Wednesday, October 1, 2014

I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance


After these things He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office.  And He said to him, "Follow Me."  So he left all, rose up, and followed Him.

Then Levi gave Him a great feast in his own house.  And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them.  And their scribes and the Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, "Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?"   Jesus answered and said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."

Then they said to Him, "Why do the disciples of John fast often and make prayers, and likewise those of the Pharisees, but Yours eat and drink?"  And He said to them, "Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them?  But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them; then they will fast in those days."  Then He spoke a parable to them:  "No one puts a piece from a new garment on an old one; otherwise the new makes a tear, and also the piece that was taken out of the new does not match the old.  And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined.  But new wine wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved.  And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, "The old is better."

- Luke 5:27-39

Yesterday, we read that when He was in a certain city, behold, a man who was full of leprosy saw Jesus; and he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean."  Then He put out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed."  Immediately the leprosy left him.  And He charged him to tell no one, "But go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as a testimony to them, just as Moses commanded."  However, the report went around concerning Him all the more; and great multitudes 'came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities.  So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.  Now it happened on a certain day, as He was teaching, that there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting by, who had come out of every town of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem.  And the power of the Lord was present to heal them.  Then behold, men brought on a bed a man who was paralyzed, whom they sought to bring in and lay before Him.  And when they could not find how they might bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the housetop and let him down with his bed through the tiling into the midst before Jesus.  When He saw their faith, He said to him, "Man, your sins are forgiven you."  And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, "Who is this who speaks blasphemies?  Who can forgive sins but God alone?"  But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, He answered and said to them, "Why are you reasoning in your hearts?  Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Rise up and walk'?  But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins"  -- He said to the man who was paralyzed, "I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house."  Immediately he rose up before them, took up what he had been lying on, and departed to his own house, glorifying God.  And they were all amazed, and they glorified God and were filled with fear, saying, "We have seen strange things today!"

After these things He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office.  And He said to him, 'Follow Me.'  So he left all, rose up, and followed Him.  My study bible says, "Levi (Matthew) answers Christ's call, Follow Me," and leaves his occupation to become a disciple.  From the beginning of His ministry Christ has been a friend of tax collectors and sinners, which is one of the Pharisees' complaints against Him.  Levi may also have been one of the tax collectors prepared for Christ by John the Baptist (3:12)."

 Then Levi gave Him a great feast in his own house.  And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them.  And their scribes and the Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, "Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?"   Jesus answered and said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."  My study bible tells us that this feast expresses the joy and gratitude of Matthew.  It says, "The guest register is a stirring demonstration of the fruit of Jesus' love and forgiveness."

 Then they said to Him, "Why do the disciples of John fast often and make prayers, and likewise those of the Pharisees, but Yours eat and drink?"  My study bible tells that the Jews typically fasted twice a week, on Monday and Thursday.  There were also public fasts that were either regularly observed or occasionally proclaimed -- this was especially so on the Day of Atonement and in times of mourning. 

And He said to them, "Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them?  But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them; then they will fast in those days."  For the Jews, the day of the Messiah was an image of a wedding feast -- a time of celebration, joy and gladness.  My study bible suggests that Jesus is here proclaiming that day, and declaring Himself, in effect, to be the Messiah/Bridegroom.  After He's gone, there will also be periods of Christian fasting.  Traditionally,. this time is referred to as a "bright sadness" because all fasting is a kind of preparation of learning self-control ("abstaining" from sin), and so preparation for the day of the Wedding Feast.   In Jesus' image, then, while He is in the world and with them, His disciples behave correctly.

Then He spoke a parable to them:  "No one puts a piece from a new garment on an old one; otherwise the new makes a tear, and also the piece that was taken out of the new does not match the old.  And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined.  But new wine wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved.  And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, "The old is better."  Wine, importantly connected to weddings as a symbol of covenant, is referred to by Jesus as "old" and "new."   The new wineskins in this parable are therefore the New Covenant Christ brings to His disciples.  My study bible says, "The new wine is the Holy Spirit dwelling within renewed people, who cannot be constrained by the old precepts of the Law."  Most clearly, these repentant and welcomed tax collectors are lost in the eyes of the Law, but redeemed in Christ's vision.  They need a "new wine" to be included at this table of the wedding feast.

