Monday, January 25, 2016

Life of Jesus Study Sheet

1) Please explain what historical facts about Jesus are admitted even by the most skeptical historians.  What historical sources do we have for the life of Jesus?

-All qualified historians, even the most skeptical, admit several facts about Jesus
                -That he is a real historical figure, who lived at the beginning of the first century                AD
                -That he was a traveling preacher, who told parables and preached about the    Kingdom of God
                -That he was put to death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate
                -Jesus disciples sincerely believed he had risen from the dead and appeared to                 them
-Jesus’ close relative, James, who initially was an unbeliever, was converted to Christianity after claiming to have a vision of the risen Jesus
-Paul, who had initially persecuted and killed Christians, had a sudden dramatic conversion to Christianity after claiming to have seen a vision of the risen Jesus
-A great majority of qualified historians also say that Jesus’ tomb was empty on the third day
-This is even the most skeptical historians, but there’s no good reason to be hyper-skeptical.  Even on this bare minimum of facts, we have enough information to accept Christianity

-We have several important historical sources for the life of Jesus
                -St. Paul’s letters
                -The Gospel of Matthew
                -The Gospel of Mark
                -The Gospel of Luke
                -The Gospel of John
                -Acts of the Apostles
                -The Antiquities of the Jews by the historian Flavius Josephus
                -The letter of Mara bar Serapion

2) Please explain the difference between the Pharisees and Sadducees.

-Believed that God would bring a time of restoration when Israel would defeat her enemies and rule the world, and all the dead would rise back to life
-Thought that the way to bring on this restoration was having all of Israel observe the Torah (Jewish Law) zealously and scrupulously
-Believed in the afterlife, the resurrection of the body, and held that all the Old Testament was inspired by God, and also used oral tradition

                -Upper class and very powerful Jews
                -They were priests who were in charge of the Temple
-They didn’t believe in the afterlife or the resurrection of the Body.  They held that only the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament) was inspired by God.

3) What did many first century Jews mean by the phrase “Kingdom of God?”  How did Jesus change the meaning?
-How many Jews understood the Kingdom of God
            -God himself is king
            -God drives out and defeats Israel’s enemies
            -God purifies the Temple, so that God’s people can offer pure    worship
            -God would do this through the Messiah (Christ), who would     be a great political and military leader
-How Jesus changed this
-Jesus said that God was a God of surprises
-Jesus said that the kingdom of God wouldn’t come through great political and military success, but through the triumph of love, of non-violence, of life.  He said Israel’s real enemy wasn’t the pagans, but the power of death itself and of the devil
4) Give an overview of the life of Jesus
The Joyful Mysteries
  1. The Annunciation-Mary learns that she has been chosen to be the mother of Jesus.
  2. The Visitation-Mary visits Elizabeth, who tells her that she will always be remembered.
  3. The Nativity-Jesus is born in a stable in Bethlehem.
  4. The Presentation-Mary and Joseph take the infant Jesus to the Temple to present him to God.
  5. The Finding of Jesus in the Temple-Jesus is found in the Temple discussing his faith with the teachers.
The Mysteries of Light
  1. The Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan-God proclaims that Jesus is his beloved Son.
  2. The Wedding Feast at Cana-At Mary’s request, Jesus performs his first miracle.
  3. The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God-Jesus calls all to conversion and service to the Kingdom.
  4. The Transfiguration of Jesus-Jesus is revealed in glory to Peter, James, and John.
  5. The Institution of the Eucharist-Jesus offers his Body and Blood at the Last Supper.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Daily Prayer for Prayer Team

1.  Take a moment to remember that you are in the presence of God.  Remember that God is here right now.  Picture in your mind Jesus Christ healing the sick and preaching.  Say hello to him and ask him if he could speak to you for a minute.
2.  Now, slowly and methodically, pray the Psalm, thinking about what it means
O Lord, you search me and you know me,
you know my resting and my rising,
you discern my purpose from afar.

