Undoing the Boast of Lineage

In the last two posts we see how the pride of lineage, represented by the artful deception of Jacob and his mother for the Messianic promise was interrupted with the struggle between Jacob and the angel of God in Genesis. With a new name and limp, Jacob (Israel) has a vision of Heaven opened and angels ascending and descending. With a direct reference to this vision while reintroducing a context of duplicity, Jesus the Messiah calls on the charitable heart of Nathaniel:

JOHN 1:47 Jesus saw Nathaniel coming to him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”48 Nathaniel said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”49 Nathaniel answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”

Christ the Messiah with His Mother have the remedy for all things presented to them by the converted heart of mankind. Now how could the knot of a boastful messianic lineage that began with warring first-borns in the womb of Rebekah be undone? If Jesus the Messiah had a brother, then maybe that would be a way.

Scripture describes three James’ specifically. There is James the brother of John, the two sons of Zebedee, and James son of Alphaeus, distinctly mentioned together when Jesus chose His apostles (Luke 6:12-14). Tradition has it that Alphaeus was an uncle to Jesus, so this James (also called the Lesser in tradition) a first cousin. Not a brother but close. There is a third James with the “brother” descriptor mentioned by Paul in Galatians:

Galations 19: I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother.

The use of the term brother for relatives is common in the middle east but if this were a first born brother of Jesus, he would be of Joseph from his former marriage.

Various traditions, including that of the Latin Church believe that there are only two James’, and that James of Alphaeus (the Lesser) are the same as this brother of our Lord that Paul found in Jerusalem. The Eastern Orthodox churches believe that there are three. If this sounds unbelievable witness what Paul says in Galatians in his next sentence:

Galatians 19: I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.

Unless he frequently makes a point of saying he is not lying, it sounds like Paul himself was surprised to find out that Jesus had an actual brother.

A discussion on the James’ in the New Testament can be researched from the works of the first Church historian Eusebius and related commentaries. There are also apocryphal works that describe this third James.

But do we need these?

What should be more convincing is that the Eastern Liturgical calendar has three separate feast days for each of these James’ including for “Holy Apostle James, Brother of God, First Bishop of Jerusalem” (October 23). Thrown from the Temple at Jerusalem, this James was also martyred for the faith. He was called James the Just, known for his humility, maybe a cutout of his father.

But we rightly call the first two James’ apostles because Jesus appointed them among the twelve. Why is the third James an apostle? This is answered in a prayer from his feast day:

Kontakion of Saint James

When at the completion of time, God the Word, the Only-Begotten Son of the Father, came down to us, He established you, admirable James, as the first Shepherd and Teacher at Jerusalem, a faithful steward of the Mysteries of Faith; wherefore we honor you as an Apostle.

There is a surety here because the Divine Liturgy or Mass is an eternal event. A Liturgy from that time is as real to God now as it was then. It is a building block of the future resurrection to Eternal Glory. This is why attempts to “retire” a Liturgical form such as the Latin Mass are senseless. New liturgies may be started but to do away with a Liturgy is impossible.

In the genealogy of Matthew Chapter 1 we see the lineage from Jacob to Joseph and end with a new Jacob to Joseph. At this point the Messiah of all races offers the title of Bishop of Jerusalem to His race in the first-born son of Joseph. Maybe a suggestion from His Mother. The knot of Rebecca is undone.

This is why orthodox churches even up to the 20th Century looked like synagogues. Could this be why the Orthodox liturgical traditions have more national identities and less emphasis on priestly celibacy? Here also the heroes from the lineage of the Messiah are saints in the Liturgical calendar. Prayers for self-government and their armed forces are included in the Liturgy.

There is a reminder of all this in the story of how God found a home in the charitable heart of Edith Stein, who became a Carmelite, a tradition rooted in the prophet Elijah. She was martyred by an evil whose only defeat will be through Christ. She was canonized by miracles witnessed by a Melkite priest, descendants of the same orthodox apostolic lineage from Bishop James of Jerusalem, but now in union with Rome.

St. James “brother of the Lord” icon on the throne of the Church of St. Mark in Jerusalem

So That No One May Boast

From the last post we see that after Jacob’s warring with Essau in the womb of Rebekah, Jacob now must war with God for heeding his mother and stealing the birthright that would lead to the Messiah. His war with the Angel of God left him with a new name, Israel, and an affliction. Often needed to break the pride of those destined to be united to God, the mark of Christianity. So that no one may boast. Witness how the story of the betrayal, burial, and resurrection of Christ the Messiah was subsequently foretold in the story of Israel’s son Joseph and his betrayal, burial, and reemergence (Genesis 37).

