Showing posts with label theophany. Show all posts
Showing posts with label theophany. Show all posts

Monday, November 18, 2013

His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light


Transfiguration icon - Theophanes the Greek, 14th century
 Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them.  His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.  And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.  Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles:  one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."  While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!"  And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid.  But Jesus came and touched them and said, "Arise, and do not be afraid."  When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.  Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, "Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead."  And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?"  Jesus answered and said to them, "Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things.  But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished.  Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands."  Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.

- Matthew 17:1-13

Yesterday, our reading told us that after Peter's confession of faith that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.  Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, "Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!"  But He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan!  You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men."  Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.  For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?  Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?  For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.  Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom."

  Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves . . .   My study bible points out that a "high mountain" in Scripture is often a place of revelation (Ex. 19:3, 23; Is. 2:3, 2 Peter 1:18).

. . . and He was transfigured before them.  His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.  Light, we understand, is a sign of God, of divinity.  My study bible says, "Because God is light (1 John 1:5), the bright cloud, the shining of Jesus' face like the sun, and the whiteness of His garment all demonstrate that Jesus is God."  In some icons, this light is painted as whiter-than-white, with a blue tinge to it -- my study bible calls it "beyond white, a blue-white, ineffable color, indicating its spiritual origin."  The light itself perhaps tells us of revelation.  This is a Theophany, a revelation of God.

And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.  My study bible says that Moses represents the Law and all those who have died.  Elijah represents the Prophets and -- since he did not experience death -- all those who are alive in Christ.  It notes, "Their presence shows that the Law and the Prophets, the living and the dead, all bear witness to Jesus as the Messiah, the fulfillment of the whole Old Testament."  Together with this inner circle of Christ's most trusted disciples (Peter and the brothers John and James Zebedee) we do truly get a sense of Old and New, all one together in Christ.  Here, with Moses and Elijah, there is no time, or perhaps no limitation of time.  It is a story of the reality of the communion of saints, of eternal presence.

Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles:  one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."   A note tells us that the signs here are of the coming Kingdom, and Peter recognizes them. His suggestion of building booths corresponds to the Feast of Tabernacles (the feast of the coming Kingdom), and so he suggests building booths or tents as is the custom of that feast (a recollection of the time when Israel wandered in the desert) which "serve as symbols of God's dwelling among the just in the Kingdom."  The word in the Greek means "tent" but it is also translated as "booth" here and "tabernacle" elsewhere.

While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!"  And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid.  The bright cloud, of course, recalls the temple worship and the cloud that went before the Israelites in the wilderness (my study bible tells us this is one of the things prompting Peter to suggest building booths).   But the cloud and the voice from the Father suggest an extreme "otherness" -- something of God so far away from us that it can't be represented except in these ways.  It is also a Theophany in the revelation of Trinity:  the Father's voice which testifies (as in Friday's reading when Jesus told Peter it was the Father who revealed Christ's identity to him), the dazzling light of the Spirit surrounding Christ and overshadowing the whole mountain, and Christ as Son.

 But Jesus came and touched them and said, "Arise, and do not be afraid."  When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.  Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, "Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead."  And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?"  Jesus answered and said to them, "Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things.  But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished.  Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands."  Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.  My study bible says that in addition to the presence of Moses and Elijah, who speak together with Christ, the communion of saints is also manifest in the fact that the disciples are able to understand Jesus' words that "Elijah has come already" -- referring to John the Baptist.  It notes, "Their eyes have been opened to the fact that Malachi's prophecy (Malachi 4:5-6) refers to one coming 'in the spirit and power of Elijah' (Luke 1:17), rather than to Elijah himself."

Once again we return back to worldly life with the reminder from Jesus of all that He will suffer.  He has been revealed to them, the Kingdom has been revealed to them, and the communion of saints has also been revealed to them.  All these things are ever-present realities, just as my study bible calls the bright cloud overshadowing them "the visible sign of God being extraordinarily present."  It's a little awe-inspiring to understand that this revelation isn't given simply to impress anyone, but in fact, their confession of faith that Jesus is the Christ has already been made, by Peter speaking for the rest of them.  It is their faith that allows the revelation, just as Jesus is never coerced into a providing a sign on demand, a proof that others might require of Him.  Rather, all the signs come to the faithful.  This tells us something about faith, and what it unlocks and makes possible in us.  The signs of the Kingdom extraordinarily present, God's presence and revelation, and the communion of saints manifest here -- suggest to us the timeless eternity present in Christ (Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet), and the reality that is beyond all the limitations and definitions of our worldly lives.  In the context of this eternal reality lies the suffering which Jesus will face in His life as Son of Man, and we encounter therefore limitation, stumbling block.  (See Saturday's reading in which Jesus tells Peter he is an offense to Him -- skandalon, or "stumbling block" in the Greek --  in suggesting He avoid the Cross.)  In contrast to the reality of the presence of the Kingdom Jesus brings into the world is the limitation of this world, and the work of its "prince" or "ruler" -- stumbling block, pain, snare, toil and heavy burden.  This contrast, in fact, tells us of the victory of the Kingdom.  As its head, Christ comes into the world as a liberator, here to free us, and this is the real story of the Gospels.  By facing all of these obstacles, bearing His Cross, and thus serving as sacrifice for all of us, all those limits become defeated, even death.  It is a question of the spiritual battle that is the real struggle for faith; not on the world's terms but on the terms of the Kingdom of heaven in our hearts and minds.  The God of love teaches us to fight the same way He bears His cross in our own lives.  This dazzling brilliant light, this eternal presence, through the eyes of faith it becomes our way forward, and the darkness can't shut it out.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!


 Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves; and He was transfigured before them.  His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them.  And Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.  Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here, and let us make three tabernacles:  one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah"  -- because he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid.  And a cloud came and overshadowed them; and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My beloved Son.  Hear Him!"  Suddenly, when they had looked around, they saw no one anymore, but only Jesus with themselves.

Now as they came down from the mountain, He commanded them that they should tell no one the things they had seen, till the Son of Man had risen from the dead.  So they kept this word to themselves, questioning what the rising from the dead meant.  And they asked Him, saying, "Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?"  Then He answered and told them, "Indeed, Elijah is coming first and restores all things.  And how is it written concerning the Son of Man, that He must suffer many things and be treated with contempt?  But I say to you that Elijah has also come, and they did to him whatever they wished, as it is written of him."

- Mark 9:2-13

 In yesterday's reading, we were told that when Jesus had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?  Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the Holy angels."  And He said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power."

 Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves; and He was transfigured before them.  His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them.  My study bible tells us:  "The transfigured radiance of Christ is His uncreated glory, a saving revelation at the heart of the Christian experience (2 Pet. 1:16-18).  The Transfiguration assures the disciples that the Messiah, who is to suffer, is also the Lord of Glory (see 1 Cor. 2:8).  Only His third-day Resurrection is a greater sign of His divinity than is His Transfiguration."

And Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.  Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here, and let us make three tabernacles:  one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah"  -- because he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid.  A note here reads:  "Although Christ is addressed as Rabbi, He has not passed through a rabbinical school, and His ministry has clearly gone beyond the established function of a rabbi, which was to teach.  This title shows the Master-disciple relationships between Christ and the Twelve.  Peter recognizes Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets, who appear with Jesus.  This is a glimpse of the glory that is to be revealed (Romans 8:18) where introductions will not be needed."  For the Jews, tabernacles or tents (the literal meaning of the Greek word here) were associated with the coming of the Kingdom, and the Feast of the Coming Kingdom commemorated the time when Israel lived in what are called booths, tents, or "tabernacles," the God of Israel moving with them.  So, Peter's words, if confused by the awesome experience, at least reflect a grasping at the familiar, something he can relate to.  In John 1:14, we read "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."  The verb translated into English as "dwelt" means tabernacled or literally "tented" in the Greek, and is the verb form of the same word Peter uses here.

And a cloud came and overshadowed them; and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My beloved Son.  Hear Him!"  Suddenly, when they had looked around, they saw no one anymore, but only Jesus with themselves.  A note in my study bible tells us:  "A cloud is sometimes the sign of a theophany, the presence of God the Father.  This revelation is for the benefit of the disciples, that their faith should be firm.  For they are called to believe not only in Christ but in what is to come, the eternal Kingdom.  The Greek verb for hear is in the present imperative form, meaning 'listen always.'"   This command is for each of us, always present to us.

Now as they came down from the mountain, He commanded them that they should tell no one the things they had seen, till the Son of Man had risen from the dead.   So they kept this word to themselves, questioning what the rising from the dead meant.  My study bible says here that Christ's Resurrection is required for full disclosure of the messianic secret and for full understanding of messiahship.  Equally of importance here is this repeated need for a partial disclosure, so to speak.  Some of the apostles, His inner circle of Peter, John and James, have been allowed this revelation of glory.  But it's not yet for the world to understand and to know.  Even for these apostles, the revelation isn't clear -- they have no idea to what Jesus is referring when He speaks of rising from the dead.

And they asked Him, saying, "Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?"  Then He answered and told them, "Indeed, Elijah is coming first and restores all things.  And how is it written concerning the Son of Man, that He must suffer many things and be treated with contempt?  But I say to you that Elijah has also come, and they did to him whatever they wished, as it is written of him."  A note in my study bible here says, "The return of Elijah, expected as a preparation for the Messiah, has already been fulfilled through John the Baptist." 

The apostles here of Jesus' inner circle -- the same three who were present at the healing of Jairus' daughter -- are given a great revelation.  But they don't yet understand -- at all -- what any of it means.  Jesus strictly tells them they must not reveal this experience until His Resurrection, and they have no idea what He's talking about or could refer to.  These apostles will become the cornerstones of the Church; St. Peter speaking often for the rest throughout the Gospels, and St. John giving us several books of Scripture (either directly or through his disciples), including John's Gospel, which teaches us the true theology of Jesus' identity as Christ.  These fishermen have probably known Jesus for a great deal of His life, even before ministry.  So there is an intimacy here we can note.  But let us look also to their question to Him, about prophecy:  "Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?"  It's another sign to us in the Gospel of "partial knowledge."  That is, they ask about prophecy, another kind of mystery.  It's mystery which has just been revealed to them, but the full understanding and knowledge of the things of God remain hidden.  They are given something, a great gift of grace, but it will take time, and lots of it, to come to understand what it all means.  The prophecy about the return of Elijah is another mystery; but it has been fulfilled in the ministry of John the Baptist, with whom they are also very familiar, as many disciples of Jesus came first from the Baptist.  While Scripture and revelation may work fully in and of themselves, they continue giving us new understanding, a fulfillment of what they promise, and continue doing so until this day.  We still do not have the fullness of all the knowledge of God, even though God's presence and glory are there in the story of the Transfiguration.  Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets, are also there.  But the command to "Hear Him!" is a command for all time, an eternal present that is always with us in the here and now.  Each time we turn in prayer, we are hopefully engaged in a dialogue in which we, too, can "Hear Him!"  It doesn't matter what has been revealed already, each promise of revelation is a continual giving of now, when we need Him, at all times.  The revelation of God occurs on many levels, and time and space do not apply in the sense in which we conventionally understand them.  Each revelation -- and this is the nature of Scripture -- is something that keeps on giving, keeps on unfolding.  The fullness of the faith is something we will all continually work toward, and the mystery of Christ's revelation is something we will always be pursuing.  It's important to know we don't have all the answers and that we're on a journey, just like the apostles in today's reading.  We remember the recent reading in which the blind man, who, as his sight was being restored, said, "I see men like trees, walking."  We may be given a full revelation, the gift of God's glory, but it promises us a long, long road into its mystery and knowledge.  Our encounter is with beauty; but it beckons us toward more to come, and the depth of its truth and its love.


Friday, April 12, 2013

It came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened


 Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not, John answered, saying to all, "I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to lose.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire."

And with many other exhortations he preached to the people.  But Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him concerning Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, also added this, above all, that he shut John up in prison.

When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened.  And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, "You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased."

- Luke 3:15-22

In yesterday's reading, we begun the lectionary cycle into the Gospel of Luke.  We began in chapter 3:  Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.  And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying: "The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  'Prepare the way of the LORD; make His paths straight.  Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough ways smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"  Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, "Brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.'  For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.  And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees.  Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."  So the people asked him, saying, "What shall we do then?"  He answered and said to them, "He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise."  Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?"  And he said to them, "Collect no more than what is appointed to you."  Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, "And what shall we do?"  So he said to them, "Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages."

 Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not, John answered, saying to all, "I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to lose.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire."  My study bible notes that John the Baptist has a clear understanding of his own mission.  He "points to Christ as coming Messiah who will baptize . . . with the Holy Spirit and fire.  Although baptism is practiced by Jesus' circle of disciples, the prophecy here describes the baptismal gift of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).  Fire in this context seems to imply judgment, the same as the images of the winnowing fan and of burning the chaff.  John understands that the coming of the Messiah brings judgment, as the Apostle John writes, 'This is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.' (John 3:19)."

