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Q. How does Jesus’ death “save” us?
A. There is no “one” answer to this profound question. However, in this short video, Bishop Robert Barron goes a long way to exploring the mystery of salvation. Enjoy!
Q. Why would Jesus, quoting Isaiah, say, “for those outside, everything comes in parables in order that ‘they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven’”(Mark 4:12)? I find this verse confusing and disturbing.
A. This crucial question deserves a thorough and careful answer. We find such an answer in the book by Australian Scripture scholar Brendan Byrne, SJ, called, A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel. Make yourself a cup of tea, pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and enjoy what Fr Brendan has to say.
The Reason for Speaking in Parables: 4:11-12
The scene now changes from the lakeside to a locale where Jesus is alone with his more immediate disciples: “those around him, together with the Twelve.” He has already (3:34) indicated “those around him” as his new family. The rather vague phrase offers readers of the gospel [us!] an invitation to see themselves as members of this privileged group alongside the Twelve. When they ask Jesus “about the parables” he makes a distinction between them and “those outside” (v. 11). Whereas they (the disciples) are the privileged recipients of the “mystery of the Kingdom of God,” for those outside “everything is in parables.” This is not so that they may understand. On the contrary, as Jesus goes on to maintain in language taken from Isaiah 6:9-10, it is to encase them in their blindness and inability to hear, “lest they be converted and find forgiveness” (v.12).
This is one of the most puzzling and theologically troubling statements in the New Testament. Jesus appears to state unequivocally a divine intention to lock permanently in a state of unresponsiveness, and therefore in exclusion from forgiveness and salvation, those who are described as “outside. ” What are we to say to it?
First, the distinction between the disciples and “those outside” is best taken in a moral rather than a strictly spatial sense. That is, it does not distinguish between the disciples and the crowd who have just heard Jesus teaching on the lakeshore, but between those who have become disciples through faith and conversion, on the one hand, and those who through failure in this regard have placed themselves or are at risk of placing themselves in a situation of permanent exclusion (“outside”) from the Kingdom. To the disciples is given “the mystery of the Kingdom” in the sense of a God-given capacity to grasp its true nature and the mode and time of its arrival, as communicated in the parables (the Sowing and the ones to follow) rightly understood. For “those outside,” however, “everything is in parables” in a more negative sense of “parable,” where it does not denote an instrument of communication but, on the contrary, a puzzle or riddle. They may “see” in an external sense, but they do not really “see” in the sense of understanding; they may “hear” the words spoken but not “understand” their meaning – as though they were listening to a foreign language they do not understand.
But why should this negative response be something willed and brought about by God? We have to keep in mind the preceding sequence in which Jesus has been accused of driving out demons through the power of Beelzebul. He rebutted the charge with two “parables” (the Divided Kingdom [3:23-26]; the Stronger Man [3:27]) and went on to speak of those who uttered such blasphemies (against the Holy Spirit at work in Jesus) as guilty of an eternal sin (v. 29). In view are adversaries who appear to have permanently excluded themselves from the Kingdom and are in fact ranged on the side of its opposite. The parables sequence as a whole is addressing the disturbing fact of this continued resistance to the Kingdom – a resistance not confined to the ministry of Jesus but continuing on into the life of those for whom Mark wrote the gospel. While at one level that resistance was the result of human choice, the gospel seeks to account for it further by having recourse to a biblical pattern of thought in which human resistance is also attributed to the intent and action of God. This pattern of “dual causality” (human and divine) famously appears in the Exodus tradition, where God hardens Pharaoh’s heart to make him resist Israel’s departure from Egypt. It is also seen in the text setting out the mission of Isaiah (Isaiah 6:9-10), paraphrased in the present passage in Mark.
Although the attribution of such resistance to divine action as well as to human choice creates difficulty for later theology, it represents a way in which biblical authors could place such troubling resistance within a wider framework. The allusion to the Isaiah text shows that resistance to the Kingdom has been foreseen and is in some sense held within God’s overall plan of salvation.
