ONE HOLY CHURCH
This is the fifth and last installment in a series on covenantal salvation history, studying how God has been fathering his family, leading us up all the way to the coming of the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Eternal God. Tonight we are going to be focusing upon some of the richest and most exciting and certainly the most relevant Biblical themes for our own faith and our own Catholic tradition, because what I want to look at tonight is the final covenant in the sequence.
Summary of Old Testament Covenants
You recall how that first family covenant was a marriage, a marital covenant; and then with Noah it was a domestic household. Then with Abraham it was a tribal family covenant and then under Moses, the twelve tribes became a national family through the covenant at Sinai and then through David we had the nation transformed into a kingdom, so you had an imperial kingdom family that actually subjugated the other nations as like domestic servants almost. Now, finally, Jesus Christ is going to fulfill all of the covenants of the Old Testament, all of the promises that God has given to the patriarchs and to the prophets and the kings and the priests. He is going to bring it all to pass and he is going to do it in his own body and blood in the new covenant that he establishes through his sacrifice.
The purpose ultimately is not to abolish earthly manifestations of the covenant. It's actually to expand the earthly manifestations of the covenant to the farthest extreme -- a worldwide, international family of God; and the Greek word for that is translated into English as catholic, cataholiche. So we are talking about God's Catholic family; that is the distinctive characteristic of the new covenant. But before we actually focus on some of the key texts in the New Testament, I want to give to you just a few quotations that we have already mentioned.
The first one is one of the most famous quotations by St. Augustine. It was actually found in one of the most important documents of Vatican II, Dei Verbum. That's when St. Augustine reminds us that the new covenant is hidden in the old, and the old is explained by the new. Now that is profound and we could ponder that for a while, but I want to just kind of state it and move on. But the new covenant is hidden in the old and we've seen that, haven't we all week long?
Now we are going to see how the old is explained by the new. Many things though commanded by God may well not have made sense to even devout Israelites for ages, for centuries, for a whole lifetime. You might not really understand why we have to kill a lamb every year and sprinkle blood on our door posts. In and of itself, that doesn't seem to make a lot of sense but then the New Testament will explain the old covenants.
Likewise, St. Irenaeus, he was the Bishop of Lyon in France, and he said to those under his Episcopal authority, "Understanding consists in showing why there are a number of covenants with mankind and in teaching what is the character of each of the covenants." Now I have tried this week to impart that kind of understanding with God's help and with the light of scripture and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I hope it helps you not only understand intellectually salvation history better, but perhaps even more, that you might grasp from the heart the fact that this is our family story, that this really is our roots. So when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and Moses and Joshua and Aaron and so on, you're seeing your spiritual relatives, your ancestors in the faith. As Pope Pius XII said, "Spiritually we are all Semites because God's plan from the beginning has always encompassed the whole family of man."
Fall of the Davidic Monarchy: Ten Tribes of the North and the Two Tribes of the South
So, where did we leave off last night? Well we left off with David and Solomon. Now in about one minute I want to try to just summarize the fall of the Davidic monarchy, at least the political fall, if not the spiritual collapse. We saw David's sins and how they led to all kinds of problems in his family and then in his kingdom. Likewise we saw Solomon's compromises with wealth and with weapons and especially with women -- seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines who all basically eroded his faith and took his heart away from Yahweh. So by 1st Kings 11 we see the Solomonic Empire crumbling and enemies being raised up from within and from without. His son Rehoboam is even more tyrannical and he brings about a civil war. Jeroboam actually leads the ten tribes in revolt against the House of David, establishes a new sovereignty. They call themselves Israel. The two tribes down south in Jerusalem under the son of David's authority, Rehoboam, refer to themselves as Judah. And these ten tribes don't just revolt politically but they rebel spiritually because one of the first things that Jeroboam did was to erect golden calves, two of them!
Why would he erect golden calves, one at Bethel and one at Dan? Perhaps for the same reason that he expelled all the Levites. He was probably telling his people, "We're going to go back to that 'good old time religion.' That was good enough for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We're going to take us back before the golden calf when all of us were qualified for the priesthood." That kind of presumption God couldn't stand so he sent prophets to curse the kingdom and in 722 the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel were completely overrun by the most horrible terrorist nation of antiquity, Assyria -- overran the ten tribes up north, Israel in 722.
Now this sent shock waves through the Davidic kingdom, and it brought about some reforms especially one king Hezekiah during Isaiah's day and another king named Josiah in Jeremiah's day. Both kings brought about reforms that ended up really being inadequate, somewhat external and surface. In fact, for instance, Hezekiah's son Manasseh succeeded him and after father and King Hezekiah was dead, Manasseh didn't just rebel against the covenant, he perfected evil in Judah and in Jerusalem like it had never been, sacrificing his own children on a fiery altar to Molech and having literally thousands of other Jewish children sacrificed on altars outside of Jerusalem.
For that alone God said Jerusalem's fate was sealed, so that a century later no matter what Josiah could do, no matter what he attempted, it ultimately couldn't prove to be enough to undo all the wicked damage that King Manasseh had done earlier on. We run the Davidic monarchy down into the dirt when we finally get to King Zedekiah whose reign ends in 586 B.C., the blackest year of Israelite history. That's when Nebuchadnezzar overran Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, crushed the city, destroyed the priesthood, ended the sacrifices and it lasted for almost seventy years. Seventy years of Babylonian captivity where the people were exiled.
Then, of course, later on we read about how the Persians overcame the Babylonians and how they allowed the Jews to return home and we read about people like Zerubbabel who was actually of the line of David and he incited the great hope that the Davidic monarchy would be restored. But he was recalled to Persia and never heard from again.
Priestly Theocracy Devoid of Political Monarchical Sovereignty
One thing happened in Zechariah 3 that stands out as being very significant for our purposes, and that is Joshua, not the same Joshua who led the people in conquest, but another Joshua who was high priest in Jerusalem after they had come back from Babylonian captivity. Joshua the high priest was crowned by the prophet. Normally the king was crowned, but since there was no king, the last four or five hundred years of Old Testament history sees what we could call a priestly theocracy devoid of any political monarchical sovereignty. In other words, what we are really looking at in the last four or five hundred years is the birth of something brand new which we call Judaism.
