Monday, October 23, 2017

Wisdom is justified by her children


 "But to what shall I liken this generation?  It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions, and saying:
'We played the flute for you,
And you did not dance;
We mourned to you,
And you did not lament.'
"For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.'  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'  But wisdom is justified by her children."

Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent:  "Woe to you, Chorazin!  Woe to you, Bethsaida!  For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.  But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.  And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.  But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you." 

- Matthew 11:16-24

 On Saturday we read that as John the Baptist's disciples departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John:  "What did you go out into the wilderness to see?  A reed shaken by the wind?  But what did you go out to see?  A man clothed in soft garments?  Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses.  But what did you go out to see?  A prophet?  Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet.  For this is he of whom it is written:  'Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before you.'  Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.  And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.  For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.  And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"

 "But to what shall I liken this generation?  It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions, and saying:  'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; We mourned to you, and you did not lament.'  For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.'  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'  But wisdom is justified by her children."  Jesus likens the response of the leadership (and the fickleness of the crowds who follow) to a popular children's game.  The children would divide into two groups; one pretending either to play musical instruments or sing, and the other responding in a way opposite of that which would have been expected.  Jesus draws a parallel to the leadership who responded with criticism both of John the Baptist as being too ascetic and to Jesus as being too liberal in mercy and joy.  And yet, as He pointed out in the reading from Saturday, they had all gone out to see John when he preached repentance in the wilderness (see Saturday's reading, above).  That wisdom is justified by her children teaches us once again to look at the fruits of ministry; they justify both John and Jesus, regardless of their different appearance and style.

Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent:  "Woe to you, Chorazin!  Woe to you, Bethsaida!  For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.  But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.  And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.  But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you."  My study bible says here that it is a far greater sin to have seen Christ's works and rejected Him than never to have known Him at all.

 In today's reading, we get Jesus' scathing remarks to those who reject ministry and the work of God in the world, and of wisdom.  They are like children playing and taunting, shallow and with no depth nor understanding.  And worse, there are those who have seen great works of power, and yet who still reject the message of the Kingdom.  It is an acknowledgement in the Gospel of rejection, of those who cannot accept what is within their midst.  Certainly Jesus is implicating the leadership, who seem focused only on criticism of surface appearances, and cannot see the substance and truth of what is happening, even if mighty works are done in their cities.  It's an indication of how deep rejection can go in the face of truth staring us in the face.  It's also a teaching to us about the kind of complacency that trusts only in our own self-interest, in our "places at the table."  Jesus touches on such a theme when He speaks scathingly of those in high places:  "Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation" (Luke 20:46-47).  It comes down a question of what we put our trust into.  Do we go by the shallow surface of appearances, so easy to criticize and judge?  Or do we judge with good judgment?  Do we reach down into a place where we put our trust in something deeper, something into which our prayer life leads us?  Jesus teaches us to refrain from surface judgments, and not to judge by mere appearance (John 7:24).  In Matthew 7, Jesus has said, "Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.  And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?" (7:1-3).  When judgment of others rests on surface appearances, it too often serves selfish ambition and complacency.  We avoid doing what we ought to be doing, practicing awareness of ourselves and our own state of mind and heart, and insist that we can ascribe motive to others without 'judging good judgment.'  The one way that Jesus teaches over and over to find good judgment is through the fruits of those who come to us as prophets of one thing and another:  "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?" (7:15-16).  In today's reading, Jesus gives us a positive version of these statements when He refers to both John's and His own ministry:  "But wisdom is justified by her children."   He and John bear very little surface resemblance to one another, in many dimensions.  Jesus eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners; John is extremely ascetic, dedicated to a life of poverty in his love of God.  But both serve the same wisdom.  Many of my readers may be familiar with the great Byzantine cathedral called Haghia Sophia, or "Holy Wisdom," built in Constantinople in the sixth century and still standing.  In the Greek tradition, "Holy Wisdom" refers to Christ.  That is, the wisdom of the Lord who was at work in the world throughout the Old Testament foreshadowing Christ, and Incarnate as Jesus Christ in the New.  St. Paul also calls Christ "wisdom" (see 1 Corinthians 1:18-24).  In both Hebrew and Greek, the word for wisdom is feminine, and thus given a feminine article and pronoun.   Jesus is teaching us to grasp wisdom, to come to know it, and to know her children, no matter how varied and different they may seem to us.  It is only this way that we can practice "good judgment," to make discernment, and to understand the reality behind what we see.  Too often we are deceived by our own desires, our limited viewpoint, the fear of losing our own place, particularly in the eyes of the world.   It remains essential that we understand, in a world beset by images and bad judgment, and constant criticism tearing down all and sundry without thought, that we know that "wisdom is justified by her children."  This must be a part of our faith, that which we cling to, pray to, and in which we seek to participate in the life of Christ and the communion of saints.  There we begin, and there we find what is truly good for us, and for the world.



