Saturday, December 3, 2016

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


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

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

- Luke 21:5-19 

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

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

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

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

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









Friday, December 2, 2016

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


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

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

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

- Luke 20:41-21:4

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

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

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

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

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









Thursday, December 1, 2016

He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him


 Then some of the Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, saying:  "Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man's brother dies, having a wife, and he dies without children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother.  Now there were seven brothers.  And the first took a wife, and died without children.  And the second took her as wife, and he died childless.  Then the third took her, and in like manner the seven also; and they left no children, and died.  Last of all the woman died also.  Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife does she become?  For all seven had her as wife."

Jesus answered and said to them, "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage.  But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.  But even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord 'the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.'  For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him."  Then some of the scribes answered and said, "Teacher, You have spoken well."  But after that they dared not question Him anymore.

- Luke 20:27-40

Yesterday we read that after Jesus gave the Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers (which the leadership perceived was told against them),  the chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people -- for they knew He had spoken this parable against them.  So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor.  Then they asked Him, saying, "Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth:  Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"  But He perceived their craftiness, and said to them, "Why do you test Me?  Show Me a denarius.  Whose image and inscription does it have?"  They answered and said, "Caesar's."  And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."  But they could not catch Him in His words in the presence of the people.  And they marveled at His answer and kept silent.

 Then some of the Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, saying:  "Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man's brother dies, having a wife, and he dies without children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother.  Now there were seven brothers.  And the first took a wife, and died without children.  And the second took her as wife, and he died childless.  Then the third took her, and in like manner the seven also; and they left no children, and died.  Last of all the woman died also.  Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife does she become?  For all seven had her as wife."    The Sadducees were a kind of gentry of Jerusalem, a land-owning class who formed part of the leadership of the Temple.  The question reflects concerns for property and title, as children were considered (as indicated in the question) as belonging to their fathers, extending his name and his property and in this sense, his life and memory.  Among other things, as indicated by the question, they disbelieved in resurrection, and accepted only Mosaic Law as authoritative (as opposed to the oral traditions also held by the Pharisees).  They represented the priestly aristocracy and the power structure of Israel.  The duties of religion for them centered around the Temple.  After the Siege of Jerusalem, the Sadducees died out as a party.

Jesus answered and said to them, "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage.  But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.  But even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord 'the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.'  For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him."  Then some of the scribes answered and said, "Teacher, You have spoken well."  But after that they dared not question Him anymore.   Jesus confirms that there is indeed a resurrection, but it is not the life that the Sadducees imagine.  For them, the concept of resurrection must mean some sort of continuation of earthly life (including earthy marriage), and they are mocking the idea with a rather absurd scenario.  Christ teaches them that they are ignorant of nature of the resurrection, in which there is no death and no marriage.   As Christ shows, they are not considering the evidence of Scripture, which speaks of the Lord as "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob," and thereby of all who live to Him -- even those such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who have physically died.  My study bible tells us that it is the clear teaching of Christ that the souls of the faithful who have departed this life are sustained before the face of God in anticipation of the final joy of the resurrection.

 Christ promises us life, and life in abundance (John 10:10).  In all ways, and through all teachings, one way and another, Christ gives us life and promises us more life.  Thus is the teaching of resurrection always held and kept as promise in all of his teachings, even for our lives in the here and the now.  Eternal life becomes the promise not just of life everlasting but life in this moment, a kind of presence with us and within us that enlivens the life that we have, quickens and deepens its meanings and its foundations, and gives us courage in the nature of God's steadfast love which sustains us through all things.  Even though death, God's love sustains who we are.  The everlasting and eternal nature of this life comes to us even more clearly in Christ's teaching that time is absent from the ultimate nature of things.  In other words, if Abraham and Isaac and Jacob all live to God, as Christ says, then life is sustained as a kind of perennial "now," present and with us.  We understand through this nature of life in God the communion of the saints, who pray with us.  We understand the kingdom of God that lives in us (Luke 17:20-21).  And life in abundance doesn't stop with concepts of resurrection nor even the Kingdom that is present to us, but also is found within the Transfiguration, which illustrates the work of this Holy Kingdom and of the Spirit in each of our lives, also bringing more life -- life in abundance -- to the lives we live and know.  How does prayer pick us up and illuminate our lives through a problem we may be "stuck in"?  How does life in community, in the moment of insight during a church service, as response to true intention, come to us with help from the Helper?  What is it that gives hope and a way when life in worldly terms seems to be blocked somehow?  More than this, Who is it whose own suffering brings meanings to our suffering, who suffers with us?  Let us consider all the ways that Christ brings life overflowing and abundant into our lives as we understand them, and let us consider the nature of our resurrection.  We all live in Him.  That is a promise that spills over into everything we can name or think about.  It is His love that sustains us through all things.






Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?


 And the chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people -- for they knew He had spoken this parable against them.

So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor.  Then they asked Him, saying, "Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth:  Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"  But He perceived their craftiness, and said to them, "Why do you test Me?  Show Me a denarius.  Whose image and inscription does it have?"  They answered and said, "Caesar's."  And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."  But they could not catch Him in His words in the presence of the people.  And they marveled at His answer and kept silent. 

- Luke 20:19-26

Yesterday we read that, after Jesus was confronted by the leadership as He taught in the temple in Jerusalem, He began to tell the people this parable:  "A certain man planted a vineyard, leased it to vinedressers, and went into a far country for a long time.  Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that they might give him some of the fruit of the vineyard.  But the vinedressers beat him and sent hi away empty-handed.  Again he sent another servant; and they beat him also, treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed.  And again he sent a third; and they wounded him also and cast him out.  Then the owner of the vineyard said, 'What shall I do?  I will send my beloved son.  Probably they will respect him when they see him.'  But when the vinedressers saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, 'This is the heir.  Come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.'  So they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.  Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do to them?  He will come and destroy those vinedressers and give the vineyard to others."  And when they heard it they said, "Certainly not!"  Then He looked at them and said, "What then is this that is written:  'The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone'?  Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder."

 And the chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people -- for they knew He had spoken this parable against them.  We see the response of the leadership to Jesus' reply about His own authority, and to the parable Jesus spoke against them (see yesterday's reading above, and the Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers).

So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor.  Then they asked Him, saying, "Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth:  Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"  But He perceived their craftiness, and said to them, "Why do you test Me?  Show Me a denarius.  Whose image and inscription does it have?"  They answered and said, "Caesar's."  And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."  But they could not catch Him in His words in the presence of the people.  And they marveled at His answer and kept silent.   We know the intent of the leadership; now they are ready to destroy the One who does not act according to their authority, but rather to His own.  And the means by which they attempt first to question Him is not just to trap Him in an answer which they can perhaps take to the Roman authorities, but also to trap Him into an answer unpopular with the people, who are listening here at the temple in Jerusalem during Passover week.  Jesus first embarrassed them with a question in reply about John the Baptist's authority, and the leadership feared their own response before the people (see Monday's reading).  Their question to Him now about taxation is designed to set a trap for Him.  If He answers "yes" it will turn the people against Him.  But a "no" answer could bring a charge of treason by the Romans.  But once again Jesus gives an answer that defeats their trap.  He shows that a believer can render the state its due while serving God (Romans 13:1-7).  My study bible says that as the coin bears the image of the emperor and is properly paid to him, so each person bears the image of God and therefore belongs to Him.  Conflict arises when the state demands of us that which is contrary to God.

