Friday, May 26, 2017

This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!


Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray.  As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening.  And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.  But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him.  Then it happened, as they were parting from Him that Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles:  one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah" -- not knowing what he said.  While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud.  And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My beloved Son.  Hear Him!"  When the voice had ceased, Jesus was found alone.  But they kept quiet, and told no one in those days any of the things they had seen. 

- Luke 9:28-36

Yesterday was Ascension Day.  We read that, after Jesus' suffering and death on the Cross, and Resurrection, the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them.  When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.  And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."  Amen.   Today the lectionary resumes from Monday's reading, in which Peter confessed his faith that Jesus was the Christ (see But who do you say that I am?)

 Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray.  As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening.  And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.  But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him.  Then it happened, as they were parting from Him that Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles:  one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah" -- not knowing what he said.  While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud.  And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My beloved Son.  Hear Him!"  When the voice had ceased, Jesus was found alone.  But they kept quiet, and told no one in those days any of the things they had seen.   The events in today's reading constitute what is known as the Transfiguration.  The two men, Moses and Elijah, speak to Jesus of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.  The word translated as decease is exodus in the Greek, which literally means "departure."  My study bible tells us that Christ's death is intimately connected to the glory of the Transfiguration, because Christ, according to His own words, is glorified through His death (John 12:23).  The term exodus reveals that Christ's Passion is a fulfillment of the Old Testament Passover and is the true exodus from enslavement into salvation.  This revelation of the events of the Transfiguration also tells us that His death on the Cross was not simply imposed on Him by outside forces, but rather that it was a voluntary offering of love.  My study bible suggests that no arresting soldier could withstand such glory if Christ had not consented (Matthew 26:53).  An Orthodox festal hymn of Transfiguration declares, "Your disciples beheld Your glory as far as they could bear it, so that when they saw You crucified, they would understand that Your suffering was voluntary."  There is another parallel to the Exodus story here, in Peter's declaration that they should make tabernacles (or tents) for Christ, Moses, and Elijah.  During the years of Israel's exodus, the people dwelt in tents or tabernacles, impermanent structures.  The Feast of Tabernacles (or Sukkot) commemorates this time, and is the feast of the coming Kingdom.  In Christ, this Kingdom is revealed and dwells among us and within us.

What is Christ's glory?  The Transfiguration tells us that while He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening.  It's a holy light that was revealed to these disciples through Jesus' clothing which reflected an impossible brightness.  Mark tells us that His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them (Mark 9:3).  These brilliant and dazzling visions are images of glory.  But when Jesus speaks of His own glorification, He speaks of the hour of the Cross.  A strange paradox for human understanding, and yet it is the divine understanding of glory that we seek.  And in this understanding and definition, that hour of Christ's glory is the hour of His sacrifice for love and for the kingdom of God to be manifest and available for human beings, so that we may be a part of it even as we live in this world.  That is what such a sacrifice is all about, and true glory means the depth and weight of significance, value, and immeasurable greatness.  This is the full meaning of the sacramental life to which He calls us when He says that we, too, should take up our crosses daily and follow Him.  Glory is something essential to think about, because in this understanding of glory is also all that is good and true and beautiful.   To think about glory asks us to redefine our lives and our understanding of greatness as that which is found in the true beauty of love and mercy, as it may radiate through human beings who wish to participate in this glory of Christ's life and Kingdom.










Thursday, May 25, 2017

Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age


 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them.  When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.  And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."  Amen.

- Matthew 28:16-20

Yesterday we read that Jesus taught His disciples, "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on.  Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing.  Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them.  Of how much more value are you than the birds?  And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?  If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest?  Consider the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith?  And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind.  For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things.  But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you."

Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them.  When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.  And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth."  Here Christ declares His authority -- that is, the authority that was His by nature in His divinity is now also possessed by His glorified human nature.  In Him, human nature has now trampled the final enemy -- death (1 Corinthians 15:20-28).   Here is the interesting, even fascinating, juxtaposition:  as Jesus declares His overwhelming authority, there are those who worship, but some doubted.

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, . . . "  This is called the Great commission.  It is the Lord's final commandment given on earth to His disciples.  It is to be lived out in the Church until He returns again.  My study bible says that making disciples cannot be done on the strength of man, but only in the power of God.  The power of the Resurrection isn't only for Jesus Himself, but rather it is a gift to all believers for christian life and mission.

". . . teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."  Amen.  Christ Himself is always present in each believer and in the Church -- both personally and in the Holy Spirit, because neither one can be separated from the other.  Jesus is with us now, and forever, and to the ages of ages.  This is something that we must never forget, in any and all circumstances.

