Friday, March 6, 2015

I do not receive honor from men. But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you


 "I can of Myself do nothing.  As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.  If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true.  There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true.  You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth.  Yet I do not receive testimony from man, but I say these things that you may be saved.  He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light.  But I have a greater witness than John's; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish -- the very works I do -- bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.  And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me.  You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form.  But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe.  You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.  But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.  I do not receive honor from men.  But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you.  I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in His own name, him you will receive.  How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?  Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you -- Moses, in whom you trust.  For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me.  But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?"

- John 5:30-47

In our current reading, Jesus is in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks, a time that commemorates the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai, and is also a festival of the spring wheat harvest.  He has healed a paralytic man, telling him to "Rise, take up your bed and walk."  The temple authorities question Him because it is considered unlawful to carry burdens on the Sabbath.  Yesterday, He said to them, "Then Jesus answered and said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.  For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works  than these, that you may marvel.  For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will.  For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father.  He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.  Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.  Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.  For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.  Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth - those who have done good, to the resurrection of life,  and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation."

"I can of Myself do nothing.  As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me."  Here, my study bible tells us that the divine will is common to the three Persons of the Trinity -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  All fully share in the same divine nature.  It says, "When the Son is said to obey the Father, this refers to His human will, which Christ assumed at His Incarnation.  Christ freely aligned His human will in every aspect with the divine will of the Father, and we are called to do likewise." 

"If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true.  There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true.  You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth.  Yet I do not receive testimony from man, but I say these things that you may be saved.  He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light."  Jesus begins to name witnesses to His authority and identity.  Who is Lord of the Sabbath?  Everything rests on this question.  His first witness is John the Baptist, whom He calls "the burning and shining lamp" in whose light they were willing for a time to rejoice.

"But I have a greater witness than John's; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish -- the very works I do -- bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.  And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me.  You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form.  But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe.  You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.  But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.  I do not receive honor from men.  But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you.  I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive Me; if another come sin His own name, him you will receive.  How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?  Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you -- Moses, in whom you trust.  For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me.  But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?"  In Jewish tradition, a valid testimony requires two witness, says my study bible, citing Deuteronomy 17:6.  Here Jesus presents four witnesses on His behalf.  My study bible points out that He's anticipating the argument of the leaders, and notes that He does the same thing in Luke 4:23.  The witnesses that Jesus names are John the Baptist; God the Father; Jesus' own works; and the Old Testament Scriptures, through which Moses and others gave testimony.

Jesus gives witnesses about Himself in today's testimony.  But we're left in a place where witnesses count in terms of the shared spirit of each of them, something that they have in common.  It's a hint of recognition at work in today's reading, in the sense that Jesus tells the leadership:  "You do not have the love of God in you."  Everything else falls forward from that.  It's the love of God that allows first for recognition of the Father, and thus One who comes in the name of the Father.  It's the love of God that's going to give people the ability to recognize John the Baptist as a burning and shining lamp, and would lead one to rejoice in his light.  Without the love of God, could one really appreciate Moses and what he did, what he gave, his journey, and life story?   The Scriptures all speak of God, but where would we be in our appreciation of Scripture without the love of God?  How much, how crucially and substantially much, would we be missing in our appreciation and benefit?  Without the love of God, there's not much else here to recognize, to know and understand, to learn.  Every witness is essential, but every witness is understood and valued according to the love of God.  Perhaps that's a reason why this testimony to Christ's divinity and Messiahship doesn't really make the strong impact it should on these leaders.  There's something lacking inside to start with, a set of priorities that are missing in some sense, or perhaps put second in the rank and order of things that matter to them.  Jesus asks another essential question here:  "How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?"  There's another point here, essential to our understanding of ourselves and of our relationship to God:  from where do we receive honor?  What's most important to us?  It shows relationship to Jesus' earlier words about judgment (in yesterday's reading).  Is God's "vision" important to us?  Do we care what God thinks?   After all, we tend to honor those whom we love, or who are tied to what we love.   So the question of the love of God comes back to us.  Which honor really matters?  Whose honor do we care about?  Jesus could present a great deal of witnesses here, but all of it rests on relationship, in the end.  What do we love?  Or respect?  What is important to us?  From where does our own sense of honor come?  It all starts in the heart, in our hearts.   The rest becomes extraneous if that foundation doesn't exist.  So we look to ourselves to understand the things of God, to recognize this Messiah.  What do we find we really love?  What honor is really the most essential?






Thursday, March 5, 2015

Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth - those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation


Then Jesus answered and said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.  For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works  than these, that you may marvel.  For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will.  For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father.  He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.  Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.

"Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.  For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.  Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth - those who have done good, to the resurrection of life,  and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation."

- John 5:19-29

Yesterday, we read that there was a feast of the Jews (the "Feast of Weeks" or the Jewish Pentecost, regarding the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai), and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches.  In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water.  For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.  Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, "Do you want to be made well?"  The sick man answered Him, "Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me."  Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your bed and walk."  And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked.  And that day was the Sabbath.  The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, "It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed."  He answered them, "He who made me well said to me, 'Take up your bed and walk.'"  Then they asked him, "Who is the Man who said to you, 'Take up your bed and walk'?"  But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place.  Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, "See, you have been made well.  Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you."  The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who made him well.  For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath.  But Jesus answered them, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working."  Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.
 
Then Jesus answered and said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.  For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works  than these, that you may marvel.  For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will.  For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father.  He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.  Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life."  My study bible suggests that the fact that the Son can do nothing of Himself proves that His every act and word is in complete unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  This discourse reveals that the Father and the Son are completely united in nature, will, and action.  Thus, the Son fully shares the divine attributes of both giving life and executing judgment.   This judgment, my study bible says, is based on both faith ("he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me") and works (v. 29, below -- "those who have done good").

"Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.   For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.  Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth - those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation."  My study bible says that the dead (in "the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God")  refers both to those who are spiritually dead and who will find life in Christ, and to the physically dead who will rise in the general resurrection.  It says, "Christ confirms this statement by raising Lazarus (11:38-44) from the dead before going to His own death."  These latter verses are used for funeral services, confirming the same reward for those who fall asleep in faith.

 Jesus has healed a paralytic, and for this healing He's questioned, not for His abilities or for the outcome, but for teaching someone to carrying a burden on the Sabbath ("Take up your bed and walk") and thus technically violating a command (see Jeremiah 17:21-27).  But in His response, Jesus takes us far beyond the immediate healing miracle and the power that created it, into a much greater understanding of the power of God.  This power is life and death.  It is the power to heal absolutely (and will be displayed as the power to raise the dead, in the final sign in this Gospel, the raising of Lazarus).   And, in some sense, "life" and "death" are misleading terms -- or rather, as so often happens in the Gospel of John in more obvious ways -- we can't take them only at face value.  Life and death are spiritual terms, and life and death, in the context of the words of Christ, become absolute values about the whole potentials of what constitute human beings.  In short, human beings are also spiritual beings with a component potential to live in relationship to God.  It is this potential that is also "life," and its lacking in our lives is "death."  All that "relationship" may mean in an eternal sense is something we can't even grasp, but we can think about it.  We can understand that as Christ reveals an eternal plan here when He speaks about judgment, we are invited in to consider what this really means for us, how it works, and -- maybe most importantly -- what significance that gives even to our daily lives.  If we have the opportunity, here and now, to live within that relationship with Christ, if each of our choices really matter that much, then "the good we do" takes on all kinds of significance we might not give it otherwise.  It's not just something we do that we think is good; it's something we do that God thinks is good.  It's something we do that in the most exalted perspective counts for something, something eternal, and with intrinsic value of itself.  This can take on many dimensions in our thinking, revolutionize the way we conduct ourselves.  Perhaps most effectively and immediately, it means that what we do, whether seen by others in the general society or not, makes us meaningful and valuable , given that we try to do "the good."  It means that what we consider the good takes on a meaning that really has to do with faith, and with relationship, and with prayer.  When we pray for guidance we're submitting that we don't know all the answers, and that we can't often know what is the best choice, as if we were simply ticking off the correct answers on an exam or a test.  It means we're dependent upon faith and relationship to understand the good available to us, and that we seek that "best" answer in relationship to Christ, to Creator.  Jesus teaches, in the Sermon on the Mount, that what we do in secret will be rewarded openly by the Father, and these powerful words can reorient our whole lives into thinking about what the good truly is, and even what tiny little action we take that nobody may know that is laden with tremendous value and significance.  It's in these places, intensely private and personal, that Christ takes us into "life" and "death."  He invites us to think about the great significance of each choice, whether or not we see immediate effects, whether or not there is public recognition of some kind.  And that makes each and every life valuable, and each second count.  It completely invites us to consider the value of life -- of our lives and every other -- on radically new levels that change a "worldly" or purely material perspective.  But it starts with faith in Him, and the viewpoint of faith that teaches us what real health is, what wholeness and life really are.  Does it make a difference that human beings are so valuable to God?  Does it make a difference that each life contains so much that is possible and meaningful in His point of view?  Certainly it does.  There are all kinds of reasons to be grateful for considerations of judgment, and the great significance it gives to all of us.  Let us remember His life, and seek to pursue that through relationship, through faith, and His good.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Rise, take up your bed and walk


 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches.  In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water.  For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.  Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, "Do you want to be made well?"  The sick man answered Him, "Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me."  Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your bed and walk."  And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked.

And that day was the Sabbath.  The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, "It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed."  He answered them, "He who made me well said to me, 'Take up your bed and walk.'"  Then they asked him, "Who is the Man who said to you, 'Take up your bed and walk'?"  But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place.  Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, "See, you have been made well.  Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you."  The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who made him well.  For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath.  But Jesus answered them, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working."  Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.

- John 5:1-18

Yesterday, we read that after two days He departed from Samaria and went to Galilee.  For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country.  So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they also had gone to the feast.  So Jesus came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine.  And there was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum.  When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.  Then Jesus said, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe."  The nobleman said to Him, "Sir, come down before my child dies!"  Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your son lives."  So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way.  And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, "Your son lives!"  Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better.  And they said to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him."  So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, "Your son lives."  And he himself believed, and his whole household.  This again is the second sign Jesus did when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.

  After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  My study bible tells us that the Fathers teach this feast is the Old Testament Pentecost -- also called the "Feast of Weeks."  It celebrates the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai.  There are later references in this chapter to the Law of Moses, which corroborate this interpretation.  Interestingly, it's also a "firstfruits" festival celebrating the spring wheat harvest.  We recall Jesus' words in the town of Samaria, when the townspeople were coming toward Him (in Tuesday's reading), "Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!" alluding to the wheat harvest.

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches.  In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water.  For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.   My study bible explains that this double-basin pool, which was believed to have curative powers, has been discovered about 100 yards north of the temple area, near the Sheep Gate.   It says, "The water for this high-ground pool came from underground springs and was used to wash down the sacrificial lambs before they were slain.  The pool functions as a type of Christian baptism.  Under the old covenant, a great multitude waited to enter the water for physical healing after an angel touched it.  The waters were special in that they were a way of indirectly participating in the animal sacrifices of the temple, since the animals were washed in the same water.  Yet the grace was limited to the first person to enter.  Under the new covenant, baptism is given to all nations as a direct participation in Christ's own sacrificial death (Romans 6:3-6) without the mediation of the angels.  Baptism thus grants healing of the soul and the promise of eternal resurrection of the body, and its grace is inexhaustible."

Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years.   My study bible cites St. John Chrysostom's commentary here, suggesting that Jesus singled out this man who had waited for thirty-eight years in order to teach us to have perseverance, and as a judgment against those who lose hope or patience in much lesser troubles lasting a far shorter time.  It also seems plausible that there is analogy here to the Old Covenant, in which the people of God awaited their Messiah, under all kinds of suffering.  The thirty-eight years is just two short of the time Israel wandered looking toward the promised land, the time in which the Law was given; the time in which Moses led, but did not survive to see the land itself.

When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, "Do you want to be made well?"  The sick man answered Him, "Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me."  Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your bed and walk."  And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked.  My study bible comments on Jesus' question to the man, "Do you want to be made well?"  It says that Jesus' question is relevant for many reasons.  First, it makes public the fact that the sick man kept his faith even in a seemingly hopeless situation.  How could a paralytic ever be the first to enter the water?  Second, the Lord takes away attention from the water and toward the need we have for a man (a person) to help us.  This is fulfilled in Christ Himself, who became human to heal all.  Third, not everyone who is ill actually desires healing.  Sadly, my study bible notes, some may prefer to remain infirm in order to have license to complain, to avoid responsibility for their lives, or to continue exciting the pity of others.   What we also see here is an initiation of the One who is the Son Incarnate, who comes to us out of love, "for God so loved the world," as John's Gospel has earlier told us.  Just as with the Samaritan woman at the well, it is Jesus who takes the  direct action in encounter with a needy humanity.  But, we could also say, it is God who is responding to the thirty-eight year petition of this man.

And that day was the Sabbath.  The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, "It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed."    He answered them, "He who made me well said to me, 'Take up your bed and walk.'"  Then they asked him, "Who is the Man who said to you, 'Take up your bed and walk'?"  But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place.   My study bible says that although the Law itself does not specifically forbid the carrying of burdens on the Sabbath, this is prohibited in Jeremiah 17:21-27 and is explicitly forbidden in rabbinical teachings.    It suggests the fact that Christ is Lord over the Sabbath is made clear by His command and by the man's obedience.  My study bible also notes that as is often the case in John's Gospel, the term Jews here refers to the leaders and not to the people in general.    We notice the malice involved -- they're focused only on the Sabbath violation, asking the man who told him to take up your bed and walk, but ignoring his miraculous healing.

But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place.  Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, "See, you have been made well.  Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you."   This man has gone to the temple after his healing, which shows a great faith.  My study bible suggests that he had gone there directly to thank God for his cure rather than departing to someone's home or the marketplace.   It adds, regarding Jesus' remark to "sin no more," that while there is a general connection between sin and suffering (Romans 6:23), this connection isn't always one-to-one.  The innocent often suffer, and the guilty are often spared earthly sufferings (see 9:1-3).  My study bible says that nevertheless, sometimes our sins directly lead to our own suffering.  According to Chrysostom, this was the case with the paralytic.  However, Christ's warning here is that the sins that destroy the soul lead to a far worse result than an affliction of the body.  One must flee from sin altogether.  We also presume that having been visited by such a great gift of grace, and the presence of Christ, to sin deliberately following this is to turn one's back on a much greater gift and understanding than the man had previously had available to him.

The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who made him well.  My study bible tells us that this man doesn't report Jesus to the authorities maliciously, but rather as a witness to the goodness of Christ.  Even though the leadership is only interested in the violation of the Sabbath, this man emphasizes that it was Jesus who made him well, saying nothing about carrying his bed (the literal violation).

For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath.  But Jesus answered them, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working."  Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.  My study bible says that when Jesus declares God to be "My Father" these authorities clearly understand that the implication is absolute equality.  Tomorrow's reading will give us the further revelations of Jesus' statement to them here.

