Saturday, August 29, 2015

Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me? I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize Me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled


 And immediately, while He was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.  Now His betrayer had given them a signal, saying, "Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him and lead Him away safely."  As soon as he had come, immediately, he went up to Him and said to Him, "Rabbi, Rabbi!" and kissed Him.  Then they laid their hands on Him and took Him.  And one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear.  Then Jesus answered and said to them, "Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me?  I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize Me.  But the Scriptures must be fulfilled."  Then they all forsook Him and fled.

Now a certain young man followed Him, having a linen cloth thrown around his naked body.  And the young men laid hold of him, and he left the linen cloth and fled from them naked.

- Mark 14:43-52

Yesterday, we read that Jesus said to His disciples at the Last Supper, "All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written:  'I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.'  But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee."  Peter said to Him, "Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be."  Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times."  But he spoke more vehemently, "If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!"  And they all said likewise.  Then they came to a place which was named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, "Sit here while I pray."  And He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be troubled and deeply distressed.  Then He said to them, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.  Stay here and watch."  He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him.  And He said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for You.  Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will."  Then He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "Simon, are you sleeping?  Could you not watch one hour?  Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.  The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."  Again He went away and prayed, and spoke the same words.  And when He returned, He found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him.  Then He came the third time and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting?  It is enough!  The hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Rise, let us be going.  See, My betrayer is at hand."

 And immediately, while He was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.  Now His betrayer had given them a signal, saying, "Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him and lead Him away safely."  As soon as he had come, immediately, he went up to Him and said to Him, "Rabbi, Rabbi!" and kissed Him.  Then they laid their hands on Him and took Him.   My study bible tells us that the fact that a kiss was needed to signal this mob is an indication about who comprises it.  The Jewish leaders and even the most common people would have recognized Jesus.  What this scene shows us is that these soldiers were mercenaries, sent by the chief priests and the scribes and the elders, and that it contained Roman troops (according to John 18:3).   It seems likely that they could not get others to participate in such a plan, for many reasons.  In the Orthodox Christian liturgy, there is a prayer not to kiss Jesus in betrayal like Judas.

And one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear.  Then Jesus answered and said to them, "Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me?  I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize Me.  But the Scriptures must be fulfilled."  Then they all forsook Him and fled.   In John 18:10-11, the person with the sword is identified as Peter.  Jesus says, "Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?"  In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus says, "Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword," and tells them He could pray to the Father who would supply Him with twelve legions of angels to save Him.  In Luke's Gospel, Jesus heals the ear of the servant of the high priest.  Jesus notes clearly that they have come against Him in the night as if He's a robber, while He was teaching daily and openly in the temple.  That "the Scriptures must be fulfilled" is another way of indicating to all, including the disciples, that He's going willingly.

Now a certain young man followed Him, having a linen cloth thrown around his naked body.  And the young men laid hold of him, and he left the linen cloth and fled from them naked.  We remember they've all been awakened from sleep in the middle of the night.  My study bible tells us that the flee naked is a great shame and humiliation (Ezekiel 16:39, Amos 2:16).  Some say this was James, the brother of the Lord (Galatians 1:19), others that it was the apostle John who was the youngest of the twelve.  But most believe it was Mark who is the author of this Gospel.  It was a common literary device for a writer not to give his own name (Luke 24:13, John 21:24).  Also, the other evangelists don't report this incident -- they wouldn't have been inclined to humiliate Mark, while Mark would have been more likely to reveal such an event concerning himself.