It's an awesome thing to ponder Christ's authority, that it is not simply His divine authority per His divine nature that He is speaking of, but rather it now also includes the glorified human nature of the Incarnate Christ.  Why is this an awesome thing?  It indicates the capacities for which human beings were created.  How can glorified human nature share this power of the ruler of the universe?  It is so much greater than we can ponder that the possibilities are limitless for us to consider what it means.  And this was the truly staggering fact that awed the classical world when it learned about Christ:  that humanity was revealed through Him and His life to be so much greater than could be imagined -- fit for the glory of the Lord.  For the early Church, this tremendous news was also reflected in veneration of His mother as saint, the one through whom the Holy Spirit worked to produce a child who was also God.  In these realities made manifest through God at work in the world, in the mission of Christ as Incarnate Son, all human beings are lifted up as potential carriers of the Kingdom and of true majesty and beauty, because Christ has dignified humanity with the crown of divinity in Himself.  If all that is too staggering to think about, consider simply that we are made for grace and for glory, and that is the good news indeed.  His Incarnation, suffering, death, and Resurrection teaches us what we are made for, where He wants us to follow and be with Him.  Today is Ascension Day, and we commemorate this farewell which is not at all a farewell, but rather a promise that He is with us always.  Amen. 




Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you


 Then He said to His disciples, "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on.  Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing.  Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them.  Of how much more value are you than the birds?  And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?  If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest?  Consider the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith?  And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind.  For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things.  But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you."

- Luke 12:22-31

Yesterday we read that as Jesus was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, one of His disciples said to Him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples."  So He said to them, "When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.  Your kingdom come.  Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us day by day our daily bread.  And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.  And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one."  And He said to them, "Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and he will answer from within and say, 'Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you'?  I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs.  So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.  If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a  serpent instead of a fish?  Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!"  As in yesterday's reading, today the lectionary skips forward to chapter 12, in preparation for Ascension Day tomorrow.

 Then He said to His disciples, "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on.  Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing.  Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them.  Of how much more value are you than the birds?  And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?  If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest?  Consider the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith?  And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind."  My study bible says that here Jesus warns us against anxiety, but not against thoughtful planning.  Our deepest dependency for physical well-being is on God, and only indirectly on food, drink, and clothing.  Anxiety over earthly things demonstrates a lack of faith in God's care, a note tells us.  Jesus' words here remind us of the love of God, and the care of God, even for the ravens and the grass.  And to God, we who may bear the Kingdom into the world are of so much greater value.  Therefore our first priority is our dependency upon and relationship to God before all other considerations, planning, and concern.

"For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things."  The nations of the world are the Gentiles, who worship idols and therefore remain consumed by dependence upon earthly things.  This is an idea of connection to "worldly" material power, rather than dependency upon God.  To depend upon God is to be free of dependencies which base all our well-being and self-awareness on worldly circumstances.  But again we note that this is not an extreme form of rejection of material life at all; Jesus reassures us that our "Father knows that you need these things," making God's care intimate and personal.

"But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you."  Here is the central theme of Jesus' teaching, the kingdom of God.  All His preaching is focused on this.  My study bible says that, calling us to be free from anxiety about earthly things, Jesus directs us to look to heaven, secure in the faith that God will provide needed earthly blessings.

We may be tempted to read Jesus' words as rejections of material life.  But then again we must remember God is creator of all the world, our bodies as well as our souls, and everything about the world itself.  To reject material life is to reject God's own creation. Rather, we are asked to make a distinction between material life and materialism.  These are two different things.  On the one hand, we can see the world as created by God and ourselves as stewards in it, asked to make wise decisions about the protection, care, and prolonging of the good qualities of life -- and not only for human beings for but for all the life of the world.  But if we look at that phrase, for the life of the world, and find it in Jesus' teachings, we read John 6:51:  "I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world."  This is directly impinging on our understanding of our material lives, as it conveys to us the entire sacramental understanding of Christ.  We seek  the kingdom of God, meaning that it is this dependency, and goal, and drive that sustains and builds and enhances our own ability to be good stewards of the world, and to know how to use wisely our material goods and manage properly our needs for them.  We have a choice:  a completely selfish perspective based on materialism, a purely materialistic perspective on our lives and the life of the world.  Or, we seek the kingdom of God, which may direct how we use, live, work, and share the beauty of the world, how we value its goodness in particular as a gift from God, and how we relate to one another on every level of life in the world.  All we have to do is simply look around to find ourselves easily persuaded that there are selfish ways of using power in seeking material goods, and there are also ways of balancing that understanding and power and by seeking God's wisdom and perspective first in doing so.  Our dependency is there because it is that direction that makes all the difference between a world guided by our own selfishness and its destructive potential, and a world in which we may build something of value and beauty that recognizes our need for righteousness; that is, right-relatedness to all the world and everything and all others in it.  That is, the whole of the life of the world.  Let us remember His gift and sacrifice, and ask ourselves to what extent we are meant to follow in His footsteps for the life of the world.  The anxiety we are asked to put aside is anything that stands in the way of our primary dependency and recognition of that dependency upon God, and our deep desire for God's kingdom to manifest in the world, as we were taught to pray in yesterday's reading:  "Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Luke 11:2). 







