Saturday, November 17, 2018

You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God


 "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.  Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?  And if you have not been faithful in what is another man's, who will give you what is your own?  No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon."

Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him.  And He said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts.  For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

"The law and prophets were until John.  And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail.

"Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery."

- Luke 16:10-17(18)

Yesterday we read that Jesus said to His disciples:  "There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods.  So he called him and said to him, 'What is this I hear about you?  Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.'  Then the steward said within himself, 'What shall I do?  For my master is taking the stewardship away from me.  I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg.  I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.'  So he called every one of his master's debtors to him, and said to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?'  And he said, 'A hundred measures of oil.'  So he said to him, 'Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.'  Then he said to another, 'And how much do you owe?'  So he said, 'A hundred measures of wheat.'  And he said to him, 'Take your bill, and write eighty.'  So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly.  For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.  And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home."

 "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.  Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?  And if you have not been faithful in what is another man's, who will give you what is your own?  No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon."  Jesus has just told the parable of the Unjust Steward (see yesterday's reading, above). In that parable, the unjust steward, who had earlier squandered his master's wealth, used "mammon" (wealth or money) with mercy, "making friends" with those who owed money to his master.  Here Jesus speaks of being faithful in terms of being faithful to God, even in the ways in which we use our wealth.  He compares the riches of the world (unrighteous mammon) to the true riches of the Kingdom and of faith, the things of God.  My study bible explains that what is another man's is also wealth -- that is, the wealth we should distribute through almsgiving and mercy.  Whatever we have really belongs to God.   What Christ is getting at is the root of selfishness; our love and faithfulness to God will determine the ways in which we use whatever is at our disposal.

Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him.  And He said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts.  For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God."  My study bible says that the things which are highly esteemed among men include money, power, position, and praise.  We revisit Jesus' words elsewhere.  In chapter 11, Jesus expresses the "woes" coming to those in leadership for their conduct.  Among other things, He lists their love of worldly honor and position:  "Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces" (11:43).

 "The law and prophets were until John.  And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail."  In chapter 11, Jesus also criticizes the Pharisees for the fact that they follow the letter of the law as regards tithing, but fail to practice the true mercy of God:  "But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone" (11:42).  Here, He compares the Old Covenant and the New; He is the fulfillment of the law and prophets, and His ministry brings the fullness of the ultimate aim of the law, which is true righteousness.

"Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery."  This verse is seemingly out of place here, disconnected from the surrounding passages.  But it is linked in terms of the themes which concern the Pharisees (divorce and remarriage under the Mosaic law were highly contested and debated issues among the religious leadership, with the Pharisees coming down close to Jesus' position on the matter).  Remarriage also involved questions of dowry and wealth, and was also therefore subject to specific regulation.  What ties this passage together with the themes already expressed here and in the earlier parable of the Unjust Steward is righteousness, mercy, and the use of possessions.  Jesus repeatedly condemns divorce in terms of its easy and simple access for men under the Mosaic Law and the abuse of the practice.  Women could not sue for divorce; only men could do so, and for what amounted to nearly arbitrary reasons.  Here Jesus holds fidelity to a very strict standard; to treat a wife as traded commodity is sinful.

What does it mean to possess wealth?  Perhaps Jesus, in speaking of divorce, wants us to consider how or whether or not we treat fellow human beings as things we own, aspects of our wealth.  Surely our relationships are wealth, but they can't be thought of as "mammon," commodities of ownership.  Jesus seems to be asking us repeatedly to consider that whatever we have truly belongs to God in the first place, and therefore the rules or laws which govern how we use what we have -- no matter what that may be -- aren't the laws of balancing the books or even following a code of tithing.  Rather, the law that governs the way we choose to live our lives is that of faith -- love and trust in God and extending God's righteousness through whatever we might control.   This is contrasted with a selfish attitude of needing to gain the whole world.  Indeed, Jesus contrasts the eternal nature of the possession of soul with the desire to grasp all the world:  "For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?" (9:25).  The Pharisees, while they are righteous according to the law, are men who seem intent on gaining the whole world, which includes "the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces," and honorific titles.  But the Cross to which Christ calls each one of us is one that asks us to exchange one life for another -- a worldly perspective for one that sees all the wealth of the world as a gift for which we are stewards who seek to please our Master.  In this way, Jesus' teachings really echo what He calls the two greatest commandments:   "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40).   Let us remember that whatever we possess, whether that be talent or material commodity, we each share the capacity to practice the perspective Jesus teaches us.  We each may practice mercy, or give of our time, our kindness, the grace God gives our hearts.  In a society that has so much wealth, it has also been found that the intangible gift of attention, respect, and recognition of a fellow human being makes the greatest difference to those who may be "the least of these."  Over the course of the past week's readings, Jesus has given us repeated teachings on humility, and in particular to the great men among the rulers of the Pharisees.  Let us consider their righteousness, and what they yet still lacked.  Humility is the key to understanding how and with what each of us may be blessed, and how we may use whatever we have to serve God with love.  We live in a world that magnifies position given by the praise in popular media, and therefore particularly that of image or appearance.  In modern talk, this phenomenon is frequently referred to as "virtue signalling," used as a form of public relations.   Let us consider Jesus' warnings about basing our lives and values exclusively on that which is highly esteemed among men.











