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December 11, 1987     The Message
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December 11, 1987

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December 11, 1987 Commentary O Mass Readings By FATHER 3NALD DILGER The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana References to John the Baptist: do the other gospels agree? Ma Readings for Sunday, Dec. 13, 1987 Jolm 1:6-8; 1:19.28- Third Sunday o Advent Only the Gospel of John has such a string of negative statements about John. He is not the light, not the Messiah (Christ), not Elijah, not The Pro- phet, nor the Bridegroom, must fade away (3:30) while Jesus increases, and never worked a miracle (10:41). All this is in contrast to Jesus who is the Light, the Christ, the Bridegroom, and worked miracles. Absent in John is the statement of Mat- thew and Luke that there is no greater man born of woman than John the Baptist {Mt. 11:11; Lk. 7:28) Mt. 11:9 and Luke 7:26 speak of John as "more than a prophet." In Mt. 17:12-13 and Mark 9:13 John is the equivalent of the great Elijah. It seems John comes off more postively in the other gospels. It is probable that the community from which the Gospel of John originated was in some kind of con- flict with disciples of John long after his death. We know from the Gospel of John that Jesus' first disciples came from John the Baptist but that not all of John's disciples followed Jesus. In 3:26 there is friction between the two groups of disciples and jealousy among John's disciples at the success of Jesus. This and later writings indicate the above- mentioned conflict. The Gospel of John Went through several revi- sions. In its earliest form it may have begun with the words "There came a man sent from God whose name was John." This is how the usual Christian catechesis began as we see in Acts 1:22, 10:37. The negatives we have in today's readings would be added later to reflect the conflict with the disciples of John the Baptist. But this gospel says much positive about John: he was sent by God, he pointed out Jasus to the people of Israel. He is listed among the witnesses to Jesus in John 5. Those witness are the Father, John the Baptist, miracles done by Jesus, the Scriptures, Moses. John put in place the foundation for the ministry of Vatican Letter Jesus. John came to give testimony to the Light -- Jesus. But first the author needs to tell his readers what John is not. Since John was performing ritual acts those who question him are specialists in ritual -- priests and levites. There are three ques- tions and three denials. "Are you the Christ?" In Luke 3:15 we are told that the people were wondering if John might be the Christ. The words "Christ" and "Messiah" are identical. The first is from Greek, the second from Hebrew. Both mean "the annointed." It was expected in some cimles that a future descendant of David, an annointed King, would be sent by God to restore the Kingdom of Israel. Every king was annointed when made King. Thus the "an- nointed".ffi Christ = Messiah. There seems to have been much confusion about who or what was ex- pected in the time of restoration. The next two questions give us some idea of this confusion. "Are you Elijah?" According to II Kings 2:11, Elijah had been taken up into heaven in a chariot (first astronaut?). This tradition was fostered by a letter from Elijah comdemning Jehoram, King of Judah in II Chronicles 21:12. Strange to say the let- ter seems to have appeared some time after Elijah was taken up {first air mail?). There are popular traditions which should not be taken as history but as legend incorporated into the Scriptures for a sacred purpose -- as occurs sometimes in the New Testament. The traditions about Elijah were very much alive at the time of Jesus and John and later. Thus John the Baptist is asked if he might be Elijah who is to return as was expected. In Nit. 3:4 John is described in words reminscent of the description of Elijah in II Kings 1:6. "Are you the Prophet?" This question is based on a text of Deuteronomy 16:15-19 where Moses tells the people of Israelthat "God will raise up a prophet like me from among shall listen to him." Luke, who highlights the prophetic role of Jesus, identifies Jesus with this prophet-like- Moses in Acts 3:22. John 6:14 and 7:40 both reflect the belief of the people that Jesus wasT he Prophet. All three of these figures were, according to tradition, to play an important role in the last times. Since John denies being any of them the next question is: "Just exactly what are you doing if you are none of the three?" It is here that the Gospel of John joins the other three gopeis in describing John the Baptist as "the Voice." The text from Isaiah 40:3 originally referred to the return of the People of Israel from exile in Babylon. The Lord would prepare a highway through the desert for them to the land of promise. Eventually the text came to be understood as a preparation for the Day of the Lord when God would come to judge the nations and restore Israel. The people of the Dead Sea Scrolls based their way of life on this text when they withdrew into the desert to prepare the way of the Lord. Christian theology