Thursday, 5 January 2017

An (academic) Exegesis of Josh 5:13-15

In this essay, I explore the meeting of Joshua and a mysterious man who appears before the fall of Jericho in the Old Testament book of Joshua. It was originally submitted as an assessed piece of work for my degree course Old Testament Texts. I made a few adjustments to that in light of feedback received.

For reference, my Hebrew (MT) translation:
(13) And now, Joshua was by Jericho, and he lifted his eyes and he saw – (and) behold! -  a man standing in front of him, and his drawn sword [was] in his hand. And Joshua walked to him, and he said to him, “Are you with us, or with our adversaries?”
(14) And he said, “No, for I am a prince/commander of the army of the Lord , now I have come [ I came].” And Joshua fell upon his face to the ground and he worshiped [or bowed down]. And he said to him, “What does my Lord command his servant?”
(15) And the commander of the army of the Lord said to Joshua, “Loosen your sandal from upon your foot, for the place which you are standing upon [it], it is holy.” And Joshua did thus.

My Greek (LXX) translation:

(13) And so it happened like [this], Joshua [or Jesus] was in Jericho and having looked up with the eyes [of him, in A], he saw a person standing opposite him who had drawn the sword in his hand. And drawing near, Joshua [Jesus] said to him, “are you our people or of the opponent?”
(14) But the one said to him, “I am (the) chief commander of the armies [powers] of the Lord, Now I have come.” And Joshua [Jesus] fell down on [his] face to the earth, and he said to him, “Master, what do you command your domestic servant?”
(15) And the chief-commander of the Lord said to Joshua [Jesus],” Loosen the sandals from your feet; for the place on which you are stood is holy.”

The NRSV Translation:

13 Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a manstanding in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”
14 “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”
15 The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

The Commander of the Lord’s Army in Joshua 5:13-15

The conquest of the land of Canaan is a key theme of the Book of Joshua. Joshua 5:13-15 is presented as a hinge point as a wandering people become an established nation through the power of the Lord; the passage intentionally recalls Moses’ commission at the burning bush (Ex 3) while also anticipating the Lord’s victories in the following passages.
Josh 5:13-15 is usually understood as an independent unit within the wider structure of Josh 5-6; it follows accounts of circumcision (Josh 5:2-9) and Passover celebration (Josh 5:10-12), and is followed by the conquest of Jericho (Josh 6). However, following Marcus’s prompt ‘to take alternate chapter divisions into account’,[1] it is worth noting that the Masoretic Text (MT) has a closed paragraph division (signified by ס) after Josh 5:12 but the following division (also closed) is after Josh 6:1. This alternate unit highlights the problem of understanding in what sense Joshua was ‘in Jericho’ (v. 13) since Jericho was ‘certainly shut up’ (Josh 6:1) at that time; such a sealing off is evidently no barrier to the armies of the Lord.
Although the Septuagint (LXX) version of the narrative is slightly shorter, both versions serve the same purpose of confirming that the Lord will conquer Jericho for Israel. We will address relevant points of difference in the following section.

