Saturday, November 26, 2022

If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes

 
 Now as he drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, "If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!  But now they are hidden from your eyes.  For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation."

Then He went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it, saying to them, "It is written, 'My house is a house of prayer,' but you have made it a 'den of thieves.'"  And He was teaching daily in the temple.  But the chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people sought to destroy Him, and were unable to do anything; for all the people were very attentive to hear Him.
 
- Luke 19:41-48 
 
 Yesterday we read that Jesus went up toward Jerusalem.  When He drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mountain called Olivet, that He sent two of His disciples, saying, "Go into the village opposite you, where as you enter you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat.  Loose it and bring it here.  And if anyone asks you, 'Why are you loosing it?' thus you shall say to him, 'Because the Lord has need of it.'"  So those who were sent went their way and found it just as He had said to them.  But as they were loosing the colt, the owners of it said to them, "Why are you loosing the colt?"  And they said, "The Lord has need of him."  Then they brought him to Jesus.  And they threw their own clothes on the colt, and they set Jesus on him.  And as they went, many spread their clothes on the road.   Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: "'Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, "Teacher, rebuke Your disciples."  But He answered and said to them, "I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out." 
 
 "Now as he drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, "If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!  But now they are hidden from your eyes."  Jerusalem, as noted in yesterday's reading, means "foundation of peace."   My study Bible comments that only faith in Christ brings true peace, which is a truth hidden from a city which will soon rebel against its Savior.  There is a kind of peace which is shallow, which comes from ignoring issues of truth.  There is a genuine peace, my study Bible explains, which is reconciliation to God through faith in Christ and surrender to truth.  Genuine peace has division as a byproduct because not everyone wants truth.  In the fallen world, it says, divisions are necessary for truth to be manifest (see Luke 12:51, 1 Corinthians 11:18-19).  

"For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation."  This destruction of Jerusalem that Jesus foretells here would come in AD 70.  It is quite true that one stone would not be left upon another in the destruction of the temple.  My study Bible adds that this also describes the spiritual end of every person who lacks faith.

Then He went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it, saying to them, "It is written, 'My house is a house of prayer,' but you have made it a 'den of thieves.'"  And He was teaching daily in the temple.  But the chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people sought to destroy Him, and were unable to do anything; for all the people were very attentive to hear Him.  Jesus quotes from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 in His scathing indictment of these practices in the temple.  Those who bought and sold in it were trading in live animals to be used for sacrifices.  The money changers were trading Roman coins for Jewish coins, as Roman coins bore the image of Caesar (worshiped as a god) and were therefore considered to be defiling in the temple.  My study Bible adds that the cleansing of the temple also points to the necessity that the Church be kept free from earthly pursuits.  Each person is considered to be a temple of God, St. Paul writes (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19), and so it's a sign as well that our hearts and minds must be cleansed of earthly matters.  
 
Let us note again the great divisions in Jerusalem made evident in the text.  It tells us that while the chief priests, scribes, and leaders of the people sought to destroy Jesus, all the people were very attentive to hear Him.  Jesus laments over Jerusalem itself, showing His love for the city and its people and its spiritual heritage.  He says, "If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!  But now they are hidden from your eyes."   The text ties this statement to the destruction of Jerusalem that would come in AD 70, when the temple would be destroyed by Roman soldiers, and tremendous devastation would occur to the city and its people.  What are the things that make for Jerusalem's peace?  Clearly Christ Himself is central to that peace, as my study Bible indicates.  That is, the person of Christ Himself, His teachings, His fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets in Himself (Matthew 5:17-20).  Should He have been welcomed as Messiah, or the religious leaders accepting His teachings regarding the kingdom of God, we might well wonder what would have happened instead of the ultimate destruction of the city in the first century.  As noted in yesterday's reading, Jerusalem remains a city with its divisions and turmoils and even violence.  So we have to ask, where is our peace?  How do we find it?  The world is rife with divisions, and even the citations in my study Bible point us to St. Paul's addressing of the divisions within the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:17-19).  How do we address our own divisions, and our own need for peace?  We first of all must place our faith in Christ, for it is there that peace is to be found.  This is a peace that means a reconciliation with God, and not simply a healing of division for its own sake.  There are also times when truth -- and true peace -- is covered up because it is not what people truly want.  Every sort of selfish ambition seems to get in the way.  The leaders in the temple are zealously guarding their places, and do not want Christ recognized as an authority separately -- and in open opposition -- to themselves.  They do not want to recognize His authority or divinity.  They resent His disciples' heralding His entry into Jerusalem as Messiah.  As for the common people in the temple at this time of the Passover, they delight to hear Him.  But John's Gospel tells us that at an earlier festival, the people are also divided amongst themselves regarding Jesus (John 7:12), which we can presume remains true at this crucial point in the final Passover of Christ's life.  At that same festival, the people ask one another, "But look! He speaks boldly, and they say nothing to Him. Do the rulers know indeed that this is truly the Christ?" (John 7:26).  So the Gospels present to us a picture of the dissension and divisions surrounding Jesus, the people's suspicion of their own rulers, the power held onto so zealously by the leaders in the temple, and the use of state power to come in order to condemn Jesus and put Him to death.  But again, we have to ask ourselves, what are the things that make for our peace?  Can we center ourselves in Christ?  Clearly these divisions all betray selfish and even financial motivations.  Jesus' first action in the temple indicates an important message to us about our divisions and our conflicting motives in life.  Can we submit our desires to Christ?  Can we put His kingdom first and our communion in it with Him?  Is that where and how our peace is found?  Even within the church at Corinth, when St. Paul writes of their divisions, he seems to bring up the divisions that lead strife among them in sharing the supper meant to unite them:  "Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper.  For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk" (1 Corinthians 11:20-21).  Selfish desire leads the way, even at a communal gathering.  The great divisions within Jerusalem are the stuff of the strife of nations, and will become a major turning point in the history of the world, its civilizations, and empires -- while the discussion of the supper at the Corinth church is a division among what is small and intimate.  But each tells us of the importance of our own peace and where we find it and how we find it.  Our lives need to be centered in Christ, and it is for this that He will make His sacrifice out of which we receive the true mystical supper, the spiritual reality of the Eucharist.  For on the Cross, He will make His voluntary plea for our peace, and He will give us the true food and drink of that peace and that life in abundance.  The solution remains the same, even among the divisions and strife, big and small, that mark our world.  Let us remember, for our own part, to go to the place where we find that peace, and in turn offer all things back to Christ -- even our strife and division.