In today's reading we have a miraculous healing, something instantaneous that happens even after thirty-eight years of waiting on the part of the man who's a paralytic.  We really get a picture of his suffering, given that his only chance was to make it to the pool when the waters were stirred up -- at times which were unpredictable -- and be the first into the water.  An impossible task.  The only way is with God's help.  But with God present, in the form of Christ, it's not necessary to get into the water.  He's the one with the "rivers of living water" (see again His statements to the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well) that open up for people.  He is the healing, the One who confers the gifts of grace and power and truth.  He's the One who's come in the cause of love, "for God so loved the world."  We picture this man waiting, and waiting, and waiting.  Thirty-eight years!  We imagine his life, waiting, needing help from others that didn't come.  How did he survive but possibly by the kindness of strangers or family?  Out of this crowd comes Christ, who singles him out, and asks him directly the question, "Do you want to be made well?"  One might ask, thinking it's possible that he's used to this life he's led for so long by now!  But what the story seems to suggest to us is that God breaks in on us suddenly.  The power of God isn't given by measure - we recall these words of John the Baptist about Christ as Messiah:  "God does not give the Spirit by measure."  When God breaks into our world, or our lives, it's not something that works in a "worldly way."  It's not like taking a class and getting a hint of something that builds on what's familiar.  God's impact is different, startling, a quality that remains different although the journey itself to God gains in its fullness and the depth to which we give ourselves to God.  But the quality of love is something distinctive.  We may immaturely look at this story and suggest to ourselves that love is about a kind of indulgence of our fondest wishes.  But love is really so much more than that.  Love is wanting what is truly best for us.  Love is about true health and wholeness.  When Jesus tells this man, "Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you," it may strike our modern ears as something strange.  How does this fit in with the Man who just healed this paralytic, a man who'd been suffering for thirty-eight years already!?  If we think of love as mere answering of our whims or wishes, or indulging whatever we deeply hope for, then we're missing the mark, as is taught by Christ.  What God wants, in that love, is really whatever is truly best for us.  By warning this man about future sin, Jesus is taking care to see that this wholeness, and thereby true health of the whole human being, remains with the man.  We must take it quite literally that Jesus doesn't want a worse thing to come upon this man.  He wants his healing and wholeness to be a part of something big, that grows, a start, a journey toward God and the good that grows more full through time, and the man's compliance with that grace.  This paralytic shows how he takes his healing by first going to the temple, giving thanks to God.  It's not a sort of lottery prize, in which he's just lucky and has struck it big.  (Indeed, any windfall in our own lives offers us the same sorts of temptations to "sin" and not to understand what a gift is, as we can see from some of the sad histories of real life present day lottery winners.)   It's in this valuing and preservation of the understanding of the gift that a great secret lies, the great key to this love and to our healing and wholeness.  How do we value the love? Do we take it in a selfish way, or do we accept it as it is given, with the grace as something that invites us in and asks us to journey forward, to learn more in relationship to the presence of God?  This is the real key to the passage, as there is good and evil mixed in here, as with so much that happens with Jesus.  There's the malice of the authorities who suffer with envy of Christ, and can't see the good that has come.  And there is the testimony of the healed man, who's taking his gift appropriately, and gone to the temple in worship and prayer and thankfulness for the grace of God.  Let's ask ourselves about the good and the bad in our own lives, and how we take them.  Is the grace of God there for you?  How do you pursue it, encourage it, value it?  What can you say about it?  If you give love to others, how do you want it to be valued?  And what does it mean to truly want what is best?  What is really whole and healing, the start of the journey to God?   The whole question of the Sabbath rests on this understanding, on what is best and what God's love asks.  Carrying burdens in the command in Jeremiah quite obviously seems to be indicative of doing trade, making business and profit happen -- that's what seems to be set aside in order to make time for God and keep the Sabbath holy.  But what of healing and wholeness on this day (and any day), and what of God's love?  This man waited by the Sheep Gate for the pool of living water.  As sheep to the Shepherd who has saved him out of love, he will follow Christ's command. 



Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe


 Now after the two days He departed from there and went to Galilee.  For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country.  So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they also had gone to the feast.

So Jesus came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine.  And there was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum.  When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.  Then Jesus said, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe."  The nobleman said to Him, "Sir, come down before my child dies!"  Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your son lives."  So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way.  And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, "Your son lives!"  Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better.  And they said to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him."  So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, "Your son lives."  And he himself believed, and his whole household.  This again is the second sign Jesus did when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.

- John 4:43-54

Yesterday, we read the second half of the story concerning the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well.  (See the first half here.)   At this point His disciples came, and they marveled that Jesus talked with a woman; yet no one said, "What do You seek?" or, "Why are You talking with her?"  The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, "Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did.  Could this be the Christ?"  Then they went out of the city and came to Him.  In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, "Rabbi, eat."  But He said to them, "I have food to eat of which you do not know."  Therefore the disciples said to one another, "Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?"  Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.  Do you not say, 'There are still four months and then comes the harvest'?  Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!  And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.  For in this the saying is true:  'One sows and another reaps.'  I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors."  And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, "He told me all that I ever did."  So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days.  And many more believed because of His own word.  Then they said to the woman, "Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves  have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world." 

Now after the two days He departed from there and went to Galilee.  For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country.  So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they also had gone to the feast.  Jesus' "own country" is Galilee.  He was on His way there from Jerusalem (in Judea) when the encounter with the woman at Jacob's well took place in Samaria.  In Jerusalem He attended Passover.  This was the first of three Passovers that occur in John's Gospel, and there He cleansed the temple (see Zeal for your house has eaten me up).  There He performed many signs, as the Gospel tells us, but "Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man"  (John 2:24).    My study bible says that while the Galileans received Christ having seen His signs, St. John Chrysostom gives greater credit to the Samaritans (see the previous reading, above) for accepting Christ based on words alone without accompanying signs.

So Jesus came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine.  And there was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum.  When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.  Then Jesus said, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe."   This admonishment is to the people in general (the "you" is plural both times in the last verse that quotes Jesus).  It's not just a word for the nobleman, and it reinforces the information about the Galileans who believed only because they saw Jesus' signs (or miraculous works) at the Passover in Jerusalem.  My study bible says, "Faith based on miraculous works alone is insufficient for salvation; this kind of incomplete faith quickly turns to scorn should the miracles cease (19:15)."

The nobleman said to Him, "Sir, come down before my child dies!"  Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your son lives."  So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way.  And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, "Your son lives!"  Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better.  And they said to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him."  So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, "Your son lives."  And he himself believed, and his whole household.  This again is the second sign Jesus did when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.  The nobleman's emphasis is on the urgent need for his son.  My study bible says that his faith in Christ is weak, although he pleads for help.  He doesn't understand that Christ is Lord over illness even from a distance, nor does he grasp that Jesus would have the power to heal even if the child were to die.  The nobleman inquires about the time of the healing, still not completely trusting the authority of Christ.  My study bible says, "Only after all is confirmed do he and his whole household believe.  Thus, in healing the child from a distance, Jesus heals not only the body of the child, but the soul of the nobleman."

