Category: Special Report

Special Report

“Money must serve, not rule!”

Given the ecological crisis, we will have to rethink our obsession with overconsumption and focus on an ecologically sustainable economy that narrows the gap – the gap often ‘bridged’ by violence – between rich and poor. Capitalism, particularly financial markets, will need to be regulated more. This is just a part of the way out of a global system that tramples human dignity and threats people as discardable commodities. A vicious trap that Pope Francis so aptly resumed in a single exhortation: “Money must serve, not rule!”

The Complex World Of Jewish Sects

When the Jews returned from the Exile in Babylon, the religious situation in Israel was very fragmented. Some people had forgotten about God; others paid only lip service to religion. As usual, when there is lack of faith, there is also the emergence of fundamentalist or radical groups; this happened even in the case of Israel. The most important of these groups were called Hasidim, which means the pious ones. They participated in the war of the Maccabees against Syrian/Greek occupiers, but later detached themselves from the upheaval and became known as the Pharisees (separatists). If we base our knowledge of the Pharisees on the Gospel, we would build up a wrong image of these people. Pharisees were pious people who sincerely wanted to love God by obeying His Law. It goes without saying that in a large movement there were radical people, or people with narrow views. In reality, most of them were people who dedicated their lives to God. In the Pharisees’ literature, we can read stronger self-criticism than what we find in the Gospel. Certainly, many Pharisees accepted Jesus as the Messiah and followed Him. Others did not join Jesus, but remained friendly with Him.  The Sadducees were a small group of families linked by belonging to the non-Levitical priesthood. At the time of Jesus, they were very few. This closely-knit group was rich – most of them had extensive land holdings in the whole of Israel, and they controlled all businesses in and around Jerusalem – and claimed to be descendants of Zadok, the High Priest appointed by Solomon (1 Kings 2: 25). They were of liberal views, did not accept the Scriptures – with the exception of the Law of Moses – and shunned later belief in the angels, the resurrection, and even the afterlife. The Sadducees cooperated with the various foreign occupiers of Israel and many adopted a Hellenistic way of life. At the time of Jesus, their indisputable chief was Annas who had been High Priest and later controlled business through his sons, all of whom became High Priests after him. One day, Jesus told His disciples to enter Jerusalem and follow one man carrying water. That must have been a very strange order. Men did not carry water, it was women’s work! There was an exception, though. The Essenes were a group of monks who lived in Qumran, in the desert of Judah, a few km east of Jerusalem, but also in smaller communities throughout Palestine. They did not admit women in their midst, even as servants, and they used to carry water themselves. The Essenes developed a theology very similar to that which we find in the Gospel of John. They spoke of light and darkness, of water of life, and they expected the Messiah right at the time when Jesus started His ministry. The community dispersed during the Jewish revolt that would lead to the destruction of Jerusalem (70 A.D.). Before the end of their life together, they hid many

Carpenters And Fishermen Were Quite Well-Off

We are bound to understand messages within our realm of experience. This may seem a difficult claim, but it is quite straightforward. When I hear news of an event which happened in a distant place, a place I do not know firsthand, I will imagine it starting from my experience of life. I do not have any other parameter. When we visit a place with historical significance, our comprehension of the events which happened there also changes.  This is also true of the Bible. We read it at a personal level; we listen to it during our liturgies. How much do we understand or miss simply because we never had the chance to go and see the places where those events took place? But also, how much of our understanding of Jesus and His message do we misinterpret because we have only a scant knowledge of the social and political environment of Palestine at that time? The European Church has had the greater impact on the new communities of the South because of the missionary effort. Because of that, the understanding of the Gospel that matured in Europe was passed along to the Churches of the South. Certain features of our catechism are never doubted, but are they right? A simple example: in most European countries, the fox is an animal that symbolizes intelligence, or cunningness. This was applied to the Bible. When Jesus speaks of Herod as “that fox,” people commented: “Jesus recognized how intelligent Herod was.” In reality, in Jewish culture, two millennia ago, the fox was the image of a silly person. Jesus never compared Herod to a smart person, but to a silly one! Let us have a look at the social reality at the time of Jesus; most probably, this will help us to understand His word better.   A small country Jesus was born in Palestine at a time when the Jews had lost political control of their country. The kingdom of Israel was started by Saul, enlarged by David and reached the peak of its glory under Solomon. At Solomon’s death, the kingdom split into the kingdom of Israel, comprising Samaria and Galilee, and the kingdom of Judah, comprising Judea and adjacent areas. The kingdom of Israel soon fell under the control of the Assyrian kings. Judah lasted a little longer, but it also succumbed to the Assyrians first, and the Persians afterwards. The land we now call Israel was divided by different powers until the arrival of Alexander the Great in 332 B.C. He conquered a large empire of which Palestine was an insignificant region. After his death, the empire was divided up by four of his generals, and Greek became the language of the whole western world. The Holy Land fell under the control of either Syria or Egypt, the balance of power shifted often. Many Jews went to live in Alexandria in Egypt, where the Bible was translated into Greek; it is known as the Bible of the LXX, or

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