If we think about it, today's whole reading is a kind of scene of humiliation.  Christ is betrayed by one of His chosen twelve, with a kiss.  It's the middle of the night.  Jesus has been praying all night, and although He has asked them to keep watch with Him, the apostles are roused from sleep.  It's a kind of scene in which we can imagine they are in fight-or-flight  mode, a sort of dazed shock.  An automatic response is defense, with a sword, but that is put down by Jesus who is the One who is calm and knows and accepts what is happening.  It becomes occasion for another kind of teaching, and acceptance, and direction to the apostles about what is happening.  A young man, most likely the author of this Gospel, runs with just a linen cloth to cover him -- he tries to follow Christ, but the soldiers seize at him too, and he flees away naked.  The disciples are scattered, as Jesus predicted, quoting Zechariah ("I will strike the Shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered"
).  This is not the usual way we think about heroism.  It's not a brave story of a great and valiant battle, soldiers on a battlefield in a fight for their lives.  No, this is something completely different.  There's no superhero to save the day, no magic coming out of the sky, not even the legions of angels Jesus assures the rest of them that He could pray for to the Father and would indeed be sent to save Him.  No, this is it.  This is the time of ultimate betrayal and seizure and humiliation.  It is the Lord brought low, so to speak.  The Christ Himself, as infinitely vulnerable human being, God bound and chained and seized by foreign soldiers, betrayed into the hands of enemies and sinners.   This is something that, to this day, we have to struggle a little to wrap our heads around, to come to terms with, to see the true heroism in what doesn't look heroic or epic or awesome or any of the other kinds of descriptions we might give it.  This is something we have to understand with a mature mind.  We have to know something of the courage of sacrifice to understand this, and the courage that comes from love.  We have to understand the heroism that comes from sacrifice in order to gain something better for others you love, no matter how it looks for you.  And that's our royal king, teaching us how to be royal sons and daughters like Him, where it's not the opinions and raves of the world that count, but rather the inner life, the reality of where it comes down to you and God, who you are and what you love.  Our hero is the one who overcomes the world, and this is how He does it.


Friday, August 28, 2015

The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak


 Then Jesus said to them, "All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written:
'I will strike the Shepherd,
And the sheep will be scattered.'
"But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee."  Peter said to Him, "Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be."  Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times."  But he spoke more vehemently, "If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!"  And they all said likewise.

Then they came to a place which was named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, "Sit here while I pray."  And He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be troubled and deeply distressed.  Then He said to them, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.  Stay here and watch."  He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him.  And He said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for You.  Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will."  Then He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "Simon, are you sleeping?  Could you not watch one hour?  Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.  The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."  Again He went away and prayed, and spoke the same words.  And when He returned, He found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him.  Then He came the third time and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting?  It is enough!  The hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Rise, let us be going.  See, My betrayer is at hand."

- Mark 14:27-42

Yesterday, we read that on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they killed the Passover lamb, His disciples said to Him, "Where do You want us to go and prepare, that You may eat the Passover?"  And He sent out two of His disciples and said to them, "Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him.  Wherever he goes in, say to the master of the house, 'The Teacher says, "Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?"'  Then he will show you a large upper room, furnished and prepared; there make ready for us."  So his disciples went out, and came into the city, and found it just as He had said to them; and they prepared the Passover.  In the evening He came with the twelve.  Now as they sat and ate, Jesus said, "Assuredly, I say to you, one of you who eats with Me will betray Me."  And they began to be sorrowful, and to say to Him one by one, "Is it I?"  And another said, "Is it I?"  He answered and said to them, "It is one of the twelve, who dips with Me in the dish.  The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!  It would have been good for that man if he had never been born."  And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, "Take, eat; this is my body."  Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it.  And He said to them, "This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many.  Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God."  And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Then Jesus said to them, "All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written:  'I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.'  But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee."  Peter said to Him, "Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be."  Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times."  But he spoke more vehemently, "If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!"  And they all said likewise.   Some ancient texts do not include "because of Me this night."  Jesus quotes here from Zechariah 13:7.  It's not just a time for one betrayal that is coming from Judas, but there are many other forms of the sword that strikes the Shepherd that are happening -- the disciples will stumble, Peter will deny Him.  Peter is vehement, he will never do so, even if he has to die with Christ.  So say all the rest.

Then they came to a place which was named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, "Sit here while I pray."  And He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be troubled and deeply distressed.  Then He said to them, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.  Stay here and watch."   John's Gospel says that Gethsemane is a place know to Judas; Jesus intentionally chooses this place knowing what is to happen.  They are on the Mount of Olives.  Gethsemane means "olive press."  It's important to understand the subtle ties here in the language.  In the Greek, the word for mercy ("eleos" - the root in Kyrie Eleison, "Lord have mercy") sounds the same as the word for olive oil.  Therefore oil, anointing, and the healing balm of the ancient world, all resonate in meaning and all are associated with the mercy and grace of Christ.  We can catch the understanding that here is the place of the press the provides the oil -- the time of deepest testing.  Jesus shares Himself with the disciples, as friends, saying, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death." 

He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him.  And He said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for You.  Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will."  Then He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "Simon, are you sleeping?  Could you not watch one hour?  Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.  The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."   We see Christ's distress.  His relationship with the Father is such that He prays, "Abba" -- like "Papa."  In our deepest places, Christ shows us that it is God we can go to, as a child.  Jesus emphasizes the importance of prayer, particular in times of great testing and trial, and therefore temptation.   The spirit is truly willing, Peter's sincerity in swearing he would die with Christ is authentic.  But the flesh is weak -- we don't necessarily know our weaknesses, where we're vulnerable.  Prayer is the defense, the protection.

