Saturday, June 25, 2016

Tell the daughter of Zion. 'Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey


 Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent tow disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her.  Loose them and bring them to Me.  And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, 'The Lord has need of them,' and immediately he will send them."  All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying:
"Tell the daughter of Zion,
'Behold, your King is coming to you,
Lowly, and sitting on a donkey,
A colt, the foal of a donkey.'"
So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them.  They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them.  And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying:
"Hosanna to the Son of David!
'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!'
Hosanna in the highest!"
And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, "Who is this?"  So the multitudes said, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee."

- Matthew 21:1-11

Yesterday, we read that as Jesus and the disciples went out of Jericho, headed toward Jerusalem, a great multitude followed Him.  And behold, two blind men sitting by the road, when they heard that Jesus was passing by, cried out, saying, "Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!"    Then the multitude warned them that they should be quiet; but they cried out all the more, saying, "Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!"  So Jesus stood still and called them, and said, "What do you want Me to do for you?"  They said to Him, "Lord, that our eyes may be opened."  So Jesus had compassion and touched their eyes.  And immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed Him.

 Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent tow disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her.  Loose them and bring them to Me.  And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, 'The Lord has need of them,' and immediately he will send them."  All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying:  "Tell the daughter of Zion,  'Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.'"  The event described in today's reading is called Christ's Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.  The Church celebrates this day on Palm Sunday.  At this point in history, Jewish nationalism was extremely high.  Centuries of warfare and kingdoms fighting against kingdoms, finally culminating in Roman occupation, had left the people thirsting for a deliverer and a restoration of their nation.  This nationalism had led to the expectation of a political Messiah, someone who would deliver them from Roman control and who would re-establish David's kingdom.  Jesus' deliberate display of humility shows what kind of deliverer He is, what kind of Messiah He is.  It's not an earthly kingdom He is after.  He rides on a donkey, not a horse, and not with an army with Him.  This is a sign of humility and peace.  The Gospel quotes from Zechariah 9:9.  Matthew's Gospel, in common with the "doubling" we've noticed in other stories (such as in yesterday's reading about the two blind men), reports both a colt and a donkey.  Traditional interpretation sees both animals as representing the faithful Jews and Gentiles who are brought together in Christ, in His kingdom.

So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them.  They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them.  And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying:
"Hosanna to the Son of David!  'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!'  Hosanna in the highest!"  And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, "Who is this?"  So the multitudes said, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee."  The people spread their clothes in a manner of reverence to a King.  Spiritually, says my study bible, this is interpreted as the need to lay down our flesh, even our lives, for Christ.  Here the people quote from Psalm 118, associated with messianic expectation.  These are words recited daily for six days during the Feat of Tabernacles (the feast of the coming Kingdom), and seven times on the seventh day as branches were waved.  Hosanna means "Save, we pray!"  The people call Jesus a prophet.  Until John the Baptist, who proclaimed the coming of a Messiah and the Kingdom, there had been no prophets in Israel for centuries.  One can only imagine the expectations of the people here.

Jesus is welcomed as king and liberator into Jerusalem.  The expectations of the crowd runs very high.  He is the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee, an almost-impossible thing in terms of how Galilee was popularly viewed here in Jerusalem among the religious hierarchy, and particularly Nazareth itself.  But welcomed He is.  It's overwhelming to consider the events Jesus has come to, the crisis point here, the meeting of expectations placed upon Him and the ways in which He is going to end His ministry.  His Kingdom is not a worldly one.  He doesn't come as military fighter or liberator.  He's not a deliverer with an army.  And on the other hand, neither is He merely a prophet.  This Messiah is also Lord, He is God.  How on earth to proclaim the truth about His life, His ministry, His mission into this field of expectations placed upon Him?  How to do so in Jerusalem with the religious authorities who are already His enemies and plot against Him?  Could God really be incarnate as a man, as Jesus, this  man from Galilee?  He will fulfill neither the expectations of a worldly king and warrior, nor conventional understanding of the Messiah as an exalted man.  This is something quite, and completely, different.  He comes into Jerusalem to defy all expectations, bearing a gospel message of the good news of God's Incarnation and the inauguration of a spiritual kingdom that lives in each one through faith.  How will it all come about?  One might well consider these circumstances and reflect on Jesus' words from a recent reading:  "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."   This is a seemingly impossible, improbable task.  And yet it is His, and it is ours.  The reality of this Kingdom and its message for us is always going to defy expectations.  We may now have had two millenia of establishment in the establishment of the Church as worldly institution, but the reality of the Kingdom is always something 'different' in our expectations and understanding.  Insight and inspiration comes to us despite our understanding, and despite what we expect.  The working of the Spirit can be surprising in our lives.  The message of the Gospel can still take us by surprise, no matter how many times we may have read or heard.  This is the reality of the spiritual Kingdom that permeates our reality, our consciousness, even our awareness of who we are within ourselves.  It's the wind that blows where it wishes, and we hear its sound, but we can't tell where it's come from nor where it's going (John 3:8).  It is the "other" that yet works in our world, shaping and giving meaning and form and even definition to us, and yet we cannot fully contain it.  Jesus is the ultimate improbability, and yet He was prophesied from ancient times,  and is the One who "was foreordained before the foundation of the world" (1 Peter 1:20), and fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17).   The reality of this Kingdom, the Paradise He's come to restore, is outside of time and space as we understand it.  Our laws and rules and expectations don't necessarily apply.  So Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, the same way He has come into the world through the Virgin and the Holy Spirit, in the humblest of settings, as an outsider, looking for room for His message to be born into this world of great expectations and boundless speculation.  He will defy each one of them.  At the same time, He will establish a kind of hope that lasts through centuries of lifetimes, and in innumerable hearts and souls, as the light of the world.   When things really look to be utterly impossible, let us remember this scene of Jesus riding into Jerusalem, and put or faith in this Kingdom and the working of the Spirit in our midst, within us and among us.  It's not at all about our expectations, but it is all about our faith, and endurance.
