And with many other exhortations he preached to the people.  But Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him concerning Herodias, his brother's wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, also added this, above all, that he shut John up in prison.  Luke's historicity is once again made clear here, a reference is made to the political problems with the people because Herod Antipas had divorced his wife and married Herodias, his brother's wife, while his brother was still living - a break with Jewish custom and law. John's fearlessness is obvious in his denunciation of this marriage, adding to his widespread reputation as a truly holy man.  We note that it's not just the marriage for which John rebuked Herod, but also "all the evils which Herod had done."

When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; . . .   My study bible points out that Jesus comes to be baptized, and hence in effect recognizes John's ministry.  It says, "Jesus does not need baptism for forgiveness of sins, for He is sinless.  Rather He is baptized to be revealed to Israel.  In this baptism, He identifies Himself with His church that is to be, prefiguring our going down to death in baptism.  By thus entering the waters of Jordan, He sanctifies forever the waters of baptism (and indeed, all of creation), by mystery restoring it to its original condition through union with Him."  This is a kind of honor to John's ministry, and at the same time the early Church saw it as a form of transfiguration, a prefiguring of our own and the world's baptism, by which Jesus sanctifies creation for God's purposes, and thus declares implicitly, as we read in Genesis, creation's basic goodness and value in God's life and purpose.

. . . and while He prayed, the heaven was opened.  And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, "You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased."    The union with the waters of the world is a sort of baptism of the world, but especially a revelation of the whole meaning of Christ's Incarnation, for it presents us with the Trinity, and prefigures the anointing of the Spirit.  My study bible tells us that "the dove in bodily form is not an incarnation of the Spirit, but a temporary sign showing the invisible descent of the fullness of the Spirit on Jesus.  The voice of the Father testifies to the divine nature of Christ, completing the revealing (epiphany) of the Holy Trinity at the baptism of Jesus."  For the ancient church, this day was celebrated on January 6th; in the Greek called Epiphany or Theophany.

What do we make of Jesus' baptism?  One thing is clear, it is also an expression of His condescension; that is, His great love for humanity (also in the person of John the Baptist who lives and works through the Spirit).  Jesus "condescends" be to baptized by John, even though John the Baptist has told us that Christ is the One "whose sandal strap I am not worthy to lose."  But of course there is purpose to this "condescension," and that is so that the waters of the world can be blessed and sanctified, prepared to receive the Spirit, to be a vehicle by which all can be baptized into the Spirit.  So God's purposes and gifts work through all things, in ways we can't predict but which are only known to us through Spirit, through the things that are given and revealed.  But above all perhaps today we can take this understanding that the things of this world are made to be living in union with God, to be sanctified through the love of God, through and in the gifts of God to us, and by the action of the Spirit.  Jesus' baptism teaches us not only that our world is fundamentally made and created by God as "good", but to be in union with God, to be purified, transfigured and "saved" through God's love.  Christ, as incarnate human being, is in the world and obeys by being baptized; but in so doing, reveals to us the fullness of that promise in His baptism.  It is the first glimpse, in revelation, of the meanings of His life in the world, and the gifts with which He leaves us.  These are gifts to be shared and enjoyed every single day.  Let us remember that in the midst of the world's corruption (as in the marriage of Herod Antipas and Herodias) we are still blessed with that which transforms and transfigures, we still live in a world that is meant for union with God, and we are blessed every single day -- at each moment when we can realize this revelation in some sense through our own lives.  Let us be mindful that our baptism is renewed at all times, in all circumstances, and that we call on His help and His promise that starts here and now.






Thursday, February 14, 2013

I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him


The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold!  The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  This is He of whom I said, 'After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.'  I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water."  And John bore witness, saying, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him.  I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.'  And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God."

- John 1:29-34

In Monday's reading, John the Evangelist gives us the testimony of John the Baptist.  When the leadership sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?"  He confessed, and did not deny, but  confessed, "I am not the Christ."  And they asked him, "What then?  Are you Elijah?"  He said, "I am not."  "Are you the Prophet?"  "No."  Then they said to him, "Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us?  What do you say about yourself?"  He said:  "I am 'The voice of one crying in the wilderness: "Make straight the way of the LORD,"' as the prophet Isaiah said."  Now those who were sent were from the Pharisees.  And they asked him, saying, "Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?"  John answered them, saying, "I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know.  It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose."  These things were done in Bethabara beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him . . .  My study bible points out that in this beginning to John's gospel (after its Prologue),  we are given four days in the ministry of John the Baptist and then to Jesus calling the first Apostles.  Today, we are given the witness of the Baptist.  The "four successive days" give us a kind of seamless "handing off" of ministry, from the prophetic to the revelation of the Incarnate Christ.  The first day was yesterday's reading (above), in which John witnesses in the presence of the leadership.  The second day is today's reading, in which John the Baptist is speaking to his own disciples.

"Behold!  The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  This is He of whom I said, 'After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.'  I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water."   My study bible says, "John's naming Jesus publicly as the Lamb of God recalls Isaiah's 'Servant of God' who dies for the transgressions of His people (Is. 53:4-12).  Christ, the true Paschal Lamb, offers Himself for our deliverance from darkness and death (1 Pet. 1:18-19).  This is a kind of "revelation" by John to his disciples; it is his witness to them about Christ.  Jesus is the awaited One, the One for whom John has been preparing Israel, the people of God.  Jesus is the reason for which John has been baptizing a baptism of repentance, of change of mind and preparation for that which was to be revealed. 

And John bore witness, saying, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him.  I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.'  And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God."   And here is John's witness to true revelation, to the Theophany present in Jesus' baptism.  John bears witness to his own enlightenment, to that which was revealed to him as he baptized Jesus (which the other Gospels present to us in a more "historical" form).  Here, John tells us of his own experience, and the revelation of and in the presence of "He who sent me to baptize with water."  My study bible tells us of this passage that "the Spirit remained upon Him [Jesus] because Christ possesses the Holy Spirit in His fullness."  "Christ" or "Messiah" means "the Anointed One."  The Spirit descending upon Him is an image of anointing, a fullness that is present in Him and with Him.