Verse by Verse Commentary
v. 13:    The location of this event is recorded as ביריחו in the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint has εν Ιεριχω. The NRSV translates this as ‘by Jericho’. The Hebrew preposition ב usually means ‘in’ although it can also denote proximity (e.g. by or with) but this is ‘not very common’.[2] Within the narrative flow of chapters 5 and 6 the phrase ‘by Jericho’ fits naturally, however a reading of ‘in Jericho’ is the more literal reading in both the MT and LXX. An event inside Jericho would suggest either that this narrates an event that took place chronologically later (i.e. after Jericho had been conquered), or that the event was a prophetic vision like Ezekiel’s vision of the temple (cf. Ezek 8). Römer notes that in its present form chapter 5 mirrors ‘in an almost concentric way…the beginning of the Moses story’,[3] moving from river crossing (Josh 3-4, cf. Ex 14) to circumcision (Josh 5:2-9, cf. Ex 12:43-50) to Passover celebration (Josh 5:10-12, cf. Ex 12:1-28) to divine revelation (Josh 5:13-15, cf. Ex 3). To maintain this close literary link to Exodus in this section of the book, the location of this passage in the Book of Joshua must be retained, and so this passage should not be read as an achromatically placed free-standing unit.
The commander has a drawn sword in his hand. This expression raises the dramatic tension of the encounter by presenting the being as a probable adversary to Joshua; on other occasions when this expression is used (Num 22:23, 31; 1 Chr 21:16) the envoy is a threat to the recipient of the vision rather than the recipient’s adversaries.[4]  The identity of the man as an angelic figure is perhaps hinted at in the LXX through use of the slightly less common term ρομφαια (rather than μαχαιραν) which has connotations of the ρομφαιν in Genesis 3:24.[5]  This sword (ρομφαια) is further held in contrast to the flint knives (μαχαιρας πετριωας εκ πετρας) used in the circumcision ritual (Josh 5:2). Römer argues that as ‘the texts never explain how Joshua got his sword [which Joshua uses in Josh 8, 10, and 11], the best hypothesis might indeed be to imagine he received the divine sword after the encounter related in Josh 5:13-15’.[6] The provided sword then becomes one means by which the Lord is said to fight for Israel.
‘And Joshua walked to him’ – here Joshua appears in the role of a sentry and must demonstrate the virtues of strength and bravery (cf. Josh 1:7) in approaching the formidable being. In the LXX especially, Joshua’s question demonstrates the unity of Israel portrayed in the book, since the adversary is contrasted to those ‘of us’ (ημετερος) and hence no possibility of mutiny within the Israelite camp is anticipated by Joshua.  
v. 14:    The commander answers Joshua’s question in the MT with an enigmatic ‘no’, indicating he is outside of the categories used by Joshua. Despite the subsequent conquest narratives, the commander’s ‘no’ challenges ‘any attempt to tie the national aspirations too closely to YHWH’s purpose’.[7] The function of this answer does not appear as a rebuke to Joshua because he failed to consider the role of the Lord (as Creach implies),[8] but indicates the otherness of the being.  A reader may naturally assume the ‘army of the Lord’ to be none other than the army of Israelites, however if this were the case then presumably the commander of the army would be Joshua himself. Once again, the divine realm resists close equivalence to the political nation of Israel. The reference to the צבא (army/host) of the Lord may allude to when ‘Deuteronomy 4:19 describes sun, moon and stars collectively as “all the hosts of heaven”’.[9]  Thus, the use of the term host may be foreshadowing the narrative of Joshua 10 where ‘Yahweh uses sun and moon to Israel’s benefit’.[10] The Greek translation of chief-commander – αρχιστρατηγος - is explicitly applied to Michael in the Pseudepigraphical 2 Enoch 22:6[11] and so it is probably an angelic figure envisioned in this narrative.
When the phrase ‘now I have come’ is used in 2 Sam 14:15,[12]  it is followed by an explanation detailing the messenger’s coming. Its form here may have omitted the (originally given) reason for the commander’s visit. However, more probably this phrase is simply ‘intended as a fulfilment of Exod. 23:23’,[13] continuing to build on the other allusions to the book of Exodus found in chapter 5 noted earlier.
Joshua’s response in the LXX removes the reference to worship (וישתחו) given in the Hebrew text; as this variation is not found in other manuscripts, it is likely this represents a choice of the translators. The original form, then, presents Joshua bowing down to a figure he calls ‘my Lord’ (אדני) but the LXX reflects a concern to avoid any notion of making the commander into a deity. Woudstra points out in a footnote that the commander is addressed as ‘adoni, not adonay; neither is the word “worship” by itself an indication of respect shown to a deity’.[14]   However, if this narrative continues in chapter 6, the close association between the commander and the Lord eases the transition for the Lord to begin speaking to Joshua in 6:2.  That connection is hindered somewhat when the Septuagint is compelled to translate אדני as δεσποτα to avoid using a form of κυριος (which the LXX reserved for God when translating the sacred tetragrammaton (יהוה)). [15] The LXX form, then, fits more readily with the Masoretic division which separates this section from Josh 6:2 (contrary to Römer who suggests ‘Josh 6:2 and following as the continuation of Joshua’s encounter in 5:13-15’).[16]
v. 15:    The only command given to Joshua is to ‘loosen your sandal from upon your foot’. This adds to the sense that the passage has been cut short, and hence Römer’s suggestion that it is continued in chapter 6. Accepting the literal reading of the canonical text, the only practical purpose of the command seems to be an demonstration of obedience (which, it should be noted, is a theme of Joshua especially highlighted in 1:17, 22:2, and 24:4). The LXX, omitting the final words found in the MT ‘and Joshua did thus’, seems to reinforce the instinct to see this narrative being completed in the subsequent chapter or else to speculate that the original ending was removed. In response to this instinct, it is notable that the Exodus account does not add ‘and Moses did thus’ and so the LXX form reinforces the parallels to the Exodus passage through the removal of Joshua’s additional words.  The command has obvious parallels to Exodus 3:5. The forms differ in that Joshua states the generic ‘it’, not the land, is holy; commentators have not explored this distinction in detail but it perhaps results from the visionary nature to imply that Jericho as an entity is now holy. This holiness of the land to be conquered may illuminate further discussion of the concept of חרם; in other books of the Hebrew Bible, especially priestly material, ‘that which is חרם is associated with that which is holy (קדש)’[17] so the attribution of holiness to Jericho here is notable. Tigchelaar’s insightful discussion on the reception of Ex 3:5 suggests that Joshua removing his sandals is the efficient cause and the temporal point at which the land henceforth becomes holy. He says that ‘it is striking that at the beginning of the book Joshua has been promised all the land which the sole of his feet treads upon [cf. Josh 1:3], and at the beginning of the conquest Joshua is told to take off his sandal’,[18] and so this action is to be understood as a ritual work ratifying the handing over of the land to Joshua and the people of Israel.

