Category Archives: New Testament

Come, Follow Me!

The Year of Our Lord, Two Thousand Nineteen. Yes, two millennia ago, Jesus, Emmanuel, God-made-man, walked the earth among us. He was not a hermit; neither was he an intellectual removed from the common man. Jesus lived among us; he engaged us—he challenged us to follow him (Mk 1:17; Mt 4:19; Lk 5:11). As Jesus’ disciples by virtue of Baptism, we are called by Jesus to follow Him just as he called his first disciples in the afore-mentioned Scripture passages.

Jesus also tells us what is involved in discipleship: to love God and to love each other; to be holy as the Father is holy, to treat others as He treats us (Jn 15:8-10, 12, 17); to witness to Him as He witnesses to the Father; to proclaim the kingdom/reign of God (Lk 9:60, Mt 8:22); and to be committed even to the point of the cross (Mt 10:37-38, 16:24-25; Lk 9:23-24, 14:26-27; Mk 8:34-35). Being Jesus’ disciple—following him—is preparation for entering eternal life with Jesus (Mk 10:21-23).

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To make following in the footsteps of Jesus more real, I am organizing a 13-day Catholic pilgrimage to the Holy Land in May 2019. We will visit, with a priest who lives in Jerusalem and is a very experienced Catholic guide, the main locations where Jesus lived and ministered, and the sites where his Passion occurred. The dates are May 15-27, 2019; for more information contact Eric Wolf (772-932-7969).

Acts 16: The Jailer’s Faith

Perhaps you, like me, have been so enamored with the astounding miracle in today’s reading (Acts 16:22-34) that we (I certainly) had overlooked the wonderful witness teaching that we find there.

Historically a number of people have seen—or created—division with the argument of whether our good works lead to our salvation. Some proclaim that, “Since I am already saved, anything I do is OK,” i.e., “it doesn’t matter what I do.” Conversely, some argue that if what I do leads to my salvation, or the alternative, then I’m not saved by Jesus. How can one argue against that—it’s true! Yet one argument or position does not lead irrefutably for or against the other.

The Gospels and Paul’s writings, indeed the whole of the New Testament, makes extremely clear to us that we are saved by faith… faith in Jesus, or by the faith that Jesus exhibits. Yet we still question, How is one saved? What does “being saved” look like here on this side of the chasm of death?

Onward then to Luke’s account of Paul and Silas’ imprisonment in the Roman colony of Philippi, a seaport situated in what is modern-day Greece. Today’s reading recounts the marvelous miracle of the prison doors being thrown wide open by a severe earthquake, which we recognize of course as the Hand of God. Paul and Silas, mindful of the price that the guard would pay should they escape, remain in their cells—a demonstration of Christian agapé (selfless love). Would you or I have stayed, or rather fled for our safety?

Perhaps less astounding or interesting, yet equally as important is the account of what happens next. When the jailer realizes that Paul and Silas had put the jailer’s well-being above their own, he was evangelized or at least realized that they had something greater than his own code of ethics or morality. His response was natural, “What must I do to be saved?” (He had overheard Paul and Silas’ praying and hymn-singing the previous evening.)

The response of course is not unexpected: “Believe in the Lord Jesus!” The jailer being sincere of heart proceeded to the next step (what we term “RCIA”) “So they spoke the word of the Lord to him…”

The jailer’s reaction to hearing the word? “He took them in… and bathed their wounds.” Now, what is the importance of this phrase? It is exactly the point—and result—of true evangelization. When one hears the word, one becomes a disciple and follows Jesus. In this case, the jailer is doing exactly what Jesus would do… minister to the needy (Paul and Silas had been badly beaten with rods). The jailer, upon hearing the word of the Lord, without prompting and of his own volition, follows Jesus and ministers to the sick/needy, sets free the prisoners.

It was only then that he (and his whole family) were baptized. To have allowed himself to be baptized without ministering to those in need would have missed the whole point of discipleship and salvation. But then what happens? The story is not over.

Lastly the jailer brings them (Paul and Silas, his family, others?) into his house and provides a meal. Jesus’ best times were at meals with disciples and others, e.g., feeding of the thousands, Martha and Mary, Last Supper, etc. Just what do they do at this meal? He/they rejoice (express thankful joy, i.e. they pray) at having come to faith in God. What we see here is an early liturgy or Mass along with the sacrament. At our current-day liturgy, we likewise give thanks, we read/pray/study the Scriptures (readings and sermon and prayers and singing).

So this little vignette is a verbal painting portraying evangelization, faith, acceptance of discipleship, worship and liturgy, all in one scene. We see both Baptism and Holy Eucharist and the Mass, which is our meal of faith. A fine model for us, and a demonstration of how our Catholic practices are biblically-sourced from the first generation, and following Jesus’ tradition as articulated by the first generation of Christians.

Yes, the jailer was saved by his faith, itself a grace from God, and his response was what we call “good works.” His good works did not save him, but rather were a manifestation, or natural demonstration, of his realization of his salvation effected by Jesus Christ.

One last question, “Who was set free in this narrative, Paul and Silas, or the jailer?”

—Eric Wolf

Thy Kingdom Come

The Old Testament, especially the prophets, spoke of the coming of the Messiah, the Anointed one, who would save Israel and usher in the Day of the Lord, that is, the time when God would exercise His power to vanquish evil.

The New Testament Greek noun basileia refers to something associated with a king; in English we translate this word as either ‘reign’ or ‘kingdom’. In the New Testament, Jesus saw His ministry as revealing the presence of the reign or kingdom of God. Jesus himself is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. The reign of God is no longer in the future; when we have faith we are dwelling right now in the kingdom of God.

