 27, Tuesday                    Glenroy 1976

“We are in the age of the Spirit.”

“But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.”              Gal 1:15-17

Jesus is the eternal Son of God and Paul’s vocation began before his conception. Jesus is acknowledged at the waters of Jordan but Paul receives his calI on the road to Damascus. Jesus immediately goes to the desert to absorb and reflect upon his call; Paul goes off to the region of Arabia for the same purpose. Jesus returns to Galilee and takes up his ministry; Paul goes to Damascus and begins to preach the Christ. There are many parallels between the experience of the Christ and the experience of the Christian Paul.

Many things prepare for the moment of grace. The construction of our bodies, the formation of our character, the upbringing and the society in which we live: these are the predispositions. The moment of grace is dependent on them, and also independent. It is dependent on them because they form the tissue and the colour, the occasion and the circumstance. It is independent from them because they do not explain it. God’s freedom is shown in this independence. His call is proved by his freedom. He decides, here and now, in these circumstances, to call the person of such and such a character. It is the moment of human freedom also, an inspired moment.

We are in the age of the Spirit. Grace will be experienced as a free choice. Human beings will choose independently and freely, because it seems just and good to them and to the Spirit in them. Father and Son will be known and revered, but the first impulse of choice will be the divine Spirit and the human spirit acting as one.

 

 Year 2, Week 27,   Wednesday                   Glenroy 1976

“the balance between equality and authority”

“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”               Gal. 2.11-14

Ever since his experience upon the rooftop at Joppa when Peter had seen the vision concerning the Gentiles and eating with the unclean, his custom had been to share common table with them. After overcoming the opposition from some in Jerusalem, he had maintained his custom. Barnabas too and Paul especially had taken up the same custom. To eat with the Gentiles was to accept them into fellowship.

Peter had eventually to flee Jerusalem in the wake of Herod’s attack and took the road to Antioch where he continued his custom of eating with the Gentiles. As long as they had faith in the Lord Jesus, he could share the common table with them. Barnabas was there and Paul too. However, from Jerusalem there came those who belonged to the party of James. They claimed that, as the Promises had been made to the Jews, and as Jesus himself had been an ardent upholder of the Law, it was necessary for Gentiles to accept the whole framework of the Law. Their arguments were convincing and still bear weight: for we can only understand the New Law from within the context of the Old Law.

Peter and Barnabas began to avoid eating with the Gentiles. At this, Paul explodes. He publicly upbraids Peter for his inconsistency. Had he not long been eating with Gentiles, leaving them free of the rules of the Law? Must the Gentiles now become Jews?

If there were no equality, Paul could not raise his voice; if there were no authority, Paul would not need to. This situation characterizes the relationship between Christians: the balance between equality and authority. If equality is lacking there is no community; if authority is lacking there is no assembly.

In a healthy Church there will be disputes and reconciliation. Where they are lacking, the Church is dead.

 

 Year 2, Week 27, Thursday                 Glenroy 1976

“The Spirit  is the test of everything.”

“The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard?”        Gal 3:2

The Spirit  is the test of everything. Did the Law give the Spirit? No! Therefore, it was waiting for someone who could. Did Jesus give the Spirit? Yes! Therefore, he is the one who was to come into the world. Does the practice of the Law impart the Spirit? No! Therefore, it is useless or at best a predisposition. Does the hearing of the Word impart the Spirit? Yes! Therefore, it is the gift of God. The Spirit is the test of every action, thought and emotion. If the Spirit grows as a result it is true. If the Spirit does not increase, it is idle.

Growth can occur through other means – and all growth is an indication of the Spirit – but full growth in the Spirit is only through the Gospel. There are many ways of hearing the Gospel, not only with the ears but also with the skin, between the lines, in history. All growth in the Spirit is due to entering, in some way, into  the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul realizes that this is the essential religious fact of history. There are also many ways of experiencing Christ’s the death and resurrection. Not his death alone; not his resurrection alone; not side by side, but as one.

Jesus is then known as the centre of history, the Lord of time who leads into eternity.

  

Year 2, Week 27, Friday                    Glenroy 1976

“When we have become spirit …”

 “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.”in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”      Gal 3:8,14

God is first known, in the religious history of Israel, as One who promises. He promises to give Abraham a land, a son, a countless progeny, and to bless all mankind through him. Yet, how vastly different is the fulfilment from the understanding! Abraham was promised land, but he receives the Word in whom all is created. He was promised a son, yet he receives the Man. He was to be a blessing for all mankind, but this is the gift of God’s own Spirit.

The fulfilment seems almost contrary to the promise, for it is those not of his flesh who become his sons; the land becomes irrelevant; it is not in success but in the Crucified that the promise is fulfilled.

We too live in promise: the return of Christ. Yet the fulfilment will surpass the hope. Indeed, it will seemingly contradict the hope. Who would have dared tell Abraham that the sons as numerous as the stars would not be of his body? Who will dare say there is no heaven, ‘up there’, no Second Coming on clouds? Yet, in both cases the fulfilment is the same: the superabundant outpouring of the Spirit. When we have become spirit, then will be Christ be returned, more powerfully than we can imagine.

  

Year 2, Week 28, Monday                  Glenroy 1976

“an upwelling of the Spirit”

“So then, friends, we are children, not of the slave but of the free woman.”            Gal 4:31

Faith in Christ crucified leads to an upwelling of the Spirit, to a religious experience that occurs at the root of the heart and therefore constitutes the central event for every human being.

For that reason, Paul can plunge back into the Old Testament and find allegories. He could equally have plunged into the Vedas and the Tao-The Ching or into the writings of Aeschylus and Camus and there find other foreshadowings, for all of them communicate, to some extent, the experience of Christ crucified and risen. The.

The Old Testament foreshadows the Christ-event which is normative. It is the paradigm. The greatest religious writings of the greatest religions, and the greatest literary works of mankind disguise the truth even as they reveal it. The Light of Christ reveals the genius of mankind which in turn casts light upon the Light.

  

Year 2, Week 28, Tuesday                Glenroy 1976

“identity with Jesus Christ glorious”

“Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.              Gal  5:2-6

The context of the phrase is the fear of judgment. How could one be saved on that dreadful day? The answer of the Church was belief in Jesus. Those who joined themselves to Christ, the Just One, would be freed from condemnation.

Paul takes this basic teaching and applies it to the Galatians. They had first acknowledged that by placing their faith in Jesus they would be saved.  If now they weaken in faith to the extent of feeling the need to take on circumcision and the whole Law of Moses, they are effectively saying that Jesus is not enough. He will be insufficient for them on the day of judgment; they cannot look to him alone for salvation. Circumcision was the sign of the covenant between God and Abraham; for the Jews it was the guarantee  of divine favour. It was a challenge to the all-encompassing  faith in Jesus.

Paul is adamant on this point. For him, circumcision after faith is equivalent to apostasy; but apostasy is unforgivable; therefore, circumcision brings condemnation. He is not mincing his words.

Faith in Christ is the basis of salvation, faith not so much in Jesus the Jew, not just in Christ the crucified, but identity with Jesus Christ glorious.

 

 Year 2, Week 28, Wednesday            Glenroy 1976

“harmony and strength, peace and power”

“Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh.” Gal 5:16-17

For Paul, those upon whom the Spirit has come are ‘body’, but those whom the Spirit does not inhabit are ‘flesh’. Without Spirit they feel debilitation in every respect, physical, psychological, relational, but those inspired from above experience harmony and strength, peace and power. Their ‘flesh’ has become ‘body’. Indeed, they have become ‘spirit’.

