Tuesday, July 26, 2016

They divided My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots


 Now as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name.  Him they compelled to bear His cross.  And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull, they gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink.  But when He had tasted it, He would not drink.  Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet:
"They divided My garments among them,
And for My clothing they cast lots."
Sitting down, they kept watch over Him there.  And they put up over His head the accusation written against Him:
THIS IS JESUS
THE KING OF THE JEWS
Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left.  And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, "You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself!  If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross."  Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, "He saved others; Himself He cannot save.  If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.  He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, 'I am the Son of God.'"  Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing.

- Matthew 27:32-44

In our current readings, it is Holy Week and Jesus is in Jerusalem.  He has been sentenced by the Council,  and delivered to Pilate.  We read also of Peter's denial of Christ, and also Judas' suicide.  With Christ brought before him, Pilate asked, "Are You the King of the Jews?"  Knowing Christ was innocent, he brought Him before the crowds, as it was the custom to free a prisoner at the Feast, and offered to let Him go, but the crowds called for Barabbas.  Yesterday, we read that when Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this just Person.  You see to it."  And all the people answered and said, "His blood be on us and on our children."  Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.  Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole garrison around Him.  And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him.  When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand.  And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!"  Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head.  And when they had mocked Him, they took the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified.

 Now as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name.  Him they compelled to bear His cross.  And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull, they gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink.  But when He had tasted it, He would not drink.  Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet:  "They divided My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots."  Sitting down, they kept watch over Him there.  And they put up over His head the accusation written against Him:  THIS IS JESUS - THE KING OF THE JEWS.  Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left.  And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, "You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself!  If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross."  Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, "He saved others; Himself He cannot save.  If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.  He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, 'I am the Son of God.'"  Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing.   My study bible says of today's passage that Jesus accepts mockery and endures the weakness of our body in His own in order to take upon Himself our sufferings.  His divine nature is truly united to His human nature -- and His humanity, as we read here, is our humanity.   It says, "He was made to be sin for us, that through His flesh He might condemn sin itself (Romans 8:3, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 2:9)."  There are other personalities mentioned in today's reading.  Simon of Cyrene was most likely a pilgrim come for the Passover Feast from a coastal city in what is now Libya.  His two sons, Rufus and Alexander, would become missionaries known to the Church (see Mark 15:21).  This passage tells us that both robbers on either side of Christ "revile" Him with the same words used by the chief priests, scribes and elders.   One of them would repent (Luke 23:39-43).  The Scripture quotation is from Psalm 22, which is a description of the Crucifixion.

Today's reading describes our Savior brought low -- to the place where even the criminals being crucified mock and revile Him, as do the rest of the people here who represent the whole of the society.  There is no doubt of the abject misery of this moment.  Christ is in agonizing pain and absolute weakness, a state of helpless suffering and on His way to death.  Since we know this death is entered into voluntarily, what we're seeing here is the condescension of our Lord to the most humiliating treatment and position in His society as a Jew.  He has become truly looked down upon by everyone.  As a human being, He refuses nothing of the ills which could befall us.  Refusing the sour wine mingled with gall seems to be yet another indication of voluntarily suffering and experiencing the pain of such a state, as gall has been interpreted also to mean myrrh (see Mark 15:23), something perhaps to create stupor just before crucifixion.  Why this suffering?  Why this emptying of all the things human beings desire for themselves?  This is what life looks like at our most courageous, when everything else fails us and we continue in faith anyway.  It's His Passion that teaches us that emptying to God gives us divine or God-like qualities.  Here is Christ crucified, the One who became man for our sake, who dies for love even of all those who harm and torment Him.  One thing we can say that we are really seeing here is love, a love that surpasses everything else -- all desires and choices a human being can make.  The world here in this picture is truly upside down; it's a picture of victory although no one knows it.  It's the thing that evil could desire, the manifestation of the worst of the worst.  But love will conquer everything.  It is the love of God that is on display and that will triumph.  St. Athanasius said, "The Son of God became man so that we might become God."  Jesus shows us the way through His humanity, to be "like God" in our faith.  The answer is love, which starts with love of God, and thereby must also serve the world.  Everything depends on the state of our hearts, where our faith is, why we do what we do.  Don't let the picture fool you.  The greatest love of all is here, for us, and nothing will prevail against it.





Monday, July 25, 2016

And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!"


 When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this just Person.  You see to it."  And all the people answered and said, "His blood be on us and on our children."  Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole garrison around Him.  And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him.  When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand.  And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!"  Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head.  And when they had mocked Him, they took the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified.

