Friday, August 1, 2014

He is risen


 Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.  And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it.  His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow.  And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.  But the angel answered and said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here; for He is risen, as He said.  Come, see the place where the Lord lay.  And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him.  Behold, I have told you."  So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word.  And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, "Rejoice!"  So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him.  Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid.  Go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me."
- Matthew 28:1-10
In yesterday's reading, we were told that at the crucifixion, many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's sons.  Now, when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus.  This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.  Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him.  When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed.  And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb.  On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, saying, "Sir, we remember while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise.'  Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, 'He has risen from the dead.'  So the last deception will be worse than the first."  Pilate said to them, "You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how."  So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard.

 Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.  And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it.  My study bible says, "The earthquake is a sign of our Lord's great victory over death, foreshadowing the general resurrection of all humanity.  Note that the angel does not roll back the stone to let the Lord out, for in His glory, Christ could pass through solid rock (see John 20:19).  Rather, this allows the witnesses in to see that He has already risen."

His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow.  And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.  But the angel answered and said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here; for He is risen, as He said.  Come, see the place where the Lord lay.  And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him.  Behold, I have told you."  So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word.  And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, "Rejoice!"  So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him.  Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid.  Go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me."  My study bible points out that "these women are the first witness of the supreme event in all history:  the Resurrection of Christ and the destruction of death.  The angel refers to Christ as the one who was crucified, teaching us not to shy away from His death, but to glory in the Cross (1 Corinthians 2:2; Galatians 6:14), which is the weapon Christ used to destroy death and the trophy of His victory.  At the liturgical services of Pascha (Easter),  Orthodox Christians sing the following hymn hundreds of times:  'Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.'  As St. Paul says, 'If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile'  (1 Corinthians 15:17)."

So, the great good news is here, in this place carved out of rock to make room for the body of Jesus.  But, it's really carved to make room for all of us, for each of us.  As noted in yesterday's reading (especially by St. Hillary of Poitiers and other commentators), this is the stone of our hearts, pristine and carved out to make room for Christ.  It's for everyone, the whole world, the world of the Gentiles, in I suspect the only way this could have happened.  And that's really the power of the Cross.  It's the power to transform sacrifice into Resurrection, suffering to joy. This is the thing that Christ does for us. It's what has been predicted of Him all along in Scripture.  It's in His mother's song at Gabriel's announcement to her:  "He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.  And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.   He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.  He has put down the mighty from their thrones,  and exalted the lowly.  He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty"  (Luke 1:49-53).  Jesus' greeting to these women, "Rejoice!" is the same (in the Greek) as Gabriel's to Mary at the Annunciation.   The stone is rolled away for us to come in; Christ has no need of such help. The stone also symbolizes our need to guard our hearts so that false Christs do not enter.  Let us remember the words of Gabriel.  It's an angel who gave us the good news of His birth, a leader of the angels who gives us the power of the good news of His Resurrection:  "He is risen."  It's the  news that turns the world into a place where we can truly see what is what, the grace of all graces, that helps us find the joy and purpose in our lives.  It turns all endings into new beginnings.



Thursday, July 31, 2014

"After three days I will rise"


 And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's sons.

Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus.  This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.  Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him.  When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed.  And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb.

On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, saying, "Sir, we remember while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise.'  Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, 'He has risen from the dead.'  So the last deception will be worse than the first."  Pilate said to them, "You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how."  So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard.

- Matthew 27:55-66

Yesterday, we read that from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.  And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" that is, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?"  Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, "This Man is calling for Elijah!"  Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink.  The rest said, "Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him."  And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.  Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.  So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, "Truly this was the Son of God!"

 And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's sons.  My study bible says here that most Fathers teach that Mary the mother of James and Joses was the Virgin Mary, being in fact the stepmother of James and Joses (see 13:55; compare Mark 15:40, 47).  It notes that Theophylact summarizes the teaching of the Fathers to say that  James and Joses were sons of Joseph by his first wife.  Since Mary was called the "wife" of Joseph, she is rightly called the "mother" of his children, meaning "stepmother."

Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus.  This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.  Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him.   My study bible says, "To ask for the body of Jesus is a bold public act for this wealthy man, showing that his faith has overcome any fear."  Ancient commentators remark on the bravery of all of these people:  Joseph of Arimathea was known as a member of the council, a wealthy man with much to lose - and here he risks death to show support for Jesus, as do the women who are present.  There is already a depth of love for Jesus shown here that is to remark upon, and very great courage.

When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed.  And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb.  My study bible says that Jesus is buried in a new tomb so that no suspicion might later arise that another had risen instead of Christ.  St. John Chrysostom comments that the courage of these women is a model for all men to attempt to measure up to.

On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, saying, "Sir, we remember while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise.'  Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, 'He has risen from the dead.'  So the last deception will be worse than the first."  Pilate said to them, "You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how."  So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard.  Ironically, this statement, that He will rise on the third day, constitutes the very meaning of Jesus' words these people have twisted in order to condemn Him to death (see John 2:19).

So, the stage is set for what will come next.  It's remarkable that the religious authorities seek to take precautions against Jesus' rising on the third day, given that in their deliberations it was the false witnesses who twisted Jesus' teaching about His Resurrection in order to condemn Him to death.  It's like the whole world is watching, breathing, waiting -- like those women who sit opposite the tomb.  By tradition, these women, (in particular Mary Magdalene) are called "Equal to the Apostles" and we will see why.   They are also known as "the Holy Myrrbearers."   But for now these women sit and wait with Him outside of a new tomb.  They are the friends of the Bridegroom, who wait outside this new, "pristine" chamber as His body is wrapped in clean linen.  For many ancient commentators, this new tomb, also, is symbolic of the baby Jesus in the womb of the Virgin Mary.  In some ways there is a parallel here with Eastern icons of the Nativity, where Jesus is born in a manger which has always been understood as being in a cave where the animals were kept, a typical practice of the region.  The clean linen shroud would then appear to imitate the swaddling clothes in which the infant Jesus was wrapped.  The linen, perhaps most powerfully of all, is viewed as the linen in the vision in which Peter saw all animals given to him from heaven, made clean by the power of God.  Thus, the shroud, the tomb, this death -- is all made clean by the touch of Christ.  We are, in fact, awaiting a birth -- one which will open faith to the Gentile heart, for the whole world.    Hilary of Poitiers comments:  "It is perhaps not too extravagant to understand from this parallel that the church is buried with Christ under the name of the linen shroud. Just as in the linen, so also in the confession of the church are gathered the full diversity of living beings, both pure and impure. The body of the Lord, therefore, through the teaching of the apostles, is laid to rest in the empty tomb newly cut from a rock. In other words, their teaching introduced Christ into the hardness of the Gentile heart, which was uncut, empty and previously impervious to the fear of God. And because he is the only one who should penetrate our hearts, a stone was rolled over the entrance to the tomb, so that just as no one previous to him had been introduced as the author of divine knowledge, neither would anyone be brought in after him." (ON MATTHEW 33.8).   This tomb is also seen as a symbol of our "burial" with Christ in baptism, to be risen with Him as well.  For now we await a rebirth, a glorious opening of the tomb.




Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Truly this was the Son of God!


 Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.  And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" that is, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?"  Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, "This Man is calling for Elijah!"  Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink.  The rest said, "Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him."  And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.

Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.  So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, "Truly this was the Son of God!"

- Matthew 27:45-54

Yesterday, we read that as the soldiers came out of the Praetorium leading Jesus away to the sight of crucifixion, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name.  Him they compelled to bear His cross.  And when they had come o a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull, they gave Hm sour wine mingled with gall to drink.  But when He had tasted it, He would not drink.  Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet:  "They divided My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots."  Sitting down, they kept watch over Him there.  And they put up over His head the accusation written against Him:  THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.  Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left.  And those who  passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, "You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself!  If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross."  Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, "He saved others; Himself He cannot save.  If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.  He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, 'I am the Son of God.'"  Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing.

 Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.  My study bible refers us to the prophecies of Zechariah and Amos.  Amos quotes the declaration of the LORD:  "I will make the sun go down at noon and I will darken the earth in broad daylight."  The sixth hour to the ninth hour correspond to the hours between noon and three o'clock in the afternoon.

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" that is, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?"  My study bible says here that Jesus is praying Psalm 22, which "foretold the very details of the Crucifixion.  Taken without the rest of the psalm, His cry of 'Why have You forsaken Me?' could be misinterpreted as a cry of despair.  Since He took on our nature, Jesus experiences our alienation from God in His humanity, knowing our suffering and distress, yet He does not despair.  He speaks these words in the name of humanity, completely identifying with us in our condition, for in His divinity, He is never forsaken by the Father."

Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, "This Man is calling for Elijah!"  Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink.  The rest said, "Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him."  And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.  My study bible comments on the phrase yielded up His spirit that Christ's death was voluntary to the end.  Even on the Cross, His life could not be taken from Him against His will.  The note reads, "Christ accepts death on the Cross neither to receive the Father's punishment on our behalf, nor to satisfy the Father's need for blood-justice (as if God would demand such things), but so that by entering death as the divine Son of God, He can destroy this last enemy, which is death itself (1 Corinthians 15:20-28)."

Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, . . .  My study bible notes that the veil that separated the Most Holy Place from the rest of the temple "was a symbol of the separation between God and man.  Christ's death opens the way into the presence of God for all people, giving people access to that which is the most holy of all:  God Himself."  It notes that in most Christian churches of Eastern Christianity, there is a curtain between the altar and the nave which is drawn open during the liturgical services in order to emphasize that communion with God, which was at one time sealed off from humanity, is now available to all who approach in faith.  Some denominations use the curtain either drawn or open in order to emphasize these differences at different seasons of the liturgical year, or during parts of the liturgy itself.

. . .  and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.   Here, a note reads:  "The completeness of the salvation won by Christ is signified in the resurrection of the saints from the Old Testament.  This guarantees the promise given to Ezekiel that God can and will one day open the graves of all mankind (Ezekiel 37:1-14).  The saints entering the holy city is an icon of resurrected humanity entering the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 11:10; 12:22-23; Revelation 21:2-22:5)."  Let us note this sign of resurrection of those who had not heard the name of Jesus of Nazareth; in this is "the completeness of salvation" as my study bible phrases it.

So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, "Truly this was the Son of God!"  Another note says, "The centurion, a Gentile, realizes Jesus has dominion over nature, and therefore acknowledges Him as the Son of God.  Tradition knows this soldier as St. Longinos."

Immediately upon Jesus' death on the Cross, two significant events take place, giving us already the power of the Resurrection and its unlimited capacity:  (aside from the tearing of the temple curtain, the darkened sun, the split rocks and earthquakes) we are given the resurrection of the Old Testament saints, and the conversion of the centurion standing guard at the crucifixion itself.  He will also come to be known as a saint in the early Church.  Neither the earlier faithful of the Jews nor this Gentile (Roman) soldier were beneficiaries of Jesus' direct ministry, but here at this giving up, or "yielding up" of His spirit, immediately the effects of Resurrection begin -- even in those who might have been considered outside of His "followers."  Not so, according to God's mystery, God's judgment.  And the really "good news" hasn't been given yet to His disciples, who are scattered.  That will come soon.  After this "darkness at noon" we await the coming of the Light, dawning of the Resurrection.  But God's mysteries of resurrection are already at work.  Jesus' resurrection isn't just about Jesus, and it's not just about what happened to Him. It's also about where He takes us with Him, what He shares with us, and offers to us all of the time.  The Resurrection is unlimited as is God's mercy, something immeasurable by any of our standards, something that remains a mystery we can't predict, we can't call nor judge, and is not ours to decide for.  It is ours to accept as a gift, it is ours to pray for, its effects in our lives are those we share with others.  It's something we invite others into, and we pray might be shared by everyone.  The statement, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life" (John 14:6) manifests immediately following Jesus' giving up of His spirit (in Luke Jesus says He "commits His spirit" -- again an active choice).  At this moment of what seems to be the greatest limitation possible at the hands of others, let us remember the power of His Resurrection, the true reality behind what we see.  It will always defy our expectations.










