Saturday, December 10, 2016

Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat


 And the Lord said, "Simon, Simon!  Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren."  But he said to Him, "Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death."  Then He said, "I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me."

And He said to them, "When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?"  So they said, "Nothing."  Then He said to them, "But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a  knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.  For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me:  'And He was numbered with the transgressors.'  For the things concerning Me have an end."  So they said, "Lord, look, here are two swords."  And He said to them, "It is enough."

- Luke 22:31-38

Yesterday we read that when the hour had come for the Passover supper, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him.  Then He said to them, "With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God."  Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."  And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me."  Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.  But behold, the hand of My betrayer is with Me on the table.  And truly the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!"  Then they began to question among themselves, which of them it was who would do this thing.   Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest.  And He said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called 'benefactors.'  But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves.  For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves?  Is it not he who sits at the table?  Yet I am among you as the One who serves.  But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials.  And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel."

And the Lord said, "Simon, Simon!  Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren."  But he said to Him, "Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death."  Then He said, "I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me."  In the first verse ("Indeed, Satan has asked for you . . ."), you is plural.  It indicates all the disciples.   But in the second verse ("I have prayed for you . . ."), you is singular, meaning that Jesus has prayed especially for Simon Peter.   My study bible says that because Peter's faith was the strongest, he would be tested the most.  For that which takes place "when you have returned to Me" see John 21:15-17.   Jesus tells Peter, "Strengthen your brethren," referring not only to the other disciples, but to all faithful until the Return of Christ.

And He said to them, "When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?"  So they said, "Nothing."  Then He said to them, "But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a  knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.  For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me:  'And He was numbered with the transgressors.'  For the things concerning Me have an end."  So they said, "Lord, look, here are two swords."  And He said to them, "It is enough."  My study bible tells us that the sword is not to be understood literally, but rather refers to the living word of God in the battle against sin (Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12).  St. Ambrose views giving up one's garment and buying a sword as surrendering the body to the sword of martyrdom.  In both cases, sword is connected to the truth of the word of God, martyr being the Greek word for "witness."  But the disciples were thinking of swords literally, and Jesus abruptly ends the discussion when it's reported He says, "It is enough."  My study bible says this would be better translated, "Enough of this!" (see Deuteronomy 3:26, Mark 14:41).  The prophecy ("And He was numbered with the transgressors") is from Isaiah 53:12.

However we are to understand Jesus' use of the word sword, it is clear from today's reading that a great evil is coming.  Jesus is warning about the time that is imminent, about to come.  It's a time of betrayal and of the power of forces that will be fighting His Church, His faith, His ministry, His word.  He warns St. Peter:  Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat.   Jesus' warnings about taking a money bag, and knapsack, and selling a garment to buy a sword intentionally remind the disciples of their first missionary journey, in which they went out in humility and poverty preaching the kingdom of God (see Luke 9:1-6).  His words teach them that now the kind of opposition that will come is much stronger than what they experienced before.  Betrayal is about to come, and He will be crucified.  He has already warned them about the persecution that is to come to the Church.  But there's a kind of depth to His warning, and it's one that is also deeply personal.  He tells St. Peter that Satan has asked for him, and desires to sift him as wheat.  This is a kind of threat that has to do with internal struggle, with temptation and weakness.  It's important to understand the nature of such a struggle with our own weak points and vulnerabilities to manipulation, half-truths, and assaults on our faith.  This can be a time of testing that really has to do with where we can be subject to the very things that try us the most, having to do with our particular vulnerabilities.  The worst temptations aren't necessarily the obvious, but the subtle.  Peter will fail his own test in front of a servant girl, denying Christ this very night, although he swears he would go to prison and die with Christ.   But Jesus "will be numbered among the transgressors," and they will all be subject to every kind of pressure, to opposition of all they know and trust, their very identities in question, their deepest loyalties laid bare and challenged.  It is the power of the internal trial that evil uses against us, and where we're vulnerable.  This is why strength is needed that comes through grace,  why faith practices like prayer and fasting have always been relied upon.  Times that test who we are will demand our deepest humility, our willingness to sacrifice the things to which we're attached, our capacity to give up false hope, and find it only where it can be truly rooted.  These are internal struggles, such as that exemplified by Peter, exacerbated by external circumstances.  This depth of inner struggle for faith is what is known as "spiritual battle" -- all our vulnerable points are tried. What Peter's example must teach us is that our own weakness is not in itself evil, not grounds for any decision that we're not fit for our faith.  He will return to His brethren, and be their strength.  It is love that conquers everything -- even the worst of times.  It is the capacity for grace to allow us to go through the difficulties and challenges, to return to Christ, to find our way.  The Cross becomes the way:  we go through our struggles, with Him, and come to the other side of them, through repentance and growth in faith.  This is the work of salvation, the true building of the Church, stone by stone.





