Wednesday, March 22, 2017

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


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

- John 8:12-20

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

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world.  He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life." As part of the Feast of Tabernacles, the conclusion includes the lighting of the great lamps at the temple.  (One recalls the pillar of fire that lit the way for the Israelites in the darkness on their way toward the promised kingdom.)  It is in this context that Jesus speaks these words.  My study bible says that He is declaring Himself to be the fulfillment and he divine object of all celebrations of light.  In Scripture, God the Father Himself is light (1:4-9; 1 John 1:5).  This is an attribute bestowed on God's followers (Matthew 5:14; Philippians 2:15).  Christ proclaims such "illumination" by performing the sign of opening the eyes of the blind from birth (9:1-7, especially verse 5).

The Pharisees therefore said to Him, "You bear witness of Yourself; Your witness is not true."  Jesus answered and said to them, "Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from and where I am going.  You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.  And yet if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent Me.  It is also written in your law that the testimony of two men is true.  I am One who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me."  Then they said to Him, "Where is Your Father?"  Jesus answered, "You know neither Me nor My Father.  If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also."  These words Jesus spoke in the treasury, as He taught in the temple; and no one laid hands on Him, for His hour had not yet come.  Once again, Jesus returns to the union of Father and Son, but most particularly to the Father from whom comes all things.  My study bible says that because the Son and the Father share the same divine nature, one cannot be known apart from the other (see John 14:7-11).

What is a witness?  What does it mean to be a witness, or to be a good witness?  What does it mean to bear witness?  A witness, according to one dictionary definition, is one who sees an event, or one who offers evidence or proof of something.  To bear witness, the form Jesus uses here, is a verb form of the word.  To "witness" in this way is to see otherwise observe something, or to give or serve as evidence of it, to testify to something.  What this points to is the reality of the relationship between the Father and the Son.  Can there be an earthly witness of this?  Who can give testimony to this?  Earlier in another reading, Jesus cited four witnesses to this relationship.  He named those to whom it had been divinely revealed:  John the Baptist, a prophet, and Moses, also a prophet.  As third witness He named the Scriptures, also divinely revealed.  And finally He named the works that He did, the signs, also forms of revelation of the presence of the kingdom of heaven in the world.  In today's reading, Jesus says that those who judge Him have no right to do so.  They do not know Him, nor where He is from, nor where He is going -- but He knows these things.  He says, "You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one."    He goes on to add something important:  "And yet if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent Me."  Everything refers again back to the Father and to the witness that comes of this relationship.  What we gather from these examples of witnesses and witnessing that Jesus cites is the necessary connection to the divine that affirms and teaches about things which are divine in nature and origin.  We can speculate all that we want to, but to "judge according to the flesh" is to judge with standards that are ignorant, in some sense, of the reality of the divine.  It is to judge outside of that reality and understanding and experience.  We take away once again that Jesus is teaching these men that despite their expertise and authority, they cannot judge Him, because they do not have the experience of the love of God in their hearts.  They do not share this communion, and thereby they do not judge accurately nor appropriately.  The theme of today's reading might be summed up in Jesus' words that He is the light of the world.  He says, "I am the light of the world.  He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life."  If it is He who comes from the Father, He shares this light with the world.  He has brought illumination for all of us, for each of us.  And it is His mission to bring us to that light so that we, too, may share in it and reflect it into the world.  Everything becomes about this depth of relationship.  We can look at the image of the great lamps burning at the temple, reminding us of the pillar of fire that lit the way in the darkness for the Israelites.  Fire, like light, can be shared and spread.  As one candle in the darkness is lit by the next, this is a light with a divine origin, but which spreads its communion among us and within us.  It is the divine working of this light that we seek, and that we know from Christ and Christ's witness, and all those who bear witness also to this light.  How do you share in it?   How is that light shared with you?  How do you share it with the world and bear witness yourself?



Tuesday, March 21, 2017

No man ever spoke like this Man!


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

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

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

- John 7:37-52

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

 On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."  But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.   The last day, that great day of the feast is the eighth day of the Feast of Tabernacles.   There was a ceremony of drawing water from a pool, commemorating the water flowing from a rock that Moses struck, which provides the context for the words of Christ.  This living water is the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the new life that accompanies the gift.

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

Then the officers came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, "Why have you not brought Him?"  The officers answered, "No man ever spoke like this Man!"  Then the Pharisees answered them, "Are you also deceived?  Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him?  But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed."   The chief priests had sent officers of the temple to arrest Jesus in the middle of the Feast (see yesterday's reading).  Now we are at the last day of the Feast, and no arrest has yet happened.  These officers, says my study bible, had been converted by the Lord's teaching.  The Pharisees and scribes, according to St. John Chrysostom, who had "witnessed the miracles and read the Scriptures derived no benefit" from either (see again yesterday's reading for Jesus' words to them).  These officers, on the contrary, although they could claim none of the learning of the leaders, were "captivated by a single sermon."  St. Chrysostom continues, saying that when the mind is open "there is no need for long speeches.  Truth is like that." 

Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them) said to them, "Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?"  They answered and said to him, "Are you also from Galilee?  Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee."  And everyone went to his own house.  Nicodemus had spoken with Jesus (which we read about in chapter 3), at which time Jesus taught him about baptism and the Holy Spirit, and his faith had increased.  But, says my study bible, his defense of Christ was still based on our law and wasn't yet a public profession of faith (see also John 19:38-39).   According to the Jewish law, Jesus must be given a hearing before He can be judged (see Exodus 23:1; Deuteronomy 1:15-17).   To say that no prophet has arisen out of Galilee is to show blind hatred and ignorance of the Scriptures.  The prophet Jonah came from Galilee, from the town of Gath Hepher, only three miles from Nazareth (2 Kings 14:25).

