Saturday, August 30, 2014

I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life


 Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world.  He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life."  The Pharisees therefore said to Him, "You bear witness of Yourself; Your witness is not true."  Jesus answered and said to them, "Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from and where I am going.  You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.  And yet if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent Me.  It is also written in your law that the testimony of two men is true. I am One who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me."  They said to Him, "Where is Your Father?"  Jesus answered, "You know neither Me nor My Father.  If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also."  These words Jesus spoke in the treasury, as He taught in the temple; and no one laid hands on Him, for His hour had not yet come.

- John 8:12-20

In yesterday's reading, we were told that on the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."  But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.  Therefore many from the crowd, when they heard this saying, said, "Truly this is the Prophet."  Others said, "This is the Christ."  But some said, "Will the Christ come out of Galilee?  Has not the Scripture said that Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?"  So there was a division among the people because of Him.  Now some of them wanted to take Him, but no one laid hands on Him.  The officers answered, "No man ever spoke like this Man!"  Then the Pharisees answered them, "Are you also deceived?  Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him?  But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed."  Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them) said to them, "Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?"  They answered and said to him, "Are you also from Galilee?  Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee."  And everyone went to his own house.

 Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world.  He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life."  We are still at the Feast of Tabernacles (or Succoth), an eight-day festival that commemorated the time that Israel lived in tents or tabernacles.  It is a feast of the coming Kingdom.  My study bible says that Jesus spoke these words (I am the light of the world) in the context of the great lamps being lit at the conclusion of the Feast of Tabernacles.  "Thus He declares Himself to be the fulfillment and the divine object of all celebrations of light.   In the Scriptures, God the Father Himself is light (1:4-9; 1 John 1:5), an attribute He bestows on His followers (Matthew 5:14; Philip 2:15).  Our Lord confirms His claim by performing the great sign of opening the eyes of a man born blind" (in the next chapter of John). 

The Pharisees therefore said to Him, "You bear witness of Yourself; Your witness is not true."  Jesus answered and said to them, "Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from and where I am going.  You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.  And yet if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent Me.  It is also written in your law that the testimony of two men is true. I am One who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me."  Once again, Jesus gives witnesses to His identity.  (See also How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?, in which Jesus gives four witnesses to His identity.)    These two witnesses here are Himself and the Father; but the Pharisees to whom He's speaking can know neither.  His judgment is true because it reflects the judgment of the One who sent Him, and this they cannot understand nor recognize either.

They said to Him, "Where is Your Father?"  Jesus answered, "You know neither Me nor My Father.  If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also."  These words Jesus spoke in the treasury, as He taught in the temple; and no one laid hands on Him, for His hour had not yet come.  My study bible explains, "Because the Son and the Father share the same divine nature, one cannot be known apart from the other (14:7-11)."

Jesus reaches over and over again during His speeches at this festival toward the Father, and toward an understanding of the Father by those who truly desire to know Him and to do His will.  He speaks, in some sense, of recognition.  They don't know the Father, although they are experts in the Scripture and in the Law, and therefore they can't recognize Him.  If they loved the Father, they would know Him.  And here, in my opinion, we come to a great crux in the journey of faith.  Do we create God in our own image, in some sense, or is it God to whom we are devoted?  The most important thing, perhaps, is to hold an understanding of God the Father as love, and yet also that which is beyond us, the One toward whom we reach in a return of that love.  God, as origin and source of love, remains ultimately the place toward which we need to travel.  And yet, because God is love, God's Son has been with us as Jesus Christ, reaching to us.  But we can't really "hear" Him and His words without a love of the Father in our hearts.  It is this spark or flame that begets everything else, that helps us to open our eyes and ears to Jesus' teaching, that gives us a way to return His love, that allows us to understand who Jesus is.  This flame in our hearts, so to speak, doesn't mean we need to grasp everything in its fullness -- that is something toward which we journey.  Like in every relationship, we grow into understanding of this Someone beyond ourselves.  That is a lifetime journey.  But the spark that draws us in love begins in us, so that Jesus' words, reflecting the Father who is the source of love, grasp our hearts, our loyalty, our love.  How can one really explain or understand the fullness of this mystery?  But we have Christ's words, testifying to the reality of the relationship of love within us to the Father, and that love that is shared with the Son.  What sets your heart aflame?  Is there something in these words that shares a light in you?  You may not understand it nor explain it, but you know it's there and it stirs you forward, toward its Source.  May we all be blessed to share that light and reflect it, through our love, into the world.  May we also let it illumine what is in us.  This love doesn't conform to our limited image; instead it teaches us what the fullness of God's love is.  It works to draw us toward His image of who we can be in that love, and the ways we can become "like Him."