Friday, December 9, 2016

This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me


 When the hour had come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him.  Then He said to them, "With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God."  Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."  And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me."  Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.  But behold, the hand of My betrayer is with Me on the table.  And truly the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!"  Then they began to question among themselves, which of them it was who would do this thing. 

Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest.  And He said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called 'benefactors.'  But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves.  For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves?  Is it not he who sits at the table?  Yet I am among you as the One who serves.

"But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials.  And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel."

- Luke 22:14-30

Yesterday we read that the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called Passover.  And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might kill Him, for they feared the people.  Then Satan entered Judas, surnamed Iscariot, who was numbered among the twelve.  So he went his way and conferred with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray Him to them.  And they were glad, and agreed to give him money.  So he promised and sought opportunity to betray Him to them in the absence of the multitude.  Then came the Day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover must be killed.  And He sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat."  So they said to Him, "Where do You want us to prepare?"  And He said to them, "Behold, when you have entered the city, a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him into the house which he enters.  Then you shall say to the master of the house, 'The Teacher says to you, "Where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover with My disciples?"'  Then he will show you a large, furnished upper room; there make ready."  So they went and found it just as He had said to them, and they prepared the Passover.

 When the hour had come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him.  Then He said to them, "With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God."  My study bible says that Christ has a fervent desire for this Passover because this meal will impart the mysteries of the new covenant to His followers, and because this event will inaugurate the great deliverance of humanity from sin through the power of the Cross.   It is from the Greek word for suffer here in this verse that we derive the word "Passion."

Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."   This is the first cup, which concludes the Old Testament Passover meal Christ eats with His disciples to fulfill the Law.  When Jesus says until the kingdom of God comes, He's speaking of His Resurrection.  At that time He will eat and drink again with His disciples (24:43; Acts 10:41).

And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me."   Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you."  It is from the root of the Greek word for gave thanks that we derive the word eucharist.  This immediately came to refer to both the Liturgy and Sacrament of Holy Communion in the Church.  Before end of the first century, the Didache (the earliest known teaching manuscript of the Church, ascribed to the apostles) refers to the celebration of the Liturgy as "the Eucharist."  My study bible also cites St. Justin, who says in AD 150 of Holy Communion, "This food we call 'Eucharist,' of which no one is allowed to partake except one who believes that the things we teach are true, and has received the washing [holy baptism] for forgiveness of sins and for rebirth, and who lives as Christ commanded us."  Jesus says, "This is My body."  From the time of the ancient Church it was accepted that Christ's words are true, "that the food consecrated by the word of prayer which comes from Him is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus" (Justin Martyr).  This is simply a mystical reality.  In the Eastern Church it remains accepted as such, without theory or explanation.  The Church knows Christ as both God and human.  In the Eucharist is the fullness of the incarnate Christ; hence, a deep Mystery.

 "But behold, the hand of My betrayer is with Me on the table.  And truly the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!"  Then they began to question among themselves, which of them it was who would do this thing.  My study bible points out to us that Judas, too, is invited to the table for the mystical supper.  Jesus is seeking by all means to save him.  But it is his ultimately unworthy participation that leads to his utter destruction (see 1 Corinthians 11:27-30; compare Esther 7).

Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest.  And He said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called 'benefactors.'  But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves.  For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves?  Is it not he who sits at the table?  Yet I am among you as the One who serves."  As Jesus has just spoken of the coming of the kingdom of God,  the apostles enter into a small-minded dispute about who will be considered the greatest among them in this kingdom.  They have their minds on worldly affairs -- even has Christ has just revealed great mysteries to them.  He corrects them first by comparing them to the power-hungry Gentiles, whom (as my study bible puts it) they themselves considered an abomination.  He also contrasts them to Himself, who serves us even though He is Lord of all.

"But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials.  And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel."  My study bible quotes Ambrose of Milan:  "Christ judges by discerning the heart, and not by examining deeds.  So also the apostles are being shaped to exercise spiritual judgment concerning faith, and in rebuking error with virtue."  The apostles, my study bible says, will judge not with earthly judgment, but by the witness of their own lives.  This reflects the many times Jesus cited righteous figures from Israel's past as those who would judge the leadership of His time and their failure to know Him.  God's kingdom begins with the Resurrection of Christ; therefore the authority of judgment has already been given to the apostles and their successors in the journey of the Church on earth (Matthew 16:19; John 20:23).  That is, not through position, but through lives of righteousness and the true depth of the heart ("Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" - Matthew 5:8).