Friday, November 25, 2022

I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out

 
 When He had said this, He went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.  And it came to pass, when He drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mountain called Olivet, that He sent two of His disciples, saying, "Go into the village opposite you, where as you enter you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat.  Loose it and bring it here.  And if anyone asks you, 'Why are you loosing it?' thus you shall say to him, 'Because the Lord has need of it.'"  So those who were sent went their way and found it just as He had said to them.  But as they were loosing the colt, the owners of it said to them, "Why are you loosing the colt?"  And they said, "The Lord has need of him."  Then they brought him to Jesus.  And they threw their own clothes on the colt, and they set Jesus on him.  And as they went, many spread their clothes on the road.  
 
Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying:
"'Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD!'
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"
And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, "Teacher, rebuke Your disciples."  But He answered and said to them, "I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out."
 
- Luke 19:28-40 
 
Yesterday we read that Jesus spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because His disciples thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately.  Therefore He said:  "A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return.  So he called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas, and said to them, 'Do business till I come.'  But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, 'We will not have this man to reign over us.'  And so it was that when he returned, having received the kingdom, he then commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.  Then came the first, saying, 'Master, your mina has earned ten minas.'  And he said to him, 'Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.'  And the second came, saying, 'Master, your mina has earned five minas.'  Likewise he said to him, 'You also be over five cities.'  Then another came, saying, 'Master, here is your mina, which I have kept put away in a handkerchief.  For I feared you, because you are an austere man.  You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.'  And he said to him, 'Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant.  You knew I was an austere man, collecting what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow.  Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that at my coming I might have collected it with interest?'  And he said to those who stood by, 'Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas.'  (But they said to him, 'Master, he has ten minas.')  For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.  But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.'"
 
  When He had said this, He went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.  And it came to pass, when He drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mountain called Olivet, that He sent two of His disciples, saying, "Go into the village opposite you, where as you enter you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat.  Loose it and bring it here.  And if anyone asks you, 'Why are you loosing it?' thus you shall say to him, 'Because the Lord has need of it.'"  So those who were sent went their way and found it just as He had said to them.  But as they were loosing the colt, the owners of it said to them, "Why are you loosing the colt?"  And they said, "The Lord has need of him."  Then they brought him to Jesus.  And they threw their own clothes on the colt, and they set Jesus on him.  And as they went, many spread their clothes on the road.   The event described in today's reading is called the Triumphal Entry, in which Christ enters into Jerusalem.  We celebrate it in the Church as Palm Sunday.  My study Bible explains that by the time of Christ, Jewish nationalism had led to the expectation of a political Messiah to deliver them from Roman control, and reestablish David's kingdom.  So, in that context, we read of Jesus' careful and deliberate preparations for this moment.  They are given with explicit instructions, so that we understand Christ's deliberate choice of a donkey's colt to ride.  His entry into Jerusalem is not to proclaim the political kingdom the people expect, a king with accompanying army.  But, as my study Bible explains, the Kingdom He expects to establish is "not of this world (John 18:36).  A donkey's colt is a sign of humility and peace (Zechariah 9:9).  Christ's entry into the city isn't only a declaration of the establishment of the kingdom of God, but also a promise of His final entrance into the heavenly Jerusalem with all believers, and of His accepting the New Jerusalem as His pure Bride (Revelation 21:2).  Those who spread their clothes on the road do so as paying reverence to a King.  My study Bible explains that this is also spiritually understood as our need to lay down our flesh, even our lives, for Christ.

Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: "'Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD!'  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"  The disciples' praise comes from Psalm 118:26, which was associated with messianic expectation.  It was recited daily for six days during the Feast of Tabernacles, and seven times on the seventh day as branches were waved.  We note how the praise of the disciples echoes and reciprocates the praise of the angels to the shepherds at Christ's birth, as reported by Luke (see Luke 2:8-14).  Heralding Christ's birth, the angels proclaim peace upon the earth, and the disciples at His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, whose name means "foundation of peace," peace in heaven.
 
 And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, "Teacher, rebuke Your disciples."  But He answered and said to them, "I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out."  In the Pharisees' remark to Christ ("Teacher, rebuke Your disciples") we observe the great divisions within Jerusalem.  At this time of the Triumphal Entry, it is not a place of peace at all, but turmoil.  St. Ephrem the Syrian comments that at this time the children cry out but the stones remain silent, while at the time of Christ's Crucifixion the stones will cry out but those with words will be silent (Matthew 27:51).  St. Ambrose says that after Christ's Passion, the living stones, as described by St. Peter, will cry out (see 1 Peter 2:5).

