Monday, October 20, 2014

No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God


 Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face.  And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him.  But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem.  And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, "Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?"  But He turned and rebuked them, and said, "You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.  For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them."  And they went to another village.

Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, "Lord, I will follow You wherever You go."  And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."  Then He said to another, "Follow Me."  But he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father."  Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God."  And another also said, "Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house."  But Jesus said to him, "No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."

- Luke 9:51-62

Yesterday, we read that it happened on the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, that a great multitude met Him.  Suddenly a man from the multitude cried out, saying, "Teacher, I implore You, look on my son, for he is my only child.  And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out; it convulses him so that he foams at the mouth; and it departs from him with great difficulty, bruising him.  So I implored Your disciples to cast it out, but they could not."  Then Jesus answered and said, "O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you and bear with you?  Bring your son here."  And as he was coming, the demon threw him down and convulsed him.  Then Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the child, and gave him back to his father.  And they were all amazed at the majesty of God.  But while everyone marveled at all the things which Jesus did, He said to His disciples, "Let these words sink down into your ears, for the Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men."  But they did not understand this saying, and it was hidden from them so that they did not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this saying.  Then a dispute arose among them as to which of them would be greatest.  And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a little child and set him by Him, and said to them, "Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me.  For he who is least among you all will be great."  Now John answered and said, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us."  But Jesus said to him, "Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side."

  Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face.  And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him.  But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem.  And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, "Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?"  But He turned and rebuked them, and said, "You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.  For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them."  And they went to another village.  Here is the firm resolution, Jesus knows where He is headed, in every sense of the term, and He has His mind fixed to go to Jerusalem.  That is the journey He and the disciples undertake.  The response of James and John Zebedee is entirely in character; they are called "Sons of Thunder," and the text as a whole shows us what this thunder will be turned into through the coming of the Spirit (John will be called "the apostle of love," while James is by tradition considered to be the first apostle to be martyred).  The disciples, as in yesterday's reading, are still coming to terms with power and its uses in the context of the Church, of being disciples of Christ.  The 'manner of spirit they are of' is one of salvation.  In a sense, we are all sinners; salvation won't work if the objective is to destroy. According to Cyril of Alexandria, this experience was for the disciples' own good:  "Christ rebuked them for their own good when they were enraged beyond measure at the hatred of the Samaritans. He did this so they might learn that as ministers of the divine tidings, they must rather be full of longsuffering and gentleness, not revengeful. They must not be given to wrath or savagely attack those who offend them"  (Commentary on Luke, Homily 56). 

Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, "Lord, I will follow You wherever You go."  And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."  Then He said to another, "Follow Me."  But he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father."  Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God."  And another also said, "Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house."  But Jesus said to him, "No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."   Of this passage, which begins with the statement, "I will follow You," my study bible says:  There is a cost to discipleship.  Jesus reveals three:  (1)  The disciple relinquishes personal or earthly security -- if the Lord has nowhere to lay His head, neither will the disciple.  (2)  Nothing, not even the honor due to parents, can be an obstacle to serving the Lord.  (3)  A disciple cannot delay in accomplishing the good that Christ demands."

Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem.  It is a frank acknowledgement of what is coming.  These disciples will be the ones the world will rely on to carry Christ's church into the world.  Jesus, in the flesh, will not be present, although Christ and the Kingdom will be with them.  So will the Spirit.  But ultimately, it is the quality of our discipleship that really and truly bears the burden of the Church, becomes the foundation of the Church, constructs the Church in the world.  Let us consider that.  I think that, too often, we don't give credit to discipleship as perhaps the most important thing we can be a part of.  Being good disciples (that is, "learners") is the same as being a good parent, or being an exemplary man or woman, being an example of taking responsibility for your life and the way you live your life.  It's the quality of our discipleship that makes all the difference in the world and to the world, to whatever community we are a part of.  Jesus gives several examples in today's reading that are all about the teaching of discipleship.  How are the disciples to handle rejection?  He's already told them that their rebuke to those who will not receive them (on their first mission) is simply to shake the "very dust" off of their feet, and move on.  Losing ourselves in anger and rage -- but more particularly, in vengeance -- isn't going to help.  It's not the proper discipline of a disciple of Jesus.  To follow Him, we must be prepared for all conditions, to endure in faith.  All these things are a product, once again, of humility.  Our lives are not judged by the quality or expense of the home we have.  They're not judged by how many people think we're just great.  Our value and worth comes from somewhere else, Someone else, far beyond the world and the interactions we have and problems we have with one another.  This is the "higher power" we cling to in order to see our problems in their right perspective.  Even family, even cultural commitments, do not come before this duty of discipleship.  Jesus is giving us the perspective that we need.  Nowadays, we hear about many broken families, all kinds  of problems of abuse.  But Jesus gives us the cue for healing:  He comes first.  The Kingdom comes first.  Discipleship comes first.  Thereupon is a higher and greater perspective to which to take all our healing and brokenness, no matter what it is.  He comes first in our lives; there may even be a kind of spiritual "deadness" in your life that you need to acknowledge and take to Christ for His way to handle it; His way to learn your discipline in life -- a peaceful taking of responsibility for what is of true value and what is essential.  Finally, Jesus says, "No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."  Elsewhere He reminds the disciples, "Remember Lot's wife" (Luke 17:32).  We don't look back, we go forward.  All of this constitutes the discipline of a follower of Christ.  From my personal experience, God's forgiveness is endless; our faith need not be utterly perfect and we may make many mistakes, as the disciples do.  God wants us on that road, to turn back to Christ, and 'follow Him.'  That's discipleship, and how He teaches us the discipline of what it is to bear His kingdom into the world.  It is the most important job we have.  It intersects everything else in our lives.  We each have a journey to make, cultivating the good ground for the seed of the Sower, and new things to learn.






Saturday, October 18, 2014

Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me


Now it happened on the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, that a great multitude met Him.  Suddenly a man from the multitude cried out, saying, "Teacher, I implore You, look on my son, for he is my only child.  And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out; it convulses him so that he foams at the mouth; and it departs from him with great difficulty, bruising him.  So I implored Your disciples to cast it out, but they could not."  Then Jesus answered and said, "O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you and bear with you?  Bring your son here."  And as he was coming, the demon threw him down and convulsed him.  Then Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the child, and gave him back to his father.  And they were all amazed at the majesty of God.