- Matthew 27:24-31

In our recent readings, it is Holy Week, and Jesus is in Jerusalem.  He has been betrayed by Judas, tried in a night court before the whole Council, and given over to Pilate.  We read of the three-time denial of Peter, and Judas' suicide.  On Saturday, we read that Jesus stood before the governor.  And the governor asked Him, saying, "Are You the King of the Jews?"  Jesus said to him, "It is as you say."  And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing.  Then Pilate said to Him, "Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?"  But He answered Him not one word, so that the governor marveled greatly.  Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished.  And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas.  Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, "Whom do you want me to release to you?  Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?"  For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy.  While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, "Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him."  But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus.  The governor answered and said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release to you?"  They said, "Barabbas!"  Pilate said to them, "What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?"  They all said to him, "Let Him be crucified!"  Then the governor said, "Why, what evil has He done?"  But they cried out the more, saying, "Let Him be crucified!" 

 When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this just Person.  You see to it."  And all the people answered and said, "His blood be on us and on our children."  Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.   My study bible points out that this verse in which the people say, "His blood be on us and on our children" has been used in the past by certain groups to try to justify persecuting Jews, which is a "grave and terrible sin."  In fact, the traditional way the Church views this is that what was seen by many as a curse is in effect a blessing invoked unwittingly!  It is Christ's blood that is the source of redemption in the sight of Christians.  In addition, it says, these words are implicitly spoken by anyone who sins.  St. Chrysostom teaches that, in effect, regardless of the state of mind that prevailed in the crowd at this time, rather than bringing a curse Christ instead received any who repented and "counted them worthy of good things beyond number."  On the day of Pentecost thousands were converted (Acts 2:41); St. Chrysostom views this as abundant evidence of Christ's mercy.  

 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole garrison around Him.  And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him.  When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand.  And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!"  Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head.  And when they had mocked Him, they took the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified.  Again, although the intention is one thing, there is prophecy here in these actions.  My study bible says that every king is proclaimed by his soldiers.  It is prophetic that Jesus is crowned and hailed as King by soldiers of the governor (see also John 11:49-51, where Caiaphas, despite his intention, prophesies of Christ's redemptive work).   Christ truly bears the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:3-9), despised and rejected and mocked in this scene.  Jesus is clothed in a scarlet, representing both His royalty and also the sins of humanity He has taken on Himself (and which were placed upon Him by the sinful).   However, in Orthodox iconography, red is also the color of life itself, of divinity.  In Mark's Gospel, it's said this robe is purple.  But in essence, it's the same; the shade of royal robes in the East was tyrian purple, an expensive dye which created a red-purple color. 

 On Saturday, we discussed the ironies of Christ's situation:  Pilate sat in the judgment seat to pass judgment on the Judge of all.  Barabbas means "son of the father" -- the crowd chose its true "son" of its true "father" over the Son of the Father.  We remind ourselves that in another Gospel, Pilate asks the Truth, "What is truth?"  (John 18:38).  In today's reading, Jesus is mockingly hailed as King of the Jews.  He's dressed in a royal red robe, symbolic of divinity, even as He's spat upon.  Everything comes together in a mixed tale of good and evil, a bizarre mix of truth and lies, where one seems as true as the other.  He is the Truth Himself in the midst of lies and deceit; the mocking and insults are lies, the charge is a lie, the witnesses lie.  And yet, there is the truth that He is King, there is the truth that He is the Son of God, there is the truth that He will build His "temple" back up in three days after it is destroyed.  In a symbolic sense, it reminds us of Jesus' parable of the Wheat and the Tares.  The tares are weeds that resemble the wheat.  The same is true of heresy, where something sounds good and convincing but in effect is a misleading lie.  There is a lesson in how appearances are deceiving, and can be used to represent "truth" that is nothing but.  Manipulation, being evil, takes the place of truth, of that which gives us what we really need.   Manipulation leads us down a bad road; truth takes us where we really need to go for what's best for us.  Within all of this disturbing confusion is the heart of why "proofs" of faith are never given by Christ, signs on demand are not where He will go.  It is only in the heart of faith that true discernment can take us in this situation, and faith doesn't and can't work by "proofs."  False witnesses can be drummed up, and juries can be rigged, people can be coerced.  But it takes a different kind of seeing and knowing to be aware of what is happening here.  Proofs are not what we rely on for faith; they're not good enough.  What do we do in the midst of such confusion and lies and manipulation?  We endure.  We give thanks to God and stay in the place of prayer.  We watch and pray, staying vigilant as He has taught.   There are times in life, and times we can see in all of history, when similar effects repeat themselves:  when black is white and white is black, when the good are evil and the evil are good.  We may find ourselves caught up in a such a situation, as spectator or victim, or even willingly or unwillingly a perpetrator. We remember His words, "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation."  Christ becomes victim on whom is projected the whole world's sin.  The One who emptied Himself to become human now condescends to the place of abject misery, "taking on our sins" in this sense that they're placed upon Him even as the soldiers spit.  But in this strange time is the stranger solution of God.  He will trample down death by death; He will offer salvation by His sacrifice, by going through what is happening and meeting it His way.  The question is how will we understand that truth or receive it?   How do we truly know the Truth who is a Person?   He so truly knows us, loves us, forgives us.  And we know Him through love.



