Saturday, July 4, 2015

Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom


 There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death.  And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left.  Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do."  And they divided His garments and cast lots.  And the people stood looking on.  But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, "He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God."  The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine, and saying, "If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself."  And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew:
THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS

Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, "If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us."  But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, "Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong."  Then he said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom."  And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise."

- Luke 23:32-43

Yesterday, we read that as they led Jesus away to Golgotha for crucifixion, they laid hold of a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, who was coming from the country, and on him they laid the cross that he might bear it after Jesus.  And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him.  But Jesus, turning to them, said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.  For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, 'Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!'  Then they will begin 'to say to the mountains, "Fall on us!" and to the hills, "Cover us!" '  For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?"

  There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death.  And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left.    The word translated as Calvary (from Latin) is literally "the skull" in Greek.  My study bible says that being crucified between two criminals shows Christ''s complete identity with fallen humanity.  It also fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah 53:9-12.

Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do."  And they divided His garments and cast lots.  My study bible suggests that Jesus' intercession here isn't only for those immediately responsible for crucifixion -- such as the soldiers present -- but for all of humanity:  a people who have no insight into the profound mystery of God's salvation.  Jesus speaks these words with divine authority.  Their sin would have been forgiven them had they repented.  And, addressing these soldiers directly, we do know that one repented and is considered a saint of the Church (see Luke 23:47).

  And the people stood looking on.  But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, "He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God."  The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine, and saying, "If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself."   In the repeated taunting of Jesus, we read the words "Save Yourself."  My study bible says this is the continuing temptation of Satan to deter Jesus from completing His mission (see also Luke 4:9-13).

And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew:  THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.    A note tells us that what was intended as accusation and mockery becomes instead a triumphant symbol that all nations would come under the reign of Jesus the King.

Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, "If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us."  But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, "Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong."  Then he said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom."  And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise."   My study bible says that the first of the two criminals wanted to use Jesus in order to avoid responsibility, but the other accepts his sentence and asks only to be remembered.   This latter way, my study bible tells us, is the way to Paradise.  Jesus uses the word, "today," indicating that to be reconciled to Christ is to be in paradise immediately.  The souls of the departed are in the presence of God and experience a foretaste of His glory, say my study bible, before the final resurrection.

What strikes me powerfully in today's reading is the comment by my study bible regarding the confession of the criminal on the cross next to Jesus.  One takes no responsibility for his life, but the one who is pardoned accepts his sentence and asks only to be remembered.  What it says to me is that this is the one who acknowledges the truth of his life, the fullness of the reality of his life, and so he is the one who can have a relationship with Christ.  Over and over again, Christ preaches against our own blindness to ourselves and our lives.  He has warned us about seeing the splinter in another's eye but being blind to the plank in our own.  He has taught us the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee, in which the Pharisee prayed "with himself" while the tax collector admitted to God the sins he had committed; Jesus tells us it is the tax collector who leaves justified, truly reconciled.  What we learn from Christ is something about truth once again:  that the truth is indispensable to our salvation and our hope.  We have no hope of reconciliation and healing without truth, without a clear understanding of our own reality.  Our God isn't a fantasy-world creation, based in false myth.  This is a God of truth; as Jesus has described Himself:  I am the way, the truth, the life.   If we want to be truly healed, justified, reconciled to God, we have to be aware of our own truth and own up to it.  We can't live in fantasies and be reconciled to our God who is the truth.  So let us examine with clear eyes how Jesus calls us to truth even on the Cross.  He remains in His truth, He remains as healer, He remains as Lord.  There is nothing about this scene, no matter how perverse this false "justice" is that is being applied, that takes away from the Lord:  He is healing, He is saving, He is telling the truth, and He is speaking of His Kingdom.  He forgives and continues to try to save, but He never relinquishes His truth nor His identity.  And that is the great lesson to us.  No matter what the situation, we center upon the truth, we don't deviate from reality to please falsehood, petty dictators who would tell us what is what.  He forgives one thief, but the other remains in his sins.  He can be reconciled to all of us, but it is we who bear a responsibility to know our truth, to open our eyes to what is what, not to live with our own delusions.  This is psychological reality:  our arrogance gets us nowhere in healing, our own lies to ourselves, our denial, means we stay in our illness, our disease, our sin.  Let us remember where Christ takes us, and go there with Him.  He is the way and the truth and the life.  His witness is true, His word is our truth.  We need humility to remain in that truth, to be truly healed and saved.