The ten tribes are lost. All that was left was Judah and it was basically run out by the Babylonians, and they the Jews returned to Jerusalem to the area of Judah but without any king, and the priests ran it all in a kind of religious commonwealth that was temple-centered. It wasn't a monarchical military power any more and so we see something absolutely unique here, and the high priest is the one who is really crowned. And except for a few brief interruptions with the Hasmonian dynasty, basically the last four or five hundred years of Israel's history leading up to the Messiah is devoid of political freedom, devoid of any military power to speak of sustained for long, and are constantly being captive or subjugated by Gentile powers. In fact, it's almost like a hot potato from the Babylonians to the Medes, to the Persians, to the Greeks, to the Ptolemeys, to the Seleucids and then finally to the Romans. In 63 B.C. Pompey conquers and we can get into all of the history, but we need to move on beyond that.
Suffice it to summarize that the four centuries prior to Christ were devoid really of any prophets; were devoid of any kings and even the priestly line experienced a great deal of corruption and weakness. But in this period of suffering, in this period of subjugation, God actually brought about a religious transformation that represents, get this, that represents the climax of the Old Testament. Even if the New Testament didn't come, even if Christ didn't appear, the suffering of the Jews during this period, the vacuum created by the absence of prophets and kings left them to lean on nothing but the Lord.
So this is a time where prayer is cultivated, where liturgical worship is refined and where an allegiance to the Torah, the Law of Moses, is cultivated to the greatest degree in Jewish history. And there's one other climactic crown that you have to put on all of this because this period of Jewish history was the period in which the Jews learned to die for their faith. If you read the Book of Maccabees, for instance, you read about the Maccabean mother who watches seven of her sons put to death; and here she is urging them to hold fast to the faith and the law and the traditions of the fathers and to suffer for it.
We see the refinement and purification of the faith of the Jews amid suffering so that, while politically and militarily it reaches the lowest depths, spiritually and religiously the Jewish people soared to the greatest heights, because they really became a priesthood. They didn't have a kingdom. They didn't even have political freedom or a nation. They were basically colonized and ruled and subjected as a religious commonwealth by all these Gentile powers including Alexander the Great and others. A lot of interesting facts and details we could go through, but I really want to move on beyond all of that and get to what I consider to be the heart and soul of why we're here and that is the New Testament.
We could approach the new covenant in many different ways, and I'd like to approach it in every different way we possibly can; but somebody left a note up here saying something like the road to Hades is paved with long- windedness or something along those lines. I'm sure it was one of those anti-Catholic Baptists down the road or something. I don't know but I'm still going to take it as being a signal for me. Not that that will make any difference.
Covenant Jesus Christ Established
Let's turn to John 1. John's gospel is especially glorious, but I just want to focus initially upon the first chapter. We'll come back to John in a few minutes. Take a look at the very beginning of the fourth gospel, the Gospel of John. Chapter 1, verse 1 reads: "In the beginning was the word." The same phrase "in the beginning" that initiates the Old Testament. What a coincidence, right? Wrong! What a deliberate literary device by an inspired creative genius to show us two things. First, that Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, was also our creator. He had not been waiting in the wings. He had not been biding his time for centuries and centuries. The Lord Jesus Christ has been ever active as the Lord of the old covenant from its inception with creation.
In the beginning was the word. All the cosmos and the being and that word was with God and that word was God, and later we hear that the word now has "become flesh and dwelt among us." Literally, it's "tabernacle among us." So the second main point is that our Creator is now our Redeemer, and he is going to use his creation to bring about our redemption, which is going to be a key insight to understand why John thinks so sacramentally because this gospel is full of sacramental symbolism that even non-Catholics quickly see and can appreciate, especially Baptism in John 3; but most of all the Eucharist in John 6. Both of those we will look at later, especially John, chapter 6.
But here we see this creation theme. Why? Because our Redeemer is our Creator, and our Creator is our Redeemer and right now, as St. Paul says, "If any of you are in Christ, behold you are a new creation." That's why he came: to renew creation, to bring about something so radically different and superior that creation never ever could have evolved to what Christ institutes in his own body in the new covenant. You can read on and you can just see all kinds of creation imagery -- in the beginning, the word, the light, the darkness, the life and so on. John is deliberately associating all of the things that you find in Genesis 1 with Jesus Christ who has come in the fullness of time.
Luke Shows Jesus Connected tothe Adamic Covenant
Now that's the way that John does it. He takes us all the way back to creation. We don't have time to focus on Luke, but Luke takes us back in the very beginning to Adam. If you turn to Luke, chapter 3, we see the Lukan genealogy beginning in verse 23 going through Joseph and ending all the way down there in verse 38, "The son of Enoch, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God." Luke is the only non-Jew to have written a New Testament book. He is a Gentile physician and his purpose it to reach out to the Gentiles and to others who have been considered as outsiders for centuries under the Old Testament economy.
So he is perhaps more sensitive that others to the fact that Jesus Christ is not just related to David or to Abraham, but to Adam, the Hebrew word for humanity. He also focuses upon how Jesus reached out to the Canaanites and to the Samaritans and especially to the women and to the lepers and all of the outcasts. So here we see something distinctively different from John who focused upon the cosmos at its creation. Here Luke directs our attention to see Jesus Christ going all the way back to the Adamic covenant.
But let's really focus a few more minutes of our time on Matthew, the first gospel. Why Matthew? It's the most Jewish gospel. Matthew's name is Levi; that's his Jewish name and it may well suggest that Matthew was a Levite. There is evidence to suggest also that he was a scribe, that in addition to being a tax collector, he had acquired the skills for that occupation by being trained as a Levitical scribe, which meant getting a razor-sharp memory as quickly as possible and getting transcription skills and so on. So here we have a much more thorough genealogy than we find in Luke 3, but it doesn't go all the way back to Adam. The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the son of Abraham.
I talked about this a little bit two days ago when we focused upon our Lady in a morning talk. So I don't want to recapitulate; I don't want to go through all this again. Suffice to say that Matthew had deliberately depicted 14, 14 and 14 generations. What does that mean? Well, there are six groups of seven. Jesus begins the seventh seven. In other words from a Hebrew perspective with the numerical symbolism, perfection and completion have now arrived. Christ the Son of David, and the Son of Abraham has been born.
You will notice in this genealogy, incidentally, verse 3 as well as verse 5 and verse 6, the names of four women, which is unusual for Jewish genealogies; and what is even more unusual, is that all four women are conspicuous for being shady in their reputation. Tamar actually was involved in an incestuous affair with her father-in-law. Rehab was a harlot in the city of Jericho before it was conquered, Ruth was a Moabite woman, a foreigner, and David was the father of Solomon by not Bathsheba, but the wife of Uriah. Need I say more?