There are two elements in today's reading that I find notable.  The first is the hint, right from the beginning of the Gospel of John, of suffering that will come to Jesus (whom the Baptist calls "Lamb of God.")  By extension, we can experience, in some sense, this witness in the lives of the Apostles of what is to come as well.  By the time John's gospel was written, persecution was fierce for the Church, and so we are aware of this background and understanding in His disciples from the very beginning.  While suffering is present, yet we rejoice in the Good News, the great revelation of the Gift to the world, the awaited One, the Anointed One.  And the second thing we notice is the "interiority" (if I may use so modern a word) of this passage.  It is the witness, the testimony, of the Baptist.  What we are told, first of all, is a conversation, a reporting of things said to John's disciples, not to the public who comes to be baptized.  John reveals that he knew He was coming, but did not know who He was, a private and intimate detail -- and this is why he was baptizing, because he knew that He was coming and would be revealed.  So we are given John's prophetic knowledge, his understanding as the greatest prophet in the lineage of the Old Testament prophets.  And then John teaches to his disciples what was revealed to him:  "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him."  And then for extra emphasis, the understanding is repeated:  "I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.'  And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God."  We are given the interior workings of John's mind in testimony to his disciples; we are given revelation -- something revealed to him, the descent of the Spirit and the message of the One who sent him to baptize with water.  The powerful message here (aside from Theophany or revelation of God!) is that this powerful reality comes to us from the testimony of one man.  A revered figure like John the Baptist has this sort of power because the One who sent him infuses and shares His power with human beings, with the world.  A revelation happens only through the power and grace of God, sharing through grace God's energies with the world, working with us and among us.  So what the Baptist reveals to his disciples and by extension to us through John's gospel is God among us, God at work in the world.  Jesus has given us the great parable of the mustard seed, to which He likened the Kingdom of Heaven.  Let us consider this testimony of one man to his disciples, a revelation that happened not in a spectacular sense of an immediate illumination to millions, a kind of "proof" for the world, but rather the testimony of one man, John the Baptist.  It is a revelation not only of Trinity, and of the Lamb of God in our midst, but also a revelation to us of the power in that mustard seed, in one extraordinary holy man, in the power of the witness of John the Evangelist as well, who began as a disciple of the Baptist.  Let us remember the power of the mustard seed, let us look at the power that is revealed not to millions in one fell swoop, but rather through those who have led holy lives dedicated to God and to doing what God has called them to do.  We can't predict the results and outcome of such lives.  The Gospel goes everywhere, 2,000 years later, to enlighten and to reveal to the countless multitude who will benefit in faith from the testimony of this man and the one who has written down these words in the Gospel.  Let us remember, even in the midst of the suffering of this world, the ways that God's power works, and that God is with us in the presence of the Lamb.  Let us remember the power of faith and God's grace.


Friday, February 8, 2013

This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!


Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves; and He was transfigured before them.  His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them.  And Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.  Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles:  one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah" -- because he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid.  And a cloud came and overshadowed them; and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My beloved Son.  Hear Him!"  Suddenly, when they had looked around, they saw no one anymore, but only Jesus with themselves.

Now as they came down from the mountain, He commanded them that they should tell no one the things they had seen, till the Son of man had risen from the dead.  So they kept this word to themselves, questioning what the rising from the dead meant.  And they asked Him, saying, "Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?"  Then He answered and told them, "Indeed, Elijah is coming first and restores all things.  And how it is written concerning the Son of Man, that He must suffer many things and be treated with contempt?  But I say to you that Elijah has also come, and they did to him whatever they wished, as it is written of him."

- Mark 9:2-13

Yesterday, we read that Jesus and His disciples went to Caesarea-Philippi.   On the road He asked His disciples, saying to them, "Who do men say that I am?"  So they answered, "John the Baptist; but some say Elijah; and others, one of the prophets."  He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"  Peter answered and said to Him, "You are the Christ."  Then He strictly warned them that they should tell no one about Him.  And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.  He spoke this word openly.  Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, "Get behind Me, Satan!  For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men."  When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?  Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of Me, and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels."  And He said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power."

 Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves; and He was transfigured before them.  His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them.  My study bible tells us: "The transfigured radiance of Christ is His uncreated glory, a saving revelation at the heart of the Christian experience (2 Pet. 1:16-18).  The Transfiguration assures the disciples that the Messiah, who is to suffer, is also Lord of Glory (see 1 Cor. 2:8).  Only His third-day Resurrection is a greater sign of His divinity than is His Transfiguration."  We recall that in yesterday's reading (see above), Jesus' last words speaking of "some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power."  This can refer to many things (such as, for example, the events of Pentecost), and some commentators refer to this next chapter of the Transfiguration as a possible reference for these words.

And Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.  Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles:  one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah" -- because he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid.   My study bible says, "Although Christ is addressed as Rabbi, He has not passed through a rabbinical school, and His ministry has clearly gone beyond the established function of a rabbi, which was to teach.  This title shows the Master-disciple relationship between Christ and the Twelve.  Peter recognizes Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets, who appear with Jesus.  This is a glimpse of the glory that is to be revealed (Rom 8:18), where introductions will not be needed."  In the Jewish spiritual tradition, an important feast day is Sukkot (also called the Feast of Booths or Feast of Tabernacles), which is the feast of the Coming Kingdom.  During this festival is commemorated the events of Israel wandering in the wilderness, and living in tents or tabernacles (σκηνή or skenē in the Greek).  So, Peter's "distracted" words at least have a reference we can connect with this overwhelming awe- and fear-provoking scene in which the Kingdom is clearly present in its glory and personages from Israel's history.

And a cloud came and overshadowed them; and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My beloved Son.  Hear Him!"  Suddenly, when they had looked around, they saw no one anymore, but only Jesus with themselves.  My study bible says here:  "A cloud is sometimes the sign of a theophany, the presence of God the Father.  This revelation is for the benefit of the disciples, that their faith should be firm.  For they are called to believe not only in Christ but in what is to come, the eternal Kingdom.  The Greek verb for hear is in the present imperative form, meaning 'listen always.'" 

Now as they came down from the mountain, He commanded them that they should tell no one the things they had seen, till the Son of man had risen from the dead.  So they kept this word to themselves, questioning what the rising from the dead meant.  My study bible tells us that Christ's Resurrection is required for full disclosure of the messianic secret and for full understanding of messiahship.  In recent readings, we've observed repeatedly how Christ takes great care to keep this secret guarded until He can reveal Himself and His true nature in accordance with the Father's will, in the proper ways for our understanding.  He takes great care that this mission with which He is entrusted as Incarnate Lord reveals what it is meant to -- and not left simply to popular understanding and expectation.  We note that this revelation is meant for the disciples as well, who have no idea about the Resurrection to which He refers until the time it happens, and afterward.

And they asked Him, saying, "Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?"  Then He answered and told them, "Indeed, Elijah is coming first and restores all things.  And how it is written concerning the Son of Man, that He must suffer many things and be treated with contempt?  But I say to you that Elijah has also come, and they did to him whatever they wished, as it is written of him."  My study bible says, "The return of Elijah, expected as a preparation for the Messiah, has already been fulfilled through John the Baptist."