Friday, November 16, 2018

The sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light


 He also said to His disciples:  "There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods.  So he called him and said to him, 'What is this I hear about you?  Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.'  Then the steward said within himself, 'What shall I do?  For my master is taking the stewardship away from me.  I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg.  I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.'  So he called every one of his master's debtors to him, and said to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?'  And he said, 'A hundred measures of oil.'  So he said to him, 'Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.'  Then he said to another, 'And how much do you owe?'  So he said, 'A hundred measures of wheat.'  And he said to him, 'Take your bill, and write eighty.'  So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly.  For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.  And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home."

- Luke 16:1-9

In yesterday's reading, we were given the third parable in Jesus' response to the criticism of the scribes and Pharisees, that tax collectors and sinners came to hear Him preach.  It is the parable of the Prodigal Son:  "A certain man had two sons.  And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.'  So he divided to them his livelihood.  And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.  But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want.  Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.  And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.  But when he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!  I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son.  Make me like one of your hired servants."'  And he arose and came to his father.  But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.  And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.'  But the father said to his servants, 'Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.  And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'  And they began to be merry.  Now his older son was in the field.  And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.  So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.  And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.'  But he was angry and would not go in.  Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.  So he answered and said to his father, 'Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends.  But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.'  And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.  It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.'"

  He also said to His disciples:  "There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods.  So he called him and said to him, 'What is this I hear about you?  Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.'  Then the steward said within himself, 'What shall I do?  For my master is taking the stewardship away from me.  I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg.  I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.'  So he called every one of his master's debtors to him, and said to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?'  And he said, 'A hundred measures of oil.'  So he said to him, 'Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.'  Then he said to another, 'And how much do you owe?'  So he said, 'A hundred measures of wheat.'  And he said to him, 'Take your bill, and write eighty.'  So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly.  For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.  And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home."  My study bible explains that a steward is responsible for managing his master's property and for looking after the welfare of his servants.  It says that the point of this parable is that the unrighteous are better at using money to make friends in the world than believers are at using money to make friends for the Kingdom of God.  This is accomplished by spending it on the needy.  At death (when you fail) those whom one helped will welcome their benefactors into the everlasting home.

This parable is confusing in terms of its application to our salvation if we think of it in the stark black and white terms of correct behavior.  After all, the steward himself was defrauding his master.  But let us recall under what context this parable is told.  Jesus has just replied to the criticism of the scribes and Pharisees that unrighteous people like tax collectors and other sinners are coming to Him to hear Him.  (See the readings from Wednesday and Thursday, in which Jesus told three parables in response.)   Let us note that in these parables there is an illustration of mercy, of the lengths to which a shepherd, an owner of ten coins, and finally a father will go to recall and reclaim that which has been lost.  In common with today's parable, those three parables illustrate what it means not to follow the exact letter of nominal justice, but rather to make the extra effort and sacrifice required to reclaim what has been lost.  In today's reading, Jesus turns to His disciples and directs this parable toward them.  Perhaps they, too, are wondering about the tax collectors and sinners who gather to this ministry to hear Him.  After all, tax collectors were notoriously unrighteous people, known for cheating their own Jewish compatriots, working for the Romans, and not above using methods of violence and extortion to take more for themselves.  But what Jesus seems to be saying in this parable is that it is not the rules of "dollars and cents," if you will, that remain important in the Kingdom.  Rather, what matters is how we use what we have as stewards in order to claim what has been lost.  In this sense, perhaps, the unrighteous tax collectors and sinners may find that by exercising mercy with what they have and reforming their own lives, they may lay claim to a righteous or "right-relatedness" to others through that same "unrighteous mammon" of wealth.  We note that at the beginning of the parable, this steward has squandered his master's goods; so it may be with those of us who fail to use appropriately the resources we've been given by God in life, for we are all stewards of God's creation.  This steward then, in turn, finds ways to be merciful to those who owe the master.  In the parable, then, we find that the nominal rules of what's "fair" or "equal" to be cast out, but by the standards of righteousness, the mercy shown by the steward toward the debtors is a shrewd, and a good thing.  In the Greek this word for shrewd indicates that which comes through practical understanding and experience, and is not merely an application of something abstract.  It is a lesson in how, even as His disciples, we must be prepared to deal with fellow human beings through relatedness and pragmatism under given real circumstances, which leads to mercy.  We see a parallel to this possible interpretation in the story of Zacchaeus, also found in Luke's Gospel (19:1-10).  Zacchaeus is not just a tax collector, but is in fact a chief tax collector, who is very rich by his ill-gotten gains.  But as Jesus passes through Jericho, a town notorious for sin, He calls out Zacchaeus and says that He must stay at Zacchaeus' house that day.  This is met with the same derision to which Jesus has been responding in the criticism of the scribes and Pharisees in our recent readings.  But Zacchaeus proclaims, "Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold."  And then Jesus proclaims, in a message directly found in the parable of the Prodigal Son (given in yesterday's reading, see above), "Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."  Zacchaeus' willingness to "make friends" not only with those who are poor by sharing half his goods, and to restore fourfold anything he's gained by cheating, restore him to the Lord.  In other words, by using unrighteous mammon, he may be received into an everlasting home.  This is a way of giving hope to all, that there is a way to redemption and to the path toward Christ.  Let us consider how we, too, may use our own "unrighteous mammon," and in particular this personal and applied pragmatism toward the human condition that Jesus advocates.  It may not make sense according to an abstract sense of balancing the books, but His is a ministry of direct communion with each, an effective realism which begins where we truly are and doesn't hide from itself the realities and struggles of this world.  In theological terms, this is called (from the Greek word for steward) economia.  I personally would argue that this is the kind of faith to which Christ calls us.  We may not all be notorious tax collectors, but our Lord makes it clear that the option of giving -- from whatever resource we have, however it has come to us -- is always on the table to help to bring each back to the road of discipleship under Him.  After all, He is the Master who gives more than all the rest of us.