St. Peter, in his First Epistle, writes, "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 2:4-6).  I'm reading an interesting book on the nature of sacrifice, especially as it was understood in the context of the wider ancient world and the Jewish faith, titled Welcoming Gifts: Sacrifice in the Bible and Christian Life, by Fr. Jeremy Davis.  St. Peter was certainly a person who understood sacrifice and its nature within a religious community, and the transformation of sacrifice through Jesus Christ, who offered Himself as the greatest gift we have, forming a community of the Church.  St. Peter speaks of Christ as a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, referring to Jesus' own words about Himself in the chapter that will follow (Luke 20:17), when He will quote these lines from Psalm 118:22 in speaking to the chief priests, scribes, and elders.  Jesus will ask them, "What then is this that is written: 'The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone'?"  It's interesting that He will quote from Psalm 118, the psalm from which the triumphal shout of the disciples comes, heralding the kingdom of God.  But if we are to understand Christ, this chosen stone, as a spiritual sacrifice, we must understand it properly.  Fr. Davis in his book explains the nature of sacrifice as a gift which builds community, to be shared within community shaped by God.  For us, this chosen stone is the once and for all sacrifice, the gift in which we participate through our faith, which lives for us, in us, among us.  This is affirmed in the word Eucharist, coming from the Greek word for giving thanks; it is at once our gift and sacrifice, the cup of participation in the life of Christ.  But in St. Peter's words, we also become living stones, "being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."  One cannot help but tie in, as did St. Ambrose, this notion of the living stones, following and participating in Christ's life, and building up His Church upon His foundation, with Jesus' words in today's reading, foreshadowing the Church to come.  When those who offer praise become in some sense synonymous with the stones who would cry out in their place, then we have quite an analogy.  We have the sense in which we also make gifts of ourselves in building up His Church through our praise, our prayers and blessings, the work of spiritual "profits" He has encouraged His disciples to do in yesterday's reading (see above).  The Triumphal Entry is understood as a parallel sort of type to Christ's ultimate entry into the heavenly Jerusalem with His Bride, the Church, the people of God.  But in the time of its actual occurrence 2,000 years ago, He was on His way to the sacrifice -- the gift of Himself -- that He wished to offer for all and to all, and in all, so that we also may follow as living stones.  Let us consider this crowd of mixed attitudes and understandings in Jerusalem at that time.   Perhaps as may remain the case today, just as it has been throughout its history ever since, Jerusalem remains a city of turmoil and conflict -- open and hidden -- rather than a city of peace.  But, like the faithful disciples, midst the turmoil we are to do our work of peace nonetheless, and He has given us His teachings for doing so.  In every event, at all times, we may continue to make our own spiritual sacrifices as living stones in His name, producing the spiritual fruit He asks of us by participating in His life in all the ways we can, through our prayers and our diligence and mindfulness of His commandments.  We may always participate in His love and build His community as living stones.


 


 
 

Thursday, November 24, 2022

For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him

 
 Now as they heard these things, He spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately.  Therefore He said:  "A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return.  So he called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas, and said to them, 'Do business till I come.'  But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, 'We will not have this man to reign over us.'  And so it was that when he returned, having received the kingdom, he then commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.  Then came the first, saying, 'Master, your mina has earned ten minas.'  And he said to him, 'Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.'  And the second came, saying, 'Master, your mina has earned five minas.'  Likewise he said to him, 'You also be over five cities.'  Then another came, saying, 'Master, here is your mina, which I have kept put away in a handkerchief.  For I feared you, because you are an austere man.  You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.'  And he said to him, 'Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant.  You knew I was an austere man, collecting what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow.  Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that at my coming I might have collected it with interest?'  And he said to those who stood by, 'Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas.'  (But they said to him, 'Master, he has ten minas.')  For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.  But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.'"
 
- Luke 19:11-27 
 
Yesterday we read that Jesus entered and passed through Jericho on His way toward.  Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich.  And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature.  So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.  And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house."  So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully.  But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, 'He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner."  Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord, I give half my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold."  And Jesus said to him, "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."   
 
 Now as they heard these things, He spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately.  Therefore He said:  "A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return.  So he called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas, and said to them, 'Do business till I come.'  But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, 'We will not have this man to reign over us.'  And so it was that when he returned, having received the kingdom, he then commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.  Then came the first, saying, 'Master, your mina has earned ten minas.'  And he said to him, 'Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.'  And the second came, saying, 'Master, your mina has earned five minas.'  Likewise he said to him, 'You also be over five cities.'  Then another came, saying, 'Master, here is your mina, which I have kept put away in a handkerchief.  For I feared you, because you are an austere man.  You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.'  And he said to him, 'Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant.  You knew I was an austere man, collecting what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow.  Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that at my coming I might have collected it with interest?'  And he said to those who stood by, 'Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas.'  (But they said to him, 'Master, he has ten minas.')  For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.  But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.'"  My study Bible comments here that this parable, like the one in Matthew 25:14-30, illustrates the use of gifts given by God.  (In Matthew's version, the currency is "talents" -- in Greek, ταλαντα -- a very valuable ancient currency.)  Minas were also an ancient currency; one of slightly lesser value than a talent, but still considerable within the framework of the parable.  Each designated a particular weight's worth of precious metal, gold, or more frequently, silver.  Each mina, according to some sources, was worth approximately 100 days' wages for a worker.   The money, whether in talents or minas, represents the goodness which God has bestowed on each person, my study Bible says.  It comments that the amount each receives is based on that person's abilities (Romans 12:4-7).   Let us note that in God's reward, considerable authority was given in return for being "faithful in a very little."   But the wicked servant could not evade responsibility for basically ignoring the money entrusted to him.  My study Bible comments that idleness is as much a rejection of God as outright wickedness.  To leave the money in a handkerchief is suggestive of two things.  First of all, the same term translated here as handkerchief was also the term for a shroud, a burial covering for the head.   We understand this term therefore to be associated with bodily refuse, decay, and death; in other words, things which are entirely earthly.  Therefore we could consider the resources with which he was entrusted were used for purely earthly pursuits.  The bank represents the Church, to which he could have turned to help him use his gifts wisely.   Since this was available to him, he therefore has no excuse.  