Tuesday, July 29, 2014

THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS


 Now as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name.  Him they compelled to bear His cross.  And when they had come o a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull, they gave Hm sour wine mingled with gall to drink.  But when He had tasted it, He would not drink.  Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet:
"They divided My garments among them,
And for My clothing they cast lots."
Sitting down, they kept watch over Him there.  And they put up over His head the accusation written against Him:
THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS
Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left.  And those who  passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, "You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself!  If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross."  Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, "He saved others; Himself He cannot save.  If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.  He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, 'I am the Son of God.'"  Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing.

- Matthew 27:32-44

Yesterday, we read that when Pilate saw that He could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this just Person.  You see to it."  And all the people answered and said, "His blood be on us and on our children."  Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.  Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole garrison around Him.  And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him.  When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand.  And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!"  Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head.  And when they had mocked Him, they put the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified.

 Now as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name.  Him they compelled to bear His cross.  And when they had come o a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull, they gave Hm sour wine mingled with gall to drink.  But when He had tasted it, He would not drink.  Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet:  "They divided My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots."  This quotation is from Psalm 22, verse 18.  The entirety of Psalm 22 is reflective of Jesus' Crucifixion.  Tomorrow's reading will give us yet another verse, this time from Jesus.

 Sitting down, they kept watch over Him there.  And they put up over His head the accusation written against Him:  THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.  Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left.  And those who  passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, "You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself!  If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross."  Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, "He saved others; Himself He cannot save.  If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.  He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, 'I am the Son of God.'"  Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing.  Of today's entire passage, my study bible notes that "Jesus accepts mockery and endures the weakness of our body in His own to take upon Himself our sufferings.  This He accomplishes by uniting His divine nature to our human nature.  His humanity is indeed our humanity.  Although He has no sin, He was made to be sin for us, that through His flesh He might condemn sin itself (Romans 8:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 2:9)."  Of the two robbers, one would later repent (Luke 23:39-43), but at first they both mock Jesus.

Jesus' humiliation is complete.  He's surrounded by those who mock Him, those who "pass by" blaspheme Him, they ridicule Him according to their own twisting of His words.  This includes men among the leadership:  chief priests, scribes and elders.   Another text also mentions the Pharisees.  Origen comments (among others) that it is those who "pass by" who blaspheme Jesus, shaking their heads -- but none of these stand before Him or approach Him directly.  Origen finds in this act the primary symbolism of the Cross -- and how it is either approached or turned away from, or passed by.  St. John Chrysostom comments on the fullness of the humiliation of Jesus: "Consider his words. Consider his actions. Remember that he is Lord and you are his servant. Remember that he is suffering for you, and for you individually. You may be suffering only on your own behalf. He is suffering on behalf of all by whom he had been crucified. You may be suffering in the presence of a few. He suffers in the sight of the whole city and of the whole people of the covenant, both of strangers and those of the holy land, to all of whom he spoke merciful words.  Even his disciples forsook him. This was most distressing to him. Those who previously paid him mind suddenly deserted him. Meanwhile his enemies and foes, having captured him and put him on a cross, insulted him, reviled him, mocked him, derided him and scoffed at him. See the Jews and soldiers rejecting him from below. See how he was set between two thieves on either side, and even the thieves insulted him and upbraided him."  Chrysostom adds:  "By what he said and what he did he offended all our expectations to the utmost. He was forever correcting beforehand our assumptions about him. Even when all these ignominies were said and done, they could not prevail, even at that time. The thief who had lived depraved in such great wickedness, who had spent his whole life in murders and house breakings, when these things had been said, only then confessed him. When he made mention of his kingdom, the people bewailed him. These things that were done seemed to testify the contrary in the eyes of many who knew nothing of the mystery of God’s dispensations. Jesus was weak and of no ostensible power; nevertheless truth prevailed even by the contrary evidences."  (All quotations from Gospel of Matthew Commentary, Homily 87.2.)  Let us remember that the only "help" given to Jesus is from an outsider, a foreigner, Simon of Cyrene.   Yet Jesus keeps His silence.  There is power in His word, but He is the Word.  Everything He does is for the Gospel, even when He does not speak.  And the Cross conquers everything.  St. Chrysostom, in the same homily, also warns us about our own anger and outrage.  He who is on the Cross - the true Judge - completely humiliated, teaches us everything about forbearance.  Let us remember always to look to Him, silent, and the most powerful One of all.  It is He to whom we turn in our most aching times of trouble, our humiliation, weakness in the face of worldly injustice.  We endure, at His word.  Let us remember, it is Jesus who also gave us the story of the persistent widow and the Judge.  Endurance, persistence, doesn't mean we just "give up" to injustice when there are appropriate actions to take.    But silence and patience are also a part of those valuable options open to us in any situation, and God may call upon us also to develop these capabilities, even in the face of injustice.  We turn in prayer to Him, for discernment.  Jesus' actions are all in the service of justice, on a cosmic scale, and for each of us.