Those who are ‘body’ acquire the solidity of rock and the lightness of wind. But the ‘flesh’, if allowed to run its course, ends up in decomposition of every sort: social, intellectual, volitional, psychological, and spiritual.

For this reason, Paul urges the Galatians to walk by the Spirit. There is no need to do anything different. To live in the Spirit, to be oneself, that is his urging. But not any self: his exhortation is to be ‘body’

 

 

 

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Love never ends, commentaries on 1 Corinthians

Love never ends, commentaries on 1 Corinthians

Year 2, Week 21, Thursday                                           Glenroy 1976

Fellowship

“God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”    1 Cor 1:9

From the beginning God had intended to bring mankind to its fulness. To his people he had sworn possession of the Promised Land. He is faithful to his intentions, for his purposes share the steadiness of his eternal nature. He is essentially faithful.

As he used the politics of Egypt and the surprises of nature to bring his people to freedom through the Red Sea so, whenever he brings a person to freedom, he operates on the scale of human and cosmic history. The whole world conspires. The whole world utters God’s call.

This freedom to which we are called is nothing less than a share in the state of Christ. He was called Son of God at the moment of his baptism in Jordan. He was proclaimed Lord and Christ at the moment of his resurrection. But he is the Word from all eternity. To this same condition we too are called. Every step towards freedom, every increase in spiritual being, every growth in faith and love, every acquisition of truth, is an equivalence to Christ. We mirror each other.

Our growth is the work of God. As the Father has the initiative within the Trinity, so he has the initiative in all things. Christ seconds the Father’s will; the Father does nothing in opposition to Christ. Even so, Christ is not principally the source of our growth. It is the Father who primarily draws us to our full stature, which is no less than Christ’s, but it is God who makes us grow. We are brought, then, by the Father’s work, into the same condition as Christ – who is our leader and our Lord.

 

Year 2, Week 21, Friday                                        Glenroy 1976

Christ crucified

“Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”  1 Cor 1:22-23

Paul’s practice was to go first to the synagogue in whatever town he visited. Generally, however, his preaching met with little success because the Jews looked for signs. The marvelous crossing of the Red Sea had brought their ancestors to faith in God, so now they wanted wonderful events before they could believe in Jesus. They failed to see that the greatest event was Jesus’ own person. Paul had preached at Athens to the philosophers of the Areopagus. They listened with indulgence until he mentioned the resurrection. Then they laughed at him. They sought wisdom and eternal principles, but failed to seek the ground and base of the highest wisdom.

Paul proclaims the basis of all wonders, the source of all wisdom, namely the Christ. He announces, not an impersonal event or an abstraction, but the individual man, Jesus of Nazareth who is what all people seek in their quests. Paul announces, not a good deed nor a beautiful event, but the horror of a  death transformed into glory, the greatest deed, the most breathtaking act.

We can understand Christ crucified only if we have already travelled the same road. We can accept Christ crucified only when we accept ourselves in our weakness. Christ reveals man to man, and his justification by God is a confirmation of ourselves. Those who can say yes to Paul’s preaching, find in Christ the truth that is valid for all times. 

 

Year  2, Week 21,  Saturday                                   Glenroy  1976 

Preludes to  grace 

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.”        1 Cor  1:26-27

Paul had success in Corinth, but mainly with the common people, the artisans, dockers and servants. These are the ones who have been given the gift of faith. Paul sees in this fact the eternal truth of the cross. Jesus was reduced below every human station, desolate in mind, weakened in body and humiliated as a criminal. Yet this very lowliness is the prelude to his becoming Lord and Christ. The Corinthians too have been called and at their baptism were acclaimed with the title of ‘sons of God’. Their ordinariness was the first step to receiving the gift of faith. Their lowliness was the occasion of being filled with the Spirit.

This principle is true of all times. The fullness of God can be attained only with simplicity of heart. If trust is placed in power or background, it is not placed in their source – the Spirit of God. Trust is placed not in what is already possessed but in what can be attained, not the lesser but the higher gift. God calls those who have simplicity of life, openness of mind and a readiness for the unknown, and grants them wisdom and power and independence, making them masters and sanctifiers of all things.

 

Year  2, Week 22,  Monday                                    Glenroy 1976

Paul’s weakness and fear

“When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.”    1 Cor 2:1-5

Paul had deep insight into the mystery of God, yet was not a gifted speaker. He did not have the turn of phrase and the logical method that delighted the Greek mind. Yet he is glad about this, for it means that his preaching is conformed to the message it conveys. Paul comes preaching only one thing: Christ, not the magnificent Christ of the public life, with his miracles and his riveting words; not the glorious Christ of the resurrection appearances, but the crucified Christ in whom there is no beauty, nothing to attract human eyes. Paul’s lack of style is comparable to Christ’s disfigured body. His inability to display logic is like Christ’s stunning silence. Paul preaches, by his life and his handicaps, nothing but a crucified Christ. His preaching is most convincing in its lack of oratory, for he depends only on the power of the Spirit.

If we can appreciate this paradox, as Paul did, then we have already experienced it; if we have felt it in our lives, then we are already citizens of heaven; if we are eternal, then we are ‘sons of God’ upon earth; if we are in time, we are called to the cross, so that the mystery of Christ might be re-enacted and fulfilled in a thousand other Christs, till the world is saved though every member.

  

Year  2, Week 22,  Tuesday                                    Glenroy 1976

The Spirit

“These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.”          1 Cor 2:10-12

Paul is speaking of the cross and its wisdom.

The cross is the most puzzling and also the most characteristic action of God, the most revealing aspect of his nature. It can be understood only by those who have the spirit and the mind of God. Christians do not have the character of the world but the character of God. They are divine as God is divine and so they can understand the cross. Without that interior light, the workings of God would remain a puzzle for them

The word ‘cross’ does not refer to pain and ignominy alone. It also means the glory that is inseparable from it. It is that complex of humiliation and glorification, that risen body which still bears the imprint of the nails and the lance.

As Christians experience Christ’s glory in themselves, they also know his cross. The cross is the gift of God, and all other gifts are expressions of it. It is their Christian life and its marvel.

 

Year  2, Week 22,  Thursday                                   Glenroy 1976

The supremacy of love

“Whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.”                1 Cor 3:22-23

All things are brought into one under God. His choice goes out to all things. He joins them to himself, harmonizes them, and unifies them in the ardour of his love. For this reason, divisions are impossible for someone who has the Spirit of God.

Christ, being filled with the Spirit performs the same action of unity. Being First-Born, he does this among humans in an altogether unique way, by the cross. Christ joins human beings to himself, they do not join him to their selves, for he is the First-Born. Christ joins them to himself and God in turn joins Christ to his self. Thus, God has the primacy of love.

And each Christian is called to do this for others. The same thirst of unity moves in their hearts as they stretch out and call all into being, seconding God’s choice, imitating Christ’s seconding. In that work of union, they find their greatest joy, for all things become one Body, one Spirit in them. The disparate can become one only if they become spiritual; the diverse things can achieve unity only if they become loving and godlike; the multiplicity of passing things achieves eternity only if they choose each other.

Here, at last, is the oneness sought by the philosophers.