Saturday, October 21, 2017

From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force


 As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John:  "What did you go out into the wilderness to see?  A reed shaken by the wind?  But what did you go out to see?  A man clothed in soft garments?  Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses.  But what did you go out to see?  A prophet?  Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet.  For this is he of whom it is written:
'Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,
Who will prepare Your way before you.'
"Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.  And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.  For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.  And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"

- Matthew 11:7-15

Yesterday we read that when Jesus finished commanding His twelve disciples (before their first apostolic mission), He departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities.  And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of is disciples and said to Him, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?"  Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and tell John the things which you hear and see:  The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.  And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me."  

As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John:  "What did you go out into the wilderness to see?  A reed shaken by the wind?  But what did you go out to see?  A man clothed in soft garments?  Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses."  John's disciples have just come to Christ, asking Him, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?"  This question has come from John, who is imprisoned in Herod's castle.  A natural reaction to those familiar with the Gospel so far would be to question whether or not John had perhaps changed his mind.  After all, it was John who recognized Jesus as the Christ when Jesus was baptized, saying, "I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?"  (See this reading.)  But Jesus' ministry is not what was expected of the Messiah.  He hasn't publicly declared Himself.  He will cultivate a kind of faith that responds with the heart, and so His response to John was to quote from the prophet Isaiah, and the signs of the time of the coming of the Messiah, which are manifest in Jesus' ministry (see yesterday's reading, above).   Here, Jesus seems to address the crowds and this natural questioning of John's possible change of heart because of the question of John's disciples.  John has not changed his mind at all, but wishes his disciples to be given direction to Christ.  Jesus demands of this crowd to consider what they went out into the wilderness to see when they went to John.  A reed shaken by the wind is a description found in 3 Maccabees of Ptolemy Philopator, a king of Egypt, as he was smitten by the judgment of God for his persecution of the Jews.  Jesus asks them if they thought John was one who would bend with the wind, a person clothed in soft garments and therefore not used to struggle and difficulty.  Jesus says ironically, of John who is imprisoned in a king's house (the palace of Herod Antipas), "Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses."  He is challenging the crowd to know John and to understand him, and He goes on to praise John and establish his place in the story of salvation.

"But what did you go out to see?  A prophet?  Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet.  For this is he of whom it is written:  'Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before you.'  Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."  Jesus affirms that John is a prophet in the lineage of the Old Testament, but he is also even more than a prophet.  He is the forerunner, the messenger who goes before the Christ, fulfilling the prophecy of Malachi.  In the tradition of the Church, these words extend even after death, as John goes before Christ into Hades, to prepare all who have come before.  Among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist.  He is, as the greatest prophet, the fulfillment of all righteousness of the Law.  But there is something much greater that is now at hand, and within the ministry of Christ -- and that is the presence of the kingdom of heaven.  My study bible says that the New Covenant is of such incomparable value that those who share in it are greater than John was without it. 