From this point the People of God urge on the coming of the Messiah, the day for God’s answer to Abraham that He will provide the Lamb of sacrifice. So that God Himself will offer up His own Blood for man. Witness how Moses emerges from purgatory and Elijah from his hiding place to urge Jesus on to His crucifixion at the mountain of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17). The dream of Jacob is fulfilled. Heaven has opened up.

The lineage cannot boast but in Christ the Messiah.

LUKE 3:8. Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.

And how could God be conceived in the flesh without the boast of parents? Witness Joseph’s humiliation from the virginal conception of Mary (Matthew 1). But to eternally protect the incarnation of our Lord from the boast of lineage, God reached back before the fall of man that came from Adam’s sin of pride. To create the most exquisite creature every created and ever will be. Who will never boast but in God and His grace, but in whom we all can be proud. Who alone has the grace to undo the knot of pride tied by Rebekah.

The War of First-Borns and the Limp of Jacob

The war between first-born brothers is from the ages, beginning with Abel and Cain (Genesis 4). It is ongoing. A war was even apparent in the womb of Rebekah as Jacob grabs Esau’s heel (Genesis 25:26). The title and blessing of first born in this chapter was forfeited by shallowness first and then stolen through deception (Genesis 27). An often despised story, but nonetheless leading to Christ the Messiah.

Why did God keep silent? Or did He? Did He not confront the birthright thief as the Angel of God resulting in a handicap (Genesis 32) for him and a reminder for us of his deception? And until when?

Romans 3:25. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished. 26 He did it to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

1 Corinthians: 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that NO ONE may boast before Him.

If the Messiah came from Esau’s first-born birthright, one might be weakly able to say His descendants could boast. But descendants of Jacob’s deception could not. We are justified by Christ, not His lineage.

Hebrews 12:22-24. What you have come to is Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival, with the whole Church in which everyone is a ‘first-born son’ and a citizen of heaven. You have come to God himself, the supreme Judge, and been placed with spirits of the saints who have been made perfect; and to Jesus, the mediator who brings a new covenant and a blood for purification which pleads more insistently than Abel’s.


Troparion of Saint James

O Holy James, as a disciple of the Lord, you received the Gospel. As a martyr, you displayed an unyielding will. As a brother of God, you have special power with Him. As a hierarch, you have the right of intercession. Intercede therefore with Christ God that He may save our souls.

The Greater Story of Potiphar’s Wife

In the town of Maghdouche overlooking Sidon in southern Lebanon, is where legend says the wife of Potiphar (circa 1500 BC) is buried, seductress of Joseph from the Bible, which does not name her.  Jewish, Islamic, and Persian literature have her name Zulaikha. The story in the Bible is that after Joseph’s betrayal and sale into slavery by his kin (Genesis 39), he finds favor in the eyes of Potiphar, the captain of the Egyptian palace guard.  In that household, Joseph rejects the advances and seduction of Zulaikha. In the event that led to his imprisonment,  Zulaikha grabs the garment of Joseph but he escapes naked running out of the palace. She lies to Potiphar saying that he was the instigator and Joseph is sent to prison. There, Joseph finds new and greater favor and position with the Pharaoh, ultimately becoming a source of salvation and blessings for his kin, the very people who betrayed him.

This story reminds us two recurring themes of God’s grace and mercy:

1. In being wronged and betrayed, we can become a source of grace for  people, many more people and much more grace than would have been available if the betrayal and evil had never been done.  In receiving God’s grace and mercy we bring along other people too.

2. The continuum of grace always occurs through the fulcrum of chastity.

But this story is only an early chapter, with earlier, later, and other chapters to come.

The town of Magdouche is an ancient promontory and look-out post for Sidon. During Phoenician times (peak 1200-800 BC) the promontory had the shrine to Astarte, the pagan goddess of war and sexuality. The pagan legend has Astarte bearing two sons from her brother, Eros and Lust. Astarte is likely the same pagan goddess of Sidon, Ashtoreth, who captured the heart of Solomon, son of David (1 Kings 11:5).

The shrine was taken over by Christians after the Virgin Theotokos stayed in a cave there while waiting for her Son to return from preaching in Sidon.  Jesus’ work in Sidon is referenced in many places in the new Testament (Matthew 11:21-22, Mark 3:8 and 7:31, and Luke 6:17) with even Matthew 15:21 referencing the city as a place of refuge for Jesus.