Saturday, July 23, 2016

Are You the King of the Jews?


 Now Jesus stood before the governor.  And the governor asked Him, saying, "Are You the King of the Jews?"  Jesus said to him, "It is as you say."  And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing.  Then Pilate said to Him, "Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?"  But He answered Him not one word, so that the governor marveled greatly.

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished.  And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas.  Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, "Whom do you want me to release to you?  Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?"  For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy.  While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, "Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him."  But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus.  The governor answered and said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release to you?"  They said, "Barabbas!"  Pilate said to them, "What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?"  They all said to him, "Let Him be crucified!"  Then the governor said, "Why, what evil has He done?"  But they cried out the more, saying, "Let Him be crucified!" 

- Matthew 27:11-23

It is Holy Week in our current reading, and Jesus is in Jerusalem.  He has been betrayed by Judas, arrested, and convicted by the council in a night trialPeter has denied Christ three times in the courtyard of the high priest.  In yesterday's reading, we were told that when morning came, all the chief priests and elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put Him to death.  And when they had bound Him, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor.  Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood."  And they said, "What is that to us?  You see to it!"  Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.  But the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood."  And they consulted together and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in.  Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.  Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, and gave them for the potter's field, as the LORD directed me."

 Now Jesus stood before the governor.  And the governor asked Him, saying, "Are You the King of the Jews?"  Jesus said to him, "It is as you say."  And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing.  Then Pilate said to Him, "Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?"  But He answered Him not one word, so that the governor marveled greatly.   The chief priests and elders can't bring a blasphemy charge to Pilate, although that's the charge by which they've convicted Christ in the Council (that Christ called Himself equal to God).  Instead, they must bring a charge to Pilate which would carry the death penalty, and it is of calling Himself the King of the Jews.  For the Romans, that could bring a charge of treason.  That is, it's a challenge to Roman rule, and the penalty is execution.  Jesus doesn't respond to defend Himself; perhaps there is no point here for preaching or teaching, and His acceptance of the way forward is already complete. 

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished.  And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas.  Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, "Whom do you want me to release to you?  Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?"  For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy.  While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, "Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him."  But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus.  The governor answered and said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release to you?"  They said, "Barabbas!"  Pilate said to them, "What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?"  They all said to him, "Let Him be crucified!"  Then the governor said, "Why, what evil has He done?"  But they cried out the more, saying, "Let Him be crucified!"   What is the irony here that we are witness to, that is playing out in Jesus' life?   This is a day of mercy:  a feast day upon which one prisoner may be released.  Jesus' innocence and dignity as a person is so obvious that Pilate understands something is wrong.  He's perceptive enough to see that the religious leadership has handed Him over because of envy.  The first thing Pilate does is ask the crowd if they'd like Jesus who is called Christ to be freed to them.   He is the stand-out, the One who is different among the prisoners.  Another irony comes in the glimmer of  wisdom given in a dream.  It reminds us of the dreams given early in the Gospel which influence the events of Jesus' life, such as when Joseph is told in a dream not to fear but to take pregnant Mary as his wife, or when both Joseph and the Wise Men are warned by dreams.   Here the wife of Pilate has also been warned about mistreatment of that just Man by a dream, and this message is conveyed to Pilate.  Pilate sits on the judgment seat -- as man who knows the truth but is caught between the crowds and the leadership.  He judges the One who is true Judge of all.  And there's another huge central irony here as well:  the name Barabbas means "son of the father."  The crowds, says my study bible, must choose between one Son of the Father and the other.  But the chief priests and elders have already swayed the crowd to follow the son of the  "father" they choose (see John 8:44).  

The ironies here are many.  They're "lost chances" for mercy, for grace.  Who is the Son of the Father?  What's true, and what's a lie?  Warnings come by dreams even to the wife of Pilate -- a pagan woman who's touched in some way by grace.  Pilate knows Jesus is a just man; it's clear to him, one experienced in the politics of power and ambition in this greatest of empires, that Jesus is handed over simply because of envy.  Those who wish to take Him down don't wish for anything but his death.  Ultimately, despite the many opportunities for mercy, the decision comes down to the crowd.  This is the same Jerusalem whose crowds a week before welcome Jesus as King, as Messiah.  But this particular crowd has been stirred by the leadership.  And here one must really consider the word "leadership" and what it means.  Is Christ a leader?  Are these men leaders?  If our leadership isn't based in truth then where is it going, and what does it serve?  This story makes that pretty clear.  It doesn't matter how great the institution and its founding ideas, doesn't seem to make any difference who our ancestors were.  Here and now, where do we stand, and how are we led?  The truth seeks  a way to get through; there are glimmers of light in this story.  The dignity of Christ tells a story in and of itself, the dream given in warning, the clear understanding of Pilate of Jesus' innocence, and the crowds who still have this choice for the One who's given them the truth.  Everything seems to come down to what we choose and what is in our heart.  Who sits in the Judgment Seat for all?  Does the Truth get a word in here?  Maybe what makes a true leader is simply staying in that place above all else, even standing in silence when there is no one who can hear.