Friday, August 29, 2014

If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water


 On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."  But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Therefore many from the crowd, when they heard this saying, said, "Truly this is the Prophet."  Others said, "This is the Christ."  But some said, "Will the Christ come out of Galilee?  Has not the Scripture said that Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?"  So there was a division among the people because of Him.  Now some of them wanted to take Him, but no one laid hands on Him.

The officers answered, "No man ever spoke like this Man!"  Then the Pharisees answered them, "Are you also deceived?  Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him?  But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed."  Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them) said to them, "Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?"  They answered and said to him, "Are you also from Galilee?  Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee."  And everyone went to his own house.

- John 7:37-52

 Yesterday, we read that about the middle of the feast of Tabernacles, Jesus went up into the temple and taught.  And the Jews marveled, saying, "How does this Man know letters, having never studied?"  Jesus answered them and said, "My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me.  If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.  He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him.  Did not Moses give you the law, yet none of you keeps the law?  Why do you seek to kill Me?"  The people answered and said, "You have seen a demon.  Who is seeking to kill You?"  Jesus answered and said to them, "I did one work, and you all marvel.  Moses therefore gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath.  If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath?  Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment."  Now some of them from Jerusalem said, "Is this not He whom they seek to kill?  But look!  He speaks boldly, and they say nothing to Him.  Do the rulers know indeed that this is truly the Christ?  However, we know where this Man is from; but when the Christ comes, no one knows where He is from."  Then Jesus cried out, as He taught in the temple, saying, "You both know Me, and you know where I am from; and I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know.  But I know Him, for I am from Him, and He sent Me."  Therefore they sought to take Him; but no one laid a hand on Him, because His hour had not yet come.  And many of the people believed in Him, and said, "When the Christ comes, will He do more signs than these which this man has done?"  The Pharisees heard the crowd murmuring these things concerning Him, and the Pharisees and the chief priests sent officers to take Him.  Then Jesus said to them, "I shall be with you a little while longer, and then I go to Him who sent Me.  You will seek Me and not find Me, and where I am you cannot come."  Then the Jews said among themselves, "Where does He intend to go that we shall not find Him?  Does He intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?  What is this thing that He said, 'You will seek Me and not find Me, and where I am you cannot come'?"

 On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."  But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.  The last day, that great day of the feast was the eighth day of the Feast of Tabernacles, says my study bible.  "The ceremony of the drawing of water provides the context for the Lord's words, 'If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.'  The living water is the gift of the Holy Spirit and the new life that accompanies this gift."

Therefore many from the crowd, when they heard this saying, said, "Truly this is the Prophet."  Others said, "This is the Christ."  But some said, "Will the Christ come out of Galilee?  Has not the Scripture said that Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?"  So there was a division among the people because of Him.  Now some of them wanted to take Him, but no one laid hands on Him.  The Prophet refers to the expected Messiah, the Savior that Moses foretold would come -- see Deuteronomy 18:15-19The Christ was expected to come from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).

The officers answered, "No man ever spoke like this Man!"  Then the Pharisees answered them, "Are you also deceived?  Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him?  But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed."  My study bible says, "The chief priests had sent officers of the temple to arrest Jesus in the middle of the Feast [see v. 32, in yesterday's reading].  By the time the last day had arrived, no arrest had been made, because these officers had been converted by the Lord's teaching.  The Pharisees and the scribes who had 'witnessed the miracles and read the Scriptures derived no benefit' from either.  These officers, on the other hand, even though they could claim none of this learning, were 'captivated by a single sermon.'  When the mind is open, 'there is no need for long speeches.  Truth is like that' (St. John Chrysostom)."

Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them) said to them, "Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?"  They answered and said to him, "Are you also from Galilee?  Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee."  And everyone went to his own house.  A note tells us, "Nicodemus had spoken with Jesus [see For God so loved the world].  Yet his defense of Christ was still based on our law and was not yet a public profession of (Exodus 23:1; Deuteronomy 1:15-17).  No Prophet has arisen out of Galilee:  The Pharisees show their blind hatred and their ignorance of the Scriptures, for the prophet Jonah came from Galilee, from the town of Gath Hepher, which was only three miles from Nazareth (2 Kings 14:25)."

