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Roger Karban

Ordained in Rome in 1964, Roger R. Karban is a priest of the Diocese of Belleville with scholarly expertise in the Sacred Scriptures. He received a Licentiate in Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and did his doctoral studies in Scripture at St. Louis University.

Karban has been the chair of religion departments at Mater Dei and Gibault Catholic High Schools; director of the diocesan diaconate program and is currently the administrator of Our Lady of Good Council Parish, Renault, IL. A part-time faculty member of St. Louis University and Southwestern Illinois College where he teaches the Bible as literature, Karban also teaches adult weekly scripture classes in Belleville, Breese, Carbondale and Lebanon, IL. With the vision of Vatican II, Karban presents workshops, not only in the diocese, but throughout the country.

 

 

Roger's Essays

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01/05/2020

JANUARY 5TH, 2020: EPIPHANY OF THE CHRIST

Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12

The future rarely turns out the way we plan it. This is especially true with Jewish expectations of the Messiah. Years ago, the late Raymond Brown remarked in one of our diocesan clergy conferences that the Messiah 1st century CE Jews were expecting has yet to come. “Jesus of Nazareth was not that Messiah.”

Many Christians think the authors of the Hebrew Scriptures had just one task: to foretell the coming of Jesus as Messiah. They overlook the fact that scholars tell us biblical concepts of the Messiah varied according to the peoples’ needs in the day and age in which the various authors wrote. Messianic predictions, for instance, in 9th century BC Israel were quite different from those in the 6th century. Over the centuries the Chosen People went from presuming one of their next kings would be the Messiah to believing Yahweh would eventually send just one non-royal, unique individual to fill that role.

Since Rome occupied Palestine during Jesus’ historical ministry, most Jews were convinced God would send a military Messiah who would throw the foreigners out. In the first third of the 1st century, pious Israelites were expecting the epiphany – the public “coming out” – of that kind of savior. For most, the biblical Jesus’ epiphany as the Christ (the Messiah) was a total surprise.

As we hear in today’s Third-Isaiah reading, there always was hope in Judaism that Gentiles would eventually “gather and come” to Israel in ways that would enrich the country and its people. “. . . The riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you, the wealth of nations shall be brought to you.” Many even believed that besides “bearing gold and frankincense,” these non-Jews would also proclaim “the praises of Yahweh.” In other words, they’d actually convert to Judaism.

No Jew would object to their anticipated Messiah bringing Gentiles “into the fold.” The main problem they encountered with Jesus of Nazareth revolved around some of his followers bringing these Gentiles into their faith communities without first converting them to Judaism. The Pauline disciple responsible for the letter to the Ephesians succinctly states this “heretical” belief. “. . . Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” This certainly wouldn’t be the teaching of the Christ whom the vast majority of Jews were expecting.

That seems to be one of the reasons Matthew, writing for a Jewish-Christian community, includes the story of the magi. Throughout his gospel he brings up instances in which non-Jews are better at living the faith of Jesus than Jews. Nowhere is this more sharply demonstrated at the beginning of Jesus’ life than having not just Gentiles, but Gentile astrologers travel hundreds of miles “to do homage to the newborn king of the Jews,” while Herod, the Jew, refuses to go the few miles between Jerusalem and Bethlehem to even check on the accuracy of biblical prophecies about the Messiah’s birth.

Yet perhaps the strongest drawback to wide acceptance of Jesus as Messiah is contained in one small addition Matthew makes to Third-Isaiah’s Gentile gift list. Besides gold and frankincense, the magi also bring myrrh. The late Dr. Irvin Arkin once asked, “How would you feel if someone gave you a bottle of embalming fluid as a birthday gift?” At the time of Jesus, myrrh was normally used to anoint dead bodies before they were entombed or buried.

Even in this glorious epiphany event, Matthew reminds his readers that if they accept Jesus as Messiah, they’re also accepting their responsibility to suffer and die with him. You don’t have to be Jewish to have problems with the epiphany of that kind of Messiah.

COPYRIGHT 2020 - ROGER VERMALEN KARBAN

This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois, http://www.fosilonline.com.
Email: info@fosilonline.com, or write FOSIL, P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL, 62222


01/12/1920

JANUARY 12, 2020: BAPTISM OF JESUS

Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Acts 10:34-38; Matthew 3:13-17

Though it certainly created problems for the gospel churches, the first three evangelists still insisted on narrating an account of Jesus' baptism.

