Friday, March 16, 2018

Did the Syrophoenician woman teach Jesus to be tolerant?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
I heard some theologian or other say that in the Gospel a few weeks ago the Syrophoenician woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter ended up teaching Jesus to be more tolerant. Jesus said to her, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She challenged him to see that his ministry extended beyond the Jews. Even Jesus is open to seeing things in a new way. Is this possible that Jesus was a narrow-minded bigot who had to learn a thing or two from a Lebanese lady?
Please help! 
Kay Nanite

Dear Kay,
I wouldn’t worry too much. Whoever said this must be just a pop theologian. They come and go like the fins on a sixties’ Buick. If he’s Fr. WOW! today, he’ll probably be Fr. Who? tomorrow. The great heretic priest, Fr. Arius of Alexandria, rocked the Church in the early 4th century. The trouble he caused lingered around for about two or three centuries, but sanity prevailed in the end. He claimed that Jesus was not really the co-eternal Son of the Father, but sort of a first creature who got a great job promotion and was divinized. No real “Son” of God, no real Holy Trinity. This appealed to the Roman emperors who had just legalized the Christian religion. The word emperor doesn’t really mean super-king. It was Latin for “generalissimo.” Military commanders like neat chains of command. We Christians believe God is a family, not a military pecking order. Still, Arius’ ideas appealed to the emperors as having a much tidier theology than the Catholics. Armies are easier to handle than families. Because of his very convenient theology, Arius had some powerful backers, and St. Jerome, one of the orthodox foes of Arius, said that the world "awoke with a groan to find itself Arian." It seemed that everyone was jumping on the Arian bandwagon. After all, if the emperor and a lot of bishops agreed with Arius, who are we little people to disagree with our betters? 
The truth, it seems, is not a democracy.  Arianism fell out of fashion despite its popularity. Theological fads come and go. The Truth of Christ, the Tradition and the Scriptures remain. Now back to the question at hand and our pop theologian. The passage under discussion is Matthew 15:27 and following;
 “A Syrophoenician (Lebanese/Canaanite) woman ... cried out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel... It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” She said, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.”
I don’t mean to sound fussy, but the reason I call the fellow a pop theologian is that he can’t be much of scholar. He hasn’t read the text. Pop theologians always assume that their opinion is unquestionable, so they never question it themselves. The reason I say he can’t be much of scholar is that he tried to reconcile what seems to be a cruel statement on the part of Christ without looking at the Greek text of the New Testament. No matter what translations say, the word “dog” does not appear in the passage. In Greek, kýōn is the word for dog. A dog was a mangy, semi-feral, scavenging canine. The word that is used in the text is   kynárion which means, puppy. It is a diminutive of kýōn. 

A dog is one thing and a puppy quite another. Jesus called her a puppy. Who doesn’t love a puppy?  Even I who only like animals if they are properly cooked like puppies. Puppies are members of the family. Jesus is drawing her out in a way that is gentle and even kind. In this story, I see Jesus smiling. Jesus knew all along what He intended to do, or better said, what the Father wanted Him to do. He wanted this woman to know how much her daughter’s healing really meant to her. Would she humiliate herself for the love of her daughter or would her ethnic pride be more important to her?  It is to be remembered that Jesus, too, humiliated Himself in the encounter. He was a Jewish rabbi. A phrase at the time was “gentile (non-Jewish) dog.”  Gentiles were unclean, as were dogs, especially gentile women!  She had humbled herself in asking, just as did the Roman centurion in Luke chapter 7 about whom Jesus said, “I have never found faith like this anywhere, even in Israel!”  Humble obedience is an essential component of faith, and Jesus told her that her humble love for her daughtered was true faith.  In using the word puppy, He makes her a beloved member of the family of God which is made up only of the humble.
Our pop theologian doesn’t seem to understand that Jesus power was not arbitrary. Jesus didn’t work miracle on a whim or by His own will. He only did what the Father told Him to do. “I always do what is pleasing to Him (the Father).”  (John8:29) And again, “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but Him who sent me.” (John 5:30) Jesus didn’t work miracles because He was God. He worked them because He was the new Adam. His miraculous power came not from Him but from His Heavenly Father.
This is a completely different way of understanding the divine power of Christ. It was the function of his Sonship and perfect obedience.  Jesus “…did not consider equality with God something to cling to, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being found in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:6, 7) This means that Jesus left the throne He shared with His Father, taking off the prerogatives of divinity like a garment which He left on the heavenly throne. He humbled himself for love of His Father and for love of us. He never ceased to be God, the Son of God. He never ceased to be the eternal second person of the Holy Trinity. He never ceased to be perfect, since the perfection of the God is sacrificial love. In his humanity, Jesus certainly learned. The creator of the world learned carpentry form St. Joseph and Jesus, the Word of God learned Aramaic on His Blessed Mother’s lap. But he did not learn to be less racist from a Canaanite woman. He did not learn moral truth from anyone. He was and is moral truth.  The only instruction that Jesus needed was the Father’s voice, and this He always heard clearly, despite what you may have heard to the contrary.
the Rev. Know-it-all.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