But while everyone marveled at all the things which Jesus did, He said to His disciples, "Let these words sink down into your ears, for the Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men."  But they did not understand this saying, and it was hidden from them so that they did not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this saying.

Then a dispute arose among them as to which of them would be greatest.  And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a little child and set him by Him, and said to them, "Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me.  For he who is least among you all will be great."

Now John answered and said, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us."  But Jesus said to him, "Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side."

- Luke 9:37-50

Yesterday we read that, about eight days after Peter's confession that Jesus is Christ, and Jesus' subsequent warnings to the disciples about what is to come in His life, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray.  As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening.  And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decrease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.  But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him.  Then it happened, as they were parting from Him, that Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles:  one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah" -- not knowing what he said.  While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud.  And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My beloved Son.  Hear Him!"  When the voice had ceased, Jesus was found alone.  But they kept quiet, and told no one in those days any of the things they had seen.

Now it happened on the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, that a great multitude met Him.  Suddenly a man from the multitude cried out, saying, "Teacher, I implore You, look on my son, for he is my only child.  And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out; it convulses him so that he foams at the mouth; and it departs from him with great difficulty, bruising him.  So I implored Your disciples to cast it out, but they could not."  Then Jesus answered and said, "O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you and bear with you?  Bring your son here."  And as he was coming, the demon threw him down and convulsed him.  Then Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the child, and gave him back to his father.  And they were all amazed at the majesty of God.  My study bible suggests that while the disciples' faith was incomplete (Matthew 17:19-20), His rebuke here is also meant to the crowds, whose faith was "weaker still" (see Mark 9:22-24).

But while everyone marveled at all the things which Jesus did, He said to His disciples, "Let these words sink down into your ears, for the Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men."  But they did not understand this saying, and it was hidden from them so that they did not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this saying.   In the past couple of readings, the revelation of Jesus' identity as Christ was immediately met with a warning about what is going to happen in His ministry.  After that came the Transfiguration experience of His inner circle of disciples (yesterday's reading).  After a particularly impressive act of healing in today's reading, and the marveling of the crowds who are amazed at God's majesty, the disciples are immediately brought "down to earth" so to speak, when He warns them again about what is coming.  My study bible says that His repeated prediction of His Passion was meant to encourage and strengthen them for the terrifying events they were going to face -- and to assure them that Christ was not powerless but went willingly to the Cross. 

Then a dispute arose among them as to which of them would be greatest.  And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a little child and set him by Him, and said to them, "Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me.  For he who is least among you all will be great."  The understanding of Jesus' true identity and the revelation of majesty in so many ways creates a notion of power among the disciples.  This is now a new sense of who Jesus is, just what this ministry is about.  And of course the first appeal to weakness in human beings is the powerful nature of what they might find themselves involved with.  It's telling for all of us how the disciples respond to the understanding of Jesus' identity as Christ:  they start disputing over who's going to have a more powerful position in the Kingdom.  Jesus' first teaching then is about humility; how they must treat the littlest ones.  Gracious behavior is true greatness!

Now John answered and said, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us."  But Jesus said to him, "Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side."  This is yet another sort of teaching on humility.  The chosen disciples aren't the only ones who call upon Christ.  "He who is not against us is on our side" is a good motto to follow!

Humility is a repeated teaching in today's reading, and it's a kind of subject flowing through all the recent readings in which the true power and majesty of Christ is revealed in the person of Jesus.  It's a necessary component of our faith.  Not only are we asked to remain "down to earth" in our understanding of where we are and who we are in our lives as Christ's followers, but we're also asked for an imitation of His condescension and graciousness as well.  The Christ Himself, the Son, has come into the world as a vulnerable human being.  So we are also to remember even the "littlest" among ourselves as though we were greeting Him.  These are His words to those who will lead and shape His church in the world.  And we can't get enough of these teachings.  The understanding of ourselves as powerful beings is a very important part of human nature. Our need for strength and power, for security, becomes a vulnerable spot for understanding life and the nature of life in Christ's kingdom.  The first taste of power and its revelation brings out the competition in the disciples.  They are thinking of a worldly kingdom -- we can relate it to a modern country in which all kinds of offices are appointed via an elected leader, and competition within the party for places.  This is clearly an example of human nature for us, where we go when faced with a prospect of some sort of power.  But Christ calls His disciples to a different kind of power, and it's the kind of power via which His kingdom will work.  It's the power of humility and the understanding of what it means to practice the kind of grace He shares with us.  Even in the littlest, we are to see a reflection of His power and majesty, and His love.  This is the only way in which His church is really going to work properly.  It is the thing that we are called to.  He will go through terrible suffering, and the death reserved for the worst criminals.  They will face all kinds of slander and He will be tried with lying witnesses.  It is only humility that will enable them to continue with their missions in the face of what seems like apparent and thorough defeat.  Humility becomes a kind of weapon that defeats all forms of egotism and selfishness, the influence of evil in the world, because it keeps us grounded within our true reality.  People confuse humility with self-abasement but this is a completely false understanding, in my point of view.  Humility is not about any form of groveling to human power; it is, instead, a grounding in the love of Christ, a recognition that we are all imperfect and that our great goal is simply seeking His love and to be like His love in all its manifestations of graciousness.  It is the willingness to change and repent, to accept that He always has something else to teach us on this forward road of faith, no matter how far we've already come.  Most of all, it's the understanding that we accept our identities given by Him in His love, so that regardless of what the world may tell us about ourselves -- either via a false kind of flattery and inflated egotism, or a false negative (such as the false charges against Jesus and later on His followers) -- we may remain in truth, grounded in the reality that we really do need to cling to.  Humility is the key to clear thinking, to landing on our feet, to grounding ourselves in the awareness of the kingdom.  Thus He leaves us with clear-sightedness, about just what is what:  warning us against our own foibles and foolishness, but also guarding us from the lies the world may tell us about ourselves.  It is the only true realistic path.  The sooner we understand this the better; we strive to know Him better, to bear His kingdom better into the world.  But at the same time this should make us more aware of the reality of the world, not blind to it.  This is His wisdom given to us.  Let us remember how essential humility is, and the great goal of graciousness.  It is carrying that kind of grace that makes us truly like Him.  It doesn't mean we look for ill-treatment or suffer it unnecessarily.  Rather, in humility is our true dignity.  It is a product of the kind of faith He's calling us toward.



