The widow and the End Times

Pastor Douthwaite’s sermon last Sunday was based on the assigned text for that day, about the widow’s mite (Mark 12: 38-44).  He began with a useful survey of what the Church Year means and shows what it means to live in light of the End Times:

With the Festival of the Reformation and the Feast of All Saints now in the rear view mirror of the Church Year, our thoughts are turned these last three Sundays to the end times, the return of Christ, the last days, judgment day . . . or, to use the fancy theological word for it: eschatology. Our Church Year takes us from the expectation and promises of a Messiah in Advent, to the days of His birth at Christmas, to the revealing of His divinity in Epiphany, to His suffering and death in Lent, the joy of the resurrection in the Easter season, the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and that same Spirit working now in the life of the Church through the Pentecost season. But now we are at the end, and we look forward to the end, and the return of our Saviour to raise the dead and take us, all who believe and are baptized into in Christ Jesus (Mk 16:16), home. To the rest and pure joy of heaven.

And so (you may be thinking) that focus must start next week, because this week we didn’t hear end times or eschatology readings – we heard about a widow and her two mites in the Holy Gospel. . . .

And so, it seems to me, there is more to this reading than meets the eye. Something more than just about how much she – and we – put into the offering box or the offering plate. It’s about eschatology. It’s about how we live this life with a view toward the end. For, we believe, ever since Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, we are living in the end times, the last days. Once Jesus ascended, He could return at any time, and we don’t know when. So how do we live in these days, these last days? It’s good to take stock of that and consider.

And there are two examples presented to us today: the scribes and the widow. Of the scribes, Jesus says, beware. Beware not (this time) of their teaching, but of how they are living. For their lives are all about the here and now. What honor they receive now, what glory is bestowed now, what advantages they get now. There seems to be no mercy or compassion in them, for they even devour widows’ houses. And their religion is a scam too, Jesus says. Their long prayers are a pretense – something they do to look holy, while going after the things of this world. . . .

But then there is the widow. How utterly different is she. For her the here and now is a hardship. Unlike the scribes, there is no honor for her now, no glory for her now, no advantages for her now. Maybe she still had her house because she was so poor and her house so humble that it wasn’t worth the scribes’ effort to devour it! And yet what little she had, those two small copper coins, she doesn’t keep, she doesn’t spend on food, she doesn’t hold on to for future needs – she drops them into the Temple treasury. They didn’t really make a difference. Her offering was like dumping a glass of water into the ocean. Or (to use my fiscal cliff example) like me sending in a dollar to the US Treasury – it’s not really going to make a difference in paying down the national debt!

But that’s not why she did it. She gave those two coins because she was living with a fundamentally different outlook than the scribes. Her “here and now” wasn’t even worth two small copper coins; but her future was. She did what she did because she was living her life with a view toward the end. Others may laugh at her for putting in so little, they might come and devour her house next, she might not have food the next day or the next week. But her life wasn’t in these things. These things were not her utmost concern. For, Jesus said, she put in everything she had, all her life. That’s what it really says: all her life. She put her life into the Temple that day; into the place where God dwells. [Read more…]

Why Lutherans can’t take Catholic Communion

Russell E. Saltzman, a pastor in the North American Lutheran Church (the relatively conservative off shoot of ELCA), wrote a post at the First Things blog plaintively asking, “Why Can’t Lutherans Take Catholic Communion?”  After all, he says, Lutherans and Catholics are agreed on justification–as of that Joint Declaration on the subject–and we are pretty much OK about other things, properly conceived.

Rev. Saltzman exhibits the annoying quality of speaking for “Lutherans” while ignoring those millions of us in that tradition who are conservative theologically and don’t go along with the Joint Declaration and other ecumenical overtures.   The mostly Catholic commenters tried to explain why he can’t commune at a Catholic altar, and in this case we conservative Lutherans do agree with conservative Catholics that this would be highly inappropriate.

You’ve got to read Anthony Sacramone’s discussion of this issue, which concludes with a vivid account of the differences between Rome and Lutherans, especially when it comes to the Gospel:

Let’s cut to the chase: would the Roman Catholic Church today accept as doctrinally true the Lutheran teaching of the alien righteousness of Christ, of the great exchange of His righteousness for our sin, of our sanctification as being in Him, even though we are called to good works — but for the sake of our neighbor and not in aid of increasing our justification? If not, again, who are these Lutherans Reverend Saltzman is talking about whose differences with Rome are now of little significance?

Do these Lutherans now accept the existence of a Treasury of Merits? Or has Rome admitted that this was a bankrupt medieval invention and is now, in the interest of ecumenicity, disposable? Have indulgences, the flashpoint of the Reformation, also become irrelevant?

I ask this honestly: what is the true nonnegotiable here?