Again He went away and prayed, and spoke the same words.  And when He returned, He found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him.  Then He came the third time and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting?  It is enough!  The hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Rise, let us be going.  See, My betrayer is at hand."  Three times He returns to the disciples to find them sleeping, but Christ spends the night in prayer.  He knows what is happening, He is the one who is truly "watchful" and "alert" to the reality of what is going on.  He goes voluntarily, strengthened in prayer, knowing it is the way.

There are times in life when we go through what feels like a really difficult period of testing.  Often these times involve hard choices, cutting to our core.  They take us to places where we really don't know what the right thing is to do:  all that we have learned and know seems to come together in some sort of contest -- pitting some things we think are right and true against others.  We look at the situation that Jesus is in.  He loves Judas, who has betrayed Him, one of His hand-picked apostles, one of the Twelve, who's been with Him through the ministry.  But He knows what is going to happen.  It will be a time when His sheep are scattered.  What will happen to them without His leadership?  And yet, here it comes, right down to the wire -- and there must still be prayer involved.  Each moment counts when we're in such a type of situation, no matter how much less significant we may feel it is than this one!  Jesus turns again and again -- as a child, with the word, "Abba" ("Papa") -- in prayer.  Which way is He truly to go?  His distress is plain.  He has evaded seizure and arrest until now; it wasn't His hour, not time.  He leaves it in the hands of God the Father:  "Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will."   Prayer is the act of remaining with God, praying for enlightenment and understanding, clarity for the way to go.  It's a time when we may expose our desires to God, but we ask for affirmation.  Above all, we know He's been there before us and given us this example.  Times of testing and trial may come in many forms:  the illness of a loved one, a terrible public burden where no one else understands what God is asking of us in the heart, and like Christ also, being torn between those we love and their betrayal of us.  There is no limit to where we find ourselves in the  middle of crisis and dilemma, times for decisions we're not necessarily prepared to make, in waters deeper than we know of ourselves how to negotiate.  We're caught in that oil press where troubles will not let up, and burden us with a demand for a choice we don't want to make.  This is the place where we decide who we really are, and whose voice we're loyal to.  Often, there's no one else to help make the decision; even if we're blessed with friends and loved ones, we somehow find ourselves alone.  That's the time for faith, and the time for prayer.  We watch, we are alert, we must engage in dialogue with Abba, Papa.  It's our faith that gives us strength for the difficulties, and prayer to help shield against the weakness, so that we know where we're going and what for.   In the toughest times, it's the plan that makes the difference, our faith and covenant with Him.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God


 Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they killed the Passover lamb, His disciples said to Him, "Where do You want us to go and prepare, that You may eat the Passover?"  And He sent out two of His disciples and said to them, "Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him.  Wherever he goes in, say to the master of the house, 'The Teacher says, "Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?"'  Then he will show you a large upper room, furnished and prepared; there make ready for us."  So his disciples went out, and came into the city, and found it just as He had said to them; and they prepared the Passover.

In the evening He came with the twelve.  Now as they sat and ate, Jesus said, "Assuredly, I say to you, one of you who eats with Me will betray Me."  And they began to be sorrowful, and to say to Him one by one, "Is it I?"  And another said, "Is it I?"  He answered and said to them, "It is one of the twelve, who dips with Me in the dish.  The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!  It would have been good for that man if he had never been born."

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, "Take, eat; this is my body."  Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it.  And He said to them, "This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many.  Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God."  And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

- Mark 14:12-26

Yesterday, we read that after two days it was the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take Him by trickery and put Him to death.  But they said, "Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar of the people."  And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly spikenard.  Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head.  But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, "Why was this fragrant oil wasted?  For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor."  And they criticized her sharply.  But Jesus said, "Let her alone.  Why do you trouble her?  She has done a good work for Me.  For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always.  She has done what she could.  She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial.  Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her."  Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Him to them.  And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money.  So he sought how he might conveniently betray Him.

 Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they killed the Passover lamb . . .  In the Synoptic Gospels, the Last Supper takes place on the day the Passover lambs are killed.  In John's Gospel, the killing of the lambs takes place at the same moment Jesus, Lamb of God, dies.   My study bible says, "The Mystical Supper is the fulfillment of the Passover meal (the synoptic tradition), and Christ's death is the fulfillment of the Passover lambs being slain (John's tradition)."

