Saturday, April 29, 2017

Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, "You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve"


 Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being tempted for forty days by the devil.  And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry.  And the devil said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread."  But Jesus answered him, saying, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.'"

Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.  And the devil said to Him, "All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.  Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours."  And Jesus answered and said to him, "Get behind Me, Satan!  For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.'"

Then he brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here.  For it is written:
'He shall give His angels charge over you,
To keep you,'
and,
'In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.'"
And Jesus answered and said to him, "It has been said, 'You shall not tempt the LORD your God.'"

Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.

- Luke 4:1-13

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

Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being tempted for forty days by the devil.   My study bible says that the exodus of Jesus into the wilderness following His baptism has a dual symbolism.  First, it fulfills the Old Testament type, in which Israel journeyed in the wilderness for forty years after its "baptism" in the Red Sea.  Second, it prefigures our own journey through the fallen world after baptism as we struggle towards the Kingdom.  It's important to understand, from the point of view of emphasis in the Gospels, that Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness for this struggle.   The wilderness is a battleground, an image of the world in the sense that it is both the dwelling place of evil (or demons) and also a source of divine tranquility and victory, the beauty of nature as inspiration to worship Creator.

And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry. Jesus is tempted for forty days.  This is a reversal of Israel's falling into temptation in the wilderness.  The Israelites were tested for forty years and were disobedient and disobedient and disloyal.  They were humbled by first being allowed by God to go hungry and then fed with manna to help them learn dependence upon God (Deuteronomy 8:2-5).  Jesus is tempted with hunger for forty days, and yet doesn't sin.  His answers to the devil come from Deuteronomy, and call for loyalty to God.  Christ's forty day fast is the basis for the Church's Lenten fast before Holy Week, and by tradition also before Christmas.  He fasts to overcome temptation, giving us an example of our own capacities and limitations in the face of temptation.  His hunger doesn't control Him.  We, too, have the Holy Spirit with us to help us face our own struggles.

And the devil said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread."  But Jesus answered him, saying, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.'"   My study bible notes that the devil challenges Christ's relationship to the Father.  If You are the Son of God calls into question the Father's declaration at Jesus' Baptism (see yesterday's reading, above).  The devil wants Jesus to act independently, detaching Himself from the will of the Father.  In His divine nature, Christ shares one with with the Father and the Holy Spirit; in John 5:30, Jesus says that He can do nothing of Himself apart from the Father.  But as human being, Jesus possesses free will and at all times must choose to remain obedient to the divine will of the Father.

Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.  And the devil said to Him, "All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.  Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours."  And Jesus answered and said to him, "Get behind Me, Satan!  For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.'"  Jesus has already rejected an earthly kingdom in the sense that He shows us not to pursue earthly comfort in the "food which perishes" (John 6:27).  In Christ, we have the power to conquer temptation.  Here the temptation extends to earthly power and possessions, a worldly glory rather than the glory of God.  Jesus is asked to choose worldly power over the Kingdom of God, as the devil is the "ruler of this world" (John 12:31), and has also been called "the god of this age" (2 Corinthians 4:4), because the whole world is in his power (1 John 5:19).  Jesus refuses earthly glory, which would lead Him away from His mission of suffering and death for the redemption of the world.

Then he brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here.  For it is written:  'He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you,' and, 'In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.'"  And Jesus answered and said to him, "It has been said, 'You shall not tempt the LORD your God.'"  Since so much of Christ's power to deflect temptation comes through Scripture, Satan tries to use Scripture to put God's power of protection to the test (see also 2 Peter 1:19-21).  The devil quotes from Psalm 91:11-12.  Jesus' response teaches us that trials and temptations enough will come on their own.  We should never intentionally expose ourselves to danger in order to prove God's protection.  To do so is to tempt the LORD.

Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.  There will be other times of great temptation, particularly during the events of His Passion and Crucifixion (Luke 22:40-46, 23:35; Matthew 16:21-23).

