Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid

 
 Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land.  Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them.  Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by.  And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were troubled.  But immediately He talked with them and said to them, "Be of good cheer!  It is I; do not be afraid."  Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased.  And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled.  For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened.

When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret and anchored there.  And when they came out of the boat, immediately the people recognized Him, ran through that whole surrounding region, and began to carry about on beds those who were sick to wherever they heard He was.  Wherever He entered, into villages, cities, or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment.  And as many as touched Him were made well.
 
- Mark 6:47–56 
 
Yesterday we read that, the apostles having returned from their first missionary journey, they gathered to Jesus and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught.  And He said to them, "Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while."  For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.  So they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves.  But the multitudes saw them departing, and many knew Him and ran there on foot from all the cities.  They arrived before them and came together to Him.  And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd.  So He began to teach them many things.  When the day was now far spent, His disciples came to Him and said, "This is a deserted place, and already the hour is late.  Send them away, that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread, for they have nothing to eat."  But He answered and said to them, "You give them something to eat."  And they said to Him, "Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give them something to eat?"  But He said to them, "How many loaves do you have?  Go and see."  And when they found out they said, "Five, and two fish."  Then He commanded them to make them all sit down in groups on the green grass.  So they sat down in ranks, in hundreds and in fifties.  And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fish He divided among them all.  So they all ate and were filled.  And they took up twelve baskets full of fragments and of the fish.  Now those who had eaten the loaves were about five thousand men.  Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He sent the multitude away.  And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray.   

 Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land.  Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them.  Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by.  And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were troubled.  But immediately He talked with them and said to them, "Be of good cheer!  It is I; do not be afraid."  Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased.  And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled.  My study Bible remarks that this is the second time Christ permits His disciples to be caught in a storm (see this reading for their previous experience in a storm while crossing the Sea of Galilee).  Let us note that in yesterday's reading (see above), Jesus had sent them across the sea toward Bethsaida, while He went to the mountain to pray.  The first time they were caught in the storm of the sea He was with them.  In today's reading, He has sent them ahead of Him, alone.  In this way, my study Bible explains, Christ strengthens their faith that He will always be with them in the midst of the storms of life.  It is I is literally translated as "I Am," which is the divine Name of God from the Old Testament (see John 8:58, Exodus 3:14).  My study Bible says that in this way, Jesus reminds the fearful disciples of His absolute and divine authority over their lives.  The fourth watch of the night is approximately three o'clock in the morning.

For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened.   To know Christ is a matter of the heart, my study Bible comments, and not merely the intellect.  When our hearts are illumined by faith in God, it says, they are open to receive God's presence and grace.  In the ascetic writings of the Church, the heart is known as the "seat of knowledge."

When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret and anchored there.  And when they came out of the boat, immediately the people recognized Him, ran through that whole surrounding region, and began to carry about on beds those who were sick to wherever they heard He was.  Wherever He entered, into villages, cities, or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment.  And as many as touched Him were made well.  My study Bible reminds us that Christ permits miracles through touch in order to show that His very body is life-giving (see also this reading, especially the section on the healing of the woman with the years-long blood flow).
 
The stories about Jesus and His ministry are filled with drama.  The previous time the disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee in the middle of a frightening storm, they found themselves finally coming to rest in a deserted, "lawless" place among tombs, where they met a man possessed by a Legion of demons (in this reading).   But here, the reception is quite different.  They've anchored in a place where Jesus is well-known and immediately recognized.  Here, and apparently in the entire surrounding region of villages, cities, and country, people laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment.  Mark especially seems to give us the "flavor" of this ministry as that which drives the disciples through a enormous and dizzying variety of experiences, all vivid in their own ways.  I don't know if we can imagine what it would be like to be in a boat, rowing, in the middle of a stormy Sea of Galilee at three o'clock in the morning!  That is, of course, unless we've had a similar experience.  I've found myself on a slightly stormy sea in the middle of bright daylight in the summer in the Aegean, on a modern large catamaran with a powerful motor designed for such a trip, and even then I can say the experienced captain was clearly extremely anxious and frightened for what might happen.  In that instance, we docked at the nearest island port until the storm passed.  If we put ourselves in the shoes of the disciples, can we even imagine what this would have been like at 3:00 AM, without modern technological help?  Seeing Christ walking on the water, of course, adds another element to the story!  While there are those who may dismiss out of hand the miraculous elements of the Gospels, I'm not one of them.  Even modern physics posits a multi-dimensional universe, and that particles of energy and matter do not always behave as expected.  I accept Christ's identity in the sense that today's reading teaches us about Him:  as God Incarnate He has a mastery over wind and waves and the forces of nature.  As Mark unfolds the stories of Jesus' ministry, we see revealed to the disciples more and more glimpses or signs of Christ's divinity.  Who can walk on water?  Who can calm the waves and the winds?  Moreover, in today's reading, we catch sight of ourselves, and how we are able to blind ourselves to things we can't quite accept.  It tells us that the disciples' hearts were hardened so that they did not understand about the loaves and the fishes described in yesterday's reading.  How is that possible?  In an era in which we're used to being told explicit news events, "verified" by what we see on television or hear in recordings, in which we are constantly fed evidence of "proof" of something, this might be hard to understand.  A mass acceptance of something seems to make it so (helped along by marketing techniques for the public).  But eye witness experience is different, and our minds work in a particular way to influence what we think we know or see.  Therefore to have a "hardened heart" in Biblical parlance is to be blind to something, either deliberately, or in the case of the disciples, perhaps they are having a hard time accepting all that they are being exposed to about Jesus and what it all implies.  In the tradition of the Church, as explained above in the notes from my study Bible, the heart is a seat of knowledge, and there in the heart is a kind of understanding that doesn't come simply from rational deduction or grasping of material facts.  There is another way to perceive, especially for the perception of things of a spiritual nature and the realities of our dependency upon and communion with God.  It is important to make room for an experiential understanding of faith, for ours is a kind of intimate relationship just as we read the disciples themselves developing with Christ.  This kind of dependency and trust is deepened in the  heart, and realities are grasped especially through a heart that is open to love and understanding, a sympathy that conveys wisdom or knowledge otherwise not known but understood.  This is the real spiritual tradition of the Church, those whom Christ calls capable of grasping faith as a little child, what it is to have a heart open to God.   In the Eastern Christian tradition, those with such a heart are called spiritual elders:  they need not be of any specific age or gender or walk of life.  But they are those with a deep and mature faith, expressed and experienced through such understanding and insight, and they are able to grasp the truth in the hearts of others that isn't necessarily accepted but is nevertheless there.  They are such that others open their hearts to them, and theirs is a humility that is filled with grace which may be easily overlooked by the world.  Our hearts are indeed the key to a deep mystery -- a mystery about who we are, and about God and our relationship to God.  Our hearts also tell a hidden story about what we'd rather not see.   Only God has the real key to our deepest hearts, and Christ is called the "heart-knower" (see Acts 1:24, in which the Greek text literally uses this term).   Just as Jesus can command physical nature, and heal human ailments, so another sign of His divinity is His knowledge of our hearts.  St. Paul writes, "For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6).  Let us pay attention to the heart, where such light shines for us.  The disciples see Him walking toward them on the water, but He also speaks to our hearts when we need Him, and says, "Be of good cheer!  It is I; do not be afraid."