Monday, July 28, 2014

Hail, King of the Jews!


 When Pilate saw that He could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this just Person.  You see to it."  And all the people answered and said, "His blood be on us and on our children."  Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.

 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole garrison around Him.  And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him.  When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand.  And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!"  Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head.  And when they had mocked Him, they put the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified. 

- Matthew 27:24-31

On Saturday, we read of Jesus standing before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.  And the governor asked Him, saying, "Are You the King of the Jews?"  Jesus said to him, "It is as you say."  And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing.  Then Pilate said to Him, "Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?"  But He answered not one word, so that the governor marveled greatly.  Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished.  And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas.  Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to the, "Whom do you want me to release to you?  Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?"  For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy.  While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, "Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him."  But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus.  The governor answered and said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release to you?"  They said, "Barabbas!"  Pilate said to them, "What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?"  They all said to him, "Let Him be crucified!"  Then the governor said, "Why, what evil has He done?"  But they cried out all the more, saying, "Let Him be crucified!"

 When Pilate saw that He could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this just Person.  You see to it."  And all the people answered and said, "His blood be on us and on our children."  Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.  My study bible points out that this verse, in which the people answer and state His blood be on us and on our children, has been used by certain groups to try to justify persecuting Jews -- which is a "grave and terrible sin."  It says, "What was seen by many as a curse is in fact a blessing invoked unwittingly, for the Lord's blood is the source of their redemption.  Furthermore, these words are spoken implicitly by anyone who sins.  St. John Chrysostom teaches that even though these particular Jews 'acted with such madness, so far from confirming a sentence on them or their children, Christ instead received those who repented and counted them worthy of good things beyond number.'  He then notes the thousands who were converted in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41) as evidence of Christ's mercy."

  Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole garrison around Him.  And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him.  When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand.  And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!"  Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head.  And when they had mocked Him, they put the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified.  My study bible notes, "Every king is proclaimed by his soldiers.  Even though the intention was mockery, it is prophetic that Jesus should be crowned and hailed as King by soldiers of the governor (see also John 11:49-51, where Caiaphas unwittingly prophesies of Christ's redemptive work).  This mockery shows Jesus as the One despised and rejected by men who bears the iniquity of us all (see Isaiah 53:3-9).  Jesus is clothed in scarlet, representing both His royalty and the sins of humanity which He has taken upon Himself." 

