Blog Assignment 12 Question 1

(1)  Trace a central theme through the biblical narrative and the tradition of the early Church. 

  • Sin (How have we seen human beings reject God and/or fall short of God’s expectations?  What is God’s response?)

As you read the Bible, you can see many instances of sin and God’s reactions to them.  As we work our way through the Old and New Testaments, God’s responses to sin become less and less severe.  In Genesis 3, we see Adam and Eve eat from the forbidden tree of knowledge, and God punishes them by making the earth less fertile, causing childbirth to be painful, and banishing them from the Garden of Eden.  Later, in Genesis 6-8, God sees wickedness in the world and decides to flood the entire earth for 150 days in order to kill every human other Noah and his immediate family.  Clearly, Genesis shows a very angry image of God.

As we continue past the Pentateuch and into the Book of Judges, God becomes less extreme in his punishment of sin.  Throughout Judges, we see Israel collectively forget about God, followed by God letting the enemies of Israel conquer them.  This is still a massive blow to Israel, but unlike the two Genesis sins it allows the sinners to repent, which they do.  Upon the Israelite repentance, God sends a “judge,” or military leader, to lead the Israelites back to freedom and faith, which they keep for a short time and then lose again.

As we exit the Old Testament, God continues to grow less violent with his punishments by sending prophets to try to build up the Israelites faith again.  In the New Testament, God finally decides to send his only son, Jesus Christ, to take the punishment for all of humanities sins by dying on the cross.  In doing this, God shows that he is done with punishing our sins and opens the door for the sacrament of Confession for everybody who lives afterward.  This is incredibly far from the banishment and human extermination that we were shown when first introduced to God in Genesis, and I think that this shows more of an evolution of the thinking of Theologians than of God.  As time went on, those who wrote and edited the book of the Old Testament realized God’s love, and then God displayed it fully with the crucifixion of his son.

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The Martyrdom of Perpetua

(1)  Pick ONE of these ancient accounts of martyrdom and analyze how the martyr(s) in the story imitate(s) Christ’s Passion, citing specific examples from the text to support your answer.  How does the martyr view his/her impending death?  How might the example of the martyr’s courage, calm—and even joy—in the face of death have encouraged and sustained other Christians facing potential martyrdom?  What transformations occur in and through the martyr’s death (e.g., in the martyr’s body, in the lives of Christians and non-Christians who witnessed the martyr’s death)?

Perpetua’s account of her own Passion begins by showing her father’s opposition to her Christianity.  After her father leaves, Perpetua is baptized, and soon after she is sent to prison.  The deacons of her community raise enough money for her to be let into a better area of the prison and be allowed to see her family (Perpetua 3).  Her brother asks her to pray and ask if her story will be a deliverance or a passion, and God giver her a vision that tells her she will have a passion and “began to have no hope any longer in this world” (Perpetua 4).  

After Perpetua’s vision, her father returns and apologizes to her, and she tells him that she trusts in God (Perpetua 5). When she is tried, she confesses her Christianity, and her father is beaten for it. She is sentenced to be eaten by the beasts, and gives up her infant son to her father.  Although she normally would have needed to continue to breastfeed her son, God changed her son so he would not need Perpetua’s milk and Perpetua experienced no fever or pain usually associated with the end of breastfeeding (Perpetua 6). Then, while praying with the other Christians awaiting their deaths, Perpetua had a vision of her brother Dinocrates who was thirsty, but could not reach the fountain to drink from (Perpetua 7). Then, she saw another vision of Dinocrates, who was now able to drink freely and was well clothed and happy, and she knew that he had been transformed in his death (Perpetua 8).  The day before the Christians were to battle the beasts, Perpetua had a vision of her battle, and she understood that she was to be fighting the devil, not the beasts (Perpetua 10).

On the day of the battle, Perpetua refused to wear the priestess clothes that were given to here, and for that the crowd vexed her. She was happy with this, because it allowed her to experience some of what Jesus experienced in his Passion (Perpetua 18).  Perpetua was then clothed in loose robes, but tied them up in order to keep her modesty.  She was thrown to the cow in the pit, but despite the cow trampling her, God kept her alive until she beheaded herself after a swordsman failed to kill her.

The calmness and joy Perpetua shows in her martyrdom account shows the audience that God will help those who are in need of him.  This would lead other potential martyrs to choose to keep the faith until their deaths for doing so.