His disciples said to Him, "Where do You want us to go and prepare, that You may eat the Passover?"  And He sent out two of His disciples and said to them, "Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him.  Wherever he goes in, say to the master of the house, 'The Teacher says, "Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?"'  Then he will show you a large upper room, furnished and prepared; there make ready for us."  So his disciples went out, and came into the city, and found it just as He had said to them; and they prepared the PassoverLuke 22:8 says these two disciples are Peter and John.

In the evening He came with the twelve.  Now as they sat and ate, Jesus said, "Assuredly, I say to you, one of you who eats with Me will betray Me."  And they began to be sorrowful, and to say to Him one by one, "Is it I?"  And another said, "Is it I?"  He answered and said to them, "It is one of the twelve, who dips with Me in the dish."  My study bible says that Christ emphasizes both that His betrayer is one of the twelve and that he is one who dips with Me in the dish -- not so much to identify the person but again (as in yesterday's reading) to emphasize the level of betrayal, committed by a person who is one of his closest friends (see Psalm 55:12-14).

"The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!  It would have been good for that man if he had never been born."    While divine foreknowledge in prophecy may prepare for something, a note reminds us here that it doesn't take away Judas' moral freedom nor his accountability.  It says, "For God, all things are a present reality; He foresees all human actions, but does not cause them."

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, "Take, eat; this is my body."  Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it.  And He said to them, "This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many.  Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God."  And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.  The Greek for "gave thanks" has as its root eucharist (Greek ευχαριστεσας).  My study bible tells us that this immediately became the word used to refer both to the Liturgy and the sacrament of Holy Communion.  Even the Didache, said to be the teachings of the apostles, and written before the end of the first century, refers to the celebration of the Liturgy as "the Eucharist."  In AD 150, St. Justin says of Holy Communion, "This food we call 'Eucharist,' of which no one is allowed to partake except one who believes that the things we teach are true, and has received the washing [holy baptism] for forgiveness of sins and for rebirth, and who lives as Christ commanded us."  Jesus tells us, "This is my body," and "this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many."   There are varied doctrines on the Eucharist, but most agree that by His words and affirmation, we know that He is present in the Communion, distributed to each and shapes the Church.  Just as Christ's birth as Incarnate Jesus remains a Mystery via the Spirit,  so the Mystery of how the Eucharist works and happens isn't really explainable but rather the work of God via prayer.  He is "our Sacrifice" given for us, and remains perpetually so.  For this gift and all that it means and brings always, we are ever thankful.

The hymn sung by Christ and the Apostles at the end of the Last Supper is a psalm from a group of psalms traditionally sung after the Passover meal (Psalms 116-118).  If we take a good look at those psalms they are all about the great mercy of the Lord, given in many ways and particularly in each psalm, on many levels.  As so often works in Scripture, and particularly those words from Scripture which are uttered by Christ, we have in these psalms a great expression of the Eucharist, the mercy and love of the Lord for which we always "give thanks."   As individuals, He hears our voice and our supplications, He inclines His ear to each of us.  In trouble and sorrow, we call upon the name of the Lord.  He saves us and deals bountifully with each.  Psalm 116 asks, "What shall I give back to the Lord for all He rendered to me?  I will take up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord."  This is what we do in the Eucharist, we offer His gifts back to Him.  He blesses them and offers them back again to us.  Psalm 117 tells us, "Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; Praise Him, all you peoples, for His mercy rules over us; and the truth of the Lord endures forever."  Psalm 118 proclaims, "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His mercy endures forever" (my italics).  We call it "the Last Supper" but it's only "last" in the sense that it perpetually unites us with the end of the age, that which is beyond what we know, the fullness of His Return and His promise to do so.  It is "the eighth day" in His presence with us, the day of the eternal life of His new covenant, for which He's given Himself as our sacrifice.  Jesus says, "Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God."  The eternal promise is that we will be there with Him, that His mystical presence is with us.   Let us be truly thankful, and rely on His mercy!  Let us note that He sits at table "in the presence of His enemy" who was His friend, but still the "cup runs over."  So it is in our lives, even in the midst of trouble.







Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me


 After two days it was the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take Him by trickery and put Him to death.  But they said, "Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar of the people."

And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly spikenard.  Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head.  But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, "Why was this fragrant oil wasted?  For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor."  And they criticized her sharply.  But Jesus said, "Let her alone.  Why do you trouble her?  She has done a good work for Me.  For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always.  She has done what she could.  She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial.  Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her."

Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Him to them.  And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money.  So he sought how he might conveniently betray Him.

- Mark 14:1-11

"Now learn this parable from the fig tree:  When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near.  So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near -- at the doors!  Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.  But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.  It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch.  Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming -- in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning -- lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping.  And what I say to you, I say to all:  Watch!"

 After two days it was the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take Him by trickery and put Him to death.  But they said, "Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar of the people."  My study bible explains that the Feast of Unleavened Bread begins with the Passover meal on the evening of 15 Nisan (on the Jewish calendar) and lasts seven days (Exodus 12:12-20).  These two feasts together commemorate Israel's liberation from slavery in Egypt.  The word Passover is used in connection with the "passing over" of Hebrew homes by the angel of death when killing the firstborn of the Egyptians, because the Jews had put lamb's blood on their doorposts (Exodus 12:13).  Unleavened bread as the tradition reminds all of the haste with which the Hebrews left Egypt (Exodus 12:39).  My study bible adds that this Passover was fulfilled in Christ, the Lamb whose blood was shed to free humanity from bondage to sin and death.

And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly spikenard.  Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head.  But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, "Why was this fragrant oil wasted?  For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor."  And they criticized her sharply.  But Jesus said, "Let her alone.  Why do you trouble her?  She has done a good work for Me.  For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always.  She has done what she could.  She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial.  Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her."   My study bible says that Simon the leper must have been healed earlier by Jesus, because lepers were forbidden to live in towns.   It explains that because of her fervent faith, Jesus promises perpetual public memory of this woman who anointed Him for His burial.  There is no traditional consensus of opinion on her identity -- there are similar events reported in Matthew 26:6-13, Luke 7:36-38, and John 12:1-8.  Some commentators say there were three different women in the four accounts, but others say there were only two.

Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Him to them.  And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money.  So he sought how he might conveniently betray Him.   A note tells us that Judas seeks on his own initiative to betray Jesus.  While his motives have been debated, traditional commentary tends to agree that greed was the primary motive.  It is the opinion given in John 12:4-6, where it is stated that Judas was upset by the "waste" of myrrh in the story of the woman with the alabaster flask because he was a thief.  The fact that Judas was one of the Twelve serves as emphasis on the great depth of betrayal here.  Interestingly, one of the Greek texts calls Judas the son of Simon in this passage in John.  Perhaps we might speculate that the betrayal is linked to a rebuke given inside of his family home. 

This story appears in all four Gospels, in one form and another.  As stated above,  the identity of the woman is debated in each story, and how many separate events are really incorporated here.  In John's Gospel, she's certainly identified with Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus and Martha.  But the really powerful story is of the love that is expressed, and a kind of split in the way in which we might think of things.  Its great importance to the whole of the New Testament is noted simply because of the accounts that appear in all four Gospels.  My study bible notes that John Chrysostom says that the disciples aren't necessarily all wrong in their criticism -- he says that mercy shown to the poor is more fitting than outward signs shown even to God (Matthew 25:40, James 1:27).  But once the gift was given, it was a greater mercy to accept it with love.  Had Christ known of it in advance, says St. Chrysostom, He surely would have directed her otherwise.  But once the gift was given, the only thing to do was to look to the gift itself.  What good would be a rebuke?  The same could be said of  a gift made to a Church of a beautiful ornament.  While the point is well-taken, I think there's something more here.  It's linked to the passage in which Jesus stated that it was harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.  When Jesus teaches him to sell all he has and give it to the poor, it's not an instruction specifically for the poor, it's an instruction given specifically to the rich man for a particular reason.  It teaches us that nothing should keep us back from the fullness of love for God (like attachment to our possessions).  What we can see in this story of the anointing is the depth of simple and straightforward love in the heart of the woman for Christ.  Love trumps everything.  One commentary (Pulpit Commentary) refers to this act (in John's Gospel) as one of "royal self-forgetting love."  The loosening of a woman's hair would have been an act of a depth of humility before Christ, and those at this very public dinner.  What Jesus praises is not the gift, but the depth of love involved.  It's a true gift of anointing for burial, an act of grief and love, like the closest family member, a statement of His central importance to her.  He goes to her defense, really, against all of His disciples; it's not only Judas who criticizes.  His statement about her is a kind of grace we associate with Christ's love for each of us, in His knowledge of our own hearts.  We note Jesus' statement that "she has done what she could."  We are almost at the Cross, and the theme here is given again:  formal observance of the commandments is not enough, there's a deeper level in which faith rests that He seeks.  It rests in love, and it's in the name of this kind of love expressed by this woman that true kindness to the poor is an extension of the love we have for God.  Let us keep in mind that "poor" applies to any kind of poor in any situation; the poor are also "the least of these," the ones with less clout or currency, or even importance, just as she herself may be "poor" among the disciples and the others at dinner here in today's reading, and it is Christ who comes to her defense.  Do we doubt that such a deeply loving heart would deny any help to the poor (particularly in the name of Christ), or lack in kindness and compassion?  Let us remember the power of love and its transcendent power to trump all things.  It's this kind of love that is linked to the fact that with God all things are possible.  In another way, this woman exemplifies what Jesus taught to the lawyer who asked, "Who is my neighbor?"  This is an active love, one that doesn't wait for others to love first or with a motive for gain.  Her anointing of Christ is like a symbolic anointing of grace, imitating God, loving as He has loved us.








Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is


 "Now learn this parable from the fig tree:  When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near.  So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near -- at the doors!  Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.

"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.  It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch.  Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming -- in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning -- lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping.  And what I say to you, I say to all:  Watch!"

- Mark 13:28-37

In yesterday's reading, Jesus continued His discourse on the "end times" -- both in Jerusalem within the following generation, and at the end of the age to come.  (See Saturday's reading for the beginning of this discourse:  Whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.)  So when you see the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not" (let the reader understand), "then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.  Let him who is on the housetop not go down into the house, nor enter to take anything out of his house.  And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes.  But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!  And pray that your flight may not be in winter.  For in those days there will be tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, nor ever shall be.  And unless the Lord had shortened these days, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days.  Then if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or, 'Look, He is there!' do not believe it.  For false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.  But take heed; see, I have told you all things beforehand.  But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.  And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of the earth to the farthest part of heaven."

  "Now learn this parable from the fig tree:  When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near.  So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near -- at the doors!  Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away."  My study bible tells us that this generation refers to all believers at all times (that is, it is the "generation of the Church"), and not merely those alive at the time of Jesus.  Christ's prophecy is therefore that the Church will continue to thrive until He returns -- regardless of how desperate things may at times appear to be.   That being said, it would truly be a "generation" within which the Siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple would happen.  That "heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away" is a solemn promise, a prophecy.

"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.  It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch.  Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming -- in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning -- lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping.  And what I say to you, I say to all:  Watch!"  My study bible says that although Jesus declares that the Son of Man doesn't know the day of His own return, St. John Chrysostom teaches that this isn't to be taken literally.  Rather, it's a figure of speech.  The meaning is that the exact date won't be revealed to anyone -- and that this should not be our focus.  The message of Christ here is "Take heed, watch and pray."  And it's repeated for us; Jesus ends with one word, an emphatic command:  "Watch!"

Prophetic words seem to come in mysteries.  Here, in Jesus' discourse about "end times," we are given prophecy of two events, the destruction that was to come in Jerusalem (and to the Temple), and the end of the age, the time of Jesus' Second Coming.  Both predictions are mixed within this discourse; at times it's difficult to know which one Jesus is speaking of.  But there are also things that are consistent, and they tell us what is important.  The first is our own endurance as His disciples.  We follow His commands and remember His words.  Secondly, we are to rely on the Spirit through all things.  And in times of persecution, our reliance is such that we're not to premeditate on what to say, but to allow the Spirit "in that hour" to give us the words of testimony we need.  Finally, the consistent word is the one He ends with, "Watch!"  "Watch and pray" is the way we understand the message here.  Things may be intentionally vague so that we keep alert and watch.  The early Church watched for the signs in Jerusalem when invasion and siege was imminent.  And we are always to "Take heed, watch and pray."  This command is for consistent action.  What's important here is not when this happens -- He makes that clear.  What's of the greatest importance are His commands to us, our attitude we are to adopt.  We're like the servants awaiting the return of the master who's gone off to a far country.  We just don't know what time He returns, so our job is to stay alert and watch.  We're to be discerning, not sleeping.  We're to be praying, not forgetting all about our discipleship, and not idle.  This is the constant state He teaches us to be in, always watching, alert, praying.  We're to know what we're about -- this is awareness, consciousness, mindfulness, a mind alert to discipleship at all times.  This is how He leaves us as we await the end of the age, which will come at a time we know not, when He returns as suddenly as a flash of lightning stretching across the sky.  What's important is what we're actively doing:  being alert, watchful, prayerful, knowing what we are to be about.  To "take heed" is about a way of seeing, a way of looking, an active participation in being alert in the way He teaches us to be watchful.  He wants nothing less from those who would serve in His house.