You mark when I walk or lie down,
all my ways lie open to you.

Before ever a word is on my tongue
you know it, O Lord, through and through.

Behind and before you besiege me,
your hand ever laid upon me.
Too wonderful for me this knowledge,
too high, beyond my reach.

O where can I go from your spirit,
or where can I flee from your face?

If I climb the heavens, you are there.
If I lie in the grave, you are there.

If I take the wings of the dawn
and dwell at the sea's furthest end,
even there your hand would lead me,
your right hand would hold me fast.

If I say: "Let the darkness hide me
and the light around me be night,"
even darkness is not dark for you
and the night is as clear as the day.

For it was you who created my being,
knit me together in my mother's womb.
I thank you for the wonder of my being,
for the wonders of all your creation.

Already you knew my soul
my body held no secret from you
when I was being fashioned in secret
and molded in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw all my actions,
they were all of them written in your book;
every one of my days was decreed
before one of them came into being.

To me, how mysterious your thoughts,
the sum of them not to be numbered!
If I count them, they are more than the sand;
to finish, I must be eternal, like you.

O search me, God, and know my heart.
O test me and know my thoughts.
See that I follow not the wrong path
and lead me in the path of life eternal.

Once the Psalm is down, take a moment in silence to think about what it means.

3. A reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Colossians

Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.  And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God. It’s because of this kind of thing that God is about to explode in anger. It wasn’t long ago that you were doing all that stuff and not knowing any better. But you know better now, so make sure it’s all gone for good: bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk.  Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete.   From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.  So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness.

Now, take a moment to talk to Jesus about this verse.  What parts stood out to you?  What is Jesus asking of you?  What would you like to say to Jesus?

4.  Now, close with an Our Father.

Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time and the Four Senses

This post is in response to Dr. John Bergsma's fantastic post over at The Sacred Page.

I think today's passages from the liturgy bring out nicely an interpretive idea I've been thinking about lately: the idea of that the allegorical sense of the Old Testament can be a connection between the literal and anagogical senses of the OT promises. (For more on the Four Senses of Scripture see paragraphs 115 - 119 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: The literal sense of scripture is what the words mean on the face of it in their literary and historical context, the allegorical sense is how they refer to Jesus Christ and the Church, the moral sense is how they tell us how to live, and the anagogical sense is how they relate to eternal life)

For example, take Psalm 65 from today's reading. The literal sense has to do with the fruitfulness of the land as a covenant blessing to Israel. The allegorical sense of Ps. 65, as Dr. Bergsma points out, has to do with the fruitfulness of God's word through the Holy Spirit in Baptism. But I think that this is a connection, also, to the anagogical sense.

In this case, I think that the anagogical sense of Psalm 65 has to do not only with the working of the Spirit in our hearts working out to our own eternal life, but with the actual renewal and blessing of all of creation through that act of God. After all, it is the same God of New Creation (I would even argue the same act of New Creation) which renews both our hearts, our bodies, and the entire cosmos!

So, I think that the original covenant promises relating to the land, old age, seeing children's children, etc., weren't merely there because the people hadn't been raised up yet to the spiritual sublimity of the New Covenant, but also because they reflect (in at least a transitory way) the blessings of the New Heavens and New Earth in which death will be undone and the terrible curse of Gen. 3 erased!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Belize and the Mystery of Pentecost

I wrote this post last year on Pentecost while reflecting on my mission trip to Belize.

Some thirteen weeks ago, I was sitting in George Bush International Airport in Houston with sixteen of my fellow Franciscan students and with Fr. Gregory Plow, T.O.R., when I heard the call to board our plane to Belize. This was my first time leaving the United States and going to a foreign land. I dutifully pulled out my brand new passport to show to the representative of the airlines. This beautiful document was embossed with all the dignity and authority of human law at its best. "The Secretary of State of the United States of America," it said, "hereby requests all whom it may concern to permit the citizen of the United States herein named to pass without delay or hindrance and in case of need to give all lawful aid and protection." It was a simple sentence, but it spoke of cooperation, of friendship between nations and peoples, of protection given, under the law, even to foreigners. And yet, yet, there was something bazaar about the need to present papers merely to travel from one place to another. No such papers were needed to travel from place to place within the United States, and the whole affair had the air that international travel was a possible threat both to traveler and destination. The passport spoke words of peace, but they were words of a need for protection, of the possibility of delay, of hindrance.

