Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Lesson in Biblical Interpretation

The Gospel reading for today (Jn 6:1-15) says --
Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee. A large crowd followed him, because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. The Jewish feast of Passover was near.
When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, "Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?"
He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do.
Philip answered him, "Two hundred days?' wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.'"
One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?"
Jesus said, "Have the people recline."
Now there was a great deal of grass in that place. So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, "Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted." . . .
Let's focus on two things in this passage --

(1) First consider when Jesus asks Philip, "Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?" One major error in reading scripture is to read it in an overly literal fashion and, thus, a similar, but more serious error is to think that God is always speaking in literal terms. In fact, when revealing various truths to us in Salvation History, God uses a variety of teaching methods, what is called the "Divine Pedagogy."

Here, Jesus is not really thinking about buying food for the people despite the question to Philip. He already knows that He is going to provide the bread. The question he poses is a rhetorical question, it is asked by Jesus to make a point, to actually prove the opposite of what Jesus appears to be saying, to point out that there is no place where they can buy enough food. Even if they had the money, the 200 days wages, still the neighboring shops had certainly not baked enough loaves for more than 5,000 that day.

This is a good example of an important point to learn when reading about God saying something that really seems to be contrary to the God of Love and Truth. Perhaps the prime example, one of the most troubling incidents that people grapple with in trying to reconcile Love and Truth with God is when we read about God asking Abraham to offer Isaac in sacrifice. How could a loving God want such a horrific thing? The answer, of course, is that God does not want human sacrifice, and He did not want Isaac sacrificed. Rather, He was trying to teach Abraham and us something, like Jesus with Philip, He was utilizing the teaching method of proving the opposite of what He appeared to be asking.

(2) Now let's consider another part of the passage, "Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. When they had had their fill . . ."

As written, the passage says that Jesus took the five loaves and two fishes, gave thanks, and distributed five loaves and two fishes, such that the people divided amongst themselves five loaves and two fishes. Nowhere in this particular text does it explicitly say that the loaves and fishes were multiplied. Rather, it is implied that that is what happened. We also know that the five loaves and two fishes were multiplied to a countless number of loaves and fishes because such has been passed down to us through Tradition, the oral teaching and understanding of the Church.

So what is to be learned here? That the Bible does not record each and every tiny little fact of events. Rather, some things are implied, and it is presumed that you already have some pre-existing knowledge of the events.

To be sure, with respect to the latter point, in evangelization, in spreading the Gospel to others, we typically do not simply hand a non-believer a Bible and say "read this." Instead, people first come to know about Jesus Christ because someone has orally told them about Him. That is as it has always been, and the Gospels presuppose that the reader already has some familiarity with Him and with the history of the time.

So, again, we cannot simply take a highly literal approach to reading scripture. We need to go beyond a passive reading, go beyond the superficial plain text, and instead actively engage scripture, actively have a relationship with the Word of God.

I just read Pope Benedict's remarks at today's Angelus. He noticed a seemingly insignifcant point that most everyone probably overlooks -- the boy.
In the scene of the multiplication, the presence of a boy is noticed. Given the difficulty of feeding so many people, he offered to share the little he had - five loaves and two fish (cf Jn, 6:8).

The miracle did not come from nothing but from an ordinary boy's desire to share what he had. Jesus does not ask us what we do not have, but shows us that if each of us offers what little we have, a miracle can always take place again. God is able to multiply every one of our small deeds of love and make us share in his gift.
Reading scripture, the Word of God, is often like this event - within what seems to be only a few points of importance there is a multiplicity of significance and meaning to be reaped and learned.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Catholic Moral Teaching on July 4

The people asked, "Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or should we not pay?" . . . Jesus replied, "Give unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar." (see Mark 12:14-17)
Catholic teaching has long held that, while one has an obligation in good conscience to resist if government seeks to compel you to do evil, one nevertheless has an obligation to pay taxes.
"Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one's country: 'Pay to all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.' (Rom 13:7)" CCC 2240
That being so, would it be moral if government were to impose a tax on being homeless as a remedy for ending homelessness? How about a tax on being hungry? Would it be moral to "eliminate" unemployment merely by mandating that everyone get a job and impose a tax on those who remain unemployed?

Is it within a government's rightful authority to not only to tax a person's goods and activities, but to tax his inactivity, to tax his liberty to be left alone? Is it within a government's rightful authority to go so far as to tax a person's misfortune, to tax the hungry for not buying food, to tax the homeless for not buying or renting a home, to tax the unemployed for not getting a job?

Before you object that such questions are completely absurd, let us add another example. It is said by some that there is a moral right to healthcare and that the large numbers of uninsured persons is a problem of moral dimensions. Setting aside the question of conflating in this way the provision of health care and treatment with the holding of a medical insurance policy, is it morally licit to address the problem of people lacking insurance by imposing a tax on them for that very lack of insurance?? Is it moral, under Catholic teaching, to impose a tax on the uninsured for merely being without insurance?

Again, before you object that such is a completely absurd proposition, know this -- the United States Supreme Court, per Chief Justice John Roberts, has just ruled that, whether it is moral or not, it is entirely permissible under the taxing power of the United States Constitution to impose a tax on the uninsured merely for being uninsured.

To be continued, i.e. application of the sophistry and exercise in relativism that is the Roberts Rule to the now "no contraceptive coverage tax," formerly known as the contraceptive mandate, and even worse things.