A lot has been made of the various elements of God's presence.  There are the signs of glory, of light.  There is the cloud that overshadows them, similarly to the cloud that appeared on the mountain into which Moses entered.  The person of the Lord is also referred to as the "face" of the Lord.  But here, and elsewhere, we focus on another significant aspect of God's presence and revelation, and that is the voice of the Father.  There another "famous" occasion on which we learn about the voice of the Father and that is at the time of Jesus' baptism in the Jordan, in another revelation of God or Theophany.  The verb for "hear" in the Greek means both listen and hear.  It's the same word used in the imperative command we read in today's reading that comes from this voice from heaven:  "Hear Him!"  which means to listen to Him always.  This is a command not simply for Peter and James and John but for all of us, always.  The voice is an important word for us to understand; from this voice come all commands, and the words that form the teachings of the Law and the foundations of what we know, the voice that informs the prophets, the voice of the law written in our hearts, the words that the true spiritual "ears to hear" can heed.  It is the voice that comes from the Word and gives us the word, and that spoke all things into existence.  There's a further important reference to voice that we discussed in Wednesday's commentary, and that is found in John's Gospel.  Jesus tells the religious leadership there, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me."  In another revelation about God and Messiah or Christ ("Anointed One"), He tells them, "I and My Father are one,"  the statement that will result in His crucifixion.  So voice becomes a very important aspect of the presence of God, the ways by which we know God and the revelation of God as Trinity.  His sheep are those that respond from the heart to this voice heard in the heart, with belonging and love and trust.  Voice becomes the bridge by which He communicates that "He knows them," and by which "they follow Him" when they hear Him.   So let us understand the prophet Isaiah's words better, as they are so often quoted by Jesus, when He says, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"  Let us understand the importance of voice, and of listening always, God the Father's command to us to "Hear Him!"



Monday, January 14, 2013

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God

Beginning of the Gospel of Mark, Armenian illuminated manuscript, 1256
Zeytun Gospel, Toros Roslin - Yerevan, Matenadaran

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  As it is written in the Prophets:
"Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,
Who will prepare Your way before You."
"The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the LORD;
Make His paths straight.'"
 John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.  Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.  Now John was clothed with camel's hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.  And he preached, saying, "There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose.  I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove.  Then a voice came from heaven, "You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."  Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness.  And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.

- Mark 1:1-13

Today we begin the Gospel of Mark.  Mark the Apostle was also known as John Mark, and, according to my study bible,  is widely attested by the ancient Church as the author of this Gospel.  It says, "Some early writers suggest that the young man in the linen wrap (Mark 14:51-52) is Mark himself.  His mother's house was a meeting place for Christians in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12).  Paul and Barnabas took John Mark with them to Antioch when they returned from the Jerusalem famine relief effort (Acts 12:25)."  The exact date of Mark's Gospel is uncertain, but it is dated shortly before the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.  My study bible says, "Many believe this was the first of the four Gospels to be written."

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  As it is written in the Prophets:  "Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You."  "The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  'Prepare the way of the LORD;  make His paths straight.'"   The beginning of Mark gives us the beginning of the "good message" (Gr. evangelion) of Christ.  Mark gives us the full message in the first sentence:  Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  It is a message that will be played out through the pages of this Gospel.  And the "good message" is sent by the messenger to whom we are introduced today, John the Baptist.  Heralded by yet an earlier messenger, the Prophet Isaiah,  John's mission is characterized by a quotation from Isaiah 40:3.  My study bible says, "John the Baptist, the last prophet of the Old Testament period, fulfills prophecy and prepares the people of God for the Messiah's coming.  Hearts are softened to receive the Light."  We note the emphasis on messengers:  the root of the word for Gospel is the one for angel, "messenger" in the Greek.  The beginning of the good news of Christ is filled with messages and messengers, just as was the story of His birth which we so recently celebrated.  My study bible says, "John the Baptist plays a crucial role in the history of salvation.  Chosen before his birth to be the herald and forerunner of the Messiah (Luke 1:13-17), he knew his Lord from the beginning.  Luke writes of the miraculous conception of John (Luke 1:24).  He then records that when the Virgin Mary visited Elizabeth, who was then six months pregnant with John the Baptist, the baby in Elizabeth's womb leaped at the sound of Mary's voice (Luke 1:41)."

 John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.  Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.   My study bible says that "remission (lit. 'to let go' of sins) is a major part of John's preparation of the people for Jesus' coming.  Later, in Christian baptism, God not only forgives our sins, letting them go, but He also brings us into union with Christ."  It notes also that the text here tells us of the sweeping impact of the ministry of John the Baptist.  "He is perhaps the leading religious figure outside of official and rabbinic Judaism."

Now John was clothed with camel's hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.  And he preached, saying, "There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose.  I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."  John's is a life of asceticism, with eyes firmly on the coming of the Christ.  His clothing is similar to that of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8), "indicating that he fulfills the prophecy of Elijah's return" (as Jesus will say).  My study bible says, "Baptism with the Holy Spirit means that only Christ, the Son of God, fully possesses and gives the Spirit.  So to receive the Spirit we must be baptized in Christ and adopted as children of God.  In adoption, Christians become anointed ones; it was of these God said, 'Do not touch My anointed ones' (Ps. 105:15)."

It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  Mark's Gospel moves us very quickly to the object of this "good message" and so much prophecy.  My study bible says that Jesus and John were related through their mothers (Luke 1:36); and notes, "perhaps Jesus and John were acquainted."

And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove.  Then a voice came from heaven, "You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."   For the Eastern Church, Epiphany or Theophany characterizes this event:  the revelation of the Trinity.  My study bible has a long and beautiful note here:  "By saying that He came up from the water, Mark suggests Jesus was immersed in water.  Christ's rising from the water is symbolic of His Ascension, since the same Greek verb (anabaino) is used to refer to that event.  The Church Fathers taught that in coming up, He lifts the whole world with Him.  The Spirit descending upon Him foreshadows the Spirit's descent upon the first Christians at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).  Like a dove does not mean the Holy Spirit is incarnated as a dove.  Rather this is a special sign indicating the presence of the Spirit.  A dove symbolizes purity, peace and wisdom."  It also notes:  "The voice of God the Father from heaven makes Jesus' baptism a manifestation or epiphany of the Holy Trinity.  The Father is not adopting Jesus as His Son, but proclaiming that He is and always has been His Son.  This divine proclamation, combining a messianic psalm (Ps. 2:7) with the first song of the Suffering Servant of the Lord (Is. 42:1), reveals who Jesus is.  Thus Jesus' baptism anticipates His Transfiguration and Resurrection, the dawning of the new creation."

Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness.  And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.  Again, I will quote from my study bible:  "As Jesus' baptism is the first revelation of His divinity, so His temptation inaugurates His role as the 'Lamb of God' (John 1:29, 36), the suffering and obedient Son of God whose destiny is the Cross by God's will.  Forty days echoes the forty years of Israel's temptations in the Old Testament and becomes the basis for the forty-day period of Great Lent in later Christian tradition.  Being with the beasts and served by the angels suggests a relationship between Christ and Adam, Christ being the New Adam.  Even if we are subjected to evil, (the demons, the beasts,) God will never desert us as we struggle toward Him.   The Church Fathers believed meditative seclusion is (1) conducive to freer communion with God and (2) effective preparation for great tasks ahead."

It's interesting that the first thing that happens to the anointed Christ is His being driven by the Spirit to the wilderness, where He is tempted -- and, the Gospel tells us, He is both with the wild beasts, and the angels minister to Him.  It gives us a picture of the world, of our world.  There is nothing simple about this "job" of being the Messiah, the Christ, just as there is nothing simple about the paradox of our world.  Jesus will characterize His mission as a "stronger" man invading the territory of a "strong man" (Satan, as in the text above).  So, as Messiah, He is immediately confronted with the "work" of being in this world, and the things which all of us face in our lives.  He is to be a Messiah who suffers with us, the same things we do, the bindings and afflictions of this "strong man."  But we have help, and so does He, He is ministered to by the angels.  And there we get back to messengers, perhaps the great theme in our reading today at the beginning of Mark.  What are messengers and what do they do?  The word angel (αγγελος or angelos) in the Greek means "messenger" and the Gospel (ευαγγελιον or evangelion) is "good message."  John the Baptist is also a messenger, a herald of Christ's coming Kingdom, and as such is often depicted with wings in icons of the Eastern Church.  So, just as the nativity of Christ is filled with stories of messengers, so is the beginning of Jesus' ministry, His baptism, an event celebrated in the ancient Church together with His nativity.  Let us consider then images of messengers, of good news, of communications we may or may not want to hear.  In Christ's story, something new is breaking through into the world, being inaugurated.  There are those who tell of this news, John the Baptist who dedicates his life to this event, the evangelists who tell us and the apostles who will be sent out with this good news, who will proclaim through the text and through their lives to all of us this good news of this Kingdom breaking through into this world.  How do you hear the news today?  What message does the Spirit have for you?


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Where then do You get that living water?

Therefore, 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 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 never thirst. But 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."

- John 4:1-26

In yesterday's reading, we read that Jesus was in Judea with His disciples, where they were baptizing. John the Baptist was also there with his disciples, for he had not yet been thrown into prison. There was a dispute between John's disciples and some of the Jewish leadership about purification. John's disciples came to him and said of Jesus, "Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified -- behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!" John answered and said, "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not the Christ,' but, 'I have been sent before Him.' He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease. He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true. For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."

Therefore, 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. Jesus leaves Judea because of the growing attention of the Pharisees to Jesus' popular ministry. John's Gospel is full of hints of opposition to both the Baptist and Jesus from the leadership. Samaria, as the text indicates, is north of Judea, between Judea and Galilee to which Jesus is returning. My study bible says that the Old Testament doesn't mention Jacob's well, but Jacob did own property in the area. It says, "Wells and springs are significant in Scripture becuase of their rarity in desert life. In the Old Testament they often symbolize the life given by God, especially a life of blessedness." This particular well, at the foot of Mt. Gerizim, is maintained as a shrine to this day, where pilgrims may still drink from it. Jesus, we're told, is tired from travel -- an important indication of His full experience of humanity. He's a poor man who travels with His disciples, as one of us. The sixth hour is noon: a time of full sun, in a place with a dry, hot climate.

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 Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. The Samaritans are a mixed race people, traditional enemies of the Jews. They believed only in the first five books of the Old Testament, or the Pentateuch. They worshiped here on this mountain, Mt. Gerizim, at the foot of which she and Jesus talk. In 128 B.C. the Jews destroyed the Samaritans' temple on the mountain. As their dialogue continues, it hints at this dispute over the proper place of worship. It wouldn't have been common for a Jewish man to publicly speak with any woman who was a stranger, let alone a Samaritan.

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 really remarkable thing about Jesus is that He follows His own rules and directives. Not only does He initiate this conversation with a Samaritan woman, He is here opening up His gospel message directly to her. "Living water" would normally indicate fresh, flowing water -- as my study bible says, "from a spring rather than a pond or cistern. In the spiritual sense it symbolizes true life from God, who is the fountain of life." Jesus is opening up for her what all of us will seek to know and to understand.

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 never thirst. But 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." There's an interesting metaphor at work here in the drawing out of water, because this is exactly what Jesus is doing with her. He's drawing her out and into the understanding of His message, couched in words that we know as those which teach us about the spiritual life of the Kingdom and what He offers us. She's drawn in by what He's saying, and so thirsts for better enlightenment. The misunderstanding, my study bible points out, is typical of John's Gospel. Jacob received the revelation of the divine ladder, and "is a prefiguration of Christ. Jesus is thus greater than Jacob; He is the final revelation of God and giver of life and refreshment to all." The fountain of water springing up to everlasting life is of course the Holy Spirit. From John's text we receive a vivid understanding of the faith, the Gift that Jesus offers. Of course, she doesn't yet quite understand!

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." And here is a deeper step in the action of coming to Christ. It is He who calls and offers the invitation, but in coming closer to the Light, He knows us well. Everything about us is revealed and laid bare. There's no escaping this step in encounter with Him. No fooling. My study bible says that this new direction in dialogue is initiated by Jesus so that she may better understand what is being offered. It's not the first, nor will it be the last instance in this Gospel of Jesus' foreknowledge of all people.

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." This is the great dispute between the Samaritans and the Jews. Once she believes He's a prophet, this becomes the important question to ask. My study bible notes, "The Samaritan version of the Ten Commandments decreed they worship on Mt. Gerizim, whereas the Jews worshiped on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem."

