Tuesday, April 21, 2015

I know who You are -- the Holy One of God!


 Then He went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and was teaching them on the Sabbaths.  And they were astonished at His teaching, for His word was with authority.  Now in the synagogue there was a man who had a spirit of an unclean demon.  And he cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Let us alone!  What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth?  Did you come to destroy us?  I know who You are -- the Holy One of God!"  But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be quiet, and come out of him!"  And when the demon had thrown him in their midst, it came out of him and did not hurt him.  Then they were all amazed and spoke among themselves, saying, "What a word this is!  For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out."  And the report about Him went out into every place in the surrounding region.

- Luke 4:31-37

Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region.  And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.  So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up.  And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.  And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah.  And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:  "The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor;  He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.'"   Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him.  And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."  So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth.  And they said, "Is this not Joseph's son?"  He said to them, "You will surely say this proverb to Me, 'Physician, heal yourself!  Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country.'"  Then He said, "Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.  But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.  And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian."  So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff.   Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way.


 Then He went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and was teaching them on the Sabbaths.  And they were astonished at His teaching, for His word was with authority.  My study bible quotes Ambrose of Milan, in saying that Christ begins preaching and healing on the Sabbaths to show that "the new creation began where the old creation ceased."  Jesus teaches with authority in that He doesn't preach like the prophets of old nor the teacher of His day, who taught what the Law or the Lord said.  Jesus teaches using language in the first person form:  "I say to you."  See, for a prime example, Matthew 5, the Sermon on the Mount.

Now in the synagogue there was a man who had a spirit of an unclean demon.  And he cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Let us alone!  What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth?  Did you come to destroy us?  I know who You are -- the Holy One of God!"  But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be quiet, and come out of him!"   More evidence that there is a Kingdom being borne into the world, something here that is not usually here!  But the demons tend to reveal what isn't meant to be revealed -- yet, and so Jesus rebukes them to "Be quiet!"  It's not time yet for His identity as Christ to be made public.  This idea of the appropriate time is reflected in the prophecy of Isaiah which Jesus read in yesterday's reading, at the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth:  "To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD."  Isaiah 42:1-4 foresees the Servant who is a humble Messiah until His mission is finished.   My study bible suggests that there are several reasons for secrecy:  the growing hostility of the religious leadership, the misunderstanding of the people regarding the Messiah as political leader, and Christ's desire to evoke genuine faith.  Christ will encourage His faithful to be like Him, a Servant.

And when the demon had thrown him in their midst, it came out of him and did not hurt him.  Then they were all amazed and spoke among themselves, saying, "What a word this is!  For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out."  And the report about Him went out into every place in the surrounding region.  Jesus' ministry can't be suppressed; His very presence guarantees that all sorts of things will happen.  Reactions to Him will be everywhere, as in yesterday's reading we read about the people's mixture of both marveling and rejecting.  The demons react to Christ, they know who He is.  They tell us of a kind of battle, a Kingdom being brought into the world, an authority present whether we are aware of it or not.

Jesus' presence reveals so many things.  Even the visceral way that people react to Him tells us something of the power and authority that is present.  One way and another, people react.  And in today's story, we see how the "unclean spirits" or demons react.  They know who He is, and they fear His effect on them.  It's the presence of the Kingdom that elicits this response.  Awhile back, we commented on the notion of a "liberated zone" that Jesus creates by coming into the world.  He's a king claiming this particular Kingdom, liberating a world from unclean spirits and demons, from the "ruler" or "prince" of this world.  But so much depends on hearts and minds.  This is a kingdom where service is voluntary, loyalty depends on our response, and the rooting of that kingdom takes place within us, among us.  In that sense, we see the wisdom of the choice in which Jesus doesn't rule or proclaim leadership by military might or power, by dazzling effects of signs guaranteed to force belief.  This kingdom is one of love, and love isn't given without freedom.  Our Suffering Servant, the humble Messiah, is the one who wants our love.  It's a love that starts with a love of the Father, and that's something built into the notions of the Kingdom as well.  There's no separation between Father and Son, and there's no separation in us.  Furthermore, up to this point it is the Spirit that has been active in creating and beginning this ministry:  it was the Spirit that hovered over Christ at the Baptism, and the Spirit who led Christ to be tempted by the prince of this world, Satan.  In yesterday's reading, Jesus proclaimed the words of Isaiah:  The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me.  Father, Son, and Spirit are inseparable, and our participation in this Kingdom is bound up with the Trinity.  This relationship and oneness has its basis in love, and without love there can be no Kingdom.  It is the power of love the demons fear, and Christ's authority and leadership come from love.  Thereby we're given to understand the power of healing at work in all of this ministry:  that the establishment of the Kingdom is an act of healing, of healing the world back to its "original" state and purpose, healing us to be united with Creator, reconciling and making whole, and making the world a "safe place" for the laws of love.  In this humble Messiah, the Suffering Servant, is our image of how that happens, the only way it's possible.  He commands our love and our courage, and demons fear Him, although in the words of Isaiah, "a bruised reed He will not break." 