We are given further information here about God, what God is, what God is like, what qualities God has.  In the understanding that neither time nor space are an obstacle to the healing power of Christ, we are given a deeper and fuller measurement (or non-measurement, if you will) of God:  God's power and authority and how it works.  Even death is not an obstacle to this power!  We've already discussed the reality of the heart as the place of faith and of the Kingdom, in the earlier reading in which Jesus taught the Samaritan woman that "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."  Here's another stretch of what that means and how that works.  Jesus explained to the Samaritan woman that the worship of God doesn't take place in a fixed spot; He doesn't enter into the argument about where the correct location for temple worship is.  Instead, He reveals things about God and gives us what our worship is about by doing so.  In today's reading, we're taught two important things:  that faith from works (or belief in signs) isn't really the kind of faith He's looking for.  It's the trust that marks the real relationship with God that the faith of Christ is all about.  The second thing we're given is the lack of boundaries on God's power:  neither space nor time have anything to do with how it works.  If you think about it, the signs themselves declare this about God, revealed through the power of Christ in the Incarnation.  But neither do time and space (nor death) keep us from relationship, closeness, and the life of the Kingdom.  God is present to us, Christ is present to us.  The saints are present to us and pray with us.  We worship together with the angels in heaven.  There are no barriers to the kind of faith He calls us to:  and this is part and parcel of the revelation of Christ as the Incarnate Lord Jesus.  So we have to think about what all that means for us and about us, now.  Wherever we are, He's there.  (See Matthew 18:20.)   And the One He calls the Comforter is also by our side when we call.  See John 14:26.   In fact, in that verse, the word Jesus uses is "Paraclete" in the original Greek.  This word has and can be translated as advocate, intercessor, consoler, comforter, helper.   It was also a word commonly used at Christ's time for attorney -- or for one who'd give evidence that would stand up in a court.   But the literal meaning of that word is compound:  it describes one who is close beside ("para") when called ("kaleo").  And this describes the working of God.  Nothing is dependent upon conditions that determine where we are exactly, or when this happens.  This is the Comforter, our Advocate, the One who stands up and gives us the solid advice we need for our own best interest.  And that's really where we are taken in today's reading.  We're given a deeper sense of what it means to have faith in God.  It means to trust.  Trust is a reality of the heart that withstands all things and can see us through our lives no matter what.   The faith Christ asks of us is something that goes far beyond just whatever outcome we want right this minute.  It's a trust that is there in the heart, always with us, close beside whenever we call, even if everything is against us.  That's a "tough love" we can always use, that we always need, and that we can truly count on to tell us what is what.  Let's remember our boundless God who is always with us, the Friend who tells us what we need to hear.  Through Christ's Incarnation, we take the steps closer to love as He reveals Himself, to the one thing that's truly necessary for our well-being.





Monday, March 2, 2015

Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!


 At this point His disciples came, and they marveled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, "What do You seek?" or, "Why are You talking with her?"  The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, "Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did.  Could this be the Christ?"  Then they went out of the city and came to Him.

In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, "Rabbi, eat."  But He said to them, "I have food to eat of which you do not know."  Therefore the disciples said to one another, "Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?"  Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.  Do you not say, 'There are still four months and then comes the harvest'?  Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!  And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.  For in this the saying is true:  'One sows and another reaps.'  I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors."

And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, "He told me all that I ever did."  So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days.  And many more believed because of His own word.  Then they said to the woman, "Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves  have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world." 

- John 4:27-42

On Saturday, we read that when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), He left Judea and departed again to Galilee.  But He needed to go through Samaria.  So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.  Now Jacob's well was there.  Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well.  It was about the sixth hour.  A woman of Samaria came to draw water.  Jesus said to her, "Give Me a drink."  For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.  Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, "How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?"  For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.  Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water."  The woman said to Him, "Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep.  Where then do you get that living water?  Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?"   Jesus answered and said to her, "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst.  But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life."  The woman said to Him, "Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw."  Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come here."  The woman answered and said, "I have no husband."  Jesus said to her, "You have well said, 'I have no husband,' for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly."  The woman said to Him, "Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.  Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship."  Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father.  You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.  But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.  God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."  The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ).  "When He comes, He will tell us all things."  Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am He."
 
 At this point His disciples came, and they marveled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, "What do You seek?" or, "Why are You talking with her?"  The reaction of the disciples shows us the social milieu in which Jesus has spoken openly to this woman of Samaria.  They're shocked by His behavior, and simply marvel.  First she is a Samaritan, and second, to speak with a woman who was unaccompanied was to encounter potential for scandal.  My study bible suggests we note other occasions of Jesus' dealings with women in John's Gospel:  7:53-8:11; 11:20-33; 20:11-18 -- see also Luke 8:1-3.

The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, "Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did.  Could this be the Christ?"  Then they went out of the city and came to Him.  Jesus' encounter with this woman wasn't just a revelation of His identity, but rather the making of an evangelist.  She testifies to His identity as Christ, and brings others to Him.  My study bible tells us that according to an early tradition, after the Resurrection she was baptized with the name Photini  -- which means, in Greek, "the enlightened one" (phos is "light").    Along with her two sons and five daughters, she went to Carthage to spread the gospel.  She was later martyred with her family under the emperor Nero by being thrown into a well -- a martyr's death cruelly given her because of her testimony of encounter with Christ at Jacob's well.

In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, "Rabbi, eat."  But He said to them, "I have food to eat of which you do not know."  Therefore the disciples said to one another, "Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?"  Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work."  My study bible points out yet another "conventional" misunderstanding in John's Gospel.  What is food?  Christ invites us to think about another type of food, as necessary as any other.  He fulfills His role as Messiah by doing the will of the Father -- therefore this is His food.  My study bible points out that this also teaches us we are to perform the will of God in our lives without being distracted by earthly cares (6:27; see also Matthew 4:4, 6:25-33).

  "Do you not say, 'There are still four months and then comes the harvest'?  Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!"  According to St. John Chrysostom, Jesus' command, "Behold!" is made for the disciples to look at the villagers coming toward Him, having been brought by St. Photini.  It says, "Christ compares these foreigners (relative to the Jews) to fields ready for harvest.  This command is also to all believers to look to those around us and to share the gospel with anyone wanting to hear it, regardless of race or ethnicity."