Tuesday, May 23, 2017

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!


Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples."  So He said to them, "When you pray, say:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us day by day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one."
And He said to them, "Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and he will answer from within and say, 'Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you'?  I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs.  So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.  If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a  serpent instead of a fish?  Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!"

- Luke 11:1-13

Yesterday we read that it happened, as Jesus was alone praying, that His disciples joined Him, and He asked them, saying, "Who do the crowds say that I am?"  So they answered and said, "John the Baptist, but some say Elijah; and others say that one of the old prophets has risen again."  He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"  Peter answered and said, "The Christ of God."  And He strictly warned and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, "The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day."  Then he said to them all, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.  For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father's, and of the holy angels.   But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the kingdom of God."  Today's reading, in preparation for Ascension Day on Thursday the 25th, skips over to chapter 11.


Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples."   Teach us to pray is an expression of universal longing to be in communion with God, my study bible teaches us.

So He said to them, "When you pray, say:  Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.  Your kingdom come.  Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  In yesterday’s reading, Jesus asked Peter, “But who do you say that I am?”  Everything about Jesus’ identity tells us something, also, about ourselves.  Here, the Father-Son relationship within the Trinity reveals our potential relationship with God. Christ, the Son of God, grants us the privilege of calling God Our Father by the grace of adoption (Galatians 4:4-7).  My study bible tells us that as a “son of God,” the Christian (male and female) is called to love, trust, and serve God as Christ does His Father.  We learn loyalty and love from His example.  My study bible notes that God is not our Father simply because He has created us.  He is only Father to those in a saving and personal relationship, a communion that only comes by the grace of adoption (see John 1:13; Romans 8:14-16).  This is the fullness of love possible with God, a fullness that extends so deeply in its love that it conveys and gives us identity.  In that identity, we become those who carry the Kingdom in the world; our most devout wish to bring the kingdom here, and that our Father’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

“Give us day by day our daily bread.”  Daily is a misleading translation of a Greek word that was coined specifically for this prayer.  It is found nowhere else in Greek literature.  That word is epiousios, which means quite literally, “above the essence,” or “supersubstantial."  Daily bread therefore is meant to mean not just bread for today, nor for purely earthly nourishment.  This speaks of the bread for the eternal day of the Kingdom of God, the holiness of life in the Kingdom with which we seek to nourish our immortal soul.  My study bible tells us that this living, supersubstantial bread is Christ Himself.  In the Lord’s Prayer we aren’t asking simply for material bread for physical health.  We ask for the spiritual bread of eternal life (John 6:27-58).  There can be little doubt about the eucharistic meanings of this daily bread.

“And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.”  We see the reciprocal action implied here, not for the first nor the last time in the Gospels that Jesus will convey such an idea.  The concept of sin as debt also figures repeatedly, to forgive is to let go, like taking something off the books.  This refers to spiritual indebtedness.  We no longer seek reciprocity for the debt, but rather for the forgiveness – and our negotiation is brokered by and through the Father.    It is the Father through whom every good and perfect gift comes.  We note this is in the plural; we are to pray always for the forgiveness of others, my study bible teaches us. 

"And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one."  Temptations come from the evil one, the devil – and not from God.  Temptations, says my study bible, are aimed at the soul’s giving in to the sinful passions of the flesh (Romans 7:5).  No one lives without encountering temptations, but we pray that great temptations – that is, tests beyond what we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13), do not come to us.

And He said to them, "Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and he will answer from within and say, 'Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you'?  I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs."  Jesus gives us a parable after the prayer, in which He demonstrates God's faithfulness to those who are in need and who pray with persistence.  Tradition has interpreted midnight to be both the time of our death and also a time of great temptation.  The friend, says my study bible, is Christ, who, as our only source of grace, provides everything we need.

