Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him


 Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, got into the boat, and went over the sea toward Capernaum.  And it was already dark, and Jesus had not come to them.  Then the sea arose because a great wind was blowing.  So when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat; and they were afraid.  But He said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid."  Then they willingly received Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land where they were going.

On the following day, when the people who were standing on the other side of the sea saw that there was no other boat there, except that one which His disciples had entered, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with His disciples, but His disciples had gone away alone -- however, other boats came from Tiberias, near the place where they ate bread after the Lord had given thanks -- when the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they also got into boats and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.  And when they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, "Rabbi, when did You come here?"  Jesus answered them and said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.  Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him."

- John 6:16-27

Yesterday we read that, after confrontation with the leadership at the Feast of Weeks (when Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath), Jesus went over the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias.  Then a great multitude followed Him, because they saw His signs which He performed on those who were diseased.  And Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat with His disciples.  Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near.  Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, "Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?"  But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.  Philip answered Him, "Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little."  One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to Him, "There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?"  Then Jesus said, "Make the people sit down."  Now there was much grass in the place.  So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.  And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted.  So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, "Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost."  Therefore they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten.  Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, "This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world."  Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.

Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, got into the boat, and went over the sea toward Capernaum.  And it was already dark, and Jesus had not come to them.  Then the sea arose because a great wind was blowing.  So when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat; and they were afraid.  But He said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid."  Then they willingly received Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land where they were goingWalking on the sea is the fifth sign in the Gospel of John; that is, signs of the presence of the Kingdom of God in the world.  We have noted already how readings from this chapter parallel events from Exodus.  We remember here that Moses led his people across the Red Sea, walking on dry ground in the midst of the water (Exodus 14:15-31).  In today's reading, Jesus sends His disciples across the sea and then walks on the sea as if it were dry ground.

On the following day, when the people who were standing on the other side of the sea saw that there was no other boat there, except that one which His disciples had entered, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with His disciples, but His disciples had gone away alone -- however, other boats came from Tiberias, near the place where they ate bread after the Lord had given thanks -- when the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they also got into boats and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.  And when they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, "Rabbi, when did You come here?"  Jesus answered them and said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.  Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him."  In yesterday's reading, we read that the people wanted to make Jesus king by force, after He performed the fourth sign in John's Gospel, the feeding of five thousand in the wilderness.  In today's reading, we observe how tenaciously they seek Him.  But Jesus tells them, "You seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled."  To grant them what they ask is a false teaching.  He's here to give them another king of food, the food which endures to everlasting life.  His miraculous sign becomes an occasion for teaching, for giving them that which surpasses and transcends the worldly bread with which they were fed -- for a food that endures to everlasting life.

We have to ponder this food which endures to everlasting life.  Of course, the feeding in the wilderness is linked to the Eucharist (yesterday's reading).  Jesus "gave thanks"  (the word Eucharist comes from the Greek word for giving thanks), gave it to His disciples, and they distributed it to the people.  But today, the teaching about the Eucharist continues.  The meanings multiply and give us something more.  And that something "more" becomes a whole new basis for thinking about what the Eucharist means when we take it in our own church.  When we pray in the Lord's Prayer, "Give us this day our daily bread," it sounds as if we are praying for the bread that these people seek who want to make Jesus king.  It sounds as if we are praying for worldly sustenance, for the food of physical survival.  But in the Greek, there's something much more profound going on.  The word in the Greek that is translated as "daily" really means something like "supersubstantial."  This is a kind of bread with a super-essence contained in it, with a quality to it that is something far more than the daily bread we eat for worldly survival.  "Daily," in the true context of understanding, really means that we pray daily for the bread of the "eternal day of the Kingdom of God," as my study bible says.  It is this food which endures to everlasting life that is tied up with what Christ gives, what He is here to offer to people.  As we wrote in yesterday's commentary, to assume that making Him king is simply about being fed with worldly bread all the time is to cheapen who Jesus is.  He knows our needs for survival in the world, He knows our human dependencies and necessities.  But as human beings, we have need for something that surpasses what we eat and is gone at the end of a meal.  We have needs to fill the depth of our souls, to tinge time with meaning, to give us depths of love and care we couldn't know were possible, and to find hope when the world gives us despair.  This is the bread He is offering us.  Not only does He teach that this is what He has to give, but also that this is the bread for which we are to labor.  How does one labor for the food that endures to everlasting life?  This is something we will find in tomorrow's reading.  But as hard as these people are working to make Him the king, so this is what He teaches them they must do to find an eternal kind of food.  This is what comes first.  The power in that food which endures for a life everlasting is a  power that fills us beyond our capacity to understand, and keeps on working through time, through the sum total of existence and memory.  Let us count on it, and seek it for ourselves.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?