Divisions and divisions and divisions make our story today in our reading.  There are so many different opinions here about Jesus.  One follows a certain understanding of the law, another follows an understanding of Scripture, a third cites prophecy.  None really understand Jesus completely; even the citing that no prophet has arisen from Galilee is mistaken.  No one understands that He is born in Bethlehem.  But His words incite something in people; they are stirred by what He says.  The temple police, sent to arrest Jesus, are simply unable to do so, because they are struck by His words -- and they tell the leaders:  "No man ever spoke like this!"  Jesus teaches, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."  John tells us that Jesus is speaking of the Holy Spirit, which has not yet been given because Christ has not yet been glorified.  But we note the people whose hearts burn with the fire that is in His words, the words of everlasting life.  Whether Jesus speaks of rivers of living water, or Peter notes the "words of eternal life," we are speaking of life itself, life that doesn't ever die, everlasting, eternal.  This Spirit is to be implanted in us.  And whether or not one completely understands how it works, what it will do, and how one is and will be affected by this, the words stir the heart, set the heart aflame with something that calls us to its mystery.  And that is where we start the journey.  So we read the divisions in this scene, with each going back to his own house.  And we can think about ministry, about the seeds planted by the Sower, and how they are at work in this crowd in the temple at the Feast of Tabernacles.  If we take a good, closer look at the Parable of the Sower, we can see the types of reception and their diversity and division that Jesus expects.  But the key is to follow the flame felt in the heart at His words, to endure, to continue.  The rivers of living water He speaks about are what give us the strength and inspiration and insight to do so.  They are inexhaustible, and give us life each day.  The Kingdom begins here, with His words and how we hear them in the heart, and paying attention; the rivers of living water take us into our faith, and this Kingdom, more deeply, with a supply for each and every day.




Thursday, August 28, 2014

Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment


 Now about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught.  And the Jews marveled, saying, "How does this Man know letters, having never studied?"  Jesus answered them and said, "My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me.  If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.  He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him.  Did not Moses give you the law, yet none of you keeps the law?  Why do you seek to kill Me?"  The people answered and said, "You have seen a demon.  Who is seeking to kill You?"  Jesus answered and said to them, "I did one work, and you all marvel.  Moses therefore gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath.  If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath?  Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment."

Now some of them from Jerusalem said, "Is this not He whom they seek to kill?  But look!  He speaks boldly, and they say nothing to Him.  Do the rulers know indeed that this is truly the Christ?  However, we know where this Man is from; but when the Christ comes, no one knows where He is from."  Then Jesus cried out, as He taught in the temple, saying, "You both know Me, and you know where I am from; and I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know.  But I know Him, for I am from Him, and He sent Me."  Therefore they sought to take Him; but no one laid a hand on Him, because His hour had not yet come.  And many of the people believed in Him, and said, "When the Christ comes, will He do more signs than these which this man has done?"

The Pharisees heard the crowd murmuring these things concerning Him, and the Pharisees and the chief priests sent officers to take Him.  Then Jesus said to them, "I shall be with you a little while longer, and then I go to Him who sent Me.  You will seek Me and not find Me, and where I am you cannot come."  Then the Jews said among themselves, "Where does He intend to go that we shall not find Him?  Does He intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?  What is this thing that He said, 'You will seek Me and not find Me, and where I am you cannot come'?"

- John 7:14-36

Yesterday, we read that Jesus kept His ministry in Galilee; for He did not want to walk in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill Him.  Now the Jews' Feast of Tabernacles was at hand.  His brothers therefore said to Him, "Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing.  For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly.  If You do these things, show Yourself to the world."  For even His brothers did not believe in Him.  Then Jesus said to them, "My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready.  The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.  You go up to this feast.  I am not yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come."  When He had said these things to them, He remained in Galilee.  But when His brothers had gone up, then He also went up to the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret.  Then the Jews sought Him at the feast, and said, "Where is He?"  And there was much complaining among the people concerning Him.  Some said, "He is good"; others said, "No, on the contrary, He deceives the people."  However, no one spoke openly of Him for fear of the Jews.

Now about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught.  And the Jews marveled, saying, "How does this Man know letters, having never studied?"  Jesus answered them and said, "My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me.  If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority."   Here my study bible has a long note regarding Jesus' concept of authority:  "The simple desire to know and follow God's will is the key to understanding it.  Spiritual blindness comes from unwillingness to know God or to recognize His authority.  St. John Chrysostom paraphrases Christ in this way:  'Rid yourselves of wickedness:  the anger, the envy, and the hatred which have arisen in your hearts, without provocation, against Me.  Then you will have no difficulty in realizing that My words are actually those of God.  As it is, these passions darken your understanding and distort sound judgment.  If you remove these passions, you will no longer be afflicted in this way.'" 