 

Year  2, Week 22,  Friday                                      Glenroy 1976

The judge

“But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.”         1 Cor 4:3-5

Paul is under attack from his own people in Corinth. He has defended himself against their criticism, but in any case he does not attach importance to their opinion, for their judgment is purely human. In place of the Day of the Lord, they have invented the Day of Man. For this reason, they have no authority. Therefore, Paul tells them to wait for the coming of Christ, when they will indeed truly know and so their opinion will have authority.

Christ comes when a person is inspired. Christ is fully come when a person has become spirit. Inspiration takes us out of time to the Last Day; inspiration gives us the energy of God and of the universe, of mankind and all history. Only those who are inspired can utter true judgment. When they speak, Christ speaks. When Christ speaks, they speak, for they and Christ are one.

Their judgment does involves punishing, but the damnation is found above all silence, for silence creates confusion more than wrath. They do indeed expel the evil person, for they accept only goodness. They do not recognise those who are evil. “I do not know you”. Their condemnation consists above all in an omission of blessing. It is the darkness – an absence of light. Not to have a blessing is to have a curse.

 

Year  2, Week 23,  Wednesday                                Glenroy 1976

The true centre

“I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.”      1 Cor 7:29-31

Paul is aware both of the coming kingdom and of the passing nature of the present. He preaches detachment from the concerns of this life and its constant changes. It is unnecessary, he says, to live on that level.

It may be said that Paul is inhuman because he refuses to share in the joys and sorrows of mankind. Yet he is not inhuman, he is future-human. He knows in anticipation what future humans will be and need not take part in their ups and downs. Paul is not stoic. He is not refusing the turmoil of history just because it is painful. His reason is that a new history is about to occur, a new definitive history, not the eternal return of the Stoics. A new humanity is about to appear. Paul already lives in the aura and ambit of this new humanity. It has already come to birth in Paul himself, and he looks forward to its birth throughout the world.

The new humanity is the Christ,  who is the Man beyond history because he touches all history; the Man now untroubled by pain because he has endured all pain; the Man above changing joys because he knows perfect joy; the Man who feels all, wants all, governs all. He is the Man who has achieved the Manhood of which we are all sorry imitations.

Paul is not tied to history, not because he despises it but because he touches all history through knowing the Lord of history. How can he find himself involved in trade or commerce when he is already the lord of the divine economy? How can he be sorry or glad at one moment or another, when he embraces every emotion? How can he be concerned about possessions since the whole world is his? Paul’s seeming indifference is not a weakness but a strength. Others may feel the turmoil of history because of their limitations. History engulfs them, but Paul embraces history because he is already the Man.

The lesson today is this: he who experiences the Man, is the Man, lives beyond the constraints experienced by human beings and draws them all into the unity of the Perfect Man.

  

Year  2, Week 23,  Thursday                                   Glenroy 1976

God and the gods

“Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”        1 Cor 8:5-6

In Paul’s day the forces of nature were called ‘gods’. In our own day people find meaning in other forces. These are their gods, in fact if not in name.

Christians say there is only one God from whom all things come. Greater than Baal, he produces all things. Greater than cosmic forces, he directs all things. Wiser than all the philosophers, he gives meaning to life and draws human beings to himself, for he is their meaning and their goal.

There is only one God. If there were several, humans would disintegrate, not knowing to which they should give themselves. There is only one Lord. If there were several, humans would fragment in mind and body, torn apart by divided loyalties.

The Lord Christ seconds his Father’s will. He is the model on which all is built and it is out of love for him that the Father creates a kingdom. Christ Jesus gives consistency to things since they are, in intention, his body. It is he who redeems; it is he who makes it possible to know God.

The Church, visible and invisible, is the sign of his success. Its vocation is to be as Christ, giving consistency to things,  seconding the Father’s will, being models, of justice, receiving the elect, material and human, as their body, so that through them grace might come to mankind and mankind come to God.

 

Year  2, Week 24,  Wednesday                                Glenroy 1976

Ending and lasting

“Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. … When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.”              1 Cor 13:8, 11.

Mary stood by the cross of Jesus, and witnessed the passing of a Son whom she had born and nurtured, loved and respected. Yet she knew, however obscurely, that only in this way could he achieve that fullness of glory which made him Lord and Christ and Man. Her child was becoming the Man; his flesh was becoming immortal, incorruptible, invisible.

The Spirit has inspired the Church to develop many glorious things: sacraments, hierarchy, institutions, laws. These, in their limited aspects, will be destroyed. Just as prophecies, tongues and knowledge pass away, so too will all other temporary things pass. These are good and necessary for as long as the Church is a ‘child’, but when the Church becomes a Man, these will go. When the Man comes on the clouds of heaven, and when the Man becomes fully formed in the heart of the Church, all these will go. The passing is painful. The passing is necessary.

Yet the passing can be only at God’s hour. Mary conceived only when the Spirit came. Christ was killed only when his hour had come. No one can take it upon their self to effect the passing. Only the Man can do this. Only he can put away the things of a child and destroy them. They will have served their purpose and borne their fruit.

 

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A new heart, a new spirit, – commentaries on Ezekiel

New heart, new spirit, commentaries on Ezekiel

Year 2 , Week 19, Monday                                      Glenroy 1976

The freedom of God

“On the fifth day of the month (it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin), the word of the Lord came to the priest Ezekiel son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the Lord was on him there. …  Like the bow in a cloud on a rainy day, such was the appearance of the splendor all around. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of someone speaking.”      Ezekiel 1:2-3, 28

The priest Ezekiel has gone into exile to Babylon, in the first deportation. There, so far away in a foreign land, he prophesies to his saddened fellow exiles. Like Sinai, more glorious than Sinai, the presence of God is manifested on the banks of the River Chebar, with clouds and flashes of lightning. Like the Temple liturgy, more glorious than the Temple liturgy, God comes with noise and the sound of mighty waters. Like the Ark of the Covenant, infinitely more glorious than the Ark, the Lord dwells above the four living creatures, the cherubim. In Ezekiel and the exiles, so far away, he continues his mighty purpose.

God’s presence is more glorious than Temple and Ark. He does not depend on them. His presence is not confined to its former manifestations. Even in the land of exile, more so in the land of exile does God appear. Most of all, on the gibbet of the Cross is God revealed, made fully known in Christ’s glorious ignominy. God does not depend on anything created, no matter how holy;  he is supremely free. He transcends all the laws and all cults; he is supremely powerful. He manifests himself where and how he wills; he is all holy.

 

Year 2 , Week 19, Tuesday                                       Glenroy 1976

Vision and vocation

He spread it before me; it had writing on the front and on the back, and written on it were words of lamentation and mourning and woe. He said to me, O mortal, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. He said to me, Mortal, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it. Then I ate it; and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey.”     Ezekiel 2:10, 3:1-3.

After seeing the extraordinary vision of God’s majesty, Ezekiel receives his vocation. Not tables of stone, not a spoken message, but a scroll is given to him; not with laws upon it or a message of peace, not a covenant or stories of the past, but “lamentations, wailings, moaning”. His future work is given to him: to write prophecies. Even though his audience has already experienced the trauma of exile, his message is still more terrible. He does not bring them consolation but desolation. And yet, as he eats the scroll it tastes sweet to him, and satisfies his hunger.