Friday, July 22, 2016

I have sinned by betraying innocent blood


 When morning came, all the chief priests and elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put Him to death.  And when they had bound Him, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor.

Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood."  And they said, "What is that to us?  You see to it!"  Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.  But the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood."  And they consulted together and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in.  Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.  Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, and gave them for the potter's field, as the LORD directed me."

- Matthew 27:1-10

In our current reading, it is Holy Week.   We have read of Jesus' betrayal and arrest in the garden of Gethsemane, and His night trial before the Council.  In yesterday's reading, we were told that Peter sat outside in the courtyard at this time during Christ's trial.  And a servant girl came to him, saying, "You also were with Jesus of Galilee."  But he denied it before them all, saying, "I do not know what you are saying."  And when he had gone out to the gateway, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, "This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth."  But again he denied with an oath, "I do not know the Man!"  And a little later those who stood by came up and said to Peter, "Surely you also are one of them, for your speech betrays you."  Then he began to curse and swear, saying, "I do not know the Man!"  Immediately a rooster crowed.  And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, "Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times."  So he went out and wept bitterly.

 When morning came, all the chief priests and elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put Him to death.  And when they had bound Him, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor.  Israel is under Roman occupation, and so only the Roman authorities can impose the death penalty.  Jewish religious Law gave the death penalty for blasphemy (Leviticus 24:16), but the Jews could not carry out an execution.  The chief priests and elders take Jesus to Pontius Pilate the governor, for permission.

Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood."  And they said, "What is that to us?  You see to it!"  Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.  But the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood."  And they consulted together and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in.  Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.  Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, and gave them for the potter's field, as the LORD directed me."  In yesterday's reading, we read about Peter's three-time denial of Christ as he stood outside Jesus' night trial in the courtyard of the high priest.  We read of Peter's bitter tears at recollecting Christ's words to him when he heard the rooster crow.  Here Judas is contrasted with Peter.  There is remorse at his act of betrayal, but repentance, turning back, is something different.  My study bible says that suicide here is not a  sign of repentance but of being self-absorbed.  There is another account of Judas' suicide in Acts 1:16-19.

What is the difference between repentance and remorse?  This is a difficult question, but one we have to consider when we think about the differences between Judas and Peter.  In yesterday's reading, first of all, we were told that when Peter realized what he'd done, he went out and wept bitterly.  This realization took the form of remembrance of Christ.  Peter remembered the word of Jesus.   These are three things in repentance that we note about this passage:  that Peter wept bitter tears, that he remembered the word of Christ, that he went out.   That is, the tears are those of repentance, his true repentance comes with remembrance of the word of Christ, and he also immediately took himself out of the situation of testing and temptation -- the environment which preyed upon his weakness.  If we look at Judas' actions, we see something different, contrasting.  It is after the fact of betrayal.  Jesus has now been tried in a night trial, He has been convicted by the chief priests, elders, and the whole of the council.  He has been led off to the Roman governor Pilate.  It is as Jesus is taken to the Gentiles for execution that Judas feels remorse, when the weight of the decision to betray innocent blood is felt by him.  But he has always known Jesus to be innocent.   He does not return to find Christ or the disciples, but neither is there remembrance of the word of Christ here in Judas.    Rather, he returns to the chief priests and elders, stating that he has betrayed innocent blood, he is a sinner, and he casts down the money they paid him.  There are no bitter tears here, because instead of repentance there seems to be an effort to undo what he has done.  The chief priests and elders tell him his sin is his business and that he must see to it himself.  Again, at this point, there is no remembrance of the word of Christ, there is no turning to the One who shows mercy.  Instead, the evil into which Judas has plunged himself, with which he's gone along, turns deeply and darkly inward -- and the way out for him is by his own hand.  He's returned to the place of temptation, the environment of those who wished to put Jesus to death, found nothing that would help him with repentance, and is left with his own thoughts.  In this scenario, with this limited means for salvation and a future, there is no way forward for him but self-destruction.  Peter's tears are signs of acceptance, a recognition of failure and weakness.  But Judas is still relying on what he knows or thinks he knows, remembrance of Christ doesn't come into this, and his solution is the limited understanding of destruction without mercy and without a possible future.  He does not turn to the One who is life itself, and is left only with sin (which is death).   If we think about this in such a way, what we come to understand is that acceptance of who we are, with all our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, must be a doorway to a future that is salvation.  That is, a reliance on Christ.  Repentance is in the turning back, the remembrance of Christ's word and all that it contains of mercy and love, and is ultimately all about renewal of life from the One who is always making all things new.  This is the always "new" spirit of the New Covenant.  Judas drank from that cup at the Last Supper when the Eucharist was instituted by Jesus, but failed to allow it to permeate his heart.  He's lost in his own darkness, in this hard place where he is up against a life without Christ.  What we remember is that there is always a future with Him, no matter how bleak we may look or our lives may appear.  This is the crux of faith, the true rock that gives us someplace strong to stand upon, the path that sets us free to go forward, and to truly serve.





