GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
So, because this Gospel episode is recounted in all four Gospels, I've done a lot of commentary on this in other videos. For our purposes here, I'd like to highlight this parallel between what Jesus does in this episode and a similar miracle in the Old Testament. So, if you turn back with me in the Old Testament to 2 Kings 4:42-44, we're going to see that this is not the first time there's been a feeding of a multitude with bread. Something similar is actually done by the prophet Elisha in the Old Testament. Now, as you're turning there, just a quick note: remember, Elisha is not the same as Elijah, right? So this can get really confusing in English because the sound of the two names is very similar in a way that it's not. In Hebrew, it's êlîyāhū and éliyshä, so you can hear the accent falls on different syllables and in ways that it's a little easier to distinguish them. But in English, if we say Elijah and Elisha, it sounds almost like the same name. So remember, Elijah is the first. He's the great prophet who is taken up into heaven on a fiery chariot at the end of his life when he crosses the river Jordan. His successor is Elisha (eh-lie’shuh), sometimes described as Elisha (ee’lee-shuh), to clearly distinguish him from Elijah, but even that's a little problematic because Elisha (ee’lee-shuh) sounds like a feminine name rather than a masculine name. So I'm just going to say Elisha (eh-lie’shuh) and I'll try to put the emphasis on the "SH" so that you're clear. So Elisha is the successor to Elijah who receives that double portion of the spirit from Elijah and then continues the ministry of his master, of his predecessor, of his prophetic predecessor. And so in 2 Kings chapter 4, we have a story of a feeding of a multitude that's performed by the prophet Elisha, and this is what happens:
A man came from Ba′al-shal′ishah, bringing the man of God bread of the first fruits, twenty loaves of barley, and fresh ears of grain in his sack. And Eli′sha said, “Give to the men, that they may eat.” But his servant said, “How am I to set this before a hundred men?” So he repeated, “Give them to the men, that they may eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” So he set it before them. And they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.
Now, you can see it's very easy to see the parallels between Elisha's activity in the Old Testament and Jesus's activity in the New Testament. First, you have a crowd of people. Second, the crowd of people is hungry. Third, you've got some bread but not enough to feed them. Fourth, the prophet commands to give the bread to the people anyway. And then fifth, some kind of miraculous multiplication takes place so that the crowd, who shouldn't be able to eat from this small amount of bread, is actually not only able to eat, but able to eat in such a way that there is some leftover, right? And then I guess I could add a sixth element, which is that this miracle is performed through the power of the Lord. It's something supernatural, something divine that happens at the Lord's express command. So, the parallels here are really clear between Elijah in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament in the feeding of the 5000, right?
And remember, Elisha was famous precisely because he was a prophet who didn't just proclaim oracles but performed miracles. Sometimes, Christians forget this. Not everyone in the Old Testament performs miracles. Not everyone in the Old Testament was known for performing miracles. There are figures from the Old Testament like Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob, or say, the prophet Ezekiel or Jeremiah, just various figures. They might be known for their teaching, they might be known for their actions, but they weren't known for performing miracles. The miracles tend to be confined to certain key figures. Moses, of course, is the most famous of the miracle workers in the Old Testament with the plagues that are unleashed against the Egyptians, as well as other miraculous acts like striking the rock and the water flowing from the rock, things like that. And then, Elisha is the other major miracle worker in the Old Testament. So, Moses, Elijah, and Elisha, and especially Elisha, was known for performing these extraordinary miracles.
So, there are some prophets who just speak, there are others who are known for what they do, for their actions, and that's how Elisha is. Like, we don't have a book of the prophet Elisha, but we do have an account of his various prophetic signs, his miracles that he performed. And so, 2 Kings 4 and Matthew 14, the feeding of the 5000 are definitely parallels, and you'd better believe that 1st-century Jews who were present, like the original audience of this sign that's being performed by Jesus, like the apostles or other Jews who knew their scriptures, would see the parallel between what Elisha had done in the Old Testament and what Jesus is doing in the New Testament very, very clearly. In other words, by means of the feeding of the 5000, Jesus is revealing that he is the new Elisha. That's another revelation of his identity which, by the way, makes sense because if you recall elsewhere in the Gospels, how does Jesus identify his prophetic predecessor John the Baptist, right? So just for example, earlier in Matthew, the Gospel of Matthew 11:14, he says to his disciples, "If you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come." Right? If John the Baptist is a new Elijah, then it makes sense that Jesus, whom John baptizes and then who follows after him, is going to be a new Elisha, right? And just as Elisha did greater things than Elijah, so Jesus is going to do greater things than John the Baptist, right? So there's a prophetic parallel here that plays out at the level of both figures in the Old Testament and the New Testament.