Blog Post 8 Question 3

(3) On pp. 130-135, Rausch introduces four “marks” of the Church:  the Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.  Pick ONE of these marks of the Church and, building on Rausch’s discussion of its origins and significance, reflect on the term’s ongoing relevance for the Christian tradition today.  How does this mark continue to shape the life of the worldwide Church and of local churches?  What challenges does this mark present in terms of living out Christian faith in today’s world?

The third of the four “marks” of the Church, as Rausch refers to them, is that the Church is catholic.  As Rausch states, the term was originally used near to the turn of the second century in order to distinguish the entire Church from smaller parishes and diocese.  Each of these smaller faith communities would be under the catholic Church that was led by Christ.  This is similar to the way we use the term today, as it reminds us that, while we may only come into physical contact with the few hundred or thousand Roman Catholic Christians in our parish, the global church has roughly one billion members, and we are all led by Jesus through our Pope on Earth.

In the third century, as Rausch says, the term “catholic” began to become an identifier of the specific sect of Christianity that worshippers belonged to.  This allowed the true Church to distinguish itself from “the rapidly growing heretical sects” (Ruasch, 133). This use of the word “catholic” also continues today, as it helps to separate the Roman Catholic Church from Eastern Orthodox Christians and various Protestant religions which, while not heretical, are not in union with the Catholic Church under Pope Francis.  Still, many of these non-Roman-Catholic churches claim to be catholic, as in universal.  Personally, I believe that they are correct in professing this, as Christ stressed the inclusion of all people in the salvation, and I believe that all who follow Christ will be saved, not just those who have chosen to follow the Pope.

Blog 7 Question 2

(2) The earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark end with Mark 16:1-8.  (Most biblical scholars think that the material in Mark 16:9-20 was added by a later editor.)  If Mark 16:1-8 is read in isolation, what is not described in Mark’s account that is found in the resurrection narratives of Matthew, Luke, and John?  Why do you think that Mark might have chosen to end his Gospel this way?  What does the “longer ending” (Mark 16:9-20) add to Mark’s original conclusion?

The major difference between the original ending to Mark and the rest of the Gospels’ endings is that in Matthew, Luke, and John, Jesus appears to somebody. In Matthew, The disciples gather “And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them” (Mt 28:9). After this he sent them to a mountain, where “they saw Him” again (Mt 28:17).  In Luke, two disciples were traveling to Emmaus, and “Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them” (Lk 24:15).  In John, Mary Magdalene is weeping outside the tomb because she does not know where the body of Jesus was taken, but then “she turned around and saw Jesus standing there (Jn 20:14).  In contrast, Mark tells of Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James, and Salome finding the empty tomb, but never seeing Christ. An angel tells them that they will see Jesus, but in the original Mark 16:1-8, Jesus never appears. The original editor of Mark may have chosen to do this because the readers of Mark would have already known that Jesus reappeared after his resurrection.  If he had not appeared, there would have been no reason for them to want to know more about Jesus, and wouldn’t have read the gospel to begin with. In addition, Mark’s final line “they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mk 16:8) may have helped the then-persecuted early Christians feel more closely connected to the apostles.  The addition of Mark 16:9-20 includes brief stories of Jesus’ appearances that are very similar to those of the other three gospels.  This was likely added in so that the Gospel of Mark would be a complete work for those who were completely knew to Jesus Christ to learn everything important about him, which would include his resurrection.  The commission of the disciples in Mark 16:15-17 may have been added to make new believers more confident in their beliefs, as they would not want to be condemned, as Mark 16:16 would have them be.

Blog 6 Question 2

(2) Choose one event from the Passion narrative that is described by both Mark and John, comparing and contrasting Mark’s version and John’s version of this event.  How might the differences reflect the authors’ characteristic portrayals of the person of Jesus?

The first major difference between the Last Supper stories in Mark and John’s gospels is that John’s gospel contains the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, while Mark’s goes directly into the Passover meal.  This added story of Jesus washing the feet of the men who followed him and loved him helps emphasize he theme of Jesus’ servant leadership, and hints that just as Jesus will wash the feet of his disciples clean from dirt, he will wash the world clean from sin.  John also uses this story to show that Jesus knew that Judas would betray him, as it was written “For [Jesus] knew the one who was betraying Him” (John 13:11).  In the next paragraph, Jesus again affirms his position as “the Lord and the Teacher” (John 13:14) by saying that he shall fulfill the scriptures.