Friday, June 24, 2016

That our eyes may be opened


 Now as they went out of Jericho, a great multitude followed Him.  And behold, two blind men sitting by the road, when they heard that Jesus was passing by, cried out, saying, "Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!"    Then the multitude warned them that they should be quiet; but they cried out all the more, saying, "Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!"  So Jesus stood still and called them, and said, "What do you want Me to do for you?"  They said to Him, "Lord, that our eyes may be opened."  So Jesus had compassion and touched their eyes.  And immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed Him. 

- Matthew 20:29-34

Yesterday, we read that Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples aside on the road and said to them, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify.  And the third day He will rise again."  Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him.  And He said to her, "What do you wish?"  She said to Him, "Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom."  But Jesus answered and said, "You do not know what you ask.  Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?"  They said to Him, "We are able."  so He said to them, "You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father."  And when the ten heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers.  But Jesus called them to Himself and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.  Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.  And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave -- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

Now as they went out of Jericho, a great multitude followed Him.  And behold, two blind men sitting by the road, when they heard that Jesus was passing by, cried out, saying, "Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!"    Then the multitude warned them that they should be quiet; but they cried out all the more, saying, "Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!"  So Jesus stood still and called them, and said, "What do you want Me to do for you?"  They said to Him, "Lord, that our eyes may be opened."  So Jesus had compassion and touched their eyes.  And immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed Him.  Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem, and to the Passion, which He has now predicted three times to the disciples.   The two blind men here greet Jesus as Lord, which is the common title for God, and Son of David, a title which was associated with the Messiah.  Just as in yesterday's reading, Jesus asked the mother of Zebedee's sons, "What do you wish?" here He asks them, "What do you want Me to do for you?"  My study bible says He knows what we want before we ask, but calls us to ask freely so that we might learn of His mercy.  This story has also been traditionally interpreted spiritually, saying that the blind men symbolize future generations who would come to faith only by hearing, without the benefit of seeing Christ in person (see John 20:29).  The ones who tried to silence the blind men are persecutors and tyrants in every generation who try to silence the Church and the faithful.  Nevertheless, under persecution, the Church all the more professes Jesus Christ.  Jericho was notorious as a place of sin.  The blind men may symbolize our blindness in sin, and those universally who cry for the healing compassion of Christ -- on His way to the sacrifice for the life of the world, so that we may all have our eyes opened.

