What To Read: Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew

The Gospel of Matthew

(Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture series)

Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri

And now for a bit of more serious reading…. Back when I was a Protestant I liked to read Bible commentaries. A Bible commentary is a book which explains, verse by verse, what the verses of a book of the Bible actually mean. A good Bible commentary is written by a Bible scholar who teaches in a seminary or a Christian college, who knows the Bible book in its original language, who is familiar with important archeological discoveries that shed light on the Bible, or important issues about the surviving manuscripts involved.

When I became a Catholic it felt like all the work I did studying Bible commentaries and attending college Biblical theology classes were all in vain. I had to relearn everything ‘in Catholic.’ But finding a good Catholic Bible commentary was not so easy— until the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture series came out.

These commentaries are just like the Protestant commentaries I am more familiar with. They are accessible to lay persons, but have enough content to be a reference for pastors/priests preparing a sermon/homily.

One difference, though, is that each section ends with a short ‘Reflection and Application’ section. This is good for the Christian, because Christians believe that we are not supposed to just interact intellectually with the Bible, but apply its teachings to our lives.

This first volume of the series (they don’t have commentaries on the Old Testament books. Yet.) is on the Gospel of Matthew. A Gospel is an account of the life of Jesus Christ, and the four earliest-written Gospels were written by Apostles— leaders of the early Christian church. In the case of the Apostle Matthew, writer of the Gospel of Matthew, we are dealing with an author who was an actual witness of the life of Jesus Christ— Matthew was chosen by Jesus Christ to be one of the ‘Twelve,’ an inner circle of disciples who received more teaching and, in the traditional interpretation, were ordained to be priests/pastors at the Last Supper.

The Gospel of Matthew really starts off telling the story of the Incarnation of the Son of God from the beginning— with a genealogy list. The authors of the commentary are very aware that this genealogy is a stumbling block to some readers of the Gospel— especially those new to Bible reading who start off with the first Gospel.

The whole text of the Gospel, in the New American Bible translation, is provided, which I like because I don’t like having to flip back and forth between two books, a Bible and a commentary. OK, I do that anyway because I prefer the KJV translation (and have one with the Deuterocanonical books.)

Protestants unfamiliar with Bible commentaries may get upset about quotes from Early Church Fathers and saints and the like (even though I first learned about Early Church Fathers from Protestant sources,) but you don’t have to pay attention to these things if you are not interested in them.

I very much enjoyed reading this commentary and I plan to buy and read more in the series. I ALSO intend to buy and read more volumes in the old Tyndale Bible commentary series, which I have liked since my teen years.

Lenten & Wuhan-Coronavirus Greetings from

Nissa Annakindt, her cats & critters, plus new lamb Daisy

Daisy

 

 

 

 

 


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PERSONAL UPDATE:

I have recently finished a short book about blogging, called ‘Getting More Blog Traffic: Steps Towards a Happier Blogging Life.’ I’m currently trying to figure out how to turn my Scrivener project into someone the Kindle Create software can work with. (Wish me luck!)

The Lutheran Rosary & The Jesus Prayer

Rosary with Lutheran Rose on cross.

Many Lutherans (and other Protestants) are uncomfortable at how much the Hail Mary prayer is used in the traditional rosary devotion. One division, or decade, of the rosary has 10 Hail Mary prayers, preceded by the Lord’s Prayer and followed by the Gloria Patri (and possibly the Fatima prayer.)

One way to get around that is to replace the Hail Mary with the Jesus prayer. The Jesus prayer is a very ancient devotion in the Eastern Orthodox church. ‘The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God’ by Frederica Mathewes-Green is a whole book about the Jesus prayer by a convert to the Eastern Orthodox church.

The way to think about the Jesus prayer is this: in those early days in the church, no one had personal Bibles in their home for daily Bible reading. You got your ‘dose’ of Bible from the Bible readings in church. And so hermits and early monks would snatch on some Bible words they remembered and repeat them over and over to get closer to God. It was a way of to ‘pray without ceasing’ as in I Thessalonians 5:17.

The Jesus prayer is: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.’  There are many Bible passages in the Gospels in which people ask mercy from Jesus Christ, as in Mark 10:47: ‘And when he [Bartimaeus, a blind beggar] heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me.’

In the Eastern Orthodox church it is customary to use a ‘prayer rope’ of knotted wool to count one’s repetitions of the Jesus prayer. Many people make thousands of repetitions of the prayer a day!