Thursday, November 15, 2018

It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found


 Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him.  And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, "This Man receives sinners and eats with them."
* * *
Then He said:  "A certain man had two sons.  And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.'  So he divided to them his livelihood.  And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.  But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want.  Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.  And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.

"But when he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!  I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son.  Make me like one of your hired servants."'  And he arose and came to his father.  But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.  And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.'  But the father said to his servants, 'Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.  And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'  And they began to be merry.

"Now his older son was in the field.  And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.  So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.  And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.'  But he was angry and would not go in.  Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.  So he answered and said to his father, 'Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends.  But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.'  And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.  It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.'"

- Luke 15:1-2, 11-32

Yesterday we read that all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Jesus to hear Him.  And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, "This Man receives sinners and eats with them."  So He spoke this parable to them, saying:  "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'  I say to you that likewise will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.  Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?  And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!'  Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

 Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him.  And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, "This Man receives sinners and eats with them."  In our earlier readings in the week, Jesus had eaten at the home of one of the rulers of the Pharisees.  There He gave warnings about humility.  (See the readings from Saturday and Monday.)   In today's reading, we know that Jesus' ministry now has great multitudes gathering to hear Him, and among them are "all the tax collectors and the sinners."  In response to criticism from the Pharisees and scribes, in yesterday's reading He gave the two parables, above:  that of the lost sheep and the lost coin.  In today's reading, we're given a parable of a lost son as part of His response to the Pharisees and scribes.

Then He said:  "A certain man had two sons.  And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.'  So he divided to them his livelihood."  My study bible gives us a traditional patristic understanding of this story, in that the father represents God the Father.  In Greek, when the son asks for his "portion of goods" from his father, the word used here in Greek is ousia, meaning "essence" or "substance."  Symbolizing humankind, we receive our free will and rational mind from God.  As Adam did in Eden, my study bible says, the younger son uses these possessions to rebel against his father.  The far country represents life in exile from God.

"And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.  But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want.  Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.  And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything."  We have our free will and rational mind, but we don't necessarily have the wisdom to know what to do with them.  Our lives -- and in particular our spiritual lives -- are a long learning curve.  To be feeding swine, my study bible says, indicates that this young man could not have sunk much lower.   This could be called "Jewish skid row."  In a far away country, no one gave him anything -- love and care are absent.  God's love and care are the keys to learning what our needs truly are.

"But when he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!  I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son.  Make me like one of your hired servants."'  And he arose and came to his father."  It is important to note that he came to himself.  We can wander far away from an understanding of who we truly are; that is found in relationship to God.  My study bible says that a person immersed in sin is living outside his or her true self (Romans 7:17-20).  The prodigal realizes he is in a hopeless condition.  The bread, my study bible tells us, symbolizes Christ, known through the Scriptures and the Eucharist. 

"But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.  And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.'  But the father said to his servants, 'Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet."  In Jewish culture, it was considered unseemly for an old man to run.  But so great is the joy and love of this father at seeing his son, that he would not simply stand by waiting for his son to return, and ran to him.  My study bible says that this self-humiliation for the sake of the lost indicates the way our Father, through Christ's sacrifice, actively seeks those who stray and have been lost to God.  The best robe signifies a righteousness which is granted through baptism (Isaiah 61:10), the signet ring is family identity (Haggai 2:23), and the sandals indicate walking according to the gospel, the word of God (Ephesians 6:15).

"And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'  And they began to be merry."  My study bible indicates that fatted calf is more closely translated as "wheat-fed bull-calf," or even more literally "a bull-calf formed from wheat."  This is a male calf which was raised on wheat in preparation for making it a religious offering.  The reconciliation of the prodigal son was not complete without the sacrifice of the calf, and our own reconciliation to God is not made by repentance alone -- but by Christ's offering of Himself on the Cross.  My study bible says that the festive dining on an animal offering which is "formed from wheat" is a clear reference to our own partaking of the eucharistic bread, Christ's sacrifice enacted through each Eucharist.