A vocation from God must begin with a vision of God. Every vision of God involves a vocation to service. No matter what the vocation may entail, it is sweet. No matter what else we might prefer to do, only a vocation will satisfy.

At one point stands the holiness of God, at the other, the people of God. The vocation is a link between them. Every vocation is as different as every vision, but all are one since God is one and human good is one.

 

Year 2 , Week 19, Wednesday                                   Glenroy 1976

Against presumption

“To the others he said in my hearing, “Pass through the city after him, and kill; your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. Cut down old men, young men and young women, little children and women, but touch no one who has the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.” Ezekiel 9:5-6

The avenging angel had gone among the Egyptians and struck down the first-born of those whose abode was not marked with the blood of the lamb. The people of Israel had taken confidence from this predilection God had shown them, but it was an overweening confidence. Again destruction comes to a nation. Not one angel but seven; not taken from one class only but from both warrior and priestly caste; not the extermination of the first-born only but of old and young alike, men and women, virgins and children; not of foreign Egyptians but of the very people of God. If the Egyptians had refused to allow the Hebrews to go and sacrifice on Mt Sinai, Israel has done far worse. In the very Temple itself they had offered sacrifices to idols. As God has punished the Egyptians, far more terribly and for a far worse sin, he decimates his people.

These readings of destruction are a timely warning. If the Jews could not presume upon the indulgence of God because of his kindness to their forbears, neither can Christians presume on God’s indulgence because he raised their Christ from the dead. As God could decimate his people because of their idolatry, so can he decimate the Church if it neglects the true spirit of Christianity.

 

Year 2 , Week 19, Thursday                                     Glenroy 1976

Prophet as symbol

“Say, “I am a sign for you: as I have done, so shall it be done to them; they shall go into exile, into captivity.””    Ezekiel 12:11

The exiles on the River Chebar in Babylon were the first group of deportees from Jerusalem. They hoped they would be the last and that they could soon go back to their homeland. Ezekiel destroys their hopes. The rest of their brethren will be sent into exile and the punishment will be complete.

Ezekiel shows this by acting out a play. He pretends to be a Jerusalemite going into exile. As they ask him why he packs his bag during the day, picks it up in the evening and walks away, he says: “The thing that I have done will be done to them: they will go into exile, into banishment”. The prophet’s action reveals the mind of God and brings about the people’s fate.

Ezekiel is a symbol. The pretense he has made is not a pretense. It is a reality. It shows the future at seed in the present. It effects what it pictures. It affects body and will, sense and soul, heart and mind.

This is the vocation of everyman: to be the symbol of the Future Man.

  

Year 2 , Week 19, Friday                                         Glenroy 1976

Infatuation

“But you trusted in your beauty, and played the whore because of your fame, and lavished your whorings on any passer-by.”     Ezekiel 16:15

From unpromising material God has made Jerusalem into a great and beautiful city. Adorned with Palace and Temple, aqueducts and noble houses Jerusalem had, for a while, earned a place among the significant capitals of the Middle East.

This fact is presented in today’s reading as the result of God’s love for an abandoned child. No one loved her, God has loved her completely. Abandoned at birth, God brings her to the flower of age. Left in unholy blood, the Lord has cleansed her and made her his own. She had nothing, God has given her everything.

This very generosity is the basis of her fall. So beautiful, she becomes “infatuated with her beauty”; so heaped with riches, she was nothing but wealth; so loved by God, she wants to be loved by all gods. She has loved the gifts but forgotten the Giver. For this reason, her future is unstable. The flux of history deprives her of her wealth and position. Until she comes to know the deeper value of life she must bemoan her loss. Until she realizes the true wealth God gives, she will be deprived of all wealth. Until she is stripped of all other goods, she will not know the highest good. Until she endures the cross – in the person of Christ -–she will not achieve her glory: to be with God, to be of God, to be God.

  

Year 2 , Week  20, Monday                                     Glenroy 1976

The silence

“The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down.”        Ezekiel 24:15-16

Ezekiel has gone into exile. The loss of homeland is made worse, there in exile, by the loss of his wife. Yet he must endure even more. God will not let him mourn for her; he must treat her loss as though it were no loss and must not perform the customary mourning rites. This is because Ezekiel has a prophet’s task and must give a sign. God does not mourn the loss of Jerusalem. He is well rid of the adulteress nation. His anger is followed by silence. He does not even feel anger. Jerusalem does not exist for him.

God is just. When Christians show they are idolatrous by being  unjust to their neighbour, God will call them, insistently, to love. But when they prove their idolatry by refusing to change, God is angry and his anger will be a fire of judgment upon them. But this anger is sweet compared to what comes next, for after his anger comes silence. He turns his face away from them. This they cannot endure. His face in anger is still his face turned towards them. But when he and all the saints eventually turn elsewhere, Christians have no meaning for Him. They do not exist for him. Silence is the final torment.

 

Year 2 , Week  20, Tuesday                                      Glenroy 1976

Pride

“The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, say to the prince of Tyre, Thus says the Lord God: Because your heart is proud and you have said, “I am a god; I sit in the seat of the gods, in the heart of the seas,” …. therefore, I will bring strangers against you, the most terrible of the nations; they shall draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom and defile your splendor. They shall thrust you down to the Pit, and you shall die a violent death in the heart of the seas.”                        Ezekiel 28:1-2, 7-8

The city of Tyre stood on a rocky island near the coast of Palestine. Surrounded by the seas, she sent her ships far and wide, amassing a fortune and ruling a vast empire. Success had encouraged Tyre in the worship of her god. Indeed, Baal, a god of increase, had seemingly increased Tyre till she thought she was herself the god.

This folly angers Ezekiel. As he sees the armies of Nebuchadnezzar leaving a fallen Jerusalem to attack Tyre, he predicts her downfall. “You will die a violent death, surrounded by the seas”. The place of her pride is the place of her fall.

Tyre was correct in wishing to be divine, in wishing to be at once city and temple. But she was in error concerning the nature of God who is not a god of material prosperity. God is found at that point where the spirit meets the Spirit. This juncture is the concern of God, and the finest concern of human beings. This is where ‘city’ and ‘temple’ are one. This is where the human becomes divine. The union of Spirit and spirit gives eternity and fullness of every sort.

  

Year 2 , Week  20, Wednesday                                  Glenroy 1976

The true shepherd

“Thus says the Lord God, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.”    Ezekiel 34:10

The leaders of the people – the kings and the priests – had the duty of securing justice and truth. Yet they had led the people astray and abused them. Therefore, they lose the mandate of heaven. The triumphant Chaldeans depose them, but more importantly God disowns them. They lose their authority.

There will be no leaders, no teachers, no need for brother to say to brother “Here is the Lord”. God will inspire each one directly. The Spirit will come upon the whole community so that each is a shepherd to the other. By passing the whole people through the crucible of suffering, God raises them in his Spirit.

There is no other way. Only through the crucible can one be refined. God pours out his Spirit above all on those who are crucified. Such a death leads to life.

 

Year 2, Week  20, Thursday                                     Glenroy 1976

A new spirit

“I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.’      Ezekiel 36:24-28

At last the Lord has done with punishing and purifying his people. He prophesies their restoration. He will bring them back to their homelands, cleanse them, give them a new heart and a new spirit, in an eternal covenant. The people did indeed return and await the fulfilment.