Friday, October 17, 2014

This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!


Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray.  As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening.  And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decrease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.  But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him.  Then it happened, as they were parting from Him, that Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles:  one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah" -- not knowing what he said.  While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud.  And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My beloved Son.  Hear Him!"  When the voice had ceased, Jesus was found alone.  But they kept quiet, and told no one in those days any of the things they had seen.

- Luke 9:28-36

Yesterday, we read that, as Jesus was alone praying, His disciples joined Him, and He asked them, saying, "Who do the crowds say that I am?"  So they answered and said, "John the Baptist, but some say Elijah; and others say that one of the old prophets has risen again."  He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"  Peter answered and said, "The Christ of God."  And He strictly warned and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, "The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day."  Then He said to them all,  "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.  For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father's and of the holy angels.  But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the kingdom of God."

 Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray.  As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening.   My study bible refers to the light that emanates from Christ, a divine light sometimes painted in icons as a blue-white, whiter than white, beyond the full spectrum of light as we know it (thereby, an ineffable color).   He is the Light, a sign of His divinity.  His altered face tells us we are now in a different "space" than is usual, in the presence of the Kingdom.  As they are on the mountain to pray, they are set apart in a high place for a special reason.  This is His inner circle, the same who were present for the healing of Jairus' daughter.

 And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decrease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.   Moses represents the law and all those who have died, while Elijah stands in for the prophets -- and, my study bible says, since Elijah himself did not experience death, all those who are alive in Christ.  As they are recognizable to the disciples (as we shall see), they represent the communion of saints as well.  My study bible says, "Their presence shows that the law and the prophets, the living and the dead, all bear witness to Jesus as the Messiah, the fulfillment of the whole Old Testament."  In using the term "decrease" in translation (as in His decrease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem), the English translates the word exodus in Greek, literally meaning "departure."   This, of course, refers to Jesus' death.  My study bible tells us:  "Christ's death is intimately connected to the glory of the Transfiguration, for Christ is glorified through His death (John 12:23).  . . .  The term exodus reveals that Christ's Passion is a fulfillment of the Old Testament Passover and is the true exodus from enslavement into salvation.  This revelation of divine power also confirms Christ's upcoming death was not imposed on Him by outside forces, but was a voluntary offering of love, for no arresting soldier could withstand such glory if Christ had not consented (Matthew 26:53)."  Christ's glory revealed here would also certainly confirm to the disciples the voluntary nature of His exodus from this world.

But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him.  Then it happened, as they were parting from Him, that Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles:  one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah" -- not knowing what he said.  This incident is connected with the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot), a feast commemorating the time that Israel wandered in the wilderness and lived in tents or tabernacles.  The tabernacle of Moses also went with with them, a confirmation of God dwelling among the righteous.  It's reasonable that Peter would associate Moses and Elijah's presence (and glory) -- as well as the cloud above -- with the coming of the Kingdom, connecting the building of tabernacles or tents.

While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud.  And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My beloved Son.  Hear Him!"  When the voice had ceased, Jesus was found alone.  But they kept quiet, and told no one in those days any of the things they had seen.  This experience is a kind of revelation called a Theophany, a revelation of God in the Greek.  The cloud is like the cloud that went before the Israelites in the wilderness, the visible sign of God being "extraordinarily present." The voice is clearly the voice of God the Father, who reveals Jesus as Son -- and the dazzling light surrounding Christ, which also overshadows the whole mountain (Matthew 17:5), reveals the presence of the Spirit.

In addition to the rest of the things we read about Jesus in the Gospels (healing, compassion, forgiving sins, practicing mercy in so many ways, teaching, and preaching the gospel of the Kingdom), we also read of moments like this:  Transfiguration, theophany, the revelation of divine mysteries beyond our full comprehension, His glory.  If we're tempted to think of our faith as simply a set of ethics, a way to live in this world with certain guidelines to think about, then we're entirely mistaken.  Events like the Transfiguration are not included in the Gospels so that we can just reduce Christ to a highly ethical man who's going to teach us all about love simply by a kind of judicious example.  That, in my opinion, is a very wrong reading of this text.  Events like the one in today's reading aren't included in the text to be glossed over and ignored.  They're not presented to us simply to impress or astound.  They are included in order to reveal things that are great mysteries, beyond our understanding.  They are revealed as gift from God, to let us in on things that are beyond our full comprehension.  They invite us into a whole Kingdom that actually dwells among us, to realities we can seldom perceive -- and never completely.  They let us know that whatever Jesus teaches is coming from a Wisdom that is far beyond our own resources and intellectual capacities.  Above all, it gives us certain understanding that our relationship to Christ and our participation in His kingdom goes way beyond intellectual assent, or a kind of argument over what His teachings mean.  This participation touches on levels within ourselves we can't necessarily get to -- and we are loved in ways that are truly ineffable to us.  The only way we can get a glimpse of all that is through some kind of experience, some kind of "enlightenment" if you will.  Christianity isn't just a set of rules.  We're not abstract human beings in our faith, living by some set of ideological values.  We are in relationship to one another as persons because, in, and through our relationship to the Persons of God.  This is our source not only for wisdom but for understanding and for love.  This is our source for grace and the blessings of faith, including courage, tenacity, endurance, kindness, compassion, and all the blessings faith can confer that we don't necessarily have of our own strength.  Our religion can't be boiled down to a set of absolute certainties in the sense that we simply can't know the fullness of any absolute.  We are in relationship to God who knows God fully, but we don't know God as God knows God.  (That is rather abstract language, but that is the right way to understand what scenes like this reveal to us.)   This is yet another important reason why we turn in prayer for guidance and help all the time, because we know that we don't have all the answers.  Like the healed man who was blind since birth, there are some things we know, and some things we don't  ("Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know.  One thing I know:  that though I was blind, now I see"  - John 9:25).  It is of great essence for us to understand that there is so much that is also beyond us, beyond our fully knowing, because it opens the door to the fullness of what participation in the kingdom is all about, what faith is truly about.  And it is also the knowledge that there is so much more we await.  In other accounts of Peter's confession (see yesterday's reading), Jesus tells him immediately that it was the Father who had revealed this knowledge to Peter ("Blessed are you, Simon-bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My father who is in heaven" - Matthew 16:17).  So, we also are connected with the Persons of infinite mystery, even in communication somehow.  This glimpse of divinity in today's reading gives us an assurance that whatever we think we know, there is more beyond to be revealed, and in which we may take confidence.  Let us remember what faith is, and how it works in the light of what has been revealed.  That includes glimpses of the ineffable, the unknowable.  There is always so much more that we reach toward than what we already know, or what we think we understand.  The Father's command, "Hear Him!" is a constant present.  We can't forget He's always with us, and we always need to "be hearing."  Most especially, let us learn to perceive the love that comes to us from far beyond ourselves, from the One to whom we are all beloved children.  Love is like the glue of God, the substance that seals everything together.