Early in Luke's Gospel, we read about the baptisms done by John the Baptist.  They were baptisms not of the Holy Spirit, but of repentance, in preparation for the Messiah -- and therefore, for the "Wedding Feast" Jesus speaks about today.  Repentance becomes an important concept to consider in light of all the tax collectors who are with Jesus at this particular banquet table.  They haven't left their jobs, which was despised by most of the Jews, as they worked for the Romans collecting taxes.  I think we have to consider the levels of corruption of the time, the human inclination to use such power for personal gain.  When the tax collectors come before John the Baptist, and ask what they must do to prepare for the Messiah, he doesn't tell them they must quit their jobs.  He tells them, "Collect no more than what is appointed for you."   Here, Jesus sits at table with a disciple that He has personally called, Levi (or Matthew, the author of the Gospel that bears his name).  Levi has also invited his friends to this feast of joy, also many tax collectors.  We have to be careful when we think about what people "do" that may offend us.  There may be a despised sort of a job; we may identify people as "bad" because of who they work for, perhaps it's a force we find oppressive.  But neither John nor Jesus do this.  Instead, repentance takes on a color that is different from a "side" in a worldly sort of struggle.  Repentance takes on an inner light, most importantly, the relationship to the Bridegroom that comes from the center of who we are as individuals, from the heart as Scripture traditionally sees it.  We might meet Christ our Bridegroom in that place, and He doesn't condemn from identity in a broad sense.  He calls us to "Follow Him."  John the Baptist tells the hated tax collectors that they must work only by gathering what is appointed for them, not exploit the people further.  He tells the soldiers who come to him, also employed in Roman service, that they must not extort, nor intimidate, nor accuse falsely -- and they must be content with their wages.  There are so many stories in the Gospels in which Jesus forgives sins and sets free from punishment, but in which the ones shown grace are also told simply to "sin no more."  The great love that is at work here doesn't condemn people for living in a difficult world.  It draws people into seeing sin as something which is spiritually harmful to each of us, to try to sin no more, but also to go forward via repentance.  It is this action that we take into account which draws a fine line:  not condemning, but seeking to save.  It doesn't condone or excuse sin.  It doesn't tell us it is fine to sin, but shows us mercy and love and a way forward.  I think too often the distinction is lost on us.  It takes thought to understand it.  No matter what sort of political ideas one has, it seems to me that often we inadvertently get into the black and white concepts of justice, rather than seeing the practice of the love of Christ as the true justice.  Forgiveness and repentance are both here in this love.  Seeing sin as personally harmful to every individual who practices it is a part of that love, also seeing sin as harming community comes into that love.  These things are part of the spiritual truth that love knows.  So forgiveness isn't forgetting that we are working at something, but neither is justice condemning someone.  Justice is helping everyone come to Christ, and His method is, over all else, love.  That is our goal to learn -- for ourselves, for our discernment, for our communities.  We are all called to learn it and practice it, without hatred and without losing our concept of spiritual truth and justice which so often calls for the practice of repentance.  This is the "New Wineskin" of His Covenant with us.





Tuesday, September 30, 2014

He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed


 And it happened when He was in a certain city, that behold, a man who was full of leprosy saw Jesus; and he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean."  Then He put out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed."  Immediately the leprosy left him.  And He charged him to tell no one, "But go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as a testimony to them, just as Moses commanded."  However, the report went around concerning Him all the more; and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities.  So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.

Now it happened on a certain day, as He was teaching, that there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting by, who had come out of every town of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem.  And the power of the Lord was present to heal them.  Then behold, men brought on a bed a man who was paralyzed, whom they sought to bring in and lay before Him.  And when they could not find how they might bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the housetop and let him down with his bed through the tiling into the midst before Jesus.  When He saw their faith, He said to him, "Man, your sins are forgiven you."  And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, "Who is this who speaks blasphemies?  Who can forgive sins but God alone?"  But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, He answered and said to them, "Why are you reasoning in your hearts?  Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Rise up and walk'?  But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins"  -- He said to the man who was paralyzed, "I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house."  Immediately he rose up before them, took up what he had been lying on, and departed to his own house, glorifying God.  And they were all amazed, and they glorified God and were filled with fear, saying, "We have seen strange things today!"

- Luke 5:12-26
Yesterday, we read that, as the multitude pressed about Jesus to hear the word of God, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, and saw two boats standing by the lake; but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets.  Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon's and asked him to put out a little from the land.  And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat.  When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, "Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch."  But Simon answered and said to Him, "Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net."  And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking.  So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them.  And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.  When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!"  For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon.  And Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid.  From now on you will catch men."  So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him.

  And it happened when He was in a certain city, that behold, a man who was full of leprosy saw Jesus; and he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean."  Then He put out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed."  Immediately the leprosy left him.  My study bible says that "leprosy was one of the most dreaded diseases of the time.  It brought great physical suffering as well as total banishment and isolation from society.  It is also a symbol of our sin."  

And He charged him to tell no one, "But go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as a testimony to them, just as Moses commanded."  My study bible, citing Cyril of Alexandria, says that Christ gives the command, Show yourself to the priest, in order to convince the priests by a tangible miracle that He is superior to Moses.  It says, "The priests hold Moses to be greater than Christ, yet Christ heals a leper immediately and with His own divine authority.  However, when Miriam was struck with leprosy, Moses had to seek mercy from above, and still she was only healed after seven days (Numbers 12:10-15)."

However, the report went around concerning Him all the more; and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities.  So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.  As Jesus' fame and renown grows, He is continually sought out, and made requests of.  We see His response:  He takes time more frequently to withdraw and pray.  If even Jesus needed the kind of "timeouts" that drew Him more closely to the Father and the Father's direction, that would renew soul and spirit and an understanding of His mission, then how much more do we need such times?  His example is far more important and essential to our lives than we may understand it to be.  Let us remember this is especially so at times of great and frequent demand upon us.

Now it happened on a certain day, as He was teaching, that there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting by, who had come out of every town of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem.  Jesus' fame has by now increased to such a great point that even the religious rulers are attending to listen to Jesus teaching.  As the passage tells us, they have come from every town of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem.

  And the power of the Lord was present to heal them.  Then behold, men brought on a bed a man who was paralyzed, whom they sought to bring in and lay before Him.  And when they could not find how they might bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the housetop and let him down with his bed through the tiling into the midst before Jesus.  When He saw their faith, He said to him, "Man, your sins are forgiven you."   The power of faith is at work here, and is mightily present to help Jesus effect the healings that He does.  In other words, faith is an indispensable and undoubtable ingredient present to what happens.  The text tells us, when He saw their faith, the sins of the individual were forgiven.  The man's friends have made every effort to get him to Jesus.   It's interesting that even through the faith of others, help can be brought to an individual, making faith also a collective sort of presence. We note that first, Jesus forgives.  Historically, the Church has seen sin as a kind of spiritual paralysis; it leaves us stuck where we are.  Repentance has traditionally been seen as a way to become unstuck, to be able to move forward.