"Now his older son was in the field.  And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.  So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.  And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.'  But he was angry and would not go in.  Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him."  We remember that this is a parable being told to the Pharisees and scribes, who complain that tax collectors and sinners gather to Christ to hear Him.  They clearly are the figures of the resentful older brother, who displays hardheartedness toward those being called back to God.  While they are the nominally "perfect" who have not transgressed the Law, they lack the humility to rejoice at those who were lost "finding themselves" as did the prodigal son.  My study bible cites the commentary of Cyril of Alexandria, noting that God requires God's followers to rejoice when even the most blamable person is called to repentance.  The Jewish tax collectors working for Rome, frequently using means of extortion to take more than the required tax for themselves, certainly fit such a description.

"So he answered and said to his father, 'Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends.  But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.'  And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.  It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.'"  My study bible tells us here that the failure of the older son to recognize his own sins leads to a self-righteous and merciless attitude.  We can contrast this with the contrition of the younger son.  It quotes Ambrose of Milan:  "The one who seems to himself to be righteous, who does not see the beam in his own eye, becomes angry when forgiveness is granted to one who confesses his sins and begs for mercy."  While the older son complains to his father that "you never gave me a young goat," the truth is what the father tells him, that "all that I have is yours."

What is intriguing about this story is the resentment and envy hidden within the dynamic of the younger son who was lost and has been found, and the older brother who always remained with the father.  The Gospel will repeatedly turn to themes of resentment and envy when discussing the dynamic of Christ and the religious leadership.  While ostensibly the story is told in defense of the sinners -- even those notoriously so -- who gather to hear Christ now that great crowds follow Him, it is a parable given to the scribes and Pharisees who criticize.  But the Gospels give us the explanation of the betrayal and handing over of Christ to the Romans for crucifixion as envy.  Matthew and Mark tell us that Pilate, one experienced and seasoned in power hierarchies, understood that Christ was handed over to him out of envy (Matthew 27:18, Mark 15:10).   In this sense, there is a double message here to the religious leaders.  Not only is their grumbling about tax collectors and sinners linked to envy and resentment, but so is their rejection of Christ Himself.  What this does is link for us psychologically the problems of envy and resentment with a lack of humility.  As we have seen in the readings from Saturday and Monday,  even before their criticism of the fact that tax collectors and sinners gather to Jesus, He gave them parables about the importance of humility.  It is an essential quality for entrance into this Kingdom, for proper recognition of Christ's ministry.  While these learned men may be the scholars of their time, the religious authorities, experts in Scripture and the Law and the fullness of their tradition, their hearts are hardened to God's work in their midst because of their lack of humility.  They cannot recognize the presence of grace.  It is this that feeds envy and resentment, and this that makes them blind to the goodness of God that can restore life to those who are "lost" and therefore "perishing."  These are terms that convey the strongest of stark realities on spiritual terms which these men full well understand, and are clearly expressed as such in the father's words:  "for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found."  Our very lives depend in the fullest of senses on our communion with God; eventually it is a certitude that those who cannot or do not make their way back to the source of life will simply lose life in a spiritual and eternal sense.  Our being "found" is essential to the very nature of soul and spirit.  That takes us to Christ's words regarding discipleship, which is for all -- both the "perfect" and the notorious sinners, that we each must take up our own cross, the very definition of humility, a willingness to "lose" that takes us away from the selfishness at the root of envy and resentment.  "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels" (9:23-26)  The Pharisees and scribes in some sense "have the whole world," which includes the "best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces," and honorific titles (Matthew 23:6-7).  But it is precisely in our willingness to understand that we need who we truly are, our souls, more than we need to gain the whole world, that humility is learned.  The shame of this ministry that is there for the tax collectors and sinners is the willingness to bear humility that our Lord shows us and teaches us, so that we may gain what is in effect more precious than the whole world.  It doesn't matter where you are in life and who you are in life, this advice -- the discipleship of the Cross -- is particular for each one of us in our own lives and on a daily basis.  Where are you on that learning curve today?









Wednesday, November 14, 2018

I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents


 Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him.  And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, "This Man receives sinners and eats with them."  So He spoke this parable to them, saying:  "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'  I say to you that likewise will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. 

"Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?  And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!'  Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

- Luke 15:1-10

Yesterday we read that at this point in His ministry, great multitudes went with Jesus.  And He turned and said to them, "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.  And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.  For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it -- lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.'  Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?  Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace.  So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.  Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned?  It is neither fit for the land nor for the dunghill, but men throw it out.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"

 Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him.  And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, "This Man receives sinners and eats with them."  My study bible notes that fellowship with sinners defiled pious Jews.    That this event comes so closely to Jesus' dinner at the home of one of the rulers of the Pharisees gives us an illustration of the parable He told there:  of the man who gave a great supper and invited many, but then began to hear excuses (see Monday's reading).  Finally, Jesus taught, he gave orders to his servants:  "Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind."  These possibly repentant sinners are likened spiritually to the poor, maimed, lame, and blind who truly desire the supper -- and spiritual healing -- Christ offers.