 After these things Jesus went over the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias.  Then a great multitude followed Him, because they saw His signs which He performed on those who were diseased.  And Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat with His disciples.  Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near.  Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, "Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?"  But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.  Philip answered Him, "Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little."  One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to Him, "There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?"  Then Jesus said, "Make the people sit down."  Now there was much grass in the place.  So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.  And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted.  So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, "Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost."  Therefore they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten.  Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, "This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world."  Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.

- John 6:1-15

 In recent readings, Jesus has been at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem.  This is an eight-day autumn harvest festival, commemorating the time that Israel wandered in the wilderness of Sinai living in tents or "tabernacles."  It's also a feast of the coming Kingdom.  This festival takes place during the last year of Jesus' life; the leadership plots against Him.  He has been in dialogue and dispute with them at the festival.  On Saturday, we read that Jesus said, "He who is of God hears God's words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God."  Then the Jews answered and said to Him, "Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?"  Jesus answered, "I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me.  And I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks and judges.  Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death."  Then the Jews said to Him, "Now we know that You have a demon!  Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and You say, 'If anyone keeps My word he shall never taste death.'  Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead?  And the prophets are dead.  Who do You make Yourself out to be?"  Jesus answered, "If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing.  It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God.  Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him.  And if I say, 'I do not know Him,' I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word.  Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad."  Then the Jews said to Him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?"  Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM."  Then they took up stones throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.

 After these things Jesus went over the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias.  Then a great multitude followed Him, because they saw His signs which He performed on those who were diseased.  And Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat with His disciples.   Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near.  Today's reading actually takes place two chapters earlier than where we left off on Saturday, and we begin reading chapter 6 in this week's lectionary readings.  So "after these things" refers to events at the end of chapter 5, in which Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath by the Sheep Gate at the pool called Bethesda at the Feast of Weeks in Jerusalem.  For the final reading and commentary of chapter 5, see this reading.  In John chapter 1, we noted how the Gospel patterned itself after the events of creation in Genesis.  In chapter 6, we will observe that John parallels the story of the Passover and Exodus of Israel from Egypt.  My study bible notes that in the Exodus account (Exodus 11-17), God first performed His signs against Pharaoh, and then gave instructions on how to be saved at the time of Passover (Exodus 11:1-12:14).  Here, the multitudes follow Christ because of His signs, and this also takes place at Passover.

Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, "Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?"  But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.  Philip answered Him, "Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little."  One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to Him, "There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?"  My study bible tells us that Christ tests Philip here to increase his faith, because Philip needed help in understanding Him (14:8-10).  Two hundred denarii is equivalent to over six months' wages for a laborer at the time of Christ.  Andrew has greater faith than Philip.  He apparently knows that the prophet Elisha had multiplied bread for 100 men (2 Kings 4:42-44), and he offers the food brought by a lad.  But Andrew also lacks faith to some extent, questioning what five loaves alone can do the the number of people who are there.

Now there was much grass in the place.  So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.  And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted.  So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, "Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost."  Therefore they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten.  Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, "This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world."  Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.    The feeding of five thousand men (and more women and children), parallels the Exodus story of unleavened bread, which the Jews had with them as they were hastily drive out of Egypt and had brought no provisions for themselves (Exodus 12:39).  Jesus feeds the multitudes with earthly bread, because they've brought no provisions, having rushed out to see Him.  My study bible adds that although Jesus had performed greater signs than this, these crowds were so desirous of an earthly Messiah that they declare Jesus to be the expected Prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15-19) only when they are filled with earthly things (which Jesus will note later on in the chapter).  Because of this misunderstanding, Jesus departed from them.  

Why did the people want to make Jesus king?  We turn to His own words (in verse 26, later on in John), in which He tells the people, "Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled."  If Jesus tells them that, then surely His miraculous feeding in the wilderness is meant to give the people something much more than bread to feed them with -- and this will go on to become the theme of this chapter.  As happens so often with John, the people misunderstand.  It's not that they misunderstand through bad intention, but rather that they misunderstand because with Jesus, earthly realities are often metaphors for something deeper, richer, better that he's trying to teach us and trying to give us.  He wants us to look beyond an immediate kind of understanding or feeding and find the things that feed something deeper and more potent within us.  While people need food to live, to be given the "bread of heaven" is quite another thing indeed.  The true bread He is here to teach us about feeds us for an eternity.  It sees us through moments all of our lives.  It's not gone with one feeding, a brief moment of consumption, and its potency affects every single thing about our lives and our potentials for life.  And that's what He's here to give us.  It's a little strange to think about it, but being made king is a way to cheapen that gift, not to understand the tremendous greatness on offer here.  Jesus isn't just a worldly kind of king.  He's not in the world simply to make Israel a prosperous nation.  There is a far greater reality waiting to be opened, comprehended, tapped into.  That greater reality has lasted for 2,000 years so far, and shows no sign of being exhausted in terms of its impact, help, and creative flowering for each successive generation and all around the world.  It's in that deeper place that we must find Jesus' surpassing worth for each of us in our own lives and for the generations still to come.  We think about the world and what it needs.  It is important to feed and clothe those who are without, to shelter those who cannot provide for themselves.  But we should never lose sight of this mission to bring the "so much greater good" into the world.  It is inseparable from the love that teaches us who we are and calls us to who we can become.  This is the gift; let us not cheapen it under any circumstances.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM


 "He who is of God hears God's words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God."  Then the Jews answered and said to Him, "Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?"  Jesus answered, "I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me.  And I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks and judges.  Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death."