Friday, July 3, 2015

Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children


 Now as they led Him away, they laid hold of a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, who was coming from the country, and on him they laid the cross that he might bear it after Jesus.  And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him.  But Jesus, turning to them, said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.  For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, 'Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!'  Then they will begin 'to say to the mountains, "Fall on us!" and to the hills, "Cover us!" '  For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?"

- Luke 23:26-31

In yesterday's reading, we were told that Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people, said to them, "You have brought this Man to me, as one who misleads the people.  And indeed, having examined Him in your presence, I have found no fault in this Man concerning those things of which you accuse Him; no, neither did Herod, for I sent you back to him; and indeed nothing deserving of death has been done by Him.  I will therefore chastise Him and release Him" (for it was necessary for him to release one of them at the feast).  And they all cried out at once, saying, "Away with this Man, and release to us Barabbas" -- who had been thrown into prison for a certain rebellion made in the city, and for murder.  Pilate, therefore, wishing to release Jesus, again called out to them.  But they shouted, saying, "Crucify Him, crucify Him!"  Then he said to them the third time, "Why, what evil has He done?  I have found no reason for death in Him.  I will therefore chastise Him and let Him go."  But they were insistent, demanding with loud voices that He be crucified.  And the voices of these men and of the chief priests prevailed.  So Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they requested.  And he released to them the one they requested, who for rebellion and murder had been thrown into prison; but he delivered Jesus to their will.

  Now as they led Him away, they laid hold of a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, who was coming from the country, and on him they laid the cross that he might bear it after Jesus.  My study bible tells us that Simon means "obedience."  It says that this faithful man stands for all who desire to follow Christ and carry the cross He places on them (see Luke 9:23, 14:27).

And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him.  But Jesus, turning to them, said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children."   My study bible says that weeping isn't appropriate for One who redeems the world through the Cross, but is suited for one's own sins and also for the suffering of others.  Here, Christ is warning then of the suffering to come in Jerusalem.

"For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, 'Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!'  Then they will begin 'to say to the mountains, "Fall on us!" and to the hills, "Cover us!" ' "    A note tells us that this blessing on the barren women is an acknowledgement of the overwhelming pain felt by a mother when her children suffer (also illustrated by the "woe" in Matthew 24:19).   St. John Chrysostom says, "Mothers are held by the tie of feeling for their children, but cannot save them.  How can one escape the bonds of nature?  How can she who nurses ever overlook the one she has borne?"    Jesus quotes from Hosea 10:8, a prophesy of retribution for the sin of the people.

"For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?"  My study bible says that the green wood is Christ, full of virtue and truth.  The dry stands for the barrenness of Israel under its religious leadership of the time, those who are putting Him to death -- barren of life and of righteousness.  A note says, "If the Romans eagerly destroy the righteous, what horrifying things await the unrighteous?"    This statement is a statement about time:  the green wood means it's early yet and the beginning of what is to come, the dry is when Jerusalem  (most notably its gorgeous temple) will literally burn in the Siege of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D.

Jesus goes toward His crucifixion, and still this is not the "end of the story."  There is so much happening, so much time for people to think, to repent, to understand what is happening.  Simon of Cyrene carries Jesus' cross for Him, and His family will go on to convert and become missionaries according to the tradition of the Church.  Jesus grieves not for Himself but for those who weep for Him and for their children.  Even as He has suffered and is weak, He is still trying to warn them of what is to come in Jerusalem.  This is still an attempt to save on His part.  The worst is what is to come, and now we have had several warnings by Jesus of what is going to happen within a generation in Jerusalem (approximately 40 years after this event).    Justice has been entirely perverted in the case of Jesus, but there is a different kind of "justice" that is coming, and that is in response to the refusal to "hear" the word, God's word.  Jesus has said Himself that all manner of sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, even that spoken against the Son of Man, but blasphemy against the Spirit stands (see Matthew 12:31-32 and Mark 3:28-29).   It's important to understand a spiritual justice that stands as a kind of "fact" that we can't subvert without consequences.  There are universal laws that are, in effect, the work of the Holy Spirit, the truth of God.    We know we're called to love God and neighbor.  But do we understand how failure to do this results in problems in our own lives?  I think the great delay between this event and the prophesied destruction here that is coming tells us something about spiritual reality:  we don't see immediate results.  We must live by faith.  It won't be obvious how a "fall" happens to those who couldn't care and don't heed any kind of spiritual understanding.  But that doesn't make it false.  It means, still, that life by faith is asked of us, and that those who have "no ears to hear" will still not comprehend the light.  It's my opinion that this happens in all kinds of ways all around us, but we still need eyes to see and ears to hear to understand it, to truly observe.  To know the Spirit takes discernment, a prayerful heart, time spent learning and knowing God in honest personal prayer and heartfelt worship.  He always calls us to "Watch and pray."