After John has Jesus claim that he will fulfill the scriptures, John and Mark’s gospels align themselves with Jesus telling his disciples that one of them would betray Him.  Both stories show the disciples reacting very poorly to this news and asking Jesus who the betrayer would be.  In Mark’s gospel, Jesus says it would be “one who dips with Me in the bowl” (Mark 14:20), while John shows Jesus saying “‘That is the one for whom I shall dip the morsel and give it to him.’ So when He had dipped the morsel, He took and gave it to Judas” (John 13:26), emphasizing that Jesus was all-knowing, as he is truly God.

In perhaps the most famous part of the last Supper, Jesus blessed bread and wine and gave it to his disciples, saying it was his flesh and blood, and symbolized a new covenant among them all.  Christians still do this to commemorate Jesus’ suffering for the world’s sins and to renew the covenant.  However, this account is not mentioned whatsoever in John’s gospel.  Instead of Mark’s version which emphasizes the fact that Jesus is like a sacrificial lamb, laying down his life for all of us, John’s gospel depicts Jesus saying “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him; if God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and will glorify Him immediately” (John 13:31-32).  This further shows John’s theme of Jesus as the incarnate word of god and as a savior.  

Blog Post 5 Question 4

(4) Compare Matthew’s parable of the wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-10) with Luke’s version of this same story (Luke 14:16-24).  What differences do you notice between the two accounts, and how do these stories function in terms of Ralph’s categories of parable and/or allegory?

One difference between the two versions of this story are the context given for the feast.  In Matthew’s telling, it is a wedding feast, but in Luke’s, we are only told that it is a “big dinner” (Luke 14:16).  This difference only really comes into play when we look after the story told in Matthew to see that one of the guests was thrown out for not having wedding clothes, which would not be needed at just any big dinner.  A second difference is that in Matthew, the master has his slaves go out twice to the invited guests. These slaves are then murdered the second time,  and the master responds by killing the invited guests and “[setting] their city on fire” (Mt 22:7).  In Luke’s version, the master sends his slaves  to the invited guests only once.  After the invited guests refuse to come, Matthew has the master send his remaining slaves out to the “main highways” (Mt 22:9) and invite everyone they could.  In Luke, the master first invites the sick and lame, and then later invites anyone on the highways because the hall was not yet full.

These stories serve as parables and allegories for the Kingdom of God.  God invites many to come to his kingdom, but few- in this case zero- people answer the call.  Both stories have invited guests who choose not to come because they are preoccupied working (Mt 22:5, Lk 14:18-20).  In Matthew, the invited guests even kill the slaves, who we can see as God’s prophets, or even his son, Jesus.  In the end, those who were considered unworthy by most were the only ones to answer the master’s call, which is reminiscent of Matthew 19:24, in which Jesus says “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Blog 4 Question 2

(2) A key theme in Mark is what is called the “messianic secret”—i.e., the idea that Jesus wants to keep his true identity a secret.  Jesus continually tells people not to let others know about what he has done.  He does not want his fame to spread.  He does not want others to know that he is the Messiah. Where do you see evidence of this “messianic secret” in the text?  Why do you think Jesus acts this way?

Throughout Mark’s gospel, the reader continually is told of Jesus asking for his disciples not to spread the news that he is the Messiah.  This is commonly referred to as the “messianic secret.”  This messianic secret is first evident when Jesus says “See that you say nothing to anyone…” after curing a leper of his disease (Mark 1:44).  Furthermore, in Mark 3:7-12, Jesus cleanses a multitude of people of diseases and spirits, and “whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But [Jesus] sternly ordered them to not make him known.”  Then, again, in Mark 5:43, Jesus commands the family of a girl who he had brought back from the dead “that no one should know this.”  In these three and a myriad of other examples, Jesus is very directly asking that the word of his being the Messiah not be spread. One possible reason for this is that he did not want to deal with the massive crowds of people, or perhaps he did not want the Jewish elders to exile him for heresy and blasphemy.  Personally, I think that Jesus is shown trying to keep his Messiah-hood a secret because it then requires his believers to fully believe.  While anybody who hears of a man who could heal the sick and even raise the dead might call him the Son of God, it is unlikely that their faith in him would be whole.  On the contrary, if each believer came to Jesus through their own personal experiences, they would likely be more absolute in their faith.  These believers wouldn’t be Jesus’ fair-weather fans, they would become his apostles and the early founders of Christian communities throughout the Roman Empire.