Monday, April 20, 2015

The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD


 Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region.  And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.  So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up.  And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.  And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah.  And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:
"The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.'"

Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him.  And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."  So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth.  And they said, "Is this not Joseph's son?"

He said to them, "You will surely say this proverb to Me, 'Physician, heal yourself!  Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country.'"  Then He said, "Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.  But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.  And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian."  So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff.   Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way.

- Luke 4:14-30

On Saturday, we read that Jesus, after His baptism, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being tempted for forty days by the devil.  And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry.  And the devil said to Him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread." But Jesus answered him, saying, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.'"  Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.  And the devil said to Him, "All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.  Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours."  And Jesus answered and said to him, "Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written,  'You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.'"  Then he brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here.  For it is written:  'He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you,' and 'In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.'"  And Jesus answered and said to him, "It has been said, 'You shall not tempt the LORD your God.'"  Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.

 Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region.  And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.  The scene is set; Jesus' Galilean mission is well under way.  He has been teaching in synagogues throughout the region, and widely "glorified by all."

So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up.  And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.  And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah.  And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:  "The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.'"  My study bible indicates to us the interpretation of this text (see Isaiah 61:1-2) as that of proclamation of the Incarnation.   It tells us that as eternal Son of God, Christ doesn't become the world's anointed Savior, but has always been Savior from before the foundation of the world.  It tells us that it was Christ speaking through Isaiah to say, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me" (Isaiah 61:1).  He doesn't say that the Spirit "has come upon Me," but rather "is upon Me."   At His baptism, when the Spirit of the LORD descended on Jesus, it was a sign revealing an eternal truth to the people, not a temporal one.   This "is" is the eternal present in the name "I AM," and in Jesus' statement, "Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58).  And what is the "acceptable year of the LORD"?  It is the time of the Incarnation, when -- as my study bible puts it -- "the Kingdom of heaven has come to earth (see 2 Corinthians 6:2)."

Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him.  And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."  So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth.  And they said, "Is this not Joseph's son?"   The seated position is the traditional position of a teacher, or rabbi.  His pronouncement seams clear:  the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled in their hearing!  Jesus' townspeople marvel at His gracious speech.  Is this really the man we all know?  Joseph's son?

He said to them, "You will surely say this proverb to Me, 'Physician, heal yourself!  Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country.'"  Then He said, "Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.  But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.  And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian."  So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff.   Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way.    My study bible suggests that the double response we observe here  of both marveling and rejection occurs frequently in those who encounter Christ (see Luke 11:14-16; John 9:16).  Jesus' being rejected in His own country fulfills the rejection of Old Testament prophets such as Elijah and Elisha mentioned here by Jesus in vv. 26 and 27, and it foreshadows Jesus' rejection by the whole of the Jewish nation at His trial before Pilate (John 19:14-15).    A note tells us that Christ accepts death according to the Father's will, not at the will of other human beings.  Here, the hour of His Passion has not yet come (see John 8:20).

