Saturday, September 22, 2018

I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness


 Then Jesus cried out and said, "He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me.  And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me.   I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.  And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.  He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him -- the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.  For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.  And I know that His command is everlasting life."

- John 12:44-50

Yesterday we read that Jesus taught:  "While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light."  These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them.  But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke:  "Lord, who has believed our report?  And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?"  Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again:  "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them."  These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.  Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.

 Then Jesus cried out and said, "He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me.  And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me.   I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness."   Again, John's Gospel repeatedly goes to themes of light and darkness, echoing from its Prologue:  "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it"  (1:4,5).  This light is the light of the Father; Christ is "Light of Light, true God of true God" (Nicene Creed). 

"And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.  He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him -- the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day."  My study bible says here that Christ does not judge with favoritism or partiality.  Rather, it notes, He has spoken the words of life, words of love  forgiveness, repentance, virtue, and mercy.  Christ's words will be the standard by which all people are judged on the last day

"For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.  And I know that His command is everlasting life."   If the Father's command is everlasting life, then to reject the words given as command is to reject that everlasting life. 

Christ says that He does not judge.  These words are important; there are so many different ideas about just what Judgment means.  But what He tells us is illuminating in terms of how this judgment works.  It is the words given by God which are themselves everlasting life.  Therefore, if one rejects those words, those commands, then one rejects that life that is offered.  From the earliest chapters of John's Gospel, this rejection leading to judgment has been implied.  In chapter 3, Jesus tells Nicodemus:  "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.  He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.  And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.  But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God" (3:17-21).  What is the name of the only begotten Son of God?  Why does Christ use this terminology?  The name is an extension of the person -- He is again speaking of something akin to the commands given as the words of the Father He is told to speak.   These words are like rays of light, coming from the true source of light.  To reject that light is to live in darkness.  If the rays of light are rejected, then the source of the light is also rejected.  Through the Holy Spirit, we also receive God's words at work in the world.  God's energies have often been likened to the rays of light from the sun.  We do not experience God in God's full presence, just as we cannot dwell on the sun.  But we can receive its light and live in that light, knowing that this light is the support for all life in our world and that without it there will be no life.  So it is with the "name" of God, the things which we are capable of receiving, in which we truly are offered a gift and so we make a choice for ourselves.  In these words are the light of life; Christ says they are everlasting life.  So let us understand what it means to reject His words, to turn our backs on them, and what we reject when we do so.  It is important to know those words come from love, and are spoken through love.  The real question is why one would reject that love.




Friday, September 21, 2018

Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?


 "While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light."  These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them.

But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke:
"Lord, who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?"
Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again:
"He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts,
Lest they should see with their eyes,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them."
These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.

Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.

- John 12:36-43

In yesterday's reading, Jesus said, "Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say?  'Father, save Me from this hour'?  But for this purpose I came to this hour.  Father, glorify Your name."  Then a voice came from heaven, saying, "I have both glorified it and will glorify it again."  Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered.  Others said, "An angel has spoken to Him."  Jesus answered and said, "This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake.  Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.  And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself."  This He said, signifying by what death He would die.  The people answered Him, "We have heard from the law that the Christ remains forever; and how can You say, 'The Son of Man must be lifted up'?  Who is this Son of Man?"  Then Jesus said to them, "A little while longer the light is with you.  Walk while you have the light, lest the darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going.  While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light."  These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them.

 "While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light."  These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them.  Jesus gives us an opportunity, to behold His light, to believe in the light, and to become sons of light.  Here this is said directly to those who know Him and encounter Him in His Incarnation, as human being.  They have Him but a little while.  They have the opportunity to engage and believe and grow in the light while He is with them, and it will be for only a short time longer.

But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke:  "Lord, who has believed our report?  And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?"  John gives us the first verse of Isaiah chapter 53, one in which Isaiah speaks his prophesy of the Suffering Servant.  It is worthwhile to read the entire beautiful chapter, as we can see that it is clearly the prophesy of Jesus Christ.  The Gospel emphasizes that although Jesus clearly fulfills this prophesy, as Isaiah asks the question, so does the life of Christ at this point:  "Lord, who has believed our report?  And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?"

Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again:  "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them."  These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.  My study bible cites St. John Chrysostom, who comments that Isaiah's prophecy (Isaiah 6:10) does not mean that God causes spiritual blindness in people who would otherwise have been faithful.  It notes that this is a figure of speech common to Scripture which reveals God as giving people up to their own devices (as in Romans 1:24-26).  By the phrase "He has blinded their eyes" Isaiah means that God has permitted their self-chosen blindness (compare Exodus 8:15, 32 with Exodus 10:20, 27).  They didn't become blind because God spoke through Isaiah; rather Isaiah spoke because he foresaw their blindness.  To behold and to comprehend Christ's light is to be healed; to fail to perceive is to fail to be healed.  Isaiah saw His [Christ's] glory in about 700 BC (Isaiah 6:1) and spoke of Him in many places through the entirety of his full prophecy. 

 Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.  St. Chrysostom comments that these rulers are in reality the worst of slaves, because they are enslaved by the opinions of men.  This keeps them from leading as God would have them lead.

How sad to find faith but to be afraid to express it, as one prefers the "praise of men more than the praise of God."  What would this mean for us today?  There are many who find faith in times of darkness and uncertainty.  Alone with our troubles, we may find ourselves turning to God.  But what happens when we are around people who would chastise our faith or ridicule it?  The Gospel is not asking us to sacrifice our lives by speaking out among those who do not care and would not profit from our faith, but it is asking us to make a choice.  It goes much farther than that, and suggests to us that the whole of our well-being depends upon this choice.  Isaiah's prophecy teaches us about the healing that is possible with God.  In my experience, faith brings us to a place where we can recognize what healing we need.  These men are unlikely to recognize their own lack of faith and the true need of the soul.  All of us have needs of the soul that are sadly neglected by simply the social life we are usually offered.  These needs are found deep within us, and particularly in prayer or meditation.  They require not only that we be able to be very honest with ourselves to sense what may be lacking, but also that we detach enough from social concerns so that we can even listen to the place within that needs more than just a satisfying social position, and more than material needs.  Psychologically we may find that we need help with healing any part of our lives in which we may suffer from imperfect love.  But to recognize this need is again something that takes honesty, courage, and the time to accept that there is something greater that calls us to acknowledge such need.  There is the place we come to healing through faith in this Gospel of love as told by John.  St. Chrysostom speaks of slavery -- the worst kind of slavery -- as that through which we give up our faith in succumbing to the opinions of others.  Why should we exchange our full well-being for standing in the eyes of the world, for false opinions, for those who don't love us as does God?  Let us consider today what we are willing to exchange for the depth of healing and help Christ offers us in a highly imperfect world.








Thursday, September 20, 2018

Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself


 "Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say?  'Father, save Me from this hour'?  But for this purpose I came to this hour.  Father, glorify Your name."  Then a voice came from heaven, saying, "I have both glorified it and will glorify it again."  Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered.  Others said, "An angel has spoken to Him."  Jesus answered and said, "This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake.  Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.  And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself."  This He said, signifying by what death He would die.  The people answered Him, "We have heard from the law that the Christ remains forever; and how can You say, 'The Son of Man must be lifted up'?  Who is this Son of Man?"  Then Jesus said to them, "A little while longer the light is with you.  Walk while you have the light, lest the darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going.  While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light."  These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them.

- John 12:27-36a

Yesterday we read that there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the Passover feast.  Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus."  Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus.  But Jesus answered them, saying, "The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.  Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.  He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also.  If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor."

"Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say?  'Father, save Me from this hour'?  But for this purpose I came to this hour.  Father, glorify Your name."  Then a voice came from heaven, saying, "I have both glorified it and will glorify it again."  Jesus' words illustrate both His human and the divine natures.  As a human being, Jesus says that His soul is troubled, as He knows what is coming.  But according to His divine nature, His will is subservient to the purposes of the Father.  The Father's name, my study bible says, is an extension of His Person.  The Son's death completes the purpose of the Father and shows His love for all, thereby glorifying Him.  Christ accepts for the Father to lead Him to the Cross.  God the Father's response refers to the signs already performed by Christ and to the death and Resurrection to come.

Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered.  Others said, "An angel has spoken to Him."  Jesus answered and said, "This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake."  My study bible comments here that although the Father spoke clearly, some people heard indistinct sounds like thunder because they lacked faith.  Those with a little faith heard the words but did not know the source, thinking that it was an angel.  The disciples knew that the Father Himself had spoken, as Jesus addresses them by saying the voice came "for your sake."

"Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.  And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself."  This He said, signifying by what death He would die.   Lifted up is Christ's reference to the Cross (see also 3:14-15; 8:28).  He says that His death will not only bring salvation to all peoples, but unmistakably that it will render judgment on this world -- destroying the power of the ruler of this world, Satan.

The people answered Him, "We have heard from the law that the Christ remains forever; and how can You say, 'The Son of Man must be lifted up'?  Who is this Son of Man?"  Then Jesus said to them, "A little while longer the light is with you.  Walk while you have the light, lest the darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going.  While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light."  These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them.  The light refers to Christ, and this reflects a repeated theme in John's Gospel (1:4-9; 8:12).  My study bible says that Christ's teaching here has several facets of meaning.  First, that He will be shortly completing His public ministry.  Moreover, our lives are very limited; we have a short time to repent and believe in Christ before death.  Finally, the second coming of Christ is only a little while when compared to eternity. 

As we come closer to the Crucifixion, the time of choice becomes more stark, more clear.  Jesus now brings up Judgment:  "the judgment of this world," as He puts it.   As Jesus is lifted up on the Cross, the Crucifixion somehow asks us to make a decision.  Moreover the judgment is against "the ruler of this world," the one who would truly desire to bring about the death of Christ and in so doing feel that somehow His message of spiritual liberation would be lost.  The Cross becomes not only the symbol of salvation, but the means whereby we are set free from the this "strong man" who would keep us captive (Matthew 12:29-30).  In yesterday's reading, Jesus taught, "He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also.  If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor."  It's a question of what we put first, and what we are willing to choose when faced with the dilemma of following Him or allowing something to which we cling to stop us from going where He asks us to go.  Jesus, as any human being, loves His life in this world.  But as Son, He goes where He must go and does what He must do to lead the way.  In this sense He is "lifted up" for us, in order to gather all to Him, and to cast out in judgment the ruler of this world.  How is this important for you today?  Are there things you need to "cast out" in order to better follow Christ?  Is there something you need to face?  These choices, as also exemplified in the Cross, are not simple and easy.  We come up against hard choices, relationships we cherish, personal habits we take pleasure or pride in, customs we're told are essential, and we need to be willing to find His way, a different way, a future that we don't yet know as we follow Him further along down that road.  Often that future is on the other side of the Cross.  What does this mean for you?  How will you be set free from the strong man of this world for a better Leader?




Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain


 Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast.  Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus."  Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus.  But Jesus answered them, saying, "The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.  Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.  He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also.  If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor."

- John 12:20-26

Yesterday we read that a great many of the Jews knew that Jesus was at the home of Lazarus in Bethany; and they came, not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead.  But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.  The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out:  "Hosanna!  'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!'  The King of Israel!"  Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written:  "Fear not, daughter of Zion; Behold, your King is coming, Sitting on a donkey's colt." His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.  Therefore the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness.  For this reason the people also met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign.    The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, "You see that you are accomplishing nothing.  Look, the world has gone after Him!"

Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast.  Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus."  Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus.   But Jesus answered them, saying, "The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified."  These Greeks are Gentiles from abroad, Greek-speakers (for Greek was the "international language" of this time), who believe in the God of Abraham.  They have come to participate in the Passover feast.  My study bible says that as they are still called Greeks it shows that they were not yet full proselytes, or converts.  Jesus had taught His disciples not to go to the Gentiles (Matthew 10:5; 15:24), and so Philip and Andrew approach Him before bringing them to Him.  When Jesus speaks of the hour in which He should be glorified, He's speaking of His death on the Cross.   My study bible says that this obscure response indicates two things:  First, that the answer these Greeks are seeking will not be found in words, but rather on the Cross; and secondly, that the Cross will be the event that opens all manner of grace to the Gentiles.

"Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.  He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also.  If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor."  My study bible tells us that the image of a grain of wheat dying in order to bear fruit signifies that Christ's death will give life to the world.  In the Armenian Apostolic Church, this passage is read at every memorial service for the departed.  In many Orthodox churches, whole grains of wheat are sweetened and spiced and given out at memorial services, to affirm God's promise that those who died in Christ will rise again to life.

Somehow the Greek speakers, Gentiles coming and wishing to see Jesus, have triggered this important revelation of Christ, that it is His hour to be glorified -- to go to the Cross.  We are reminded of His revelation of Himself to a foreigner, the Samaritan woman, in chapter 4.  Greek is the international language of the world at this time, and the Gospels will be written in Greek as their original language, so that all the world will be able to know about Jesus.  It is the language of commerce in the wider world, and also in Bethsaida of Galilee, where Philip is from, as text mentions.  There is a poetic kind of paradox here that exemplifies so much about Christ's ministry and teachings, in that this is the language of the outsider.  For the Jews, it means the language of those at the edges, the margins, the foreigners, the pagans, and the frowned-upon minorities who are seen as inferior.  But this Gospel that will go to the whole world will gather many followers.  It "will produce much grain," as Jesus puts it.  And so, in the effects of this ministry, the outsiders become the insiders, the marginalized will be the many, while the insiders who don't believe will eventually be scattered.  This is something that reflects a spiritual pattern we can read of God's action throughout the Bible.  We can see this reflected, even culminated, in the song of Mary, from Luke chapter 1 (Luke 1:46-55).  Mary's song is also reflective of themes found earlier in the songs of women and in the Psalms.  Mary sings of herself as one in a lowly state, who will be called blessed henceforth by all generations.  God her Savior is One who has "scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts," "put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly."  It is Christ who, throughout His ministry, has ministered to the marginalized, the destitute, those who are blighted in some way such as paralysis or blindness or leprosy -- all individuals in some way on the periphery and frequently separated from community.  Now in today's reading He speaks of His death as planting a seed of grain, which can only give much more grain if it falls to the ground and dies.  And so it will spread to all the Greek-speaking world, the world that had been conquered by Alexander, which at that time meant the world spanning from the shores of the Mediterranean to India, across the Middle East.  Furthermore, trade and commerce assured that the Greek language was spoken across the known world at the time.  In the form of the Septuagint (the 3rd-2nd century BC Greek translation of the Old Testament, the version quoted by Christ in the Greek New Testament), the entire Hebrew bible will therefore also be spread to the known world.  In all of these ways, we can consider the Greeks who come to find Christ at the Passover a sign that the hour of His glorification is near, and His prophecy of the grain of wheat will be fulfilled.  Jesus' ministry is one of taking up outsiders so that they are included in community.  The disciples themselves do not come from illustrious or noble backgrounds.  Most are uneducated.  But with the coming of the Holy Spirit, they will be shown to be "wisest of all" as eventually the Hellenistic world will come to see them.  What we should consider is this action of God in the world, the One who lifts up the lowly and casts down the proud.   The Cross, instrument of dread and fear and crushing symbol of absolute worldly power, will become the greatest symbol of transformation and rebirth, salvation and liberation for all.  We are always reminded of the surprising power of Christ, and the resurrection power in the image of the grain that dies in order to give birth to many.   It is He who creates community.  Let us consider this action in our own lives, then, when we find ourselves in need of community, or even of a reminder to our need for humility.  What does His resurrectional power mean to you?  What needs to be fallen to the ground in preparation for that harvest in your life? 




Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!


 Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead.  But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.

The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out:
"Hosanna!
'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!'
The King of Israel!"
Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written:
"Fear not, daughter of Zion;
Behold, your King is coming,
Sitting on a donkey's colt."
His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.  Therefore the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness.  For this reason the people also met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign.    The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, "You see that you are accomplishing nothing.  Look, the world has gone after Him!"

- John 12:9-19

Yesterday we read that the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went from the country up to Jerusalem before the Passover, to purify themselves.  Then they sought Jesus, and spoke among themselves as they stood in the temple, "What do you think -- that He will not come to the feast?"  Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a command, that if anyone knew where He was, he should report it, that they might seize Him.  Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead.  There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him.  Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair.  And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.  But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, who would betray Him, said, "Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?  This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.  But Jesus said, "Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial.  For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always."

Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead.  But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.  John deepens our understanding of the mood of the time; the seventh sign of raising Lazarus from the dead has had its great impact.  Lazarus is someone all wish to see at the Passover feast, but the chief priests also want to be rid of Lazarus for the same reason:  his life is the reason many even from Jerusalem and among the classes of the leadership come to believe in Jesus.

The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out:  "Hosanna!  'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!'  The King of Israel!"
Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written:  "Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt."  This is Jesus' Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.  It is celebrated on Palm Sunday.  The people greet Him as the Messiah, the King of Israel.  Their initial greeting comes from Psalm 118:25-26, verses associated with messianic expectation.  These verses were recited daily for six days during the Feast of Tabernacles (the Feast of the Coming Kingdom), and seven times on the seventh day as branches were waved.  Hosanna means, "Save, we pray!"  In order to understand this event, and in particular the attitudes of the ruling members of the Council and the chief priests toward Jesus, we have to see it in political terms.  By the time of Jesus, Jewish nationalism had led to the expectation of a political Messiah, who would deliver them from Roman control and reestablish David's kingdom.  Therefore the response of the rulers is a political response, because they see this event as the declaration of the people that they wish Christ as king and ruler.  But Jesus gives a conflicting signal here:  He doesn't ride on a horse nor in a chariot like a national warrior or triumphal war hero.  Rather, He rides on a donkey's colt (Zechariah 9:9).   This is a sign of humility and peace.  My study  bible says that this entrance into the Holy City is a declaration of the establishment of the Kingdom of God.  We may also view this scene as a promise of Christ's final entrance into the heavenly Jerusalem with all believers, and of His accepting the New Jerusalem as His pure Bride (Revelation 21:2).

His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.  Therefore the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness.  For this reason the people also met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign.    The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, "You see that you are accomplishing nothing.  Look, the world has gone after Him!"  Here is an interesting juxtaposition.  The disciples did not understand these things at first.  As is true for so much of Jesus' ministry, it is only later that Jesus' disciples remembered these things written about Him and that the people had done these things to Him.  They come to reconcile the birth of the kingdom of God with Jesus' ministry and teachings (John 3:3-5).  But the Pharisees can see these things only on political terms, and the growing power of Jesus among the people who wish to make Him king and ruler of Israel.