And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, "Who is this who speaks blasphemies?  Who can forgive sins but God alone?"  But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, He answered and said to them, "Why are you reasoning in your hearts?  Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Rise up and walk'?  But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins"  -- He said to the man who was paralyzed, "I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house."  Immediately he rose up before them, took up what he had been lying on, and departed to his own house, glorifying God.  And they were all amazed, and they glorified God and were filled with fear, saying, "We have seen strange things today!"   Who can forgive sins but God alone? is the key question here.  As so often happens, it is the critical rulers who inadvertently reveal the truth about Christ.  My study bible says that there are three signs of Jesus' divinity present here:  He knows the secrets of hearts (see 1 Samuel 16:7, 2 Chronicles 6:30), He forgives sins (a power which belongs to God alone), and He heals by the power of His word.  We note the effects of this miraculous healing:  it works to glorify God.

 Jesus' healing, as we said, works to glorify God -- both the healed man and all the people present "glorified God."  It's important to understand how Jesus is at work in the world; what is His purpose.  In this, we tie together His frequent isolation and withdrawal for prayer, despite (or perhaps more accurately, because of) all the demand for His time and attention.  Everything is to God's purposes.  None of this is for personal gain on the part of Jesus.  Indeed, one suspects that perhaps He is far more comfortable while at prayer in the wilderness.  Jesus' whole system of physical functioning in the world is a little mysterious.  At one point, His disciples encourage Him to eat, and He replies, "I have food to eat of which you do not know."  (The text has already told us He's weary from travel.)  When the disciples wonder if someone else brought Him something to eat, He explains, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work."  (See the entire chapter of John 4, here.)   The withdrawal for prayer, then, can be seen as a kind of refueling, a time for replenishing.  Obviously, with so much demand upon Him as His fame grows, this need becomes greater and more frequent.  If it is His connection and service to the Father that truly serves as a kind of food for Him, then so much the more does He need time in prayer, for all that He does. This demand never stops for Jesus.  We began in Luke by reading that just before He started His ministry, He withdrew for forty days, presumably for prayer but also to be tempted by Satan, as part of the preparation for what He is about to undertake.   It is a sign and affirmation of total dependence upon and dedication to the Father.  As His ministry has grown, and as He has more frequently taken time for prayer, so grows the display of healing and forgiveness that glorifies God, as we read in today's reading.  The healing of leprosy, and the forgiveness of sin and healing of paralysis via the efforts of the friends of the paralyzed man, take on spectacular tones as they are done in the presence of the experts in the Law who are present from all over Jewish territory, including from Jerusalem.  They are the ones who regulate religious activity, including, for example, the issuing of a certificate to the healed leper that he may rejoin community.  All of this is to say that we must take a good look at Christ and what He does in order to understand His life in this world, and also to follow His example.  He's not like a Hollywood star or some great music performer who suddenly appears and dazzles with all kinds of well-paid expert publicity and effects, and a machine that grinds out "image" nonstop in order to keep those profits coming.  Jesus is first of all a Man who serves God, and not only serves but dwells in that place of relationship to God -- taking increasingly more time alone in the wilderness and far from all these public demands in order to pray.  This is the focus of His life and His orientation in life.  Perhaps the most famous time of prayer is the one recorded for us in the Garden of Gethsemane, the time of great crisis, just before He will be seized by the officers and taken to an illegal night court.   Let us remember to take this time for ourselves, and "all else will be added unto you."  We take time to seek the Kingdom and its righteousness in order to find our rightful place in the world, a life which includes room for the kingdom and our place as God guides us in the world.  At least, we need the timeouts to make sure we revive that place in ourselves in which we, too, may share the food of Christ, the love of God that nurtures us.





Monday, September 29, 2014

Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch


 El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) - The Repentant St. Peter, c. 1600-1605

So  it was, as the multitude pressed about Him to hear the word of God, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, and saw two boats standing by the lake; but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets.  Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon's and asked him to put out a little from the land.  And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat.  When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, "Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch."  But Simon answered and said to Him, "Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net."  And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking.  So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them.  And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.  When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!"  For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon.  And Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid.  From now on you will catch men."  So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him.

- Luke 5:1-11

In yesterday's reading, Jesus left the synagogue in Capernaum and entered Simon's house.  But Simon's wife's mother was sick with a high fever, and they made request of Him concerning her.  So He stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her.  And immediately she arose and served them.  When the sun was setting, all those who had any that were sick with various diseases brought them to Him; and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them.  And demons also came out of many, crying out and saying, "You are the Christ, the Son of God!"  And He, rebuking them, did not allow them to speak, for they knew that He was the Christ.  Now when it was day, He departed and went into a deserted place.  And the crowd sought Him and came to Him, and tried to keep Him from leaving them; but He said to them, "I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent."  And He was preaching in the synagogues of Galilee.

So  it was, as the multitude pressed about Him to hear the word of God, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, and saw two boats standing by the lake; but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets.  Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon's and asked him to put out a little from the land.  And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat.  The Lake of Gennesaret is also known as the Sea of Galilee; it's approximately 13 miles long and 7 miles wide.  Jesus' seated position in the boat is the traditional "teaching" position of authority.  (Some early Christian orators did the same, sitting to preach while the congregation stood, such as John Chrysostom.)   Jesus is already well-known as a teacher here; He needs to pull out from the shore to address the crowd.

When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, "Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch."   My study bible tells us that St. Ambrose sees the spiritual meaning of this command ("launch out into the deep") as an invitation to give one's life over to the deep mystery of the knowledge of the Son of God.   Launching out into the deep can certainly be an invitation to faith.

But Simon answered and said to Him, "Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net."  And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking.  A note tells us, "The Lord draws people to Himself by things that are familiar to them.  As He drew the Magi with a star (Matthew 2:2), as He would draw tax collectors by a tax collector (5:29), here He draws the fishermen with fish (see 1 Corinthians 9:19-23)."