As we noted on Saturday, this is the territory of a world turned upside down, or inside out, whatever way we want to think of it.  In today's reading, Jesus is sentenced, scourged, mocked.  The crowd calls out "His blood be on us" as Pilate states, ceremonially washing his hands, "I am innocent of the blood of this just man."  Jesus is clothed in red, as He will be depicted in icons through the centuries, to denote His divinity - a color of royalty ("royal purple" or porphyra in the Greek -- which was really a type of deep reddish purple - see image here).  This purple does indeed resemble a color of blood.  But it seems to me that this is a peculiar picture of people who both declare themselves innocent (Pilate), and also declare a kind of guilt that extends to their descendants (the stirred-up crowd).  It is in Ezekiel that a false proverb is rebuked, which declares that children suffer guilt for their parents' sins (see Ezekiel 18:1-4).  This belief is rebuked in several places in the Old Testament, and again the proverb is mentioned negatively by Jeremiah.  In either case, God remains judge of all of us.  We don't judge of ourselves, we can't judge ourselves.  This is the sin also of Judas, in his suicide.  It is the One mocked and scourged, clothed in the royal scarlet, the One held by a whole garrison of soldiers, with crown of thorns on His head -- the One who is sentenced to a horrible death of crucifixion:  He is the One who will judge, who is the true Judge of hearts.  Whatever we think we see in this scene, it is His blood that saves us, which He gives voluntarily, which we take in the Eucharist so that He is part of us and we are part of Him, His Body in this world.  Let us consider what this means:  in some sense, we are up there with Him, and in another sense, we are in those crowds that need Him, what He is offering even in His sacrifice.  A patient God, One who extends mercy even in this situation, who asks for repentance so that we may join Him -- this is the picture we see. His royal robe clothes all of us, just as He gave us the image of His wish to be like a hen who protects all her children under her wings, as He gazed over Jerusalem before entering (Matthew 23:37).  Instead, He gave us all what we need to be bathed in this royal red-purple, the blood of His sacrifice -- the blood of His Passion and His love:  that's what we're really seeing here, symbolically, to be poured out for all of us.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Let Him be crucified!


 Now Jesus stood before the governor.  And the governor asked Him, saying, "Are You the King of the Jews?"  Jesus said to him, "It is as you say."  And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing.  Then Pilate said to Him, "Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?"  But He answered not one word, so that the governor marveled greatly.

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished.  And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas.  Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to the, "Whom do you want me to release to you?  Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?"  For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy.  While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, "Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him."  But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus.  The governor answered and said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release to you?"  They said, "Barabbas!"  Pilate said to them, "What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?"  They all said to him, "Let Him be crucified!"  Then the governor said, "Why, what evil has He done?"  But they cried out all the more, saying, "Let Him be crucified!"

- Matthew 27:11-23

Yesterday, we read that when morning came, after the Sanhedrin's night trial, all the chief priests and elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put Him to death.  And when they had bound Him, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor.  Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood."  And they said, "What is that to us?  You see to it!"  Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.  But the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood."  And they consulted together and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in.  Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.  Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, and gave them for the potter's field, as the LORD directed me."

  Now Jesus stood before the governor.  And the governor asked Him, saying, "Are You the King of the Jews?"  Jesus said to him, "It is as you say."  And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing.  Then Pilate said to Him, "Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?"  But He answered not one word, so that the governor marveled greatly.  My study bible notes here:  "The chief priests hide their real charge against Jesus -- the claim of equality with God -- because this would not persuade the governor to sentence Him to death.  Instead, they present a charge of treason -- that Jesus called Himself the King of the Jews.  This crime would carry the death penalty, for it was a challenge to Roman rule."

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished.  And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas.  Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to the, "Whom do you want me to release to you?  Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?"  For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy.  While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, "Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him."  But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus.  The governor answered and said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release to you?"  They said, "Barabbas!"  Pilate said to them, "What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?"  They all said to him, "Let Him be crucified!"  Then the governor said, "Why, what evil has He done?"  But they cried out all the more, saying, "Let Him be crucified!"  My study bible points out that, while Jesus is the true Son of the Father, here the name Barabbas means "son of the father."  Ironically, it notes, the crowds now must choose between one Son of the Father and the other.  It says, that by influencing the crowds to choose Barabbas, the chief priests indicate to which father they belong (see John 8:44).