Each of us has our own temptations we encounter in life.  In modern understanding, many temptations can come from psychological formation in childhood.  Father Thomas Keating, one of the founders of the Centering Prayer movement, writes often of our "programs" (that is, impulses within us) that derive from the experience of trauma, which he says form the basis for the "false self."  That is, a false understanding of who we are.    He places them in three categories:  power/control, esteem/affection, and security/survival.  If we look closely at Jesus' three temptations, they would seem to fall into these categories:  the false tempting of God seems to indicate power and control, the temptation of worldly kingdoms and glory falls under esteem and affection, the temptation to use power to turn the stone to bread under security and survival.  Father Keating's understanding is one example of how we might discern what temptations we face in our own lives.  The notion of "false self" is akin to the idea of "ego" in popular language.  We have to dig deeply into our relationship with God, just as Jesus does, to find and follow who we truly are in the image of God, and who we may become as we dwell in Christ.  This leads us "becoming" the person God knows us to be, as only our Creator can know.  The battle for struggle and temptation, when viewed in that modern context, becomes all the more important in a world where we face constant challenges to our sense of ourselves.  Modern social media puts us in an immediate kind of environment that challenges the need for esteem, linked to worldly belonging, security, even survival.  There are all kinds of articles and studies done on the effect of a large number of "likes" on a Facebook post!  Jesus' experience in the wilderness meets the challenge of the distortions of who we are and who we need to be, and it teaches us about our own power to transcend the worldly temptations that may come fast and furious.  A priest's sermon I heard the other day spoke of demonic temptation in the internal voices that seem to tell us that we're all alone, or that we're not loved.  The Gospels testify to the lie in each of those thoughts for every single one of us.  Christ is always present, and God's love for us always steady.  More than that, in Christ we live also in a Kingdom which is alive with a communion of saints, with whom we may also pray and worship.  The Holy Spirit, whom Jesus calls the Helper (or "Paraclete") in John's Gospel, is always with us.  We have an infinite force of those who are with us, and all form the Church, the Body of Christ -- that great cloud of witnesses by whom we're encompassed.  One can see the need for affection and esteem and its temptations to chase after false idols and a sense of belonging, even pulling at our survival instincts to be one of the pack or tribe or group.  But we're made for something more and something better.  And this is where Christ leads us. This is where His temptation in the wilderness takes us and what it teaches us.  We rely on God, and therein comes our strength to make of our lives something more:  the difference between a good and rich fruitful life, and a barren wilderness.




Friday, April 28, 2017

He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire


 Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not, John answered, saying to all, "I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but he chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire."

And with many other exhortations he preached to the people.  But Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him concerning Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, also added this, above all, that he shut John up in prison.

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

- Luke 3:15-22

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

 Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not, John answered, saying to all, "I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but he chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire."  It's an important piece of information here that Luke gives us first, that the people were in expectation of the Messiah, the Christ.  It tells us more about the time and the place.  Fire in this context has the primary meaning of the gift of the Holy Spirit, my study bible tells us.  The Holy Spirit will be given to the world at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), so John's words are within his role as prophet.  Furthermore, fire declares the judgment of Christ,  in which the faithless will burn (see 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; 2:8).  The really essential thing to understand is that this fire is one and the same.  It is the same Power and the same Spirit which both enlivens the faithful and destroys the faithless, as my study bible puts it.  There is one holy fire, the presence and energy of God; all depends on how we respond to it.

And with many other exhortations he preached to the people.  But Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him concerning Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, also added this, above all, that he shut John up in prison.  Herod had divorced his own wife and married Philip's wife Herodias while Philip was still living.  This was against Jewish law, and John was outspoken about it.

When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened.  And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, "You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased."  Although Jesus doesn't need baptism for repentance or any other purpose, in being baptized He accomplishes several things.  Jesus affirms John's ministry, first of all.  He is revealed by the Father and the Holy Spirit to be the Christ, beloved Son of God.  He identifies with His people by descending into the waters with them.  As submerging into the water simulates death, He prefigures His own death, giving baptism its ultimate meaning.  By entering the waters, Jesus sanctifies the waters of the world for future Christian baptism.  He also fulfills the many types given in the Old Testament, my study bible adds, such as when Moses led the people from bondage through the Red Sea (Exodus 14), and when the ark of the covenant was carried into the Jordan so that people could enter the Promised Land (Joshua 3; 4).  Finally, through His baptism, Jesus opens heaven to a world that is separated from God through sin.

