Showing posts with label Parables. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Parables. Show all posts

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Parable of the Great Feast: On marriage, God, and Pope Francis

Parable of the Great Banquet, Brunswick Monogrammist, (ca 1525-1545), 
acquired from Wikimedia Commons

16b A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many; 17and at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, "Come; for all is now ready." 18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, "I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused." 19And another said, "I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them; I pray you, have me excused." 20And another said, "I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come." 21So the servant came and reported this to his master. Then the householder in anger said to his servant, "Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame." 22And the servant said, "Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room." 23And the master said to the servant, "Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet." (Luke 14:16-24)
The context proceeds a moment later to the infamous line:
If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (14:26)
As with many parables, there is a master and servants with the master representing God and the servants representing the people. The "invitation" to a banquet in the above parable corresponds to the eternal banquet (Rev. 19:9ff, CCC#1344, etc.).

In the parable, there are those who decline to attend. The passage refers to these "excuses." One points to his wife. The other two point to their professions. Of these persons, the master in the parable says they shall "[not] taste my banquet."

A cursory reading of the text may lead one to think one must follow God so "exclusively" that one cannot have a spouse, a family, a job, or even a "life." And that cursory reading would think the other of this text mad that any deviation from that exclusivity results in failure to attend the banquet––the figure of going to hell.

What could be so horrible about getting married or making a living or having a family? The answer is: nothing, in and of themselves.

I'll focus on the married servant, which I think will reveal the answer to each servant. We see Jesus opening his ministry in John's gospel account by attending a wedding and turning water into wine there at the prompt of his mother. (John 2:1-11). Jesus also affirms the sacrament of marriage as a divine event when he recalls Genesis:
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder. (Matthew 19:5-6)
Is Jesus here contradicting what he said in Luke? If the parable's servant in Luke is to part from his wife for God's sake, isn't that a contradiction to Matthew 19 which states that the marriage was God's doing in the first place?

Again, a cursory reading of both texts may appear that way at first, but within them is the answer. A proper understanding of the totality of the teaching would recognize that a true marriage is indeed godly and bears mutual love, of giving oneself to the other (cf. Eph. 5:33). I also treated this teaching in a prior post, What did the Catholic Church teach about marriage, men and women in 1880?, in which we saw in Scripture and Pope Leo's words the beauty of a marriage which resembles Christ and the Church as bridegroom and bride, respectively.

If one's marriage bears those characteristics, if the partners love one another in the figure of Christ and the Church, then that marriage has not become an "excuse" to refuse God's invitation. Rather, that marriage is united with God and united with God's invitation. Choosing that kind of marriage does not result in excluding God.

The two most profound commandments of Christ are to love God and to love neighbor (e.g. Mark 12:30-31). There is not a dichotomy between the two. Thus, we can recognize that in The Parable of the Great Banquet, the married servant, by "refusing" the master's invitation, revealed that he had separated the two commandments. His marriage was ungodly. He chose his wife instead of God rather than his wife together with God. In a sense, in this servant's mind, his wife had replaced God, and thus became an idol of sorts.

Consider a couple views from the early Church. St. Basil (d. 379) writes of the verse in this way:
But he says, I cannot come, because that the human mind when it is degenerating to worldly pleasures, is feeble in attending to the things of God. (St. Basil, comment on Luke 14:20, quoted in Catena Aura)
St. Gregory (d. 604) writes:
But although marriage is good, and appointed by Divine Providence for the propagation of children, some seek therein not fruitfulness of offspring, but the lust of pleasure. And so by means of a righteous thing may not unfitly an unrighteous thing be represented. (St. Gregory, comment on Luke 14:20, quoted in Catena Aura)
Both of their points are that the foolish servant represented someone who took something good, marriage, and amputated it from God.

The decisions of the man with the field and the man with the oxen reveal the same. Their professions became something of a false god in place of God. There was no time for God in their work on the farm. The idea is the same here. Our work must not be something that we use as an excuse to avoid God's prompts. The same would go for the hyperbolic statement in Luke 14:26, that we must "hate" our family for God's sake, again shows how much we must keep God in the equation. The foolish servants in the parable all flocked to "good" things, but made them bad by refusing to consider God in their engagement with those good things.

St. Paul synthesized this idea well:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Cor. 10:31)
All this leads to a final thought on the mistake of seeing someone write a criticism of a particular category of a thing and presume he is criticizing the entire category. In the above examples, it is proper to recognize only the folly of participating in marriage or work if those things are absent of God. It is faulty to presume Christ condemned marriage and work categorically.