Reflections on the Passage
In this scene, Joshua experiences a mysterious vision. A being appears as a human warrior, but divine characteristics surround him as he i) refuses to be categorized as either of or against Israel, ii) serves as chief-commander of the Lord’s army, and iii) receives Joshua’s obeisance. This close alignment to the divine might support the encounter continuing onwards from Josh 6:2, as Römer suggests. However, this reading is not necessary with the conclusion that the command to remove his sandals constitutes a ritual ratification causing the land to pass into the ownership of Israel (and thus be set apart as holy) because the narrative’s purpose is complete. The subsequent narrative is simply recording the physical taking of what has been already given by God through Joshua. Secondly, given this Moses-like encounter with a divine being (cf. Ex 3), and Joshua’s unique role in Israelite history, there is no need to provide a prophetic medium or angelic messenger for Joshua to receive instruction from the Lord.  
To conclude, dramatic tensions with the rest of the book are created through this encounter. Firstly, the refusal of the chief-commander to state whose side he was fighting for is at odds with the rest of the book where the Lord is shown as the one fighting very clearly on behalf of Israel. Moreover, Joshua is silently and pre-emptively stripped of the title of ‘chief-commander of the army of the Lord’, a role he otherwise appears to fulfil as leader of the Israelite military. However, despite these tensions, the passage confirms the power of the Lord to enter and take possession of Jericho and that ‘the heavenly armies have been mobilized to fight’.[19] The literary figure of Joshua is presented in this narrative in a manner that incorporates his key characteristics into a terse event. Closely linked to Moses’ commission, Joshua is shown to be courageous as he approaches the armed warrior, faithful as he falls prostrate, and obedient as he does what he is commanded. It is at this moment that the land is formally passed over to Israel; in Josh 1:2 it is still pledged to Israel as ‘the land I am about to give to them’ and now it has been given but is yet to be physically conquered.


Auld, A. Graeme. Joshua, Judges and Ruth. Edited by John C. L. Gibson. Edinburgh: St Andrew Press, 1984.
Azuelos, Yaacov. "The 'angel sent before the Lord' in Targum Joshua 5,14." Biblica 96 (2015): 161-178.
Bauer, Walter, William F. Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich. A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957.
Brown, Francis, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs , The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2012 [reprint from Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1906]
Coogan, Michael. “Joshua.” In The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Student Edition, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer and Roland E. Murphy, 110-131. London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1993).
Creach, Jerome F. D. Joshua. Interpretation. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2003.
Dickey, Eleanor. “Kyrie, Despota, Domine: Greek Politeness in the Roman Empire. (Critical Essay).” Journal of Hellenic Studies 121 (2001): 1-25.
Earl, Douglas Scotohu. “Reading Joshua as Christian Scripture.” PhD diss., University of Durham, 2008.
Hawk, L. D. Joshua. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000.
Marcus, David. “Alternate Chapter Divisions in the Pentateuch in the Light of the Masoretic Sections.” Hebrew Studies 44 (2003):119-128.
May, H. G. “Joshua.” In Peak’s Commentary on the Bible, edited by Matthew Black and H. H. Rowly, 289-303. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1963.
Römer, Thomas. "Joshua's encounter with the commander of YHWH's army (Josh 5:13-15): Literary Construction or Reflection of a Royal Ritual?." In Warfare, ritual, and symbol in biblical and modern contexts, edited by Brad E. Kelle, Frank Ritchel Ames and Jacob L. Wright, 49-63. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2014. 
Tigchelaar, Eibert, “Barefeet and Holy Ground: Excursive Remarks on Exodus 3:5 and its Reception.” In The Revelation of the Name YHWH to Moses: Perspectives from Judaism, the Pagan Graeco-Roman World, and Early Christianity, edited by George H. van Kotten. 17-36. Leiden: Brill, 2006.