Thursday, October 16, 2014

If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me


And it happened, as He was alone praying, that His disciples joined Him, and He asked them, saying, "Who do the crowds say that I am?"  So they answered and said, "John the Baptist, but some say Elijah; and others say that one of the old prophets has risen again."  He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"  Peter answered and said, "The Christ of God."

And He strictly warned and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, "The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day."

Then He said to them all,  "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.  For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father's and of the holy angels.  But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the kingdom of God."

- Luke 9:18-27

Yesterday, we read that Jesus called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases.  He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.  And He said to them, "Take nothing for the journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money; and do not have two tunics apiece.  Whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart.  And whoever will not receive you, when you go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet as a testimony against them."  So they departed and went through the towns, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.  Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was done by Him; and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had risen from the dead, and by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the old prophets had risen again.  Herod said, "John I have beheaded, but who is this of whom I hear such things?"  So he sought to see Him.  And the apostles, when they had returned, told Him all that they had done.  Then He took them and went aside privately into a deserted place belonging to the city called Bethsaida.  But when the multitudes knew it, they followed Him; and He received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who had need of healing.  When the day began to wear away, the twelve came and said to Him, "Send the multitude away, that they may go into the surrounding towns and country, and lodge and get provisions; for we are in a deserted place here."  But He said to them, "You give them something to eat."  And they said, "We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we go and buy food for all these people."  For there were about five thousand men.  Then He said to His disciples, "Make them sit down in groups of fifty."  And they did so, and made them all sit down.  Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the multitude.  So they all ate and were filled, and twelve baskets of the leftover fragments were taken up by them.

 And it happened, as He was alone praying, that His disciples joined Him, and He asked them, saying, "Who do the crowds say that I am?"  So they answered and said, "John the Baptist, but some say Elijah; and others say that one of the old prophets has risen again."   My study bible points out here that -- as in every generation -- what the crowds have to say about Jesus is usually unpredictable and misguided!

He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"  Peter answered and said, "The Christ of God."  A note tells us that "Who do you say that I am? is the ultimate question in Scripture and in all theology.  How this question is answered defines the universe.  Christ (Hebrew Messiah) means "Anointed One."  The declaration of Peter that Jesus is the Christ of God reveals Jesus is not merely another anointed king or prophet, but the long-awaited Savior."

And He strictly warned and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, "The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day."    My study bible says that "Jesus desires to keep His identity as the Christ hidden to avoid popular political and theological misunderstandings.  Only after His Passion and Resurrection can His identity as Messiah be understood." 

Then He said to them all,  "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.  For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father's and of the holy angels."    My study bible claims we should note two things:  "(1)  Each person must take up his own cross.  The burden in this world is different for each person, and each has been chosen by God to bear certain struggles for his own salvation and the salvation of those around him.  (2)  The cross is to be taken up daily.  Commitment to following Christ is not just a one-time event.  Rather, it is the continual practice of faith and obedience, even to the point of being shamed and persecuted by the world."

"But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the kingdom of God."  My study bible suggests that this is a reference to those who will witness the Transfiguration (vv. 28-36, which will be in tomorrow's reading), as well as to those in every generation who experience the presence of God's Kingdom.

The Gospel takes us into a dramatic peak, and then into the reality of the world.  Peter recognizes and confesses Jesus as the Christ.  But immediately, there is a warning from Jesus, as well as a glimpse of the future:  "The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day."   The Gospel in this way prepares us also for living in a world in which the perfect happy ending isn't necessarily around the corner.  We hold this to be the ultimate truth, that Jesus is the Christ.  When my study bible noted that "Who do you say that I am?" is the ultimate question in Scripture and all of theology, it's not only speaking from a Scriptural perspective but also the perspective of the whole history of the Church.  The early councils that shaped and defined theology, including the Creed, were all held to answer questions regarding the identity of Christ.  Many of us moderns seem to think that we invented these questions, but much of what one hears in popular sorts of debates about faith were questions raised, debated, and answered in the fourth century.  But what we should not miss is the truth that the Gospel is presenting us with here.  Jesus is identified, clearly.  But it's not the end, and the latter part of His earthly story is foretold as one that is of struggle in this world.  As John's Gospel tells us, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not."  Jesus prepares us for the Cross, and our daily crosses, in the world that we live in.  We don't live in a world with perfectly logical happy endings (even after revelation of truth).  We live in a world where the truth of love and grace is not always recognized nor prized, and we who believe in this must be prepared for that.  Jesus' declaration about those who are ashamed of Him is a kind of warning of the difficulties in following a life which even the Son does not make simply perfect in a world that isn't free of darkness.  He prepares all of us for the struggle of faith.  This isn't just a struggle within us, but in may also be a struggle with the world -- even with those who would trample pearls under their feet.  Even the very best things we may carry of the grace of God:  kindness, companionship, compassion, help -- may be rejected by those who prefer not to prize what is on offer that is truly good.   Jesus offers His love and goodness, and His truth of His identity.  He will suffer for doing so.  It is up to us who thrive on the Resurrection to carry His light in the world, despite how the world may respond to it.  This is the power of the Gospel; it gives us the truth of our lives, of Christ, and also of the world.  It is not a fairy tale, but a Scripture that gives us the reality we are born into:   both the reality of the Kingdom and the reality of the world.  And the Cross, as the place of tension between them.  We are still in that place -- we live in a world where we take up our cross, give up our lives to the life He asks of us, and there will be those who wish even to shame our faith.  The Gospels present this reality to us very clearly, in plain straight language directly from Jesus.   Let us remember this is also what it means to be awake, and to bear the Kingdom into the world.  By the way, this reading, as have so many others, begins with Christ praying.  Do we notice how often He does so?  Let us think about how we go about living the life, and bearing the Kingdom, that He asks us to do.




