Aloha Friday Message – June 27, 2014 – A Friday Flock of Doves

1426AFC062714 – A Friday Flock of Doves

Read it online here, please.

In our Parish this summer there are around 16 people working on a 10-week study of the Gospel of Matthew. As part of that study, we looked at the passage in Matthew 3 that describes Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. The incident is recorded in all 4 Gospels. It is a significant event for several reasons, but for today I want to focus on that moment when the Holy Spirit goes to Jesus just as he comes up from the water. Here is a Gospel-parallel presentation of that moment:

Matthew   3:16-17

Mark   1:10

Luke   3:22

John   1:32-34

16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as   he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw   the Spirit of God descending like a dove   and alighting on him. 17 And   a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am   well pleased.” 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water,   he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 21 Now when all the people were baptized, and   when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in   bodily form like a dove. And a   voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved;   with you I am well pleased.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit   descending from heaven like a dove,   and it remained on him. 33 I   myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said   to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who   baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And   I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

All citations from New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE). Links above also display public domain King James Version (KJV).

dove jesusholyspirtdoveThere is a dove described in all four Gospels. If you look at each of them separately, it is a little difficult to sort out just who saw the dove. It seems perhaps only Jesus saw it in Mark’s account. In Luke’s account it could have been Jesus only, or Jesus and John, or Jesus and everyone. It’s something to think about. John’s Gospel quotes John the Baptist’s testimony. He had been promised a sign – ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ John states flatly, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him …” If we make a construct of the content of all four Gospels, it seems clear that at least John and Jesus saw the Spirit descending like a dove. Now, is it as a dove or like a dove? Honestly, I don’t think we know, because the Greek word used in all four Gospels is ὡσεί hosei {ho-si’}. This word might make a difference if we understand the differences between as and like. I could say, “As your friend, I am sharing my thoughts with you.” (I am your friend.) Or, I could say, “Like your friend, I am sharing my thoughts with you.” (I may or may not be your friend, but your friend and I have something in common). If the Spirit descended like a dove, there was a similarity between the movement of the Spirit and the movement of a Dove. If the Spirit descended as a dove, it was a dove – as Luke testifies. Does that mean then that the Holy Spirit was momentarily incarnate? One could hardly accept that but, again, it is something to think about. In my heart and mind, a dove landed on Jesus and those who witnessed it (John and Jesus at the very least) understood it to be the Spirit of God which echoed the image of the dove released by Noah in Genesis 8:8-12. Whether we say “as” or “like,” the event itself represents God’s announcement of an imminent change.

NoahDove7In the Flood story, the return of the dove with an olive leaf in its beak is a sign that the Earth has passed its crisis and is being restored. It is the promise of the start of a new world. In Jesus’ Baptism, it is the start of his ministry which is also the start of The Kingdom of Heaven. The dove of the Ark is a messenger of sorts because it shows Noah there is hope that his ordeal is coming to an end. At Jesus’ baptism, the dove is also a messenger of hope for us but for Jesus it is a message that his ordeal is starting. With the start of his ministry came also the start of his persecutions, the accusations against him, the misunderstandings of his mission, and ultimately his passion, death, and resurrection. Immediately after his baptism in water by John, Jesus – in the Power of the Spirit – goes into the desert for an extended trial of fasting, discernment, and ultimately complete-submission to the entirety of God’s plan for Salvation – a plan that includes a very violent death for the man called Jesus of Nazareth. That whole series of events began with a dove.

As I reflected on the role of that dove, I wondered where else in Scripture a dove was part of the story. We’ve already recalled the story of Noah and the dove (although we left out the work of the raven Noah sent out). I looked for other places where a dove is mentioned. Here’s a list of those places (not including the quotes from Genesis and the Gospels already presented):

Psalm 55:6
Psalm 68:13
Song of Solomon 2:12-14
Song of Solomon 5:2-3, 12
Song of Solomon 6:9
Isaiah 38:14
Jeremiah 48:28
Hosea 7:11

The word dove is a term of endearment in the Song of Solomon (also called Canticles). Doves are thought of as clean and delicate birds that will not nest in damp or dirty places. They often nest in the rock crevices around the mouth of a cave or under the overhang of a cliff. Thus, they rest in safety because where they live it is hard for pursuers to capture them. (See Psalm 55:6) In Psalm 68, the dove is described as having wings of silver and gold. This song, a romanticized description of God’s protections of Israel against her enemies, was meant to be sung as a sort of positive encouragement for Israel. Even before the army forms up and attacks, as they hunker down in their camps and lay low, God foresees their victories and the richness of the plunder which they will take. In Isaiah, three birds are mentioned – a crane, a swallow, and a dove (or a swallow, a thrush, and a dove). The dove’s cry is always taken to be plaintive and mournful whereas the cries of the other two are chattering and noisy. Isaiah’s imagery conveys that he was so demoralized by the circumstances of Israel’s condition that – instead of being vigorously able to defend
himself– he can only moan and sigh, groaning with sorrowful mourning like a dove. In Hosea, Israel is again represented as a dove – Hosea uses the name of the largest Tribe in Israel, Ephraim to represent the whole nation – but in this prophecy, the dove flits from one place of danger to another, first to Egypt, then to Assyria, like a dove it has been easily deceived and lacks discernment. He is telling Israel they just don’t make sense. They commit the sin of idolatry knowing full well that it deprives them of God’s protection, but still they brag about being idolaters! Israel was like a dove trying to escape being caught by a hawk and instead flying right into the nets of the bird-catcher, or which goes to the fields to eat the corn spilled there without noticing the net set to capture it.

Of all these images of doves in scripture, I certainly enjoy and appreciate the presence of the dove at Jesus’ baptism. It isn’t the symbol of the Holy Spirit there; it is the Holy Spirit. There are valuable lessons to be learned through understanding the other places where doves are mentioned, especially as representing peace, love, and quiet confidence. For me, though, the image I most relate to is the one in Hosea. Beloved, how often do we go out to gobble up what we perceive to be a bounty of pleasure and wealth only to be caught up in the nets of sin? It is true that, as the song says, “On the wings of a snow white dove he sends his pure, sweet love,” it is also true that it is easy to fall prey to evil because we are not as watchful as we should be. Think now of Matthew 10:16“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Also remember Isaiah 59:11. We all growl like bears, like doves we moan without ceasing. We look for right, but it is not there; for salvation, and it is far from us. Let us pray, therefore, that the Holy Spirit will descend on each and every one of us while he seeks a gentle landing place that is welcoming and safe so that he will remain on us, in us, and with us.

Whatever, whenever, wherever, whoever, however, if ever, forever — at your service, Beloved

Thank you for all the prayers you have offered for those who asked for your help! You really do make a difference!

Luke 3, 21-22

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Aloha Friday Messages by Charles O. Todd, III is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

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About Chick Todd

American Roman Catholic reared as a "Baptiterian" in Denver Colorado.

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