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." Jesus' hour is the time of His death on the Cross, "when the sacrifice made once for all will supplant the necessity for any temple anywhere," says my study bible. "The idea that worship must be performed only at a specific place of revelation -- Mt. Zion or Mt. Gerizim -- will give way to His revolutionary teaching about worship in spirit and in truth." Here Jesus teaches us further about the nature of the Kingdom. This reality of the spiritual life is one that encompasses each one of us and our daily lives; but our life in the world cannot circumscribe the Kingdom. When Jesus tells her that the Father is seeking true worshipers who will worship Him in spirit and in truth, He is describing His saving mission in the world, the thing for which He is sent. That salvation is of the Jews teaches us the centrality of Jewish spiritual history to the saving mission of Christ. His disputes are with the leadership, not the people and not Jewish spiritual heritage. My study bible says, "The Messiah was prophesied within Judaism, the Incarnation took place among the Jewish people. God's universal gift of salvation arises within the context of His promises to the Jews and their religious tradition."

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." In the Greek, this is written ego eimi, or I AM, echoing the name of God from the Old Testament. So John gives us mirrors upon mirrors of greater understanding and depth. Jesus is revealing Himself fully to this woman, a Samaritan of the hated enemies of Israel and a female. Let us consider Jesus' words elsewhere (in Luke's Gospel): "I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it."

Here in John's Gospel is the first instance of a Theophany, or revelation of God. My study bible points out that it is a kind of formula of self-revelation that will be used more times in the Gospel. It notes, "Jesus reveals Himself to be more than the Mosaic Prophet and more than the Jewish Messiah; indeed, He is the Incarnate God Himself." John's Gospel gives us hints of the revelation of Jesus throughout its pages. Perhaps this is the disciple that Jesus knew best in some sense, the one whom Jesus loved. John therefore gives us great testimony about Jesus, in a very personal sense. This is a personal revelation in a private moment, standing at a well. It's just the woman and Jesus. But what we find in this encounter is the greatest revelation of the universe: that God is human. He is sent to all of us, for God so loved the world. Not just John, not just Jesus' mother, or a handful who will become His close disciples. But truly, God so loved the world. We may find this encounter inside ourselves in a private moment, when we're really in trouble. We may find it in the need (or thirst) of others, who come to us in disguise but are ready to truly reveal to us the face of Christ. We may find it when we can't see any other way to go on, and when we need to change. But it's a revelation for the life of the world. In Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman, God is telling us He cannot be limited, God's abundance is for each of us.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light

Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!" And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, "Arise, and do not be afraid." When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, "Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead." And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.

- Matthew 17:1-13

Yesterday's reading came just after Peter's confession to Jesus: "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Immediately afterward, Jesus began to teach the disciples of what is to come: that He will suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. Peter objected and took Him to task, saying "Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!" But He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men." He continued, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom."

Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Interestingly, we have read of Jesus going to the mountain before, but this time He takes His closest disciples with Him (Peter and the brothers Zebedee). My study bible points out that a high mountain in Scripture is often a place of revelation. We've speculated in earlier readings that Jesus has gone to a mountain to pray, to be with the Father. In today's reading, a great revelation is given to these disciples. Jesus' transfiguration is evidence of His divinity. The light emanating from His face and His clothing, as well as the mountaintop experience, is a kind of fulfillment of Moses when given the commandments of God. But here, it is focused on the person of Jesus, His place as Son. My study bible says, "The Spirit is present in the form of a dazzling light surrounding Christ's Person, overshadowing the whole mountain." The presence of Moses and Elijah tells us we are in the presence of the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, and of the eternal kingdom where there is no death. We recall that Scripture tells us that Elijah did not die.

Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." This statement of Peter's may seem silly to us, until we consider that the Feast of Tabernacles was the Jewish feast of the coming Kingdom, and Peter believes this is now being fulfilled in front of him. Building booths was part of the celebration of this festival, commemorating the time that the Israelites lived in tents and the God of Israel was present and dwelt among them in the tabernacle.

While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!" This God does not dwell in a tabernacle, but is present before them, and God the Father is also present in this voice from the bright cloud. We recall Peter's confession from very shortly earlier in Matthew's Gospel, and Jesus' teaching that only the Father could have revealed this understanding. Here on the mountain, the vision, which includes the voice of the Father, is revealed to all three disciples. It is a revelation for all of us. In fulfillment of the commandments given to Moses, we are to hear to the commandments of Christ.

And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, "Arise, and do not be afraid." When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, "Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead." And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist. The vision must remain a secret, for now. But as they come down from the mountaintop, Jesus reminds them of two things: the suffering of John the Baptist and also the suffering He will go through. After Peter's rebuke to the news of Jesus' suffering, we have emphasized what He will go through, and also the suffering of the Kingdom at the hands of the authorities in the person of John the Baptist, who has fulfilled the prophecy that Elijah would return.

We have the stark contrast of the mountaintop experience, the expectations of the Kingdom, and of the manifestation of this Kingdom within a hostile world -- in the death of John the Baptist, and the suffering that Jesus has predicted for Himself. In the dazzling light on this mountaintop, a bright cloud that in fact casts a shadow on the disciples ("overshadows" is quite a literal translation of the Greek word), we have the stark contrasts of the true divine reality of the Kingdom, and what will happen in this world as the Kingdom "breaks through." Altogether taken, this is not a picture of a peaceful transition, one without its upheavals, but rather one in which a hostile world will do all it can to prevent this from happening. But overall, the assurance is of the truth of this revelation, the divinity of Christ, the power behind all things of the Kingdom and the Father's voice. Whatever suffering Christ will go through, it is the service of the fulfillment of the manifestation of that Kingdom among us. We have the history of Israel here, contained in the vision on the mountaintop: Moses and Elijah, the Father's voice, the divine light, even the suggestion of booths (the word is literally tent in Greek: it is the same for tabernacle as well), all tell us that this is intertwined with the foundations of the people of God, Israel, and Christ is here in fulfillment and in promise. In the paradox of its fulfillment, our faith can be overpoweringly comprehensive: asking of us understanding of both the eternal - the ever-present - and also its manifestation in the world, among us. This Kingdom is present to us, in the commands of Christ and even the inner revelation of the Father in faith; and yet great sacrifices may be asked of us as they were of these Apostles. Can we accept this full picture of darkness and light? In Christ's dazzling robe and face, there is an eternal presence, an eternal light not of this world. He is ever-present to us, among us: the true tabernacle is His ever-presence, in His Person. We simply await the fulfillment of this, yet it intersects our temporal world and our lives and our hearts. How does He dwell among us? Remember that He will also tell the Pharisees (in Luke's Gospel) that the kingdom of God comes without observation. Nevertheless, it is present, here, among us and dwells within us, filling all things. Perhaps, most significantly, we can know that presence when we feel the greatest contradiction, the pull of this world away from it, and in resistance to it. In a spiritual struggle, we may really feel the time of its breaking through. It lives in us through faith.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased"


Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.  And John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?"  But Jesus answered and said to him, "Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness."  Then he allowed Him.  When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.  And suddenly, a voice came from heaven, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
- Matthew 3:13-17
In yesterday's reading, we read about John the Baptist's popularity as a preacher.  Even the Pharisees and Sadducees were coming to him for baptism.  But John had harsh words for them:  "Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' " He warned them about the judgment that is to come, and the One who is to come:   "Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.  Jesus comes from Galilee to begin His ministry.  Essentially what is to happen here becomes the initiation for public ministry, the inauguration of His preaching the Kingdom to the world.