I boarded the plane and proceeded to look out in awe as I traversed God's creation, flying through the air. The day was very clear at 35,000 feet and as I looked out, the very horizon itself vanished while we glided over the Gulf of Mexico. I soon, however, stopped paying attention to the window of the plane, satisfied that one part of the Gulf of Mexico looked very much the same as many other parts, and began to become engrossed in my book. Presently, however, I heard a clamor among my fellow passengers and realized that we had sighted land and would soon land in Belize City. I got out my passport again, and this time also got out the customs forms that I had carefully filled out and signed, complete with their obscure, arcane questions about imported plants and food. Presumably, if brought into the country, the plants and food could pose a danger to the local ecosystem, or perhaps also, to the local economy. Once I got off the plane, I and my fellow missionaries were checked to ensure that we weren't carrying anything contrary to the customs rules. The cooperation, even among allies, was, in some ways, at the point of a gun.

The next day, and throughout the following week, however, I experienced a lesson in contrasts. That Sunday night, we stood among a group of over a hundred people in a large building. The people were sitting in long, poorly supported, wooden benches and also lined along walls. There were old women, small children, hairy armed men, all speaking Spanish to one another. And, there we were, in the midst of them, a group of eighteen Americans, most of whom knew very little Spanish, standing right next to one another. A man, dressed in white robes, moved to the front of the room, stood up facing the rest of the people, and made a few remarks in Spanish. So far, of course, there seemed to be no contrast at all to the events of yesterday. This was, seemingly, a group of Americans who were now strangers, pilgrims in a strange land. But that was merely an appearance, for when the man finished his brief, opening remarks, he took his right hand, and glancing his forehead with it, touched it to his lower chest and then to his left and right shoulders, all the while saying, "En el nombre del Padre y del Hijo y del EspĂ­ritu Santo," to which the whole gathering of people, Americans included, responded, "Amen." The event, of course, was the Sacred Liturgy, and it was in this Sacred Liturgy in which I first realized concretely and in a new way the mystery we celebrate on this day, the mystery of Pentecost.

In the Old Testament, God had confused the languages of man at Babel to check man's pride and to restrain the forces of evil in God's good world, those forces which opposed God's plan for mankind and especially for his servant Israel, but the Old Testament makes it clear that this strange confusion of languages was not meant to be the last word on the situation of man. Man was not made merely to scatter, but also to gather. The solution to the scattering, to the confusion of languages of Gen 11, had to do with the plan God himself set in motion in Gen 12 for Abraham and his descendents: "By you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves." (Gen 12:3)

The divine answer to the scattering of man abroad throughout the earth is the phenomenon of pilgrimage. Of course, in many places in the Old Testament pilgrimage is seen as something that is for the twelve tribes of Israel: "Jerusalem, built as a city which is bound firmly together, to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the LORD." (Ps. 122:3-4) The feast of Pentecost was one of the great pilgrimage feasts on which all the people of Israel were obliged to go up to Jerusalem. Nonetheless, the prophet Isaiah spoke of a time when, through God's purposes for Israel, all nations would engage in pilgrimage:

The word which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the LORD
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
and many peoples shall come, and say:
"Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths."
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more. (Isa 2:2-4)

Keeping this in mind we are brought to the great pilgrimage recorded in Acts 2.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. And they were amazed and wondered, saying, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Par'thians and Medes and E'lamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God." (Acts 2:1-11)
Luke's intention in writing this could not be more clear: through the Spirit given as a result of Jesus' death and resurrection, the phenomenon of Babel is being reversed; God himself is undoing the confusion of languages and uniting the human race, but in his own divine way. This divine way is the proclamation of the gospel, the Good News that Jesus is Lord and therefore the machinations of injustice, of wrong, of sin, of death, the powers of evil, are not. They have been defeated by the death and Resurrection of the Lord's Christ.