applied the text to John the Baptist in the role of preparer for Jesus the Messiah {Christ). A text of Scripture is not set in concrete. For different generations it may play a different role. For us this text has become part of the Advent liturgy in which we prepare for the coming of Jesus into our hearts at the celebration of his birth. Our excitement and anticipation may be somewhat different than that of the time of Jesus and John. Much of our excitement is fostered by the commer- cialism of pre-Christmas shopping and in anticipa- tion of gifts. This is not all bad since the excite- ment of Christmas draws into the worshipping community many who are not seen there other- wise. But the Christian is not only a receiver at Christmas. In today's first reading the Christian is sent to "bring good news to the poor, bind up broken hearts...comfort those who mourn." That is the message of Advent and Christmas. Other read/rigs for today: Isaiah 61:1.11; I Theu. 5:16-24 I II I I II I Ratzinger: rocking delicate relations with Jews For many Jewish leaders the cardinal's comments smacked of transforming the dialogue in- to a program to convert Jews and had the odor of a denigrating attitude in which Judaism is regarded as a dead religion no longer having an ongoing, independent relation- ship with God. The situation also spotlights the highly sensitive and delicate relations which exist between two religions worship- ping the same God and spring- ing from the same spiritual heritage. A misused word or an omitted nuance can threaten years of painstaking bridgebuilding. The current controversy started in October when an Italian Catholic magazine published an interview with Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The interview quoted the car- dinal as saying that the "theological direction" of Pope John Paul II in the dialogue is that Judaism finds its fulfill- ment in Christianity. The response of Rome's chief rabbi Elio Toaff, who 18 mon- ths earlier had warmly welcom- ed Pope John Paul as the first pope to visit a synagogue since biblical times, was rapid and acid. "In that interview with the most prestigious Vatican representative of Catholic theology, Judaism has been heavily offended and treated as a fossil which will remain as such until the conversion of the Jews. Dialogue has no meaning unless it is destined to that end," he said. By AGOSTINO BONO NC News Service VATICAN CITY (NC) -- Since the 1st century, Catholics have believed that Jesus Christ is the promised messiah who came to fulfil[ Jewish pro- phecies and lead the human race to its salvation. Yet a restatement of this belief 2,000 years later by Catholicism's official theologian has caused widespread protests among Jewish leaders well-acquainted with Catholic thought. Why the protest? The answer is simple, yet complex. What was said by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was set in the context of contemporary Catholic- Jewish dialogue, which is predicated on mutual respect for faith convictions. DEWIG BROS. PACKING CO. Cardinal Ratzinger later clarified his statement to em- phasize that he was restating Catholic doctrine. But this was not enough. THE NEW YORK based Anti- Defamation League of B'nai B'rith said that Cardinal Ratz- inger takes Catholic-Jewish relations "back to the Middle Ages." It asked for "a public clarification" by Vatican of- ficials of "the position of the Catholic Church today on Judaism and the Jewish peo- ple." The request for a public clarification shows how deeply the interview disrupted Catholic-Jewish relations. For many, the firm founda- tions for contemporary dialogue were laid by the Se- cond Vatican Council. It outlin- ed a clear, positive relationship with Judaism without abandon- ing Catholic faith in Christ. The council declaration on non-Christian religions, "Nostra Aetate," encouraged dialogue "by way of biblical and theological enquiry and through friendly discussion." While restating that Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testa- ment, it also emphasized that God has not abandoned Judaism because many of Christ's Jewish contemporaries FRESH MEAT 5 BEEF AND PORK HAUBSTADT, INDIANA did not accept him as messiah. "Jews remain very dear to God ... since God does not take back the gifts he bestowed or the choice he made," says the declaration. It also described an ongoing, living relationship between Catholicism and Judaism. The church "draws nourish- ment from that good olive tree onto which the wild olive bran- ches of the Gentiles have been grafted," says the declaration, approved in 1965. The Vatican followed this in 1974 with guidelines for religious dialogue with Jews. "Dialogue demands respect for the other as he is; above all, respect for his faith and his religious convictions," say the guidelines. They also grapple with the touchy situation of balancing belief in Christ with respect for Judaism. Pope John Paul gave a prac- tical example of how to apply these guidelines when he visited Rome's main synagogue in April 1986. The pope called Jews. "our elder brothers" and said both religions should pro- mote their common ethic "marked by the Ten Command- ments" in a society "lost in agnosticism and individualism."