Thursday, July 2, 2015

Crucify Him, crucify Him!


 Then Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people, said to them, "You have brought this Man to me, as one who misleads the people.  And indeed, having examined Him in your presence, I have found no fault in this Man concerning those things of which you accuse Him; no, neither did Herod, for I sent you back to him; and indeed nothing deserving of death has been done by Him.  I will therefore chastise Him and release Him" (for it was necessary for him to release one of them at the feast).

And they all cried out at once, saying, "Away with this Man, and release to us Barabbas" -- who had been thrown into prison for a certain rebellion made in the city, and for murder.  Pilate, therefore, wishing to release Jesus, again called out to them.  But they shouted, saying, "Crucify Him, crucify Him!"  Then he said to them the third time, "Why, what evil has He done?  I have found no reason for death in Him.  I will therefore chastise Him and let Him go."  But they were insistent, demanding with loud voices that He be crucified.  And the voices of these men and of the chief priests prevailed.  So Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they requested.  And he released to them the one they requested, who for rebellion and murder had been thrown into prison; but he delivered Jesus to their will.

- Luke 23:13-25

Yesterday, we read that the whole multitude of those who had seized Jesus and put Him on trial by night arose and led Him to Pilate.  And they began to accuse Him, saying, "We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ, a King."  Then Pilate asked Him, saying, "Are You the King of the Jews?"  He answered him and said, "It is as you say."  So Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowd, "I find no fault in this Man."  But they were the more fierce, saying, "He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee to this place."  When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked if the Man were a Galilean.  And as soon as he knew that He belonged to Herod's jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.  Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him.  Then he questioned Him with many words, but He answered him nothing.  And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused Him.  Then Herod, with his men of war, treated Him with contempt and mocked Him, arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him back to Pilate.  That very day Pilate and Herod became friends with each other, for previously they had been at enmity with each other.

 Then Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people, said to them, "You have brought this Man to me, as one who misleads the people.  And indeed, having examined Him in your presence, I have found no fault in this Man concerning those things of which you accuse Him; no, neither did Herod, for I sent you back to him; and indeed nothing deserving of death has been done by Him.  I will therefore chastise Him and release Him" (for it was necessary for him to release one of them at the feast).  And they all cried out at once, saying, "Away with this Man, and release to us Barabbas" -- who had been thrown into prison for a certain rebellion made in the city, and for murder.  Pilate, therefore, wishing to release Jesus, again called out to them.  But they shouted, saying, "Crucify Him, crucify Him!"  Then he said to them the third time, "Why, what evil has He done?  I have found no reason for death in Him.  I will therefore chastise Him and let Him go."  But they were insistent, demanding with loud voices that He be crucified.  And the voices of these men and of the chief priests prevailed.  So Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they requested.  And he released to them the one they requested, who for rebellion and murder had been thrown into prison; but he delivered Jesus to their will.   Of today's entire reading, my study bible says that Pilate attempts to release Jesus three times.  Three times the chief priests and the rulers in response incite the people to demand that Jesus be put to death.  Finally, Barabbas, a rebel like themselves, is demanded to be released.  Barabbas, my study bible tells us, means "son of the father" and indicates to which father these rulers belong -- the devil (see John 8:44).