Jesus comes speaking the truth, the spiritual truth, and in some sense, it's as if all chaos comes into the picture in response.  At least on the part of those who resent Him, and who want to do away with Him, we see all kinds of "craziness," one might say.  The leadership, those "in charge" of religious life, suddenly seem to forget their own law, and their own Scriptures, in which they are the experts.  It is Nicodemus who stands up for the procedures of the law, and the leaders respond falsely and with scorn that no prophet has arisen out of Galilee.  John tells us that there was a division among the people because of Him.  We must remember Christ's own words about the effect of His truth in the world:  "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; and 'a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.'"  (Matthew 10:34-36; Jesus also quotes here from Micah 7:6.)  Jesus goes even further than this in the following verses from Matthew 10:  "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.  He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it."  These are tough words to follow, but we witness the effect of His teaching, His words, and His presence in the events recorded here by John.  There is a division among the people, and the officers sent to arrest Him are unable to do so because of His word.  The leadership becomes so furious as to be nearly beside themselves, forgetting their own law and Scripture.  We mustn't forget that these images are not simply teachings about historical events, but they are images of truths that tell us something about Christ, about the power of His word, and about our own choices in life -- and in the nitty-gritty personal details in the working out of our own salvation, on a personal and individual scale.  Christ's word and His truths will call each of us in our own way to "guide our steps to His commands" (see Psalm 119:133).  Our problems may not be as epic nor as public as Jesus' situation, but the conflicts that arise for us in pursuit of this faith may feel just as acute as the situations we read about in the Gospels.  We may struggle with the actions and choices of friends, relatives, our closest relationships on earth.  But everything will come down to how we find ourselves called to follow Christ.  This is a calling that, as He says above, cuts through and below and more deeply than everything else, and we must be prepared to deal with the difficult choices that will come in pursuing a life lived in the love of Christ.  Whatever we are, those choices will come to us.  It becomes our job to find the way of negotiating our lives in the world according to the ways we're taught.  We remember that God "makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Mathew 5:45), and understand that life doesn't offer us simple choices in black and white -- but that nevertheless we will be called to choose our values in our hearts and to live them.  That goes even for the times in which we may feel alone if we do so.  This is carrying our own cross.  The story of the Gospels is also the story of the growing faith of Christ's disciples and followers, those who have to make choices, who will be eventually forced to make the toughest of choices in their love for Him.  So we learn about the world, and mustn't be surprised by what we may encounter, if we're in this for the long haul, so to speak.  Faith is the journey of a lifetime.  Let us remember that He is our refuge.

 

Monday, March 20, 2017

My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority


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

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

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

- John 7:14-36

On Saturday, we read that after the events of chapter 6 in John's Gospel, Jesus walked in Galilee; for He did not want to walk in Judea, because the religious leaders sought to kill Him.  Now the Feast of Tabernacles was at hand.  His brothers therefore said to Him, "Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing.  For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly.  If You do these things, show Yourself to the world."  For even His brothers did not believe in Him.  Then Jesus said to them, "My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready.  The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.  You go up to this feast.  I am not yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come."  When He had said these things to them, He remained in Galilee.  But when His brothers had gone up, then He also went up to the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret.  Then the Jews sought Him at the feast, and said, "Where is He?"  And there was much complaining among the people concerning Him.  Some said, "He is good"; others said, "No, on the contrary, He deceives the people."  However, no one spoke openly of Him for fear of religious leaders.

 Now about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught.  And the Jews marveled, saying, "How does this Man know letters, having never studied?"  Jesus answered them and said, "My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me.  If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.  He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him."  The Feast, we remember, is the Feast of Tabernacles, an eight-day autumn festival commemorating the time when Israel wandered the desert of Sinai, living in temporary dwellings (tents or "tabernacles").  While the leadership seeks by now to rid themselves of Him, the people are divided.  My study bible says that the simple desire to know and follow God's will is the key to understanding it.  Spiritual blindness comes from the unwillingness to know God or to recognize God's authority.

"Did not Moses give you the law, yet none of you keeps the law?  Why do you seek to kill Me?"  The people answered and said, "You have a demon.  Who is seeking to kill You?"  Jesus answered and said to them, "I did one work, and you all marvel.  Moses therefore gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath.  If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath?  Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment."   Jesus is referring to events that occurred in chapter 5, at an earlier festival in Jerusalem (the Feast of Weeks), when He healed a man on the Sabbath.  See Rise, take up your bed and walk.  My study bible quotes St. John Chrysostom, who paraphrases Christ this way:  "Rid yourselves of wickedness:  the anger, the envy, and the hatred which have arisen in your hearts, without provocation, against Me.  Then you will have no difficulty in realizing that My words are actually those of God.  As it is, these passions darken your understanding and distort sound judgment.  If you remove these passions, you will no longer be affected in this way." 

Now some of them from Jerusalem said, "Is this not He whom they seek to kill?  But look!  He speaks boldly, and they say nothing to Him.  Do the rulers know indeed that this is truly the Christ?  However, we know where this Man is from; but when the Christ comes, no one knows where He is from."  Then Jesus cried out, as He taught in the temple, saying, "You both know Me, and you know where I am from; and I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know.  But I know Him, for I am from Him, and He sent Me."   The people are mistaken about where this Man is from, in both an earthly and a divine sense.  In human terms, they think of Jesus as being from Nazareth in Galilee, but they're unaware that He was actually born in Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-7).  Beyond this, they can't understand that He's come from the Father in Heaven, eternally begotten before all ages, and therefore His divine origin is also unknown to them.  As we can see, in both today's reading and Friday's, Jesus' reference is over and over again to the Father and our knowledge or understanding of Him.

Therefore they sought to take Him; but no one laid a hand on Him, because His hour had not yet come.  And many of the people believed in Him, and said, "When the Christ comes, will He do more signs than these which this Man has done?"   His hour is the time of His suffering and death.  Christ, says my study bible, is the Lord over time, an authority possessed by God alone.  He comes to His Cross of His own free will and in His time, and not according to the plots of human beings (see 8:20; 10:39).

The Pharisees heard the crowd murmuring these things concerning Him, and the Pharisees and the chief priests sent officers to take Him.  Then Jesus said to them, "I shall be with you a little while longer, and then I go to Him who sent Me.  You will seek Me and not find Me, and where I am you cannot come."  Jesus refers here to His death, Resurrection, and Ascension into heaven.