"So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.  If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a  serpent instead of a fish?  Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!"  Jesus is not content simply to give us a parable about persistent prayer, but He also indicates clearly here those things that a disciple prays for:  the gift of the Holy Spirit and all that may encompass in our lives.  In Greek the verbs that are translated as ask, seek, and knock imply a continuing action.  They could be more accurately be translated, “keep asking,” “keep seeking,” and “keep knocking.”  My study bible says that God responds when we persistently ask for things that are good.  Bread, fish, and an egg are all images of life.  They symbolize the gift of the Holy Spirit (see John 14:13-14; James 4:3).

What do we ask for in prayer?  What is prayer for?  To continue to keep asking, seeking, and knocking at the door of heaven ("I am the door") is expressive of a drive to discipleship and the deeper movement into communion with God.  We are invited into mysteries to great to fathom and too deep to predict.  We are given a key to a kind of way to find ourselves in this realm of the kingdom of God.  In Christ, we find out who we are.  Through repentance, we discard the things we find within ourselves that really are not what belongs to that identity we have in Him and that He seeks to bring us.  In what is called the Prayer of the Hours, written by St.  Basil the Great, we pray to Christ as He "who calls all to repentance and salvation through the promise of good things to come."  When we pray, no matter what we pray for, we keep in mind that the real goal of all Christian worship is union with God.  Whatever it is that we need to get there, it is that for which we fervently and persistently keep asking and seeking and knocking.  We don’t know how Christ will draw us forward into that journey, nor what paths and parallels and twists and turns we will experience as we are drawn forward into the love and longing of our Father for our love.  It is, indeed, a long and also daily journey, in which we take up our cross and ask for the daily nourishment we need.


Monday, May 22, 2017

But who do you say that I am?


 And it happened, as He was alone praying, that His disciples joined Him, and He asked them, saying, "Who do the crowds say that I am?"  So they answered and said, "John the Baptist, but some say Elijah; and others say that one of the old prophets has risen again."  He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"  Peter answered and said, "The Christ of God."

And He strictly warned and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, "The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day."  Then he said to them all, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.  For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father's, and of the holy angels.   But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the kingdom of God."

- Luke 9:18-27

On Saturday we read that Jesus called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases.  He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.  And He said to them, "Take nothing for the journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money; and do not have two tunics apiece.  Whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart.  And whoever will not receive you, when you go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet as a testimony against them."  So they departed and went through the towns, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.  Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was done by Him; and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had risen from the dead, and by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the old prophets had risen again.  Herod said, "John I have beheaded, but who is this of whom I hear such things?"  So he sought to see Him.  And the apostles, when they had returned, told Him all that they had done.  Then He took them and went aside privately into a deserted place belonging to the city called Bethsaida.  But when the multitudes knew it, they followed Him; and He received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who had need of healing.  When the day began to wear away, the twelve came and said to Him, "Send the multitude away, that they may go into the surrounding towns and country, and lodge and get provisions; for we are in a deserted place here."  But He said to them, "You give them something to eat."  And they said, "We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we go and buy food for all these people."  For there were about five thousand men.  Then He said to His disciples, "Make them sit down in groups of fifty."  And they did so, and made them all sit down.  Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the multitude.  So they all ate and were filled, and twelve baskets of the leftover fragments were taken up by them.

 And it happened, as He was alone praying, that His disciples joined Him, and He asked them, saying, "Who do the crowds say that I am?"  So they answered and said, "John the Baptist, but some say Elijah; and others say that one of the old prophets has risen again."  He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"  Peter answered and said, "The Christ of God."  My study bible says that as in every generation, what the crowds have to say about Jesus is usually unpredictable and misguided.  There is a clear contrast here between those who are disciples and have faith in Jesus, and those who do not and do not know Him.  The question, "Who do you say that I am?" is the ultimate question in Scripture and all theology.  How this question is answered defines the universe, my study bible tells us.  But Scripture (as well as other aspects of the Church, such as its tradition and the ongoing work of God in the world) also defines the answer to this question, and leaves open so much more to be answered.  Christ (Hebrew Messiah) means "Anointed One."  This declaration by Peter that Jesus is the Christ of God reveals that Jesus is not just another anointed king of prophet, but rather the long-awaited Savior.

And He strictly warned and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, "The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day."  Given the different ideas of the crowds, as well as the growing awareness of the rulers in power, Jesus desires to keep His identity as the Christ hidden.  This way He will avoid popular political and theological misunderstandings about His mission and His identity.  Only after His Passion and Resurrection can his identity as Messiah be understood, and all must come in light of the full completion of His ministry and saving mission.