Three times Pilate offers a kind of mercy for Jesus, finding "legal" ways to do so:  he can just chastise (punish Jesus with flogging) instead of sentencing Him to death, He can release Him because it is the feast of the Passover.   But three times this is refused.  It's as if we are watching a scene in which the evil is absolutely confirmed as prevailing.  It's a time of real darkness in the spiritual sense, and all things have "conspired" here to sentence Jesus to death, despite the fact that everyone knows He is innocent, that these charges are trumped up based on envy and personal gain.  Barabbas is an insurrectionist, and in some sense there's a very real question put to all of us about expedience.  Expedience (or expediency) is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as a circumstance in which something is helpful or useful in a particular situation, but sometimes not morally acceptable.  Other secondary definitions include something done for the sake of haste.  Wiktionary.com defines it as the quality of being fit or suitable to effect some desired end or the purpose intended; propriety or advisability under the particular circumstances of a case.  Pilate, in the end, finds it expedient to put Jesus to death as these rulers and the crowd they've brought are insisting on His death.  After all, he's the ruler of Judea and his job is to keep order and prevent worse problems.  That's political expediency.   The rulers think it's easier to get rid of Jesus, and expedient that "one man die for the people than the whole nation perish."  He makes a very convenient scapegoat, as they'd like Him out of the way and gone as the popular thorn in their sides  with His popular teaching and criticism of the way they do things.   Expedience is what we get when we think there are only "worldly" solutions to problems, like, for example, the solution of insurrection against the Romans rather than the things that make for Jesus' peace, the life that includes our love of and duty to God in our plans for our own futures.   Jesus has taught a different kind of liberation, not resorting simply to political insurrection, even though He is accused of doing so.  He's neither robber nor thief, nor brigand nor murderer and insurrectionist, although He will be crucified as if He were.   We really have to think deeply about our tendency to expedience (or expediency), our desire to just get things done with and get problems out of the way, sorting out the fastest solution to a problem (and shutting up the nagging things that may be calling our attention to deeper needs and deeper problems requiring more long-term solutions).  Jesus calls us to that deeper place where in order to be "set right" we have to deal with much deeper relationships both within and without.  We need patience for that.  We may need long-suffering and forbearance.  We might have to put up with inconvenient difficulties, delaying an easy solution to a problem.  We may have to have the humility to live with things that are "imperfect."  But these are also the qualities Jesus teaches us.   They are the qualities our faith asks of us.  Expedience is often the stuff of political solutions.  Expediency calls for fast and simple solutions, but often a situation is crying out for a broader and deeper picture, and that may be inconvenient, or too much work. Ultimately, we learn from this scene that we don't know what we're ignoring or what evil we may be courting when this is all we do.  Let us remember that God may be trying to get our attention, and this can't happen without our thoughts and hearts intentionally and repeatedly led to the right place, the place of real peace.  Today's reading gives us a picture of what happens in true darkness, when everything "conspires" to go wrong, even at every chance for mercy to have a say.  Let us remember this when complacency seems like the easiest solution, following the noisy and demanding crowd.




Wednesday, July 1, 2015

I find no fault in this Man


 Then the whole multitude of them arose and led Him to Pilate.  And they began to accuse Him, saying, "We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ, a King."  Then Pilate asked Him, saying, "Are You the King of the Jews?"  He answered him and said, "It is as you say."  So Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowd, "I find no fault in this Man."  But they were the more fierce, saying, "He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee to this place."

When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked if the Man were a Galilean.  And as soon as he knew that He belonged to Herod's jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.  Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him.  Then he questioned Him with many words, but He answered him nothing.  And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused Him.  Then Herod, with his men of war, treated Him with contempt and mocked Him, arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him back to Pilate.  That very day Pilate and Herod became friends with each other, for previously they had been at enmity with each other.

- Luke 23:1-12

Yesterday, we read that after His arrest, the men who held Jesus mocked Him and beat Him.  And having blindfolded Him, they struck Him on the face and asked Him, saying, "Prophesy!  Who is the one who struck You?"  And many other things they blasphemously spoke against Him.  As soon as it was day, the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, came together and led Him into their council, saying, "If You are the Christ, tell us."  But He said to them, "If I tell you, you will by no means believe.  And if I also ask you, you will by no means answer Me or let Me go.  Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God."  Then they all said, "Are You then the Son of God?"  So He said to them, "You rightly say that I am."  And they said, "What further testimony do we need?  For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth."

 Then the whole multitude of them arose and led Him to Pilate.  And they began to accuse Him, saying, "We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ, a King."  Then Pilate asked Him, saying, "Are You the King of the Jews?"  He answered him and said, "It is as you say."  So Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowd, "I find no fault in this Man."  But they were the more fierce, saying, "He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee to this place."   My study bible says that the religious accusations against Jesus (see yesterday's reading, above) aren't enough to justify a death sentence under Roman occupation (even if blasphemy under Jewish law would do so).  Therefore here the chief priests make politically charged accusations in front of Pilate, so that he might be persuaded to put Jesus to death.  We've seen the attempt to trap Jesus with a question about paying taxes, here.  Pilate's question, it says, is more of a mockery of the accusation than a mockery of Jesus -- he clearly doesn't take the political charges seriously.  Jesus' response, "It is as you say," may also be translated, "You say so."