What point would this have? Well, just in case the Jews to whom Matthew is writing are wondering still about Mary's sordid reputation. I mean, after all she was a thirteen- year-old Jewess who got pregnant before she was married. So you hear references to Jesus being the son of Mary and other forms of innuendo which slyly imply that she was immoral. Matthew, of course, highlights the fact that she was a virgin at birth and that she conceived miraculously. But in a sense, it's a preemptive strike. He's saying, "Even if you conclude that's not all true, nevertheless God had worked in the line of David through women whose characters have not always been lily-white." And so we go on.
In verse 18 and following, we have the details surrounding the birth of Christ and we have a series of Old Testament fulfillments explicitly stated, most notably in 23, Isaiah 7:14, "Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and his name shall be called Immanuel, which means God with us," which is the essential pivot of the covenant. The idea of God dwelling with us is the heart and soul, is the central meaning of what it means for God to have covenanted with his people. He is with us. He is in our midst. He lives with us.
Now that dwelling is in a sense more intimate and more profound. This prophecy from Isaiah 7 actually goes back to a time when Isaiah saw in the Davidic line through King Ahaz great trouble on the horizon. Ahaz saw it too, but he was too proud and too unrighteous to ask God for help. Isaiah said, "Ask God for a sign." Oh no, who am I to put God to the test? So often we cloak our unbelief with a kind of religious piosity that is really insincere, like Ahaz. Isaiah says, "God knows your need. He's going to give you a sign anyway. Don't worry about the Davidic line, people of God. A virgin shall conceive."
So, from this prophecy the people of God had confidence that even if the male line of David seems to be lost, God can do something from nothing. God can create whatever he wants out of nothing. And so a virgin shall conceive and in this case, she did. And it goes on describing in chapter 2 how Jesus was born in Bethlehem, bahit le hem, in Hebrew means "house of bread." Never was there a house of bread like this house. I mean this is the bread of life who comes down to live with us. It goes on to describe how the Magi came from the East. We sometimes call them Wise Men. That's not really the word. Magi, they were Persian sorcerers, most likely.
God is not just exclusively concerned with reaching the Jewish people. In fact, we will see in chapter 2 that the Jewish leaders were actually in cahoots with one of the wickedest kings in Jewish history, King Herod, who was basically a matricidal and fratricidal maniac. In addition to killing family members ruthlessly, he also slew over three dozen members of the Jewish senate. In fact the word is once Josephus describes how when King Herod was on his death bed, he ordered his soldiers to surround the village and as soon as news reached them that he had died, he ordered the soldiers to slaughter the entire village. His reason? So that he could be sure that somewhere, somebody was mourning the day of his death. Thank God the soldiers put down their swords as soon as they heard word. That's the kind of man Herod was. So, killing the Messiah at birth was small potatoes for this maniac, but just in case he might miss him, a few hundred Bethlehem boys might perish just as well.
God sends the angel. He brings deliverance to them. He has them go down into Egypt and there, of course, they wait until the word reaches them that Herod is dead; and this was to fulfill, 2:15, this was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken of the prophet, "Out of Egypt have I called my son." Quoted from Hosea 11:1 but it's actually referenced back, of course, to Exodus, where in chapter 4 God tells Moses, "Go tell Pharaoh, 'Israel is my firstborn son, you better let him go to serve me or else I'll slay your firstborn sons'."
So what was God doing in salvation and Moses then? Calling his son up out of Egypt and Hosea prophesied at the time when the truest firstborn son of God would be coming up out of Egypt for the deliverance of mankind. And Herod goes on describing the great tragedies there. We don't want to get into all of the details of this gospel or we will be here past midnight.
In chapter 3 we read about John the Baptist who Jesus says is Elijah, if you have the faith to accept it. So Elijah, like Malachi said, would come as a forerunner preparing the way for the Messiah. That's what he does, including even baptizing Jesus himself.
Now Jesus, as I suggested, is the true Israel. Jesus is the new Israel. He is a new Moses. He's the son of David. He's the son of Abraham. The whole kit and caboodle is recapitulated and summed up and headed up in Jesus Christ. So we see fulfillment upon fulfillment upon fulfillment and I'll bet you it's like an onion, and we've only gotten through five or six layers. I'll bet you, if we had the spiritual wisdom of someone like the Blessed Mary, we could probably go fifty or sixty more layers deep; this gospel is so rich.
Anyway, here's Jesus Christ, the new Israel, the true Moses, the one who is giving us a new covenant, much like Moses. His life was almost ended at birth by a wicked king's decree, and then through a divine miracle he's saved and he finds himself in Egypt and then salvation comes when he is called up out of Egypt, and here he crosses the Jordan where he is baptized just like Joshua had baptized Israel. Remember Joshua leading the people of God across the Jordan into the Promised Land. Well, Jesus' name in Hebrew is literally Joshua or Yehshua, so we even have more fulfillments here that scholars have seen.
Then we have the temptation in the wilderness, where for forty days Jesus fasts. It kind of pulls together the forty years of testing Israel, God's son, in the wilderness and the forty days of Moses fasting before he received the law up on Mount Sinai. You tie those together and you notice that each time Jesus responds to the devil, he quotes right from the Book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy chapter 8, Deuteronomy chapter 6 and Deuteronomy chapter 6 again. Right from the meat of Deuteronomy where God is describing through Moses his spokesman what Israel should have been doing in the wilderness, instead of rebelling.
So Jesus is the true Israel, faithfully responding to God, even in the midst of difficult trials and temptations and as soon as that forty period is up, what does he do? He begins his ministry. He gathers to himself twelve disciples and then he heads up a mountain, much like Moses who gathered to himself the twelve elders of the twelve tribes of Israel and he also had seventy elders in addition; and we learn from Luke 12 that in addition to the twelve, Jesus also had seventy others commissioned as disciples.
Did Jesus realize these parallels? Of course, they were deliberate because Jesus was trying to impress upon his followers that the old Israel was like old wine skins that would burst with the new wine. The new wine in the new covenant was just simply too good for all these old skins. We just can't impress the scribes, we can't convince the Pharisees, we can't convert the Sadducees. We have to start from scratch, and how does God do it? He finds humble nobodies who know what they are and know what they are not. It's like Peter, we're going to focus upon Peter in a few minutes. You know how Peter's boat is there and Jesus asks to use it, and he uses it and he preaches from it? Then he asks Peter about his success the night before in his fishing venture and Peter said, "You know, we didn't catch anything." "Well, why don't we set out a way?" Peter is probably scratching his head not knowing this man and he says, You know, "you're a good teacher; I'm a good fisherman. Don't tell me my business." But he does what Jesus says and he puts the net out over the side. The nets begin to rip; the boat begins to shake because there are so many fish.