It took the convincing of St. Helena in the 4th Century by the devoted town folk for the empire to issue an icon of the Theotokos, reportedly painted by St. Luke, to the cave/Byzantine chapel: the Virgin of Mantara (the Waiting) or Virgin of Magdouche.

In the 8th Century, the cave was buried and hidden by locals to escape the detection of the local Moslem governors. Unlike the Caliph Omar who spared Jerusalem, they feared the cave would be destroyed by those leaders. Many of the region then dispersed into the higher mountains or converted to Islam. The Crusaders of the Latin Rite in Sidon of the 12th and 13th Centuries never suspected the chapel’s existence even with their own castle and chapel a stone’s throw from the hidden cave.

The cave’s legend lingered however.

Under the rule of the benevolent Druze Prince Fakhriddin II in the early 17th Century, peace and religious freedom was granted to the region. Byzantine Archbishop Euthymios Michael Saifi of Sidon (1682 – 1723) offered recognition of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. Around that time, the grotto was rediscovered when a goat-herder boy went after a goat who had fallen into the cave.  The boy, we can call him Indiana Jones Jr., noticed the icon as the goat ran back into his arms.  He piled rocks to escape with his beloved goat, alerting the townsfolk of his accidental excavation. The  pilgrimages restarted.

So the worship of Astarte was replaced with love and devotion, now restarted, to the chaste and virgin Mother of God, the Living Ark of the Covenant. Her chaste and virgin Son was also wronged and betrayed, becoming a source of grace offered for all people, infinitely more than would have been available if the betrayal and evil had never been done. Lest anyone think that this is not related to the Potiphar story or that God’s hand does not sign scripture, read the evangelist Mark’s stunning account of what happened immediately after Jesus was betrayed in the garden of Gethsemane:

Mark 14:51 A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, 52 he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.

The winter now is past, the rains have gone away. Arise my love, my bride from Lebanon and come. How you are beautiful my love, how you are fair. Among all women as a lily in the thorns.

Veni Sponsa Christi

The Bishop of Rome and the Twelve

The crises of our time compel us to look at the history and in the current ecclesial crisis we can look at Christ’s foundational and therefore eternal work for perspective. The Melkite Eparchy of Newton has an excellent document, The Melkite Church at the Council, in support of the argument to be presented here, particularly Chapters 5-7. This much shorter discussion will touch on the history of the College of Cardinals after primarily presenting the case for election of the Bishop of Rome by all apostolic churches.

That all the apostolic churches, including the Orthodox churches recognize the Primacy of the See of Peter is assumed here. This is generally case with the definition of primacy more the subject of controversy than its existence.

“He showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God… The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:10,14).

John’s reference is for the Church defined by Christ in the 12 Apostles. Most would agree that the number 12 represents the entire Church he founded. His foundation is an ecclesial mystery not founded by of the apostles, including the apostle Peter, rather by the mystery that is His presence after the resurrection. This Presence is Sacramental and in the case of the present day apostles, it is the Sacrament of Holy Orders that creates the new generation of apostles. The work and collegiality of the 12 apostles including the addition of more, not the least of whom is Paul, is well documented in the Acts of the Apostles. These works are both autonomous while in recognition of the Primacy of Peter, even with disagreements that are at worst temporary in the mystery of Christ’s Presence.

From Chapter 6 of the above reference:

“Holy Scripture affirms a power of primacy, on the part of Peter, over the rest of the Apostles and over the whole Church. But Scripture does not affirm in any way that no bishop can be constituted in the Church except through the intervention, “direct or indirect,” of Peter and his successors, the bishops of Rome. We even explicitly see the other Apostles constituting bishops without referring in any way to Peter. The same is true of their disciples, such as Titus or Timothy. If it is necessary to understand the text as applying to bishops in the strict sense, doesn’t the Scripture say that it is the Holy Spirit who instituted the bishops to rule the Church (cf. Acts 20:28)? It is difficult, without doing violence to the text, to find in the Scripture a basis which permits affirming that no bishop obtains jurisdiction over his Church except through the “direct or indirect” intervention of the Bishop of Rome, successor of Peter.”