The reason for the problem revolved around the fact that many followers of John the Baptizer never accepted Jesus as the Messiah. They insisted John, not Jesus, had fulfilled the role of the long-anticipated savior of Judaism. (This belief didn't end during the period of the gospels. Historians remind us that some fourth century Jewish communities still had members who continued to believe in John as the Christ.) Since a superior normally baptizes an inferior, these devotees of John insisted that Jesus' baptism proved their point. Their mentor was superior to the Galilean carpenter who had once been one of John's disciples.

Yet in spite of the confusion, Jesus' earliest followers couldn't overlook his baptism. Because of what John's baptism signified, they presumed it was a life-changing event for him. As a member of the Dead Sea scrolls community, John employed baptism as an outward sign of people's determination to carry out Yahweh's will in their lives. The Essenes and others, like Jesus, who submitted to this ritual washing were declaring their openness to whatever God was asking of them.

Looking at the unique aspects of today's gospel pericope, Matthew seems to have created the "give and take" between Jesus and John over who should be baptizing whom simply as a way to get around the superior/inferior issue. But he also changes Mark's original narrative in another significant way. Instead of the heavenly voice proclaiming, "You are my beloved son!" Matthew's voice states, "This is my beloved son!" What formally was regarded as an annunciation to Jesus about his divinity is now looked upon as an annunciation to his followers; a small but very important change.

Many Christologists - those who study the person of Jesus - believe the historical Jesus only became aware of who he actually was when he made the life-changing decision to give himself completely over to God's will in his life. No wonder that event couldn't be left out of most gospels.

Luke even refers to it in Peter's well-known Acts of the Apostles "kerygma." He reminds the Gentile Cornelius, "You know the word that (God) sent to the Israelites as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all, what has happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power." Things always change when God's the center of one's life.

In the same way, everything also changed for Deutero-Isaiah, as we hear in today's first reading. Though he's convinced he's Yahweh's prophet, he's just as convinced he's a prophet unlike most of his predecessors. He's not going to cry out or shout, not even going to make his voice heard in the street. He'll deliver an extremely low key message, never resorting to anything which will squelch or break his people.

Our sacred authors are convinced that whenever one commits oneself completely to God one always discovers unique dimensions of his or her personality. Though in the giving process we all become disciples of God or the risen Jesus, no two disciples are exactly alike. Each lives his or her commitment in ways completely different from all others. Each sees roads to travel down which others don't notice.

The sacramental way to show our adult commitment to God and Jesus is by receiving from the Eucharistic cup. As we hear in I Corinthians 11, it's the outward sign Jesus instituted for us to show we're going to carry on his ministry - one of the ways we discover who we really are and what God uniquely expects of us.

COPYRIGHT 2020 - ROGER VERMALEN KARBAN

This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois, http://www.fosilonline.com.
Email: info@fosilonline.com, or write FOSIL, P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL, 62222


01/19/2020

JANUARY 19TH, 2020: SECOND SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Isaiah 49:3, 5-6; I Corinthians 1:1-3; Matthew 1:29-34

(Originally published 2014)

It's impossible to understand Sunday's first reading (Isaiah 49:3,5-6) without restoring verse 4 to the passage. Though convinced he's Yahweh's prophet, Deutero-Isaiah is just as convinced he's failed in the mission Yahweh's given him to accomplish.

"I thought," the prophet reflects, "I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength." In other words, "I never did what you expected me to do." Yet Yahweh's not worried about the prophet's failure. In spite of his people not listening to his oracles, Deutero-Isaiah is certain "my reward is with Yahweh; my recompense is with my God."

In an environment of striving for success, God's reaction to our failures is unique. Disciples of God simply have to get used to employing a different value system when it comes to their discipleship.

This prophet can't figure out why, after he failed at bringing Jacob back to Yahweh or gathering Israel to God, he still realizes "I am made glorious in the sight of Yahweh and my God is now my strength." Yahweh's glory has been shown by Deutero-Isaiah's failures.

Keep it up
Not only that, but the prophet receives an even broader mission: "'It is too little,' Yahweh says, 'for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations [Gentiles], that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.'" The prophet's lack of success opens new horizons for him.