We've got to admire the intelligence and wit of Jesus.  More than that, His discussions with the leadership are not elite intellectual arguments about esoteric theology that only a scholar could understand.  Jesus speaks before the people both with profound theological insight and in ways that each can understand.  No wonder they marveled at His answer and kept silent.  Jesus' insight and intelligence can't be bested, but these are the weapons He has and uses in confrontation and conflict with the leadership.  The people can't get enough, and it all takes place in front of them.  Jesus has not come into the world with a mighty army in order to conquer Israel as a messiah-warrior.  He is with the lowly, one of them, and has ridden into Jerusalem in His Triumphal Entry on a donkey, not with chariots and the horses of cavalry.  But what He has got are His words, His intelligence, His capacity to speak and communicate.  He also listens and responds.  His work is dialogue, whether it be in answering prayers with signs, in teaching and preaching, in caring for others in various ways that show His love, or responding like He does in this scene in confrontation with the leadership.  Jesus has all the things that make up what it is to be not just a splendid human being, but ways which teach us what it is to be "God-like," like Him.  More than anything else, He teaches us what it is to truly use our talents -- the things with which we've been endowed and blessed by God -- in ways that please God and make them grow, as the parable He gave teaches (see the Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14-30).  Christ shows us what it is to be illumined or enlightened by God's grace, and how our own talents are magnified and can serve God's purposes through the reflection of the light He brings into the world.  He is the prime example of what it is to use one's intelligence in a way that is at once precise, and peaceful, and incisive, and insightful, and fully bold and truthful.  He teaches what it means to "speak truth to power," as the often-used political phrase goes.  We're told that He perceived their craftiness.  He does not hide from Himself their motives, nor pretend their intentions are good.  He is the fullness of humanity, and part of His mission into the world as Incarnate human being is simply to show us this beauty of the fullness of human beings illuminated by the life He brings, the light He asks us to shine in the world.  Each of us is going to have a different set of talents, but we learn here from the Master who's come to teach us what it is to be the kind of human being He asks us to become in His image and through His spiritual truth.  We note also that Jesus does not waste His efforts:  this is the right time and place for such confrontation.  He is always measured and exact in His applications and efforts.  There will be a time when He does not bother to speak, and times when confrontation is not something He will bother with (see for example, Mark 15:2).   Jesus' efforts here in the temple are as much for us, the people who watch and listen, as they are for anyone else.  God takes our talents, capabilities, personalities, instincts, and makes of them what God will.  A lifetime of prayerful dialogue with God, learning the gifts of the Spirit, go into making us more like God, more like the image we see in Christ, in ways we can't predict nor know.  But we can see Him, watch Him.  We can see the fullness of our own intelligence and capabilities used His way.  We can learn from Him, as He has taught "for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:29).   Jesus teaches us what to defend and when -- and He also teaches when it is not profitable to anyone to speak, when no one's listening who may learn from Him.  Jesus' qualities are understood to exemplify the beautiful, to the ancient classical mind that would embrace Christianity.  Let us learn from Him.







Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone


 Then He began to tell the people this parable:  "A certain man planted a vineyard, leased it to vinedressers, and went into a far country for a long time.  Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that they might give him some of the fruit of the vineyard.  But the vinedressers beat him and sent hi away empty-handed.  Again he sent another servant; and they beat him also, treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed.  And again he sent a third; and they wounded him also and cast him out.  Then the owner of the vineyard said, 'What shall I do?  I will send my beloved son.  Probably they will respect him when they see him.'  But when the vinedressers saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, 'This is the heir.  Come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.'  So they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.  Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do to them?  He will come and destroy those vinedressers and give the vineyard to others."  And when they heard it they said, "Certainly not!"  Then He looked at them and said, "What then is this that is written:
'The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone'?
Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder."

- Luke 20:9-18

Yesterday we read that on one of those days, as He taught the people in the temple and preached the gospel,  the chief priests and the scribes, together with the elders, confronted Him and spoke to Him, saying, "Tell us, by what authority are You doing these things?  Or who is he who gave You this authority?"  But He answered and said to them, "I also will ask you one thing, and answer Me:  The baptism of John -- was it from heaven or from men?"  And they reasoned among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say, 'Why then did you not believe him?'  But if we say, 'From men,' all the people will stone us, for they are persuaded that John was a prophet."  So they answered that they did not know where it was from.  And Jesus said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things."