[1] David Marcus, “Alternate Chapter Divisions in the Pentateuch in Light of the Masoretic Sections,” Hebrew Studies 44 (2003): 128.
[2] BDB 89a.
[3] Thomas Römer, "Joshua's Encounter with the Commander of YHWH's Army (Josh 5:13-15): Literary Construction or Reflection of a Royal Ritual?", in Warfare, Ritual, and Symbol in Biblical and Modern Contexts (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2014), 53. 
[4] Cf. Michael Coogan, "Joshua" in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Student Edition, ed. Raymond E. Brown et al. (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1993), 116.
[5] E.g. BAG 744c notes ‘in Philo always of the angel’s flaming sword after Gen 3: 24)
[6] Cf. Römer, “Joshua’s Encounter,” 57-60.
[7] L. D. Hawk, Joshua (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000), 85.
[8] Cf. Jerome F.D. Creach, Joshua. Interpretation (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2003), 60.
[9] A. Graeme Auld, Joshua, Judges and Ruth, ed. John C. L. Gibson (Edinburgh: St Andrew Press, 1984), 35.
[10] Auld, Joshua, 35.
[11] Cf. Yaacov Azuelos, "The Angel sent before the Lord' in Targum Joshua 5,14," Biblica 96 (2015): 171.
[12] Scripture reference from H. G. May, “Joshua” in Peake’s Commentary on the Bible, ed. Matthew Black and H. H. Rowly (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1963), 293.
[13] Coogan, “Joshua,” 116.
[14] M.H. Woudstra, The Book of Joshua (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981), 105.
[15] Cf. Eleanor Dickey, "Kyrie, Despota, Domine: Greek Politeness in the Roman Empire. (Critical Essay)" Journal of Hellenic Studies 121 (2001): 5.
[16] Römer, “Joshua’s Encounter,” 55.
[17] Douglas Scotohu Earl, “Reading Joshua as Christian Scripture” (PhD diss., University of Durham, 2008), 85.
[18] Eibert Tigchelaar, "Bare Feet and Holy Ground: Excursive Remarks on Exodus 3:5 and its Reception." In The Revelation of the Name YHWH to Moses: Perspectives from Judaism, the Pagan Graeco-Roman World, and Warly Christianity, (Leiden: Brill, 2006), 27.
[19] Hawk, Joshua, 83.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Amoris Laetitia: An adequate document; open to misreading!

I successfully avoided reading any news articles or blogs about the exhortation until I had read it through once and got a sense of what it says. It is important to be aware of the balance of the document, as well as the specific issue that can be picked out.

It is a long document, but reaffirms a lot of the Church's teaching:
Divorce is not good, artificial contraception is wrong, same-sex marriage is not the same as natural marriage, the parents are the primary educators of their children.

It does emphasise some ideas more than perhaps in the past:
the death penalty is not right, not everyone in an irregular union (e.g.divorced and remarried) is in moral sin.

And there are some points that raise eyebrows:

  • Condemnation is not forever - well Hell is eternal. But Francis probably means that we on Earth cannot condemn forever... or that the complexities of life are not totally irreconcilable (although, it should be pointed out that not receiving Holy Communion is not the same as condemnation!).
  • His reference, in a footnote, to providing sacraments to strengthen those moving towards deeper acceptance of the Gospel is good, but sounds like he wants more openness without any realistic expectation or hope of change. 
  • He talks about people showing fidelity, but as Edward Peters points out, it is surely true to say that remarried persons are shows infidelity to their first marriage as much as they are faithful to this second. 

These seem to be the issues raised by others. The idea that the document is written to be 'abused' is concerning...though I'm not sure of the Holy Father's motives at times. He doesn't make any reforms to the law, for better or for worse. There is not much insight into the nature of marriage or the relationship between natural marriage and sacramental marriage. Nor is there much of an exhortation for those who live the single life through their circumstances.

The document is a slightly frustrating read in that it repeats itself and oftentimes is quoting from Pope Francis himself or the synod rather than more established documents of the Church (such as the documents of Vatican II). Having said this, it is true that the document clearly values Vatican II and St John Paul II so it is therefore absolutely right for priests and catechists to continue to draw on the riches of those documents and to be sure that they are proclaiming the official Catholic teaching of today.

Friday, 8 April 2016

You know you're Catholic when... have to withdraw from social media until after you've read the Apostolic Exhortation on the family to avoid spoilers!

Following my highly successful thoughts from the working document, I may update with my musings as I go, or when I finish, or into that what you will.

Update 16:30:
For someone who laments long homilies, Francis takes his time to get to the point! But the first chapter is a really good grounding in the Theology of the Body of St JPII rooted in Sacred Scripture. Key ideas being that the family is an icon of the love of the persons of the Trinity, that love is free, total, self-giving and fruitful, and that work seems to be a key part of human dignity.

Chapter two presents some thoughts coming out of the witness of the questionnaires sent around the world. Francis seems to chastise those who hold to strict doctrine...but he doesn't quite go as far as to dispense with it...leaving the people in a confused state where there is 'room for the consciences of the faithful' ...for the church is 'called to form consciences, not to replace them'. The issue is that conscience is about effectively applying the abstract norms and doctrines (that he seems so wary of stressing) into the concrete lived realities of life; it makes no sense to both demand the church proclaims how people should 'do family' in specific and realistic ways without replacing the role of conscience. However, there is some very good content here too about the difference between freedom and the ''idea that each individual can act arbitrarily''. It also goes on to include affordable housing alongside all the other stuff (hence the length of this document!). He gives the example of a single parent leaving the child alone to go to work...but it is unclear to me what this is an example for..