Tuesday, July 27, 2021

And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd

 
 Then the apostles gathered to Jesus and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught.  And He said to them, "Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while."  For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.  So they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves.  But the multitudes saw them departing, and many knew Him and ran there on foot from all the cities.  They arrived before them and came together to Him.  And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd.  So He began to teach them many things.  

When the day was now far spent, His disciples came to Him and said, "This is a deserted place, and already the hour is late.  Send them away, that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread, for they have nothing to eat."  But He answered and said to them, "You give them something to eat."  And they said to Him, "Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give them something to eat?"  But He said to them, "How many loaves do you have?  Go and see."  And when they found out they said, "Five, and two fish."  Then He commanded them to make them all sit down in groups on the green grass.  So they sat down in ranks, in hundreds and in fifties.  And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fish He divided among them all.  So they all ate and were filled.  And they took up twelve baskets full of fragments and of the fish.  Now those who had eaten the loaves were about five thousand men.

Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He sent the multitude away.  And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray. 
 
- Mark 6:30–46 
 
Yesterday we read that now King Herod heard of Jesus, for His name had become well known.  And he said, "John the Baptist is risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him."  Others said, "It is Elijah."  And others said, "It is the Prophet, or like one of the prophets."  But when Herod heard, he said, "This is John, whom I beheaded; he has been raised from the dead!"  For Herod himself had sent and laid hold of John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife; for he had married her.  Because John had said to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife."  Therefore Herodias held it against him and wanted to kill him, but she could not; for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just and holy man, and he protected him.  And when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.  Then an opportune day came when Herod on his birthday gave a feast for his nobles, the high officers, and the chief men of Galilee.  And when Herodias' daughter herself came in and danced, and pleased Herod and those who sat with him, the king said to the girl, "Ask me whatever you want, and I will give it to you."  He also swore to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half my kingdom."  So she went out and said to her mother, "What shall I ask?"  And she said, "The head of John the Baptist!"  Immediately she came in with haste to the king and asked, saying, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter."  And the king was exceedingly sorry; yet, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he did not want to refuse her.  Immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded his head to be brought.  And he went and beheaded him in prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother.  When his disciples heard of it, they came and took away his corpse and laid it in a tomb. 

 Then the apostles gathered to Jesus and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught.  And He said to them, "Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while."  For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.  So they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves.  But the multitudes saw them departing, and many knew Him and ran there on foot from all the cities.  They arrived before them and came together to Him.  And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd.  So He began to teach them many things.  The apostles have just returned from their first missionary journey, so they have much to talk about with Christ regarding what they had done and what they had taught.  My study Bible comments that Christ gives rest to His disciples to show those engaged in preaching and teaching that they must not labor continuously, but must also take rest.  But even in a deserted place which they went to by boat, they cannot escape the crowds who anticipate where they are going and run before them.  Again, we see a display of Jesus' compassion, with the distinctive phrase that calls to Christ, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd.  My study bible makes note that the Gospels frequently use the phrase moved with compassion of Jesus (Matthew 14:14, 20:34; Mark 1:41, Luke 7:13), which shows that His power and authority are extended to those who suffer. 
 
 When the day was now far spent, His disciples came to Him and said, "This is a deserted place, and already the hour is late.  Send them away, that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread, for they have nothing to eat."  But He answered and said to them, "You give them something to eat."  And they said to Him, "Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give them something to eat?"  But He said to them, "How many loaves do you have?  Go and see."  And when they found out they said, "Five, and two fish."  Then He commanded them to make them all sit down in groups on the green grass.  So they sat down in ranks, in hundreds and in fifties.  And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fish He divided among them all.  So they all ate and were filled.  And they took up twelve baskets full of fragments and of the fish.  Now those who had eaten the loaves were about five thousand men.  This miracle, the feeding of five thousand men (and more women and children), is reported by all four evangelists.  It depicts our Lord feeding a great multitude of His people just as He fed the Israelites in the desert (see Exodus 16).  Jesus teaches that we should never eat without first giving thanks to God.  My study Bible comments that the terminology here points to the Last Supper (Matthew 26:26), and therefore leads to a eucharistic interpretation of this miracle.  This is made clear in John 6.  As the disciples distribute the bread to the multitudes, so also Christ feeds us the Eucharist through the hands of His bishops and presbyters.  There is also a spiritual interpretation found in patristic literature, which teaches that the five loaves indicate the five books of the Law (Genesis through Deuteronomy), which are "broken open" in Christ, and thus feed the universe.  The two fish represent the Gospel Book and the Epistle Book, the teaching of the fishermen.  Additionally, the gathering of the leftovers by the apostles (twelve baskets full of fragments and of the fish) shows that the teachings which the faithful are unable to grasp are nonetheless held in the consciousness of the Church.  
 
 Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He sent the multitude away.  And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray.  Once again, we see Jesus withdrawing as He intended to before the multitude followed.  But this time, He departed to the mountain to pray.  It is a reminder that we often need to withdraw to pray, but we also may consider this important "landmark" in His ministry of the feeding in the wilderness, and that it begins a phrase in His public life.  To depart to the mountain indicates a communion with God the Father, a place where important spiritual experience takes place.