When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked if the Man were a Galilean.  And as soon as he knew that He belonged to Herod's jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.  Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him.  Then he questioned Him with many words, but He answered him nothing.  And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused Him.  Then Herod, with his men of war, treated Him with contempt and mocked Him, arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him back to Pilate.  That very day Pilate and Herod became friends with each other, for previously they had been at enmity with each other.  My study bible says that Herod sees Jesus as a novelty.  (He had a similar attitude toward John the Baptist.)   Christ's silence, it notes, is an act of compassion -- revealing divine mysteries in the face of blasphemy would have brought Herod a greater condemnation.  It says, "St. Ambrose sees Herod as a figure representing all unrighteous people who, if they do not recognize Jesus as the Christ, will never understand His words nor recognize His miracles."  We note the irony of the newfound friendship between Herod and Pilate, cemented through the abuse of Christ.

Jesus becomes a pawn in the hands of the worldly powerful.  He is shuttled between Herod and Pilate, an opportunity to cement relations between the two men.  Each time He is handed over to another court, abuse takes place -- He's mocked and struck and spit upon.  Earlier before being presented at the night trial of the Council, He was even told to prophesy who hit Him.  It is a kind ultimate humiliation not only of One who came to save, but of the One who is divine.  And as the time passes now, we will see Him further humiliated, brought low, crucified as one of the worst criminals.  One of the things that is striking here is that all of these people know He is innocent.  He's innocent of the charges against Him, innocent of seeking insurrection against the state or of proclaiming Himself a worldly king.   He has often said that He is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets; He does not come to the world to tear down Jewish spiritual heritage.  And yet, here He is, for all kinds of reasons, but none of them having anything to do with justice or with truth.  As we've discussed earlier, we know the motivation of the religious leadership is envy.  We can see the politics between Herod and Pilate, the cynical way Pilate views the religious leadership who've brought Christ before him.  Herod is a kind of spoiled child figure, fascinated by holy men and trying to see some sort of miracle performed on cue.  It is a loathsome scene, in that in some sense it is the worst of the world on display, having their way with our Savior.  He has warned about casting pearls before swine, giving what is sacred to dogs, we know.  So we have to ask ourselves, who is really on trial here?  Who's actions will be weighed in the balance?  It's rather an extreme picture in which we can remind ourselves of Jesus' words:  "Judge not, lest you be judged."   And therein is the power of "witnessing."   We look to the note in my study bible, speaking about Christ's mercy to Herod in not revealing more.   If we stand for what is righteous and spiritually true, then we bring a kind of judgment into the arena, wherever we are.  It may be a hard fact to grasp, but Jesus teaches over and over again about witnessing, about the righteous of the past who will rise to witness against the present generation, about the righteous of other lands who will judge Israel.  Judgment comes by the work of the Spirit, and when we witness in the word, in the righteousness of the Spirit, when we truly shine the light we are asked to shine, it becomes a time of judgment.  But we're not the judge, He is the judge.  Righteousness must be present for this kind of judgment, true witnessing is the testimony in this spiritual court.  When we stand for something true, when we stand in righteousness -- no matter what the response we think we see -- we should always remember who's really on trial, and who the real judge is.   We witness to that court, and we follow Him.  Righteous witnessing calls on others to do the same, and sets a standard for everyone, whether they know it or not.  There will be times we are called to speak, and times we are called to silence -- but this court is always in session.





Tuesday, June 30, 2015

If I tell you, you will by no means believe. And if I also ask you, you will by no means answer Me or let Me go. Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God


 Now the men who held Jesus mocked Him and beat Him.  And having blindfolded Him, they struck Him on the face and asked Him, saying, "Prophesy!  Who is the one who struck You?"  And many other things they blasphemously spoke against Him.

As soon as it was day, the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, came together and led Him into their council, saying, "If You are the Christ, tell us."  But He said to them, "If I tell you, you will by no means believe.  And if I also ask you, you will by no means answer Me or let Me go.  Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God."  Then they all said, "Are You then the Son of God?"  So He said to them, "You rightly say that I am."  And they said, "What further testimony do we need?  For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth."