The most stunning thing, perhaps, in a quite a sea of stunning things in today's reading, is the revelation of the Trinity through Jesus' baptism.  That is, Father, Son, and Spirit in the Father's voice, the revelation of Christ as Son, and the Holy Spirit descending like a dove.  This is called Epiphany (Manifestation) or Theophany (Manifestation of God).  Right from the start of His ministry, God is revealed through Him, and the people are given "heaven," as my study bible says.  The understanding of God as fire is one that will continue to give us an understanding of the power of God and the energies of God.  There is an ancient teaching about the power of the Holy Spirit, and our capacity to become "God-like."  A piece of metal may be put into a fire in order to be forged.  The metal takes on properties of the fire, becoming red with its heat and energy.  But regardless of the shape into which the metal is then able to be forged, it does not become the fire, although it may take on its characteristics.  So are we in the "forge" of the Holy Spirit, in the power of God's love and mercy, in the energies of God.  We are capable of taking on qualities that make us "like God."  Such are the fruits of the Spirit as named by St. Paul, for example, when he writes, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law" (Galatians 5:22-23).   To be in the presence and energies of God, this great unquenchable fire, and to resist and reject such is to burn in the fire, to experience hell.  This fire and its energies are love, but we may resist love and reject its call for ourselves and where it would take us, choosing to cling rather to what burns instead.  As such we identify with that which is opposed to it, which fails to thrive.  There is no other fire.  There is only Gods' love.  But we are free.  Such is the news here, the revelation of God.  Would we become "like Him?"  Jesus is here to reveal that, and so much more.



Thursday, April 27, 2017

I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones


 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.  And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying:
"The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make His paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled
And every mountain and hill brought low;
The crooked places shall be made straight
And the rough ways smooth;
And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"
Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, "Brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.'  For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.  And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees.  Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." 

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

- Luke 3:1-14

Yesterday we read Jesus' final words in the High Priestly Prayer in John chapter 17:  "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.  And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:  I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.  Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.  O righteous Father!  The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me.  And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them."

 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.   Luke gives us the historical setting, pinpointing an date in which these things took place.  The sons of Herod the Great rule Galilee and other regions.  It was an ancient prophecy of Jacob that the Messiah would come when a king ruled who was not from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10).  Herod the Great was a non-Jew calling himself the king of Judea at the time of Jesus' birth.   In actuality, Caiaphas was the sole high priest; however, people recognized the continuing power of his father-in-law Annas.  Annas was a previous high priest deposed by the Romans.  The lectionary begins our readings in Luke here, but earlier chapters have told us about Zacharias and Anna, the parents of John, and their relation to Mary, Jesus' mother; also about the birth of Jesus.

And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins . . .   John behaves characteristically as a prophet, giving a call to repentance which was traditional for prophets.  His baptism did not grant remission of sins once and for all, but prefigured and prepared people for he baptism of Christ which was to come (see Romans 6:3-11).  John, says my study bible, is a figure of the Law in that, like the Law, he denounced sin but could not remit (literally, "put away") sin.  Both John and the Law point to the One who can remit sin.

. . . as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying:
"The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  'Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.  Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill brought low;  The crooked places shall be made straight and the rough ways smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"  John quotes from Isaiah the Prophet (Isaiah 40:3-5).  In John chapter 1, the Baptist declares himself to be the voice crying in the wilderness (John 1:23). 

"Brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.'  For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.  And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees.  Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."   My study bible says that while parents and ancestors can help impart piety and holiness, ancestry itself doesn't make a person worthy of God.  Rather, each person in every generation must bear fruits worthy of repentance.  Stones, it says,  symbolize the Gentiles would would become children to Abraham through faith in Christ (Romans 4:16-18).  See also 1 Peter 2:5.  John warns of judgment in the coming of the Lord.  Having just read through the lectionary readings in John, we recall Jesus' words in the farewell discourse about the sending of the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who will "convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment" (see John 16:8-11).  In our next reading, John the Baptist will allude to the coming of the Holy Spirit and the connection to the judgment of Christ.

So the people asked him, saying, "What shall we do then?  He answered and said to them, "He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise."  Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?"  And he said to them, "Collect no more than what is appointed for you."  Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, "And what shall we do?"  So he said to them, "Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages."  Here are the teachings of justice, and they reflect the understanding of the Law.  All who come for repentance are instructed by John in acts of repentance, in preparation for judgment and the coming of the Lord.  These teachings remain instructional for all of us.