St. Paul speaks in several ways of this definitive triumph, but two of them figure in most prominently to the particular experience that I and my fellow missionaries had at mass that Sunday night in Belize. The first is that Paul speaks of the Church as God's temple, a temple in which Jew and Gentile are reconciled and in which both offer up a clean sacrifice to God (c.f. Eph 2:11-22; 1 Cor 3:9-17; 1 Cor 10:19-21). "So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit." (Eph 2:19-22) The second way that Paul speaks of the Christ's victory in the Church is to refer to her as one Eucharistic body (1 Cor 10:16-18). "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread." (1 Cor 10:16-17) In this case, the many are one because they participate in the one Eucharistic bread. But a parallel and reverse view of the Eucharistic unity of the people of God could also be taken, a view taken in an early Christian work called the Didache: "As this broken bread was once scattered on the mountains, and after it had been brought together became one, so may thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth unto thy kingdom; for thine is the glory, and the power, through Jesus Christ, forever."

These two early Christian themes join together to show how God's victory in Jesus is ultimately, among other things, a victory over the confusion of languages in Genesis 11 by means of a fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy of universal pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The first theme, that of reconciliation and temple building, shows that Christians of all nations and peoples are in fact being incorporated into God's New Temple, thus bringing them to the very heart of the sacrifice that is offered in that Temple. The second theme, that of the one Eucharistic body, works in a double way. First, in the sub-theme of unity through participation in the one bread, we can see that all of God's people are united through participation in the Eucharistic Bread and Wine, the Body and Blood of Christ. Alternately, in the subtheme of the formation of bread out of many parts that had been scattered, both Israel's return from exile and the streaming of Gentile pilgrims to Jerusalem are presented as parallel and interrelated themes which are recapitulated and brought to fulfillment in the Eucharistic offering.

Some small bit of this is what I and my fellow missionaries experienced in Belize. Before the beginning of mass, we could not know what was going on or what was being said, but when mass began we were able to follow along and participate with full minds and giving hearts, even though we did not always know what was being said. This is partially, of course, a result of the fact that the form of the mass is universal across the world. But, in a deeper and more mystical way, it was a result of the fact that the same sacrificial meal, the same participation in the one sacrifice of Calvary re-presented on the Church's alter, the same memorial of that sacrifice, the same sacrifice of the Church, that is to say, in sum, the selfsame action, is happening in all the Catholic Churches across the world when the mass is being offered. Thus, when we were at mass with the people of Belize, there was no division of mind and heart, even though there was still a diversity of languages. We were all participating in one Kingdom action, nay, in the very Kingdom itself. This was a participation with no need for passports, with no checking of identification, with no perceived danger to each other or to God's good creation. We had a true unity, presaging and indeed initiating and participating in the perfect unity of the world to come.

Indeed, the fruits of this unity, the koinonia, were present throughout the week. One thinks of several other New Testament themes: the collections taken in one Church to mutually assist other Churches, the mutual strengthening of faith by visits to other Churches, even the writing of letters between Christians in various places, all the sorts of themes which loom large in the New Testament, were the kinds of things that we experienced throughout our trip to Belize. It was not some kind of patronizing experience of colonialism or triumphalism, in which the know-it-all Americans go to bear the "white man's burden." Quite to the contrary, it was an experience of mutual edification, of mutual building up, that is to say, of koinonia, of communion. What the Belizian people received from us, they best can tell. But I can tell you some of the many gifts that I received from the Belizian people. I appreciated the way in which they always greeted each other with a polite and kind acknowledgment of each others being: a kind look and a gentle "good morning," "good afternoon," "good night." I appreciated their kindness and their openness to talking to us and to sharing themselves with us. I appreciated the slower, more laid back and relaxed pace of their culture. I appreciated the way in which a small child, like the boy Ethan who I got to play with throughout the week, could accompany his mother to work and could be a part of the school community. I appreciated 1001 other small things, and I thank the people of Benque for them with all my heart. I hope that I shall one day be able to repay the people of Belize for a small portion of what they have given to me, and I pray that the koinonia, the communion, that I experienced there and that I still experience with them every time I attend to the Eucharistic sacrifice, may always grow and become evermore stronger until we all meet in the Jerusalem above, which is our mother (Gal 4:26).

