Category Archives: Selections by the Holy Spirit

The student is ready


I have often wondered why it took me 70 years to understand some of Your simplest spiritual insights when they were there all the time and I just passed them by, ignored them, glazed over or was baffled or bored by them.

You made me, so You know my faults and foibles inside and out. Like a child, You know that I cannot understand You, who You are, what You are, why You are, even what is this thing called the Kingdom of God. Like a child, You needed to feed me pabulum, stories, mysteries, each with a not-so-hidden meaning, like searching for treasure…wow…or a bad man who was in debt up to his eye-balls, get let off the hook and then goes and yanks the chain of a friend who owes him a couple of bucks…yikes…or a dad whose son blows his inheritance and yet the dad welcomes him back…amazing!

The disciples approached him and said, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” [1] He said to them in reply, “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted. To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. [Mt 13:10-12]

This may seem a bit brutal…what’s this “not granted?” It seems to have two components: (a) God’s plan for me and my need to know and (b) my seeking and knocking.

God has an idiosyncratic plan, an approach that He uses just for me, that is specific to me, to my unique temperament, my intelligence, my sensitivities, my weltanschauung. If I’m not ready, I just don’t get it. I don’t pay attention to it or even hear it. I think this is why I had such a problem with John’s Gospel[2] in the past. If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? [Jn 3:12] I needed to be fed the pabulum of parables until I could digest the solid food of Jesus’ straight talk. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. [1 Cor 13:11-12] 

But understanding heavenly things does not depend on You, God, alone. I needed to be receptive to their revelation. And sinfulness is not a very conducive state of receptivity; when I concentrate on myself to the exclusion of You, God, choose my way rather than Yours, become addicted to me, me, me rather than denying myself, taking up my cross and following You [Mt 16:24], if, in short, I just don’t have time for You, put You on the back burner, forget about You and just concentrate on myself, I have no interest in understanding heavenly things. Jesus, You understood where I was, where I came from; You nailed it even then: “Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces. [Mt 7:6]

This is why You spoke to me… in parables, because ‘I look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.’ Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in me, which says: ‘You shall indeed hear but not understand you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted, and I heal them.’ [Mt 13:13-15] 

Fortunately for me, You did not give up that easily. “I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind; and in the mist of tears I hid from Him, and under running laughter.”[3] You left Your hundred sheep and…came after the lost one until…You found me. [Lk 15:4] 

Once You found me, You said: I tell you, all that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours. [Mk 11:24] Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. [Mt 7:7-8] Did I ask for understanding, insight, inspiration…No, though now I was “back in the fold,” I lacked faith, I was afraid of being disappointed, of being told “No, not now…No, I have something better,…No, that is an apple from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and will cause your death, my beloved child.” I took the cowards, the lukewarm, the tepid way out and followed Ahaz when the Lord said to him: Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as Sheol, or high as the sky! [Is 7:11] The LORD was trying to get Ahaz to trust Him, promising him His own sign of trust, just like God tells me “Ask,…seek,…knock!” But Ahaz blows it, just like I usually blow it. Ahaz answered, “I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!” [Is 7:12] “Ahaz prefers to depend upon the might of Assyria rather than the might of God.”[4] I search Google instead, but the principle is the same; we both preferred to depend on our feeble selves, our miniscule minds, our cowardly choices rather than putting our hand “in the hand of the man who stilled the sea…the man from Galilee.”[5]

I don’t blame God for getting angry at Ahaz or with me. Listen, house of David! Is it not enough that you weary human beings? Must you also weary your…God? [Is 7:13] The LORD offers me signs and wonders on a plate, carte blanche, no charge, my choice, just ask, seek, know, all this in order that I will trust Him enough to believe that He cares about me, He wants to take care of me, He wants to love me and to have me love and trust [have faith in] Him…and I have the gall, the chutzpah, the cowardly inanity to say “No, thanks,” to turn my back on Him, to ignore His offers, His gifts, His pleas, His warnings, His own Son and instead scream “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” And with His death, I think its over and I can get on with my life as I want!

But God’s not done by a long shot! To Ahaz who didn’t have the guts to ask, He gave the ultimate sign: the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel. [Is 7:14] The most indelible, lasting, unmistakable sign of His love which He would ever give…His own only begotten Son, born of a virgin, for Ahaz, for Israel, for you, for me. Incredible, Yes. Unbelievable, totally. Unreal, hardly.

You do the same for me today. You lay out the entire revelation of Yourself to me through Scriptures, how You are the Father we all want and need, loving but firm, educating my ignorance, encouraging by faltering steps, laying out the rules, chastising me when I break them, showing by example the way I should live, allowing me to make mistakes, correcting me, forgiving me, but holding me responsible for the results, even respecting my decisions when they are directly contrary to what You know is best for me, for my happiness. And You give us constant signs, new and glorious mornings, life itself, the indestructibility of the Church, Your Son not only portrayed in Scripture, but present right here, right now, live, up close and personal in the Mass, in the tabernacle, in my heart. How’s that for a sign??!! You can’t get better than that!!!

