CNS Bible Blog: Salvation: God’s great gift to all

By Fathers Glen Lewandowski, OSC, and Jerry Schik, OSC
Special to Catholic News Service

Father Jerry Schik, OSC

Father Schik

Father Lewandowski

Father Lewandowski

“Who can be saved?” This question was raised by the disciples in Chapter 10 of Mark’s Gospel. Each of the evangelists provides an answer based on his understanding of who God is. Let’s look at the answer that we find in the Gospel of Luke.

St. Luke says that God is a most generous gift-giver and his goal is to give the gift of salvation to everyone. Luke begins to paint this picture of God in Chapter 3, Verse 6: “All people shall see the salvation of God.” This verse is a direct quote of Isaiah 40:5 and Luke uses it to introduce the ministry of John the Baptist. And the very next verse says that the crowds came out to be baptized by him. John told them that they had to repent if they wanted to receive the gift of salvation. And they did. And that crowd included tax collectors and soldiers. Much to the chagrin of the Pharisees the gift of salvation was offered to “all” and John showed them how to repent (for example, if you have two coats you must share with the person who has none).

A worn edition of the New American Bible rests on a book cart during a New Testament class at St. Luke Church in Brentwood, N.Y. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

In Luke’s Gospel, the public ministry of Jesus is also introduced by a quote from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor” (Lk 4:18 and Is 61:1). In the first century A.D. the term “poor” was more than a financial term. It also referred to those who were ritually unclean — like sinners and tax collectors. Zachhaeus was a sinner and a tax collector and very rich. But he was poor in the moral and spiritual sense. He was saved because he repented and made restitution for his sins. He received the gift of salvation which Jesus extended to him on behalf of his most generous heavenly Father.

Those who were financially poor were doubly poor because they were also “poor” in the realm of ritual cleanliness. They were “poor” according to the Pharisees because they could not afford to purchase the ritual offerings for the temple sacrifices. In the mind of Christ, the Pharisees themselves were poor. They were ritually clean but “spiritually poor” because they “neglected justice and the love of the Lord” (Lk 11:42). Nevertheless, Jesus went to their homes for dinner and extended God’s gift of salvation to them. Then they had to decide if they would repent and accept the gift.

It’s time to return to our opening question: “Who can be saved?” Luke says that every person will be saved if they seek God with a sincere heart and accept God’s gift of salvation.

Synod note: The Gospel of Luke uses the word salvation more freely and more generously than the other Gospels. When Jesus starts off his inaugural preaching in his home synagogue, he assures his hearers — in gracious words — that he brings good news, the decisive year of God’s favor. His words and his person are anointed to do just that: spell out favor, freedom, release, decisive recovery.

Jesus, a capable Bible reader and bold interpreter of God’s Word, retrieved from the Prophet Isaiah the word ‘good news’ (Is 40:9, 41:27, 52:7, 61:1). While many other prophets might have been prophets of “woe,” “judgment” and “condemnation,” Jesus’ message was other: glad tidings, good news, eternally good news.

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford gave eloquent witness in the synod: “Forgiveness of sin has always been another word for Gospel.”

CNS Bible Blog: Teachable moments in Luke, Chapter Four

By Fathers Glen Lewandowski, OSC, and Jerry Schik, OSC
Special to Catholic News Service

Father Jerry Schik, OSC

Father Schik

Father Lewandowski

Father Lewandowski

In Luke’s Gospel Jesus is never called rabbi. Instead he is called teacher (didaskalos) and he teaches by proclaiming the Word and by giving witness. We find examples of both in Chapter Four of his Gospel.

First example: the temptations in the desert. When Jesus needed food the devil tempted him to turn the stones into bread. He said no and taught us that we need to look at our need for food in the context of all of our needs. We need food, but our need for the Word of God is a more basic and more important need. When Jesus was thinking about his mission, the devil tempted him to transform his divine mission into a political mission. The devil said, “I will give you authority over all the kingdoms in the world.” Jesus said no and taught us that political power should never be an end in itself. He came from God and so do we.