  "He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him.  Did not Moses give you the law, yet none of you keeps the law?  Why do you seek to kill Me?"  The people answered and said, "You have seen a demon.  Who is seeking to kill You?"  Jesus answered and said to them, "I did one work, and you all marvel.  Moses therefore gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath.  If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath?  Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment."   Jesus links good judgment with loyalty to God.  It's obviously not found in the minutiae of the law, twisted to fit the purposes of power and position, and the malice and envy provoked by a perceived threat to their own authority.  Where is their desire to please God?

 Now some of them from Jerusalem said, "Is this not He whom they seek to kill?  But look!  He speaks boldly, and they say nothing to Him.  Do the rulers know indeed that this is truly the Christ?  However, we know where this Man is from; but when the Christ comes, no one knows where He is from."   My study bible says that the crowds are mistaken -- in both an earthly sense and a divine sense.  They understand Jesus as a man from Nazareth of Galilee.  They're not aware that He was actually born in Bethlehem.  Beyond that, they can't understand that He's come from the Father in Heaven, eternally begotten before all ages, and thus His divine "origin" remains unknown to them as well.  But Jesus' word and teachings tell a great deal to a heart that hears; the day before yesterday we read Peter's confession of faith:  "Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life."

  Then Jesus cried out, as He taught in the temple, saying, "You both know Me, and you know where I am from; and I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know.  But I know Him, for I am from Him, and He sent Me."  Therefore they sought to take Him; but no one laid a hand on Him, because His hour had not yet come.  And many of the people believed in Him, and said, "When the Christ comes, will He do more signs than these which this man has done?"   Jesus' hour is the time of suffering and death, His Passion and Crucifixion.  My study bibles says that Jesus Christ is the Lord over time, an authority that is possessed only by God.  Therefore He comes to the Cross of His own free will and in His time, not according to the plots of men.  But time - like everything else - is linked in to the relationship He has to the Father; the ultimate authority decides all. 

The Pharisees heard the crowd murmuring these things concerning Him, and the Pharisees and the chief priests sent officers to take Him.  Then Jesus said to them, "I shall be with you a little while longer, and then I go to Him who sent Me.  You will seek Me and not find Me, and where I am you cannot come."  Jesus is of course referring to His death, Resurrection, and Ascension to heaven.  As happens most effectively (and repeatedly) in John's Gospel, Jesus' words point to something beyond only an "earthly" meaning.

Then the Jews said among themselves, "Where does He intend to go that we shall not find Him?  Does He intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?  What is this thing that He said, 'You will seek Me and not find Me, and where I am you cannot come'?"  Since Greek was the universal language of the time of Christ, what the leadership refers to here are Greek-speaking peoples; that is, among the Gentiles.  Ironically, their words certainly do have truth in them:  after His Ascension Christ's name will be preached to the Gentiles by the apostles.

Words hidden in words, hidden in plain sight -- but available to those who "have ears to hear."  Jesus' words having meanings to those of us who are His followers; that is, those who have been led to understand His mission and taught by the Church to find meanings in these words.  But Christ speaks plainly in some sense; the truth is there.  His words will also be twisted to accuse Him later on at His trial.  Repeatedly in Scripture, both in Old Testament and New, we are given the sense that it is important -- really, essential -- to our spiritual well-being that we "have ears to hear."  In other words, this quality is the ability to hear what is in the words from God is within the hearer, the receiver.  My study bible explains that "it is the simple desire to know and follow God's will" that brings out this capacity to receive within us.  It's not that we understand things all at once or all at the same time, but those who are drawn to Christ's "words of eternal life" (as St. Peter put it) understand the draw of a kind of loyalty, an allegiance.  It is the Father drawing through Christ those who come to Him.  And that begins with a "simple desire" within us.  In the end, Jesus' words about love and loyalty are the framework of the whole of the enterprise of spiritual ascendancy, being "with Him" into the age to come.  It boils down to a question of love and loyalty, that mysterious thing in our hearts that opens the door to greater faith, and personal transformation in His image.  We don't have to understand it all at once, we just need to know that "our hearts are aflame" when we hear His words (see Luke 24:32).  Over and over again, Scripture speaks of the heart as the center of what makes a human being, the importance of a "circumcised heart" and the hearing and sight of the heart.  Let us remember the love of God, and the loyalty of Christ expressed in today's words.  We are all encircled in that great ribbon of love, and its ties are rooted in our hearts.  Do we have ears to hear?  That is the beginning of true judgment.



