Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A More Sure Word of Prophecy? An explanation of 2 Pet 1:16-21

Given that today is the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, I thought that I would post something on a pericope from his second epistle – 2 Pet 1:16-21.
These verses are often interpreted by many Christians as meaning that we should not rely on our experiences, but rather that we should rely on the Scriptures as the source of truth.
Now, there is an element of truth in remembering that our experiences do not trump Scripture...but that is not what THIS particular verse is teaching. By looking more closely at the passage itself, as well as the context from which it arose, we will see that St. Peter’s words are not about the Scriptures in the first instance, but rather who has the authority to interpret them.
To set the context, we need to go all the way back to Moses...
Moses was the greatest of all God’s Old Testament messengers. But how did the Israelite people come to trust in Moses, especially considering that they originally accused him of wanting to lead them into the wilderness so that they might die of hunger and thirst (see Ex 16:3; 17:3). The answer lies in Ex 19:9:
 “Then the LORD said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after.”
A similar thing happened on the Mount of Transfiguration, when God appeared in a cloud to Sts. Peter, James, and John and told them concerning Jesus: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” (Matt 17:18).
It is this episode that St. Peter is referring to in 2 Pet 1:16-21. But what does St. Peter’s recounting of the Mount of Transfiguration tie in with the point he is trying to make? Follow this with me...
St. Peter defends the validity and truthfulness of his message as opposed to the cleverly devised myths of heretics (v 16). He makes mention of the Mount of Transfiguration (v 17), which he cites as proof that his message is valid (vv 18-19). The events on the Mount can be accepted as true because they were established by the mouth of three witnesses (i.e. Sts. Peter, James, and John).
Just as Moses’ words to the Israelites were confirmed as authentic when God spoke to him from the cloud, so too St. Peter assures his audience that they can accept what he says as authentic since God spoke to him and the other Apostles from the cloud. And it was for this reason that they were to be attentive to the message that he was preaching (v 19). Unfortunately, the old King James Version (which I grew up with) doesn’t bear this out very well by translating the beginning of verse 19 as We have also a more sure word of prophecy...”.
The way this verse is translated in the KJV, it could be construed as if St. Peter is pitting his experience against something superior. But this actually doesn’t fit within the context, because it would be undermining everything St. Peter had been saying up until this point. The NRSV has a far better translation when it says “So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed...”. In other words, St. Peter’s message is fully confirmed by virtue of his experience on the Mount.
 The NSRV translation of this verse actually fits in with the preceding verses as well as the remainder of the passage, where St. Peter builds on this by saying that no person can exercise autonomy in interpreting Scripture (v 20); rather, we must submit our interpretation to those who have been moved by the Holy Spirit, like Moses of old. And who was moved and guided by the Holy Spirit than the Apostles who were the disciples of our Blessed Lord, and especially those Apostles to whom God spoke to on the Transfiguration Mount?
And so we see that what St. Peter is teaching here is not that Scripture trumps experience; rather he is teaching that the interpretation of Scripture must be submitted to the traditions and teachings of the Apostles (and by logical deduction, their successors) precisely because of the experience that they had on the Mount; an experience which confirmed that their words were confirmed and sure.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Children are such a blessing...

A few weeks ago we were excited by the prospect of expecting our 4th child. Unfortunately, there were some complications, and over the past few days have found out that my wife has miscarried.  Apparently, there is still the slimmest of chances that the baby is still alive, but given her symptons and that this was the 10th week of the pregnancy, we have accepted that our little one is sadly no longer with us.
Life can sometimes be full of very hard knocks, but I am just thankful to the Lord for His many graces that have kept us strong in this situation. As sad as it has been, this situation has made me learn a fresh appreciation of the 3 children that we have already been blessed with. And the time spent playing with them over the past couple of days has been that extra bit special...and even healing for a broken heart. So, I thank God for the gift of the children that He has already blessed us with. And my heart really goes out to anyone who has experienced the same sadness, but has not had the tremendous blessing of other children to make the pain that little bit less painful.
It has also made me wonder whether God in His wisdom hasn’t made children so much fun (unlike us stuffy parents) to help us to remember to smile, and to enjoy the life that He has given us despite all its hardships. I have come to learn that when God tells us that children are a blessing, it is in so many more ways than we even know.  
But one of the greatest sources of consolation for me over these past days has been that no matter what, I can be sure that our Blessed Lord Jesus and our Mother Mary love this little one more than we ever could even if she had survived; and that even now, I am sure that they are holding her close to their Hearts, assuring her of their love, and ours.
Eternal rest grant unto our little lost one, O Lord; and let perpetual light shine upon her; and may she rest in peace.
Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us; Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Lord's Passover Vigil

