Prior to Vatican-II, both Orthodox and Catholic had a one year cycle of Sunday readings (–along with weekday readings). This means that for decades and centuries and back into the dark recesses of history, the faithful of these two groups, if they came to mass each week, would hear the same set of Gospel readings and at the same time each year. And I expect that as selection, both of these lectionaries likely were a good selection of readings.
But a few years after Vatican-II, Catholic officials issued a new three year cycle of readings, with year A for Matthew, year B for Mark, and year C given over to the reading only Luke’s Gospel. John is mixed in at other times…
You may already know that it is a pet project of mine that we, we Christians, should recognize as a sort of truism, that since there exist in fact four Gospels in our Scripture, another somewhat uncomfortable fact must also be accepted–that there may exist, therefore, at least four acceptable “Christianities.” On first glance, then, I find the new(!) three year lectionary as implemented by an old church to be a very good thing. As a next step, perhaps, the Roman Church will condone the existence of other “churches.”
[Prior to Vatican-I, I consider that it is fair to say that the Roman Catholic “position” was that there can be no salvation apart from the Roman Church. After Vatican-II the Roman position is that there do exist “separated (Christian) brethren” but yet only one Papal Church. As we all should know, Jesus gave the Greek word ecclesia, meaning church, to Peter, and therefore Peter and his descendants are the only persons who can decide who is or is not a “church…”] Thus, giving a year to each of the synoptic Gospels, how is this not a recognition at least, that each of these three does have a separate theology which therefore ought to be given respect.
Soon after the new three year Catholic lectionary was implemented for Catholics, Protestant groups got together and copied this three year system, and within a few decades this has become so popular that their Revised Common Lectionary is now endorsed by most Protestant groups. This Easter is Year A for most of us; we will hear readings from Matthew if we attend church or mass.
Matthew begins with Herod the King trying to get rid of a new-born King, and ends with short post-resurrection paragraphs which include the words worship and authority. Luke begins and ends with activity in the Jerusalem temple, and Luke is the only Gospel to describe Jesus’ ascension which takes place adjacent to the busy capital city. Thus the Gospels can be, they in fact are quite different in what they wish to emphasize. But at the same time they each also include, in my opinion, the same basic content.
If Jesus is kingly-messiah in Matthew there is also more that this. Jesus fulfills so as to replace, it might seem, the entire established holy-nation of Israel according to Matthew. Else why the donkey plus foal in last Sunday’s entry-to-Jerusalem readings, or why does this entry end with Jesus in the temple quoting a verse about infants; Matt 21:16. My suggestion would be that there is a humane and perhaps better–a group meaning in both of these details. If babies in the Temple area are excited about what is happening, then this must be something of earth-shaking significance, not just mere arrival of a new king.
Why is Zechariah as prophet more visual that the early prophets. Because post-exilic times are a different time. If a kingly messiah is still hoped for, Zech 9:9 sees this future personage as a king riding on a donkey––as quite obviously a different sort of King. Is this not already a democratic “direction” of some sort?
The point would be that if Luke has a more humane and democratic Jesus that the other two synoptics, and a more personal notion of fulfillment–as when the resurrected Jesus explains from the Scripture how he fulfills the (personal) expectations that a Messiah must first suffer–Matthew also has some humanism and some democracy along with a more prominent kingly-messiah theme.
So even if present-day priests and ministers do not have either the aptitude or the inclination to preach theologically about the differences between the synoptic Gospels, with repetition every three years, the fact of this actual diversity my seep into the consciousness of persons in the pews. Clergy meanwhile promoting only their on brand… This is a good thing.
But I have two significant failings to point out with regard to the now popular Revised Common Lectionary, one of these specific and the other quite general.
It is quite obvious to me that both Catholics and Protestants denigrate Chronicles. They find it superfluous and without theological significance. This recent Roman-concocted lectionary has three to five times more text from Samuel-Kings than from Chronicles. But in my opinion, whether you happen to consider the temple important or not very important, it is also OBVIOUS that the author of Chronicles is very interested in the temple. Therefore, preference ought not to be given to that earlier personalistic and political history, Samuel-Kings, which has relatively minimal interest in a temple–when describing temple related events. This bias is tantamount to promoting one Gospel over against another.