- Luke 22:63-71

Yesterday, we read that after Jesus was seized, He said to the chief priests, captains of the temple, and the elders who had come to Him, "Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs?  When I was with you daily in the temple, you did not try to seize Me.  But this is your hour, and the power of darkness."  Having arrested Him, they led Him and brought Him into the high priest's house.  But Peter followed at a distance.  Now when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them.  And a certain servant girl, seeing him as he sat by the fire, looked intently at him and said, "This man was also with Him."  But he denied Him, saying, "Woman, I do not know Him."  And after a little while another saw him and said, "You also are one of them."  But Peter said, "Man, I am not!"  Then after about an hour had passed, another confidently affirmed, saying, "Surely this fellow also was with Him, for he is a Galilean."  But Peter said, "Man, I do not know what you are saying!"  Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.  And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.  Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, "Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times."  So Peter went out and wept bitterly.

 Now the men who held Jesus mocked Him and beat Him.  And having blindfolded Him, they struck Him on the face and asked Him, saying, "Prophesy!  Who is the one who struck You?"  And many other things they blasphemously spoke against Him.   Jesus begins the Passion, His suffering for righteousness' sake.  Earlier in Luke's Gospel we noted commentary by Origen, how Jesus fulfills all the Beatitudes within Himself.  We can see that in these verses.

As soon as it was day, the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, came together and led Him into their council, saying, "If You are the Christ, tell us."  But He said to them, "If I tell you, you will by no means believe.  And if I also ask you, you will by no means answer Me or let Me go."  My study bible tells us that Jesus asked many questions of the Jewish leaders which they refused to answer because doing so would have meant confessing Him as the Christ (see Luke 20:4-7; Matthew 22:41-46; Mark 3:4).  Also, Jesus is in some sense exposing the illegality of this "trial" -- even according to their own law, Jesus is entitled to present His own witnesses and to question His accusers.   When He tells them that they will by no means let Him go, He's saying they've already set down a verdict without a true trial.

"Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God."  Then they all said, "Are You then the Son of God?"  So He said to them, "You rightly say that I am."  And they said, "What further testimony do we need?  For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth."  Jesus declares Himself in this statement, openly, in a sense, answering their question anyway -- His way.  This is a declaration of the truth, and of His equality to God.  Their plan was to accuse Him of blasphemy; they will never believe His testimony as true.

We see a Man on trial for righteousness' sake, for righteousness' sake He declares His truth.  But -- as He has said beforehand -- it falls on deaf ears, on those determined to put Him to death, those who will not listen nor respond to His own questions.  This is a mock trial, designed simply as formality (in violation of their own laws, including trial by night), in order to accuse Jesus and sentence Him to death.  We're told that the cause is envy (Mark 15:10).  If we examine this word for envy (φθόνος/phthónos in the Greek of the Gospel), we find at its heart a desire for bad things to happen to others -- not to raise oneself to the level of the other, but rather simply to tear someone else down.  It's a bitterness that results in happiness at another's misfortune.  It's something we all have to guard against.  Jesus, as noted before, is living out the Beatitudes.  He's being persecuted for righteousness' sake.  In Matthew 5:10-12, Jesus teaches, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."   Well, we know that His kingdom is the kingdom of heaven.  As we watch the Savior persecuted in this hour of darkness (after all, even according to their own laws, this trial is being held with many violations of normal justice), we have to keep His words in mind.  What has He done?  Every day He taught openly in the temple, yet here is an illegal night court.  His disciples are scattered; even Peter has denied Him in front of a servant girl outside.  This is what "darkness" is all about.  But, as John's Gospel teaches us, the light shines in the darkness, and even if the darkness doesn't comprehend, it still can't take away the light.  Let us think, as we "view" this scene, what it means to stand up for righteousness and to be persecuted for righteousness' sake.  Jesus says we are blessed at such times, that we should "rejoice and be exceedingly glad."  That's a very difficult road to follow, but He goes there, before us.  There are people in this world facing this choice every single day, all over the world.  Shall we live it with all of them?  How do you live it in your life?   How do we shine His light in us?  It is the joy we take in His word that is the real antidote to bitterness and envy.  Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.








Monday, June 29, 2015

Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you daily in the temple, you did not try to seize Me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness


 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, captains of the temple, and the elders who had come to Him, "Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs?  When I was with you daily in the temple, you did not try to seize Me.  But this is your hour, and the power of darkness."

Having arrested Him, they led Him and brought Him into the high priest's house.  But Peter followed at a distance.  Now when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them.  And a certain servant girl, seeing him as he sat by the fire, looked intently at him and said, "This man was also with Him."  But he denied Him, saying, "Woman, I do not know Him."  And after a little while another saw him and said, "You also are one of them."  But Peter said, "Man, I am not!"  Then after about an hour had passed, another confidently affirmed, saying, "Surely this fellow also was with Him, for he is a Galilean."  But Peter said, "Man, I do not know what you are saying!"  Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.  And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.  Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, "Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times."  So Peter went out and wept bitterly.