Wednesday, August 27, 2014

My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil


After these things Jesus walked in Galilee; for He did not want to walk in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill Him.  Now the Jews' Feast of Tabernacles was at hand.  His brothers therefore said to Him, "Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing.  For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly.  If You do these things, show Yourself to the world."  For even His brothers did not believe in Him.  Then Jesus said to them, "My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready.  The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.  You go up to this feast.  I am not yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come."  When He had said these things to them, He remained in Galilee.

But when His brothers had gone up, then He also went up to the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret.  Then the Jews sought Him at the feast, and said, "Where is He?"  And there was much complaining among the people concerning Him.  Some said, "He is good"; others said, "No, on the contrary, He deceives the people."  However, no one spoke openly of Him for fear of the Jews.

- John 7:1-13

Yesterday, we read that many of His disciples, when they heard Jesus speak about His Body and Blood, said, "This is a hard saying; who can understand it?"  When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, "Does this offend you?  What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before?  It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.  The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.  But there are some of you who do not believe."  For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him.   And He said, "Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father."  From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.  Then Jesus said to the twelve, "Do you also want to go away?"  But Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."  Jesus answered them, "Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?"  He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve.

 After these things Jesus walked in Galilee; for He did not want to walk in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill Him.  The section that follows (through several chapters in John) tells about Jesus' visit to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles.  The entire section covers eight days -- the length of the festival.  My study bible says, "At this festival during the last year of His earthly life, Jesus taught in the temple and attracted a great deal of public attention."  As we will read, some thought Him to be mad, others believed Him to be the Messiah, and still others (notably the temple leadership parties of Sadducees and Pharisees) considered Him to be a threat.  The Jews who sought to kill Him refers to the religious leadership and not the people in general.  Indeed, all the people in this text are Jews: followers, disciples, Apostles, and Jesus Himself -- and their families.  That includes the author of the Gospel.

Now the Jews' Feast of Tabernacles was at hand.  My study bible explains:  "The Feast of Tabernacles (Heb. succoth) is an eight-day autumn harvest festival commemorating the time when Israel wandered in the wilderness of Sinai and the people lived in tents, or tabernacles.  Along with Passover and Pentecost, this was one of the three most important festivals of the ancient Jews; it included numerous sacrifices and celebrations (Leviticus 23:33-43).  In later times, the final day of this feast also included drawing water from the pool of Siloam to be mixed with wine and poured at the foot of the altar, both as a purification and in remembrance of the water flowing from the rock that Moses struck (Exodus 17:1-7).  It further included the lighting of the great lamps in the outer court of the temple."  See also 2 Maccabees 10:5-9.

His brothers therefore said to Him, "Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing.  For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly.  If You do these things, show Yourself to the world."  For even His brothers did not believe in Him.  Then Jesus said to them, "My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready.  The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.  You go up to this feast.  I am not yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come."  When He had said these things to them, He remained in Galilee.    Jesus "brothers" are extended family.  Commentators have maintained throughout Church history that they are either step-brothers from an earlier marriage of Joseph (who was a much older man at the time he and Mary were betrothed), or they are cousins.  Today in the Middle East, it is still common to call extended family (such as cousins) "brothers."

 But when His brothers had gone up, then He also went up to the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret.  Then the Jews sought Him at the feast, and said, "Where is He?"  And there was much complaining among the people concerning Him.  Some said, "He is good"'; others said, "No, on the contrary, He deceives the people."  However, no one spoke openly of Him for fear of the Jews. My study bible explains that "not openly" means not with a great public entrance such as will happen on Palm Sunday (12:12-16).  We remember that at the period this Gospel was written, members of the early Church had first come to call themselves Christians, and their persecution fierce in the synagogues and elsewhere.  The "Jews" here refers to leadership -- and is meant to be used in political terms, not national or ethnic.  Before that time, followers of Christ had been considered to be a sect of Judaism, often referred to as "Nazarenes" - as is still common today by non-Christians.