John fulfills his prophetic role as the voice of one crying in the wilderness, "Prepare the way of the Lord."  We have to think about what it means to "make His paths straight."  In a very strong sense, there is a kind of timelessness and seamlessness to the early chapters in Luke.  Time seems to fold and bend and reflect upon itself.  It's not clear what time period begins when.  Ironic it is that Luke sets down so carefully the worldly historic period of his Gospel and the events in it, because interwoven in these events are great periods of time that seem to constitute one time.  Isaiah prophesied of the voice crying in the wilderness in the eighth century before Christ.  John the Baptist comes calling himself that voice, prophesying the coming of the Lord.  And the Gospels go on to tell us about this life of Jesus.  But John's words will also allude to the Holy Spirit, even as Jesus told the disciples more explicitly about the coming of the Helper in the farewell discourse in John (see chapters 14-17, beginning with this reading from last Monday).  But somehow, all is interwoven.  Jesus will come as fulfillment of the Law, and thereby the things that John has to teach those who come to him to learn about repentance still apply and still make good sense to us.  Christ initiates a time period in which the Holy Spirit will come, to "convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment" and we still live in this ongoing period in which all of this is happening -- but how often are we aware of this "fire" of the Holy Spirit that is at work in all of us and all around us?  John will teach in tomorrow's reading about this fire.  But the patterns of warning and prophesy, the coming of the Lord and Christ's revelation of both Himself as Son and the presence of the Father, His teaching about the sending of the Helper and the Helper's work in the world, all blend into one.  These moments of revelation are all present with us here and now.  They don't belong only to the past or to a fixed date in historical time.  That is the nature of revelation; it brings into the world something that is eternal and always present with us.  But we, in each moment of our time, have time to reflect and to understand and to recollect what these truths are and what they mean at each moment in our lives.  In such an understanding, each moment can serve as period of reflection, just as the tax collectors and soldiers and those who come from Judea and the whole region ask John what they shall do.  So we, with even greater revelation at our hand, ask what we should do.  The eternal is present with us in Father, Son, and Spirit abiding with us, and the communion of saints which includes the Baptist.  Each moment serves as portal to remind ourselves and to understand, and to consider our role in this great story of God's love for us.   In the words of Saint Peter, what does it mean to be a "living stone"?







Wednesday, April 26, 2017

I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them


 "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.  And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:  I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

"Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.  O righteous Father!  The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me.  And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them."

- John 17:20-26

Starting from last Monday, we have been reading through Jesus' words and teachings to the disciples at the Last Supper.   This is His farewell discourse.  Chapter 17 constitutes what is called the High Priestly Prayer (begun in this Monday's reading).  Yesterday, we read that Jesus continued to pray, "While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name.  Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.  But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.  I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  Sanctify them by Your truth.  Your word is truth.  As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.  And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth."

 "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.  And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:  I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved."  Jesus prays not only for His immediate disciples (these alone), but also for those who will believe through the word of the first apostles.  My study bible says here that the Church in every generation participates in the life and the glory of the Trinity.  Christians have two kinds of unity:  with God and with one another.  The latter is rooted in the former -- thus the two greatest commandments.   And if we look closely, we observe that this conclusion to the High Priestly Prayer is all about the unity of Father, Son, and Spirit, and with those who will follow and believe.  Jesus also speaks here of glory and being made perfect in this union and participation.   But ultimately the real crux on which hangs everything about our faith is the love of the Father.

"Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.  O righteous Father!  The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me.  And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them."  Here is more about the quality of unity:  Jesus prays that those whom the Father has given Him may be with Him, that they may behold His glory given by the Father, because the Father loved Him before the foundation of the world.  To declare the Father's name -- the extension of His Person, is to declare, know, and dwell with the Father's love.  My study bible says that the ultimate goal of Christ's prayer, and even of life itself, is for the love of the Father to dwell in each person.  This is the real definition of faith, of what our faith teaches us to believe and know.