In yet another sense of interpretation of today's reading, we can think of the two blind men being told to be quiet as if they are viewed as unruly children.  In a recent reading, mothers brought children to Christ for a blessing, and the disciples tried to discourage them as the children were considered too 'unruly' for the dignity of Christ.  Jesus said, "Suffer the little children to come unto Me; for of such is the kingdom of heaven."  As a sign of His compassion, Jesus turns to the cries of the blind men, despite the crowd, and asks what they want Him to do for them.   This is also another occasion where Matthew's Gospel tells us the healing involved two people, where in Luke and Mark the story involves one.  (It is possible that Luke and Mark mention only one, when there were more together.)  But this too can be interpreted spiritually as a teaching that Jesus as Messiah is also Lord of the Gentiles, and that His mission and compassion are for all:  for the life of the world.  It is for the life of a world that lives in darkness that He is going to Jerusalem, to the Passion, and His sacrifice, death, and Resurrection.  He is the one who transfigures everything with His light.  In the light of His mission into the world, everything will change.  Our whole picture of salvation changes, and our understanding of life in the world changes.  Jews and Gentiles both undergo a transfiguration of their spiritual history; it is a mission for the whole world and all of our blindness.  As we mentioned above, Jericho in its time was notorious for sin and corruption, even a place frightening for its crime and violence.  Jesus sets the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35) on this road going the opposite way -- from Jerusalem to Jericho.  It's through that world He is passing, the one where humanity lives with such darkness, and it's this world He has come to illuminate, into which His light shines in the darkness.  These blind men symbolize all those who recognize their blindness and want His light.  I think it's important that we consider what life we wish for when we are complacent with blindness and darkness, or when we choose to embrace it.  It's difficult work to embrace Christ's light.  It casts light on all the things we can so easily forget, or live in denial about.  It asks us for change, for transfiguration, and reaches deep down into who we are, for surprising results.  People may find us to be different from the person they are used to.  All of this involves the strength of faith, the courage to cry to Him, to be "unruly" for some, perhaps to be called out, and no longer to fit in with the crowd we know.  But wisdom is justified by her children, and His light is still the light of the world in which we see light.  For the early Christians, the allegorical road from Jerusalem to Jericho was the way of death, and His road out of Jericho to Jerusalem the way of life.    It's our choice.










Thursday, June 23, 2016

Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?


 Now Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples aside on the road and said to them, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify.  And the third day He will rise again."

Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him.  And He said to her, "What do you wish?"  She said to Him, "Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom."  But Jesus answered and said, "You do not know what you ask.  Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?"  They said to Him, "We are able."  so He said to them, "You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father."  And when the ten heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers.  But Jesus called them to Himself and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.  Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.  And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave -- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

- Matthew 20:17-28

In yesterday's reading, Jesus gave a parable to His disciples, teaching about the kingdom of heaven:  "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.  Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.  And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.'   Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise.  And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, 'Why have you been standing here idle all day?'  They said to him, 'Because no one hired us.'  He said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.'   So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, 'Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.'  And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius.  But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they received each a denarius.  And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, 'These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to use who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.'  But he answered one of them and said, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong.  Did you not agree with me for a denarius?  Take what is yours and go your way.  I wish to give to this last man the same as you.  Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things?  Or is your eye evil because I am good?'  So the last will be first, and the first last.  For many are called, but few chosen."

 Now Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples aside on the road and said to them, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify.  And the third day He will rise again."  This is the third prediction Jesus makes to the apostles of His coming Passion, death, and Resurrection.  Each prediction gives them more vivid details.  My study bible says that Jesus' repeated prediction of His Passion was meant to encourage and strengthen them for the terrifying events they are going to face.  Theophylact comments that it's as if He were saying to them, "Think on all these [words and miracles], so that whenyou see me hanging on the Cross, you will not imagine that I am suffering because I am powerless to do otherwise."

Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him.  And He said to her, "What do you wish?"  She said to Him, "Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom."  But Jesus answered and said, "You do not know what you ask.  Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?"  They said to Him, "We are able."  so He said to them, "You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father."   Jesus has just made a prediction of His Passion, but the disciples remain focused on concepts of the Kingdom in a worldly sense.  It seems quite clear that they believe His Resurrection will mean an immediate manifestation of a Kingdom on earth.  My study bible says that this quest for temporal power and glory is unfitting in a disciple.  Matthew tells us that it is the mother of Zebedee's sons (James and John) who requests the honor.  But as the Greek makes clear, Jesus is addressing James and John in the plural you when He replies, "You do not know what you ask.  Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?"  He calls His Crucifixion a cup and His death a baptism.  My study bible says that the cross is a cup because He drank it willingly (Hebrews 12:2), and His death is baptism, because He was completely immersed in it, and at the same time it cleansed the world (Romans 6:3-6).  These disciples will participate in this same cup and baptism in lives of persecution and martyrdom after Pentecost.  James will be the first martyr among the Twelve, John will be put into exile and live a long life through the depth of persecutions of the early Church, giving us three Epistles, one Gospel, and one Book of Prophecy (Revelation).  Jesus displays His own humility before the Father when He says the the places of honor in the Kingdom are not His to give.  Christ does not lack authority, but these places are not His to give arbitrarily.  They will be given to those for whom God has prepared them.  St. John Chrysostom, says my study bible, tells us that no one could sit as an equal on the right and left hand of Christ in His Kingdom.  As to the highest places of honor for human beings, the Church historically and traditionally gives such place to the Virgin Mary (most blessed among women) and John the baptist (greatest born of women).

