Using videos interspersed with his own comments, the Rev. George Balasko presented the first of six Lenten programs on “The Passion and Resurrection Narratives: A Comparison of the Four Gospels” on Wednesday in Blessed John Paul II Parish social hall, 420 North St. NW. About 35 people attended.

Father Balasko, a retired priest in the Diocese of Youngstown and co-founder of the Jewish/Christian Studies/North, began the series with a look at death in the context of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus.

“Death is redemption. Jesus died to save us because of our sins,” he said.

On the video, Rabbi David Kramer noted that death and sleep are closely related. In Greek literature, death and sleep are offspring of the same dieties.

“Death was the end with future resurrection,” he said. “Atonement is where the bridge between suffering and death is built.”

Rabbi Kramer noted that in early rabbinical teaching there are “four distinct means of effecting atonement of sins.”

Transgressing a positive commandment is not obeying it. “To have atonement, follow the commandment,” he said, offering the example of keeping the Sabbath.

Another sin is transgressing a simple negative command such as “thou shalt not. ...” Then there’s a sin punishable by death in a human court.

The worst sin is blasphemy, that is, showing great disrespect to God or to something holy.

“Death achieves forgiveness for the most serious of sins,” Father Balasko said. “Death is permanent sleep.”

Father Balasko stressed this point ... in the time of Jesus, there were presumptive signs of death. “People weren’t sure death was final until the third day,” he said. “The evidence of death was the decay of the body.”

It was believed that the soul was “bonded to the flesh” and took a year, information on the video relayed, about the same time for a body to decay to bones, to leave the body. “That evokes the idea of purgatory,” Father Balasko said, adding that idea is attached to Jesus’ Jewish roots.

The bones were then transferred to a “bone box” and then buried in family tomb.

“Jesus was sinless and He died for our sins ... He died in our place,” Father Balasko said.

But, the priest emphasized, his Resurrection had to take place on the third day “to be a definitive miracle.” That wouldn’t be the case had Jesus risen on the first or second day after the crucifixion. Jesus had to rise on the third day when He would have been considered truly dead because of decay of the body.

Father Balasko said death came into human history because of the sin of eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. “Death is redemptive for our sins,” he said. “And death is not the end but a change.”

The Rev. Raymond E. Brown, via video, discussed the Gospels, noting for the most part, they offered “snippets” of Jesus’ life but lacked information on reactions of other people. The Passion narratives are more involved, he said, adding that the surrounding characters are important and contribute to the story. The video relays that this information is meant to draw people into the story and pose the question about what role each person might play. Would you be for or against Jesus is the question.

There are references “to crucify” Jesus but no mention of suffering. The text mentions how passers-by are affected and depicts Mary as the sorrowful mother.

Father Balasko said he took a class from Father Brown. “I’m a student of his,” Father Balasko said of the late priest who was a Biblical scholar and author of some 25 books.

Father Balasko said the Four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John represent four traditions with Mark’s probably being the oldest. The Gospels remember elements of Jesus’ life. From those preached accounts, the evangelists wrote the Gospels.

On Good Friday, the Passion narrative by John is always read. “Each evangelist has his own goal,” he said. On Palm Sunday, different Passion narratives are read from Matthew, Mark and Luke. In a handout on how to read the Passion narratives, Father Brown writes that the narratives do not present the same story. The writers were influenced by historical and political conditions. Matthew and Mark versions are similar, portraying the abandonment of Jesus, who is then vindicated. Luke focuses on forgiveness and John, on a sovereign Jesus.

The Lenten sessions are from 10:30 a.m. to noon Wednesdays through April 16 in the church social hall. Food and fellowship follow the program.

For information, call the church at 330-399-8881.

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