Monday, June 26, 2017

Take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth


 Then He spoke to them a parable:  "Look at the fig tree, and all the trees.  When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near.  So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.  Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.

"But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.  For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth.  Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man."  And in the daytime He was teaching in the temple, but at night He went out and stayed on the mountain called Olivet.  Then early in the morning all the people came to Him in the temple to hear Him.

- Luke 21:29-36

On Saturday, we read Jesus' continuing discourse about the events to come in Jerusalem, and His second coming:   "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near.  Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her.  For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.  But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!  For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people.  And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations.  And Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.  And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near."

Then He spoke to them a parable:  "Look at the fig tree, and all the trees.  When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near.  So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.  Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away."  While it is quite literally true that the generation of those to whom He was directly addressing would see the destruction of Jerusalem, His discourse includes events of His return, or second coming.  Therefore this generation actually refers to all believers at all times; that is, the generation of the Church, and not merely those alive at the time of Christ.  Furthermore, the age initiated continues, and will end only upon His return.  Therefore, all events discussed are tied to one another.

"But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.  For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth.  Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man."  And in the daytime He was teaching in the temple, but at night He went out and stayed on the mountain called Olivet.  Then early in the morning all the people came to Him in the temple to hear Him.  Here is one assurance Jesus gives us:  that when He does return, that Day will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth.  That is, only those truly watchful and wakeful will be expecting it at all.  But total involvement with the worldly weighs us down, we forget our spiritual senses, a life of prayer.   He warns of hearts weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and care of this life, giving us a picture of the things we do to divert ourselves, and the overwhelming concerns possible when we forget to make space for God in our daily life, a healthy detachment that puts life into a wider perspective than what the world offers to us.

For Jesus to say that His second coming will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth is quite an astounding statement indeed.  It implies that the world is full of things that will distract us from our purpose, and our own true good in life.  As Jesus puts it, there are things in life that may burden our hearts, weigh them down, to the point that we are no longer alert and awake to the things He teaches us about, to the reality we are to always keep in mind.  A snare is a trap, something that catches an animal unawares when it is being hunted (particularly used for birds).  The implication here is that by ignoring the things He calls us to be aware of, we may lose our true liberty, our freedom -- becoming subject to that which enslaves and captures.  How does this happen?  His implications of that are clear too:  the cares of the world, and the things that we chase as diversion or immediate pleasures, whatever it is that may serve to distract us from true purpose, and in particular a life of prayer so that we are awake to the things He would have us be mindful of in life.  A snare set for a bird gives us a sense that God calls us to a kind of watchfulness we need for our own good, for our survival, for the assurance of our own independence and liberty.  It gives us a picture of evil or sin as that which robs us of something -- a trick that offers what sounds good but has as its end a denial of our greatest good, our true place.  In this context, the one thing necessary becomes a focus on the place where all that is good comes from, the love of God from which every perfect gift comes.  It is in that love that we wish to abide and have our lives, so that we are aware of who we are and what we need to be about, and we can live a life of true health -- that which is truly good for us.  We are vulnerable human beings, and we live in a state where it is easy to lose sight of the fact of our limitations, our need for direction and guidance, a constant sustenance in the face of that which is adverse to us -- even to be aware that there is a type of adversity which may catch us unaware.  This is where we acknowledge our dependence on God, our true need for humility as a way to stay focused and real.  But it is also where we acknowledge our deep need for love, in a world that doesn't always give what it seems to be offering.






Saturday, June 24, 2017

And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken


 "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near.  Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her.  For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.  But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!  For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people.  And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations.  And Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

"And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near."

- Luke 21:20-28

Yesterday we read that, as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and donations, Jesus said, "These things which you see -- the days will come in which not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down."  So they asked Him, saying, "Teacher, but when will these things be?  And what sign will there be when these things are about to take place?"  And He said:  "Take heed that you not be deceived.  For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He,' and 'The time has drawn near.'  Therefore do not go after them.  But when you hear of wars and commotions, do not be terrified; for these things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately."  Then He said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.  But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons.  You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name's sake.  But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony.  Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.  You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.  And you will be hated by all for My name's sake.  But not a hair of your head shall be lost.  By your patience possess your souls."

 "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near.  Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her.  For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.  But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!  For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people.  And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations.  And Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled."  Here Jesus' description is vivid indeed, and focusing on what is going to happen in Jerusalem within a generation (70 AD, the Siege of Jerusalem).   My study bible says that Jesus' phrase when you see indicates that many of the disciples would still be alive at that time.  Vengeance and fulfillment indicates a kind of outcome of the forces of history and of choice; we are reminded of Christ weeping over Jerusalem, "If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!" In another vision of the military destruction to come, He said that the "days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation."