Then the Jews said to Him, "Now we know that You have a demon!  Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and You say, 'If anyone keeps My word he shall never taste death.'  Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead?  And the prophets are dead.  Who do You make Yourself out to be?"  Jesus answered, "If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing.  It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God.  Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him.  And if I say, 'I do not know Him,' I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word.  Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad."  Then the Jews said to Him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?"  Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM."  Then they took up stones throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.

- John 8:47-59

In current readings, Jesus is at the temple in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, an eight-day autumn festival.  It commemorates the time when Israel wandered in the wilderness of Sinai, and dwelt in tents or "tabernacles."  He's been disputing with the leadership who has tried to have Him arrested, but failed.  In yesterday's reading, they answered Him, "We are Abraham's descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone.  How can You say, 'You will be made free'?"  Jesus answered them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.  And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever.  Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. I know that you are Abraham's descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you.  I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father."  They answered and said to Him, "Abraham is our father."  Jesus said to them, "If you were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham.  But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God.  Abraham did not do this.  You do the deeds of your father."  Then they said to Him, "We were not born of fornication; we have one Father -- God."  Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me.  Why do you not understand My speech?  Because you are not able to listen to My word.  You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do.  He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar the the father of it.  But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me.  Which of you convicts Me of sin?  And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me?  He who is of God hears God's words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God."

"He who is of God hears God's words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God."  Then the Jews answered and said to Him, "Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?"  Jesus answered, "I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me.  And I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks and judges.  Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death."   Over and over again, Jesus returns to the love of God as that which aids our discernment of God's work in the world.  But the leadership, unable to dissuade or defeat Him through logic or truth, resorts to personal insult.  Again, Jesus returns to His consistent theme of fidelity to the Father.

Then the Jews said to Him, "Now we know that You have a demon!  Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and You say, 'If anyone keeps My word he shall never taste death.'  Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead?  And the prophets are dead.  Who do You make Yourself out to be?"  Jesus answered, "If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing.  It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God.  Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him.  And if I say, 'I do not know Him,' I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word.  Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad."  Then the Jews said to Him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?"  Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM."  Then they took up stones throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.  We remember that the term "the Jews" is used here to denote political affiliation; it's a term used for the leaders.  (Everybody in the story is a Jew, including Jesus and the author of the Gospel.)  I AM ("ego eimi" in the Greek) is the divine name of God used in the Old Testament.  It was first revealed to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:13-15).  For these leaders, this is a direct, explicit, and unmistakable claim to perfect equality with God -- as we can see from their reaction.  (See also Mark 14:62-64.)   My study bible notes that John places special emphasis on the use of this Name to clearly reveal Christ as God.  It tells us that this divine claim illuminates Christ's authority even over death, a power that belongs only to God the Father.

Jesus does not hold back.  That is, once He is openly saying the truth of His identity, He does not mince words and He does not backtrack.  Instead, He boldly goes on to proclaim identity in the most absolute terms.  The name I AM is the divine name of God.  In the Old Testament, this name for God is often translated simply as "the Lord."  This name, I AM, is that which is conveyed in what is called the Tetragrammaton.  Tetragrammaton basically means "four letters" in Greek.  These letters, transliterated into Latin, read YHWH.  The words Yahweh or Jehovah are derived from the Tetragrammaton.   All of this is to say that when Jesus uses this term, these meanings are clear to the leadership, the experts in the Scriptures.  Not only does He not back down in the face of their criticism and attacks, He goes to the heart of the matter, and makes it perfectly clear what He is saying.  He doesn't back down from the truth.  We note that nobody is able to arrest Him.  It's just not yet "His time," as the Gospel would put it.  It is not yet the time for His Passion, crucifixion, death, and Resurrection, which will come at the Passover Feast.  But even that He knows will come, and He goes willingly, because it is part of His mission.  Over and over again, we note that Jesus returns to the theme of fidelity to the Father.  His absolute reality comes from relationship to the Father.  In this relationship, He is Son.  He shares divine nature and will with the Father.  As the human Jesus, He aligns His human will to this fidelity and obedience.  Not only does He do this, but He asks of each of us the same.  He calls the leadership out for their failure to love God wholeheartedly:  their political agendas get in the way of their recognition and understanding of who He is, their envy of Him gets in the way.  If they truly loved the Father, He tells them, they would know who He is.  But they just can't see it; everything else gets in the way.  But He won't leave His loyalty to the Father.  Regardless of the threat and their opposition, He remains firm in His truth, a truth that comes from that relationship, the love of the Father.  And this is where we need to stand.  We stand with Him, and seek also to find that love that puts us in the right place and keeps us there, regardless of the forces of the world around us.  We note Jesus' deft interaction with the world.  He stands in His truth, but He's always completely in the moment.  It doesn't make Him rigid.  Rather, standing in that love makes Him respond to the world with the full force and energy of that identity and that love and truth.  He responds with compassion when it arises; He responds with correction when it's needed.  He responds with His truth when He is called to testify.  He will even stay silent with Pilate when that is what the situation calls for from Him.  Life isn't about rigid rules, as Christ lives it.  Instead it is living love, every moment, in truth and freedom.  Let us follow His way.