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

To Behold the Fair Beauty of the Lord, and to Visit His Temple

One of the highlights of my career at Franciscan University of Steubenville was taking Dr. John Bergsma's class on the Gospel of John. During that class, one of the concepts that I learned was that when ancient Jews viewed the physical environs of the Temple, they thought that they were getting a glimpse of God's inner nature. The connection of this with John's Gospel, of course, is that both Jesus and the Church are presented in that Gospel as the Temple of God.

I remember, after that lecture, going to mass at St. Peter's Church in Steubenville, and gazing up at its massive, noble columns and dome, dwelling on its towering picture of Jesus with St. Peter and Bl. John Paul II, lovingly absorbing the solemnity of its high alter. I was thinking to myself, what was true for the ancient Jews, that even the physical structure of the building reveals the inner nature of God, is applicable for us today.

A few weeks ago, the youth minister at MPB, and my roommate, Joe Cipriano, was talking about the idea that our bodies are, by virtue of our baptism in Christ, temples and that God comes to dwell is us. A few hours later, I went to mass and was was thinking about the Body/Temple connection. Most often this theme is brought up with regard to chastity (and rightly so, since St. Paul thus brought it up in 1 Corinthians), but I think that we can expand on this theme. Indeed, one could develop a whole spirituality based upon the layout of a Catholic Church. So, here goes.

1) The nave - Every Church has a place, in the nave, where the whole Church stands and worships God. Do I have a place in my own heart where I welcome my fellow Christians? Am I using my body and my talents to lead others to worship Christ and to join them in worshiping him? The Church has kneelers where one can kneel to pray to God. Do I spend time kneeling in prayer to the Lord?

2) The stations of the Cross - Every church has Stations of the Cross, wherein people can trace out the events of Our Lord's journey on the Via Dolorosa. Do I meditate regularly on Christ's passion and death, which he suffered for love of me? Do I imitate his passion and death in my body by living sacrificially and by controlling my desires?

3) The statue of Our Lady - Every church has an area to honor Our Lady. Do I honor the Virgin Mary by seeking out her intercession and by imitating her virtues? Do I honor women by chastity and by (for women) living out my womanhood with dignity, beauty, and strength?

4) The statue of St. Joseph - Most churches have a statue of St. Joseph. Do I honor St. Joseph by seeking out his intercession and by living out his closeness to Our Lord? Do I honor him by working at my daily work to the best of my ability? (For Men) Do I live out true manhood by imitating St. Joseph's virtues of chastity, patience, and obedience to God?

5) The Ambo - The Ambo is the place from which the word of God is proclaimed. Do I meditate on the word of God often? Do I take time to dwell on its beauty and apply it to my life? Am I proclaiming the word of God in my actions and words?

6) The alter - All Catholic churches have an alter, where the One Sacrifice of Our Lord is re-presented daily for the salvation of the world. Do I integrate my life into the sacrifice of Christ? Do I make of myself a living offering to him? Am I giving up something in order to serve the Gospel?

7) The Tabernacle - The center of every Catholic Church is the Tabernacle, where our Eucharistic Lord, who is really and truly present in that Sacrament in his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity dwells, waiting for us to come to him in adoring love. Do I take time to dwell with Christ, who is present in my heart? Do I make his presence within me the center of my being and often think of him? Am I, like him, making myself available to others even when it involves sacrifice or inconvenience? Is the worthy and frequent reception of the Eucharist a priority?