In Luke's Gospel, this is the first time Jesus escapes death.  But it certainly isn't the last, particularly if we take into account the rest of the New Testament Gospels, including that of John.  Over and over again, we read that it wasn't yet His time, the hour of Passion, crucifixion, and Resurrection.  The notable thing here, however, is that this first brush with such a threat comes in His hometown.  It's a kind of early sign of what is to come, both in the "marveling and rejection" that simultaneously accompanies Jesus in His public ministry, and of the irate rage at the truth He tells them about themselves.  Because they're from His hometown, perhaps, they expect great things.  They're almost like spectators at a great event, or film-goers watching a movie they expect to be dazzled by.  Where are the great marvels and miracles they've heard about already?  What about the things He's done in Capernaum?  And, by the way, isn't this just that young man we knew and watched grow up, Joseph's boy?  They know Him as Jesus, Joseph's son.  This eloquent speech doesn't belong to such a person.  How is it possible?  But it is possible, and even the revelation of Messiah or Christ is possible.  It's possible that Isaiah's prophecy is fulfilled in their hearing.  But they want a sign.   They demand to be dazzled first.  They're waiting for something.  Faith doesn't come.  There's no trust.  Who knows if this is a human by-product of familiarity, or expectation?  Perhaps we demand conformity of "our own" within our own limits of expectation or desire.   Jesus' statement that "no prophet is accepted in his own country" is recorded in all of the Gospels, giving us an emphatic assurance of this truth.   His warning must also be taken seriously, when He gives explicit examples of the truth of the prophets being realized only by foreigners.  This warning isn't taken seriously enough for the townspeople to reflect on their own responses to Him and His gracious words.  It's met, as truth may so often be met about ourselves, with wrath and perhaps disgust -- a murderous rage at His words.   Jesus must accept this rejection from His hometown and His neighbors, the things that are familiar to Him.  So, once again, the Gospels give us an example about the reception of truth, truth about ourselves, truth about a spiritual reality we may need to accept or to take a good look at.  Our own personal reaction might be rage.  It might be fear.  We might endlessly demand proofs in order to avoid what it is we want to avoid.  It isn't easy, necessarily, to accept truth, particularly spiritual truth which transcends all our circumstances, assumptions, familiar understanding, and family and neighborly ties.  Jesus cites the experience of these great prophets, Elijah and Elisha, as proof of that, and as warning to these "neighbors." But then, in our present Gospel of Luke, we will also be given an answer that goes deeper than our understanding of neighbor, to a lawyer's question, "Who is my neighbor?"  Luke invites us here to think about what is a neighbor, and what it means to be truly related.  We ask here questions about our faith, and how faith establishes not only a different order of reality -- of a Kingdom present -- but also a different order of relatedness to one another.   It invites us to consider our own blind spots, a kind of rejection or denial that results in rage that is defense against personal change, transformation of our own viewpoint.  We go back to John's Gospel again for Jesus' repeated emphasis on love of the Father; this love in our hearts determines whether or not we are willing to see what revelation of truth God has for us, whether we can adapt to that reality or not.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear.  Are we able to accept the wealth of the gifts we're offered, or to be truly healed?  Can we receive our liberty, and accept the sight He offers?  In His eternal presence, it is always the acceptable year of the LORD, but we need faith to realize it for ourselves.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Get behind Me, Satan!


 Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being tempted for forty days by the devil.  And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry.  And the devil said to Him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread." But Jesus answered him, saying, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.'"  Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.  And the devil said to Him, "All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.  Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours."  And Jesus answered and said to him, "Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written,
 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.'"

Then he brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here.  For it is written:
'He shall give His angels charge over you,
To keep you,'
and
'In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.'"

And Jesus answered and said to him, "It has been said, 'You shall not tempt the LORD your God.'"  Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.

- Luke 4:1-13

Yesterday, we read that as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John the Baptist, whether he was the Christ or not, John answered, saying to all, "I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire."  And with many other exhortations he preached to the people.  But Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him concerning Herodias, his brother Philips's wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, also added this, above all, that he shut John up in prison.  When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened.  And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, "You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased."

  Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness . . .   The lectionary skips over the genealogy of Jesus, in which we're told that Jesus begins His ministry at about thirty years of age.  (See Luke 3:23-38.)   My study bible explains here that Jesus' exodus into the wilderness following baptism has a dual symbolism.  It fulfills the Old Testament type in which Israel journeyed into the wilderness for forty years after "baptism" in the Red Sea.  Secondly, it prefigures our own journey through the fallen world after baptism as we struggle towards the Kingdom.

. . . being tempted for forty days by the devil.  To be tempted is to walk through a world in which evil is present, and engage in the "struggle towards the Kingdom," as my study bible put it, above.   A note explains that to be tempted is to be tested in some fundamental area of faith.  As Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into this struggle, so we, also, are accompanied by the Spirit.  My study bible says that the wilderness is a battleground, and thence an image of the world in spiritual terms:  the dwelling place of demons and also a source of divine tranquility and victory. 

And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry.  And the devil said to Him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread." But Jesus answered him, saying, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.'"  Here's Christ's first temptation; He's practiced a fast in preparation for His ministry.  The first test isn't about hunger but rather about His identity as Son, His relationship to God.  So, what's this Kingdom as Son to be about?  Is it only about His worldly comfort?  Jesus' rejection is about His resolution of oneness with the Father, that He will live by "every word of God."  Everything comes second to this, even His hunger, and thereby the category of "worldly comfort."   It's a reversal of Adam, says my study bible, in which Adam disregarded the divine word in order to pursue the passions of the body.  It's really all about what comes first, what is paramount.   My study bible notes, "the New Adam -- Christ -- conquers all temptation by the divine word, giving human nature the power to conquer Satan."   This resistance of temptation to Jesus' hunger is also a "reversal" of the temptation of the Israelites in the wilderness, in which they learned dependence upon God.  Jesus answers to the devil are all from Deuteronomy.   Here He's quoting Deuteronomy 8:3.

Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.  And the devil said to Him, "All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.  Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours."  And Jesus answered and said to him, "Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.'"   Here Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6:13.  We'll note also that each time Jesus rebukes the devil, it's with the truth and power of Scripture.  To become immersed in Scripture, my study bible reminds us, is to be armed in order to resist and drive away every temptation  (see Psalm 118:11).   Once again we note that this is a temptation about what it means to be Son, how Jesus will use His power, what kind of a Kingdom this is.  Everything depends on His loyalty, love, and oneness with the Father.

Then he brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here.  For it is written:  'He shall give His angels charge over you,  to keep you,' and 'In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.'"  The devil quotes Scripture, seemingly trying to trip Jesus up with His own weapon already used against the devil.  My study bible says that Satan vainly tries to use the Scriptures -- as do the Pharisees in John 7:52 -- but Satan neither understands their truth nor their power.  It notes, "Knowing and quoting Scripture without true understanding is worthless at best and ultimately condemnable.  Without true understanding through the Holy Tradition of the Church, the Scriptures are robbed of their authority (see also 2 Peter 1:19-21)." Again this is a temptation to use power in a "personal" or self-centered way, without the guidance of the Father.  It's also tempting Jesus to question or to need to "prove" His relationship to the Father as Son.

And Jesus answered and said to him, "It has been said, 'You shall not tempt the LORD your God.'"  This quotation is from Deuteronomy 6:16.  My study bible tells us that trials and temptations will come on their own -- we shouldn't intentionally expose ourselves to danger in order to prove God's protection.  To do so is to tempt the LORD.

 Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.  This verse seems to bear out the truth of the note quoted just above:  temptations will come at certain "times."  We don't have to seek them out.  One such time for the apostles is in the garden at Gethsemane, when Jesus tells them, "Pray that you do not enter into temptation"  (Luke 22:46).   Another example is Peter's immediate reaction to Jesus' news that He will be killed (see Matthew 16:21-23).

One thing we can read very clearly in today's Gospel reading:  Jesus' dependence, right from the beginning, is solely on the Father.  As we observed numerous times in John's Gospel, everything Jesus does and is refers constantly back to the Father.  Every teaching, every sense of who He is, every kind of way of relationship and relatedness goes back to the Father.  Here, the devil's three temptations are essentially about a selfish understanding of what it is to be a  Son, to be tempted to use power, authority, standing, and the love of God the Father, in ways that ignore the counsel of the Father.  In so doing, Jesus undoes the Fall, the temptation in the Garden, the original sin of the world.  But He does so as one of us, with our own temptations, as a vulnerable human being.  My study bible has a note which I quoted above that suggests that all of this is done with the help of the Holy Spirit, and this is something that we always need to remember -- that we have the help of the Spirit who is with us.  My study bible also notes that the temptations of the Israelites in the wilderness, which Jesus' time in the wilderness is a sort of "picture" of, or type, was a time in which they were tested in order to develop a reliance upon God.  A spiritual director once suggested to me that we, too, may go through the same things in life, for the same purpose, in order to develop a deepening reliance upon God.  That is certainly what Jesus affirms in His responses here.  We've just been through a great deal of reading in the Gospel of John, and Jesus' expression of relationship to the Father is still fresh in my mind.  The explicit and repeated need to include us in the love of God is in some way paralleled here, but with maybe a different "viewpoint."  It always goes back to the Father.  Here, it is Jesus who is tempted.  But the example is for all of us, and all of us are included in His prayer at the Last Supper in this oneness with the Father, and the love of the Father.  Our dependence should be as His.  It's our real rock of faith, especially when temptation comes.  This is why the devil quotes Scripture without understanding and for false purposes.  It's this love that makes all the difference.






Friday, April 17, 2015

While He prayed, the heaven was opened


Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not, John answered, saying to all, "I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire."  And with many other exhortations he preached to the people.  But Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him concerning Herodias, his brother Philips's wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, also added this, above all, that he shut John up in prison.

When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened.  And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, "You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased."
 
- Luke 3:15-22

Yesterday, we read that in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.  And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, as it is written in the book of he words of Isaiah the prophet, saying:  "The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  'Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.  Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight and the rough ways smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"   Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, "Brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.'  For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.  And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees.  Therefore every good tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."  So the people asked him, saying, "What shall we do then?"  He answered and said to them, "He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise."  Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?"  And he said to them, "Collect no more than what is appointed for you."  Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, "And what shall we do?"  So he said to them, "Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages." 

Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not, John answered, saying to all, "I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire."   And with many other exhortations he preached to the people.  My study bible explains that fire in this context has the primary meaning of the gift of the Holy Spirit, given to the world at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).  But it also declares the judgment of Christ, in which the faithless will burn (see 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; 2:8).  We note that this fire is one:  it is the same Power and the same Spirit which both enlivens the faithful and destroys the faithless.   This fire can be thought of as a sort of energy, in which we either participate and embrace, or seek to resist.

But Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him concerning Herodias, his brother Philips's wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, also added this, above all, that he shut John up in prison.  Herod had divorced his own wife and married Philip's wife Herodias while Philip was still living.  In his role as prophet, John the Baptist decried this unlawful marriage, and "all the evils which Herod had done."  As Mark's Gospel gives a sort of "flashback" of John's death, Luke gives us a "flash forward."

When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened.  And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, "You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased."   My study bible says that Jesus Himself doesn't need baptism, but accomplishes several things by being baptized.  He, first of all, affirms John's ministry.  This occasion as reported here in Luke (and other Gospels) is what is called a Theophany, a revelation of God -- the Trinity.  He is revealed by the Father and the Holy Spirit to be Christ, God's beloved Son.   He identifies with His people by descending into the waters with them.  His own death is prefigured here, which gives baptism its ultimate meaning (we are immersed in the waters as a death, and reborn in Spirit as we arise).  Jesus entered the waters and so sanctified them all for the future baptism of all of us.    Here is also a fulfillment of many "types" given in the Old Testament:  for example, Moses leading people from bondage through the Red Sea (Exodus 14) and when the ark of the covenant was carried into the Jordan so the people could enter the Promised Land (Joshua 3, 4).  And finally, Jesus' baptism opens heaven to a world separated from God through sin, a profound meaning for the Incarnation.

What can we say of the God-man who is revealed to us through this scene, this baptism?  This is the beginning of Jesus' ministry.  Some might say it's "opened up" by John's baptism.  But it is the sanctification of the waters happening here which, in fact, opens heaven up to us as is implied in the text.  This is the whole meaning of the Incarnation, given to us in a picture right here at the beginning, in this baptism.  God the Father speaks, naming Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit descends "like a dove," a sign of peace we already know from the story of the waters of the flood.  This is the story of God's reconciliation with us, and our reconciliation with God.  It is the story of peace.  It is the story of the oneness we can share in relationship to God, the Trinity, which we've just read so much of in the last prayer of Jesus from John's Gospel.   In His descent, the Spirit hovers over the waters, just as we read about in Genesis at the creation of the world.  We have a picture of reconciliation here in so many ways, God's presence, God's Spirit, reunifying us and making us whole again, restoring us to our "original creation."  So many things are in this one picture!  What we remember, then, are several things here.  First of all, the presence of God -- and revelation -- mean that there are infinite possibilities for our understanding and interpretation, for signaling something important to us about our faith.  It's an icon:  a picture that can fill us with something important, maybe essential for the journey, for today or this moment.  That is why we visit and revisit Scripture, the word of God, and it is how Scripture works for us.  Each time we look at a "word-picture" or read a parable, a "word-picture" given us by Christ, it's all the same source of so many things, an infinite well of creativity and wisdom.  All of it goes to feed us and to complete us, to reconcile us back to our original creation, in the love of God.  If we limit "the facts" to a few worldly things, if we are so limited in our perspective as to think this has nothing to do with the heavens opening and our being invited in, then we miss so much, and we miss the point of Scripture.  We understand its effects when we understand what is here, in this revelation, this "Breath of God."   Our Creator has re-united with us.  He is given to us and shares Himself with the elements of this world, His Creation, to sanctify, to give us something more, to take us on this journey of faith.  Let's not limit what is infinite.  It is our real gift of life, so much more abundantly than we understand.   There is one more little thing for us to understand in this picture:  Jesus is baptized "when all the people were baptized," after everybody else.  Let us remember the humility of God who humbles Himself from love for us, who "condescends," and comes to us as one of us.




Thursday, April 16, 2015

Make His paths straight


 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.  And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying:
"The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make His paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled
And every mountain and hill brought low;
The crooked places shall be made straight
And the rough ways smooth;
And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"

Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, "Brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.'  For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.  And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees.  Therefore every good tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."

So the people asked him, saying, "What shall we do then?"  He answered and said to them, "He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise."  Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?"  And he said to them, "Collect no more than what is appointed for you."  Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, "And what shall we do?"  So he said to them, "Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages." 

- Luke 3:1-14

Our most recent readings have been in the Gospel of John.  At the Last Supper, Jesus prayed what is called the High Priestly Prayer.  We began reading this prayer with Monday's reading.   Yesterday, we read that Jesus prayed:   "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.  And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:  I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.  Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.  O righteous Father!  The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me.  And I have declared to them your name, and will declare it, that the love with which you loved Me may be in them, and I in them."

Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.  Today we move from John's Gospel to Luke's.  Luke sets down carefully who is in power at the time, noting the historical circumstances for accuracy.  It is a time, says my study bible, when a king rules who is not from the tribe of Judah.  Such circumstances were prophesied from ancient times for the time of the Messiah (Genesis 49:10).  It says, "As Herod was a non-Jew calling himself the king of Judea, the coming of the Christ was surely at hand."  Caiaphas is now the high priest, but people recognized the continuing power of his father-in-law Annas, a previous high priest who had been deposed by the Romans.

And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, as it is written in the book of he words of Isaiah the prophet, saying:  "The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  'Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.  Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight and the rough ways smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"  My study bible tells us that the call to repentance is traditional for prophets.  John's baptism doesn't grant remission of sins but prefigured and prepared people for Christ's baptism which was to come.  John is a figure of the Law in the sense that he denounced sin but could not remit ("put away") sin.  A note says, "Both John and the Law point to the one who can remit sin."   Using the prophecy of Isaiah 40:3-5, John takes on the role of "the voice."  In the prophecy, we note a great "evening up" in the way of salvation of the Lord.

Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, "Brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.'  For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.  And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees.  Therefore every good tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."  My study bible notes that while parents and ancestors may help to impart piety and holiness, ancestry itself doesn't make anyone worthy of God.  "Each person in every generation must bear fruits worthy of repentance.  Stones symbolize the Gentiles who would become children to Abraham through faith in Christ (Romans 4:16-18)."

So the people asked him, saying, "What shall we do then?"  He answered and said to them, "He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise."  Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?"  And he said to them, "Collect no more than what is appointed for you."  Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, "And what shall we do?"  So he said to them, "Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages."   What does it mean to bear fruits worthy of repentance?  John the Baptist gives his contemporaries some answers.  They have a lot to do with "evening up."  They have even more to do with truth and with honesty, with "making paths straight," "making crooked places straight."  And they are examples of making "rough ways smooth" for those who suffer hardship and injustice.   And they are inclusive of powerful and powerless:  it is "all flesh" that "shall see the salvation of God."

John the Baptist comes with a warning:  the Messiah is coming.  The time is at hand.  Prepare the way of the Lord.  It's the time to get ready.  What does this all mean?   They are to "bear fruits worthy of repentance."  "Well, could you explain that a bit?" the people ask the Baptist.  And today, we have to think about the same thing.  This isn't a once in the world event, really.  The Messiah is here with us and comes to us every day.  Christ is always at hand, ready to make His entrance.  So, how do we bear fruits worthy of repentance?  Clean up our act, get our own truth, honesty, and integrity together.  Don't cheat.  Help others who need it.  Give a hand.  Do your job well.  Try a little humility.  Forget intimidation and leverage and "lording it over one another."  But we know there is so much more to it, too.  After all, Christ has come and made His ministry as Jesus.  Yesterday, we read the last words of His prayer at the Last Supper.  How can we forget the love with which He spoke, the sense of how we are all deeply embraced by the Father?  To "make His paths straight," then, is just the beginning.  We're to open up those pathways within ourselves.  Our honesty and integrity give us the start we need to let Him in.  Humility can only be the beginning of the fruits that allow us to let down our own arrogant barriers to His love and His teachings, His commands for us.  How do we bear fruits worthy of repentance?  We listen to His call.  We take it seriously.  We make the ways open to Him.  We are worthy of His glory, we share in His love, and His one-ness with the Father.  We come to know God -- an ongoing process -- through faith.  But John here lays the groundwork, and replays the message for us all, coming from Isaiah:  Make His paths straight!  Make the crooked ways straight!  Smooth the rough parts!  Smooth down the mountain within us, and fill in the valley where we don't come up to "hear" His voice.  Let us prepare the way and show some of the fruits of what it is to "change our minds" about what's important, what we really need, who we pay attention to.  Let's start there, every day.  It's the call of the voice crying in the wilderness, for us to have ears to hear.  It's the salvation of us all, but only if we can pay attention.  Repentance is just the beginning.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear!



Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me


 "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.  And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:  I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.  Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.  O righteous Father!  The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me.  And I have declared to them your name, and will declare it, that the love with which you loved Me may be in them, and I in them."

- John 17:20-26

Since last Monday, we've been reading through Jesus' Farewell Discourse to the apostles.  Starting with this Monday's reading, Jesus began what is known as the High Priestly Prayer, a prayer to the Father at the Last Supper.  Yesterday, we read that He prayed, of the apostles, "While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name.  Those whom you gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.  But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.  I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  Sanctify them by Your truth.  Your word is truth.  As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.  And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth."