Chapter three looks at the role of the family, reminding us that the parents are the primary carers and educators of their children and the state should not replace them ordinarily - I'd suggest the SNP's nominate person system borders on depriving parents of this right. I liked this quote: "By becoming one flesh they embody the espousal of our human nature by the Son of God". It affirms the Church's stance that abortion and euthanasia are morally wrong (always and everywhere)...but then throws in a rejection of the death penalty in similar language - Benedict XVI (pre-Pope) - made it clear that the Church has not spoken definitively and bindingly on the faithful on this matter.

So on I go!

Update 19:00:

Chapter four
 offers an interesting exegesis of Paul's hymn of love in Corrinitians, and some particularly valuable reflects on the relationship between married life and consecrated virginity. In this Francis talks about the mutual enriching of these states of life - how celibacy can be a sign of total devotion to the kingdom looking to Heaven, while married life demands fidelity and steadfastness in another way here in this moment.

Chapter five deals with fruitfulness, talking about the roles of adoption and foster care. Large families are a blessing, though not required. He has said already that procreation isn't the sole aim of marriage, He goes on to talk about the role of the elderly in society. He does make an interesting point about what it means to 'discern the body of the Lord' and seems to suggest that this shouldn't be taken to refer to the Eucharist but to a degree of understanding of fellow church-goers (who are, after all, the body of Christ) feels like he might be preparing to say that closed communion is too spite of the clear teaching of the Church historically...but we'll see!

Update 09/04/2015 23:00

Chapter six offers a vague array of specific insights (I deliberately juxtaposed vague and specific here) into marriage preparation and other related ideas. A great quote is that 'marriage preparation begins at birth' - the idea that formal marriage preparation is a gift to the children of the future parents as much as for the parents themselves. Some parts seem unclear - he talks about love being more than a feeling..but then talks about young love's excitement being a propelling force. "Each marriage is a kind of 'salvation history'" working towards deeper relationship and unity. Classes and meetings have limited use to many couples today. He talks about the role of effective communication between the parties.  He likes the phases 'please', 'thank you', and 'sorry'. He says that "divorced people who have not remarried often bear witness to marital fidelity" but that those in irregular unions are not excommunicated.  Yet, "divorce is an evil. Same-sex unions are not like marriage, but those struggling with same-sex attraction should be respected and seek God's will.

Chapter seven deals with education. It reaffirms the role of the parent, but stresses the need for authentic sex education to teach modesty, masculinity/feminity, and mutual respect. It talks about the benefit of using personal testimonies not authoritative rules to propose the faith effectively to young people - it's harder to argue with experience!It is noted that families involved in mission often pass this zeal to their children.

Chapter eight return to the ideal of marriage in the Gospel which reflects Christ and his Church - it:1- is between mana nd women, 2 - giving themselves a- freely, b- faithfully, c-exclusively, 3- until death, 4- open to life, and 5- consecrated by the sacrament. Some other unions are partially good and comparable to marriage, while others are not. Francis talks about gradualness - people move towards embracing the fullness of the Gospel in time and the Church should be patient with people still journeying. He rightly points out that no-one (presumably meaning those who are still alive) is condemned for ever, there is always hope...but sin can separate from the community. Here the pope is difficult to read. He talks about second unions being "consolated over time", perhaps they are good for children and besides the individual might be "subjectively certain in conscience that their previous... marriage had never been valid". He does not say it, but it seems as if he is suggesting a looser understanding of marriage less bound by the witness of the state/church - after all the couple does confer the sacrament on each other so why not say that a couple who have decided to live as husband and wife yet are not formally married can be seen as married in a moral sense. The church could alter the way in which she regulated marriage..but Francis doesn;t seem to want to change the rules formally. He mentions living as 'brother and sister' but seems to view this as unreasonably difficult for people to be expected to always follow. He warns of the danger of scandal with informal exceptions granted by priests to the norms, but seems to encourage flexibility. Pope Francis says that those living in irregular unions should not be equated to being in a state of mortal sin on that basis alone. He scolds those who proclaim the church's teachings as 'sitting on the chair of Moses' presumably disparagingly seeing them as modern Pharisees...yet in Mt 23:!-3 Jesus says to follow the teaching of these people and warns against those who do not act in accord with it! Frustratingly, considering the obvious interest in the issue of divorced and remarried persons receiving communion he is anything but clear. He does say earlier that the reception of the Eucharist at the marriage ceremony should be 'in keeping with the general norms'. But, he hides in a footnote that the sacraments can help build the grace working in those people's lives who find themselves in irregular unions...but doesn't answer the question. It seems to me that he wants priests to allow it, but doesn't want to say it explicitly since it goes against the main practice of the Church up until now.  But then, confusingly, he goes on the say we shouldn;t hold back from proclaiming the idea and that relativism shows a lack of fidelity to the Gospel... this document can and will be used by whatever 'side' of the Church to claim the pope's support - it's long and wordy and open to interpretation. Initially,I am disappointed in this chapter especially.