Then the Jews said among themselves, "Where does He intend to go that we shall not find Him?  Does He intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?  What is this thing that He said, 'You will seek Me and not find Me, and where I am you cannot come'?"  To go among the Greeks means to go among the Gentiles (that is, those who speak Greek, which was the international language of the time).  This is an unwitting prophecy, says my study bible, pointing to the time after His Ascension when Christ's name will be preached among the Gentiles by the apostles.

In the reading from Friday, and in today's reading, Jesus repeatedly returns to the love of the Father as the guiding principal in our understanding of Christ.  Without this love, understanding is absent.  We won't understand that which is "of God" in any other context.  We won't recognize the Son, we can't understand His words.  Jesus despairs again and again that the leadership which questions Him, which disparages Him, which wants to rid themselves of Him can't understand nor recognize anything about Him.  It's a question of honor, in Friday's reading, as well.  Is it worldly honor we recognize ("the honor that comes from men") or the kind of honor that is in the love of God?  In Saturday's reading, He tells His "brothers" (or extended family), who do not believe in Him, that "My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready.  The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil."    Christ asserts a difference between life lived with a love of God and life with this love absent from it.  When He speaks of the works of the world that are evil, He's speaking of the "worldly" not as the world itself or any element in it, but that which is separated from the love of God.  When He speaks of "the honor that comes from men" (Friday's reading), it is an honor absent the honor that comes from God.  In today's reading He also speaks of the authority and the glory that comes from God.  St. Gregory of Nazianzus writes extensively about salvation and the Incarnation of Christ.  He writes that Christ's full incarnation as human being enables salvation, because "that which He has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved."  It is in the context of the unifying love of the Father taught by Jesus in today's reading that we may understand this theology.  United to God, all is saved, all is worthy.  In this love, in this communion, everything is changed.  It is in the absence of such communion that we are blind, we fail to see, and we fail to know the true worth of human life and all of creation, including the goodness of the world.  It is this love that teaches us true honor, and true life, and gives us a grasp of the values of which we are capable, even the love of which we are capable.  Christ comes into the world from a place He says these people who disparage Him do not know.  They can't understand Him, they can't recognize what He's about.  But His mission is to save, to unite God and human beings, to renew the whole world through this saving mission of communion and unification "for the life of the world" (and not only human beings).  This is the one thing necessary, the thing that saves us from blindness.  In His life, He offers it to us.  Are we capable of grasping what He offers?




Saturday, March 18, 2017

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


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

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

- John 7:1-13

In yesterday's reading, Jesus continued in His discourse with the authorities over His equality with the Father (see also the readings from Wednesday and Thursday):  "I can of Myself do nothing.  As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.  If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true.  There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true.  You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth.  Yet I do not receive testimony from man, but I say these things that you may be saved.  He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light.  But I have a greater witness than John's; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish -- the very works that I do -- bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.  And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me.  You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form.  But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe.  You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.  But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.  I do not receive honor from men.  But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you.  I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive.  How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?  Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you -- Moses, in whom you trust.  For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me.  But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?"

After these things Jesus walked in Galilee; for He did not want to walk in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill Him.  The lectionary skips over chapter 6 of John's Gospel, in which Jesus teaches that He is the bread of life, and made the fourth sign of John's Gospel, the feeding of five thousand in the wilderness.   He has also lost disciples for teaching, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.  For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.  He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.  As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever."  By now, as the text tells us, the religious authorities want to do away with Him.  We are now in the last year of Jesus' earthly life.  The next few chapters (7:1-10:21) cover Jesus' visit to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles.  The entire section covers eight days of this festival.  He teaches in the temple and attracts enormous attention.  Some will think He's mad, others will believe Him to be the Messiah, and still others (the Sadducees and Pharisees) consider Him to be a threat.  Those who sought to kill Him are the religious leaders, and not the people in general (in John's Gospel, the term "the Jews" is generally used as a political term referring to the authorities, reflecting the period in which the Gospel was written).

Now the Jews' Feast of Tabernacles was at hand. The Feast of Tabernacles, called Succoth or Sukkot in Hebrew, is an eight-day autumn festival which commemorates the time when Israel wandered in the wilderness of Sinai and the people lived in tents (or tabernacles).  It's also called the Feast of Booths, with the same meaning.  With Passover and Pentecost, this was one of the three most important festivals of the ancient Jews.  There were numerous sacrifices and celebrations as a part of the festival (Leviticus 23:33-43).  In the later times of this feast, the final day included drawing water from the pool of Siloam to be mixed with wine and poured at the foot of the altar, as both purification and remembrance of the water flowing from the rock that Moses struck (Exodus 17:1-7).  It further included the lighting of great lamps in the outer court of the temple.  All of these elements will be reflected in Jesus' teachings as we go through the Festival in our reading.

His brothers therefore said to Him, "Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing.  For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly.  If You do these things, show Yourself to the world."  For even His brothers did not believe in Him.  Then Jesus said to them, "My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready.  The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.  You go up to this feast.  I am not yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come."  When He had said these things to them, He remained in Galilee.   We read the tension between the "worldly" and the reality Christ brings into the world.  John's Gospel presents very clearly the lack of faith even in Jesus' extended family (brothers here refers either to step-brothers -- that is, children of Joseph by an earlier marriage; or to cousins or other relatives, as is still common in the Middle East usage).  It was common for whole extended families to go on pilgrimage to festivals at Jerusalem, and John's Gospel teaches us about the years of Jesus' ministry, recording His attendance at various festivals.  But the conflict in ways of thinking is clear:  Jesus has a specific ministry to carry out, but expectations of Him contradict the direction given by the Father.  In a modern context, we understand the appeal of fame for its own sake.  Our time of instant fame (or notoriety, as the case may be) through use of popular media, especially possible through the internet, has itself produced many cautionary tales about this particular "worldly" perspective.