There is everything we can find in today's reading, all the ups and downs, highs and lows, the sacred and the profane in Christ's life.  We begin with the great mystery of the Eucharist, that which is given to us so that we affirm and remember His presence with us.  It is the heart of the Liturgy, and how we remember Him and seek to live to Him as His followers.  It is the fullness of the Church and His very life that He gives to us.  He tells them this is the last cup He will drink before He suffers.  If we look up the Greek verb suffer, we find that it indicates things that happen to us -- that which causes strong feeling.  This is where we get the word passion (the Greek verb "to suffer" is pasxo, a root also for pathos).  If we ask ourselves, "Does God suffer?" then all we must do is look at Christ and His human life and we must affirm that indeed, God suffers.  Christ suffers with us.  The capacity for this depth of feeling, of passion, good or bad, is considered to be reflective of the fact that we are, indeed, made in the image of God.  The Incarnation indisputably teaches us that our God is not simply a detached intellect, a kind of computational spirit that winds up the universe like a clock, but a Person, one who is personal -- one who feels.  His suffering isn't merely stoic, but is one of true fullness and depth of feeling, a kind of heroism that lives through and transcends.  His rejection is absolute, and so is His love!  He continues to try to save Judas, offering him another chance with Him, to be one of them.  It is an example of how Christ offers us everything.  Even those closest to Him, His closest disciples, the apostles, fail even to take in His words, to understand the nature of His kingdom, to hear His words about His suffering -- and squabble over who will be the greatest as if Jesus is talking about becoming a worldly king.  And again, it is opportunity for teaching.  His concern is for His Church, and what kind of leadership it will have.  His emphasis is service, and He is the prime example of what kind of leadership He chooses for His kingdom.  It is important that we understand all of these things to be here and present, because they are all here and present for us in our lives, even in our every day lives in this world.  So we go through suffering and passion.  So we are capable of love and service.  So we walk, with Him.  At those times in our lives when we are called upon for some sort of sacrifice, and even to suffer the highs and lows of emotional depth and even trauma, let us remember Him.  He was there first, for us.  He is here present, with us, to see us through it all and take us to His kingdom, with Him.










Thursday, December 8, 2016

Then Satan entered Judas, surnamed Iscariot, who was numbered among the twelve


 Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called Passover.  And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might kill Him, for they feared the people.

Then Satan entered Judas, surnamed Iscariot, who was numbered among the twelve.  So he went his way and conferred with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray Him to them.  And they were glad, and agreed to give him money.  So he promised and sought opportunity to betray Him to them in the absence of the multitude.

Then came the Day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover must be killed.  And He sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat."  So they said to Him, "Where do You want us to prepare?"  And He said to them, "Behold, when you have entered the city, a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him into the house which he enters.  Then you shall say to the master of the house, 'The Teacher says to you, "Where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover with My disciples?"'  Then he will show you a large, furnished upper room; there make ready."  So they went and found it just as He had said to them, and they prepared the Passover.

- Luke 22:1-13

In recent readings, Jesus has been giving a discourse covering both the future destruction of the temple (and the Siege of Jerusalem) and end times, His Second Coming.  On Tuesday, we read that He gave a parable:  "Look at the fig tree, and all the trees.  When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near.  So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.  Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.  But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and the cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.  For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth.  Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man."  And in the daytime He was teaching in the temple, but at night He went out and stayed on the mountain called Olivet.  Then early in the morning all the people came to Him in the temple to hear Him.

Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called Passover.  And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might kill Him, for they feared the people.    The Passover (Hebrew: Pesach; Greek: Pascha), says my study bible, is the celebration of the destruction of the firstborn of Egypt and the deliverance of God's people from bondage (Exodus 12-14).  In remembrance of this, an unblemished lamb was slaughtered and partaken with unleavened bread.  It prefigures the Passion of Christ, in which the only-begotten Son of God is slain in order to deliver His people from bondage to sin and death, and then is raised to lead them into the eternal Kingdom.  For much of the world, Pascha (or a variation of the word) is the primary term by which Christians refer to the death and Resurrection of Christ, known in the West as Easter. 

Then Satan entered Judas, surnamed Iscariot, who was numbered among the twelve.  So he went his way and conferred with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray Him to them.  And they were glad, and agreed to give him money.  So he promised and sought opportunity to betray Him to them in the absence of the multitude.  My study bible suggests that Satan does not enter a person except by the person's consent.  The reason Judas was chosen and none of the others is that Judas had a place for Satan in his heart, and the others did not.  Judas mentioned as numbered among the twelve is an emphasis on the depth of betrayal here.  It shows that religious position is worthless if not accompanied by both faith and virtue.    We note the fear of the leadership:  they fear the people, who flock to Christ to hear Him preach in the temple.  Judas colludes to find a way to betray Christ in the absence of the multitude.  It is more than a betrayal of Christ; to betray Christ is also to betray the people.