The most egregious example I notice here is 1 Chronicles 28 and 29. Please read these chapters. Do you find this exciting or not. (Try again..) This event and its speeches are in effect the climax of the theology of 1Chron. David gives plans (blueprints) for the temple to Solomon. David describes the wealth and materials he has helped to amass in order to build the future temple, etc. David gives the temple project over to whom… to the son whom he, David, and the people at large have chosen, because Nathan previously had given the strict Divine directive: David is not to be the temple builder… Why is none of this included in this lectionary? Because there is a serious anti-temple and anti-Solomon and anti-democratic bias operative. I have spent time going through the lectionary and comparing it with Chronicles, and found numerous other texts which I believe ought to be included, but this is the most obvious omission.
Why is temple so important?
For the modern reader I would like to suggest, provisionally, meanings for two words. The words are individualistic and personalistic. And suggest also distinctly different as well as non derogatory meaning for each. The personal tends to be particular and unique. But there ought to be no immediate political or equality-related connotation with this word.
The “individualistic” in modern usage, according to my suggestion, is likely most helpful as counter to too much groupism. Yes, one can be too self-assertive, too individualistic, and thus disruptive to a proper and healthy group norm, but of course, groups may also suppress or oppress individuals–to individual harm.
Thus I am in favor of a certain minimal degree of positive democratic meaning (–whether this democratic is social or political…) as inherent in the word individual.
But serious confusion enters and remains in the modern mind, perhaps, with use of the word democratic. Is the personalistic democratic? Just the opposite it seems to me. The genuine social democrat as well as the good democratic citizen are aware that leeway must regularly and politely be given to others, and always. A personalistic sort of selfishness violates the democratic norm. And as well, a balanced humanism would require the same: All persons deserve a minimal and positive consideration.
But what about religion or economics…
Christianity has always allotted to each person personalistic and eternal respect. But is this fully democratic in the ordinary meaning of that word? No.
Most modern Christians seem averse to use of the word democratic in relation to Christianity. And Samuel-Kings is full of personalistic and often also quirky if interesting stories and events, but also is looking for authority as theme… and thus not at all pro-democracy.
Or in Economics, is Capitalism as set of values democracy-friendly, or is it merely personalistic? Does the invisible hand actually tame greed and make for positive (democratic) individualism? Success does depend on your own personal efforts…
Is there something about OT temple-religion that is inherently democracy-friendly. I believe so.
And so the second and general and theological complaint about this lectionary system. Acts.
After Jesus and the passion and resurrection, what comes next. The simple answer might be, the church. So in this lectionary, the weeks immediately after Easter and before Pentecost are filled with readings from Acts and John. Acts is about the beginning of the church and John seems to have little interest in church polity. So Acts will be “used” to re-enforce whatever notion of “church” this lectioary-using-church already has, effectively ignoring in the process the content of Acts.
Acts describes in its first seven chapters the followers of Jesus as implementing a spontaneous temple-based Christianity. At Acts 6:7, the description is that “a great crowd of (Jewish) priests” converted to the early Christian faith-movement. Even if numerically this may seem exaggerated, if even a few Jewish priests leave their temple-sacrificial role and become followers of this new democratic Way, this is a very significant event. Paul then helps to spread this new Citizenship around the eastern Mediterranean by beginning with diaspora Jewish synagogues. Diaspora synagogue rejection leads to the beginning of Christian synagogues, and the martyrdom of Stephen requires that the new Christians must do whatever may be needed to come up with their own replacement “temple.”
My point here is that as with Chronicles, Acts is denigrated as to its important and democratic theological meanings. Acts is treated as light filler.
If the church as such is to be important then Acts also must be given more respect. And if Pentecost is to be important, then isn’t this where reading of Acts should begin and be situated, and not before Pentecost.
To those Americans at least who are able, for a while, to leave their ideological-political ghettos at this time of year, I wish that we all may have a Happy and Democratic Eastertime.