Between now and the first week of March - except for the feast of the Presentation - our second readings will be from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, a letter he probably composed after he'd come to the conclusion he'd lost control over that particular community.

Though Sunday's short passage (I Cor 1:1-3) contains one of his "normal" greetings to a church he had founded, over the next month and a half we're going to see just how "unholy" many in that community had become. No doubt Paul was tempted to conclude he'd wasted his time in evangelizing them.

Yet this unique letter, written from the viewpoint of failure, has become a classic guide for understanding Christian communities and the Spirit working in them.

Two baptizers
Scripture scholars warn us to distinguish the historical John the Baptizer from the Gospel John the Baptizer. Christians automatically look at this wilderness prophet as Jesus' precursor, the person who plows the field ahead of Jesus' planting. That's the image our four evangelists have created in order to somehow relate John's ministry to Jesus' ministry. He proclaims (John 1:29-34) the "Lamb of God" in our midst and testifies, "A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me." John dies happy because he's made Jesus known.

But that's not how the historical John would have judged his God-given mission. As an Essene - a member of the Dead Sea scrolls community - John, like Jesus, insisted on repentance. But the reason John was so anxious to have people change their value systems was to prepare for Yahweh's appearance on earth, an appearance he hoped would right the wrongs his community had suffered a century before at the hands of the Jerusalem authority structure.

Things didn't turn out the way John anticipated. His preaching didn't usher in Yahweh's arrival; it simply hastened his own death. He probably looked at his martyrdom as a sign he'd failed in the task Yahweh gave him.

When we fail in carrying out what we conceive to be God's plans for us, it's important to remember the failures of Deutero-Isaiah, Paul and John the Baptist. They couldn't have been more successful.

The column above, for January 19, came from an archive on a website not under editorial control by Father Karban or by FOSIL.

COPYRIGHT 2020 - ROGER VERMALEN KARBAN

This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois, http://www.fosilonline.com.
Email: info@fosilonline.com, or write FOSIL, P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL, 62222


01/26/2020

JANUARY 26, 2020: THIRD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Isaiah 8:23-9:3; I Corinthians 1:10-13, 17; Matthew 4:12-23

(Originally published 2014)

Throughout my early life, I was taught today’s gospel pericope narrates Jesus’ call to his first four priests. Nothing could be further from the theology Matthew’s trying to convey. When Matthew composed his gospel – in the mid to late 70s – the priesthood as we know it didn’t exist. All gospel “calls” by Jesus are simply calls to be a Christian: another Christ. They certainly aren’t directed to a specific group of people who exercise one particular ministry in the community. On the contrary, they’re addressed to every one of the evangelists’ original readers. If we claim to be Christians, they’re directed to us. That’s why it’s essential to look carefully at each element of today’s call.

First, these initial disciples are called to follow a person, not an institution with particular sets of rules or regulations or even some philosophic concepts. And they have no idea where this person’s leading them. They’re just to “come after” him, wherever and whatever that entails. All they know is that people, not fish, will now be the most important element in their lives.

There’s no delay, no looking back. They immediately leave their boats, nets, even their father, and “follow him.” Jesus’ call marks a new beginning of their lives. Their response is the concrete “repentance” Jesus demands of all his followers: a total change of their value systems. Only those who achieve such a “metanoia” will eventually experience the “kingdom of heaven” - God working effectively - around and among them.

One way Paul of Tarsus, writing almost 20 years before Matthew, experienced God in his daily life was by the oneness of the Christian community. This seems to be why he’s so disturbed by what’s happening in the Corinthian church. Its members don’t appear to be disturbed at all by the “divisions” among them. They’ve actually created factions based on who was baptized by whom. The claim “I belong to Christ” seems to be Paul’s frustrated reminder that everyone was baptized into Christ, not into Paul or Cephas. And if they were baptized into Christ, they were baptized into his death; a death they’re expected to imitate by becoming one community, freed of all divisions. The Apostle suspects he’s failed at his primary calling - being a preacher of the gospel – since so many in Corinth have, by their separatist actions, “emptied” the cross of Christ of its meaning.