So He spoke this parable to them, saying:  "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'  I say to you that likewise will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance."  In response to the criticism of the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus tells three parables -- two of which are given in today's reading.   In the three parables are a man (in this one), a woman (the next verses), and the father (in tomorrow's lectionary reading).  My study bible cites Ambrose of Milan, who sees the three as representing Christ, the Church, and God the Father:  "Christ carries the sinner, the Church seeks and intercedes, and the Father receives."  In the spiritual interpretation traditional among Church Fathers, the hundred sheep are representative of all rational creation.  The one who goes astray symbolizes humankind, while the ninety-nine represent the angelic realm.  The image, however, is clear:  if those who are "perfect" feel they have no need of repentance or Christ's ministry, He will go to those who were lost, the repentant sinners who flock to Him.

"Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?  And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!'  Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."  My study bible explains here that ten silver coins comprise a single necklace worn by a married woman, a bride, which is an image of the Church (Ephesians 5:32).  The lost coin (Greek drachma) had an image of the king upon it.  It symbolizes human beings, who, although bearing the image of God, fell from grace.  Through the Church, my study bible says, Christ enlightens the world, sweeps away sin, and finds His lost creation.  Once again, we notice the emphasis by Jesus on even "one sinner who repents," giving the scribes and Pharisees their answer. 

What a fascinating ministry.  Christ has taught throughout the cities and towns of Galilee, and is so well-known by now that great multitudes follow Him.  In fact, His ministry is drawing to a close, as He has already set His face for Jerusalem.  He has also told His apostles that He will be rejected, and suffer, be killed, and on the third day rise again.  The plan for His "exodus" has already been set.  In the past several readings, Jesus has let it be known in the home of one of the rulers of the Pharisees that He understands He will be rejected, but that Judgment belongs to the One whom they do not recognize.  He has warned them of the importance of humility, which they lack.  Jesus' words in the parable of the Great Supper regarding the seeking out of the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind come to fruition in His ministry, as now "all the tax collectors and the sinners" draw near to Him to hear Him.  What kind of ministry is this, that it is the imperfect and the "less than" who draw near to hear Him?  That such notorious sinners as tax collectors, seen as betraying their own people and using unjust methods of extortion and violence in their ways of making money, should follow Him would seem a kind of embarrassment, a scandal.  But embarrassment and scandal are strangely an intrinsic part of Christ's mission and ministry.  The greatest scandal, of course, will be the Cross itself, and Jesus rejected and given up to the Romans by the religious establishment, the leaders of the people.  But there are other ways to think of scandal and shame, and Jesus names something very particular when He speaks of discipleship.  Strange to contrast Jesus' strict words about discipleship in yesterday's reading (above), and the drawing to Him of sinners and tax collectors.  But discipleship is the spiritual cure for spiritual ailments.  In chapter 9, after speaking about taking up one's own cross, Jesus teaches, "For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels."  The emphasis on humility is clear, and the shame that may be assigned to Him and His ministry named openly.  Those who would seek to gain the whole world are not those whom He expects to remain with Him.  Rather He calls us to the Cross, to our own crosses, to a different life in which humility is key, as there will always be some "shame" to be borne of those who find they must turn away from the worldly things one could sacrifice one's life for in order to find that life He offers.  These sinners and tax collectors who draw near to hear Jesus perhaps understand better than those who've never stumbled what it is to lose something precious, while Jesus offers them His sense that they themselves are precious to Him, to God.  It is a strange paradox indeed, that in losing our lives we save them, and in taking up our own crosses, we imitate Him in His hour of glory (see John 12:23-26).  It is in this place of "shame" that God's love is expressed through Christ, in that salvation is held out to those who were lost, those who may recognize their need for repentance and change, and the supreme gift in the offer of Christ for redemption and above all, God's love and value.  Jesus wisely teaches, "To whom little is forgiven, the same loves little" (see 7:36-50).  But then, if we are already perfect and have no shame, we have so little to forgive.   Let us understand that we are all little children before an exceedingly loving Creator who bears our shame for us -- regardless of what form that may take in human society -- so that we may be always with Him.


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple


 Now great multitudes went with Him.  And He turned and said to them, "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.  And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.  For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it -- lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.'  Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?  Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace.  So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.

"Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned?  It is neither fit for the land nor for the dunghill, but men throw it out.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"

- Luke 14:25-35

On Saturday, we read that Jesus was invited to eat bread at the home of one of the rulers of the Pharisees on the Sabbath.  Yesterday we read that Jesus said to him who invited Him, "When you give a dinner or supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid.  But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.  And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just."  Now when one of those who sat at the table with Him heard these things, he said to Him, "Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!"  Then He said to him, "A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, 'Come, for all things are now ready.'  But they all with one accord began to make excuses.  The first said to him, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them.  I ask you to have me excused.'  Still another said, 'I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.'  So that servant came and reported these things to his master.  Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.'  And the servant said, 'Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.'  Then the master said to the servant, 'Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.  For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.'"