 Then he said to them all, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.  For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father's, and of the holy angels."   My study bible suggests that we note two things.  First, each person must take up his or her own cross.  Every person's burden in this world is different, each to his or her own.  Each person has been chosen by God to bear certain struggles for one's own salvation and the salvation of those around oneself.  We note also that the cross is to be taken up daily.  Commitment to following Christ isn't a one-time event, it's a full-time reality.  It is the continual practice, says my study bible, of faith and obedience, even to the point of being shamed and persecuted by the world. 

 “But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the kingdom of God."    In the verses immediately following, the story of the Transfiguration takes place (9:28-36).   This reference is to those who will witness the Transfiguration among them, as well as those in every generation who experience the presence of God’s Kingdom.

 There is an emphasis in today’s text about the essential need for Jesus’ ministry to evolve in a particular way, and that need has to do with why, from the beginning, the emphasis on right understanding was essential to the Church.  There is nothing missing or haphazard or done mistakenly or by accident in this ministry.  Everything has to unfold in a particular way so that Jesus is revealed to us in a particular way.  At the time, there were so many expectations of what the Messiah would bring, what the Messsiah would do.  But Jesus introduces something so extraordinary that no one could really have predicted what this event would bring.  The Incarnation is the greatest story ever told precisely because of what all the meanings of this Christ, or Messiah, bring to each one of us.  Its impact on the early Church set a course for struggles of meaning and understanding that would be fulfilled in the early Councils of the Church.  Jesus’ question to Peter, “But who do you say that I am?” becomes the most central question of all.  What does it man that God becomes a human being?  The multiplicity and infinitude of meanings and impact on us in this conception of Christ’s identity have the fullness of teaching us who we can be.  As Christ comes into the world to re-unite a separated God and humankind, He himself is God and human.  He makes it possible for us to understand that human beings are made for communion with God.  Not only that, but through Him we know that we are capable of becoming like God.  The true direction of all the practices of the Church is this unification, this road of becoming like Him.  We may manifest the fruits of the Spirit.  We may grow in this likeness.  The whole purpose of a devoted prayer practice is simply this.  And this is the way that you build the Kingdom in the world, for “the kingdom of heaven is within you" (17:21).  Without our understanding of who Christ is, then we wouldn’t have any idea what we’re capable of becoming, nor the great grace and honor that are given to human beings.  His words are simple and true; all we have to do is “Follow Him,” take up our crosses daily, and move into the direction He gives us, learning from Him, for “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:30).  Everything depends on who we say He is, because how we find the deepest meanings in our own lives come from that understanding.







Saturday, May 20, 2017

He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick


 Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases.  He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.  And He said to them, "Take nothing for the journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money; and do not have two tunics apiece.  Whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart.  And whoever will not receive you, when you go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet as a testimony against them."  So they departed and went through the towns, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.

Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was done by Him; and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had risen from the dead, and by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the old prophets had risen again.  Herod said, "John I have beheaded, but who is this of whom I hear such things?"  So he sought to see Him.

And the apostles, when they had returned, told Him all that they had done.  Then He took them and went aside privately into a deserted place belonging to the city called Bethsaida.  But when the multitudes knew it, they followed Him; and He received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who had need of healing.  When the day began to wear away, the twelve came and said to Him, "Send the multitude away, that they may go into the surrounding towns and country, and lodge and get provisions; for we are in a deserted place here."  But He said to them, "You give them something to eat."  And they said, "We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we go and buy food for all these people."  For there were about five thousand men.  Then He said to His disciples, "Make them sit down in groups of fifty."  And they did so, and made them all sit down.  Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the multitude.  So they all ate and were filled, and twelve baskets of the leftover fragments were taken up by them.

- Luke 9:1-17

Yesterday we read that when Jesus and the disciples returned from the other side of the Sea of Galilee, the multitude welcomed Him back in Capernaum, for they were all waiting for Him.  And behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue.  And he fell down at Jesus' feet and begged Him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter about twelve years of age, and she was dying. But as He went, the multitudes thronged Him.  Now a woman, having a flow of blood for twelve years, who had spent all her livelihood on physicians and could not be healed by any, came from behind and touched the border of His garment.  And immediately her flow of blood stopped.  And Jesus said, "Who touched Me?"  When all denied it, Peter and those with him said, "Master, the multitudes throng and press You, and You say, 'Who touched Me?'"  But Jesus said, "Somebody touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me."  Now when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before Him, she declared to Him in the presence of all the people the reason she had touched Him and how she was healed immediately.  And He said to her, "Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well.  Go in peace." While He was still speaking, someone came from the ruler of the synagogue's house, saying to him, "Your daughter is dead.  Do not trouble the Teacher."  But when Jesus heard it, He answered him, saying, "Do not be afraid; only believe, and she will be made well."  When He came into the house, He permitted no one to go in except Peter James, and John, and the father and mother of the girl.  Now all wept and mourned for her; but He said, "Do not weep, she is not dead, but sleeping."  And they ridiculed Him, knowing that she was dead.  But He put them all outside, took her by the hand and called, saying, "Little girl, arise."  Then her spirit returned, and she arose immediately.  And He commanded that she be given something to eat.  And her parents were astonished, but He charged them to tell no one what had happened.

Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases.  He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.  And He said to them, "Take nothing for the journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money; and do not have two tunics apiece.  Whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart.  And whoever will not receive you, when you go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet as a testimony against them."  So they departed and went through the towns, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.   It is the point in Jesus' ministry where He sends the disciples out on their first mission; hence, they become apostles (disciple means "learner" and apostle means "one who is sent out").  Their mission is like Christ's:  they are to preach and to heal.  They are to take nothing for the journey:  not staffs, nor bag nor bread nor money, nor extra clothing.  Their dependence is to be fully on God, and their mission also depends on them not being accused of greed.  To stay and depart from one house only means they will not "trade up" for better accommodations or to stay with more wealthy folk as they are welcomed.  Everything depends upon the reception they get; the first house to welcome them will be the place they remain and stay.  But in towns where they are not received, they are to shake off the very dust from their feet as their testimony against them.  So, like the word of Christ, everything depends on those to whom they go hear and receive the good news -- or not.

Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was done by Him; and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had risen from the dead, and by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the old prophets had risen again.  Herod said, "John I have beheaded, but who is this of whom I hear such things?"  So he sought to see Him.  Herod the tetrarch is also known as Herod Antipas, to whom Pilate will send Jesus during His trial (23:7).  He's the ruler of Galilee, and the son of Herod the Great, who had slain the innocents in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16).  We learn of the things that people are saying about Jesus, how perhaps it is John who's risen from the dead, or that the prophesy of Elijah's reappearance has been fulfilled (Malachi 4:5-6).  Throughout the Gospels this Herod is seen as a figure who has a strange curiosity about the holy.  He was intrigued to listen to John the Baptist before he beheaded him and knew and feared that John was a holy man.  He will be disappointed and contemptuous that Christ performs no miraculous sign for him nor responds to the charges against Him (Luke 23:9-11).

And the apostles, when they had returned, told Him all that they had done.  Then He took them and went aside privately into a deserted place belonging to the city called Bethsaida.  But when the multitudes knew it, they followed Him; and He received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who had need of healing.  When the day began to wear away, the twelve came and said to Him, "Send the multitude away, that they may go into the surrounding towns and country, and lodge and get provisions; for we are in a deserted place here."  But He said to them, "You give them something to eat."  And they said, "We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we go and buy food for all these people."  For there were about five thousand men.  Then He said to His disciples, "Make them sit down in groups of fifty."  And they did so, and made them all sit down.  Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the multitude.  So they all ate and were filled, and twelve baskets of the leftover fragments were taken up by them.  My study bible tells us that this first feeding miracle is seen as a parallel to the liturgy by Theophylact.   Christ first healed and spoke of the gospel, and then He fed the multitude with the miraculous bread by the hands of His disciples. In the Church, a person is first healed through baptism; then at the Liturgy, the gospel is preached and the bread of life and the cup are received from the hands of the ordained clergy.    In such a parallel, we can see a clear indication that after the first apostolic mission, this is a clear beginning of the Church.  We note that there are twelve baskets of leftover fragments, one for each apostle, the bread of life to be taken to all the world.