Let us keep in mind that Jesus is now journeying near Jerusalem, and also that we have just read the story of Zacchaeus, the rich chief tax collector, and prior to that the story of the rich young ruler.  The text tells us also that this parable is told because the disciples thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately.  Let us remember also that the disciples have several times asked about their positions in Christ's kingdom.  If their expectation is of a worldly sort of kingdom, with Christ as a messiah-king, then we understand their curiosity about the positions they may hold in that expected kingdom.  But Jesus has over and over again taught them about humility and service, especially in response to their questions regarding who will be great in this kingdom (see Luke 9:46-48, 17:5-10, 22:24-27).   So putting these teachings together with the recent readings which involved wealth and authority, we can discern first of all a direction in terms of what we do with worldly resources.  That is, for whom and for what do we use those resources?  A dedication to Christ asks us to put things in proper order through the lens of faith, first.  We can observe the difference in Zacchaeus and the rich young ruler.  Compare these also to the recently-given lesson of the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.  Do we know how we stand before God?  Do we know what we really need, and what we really need to do with what is at our disposal?  Moreover, today's parable is distinctly directed toward the disciples, who expect that, as they are about to enter into Jerusalem, Jesus is on the brink of establishing a worldly kingdom.  We know already their curiosity and expectation of important places in this kingdom, and Christ's teachings about humility.  But what of this parable?  It teaches us again about responsibility and about resources.  He's telling them that He expects them to be good servants, good stewards -- to produce spiritual fruits and "profits" from whatever talents and resources they have, from the teachings He's entrusted to them, and the responsibilities these confer.  In some sense, it's a magnified repetition of the teaching regarding service:  "So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do'" (Luke 17:10).  Only this time, He expects more than service, He expects them to be "profitable" -- to multiply the blessings and produce of the kingdom of God to the best of their ability, or with the help and assistance available to them in the Church.  So let us consider, then, what might be the investments God has made in us?  Do you have a talent, a gift for something?  Are you intelligent, or possibly persistent?  Can you endure difficulties?  Do you have patience?  Were you blessed with an ability to make material profits or to produce material goods?  Whatever way in which you have gifts given by God, there is a way to make them profitable for the kingdom of God.  There is a way to see God's blessings on all that one does or has, and to make this the focus on one's life.  Christ leaves the disciples -- and the rest of us who seek to follow Him -- with this magnificent direction in our lives.  We're not to remain idle and await His return in expectation.  We're to seize the day, the here and the now, and remember there is always something to be done in His name.  Whether we give love to someone who needs it, a good word, a donation, our time and effort, our intelligence -- it really makes no difference what the resource or capability is -- we are expected to be working to produce a profit, a gain, to increase even a hundredfold if possible (see Luke 8:8).  We build up the kingdom of God by our participation in it, by shoring up our own faith and that of others, by glorifying God in whatever way is open to us, be that something we think is small or great.  Let us be grateful for the opportunities we're all given to do so.



 
 


Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house

 
 Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.  Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich.  And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature.  So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.  And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house."  So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully.  But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, 'He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner."  Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord, I give half my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold."  And Jesus said to him, "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." 
 
- Luke 19:1-10 
 
Yesterday we read that Jesus took the twelve aside and said to them, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished.  For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon.  They will scourge Him and kill Him.  And the third day He will rise again."  But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken.  Then it happened, as He was coming near Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the road begging.  And hearing a multitude passing by, he asked what it meant.  So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by.  And he cried out, saying, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"  Then those who went before warned him that he should be quiet; but he cried out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"  So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be brought to Him.  And when he had come near, He asked him, saying, "What do you want Me to do for you?"  He said, "Lord, that I may receive my sight."  Then Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has made you well."  And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God.  And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.
 
Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.  My study Bible comments that Jericho was notorious as a place of iniquity; it is commonly associated with sinful living.  The parable of the Good Samaritan is set along the road from Jerusalem toward Jericho, where he fell among thieves (Luke 10:30-37).  
 
Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich.  My study Bible also references our recent reading of the rich young ruler who sought out Jesus (see Monday's Daily Exegesis, in which Christ taught, "The things which are impossible with men are possible with God").  My study Bible comments that this encounter between Christ and Zacchaeus demonstrates that grace can accomplish that which is "impossible with men."

And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature.  So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.  And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house."  So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully.  But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, 'He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner."  My study Bible tells us that there are many spiritual interpretations of this passage that express the universal significance of this encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus.  Theophylact views the crowd as symbolizing sins.  He writes:  "Crowded in by a multitude of passions and worldly affairs, he is not able to see Jesus."  According to St. Ambrose there are several parallels here:  Zacchaeus being short indicates his being short on faith and virtue; that Zacchaeus must climb a tree shows that no one attached to earthly matters can see Jesus; and finally, the Lord intending to pass that way shows that Christ will approach anyone willing to repent and believe.  

Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord, I give half my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold."  It's important that we understand why it was that tax collectors were considered to be sinners.  They collaborated with the Roman authorities to collect taxes from fellow Jews, but frequently this was accompanied by extortion, as they could use the might of the occupying Roman state to collect more than was owed.  As Zacchaeus says here, he has taken by false accusation.  So here a repentant Zacchaeus makes an offering for restitution (as required in the Law), and beyond.  My study Bible notes that he uses the term give for his free and generous offering to the poor, and restore for what he owes those whom he had cheated, as that was not a gift but required by the Law (Exodus 22:1).  By doing both, my study Bible says, Zacchaeus not only fulfills the Law, but also shows his love of the gospel.  
 
And Jesus said to him, "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."  My study Bible says that the title son of Abraham indicates Zacchaeus had become like this patriarch of Israel:  he was counted righteous by his faith, he became generous toward the poor, and he was united to the people of God.  In early records of the Church, we're told that he went on to be a bishop of the Church.

Zacchaeus repents so deeply that he turns his whole life around.  He's not only a tax collector, but the chief tax collector.  And he's not just a chief tax collector in Israel, but he's the chief tax collector in this notorious region of Jericho, where apparently all kinds of crime goes on, and the place is known for such.  To be shunned as a sinner in this region must be something indeed -- and of all the people, it is short Zacchaeus, who's climbed a tree to see Him, whom Jesus chooses to give Him hospitality for the day.  There are several things which we can notice about this reading.  We can contrast Zacchaeus, a notorious sinner (the rich chief tax collector of Jericho!) with the rich young ruler in Monday's reading, who knew Jesus as "good Teacher," who had followed all the commandments since his youth, and who desired eternal life and came to seek it from Christ.  This, by all accounts, was a "good" person (Mark's Gospel tells us that Jesus loved him; see Mark 10:21), but he could not relinquish his great possessions to follow Christ.  But here in today's reading we have Zacchaeus, a great sinner, who comes not just to restitution in the Law but to repentance through the grace of Christ, and changes and transforms his entire life -- giving much more than he needs to in order to "make things right" with the poor.  How do we explain this?  It is certainly an illustration of how grace works.  Nothing is done simply by measure with grace, but rather abundantly.  In the Sermon on the Plain, found here in Luke's Gospel, Jesus expresses this spirit of abundance with grace, when He teaches, "Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you" (Luke 6:38).  Perhaps we may assume that Zacchaeus, experiencing the grace of Christ when Christ invited himself to Zacchaeus' home, has come to understand this sense of abundance in God's grace; thereby giving has become something he understands in a different light than as chief tax collector in Jericho.  This spirit of abundance, in which justice is no longer measured with exactitude but in the spirit of grace, runs all throughout the Gospels, and it qualifies and characterizes the kingdom of God, the blessed life Christ preaches (such as in the Beatitudes).  Perhaps its greatest characterization is found in Christ's statement of Himself as the Good Shepherd, "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly" (John 10:10; see in context).  We might consider Zacchaeus' life as chief tax collector in this light, getting what he had through the coercion of a great empire and its material power (including occupying soldiers), and extorting the extra he could get through false accusations against his neighbors.  We should compare that to the graciousness of Christ, who openly sought out Zacchaeus, the one who was so eager to see Jesus he climbed a tree to glimpse Him as He passed by, and in front of all the people proclaimed that he had to come down so that Jesus could stay at his home that day.  In our faith tradition, the great sign of Christ is the cross, but in this context of today's reading, we might closely consider why this is so.  The most dreaded Roman instrument of punishment, of coercion, reserved for the worst of criminals, was the cross.  But simply because Christ lay on that Cross, the transforming power of grace at work rendered the Cross the symbol of hope and resurrection for us all.  The instrument of death was transfigured into the instrument of life, abundantly.  Jesus' visit to Zacchaeus' home is another encounter with grace, with the kingdom of God, and Zacchaeus' entire outlook on life seems to have been irreducibly changed, transformed.  Things no longer "add up" the way they used to, apparently, for him.  He becomes one who sees by the light of grace, and so to give half his goods to the poor, and to restore fourfold what he stole, is what he chooses in this new light of Christ, in the transfiguring power of Christ's illumination for his soul, his future.  In this way, Zacchaeus is able to be restored to his identity as a son of Abraham, and he who was lost is claimed for the kingdom of God.  It is a powerful thing to consider what an encounter with grace might do to our souls, to change our whole outlook on the meaning of life and how we live it.  But by far the best example is this outcome of experience, the spiritual fruit we observe in Zacchaeus.  How has your faith changed you?   Are there things you now see that you did not see before?  Is there a way in which the grace and love of God has been experienced by you or someone you know, and created a transformed person in its wake?  For now let us consider Zacchaeus, the short man, and chief tax collector, who humbles himself by running ahead and climbing a tree to see Christ, and is in turn restored not only to his place but claimed for the kingdom of God, and becomes a bishop in Christ's church.  May Christ find rest in our homes and our hearts as well.




 
 
 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Receive your sight; your faith has made you well

 
 Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished.  For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon.  They will scourge Him and kill Him.  And the third day He will rise again."  But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken.

Then it happened, as He was coming near Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the road begging.  And hearing a multitude passing by, he asked what it meant.  So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by.  And he cried out, saying, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"  Then those who went before warned him that he should be quiet; but he cried out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"  So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be brought to Him.  And when he had come near, He asked him, saying, "What do you want Me to do for you?"  He said, "Lord, that I may receive my sight."  Then Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has made you well."  And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God.  And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.
 
- Luke 18:31–43 
 
Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them.  But Jesus called them to Him and said, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.  Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it."  

Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"  So Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good?  No one is good but One, that is, God.  You know the commandments:  'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not bear false witness,' 'Honor your father and your mother.'"  And he said, "All these things I have kept from my youth."  So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, "You still lack one thing.  Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."  But when he heard this, he become very sorrowful, for he was very rich.  And when Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!  For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."  And those who heard it said, "Who then can be saved?"  But He said, "The things which are impossible with men are possible with God."  Then Peter said, "See, we have left all and followed You."  So He said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life."
 
 Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished.  For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon.  They will scourge Him and kill Him.  And the third day He will rise again."  But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken.  My study Bible says that the saying was hidden not by God, but because the disciples could not comprehend its meaning until the events of the Passion had taken place.  We might pause to consider the unthinkable quality of the events that are to come, from the perspective of Christ's disciples.
 
 Then it happened, as He was coming near Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the road begging.  And hearing a multitude passing by, he asked what it meant.  So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by.  And he cried out, saying, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"  Then those who went before warned him that he should be quiet; but he cried out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"  So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be brought to Him.  And when he had come near, He asked him, saying, "What do you want Me to do for you?"  He said, "Lord, that I may receive my sight."  Then Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has made you well."  And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God.  And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.  As Jesus comes to pass through Jericho, He is on the road to Jerusalem in earnest.  This blind man greets Jesus as Son of David, a title which my study Bible says was deeply associated with the Messiah.  It notes that although Jesus knows what we want before we ask, He calls us to ask freely so that we might learn of His mercy.  Note the repeated pleas, or prayers, of the blind man, indicating our own persistence in prayer.  My study Bible says that in patristic literature there is also a spiritual interpretation to the similar miracle reported in Matthew's Gospel (Matthew 20:29-34), only differing in that two blind men are reported in Matthew.  It says that in this interpretation, the blind men symbolize future generations would will come to faith only by hearing, and without the benefit of seeing Christ in person (see John 20:29).  Those who call for silence are persecutors and tyrants who, in every generation, try to silence the Church.  Nonetheless, under persecution, the Church all the more confesses Jesus Christ.

The spiritual interpretation given to this miracle is interesting, because today we might find that there are ways in which faith seems to be suppressed; or rather, we find fairly vocal calls for curbing the influence of faith in public life.  While the relative freedom in the West remains despite the politicizing calls for less influence, we can look to other areas of the world where Christian faith is quite violently suppressed and under threat, even by forcible conversion, and so give thought to this spiritual interpretation reported by my study Bible.  What does it mean for us?  How do we feel this sense of those who call for the faithful to "be quiet" about their faith?  During the previous century, under communist systems, religion also underwent a systematic kind of silence.  In Russia, and other countries of Eastern Europe, many priests were killed or persecuted at different times, put into prisons and what were called gulags, and often under great hardship and even systematic torture in some cases.  A famous Russian writer (and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970), Alexander Solzhenitsyn, wrote novels set within this prison system.  He is famous for an essay titled, "Live Not By Lies."   In it, he argues that violence always dissipates itself.  He writes, "To prop itself up, to appear decent, it will without fail call forth its ally—Lies."  He explains, "For violence has nothing to cover itself with but lies, and lies can only persist through violence. And it is not every day and not on every shoulder that violence brings down its heavy hand: It demands of us only a submission to lies, a daily participation in deceit—and this suffices as our fealty."  What he advocates is that, in circumstances where we feel we can do no more, we can at least not participate in lies.  We can agree not to advocate things we can't agree with; in this way one begins to break out of the social prison that locks people within ideas that are truly lies and suppress truth.  In our faith in Christ, we put our trust in the One whom we call Truth, who has said of Himself, "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6).  Christ came into this world as Savior and Liberator, and part of that liberating, freeing action is to free us from oppression of various kinds, especially that which is spiritual and which oppresses the mind and heart, but which often accompanies, as Solzhenitsyn indicates in his essay for his own time and place, violence and coercion of every kind.  So, in the service of Jesus, the Son of David, who is our Savior and Liberator, we also must always consider these words of this essay, and find and live our truth.  There may be things which we are unable to express in certain settings.  There may be ways in which we are somehow shouted and oppressed into silence.  But we can choose that we will not support lies, we won't participate in them, and we will retain the freedom we're given by God because we remain free in our hearts, our prayers, our mind, our soul.  When we live by His teachings, in whatever way we can, we are participating in Christ's truth.  We are declaring it for ourselves and for those around us, and this is most important, for we must understand Christ's teaching that the kingdom of God is within us and among us.  When He sent out the disciples on their first mission, and repeatedly at other times, Christ declares to the people, "The kingdom of God has come near to you" (Luke 10:9).  Over and over again in Luke's Gospel, Jesus preaches the kingdom of God, and how we may participate in that Kingdom.  There are over thirty times this phrase is used in Luke's reporting of Jesus' ministry.  He clearly did not come preaching a political kingdom, one that works only by violence and rebellion, but one that lives and dwells within us and among us, through our faith and participation in it, through living His commandments, and keeping ourselves alert to the life He teaches and offers, growing in that faith and strengthening it among ourselves and for ourselves.  Whatever our circumstances, this is what we are called to do, to endure in our faith.  For the earliest Christian martyrs, it was a question of not participating in the sacrifices to false gods.  For us today, let us not participate in whatever our modern sacrifices might be that we are called to participate in to false gods.   Christ said that we must make a choice and cannot serve two masters, we cannot serve both God and mammon.  In the world of vast material resources, of great coercive power -- be it violent or simply persuasive through lies and half-truths (which are also lies), political slogans, or just the power of the mob in new forms, let us consider how we may not participate in lies, but rejoice in the truth, and enduring in His truth, as He has asked of us.  We must be persistent in our prayers, like the blind man, and not let the coercive power of the crowd silence our faith, or the voice in the heart that stirs and becomes a flame through the love of Christ.  If we rely on God, God will provide ways for us to live that faith and to express it one way or another, even in a simple gesture of care or love that others don't consider (Matthew 25:40).  Sometimes the simplest action may be a bold way to participate in and declare our faith, even in the midst of coercive lies.  We must live our faith.  Let us pray that we, too, may receive our sight to do so, that He illuminates the way for us.
 