Jesus dwells mostly on the unity of Father, Son, and believers in this last part of the High Priestly Prayer.  It's a kind of unity that will always draw and intrigue us, because Christ speaks of a unity that is the configuration, if you will, of what it means to abide in Him.  Christ abides in the Father, and yet both Christ and the Father dwell in us.  Unity here is much more than what is usually signified by the word "unity."  This is an indwelling, and it is an indwelling on multiple levels and through multiple combinations:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (as attested to in the farewell discourse when He promises several times that He will send the Helper), and the faithful:  those apostles to whom He speaks, and all those faithful who are to come: "also for those who will believe in Me through their word."  This unity of faith and indwelling and abiding are hallmarked through several important concepts of which He has also spoken through this farewell discourse:  glory, the name of the Father, and love.  Glory, as we have discussed in an earlier reading, is a kind of weightedness, a sense of value and substance.  Glory is that value which is added unto, assigned, given by the Father, a substance which then is a part of whatever is glorified.  The Father's name is an extension of Himself, just as whatever would bear the initials or stamp of a ruler was treated as an extension of His property and empire.  The name, according to one definition, is a manifestation of character, that which distinguishes this one person from all others, the presence of that person.  A name, in Jewish tradition, was inseparable from the person, something of the person's essence, and thereby the name of the Father is most sacred.  And finally, all of this is contained in and contains within it the Father's love.  Everything that we know and believe in as followers of Christ, all the abiding and indwelling Christ teaches us, the glory God can give and the glorification of the Father of which we are capable, praying and acting in His name -- all of this is within the love of the Father.  If that love is not shared, if we do not know it and live in it, we do not have Christian faith.  Over and over again, Jesus has criticized the religious leadership of His time, because they follow elaborate rules and traditions built up around the Law, but they fail to have the love of the Father in them.  He tells them that if they loved God, they would know Him.  And this is the great key to our faith.  It is quite simply love.  There is love in the Father and in the unity of the Trinity, and love for us and in us -- and we return that love.  Without it, what do we have?  If we do not know that love, what is our faith?  Everything rests in it, and we rest in it, as God dwells in us.  This is the way, the truth, and the life.  This is what He has given us, and it is this love that saves the world.   No rule or abstract principle or custom we make can ever replace this active, known love.  We do not know God without it.  It grows in us and builds in us the kingdom of God, like a mustard seed grows into a sturdy tree where even the birds of the air may take refuge.  It is love that is alive and grows and gives meaning.






Tuesday, April 25, 2017

As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world


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

- John 17:12-19

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

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

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

"They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  Sanctify them by Your truth.  Your word is truth.  As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.  And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth."  To sanctify, as my study bible defines for us, is to consecrate, make holy, separate, set apart from the world, and to bring into the sphere of the sacred for God's use.   This is an essential concept of understanding that all Christians must grasp.  St. John Chrysostom interprets Jesus' words as saying, "Make them holy through the gift of the Spirit and by correct doctrine."

What does it means to be not of the world?  Christ calls us out of the world; that is, the ways of the world.  There are a number of ways in which He does this throughout the Gospels.   In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls us, for example, not to be like the hypocrites, doing things for show, a practiced "goodness" or feigned holiness that is designed merely to impress other people and done without a love of God in the heart, an acute awareness of the presence of God.  He calls us not to serve material life, to live merely for material goals.  He powerfully exhorts us not to be consumed with worry and anxiety (see Matthew 6).  But far beyond this, our participation in the love of God, in the grace of the Holy Trinity which is at work in us, calls us to holiness, to a life that manifests something different from what we find in the world.  In John's Gospel, in this farewell discourse through which we've just read, Jesus calls us to a kind of joy and a kind of peace that are not of the world, but of this holiness about which He speaks.  We are to abide in Him, and as we do so, we dwell also in the love of the Father and the Holy Spirit.  It is this life of participation in that love that brings us into a place where that love grows in us, and we serve this purpose.  When Jesus is called to name the greatest commandment, He names two of them.  The first, He says is to love God with all one's heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30).  The second is like it, to love neighbor as oneself (Mark 12:31).  There are those who would emphasize only the second, forgetting the first, but to do so is forget the words of Christ.  It is through the love of God and participation in those energies that we are drawn to grow in knowledge and understanding of what love is and does, for this is where love originates.  It is inseparable from holiness, from learning and growing in God's energies in which we are invited to dwell and participate.  A faith that does not share in this mystical reality may become lost in its own ends and rules and definitions of what is good -- and fail to grow and live in the grace of God.   Jesus promises us a participation in love, and it is in love that we are taught to grow and to be transformed, a mystical reality of participation in the kingdom of God.  It is through this mystical reality that we bring these energies into the world, growing and shaping what we understand of love.  Through this we are on a path, a way -- not just a fixed set of rules with no mercy to them, no matter how modern the rules may seem to be.  It is this truth into which He leads us, this kind of holiness.  This is the goal to which He calls us in our lives, the focus.  Without it we lose His true gift.