Now great multitudes went with Him.  And He turned and said to them, "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple."  Jesus is at the point in His ministry where He has a great many followers.  But in the midst of this "popularity," Jesus gives them a teaching to set one back on one's heels.  To follow Him takes total dedication, and His teachings must be the top priority, coming before father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters -- and even one's own life.  This is the strength of discipleship that He says is required.  My study bible says that the command to hate one's kindred and his own life also is not to be taken literally.  We are rather to hate the way our relationships with others can hinder our total dedication to the Kingdom of God, which takes precedence even over family ties.

"And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple."  This saying goes directly in line with Jesus' previous statement about discipleship taking priority over all else in life.  To bear one's own cross is to be willing to let all go for the sake of discipleship, if need be.  That is, whatever it is we cling to that needs to change in the light of Christ's communion with us.  My study bible notes that each person must take up his own cross.  The burden in our worldly lives is different for each person, and each person has been chosen by God to bear certain struggles for one's own salvation and the salvation of those around oneself.  My study bible adds that this cross asks of us a continual practice of faith and obedience, even to the point of being shamed and persecuted by the world.

"For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it -- lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.'  Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?  Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace.  So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple."  To enter into the practice of discipleship with Christ is not simple nor easy, if we take it truly seriously.  Jesus speaks of preparation, and cites the reasonableness of planning to undertake a great project.  Are we prepared for this?  Are we prepared to sacrifice or give up certain things that it may take for us to truly follow Him?  My study bible cites 1 Corinthians 3:10-15.  St. Paul gives an illustration of this process, likening it to the construction of "God's building," of which we are each a part.

 "Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned?  It is neither fit for the land nor for the dunghill, but men throw it out.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"  In Matthew's Gospel, this reference to disciples as salt is found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:13).  It is given by Jesus after the Beatitudes, and after His teaching, "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."  We see the consistent emphasis on the taking up of one's cross; that this life of discipleship is worth it, regardless of our worldly experience of sacrifice.  As the "salt of the earth" we are prepared for the long haul, to take on this journey of discipleship, accepting what comes and reaping the rewards of the blessings of the Kingdom as our true treasure.

Here is the full quotation of 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, cited by my study bible in relation to today's passage:  "According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it.  For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.  Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire."  This is a good example of what Christ is speaking about in today's reading, because it also illustrates what it is to take up one's own cross.  Christ is the foundation upon which we build our lives.  And each one of us makes his or her own contribution to this building, just as we are the "living stones" cited by St. Peter, as those who make up a spiritual house:  "Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:4-5).  Note how St. Paul teaches us that each builds as he or she can -- but even the work that is burned becomes a sacrifice as in taking up one's cross; salvation still happens through the work of this fire.  So it is when we struggle in discipleship.  We may have attachments, such as to family, or habits we acquire from our upbringing, that will need revisiting within our communion with Christ.  Did you learn abuse in your family?  What comes under the definition of love that doesn't come up to Christ's standard?  The habits and practices of a modern world -- particularly when it comes to sexuality -- don't always teach us how precious our own sexuality really is, and how much it determines our soul's understanding of love and loyalty.  Modern notions of sexual morality have been made under the label of "freedom," but in effect they don't take into consideration the power of personal integrity and the soul's sovereignty that our ancient ancestors understood a choice for virginity  to really mean within the context of their own societies.  Christ says that we must choose carefully to make a plan for discipleship:  loyalty to Him comes first.  Many of the ancient martyrs of the Church were young women, promised in marriage by their families, but who chose instead their fidelity to Christ over all else.  This is a story repeated throughout Church history in the monastic tradition.  What is important is that we understand that it is every aspect of our lives that comes under the glare of the bright light of Christ.  There will be hidden assumptions we no longer may wish to go along with, things easily accepted as part of a group or crowd or family, or whatever social unit is important to us.  The cross we each take up will be the personal struggle within each one of us, but the discipleship of Christ will bring us firmly into a reality in which we will come to truly know ourselves and the reality of God's love -- which includes things we did not know ourselves capable to do, as well as those things we may assume must be ours to do but which we will have to forego.  Let us plan accordingly, and accept His will over all others.  Christ promises no utopia, but what he offers us is real life.






Monday, November 12, 2018

Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled


 Then He also said to him who invited Him, "When you give a dinner or supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid.  But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.  And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just."

Now when one of those who sat at the table with Him heard these things, he said to Him, "Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!"  Then He said to him, "A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, 'Come, for all things are now ready.'  But they all with one accord began to make excuses.  The first said to him, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them.  I ask you to have me excused.'  Still another said, 'I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.'  So that servant came and reported these things to his master.  Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.'  And the servant said, 'Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.'  Then the master said to the servant, 'Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.  For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.'"