"And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.  For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John."  My study bible notes that there have been several interpretations given of this passage.  What does it mean that the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and that the violent take it by force?  Some have said that this refers to the Jewish opposition to the gospel.  Others say that it refers to the Kingdom breaking into the world "violently," that is, with great power and force.  Still others have said that the Kingdom of heaven refers to Christ Himself, who has been incarnate since the days of John the Baptist, and who will suffer violence on the Cross.  But St. John Chrysostom writes that the violent who take the Kingdom by force are those who have such earnest desire for Christ that they let nothing stand between themselves and faith in Him.  Jesus seems to imply this when He says that "for all the prophets and the law prophesied until John."   The time of prophecy of the Kingdom has ended with John, the prophet to end all prophets.  At this time the Kingdom is present, manifest, and those who wish to enter in seize it with all their might.   This word for violence in the Greek is used only twice in the New Testament, and both times in a positive sense.

"And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"  John does not ascribe to himself the role of Elijah (John 1:21), but Jesus does, my study bible tells us.  John fulfilled the mission of Elijah (Luke 1:17, 76), and his destiny was similar.  (Malachi prophesied that Elijah would return before the Messiah and the coming of the Kingdom; see Malachi 4:5-6.)  Jesus uses the words of the prophets to indicate to the crowd that they need spiritual ears to understand the fulfillment of this prophecy in John. 

It's interesting to see this aspect of Jesus' persona:  strong and vigorous, and vigorously defending John to the crowds.  He appeals to their understanding of John's character, asking them what they went out to see when they all flocked to John in the wilderness (see Matthew 3:4-12).   We hear Jesus in a strong and bold key, claiming something powerful for John, and yet also proclaiming the boldness of those who now enter the Kingdom, with violence and force.  Jesus uses a voice of irony, nearly sarcasm, when He asks them if they went out to see a reed shaken by the wind, or one clothed in soft garments -- and declares that indeed, those who are clothed in soft garments are in king's houses.  It's also a testimony about the rulers of Israel, who seem to blow with every wind, and appease only worldly power.  We hear a Jesus who is neither soft nor a reed blown any way the wind blows.  This is the voice of vigorous defense and clear debate, a voice of bold proclamation and courage in the face of the oppression that has begun by the state and the powers that be, in the face of the imprisonment and soon-to-be death of John the Baptist.  This is Jesus who fully manifests all aspects of what it means to be human, and to use all His human capacity for exhortation and encouragement and a positive force.  He does not come into His Kingdom with an army for physical battle.  He does not call upon God the Father to send Him thousands of angels to force His Kingdom on the world.  But in His mission He also does not shrink from telling the truth, from the boldness of declaring what is what, of colorfully challenging complacency and lack of faith.  This is also the Jesus we're asked to imitate and to remember:  one who praises a positive kind of assertiveness, and the zeal for the Kingdom, the earnest and deep desire that sees and seizes the time when the "kingdom of heaven is at hand."   Spiritual understanding is a real and powerful force; it is not "ethereal."  It is not the stuff of fantasy or dreams.  Its truth is something that shatters every other power, that overturns all human or worldly plans, that permeates all things.  It is the strength and vigor of this reality that Jesus brings and challenges the world to hear, if we have ears to hear, if we can find a way to know and understand this reality He brings, His Kingdom.










Friday, October 20, 2017

Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?


 Now it came to pass, when Jesus finished commanding His twelve disciples, that He departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities.  And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of is disciples and said to Him, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?"  Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and tell John the things which you hear and see:  The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.  And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me." 

- Matthew 11:1-6

Throughout chapter 10 of Matthew's gospel, Jesus has chosen the twelve and is preparing them for their first mission.  In yesterday's reading, He told them:  "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth.  I did not come to bring peace but a sword.  For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household.'  He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.    He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.  He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.  He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward.  And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward.  And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward."

Now it came to pass, when Jesus finished commanding His twelve disciples, that He departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities.  And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of is disciples and said to Him, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?"  According to the Church Fathers, John the Baptist asks this question in order to guide his own disciples to Jesus.  My study bible says that undoubtedly, John's own faith was strengthened through the response given by Jesus (in the verses that follow).

Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and tell John the things which you hear and see:  The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.  And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me."  Jesus names the signs predicted by Isaiah which would accompany the coming of the Messiah (Isaiah 35:5-6, 61:1).   Jesus performed these miracles in the presence of John's disciples (Luke 7:20-21), my study bible says, so that they could see with their own eyes works that only the Messiah could do.

John the Baptist's self-stated mission has been to prepare Israel for the coming of the Lord.  He is the one who first made the statement, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (see this reading).   Jesus has repeated it in His ministry (4:12) and also given instruction to the twelve to proclaim it as they go on to their first mission (10:7).  In this sense, we get a clear image of the importance of John the Baptist to this story.  His words echo through Jesus' ministry as they are also part of the work of God in the world, the Holy Spirit working through each mission.  This unfolding also gives us an image that applies to the whole of Scripture, including the Old Testament, as all bears witness to the common work of God in the world, and human beings as laborers in this harvest, as Jesus told His disciples just before He chose the twelve (see this reading).  John is understood by tradition to be the last and the greatest of the Old Testament-type prophets, and so he gives us an idea of continuity, of what it is to 'enter into others' labor' (John 4:38).  He gives us a picture of the communion that goes through all things and people, knows no time limit, and is neither barred by spatial limitations.  The one thing required is human beings whose hearts are open to the mission in their own time and place, and to the grace that is at work through us.  Jesus has given us the prayer called The Lord's Prayer or the Our Father, in which our first petition is "Your kingdom come.  Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."  And here is the mission.  This is the truth of John's mission and of Jesus' mission, and it will be the truth of the mission of the apostles upon which they've just been sent out.  We get an idea of our own lives and our place in this cosmic system of salvation when we understand the role that each person plays in the story of the Gospels and throughout the Old Testament.  Each may enter into this mission.  Each may play a role in spreading the message, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  It is here and now, present with us.  We simply must "turn around" (repent) to see it, to realize it, to have its reality more deeply planted in us and to carry that Kingdom with us in the world.  This is how we receive it and pay it forward.  John is in prison at the time of the events we read about in today's Gospel passage.  He is shut up in Galilee in the palace of Herod Antipas, and perhaps is prepared to understand that this is where he will die.  He approaches the end of mission, and the one thing necessary is that he direct his disciples to the place they need to be, to the Coming One.  This is the mission for us as well, for Christ is still the Coming One, "The One who is and who was and who is to come" (Revelation 11:17, 16:5).  In the infinitely creative work of the Spirit, we each may play a role in that mission and participate in the life Christ offers, the life of the kingdom of heaven, and bringing it into the world.  This is the here and now, the always-present, the mission into which we, too, may enter into others' labor.  How do you play your role?  Remember that even those who offer a cup of water in the name of a disciple will have their reward (see yesterday's reading, above).  Our mission need not be grand or great by worldly standards nor met with great fanfare; this is a question of how we live our lives and whose judgment we meet within ourselves at all times.    "And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me."



Thursday, October 19, 2017

He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me


 "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth.  I did not come to bring peace but a sword.  For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household.'  He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.    He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.

"He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.  He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward.  And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward.  And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward."

- Matthew 10:34-42

In our readings in Matthew chapter 10, Jesus is preparing those twelve  He has chosen to send out on the first apostolic mission.  (See readings from Monday and Tuesday.)  In yesterday's reading, He continued:  "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.  It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master.  If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!  Therefore do not fear them.  For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.  Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops.  And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin?  And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.  Therefore whoever confesses me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.  But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven."

 "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth.  I did not come to bring peace but a sword."   My study bible notes that just before Jesus' most violent death on the Cross, He promised peace to His disciples.  But the existence of evil, it says, necessitates spiritual warfare.  The earth to which Christ came was under the authority of Satan (John 12:31; 2 Corinthians 4:4).  Therefore it is essential that Christ wage war against the leader of vice with weapons of virtue (Ephesians 6:11-18).  Another note in a similar passage in Luke reminds us that there are two kinds of peace.  There is a false peace, which is a shallow harmony that results from ignoring issues of truth.  But genuine peace is a 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, my study bible says, divisions are necessary for truth to be manifest (see 1 Corinthians 11:18-19).