In the Lutheran rosary, it is combined with meditating on the rosary Mysteries, or Life-of-Christ meditations, just as one does when one uses the Hail Mary in the rosary. Since the Jesus prayer can be said more quickly than a full Hail Mary, one can pray a rosary more quickly to the end.

The hard part is when you are using an audio or video rosary from Catholic sources to help you learn the rosary. You can learn to say (or think) the words of the Jesus prayer when everyone else is saying a Hail Mary, but it’s a bit of a learned skill. If you want to regularly pray the rosary along with Catholic friends and you just cannot say any part of the Hail Mary, you can learn to pray your Jesus prayer silently and just pray aloud with the Our Father and Gloria Patri prayers. But it is a learned skill. I’d practice with an audio or video Catholic rosary, such as those on EWTN television, before I would try it with real people. (I recommend the ‘Holy Land Rosary’ which is on at 630 Central Time in the US.)

The first step in learning to make the rosary part of your spiritual ‘arsenal’ is to memorize the prayers you will be using, and that includes the Jesus prayer if you will be using it, along with the Lord’s Prayer and the Gloria Patri prayer. You don’t want to fumble around reciting the prayers from books if you can help it.

The Jesus prayer, all on its own, has been used as a serious prayer tradition. Using it in your Lutheran rosary is not ‘cheating’ or doing less than a full rosary, but can be a real blessing to you.

Lutheran/Protestant Rosary: The Mysteries

Lutheran Reformer Martin Chemnitz

The rosary prayers are commonly dismissed as ‘just for Catholics,’ but the devotion pre-dates the formation of the Lutheran and other Protestant churches at the Reformation; not only that, the rosary continued as a private devotion, especially among European Anglicans and Lutherans.

It’s certainly more of a Christ-based practice than getting into Transcendental or Eastern meditation using a ‘mantra’ derived from Hindu or Buddhist religious practice.

Many Protestants do use the rosary. When I was a Presbyterian child, I looked in the window of a Catholic church, seeing a rosary in the hand of a statue of Mary, and I counted the beads and tried to reproduce a rosary of my own in knotted string, since I didn’t know anywhere that one could buy a rosary. In college, at the Lutheran Concordia College, I managed to sneak away to a Catholic store in downtown Chicago and buy a rosary and an instruction leaflet. I prayed the rosary in my dorm room. I felt a bit guilty and unlutheran for doing it, and so I confessed to a Lutheran-from-birth friend that I prayed a modified rosary. She may have been a bit offended— she prayed her rosary unmodified.

One of the unique things about the rosary that sets it apart from similar non-Christian meditation is the use of mysteries. Mysteries are a group of Biblical events to think about (meditate upon) while you are reciting the words of the rosary. There are Catholic leaflets that have a small illustration for each rosary mystery.

Commonly one prays a group of 5 mysteries each time one prays the rosary. For each mystery, you say 1 Lord’s Prayer or Our Father, 10 Hail Marys (or substitute the Jesus Prayer), and end with one Glory Be (to the Father.) Catholics sometimes add the Fatima prayer after the Glory Be, but this is a modern addition.

A Lutheran rosary (with Lutheran rose symbol in the cross.)

The Joyful Mysteries are prayed on Mondays and Saturdays, and are optional for Sundays during the Advent/Christmas season. These mysteries tell the story of the birth and childhood of Christ.

The Sorrowful Mysteries are prayed on Tuesdays and Fridays, and are optional on Sundays during Lent. These mysteries tell the story of the suffering and crucifixion of Christ.

The Glorious Mysteries are prayed on Wednesdays and Sundays. They tell the story of the resurrection, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and some traditional events related to the end of Mary’s life on earth, and her going to heaven. These mysteries, being outside the scriptures, are often modified in Protestant use.

The Luminous Mysteries are a new addition to the rosary, made by Pope Saint John Paul II. They are prayed on Thursdays. (Before this, the Joyful Mysteries were prayed on Thursdays, and the Glorious Mysteries on Saturdays.) These mysteries are not part of the common Christian heritage of the rosary, but since they are all Bible-based stories about Christ (Christ’s baptism, the wedding at Cana, the Transfiguration, the Last Supper), they are easily able to be used by Protestants as well as Catholics.

The advantage of having the Mysteries is that when you are reciting the prayers of the rosary and your mind starts to wander or daydream, you have the mysteries to force your mind back on a more prayerful track. I myself, as a person with Asperger Syndrome (autism spectrum disorder) am very distractible, and so I usually keep a leaflet with pictures illustrating the rosary mysteries on hand when I pray the rosary. Keeping my eyes focussed on the picture help me keep my mind on track.

