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Puzzling Scripture Passages
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.


Q: In Luke 14:26, Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

I am having difficulty with this passage, especially the word hate. I have a hard time believing our savior said this.

Another passage that bothers me is Mark 13:32. There Jesus talks about the end times and says, “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

Do the three persons of the Trinity really not have access to the same information?

A: The passage from Luke will be read on November 5, 2003, Wednesday of the 31st Week of the Year. The expression hate can indeed sound a bit strong but it does catch our attention, which is what Jesus wanted to do.

He is saying that objections by one’s parents or other relatives should not be permitted to veto someone’s decision to follow him. Commenting on this verse in the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Robert Karris, O.F.M., writes, “The total commitment Jesus demands of his disciples is stated starkly.”

This verse in the Gospel of Luke is based on Jesus’ saying in Aramaic, a language that sometimes used two words with opposite meanings to emphasize a contrast. In this case, “hate” means “love less.” In Matthew 10:37, Jesus makes the same point with softer language.

This warning by Jesus was obviously important at a time when any decision to become a Christian could be interpreted as rejecting one’s family religion. Jesus is not recommending that people pick fights with their family members. He is, however, cautioning his followers to be truthful even if that causes family conflicts on this issue.

There were many gentile Christians in Luke’s audience. Their families could easily have opposed any move from polytheism (worship of many gods) to monotheism (worship of one God). People who worship many gods are tempted not to take any of them very seriously because these gods are very much like human beings—but with increased powers.

Jesus’ language about the Trinity can be difficult to interpret. In Mark 13:32, Jesus is not saying that God the Father is superior to God the Son or God the Holy Spirit. Especially in the Gospel of John, Jesus can sometimes sound as though he is contradicting himself (for example, “The Father and I are one”—10:30/“The Father is greater than I”—14:28).

Some commentators have said that here Jesus is talking about his human knowledge regarding the time of the final judgment. It is best to interpret biblical passages as the faith community has prayerfully understood them over the centuries.

The Mark 13:32 verse will be read on November 16, 2003, the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. This verse recommends that we be ready for God’s final judgment of the world whenever that may happen.

Q: A recent news story referred to the archbishop of Boston as a monk. I am pretty sure that friar is the correct term. But what is the difference?

A: Benedictines, Cistercians, Trappists and Carthusians are monks. They live in monasteries and have a vow of stability. Once they have entered a monastery and professed their final vows, they exercise their apostolate there and ordinarily do not leave its grounds except on monastery business or if they are assigned to another monastery.

Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites and Augustinians are friars. This form of religious life arose centuries after monasticism began. Friars travel frequently for reasons of their apostolate. Archbishop Sean O’Malley of Boston is a Capuchin Franciscan, a friar.

Every brother takes the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in a religious community. A priest in the same community has professed those vows but has also received the Church’s Sacrament of Holy Orders, authorizing him to celebrate Mass, hear confessions and anoint the sick.

Q: My husband and I disagree on whether a pope can resign. Does Church law address that issue? Has there ever been a pope who resigned? Also, is there any reason why the pope could be relieved of the papacy?

A: The pope can resign but no one can force him to do so. The Code of Canon Law says, “Should it happen that the Roman Pontiff resigns from his office, it is required for validity that the resignation be freely made and properly manifested, but it is not necessary that it be accepted by anyone” (Canon 332, #2).

There have been several papal resignations. The most recent was Pope Gregory XII in 1415, allowing for the election of Pope Martin V and the end of the Great Western Schism (1378-1417).

A papal resignation would have to be public enough for the cardinals and the rest of the Church to know that a new pope needs to be elected.

There are no provisions in Church law for someone to declare a vacancy while a pope is still living.

Q: A Protestant friend of mine cannot understand why Catholics pray to saints. He regards them as only people like us, who sinned, etc. He says we should pray directly to Jesus.

A: We cannot pray to God and to saints in the same meaning of that term. For this reason, the Church long ago adopted the terminology of “worshiping” God but “venerating” saints.

Saints are not an alternative to God; they make sense only in relation to God. In the alternative opening prayer for Mass on the feast of All Saints, the Church prays: “God our Father, source of all holiness, the work of your hands is manifest in your saints, the beauty of your truth is reflected in their faith. May we who aspire to have part in their joy be filled with the Spirit that blessed their lives, so that having shared their faith on earth we may also know their peace in your kingdom.”

Saints show us the great variety of ways that people can respond generously to God’s grace.

Q: Why does Jesus often refer to himself as the “Son of Man”? Why doesn’t he use the title “Son of God”?

A: The title “Son of Man” is used 12 times in the Gospel of John and 70 times in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. In the Hebrew Scriptures, this term often means simply “a human being.” The New American Bible originally translated verse five of Psalm 8 in that sense. The 1991 revision for that verse speaks of “mere mortals.”

Acts of the Apostles 7:56 quotes the Book of Daniel 7:13 and uses this title in another sense. When Jesus applies this title to himself, he is not downplaying his divinity. By using this phrase, Jesus is pointing to the glory he will manifest at his final coming.

The author of the Book of Daniel did not use Son of God and probably would have regarded that title as undermining monotheism, Judaism’s absolute bedrock.

Jesus’ followers are monotheists (believers in one God) even though they speak of three persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) in a single divine nature.

Because Jewish Christians were wary of any language that could be interpreted as polytheism and because many gentile Christians had previously worshiped father/son gods, the Church slowly developed its way of speaking about Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity who became fully human.

The Christian community knew well what it believed about Jesus long before it agreed to adopt nature and person, terms from Greek philosophy, to describe that belief.

In his article about Jesus in the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, John Meier reviews five major titles of Jesus and by far devotes the most space to the Son of Man title.

In the Book of Daniel, the Son of Man is part of the end times, the vindication of God’s ways. Jesus shares some of those characteristics, reminding people that accepting God’s ways now is the best preparation for the Final Judgment.

Daniel 7:13-14 will be read this year on November 23, 2003, the solemnity of Christ the King. That day’s Gospel is Pilate’s questioning of Jesus about being a king.

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

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