With what do you feed yourself?  With what does Christ feed you?  Certainly we can read in today's reading the commentary regarding the Eucharist, and how this central feeding miracle foreshadows the Eucharist and Christ's words at the Last Supper.  But when God chooses to give us something, there is no stinting at this effort, no piecemeal sort of giving.  Christ gives us Himself.  He gave Himself in the Incarnation, He gave Himself at the Cross, He gives Himself in the Eucharist.  But there is so much more to read into today's Gospel reading.  Jesus responds to our suffering.  He responds with compassion to the needs of humanity that call to His lordship for us.  He was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd.  And that was what they needed, a shepherd, so He became the Shepherd and taught them many things.  Finally, they continue with Him the full day and have nothing to eat -- and this becomes the opportunity for the miracle and for teaching the disciples how to act with what is at hand.  It is a great lesson in hospitality, which is at its true heart and purest form an exercise in compassion.  This theme runs throughout the Scriptures, and was embodied in the lives of the desert monks.  So how can we incorporate into our lives the lessons Jesus teaches?  We must remember that at all times, an abundance in life is created when we have Christ with us.  He fills us with good things (Luke 1:53), especially those particular things for which we are truly hungry and need.  He teaches us to take the initiative, to start with what is at hand, to understand that when we begin with prayer we are halfway there to fulfillment of what's necessary.  And He shares His great gift of compassion and hospitality with us, as He distributes through the disciples, teaching them the image of His Church.  Jesus has said, "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20).  Well, where even two or three are gathered there is room for hospitality and graciousness, and there is room for the richness we have in Christ and in our faith and the Church as a whole and all the gifts stored therein for the world, and the saints and angels that are a part of it.  We make room for Christ, as He has made room for us, even a banquet in the wilderness.  The richness of such a gift, one feels, is one we have only started to understand, for we enter into His abundance, not just our own.  Let us do as He does always, and remember our prayer, for that is where every good and perfect gift begins, for "every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning" (James 1:17).  Wherever we are, when we are with Him, we have what He offers, the things with which He feeds us.  He is our Shepherd for those of us who need Him, our Teacher who teaches us what we need, and who multiplies His abundance for us.  Sometimes it is all so hard to see, but in prayer we'll find we are offered what we truly need.













Monday, July 26, 2021

So she went out and said to her mother, "What shall I ask?" And she said, "The head of John the Baptist!"

 
 Now King Herod heard of Him, for His name had become well known.  And he said, "John the Baptist is risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him."  Others said, "It is Elijah."  And others said, "It is the Prophet, or like one of the prophets."  But when Herod heard, he said, "This is John, whom I beheaded; he has been raised from the dead!"  For Herod himself had sent and laid hold of John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife; for he had married her.  Because John had said to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife."  Therefore Herodias held it against him and wanted to kill him, but she could not; for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just and holy man, and he protected him.  And when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.  Then an opportune day came when Herod on his birthday gave a feast for his nobles, the high officers, and the chief men of Galilee.  And when Herodias' daughter herself came in and danced, and pleased Herod and those who sat with him, the king said to the girl, "Ask me whatever you want, and I will give it to you."  He also swore to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half my kingdom."  So she went out and said to her mother, "What shall I ask?"  And she said, "The head of John the Baptist!"  Immediately she came in with haste to the king and asked, saying, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter."  And the king was exceedingly sorry; yet, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he did not want to refuse her.  Immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded his head to be brought.  And he went and beheaded him in prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother.  When his disciples heard of it, they came and took away his corpse and laid it in a tomb.
 
- Mark 6:14–29 
 
On Saturday we read that Jesus went out from Capernaum and came to His own country of Nazareth, and His disciples followed Him.  And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue.  And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, "Where did this Man get these things?  And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands!  Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon?  And are not His sisters here with us?"  So they were offended at Him.  But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house."  Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.  And He marveled because of their unbelief.  Then He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching.  And He called the twelve to Himself, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them power over unclean spirits.  He commanded them to take nothing for the journey except a staff -- no bag, no bread, no copper in their money belts -- but to wear sandals, and not to put on two tunics.  Also He said to them, "In whatever place you enter a house, stay there till you depart from that place.  And whoever will not receive you nor hear you, when you depart from there, shake off the dust under your feet as a testimony against them.  Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!"  So they went out and preached that people should repent.  And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them.
 
 Now King Herod heard of Him, for His name had become well known.  And he said, "John the Baptist is risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him."  Others said, "It is Elijah."  And others said, "It is the Prophet, or like one of the prophets."  But when Herod heard, he said, "This is John, whom I beheaded; he has been raised from the dead!"   This King Herod is Herod Antipas, the son of the King Herod who slew the infants in Bethlehem (see Matthew 2:16).  Although he was technically a Roman governor (or tetrarch) over the region of Galilee, he was popularly called King, my study Bible reminds us.  He knows that John the Baptist had worked no miracles while living, so now he believes that John was raised from the dead, thinking powers are at work in him.  Thus, my study Bible concludes, he fears John more dead than alive.  Elijah was expected to return and work signs before the second coming of the Lord (Malachi 4:5).  The Prophet is understood by some to refer to the Messiah, the One foretold by Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15).  Others interpret this as simply meaning a new prophet had arisen.
 
 For Herod himself had sent and laid hold of John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife; for he had married her.  Because John had said to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife."  Therefore Herodias held it against him and wanted to kill him, but she could not; for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just and holy man, and he protected him.  And when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.  The text begins the explanation of John's death, so that readers will understand why Herod would think that John was risen from the dead, and working through Jesus.  My study Bible asks us to note that Herod, with his wealth and soldiers, feared John, who lived in poverty and was clothed in camel's hair (Mark 1:6).  This is a testament to both the power of personal holiness and integrity, and also to the people's perception of John, who was held in the highest esteem as a just and holy man and prophet (Mark 11:32).  Somewhat similarly to the way he will respond to Jesus when He was taken into Herod's custody (see Luke 23:6-12), Herod takes a kind of delight in listening to John, as if he is a rare marvel held in captivity.

Then an opportune day came when Herod on his birthday gave a feast for his nobles, the high officers, and the chief men of Galilee.  And when Herodias' daughter herself came in and danced, and pleased Herod and those who sat with him, the king said to the girl, "Ask me whatever you want, and I will give it to you."  He also swore to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half my kingdom."  So she went out and said to her mother, "What shall I ask?"  And she said, "The head of John the Baptist!"  Immediately she came in with haste to the king and asked, saying, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter."  And the king was exceedingly sorry; yet, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he did not want to refuse her.  Immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded his head to be brought.  And he went and beheaded him in prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother.  When his disciples heard of it, they came and took away his corpse and laid it in a tomb.  Here is the parenthetical "backstory" that explains Herod's fear that in Jesus is John the Baptist raised from the dead, whose powers are at work.  We can note the lawlessness and scandal of Herod's court, especially from the perspective of the Jews whom he ruled, for whom allowing a daughter to dance at such an affair and before the men of court would be unthinkable. The fact that Herod swore a very rash oath tells us about his character, and his fear of losing face in front of the nobles, high officers, and chief men of Galilee.   Herodias' advice to her daughter in asking for a "gift" speaks for itself of a thoroughly selfish lust for personal material power and the bloody violence that goes with it.  
 