 
 
 

Monday, November 21, 2022

The things which are impossible with men are possible with God

 
 Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them.  But Jesus called them to Him and said, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.  Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it."  

Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"  So Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good?  No one is good but One, that is, God.  You know the commandments:  'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not bear false witness,' 'Honor your father and your mother.'"  And he said, "All these things I have kept from my youth."  So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, "You still lack one thing.  Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."  But when he heard this, he become very sorrowful, for he was very rich.

And when Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!  For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."  And those who heard it said, "Who then can be saved?"  But He said, "The things which are impossible with men are possible with God."  Then Peter said, "See, we have left all and followed You."  So He said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life."
 
- Luke 18:15-30 
 
On Saturday, we read that Jesus spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:  "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men -- extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.'  And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
 
Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them.  But Jesus called them to Him and said, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.  Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it."  My study Bible comments that infants are the standard of faith by which adults receive the kingdom of God, and not the other way around.  It quotes Theophylact, who writes, "A little child is not arrogant, he does not despise anyone, he is innocent and guileless.  He does not inflate himself in the presence of important people, nor withdraw from those in sorrows.  Instead, he lives in complete simplicity."  

Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"  So Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good?  No one is good but One, that is, God.  You know the commandments:  'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not bear false witness,' 'Honor your father and your mother.'"   My study Bible reminds us that this man does not come to test Jesus, but rather to seek advice from one he thinks of as a good Teacher.  In Jesus' response, my study Bible says, we see not a denial that He is God, but rather a design to lead the rich man to this knowledge. 
 
 And he said, "All these things I have kept from my youth."  So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, "You still lack one thing.  Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."  But when he heard this, he become very sorrowful, for he was very rich.  My study Bible notes that formal observance of commandments does not make one righteous before God.  It says that this man had an earnest desire for eternal life, but sensed that he still lacked something, despite his adherence to the commandments.  But to be perfect, my study Bible comments, one must willingly sacrifice all and follow Christ.  Nothing is gained, it says, unless this sacrifice is given freely.  But the specifics of how a person follows Christ will be different for each one, just as one's particular cross to bear will be unique.  But as wealth had such a grip on this rich man and his identity, his only hope was to sell and give away his possessions.  My study Bible cites St. John Chrysostom, who comments that giving away possessions is actually the least of Christ's instructions here.  To follow Christ in all things is a much greater and more difficult calling.  

And when Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!  For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."  And those who heard it said, "Who then can be saved?"  But He said, "The things which are impossible with men are possible with God."  Then Peter said, "See, we have left all and followed You."  So He said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life."  My study Bible tells us that there have been various interpretations suggested for this impossible image of a camel going through the eye of a needle.  For example, some suggest that the word is not really "camel," but one that sounds alike in Aramaic, which means "rope."  Others suggest that the "eye of a needle" was the name of a city gate, through which a camel might barely squeeze if it were first unloaded of all its baggage (a symbol of wealth).  There is even an expression in the Talmud which is similar, "for an elephant to go through the eye of a needle."  But whatever this phrase is reference to, it shows us the impossibility of salvation for those who are attached to riches, to possessions.   This is evidenced clearly, my study Bible comments, by the response of the disciples, "Who then can be saved?"  But with God's grace, even what is impossible with human beings can come to be.

 What does it mean that "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God"?  There are many people who will say to themselves that simply by virtue of great wealth, we know a person has committed some kind of sin or another, possibly stealing from others or cheating.   But I don't think this is what Christ means at all by His statement, for this passage is not on the topic of morality.  Possibly this is why it is already included in the details of the story that this rich young ruler (possibly of a synagogue or even a member of a party in the temple) is quite sincere, and has followed the commandments all of his life.  So Jesus' statement really has nothing to do with how we might judge this person simply by virtue of his wealth.  Moreover, we can see how the disciples -- none of whom are rich men -- respond to this statement by asking, "Who then can be saved?"  Why would they ask such a question if they believed that having possessions or wealth was a far away concept?  So, it's not a good idea to substitute modern economics and wealth concepts of the 21st century for what we're reading here.  The issue is possessions and our attachment to them, wealth and our attachment to wealth.  So much depends upon what comes first in our lives and in our hearts.  Do we do with our wealth what Christ would ask of us?  Moreover, is our identity really tied up with the things we have, or do we rely on Christ to teach us who we are and in this sense "separate" us from wealth?  Does our wealth become a  stumbling block to faith, keeping us from the deeper relationship to Christ we might be called toward?  The truly important thing here is Christ's command to "follow Me."  Let us note also how wealth is often tied to family in the Gospels.  Here, Peter seems to have a startling realization:  "See, we have left all and followed You." And Jesus ties family relations and wealth or possessions together in His response as well:  "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life."   The disciples have left behind all these things in order to obey His command to "follow Me."  These disciples are examples of the greatest devotion, but we should note how our possessions and our identity are so often tied together:  family, home, place of birth, heritage, the work we do in life -- all of these things can be what we receive as identity, and yet we may be called to separate ourselves from some aspect in following and devoting our hearts to Christ.  Indeed, Peter's family home would become Christ's first headquarters in Galilee.  We have Christ's teaching to the fishermen (their work)  that they would become fishers of men (Matthew 4:19). Here, as my study Bible explains, for this rich young ruler, possessions had gained the upper hand.  They were the thing he could not sacrifice to follow Christ.  For each of us, there are crossroads in life where we must make a choice for identity.  We find ourselves either in the identity that Christ offers to us, and so can separate ourselves from some aspect of life we once relied upon to tell us who we are -- or we decide we must cling to what we know.  I would say this is a pattern of what is meant when it is said that we each carry our own cross.  Either way, we make choices to follow Him, or the sacrifice seems too great.  Jesus nears Jerusalem, where He will make the ultimate sacrifice for all, but in so doing His true identity will be revealed as Son and Savior.  Let us consider how we follow Him, and His teaching that "the things which are impossible with men are possible with God."
 