You don't really believe that Resurrection stuff do you?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
The Christian religion is so primitive. This myth of the dying and rising god permeates ancient religions and is only symbolic. Science has proven that dead bodies cannot be brought back to life. I celebrate Easter because it is a beautiful celebration of the power of nature, a celebration of the Goddess in all her power and splendor. Perhaps there is some kind of survival of death, or cosmic consciousness, but resurrection? Really! To believe in an impossibility without a shred of evidence is the height of gullibility. You traditional Catholics make this beautiful spring festival of life and fertility more like something from a Frankenstein movie.
Yours faithlessly,
Dr. Agnes Tick
Professor of Feminist Studies
Bathsheba Bible College

Dear Dr. Tick,
I would venture that there are shreds of evidence, like a group of men and women, many of whom died violent deaths refusing to deny that they had seen Jesus of Nazareth risen from the dead. Their testimony transformed the world. There are still events that don’t conform to the laws of science, such as Fatima and Lourdes and Zeitoun. There is also the nearness of the Lord available to believers, but I don’t expect you to accept any of these. To do so, you must rely on the witness of others. Still, there is something that one can actually touch and see and examine under a microscope: the Shroud of Turin. I can here you laughing all the way from your tenured teaching chair. After all, wasn’t the Shroud proven a fake by carbon dating in 1988? Herein lies the problem with tenure in institutions of higher learning. Once a person is in for life, he (or she) need never have a new idea — intellectual curiosity becomes optional. The pope should be so infallible!