Then came the Day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover must be killed.  And He sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat."  So they said to Him, "Where do You want us to prepare?"  And He said to them, "Behold, when you have entered the city, a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him into the house which he enters.  Then you shall say to the master of the house, 'The Teacher says to you, "Where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover with My disciples?"'  Then he will show you a large, furnished upper room; there make ready."  So they went and found it just as He had said to them, and they prepared the Passover.  Christ prepares for the Passover, for His Passover, which we know as the Last Supper.  It will be the institution of the Eucharist, by which we know and commemorate His sacrifice as our Passover.

We note above how the leadership fears the crowds.  What they do they must do in secret.  Tuesday's reading (above) told us that early in the morning all the people came to Him in the temple to hear Him.   They listen to Jesus challenge the leadership, an open dialogue, even as the leaders plot to rid themselves of Him and kill Him.  What are we to make of all this intrigue swirling around Christ?  There seem to be so many contradictory things happening.  He has been welcomed as Messiah into Jerusalem, in His Triumphal Entry upon a donkey.  He teaches daily in the temple.  He spars with the leadership as they question Him and demand to know by what authority He's done what He's done, including the cleansing of the temple (see this reading).  But the people love to hear Him.  He tells the truth that they can't say out loud.    And so, it's the "leadership" that fears the people.  And then we read that Judas, one of Christ's chosen Twelve, is one whom Satan has entered.  I think we have to try to understand the depth of betrayal this entails.  It isn't just about betraying his Master.  Judas betrays the depths of his own soul; He betrays his Savior, his own salvation.  We can speculate why his heart is open to Satan, to this kind of perverse betrayal.  In John's Gospel, we read that Judas was among those criticizing the woman who used the expensive ointment to anoint Christ, and whom Jesus chastized.  John tells us that Judas was a thief who would steal from the money-box, of which he was in charge (see John 12:1-8).  It's not strange, in human psychology, that one would cover one's own guilt by pointing an accusing finger -- the guilt itself enforcing a need to scapegoat the innocent.   (Perhaps the Gospels can teach us much more about scapegoating and bullying than we understand.)  Christianity places the ultimate importance on awareness of our own imperfections, the humility necessary to come to metanoia (literally "change of mind"), the Greek word for repentance.    Think of it, Christ comes into the world with a mission of love, inseparable from a mission of truth (I am the way, the truth, and the life - John 14:6).  It is the truth He tells to the leadership that they don't want to hear, the truth He tells to Judas, the truth He offers to each of us.   This is a healing truth, a salvific truth, one that is the answer, the solution, to the problems of the world.  But some are invested in the problems - and that's where a heart is open to Satan, to the betrayal of one's own salvation and life.   The early Church would hear of the spirit of the antichrist, that which betrays Christ with false doctrine, lies and half-truths masquerading to appear as truth, like wolves in the guise of sheep.   Let us consider how we're advised to choose in this puzzling circumstance, in our world, where truth is lined up with betrayal, where lies are masked as authority, where we're with the people --  who must filter and sift through all things with the lens of faith and find the way, the truth, and the life.  We're one of them.  Christ shows us our world and exposes its problems for us.   The real struggle for faith is all about what we stake our lives on, where our betrayal means we betray ourselves, and how we can have the humility to serve Him and find who we truly are.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away


 Then He spoke to them a parable:  "Look at the fig tree, and all the trees.  When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near.  So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.  Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.

"But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and the cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.  For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth.  Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man."  And in the daytime He was teaching in the temple, but at night He went out and stayed on the mountain called Olivet.  Then early in the morning all the people came to Him in the temple to hear Him.

- Luke 21:29-38

In our current readings, Jesus is in Jerusalem.  It is Passion Week.  He has been teaching in the temple, and confronted by various groups of the religious leadership.  In Saturday's reading, Jesus' responded to those who marveled at the wonder and beauty of the temple by teaching that the day will come when not one stone is left upon another.  He taught His followers that they will face persecution, and began to speak also of end times.  In yesterday's reading, He continued:  "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near.  Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her.  For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.  But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!  For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people.  And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations.  And Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.  And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near."

 Then He spoke to them a parable:  "Look at the fig tree, and all the trees.  When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near.  So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.  Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away."  Jesus has been speaking of end times.  In yesterday's reading, above, He taught that "when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near."  The redemption He spoke of is His Second Coming.  This generation, in that context, means the entire "generation" of all believers, at all times, which is the generation of the Church, and not only those alive at the time of Christ.  However, in the context of His entire talk to His disciples, included here in His prophecy is the destruction of the temple and the Siege of Jerusalem, which would take place within a generation and be witnessed by many of those listening to Him.