"For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household.'"  This fulfills the prophecy of Micah 7:6, from which Jesus is quoting.  In addition to its literal meaning, which my study bible says has been experienced in the Church since the time of Christ, the picture of the older generation being divided from the younger generation also symbolizes the rejection of the new covenant by followers of the old covenant, as well as the spiritual struggle between our old, sinful state and our renewal in Christ (see Ephesians 4:20-24).  It is a picture of spiritual struggle in many dimensions.

"He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.   He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it."   Jesus Himself is the fulcrum, the central figure around which all else gathers meaning and relationship (12:30).  He boldly places Himself as Son in this position, and teaches what it is to be a disciple.

"He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.  He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward.  And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward.  And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward."  Here is another extension of meaning which is given through relationship to Christ.  My study bible says that apostles are ambassadors who represent the Lord.  Therefore, all who extend help to them are showing mercy directly to Christ, and will receive God's reward (see 25:40). 

Jesus' life isn't something we can limit to a set of circumstances or events that happened 2,000 years ago.  Here He quite clearly indicates that the life that is in Him, and that which commands discipleship, has an extension and a meaning and a presence that goes far beyond what we normally think of as the life of a person in this world.  Christ Himself becomes that which gives meaning and value and relationship.  His truth ("I am the way, the truth, and the life" - John 14:6) becomes the truth that is the center dividing line between all things and against which all else is measured and given meaning.  Indeed, as the quotation from John indicates, He is that truth.  St. Paul writes, "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12).  And Jesus is also that Word (John 1:1).  His Person, His presence, fills things with meaning and gives us a dividing line between all things, even to the point of our closest relationships.  His call is for a loyalty that comes between everything, even piercing to the division of soul and spirit, as St. Paul says, and discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart.  The power of God's word gives us true relationship and teaches us about both love and peace.  What is love, if it is not measured against the love He teaches us?  Relationships have all kinds of flaws and faults, but it is God who teaches us the measure of our love.  It is the Lord who gives us a sense of how precious are our souls, how beloved we are in God's sight, even when others fail us.  There is a transcendence here that asks of us to see more clearly what is what, and gives to us things the world cannot give.  We are asked to align ourselves with that love and with that presence, to live and dwell in it, to participate in it.  It extends its meanings and values to us, illuminating everything else, and extending itself to our deepest relationships which stand or fall depending on that reflection.  Do we have love?  Do we need His truth a little more deeply?  Where do our loyalties lie -- and where is our peace to be found?  This is what it is to take up His cross and follow Him.  We understand our lives by His light.  We shed that light upon others.  To reject or accept is to know what choice is, and where division lies.



Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell


 "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.  It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master.  If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!  Therefore do not fear them.  For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.  Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops.

"And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin?  And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.  Therefore whoever confesses me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.  But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven."

- Matthew 10:24-33

In yesterday's reading, Jesus continued speaking to the twelve, just as He was sending them out on their first apostolic mission:   "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.  Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.  But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues.  You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.  But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak.  For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.  Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.  And you will be hated by all for My name's sake.  But he who endures to the end will be saved.  When they persecute you in this city, flee to another.  For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes."

 "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.  It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master.  If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!  Therefore do not fear them.  For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.  Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops."  Jesus has just finished telling them that they must conduct themselves in a wise way, and be prudent and humble.  He has warned them about persecution that will come.  (See yesterday's reading, above.  But His conclusion regarding the persecution that they will face, just as He has faced it:   "Therefore do not fear them."  In the following verses, do not fear is repeated three times.  They are prepared for bold witness in the face of adversity.  Prudence and wisdom do not come from fear, but faith.  My study bible says that Christian believers, both then and today, must neither be intimidated by persecution nor fail in their mission to preach.  The entire gospel of Christ is a revelation of the reality of the  Kingdom.  The very nature of what they do is to reveal truth.