Friday, March 24, 2017

Because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me.  Which of you convicts Me of sin?  And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? 


 They answered Him, "We are Abraham's descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone.  How can You say, 'You will be made free'?"  Jesus answered them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.  And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever.  Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.

"I know that you are Abraham's descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you.  I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father."  They answered and said to Him, "Abraham is our father."  Jesus said to them, "If you were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham.  But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God.  Abraham did not do this.  You do the deeds of your father."  Then they said to Him, "We were not born of fornication; we have one Father -- God."  Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me.  Why do you not understand My speech?  Because you are not able to listen to My word.  You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do.  He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar the the father of it.  But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me.  Which of you convicts Me of sin?  And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me?  He who is of God hears God's words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God."
- John 8:33-47


In our current reading, Jesus is at the Feast of Tabernacles, an eight-day autumn feast commemorating the time when Israel wandered the wilderness of Sinai, and dwelt in tents or "tabernacles."   Jesus is engaged in a dialogue with the leadership, who by now plot against Him and have unsuccessfully sought to have Him arrested at the feast.  In yesterday's reading, Jesus said to them again, "I am going away, and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin.  Where I go you cannot come."  So the Jews said, "Will He kill Himself, because He says, 'Where I go you cannot come'?"  And He said to them, "You are from beneath; I am from above.  You are of this world; I am not of this world.  Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins."  Then they said to Him, "Who are You?"  And Jesus said to them, "Just what I have been saying to you from the beginning.  I have many things to say and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I heard from Him."  They did not understand that He spoke to them of the Father.  Then Jesus said to them, "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things.  And He who sent Me is with Me.  The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him."  As He spoke these words, many believed in Him.  Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.  And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

 They answered Him, "We are Abraham's descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone.  How can You say, 'You will be made free'?"  Jesus answered them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.  And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever.  Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."  Here is a depth of understanding of our reality as human beings.  What is the true depth of freedom?  When Jesus compares a slave to a son, He is speaking about a kind of absolute identity.  When we choose to follow the love of God, we are "sons" by adoption and thereby heirs.  Following sin, on the other hand, takes us to a different place with which we have allied ourselves.  One road leads to love and correction; with the other, we cheat ourselves.

"I know that you are Abraham's descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you.  I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father."  They answered and said to Him, "Abraham is our father."  Jesus said to them, "If you were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham.  But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God.  Abraham did not do this."  My study bible tells us that to be a child of Abraham, it is not enough to be simply related by blood.  Instead, true children of Abraham share Abraham's faith and virtue (Luke 3:8).  St. John Chrysostom comments on this passage that the Lord wanted to detach His listeners from racial pride and teach them to no longer place their hope of salvation in being of the race of Abraham's children by nature, but to come to faith of their own free will.  Their idea that being a descendant of Abraham was enough for salvation was in fact the very thing that prevented them from truly hearing and coming to Christ.

"You do the deeds of your father."  Then they said to Him, "We were not born of fornication; we have one Father -- God."  Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me."  My study bible notes that proceeded here, as used by Jesus, doesn't refer to the Son coming eternally from the Father, but to Christ being sent from the Father to His Incarnation on earth.

"Why do you not understand My speech?  Because you are not able to listen to My word.  You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do.  He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar the the father of it.  But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me.  Which of you convicts Me of sin?  And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me?  He who is of God hears God's words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God."  If being a child of Abraham is based on sharing the attributes of Abraham (and particularly Abraham's love of God), then those who reject Christ share attributes of the one who hates God -- that is, the devil.  This would particularly be indicated in a hatred for truth.  Thereby they are called children of that father.