"But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and the cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.  For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth.  Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man."  And in the daytime He was teaching in the temple, but at night He went out and stayed on the mountain called Olivet.  Then early in the morning all the people came to Him in the temple to hear Him.  Here are His words to all of us, and they teach us about our own orientation as His followers.  Our minds are to be aware of the potential of His return at any time.  We're not to let our hearts be weighed down with worldly distractions nor by the cares of this life.  That Day will come as a snare to everyone:  it will be sudden and unexpected.  This is His promise.  To watch and pray is His word for our lives.  To escape all these things that will come to pass and to stand before the Son of Man is to truly possess our souls (v. 19).  Jesus stays on Mt. Olivet, as a pilgrim, but teaches in the temple by day, as all come to listen to Him.

We have the irony of contradiction sprinkled throughout this talk on end times and the time of His Return.  Jesus began this discourse in response to those with Him who marvel at all the sights of the splendid temple, a masterpiece of imperial architecture and stunning beauty.  He tells them that not one stone will be left upon another that won't be thrown down.  He begins to speak of the destruction of the city, warns them to be ready for the time when they will see Jerusalem surrounded by armies.  This warning helped save much of the early Church.  But what He teaches is much more than that; He speaks of end times, this period of the age that begins with His Incarnation and ministry in the world.  It's a time of nation rising against nation, wars and commotions, natural disasters -- things that terrify and create fearful expectation.  There will be a time of persecution.  They are not to believe any rumors that He has returned, or those who claim to be messiah.  When He returns, it will be unmistakable to all, and will come as a snare upon all the people who dwell the world.  His prophecy was certainly fulfilled regarding the beautiful temple, and we can easily say that looking at history there has been the warfare, violence and persecution He spoke about.  He says, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away."  The disciples are asked to believe the unbelievable, and given Christ's absolute promise of the truth of His word.  Standing in the temple, one of the seven wonders of the world in its time, we may think of them listening to His words.  He promises He will be the One they will stand before when all things fall away, but they are to have patience, whatever is to come.  And this Man, who has been welcomed as Messiah, is in confrontation with the leadership who plot to kill Him.  He stays as pilgrim on Mt. Olivet and teaches daily for the people to hear.  There is a deeply complex order of reality and facts, and they are asked and expected to understand His truth through it all.  He's a poor pilgrim, not a conquering warrior, and yet He asks for their faith through all things, and for ours.   He places Himself as absolute Judge.  His most important teaching here is about holding on to what we know to be true, watching and praying, not being immersed nor hearts weighed down, as He puts it, by the cares and distractions of worldly life.  Let us notice the focus on the heart, the Scriptural term for the center of the person, the fullness with which we apprehend and negotiate our lives.  The struggle for faith is not merely an intellectual choice, but one that involves everything we've got, all that we are.  We are in the world but not of it, just as He is, and this is what He reminds us to hold in our hearts, this truth of layers of seeming contradiction, of irony, of the not-so-simple reality we live.  He doesn't want us to be fooled by appearances, by false Christs, by our fears, by the things that will terrify so that men will lose heart.  He wants us to see through all of it, to hold onto what is ultimate, deepest truth -- His word that will not pass away, though all else does.  Persecution becomes opportunity for testimony, which we're not to think about before hand, but which He will give to us at the time.  We persist, by patience, in our faith.   It is by this kind of patience that we possess our souls.   An extraordinary order He's giving, nearly incredible commands of faith -- and yet this is His word and the Church He establishes, and that to which He calls us.   The disciples have been warned about what is to come, His Passion and death and Resurrection.  But they can't really comprehend that either.  We know what has been revealed and what has come to pass.  Are we up for the challenge of our "generation" of faithful?








Monday, December 5, 2016

Until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled


 "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near.  Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her.  For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.  But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!  For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people.  And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations.  And Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

"And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near."

- Luke 21:20-28

On Saturday we read that, as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and donations, He said, "These things which you see -- the days will come in which not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down."  So they asked Him, saying, "Teacher, but when will these things be?  And what sign will there be when these things are about to take place?"  And He said:  "Take heed that you not be deceived.  For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He,' and, 'The time has drawn near.'  Therefore do not go after them.  But when you hear of wars and commotions, do not be terrified; for these things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately."  Then He said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.  But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons.  You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name's sake.  But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony.  Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.  You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.  And you will be hated by all for My name's sake.  But not a hair of your head shall be lost.  By your patience possess your souls."