 What can we make of Herodias' advice to her daughter, to ask for John the Baptist's head on a platter?  Certainly we can see how self-serving it is, how thoroughly selfish and driven this woman is in her quest for power.  She's married Herod as a gambit to "trade up" for power, even while her first husband, his brother, is still living, something entirely scandalous to the Jews, and proclaimed to be unlawful by John the Baptist (and historian Josephus as well).  This struggle over what is lawful and what is abhorrent to the Jews is at the center of the story; although raised as a Jew, we can see what is scandalous to the Jews in Herod's court and his manner.  It reminds us of Christ's words to the disciples regarding power:  "You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them" (Mark 10:42).  This story is a prime example of the power to "lord it over" others, and the outcomes where this quest for power means everything.  It is a story in a microcosm about the breakdown of decency where struggle and competition for power form the basis for relations, even a relation between daughter and mother.  This is a mother who allowed her daughter to dance before the men at the court in a manner scandalous to the people of her time, and who advises her daughter -- who could have asked for any good thing for herself -- to ask for John the Baptist's head.  Let us note how one generation succeeds another continuing in the same bad direction:  the girl takes this one step further, and proclaims she wants John the Baptist's head on a platter, as if it is another splendid dish on display at Herod's birthday party, a prize that tops off the rest of the banquet.  Indeed, it then becomes a gift which the girl bestows upon her mother.  One would not be surprised if that was considered, in this family setting, a gift of love and loyalty from daughter to mother!  This holy and revered prophet's head on a platter gives us an idea of the depths to which we human beings can fall without a sense of how God wants us to live,  a visceral reminder of where a pure quest for power leads.  It reminds us of the corruption that can pervade the most sacred or intimate relations within a family, and that there isn't really a place where we don't need to remember God first, and remind ourselves what we are to be about.  Life will not simply take care of itself; it is we who need to take care of life and understand how we are to live it, what we respect, and how we are to serve what is good and true.  Indeed, if we look at the life of Herodias herself, we see that this marriage with Herod Antipas resulted in a disastrous war and exile for both of them.  I have heard on occasion priests and other Christian writers refer to what they call "familyolatry."  Many of us want to see family as something sacred in and of itself, but one look at the family of Herod the Great and its bloody history of internecine murder and scheming between even the closest of blood ties should tell us how wrong it is to assume that simply of itself, family is incorruptible.  Apart from faith in the good and a life lived in this consciousness, there is nothing that keeps us truly "civilized" and from breaking down into the worst effects of selfishness and abuse.  As those who are faithful to God, we can look at Scripture in both Old and New Testaments and must be aware of what we see there.  We are not presented with a world without problems, but a world in which it is up to us to remain salt and light, and be vigilant in remembering what we are to be about, despite what we might see others doing.  Indeed, without this effort, we may lose even what we think we have.
 
 
 
 
 



 
 
 
 
 

Saturday, July 24, 2021

A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house

 
 Then He went out from there and came to His own country, and His disciples followed Him.  And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue.  And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, "Where did this Man get these things?  And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands!  Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon?  And are not His sisters here with us?"  So they were offended at Him.  But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house."  Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.  And He marveled because of their unbelief.  Then He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching.

And He called the twelve to Himself, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them power over unclean spirits.  He commanded them to take nothing for the journey except a staff -- no bag, no bread, no copper in their money belts -- but to wear sandals, and not to put on two tunics.  Also He said to them, "In whatever place you enter a house, stay there till you depart from that place.  And whoever will not receive you nor hear you, when you depart from there, shake off the dust under your feet as a testimony against them.  Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!"  So they went out and preached that people should repent.  And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them.
 
- Mark 6:1–13 
 
Yesterday we read that when Jesus had crossed over again by boat to the other side (that is, a return across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum, after healing the demon-possessed man), a great multitude gathered to Him; and He was by the sea.  And behold, one of the rulers of the synagogue came, Jairus by name.  And when he saw Him, he fell at His feet and begged Him earnestly, saying, "My little daughter lies at the point of death.  Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live."  So Jesus went with him, and a great multitude followed Him and thronged Him.  Now a certain woman had a flow of blood for twelve years, and had suffered many things from many physicians.  She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse.  When she heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment.  For she said, "If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well."  Immediately the fountain of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of the affliction.  And Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned around in the crowd and said, "Who touched My clothes?"  But His disciples said to Him, "You see the multitude thronging You, and You say, 'Who touched Me?'"  And He looked around to see her who had done this thing.  But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth.  And He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well.  Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction."  While He was still speaking, some came from the ruler of the synagogue's house who said, "Your daughter is dead.  Why trouble the Teacher any further?"  As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, He said to the ruler of the synagogue, "Do not be afraid; only believe."  And He permitted no one to follow Him except Peter, James, and John the brother of James.  Then He came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and saw a tumult and those who wept and wailed loudly.  When He came in, He said to them, "Why make this commotion and weep?  The child is not dead, but sleeping."  And they ridiculed Him.  But when He had put them all outside, He took the father and the mother of the child, and those who were with Him, and entered where the child was lying.  Then He took the child by the hand, and said to her, "Talitha, cumi," which is translated, "Little girl, I say to you, arise."  Immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age.  And they were overcome with great amazement.  But He commanded them strictly that no one should know it, and said that something should be given her to eat.
 
 Then He went out from there and came to His own country, and His disciples followed Him.  And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue.  And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, "Where did this Man get these things?  And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands!  Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon?  And are not His sisters here with us?"  So they were offended at Him.  But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house."  My study Bible comments that this double response of being both astonished and offended occurs frequently with those who encounter Christ (Luke 11:14-16, John 9:16).  Christ's rejection in his own country is a foreshadowing of the rejection by the whole Jewish nation at His trial before Pilate (John 19:14-15).  Regarding Christ as brother, my study Bible comments that in Jewish usage, "brother" can indicate any number of relations.  Abram called his nephew Lot "brother" (Genesis 14:14); Boaz spoke of his cousin Elimelech as his "brother (Ruth 4:3); and Joab called his cousin Amasa "brother" (2 Samuel 20:9).   Christ Himself had no blood brothers, for Mary had only one Son:  Jesus.  The brothers mentioned here are either stepbrothers; that is, sons of Joseph by a previous marriage, or cousins.  Jesus will commit His mother to the care of John at the Cross (John 19:25-27), an act which would be unthinkable if Mary had other children to care for her.  Christ's saying, "A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house," is so significant that it appears in all four Gospels (see also Matthew 13:57, Luke 4:24, John 4:44). 

Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.  And He marveled because of their unbelief.  Then He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching.  Jesus could do no mighty work there because of the unbelief of all but a few in Nazareth.  My study Bible explains that this is not because He lacked power.  It says that while grace is always offered to all, only those who receive it in faith obtain its benefits.  Let us observe that He moves on about the villages in a circuit, teaching.