 Then He began to tell the people this parable:  "A certain man planted a vineyard, leased it to vinedressers, and went into a far country for a long time.  Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that they might give him some of the fruit of the vineyard.  But the vinedressers beat him and sent hi away empty-handed.  Again he sent another servant; and they beat him also, treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed.  And again he sent a third; and they wounded him also and cast him out.  Then the owner of the vineyard said, 'What shall I do?  I will send my beloved son.  Probably they will respect him when they see him.'  But when the vinedressers saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, 'This is the heir.  Come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.'  So they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.  Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do to them?  He will come and destroy those vinedressers and give the vineyard to others."  And when they heard it they said, "Certainly not!"   Jesus gives a parable to the leadership.  Traditionally it is understood that the man represents God the Father, and the vineyard refers to God's people.  The vinedressers are those leaders who are entrusted to care for the people, and particularly the religious leadership as the vineyard is a symbolic context of God's people.  Each servant sent by the owner is an Old Testament prophet sent to call the people back to God.  The beloved son is of course Christ Himself.  My study bible adds that when the Son is cast out of the vineyard to be killed, this is understood on two levels.  First, that Jesus was killed outside Jerusalem; and second, that Jesus was crucified by foreign soldiers, not by those of His own vineyard.  The others who later receive the vineyard are the Gentiles brought into the Church.  That the leadership reply, "Certainly not!" to this parable tells us they certainly do understand precisely what Jesus meant to say.

Then He looked at them and said, "What then is this that is written:   'The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone'?  Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder."  Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22.   That stone upon which some may fall and which may fall upon others is Christ.  My study bible says that it illustrates two ways of destruction.  According to John Chrysostom, those who fall on the stone are those who suffer the effects of their own sins while yet in the world, while those on whom the stone falls as the unrepentant who become powder in the final Judgment. 

What is Judgment?  We might as well ask the same question the leadership has asked Jesus (in yesterday's reading, above), "By what authority are You doing these things?  Or who gave You this authority?"  Judgment is all about authority, the authority of the ultimate Truth.  Only the Person who is Truth could really be this chief cornerstone.  Only the ultimate truth and authority can function as that stone on which some will fall, and at the same time is also that will fall upon others.  Either way, it is this stone that is the force to be reckoned with -- the truth that decides the ultimate reckoning of value, worth, and reality.  Here in this illustration is where we truly begin to understand what authority is possessed by Christ.  He is the One whom they seek to destroy who is also the peace of Jerusalem.   In Saturday's reading, Jesus wept over the city, saying, "If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes."   Because of Jerusalem's rejection of Him, He prophesied that "[the Roman army] will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation."  This is one illustration of the stone that becomes the chief cornerstone:  there are those who stumble upon that stone and their rejection of it falls back upon them.  In other words, it is a force to be reckoned with -- unavoidable, ultimate reality.  One accepts or rejects, but Judgment is the result of such decisions.  It is an unmovable object, non-negotiable:  to reject this truth is like rejecting the forces of nature in navigating our lives, seeking to avoid gravity or the fact that fire gives heat and can burn.  But Jesus' truth is not like a fact of life or even a physical reality.  Jesus' truth is encountered in relationship with Him.  He is the Person who is Truth, as the Church has taught from its ancient roots.  He is the Truth that loves, that created us, that gives us our truth and creativity, our capacity for love, that teaches us love.  This truth is the door to all things for us, our salvation.  That is, He is the way, the truth, and the life that gives us substance, life, reality -- leading us into the fullness of being persons created in His image.  And so, the stone we may reject is the one that offers us everything.  And by our rejection we lose everything.  How do you encounter the Person who is Truth?  How do you find His love for yourself?  What is it one must give up in order to receive all that He offers?   How  does the life He offers outweigh the value and substance of everything else?






Monday, November 28, 2016

Tell us, by what authority are You doing these things? Or who is he who gave You this authority?


 Now it happened on one of those days, as He taught the people in the temple and preached the gospel, that the chief priests and the scribes, together with the elders, confronted Him and spoke to Him, saying, "Tell us, by what authority are You doing these things?  Or who is he who gave You this authority?"  But He answered and said to them, "I also will ask you one thing, and answer Me:  The baptism of John -- was it from heaven or from men?"  And they reasoned among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say, 'Why then did you not believe him?'  But if we say, 'From men,' all the people will stone us, for they are persuaded that John was a prophet."  So they answered that they did not know where it was from.  And Jesus said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things."

- Luke 20:1-8 

On Saturday we read that as He drew near to Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, "If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!  But now they are hidden from your eyes.  For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation."  Then He went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it, saying to them, "It is written, 'My house is a house of prayer,' but you have made it a 'den of thieves.'"  And He was teaching daily in the temple.  But the chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people sought to destroy Him, and were unable to do anything; for all the people were very attentive to hear Him.