Christ offers us a rather stark choice.  But this choice is within us, and it begins, in Christ's words repeatedly throughout our recent readings, with the love of God.  Either the love of God is in the heart, He says, or it is not.  The love of God is mingled with a love of truth.  In yesterday's reading and commentary, we elaborated on Jesus' statement, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."  Our freedom, in some sense, is to choose whom we love and thereby what we love.  In one way lies truth:  the kind of transcendent truth that can see us through all things, help us in all of our choices in life, teach us love and right relationship to the world, to ourselves, to God.  On the other hand is the rejection of such truth and such love, and this is what He is saying to the leadership.  He is telling them that what one loves and allies with creates identity.  If we are to be children of Abraham, then we must be "like Abraham."  We look to Abraham's love of God, his devotion and faith, his willingness to follow and to find the life directed by God, his endurance, his character, his own steadfast love (a form of "God-likeness").  To truly love God is to become more "like God," to share the attributes of God, to grow in that likeness.  But to reject truth is to become a slave of the one who hates truth, the "father of lies."  We must ask ourselves -- with experience -- where does life lead with a rejection of the love of God?  Have we experienced the kind of slavery Christ talks about?  Do we understand truth as a kind of absolute that is inseparable from love and what love teaches us?  Do we know freedom as the capacity to be free from sin?  Have we experienced a road where we find ourselves engaging in practices that are somehow self-destructive, belittling to what it means to be a human being, by engaging in damaging behavior?  Let us observe and understand the choice He always offers us, and the freedom He makes possible.







Thursday, March 23, 2017

If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free


 Then Jesus said to them again, "I am going away, and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin.  Where I go you cannot come."  So the Jews said, "Will He kill Himself, because He says, 'Where I go you cannot come'?"  And He said to them, "You are from beneath; I am from above.  You are of this world; I am not of this world.  Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins."  Then they said to Him, "Who are You?"  And Jesus said to them, "Just what I have been saying to you from the beginning.  I have many things to say and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I heard from Him."  They did not understand that He spoke to them of the Father.  Then Jesus said to them, "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things.  And He who sent Me is with Me.  The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him."  As He spoke these words, many believed in Him.

Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.  And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." 

- John 8:21-32

In our current reading, Jesus is in Jerusalem at the autumn festival the Feast of Tabernacles, in the last year of His life.   The people are divided about Him, and the leadership plots against Him.  The Gospel reports His ongoing encounters with the leadership.  Yesterday we read that Jesus spoke again, saying, "I am the light of the world.  He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life."  The Pharisees therefore said to Him, "You bear witness of Yourself; Your witness is not true."  Jesus answered and said to them, "Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from and where I am going.  You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.  And yet if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent Me.  It is also written in your law that the testimony of two men is true.  I am One who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me."  Then they said to Him, "Where is Your Father?"  Jesus answered, "You know neither Me nor My Father.  If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also."  These words Jesus spoke in the treasury, as He taught in the temple; and no one laid hands on Him, for His hour had not yet come.

Then Jesus said to them again, "I am going away, and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin.  Where I go you cannot come."  So the Jews said, "Will He kill Himself, because He says, 'Where I go you cannot come'?"   And He said to them, "You are from beneath; I am from above.  You are of this world; I am not of this world.  Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins."  Jesus is referring to His death, Resurrection, and Ascension into heaven when He speaks of going away.  He is warning them that His time for "exodus," for the end of His mission, is coming, and that they have little time left with Him.

 Then they said to Him, "Who are You?"  And Jesus said to them, "Just what I have been saying to you from the beginning.  I have many things to say and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I heard from Him."  They did not understand that He spoke to them of the Father.  Then Jesus said to them, "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things.  And He who sent Me is with Me.  The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him."  As He spoke these words, many believed in Him.  My study bible says that lift up here has the double meaning of being nailed to the Cross and also of being exalted by His Father upon the completion of His work.

Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.  And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." If we abide in His word, we are disciples -- that is, learners.  To abide in Christ's word is the responsibility of all believers, says my study bible, not just the clergy or an elite class of zealots.   The truth, it says, refers both to the virtue of truth, and more importantly, to Christ Himself (see John 14:6).  Being free is the freedom from darkness, confusion, and lies.  It also includes freedom from the bondage of sin and death. 