- Luke 14:12-24

On Saturday, we read that as Jesus went into the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees to eat bread on the Sabbath, that they watched Him closely.  And behold, there was a certain man before Him who had dropsy.  And Jesus, answering, spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"  But they kept silent.  And He took him and healed him, and let him go.  Then He answered them, saying, "Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?"  And they could not answer Him regarding these things.  So He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noted how they chose the best places, saying to them:  "When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited him come and say to you, 'Give place to this man,' and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place.  But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, 'Friend, go up higher.'  Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you.  For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Then He also said to him who invited Him, "When you give a dinner or supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid.  But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.  And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just."   My study bible tells us that this instruction is based on the manner in which God treats us, although there is not one of us who could possibly repay God (see 6:30-36, 10:34-35).  It is another incident in which Jesus gives us a sense of exchange that is a matter of belonging to and participation in the Kingdom; what we sow in a earthly sense we reap in exchange in the life of the Kingdom.   Here the promise is fulfilled at the resurrection of the just.  But other readings invite us to consider a sense in which the life of the Kingdom lives with us even as we live our worldly lives, an unpredictable and mysterious intersection or parallel existence of both, as the Kingdom lives in us and among us (17:20-21).

Now when one of those who sat at the table with Him heard these things, he said to Him, "Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!"  My study bible says that this man unwittingly declares the ultimate beatitude.  The truth behind his words comes through the understanding that this bread in the kingdom is the eternal communion with God

Then He said to him, "A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, 'Come, for all things are now ready.'"  There are two levels to this parable.  Christ is the servant who is sent to gather many.  But supper indicates evening, the end of the age.  The people who are invited are first the Jews through Christ's earthly ministry, and then all mankind.  

"But they all with one accord began to make excuses.  The first said to him, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them.  I ask you to have me excused.'  Still another said, 'I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.'  So that servant came and reported these things to his master."  Regarding these three excuses, a traditional patristic interpretation sees them as having both a literal meaning -- that many are too attached to their worldly cares to accept the Kingdom of God (verse 26; 18:29).  My study bible cites St. Ambrose of Milan, who sees the three excuses of I cannot come as representing the Gentile, the Jew, and the heretic.  The Gentile's devotion to earthly wealth (see 12:29-31) is represented by the piece of ground, the Jew's enslavement to the five books of the Law by the five yoke of oxen, and the heretic's devotion to error by the man who refuses on account of his wife.  Theophylact, however, associates the excuses more generally with people who are devoted to earthly matters, to things pertaining to the five sense, and all pleasures of the flesh. 

"Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.'  And the servant said, 'Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.'  Then the master said to the servant, 'Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.  For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.'"   My study bible notes here that those in the streets and lanes indicate (1) the Gentiles who accepted Christ after the faithless Jews rejected Him, and (2) those outside the Church who replace those within who have rejected their own baptism.

The talk here at this supper with lawyers and Pharisees clearly turns to eschatology.  The discussion begins with Jesus pressing home and reviving an already-existing point of contention:  "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"  (see Saturday's reading, quoted above).  Jesus has already given an illustration of the importance of humility before delving into the parable we read in today's lectionary passage from the Gospel.  And in that teaching on humility were clothed hints about those with whom one may be sitting, an unawareness of the rank in glory between invited guests and those with whom one is dining.  The suggestion is even reminiscent of the story of the hospitality of Abraham, who entertained angels unaware, and gained so much from his own humility (Genesis 18:1-15).  By this time in His ministry, Jesus has set His sights on Jerusalem, and has repeatedly warned His disciples about the Passion and death that await Him there.  So today's parable given to these Pharisees and lawyers comes as a kind of warning about judgment, or the time of the resurrection of the just.  These are the spiritually learned men of the time, those who are the experts on Scripture and the Law of Moses.  They full well know what He is talking about; they are schooled in the Scripture and its meanings.  They are the guardians of the faith in this sense.  As happens elsewhere with such men who belong to the ruling bodies of the Jews, there is unwitting prophesy that happens in response, showing us a connection between what they know and the Person of Christ (see also John 11:49-52).  There is a hint that these knowledgeable and learned men should be able to grasp who Christ is; they live and breathe the Scriptures that speak of Him (John 5:39-40).  But Jesus' parable is one of scathing vehemence, a profound response to the rejection of His teaching and ministry.  He seems to imply quite clearly that as those invited first to the wedding feast, they must not over-presume the exclusivity and superiority of their status as God's people.  There is one responsibility that goes with such an exalted people, chosen of God, and that is to respond to their God when He calls.  The failure to do so, Christ suggests, will be met with the certainty that there are millions of other children of God to be found, even "out of the way" in the streets and lanes of the city, and among the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.  Indeed, so many places are available at this wedding feast of the Kingdom that even more simply must be found, and the command goes out to find those in the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that God's house may be filled.  The response to rejection, however, goes even further, as Christ declares, "For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper."  This is about absolute and final loss, and it is a dire warning, as strong as it can get.  Jesus is not mincing words about the importance with which we take our faith.  That is, a faith that is living and alert, not complacent, and not self-satisfied.  It is a faith that calls us to an awareness for the things of God, a living spiritual reality which may be hidden from us, which we will always be tempted to take as material possession or substitute with the cares and concerns of the world.  If even these men, who surely take their positions and their knowledge seriously, may overlook the ministry of Christ and turn in hostility toward it, so the warning is clear to each of us.  Humility is the only way we can truly know our God, and be listening for God's call to us.  Let us consider what that means to us, especially when we pray, and that we are all on a long learning curve in the life of this Kingdom.





