Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
The Best of The Question Box
by Father I.J. Mikulski
(From the February 19, 2015 edition of the Inland Register)
Q. At Mass Father gave a sermon about the “Son of Man.” It seemed to me he was referring to our blessed Lord. I always thought everyone was a son of man (and woman) but Jesus Christ is the Son of God, not conceived by man or woman. Who was he talking about?
A. You’re touching one of the difficulties of accurate translation. Some idioms of expression that were accepted, even popular, when the Gospels were written are now a little out of touch, even clumsy, in today’s English.
Whatever edition we have has been filtered through at least two, maybe three or more, languages. “Son of Man” is one of those expressions. It occurs 82 times in the four Gospels, but neither Matthew, Mark, Luke, nor John bothered to explain it, so it just sits there – 82 times.
Even more unusual is the fact that only Jesus applied that title to himself. Whenever he spoke about himself he preferred that third person epithet, Son of Man, to distinguish himself from anyone else. No other person in Scripture is called Son of Man 82 times.
Where did he get that idea? Perhaps from Daniel 7:13, where the unique idea of a suffering servant savior first appears. Saviors should be powerful figures leading massive troops to defeat the forces of evil in apocalyptic battle, like Armageddon. It’s unthinkable that a savior could be a lowly, suffering servant.
If you have a few minutes, read Isaiah’s 53rd chapter out loud. It’s uncanny. It describes our savior, the Son of Man.
Q. A puzzled child in an exceptionally bright First Eucharist class asked me, “What is purgatory?” It wasn’t in the lesson plan, but a child is more important than a lesson plan. Will you agree with my suitable answer for a bright child?
A. It’s been done by an exceptionally bright teacher in a class for First Eucharist. She said Purgatory is a waiting place to see God. It hurts when you can’t see God as soon as you die. Sometimes you get to see God right away, sometimes you have to wait a few minutes, sometimes you have to wait much longer.
Another bright innocent child said, “You mean it’s like waiting in the doctor’s office?” Yes, it’s like waiting in the doctor’s office. Sometimes you see him right away and sometimes you have to wait a long time.
Students and teacher may be skimming off the top of the defined doctrine, but a child is more important than the official lesson plan. With good luck the same teacher might follow her class to the next level, where she can open the Bible (Maccabees 2, 12:46): “It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins.”
The doctrine is sensible and defined, but the word purgatory often stumps inquirers. To purge is to scrub clean, wash out, make like new. It may not be a certain place or a specific length of time, but there will be a need to purge any soul smudge before entering the presence of God. That’s where the communion of saints, the idea that we can help because we’re all family, fit in. But that’s another lesson plan.
Q. You know there’s always controversy in public life about the Ten Commandments displayed near a County Court House. How do you feel about that?
A. There are more than ten. Exodus 20 has 17 and Deuteronomy 5 has 21. We could put all 38 Commandments together and then decide, by popular vote, which 10 we want to keep.
We could eliminate the difficult, personal ones and keep the generic, easier ones. Since most people cannot remember all 10 in order it shouldn’t be difficult to place the easier short ones at the top of the list and arrange the longer hard ones near the bottom. Then we submit the entire list of 38 to a public vote knowing that most people will just check the top 10 without reading the whole list.
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