And He called the twelve to Himself, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them power over unclean spirits.  He commanded them to take nothing for the journey except a staff -- no bag, no bread, no copper in their money belts -- but to wear sandals, and not to put on two tunics.  Also He said to them, "In whatever place you enter a house, stay there till you depart from that place.  And whoever will not receive you nor hear you, when you depart from there, shake off the dust under your feet as a testimony against them.  Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!"  So they went out and preached that people should repent.  And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them.  This is a description of the first apostolic mission of the twelve.  These twelve are disciples (Greek μαθητής/mathetes, "learners"), who are now also apostles (Greek ἀπόστολος/apostolos, "one sent out").  My study Bible comments that Jesus gave them power to perform miracles, while He performed them by His own power.  Note that Jesus sent them out two by two.  In Matthew's Gospel, their names are listed in pairs, suggesting who may have traveled together on this first missionary journey (see Matthew 10:1-4).  Regarding anointing the sick with oil, my study Bible reports that this not only has medicinal value but sacramental value as well.  It says that as God's healing power is bestowed through creation (Mark 5:27; Numbers 21:8-9; 2 Kings 13:21; John 9:6-7; Acts 5:15, 19:11-12), so oil is a vehicle of God's mercy and healing in the Church (James 5:14).  

Jesus says, "A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house."  As we remarked above, this saying is so essential that it appears in all four Gospels, and so, we have to consider why this is so.  In today's world, we are used to a social media setting, which is pervasive on all levels, through all activities, and age groups.  So, we are used to each individual proclaiming their own truth and responding to public affairs all over our social media screens, be it on a mobile phone or personal computer or tablet.  As such, we might have many would-be prophets we know, both in public and private life.  From celebrities such as film stars or musicians to public personalities like pundits and professional journalists, we are used to hearing opinions about social affairs as a constant non-stop part of our lives.  Most of these people work at garnering followers, clicks, comments across the board on any number of platforms (including viewers on television) in order to make a living -- and frequently that means a very lucrative career.  We're all familiar with what is called "virtue signalling" by those whose jobs ostensibly have nothing to do with making pronouncement about the state of affairs in our country or our world.  Clearly, there is some benefit to doing so, otherwise why would so many who are ostensibly employed in professions that have nothing to do with this function be constantly engaged in such activities for all to see (and follow)?  The name of this game is publicity, a following, those who will repeat and broadcast a name or image far and wide.  Well, this is seemingly the opposite, antithetical image to the "prophet" Jesus names here.  His clear definition or image of a prophet is one who is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.  Throughout the Old Testament, and in the image of John the Baptist in the New, the prophets come to call the people back to God.  They rail against practices which have become popular and fashionable, against prevailing opinion among the high-placed and powerful "influencers" of their time.  Christ seems to imply -- and the events in His hometown of Nazareth clearly image -- that the very fiber or persona of a prophet and what a prophet does is going to irritate or scandalize those who might be considered "his own"; that is, those of his own country, his own relatives, his own house.  Let us keep in mind that for the ancient world, a "house" was not just a home but implied a whole household, including servants and properties.   The prophets come to call people out of a complacency, and it stands to reason that such a person would be one for whom the freedom to serve God came before everything else, even appeasing those of one's own country, relatives, and house.  This is an important image to keep in mind, as it hints at the scandal of the Cross, and Christ who will bear the shame of rejection in such an astonishing, overwhelming way that He is crucified as among the worst offenders, a punishment reserved for the worst criminals.  If we think about it, it stands to reason that a prophet would be one who does not conform to the prevailing fashions or mores or movements, but whose love of God is stronger than such.  St. Paul called himself and his fellow apostles those who had "been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now" (see 1 Corinthians 4:9-13, echoing Lamentations 3:45 of the prophet Jeremiah).  Possibly we might surmise that this episode in Nazareth, and Jesus' saying regarding dishonor, works to prepare the apostles for their future.  If we look at John the Baptist, we see a prophet who lives in radical poverty, set apart from his society, so strong is his single-minded devotion to God and God's purpose for him.  Similarly to Elijah, he wears skins of animals and a leather belt (Matthew 3:4; 2 Kings 1:8).  Christ, on the other hand, is criticized for eating and drinking with sinners, and here in His hometown, they cannot accept His gracious words and wisdom because they don't belong to one of His background and environment.  Suddenly He is a different person, because the power and authority of God is in Him, and their resentment means they lack faith in Him and His ministry.  A prophet calls us out of our complacency not for the sake of shocking or startling, not in order to gain followers or fame or money.  A prophet heeds God's call, and God often comes to call us out of something that is not good for us, or to announce something new we need to hear and to heed.  God's word gives us what is good, but always asks of us ears to hear, as Jesus so frequently says.  A prophet does not seek popularity, an image that is au courant, or a way to appeal to others simply in order to appeal -- but rather fidelity to the will of God, and God's truth in the message.  Let us understand the difference, and the importance of the saying we find in the Gospels. 







 

Friday, July 23, 2021

Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction

 
 Now when Jesus had crossed over again by boat to the other side, a great multitude gathered to Him; and He was by the sea.  And behold, one of the rulers of the synagogue came, Jairus by name.  And when he saw Him, he fell at His feet and begged Him earnestly, saying, "My little daughter lies at the point of death.  Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live."  So Jesus went with him, and a great multitude followed Him and thronged Him.  
 
Now a certain woman had a flow of blood for twelve years, and had suffered many things from many physicians.  She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse.  When she heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment.  For she said, "If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well."  Immediately the fountain of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of the affliction.  And Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned around in the crowd and said, "Who touched My clothes?"  But His disciples said to Him, "You see the multitude thronging You, and You say, 'Who touched Me?'"  And He looked around to see her who had done this thing.  But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth.  And He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well.  Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction."  
 
While He was still speaking, some came from the ruler of the synagogue's house who said, "Your daughter is dead.  Why trouble the Teacher any further?"  As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, He said to the ruler of the synagogue, "Do not be afraid; only believe."  And He permitted no one to follow Him except Peter, James, and John the brother of James.  Then He came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and saw a tumult and those who wept and wailed loudly.  When He came in, He said to them, "Why make this commotion and weep?  The child is not dead, but sleeping."  And they ridiculed Him.  But when He had put them all outside, He took the father and the mother of the child, and those who were with Him, and entered where the child was lying.  Then He took the child by the hand, and said to her, "Talitha, cumi," which is translated, "Little girl, I say to you, arise."  Immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age.  And they were overcome with great amazement.  But He commanded them strictly that no one should know it, and said that something should be given her to eat.
 