Thursday, July 21, 2016

Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times


 Now Peter sat outside in the courtyard.  And a servant girl came to him, saying, "You also were with Jesus of Galilee."  But he denied it before them all, saying, "I do not know what you are saying."  And when he had gone out to the gateway, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, "This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth."  But again he denied with an oath, "I do not know the Man!"  And a little later those who stood by came up and said to Peter, "Surely you also are one of them, for your speech betrays you."  Then he began to curse and swear, saying, "I do not know the Man!"  Immediately a rooster crowed.  And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, "Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times."  So he went out and wept bitterly.

- Matthew 26:69-75

 In our current readings, it is Holy Week, and Jesus is in Jerusalem.  After the Passover meal at which Jesus instituted the Eucharist, Jesus and the disciples went to the garden of Gethsemane, where He was arrested by an armed crowd sent by the chief priests and elders, as He was betrayed by Judas.   And those who had laid hold of Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled.  But Peter followed Him at a distance to the high priest's courtyard.  And he went in and sat with the servants to see the end.  Now the chief priests, the elders, and all the council sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none.  Even though many false witnesses came forward, they found none.  But at last two false witnesses came forward and said, "This fellow said, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.'"  And the high priest arose and said to Him, "Do You answer nothing?  What is it these men testify against You?"  But Jesus kept silent.  And the high priest answered and said to Him, "I put You under oath by the living God:  Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!"  Jesus said to him, "It is as you said.  Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven."  Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, "He has spoken blasphemy!  What further need do we have of witnesses?  Look, now you have heard His blasphemy!  What do you think?"  They answered and said, "He is deserving of death."  Then they spat in His face and beat Him; and others struck Him with the palms of their hands, saying, "Prophesy to us, Christ!  Who is the one who struck You?"

Now Peter sat outside in the courtyard.  And a servant girl came to him, saying, "You also were with Jesus of Galilee."  But he denied it before them all, saying, "I do not know what you are saying."  And when he had gone out to the gateway, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, "This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth."  But again he denied with an oath, "I do not know the Man!"  And a little later those who stood by came up and said to Peter, "Surely you also are one of them, for your speech betrays you."  Then he began to curse and swear, saying, "I do not know the Man!"  Immediately a rooster crowed.  And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, "Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times."  So he went out and wept bitterly.  Peter's denial of Christ three times comes as the fulfillment of Christ's prophecy of the night before, at the Last Supper, after which Peter vehemently insisted that he would follow Christ even unto death before doing so (see Saturday's reading).  But here in the courtyard of the high priest, in the dark hours of very early morning, and while Christ is on trial, Peter denies Christ, first after a servant girl identifies him as one who was with Him.  Some interpretations of this story understand Peter's testing as deeply allegorical, with the servant girl representing the temptation of Eve to Adam (Genesis 3:6).  He denies Christ before those gathered there in the courtyard, perhaps representing the various forces that seek to deny Christ.  He goes out to the gateway, and another servant girl identifies him as a follower of Christ.  He denies more deeply, and with an oath this time.  Then in front of the others there, who cite his accent as one from Galilee,  Peter's denial is even more vehement, bringing curses upon himself, and immediately a rooster crowed, bringing remembrance to Peter of Jesus' word to him.  In Luke's Gospel, we're told that Jesus gazed at him (Luke 22:61).  My study bible cites Ambrose of Milan, who comments on Peter's bitter tears, that "through tears, what cannot be defended can be purged, for tears wash away the offense which is shameful to confess out loud."  Origen notes that the tears come once Peter is outside of the courtyard, and as dawn breaks -- symbolically away from the forces of denial and in the place where light begins to shine.  