Truth and freedom are important concepts for the modern world, particularly in our own sense of political freedom and freedom of expression of the truth.  But there are other, deeper ways, in which truth and freedom teach us something about faith and identity.  Christ spends so much time on this crucial relationship to the Father.  In John chapter 14, right after He tells His disciples that He is the way, the truth, and the life (v. 6), He says, "If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him (v. 7)."  His identity, as He has told the leadership in the temple so many times in recent readings, is ultimately bound with the Father's.  Although they are two separate beings, they are inseparable in their divine nature and in divine will.  The Incarnation gives us the story of Jesus Christ, fully human and fully God.  That is, He is one who merges His human will to the divine will as Son.  This union of the human and divine is what is called in theology "hypostasis."  It serves as the image or aim of those who would be Christ's disciples and abide in His word.  That is, we also seek a union with Christ in terms of our own growth as persons, and our understanding of ourselves, our identity.  St. Athanasius, among others, told us, "God became man so that man could become God."  That is, by abiding in Him, we too hope for the qualities of God-likeness.  (St. Paul elaborates on the fruits of the spirit as character traits that grow in us through faith:  "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law" (Galatians 5:22-23).  But when Christ speaks of truth and of freedom, He is also alluding to the identity of the self that He offers in discipleship.  This is something very important for us to understand and to take to heart in terms of our own knowledge of what truth and freedom are all about.  The freedom and the truth He offers is precisely this capacity to grow in His likeness, to walk in His word and to change the very reality of the self in so doing.  The divine energy or mercy of God is at work in us in discipleship.  He makes it possible for us to participate in the kingdom of God even as we live in this world.  Our very freedom and truth exist within this call to true selfhood, to true identity.  In discipleship to Christ, we may find ourselves changing drastically, sometimes surprisingly -- although it is a lifelong walk in which we find growth and transformation all along the way.  Sometimes the changes are subtle and they may be years and years in coming, but this does not lessen the surprise.  We should also remember that the word in Greek for repentance literally means "change of mind."  In this is our freedom, also.  We have the freedom to change our minds.  Ultimately, it is His truth and His freedom that is on offer.  They are the gifts to us that we aspire to "abide in," to come to terms with, to allow to change us, like the leaven that leavens the whole of the meal in Jesus' parable of the Kingdom (see Matthew 13:33).  We might discover that new values start to appeal to us, or our friends think we've changed.  With God's help, old habits that harm the self are broken, and new habits acquired.  There is no telling how deep this may go, for the barriers to God do not exist within us, except the ones we put up ourselves.  It is in this freedom and this truth that we are ultimately free to make choices, to ally with His truth, to be the ones He calls us to be, and to reflect His light into the world.  Do you have the courage to accept it?  Many people go into the world seeking only affirmation of what they already know or believe.  But for the disciple, faith is always a journey, and He offers the constant goal of "becoming." 






Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life


 Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world.  He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life."  The Pharisees therefore said to Him, "You bear witness of Yourself; Your witness is not true."  Jesus answered and said to them, "Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from and where I am going.  You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.  And yet if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent Me.  It is also written in your law that the testimony of two men is true.  I am One who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me."  Then they said to Him, "Where is Your Father?"  Jesus answered, "You know neither Me nor My Father.  If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also."  These words Jesus spoke in the treasury, as He taught in the temple; and no one laid hands on Him, for His hour had not yet come.

- John 8:12-20

Our current readings place us at the Feast of Tabernacles in the last year of Jesus' life.  This is an eight-day autumn festival, commemorating the time Israel wandered in the wilderness of Sinai.  Yesterday we read that on the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."  But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.  Therefore many from the crowd, when they heard this saying, said, "Truly this is the Prophet."  Others said, "This is the Christ."  But some said, "Will the Christ come out of Galilee?  Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?"  So there was a division among the people because of Him.  Now some of them wanted to take Him, but no one laid hands on Him.  Then the officers came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, "Why have you not brought Him?"  The officers answered, "No man ever spoke like this Man!"  Then the Pharisees answered them, "Are you also deceived?  Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him?  But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed."  Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them) said to them, "Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?"  They answered and said to him, "Are you also from Galilee?  Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee."  And everyone went to his own house.

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world.  He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life." As part of the Feast of Tabernacles, the conclusion includes the lighting of the great lamps at the temple.  (One recalls the pillar of fire that lit the way for the Israelites in the darkness on their way toward the promised kingdom.)  It is in this context that Jesus speaks these words.  My study bible says that He is declaring Himself to be the fulfillment and he divine object of all celebrations of light.  In Scripture, God the Father Himself is light (1:4-9; 1 John 1:5).  This is an attribute bestowed on God's followers (Matthew 5:14; Philippians 2:15).  Christ proclaims such "illumination" by performing the sign of opening the eyes of the blind from birth (9:1-7, especially verse 5).

The Pharisees therefore said to Him, "You bear witness of Yourself; Your witness is not true."  Jesus answered and said to them, "Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from and where I am going.  You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.  And yet if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent Me.  It is also written in your law that the testimony of two men is true.  I am One who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me."  Then they said to Him, "Where is Your Father?"  Jesus answered, "You know neither Me nor My Father.  If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also."  These words Jesus spoke in the treasury, as He taught in the temple; and no one laid hands on Him, for His hour had not yet come.  Once again, Jesus returns to the union of Father and Son, but most particularly to the Father from whom comes all things.  My study bible says that because the Son and the Father share the same divine nature, one cannot be known apart from the other (see John 14:7-11).

