The Faith of Abraham and His Seed, Numerous as the Stars

Rembrandt - Abraham Serving the Three Angels

Rembrandt – Abraham Serving the Three Angels. Wikimedia Commons.

Key Verses:

“And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.

And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” (Genesis 15:5-6; KJV)

“The apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith. (Luke 17:5; KJV)

My Reflections:

At the Last Supper, Jesus’ disciples, who were to be his apostles after his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, asked him to increase their faith. Even though he was soon to leave them, it was still early days in the development of their faith in him; they were still uncomprehending in large measure. The disciples needed further instruction, but even more than this they needed to believe what Jesus promised them would take place.

“Increase our faith!” is a plaintive cry we could all make at various points in our lives. Where do we find reliable models to inspire in us greater faith? The eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews sets before us a list of faithful forebears, from Abel, Enoch, and Noah all the way to Moses. But the pivotal figure is Abraham, the first Patriarch.  God led Abram (as he was first known) through many stages of promise and obedient response, to build a Covenant relationship with him.  Continue reading

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New Year’s Day: What is the Greatest Commandment?

Navarre Bible - Pentateuch

Key Verses:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord:

And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.  (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; KJV)

“Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18; KJV)

And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. 

And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.(Mark 12:28-31; KJV)

“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:40; KJV)

My Reflections:

As a rabbi, a teacher of the Torah, Jesus was asked many questions by his disciples, interested listeners, other teachers, and those who wished to test him.  In one encounter in Jerusalem, he was teaching in the Temple when a scribe approached and asked him, “Which is the first commandment of all?” In others words, which is the greatest? Jesus answered, quoting from Deuteronomy (6:4-5), that the first and greatest commandment is that which begins Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord” and commands that thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” He added a second, which he said was like it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” quoted from the book of Leviticus (19:18). In the Gospel of Mark, he concludes by asserting that there are no other commandments greater than these, and in Matthew, he says, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  Continue reading

“A heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26) and the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Ezekiel_by_Michelangelo,_restored_-_large

Ezekiel by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel. Wikimedia.

Key Verses:

 And I will give you a new heart, and put a new spirit within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and will give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26; Douay-Rheims)

And I will give them one heart, and will put a new spirit in their bowels: and I will take away the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh: That they may walk in my commandments, and keep my judgments, and do them: and that they may be my people, and I may be their God. (Ezekiel 11:19-20; DR)

“Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls.” (Matthew 11:29; DR)

My Reflections:

Ezekiel’s prophecy of God’s restoration of Israel reaches a pinnacle of love and hope in the image of the dramatic conversion of each human heart. Not only will the people as a whole be purified but each person will be sprinkled with clean water (prefiguring Baptism; see note in The Navarre Bible: Major Prophets, p. 740) and fully cleansed from all uncleanness and idolatry (36:25). Each one will receive a new heart and a new spirit in their innermost being, and “I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and will give you a heart of flesh.” (36:26). For me, these verses from Ezekiel are among the most moving in all of Sacred Scripture.  They call us to anticipate, and cooperate with, God’s merciful action deep within us, equipping us to walk in the His ways, follow his commandments, and learn to love as we have been loved.  Continue reading

Review: “Imagine Heaven” by John Burke

Imagine Heaven: Near-Death Experiences, God's Promises, and the Exhilarating Future That Awaits YouImagine Heaven: Near-Death Experiences, God’s Promises, and the Exhilarating Future That Awaits You by John Burke. Baker Books, 2015

This book is not what I thought it would be. It is not the story of one child who thought he saw Jesus. Rather, it describes studies of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who, often in hospital settings, underwent medically verified death for minutes or hours, before reviving. What they report of their lived experience after physical death–what they saw and heard, the choices they were given–is remarkably consistent across ages, cultures, and belief systems, including no belief or active atheism.  Continue reading

The Bronze Serpent and the Cross of Christ

“so must the Son of man be lifted up”

Key Verses:

“And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.” (Numbers 21:9; KJV)

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him, may not perish; but may have life everlasting. (John 3:14-15; DR; Jesus, answering Nicodemus)

My Reflections:

The story of the Bronze* Serpent in the book of Numbers (21:4-9) is a powerful example of repentance and God’s mercy on his people. Near the end of their arduous 40 years in the desert, the Israelites were traveling from Mount Hor around the land of Edom, following the Red Sea. It is said that they “spoke against God and against Moses,” asking why they had been brought out of Egypt to die in the wilderness with no food and no water, surviving on “worthless food.”  Continue reading