My study bible notes the testing of Peter coming via the servant girls in contrast with the renewal of life that will come when it is women who are the first to "hear, believe, and proclaim" the good news of Resurrection at the tomb.  What is important is the recognition of the difficulties of faith within a context of a familiar culture in which there are all kinds of temptations to be in denial of what we know spiritually.  Denial can come in all sorts of forms, some of them entirely innocuous in their "normalcy."  We do our every day tasks, and assume that life is separated between the spiritual and the "realistic" needs of day-to-day life.  But if we really look hard at the Gospels, we see that this isn't really meant to be the case.  The disciples spend all their time with Christ.  Every decision Jesus makes is prefaced by prayer, many times in withdrawal Himself even from the disciples.  We should be used to the idea that the "remembrance of God" isn't just reserved for special days, or for when we're in Church, but rather our days should be punctuated with time for prayer.  A silent prayer can be said at any time.  In fact, traditional practices, such as the Jesus prayer, are meant to be used all day, and during any kind of task.  This type of prayer uses a phrase that is repeated to oneself during tasks and daily work, and also in periods of contemplative devoted prayer.  The prayer takes different forms, but all are based on the phrase, "Lord have mercy."  An important component of this prayer when practiced is time put aside for prayer is silence:  there are periods when the silence is full, a communion.  But the phrase itself is ideal for repeating at any and all times.  Just as the disciples spent full-time with Christ, our prayer takes shape during any moment of our lives, and we don't have to separate out time into different parts:  one for spirit, one for body, one for soul, another for the mind.  Instead, we understand ourselves as integrated, with wholeness an image of the fullness of what it means to be a person.  In the words of the commandment to love God (what Jesus calls the first great commandment), we use "heart, soul, mind, and strength."  Peter's denial teaches us of the difficulties we face as part of our daily lives, when the pull of what is "normal" or habitual in a setting of society, culture, or other environment may draw us away from the inner truth we know for ourselves.  All traditional forms of worship and spiritual practice center around shoring up the strength of faith, and it is grace that is the great Helper we call upon because this is, indeed, the world we are born into.  There are all kinds of ways that we would deny Christ, whether that is to engage thoughtlessly in self-destructive practices, or forms of common behavior (such as gossip) that do harm to others and thereby our own souls, or to just "go along to get along."  Peter's emotional commitment to Christ that he would never deny Him, even if it meant death, gives us all a wake-up call, a warning, about the difficulties of spiritual life and struggle.  We can't simply depend upon our own emotional strength.  Life's temptations are unexpectedly difficult.  Particular environments and conditions can swamp us in ways we don't necessarily see or are prepared for.  We rely on mercy and grace, and we need to be aware of our own vulnerability.  Let us remember, also, Peter's bitter tears of repentance that "wash away the offense which is shameful to confess out loud."   Peter will return to the disciples and to Christ, and become the apostle we know him to be.  Our lives are meant to be understood in terms of a journey that may be filled with struggles and tests we don't expect, coupled with mercy and love and joy.  Most important is the love and mercy which helps us to understand our weakness and difficulties, so that we may become strong.



Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Prophesy to us, Christ! Who is the one who struck You?


 And those who had laid hold of Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled.  But Peter followed Him at a distance to the high priest's courtyard.  And he went in and sat with the servants to see the end.  Now the chief priests, the elders, and all the council sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none.  Even though many false witnesses came forward, they found none.  But at last two false witnesses came forward and said, "This fellow said, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.'"  And the high priest arose and said to Him, "Do You answer nothing?  What is it these men testify against You?"  But Jesus kept silent.  And the high priest answered and said to Him, "I put You under oath by the living God:  Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!"  Jesus said to him, "It is as you said.  Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven."  Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, "He has spoken blasphemy!  What further need do we have of witnesses?  Look, now you have heard His blasphemy!  What do you think?"  They answered and said, "He is deserving of death."  Then they spat in His face and beat Him; and others struck Him with the palms of their hands, saying, "Prophesy to us, Christ!  Who is the one who struck You?"

- Matthew 26:57-68

In our current readings, it is Holy Week, and Jesus is in Jerusalem.  After the Passover meal (the Last Supper) at which Jesus instituted the Eucharist, Jesus and the disciples went out to the garden of Gethsemane.  And while He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and elders of the people.  Now His betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him."  Immediately he went up to Jesus and said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed Him.  But Jesus said to him, "Friend, why have you come?"  Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and took Him.  And suddenly, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear.  But Jesus said to him, "Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.  Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?  How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?"  In that hour Jesus said to the multitudes, "Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me?  I sat daily with you, teaching in the temple, and you did not seize Me.  But all this was done that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled."  Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled.

 And those who had laid hold of Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled.  But Peter followed Him at a distance to the high priest's courtyard.  And he went in and sat with the servants to see the end.  Now the chief priests, the elders, and all the council sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none.  Even though many false witnesses came forward, they found none.  But at last two false witnesses came forward and said, "This fellow said, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.'"     We read of the search for witnesses -- and even false testimony is difficult to find for these men who wish to convict Jesus.  Here my study bible says that the people misunderstand Jesus' words reported in John 2:19-21.  Some Jews, it says, believed that the temple would be destroyed and a new one built by the Messiah.