I give up. I’m here. The memory card’s in, the tablet ready. The student is finally ready and raring to go!

Indeed, blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” [Mt 13:16-17]

Amen. Alleluia!!!

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] John reports a lot more of the “heavenly things” than the other Evangelists. While Mark is the Daily News with “just the facts” including the juicy tidbit about the kid who ran away naked, Matthew The New York Times with five sections on morals, mission, media, mores, and end game, and Luke National Geographic narration of Jesus’ one long journey from Nazareth and Bethlehem to Jerusalem and beyond with Paul to Rome, John is the Atlantic Monthly, with Jesus’ interviews and statements of Divine analysis Jewish opinion, and the Spirit’s commentary. For instance, John never uses parables; he uses παροιμία to describe his extended and elaborate metaphors. The Sheep Gate and the Good Shepherd is the context for an “I am” statement [Jn 10:1-16] as is The Vine and the Branches [Jn 15:1-8]. The other allusions are usually only one sentence metaphors: Blowing Wind 3.8; Bridegroom’s Attendant 3.29; Fields Ripe for Harvest 4.35-38; The Slave and the Son 8.35; Twelve Hours of Daylight 11.9-10; Kernel of Wheat 12.24; Walking in the Light 12.35; Preparing a Place 14.2-4; Women in Travail 16.20-24. While during the ministry with his brother and through his mom, he attempted to force the hand of Jesus into giving him a prime place in the Kingdom, John was was the one whom Jesus loved,…reclining at Jesus’ side at the Last Supper [Jn 13:23]; is the only one who stays with Jesus throughout the crucifixion [Jn 18:15; 19:26]; is the one who first believes in the Resurrection [20:8]; and recognizes Jesus through the post-resurrection miracle of the enormous catch of fish [21:7]. He also seemed to understand Jesus by simply loving Him more during His lifetime, and was given the time to reflect on Jesus teaching after His Ascension and Pentecost which he passed on through his writings of the Gospel, the Letters and Revelation.

[3] The Hound of Heaven By Francis Thompson (1859–1907)

[4] NABRE footnote to Is 7:12.

[5] Pop song by Gene MacLellan

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You are “THE MAN”!

There are three major events in Scripture where the phrase: “The Man” is critical to the scene.

In Genesis, Lord, in the beginning, You created me, the Man; In Genesis, Lord, in the beginning, You created me, the Man: the LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.[1] Out of the earth You created me. Only after You create man do you create the animals in an attempt to find a suitable companion for man. When this “proved” to be a proper helper, in this Priestly version of creation, You create woman out of his rib. You settle us in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it. [Gen 2:15] We were both naked, yet…[we] felt no shame [Gen 2:25], totally innocent. And Your directive is that we are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die. [Gen 2:16-17]

In this story, You call me “man” before I am even created. You are the main actor and also the one who judges Your creation to be man. What is “sacrificed,” i.e. “made holy,” is creation. At that time, I am totally innocent, without the blemish of any sin. You give me the responsibility to rule over creation and the outcome for me is perpetual stewardship.

I wander far from this innocence, however as is evident the next time The LORD addresses “the Man” when he sends Nathan to David [2 Sam 12:1]. Nathan has told David the parable about the poor man’s single lamb and how the rich man, who had flocks of sheep, took the poor man’s only lamb and slaughtered it to serve it to his guest. Nathan has told David: “Tell me how you judge this case.” [2 Sam 12:1]… David grew very angry with that man and said to Nathan: “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves death! He shall make fourfold restitution for the lamb because he has done this and was unsparing.” Then Nathan said to David: “You are the man! [2 Sam 12:5-7]

Here You use a parable to have David condemn his sin and realize his guilt. While Nathan is the prophet, Your voice in this drama, it is actually David who pronounces his own judgment. You chastise him, pronounce a condemnation: now, therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, [2 Samuel 12:10] which, centuries later, will even cause the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under [Mt 2:16] and later the death of his most holy and blessed heir.

Though David is spared, the lamb, both in the parable and in the birth child, is sacrificed. For his part, the LORD has removed your sin. You shall not die, but since you have utterly spurned the LORD by this deed, the child born to you will surely die. [2 Sam 12:13-14][2] The Man is here judged and punishment meted out.