Wednesday, October 15, 2014

You give them something to eat


 Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases.  He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.  And He said to them, "Take nothing for the journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money; and do not have two tunics apiece.  Whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart.  And whoever will not receive you, when you go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet as a testimony against them."  So they departed and went through the towns, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.

Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was done by Him; and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had risen from the dead, and by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the old prophets had risen again.  Herod said, "John I have beheaded, but who is this of whom I hear such things?"  So he sought to see Him.

And the apostles, when they had returned, told Him all that they had done.  Then He took them and went aside privately into a deserted place belonging to the city called Bethsaida.  But when the multitudes knew it, they followed Him; and He received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who had need of healing.  When the day began to wear away, the twelve came and said to Him, "Send the multitude away, that they may go into the surrounding towns and country, and lodge and get provisions; for we are in a deserted place here."  But He said to them, "You give them something to eat."  And they said, "We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we go and buy food for all these people."  For there were about five thousand men.  Then He said to His disciples, "Make them sit down in groups of fifty."  And they did so, and made them all sit down.  Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the multitude.  So they all ate and were filled, and twelve baskets of the leftover fragments were taken up by them.

- Luke 9:1-17

Yesterday, we read that when Jesus returned from across the Sea of Galilee, the multitude welcomed Him, for they were all waiting for Him.  And behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue.  And he fell down at Jesus' feet and begged Him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter about twelve years of age, and she was dying.  But as He went, the multitudes thronged Him.  Now a woman, having a flow of blood for twelve years, who had spent all her livelihood on physicians and could not be healed by any, came from behind and touched the border of His garment.  And immediately her flow of blood stopped.  And Jesus said, "Who touched Me?"  When all denied it, Peter and those with him said, "Master, the multitudes throng and press You, and You say, 'Who touched Me?'"  But Jesus said, "Somebody touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me."  Now when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before Him, she declared to Him in the presence of all the people the reason she had touched Him and how she was healed immediately.  And He said to her, "Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well.  Go in peace."  While He was still speaking, someone came from the ruler of the synagogue's house, saying to him, "Your daughter is dead.  Do not trouble the Teacher."  But when Jesus heard it, He answered him, saying, "Do not be afraid; only believe, and she will be made well."  When He came into the house, He permitted no one to go in except Peter, James, and John, and the father and mother of the girl.  Now all wept and mourned for her; but He said, "Do not weep; she is not dead, but sleeping."  And they ridiculed Him, knowing that she was dead.  But He put them all outside, took her by the hand and called, saying, "Little girl, arise."  Then her spirit returned, and she arose immediately.  And He commanded that she be given something to eat.  And her parents were astonished but He charged them to tell no one what had happened.

Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases.  He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.  And He said to them, "Take nothing for the journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money; and do not have two tunics apiece.  Whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart.  And whoever will not receive you, when you go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet as a testimony against them."  So they departed and went through the towns, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.    We note again that disciple and apostle are terms that are interchangeable for these men:  a disciple is a "learner" while an apostle is one who is "sent out."  Here, the momentous news is that they are sent out on their first mission.  We note that they share in Jesus' power given to them, to preach and to heal.  They are to be totally reliant on the providence of God.  Not changing houses is often seen as an imperative to humility, not to change for better accommodation but to stick with those who have an immediate response to them.  People are also free to refuse, with the dust shaken from the apostles' feet as the only response or rebuke.
 
Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was done by Him; and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had risen from the dead, and by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the old prophets had risen again.  Herod said, "John I have beheaded, but who is this of whom I hear such things?"  So he sought to see Him.  My study bible says that this is the same Herod to whom Pilate would send Jesus during His trial (23:7).  He's the son of Herod who slew the innocent infants in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16).  The incident of the beheading of St. John is found in Mark 6:14-28.

And the apostles, when they had returned, told Him all that they had done.  Then He took them and went aside privately into a deserted place belonging to the city called Bethsaida.  But when the multitudes knew it, they followed Him; and He received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who had need of healing.  When the day began to wear away, the twelve came and said to Him, "Send the multitude away, that they may go into the surrounding towns and country, and lodge and get provisions; for we are in a deserted place here."  But He said to them, "You give them something to eat."  And they said, "We have no more than five loaves and tow fish, unless we go and buy food for all these people."  For there were about five thousand men.  Then He said to His disciples, "Make them sit down in groups of fifty."  And they did so, and made them all sit down.  Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the multitude.  So they all ate and were filled, and twelve baskets of the leftover fragments were taken up by them.  My study bible says, "Theophylact sees a liturgical parallel with the feeding of the five thousand.  Here Christ first healed and spoke of the gospel, and then fed the multitude with the miraculous bread by the hands of His disciples.  In the Church, a person is first healed through baptism; then at the Liturgy, the gospel is preached and the bread of life and the cup are received from the hands of the ordained clergy."