 "And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near."  And here, the dialogue switches to the time of the end of the age, and Christ's return.  My study bible focuses on the manner in which Christ will return, noting that in His words, the event will be unmistakable to the whole world.  If there is any question or doubt, then that is evidence enough that He has not returned.  There will be nothing hidden about it, no elite or elect who see while others do not.  We note the cosmic nature of the signs of that time, that the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  When Christ does appear, it will be in a cloud with power and great glory.  We don't know what that means or what the experience will be like, but we can infer that it will be apparent to all.

What is the cosmic nature of Christ's return, and moreover, how is it tied up with the earthly events of the Siege of Jerusalem and its destruction in the first century after Christ's birth?  Even in the telling of the times of the end in the Gospels (and indeed, in the words of Jesus Christ Himself) we see the intertwining of both worldly and heavenly events, just as Christ's birth also involves signs from the heavens and an intervention of the divine into the affairs of the world.  The eternal and the temporal mix, as one inserts itself into the other.  Heaven is not far from our experience, even if we are unaware of its workings.   Of this we can be certain.  It is even in the words given to the apostles as they were sent out on their first mission, going out to all the towns and cities and places to which they were directed.  Jesus told them that they were to tell all those to whom they were sent, "The kingdom of God has come near to you."  And this is the true reality, the real essence, of the Gospel message.  It is in the stories of Christ's birth, it is in all the preaching and teaching and mission of His ministry, it is in the events to come of Holy Week, it is in the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, of the initiation of this age, even as Jesus called it "the times of the Gentiles," and it is in the prophecy of His return and our expectations that He has given us for those things that are to come.  This is the reality of our story, His story -- that the kingdom of God has come near to us.  The intermingling of the vivid historical stories of the destruction of Jerusalem, His prophecies fulfilled within the lifetimes of those who listened to Him during Holy Week, and the prophecies of the times of the end before His second coming, all suggest to us this very fact of heaven and earth intersecting.  That is, God's kingdom manifest here, intervening in our time, intersecting our lives and our world.  It is even expressed in the prayer He has given us to pray to Our Father:  "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."  And He has told us, in His words (also notably couched in a prophecy of the time of the end of the age and His return), "The kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21).  These words in the Greek give both meanings that this kingdom is within us and among us.  It is a paradoxical picture we're given in the Gospels, because this intertwining of heaven and earth doesn't happen in a purely seamless way.   This great "event" (if we can call it one event) brings not sort of pure experience of the sort of things we associate with heaven:  joy, peace, confidence, mercy.  But rather instead we are given conflict and division, the fits and starts of faith and every confidence in Christ, and the reality of the world that also holds spiritual struggle, rebellion and rejection of this Kingdom, persecutions, betrayals, violence, tribulation.  The story of the Gospel isn't couched in a promise of unending "happiness" without travail of any kind.  On the contrary, we experience the full reality of a world in which sin plays a part, and separation from God, and all that comes it -- but in the midst, the promise of joy and peace and the total and full assurance that "I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).  This is why the time of the end has not come, because in this age we are included in the spiritual struggle for the kingdom of heaven in the world.  As His followers, we are to experience also His struggle in the world.  We are to take up His Cross and follow, and have faith and be His good servants, waiting and watching and knowing what it is we are to be about, with every confidence in Him, even as we struggle with our own fears in tribulation.  That's what He has invited us into, an experience of both, with Him as His friends -- and not only servants.  Rather, we are invited to be servants as He also has been a servant to all, in the struggle for the Kingdom in the world.  There is no reality we shrink from, but we are simply invited in to His mission until the time He returns.  These are our expectations and mission He has given us.  Let us savor the fullness of all that He gives and brings and the life He gives us.





Friday, June 23, 2017

Take heed that you not be deceived


Then, as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and donations, He said, "These things which you see -- the days will come in which not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down."  So they asked Him, saying, "Teacher, but when will these things be?  And what sign will there be when these things are about to take place?"  And He said:  "Take heed that you not be deceived.  For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He,' and 'The time has drawn near.'  Therefore do not go after them.  But when you hear of wars and commotions, do not be terrified; for these things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately."

Then He said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.  But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons.  You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name's sake.  But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony.  Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.  You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.  And you will be hated by all for My name's sake.  But not a hair of your head shall be lost.  By your patience possess your souls."