Just as the validity of the Sacraments of Eucharist and Penance are direct works of God the Holy Spirit and are operational, i.e. valid, in all the apostolic churches and as affirmed by the Latin Church, so must the priesthood and episcopal ascendancy to Patriarchs of the eastern churches be valid. If the concern by the Latin Church under the See of Peter is that allowing full communion of the Eastern apostolic Churches with the Latin Church would compromise the Church instituted by Christ, then that same concern should be for any Sacramental event. A glaring witness of our time is the both doctrinal and personal perversion of priests and bishops, yet this does not compromise the efficacy of the Sacrament offered to the recipient. Christ guarantees His work and Presence in the Sacrament while waiting for the personal conversion of the administrator if necessary. He will confront the Bishop as he does with the seven Bishops in Asia Minor in the Book of Revelation, interpreted symbolically or literally. Therefore the ascendancy of the Bishop of Rome could involve the Patriarchy of the Eastern Churches to complete the role of the Bishop of Rome as representative of the 12 apostles. This completeness may have been wanting for over 1000 years.

This theory suggests certain degradation in those churches excluded from their “birth right” as part of the “12”. This can be the loss of the reach commanded by Christ to Peter to “feed my sheep”. Similarly, degradation to autocracy of the role of the See of Peter becomes a risk in any exclusion of the “12”.

“There is, in fact, among the bishops only one Church, only one soul, only one heart… There is, through the institution of Christ, one and only one Church, spread out over the whole world, one and only one episcopacy represented by a multiplicity of bishops united among themselves… The Church forms a single whole, whose bond is the union of bishops” (St. Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 66, 8,3).

As a final note, we touch on the body used to elect the Bishop of Rome in our current time and for the last 1000 years, namely the College of Cardinals. Even the Catholic Encyclopedia admits that this was initially a closed group of individuals that included non-clergy and grew at the expense of the successors of the Apostles. Compare this to the notion of the “12” in full effect at the time of the Acts of the Apostles and for the first millennium.

The Real Presence of our Lord in the Psalms

All Bible references are from the Douay-Rheims Bible unless indicated

As Catholics we can often find ourselves living out Scriptural prophecy, even while not yet recognizing our actions with the same. A perfect example is the Rosary, as Mary prophesized this devotion in Luke 1:48: Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid: for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

We live in a time of confusion regarding the meaning of God’s kingdom on earth and whether our Lord’s physical reign is due. What Christian would deny that the Old Testament has prophecies about this reign in the flesh. Where is Jesus now? What about the Psalms? Are there any prophecies here that we as Catholics are or at least should believe and be living out now? The following passages are helpful in meditating on as prophecies of the Real Presence of our Lord in the tabernacle. There are probably others. Keep in mind David often talks about an inheritance from God for future generations. Italics are for emphasis. Comments are in brackets [].

Psalm 5

1 Unto the end, for her that obtaineth the inheritance. A psalm of David. 2 Give ear, O Lord, to my words, understand my cry. 3 Hearken to the voice of my prayer, O my King and my God. 4 For to thee will I pray: O Lord, in the morning thou shalt hear my voice. 5 In the morning I will stand before thee, and will see: because thou art not a God that willest iniquity…

8 But as for me in the multitude of thy mercy, I will come into thy house; I will worship towards thy holy temple, in thy fear. 9 Conduct me, O Lord, in thy justice: because of my enemies, direct my way in thy sight. 10 For there is no truth in their mouth; their heart is vain.

Psalm 15

…5 The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and of my cup: it is thou that wilt restore my inheritance to me…

11 Thou hast made known to me the ways of life, thou shalt fill me with joy with thy countenance: at thy right hand are delights even to the end.

“Come to you all of you who are weary and find life burdensome and I will refresh you” (Mt 11:28)

Psalm 16

…15 But as for me, I will appear before thy sight in justice: I shall be satisfied when thy glory shall appear.
Jerusalem Bible translation:
… 15 For me the reward of virtue is to see your face, and, on walking, to gaze my fill on your likeness.

“When you look at the crucifix, you understand how much Jesus loved you. When you look at the Sacred Host you understand how much Jesus loves your now.” Blessed Mother Theresa.

Psalm 17

…7 In my affliction I called upon the Lord, and I cried to my God: And he heard my voice from his holy temple: and my cry before him came into his ears.

[CCC:1378 Worship of the Eucharist. In the liturgy of the Mass we express our faith in the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine by, among other ways, genuflecting or bowing deeply as a sign of adoration of the Lord. “The Catholic Church has always offered and still offers to the sacrament of the Eucharist the cult of adoration, not only during Mass, but also outside of it, reserving the consecrated hosts with the utmost care, exposing them to the solemn veneration of the faithful, and carrying them in procession.”]

Psalm 19

…May the Lord hear thee in the day of tribulation: may the name of the God of Jacob protect thee. 3 May he send thee help from the sanctuary: and defend thee out of Sion.