"I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me."  Here my study bible says of "those who will believe" that the Church in every generation participates in the life and glory of the Trinity.    It says that Christians enjoy two kinds of unity: with God and with one another, the latter being rooted in the former.  We recall Jesus' words in Monday's reading, that to know God is eternal life.  For "those who believe" to be "one in Us" is to know God, and to know God in a relationship of love.  But let us note, Jesus' great desire is for faith:  "that the world may believe that You sent Me."

"And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:  I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me."  Here is again an iteration of the same statement, but this time focusing on the glory shared between Father and Son and also with those of faith.  This glory works "so that they may be one just as We are one" -- and so "that the world may know that You have sent Me."  And we get the more explicit meaning of being one:  that the Father has "loved them as You have loved Me."

"Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world."  Here is the depth of prayer for "one-ness" (and a third iteration) -- that we the sheep of the Good Shepherd may be with Him even as He is seated at the right hand of the Father, in His glory.  In so beholding this glory, we may understand a depth of love that is beyond any love we know, a love that is and has been "before the foundation of the world."   This is our goal, our real home.

"O righteous Father!  The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me.  And I have declared to them your name, and will declare it, that the love with which you loved Me may be in them, and I in them."  My study bible says here that the ultimate goal of Christ's prayer, and indeed of life itself, is for the love of the Father to dwell in each person.

This is perhaps the most profound expression of love in the Gospels.  That is, Jesus declares that love is being one with God, and that He wants this not only in terms of the relationship that He already has with the Father, but that we who believe the Father has sent Christ the Son may also be one with Father and Son.  And there is more:  that we may share in and behold the glory which the Father shares with the Son, even as He is Lord and seated at the right hand of the Father.  The apostles have been given a glimpse of this glory at the Transfiguration, which we read of in the Synoptic Gospels.  But here Jesus gives a new dimension to glory, that it is shared between Father and Son, but also that Christ's desire is that we also may see it and know it.  This is a kind of invitation that is monumental, because what it does is invite human beings into a kind of grand participation in something so far beyond us that we can't grasp what it means unless we are able to behold it.  And this glory is all connected with love.  Glory is the very value and goodness of God.  Christ seems to be saying that His prayer is that we know how the Father loves Him, and has loved Him before the foundation of all the world, so that we, too, may share in and live in this love.  Oneness becomes a oneness of love and even of glory, in the sense that He desires that we be with Him, even as He is Lord, not "only" Jesus of Nazareth.  Overall the message of oneness, which as we've looked closely now appears here three times as explicitly stated in Jesus' prayer to the Father, becomes the fullness of love such as we've not known it.  His prayer is that we may know it and share in it, that faith or belief comes in the depth of such love, the awareness of it and our participation in it.  Jesus is about to go to the Cross, but His will here is for not only His close disciples, the Twelve who are with Him (with one sad exception who will be lost), but also for those who will believe through the word of these apostles to be one with Him and the Father, one in love, and and in beholding the full glory the Father shares with the Son.  This is the reality of the message.  And while the words may seem so far beyond us as to be only or exclusively "other-worldly" -- Jesus speaks of the full glory of His role as Son and also Lord -- I would rather say they are timeless.  Eternal life as it is iterated and reiterated especially in this particular gospel doesn't only mean a life after our worldly life, but a life that is not limited by anything:  not by time, not by death, not by space.  The Kingdom exists in us even as we are in the world "but not of it."  His glory we can get some glimpses of and is shared with us, the love that is from before the foundation of the world is something that also dwells in us, that we can come to learn and grow into throughout the life of faith, the oneness is something we are to be a part of in the here and now, to the best capacity we have to do so.  We see this glory manifest in human beings, particular in those we call saints.  And we also have the promise of the Spirit, which will be sent by the Father, the One who will lead us into all truth, and teach us and live with us so that we may come to truly "know" the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.  We are somehow without time on this journey and there are no limits to this love and the "knowing" which we will continue to grow into.  That is the path, the way, the journey.  It isn't an invitation to wear rose-colored glasses, to live in a world without evil in it, but it's an invitation to know God, and know the love of God, and God's glory to the best extent we can, even as we live in the world that is imperfect.  Let's look more closely at this prayer.  Jesus prays, "And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:  I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me."   He has given us His glory that we may be one just as He and the Father are one -- and that we may be made perfect in one.   Oneness, glory, perfection, and love.  These are the keys to faith, and the keys to spreading this Kingdom into the world.  It is living in this love, with this glory, and growing in knowledge and oneness that brings light into the world and shines the Kingdom into a place that is far from perfect.  So, can we be these people He prays about?   Can we live as He asks us?  Without faith, I'd say, it's impossible.  And without the love of God in which we share, a growing "knowing" of God in which we are able to participate, and even without the glory of God which is given even to us, I don't think it's meant to work at all.  We must seek to be a part of all these things and hope for them and expect for them to be a part of our daily lives, even as we live in a world that disappoints and fears and tears down the possibilities of this love.  It's our way to bear His life into the world, and His truth.  So we, too, can follow in His prayer, which connects us to it all, "that the love with which you loved Me may be in them, and I in them."   Today's reading has the fullness of love and what it means, the most profound message of the Bible.  These are the promises we count on.



Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth


"While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name.  Those whom you gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.  But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.  I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  Sanctify them by Your truth.  Your word is truth.  As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.  And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth."

- John 17:12-19

Yesterday, we began reading what is often called the High Priestly Prayer, which Jesus prayed to the Father at the Last Supper:  Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said:  "Father, the hour has come.  Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him.  And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.  I have glorified You on the earth.  I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.  And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.  I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world.  They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.  Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You.  For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.  I pray for them.  I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours.  And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them.  Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You.  Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are." Today, our reading continues the prayer.

"While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name.  Those whom you gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled."  The son of perdition (or "destruction") is Judas Iscariot (6:70-71).  My study bible tells us that Old Testament prophecy alludes to Judas (Psalm 41:9; 109:2-13; Zechariah 11:12-13).  Judas becomes a "type" for all who will fall away in the last days (see 2 Thessalonians 2:3, where "son of perdition" refers to the Antichrist).

"But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.  I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world."  My study bible says, "Inasmuch as Christ is from heaven, those who are joined to Him become like Him.  Thus, all believers attract the world's hatred.  The second-century Letter to Diognetus (6:3) states, 'Christians dwell in the world but do not belong to the world.'  Reborn in Christ, Christians have their citizenship in the Kingdom of God (3:1-5), yet their vocation is in the world, where they are protected by God against the evil one."

"Sanctify them by Your truth.  Your word is truth.  As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.  And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth."   To sanctify, my study bible explains, is to consecrate, to make holy, to separate, set apart from the world, and bring into the sphere of the sacred for God's use.  St. John Chrysostom interprets this verse as saying, "Make them holy through the gift of the Spirit and by the correct doctrine."

Two words stand out for me in today's reading, at first glance.  They are "Joy" and "Truth."  Again, we note that these are words and themes already introduced in John's Gospel.  In recent readings, Jesus has told the disciples, "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full" and "Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full"  (15:11; 16:24).   Interestingly, John the Baptist referred to this fullness of joy, even as his own ministry would decrease:  "He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled" (3:29).    John's First Epistle also uses the language of the fullness of joy:  "These things we write, that our joy may be complete"  (1 John 1:4).  Joy is linked to truth in each of these statements, because it is in the fullness of truth that there is joy.  These statements (and the joy) are given by Jesus to the disciples even as He is about to go to the Cross.  John the Baptist's joy is fulfilled as Jesus' ministry begins, even as John's ministry will be eclipsed by the presence of Christ, and he will be put in prison and killed by Herod Antipas.  In the Epistle of John, it's the truth of the things of Christ that completes "our" joy.  It is in the fullness of this truth that our joy takes fullness.  It's in the truth of the word of God.  And Jesus tells us that this truth is also sanctifying.  It sets us apart, takes us out of the world, reserves us for a purpose, so that we bear this Kingdom into the world as it dwells in us and among us.  It has a hallowed function and a purpose and it hallows our work of faith as we reflect it in the world.  The fullness of truth, therefore, contains all of these things:  it sanctifies and sets us in a place where we have a mission, it places us in the Kingdom, it fills us with a kind of fullness of joy, and it is the word of God.  Thereby joy and truth become inextricably linked with one another in the fullness of "God's breath" working in our lives.  Let us keep in mind that the word for Spirit means also means "breath."  In the Armenian Apostolic tradition, the Bible is called "the Breath of God."  In the fullness of the Word is breath, joy, truth.  It's the Word that sanctifies, a breath that takes us to places we don't know about, to a fullness of joy, an acceptance of what is, a Kingdom that works in us, and that we share for a holy purpose into the world.  God's breath breathes in us and makes us a part of something, giving us a fullness that is missing without it.  Jesus prays here that we might be so sanctified, and gives us His peace and joy.  Let us remember that we are only sanctified by the truth, and that it must rest in us.  We don't flinch from the reality of the world, even as we understand the life of God.