What does Peter say? I mean if Peter was a typical American, I know what he would say, "You want to go into business with me? We could make a million!" I mean that would be a natural response, wouldn't it? Peter looks at all the fish, looks at Jesus and says, "Woo, we could really capitalize on this partnership." But he doesn't do that. Remember what he said? He fell down on his knees and he said, "Depart from me for I am a sinful man." Jesus said, "Oh, I didn't realize that! I'm looking for the righteous." No, in his mind I'll bet he said, "Bingo, you've got it. You are now to square two."
We are sinful men and women, bankrupt of ourselves, devoid of grace on our own. If we didn't have grace, we could do all the good deeds in the world and not merit one single second of heaven or one drop of God's favor. God gives us grace, and it's pure gift. That's what it means to be grace, and Jesus finds men and women who understand that: the humble, the faithful and with them he ascends the mountain like Moses. Only instead of giving us all these, "Thou shalt nots - Thou shalt not murder, thou shalt not steal" and so on and so forth, he gives us a bunch of "Thou shalts." You think, "Oh, good!" Except for one thing, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who are persecuted." Give me the "thou shalt nots," thank you.
But he is saying, "Look, I am going to try to do and actually accomplish what all the Old Testament mediators couldn't accomplish. I am going to bring about a kingdom of priests who renounce the lower goods of this world to set their hearts on treasures in heaven so that they can convert the world and reunify God's family. And you will be blest in God's eyes if you do all the things that seem so accursed in the eyes of the world." He says, "You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world, a city set on a hill."
Now in Jewish thought there is only one city set on a hill that's the light of the world, and that's Jerusalem. But we have already seen how Jerusalem is the center for all kinds of diabolical schemings with the priests and Herod, and it's only going to get worse as Jesus knows. The city on a hill that he's talking about isn't the old earthly Jerusalem, it's the new heavenly Jerusalem that the new covenant is going to open the doors to for all of us. We are going to see how he unfolds this as each chapter goes by.
Then he says in verse 17 something I think that we need to hear, "Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them, for truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then, relaxes one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men to do so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven." You catch that: if you relax the least of the commandments and teach others to do so, you're the least in the kingdom!
Can you imagine what's going to happen to the priests and the moral theologians who are teaching people to relax the moderately important commandments? If those who teach the people to relax the least are the least, there's no room for anybody else. But then it says, "But he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you won't even enter the kingdom of heaven." That should kind of make us sit up straight and listen! Does he really mean it? He sure does! Don't relax the Ten Commandments. Abide by the statutes that are transmitted to us through the Body of Christ.
He goes on to give us the real spirit of the law of Moses in the next section of Matthew 5 on into Matthew 6. He talks about what the commandments really meant, not just "Thou shalt not, thou shalt not" but it meant, "Thou shalt not murder" means respect life. "Thou shalt not commit adultery" means be pure and chaste even in marriage. Love your wife, don't treat her like an object. The law of retaliation, the law of love; all these things are covered. The giving of alms in chapter 6, something that is seldom heard. You could almost nickname the 20th Century, "A Farewell to Alms." I had to throw a pun in there. I just don't want to leave you wondering when is he going to do it?
Beware of practicing your righteousness. Some people translate that piety, but it's actually, "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men in order to be seen by them." But it goes on in verse 2 to say, "Thus when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you. Don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret." It goes on, "When you pray, when you fast...." Now alms are usually different than tithes. Tithes are mandatory. Matthew 23:23, Jesus says to the Pharisees, " You tithe the tiniest seeds in the marketplace, but you neglect the weightier matters of the law, the law of justice and mercy." These things you should have done but without neglecting these bigger ones.
Jesus assumes in that statement that his followers are tithing ten percent. We have struggled as a family to tithe, and I tell you the times that have been the hardest, where we scraped the lowest, are the times that God has proven himself in the greatest way, because you can't out-give God. He wants to teach us that even in our destitution, because in a certain sense, that's when we are most open. Alms are over and beyond that. It's not a new legalism. It's a new law of love that gets to the heart of human relations and it gets to the heart of the God-man relations as well.
Now that takes us all the way through chapter 7 and thus ends the Sermon on the Mount. Verse 24, chapter 7 gives us a kind of faint insight into what Jesus Christ is all about. He tells us there, "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock." Now who's the wisest man of all? Not Solomon any more, but Jesus, the "greater than Solomon," Matthew 12 says. He's the wise man and he is going to build his house upon a rock, we'll see. "And the rain fell and the floods came and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it didn't fall, because it had been founded on rock." He's talking at least secondarily about a certain Catholic Church we know.
The Church of Jesus Christ is founded upon Peter, the Rock, as we will see in a minute, because Jesus Christ is a wise builder. Other communions and fellowships can be founded by other people, by other men. Verse 26, "And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand. The rain fell and the floods came and the winds blew and beat against that house and it fell, and great was the fall of it." But look what had to happen before it fell -- not just a breeze, but the rain and the floods and the winds beating against it until it fell.
The Arian heresy was actually going strong in the 9th Century, five or six centuries after it had been condemned. The non-Catholic revolutions that have been experienced in the last four or five hundred years are not even as old as the Arian heresy. We have got to pray and work and sacrifice for the reunification of God's family under Jesus Christ and upon the Rock that he built the Church upon, because he's a wise man who knows how to build his house and govern his family.
The Gospel of the Church or of Peter
Now, before I go on, I want to tell you where I'm headed. Matthew is called by many scholars the gospel of two things. Some scholars call it the Gospel of the Church because Matthew is the only one of the four evangelists to actually use the Greek word "ecclesia" for church. Luke, Mark and John never use the word "church." Matthew uses it twice, and in two very important places, as we will see in Matthew 16 and Matthew 18, and there's a very close connection between the kingdom of heaven that Jesus is always preaching about and the church that he promised to build upon Peter.
So it's sometimes called the Gospel of the Church, but more often than that it's called the Gospel of Peter because Matthew focuses upon Peter in a way that Mark, Luke and John do not. Tradition tells us that the reason why Mark doesn't was because Mark was Peter's secretary and Peter was too humble. He had learned the hard way not to talk about all of his great achievements from the ministry of Christ. Matthew, on the other hand, had the freedom to do so, and man does he do so! For instance, only Matthew tells us about the fact that when Jesus walked on water, so did Peter in Matthew 14, verse 28. Well you might say to yourself, "Yeah, but then Jesus rebukes Peter for being a man of little faith." That's right, that's right; but Peter did say, "Jesus, if you call me, I can walk on water, too." How many people here tonight would do that? He stepped out and he's the only man that I know of who ever walked on water.