Posts on this blog related to the Lutheran rosary and Protestant rosaries: https://myantimatterlife.wordpress.com/category/western-civilization/christianity/lutheranism/lutheran-rosary/

My earlier posts on the Lutheran rosary are the most popular ones on this blog. I have decided to post a series of posts related to the topic on Saturdays. The next few will cover the four groups of rosary mysteries, and then we will move on to the prayers of the rosary. Next Saturday (God willing): the Joyful Mysteries

Wikihow: How to pray the Lutheran Rosary (12 Steps)

Chemnitz Society blog

 

Nominal Christians in Fiction and Real Life

Particularly for authors who are Christians of one sort or another, or authors who write for the Christian fiction markets, it is important to distinguish between Christians and nominal Christians.

In the United States, a person can follow any religion he likes, or no religion. And he can call himself a Christian whether or not that is particularly true. So there are a lot of people walking around with the ‘Christian’ tag on them who do not meet the normative definition of ‘Christian.’

Some Christians say that real Christians are ones that have had a ‘born again’ experience that they remember, or that have gone forward at a ‘altar call’ in Evangelical churches that have that practice. Other Christians say that being an active Christian can start at the sacrament of baptism, even an infant baptism, and can continue as a child is raised in a Christian home where prayer and church attendance are the norm.

A nominal Christian is a Christian ‘in name only.’ Why does he take the name of Christian? For some people, claiming Christianity as a religion is just another way of saying ‘my family is not Jewish.’ If they have parents, grandparents or great-grandparents who were raised as Christians, they feel they are Christian enough— they are just not ‘fanatics’ about it.

Other people honestly think that if they believe in God and sometimes ask this God for stuff, like help in an emergency or a winning lottery ticket, that makes them Christian, unless their family was Jewish or they have taken up Buddhist meditation.

It does not help that in addition to the faithful Christians— Protestant and Catholic— who believe something that a Christian from 200 years ago would recognize as Christian, there are also very progressive Christians who make headlines. For example, some progressive Christians have blessed abortion centers and said that committing abortions is what Jesus would do. That reinforces a perception that in Christianity, anything goes and you can believe any old thing and it can be part of Christianity.

Nominal Christianity is not the same thing as progressive Christianity. Progressive Christians, as far off from the New Testament as their faith can be, are living a faith that they believe is the modern version of Christianity. Nominal Christians aren’t actively practicing any faith at all. They don’t usually know enough about Christianity to know there is something missing in their faith life.

In fiction, nominal Christians play a role in Christian fiction often by being an obstacle or a challenge to active Christians. In the ‘Left Behind’ series, the main characters included nominal Christians who became real Christians after the shock of the ‘rapture’ event.

In secular fiction, nominal Christians are often seen as sensible and non-fanatic Christians by those writers who know little. Though I’ve never read a book in which a man who doesn’t own a Koran, has never fasted for Ramadan, and who has never been to a mosque or said even one of the five daily Muslim prayers is named as a ‘non-fanatic Muslim.’ Muslims are expected to have some hints of their faith in their lives, both in fiction and in real life. Christians should have that as well. If they don’t, but still say they are Christians, we may suspect that perhaps they are nominal Christians.

Authors who know better should never present nominal Christians as ‘better’ Christians, any more than the no-mosque, no-prayer guy is a ‘better’ Muslim. Religions, both in the real world and our fictional worlds, have content. Nominal Christians, or nominal Muslims, or nominal Buddhists lack that content and so should not be representative of those faiths.

Purgatory: Mud-Room of Heaven

Non-Catholic Christians often misunderstand purgatory as a second chance at heaven for damned souls. Nothing could be more untrue! Damned souls go someplace warmer. Purgatory is only for folks who have ‘died in friendship with God,’ which is a Catholic phrase that means ‘born again.’

Purgatory is like a mud-room. The mud-room is at the entryway to a midwestern home. It’s the place where you take off muddy boots and manure covered barn jackets, and put on something cleaner. Using the mud-room makes you ready to walk through the home’s kitchen and living room without getting yelled at for tracking in mud. Purgatory is like that, since it is the place where a soul can get ready for the bliss and holiness of heaven.

Many souls are just not ready to meet God, but they are trusting souls who have tried to follow God in the best way they knew how. They may not have known much, like the good thief on the cross. Or they may have been too proud or arrogant or simply lacked insight, so they may have committed serious sins without being aware of them as something they need to repent of, and confess to God (and the priest) about.