"But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near.  Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her.  For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.  But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!  For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people.  And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations.  And Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled."  This is a very vivid prediction of what is to come in Jerusalem, and a warning to Jesus' followers and the early Church.  These events would occur in AD 70, at the Siege of Jerusalem.  Again we note that the destruction of the Temple and the "end times" are mingled in Jesus' prophecy.   It is the entry into the age in which we live, the initiation of "end times" which will culminate in His Return.

"And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near."  These are the signs of the fulfillment of the times, of the age.  To see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory is an event all will witness when it happens.  But before this redemption draws near, we should remember that Jesus promises perplexity, and also fear and expectation that sets men's hearts failing.  This prophesy is not about a utopian life or perfect peace.  But while at His first coming, Jesus came in humility as human being, His Return will be revealed with power and great glory.

The times of the end are bound up with this central event of the destruction of the temple and the Siege of Jerusalem, in Jesus' telling.  We have to remember the audience to whom He's speaking at this time.  They are in the grand, splendid, extraordinary temple in Jerusalem.  His words are most likely simply unthinkable or unimaginable to His hearers.  But we know what happen approximately forty years from the time in which He speaks.  He speaks of the fulfillment of the times of the Gentiles, thereby teaching us about an initiation that begins with Him and with His prophecy.  This is the initiation of the time in which we live, which is also  the age of "end times" if we look at His prophecy in the Scripture.  When Jesus says (in Saturday's reading, above) that nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, He's describing sights that are very familiar to the whole "generation" of the Church, the times of the entire era Christian faithful.  It is a description of the times, the age in which we live, the time in which we await our redemption (that is, the time of His Return, as He says above).   Over all else, He emphasizes endurance and patience.  He warns us of the frightful times that will bring distress and perplexity and fearful expectations.  In Saturday's reading He warned of persecutions, but taught that they will be opportunities for testimony, and for reliance upon Him.   We're not to be dissuaded in any case, because when the true end comes, it will be unmistakable to all -- with power and great glory.  The emphasis here is on faith, on endurance in faith.  It is faith we must return to and rely on through all times.  We're warned of terrible fears, and reminded of the tests through His ministry that have already come to the apostles, such as the time when they crossed the Sea of Galilee, and feared they were perishing (Luke 8:22-25).  Jesus asked them then, "Where is your faith?"  The consistent teaching is to rely on Him, to have endurance and patience in our faith.  This is the response to fear, to the frightful things we may witness.  We may not understand all the factors and forces behind frightful violence, national struggles, even cataclysmic problems of nature.  But we are given a promise and a mission -- and also warnings of such times.   We are to endure, and by our patience possess our souls, as He said in Saturday's reading.  This is the great struggle:  it is one for faith, despite everything else we may witness or fear or find as challenge in our lives as we await redemption and His Return.  It's a great gift to understand that we will experience fear and frightening situations, and to know that the struggle for faith isn't one of mere stoicism, but of returning again to Him, His teachings, His word, and our reliance on His word and presence in our lives.





Saturday, December 3, 2016

I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist


 Then, as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and donations, He said, "These things which you see -- the days will come in which not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down."  So they asked Him, saying, "Teacher, but when will these things be?  And what sign will there be when these things are about to take place?"  And He said:  "Take heed that you not be deceived.  For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He,' and, 'The time has drawn near.'  Therefore do not go after them.  But when you hear of wars and commotions, do not be terrified; for these things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately."

Then He said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.  But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons.  You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name's sake.  But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony.  Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.  You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.  And you will be hated by all for My name's sake.  But not a hair of your head shall be lost.  By your patience possess your souls."

- Luke 21:5-19 

Yesterday we read that as Jesus spoke to the leadership in the Temple, He said to them, "How can they say that the Christ is the Son of David?  Now David himself said in the Book of Psalms:  'The Lord said to my Lord,  "Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool."'  Therefore David calls Him 'Lord'; how is He then his Son?"  Then, in the hearing of all the people, He said to His disciples, "Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers.  These will receive greater condemnation."  And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites.  So He said, "Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had."