Sure, he took his eyes off Jesus though, and looked at the water and the wind and he began to sink, and he was rebuked and scolded by Jesus for his little faith. But I've got to tell you, if that's little faith, I hate to think of what I've got! If little faith is what Peter had as he walked on the water, what do we possess?
Matthew gives us other things, too. For instance in Matthew 16, as we will see, only Matthew tells us about Jesus giving Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And then in Matthew 17, verses 24 through 27, only Matthew records Jesus' and Peter's dialogue. These Jewish officials come up to Peter and say, "Does your master pay the temple tax?" It's a half shekel, it's not much; but they are looking for something to bust him for. "Oh yeah," he stammers nervously, probably because he's not sure. He goes back. Jesus knows what's happened and he says, "Tell me, Pete, when the king's sons are around the house and the king needs money, where does he get the money from: the people inside the house; the sons, or those outside, the subjects of the king?" Peter says, "Well, the subjects." Jesus says, "That's true but so as not to give offense, we will go ahead and pay the tax. Take your first fish that you find in the water, open his mouth and you will find one shekel to pay for your half-shekel and my half-shekel." And he does.
I think that there is a lot of spiritual meaning here. Matthew also records the fact in 18:21 how Peter says, "Shall I forgive a man seven times?" Now you may think, "Well seven times, I know what Jesus says, ' seventy times seven;' but back then for a man to suggest forgiving another person seven times was radical. In fact in Luke's accounts, Luke doesn't add the seventy times seven, he just has Jesus teaching on another occasion to forgive a man at least seven times. Maybe Peter is harkening back to that occasion and kind of strutting his righteous stuff and saying, "Should we forgive a man seven times? Go ahead, pat me on the back, you know." Jesus says, "seventy times seven." It's an awesome passage.
Let's turn to that because that's what we need, I believe, in our families more than anything else. Matthew 18:21. Are we forgiving each other that often from the heart, not just from the lips? In the Mass this morning we heard about forgiveness from the heart and how essential it is because the second half of Matthew 18 gives us the parable in this morning's reading. We have got to be forgiving our spouses from the heart, our children and our grandchildren, our parents and our neighbors and fellow parishioners who have irked us, with whom we disagree, whose opinions have rubbed us the wrong way. We are called to live the family of God and the most important ingredient is forgiveness, and for it to be real, it's got to come from the heart, seventy times seven. It isn't hard, but it is humanly impossible. We've got to ask God for the grace to do it.
That is the way the Church operates, and notice that in context, the preceding verses describe a short dialogue about the Church that Jesus gives us, short teaching, I should say. If a brother sins, you go to him privately and if he doesn't listen, you take two or three witnesses and if he still doesn't listen, you take him to the Church and look at verse 17: "If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the Church and if he refuses to listen even to the Church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector; for truly, I say to you, 'Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven'."
He's talking about forgiveness, but he is also talking about binding. That's the way the Church operates. We treat sins seriously. We've got to repent of it. We've got to forgive others when they commit sin against us; that's the key. There are some other examples, too. For instance in Matthew 19, verse 28, we see where Peter is told by our Lord, along with the other apostles, that the twelve apostles will sit on twelve thrones in the new creation, the regeneration, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for my name's sake, will receive a hundred-fold and inherit eternal life" -- a passage which has always been important for the Church calling forth sacrifices from men and women considering the religious life.
But I want to go back. Let's go back. Take a look quickly at Matthew 12 beginning around verse 23 where after healing this demoniac, all the people were amazed and said, "Can this be the son of David?" Now that's no small question. The son of David has not been heard from for centuries. They're asking, "Can this be the son of David, the Messiah, the Christ, the King?" But when the Pharisees heard it they said, "He drives out demons by the power of Satan." Oh how ironic for them to have said it because that's where they derived their own insights. "Knowing their thoughts, he said to them," in verse 25 he said, "Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste and no city or house divided against itself will stand."
He goes on talking in these terms: kingdom, city, house: the kingdom of David, the City of Jerusalem and the House of David's monarchy, his kingdom. He's basically saying that this old, earthly Jerusalem is now bankrupt and "The kingdom will be taken away from you," he says elsewhere, "and be given to nations that will produce fruits worthy of the kingdom."
Now how does Jesus Christ go about preparing for this cataclysm? I mean, if Jerusalem is going to be forsaken by God which Jesus explicitly states in Matthew 23, if the temple was going to be desolate, which he also predicts, if the sacrifices are going to cease and the priesthood is going to be extinguished, what on earth is he going to leave us with? A prayer book and a candle? How are we going to be able to continue in the covenant of God's family? Well, we've already seen that he had twelve and he's had seventy, but now, turn to Matthew 16 and see what he really is all about as a wise man building his house. They are up in Caesarea Philippi near this town that actually has a rock that is hundreds of yards long. Some scholars believe that he actually has this dialogue within eyeshot of that rock.Jesus Gives Peter the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven
"Who do men say that I am?" he asks the disciples and they say, "Well some say John the Baptist and others say Elijah, Jeremiah." No small compliments. But he said, "Who do you say that I am?" He turns the tables on them; makes them a little bit uncomfortable. Simon Peter replies on behalf of the twelve, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you Simon, Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father who is in heaven, and I tell you, you are Rock, Peter, and on this Rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven so that whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven."
Here is how the wise man is going about building his kingdom, the new Jerusalem, his city and the House of David, the Kingdom of Christ with the Prime Minister, who is Peter. Now some people say, "No, no, no, no, no. This idea of calling Peter the Rock is misleading. Christ is the Rock. Well, no reputable scholar can find any phrase in this passage where Christ is calling himself the Rock. Somebody else might say, "Well, it's Peter's faith that Jesus refers to as the Rock." No, scholars admit that's not the case, nor can you say it's his confession of faith."
Now this is not just a Catholic bias that I'm reflecting. I have some note cards that I wrote down on years ago when I was doing some research on this as a Protestant. Three of the top non-Catholic scholars in the world, known for their evangelical Protestant faith say the following. R.K France -- Professor France says that, "this name change now, from Simon to Peter, Petros is the word for rock, describes not so much Peter's character, because after all, he didn't prove to be rock-like in terms of stability and reliability, but rather his function as the foundation stone of Jesus' Church.
The word play is unmistakable. It is only Protestant overreaction to the Roman Catholic claim that has led some to claim that the rock here is not Peter at all, but the faith which he has just confessed. It is to Peter, not to his confession, that the rock metaphor is applied, and it is, of course, a matter of historic fact that Peter was the acknowledged leader of the group of disciples and of the developing Church in its early years. Professor France is one of the most widely respected New Testament scholars in the Evangelical Protestant world.