God, You have built up to this moment, this redefinition of Man and innocence, and it tragically occurs when Your only begotten Son is being displayed for acceptance or condemnation: So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple cloak. And he said to them, “Behold, the man!” [Jn 19:5] In contrast to the story of creation and the parable of David, You give me the chillingly graphic reality narrative of Jesus’ persecution. Unlike the bliss of Eden or the grandeur of the palace, I stand in Pilate’s praetorium. Unlike the innocent nakedness of Adam or the kingly robes of David, Jesus wears a crown out of thorns and…a purple cloak and is mocked as King of the Jews! [Jn 19:2-3] Instead of being in the prime of health, newly created, or in kingly fighting trim, Jesus’s body was torn, gashed, bloody from scourging. As if to exonerate himself and distance him from the mockery of justice, Pilate tells the crowd: “Look, I am bringing him out to you, so that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” [Jn 19:4]

In contrast to Adam, whose creation God judged very good [Gen 1:31], in contrast to David whom Nathan condemns by David’s own admission, Jesus is condemned by his own people: When the chief priests and the guards saw him they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” [Jn 19:6]

After creating Adam and condemning David, Jesus is “the Man” who takes their place, steps into their shoes, stands in for them and redeems them both. The poor man’s lamb slain by the rich man is the Lamb of God, slain for poor men by us who have received the riches of the universe from His Father. The new Adam’s innocence is to be hung on the cross to save us, the David’s of this world. The judged and condemned like David is the new judge of all creation. The One who takes David’s and our punishment upon Himself is the one who, by this very action, gives me instead mercy and redemption, a new beginning, a new creation.

Now behold the fourth man, this man, me, who was created very good like Adam, who with David must admit, I have sinned against the LORD [2 Sam 12: 13], and who therefore should be the one standing before the crowd, scourged and worthy of condemnation, for even frightened and cowardly traitor to the Truth Pilate could not say of me: I find no guilt in him. This is “the Man,” created, sinful and, by the grace and through the mercy of God, redeemed. This is cross that I must bear, this guilt that I must acknowledge, yet also this great gift, unearned, undeserved, unforeseen and unprecedented, to which I must cling. May I accept my place with You, Jesus, as I accepted my place with Adam and David, that I might carry my cross daily and die to my self for my sins with You, that I might be with You forever in heaven. Amen. Alleluia!!!

 

The Man the LORD God formed the man… You are the man! Behold the Man!
Scripture Source Genesis [Gen 2:7] Samuel [2 Sam 12:7] John [Jn 19:15]
Type of Literature Creation Story Parable Narrative
Timing Before the fact of Man After the fact of Man’s sin The fact: the God/Man
Actor God Nathan Pilate
Judge God David/Nathan The Jews
God’s action God makes man God condemns man God redeems man
Sacrifice Creation Lamb/infant Lamb of God
Condition of Man Innocent Fallen Innocent
Result Rule over creation Judge Judged/Judge
Outcome Stewardship Punishment Punishment/Redemption

 

Addendum:

While one the one hand Jesus is included with other “the Man” statements and confirms his humanity, I must always be aware of the “both/and.” God is inclusive, not exclusive. So too is Jesus inclusive, both God and Man. Thus, when Pilate brings him out a second time, having been informed that Jesus made himself the Son of God and been told by Jesus You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above, he attempts to reinstate Jesus, reinstate God as the LORD, your Holy One, The Creator of Israel, your King, [Is 43:15], seating him on the judge’s bench…and saying to the Jews, Behold, your king! [Jn 19:7,11,13,14][3]

This reference to His divinity may be supported in the fact that, in addition, though the NABRE links “Behold the man.” to Is 52:14-15: Even as many were amazed at him— so marred were his features, beyond that of mortals his appearance, beyond that of human beings — So shall he startle many nations, kings shall stand speechless; For those who have not been told shall see, those who have not heard shall ponder it, this appearance, beyond that of human beings may also refer to another Isaiah reference: Go up onto a high mountain, Zion, herald of good news! Cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news! Cry out, do not fear! Say to the cities of Judah: Behold your God! [Is 40:9]

When Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your king?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar,” with one stoke, the chief priests, speaking for the people of God, severe ties with all three: Jesus, their King and their God.

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.  “The Hebrew word ’adam is a generic term meaning “human being.” In chaps. 2–3, however, the archetypal human being is understood to be male (Adam), so the word ’adam is translated “man” here.” NABRE Note on Gen 2:5.

[2] Only later will David produce an heir who will save even himself from His sin. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. [Lk 2:11] For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. [Is 9:6]

[3] Jesus had claimed His kingship of Israel in his design and execution of his entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday as fulfillment of the prophecy: Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. [Zech 9:9] The crowds have wondered Who is this King of glory? and receive the answer in the fulfillment: The LORD of hosts, He is the King of glory…[Ps 24:10] Israel’s king, its redeemer, the LORD of hosts. [Is 44:6]