In today's reading we see the early seeds of the Church: the disciples are now ready for their first mission, and to be sent out.  Jesus teaches them that they are to rely on God for this mission, and that the word of God will somehow direct them.  Everything depends on how that word is received, the good news of the kingdom of God, and the healing they bring.  And the state power, in the person of Herod Antipas, gets news of Christ.  For the state, everything material to its rule is a concern, and Christ becomes an object of interest and curiosity, and even perhaps of fear as He may be John the Baptist risen from the dead.  We know how Herod's father responded to news of the birth of the child Christ, but Herod does not realize who Jesus is in that respect.  And finally there is the return of the Twelve and the feeding of the five thousand in the wilderness.  Theophylact gives us the liturgical parallel, and we are to understand that we are reading about the birth process of the Church.  Of course it is also a stupendous parallel on par with Moses and the feeding of Israel with the bread from heaven, but this bread will never be exhausted and will be continually consumed by those with faith in Christ, even as we pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," with its eucharistic significance in the Greek.  "Daily" is translated from epiousion, a word that more literally means "supersubstantial" -- the bread of the eternal day of the Kingdom.  It is this "day" of the Kingdom that we are watching unfold in real time, so to speak, as the Gospel unfolds the story of Jesus' ministry and His life.  Everything intersects, and in the miraculous signs present in the Gospels, eternity makes itself known within our own system of time.  So it is with the feeding of the five thousand; it is as if time is suspended, and so eternal multiplication is possible without awaiting the time for natural processes to take place.  And this, too, must be what we understand as "daily" or "supersubstantial" bread, this food with which we're fed as Christ is the bread of life (John 6:35).  This is really how we must view our faith, as that of the eternal intersecting with the world, just as Christ is God incarnate as human being.  When we pray, we should understand that it is this reality in which we participate, in which all dimensions of being may play a role even at just a moment in our lives.  We are here as faithful to intersect with this Kingdom, even as the apostles were sent out to preach just such a word to those who would receive it.






Friday, May 19, 2017

Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well. Go in peace

 
So it was, when Jesus returned, that the multitude welcomed Him, for they were all waiting for Him.  And behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue.  And he fell down at Jesus' feet and begged Him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter about twelve years of age, and she was dying. 

But as He went, the multitudes thronged Him.  Now a woman, having a flow of blood for twelve years, who had spent all her livelihood on physicians and could not be healed by any, came from behind and touched the border of His garment.  And immediately her flow of blood stopped.  And Jesus said, "Who touched Me?"  When all denied it, Peter and those with him said, "Master, the multitudes throng and press You, and You say, 'Who touched Me?'"  But Jesus said, "Somebody touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me."  Now when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before Him, she declared to Him in the presence of all the people the reason she had touched Him and how she was healed immediately.  And He said to her, "Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well.  Go in peace." 

While He was still speaking, someone came from the ruler of the synagogue's house, saying to him, "Your daughter is dead.  Do not trouble the Teacher."  But when Jesus heard it, He answered him, saying, "Do not be afraid; only believe, and she will be made well."  When He came into the house, He permitted no one to go in except Peter James, and John, and the father and mother of the girl.  Now all wept and mourned for her; but He said, "Do not weep, she is not dead, but sleeping."  And they ridiculed Him, knowing that she was dead.  But He put them all outside, took her by the hand and called, saying, "Little girl, arise."  Then her spirit returned, and she arose immediately.  And He commanded that she be given something to eat.  And her parents were astonished, but He charged them to tell no one what had happened. 

- Luke 8:40-56

Yesterday we read that Jesus and the disciples sailed to the country of the Gadarenes, which is opposite Galilee.  And when He stepped out on the land, there met Him a certain man from the city who had demons for a long time.  And he wore no clothes, nor did he live in a  house but in the tombs.  When he saw Jesus, he cried out, fell down before Him, and with a loud voice said, "What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I beg You, do not torment me!"  For He had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man.  For it had often seized him, and he was kept under guard, bound with chains and shackles; and he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the wilderness.  Jesus asked him, saying, "What is your name?"  And he said, "Legion," because many demons had entered him.  And they begged Him that He would not command them to go out into the abyss.  Now a herd of many swine was feeding there on the mountain.  So they begged Him that He would permit them to enter them.  And He permitted them.  Then the demons went out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the lake and drowned.  When those who fed them saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country.  Then they went out to see what had happened, and came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.  And they were afraid.  They also who had seen it told them by what means he who had been demon-possessed was healed.  Then the whole multitude of the surrounding region of the Gadarenes asked Him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear.  And he got into the boat and returned.  Now the man from whom the demons had departed begged Him that he might be with Him.  But Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you."  And he went his way and proclaimed throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him.

So it was, when Jesus returned, that the multitude welcomed Him, for they were all waiting for Him.  And behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue.  And he fell down at Jesus' feet and begged Him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter about twelve years of age, and she was dying.  Jesus returns to Capernaum from their mission across the Sea of Galilee.  Here is His makeshift ministry "headquarters," where Peter has a family home, and He is well-known.