 Now it happened on one of those days, as He taught the people in the temple and preached the gospel, that the chief priests and the scribes, together with the elders, confronted Him and spoke to Him, saying, "Tell us, by what authority are You doing these things?  Or who is he who gave You this authority?"  But He answered and said to them, "I also will ask you one thing, and answer Me:  The baptism of John -- was it from heaven or from men?"  And they reasoned among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say, 'Why then did you not believe him?'  But if we say, 'From men,' all the people will stone us, for they are persuaded that John was a prophet."  So they answered that they did not know where it was from.  And Jesus said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things."   The leadership in the temple ask Christ about His authority to do these things; these things, says my study bible, refers to Christ's Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem as Messiah (19:35-38), the cleansing of the temple (19:45), and His preaching in the temple here in verse 1 of today's reading.  The elders are confronting Jesus since it was the duty of the priestly descendants of Levi to manage the temple.  Christ is descended from Judah (3:33), but He is the High Priest "according to the order of Melchizedek" (Psalm 110:4).  "The order of Melchizedek" is a priestly line far greater than that of Levi, for His authority is from the Father.

How does Jesus refute the challenge from those who question Him about His authority?  It's quite interesting to "watch" Him, as we do in the Gospels, as He refutes arguments and answers back with what were undoubtedly witty retorts and strong criticisms.  We should keep in mind that none of this is happening behind closed doors, so to speak.  What we're frequently reminded of in the Gospels is that the people listen to Him with a sort of a thrill and rapt attention.  And so we see in today's reading, that Jesus' answer to the leadership happens in front of the people to Jesus' advantage -- it's something He uses in His arguments.  The leadership fears the opinions of the people over whom they rule in all religious and, of course, that includes social matters.  John the Baptist was a towering figure in his time.  He was widely regarded as a holy man, fully dedicated to the God of Israel and to the spiritual heritage of Israel, speaking out against violations of the Law by its corrupt rulers (namely Herod Antipas), finally being beheaded in prison at the request of Herod's wife.  So John, considered by Christians to be greatest in the long line of prophets of the Old Testament tradition, is a sort of popular spiritual hero of his own time.  Jesus' question about authority that comes back to challenge the leadership of the temple is given with this image in the people's eyes in mind.  Where did the authority of John come from?  Who gave it to him?  As we can see, they are afraid of the people and therefore cannot answer Christ.  Their cowardice is rather plain; although they are not necessarily one of "the people," their opinion on John the Baptist isn't very clear either from this passage.  Perhaps, indeed, they failed to recognize any authority in John as well.  Jesus has already lamented over Jerusalem as "the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her" (see Luke 13:34-35).  He calls the leadership the "sons of those who murdered the prophets" and says to them, "fill up, then, the measure of your fathers' guilt" (see Matthew 23:29-32).  This is the time of confrontation, in the week before His human death.  It's the time for open and plain speaking in front of the people, and He's not afraid to use the words that are true and plain-spoken, nor the understanding for the benefit of the people of what is really at play here.  Whose authority does He have?  Whose authority do they represent?  Which authority do they recognize?  By what authority do prophets prophesy, and on whose authority was John the Baptist a prophet?  All of these questions are relevant and important to our faith, to how our religious institutions function, to what they recognize today at work in our own lives.  Let us consider His character and His truth and the gist of His mission.  What is He asking of us, as He invites the crowds to participate by listening to this dialogue and witnessing His own mission of faith?   What authority is speaking?










Saturday, November 26, 2016

They will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation


 Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, "If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!  But now they are hidden from your eyes.  For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation."

Then He went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it, saying to them, "It is written, 'My house is a house of prayer,' but you have made it a 'den of thieves.'"

And He was teaching daily in the temple.  But the chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people sought to destroy Him, and were unable to do anything; for all the people were very attentive to hear Him.