Chapter 9 returns to more encouraging ideals of married life. (as an aside, he seems to  view vatican 2 as some distant historical event rather than a relatively recent experience..). He talks of marriage being a form of praise. I was concerned that the phase ' union with Jesus ..can help avoid a breakup' could be a painful read for those who have suffered relationship breakdown through no fault of their own. Francis does point out the intimate connection between the Eucharist and Marriage - the love of God  for his people is expressed in terms of marriage and conversely marriage mirrors Christ's love which was total, fee self-gift upon the cross. He ends with a prayer to the Holy Family, and it is given on St Joseph's day - a man of chastity and a model for all married and single persons.

Well that's me at the end. I'll have to reflect more. But it is worthwhile putting these initial views down. I' not a cleric and so it is right to encourage a degree of open debate without the danger of scandalizing a flock that a priest might have! My initial thought is that this document contains a whole host of fantastic reflections and teaching on the role of sexuality in love, presenting the complex teaching of JPII on Theology of the Body is a compact and relevant way. But, because it opens up the role of conscience to such an extent that any norms seem almost meaningless this document will be a polarizing one for the Church and this pontificate. Fortunately, the sense of the faith and the grace of God can carry us through and help us learn to see more clearly with time how to live out the kingdom joyfully in this complex world! Where else will we go, Christ and his Church has the message of eternal life!


Saturday, 2 April 2016

Low Sunday - John 20:19-31

John 20:19-31
19 Therefore at late evening on that day, the first day after the Sabbath and the doors, wherein the disciples were in fear of the Jews, were locked; Jesus came and stood in the midst and he said to them, 'Peace to you20 And after he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Therefore, having seen the Lord, the disciples rejoiced. 21 He (Jesus) said to them all, 'Peace to you, just as the Father sent me, also I send you'. 22 And having said this, he breathed on them and he said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit, 23 if you (pl) forgive anyone of sin they shall be forgiven, if you (pl) retain any they shall be retained.
24 But Thomas, one out of the twelve, who is called Didymus (Twin) was not with them when Jesus came. 25 Therefore the other disciples said to him, 'We  have seen the Lord'. But he said to them, 'unless I see in his hand the scars of the nails and I throw my finger into the scars of the nail and I throw my hand into his side, I will not believe'. 26 And after eight days, the disciples were inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus entered in the door that was locked and stood in the midst and he said, 'Peace to you'. 27 Then he said to Thomas, 'Bring your finger here and see my hands and bring your hand and throw it into my side, and do not be unbelieving but believe'! 28 Thomas answered and he said to him, 'My Lord and my God'. 29 Jesus said to him, 'Because you see me, you have believed; blessed are the ones having believed who have not seen'.
30 So then, Jesus did all these and other signs in the presence of his disciples, but they are not written in this booked. 31 But these things are written in order that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and in order that, having believed, you might have life in his name.

Comparison with other translations (notable differences):

NRSV - 19 - when it was evening. week not sabbath, stood in their midst 23 - retain any sins 25 - put not throw. 26 -  a week later. 30 - Now Jesus did many other signs (i.e. no reference to doing these signs).

Geneva Bible (1599) - 19 - week not sabbath, incorrectly italicised the word 'day' as an addition from the Greek text, when the doors were shut not where...the doors were locked, 23- sins ye retain, 25 - put not throw, 28 - adds thou art to my Lord and my God, 30 -And many other signs also (i.e. no reference to doing these signs).

Douay Rheims - 20 - were glad not rejoiced. 23- sins ye retain, 25 - put not throw, 30 - many other sings (i.e. no reference to doing these signs).

Notes and Comments:

Verse 26 says eight days later in the Greek, this seems to be important as if one counts the Sabbath as the seventh day, then Jesus rising on the Sunday can either be seen as the first day or the eighth day - a new creation ensues from this event - since this narrative is so bound up with the resurrection itself it seems unsatisfactory to smooth out the eight days into a week as the NRSV does.

Verse 30 - there seems to be a stronger reference to those signs which have been recorded by John than comes out in many translations. Although saying also he did other signs does alludes to previous works, John is making the point that the ones selected are so selected as the most profitable and necessary for coming to life.

Sometimes the gospel accounts give 'a day in the life of Jesus' - a single day in Galilee seems to structure the bulk of St Matthew's Gospel between chapters 5 and 15 - here John continues to pick up on the events of Easter Sunday.  This reinforces the point that Jesus did so much more than is merely recorded in the Gospels and underscores the role of Sacred Tradition in the life of the Church.