Christians perceive that Jesus is the one in whom all sin is put to death; he is the one with the new heart, the new spirit, he is the one with whom a new and eternal covenant is made by the glorification on the cross. He is the one in whom all the prophecies of the Old Testament are fulfilled.

And through him Christians perceive they share in the fulfilment. When they are joined to him by faith and interior knowledge, then they too have a new heart, a new spirit.

They look forward to when this first step of faith is complete, when not only the heart but the whole self is renewed, when all disharmony and ignorance and sin are removed, when the whole body is become spirit. They shall enjoy that unity of knowledge and purpose, that directness and compassion, self-determination and spontaneity, that vigour and joy, when every fibre will be a world and every movement a sign. Then they shall be free of all that is foreign, of the limitations of time. Then the covenant will be complete, they and God being one.

  

Year 2, Week 20, Friday                                          Glenroy 1976

Restoration and resurrection

 “Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”   Ezekiel 37:4-6

The punishment has been so terrible, the destruction of Jerusalem and the House of David has been so total, the purification has been so keen that the exiles have lost heart. “Our bones are dried up; our hope has gone”.

Ezekiel begins the task of consolation. Should their bones have dried up, no matter! God will refresh them. Should their hope have gone, no matter! God will bring them back to their promised land. Once they are purified unto death, then their restoration in truth is possible.

Ezekiel says all this in a vision. As God fashioned humans from the dust of the earth, so he will fashion a new people from an assemblage of bones; as God breathed life into the clay doll, so will the four winds breathe new life into refashioned bones. Marvelous though creation is, the re-creation of Israel is more marvelous.

Yet this work is just a restoration. With Christ it is resurrection. Their restoration is a foreshadowing. As the people had to experience the ultimate in the pain of body and soul, so too the Christ had to experience the ‘numbering of his bones’, had to cry out “My God, my God, why have you deserted me’. Once Christ had been reduced totally, he could be raised completely. Once his trust in God had been perfectly revealed, once the purification had led further than exile, right into his own death, then he could be raised and resurrected. The people are restored to a condition they had before, but Christ is raised to a glory he never experienced as man. The people go back to their own land, but Christ ascends to heaven.

Raised in the Spirit, his body has a strength, a liveliness, a durability, a sensitivity that goes beyond what can be observed. Christ lives in his body and beyond the confines of body, his body brought to its full perfection and beauty, its utmost development and strength. His body is perfect; his hope is fulfilled.

 

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A Covenant in the Heart, commentaries on Jeremiah

A New Covenant, commentaries on Jeremiah

Year 2, Week 16, Wednesday                                   Glenroy 1976

Power of the Word

“Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,“Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”           Jeremiah 1:9-10

Jeremiah had the terrible and tragic task of prophesying the fall of Judah and the end of the House of David. By the power of the word he was to destroy the nation and overthrow the king.

He has this power because God has touched his mouth. He does nothing of himself. The words are not his. He doesn’t want the words or the vocation. It is God’s work, and for this reason it is powerful. His prophetic word is more powerful than any other force. By it Jeremiah is set over his own people and over foreign nations. By it he has authority of life and death. Weak Jeremiah has the strongest weapon. The defenseless prophet overcomes the mightiest nations.

The Church has no weapon but the word. When the Church humbles itself, then God touches it. When the Church says the word of God, it is irresistible. The Church, by its word, is set over nations and kingdoms, to bless and curse, to build up and condemn. Words produced the French Revolution; words produced the Russian Revolution; words produce the Christian Revolution.

At the end of time, Christ will come to judge mankind with words. His judgment is a sword issuing from his mouth to condemn or to bless; his word will be eternal and total in its effect.

May the Lord touch me and put his words in my mouth!

 

Year 2, Week 16, Thursday                                     Oakleigh 1978

Living water

“Be appalled, O heavens, at this,be shocked, be utterly desolate,says the Lord,for my people have committed two evils:they have forsaken me,the fountain of living water,and dug out cisterns for themselves,cracked cisternsthat can hold no water.”     Jeremiah 2:12-13

The Lord made water flow from the rock in the desert. From Jesus flowed the fountain of living water as he hung dead upon the cross. Peter is the rock from whose confession of faith flow the graces of ministry in the Church.

No cistern can last. No need to dig a well and fill it with water, for it will become stagnant. Only the fountain is mysteriously perennial.

Within each person is a fountain, perhaps as yet untapped, which can flow. Why build cisterns? The waters break through by the gift of God, through faith and in total surrender.

 

Year 2, Week 16, Friday                                          Glenroy 1976

Completion

“At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem, and they shall no longer stubbornly follow their own evil will.”  Jeremiah 3:17

The people of Judah are in distress. The Ark of the Covenant has been destroyed; the Temple is in ruins. The places where God dwelt among earth have been destroyed by a godless nation.

Jeremiah comforts them. He looks forward to a future time, a greater time. Ark and Temple will be replaced. Jerusalem will itself where God dwells on earth. That sorry town will become the Throne of God. The nations that destroyed these sacred sites will come to worship at the City where they had come as conquerors. The victors are defeated.

Time passes. Jerusalem in its turn is replaced by Christ who is the Dwelling of God, Emmanuel. As he walks in the Portico of Solomon, he is in fact the Temple walking within the Temple. He too is eventually killed and disappears.

Ark gives way to Temple, Temple to Jerusalem, Jerusalem is replaced by Christ, Christ is found in the Christian.

As the Temple gave way to the many mansions of Jerusalem, so the one Christ is completed by the many Christians. As the Temple had to be destroyed if Jerusalem was to become the divine abode, so Christ had to die if the Church was to receive the Spirit. As the Temple foreshadows Jerusalem, so Christ in the flesh foreshadows the Church. In all those where the Christ dwells, the fullness of heaven and earth resides. As the needle is known in its tip, so God is known in the human being. As each point on a sphere is the outermost point, so each Christian has the fullness of God. 

                                                                        East Doncaster, 1992

Body as Ark

I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding. And when you have multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, says the Lord, they shall no longer say, “The ark of the covenant of the Lord.” It shall not come to mind, or be remembered, or missed; nor shall another one be made. At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem, and they shall no longer stubbornly follow their own evil will.”  Jeremiah 3:15-17

The God of Israel dwelt in the Ark of the Covenant carried by the Tribes of Israel in the desert. Over this most sacred place the Cherubim spread out their wings. It was eventually placed in the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Jerusalem.

The Ark was presumably destroyed by the Babylonians when they destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple. Some wondered if it had been hidden, but Jeremiah advises the people that Jerusalem itself will be the throne of God.

In time Jerusalem itself will be destroyed. Jesus becomes the place where the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily. In fact, in his tomb, at the foot and the head of the slab where he had lain, angels sit when the women come to visit the tomb.

Indeed, Christians are the Ark of the Covenant, the Temple, the new Jerusalem, the place where God dwells on this earth and the Mercy Seat, because they are the Christ.

 

Year 2, Week  17, Tuesday                                       Glenroy 1976

The sin of our age

At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem, and they shall no longer stubbornly follow their own evil will. In those days the house of Judah shall join the house of Israel, and together they shall come from the land of the north to the land that I gave your ancestors for a heritage.”            Jeremiah 14:17-18

Jeremiah loved the Chosen People. Even though his prophesies brought about their exile, he still loves Jerusalem ‘the daughter of his People’. Therefore, when he sees the ravages of war, the slain outside the city and the besieged within, he laments and grieves; ‘tears flood his eyes, night and day, unceasingly’.