Another widely respected scholar, Professor Herman Ruderboss on Matthew 16, "The slight difference between these words 'petra' and 'petros' because some anti-Catholics will say, Jesus says, 'You are petros, which is small stone in the Greek and on this petra, I will build my church. Petra is the feminine form which means huge rock, as opposed to petras a small stone." Now the difference between those two words," Ruderboss says, "is of no special importance. The most likely explanation for the change is that petra, the word for rock is feminine. Because the feminine ending made it unsuitable as a man's name, however, Simon was not called petra but petros, the masculine form of the word. There is no good reason to think that Jesus switched from petros to petra to show that he was not speaking of the man Peter but of his confession of the foundation of the Church. The words, 'on this rock' petra, indeed refer to Peter who was appointed by Jesus to be the foundation of the future Church."
Another great scholar, recognized and respected in the Evangelical world, D. A. Carson says that "Jesus was simply using a pun to say that Peter is the rock on which Jesus would build his Church." Then finally, a German Evangelical, Gerhardt Meyer speaks, "of a broad consensus now a days which has emerged which in accordance with the words of this text, Matthew 16, applies the promise to Peter as a person."
Now three or four hundred years ago for a Protestant to say that would get him into great trouble because that would automatically give the conclusion to the Catholic Church. Nowadays, scholars are a lot more open-minded and honest in dialoguing back and forth. Meyer goes on, "Matthew 16:18 ought not to be interpreted in terms of a local church. The church or ecclesia in Matthew 16:18 of which Jesus speaks is a universal entity, namely, the people of God." And he again speaks that there is an increasing consensus now that this verse regarding the power of the keys is talking about the authority to teach, to discipline, including even to absolve sins. "With all due respect to the reformers," he goes on, "we must admit that the promise in Matthew 16:18 is directed to Peter and not to a Peter-like faith. As Evangelical theologians especially, we ought to look at ourselves dispassionately and acknowledge that we often tend unjustifiably toward an individualistic conception of faith. To recognize the authority of Matthew 16:17 demands that we develop a Biblically based ecclesialogy or doctrine of the church."
Now, one last thought that is important. When Jesus was speaking to Peter, he was not speaking Greek. We're 99.9% sure of that. He was speaking Aramaic. In Greek, two words, PERTs, pert, masculine and feminine; in Aramaic, one word Haifa. Sometimes you will see Peter called Chefs. That's the Greek transliteration of the Aramaic Haifa. Now when Jesus chose the word "Haifa", rock, to rename Simon, it's a pun, an interesting pun that some scholars have already noticed; because the word "Haifa" is almost the exact same pronunciation as keel which was the word used in Aramaic for the vault storing the temple keys in Jerusalem. In addition, the High Priest at the time was named Caiphus and so there's almost a kind of word play illusion to the fact that Peter is going to be the New Covenant High Priest under Christ, the real High Priest, that he will be in a sense the vault of the keys in the kingdom of heaven.
Now this idea of the rock, I think, has been settled. But now there's a second item that needs to be focused upon for us to understand the new covenant that Christ has died to establish. I'm quoting now from one of the most famous commentaries on Matthew by Professor Albright & Mann. Jesus is quoting from the Old Testament, Book of Isaiah, chapter 22, "Isaiah 22:15 and following," Albright says. "undoubtedly lies behind this text and so the keys are the symbol of authority that Jesus gives to Peter, the same authority as that vested in the visior." In other words, the same authority that the king entrusts not to any old minister in the cabinet but to the prime minister in the royal cabinet, the master of the house, the chamberlain of the royal household in ancient Israel's monarchy.
Back in Isaiah 22, Eliakim is described as having the same authority. "It is of considerable importance that in other contexts, when the disciplinary affairs of the church community are being discussed, like in Matthew 18, the symbol of the keys is absent." In other words, when Christ confers upon the other eleven apostles the power to bind and loose, he never mentions the keys, not once; only with reference to Peter. And he goes on talking about how therefore, "Peter must be steward of the kingdom." He must be prime minister because for centuries the son of David handed on the keys of David, the keys of the kingdom, to the prime minister whose authority was recognized precisely by the fact that he possessed the keys; and the Jews would be the first to recognize what Matthew was describing as he recounts this episode, wouldn't they?
Finally and perhaps most interestingly, Martin Luther, the founder of the Protestant Reformation, in 1530 wrote, "'Do you not understand,' Jesus said, 'that I gave the keys to Peter? They are indeed the keys of heaven but they are not found in heaven. I left them on earth. Peter's mouth is my mouth. His tongue is my keycase. His keys are my keys. They are an office, a power, a command given by God through Christ to all of Christendom for the retaining and the remitting of the sins of men'."
Now there is one last little incidental feature about the keys in Isaiah 22 and in Matthew 16. They weren't just a symbol of dynastic authority; they were also a symbol of dynastic succession of an office that was continually going through the centuries. When it was left vacant, a successor would take the keys. This is why a Lutheran scholar at Concordia Seminary says in his article, "Peter the High Priest in the New Covenant," "Peter is presented as some kind of successor to the High Priest. He stands out as a kind of chief Rabbi who binds and loosens in the sense of declaring something to be forbidden or permitted. He was looked upon as counterpart to the High Priest. Peter is the highest representative for the people of God."
Now these were quotations that I found when I was just praying and striving to study this passage with an open mind. It brought about a revolution in my theology and in my ecclesialogy, my doctrine of the church, but it also brought about an excruciating and agonizing conversion in my life. As a result of it, I became a Roman Catholic because this passage is really the "locus classicus." It's the most important. It's the crux.
Institution of the Eucharist
Now we could look at some other passages like it, but let's move on. Let's move on now to consider what Peter becomes and what Peter does elsewhere besides Matthew's gospel. In particular I want to focus upon John 6. John 6 gives us an insight into the Eucharist that no other gospel writer gives us. When Jesus established or instituted the Eucharist in the Upper Room at the Passover, he was celebrating a Passover. We know that from Mark 14:12-16 where he tells his disciples how anxious he is to celebrate the Passover. Don't bother turning to Mark, but in Mark 14 the Passover is celebrated and that becomes the occasion at which he institutes the Eucharist. And he says precisely about the Eucharist that this cup is the blood of the new covenant. The only time that Jesus used the most important word in the Hebrew religion. Nowhere else in the four gospels does Jesus actually say the word "covenant." He reserved it for that one occasion when he says, "This is my Body and this cup is the Blood of the new and everlasting covenant. "Why did he reserve it to that one occasion? Because he was really giving us his Body and Blood and he was transforming the Old Testament Passover into the new covenant Eucharist.