The interesting thing to see in today's reading is this sharing and spreading of Christ's power.  It starts with Him, it's rooted in Him.  It's His authority as well (as when we're told that people were astonished that He spoke with authority).  But those who are His disciples live with Him, come to learn from this close encounter, in order to be like Him.  And when they get to a certain point in their discipleship, they are sent out in order to share in that power, and distribute it to others.  Here we see a true blossoming, the fruit of the seeds of the Sower.  So, as my study bible points out, the reading (in both the sending out of the apostles and the feeding of five thousand) mirrors what is given in the liturgy, and thereby what we are to be about in our lives.  Christ's authority and power is brought into the world in order to be in relationship to us, and so we may - not as the Source of this power and authority, but as participants - share in this power and distribute it as well.  It heals, it feeds, it clothes, it cares for, it nurtures.  But above all, we participate in the love of the Creator, the One who is the Source of love, in order to share it.  If we think of Church as that which spreads and distributes via relationship to the Source, we can ask ourselves many questions.  How does this happen exactly?  Does it happen only on a macro scale, in great movements?  Does it happen on a micro scale, perhaps even in a one-to-one intimacy, in private moments nobody else knows about, in encounter where we too may connect and make a circuit in faith, as with the woman with the bloodflow who was healed by her faith?  (See yesterday's reading.)   Is it in the moments where we bolster our faith by setting aside those who ridicule, or who would trample the good things we can share under their feet?   If we think about it, the action exemplified in today's reading via both the sending out of the apostles and the feeding of the five thousand is something we are called to share in myriad ways.  God will provide the opportunities for us to rely upon and share in this power and authority, to put it to use in all kinds of ways in our lives.  Perhaps this is what it means not to sleep, and to be alert to each call of the Master at all times,  each command, even as we await His return.  It is to be awake to all the opportunities to be disciples, to share in all He offers to share and asks us to distribute for Him.  It's a most important concept, something entirely central to our faith.  In the middle of the actions we're taught about today, there is the curiosity of Herod, the one who beheaded John in favor of his wife and her daughter, the one who was then curious about John and now curious about Jesus.  That's not the kind of interest that invites discipleship; it is in fact a way of looking at the things of God in order to possibly use them.  Herod Antipas will show the fruits of this sort of curiosity.  Faith, however, brings us into an entirely different place, one that is ordered by the authority of Christ to direct our lives, to teach us how to be alert as He wishes, to carry out His plans, to share in His ministry, and His love, His kind of relationship.  Let us think about the difference.




Tuesday, October 14, 2014

She is not dead, but sleeping


 So it was, when Jesus returned, that the multitude welcomed Him, for they were all waiting for Him.  And behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue.  And he fell down at Jesus' feet and begged Him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter about twelve years of age, and she was dying.

But as He went, the multitudes thronged Him.  Now a woman, having a flow of blood for twelve years, who had spent all her livelihood on physicians and could not be healed by any, came from behind and touched the border of His garment.  And immediately her flow of blood stopped.  And Jesus said, "Who touched Me?"  When all denied it, Peter and those with him said, "Master, the multitudes throng and press You, and You say, 'Who touched Me?'"  But Jesus said, "Somebody touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me."  Now when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before Him, she declared to Him in the presence of all the people the reason she had touched Him and how she was healed immediately.  And He said to her, "Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well.  Go in peace."

While He was still speaking, someone came from the ruler of the synagogue's house, saying to him, "Your daughter is dead.  Do not trouble the Teacher."  But when Jesus heard it, He answered him, saying, "Do not be afraid; only believe, and she will be made well."  When He came into the house, He permitted no one to go in except Peter, James, and John, and the father and mother of the girl.  Now all wept and mourned for her; but He said, "Do not weep; she is not dead, but sleeping."  And they ridiculed Him, knowing that she was dead.  But He put them all outside, took her by the hand and called, saying, "Little girl, arise."  Then her spirit returned, and she arose immediately.  And He commanded that she be given something to eat.  And her parents were astonished but He charged them to tell no one what had happened.

- Luke 8:40-56

Yesterday, we read that Jesus and the disciples sailed to the country of the Gadarenes, which is opposite Galilee.  And when He stepped out on the land, there met Him a certain man from the city who had demons for a long time.  And he wore no clothes, nor did he live in a house but in the tombs.  When he saw Jesus, he cried out, fell down before Him, and with a loud voice said, "What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I beg You, do not torment me!"  For He had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man.  For it had often seized him, and he was kept under guard, bound with chains and shackles; and he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the wilderness.  Jesus asked him, saying, "What is your name?"  And he said, "Legion," because many demons had entered him.  And they begged Him that He would not command them to go out into the abyss.  Now a herd of many swine was feeding there on the mountain.  So they begged Him that He would permit them to enter them.  And He permitted them.  Then the demons went out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the lake and drowned.  When those who fed them saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country.  Then they went out to see what had happened, and came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.  And they were afraid.  They also who had seen it told them by what means he who had been demon-possessed was healed.  Then the whole multitude of the surrounding region of the Gadarenes asked Him to depart from them, for they were seized with a great fear.  And He got into the boat and returned.  Now the man from whom the demons had departed begged Him that he might be with Him.  But Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you."  And he went his way and proclaimed throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him.

 So it was, when Jesus returned, that the multitude welcomed Him, for they were all waiting for Him.  And behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue.  And he fell down at Jesus' feet and begged Him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter about twelve years of age, and she was dying.  Jesus and the disciples return "home" to Capernaum and familiar territory, only to find the ruler of the synagogue with a disastrous problem:  his only daughter is dying.

But as He went, the multitudes thronged Him.  Now a woman, having a flow of blood for twelve years, who had spent all her livelihood on physicians and could not be healed by any came from behind and touched the border of His garment.  And immediately her flow of blood stopped.   My study bible says, "For the Jews, contact with blood caused defilement and led to religious and social isolation (Leviticus 25).  The woman displays bold faith by approaching both Christ and a ruler of the synagogue in a crowd, potentially defiling all of them and subjecting herself to ridicule."

And Jesus said, "Who touched Me?"  When all denied it, Peter and those with him said, "Master, the multitudes throng and press You, and You say, 'Who touched Me?'"  A note here explains that the question, "Who touched Me?" doesn't mean a mere physical touch but rather could be stated, "Who touched Me in faith?"  It says, "Just as 'the temple sanctifies the gold' (Matthew 23:17), so also matter is sanctified by Christ's Incarnation, and the power of Christ works through even His garment.  To touch Christ's garment in faith is to touch Him.  In the Church, we touch Christ through oil, water, bread, wine, etc.  When this is done in faith, the power of Christ is received."  The traditional use of icons is also done in this spirit of faith in Christ and the power of Christ.

But Jesus said, "Somebody touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me."  Now when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before Him, she declared to Him in the presence of all the people the reason she had touched Him and how she was healed immediately.  And He said to her, "Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well.  Go in peace."   My study bible says that Jesus calls this woman forward for two reasons:  to take away her fear and trembling, and also to strengthen Jairus for the forthcoming news of his daughter's death.