So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them.  And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.  When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!"  My study bible says that Peter's cry in the face of this divine power isn't a rejection of Jesus, but rather, those holy people such as Peter become keenly aware of their own unworthiness when suddenly cast in the light of Christ.  See 8:37 for a contrasting type of rejection by the people of the Gerasenes.  My study bible suggests to compare with Isaiah 6:5 and Revelation 1:17.

For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon.  And Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid.  From now on you will catch men."  So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him.  My study bible suggests that this great catch of fish is an image of the apostles bringing mankind to the knowledge of Jesus Christ.  Moreover, it fulfills the prophecy of Jeremiah 16:16.  In the festal hymn of Pentecost, Eastern Orthodox sing, "Through the fishermen, You drew the world into Your net."

Quite clearly, Jesus knew what He was doing when He "cast" these particular men as those who would follow Him.  Other Gospels suggest they knew one another already, and that at least one of these particular men (John Zebedee, also known as John the Evangelist) was a disciple of John the Baptist.  (He is presumed to be the unnamed disciple in John 1:40.)   Whatever way that things came about, this situation described in today's reading is exemplary in terms of our faith and how it comes about, even how it came to us.  As the hymn quoted above says, through the fishermen, Christ drew the world into His net.  It seems to me well-known enough that fish are a symbol of abundance around the world.  This net full of fish drawn up from the deep is a symbol of the riches of faith, what it is to follow Christ and cast ourselves "all in" when asked to plunge into the depths of faith.  Note that Peter is doubtful; he's always the one who speaks up for what the others are thinking.  True to character, his feelings are "worn on his sleeve" as he tells Jesus, in the face of holiness, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man!"  But the fish, as symbol, do also go much further.  We know that Christians from the earliest time will use the fish as a symbol for themselves as believers.  The ancient Greek word for fish (IXTHYS/ΙΧΘΥΣ) will form an acronym for "Jesus Christ God's Son Savior"  (Ιησους Χριστος Θεου Υιος Σωτιρ).  But the entire incident itself is an illustration of what faith is like, even as an introduction to faith.  All the negatives -- our "worldly" knowledge and experience -- go against it.  But the disciples don't let that stop them from trying what He says, and plunging their nets into the deep.  The result is an astonishing abundance that was unexpected.  If we can see this on spiritual terms, say, for example, the abundance of grace we find, of mercy and love, of second chances, then we are on the right track for understanding the nature of the Kingdom that is illustrated by today's reading and its events.  Peter, who will be the one to confess that Jesus is Christ, appropriately recognizes immediately the holiness in Jesus.  But his emotional response will have to be changed, transformed through the experience of discipleship, and finally transfigured entirely through the coming of the Holy Spirit, when his tendency to "speak out" will serve to make him one who is a great spokesman for the Church, a servant of great courage.  That kind of abundance is also symbolized in these breaking nets full of fish, an abundance for much more than one man alone but which must call others to it.  Can we recognize the abundance that we are given?  Are we moderns capable of recognizing holiness?  For all his human flaws, Peter powerfully stands as a figure who is simply transfixed by what he witnesses, by the presence that is in this Man who teaches with authority.  Let us remember what it is to experience -- and recognize -- holiness.  What would it have meant if Peter had been too insensible to feel its power and presence?




Saturday, September 27, 2014

I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent


 Now He arose from the synagogue and entered Simon's house.  But Simon's wife's mother was sick with a high fever, and they made request of Him concerning her.  So He stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her.  And immediately she arose and served them.

When the sun was setting, all those who had any that were sick with various diseases brought them to Him; and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them.  And demons also came out of many, crying out and saying, "You are the Christ, the Son of God!"  And He, rebuking them, did not allow them to speak, for they knew that He was the Christ.

Now when it was day, He departed and went into a deserted place.  And the crowd sought Him and came to Him, and tried to keep Him from leaving them; but He said to them, "I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent."  And He was preaching in the synagogues of Galilee.

- Luke 4:38-44

Yesterday, we read that upon leaving His hometown of Nazareth, Jesus went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and was teaching them on the Sabbaths.  And they were astonished at His teaching, for His word was with authority.  Now in the synagogue there was a man who had a spirit of an unclean demon.  And he cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Let us alone!  What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth?  Did You come to destroy us?  I know who You are -- the Holy One of God!"  But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be quiet, and come out of him!"  And when the demon had thrown him in their midst, it came out of him and did not hurt him.  Then they were all amazed and spoke among themselves, saying, "What a word this is!  For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out."  And the report about Him went out into every place in the surrounding region.

  Now He arose from the synagogue and entered Simon's house.  But Simon's wife's mother was sick with a high fever, and they made request of Him concerning her.  So He stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her.  And immediately she arose and served them.  Of this passage, Cyril of Alexandria has commented:  "That which was rebuked was some living thing unable to withstand the influence of Him who rebuked it, for it is not reasonable to rebuke a thing without life and unconscious of the rebuke.  Nor is it astonishing for there to exist certain powers that inflict harm on the human body."

When the sun was setting, all those who had any that were sick with various diseases brought them to Him; and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them.  And demons also came out of many, crying out and saying, "You are the Christ, the Son of God!"  And He, rebuking them, did not allow them to speak, for they knew that He was the Christ.  Again, as in yesterday's reading, a kind of hidden spiritual battle is revealed in Jesus' healings of people.  We keep in mind the words, above, of Cyril of Alexander, in which He states that to rebuke something is to address a living thing.  At least here, in today's passage, this is certainly meant to be the case.  Again, as in yesterday's reading, the demons must be silenced; their "giving away" the secret of Jesus' identity as Christ is inappropriate to His mission.