Clearly the people who welcome Jesus see Him as King and successor to King David.  A man who can raise one from the dead?  He must be the prophesied King and Messiah, the one who will restore the fortunes of the kingdom of Israel.  The Council takes this political perspective and chooses to act against it, fearing losing their places and also to the Romans.  They will turn to the Romans to give them a charge against Jesus that He sought to be King of Israel.  But Jesus' life and ministry point to a reality that is something entirely "other" than what people expect or understanding.  His is not a political ministry.  His disciples are not military soldiers, and He hasn't amassed an army as a man who would be king would do.  But the perceptions that are around Him, and the fears that stoke those perceptions, indeed tell us something important.  Revelation that is of God, of something holy, will always ask us to stretch ourselves to understand, to comprehend, to take it in.  Christ's ministry is precisely that, all of it -- it is a revelation of God.  It offers new alternatives to everyone for thinking about life and the possibilities of what life in our world can hold, and what meanings may be present for us.  For those who cannot receive Jesus' startling teachings that open up those new possibilities as revelation, misunderstanding alone is possible.  Suspicion based on one's own assumptions and possibilities is the result.  Jesus is revealing the Father in His ministry, His healings, and the signs of the presence of the Kingdom of God.  But for those who do not seek to understand Him, only fear and suspicion are possible.  Even the people who welcome Him to Jerusalem do not quite know what they are doing; their expectations are political, but no doubt there are those in this same crowd who will turn against Him at the Crucifixion.   In our own lives as faithful, we, too, will be challenged to stretch our perceptions and expectations.  A life of faith will ask us to open up to new ways to handle difficult situations and circumstances.  A reliance on God will teach us to be alert and awake, to be flexible, to be able to stretch our hearts and minds to receive Christ in new ways -- whether that will be strengths to survive hard challenges and circumstances, or ways to move forward and expand our faith through all things, or to learn ever more deeply to allow God's love to transform who we think we are.  We may find our own good motivations questioned when we seek to help others.  God's work in the world does not cease to work in the ways that these people in today's reading are and will be challenged.  Their expectations are of a worldly Messiah, and the ones who cannot accept the truth of Christ fear and live a purely political world.  Let us not be those who are only capable of looking with a limited perspective, of assuming that we have already learned everything we need to learn.  Let us live with our hearts open in prayer for where God wants us to go in following and living that Kingdom that Christ brings to the world, in whatever ways that we are called to grow.  When we can say, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord," we must also remember that our assumptions about what He has to teach us may be entirely too limited.







Monday, September 17, 2018

Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always


 And the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went from the country up to Jerusalem before the Passover, to purify themselves.  Then they sought Jesus, and spoke among themselves as they stood in the temple, "What do you think -- that He will not come to the feast?"  Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a command, that if anyone knew where He was, he should report it, that they might seize Him.

Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead.  There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him.  Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair.  And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.  But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, who would betray Him, said, "Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?  This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.  But Jesus said, "Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial.  For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always." 

- John 11:55-12:8

Yesterday we read that after the raising of Lazarus (see the readings from Thursday and Friday) many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him.  But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did.  Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, "What shall we do?  For this Man works many signs.  If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation."  And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish."  Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad.  Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death.  Therefore Jesus no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there into the country near the wilderness, to a city called Ephraim, and there remained with His disciples.

 And the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went from the country up to Jerusalem before the Passover, to purify themselves.  Then they sought Jesus, and spoke among themselves as they stood in the temple, "What do you think -- that He will not come to the feast?"  Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a command, that if anyone knew where He was, he should report it, that they might seize Him.  My study bible tells us that because Jesus is the Lamb of God (1:29), John's Gospel continually emphasizes the connection between Christ's death and the Passover.  At the Passover, lambs were slaughtered to save the Jews from death (Exodus 12:1-13).  Christ's death saves mankind from sin and death.

Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead.  This is the third Passover mentioned in John's Gospel (after 2:13; 6:4).  It is the setting for the final week of Jesus' earthly life and ministry.  John will narrate it in careful detail.  My study bible says that at this point Jesus has already been glorified through His signs and words.  Now it remains for Him to be glorified through His Death and Resurrection.

There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him.  Think of this setting, with one sitting at the table who had previously been dead!  The gratitude of Mary for this gift is something that is striking to think of, and likely plays a role in what follows.

Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair.  And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.  But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, who would betray Him, said, "Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?  This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.  But Jesus said, "Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial.  For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always."  My study bible comments that the other disciples said the same thing that Judas said here, but with a very different motive (see Matthew 26:6-13).  Judas spoke from greed, but the others spoke from the virtue of charity.  A note adds here that the fact that Jesus pt a thief in charge of the money shows that by every means He attempted to save Judas:  He fulfilled Judas' lust for money; He allows him to exercise apostolic authority (6:11; see also Mark 6:7).  he washed Judas' feet with the other disciples (13:5); and He allowed him to partake at the table of the Mystical Supper (13:26).  Yet Judas could never overcome his greed.