And the high priest arose and said to Him, "Do You answer nothing?  What is it these men testify against You?"  But Jesus kept silent.  And the high priest answered and said to Him, "I put You under oath by the living God:  Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!"  Jesus said to him, "It is as you said.  Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven."  Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, "He has spoken blasphemy!  What further need do we have of witnesses?  Look, now you have heard His blasphemy!  What do you think?"  They answered and said, "He is deserving of death."  Then they spat in His face and beat Him; and others struck Him with the palms of their hands, saying, "Prophesy to us, Christ!  Who is the one who struck You?"  Interestingly, here Jesus begins His silence.  Most likely He answers nothing where there is no one to listen to what He has to say; there is no point in answering what is provided by false witnesses to a court that has no desire to hear His wisdom.  The high priest gives His name, His identity, "Christ, the Son of God."  Jesus quotes from Psalm 110 and Daniel 7:13, confessing that He is the Messiah.  That is, fully Man and fully God.  Only a divine One could sit at the right hand of the Power and share authority with the Father.  The high priest clearly understands this is a claim of equality with God the Father.  Under the Law, for a man to claim this was punishable by death (Leviticus 24:16), but Christ is not a mere man.  His declaration of equality is not blasphemy but truth.

We read of Christ receiving beatings, being ridiculed and asked to prophesy, to answer "Who is the one who struck You?"  It's shocking to acknowledge, to understand, but it really should not be so shocking to us to "see" this scene.  Violence as a response to what one does not want to receive is commonplace.   What is also on display is ignorance and complete disrespect for the holy.  A much wiser man (Gamaliel) will treat the apostles quite differently after Christ's death (see Acts 5:34-40).  Brutality is a factor of our world.  It is something we have to take account of when we think about the holy, God's grace at work, and how we can live our lives in faith even in a world where there is ignorance and evil.  In these actions, we're confronted with what it really means to shut ourselves off from God, from wisdom, from even the possibility of the holy.  Our refusal to acknowledge the possibility of God's action in our hearts constitutes a form of brutality, of violence, because we cut ourselves off from something valuable and beautiful, something that gives insight, and knowledge, and mercy.  These men who behave in this way cut themselves off from the possibilities of grace working through them, the potential for human behavior that is "like God" rather than merely brutal.  To fail to acknowledge these potentials in the heart is to do violence to ourselves and our true natures and capacities for spiritual growth within ourselves.  It is to fail to heed the light that illumines behavior and character.  Therefore it should not be surprising that in refusal to truly "hear" and "see" Jesus, brutality is a response -- even one that mocks what prophesy is and does at the court of the Council, in the residence of the high priest.  The important thing here, the essential point not to miss, is that such low behavior comes as a result of a choice for lack of understanding, hardness of heart, a kind of deliberate spiritual ignorance that sets itself in advance against what might be here.  It is a choice to refuse possibilities, to deny that God might be present in this situation.  The lesson for us is to live a prayerful life, to watch and pray, as Jesus told the disciples in Gethsemane.  That is, to live all the moments of our lives in remembrance of God, with consciousness that seeks grace at all times, that looks for the possibilities of God, even in the darkest times.  This is the one way we know that can prevent our descent into brutality and ignorance.  It is the one way to find the way that "all things work together for good to those who love God" (Romans 8:28).  God's possibilities are always there.  But we must be open to receiving them.  A closed heart is the recipe for descent into disaster and sorrow.



Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Friend, why have you come?


 And while He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and elders of the people.  Now His betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him."  Immediately he went up to Jesus and said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed Him.  But Jesus said to him, "Friend, why have you come?"  Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and took Him.  And suddenly, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear.  But Jesus said to him, "Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.  Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?  How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?"  In that hour Jesus said to the multitudes, "Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me?  I sat daily with you, teaching in the temple, and you did not seize Me.  But all this was done that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled."  Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled.

- Matthew 26:47-56

In our present readings, Jesus is in Jerusalem.  He has just finished having the Passover meal with His disciples, at which He instituted the Eucharist, the celebration of the New Covenant.  In yesterday's reading, we were told that Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, "Sit here while I go and pray over there."  And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed.  Then He took said to them, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.  Stay here and watch with Me."  He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, "O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will."  Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "What!  Could you not watch with Me one hour?  Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.  The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."  Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, "O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done."  And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy.  So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.  Then He came to His disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting?  Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Rise, let us be going.  See, My betrayer is at hand."