And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.  For in this the saying is true:  'One sows and another reaps.'  I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors."    My study bible once again gives us commentary from St. Chrysostom.  He writes that who sow and those who reap are the prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles, respectively.  It says, "The prophets sowed in preparation for the coming of the Messiah, but did not see His coming and thus did not reap.  The apostles did not do the preparation, but would draw thousands to Christ in their own lifetimes."

And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, "He told me all that I ever did."  So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days.  And many more believed because of His own word.  Then they said to the woman, "Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves  have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world."  My study bible tells us, "That these foreigners are among the first to recognize Jesus as Savior of the world shows the gospel is for all people in every nation."

The villagers approach Christ, ready to hear and to believe, to put their faith in Him because of the testimony of the Samaritan woman at the well, St. Photini.  There's a kind of play on the images of light and the bright fields "white for harvest."  It's been suggested that these villagers' dress was traditionally all white, and so as they approach, Jesus makes this statement.  "White" fields "ready for harvest" give me the image of buds, new growth, the "flowering" tops of grain.  The waving grains reflect the light of the sun as they're moved by the wind -- "light" and "wind" are images we're given in particular in John's Gospel, reflecting both Christ and the Spirit (the word for "Spirit" also meaning "wind" -- and the image Jesus gives us of the wind as analogy to Spirit earlier in chapter 3 (see this reading, in which Jesus teaches Nicodemus about baptism and being "born again").   How do we reflect the light of Christ?  How can we be "white for harvest?"  We think of the Transfiguration, that essential moment of the Gospels, in which Jesus' clothes reflected a light beyond white, such as no launderer could attain.  John's Gospel begins by telling us about the Light that came into the world, and "St. Photini" (the enlightened or illumined one) reflects that light.  We're all called upon to do the same, to be "white for harvest" with that same reflection of the fullest spectrum of the light that renders it white as possible.  It's also a part of the story that the whole world is welcomed in this place of faith, for light that is the brightest white is the light that is made up of every ray of the spectrum.   Every "color" of light combines to create white light, every frequency and energy.  All of this is to say that what qualifies us also to become enlightened or illumined is our open heart.  There's nothing that stands in the way but the hardness of heart that keeps it from expanding, being opened, illumined.  Jesus' demand from St. Photini for a drink of water opened up everything for her in her life, the greatest gift possible, as we read in Saturday's reading.  It came under the full sun of noon, the sixth hour, in John's Gospel.  But it opened up everything for her, including all of her past exposed, the things she needed to hear, and the things she needed to know.  Christ's light is like that:  a direct ray exposing everything, asking us to clean up our acts so that we, too, become the best possible reflection for the fullest light, the brightest white that hides nothing, but rather shines back to everyone so that it, too, can draw others into its sphere.  This is the way the light works in Him, He who is the Light coming into the world.  Can we accept as she did?  As her neighbors did? 


Sunday, March 1, 2015

God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth


 Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), He left Judea and departed again to Galilee.  But He needed to go through Samaria.

So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.  Now Jacob's well was there.  Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well.  It was about the sixth hour.  A woman of Samaria came to draw water.  Jesus said to her, "Give Me a drink."  For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.  Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, "How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?"  For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.  Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water."  The woman said to Him, "Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep.  Where then do you get that living water?  Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?"   Jesus answered and said to her, "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst.  But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life."  The woman said to Him, "Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw."

Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come here."  The woman answered and said, "I have no husband."  Jesus said to her, "You have well said, 'I have no husband,' for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly."  The woman said to Him, "Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.  Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship."  Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father.  You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.  But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.  God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."  The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ).  "When He comes, He will tell us all things."  Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am He."

- John 4:1-26

 Yesterday, we read that Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized.  Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there.  And they came and were baptized.  For John had not yet been thrown into prison.  Then there arose a dispute between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purification.  And they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified -- behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!"  John answered and said, "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.  You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not the Christ, ' but 'I have been sent before Him.'  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.  He must increase, but I must decrease.  He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth.  He who comes from heaven is above all.  And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony.  He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true.  For He whom God sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure.  The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.  He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."

 Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), He left Judea and departed again to Galilee.  But He needed to go through Samaria.  Jesus knows about the watchful eye of the authorities, and the scrutiny (and envy) that will come.  His "hour" hasn't yet come, and He travels north to Galilee.  But first He must go through Samaria, which is north of Jerusalem, between Judea and Galilee.

So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.  Now Jacob's well was there.  Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well.  It was about the sixth hour.  A woman of Samaria came to draw water.  Jesus said to her, "Give Me a drink."  For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.  My study bible points out to us that Jacob's well isn't mentioned in the Old Testament, but it does say that Jacob lived in the region (Genesis 33:19).  It says, "Wells were significant because of their rarity and their value in desert life.  Therefore, wells came to symbolize life itself (Psalms 36:9-10; 46:4; Isaiah 55:1)."  Today, this particular well is maintained as a shrine, and pilgrims can drink of it.  Jesus' humanity is evident here:  the sixth hour is noon, and He's wearied from His journey.  We can imagine the heat, the dryness of the land journey, the sun.  In the tradition of the Eastern Church, this woman is St. Photini.  (We shall see the significance of her name later on, in Monday's reading.)

Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, "How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?"  For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.  Samaritans were a mixed race of people, and traditional enemies of the Jews.  My study bible says, "Although they worshiped the God of Israel and were also awaiting the Messiah, they accepted only the first five books of the Old Testament (the Pentateuch) as their Scriptures.  They had built their own temple on Mt. Gerizim, which the Jews destroyed in 128 B.C."

Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water."  The woman said to Him, "Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep.  Where then do you get that living water?  Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?"   Jesus answered and said to her, "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst.  But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life."  The woman said to Him, "Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw."   In the ordinary sense, "living water" means fresh and flowing water, from a stream or spring rather than a pond or cistern; it's water that is the best to drink.  But Jesus uses the term to refer to the grace of the Holy Spirit that leads to eternal life.  My study bible says, "This gift not only remains in a person, but is so abundant it overflows to others."  Once again, in a typical usage in John's Gospel, the woman misunderstands Him, taking His spiritual metaphor for its literal daily meaning -- and opens up an opportunity for explanation, and uplifting.  She asks Him, "Are You greater than our father Jacob?"  referring to the well and the water.  My study bible names Jacob "a type" of Christ, for he received the vision of the divine ladder rising to heaven (Genesis 28:12), which is fulfilled in Christ.  It tells us that "just as Jacob gave this well for earthly life, now Christ gives the well of the Holy Spirit for eternal life."

Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come here."  The woman answered and said, "I have no husband."  Jesus said to her, "You have well said, 'I have no husband,' for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly."  The woman said to Him, "Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet."  My study bible explains that since Jesus understood she was living with a man without being married, and as He knew of her previous husbands, she perceives Him to be a prophet.  The Samaritans didn't accept any prophets after Moses; the only prophet they expected was the Messiah whom Moses foretold in Deuteronomy 18:15-18.  My study bible says, "Christ's insight into people's hearts, reported many times in the Gospels, underscores His divine nature."

Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship."  Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father.  You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.  But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.  God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."  The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ).  "When He comes, He will tell us all things."   This historical argument between Jews and Samaritans was a cause of great enmity; "the Prophet" could be the one to settle such an argument about where worship appropriately takes place.  But Jesus points out a new way -- underscoring the fact that He is not a prophet, but something more.  He refuses to answer where on earth worship should take place and instead points out the "manner" in which people ought to worship, says my study bible.  More importantly, He turns attention to God, the Father who is worshiped and thereby the real nature of worship:  in spirit (that is, the Holy Spirit) and in truth (Christ Himself, according to His own revelation in 14:6).  Jesus tells her "God is Spirit" -- which cannot be confined to a location (see also Jesus' words to Nicodemus earlier on, in which He compared the Spirit with the wind).  My study bible says, "Those who receive the Holy Spirit and believe in Jesus Christ can worship God the Father with purity of heart."   Jesus also claims here that salvation is of the Jews -- an affirmation to this Samaritan woman about the revelation from the Jewish tradition (all the prophets and Scripture beyond the Pentateuch).  My study bible quotes St. Athanasius here:  "The commonwealth of Israel was the school of knowledge of God for all the nations."    Finally, Jesus testifies that the Messiah (prophesied among the Jews), has risen among the Jews.  This salvation gift to the world comes from within Judaism.  When Jesus speaks of "the hour" in John's Gospel, He most frequently is referring to His death and Resurrection -- and here, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the inauguration of the worship of the new covenant.

Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am He."  The significance of His reply can't be overstated.  Jesus says literally, "I AM who speak to you."  In Greek, the words I AM (ego eimi) is a divine name of God as revealed to Moses.  This is called epiphany or theophany, a revelation of God Himself (see Exodus 3:14).  My study bible points out that the use of this Name by a "mere man" was considered blasphemy and was punishable by death (John 8:58, Mark 14:62).  It says that as Jesus is divine, His use of the name reveals His unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit, revealing that He is God Incarnate.

Jesus reveals Himself to a woman of Samaria.  Why?  We can ask this question over and over again to get a clue to this ministry, this revelation in the world.  If salvation is of the Jews, then why her?  Why this stranger, a woman -- of all things!  And a Samaritan!  It's incomprehensible, unless we start to think that revelations of God aren't about our expectations, but rather about truth teaching us something and stretching us beyond our own understanding.  It's a revelation in a revelation.  God's life and work can't be limited by us, by our understanding, by our expectation.  It can't be contained.  He tells her that the hour is coming when God will be worshiped in spirit and in truth.  But the fact that He's even speaking to her is another message about just that:  she's a woman, she's a Samaritan, He shouldn't even be speaking to her -- her first question reflects that startling reality that a Jewish man should even address her at all.  But all of that reveals something about God and the ways of the God who is Spirit:  it's not about the place, the name, the region, the tribe, the nation.  It's not about any of the barriers and boundaries we erect and understand as "earthly."  This is about God, what God is, and how therefore God is worshiped, even "where" God is worshiped as spirit -- in the heart.  What boundaries are there on the heart?  This paradox is yet another great thing to contemplate.  If the Kingdom of heaven, as Jesus will teach, is within us (and among us), then where is that Kingdom?  Doesn't it mean that the heart, the true center of a person, is a place of the greatest expansion, the most unlimited possible territory?  At least, this is the way that God is worshiped in spirit and in truth, in the place that is capable of the greatest expansion -- and yet also, the place where we block our understanding of God -- the heart.  We don't understand God truly unless we understand how God is worshiped and what God's nature is, as my study bible points out about today's reading.  And this is the emphasis of Jesus.  The heart is the one and only place where it can be understood how the Messiah could reveal Himself to a woman and a Samaritan at that.  That God is spirit, and can't be confined in a worldly sense, is the only way we can understand any of this.  So many centuries later, can we "wrap our heads" around this?  Can we understand its full significance?  It's awesome to contemplate.  Most of all, what we find is that our God will go anywhere and everywhere to find us, to find a heart willing to open and to understand.  Revelation 3:20 expresses the words of God well, through Christ:  "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me."  The door is the door to the heart.    And please note that this invitation is to "anyone" who hears His voice and opens the door.  He will "come in to him and dine with him" -- and in this specific, magnificent, singular case, her -- and us with Him.  How can there be anything greater or more truly "awesome" than that?  This is what it is to worship God in spirit and truth.