Putin has achieved goal number one: unify the Russian peoples free from the contamination of modern European culture. But goal number two is more difficult: Instigate reform and improvement of an anacronistic religion. With 150 million Russian Orthodox, 50 million Ukranian Orthodox, and only five thousand persons in modern Turkey (most of whom probably have a job at the Patriarchate) the Patriarchate of Constantinople is historical but anachronistic. Along with re-organization I propose that there would be official recognition that the prophetic and the democratic dimensions are valid within Christianity. (This is a recognition which other Churches are unable to make...) And such changes, if successful, might also moderate tensions in Russian politics, etc.
There are a few NT verses about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but the basis for subsequent Christian doctrine about God as Trinity, as being three persons, this foundation comes from repeated statements in John as given by Jesus: I can do nothing apart from or beyond what the Father asks, I am in constant communion with the Father, etc. This emphasis is constant in John. Is this not filial piety?
The ancient Chinese (or as we will here phrase it..) Confucian virtue–this virtue might cover mother and daughter also, but Chinese under Marxist socialism still begin the new year for a week or more in February by returning home and presumably there, communing with the parents–practicing a sort of natural-religion virtue.
Westerners will wish to emphasize faith as proposition, and faith as such is also prominent in John. But John also describes the church as coming into existence before Jesus’ death. Those who understand are already in communion with Father and Son; the branches are to produce fruit; the disciples will be alone in the world just as Jesus was…, it is better that Jesus return to heaven so that the Spirit can take Jesus’ place among them. As Second John puts it: The one remaining in his (Jesus’) doctrine has both the Father and the Son. Thus the doctrine would be for the sake of having something else, having the Father and the Son.
Confucian filial piety, certainly, is specific. It has to do with one’s physical parents and grandparents. But does it go beyond..?
The filial piety in Christianity, the revelation of a basic filial relation of some sort existing in God, this is not specific, not natural that is, but supernatural. (Luke describes the virgin birth of Jesus; Jesus was born physically only via Mary.) Thus Jesus’ all-important relation is not with his natural or literal family father, Joseph, but with God, a Father in Heaven!
Any connection of John’ intended theology with Hinduism may seem more far fetched, but the contrast again would be with a too propositional (Western-specific) emphasis on doctrine as such. I am the way, light, living water, life, the door of the sheepfold, I am equal even in stature to the One communing with Moses at the the ever-burning bush in the desert… is all of this doctrine? Or something more than doctrine?
The prophet would be the human being who as human being also grasps something about Reality or the Divine will–in order to then communicate that to other persons. The Hindu guru as religious phenomenon (as far as I have read about such…) would be–not a prophet, but someone more enlightened might we state.
Jesus then, throughout John’s gospel, does not exactly teach, but wishes to raise those around him who are already willing to listen–raise these to share in his own larger life and awareness. Even the signs have this intent: making it possible for persons to see or be aware of something. Not Divine power active in the historical moment but Jesus as in communion with a Father and God in heaven, in immediate relation and harmony with the God who is also Creator of the world.v But if Jesus in John’s Gospel does operate in some ways that are similar to the Hindu guru , Jesus in John is also (as Jesus repeatedly says…) the one from heaven, the one who came from above into the universe, the one who will also return (after physical death and literal resurrection) to the Father in heaven. It is in, via, or through his (human) personhood that Jesus repeatedly makes universal claims. Krishna (–as I understand it in Hinduism) is a Divinity who makes an appearance on the human scene. But Jesus (in the Gospel of John) is presented as being both eternal and human as the same time; Preexistent word made flesh.
Confucianism has an almost religious emphasis on the importance of family-type relations, and this together with miscellaneous Christian doctrines obviously made for, in this case, a potent mixture.
