Bible and Bible Study: August 2004 Archives

Philippians 1:8-11

8: For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.
9: And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment,
10: so that you may approve what is excellent, and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
11: filled with the fruits of righteousness which come through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Verse 8 gives a picture of Paul that belies what his critics would make him--stern, distant, nearly misanthropic. We hear and see Paul yearning for the companionship of those who love the Lord. How sweet it is to be with and among those who truly love the Lord. There is no better company, no better conversation than that which centers on the Lord himself and revolves around Him as the center. To what point any conversation that does not bring us closer to the Lord? Why talk at all if we are not yearning for the truth? Paul yearns for the support and comfort of being among those whose spirit is strong, whose faith is a bulwark against the ravages of the world. He longs to be once again among those who have most enthusiastically supported his mission in the world. And this yearning is natural for all of us. Our chief desire should be to be among those who love the Lord. And acting upon this desire, we should work to be certain that wherever we are, there are those who are ardent friends of the Lord. This, then, is part of the call to evangelism. Wherever there is love of the Lord, we are at home. We are called to leave home frequently and to make a new home wherever we should be brought. Our joy and delight is in the presence of the Lord and where people love Him, He is present. (For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them. Mt. 18:20)

Enough for the moment--I will extend reflection on these verses somewhat later. Scripture is indeed a fountain. A single verse of it can bring to mind the million things God wishes to tell the believer. However, I see little cause for you all to exposed to all the million things that run through my head. (That collective sigh of relief sounded like Charley at his peak.)

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Philippians 1:6-7

6: And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
7: It is right for me to feel thus about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.

Paul, it seems, writes through time. I need to take his words personally and to internalize their relevance for me today. The letter to the Philippians is the perfect place to start doing this. I can imagine myself in one of the congregations, hearing rather than the usual Sunday Sermon, a letter. We do this often today with the Bishop's appeal. But imagine that you are sitting in the Church and a letter from a dear friend who has been whisked off to who knows what fate arrives. Imagine the excitement as you await to hear what it was that he said in the letter. And then, it is read. Right away you hear these words.

"I am sure that he who began a good work in you will see it to completion in the day of Jesus Christ." What a thrill it sends through you. God who has touched me will see to it that his touch does not go unregarded. He who began a good work in me will see it through. Admittedly this may not be without trial on my part. Nevertheless, I will be able to see the Lord complete a work. This is a promise, a word from one I trust--a word from one of the Holy Ones of God--reliable guidance, sure solace in time of trial.

And then he says to me, "It is right for me to feel thus about you all." Why should this be? Why should it be right? And a heartbeat later, "Because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partaker with me of grace. . ." Paul himself holds me in his heart because I am a descendant of his spiritual Fatherhood. Unlike Peter who practiced most of his apostleship within the bounds of his own people (though indeed he served as Shepherd for all of the people gathered to God), Paul was the apostle to the nations that had not known of the God of Abraham and Isaac. All of those of us who are not aware of any Jewish ancestry are descendants of the teaching of Paul, we are his children, the legacy he left to the entire world. As his children, we are held in his prayers before God and loved as children are loved. And more than that, we are brothers and sisters. becasue we are all "partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel."

As a people we are a living defense and confirmation of the gospel. We work presently as the conscience of a nation and the conscience of the world. We are the "angels" (messengers) of God's permanent and abiding grace--of the gift that is given and shall not be withdrawn from humanity. We are defenders of the gospel in that we hold to its truths as best we can in our weak understanding. We cling to the gospel message and to the teachings of the Holy Catholic Church. These teachings started with these early messages of the Apostles.

Rejoice O Child of God,
Rejoice O Child of Paul,

for the love of God
is confirmed again in the heart of a Saint
whose life on Earth and in Heaven
was a life of prayer for us.

His words echo
in the heart, in the world,
and gather all together
in a great ball that rolls toward eternity,
to the encompassing love of God.

Rejoice in our brother,
Rejoice in our spiritual father,
Rejoice in the God He proclaims,
in the gospel he announces,
in the faith he defends,
in his continued and joyous prayer for those of us
as yet confined to Earth.

Rejoice O people of the Lord,

Rejoice in His holy saints who give us such hope.

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Just because we could all do with a good reminder of the fact that the Christian Life is, despite its ups and downs, the life of joy in the Lord.

Philippians 1: 1-5 (RSV)

    1: Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philip'pi, with the bishops and deacons:
2: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3: I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,
4: always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,
5: thankful for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.

I feel this when I think about the blessings of the community of St. Blogs. I thank God every day for the support, encouragement, and correction I have received from the generous members of this community. It is one place where I really have a chance to talk about things of the spirit. Too often, I go to church, attend Mass, and leave, fulfilled in having received the Lord, but still desperately hungry in my desire to be fed by the word and by understanding, and by communication, and by seeing and hearing how others approach the Lord.

In many places at St. Blogs, I can receive the blessing of listening to other people reflect on the joys and trials of Christian life. I hear people talk about important matters of the spirit, and to outsiders to the conversation, it may seem a protracted straining at gnats, but to those of us starving for truth and understanding, it is a banquet, a feast, a repast unrivaled in the natural world--one excelled only by the sweetness of the Word of God and by the Holy Eucharist itself. I feel, if only for a moment, in touch with and seeking out the important things of life. This connection is unfortunately all too uncommon in our normal church-going.