For our purposes, the thing that stands out, though, is that Jesus isn't just a new Elisha, he's a new and greater Elisha. Right? So, Elisha performs a really remarkable miracle. He takes 20 loaves and he feeds 100 men, and there's some leftover. But Jesus goes way above and beyond that because Jesus takes 5 loaves and feeds 5000 men, not including women and children, and there are still some leftover, right? So what we see here, and this is important, is that Jesus's miracles and words in the New Testament not only fulfill the Old Testament, they not only parallel the Old Testament, they transcend it. They go beyond it, and in this case, far beyond it. I mean, it's one thing to feed 100 men with 20 loaves of bread, it's a whole other thing to feed over 5000 people with just five loaves of bread. So Jesus's power exceeds in an extraordinary way the power that was given to Elisha, the miraculous power of Elisha in the Old Testament, right? So that's just the first thing here. There's a very, very powerful Old Testament background to Jesus's actions, and it lays a principle that's going to be very helpful for reading throughout the New Testament.
Whenever you look at Jesus in the New Testament, remember, there's both continuity with the Old Testament, discontinuity with the Old Testament, in terms of something new, and transcendence where he goes beyond what there was in the Old Testament and takes things to a whole new level. All right, that's the gospel for today. What about the Old Testament reading? If you go back to the Old Testament reading, you can see in Isaiah 55…Hold on before I go there, why did I just say what I said? One of the things I've done a lot in my teaching is focus on the Jewish roots, right? The Jewish roots of this, the Jewish roots of that, the Jewish roots of the Eucharist, the Jewish roots of Mary, the Jewish roots of Jesus, all these things. And that's really important, but it is important to recognize that the emphasis on Jewish roots emphasizes continuity, right? These things go back to the Old Testament, but whenever I do that, I'm always trying to make sure that I don't just look at the continuity but also the discontinuity, right? So at the Last Supper, Jesus fulfills the Passover. That's continuity. He's performing, you know, actions that were part of the Jewish Passover. The disciples prepared the Passover meal like they would have prepared any other Passover meal in the 1st century. But then there's also discontinuity so that when Jesus takes the bread, for example, no other Jew in the 1st century would have said, "This is my body" or would have said, "This is my blood" over the wine. So there's discontinuity, there's newness, and in that newness is precisely how Jesus is transcending. He's going beyond the old and establishing something new. He's going to inaugurate a new covenant, not with the blood of bulls and goats, but in his own blood, right? So just keep that in mind as a general principle for typology. Continuity, discontinuity, and transcendence are all part of a proper understanding of the relationship between the Old and the New Testaments.
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
The eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time for year A continues our study of Romans chapter 8.—this extremely rich chapter in Paul’s masterpiece, his letter to the Romans. So the reading for today is from Romans 8, verse 35-39, and it touches on a topic that’s very controversial but that needs to be addressed. And that’s the whole question of what some Christians refer to as assurance of salvation—the idea that once I believe in Jesus and accept Him as Savior, Paul says:
...if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
And so some Christians will argue that what Paul means by that is, once a person believes and confesses, that they can’t do anything to lose salvation. There’s an absolute assurance of salvation or absolute certitude about salvation. And there are lots of different ways that this gets parsed out in various traditions that stem from the Protestant Reformation...that I’m not going to go into. But what is fairly common is that people who take that view of Paul’s idea of salvation is being—teaching a kind of absolute assurance of salvation—that nothing we can do can make us lose it once we truly believe in Jesus. And many people will point to the reading for today, Romans 8:35 and following, which says:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
And the answer is nothing. So I’m going to read through the text. I’m putting that idea first, because in my experience, that’s the most common interpretation of the passage we’re about to read. But I’m going to argue that it’s totally wrong, and so I want you to have that in mind as we read through the text itself. So let’s look at Romans 8:35 and following. Paul says this:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
And then the lectionary skips this verse, but I’m going to include it for the sake of context:
As it is written,
“For thy sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
That’s a quote from Psalm 44, verse 22. Now the lectionary picks up again in verse 37:
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Alright, so this passage that I’ve just read is very popular to read at funerals. There’s a very famous Protestant biblical commentator I was just reading, who in his book on the afterlife, talks about how this passage is read at funerals. And rightly so, because it shows that nothing we can do can separate us from the love of Christ. So it’s a beautiful passage about the hope—and not just the hope but the certainty—of salvation for those who truly believe.