St. Luke the Evangelist is depicted in this window from Worcester Cathedral in Worcester, England. (CNS/Crosiers)

St. Luke the Evangelist is depicted in this window from Worcester Cathedral in Worcester, England. (CNS/Crosiers)

He used spiritual values to build up the reign of God on earth and so should we. He did not set aside his divine mission and neither should we. When Jesus was thinking about his identity as Messiah, the devil tempted him to jump off the temple and force God to rush in and save him. Jesus said no and thereby taught us not to try to manipulate or control God. Jesus taught us to accept the human condition as he did. (And living with the law of gravity is part of the human condition.) He knew that he could fulfill his mission within the limitations of being human and he taught us that we can do the same. The mission is challenging but we can fulfill it without being superhuman. So what is this mission? The answer is found in the next teachable moment.

Second example: Jesus describes his mission. In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus, the teacher, says that he and we have received this mission from God: “To preach Good News to the poor. To proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. To let the oppressed go free. To proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” This mission statement is a direct quote of Isaiah 61:1-2. Well, almost!

Jesus leaves out the line about divine vengeance. Jesus does not have vengeance on his agenda. Rather his agenda is to bring everyone to the table. He wants everyone in his circle of friendship: the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. He is determined to find ways to free them from the chains that hold them down. He wants everyone at his table. That’s what he means by the year acceptable to the Lord. Everyone has a place at the table.

Closing thought: You will find a number of teachable moments in Chapter Four of the Gospel of Luke. Let Jesus be your teacher and let his message filter down from your head into your heart.

Pope Benedict XVI speaks during the opening meeting of the Synod of Bishops on the Bible at the Vatican Oct. 6. (CNS/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

Synod note: “Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.” Each synod participant — bishops and priests all, professional word-crafters, sometimes thought to be wordy — has a mere five-minute intervention. And then the sound system automatically shuts down. Period. Automatically done.

Jesus, in the synagogue in Capernaum, did not have a mike. He had a scroll that he returned to the synagogue official. He sat down. All eyes were on him. And he said all he had to say — in less than five minutes: “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Full stop. End of homily. Done.

CNS Bible Blog: Luke – a great new energy source

By Fathers Glen Lewandowski, OSC, and Jerry Schik, OSC
Special to Catholic News Service

Father Jerry Schik, OSC

Father Schik

Father Lewandowski

Father Lewandowski

St. Luke was familiar with a great new energy source long before solar power or wind turbines or geothermal energy became a part of everyday conversation. His new energy source was spiritual and it came to him when he became a Christian. When he received the imposition of hands he was filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered to go forth and proclaim the Good News. He gave witness to this new energy source by emphasizing the work of the Holy Spirit. He mentioned the Holy Spirit 14 times in his Gospel — more than twice the number of references in Matthew and Mark combined.

His faith enabled him to see that the Holy Spirit gave strength to Zechariah so that he could proclaim a most important prophetic message: “God has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David.” He saw the Holy Spirit giving energy and spiritual strength to John the Baptist during his years of fasting and praying in the desert. Luke said that the Holy Spirit kept Simeon alive until he could see the Messiah of the Lord. He described our savior’s temptations in the desert and how the Holy Spirit gave Jesus power so that he could emerge victorious over the devil. When Jesus began his public ministry while visiting the synagogue in Nazareth he was anointed by the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit gave him strength and ministry for his mission: “To bring Good News to the poor. To proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind. To let the oppressed go free. To proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Then Jesus called forth disciples and apostles to help him with his mission and told them that the Holy Spirit would teach them what to say during times of persecution.

A painting at an old Franciscan convent in Bolivia shows the Holy Spirit descending upon disciples in native Bolivian dress. (CNS/Octavio Duran)

And this is where we come into the picture. We are the modern-day disciples who are sent forth on the same mission. And we find the challenge of that mission to be overwhelming until we remember what Pope John Paul II said in “Redemptoris Missio: “The Holy Spirit is the principle agent for mission.” The Holy Spirit will provide us with the strength we need to fulfill the mission of Christ, our savior. With that in mind I encourage you to read Luke’s Gospel once again. I think that you will see that the Holy Spirit is the never-ending energy source for those who serve the kingdom.

Synod note: “Come, Holy Spirit!” — the main prayer at the synod’s opening assembly.

The synod on the Word of God is just as much a synod on the Spirit of God. Word and Spirit, the right and left hands of God the Father, St. Irenaeus used to say. The Spirit is action-oriented. The spiritual action of the Holy Spirit, for readers, is aimed at appropriating the spirit of the Word. The Spirit helps us sense the spiritual sense of the Word.