Now, John 6. Jesus anticipates many objections to the Eucharist being the Real Presence of Christ, his Body and Blood. Take a look with me here. I am looking in particular at verse 52. "The Jews then disputed among themselves saying, 'How can this man give us his flesh to eat?'" So Jesus said to them in verse 53, "Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his Blood, you have no life in you. He who eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day; for my Flesh is food indeed, and my Blood is drink indeed. He who eats (in the Greek there is almost literally munches down upon) ...He who eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood abides in me and I in him."
"Many of his disciples," down in verse 60, "when they heard it said, 'This is a hard saying. Who can listen to it?'" They find it beyond their endurance because to drink blood was a fundamental crime against the law of Moses. Jesus knows what they are thinking. He knows that they are murmuring and he says, "Do you take offense at this?" And he goes on to describe how it is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is of no avail. In other words, it's not just eating Jesus' flesh. I mean if they just grabbed his arm and began chewing on it, it wouldn't avail much. It's not until the Spirit of God raises Jesus' body from the grave and so constitutes it as life-giving Flesh that it really becomes what we receive in the Eucharist. It's the Spirit that gives life to the Flesh of Christ. "The flesh alone is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life."
No wonder when the priests speak the words of Christ, "This is my Body," it becomes his Body and Blood. "But there are some of you who don't believe" and this is the first mention of Judas' defection. He began doubting Christ precisely because of the Eucharist, this passage suggests. Verse 66, "After this, many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him." We get the impression we could be talking about hundreds and perhaps thousands of people abandoning Jesus. What does Jesus say? "Gentlemen, I'm only speaking figuratively; I'm using mere symbolism. It's only a metaphor?" No. No matter what our non-Catholic brethren believe, Jesus didn't say that because he couldn't. It's not true.
Instead what does Jesus do? He turns to the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" He can start again from scratch. Simon Peter answered him with very simple, profound words that get right to the heart, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life and we have believed and have come to know that you are the holy one of God." He didn't understand what Jesus had just said, and I'm not sure that I do either. I don't really comprehend how it all comes about, but because it's Jesus Christ who says it, I'm going to believe it. And Jesus Christ said it in such a way that could easily offend people.
Peter in the Early Church
Now Peter is the one who spoke up on many occasions. Sometimes he put his foot in his mouth, but many times he was the one who really in a sense clarified the faith of the disciples. And so, even after betraying Jesus, turn to John 21. "After Jesus was crucified and then resurrected," you know about the resurrection appearances. In this one instance we have a very interesting encounter between Our Lord and Simon Peter beginning in verse 15. They were out fishing all night. They hadn't caught anything. The man from the shore said, "Cast it over the other side." They did and the nets filled up. Peter knew instantly who it was because he shouted, "It's the Lord!" And he took off and when he got to shore and the other disciples did too, what happens? They are standing by a charcoal fire. Jesus had already prepared breakfast. By the way that phrase in the Greek "charcoal fire" is only found in one other place. That's the place where Peter was warming himself, denying Jesus three times under oath.
Jesus wanted to be sure to ask him some questions by a charcoal fire three times. "Simon," he says, not Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" The word there is agape, selfless love. Peter responds, " Yes Lord, you know that I Philia you" -- brotherly love for friends. "He said the him, 'Feed my lambs.' A second time he said to him, 'Simon, son of John, do you love me?' He said, 'Yes, Lord, you know that I Philia you.' He didn't say, I agape you; I love you like a brother and a friend. "He said to him, 'Tend my sheep.' He said to him the third time, 'Simon, son of John, do you Philia me?' " Peter was grieved because he said to him a third time do you Philia me? "He said to him, 'Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.' Jesus said to him, 'Feed my sheep.' " And then he promises him a very hard way of death that comes to pass as tradition has it; Peter was crucified upside down.
Now one question we have to ask ourselves. Have we Catholics understood the new covenant that Christ instituted in his own Body and Blood, the Body of Christ which is the Eucharist, the Body of Christ which is the Church, the Church which is the new covenant community and the kingdom of heaven on earth? Have we understood that aright, or have we misunderstood it? Is Simon Peter the foundation stone upon which Christ builds this new House of David in the new Jerusalem?
Well, turn the page. Turn to Acts and we will find out how the early Church understood Peter and how Christ presented Peter. Acts, chapter 1. Now they are down to eleven, Judas having hung himself. What are they going to do? Peter stands up, in verse 15, and speaks of how this defection was prophesied and then talks about how to compensate it. He quotes the Book of Psalms in verse 20, "Let his habitation become desolate; let there be no one to live in it, but his bishopric let another take." His office let another take. In other words, Peter sees the fact that Judas' death has left an Apostolic office vacant. Peter takes for granted this idea of Apostolic succession, carrying it over from the Old Testament idea of the ongoing community structure of Israel's kingdom family hierarchy. No argument. They just simply draw lots. Peter initiates it and they just follow his lead. So Mathias becomes Judas' successor.
Now listen. Non-Catholics will often throw out at you that there have been a few scoundrel Popes like Pope John XI or XII and Alexander VI and so on. And there have been like three, maybe four at the most out of how many. You know, we've got hundreds and hundreds of Popes down through the ages. Still, one is too many, but Jesus Christ knew the need. He foresaw Judas' defection, but he allowed him to be appointed an apostle anyway, and when he fell away, what happens? Judas' office, though stained with the greatest sin of history, does not annihilate the office. The office still stands with its apostolic dignity and authority to be filled by a successor. If that's true for Judas' apostolic authority, how much truer would it be for the shepherd who is responsible to tend Christ's sheep and feed the lambs?
Now we can see not only in Acts 1 but also in Acts 2 Peter's authority being exercised over all of Jerusalem. 14 through 44 records for us the first sermon. There he addresses the men of Israel in chapter 2, verse 22. He also speaks of the whole house of Israel in verse 36. He says in verse 40, "Save yourselves from this crooked and wicked generation." Peter is exercising authority over the whole City of David on Christ's behalf.
In chapter 3, Peter goes into the temple with John. A healing occurs, the healing of a lame man, and he goes ahead and he begins to preach once again, this time to the temple personnel and those who were in there. He exercised authority not just over the city but even over the temple. He speaks to the temple personnel and he calls them, in verse 25, "sons of the prophets" and he recalls to their minds the promise and the covenant that God made with Abraham about how now through Christ, Abraham's seed, all the families of the earth would be blessed. And that's the purpose of the Church. No longer a national, regional, racial entity; God is breaking down those walls to bring in the whole world, back to his family.