But when His brothers had gone up, then He also went up to the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret.  Then the Jews sought Him at the feast, and said, "Where is He?"  And there was much complaining among the people concerning Him.  Some said, "He is good"; others said, "No, on the contrary, He deceives the people."  However, no one spoke openly of Him for fear of the Jews.  My study bible says that not openly means not with a grand, public appearance, as on Palm Sunday (12:12-16).

What is it about fame itself that is so elusive, so dangerous really, so likely to be something attractive and yet destructive?  Jesus' "brothers" taunt Him.  They say that anyone who wants to be publicly known like Jesus has to go show Himself.  But, on the other hand, so much about spiritual life is hidden.  The very word "mystery" teaches us about the secret things of the soul and spirit.  Jesus Himself has taught us about prayer and the most intimate relationship we have, that with God the Father, in His memorable words regarding the practices of faith in Matthew chapter 6.  He says that we should avoid being like the hypocrites who do everything to be seen.  If we do a charitable deed, let it be in secret, so that "your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly."  Perhaps His most striking words are about prayer.  He teaches His disciples,  "But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly."  We note the double mention of secret (or "hidden"), the Father who is in the secret place, and who sees in secret as well.  (It should be noted that this is as "private" a statement as possible, as the "you" both times in that last sentence is singular.)  So much of the spiritual life is contrasted with that which is "worldly" by definition, that which is publicly known or seen -- and Jesus warns against fame for its own sake here, lest we become like the hypocrites ("hypocrite" being an ancient word for actor, meaning "under a mask").  Jesus teaches us to understand that reality is multi-layered.  It is easy to create appearances in order to convey falsehood and to deceive.  We are to be deeper than that in our understanding of our own reality and of our own identities.  Most importantly, Jesus has a mission, and the instructions come from the Father.  From this He will not sway; it is not yet his "hour," his "time," meaning that it is not the time for the open confrontation that will come at Passion Week, resulting in His crucifixion, death, and Resurrection.  This will be the time He "openly" comes to Jerusalem.   The crucially important lesson that we take from all of this is the essential communion we maintain within our hearts that directs the rest of our lives.  Jesus had a mission, but a mission means that it must be done a certain way -- using discernment, seeking the will of God in all things, and not being fooled or lulled into thinking a certain way because all we depend upon is appearances and worldly ways of thinking.  This is the crucial thread for us.  It's what we, too, must hang onto in the questions of our own lives, because ultimately everything depends upon Who it is to whom we assign power.  Is it the world we must please, or God we must please?  A "worldly" perspective is one in which God is absent from our considerations.  The true perspective we seek is one in which our faith guides us through the world and in right relationship to others.  All else flows from this.   We can see the varied responses to Jesus from the people at the festival.  We're not to rely on worldly results and responses for our "missions" in life.  It all begins with love, and with the love of God in our hearts.  Thereby we follow His example.  We can understand the torments and difficulties He went through in His life first, so that we may follow Him.





Friday, March 17, 2017

I do not receive honor from men. But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you


 "I can of Myself do nothing.  As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.  If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true.  There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true.  You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth.  Yet I do not receive testimony from man, but I say these things that you may be saved.  He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light.  But I have a greater witness than John's; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish -- the very works that I do -- bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.  And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me.  You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form.  But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe.  You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.  But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.  I do not receive honor from men.  But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you.  I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive.  How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?  Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you -- Moses, in whom you trust.  For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me.  But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?"

- John 5:30-47

In yesterday's reading, Jesus responded to accusations from the leadership after healing a man on the Sabbath.  Specifically, they were outraged at His statements of equality with the Father.   Then Jesus answered and said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.  For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel.  For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will.  For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father.  He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.  Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.  Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, then the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.  For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.  Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth -- those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation."

"I can of Myself do nothing.  As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me."  Here my study bible points out that the divine will is common to the three Persons of the Trinity -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- for all fully share the same divine nature.  When the Son says that He obeys the Father, this refers to His human will, which the Son assumed at His Incarnation.  Christ freely aligned His human will in every aspect with the divine will of the Father -- and so sets an example for us that we are to do likewise.

If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true.  There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true.  You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth.  Yet I do not receive testimony from man, but I say these things that you may be saved.  He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light.  But I have a greater witness than John's; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish -- the very works that I do -- bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.  And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me.  You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form.  But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe.  You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.  But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.  I do not receive honor from men.  But I know you, that you do not have the love of  God in you.  I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive.  How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?  Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you -- Moses, in whom you trust.  For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me.  But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?"  In this section, Jesus offers to the authorities four witnesses to His identity as Son and Messiah.  (He anticipates the thoughts and arguments of these men in saying, "If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true."  See also Luke 4:23 for a similar anticipation Of course His witness is true.  But they do not believe Him, so He is offering other witnesses.)  In Jewish tradition, a valid testimony requires two witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6).  Jesus offers four.  In order of reference in these verses they are John the Baptist, the works the Father has given Christ to do, the Father Himself, and the Old Testament Scriptures through which Moses and others gave testimony to Him.