Monday, August 24, 2015

Take heed; see, I have told you all things beforehand


 "So when you see the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not" (let the reader understand), "then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.  Let him who is on the housetop not go down into the house, nor enter to take anything out of his house.  And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes.  But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!  And pray that your flight may not be in winter.  For in those days there will be tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, nor ever shall be.  And unless the Lord had shortened these days, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days.  Then if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or, 'Look, He is there!' do not believe it.  For false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.  But take heed; see, I have told you all things beforehand.

"But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.  And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of the earth to the farthest part of heaven."

- Mark 13:14-27

Yesterday, we read that as Jesus went out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, "Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!"  And Jesus answered and said to him, "Do you see these great buildings?  Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down."  Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Him privately, "Tell us, when will these things be?  And what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?"  And Jesus, answering them, began to say:  "Take heed that no one deceives you.  For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He,' and will deceive many.  But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  And there will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines and troubles.  These are the beginnings of sorrows.  But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues.  You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them.  And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations.  But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak.  But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.  Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.  And you will be hated by all for My name's sake.  But he who endures to the end shall be saved."

"So when you see the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not" (let the reader understand), "then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.  Let him who is on the housetop not go down into the house, nor enter to take anything out of his house.  And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes.  But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!  And pray that your flight may not be in winter.  For in those days there will be tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, nor ever shall be.  And unless the Lord had shortened these days, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days.  Then if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or, 'Look, He is there!' do not believe it.  For false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.  But take heed; see, I have told you all things beforehand."   In Saturday's reading (see above), we began this passage in which Jesus speaks of the "end times," both to come in Jerusalem within one generation, and the fullness of the age.  As we noted, this discourse is in "chiastic" form, for the Greek word for the letter X, meaning there are topics introduced in the beginning, a particular centerpiece of the discourse, and then further elaboration at the end.  In today's reading, we start off with Jesus' reference to the "abomination of desolation," from a prophesy by Daniel (Daniel 11:31, 12:11).  This was considered  to have been fulfilled when the Roman General Titus entered the sanctuary of the Temple during the Siege of Jerusalem, at which time the Temple was destroyed (AD 70).  Jesus gives this vivid warning of the war and destruction that was to come to Jerusalem, and so the early Church fled when the signs of Roman siege were in place.  But combined with the warning about what would come within another generation in Jerusalem are warnings the end of the age, and about the appearance of "false christs."

"But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.  And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of the earth to the farthest part of heaven."  Here is the clear story of His Return, the Second Coming.  We're not to be deceived by any such reports because it will be clear to everyone -- He will be coming in the clouds with great power and glory.  There will be nothing secret, hidden, or mysterious about it!

Jesus gives a warning to the disciples, a prophecy of the Siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple ("Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down").  These warnings were all fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem and its glorious Second Temple, a work of great architecture and wonder of its time.  That gives us an understanding that what human beings have built has a limited power of its own, no matter how wonderful nor spectacular.  In Luke's Gospel, Jesus gives a clear statement about what is to happen in this siege:  "Days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side,  and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation" - Luke 19:43-44 (my italics).  Do we know when we are visited by God?  Do we know the Spirit's presence?  Do we understand God's grace at work in our lives -- perhaps when we're given a second chance, or a kind of warning about where we're headed?  The only time that Jesus states that His time will be clearly known to everyone is at His Second Coming, the final "end time."   But until that time, what do we understand of warnings, wake-up calls, second chances, and infinite grace that is present to us?  Do we know how to listen?  Do we know that "the time of our visitation" may be any time?  Once again, we have to apply His teachings to ourselves; they are not just warnings to one set of people once upon a time.  His truth is for all of us, for each of us.  The heart knows what it will know, but a hardened heart seems incapable of hearing -- and may spend a lifetime deaf and blind to the call of God, the warnings of Christ, the work of the Spirit in and around us.  Jesus teaches His disciples to rely on the Spirit, and to endure through all things.  He teaches us not to be deceived by those who would mislead.  He speaks of times of testing and difficulties, but these things are not to dissuade us nor dismay us.  We rely on "God with us," who gives us a voice and words to hear and listen to, and to say in our own defense during times of persecution.  We hold fast to what He's given us, we are to remain alert and watchful, and we know His prophecies.