Though Isaiah seems to be referring to a pull-back of invading 8th century BCE Assyrian troops when he mentions a “great light” breaking into what’s been a “land of gloom,” we can all identify with his light/darkness imagery. We often find ourselves looking for any rays of light in this dark world we inhabit. Paul had found one of those light rays in the Corinthian Christian community he evangelized. Now he fears the gloom has returned.

Perhaps we’ve become so accustomed to the division between clergy and laity which the eventual development of the priesthood created in the church that we rarely reflect on what our Christian communities would be like without that stratification. Growing up as a Catholic boy, I presumed the only “call” worthwhile receiving was the call to be a priest. If I didn’t get one of those, then, by default, I guess Christ was calling me to be a married layman.

Back in the 60s and 70s I’d ask students in my high school religion classes if they felt they were inferior members of the church because they weren’t priests. Almost all of them answered, “Yes!” I hope that’s changed somewhat today. If it hasn’t, either we’re not listening carefully to Matthew or Paul, or we’ve been hearing lousy homilies.

COPYRIGHT 2020 - ROGER VERMALEN KARBAN

This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois, http://www.fosilonline.com.
Email: info@fosilonline.com, or write FOSIL, P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL, 62222


02/02/2020

February 2, 2020: Presentation of the Lord

Malachi 3:1-4; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40

Luke seems to have combined two separate Jewish rituals in Sunday’s Gospel about the offering of the firstborn to Yahweh and the mother’s purification after childbirth (Lk 2: 22-40). But the action we usually reflect on is the one that pertains to Jesus, not Mary. To understand its significance, we must explore one of Scripture’s strangest narratives: Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22, a passage so significant for early Christians that they instinctively included it among the seven Hebrew Scripture readings proclaimed during the Easter Vigil, Christianity’s most important celebration. Jesus’ first followers quickly discovered a parallel between Isaac’s carrying the wood for his sacrifice and Jesus carrying His cross; between Isaac’s miraculous deliverance and Jesus’ resurrection. But what bothers modern people is Yahweh’s command to Abraham: “Take your son, Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and...offer him up as a holocaust!” How can a loving God insist that a parent kill a child?

Anti-pagan

The only way to appreciate this narrative is to understand that the prophets who composed it in the eighth century before Christ were leading the struggle against child sacrifice. Offering one’s first-born male was an acceptable practice among the pagan, fertility-cult devotees with whom the Israelites lived and mingled. We know from Scripture that many followers of Yahweh imitated their example in order to acquire the fertility such sacrifices guaranteed. Some even believed Yahweh wanted them to do so. That’s why the two most important parts of the narrative are Abraham’s determination to do whatever Yahweh commands, and his willingness to shift gears and use a ram in place of Isaac once he finds out that Yahweh really doesn’t want human sacrifices. The substitution of an animal for a child became the normal way Jews demonstrated both thankfulness for their child’s birth and trust that this child is part of God’s pledge of fertility for the Chosen People. This switch from one kind of sacrifice to another also played a significant role in early Christianity. Once Jews started to prohibit Jesus’ followers from participating in the Jerusalem temple sacrifices, Christians started to look at sacrifice from a different angle.

Sacrifice

Educated and trained as Jews, Jesus’ first disciples continued to offer the same temple sacrifices all Jews offered. They, like Malachi, regarded such rituals to be essential to their practice of faith (Malachi 3: 1-4). They were certain that they always would be offered. Yahweh guaranteed this by constantly purifying the priests, so they would offer the sacrifices correctly. Stopped from performing those rituals, Christians began to look at sacrifice in other ways. First, as we hear in the second reading (Heb 2: 14-18), they started to regard Jesus’ death and resurrection as a sacrifice, making Him the “merciful and faithful high priest (who)...expiates the sins of the people.” Second, they also started to interpret their own imitation of Jesus’ death and resurrection as a sacrifice; something we hear Simeon allude to in the Gospel when he tells Mary, “This child is destined to be the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted - and you yourself a sword shall pierce.” Mary, Luke’s model Christian, will be pierced by her faith in her son, just as surely as Isaac was about to be pierced by Abraham’s knife. Changes in the way we look at sacrifice run all through our readings. But they’re only significant to those who are open enough to experience changes in how Jesus expects them to offer themselves to Him and to others.

The column above came from an archive on a website not under editorial control by Father Karban or by FOSIL.