And so each day, I thank God for St. Blogs, which has provided for me a means of understanding and a means of loving God better. Each person who labors to share their thoughts and reflections provides wonderful food for thought and a profound service to those who seek the truth in humility. Thank you all, for I am truly, "thankful in your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now."

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And Speaking of Ezekiel

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I really don't know what to make of this, but it is very, very cool:

Ezekiel 1: 3-28

: the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chalde'ans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the LORD was upon him there.
4: As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness round about it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming bronze.
5: And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had the form of men,
6: but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings.
7: Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf's foot; and they sparkled like burnished bronze.
8: Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus:
9: their wings touched one another; they went every one straight forward, without turning as they went.
10: As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man in front; the four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle at the back.
11: Such were their faces. And their wings were spread out above; each creature had two wings, each of which touched the wing of another, while two covered their bodies.
12: And each went straight forward; wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went.
13: In the midst of the living creatures there was something that looked like burning coals of fire, like torches moving to and fro among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning.
14: And the living creatures darted to and fro, like a flash of lightning.
15: Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel upon the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them.
16: As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of a chrysolite; and the four had the same likeness, their construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel.
17: When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went.
18: The four wheels had rims and they had spokes; and their rims were full of eyes round about.
19: And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose.
20: Wherever the spirit would go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them; for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.
21: When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them; for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.
22: Over the heads of the living creatures there was the likeness of a firmament, shining like crystal, spread out above their heads.
23: And under the firmament their wings were stretched out straight, one toward another; and each creature had two wings covering its body.
24: And when they went, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of many waters, like the thunder of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of a host; when they stood still, they let down their wings.
25: And there came a voice from above the firmament over their heads; when they stood still, they let down their wings.
26: And above the firmament over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness as it were of a human form.
27: And upward from what had the appearance of his loins I saw as it were gleaming bronze, like the appearance of fire enclosed round about; and downward from what had the appearance of his loins I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness round about him.
28: Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.

I may be spending some time with this passage, not so much to make sense of it as to revel in the incredible beauty and complexity of the images. I know that one goal of Bible Study is understanding God's word to us with the resultant increase in love of God. But another way to this end goal is reveling in the beauty of the word (even if its meaning is obscure). Through the appreciation of the beauty, splendor, and goodness of the word, the love of God made manifest our love is also increased beyond bounds.

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Reading last night in the book of Ezekiel:

Ezekiel 2:9-3:2

9: And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and, lo, a written scroll was in it;
10: and he spread it before me; and it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and mourning and woe.


1: And he said to me, "Son of man, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel."
2: So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat.
3: And he said to me, "Son of man, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it." Then I ate it; and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.

Which is then echoed in Revelation:

Revelation 10:8-10

8: Then the voice which I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, "Go, take the scroll which is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land."
9: So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me, "Take it and eat; it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth."
10: And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it; it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter.

And you say to me, "So what?"

Well it occurred to me as I read the passage from Ezekiel that this was a foretaste of the Eucharist itself. He takes the scroll of the Word of God and consumes it. It is as honey to the tongue and it gives Ezekiel the strength to prophesy, it bestows upon him an office that must come from God Himself.

Then in Revelation, the same words, or nearly the same words come to John for whom the taste is as honey, but it settles bitterly because of the strife and difficulty of living its reality in troubling times. (Or perhaps for other reasons that I do not truly understand.) Nevertheless, I find it interesting that God's power is bestowed through his Word consumed.

I'm sure there are a great many resonant images in the Old Testament that set before us the truth of Jesus Christ coexistant and coextensive with God because He is God. In the Old Testament, Jesus comes to his people veiled. In the glory of the New Testament, as testified by the tearing of the temple veil upon Jesus's death, He comes as glorious revelation of what people should always have known and seen. But He is the new Holy of Holies and the ancient of days--ever present, ever new.

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Last night I was reading the passage that follows, Wednesday's gospel reading

Matthew 15:21-28 (RSV)

[21]And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon.
[22] And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon."
[23] But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, "Send her away, for she is crying after us."
[24] He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
[25] But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me."
[26] And he answered, "It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."
[27] She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."
[28] Then Jesus answered her, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." And her daughter was healed instantly.

As I read, a not terribly astounding revelation took root. Here we have revealed the association of the trinity of theological virtues. A woman comes to Jesus out of great love for her daughter. She pleads with Him for the life of her daughter. I had always been a bit puzzled by the coolness of His reaction? Was He looking for abasement, for subordination? What is this insult of basically calling the woman a dog?

Charity finds a way through hope. She hears the Lord's words, and still knowing that He can do something for her daughter, hope lights a candle and she is inspired to say "Even dogs get the table scraps."

Jesus in turn recognizes this combination of hope and love as faith. He does not applaud her persistence in hope or her initial approach in Charity, but rather the depth of her faith that puts up with "persecution" and endures to the end she wishes to see.

"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. " (1 Cor. 13:13). The trinity of theological virtues, in this life, support and maintain one another. Where one exists the other two are likely there, one need only seek them out.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Bible and Bible Study category from August 2004.

Bible and Bible Study: July 2004 is the previous archive.

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