Friday, February 27, 2015

He must increase, but I must decrease


 After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized.  Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there.  And they came and were baptized.  For John had not yet been thrown into prison.

Then there arose a dispute between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purification.  And they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified -- behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!"

John answered and said, "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.  You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not the Christ, ' but 'I have been sent before Him.'  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.  He must increase, but I must decrease.  He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth.  He who comes from heaven is above all.  And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony.  He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true.  For He whom God sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure.  The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.  He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."

- John 3:22-36

Yesterday, we read Jesus words:   "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.  He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.  And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.  But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God."

After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized.  Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there.  And they came and were baptized.  For John had not yet been thrown into prison.   It's a time when both John and Jesus are practicing active ministries.  As we know, many of Jesus' disciples were John's disciples first.

Then there arose a dispute between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purification.  And they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified -- behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!"  The Baptist's disciples testify to the "drawing power" of Jesus' ministry.  We note that in the next chapter of the Gospel of John, we are given to understand that Jesus did not baptize directly, but His disciples baptized (John 4:2).

John answered and said, "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.  You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not the Christ, ' but 'I have been sent before Him.'  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."  John's acceptance of this news is an example to all of us not only of humility, but of what it means to embrace the truth.  My study bible says that John is called the friend (or "best man"), while Christ is the bridegroom.  The bride is the Church, the people of God, those who have faith.  It says, "John confesses his role in the coming of the Messiah -- that he is witness to the wedding of Christ and His people, and thus he rejoices in that celebration."

"He must increase, but I must decrease.  He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth.  He who comes from heaven is above all.  And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony.  He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true.  For He whom God sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure.  The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand."  We see the fuller expression here of John's humility in faith, and, again, it stands as an example to all of us.  My study bible  puts it this way:  "He renounces earthy glory and reputation for the sake of Christ.  By allowing Christ to increase in him, John himself finds true glory.  This statement further indicates the end of the old covenant.  As the law vanishes, the grace of Jesus Christ abounds."    The liturgical calendar also reflects the "decrease" of the old covenant and the "increase" of the new:  John the Baptist's birth is universally celebrated in the Church on June 24th, at a time when the sun begins to decrease in the sky, while Jesus' birth is celebrated December 25th (in some cases, early January), when the sun begins to increase.

"He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."  My study bible points out that John echoes the teaching of Christ Himself here.  It also points out the absence of the word "alone" -- quoting St. John Chrysostom:  "We do not from this assert that faith alone is sufficient for salvation; the directions for living that are given in many places in the Gospels show this."  (See also James 2:14-24.)

John the Baptist's humility is an example for all of us.  It's not so much that he accepts Christ for the sake of faith, so to speak.  It's not so much even that he tends to diminish himself and his role in comparison to Christ.  Rather, it's his clear and complete embracing of the truth that's so impressive, and we have to think about what that means in terms of a mind that is prepared to accept so fully what the truth actually is.  Let's think about John's situation.  He's widely respected and known as a holy man.  He has many disciples.  Even the leadership from the temple goes out to the Jordan in order to be baptized by him.  And yet, even as he's preaching repentance and preparation for the Kingdom to come and for the One who is to come, we're given reports of his scathing tone to the Pharisees who come out for his baptism:  "Brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?"  (Luke 3:7).   At this point, John the Baptist's ministry holds tremendous sway with the people, and it's not long before his criticism of Herod's marriage becomes an annoyance to the point of his arrest.  It's because John is so widely revered that the criticism becomes a focal point for the use of power to arrest him.  So John is at the height of his ministry now in this scene, and yet we hear his words:  "He must increase, but I must decrease."  As a prophet, and we consider him to be the greatest in the whole history of the lineage of the Old Testament prophets, John knows what is happening and what must happen.  He is the herald and the forerunner to Christ, and he accepts with perfect faith the truth about what is happening here.  The Bridegroom is at hand, and the Baptist is the true friend of the Bridegroom.   Can we accept in our own lives such perfect faith in the truth, even when it seems to diminish us?  The Baptist's faith goes beyond just acceptance here.  And it goes beyond just a recognition of the truth.  This is a spiritual truth in which the Baptist rejoices.  John's testimony is this: "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."   It's so much more than acceptance; even in the hints that he will decrease, John's joy is fulfilled in Christ.  He knows that Christ is the One sent by God, the One to whom John's ministry has been pointing and for whom he's been preparing the way via the baptism of repentance.  Christ is the one who speaks the word given by God.  He is the one to whom all things have been given.  When John tells us that "God does not give the Spirit by measure," he's testifying to the fullness of the Messiah in the person of Jesus, the one upon whom the Spirit rested in John's vision at Jesus' baptism.  His humility, and acceptance, and joy are all great examples to us, but they are more than that.  They are the things about this holy man that we must imitate in our own lives of faith.  Can we accept Christ's position vs. our own ideas and understanding?  Do we turn to Christ and embrace, in the fullness of truth that John does, what God gives?  And can we feel the joy of fulfillment in whatever it is that is the truth of God?  Whatever "place" we have, can we rejoice in the role as friend of the Bridegroom?  This is a great order for each of us, a call to each of us, and it's a place we may share with the Baptist in our own way.  His humility isn't a "put down" of who he is, it's a lens to see through, and clearly.  It's the lens for the truth.  Can we be the same as he is?  Can we serve the truth as he does?