And when the ten heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers.  But Jesus called them to Himself and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.  Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.  And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave -- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."  Over and over again, as Jesus has prepared the disciples for the journey to Jerusalem, He teaches them the message of humility as leadership, as image of the kind of power He wishes to rule in His Church.  Here is the clearest and most explicit teaching on the difference between worldly power and the kind of power at work through Him, in the Kingdom He wishes to bring into the world.  It is the kind of power He wishes to be at work in them and among them. The Church is not supposed to be a competition, nor a bloodthirsty battle among aristocrats for power and position (such as was exemplified for example in their contemporaries Herod the Great, and his son in Galilee, Herod Antipas).

The political conditions of worldly power of Jesus' time and place were particularly bloodthirsty.  Herod the Great and his family were extreme, even by Roman standards, in terms of ruthless rule, murder and intrigue -- even among themselves.  If we read the Old Testament books written in the century or two prior to Jesus' birth, we get a picture of the Mediterranean world of the Near and Middle East to be one of constant battles for kingdoms and power among the Romans and the various dynasties who were successors to Alexander the Great.  There hardly seems to be any time of peace at all, nor any steady alliances but rather a dizzying array of constant warfare and changing allegiances depending on the circumstances.  Certainly the Jews suffered through this period (and the temple suffered abuse), and awaited a deliverer, a Messiah.  This is why that particular time and place of Christ's birth is so important, essential to this story and to the popular hopes and expectations of the people.   It's into this world of competition and slaughter that Jesus is born, the Deliverer, the Messiah.  One can understand the impulse of James and John here, given the reality of the world they lived in.  Today, too, we can only see the competition and slaughter of the Middle East if we understand on worldly terms the naked nature of ambition, greed, and pure materialism.  It's St. Paul who taught that "the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil" (1 Timothy 6:10), and he gives it as a warning to those who would stray from the faith via greediness, resulting in a life of great sorrows.  As followers of Christ -- and this is particularly so for Christians from the early apostolic churches of the Middle East -- we may find ourselves wondering where our Deliverer is, and where we are headed.  But we turn to Him.  There are those today who theorize that martyrdom and persecution in the period of the early Church has been exaggerated, but there is little doubt of persecution happening today, particularly in the places of the earliest Christian churches.  Most Westerners have little idea about the survival and coexistence of Christians in the Middle East throughout the centuries.  But now is a time in which, in many countries, their survival as a community is threatened by world events, great powers playing politics, and alliances that defy all reasonable understanding save one: power and greed.  Mercenary armies cruelly repress all who disagree with their particular point of view of faith, including those of nominally the same faith.  For Christians and others, conditions threaten their very survival in ancestral homelands.  We can look around ourselves and see a time of tremendous divisiveness and dissension.  Into this our Church must follow Him and His teachings, His commandments, His prayer for God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.  We carry this Kingdom in our hearts, and we have those who have come before us, learning the same hard lessons in a harsh time.    It may be the best time for prayer -- but that moment is always now.








Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen


 "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.  Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.  And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.'   Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise.  And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, 'Why have you been standing here idle all day?'  They said to him, 'Because no one hired us.'  He said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.'   So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, 'Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.'  And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius.  But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they received each a denarius.  And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, 'These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to use who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.'  But he answered one of them and said, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong.  Did you not agree with me for a denarius?  Take what is yours and go your way.  I wish to give to this last man the same as you.  Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things?  Or is your eye evil because I am good?'  So the last will be first, and the first last.  For many are called, but few chosen."

- Matthew 20:1-16
Yesterday we read that, after turning away the rich young ruler, Jesus taught His disciples, "Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."  When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?"  But Jesus looked at them and said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."  Then Peter answered and said to Him, "See, we have left all and followed You.  Therefore what shall we have?"  So Jesus said to them, "Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children of lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and the last first."

 "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.  Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.  And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.'   Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise.  And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, 'Why have you been standing here idle all day?'  They said to him, 'Because no one hired us.'  He said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.'   So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, 'Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.'  And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius.  But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they received each a denarius.  And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, 'These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to use who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.'  But he answered one of them and said, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong.  Did you not agree with me for a denarius?  Take what is yours and go your way.  I wish to give to this last man the same as you.  Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things?  Or is your eye evil because I am good?'  So the last will be first, and the first last.  For many are called, but few chosen."  Jesus illustrates work for the Kingdom with this parable.  The vineyard is life in this world.  The day may be both the span of a single person's life and also the whole of human history.   Laborers are those who are from every nation.  My study bible says that each hour could refer to times in a person's life, such as infancy, youth, adulthood, maturity, or old age.  There is also a second meaning in terms of spiritual history, referring to those called during the different covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and finally Christ.   This parable puts salvation history into perspective for the disciples, as it gives a picture of all those who labor for the Kingdom in the world.  There is equal reward for both the early and late comers.  The former should not be proud of their long service nor resent those who are called at the eleventh hour.  For the latecomers, the parable teaches that it is possible even in a short time or at a very late stage in one's life to recover and inherit all.  This kingdom doesn't work as a worldly kingdom does, and time and space make no difference to it.  For the early Church, this was seen as an image applying to Jews (the first called) and the Gentiles (those called later).  Today, says my study bible, it can apply to those raised in the Church and those who find the Church later in life.  They will both receive an equal reward.  In his paschal sermon (read each Easter in the Orthodox church), St.  John Chrysostom applied this parable to the preparations of each person in approaching the Paschal Eucharist.