- Luke 21:5-19

Yesterday, we read that Jesus said in the temple, "How can they say that the Christ is the Son of David?  Now David himself said in the Book of Psalms:  'The LORD said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool."'  Therefore David calls Him 'Lord'; how is He then His Son?"  Then, in the hearing of all the people, He said to His disciples, "Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers.  These will receive greater condemnation."  And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites.  So he said, "Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had."

Then, as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and donations, He said, "These things which you see -- the days will come in which not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down."  So they asked Him, saying, "Teacher, but when will these things be?  And what sign will there be when these things are about to take place?"  And He said:  "Take heed that you not be deceived.  For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He,' and 'The time has drawn near.'  Therefore do not go after them.  But when you hear of wars and commotions, do not be terrified; for these things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately."  Christ's prophecy of the destruction of the temple was fulfilled at the Siege of Jerusalem, in AD 70, when the temple was destroyed by the Romans.  Only one retaining wall of the temple remained, which has been called the Wailing Wall or Western Wall.  The time of the destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem is tied, in the Gospels, with eschatology, "end times."  Jesus repeatedly gives warnings not to give in to fear and panic, but to endure.   My study bible asks us to note that when we hear of wars and commotions, then we know that the end is not yet near. 

Then He said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.  But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons.  You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name's sake.  But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony.  Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.  You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.  And you will be hated by all for My name's sake.  But not a hair of your head shall be lost.  By your patience possess your souls."  The times of the End and the times of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple are combined, in some sense, in the Gospels.  The emphasis here is on endurance and abiding in faith in Christ through all things.  Any idea of tribulation is not meant to indicate a limited window of time, but rather describe the struggle for faith through the whole of the age.   We are certainly familiar with wars, and earthquakes, and famines, and pestilences.  However, also included are the experiences of the immediate generation of followers to whom He addresses these words.   We note what is essential and vivid:  there will be deep betrayals and stark choices to make for the sake of one's faith in Christ.  There will be sacrifices made, even to the point of the loss of life, and to experience being "hated by all for My name's sake."  But Christ will give a mouth and wisdom which all one's adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.  We are not to overthink nor ruminate on our fears nor the outcomes we may dread:  He will give us words with which to testify to our faith.   It is a watchword for the entire age to be told, "By your patience possess your souls." 

Jesus begins His discourse for His disciples on what is to come in Jerusalem, and also on issues that involve "end times," the end of the age.  Both topics are linked; the current age begun is the time of the end.  That is, the destruction of Jerusalem will signal the age that has begun with His Incarnation as the centerpiece of history, with the events to come in Holy Week as a kind of cosmic intervention necessary to the entire arc of time and the new age to come.  We get the first hint of what is to come, and Jesus characterizes the time in which we await His return in these first few verses.  There is the incredible, unthinkable sight of the splendid temple, one of the seven architectural wonders of the world.  It had been entirely rebuilt by Herod the Great, with tremendous additions of great beauty, meant to be a crowning project by one who was also known as Herod the Builder.  One may imagine that for the disciples, what Jesus is saying is simply indescribable and impossible to understand.   But the perspective of the Gospels is one of the experience of the apostles and disciples of Christ, and one in which we await -- as did they -- His return in hopeful expectation, even with knowledge of persecution, difficulty, and the need for endurance and patience.  We must bear in mind that what is given to us in this reading is the perspective of Christ.  All that He names He expects those who love Him to experience, to survive, to put into the perspective of faith that He offers.  It is not going to be easy, and yet it is all that our faith calls us to and asks of us.  In a time of very rapid growth of expectation of healthcare and other fields of endeavor,  gratification of desires for goods unheard of in the past, and with so much instantaneously at the command of our keyboard, it may seem extremely incongruous to know that this tremendous discipline of endurance and patience is what Christ calls us to.  Self-help and even spiritually-oriented quick fixes seem to grow exponentially, offering constant new approaches.  We may indeed wonder, with Him, "When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?"  Nevertheless, the lifelong struggle for our faith remains, and His words endure, as does the Church. 








Thursday, June 22, 2017

Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had


 And He said to them, "How can they say that the Christ is the Son of David?  Now David himself said in the Book of Psalms:
'The LORD said to my Lord,
"Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool."'
Therefore David calls Him 'Lord'; how is He then His Son?"

Then, in the hearing of all the people, He said to His disciples, "Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers.  These will receive greater condemnation."

And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites.  So he said, "Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had."

- Luke 20:41-21:4

Yesterday we read that the Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection, came to Jesus in the temple and asked Him, saying:  "Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man's brother dies, having a wife, and he dies without children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother.  Now there were seven brothers.  And the first took a wife, and died without children.  And the second took her as wife, and he died childless.  Then the third took her, and in like manner the seven also; and they left no children, and died.  Last of all the woman died also.  Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife does she become?  For all seven had her as wife."  Jesus answered and said to them, "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage.  But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.  But even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord 'the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.'  For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him."  Then some of the scribes answered and said, "Teacher, You have spoken well."  But after that they dared not question Him anymore.