This past week, the media engaged in another poor representation of Pope Francis' words in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. Various voices seem to think he categorically condemned free financial markets and capitalism. For example, the Pope writes the following:
While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. ... In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule. ... Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God. Ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision. It is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative. It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person. (Evangelii Gaudium, 56-57)
You see if we read carefully, the Pope is not calling for categorical rejection of a free market. He is rather calling for a balance. He is calling for a market that includes ethics and due consideration of God––just as the master in The Great Banquet parable calls for those workers to still accept his invitation. What Pope Francis is condemning is a marketplace that has excluded ethics, excluded God. In other words, a business that commoditizes human beings commits offense against those persons. This can be seen, for example, in countries where workers are deprived of their due wage, or where there is price fixing, or monopolies, or collusion, etc.

Some opining in the media go so far as to brand the Pope a Marxist or Communist or that he wants a world government. But such representations of the document belie statements within it such as:
All this becomes even more exasperating for the marginalized in the light of the widespread and deeply rooted corruption found in many countries – in their governments, businesses and institutions – whatever the political ideology of their leaders. (#60)

If we really want to achieve a healthy world economy, what is needed at this juncture of history is a more efficient way of interacting which, with due regard for the sovereignty of each nation, ensures the economic well-being of all countries, not just of a few.

It is the responsibility of the State to safeguard and promote the common good of society. Based on the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, and fully committed to political dialogue and consensus building, it plays a fundamental role, one which cannot be delegated, in working for the integral development of all. This role, at present, calls for profound social humility. (#240)
So these are just a few excerpts where the Pope condemns government corruption (not just financial corruption in marketplaces) and also emphasizes the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, which are concepts in Catholic thought based on the due freedom of an entity, whether individual, corporate, or public, such as a nation. He criticizes not free markets, but free markets which violate and manipulate persons. He criticizes not the wealthy, but the wealthy who exploit and debase persons. He even writes "The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike." (58)

In a 2011 book, On Heaven and Earth, the Pope, then-Cardinal Bergoglio, clearly did not create a dichotomy between rogue economies and communist thought. 
[The Church] condemns economic liberalism. Everyone thinks that the Church is against Communism, but it is as opposed to that system as it is to the savage economic liberalism which exists today. That is not Christian either and we cannot accept it.
In other words, everyone already knows the Church is opposed to Communist thought, but not everyone knows that the Church is opposed to what Pope Francis here calls "savage economic liberalism." To recognize him to condemn one is not to understand him to embrace the other. Yet many in the media have committed that exact error in interpretation.

The media also seems deluded that Pope Francis' teaching here is revolutionary. The media did not have the same sort of frenzy when Pope Benedict XVI said:
It is alarming to see hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor, by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism. (Pope Benedict XVI, World Day of Peace, January 2013)
This statement by Pope Benedict encompasses a point Pope Francis drives home in Evangelii Gaudium––that a market which is "selfish and individualistic" (i.e. disregarding God) is what should be criticized.

So, once again, one should not make the false assumption that the Pope has "categorically" condemned free markets or all forms of government or all persons with wealth. Rather he is exhorting those entities to do what the master in The Parable of the Great Banquet asks of everyone––to include God in all that they do.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Correcting John MacArthur on Catholicism and works

This past Wed. Jan. 25, one of John MacArthur's sermons titled "The Gospel Satisfies the Sinner’s Need" aired on the radio in two parts. Here is the first excerpt that caught my Catholic ear:
All religion, with the exception of the truth, follows one line. It is all a religious effort on the part of man to achieve a rightness with God. I call it the "Religion of Human Achievement." All of it. Doesn't matter what it is. Doesn't matter if it's the worship of Molak, which I was describing, the worship of Ba'al, the worship of Allah, it doesn't matter what it is. It doesn't matter if you're a Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, a Roman Catholic. If you are a Shintoist, a Buddhist, a Hindu, doesn't matter what it is, or some minor religion unknown to most people, they are all the same. They are all purveyors of the big lie that you can make yourself right with whatever god you think exists by your own efforts. There's only one kind of false religion, and that's it, it just comes under many, many labels. The suggestions are endless, but they all involve human effort and human achievement––following certain behaviors morally, and certain behaviors ceremonially, and certain behaviors religiously––you can make yourself right with God. (quote aired 1/25/12)
First, although this is not an apologetic for Eastern philosophies, it seems MacArthur speaks erroneously about their beliefs as well. For instance, regarding Buddhism, though there are different philosophies in Buddhism, Buddhanet states: "Do Buddhist believe in god? No, we do not." The Wikipedia entry on "God in Buddhism" begins with: "The non adherence to the notion of a omnipotent creator deity or a prime mover is seen by many as a key distinction between Buddhism and other religions." So without even delving into Catholicism, MacArthur's blanket, repeated mantra that "all religions," "doesn't matter what it is," advance a big lie about humans going through some motions to get "right with God" is a reckless, incorrect statement.