Let’s discuss the papal office for a moment: Was Pope Urban II Infallible, “evangelically understood,” when he declared, in regard to the First Crusade:  “If anyone who sets out should lose his life either on the way, by land or by sea, or in battle against the infidels, his sins shall be pardoned from that moment. This I grant by right of the gift of God’s power to me.”

Did the bishop of Rome have this authority? Urban II is addressing men who are off, he hopes, to kill the enemies of the Faith and to retrieve stolen property. Is this the true nature of the power of the keys as described in the Gospel of Matthew? Does this notion of dying in a holy war and going straight to Paradise sound familiar?

Here’s another question: Does the pope have this same authority today—to proactively forgive the temporal punishment for sins that would otherwise send someone to Purgatory (or to a purgative state), thus promising them a straight ticket to heaven in the event they died trying to kill someone else? I’m not interested in whether or not it is likely to be exercised in this day and age, nor whether the Muslims in the 12th century invited this response for overrunning the “Holy Land.” I’m only interested in whether Benedict XVI, by virtue of his office, has this authority, given him from Christ.

Whether the pope is infallible in matters of faith and morals is inextricably tied to how justification is construed. The same can be said for the nature of the Eucharist, and the priesthood.

What is the wedding garment without which no one enters the wedding feast of the King? Is it something of our own, dry-cleaned, purified, and bleached? Or is it the gift of Someone else? Is it something we do to ourselves, by aid of grace? Something we endure, in the sense of suffer? Or is it something we receive, like the Eucharist, from Another?

For some, the alien, imputed righteousness of Christ is a legal fiction, and Luther’s image of the dunghill covered with snow is usually cited as evidence. And yet these same Christians have no problem with the transfer of the supererogatory merits of the saints to the accounts of the properly disposed.

The merits of Christ’s sacrifice transferred to the sinner, as a sinner, is a fiction, but the merits of Josemaria Escriva transferred by dint of papal proclamation — that’s real.

Really?

The issue remains the same today as on October 31, 1517.

via Reformation Day: Lutherans vs. Alien Righteousness « Strange Herring.

A new name for God?

From Methodist minister Chris Brundage at Christian Century:

I have a new name for God, at least new to me. The old three-letter word “God” is worn out. Words only last so long before they need to be retired for a season. The word “God” has too much freight on it and too many associations.

I have begun to use a Hebrew word for deity: el. It’s pronounced like the English word ale. (This is an idea I borrowed from Madeleine L’Engle.) El is a simple word, found in the Bible, but it doesn’t have any history for me, and I never use it in my work as a pastor. I walk on the trail in the mornings and talk to el, who hides in the trees. Actually, el is hidden deeply in all things.

I bought a new prayer book to help me talk with el at other times. My old prayer book was looking decrepit, and the cats gnawed off the ribbon markers. My prayer book is published by the Presbyterian Church and includes the psalms along with traditional prayers. It has a Celtic cross on the cover and readings from the daily lectionary in the back, which I read in the Good News Bible or the NRSV. A new prayer book goes well with a new name for God.

via A new name for God | The Christian Century.

First of all, “El” is not a new name for God, simply a word for God in another language.  If a person wants to pray in another language, fine.  If in Biblical Hebrew, so much the better.

But I wouldn’t want to fool with the “name” of God.  The name of God is a concept I suspect we don’t fully appreciate.  In the Bible, God’s “name” is  fraught with spiritual power and taboos, from the Commandment (“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”) to the injunctions to glorify God’s name and Christ’s promises about praying and acting in His name (talk about a claim to divinity).

Of course, “God” isn’t the name of God–just a noun for who and what He is.  The name of God is expressed in the Tetragrammaton, YHWH, and is connected to the verb “to be,” as in what He said to Moses, “I am who I am.”  Now that Christ has come, we have a name by which we are to baptize and to worship:  “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

Coming up with different names for God, though, cuts us off from the historic and universal church that extends back through time and across the whole world.  Making up your own individual name for God enshrines the individual–not YHWH, not the Trinity–as the locus of devotion.

The "Jesus' wife" fragment is from the internet?

One of my favorite courses in grad school was “Bibliography and Methods,” in which we learned about the scholarship of studying manuscripts, variant texts, printing evidence, textual editing, and other kinds of hard-core old-school literary research.  One of the things you can do with this knowledge is detect forgeries.

Scholars have found that the much-hyped manuscript fragment that refers to Jesus having a wife consists basically of phrases from the already-known gnostic text known as the Gospel of Thomas.  Not only that, it replicates a mistake in the transcription that is found only in a version posted on the internet!

See Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: Forgery Confirmed? » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

Lampooning the Jesus’ wife hype

The inimitable Hans Fiene at Lutheran Satire on the Jesus’ wife kerfluffle and, more generally, on the mindset it represents:

Lutheran Satire – YouTube.