In the West though, the idea of a “younger brother of Jesus” has been a moot phrase and quite carefully avoided. Not a notion that might evoke fascination. But after reading James last month and doing further research… it seems to me quite plausible at least, that Jesus did have younger brothers, and that two of these brothers wrote “books” of the New Testament which we now have as the short letters of James and Jude! Four brothers to Jesus are listed by name in both Mark and Matthew, [look it up if you don’t believe me..] and Luke in Acts will mention that Mary and the brothers of Jesus joined in with the earliest Christian believers. Since Mark and John describe the brothers and family of Jesus as rejecting Jesus and opposing him, this means that these brothers must have undergone a late conversion, after Jesus has taken his departure from the earthly scene…
The apostle Paul mentions that the risen Jesus made an individual appearance to James(!), and this same person, James somehow also becomes a (non-regular) apostle and primary leader in the Jerusalem Christian group. James, the brother of our Lord, is also integral to Paul’s argument in Galatians. That is, Paul explicitly rejects the singular authority of Peter via a described incident in which Paul openly rebukes Peter for being inconsistent about dietary customs, and Paul also rejects the Jerusalem leadership en mass as having any immediate jurisdiction over him in regard to definition or operation or administration of the Christian religion. It would seem that the only authority claim Paul accepts is recognition of regional-historical priority. The Christian blessing originated in Judea and those who subsequently benefit spiritually need to acknowledge this geographical and historical priority and origin via material compensation; money as physical and token return…
But also necessary to Paul’s argument would be James the brother of Jesus, leader, and –apostle! Eleven original apostles including the ambitious or natural leader among the original twelve, Peter, as well as John, then this James, and also one apostle chosen after Jesus has left in order to replace Judas, and then Paul. It should be obvious that this collection provides no easy definitional formula for the word apostle. While Paul might seem an interloper among the apostles since he did in fact persecute the Christian churches, James’ inclusion among the apostles seems strange and almost suspicious, to western sensibilities at least. Is James an apostle now just because he was a younger brother of Jesus? But if James was not in fact a recognized apostle and leader of importance, how can Paul get away with describing him in this way, as both apostle and primary leader within the early church?
What I have just described is what a fair and curious reader of the New Testament might piece together from minor details in various NT texts–about brothers, about James. And my contention would be that if the Christians of the first two hundred years were bothered by such a pastiche of information, well, they would not have allowed all of these texts to become canonical. But because they had no expectation nor requirement of strict and traditional uniformity but rather understood Christianity in point of fact to be quite various, they were not bothered with minor details about brothers of Jesus, about the identity of James…
But within a subsequent two centuries the younger brothers of Jesus question is settled in both Roman and Eastern Christian traditions in the negative. (I am depending on Ropes, ICC commentary on James, 1916.)
The reason of course, for denial of the possibility of younger brothers of Jesus, that is, denial of later children to Joseph and Mary, is the wish to honor Mary. (And one might add, wish perhaps to promote the organizational side of religious practice via honor of Mary.) The East will latch on to (loose) traditions which say that Joseph had four or more previous sons and then became a widower. Jerome, who certainly is very important to a later Latin-Roman Christianity, will thoroughly research the issue and arrive at his “cousin” theory which then becomes standard for all later Latin speaking interpreters. The “brothers of Jesus” are cousins of Jesus. (I do not have time or energy to do the basic language research for myself in Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew, Latin, but I expect most languages use separate words for these two notions, nouns, and likely also do not strongly tend to confuse the two such words…)
Why is this issue important? Why not just allow it to return to that original almost complete insignificance and obscurity in which the topic existed for me two months ago. Because in recent weeks I have also re-read the book of James, and as a result of that re-reading have come to see the light. If the book of James is actually and theologically important, and if respect for its somewhat unique Christianity is necessary to correctly understanding Paul’s argument in Galatians, then the mere accumulation of human traditions ought not to distort an honest and forthright attempt to decide who this particular James actually was, even though the scriptural information about him is quite limited, perhaps awkward.
Dr. Moo is a lifelong commentator on Pauline writings, and writes a commentary on James in which he makes very honest effort to be fair to James. Can James and Paul be reconciled theologically? James doesn’t quite measure up. James does not really understand Paul, it must be. James cannot be correct when he says that faith alone is inadequate.
I myself would say that Paul and James cannot be subsumed to one framework of ideas, one theology only. These are two “Christianities” as given by Scripture for our edification. There is one Christian faith only, but a “Christianity” would be a connected set or system of practices, emphases, polity which best enable persons to live a life of Christian faith. In Galatians Paul is asserting the independence, validity, and autonomy of his “Christianity,” but also implicitly allowing that other such Christianities do and may exist.