 Now when it was day, He departed and went into a deserted place.  And the crowd sought Him and came to Him, and tried to keep Him from leaving them; but He said to them, "I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent."  And He was preaching in the synagogues of Galilee.  My study bible explains, "Christ's primary mission was to preach the kingdom.  Miracles and healings testify both to the truth of the message and the identity of the Teacher (see 5:24).  This same pattern holds true in the Church (Acts 4:29-30)."

Christ brings with Him a kind of a "field."  There is something present with Him that is much greater than simply a man who is speaking and preaching, traveling in His ministry.  He brings with Him a kind of reality, a presence, a world that is astonishing in its effects.  With Him is the Kingdom, in Him is the authority of this Kingdom.  At His word, demons are rebuked; even fevers are rebuked.  He brings this world to us, giving us a message, a revelation of something we are to wonder at, to marvel about.  He brings the Kingdom into the world, in our presence.  In doing so, He is, once again, seemingly "crashing into" our world.  His ministry "crashes in" on people's lives, revealing not only the marvelous signs of the Kingdom, but also activity of the demons -- and the awareness of the demons, that they know Who Jesus is.  Uncovering this reality is the mission of Jesus, and bringing His kingdom into the world is the thing He is here to do.  He will later instruct His apostles when they go out on their first mission, that they are to say to those to whom they are sent, "The kingdom of heaven has come near"  (or "is at hand").  And so, it is important for us to think about what this means for us.  Jesus' power and authority must have been something extraordinary to experience, but that presence of the Kingdom isn't something limited to His own ministry at the time when the human Jesus walked the earth.  As we can see, He sent out the Apostles with the same mission, and the Church, as the Body of Christ and the place where Father, Son and Spirit continue to work and be present, is also a place for the Kingdom to be at hand.  The Spirit is everywhere present, in all things, and in this act is therefore conveying the Kingdom at all times and places into the world.  So, the step that is on offer to us is to participate in this kingdom, to be a part of it via our faith.  In prayer, we seek to be a part of that kingdom.  We pray together with the communion of saints, the great cloud of witnesses.  And it is also up to us, via our faith, to carry the presence of that Kingdom into the world as well.  We want to be its presence for others.  The gifts of the Spirit convey that presence:  the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, etc. (see 1 Corinthians 12:4-12).  The fruits of the Spirit also express the presence of the Kingdom:  love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).   You may not necessarily be aware of it, but when the fruits of faith are on display, you, too, are bringing the presence of the Kingdom into the world for others.  Let us remember it is alive and composed of living members, conveying life itself in abundance, asking us also to receive and give in abundance.  We are always called to live in this Kingdom and be a part of it and share it even as we are in this world.  Let us remember His example; let our lives bear the light of His presence and all that He brings to us.


Friday, September 26, 2014

I know who You are


 Then He went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and was teaching them on the Sabbaths.  And they were astonished at His teaching, for His word was with authority.  Now in the synagogue there was a man who had a spirit of an unclean demon.  And he cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Let us alone!  What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth?  Did You come to destroy us?  I know who You are -- the Holy One of God!"  But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be quiet, and come out of him!"  And when the demon had thrown him in their midst, it came out of him and did not hurt him.  Then they were all amazed and spoke among themselves, saying, "What a word this is!  For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out."  And the report about Him went out into every place in the surrounding region.

- Luke 4:31-37

 Yesterday, we read that after His temptation by Satan in the wilderness, Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and the news of Him went out through all the surrounding region.  And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.  So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up.  And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.  And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah.  And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:  "The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor;  He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD."  Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him.  And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."  So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth.  And they said, "Is this not Joseph's son?"  He said to them, "You will surely say this proverb to Me, 'Physician, heal yourself!  Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country.'  Then He said, "Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.  But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region to Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.  And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian."  So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff.  Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way.

  Then He went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and was teaching them on the Sabbaths.  My study bible quotes Ambrose of Milan:  Christ begins preaching and healing on the Sabbaths to show that "the new creation began where the old creation ceased."

And they were astonished at His teaching, for His word was with authority.  My study bible contrasts Jesus with the Old Testament prophets and the teachers of His own day, who taught in the third person ("the Lord says").  Christ taught in the first person: "I say to you."  We can also reference the Sermon on the Mount, with its declarative quality in the Beatitudes:  "Blessed are the poor in spirit . . ."  as well as Jesus' own declarations about Himself:  "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets.  I did not come to destroy but to fulfill."

Now in the synagogue there was a man who had a spirit of an unclean demon.  And he cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Let us alone!  What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth?  Did You come to destroy us?  I know who You are -- the Holy One of God!"  But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be quiet, and come out of him!"  And when the demon had thrown him in their midst, it came out of him and did not hurt him.  Then they were all amazed and spoke among themselves, saying, "What a word this is!  For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out."  And the report about Him went out into every place in the surrounding region.  Jesus tells the demon to "be quiet" as the demon names Jesus as "the Holy One of God!"  But Jesus will not fully disclose His identity; there is a pattern to what He is doing.  He reveals truth and power with authority.  But His ministry is not one of "proofs."  He invites a voluntary faith, and doesn't identify Himself at this point as Messiah or Christ.  My study bible cites reasons for this secrecy, and begins by referencing Isaiah (42:1-4) as foreseeing this need.   Other reasons for secrecy are given as well:  (1) the growing hostility of the religious leadership, (2) the people's misunderstanding of the Messiah as an earthly, political leader; and (3) Christ's desire to evoke genuine faith not based solely on marvelous signs.  Instead, His ministry reflects a growing reputation in which it is His teaching that is in some sense exemplified or made manifest in the signs to the people.  Without declaring Himself Christ, Jesus displays authority in His speaking and preaching, and power in the encounter with the demon.