Saturday, August 22, 2015

Whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit


 Then as He went out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, "Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!"  And Jesus answered and said to him, "Do you see these great buildings?  Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down."

Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Him privately, "Tell us, when will these things be?  And what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?"  And Jesus, answering them, began to say:  "Take heed that no one deceives you.  For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He,' and will deceive many.  But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  And there will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines and troubles.  These are the beginnings of sorrows.  But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues.  You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them.  And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations.  But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak.  But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.  Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.  And you will be hated by all for My name's sake.  But he who endures to the end shall be saved."

- Mark 13:1-13

Currently in the readings we are in Holy Week; Jesus is in Jerusalem with the disciples  He has been tested in the temple by various factions of the leadership, most recently questioned by a scribe. His answers have been such that no one dares question Him again.  But in yesterday's reading, Jesus Himself took the initiative, before the people: Jesus answered and said, while He taught in the temple, "How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David?  For David himself said by the Holy Spirit:  'The LORD said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool."  Therefore David himself calls Him 'Lord'; how is He then His Son?"  And the common people heard Him gladly.  Then He said to them in His teaching, "Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers.  These will receive greater condemnation."  Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury.  And many who were rich put in much.  Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans.  So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood."

 Then as He went out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, "Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!"  And Jesus answered and said to him, "Do you see these great buildings?  Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down."  The temple was an extraordinary collection of buildings and architectural marvels of beauty.  It was known as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, built by Herod the Great who was known as the Herod the Builder.  But Christ prophesies its destruction here to His disciples, which would happen in AD 70, when the temple was destroyed by the Romans.  The soldiers believed there was gold between the stones, thus "not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down."

Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Him privately, "Tell us, when will these things be?  And what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?"  And Jesus, answering them, began to say:  "Take heed that no one deceives you.  For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He,' and will deceive many.  But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  And there will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines and troubles.  These are the beginnings of sorrows.  But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues.  You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them.  And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations.  But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak.  But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.  Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.  And you will be hated by all for My name's sake.  But he who endures to the end shall be saved."  My study bible points out that this account of end times is given in what is a "reverse parallel" or "chiastic" form (from the Greek word for "X" - the first letter of Christ, Χριστος), meaning the topics mentioned in the first half of the passage are repeated and amplified in reverse order in the second half (the entire passage is not included in today's reading, and will be continued on Monday).  So our passage begins and ends with a warning about false Christ's (including the passages from Monday).  The second warning is about wars, and the second to last is about tribulation (also in Monday's reading).  The third warning -- included in today's reading --  is about being delivered up to councils, while third-to-last is also about being delivered up, but by family members.  In its center is the prophecy that the gospel must first be preached to all the nations, which, as my study bible puts it, "is at the heart of the apostolic ministry and mission of the Church (Matthew 28:19-20). 

 There's another important point Jesus makes here and it's startling in its directness -- and this is also at the heart of this "chiastic" or X- for cross-shaped passage.  That is the statement that they are not to worry under any form of persecution, nor premeditate what to say, because whatever they are given in that time, "it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit."   It's a powerful addition to their expectations, to what He is telling them.  Jesus' predictions focus on the destruction to come in Jerusalem, but they also include "end times" that have to do with His Second Coming, the return of the Son of Man, which we will read in Monday's reading.  So central is this event of the destruction of the temple that it is linked to the fullness of the time which is initiated now in His Incarnation.  Tying all of it together is the presence of the Holy Spirit, the gift given at Pentecost to all of them and to all the Church.  It's there our faith is rooted, there the Church is truly formed and the Body of Christ held as one.  It is the Holy Spirit whom St. Paul says prays in us.  The Holy Spirit "helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession" for us (Romans 8:26).   In the same chapter of the letter to the Romans, St. Paul also tells of the Spirit's role during their times of persecution: "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.  For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, 'Abba, Father.'  The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,  and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together."  Therefore at the center of any and all forms of hardship, persecution, tribulation, the Holy Spirit is there, "God with us."  We rely on the Spirit, who teaches us to pray, who gives us the words to speak, and who gives us Sonship as heirs and children of God.  The gift of the Spirit is intimately connected with the Church in every way, and particularly so in times of hardship and suffering.  Let us rely on this centerpiece of Christ's promises to us, God the Spirit who connects us through all things, and tests the world through the end of an age initiated by the Incarnation, also made possible via the Holy Spirit.  Let us remember to rely on His presence.