And He said to them, "How can they say that the Christ is the Son of David?  Now David himself said in the Book of Psalms:  'The LORD said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool."'  Therefore David calls Him 'Lord'; how is He then His Son?"  Here is a challenge to the understanding and interpretation of the Scriptures.   Jesus quotes from Psalm 110:1.  In Jesus' perspective, the first reference to the LORD applies to God the Father, while the term my Lord refers to Christ.  His question is answered in that Christ is the Son of David in His humanity and David's Lord in His divinity.   David addresses the Messiah as Lord, it therefore teaches that the Messiah, in addition to being a descendant of David, is also divine.  There is no answer offered here; clearly those addressed are afraid to assent to the implications of the question.

Then, in the hearing of all the people, He said to His disciples, "Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers.  These will receive greater condemnation."  Jesus goes on the offensive, giving a critique of the behavior of the scribes.  (In Matthew's Gospel, this forms part of Jesus' final public sermon, a great criticism of the ways of both the Pharisees and the scribes; see Matthew 23:1-39.)  The criticism here focuses on hypocrisy, and the desire to make a show of piety while privately violating all the intent of the Law.  It suggests a cold-hearted love of position, and a ruthless attitude toward those who are dependent.

And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites.  So he said, "Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had."  According to traditional understanding, the Lord accounts the value of a gift not by how much is given, but by how much is kept back.  Thus this poor widow is counted to have given a great gift, as she kept nothing for herself.  Those who have given out of their abundance but keep plenty back for themselves are counted by God to have given very little, my study bible tells us.  Jesus gives us the Lord's perspective of each.

We get a perspective on Jesus' truth here.  In order to really follow His truth, we must be, in some sense, truly courageous.  First of all, for these men to recognize the Messiah (and we remember that Jesus' disciples have welcomed Him to Jerusalem as Messiah) is divine is a great leap forward from their assumptions and even desires.  The image of the Messiah in their understanding is not one that fits Jesus, the one who rode into Jerusalem in His Triumphal Entry on a donkey's colt.  Their understanding is of a military liberator, one who will restore the fortunes of Jerusalem -- and by implication, their positions of authority and power as absolute, minus the Roman rulers.  We have a kind of hierarchy of power and position that obscures truth in all of the images given to us in today's reading.  Jesus first of all establishes that the rule of Messiah must be one that is divine, not merely earthly.  And in the perspective of the divine, all kinds of things are already wrong in Jerusalem, and it's not just the Romans who are responsible for what is wrong.  Jesus criticizes the scribes for their love of position and authority, their full emphasis on their own image of piety before others and their places of great honor in the society -- while meanwhile they abuse those who are already without means and support, the widows whom Jesus names.  In a most cruel image, the scribes are those who devour widows' houses.  And we must see this as going hand in hand with "for a pretense they make long prayers," because spiritual hypocrisy, in Christ's view, is a product of greed, self-centeredness.  The very image of "devouring" tells us something about a kind of insatiable desire, and links it to Jesus' image of false prophets, who are like "ravenous wolves" "in sheep's clothing"  (Matthew 7:15).  Jesus ties His criticism to the praise of the poor widow, who truly loves God, and whose gift, although small, is greater than all.  We mustn't confuse image with truth, is the message here.  Image is altogether too easy to manipulate -- and in particular, by those whose entire investment in life is in that image before others.  Such an emphasis -- no matter what the guise -- is all too often a prescription for a total lack of emphasis on the heart and the reality of the inner life, the place where we are temples to the spirit of God, in which the kingdom of heaven dwells within us.  In fact, one might say that the entire thrust of the Gospels gears us toward a kind of humiliation that may be necessary for salvation.  That is, a shattering of public image, a willingness to undergo shame for the sake of the love of God.  The Cross speaks of this to us, in what is perhaps a most frightening way, still powerful in its great truth that stands all worldly image on its head.  Jesus' words teach this to us, when He says, "Whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels" (9:26).  To be associated with a poor widow who has only two coins to put into the treasury as donation may still be, in our world, a kind of undesirable image for all kinds of reasons.  But we're mistaken if we think that Christ is only speaking about wealth and status as indicators of who is righteous and who is not.  The true source of humility and right-relatedness is love of God, and within that context all image falls away.  It is a heart devoted to God that creates the reality of the kingdom of heaven within us, and there is no status in the world that stands in the way of that.  There is only false image, hypocrisy, cold-heartedness, accompanied by a kind of ravenous hunger to devour that stands in the way.  Let us strip ourselves of images that obscure the one thing necessary, and remember what we are to be about.  