While He was still speaking, someone came from the ruler of the synagogue's house, saying to him, "Your daughter is dead.  Do not trouble the Teacher."  But when Jesus heard it, He answered him, saying, "Do not be afraid; only believe, and she will be made well."  When He came into the house, He permitted no one to go in except Peter, James, and John, and the father and mother of the girl.  Now all wept and mourned for her; but He said, "Do not weep; she is not dead, but sleeping."  And they ridiculed Him, knowing that she was dead.  But He put them all outside, took her by the hand and called, saying, "Little girl, arise."  Then her spirit returned, and she arose immediately.  And He commanded that she be given something to eat.  And her parents were astonished but He charged them to tell no one what had happened.   Jesus' statement, "Only believe," is reinforced (as my study bible pointed out) by the intervening experience of the healing of the woman with the bloodflow.  She was told, "Your faith has made you well."   It seems to me that the presence of only those closest to Jesus (Peter, James, and John) is also acting as enforcement for the idea that it is faith in Christ which is going to complete this "healing circuit," as we might call it.  The ridiculers must be kept out, those who think they know.  It's interesting also that here Jesus also says she's sleeping, as he said for Lazarus.  Even afterward, He charges her parents to tell no one what happened.  This may be because it's not yet time for such a revelation of His power to the public -- but given the circumstances, it is also an avoidance of those who might trample pearls underfoot, and threaten faith.

It's interesting that Jesus speaks frequently linking sleep and death (as in today's reading and the statement to the disciples about Lazarus).  Various branches of the Church, for example, commemorate the Dormition (falling asleep) of Mary.  At other times sleeping is linked to the kind of ignorance of spiritual life that allows us to miss the promise of life in Christ (as in the parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins).   So we see sleep used as metaphor for death in positive and negative ways.  To think of the young girl, or our own beloved, as those who sleep is a very positive way to view physical death.  From a Christian point of view, it is an accurate way to view death, in the sense that we don't believe it is the end of life.  To be a human being means there is much more to us, to our life and what is alive as us, beyond physical being.  There is soul and spirit, there is mind and emotions.  There is faith.  There is relationship to God, and to God as mediator in our relationship to other creatures in our world.  The image of sleep as death emphasizes the life that still exists, that it goes on, where we are still linked through love, through spirit, through memory and mindful presence.  This understanding even leads us to another concept of time, an eternal present, that differs from how we live in the worldly life.  (It was Einstein who told us scientifically that space and time are linked; that in another "space" beyond how we live in the world there is a different sort of time is something the Church has always accepted.  "For a thousand years in your sight are as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night"  Psalm 90:4.)   It gives us the truth of the hope of the Resurrection and Christ's promise of even more life than we can imagine, life in abundance.  Sleep in the negative sense (as metaphor for a lack of spiritual "wakefulness")  becomes akin to being deaf and blind, unperceptive, unaware of the true reality in one's situation.  It is a lack of awareness of the return of the Bridegroom in the parable of the Virgins, noted above, it's a failure to take note of the time at hand.  In Luke 12, we'll read about how Jesus likens servants who are awake and alert, awaiting the master even through the night, to those who can discern the signs of the times.  To be like the true faithful servant is to always be aware of what one is doing, awake to duty, how one lives with the other servants - carrying out the commands with justice and mercy -  in awaiting even the very late return of the Master.  For those who sleep on the job, the result is death - both a kind of living death, and a failure to receive the greater Life that awaits.  Jesus tells His followers, and all who will read the Gospels, "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour when the Son of Man returns" (Matthew 25:13).  In the Greek, the word we've had translated as "watch" really means to "stay awake."  Let us always remember both the hope in death, and also the proper state of life as "awake" in so many ways.  Ultimately, it is our Savior who has conquered death on the Cross for all of us.  Let us think even more deeply about all the meanings therein, and how that means we must live our lives in the state of wakefulness He exemplified.  Let us also remember the eternal communion of the saints, living in our midst, together with Him.  In a broken and imperfect world, life is all around.  Let us not sleepwalk while we can be awake to all of it.






Monday, October 13, 2014

Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Legion"


 Then they sailed to the country of the Gadarenes, which is opposite Galilee.  And when He stepped out on the land, there met Him a certain man from the city who had demons for a long time.  And he wore no clothes, nor did he live in a house but in the tombs.  When he saw Jesus, he cried out, fell down before Him, and with a loud voice said, "What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I beg You, do not torment me!"  For He had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man.  For it had often seized him, and he was kept under guard, bound with chains and shackles; and he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the wilderness.  Jesus asked him, saying, "What is your name?"  And he said, "Legion," because many demons had entered him.  And they begged Him that He would not command them to go out into the abyss.  Now a herd of many swine was feeding there on the mountain.  So they begged Him that He would permit them to enter them.  And He permitted them.  Then the demons went out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the lake and drowned.

When those who fed them saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country.  Then they went out to see what had happened, and came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.  And they were afraid.  They also who had seen it told them by what means he who had been demon-possessed was healed.  Then the whole multitude of the surrounding region of the Gadarenes asked Him to depart from them, for they were seized with a great fear.  And He got into the boat and returned.  Now the man from whom the demons had departed begged Him that he might be with Him.  But Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you."  And he went his way and proclaimed throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him.

- Luke 8:26-39

Yesterday, we read that Jesus taught, "No one, when he has lit a lamp, coves it with a vessel or puts it under a bed, but sets it on a lampstand, that those who enter may see the light.  For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light.  Therefore take heed how you hear.  For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him."  Then His mother and brothers came to Him, and could not approach Him because of the crowd.  And it was told Him by some, who said, "Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see You."  But He answered and said to them, "My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it."  Now it happened, on a certain day, that He got into a boat with His disciples.  And He said to them, "Let us cross over to the other side of the lake."   And they launched out.  But as they sailed He fell asleep.  And a windstorm came down by the lake, and they were filling with water, and were in jeopardy.  And they came to Him and awoke Him, saying, "Master, Master, we are perishing!"  Then He arose and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water.  And they ceased, and there was a calm.  But He said to them, "Where is your faith?"  And they were afraid, and marveled, saying to one another, "Who can this be?  For He commands even the winds and water, and they obey Him!"

