Friday, April 22, 2011

“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”


May the word of the Lord be on our minds, on our lips, and in our hearts, amen.

Come holy spirit....

I wish all of you a very blessed Good Friday of the Lord's Passion today, and a happy Easter weekend.

The following is part of the Gospel of Matthew's account of the passion and death of our Lord, Jesus Christ:

Matthew 27: 45

45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

This is why 12-3pm on Good Friday are considered the Holy Hours, as they are the hours that Jesus hung on the cross before he died.

Can you conceive being nailed to wood and then hanging there for three hours? In the movies is lasts mere minutes. In reality, it was far more torturous.

I have heard many theories and speculations on Jesus suddenly asking God why He has forsaken Him. It is a part of His passion that seems somehow out of place to many people.  After all, why would the Son of God, who willingly submitted to this horrible death, lash out at His Father so suddenly?

Before we look into that, let's take a look back to a scene a bit earlier in Matthew's account of Christ's passion:

Matthew 26

39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

The above passages are from Jesus' time in the Garden of Gethsemane. It shows that Jesus is having His reservations about the suffering that was to come, yet also showing His obedience to His Father, and His love for humanity. 

So, when we fast forward to Jesus on the cross, in a moment of anguish, not too many moments before Jesus finally expired, Jesus also cries out in frustration and pain.

What do these passages show, then? They show Jesus' humanity! He was both human and divine at the same time. There have been various heresies in Church history where people have tried to claim that there was no humanity in Christ, that he was purely divine. 

This is not possible, however. A 100% divine being, such as God or the angels, cannot bleed, cannot feel pain, cannot sweat, cannot cry, cannot feel fatigue, and cannot die. Jesus, however, did all of these things.  Yet, at the same time, He performed miracles and did numerous other supernatural things during His ministry. He was both human and divine, at the same time.

So, when Jesus cried out: "My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?" it was his humanity that was screaming out. All of the pain, all of the abuse, all of the torture, all of the mocking that He endured finally got to be so much, that He lashed out for a brief moment. Remember the night before, Jesus asked that if the cup of suffering could be removed from Him by His Father, that it please be removed. God's Will was that this must come to pass, and under the crushing weight of the cross, the human side of Jesus felt forsaken for a brief moment. You can imagine the anguished thoughts that must have passed through Jesus' mind. Shortly before He expired, He even said, "I thirst," another very human feeling. 

A caller to a religious television show this past week, asked the host if God has pulled away from them because they are handicapped, and did God possibly stop caring about them? The answer, of course, is no. His handicap was his own cross to bear, and he felt like perhaps God has forsaken him, but as with Christ, God does not forsake us just because we have a cross to bear. But that feeling of being forsaken while carrying our cross is one with can all identify with. 

All of this is important for another reason. Quite often I hear people say, "Well I am not Jesus. Jesus was the son of God when He carried His cross, I am not Him." Christ's very human reaction to His suffering tells us that, in fact. Jesus knows exactly how we feel! His humanity allowed Him to feel every ounce of that pain, both physical and psychological. His humanity allows Jesus to know exactly how we feel when we are asked to carry our own crosses. His divinity did not spare Him from feeling the human side of that suffering, because our Lord was not only paying our prices for our sins, but can now say that He has gone through it before we did. 

And God did not punish Jesus in response to Christ's cry to Him. In fact, it is only a couple of verses later in the Gospel that Jesus finally gives up the spirit and dies, ending the suffering. And His suffering ended before the two criminals, as they were still alive when Christ died. God heard Jesus' cry of "My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?" and ended the torture shortly thereafter. 

We can also cry out to God, and to Jesus, when we feel alone, abandoned, afraid, or in the midst of any suffering. Tell God how you really feel. Cry out to Jesus to save you, for He has suffered, and felt that suffering fully, and knows what you are feeling. And God would not have sacrificed His son, and Jesus would not have agreed to endure that suffering, if they did not love you and feel you were worth it. It's well known that sometimes God pulls away to test, and thereby strengthen, our faith, but that does not equate abandonment. He is simply....around the corner, so to speak. Watching you to see how you are doing, and whether or not you are still faithful to Him even when you may not sense His presence. But you are not forsaken. Neither was Jesus, even though He briefly felt that way, just like we sometimes do. 