- Mark 5:21–43 
 
Yesterday we read that, having set sail late in the evening across a stormy Sea of Galilee, Jesus and the disciples came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes.  And when He had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains.  And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him.  And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones.  When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him.  And he cried out with a loud voice and said, "What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I implore You by God that You do not torment me."  For He said to him, "Come out of the man, unclean spirit!"  Then He asked him, "What is your name?"  And he answered, saying, "My name is Legion; for we are many."  Also he begged Him earnestly that He would not send them out of the country.  Now a large herd of swine was feeding there near the mountains.  So all the demons begged Him, saying, "Send us to the swine, that we may enter them."  And at once Jesus gave them permission.  Then the unclean spirits went out and entered the swine (there were about two thousand); and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and drowned in the sea.  So those who fed the swine fled, and they told it in the city and in the country.  And they went out to see what it was that had happened.  Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind.  And they were afraid.  And those who saw it told them how it happened to him who had been demon-possessed, and about the swine.  Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region.  And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him.  However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you."  And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled.
 
 Now when Jesus had crossed over again by boat to the other side, a great multitude gathered to Him; and He was by the sea.  And behold, one of the rulers of the synagogue came, Jairus by name.  And when he saw Him, he fell at His feet and begged Him earnestly, saying, "My little daughter lies at the point of death.  Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live."  So Jesus went with him, and a great multitude followed Him and thronged Him.  Jesus returns to Capernaum, the town of Peter and his family, where He is already well-known.  We can see that He is approached by Jairus, one of the rulers of the synagogue, in order to help heal his little daughter who is at the point of death.  

Now a certain woman had a flow of blood for twelve years, and had suffered many things from many physicians.  She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse.  When she heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment.  For she said, "If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well."  Immediately the fountain of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of the affliction.  And Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned around in the crowd and said, "Who touched My clothes?"  But His disciples said to Him, "You see the multitude thronging You, and You say, 'Who touched Me?'"  And He looked around to see her who had done this thing.  But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth.  And He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well.  Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction."   Once again, Jesus displays divine authority in today's reading.  My study Bible comments that authority over life and death is in the hand of God alone (Deuteronomy 32:39; 1 Samuel 2:6).  As He is of one essence with the Father, He has this authority (John 5:21).  But here in the healing of this woman, He demonstrates the power to cleanse and heal (see Matthew 8:1-4).  In the Old Testament, hemorrhage caused ceremonial defilement, which imposed religious and social restrictions, as contact with blood was strictly prohibited (Leviticus 15:25).  My study Bible says of the suffering woman that, although she counts herself unclean, nonetheless she approaches Christ secretly and with great faith.  Jesus pronounces that her faith has made her well, and to go in peace, indicating that she is not excluded from Him because of her illness.  He exhibits her faith to all, so that they might imitate her.  There is also another interpretation of this text on spiritual terms which has been given by the patristic writers.  My study Bible explains that in this understanding, the woman symbolizes human nature in general.  Humanity is in constant suffering and is subject to death, which is symbolized by her flow of blood.  In this interpretation, the physicians who could not cure her stand for the various religions of the world, as well as the Law of the Old Testament, which were unable to grant life to humanity.  It is only through Christ in which we are freed from suffering and bondage to sin.

While He was still speaking, some came from the ruler of the synagogue's house who said, "Your daughter is dead.  Why trouble the Teacher any further?"  As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, He said to the ruler of the synagogue, "Do not be afraid; only believe."  And He permitted no one to follow Him except Peter, James, and John the brother of James.  Then He came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and saw a tumult and those who wept and wailed loudly.  When He came in, He said to them, "Why make this commotion and weep?  The child is not dead, but sleeping."  And they ridiculed Him.  But when He had put them all outside, He took the father and the mother of the child, and those who were with Him, and entered where the child was lying.  Then He took the child by the hand, and said to her, "Talitha, cumi," which is translated, "Little girl, I say to you, arise."  Immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age.  And they were overcome with great amazement.  But He commanded them strictly that no one should know it, and said that something should be given her to eat.  As with the healing of the woman's flow of blood, in which Christ demonstrated His divine power to cleanse and heal, here He demonstrates divine authority over life and death.  My study Bible comments that this is one of three resurrections which was performed by Christ as recorded in the Gospels (see also Luke 7:11-17, John 11:1-44).  It notes that these confirm the promise given to the prophet Ezekiel that God will one day open the graves and raise all the dead (Ezekiel 37:1-14).  There are many who have exercised authority over the living, but only the Son of God "has power over both the living and the dead" (quotation from the Orthodox funeral service).  While Christ has power through His word alone (John 11:43), here He takes the girl by the hand.  As with the healing of the woman with the blood flow, a touch -- even to touch His clothing -- shows that His very body is life-giving.  It is a kind of foreshadowing of the Resurrection in the sense that Mary and the others would weep for her Child; but tears turn to joy at the Resurrection.  So here the weeping and wailing is silenced by the One who gives life and His power of Resurrection.

It's always interesting to observe the people who ridicule Jesus.  They are the ones who are sure of the girl's death, who weep and wail, already mourning her.  But Christ teaches us about the power of faith, and here there is no denying that the power of faith in Christ's word is paired with the power of life.  The ones who weep and wail are certain of the things they know on worldly terms; by all signs this girl is dead, and death is not to be argued with.  But our own certainties about death and disaster -- on any number of levels, symbolic and otherwise -- might not always prove to be the case.  The deeply important thing here is communion with God, keeping our faith strong, through His word, through worship, through prayer, through the Eucharist which He has called His body and blood, through all the means of our faith.  It reminds us that there are times when we are ready to call something lost to us, finished, a deep cynicism and despondency or depression that only seems to give us a picture of death.  We might want to give up on ourselves, when there is a future that He has awaiting us that we just can't see or understand on worldly terms. or reconcile with our past experience.  We can think of both of these women -- one an older woman who's spent all she has on doctors and a twelve-year-old illness, and the other who herself is just on the verge of maturity at twelve years of age -- who are at particular stages in their lives when it seems that all is lost for them.  These "signposts" of maturity are important, because they indicate significant stages of growth, especially in women's lives.  Both seem to be connected to life and life-giving, as the older woman is likely in the period of menopause but with significant signs of illness through bleeding, and the other is on the eve of beginning the reproductive period of a woman's life.  In both cases, it is Christ who corrects and heals, and resurrects the young girl so that she in turn may mature into the possibility to give birth one day.  Christ's power to heal and to resurrect in both cases opens up life to new growth, new future, a new period of life to look forward to.  And so it is with faith.  What I find in my own life is just such encouragement through faith and prayer to look forward to a future I can't see, and in which I find myself becoming frequently pessimistic.  It is hard to move on to new stages of life when one period has ended, or a relationship terminates, or a job is over.  Simply getting older comes with stages of life we can't foresee or clearly know, especially in times of more generalized uncertainty.  But I find that it is faith that keeps me looking forward, that encourages me to new things and new growth, not to look back or try to reclaim the past -- and the loving relationships sustained in that faith that are so paramount in importance to do so.  Jairus comes to Christ in the first place because he has a small hope for his daughter, and it is Christ who nurtures his faith through various means.   First, He brings His disciples with the strongest faith, that inner circle of Peter, James, and John, to help to shore up the faith of the parents.  Second, He puts outside all those who weep and wail, separating Jairus and his wife and child from all from the ones who are certain of death.  And before that, while Jairus waited and no doubt watched anxiously, let us note that Jesus brought the healed woman in front of all the crowd and praised her faith before everyone.  All of these are acts to shore up faith, to encourage to look forward to renewal and resurrection, in whatever form that might take, to new periods of growth ahead.  Both in the case of the mature woman and also of Jairus' daughter, neither is restored to her previous life.  That is, each will go ahead to new growth, new life, new things.  Neither of Jesus' healings in today's reading restore an old life, a return to old ways and old things.  Rather, both indicate a future of new things to look to, new life to build, new experience going forward.  As Jairus' daughter is not restored to childhood but to the maturity that lies before her. so the older woman also is restored to her future period of maturity, without the blood flow.  Each is given the future and new growth.  So, I find, it is also true in my life.  There may be things which are behind me, but it is Christ and my faith that always asks me to look in front of me, to live life in the best way to build up what is good going ahead, to make the most of the time of the future in faith and through all the means at our disposal to live a life of faith.  The woman is told, "Daughter, your faith has made you well.  Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction," while Jesus' touch uplifts the girl (she arose) so that she walks forward and must be given something to nourish her for her life ahead.  Let us rely on our faith to keep us moving forward and to do so in peace.