8) The Monstrance - The Monstrance is the vessel in which the Eucharistic Christ is held for times of adoration. Do I radiate Christ to other people? Does my conduct make me transparent, like the glass in the monstrance, so that others can see Christ in me? The gold in the monstrance is infinitely less valuable than the Eucharist, even if it looks more beautiful to the eyes; the gold's chief value comes from what it was meant to contain. Do I hold my gifts humbly in my own eyes, realizing that they are valuable insofar as they lead me to radiate Christ to others.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

What does "He Descended to the Lower Parts of the Earth" Mean: Interpreting Eph 4:8-10

"In saying, 'He ascended,' what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth?"

Paul speaks of this little piece of interpretation as if it's almost commonsense, but it seems to the modern reader to be one of the strangest of the many strange things that Paul says. Why is it at all commonsense that "He ascended" means that "he descended" to the lower parts of the Earth? Where are the "lower parts of the Earth"?

I think that the answer to this question is that Paul is referring to what we would call 1) the Incarnation, 2) the universality of the Church, and 3) Christ's descent into hell. But we must look at this in terms of what Paul is trying to say, in Paul's language and worldview, to get the point. Let's start by looking at context.

1) Paul has been talking about how the Messiah has made one Jew + Gentile people. Paul is writing to Gentiles, and he wants these people to remember their story. "You were dead," he tells them, "through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience." (Eph 2:1-2) "At one time you Gentiles in the flesh... were separated from the Messiah, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in the Messiah Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of the Messiah. For he is our peace, who has made us both [Jews and Gentiles] one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end." (Eph 2:11-16, RSV with slight modifications). For Paul, then, the story of the Gentiles in the Ephesian Church is the story of how the God of Israel sent his Messiah who, on the Cross, rendered the divisions between Jew and Gentile obsolete by abolishing the old ceremonial restrictions that separated Jew from Gentile, replacing them with the blood he shed on his Cross.

2) This also implies that Jesus is the New Adam, and that in him there is a new humanity, which has ascended to the right hand of God. Paul tells the Jesus story from this angle in several places in Ephesians. The phrase from Eph 2:15 which is rendered "one new man" by the RSV might as well read: "That he [Jesus] might create in himself one new Adam in place of the two." That is to say, in Ephesians Paul is telling the story of a New Creation in which the human race, originally ripped asunder in Adam and his sin, is now set to right by the creation of a new humanity in a new Adam. Paul gives us other hints of where he is going with this by quoting Psalm 8, one of the greatest and most influential Psalms of Creation theology, in Eph 1:22. Jesus' Resurrection has placed him at God's right hand, and God "has put all things under his feet." (Eph 1:22 quoting Ps. 8:6) Paul's use of this verse recognizes that its original context is a celebration of the Creation of man and of his rightful place as ruling, under God, the created order and thus making God's glory known throughout the earth. But it also seems to take into account later readings of the Psalm, particularly the later usage of the phrase "son of man" that is used in the Psalm. Later Old Testament tradition would see this "son of man" as a figure within Israel (which itself was to be a renewed humanity) who particularly displays and enacts God's original purpose for humanity, being perfectly obedient to God and thus ruling over Creation and over the Gentile nations in his name (the beasts defeated by the Ancient of Days and the son of man in Daniel 7, for example, are Gentile kings and kingdoms).

3) Finally, Paul tells the story of the Gentile Ephesians as a story of Temple Building. God is building a New Temple. You Ephesian Gentiles, he says, "are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, the Messiah Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit." This is a particularly telling verse in interpreting Eph 4:8-10, because the original context of Ps. 68, which Paul is quoting, is that of a triumphal military/liturgical procession into the Temple of God after a victory over the pagans.