Persecution can come in many forms, but it's not something that Christians haven't had to accept throughout the history of the Church.  Here in John's Gospel, we get the first indication of Jesus' disfavor with the leadership; they seek to kill Him.  Later on in John's Gospel, Jesus will teach His disciples that "a servant is not greater than his master."  As Christians, we are told to follow our Master, and given great lessons by Him that, "if they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also."  What we understand from this teaching is that we must face adversity also through our faith.  In other words, we turn to Him in prayer, we look to His teachings, we turn over to God not just the beautiful things of life, but also the harsh things of life -- even if we face difficulties because of our faith.  This is a most important thing to understand, that the difficulties we have in life, no matter what they are, aren't excuses for us to quit our faith nor to catch ourselves "off the mark" so to speak.  When we hear about something called "spiritual battle" -- it's just that, the interior battle within ourselves to resist temptation to fall "off the mark" and to lose our faith in what we've been given.  Every adversity, no matter why it's there or how it comes to us, in this point of view, becomes a test or a challenge to us.  Can we meet it with Him, or are we going to deal with it "on our own," so to speak, and forgetting about the Master who has already gone through it all?  If we look at the early life of Jesus as an infant and a child, we see the struggles of His parents, Mary and Joseph, and what they went through to protect Him.  They were His chosen caretakers, and they understood how precious He was.  I think we also have to consider the nature of His identity, the announcement of Gabriel that Mary kept in her heart, and the understanding that protection also includes that the full public revelation of His identity must be kept secret until it was the appropriate time.  This, also, Jesus exemplifies through His ministry.  Everything He does is with purpose and mission in mind; there are no miracles to "prove" who He is on demand, it all depends on faith.  Woven throughout this story is the understanding that correct choices and protection, facing difficulties in the ways that God has given, are all based on faith, trust, and love.  And that's the balanced place we try to remain, on that mark we've been given.  Life may throw us constant curves, fears, trepidations, outrage, injustice, and all kinds of things we can't predict and may be thoroughly unprepared to deal with.  But the point of faith is just that, even when we don't feel our confidence, we turn to the confidence we can have in Him and the whole host of those who can help, even the entirety of the Church as it lives in Him, for help, for a way.  We call on the Holy Spirit who works in all things.  We may have to endure, to develop the "long-suffering" or patience we read about in the Bible, and of which there are so many examples in the fullness of all the Scriptures.  But we begin with Him, right here, where even His own brothers scoff and dare Him to come openly and prove Himself.  Let us remember His guidance is for every day, in all circumstances, rejoicing or otherwise.  To be wise as serpents and simple as doves is always where He wants us.










Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life


Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, "This is a hard saying; who can understand it?"  When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, "Does this offend you?  What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before?  It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.  The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.  But there are some of you who do not believe."  For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him.   And He said, "Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father."

From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.  Then Jesus said to the twelve, "Do you also want to go away?"  But Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."  Jesus answered them, "Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?"  He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve.

- John 6:60-71

 Yesterday, we read that the leadership in the temple at Capernaum quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?"  Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.  For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.  He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.  As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me.  This is the bread which came down from heaven -- not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead.  He who eats this bread will live forever."  These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.

 Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, "This is a hard saying; who can understand it?"  When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, "Does this offend you?  What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before?  It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.  The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.  But there are some of you who do not believe."  For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him.   And He said, "Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father."    My study bible points out that even Jesus' disciples took His teaching on His Body and Blood as a hard saying.  Verse 66 tells us that many of His disciples, when they heard this saying, walked with Him no more.  It is a great mystery, not easily to be explained, says my study bible, by  precise rational detail or as mere symbolic metaphor.  It is a sacramental teaching, just as the divine infuses the flesh of Jesus Christ, and that mystery can't be contained by our limited understanding.  The witness of Scripture and the teaching of the Church throughout history tell us about sacrament.  Here, Jesus' words are so powerful as to teach that those who cannot accept His saying are not those given to Him by the Father.

From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.  Then Jesus said to the twelve, "Do you also want to go away?"  But Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."  Jesus answered them, "Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?"  He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve.   Here is Peter's confession of Christ as written in John's gospel.  There is a falling away, and there is also a deepening of faith, a confession and an allegiance in others.  Peter's faith isn't a rational declaration with debated principles, it is a product of His experience with Christ:  "You have the words of eternal life."  Those who remain with Him "have come to know and believe that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God."  At the same time that we read of this conviction on behalf of all of the disciples who remain with Him, there is another strong flavor of what is to come: betrayal and death.  Jesus is preparing them even now for the future.