So what do we have here?  It's an odd -- not to say, completely crazy -- picture of a world that is in reverse, or upside-down, however we could characterize it.  The NU text, which uses fragments of Alexandrian texts as opposed to the traditional Byzantine Greek texts, even uses "Jesus Barabbas,"  although even ancient scholars (Origen) raise doubts about the use of the name Jesus here.  So, the Son is the one in chains, before the governor, on charges that He called Himself, "King of the Jews."  This is Jesus, who, in John's gospel, has refused to be forced to be made a king.  In our eyes, perhaps, we would say that the Lord of the Universe is bound in chains to be judged by the Roman Governor, Pilate.  And at the same time, the crowd wants to set free Barabbas, another "son of the father."  And who is Barabbas?  In Matthew we are told he is a "notorious" prisoner.  Elsewhere he's named with a word for "bandit" which was used to describe revolutionaries.  Mark and Luke suggest Barabbas was involved in a riot, perhaps a sort of insurrection.  At any rate, we have here a violent man, perhaps one who wishes to bring about a "kingdom" of the Jews in the revolutionary, violent sense, overthrowing the Romans in this way.  And then there is Jesus who brings a different kind of Kingdom into the world.  It clearly has other "rules" than the sword of insurrection to create a physical kingdom, as led by Jesus of Nazareth.  He's the One who entered Jerusalem one week earlier, riding on a donkey.  This is the Man who preached the Beatitudes in His most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, given to us in fullness in Matthew's gospel.  The Beatitudes also teach about a world that sees "upside down" in some sense.  We're told that those who mourn are blessed, that those who are poor in spirit are blessed, and indeed, that those who are meek are blessed -- that it is they who will inherit the earth.  Jesus is no revolutionary bandit; His Kingdom and His preaching are not about an immediate grasp of material power, but teach about endurance, forbearance, the strength of love, even turning the other cheek.  His disciples are taught to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.  So, in some way, this picture of this crisis point gives us our picture of the world, because we are always asked to make this choice.  Are we to be stirred up by people who would be populist leaders, in the name of some sort of immediate gratification of a thirst for power or movement?  Are we to be mobilized through deceit and lies, intended to make a scapegoat of others?  Are there demagogues among us?  These are choices that, in some sense, we are offered every day.  It's greatly telling that Pilate's wife had a dream about "this just man."  This pagan woman has glimpses of the heart, of the thing that is within us all, even those who may have never heard the name of Christ.  (See Romans 2:14-16.)  With Jesus standing before Pilate, the governor understands the envy behind the charge; after all, he's a political man in a world of politics and power.  But everything is upside down here, and the power of a stirred up crowd takes its toll, as it well may do anywhere today.  This is especially true when laws are ignored in favor of what is seemingly a popular choice or one made through political pressure.  So, it really breaks down into two deep choices:  do we listen to the heart, to the good that we know, even what has been enshrined in the law for the sake of justice?  Or do we go with what looks expedient, by manipulation, by force, and all kinds of pressure?  It's up to you and it's up to me, to all of us.  Prayer is a refuge, where we find what we need, even as we appeal to this bound and sentenced Prisoner.  There are countless numbers of times we may see this scene played out again in history, with other players in the roles -- maybe in the present right now when we look around.  But He was there first, for us, to show us the way out of this thinking of an upside down world, where we may not know how to choose of ourselves, where hypocrisy means we can't judge by any appearance.  Jesus prepares us for a complex world, one set in spiritual battle, not a simple and easy picture of life -- but one in which truth becomes the one thing we really need to be truly free  (John 8:32).




Friday, July 25, 2014

What is that to us? You see to it!


 When morning came, all the chief priests and elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put Him to death.  And when they had bound Him, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor.

Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood."  And they said, "What is that to us?  You see to it!"  Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.  But the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood."  And they consulted together and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in.  Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.  Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, and gave them for the potter's field, as the LORD directed me."

- Matthew 27:1-10

Yesterday, we read that Peter sat outside in the courtyard of the high priest, while Jesus was being tried inside.  And a servant girl came to him, saying, "You also were with Jesus of Galilee."  But he denied it before them all, saying, "I do not know what you are saying."  And when he had gone out to the gateway, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, "This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth."  But again he denied with an oath, "I do not know the Man!"  And a little later those who stood by came up and said to Peter, "Surely you are also one of them, for your speech betrays you."  Then he began to curse and swear, saying, "I do not know the Man!"  Immediately a rooster crowed.  And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, "Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times."  So he went out and wept bitterly.