On this Good Friday, remember to smile, because God and Jesus love you. Remember to love Them back.

Godspeed, everyone.


Jesus Christ,
Son of God made Man,
crowned with thorns,
bearing a scepter of a reed,
wearing a royal cloak purpled
with Your Precious Blood,
I venerate You as the Man of Sorrows
and acknowledge You as my Lord and King!

Jesus crucified,
I firmly renounce the devil
and detest all sin
that has torn me from Your loving friendship.
I pledge my loyalty to You,
my Savior,
and beg You to make me Your own in sincerest love.
I promise to be faithful in service to You,
and to strive to become more pleasing to you
by avoiding every sin and its occasions,
by carrying out my duties
perfectly as a good Catholic,
and by practicing virtue.

Jesus crucified,
accept the homage I wish to render You
during this novena,
as a token of my sincerest appreciation
for the sorrows and sufferings
You have willingly borne to atone for my many sins
and to prove how much You love me.

I adore You as my very God,
Who willed to become Man
in order to save me from eternal death.

I thank You as my best Friend,
Who laid down Your life
as proof of the greatest love possible.

I ask pardon for having so little thought of You,
Jesus crucified,
and for having caused Your sorrows
and sufferings by the many sins I have committed.

I pray to You,
dearest Jesus,
for all the graces I need to know You,
to love You and serve You faithfully unto death,
and to save my soul.
Give me a tender and fervent devotion
to Your Sacred Passion by which I was redeemed,
venerating You especially in Holy Mass.
Teach me how to unite sorrows and sufferings
of my life with Your own.

Finally, through all Your sorrows and pains,
through Your Sacred Heart
glowing with love for me,
broken because of my want of love for You,
through the sorrows of Mary,
your Sorrowful Mother,
I ask for this special favor:

[Mention your request here...]

With childlike trust
I abandon myself to Your holy Will
concerning my request.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Faith VS. Works: The Debate is Not What You Think It Is


May the Word of the Lord be on our minds, on our lips, and in our hearts, amen.

Come Holy Spirit....

Welcome back to Scripture Demystified, I hope everybody has had a blessed and holy Lenten season, so far. 

I apologize for the delay in updates, but this topic has taken a lot of time to contemplate and research, with lots of prayers for guidance, because it is one of those "hot-button" issues that has become rather controversial over the centuries. The reason for this is a misunderstanding of the topics involved, and that is what the blog is here for.

Actually, it is fair to say that it was this topic that inspired me to start this blog, as once I was allowed to understand it, I knew it needed to be discussed publicly along with the other topics. And the start of Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday tomorrow, seems the perfect time to finally tackle this subject once and for all. The hard part is trying to put internal understanding into words. But now is the time. This is the place. But for the Grace of God, there go I.....

First of all, we can all agree that we can only be forgiven of our sins by faith in Jesus Christ. He is the One who washed them away with His blood. Without Him, our sins cannot be forgiven. However, does that truly mean that scripture is telling us that nothing else matters? That it is truly faith alone? Not exactly. The "works" that scripture tells us are no longer necessary, are not the works that most people think of. And, in fact. Jesus outright mandates certain works in order to be in heaven. Confusing? That's why this is such a controversial, and hotly debated, subject. Let me explain.

How can we say that faith in Christ alone is enough to have forgiveness of sins, yet say that He mandates certain works for our salvation, and what of all those scripture passages saying we don't need works to get into heaven? 

Read closely the following set of scripture passages telling us about the works that we no longer need for salvation:
Romans 3:20-22 (New International Version, ©2011)

20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. 21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile.

Romans 11:5-7 (New International Version, ©2011)

5 So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. 6 And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.
 7 What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened,

Romans 3:27-29 (New International Version, ©2011)

 27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too,

Galatians 2:15-17 (King James Version)

 15We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles,
 16Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. 
Romans 9:31-33 (New International Version, ©2011)

31 but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone.

Ephesians 2:7-9 (New International Version, ©2011)

7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 

Galatians 3:23-25 (New King James Version)

23 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.

Do you see the common denominator in all of those verses? Each one speaks of the works of the law. What law? The Law of Moses, the law of the Jews. Remember, Christ and all the Apostles, including Paul, who actually persecuted Christians, were all practicing Jews. 