Let me tell you the latest. Dr. Ray Rogers of Los Alamos National Laboratory was the head of chemistry experiments for the Shroud of Turin Research Project that performed scientific tests of the shroud in 1978. When carbon dating put the origin of the Shroud at around 1300 AD, he gave up on the Shroud. The case was closed. Science had spoken. When some tried to explain why the carbon dating was wrong, Dr. Rogers became angry at these nut-cases who couldn’t accept the verdict of hard science. He was particularly angry at Joseph Marino and his wife Sue Benford. In the year 2000 they claimed that there had been a repair attempt in the area of the Shroud from which the testing samples had been taken. They concluded that the Carbon 14 tests were done on a medieval patch, not on the actual Shroud. Dr. Rogers knew he could prove them wrong. He actually had small pieces of the Shroud from the test area. He examined his samples and was thunderstruck by what he saw. A couple of non-academics had been right.
The cloth examined by some of the world’s most prestigious laboratories was made of cotton. The Shroud is made of linen. Dr. Rogers could actually see where the linen and cotton threads had been spliced together and dyed to match the rest of the Shroud. He submitted his work to review by fellow chemists. His article in the scientific journal Thermochimica Acta (Jan. 20, 2005) is the one of the few peer reviewed articles on the subject. In 2008, at Dr. Rogers’ request, a team of nine scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory headed by Dr. Robert Villarreal proved the carbon dating invalid. Villarreal wrote, “The age-dating process failed to recognize one of the first rules of analytical chemistry that any sample taken for characterization of an area… must… be representative of the whole."
"The part must be representative of the whole. Our analyses of the three thread samples taken from the Raes and C-14 sampling corner showed that this was not the case.” This means the Shroud of Turin has never been carbon dated. However, there is another way to date ancient cloths. Vanillin is produced by the decomposition of lignin, a component of flax, from which linen is made. It’s found in medieval linens but not in older cloths. It vanishes with time. First century linen cloths don’t contain vanillin because they are too old. Medieval linens contain some vanillin and modern linen has a lot of vanillin. Dr. Rogers’ paper concludes that, based on vanillin loss, that the Shroud is between 1,300 and 3,000 years old, old enough to have wrapped the crucified Christ. Well fine, you may say. So the cloth is old. What proves that it’s the burial cloth of Jesus? Where’s your evidence?
First, let me review what the Shroud of Turin is, in case you have been hiding under an ivy covered rock at Bathsheba Bible College.
The Shroud of Turin is a fourteen foot long cloth that has the faint image of a man imprinted on it. The image is not painted, but formed by a sort of scorch, perhaps a radiation burn, of only top threads of the top fibers of the cloth. There are human blood stains on the cloth, but the image is so limited to the threads that where there is a bloodstain, there is no image on the underlying cloth. This means that the image was formed after the bloodstains had been made. There is a faint, pale brown image of a man, five-foot eleven inches tall, who appears to have Jewish style payes (side locks). He has wounds in his hands, side and feet, and small puncture wounds around the scalp, small double wounds all over his body and a side wound the size of a typical roman lance. The small wounds all over the body are the exact size of the tips of an ancient Roma whip, a flagrum. The wounds are consistent with a Jewish man whipped by Romans, crowned with thorns, crucified and pierced with a lance.
It is clearly an image of Jesus, the only man we know of who was whipped and crucified, but also crowned with thorns and pierced by a lance. These last two were not part of a typical Roman crucifixion.
You may say, “So it’s Jesus. Big deal. It doesn’t prove a thing. There is nothing supernatural or even unusual about any of this. There are untold thousands of such images in churches everywhere.” Well, what convinces me is what is not seen. For centuries the Shroud attracted no scientific interest until 1898. Secondo Pia, an Italian photographer, was allowed to photograph the cloth. When he developed the photographic negatives he was shaken. On the cloth was a faint image. Impossibly, the negative was a perfect photograph. That started the scientific investigation of the cloth that has never stopped.
In the 1960’s Peter Schumacher developed the VP-8 image analyzer for creating relief maps of distant objects such as the Moon and Mars. In 1976, Schumacher had just finished installing a VP-8 Image analyzer for Dr. John Jackson of the Sandia Scientific Laboratories. Jackson placed an image of the Shroud of Turin in the analyzer. When it was activated, a three-dimensional image appeared. Schumacher says “I had no idea what I was looking at. (He had never heard of the Shroud.) However, the results were unlike anything I have processed through the VP-8 Analyzer, before or since. Only the Shroud of Turin has produced these results from a VP-8 Image Analyzer.”
Wait, there’s more! Dr. Joseph Kohlbeck, of the Hercules Aerospace Center in Salt Lake, Utah, and Dr. Richard Levi-Setti of the Enrico Fermi Institute at the University of Chicago, have examined particles taken from the Shroud’s surface. They found travertine aragonite, from near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. The chemical signatures of the Shroud samples and the dust found near Golgotha are identical. This particular kind of limestone dust has been found only near Jerusalem.
Wait, there’s more! The bloodstains, which are human blood, have the hidden characteristics of blood. On the Shroud, there are components such as bile, bilirubin, heme, and serum, unknown to medieval medicine. These marks were made after death, and are invisible to the naked eye. They can be seen only under ultra-violet light. The blood has a high bilirubin content which means it was shed under conditions of severe stress. Quite a clever medieval forger to put all these invisible things on the Shroud in a foolish attempt to dupe us modern sophisticates.
Wait, there’s more. Mechthild Fleury-Lemberg, one of the world’s leading textile experts did conservation on the Shroud and was able to thoroughly examine the cloth front and back. She discovered a unique nearly invisible seam that she has found on only one other cloth. That cloth is from the time of Christ and from Masada, only a few miles from Jerusalem.
Wait, there’s more! Dr. Peter Soons of Holland noticed another detail of the Shroud. There is no directionality to the image on the Shroud. The image is the same from any angle, above or below, from right, left, or front. The image emerges from the cloth evenly. The Shroud looks like a picture to our eyes but image analysis shows no directionality to the lights and shadows of the picture. In every picture, painting or photo, there is a light source that reflects off the image to the beholder, whether artist or camera. This is not true of the Shroud. The light is everywhere at once. The Shroud is a holograph! In Jerusalem there is an amazing exhibit on the Shroud. When you see the 3-D holograph, you realize that the image is not on the cloth at all. It floats in space some distance from the cloth. It is one of the most amazing things I have ever seen.
Wait, there’s more! Dame Isabel Piczek, a particle physicist, noticed that there is no distortion in the image on the cloth from the pressure of the body on the tomb slab, nor are there folds and wrinkles from the cloth. Rather, to quote her, “There is a strange dividing element, an interface from which the image is projected up and the image is projected down. The muscles of the body are absolutely not crushed against the stone of the tomb. The body is hovering between the two sides of the Shroud…. there is absolutely no gravity. The image is absolutely undistorted… A heretofore unknown interface…” This interface she says, “…would have been the result of a, collapsed event horizon, in the center of which, “…there is something which science knows as a singularity. This is exactly what started the universe in the Big Bang.” Golly!
Wait, there’s more. I haven’t room here for the coins minted by Pontius Pilate on the eyes, (Barry Schwortz, a brilliant photographer disputes this, though he has no doubt that the Shroud is for real) or for pollen unique to Jerusalem on and on and on. So the Shroud has hidden photographic and hidden three-dimensionality in it. It is a hidden holograph and demonstrates the mysteries of quantum physics, as well as rock dust and pollen that come only from the area of the tomb of Christ in Jerusalem. It may have coins from the holy Land minted only at the time of Christ.
I can hear you say, “Well all this must be just coincidence. After all, the carbon dating proves….”
Can’t you get it through your thick tenured head that there was no carbon dating of the Shroud? JESUS ROSE FROM THE DEAD. The sooner you get used to the fact, the sooner you’ll come to know Him and accept Him as the Lord of the universe and the Lord of your life.
Happy Easter,
Rev. Know-it-all