 When morning came, all the chief priests and elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put Him to death.  And when they had bound Him, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor.   My study bible says, "While the religious Law dictated the death penalty for blasphemers (Leviticus 24:16), under Roman occupation, the Jews were prohibited from carrying out an execution.  Thus, they had to get permission from the governor."

Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood."  And they said, "What is that to us?  You see to it!"  Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.  But the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood."  And they consulted together and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in.  Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.  Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, and gave them for the potter's field, as the LORD directed me."  In contrast to Peter, my study bible points out, Judas doesn't repent although he is remorseful.    Suicide isn't a sign of repentance -- rather that of being self-absorbed.  My study bible also notes that there are two versions given of Judas' suicide in the New Testament:  here and in Acts 1:16-19.

Here's another sign of failure, as we noted in yesterday's reading and commentary.  This time, it's the failure in Judas' suicide -- a disciple hand-chosen by Christ, who fails to repent:  to turn to God's love, ask forgiveness, confess the sin not to those who encouraged him, but to the disciples who were his brothers in Christ.  He tries instead to undo the sin, to return the money, but this isn't really the point.  In some way, it's still a focus on the money, something in common with all the stories we've read about Judas:  that he was the treasurer, that he criticized the woman who anointed Jesus with the expensive ointment for the wasting of something valuable.  He's the one whom John names a thief.  His sin is extraordinary, true -- but these men he turns to don't represent Christ or the things that Christ taught.  Instead, they remain those who would strain out a gnat and swallow a camel:  they don't care about Judas, and they don't help him, it's just his problem in their sight.  Instead they worry about the lawfulness of blood money going into the treasury, and buy a potter's field, in which foreigners are buried.  What's the difference between remorse and repentance?  The question is important, because remorse may be one thing:  we think possibly we can fix that problem somehow, like by returning the silver pieces to those who plotted an innocent man's death in the first place.  But this doesn't "fix" things.  And often we might feel remorse for something that happened long ago, that we can't just "fix."  The answer to both things we can fix and things we can't is repentance, going to God.  Asking for a kind of transformation, with a willingness to change ourselves (or our "minds" as the word for repentance in Greek literally says).  The Greek for repentance is a word that implies a deep change of the self.  That kind of change comes with God's help, and comes from a return to God.  Peter will rejoin the disciples, and we know he will be forgiven explicitly and included by Christ (see Mark 16:7).  Where does Judas go?   Perhaps he felt he could not return to the disciples, but where is his prayer?  Does he attempt to see Christ?  He only gives back the money in an attempt to relieve himself of guilt, but there is no prayer here:  he takes his life by his own hands, as a kind of self-punishment.  Where is the God of love in this scenario?  I think it's a crucial distinction.  The emphasis here on guilt and punishment, the absence of the concept of repentance, renewal, Resurrection -- it is not here.  And love is not here, and mercy is not here.  There are all kinds of things in this world we may have remorse for.  But remorse in and of itself isn't an end -- taken to its end alone, it becomes a kind of self-centered morbid guilt that can lead away from God.  Instead, repentance is turning to God, to the power of Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit, and confessing and asking, "What do I do?"  There are those others also who can help us do so if they too trust the love of God.  We need Christ's power to repent, to truly change in the direction God will ask of us, to find the way forward out of this nihilistic ending of pure remorse.  Any way we go, our own self-centeredness can work to deceive:  we no more do what is right through self-destruction than we do through pure self-exaltation.  It's two sides of the same coin.  What we need instead is the rehabilitation from the love that teaches and leads us forward, beyond the sin -- and this comes through repentance.  At the early part of the reading, we read that Jesus is bound in order to be led to Pilate.  It symbolically teaches what the reality is for Judas, and perhaps all of us, without Christ -- in a kind of merciless world that doesn't teach us otherwise.