Jesus offers four witness to His identity.  But He also anticipates that these men will not believe those witnesses either.  Why?  There's a powerful thread running through this passage that speaks to us about the nature of faith itself.  Jesus says, "I do not receive honor from men.  But I know you, that you do not have the love of  God in you.  I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive.  How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?"  According to what Jesus is saying, the love of God creates a connection that gives us a kind of understanding, a perception of those who also have this love in them.   Jesus contrasts this with those who receive honor from men.   There is such an important emphasis here that it is essential that we try to understand what He's saying.  What does it mean when He says, "I do not receive honor from men"?  To receive honor from men is perhaps a statement about a purely worldly perspective.  Jesus says that if another comes in his own name, him you will receive.  In other words, if it is a worldly glory alone one focuses on, then we'll miss the honor that comes from God.  He implies that there is a choice to be made here.  He doesn't diminish actions and achievements in the world, but rather He focuses in on the choice we make in terms of what gives us value.   In whose honor do we place our trust?  By whose word do we live?  The focus on personal glory is a self-centered perspective rather than a Godly perspective.  It is one that turns away the basic love of God in the heart for a different, limited, self-centered focus.  And in this Jesus divides those who can perceive Him and those who cannot.  It begins with that basic choice within ourselves, and so much depends, in our own capacity for perception, on this basic and fundamental choice in the heart.  We take our identities from it, we perceive our very reality by it.  And if we fail to connect that love of God within ourselves, then we will miss so much.  He offers them four witnesses, and yet even these men who "search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me" fail to find that life which He is offering them, because the love of God isn't in them.  These are the words Christ offers us -- and so there is a challenge here to we who also study the Scriptures.  Without this basic love of God, all our study does us no good.  We will fail to understand them, and fail to perceive Him.  We can conclude as well that in accordance with His words, without this love in our hearts, we'll also fail to see God's work in the present moment, in our lives, and in our world, and the choices we're being called upon to make.  That connection of love within becomes, with Jesus' teachings, the all-important core of everything about our faith and our understanding of His words.   Let us remember, and kindle that place of love, in all the ways that we can.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

As the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man


 Then Jesus answered and said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.  For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel.  For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will.  For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father.  He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.  Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.

"Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, then the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.  For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.  Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth -- those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation."

- John 5:19-29

Yesterday we read that there was a feast of the Jews (this is the Feast of Weeks, or the Jewish Pentecost - a celebration of the giving of the Law), and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches.  In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water.  For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.  Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, "Do you want to be made well?"  The sick man answered Him, "Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me."  Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your bed and walk."  And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked.   And that day was the Sabbath.  The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, "It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed."  He answered them, "He who made me well said to him, 'Take up your bed and walk.'"  Then they asked him, "Who is the Man who said to you, 'Take up your bed and walk'?"  But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place.  Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, "See, you have been made well.  Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you."   The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.  For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath.  But Jesus answered them, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working."   Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God. 

Then Jesus answered and said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.  For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel.  For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will.  For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father.  He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.  Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life."  Jesus does not deny His equality to the Father, but rather amplifies and affirms what He has just said (in yesterday's reading, above) in saying, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working."  That the Son can do nothing of Himself tells us that His every act and word is in complete unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  My study bible tells us that this discourse reveals that the Father and the Son are completely united in nature, will, and action.  Therefore, the Son fully shares the divine attributes of both giving life and executing judgment.  The judgment of Christ is based both on faith and works, as we discern from Jesus' words in today's reading.

"Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, then the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.  For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.  Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth -- those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation."  My study bible tells us that the dead here refers both to the spiritually dead, who will find life in Christ, as to the physically dead, who will rise in the general resurrection.  The fact of this resurrection is confirmed in the raising of Lazarus (John 11:38-44) before Jesus goes to His own death.

John the Evangelist is also known as John the Theologian.  In today's reading, we see some of the reasons why.  What is affirmed and understood, or perhaps hinted at, through the actions recorded in what are called the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, is clearly explained here.    Jesus affirms boldly the reality that is the relationship of Father and Son.  The power of the Father has been given to the Son in giving life itself, and in Judgment.  It is explicitly understood here that faith in the Son must also convey faith in the Father.  The two are so linked as to be inseparable.  Later on in John's Gospel, Jesus will say, "He who sees Me sees Him who sent Me" (12:45).  Jesus' mission into the world is not simply to tell the world about the Son.  Rather it is to build faith in the Father, in the One who has sent Him, because we come to know the Son.   We cannot know the One without coming to know the Other.  We cannot reject the One without rejecting the Other.  This powerful expression and experience of communion will go through the whole Church, will be taught and extended as well to the Holy Spirit, will exist through the communion of saints.  Jesus gives us a picture of this communion in other Gospels as well, such as when He teaches, "Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 18:10).   In that context, He's speaking to the disciples about the lost sheep they must gather, and about the "little ones" and their treatment.  But He's also clearly expressing the communion we come to understand in the theology John explicitly records for us.  Jesus' words give us the understanding and depth to come to know His mission more truly as one which brings us not only communion with the Father, but a communion also through the Holy Spirit and through those who are related by faith, so to speak.  Jesus speaks of life and death -- the power of life and resurrection, and the power of Judgment.  These things run so deeply in tune with our faith and choices in life (both faith and works, as Jesus addresses above) as to confer identity in ways that the "worldly" cannot, even to the point of subsuming relations of kinship.  In Luke's Gospel, Jesus hints at Judgment when He says, "I came to send fire on the earth" (12:49).  He extends this to our deepest relationships when He finishes this passage by saying, "For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three.  Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law" (see Luke 12:49-53).   We may take this passage to mean that we are merely divided by ideas or faith in certain concepts, but Jesus does not speak of such light things as communion; He's teaching about something much deeper than that.  St. Paul gets more explicit when he writes that "the word of God 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).  That which unites Father and Son (and Spirit), unites a communion of all the saints, which confers upon us adoption, which even (in the words of St. Paul) pierces the division of soul and spirit, extends more deeply than anything else we know.  It confers an identity more solid and impenetrable than our very DNA can give us.  This union of faith is powerful enough that Jesus can say at Peter's confession, "I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18).  We are mistaken if we think that this statement is only about Peter, and not about the bond of faith in each of us.  That which even the gates of Hades cannot penetrate is more solid than anything we know, unbreakable, a bond that surpasses all others.  In this we must pause to think about what our faith really does for us, means for us, and how deeply the bond goes in us to the Son and the Father.  We must take Jesus' words to heart, and understand how deeply they penetrate the reality of who we truly are.




Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Rise, take up your bed and walk


 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches.  In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water.  For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.  Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, "Do you want to be made well?"  The sick man answered Him, "Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me."  Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your bed and walk."  And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. 

And that day was the Sabbath.  The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, "It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed."  He answered them, "He who made me well said to him, 'Take up your bed and walk.'"  Then they asked him, "Who is the Man who said to you, 'Take up your bed and walk'?"  But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place.  Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, "See, you have been made well.  Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you."   The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.  For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath.  But Jesus answered them, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working."   Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God. 