Wednesday, June 21, 2017

He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him


 Then the Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, saying:  "Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man's brother dies, having a wife, and he dies without children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother.  Now there were seven brothers.  And the first took a wife, and died without children.  And the second took her as wife, and he died childless.  Then the third took her, and in like manner the seven also; and they left no children, and died.  Last of all the woman died also.  Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife does she become?  For all seven had her as wife."

Jesus answered and said to them, "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage.  But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.  But even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord 'the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.'  For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him."  Then some of the scribes answered and said, "Teacher, You have spoken well."  But after that they dared not question Him anymore.

- Luke 20:27-40

Yesterday we read that after Jesus taught a parable against them in the temple in Jerusalem, the chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people -- for they knew He had spoken this parable against them.  So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor.  Then they asked Him, saying, "Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth:  Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"  But He perceived their craftiness, and said to them, "Why do you test Me?  Show Me a denarius.  Whose image and inscription does it have?"  They answered and said, "Caesar's."  And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."  But they could not catch Him in His words in the presence of the people.  And they marveled at His answer and kept silent.

 Then the Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, saying:  "Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man's brother dies, having a wife, and he dies without children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother.  Now there were seven brothers.  And the first took a wife, and died without children.  And the second took her as wife, and he died childless.  Then the third took her, and in like manner the seven also; and they left no children, and died.  Last of all the woman died also.  Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife does she become?  For all seven had her as wife."   The Sadducees ask this question without having any idea of the reality of the Resurrection.  As a group, they did not believe in resurrection, nor did they hold with the oral traditions as did the Pharisees.  Instead, they held as sacred the written Law alone.  They were something of a landowning aristocratic class, holding many important offices in the leadership and ruling class of Israel.  Here, their question reflects their assumptions about the doctrine of resurrection.  They consider the resurrection to be a continuation of earthly life (including earthly marriage), so they mock the doctrine with an absurd scenario.

Jesus answered and said to them, "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage.  But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.  But even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord 'the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.'  For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him."  Then some of the scribes answered and said, "Teacher, You have spoken well."  But after that they dared not question Him anymore.  Jesus confirms that their will be a resurrection, but not the type of life that the Sadducees imagine.  In their understanding, He tells them, they are ignorant of the Scriptures.  If they understood Scripture properly, they would know that it reveals a complete transfiguration of life in the resurrection, which makes their question irrelevant.  Moreover, they don't understand how Abraham and his sons can be alive in God even if they are physically dead.  My study bible tells us that it is the clear teaching of Christ that the souls of the faithful who have departed this life are sustained before the face of God in anticipation of the final joy of the resurrection.  The scribes, whose duty it is to interpret, record, and teach the Scriptures, tell Him, "Teacher, You have spoken well."

 It's interesting to juxtapose today's reading against yesterday's passage from the lectionary (see above).  Yesterday we read that Christ was asked to choose between something worldly and something sacred ("Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?").  But Jesus refused the choice and classified it as a false dilemma, saying, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."  Today the Sadducees mock the idea of resurrection with a worldly scenario that doesn't apply, and which confuses the life of the resurrection with earthly life.  Jesus' response is therefore to correct them, and to teach how different the life of the resurrection is than the worldly life they live with earthly marriage.  He tells them that those who attain life in the age to come "neither marry nor are given in marriage; nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection."  He cites the Scriptures which already hold the keys to this truth.  Moses himself, in calling the Lord "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" affirms that God "is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him."  That this comes from the burning bush passage is significant, because in the burning bush (Exodus 3) we find a distinct symbol of God's presence in the world, the energies that are alive but do not consume, that are ever-present and eternal, in which all live to Him.  There is something powerful in Jesus' assertion of this life of the age to come, in that the Sadducees, with their very "earthly" vision of life and its meanings, are perhaps forced to reconcile their lack of understanding with the values and meanings of their lives.  If everything is about the Law, about rule, about property, then what is left out?  Clearly the understanding of faith has to include the perspective Jesus offers, in which our very lives become valuable (and in this sense of value is also the understanding of "glory") not for what we have -- including family and property, but for who we are in the sight of God, as we "live to Him," in Jesus' words.  In this way Jesus once again balances our understanding of our lives in the fullness of cosmic reality and the life we have in God.  It's not really a "one or the other" choice, but rather a life in the world that also participates in the life of God.  This is the life of faith that He offers us.  It is a deeper, richer, more blessed concept of living and what is significant to our lives, even as we live in this world.  After the Siege of Jerusalem, the Sadducees died out as a class.  But we are left with this still-pertinent question, bringing into our lives an understanding of how Christ wants us to see the ever-present reality of the Kingdom, and understand the life of the age to come, even as we live our lives in this age.  In the fullness of His teaching, we may live our lives with understanding and deepening faith, measuring what we do and the meanings and values we hold, against the transcendence He offers to us.






Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's


 And the chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people -- for they knew He had spoken this parable against them.

So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor.  Then they asked Him, saying, "Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth:  Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"  But He perceived their craftiness, and said to them, "Why do you test Me?  Show Me a denarius.  Whose image and inscription does it have?"  They answered and said, "Caesar's."  And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."  But they could not catch Him in His words in the presence of the people.  And they marveled at His answer and kept silent.

- Luke 20:19-26

Yesterday we read that Jesus the people this parable in the temple at Jerusalem:  "A certain man planted a vineyard, leased it to vinedressers, and went into a far country for a long time.  Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that they might give him some of the fruit of the vineyard.  But the vinedressers beat him and sent him away empty-handed.  Again he sent another servant; and they beat him also, treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed.  And again he sent a third; and they wounded him also and cast him out.  Then the owner of the vineyard said, 'What shall I do?  I will send my beloved son.  Probably they will respect him when they see him.'  But when the vinedressers saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, 'This is the heir.  Come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.'  So they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.  Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do to them?  He will come and destroy those vinedressers and give the vineyard to others."  And when they heard it they said, "Certainly not!"  Then He looked at them and said, "What then is this that is written:  'The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone'?  Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder."  And the chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people -- for they knew He had spoken this parable against them.

  And the chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people -- for they knew He had spoken this parable against them.  The lectionary repeats this verse from yesterday's reading (above).  We understand the motivation of those who wish to trap Jesus into giving an answer for which they can arrest Him.  And, on the other hand, we know that the people wish to hear Jesus teach.

So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor.  This is an affirmation of the verse before it, but with elaboration.  There are spies who pretended to be righteous.  They want to seize on His words, and deliver Him to the power and authority of the governor; that is, to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.

Then they asked Him, saying, "Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth:  Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"  But He perceived their craftiness, and said to them, "Why do you test Me?  Show Me a denarius.  Whose image and inscription does it have?"  They answered and said, "Caesar's."  And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."  But they could not catch Him in His words in the presence of the people.  And they marveled at His answer and kept silent.  Here's a question designed to trap Jesus so that either He may be reported to the Roman governor, or so that the people will turn against Him.  A "yes" answer would turn the Jewish people against Him.   A "no" answer means a charge of treason can be brought against Him to the Roman governor.  But instead, His answer defeats both outcomes.  It shows that a believer can render the state its due while also serving God (Romans 13:1-7).  My study bible says that as the coin bears the image of the emperor and is properly paid to him, so each person bears the image of God and therefore belongs to God.  Conflict arises only when the state demands that which is contrary to God.