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Some thoughts about a culture descending into violence

Dear Friends,

It would be tasteless to approach the horrors of recent weeks with any sort of humor, and, believe me I don’t intend humor in any of this. Like most of us, I have been thinking about the unrelenting violence of the past few weeks, the school shootings, the murder of law enforcement officers in the line of duty, the nightly death toll from the south side of Chicago, the decapitation of a little boy for disturbing his father’s sleep and on and on and on. Strangely the whole mess has reminded me of a quote from the Movie “Planet of the Apes.”

Beware the beast Man, for he is the Devil's pawn. Alone among God's primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him; drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of death.

The beast man. That is who we have decided to be; at least since Darwin taught us that we are just a particularly violent kind of monkey. As long as we persist in teaching children that we are just another animal with no eternal destiny, the downward spiral will continue. We persist in teaching children that they will not face eternal judgement, just oblivion. Those young people who crave oblivion will continue to lash out.

We all urge the government to do something. Gun control! I am all for gun control. It will make us feel better about ourselves. Actually, I do think it foolish to allow children to buy assault weapons. Still, we must do something! Gun control will solve the problem! Chicago leads the way! We have very strict gun control laws on the books and we have gotten the annual murder toll down to 650 last year! 

I don’t believe that gun control will lessen the murder toll as long as we look at murder as entertainment.  The culture of violence is everywhere.

A fellow who calls himself Immortal Technique is touted “…a politically themed and socially conscious rapper” In his song “Dance With the Devil,” we hear about “Billy” who wants to be the biggest thug in his neighborhood, “But only a real thug can stab someone till they die, standing in front of them, staring straight into their eyes.” Well if that isn’t socially conscious, what is? Doubtless an aficionado of the art form will say that I misunderstand. Immortal Technique, or as his mother called him “Felipe,” does some wonderful things. He visits prisons, speaks to young people, works with immigrant rights activists, raises money for children’s hospitals overseas. And sings about stabbing people. Felipe’s young animalized aficionados hear about stabbing people, not about orphanages in Kabul. Felipe pours money and effort into noble causes while pouring anger into the heads of alienated adolescents who believe there is no future and no ultimate responsibility. I don’t have time or energy to go into the madness of the video games which allow our young people to blow away imaginary enemies and abuse imaginary women.

Tsk, Tsk! We should ban this stuff. That would work just about as well as gun control.  We live in a constitutional republic where both guns and bad art are legal. (Just an aside, I heard the story of a group of young people who attended some religious event in which rap artists performed Christian lyrics to engage the youth. The kids reported back to their pastor that it was sad, “ Grandpa trying to be cool.”)

As you watch the news and say, “Tsk, tsk!”, does it occur to you that the endless proliferation of news, the guilty parties displayed and investigated for our amusement is not a lot different than violent rap music and slasher films. Maybe it’s worse because it’s real. But again, in a constitutional republic we can’t ban bad news, even though people constantly try to shut up evil right-wing commentators whether in the world or the Church. We call that sort of things tyranny, in our constitutional republic.  So, can’t ban guns, can’t ban violent entertainment, can’t ban bad news. But we must do something!

Violent entertainment has always been with us. Maybe the sacred scroll of the planet of the apes is right that man is the harbinger of death.  All except for one man. He was the harbinger of life who rose from the dead.

I think of another story, that of Telemachus the Monk who, according to the historian Theodoret, tried to stop a gladiatorial fight in a Roman amphitheater. He wandered into the city and heard the roar of the crowd in the amphitheater. When he went to see what was going on he was horrified to see two Christian gladiators make the sign of the cross as they prepared to kill one another for the amusement of the crowd. He ran down from the bleachers and interposed himself between the two gladiators. One of the gladiators he was trying to stop stabbed him to death, so he could get on with the game. When the mob realized that they had killed a holy man, they filed out of the amphitheater in silence. The Emperor Honorius heard of the monk’s sacrifice and banned gladiatorial contests shortly thereafter. The death sports that had been the entertainment of the Romans for centuries ended. 

In short, in response to the plague of violence which we have inflicted on ourselves by teaching our children that they are nothing more than very intelligent animals, is not to do something. It is to be something; the something that God meant us to be when made us in His own image and likeness.  

Rev. Know-it-all