- Luke 22:52-62
On Saturday, we read that left the Last Supper and He went to the Mount of Olives to stay the night, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him.  When He came to the place, He said to them, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation."  And He was withdrawn from them about a stone's throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, "Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done."  Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him.  And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly.  Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.  When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, he found them sleeping from sorrow.  Then He said to them, "Why do you sleep?  Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation."  And while He was still speaking, behold, a multitude; and he who was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them and drew near to Jesus to kiss Him.  But Jesus said to him, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?"  When those around Him saw what was going to happen, they said to Him, "Lord, shall we strike with the sword?"  And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear.  But Jesus answered and said, "Permit even this."  And He touched his ear and healed him.

 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, captains of the temple, and the elders who had come to Him, "Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs?  When I was with you daily in the temple, you did not try to seize Me.  But this is your hour, and the power of darkness."  Jesus makes it clear what "darkness" is.  He's openly taught in the temple, but they need to seize Him in secret, by night, with weapons, as if He's a robber or another kind of criminal.  My study bible cites John 3:19-21 here in reference to darkness:  "This is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” 

Having arrested Him, they led Him and brought Him into the high priest's house.  But Peter followed at a distance.  Now when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them.  And a certain servant girl, seeing him as he sat by the fire, looked intently at him and said, "This man was also with Him."  But he denied Him, saying, "Woman, I do not know Him."   My study bible says that a girl being the first to test Peter gives us a kind of type or icon of Eve tempting Adam (Genesis 3:6).  It's a picture of our fallen state -- which is overcome as women are the first to hear, believe, and proclaim the Resurrection (Luke 24:1-10).  It is quite a humiliation for Peter that his denial comes in the face of a servant girl.

And after a little while another saw him and said, "You also are one of them."  But Peter said, "Man, I am not!"  Then after about an hour had passed, another confidently affirmed, saying, "Surely this fellow also was with Him, for he is a Galilean."  But Peter said, "Man, I do not know what you are saying!"  Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.  And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.  Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, "Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times."  So Peter went out and wept bitterly.   My study bible says that Peter is so overcome with fear that neither Christ's prediction (see Saturday's reading, above) nor the crowing of the rooster calls him to repentance.  Only the gaze of the Lord causes him to come to his senses and weep bitterly.  But, to quote Ambrose of Milan, "through tears, what cannot be defended can be purged, for tears wash away the offense which is shameful to confess out loud."

There is one thing consistent that we read about Peter all throughout the Gospels:  he's got his heart on his sleeve.  Whatever he's thinking or feeling, we know about it.  It tells us both about his exuberance -- and his honesty.  Peter is not a person to keep something hidden.  This one time he does something "in darkness," away from his companions, while Christ is inside, he comes to his senses and to understand what he's done with one glance from Christ.  His response is bitter tears for his betrayal and failure.   It's important that we pay attention to the commentary of St. Ambrose, that tears can wash away what it's shameful to confess.   But there is something that we learn about Peter that is related to a purity of heart:  his constant sincerity.  That's the good ground for faith.   He can't hide his Galilean accent, and he can't hide from who he is.  Christ has warned him that he would deny Him three times.  But we remember Jesus' words to Peter:  that the "darkness" is after all of them. He said, "Simon, Simon!  Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren."  The really important thing here is that Peter should return to Christ, and to strengthen His brethren -- his brothers and sisters in Christ.  He lives in a community, and He's an extraordinary member of that community.  None of us is isolated from the whole, in the sense that even our prayers strengthen the faith of others; each may bring the light of grace more deeply and potently into the world.  We remember Peter's sincerity; he fails but he repents.  He will return to Christ and to the brothers and sisters he will strengthen.  Let it be a vivid reminder for all of us of the possibilities we have in Christ and in the love of Christ.  Let us remember Peter's failure in our own times of temptation, as well of his success in the love of God and the strength of faith.





Saturday, June 27, 2015

Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation


 Coming out, He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him.  When He came to the place, He said to them, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation."  And He was withdrawn from them about a stone's throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, "Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done."  Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him.  And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly.  Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.  When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, he found them sleeping from sorrow.  Then He said to them, "Why do you sleep?  Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation."