And John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?"  But Jesus answered and said to him, "Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness."  Then he allowed Him.  To me, this is a mysterious statement.  My study bible says that by making the purification of humanity His own, Jesus would wash away its sin, grant regeneration, and reveal the mystery of the Holy Trinity.  All of these things are accomplished in His baptism.  The Eastern Church teaches that Christ's baptism in effect purifies the waters of the world for baptism of all people.  Gregory of Nyssa wrote:  "Jesus enters the filthy [sinful] waters of the world and when He comes out, brings up [purifies] the entire world with Him."  It's clear here that John recognizes Him.  Jesus' first act is characteristic of Servant and of humility.  "It is fitting" is the word for God's righteous acts.

When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.  And suddenly, a voice came from heaven, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."  This is the appearance of a Theophany; in effect, a revelation or manifestation of the Holy Trinity.  In the Father's voice, we hear the beginning of all things, spoken into being.  Christ Himself is the Word, as we are taught by the Evangelist John.  And the Holy Spirit appears, "descending like a dove."  Jesus' ministry begins with revelation, manifestation, the appearance of the Trinity.

In the words, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," we are given to understand a sort of completion right at the beginning of Jesus' public ministry.  This is a quotation from two sources:  Psalm 2:7 "You are My Son, today I have begotten You," and Isaiah 42:1 "Behold!  My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One, in whom My soul delights!"  At once the image of Son and Servant are fused, giving us from the beginning the great emphasis of the love of Christ in His ministry, that He is here because God so loved the world.  (Included already, in the words from Isaiah, is the hint of sacrifice and suffering for us that will come.)  The anointing of the Spirit, as in Genesis the Spirit "hovered over the waters," is a revelation of divinity as well, and another kind of inauguration for a renewed, regenerated Creation, full of the Spirit of God.  But "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" gives us an introduction in this revelation.  From the beginning of His mission, there is already a completeness, a sense of what is fitting.  The Father's love is complete in Him.  This reality is eternal.  What is to come will be a revelation for our sake.  Do we value the preciousness of this gift of regeneration and renewal?  "I make all things new," says the enthroned One in Revelation 21.  The renewal of baptism is ever-present to us, revealing God to us, giving us birth and renewal whenever we must "turn again" to God.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

"This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?" But Jesus answered and said to him, "Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he allowed Him. When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

- Matthew 3:13-17

Yesterday we read about John the Baptist. John baptizes in the Jordan, preparing all for the coming of the Kingdom, and the One, of whom he says, "He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." John has a great following, but scathingly refers to the Sadducees and Pharisees who come to him for baptism as a brood of vipers. He asks them, "Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" and reminds them that God can raise up stones as children of Abraham -- they mustn't rely on their ancestors and lineage but produce fruits worthy of repentance themselves. John the Baptist quotes Isaiah regarding the Kingdom at hand, and the One who is to come: "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.' "

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?" John clearly recognizes who Jesus is, the Gospel teaches us. It is a surprising thing to him that Jesus wishes the baptism for repentance. John, as he has said in yesterday's reading, awaits Christ's baptism of "the Holy Spirit and fire."

But Jesus answered and said to him, "Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he allowed Him. My study bible says that Jesus' baptism was necessary for the fulfillment of all God's righteousness because "by making the purification of humanity His own, He would wash away the sin of humanity, grant regeneration, and reveal the mystery of the Holy Trinity." It quotes St. Gregory of Nyssa, who said, "Jesus enters the filthy [sinful] waters of the world and when He comes out, brings up [purifies] the entire world with Him." One can also understand Jesus' baptism as that which purifies and blesses the waters of creation for all the rest of us in which we may then be baptized. A third way to view what Jesus is saying is to recognize that, as incarnate human being, He lives a fully righteous life, according to the Law and the Prophets, and also submitting to John's baptism of preparation -- but with His divine purpose at work.

When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." This is an Epiphany (meaning "manifestation" or "showing forth") or Theophany (a "manifestation" or "showing forth" of God) -- a revelation of the Trinity. My study bible says, "The Spirit of God hovered over the water at the first creation (Gen. 1:2). Now the Holy Spirit comes in the form of a dove to anoint the Messiah, the Son of God, at the beginning of the new creation. Jesus does not become the Son of God this day; rather, in His baptism the eternal Son of God is revealed to all humanity. The Holy Spirit always rests on Him." So, on this day we are revealed elements of this reality that are always present to us; indeed, they are ever-present. They are also the signs of the Kingdom to come, the age that awaits. It is the beginning of the renewal of all things. The quotation is a composite of Ps. 2:7, "You are My Son, today I have begotten You," and Is. 42:1, "Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One, in whom My soul delights!" My study bible says that the substitution of Son for "Servant" reveals the deity of Christ. The mystery of the Holy Trinity is revealed in the voice of the Father, the descent of the Holy Spirit, and the baptism and anointing of the incarnate Son. In the Eastern Church, this day is celebrated as Epiphany.

What does it mean to ponder the living reality of the promise of the future Kingdom, and the age to come, in this scene? If we think of these images as always present to us, what does it conjure up? An eternal renewal of the waters of the world, a purification, a baptism of Spirit and fire, a blessing for the world that comes upon us all. Jesus does not need purification, but instead Himself purifies and blesses the waters for all of us. He blesses us with renewal, a gift of grace for all of us. And this is the act of God in sacramental life. Jesus takes on an incarnate reality -- immerses Himself in the waters of our world -- and returns to us life renewed, the waters blessed, a tremendous gift. He returns our world to us with renewed life and energy, packed with good things for us, awaiting our receipt of them. This is the act of God, and God's gift to us -- a renewal of our creation with life, love, energy, fulfilling its promise even in the things of our world. And so, we see Jesus' blessing and the gift of the Holy Spirit, anointing and infusing our world with its promises of renewal and revelation. Let us consider today the gifts we are given, and the exchange that we receive from God's blessing our world. In "fulfilling all righteousness" God makes a promise to us, and offers us more than we can calculate or imagine in return.