Jesus is raised with the same body as that which was crucified, bearing the scars of the nails (v 20).

Verse 22 - breathed on them à the risen humanity of Jesus has become a sacrament of the divine Spirit (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament (2010) citing CCC 1116).

Friday, 15 January 2016

Sunday of Week 2 of Ordinary Time - Year C - Gospel - John 2:1-11


John's gospel is often thought to be composed slightly later than the three synoptic Evangels. It tends towards higher theological reflections, and so is sometimes symbolised by an eagle.  This reading is taken from near the beginning of John. The great prologue to the gospel - and the word was made flesh - precedes this. John has made clear he is not the messiah, and two of his disciples (Andrew and Peter) leave Johna and follow our Lord (John 1:37). Immediately prior is the calling of two more disciples (Philip and Nathanael) with that great phrase 'come and see' (John 1:46). Now we jump into the narrative of this Word who is God who has been made flesh and called 4 disciples and whom John the Baptist proclaimed as the Lamb of God:

John 2:1-11 (My Translation)

1And on the third day, it happened (that there was) a wedding in Cana of Galilee,  and the mother of Jesus was there. 2But she invited Jesus and the his disciples to the wedding. 3And having given out wine, the mother of Jesus said to him. "They have no wine". 4And Jesus said to her, "What am I to you, woman? My hour is not yet coming'". 5His mother said to the servents, "What ever he says to you, you shall do". 6Six stone water jars were there according to the appointed purification of the Jews, each jar holding two or three measures*. 7Jesus said to them, "Fill the water jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. 8And he said to them, "Now, draw water and take it to the person in charge." So they took (the water). 9 The person in charge tasted the water, it became as wine and he did not know from where came. But the servants who drew the water did know its origin. The bridegroom appeared (before) the person in charge, 10 And he said to him, "Any person, first puts out the good wine and (then) when they have got drunk, the inferior (wine is served). You have kept the good wine until now. 11This brought about the begening of he signs of Jesus in Cana of Galilee and his glory was revealed, and his disciples believed in him.

*A measure is about 10 gallions or 40 liters.

John 2:1-11 (Jerusaelm Bible)

There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee. The mother of Jesus was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited. When they ran out of wine, since the wine provided for the wedding was all finished, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ Jesus said ‘Woman, why turn to me? My hour has not come yet.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ There were six stone water jars standing there, meant for the ablutions that are customary among the Jews: each could hold twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water’, and they filled them to the brim. ‘Draw some out now’ he told them ‘and take it to the steward.’ They did this; the steward tasted the water, and it had turned into wine. Having no idea where it came from – only the servants who had drawn the water knew – the steward called the bridegroom and said; ‘People generally serve the best wine first, and keep the cheaper sort till the guests have had plenty to drink; but you have kept the best wine till now.’
This was the first of the signs given by Jesus: it was given at Cana in Galilee. He let his glory be seen, and his disciples believed in him.

Note on the Text
The mass reading itself leaves out the clause, on the third day, but choice of the compilers of the lectionary. This seems a shame, since the third day image is a powerful pointer forward to the resurrection and the new covenant - elsewhere talked in terms of new wine for new wineskins and of course fulfilled in the Eucharist.

These water-jars seem almost penitential in character, but from it comes the fine wine. It reminds us that through self-denial we reach a place of fulfillment. The New Testament is a fulfillment of the Old. The signs and images of the Old come to light in the New. St Paul says that we now see dimly as through a mirror, but then we shall see face to face - perhaps the fulfillment of the Old Testament in the New gives an insight into how extensive the transformation of our vision in heaven might be compared to life on Earth as we know it. But we know our Father always brings out treasures for his beloved children, and so we need to trust in him and follow Jesus wholeheartedly

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year C - First Reading - Isaiah 62:1-5

More for me than you. I thought I'd try and see if I can offer some thoughts and reflections on the upcoming Sunday mass readings.


The first reading is taken from Isaiah. Isaiah is an extensive work of the Old Testament - it's set across a sweeping timeframe encompassing pre-exile, exile and post-exile life for the people of Judea (the Babylonian exile is generally dated 587BC to 536BC), it contains many images taken into the Christian tradition and is notable as being well-preserved in the Dead Sea scrolls. This reading comes from so-called Third Isaiah, the period after the exile when the chosen people are invited to return to their land under the Persian king Cyrus. The context is the re-establishment of Sion as a centre of worship - looking forward to a time in which the Jewish people would be light to the nations and bring the other nations to the LORD.

Isaiah 62 (Jerusalem Bible)

About Zion I will not be silent,
about Jerusalem I will not grow weary,
until her integrity shines out like the dawn
and her salvation flames like a torch.