Reading the words of the Bible is good, but just a cut below appropriating the Word in faith. The synod members invoked the Holy Spirit, on the church, also on all readers of the Word: Come!

Luke’s Gospel, often called the Gospel of Prayer, always has Jesus praying, full of the Holy Spirit, just before the most significant events that occur and before decisions he makes. Jesus is impressed with the Spirit of God early on (Lk 4:1) and the Spirit remains on him (4:18).

Come, Holy Spirit!

CNS Bible Blog: Do you like surprises?

By Fathers Glen Lewandowski, OSC, and Jerry Schik, OSC
Special to Catholic News Service

Father Jerry Schik, OSC

Father Schik

Father Lewandowski

Father Lewandowski

Much of the excitement around a birthday or Christmas celebration comes from the surprise gifts that we receive. If you like surprises you will find a treasure chest in the Gospel of Luke. He continues a tradition which we find in several books of the Hebrew Scriptures. For example, in Deuteronomy 7:7 we read that God created quite a stir by selecting “the smallest of all nations” to be his chosen people. Luke’s Gospel contains a superabundance of passages which remind us that God’s ways are not our ways and God is frequently catching people by surprise.

Here is a short list of some of the surprises that are found in the third Gospel:

– Elizabeth is elderly but she conceives and bears a son and he becomes the forerunner of the Messiah.

– Mary is a virgin and she conceives and bears a son and he is the Messiah.

– God’s messengers (the angels) bring the Good News of the Messiah’s birth to the lowly shepherds and not to the leaders of the nation.

– God is throwing down the rulers from their thrones and lifting up the lowly.

A church window depicts the Transfiguration of Christ, in which Moses and Elijah are seen with Jesus in a glorified state before the apostles Peter, James and John. (CNS/Crosiers)

A church window depicts the Transfiguration of Christ, in which Moses and Elijah are seen with Jesus in a glorified state before the apostles Peter, James and John. (CNS/Crosiers)

– God rejects the prayer of the Pharisee, the professional leader of prayer, and accepts the prayer of the sinner, the humble tax collector.

– The Samaritans are despised by the Jewish leaders but they come across as heroes in the parable of the Good Samaritan and in the cure of the 10 lepers.

Luke has a plethora of surprise stories in his Gospel. It is readily evident that he wants to emphasize how God’s action in our world is not in line with what people expect. I have given you only a short list of his surprise stories. Your mission, should you accept, is to pore over the pages of his Gospel and find the rest.

Synod note:  The liturgical aid for the opening liturgy of the synod at St. Paul’s Outside the Walls contained five full-page illustrations from the St. John’s Bible. The image of the Transfiguration captures something of the surprise of God for the three most intimate disciples of Jesus.

The artist paints in delicate black letter at the bottom of the page these words: “This is my Son, the Beloved.” And above, between Elijah and Moses, we see a white-faced Jesus-figure — like a photo negative reversing black and white — draped and spangled in rays of gold, dappled with shimmering white speckles of glitter, dazzling with hazy boundaries that envelop and shade off into heaven above, earth below, and every space of light around him. Color without line. The transfiguration light surprises and dazzles because it can’t really be seen with the naked eye. It glows golden.  It is the light by which we see.

Far down in the right-hand corner, concealed and softly revealed in faint silver letters — as if it were a reverent shushed whisper — the artist writes: “Listen to him.”

CNS Bible Blog: Ruth, Chapter 2 – Love and integrity

By Uta Sievers
Special to Catholic News Service

I sat down with the Book of Ruth and started reading Chapter 2. Following what is described as an Ignatian method for reading and praying with the Scriptures, I imagine myself as a character in the story.

I am Boaz. The potent one. I know who I am, I know what I have. I count my blessings and give thanks to God every day. But I am not young anymore and I have been waiting for something to happen. When I watch over my slaves, I pray. When I walk my fields, when I touch my gold, I pray. Sometimes I gently ask, sometimes I howl in pain and longing, sometimes I whisper under my breath, sometimes I rage in frustration. I am asked to wait; the time will come.