"And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin?  And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.  Therefore whoever confesses me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.  But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven."  My study bible says that the fact that there is no need to fear the killing of the soul shows the immortality of the human soul, which is our be grace.  Fear Him is a command to fear God (Proverbs 9:10; Luke 1:50, 23:50; Acts 10:2; Colossians 3:22; 1 Peter 2:17), because only God has the power to judge the soul.  Christians are instructed to resist the devil (James 4:7), but not to fear him.  Hell here is translated from "Gehenna."  In Jewish history, Gehenna (which was the Valley of Hinnom) became a place of forbidden religious practices (2 Chronicles 28:3; Jeremiah 32:35).  By Christ's time, my study bible says, the valley had become a garbage dump that smoldered ceaselessly.  Because of these associations, Gehenna acquired the connotation of eternal punishment in the afterlife.

"Gehenna" gives us an image of hell:  in Jesus' time it was a smoldering garbage dump, in ancient times a place of horrible practices, such as burning children alive in sacrifice, an abomination to God.  If we think of the analogy of a ceaselessly smoldering garbage dump, we get a picture of a place in which that which must be left behind or discarded as worthless is burned, and in particular that which stands in the way of union with God.  But, if we can receive it, the flames of hell are the flames of the energies of God, burning away what cannot stand in those flames and the fullness of the light of God.  And in the image of the light and the flame of God's love, we get a context for Jesus' preaching to the apostles about their bold witness even in the face of persecutions.  He has been accused of casting out demons by the ruler of demons (see this reading), and so tells the disciples that if this has been said of Him, the Master, how much more will be said of those who are of His household!  But fear has only one place in them:  it is God who must be feared alone.  In a strange sense, today's reading with its image of hell teaches us about the hell that is on earth, into which they are courageously to go to preach the gospel of the kingdom of heaven. In the world, the One who has come to liberate is persecuted, even claimed to be one who works with the ruler of demons.   The mention of Gehenna sends into the text a message about those who are faithless to God, the practices of evil.  Later on Jesus will teach that the one sin that will stand is to call the work of the Spirit evil (Matthew 12:31-32).  Where the holy is called evil is a vision of hell.  Jesus is calling for His disciples to turn such a "hell" upside down, to boldly preach the revelation of the Kingdom in the world, in the name of the only One who is to be feared.  Persecution seeks to place fear into the hearts of the persecuted, but Jesus exhorts His followers only to fear God, and to reveal that which is given them to reveal.  "For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.  Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops."  Into the valley of fear, they are not to fear the world, but God alone.  The One whom they serve knows each sparrow, and the number of each hair on their heads.  Therefore they are precious members of this Kingdom, and must remember that in mission.  It's an orientation to the world that He gives them, one in which they are to be wise and prudent, to conduct themselves humbly, to have awareness of  their own weaknesses, but to fear only God.  Jesus lays it out very plainly:  "Whoever confesses me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.  But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven."    We have a choice to make:  we can walk into the worldly hell and bear witness to the kingdom of heaven with our lives, or we can cower in fear of the world instead and betray our own souls.  We choose which master we serve (6:24).  His apostles are those sent out to bring the good news to the world.  Which mission do you choose to live in your life in this world?


  

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves


 "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.  Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.  But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues.  You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.  But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak.  For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.  Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.  And you will be hated by all for My name's sake.  But he who endures to the end will be saved.  When they persecute you in this city, flee to another.  For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes."

- Matthew 10:16-23

Yesterday we read that Jesus sent out His chosen twelve and commanded them, saying:  "Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans.  But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'  Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons.  Freely you have received, freely give.  Provide neither gold nor copper in your moneybelts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food.  Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and stay there till you go out.  And when you go into a household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it.  But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.  And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet.  Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!"

"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.  Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves."  My study bible says that Jesus instructs the disciples to be wise as serpents so that they might not be unnecessarily wounded and that they might see all true opportunity in the spread of the gospel.  To be as harmless as doves is to not retaliate against those who do them wrong, and be blameless in their witness of the gospel.