 
 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you

 
 Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes.  And when He had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains.  And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him.  And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones.  When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him.  And he cried out with a loud voice and said, "What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I implore You by God that You do not torment me."  For He said to him, "Come out of the man, unclean spirit!"  Then He asked him, "What is your name?"  And he answered, saying, "My name is Legion; for we are many."  Also he begged Him earnestly that He would not send them out of the country.  
 
Now a large herd of swine was feeding there near the mountains.  So all the demons begged Him, saying, "Send us to the swine, that we may enter them."  And at once Jesus gave them permission.  Then the unclean spirits went out and entered the swine (there were about two thousand); and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and drowned in the sea.  
 
So those who fed the swine fled, and they told it in the city and in the country.  And they went out to see what it was that had happened.  Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind.  And they were afraid.  And those who saw it told them how it happened to him who had been demon-possessed, and about the swine.  Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region.  
 
And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him.  However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you."  And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled.
 
- Mark 5:1-20 
 
Yesterday we read that on the same day that Jesus had taught the multitudes by the sea with parables, when evening had come, He said to the disciples, "Let us cross over to the other side."  Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was.  And other little boats were also with Him.  And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling.  But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow.  And they awoke Him and said to Him, "Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?"  Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace, be still!"  And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.  But He said to them, "Why are you so fearful?  How is it that you have no faith?"  And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, "Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!"
 
  Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes.  My study Bible explains that the country of the Gadarenes was in Galilee, in an area with many Gentiles who lived among the Jews (see Matthew 4:15).  Gadara is the name of a city which was in the Decapolis, a Greek name meaning "ten cities."  We can look at a map and see its area was across the Sea of Galilee south of Capernaum.  As the area was mixed with Gentiles, and strong Greco-Roman influenced, it was not considered a genuinely Jewish land, although many Gentile residents had converted to Judaism during the Maccabean period.  Because many of the Jews in this region had been influenced by the Greek culture and customs, they were generally considered second-class citizens by Jews of Judea.  In today's reading, we can see some of the Gentile influence in the raising of swine, which was forbidden by the Law (Deuteronomy 14:8).

And when He had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains.  And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him.  And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones.  When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him.  And he cried out with a loud voice and said, "What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I implore You by God that You do not torment me."  For He said to him, "Come out of the man, unclean spirit!"  Then He asked him, "What is your name?"  And he answered, saying, "My name is Legion; for we are many."  Also he begged Him earnestly that He would not send them out of the country.   Let us notice the setting:  this man tormented by demons lives apart from the city among the tombs, in complete disorder and untamed; crying out and cutting himself with stones.  Here the demons recognize Jesus as Son of the Most High God, and they fear torment just as they have tormented this man.  Although the malice of the demons is great, my study Bible says, they can do nothing against the will of God. 
 
 Now a large herd of swine was feeding there near the mountains.  So all the demons begged Him, saying, "Send us to the swine, that we may enter them."  And at once Jesus gave them permission.  Then the unclean spirits went out and entered the swine (there were about two thousand); and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and drowned in the sea.   As we commented above, the swine are an indication of the Gentile presence in this region.  Some assume that those who raise them are Gentiles, but it is more likely that these are Jews who are engaged in a sinful occupation, as Christ forbade His disciples to go to the Gentiles (Matthew 10:5).  My study Bible comments that although the malice of the demons is great, they can do nothing against the will of God, and therefore can only enter the swine at Christ's command.  It says that the immediate destruction of the herd shows that the men had been protected by God's care; otherwise, they would have perished under the demonic influence.  It also reinforces that swineherding was not lawful for the Jews.  Most importantly, it shows the incomparable value of human beings, whose salvation is worth every sacrifice.

So those who fed the swine fled, and they told it in the city and in the country.  And they went out to see what it was that had happened.  Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind.  And they were afraid.  And those who saw it told them how it happened to him who had been demon-possessed, and about the swine.  Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region.   Those who fed the swine respond to the loss of the swine, and the sight of the healed man -- now sitting and clothed in his right mind -- by being afraid.  They plead with Jesus to depart from their region as they do not rejoice over the healing of the man, but are sorrowed at the loss of their swine.  They prefer things the way they were, and fear Christ's influence.

And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him.  However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you."  And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled.  This man is not one of the chosen Twelve, but Christ makes a way for him, and a new life.  He is to go home to his friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for him, and how He had compassion on him. 