Jesus' truth works in particular ways.  A question that is designed to trap Him simply doesn't work, because He won't allow His truth to be subverted by false distortions.  For Christ, there is no conflict between living in the world and worshiping God.  There is only conflict when we feel we must choose between one and the other -- or worse, when we substitute one for the other.  To pay taxes to Caesar, even when Caesar was a despised figure by the Jews, was not in conflict with worshiping God.  Caesar had his own system of necessary taxes, just as any other government does.  But paying those taxes does not mean that our heart does not belong to God.  More importantly, those who would distort the doctrine of Christianity into a dire system of conflict between living a life as a human being and as a "spiritual" being are not upholding Christ's point of view.  And let us clearly understand from Christ's example that political parties and movements do not stand in as substitutes for faith in God nor worship practices.  Fully human and fully God, Jesus lives in the world to teach us how to be like Him, how to love God and be fully human at the same time, loving the creation given to us by the Creator, being good stewards of our world.  There is not meant to be a conflict between a material life and a spiritual life; the body itself is seen as a wholistic part of spirit and soul.  Indeed, practices like fasting are meant to teach us this; they offer the body as part of spiritual practice, not as something "bad" or "evil."  To fast is simply to make a choice, to assert loyalty to God over and above all else.  Such a practice is not meant to be severe and punishing, but rather to be "for" the body.  In fact, recent studies on methods of fasting (used, say, as diets, and not as spiritual practice)  conclude that fasting in some sense resets the body, and in particular the brain.  Our body begins to gear itself in different ways, actually activating the growth of neurons, synapses, and new neural connections in the brain, thus potentially improving memory and brain function in ways that may impact all aspects of life.  In fact, those who study this particular field for dietary purposes suggest (among other options) what they call a 5:2 diet; that is, a normal diet 5 days a week, and a restricted diet 2 days per week. This is identical to the tradition of fasting in the ancient church on Wednesdays and Fridays.  (Let us note that for religious purposes we speak of fasting as restriction from certain foods, not elimination of eating altogether.  These studies also suggest simply restricting total food intake on the 2 days, not eliminating food altogether.)  Another suggestion made by such studies is limiting eating to a particular window of time during the day, similar to routine practices in many monasteries.  Since prayer, fasting, and almsgiving have always been meant to go together in religious teaching, one thing we may conclude from these recent scientific studies is that, in fact, fasting really does help us grow spiritually when accompanied with prayer and almsgiving, done for the purpose of strengthening our relationship with God.  If the brain is "primed" in some sense for better function and memory, then how does prayer truly deepen within us - as those proponents of Prayer of the Heart have always taught -- when aided by fasting?   As Jesus Himself has implied, fasting can function as assistance to effective prayer.  Real fasting, in fact, in the sight of the church, is abstention from sin; fasting from food is a discipline to help teach us choice and self-mastery.  In this way, we can begin to understand the truth that our faith and our worldly lives are meant to go hand in hand.  Contrary to the picture presented to Christ of the choice to be made by His false questioners, Jesus' transcendent way of teaching that God is always in our hearts, even as we live our lives in the world, is the truth that we need for a truly good life.  Christ shows us that we are meant to live full lives, but within the overarching umbrella of a dedication to God, and this is the way that we must see the thrust of our faith and the kinds of choices we are called upon to make.  Do not be taken in by those who may suggest dire dilemmas to us, or worldly circumstances in which we are torn from our faith.  Christ has a way -- the way, the truth, and the life.  Let us find it through prayer and by His grace, even through a decidedly fallen world that will frequently offer us false dilemmas.



Monday, June 19, 2017

The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone


 Then He began to tell the people this parable:  "A certain man planted a vineyard, leased it to vinedressers, and went into a far country for a long time.  Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that they might give him some of the fruit of the vineyard.  But the vinedressers beat him and sent him away empty-handed.  Again he sent another servant; and they beat him also, treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed.  And again he sent a third; and they wounded him also and cast him out.  Then the owner of the vineyard said, 'What shall I do?  I will send my beloved son.  Probably they will respect him when they see him.'  But when the vinedressers saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, 'This is the heir.  Come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.'  So they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.  Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do to them?  He will come and destroy those vinedressers and give the vineyard to others."  And when they heard it they said, "Certainly not!"  Then He looked at them and said, "What then is this that is written:
'The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone'?
Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder."

And the chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people -- for they knew He had spoken this parable against them.

- Luke 20:9-19

On Saturday we read that, as Jesus taught the people in the temple in the days after His cleansing of it, and preached the gospel, that the chief priests and the scribes, together with the elders, confronted Him and spoke to Him, saying, "Tell us, by what authority are You doing these things?  Or who is he who gave You this authority?"  But He answered and said to them, "I also will ask you one thing, and answer Me:  The baptism of John -- was it from heaven or from men?"  And they reasoned among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say, 'Why then did you not believe him?'  But if we say, 'From men,' all the people will stone us, for they are persuaded that John was a prophet."  So they answered that they did not know where it was from.  And Jesus said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things."

 Then He began to tell the people this parable:  "A certain man planted a vineyard, leased it to vinedressers, and went into a far country for a long time.  Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that they might give him some of the fruit of the vineyard.  But the vinedressers beat him and sent him away empty-handed.  Again he sent another servant; and they beat him also, treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed.  And again he sent a third; and they wounded him also and cast him out.  Then the owner of the vineyard said, 'What shall I do?  I will send my beloved son.  Probably they will respect him when they see him.'  But when the vinedressers saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, 'This is the heir.  Come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.'  So they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.  Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do to them?  He will come and destroy those vinedressers and give the vineyard to others."  We recall that the chief priests, scribes, and elders have come to confront Jesus about His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem and His cleansing of the temple, asking Him, "By what authority do You do these things?"  They refused to answer His question acknowledging by what authority John baptized.   This parable, then, is a direct response  to them in return.   In the parable, the man represents God the Father, and the vineyard to God's people.  The vinedressers are these leaders of the Jews who are entrusted to care for the people.  We have to recall Jesus' own admonitions about leadership to His disciples; that in His Church, those who wish to be greatest must be servant to all.  They are to be good stewards.  Here in the parable, each servant that has been sent by the owner stands for an Old Testament prophet who comes to call people back to God.  The beloved son is Christ Himself.   My study bible says that the fact that the Son is cast out of the vineyard to be killed should be understood on two levels.  First, that Jesus was killed outside Jerusalem (Golgotha was outside the city walls, which in later centuries were moved to include the place of His Crucifixion inside the city).  Second, that Jesus was crucified by foreign soldiers, and not by those of His own vineyard.  The others who later receive the vineyard are the Gentiles who are brought into the Church.