And many people when they read the text, that’s how they hear it. And look, he just said:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
...in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And so some people will run with that to say, “It doesn’t matter what I do once I believe, whether I commit adultery, whether I steal, whether I fall into some sin of some sort. Whatever might happen after coming to faith...nothing can separate me from the love of Christ.”
Now, that has never been the traditional interpretation of this verse, certainly not among the Church Fathers and in the Catholic tradition...for a few reasons. Number one, and this is important: when Paul gives the list of things that can’t separate us from the love of God, he lists sufferings, not sins. Let me say that again. When Paul lists what won’t be able to separate us from the love of Christ, he lists sufferings, not sins. So notice, what does Paul say? Or actually, let me start by what he doesn’t say, because people read this in the text.
Paul does not say, “What shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall fornication or adultery or theft or murder or blasphemy or idolatry or Sabbath breaking?” No, he doesn’t say any of those things. Notice, he doesn’t list violations of the Decalogue. He doesn’t list sins.
Notice what Paul lists here: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, the sword. These are all things that happen to
us. That’s different than sins that we commit, which would be things like blasphemy, adultery, fornication, theft, murder, so on and so forth. So that distinction is crucial here, because the context—this is important. The context of what Paul is actually speaking about...is he’s addressing Christians living in Rome who may have experienced some persecution, some ostracism, or who may be on the cusp of experiencing persecution or suffering or peril. Or he himself—think about it—was adrift at sea for a night and a day, was beaten in various synagogues, was brought before pagan governors and rulers. He’s faced lots of opposition, lots of tribulation, lots of bad things that have happened to
him. But none of that stuff can separate him—or can separate any Christian—from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
But he’s not talking about sins that people commit. That’s why he quotes Psalm 44 about:
“...we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
He’s not talking about sinners not being able to be separated from Christ because of their sins. He’s talking about saints not being able to be separated from God because of their sufferings. He’s talking about martyrs. In other words, it might look from the outside like a person who is being persecuted or who’s being slaughtered for being a Christian...has been abandoned by God, has been separated from God, has been forsaken. But that’s not true. That’s not the reality. The reality is, Paul says:
No, in all these things…
...namely, in all these sufferings…
...we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:37)
So what Paul is getting at is the fact that although suffering might make it look like you’re defeated in this life, it’s actually precisely through suffering that you become victorious, just as Christ did. Christ is the model here. On Calvary, on the cross, it looks like He failed. It looks like He was forsaken by God. It looks like He was abandoned. But it’s actually precisely through the cross that He is victorious over death.
And it’s fascinating, I was looking at the Greek text here when Paul says:
...in all these things we are more than conquerors…
The Greek is hyper-nikaō
—literally, we are “super-victors.” Hyper
means above or a super upon. And nikaō
is where we get the Greek word...Nike, like Nike shoes, it means victory. Niké
means victory in Greek. So hyper-nikaō
is we are super-victors. So it’s actually precisely through tribulations and suffering that we become super victorious in a transcendent way. That’s the context of Paul’s words.
And look, you don’t have to take my word for it. Just listen to what Paul himself says, because although in Romans 8 he doesn’t list sins...when he does give a list of sins, go to Galatians 5 for a second—in Galatians 5, verse 19-21. When Paul does list sins, he actually does make it very clear that there are certain sins that will
exclude you from the kingdom of God. So this is Galatians chapter 5, verse 19. Paul gives a list of sins. He says:
Now the works of the flesh are plain: [immorality]...
And the Greek word there is porneia
, so it means sexual immorality. It’s sometimes translated fornication, but it’s broader than that. Sexual immorality...
...impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit…
...which doesn’t mean, like, partying. It actually means like schism, divisiveness. Parties mean divisions within the Body of the Church.
...envy, drunkenness, carousing…
Now there is where he’s talking about partying. The Greek word for carousing literally means a drinking bout...
...and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
Now he’s writing this to Christians. He’s writing to the Galatians who are already baptized. They’re already believers. And he’s warning them that if you do these things—idolatry, drunkenness, sexual immorality, schism, envy, anger—those things will
exclude you from the kingdom of God.
So it’s very important here, that when you’re assessing what Paul says about salvation, that you look at it in context. That’s the key. When Paul’s talking about grave sins, violations of the Decalogue, like idolatry...he’s saying, those who do these things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But in Romans 8, when he’s talking about sufferings, tribulation, distress, persecution, famine—things that happen to us, especially things like that that are out of our control—that cannot separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. In fact, it’s precisely through suffering that you become a super conqueror, a super victor in Christ, through the One who loved us.
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