Paul says that he is entrusted with the gospel for the nations while the reputed pillars of the headquarter church in Jerusalem are entrusted with the gospel for the circumcision, for the Jews. This is either inaccurate–because of course Peter, John, are or will soon enough become concerned about circulating the gospel also among the gentiles, or else this is an unseemly and sarcastic jab at the leadership for their reticence to admit the universality of the Christian religion, or else this deliberate phrasing means something else.
My interpretation at this point would be that this is a jab couched in an admission. That is, Paul is making fun of the reticence of the leadership, but is also allowing implicitly only, that his own claims, his own Christianity, may be/is merely one among a few. Since I am arguing for my own among brothers I may also be partisan…
James represents, and his book delineates, a complete and wholistic Christianity (which happens to be in the Jewish mode as must have been congenial to the earliest of the Christian believers who were of course largely Jewish..) Paul thus will refer to James as apostle with authority to determine what is valid for larger Christian practice in order to bolster Paul’s own claim to independence. If you accept James here as leader, as you have done, even though he is not a regularly chosen apostle, how can you deny my claim to independence and similar prerogative?
James, Peter, John, Paul. These all over time do become “Christianities.” Paul in Galatians is not arguing for such diversity but arguing only, as would be appropriate, for the ultimate validity of his own integral Christianity. But in making this argument he implicitly accedes to a recognition of the validity of other such Christianities as may have been present/represented at the get-together in Jerusalem.
I find James’ Christianity strange for its attitude to enterprise in the world (“we plan to go there for a year to do business…”) and for its attitude to money and economics. In Matthew one must give charity, Mark may be ascetic, Luke believes that the fine arts can save from a deadly servitude to the economic, but what exactly is James’ solution here? (Or, for that matter, what is the latest American solution…?)
Lack of interest in doctrine as such is also unusual in James. We may presume that doctrine may be helpful, but everything the teacher does (like myself as blogging teacher) is problematic and potentially harmful to the teacher.
The local James and the cosmopolitan-internationalist Paul have Christianities which are not miscible nor able to be combined into one, but I consider that these two have in common over against the groupism and/or traditionalism of Protestant, Roman Catholic and traditional Orthodox–a prophetic and an individual-leaning foundation. “The one judging his brother speaks against the law and judges the law.”
By what means or mode can Paul claim an original authority for his own apostleship in Galatians. He states that he has this gospel by personal or individual revelation, and claims that he himself individually continues to follow this way of prophetic Christianity, and further it seems, this gospel is not stated doctrine about Jesus–but image only. Historical image-depiction of a crucifixion at which time Jesus was cursed by being denigrated to status of wood, vegetative biology.
Against all of the officious pragmatism of modern-day Protestantism I read Galatians as not an answer to a specific problems within a group but as written, like Romans, Hebrews etc., primarily to raise/solve theoretical issues/principles. Paul’s great error had in fact been his traditionalistic adherence to his religion, and because of this traditionalism he missed what God was doing in the present moment. His conversion is from traditionalism to something better, something prophetic. And James also, actually becomes prophetic of the future by some 1700 years. This is when the Protestant phrase, sola fide, changes from brotherly polemic to bad theology. If the Roman church claims the papacy or an historical apostolicity as essential mark and identifier of the Christian church and of Christianity, then sola fide as well as Justification as the doctrine by which the church is to be defined, this seems an appropriate and more spiritual polemic to insist upon–between brothers. But round about this century of Western history it becomes clear that neither of these two entities regard (theoretically even…) the other side to be brothers. This situation becomes rather (it must be) a stagnant oligopolistic cooperationism along with unhealthy societal accommodationism.
Just as Paul in Romans writes to clarify boundaries and dangers which he sees in a Petrine or Roman influenced Christianity, which guidelines become effective 1500 years later, so James, who we may presume had had person-to-person discussions with the apostle Paul, lays down some lines with regards to how a Pauline Christianity can go wrong. Mere verbal faith is not sufficient. The demons believe and tremble, but does this give them any benefit at all?
The West is known for its principled valuation of Truth, but the attitude with which one holds or claims to hold truth, is this not very much influenced by, taught by religion. Roman Christendom nourished a western respect for logic and truth which was instrumental (perhaps) in modern science and technology coming to birth in the West, but a too narrow Latinate view of religious truth results in would-be religious reformers giving up and eventually becoming rationalistic… Rational is good but rationalistic is not good.