Jesus’ Wife

I’m kind of behind, with my surgery and all, so this has already gone around, but we must post it.  Scholars have found a small fragment in the Coptic language from ancient Egypt that has Jesus referring to “my wife.”  Now first of all, as the historian who made the translation insists, this does NOT prove the thesis of the Da Vinci Code, nor does it prove that Jesus did, in fact, have a wife, since this was written centuries after his time on earth and it has affinities to Gnostic texts.  But still, let’s look at the story:

A historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School has identified a scrap of papyrus that she says was written in Coptic in the fourth century and contains a phrase never seen in any piece of Scripture: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …’ ”

The faded papyrus fragment is smaller than a business card, with eight lines on one side, in black ink legible under a magnifying glass. Just below the line about Jesus having a wife, the papyrus includes a second provocative clause that purportedly says, “she will be able to be my disciple.”

The finding was made public in Rome on Tuesday at the International Congress of Coptic Studies by Karen L. King, a historian who has published several books about new Gospel discoveries and is the first woman to hold the nation’s oldest endowed chair, the Hollis professor of divinity.

The provenance of the papyrus fragment is a mystery, and its owner has asked to remain anonymous. Until Tuesday, Dr. King had shown the fragment to only a small circle of experts in papyrology and Coptic linguistics, who concluded that it is most likely not a forgery. But she and her collaborators say they are eager for more scholars to weigh in and perhaps upend their conclusions.

Even with many questions unsettled, the discovery could reignite the debate over whether Jesus was married, whether Mary Magdalene was his wife and whether he had a female disciple. These debates date to the early centuries of Christianity, scholars say. But they are relevant today, when global Christianity is roiling over the place of women in ministry and the boundaries of marriage.

The discussion is particularly animated in the Roman Catholic Church, where despite calls for change, the Vatican has reiterated the teaching that the priesthood cannot be opened to women and married men because of the model set by Jesus.

Dr. King gave an interview and showed the papyrus fragment, encased in glass, to reporters from The New York Times, The Boston Globe and Harvard Magazine in her garret office in the tower at Harvard Divinity School last Thursday.

She repeatedly cautioned that this fragment should not be taken as proof that Jesus, the historical person, was actually married. The text was probably written centuries after Jesus lived, and all other early, historically reliable Christian literature is silent on the question, she said.

But the discovery is exciting, Dr. King said, because it is the first known statement from antiquity that refers to Jesus speaking of a wife. It provides further evidence that there was an active discussion among early Christians about whether Jesus was celibate or married, and which path his followers should choose.

“This fragment suggests that some early Christians had a tradition that Jesus was married,” she said. “There was, we already know, a controversy in the second century over whether Jesus was married, caught up with a debate about whether Christians should marry and have sex.”. . .

[Scholars] examined the scrap under sharp magnification. It was very small — only 4 by 8 centimeters. The lettering was splotchy and uneven, the hand of an amateur, but not unusual for the time period, when many Christians were poor and persecuted. . .

The piece is torn into a rough rectangle, so that the document is missing its adjoining text on the left, right, top and bottom — most likely the work of a dealer who divided up a larger piece to maximize his profit, Dr. Bagnall said.

Much of the context, therefore, is missing. But Dr. King was struck by phrases in the fragment like “My mother gave to me life,” and “Mary is worthy of it,” which resemble snippets from the Gospels of Thomas and Mary. Experts believe those were written in the late second century and translated into Coptic. She surmises that this fragment is also copied from a second-century Greek text.

The meaning of the words, “my wife,” is beyond question, Dr. King said. “These words can mean nothing else.” The text beyond “my wife” is cut off.

Dr. King did not have the ink dated using carbon testing. She said it would require scraping off too much, destroying the relic. She still plans to have the ink tested by spectroscopy, which could roughly determine its age by its chemical composition.

Dr. King submitted her paper to The Harvard Theological Review, which asked three scholars to review it. Two questioned its authenticity, but they had seen only low-resolution photographs of the fragment and were unaware that expert papyrologists had seen the actual item and judged it to be genuine, Dr. King said. One of the two questioned the grammar, translation and interpretation.

Ariel Shisha-Halevy, an eminent Coptic linguist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, was consulted, and said in an e-mail in September, “I believe — on the basis of language and grammar — the text is authentic.” [That is, not a modern forgery.]

Major doubts allayed, The Review plans to publish Dr. King’s article in its January issue.

via Historian Says Piece of Papyrus Refers to Jesus’ Wife – NYTimes.com.  That site includes  a translation of the full, though fragmentary text.

Mollie Hemingway posts a compendium of evidence that points to forgery.

But here is the point:  Jesus did and does have a wife:  Her name is the CHURCH.

A previously unknown scrap of ancient papyrus written in ancient Egyptian Coptic

 


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