Up until Jesus, everybody who wanted to go to heaven had to follow the works of the Laws of Moses to get there. They had to follow the Works of the Law to be forgiven of their sins. As a result, this made many of the Jewish leaders in that day very arrogant and boastful. They could say to others, "look how holy and righteous I am! I do this and this and this!" 

The number of works required of God's people at that time were in the hundreds! You had to sacrifice animals, you had to remain ritually clean, you had to do many, many things to remain righteous. And at the time, these things were pleasing to God, so there was nothing inherently wrong with those things at that time.

The point of the scriptures quoted above is that, now that Jesus has arrived, was crucified, and rose from the dead, those works of the law were no longer required for the forgiveness of sins. No one could boast anymore about how righteous they were based on how many of the Jewish practices they followed. Forgiveness of sins came through belief in Jesus Christ alone, not through the numerous works of Jewish law. This put the glory back on God alone, not on practices that, in some cases, had nothing to do with righteousness:

Acts 10:9-19 (New International Version, ©2011)

 9 About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”  14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
 15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

Many of the earlier laws that God gave to His people was more for their own protection than righteousness. The ancients did not exactly have good food preparation at their disposal, so not eating scavengers or eating meat with blood in it was for their health more than anything. As time went on, this became unimportant, as Peter found out. 

So, if the works that we are told are not important are only the Works of the Law of Moses, then what works do we actually need to do to be considered worthy of heaven?

The answer: Good works. 

This is perhaps the most compelling scripture on the subject, and most famous:

James 2: 14-26

 14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no works? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
 18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have works.”
   Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
 20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without works is useless[? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”[e] and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
 25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead. 

James makes a very direct, and accurate, point about the correlation between faith and action (works.) But remember when I said good works were also required to enter heaven?

Matthew 25:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
44 “Then they also will answer Him,[d] saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

I bolded the last parts because I wanted everyone to see that Jesus Himself left no ambiguity on this subject whatsoever! Zero. Those who do good and charitable works receive everlasting life, those who do not, receive everlasting punishment, instead. And these people even call Jesus "Lord" as you read, so they do believe in Him, but that is not enough, Jesus says to them.  Jesus left it very cut and dried. And it does not matter which translation you read, the same message is there. This is one of the most stark warning that Jesus makes when it comes out our judgment, and it relates to doing good works to those who need it the most. And why not? What is the second most important commandment? Love others as you love yourself (see my earlier blog on that subject.) If you love others, without exception, you will take care of them when they need it. If you don't, you are breaking that important commandment. 

Earlier in the book of Matthew, during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is very blunt regarding our judgment if we are not doing the will of the Father, which obviously includes loving others by taking care of them since that is the second commandment. For even if we say "Lord, Lord" just as those in Matthew 25 say "Lord" and even if we do miraculous things in His name, if we then ignore the needy, the lonely, the sick, the imprisoned, the naked, the hungry, the thirsty, Jesus said Himself, that we will be condemned to eternal punishment.  These things would all be considered good works.  

In summary, there are two different kids of works spoken of in the New Testament. The Works of the Law of the Jews (The Law of Moses) and good works towards others. Jesus abolished the requirements of the Law of Moses, but he required that we engage in good works towards others, especially the neediest among us.

The confusion, and debate, comes from not understanding the two different works that are being spoken of. 

You have read the scripture that focused on the end of the old Law, and you have read the scripture that required the good works towards each other. You can see there is a difference between the two works. One has become obsolete, the other has not. We must understand the difference if we are to live fully in Christ and receive our eternal reward. Jesus said as much. We are thankfully no longer bound by the old laws and mandates of the Jews. We can be as ritually clean and all of those things and they will not get us to heaven. Jesus gets us to heaven. And if we love Him, we will do good works to the least of those among us, because in them, we see Jesus Himself. 

Godspeed to one and all, and have a very blessed Holy Week. Make the most of this week spiritually, and don't forget those who may be lonely or hungry this Easter, for serving them serves Christ.  Thank you, Jesus, for dying for me and my sins. I was never worthy of that sacrifice, but you did it, anyway. I love you Lord. Amen.