COPYRIGHT 2020 - ROGER VERMALEN KARBAN

This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois, http://www.fosilonline.com.
Email: info@fosilonline.com, or write FOSIL, P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL, 62222


02/09/2020

FEBRUARY 9, 2020: FIFTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Isaiah 58:7-10; I Corinthians 2:1-5; Matthew 5:13-16

(Originally published 2017)

Long before 1624, when John Donne penned the famous line “No man is an island,” our sacred authors were convinced of the truth of that statement. They believed each of our lives inevitably affects the lives – for good or bad – of the people around us.

This certainly is true of the Hebrew prophets. Once we eradicate the false idea that they were mainly concerned with predicting the coming of Jesus and concentrate on their actual messages, their emphasis on creating life-giving relationships becomes embarrassingly evident. Today’s Third-Isaiah pericope provides us with a classic example.

Though this particular prophet is deeply committed to convincing the recently freed Babylonian captives to return to the Promised Land and rebuild Jerusalem, he never lets his people forget what they should be doing in the meantime. Whether they’re living in one of the Babylonian suburbs or in downtown Jerusalem, they’re to “share their bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked . . . and not turn their backs on their own.” In other words, their lives should make a positive difference in other peoples’ lives.

One of the most interesting facets of this unnamed prophet’s theology is his belief that many of our personal problems would disappear if we were more concerned with helping others get rid of their problems. “If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;” he proclaims, “if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.”

Today’s gospel passages carry more of an impact when we remember that Matthew positions it at the beginning of his Sermon on the Mount – immediately after the Beatitudes. He’s obviously concerned that his readers appreciate not only how the unique behavior which Jesus demands of them will change their lives, but will also change the lives of those who aren’t his followers. “You are the salt of the earth . . . a city set on a mountain,” Matthew’s Jesus reminds his followers. “No one lights a lamp, then puts it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others . . . .”

We who follow Jesus are responsible for letting others see that “in can be done:” that people can actually imitate Jesus in their daily lives. If we don’t carry through on the morality he taught and lived, his ideals remain just pie in the sky, something no one would ever dare integrate into how they lived their lives.

After reading the Sermon on the Mount, we might beg off carrying it out because we’re either not strong enough to follow through on how Jesus expects us to relate to others, or we’re too weak to put up with the static which will come our way if we actually try to do so. But in either case, Paul beats us to the punch.

In some sense, the Apostle tells his Corinthian community that if he can do it, anyone can do it. He certainly didn’t talk any one of them into becoming a Christian. He didn’t have the ability to do so. He could zero in on Jesus’ weakness by simply pointing to his own weakness. The only way he was able to make Jesus’ morality his morality was to totally give himself over to the risen Jesus, and let him/her work through him.

Perhaps one of the most important lines in Scripture is Paul’s admission that living his faith doesn’t depend on his own power, but on the “power of God” working through him.

COPYRIGHT 2020 - ROGER VERMALEN KARBAN

This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois, http://www.fosilonline.com.
Email: info@fosilonline.com, or write FOSIL, P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL, 62222


02/16/2020

FEBRUARY 16, 2020: SIXTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Sirach 15:15-20; I Corinthians 2:6-10; Matthew 5:17-37

(Originally published 2017)

It’s clear from various parts of the Christian Scriptures that one of the main reasons people originally began to imitate Jesus’ dying and rising was that it gave them a freedom they’d never before experienced.

Phycologists and psychiatrists frequently remind us that, on any given day, we rarely do anything which is totally free. Most of our actions – even our “religious” actions - are simply habitual, or performed either because we’re afraid of the consequences of doing the opposite, or because we want to maintain an image of ourselves which we’ve cultivated over the years. They’re far from being free.

But such freedom didn’t begin with Christianity. At least two centuries before Jesus’ birth, the author of Sirach reminded his readers that their Jewish faith revolves around making free choices. “God has set before us,” he writes, “fire and water . . . life and death, good and evil, whatever we choose shall be given us.” We have at least some control over our lives.

It’s important to remember that when Sirach originally penned these words about choice, he had no concept of an afterlife as we have today. The “life” he expected his readers to choose wasn’t an eternal life in heaven; it was a “new and improved” life right here and now. Our earthly lives will become fulfilled and meaningful only if we make the choices Yahweh expects and wants us to make.