Accepting Christ's words can happen on many levels.  Understanding may dawn slowly, or it may simply reveal a deeper faith through testing, through experience, and through the energies of God, the work of the Holy Spirit.  Christ's mysteries revealed particularly through this Gospel exist as things to be grasped through faith, through time, through prayer.  It seems to me that faith deepens and grows by following the glimmers do that we have, and trusting from there.  The faith that works in the heart is a strong leading and teaching, even as Jesus tells us and the apostles that no one can come to Him except as granted by the Father.  In Saturday's reading He taught, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.  It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.'"  The depth of the reality of Incarnation reveals itself to us through our faith and its working in our lives, through Scripture, through the whole history of the Church.  It would seem to me that the very understanding of the word "sacrament" teaches us about the life Jesus keeps teaching us about.  It is a life in the Father, and in Christ, and at work in the Holy Spirit. It infuses all that is in our world, and what we consider to be "worldly" can become sacrament.  For baptism, water is infused with this life so that it becomes conferred on us.  Through the Eucharist, bread and wine are mystically body and blood.  St. Paul teaches that we must understand ourselves to be temples of God.  What God has given us is meant also to be glorified by God, by this energy of Christ, the bread of heaven, given to us for an everlasting life, till the age to come in which all our world is to be transfigured in this spirit shown us in the image of the Burning Bush which was given to Moses.  Our entire world, all our lives and every aspect of them, are meant to be infused with this life, just as Jesus' body was also the body of Christ, God become flesh.  And this is sacrament; this is the mystery of what our world -- God's creation -- is meant for.   It's what we are meant for.  But it happens via the faith in our hearts placed there by God, and when we start to follow that, we come on a long journey of understanding and experience, each through our own capacity and with the help of our friends, the great cloud of witnesses, all who live in Christ.  Let us remember how faith works and needs nurturing.  Let us remember what we are meant for, what the whole understanding of God as human is meant to do for us.  It is a sacramental life we are to know; our faith returning us to the God who gave us life from the first.




Monday, August 25, 2014

This is the bread which came down from heaven -- not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever


 The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?"  Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.  For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.  He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.  As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me.  This is the bread which came down from heaven -- not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead.  He who eats this bread will live forever."  These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.

- John 6:52-50

In Saturday's reading, we were told that the leadership then complained about Jesus, because He taught in the temple at Capernaum, "I am the bread which came down from heaven."  And they said, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?  How is it then that He says, 'I have come down from heaven'?"   Jesus therefore answered and said to them, "Do not murmur among yourselves.  No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.  It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.'  Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.  Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father.  Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.  I am the bread of life.  Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead.  This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread which came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world." 


 The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?"  Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.  For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.  He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.   We remember that in John's Gospel, the term "the Jews" most often refers to the religious authorities.  My study bible suggests:  "Christ was crucified in the flesh and His blood was shed on the Cross, and on the third day He was raised in a glorified state.  We receive the grace of Christ's sacrificial offering by coming to Him in faith and by receiving Holy Communion in faith.  In Communion, we truly eat His flesh and drink His blood, and this grants the faithful eternal life, with Christ abiding in us and us in Him."  Hilary of Poitiers wrote, "There is no room left for any doubt about the reality of His flesh and blood, because we have both the witness of His words and our own faith.  Thus when we eat and drink these elements, we are in Christ and Christ is in us."

"As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me.  This is the bread which came down from heaven -- not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead.  He who eats this bread will live forever."  These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.  Jesus speaks here about a relationship of total dependence.  He is dependent on the Father for His very life, and in this "eucharistic" relationship, in which our very food is comprised of His substance, so we gain a life beyond our understanding.  Actually in the Greek, the words translated here as "live forever" literally mean "live to the age."  What we are hearing is about an eternal age to come, a "time" when this world is transformed by the life He gives into an abundant life we can only imagine.  But that "eternal life" is dependent on Christ who is the bread, the food, just as He is dependent upon the Father for His life.