The nations then will see your integrity,
all the kings your glory,
and you will be called by a new name,
one which the mouth of the Lord will confer.
You are to be a crown of splendour in the hand of the Lord,
a princely diadem in the hand of your God;

no longer are you to be named ‘Forsaken’,
 nor your land ‘Abandoned’,
but you shall be called ‘My Delight’
and your land ‘The Wedded’;
for the Lord takes delight in you
and your land will have its wedding.

Like a young man marrying a virgin,
so will the one who built you wed you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices in his bride,
so will your God rejoice in you

Isaiah 62 (My Translation)

1To the end that Sion is not silent    and to the end that Jerusalem is not quiet
until her righteousness goes out as brightness     and her salvation like a burning lamp.
2And the nations see your righteousness   and all kings your glory
And you shall be called by a new name   that the mouth of the LORD (your God) shall give to you.
3And you will be a crown of glory in the hand of LORD   A royal turban in the palm of your God.
4Not calling you again 'Forsaken'    nor shall your land be called again 'Desolate'
For to you he shall proclaim 'My delight in her'   and to your land 'Married'
For the LORD delights in you   and your land shall be married.
5For as a youth marrying a virgin   so shall your sons marry
And as daughter's husband rejoices over the bride   so your God rejoices over you.

Notes on the Text

From the layout of both translations, you can note that the text broadly falls into poetry, a common marker of prophetic works in the bible. My translation is read first part-pause-second part-bigger pause for each line.
A big difference is found in verse five - is it the one who built you marrying you or a promise of marriage to your sons? The context suggests that a simile is intended so it might be more fitting to follow the Jerusalem Bible's translation which finds its parallel in the last line. Psalm 147:2 talks about the LORD building up Jerusalem after the exile. The debate is on the difference between  the noun 'sons' BNM and the verb 'build' BNH - to say either your sons or the one who built you require the same 2nd person singular suffix, and the last letter drops out - so the word is not fully clear. However, the Greek translation of the Old Testament says so shall thy sons dwell in thee (Not my translation: source:  The marital imagery of this passage might lend itself more to the sons translation - this gives verse 5 the dual aspects of temporal/horizontal/natural blessing (i.e. sons marrying, good society) and eternal/vertical/supernatural blessing (relationship with God our Father).


This poetic passage is sometimes used as a canticle in Morning Prayer, and it invites us to go out into the world as salt and light to bear witness to Jesus. We can relate to the exiles - we are in this world but we can be a bit dazed as to how to move forward and establish the Kingdom here. Of course, God himself takes the lead. He delights over us and this bears fruit. It reminds us that God does not forsake us, and he will not rest until we are fulfilled in our being - we are called to be a people of righteousness, salvation and glory, always leading the peoples back to God.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Pope Francis Reforms the Annulment Process

I'm back to my studies presently and thought it might be right to kick-start the old blog once again.

I just read on BBC News (here) some, in my opinion, welcome news. (I want to sidestep the whole 'apologist nitpick' of the fact that re-marriage is a misnomer since there never was a first marriage - yes language can create culture and all that, but give them a break! It's a headline and getting the fine distinction is hard)

So essentially the process of exploring whether an (apparent) marriage that has broken down was valid (from the beginning, i.e. the wedding day) is to be simplified. Instead of requiring two dioceses to agree that it was not valid, now only one is expected to do so. Additionally, fees should not be charged by the diocese to investigate.

This move is important. It will hopefully fast-track the procedure - allowing people in terribly difficult situations to find clarity and peace. It is one thing to embrace one's cross if one finds oneself in an irregular situation (that might prevent entering into marriage). but it is quite another to be in a prolonged state of limbo, unsure what the final outcome will be.

Further, much of the debate has been the question of remarried persons receiving Holy Communion - of course, this is impossible since their state of life is probably scandalous and almost certainly gravely sinful. The salvation of souls is at stake. In reforming the procedure, Pope Francis will be hoping more avail of the juristic mechanism to regularise their state of life and so be able to participate fully in the life of Christ and his Church. This is not lowering the bar. A saint might well bear the burden of living chastely following a divorce, but evidently many do not. This is not the Church moving the goalposts so that everyone get's in - she cannot do this for she cannot forsake our Lord's teaching nor compel anyone else to enter the Church. What this change does do, however, is allow those people to overcome the objective barriers to a living relationship with Jesus first so that then they are freer to deepen their faith through more ordinary means of grace (the sacraments).

But, this has not changed anything in one sense. That is to say that valid, sacramental marriages will remain indissolvable (unto death of one or other of the spouses).In my mind, many marriages that breakdown may have grounds for an annulment - how many go into marriage thinking that it will probably not last and so don't freely accept the demands of the wedding vows (a great eample being the signing of prenuptial agreements)? So yes, give clarity. Yes, encourage people to seek annulments where appropriate. But we also need to start ministering to those who are separated from their spouses and need particular support. Most especially, the Church must support converts from other faiths who may be in irregular unions lest they feel unwelcome or unable to be Catholic at all.