Monday, April 24, 2017

I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do


 Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said:  "Father, the hour has come.  Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him.  And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.  I have glorified You on the earth.  I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.  And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.

"I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world.  They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.  Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You.  For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.  I pray for them.  I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours.  And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them.  Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You.  Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are."

- John 17:1-11

All last week we were reading through Jesus' farewell discourse to His disciples at the Last Supper.  On Saturday, Jesus taught them, "A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father."  Then some of His disciples said among themselves, "What is this He says to us, 'A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me'; and, 'because I go to the Father'?"  They said therefore, "What is this that He says, 'A little while'?  We do not know what He is saying."  Now Jesus knew that they desired to ask Him, and He said to them, "Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said, 'A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me'?  Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.  A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.  Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.  And in that day you will ask Me nothing.  Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.  Until now you have asked nothing in My name.  Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.  These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father.  In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God.  I came forth from the Father and have come into the world.  Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.  His disciples said to Him, "See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech!  Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You.  By this we believe that You came forth from God."  Jesus answered them, "Do you now believe?  Indeed, the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone.  And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.  These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."

 Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said:  "Father, the hour has come.  Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him."  Here, Jesus begins what is often called the High Priestly Prayer.  It contains the basic elements of prayer that a priest offers to God when a sacrifice is to be made:  glorification, remembrance of God's works, intercession on behalf of others, and a declaration of the offering itself -- in this case, the Son.  My study bible also notes that Christ's words here (particularly in verses 1-13) bear witness to His divinity and to the filial relationship with the Father -- thus witnessing to the declaration of the Nicene Council, Christ as Son is eternally begotten.  As Jesus says The hour has come, it signifies Christ as Lord over time.  This is His voluntary declaration that He will go to the Cross.  Glorify refers to the redemption of all creation, accomplished through the Cross and Resurrection.  This is the purpose for which He was sent into the world.  My study bible says that in this redemption, the Father and Son are glorified.  Thereby the Cross, a sign of death, is glorified in the Church as "life-giving" and as the "weapon of peace."

"And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent."  My study bible tells us that the knowledge of the only true God is far more than intellectual understanding.  It means participation in His divine life and in communion with Him.  So, eternal life therefore is an ongoing and loving knowledge of God in Christ and the Holy Spirit.

"I have glorified You on the earth.  I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.  And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was."  Christ's work cannot be separated from who He is.  My study bible says that this statement, I have glorified You on the earth.  I have finished the work which You have given Me to do,  is a statement that each believer can make at the end of life, no matter how short or long that life might be.  The glory which I had with You before the world was affirms the co-eternal deity of the Son.

"I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world.  They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.  Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You.  For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me."  The men whom You have given Me are the apostles.  They're the ones through whom God's word come to us, says my study bible.  The handing down of God's word to successive generations is called apostolic tradition.  Isaiah made a prophecy that in the days of the Messiah, the knowledge of the Name of God would be revealed (Isaiah 52:6).  Jesus says, I have manifested Your name:  In the Old Testament times, the phrase "the Name" was used reverently as a substitute for the actual Name of God ("Yahweh" or the Tetragrammaton), which was too sacred to pronounce. My study bible tells us that the fuller revelation of the Name was given to those who believe in Christ, for Christ manifested the Name not only by declaring the Father, but rather by being the very presence of God and sharing the Name with Him. 

"I pray for them.  I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours.  And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them."   Christ prayed first for Himself, and secondly for them, the apostles.  After that, He prays for those whom You have given Me -- all who will come believe in Him (which we will read in later verses as well).  Here the world is the portion of humanity in rebellion against God, says my study bible.  That is, those who prefer darkness to His light.

"Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You.  Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are."  In the eucharistic prayer of the Didache (the oldest teaching document of the Church), we find this name, Holy Father:  "We give you thanks, Holy Father, for Your holy name which You have made to dwell in our hearts" (Didache 10:2).