 
 

Saturday, November 19, 2022

I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted

 
 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:  "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men -- extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.'  And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
 
- Luke 18:9–14 
 
Yesterday we read that Jesus He a parable to His disciples (following a discussion of the time of His Second Coming), that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying:  "There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man.  Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, 'Get justice for me from my adversary.'  And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, 'Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.'"  Then the Lord said, "Hear what the unjust judge said.  And shall God not avenge His wn elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?  I tell you that He will avenge them speedily.  Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?"
 
Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:  "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector."  My study Bible explains that the Pharisee is a highly respected and careful observer of the details of the Law, while the tax collector is despised as a sinner who collaborates with the occupying Roman forces, betraying and cheating his own people.

"The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men -- extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.'"  The practices that the Pharisee names are all worthy examples to follow, my study Bible notes.  His good deeds, such as fasting and giving tithes, are the primary weapons against the passions of lust and greed (adultery and extortion).  But without a humble and repentant heart, such practices remain worthless, and they lead to pride and judgment of others.  We note that the text tells us he prays with himself.  My study Bible comments that God is absent where there is boasting.  

"And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'"  The tax collector shows by his posture an awareness of the state of his soul, my study Bible says, as he stands far from the altar of sacrifice and with his eyes cast downward.  His prayer (God, be merciful to me a sinner) is the foundation of the Jesus Prayer (about which we wrote in connection with yesterday's reading, and Christ's teaching to pray always and not lose heart -- see yesterday's reading, above), as well as the refrain "Lord have mercy" that permeates worship and personal prayer.  See also St. Paul's teaching (another inspiration for the Jesus Prayer practice) on continual prayer at 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.

"I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."  To be justified is to be forgiven and set right with God.  My study Bible comments that this is because inward humility is blessed while pride in outward deeds is condemned.  

My study Bible emphasizes the difference between the inner life and the outer life, and twice comments that God in some sense does not approve of an emphasis on the latter.  It notes first on the text that "God is absent where there is boasting," and secondly that "inward humility is blessed while pride in outward deeds is condemned."  How can we reconcile our faith with this emphasis on the inner life, and a seeming disparaging of the outward?  What seems to be difficult to reconcile may find its answer in Christ's teachings we've encountered recently.  First of all, in Thursday's reading, the Pharisees questioned Jesus as to when the kingdom of God would come.  Jesus replied to them,  "The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, 'See here!' or 'See there!'  For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you." This emphasis on the inner life seems to be because that is where we participate in the kingdom of God.  That is where we meet God, and where our prayers are said and met.  It is the place where everything that we are may meet God in encounter, or so it seems that Christ is indicating here.  The other place where we might find an answer to this seeming contradiction of the inner and the outer life is in Jesus' command regarding our own anxieties and worries about the outward, material things we need:  "But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you" (Luke 12:31; see in context).  In the parable that Jesus teaches us in today's reading, the praise for the tax collector is not so much in his honesty as it seems to be in his awareness of himself -- and especially in the place where he is aware that he is meeting God, and that all that he is inside is meeting God.  There is no appearance that can fool God or deceive God by outward display.  We might say that, in contrast to the Pharisee who "prayed with himself," the tax collector is truly praying with God.  He is meeting God in the Kingdom where he knows he's coming up short, and asks for God's mercy.  Let's also understand that to ask for God's mercy is to acknowledge it in the first place.  I would wonder how we would ask for mercy if we were not at least a little secure in knowing that we were praying to One who is merciful in the first place.  It takes trust to do that; and trust in God is, essentially, faith in God.  It is possibly the Pharisee who is, in fact, more afraid of the judgment of God -- since he first of all seemingly avoids God by praying "with himself" only, and relies upon all the outward images to impress God, without truly revealing himself and seeking where God might lead him forward into new things he has not yet addressed in his life, a way to deepen his faith and love of God.  These things are seemingly complex, because the inward life is a complex place, but our encounter with God is one that teaches us love and growing depth of the heart, a place where knowing means this reconciliation to God.  There are all kinds of places in Scripture where we're taught that God doesn't look at the outside, doesn't see the way that we see, such as when Samuel the prophet was summoned to anoint a king of Israel.  Before him was a splendid looking son of Jesse of Bethlehem, to whom he was sent by God.  But Samuel was told, "Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7).  In the book of the prophet Isaiah, we read, "'My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,' says the Lord" (Isaiah 55:8).  We must consider these examples, and think hard about the tax collector and the Pharisee.  For the Pharisee would be seen in public as a great example of piety, while the tax collector would appear a notorious sinner to those to whom Jesus was preaching.  Let us once again consider the state of our own hearts, how open we are to God and God's mercy, and where we encounter the place of the Kingdom and our prayers to the Lord, "for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."  It is the Lord who sees and measures, and whose judgment we need to seek.