It's very important that we notice the difference between the unclean spirits and the nature of God as imaged in the Lord Jesus Christ.  The demons oppress and torment.  They beg Jesus not to be sent out of this country where they have a refuge beyond the reach of the influence of Jewish worship and the God of Israel.  The context is important here, because we see the vast difference between the God of compassion, whom Jesus tells the healed man to extol to his friends at home with his testimony -- and the oppression and enslavement of the demons, whose influence kept this man away from life, and captive among the tombs.  It is this contrast that is important for us to understand, for in the possessed man we also see what can be a common image on our streets of people enslaved to addiction of all kinds, a hopelessness where there is no kindness nor mercy nor compassion, where predators may pass freely among those who are for some reason incapacitated or helpless.  There is a correspondence, at least in effects and appearance, between the enslavement of addiction or the problems of mental illness, and the oppression of the demons who keep this man in complete disorder and unable to live in the place of his home.  We might keep in mind the image of influences that keep out our God of compassion and the "good things" that God will do for us, in favor of those whose lives ascribe to force and coercion and have no time for mercy.   What does not fit with the "law of the streets" is that it is the Lord of mercy and compassion who is the greater power and the stronger man here, who can command the demons and they have to obey Him, and of whom the demons are afraid.  They can use their malice on weak human beings, and malice may terrify us at the hands of others who are ruthless, but their malice cannot bind nor stop the power of Jesus Christ who is the Lord who gives us good things.  It puts us in mind of Christ's words at the Last Supper to His disciples:  "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).  Let us remember that Jesus deliberately set sail through a chaotic storm into this hostile place of unlawfulness and demonic influence, seemingly just to rescue and save this man.  It tells us the truth, that to God a human life is worth every effort to save and to heal, and it is this that Christ teaches the disciples through this episode.  There will always be people who reject, who simply respond with fear to our faith, and there will also be those who are hostile and under the influence of a spirit that is antagonistic to the peace of Christ we seek in our faith.  Possibly we have experiences in our own lives in which we are surrounded by those who cannot share in our faith, even those who oppress us with hostility to it.  Sometimes this is not overt, but in a very real way becomes a spiritual problem for us to face.  But today's reading shows us that, nevertheless, the good things of God are present for us, even if everyone else does not embrace them; even when we are alone or abandoned in a deserted place where no one else cares.  Let us take to heart the new mission of the healed man, who may proclaim the good things the Lord has done for him, and how He had compassion on him, because we find such in our faith as well.



Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Peace, be still!

 
 On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, "Let us cross over to the other side."  Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was.  And other little boats were also with Him.  And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling.  But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow.  And they awoke Him and said to Him, "Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?"  Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace, be still!"  And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.  But He said to them, "Why are you so fearful?  How is it that you have no faith?"  And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, "Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!"
 
- Mark 4:35–41 
 
In yesterday's reading, we read that Jesus said (as He began to speak in parables to the crowds), "Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed?  Is it not to be set on a lampstand?  For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light.  If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear."  Then He said to them, "Take heed what you hear.  With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given.  For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him."  And He said, "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how.  For the earth yields crops by itself:  first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head.  But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come."  Then He said, "To what shall we liken the kingdom of God?  Or with what parable shall we picture it?  It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on the earth; but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade."  And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it.  But without a parable He did not speak to them.  And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples."
 
 On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, "Let us cross over to the other side."  Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was.  And other little boats were also with Him.  And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling.  But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow.  And they awoke Him and said to Him, "Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?"  Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace, be still!"  And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.  But He said to them, "Why are you so fearful?  How is it that you have no faith?"  And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, "Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!"  There are several things to observe in today's reading.  What we should start with is this notable command that Christ gives, to cross over to the other side.  This means the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  In some sense, it is like preparation for the apostolic missions to come.  My study Bible has several insights for us to consider.  Following with the idea that this is a preparation of sorts, it says that Christ deliberately permits this windstorm to arise while He is sleeping in order to perfect the disciples' faith, and to rebuke their weaknesses -- in this way they will eventually be unshaken by life's temptations.  In today's reading, their faith is still mixed with unbelief.  They showed faith when they awoke Him, but unbelief when they said that "we are perishing."   There is also another powerful and important element to this story, and that is that Christ shows mastery over creation, another sign that He is the Messiah and is divine.  My study Bible says that commands to the wind and sea can only be issued by God (Job 38:8-11; Psalm 66:5-6, 107:29).  In this way, Christ reveals more to the disciples about the confidence they can take in Him.  My study Bible comments that He was asleep because as a man, he needed rest.  In His Incarnation, He assumed all natural actions of the flesh, one of which is sleep.  This image of Christ and His disciples in a boat is traditionally used to illustrate the Church.  Finally, my study Bible adds that God both permits storms and delivers us through them, so that we can see God's protection more clearly.  In Christ's rebuke of the storm we also see an illustration that He calms the tempests in the human soul.

What is faith?  Today's reading invites us to ask that question, as it becomes the focus of Christ's answer to the fearful disciples.  In the Greek, the root of the word for faith means "trust."  So it's important that we think of our faith not simply as an intellectually reasoned decision to believe something, but rather an active choice to put our trust in something -- or really, in someone.  Here is where Christ, the One who is both God and man, becomes important in the context of what faith is and means.  Today's reading truly displays evidence of what His Incarnation is and means.  He is at once fully human; that is, He sleeps.  And He is also divine; as my study Bible points out, only God can calm the wind and the sea.   Jesus does not simply "calm" these elements of the world, He commands them.  So now the disciples know (as do we) that to follow a command from Christ means putting their trust in one who is both human and also has expressed signs of the divine, and of course this understanding will grow.  Moreover, when they do embark on their first apostolic mission, and their apostolic journeys in the future, they will understand the One in whom they put their trust, and whose commands they follow -- as do we faithful today.  There is a deeper element, also, to comment on in today's reading.  In Genesis, at the creation of the world, we're told, "The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters" (Genesis 1:2).  In the creation of the world, the Spirit of God hovers over the face of the waters, which are chaos.  They are "without form, and void, and there is darkness on the face of the deep."  This begins to tell us of the power of the Logos, the organizing principle, the One who brings order to the elements that are present.  And so it is with the Lord, the same Logos or Word (the meaning of the Greek word Logos) who commanded the elements of chaos into order and form (see also John 1:1-4).  He commands the chaotic sea and wind in an echo of the creation story, and this is clearly part of the understanding the disciples will eventually realize, as do we the faithful who followed.  We put our faith, our trust, in Christ, to help to organize our own tempests and chaos, our thoughts, our lives.  We pray in that faith for the same "order" to be put into our affairs, to help with the health of those for whom we are concerned, to reorder and reconcile our lives to what is good, to teach us how to live.   We ask for calm to our own "disorder" in any dimension.  Jesus commands, "Peace, be still!" and it is this same peace He gives to us.  In His peace is true order, real righteousness, a peace between ourselves and God, and by extension to the world.  It is this good order that we ask for, for which we place our trust in Him.  We ask for God's blessing so that order and good purpose be served through all things in our lives and our use of them.  Let us consider the power of Logos, in whom we place our trust, our faith, and whose true peace we seek.