It seems like things happen in Jesus' ministry that are meant, or perhaps function in some way, as revelations.  There are certain things we accept as direct revelation, such as the appearance of the Father's voice, or the Holy Spirit's descent, at Jesus' baptism by John.  That revelation gave us a manifestation of the Holy Trinity.  Here in today's reading we have a different kind of revelation, one that is almost seemingly inadvertent, in the contact with the unclean demon.  The demon speaks out, "I know who You are!"  The demon speaks in fear of what is to happen; why is this Holy One of God present in the world?  Jesus' response is to assert His spiritual authority:  "Be quiet!"  It is every bit as important to understand the power in this command as it is to understand Jesus' effect as He heals the man whom the demon has possessed.  That which plagues and ails human beings seemingly has no choice but to obey Christ.  It is another sense of the understanding that Christ is here to ransom human beings:  the man held hostage to the demon is freed by Christ.  But human beings are capable of grasping what is in their midst at face value.  Jesus may simply be a powerful exorcist, a great -- if surprising or shocking -- teacher, a man who mysteriously speaks with a kind of authority that the people haven't seen before.  Perhaps He's even a prophet (some will surmise later on in His ministry).  But the idea that He is Christ or Messiah is hidden, elusive, and He will neither declare it nor allow the demons who try to rebel against His authority to reveal it.  There are too many false expectations surrounding the notion of Messiah for the Jewish people.  Jesus will first declare Himself in what He preaches and teaches, and what He does, before revealing Himself as Messiah.  He is not going to be a political, nationalist liberator; He is here to reveal the things of God, to be a spiritual missionary who changes the qualities of all of our lives, and offers Himself as Christ to the world, not only to one nation.  Things must unfold accordingly; there is a great deal of "worldly" understanding and expectation He is going to disrupt.  It's ironic that the demon identifies Him, knows who He is.  But in this appearance of the demon is revealed another thing:  that there is a spiritual battleground present in this world.  We may not see it nor understand it, but we do feel its effects, and Christ is here as a powerful ransomer meant to liberate human beings from one side in that battle, the demons who've sought to break from His authority and instead to assert their own.  So far in Luke's Gospel, we've understood that Christ resists Satan and in that sense has shown more power and authority.  Satan withdrew from that contest, awaiting a "more opportune time" for his temptations.  Here, the demon is told to "be quiet" and must follow the command to come out of this man in the synagogue.  But we are still in a battleground; our own interior lives may be a kind of mysterious battleground for all kinds of impulses, things that make slaves of us, and hold us hostage.  Inside, we may be held hostage to all kinds of false beliefs, oppressive beliefs we don't understand about ourselves, things that cause us to be vulnerable to self-harm, giving a false picture of ourselves as unworthy of dignity, or too weak to stand in faith against all sorts of forms of temptation for self-destruction.  What does it mean to walk as a  human being with the dignity Christ gives us, and implies that we are meant for?  What does it mean to see human beings in His sight:  worthy of His sacrifice of His life, so that we are not held hostage to the things that keep us bound and enslaved to false notions?  What is it, really, to understand that our very bodies are created for God's glory, our lives given in order to reflect God's light into the world?  This is the liberation He offers us.  We are surrounded by the effects of the things that hold us hostage, that teach us self-hatred and self-denigration, that mask true humility as some form of masochism, that keep us from understanding the value and worth we find as those who are faithful to God's love for us.  We may be held hostage to a false egotism that supposedly offers us a good sense of ourselves, but masks our own need for change and healing, the weaknesses we need to address.  Repentance is a way of being liberated from the things that enslave us in our interior, a way to be free and go forward.  We shouldn't let modern problems persuade us that somehow times are different now -- there are just new forms of the same problems, and we still need the help and strength of our Ransomer.  Let us call upon it at all times.  Let Him lead us to the life He desires for us.



Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me


 Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and the news of Him went out through all the surrounding region.  And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.

So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up.  And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.  And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah.  And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:
"The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD."
Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him.  And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."  So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth.  And they said, "Is this not Joseph's son?"  He said to them, "You will surely say this proverb to Me, 'Physician, heal yourself!  Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country.'  Then He said, "Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.  But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region to Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.  And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian."  So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff.  Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way.

- Luke 4:14-30

 Yesterday, we read that Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit after His baptism, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being tempted for forty days by the devil.  And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry.  And the devil said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread."  But Jesus answered him, saying, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.'"  Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.  And the devil said to Him, "All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.  Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours."  And Jesus answered and said to him, "Get behind Me, Satan!  For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.'"  Then he brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here.  For it is written: 'He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you,' and 'In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.'"  And Jesus answered and said to him, "It has been said, 'You shall not tempt the LORD your God.'"  Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.

  Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and the news of Him went out through all the surrounding region.  And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.  It's interesting to note the reliance on the Spirit exemplified so far in Luke's Gospel.  First it was in the Spirit that Jesus was led into the wilderness and temptation, and now it is the Spirit that leads Him to His ministry in Galilee.

So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up.  And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.  And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah.  And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:  "The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD."  Jesus reads from Isaiah 61.  My study bible tells us:  "Being the eternal Son of God, Christ did not become the world's anointed Savior, but has always been our Savior from before the foundation of the world.  It was Christ speaking through Isaiah who said, 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me' (Isaiah 61:1).  Note He does not say, 'The Spirit has come upon Me.'  When the Spirit of the LORD descended on Jesus at His baptism (see 3:22), this was a sign revealing an eternal, not temporal, truth to the people."  The "acceptable year" in the quotation from Isaiah is the time of the Incarnation, when the Kingdom of heaven has come to earth (see 2 Corinthians 6:2).

Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him.  And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."  So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth.  And they said, "Is this not Joseph's son?"  He said to them, "You will surely say this proverb to Me, 'Physician, heal yourself!  Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country.'  Then He said, "Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.  But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region to Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.  And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian."  So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff.  Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way.    My study bible says, "This double response of marveling (v. 22) and rejection (v. 29) occurs frequently in those who encounter Christ (see 11:14-16; John 9:16).  His being rejected in His own country fulfills the rejection of the Old Testament prophets such as Elijah (v. 26) and Elisha (v. 27), and foreshadows His rejection by the whole Jewish nation at His trial before Pilate (John 19:14-15).  Christ accepts death according to the Father's will, not at the will of the Jews.  Here, the hour of His Passion has not yet come (see John 8:20)."

The striking thing about today's reading is Jesus' very "proactive" sort of stance right at the beginning of His ministry.  We noted already that it is the Spirit that is "leading" this journey, into the wilderness for temptation first, and now in Galilee -- and in today's reading, His hometown of Nazareth.  But just as Jesus must have been aware that in the wilderness He would directly face challenges and temptations of the world, so I believe He's perfectly aware before He speaks that "no prophet is accepted in His own country."  In fact, this is such an important understanding of His ministry that this statement appears in one form or another in all four Gospels.  Yet Jesus understands it as well as fulfillment of prophecy. And He's prepared for this reaction, and very aggressively, we might say, goes after His audience here in His hometown of Nazareth.  He reminds them that in the times of Old Testament prophets those who truly benefited from faith and were saved, in some sense, were foreigners:  "But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region to Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.  And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian."   How shocking it must have been for them to hear this -- to be reminded that when it comes to God, it may be only foreigners who are the beneficiaries of God's work in the world!  Just as Jesus so decisively confronts and rejects the devil in His first act before beginning His ministry (see yesterday's reading), He's also very decisively and assertively confronting the disbelief among those who are "familiar" -- here in His hometown, and in a broader sense, the culmination of His ministry in Israel.  Right from the beginning, the Gospel sets out for us what is what, unfolding the story of Jesus.   Right from the beginning, He acknowledges what us moderns might call failure!   Rejection, and struggle, He confronts from the beginning, head on.  He's not here to please people, He's not a politician, He's not out to win favor by hook or by crook.  Neither has He come to respond to demands for proofs.  He is in the world to reveal truth, and that is going to upset the order of things.  It's a deep challenge on spiritual levels, of course, to the "ruler of this world."  And it's a deep challenge to all the neighbors' accepted familiarity, what they think they know and understand, who they always though of Jesus as being -- a member of a particular family, the carpenter's son.  In other readings, they're very jealous of the authority with which He speaks, having had no particular formal education to speak of.  They "marvel" here, at His gracious words, and ask (rather incredulously, it seems to me), "Is not this Joseph's son?"  Jesus bursts into His ministry, in some sense, not with a soft touch, but with a great resounding crash, a revelation we are challenged to believe.  He's going to upset the order of things, shake up the world around Himself.  In Matthew (11:12) and later on in Luke's Gospel (16:16), we'll read about Jesus suggesting that from the time of the Baptist until "now" people are somehow entering the kingdom with violence (see quotations here).  Some ancient interpretations of this statement about violence imply that it is rather the Kingdom that is "crashing" violently into the world, appearing to us through Jesus' ministry in vivid and "violent" revelation, something that is bursting in upon our awareness and our earthly understanding.  So it would be implied by Jesus' ministry, and His preaching here to His former neighbors who've known Him all of His life.  Something new is crashing in here, and those who would grasp it must do so with a vigorous sort of seizing.  It's not a soft and easy entrance; it's one that begins with confrontation with the order of things -- both in the challenges of temptation by Satan to Jesus, and in the ways in which Jesus' neighbors' react to Him as He preaches to them for the first time in their synagogue in Nazareth.  He's not here to prove anything to them; rather, His presence is a challenge.  He boldly proclaims the reality He is here to reveal.  Once His mission of ministry has begun (as led by the Spirit), there is not only no turning back, but there is only a vigorous going forward.  Jesus is "all in" and He knows where He is headed.  Let us remember His whole-hearted faith and courage for the mission for which He's been sent into the world.  May it give us a full heart for what we are to do and face in our own lives of faith.



Wednesday, September 24, 2014

If You are the Son of God . . .


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

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

Then he brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here.  For it is written:
'He shall give His angels charge over you,
To keep you,'
and
'In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.'"

And Jesus answered and said to him, "It has been said, 'You shall not tempt the LORD your God.'"

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

- Luke 4:1-13

Yesterday, we read that as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not, John answered, saying to all, "I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire."  And with many other exhortations he preached to the people.  But Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him concerning Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, also added this, above all, that he shut John up in prison. When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened.  And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, "You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased."  The lectionary then skips over Luke 3:23=38, which gives us the genealogy of Jesus.

Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and as led by the Spirit into the wilderness, . . .   My study bible calls this the "exodus of Jesus" into the wilderness following His baptism.  It says there is a dual symbolism here:  "(1)  it fulfills the Old Testament type, in which Israel journeyed in the wilderness for forty years after its 'baptism' in the Red Sea; and (2) it prefigures our own journey through the fallen world after baptism as we struggle towards the Kingdom."

. . .  being tempted for forty days by the devil.  And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry.  And the devil said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread."  But Jesus answered him, saying, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.'"  We note the "forty days" as another "type" of Israel's time in the wilderness for forty years.  The fasting is symbolic of the testing of Israel's faith at that time, in which they came to rely on manna from heaven.  Here, Jesus is tempted, but responds with quotations from Deuteronomy (here, it's Deuteronomy 8:3).  My study bible says, "Note each time Christ rebukes the devil, it is with the truth and power of Scripture.  This teaches the faithful to become immersed in Scripture in order to resist and drive away every temptation (see Psalm 119:11)."   We also note that here the devil challenges Jesus' relationship to the Father as Son; the question here is a challenge to the announcement of the Father at Jesus' baptism (in yesterday's reading).  The desire is to separate Father and Son.  In His divine nature, Jesus "can do nothing of Himself" (John 5:30) apart from the Father - and is in one will with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  As human being, He possesses free will and "at all times must choose to remain obedient to the divine will of the Father," says my study bible.  Here Jesus also rejects "earthly" comforts (bread) in order to stay true to the will of the Father; this 'overturns' the act of Adam in so doing.  My study bible calls Christ the "new Adam" who "conquers all temptation by the divine word, giving human nature the power to conquer Satan."

Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.  And the devil said to Him, "All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.  Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours."   My study bible explains that God's Kingdom isn't one of earthly power and possessions -- so, in the devil's test, Jesus was being asked to choose worldly power over the Kingdom of God.  It notes:  "The devil is the 'ruler of this world' (John 12:31), 'the god of this age' (2 Corinthians 4:4), because the whole world is in his power (1 John 5:19).  Jesus refuses the road to earthly glory, which would lead Him away from His suffering and death for the redemption of the world."

And Jesus answered and said to him, "Get behind Me, Satan!  For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.'"   Jesus firmly rejects temptation of an earthly kingdom, and points instead, as He always does throughout the Gospels, to the Father.  The quotation is from Deuteronomy 6:13.

Then he brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here.  For it is written:  'He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you,' and  'In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.'"  My study bible explains:  "Seeing that Christ had defeated him through the power of the Scriptures, Satan vainly tries to use the Scriptures to put God's power of protection to the test.  See also 2 Peter 1:19-21.)"  The devil quotes from Psalm 91:11-12.  My study bible also notes that although Satan tries to use the Scriptures, he understands neither their truth nor their power.  (The Pharisees actually try to do the same in John 7:52).  A note says, "Knowing and quoting Scripture without true understanding is worthless at best and ultimately condemnable."

And Jesus answered and said to him, "It has been said, 'You shall not tempt the LORD your God.' Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.   Jesus replies with a rebuke that quotes once again from Deuteronomy (6:16), a passage that again comes from the time Israel was tempted (and sinned, in contrast to Jesus, in the wilderness).   My study bible says, "Trials and temptations come on their own; we should never intentionally expose ourselves to danger in order to test or prove God's protection.  To do so is to tempt the LORD."  Regarding an opportune time, my study bible cites passages during which Jesus is most sorely tried:  Luke 22:40-46, 23:35; and Matthew 16:21.

This passage sets out our own temptations in life.  They come when we are stressed in some way.  They come when we are tested by trying to hold fast to what we believe God is asking of us.  That Jesus would quote Scripture gives us a hint about our own strengths (or lack of them), and how we can also help ourselves by studying and pondering Scripture, turning to read when we need strength for our own faith.  The temptation starts with our own needs, perhaps playing on the fears that we will not have enough, and that it's not "good enough" to wait upon God or rely on our faith to get us through.  It's kind of the ultimate test of our need for security at certain very trying times.  In other ways it reflects fears that can strike even in the midst of abundance.  Also implied in the question about bread is an antagonism:  Jesus is challenged to prove Himself.  Ultimately, the temptation in each case is a way of asking us who's in charge in our lives.  Can we make decisions to serve God, regardless of temptation?  We can try, we can live our faith, and maybe more importantly we have help to call upon to do so.  Authority, power, and glory together form another kind of temptation, one that figures very prominently in the Gospels, and feeds the envy of those who will seek to put Jesus to death.  The need for the "praise of men" also feeds very strongly on our need for security, to be accepted in the "group."  But this desire becomes a truly slippery slope, when pleasing what we perceive to be public opinion (or our image in the eyes of others) leads us away from our own integrity -- our faith and what is truly in our hearts.  It's a very common temptation in a world now fueled by the images of instant communications on so many levels, and we can see the "train wrecks" that may be produced by such temptation every day.   Do public opinion polls really help people to act with integrity?  Better to have humility before God, in prayer, and in the assistance of those whom we trust to help us do what is truly best for us and who share God's love with us in so doing.   In another subtle sense, that is also a temptation to "prove ourselves."  Finally, to tempt God is a familiar way of behavior, particularly to those who are in highly stressed circumstances.  One may truly be "on the edge" psychologically and come to believe that this form of irresponsibility is a way out of one's problems that are too overwhelming to handle alone.  But it's a false way, that may land us in worse trouble than we're already in.  These temptations, and Christ's response, continue to call us back from the brink of giving up on our own capacity for strength, for making our way through difficult situations, for giving up our ultimate responsibility for making choices and retaining faith.  We're not meant to be all-powerful, nor all in control of our lives.  We're not called to prove something to others.  Temptations and hardships will come.  But faith doesn't ask of us to be a superhero.  Faith asks us, in fact, to be aware of our own weaknesses, our need for constant strengthening, our dependence upon God and those who will share with us that love that is of God in the first place.  Even if we have no one to turn to, we may have Scripture, and there is boundless help within the completed mission of Christ:  we are never truly alone.  We have access to this strength via prayer, no matter where we are and no matter the circumstances.  Let us work to understand ourselves and where our strength comes from.  This Man tempted in the wilderness died so that we may have that strength with us always, and a Helper to call upon.  His battle with these temptations gave us tools and spiritual strengths to gain a foothold over "the prince of this world."  Let us remember that His temptations are for our sake, similar to all that we may go through in a modern world that is so seemingly changed from Jesus' world.  But the temptations for power and authority, worldly goods, the seeming need to prove ourselves and even to tempt God's love for us, all remain with us.  His defeat of the devil stands in for us in all our own challenges; the whole body of the "great cloud of witnesses" are also present to help us in prayer, to intercede.  The Helper is always with us, as are Christ and the Father as well.