On his website, MacArthur gives evidence as to why he claims Catholics believe in a "make yourself right" method of justification. His article, The Doctrine of Saving Faith, part 2, reads:
The Council of Trent repeatedly repudiated the doctrine of justification by faith alone. In fact, the Council said, "Unless hope and love are added to faith, it never unites a man perfectly with Christ, nor makes him a living member of His body," session 6 chapter 7. You cannot be made right with God by faith alone. And the Catholic scheme, justification means God's grace is poured forth into the sinner's heart through the Sacraments, through various Masses and experiences like that, religious ceremonies, the person then receiving this grace mixes this grace with his own effort and his own works and becomes progressively more righteous. It is then the sinner's responsibility to preserve and increase that grace by various good works. You mix the works with the grace so that justification is not sola fide, by faith alone.
This is his explanation of Catholic teaching. He is wrong. Nowhere does the Council of Trent say anything about "mixing" one's "own" works with "grace." MacArthur injected these ideas into the text. (MacArthur in that article goes on to further criticize sacraments. See my prior treatment of MacArthur's misunderstanding of sacraments in the article: Sacrawhat? Misconceptions about Sacraments.)

The quote from Trent he is criticizing here is right out of 1 Corinthians 13, which states part: "[I]f I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." (v. 2) Shall MacArthur initiate a diatribe against St. Paul for daring to say love must be added to faith, just as the Council of Trent reiterated? Paul's chapter ends with: "So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love." (v. 13)

But let's go back to MacArthur's notion that if works of love justify along with faith, those works must be something a person does apart from grace. He assumes that is what Catholics think, even though Trent says no such thing. On this point, MacArthur exhibits a double standard. Here's why.

The second broadcast of MacArthur's sermon aired the following day, Jan. 26. In it, he stated:
Salvation comes by faith. Back again to Romans 4:5, He justifies the ungodly because his faith is credited as righteousness. That is an amazing and magnanimous gift, isn't it? For by grace are you saved through faith, Ephesians 2:8-9, that not of yourselves, even that is a gift of God. Simply by believing, by believing. Over in verse 20 of chapter 4, again, we're still talking about Abraham, verse 20 says with respect to the promise of God he didn't waver in unbelief, grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, being fully assured that what God had promised He was able to perform, therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness. Do you understand this exchange? You give to God faith, He gives you His righteousness. That's why we say salvation is by faith alone. Sola fide. Faith alone. By believing. And even that believing is a gift of God.
First off, let me say, there's nothing I really disagree with in this excerpt, other than the notion of "credited" righteousness. But regarding faith, it is indeed a gift. For instance, CCC#162 reads: "Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to man." No problem there.

In recognizing the gift of faith, MacArthur correctly does not confuse man's faith as man's effort. Even though a person exercises faith, and by it is justified, it is not man making a "human effort" of his "own" of faith, justifying "himself."

However, MacArthur does not afford the Catholic the same courtesy when it comes to man's works. He can see that faith is a gift of grace, but he fails to see that Catholics believe works are a gift of grace as well.

Above, we saw MacArthur quote from Trent 6.7 in his effort to claim Catholics believe they justify themselves with their "own" works "mixed" with "grace." But if he had only given pause a few paragraphs further, he could have avoided the error.
Jesus Christ Himself continually infuses his virtue into the said justified,-as the head into the members, and the vine into the branches,-and this virtue always precedes and accompanies and follows their good works, which without it could not in any wise be pleasing and meritorious before God . . . God forbid that a Christian should either trust or glory in himself, and not in the Lord, whose bounty towards all men is so great, that He will have the things which are His own gifts be their merits. (Trent 6.16)
This unravels MacArthur's claim that Catholics teach works are something alien to grace, something he describes as the "Doctrine of Human Achievement." Just as MacArthur correctly believes of faith, Catholics believe true good works1 are also Christ's "gifts." Trent actually gasps at the idea "that a Christian should either trust of glory in himself" even though MacArthur claims the Church teaches the opposite!

And so the teaching that Catholics believe in the power of their "human effort" to justify themselves is a fictional product of MacArthur's own design, not one of the Catholic Church.

Remember the Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-28). (I'll focus on the Matthean account for the purpose of this post.) In the parable, the master gives varying measures of gifts to each of his three servants. In the parable, the gifts are talents, or degrees of money. The first two servants later return their talents to the master with a profit. The third servant, however, hid the master's talent in the ground, essentially squandering the master's gift.

Placing this parable in view of judgment, the first two servants are told, "enter into the joy of your master." (Matt. 14:21,23) The third servant is said to have been sent off where "men will weep and gnash their teeth," (Matt. 14:30) which, to Matthew, is a figure of hell. (Matt. 14:40-42)

In examining this parable, a figure of reality, what gift does man receive from God which he returns to God that affects his salvation? The clearest answer, I think, is grace (not to exclude other valid understandings of the talents in this text). Paul echoes the financial figure of grace when he says God gives "according to the riches of his grace." (Eph. 1:7) Paul also teaches that the measures of grace are not identical when he says we have "gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them." (Rom. 12:6) Grace fits with the figure of talents.