And while He was still speaking, behold, a multitude; and he who was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them and drew near to Jesus to kiss Him.  But Jesus said to him, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?"  When those around Him saw what was going to happen, they said to Him, "Lord, shall we strike with the sword?"  And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear.  But Jesus answered and said, "Permit even this."  And He touched his ear and healed him.

- Luke 22:39-51

Yesterday we read that Christ warned, "Simon, Simon!  Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren."  But he said to Him, "Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death."  Then He said, "I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me."  And He said to them, "When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?"  So they said, "Nothing."  Then He said to them, "But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.   For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me:  'And He was numbered with the transgressors.'  For the things concerning Me have an end."  So they said, "Lord, look, here are two swords."  And He said to them, "It is enough."

Coming out, He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him.  When He came to the place, He said to them, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation."  And He was withdrawn from them about a stone's throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, "Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done."  Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him.  And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly.  Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.  When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, he found them sleeping from sorrow.  Then He said to them, "Why do you sleep?  Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation."  My study bible says that Christ's agony is the product of His human nature.  In asking that the cup be taken away, He reveals His human will.  He submits His human will to the Father, and thereby reveals the divine will to be one with the Father's -- He also shows that each person must submit his own will to God's will (Luke 11:2).  In His Incarnation Christ willingly takes in Himself the voice of weak humanity, and thereby conquers weakness, says my study bible. Gregory the Great is quoted here:  "The words of weakness are sometimes adopted by the strong in order that the hearts of the weak may be strengthened."   We also note His repeated admonition to the disciples in this deep time of trial:  "Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation."   We observe the human weakness in the disciples, His companions, as they sleep because of sorrow. 

And while He was still speaking, behold, a multitude; and he who was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them and drew near to Jesus to kiss Him.  But Jesus said to him, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?"  When those around Him saw what was going to happen, they said to Him, "Lord, shall we strike with the sword?"  And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear.  But Jesus answered and said, "Permit even this."  And He touched his ear and healed him.  My study bible points out that this healing by Christ is recorded only by St. Luke the physician.  It shows the manner in which we are to treat our enemies.   The Fathers, it says, see a spiritual meaning in the healing of the servant's ear, in that it's Christ who gives people the ability to hear the truth and thereby come to salvation (see Luke 8:8, 14:35).  It's seems that Jesus' words, "Permit even this," may be for forgiveness of the violence of the sword, something He didn't want.

As we observe Christ in this situation, it's important that we understand our conduct in the face of evil.  The greatest evil is happening:  He's been betrayed by His hand-chosen disciple Judas, one of the Twelve.  He's going to be put to death as a great criminal, on trumped up charges for the cause of envy by the leadership.  But His command is that He go willingly into this time of terrible injustice and extraordinary sin.  God walks through the evil of our world and becomes its "victim."  It is a voluntary sacrifice for reasons far beyond the understanding of those who perpetrate the crime.  And we note that the redemption of the Cross does not deny the evil or take away the reality of the evil; it overcomes.  It is God's purpose that uses everything for good, for the triumph of the spiritual truth.  But again, let's go to this scene and observe Jesus:  He's struck with His own sort of "conflict" -- the difference between the human and the divine, but as our example, submits to the will of the Father.  We can all see ourselves in this conflict in Christ.  Sometimes the things we're led to don't seem to make any sense in worldly terms, but we are to "go there" anyway.  Often we'll be asked to make sacrifices we don't want to make, but we "go there" anyway.  His words and His teaching to the disciples, to His friends who fall away in sleep and don't stay awake with Him this night, are to "rise and pray."  This again is an example for us in times of trial and evil.  It's how we're supposed to respond in our own times of trial, or observation of evil around us.  Often "bad things" may trouble us in the middle of the night; His solution to "rise and pray" is a good one, until peace returns.  And we pray "lest we enter into temptation" -- so that we are guided into the right way of response in such times.    This becomes extremely important at those times.   Jesus then responds to Judas with a question:  "Are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?" giving him yet another chance for repentance and salvation.  He is always healing, always offering the gospel.   No matter what is happening, Jesus sticks to spiritual truth.  He's not to respond with violence of any kind, He doesn't amass a worldly army for this kingdom, and he heals the ear of the servant of the high priest.  Throughout all the trials and temptations, the fear of what will happen with His disciples, Jesus sticks to the will of the Father.  He knows His mission and He will stay with it.  To watch and pray is to do our best to stay on point, on mission, to know the commands we're given.  Let us remember how He responds in times of trial, and how He teaches us to be.  Let us do likewise.