- Luke 19:41-48

Yesterday we read that after Jesus had taught the parable of the minas, He went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.  And it came to pass, when He drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mountain called Olivet, that He sent two of His disciples, saying, "Go into the village opposite you, where as you enter you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat.  Loose it and bring it here.  And if anyone asks you, 'Why are you loosing it?' thus you shall say to him, 'Because the Lord has need of it.'"  So those who were sent went their way and found it just as He had said to them.  But as they were loosing the colt, the owners of it said to them, "Why are you loosing the colt?" And they said, "The Lord has need of him."  Then they brought him to Jesus.  And they threw their own clothes on the colt, and they set Jesus on him.  And as He went, many spread their clothes on the road.  Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying:  "'Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD!'  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"  And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, "Teacher, rebuke Your disciples."  But He answered and said to them, "I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out."

 Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, "If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!  But now they are hidden from your eyes."  My study bible says that Jerusalem means "foundation of peace."  This is a peace that comes from faith in the truth He offers.  Christ has come to gather all to Him, in a kind of unity that brings peace and strength, like stones that might cry out in faith (see yesterday's reading, above).  This is the kind of peace that his hidden from a city that will soon reject Him, rebelling against its Savior, the Messiah who was sent to it.

"For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation."  The destruction that came to Jerusalem about which Jesus speaks here occurred in AD 70.  My study bible says that this also describes the spiritual end of every person who lacks faith.  Quite literally, nearly all the stones of the buildings -- especially the great an holy temple -- were toppled one from another, as the Roman army sought the gold that was rumored to have been laid between the great stones.  Only a retaining wall was left, now called the Western Wall, long referred to as the Wailing Wall.  We notice again the theme of stones, voiced by Jesus in yesterday's reading.  Here the stones being displaced from one another offer an entirely contrasting image to the stones that would cry out if the "children" welcoming Him were silenced.  Here the image of the stones is one of chaos and disarray, the opposite of peace.  That is the failure to be gathered to Him, and literally scattered instead.

Then He went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it, saying to them, "It is written, 'My house is a house of prayer,' but you have made it a 'den of thieves.'"  Jesus' first act is to go into the temple itself, which is the house of God, where God's presence is supposed to be.  Jesus quotes from two prophecies:  Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11.  Jesus quite literally scatters those who bought and sold in the temple.  They are not "like Him."  They are trading in live animals to be used in sacrifices, profiting from the people who come for the festival and wish to make a good prayer or sacrificial offering, whatever they can afford.  It is a "worldly" pursuit in the midst of the house of prayer for all the nations.

And He was teaching daily in the temple.  But the chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people sought to destroy Him, and were unable to do anything; for all the people were very attentive to hear Him.  There are those in the leadership who seek to destroy Christ, but the people know they are hearing what is truthful; they all want to have access to what He is offering them.

The images of scattering and gathering are very prominent in today's reading.  They coincide with the image given of the stones that would cry out in yesterday's reading, and also the stones that form the structures of the city of Jerusalem, especially those of the temple, that will not be left with one laid atop another.  Destruction is a prominent theme.  The leaders of the people lead the people astray by seeking to destroy Christ.  They bring upon the city that which they seek to bring upon Him.  The image underlying all these things is a theme that is clear:  He who gathers is being destroyed, and therefore destruction and scattering the result.  The Siege of Jerusalem will be pure chaos, and violation of the sanctity of the temple (what is called "the abomination of desolation," from the prophecy of Daniel).  But the temple is already being violated in certain ways under the auspices of the leadership, in the buying and selling and money exchanging going on around the sale of animals for sacrifice.  We are reminded of Jesus' recent teaching:  "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much" (Luke 16:10), and from the same reading: "You cannot serve God and mammon."  Faith asks us to be on a journey somewhere.  It doesn't mean we don't falter.  It doesn't mean we don't encounter obstacles and difficulties all along the way.  But it does mean that we have an object of that faith, a door or gate we reach toward, the Person who is Truth whom we seek in relationship and from whom we gather our own true nature.  If we seek Him in the small we will also be seeking in what is "much."  This is our peace and our unity, even the true inner unity of faith and wholeness of body, soul, and spirit that constitutes true healing.  He offers a choice, and we always have to answer the question for ourselves of what that will be.