Psalm 25

…6 I will wash my hands among the innocent; and will compass thy altar, O Lord: 7 That I may hear the voice of thy praise: and tell of all thy wondrous works. 8 I have loved, O Lord, the beauty of thy house; and the place where thy glory dwelleth.

Psalm 26

…4 One thing I have asked of the Lord, this will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. That I may see the delight of the Lord, and may visit his temple. 5 For he hath hidden me in his tabernacle; in the day of evils, he hath protected me in the secret place of his tabernacle.

6 He hath exalted me upon a rock: and now he hath lifted up my head above my enemies. I have gone round, and have offered up in his tabernacle a sacrifice of jubilation: I will sing, and recite a psalm to the Lord.

[Note that Jesus was sacrificed on the rock of Calvary, suggesting that this prophecy is of His sacrifice to the Father to reside in the tabernacles of the world]

Psalm 59

…4 Thou hast moved the earth, and hast troubled it (Jerusalem Bible: You have made the earth tremble, torn it apart. [A reference to the earthquake at the end of Jesus’ sacrifice?]: heal thou the breaches thereof, for it has been moved. 5 Thou hast shewn thy people hard things; thou hast made us drink wine of sorrow.

Psalm 60

…3 To thee have I cried from the ends of the earth: when my heart was in anguish, thou hast exalted me on a rock. Thou hast conducted me; 4 For thou hast been my hope; a tower of strength against the face of the enemy. 5 In thy tabernacle I shall dwell for ever: I shall be protected under the covert of thy wings.

[Note here again we have a clear reference: a time of tremendous trial which at its culmination, Jesus is transformed to reside in the tabernacle forever!]

Psalm 62

…2 O God, my God, to thee do I watch at break of day. For thee my soul hath thirsted; for thee my flesh, O how many ways! 3 In a desert land, and where there is no way, and no water: so in the sanctuary have I come before thee, to see thy power and thy glory..

CCC 1418 Because Christ himself is present in the sacrament of the altar, he is to be honored with the worship of adoration. “To visit the Blessed Sacrament is . . . a proof of gratitude, an expression of love, and a duty of adoration toward Christ our Lord” (Paul VI, MF 66).

Psalm 64

…5 Blessed is he whom thou hast chosen and taken to thee: he shall dwell in thy courts. We shall be filled with the good things of thy house; holy is thy temple.

Psalm 71

…15 And he shall live, and to him shall be given of the gold of Arabia, for him they shall always adore: they shall bless him all the day. Jerusalem Bible translation: Prayer will be offered for him constantly, blessings invoked on him all day long.

“Let us be generous with our time in going to meet him in adoration and in contemplation… May our adoration never cease.” Pope John Paul II.

Psalm 77

…69 And he built his sanctuary as of unicorns, in the land which he founded for ever.

[The reference to unicorns is generally meant to signify firmness].

Psalm 83

1 Unto the end, for the winepresses, a psalm for the sons of Core. 2 How lovely are thy tabernacles, O Lord of host! 3 My soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord. My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God. 4 For the sparrow hath found herself a house, and the turtle a nest for herself where she may lay her young ones: Thy altars, O Lord of hosts, my king and my God. 5 Blessed are they that dwell in thy house, O Lord: they shall praise thee for ever and ever.

[Be convinced that this is not what nature has formed, but what the blessing has consecrated. The power of the blessing prevails over that of nature, because by the blessing nature itself is changed. . . . Could not Christ’s word, which can make from nothing what did not exist, change existing things into what they were not before? It is no less a feat to give things their original nature than to change their nature. St Ambrose].

Psalm 94

1 Come let us praise the Lord with joy: let us joyfully sing to God our saviour. 2 Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving; and make a joyful noise to him with psalms

[Relatively few people had access to the Presence of the Lord in the old Testament. Could this be a prophecy for our time?]

6 Come let us adore and fall down: and weep before the Lord that made us. 7 For he is the Lord our God: and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.

Psalm 133

1 Behold now bless ye the Lord, all ye servants of the Lord: Who stand in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God. 2 In the nights lift up your hands to the holy places, and bless ye the Lord.

Psalm 137

1 I will praise thee, O lord, with my whole heart: for thou hast heard the words of my mouth. I will sing praise to thee in the sight of his angels: 2 I will worship towards thy holy temple, and I will give glory to thy name.

Psalm 150

1 Praise ye the Lord in his holy places: praise ye him in the firmament of his power.

“I have a burning thirst to be honored by men in the Blessed Sacrament”  St. Margaret Mary Alocoque.

Our Lady of Dier Al-Mukhalis, Pray for Us