What is a witness?  What does it mean to be a witness, or to be a good witness?  What does it mean to bear witness?  A witness, according to one dictionary definition, is one who sees an event, or one who offers evidence or proof of something.  To bear witness, the form Jesus uses here, is a verb form of the word.  To "witness" in this way is to see otherwise observe something, or to give or serve as evidence of it, to testify to something.  What this points to is the reality of the relationship between the Father and the Son.  Can there be an earthly witness of this?  Who can give testimony to this?  Earlier in another reading, Jesus cited four witnesses to this relationship.  He named those to whom it had been divinely revealed:  John the Baptist, a prophet, and Moses, also a prophet.  As third witness He named the Scriptures, also divinely revealed.  And finally He named the works that He did, the signs, also forms of revelation of the presence of the kingdom of heaven in the world.  In today's reading, Jesus says that those who judge Him have no right to do so.  They do not know Him, nor where He is from, nor where He is going -- but He knows these things.  He says, "You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one."    He goes on to add something important:  "And yet if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent Me."  Everything refers again back to the Father and to the witness that comes of this relationship.  What we gather from these examples of witnesses and witnessing that Jesus cites is the necessary connection to the divine that affirms and teaches about things which are divine in nature and origin.  We can speculate all that we want to, but to "judge according to the flesh" is to judge with standards that are ignorant, in some sense, of the reality of the divine.  It is to judge outside of that reality and understanding and experience.  We take away once again that Jesus is teaching these men that despite their expertise and authority, they cannot judge Him, because they do not have the experience of the love of God in their hearts.  They do not share this communion, and thereby they do not judge accurately nor appropriately.  The theme of today's reading might be summed up in Jesus' words that He is the light of the world.  He says, "I am the light of the world.  He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life."  If it is He who comes from the Father, He shares this light with the world.  He has brought illumination for all of us, for each of us.  And it is His mission to bring us to that light so that we, too, may share in it and reflect it into the world.  Everything becomes about this depth of relationship.  We can look at the image of the great lamps burning at the temple, reminding us of the pillar of fire that lit the way in the darkness for the Israelites.  Fire, like light, can be shared and spread.  As one candle in the darkness is lit by the next, this is a light with a divine origin, but which spreads its communion among us and within us.  It is the divine working of this light that we seek, and that we know from Christ and Christ's witness, and all those who bear witness also to this light.  How do you share in it?   How is that light shared with you?  How do you share it with the world and bear witness yourself?



Tuesday, March 21, 2017

No man ever spoke like this Man!


 On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."  But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Therefore many from the crowd, when they heard this saying, said, "Truly this is the Prophet."  Others said, "This is the Christ."  But some said, "Will the Christ come out of Galilee?  Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?"  So there was a division among the people because of Him.  Now some of them wanted to take Him, but no one laid hands on Him.

Then the officers came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, "Why have you not brought Him?"  The officers answered, "No man ever spoke like this Man!"  Then the Pharisees answered them, "Are you also deceived?  Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him?  But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed."  Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them) said to them, "Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?"  They answered and said to him, "Are you also from Galilee?  Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee."  And everyone went to his own house.

- John 7:37-52

Current events in our reading take place at the Feast of Tabernacles, an eight-day autumn festival, during the last year of Jesus' life.  This festival commemorates the time that Israel wandered in the desert of Sinai, and dwelt in tents or "tabernacles," temporary dwellings.  It is also a feast of the coming Kingdom.  Yesterday we read that about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught.  And the Jews marveled, saying, "How does this Man know letters, having never studied?"  Jesus answered them and said, "My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me.  If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.  He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him.  Did not Moses give you the law, yet none of you keeps the law?  Why do you seek to kill Me?"  The people answered and said, "You have a demon.  Who is seeking to kill You?"  Jesus answered and said to them, "I did one work, and you all marvel.  Moses therefore gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath.  If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath?  Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment."  Now some of them from Jerusalem said, "Is this not He whom they seek to kill?  But look!  He speaks boldly, and they say nothing to Him.  Do the rulers know indeed that this is truly the Christ?  However, we know where this Man is from; but when the Christ comes, no one knows where He is from."  Then Jesus cried out, as He taught in the temple, saying, "You both know Me, and you know where I am from; and I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know.  But I know Him, for I am from Him, and He sent Me."  Therefore they sought to take Him; but no one laid a hand on Him, because His hour had not yet come.  And many of the people believed in Him, and said, "When the Christ comes, will He do more signs than these which this Man has done?"  The Pharisees heard the crowd murmuring these things concerning Him, and the Pharisees and the chief priests sent officers to take Him.  Then Jesus said to them, "I shall be with you a little while longer, and then I go to Him who sent Me.  You will seek Me and not find Me, and where I am you cannot come."  Then the Jews said among themselves, "Where does He intend to go that we shall not find Him?  Does He intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?  What is this thing that He said, 'You will seek Me and not find Me, and where I am you cannot come'?"