"But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues.  You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.  But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak.  For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you."  Jesus warns the apostles (as they are being sent on their first mission) in a way that speaks to all subsequent missionary work.  He warns about why they need to be shrewd (wise as serpents).  They will face persecution, and also testify to the Gentiles, who rule as governors and kings.  It's quite important to note the words here:  it is "the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you."  This is the Holy Spirit, who "proceeds from the Father" and who together "with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified."

"Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.  And you will be hated by all for My name's sake.  But he who endures to the end will be saved."  Here we are given the levels of persecution that will be experienced, even brother delivering brother to death, and a father his child, or children their parents.  We should not be surprised at what history will reveal.  But the important word here is endurance; He wishes for His disciples to endure to the end.

"When they persecute you in this city, flee to another.  For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes."  My study bible notes here that persecution must not cause a disciple to quit, but merely to move forward in one's mission.  According to St. John Chrysostom, before the Son of Man comes isn't a reference to the Second Coming.  But it merely means that before the disciples could visit all the cities in Palestine, Christ would rejoin them, and thereby more quickly ending the hostility they would encounter.

Jesus tells His disciples to be "wise as serpents and harmless as doves."  He warns them that they are being sent out by Him "as sheep in the midst of wolves."  We may think that in our daily lives such dire warnings and advice is not applicable.  But one might be surprised how this advice stands us in good stead.  To be faithful to Christ may often mean we're at odds with those around us in one way and another.  Our opinions may differ; we may disagree about how to approach a problem, or how we treat others.  Whatever it is, these words still hold true.  To be as "wise as serpents" is an interesting phrase.  In this case, the word for "wise" indicates a type of forbearance.  It means to be prudent, to measure one's actions before taking them, to be reticent in some sense, not impulsive.  The word for "serpents" is exactly what one would expect it to be.  Usually this is used in a negative sense, to indicate the devil or Satan.  But Jesus doesn't speak of evil here; He's telling His own disciples that they need to be equally savvy about their circumstances, not naive.  We are to be the intelligent, rational sheep, and to know what we are about.   The word for "harmless" (in the phrase "harmless as doves") means simple, unmixed, sincere.  We can't go into things with mixed motives or hidden agendas, for these surely will simply be used against us.  This is another kind of caution about the need for self-knowledge, and the rigorous application and practice of repentance, of being aware of our own flaws or weaknesses.  Thinking about the terms that Jesus uses, and His included warnings about dire persecutions to come, takes us into an understanding that His faith isn't for those who wish for an easy life, or to live in a kind of abstract fantasy.  Rather, it's a faith that asks of us a rigorous understanding of reality, of precisely what is and what isn't, where we can go and where we can't -- and a strong self-awareness and discipline that serve the Kingdom and its message.  This isn't a faith for those who live in denial of the problems of the world, but rather for those who believe precisely because its salvific impact is so precious and necessary, as is its message of love.  We must note also the type of salvation that is implied here:  human beings are capable of bearing even the Spirit of the Father and the words given by the Spirit as testimony.  Salvation isn't merely an abstract notion, but works even to illuminate the nature of human beings, and teach us what we are capable of being and becoming.  The discipline implied here is for all who will follow, in communion and individually.  The commitment necessary is another kind of comment on the rigors and transcendence such "rational sheep" are capable of.  We think of those whom He's sending out, practically none of whom have particularly exalted education or social standing.  But what is asked of them is deep and powerful.  What is promised elevates all of us.  We are each invited to participate in this Kingdom and this ongoing work of the harvest.











Monday, October 16, 2017

When you go into a household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you


 These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying:  "Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans.  But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'  Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons.  Freely you have received, freely give.  Provide neither gold nor copper in your moneybelts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food.  Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and stay there till you go out.  And when you go into a household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it.  But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.  And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet.  Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!"

- Matthew 10:5-15

On Saturday we read that Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.  But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.  Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest."  And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease.  Now the names of the twelve apostles are these:  first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him.