And when they heard it they said, "Certainly not!"  Then He looked at them and said, "What then is this that is written:  'The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone'?  Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder."  And the chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people -- for they knew He had spoken this parable against them.   Jesus quotes to them from Psalm 118:22That stone is Christ Himself.  My study bible cites St. John Chrysostom, who comments here that this saying illustrates the two ways of destruction.  Those who fall on the stone are people who suffer the effects of their own sins while they are yet in this life.  Those on whom the stone falls are unrepentant people who become powder (completely lost) in the final judgment.

As Jesus is in Jerusalem, the tone of our readings comes to include the eschatological; that is, Jesus speaks of end times, and of Judgment.  Tied up with Jerusalem and its destruction (which Jesus has prophesied) is also the time of the end.  That is, the time in which we now live.  We often tend to think of end times prophesy as that which only applies to some unknown, uncertain, mysterious date.  But this isn't really true.  We are living in the time of the end at this time.  The time of the end was initiated with Jesus' Incarnation in the world, and particularly the central events of Holy Week which are yet to come in our current readings.  Between that time and His Return, we live in these "end times."  The Church lives in this period, in which we await and watch for His Return, and we remember what we, as good servants, are to be about.  It's His word that creates and builds Judgment in the world, the standard set down and heard.  His word gives us the understanding also that those of "other flocks" -- even those who've never heard of Christ -- will be seen according to what they do know and understand, the conscience.  Everybody is included in this truth.  The ancient people who first heard Christ's word and accepted it for themselves frequently built churches atop of ancient temples.  The modern mind often ascribes this simply to a desire to stamp out the old and replace it, but this isn't really true.  The ancient people, such as the Greeks who accepted Christianity, did not see their own culture as "bad" or "evil."  On the contrary, the significance of building a church where a temple once stood, or converting an existing temple (such as the Parthenon, which was a church for 1,000 years during the Byzantine Empire, dedicated to the Virgin Mary), was that Christ brought light and illumination to a world that was already grasping toward that light.  Rather than seeing the Church as mere replacement, the ancient world saw Christ as the Truth that more fully illumined the good that the ancient cultures were seeking without knowing Christ.  The fullness, for example, of the image of Athena the goddess of wisdom was manifest in the Virgin Mary, as one who is the queen of saints, the "All Holy" in the Greek Orthodox tradition, the one who submitted herself fully to God, and was chosen to be the human mother of God.  Her holiness becomes the strength that defends and comforts (and above all, loves), and prays for all in the fullness of the grace given to her.  As saint, the illumination given to her through grace is seen as manifest in myriad facets of her human personality (as evidenced in the varied icons of Mary), and millions of faithful have found strength through her as one of the faithful with whom we pray and of whom we ask intercession -- just as one would ask a friend to pray in times of difficulty and need.  Such is the evolution of the word in the world, the teachings of the Gospel, that we have to know ourselves as those who seek ultimately after the good that Christ brings into the world as fully human and fully God.  Those who have never heard the word are not misjudged or judged harshly, but rather by the good they know.  But having heard the word, what do we do with it?  Having had Christ as incarnate human being, how do we come to know Him, see Him, accept Him?  The truth that He brings is "living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12).  The word of Christ is that which penetrates everything we are to a  depth that we don't even know.  And in this is the Judgment borne out in the world.  This is the stone that is the head of the corner, upon which we may stumble -- and which may fall upon those of us who choose to deny its word and truth within ourselves.  It is, ultimately, grace at work in the world that creates this Judgment, that makes the time in which we live the "end time," that offers us its gifts too great to be "earned," and by which we will be measured in accordance with what we're offered and what we know.  Let us remember that His teaching wasn't about a far off day, but about where we live, here and now.  These men to whom He speaks are the leaders of Israel, the ones who know fully the God who has spoken through all the Scriptures and Israel's spiritual history.  They know better.  But, we, too, know what we have been given.   Everything is a question of how we receive and allow God to be at work in us through grace, through His word which is living and powerful.