  Then, as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and donations, He said, "These things which you see -- the days will come in which not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down."  So they asked Him, saying, "Teacher, but when will these things be?  And what sign will there be when these things are about to take place?"  And He said:  "Take heed that you not be deceived.  For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He,' and, 'The time has drawn near.'  Therefore do not go after them.  But when you hear of wars and commotions, do not be terrified; for these things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately."   Christ speaks of the destruction of the temple, which would happen in AD 70.   The fulfillment of His prophecy would come at the time of the Siege of Jerusalem, when the temple was destroyed by the Romans.  The destruction of the temple is linked with 'end times.'  There is no precise chronology that can determine exactly when that will happen, although it is spoken of in a variety of ways throughout Scripture:  see Daniel 7-12; Mark 13; Matthew 24; 1 Corinthians 15:51-55; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-10, and the Book of Revelation.  Christ's admonition is not to listen to those who proclaim His Return, but to endure, and do not be terrified.   He repeatedly warns not to follow false Christs.  The Gospel speaks to the absolute splendor of the temple at Jerusalem, which had quite recently (by Herod the Great, father of Herod Antipas) been rebuilt and added to.  It was known as one of the great wonders of the world, renown not only for its beauty but for its scope of building and conception.  It was the crown jewel of building projects of the man also known as Herod the Builder, his most magnificent structure.

Then He said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven."  In the earlier verses, we clearly read a warning about what is to come in Jerusalem.  But Jesus extends His talk of end times to the wars that will come as part of the age.  These are not signs of the imminent end, but rather characteristics of the age, before the "end." These are things they and we are to endure, for as He says in the previous verse, the end will not come immediately.

"But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons.  You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name's sake.  But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony.  Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.  You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.  And you will be hated by all for My name's sake.  But not a hair of your head shall be lost.  By your patience possess your souls."  Here is the great depth of Jesus' teaching on the time before the end time.  His followers will go through persecutions.  But the real essence of His word to us is that it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony.  He gives specific instruction:  settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer.   We are to rely on Him:  I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.  And the message here is one of pain, a depth of betrayal even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends.  What a warning it is, and what prophecy:  you will be hated by all for My name's sake.   The message here is not invincibility in some worldly personal sense; He warns that some will be put to death.  But it is in patience that we endure and possess our souls.  This is the heart of His faith in us.

What Christ does here in this teaching about the end, or perhaps we should say, the times before the end, is give us a way of seeing ourselves through them as those who fill an important function.  Persecution offers opportunity for testimony.  This is not something to think about and ponder and meditate in advance.  It is something that offers an opportunity for the work of God in us and through us.  It is an opportunity to rely fully on God's help, strength, work, and testimony.  What Jesus teaches about testimony is akin to the teaching of St. Paul on prayer:  that it is God who works in us (". . . the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession . . . " - Romans 8:26-27).  Christ as the Word, God the Son, says, "I will give you a mouth and wisdom . . .."  In the depth of tragedy, events that are terrifying, and persecutions even to the death and with the worst sorts of betrayal, there is opportunity for what is good.  There is opportunity for testimony, for the work of God the light that comes into the world and shines in the darkness, even if the darkness does not comprehend it -- and neither can it overcome (John 1:5).   Our endurance, patience, and possession of our souls is the primary thing He emphasizes.  We should not let fear nor terror get in the way of understanding that there is a mission to be part of, something in which we participate at all times -- and maybe most vividly when under duress.  We don't really know the work of God in testimony.  We never know who it effects or how.  We don't know all the spiritual workings of the Word.  But it is important to know that the Greek word martyr means "witness."  Witnessing is not necessarily about making conversion, particularly in the immediate sense.  Jesus does not say here that the kings and rulers before whom His followers will be taken are going to be converted to faith in Him and His gospel message.  He does not say that adversaries will all experience conversion or change their minds.   What He does promise is that adversaries will neither have the power to fully oppose nor contradict the word He gives.  In effect this is a promise that His word is true, and will remain, and we by our patience will possess our souls in that truth.  It is in this sense of the salvation of the soul that not a hair of your head will be lost.  Testimony involves a synergy of God's work through us, with us.  In taking in Jesus' words we should understand that the work of God is as He spoke about the Spirit:   "The wind blows where it wishes. You hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit" (John 3:8).  And so it is with testimony.  We don't know how it's going to work, on what levels even prayer works within us and among us and in our world.  What we are to understand is that we are all connected in a great Body, a communion of saints, and that testimony is important work for our own souls and for that communion in which we all participate by faith.  And -- most importantly -- that even the worst of circumstances becomes by the work of God in us an opportunity for this most important good in the world, this most important act of light coming into the world, even through our own testimony.  He bears us as lights in the world for His light, even in the greatest and grimmest darkness.  Let us ponder such a great mystery, even as Jesus is going to His Passion.









Friday, December 2, 2016

Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all


 And He said to them, "How can they say that the Christ is the Son of David?  Now David himself said in the Book of Psalms:
'The Lord said to my Lord,
"Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool."'
Therefore David calls Him 'Lord'; how is He then his Son?"

Then, in the hearing of all the people, He said to His disciples, "Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers.  These will receive greater condemnation."