And while He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and elders of the people.  Now His betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him."  Immediately he went up to Jesus and said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed Him.  But Jesus said to him, "Friend, why have you come?"   The chief priests and elders send a great multitude to seize Jesus.  Elsewhere, we know that Jesus has escaped being taken before by seemingly vanishing through a crowd, and in somewhat mysterious ways those sent to arrest Him were simply unable to do so.   Origen comments that they feared what they considered to be His capacities as an exorcist.  Jesus calls Judas, "Friend," and in a sense we could say that He is still trying to save him, offering Judas another chance for repentance.  But it should be pointed out that this word is not philos, which is the common word for "friend" (as in a lover of something, such as in the word Philadelphia, which means "brotherly love" -- philos + adelphia, "brothers").  It is a word instead (etairos) that means "companion" or "comrade," from a root indicating "clansman."  Hilary of Poitiers points out that Jesus does not use this term for others of His followers.  Instead, there is a parallel in the parable of the Wedding Feast, when the king asks a man who has attended, "Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?"  That man's reply was also to be speechless, as is Judas without an answer (Matthew 22:12).  In another parable, the vineyard owner says to the grumbling worker, "Friend, I am doing you no wrong" (see Matthew 20:13-16), and asks if his complaint is from envy ("Is your eye evil because I am good?").  To use "Friend" in this way is to do so as rebuke.   We contrast this with Jesus' statement to His disciples in John 15:15, "No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you."   When speaking here to His disciples, the word used for "friends" is philous.

Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and took Him.  And suddenly, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear.  But Jesus said to him, "Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.  Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?  How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?"   Jesus rebukes the disciple (identified as Peter in John 18:10) who uses the sword.  My study bible says Peter still does not understand that Christ is going to His death willingly, that salvation for all human beings might be fulfilled (indeed, for the life of the world).  A legion is 6,000 soldiers; and so the twelve legions of which Jesus speaks here are 72,000 angels.  That His death was foretold in the Scriptures (see for example Isaiah 53) served to strengthen the disciples at this time of the most extreme test.

In that hour Jesus said to the multitudes, "Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me?  I sat daily with you, teaching in the temple, and you did not seize Me.  But all this was done that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled."  Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled.  Again Jesus emphasizes the fulfillment of the Scriptures, and perhaps we may take that as yet another sign to the disciples that He is going willingly to His death, for immediately afterward they forsook Him and fled.

It is remarkable to note Jesus' boldness in His meekness:  that is, He does not struggle and fight, He chastises Peter for using a sword to defend Him from arrest, and yet His boldness is also apparent in speaking the truth and in confrontation:  He challenges Judas by calling him "Friend" and asking why he has come.  He boldly tells Peter that He could pray and summon twelve legions of angels from the Father.  He faces the multitude armed to take him "as against a robber" and challenges them as to why they didn't bother to take Him as He sat daily in the temple teaching.  His affirmation that this is in accordance with Scripture is also a warning to those who take Him, because the Scripture also gives His identity as Christ, the Messiah.  Throughout this period of His arrest and questioning, we will see this combination of boldness and meekness.  It makes clear what a strong character Jesus has, because He never shrinks from the truth as it is given to Him to speak it.  But where He stays silent, and does not give a struggle, it is in acceptance of what God the Father has given to Him to do.  And this is a great line of discernment.  Jesus' humility and acceptance is before God, first and always.  The truth He tells is the spiritual truth of His mission, and He does not shrink from doing so.  He is not one who seeks the "praise of men" but rather the praise of God.  Indeed, even the leadership (the Herodians) at one point, when they approached Him in the temple, said to Him, "You do not regard the person of men" as a testimony to His righteous truthfulness.  In an interesting parallel to this understanding of Jesus' character, Hillary of Poitiers comments that "the reason for Judas’s kiss was that we might discern all our enemies and those who we know would delight in raging against us"  (trans. M. Simonetti, 2001).  Jesus allows Judas' kiss, and speaks peacefully to all, so that the betrayal only becomes more clear, says Origen.  In this sense is "Friend" used as a rebuke, since Jesus has offered Judas only friendship, and is in turn being betrayed.  Indeed, this word for "friend" is minus the love indicated in philos.  Commentaries such as these indicate a very special insight about judgment, and that is that the goodness -- even the meekness -- in Christ's behavior acts as discerning tool of those who behave with belligerence and hostility.  It becomes, in effect, a way of building judgment in the world, of proving out what is truly in the heart of individuals who respond in such a way, despite their calling Him "Master."  In such a light we also have to see Jesus' telling the truth even on trial and to those who are directly hostile to Him.  It first of all is an offer for repentance, but it is also a tool of discernment of the hearts of the individuals who respond to Him with hostility to that truth.  Jesus does not work by coercion, because faith does not work that way, love does not work that way.  A true friend of Christ is one who loves Christ.  Peter's sword must be put up -- and there is a profound and powerful reason why.  We would all do well to remember this.  Our souls might depend upon it.