Cornelius Lapide, the 16th/17th century Catholic exegete wrote of the Parable of the Talents:
By talents understand all the gifts of God, without which we can do nothing. These gifts are, I say—1st Of grace, both making grateful, such as faith, hope, charity, virginity, and all the other virtues, as well as those of grace given gratis—such as the power of working miracles, the Apostolate, the Priesthood, the gift of tongues, prophecy, etc. (Lapide, Comment on Matthew 25)
And he goes on to acknowledge that the talents can also be seen as other gifts as well. (Notice also that Lapide, contradicting MacArthur's description of Catholicism, says "we can do nothing" without God's gifts.)

In recognizing these aspects of the parable, we see the Council of Trent's description of works. Trent says, "He will have the things which are His own gifts be their merits." That is exactly what happened in the parable. The talents were the master's investment in his own servants, who could not have utilized the talents without first receiving them. The third servant received the same gift, but failed to utilize it.

Another way to look at it is this. If we are members of Christ's body, it is not against Christ for his own bodily members to work. MacArthur doesn't understand man's work in this way. He only understands man's work as something disconnected with Christ, something man "mixes" with grace rather than the extension of grace, just as he believes correctly of man's faith. In criticizing the value of works done in Christ, MacArthur unwittingly denies the efficacy of grace!

1True good works of love and adherence to the New Covenant are not to be confused with the "works of the law" from the Old Covenant condemned by Paul: "For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law." (Rom. 3:28)

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Parable of the Two Sons

The Parable of the Two Sons

28"What do you think? A man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, `Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' 29And he answered, `I will not'; but afterward he repented and went. 30And he went to the second and said the same; and he answered, `I go, sir,' but did not go. 31Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. 32For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him; and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him. (Matthew 21: 28-32)
When I've thought of this parable in the past, I used to wonder why Jesus is critical of the chief priests and Pharisees to whom the parable was stated. After all, they give the right answer. The first son indeed was the one who did his father's will. With his lips he may have denied the master, but what counted was what he actually did. The second son was the adverse––his lips indicated obedience to the master, yet his actions did not.

Although the chief priests give the correct answer, Jesus still condemns them as lesser than "tax collectors and harlots." What made the tax collectors and harlots different than the chief priests was their reaction to the teaching of John the Baptist. Although they were sinners they paid heed and became followers of the "way of righteousness." The chief priest did not do this.
On this passage, the Navarre Bible Commentary states:
The scribes and Pharisees would not believe [John the Baptist], yet they boasted of their faithfulness to God's teaching. They were like the son who says "I will go" and then does not go.1
With their lips the chief priests and Pharisees speak of righteousness, but in their actions they remain obstinate and refuse to follow.

Verse 45 goes on to say: "When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them."

You see how in the chart, it's the last column that ultimately counts in Jesus' parable.

I submit that the parable ties in to James chapter 2:

19You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe -- and shudder. 20Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren? 21Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? 22You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, 23and the scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness"; and he was called the friend of God. 24You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:19-24)
James points out that the demons can recognize the glory of God. Yet, this kind of "belief" is no belief at all without what he calls "works." These "works," James says, are with faith like a body and spirit (v. 26) which when separated are "dead." To him, faith-works is thus a singular concept, just as a "body and spirit" make up a single person. It is this single concept that James says "justifies" a person.

Getting back to Matthew's Gospel, we see the same thing in the parable, especially when we understand Matthew's teaching on God's will. At the end of the parable, Jesus' question is simply to ask which son "did the will of his father?" This is a salvific idea in Matthew's Gospel which parallels James' later epistle:
"Not every one who says to me, "Lord, Lord," shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 7:21)
You see in the above verse the same paraphrase as in the parable of the two sons: "he who does the will of my Father." True salvific faith is indivisibly entwined with "doing the will of the Father." Matthew 7:21 is an extension of the Parable of the Two Sons: one cannot merely take for granted that one has "faith" and therefore not worry about whether he has "works."

Thus, when Jesus criticized the chief priests, he was pointing out how they were less than tax collectors and harlots who actually did the will of the Father by following John the Baptist's lead in the "way of righteousness." The tax collectors and harlots could not have merely said, "We believe your message, John" unless they changed, followed, and acted on that message. They represented the first son who had not previously acknowledged the father's will, but turned from their way. The second son remained smug in his confession and did not follow through. And so the chief priests and Pharisees remained outside the will of the Father as did the second son.

1Navarre Bible Commentary: Matthew. Scepter Publishers, New York. 2005. p. 142-143.