While such a biblical understanding is at work here, we may also have in the closing phrases an undertone of lament. “Those outside” may have sealed their fate, but had they “turned” (biblical language for conversion) they would have found forgiveness. This may serve as a warning to the “middle group,” the multitude for whom it is not yet too late to access the Kingdom through conversion. God’s original and abiding intent for human beings is not exclusion from life, but rather that through forgiveness and repentance they may gain access to the Kingdom. Mark 4:12 remains a difficult text, but we should not miss the note of forgiveness on which it concludes and the role it plays as an ultimately salvific warning.
Source: Brendan Byrne, A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel, 82-84.
Q. I just saw a TV show about the Gospel of Judas and now I’m really confused. Can you please enlighten me as to what that’s all about?
A. Often at particularly religious times of the year (like Easter and Christmas), media outlets will feature (somewhat sensationally!) little-known “Gospels.”Here is a well-informed, easy to read and balanced article about the Gospel of Judas in particular, and these other “Gospels” in general. It’s well worth the read: http://bit.ly/1QVkODy
Q. Why do we celebrate Jesus’s birth and Resurrection when we do? Are the dates mentioned in the Bible?
A. This innocent question actually has quite a complicated answer! So brace yourself and enjoy reading the following!
Date of Christmas:
The earliest mention of the birth of Christ being celebrated on December 25 is in the Chronograph of Philocalus, a Roman almanac whose source material can be dated to 336 A.D.
The true birth date of Jesus, however, cannot be known with certainty. The census ordered by Caesar Augustus and mentioned in Luke 2:1-2 cannot be substantiated as regards its date. By the end of the second century, different groups of Christians had different ideas on the date of Christ’s birth: January 6, April 19 or 20, May 20, November 18.
The most common theory as to why we celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25 is related to the fact that the ancient Romans regarded the winter solstice, the day on which the sun is farthest from the equator, as falling on December 25. On that day they celebrated the birthday of the sun god – first Mithras and later Sol Invictus (the invincible sun) – who was placed at the head of the list of Roman gods by the emperor Aurelian in 274 A.D. At the same time, the Fathers of the Church, both in the East and in the West, compared Christ with the sun. They saw the rising sun as a symbol of the Resurrection and Christ as the “sun of justice” (see Luke 1:78). For this reason, it is plausible that the early Christians, as a way of rejecting the pagan religion and of emphasising that Christ was the true sun, began to celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25.
There is a long history of Christmas being celebrated on December 25, but ultimately the reasons for it are still shrouded in mystery.
Adapted from Fr John Flader, Question Time 1: 150 Questions and Answers on the Catholic Faith, 296-7.
Date of Easter:
Jesus rose from the dead on the first Sunday following the feast of Passover. (Technically, he may have risen Saturday night, but that still counts as Sunday on the Jewish reckoning, which begins each day at sunset instead of at midnight.)
The date of Passover is a complicated thing. Theoretically, the date should be the 14th of the Jewish month of Nisan, and it should correspond to a full moon (the Jewish calendar being partly lunar). In practice, it didn’t always work out that way. The month-moon cycles got out of synch, and sometimes feasts would be held on a “liturgical” full moon even when it was not an astronomical full moon. As a result, rabbis periodically had to announce when Passover would be celebrated.
Christians didn’t like being dependent on the pronouncements of rabbis for how to celebrate Christian feasts, so they came up with another way of determining the date. They decided at the Council of Nicea (in the year 325) that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday after (never on) the Paschal full moon.
Theoretically, the Paschal full moon is the first full moon occurring on or after the spring equinox. However, this day can be reckoned in different ways. One way is by looking at the sky, which yields the astronomical spring equinox. But since this shifts from year to year, most people follow the calendrical spring equinox, which is reckoned as March 21.
On the Gregorian calendar (the one that we use), Easter is the first Sunday after the Paschal full moon, which is the first full moon on or after March 21. Easter thus always falls between March 22 and April 25.
Eastern Christianity bases its calculations on the Julian calendar, whose March 21 corresponds, during the 21st century, to April 3 in the Gregorian calendar, and in which therefore the celebration of Easter varies between April 4 and May 8.