Thy solemn processions are seen, O God,
the processions of my God, my King, into the sanctuary --
the singers in front, the minstrels last,
between them maidens playing timbrels:
"Bless God in the great congregation,
the LORD, O you who are of Israel's fountain!"
There is Benjamin, the least of them, in the lead,
the princes of Judah in their throng,
the princes of Zeb'ulun, the princes of Naph'tali.
Summon thy might, O God;
show thy strength, O God, thou who hast wrought for us.
Because of thy temple at Jerusalem
kings bear gifts to thee. (Psalm 68:24-29)

4) Finally, Paul is telling the story of the wedding of heaven and earth in the Messiah. The Messiah, Paul tells us, comes as part of God's plan to "to unite all things in [Jesus], things in heaven and things on earth." (Eph 1:10) The Messiah is now sitting at God's right hand (Eph 1:20), and God's people also (Eph 2:6) have already been made to sit with him at God's right hand, a position which, nonetheless, must be won by conquest (Eph 3:10, 6:12). Paul also speaks of this union as the Messiah filling all of the Cosmos (Eph 1:23, 4:10) and also filling his people, who at the same time grasp the love of the Messiah, which fills the Cosmos. (Eph 3:17-20).

With this context out of the way, we can now consider what Paul meant in Eph 4:8-10.

A) Eph 4:8-10 is first of all speaking of the Incarnation, that is of God becoming man. Christ, we are told, descended. For an ancient Jew, this kind of descent, especially spoken about in the context of Ps. 68, must have meant a descent from the Temple Mount. This means that Christ, when he ascended into the presence of God after his Resurrection, was going to where he already had been. This is not true of humans in general; humans in general didn't pre-exist in heaven, but it is true of Christ. Indeed, it is telling that Paul speaks of the Church as filled both with God and with his Messiah, and says that it is because the Ephesians know the love of the Messiah that they know God, a piece of theology which sounds almost Johannine. (Eph 2:19-22, Eph 3:17-19, c.f. 1 John 4:7-10) It's true that one could not "prove" the later doctrine of the Incarnation from this verse - although, to be honest, the idea of the Messiah filling his God's Temple just as God does is about as close to a biblical "proof" of the Incarnation as one can think of - but the theology of the Incarnation makes better sense of all the pieces of Paul's picture than any other theological idea could.

B) Eph 4:8-10 is secondly speaking of the unity of Jews and Gentiles in the Person of Jesus the Messiah and in his Church. One thing is for sure, the descent that Paul is referring two is a descent down a Temple Mount. For Jews, this meant leaving Jerusalem and - especially for Jews in the dispersion - returning to the Gentile world. This new Jew + Gentile people is a New Temple, which is filled with Christ and knows his love, and is therefore filled with the fullness of God (you must have in your mind here the Shekinah glory of God overshadowing the Temple, which is a key Old Testament component of Temple theology) (Eph 2:19-22, Eph 3:17-19).

C) All the themes we've been speaking of point toward this third meaning of Eph 4:8-10, Christ's descent into hell. Recent scholarship has shown that the Creation story in Gen 1-2 is the story of God building a Garden that is actually a Temple and putting within that Garden-Temple a man who is actually a Temple. Indeed, it might be said that, in the ancient world view, the Cosmos itself was a big Temple, or that the Temple was a small image of the Cosmos. The same thing might be said of man, who himself was meant to be both a Temple and an image of the Cosmos. But if God is building a new Adam, a new humanity, and a New Temple through his Messiah, it is most fitting that that new Messiah should redeem, sanctify, and save the old Adam and the old humanity, which were then languishing in Sheol under the curse of death. This salvation, of course, won't be complete until the Resurrection on the Last Day, but it started here with Christ descending into Sheol. Later tradition would be enticed by this intriguing hint, and flesh out the scene of Christ's descent into hell. It would be appropriate to end this post by quoting the most prominent example of this in the Western liturgy, an ancient sermon for Holy Saturday.

Jesus goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam's son.

"The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: 'My Lord be with you all.' And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.

"I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.

"I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person."