The standards that apply to the Kingdom aren't those of worldly life.  What we consider to be equal or fair isn't really the same kind of 'setting' for the Kingdom.  Those who labor their whole lives long in service to this King may receive exactly the same reward as one who comes to this work late in life, even at the end of life.  Those who were the early founders in this work, who came to it at a time in the world when faith really meant taking on an entirely different understanding of life and faith than that which existed in one's culture or time and place, share an equally essential role as those who've come long after and benefited from the establishment of the Church and all that has come before it.  Time and space matter little, as in the communion of saints all are not only united but in communication with one another.  And hierarchy matters very little at all:  the great saints are there and praying for all, and they may be called on for intercession, for all of us who are "the least of these" in terms of our spiritual understanding or development.  The Kingdom sets down its own standards for citizenship and participation, and there is really only one King, only one Teacher, who lays down what is what and sets the tone and circumstances for all of us.  This defines the "good."  (When the landowner in the parable asks, "Is your eye evil because I am good?" we understand that the 'evil eye' refers to envy.)  And that's where we start, with the one truly essential relationship that sets down standards of love and what is "good" for all the rest.  This is a kind of equality that takes into consideration not just "how much" but "how deep."  It measures us in every dimension, but it is the heart where all resides and that determines everything else.  It is truly the "kingdom within us," because it is the reality of the heart.  The heart is where one will find the kingdom of heaven (and also, sadly, and paradoxically, hell -- the place without God).  In its immediate telling, this parable may be a teaching for the apostles, those who come first in the Church as its pillars in the world.  Jesus is preparing to make His way to Jerusalem, and He has been teaching the about life in His Church.  That the 'first may be last and the last may be first' is a teaching of the greatest humility, and also gives them the perspective on their places in the Kingdom.  Our usual understanding of wealth and accumulation just doesn't apply.  This is a reality that permeates the places within us where time and space are simply relative terms, where a long deceased loved one still is present, for example, or where we meet Christ or are given the Holy Spirit's promptings.  This is a place where love declares its reasons, and wisdom its paradoxical truths -- where we are not measured by the standards of the world and its measurements, but by something much deeper and more profound in its understanding.






Tuesday, June 21, 2016

With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible


 Then Jesus said to His disciples, "Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."  When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?"  But Jesus looked at them and said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."  Then Peter answered and said to Him, "See, we have left all and followed You.  Therefore what shall we have?"  So Jesus said to them, "Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children of lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and the last first."

- Matthew 19:23-30

Yesterday, we read that little children were brought to Jesus that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them.  But Jesus said, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven."  And He laid His hands on them and departed from there.  Now behold, one came and said to Him, "Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?"  So He said to him, "Why do you call me good?  No one is good but One, that is, God.  But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments."  He said to Him, "Which ones?"  Jesus said, "'You shall not murder,' 'You shall not commit adultery,' 'You shall not steal,' 'You shall not bear false witness,' 'Honor your father and your mother,' and 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"  The young man said to Him, "All these things I have kept from my youth.  What do I still lack?"  Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."  But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions."

 Then Jesus said to His disciples, "Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."  When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?"  But Jesus looked at them and said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."   In yesterday's reading, we discussed the idea of attachment to riches.  My study bible notes here the various interpretations that have been given for the image in Jesus' expression, "a camel to go through the eye of a needle."   Some cite the Aramaic word for camel which sounds like "rope" -- that gives the saying a type of analogous quality.  Some suggest that the eye of a needle is referring to a small city gate  through which a camel could squeeze if it were first unloaded of all its baggage, which would symbolize wealth.  There is an expression in the Talmud "for an elephant to go through the eye of a needle" which is quite similar to Jesus' expression.  But all of these have one thing in common -- the image of great difficulty, or rather impossibility, of salvation for those who remain attached to riches.  My study bible notes the response of the disciples' response, "Who then can be saved?" as evidence that Jesus' words seem to preclude salvation.  That they are greatly astonished seems to suggest how deeply this saying may affect each of us.  Here, Jesus' rather shocking pronouncement becomes a moment for teaching:  by God's grace, all things are possible.