On today's passage, my study bible points out that John never reports the details of the Last Supper such as those found in Luke 22:19-20, but instead, he reveals the significance and truth of these events (events that were already known to his hearers) by reporting here Christ's own words.  This mystical reality is revealed in this Gospel in the ways in which Jesus speaks of dependence and relationship.  Our lives are added to by His life, just as His live is sustained by the "living Father."  It's really amazing how this depth of relationship is portrayed in John; this Evangelist gives us at once the mystical reality of Christ into which Jesus invites us:  into relationship with the Father and the Son, a relationship characterized by its interdependent nature.  Jesus, as the bread of life, is that food that adds life to us, life to our lives, and promises that through the bread of heaven we will live to the age:  in an eternal time where "life in abundance" truly manifests in fullness.  The message is always life, life itself, the mysterious substance that comes from the Father, through the Son, and links and embraces us as we are fully dependent upon it.  It's a mistake, I think, to speak about "spiritual life" although we are talking about the bread from heaven.  But just as Jesus is God in the flesh, Incarnate, so the essence of our understanding of the "bread of heaven" must be that this is life that increases life in all ways in us, that informs life in every form in our own lives.  To speak of "spiritual life" would be to split this life in ways that are inappropriate from all the life in us:  mental, spiritual, physical, emotional.  It's the same as loving with God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength:  whatever life we have is fully enhanced by the bread of heaven into a greater life, even as we await the life in the age to come, the fullness of transfiguration.  What we can understand is the depth of this life added to our life in dependence on Christ through faith, right in the here and the now.  There are times when our faith adds such beauty to our understanding of life, and joy, and peace that doesn't really make sense, and a kind of confidence that surpasses our own "meager resources."  This is a life that revives hope when there is no hope, and provides a way when there seems to be no way.   It helps us cope with life when it's limited by pain or toil; it gives us mission when we lose our purpose.  This kind of dependence is the difference between a sort of limitation of life to our own strengths, and opens up the doors to what is beyond us, that which helps us in ways we can't call "our own" alone, giving us added life to what we have and transforming who we are.  That is the bread of life and what it does for us, helping us to overcome what limits and disappoints in this world.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world


The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, "I am the bread which came down from heaven."  And they said, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?  How is it then that He says, 'I have come down from heaven'?"   Jesus therefore answered and said to them, "Do not murmur among yourselves.  No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.  It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.'  Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.  Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father.  Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.  I am the bread of life.  Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead.  This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread which came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world." 

- John 6:41-51


In yesterday's reading, Jesus taught:   "Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him."  Then they said to Him, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?"  Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent."  Therefore they said to Him, "What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You?  What work will You do?  Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'"  Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."  Then they said to Him, "Lord, give us this bread always."  And Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life.  He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.  But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe.  All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.  For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.  This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.  And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day."

 The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, "I am the bread which came down from heaven."  And they said, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?  How is it then that He says, 'I have come down from heaven'?"  Jesus is in the synagogue now at Capernaum.  The leadership complains -- He's in a familiar place in which people know His family as they are from this region, Galilee.

Jesus therefore answered and said to them, "Do not murmur among yourselves.  No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.  It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.'"  The quotation is from Isaiah 54:13, contained within a prophecy of the future of the people of God.

"Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.  Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father.  Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life."   Here's an important clue repeated about the nature of this faith.  It begins with the Father.  Those who are delivered to Christ are "given" by the Father, as Jesus has said in yesterday's reading.  Faith ties all in; Jesus and the Father are one -- and our faith is meant to make us one as well.

"I am the bread of life.  Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead.  This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread which came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world."  Jesus repeats for emphasis -- He is the bread of life.  The life He offers is a kind of life beyond their concepts of what life is and means and consists of.  This is an absolute life, something that adds the quantity of life to all things in which it is embraced.  The closeness of this connection is as bread which nourishes and becomes a part of us, giving us our health, our lives, our bodies.  And He will give His flesh for the life of the world.  This begins a new passage which will be in Monday's reading.  My study bible reminds us of the Eucharistic significance in the words.  The fact that He Himself is the living bread that gives life reveals the Mystical Supper of the New Testament Church.  He also refers to His sacrifice, in perhaps the first glimmer in His ministry of what is to come in the future. 

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, there are only three people in the whole history of the Church who have received the honorable title Theologian (these men are also known as saints).  One of them is John the Evangelist (also called John the Theologian), the author of our gospel.   In today's passage,it is evident why He was given such a title.  John's gospel tends to explain to us the significance of Jesus' teaching and actions, taking us from the mundane understanding of those listening who cannot grasp what He's getting at, and to the theological perspective of the significance of Jesus' words and teachings.  This happens over and over again in the Gospel.  But perhaps nowhere more powerfully than here -- and in its continuance in Monday's reading, in which the allusion to the Eucharist is very clear.  But John starts from the notion not that Jesus is the Christ who is our bread from heaven, but that in Christ is life itself.  We never lose sight of the power in this life itself, the  life in this One who has been given the power of life (and therefore death), who is our bread of life because the key to this everlasting life beyond our understanding is our depth of relationship with Him.  If we understand Him to be "bread from heaven" then we see that His words teach us about just who close He wants us to be with Him and just how dependent upon Him He considers us to be -- we who would receive this life.  So, while we rest on Sunday, wherever we are, while we are in church, let's think about what it means that He is our bread of life.  In our next reading, on Monday, He will elaborate much more clearly on this subject.