Jesus healed in order that people would have faith and believe. Jesus taught and preached so that people would understand the new paradigm and believe. The Gospel According to Matthew focuses significantly on Jesus’ teaching and preaching (Mt 5 – 7 et al).

At one point (Mt 6:9-13) Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray- and so we have the Lord’s Prayer. We recall that Hebrew poetry is based not on rhyme as in English tradition but rather on repetition or various types of related parallel phrases. The Lord’s Prayer is a New Testament example of Hebrew parallelism using five supplications each with a parallel phrase.

Our Father who art in heaven = hallowed be thy name

The opening sentence is an example of synthetic parallelism: the second phrase builds on and expands the meaning of the first phrase.

Thy kingdom come = Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven

How often do we unthinkingly break this sentence after the word ‘done’; perhaps for breathing purposes we tend to make two equal size phrases. However, in terms of Jesus’ meaning as He teaches us to pray to the Father, the sentence is better paused after the word ‘come’: ‘Thy kingdom come’ is our basic supplication. What does this mean? Remember one of the purposes of parallel poetry is to confirm meaning.

This is an example of synonymous parallelism, in which the second phrase has the same meaning as the introductory phrase. Typically one phrase can define one or more terms in the other phrase. So we find that ‘Thy will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven’ defines ‘Thy kingdom come’. Jesus doesn’t just announce the coming of the kingdom, He is telling us what that means. The kingdom of God means that the will of the Father is fulfilled not just in the next life but right here and now! Wow, what a difference a Savior makes!

When we pray the “Our Father’ let us put the pause after ‘come’; if we need to break up the second phrase, let us do so to punctuate Jesus’ message by placing a pause not after ‘done’ but rather after ‘Earth’.

— Eric Wolf

Mark: Read All About It!

In reading the Gospel of Mark I was reminded of how newspapers were sold on the street
corners early in the nineteenth century. I can envision the Gospel of Mark being held up on the
street corner and a fifteen year old boy yelling out. “Jesus of Nazareth claims to be the
Messiah!” read all about it. This would be the headline; “Jesus of Nazareth – Messiah or
Impostor?” There would be the story on the front page on how Jesus brought the little girl that
had died back to life, on the following pages stories of the parables Jesus used to teach the
people. Some would say he was an agent of Satan but others that heard Jesus rebuke this
would say Jesus made perfect sense when He said “how can Satan drive out Satan?”

In the commentary section many would have given testimony of how Jesus had fed them when
there was no food and others who had witnessed a man’s withered hand be restored. Others gave false testimony in order to have him crucified. In the opinion section the Sadducees would say “Jesus is a phony, he claims he can forgive sin; only God can forgive sin. We need to silence him, let us ask Pilate to crucify him.”

In the obituary section it would read: “Jesus of Nazareth, died 33 AD after being scourged and
crucified along with two thieves. He had his mother by his side with many friends and well
wishers. He claimed he was the Messiah but the Jewish high priests would not believe him. He
was given over by one of his apostles, Judas Iscariot who was paid twenty pieces of silver to
hand him over to the authorities. Joseph of Arimathea handled the burial arrangements.”

Late breaking story: “Jesus not found in the tomb, Mary Magdalene said Jesus appeared to her
but Apostles skeptical till Jesus appears to them and commissions them to proclaim the Word.

— Mike Gardner

The (Inspired) Word of God

Christians believe that the Bible (Old and New Testaments) is the inspired Word of God. Human authors wrote the various books over a millennium; each however was inspired by God. inspire means both to ‘breathe in’ and to ‘fill one with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially creative’.

God did not dictate to the human authors, as for example Islam claims that God/Allah dictated the Qur’an to Muhammad. Rather we believe that the Holy Spirit infused human authors with the understanding of what God wished to communicate, so that the authors could do this appropriate for human understanding yet without theological error.

Recently a friend shared with me an insightful article written by Jason Carlson and Ron Carlson entitled Is the Bible the Inspired Word of God?. To paraphrase their article into a Catholic context, let’s delve into what the Church understands about the formation of the Bible.

Although our term ‘Bible’ comes from the Greek word (biblion) that means ‘book’, the Bible is not one book but a collection of 73 books.

The 46 books of the OT were composed over a period of 10 centuries leading up to the time of Christ; portions had been taken from written stories from perhaps several centuries earlier. The 27 books of the NT were written over the last half of the first century AD/CE. During this long span of time that the books of the Bible were composed, the culture and society changed dramatically many times.

These 73 books were written by an untold number of authors- several dozen at the least. They were a wide variation of educated and not-so-educated people including priests, prophets, preachers, apostles, kings, courtiers, scribes, fishermen, a physician, and regular people like you and me. There could not have been collaboration between the disparate authors.

The Bible, and indeed a sizable number of the books, are not of a single literary genre. Throughout the books in each testament we find story, poetry, prayer, prophecy (speaking on behalf of God), wisdom, novellas, letters, and history. Yet each holds true to the central message of God’s creation and plan for our salvation.

The books were originally composed in at least 3 different languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. This would seem to lead to confusion and dissonance, yet the opposite is true- the books agree on their message of God’s love and care for His human creation.

The various authors composed the books on 3 separate continents: Asia, Africa, and Europe, from Jerusalem (Israel) to Rome (Italy) to Babylon (Iraq) to Alexandria (Egypt). Again this cultural variation would seem to lead to less cohesion, yet the opposite is true: the Bible is consistent in its message of who God is and what our relationship is with Him.

The consistent message throughout the span of the Bible points us to the One author- the Bible is the Inspired Word of God.

— Eric Wolf