The words of Jeremiah apply to the Church, for Christians too have suffered a cruel blow. They too have eyes filled with tears, for the Church has been robbed of its vitality. All is pleasantness and affection, but lukewarmth, neither hot nor cold, fit to be vomited. The Church has succumbed to its enemies, to wealth, success and comfort. Where is the strong and healthy person who wants God, demands God, who is ready to endure the cross for the sake of the glory that lies ahead, who wants the completion of creation in the kingdom of God?

And so, the Church lies moribund from a subtle, hidden blow.

 

 Year 2, Week 17, Wednesday                                   Burwood 1986

“Your words are my delight.”

“Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.” Jeremiah 15:16

Jeremiah has the terrible task of prophesying and bringing about the destruction of his people. He falters in his task. Yet he reflects on the joy of his own experience. “When your words came, I devoured them”. When, in the state of inspiration, the message of God came to him, he would receive it as a hungry man. He hungered for God and the very fact that God had addressed him. He wanted God himself to enter into the pit of his stomach, into his very heart, into his bones. He has received the word of God and indeed God himself, becoming the receptacle and the bearer of God, the place where God abides, and therefore he can bear the name of God. “I was called by your name, Lord God of hosts.” The one who received the word of God received the name of God. His human reality is taken up into the reality of the One who addresses him. He is not God but becomes one with God, sharing his eternity.

We have come here this morning and come again and again because the word is our delight and the joy of our hearts. We come to devour these words given to ·us and to fill our minds and our very bodies with the presence of God. We can be called God. We are ‘God’ for having heard God. We are Christ to the world because the Word has been spoken to us.

 

Year 2, Week 17, Thursday                                     Glenroy 1976

Fidelity

Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”Jeremiah 18:5-6

The people of Judah were troubled. They remembered God’s promise to Abraham that a fair land would be given to his descendants. They remembered the promise to David that a son of his would always remain on the throne. Yet now the People is taken captive and the king is deposed. Had God changed his mind? Was he inconsistent? Was he untrustworthy?

To this Jeremiah replies with a parable. God is the potter shaping a vessel. If he can’t make it one way, he will make it another. To the pot this seems inconsistent, but to the potter it is fidelity. God has failed to form his people into a faithful kingdom. Now, through exile he will turn them into a faithful remnant. In all cases he wishes to create an assembly of whom he can say: “I will be your God and you will be my People”.

Christians are clay in God’s hands. They do not understand his actions. They see the immediate plan, but not the long-range purpose. His actions seem illogical and unjust. Why sickness, why death, why sorrow and old age? If Christians understood the mind of God and saw the ultimate purpose, if they were more than the clay from which they are fashioned, then they would see the reason. For through all the apparent chaos of life, God pursues his course relentlessly, consistently – to make of us the Man.

  

Year 2, Week18, Wednesday                                    Glenroy 1976

Constancy

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel! Again you shall take your tambourines, and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers. Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant, and shall enjoy the fruit.”    Jeremiah 31:3-5

Repeatedly and vehemently Jeremiah, on behalf of God, has condemned and cursed Israel for its sins. Yet now a new message is heard: “You shall be rebuilt, virgin of Israel”. The adulterous one is virgin again; the ruined nation revives.

How can God reject and then choose again? What is this inconstancy?

The inconstancy is not in God: “I have loved you with an everlasting love”. The same fire of love warms those who seek it and burns those who refuse it. The same love cuts down the proud and raises the lowly, encourages the humble and reduces the arrogant. The fire of God is the same, the human heart varies. As the sun shines continually, burning or browning according to the skin, so God loves continually, felling or raising according to the heart of the individual.  Love has an anger of its own, which has nothing to do with the anger of hatred.

God’s love is constant in that he constantly seeks human good. Only when his work is complete can he fully  approve. Only at the end of time can God utter his lasting judgment.

  

Year 2, Week 18, Thursday                                      Glenroy 1976

Glory

“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”  Jeremiah 31:31-34

Jeremiah speaks  of the final and finest consolation of his People.

The Law had been given on Sinai. Moses had read it to the People, but it remained external. It was given to them, but it was not their own. For this reason, they could not observe it, and must go into exile.

Jeremiah foretells another time. A new covenant will be established. No one will need to hear it from outside, for it comes from within. All will observe it, for it is their self.

Jesus, whom some called Jeremiah, fulfills this promise. He undergoes the utter exile, rejected from life, abandoned by friends, betrayed by  his People. He is supported fully and only by the Spirit of God. In him the covenant is final and full, written on his heart, for he who was refined by the completest tragedy is  raised to the finest glory.

To all who understand from within the mystery of his death and glory, the same character is given, the same Spirit, so that they too have the new Law  written in their hearts, the Spirit of the glorified Christ.

 

 

 

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Holy Holy Holy! Isaiah 1, commentaries

Holy Holy Holy! Isaiah 1, commentaries

Year 2, Week 14, Saturday                                       Hoppers Crossing, 1988

God is Holy

 And one called to another and said:“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;the whole earth is full of his glory.””          Isaiah 6:3

The holiness of God overwhelms the prophet Isaiah. Suddenly, unexpectedly, the reality of God is revealed to him, as the Seraphim cry out: “Holy, Holy, Holy is the God of Hosts”. God is. He is entirely what he is. By the grace of God, Isaiah knows the integrity of God, that he is generosity, freedom and clarity. God is just and true, without limitation or division. Therefore, nothing unjust or untrue, nothing inconsistent or ambiguous can withstand him. The divided heart cannot resist the purity of his presence. The sheer majesty of God makes all things worthy of him, or else unmakes them, consumes them, and eliminates them.

At first Isaiah is overwhelmed by this sight. Once he is purified, he becomes God’s messenger.

 

Year 2, Week 15, Monday                                       Hoppers Crossing, 1988

The holiness of God

Hear the word of the Lord,you rulers of Sodom!Listen to the teaching of our God,you people of Gomorrah! What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?says the Lord;I have had enough of burnt offerings of ramsand the fat of fed beasts;I do not delight in the blood of bulls,or of lambs, or of goats. …learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”             Isaiah 1:10-11, 17

Isaiah perceives God as thrice holy. There is no aspect which is not holiness. In his inmost substance he is holy. Therefore, God requires that all be holy.

For that reason, the Most Holy is angry with the rulers of Judah; he calls them ‘Sodom’. They seem holy in one respect – their service of God – but are unholy in another: their treatment of the people. Therefore, all is wicked. The Holy will have nothing to do with their sacrifices, their festivals, their pilgrimages, their prayers. These are repulsive, because the orphan and the widow and the oppressed have not been served.

The All-Holy requires that all aspects of life be holy. He will be no one’s favourite. He requires that the poor be served before he is worshipped. Because the rulers are unjust they will be destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah, wiped off the face of the earth.

 

 Year 2, Week 15, Monday                                       Glenroy 1976

The blood of the dead

Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me,I am weary of bearing them.When you stretch out your hands,I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers,I will not listen;your hands are full of blood.”     Isaiah 1:14-15

The New Moons, the Sabbaths, the Assemblies were of divine institution. In the majestic theophany of Sinai, God had commanded Moses to ordain them. Yet now he says: “I cannot endure festival and solemnity.” They performed the duties of religion with care, yet God says: ‘Your New Moons and your pilgrimages I hate with all my soul’. God gives the reason: “Your hands are Covered with blood”. The prosperity of Israel was built on the sufferings of widow and slave, of orphans and the poor. The injustice of their social life cancelled the justice of their religious life.