Then Peter answered and said to Him, "See, we have left all and followed You.  Therefore what shall we have?"  So Jesus said to them, "Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children of lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and the last first."  My study bible says that Jesus isn't commanding believers to divorce spouses and abandon children.  St. John Chrysostom suggests that this statement teaches about the struggle to keep one's faith under persecution, even when it may mean losing one's family.  It also suggests acceptance of the possibility that family members may seek to cut off ties with those whose faith is unacceptable to them (see 1 Corinthians 7:12-16).  My study bible says that believers are promised a hundredfold of houses and relatives not in an earthly sense, but rather in a spiritual sense:  the fathers and mothers of the Church, brothers and sisters in Christ, and houses of worship and fellowship.  Many who are first will be last once again gives us a note of humility in His teaching to these first followers.

Once again Jesus gives us a kind of exchange in His teachings.  We exchange one thing for another in faith.  He spoke to the rich young ruler of "treasures in heaven" that he would have by selling what he had and giving to the poor.  It's a sense in which what we give away returns to us "a hundredfold," a spiritual sense.  But the inner riches of the spirit -- linked to "treasures in heaven" -- also translates into riches in this life.  That is, the "treasures in heaven" teach us about values that are truly important and essential and which are added unto us.  The internal wealth of a generous spirit, for instance, translates into something deeply joyful and satisfying and almost inexplicable in its effect upon us when we have done something to give others a blessing.  Such actions turn our minds to the things of God and to where God may lead us.  Often the pursuit of wealth for its own sake is seen as an impediment to the development of God-given talents and capacities for creativity or other positive work which we're capable of doing.  We may find that an initiative to follow the words of Christ in detaching ourselves from "possessions" leads us to pursue a more meaningful and constructive and disciplined life of true self-development, building our talents and skills for positive contributions that also enrich us on many levels.  Jesus' words teach us to see life differently, putting our primary pursuit in perspective.  So much comes down to what we love and cherish, or what we choose to serve and worship.  Then, the rest of our life falls into order behind that main decision.  St. John Chrysostom felt very keenly the call to share or distribute wealth in alms-giving, saying that expenditures on unnecessary or vain choices to impress others was taking food out of the mouths of the poor.  Whatever way we come to understand Jesus' words, there is no doubt that giving away whatever it is that stands in the way of our faith comes back to us a hundredfold, in ways we couldn't have expected, ways that are opened up to us through that faith and the more clear pathway to God made by doing so.  Jesus' words are true, that with God all things are possible.  What I have found that means is that there are myriad possibilities contained in every moment of action taken in faith.  So much so, that the pathway before us might be filled with treasures we can't yet see or know, but are made possible through God's opening up of our lives.  We just need to decide where we put our faith, and step forward into that life.  All of Jesus' teachings on wealth bring us to mind of His parables of the pearl of great price and the treasure buried in a field.  Our true treasure makes everything else pale in value and worth.  It is worth everything else. 






Monday, June 20, 2016

If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me


 Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them.  But Jesus said, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven."  And He laid His hands on them and departed from there.

Now behold, one came and said to Him, "Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?"  So He said to him, "Why do you call me good?  No one is good but One, that is, God.  But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments."  He said to Him, "Which ones?"  Jesus said, "'You shall not murder,' 'You shall not commit adultery,' 'You shall not steal,' 'You shall not bear false witness,' 'Honor your father and your mother,' and 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"  The young man said to Him, "All these things I have kept from my youth.  What do I still lack?"  Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."  But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions."

- Matthew 19:13-22

On Saturday, we read that after teaching the disciples about humility, becoming like a little child of faith, care of the little ones and mutual correction in the Church, and forgiveness,  Jesus departed from Galilee and came to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan.  And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there.  The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?"  And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?  So then, they are no longer two but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate."  They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?"  He said to them, "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce from your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.  And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery."  His disciples said to Him, "If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry."  But He said to them, "All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given:  For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother's womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake.  He who is able to accept it, let him accept it."

  Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them.  But Jesus said, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven."  And He laid His hands on them and departed from there.  This is an emphasis on the teachings of the previous three readings (see links above).  But in those readings, Jesus' reference to the "little ones" meant the humble faithful of the Church who would be in the disciples' care.  He taught that to enter into the kingdom of heaven one must become "like a little child" -- that is, humble and embodying the characteristics that make for faith.  Here the disciples rebuke the mothers because they thought the children unruly, and and that they "diminished His dignity and Teacher and Master" (according to Theophylact).  But Christ sets the little children as an example of those who inherit the kingdom of heaven.  Children are invited to participate in the Kingdom and the life of the Church.