Yet, as Paul reminds his Corinthian community, it isn’t the easiest thing in the world to find out what God really wants us to do. Obviously not everyone who claims to know God’s mind actually knows it. According to the Apostle, the “rulers of this age” certainly have no inkling of God’s will. Unlike the risen Jesus, they’re leading us away, not toward God’s “mysterious, hidden wisdom.” That’s why it’s essential for other Christs to have Jesus’ Spirit. His Spirit alone makes our mind one with God’s mind, leading us to look at everyone and everything around us from a unique perspective – God’s perspective.

Matthew is dealing with a community which, as Jews, believed they understood God’s mind long before they came in contact with Jesus. But that encounter turned everything upside down. That seems to be behind Jesus’ assurance, “I have come not to abolish but to fulfill the law and the prophets.” There was nothing wrong with what they did before; Jesus is simply taking them to a new level. He’s concerned not with the afterlife, but with the here and now of entering “the kingdom of heaven:” of experiencing God working effectively in their daily, humdrum lives. To pull that off they have to freely choose to go beyond the 613 Laws of Moses.

When Matthew’s Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said . . . ,” he’s quoting one of those covenant regulations. But in each case, he takes his followers beyond the usual interpretation of that particular regulation, giving it a new meaning, one that surpasses the “righteousness” of even those “super-Jews:” the scribes and Pharisees. His disciples, for instance, are not only to avoid physical murder, they’re to renounce even the psychological murder of someone that comes from verbally abusing them.

Modern moral theologians often remind us that God will eventually judge us only on the things we freely chose to do. Whatever we did out of force or fear – like going to Mass on Sunday because our parents gave us no other choice – will play no role in our eternal future. The historical (and risen) Jesus certainly wants us to make free choices, choices which will not only get us into heaven one day, but will even now enable us to experience the heaven that’s already around us.

COPYRIGHT 2020 - ROGER VERMALEN KARBAN

This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois, http://www.fosilonline.com.
Email: info@fosilonline.com, or write FOSIL, P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL, 62222


02/23/2020

FEBRUARY 23TH, 2020: SEVENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18; I Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48

(Originally published 2017)

Just what do our sacred authors mean when they refer to someone as being “holy?” They certainly aren’t employing a Merriam-Webster definition of the term. In their minds it normally has nothing to do with being “revered or worthy of devotion.” A holy person or object is simply “other:” there isn’t anyone or anything quite like it. That, for instance, is the main reason Jews were forbidden to make images of Yahweh. Any picture, bas-relief, or statue of such a completely holy individual would be limiting his/her otherness, something Yahweh’s followers were expected to respect.

That’s why the Leviticus author must have deeply disturbed his readers when he not only reminds them that Yahweh’s holy, but, through Moses, also tells them to imitate that holiness. They’re to accomplish this not by dressing different from everyone else, but by living lives that are other from people around them, lives based on a unique value system. Against common wisdom and practice, they’re to “take no revenge, cherish no grudges,” and, unbelievably, “love their neighbors as themselves.”

Matthew’s Jesus simply points out a few implications of such holiness in today’s gospel pericope. His followers are not only expected to “turn the other cheek” when someone strikes them, they’re even required to “offer no resistance to one who is evil.” He consistently wants them to show “hesed” to everyone.

Biblical hesed refers to what an individual does for someone which goes beyond what he or she has a right to expect. It’s a way of exercising freedom in situations in which one’s freedom has been taken away. For instance, though someone might have a right to “go to law with you over your tunic,” handing over your cloak to that person is a totally free act. In the same way, going two miles instead of one mile for someone forcing you to do so, is also a free action. There’s “no charge” for that second mile.

As a good Jew, Matthew’s Jesus is convinced that one way we demonstrate our holiness is by freely doing things which we have no responsibility or obligation to do. A significant part of our otherness is that we’re free even in situations in which others have surrendered their freedom. Just as our “perfect” God freely deals with people, so do we. Those who want to be like God are expected to act like God.

It’s significant to recall that even though main-stream Jews had huge difficulties with the Roman destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE, Christian Jews didn’t seem to take its demise on the same level. We have to thank Paul for their reaction.