Saturday, November 10, 2018

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted


 Now it happened, as He went into the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees to eat bread on the Sabbath, that they watched Him closely.  And behold, there was a certain man before Him who had dropsy.  And Jesus, answering, spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"  But they kept silent.  And He took him and healed him, and let him go.  Then He answered them, saying, "Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?"  And they could not answer Him regarding these things.

So He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noted how they chose the best places, saying to them:  "When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited him come and say to you, 'Give place to this man,' and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place.  But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, 'Friend, go up higher.'  Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you.  For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

- Luke 14:1-11

Yesterday we read that on the same day He was preaching about the "narrow gate" of the kingdom, some Pharisees came, saying to Him, "Get out and depart from here, for Herod wants to kill You."  And He said to them, "Go, tell that fox, 'Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.'  Nevertheless I must journey today, tomorrow, and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem.  O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!  See!  Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!'"

Now it happened, as He went into the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees to eat bread on the Sabbath, that they watched Him closely.  And behold, there was a certain man before Him who had dropsy.  And Jesus, answering, spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"  But they kept silent.  And He took him and healed him, and let him go.  Then He answered them, saying, "Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?"  And they could not answer Him regarding these things.  This is a repeat or continuation of a fight between some Pharisees and Jesus, and His illustration builds on His words in 13:15 (see this reading for that earlier healing on the Sabbath).  The fight is over what is considered to be work, but as Jesus points out, it was considered acceptable to save the life of an animal on the Sabbath, so why not a human being?  As happens so often with Jesus in debate with His opponents, they simply cannot respond.

So He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noted how they chose the best places, saying to them:  "When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited him come and say to you, 'Give place to this man,' and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place.  But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, 'Friend, go up higher.'  Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you.  For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."  My study bible says that in this parable of a wedding feast (and those that will follow in Monday's reading), Jesus directs His teachings first toward guests (in today's reading), and then hosts (in the verses that will follow).  It says that, in imitation of Christ, perfect humility is expected of guests, and boundless charity is demanded of hosts (see James 4:6). 

 Jesus gives a parable about the wisdom of behaving with humility, but we also can't help but think that it's directed to these men who may not be aware of the One who is seated with them.  He has struggled with the Pharisees over this issue of healing on the Sabbath.  So important is it to Jesus, that He has made a deliberate confrontation over it, and repeatedly.  His skills not only as orator but one who debates theological meanings are so sharp that He reduces these learned men to silence, as we read several times in the Gospels, and most notably in the events of Holy Week.  In this parable of the wedding feast that He tells them, after their disagreement over healing the man on the Sabbath, one cannot help but recall that the wedding feast is the time of joy which suggests the wedding of the Bridegroom (Christ) with His Bride, Jerusalem.  Coming so shortly after yesterday's reading, in which Jesus lamented the disloyalty and lack of returned love from Jerusalem, it seems there is another suggested meaning here, found in the image of the wedding feast.  These men consider themselves as the arbiters of the faith.  They are experts in the Law and in the traditions that have been built up around the Law by men such as themselves; they have inherited and zealously guard this tradition.  And who is Christ?  He is a teacher from Galilee, not one of their numbers, not of priestly rank.  He has no education at the foot of a famous rabbi that He can claim for Himself as the authoritative teaching He cites when He speaks.  But at this point He is famous for His healing, for exorcisms, and for preaching.  He has a movement of those who follow Him, a ministry that has gone throughout Galilee.  When Jesus speaks about taking the lowest places at the wedding feast, so that they may be invited up by their host and receive glory from all, it is clearly suggestive of the judgment and the great day of the Wedding Feast that is to come.  He is not simply telling a parable about the benefits of humility to us (which is certainly true), but there is a hint here to these authoritative men that they may not understand who sits with them, and that they must take care that their own "exaltation" does not do them in.  It opens up the question of just who is the host and who is the guest, and who might be the greater man at the table.  In Jesus' role as Son of Man, He is the Lord who attends a banquet entertained by those who are unaware of this identity.  As Lord, He is clearly the "host" of all of us in this world, in which all that we have and our very lives are His gift.  We are stewards of His creation.  Therefore, there is yet another sense in which this parable is for all of us; we are always guests at this banquet to which we are invited, and therefore our proper conduct is one of humility in this sense as well.  We forget in whose presence and at whose invitation we sit at a table of life, at whose invitation we are invited to share in the bounty and goodness of this Kingdom.   The real question opens up for us a sharp look at our modern concepts of social standing.  How do we value humility?   Can we grasp Jesus' teaching for ourselves?   How many ways do we need to undo our own social mores of this time in order to accept His teaching on the value of humility?  At the very least, do we consider the banquet to which we're invited and the wisdom of Christ regarding an attitude of humility?  Popular images today seem to glorify social standing and "popularity" even more than in Christ's time, and so in accepting this value placed on humility by Jesus, we do have our own personal work cut out for us.  Let us consider His timeless words, and the virtue He espouses, and how it may play out for each of us as we grasp what He's getting at in our own lives.