The words of the prophet, so strong in the past, are strong in the present. Christians have their Masses, our Easter and Christmas seasons. They perform the duties of religion in the church and at home; they say rosaries, perform penances during Lent, contribute to parish needs and sacrificial offering. They perform the duties of religion with care. But is there blood on their hands? Not the blood of the living, but the blood of the dead. Are their works of religion just a means of keeping the system going, of keeping this world as it is, of holding God at bay. Are their works of religion only a way of supporting the status quo. Do they do look for the completion of time, for the kingdom of heaven and the resurrection of the dead? They should first seek the kingdom of God and the world to come, the completing of things and the resurrection from the dead, and the rest will be given them.

 

Year 2, Week 15, Tuesday                                       Hoppers Crossing, 1988

The holiness of God

“Then the Lord said to Isaiah, Go out to meet Ahaz, you and your son Shear-jashub, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Fuller’s Field, 4and say to him, Take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and the son of Remaliah.”          Isaiah 7:3-4

The holiness of God cannot abide infidelity.

Pekah, the king of Israel has sided with the foreigner, Rezin, king of Aram, to wage war against his own flesh and blood, Ahaz king of Israel. The treachery of brother against brother, fellow worshipper against co-religionist, is an act of treachery that is offensive. The fidelity of God must overwhelm the infidelity of the northern king.

Therefore, Isaiah is sent to give heart to Jerusalem. He does so with a sign. He takes his own son, Shear-jashub. The fidelity of father to son is the sign of God’s fidelity to Jerusalem and indeed to Ahaz. The bonds of brotherhood may  have been broken, but the bonds of father and son are stronger. God will be faithful to the king who is as a son to him. The king and the people with him, like the young boy Shear-jasnub, must stand with their father, God. Together they will form an alliance which is inevitably victorious over the invading kings

 

Year 2, Week 15, Tuesday                                       Glenroy 1976

Inspiration

“If you do not stand firm in faith,you shall not stand at all.”           Isaiah 7:9

Aram and Israel have conspired to invade Judah, to destroy the house of David and parcel it out. Ahaz is tempted, therefore, to make an alliance with Egypt. But Isaiah forestalls him, and God says: “If you do not stand by me you will not stand at all.” Ahaz and Judah are to find their strength in God, not in alliances.

Today’s world is at war with chaos and disease and poverty. If human beings place their hope in human ability alone, they will not stand at all. They will create a society more terrible than ever. Those without divine inspiration will succeed for a while, but being blind, will eventually makes mistakes. Out of chaos they will create disaster. By contrast, those by whom God stands with his inspiration will discern the right thing to do at the right time. Those who are of God – they are the future, able to  master all problems.

 

Year 2, Week 15, Wednesday                                   Hoppers Crossing, 1988

The holiness of God

Therefore, the Sovereign, the Lord of hosts, will send wasting sickness among his stout warriors, and under his glory a burning will be kindled, like the burning of fire.”      Isaiah 10:16

God condemns the kings of Judah because they have been unjust towards the orphan and the widow and have tried to bribe God with sacrifices. He curses the King of Israel and his ally, the King of Aram because they have been unfaithful to their brother the King of Judah. Now he rejects Assyria because it has refused to remain as the instrument of God’s rage and has set about making plunder for its own sake.

How is it that the holiness of God expresses itself so vehemently? Is not our God full of mercy and compassion?

The holiness of God cannot cohabit with sin. The fidelity of God undermines infidelity. His truth cannot compact with the lie. He is without compassion to those who have no compassion, and his pity does not extend to the pitiless. Holiness requires holiness; mercy demands mercy. God requires holiness and when it is lacking  “a burning will burn like a consuming fire”.

 

 Year 2, Week 15, Wednesday                                   Burwood 1984

Arrogance

When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the arrogant boasting of the king of Assyria and his haughty pride. For he says:For he says:“By the strength of my hand I have done it,and by my wisdom, for I have understanding. … Therefore, the Sovereign, the Lord of hosts,will send wasting sickness among his stout warriors,and under his glory a burning will be kindled,like the burning of fire.”        Isaiah 10:12-13, 16

Assyria was sent as executioner to punish the people, to be an instrument of healing, to redress the balance and re-establish harmony. Yet Assyria has overstepped the mark. The powerful nation has been deluded by its success and has turned into its own master. “By the might of my arm I have done this, and by my own intelligence, for understanding is mine.”

In our own day, medical research seems to be repeating the folly of Assyria. For surely medicine is a godly work. Yet some have overstepped the mark. Those sent to heal with their surgery and their medicine have gone on “cutting nations to pieces without limit”. Medical research has explored areas that pertain to other fields, “pushing back the frontiers and plundering the treasures” that are to be known by other methods.

Therefore, will the fate given to Assyria be in store for medicine: “The Lord is going to send a wasting sickness of his stout warriors”? Will medicine, the most prized of sciences, be esteemed as treacherous and inimical to mankind?

 

Year B, Week 15, Wednesday                                   Oakleigh 1978

Good and evil

 Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger – the club in their hands is my fury! … Therefore, the Sovereign, the Lord of hosts will send wasting sickness among his stout warriors, and under his glory a burning will be kindled,like the burning of fire.”       Isaiah 10:5, 16

The ‘rod’, the ‘club’, how can these be the tools of a God of love? Disease and famine, plague and ignorance, how can these be the work of God?

Yet the harm that arises can be of God as much as the good. The contradictions of life can sometimes be justified by the results to which they lead, by that goal beyond pain and pleasure, beyond our ideas of good and evil, by that state of the highest good which is the only true good.

In this way, God leads out of one condition which is called ‘good’, through a method which is deemed ‘evil’, to another condition which is truly good. Or again, the process of change to a truer good may be called ‘punishment’, ‘correction’ or even ‘education’. Whatever analogy or word we wish to use, God is leading to the highest good, beyond good and evil, to himself.

Therefore, he is good, even he who “burns like a consuming fire”.

 

Year B, Week 15, Wednesday                                   Glenroy 1976

 Problem of evil

Against a godless nation I send him,and against the people of my wrath I command him,to take spoil and seize plunder,and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. …When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the arrogant boasting of the king of Assyria and his haughty pride. For he says: “By the strength of my hand I have done it,and by my wisdom, for I have understanding.    Isaiah 10:6, 12-13

Assyria conquered Israel. Did this mean that the gods of Assyria were more powerful than the God of Israel? Did it mean that the Chosen People was misled in its belief that God would protect and preserve it?

Isaiah replies that Assyria is more powerful, not because other gods lead it, but because the one true God has sent it to punish his own People. “I sent him to a godless nation”. Assyria is more than permitted; it is sent and commissioned. Israel suffers because of its sins. God does not condone Assyria. Assyria has failed to see itself as the tool of God. It has said: “By the strength of my own arm I have done this”. For its arrogance and blindness, it too will be destroyed.

The problem of evil triggers a crisis of faith. Does God really exist? Does it mean that mankind is misled into believing in the existence of a good and loving Creator?