Though the Apostle was martyred about 10 years before the Roman army leveled Jerusalem, the theology he develops in today’s I Corinthians passage certainly provided them with a unique perspective from which to view that national and religious disaster. No longer was the Jerusalem temple the only place where Jesus’ Jewish disciples could encounter God. “Do you not know,” Paul asks his Corinthian readers, “that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” Then he reminds them of the obvious: “The temple of God, which you are, is holy.”

If acting like everyone else is the norm of wisdom, it’s no wonder, Paul argues, that people judge other Christs to be fools.

We know from movies like Jeremiah Johnson that many Native American tribes gave their mentally ill members a free pass, interpreting their unconventional actions as signs they were close to their gods, who they logically reasoned would act differently from themselves.

I wonder how many of our friends and relatives are just as generous in judging our holy actions?

COPYRIGHT 2020 - ROGER VERMALEN KARBAN

This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois, http://www.fosilonline.com.
Email: info@fosilonline.com, or write FOSIL, P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL, 62222


03/01/2020

March 1, 2020: FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT

Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

(Originally published 2017)

Back in the late 60s, Pope Paul VI convened a unique meeting at the Vatican. Realizing the majority of anthropologists were convinced the human race evolved from more than one set of “original parents,” the pontiff was anxious to explore how this rather new theory of polygenesis could fit into the Christian doctrine of original sin. Based on today’s first reading, that doctrine presumed we all sprang from one set of parents who at one point in their early existence had committed a sin so serious that it not only affected them personally, but was somehow passed down to all their descendants.

Among those whom Paul gathered were eminent scientists, Scripture scholars, anthropologists and theologians. Their final report was eventually published in the now-defunct Critic magazine. Though their opinions differed, they all seemed to agree on two things. First, the Yahwistic author of Genesis never expected us to take her biblical account of the “fall” literally. She simply created a classical myth to explain the origins of something we all experience: a basic sinful disorder in each of our lives. Second, the actual original sin probably wasn’t something our ancestors did, but something they didn’t do.

According to these experts, the first humans were few enough to have definitively changed the moral environment in which they lived. But they didn’t. Instead, time and time again they caved into their “dog eat dog” surroundings, refusing to replace the hateful situations they encountered with the love God intended them to display. The result was that their descendants were forced to face the same disordered environment – a climate which guaranteed it would be only a matter of time before each individual committed his or her original sin.

It’s good to hear today’s second and third readings from this perspective. Paul is convinced Jesus of Nazareth totally changed the environment we daily encounter. He reminds the Christian community in Rome that they no longer have to give in to the hatred and mistrust flourishing around them. The risen Jesus has overcome all that. And if we have the courage to join him/her in dying and rising, we’ll also replace our disordered surroundings with an environment of love. “For, if by the transgression of the one, the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many?” Each of us has the ability to change our surroundings for the better.

In a similar way, Matthew’s Jesus begins his pubic ministry with the message that no longer will it be “business as usual.” He’s determined to alter the way people live their lives. He isn’t, for instance, going to spend his life just taking care of people’s physical needs. Changing stones into bread won’t be a top priority. He’s determined to tackle the roots of our “screwed up” environment, not just the externals.

Neither is he going to do the spectacular, something that would make the headlines. No jumping off high buildings. Instead, he’s committed to the day by day loving of those around him: the one thing that would definitely change everyone’s life.

In the end, he’s simply not interested in having dominion over the “kingdoms of the world.” Those who lust after such a grandiose position have obviously made a pact with the devil to manipulate their sinful surroundings to their own selfish benefit, not to eradicate them.

It’s easy to forget the kind of person we’ve committed ourselves to imitate; someone who just didn’t want his followers to avoid sin. More than anything, he expected them to change their environment enough that sin might no longer be the trap it was for those who first inhabited our planet.

COPYRIGHT 2020 - ROGER VERMALEN KARBAN

This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois, http://www.fosilonline.com.
Email: info@fosilonline.com, or write FOSIL, P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL, 62222



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December 25, 2016, & January 1, 2017
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2012 Essays
December 23 & 25, 2012
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2011 Essays
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February 6, 2011
January 30, 2011
January 16, 2011
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2010 Essays
December 25, 2010
December 10, 2010
November 28, 2010
November 14, 2010

 

 

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