It's quite a scene to consider, all sitting at table together with one who had literally been dead and was raised by Christ.  It is an image of the communion of saints, gathered together with all of the apostles, with Mary and Martha, and with Lazarus.  It teaches us that all live to Him, and is a literal illustration that He is the Bread of Life (6:35).  There is also a clear eucharistic significance in this supper at which all those who live to Him are gathered, including one formerly dead.  It is a gathering of those who love Him, as is clearly seen in the devotion of Mary.  Mary is an interesting figure, as she takes devotion to Christ one step further than what we have seen.  We have seen the disciples traveling with Him, learning from Him, going through all things to be shaped into the apostles He desires for Himself.  But Mary's act is one of pure love, pure-heartedness.  Christ calls it His anointing before burial, pronouncing it a pure gift.   "She has kept this for the day of My burial," He tells them, and there can be no doubt that what He says is true.  Such is the connection of love, that she alone really perceives what is going to happen.  It is another sense in which this supper is a gathering of the communion of saints, for she anoints Christ death which she knows is coming, even at this gathering of the living and one who has been raised from the dead.  What we infer from this reading is that the communion is made up of love, that love is the substance of what is at work here, unifying all in the life of Christ.  Certainly this is the pure expression of Mary, the beautiful and costly fragrance counteracting the corruption of death, and reminding us of the prayers of the saints rising to heaven in fragrance.  John the Evangelist is given a vision of such, rising from an angel's hand, recorded in the Revelation (Revelation 8:4).  Mary's act of love fills this scene with an unsurpassable kind of beauty.  Jesus affirms this when He tells the disciples to let her alone.  The one who truly cannot understand this is Judas, blighted as he is (according to John) with his own greed.  He cannot see the value of the love she expresses.  It is one more act in the Gospel which separates the faithful from the unfaithful, from those who cannot accept what He teaches.  But this time, the act which separates faithful from unfaithful is from the heart of one who loves Him purely, a woman.  And that is most important too, because in this scene of the living and the dead, gathered in love of Christ is included both women and men, and in particular this woman.  In all the scenes of Mary, her personality is contrasted with Martha.  She does not do the active serving and hospitality in the household, a traditional woman's role.  In Luke's Gospel, she remains at His feet, listening to His word, and learning, with the other disciples, while her sister serves (Luke 10:38-42).  She does nothing to "justify" or "earn" her worthiness through a nominal works, and so she is also an illustration of pure grace.  Indeed, the base for all unguents, perfumes, and medicines in the ancient world was a very pure kind of olive oil (particularly so for a very costly perfume oil like this one).  In the Greek, the words for mercy and for olive oil sound alike; therefore there has always been a symbolic connection between the oil of anointing, of chrismation, of healing, with grace, with mercy.  Mary's expression of love is therefore seen with the materialistic eyes of Judas as superfluous, unnecessary, wasteful.  But in Christ's eyes it is something quite different, a genuine act of mercy and love, made with the the most priceless of motives.  Hers is the grace that seals all things together where those who live to Christ are gathered.  May we always remember His words about her, and sense the beauty in her act of love.




Saturday, September 15, 2018

What shall we do? For this Man works many signs


Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him.  But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did.  Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, "What shall we do?  For this Man works many signs.  If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation."  And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish."  Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad.  Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death.  Therefore Jesus no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there into the country near the wilderness, to a city called Ephraim, and there remained with His disciples.

- John 11:45-54

In yesterday's reading, we read that Jesus had not yet come into the town of Bethany, but was in the place where Martha met Him as He came to the house of Lazarus (now passed) and his sisters.  Then those from Jerusalem who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, "She is going to the tomb to weep there."  Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died."  Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled.  And He said, "Where have you laid him?"  They said to Him, "Lord, come and see."  Jesus wept.  Then the Jews said, "See how He loved him!"  And some of them said, "Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?"  Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb.  It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.  Jesus said, "Take away the stone."  Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, "Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days."  Jesus said to her, "Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?"  Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying.  And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, "Father, I thank You that You have heard Me.  And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me."  Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth!"  And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth.  Jesus said to them, "Loose him, and let him go."

Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him.  But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did.  The term the Jews, in John's Gospel, is used most often as a kind of political term.  Here it indicates people who have come from Jerusalem to mourn with the sisters for their brother Lazarus, now raised from the dead by Christ (see yesterday's reading, above).  These people are clearly connected with the ruling classes who form the Council, the leadership in Jerusalem

Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, "What shall we do?  For this Man works many signs.  If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation."  And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish."  Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad.  As high priest, Caiaphas is given the authority to speak prophetically.  It is important to understand that this has to do with the authority of his position, not himself as individual.  My study bible says that the failings and even wickedness of the officeholder do not diminish the grace of the office itself.  Here, Caiaphas means only that the death of Christ will spare the Jews from Roman intervention.  But God's meaning is that all people will be saved through the death of the Son.

Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death.  Therefore Jesus no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there into the country near the wilderness, to a city called Ephraim, and there remained with His disciples.  Jesus stays in the country, near the wilderness, avoiding Jerusalem and its ruling authorities until it is His "hour" of glorification, the time of the Cross (12:23).

The act of the raising of Lazarus from the dead has sealed Jesus' fate with the authorities.  The act itself has made believers out of many connected with the ruling parties, and this is seen as a threat to the Council and the ruling authorities.  At least in the point of view of the Gospel, it is a typical story about power, the will to rule, to retain place, when personal authority becomes the cherished goal above all else.  Christ comes into the world and fills it with grace, divine power working to do all things to heal and make whole.  He even raises a man from the dead.  God's power shakes up the world, takes us out of the commonplace and the acceptance of daily life as rule and norm.  But the point of view of the Gospel is not to say that the "norms" established through Moses and the spiritual heritage of Israel are bad or wrong.  On the contrary, it is specifically expressed here that Caiaphas, regardless of his personal flaws or frailties, prophesies in accordance with the office he holds, that of chief priest.  No, what is at fault here is the all-too-typical stuff of daily life of our world at the time of Christ and in today's headlines:  the manipulation of power and the failure to uphold what is good and established in justice as custom.  The manipulations of the Council that are to follow will defy every rule established for the proper working order of the community and its justice.  Selfishness instead will rule, expediency for the sake of retaining position.  In chapter 7, Nicodemus asks his fellow Pharisees and members of the Council, "Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?"  (See 7:45-52.)  The impulse to put the law second and expediency first is already there.  It is a way of showing through works that their duties to God are put into the service of their own personal power, place, and position.  We should not forget that when we forgo justice, we forgo our Lord, who also was the victim of injustice.  Laws put into place to protect the innocent from unlawful conviction, like in the example of Nicodemus asking about witnesses, are laws we can trace with clear importance to the story of Jesus.  The Cross tells us a story about worldly justice, about selfishness, about expediency for the sake of the retention of power, cutting corners, and failing ultimately to uphold what is good for society, for community -- failing to recognize and to cherish the working of God, the good among us.  Let us consider how the Cross pits worldly perspective against God's perspective, what it tells us about justice, and ultimately that the promise of the Cross is that Christ will return with true Judgment.  When we read the story of lying and manipulation and selfishness, we read about the workings of that which hates truth and is the enemy of God.  But all too often, we fail to recognize that this reality lives side-by-side with that which loves and worships truth (see the Parable of the Tares).  It is up to us to choose and to be awake to what is happening all around us, to know how we are called and what we are called to serve, with Him.  Too often we forget what John's Gospel tells us, that Jesus' mission into the world is ultimately all about true justice, the Judgment for which He promises He will return.  In our worldly perspective, we so often think all that matters is our "side" and what's good for that.  Self-righteousness rules the day.  But that isn't what holiness is all about, at all.  What does righteousness really look like to you?