 On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."  But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.   The last day, that great day of the feast is the eighth day of the Feast of Tabernacles.   There was a ceremony of drawing water from a pool, commemorating the water flowing from a rock that Moses struck, which provides the context for the words of Christ.  This living water is the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the new life that accompanies the gift.

Therefore many from the crowd, when they heard this saying, said, "Truly this is the Prophet."  Others said, "This is the Christ."  But some said, "Will the Christ come out of Galilee?  Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?"  So there was a division among the people because of Him.  Now some of them wanted to take Him, but no one laid hands on Him.   The Prophet, my study bible tells us, refers to the expected Messiah, the Savior that Moses foretold would come (Deuteronomy 18:15-19).  Bethlehem was the town from which Christ was prophesied to come (Micah 5:2).  We can see the deep divisions stirring among the people because of Christ.

Then the officers came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, "Why have you not brought Him?"  The officers answered, "No man ever spoke like this Man!"  Then the Pharisees answered them, "Are you also deceived?  Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him?  But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed."   The chief priests had sent officers of the temple to arrest Jesus in the middle of the Feast (see yesterday's reading).  Now we are at the last day of the Feast, and no arrest has yet happened.  These officers, says my study bible, had been converted by the Lord's teaching.  The Pharisees and scribes, according to St. John Chrysostom, who had "witnessed the miracles and read the Scriptures derived no benefit" from either (see again yesterday's reading for Jesus' words to them).  These officers, on the contrary, although they could claim none of the learning of the leaders, were "captivated by a single sermon."  St. Chrysostom continues, saying that when the mind is open "there is no need for long speeches.  Truth is like that." 

Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them) said to them, "Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?"  They answered and said to him, "Are you also from Galilee?  Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee."  And everyone went to his own house.  Nicodemus had spoken with Jesus (which we read about in chapter 3), at which time Jesus taught him about baptism and the Holy Spirit, and his faith had increased.  But, says my study bible, his defense of Christ was still based on our law and wasn't yet a public profession of faith (see also John 19:38-39).   According to the Jewish law, Jesus must be given a hearing before He can be judged (see Exodus 23:1; Deuteronomy 1:15-17).   To say that no prophet has arisen out of Galilee is to show blind hatred and ignorance of the Scriptures.  The prophet Jonah came from Galilee, from the town of Gath Hepher, only three miles from Nazareth (2 Kings 14:25).

Jesus comes speaking the truth, the spiritual truth, and in some sense, it's as if all chaos comes into the picture in response.  At least on the part of those who resent Him, and who want to do away with Him, we see all kinds of "craziness," one might say.  The leadership, those "in charge" of religious life, suddenly seem to forget their own law, and their own Scriptures, in which they are the experts.  It is Nicodemus who stands up for the procedures of the law, and the leaders respond falsely and with scorn that no prophet has arisen out of Galilee.  John tells us that there was a division among the people because of Him.  We must remember Christ's own words about the effect of His truth in the world:  "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; and 'a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.'"  (Matthew 10:34-36; Jesus also quotes here from Micah 7:6.)  Jesus goes even further than this in the following verses from Matthew 10:  "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.  He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it."  These are tough words to follow, but we witness the effect of His teaching, His words, and His presence in the events recorded here by John.  There is a division among the people, and the officers sent to arrest Him are unable to do so because of His word.  The leadership becomes so furious as to be nearly beside themselves, forgetting their own law and Scripture.  We mustn't forget that these images are not simply teachings about historical events, but they are images of truths that tell us something about Christ, about the power of His word, and about our own choices in life -- and in the nitty-gritty personal details in the working out of our own salvation, on a personal and individual scale.  Christ's word and His truths will call each of us in our own way to "guide our steps to His commands" (see Psalm 119:133).  Our problems may not be as epic nor as public as Jesus' situation, but the conflicts that arise for us in pursuit of this faith may feel just as acute as the situations we read about in the Gospels.  We may struggle with the actions and choices of friends, relatives, our closest relationships on earth.  But everything will come down to how we find ourselves called to follow Christ.  This is a calling that, as He says above, cuts through and below and more deeply than everything else, and we must be prepared to deal with the difficult choices that will come in pursuing a life lived in the love of Christ.  Whatever we are, those choices will come to us.  It becomes our job to find the way of negotiating our lives in the world according to the ways we're taught.  We remember that God "makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Mathew 5:45), and understand that life doesn't offer us simple choices in black and white -- but that nevertheless we will be called to choose our values in our hearts and to live them.  That goes even for the times in which we may feel alone if we do so.  This is carrying our own cross.  The story of the Gospels is also the story of the growing faith of Christ's disciples and followers, those who have to make choices, who will be eventually forced to make the toughest of choices in their love for Him.  So we learn about the world, and mustn't be surprised by what we may encounter, if we're in this for the long haul, so to speak.  Faith is the journey of a lifetime.  Let us remember that He is our refuge.