My current devotional reading is a devotional book about the ‘holy souls’ in purgatory. It gives another reason for purgatory— to get souls less attached to worldly things. Imagine an older woman who dies, but is constantly fretting over what her daughter-in-law is doing with her house and possessions. She needs to set her mind on heavenly things and not the horrible wallpaper her daughter-in-law chose for the front bedroom!

Some Christian souls, like martyrs, are deemed to be ready for heaven straight off. Jesus said to the good thief that he would be in Paradise that day. So, either Jesus considered purgatory a part of heaven (the mud-room?) or else the thief was given the grace to go direct to heaven or perhaps spend only 20 seconds in purgatory to get ‘ready.’

C. S. Lewis is considered by many an authoritative model of the modern Protestant Christian, but he admits to a belief that ‘something like’ purgatory is needed to make us fit for heaven.

There are Bible verses held to speak of purgatory. An article by apologist Dave Armstrong lists some of these verses. I would suggest that you read the article to understand more about the Bible and purgatory.

25 Descriptive and Clear Bible Passages about Purgatory: https://www.ncregister.com/blog/darmstrong/25-descriptive-and-clear-bible-passages-about-purgatory

The important thing about purgatory is that it is not a substitute for accepting Jesus Christ as your savior now, or living a Christian life now, or avoiding sin now. Purgatory is for the ‘holy souls,’ not for people who want to ‘have fun’ now and worry about their souls later. When ‘later’ comes, in the form of death, there is no more mercy available for the damned soul. No damned souls are in purgatory, any more than they are in heaven.

As a Catholic convert who was not brought up on belief in purgatory, and who once knew a lot of (often silly) arguments against it, I find myself a little behind on knowing the concept. I recommend two devotional books by Susan Tassone and published by Our Sunday Visitor, Inc, for other Catholic converts wishing to gain greater knowledge of purgatory and the Holy Souls. [Where do the ‘holy souls’ get their ‘holy?’ Jesus, of course!]

Thirty-Day Devotions for the Holy Souls – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/809593.Thirty_Day_Devotions_for_the_Holy_Souls

Day by Day for the Holy Souls in Purgatory – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23490846-day-by-day-for-the-holy-souls-in-purgatory

“There is no Such Thing as the One True Way”

In Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books, the land seems to have a law or motto: ‘There is no such thing as the one true way.’ This is popular enough— I would imagine the typical neopagan reader interprets it as a hit against those hateful and hated Christians— but does it make any sense?

As a general rule, the motto, as it asserts that either there is no such thing as truth, or that it is unbearably rude to stand up for the truth when someone might have a contrary opinion, kills off any hope of scientific advancement or rational discussion.

Imagine the situation when someone who believes in a flat Earth (or Velgarth) meets someone who believes— or has personally observed— the roundness of Earth or Velgarth. Because ‘there is no such thing as the one true way’ neither can enlighten the other without breaking the law.

In our world, there are people who believe that autism is often caused by modern vaccines, and others who believe modern vaccines never cause autism. As a sensible person I believe the ‘cure’ for that is more research, and better reporting of adverse effects of vaccines. But according to the Valdemar rule, both sides of the vaccine issue have to keep silent because ‘there is no such thing as the one true way.’ Or a true answer to a dispute that could be solved with scientific research.

It’s obvious, though, that the Valdemar rule is aimed specifically at religions, or perhaps only at theistic religions. No religious group is allowed to claim that their religion might be true. What effect would that have on religions in the real world? Could a religious group pass on its faith to the next generation if they were banned from talking about truth or reality? Wouldn’t all religions tend to die out under such a law?

And the kingdom of Valdemar makes a lot of use of religions in order to provide social services at low or no cost to the state. In Haven, the capital, the schools not only have the task of educating the children, even poor ones, but they distribute state-provided free food to hungry poor children. A religious order was also used to wall up a woman who wanted a Valdemar Herald punished for killing her son. That story did not mention whether the sisters were to be paid for turning their convent into a jail.

But there is one religion that would be very comfortable with religions without truth. Not any ancient kind of paganism— they also thought their religions had truth on their side— but modern neopaganism.

Having actually been a neopagan and having read a lot of books about it, I know that there were a lot of people who embraced neopaganism and even started neopagan religions or Wiccan traditions who stated openly they didn’t believe it was true. They talked about neopaganism’s aesthetic value instead— in other words, it was a pretty lie. Some early neopagan leaders made claims about having a family tradition of neopaganism or Wicca, and later admitted that wasn’t true. They just said it to get attention and followers, and because others were saying similar things at the time.