And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites.  So He said, "Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had." 

- Luke 20:41-21:4

Yesterday we read that some of the Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection, came to Jesus in the Temple and asked Him, saying:  "Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man's brother dies, having a wife, and he dies without children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother.  Now there were seven brothers.  And the first took a wife, and died without children.  And the second took her as wife, and he died childless.  Then the third took her, and in like manner the seven also; and they left no children, and died.  Last of all the woman died also.  Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife does she become?  For all seven had her as wife."  Jesus answered and said to them, "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage.  But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.  But even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord 'the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.'  For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him."  Then some of the scribes answered and said, "Teacher, You have spoken well."  But after that they dared not question Him anymore.

 And He said to them, "How can they say that the Christ is the Son of David?  Now David himself said in the Book of Psalms:  'The Lord said to my Lord,  "Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool."'  Therefore David calls Him 'Lord'; how is He then his Son?"  Jesus has just finished revealing that the Scriptures proclaim God is the God of the living and not the dead, for all live to Him (see above).  Here, He opens another Scripture, for them to truly hear; but it is a kind of riddle.  He poses it as a question.   David writes, "The Lord said to my Lord . . . ."  The first reference to the Lord refers to God the Father, but the term my Lord refers to Christ.  Christ is the Son of David in His humanity.  He is also David's Lord in His divinity.

Then, in the hearing of all the people, He said to His disciples, "Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers.  These will receive greater condemnation."  Matthew's Gospel includes a lengthy final public sermon given here in the Temple which was a grand critique of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:1-39).  Luke's Gospel includes this critique of the scribes, which we note is said in the hearing of all the people.  It contains several of the criticisms Jesus levels in the longer sermon in Matthew.  In particular we note a life of what we might call social ambition, a life for show, people absorbed in externals, and thereby blindly self-righteous:  the long robes, the  greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues and the best places at feasts.  And then there is the hypocrisy and  greed mixed in:  they devour widows' houses.  And for a pretense they make long prayers.  We can just imagine the response of the crowds to this open condemnation and pronouncement of judgment on the scribes.  My study bible adds that while these charges were directed against the Jewish leaders of Jesus' time, every word applies equally to those in the Church who behave this way.

And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites.  So He said, "Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had." According to traditional understanding, God values our gifts not by how much is given, but by how much is kept back.  So this poor widow is counted to have given a great gift, having kept nothing for herself.   Others who give out of their abundance keep plenty back for themselves; in this perspective their gift is far less.

One way we can look at today's reading is to contrast the behavior of the scribes (as described by Jesus) with that of the poor widow.  The scribes operate on the surface of life, and seem to have as goals a world of 'good appearances,' so to speak.  They crave the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, their long robes and long prayers made for show.  What they want is a sort of social standing that operates as a mask of piety -- while they "devour widows' houses."  And here is the poor widow herself, who gives all she has to the treasury of the Temple.  She's as different from the scribes as she can be.  But what the text doesn't say, but implies, is that she is whole-hearted in her giving and her love for God.  There is nothing phony or pretentious about her.  She is giving all that she has.  And while the wealthy may make a great show of their donations, hers is a very small amount indeed.  It is Christ who observes and draws attention to her donation, which is all she has.  She cannot pretend a piety for show, she cannot command the best seats in the synagogue nor greetings in the marketplace, and she can't wear long robes for show.  All she has is her small gift, a tiny sum of money.  But her real gift isn't just all the money she has; her gift is representative of the all that she is, all that she has, a heart devoted to God.  What we can assume is that her whole life is given over to God.   To live in spiritual poverty is to live as she does.  In the Greek, we can contrast the words that describe the wealthy givers as those who give out of their "excess," while she gives out of her "lack."  She really doesn't have enough to cover her own needs, and does without -- and yet she gives.  This can only be a gift of love.  When you come to that place where you don't have anything to give, and yet you find yourself giving, you are in a place of depth of relationship to God, to God who is love and responding with love.  This is where we find even what we don't have in order to give.  It's a strange sounding paradox, but a true sense of spiritual poverty ("Blessed are the poor in spirit" - Matthew 5:3) is that place where we find we have something to give when it seems that everything is exhausted.  That is the place of real grace, a place where we find our connection to God.  It doesn't matter exactly what one gives, but the fullness of the heart given to God puts us in the place where we find the kingdom -- and more to give that we didn't know we had.  That would include more strength, more encouragement, more inspiration -- all gifts. How can you give more to God?  Where is the place where you find Him and seek His direction?  Let us consider how such humility keeps us from the false life He criticizes in the scribes.   How is this poor widow "full" in ways that even the wealthy are not?  How much is her worth?