 Then they sailed to the country of the Gadarenes, which is opposite Galilee.  In this journey of faith, according to yesterday's reading above, Jesus and the disciples cross the Sea of Galilee, and arrive on the shore opposite from what is "home" to them.

And when He stepped out on the land, there met Him a certain man from the city who had demons for a long time.  And he wore no clothes, nor did he live in a house but in the tombs.  When he saw Jesus, he cried out, fell down before Him, and with a loud voice said, "What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I beg You, do not torment me!"  For He had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man.  For it had often seized him, and he was kept under guard, bound with chains and shackles; and he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the wilderness.  Jesus asked him, saying, "What is your name?"  And he said, "Legion," because many demons had entered him.  And they begged Him that He would not command them to go out into the abyss.  Now a herd of many swine was feeding there on the mountain.  So they begged Him that He would permit them to enter them.  And He permitted them.  Then the demons went out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the lake and drowned.  My study bible says, "The demons, recognizing Jesus as the Son of God, are surprised that their power is being terminated before the time of the last judgment.  Though the malice of the demons is great, they can do nothing against the will of God, and thus can only enter the swine at Christ's command.  The immediate destruction of the herd shows that the man had been protected by God's care; otherwise they would have perished under the demonic influence.  Further, it reinforces that swineherding was not lawful for the Jews, and shows the incomparable value of human beings, whose salvation is worth every sacrifice."   It's important to note that the word for "fell down before" Him can also be translated, "to worship" or to prostrate oneself in worship.  It's a hint, an indication, of the true heart of the man who is afflicted by the demons.  In the suicide of the swine, we see the destructive intent of the demons, making it clear that this man was in a particular sense protected against their worst impulses.

When those who fed them saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country.  Then they went out to see what had happened, and came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.  And they were afraid.  They also who had seen it told them by what means he who had been demon-possessed was healed.  Then the whole multitude of the surrounding region of the Gadarenes asked Him to depart from them, for they were seized with a great fear.  And He got into the boat and returned.  Now the man from whom the demons had departed begged Him that he might be with Him.  But Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you."  And he went his way and proclaimed throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him.  My study bible also adds that some teach that the presence of swine indicates a Gentile population.  But it notes, "However, since our Lord forbade our disciples to go to the Gentiles (Matthew 10:5) and was Himself reluctant to seek out the Gentiles (Matthew 15:24), likely these were Jews engaged in a sinful occupation.  The destruction of the entire herd reveals:  (1)  while animals are a vulnerable part of creation, man is of far greater value;  (2)  Christ removes a source of sin, for swine herding was an abomination to the Jews (Deuteronomy 14:8);  (3)  demons have no power over creation, but are subject to the will of God -- they could only enter the swine at Christ's command;  (4)  people are protected under God's providence -- otherwise, the demon-possessed man would have come to the same end as the swine;  (5)  the magnitude of the economic loss would remain as a sign for the hardhearted people who fled that region."

While my study bible suggests here the possibility that these people are Jews who are unlawfully raising swine, I also think we must focus on the implication that Jesus traveled to this place -- possibly a place of Gentiles -- for this man.  After all, there are also incidents where He reveals Himself to Gentiles (such as the Samaritan woman at Jacob's Well or the centurion in a recent reading).   But regardless of whether or not this is Gentile territory, it is still true that Christ is here for the one -- the demon-possessed man called "Legion" -- who will carry this faith in Christ with him.  It's a sense of how the Savior comes so far, makes such a great effort, condescends in any way necessary, to come to us -- no matter what the circumstances we may be in.  This is really the greatest paradox of the Gospels in some way:  Why do we as imperfect vessels remain the ones who carry His power, His strength?   He's given us the command to "be perfect, even as my Father in heaven is perfect."  And yet, as St. Paul relates, it's the Lord who tells him:  "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness."  Here we have the worst of all possible situations, especially from a traditional Jewish perspective.  Here is  man occupied by a "Legion" of demons.  He lives in the tombs with the unclean dead.  He lives in a place where they are unlawfully raising swine, unclean animals to the Jews.  And yet it in this extraordinary weakness, among "filth," that Christ's grace is spectacularly at work.  The whole story reads like an adventure of Odysseus or Jason from the ancient Greek epics.   The disciples set forth across the Sea of Galilee, at Jesus' command, and they face a terrible storm through which Jesus sleeps until He's called upon to rebuke the wind and waves.  They wind up at the opposite shore to Galilee, in an entirely strange place to them, and encounter this fierce sort of "monster" who's plagued by no less than a legion of what is worse than a monster:  demons.   This is an incredibly frightening situation in which unpredictable evil is at work and allowed to dwell in enormous proportions, here among the tombs of the dead.  But the hero of the piece is Jesus who teaches us not to be afraid of anything.  The great unknown power is that of God, who has protected this faithful man all along from the worse destruction.  It's a story about our own weakness, and the lengths to which God's power can and will go to work to save and heal.  This healed man is even rejected by the people who raise the swine; they can only react to God's work with fear.  They are incapable of faith in Christ.  But Jesus sends him to his own house, making him an evangelist, and a witness.  The remarkable thing is that it is our imperfection through which God works, in our weakness God's grace is made perfect.  It's not that we are fine without change and repentance; far from it.  Our journey is toward the perfection of God, sharing in the love of God, and living that love ourselves, carrying it into the world.  But God is working through imperfect human beings, just as Jesus has chosen these twelve imperfect men to carry the faith, although their weaknesses are expressed in terrible fears.  He's there to lead them, and us, through a journey of faith, despite our fears, to "the other side."  Who knows what we will find there that both terrifies and amazes in its strangeness?  But we are sent, nevertheless, on a journey of faith -- not to be surrounded by perfection but to participate in healing and reconciliation, with the God of love.  If your life isn't perfect, consider that the Gospels teach us about healing, about the perceived "imperfection" (even in variety) of those who are children of wisdom, about saving sinners.  Consider His teaching on those who love most.  We are to be aware of who we are, our imperfections, and how far we have to go -- but it doesn't stop His grace.  On the contrary! We find His tremendous love, and courage, leading us forward into the the unknown journey of our faith, guiding us to be like Him.