How well does this non-true neopaganism work out in real life? Well, they sell ‘magick’ books. But have you ever seen a Wiccan or other neopagan temple being built in your town? They can’t gather enough people together to collect money to create a physical presence anywhere. And if they do manage to create one, will their groups last as long as a local Presbyterian church will last? Do neopagans who don’t believe their religion is actually true have the willingness to work and sacrifice and donate and attend services to make their non-true religion a reality in the world? Why would they care?

“There is no such thing as the one true way” may sound cool and anti-Christian to modern ears, but in the fantasy kingdom of Valdemar, it’s an expression of tyranny. If religions can’t speak about their faith’s claim to truth, and can’t transmit any evidence for that truth to their future generations, religions will die out. And Valdemar seems to depend on being able to use-and-abuse religions for the state’s needs.

Which is probably why the tyrannical law came into being. I would imagine that Valdemar looks the other way when priests or lay person surreptitiously whisper to children and new converts the evidence for their faith. If someone starts preaching it on the street corners— as the early Christians did at Pentecost— they will be punished, if only to keep the religions scared and obedient to the state. But I believe that the government of Valdemar is glad that the majority of their people don’t really believe ‘there is no such thing as the one true way.’

Even Secular Marriage is about Dying to Self

Sometimes in the battle against the anti-marriage true believers (“Marriage is just a piece of paper.”) we point out that Christian marriage is about dying to self. Christian wives are told ‘Wives, submit yourself unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.’ [Ephesians 5:22] Christian husbands are told ‘Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it.’ [ Ephesians 5: 25]

Since Christ loved the church— composed of unworthy sinners— by dying on the cross for it, Christian wives win. We can see that both husbands and wives are given strict commands where the end result is being very unselfish to the marriage partner— dying to self, or at least putting your more selfish side in second place.

Secular marriage is different from Christian marriage— after all, many ancient cultures allowed for easy divorce and remarriage. But the dying to self part of marriage is not necessarily absent.

Let us take the example of a caveman— or, more technically, a Paleolithic man. His name is Marcus (not all cavemen have to be named Ogg) and he’s just taken a wife named Lucia. Once married (or pair-bonded, since they don’t have ‘a piece of paper’ since paper hasn’t been invented yet), they stop living just for themselves and start thinking more of their partner. When Marcus is out hunting, he anticipates how Lucia will react when he brings down an antelope. When Lucia is out gathering edible plants, she rejoices when she finds things she thinks Marcus will like— even if she doesn’t much like it herself. They try to please the other.

In a more life-and-death situation, the fact that Lucia is a wife and not a virgin enhances her chances of getting pregnant. But pregnancy brings with it a risk of dying in childbirth. Marriage may cost Lucia her life. Staying a virgin would have been safer. But Lucia takes the risk.

In time of crisis— perhaps the tribe is being attacked by the men of a rival human band— it is Marcus who may have to give his life. Males, even in animal herds, tend to fight a threat while the females and young can get away. Marcus may have to fight attackers while Lucia takes the babies and runs away. Marcus might die to save the lives of his wife and offspring. But that’s what even secular marriage is about, and if Marcus has living offspring who survive because of his sacrifice, at least his genes will live on.

What about a same-sex couple? Let us say that in Marcus and Lucia’s tribe there is a pair of males, James and Andrew (yeah, also not named Ogg.) James and Andrew may be sex partners, or may just have a very intense friendship that leaves little room for other social relationships. (‘Being Gay’ in the modern sense has most certainly not been invented yet.)

James and Andrew may care about one another every bit as much as Marcus and Lucia do, but neither James nor Andrew has to worry about dying in childbirth because of it. And if the tribe is attacked, both, being males, will be expected to fight against the enemy to help women and children escape. Since their union cannot produce children, their genes will not live on if they both die in battle. Since James and Andrew have no escaping wives and children to worry about, they may be forgiven if they decide that self-preservation is more of a thing for them.

Because male-female couples can potentially produce children which have a genetic future, ‘dying to self’ in a marriage makes more sense, even in secular contexts. And putting self second makes a marriage last longer that deciding that marriage is a 50/50 proposition and then quarreling over what constitutes 50%. Other relationships— whether same-sex or cohabitation or hookups— just don’t normally generate the whole ‘dying to self’ attitude. Which is why marriage is special, and not necessarily the same thing as a friendship or a casual-sex-partner relationship.

If you think my opinions are politically incorrect, thank you for paying attention. I personally am ‘non-heterosexual’, but I believe in man-woman marriage. I realize a lot of people don’t think I’m allowed to hold such opinions.