But as He went, the multitudes thronged Him.  Now a woman, having a flow of blood for twelve years, who had spent all her livelihood on physicians and could not be healed by any, came from behind and touched the border of His garment.  And immediately her flow of blood stopped.  And Jesus said, "Who touched Me?"  When all denied it, Peter and those with him said, "Master, the multitudes throng and press You, and You say, 'Who touched Me?'"  But Jesus said, "Somebody touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me."  Now when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before Him, she declared to Him in the presence of all the people the reason she had touched Him and how she was healed immediately.  And He said to her, "Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well.  Go in peace."   For the community of the Jews, contact with blood caused defilement and led to social and religious isolation (see Leviticus 15:25-30).  This woman, therefore, has a bold faith in approaching both Christ and a ruler of the synagogue in a crowd.  It means that she is potentially defiling all of them (so that they all would be considered unclean) and subjecting herself to ridicule or worse.  My study bible says that Jesus' question, "Who touched Me?" doesn't simply mean a physical touch.  As He perceived power going out from Himself, Jesus is asking, "Who touched Me in faith?"  It notes that just as "the temple sanctifies the gold" (Matthew 23:17), so also matter is sanctified by Christ's Incarnation, and the power of Christ works through even His garment.  To touch Christ's garment, it says, is to touch Him.  Perhaps our most clear Incarnational "understanding" is in the sacrament of bread and wine.  When done in faith, the power of Christ is received.  But oil, icons, water, and other forms take on the same power in the overall context of the Church.   We may compare Jesus saying to this woman, "Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well.  Go in peace" with His words to the woman who anointed Him with the alabaster flask of fragrant oil, "Your faith has saved you.  Go in peace."

While He was still speaking, someone came from the ruler of the synagogue's house, saying to him, "Your daughter is dead.  Do not trouble the Teacher."  But when Jesus heard it, He answered him, saying, "Do not be afraid; only believe, and she will be made well."  When He came into the house, He permitted no one to go in except Peter James, and John, and the father and mother of the girl.  Now all wept and mourned for her; but He said, "Do not weep, she is not dead, but sleeping."  And they ridiculed Him, knowing that she was dead.  But He put them all outside, took her by the hand and called, saying, "Little girl, arise."  Then her spirit returned, and she arose immediately.  And He commanded that she be given something to eat.  And her parents were astonished, but He charged them to tell no one what had happened.   Both healing stories are about faith.  In this one, Jesus goes so far as to put those who ridicule Him out of the house, and to take along with Him those disciples of His inner circle with the greatest faith.  Everything is done to strengthen Jairus and his wife in faith.  Again, the healing is by touch.  Let us note that He tells them to tell no one what happened.  We can be certain all will be amazed as this has already been quite a public event, but the implication is not only that His messianic secret must be kept for His own reasons, but also that faith is an intimate understanding, a communion between God and those immediately concerned -- and not the business of the unfaithful.

The two women, of both this reading from Monday, and the woman with the blood flow in today's reading, are interesting to think about in tandem.  Both, in some sense, have made spectacles of themselves for the sake of their faith in Christ.  Each has been called out from a place identified with sin or uncleanness.  But each, through her faith, has been rewarded with praise from Christ.  Maybe a key element to all of this is the inclusion that Christ brings to them.  Both are cast out of society by their violations of the Law, one through sin and the other because of her blood flow.  But Jesus sees both as clean, both are allowed to touch Him, something questionable within the society under even normal circumstances and without the other issues of violation of the Law.  But the great good news is clearly augmented by the communion that Christ brings to them, their inclusion in His community.  He resets all relationships, and perhaps these women are illustrations that are most dramatic of how that happens in His presence and through His ministry, even through touch directly.  We think of touch as part of communion:  we shake hands, in the Middle East there is the formal kiss that shows good will to right relationship.  But Christ's touch brings so much more:  part of His healing is communion.  In the case of Jairus' daughter, let us not forget also that this is a girl who is just on the verge of womanhood as she is about twelve years of age.  She is still living under the protection of her father's house, and far from being like the other women, religious and social outcasts, she is the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue who has come to plead with Jesus for her life.  And yet, there is still this intimate element of touch, perhaps made more clearly intimate by the fact that Jesus puts all the servants and mourners out who ridicule, making it a private moment indeed.  And He also teaches them that they must tell no one what had happened, giving another private and intimate aspect to this healing.  But all of them center on faith, and it is faith that makes not only the connection with Christ, but which somehow engages the power of Christ.  What that power is and does we can't fully define nor contain, as that's not ours to do.  But we do see its evidence, and we have His word about what it means for us.  He tells both women that in some sense their faith has delivered them from their afflictions, and gives a kind of command, "Go in peace," which also signifies relationship and communion.  In today's lectionary reading, we may take note also of St. Paul's words from Romans 14.  Verse 17 reads, "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit."  We may assume that the faith of these women (and the young girl, via the faith of her parents) is accounted to them as righteousness by Christ; included in His kingdom, they are given peace and joy.