In Acts, chapter 4, Peter now addresses the rulers, the elders, the scribes and even the high priest and his family. He's supposed to be on trial, but he turns the tables on them and he becomes their accuser and he puts them on trial. He says, "You crucified the Christ," in verse 10 and 11, "You rejected the chief cornerstone." This man is intimidated by nobody. He's fearless and he has Christ's authority and he's not afraid to exercise it.
Likewise in Acts 5, two church members named Ananias and Sapphira who were wealthy sell their land, and they only give part of the proceeds to the church and lie about it. Peter confronts the man, Ananias, first. He continues to lie, and he is struck dead on the spot as he lies to Peter. Sapphira comes in later. Peter confronts her. Says, "Is this the amount?" And she lies and says, "Yes." He says, "Hark, the footsteps of the young men who carried your husband away are now coming for you." And she drops over dead. Verse 9, "But Peter said to her, 'How is it that you've agreed together to tempt the spirit of the Lord?" And in verse 11, "Great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard these things. And more than ever, believers were added to the Lord."
As the authority of the Pope is established, the Church will not shrink; it will grow! Let's quit being embarrassed and ashamed as Catholics of the Father figure that Christ has established over us. Christ goes on, verse 13, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and pallets, so that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. Is Peter's primacy going to be lost or missed by anybody? No! This isn't the Acts of the Apostles as much as the Acts of Peter, Peter's shadow.
And then we see over in verses 27 through 29, Peter is confronting the High Priest saying, "We must obey God rather than men." Then later on in Acts, chapter 8 when the first non-Jewish believers, the Samaritans, receive the word of Christ, Peter is the one who goes down and authorizes their full inclusion. Then in Acts, chapter 9, Peter is the one who exercises the power of healing a paralyzed man. Then he goes one step further in the case of Tabatha and raises a dead person. Who has done that before? Jesus. Who is Jesus' vicar? Peter. Who is going to mistake this?
In chapter 10 we see Peter exercising the same authority over the Gentiles whom he authorizes to come into the Church. In Acts, chapter 12, verses 1 through 23, we can even see God establishing Peter's authority over King Herod who ruled over the whole area and in fact, Herod ends up being eaten by worms as the climax to his opposition to the Church and in particular his scheme to kill Peter. Then finally in the great debate in the Church that was raging over whether or not to circumcise Gentiles, in Acts 15, verses 7 through 12, the debate is raging and raging until finally we read in verse 6 and 7, "After there had been much debate, Peter rose," and all of a sudden no more word of any debate. "Peter rose and said, 'Here's my opinion' and he talks about in verse 10, "Now, therefore, why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?"
He's talking about all the ceremonial laws that circumcision represents that were added to the Jews as a penance that was a temporary measure. Now Christ has lifted it, and so who are we to put God to the test by continuing to impose it on Gentiles? Now after Peter states his opinion, what happens, verse 12? "The assembly keeps silent." And they just hear stories of all these Apostles who have been including Gentiles without circumcising them. Then James stands up and says, yes, he confirms Simon's decision and he does so by quoting the words of the prophet and look what he says in verse 16, "This is to fulfill the words of the prophet. After this I will return and I will rebuild the dwelling of David which has fallen, and I will rebuild its ruins and I will set it up that the rest of men may seek the Lord and all the Gentiles who are called by my name." What is Christ going to rebuild? The dwelling of David. Do you get that? The kingdom of David is being restored and Peter is at its head as the Vicar of Christ, the Son of David.
The Church as the Body of Christ
The Church is the Davidic kingdom of the new covenant. We are children of the King. I need about four more minutes of your time because I want to impress upon you the importance of the Church as the Body of Christ that Christ has established. So turn with me to Ephesians. Ephesians 1 describes the greatness of Christ and it ends on a very spectacular note in verse 22 and 23, "He has put all things under his feet and has made Christ the head over all things for the Church which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all." What are we? We are the Church. We are the fullness of Christ.
Paul goes on in Ephesians 2 to relate more about this Church given its Old Testament background, verse 11, "Therefore, remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh called uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision which is made in the flesh by hands, remember that you were at that time separated from Christ. You were alienated from the commonwealth of Israel." In other words, you were outsiders, you were foreigners, you were runaways. You were covenantally and spiritually dead to God, strangers to the covenants of promise. But verse 13 says, "Now in Christ Jesus, you who were once far off have been brought near in the Blood of Christ for he is our peace who has made us both one and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, so that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two." Verse 19, "So that now you are no longer strangers and sojourners but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the family of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and the prophets." "This is a holy temple in the Lord," verse 21.
So what is so great about the Church? It is the mystery of Christ hidden from the ages and now fully revealed through Christ and the Apostles, especially Peter and now, Paul. For what purpose? Well, verse 9, "to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things so that through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known..." To the nations? No. "...to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places." We are the school from which the angels learn God's wisdom. That's what Paul just said. It's through the Church that the angels discover the wisdom of God.
Do we appreciate our high calling? Do we realize all that Christ has given us? He goes on and I want to end in Ephesians 4, because this is a commission for all of us. Verse 10, "He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens that he might fill all things and his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers." He names all of the clerics, doesn't he? And what is the work of all these clerics, all these apostles and bishops and priests? They're supposed to be doing the work of the Church, right?
We're supposed to learn from them. We're supposed to sit back and watch whatever they do and do whatever they say, but let them do the ministry, right? That's not what Paul teaches. The Holy Spirit says to the Apostle something quite different. Verse 12, "The reason why those people are gifted is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the Body of Christ."
Who are the ministers in the Church, the family of God? We are, brothers and sisters. This mystery which will teach the angels is a mystery that is accessible to each one of us. Father David and the Bishop of Albany and the Holy Father himself exist for our sake to equip us for the work of the ministry. If you have enjoyed going though the scriptures perhaps for the first time in a while, if you have felt closer to Christ by learning more about your own family heritage, take this final word as a challenge, because I believe Jesus Christ wants all of us to grow up as men and women of God. Christians are a dime a dozen and so are Catholics, but men of God and women of God are few and far between.
Do you see yourselves as ministers in the Body of Christ and if not, will you allow the Spirit of God to use the vision of Paul, the Church as the mystery of Christ, the household of faith, the new covenant in Christ's own Body and Blood through the Eucharist. We become what we eat, the supernatural organism, the Body of Christ to go out into the world and to reclaim our prodigal brothers and sisters who have run away and disinherited themselves from their birthright. That is why we exist and that is why the Church exists and this is the way we thank Christ for dying for our salvation.
Thank you very much.
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