Jesus uses the word glory frequently in this prayer; or rather, He uses a verb form of it, to glorify.  We often think of glory as fame or renown, or perhaps in a heavenly sort of context it may seem to signify what is ethereal, radiant with light.  But to glorify is to add significance to something.  It means to give value and weight.  It adds substance or essence that is distinguishing, that renders the good.  Rather than thinking of such splendid and heavenly things as airy and ethereal, we must understand them as giving value and substance beyond measure, even character.  When Jesus says that He has glorified the name of the Father, He is saying that He has fulfilled the will of God and done God's works to be displayed to the world -- the greatest of which is to come, His death on the Cross, so that all may receive eternal life.  He will trample death by death, as the Easter hymn of the Eastern Orthodox teaches.  In the greatest of all paradoxes, Christ overcomes the ruler of this world as He will be both witness and judge; the Resurrected Christ coming into full glory as Savior.  To glorify the name of God is to bring that value and substance into the world, a kind of character and worth that is added unto everything we might know.  We have to understand faith as that which gives us more, expresses more, builds more -- giving substance and worth.  Glory, in some sense, is also an image of the word "epiousion," found uniquely in the Lord's Prayer.  We translate it as "daily" (as in "daily bread") but it really means super-essential, or super-substantial; that is, a picture of the Eucharist.  Too often we have images in our head of that which seems less substantial, of the holy or heavenly as that which is light or airy, but these aren't correct perceptions.  The infinite worth of God can dwell even within us, when we do as Christ did.  As my study bible says, to be able to say, "I have glorified You on the earth.  I have finished the work which You have given Me to do," is the task of each of us.  It doesn't matter how seemingly insignificant or significant in a worldly way we think our own works are.  Glory is a substance manifest through the work and energies of God, something added unto us, true weight and value.  Those who can't perceive it simply will not, and perhaps choose to reject this value.  But Christ leads the way, and prays for us who will follow.  Can we perceive the depth and the weight of glory?




Saturday, April 22, 2017

In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world


 "A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father."  Then some of His disciples said among themselves, "What is this He says to us, 'A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me'; and, 'because I go to the Father'?"  They said therefore, "What is this that He says, 'A little while'?  We do not know what He is saying."  Now Jesus knew that they desired to ask Him, and He said to them, "Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said, 'A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me'?  Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.  A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.  Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.  And in that day you will ask Me nothing.  Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.  Until now you have asked nothing in My name.  Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

"These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father.  In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God.  I came forth from the Father and have come into the world.  Again, I leave the world and go to the Father."

His disciples said to Him, "See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech!  Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You.  By this we believe that You came forth from God."  Jesus answered them, "Do you now believe?  Indeed, the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone.  And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.  These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."

- John 16:16-33

This week we have been reading through the farewell discourse Jesus gave to His disciples at the Last Supper (beginning with Monday's reading).  In yesterday's reading, Jesus told them, "These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble.  They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.  And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me.  But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them.  And these things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you.  But now I go away to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, 'Where are You going?'  But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.  Nevertheless I tell you the truth.  It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.  And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:  of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.  I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.  He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.  All things that the Father has are Mine.  Therefore I said to that He will take of Mine and declare it to you."

 "A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father."  Then some of His disciples said among themselves, "What is this He says to us, 'A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me'; and, 'because I go to the Father'?"  They said therefore, "What is this that He says, 'A little while'?  We do not know what He is saying."   These words must sound like a kind of riddle to the disciples.  The first little while Jesus speaks of here refers to His arrest, death, and burial.  The second is His time in the tomb until His Resurrection.

Now Jesus knew that they desired to ask Him, and He said to them, "Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said, 'A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me'?  Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy."  Here is the paradox, the joy of the Resurrection, and life among those who hate and are hostile to them and to Christ.  This is the paradox of the "worldly" (in the sense of that which is pitted against Christ; that is, the "ruler of this world") and the faithful who love Him.  For these men, however, this will quite literally be true among their own people.

"A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.  Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.  And in that day you will ask Me nothing.  Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.  Until now you have asked nothing in My name.  Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full."   No longer remembers, says my study bible, doesn't imply that the faithful are going to forget the Passion and the Cross of Christ, any more than a woman "forgets" labor.  But what truly happens is that they (and we) see these sufferings in light of the victory of the Resurrection, and this victory in effect transfigures our perception of sufferings.  Christ's victory allows us to rejoice even in anguish because of the infinitely greater good that comes from it (Romans 5:3-5; Philippians 3:10).  The emphasis on joy is strong, as this is the second time in this discourse Christ has promised that they may ask the Father in His name (yesterday's reading, see above), and that their joy will be full (Wednesday's reading).