She is not a girl anymore. She arrived yesterday and I already know everything about her. Ruth had been married for 10 years. Now she is widowed. What she has done makes my heart beat faster: left everything out of love for her mother-in-law. She is a passionate one. One who follows a dream. Maybe the foreigners’ dreams are bigger than ours. How far have I ever walked for a dream?

Someone will have to marry her, that’s the law. It will be a bit of a haggle since I’m not first in line. She is on offer, though, and I can be the buyer.

I get all confused when she takes the initative. She just lies there at my feet at night, offering freely what I thought I had to buy dearly. I tremble. Then I remember how she said, when we first met: “You have comforted me with your consoling words; would indeed that I were a servant of yours!”

Does she feel what I feel? Or is she doing what she has to do to get a husband, any husband? How will I ever know?

As I step out of the story, I pray for all those who have to do whatever it takes to get by. Who find themselves in situations and systems not of their own making, and still make the best of it. That they may find love and understanding, and keep their integrity.

CNS Bible Blog: Ruth, Chapter 1 – Guided by a dream

By Uta Sievers
Special to Catholic News Service

Today, I sat down with the Book of Ruth and started reading Chapter 1. Using a method for reading and praying with the Scriptures that is attributed to St Ignatius Loyola, I took a step inside the story.

I am Ruth. I went with my mother-in-law Naomi and never looked back.

It was an easy decision for me. It was much harder for her to accept my decision. I love her and always will. There is no sacrifice in this decision for me. I feel closer to her than I have ever felt to my own mother; I love her more than my life. Naomi and I, we walk hand-in-hand, even though we might not touch each other. We brave the desert storms. We have the same direction: her people, who — through my love for her — are my own people. Her God is my God.

(CNS photo by Cindy Wooden)

(CNS photo by Cindy Wooden)

Naomi isn’t always the easiest woman to be with, especially since her whole family died in Moab. She has been taking this as a sign that God is unhappy with her, but I think that’s not true. I’m sure God just had other plans for her. That’s as far as I know him, this God. The strong one. The one who saves. The one who is closer to us than we are to ourselves. The one who has dreams for us. I am following one of those dreams. I have always been the dreamer in our family, my husband never really understood that. But his God did. Praying to the God of Israel felt easier than praying to our gods in Moab. So I followed Naomi to be with a people that knew their God, a people who had met him, personally. Apart from praying with them, I also have to find work there. And possibly a husband. Someone with my kind of spirituality would be nice.

As I step out of the story, I pray for all those who leave everything behind, guided only by a dream.

CNS Bible Blog: Judith 12-13 – A woman serving God

By Uta Sievers
Special to Catholic News Service

Continuing with the Book of Judith, I focused on Chapter 12 and Chapter 13. Using the method of praying with Scripture known as Ignatian contemplation (or Ignatian imagining), I continued to read and pray, imagining myself as Judith.

As I step into Holofernes’ tent, all eyes are on me. I lie down for the banquet and General Holofernes, supreme commander of 170,000 infantry and 12,000 cavalry, looks enraptured. I rejoice inwardly, as this is exactly the state I need him in to execute my plan. I do my best to fire his imagination, sending him flirtatious glances, smiles, gestures, while he is getting more and more drunk. For some reason, I’m deeply enjoying this game – with the two of us expecting completely different rewards from it. My God has a fine sense of humor. I sigh in sadness as I remember the looks I used to get from my husband, Manasses. Oh, how I still miss him. He would thoroughly approve of my being here.

I’m a little nervous. Holofernes, so drunk that he has passed out, is lying on his bed, right in front of me. The moment has come. I gather myself, I gather my years on the rooftop of my house, years spent in prayer and fasting, spent soaking up energy for this moment. I grab his sword with both hands and whisper: “God of life, God of Israel, one man has to die so that your people can survive and remember your Holy Name for generations to come. Guide my hands.” Then I strike with all my strength.

I stand there, my still muscles shaking from the effort, while my whole being is taking in what I have just done. What God has just done. Using a woman, the beauty of a woman. I am amazed. Men can’t do that, end a war. They have to retaliate, they have to keep going, an eye for an eye. But through the beauty of a woman, God can end wars. Oh, the joy! Now quick, let me take his head and get out of here. My Israelites have to be told about the greatness of God!

As I step out of the story, I pray for the unique gifts of women, that they may be appreciated and cultivated every day in the church and elsewhere.

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