Now behold, one came and said to Him, "Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?"  So He said to him, "Why do you call me good?  No one is good but One, that is, God.  But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments."  He said to Him, "Which ones?"  Jesus said, "'You shall not murder,' 'You shall not commit adultery,' 'You shall not steal,' 'You shall not bear false witness,' 'Honor your father and your mother,' and 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"   The emphasis on "good" and what or who is good is really an emphasis by Christ that what is good in life comes from God, and that a good life comes from dependence on God for the "good things" of life -- of soul, body, and spirit.  He begins with the commandments of God given to Moses.

The young man said to Him, "All these things I have kept from my youth.  What do I still lack?"  My study bible says that formal observance of commandments doesn't make one righteous before God.  This man had an earnest desire for eternal life and sensed that he still lacked something -- so he continues to press Jesus for an answer.

Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."  But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions."   The real goal of a spiritual life, for an eternal life, is closeness to God, a union with God.  This young man was a very wealthy man; given his depiction here and in other Gospels one can assume his identity was defined by his wealth and position.  That is, a social identity.   Often called a "rich young ruler," it's implied that he is a type of aristocrat whose wealth is in landed properties (as the Greek word translated as "possessions" literally means).  My study bible says that wealth had such a grip on this rich man that his only hope was to sell and give away all his possessions.  The goal is following Christ, and whatever impediment is in the way of that goal is eventually voluntarily given up.  The specifics of how each one follows Christ, therefore, will be different for each person.  St. John Chrysostom writes that giving away possessions is the least of Jesus' instructions here.  Following Him in all things is a much greater and more difficult calling.

To detach from the things we "love" in order to follow a greater and more profound love is indeed the stuff of maturing, and of spiritual maturity.  This is about releasing impediments to the love of God, to the love of Christ.  It is just as Jesus taught the disciples earlier:  "If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you.  It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire.  And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you.  It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire."  Those body parts named by Christ were images of ways of thinking and being in the world, habits even dear or close, that had to go in order to truly fulfill their calling and mission.  So it is for this man often described as a "rich young ruler."   His wealth isn't just something to which he was deeply attached, it was an attachment that became an impediment in the way of following Christ.  It's important that we understand that carrying our crosses means we come up against such impediments in our own lives, but that they may be different for each of us depending on our own orientation and lives.  St. Francis is a saint for whom this was the call.  A rather profligate son of a well-to-do merchant, St. Francis was called to give up things to which he was attached in order to rebuild the church of his time.  Returning his father's possessions, he declared himself to be dependent upon God.  He modeled himself after one such as John the Baptist, a man of extraordinary humility before God and of single-minded determination to live only for God's work as he was called to do it.  But for every great holy ascetic there is also the work of individuals who are called to live holy lives for God in the most commonplace of professions and walks of life.  Each is capable of being called to the qualities described in my study bible as exemplified in the "little ones" -- humility, dependence, lowliness, simplicity, obedience, and a willingness to love and be loved.  In our relationship to God, these are the qualities that count, fruits of the Spirit.  We will each be led as we are uniquely called to fulfill that mission of love and service; no one is a carbon copy of another.  The real goal of such work is love, true love of God which teaches us love of neighbor.  How that happens for each one,  the things we may be asked to cut off or give up, depends on how we are called.  The end result is riches that are too deep to fathom, an internal joy and love, an intrinsic value worth the greatest pearls and treasures.  That is, a life transfigured.  And "all things added unto" these.





Saturday, June 18, 2016

Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?


 Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these sayings, that He departed from Galilee and came to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan.  And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there.  The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?"  And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?  So then, they are no longer two but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate."  They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?"  He said to them, "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce from your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.  And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery."

His disciples said to Him, "If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry."  But He said to them, "All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given:  For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother's womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake.  He who is able to accept it, let him accept it."

- Matthew 19:1-12

In yesterday's reading, we were told that after Jesus explained a system for mutual correction in the Church,  Peter came to Him and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  Up to seven times?"  Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.  Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.  And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.  But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made.  The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, 'Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.'  Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.  But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, 'Pay me what you owe!'  So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.'  And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt.  So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done.  Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, 'You wicked servant!  I forgave you all that debt because you begged me.  Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?'  And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.  So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses."

 Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these sayings, that He departed from Galilee and came to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan.  And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there.  The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?"  And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?  So then, they are no longer two but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate."  They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?"  He said to them, "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce from your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.  And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery."  My study bible notes that the basis of the Pharisees' test is Deuteronomy 24:1-4.  Jesus' overall concern is for love and he purpose of marriage as love and spiritual bond between husband and wife.  As is so often the case, the emphasis is on love and inclusion, particularly of the "weaker" one socially.  He speaks of the "hardness of your hearts" referring pointedly to the men, who were the only ones who could initiate divorce under Jewish law.  (Roman women could do so, but Jewish women could not.  These are the Pharisees He is speaking to.)  We really must keep in mind that He has just finished instructing the disciples about care of the "little ones," and about humility in His Church.  That is, a difference between the ways that worldly power is used and the ways that His holy power is used in service to God who is love.  (See, for example, Luke 9:55, in which Jesus told His disciples, "You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.")  Jesus hearkens in His answer the purpose of marriage as given in the creation of the world and of human life in the Garden, an image of peace and of love -- spiritual union as original principle of monogamous marriage.  For our weaknesses we are given consideration, and for the conditions of a world and human beings "separated" from God (what is called the Fall), and struggling with all kinds of resulting spiritual problems and oppression.  But the original purpose still stands in Jesus' teaching (see Genesis 1 and 2).  Jesus adds His own authoritative prohibitions against divorce, says my study bible, including the exception "except for sexual immorality."   But we must understand this in context of human weakness and compassion.  In the early Church, the reasons for permissible divorce were expanded to include a threat to spouse's or child's life and desertion.   This does not diminish the acknowledgement of the spiritual tragedy in such situations.  Abuse of a marriage bond must be seen in these terms.

His disciples said to Him, "If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry."  But He said to them, "All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given:  For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother's womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake.  He who is able to accept it, let him accept it."  For much of history, eunuchs were a class of people who held powerful offices within kingdoms and systems of hierarchy.   These were often men who had been castrated in order to hold such a position (such as in guarding women of nobility) or by birth, defect, disease, or mutilation.  Jesus is using the term figuratively for those whose practice is lifelong celibacy for the kingdom of heaven's sake.    This isn't a rejection of marriage; it's rather a holy or consecrated virginity, having nothing to do with self-mutilation (condemned at the First Ecumenical Council).  See St. Paul's discussion of marriage and celibacy in the early Church (1 Corinthians 7:7, 25-38).

What is marriage?  We have to see in the image of marriage given in Genesis a kind of union of humanity, a sense in which hierarchy does not play a role.  Differences between men and women - regardless of current standards for equality - for almost all of human history have remained within a social category of power differences.  Most often, there are "realms" of women and "realms" of men, a kind of separation of social participation, such as in child rearing or running of the home (that includes for much of the world farming and economics as well).  But the picture we're given here goes beyond equality -- two "become one flesh."  Jesus  is talking about a spiritual union, consecrated by God who is love.  I believe we must see all of His teachings under this umbrella, whether we refer to the just-previous readings or the whole of the Gospels.  His concern is with the "little ones," and with love.  All the virtues named by my study bible apply here as well as to Jesus' statement, "Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven" (in Wednesday's reading).  That is, character traits of humility, dependence, lowliness, simplicity, obedience, and a willingness to love and be loved are also those characteristics necessary on both sides for a good spiritual bond in marriage.  You don't find love without humility, or a willingness to love and be loved.  Dependence is for both partners, regardless of social status, as it exists in many dimensions and expressions.  As is so often the case, Jesus' teachings leave us with the understanding that our bonds and ties with one another don't just depend on one side, but upon each of us living in faith.  A marriage is a type of mirror of the two greatest commandments to love God with all one's heart and soul and strength, and to love neighbor with the same. The difference is that this bond goes much deeper than that with a neighbor; this is a bond that results in two becoming one.  And just as relevant are the teachings given in recent readings on mutual correction and forgiveness.  In this context, marriage has often been seen by the Church as the layperson's way to holiness.  A marriage is filled with an ongoing need for understanding and practice of loving mutual correction, the importance of self-awareness and acknowledgement of our own shortcomings and harm we may do, and for forgiveness.   Jesus gave us a picture of an open dialogue for "offenses" in His teaching on mutual correction in the Church.  A sound marriage (and good therapy and spiritual direction) will encourage the same truthfulness with love and capacity for forgiveness.  This is all the work of the heart, something we lose sight of too often in modern discussions about marriage and its nature.  Let us start with love and mercy, and the help of the grace of God, and take our perspective and "work" from there.   We don't live in a perfect world, but the practice of love requires consciousness, the discipline of obedience and humility, and the help of grace.  The abuse of such hope is always a spiritual tragedy.