 These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying:  "Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans.  But go rather to the lost sheep of the house Israel.  But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'  Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons.  Freely you have received, freely give.  Provide neither gold nor copper in your moneybelts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food."  The disciples' mission is similar to Christ's mission.  They are to preach and to heal.  These are laborers for the harvest (see Saturday's reading, above) with whom He shares His power and mission.  My study bible notes that Jesus sends them only to the Jews.  Jesus' earthly ministry was focused on the Jews (15:24) as this is fitting "to fulfill all righteousness" (3:15).  After the Resurrection, the disciples won't be blamed for going "to uncircumcised men" (Acts 11:3).   Jesus prepares His apostles to be single-minded in their mission to preach and to heal, my study bible says.  He reminds them that His power is free; that it is a gift from God ("Freely you have received; freely give").   He also instructs them to carry no money, so they won't be accused of greed, and so they will learn dependence upon God.   The primary character of this mission is humility.  To bring the kingdom of heaven near is also to live righteousness.

"Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and stay there till you go out.  And when you go into a household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it.  But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you."  This same greeting of peace that is commanded by Christ of His servants is the same peace proclaimed by the prophets (Isaiah 52:7).  It is the same peace later offered to the disciples (John 14:27; 20:19), and that will be revealed as the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22).  And today, Christ's peace is offered in the celebration of the liturgy with the words, "Peace be to all."

"And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet.  Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!"   The rebuke of the disciples to those who do not wish to hear or receive them is simply to shake off the dust from their feet.  Jesus' words about Judgment and righteousness give us an idea of how this power works.   St. Paul's teaching on kindness to enemies is illumined here (Romans 12:20-21; see also Proverbs 25:21-22).

What does it mean to live righteousness?  Or to proclaim that "the kingdom of heaven is at hand"?  The text clearly tells us that Jesus shares His power with the disciples to cleanse and to heal and to cast out demons.  But this power alone is not enough.  They are to go with humility. Whatever home first receives them, they are to stay there and not "trade up" for better lodgings.  They don't impress anyone with outward show of wealth or might.  There is no military accompanying this mission to declare the presence of this Kingdom.  They have lived with Christ throughout His mission so far; now they are to go out and live what they have learned.  They are to be dependent upon God.  We understand with Matthew's Gospel that this is a mission to the Jews of Israel, to seek out those whom Jesus calls "the lost sheep of the house of Israel." In Saturday's reading (see above), we read that He had compassion on the multitude, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.  Here is His response to the needs of the people.  His ministry evolves to meet what comes to Him in the form of need.  That ministry continues today, and should respond to the need that is found in people.  But this need isn't simply for food and drink and clothing.  It is far more than that.  It is a need that is fulfilled through a promise of participation in a Kingdom.  This is also a reality that is within us and among us.  It is a mystical presence, and its character and being is love (1 John 4:8).  It is a mistake to consider that meeting the material needs of human beings alone is the mission of the Messiah, or the ongoing mission of the Church.  There is more to this Kingdom that feeds people in ways necessary for soul and spirit.  There is food that meets us and heals in an interior way that cannot be reached simply with an outward donation, but must be received in the heart.  And this we also offer as part of the Kingdom to others, and it is present with us in a mystical way which can be shared through faith.  All along in the Gospel, Jesus' healings have involved the presence of faith, either in those receiving the healing or their loved ones and friends.  Too often we wish to abstract the reality of this presence of the Kingdom, and assume that it is present only in its signs.  The things we do because we are motivated by faith in it do not constitute the whole of its root nor its power.  Let us recall that we are a part of something that serves us with love as we in turn serve by practicing love.  There is a power in it we can't name nor quantify.  We can't predict how it will work.  And, as today's reading reminds us, there is also a peace in it.  This is a peace Jesus will say is given to us "not as the world gives" (John 14:27).  This is accompanied by a joy that is also a gift of Christ (John 15:11).   When we decide that we can limit and name the whole of the power of this Kingdom, to make it purely material or simply what we can see, we fail to grasp its infinite ongoing creativity and the ways that it can work within us to heal ailments no one can see.  Let us consider the reality of the Kingdom in which we are invited to participate and which can live and grow in us and through us.  It is also a great mystery that holds the infinite promise of God's love.