I have recently read through the present pope’s latest encyclical in which he presents an existentialist-universalist Brotherhood emphasis out of respect for the Medieval Francis of Assisi. I cannot give fair treatment to this theological letter in one quick sentence here except to say that it seems somewhat anomalous to someone (myself)–having been raised in Protestantism, to have the titular leader and representative of the world’s largest group/club/church/organization (–as you wish…), The Roman Church, advocate a somewhat vague and definitely universalistic Christian humanistic-brotherhood–without having more adequately addressed that other “brotherhood” matter, the status, the existence of non-Roman Christians, half of the world’s population of Christians. Is this five hundred years of theoretical stonewalling, is this not a contributory cause to the world’s problems, along with the recent rationalistic overemphasis in Protestantism which James correctly predicts?
But Orthodoxy, is it healthy? How can it be when it prefers tradition to prophecy. The Galatian churches may have originated via Paul’s long-term theological school in Ephesus. Galatians is addressed to the North in general. Galatians asks these churches to give primacy to Paul’s original and essential emphasis, rather than come to lean upon, or fall in love with their beloved old traditions; keeping days and months…
But to return a more meditative rather than critical mood, I am it seems, left alone with James, as well as what I believe is the authentic Paul. And with their message that only sanity, democracy, and better and individual religion can help us to navigate among the numerous ideological excesses and over-simplifications of the modern world.
Pkragt, December 2020
Confucius said he did not quite dare claim that he was a sage.
“ If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own soul, he cannot be my disciple. “
To state as Jesus does in this one verse that one must hate one’s mother… or else one cannot in fact be a disciple of Jesus–this will seem extreme to most people, but especially to anyone in traditional, or else Confucian societies which claim to put a high value upon honor to parents/ancestors. What does this one verse mean? Though it is not so easy to say… paraphrase will not help. It is the difficult sayings which can teach the most just because we are predisposed in a different direction. If Confucian societies are already predisposed to place too high a value upon one virtue, upon honor to parents as a sort of natural religion… then this one verse at least would provide some necessary corrective.
But an even more important meaning to be found in this one verse, and a meaning which I belive is regularly missed by Western Christianity (and which will probably be denied as essential meaning by most theologically educated Western believers) would be that this verse demands a very individual (and democratic) kind of religion/discipleship. Not just hate parents, siblings, spouse, children, but hate one’s own soul. What can this mean?
It seems clear–(to me at least)–that one meaning here is that Chrisitanity is an essentially individual and prophetic religion. It is not merely social or institutional. Can anyone deny, after all, that religion ultimately and essentially will be individual, will depend upon individual responsibility, else it is not genuine religion.
That is, and according to Luke, Jesus never directly advises anyone to join any social-group, nor does he seem to provide any organizational framework to his own loose group of regular followers. And thus on this one day, with large crowds following along, he turns to the crowd and give an existential and essential definition: his religion goes beyond all of one’s closest social relations. Beyond parents, siblings, children. Anyone who wishes to be a follower must first be an individual as distinct from these basic and healthy social relations. And then in addition to this notion that one must first be an individual distinct from family realtions, the next and last step is that one must also give up this self-subsisting if also fundamentally healthy individualism. The final requirement is to hate one’s own soul.
My interpretation would be that this verse means that individualism (of a prophetic kind) is essential and healthy in reliigion, but is ultimately also given up…
Here in Luke Jesus will not ask anyone specifically to deny one’s own soul or self. Nor does he ask that higher allegiance be given up to any external religious entity, that is, church or creed. Allegiance to Jesus and to Christianity will have some costs and requirements as described by other verses in this same chapter, but it is a mistake (and a case of false advertising) to say that Christianity is about group-allegiance, is about joining this or that version of organized-religion. It rather must be quite essentially individual…
The shepherds sing; and shall I silent be? My God, no hymne for thee? My soul’s a shepherd too: a flock it feeds Of thoughts, and words, and deeds. The pasture is thy word; the streams, thy grace Enriching all the place. Shepherd and flock shall sing, and all my powers Out-sing the day-light houres. Then we will chide the sunne for letting night Take up his place and right: We sing one common Lord; wherefore he should Himself the candle hold.