This week as I was continuing my reading through the book of Exodus, I came across an interesting rendering of the night of the Exodus as it is translated in the NRSV. But first allow me to set the context because there is something quite extraordinary in this passage.  
In Exodus 12 we read the account of the institution of the Passover on the eve of the Exodus. We know that the Exodus was a response of God’s faithfulness to His own covenant promise, as well as the cry of His people in the land of Egypt. We also know that the Passover is ultimately fulfilled in our Lord Jesus Christ who was betrayed on the eve of the Passover...and so Passover gave way to Easter as the symbol gave way to the reality.
The particular verse that I was astounded at when I came across it is Ex 12:42. Unfortunately, the way it is rendered in the KJV (for example) does not carry the full impact of what the verse says in the original Hebrew. Here is the KJV rendering:
It is a night to be much observed unto the LORD for bringing them out from the land of Egypt: this is that night of the LORD to be observed of all the children of Israel in their generations.
The ESV rendering is slightly better:
“It was a night of watching by the Lord, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; so this same night is a night of watching kept to the Lord by all the people of Israel throughout their generations.”
But, I really like the way that the NRSV renders the verse:
“That was for the Lord a night of vigil, to bring them out of the land of Egypt. That same night is a vigil to be kept for the Lord by all the Israelites throughout their generations.”
So you can imagine my surprise as I was reading Exodus 12, looking specifically for the ways in which the Passover is fulfilled in the Sacrifice of our Lord, and then I stumble across the NRSV rendering of v42. I don’t know about you, but I thought that this was amazing. Israel was called to hold a vigil on the eve of the Passover in remembrance of that the Lord Himself kept vigil when He faithfully delivered them out of the hand of the Egyptians. But more than that, my mind was immediately driven to Gethsemane where our Lord kept agonising vigil, sweating drops of blood, in anticipation of His delivering us from our bondage to sin. And so it is that in remembrance of the vigil that He held for us on that fateful night, that we hold vigil each and every year on the Holy Thursday in remembrance of the vigil that our Lord kept for us.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The light of the world

Being the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Gospel reading for today’s Mass is Matt 5:13-16:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“You are the salt of the earth.
But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?
It is no longer good for anything
but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world.
A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.
Nor do they light a lamp and then put 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,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your heavenly Father.”
Whenever I read this passage, I am reminded of a discussion that I had with a good Baptist friend many years ago. My friend said that he hoped one day, given the opportunity, to preach a sermon entitled “Christ is not the light of the world”. Obviously, my Baptist friend does not really believe that Jesus Christ is not the light of the world; rather, the title for the anticipated sermon would be to capture the attention of his audience for the intention of driving home the point that the Church is called to be the light of the world!
During Mass today, our parish priest preached an engaging homily on the above passage which drove home the same point as my Baptist friend made so many years ago – the Church is the light of the world. And the Church’s light shines as we Christians go out into the world with the light of Christ and actively live the Gospel. The Old Testament reading for today tells us how we are to live as lights of Christ shining in this world:
Thus says the LORD:
Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!
If you remove from your midst
oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;
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. (Isa 58:7-10)
One small way in which our “light breaks forth like the dawn” and shines like the sun at midday is when we give ourselves to the cause of those in need; just as our Lord Jesus Christ gave Himself for our greatest need – our need to have our sins washed away and forgiven so that we could re-enter fellowship with our God and Creator. This is the essence of true Christianity – giving of ourselves to meet the needs of those around us. This is echoed by St. James in James 1:27 when he affirms that true religion consists in living a holy life; and visiting the fatherless and widows in their distress.
By living in this way, our lives become images of the Life of Christ. And to be successful in living such a life of holiness and sacrificial giving to others, we are in deep need of the Life of Christ within us. The most obvious way for us to receive the Life of Christ is by attending Mass and receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord in Holy Communion. And once we have received Him, the priest proclaims the Mass as complete with these words: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”.
And so, as the Body of Christ, may we go forth shining our lights in this dark world, knowing that we do so because we have received the Body of our Lord in Holy Communion...the Body of Him who is the Light of the world. And shining His light, may we shine as bright as the Son (Jdg 5:31; Isa 58:10; Rev 1:16).