- John 5:1-18

Yesterday, we read that after spending two days with the townspeople at Jacob's well in Samaria He departed from there and went to Galilee.  For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet had no honor in his own country.  So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they also had gone to the feast.  So Jesus came again to Cana of Galilee where He made the water wine.  And there was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum.  When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.  Then Jesus said to him, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe."  The nobleman said to Him, "Sir, come down before my child dies!"  Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your son lives."  So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way.  And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, "Your son lives!"  Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better.  And they said to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him."  So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, "Your son lives."  And he himself believed, and his whole household.  This again is the second sign Jesus did when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.

After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  The feast in this chapter is considered to be the Feast of Weeks, the Old Testament Pentecost, which celebrates the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai.  The references to the Law of Moses later in this chapter confirm the interpretation.

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches.  In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water.  For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.  This was a double-basin pool, believed to have curative powers.  My study bible tells us that it has been discovered about 100 yards north of the temple area, near the Sheep Gate.  The water for this high-ground pool came from underground springs and was used to wash down the sacrificial lambs before they were slain.  This pool functions as a "type" of Christian baptism, my study bible adds.  Under the old covenant, a great multitude waited to enter the water for physical healing after an angel touched it.  These waters were special in that they were a way of indirectly participating in the animal sacrifices of the temple, since the animals were washed in the same water.  But this grace was limited to the first person to enter.  In the new covenant, baptism is given to all nations as direct participation in Christ's sacrificial death (Romans 6:3-6), without the mediation of angels.  Thereby, baptism gives healing of the soul and the promise of eternal resurrection of the body, with a grace that is inexhaustible.

Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, "Do you want to be made well?"  The sick man answered Him, "Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me."  Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your bed and walk."  And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked.   This is the third sign of seven in John's Gospel.  According to commentary by St. John Chrysostom, this man who had waited for thirty-eight years was singled out by Jesus in order to teach us perseverance, and as a judgment against those who lose hope or patience in much lesser troubles that last a far shorter time.  Jesus asks, "Do you want to be healed?" for several reasons.  First it makes clear to all the fact that this man kept his faith even in a situation that seemed hopeless.  How could a paralytic be the first into the water?  Secondly, Jesus draws attention away from the water and toward the need we have for someone to help us.  This "someone" is fulfilled in Christ Himself, who became Man, says my study bible, in order to heal all.  Finally, and importantly, not everyone who is ill actually desires healing.  There are those who prefer to remain infirm in order to complain, avoid responsibility for their lives, or continue exciting the pity of others, each a kind of "currency" in itself.   The question also invites a kind of prayer; regardless of the fact that Jesus knows all about us, and knows better than we do what we actually need, we often find in the Gospels that He asks of those who benefit from His grace to state exactly what they desire.

And that day was the Sabbath.  The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, "It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed."  He answered them, "He who made me well said to him, 'Take up your bed and walk.'"  Then they asked him, "Who is the Man who said to you, 'Take up your bed and walk'?"  But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place.   The Law itself does not specifically forbid the carrying of burdens on the Sabbath, but this is prohibited in Jeremiah 17:27.  It is also explicitly forbidden in rabbinical teachings.  That Christ is Lord over the Sabbath is clear from His command ("Rise, take up your bed and walk") and by the man's immediate obedience.  (See also Matthew 12:1-8.)  We note once again that John uses the term Jews to refer to the leadership and not to the people in general (after all, all the characters here, including Jesus, are Jews).  My study bible points us to the malice of these leaders:  all they focus on is the Sabbath violation, wanting to find "Who is the man who said to you, 'Take up your bed'?" but ignoring altogether this man's extraordinary and joyous miraculous healing.

Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, "See, you have been made well.  Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you."  That this man was found by Jesus in the temple shows his great faith, says my study bible.  He had gone there directly to thank God for his cure, rather than departing to someone's home or to the marketplace.  Jesus tells him, "Sin no more" as a way of affirming the divine help he's been given, and maintaining this communion with God.  My study bible adds that while there is a general connection between sin and suffering (Romans 6:23), it's not always one-to-one, because in our world the innocent often suffer and the guilty are often spared earthly sufferings.  Sometimes, however, our sins do lead directly to our own suffering in the world.  For St. John Chrysostom, this was the case with the paralytic.  But Christ's warning also teaches us that the sins that destroy the soul give us a worse result than affliction of the body.  Our hope is to flee from sin altogether.

The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.  For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath.  But Jesus answered them, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working."   Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.   This man doesn't report Jesus to the leaders in a malicious way, but rather as a witness to the goodness of Christ.  Even those these leaders were only interested in the violation of Sabbath, the healed man asserts that it was Jesus who had made him well, and says nothing about carrying his bed.  The leaders understand that Jesus' words imply absolute equality with God. 

Here we have a miraculous pool, with a sort of "enchanted" quality to modern ears, one in which the sheep are bathed for the sacrifice.  There are many who desire to go down into it; all are waiting to be first, because it is only the first who is said to be healed.  We are given an image of the desperation of mankind for help and assistance, some kind of holy water or bath which can help them, available in this basin only once in awhile -- and only for the first one in.  There is competition here, and limitation, and loss, and heartbreak, and even a kind of injustice.  (Why are not all healed?)  But Christ comes offering the living water He spoke of to the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well (see readings from Saturday and Monday).  He comes with a grace which, as my study bible says, is inexhaustible.  It's for all people.  He offers a kind of faith, a steadfast love that won't let go.  It's also important that we think back to something else He told the Samaritan woman, that "the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him."  In this kind of relationship, this kind of worship in spirit and truth, one need not be only in one particular place and at one particular time.  Rather it is God who determines those times and places, and God is limited by nothing.  The grace of the living water that Jesus brings into the world in not only inexhaustible, it is unlimited by any worldly reality.  It is reliant only on God and on our communion with God.  It's important to note that Jesus asks the man in today's reading if he wants to be healed.  Certainly a man waiting there for decades seems to want to be healed!  But being able to articulate what we want from God is part of our communion.  Jesus lets us know this is not a one-sided relationship:  we have our part to play, we must engage with God ourselves, we must seek dialogue.  It is in that communion that we know God's love, and that we find ourselves.  Let us remember the inexhaustible grace that comes from this love, that the One who is sent to us brings.





Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe


 Now after the two days He departed from there and went to Galilee.  For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet had no honor in his own country.  So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they also had gone to the feast.

So Jesus came again to Cana of Galilee where He made the water wine.  And there was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum.  When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.  Then Jesus said to him, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe."  The nobleman said to Him, "Sir, come down before my child dies!"  Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your son lives."  So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way.  And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, "Your son lives!"  Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better.  And they said to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him."  So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, "Your son lives."  And he himself believed, and his whole household.  This again is the second sign Jesus did when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.

- John 4:43-54

Yesterday, we read the conclusion to Jesus' meeting with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well.   At this point His disciples came, and they marveled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, "What do You seek?" or "Why are You talking with her?"  The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, "Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did.  Could this be the Christ?"  Then they went out of the city and came to Him.  In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, "Rabbi, eat."  But He said to them, "I have food to eat of which you do not know."  Therefore the disciples said to one another, "Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?"  Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.  Do you not say, 'There are still four months and then comes the harvest'?  Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!  And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.  For in this the saying is true:  'One sows and another reaps.'  I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors."  And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, "He told me all that I ever did."  So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days.  And many more believed because of His own word.  Then they said to the woman, "Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world."  

Now after the two days He departed from there and went to Galilee.  For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet had no honor in his own country.  So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they also had gone to the feast.  Jesus' own country is Galilee.  This statement, that a prophet has no honor in his own country, is found in all four Gospels.  The Galileans who witnessed His signs in Jerusalem were those who were there for the first Passover recorded in John's Gospel (2:13-25).  Jesus, we were told, performed many signs there (see 2:23).  It's a kind of caution recorded here against those who rely on signs for faith.  In chapter 2 we were told that Jesus did not commit Himself to those who believed because of the signs.  St. John Chrysostom comments here that those who received Christ because of the signs they saw at the Passover feast are far less creditable than the Samaritans who accepted Christ based on words and teachings without the accompanying signs (see yesterday's reading, above).

So Jesus came again to Cana of Galilee where He made the water wine.  And there was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum.  When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.  Then Jesus said to him, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe."  You people here is plural.  Jesus admonishes the people in general (not the nobleman alone) for faith based in signs (or miracles).  This is insufficient for salvation.  It's an incomplete type of faith, which turns to scorn if the miracles cease (19:15).  We will see the repeated insistence on "proofs"  that He is Messiah by the leadership, who demand signs from Christ.

The nobleman said to Him, "Sir, come down before my child dies!"  Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your son lives."  So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way.  And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, "Your son lives!"  Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better.  And they said to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him."  So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, "Your son lives."  And he himself believed, and his whole household.  This again is the second sign Jesus did when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.  My study bible says that the nobleman's concern is clearly for his child, although his faith in Christ is weak.  He doesn't understand that Christ is Lord over illness even from a distance, nor that Christ could heal the child even if he were to die.  He inquires after the fact about the timing of the healing, still not completely trusting the Lord's authority.  It is after all is confirmed that he and his whole household believe.  Earlier in John's Gospel we learned that Jesus sees into the hearts of people from a distance (1:45-48).  Here, He not only heals the body of the child from a distance, but also the soul of the nobleman.  This is the second of seven signs given in John's Gospel.

Jesus performs signs (or miracles) but in a sense He does so reluctantly.  They are never done to create faith.  They are never done as proofs of identity or power or authority, despite the fact of the constant demand (especially by the authorities who insist that He prove Himself).  In fact, one may conclude that His crucifixion comes about because He refuses to give proofs, and so is charged with blasphemy, but it's debatable that the envious religious leaders would have stopped plotting against Him.  But what we do take home, so to speak, from this reading is that Jesus' signs are done from compassion.  He provides wine at the wedding in Cana at the prompting of His mother, as the hosts have run out of wine (an essential element for the wedding feast).  Here He takes compassion on the nobleman who implores Him to heal his son who is at the point of death.  It's almost as if Jesus does so reluctantly, because of the problems with a faith that relies on and demands signs.  Faith must begin in another place within us.  Its true root in the Greek is trust, and trust does not come from proofs and signs.  Trust is akin to love, to a kind of loyalty in which one trusts out of a deeper sense of truth within the heart.  The demand for signs is a way to hold back, to impose one's own standards on that which we don't really understand, nor have we the immense perspective sufficient to judge God.  If our faith depends on miraculous answers, it's not really the kind of faith Christ asks us for.  It's not the stuff of endurance, and it won't build us up as human beings.  In the story of Job, we encounter a man who loses everything, but continues looking for an answer, and for his day face to face with God.  In the end, Job is satisfied with God's love, with that steadfast assurance of communion, even though God makes it clear that Job must trust and cannot understand a plan for all of creation that is beyond his capacities to comprehend.  It is in God's very questioning of Job that we come to know encounter, and the struggle with our faith.  So Jesus reflects this in His lament about those who demand signs.  Faith is based in communion, even a kind of struggle in which we are engaged with God and God is engaged with us.  That is what produces true character and endurance, the kind of love that echoes itself in human marriage, in which we struggle through love and engagement and, yes, our own transformation through time.  Let us remember the depths of the heart as the place where faith is and where love goes, beyond even what we can understand.  That is where God awaits and encounters us in faith.



Monday, March 13, 2017

Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?


 And at this point His disciples came, and they marveled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, "What do You seek?" or "Why are You talking with her?"  The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, "Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did.  Could this be the Christ?"  Then they went out of the city and came to Him.

In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, "Rabbi, eat."  But He said to them, "I have food to eat of which you do not know."  Therefore the disciples said to one another, "Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?"  Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.  Do you not say, 'There are still four months and then comes the harvest'?  Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!  And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.  For in this the saying is true:  'One sows and another reaps.'  I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors."