"These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father.  In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God.  I came forth from the Father and have come into the world.  Again, I leave the world and go to the Father."  My study bible tells us that the time when Christ would speak plainly about the Father was during the 40 days following the Resurrection (Acts 1:3).  And nothing He tells them (and us) is absent from the love of the Father -- not obedience and not faith and not prayer.  In our understanding of God, everything rests in love.  A note also adds that we know prayer is offered in the name of God the Father, because Christ taught us to pray that way (Matthew 6:9), and He Himself prayed to the Father (11:41; 12:28; 17:1).  In Christ, we have direct access to the Father, and therefore we pray in the name of the Son as well.  After Pentecost, we learn that the Holy Spirit Himself "makes intercessions for us" (Romans 8:26), and we are instructed to pray always in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18).  Therefore we may pray continually and with confidence to all three Persons of the Trinity, "in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit."

His disciples said to Him, "See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech!  Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You.  By this we believe that You came forth from God."  Jesus answered them, "Do you now believe?  Indeed, the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone.  And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.  These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."  Again, Jesus warns of the hostility and hatred of the world, but He has overcome the world.  And in Him is the victory of joy and of love and of peace.  Even when the disciples are scattered, the love of God is present in the Father's love of the Son, as Jesus says, I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.

Jesus tells them, In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.  It seems to me that these words are timeless.  They speak to the disciples, to the Church, to those in distress wherever they may be, and to us as individual followers of Christ.  We may find ourselves with tribulation in our lives.  Although Christ's victory is real and stunningly powerful in uncountable and unlimitable ways, we will find ourselves with tribulation, and facing the "worldly" that rejects the love and gifts of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In this we will find perhaps hostility, resentment, even a kind of envy of the love and peace we will have in Christ that accompanies such rejection.  In this all we can do is turn to Christ who is our example.  Here, He lays out everything for the disciples.  He tells them in advance what is going to happen.  He tells them that even they will be scattered, some will betray Him, and He will be alone.  But He is never alone, for the Father is with Him.  And in that, too, we as individual faithful can also take comfort, for it tells us that we are not going to be alone.  Even when friends are scattered, when we face hatred, resentment, betrayal -- God does not leave us alone.  The Father is with Christ, and He is assuring us all here that Father, Son and Spirit are always with us.  Even in the worst of times.  Therein is strength, love, peace, and joy, even in the face of tribulation.  It is through prayer that we may access this understanding and confidence.  St. Paul tells us to pray without ceasing, and one may be surprised at the strength and even transcendence found in such practice, in reminding ourselves to pray through the day, especially in times of great difficulty or hardship, regardless of what form that takes in our lives and in the life of the Church as a whole or part.  In the commentary on one section above, my study bible cites Romans 5:3-5, and it's worth quoting St. Paul's words here:  "We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance;  and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us."  It really says it all to us for today, and perhaps with a stronger message for today and our present culture now in a very particular way.  It's odd or unusual to hear that tribulation produces perseverance.  So often we are keyed in to look for instant gratification, an immediate relief of problems.  No one stops to think of what perseverance and character really mean in a world that is not always going to be supportive, regardless of our circumstances.  This valuable advice is golden for those who have little experience overcoming difficulties, who do not hope to struggle against hopelessness and despair even when things don't seem to be going well.  What we find in Christ is love and peace and hope -- even when we face tribulations.  This is not magic nor delusion.  It is, in fact, the product of love, a love we know and experience that comes as surprise, as a kind of transformation, part of the power of the spiritual at work in us.  This is what the world would deny; even the power of perseverance and character comes to be denied or degraded.  But hope and love and joy persist, even when others would try to take it away.   In this is our promise, our gift -- just one of so many.  We are not alone.  Like Christ, we will experience all things, we won't avoid the struggle.   This is not a drug nor a panacea nor an avoidance of life; rather He calls us to more acutely understand life as it really is in the world.  But we will also have more than what the world knows.  We have His love, and all that is contained in that life when we abide in Him and experience it for ourselves.