God does not simply permit ‘evil’. He sends it. What can be seen as evil is not a proof of his non-existence but of his intention to lead to fullness of life. Evil is a sign of imperfection, false paths, wrong choices. From this suffering God will bring good.

  

Year B, Week 15, Thursday                                      Hoppers Crossing, 1988

The holiness of God

Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise.O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy!For your dew is a radiant dew,and the earth will give birth to those long dead.”                 Isaiah 26:19

Having expressed his anger at the people of Judah, at the king of Israel and at the nation of Assyria, God now relents. Even so, his anger was an act of mercy.

To punish is to free. To punish is to redress the balance and to bring peace. Of course, if the sin is total, the punishment cannot cease, and therefore cannot lead to lasting peace. To refuse to punish is to refuse peace. To punish is to acknowledge a relationship. It is an act of claiming. Therefore, even punishment can be an act of love. When the punishment comes to an end, peace is re-established. Punishment undoes the sin and so liberates from sin.

For that reason, Isaiah ends with a note of hope: “Your dead will come to life”.

 

Year B, Week 15, Thursday                                    Glenroy 1976

Birth of the new city

Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise.O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy!For your dew is a radiant dew,and the earth will give birth to those long dead.”                 Isaiah 26:19

Isaiah has witnessed the destruction of Israel, has seen both the innocent and the guilty driven into exile or slain in the fields. He laments and grieves. Yet he sees the sufferings of his people as a sort of childbirth. Nothing is more painful than childbirth; nothing is more fruitful. The oppression of captivity is not evil but sacral and fruitful.

Of its every nature, Christian life involves a battling with the world, a dissatisfaction with sin and injustice. Christians writhe, for they are giving birth. They recreate the world, fashioning the seed that is in them. Yet, as Christians labour and endure, they do not leave the presence of God. They labour and give birth to the future city, they raise the dead, peopling their city with the just of every age. God’s fidelity to them overflows. And the child, the new city to which they give birth, knows in all fullness the saving power of God.

 

Year B, Week 15, Friday                                         Glenroy1976

The power of the Word

Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the Lord, the God of your ancestor David: I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and defend this city.“This is the sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do this thing that he has promised: See, I will make the shadow cast by the declining sun on the dial of Ahaz turn back ten steps.” So the sun turned back on the dial the ten steps by which it had declined.”  Isaiah 38:4-8

Isaiah, the mouthpiece of God, shows the power of God. He proclaims Hezekiah’s death, saves him from Sennacherib, restores his life, and even reverses the movement of the sun. He has power at every level.

The Word focuses the light of the Spirit upon a point already enlightened by the Spirit. It is great force, for blessing or for condemnation. The Church has no weapons except this strongest weapon. The Church has no sword but the word, indeed the Word, Jesus the Prophet.

Enlightened and strengthened by the Holy Spirit, the Church is tasked to  bless and condemn, uproot and plant.

 

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Japa, recitation

Recitation (japa)

summary of a teaching given by John Dupuche at the Interfaith Ashram, Warburton, January 2015

mantra is a word or phrase or sentence, a ‘vocable’, something that is said. The term ‘mantra’ comes from two elements, ‘man’ from manas which means ‘mind’ and the suffix ‘tr’ which is an instrumental suffix. A mantra is therefore a tool of the mind, as distinct from a tool of the hand such as a knife. Any instrument is for a purpose, so too the mantra is designed to achieve an effect, but with the power of the mind.

The mantra is more interior than a hand-held tool, indeed, a mantra, properly speak, is the phonic form of a deity. A mantra is not just a vocable recited again and again in order to pacify the mind and free it from distractions. It is a form of the deity, which is received in initiation.

Thus, properly speaking a mantra cannot be obtained from a book. It is given to the disciple by the guru at the very core of the initiation process. It is a gift from guru to disciple, from the guru who has perceived the quality of the disciple. In giving the mantra that suits the disciple’s particular capacity, the guru also communicates his very being and indeed the whole tradition with which he, the guru, is identified.  It is a gift from heart to heart, from mind to mind, the gift of the word.

Jesus of describes his own words in a most powerful way when he says: “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” (Jn 6:63) Every word he speaks is a mantra, just as every act he performs is a sign, which speaks of God and forecasts the world to come. He is in his words; he is the Word who speaks his words. He is the Word who comes from the eternal silence of the One who speaks him. He is the Word of God and by hearing him we are taken into the immense silence of the One, that silence which is the fullness of sound.

The reciter eventually becomes the mantra. Again, the mantra is the phonic form of the guru but it is firstly the phonic form of the deity of whom the guru is the manifestation. To recite the deity’s mantra is to come into contact with the deity, indeed to become the deity. Thus there is ultimately no separation of mantra, deity and reciter. All are one. In this way the mantra, the tool, has produced its result.

The recitation of the mantra is done in complete stillness and is perfectly relaxed. Furthermore, it is an inspired act. If it is not inspired it will not achieve its effect. It will be just the mouthing of a sound, no more significant than the squawking of a parrot. But when it is inspired from above it leads to the above.

The mantra starts in silence, and the reciter perceives the beginning of the mantra, how it bursts forth, so to speak, from the silence. It is word out of silence. It then comes to an end, where the mantra leads to silence, the pregnant silence, which is fullness.

The mantra is that of one’s chosen deity (iṣtadevatā). Each person must find the deity, which most truly reveals them and frees them. For the Christian, this is the person of Jesus, the Word made flesh. But each person must find their deity, the one who touches them in the heart.

All words lead to the Word. All words are the expression of the Word; all mantras are the expression of the primordial Mantra.

The reciter lets himself or herself become identified with the mantra they recite, which must come from a valid and true tradition and from an authentic teacher. If it does not, they will be deformed by the mantra. It will injure them and not bring them benefit. Thus not any so-called mantra will do. The disciple must be without gullibility and discerning as regards the guru whose teaching and words they seek.

A mantra of particularly significance is so ‘ham which translates as ‘I am he’. That is, ‘I am the divinity whom I worship’. This can be easily misunderstood as a form of megalomania. However, properly understood it is a profound act of faith where the practitioner realises by his or her faith, namely by their deepest knowledge, that they are identified with their Deity, and that their Deity is the foundation of their lives, and that they themselves are the expression of that Deity. It is therefore an act of humility and devotion. By reciting this mantra the practitioner is identified with the Deity, such that there is but one ‘I’.

The phrase so ‘ham is related to the incoming (so) and outgoing (‘ham) breaths. It so happens that this process is sometimes spontaneously reversed, so that the in-coming breath is accompanied by the sound ‘ham’ and the outgoing breath by the sound ‘so’. This then becomes ‘haṃsa’, which means ‘swan’ (strictly speaking the Siberian goose). This term haṃsa acquires a symbolic importance. Just as the swan floats on the surface of the lake and from time to time immerses its beak into the water, so the practitioner essentially transcends this transient (samsāra) world but also takes part in it. The practitioner who achieves his or her identity with the deity is both transcendent and immanent to this reality, but principally transcendent.

This fits in with the teaching of Jesus who declares that his disciples are in the world but not of the world. (cf. Jn 17:14-16)

The term haṃsa then becomes a significant title, and we often hear of great teachers being called paramahaṃsa, laterally ‘supreme swan’

By reciting the mantra, the practitioner becomes immanent and transcendent, joining heaven and earth. He is his mantra, he is one with his guru and with the tradition and the deity. All is one.

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My house in Warburton, Australia

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