And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, "He told me all that I ever did."  So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days.  And many more believed because of His own word.  Then they said to the woman, "Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world." 

- John 4:27-42

On Saturday we read that when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), He left Judea and departed again to Galilee.  But He needed to go through Samaria.  So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.  Now Jacob's well was there.  Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well.  It was about the sixth hour.  A woman of Samaria came to draw water.  Jesus said to her, "Give Me a drink."  For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.  Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, "How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?"  For the Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.  Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water."  The woman said to Him, "Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep.  Where then do You get that living water?  Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?"  Jesus answered and said to her, "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life."  The woman said to Him, "Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw."  Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come here."  The woman answered and said, "I have no husband."  Jesus said to her, "You have well said, 'I have no husband,' for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly."  The woman said to Him, "Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.  Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship."  Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father.  You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.  But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.  God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."   The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ).  "When He comes, He will tell us all things."  Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am He."

 And at this point His disciples came, and they marveled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, "What do You seek?" or "Why are You talking with her?"    The disciples marveled for several reasons.  Jesus spoke first of all with a Samaritan, and also with an unaccompanied woman -- which for the time, place, and culture was a potential scandal.  My study bible cites several other instances further on in John's Gospel in which Jesus' dealings with women are remarkable:  John 7:53-8:11; 11:20-33; 20:11-18 (see also Luke 8:1-3).

The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, "Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did.  Could this be the Christ?"  Then they went out of the city and came to Him.   This Samaritan woman becomes an early evangelist, says my study bible.  She testifies to the advent of Christ and also brings others to Him.  This woman is known in tradition as St. Photini.  According to early tradition in the Church, after the Resurrection she was baptized with this name Photini, which in Greek means "the enlightened one."  Along with two sons and five daughters, she went to Carthage to spread the gospel.  Later she was martyred with her family under the emperor Nero by being thrown into a well.

In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, "Rabbi, eat."  But He said to them, "I have food to eat of which you do not know."  Therefore the disciples said to one another, "Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?"  Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work."  Here is another example of a particular type of interaction which is notable in John's Gospel, a misunderstanding meant to illumine or enlighten.  He fulfills His role as Messiah by doing the will of the Father, and therefore this is His food.  But the example is for all of us; it teaches us not only about priorities and what we put first, but also the mysterious energies of God, God's grace (see also 6:27; Matthew 4:4, 6:25-33).  My study bible says it teaches us to do the will of God in our lives without being distracted by earthly cares.

"Do you not say, 'There are still four months and then comes the harvest'?  Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!"  According to St. Chrysostom, when Jesus says Behold to the disciples, He is looking at the approaching townspeople, who are ready and eager to believe in Him.  Jesus compares these foreigners (relative to the Jews) whose common dress was white, to fields ready for harvest.  My study bible tells us that this command is also to all believers to look to those around us and to share the gospel with anyone wanting to hear it, regardless of race or ethnicity. 

"And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.  For in this the saying is true:  'One sows and another reaps.'  I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors."  St. Chrysostom further comments that those who sow and those who reap are the prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles, respectively.  The prophets sowed in preparation for the coming of the Messiah, but did not see His coming and thus did not reap.  The apostles didn't do the preparation, but they will draw thousands to Christ in their own lifetimes.  And we, too, build upon all these labors in our own lives.

And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, "He told me all that I ever did."  So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days.  And many more believed because of His own word.  Then they said to the woman, "Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world." These foreigners and enemies of the Jews are the first to recognize Jesus as Savior of the world.  What it teaches us is just that the gospel is for all people in every nation.

John's Gospel has already repeatedly given us the action of faith:  some are told to "come and see."  (See also John 1:38-39, 1:46).  But their faith takes hold with experience, coming to know Christ for themselves.  This sense of personal experience is important.  By the time John's Gospel was written, John was an elderly man.  By tradition, it is said that he dictated his work to a disciple.  Therefore we infer that the experience of the early Church, and also of course his intimacy with Christ and with the Mother of Christ (see John 19:26) shape many of the understandings that we find in John's Gospel.  We've already read two previous examples of people who are told to "come and see" and who become Jesus' disciples.  Here in today's reading, St. Photini does the same with her own townspeople.  But they testify themselves that their faith takes hold "not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world."  They come and see for themselves, just as did Andrew and John the Evangelist, and Nathanael.  So the real question here for us becomes, how do we come and see?  Jesus is no longer in the world as incarnate human being.  His worldly ministry ended with His Passion, death, and Resurrection.  But it is precisely because of that "ending," which was not an ending at all, that we are capable of coming and seeing and experiencing Christ for ourselves.  We not only have the entire tradition of the Church which testifies to Christ, including the history of all the saints and the Gospels, Epistles and other books of the New Testament, but we have the entire history of Judaism in the Old Testament which testifies to who the Christ is.  As Christians, we understand Jesus as the fulfillment of all that is in the Old Testament.  We can study the Scriptures, as in this blog, and we find over and over again new insights that they tell us about.  John gives us the wonderful and repeated examples of "misunderstandings" that are intentional, in which Jesus uses figurative language designed to initiate those listening in concepts of the Kingdom.  Jesus also gives us parables to teach us about the Kingdom, which give repeated insights to listeners, regardless of how many times one may have heard the same parable before.  All these experiences are ways in which we, too, can "come and see" for ourselves.  But finally there is the greatest blessing of all, that which forms and shapes the Church and our worship, the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Regardless of where we are, who we are, when we live, God is with us.  God's presence leads and guides us.  We can call on the Spirit, on the Father, on the Son, and pray with the entire communion of saints for our help and true experience of faith, for which there is no substitute.  It is on this the Church rests, and builds, and grows.  Jesus has promised that "where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20).  At the end of Matthew's Gospel, He gives His disciples what is known as the Great Commission, saying, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you."  He ends with this promise:  "And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  In all these things, and in the true worship of God in spirit and in truth, He is with us always.